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Opus Dei

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Act I: A Part in Which the Hero Meets His Arch-Nemesis

Chapter 1: Enter Stage Right

The Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane specialized in two things; first, they provided a safe space for the criminally insane to receive aid, and second, they took perfectly sane individuals and found delicately devious ways to make them certifiably mad. Within the dreary brick and concrete blended walls of only a lower-income-modest budget, there were certain rooms that aspired for civility with their floral wallpaper and gauche leather sofas, but even the hired help could barely boast the environment in which they toiled away at. The mental instability was an airborne virus, one that preyed on the strong of mind and completely obliterated the weak.

Will Graham was neither of these things –the criminally insane, nor the perfectly sane. Rather, he was a curious mix of both, and currently to date he would actually call it more of a curse.

He currently sat in the only room not bugged by the warden’s microphones, staring at the hands of a gristly, aged FBI agent. There was no polite ceremony to his visit. They knew each other well enough that pleasantries died when Jack Crawford first accused him of a murder that Will most certainly had not committed –several, in fact.

“Are you listening?”

“Vaguely,” said Will. A lie, but he’d become pretty good at those.

“Vaguely,” Jack repeated, awed. Before Will could tack something on, he tossed the file down for Will to see. “Read for yourself, then.”

Will glanced down nonchalantly. “I see what it says. I guess I’m just processing what it means for me exactly, is all.”

“What it means?”

“I mean, it says here the Chesapeake Ripper’s been at large for the last four years. Says here he’s actually been killing for awhile before that.” Will pushed the file folder back to Jack and crossed his arms.

"Yeah."

"Says there's evidence showing there was no copycat to Garrett Jacob Hobbs, just the Chesapeake Ripper."

Jack gestured and nodded. “So?”

“So?”

“I’m saying you’re innocent, Will.”

Will smiled. “Shit, Jack, but I already knew that."

“We made a mistake,” Jack replied, and it was obvious in the lines of his face that he’d been forced to eat crow. A whole lot of it. “One that the FBI does not take lightly. We contacted your lawyer, and a negotiation of wrongful imprisonment reimbursement was reached.” He slid a crisp, bland check over to him, scritching along the file folder. Will scratched the whiskers on his cheek thoughtfully.

His lawyer had called the night before, so he'd had time to mull it over. He lets it sit in a puddle of discontent on the table. “Two hundred thousand is pretty high dollar,” he finally said thoughtfully.

“Considering the specifics of the situation—"

“—My sickness the perfect excuse to not participate in any real detective work—"

“—it wasn’t difficult to convince us to offer the maximum amount,” Jack finished.

Will looked to his eyes, then to his mouth. “Is it that difficult for you to realize you should have listened to me?” he asked.

“Is it still that difficult for you to look people in the eye?” Jack retorted.

Will forced himself to look into his eyes. “I already know what I’ll see when I look into your eyes, Jack,” he said, “I'm sick of looking in eyes like that.”

“The evidence—"

“Was gift wrapped with a neat bow on top for you to keep as a souvenir,” Will cut him off. “So easy that you didn’t think to question whether or not it was really that simple to catch someone supposedly so smart you’d recruited an eighteen-year-old to tag along to horrific crime scenes. Easy as pie.” He folded his arms and dragged his thumb over his bottom lip, thinking. Temper, temper. Try again. Finally, “I’ll take your money. Four years in this place will ensure that I take anything I can from you.”

Jack’s lips puckered, but the papers were produced. Will took the stack and signed each specified place, gaze occasionally cutting to the check that rested at his elbow. Two-hundred thousand was indeed the highest he’d ever heard of, the closest being Inmate 2361-B who’d been imprisoned for allegedly killing his brothers. Three years got him one-hundred thousand dollars, but it also got him a bullet to the head a week after his release when he couldn’t adjust to civilian life and decided that eating a gun was better.

Paperwork done, Jack placed everything in a neat stack and seemed to hesitate. Will studied the clock overhead. 2:13 P.M.

“This killer that framed you—"

“Not interested.”

“He’s killed at least fifteen people, and we could really use your insight.”

“I don’t care,” Will snapped. “You know who I said did this to me.”

“Not that tired old drum about Hannibal-”

“Where you’re not inclined to hear me out, I’m not inclined to give a singular shit about your inability to catch a serial killer.”

“We did investigate him, Will! We found nothing!”

“Only because he’s smarter than you.”

They glared at one another from across the table, and Jack nodded reluctantly. “This killer is, yes. I need you to at least look.”

“I don’t care about your problems.” A beat. “And I don’t want to look.”

“No, but the Will Graham I know wouldn’t want to see so many people get hurt, even if it meant that you got to see me flounder in the process,” Jack said.

Will rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, and he sighed. “The Will Graham you claimed to know was, in your eyes, a psychotic killer,” he said conversationally.

“At the very least, help me because you could become a target if he wants to go after you again,” Jack prodded, not rising to the bait.

“My struggles are old and overused to him. I’ve become a boring study as of late, so it furthers him nothing to continue to try and ruin my life,” said Will with a non-committed shrug. “That’s the only thing you’ll get from me. Free advice, too: you’re no match for him, Jack. Let someone else take the case while I get back to my life.”

“Your life’s not—"

“FOUR years, Jack,” Will snarled, and something in his tone startled Jack enough that he didn’t interrupt. “Don’t you dare try to soften that.” He paused, waited long enough to get control of his voice. Temper, temper. “I don’t…I don’t want to help you.”

“It’s not about me, it’s about the innocent people,” Jack argued.

“At this point, I don’t care about them, either,” Will lied. It was a good lie, though, the kind that slid smooth off of the tongue like oil. “When can I leave?”

“Today,” Jack said, and he looked to the small window in the corner, just big enough to be legal. “They’re already processing your things for release. I took it on a hunch you'd say yes.”

Will heard the lock in the door turning, and he stood, studying Jack out of the corner of his eye. It was something he’d had to learn to do, and he’d become as good at that as he has at lying. “If you’re trying to imagine four years here, Jack, I’d not recommend it.”

“Oh?” Jack turned, likely ready for another fight.

Will stepped out when the door opened for him, and he smiled grimly. “You’re an FBI agent. They’d have slit your throat a week in.”

When Will returned to his cell, he found his things –what little he had in his cell that could be claimed as his –put neatly into a small vinyl duffle bag, the hospital’s logo emblazoned on the side. Clearly this was something that’d been in the works long before he’d ever been consulted.

He wasn’t handcuffed, and he walked down the endless grey walls without the metal biting his wrists for the first time in his entire life. The guard that walked beside him wasn’t friendly, but he made no move to stop Will when his pace quickened. He swore he heard whispers, hisses, other inmates calling out, and it nipped at his heels, threatening to trip him until at last the thick, barred doors shut with a definitive THUD.

A familiar face met him at the small space between worlds, where the check-in blocked both the entry to the institute and the exit to the real world. He’d been allowed to change out of the jumpsuit, a simple pair of sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt his only other clothing, and he was relieved when she threw her arms around him that they’d been recently laundered. He dropped his duffle bag to hug her back, only a beat too late. It’d been a long time since he’d been embraced like that.

“Look at you,” Alana breathed, letting go of him. Four years hadn’t changed her, although it could be said that was because Will had witnessed those four years. Her raven hair was still swept back in loose waves, and her blue eyes still froze whatever they set their gaze on. She smiled, and he felt his own lips twitch in response, a tingling sensation rippling over his skin.

“Look at you,” he replied. He tugged loosely on his shirt, and he grinned. “They said that I could keep one item as a souvenir.”

“A good choice, Mr. Graham,” Alana stated, studying it. “I’d have done the same.”

“Are you off so soon, Mr. Graham? I’d have thought you wanted an exit interview.”

Will couldn’t help the small, tense knot of unease. “I don’t,” he said, curt.

Frederick Chilton laughed as he reached them, although it wasn’t quite humorous enough to be real. “I found the timing of your release interesting,” he said, gesturing to Alana. “I must admit, I was a little upset that I only found out ten minutes before you did that it would be occurring.”

“I think you know me well enough to know that nothing that happens is coincidence,” Will replied. Frederick opened his mouth to reply, but at the expression on Will’s face, it snapped shut.

“Congratulations on your promotion, Frederick,” Alana said from around Will. She moved around him to shake Chilton’s hand, and her offer was returned after a beat.

“It was a surprise to me, truly,” Chilton said with faux-modesty.

“The last Head Administrator was lobotomized,” Will informed Alana. “No one wanted the job after that. He was the only one with credentials that applied.”

“Yes, well, I met all of the criteria, and they were more than happy to offer the position to me. If you’re looking, Bloom, I can set you up with a wonderful residency here,” Chilton offered coyly.

“I have a good residency, but thank you,” Alana said with an amiable laugh. “Will, should we go?”

“Oh, yes, you should,” Chilton stated, laughing at a joke only he knew. “Whoever the killer is that framed you, you must find yourself inherently indebted to him for deciding to let you go free.”

“Goodbye, Frederick,” Alana said curtly, and she led Will towards the exit before he could reply with something nasty.

It was spring in the real world, sunlight rippling through maple leaves, and when Will’s shoes touched the concrete outside, he stopped at the steps and stared, eyes hungrily consuming everything in sight. Baltimore, Maryland wasn’t exactly home, but the trees were green, the flowers bloomed, and the air positively reeked with growth and birth and all those happy, renewing things. He inhaled deeply, savoring it.

“What do you think?” Alana asked.

"I'm hungry," he said, taking a step. No guard burst through the doors to detain him. No orderly found just the right spot to sink a needle and send him into a dizzying sleep. He hurried down the steps, pace quickening.

“What are you feeling?”

“Burgers,” he replied. Then, dryly, "glad to see the car hasn't changed."

"Hey, student loans before cars," she laughed, and they climbed in.

His bank assured him that four years had grown his account by exactly a penny and a half. Not surprising. Will drummed his fingers on his leg and was quick to leave after the check cleared, mingling by the mildly spindly maples struggling to grow in the indirect sunlight. Sunlight by the trees felt nice.

“Whoa,” Alana laughed, following him out, “no need to rush. They aren’t going to take it back, Will, I promise.”

“Right,” he said, and it took him a second to really register what she was saying. He laughed, a curt sort of noise that startled a woman walking by. “…Right.”

He waited outside of the burger place, loitering beside a table with an umbrella, and when Alana walked out he sat himself down with his back to the building, watching everyone on the street. His gaze flicked from teen to child to angry, middle-aged man, fingers plucking at his steak fries. He was hungry, but there was a different sort of hunger that took precedent, the kind that made him note hand gestures and tone, smiles that were quick and lingered. The only people he’d been able to observe for the past while had been guards, orderlies, and inmates, and those were the worst sort of people to see in a miserable, dreary, everyday setting. Miss Avery would have cautioned him that those were not the people one wanted to imitate and reflect.

“How are you processing everything?” Alana asked as she added ketchup to the burger. Will grabbed a fry and stuffed the entire thing into his mouth, sitting up to get his burger unwrapped.

“It’s very real,” he said, hands grazing over a bun that didn’t feel like it’d been baked at twelve thousand degrees before being dropped on something cold and left. “But it very well could be a dream. I could still wake up on that cot tomorrow.”

“It’s not a dream,” Alana assured him. “I was there when Agent Crawford met with the lawyer, and we discussed a few things before it was approved and he went to meet with you.”

"Jack didn't know I already knew." Will grinned. He'd enjoyed watching Jack dish out what he already knew was coming.

"I told him no matter what he did he was to get you out as soon as possible," said Alana.

“That’s a relief,” Will said. “I don’t think I’d manage another round.” And that was a lie, but it was the kind she’d allow him to have. If there was one thing Will had learned about himself, it was that no matter what seemed to happen to him, he woke up the next day –not necessarily stronger, but angrier. More resilient.

He took a bite of the burger, and yes; just what he thought. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. He chewed slowly and swallowed, savoring every moment.

“Do you have plans?” she asked.

“Get my phone turned on, call my dad, get my things, get a car, get a place, get a job.” Will ticked off the items on his fingers, grabbing another fry.

“Does…Hannibal fall into your plans?”

Will made a face. “Why would he?”

“Jack tells me you’re still convinced he framed you for everything,” she said tentatively.

“Yeah, but I don’t know what Jack’s playing at either, telling you that. He says a lot,” Will replied with a shrug.

“You think Jack is...playing with you?”

“This whole thing could be Jack’s idea. He could try and use you to convince me to help him suss out his killer.” Will shrugged, taking another large bite, uncaring of the use of too much mustard and not enough tomato. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d even had a tomato, let alone a meal that hadn’t come pre-packaged.

On second thought, he could remember, and he didn’t want to.

“You think so?”

Will finally braved a glance to her face, and the tone matched the facial expression. Her displeasure and disbelief were matched only by her reluctance to intentionally hurt him.

“No. I think Hannibal finally got bored with me, and sooner or later he was going to have to take credit for his work.” A beat as Will mulled something over. “Is that what they call him since they refuse to use his real name? Chesapeake Ripper?” He glanced over to a mild argument a couple was having at the farthest table, partially to note how she flipped her hair when she was indignant, and partially to avoid Alana’s disapproving expression.

“Leave it to you to still accuse the only man that stood by your side during the trial and believed your innocence,” she replied dryly.

“I don’t think any of you understand just how much he enjoys toying around with people,” Will said with pseudo-pleasantness. He took another bite, looking away from the couple to study Alana’s hands. They’d forgone handling her food in order to maintain business.

“He was trying to help you, Will.”

“He wanted his thesis to be new, bold, and innovative, and if he got to crawl into the head of some messed up kid that was too stupid to realize he was being manipulated, then so much the better,” Will snapped. “Which, by the way, I read his thesis; Dr. Chilton ensured I had access to see just how much Hannibal profited off of everything that happened to me.”

“Then you’ll have also read that he urges others to look for the necessary signs in order to prevent what happened to you to happen to anyone else,” she retorted.

“Yes, if the great Hannibal Lecter can’t cure the encephalitis, no one else should try,” Will said sarcastically. “I got to read a lot about psychology in the hospital, since everyone at first was convinced that I was an intelligent psychopath. He uses forms of coercion and persuasion to get what he wants, all the while his hands stay clean.”

“You’re not an intelligent psychopath,” Alana said pointedly. “Your presence here should show you that none of us think that.”

“The evidence shows me the Chesapeake Ripper finally decided that he wasn’t having fun anymore, so he needed to change things up a bit. Now he gets to take credit for his work, and judging by the desperation in Jack Crawford’s tone, I can assume he can continue toying with Jack a bit more. If he’s going to Hannibal to ask for help next, the Chesapeake Ripper won’t have to go far to get his kicks –the FBI will take the fun right to him.”

“He still asks about you, Will. Even after everything you’ve said, he still worries about-”

“My well-being, and do I eat, sleep, bathe, shave, read, and just generally take care of myself because sometimes at night he wakes up with such paternal thoughts in his head he can’t help by drop by the next day to make sure everything’s alright,” Will interrupted.

“Then why-”

“Because I know him better than any of you, and I see exactly what lies behind that artfully constructed veneer of calm, collected concern,” he replied. “And let me be honest, Alana, behind that careful construction is an intelligent psychopath that took away some of the few people in my life that I care about, and when I was able to piece it all together, he framed me for it.”

“He hasn’t taken me,” Alana observed, tilting her head. In that moment, he saw her as more of his therapist than his friend. “In your skewed perception of him, why is that?”

“You’re useful,” he said, swallowing with difficulty. “And you’re better off blind to him than dead.”

She pursed her lips, and maybe it was the way that she bowed to the meal for a moment that gave it away. Halfway through her burger, she set it down. “I’m dating Hannibal, Will,” she admitted at last.

He blinked, stunned. Another bite, then a douse of soda to wash down the bitter taste of disappointment masking fear. “…I see.” He nodded, feigned contemplation. He couldn't quite look past her chin. “And when should I expect the announcement in the mail?”

“Stop,” Alana warned.

Will laughed bitterly, plucking at the bun. “No, no, congratulations,” he praised, waving a hand dismissively. “I mean, really, I’m just…happy for you.”

“No you’re not.”

“No, I’m not,” he agreed, and he drummed his fingers on the table, needing to expel the anger that threatened to burst from him. He focused on the feel of the plastic table against the pads of his fingers, ruminating in the silence.

“You have every right to feel upset, given what you think about him,” she offered lightly.

“You’ve put yourself in a very dangerous position,” he finally replied, when he felt that he could control the timbre of his voice, “and it’s frustrating when I’ve warned you for years, and you still somehow thought that the best place to be was right beside a man like that.”

“Hannibal is a good person, Will,” she said, exasperated.

“You know, if you say it with a little more passion, you may just convince me,” he urged. He needed his hands busy; he fiddled with more ketchup for the fries.

The couple at the farther table was beginning to lose their cool, too. The man’s voice rose and lowered in cadence, rough and stiff with something like the hard consonants of an insult. The woman’s arms were crossed, her posture stiff.

“What are your plans, Will?”

“You already asked me that,” he sighed.

“Are you going to hurt Hannibal?” she pressed, and he looked back to her as he realized what she meant.

“Oh…oh, do I have plans for him?” he asked, incredulously. “Are you serious? I want to stay as far away from that man as I possibly can!”

“It’s not an unfair question.”

“It is when you’re being protective of a man capable of cutting the lungs out of someone while they’re still using them,” he replied sweetly. The more he felt the anger bubbling from the other table, the more he felt an insistent need not to replicate it.

Alana treaded carefully. Maybe she sensed it, too. “I know that in traumatic events, especially when undeserved actions are done against you, it makes sense for people to find ways to blame mentors friends for what happened,” Alana said gently. “You went through something horrifying, and you weren’t really allowed to properly grieve for your losses because everyone turned against you when it happened. It makes sense to me that you, in a time that was plagued not only by severe and horrifying losses but also a sickness that literally set your brain on fire, would take that burden and sub-consciously place it on Hannibal since he’d been trying to help you for months and was unsuccessful.”

By choice.

The man was gesturing with his phone, jabbing for emphasis. The woman was furiously ignoring him, her own soprano cutting into his tirade every so often with something biting but indistinct.

“Is that an apology? You completely believed I killed those people--”

“I never believed you as Will Graham consciously did anything to hurt anyone,” she countered. “I have always believed in you. Did I think that it was entirely probable, given the evidence, that the person that manifested as a result of a high-stress situation coupled with a deadly disease had a capacity for violence? Yes.”

“Those two people are the same person. One just had better control over our time.”

She startled him when she reached forward to grasp his hand just as the man shouted something particuarly foul. “I’m sorry for any time that I made you feel like a criminal.”

Will swallowed with difficulty, and he looked at their hands. Unlike Jack’s, dry and calloused with a life of hard work, Alana’s were smooth and unblemished, nails filed professionally and scented with something floral--Fresias? In stark contrast, his looked much closer to Jack’s, and he saw the precise place that one of Charlie’s hooks had caught on the back and broke skin. He let go of her hand to snag another fry, nodding curtly.

“If you want to talk about Hannibal-”

“I don’t want to talk about Hannibal anymore,” Will said curtly. “When I say that I want to remove him completely from every aspect of my life, I mean that. We can talk about what you want to talk about.”

“What I want to talk about is what you don’t want to talk about,” Alana said with a small smile.

“We can talk about whatever it is that I do or don’t want to talk about, how’s that,” Will offered. He glanced at her eyes, then over her head where a man in a greasy t-shirt carried a to-go order in one meaty fist.

“I don’t want you to worry about me, Will. I’ve been taking care of myself for a long, long time.”

“People that I care about tend to die. Worry comes with the territory.”

“You still have me, your father, and despite what you think, Jack Crawford is very much invested in your well-being.”

A rum deal, no matter how you looked at it. The only one he felt especially grateful for was the one sitting just across from him, and she was currently dating the only person in the world he’d gladly murder.

“Just promise me that you’ll be careful,” he said, looking to his food. The burger had about two bites left, and he wanted to savor them. “I know…I know you believe Hannibal is great, but he’s a snake. His venom is slow acting, and…I just want you to be safe. When the time comes-” He sighed, scrambling to find the words-- “when the time comes that you…have the choice to be blind or brave, Alana, please just be blind. I think maybe he’d let you live if you just chose to be blind.”

“You weren’t blind.”

“Oh, I really was, until I wasn’t. By the time I saw, though, I wasn’t in any position to do anything about it. I think that’s one of his favorite parts.”

“I’m as safe with Hannibal as I am with you,” Alana assured, and Will peeked up at the umbrella again, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

He could say with utmost confidence he’d never had the inclination to eat someone, but maybe his definition of safety and Alana’s were completely different.