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Quiet Asphodel

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The shimmering Swarovski crystal strings hanging from each of the three chandeliers immediately remind Will of tassels trailing the dress of a 70's starlet and he cannot stand the sight of them. Nor the faint purple glow each gives off, which douses the wide ballroom from high ceiling to glossed floors in peculiar mood lighting. He isn't sure anyone else but himself is bothered at such a display until Phyllis' soft voice is in his ear from behind.

            "I told him this was too much."

            Will looks over his shoulder at her; she wears a beleaguered expression, and a modestly-clinging white evening gown. The purple light deepens the shade of her bare brown arms. "You should have talked him out of it," Will says, and cannot keep the agitation from his voice, not even to her. "This is ridiculous. And whose dime is this on, anyway? The BAU? Or is this his money?"

            Phyllis snorts. "You know he wouldn't be spending his money. I could barely get him to tip the valet."

            A waiter, clad in simple black and white, appears to their side with a tray of chardonnay glasses. Phyllis and Will make identical motions for him to leave quickly.

            "No," she resumes, "it's a BAU affair. I'm quoting him. He said it's the least they could do after what you've accomplished." She pauses to allow for Will's disgusted noise and eye-roll. "I know. But maybe there's a point somewhere here. Anyway, he went through all this trouble so you might as well enjoy it."

            Will shakes his head, turns to look at the floor. He sees himself in its polished surface, so instead gazes back at the chandeliers.

            Phyllis places a hand on his shoulder. Plump lips quirk to a smile. "Just try, Will. Besides–"

            "Hey, hey," a familiar heavy arm is around Will's shoulders, voice jovial at his side, "it took me forever to find you."

            Will looks up into Jack's face, his expression two notches south of a beam. "Maybe you shouldn't have invited half the city," Will says, shoulders sagging under the leaning weight.

            Jack uses his hand to tug at Will's ear sharply, to the soundtrack of Will's grunt and Phyllis' sigh.

            "Leave that boy alone," she says.

            Jack ignores her, now eyeing Will with one eyebrow raised. "What are you wearing, Will? You did hear me say black tie, didn't you? What are you even dressed for, a quiet night in? Bowling?" He takes his arm from around Will and picks a long dog hair from the shoulder of his beige-plaid shirt. His subsequent expression is one of barely muted disappointment.

            Will snatches the dog hair back. "Can we not have this conversation?"

            "Yes," Phyllis groans, "let's not."

            "Let's do," Jack says. He brushes at Will's clothes hurriedly, constantly looking over his shoulders to see if any of the hundred-odd guests are watching. Though, Will notes, the majority of them are far too enamored with the roving waiters and their trays of chardonnay and shrimp and figs. Will finally jerks away, and stands back at arm's length. Jack manages, somehow, to frown just a bit deeper, before sighing a resignation. "Okay, Will, just... don't cloister yourself over here. It's a big night; you're the man of the hour. I need you to mingle."

            Will shrugs. Over by a large arrangement of hyacinths stand Beverly Katz and Jimmy Price. They seem to notice Will and wave their glasses at him.

            "Okay, I'll go mingle," Will says and has not taken two steps towards them before Jack catches him by his shirt sleeve.

            "Not them," he says. "Come with me."

            Will glares up at Jack as he is led in the completely opposite direction; Phyllis gives him a little half-smile, and further back Jimmy looks confused while Beverly is roaring laughter at his side. Will grunts, turns and continues.

            On their way across the ballroom, they are accosted – Will thinks it such. Men and women whom Will has never met before stop them to shake his hand. Congratulate him. Tell him welcome aboard. Will bears their praise with something akin to a smile, and he uses his glasses to deflect direct eye-contact. Jack stands next to him and nods and smiles and echoes their sentiments. Will thinks he can only make it through the crowd because of Jack's nearness. Left to his own devices, when faced with such an obstacle, he would simply about-face to the parking lot, retrieve his car and return to Wolf Trap.

            They make it to the other side of the crowd, to a strip of white-clothed dining tables, each set and chaired for six people. A fair few guests litter the tables. Feet from them, standing in a private semi-circle with wine glasses held aloft, are three people, two of which Will recognizes instantly and he turns to Jack.

            "You don't want me to mingle at all," he says hotly. He makes note that Jack at least has the decency to look demure. "You want to throw me to the sharks and then leave me."

            "Will, Bloom and Chilton aren't sharks."

            "You're not the one they're trying to get their teeth in to." Will stares at Jack for a second longer, then turns back. "No, forget it, I'm not doing this."

            Jack has him by the wrist. "Will," he whispers, "stop acting like a kid, Jesus."

            "Let go of me–"

            "Nobody's here with some agenda; it's just a night to celebrate!" Jack's voice takes on a foreign air of pleading. "Just have some polite conversation. Talk about the weather, I don't care. Just–"

            "Will!"

            Jack and Will cease their struggle at the closeness of Frederick Chilton's voice. Will's shoulders slump and he turns back, faced with the man's placating smile, his sharp black suit. Alana Bloom is walking up just behind him, all rose-red lipstick and raven dress. At their side, the left of Alana, stands a man taller than Chilton, broad of shoulder and ashen of hair. Maybe mid-forties. Under the purple chandelier, his eye-color is somewhere between black and maroon. He catches Will's wandering gaze for a half-second, and Will tears it away. He sighs. 

            "Hi, Frederick." Will does his best to sound bored. Jack elbows him, but he persists. "Hi, Alana."

            "You did great, Will," Alana says. Her smile is soft, and her black hair falls across her shoulder as she tilts her head. "Everyone's saying they might not ever have caught Hobbs without you. You came in the nick of time."

            Frederick coughs. "You might try footnoting me, Alana, if you're going to say what I just got done saying a moment ago."

            Alana is still smiling, but there is a twitch at her left eye.

            Jack seems to be pretending he hasn't noticed the last moment or so. Instead he gives Will a pat on the shoulder, says something about finding one of the fig waiters, and leaves. Will resists watching him go. He knew this would happen.

            "Will," Alana says, recovered now from her twitch, "I want you to meet someone. He's a very close friend and my ex-professor, Dr. Hannibal Lecter." She stands aside and holds a hand out to the man who has, until now, been content to stand by and watch Will's discomfort with hawk-eyes. He has a half-drained chardonnay glass in one hand, and his other he holds out to Will.

            Will sighs inwardly. He takes the man's hand and in the small space of time where their skin touches, Will is shocked by electricity. He withdraws quickly.

            Hannibal Lecter smiles slightly. "Have you been doing laundry recently?"

            Will shakes his head, ignoring any intent of levity. He clears his throat. "Dr. Lecter. So, a doctor of...?"

            "Psychiatry," he says.

            "Of course." Will's mouth tightens to one thin line. He makes a mental note to lay into Jack for this. The last thing Will needs is yet another psychiatrist jockeying for pride of place at his side. He has his hands full enough trying to evade Frederick and Alana as it is. No, this simply will not do. Will squares his shoulders, and looks up into the man's face. Those eyes. "Listen, Dr. Lecter. I'm really not in the market for a psychiatrist at the moment." He pauses, and eyes behind him, making sure Jack is not within earshot. "No matter what you might have been told."

            He looks at Will with a sliver of surprise and shakes his head. "I was not offering my services, but that is nice to know."

            Before Will can respond, Frederick huffs. "Well, I should hope not. Will has enough offers as it is."

            Alana eyes Will with a rounded gaze. "Oh, sorry, Will, I didn't mean to confuse you. No, Hannibal's just my plus one. Jack was pretty insistent on the plus one not turning into plus two and three, although I certainly had no shortage of friends who wanted to meet you."

            "Everyone wants to gawk at a murderer," Will says.

            At that, neither Frederick nor Alana have anything to say, merely look at him as if caught off guard. Will can feel his neck redden and he leaves as Alana opens her mouth again. Whatever placating thing was about to come out of her, Will cannot bear to hear it. He won't.

*

The Grand Ballroom of the Four Seasons Baltimore. Will looks back at the lit-up windows and French doors that lead out to the white-washed patio, and further down arched staircases into the lush of the garden. From down here, the half purple light emanating from the ballroom almost looks calming. He can't believe Jack went through all this trouble, even if it was on the dime of the BAU. Something like this would almost seem affectionate if Will did not know the motive behind it. He wishes he could forget. He would like to do that. To be able to go back in and drink with Beverly and Price and Zeller, wherever he was. To pretend that this was simply a welcome party to the Unit, and that it was not shaded with Jack's desires and outlined with Will's own faults.

            That would be enjoyable.

            Will exhales through his nose. It's too bad that isn't possible. He sits on a stone bench in the garden which is encircled by a tall row of hyacinth bushes. The moon above is streaked with clouds and it would be pitch-black if not for the florescence from the ballroom and the garden lights at Will's feet that illuminate the cobblestone path from the base of the steps and wind snake-like throughout the garden. The smell is of freshly-cut grass.

            Will stares up at the clouds moving at glacier pace when he hears footsteps and he groans, thinking Jack's found him already. He looks up and finds himself once again under the fervent stare of those maroon eyes, which now are black as the sky above.

            Hannibal Lecter holds two glasses of chardonnay.

            "Oh," Will says. "It's you."

            "Try to contain your excitement," he says. He motions with an elbow to the stone bench where Will sits. "May I?"

            Will shrugs, and slides a half foot to the right. Hannibal sits beside him, and hands him a glass. Will braces himself for oncoming psychiatrist-speak about his outburst, or worse – weather-talk. He's been braced for four or five minutes by the time he realizes none of that is coming. Hannibal sits quietly, sipping his chardonnay, and looks at the visible bits of moon. Will glances at his profile quickly, before resettling and doing the same.

            There are crickets chirping in the bushes behind them, and somewhere there must be a fountain for the sound of water placidly bubbling, but Will cannot see it. Further back, there comes the soft din of cars on the road. Will sighs after his glass is emptied, and he looks to see Hannibal has finished his as well. He sits motionless, hands cupping the stem of the glass, perched on his knees.

            Will sucks his lower lip in between his teeth. He practices what he is going to say in his head briefly, then says it: "Sorry for jumping to conclusions. In there, what I said about not being in the market for a psychiatrist. That was pretty rude."

            Hannibal, who had previously made no indication he was even listening, finally turns to look at Will. His lips quirk. "All is forgiven. I assume you're used to the ardent attentions of psychiatrists lately."

            "Even you can see the way Alana and Frederick look at me."

            "Well, yes. And Alana informed me of her intentions."

            Will pulls a face, rubs a thumb around the rim of his glass. "Just like I thought. Even before... before Hobbs, Jack was thinking I should have someone to talk to. I don't know if he thought I was disturbed or what. But now, with what happened, he won't get off my back about it."

            "Getting a psychiatrist?"

            "Yeah. He just wants a spy, that's all," Will says and looks down at their feet side by side. Hannibal's black Oxfords. Will's brown hiking shoes, frayed laces. "Someone in my head to make sure I still work the way he wound me up. I managed–" Will half-smiles, "–managed to scare off a few. Dr. Marigold. Dr. Ayers. Dr. Lynn-Zale. Dr. – you get the idea. I'd just, you know, be rude to them, I guess. But no matter what I do, Alana and Frederick stick to me like glue."

            "Maybe they genuinely find you interesting," Hannibal says. His voice is soft, and Will can't place the accent though in the back of his mind he's trying. Ukraine? Danish? No, something Baltic.

            "Maybe they genuinely want to align themselves with me and have access to case study upon case study at the expense of the BAU. Not only that but they'd have a bonafide monster-hunter for a star patient," Will says.

            Hannibal looks at him. "A murderer."

            "It's what I am."

            There follows a long pause, and Hannibal is looking at him; Will can almost feel the pull that he is trying to engage. Eye-contact. Will won't indulge. Hannibal then seems to abandon it for the moon again. "I hear they have a different name for you at the BAU."

            Will freezes. "God, you heard about that? Well, don't say it."

            "I won't." He smiles. When Will looks up at him again, the clouds have cleared from the moon and pale light hits the left side of Hannibal's face. He stands then, and holds out his free hand to Will. "Would you like to go back inside?"

            "I guess." Will places his glass in Hannibal's outstretched hand, and walks along the glowing path back to the patio. Hannibal is behind him, light on his feet. They open the French doors together, Hannibal on the left, Will on the right. The conversation and clanks of glasses and laughter in the ballroom are close to overwhelming compared to the quiet of the garden. Will instantly regrets his decision to return.

            Hannibal turns to him briefly and says, "I'm glad we had a chance to get off on the right foot, Will."

            Will shrugs, barely listening at this point. The shine of the room, the noise, come to him in surround-sound. "Right foot, wrong foot," he mutters, "it's probably the only time we'll ever meet. But you're right. Nice to clear the air." Will twitches, scratches at the back of one ear.

            He notices this: Hannibal's gaze on him softens. And his smile, where once curved with practice, loosens the smallest bit. Sharp points of teeth are visible, and there is depth to his expression, though from where that depth comes or why it exists at all, Will knows not. He does know that he has had enough of psychiatrists for one evening, so he shrugs, and as he walks off, says: "Good to meet you."

            He hears, "Indeed," before he is out of earshot.

*

"So, who's the stud?"

            "Jesus, Beverly," Will snaps, turning around. "Do you have to sneak up on me like that? And what stud?"

            Beverly gives him a raised eyebrow, as if Will knows, but Will does not know. The blue dress she wears looks wholly disconcerting on someone Will doubted even knew what dresses were. He thinks Beverly would wear slacks to her own wedding. Maybe laced with white, for tradition's sake. She has furnace color in her cheeks, and has probably chased the chardonnay waiters around all evening.

            "You know, Mr. Secret Garden Meeting," she says, and grins. "The stud. Me and Price saw him go after you when you stormed out like Cinderella at midnight. Is it another psychiatrist?"

            "Oh," Will says and his shoulders lower. He's going to let the Cinderella thing go, for time's sake. "That's just Dr. Lecter. He's a friend of Alana's, and he's a psychiatrist but he isn't interested in me. Thankfully."

            Beverly shrugs, as if she isn't really interested in details if they don't lead to smut. "Guess not everyone has what it takes to be the prince's suitor."

            "Beverly," Will says, voice like a warning sign.

            "What? Oh come on, no one's listening." She motions to where they stand – over at the side of the ballroom by a lonely table of sweating cheese balls. Will had come here to find solitude, not Beverly. He supposes it could be worse.

            He shakes his head. "That's not the point. I want that nickname to stop. It's annoying, and really inaccurate."

            "Inaccurate?"

            "'The Prince of the BAU'? I'm not a prince, and the FBI isn't a monarchy, so cut it out."

            "I didn't even start it!"

            "I don't care who started it, I'm ending it right this minute." Will pauses, one eyebrow knitted. "Even Dr. Lecter knows about it, and he never even met me before tonight."

            "The stud?"

            "Stop it, Beverly."

            She hums a noncommittal noise, turning her attention to the cheese balls. Runs her fingers over the lot of them before selecting one, taking a small bite. "Well anyway, I'm glad you got away from them. I don't know anyone here – well, I do, but I don't like them. And Price left early, he said he left his stove on or something."

            "What about Zeller?"

            "He's out ring shopping for his girlfriend." She places the half-eaten cheese ball back on the tray. "He wants to pop the question, I guess."

            Will eyes it with one brow raised. "Didn't know he even had one. A girlfriend."

            "Learn something new every day."

            For all of Beverly's foibles, she does proceed to keep Will safe for the remainder of the night. Agents and dignitaries do approach their desolate corner of the ballroom and leave almost as quickly after seeing what shambles Beverly has made of the cheese balls. Post Will's handshakes, Beverly too shakes their hands, leaving greasy streaks and crumbs against their palms. She grins when they make excuses to leave. She in no way alludes to her protection of Will but Will sees it for what it is.

            The notion comes upon him: he wishes Beverly were a psychiatrist. Such a situation would satisfy Jack and dissipate the perpetual cloud of suitors haunting Will's every movement. Yes, even from across the room, though they do not approach, Will feels the weight of Frederick and Alana's stares. Furtive, quick. Will cannot escape them. They find it in themselves the good manner to not attempt any further seduction of Will this night, though whether that stems from Will's prior outburst or their preoccupation with the conversation of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Will cannot say. Hannibal is all grace and stoicism, and he does not send childish hopeful glances in Will's direction, probably is no longer aware of his presence.

            Ah, Will thinks, there is one who will not hound me, at least. And thank goodness for that.

            The night ends and Will comes back to Jack and Phyllis as if by the pull of orbit. He dutifully says goodnight to the guests as they leave and thanks them for their attendance, their support. Most look at him as if he is a wonder. A few look mistrustful, even fearful. Will cannot blame them.

            In front of the Four Seasons, the clouds have dissipated overhead and the moon is brighter than when he was out in the garden. Will stares up at it. He hears the soft hum of his Sedan as the valet pulls it next to him on the curb. He opens the door for Will and departs as Jack and Phyllis stand before him.

            "I know it was a long night," Phyllis says, offering a tired smile. "But you did great."

            Will shrugs.

            Jack seems like he wants to say something derogatory; whether it is of Will's clothes, his clinging to Beverly Katz for dear life, or his overall gloomy appearance, Will knows not. Jack resists, and instead pats Will on the shoulder. "You'll adjust," he settles on. "There'll be plenty more celebrations to come."

            Phyllis mutters, "One serial killer at a time, Jack." She says goodnight to Will with a soft kiss at his temple and tells Jack she'll be in the car. The valet has pulled theirs up just behind Will's. When she is gone and settled in her passenger seat, Jack turns back to Will.

            They are alone now. No agents. No dignitaries. No psychiatrists. Will is free to say it.

            "Dad," he says and it feels strange, freedom in the form of throwing himself from a building's tenth story. "This is morbid. I can't do these parties."

            Jack sighs, hands shoved down into his pockets. "Are you feeling okay, Will?"

            "What? Yes, I... yeah. I'm fine, I just don't want to be hailed as a hero for emptying a chamber into someone."

            "A murderer, Will."

            There's a pause, during which Will isn't sure if Jack means Garrett Jacob Hobbs or himself. He assumes the former and continues: "Right. Well, just, can we cool it with the ballrooms and wine and suits? I just want to do the job."

            "And you will. Look, if the party was too much, I'm sorry. Your first time out of the gate, I wanted to do something special for you."

            Will's expression softens. "I get it." He takes a step back, places his hand on the door jamb of his car. "Thanks."

            Jack smiles, just a bit. He takes a step back towards their car where Phyllis waits. Turns back to Will once again, his eye taking in the length of him. "You sure you're okay?"

            Will's laugh is hollow, but he does manage a smile. "Never better."

*

The drive from Baltimore to Wolf Trap is exhaustive on any normal day, but after the party Will feels so drained he could pull over and simply sleep on the highway. He doesn't for the sake of the dogs at home. The moon is following him, rising higher over pine tree tops and stray clouds. The further out he goes, away from city lights and florescence, the more stars appear. Their twinkling gazes remind him of judgment. His back aches and his fingers grip the wheel too tight. He realizes that he hasn't eaten since lunch, and the chardonnay in his stomach sits queerly. Sloshing. Not unlike his head.

            He eyes the passenger seat next to him. Hobbs is staring back at him, blue eyes filmed over, red streaks of veins beneath. His torso is red and mottled with bullet holes in a haphazard spray. Mouth open and curved downward, leaking stomach bile that dries at the corner of his lips. Green and yellow.

            Will looks back at the road ahead. Hobbs is there for another three miles, and by the time Will passes the next exit, he is gone again. The smell lingers. Will grits his teeth. The smell always lingers.