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Will realizes Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper the first time he has an orgasm in his presence.

 

It’s slightly more involved than just being in his presence, but that’s really neither here nor there. What’s both here and there is that at the same time as his fingers are spasming hard on Will’s hips and his head is falling back against the pillow with a gutted moan, he’s imagining that Will is covered in someone else’s blood, someone who they’ve recently murdered together, and also that there’s a ring on his finger.

 

It must be one hell of an orgasm, because on top of being enough to make him drop his usually-impeccable mental shields, it rockets straight into Will’s brain and shoves him over the edge, too. Which is a good thing, because coming all over Hannibal’s chest gives him a pretty good excuse to lie boneless and unresponsive next to his bedmate for a few minutes while he processes an entire photo album’s worth of meticulous murder scenes that go all the way back to something dark and untouchable in Lithuania, thinking what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck. 

 

Will’s service weapon is somewhere downstairs, with his pants. So is his phone. 

 

He doesn’t like his chances in an unarmed hand-to-hand fight with a man who has fifty pounds on him and is also a serial killer. And he really doesn’t like his chances in an unarmed hand-to-hand fight with someone he’s still, even after that unholy barrage of images, fairly certain is the love of his life. 

 

So instead of starting a fight, physical or otherwise, he rolls over and bites Hannibal’s chin in a sloppy kiss. Hannibal rumbles underneath him, like a great primeval beast waking from a centuries-long sleep, and fists a hand in Will’s curls. Will’s come is sticky in Hannibal’s chest hair, and Will makes an angry noise and demands, “Your fingers,” because he’s not sure he’s ever going to be able to let himself have this again.

 

Hannibal pulls back to give him an amused look, and says in his odd, prim voice, “You cannot possibly be hard again.”

 

“I’m not,” Will agrees, ragged, “I just feel so fucking empty.”

 

And I might never feel full again, he doesn’t say, but Hannibal’s expression shifts from amused to heartbreakingly affectionate, the kind of affection that Will thought was reserved for people who’d been married sixty years. “Dear Will,” he murmurs.

 

Another man might say please, but Will is Will, so he says, “Fuck, come on—”

 

“Anything,” Hannibal acquiesces, as polite as if they were fully clothed and he were telling Will, of course you can have sugar in your tea. “Anything you want.”

 

He slides his fingers back into Will, into the hot mess of lube and his own come, and Will makes a short, shocked noise at the feel of it—the sort of noise he imagines he’d make if he’d been stabbed. He gasps up at the ceiling, lungs heaving with overstimulation, his whole body alight with it. These hands have killed people. Innocent people. It should make him feel sick. Dirty. Ashamed. 

 

But Hannibal uses his other hand to hitch Will’s leg up over his side, sinking to drag wet kisses over his feverish neck, and crooks his fingers over that spot that makes Will go absolutely buck fucking wild, and Will holds onto his hair, holds onto the sweaty skin of his bare shoulders, and feels Hannibal smile against his pulse point. Will brushes up against the steady calm of Hannibal’s mental shields, back in place, and it feels like it always does—like sinking in still, cool water, a pool so deep that it’s really no use trying to find the bottom, that he could happily let go and sink in forever.

 

What are ‘innocent people,’ really. What are ‘people,’ really. Will’s never had much use for them and they’ve never had much use for him. So maybe—probably—in a choice between the rest of the world and Hannibal, he’s going to choose Hannibal.

 

Later, when Hannibal’s sleeping the heavy sleep of the hibernating bear, Will slips down the stairs completely naked, picks up his gun and his phone and goes looking for the basement that he glimpsed when Hannibal’s shields were down. 

 

It’s not hard to find, once he’s looking for it. He’s sort of hoping all he finds down there will be some dry splatters of blood, but instead there’s half a dead body on an operating table and a pretentious collection of full-body clear plastic jumpsuits that Will would bet are bespoke.

 

He doesn’t sit down in the basement, because he’s not too keen on his bare ass meeting whatever bodily residue is on the floor. But he does tromp back up the stairs (quietly, mind you, aware that being discovered is still not a good idea despite what may or may not have been said in the throes of carnal ecstasy), where he retrieves his underwear and then sits down on one of the ornate ten-thousand-dollar antique chaise lounges in Hannibal’s sitting room. One part of his brain is having a loud, logical freak-out. He tells it to shut the fuck up so he can think.

 

Obviously, this is going to require a lot of maneuvering. 

 

Will sits there thinking for a good five minutes before he realizes it’s probably a bad idea to try and figure this all out in a serial killer’s house. So he gets dressed, fishes some paper out of the desk in Hannibal’s study, and leaves a note on the kitchen counter: Went to feed dogs. 

 

***

 

The major issue with being a telepath who works for the FBI is that it fucking sucks. None of what Will gets of witnesses or suspects is admissable as evidence, so mostly his role is to stand around making concrete statements that Jack Crawford takes as hand-wavy mysticism, useful for guidance but not to be actually trusted.

 

FBI agents, especially Will’s students, tend to see his job as a profiler as secondary to his identity as a telepath, which means he has to weather a constant onslaught of snide remarks insinuating that every case he’s ever closed has been a result of mind control forcing the suspects to confess. 

 

Will’s been enduring similar comments in every arena of his life since his mother felt that first flicker of telepathy at age two and got the hell out of fucking dodge, so mostly he lets it roll off his back like water—at least until Jack’s boss Kade ‘Dumb Bitch’ Prurnell shows up and not so much insinuates as flat-out accuses him of having committed the murders himself and manufactured convenient suspects after the fact. When she’s unswayed by the fact that Will has an alibi for every single fucking crime he’s being accused of, he may or may not resort to some mild mind control. More suggestion, really, that she kindly go back to whatever bog she climbed out of. He’s pretty sure Jack was wise to that one, but his head was on the chopping block too, so he let it slide. 

 

The worst part isn’t that everyone thinks Will is either incompetent or, on the wild far end of the spectrum, suspiciously competent; it’s the fucking shielding technique they teach at Quantico, which is, frankly, rude. Bumping up against someone’s thoughts in the halls is like missing the bottom step on a flight of stairs, or sticking his foot out over a cliff he didn’t know was there, or his body shocking him awake when he’s falling asleep and it decides he’s actually falling. All day, every day that he has a lecture or is consulting on a case, Will feels like he’s just gone over the top of a rollercoaster, his stomach in his throat.

 

So the first time Jack introduced him to Hannibal, and he felt those cool water shields, he asked immediately, “Psychiatrist or serial killer?” The only people he’d ever met with shields that strong were mental health professionals and people with particularly bloody secrets to hide.

 

“Psychiatrist,” Hannibal answered easily, and for some reason instead of sounding offended, he sounded pleased as punch.

 

Six months later, in hindsight, the whole thing would be fucking hilarious.

 

***

 

The long and winding road that eventually ends up with Will in bed with his cannibal psychiatrist takes an abrupt left turn when Will is diagnosed with encephalitis. 

 

Encephalitis, as it turns out, is a particularly potent and disruptive disease for a telepath to have, and tends to manifest not so much as a personal issue than as an issue that affects everyone in a ten mile radius. Will’s doctor, when Will finally wakes up out of a very, very deep and disorienting sleep to find himself in the hospital, informs him that the entire population of Wolf Trap, Virginia has been complaining of strange dreams for weeks, and that three days ago, when he decided to drive into work with a 105 degree fever, he collapsed in the lobby and knocked out three security guards, ten agents on their way to work, and one unlucky bird.

 

“Everyone but the bird will be fine,” the doctor assures him, droll and uninterested. “You’ll have to come in twice a week for outpatient plasmapheresis. You’re not allowed anywhere near the driver’s seat of a car, and you’re gonna feel like someone scraped off a layer of your brain, but that should pass in a few months.”

 

It’s an apt description. Will does, indeed, feel like someone scraped off a layer of his brain.

 

He gets Alana Bloom to drive him to the hospital for the first plasmapheresis treatment, because she’s kind and nurturing and, as a psychiatrist, her shields are stronger than most, so she can deal with Will’s recovering brain flapping around inside the car like a trapped bat. 

 

But her wards, unlike Hannibal’s, are grating after a while. At first they’re like staring into direct sunlight—you can just look away and move on with your life. But then, the more you accidentally glance in that direction, the more the sunlight seems to grow, getting brighter and more intrusive until he’s climbing out the car door before she can even come to a stop in the hospital parking lot, snapping at her that he’s fine, Alana, really I’m fine,  I’m going to find another ride home, thanks, and slamming the door over her concerned objections.

 

While he’s sitting there shivering in his sweater, watching his blood flow out of his body, he tries to hoodwink the doctor into giving him back his license. The doctor—the same one he had in the ER—falls for absolutely none of his ‘very important FBI business’ bullshit and suggests he calls someone with a ‘calming mental presence’ to drive him home. 

 

“So, someone who’s been lobotomized,” Will bites. He’s feeling even less charitable than usual.

 

“Preferably not,” the doctor’s not even looking at him, checking something on his charts. “Maybe a really smart dog. As long as he’s licensed.”

 

Will calls Hannibal instead.

 

Hannibal rolls up in his Bentley, opens the door for Will, and ushers him into a passenger seat that’s been converted into a nest of blankets. The chill in Will’s veins is so unsettling that he doesn’t even grumble that much, just pulls the blankets close around him and settles in, forgetting his seatbelt so that Hannibal, when he climbs back into the passenger seat, has to take the time to give Will a gently chiding look, reach across, and buckle it himself. 

 

“Did you hold up a Bed, Bath & Beyond?” Will asks, once they’re pulling out of the parking lot.

 

Hannibal smiles, but only with his eyes. “I am aware that there are a number of unpleasant side effects of plasmapheresis. Though I am unable to do anything about the fatigue or the nausea, I can at least provide a solution for the cold.”

 

Will, who feels very warm and very calm every time he accidentally brushes up against Hannibal’s shields, manages a quiet, “Thanks.”

 

Hannibal gives him a surprised, pleased look. “There is no need to thank me, Will. I find that I am willing to go to much greater lengths on your behalf than merely acquiring a few blankets.”

 

“They’re nice blankets,” Will shoots back, unsure why he’s arguing, but actually very sure—he always argues with people he likes, because it’s easier to bare his teeth and scare them away pre-emptively than it is to wait around for them to leave.

 

But Hannibal only eye-smiles some more. “They are yours, if you want them.”

 

Will is grudgingly, stupidly charmed. Probably, from a psychological point of view, it has a lot to do with how Will’s dad mostly provided for him by teaching him how to find jobs where there was never any paperwork so no one cared how old he was, and how Hannibal has been cooking for Will and offering him emotional support since basically the second they met. 

 

Hannibal shifts his schedule to accomodate Will’s treatment without so much as a word of complaint. But it’s not after the first ride that they fall into bed, or the second, or even the third. It’s not until after Will goes back to work. 

 

His doctor has advised him that it would be wise to continue avoiding stress of all sorts (mental, professional, sexual) for at least another month, but that if he accidentally encounters some it probably won’t kill him, which Jack interprets as both a ringing endorsement of Will’s wellness and as permission to bring him in on a case immediately. Objectively, it’s not a good idea, but it’s pretty much par for the course as far as Will is concerned, so really he expects it all would’ve gone fine if not for the suspect with mental shields like a business of rabid ferrets.

 

Added to the scraped-off layer of his brain, the sensation of hundreds of tiny claws digging into his psyche is enough to drive Will temporarily mad. He doesn’t really remember shutting himself in the bathroom at the dinky local police station in Pennsylvania, but he does vaguely remember Beverly Katz knocking on the other side of the door, struggling to keep her shields together, and saying, “Will? Can we call someone for you?”

 

Will mostly just wants his dogs, the comforting emptiness of their canine minds, but he doesn’t think the FBI is going to send someone to go retrieve seven dogs from a state three hours away. 

 

But he needs something. He feels like he’s coming apart at the seams, and holding his head in his hands, no matter how tight his fingers are digging in, isn’t really doing it for him.

 

“Hannibal,” he thinks he says. He gets told later that he doesn’t really say it at all, but that the entire police station—most of which is waiting outside in the rainy parking lot—hears his voice clattering around inside their skulls like someone standing on a roof banging pots and pans and screaming at the top of his lungs: HANNIBAL, HANNIBAL, HANNIBAL.

 

Hannibal’s still two hours away, even if he comes, so Will sticks his head under the faucet and tries to calm himself down with a breathing technique that a well-meaning school counselor had read on a yoga website and tried to teach him in the third grade, but it’s never really worked before and it doesn’t work now. 

 

He can feel little fits and spurts of people’s thoughts all around him, like flies fat and stupid with blood bumping against an open wound. Luckily, the perp has been taken off the property and into FBI custody (on account of Will yelling at Jack, Him, it’s him! on his way to go puke), so Will doesn’t have to deal with anymore rabid ferrets, but he still gets fleeting, nauseating glimpses of people in the parking lot thinking about Italian hoagies and their kid’s peewee soccer game and how tight their wife’s sister’s ass looked in those yoga pants at the family barbecue last week. 

 

It’s a near-constant stream of triviality, of absolutely fucking inane drivel, and Will gets so fed up about the smallness of it all that it shouldn’t come as a surprise, later that night, when he stands over half a dead body in Hannibal’s basement and thinks that nothing else in the world matters except the man he left sleeping upstairs. Who maybe isn’t anyone’s idea of moral but understands better than anyone Will’s ever met that the thin veneer which covers the reality of the world—that all people are is animals pretending to be civilized—is really just that: a veneer.

 

Either Will stands there with his head under the faucet for two hours, or he’s losing time again, because the next thing Will is aware of is Hannibal knocking very politely on the other side of the door and saying, “William? May I come in?”

 

“Yeah,” Will says, choking a little as he gets water in his mouth.

 

Hannibal’s voice comes back, muffled, “Would you mind unlocking the door?”

 

“Yeah,” Will says again, “I would,” because he’s not sure he’d make it over to the door if he tried walking right now. He’s feeling a little…spinny.

 

“Very well,” Hannibal answers. A moment later, he busts down the door with his shoulder. Will manages to sort of lurch out of the way, still holding onto the sink for dear life, and Hannibal closes the ruined door delicately behind him, dusts drywall off his three-piece windowpane suit, and turns to Will with an ill-concealed look of self-satisfaction. 

 

Will, who still doesn’t know at this point that Hannibal is the serial killer he’s been hunting for the better part of his entire career, reaches out without lifting his head and puts his wet hand on the front of Hannibal’s vest. Hannibal gives the appendage a mildly alarmed look, before taking Will’s wrist oh-so-gently between his fingers, and stepping closer. 

 

“Did you mean it?” Will asks. “In the car, about—greater lengths.”

 

“Of course,” Hannibal says, in the sort of hushed reverent tone that one uses in a church. “Any service that you should require. You need only ask.”

 

The truth of the statement holds when Will straightens unsteadily from the sink, using Hannibal like one of those IV poles they give him to walk to the plasmapheresis recovery room; Hannibal only slides an arm around his waist to steady him.

 

“I need you to center me,” Will says, trying to give Hannibal a quite serious look in the eyes that he’s pretty sure comes across twitchy and deranged, with the wet hair and the dripping face and all. “That guy destroyed my control, I’m all over the place—“ 

 

“I have never had to center a telepath before,” Hannibal informs him.

 

“Just focus on your shields,” Will tells him, dredging up years-old emergency instructions from his field orientation in the NOPD, “and grab onto me really hard. Like, bruise me.”

 

Hannibal looks vaguely distressed at the idea of hurting him, which is touching, really, except that Will’s kind of dying here and he needs Hannibal to manhandle him. So he grabs Hannibal first, fingers tight around his bicep, and lets some of his jittery desperation bleed over into Hannibal, as a kick in the pants. 

 

“Oh,” Hannibal breathes, “oh, my dear,” and takes hold of him. 

 

Hannibal’s shields wash over him like dipping under the surface of a pool in the middle of a hot summer day, and the relief is so overwhelming that Will slumps forward against his psychiatrist’s chest and makes a noise that’s probably illegal in Alabama. 

 

It’s only then, after Hannibal has escorted Will out to his car, surreptitiously (but not really that surreptitiously, because everyone is watching them until Will glowers at Beverly and she takes the hint to tell everyone else to mind their own fucking business) holding Will tight with an arm underneath his workman’s jacket, after he’s driven him all the way back to Baltimore, insisting that it’s better for Will not to be alone right now, after Will’s gone into the bathroom to swallow an entire bottle of excedrin and run his head under the tap again, after he comes out and hears the tail end of what appears to be Hannibal telling Jack off over the phone—it’s only then that Will gives Hannibal a long look across the foyer, feeling like he’s been reduced entirely to a thing that wants Hannibal’s hands on him, and says, “I’d really like you to fuck me.”

 

Hannibal gives a small, surprised tilt of the head. “Is this part of your centering?”

 

“Not really,” Will admits. “It can be if you want.”

 

“What do you want it to be, Will?”

 

Will’s too wrung out to be sure what the right answer is—the answer that will get him in Hannibal’s bed. Normally he might be able to figure it out. Now all he has is honesty. 

 

“I want it to be…a proclamation,” he says. 

 

It’s the most dramatic thing that’s ever come out of his mouth, and in any other circumstance he might be mortified. But it’s Hannibal he’s talking to, who puts on dinner parties that are really more like five act plays and patronizes the opera and broke down the bathroom door when he could have just gone out to the parking lot and asked any officer for keys. 

 

So instead of getting a laugh to cover up discomfort, which is what Will is pretty sure he would’ve gotten from anyone else, he gets dark eyes, a sudden, predatory stillness, and the words, “Then a proclamation it shall be, my dear Will.”

 

Will moans before Hannibal even makes it across the foyer to kiss him. Sue him; his brain has lost a layer to scraping and a significant chunk of meat to some very angry ferrets. 

 

Hannibal certainly seems to like it, if his answering growl is any indicator. And then he’s holding Will’s jaw carefully in his hand and fucking devouring his mouth, clothes are flying and Will’s gun hits the floor with a thump and Hannibal picks him up—somehow still in his pants and shirtsleeves even though Will’s buck fucking naked—and carries him up the stairs.

 

Two hours later, Will shuts the front door quietly behind him, and says, “Fuck.”

 

***

 

No one would ever dare describe Hannibal as ‘sloppy,’ but basically everyone who’s ever met him would describe him as ‘arrogant,’ and therein lies the problem.

 

If Will remembers high school English correctly (which he might not, given how many nights he spent working at the shipyard and how exhausted he was all the time and how he mostly just copied answers straight out of the brain of the straight-A student with flower berets in the front row), then hubris is a fatal flaw that crops up quite a lot in tragedy. And while Will figures he doesn’t have anything like fate or prophecy to contend with, undermining the effects of Hannibal’s pride is going to be a tall order in and of itself. 

 

He starts subtly altering his Ripper profile. He claims it’s got to do with the new bodies they’re finding, and it’s bullshit but neither Jack nor anyone else in the BAU knows enough to dispute him. Beverly and the forensics squad suffer a catastrophic loss of data when someone forgets to put the server room thermostat on the correct temperature during a heatwave, and Will spends a long two days shut up in a conference room with them and Jack pretending to try to reconstruct all the files from memory. 

 

Will’s capacity for playacting is very limited to begin with, and the more he covers for Hannibal the cockier Hannibal seems to get, so the more playacting Will has to do.

 

All telepaths are used to faking it to a certain degree, of course. Smile at the pretty blonde cashier while trying to ignore the fact that she’s thinking about plowing her girlfriend with a strap-on and her shields are shit. Hurry through the empty parking lot to the car, and don’t start a fight with the drunk who said well hel-lo when you passed the alley where he was taking a piss, because it’s not actually a crime for him to picture shoving you up against the wall and making you suck his cock, so the only thing throwing a punch will do is land you in jail. 

 

But that’s temporary stuff. By the time he made it to high school, Will barely even registered it anymore. Nowadays, it feels like he’s lying to everyone about everything. It’s exhausting. He gets home every night and just about collapses inside the door, forcing every muscle in his body to relax one by one while the simple happiness of his dogs quiets his scattered mind. By the third time he has to stop one of his students in the hall to ask them what day it is, he figures that the amount of whiskey he’s drinking and the amount of excedrin he’s taking with it is probably not a long-term solution.

 

Yeah, he caves. But he tells himself that he’s only going to let himself go to Hannibal once. 

 

He’s been artfully and then not-so-artfully avoiding Hannibal’s dinner invitations, but it’s been a few weeks since they slept together and Will knows he’s starting to get suspicious. A proclamation, he’d said, and that had clearly meant something to Hannibal, and now the most contact they’ve had in almost a month is one late-night phone call full of long, dangerous pauses and a few brief meetings in the halls of Quantico where Hannibal did his best to communicate as much carnal intent through the touch of his hand at Will’s fully-clothed elbow as he possibly could, all while Will attempted not to catch on fire while Alana watched, patient and completely unawares, from the sidelines.

 

But Will hasn’t had a good meal or a good night’s sleep in what feels like for-fucking ever, so he calls Hannibal and, the second he picks up, says, “Are you free for dinner?”

 

There’s a brief pause. Probably Hannibal reconciling the (correct) impression that Will’s been avoiding him with this sudden intensity. Then Hannibal remarks, “This is quite fortuitous timing. I’ve been meaning to test out a new dish that I suspect you will enjoy.”

 

“Good,” Will says, “great, I’ll be there at seven.”

 

It’s not until he’s sitting at the table with a fork halfway to his mouth that he remembers he might be eating some perfectly nice man by the name of Joe with two-point-five kids, a wife, and a secret stash of Oktoberfest-themed pornography under his bed. Antelope, Hannibal had told him, over drinks in the kitchen, seared in a green chili sauce. Will figures it’s probably too elaborate a thing to lie about, fucking antelope, and anyways if he’s going to be spending the rest of his life with this man he should probably get used to believing his lies (at least in the culinary department) or get used to the idea that he might be eating Joe.

 

After dinner, Will lingers in the door to the kitchen watching Hannibal do the dishes, and finds to his distant but not unsubstantial distress that it’s not hard at all to focus on the wet, sudsy skin of Hannibal’s forearms where he’s rolled his sleeves up over his elbows, and forget entirely that eight feet below them is a murder basement.

 

He tunes out for a few minutes, looking over the strong lines of Hannibal’s shoulders and thinking about what it had felt like, as a grown man, to be carried up the stairs. When he tunes back in, Hannibal’s saying something about second thoughts in a tone of voice that’s so uninterested and mild that Will knows immediately he’s faking.

 

“No second thoughts,” he interrupts, firmly. “Not about this.”

 

“No one would blame you, Will,” Hannibal insists, still with his back turned, “least of all me. Ours is an unorthodox relationship. Some might even say unethical.”

 

Because you’re my therapist, or because you kill people? Will wants to ask.

 

Instead, he says, “Hannibal…everyone does this eventually, don’t they? Everyone comes to a point in their life when they find the one thing they’d be willing to sacrifice everything else for.”

 

Hannibal stills in the process of drying his hands, and Will is struck with the sudden thought that maybe he’s not that to Hannibal. He’d only seen inside his mind for a split second. He doesn’t really know. Maybe Hannibal would rather keep on killing, alone and in secret, outsmarting the FBI and congratulating himself on his own cleverness by serving extravagant spreads made out of the one dinner guest who everyone’s wondering after. 

 

Maybe Will is always going to be secondary to Hannibal’s freedom.

 

“I mean,” he backtracks, with an awkward cough. “If I’m not that for you, then—“

 

He doesn’t have to finish that sentence, because Hannibal throws aside the dish towel with a lack of care that’s actually alarming, crosses the room in two strides, and kisses him. Will tries to grab onto his head, realizes he’s still holding a glass of scotch, and detangles himself from Hannibal so he can deposit it on the counter. 

 

Hannibal has him right back in his arms the second he turns around. He presses another short kiss to his lips, and Will tastes salt, and when they break apart he realizes Hannibal is crying, just a little. “Dear Will,” he murmurs, between their mouths. “Of course you are that for me.”

 

Will seizes him again, furious at himself and furious at Hannibal and furious that he knows about the Ripper and he can’t just come over for dinner, blissfully unaware, and let their verbal jousting in Hannibal’s dining room turn to a different sort of jousting in the bedroom.

 

He refuses to be carried, because he’s feeling bristly tonight, but the second he’s naked and laying back on Hannibal’s silk sheets he finds he suddenly has access to a deep well of patience. 

 

“I want very much to take you apart,” Hannibal tells him, kneeling between Will’s bent knees. His voice sounds almost the same as ever, except not quite, like a spool of thread that’s been unrolled and then rolled back up too fast. “Will you let me?”

 

Will stares at Hannibal’s big hands on the insides of his legs, pressing him gently apart, darker than Will’s own skin and sort of blurry without his glasses on. For a split second, he swears to god he sees a wedding band on Hannibal’s left ring finger.

 

“Of course I’ll let you,” he says, echoing Hannibal’s words in the kitchen. “Hannibal.”

 

***

 

Will’s been covering for Hannibal for six damn months. Miriam Lass is the final fucking straw.

 

His hands are shaking—with anger or fear, he can’t really tell—as he lets himself in the front door of Hannibal’s house. He has a key. He has a lot of things, now. A drawer in Hannibal’s walk-in closet. A toothbrush in the master bathroom. A bad habit of falling asleep with his mind lingering halfway down the street, at the intersection the FBI would have to come through if they wanted to storm the house in the middle of the night. 

 

The bullshit he fed Jack back at Quantico is only going to last for as long as it takes them to get another telepath in, a specialist. The brainwashing Hannibal did on Miriam is good if you’re just a normal person without the ability to peek in other people’s brains, but it stood out like a huge fucking beacon yelling, ’tampered with! I’ve been tampered with!’ the second Will got her to drop her shields. He’s not sure what Hannibal was thinking, or if he was thinking at all—maybe Will’s protection has gotten so good that he thinks he’s infallible.

 

He’s had two fake passports in his glovebox since a case a few months ago that would’ve involved a forger, if Will hadn’t destroyed some evidence. They’re for a Mr. and Mr. Haarlem, so he also has a couple of gold wedding bands that he got from a pawn broker (better that they look worn, not brand new). He takes the whole spread and positions himself in the sitting room to wait for Hannibal to get home from work. He figures the sitting room is his best bet if the big reveal goes south; all the knives are in the kitchen and in here it’ll take Hannibal a couple seconds to dive for one of those heavy ostentatious statues sitting around on pedestals, which will be long enough for Will to pull his gun and shoot him in the leg.

 

Not that he really wants to shoot the love of his life in the leg, or anywhere on his person, but, you know, needs must, and anyway he’s got a lot of unexpressed rage. 

 

A few minutes after he settles in, the door opens and closes, and Hannibal calls, “Will?”

 

“In the sitting room,” Will calls back.

 

There’s a moment of shuffling as Hannibal divests himself of his overcoat, his briefcase, and his keys, and then he’s coming through the doorway with a pleasant smile, dropping a kiss on Will’s head on his way to drop a file on his desk. “How was your day?” he asks.

 

“Fine,” Will says, tetchy, “except that the next person to take a look in Miriam Lass’s head is going to break that conditioning in three seconds.”

 

Hannibal stills. There’s a letter opener on the desk, very close to his hand. Will puts a hand on his sidearm, because it seems prudent, but doesn’t take it out of the holster.

 

“Are you going to shoot me, Will?” Hannibal asks, carefully.

 

“I don’t want to,” Will replies, too tired by a mile and knowing that there’s a long way to go before he can rest. “I’d rather we skip this part and use the fake passports I got us to flee the country before Jack wises up to the fact that I’ve been covering for the Chesapeake Ripper for half a year, but if you grab that letter opener, I’ll shoot you anyway.”

 

Hannibal takes his hand away from the letter opener. “I have a summer home in France that should do nicely.”

 

Will picks up the wedding rings, shoves one on his finger, marches across the room, and shoves the other on Hannibal’s. “You can book the flights. I have to go say goodbye to my dogs.”

 

Some of the stress of the last six months must bleed through into his words—or maybe it’s the idea of leaving behind his pack that finally does it, finally makes his voice crack and his eyes tear up behind his glasses—because Hannibal’s expression goes abruptly tender. “Oh, my dear,” he cups Will’s face in his hands and kisses him, and Will feels the hot overspill of tears, clinging heavy to his eyelashes, probably getting all over his lenses.

 

Will shoves Hannibal off. “I’m mad at you,” he snaps, but the statement probably loses some of its impact when he sniffles hard and wipes at his face. 

 

“I will meet you at the airport,” Hannibal says. It sounds like I’m sorry.

 

Will brings his dogs to a kennel and pays them all the money in his bank account to keep them for as long as it takes to adopt them out to good homes. 

 

It feels like he’s tearing out a piece of himself, listening to the echo of their barks in the back room, feeling the confused buzz of their fear and unhappiness, and he thinks—this is what he was actually talking about, when he stood in the kitchen and told Hannibal he’d choose him over everything else. With his job, with Hannibal’s victims, it wasn’t even hard. This is where he proves he meant it. This is where love gets its pound of flesh: sitting in his car in the kennel parking lot, the whole station wagon still smelling of dog, hair all over the interior, giving himself five minutes to cry so hard his chest aches.

 

When he’s all cried out, totally dry, he starts the car and drives to Dulles. 

 

They have until at least tomorrow morning before Jack will be able to get another telepath in to look at Miriam, and that’s only if he finds time somewhere in the frantic pandemonium of trying to build a case against Frederick Chilton. There’s plenty of time to fly commercial; by the time Jack figures out exactly how much wool has been pulled over his eyes, Hannibal and Will should be safely through customs at Charles de Gaulle and completely untraceable unless Jack somehow secures the cooperation of the notoriously uncooperative French police. 

 

Will remembers he still has his cell while he’s driving over the Potomac, and slows down to chuck it out the window into the river, so finding Hannibal in the departures hall is mostly an exercise in trial and error.

 

He finds him, at last, standing with two boarding passes near the end of the security line. His eyes light up when he sees Will coming towards him, even though Will must look like hell warmed over with his hair wet and windswept from the storm outside, his eyes red from crying, clothes that he thinks might actually be dirty crumpled and shoved hastily in a duffel, and Will realizes Hannibal must not have really known for certain whether Will would come. 

 

They’re only about twelve hours or so ahead of the biggest manhunt in FBI history, but Hannibal was scared he wouldn’t come, so Will takes the time, right there in the departures terminal, to grab him by the lapels (honestly, who flies in a three piece suit?) and kiss him for all he’s worth. 

 

The FBI’s really going to get an eyeful when they review the security footage, but Will figures that can just be his parting gift to Beverly: a bit of drama. 

 

“Greater lengths,” Will tells Hannibal, when he draws away.

 

Hannibal winds his fingers through Will’s, smiling with his eyes. Their fake wedding bands clink together. “Why ‘Haarlem’?” Hannibal asks, of all fucking things.

 

“I’ve come to empathize with the little dutch boy,” Will deadpans. 

 

“Sticking his finger in the dam,” Hannibal murmurs. “You have a poetic side, after all.”

 

Will doesn’t dignify that with a response, just rolls his eyes heavenward and leads the way into the security line. An hour later, Mr. and Mr. Haarlem take their seats in first class (because of course Hannibal would shell out for first class when they’re fleeing the law), their plane rumbles off into the deep night of the Atlantic, and Will feels a weight lift off his shoulders that’s bigger than just a case, bigger than just a cover-up.  

 

He’s leaving behind the veneer, he realizes. He’s not pretending anymore.

 

“Will?” Hannibal asks softly, beside him.

 

Will blinks over at him. He must have zoned out, because Hannibal’s watching him like he asked a question and is waiting for an answer. “Sorry, what?”

 

Hannibal reaches for his hand. “I asked, when did you figure it out?”

 

“Oh.” Will brushes up against the cool calm of Hannibal’s shields. It feels like the calm of the cabin pressure around them, white noise and cotton balls. “The first time we slept together.”

 

Hannibal fails to hide a flicker of surprise. “You have known for that long?”

 

“Yeah,” Will says, and then, because he’s so exhausted he could sleep for a week and Hannibal looks like he has a lot more questions, “I promise I’ll tell you everything, but right now I’m about to pass out and I’d really like to do it on your shoulder.”

 

“Then my shoulder is yours,” Hannibal says, with a faint, fond trace of amusement. And Will knows what he’s really saying is my whole body is yours. My whole self is yours. Will doesn’t need to see past Hannibal’s shields to know that. 

 

Will puts all his weight against Hannibal’s side, his head pillowed on his shoulder, and feels for a split second as Hannibal deliberately drops his shields, spilling forth a torrent of praise and affection and protectiveness and what he’d like to do to Will once they make it to his seaside villa, one strong surge of devotion that makes Will feel so safe and understood and cared for that he’s pulled immediately, unceremoniously, down to sleep. Grab onto me really hard, he dreams of himself asking, in a tiny bathroom, Hannibal with drywall on his suit jacket and a barely-concealed animal hunger in his eyes. 

 

Hannibal in the dream says, You need only ask, dear Will, and does.