Actions

Work Header

Quiet Asphodel

Chapter Text

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.

           

 

 

Chapter Text

Jack has pulled up another chair to sit before his desk: it comes to three in total. He sighs and plops down into the recline of his own brown chair. He has not been looking forward to this. He feels the prelude to a headache already buzzing at the base of his neck. But it has become overwhelmingly clear to Jack, in the light of the party and Will's overall appearance, that it is high time to have this conversation and solidify, by any possible means, a connection and a claim on Will.

            Yes, Jack has seen. Though Will tries to hide, curled up and fast-blinking behind the wide shield of his glasses, Jack has seen through the lenses and into the boy's green eyes behind which lies something circulating, heaving, living. This thing, Jack knows not from where it comes or why, but he has noticed it since the death of the Shrike. Jack had anticipated Will's first run to be fraught; he did not anticipate what he'd seen on that spring-cold day in the sun: Will staggering from the Hobbs house dressed in blood, carrying an empty gun. That was the moment, the instant, when Will's eyelashes began to constantly lower, his gaze turned ever upward, sideward, to his shoes, in shy hopes that Jack would not notice a burgeoning change in him.

            Jack cannot let this fetus in Will take one single breath. He will kill it in the womb, and for this he needs help. So he will bear the headache. And he waits.

            No sooner does his Rolex turn to 2 PM does the glass door to his office open, producing Dr. Frederick Chilton, in mint-green tie and brown suit. His hair is swept back, shining with some sort of product, and he smiles at Jack with brief hesitation as if he were expecting Will as well. He walks further into the room and sees his chair, and the other two empty.

            "Oh, Jack, no," he says. "You did not tell me Bloom was coming."

            Jack shrugs. "You didn't ask, doctor. Please have a seat; you're early, as usual."

            Frederick sighs, depositing himself into the leftmost seat. "If by early you mean on time. Which, I must say, Jack, is yet another reason I should be considered over Alana. And a third chair? Who is this mystery doctor, might I ask? Will's already frightened away half the ASA's northeastern register. And you know how he is with newcomers. I don't even–"

            Jack tunes out.

            Over the breakfast table this morning, Jack had relayed to Phyllis the outline of his plan for Will. She sat quietly throughout his explanation, taking minute bites of jelly-slathered toast. Dipping bacon into the runny yolks of sunny side-up eggs. Sipped coffee. When Jack was done, Phyllis wiped her mouth. She told Jack that she knew he would not listen to her advice on the matter, and wondered aloud why he would even feign to consult her on it. She said he was set on his course of action, despite all possible damage to the boy, as was his manner. When Jack opened his mouth to come to his own defense, she next said, "Just don't fuck him up."

            The glassed door to the office opens once again, in a more timid fashion than when Frederick entered. Alana stands in the doorway now, smiling, and both Frederick and Jack turn to see her blue form-fitting dress, turquoise pumps, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter behind her, who comes in dark grey suit jacket and light blue shirt beneath.

            Frederick takes in Hannibal for a long moment, then turns to Jack. "Oh, please tell me you're kidding."

            Jack sighs, "Pipe down, Dr. Chilton." He ignores the scandalized expression Frederick next wears and motions to the two empty chairs. "Dr. Bloom, Dr. Lecter, thank you for coming. Please have a seat."

            They do as told, with Alana in the middle, and Hannibal seated on the right. Frederick is shooting glances over at Hannibal, most of which are intercepted by Alana who rolls her eyes in Frederick's direction. Hannibal, to his credit, sits placidly with his hands folded on one knee, his full attention on Jack. Jack feels that for once he is not the only adult in the room.

            "Then let's begin," he says, leaning forward over his desk. He slides a mug half-full of cold coffee to the left. "I'm sure you all know we're here to discuss Will. Now I've had my concerns in the past few weeks... but they've been since cemented in light of Will's behavior at this weekend's event. I'm sure you all noticed it. Will's always been anti-social, it's just his nature. But it's my feeling that recently, he's been... hiding something. His feelings, his state of mind, it's all too dark for my tastes. I want to shine some light on the situation, and for that, I need to have Will seeing a psychiatrist, and ideally partnered with one for at least his next few runs."

            "Yes," Alana says, and her mouth is roselike, perked and red. "I noticed Will's behavior too. It's troubling."

            "He called himself a murderer," Frederick says.

            "It's not so uncommon, though, having such thoughts after taking a life." Alana shifts in her seat. "It's human."

            Frederick rolls his eyes now, mimicking Alana's earlier gesture. "Oh, please, the Shrike was a serial killer, and yes, Will did kill him, but Will has been trained to do so–"

            "I didn't train Will to kill," Jack says sharply, "I trained him to point. To corner. But it just happened this way, he didn't have a choice if he wanted to save the Hobbs girl."

            Hannibal Lecter nods. "Your birddog bit when he was meant to hold."

            Jack looks over at him. "Yes, I suppose." He drums his blunt fingertips into the wood of the desk. "Dr. Lecter, I had a chat with my agent, Beverly Katz, the other day. She said you and Will had a lengthy discussion after his outburst at the party."

            "Yes," Frederick says, leaning forward and sending a half-squint at the other psychiatrist. "Whatever did you talk about out in that garden?"

            Hannibal's face changes; not a smile, but something airy. "I would not call our conversation lengthy. He simply expressed to me some concerns."

            "Concerns?" Jack, Alana and Frederick say this in unison, and then proceed to eye each other uneasily, before returning their attentions to Hannibal.

            "Concerns. About the intentions of both Dr. Chilton, Dr. Bloom, and you, Jack. He finds your interests in him disingenuous. He is aware of Jack's longing to have someone report on his mental well-being. He feels pressured, and, I think, overwhelmed with the attention. He also apologized to me on the matter of his leaving the party and the circumstances of which."

            Jack's face is alight.

            Frederick looks aghast. "He apologized to you? Will Crawford apologized?"

            "Indeed."

            Alana releases a long-suffering sigh. She half-laughs. "Oh, Hannibal, you really are a wonder, aren't you?"

            Frederick is nearly leaning over Alana to get a closer look at Hannibal. "With what did you pry him so that he spilled for you so readily?"

            "I simply brought him a glass of chardonnay," Hannibal says.

            "Ah!" Frederick huffs, turning to Jack. "This is no miracle of psychiatry. Any man toting a case of whiskey can seduce a patient with liquor and get them loose-lipped."

            Hannibal's eyes move slowly to focus on Frederick. "Will was neither seduced nor intoxicated. Perhaps what he needs is simple human conversation as opposed to your virgin-like fumblings with his mind, Frederick."

            Frederick gapes. "I-I'll have you know–"

            "I've heard enough," Jack says, bringing bass to his voice to defuse any further conflict. All three psychiatrists regard him at once. "This is exactly why you three are here, and furthermore why I included Dr. Lecter in this meeting. Will is in tatters after the Shrike. He needs help, and if I'm being frank, I want Will in top condition for the Chesapeake Ripper."

            Alana's lips press together. "Jack. You know I don't want to argue, but the Ripper? For Will, that's..."

            "That's who Will is for," Jack says, and sets himself firmly back in his seat. On this he brooks no argument. "And you all know it. And Will himself knows it. When the Ripper reappears, Will needs to be ready to chase, and he can't do that if he's still limping around over the Shrike."

            Hannibal eyes Jack mildly, shoulders squaring.

            "Oh," Jack says, looking back at him. "Dr. Lecter, I'm sorry, are you familiar with the Chesapeake Ripper?"

            "I cannot say that I am."

            "Well, the details are gory, but he's a serial killer that's been operating on-and-off in the northeastern area for going on twenty years. The crux is, he kills in groups of three. And it only happens once or twice a year, three times at most. After a group, he goes silent for months. Once, it was even a year. It's a window that closes. When the Ripper is active, we have the best chance at catching him."

            "You mean Will," Hannibal says.

            "Yes. I mean Will." Jack sighs, smiles. "Anyway, Will needs a psychiatrist. A partner. Will is going to keep the people safe. I need someone to keep Will safe."

            "And," Frederick interjects, raising a finger into the air, "let none of us forget that I am the most experienced psychiatrist in the room on the subject of the Ripper. I consulted on this case years ago, and I've known Will the longest."

            Alana mutters, "None of us have forgotten, Frederick. You remind us every two seconds."

            "Will needs someone with experience. A deft hand," Frederick insists.

            "Well," says Hannibal, "we should begin the search right away."

            Frederick is sputtering, and meanwhile Alana ignores him, looking again at Jack. "Maybe what we need are new eyes, Jack." She smiles, pressing the palms of her white hands together between her thighs. "I could bring to this investigation some of my recent research on serial killers."

            Jack nods. "Your research is impressive, Dr. Bloom."

            "Alana is not right for Will," Frederick says easily. "I don't approve."

            Alana's face reddens. "Who cares what you approve, Frederick? Will can't stand you."

            "Oh, and I suppose he's been making vows of devotion to you, then?"

            "Okay," Jack says, loud, glaring at both of them. They settle into sullen silence. Jack clears his throat. His headache is in full swing, as expected. "Dr. Bloom is very right. This case does need new eyes. And, yes, Dr. Chilton has a point as well; experience shouldn't go unaccounted for. This is all why I've called Dr. Lecter here today, to ask him to please consider Will as a possible patient."

            Alana and Frederick appear aghast, which Jack ignores to focus on Hannibal's reaction. Hannibal only looks the slightest bit thoughtful and Jack finds himself admiring the strength of the man's poker face.

            "What do you say, Dr. Lecter? Are you interested in Will?"

            Frederick raises both hands wildly. "He said he wasn't! At the party, he expressly told Will he wasn't interested in being his psychiatrist."

            Jack cuts a glance at Frederick, and before he is able to silence him, Hannibal says, "Yes, this is true. Unfortunately."

            Jack's eyebrows quirk. "Unfortunately?"

            "I admit I do have an interest of sorts." Hannibal does then smile. "Will is, admittedly, charming."

            Alana smiles too. "He does have a scruffy allure."

            "Pure empathy, as well," Frederick says, settling. "So very rare."

            Jack eyes the three of them with some weariness. He does not know what to call it – this effect Will has on psychiatrists. Infatuation or some clinical lust. Each one is drawn to Will inexplicably. He hopes he can use this mental pheromone of Will's to his advantage and, truly, the betterment of the Unit.

            "So," Jack drawls, recapturing the attentions of all present, "you do have an interest in him."

            "I do."

            "Perfect!" Jack smiles broadly, ignoring the gloomy expressions of the other two psychiatrists. "You've already proven some mastery of Will, doctor, so going forward, let's consider this a test run. Just have a look at him. See if you can't get him to open up to you."

            Hannibal looks away for a moment, as if considering. He opens his mouth, and at that instant, the door to the office opens once more. Will is there, curls atop his head blustered about by the day outside, his clothes wrinkled and covered in dog hair. He stares down everyone in the room from behind squared glasses.

            "Oh, isn't this nice," Will says, voice seething. "And why wasn't I invited to this little discussion which is undoubtedly about me?"

            Frederick mutters, "You don't like parties."

            Will glares at him hotly and before Jack can come up with anything to defuse the situation, Will's eyes seem to settle on Hannibal Lecter. They hold each other's gazes for a long moment, before Will snorts airily and turns on his heel, leaving the office.

            Jack groans. "Wonderful."

            "I'll talk to him," Alana says, moving from her chair.

            "Oh, no," Frederick says, dripping sarcasm, "let Dr. Lecter here do it.  Let's see some of his mastery of our dear prince."

            Jack feels ready to smack Frederick but upon further introspection, he does not find him without point. He sighs then and motions to Hannibal limply. "Perhaps you should go after him, doctor. We might as well start today."

            Hannibal nods once, and rises. He leaves after Will, his footsteps echoing in the direction Will has gone. Jack sits back in his seat, rocks a little, and sighs. Will won't ever succumb now that he's seen this. Jack's plan has been murdered in its crib.

*

Though Will had only been inside the BAU Headquarters for moments, the bright of sunlight upon his exit causes him to squint. Summer heights of lush green leaves and bushes line the parking lot, and from where he stands on the concrete sidewalk at the front of the building, he can almost pretend he is back in Wolf Trap. Agents walk along the asphalt up towards the building, eyeing Will, some nodding in greeting. Will makes noncommittal gestures, hikes up his shoulders, stuffs his fists in his grey slacks. He looks over at his rusty Sedan which sits not far from the entrance.

            He could go back inside. He could stride back into Jack's office, all business-aired and nonchalant, as if he had never stormed out in the first place. He could tell Jack about his car, and ignore the hungry expressions of the doctors. He could do this.

            But pride will not let him. Thus, he stands on the sidewalk, shrinks from agents, hopes he sees no one who will attempt prolonged interaction.

            "Will."

            Will jerks around, green eyes wide on Hannibal Lecter who stands now before him. The wind pulls at him lightly and where Will's curls tumble to any breeze, Hannibal's hair remains perfectly still. "Dr. Lecter," Will says, eyebrows knitted. "You surprised me."

            "I'm sorry. I simply wanted to see if you were okay."

            Will composes himself, looks off to the side. "I'm fine." His eyelashes lower. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's not like I didn't know about my– his– Jack's meetings with psychiatrists about me. It's a goddamn conspiracy."

            Hannibal's expression brightens, Will thinks. Or perhaps it is just the sun passing over his face. "Conspiracy might be pushing it, don't you think?"

            "No," Will says. "He's trying to coach them on how best to court me–"

            Two more agents pass by, and their gazes rest on Will for a moment. Will groans and turns away completely, allowing Hannibal only the sight of his profile.

            "And I suppose," he says at length. The wind caresses his dark hair. "I suppose you've changed your mind too, Dr. Lecter." Will clenches his fists again in his pockets. He shouldn't be shocked, really. Hannibal's probably had a talk with Frederick and Alana about Will's peculiarities, and with Jack about the subsequent possibilities available for any psychiatrist who is able to partner with Will. How can one resist such temptation? Still, Will can't help but feel disappointed.

            "I was simply accompanying Alana to her meeting," Hannibal says. Will rolls his eyes, and then he continues: "And, too, Jack wanted to speak on the matter of the Chesapeake Ripper."

            Will turns fast. His shoulders and all the muscles in his extremities tighten. "The Ripper. Is he active again?"

            Hannibal looks taken aback. "Not that he indicated."

            "Oh," Will says. He deflates. "Then, what about him?"

            "Jack was thinking about getting some new blood on the case. New eyes. He seemed very keen to catch the Ripper in his next cycle, and therefore wants the response to be strong and ready."

            "I am ready," Will says. "I am strong. I wish he would butt out. I can handle the Ripper."

            Hannibal says nothing.

            "Why is it that everyone wants to help me with things I don't need help with?" Will asks, and this is more to himself than Hannibal.

            "What do you need help with, Will?"

            Will scoffs and lifts an arm out towards the parking lot. "My car's broken down. I barely got here. I wanted to see if..." Will shakes his head. "I don't know what I was thinking. Jack isn't interested in seeing Abigail Hobbs, and if I'd even suggested it, he would have tried to sic Alana and Frederick on me."

            "Abigail Hobbs?"

            "She's in the hospital." Will looks up into Hannibal's face – not his eyes. Not his eyes. His teeth then. They are visible ever so slightly. "When I killed Hobbs, he was trying to kill his daughter. Cut her throat. He managed it halfway, and she's been in a coma for weeks." What Will leaves out is that he has visited her limp pale body very often. For some reason, he does not think he needs to say this– Hannibal seems to know it, and he nods softly.

            Hannibal steps off of the sidewalk into the smooth gravel of the parking lot. He gestures towards a Bentley sitting slick in the sun. "Then, let's go."

            Will doesn't take much convincing, and soon he and Hannibal are in the luxury car and driving towards the George Washington University Hospital in D.C. Will leans back in the leather seats, doesn't speak much. He hears Jack's words from long ago in his head, that he should drive something reliable, safe. He said this while standing in the parking lot of a Mercedes dealership. Will had flat-out refused. He has never wanted something that screams station or privilege. Though he supposes that if something were ever to sway him into buying a newer car, it would have been the discomfort of having to rely on a psychiatrist to transport him around. He glances into the mirror overhead into the backseat; at least Hobbs is not here.

            Hannibal seems to have heard Will's sigh of relief, and he looks over, but says nothing.

            At the hospital, they obtain visitors passes, which Will has to mute his surprise to. He had expected Hannibal to simply leave him in the parking lot and drive off. When they ride the elevator up together, surrounded by smooth jazz from the speakers, Will forces himself to look straight ahead.

            Abigail is as Will left her. He was last here the Friday before the party, and he looked into her pallid face, the bandages wrapped around her neck. He told her how much he didn't want to go to the party. He said he would rather stay with her. A nurse had passed by the open door, sent him the scantest of glances, and Will felt his whole face redden.

            He stands now beside Hannibal at her bedside. The room is modest but brightened by the large open window behind them. It smells of sick, mixed with flowers that sit on the table. Posies, and daffodils. A get-well card from a distant relative. Will has thought about sending flowers too. He then thought better of it.

            Abigail's heart monitor beeps steady.

            Will looks over at Hannibal finally. He too stares down into her face, as if he is trying to familiarize himself with every curve and line. As if he is trying to imagine what she looks like awake, maybe smiling. Will has never seen her smile.

            "I made a mess of my first run," Will says. The words slip from him as if on accident. Perhaps he meant only to think them, but now he cannot take them back. They fill the room like helium.

            "Is that what Hobbs was?" Hannibal asks. "A run?"

            "Yeah," Will exhales. "Yeah, he was my run. My test run. Like a hunt." Will is nodding. He doesn't know why.

            "I read about the Minnesota Shrike in the papers," Hannibal says. He looks at Will, then back to Abigail. "The young girls he murdered. You may have taken a life, Will, but you also saved them– those of the girls who he would have killed. Your run, as you say, could then only be deemed a success."

            Will stares hard at Abigail. "You call this a success?"

            "She isn't dead."

            "She isn't alive either, not really." Will pauses. "It's messy."

            "Hunting often is."

            "I'd imagined it so differently. I guess I thought it would be clinical. Jack always... he always said my job was to corner, so I figured, I'd corner and the FBI, or the police, or even Jack, would be holding the gun, pointing, reading rights. I imagined the killers on their knees, hands behind their heads. Demure." Will smirks. "I never looked at it realistically. Animals are wild when cornered. And I... I didn't expect her to be there. She was screaming, it was loud. He was whispering into her ear and for some reason, that was loud too. So he started cutting at her, and I started shooting, and I remember thinking afterwards, after they took Abigail away, thank God for my glasses. I didn't want blood in my eyes. It was everywhere, in my mouth, my nose, but I didn't want it in my eyes."

            "You felt alone." Hannibal is looking at him now, body squared towards Will. "You thought your father would be there with you, but you found yourself staring down this animal without help."

            Will looks at Hannibal wide-eyed, startled. Your father.

            Ah, Will remembers. He remembers what he said when he first shot Hobbs. What he and Abigail screamed as her throat was being cut.

            That word.

            Will cringes, and quickly turns, walks a few steps to the wide window. They are five stories up, and the city below is daytime bustling. It is easier to speak without Hannibal's eyes on his face. "It was baptismal. I have to hunt alone."

            "Perhaps that is what Jack is trying to prevent." Hannibal's footsteps approach. "By partnering you with a psychiatrist, he is telling you that you don't have to hunt alone. He wants a partner for you, Will."

            "Alana or Frederick," Will says, and touches the window sill. "Alana behaves innocently. She looks at me like she's trying to be tender. I can't stand it, because for all her softness, she is just as steely as anyone I have ever rejected. She doesn't know when to quit. And Frederick... Not long ago, Frederick Chilton invited me to his house for dinner. At midnight." Will nearly laughs. "I don't need a psychiatrist."

            And then Hannibal is beside him, hands resting beside Will's on the sill.

            He says, "What about a friend?"

            There it is. Will snorts, turns his head from Hannibal. "I'm not interested in psychiatrists at all."

            "You might become interested in one."

            Will pauses, turns back to see Hannibal staring at him, his lips quirked to a smile. Will's eyes flash upwards to meet those maroon eyes he had briefly peered into on the night of the party. Hannibal's smile softens, loosens, and he regards Will once again with that faraway gaze. It is so quiet then that Will hears his own heartbeat. The constant thud, throb, or is it beeping? It is. Will exhales, and he and Hannibal turn back, to see the bed and Abigail Hobbs and her open eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The flood of white coats and paper shoes into the room came as a sort of numb surprise to Will. He looked at Abigail, into her bleary blue eyes, before she was covered by doctors. In them he found recognition. It was minute, and bare, but recognition all the same and Will felt something inside him sting the smallest bit: a prick, and then a leak. Something trickled down, and distantly, he could hear the sound of a water droplet, as it met again with the vast expanse of the ocean.

            Hannibal Lecter drives Will home. Will is silent, his head lolling against the seatbelt strap, eyes on the passing byways and countryside. The sky moves from blue to orange, and then a deep purple. Stars are woken in the east as they pull up to Will's little white house in the flourishing Wolf Trap terrain. The Bentley rocks up the graveled driveway. Will had left a light on in the living room, and it stands bright now against the darkness around the house. When the car stops, there begins the barking, seven distinct sounds that Will could probably link to each individual dog.

            He doesn't realize it's time to get out until his passenger door is being opened from the outside. Hannibal stands there, and holds a hand out to him. Will unbuckles, and with a bit of reluctance, takes Hannibal's hand to steady himself upon exiting. They stand in the driveway; Will does not meet Hannibal's heavy gaze, and quickly retracts his hand. It is not lost on him that the psychiatrist's touch had been soft and cool.

            Hannibal looks towards the house, the yapping from inside. At a window, floppy ears are present. He says, "Ah. The fabled dogs."

            Will knits his brow. "Fabled?"

            Hannibal motions to Will's clothes, the vast and varied amounts of dog hair clinging to him. Will frowns and brushes half-heartedly at his chest. "Oh," he says.

            Will is aware Hannibal is trying to make eye-contact. He isn't in the mood.

            "Goodnight, Will," Hannibal says. He moves back around the front of the car to the driver's side. Will walks up to the porch and the light flickers on in response to his movement. The dogs excite further.

            "Goodnight, Dr. Lecter." Will stands at the screen door. He runs his bottom lip between his teeth. "Thank you for this. You didn't need to do it."

            Hannibal looks at him, and – Will cringes inwardly – does manage to catch Will's gaze. Even in the dark. "Anytime, Will." He gets in the car, and backs out of the driveway. Will goes inside, does not watch him leave. It is probably the last time he will see Hannibal Lecter. Perhaps he should have said goodbye instead of goodnight. 

*

Days go by and Will ignores the constant calls on his phone from Jack. Idly, he will listen to the harried voicemails inquiring as to why Will's Sedan is sitting in the BAU's parking lot. But he will not pick up. Will is doing this to make a point, however childish Jack may deem it to be. He does not appreciate private meetings concerning him, nor does he appreciate such feelings of secrecy. As when he was young and freshly in the care of Jack and Phyllis, he sensed the shift in Jack's eye on him once he found that Will had keen senses, and a well of empathy the depth of the Mariana Trench. Following that, there were hushed conversations. And Jack saying Will must be tested, taught, and taken care of in a particular way. Such things were simply the way when he was young and even in adolescence and his twenties, as he proceeded through criminology and sociology and psychology courses. Even that night in the forest.

            Yes, those things had been necessary to groom Will. But now he is groomed. He has brought down Garrett Jacob Hobbs. And he does not appreciate being kept in the dark.

            So he goes a few days without responding. Then, even Frederick and Alana call. And Will nearly laughs himself sick. He leaves his phone on the kitchen counter in his small house and spends much time outside with the dogs. They run in the summer breezes, and Buster is always last for want of long legs, and Winston is always at the head of the pack, because Will is sure something in him is still wild. He runs wolf-like, with a loping gait, and even during playtime, he will turn on the other dogs and hike himself up as if ready to chase and bite into them.

            Will tells Winston, "No, you don't bite. If you have to, just hold. But don't bite."

            Just beyond the wide flat lea at the back of his house, there is a small patch of woods which line a long river that goes through Wolf Trap. Will fishes there sometimes. Lately he treads only to the scant foliage that leads into the woods, with the dogs in riotous circle around him, and as they tramp and sniff through the underbrush, Will sits atop the stump of a green ash. He brings along novels, poetry. He has recently taken to pleasure reading. After long years of inhaling nothing but nonfiction and studies, reading sonnets of love and desire, reading long winding tales of adventure seems something in the realm of coarse. Filthy. It excites Will to be free of reason and logic and criminal minds. To be in this tender place that Marlowe has created, or Wordsworth, or Sidney. He will spend long afternoons in the deft care of Maugham, or submit wholly to Nabokov for the night.

            Though he is free now of his studies, he knows Jack would not approve of this.

            It's probably why he does it.

            In this, too, is some attempt at escape. But Will cannot read Wordsworth without thinking of Abigail.

            She dwelt among the untrodden ways

            Beside the springs of Dove,

            A Maid whom there were none to praise

            And very few to love.

            Will reads the words, over and over, until the blue of Abigail's open eyes is all he can see. He shuts the book and walks back towards the house. He doesn't need to call the dogs– Winston sees Will go, and he rounds the rest up, and they follow him at length. He walks beside Hobbs, who is at a fine gait, for someone riddled with bullet holes. The holes are leaking, dribbling black blood down the front of his shirt. When Will reaches the porch, Hobbs does not come up the steps. He stays on the ground, looking up through milky eyes.

            He says, "Take care of her." Bile and saliva mixes in his mouth.

            Will squints in the mid-morning sun. He says, "I'll do what I can."

            He and the dogs are back inside, the cluttered and cozy front room that acts to Will like the whole of his house, despite the empty upper floor. He thinks about making lunch, and looks in the freezer at the selection of hot pockets. On the counter, his phone buzzes, lit up in blue. Will heaves a sigh, waits until the call is done, and then flicks his phone open. Seven calls from Jack. Three from Frederick. Two from Alana. Two from Beverly Katz. One from Jimmy Price, one from Zeller.

            Will sighs.

            He calls Jack.

            "Will," the first thing shouted into Will's ear, "if you're going to act like a teenager when you're on cases now, I will pack you up and put you back at home." Jack's voice is gruff but hushed, as if someone might be nearby. There is wind blowing, and some sirens in the background. Will surmises all of this in half a second.

            "A case. A body," Will says, shutting the freezer door with his elbow. "Where?"

            "Don't get smart with me."

            "I can't help if you don't tell me where."

            Jack's sigh is trembling with rage. Will remembers the sound of it, and it does unnerve him, though he steels himself. He is not a child any longer. Finally, Jack says, "Ellicott, just outside of Washington. I'm guessing you're taking a cab since your car is sitting at Quantico."

            "You guessed right."

            Jack sighs again, this time devoid of any real heat. "Just get here, Will."

            Will hangs up, flips the phone closed. He leans onto the counter top, propped up on elbows, and rubs the phone against his lower lip.

*

Jack stands within the confines of the yellow tape that's been plastered around the crime scene. The sun rises high into the sky, and there are no shadows on the ground. Only his agents walking along the dead grass, clearing a few branches. They snap photographs of and around the body. Over the body, Price and Zeller argue about something Jack doesn't bother to discern. He simply stares down at the phone in his hand, and clenches it.

            "Okay, that's it," he grumbles, before flipping it open again.

            Beverly, who is passing by, slows to a stop as Jack begins to dial furiously. She waves a hand. "Hey, give him a break, he's not gonna get here in ten minutes!"

            Jack eyes her and shakes his head. "I'm not calling Will again. I'm calling Dr. Chilton."

            "What for?"

            "For Will!" Jack's finger pauses before pressing the call button. "He wants to be a stubborn mule and not pick a partner? Fine, I'll pick one for him. And I dare him to complain."

            Beverly groans loudly. She says, "But Will hates Chilton."

            "Will hates everyone."

            "Call the stud, Jack. Will doesn't hate the stud." The wind blows, and her long black hair rises around her shoulders. She smiles knowingly, crosses her arms, as if she has given Jack great knowledge. Jack can only stare blankly at her.

            "Beverly, who in blue fuck is 'the stud'?"

            "You know! That guy, that psychiatrist. He came around with Bloom. Didn't you say he even drove Will off a few days ago from Quantico?"

            Jack presses his lips together. He hadn't considered that. Hannibal Lecter hasn't said much over the last few days while Will has been cloistered up in Wolf Trap. When Jack called him late in the night, after they'd disappeared, Hannibal said only that he delivered Will home, that Will was safe, and not too angry. Jack didn't know the definition of 'not too angry' was to feign dead for three days. Phyllis has been, in her way, worried sick, and has taken to sending Jack slight glances over the dining table, glances that are so much worse than any evil eye he's ever received.

            "I'd almost forgotten about him," he says, more to himself than Beverly. "Chilton's been up my ass for days, asking about Will. Even Alana, to a point. It almost made me think Lecter wasn't interested, even after I'd offered Will to him."

            "He's... chill," Beverly says, eyes rolled upward in thought.

            "Chill," Jack echoes. He supposes that does sound like Will's type. So he does it. He calls Hannibal Lecter.

*

When Will pays for the taxi, he looks at the bill on the screen and thinks perhaps buying a Mercedes is less extravagant than he once thought. He sighs, exits the car, and finds the usual: agents bustling, yellow tape erected, FBI vans scattered around the grassy area. Though, Will has arrived later than he would have liked, and as a result he walks through the hoards of reporters who roam the line of tape, eager to get a word from any young or inexperienced agent. They recognize Will immediately, his drab clothes and curls and glasses. He hears them clearly as they cry out for the prince. The prince. There are no such things as furtive whispers amongst journalists. And a woman with red curly hair and pursed mouth, she shouts the loudest. She makes sure Will sees her.

            Will snorts, heads under the tape.

            He sees Jack first, who looks at him with less malice than Will had anticipated. He almost looks calm, or pleasant. Will doesn't trust it, and then he sees at Jack's side Hannibal Lecter, who stands in the most modest attire Will has seen him in yet: a beige suit jacket, plain yellow shirt beneath and slacks. Yet he wears these things as if he were wearing the finest of tuxedos.

            Will controls the look on his face, tries not to betray his surprise.

            "Will," Jack says, and holds his hand out as if to introduce Hannibal for the first time. "You remember Dr. Lecter."

            There is a pause, then a nod. Will says that he does, and Hannibal greets him in such a cordial fashion that Will stumbles over his next words. He asks a nearby agent to show them the body, and as he walks away with Hannibal in tow, he takes into account Jack's look of shock. Will is only agitated by this– what did he think, that Will would simply hurl abuse at Hannibal upon arrival? 

            It doesn't matter. Hannibal is simply here. And more importantly the body is here, the body is in front of them. Will feels his bones settling in his body, everything falling into rigid place, blessed place, and something in the back of his mind flicks on, a switch that begins his process.

            She is impaled on a stag's head, the antlers of which piercing cleanly through various points on her naked body. Her skin is grey, sunken– twenty to twenty-four hours of exposure. Her front is intact. Her back is sliced open, through which the lungs have been pulled. The cuts, much like the antler impalements, are also clean. And her young body is bared upward, throat stretched back, arms falling open, as if embracing the sky.

            A Maid whom there were none to praise

            And very few to love.

            She is in her late teens, and looks not unlike Hobbs' victims, which means she looks not unlike Abigail Hobbs. Will knows Hobbs is dead.

            And this does not look like something Hobbs would do. Nothing was taken but the lungs, and Hobbs had a habit of complete utilization. Hobbs was a waste-not-want-not man. Hobbs was a man of love. This is not love, but art. A sculpture of blood and flesh, made by someone who got the notion in their head to make an homage to Hobbs, simply because he could. He had the tools and know-how and time and desire. That's all it takes.

            "And can there ever be a purpose to art? It is simply an instinct of the human soul."

            Will inhales sharply, and turns to find Hannibal.

            Will stares, wide-eyed. "Did I... Dr. Lecter, was I speaking aloud before?"

            Hannibal looks over at him, eyebrows raised slightly. "Yes, Will."

            He swears that was all in his head. His breathing has quickened, and he looks back down at the girl on the antlers. The sun is very bright. Will glances back at Hannibal. "What... what exactly did I say?"

            Before Hannibal can answer, Zeller is scooting in an ungainly fashion between Will and Hannibal and the corpse. He has Q-tips, plastic bags, and kneels down before her to inspect the wounds. "You were gushing about how pretty this is," he throws over his shoulder. "Saying this isn't about love."

            Price is on the other side, with similar equipment. "You also quoted Wordsworth, which I appreciated. Probably not the place for a poetry reading though."        

            Will feels heat in his neck and it spreads up to his face. He clears his throat, as if he is untroubled. "It isn't about love. It's a statement, that's all. It's showing off his abilities."

            "So," Beverly drawls, standing now to Will's left, and her presence has startled Will to no end, "what's the point of doing this? Is it piggy-backing off the Shrike's fame?"

            "It's different than Hobbs," Will says. "It's not trying to be the same. If anything, it's better, and whoever did this knows it. He's peacocking, not piggy-backing."

            Hannibal looks at Will. There is a pull, as if he is trying for eye-contact. Will resists. "You think this is better, Will?"

            "Obviously," Will says, shrugging. It is a foregone conclusion. It is stately, controlled. Infinitely, in every way, better. Will is keeping his lips pressed together. He does not want to be heard saying this aloud. But Hannibal's eyes are on him, and Will does give in to the pull this time. He looks up, and finds those maroon eyes boring into his own. Whatever Zeller and Price and Beverly are saying dips into the background. There is a vacuum of sound where their voices once were and the ocean-echo of water rushing fills Will's ears. Or is it thicker than that? Blood rushing. Pounding. The drum of minute sounds flowing out of a heart.

            "Will? Will!"

            Will startles and both he and Hannibal turn as one to see Jack standing behind them. Jack is giving Will a look, the meaning of which is lost on Will, for he feels dizzy and disoriented. He also feels himself blushing.

            He hurries to answer. "Yeah, Dad?"

            Everyone stops.

            They turn around, and then quickly return to what they were doing. Will exhales, mortified, and resists the childish urge to place a hand over his mouth. He resists too the urge to apologize. That would only make things worse. The only one who does not seem bothered by this is Hannibal Lecter, who regards Jack mildly.

            Jack is still, and says, "What do you make of this killer, Will?"

            Will can't help himself. "He's talented." He pauses, endures Jack's quirk of an eyebrow. "He's showing off but this isn't him. Not him-him. You understand?"

            Jack frowns.

            Will takes that to mean no. "What I mean is, this isn't something he might ever do again. He just did it this way this one time. It's like call and response. Hobbs called. This guy responded, in a key that is direct commentary on the call. In this way, he and Hobbs have made music together, even in," he swallows, "the wake of Hobbs' death."

            Will hears something, and when he looks up he realizes it was an exhale, soft but distinct, from Hannibal.

            Jack says, "So, we have nothing to go on is what you're telling me."

            "Not really. He'll probably never do this exact thing again. He isn't like Hobbs. He's an artist."

            Jack squints at Will.

            Will shrugs.

            Jack groans and turns away, and he seems to notice that reporters are seeping under the yellow line. He leaves then to join some of the agents in forcefully removing them, and yelling, which Jack is good at. Will heaves a sigh, and turns back to the body, and Price and Zeller who have collected their samples. Beverly asks Zeller if he was able to pop the question to his girlfriend.

            "Nah," he says, lowering his shoulders in defeat. "I haven't even gotten a ring. I don't know what to do. Diamonds are expensive. And I don't know her ring size."

            Price motions to Beverly. "Use her as a margin."

            "'Use her'," Beverly quotes, rolling her eyes. Nevertheless, she holds out her hand.

            As Zeller measures Beverly's ring finger, Hannibal says to him, "With all the precious stones available in the world today, a diamond might be deemed impersonal. By some."

            Zeller looks back. "Are you in that group of some, doctor?"

            "I might be."

            "Damn it," Zeller groans.

            Will eyes Beverly's hand, and holds up his own beside hers. His ring finger is only slightly thicker.

            "Either you have girly hands or I have manly ones," Beverly observes.

            Price says, "Eh, the former."

            Will scowls and shoves his hand back in his pocket.

*

Jack isn't quite sure what to make of it, but when the vans are leaving, after the reporters have been frightened away, the tape re-rolled, the girl carted off and the stag's head bagged up, he sees Will and Hannibal standing together before Hannibal's Bentley. The clouds pass shadows over Will's face and perhaps it is just that but he does look calmed. Hannibal makes a gesture towards the car and Will shrugs, his hands in his pockets. Jack thinks perhaps Hannibal is offering him a ride– in the span of a second, Jack weighs the pros and cons. He would like Will to accept and become close with Hannibal Lecter. But he needs to talk to Will without interference, and the importance of this latter notion does override the advantages of the former. Thus, he intervenes.

            "Hey, Will," he says, approaching them. The two turn at once to look at him. "I'll take you back home. We need to talk."

            Will looks only slightly anxious, and Hannibal nods to Will deeply. It nearly resembles a bow. Will seems to respond in a demure fashion, and says goodbye to Hannibal.

            They walk across the empty lot and Will climbs into the passenger side, Jack settling into his driver's seat. As he buckles his seatbelt, he glances over and sees that Will is watching the Bentley drive away. Jack wears a confused look for a moment, and then, so slowly, does he smile. This morning had seen him in a rotten mood. But now he feels it lifting. At least something is going well. He will have to remember to thank Beverly.

            He drives away, wheels the car onto the highway.

            "Will–"

            "If this is about the 'Dad' thing, I'm sorry," he says, looking out of his window.

            Jack sighs. "Well, it wasn't about that, but since you brought it up. I'm not angry, Will, mistakes happen. You don't make a habit of it in front of the agents, and that's all I can ask."

            Will shifts against the leather of the seat. "What if," he pauses, "what if it wasn't a mistake? I mean, it was, but what if at some point I say it..." He turns around and faces Jack, while Jack tries hard to stare ahead. "I just say it, and it isn't a mistake. Everyone hears. What, is the world going to end?"

            "Will," Jack says. He tries to keep the weariness from his voice. He had this conversation with Will when he first started visiting the BAU regularly, before he was released for a run, before anyone had even heard of the Minnesota Shrike. Will would come to the building to watch and learn. He became familiar with the agents and forensics teams. And Jack told him it isn't personal but he mustn't call Jack Dad. Everyone at that point was already referring to Will as the prince, and higher-ups on the board were tentative at best about bringing someone like Will in. Jack wanted to minimize any suspicions of favoritism or familial conflict. Phyllis had told him such a request would have negative effects on a child of adoption. And Will does seem to resent it at times. But as far as Jack can see, it has caused no real problems. Will is just fine.

            "Fine," Will says, responding only to his name. He sits back in his seat. "Then, what did you want to talk to me about?"

            "Abigail Hobbs."

            Will stiffens.

            Jack nods. "Apparently she woke up a few days ago. The hospital told me you were on the visitor registry at the time."

            "Yeah."

            "Will, there's really no reason for you to be visiting her. She's likely confused, scared, and seeing the man who killed her father – sorry to say – will probably only ratchet that up in her."

            Will is quiet for a long moment. Then, he says, "I won't scare her. I won't hurt her. But we have a lot in common."

            Jack suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. "Not really."

            "Yes, really. I have to... take care of her."

            "You absolutely don't."

            "I'll just talk to her. Just a bit."

            "Will, what did I just say? Am I speaking to an empty car?"

            "Dad," Will says. His swallow is audible. When Jack doesn't respond, Will continues, "She's fragile. I understand. Let me go talk to her, and I'll... I'll bring Dr. Lecter, to facilitate. He'll make sure I don't mess up."

            Jack gazes over at Will, as he hits an exit ramp and moves the car down again into the bustle of D.C. Will doesn't seem to notice where they are, fixed as he is on any response Jack might give him. On the surface, Jack is pleased by this. Something beneath that, however, tells him Will is using Hannibal Lecter as some kind of hall-pass. But any kind of time the two of them spend together can only be positive in light of what is happening and what Jack is sure is on the horizon. Though Will seemed sure this copier of Hobbs won't kill this way again, the fact exists that he is out there, and now Will has the scent in his nose. Jack doesn't want him to run alone. So he will allow Will this hall-pass. Just this once.

            "If Dr. Lecter goes, it's fine," he says, and brings the car to a slow stop. When he shifts into park, only then does Will look up and Jack can't help his laughter at Will's face when he sees the Mercedes dealership.

           

           

           

Chapter Text

Will sees Hannibal's Bentley pull into the hospital parking lot the next day and feels something inside himself jolt. He cannot distinguish this feeling– perhaps it is guilt. To bypass Jack's ire, Will has enlisted Hannibal as an escort. He tries to refuse the idea of using. It cannot be using if this is what Hannibal, or any psychiatrist Jack might deem suitable for Will, is for. It is simply a job, and one for which he is well-trained. There can be no negative connotation with purpose.

            Will is leant up against his black Mercedes, feeling sun on his exposed forearms, breeze through his hair. Sunrays glint on his glasses, and Hannibal approaches him, immaculate in a dark blue suit.

            "It's nice," Hannibal says, motioning to the car behind Will.

            Will averts his eyes. "It's a punishment. For not answering calls for days." He ticks these off on his fingers: "For being a brat. For being irresponsible with my abilities. For worrying M– Phyllis."

            "Jack said these things?"

            "He implied them."

            Hannibal gives something of a smile. "I'm glad you have transportation, Will. I was worried about you being stranded in the middle of nowhere."

            "I'm used to that." Will pauses, cringes inwardly, and then turns towards the hospital entrance. Hannibal follows without comment. Once inside, they obtain visitors passes and it occurs to Will that Jack will be updated on his visitation logs from now on. He swallows down any feelings of intrusion and he and Hannibal return to the fifth floor, to Abigail's room, which looks exactly the same save for the girl in bed now sitting upright, blue eyes no longer bleary but bright, cold, like a winter sky. The sun coming through her wide window hits half her face, the other in drab shadow. Her brown hair hangs lank around her shoulders.

            She says, "Will Crawford. They told me you were coming today." Her voice is slightly graveled. Will is entranced, for he has never seen her open-eyed and calm.

            "Yes," he says at length. He stands in the doorway beside Hannibal. "And this is Dr. Hannibal Lecter. We just wanted to talk to you for a bit."

            They wander in, pull up chairs on either side of her. Will to her right, closest to the door. Hannibal at her left in front of the window. It cloaks him entirely in shadow.

            Abigail's face contorts. She looks unsure as to whom to direct attention. She settles on Will. "This is about my dad."

            "No, it's about you."

            "What about me?"

            Hannibal crosses one leg over the other. "We would like to make sure you are taken care of, Abigail."

            Will nods, thankful to Hannibal. He isn't sure he could have said that.

            Hannibal continues: "Food, clothing, mental and physical rehabilitation. Emotional support."

            Abigail shrugs as much as she can. "All I want is to go home."

            "I'm not sure that will be possible for a while, Abigail," Will says. He looks into her eyes which betray only traces of disappointment. He tries to amend. "After the hospital, you'll live somewhere for a bit, an institution. A place they'll see to your well-being. Where you– where we can figure things out, and move forward."

            Abigail sighs. "Just because you killed my dad, doesn't mean I'm your responsibility."

            Oh, but it does. Will swallows, eyes Hannibal over the bed, Abigail's thin legs that shift under sheer blankets. Hannibal is perfectly still. Then, he says, "Do you miss your father, Abigail?"

            "Wouldn't any girl miss their dad?"

            "He did try to cut your throat. He did kill girls for their likeness to you."

            "In kindness," Abigail says, her eyebrows tenting just a bit. Her small fingers crinkle into the sheets pooling at her lap. Will looks at them and sees she is much thinner than she had been that day in her family's kitchen. In her father's arms. "My dad loved me, he said so." She looks at Will now. "That's what he was saying into my ear, when you came in. He said, 'I love you, baby, baby, I love you,' and then everything else started happening."

            Everything else. Will glances at Hannibal, but receives no reciprocation; Hannibal's eyes are on Abigail.

            She continues: "I always have been a daddy's girl. My mom used to say so."

            "I'm sorry about your mother, Abigail," Will says.

            She shrugs.

            Hannibal studies her for a moment, then smiles. "You didn't care for your mother."

            Will's eyebrows rise sharply up into his bangs, and he hardly knows what to say before Abigail, slowly, returns his smile. She shakes her head. "I used to have dreams of him killing her. Then we'd run off together to some faraway place."

            "It's not so uncommon for daughters to romanticize their fathers, demonize their mothers."

            "I didn't demonize her," Abigail says, "she did that herself. My dad always protected me." She looks back to Will. "Right up until the end. Mr. Crawford?"

            Will jolts slightly, shifting his gaze from Hannibal to the girl in the bed. "It's just Will."

            "Will," she says. "Do you have a dad?"

            "I... yes."

            "Is he alive?" Her face pinches, as if she is concerned.

            Will is wholly confused. "Yes, Abigail. Why do you ask?"

            "I was thinking about the day you killed my dad. When he started cutting my throat, and you shot at him. I screamed... I screamed, 'Daddy,' and I just thought I was maybe hallucinating, once I woke up, because I remembered two voices. And it was yours. You said the same thing, when I did. I was just wondering why."

            Will swallows. He stares at her, those wide placid eyes, white hands folded neatly in her lap. Her lips part, two thin pink lines that shine in the sunlight with traces of saliva. And the one crease in the center of her bottom lip. As if she has chewed there with her too-large front teeth. Kitten teeth. Cherry tongue and rose gums.

            "Will?"

            Will inhales sharp and looks up, finds Hannibal's head tilted at him.

            "I... I..."

            Hannibal smiles, and says to Abigail, "Perhaps we should go now, Abigail. We will meet again."

            Abigail nods, and says nothing further as they leave the room, having placed the chairs back in their original positions. Will looks back over his shoulder at her once he is in the hall. She is staring out the window. Will sighs and once he and Hannibal are out in the parking lot, he turns to the man and says, "What was that?"

            Hannibal has the nerve to look amused. "What was what, Will?"

            "You... you can't say those kinds of things to a girl like that," Will says finally.

            Hannibal takes a step closer, closing their distance on the sidewalk. "And what kind of girl is she?"

            "Traumatized."

            "According to her, so are you."

            "I," Will says, and feels his eyes round. He looks straight up into Hannibal's dark eyes, catching once again the full effect of eye-contact with Hannibal Lecter. It is terrible, invasive, and some other thing that forces Will to breathe in twice. "Don't psychoanalyze me, Dr. Lecter. You're not my psychiatrist."

            Along the sidewalk, a few people pass. They send glances Will's way, and standing by the hospital entrance is a male nurse in scrubs. He eyes Will too, maybe warning him against starting some kind of scene. Will can't help but look at his shoes, and feels heat in his face that is not the product of summer weather.

            "You're right, I'm not." Hannibal's voice is softer, conciliatory. "We should figure out what to do about Abigail Hobbs, Will."

            "We?" Will asks, listless.

            "You did say 'we' upstairs."

            Will remembers. "I meant me and Abigail, though. I wasn't trying to drag you into it."

            "It's not dragging. You have a point. Abigail is traumatized. She is an orphan, and you did kill her father. I know you must feel responsibility towards her, as just spending that small amount of time before her, I too felt responsibility. In essence, you are now her father." Hannibal rubs the thumb of one hand against its palm – for a wonder, it nearly looks like a nervous gesture. He says, "Single parenthood is hard. I would like to help you."

            Will is starring at Hannibal, he cannot help himself. He searches for something meaningful to say, but his mind is dizzied. People keep walking by which halves his concentration. He says, "We shouldn't talk like this in a hospital walkway."

            "Of course not. It's a fire hazard."

            That's not what Will meant, but he nods nonetheless.

            "Let's meet tonight, at my office in Baltimore," Hannibal offers.

            Will purses his lips. "It's not an appointment," he says warily.

            "Of course not." Hannibal smiles broadly, his eye color brilliant in the sun. "Just two friends talking."

*

The overhead lights of the autopsy room. Quiet shuffle of soft-soled shoes against the smooth concrete floor. The metal of the tables clicking with steel instruments and Price and Zeller and Beverly talk amongst themselves about the girl – this Cassie Boyle, who had been placed upon the stag's head. They haven't found a trace of any foreign material on her; even the fabric of whatever clothes she was wearing before her kidnapping and subsequent murder are gone, as if she had never worn any clothes at all. All the dirt on the body and stag head itself are from the wooded area she had been displayed.

            Jack keeps thinking about that word: displayed.

            The glass doors at the side of the room open and Will comes shuffling in, his hair in a tussle, glasses askew.

            "Sorry," he's saying, finding his place at the metal table between Price and Zeller, who are goggled and gloved. "Traffic."

            Beverly snorts. "Is that like a code-word for Abigail Hobbs?"

            "Can it, Beverly," Jack says. "Update Will since you're feeling so gabby."

            She sighs and does as she's told. As Will listens to her, he fixes his gaze on the dead girl laying naked on their table, and Jack does the same. The perfect puncture wounds in her body. When Beverly is done talking, Will simply continues looking down at her, not saying a word.

            Jack takes this to mean he's thinking. To get him thinking about what Jack wants, he says, "Where did her lungs go?"

            No one says anything.

            Jack repeats himself, louder.

            Price looks at Zeller, holding his hands up and open. "Well, we don't have them! What do you want from us?"

            Jack ignores this, and looks back at Will. Throughout his long years of training, Jack has given Will pictures of cases, murders, going back into his adolescence. Even against the wishes of Phyllis. Write-ups, catalogues, high definition photos of crime scenes, and far and away the ones that made their way into Will's hands most often were those deemed victims of the Chesapeake Ripper. Jack drilled into him the deft hand of the Ripper, the attention to detail, the lack of any foreign hair or debris. The missing organs. Jack knows that Will is aware of these things. Then why hasn't he said it aloud?

            "The Ripper takes organs," Jack says, a testing nudge.

            Will looks up instantly, and the chords of his neck muscles stand out. Jack relaxes, shoulders back, noticeably pleased that Will is reacting in such a way. Everything has stuck.

            "It's not him," Will says. His pupils have narrowed ever so slightly. "The Ripper takes organs as trophies, yes, and he too has a skill. But the Ripper is carnal, violent. His displays of bodies are a display of power. A mockery. This isn't mockery. What was done to this girl was placing her in a portrait– it was a display of beauty. Almost enticing, in a way."

            Zeller mutters, "Enticing, oh jeez," and shrinks away when Jack glares at him.

            Will looks at the girl again: a long slow gaze from the fringe of her hair to the dirt in her toenails. "It's similar. But the circumstances are so different. The Ripper has never responded to anyone before. Why Hobbs?"

            "What was different about Hobbs, Will?" Jack asks. He is leading Will. Jack learned this long ago: to point at what he wants Will to examine, to think about, and see if Will comes away with anything. When Will was still in adolescence, Jack had become close friends with the chief of the D.C. Metro Police's K9 Unit. He spoke to Jack often about how they trained their German shepherds in sniffing out bombs, drugs, paraphernalia. You have to draw their attention, he'd said. We use the command 'show me,' and point to bags, pockets. And when they find something, they sit. Jack had tried it to some degree with Will, and always out of earshot of Phyllis. Jack looks at Will presently, his wild hair and the dog dander that coats his clothing. His fast-blinking eyes that focus when the Ripper is brought up. Sometimes Jack cannot bear to think of what he has done to Will. Sometimes he doesn't care. He says, "What is Hobbs, Will?"

            "He was careful, too, but not this careful. He was a textbook hunter, took victims all exactly alike. He wasn't just caught, he died. He did all those things for someone he loved, his daughter. And he was my first run." Will's left eye twitches.

            "And what is the Ripper, Will?"

            Will's whole body shudders, and the words seem dragged from deep inside him: "The Ripper is mine."

            Beverly, Zeller and Price all look at each other briefly, and none make eye-contact with Jack. They pretend to be busy, fuss over the Boyle girl.

            Will looks unnerved, and his pupils are once again rounded, his eyes heavy-lidded. As the agents move around him, Will seems to curl into himself, folds his arms, and turns away. Jack presses his lips together, then lets a tired sigh escape him. He rounds the table, and with the sturdiness of his frame, edges Will just a few feet further from everyone.

            He says in something just above a whisper, "It's okay, just give it some thought."

            "I know," Will says, voice clipped.

            "Will, you need to relax."

            "I am relaxed."

            Jack rolls his eyes. He taps the side of his hand against the muscle between Will's neck and shoulder; the muscle is so tight that Jack's hand bounces.

            Will shrinks away.

            It is quiet for a long moment. Jack doesn't like to implement this, but he has no choice. He needs Will to calm down, to open himself to his mind, or else they will get nowhere. So he says it, in a voice so low and close to Will's ear, the others cannot hear it: "Down, Will."

            Will's arms fall from each other, hands hanging lank at his sides. His whole body is still, limp. His eyes, green as moss, are empty as he stares at the polished floors. His breathing, which had once been stiff, stilted, is now smooth.

            Jack gives it a moment, then says, "Just think about it, all right?"

            "Mm," Will hums, tone soft. He looks up through hazed eyes.

            "Good, Will."

            Will pauses for a moment, and nods, before heading towards the glass doors and then down the long hallway. Jack watches him go, hands shoved into his pockets. Jack tells himself that when the Ripper is caught, it will all have been so worth it. The twenty years of killings ended. And Will's small sacrifice not in vain.

*

"Good evening, Will."

            Will startles and turns around on his heel. He doesn't know how long he's been standing in the empty waiting room. As he turns, he nearly loses his footing and leans forward, prompting Hannibal to place his hand on Will's shoulder to steady him. Will swallows, blinks, and quickly rights himself. He gives something he hopes is a smile. He doesn't feel enough control over his face to know for sure.

            "Will, are you all right?" From Hannibal's look of concern, Will thinks perhaps he is not smiling but baring his teeth in some strange expression. Hannibal steps back from the door, motioning for Will to step inside the office.

            "Yes, doctor, I'm fine, I'm sorry–" Will forgets what he was saying. He looks up at the grand expanse of room before him, the upper floor balcony that wraps around the room and holds shelves upon shelves of books. The fine leather chairs and chaise and hardwood desks. "This," Will says, standing in the middle of the room, "is your office?"

            "Yes," Hannibal says, closing the door.

            "I could live here!" Will raises his arms. "Your patients must feel like kings and queens."

            "Or princes," Hannibal says, walking by. Will can hear the smile in his voice and he is not amused.

            "Anyway," Will says tersely.

            Hannibal sits in one of the two leather chairs that face each other. That nearest the door. "Anyway," he says, smiling. He motions to the empty chair.

            Will sits down, eyes the chaise over by the wide window. "Not going to try and get me on the couch, Dr. Lecter?"

            Hannibal's eyes flash up to him. "Not yet," he says.

            Will feels something akin to a shiver in his backbone. Perhaps it is a chill. He crosses one leg over the other, taps his fingertips against the arm rests. "I came here from Quantico. I, well Jack, he wanted me to–"

            "Will."

            Will looks up, startled. "What?"

            Hannibal's expression is hard to read but it borders on concern. "You may say it here."

            "I," Will's voice catches. He won't insult Hannibal by asking what he means. So he says, after some consideration, "My dad."

            Hannibal nods, and mouths the word 'good'.

            Will's heart rate picks up a bit, and he looks towards one of the windows. Its thick curtains are open, but the sheer white ones beneath are closed against the night sky and the florescence of Baltimore. Will feels something settle and rise within him at the same time. It is such a strange sensation. After a moment, he turns back to Hannibal, and cannot bear to face him directly, so he looks at the point of Hannibal's shoe.

            "My dad wanted me to look at that body again, the one we found in Ellicott yesterday."

            "Did you find anything new?"

            "The body's immaculate. So clean," Will says, and brings a hand up to his mouth. He bites his thumbnail. "Ripper-clean."

            Hannibal tilts his head. "The Chesapeake Ripper."

            "Yes, but... J– my dad brought up the idea, but I hadn't considered it because they really are... different. I mean, they're the same, but not. You know?"

            "The devil is in the details. What isn't the same?"

            "The Ripper is so feral. He's controlled, but he's on a perpetual ego trip. His displays are filled with a godlike carnality. And what happened to the girl out in the woods, that was... well, it was gorgeous, and open, and... like an offering. It was art." Will sucks in his bottom lip, gnaws lightly. "Dr. Lecter, my dad trained me on the Ripper from when I was very young. Almost from when he adopted me. When he found out how my brain works. Since that time, he's stuffed me with every bit of known information on the Ripper. Because he's mine to catch."

            Hannibal grows very still. Will feels that familiar pull to look into Hannibal's eyes, and he does. Their gazes lock. Hannibal says, "Your father made you for the Ripper."

            "Yes," Will says, the word drifting from him as a feather on the wind.

            "And this bothers you that you cannot discern him."

            "It's horrifying." Will laughs, and it feels like ache. "I've been thinking. It almost feels like if this is the Ripper, then I don't understand him half as well as I thought I did. Why is he changing?"

            "Perhaps he has encountered something new."

            "New?"

            "The difference you are seeing from his past killings and the girl in the woods. Artists often change their styles when they come across a muse, let's say." Hannibal's mouth quirks. "And this Ripper, if his last kill was so delicate and open, perhaps something has incited such in him."

            "His kill was a duet with Hobbs," Will says, nearly to himself. "But Hobbs is dead, so there's no way he could see what he incited in the Ripper."

            "Then perhaps Hobbs is not the one he is serenading."

            Will leans back in the chair, places his hands over his face. He exhales in the small space allowed by his palms, and hums lightly. He has tried this before: tried to imagine the Ripper. He can remember being merely fourteen and holding a picture of one of the early kills. Starring at blood and sinew and bone and muscle until his eyes tired from strain. Then he would close his eyes, fall back on his bed, and think of this man. And it is so obviously a man. A man who is strong, who looks normal, so that no one would ever suspect. Possibly handsome, so as to lure others in. Intelligent. A steady hand. Will spent long years being groomed by Jack for this man. And, too, eventually Will began to aid Jack in his own grooming. He became complacent, cooperative, eager. And Jack told him that one day he would know the Ripper. And for his closeness to this man, the Ripper would too know Will.

            Will gasps as if pulled fresh from water. His hands slide from his face and he looks across the room at Hannibal who stares at Will so intently.

            "He knows I'm out," Will says. "He knows I'm ready. Her arms were open to the sky but they were really open to me."

            "Then Hobbs–"

            "Hobbs was my first run. The Ripper is serenading me in a variation of my first run."

            Hannibal says nothing.

            Will suddenly feels itchy. He scratches at his neck, the stubble across his chin. "Goddamn it," he mutters. "How am I supposed to hunt someone who knows I'm coming? And who knows who I am– my face, my... what I was made for."

            "Do you worry for your safety, Will?"

            Will laughs, bitterly. "No, actually. I don't care about that. But if the Ripper is using Hobbs' work to entice me, I'm worried about Abigail." Will sighs, rubs the palms of his hands against his jeans. They leave the damp of sweat. "She was her father's muse."

            "And you are the Ripper's."

            Will blinks, looks up at Hannibal again. He feels something in his stomach churn, and it is hot and heavy. Nervous energy bound up in him. His whole body is telling him to go outside and run until he finds the Ripper – though he knows this is a useless urge. His teeth clench.

            "We need to get her out of that hospital, away from the northeast," Will says. "I have to tell– tell my dad." He stands from his seat, and there is a visible bounce in his step.

            Hannibal is watching him with a raised eyebrow. "You look pleased, Will."

            Will pauses, and glances quickly to the floor. He half-smiles. "Is it sick? I can't help but feel a little pleased."

            "That you've figured out it's the Ripper?"

            Will is wandering towards the door. He bites his lower lip, then shakes his head. Quietly, but clearly, he says, "That I get to see him."

            Will doesn't turn to see Hannibal, whether out of embarrassment or the fear that he will try to initiate eye-contact, he isn't sure. His head is sore, and he feels like all he really wants to do is lay in bed with his dogs surrounding him. He hears Hannibal's footsteps behind him, and sees the psychiatrist's hand opening the door for him. Briefly, he hears the man's smooth inhale and feels the closeness of him behind. Something so warm pours down Will from head to tailbone. He stiffens and says, voice even, "Dr. Lecter, are you smelling me?"

            "I am," he says.

            "I probably smell like sweat and dogs."

            "You do."

            Will can't help it– he laughs. "You're so weird, Dr. Lecter."

            For a second, it feels as if Hannibal leans in even further. His breath heated on Will's neck when he says, "I'm aware."

            Will walks out into the waiting room, and once, glances back over his shoulder. Hannibal is leaning against the doorway, smiling, entire face alight and somehow relaxed. He bids Will goodnight with a deep nod, and Will only smiles, shakes his head, and leaves.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jack has had a long week. He hadn't expected this, but thinking back, he wonders now why he didn't– it couldn't have ever been as easy a transition as he had once thought, when he was in the throes of training a young Will, when he looked at that mass of curls and those forest green eyes and saw all the possibility in the world. He remembers the first time he ever laid eyes on Will: small Will, gentle Will, who was naught but ten, and one of the scrawniest children at St. Sebastian's Orphanage. While other children romped on the lawns and swing sets, Will sat quiet beneath the trees and read books, or tried to befriend squirrels and rabbits who hid in the bushes. Phyllis says she loved him even then.

            Jack no longer brings this up, non-sequitur as it is, but he needed a bit of convincing. He had wanted a daughter. While Phyllis busied herself attempting to coax Will into conversation, Jack watched the little girls with their dolls and skirts, and watched little boys pull their pigtails. Dump sand on them. Jack remembers being ready to rise and go stop them, and before he could, Will escaped from Phyllis' attentions and went to the girls' sides. The other boys looked around sheepishly, and perhaps they did not simply push Will down because potential parents were present, and the nuns who oversaw the play yard looked on with watchful eyes. But for whatever reason, they backed off, went to go chase each other and fling mud. Perhaps that is what convinced Jack. He knows it is what he consoles himself with when he thinks he has been too hard or strict with Will– he tells himself, it is in Will's blood to protect. He can stand against monsters, though he is not overly strong or quick. He, in his own way, can fight. Yes, that is why. And that is why Jack placed him in that forest so long ago.

            Because Will can take it. He has to.

            A few days prior, Will came to Jack and told him of his suspicions about the Boyle girl's murder. The Ripper, all his ferocity and controlled rage, in guise as an artist inspired by a muse. Will. Jack had pressed his lips together in muted horror at Will's suggestion; half of him doesn't want to think about what this could mean for Will's hunt, half of him cannot help but to think of it. He told Will they must wait for another victim to confirm the Ripper or not, but he does trust Will's instincts. And he does not think it outside the realm of possibility. Jack has harbored Will for years, taught him diligently, and with his emergence, the death of the Shrike, the resounding applause from the Unit and cries of curiosity from media, how could the Ripper not know of Will? Will has come to fruition for this man; this man does now take recognition.

            So Jack is glad upon the invitation he receives from Dr. Hannibal Lecter, to dinner at his home in Baltimore on Friday night. Some distraction would be nice. Hearing of Will's progress would be even better. Jack arrives at a little before 7 PM, on the doorstep of a grand house in the heart of the city. The door opens and Hannibal stands in the threshold, illuminated by soft lighting behind. He is in a simple but beautiful grey suit and Jack is relieved he too wore a suit. Phyllis told him he would be overdressed. Jack told her she didn't know Hannibal Lecter.

            "Jack," Hannibal says warmly as Jack enters the foyer. "I'm so pleased you could make it."

            "Thank you for inviting me, doctor. I hope I'm not too early."

            "Not at all. My other guests have arrived far earlier." Hannibal smiles and leans in, his voice dropping to a conspiratory whisper: "They are trying to press me for information on Will."

            Jack rolls his eyes. Of course. When Hannibal leads Jack further into the house, finally arriving in the dining room, Jack is greeted by the sight of a long chandelier-lit table, occupied on the rightmost side, in front of rows of planters, by Dr. Frederick Chilton and Dr. Alana Bloom. Alana is made even more beautiful by the low-lighting and her black and white dress which cups her bosom with a lover's touch. Frederick looks morose in his brown suit and baby blue tie.

            "Hello, Jack," Alana says, in a voice that is almost too cheery.

            Frederick makes a "mmf" noise as he gulps wine.

            "Please," Hannibal says, motioning to the place set in front of the unlit fireplace. "Have a seat, Jack, and I will be right out with dinner."

            Hannibal disappears under an archway to the right of the room, and Jack does sit as told. He greets both Alana and the fast-drinking Frederick, and subsequently eyes his own glass by his place setting. The wine is nearly black in the lighting.

            "It feels like it's been so long since we've been able to meet," Alana says, smiling. "I admit, I was trying to get Hannibal to spill a little bit about how Will's doing. I'm worried about him."

            Jack suppresses the urge to say, Me too. Instead, he says, "Will is strong; he'll be okay."

            "Indeed," Hannibal says, returning with plates decorated like works of art. He places one in front of each guest, and then his own at the head of the table. "Will strikes me as very capable and independent."

            Jack looks down at the plate, unsure as to what any of it actually is. It seems as if it belongs in a gallery, not on a dinner table. "Dr. Lecter, this is impressive. I didn't know you were one for the culinary arts."

            Hannibal smiles. "I take pleasure in many arts." He then goes on to explain the dish: a Provence-style lung of beef, simmered for hours in a white wine sauce. He lists some ingredients of which Jack has no idea, but he nods along, pretending like he does. Jack isn't sure how he feels about offal, and the idea of beef lung makes him think of the Boyle girl. Still, he must try it since he's here. He takes a bite, is overcome with a flood of flavor the likes of which he has not known prior, and feels himself smile.

            "Oh, Dr. Lecter, this is amazing."

            Hannibal smiles demurely.

            Alana agrees in a chorus of happy chewing noises.

            Frederick, for all his moodiness, nods as well. "It's too bad Will can't be here to partake in this."

            Jack eyes Frederick over his fork. He is being the opposite of slick– it is quite obvious to everyone here that the only reason Frederick showed up was for updates on Will's well-being. Jack can also corroborate this with the daily calls he receives from Frederick's cell phone.

            "It is." Hannibal takes a sip of wine. "I didn't invite Will, as I thought it might be overwhelming for him. He seemed quite opposed to seeing us all in the same room last time."

            "He's quite unsociable," Frederick says around a mouthful of food. "He probably would have said no even if invited. I once extended him a friendly invitation to dinner; he rejected the idea so whole-heartedly you would think I had told him I was serving human beings."

            Hannibal nods. "Yes, he told me. Perhaps he would have accepted, if dinner was not being served at midnight." He pauses. "Will does need his sleep."

            Frederick chokes on his wine.

            Alana is caught in an expression between amusement and horror.

            Jack had not been privy to this, and wishes he was still in the dark. He puts more food in his mouth and takes his time chewing.

            As Frederick tries to recover, Hannibal looks brightly at both he and Alana. "I actually did wish to discuss Will. It's the primary reason I invited you here tonight, aside from simple pleasure of your company. I do wish to clear the air of any... hard feelings towards my current caretaking of Will's mental needs."

            "You're not his psychiatrist," Frederick says hotly. His face is still slightly red. "He refuses to take one."

            "Quite right," Hannibal says. "Though I feel we are making progress in other arenas."

            Alana looks alarmed. "Other arenas?"

            "He does not seem too opposed to the idea of becoming friendly. It is a slow process, but he came to my office the other night and we did indeed have a lengthy discussion."

            Jack's eyes widen. "You got him to come to an appointment?"

            "Not an appointment. A talk between two friends."

            "Will Crawford," Frederick begins, in disbelief, "wants to be your friend?"

            "I said he does not seem opposed."

            Alana sighs, eyebrows tented upward. "Hannibal, if only I'd known this would be what became of you being my plus one."

            Hannibal nearly laughs. "Are you regretting asking me, Alana?"

            "Well," she drawls, and ends with a smile.

            While Frederick continues to fuss, Jack smiles broadly. Why hadn't he considered this before? Will was always fighting against a psychiatrist like a cat against deluge, but Will has never had many friends. When he was younger, his studies and training prevented much in the way of peer relationships. It's only natural that Will might like to have one. A psychiatrist friend. It seems so simple.

            He says, "Dr. Lecter, you're a genius. You can administer therapy to Will under guise of friendship. And, of course, also be his friend, if that is what you'd like to do."

            Hannibal slows his chewing, smiles. His eyes are dancing colors in the candlelight. From maroon to black to hazel. "I would like that very much, Jack."

            "And have you given any thought to what therapy you'll be administering?" Alana asks. She cannot hide her anxiousness. It is in every flick of her gaze, every turn of her head. Jack knows she does so wish to possess Will, but will not deign to riotous longing in the ways of her colleague, Dr. Chilton.

            "Do you have any suggestions, Alana?" Hannibal asks.

            "I was thinking Gestalt."

            Frederick huffs. He is perhaps on his third glass, merely since Jack arrived. "Too hands-on. Will won't ever submit."

            "I do favor hands-on treatments," Hannibal says.

            Frederick looks disgruntled for a moment. He says then, "Should you happen to make any progress with Will – doubtful with his eternal haughtiness – you can publish something on the mind of a pure empath. The American Journal of Psychiatry would claw for it."

            "No question," Alana adds.

            Hannibal sips from his glass, considers this, and looks at Jack. "I do enjoy rare things. I enjoy even further keeping them to myself."

            This causes bickering between the two across from Jack. Jack finishes his glass, is poured another by Hannibal, as well as more for Hannibal's own dreg-laden glass. The two of them silently watch and listen to Alana and Frederick, and exchange smiles lilted by alcohol. Jack doesn't know what hand of providence has supplied Hannibal Lecter, but he is grateful that Will did not end up with one of the other arguing psychiatrists. Who knows what would have become of him?

*

Will stands in the parking lot of George Washington University Hospital on Saturday, at just before sunset. The sky is streaked orange and purple and at corners of the sidewalks lining the intricate maze of the parking lot, lamplights flicker and burn to a soft glow. Off at the tree line to Will's left, cicadas whine and cry. Hollies and sourwoods lean with the heft of foliage. Will has parked his Mercedes in the back so he doesn't have to look at it.

            He waits only minutes before the familiar Bentley pulls up, producing Hannibal who is bathed in shadow and gold. Will swallows at the sight of him. They greet each other and walk in something near companionable silence into the cool of the building, the elevator which is playing Bossa nova, and then to floor five, where Abigail Hobbs awaits.

            In Will's car on the drive over, Garrett Jacob Hobbs was in the passenger seat, getting blood on the leather. He said, "A daughter is a gift from God."

            "What about sons?" Will had asked.

            "Sons bear up and shoulder the burden."

            Will did not respond to that. When he sees Abigail sitting upright, hands clasped in her lap, bathed in red-purple light of the netherworld, he wonders why daughters are thought to be so fragile, and sons so sturdy. Will feels as if he could snap in two. Abigail looks like she wants to do the snapping.

            He and Hannibal pull up their respective chairs. They have rehearsed this, what they will tell her. Will leads:

            "Abigail, it's not safe for you here anymore."

            "What do you mean?"

            Hannibal speaks next: "There is another serial killer, the Chesapeake Ripper, who the authorities believe have taken an interest in your father's work. He's killed a girl who looks like your father's victims, like you. Perhaps he might come for you next."

            "Perhaps not," she says.

            Hannibal looks over at Will. Will feels put on the spot, and knows this is what Hannibal aims for. The psychiatrist was against this from the beginning, after Will had pushed the subject of sending Abigail away. He'd told Will that he cannot abandon her after she has already been orphaned once. Will insisted that he can, and will, do whatever it takes to protect her, and if she takes it to mean abandonment, then so be it, and if – he added with fervor – Hannibal is interested in offering his help, then he would do well to find a nice place for her to stay. After their exchange, Will had caught himself, and felt almost bad for speaking to Hannibal in such a manner. Hannibal had, in turn, given Will a smile and said that now he sounded like a real father. Hannibal gave his consent to Will's plan and made arrangements with Goldleaf Sanctuary for Girls in Santa Monica, California.

            "Would you really want to risk it?" Will asks.

            Abigail blinks widely and reaches a hand up to caress the bandage on her neck. They have reduced her dressings, as the wound has stopped bleeding. "I feel dead already," she says.

            "Don't say that," Will says, then bites his lower lip. "Why do you say that?"

            "What I mean is... I feel like I was meant to die. My dad wanted me dead, but you stopped that from happening, Will. Now you don't want me either."

            "It's not that I don't want you–"

            "Abigail," Hannibal says in his soothing voice. Abigail looks at him, and seems to calm immediately under his gaze. "Both Will and I want you very much. We want your safety. We could not bear it if you were to be killed after all. Not after Will worked so hard to save your life."

            Abigail's mouth moves; from pressed to pooched lips. She heaves a sigh. "Will."

            "Yes, Abigail."

            "It's your job to catch killers, right?"

            "It is."

            "So, if you catch the Chesapeake Ripper... I can come back?"

            Will tries a smile. "Yes, of course you can."

            She gives him a shrewd look. "Since you two want me so badly, you'll be trying really hard to catch him, won't you?"

            "Yes," Hannibal says before Will can answer. "I've talked to a few acquaintances of mine who run a sanctuary for young and adolescent women in Santa Monica. They've agreed to house you. It's quite a nice place."

            Will nods, attempting to assist in the allure: "He's right. I've read the pamphlet." He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans, takes out a glossed booklet with the word Goldleaf typed across the front in Papyrus. He hands it to Abigail, who looks only two notches above complete disinterest. "They have a park. They go on fieldtrips."

            "I'm not five, Will," she says.

            Will sighs.

            Hannibal looks like he's close to laughter, but he manages to suppress it, which is all Will can really ask at this point. It is quiet in the room while Abigail thumbs through her pamphlet. After a bit, she sets it aside and nods. Will thinks this means success until she says, "I'll make you a deal. I'll go, okay, but you have to answer three questions correctly. If you get them wrong, I'm not going anywhere. I'll get out of the hospital and stay in the city for the Ripper to kill, just to spite you."

            Will isn't sure if this is a game or not. Abigail is smiling but her voice is grave. Will sneaks a glance over at Hannibal who looks, for a wonder, delighted. Will thinks perhaps Abigail should just live with Hannibal – they have the same sense of humor, if that is indeed what this is.

            "Three questions," Will says, "and then you go."

            "Right."

            "Okay, well. Let's have them."

            "First question," she says and holds up her right pointer finger. "What's two plus two?"

            Will frowns. "Four."

            "Second question." She adds her thumb to her pointer finger. "What is my middle name?"

            "Elizabeth," he says, which is easy for someone who's stared at her files as long as he has.

            "Third question." Her middle finger joins the first two. "Why did you say what I did when you shot my dad?"

            Will's first instinct, and he knows not why, is to look over at Hannibal. But Hannibal won't look at him. He is still as an oil painting, and fixed on Abigail. Will looks back at her.

            "How will you know if I tell the truth?" he asks.

            "I'll just know."

            "Abigail, I was under mass amounts of stress. How could I even know why I said it?" When she doesn't answer, Will only sighs. "I don't know why."

            "Then I'm not going to Santa Monica."

            "Abigail!"

            "Well, then answer!"

            Will clenches his fists into his jeans. He thinks back on that day, that moment, which has played in his mind on repeat ever since. The second Hobbs cut, his arm jerking against his daughter's body. The second Will's finger pulled back. His and Abigail's voices rising with the heat of the day, rivaling the echo of the gunshots.

            Will is looking down at his muddy brown shoes. His voice is soft. "You said it because you were scared, Abigail. You didn't know what was going on, all you knew was that you wanted your dad. To help you. To make you feel safe. You probably were thinking, in the basest of terms, 'Why has he done this to me? Why am I here?' M-Me too. I... me too."

            It is quiet in the room then. Out in the hallway, two nurses talk to each other, one laughs. There is the constant wheel of carts, gurneys. Someone asks where the vending machines are. The scuffle of paper shoes.

            Abigail says, "I'll go."

            The hospital has set Abigail's release date for that Monday, in two days. Hannibal and Will are going to pick her up, and drive her to the airport. She almost begins to rebuke the offer, but then seems to reconsider and instead simply says thank you. As Will and Hannibal leave, Will can barely manage to look in Abigail's direction, let alone her face. He feels red all over. He mutters something of a goodbye and walks closer to Hannibal than he probably should, and they are silent until the outdoors greets them once again, dark outside save for parking lot lights, which are haloed by large moths.

            He and Hannibal stand side-by-side, starring off into the night. Will's eyes are wide on the faraway interstate where the yellow and red of head and taillights streak through the black. He stuffs his hands deep in his jean pockets.

            "Will," Hannibal says, still looking ahead, "do you resent Jack?"

            "Don't, please."

            "I'm not asking as a psychiatrist. I'm asking as your friend."

            Will turns immediately to stare up at him. "There you go again with that friend stuff. I never said I was your friend."

            "You never said you were, but it seems to have been going that way." He motions behind them at the lit-up hospital building. "Here we are, shipping off a girl together for her own safety. A girl who, if asked, would probably say we are something akin to parental figures."

            Will knows Hannibal is right. But he is not in the mood to be subdued by logic. "Why do you want to be my friend so badly? Because I'm 'special'? A psychiatrist's wet dream. It's why they all want me." He feels a stinging at his eyes. "To experiment on. Just like my dad."

            Hannibal turns completely now, shoulders squared. He looks at Will, the curve of his face in lamplight, and the rest in dark. His hand comes up and rests on Will's shoulder. It is a gesture neither controlling nor imploring. Will feels in this moment that Hannibal simply wants to touch him.

            "Yes, Will," he says, "because you are special."

            Will dry-sobs suddenly, and brings his forehead down until it connects with Hannibal's chest. His shoulders in tremors. "Sorry," he says, and cannot stop thinking of Abigail and the pitiful look she gave him when he answered his third question. "Bad things happen to special people."

            Hannibal says nothing to this, only continues to hold onto Will's shoulder. Somewhere nearby, Will hears footsteps and remembers where he is, and all the emotion that had been leaking from him dries up as if on cue. He takes a wide step back, wipes at his eyes with the harsh heel of his hand.

            "Jesus," he says, laughing, and Hannibal is smiling at him in such a way. Such a way. The two of them do not linger, forced apart by Will's own embarrassment. He bids the doctor goodnight, and Hannibal does the same, walking away towards his Bentley. Will goes down the illuminated concrete of the nigh deserted lot, to where his Mercedes sits dark and gleaming. He slides into the driver's seat, and flips open his phone. He deletes the missed calls from Chilton, which for some reason have increased in number since the previous night. He sees a missed call within the last hour from Phyllis, and after just a second of consideration, he calls her.

            "Hey," she says, and her voice is smooth and easy, as it always is just before sleep.

            "Sorry," Will says, "did I wake you up?"

            "Nope. No. Well, I was dozing."

            Will laughs a little, through his nose. He looks up at himself in the rearview mirror– his red eyes.

            "Well, I was just returning your call. Is everything okay?"

            "Everything is fine with me. I was thinking about you. You know your father doesn't tell me much." She pauses. "How's your case going?"

            Phyllis never did like the sound of 'run' and therefore ignored Will and Jack whenever they referred to it as such. Will quirks his mouth into the receiver. He knows Jack hasn't told her about the Ripper and the theory about Will being his muse. It's better that way. If daughters are gifts from God, mothers are His sent worriers.

            "It's going well," he says, hoping to sound flippant. "I think... I think I made a friend, Mom."

            Her laughter is a pillow after a long day. "Really? Wow, you are moving up in the world."

            "Thanks." Will rolls his eyes.

            "May I ask this friend's name?"

            "Dr. Lecter."

            "You call your friend doctor?"

            "Yes," Will says.

            Phyllis hums. Will recalls her making the same sound when he was young, and chasing after mice in the basement. She told him that was the cat's job. He said he was better than any old cat, and she tugged on one of his curls and hummed in just this way. He had always taken it to mean, 'You are a silly boy. I love you so.'

            "Well, good," she says finally. "You hang on to that doctor friend, you hear? Let him be your tether to land, when your father sets you out to sea."

            Tether. Hannibal Lecter is his tether. Yes, okay.

            Will nods to himself, and says, "Got it."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Monday morning brought Reagan National Airport and the click of shoes on polished floors and the static-lined intercom voice overhead. Will stood with Hannibal and watched Abigail go through ID and baggage checks. She wore a thick yellow scarf around her neck, despite it being August and despite her destination being a sun-spot city in California. They had bid her goodbye; Hannibal with a hug, which he initiated, and Will with a pat on her shoulder, which Abigail gave him nothing but a frown for. Hannibal told him later, in his office that night, that fatherly touches are important for daughters' growth and stability.

            Will had said, "What about sons? Why is it always about daughters?"

            "These touches are important for sons too, Will," Hannibal responded, which launched Will throughout the night and into the morning trying to recall his last hug from Jack. He cannot remember. Into Tuesday morning, with the sun shining down on he and his romping dogs at the back of his property, Will is still trying to recall. It fades in and out, his concentration. The dogs are barking, the wind blows through the trees. Shakes the leaves. Further in, the stream whispers over rocks and grit. Will sits upon the green ash stump, his back to the woods. He has not brought books of poetry or adventure with him today. He cannot abide, for the moment, another voice in his head speaking on infatuation, longing, and other things Will has not been privy to. Ordinary things that would have befuddled his training.

            Jack has always encouraged single-mindedness in Will.

            Another moment of wind-silence passes before Will is suddenly overcome by the rise of barking and whining behind him. He whips around on the stump and sees six dogs ambling around Winston, all peering shyly at the dead thing he carries in his mouth. Will stares. Winston trots over to the stump and sits before Will, his eyes bright and black, a rabbit in his jaws that is white of fur and red of blood. Winston's paws are coated in mud.

            Will says nothing. Winston seems to be waiting, and the other dogs keep their distance of a few feet behind him.

            Finally, Will holds his hand beneath Winston's jaws. Palm up. Winston drops the rabbit down, and Will feels the wet of blood and saliva. Its back is broken by the force of Winston's canines. Perhaps he shook it. With Will's other hand, he hesitates for just a moment, and then places it on Winston's furry muddy head. Ruffles his ears.

            "You can't help it," Will says. "I know."

            He walks back to the house; the dogs trot along behind, all of them interested now in licking Winston's mouth. Will thinks of what he can do – he isn't one for animal hunting, and therefore has never gutted or skinned a rabbit. But he fishes often and thinks perhaps it is like gutting a fish. Perhaps, too, he can cook it the same way. He thinks about eating the rabbit, and for some reason it turns his stomach. So he thinks he will divide it and let the dogs share. He wonders if the rabbit had daughters.

            Upon entering the house, Will only has time enough to place the rabbit on one of the counters before his cell phone buzzes. He picks it up, makes sure it is not Frederick, then answers with the phone pinched between cheek and shoulder, his hands washing in the sink.

            "Will, you were right. It is the Ripper."

            Will almost drops the phone into the water – he's trying to hold onto it with soapy hands, and the dogs are crowding around him, inhibiting him, to get a better look at the rabbit.

            "I–" He raises the phone again. "What–?"

            Jack says, "Just get down here. I'll give you the address." And he does. Will shuts the phone, is rushing towards the door, and on his way down the steps of the porch he is calling Hannibal Lecter.

*

"So, this is really fresh," says Beverly, her arms crossed against her chest. She nods back behind her. "Have a look-see."

            Will wishes she wouldn't sound so cheerful. It's causing the reporters behind the yellow tape to whisper to each other. Will sees them as a tumultuous sea, that which is only held back from swallowing the shore by the force of the moon, which would currently be Jack and a few other agents. The wave which is proving most steadfast in its unruliness is one with curly red hair, who Will noticed at the last crime scene. She is pale as anything and narrow-mouthed which narrows further as she concentrates, her gaze falling on Will and Hannibal instead of any attempt at seeing the dead bodies. And Will has been briefed prior: it is plural.

            He sets his attention instead on the task. They are in Sterling, not far from the Virginia-Maryland line, standing in the fresh green front yard of the Díaz family. The house is modest, wood-paneled, and sectioned off at the end of the sparsely populated street. Beverly has said that Felicia Díaz called the police early that morning when two men were found dead in her yard – she had never seen them before. And her daughter, who wandered out into the yard after her, fainted from screaming at the sight of them.

            Will comes to stand before them now, Hannibal to his right. The sun blasts through tall maples that line the yard, thatches of yellow light that fall upon the bodies. Two males, white, one of about twenty, the other middle-aged. They are pinned to two trees a foot away from each other, and angled in medias res. Their clothes are shorn. Their bare bodies have been exposed to the elements for maybe only a night, at most, maybe a few hours. Their cheeks sunken in. The younger man is turned fully to face the older; his eyes are plucked from his skull, leaving two gaping holes, and rivers of blood down his cheeks which become one at his pointed chin. His arms pinned to the tree as if he is attempting to embrace the other. The older man is half-turned from the younger, facing down and away across the yard. He has his eyes. He does not, however, have his heart. There is a hole in his chest. The blood drips down across his stomach, legs.

            Will's breath is caught in his throat.

            The sounds of birdsong in the trees, of Price and Zeller chattering by a van, of flies buzzing, of ants crawling along the ground, of atoms connecting and spinning apart. It all moves in increments to the background.

            The foreground: Hannibal's voice low in his ear.

            "Have you inspired yet another work of art, Will?"

            Will says, "Yes."

            "It seems the Ripper cannot get enough of you."

            Will tries to regulate his breathing. He eyes Hannibal quickly, bites his lower lip. "It seems not."

            It isn't long before Jack seems to have realized that Will is done looking, talking now as he is with Hannibal. Jack comes over to them, and as such brings Beverly and Price and Zeller.

            Jack's stance to Will's left causes Will to flinch. He does not think Jack notices.

            Jack says, "What do you see, Will?"

            "Us," he mutters.

            Jack looks down at him, both eyebrows raised. "What?"

            Will cringes. "Us," he says again.

            "Us." Jack looks from Will back to the two bodies. "Okay. Explain."

            Will feels his whole face redden. He tries not to, but he is shrinking within himself, shoulders erect, fingertips twitching. He can't do this here. He can't. Everyone is watching him. His jaw is locked. He feels Jack's eyes on him again, brown and narrowed, then suddenly widening as if he realizes that Will is shutting down. He says to Will something about hey, calm down, just relax but Will isn't able to, he is red, so red, and then before Jack is able to say anything else, Will feels Hannibal's hand on his shoulder. And he squeezes ever so gently.

            Will's body tightens again just a bit more, and then loosens, like a Chinese finger-trap. Hannibal lets his hand slide from Will's shoulder, fingertips grazing his upper arm. Will looks at Hannibal's shoes in the grass beneath heavy lashes. He clears his throat, and then looks at Beverly, Price and Zeller.

            "Can you guys go do something for a second?" he asks.

            Beverly looks aghast. "Go do what? What is this – we can't hear?"

            Jack takes the cue and bellows at the three of them to go control the reporters. They shuffle away immediately and Will watches them with agitation. Why is shouting needed to accomplish anything?

            Jack looks over Will's shoulder at Hannibal.

            Will raises his hand almost at once. "He can stay."

            Jack shrugs. "Okay, so, explain."

            "I... the Ripper. He's doing something... he's communicating with me. Last time, it was my connection with Hobbs. This time, it's my relationship with you."

            Jack looks at the two bodies on the trees. He looks at Hannibal. Then he looks back at Will.

            "Will, I'm not following. What are we, two naked men pinned to trees?"

            Hannibal turns away.

            Will groans, feeling his neck become red. "No. Listen, I... okay, these two depict a father and son. And the son is eye-less, sightless, blinded by his love. He's open-armed, as if trying to embrace the father. And the father is heartless, see, because he's turned away from the son." Will doesn't think he can feel any worse, and he can't look at Jack's face. He mutters, "It's..."

            "Us," Jack says. Will hears him swallow. "Will, is this how you feel?"

            "N-No," Will says hurriedly. "It's the Ripper. It's how the Ripper sees our relationship." He cannot say the truth, the whole truth, but to not reveal this would mean compromising the case. So he says what he can. "It's not me, the Ripper doesn't know me personally, it's just how he sees us." He moves on: "So, in that case, we can assume that the Ripper is chronicling what he believes to be my life, my relationships. He's watching me."

            "The Ripper is obsessed with you, is what you're saying."

            "Obsessed might be pushing it."

            "Will, he's killing people and setting them up like mannequins in mimicry of your life."

            "Okay, well." Will pauses. "Maybe."

            Jack sighs. He leans forward to see Beverly, Price and Zeller who are standing around near the yellow tape. Waving them back, they nearly trip over themselves to return into the inner circle.

            Price is the first to complain. "Is the adult conversation over with? May the children join now?"

            Jack says, "I'll send you right back over there if you don't shut up."

            Zeller chuckles at Price's subsequent silence.

            "All right, listen up. Price, Z, get to work on fingerprints, debris. Doubt we'll find anything since this is the Ripper, but go ahead. Bev, I need background information on these two. Suspecting a father and son pair." Jack turns back to Will and Hannibal once jobs are delegated. He shrugs and says, "This isn't really how I'd planned your run with the Ripper to go. Is he playing with you, Will?"

            Will shakes his head. He does not feel any mockery in this depiction. If anything, it is almost a sympathizing eye looking on. As one who sits in audience of a tragedy and nods along as the characters suffer. "No, he's... trying to show me."

            "Show you what?"

            Will looks at the two bodies again. The blood at the eyes. The blood at the heart. Will places a hand gently over his own heart, and is peripherally aware of Hannibal's fervent gaze crawling upon his every movement.

            "He understands me," Will says, almost smiling.

            Jack is staring at Will with an expression – Will doesn't bother to decipher it. He turns his attention back to the bodies, and he and Hannibal and Jack stand in a row, each starring, while overhead swallows rustle in their nests.

*

I talk in a daze

I walk in a maze

I cannot get out, said the starling.

            Will has been thinking of this – Nabokov does worm his way into Will's mind every so often. But today, it has been at the forefront, framing with tender edges that tableau which is scrawled on his frontal lobe. He has been lost in a maze, he speaks in a daze. The Father and Son. Jack and Will Crawford. Oh, how could it be anything other? This has put Will in a state. What state, he cannot say, but he knows when he is out of sorts and he is, indeed, out of sorts.

            He cannot stop thinking of it – is it the beauty? The finesse? Or is it something far deeper than that?

            Yes, in Will's most honest of moments, he dares to think it: sexy. God, it's sexy. The Ripper has seen him, taken notice, and not just notice, but he has really dared to look and see what has become of Will. His relationships. Every little hurt. How can this be? Will finds that that isn't really the question that needs answering. How is irrelevant. Why can take a backseat.

            What is it?

            Seduction?

            Will recalls the tableaus in order of their appearance. The girl, open-armed.

            I accept you.

            The Father and Son.

            I see your pain.

            What comes after that? This is what Will chews on throughout the day, long after the scene has been cleaned up, after the Díaz family has been interviewed, after Zeller bemoaned the price of gold and stones. He watched Jack leave the crime scene and felt a lump at his throat for all that he withheld. He comforts himself with the thought that after the Ripper is caught, he can rest easy, as withholding information such as Dad, I think the Ripper is trying to seduce me cannot truly stunt the investigation, can it? Of course not. It is a story told in subtext, the allegory of which is meant for Will and Will alone. He will hunt with this knowledge and bring the Ripper forth, and Jack will wonder, 'How did you do it?'

            Will then will only smile, coquettish in his ruffled way, and not tell his secrets.

            Not tell that he is being courted by an entirely different kind of suitor.

            Will and Hannibal meet in the psychiatrist's Baltimore office that night, as they have come to do two to three nights a week. Will always shuffles in near 7:30 PM, sometime after Hannibal's last appointment for the day. Will thinks Hannibal is being careful with him – assuring Will with every small step that he is not a patient, that this is not an appointment. He pours wine for Will, he takes off his suit jacket and speaks with Will in just his slacks, shirt and vest. The sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Will sees the muscles of his shoulders, biceps, against every strain of the fabric. He drinks from the blood-red wine.

            "So this is seduction, you say," Hannibal says, sipping lightly his own glass. His eyes are dark.

            Will licks a drip of wine from the corner of his lips. "I think so." He laughs. "If I'm right, the Ripper has really poor taste."

            "Self-deprecation doesn't become you, Will."

            "It's true. Well, it's not for me to judge him," Will says. He smiles. "Just to catch him."

            "And when you catch him, do you intend to hold, or bite?"

            Will flinches. "Hold. I don't need another dead serial killer following me around."

            When Hannibal looks at him with a high level of intensity, Will realizes his mistake, and finds himself cringing outwardly. He fiddles with the stem of his glass, and all at once, downs the rest of it. Red runs in rivulets at the corners of his mouth, down into his stubble. He swallows, feels Hannibal's gaze on his throat of all things. He wipes his chin with the back of a hand, leans forward and says, "Yeah. I see Hobbs."

            "Right now?"

            "No, just... sometimes. If I'm alone in the car, he can show up. Sometimes at the field out behind my house." He pauses. "Once... in my bed, when I woke up. Thought I was going to piss myself."

            "Is this guilt, Will?"

            "You're the psychiatrist. You tell me."

            "I'm not your psychiatrist."

            Will bites his lip. "You're my friend." It has the tilt of a question.

            Hannibal nods once. "Yes, Will. And you're my friend too. And it troubles me to hear of your suffering."

            Will looks down at the carpet. "It's not suffering. It's a byproduct of my purpose. Herding dogs sometimes bite the sheep. They can't help it. They've been trained from birth that the sheep are their charges, but still, they... bite."

            "Herding dogs are not guilted by the ghosts of sheep."

            Will looks into Hannibal's eyes. The wine has given him courage. "Then maybe it isn't really guilt," he says.

*

It's Wednesday morning and Jack has yet to take his first sip of coffee before Beverly bursts into his office.

            He sighs, lowering his mug. "Beverly, knocking would be appreciated."

            "I have Ripper news," she says coyly, wagging her finger in the air. Her grin is sly, knowing, as if she thinks she is immune from scolding because of the nature of her burstings. Jack hates that she is right.

            "Okay, what is it?"

            "Two things," she says. "First off, Will was right, apparently. The two guys we found in front of the Díaz house were father and son, Gregory Marsh and Jacob Marsh. Also interesting: the son, Jake, was adopted."

            Jack tries not to think about it. "And the second?"

            "Well, okay, have you ever read an online magazine called TattleCrime?"

            Jack thinks for a moment; he isn't one for magazine reading. He's partial to the Washington Post and the Times. He looks down at his cooling coffee. "No, can't say I've heard of it."

            "It's pretty new. It's like a tabloid, but it's all about police investigations, and the girl that manages it somehow gets these pictures from crime scenes and–"

            "Beverly, you said this was Ripper news?"

            "I'm getting to that!" Beverly frowns. "Anyway, so Zeller showed me the newest article on the website. Surprise, it's our dad-son duo scene from yesterday! That's not all, this reporter – Freddie or something – also got a picture of you, Will, and the stud standing next to them. And a picture of Will with his fucking hand over his heart, and a soundbite that's him saying, 'He understands me,' and the title of the article is, get this, 'The Prince and the Ripper: Kindred Souls'!"

            Beverly looks out of breath.

            Jack looks furious.

            That is how, at a little after 11 AM, Hannibal Lecter and Will come to be in Jack's office, sitting squarely in front of the desk. Will is covered in dog hair, and one particularly unruly curl of his own sticks up and to the side, mimicking a question mark. Hannibal looks languid, relaxed, in a suit of black and gold. Jack didn't know where to begin upon their entry, and instead of saying anything, he merely opens a tablet borrowed from Beverly to the TattleCrime website. He slides it across the desk and watches for a few minutes as both men scan it in unison.

            Will looks up as he finishes. "I," he says, then closes his mouth.

            Hannibal says nothing at all; he chooses to sit with his legs crossed, hands folded on one knee. He seems untroubled.

            Jack sighs finally. He says, attempting to withhold the vast amounts of irritation from his voice: "Will."

            "Oh, what? Like this is my fault?"

            "I'm not saying that–"

            "It's exactly what you're saying, or else I wouldn't be here." Will's legs are shaking. His face is red and Jack doesn't know if his embarrassment stems from the article or the fact that maybe he thinks he's being scolded in front of Hannibal.

            To try and soothe Will before he goes from simmer to boil, Jack says, "Listen, you're not at fault. This... Freddie Lounds is. I'd had no idea about her but Beverly and Zeller say she's gaining a lot of traction in the media world. She's apparently been sued for libel six times in her short career."

            "Libel," Will says plainly. "So everyone should know she just– just makes stuff up."

            "Yes," Jack drawls. He shrugs. "But she has a soundbite."

            "A three-word soundbite on which she bases her hypothesis that I am madly in love with the Chesapeake Ripper."

            "It's crazy, I know, but we don't need this person stirring a hornets' nest. Will, if the Ripper is hyper-aware of you, if he's watching you, we don't want to incite any... ardent acts." Jack looks from Hannibal to Will, neither of whom seem to be following him. "Will, I want you to do an interview with this Freddie Lounds. Set the record straight. She wants one anyway, you know how these people are. She's making up stuff to get our attention, for some real incite. I say let her have it."

            Will looks away. "I refuse."

            "Will!"

            "I said no!"

            Jack can't help it then. He feels his temper rising, and it comes out as lava from a volcano top and he will look back on this later and wish he had not said it, not in this way, nor at this time: "Well, Will, I'm sorry you feel that way but you're going to do it if you don't want to be benched from this hunt. This is your fault anyway for saying crazy things out loud– the Ripper understands you? Then he is one in a million."

            Will looks up with those eyes. So round and glossy, in which are the peaks of summertime. For the smallest moment, his expression is wide and lost, and he looks twelve again.

            Will says, in a small voice, "So that's another thing I'm not allowed to say, huh?"

            "Will–"

            The chair legs scrape back against the floor as Will moves from it, and towards the office door.

            Hannibal's voice stops him before he leaves the room. "Will, wait for me, won't you? I'll just be a moment more."

            Will looks back at him – Jack is sighing, already resigned, thinking that Will is surely lost to them both. After such outbursts, Will probably cannot stand to be around anyone. He will probably hide out in his small house for days, ignoring calls, sitting alone with naught but his dogs for company. Jack thinks this and even as he feels the churning of anger in his veins still, he cannot help but feel a singular ache at what has become of Will. He cannot help but feel a creeping horror at what will become of him still.

            To Jack's eternal wonder, Will nods softly, says that he'll be in the parking lot, and then leaves quietly.

            When the door is shut, Hannibal turns back to Jack with an expression somewhere between understanding and chiding. Jack does feel wholly ashamed in the face of it.

            "I can appreciate your frustration, Jack," Hannibal says. "But perhaps..."

            "I know." Jack's head is in his hand, propped up by his elbow on the desk. He rubs his temple with his thumb. "I know," he says again.

            "Jack, Will is not my patient. Therefore, I don't feel too unethical in telling you a few things he confided in me. Namely, that he is still haunted by Garrett Jacob Hobbs. He is not quite used to his position as a hunter, and seems to be questioning himself. Too, I feel as if there is some stuntedness to be dealt with."

            Jack can only look at Hannibal helplessly. "Stuntedness?"

            "Will has not lead a normal life," he says, tilting his head as if he is prodding for an answer.

            "No," Jack sighs.

            Hannibal nods. "Where most people Will's age have experiences in adolescence that ready them for adult emotions and situations, Will has been kept apart from them. You could say these runs, as you call them, are his first intimate interactions in the real world. Will is an empath who thinks like a serial killer in order to catch them, and getting into their heads is a very disquieting experience. Will is encountering things he does not yet have the skills to process. Love, sex, hatred, they are all approaching him at an alarming rate."

            Jack can't believe what he's hearing. "Will... told you all this?"

            "He implied, I concluded."

            Jack presses his lips together. He knew Will would have problems, eventually, with some of the measures Jack took to adjust him for this line of work. He did not, however, think Will would encounter problems with things withheld. Love, sex. Has Will ever experienced these things? Jack thinks not – he never gave Will the opportunity. Will has just now been let off the leash.

            He says, "Is there anything you can do for him, Dr. Lecter?"

            Hannibal shifts in his seat. "Tending to... infection inside a deep wound may require me to become a bit more hands-on with Will."

            "Are you okay with that?" Perhaps Hannibal does not want to get too close to Will – Jack would be disheartened but he would understand. It sounds like a big project to undertake and Hannibal already has a full practice. Will is not an extra-curricular activity to be taken lightly.

            "It would be my pleasure." He pauses. "Then, I have your full consent?"

            Jack feels the world lift from his shoulders. He smiles brightly. "Yes, Dr. Lecter. Will is yours."

            Hannibal's eyes are so dark. He is smiling.

                       

 

 

Chapter Text

When Hannibal Lecter emerges from the dark grey building of the BAU, Will turns from his spot on the concrete, between the structure and the parking lot. The sun is half-hidden by clouds. The air is lukewarm, but Will feels dampness under his arms and at his temples. Sweat brought on by agitation. He bites his lower lip, takes a step towards Hannibal.

            "Well?" he asks. Hannibal was only inside for a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Will fought against himself every second to stride back inside and demand to know what they were speaking on. "What did he say to you?"

            Hannibal looks slightly amused. "He asked me to see to you. Are you all right, Will?"

            "Am I all right," Will echoes, his voice burning with indignation. "You heard him. My own dad – the one who made me this way – doesn't understand me. He thinks I'm– I'm weird!"

            "Yes." Hannibal pauses. "If I do recall, Will, you said that I was weird as well."

            "I," Will says, deflating.

            Hannibal smiles. "It's fine to be weird."

            Will takes in a deep breath, then on the exhale, he turns away. The concrete beneath their feet is cracked, uneven. Will shakes his head. "How can you be so calm?"

            "Third-party perspective," Hannibal says. "You and Jack are entangled in this war of wills, and ultimately of misunderstandings and some level of resentment. As I do not have a direct stake in the outcome of this war, I can take measured approaches."

            Will smiles then, softly laughing. "And what measured approach is this, Dr. Lecter?"

            "I think you should do the interview, Will."

            "Oh, is that what he told you to tell me?"

            Hannibal shakes his head. When Will looks at him, he can see no lie in the man's face, and something moves in Will – from his stomach to his chest. Hannibal then says, "This is the price, Will. And, too, a lesson. Your runs are dependent on surprise, it seems to me, but you cannot surprise the Ripper, as he is wholly aware of you. Therefore you must negotiate this through your new source of strength."

            Will knits his brows. "And what new source is this?"

            "Enticement." Hannibal tilts his head slightly to the left. "The Ripper is interested in you, Will. Perhaps he would like to hear you talk. Speak to this woman, this reporter, and let the Ripper know if you understand what he's doing. Let him know if he correctly understands you."

            "M-My dad just wants me to set the record straight."

            Hannibal takes a step closer, and he and Will now stand a foot apart. "You know the way to this man better than Jack, I would think. You were bred for this, Will."

            Will's breath hitches. He looks into Hannibal's eyes for a long moment, and even when agents pass by on the walkway towards the building, Will cannot tear his eyes away nor back down in shyness. Slowly, so slowly, he smiles.

*

It doesn't take long. That night, from the safety of his home and his dogs, Will calls Jack and says he will do the interview with Freddie Lounds. He hears through the phone Jack's muted sigh of relief, the traces of which he cannot keep from his voice. Will sits in his bed with blankets pooled in his lap, two dogs curled around him, the rest laying by the heater. Except Winston. Winston sits by the front door as if he wants to go out, his eyes trained on Will. Will doesn't think much of it, is trying to get off the phone as fast as possible. He hears Jack stumble over and around an apology for what he said in the office. "You're doing good," is as far as he gets.

            The interview is set for Thursday, mid-afternoon, and Will finds himself seated in one of the BAU's conference rooms at a long wooden table, florescent lights like suns above. Jack is seated at the head of the table, and Will and Hannibal – who Will has called in for some semblance of moral support – sit side-by-side on the right of the table nearest the beige wall. Will's body is rigid, poised, as if he is ready to tackle someone. His fingers twitch on the tabletop. It almost feels as if the Ripper himself is due to walk in through those glass doors on the other side of the room, and yet, he knows it's not true and he sees it's not true when Freddie Lounds strides in through those doors like peacock feathers, in leather-print skirt and engine-red pumps. Will feels his stomach churn at the sight of her and he is already regretting consenting to this – as if he can sense this, Hannibal shifts his eyes towards Will and offers the thinnest beginnings of a smile.

            Will feels strangely – blessedly – quieted.

            Until Freddie starts talking.

            "So good to finally get the word from the horse's mouth," she is saying, looking everywhere and at everyone but Will, "I was thinking I'd have to piece together the truth from what I could get outside crime scenes."

            "Well, that won't be necessary, Ms. Lounds," Jack says. "We'd like to get the record straight."

            Freddie pulls notebooks, a recorder, and pens out of her huge black purse. "Of course. It's rare for a new reporter to get something like this from the FBI. Any reason why you chose me, and not one of my competitors?"

            Will senses Freddie is fishing for compliments and before Jack can tug the bait, he says, "We value tackiness here at the BAU."

            Jack glares over at him. Will pretends to not notice.

            "I see," Freddie says good-naturedly. Though her left eye is twitching.

            Jack sighs. "Let's just please begin."

            Freddie agrees and begins to speak to Will in a calm, even voice that Will suspects she has keened for interviews. She is a young entrepreneur and some part of Will does respect that. That part of him, however, is burdened and weighted by the repulsion he feels at the probing nature of each word as it spills from her red mouth. If Will could see auras, he imagines hers would be pale green and dripping like slime down her slim form, drenching the carpet everywhere she stood.

            She asks some preliminary questions, and says, "You have an innate gift to think like killers, but it's also true that you've received some special training to aid your gift, isn't that so?"

            "Yes," Will says.

            "Can you talk to me a bit more about th–"

            "No."

            On this Will does not budge and so Freddie, feigning nonchalance – is it feigned? surely so – moves on to the Ripper.

            "He's active once again and knows you're hunting him," she says, penning something down. Her eyes flash up to Will's face. "What do you think the Ripper sees in you, Will?"

            Will fights the urge to bite his lip. He feels the warmth of Hannibal at his side and remembers what the psychiatrist told him before they walked into the conference room together. Honesty, Will. For the Ripper will know if you lie.

            "He sees someone who has the potential to understand him."

            "And this brings him pleasure?"

            "Intrigue."

            Freddie's pen scribbles again. "And do you believe you have the capacity to understand the Ripper, Will?"

            Will shrugs. "I was bred for this."

            Freddie and Jack exchange glances. Then, Jack looks at Will, with something of a questioning expression, or perhaps warning. Will feels something like excitement in his stomach, as if he is standing on the edge of a cliff. Something foreboding, cheering, in the back of his mind telling him to jump, jump, jump. Hannibal sits beside Will, and Will likens that encouraging voice to the psychiatrist's.

            Will leans forward just a bit. He says, "The Ripper is making statements to me, about me. To what end? I know he sees me, is watching me. If he's looking to get a rise out of me at that fact, I'm afraid he'll be looking for quite a while. It doesn't unnerve me that the Ripper is perhaps stalking me, knows where I live, knows who I associate with. That can be gotten by anybody. I know the Ripper. I know what a hotshot he thinks he is. And I know now how delicate he can be. If he is so confident and interested to see if I can understand him, maybe he should stop tiptoeing around the issue and show me something I can judge."

            Freddie is scribbling ceaselessly.

            Jump, jump.

            "If he wants to see if I can handle him, he should talk to me openly. I will appreciate his candor."

            Freddie, for just a second, has shock written upon her face. She buries it quickly, and writes down that last part too. Will glances to his side and sees Jack with his head in one hand, eyes closed as if battling one of his headaches. But Jack's dissatisfaction does not matter. Will is taking what is his by right; the Ripper and how he is dealt with – all of it belongs to Will. He knows how to handle this. Yes, he knows just the way.

            After the interview, Will sees Freddie Lounds once again in the hallway. She looks to have been waiting for him, and Will feels suddenly much less confident than he did in the room. Jack and Hannibal are still inside, and Will sees her alone. She strides up to him as if they are old friends. It's all Will can do not to shy away.

            "Thanks for the interview again," she says. "It'll be a hit."

            Will shrugs. "Sure."

            "I know you don't care much for me, Will." And she pauses as if to give Will a chance to correct her. When he doesn't, she smiles, continuing, "But I do hope you'll call on me again in the future if there's any way we can cooperate."

            "Don't tell me you're interested in justice, Freddie."

            "Oh, not really. But alliances are good. If you need exposure, I can give it to you, and stories where I'm able to get straight-forward interviews are good for my reputation."

            "I scratch your back, you scratch mine." But Will knows Freddie's nails are sharp.

            "Exactly." She is all sun. "Will, I know you don't like the nickname 'prince' but it's apt enough. You're going to have to make usage of alliances, for the good of your father's kingdom. If your primary jobs are hunter and prince, you are going to have to find a way to marry the two."

            Will frowns heavily, his hands stuffed into his jean pockets. "Words of wisdom from Freddie Lounds. Thanks but no thanks."

            Freddie laughs as if Will has told a joke. She waves and says she will see him again. Her heels click against the polished floor as she leaves, and Will wishes she had not said that for now he cannot help but to think of what this might mean. What matters most to a king? His son, the prince? Or the alliances he can forge through the prince's dalliances? Or the kingdom itself? Suppose this king cares for none of these in equal measures. Suppose this king cares only for the monster his son is sworn to slay, and he will sacrifice all in his power to bring this prophecy to fruition. Suppose the king would sacrifice even the prince's love for him.

            Suppose.

*

"Okay, Jack, this is not okay."

            Jack sighs, and sips from his coffee before responding. It is Saturday morning and he sits on the blue cushion of banquette at his breakfast nook. Their kitchen is bathed in light of rose and gold, which hits the left side of Phyllis' face, the right side of Jack's. He is wrapped securely in a terrycloth white-and-blue bathrobe and it is too early for someone to be chiding him. But this is on the subject of Will, and Jack knows Phyllis refuses to be silenced when speaking on him. So he sips again from the mug and bears it.

            She sets the tablet down beside her own mug; steam rises from it, caresses her brown chin with white tendrils. Her expression is stern but edges upon pleading of all things. "What is this?" she asks. "Weren't you in the room with him? Why would you allow him to say something like this about the Ripper?"

            "Bella, what was I supposed to do? Grab the boy and run out of the room with him? He's a grown man." This sounds questionable, even to Jack's own ears. "I can't control him."

            Phyllis, who had picked her mug up to sip, sets the mug back down again. "Oh, that is a laugh, Jack Crawford. The biggest laugh I've heard all week."

            "What?"

            "You can't control him? What have you been doing ever since we brought him home from the orphanage?"

            "Bella–"

            "You've had him on a leash for years and years and years. He will do anything you say, you've got him so trained."

            "Phyllis, just stop it."

            She doesn't stop it. "So you can control him all right. But I'll tell you why you didn't."

            "Okay, enlighten me."

            "Part of you hopes this really will bait the Ripper into coming out to Will." She presses her lips together. "That he'll give Will 'something to judge' just like Will's asking him to. This is dangerous, Jack, I– I shouldn't have to tell you this."

            Jack doesn't say anything. He moves his gaze to the right, the window looking out onto their front yard and all the greenery of summer in full bloom.

            Phyllis sucks her teeth, shakes her head. "If he kills another person–"

            "Murderer," Jack corrects.

            "As if the two are mutually exclusive?"

            Jack knows Phyllis is privy to his opinion on this subject. He does not need to voice it again.

            She continues, sighing, "To Will, they aren't. This Shrike business damn near tore the boy apart. I could see it in his eyes. So could you."

            Jack relents. "Yes. And I'm taking care of it. Dr. Lecter is seeing to Will's mental state."

            "His friend," Phyllis says, her brown eyes lighting.

            "His psychiatrist," Jack says.

            Phyllis looks at Jack, head tilted, for a long moment before she opens her mouth. Whatever her next words, they are covered by a loud knocking on the front door, and subsequently a ringing of the doorbell. Jack and Phyllis eye each other before both stare out the window, seeing now another car joining theirs in the long graveled driveway. They both recognize it immediately and in unison groan.

            "It's eight in the morning," Phyllis cries, and secures her robe around her neck. "What on earth could that man want now?"

            Jack sighs, heaving himself from the seat and walking across oak wood floors of the kitchen. "You know what he wants," he says, crossing into the living room and the nearly-empty foyer. He opens the door while knocking is still going on and sees Frederick Chilton standing on the porch, dressed in a blue suit and off-pink tie, a striped shirt beneath. It all looks odd; even his shoes don't match. Jack gives Frederick a look that he intends to mean he is busy and not in the mood to be annoyed. Frederick doesn't seem to notice.

            "Jack, may I speak with you a moment?" he asks, skirting in through the door by way of the small space Jack's frame does not occupy. Jack rolls his eyes, shuts the door.

            Frederick has walked straight into the kitchen, and is giving a small nod of greeting to Phyllis when Jack joins him.

            "So good to see you, Phyllis. I hope I'm not intruding."

            Phyllis sighs, grabs her mug, and rises from her seat. She says something about getting an early start on work, and exits the kitchen, leaving Frederick and Jack alone. Jack re-seats himself where he had been and Frederick takes Phyllis' seat across from him, looking down to where she left her tablet open to the TattleCrime website. There is a picture on the front-page article of Will, Hannibal and Jack that Freddie took in the halls of the BAU.

            Frederick points to the tablet haughtily. "This! This is what I would like to discuss with you, Jack."

            "If this is about the Ripper baiting, I've had enough of a scolding from my wife. I don't need your input, Dr. Chilton."

            Frederick knits his brows. "What? I don't care about that."

            Jack looks at him blankly. "Then why are you here?"

            "I am here because of this abomination of a misprint," he says, and uses his finger to scroll down just a bit. He flips the tablet so Jack can read and places a finger beneath a sentence. "Read that. Just..."

            Jack frowns, but does read it. He then looks up at Frederick and says, "Oh, Jesus Christ. This is what you're up in arms about? Banging on my door first thing in the morning for?"

            "It says, 'Will Crawford's psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter,'" Frederick groans. "Is this true, Jack? Has Will chosen Hannibal Lecter of all people?"

            "No, he hasn't. Freddie Lounds just put two and two together." Jack explains this as if he were speaking to a teenager who is determined to take every utterance and action as a personal affront. He has of late become accustomed to speaking to Will in just this manner. Frederick sits before him in disarray – hair askew, clothes mismatched. He looks lost. And, Jack assumes, he did not expect things to turn out the way they have indeed been turning out. Jack can sympathize with that at least – though Jack had taught Will in the ways of the Ripper's patterns, the Ripper has now changed his patterns in light of Will. Jack did not foresee this.

            And Frederick, his expression is not simply of one lost, but one jilted at the altar. Jack senses that he is to blame for this, in part. He can remember Frederick's first consultation on the Ripper case, and coming to this very house when Will still lived here as an adolescent. Frederick met Will and was overcome by that mental pheromone even before Will was fully grown. Jack remembers seeing Frederick take Will's small hand in his own, shaking, greeting, and later when they were alone, asking Jack about Will's training, his likes, dislikes, what his favorite foods were. Jack said: white chocolate. And the next time Frederick came to the house, he had with him an entire gift basket of the finest white chocolates, wrapped in cellophane, with a bountiful green ribbon binding it – green, Frederick had said, like the color of your eyes, Will.

            Yes, Will had Frederick even then. Jack cannot help but shake his head. He wonders if Will even remembers that chocolate.

            After a long silence, Frederick says nothing but, seethingly, "Hannibal Lecter."

            Jack simply shrugs. "What do you want me to do? Will has taken a liking to him."

            "It isn't fair or right," Frederick says, looking at Jack, almost through Jack, with a stare so righteous and intense. "I have known Will for years. I have wanted Will for years. And then suddenly Bloom brings her old professor to a party and he runs off with Will like– like–"

            Jack would really rather not be hearing this. He says, "I can't do anything about it, Dr. Chilton. You know how Will is."

            Frederick sucks in his lower lip, digs lightly one canine into it. He looks out the window, drums his fingertips on the tabletop. Then he looks back at Jack. "Can't you?"

            "What?"

            "Can't you do anything about it?" Frederick smiles. "I know, Jack. Those commands you have for Will–"

            "Don't," Jack says fervently. He looks back hurriedly through the open archway into the living room. He listens for Phyllis, but she is still upstairs. He glares back at Frederick. "What's the matter with you? You want me to command him to– what, doctor? What exactly do you think those commands will do for your agenda? They are strictly for runs, for the Ripper."

            It takes a moment – there, on Frederick's face, is an expression not unlike the eye of a hurricane. Silent, consuming. It passes just as quickly. And Frederick is himself as Jack knows him: hesitant, nervous, overwhelmed. "You're right," he says, and seems to almost laugh. He looks thoughtfully at Jack and says again, "You're right."

*

Will has never given much thought to nightlife or partying. When he was younger, he was never given the opportunity to imagine such things, preoccupied as he was. As he grew into his twenties and towards the end of his training, he was able to sneak bits of media and pop culture into his diet – things which had nothing to do with the mind of killers. He studied these things carefully, quietly. Teenagers sneaking out late at night. Parties. Kissing. Hands shoved beneath jeans and underwear in the beds of pick-up trucks, or behind school buildings.

            He could barely understand it then –

            This is how he knows he is older, better in control of his empathy and his abilities. He understands perfectly now. The allure of the world, in the dark. The want of another's hand around you, in you, ebbing and flowing like a midnight tide. Will gets it now. And on Saturday nights, though he has no friends to sneak out with, no lover to meet, no adventure to go on, he does have the open air and the sky.

            Will stands out behind his house, the summer breeze through his hair, the only lights pinpointed above and the yellow-lit rooms of his little house. His dogs are quiet, sniffing around in the grass yards away from Will. Crickets chirp nearby, and on and off, fireflies drift through the air. One comes to light in Will's hair, resting gently in a curl at his temple, like a barrette.

            He stares far out to where the trees stand pitch-black against the starry sky. Their jagged outlines like monster teeth. Will exhales, eyes wide in the dark. It is so like that night long ago, in the forest.

            He told Hannibal Lecter about it the day before, as he sat in his leather chair in the psychiatrist's office, a glass of pink wine held delicately between his fingers. Something moved in Will – he was elated, with wine, with what he had told Freddie Lounds, with how Jack had placed his head in his hand. And Jack hadn't been able to control Will then. It was free-falling. He jumped. He'd jumped and lived. Whatever it was – perhaps, something tells him, it was even something as simple as wanting to intrigue Hannibal Lecter – Will told Hannibal that one night he saw a monster.

            A real monster. It had appeared in his dreams for nights in a row, and one night he came into Jack and Phyllis' room, shaking, asking to sleep in their bed. Phyllis had of course obliged, and Will thought that would be the end of it. It was not – the next night, before Phyllis came home from work, Jack asked Will to describe the monster of his nightmares. Will did, and he thought that would be the end of it.

            It was not.

            Jack brought home a light. Jack spent more time with Will in the basement. Will doesn't remember this so well, he tells Hannibal, but he knows something was off about that week. Then, it happened– one night, just after dark, Jack drove Will far out into the countryside of Virginia where grass grew brittle and wild, and walked with him into the mouth of a forest. Jack kept disappearing, and reappearing, telling Will he'd seen something, and described it with the very words Will had used to describe his dream-monster.

            Then, he disappeared for a long time. Will called out for him, and tried not to cry but cried all the same. And he heard the snapping of branches. And he felt his heart drop when he saw it, outlined against the bark of trees and leaves. Will felt a scream attempt to rise out of him, and something that had been forced into Will – a measure of his training, for he was a monster-hunter, and he would be a great monster-hunter, yes, just as the brave ones in all the wondrous tales from the storybooks – and he bit the scream back, swallowed it down like the most bitter of pills, and he felt his body tighten and he lunged, he lunged at the monster, at all the evil things in the world.

            When he came to, he was wrestling with nothing but sticks and dead tree bark. He had wet himself. He shivered as if he were buried in snow. And Jack appeared as if by magic and carried him back to the car saying he'd done well, he'd done well, he would be just perfect one day.

            When Will finished his story, he realized he had dropped his wine glass. He looked up into Hannibal's gaze, black as nightmare, and Hannibal asked him if he could walk away from everything that constrains him, would he?

            Will said yes.

            Will said no.

            Will said he doesn't know, he isn't sure.

            In the field behind his house, Will looks out onto the forest. Seven fireflies sit in his hair, a garland of summer's essence. Will exhales, and turns back for the house.

           

 

 

Chapter Text

Will doesn't get much time to himself in the mornings. He often finds himself awakened by the dogs' raucous barking at a squirrel or raccoon who has wandered onto the porch. And of late, he has been jolted by some nightmare's climax, catapulted into the bright of reality where Garrett Jacob Hobbs is starring at Will from the foot of the bed. At first this frightened him. In the past week, he merely feels weary, worn. He doesn't have the energy to cower from Hobbs. And when Hobbs asks him, "Where have you sent my daughter? Where has she gone?" Will lazily points in the direction of California.

            This morning, Sunday, is quiet. Will wakes, not from nightmare, but the morning sun peering in through his open windows. The dogs snooze, wrapped around each other on the wealth of their pillows and beds. Hobbs is nowhere to be seen.

            Will shifts his legs apart, stretches into the pillows and sheets. He does not remember his dream – it was colors, just colors. Nothing he could ever discern, and yet, he finds upon gaining more clarity of the world, that he is more than slightly rigid within his boxers. He sighs. This happens often – usually simply walked off as he readies himself to take the dogs out back, and the morning breeze absolves him of any hands-on responsibility. The dogs are sleeping. Will swallows. He shifts gently so as not to attract their attention, and negotiates the band of his underwear, making room for his hand.

            It is gentle, noncommittal – Will's palm is warm, and that's nice, his fingers ghosting the underside but he has no real intention. He allows his mind to wander. He saw the article that came out for TattleCrime this weekend, didn't bother to read it in detail. He has no idea if the Ripper will find it of any importance, or find it at all. Only that Jack insists that psychopaths love hearing about themselves, and an article in any newspaper would be savagely devoured. Too, it has Will in it. And the Ripper has obviously taken a liking to Will.

            Is it liking?

            Perhaps that is too lofty. Intrigue was the word Will used in his interview and he believes that is the word he will keep. The Ripper is intrigued. Will intrigues the Ripper.

            He grips himself harder, just a bit.

            Will would be kidding himself if he didn't admit this prides him. This is Will's purpose, after all, and it would be a sore thing indeed if he did not manage to capture the attention of a man he has spent his formative years learning about. Something in this intrigue says it's a job well done.

            He wets his lips, exhales.

            There are things he has not told Jack: things he turns over in his mind, keeping to himself for now. Such as the Ripper is most certainly a psychiatrist or psychologist. It is easy enough to guess. Who else would have such intimate knowledge and interest in Will? Jack has given so many psychiatrists on the northeastern seaboard insider information on Will to entice them, to incite their mouths to drool at the sight of Will. One of them is welcoming Will's blossoming, and he throws a coronation of blood and bone.

            Will jerks his hips up. His eyes squint.

            Sometimes he tries to imagine him. What he must look like. Sound like. What does he do in those moments when he isn't killing? Does he think of other arts? Will is sure that to this man killing is a definitive art in itself. What does he do on a morning such as this? Is he in bed, as Will is? Is he tucked under sheets and looking at the sunrise through his windows? Is he...

            Will presses his lips together. He is full and heavy in his own hand.

            Does he...

            Will squeezes at the base and his toes curl.

            Does the Ripper do this?

            Will exhales and grunts in surprise at the fervent vibrating of his phone against the wood surface of the nightstand. It moves with its own vibrations, bumping against his glasses and a cup of water. Will's free hand shoots out from the covers and grabs it, flipping it open in one motion. When it is up to Will's ear – the dogs have perked up and stare over at him, but ultimately re-settle – he then realizes that he has made the horrible mistake of not first checking the call screen. For all he knows, it could be Frederick.

            It is not, however.

            "Good morning, Will," says Hannibal.

            Will's voice catches in his throat, and reflexively, his other hand tightens. Will shifts completely until he is laying on his stomach, head buried between two pillows. He feels the entire length of his body redden. Through the line, he can hear water rushing, some clanking. Hannibal is washing dishes.

            "Will?" he presses.

            "I– uh, yes," Will says, breathing the words, rubbing his head and curls into the fabric covering his pillows. "Yes, good morning."

            "I hope I didn't wake you."

            "N-No." Will closes his eyes tightly, then reopens them. Tells himself there is no cause for embarrassment. Hannibal is just calling, and cannot see a thing. So it's okay. He repeats this to himself. It's okay. "I was awake."

            "Then I hope I'm not interrupting your morning routine."

            Will presses the phone further into his ear and cheek. "No," he says. "Not at all."

            "Good." Hannibal sounds cheerful. He sounds like a morning person, which Will has never been. "I wanted to catch you rather early to inquire as to your plans for the evening."

            Will regulates his breathing. He allows his hips to move – just lightly, just a bit – down into his hand, creating a sweet pressure. "M-My plans?"

            "Do you have any for tonight?"

            There's a pause where Will shifts his hips downwards again. His eyelids flutter closed. He shouldn't – really. He shouldn't, but just a little. Just a little is okay. Will exhales with a hushed, "No, doctor."

            There's a little hum to Hannibal's next words. Amused, or light-hearted. "Well, perhaps you would care to join me for dinner tonight."

            "Dinner?" His hand is so warm, the palm of which is beginning to sweat. "Where?"

            "At my home. I would love to cook for you, Will."

            Of course Hannibal Lecter cooks. Of course. Will nearly smiles into the pillows, and his hips take on a roll of their own accord, stilted at first but laying now into a slow rhythm that ends with his chest feeling horribly dense and full of air at once. He doesn't like the silence on the line. It's better if Hannibal keeps talking. It's better if. If he keeps–

            "W-What would you make?"

            "Lamb heart," Hannibal says. "Are you a vegetarian, Will?"

            Is Hannibal saying Will's name differently? It doesn't seem so, but something. Something. Something in the way his voice curls downward on the l's. It's deep. It's probably the blood pumping in Will's ears, distorting sound. Will licks his lips. He's forgotten the question.

            "Huh," he says. "Sorry. Static."

            Hannibal is chuckling. It speaks to Will's body as if it were suggesting that Will thrust down again, and he does, he responds beautifully. His toes dig into the mattress. Shoulders hunched.

            Hannibal says, "Are you a vegetarian?"

            "No," Will says, and to his own ears it sounds like a whisper. "What is–" he can't think of anything to ask but this and he feels his face burning for how far he has let this go, but now it's too far and he needs to finish what he's started, "what's in it?"

            Will feels instant gratification when Hannibal begins to list off a host of ingredients, some of which he feels the need to delve into the background of their source. He sounds almost prideful on the topic of the Shiraz's year; and just the way his accent curls around the word balsamic, Will shudders to hear it.

            Hannibal then ceases his list of ingredients, and pauses for a few seconds – though in Will's mind it sounds like an eternity, an empty void, and in his hazy state he is close to mewling for Hannibal to say something – and then his voice seems to drop an octave, and he says solemnly, "I'd really like you to come, Will."

            Will's whole body twitches. He tries to remember what they're talking about. Dinner. Yes, dinner. Will's eyes glaze over and where he was once concentrating on the white of the pillow cover before him, the faint green lines of the pillow beneath it, he now can see nothing, just blurs.

            "Are you," Will exhales, "sure?"

            "Yes. Come."

            That word travels down into Will's hips, and he feels it, the build-up, the boiling that starts in the base of his spine and he's almost making a noise, it starts uninhibited and sounds like "Oh," before he bites down into the pillow and comes in his underwear and hand, feeling warmth and slick-stickiness spread between his fingers.

            "Will?"

            Will's breathing is in disarray. He tries to hide it but for all he knows, he's doing a terrible job, and shame drops down onto him as if it had been looming from his ceiling all along.

            Hannibal's voice presses further. "Will, are you all right?"

            "F-Fine," Will says, rushed, dying to get Hannibal off the phone before his own embarrassment kills him. "I'll be there. Sounds great."

            "Is seven all right?"

            "Yeah. Perfect. I'll be there."

            "Wonderful." Hannibal's smile is obvious in his voice. "It will be lovely to have you and Jack in my dining room together." He hangs up, and Will releases the phone, lets his head droop down into the pillows.

            He can't ever tell Hannibal. And suddenly some back-and-corner part of his brain is telling him that surely this wouldn't be the weirdest thing Hannibal has ever encountered. He's a psychiatrist. Prominent, experienced. Will beats that part of himself away. He will not mention this. He can chalk it up to bad dreams, and the Ripper, and everything swimming in his head in the past few weeks. He can chalk it up to acting out. What he can't do, is ever speak of it.

            Will's head jerks up, and he looks at the phone still in his hand. "Did he say Jack?"

*

There is a looming feeling of guilt over Jack as he drives down post-rush hour streets in Baltimore. Looming just low enough for Jack to see its shadow everywhere he turns, low enough so he feels that present sensation, one often attributed to a spirit or ghost in the room. Something there, and not there, all at once. He has been living with it for days, and it just seems to be gorging itself on its own foul mood, growing and growing, threatening to plummet suddenly and cover Jack in its inner bleakness.

            Its source is impossible to narrow down; whether it began at the resurgence of the Ripper, the killer's subsequent interest in Will, Will's growing distance from reason and control, Phyllis' evident and growing suspicion that Will is putting himself in tangible danger, or that vague expression Frederick Chilton gave just before he left the other day after sulking for over an hour at Jack's breakfast table about Will's coltish nature – Jack is not certain.

            One thing is certain: it all goes back to Will.

            Will has been scarce since his interview with Freddie Lounds. And it seems to Jack that any attempt he would make to reach out to him would only be met with distrust and indignation, as is Will's usual response to any word Jack breathes in his direction nowadays. He asked Hannibal Lecter to invite Will to dinner. He isn't sure if this amounts to cowardice – he'd rather not think about it. What appeals to him instead is the simple graciousness with which Hannibal carried out this wish. On the phone, Hannibal said Will accepted the invitation with no pushback. Jack had asked him, coupled with relieved laughter, how he was able to overcome such an obstacle as Will. Hannibal said, "As a therapist, I pride myself on dissolving any resistance."

            Hannibal must be a blessing. Jack would thank Alana Bloom for bringing Hannibal to Jack and Will but he somehow feels she would not take kindly to it. As such, he will simply bask in Hannibal's mastery of Will, and when he arrives to Hannibal's grand home, he already feels like he can ignore that looming guilt just a bit. Just for tonight.

            It's just before 7 PM and Jack stands in Hannibal's expansive chrome kitchen. Jack is dressed in his usual suit and upon having entered the house, was surprised to see Hannibal in slacks and a close-fitting green button up, which now stands rolled up to his sleeves. It takes Jack long moments to realize Hannibal has probably taken note of Will's dislike to formality, and thus dresses akin to something Will himself would choose, if he had better taste and no dogs to befur him. Jack inwardly marvels.

            "I have to say, doctor," Jack murmurs, watching as Hannibal drizzles a thick purple sauce over three plates, "I find it astounding you could get him to join us so easily. He's been so difficult lately, I hardly know where to begin with him."

            Hannibal looks up, smiling. "Will is very particular. But he can be handled. You must know this better than even I, Jack."

            Jack shrugs. "Will was young. He's not anymore."

            "He is young yet, in some ways." Hannibal replaces the steel pot back on the stove, turns down the burner. He goes over to the sink and washes his hands. "I had a conversation with Will on the phone this morning, during which he was masturbating."

            Jack starts coughing.

            Hannibal turns around. "Jack? Do you need some water?"

            "N-No," he says, insists by waving his hand as he tries to control the mass amounts of air he'd just sucked into his windpipe. He feels himself purple and tries to breathe. Under Hannibal's concerned gaze, he finally is able to stop, and wipes away the water that had formed at his eyes. When he is righted, he looks at Hannibal plainly, to which Hannibal only looks bright-eyed, placid. "You're telling me–" Jack begins and then stops.

            "Yes," Hannibal says.

            Jack can't think of anything to say.

            Hannibal's smile returns. "Jack," he says, coming back over to the island in the middle of the kitchen. "This is simply Will testing his boundaries. Exploring. Tell me, what do you think happens to a trained dog once they are taken off the leash? They stay close, most of them, but they sniff around at the edges of the property. Oftentimes they will look back at their owners for encouragement or reprimanding. 'How far am I allowed to wander?' he thinks. You have given Will responsibility of the Ripper, yes, and I'm sure he takes it seriously. But there are other things he's in search of as well, and you and I would do well to foster his sense of independence."

            "I," Jack says.

            There is a sudden noise, a knock at the front door of the house. Hannibal nods, and makes his way through the kitchen. "Speak of the devil," he says, and leaves through the archway.

            When Jack hears muted voices from the foyer, he attempts to mentally prepare himself. He fixes his face into an unreadable, and yet friendly, countenance. He intends to pretend Hannibal never said a word, for Will is unspeakably perceptive – Jack is certain Will's knowledge of his knowledge would be catastrophic. So as Jack enters the dining room and greets Will, he can smile and pat Will's shoulder. He can maintain levity. What he can't do, is ever speak of it.

            He and Will are seated on either side of Hannibal's setting at the head of the table. Jack sits before the fireplace, where he found himself last time, and as he looks at Will, he finds him with markedly less dog hair about his person. Perhaps he brushed off just outside – something Jack has never succeeded in making him do. Sitting betwixt them on the table is also a Cabernet Sauvignon which Will brought with him. Jack never considered Will one for manners. Though, he thinks, perhaps it is simply guilt from his earlier display with Hannibal.

            Hannibal walks into the room, the embodiment of grace and precision, as he holds two plates with the third balancing upon his forearm. As the plates are placed down before them, Jack says, "Will, you're in for a treat. Dr. Lecter is an amazing chef."

            "Chef might be pushing it, but I do appreciate the compliment, Jack," Hannibal says, seating himself.

            "Credit given where credit is due, doctor."

            Will looks down into his plate. "It's beautiful," he says. The candlelight of the table reflects in his glasses. "Almost seems a shame to eat it."

            "An artful display before dining completes the experience," Hannibal says. He pauses. "Too, I simply have fun doing it."

            Will, for a wonder, smiles. It is halved and shy, directed mostly at his plate as he cuts into the stuffed and braised heart, but it is there. Jack can hardly believe it, and the unexpectedness of such a simple and lost gesture in Will drives Jack to attack his meal with renewed hunger and invigoration.

            The heart is delicious. Jack once thought, long ago, he could never enjoy offal, indeed had been put-off by the very idea of trying such. But it saturates his mouth with the warmth of flavors both new and familiar and it feels like butter melting on his tongue. Will too gives ample praise to Hannibal while he eats, and Jack knows Will does not have it in him to sugar-coat that with which he does not agree. Jack must tell Phyllis this when he gets home – the little boy they raised who once hid green beans in his closet to avoid eating them is now enjoying a stuffed heart. She will think him a liar.

            Jack finds himself staring at Will in remembrance of those times. Will was not raised as a normal child, and could hardly be called normal on his own. He thrived in the face of challenges, and excelled in studies. Yet, at times, as when he would hide vegetables, and when his face was lax and soft in sleep, he was overwhelmingly, heart-achingly normal.

            Will catches Jack's stare and seems to blush, turning away quickly.

            "So, I talked to Freddie Lounds on the phone the other day, right after the article came out," Jack says, sipping from his wine. "She says not only has her website been flooded with hits, but she's been receiving calls and letters from men who claim to be the Ripper."

            Hannibal raises an eyebrow.

            Will snorts. "Ridiculous."

            "You don't think there could be anything to it?" Jack asks.

            "Of course not," Will says, and he looks almost affronted by the very notion. "Those guys calling Freddie may be crazy but they're not the Ripper. I mean, come on." He bares one canine, slightly, and Jack sees Hannibal's gaze has moved completely to Will's face. "A letter? A phone call? That's not the Ripper. It's base, and furthermore, anything the Ripper has to say he'll be saying it to me, not some obnoxious upstart reporter."

            "I agree, Jack," Hannibal says. "The Ripper sees something in Will. Something that compels him to communicate with Will and Will alone."

            Will looks pleased at this.

            Jack supplies carefully: "You mean he sees in Will someone who understands him?"

            "That," Hannibal says, thoughtfully. He pauses and looks at Will, and in the span of a second, their gazes line up. "Perhaps that and more. Perhaps he started this correspondence with Will after seeing him when he was unaware he was being seen. Quietly, simply. Open but not vulnerable. When Will was silent and everything that he is fell into place like masonry. When he wasn't thinking of the Ripper or his runs, when he simply wished to belong, and in that wish, was immaculate."

            Jack is not sure exactly how to respond to that, and only watches as Will bites his lower lip, and seems to, with great force, finally tear his gaze away.

            Will says, "I feel his eyes on me sometimes."

            At that, Jack cannot help but to respond. "Where? You mean at your house?"

            "Mm," Will hums in ascension. "But randomly, and elsewhere. If I'm driving. I know he can't be watching me all the time, but it's that feeling, and I'm starting to feel like it's coming from inside. He's always on my mind."

            Jack cannot deny that this was always the aimed-for result in Will's training. Once the Ripper became active in Will's vicinity, he would react with something nearing obsession until the Ripper's capture. This single-mindedness in Will is an asset. Jack reminds himself of this, even as he looks at the confused, wandering expression present on Will's face.

            "Do you think you're on his trail, Will?" Jack asks.

            "On his trail," Will says dreamily. "Or he's on mine. It's hard to say. Lately everything feels muddled. I'm trying to clear my head, but–" He shrugs. "I talk in a daze, I walk in a maze."

            Hannibal says, "I cannot get out, said the starling."

            Will looks over at Hannibal as if startled, and his expression thaws like ice at candleside.

            Jack is aware he must look confused because Hannibal then gives him a sidelong glance and says, smiling, "It's a poem, called Wanted. Written by Nabokov, or one could say Humbert Humbert, a direct and artistic result of love and longing, and searching for the girl he's fallen in love with."     

            Jack pauses for a moment, and remembers faintly the details of the book. He squints one eye. "Love. You mean the girl he's been raping."

            "An unorthodox love," Hannibal relents, "though the protagonist's desire is so felt by way of his lush narrative that the reader has no choice but to feel a pull, not unlike a pull one would feel for any common unrequited love. It's a disconcerting experience when one cheers against their own societal teachings. Yet we do it when we are moved by art."

            Will's eyes are on Hannibal. They glisten in the light. Jack hums distractedly and drinks down the rest of his wine.

            They depart after dessert, which is a fluffy pastry drizzled with maple glaze, sprigged with some toffee-and-coffee brittle, all of which makes Jack feel like he's been missing out on good food for his entire life. He shakes Hannibal's hand at the door and thanks him, and watches while Hannibal and Will eye each other and say goodnight, but do not shake hands. Jack supposes Rome wasn't built in a day, and Will won't change overnight. He's too full to concern himself with it much and he and Will drift out onto the street, where Will's Mercedes is parked behind Jack's own car.

            Jack leans up against the black Mercedes – he notices it hasn't been washed since they drove it off the lot. He eyes the mud-caked wheels and bumper, then eyes Will.

            Will shrugs.

            Jack sighs. "Your mother is worried about you, Will."

            Will presses his lips together. In the lamplights lining the streets, his expression is only half visible. He flashes one green eye at Jack. "What about my father?"

            There's a pause, and Jack hesitates, but ultimately decides to place his large hand on Will's shoulder. He grips it with what he hopes is a reassuring strength. What Will needs now is courage and no small amount of support. "Your father knows you'll pull through," he says.

            And yes, he thinks. He is worried about you.

            He feels something akin to emptiness when Will pulls away from his touch. He turns away to the car, opens the door, and slides in. Jack sees the second he has to readjust his response – while the car door is still open. He sees the second and watches it pass him by. Will shuts the door, and Jack moves away from the car. It pulls out into the street, and drives away.

           

             

 

Chapter Text

After dinner at Hannibal Lecter's house, it took all of Will's control and prior teachings to not scream the entire drive home. Hunters don't scream. Jack had said it when he was but young: It makes you vulnerable, Will. It shows your prey that you're scared.

            That you're scared.

            Are you scared, Will?

            Hobbs turned to him from the passenger seat, saying, "Are you scared, Will?"

            When Will arrives home, he runs inside, locks the door behind him. The dogs jump, gleeful, and then their tails loll in only confusion as he dives for his bed, and wraps himself in his thick blankets.

            Your mother is worried about you.

            What about my father?

            Your father knows you'll pull through.

            Winston jumps on the bed – he's sniffing around for Will and finds just a few dark curls sticking up out of the covers. He licks those, in long slow stripes, as one would calm the frightened, or the wounded.

*

At sunrise, Will is knee-deep in Marlowe and Raleigh, and his under-eyes are dark and grey. He lays on his stomach in bed, the covers pulled up around his shoulders; the light from his small lamp on the nightstand is suddenly distorted and he looks over one shoulder to see the dawn. He's barely slept three hours. He did try, at first, he let Winston lick him into some semblance of sleep. But it was fitful, frightful, too many colors – he often envies people for their easy-to-decipher dreams. Free-falling or teeth dropping from gums like overripe fruit. Will thinks he would kill for normalcy.

            Instead, he was rocked from his color dreams and launched himself into Sidney and Poe around 1 AM. Byron was next but Will didn't have the stomach for it. He put that aside and snoozed, in and out of consciousness like coming up for air and then being dragged down to ocean floor. 4 AM to present has found him with simple loves and rebukes and as he looks at the gold light flooding his living room, he thinks, Melodious birds sing madrigals.

            Winston stirs next to him, having settled in the bed all night, despite Will's rustling around. He opens one round brown eye, moves his wet nose beneath Will's forearm.

            Will laughs, lowers his head and places their foreheads together. Winston is not unlike a furry heater. Will could stay this way forever. There is no need for the outside world and its troubles: serial killers and fathers who don't worry. Why go out there when indoors is warm and there is poetry and there are dogs whose tongues cannot reach your inside wounds so instead they settle on gently licking your head.

            Will exhales through his nose. His gaze on Winston softens and then he remembers that outside also has good food – fare more deluxe than river fish and hot pockets – and caring people who make an effort to understand.

            When he wasn't thinking of the Ripper or his runs, when he simply wished to belong, and in that wish, was immaculate.

            "Immaculate," Will chuckles the word. As if anyone could think such of him, much less a blazing entity like the Ripper.

            Buzzing, suddenly, the familiar sound of his cell phone against the wooden surface of the nightstand. Will flounders and has enough wits about him this morning at least to check the incoming caller – Jack. Will grips the phone tightly before flipping it open.

            Will isn't vulnerable.

            Will doesn't scream.

            Will can do the fucking job.

            "Hello?"

            "It's the third one."

            Will's body tightens, slightly hiked up in his shoulders, as if ready for a pounce where in front of him there is only the pillows and wall. The dogs react to his tension; Winston most of all for the low growl that rises in his throat. Will settles himself to some degree and says, simply, "Where?"

            When he pulls up to the little stretch of beach just outside of Reedville, he finds the vans and familiar cars encircling a patch of land overlooking the choppy blue of the Chesapeake Bay. Will thinks it suddenly – clever. He cannot help the little smile that comes to his face as he exits his Mercedes. To the right of the yellow tape, as per usual, are hordes of reporters, and one particular thatch of red hair that is tossed and whirled in the sea breeze. Freddie, to her credit, does not this time join the others in their hailing of the prince. She stands quietly, eyeing him, and lets him pass.

            Hannibal has arrived before Will, and they see each other amidst the agents. Will sees him first, before even Beverly, or Jack or whatever body he is meant to be looking at. He comes to stand before Hannibal, wordless, and Hannibal responds in kind. They are found then by both Jack and Beverly.

            Beverly has a look on her face that is somewhere between burdened and excited. "Ready?" she asks Will.

            Jack only looks anxious; perhaps it is the body, or perhaps it was Will speeding off last night. Will doesn't know, nor does he care. He is here to fulfill his purpose. Will nods to Beverly and she leads he and Hannibal nearer the line where wild grasses become sand. Jack keeps his distance.

            Just before the grass turns to beach proper, there stands a lone fir, young, maybe twelve feet tall. Will and Hannibal move closer and somewhere along the way, their footsteps in the grass that were once accompanied by Beverly continue on alone. Will's steps slow, and he stands now before the tree with its branches dipped in dried red and a man, naked, who is strapped to its front with rope. Two branches of the tree have been bent and manipulated to support the man's arms which are held forward. His eye sockets stand hollow and dark and as the wind whips Will swears it causes some sort of sound through the empty holes, akin to a flute or pipe. In one hand is his heart – plucked from the sweet round hole in his chest.

            In his other hand.

            In his other hand, which is angled slightly downwards, coming to Will's chest, is a ring.

            The Chesapeake Bay tunnels its sounds, the wind blows through the trees behind.

            The chatter of agents and reporters, and far far away down the stretch of the beach, some fishermen or children– slowly does it all go into the background, melding until it is simply one low hum, and from a low hum to nothing at all. A vacuum in which Will hears something drip. As if the sky were to open and let slip one raindrop down into the vast sea below.

            He feels his throat work to swallow. It is a gold ring, a simple band that shines under the midmorning sky – and in the center, not raised but embedded, is a ruby. So unclouded and violently red that Will can see in it his tiny reflection. As clear as the aril of a pomegranate seed.

            The corpse holds out this ring.

            This blind corpse.

            This corpse who does also offer his heart.

            Distantly – Will feels his body take on the tiniest of movements. And the sun moves from clear as day to shying behind a cloud, casting shadow down over the beach. And the wind kicks up and Will's curls float about his ears and cheeks. And the blood splashes the tree. And the corpse is bound–

            And Will is...

            Is...

            Is...

            Is...?

            "Will!" Beverly's voice? "Will! What are you doing?"

            Will jerks, startled, and feels his own feet slipping from under him. He stumbles to right himself, fails, and nearly falls – he does fall, and before he hits the dirt, finds himself caught in Hannibal's arms, the strength of which he did not expect and that too startles him. When his vision resettles, he looks up into Hannibal's calm expression as the doctor helps Will to stand on his own feet. Will glances down and finds that he had wandered closer than was safe to the tree and slipped in an astonishing amount of blood.

            And, too – he raises his left hand to find the ring secured on his ring finger. Clouds move from the sun and in the new oncoming light, the gold of the ring flashes on Will's finger and he and Hannibal both stare down into the red jewel, and then look back up at each other.

            "Will," Beverly cries, running over, coming now to stand next to them. "Will, you're standing in evidence! You're wearing evidence!"

            Suddenly they are surrounded by Price, Zeller and Jack as well and in response, Will turns away from Hannibal, freeing himself from the doctor's embrace. Upon looking up, he finds only expressions of horror, confusion and something skirting the edges of anger. Will's brown shoes are filthy with blood, and from Hannibal's lunge at saving him, so are Hannibal's Oxfords. Will feels more sorry for the latter, since his own shoes barely cost ten dollars.

            "Will," Jack says. His voice is pinched, controlled. "Exactly what happened?"

            Will furrows his brows. He looks from Jack to the ring on his finger. "I," is all he manages.

            Zeller takes Will's hand, raising it aloft. "Well, I mean let's be honest – the Ripper doesn't leave prints anyway."

            Price says, "That's hardly the point."

            Jack's gaze on Will intensifies, and then he says, "What is this scene, Will?"

            Will's body snaps erect and he looks into the man's dark brown eyes. "A proposal," he says. He feels the following pour from him as if he were a spigot and someone had left him to run: "This is a marriage proposal from a man who has been blinded by love. One hand offers his heart, and with the other he beckons for something in return – a hand in marriage. This ring is..." Will looks at his own hand and his eyes widen, his gaze deepens. "This ring is an engagement ring."

            A look crosses their faces; passes over each as if it were shadows over waves – beginning at Price, winding thoughtful through Zeller, pausing at Beverly, and ending with Jack. This look can only be described as disbelief.

            "Just who is he asking?" Jack says. His voice is scratchy, hoarse.

            Zeller mumbles, "Gee, probably the man with the ring on his finger."

            Jack shoots him a look of such darkness that Zeller immediately shrinks away. Will clears his throat and exhales, drawing everyone's attention back to him. He says, "Yeah. Me."

            Jack opens his mouth to speak. Then shuts it. Then opens it again, and after a second, says, "Everyone, get this stuff wrapped up. I want that body in the van pronto, and finish your pictures. We're moving this to the Unit. Hurry it up." He looks briefly at Will. "You're coming too. Follow us over." And with that, he turns and walks back towards the vans. On the other side, a few agents who have heard the orders commence to dispersing the reporters who by now are flashing photography in Will's direction. This time, Freddie Lounds does not hesitate to join in.

            As the agents and forensics teams bear up to complete their tasks before inciting more yelling from Jack, Will and Hannibal are left alone. Will's left hand is held aloft where Zeller left it – he can barely take his eyes from the ruby, the glint of the sun as it bounces from gold. As if this is the only precious stone in the world, reaped from a dying earth, polished by the last of elder knowledge. The last, the last.

            "It suits you," Hannibal says. His eyes move from the stone up to Will's own eyes, and Will finds himself unable to look away, not for glasses or shyness. He feels as if he is in a free-fall and a web all at once.

            Will's laugh is short, wonder-filled. "You think so?"

            "The Ripper certainly does."

            Will nods. He flexes his hand, veins standing out on the back of it, fingers stretching. He squints. "How is it possible that it fits so well? As if I'd been measured for it."

            Hannibal smiles then and he holds Will's left hand, the rough pads of his fingertips touching lightly Will's downturned palm. He looks thoughtful for a moment, then says, "Do you like it?"

            Will feels a heat at his neck, coupled with surprise, and then can only laugh. "Dr. Lecter, a serial killer has given me an engagement ring and your immediate concern is whether or not I like it. You really are weird."

            "We can be weird together," he says.

            Will's laughter dies down into a mischievous smile. "Uh-huh," he says. He withdraws his hand and glances back at the vans which are now packing up. Jack stands near one of them and motions for Will to follow in his own car. He nods, presses his lips together, and looks back at Hannibal. "It's probably going to be a long day. I can already tell he's on the warpath... don't feel obligated to come to the autopsy. It's going to be boring."

            "I can't imagine being bored with you present, Will."

            Will is laughing again. Something in him feels like helium. He walks around Hannibal, towards where his Mercedes is parked on brown grass. "Come if you want," he says lightly. He continues to his car, and Hannibal hasn't said anything but Will knows he will be there.

*

Jack feels as if he is walking one way, and the entirety of the world is walking another – for the life of him, he cannot fathom the easy look he saw on Will's face when he left the crime scene. The way with which he talked to Hannibal Lecter; Jack was too far to hear specifics, but Will was laughing openly, smiling, gazing at the ring on his finger, and when he left, he skirted around Hannibal, lip-biting and hands clasped behind his back.

            He has never seen Will behave in such a way. On anyone else – most befittingly, a high school girl – he would simply call it flirting. But Jack isn't sure Will has ever flirted before, in fact suspects Will would probably not even know it if he were indeed displaying such behavior. But that was what it was.

            Jack supposes this all goes back to what Hannibal said in the kitchen of his home. That Will is testing his boundaries and exploring that which he was never free to explore prior. Jack does feel responsibility for this, and so he tells himself he will look the other way while Will does whatever it is he does – as long as it does not interfere or poorly reflect his hunts. At this, he will brook no argument. The conflict comes when Will's lofty ways intertwine with him forgetting himself at a crime scene and infecting evidence.

            In the grey and the bright light of the autopsy room, deep below the BAU ground floor, Jack stares at Will, who stands beside Hannibal Lecter. His curls are ruffled, he wears dog hair and a ring on his finger. Jack only longs to ask Will why he put the ring on. But something keeps him from blurting it out.

            Zeller and Price fuss over the body which has been cut from the bark of the fir. Beverly comes over in goggles and white coat, approaching Will with supplies.

            "All right, hand up," she says. "I've got to dust that ring for prints."

            "Useless," Zeller intones.

            Beverly frowns.

            Will sighs, and he looks to take a moment before slowly removing the ring, and handing it to Beverly. As she dusts it, she says, "Attached already, huh? It is really pretty. The Ripper is a man of mucho taste."

            Jack rolls his eyes. "That thing is going into the evidence room."

            "Wait," Will says, nearly shouts. When Jack looks at him, startled, he sees that Will's shoulders have hiked up, his fists clenched at his sides. "I have to have it. Just for a bit."

            "What in hell for?"

            Will looks to bite something back. He collects himself, then says, in as placating a voice as Jack has ever heard from him: "It's evidence, you're right, but it's integral to how I'll be thinking about the Ripper. It could, also – the thing is, the Ripper wouldn't like it if you took it from me." He pauses. "It was meant for me. It's in response to what I said to Freddie. This is him talking to me. If – If he had written a note, you wouldn't just lock it up in a room, right? You'd study it, look over it a thousand times if you had to. That's my note."

            Jack starts to protest that a ring is in no way a note, but he finds himself looking at Hannibal Lecter for some sort of advice. Hannibal catches Jack's gaze and gives one very slight nod.

            Jack shakes his head. "Whatever. Keep it. I better get something useful out of you with that, Will."

            "You will," he says, and his whole body seems to relax. "Definitely."

            Beverly turns back to him with the ring. "The only prints on here are Will's," she says and hands it to him.

            Will hurriedly places it back on his finger.

            "Do you have to wear it?" Price asks, raising an eyebrow back at Will.

            "I'm not doing a Q and A with you," Will says, stuffing his hands into his jean pockets.

            Price turns back to the body. "Well, pardonne-moi..."

            "It's too bad Will's keeping it," Zeller sighs. "That ring really is nice. I could give it to my girlfriend."

            Will snorts softly, looks away.

            Jack tries to re-direct everyone's attention to the reason they're actually present. He motions towards the man on the table. "Is there anything we should be looking for on this particular body, Will?"

            Will looks down at him immediately. Then shrugs. "No," he says.

            "No?"

            "No," he says again. "This man isn't important. The Ripper could have picked him off any street or highway – he was just unlucky. A vessel. Or..." He looks down, and aside, perhaps at Hannibal's shoes which are still muddled with blood. "If an artist is using a pose for reference, and then interposes his own face on the body. It's a study of self, set on the pedestal of flesh, just... flesh. This man is meant to represent the Ripper in his proposal to me. So, no. You won't find anything of importance with the body. It's just meat," he says.

            Jack swallows. "The Ripper doesn't really expect you to accept his proposal, does he?"

            Will lifts his left hand from his pocket. In the florescence, the ring gleams wild and brilliant. The way it looks on his finger makes Jack feel queasy.

            "It's not..." Will thinks for a second, then continues, "It's not so new-age as that."

            "What does that mean?"

            Will's green eyes flash. "He's not asking, really. He's telling."

            Jack feels as if he's swallowed a rock. It sits heavy and unmoving in his stomach, pains him in some new and odd way. At length, he declares that the agents keep working to find the man's name and identity – inform any family members. He is hazy-minded and befuddled. This is the Ripper's last kill of his cycle, and Jack cannot tell if the Ripper meant it but his complete turn of pattern and overbearing interest in Will has sent Will's senses into disarray. Jack's instinct is to blame himself as he should have foreseen this – but he knows he can't, and he knows he cannot blame Will who was pointed in one direction and is now being dragged down another.

            He stands in the hallway with Will and Hannibal, shoulders slumped, and largely not in the brightest of moods. He notices Will staring at his ring with wide-eyed wonder, as if some fairy had perchance landed on his finger. This agitates Jack further and he says, "The Ripper is gone, Will. He won't come back for who knows how long."

            He thinks this will at least incite in Will some real-world weariness or disappointment. Will doesn't look at him, and says only, "He's not gone at all. He wouldn't leave me now. Maybe he will take a break in killing, but he has to come back soon. I have his heart." Will glances up, a light dancing behind his eyes. "Not even the Ripper can walk around without his heart."

*

Will's heart beats like hummingbird wings.

            How long will this continue? He has been in a state all afternoon and it flows interminable into the evening, and, ah, rushes towards the night. He cannot think for this ring, this gold that has found its way onto his finger. He has called off this night's meeting with Hannibal Lecter and the good doctor understood through Will's mumbled apologies that he is no condition to speak languidly with a friend. Will fears if he were to open his mouth, all manner of addled and fragmented poetry would fall from his ruined tongue.

            He spends days like this, cloistered in his small house, or walking along the dell out back, the dogs frolicking in glee at his flanks. In all sources of light does the ring gleam, glisten, glitter as an otherworldly ore, even in evening light, even in the dark, Will has seen its brilliance and is nigh blinded by some tug at his organs for this thing, this little trinket gifted to him by the man he was made for.

            And when he thinks that way, when he catches himself at the threshold of that which can only be lurid giddiness, he is nothing if not horrified by his own reaction.

            Will stands at the river behind his house, in the graceful silence of a mid-afternoon. Not two days after the ring took its place upon Will's finger. The water rushes before him, slides over wet rock and broken reeds. The end-of-summer breezes are tinged with sun warmth. The hairs on Will's arms stand, and his body is strung tight.

            In one motion, he takes the ring from his finger and holds it overhead, making as if to throw the thing into the water. Evidence be damned.

            His insides cry out to him, No, no, you cannot.

            "Why can't I?" he asks, eyes wide on the bank across the river.

            Every blood vessel and artery says only, Please stop. Please don't.

            So he doesn't.

            His moods regarding the ring swing from tenderness, possessiveness, to revulsion and disgust. He is a pendulum within the confines of his body, and the ring ticks like a bomb. He wishes the Ripper were before him right this very second, and he would force the man to explain. Will thinks of it all the time, whether he is gutting a fish or stroking himself in his bed.

            He would say to this man, this shadowy figure who would be tall and broad shouldered, draped in grandeur and crowned in glory, "What is this?" He would gesture to the ring on his hand, and take it and slam it down on the kitchen counter.

            The Ripper would walk over to him. And when Will is gutting a fish, pulling red organs from its wet cold body, he imagines the Ripper saying, "This is my trick," and pushing a knife into Will's stomach. And when Will is stroking himself with sweet long force and half-lidded eyes, he imagines the Ripper saying, "This is my love," and taking–

            Will comes at the word love.

            On the third night, Will shows up at Hannibal Lecter's Baltimore office, at a little past 7:30 PM. He knows he looks awful – clothes in disarray, suited in more dog hair than even belongs on a dog. But Hannibal looks at him as one would look at their oldest, best loved friend, and welcomes him into the office. He pours a wine for Will that is so purple it is black, and Will drinks half of it in one gulp.

            Hannibal smiles from his chair across from Will. His suit jacket is hanging over the back of the desk chair, his tie is loosened at his neck. "I see you have not parted ways with your ring, Will," he says, motioning to Will's hand.

            Will licks the wine from his lips. "Mm." He looks down at it, resting on his thigh. "I thought of throwing it into the river behind my house. I almost did."

            Hannibal looks at him. "And why is that?"

            "It's making me feel crazy."

            There is silence, as if Hannibal is leaving room for Will to continue.

            Will does: "I know, rationally, I can't really be engaged to this... killer. But inside, it feels like it. I don't know why. Maybe I've read too many romantic poems." He laughs, and his laughter ends on a sour note, something like a sob. "Something is wrong with me, Dr. Lecter. Maybe something went wrong with my training long ago. But I can't ask my dad. If he knew what I've been thinking about this ring, about the Ripper, he'd– he'd–"

            "What have you been thinking, Will?"

            Will swallows. He looks into Hannibal's eyes – this is my friend, he thinks. And he cannot keep all he feels to himself. He has no other outlet, no group of confidants, not so much as a worried father. All he has is Hannibal Lecter and the Ripper. And he suspects the latter may only be interested in watching Will dance himself into madness.

            He leans forward a bit, voice lowered, and bubbles with hesitancy and excitement in equal measures: "It turns me on. The ring. The whole idea of this engagement. I–" He laughs again, sobs again. "I need a psychiatrist, Dr. Lecter. I need help."

            Hannibal's expression of a kind friend, a shoulder to lean on, does not waver. He says to Will, "And I will provide it."

 

           

 

Chapter Text

Monday morning finds Jack in an emotional state that is not unlike walking on balloons: precarious, tentative, and yet tinged with a sort of buoyant hope and glee. He feels that every motion he makes must be calculated for his current close proximity to Will, who sits before Jack's office desk in one of three chairs, perhaps not sullen but certainly in no mood to be where he is.

            Jack watches him from the middle of the room, where he stands by a mannequin. It is tawny, somewhat worn at the seams, and stands on a metal pole and base. Beverly brought it up from the basement where it was once used to hang clothes in the evidence rooms. Jack has other plans for it now, and in one of his hands he holds pins and in the other small note cards.

            "All right, Will," he says.

            Will turns around in his chair. He raises an eyebrow over the rim of his glasses – he looks exhausted. Jack cannot tell the reason exactly but his sense suggests to him it must have to do with the Ripper. That, and quite possibly whatever has made him suddenly align himself with Hannibal Lecter as a psychiatrist. Jack could barely mask his surprise when the two came to him with their intentions. Will looked to be dragged along into putting it into words but in no way seemed coerced in the decision, and Jack would call that nothing if not a miracle of psychiatry. This took place the night before around Hannibal's dining table and a bowl of deliciously sautéed kidneys.

            It came upon Jack then that Hannibal is a reliable man and Jack now must too do his part. He will start here, today, with this mannequin, and the meeting to follow which is undoubtedly why Will wears a morose air.

            "Let's get this over with before they show up," Jack says, encouraging Will to stand. When Will does so, heaving himself out of the chair, the gold and red of the ring on his finger flashes. Will seems to catch Jack staring at it and so he slowly places his hand in his pocket, as if he were going to do that anyway. With measured steps, he comes to stand with Jack and the mannequin.

            Everything in Jack tells him to take that ring from the boy and toss it into the deepest of oceans. Instead, his voice is quiet and soft, and he says, "Tell me how you see the Ripper, Will."

            Will's body, as expected, straightens, and his cloudy eyes clear. He looks past Jack, to the mannequin's rounded nondescript face, as if there were someone staring back at him. His voice takes on a heat and a drone which mix into a tone only Jack ever hears from him. The tone of submission and complete understanding. Of purpose that is marrow-deep.

            "A man who is now of middle-age or approaching middle-age," Will says and Jack scribbles each separate detail down on a card. "Most likely white, or of European decent. Of high pedigree. Exacting, calculating, and utilizes these dynamics coupled with a certain artistry. He has excelled at everything he has ever tried, and is lauded, and wholly egotistical. He doesn't take no for an answer. He has a background in either game hunting or medicine, the knowledge of which he uses to cut organs out of his prey. He is most likely a psychiatrist, or psychologist."

            Jack looks up from writing. He has seven cards written out in short, blockish scrawl, and has used the pins to attach them to the mannequin. They litter its chest, stomach; there is one on its left shoulder.

            "A psychiatrist?"

            Will eyes him, seeming to pull his gaze from the mannequin with no small amount of strength. "I've been on the ASA's most sought after list since a little after you adopted me," he says quietly. As if they were standing in a church. "All of them clawing at the after-images of my mind. Educated guesses or some otherworldly insight has let one inside. And he thinks he understands me." Will swallows. "And so he wants me."

            At this, Jack says nothing. Only, carefully, writes that one down too. He pins it.

            "And," Will says, taking another step towards the mannequin, "he is handsome. All the best ones are. Ted Bundy, remember? It lulls people, makes them feel safe, as if nothing can happen with someone attractive. He is strong, but not overtly so. Certainly not a bodybuilder. He would never draw such attention to himself. And his voice... must be deep, even. A reassuring cadence." Will closes his eyes. "I can hear him sometimes, Dad. The timbre of his voice, just that. When I close my eyes. It's him." His hand moves in his pocket, as if he is touching that ring of his with his other fingers. His eyelashes flutter. "It's him."

            Jack watches Will for a long moment, and then says, "Is this why you've let Dr. Lecter become your psychiatrist, Will? Because of that voice?"

            Will says, "Among other things."

            At that moment, the frosted glass door to the office opens – with such surety that Jack knows it must be Frederick and he is right. Alana Bloom follows close behind, both arriving sharply at 11 AM, and both – though Jack is sure this is coincidence – are wearing sprigs of purple; Frederick with his tie and Alana with her lipstick and a silk scarf wrapped around the width of her hips. Jack greets them both, while making his way around his desk.

            "Will," Frederick says. Will is still standing eerily close to the mannequin as if they are sharing a secret. "It's been far too long; I'm glad to see you."

            "Yes," Alana says from her leftmost seat before the desk. "You're looking well."

            Jack thinks this is a lie, and he knows Will must count it so as well. Nevertheless, Will gives them both a stoic greeting before wandering back to his seat in the center, with Frederick now on his right.

            Both psychiatrists look uneasy, as if they can sense what this is about. Jack would not be surprised if this were true – over the years, Frederick has tried to the best of his abilities to attune himself to the climate of his sought-after position beside Will. Having known Will from adolescence, he is quite good at it. Alana is not far behind, driven by sheer determination. Despite all this, Jack notes that Hannibal Lecter has dashed from a stranger to Will to a friend and confidant in a matter of weeks. This only cements Jack's resolve that this is the right choice. Indeed, there really is no other. Hannibal is the one.

            "I'm seeing a psychiatrist," Will says flatly.

            Jack frowns. He was hoping to go at it with more tact, and, as suspected, such bluntness causes an uproar. Like a meteor crashing into the ocean, the resulting waves are monstrous.

            Frederick jerks in his chair so hard it nearly topples over. "Will," he cries. He seems too shocked to say anything else.

            "Are you sure, Will?" Alana asks, staring at him with a worried knit to her eyebrows. "I mean, is this... are you sure?"

            "Let's not be hasty," Frederick says, raising a hand. "Will, you really should take your time choosing."

            "Listen here," Will says and his voice is bubbling with disdain, "you all were constantly on my back to pick one. Even when I didn't want to. Now that I have and it isn't either one of you, it's time for me to not be hasty? To rethink my surety?" Will waves a hand over at Jack. "I knew this would happen."

            The glint of the ring on his hand seems to catch the eyes of the psychiatrists. When Will's hand lowers, they are still staring at it, resting on his thigh.

            It is quiet for a moment, and Alana then says tentatively, "Will. Are you engaged to someone?"

            Will groans, shoves his hand back in his pocket. "This is for the Ripper case. It's evidence."

            Jack says hurriedly, "Will appreciates the offers you've made to him." He has to pause here to allow for Will's snort of derision. "It's just that we think we've found a good match for him in Dr. Lecter."

            "Hannibal," Alana cries.

            Frederick leans forward. "You can't be serious."

            Before Jack can speak, Will whips to his side to glare at Frederick. "What's wrong with Dr. Lecter?"

            Frederick does not shy away; indeed, he leans in and looks into Will's eyes. "I won't deign to gossip but the man's methods of therapy range from the unorthodox to the inhumane. He deals in saturation, and the list of his patients who've had some kind of breakdown is a mile-long."

            Even Alana looks annoyed at this. "What happened to not deigning to gossip?"

            "This is giving a patient the option for informed consent," Frederick says.

            "I have already given my consent," Will says, seething. He settles back in his chair, looking now down at his shoes. In a voice so quiet and solemn, he says, "So has my father."

            Jack feels his shoulders stiffen momentarily, and then loosen again. He has no idea what effect Will was hoping to cause by that, but neither psychiatrist seems overtly effected by it – more so, they still seem in coils over Will's decision. The room takes on a murky, stale air which settles like that over a bog. Frederick stares at Will with some fervor and desperation to his gaze, that which Will does not meet. Alana looks up at the ceiling idly, contemplatively. Will's hand moves in his jeans, as if he is rubbing the ring again, as if he thinks Jack does not notice.

            Jack clears his throat and then says, "We hope we can call on either one of you for any future insight."

            "Of course," Alana says, soft.

            Frederick only looks at Will. He says, "Anything, Will."

            The meeting peters out afterward, for which Jack is grateful. The looks of longing Frederick and Alana send to Will unnerve him in a way that is new. And, too, he is sure this will not be the end of it. Both psychiatrists have his number and he is sure his phone will be ringing not long from now to discuss the matter further. Yet as far as Jack is concerned – and Will as well, it seems – there is nothing to discuss. Jack feels accomplished in this. What Frederick said about Hannibal's unorthodox methods still ring in Jack's ears and he cannot say if this is truth or Frederick blowing off steam, but whatever it is, should it be true – Jack thinks this after the psychiatrists are gone, and Will is standing in front of the mannequin, gazing into its blank face – perhaps Will would benefit from the unorthodox.

*

"–and it's just sitting in my dad's office with all these little note cards stuck to it, things I know about him. He said we'll keep adding to it. I think he's looking to make it so concrete so that when next the Ripper is active, we can look at people who fit my description and investigate them," Will says, wandering the upper level of Hannibal's office. There are rows upon rows of books, and Will runs his fingertips along their spines. He pauses when he comes to a section of books – a lonely corner – that is filled with familiar names, thick tomes of poetry. Will lingers here, but turns his head back to look down the banister and onto the first floor, where Hannibal stands beside his desk, gazing up at Will.

            "And this mannequin bothers you?" he asks.

            Will hums, and takes his ringed finger along the spine of a Whitman book. "I'm not sure bothers is the word. I could hardly take my eyes off it. That mannequin and the ring are the only two physical embodiments of the Ripper I have."

            "And this makes them dear to you."

            "Yes."

            Hannibal leans back on his desk. "You are in a state of longing, Will."

            "I can't be in a state of longing for the Ripper."

            "You can't be, but you are."

            Will takes the book from its place, eyeing down at Hannibal to see if he is bothered by this. Like most things Will does, he notices, Hannibal does not seem to care. He has told Will that he should not feel pressured to simply sit in one place during their appointments – ah, Will thinks, that which he has fought against so fervently he now finds himself settled into – and that he should feel free to walk, wander. He doesn't answer Hannibal's last statement, and flips through the stiff pages of the book instead.

            Hannibal says, "What part of you is responding to the Ripper's advances, Will? Is it the part of you trained by your father, that which seeks to capture monsters? Or is it your innate sensibility?"

            Will shakes his head. "There are no two parts of me. All of me was trained."

            "Then all of you belongs to the Ripper."

            Will stiffens, looks over the pages to Hannibal. He stares back at Will with placid eyes. "For as long as I can remember, I've had the Ripper drilled into me. I was fated to meet him. Isn't this reaction just the byproduct of me being so close to my goal?"

            Hannibal smiles. "I do not think it was Jack's intention for you to become aroused by the Ripper."

            "Then something went wrong," Will says and even as the words leave his mouth, he finds himself weighted with guilt and despair. What wrong step did he take? Did he not participate in his studies to the fullest extent? Is it simple perversion? Or does the fault lie with Jack – did he take a wrong turn in Will's mind and step on some hidden trap that, when sprung, manifested such a feeling of yearning when Will now thinks of the Ripper?

            "Perhaps." Hannibal pauses. "Or perhaps not. You were young when your training began, Will, and too when you were shut off from the world. Prepubescent. Injecting this man into your every waking moment was a dormant project that your father undertook. Now it blooms with the Ripper's appearance in your life, and triggers with it new feelings that are common to all. The Ripper and a sexual awakening."

            Will shudders. His ring finger skirts under a line in the book: Whoever you are! claim your own at an hazard!

            He shuts the book quickly and comes to the banister, leaning over. "Do you think the Ripper knows how I am? That I'm..." He bites his lower lip. "That I haven't– ever, I mean. That I'm a virgin."

            Hannibal looks at him steadily. "I don't think he is unaware."

            Will laughs, short and almost angrily. "That's my dad's fault too."

            "You have had opportunities, Will. This you cannot blame on your father."

            "Oh, yes," he says, rolling his eyes. "Opportunities. 'Dinner' with Frederick Chilton – a man who has known me since I was young. I remember once he brought me a big basket of white chocolate because he knew it was my favorite. The way he looked at me while I ate it... I think I knew even back then he would be a problem." Will turns from the banister, then stops and turns back. "I don't want sex with a man who's been haunting me since childhood." He narrows his eyes. "That goes for Chilton and the Ripper. I don't."

            "Who are you trying to convince, Will?"

            Will grits his teeth. "Even if it was anything more than excitement to me, the Ripper cannot show himself to me without me springing. There's the failsafe my dad put in me." He pauses, as if this is a sudden realization. "If the Ripper shows himself to me..."

            "You said once you didn't want to have anymore dead serial killers following you around. Do you still think you will hold the Ripper? Or will you bite in spite of yourself?"

            Will lets his thumb slide against the gold band of the ring. "Yes." He exhales. "I don't know, Dr. Lecter. I don't even know what I'm saying yes to. I feel like this is bad." He holds the book to his chest, his gaze lowered to the bottom shelf. He has told Hannibal of the beating of his heart, the quickness, whenever he catches sight of the ring, and how it had been this morning with the mannequin. A pooling heat in his stomach. Little care for whether Jack thought his behavior odd. He had even called Jack 'father' in the presence of others, so far away was he in his imaginings.

            And the things he imagines.  

            "Will," Hannibal says, moving from the desk. He comes around to stand just below the balcony, staring straight up into Will's downturned gaze. "Sexuality is not a bad thing. I feel it is my responsibility to emphasize this to you as you were apparently not given guidance by your father. It is normal, human, necessary."

            "But the Ripper–"

            "Has the Ripper been in your bed, Will? Has the Ripper touched you carnally or come to you for sex?"

            "No, of course not."

            Hannibal lifts his shoulders, drops them. "It is only you. If these fantasies with the Ripper give you a safe outlet to explore your sexuality, let it be that. You can still do your job and hunt the Ripper and other killers. Your father need not know. No one, as a matter of fact."

            Will smiles a little, and feels a heat in his neck and cheeks. He tilts his head slightly and says, "You know, Dr. Lecter."

            Hannibal smiles. "Our secret."

*

The summer comes to an end with one last burst of hot days. Will allows the back screen door to stand open, and the dogs run in and out of the house on whims, usually led by Winston. He reads the Whitman book that Hannibal lent to him after seeing him pace about the office with it so. Out on the green ash stump in the cooler evening, or shirtless in bed at a balmy noontime. He has taken to placing his head in his hand, and turns his smooth lips to the glossed underside of his ring – he thinks of it now, relentlessly, as his – and reads over his own fingertips.

            He is re-reading this line at regular intervals:

            I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you

            Will likes that. The thought of being made into something as beautiful and sacrosanct as a hymn. Nothing so base as a bloodhound. He takes snippets from poetry and threads them into his daydreams, and this shadowy male figure whose name is lost, who is invariably the Ripper, says these things to Will in heated moments.

            He imagines the Ripper pushing into him and saying, "I will leave all and come–" and Will comes at the very word, as when he was on the phone with Hannibal, and he lays panting and sweaty in his own fluids, in his own bed with sheets strewn about, and dogs barking out on the porch, and thinks he is nothing if not obedient.

            Near the end of the hot week, a reminder flashes on Will's phone. He forgot he had set such a thing. Abigail Hobbs' birthday is in a week. Will twists his ring about his finger in agitation. He nearly dials for Hannibal to ask if they should get her something, but as he practices what he'll say, it sounds too presumptuous even in the hollow of his mind. He instead gets some paper, a pen, tries to write a thoughtful letter. The first try is too dry, unkind, business-like. He tries again but finds the next is even worse in a saturated and lovelorn fashion.

            Hobbs sits on the bed, bloodying the sheets, while Will tries again.

            "Tell her I love her," Hobbs says.

            Will bites the back of the pen. "I'm not doing that."

            "Then tell her you love her."

            Blue ink bleeds into his mouth, between his teeth. "I can't."

            In the end, he decides to try to be cheerful. He asks her how Goldleaf is, and how the park is. Has she made friends? Does she go to the beach? What about college considerations? UCLA is very prominent. Perhaps Hannibal could write a recommendation letter.

            She will be seventeen. Will thinks perhaps he could include something from Wordsworth, but then realizes all the Lucy poems that remind him of Abigail have the girl dead or dying. He finishes the letter with: Best, Will. P.S: Do you like poetry?

            Before he can stop himself, he sends it. Half of him hopes it reaches her in time for her birthday, and half of him hopes the mail carrier is set ablaze in transit.        

            He doesn't tell anyone about the letter. He continues going to Quantico, to help with the bodies – to Will, they are nothing but paint and parchment that the Ripper has used to communicate. But he cannot say that. He listens to Price and Zeller bicker, and Zeller's announcement of his engagement, which, he adds, he had to secure with a modest ring. He made the announcement while eyeing the gold and stone on Will's finger; Will did not bother to acknowledge such stares. He listens to Beverly's jokes and how she has taken up running – and immediately gained a stress fracture for her trouble. She has congratulated him on his taking of a psychiatrist and says that he and the stud make a good pair. Will has stopped bothering to chastise her for the nickname.

            And Will listens to Jack. Jack who cannot hide the disappointment in his eyes whenever he sees Will's ring, whenever the subject of the Ripper comes up. Will thinks he would be more bothered by this if he wasn't so sure the Ripper would come back sooner rather than later. He looks at the ring and knows.

            Half of him says, He would not leave his fiancé.

            The other half says, You are not engaged.

            The ring speaks for itself.

            Heat makes way for autumn-tinged breezes and the trees redden and the sky purples in the evening early. Will comes to visit Jack and Phyllis on Saturday evening. He walks into the house and feels small again, has always felt small in the embrace of Phyllis. Her arms are the same that lifted him when he was a scrawny ten-year-old and swung him around. She smells of cocoa butter and thyme. Jack leaves briefly to get pizza – he says on the way out, "I'm no Hannibal Lecter." – and Will and Phyllis sit on the porch in the brisk evening just after the streetlights have come on.

            She says, "So, that ring. You got a story behind it?"

            Will looks at her, looks up at the sky, and then smirks. He shakes his head. His curls bounce.

            Phyllis laughs, eyes crinkling at the corners. "Your father told me you finally have a psychiatrist. Dr. Lecter, right? Your friend?"

            "Yeah," he says. "I've finally got one." He says this as if he still can't believe it. He once promised himself he never would take one. But Hannibal is everything Frederick and Alana and the countless others never were or could be. "He's pretty amazing," Will murmurs.

            Phyllis looks at Will, both eyebrows raised. "Oh, amazing? I see."

            Will blushes scarlet. "No, I don't mean it like that. He's just amazing for this– well, for me, but–"

            She is laughing again, raucous, so hard her eyes are watering.

            Will bites his lower lip, furrows his brow. "Mom."

            Slowly, her laughter stops, diminishes to giggles, and she shifts closer to Will, to take one of his curls and tug down on it. Her laughter is naught now but a simple hum.

           

           

 

Chapter Text

The sky is barely pink from sunrise, and cold for early autumn. Will can't help but yawn, and splays one hand over his mouth. Upon opening his eyes again, he notices Jack's impatient expression.

            "Okay, I'm going to let you two go in alone," he says, motioning to Will and Hannibal who stands placid and bright-eyed by Will's side. "After a few minutes, I'll let Bev and the rest in. See what you see."

            The courtyard before the Baltimore Concert Hall is flooded with FBI vans and agents who have set up a perimeter. The call came early in the morning and Will had been somewhere between sleep and consciousness; he was tucked completely under his blanket and stroking himself thoughtlessly when his cell phone buzzed under pillows. He scrambled for it with one hand – perhaps somewhere in the foggy edges of his mind he was hoping it was Hannibal to unwittingly talk him into another orgasm – and his other hand immediately flew away from his boxers when he heard Jack's familiar and gruff tone telling him to get up and get out here, there's been some kind of atrocity.

            There are barely any reporters present and Will thinks it must be too early to be nosy. He nods to Jack then and begins up the concrete steps to the vast building with Hannibal by his side. Hannibal is dressed in a blue suit, sprigged with a bright yellow handkerchief at the pocket. Will is in a sweater and blue pajama bottoms.    

            "How can you be dressed so early," Will mutters as they enter the cool of the building. He smiles a little, and ventures to nudge at Hannibal's elbow with his own. "Are you always set and ready for a murder?"

            "Always," Hannibal says, smiling back at him.

            Will laughs under his breath, averts his eyes so he doesn't have to partake in the eye-contact Hannibal is trying to establish. They are quiet as they enter the main hall, where Jack has said the body is deposited. From the back of the room, the rows and rows of seats before them, and then: the stage. Will's eyes zero in on it as if it were a point of light in the dark.

            Will cracks his neck once, twice, and then crosses in front of Hannibal to walk down one long aisle between columns of seats. The carpet is red. Upon ascending the small group of stairs to the stage, Will hears the echo of his own boots across the glossed wood of the stage. The bright lights overhead that shine down on Will and this body, this man who is sitting pretty in his chair, in his concert attire, arms lax at his sides, dangling. Head back, throat open, vocal chords exposed and laid over the neck of a cello that has been stuffed down the open mouth.

            Will's mouth opens just a bit, widens to something akin to a smile.

            Someone was unpleased with this man's performance. Will presses his lips together, hands clasped behind his back. He walks lightly around the chair, one full circle, until he comes to stand directly behind the body. The chords have been treated with something, some resin. They are hardened and, seemingly, somewhat disturbed. Played, then.

            Will closes his eyes.

            What kind of sound would this instrument produce?

            What kind of sound was the musician after?

            He can surmise that the two probably did not line up. No, for if they had lined up, if this had been a successful venture, then there is no reason why the musician would not have taken his new instrument along with him. Thus, the right sound was not achieved.

            Ah well, said the musician. Then I shall leave him here for all to see – he was never any good as the player or as the played.

            Will opens his eyes again to the sound of clapping, and when he looks out into the rows of empty seats, he finds one filled; Hannibal's dark-dark eyes on him, gaze like fire, and he is clapping, and then standing and clapping with fervor. It is only now clear to Will, who's lips are still parted, that he was speaking aloud. His words carrying with the acoustics of the room.

            Will raises one eyebrow, smiles, and takes a low bow. When he rises again, he sees Jack and the forensics team standing at the back, silhouetted by the outside hall lights. Even from where Will stands, he can see Jack is not amused, and so Will takes a step back from the body, and feels most of himself become red. He stands idly as all approach and then stand upon the stage with him, Hannibal beside Will, Jack in front of him, and Beverly, Price and Zeller swarming the body, eyeing Will uneasily.

            Before Jack can say anything – and with the expression he wears, a cocktail of bewilderment and suspicion, Will does not want to hear what comes out of that – Will waves a hand at the body and says, "Someone was mad at him for fucking up the sound. For playing poorly. This is what he got for a few missed notes."

            "More than a few," Hannibal says. When he has garnered everyone's attentions, he continues, "I patronize the Baltimore orchestra quite often. I was here this weekend past."

            Zeller dusts at the vocal chords. "Could this be someone who wanted this guy's chair?"

            "I wouldn't think so," Will says. "Just a lover of music."

            "With some skill at treating strings," Beverly mumbles, peering into the dark cavern of the man's throat.

            Will nods. "And there you have it. A man, not part of the orchestra, who is adept at making instruments, probably stringed instruments. With an easily triggered temper, and no tolerance for those with lesser skill sets."

            Jack nods slowly. He looks at the body, then Will. "So, not the Ripper?"

            Will pushes his left hand through his hair, brushing curls from his eyes. He tangles one especially long strand around his ring finger and the ruby in his ring glistens under the harsh light. He moves his stubbled cheek against the gold. "No," he says softly. "Not at all."

*

There still isn't a name for it – not in Will's mind anyway. For this strange feeling that has been percolating inside him lately. It is not so unlike when he was taking melatonin regularly around his twelfth birthday. When he had a problem with nightmares so violent he would wake screaming, clawing at himself. That had been around when he first started receiving graphic pictures of the Ripper murders. To combat his tense moods, his constant soreness of muscles from being hiked up, the trembling he sometimes could not stop, Jack started giving him melatonin capsules. They relaxed Will's muscles into lank gummy things like taffy, made him smile easier, made his sleep somewhat secure.

            Will has felt like that ever since Hannibal told him to think of his fantasies as a safe place to indulge his sexuality. If Will thinks about it too long – it has crossed his mind: is Dr. Lecter facilitating my perversion? – he does begin to feel guilt crash into him like cold waves upon a sinking ship. He prevents that most times by simply concentrating on how good it feels in the moment and how good it feels later in the day after he is so drained, he barely has the energy to worry about whether it is right or not. And perhaps Hannibal has a point; what great wrong is Will doing anyone by thinking these things? His thoughts are his own. He is still capable of running, of doing what Jack asks of him. This is evidenced by this morning at the orchestra house, his surmising of the killer that was quicker than anything he'd done in his training.

            Will smiles to himself as he sits in Hannibal Lecter's empty waiting room. He looks down at his hand resting on his thigh, the red jewel gleaming back at him. Will's eyelids lower, his gaze softens.

            No one has to know. No one but he and Hannibal.

            It is quiet for another few minutes before the door to the office opens. Will stands, watching as Hannibal ushers out his second-to-last patient of the day. Will has seen this man a few times before, this round, short man who is stuffed into his cardigan and grey slacks. He has introduced himself to Will in a seemingly begrudging fashion, calling himself Franklyn. He looks at Will now with the same mistrustful gaze and Will cannot guess the root of this – when agents and reporters look at him as such, he can understand. They know what he is, what he does and what he has been trained for. But this man knows nothing about him.

            Will nods his head to Franklyn in greeting; Franklyn mutters something, then turns back to Hannibal. He says, "So, I guess I'll see you at the orchestra again this weekend, right?"

            Hannibal looks at Franklyn with the barest of raised eyebrows. "I suppose."

            Franklyn laughs and leans over, patting Hannibal's hand that rests on the door jamb. He smiles brightly and turns on his heel, shuffling out without looking at Will.

            Will watches him go with both eyebrows raised and then enters where Hannibal holds the door open for him. He shuts it and Will wanders into the room, depositing himself into his usual leather chair.

            "Am I missing something?" he asks, watching as Hannibal turns for his liquor cabinet to get two glasses and a bottle of pink wine. "That guy, he–"

            "Don't be offended," Hannibal says, voice tinged with exasperation. He pours the glasses fuller than usual. "I'm about to give Franklyn a referral."

            Will perks as he's handed his glass. "Really? Why?" He pauses. "Am I allowed to know?"

            Hannibal sits across from Will, reclined. "He's fast becoming obsessed with me. He has brought it to my attention that he's followed me to several places around the city. Not the least of which was the orchestra this past weekend." He sips his wine, then looks over the glass at Will. "And no, you're not allowed to know."

            Will can't help himself – he grins.

            "Too," Hannibal sighs, "he's jealous of you."

            "Me? But he doesn't even know me. What's he jealous of?"

            "He doesn't have to know you to see your face, Will."

            Will almost chokes on his next mouthful of wine. He manages to avoid it only through Herculean effort. As he recovers, he feels that he is scarlet and Hannibal is simply watching him, drinking wine, the only sign of his amusement in the delighted dance of his eyes. Will feels himself falling into them, or being dragged, as if into the netherworld, and he lets himself go.

            "Flatterer," he mutters, trying to smile.

            "Not at all." Hannibal gazes at him for a moment longer and then breaks their eye-contact. Will notes somewhere in his mind that this is the first time Hannibal has ever done that. He shifts in his chair. "I should also probably tell you something Franklyn disclosed to me during our meeting. Since it is a police matter, I felt I should confide in you."

            Will's mind is still reeling. He rubs his thumb against the band of his ring. "Oh?"

            "A friend of his, who was also present at the orchestra, has made suggestions that toe the line of morbid, and specifically about the murder from this morning. His friend, Tobias Budge, manages a string shop downtown."

            "And you say he was, uh, specific?"

            "Very."

            Will considers this. A string shop. At the very least, it could be worth examining, and he could talk to this Tobias. Initiative would impress Jack, even if it was a dead end. And in the case that it isn't a dead end, he feels that catching another killer will improve Jack's lately morose moods. Will raises one eyebrow at Hannibal. "I'll go talk to him tomorrow. You're being pretty helpful, you know."

            Hannibal says, "Well, I am your partner."

            Will bites his lower lip. "Yeah, you are."

*

It is mid-morning and Jack is on his third cup of coffee. Black, whereas he normally does enjoy sugar and cream. He hasn't been sleeping well lately. His tossing and turning in bed has annoyed Phyllis to no end, and she has asked him what's wrong, what's wrong. But he cannot tell her. He cannot tell a mother than her son seems to be walking the edge of sanity and enjoying the feeling of the tightrope giving way. He cannot tell a mother than her son wears the engagement ring of a serial killer and pushes it to his lips when he is lost in thought. Instead, he blames bad dreams.

            Phyllis is smarter than that, and Jack knows he cannot evade the subject forever. He sits in his brown chair at his desk, staring at Hannibal Lecter. It has been hard to meet with him properly as he and Will are conjoined at the hip of late – that which is a great sign to Jack and also somewhat of a burden. But Hannibal is here now and Jack is free to release the tightness in his shoulders and ask what has been on his mind ever since the concert hall:

            "What is wrong with him, Dr. Lecter?"

            Hannibal looks serene and serious in equal measures. His tan-plaid suit somewhat reminds Jack of Will. He folds his hands over one knee, the barest hints of a smile at his lips. "Can you be more specific, Jack?"

            Jack heaves an exhale. "I mean," he begins and looks down at the desk, "I only mean that yesterday at the concert hall, I... felt something from Will. Something strange. He looked..." Jack searches for an appropriate word or phrase and finds himself at a loss. He looks at Hannibal with tented brows.

            Hannibal leans forward just slightly. "He looked like he was enjoying himself."

            Enjoying. Jack supposes that's apt enough. Will's bright green eyes had been shaded beneath the concert hall lights and perhaps it was just that but there had been a depth there, and when Jack had managed to catch Will's passing gaze, he found he could almost not see himself in those eyes. Will's ease of motion and a burgeoning smirk on his lips – Jack hasn't seen him like that before. It was startling.

            "I guess," Jack says. "Don't you find it odd for him to be so cheerful at a crime scene? Especially one so horrific?"

            "Not a bit."

            Jack frowns.

            Hannibal nods, looking off as if considering as he speaks, "Jack, you of all people should be pleased with this. You bred Will for this purpose. He is performing his duties, and had this happened a few weeks ago, he would be doing it while shaking and cowering. He is learning how to make this life you chose for him into something he can enjoy and flourish in. He is having fun."

            Jack tries to see the good in this – really, he is trying so hard. He wants Will to have a good life, to not be afraid of his job. But the change in him is drastic. Perhaps no one but those close to Will would notice but it is unsettling. He has been on this path since he put that ring on his finger. Jack still remembers the look on Will's face when Jack suggested it go to the evidence room. He'd barely had it a few hours and he jerked in response as if Jack had suggested cutting his damned finger off.

            "Do you think..." He pauses. "Do you think that ring is good for him, doctor? The way he looks at it–"

            "Will has grown attached to it." Hannibal looks at Jack. "It would be unwise to try to separate them now."

            Jack is struck by the way Hannibal speaks of the ring – them. Is he referring to Will and the ring? Or Will and the Ripper?

            "Have you been making progress with Will in therapy?" Jack asks instead.

            "I would certainly say so. I think much of it is to do with Will's recent change in attitude. I am focusing with Will on getting him to accept himself. The good, the bad, and things he hadn't known were part of him. It is all extremely important. And I feel that Will trusts me to guide him in this."

            Jack smiles a bit, nods. "I'm glad he has you, Dr. Lecter."

            Hannibal tilts his head. "Do you trust me, Jack?"

            "Of course I do."

            "Then rest assured. Will is indeed walking through darkness. I am walking with him."

            There is something in Hannibal's voice – such surety, that Jack cannot help but feel more at ease. He supposes this may be one of the reasons Hannibal is such a prominent psychiatrist. It is at that moment that the door to the office opens, producing Beverly Katz who just barely pokes her head in. Before Jack can berate her for not knocking, she catches sight of Hannibal and smiles.

            "What's cookin, good-lookin? Surprised to not see Will at your hip," she says.

            Hannibal looks borderline overly amused by this but Jack doesn't find it the least bit funny. He tells Beverly to get out.

            "Wait a minute," she says, frowning. "Have either of you been able to get a hold of Will? I tried calling to see how his interview went, but–"

            "What interview?" Jack asks.

            Beverly blinks. "He had me get two agents to go with him to interview that Budge guy, about the orchestra murder." She pauses, and looks at Jack hard. "He didn't tell you about the lead?"

            Jack feels something heavy in his stomach, like a stone that is fast becoming a boulder. He shoves his hand into his pocket, fishing out his cell phone. He tries calling Will, and the room around him is silent. The phone rings until the answering message picks up. Jack frowns and asks Hannibal to call him – Will is not in the habit of ignoring Hannibal's calls, this Jack knows for certain. Hannibal does as told, and ends at the same result.

            Then, Hannibal says, "I'm the one who gave him that lead. I need to go check on him."

            Jack is already standing, grabbing his coat. "Let's go," he says.

            They take Jack's car, as he has police clearance and takes every liberty given – and some not – to speed through streets and byways. On the way, Hannibal tells Jack about his patient, this Franklyn Froideveaux, and all he disclosed on the subject of his friend. Jack is half listening, half not. The boulder in his stomach has somehow become a mountain, large and looming, and this is very familiar, as he felt such on that spring day when he was racing to the Hobbs' house after Will. In the passenger seat, Hannibal continues to call Will's cell phone, with no answer each time. He is saying something that buzzes in Jack's ear like a high frequency that comes from nowhere.        

            For no reason at all, Jack remembers this: after that night in the forest, when Will had been young and facing his fears, egged on both by Jack and some innate thing in him, Jack took the dirt-coated boy back to the house. After being washed clean, and set fresh in pajamas, Will fell seamlessly into a deep sleep. Jack laid him into bed, under covers the blue of the ocean. Will's hair smelled of strawberry shampoo and, distantly, the freshness of the forest. His face smooth and pale, long eyelashes against round cheeks. Jack smiled at him then, placed his large brown hand on the boy's forehead and he muttered to Will, in a soft kiss on his brow, that he would be a hunter, a truly great hunter. He found himself wishing that would implant itself in the boy's mind, through impossibility and skin and bone, seated deep in the core of his being. This small boy who would one day stand against the greatest of monsters, who would be noble and strong.

            Jack feels something wet on his cheek. He wipes it away.

            They arrive at the Chordophone String Shop in downtown Baltimore; Will's Mercedes is parked outside. Jack walks into the shop first, the bell ringing overhead, and hears Hannibal's footsteps behind him.

            "Will?" Jack calls. The shop is silent, devoid of any footsteps besides their own, and they walk deeper in, into decently sized rooms filled with stringed instruments, fine carpets and high ceilings. Jack calls Will's name again and again. He walks around, and to his left, he sees Hannibal approach a hard oak door, staring at it intently.

            Hannibal opens the door, and Jack follows, taking only two steps before both of them snap erect at hearing crashing and banging down the darkened stairs behind the door. Jack hears a yelp that is so similar to the one a very young Will gave on that night in the forest that in response to it, Jack nearly knocks Hannibal over as he rushes down the stairs to find a vast basement full of intestines hanging on racks and, over near a deep-basin sink, the body of an agent doubled over into the water. Jack's insides squelch and then release when he realizes it isn't Will.

            Will is on the floor further down the basement beneath a man larger than him, black of skin, who is forcing a garrote down into Will's palms. Jack can barely take a step towards them before Will kicks upwards with a wild jerk of strength, knocking the man off, and he forces the garrote down into the man's neck, releasing gushes of blood from his throat and Will's own hands.

            Hannibal stands watching.

            "Will," Jack cries. "Will, it's enough!"

            Will pushes down further and the man begins to spasm, legs trembling, eyes bugging. Will's eyes are masked by his curls, wet with sweat. His teeth are bared to the fullest extent, veins standing out on his forearms, his own blood rushing down the steel string and pooling on the concrete floor beneath them.

            "Will Will Will goddamn it Will– heel!"

             It is immediate: Will shoves himself back, off of the other man who is laying limp on the floor, eyes open, lips moving, and Will drags himself to his feet, standing just a foot now from Jack. Shoulders slumped over. Hands bleeding freely at his sides. His eyes are blank, darker than the film of pond scum. Jack feels his heart in his throat and he looks at Will long and hard and, briefly, catches the glance of Hannibal Lecter over Will's shoulder who is staring at both of them with something not unlike calculation. Jack and Hannibal's gazes then meet for a long moment, filled with the weak sounds of the man on the floor and Will's ragged breathing.

            Jack presses his lips together, tears his eyes from Hannibal and focuses on Will. He is staring straight into Jack's throat, perhaps seeing nothing at all. Jack looks for a small second at the man on the floor who is writhing in increments like a worm on dry ground.

            Jack says to Will in a soft voice, "Good, Will. It's good."

            Will's eyes begin to clear just a bit. He blinks once, twice, and leans forward until his forehead rests on Jack's chest and he lets out a tiny breath.

            The next hour passes like a daydream. Jack has Hannibal assist Will up the stairs and Jack himself calls for backup and medics. He takes a long walk around the basement after cuffing the man – this Tobias Budge – on the floor for good measure. Intestines everywhere and two of his agents dead. Jack feels exhausted. He knows it is nowhere close to what Will must feel. The commands thread into Will's instincts and thus are taxing on his whole body – they override his free will. Jack is loathe to use them, for with them comes a long-lasting feeling of self-hatred for Jack. For what he has done.

            Half of Jack says, You monster, how could you do it?

            The other half says, They function perfectly. And you don't use them often. Will is more effective this way.

            Will's eyes speak for themselves.

            The response team is present upstairs and Jack ascends to the ground floor as they swarm the shop and down into the basement. In the entry hall of the building, at the side of a winding wooden staircase, Will sits on a bench, draped in a shock blanket, his eyes still unfocused. Jack would be surprised if he is completely coherent again as Will has experienced black outs at the use of this particular command. Tending to the wounds on his hand is not an EMT but Hannibal Lecter, who kneels before Will, and dabs with alcohol at his bloodied palms.

            Hannibal stares up into Will's foggy eyes as he does so. The softest of touches, the slow wrapping of bandages. Jack watches all of this and the two of them look to be encased in something that separates them from the world but through the thinnest and clearest of layers, as if they existed only in a soap bubble. Neither of them seems to notice the bustle around them, or Jack standing in the archway, or the bodies being hoisted out of the open front door. Hannibal, having finished with the wounds, takes one of his hands to Will's cheek, rubbing his thumb against stubble. His other hand rest's over Will's left, his ring finger, that ring that Hannibal strokes with his thumb. The corners of Hannibal's eyes crinkle, his mouth moving into a smile.

           

           

           

Chapter Text

"Price and Z are downstairs taking evidence samples, but all those intestines are pretty much looking human," Beverly says, pulling a face. She stands beside Jack just outside the Chordophone String Shop and beyond them on the pavement, past the FBI vans and cop cars and ambulances pulling off the parking lot, are a mob of reporters and passers-by who are taking pictures with their phones. Jack would yell at them but he doesn't have the energy. He only pulls the collar of his beige coat up higher around his chin. The sky is darkening in early evening, the clouds rolling in. There is a scent in the air of wet rock, like the oncoming of rain.

            When Jack continues to be silent, Beverly raises one sleek eyebrow at him, then turns back to the parking lot where Hannibal Lecter is now taking Will's shock blanket from him.

            "Second one," Beverly says in a tone nearing cheer. "My aunt had a cat like Will once. She got him because her farm house had this really bad mice infestation. It was awful. Anyway, his name was Lollypop and he'd catch every mouse he came across. Like, not even thinking about it. He brought her dead mouse after dead mouse."

            Jack sighs and peers over at Beverly.

            She continues: "Of course, then he got too big for his britches and started thinking he could hunt down raccoons and possums too." She pauses, gazing upward. "After a while, my aunt changed his name to One-Eyed Lolly."

            "Beverly, is there a point to this story?" Jack finally asks.

            She shrugs heavily. "Just... be careful with Will."

            "What do you think I'm doing? He went off and did this himself; I didn't authorize it–"

            "Yeah, Jack, but that's my point too." The wind kicks up and her hair twists in black  waves across her pale face, her pink mouth. "Will is liable to do things like that, chase after stuff on his own. Hannibal was in your office when he should have been with Will. Maybe he could have talked some sense into him before he went storming into a psychopath's den like Rambo."

            "You really think Will is going to listen to anyone when he gets like that?"

            Beverly raises one eyebrow and waves a hand over to the parking lot. "Look at them," she says, and Jack turns in time to see Hannibal gently leading Will by the hand into the passenger side of his Bentley. Hannibal seems to have enlisted an agent to drive Will's own car. Jack glances back at Beverly who is still wearing that knowing gaze and he leaves her side to catch Hannibal just as he shuts himself into the driver's side.

            "Dr. Lecter," he calls.

            "Ah, Jack," Hannibal says, looking up. The window is rolled down and through it, Jack can see Will in the passenger seat, head lolling forward a bit, eyes bleary still. He looks tired. "I was just about to take Will home. You won't be needing him at Quantico today, will you?"

            "No," Jack says, eyes fixed on Will. "No, he's done good. He should go home and rest. Listen, Dr. Lecter..." He presses his lips together, inhaling sharply. The damage is already done; someone as perceptive as Hannibal has probably caught on to what happened in the basement and Jack knows he must explain himself. But not here. Not in front of Will, no matter his incoherent state. He says, "Let's have a talk in a few days."

            Hannibal looks at him, eyes filled with recognition. He nods once, and begins to roll the window up. Jack steps back from the car and watches as it rolls between two cop cars, and Will's Mercedes follows it into the street and down until the first light.

            Beverly is at his side again, looking at Jack pointedly. "Come on, give me some credit."

            "What in hell for?"

            "Remember that day when you were about to call Chilton for Will?" She waits while Jack recalls; it doesn't take long. "I told you to call the stud. If I hadn't said that, think where Will'd be." She raises her hands and makes motions as if she is clutching at something. "Fighting off Chilton's grabby fingers, instead of psychopaths."

            "Jesus, Beverly."

            She laughs. "Damn, I'm good."

*

Will jolts – he remembers Tobias Budge above him and his whole body responds for a brief second to remembered adrenaline, and he shoots upwards before hitting his head on something smooth but hard and there's a resulting smack sound right before Will falls back on pillows, pillows that smell like home.

            Will groans, rubs at his forehead and when he opens his eyes completely, he sees Hannibal Lecter also rubbing his own forehead, and squinting a smile down at Will. When he straightens, Will can see the rest of the front room of the house. He is laying in his own bed, and the dogs are crowded around, sniffing at Hannibal's shoes, nuzzling at his hands that rest on his lap as he sits at Will's side on the bed.

            "I'm sorry if I surprised you, Will," Hannibal says, taking his hand from his forehead. There is a pink spot there from their sudden contact and Will is sure he wears a matching one.

            He doesn't feel like laughing at all, but somehow a laugh is pulled from him. "I'm sorry, I–" He pulls his hands up and sees the bandages wrapped around each palm. They are sore, slightly searing. "Wait, and Tobias–?"

            Everything is still swimming. He doesn't remember how he got here but Hannibal is with him and so he feels there is no cause for worry.

            "You got him, Will," Hannibal says, smiling simply. "He's been taken away by your father and the others. But you were the one to catch him."

            Will's eyes round, gaze softening. It's hard to remember – everything seems like its coated in fog, even if it resides in recent memory – but he can tell something happened. It comes in waves, rolling towards him as if he himself is a soft, welcoming shore. And he receives these things like sea glass and pebbles and shells: Tobias' basement filled with intestines and some smell that reminded him of wood and resin. The agents' bodies littered in sinks, though Will had just taken a step outside to try calling Hannibal only to receive no signal. And someone attacking him from behind, and upon whirling around, finding Tobias with a garrote. Then the tussle that tore them both to the ground and Will felt his inner self coming out, that which told him to get Tobias into a compromised position and hold. And then something else emerging, something shaped like a man and ensouled like a wolf or anything wild that passes unseen under foliage. And it took Will's intent to hold and bent it. Bent it until–

            "D-Did I..." Will looks up into Hannibal's maroon eyes. "I didn't..."

            "You did not kill him, Will."

            "Oh, that's–"

            "You tried to though."

            Will exhales suddenly though he'd had almost no breath stored up. He winces. "Then you were there?"

            Hannibal nods. "Your father and I."

            Will isn't sure what to say. He looks aside, downwards, to find Winston as one of the foremost dogs at the bedside, and his round brown eyes look up at Will. He probably only wants something to eat, but Will takes whatever he can as a sign of commiseration. He places his left hand over his lap to pet the dog and sees his hand bare but for the bandages.     

            "My– where is it?" His legs splay out suddenly and he's shocked to sitting upright in bed, roaming hands under the sheets. He looks out over Hannibal's shoulder, towards the screen door. "Is it in the basement, did I leave–"

            Hannibal produces it suddenly from his pocket. Over the gleam of ruby and gold, his soft smile is almost as comforting. He says, "I had to take it off to bandage your hands properly, Will, I'm sorry. Don't worry." He takes Will's limp left hand in his. "I wouldn't allow you to be separated from it."

            Will hums a small bit of laughter. "Some would say you're encouraging this relationship, doctor."

            Hannibal looks at Will for a small moment before taking the ring in hand and slipping it smoothly onto the outstretched ring finger. It slides on as if it has always belonged there. And, like that day not long ago when it first appeared on Will's finger, he finds himself entranced anew by its brilliance and the way it fits. And, like that day not long ago, Will's gaze rises and he finds Hannibal's starring back at him over the stone. Will, at this moment, is still shaking off the remnants of whatever haze had held him. And he can blame that if he must, as he continues to stare into Hannibal's eyes, that black-maroon, that landscape inside of which lays unknown and haunted things. At this moment, Will feels something in his chest, and it moves to spark at the small places on his hand where Hannibal's fingertips connect.

            It is then that Winston jumps up, front paws on Hannibal's lap, and his nose in the psychiatrist's ear.

            "Winston," Will shouts, voice reaching a high pitch. He knocks the dog down with the back of one hand, that side which does not sting so badly. "I'm sorry about him," Will says to Hannibal who, to his credit, does not look overly bothered and perhaps even has an air of amusement about him. There is one lock of his ashen hair that now sticks out slightly over his ear and is reminiscent of Will's own curls.

            Hannibal smiles and shakes his head. He rises from the bed and Will feels an inner pull at watching him create distance. "He must be quite irritated at me for stealing all your attention," he says. "I should be going anyway; I have an agent of your father's waiting patiently out in my car. He drove yours here."

            Will understands his need to go but he feels he must correct the earlier notion. Winston looks too happy for it to be such a thing. "I don't think he's irritated," Will says, shrugging. "He's not very trained. I got him last, and well... he's weird, I guess."

            Hannibal is moving toward the door, his eyes dark in the last of the light from outside. His hand on the screen door handle. "Then he suits you, Will."

            "Yeah." Will smirks. "You too."

            Hannibal nods, smiling. He seems to linger for a second longer, and then he leaves, softly shutting the door behind him. Will listens to his footsteps on the porch, down the stairs – that third step that creaks loudly – and then off into the gravel. He listens, yes, even as the Bentley backs down the driveway. He listens for a long time.

*

It doesn't take long for Tobias Budge to be classified as a psychopath. During his interviews – which he talks through with great strain for the damage Will had done to his throat – he tries to explain to Jack and anyone who will listen what an affront the dead man's playing was to an otherwise beautifully operating orchestra. Tobias and Jack look into each other's eyes from across a conference table to which Tobias is chained. His hands are thin, broad, musically-inclined, resting apart from Jack's large thick ones.

            Tobias says, "Isn't it a shame when something doesn't work like it's supposed to?" His deep-set eyes attempt to focus. In the harsh lighting, every line and wrinkle on his face is glaring. But Jack can only look into his eyes, the whites of which have yellowed. "A clarinet with a frayed reed. A cello with a broken string. I tried– I tried to fix him, but."

            "But you can't fix humans," Jack says.

            "Can't you?"

            Jack presses his lips together. He considers for a long time, the silence of the room settling down over them. Tobias is quiet, calmed. He seems to give Jack all the time in the world to mull this question, to test its truth and fallacy. Tobias saw a problem and he took what he thought was broken and went inside and made something he imagined would be better. But when he tried to play his new instrument, perhaps even for a second, the fog of madness cleared from his eyes and he looked down in that concert hall to see what anyone else would have seen from the start: just a dead human, hollowed out like a gourd.

            Finally, Jack says, "No, Tobias, you can't," and he leaves the room.

            Tobias Budge is being driven off from the BAU, up into Maryland to begin his life-long residence at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Jack stands just outside the Unit's building, watching the armed truck leave. He looks further up into the sky – it has been overcast for days now without the slightest drop of rain. It looms over everyone like a threat. Agents coming up the walkway hold umbrellas, folded but ready, eyeing up at the sky as Jack does. For a moment, he takes his hand out of his coat pocket and holds it palm-up. Nothing falls into it.

            Throughout the day, Jack is restless in his office. He holds onto his cell phone, flips it open, then flips it closed. He hasn't spoken to Will since the basement and he trusts that Will was in good hands with Hannibal delivering him home.

            What should he say?

            What would Will like to hear?

            This is the truth: Jack is so proud of Will. Here is a man grown who was once a small boy in an orphanage, who was once at the mercy of the nuns who ran the institution and wide-eyed and had no future. But he excelled, through it all, through Phyllis' objections and even – at times, yes, it is true – Jack's own doubts. And he walks like a hunter, and he hunts like an animal. Still, there is grace in Will. Jack has not purged that from him, and hopes he never will. Though he does not know if Will would want to hear this. The boy's near-kill of Tobias Budge – does that weigh on him, like an overcast sky?

            And what can Jack do to abate the clouds? What can he say?

            In a fit of frustration, Jack flips open his phone again and speed-dials Will. The phone has rung two, three times before Jack almost shuts it again. He remembers that night after dinner at Hannibal's and how Will drove away. Jack does not want to offend him again.

            "Hello?"

            Jack swallows. "Will, I... how're you doing?"

            There's a pause, a shift, perhaps in blankets. Is he sleeping at 2 PM? "Fine," he says, "I'm doing good. My hands are healing."

            "Great. That's great."

            There is silence. How did it get like this? How did it get to the point where Jack cannot talk to Will without feeling like he is skirting hidden landmines? And how can Hannibal Lecter do it so easily?

            Finally, Will says, testing, "Is something up? Is there a body?"

            "No, no. Well, not right now anyway. I mean, not that anyone's told me. There could be one laying right outside."

            Will snorts a soft laughter and to Jack that feels like he's won a trophy.

            "Will, I wanted to tell you good job," Jack says finally, emboldened by the laughter. "I'm sorry I didn't say so sooner. But you got a hold of Budge so fast, damn near made my head spin."

            Will hums, it sounds like satisfaction. "Well, Dr. Lecter helped me with a lead."

            "You guys make a good team."

            "Yeah," Will says quickly. Then, softer: "Yeah, we do, don't we?"

            Jack is in agreement and he goes on to tell Will what became of Budge, that he is now in the exclusive care of Frederick Chilton over at the BSHCI. Will gives something of a groan even at the mere mention of the other psychiatrist's name. After a few more moments, Jack runs out of relevant things to say and so he tells Will to call his mother and assure her of his safety. Jack says that she worries about him. Before he hangs up, he says, "And yeah, Will, your father worries too."

            Jack doesn't stay on the line long enough for a response.

*

It is a little past 8 PM when Will sits in the chair of Hannibal's desk, swiveling from side to side, already lofty-headed with the end of his first glass of wine. Hannibal's, which resides in the man's hand as he stands nearby, is still half-full. He watches Will with eyes the color of blackcurrants. Will's hands are still lightly bandaged and his ring gleams in the dimmed lighting of the office.

            "I feel like he knows," Will says. "About Budge."

            "You mean the Ripper?" Hannibal touches the wood of the desk lightly with blunt fingertips.

            "Mm."

            "And how do you think he would feel, if he knew you were poised to bite Tobias Budge, as you bit Hobbs?"

            Will pauses, glances down at his ring. "Intrigued," Will says slowly, then drums his fingers against the desk. They are inches from Hannibal's. "No, maybe more than that. I think the Ripper gets a kick out of me hunting. Probably finds it... charming, like watching a kitten playing with toy mice."

            Hannibal smiles. "Are you a kitten, Will?"

            "If the Ripper is a lion, I am definitely a kitten."

            Hannibal's fingertips move from the desk, hover over Will's hand, and he takes one to stroke gently the gold band of the ring. "I'm not sure, Will. I think your father trained more than just a mere kitten. I would think the Ripper thinks higher of you than that to have given you such a gift."

            "Maybe," Will murmurs, his gaze soft on Hannibal's hand. "Most days, I don't even know what it is my dad really made of me. You think the Ripper does?"

            "I pursue you where none else has pursued you," Hannibal says in a hushed tone, lowered, as one would say a prayer. Will's eyes rise up to meet his again, in shocked silence. Hannibal continues, "Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom’d routine, if these conceal you from others or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me."

            Will feels something molten pool in his lower stomach and he clears his throat, crosses one leg over the other. "That's too good a poem to apply to me," he says, trying to laugh, but finds it hard over the lump in his throat. He bites his lower lip and says, "I don't doubt he thinks something like it though. Maybe he wants to continue to see my growth. I know that there will come a point when the Ripper is in front of me, and I can't predict how I'll react... whatever measures my dad took to get me so fixated on him, it's something only the Ripper can bring out in me."

            Hannibal says, "And he will do to you what spring does to the cherry blossoms."

            Will shudders, feels himself nod.

*

It is late at night, long after Will left the Baltimore office of Hannibal Lecter, and he is back in his small home, and has just turned off the lamp on his nightstand. The dogs settle into their places, by the heater that Will has recently turned on for the autumn weather. Outside, tree branches scratch and lean against the house, and the wind whispers to the dying flowers, and the moon shies behind clouds. Will can see a sliver of the moonlight from where he lies in bed, and it passes over his face as it must pass over the stoic water of the river just down from the house.

            In his head, he replays what Hannibal said in his office.

            What does spring do to the cherry blossoms?

            Will turns onto his side, facing away from the dogs. He places one hand beneath his pillow, beneath his head, and the other hand he allows to wander under covers, slip behind the band of his boxers.

            Spring turns bud to bloom, that which had been potential energy to kinetic, and polishes pale to pink, flushed pink, hot pink, until it is full and lush and heavy and falls with grace from lofty heights to the world below.

            Will swallows, wets his lower lip. His eyes hold half open, focusing on nothing, as he hears Hannibal's voice in his head. And he smiles in a way to himself, as his hand grips harder, as he moves it along his length with the alternating of heated pressure and soft sweetness. Alternating, he thinks distantly, how the Ripper would touch him and how Hannibal Lecter would touch him.

            It is folly, and slightly pathetic, he tells himself. Though he cannot stop it, nor does he want to. Hannibal – my psychiatrist, my friend, he thinks forlornly – told him no one need know what he daydreams of, what he finds himself aroused by. Normal, human, necessary. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Still, Will cannot help but feel shame. How far will he allow his perversions to go?

            He thinks of it like this: the Ripper is a non-sequitur. Of course he would never have sex with the Ripper, would never want to – never, never, he thinks, he trembles – and so it is okay, in this quiet way, to use the sheer thrill of the idea to get himself off. It's fine, because he can do his job, and he can catch the Ripper when he arises. Perhaps then the obsession with the ring will cease, and too the airy ideals of engagement which are really only the lonely imaginings of a man who has never known physical love. Yes. But then, Hannibal.

            Hannibal will not simply disappear, nor would Will want that. Hannibal is a friend, a partner, a man who is seeing to his mental needs. Hannibal has become, shockingly, quite a lot. And Will cannot let himself ruin such a friendship with these thoughts, no, it would be too much to lean on fantasies of this nature knowing, then, upon re-entering reality that what he had leant upon in dream is only smoke and ether.

            He will allow it once, because he is already almost there. So, once. Then no more – cold turkey, he thinks laughingly, cringingly – and so he must make it good.

            What is it?

            Crudely, the term comes to him: a threesome. Though he has never seen the Ripper, he has come, over the course of all his imaginings, to think of him thusly: taller than Will and broad-shouldered, and strong, a man made entirely of shadow, death rising off him like steam from a hot spring. A cruel lover who enjoys watching Will writhe and not always in pleasure. Searing kisses and a heavy, relentless hand. The Ripper kissing him, his neck, and shoulder, from behind, biting into each kiss and Will's own flesh as if he were a ripe fruit. And Will facing away from him, now fully with his mouth against Hannibal's. Hannibal, who Will imagines is minutely gentler than the Ripper, but just as invested in Will's reactions. A deft hand, a strong hand. An experienced flick of the wrist. His netherworld eyes half-lidded and hazy-focused on Will's flushed body, which is bent and folded to open at every possible angle for both men.

            Will is almost there, is working in tandem with his two fantasy lovers, and just as he comes to stand on the precipice, twisting in the bed, twisting his own hand, he hears a sharp banging at his front door and his hand flies from his boxers as the dogs all seem to howl and bark as one, running over each other to the door. Will's agitation is hitting levels unheard of and he thinks of shooting whoever is at the door.

            Begrudgingly, he slides to the edge of the bed, pulls on jeans which fit ill and tight over his groin. He ambles to the door, eyes blearily through the peephole, and cannot discern who it is. He opens the door.

            The porch light flashes on at the movement and standing there with one bag over her shoulder, and brown hair in a thick braid, is Abigail. She raises a hand up in greeting and says, "Yo."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

There is no real place for Abigail to sleep save for Will's bed. When he offers to take the floor, she tells him to stop being awkward.

            Twenty minutes later, they lay in bed side-by-side and the lights are off, and there is naught but the moon illuminating the curves of their faces. The dogs have settled again, though they have moved closer to the bed, intrigued and excited by the new person inside it. Will lays on the left, closer to the wall, and Abigail on the right nearer the middle of the room. Both stare upwards, arms at their sides, and there is a valley of space between them that Will makes sure to keep neat and wide.

            Abigail's voice is soft and she says, just this before turning over: "I know I smell terrible. Sorry."

            In the morning, Will wakes with the hope that last night was only a dream. His dreams aren't so well-defined. He looks over in bed and finds her there as he left her before unconsciousness, and her face is tanned in the morning light from long days in Santa Monica. Her hair wild, barely holding the shape of the braid which by now Will has noticed was strategically placed to hide her father's scar. She looks younger in sleep and it is unsettling for the likeness she holds to her coma-self, that which Will watched over in what seems almost another lifetime. Before the Ripper and the ring.

            He rises from bed, expecting Hobbs to be nearby. He has been asking after his daughter in that milky-eyed, worried way of his for weeks. Now that she is here, he's nowhere to be found. Typical.

            The dogs rustle, jostle each other as Will moves around. He shushes them, to which they yip, and Will sighs. He pulls on jeans, a jacket. Looks back at the bed and sees Abigail is still deep in sleep. He wonders how she got here, what measures she must have taken and feels something inside himself go cold. He can only liken it to when one of the dogs eats foreign matter outside and Will for a moment thinks, surely, it must be poisonous. He grabs his cell phone from the countertop before leading the dogs out the back, and softly shutting the screen door behind himself.

            They race out into the yard, led by Winston. He will look after them while Will flips his phone open and speed-dials Hannibal Lecter. Briefly, he worries about waking the man and then realizes the time at which Hannibal last called him in the morning.

            He waits as the ringing starts and suddenly flashes from his fantasies the night before come upon him. He grits his teeth, bounces up and down on the heels of his feet to get blood circulating elsewhere.

            He thinks, I am in so much trouble.

            "Good morning, Will."

            Will exhales, and there's a small puff of breath visible for the chill. "Hey. I mean, hi– good morning, doctor." He sighs. Closes his eyes for a long moment, then opens them. "I– we have a problem."

            "Do we?" He sounds, once again, cheerful. Will wonders how early he wakes. "What problem would that be?"

            Will glances back at the house. "Abigail is here," he says.

            Hannibal takes a moment to answer. When he does, he says, "How did she find your house?"

            "I." Will pauses. He remembers then, the letter. And he winces of all things as if this would incur Hannibal to chide him. "I sent her a letter. For her birthday. She must've got the return address off it."

            "Resourceful girl." He doesn't sound angry. "How is she?"

            "Oh. She's okay. She smells like the cab of a truck. She's been sleeping for hours."

            "I see. Do you need anything for her? Clothes, food? I could stop by–"

            "Dr. Lecter," Will says and it comes out as a whine. "We have to get her back to the airport. Back to Santa Monica. Whoever's in charge over at Goldleaf should be fired; I can't believe they just let her go like this–"

            "Will, I must stop you there. One, Goldleaf is a sanctuary, not a jailhouse and therefore cannot keep Abigail anywhere she doesn't want to be kept. Two, and I must insist upon this– we cannot send her back, or anywhere else." Hannibal's voice has taken a slightly different tone – deeper, yes, perhaps, but in some way the only thing Will can think of it is in terms of width. It is wider. His words take on their own gravity and Will is helpless with it at his ear, and there are birds singing far off and his dogs are barking, but this, now, is all that matters, and he stands so still in response to it. Hannibal continues: "I have had regrets about us sending her away in the first place. You had your reasons, but we must compromise on some such things if we are to take care of her together, Will. Do you understand?"

            "Y-Yeah," Will exhales. His eyelids feel heavy. "But, Dr. Lecter..."

            "Yes, Will."

            "The... The Ripper. What about Abigail's safety?" he asks.

            Hannibal's voice continues to be wide, deep, but now lightens just a bit, as if he is smiling. And Will cannot help it, he closes his eyes and imagines the psychiatrist smiling into his ear, lips grazing the lobe, as he says, "I would never let anything happen to her. Or you, for that matter. I need you to believe that. I need you to trust it. Do you trust me, Will?"

            Will's eyelashes flutter against his flushed cheeks. His left hand lolls at his side, thumb rubbing softly against the band of his ring. He whispers, "I do."

            There's a pause, and then Hannibal says, "That's good, Will. You'll be fine with her. We can do this: when you come to our appointment tonight, I'll have some things for Abigail you can take back with you."

            "Yes," Will says. He is lost in that voice.

            Hannibal makes a sound, that which is not unlike a chuckle. "I'll see you tonight then."

            "Mm." Will is two seconds away from saying wait, don't hang up, but he manages somehow to override it and says that he'll see Hannibal tonight. When he shuts the phone, letting his right arm hang lank at his side, he is rigid from head to toe. This feeling is exhausting and horrifying and he doesn't want it to leave. He exhales, smiles, and thinks, Oh what are you doing? You idiot.

            But he cannot answer himself for he knows not what he does or why, only that it feels good. And isn't that also normal, human, necessary? Yes, perhaps.

            "Hey!"

            Will startles and whirls around to see Abigail standing in Will's ill-fitting boxers and oversized shirt. She is barefoot on the porch, her hair askew. She calls out to him, "Don't you have anything to eat besides hot pockets? What's this about?"

            Will sighs.

*

Just after midday and Jack finds himself eerily on edge. He stands in the break room one floor up from his office, leaned against the counter in the fluorescently lit kitchenette where there are only miniscule amenities such as a coffee pot and microwave. He holds in his hand a cup of cold coffee which he has just nuked. He hasn't taken a sip. Instead he continues to stir in sugar packet after sugar packet.

            He has given this great thought: a party for the capture of Tobias Budge would be imprudent. He has decided this on the basis not only of Will's morose moods at the party for the Shrike, but something else. Something he cannot place his finger on no matter how hard he tries to pinpoint it.

            A long time ago, when Jack was still training an adolescent Will, he took to seeking mass amounts of knowledge. Anything, everything. He read every book he could in his off time, he talked to scientists, psychologists, sociologists, professional dog trainers who specialized in all from K9 Units to seeing-eye dogs. And he remembers for some reason now running across something in a quantum physics book that mentioned electrons. They move on wavelengths endlessly, twisting and turning in the same pattern, and one is never aware of exactly where an electron currently resides on the set path until it collapses. Only then does one know.

            That thought stops Jack's stirring of sugar. He sighs and sets the coffee cup back on the counter.

            Where the electron is.

            When the wavelength collapses.

            How useless, Jack thinks, is such knowledge after a collapse.

            He takes the stairs down a floor back to his office. Will is due in soon. A party is not needed but a de-briefing is. The command has long since worn off of Will and he should be back to normal. Too, Jack still must talk to Hannibal Lecter about what he witnessed in the basement. Jack shakes his head as he approaches his office. It seems that there is never a moment's peace, even when peace should be aplenty. Tobias Budge is locked away in the dungeons of Frederick's castle. Yet his effects ripple outward and Jack is standing in the wave pool.

            He stops.

            Short, just outside the frosted glass of his office door. Through it, he can see Will standing amidst the room, close to the note-covered mannequin. Jack's throat catches. Will stands deathly still a few inches from it. Then, slowly, he places his hands on the mannequin's shoulders, and the ruby from his ring glints in the lighting. Will closes the remaining distance and leans his head on the mannequin's chest, then closing his eyes even as his glasses ride askew against the fabric.

            For a moment, Jack is at a complete loss. He watches, but feels a roiling sickness in his stomach that he thinks is not so unlike what one must feel upon catching their child masturbating. Jack winces. He feels like he should leave but it's his office.

            Will is encountering things he does not yet have the skills to process.

            Yes, Hannibal Lecter said that.

            Love, sex, hatred, they are all approaching him at an alarming rate.

            Jack cannot help but wonder if all three of those things have somehow melded inside Will. Can he tell one from the other? Does he care to tell? In some ways, Will is a wild animal. He follows instincts, and in moments of desperation, he follows command. Yet above all, and always, Will is Jack's child.

            Jack opens the door.

            Will seems to jolt so hard he almost knocks the mannequin over. He whirls around as the mannequin rocks gently from side to side, then steadies. Will's glasses hold at a diagonal across his face, and his cheeks and neck are scarlet.

            "Dad," he says, touching the mannequin lightly. "I was checking to see my notes on the Ripper. If I have anything new. New. New on the Ripper."

            Jack resists the urge to roll his eyes. He says, "And do you have anything new?"

            Will fiddles with his ring. "Mm," he says and shakes his head. He stops then, and his eyebrows slowly knit. He lowers his head. "Well."

            Jack perks. If whatever Will was doing is some new way to get closer to the Ripper that he's invented, Jack will withstand it. But the image is burned in his mind, and he doesn't like it. He thinks he might even hate it.

            "Well what?" he asks.

            Will sighs. He looks as if this pains him and he raises his left hand, allows Jack a full-on look at the ring. "I've been thinking about this a lot. This ring, and the Ripper, and all that this means. And his silence. He's been gone for a while."

            Jack shakes his head. "Not really, Will. The Ripper can be silent for months, you know that–"

            "But not now," Will says urgently. He looks at Jack with an evergreen gaze. "No, it's purposeful now."

            "Why now? Why is it purposeful now?"

            "Because of this!" Will juts his hand out even further, flexing his fingers. "He's given me this ring, and now he wants something, but I have no clue what he wants or how I would even tell him!"

            Jack stands still, and for some reason he feels something creak in his chest. Like an ache. He looks at Will, who's hair is everywhere, who wears the ring of a serial killer on his hand and feels an intense need to take the ring from him. Snatch it and toss it in a river. Evidence be damned.

            "Calm down, Will," Jack says, voice even and edging towards soft.

            "I'm sorry," Will whispers. He lowers his hand quickly as if he knows the thoughts heaving in the back of Jack's mind. He places his hand back in his pocket and slumps his shoulders over. "It's just so damn frustrating."

            "I know." Jack wishes he could help. He sees the boy's coiling muscles and resists the urge to down command him. He cannot bear to do it again so soon. "Just relax, Will, please. I called you here to talk about Budge, not the Ripper anyway. Let it breathe in your mind." He motions to the chair before his desk, and walks that way as well, rounding the wooden desk until he comes to sit in his reclining chair. Will follows his lead and deposits himself squarely before Jack.

            It takes a moment, but once Jack focuses Will's mind on Budge and what happened that day, Will seems calmed. He is fixated now on a job well done. Even in the Shrike aftermath, though Will was clearly rattled down to the bones in his feet, he focused in his de-briefing and worded things calmly. As he does now with Budge. He tells Jack of leaving the shop to try to call Hannibal, and returning to find the agents gone along with Budge. Moving down into the basement.

            Will only pauses as he describes fighting Budge. He blinks about the room, as if he suddenly is surprised to find himself in Jack's office.

            "Will? What's wrong?"

            "I," he says, then looks at Jack. "I think I was going to kill Tobias."

            Jack swallows. "Yes, Will. You were."

            "How... why did I stop?"

            Jack says easily, "You must've come to your senses. Tobias was beaten beneath you. No longer a threat."

            Will's clear eyes cloud for a moment, then return to their ethereal green. He accepts this answer, and moves on. He tells about how kind Hannibal was to bring him home, and at this memory he smiles, almost laughs. Jack smiles too.

            "Hannibal is a real friend," Jack says, nodding.

            "He is," Will says. He bites his lower lip. "He is. I won't mess up this friendship."

            Jack laughs, surprised at such an innocent thought from Will. "Of course you won't," Jack says. "Of course not."

*

At 7:30 PM, Will came to stand in Hannibal Lecter's waiting room, full of nervous energy. Upon opening the door, Hannibal seemed almost surprised, as Will usually arrives five to ten minutes late. Hannibal allowed Will inside and over glasses of wine, he presented two huge bags of goods which waited by the door. For Abigail, and for Will. Clothes, lovely in fabric and design, dresses and stockings and boots and scarves, all newly purchased and in Abigail's estimated size. Will looked over them, his glass of pink wine in one hand, and he could not help but feel elated on Abigail's behalf. He imagined her, particularly, in one cashmere mint-green sweater which had pleated hems and smelled surprisingly of spring. He told Hannibal she would adore it and thanked him as vehemently as if he himself would be wearing it.

            In the other bag sat steel and ceramic tupperware filled with food, heating instructions and additional sauces and spices. Will's stomach spoke at the mere sight of them through their clear tops. Hannibal said he would not bother to ask what Will has been feeding her. Will exhaled in thanks.

            Will sits now in his usual seat, half into his second glass of wine. He does adore the pinks that Hannibal chooses. The effect they have on him is different to the reds and whites; it is not a more intense tipsiness, but something nigh soft calm, as if he were standing amidst a field of pinkened clouds, as if he were standing before a castle in the sky.

            Hannibal sits across from him, one leg bent with ankle upon knee, his sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened. One button undone. Will doesn't think he's ever seen the man with such. No, for if he had it would be remembered. Will tries not to stare but he cannot help it– at the opening of his shirt, just barely, there is the beginning, the curl, of ashen chest hair. Will never knew he liked chest hair. He knows now. He wonders what other things Hannibal could introduce him to that he would like, love, and stand to crave from now until the end of time.

            "–has she been alone?"

            Will cringes inwardly. He was not listening.

            "Um," he says. "I..."

            Hannibal seems to be trying not to smile. He says, "I simply asked how long Abigail has been alone at your house today."

            "Oh. Not long," he says, fiddling with his glass. He lets his ring clink against it. "I had to go to Quantico to get de-briefed by my dad earlier. Just Tobias Budge stuff, it was pretty boring. But, um." He pauses, half-smiles. "God."

            "What?"

            "My dad... my dad. He sort of caught me, well... You know that mannequin in his office, the one with the notes pinned to it. I touched it, while he was out of the office."

            "Touch?" Hannibal asks.

            Will feels himself blushing. "Just, kind of like a hug. I don't know what I was doing. I just felt like being close to it."

            "You mean the Ripper."

            "No, I–" Will begins to vehemently deny it and then upon looking up to see Hannibal's face, he finds he cannot. Such a bold lie. Hannibal does not know he has now been dragged into Will's fantasies. But he does know about the Ripper. Will fidgets. "Yes. And I got so flustered today."

            Hannibal sips from his wine, the last of it. "Because of the Ripper?"

            Will nods languidly and he finds he cannot abide sitting any longer. He moves from the chair and sets his glass down on Hannibal's desk nearby. He continues further, walking aimlessly beneath the upper balcony. He says, "I feel like he's waiting for something. That's why he's silent right now. He's waiting on me, but for the life of me I don't know what to say to him, or even how to say so."

            Hannibal stands from his chair as well, placing his glass beside Will's. He stands near the desk, watching as Will walks in and out of shadows. "You must think of what he's given you," he says. "That ring you wear. You and I both know what it is."

            "The Ripper wants to be with me," Will says, softly, as if it is an afterthought. He approaches the ladder that connects the bottom and top floors, and stands behind it. Through two rungs, he watches Hannibal watch him. "Engagement. But what does that really mean? I've racked my mind, Dr. Lecter."

            Hannibal takes a step closer. "You're over-thinking this, Will."

            "Oh?" Will rounds the ladder slowly and comes to stand before it, feeling its form just at his back. "How is that?"

            "What is the bare meaning of any engagement?" When Will doesn't answer, Hannibal smiles and says, "Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove that valleys, groves, hills, and fields, woods, or steepy mountain yields."

            Will makes a barely audible noise, which Hannibal seems to take note of and he continues further: "And we will sit upon the rocks, seeing the shepherds feed their flocks, by shallow rivers to whose falls melodious birds sing madrigals."

            There is a moment of silence, so deep it is deafening, and from somewhere inside Will, he says as if on instinct, "Time drives the flocks from field to fold when rivers rage and rocks grow cold, and Philomel becometh dumb; the rest complains of cares to come." He shakes his head. "The flowers do fade, and wanton fields to wayward winter reckoning yields; a honey tongue, a heart of gall, is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall."

            Hannibal moves from the desk; his steps towards Will seem heavy, laden, even as they are soundless across the carpet. He holds Will's gaze. "I will make thee beds of roses and a thousand fragrant posies, a cap of flowers, and a kirtle embroidered all with leaves of myrtle." He reaches Will, now standing inches away. Will cannot help but lean back on the ladder for support as Hannibal says, "A gown made of the finest wool which from our pretty lambs we pull; fair lined slippers for the cold, with buckles of the purest gold."

            Somehow they have come to share breath. Will cannot look away from those deep eyes, black flecked with maroon. He sees, too, the pure curve of Hannibal's lips.

            Will says, staring at them wholly, "Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses, thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten– In folly ripe, in reason rotten."

            "A belt of straw and ivy buds, with coral clasps and amber studs: and if these pleasures may thee move–" Hannibal's eyes are half-lidded. He seems to look on Will where Will cannot tear his gaze from Hannibal. "Come live with me, and be my love."

            Will can barely breathe. He is gripping the ladder with all the force he can muster to keep himself from lunging forward. The wisps of his black curls mingle with Hannibal's straight ocher bangs which have fallen down as he does tilt his head.

            Will remembers the ring.

            He says, exhaling, "Thy belt of straw and ivy buds, thy coral clasps and amber studs, all these in me no means can move to come to thee and be thy love." With any last bits of sense he can scrape together, he releases his hold on the ladder and moves slightly to the side. "H-Han– ah, Dr. Lecter, I should check on Abigail..."

            Hannibal looks hazy-eyed, but his countenance is calm, and he nods to Will, watching as he ambles away, towards the door where the two large bags wait. Will's mouth is Sahara-dry. He is rigid as anything, and sweat pools at his palms and under his arms. He moves his thumb against the side of the ring and then picks the bags up, one in each hand. He looks back over his shoulder through slightly fogged glasses, and knows there has never existed anything as red as his face must be. He thinks of what he told Jack, how he would not ruin his friendship with Hannibal. Too, he does not think the Ripper would like it if he knew.

            Will swallows thickly and says, "But could youth last and love still breed, had joys no date nor age no need, then these delights my mind might move–" He smiles. "To live with thee and be thy love."

            Hannibal is very still. At length, he says, "Goodnight, Will."

            Will nods once. "Goodnight, Dr. Lecter."

            He leaves.

*

It is barely morning, and Jack stirs from the sunlight coming in through the bedroom window. He squints into it, shielding his eyes with one limply-raised hand. From the other side of the bed, Phyllis mutters that he should have taken her offer of her second sleep-mask, the first of which she currently wears: silken and green with a print of palm trees. The second of which she has now gifted to a friend at work. Jack isn't quite sure what he mumbles back, half-asleep as he is, but it must be something along the lines of finding sleep-masks feminine.

            Phyllis says he should enjoy his masculine sleepless mornings then.

            Quiet descends over the bed once more. Perhaps Phyllis has fallen back into sleep. Jack turns his back away from the sun, buries his face in the soft fabric of his pillow. He is nearly back in sleep as well. Slowly descending, for the day has not yet started and lately he would do anything to keep his days from their mad spirals. The only thing that prevents them is blessed sleep. Nearly there.

            His cell phone buzzes fervently on the nightstand and Jack groans so loud it wakes Phyllis.

            "Will you just answer it?" she grumbles and stuffs her face between two pillows, pressing them to her ears.

            The phone insists.

            Jack resists, but ultimately reaches over, fiddling with the phone until it falls into his grasp and Jack sees the name flashing: Frederick Chilton. He presses his lips together and is somewhere between exasperation and anger. He told both Chilton and Bloom that Will is now, surely, spoken for, and seems to be so quite happily. He cannot imagine what Frederick thinks annoying Jack at what is currently 6:05 AM would accomplish. He flips the phone open with the intent to rebuke him once and for all, on Will's behalf.

            "Dr. Chilton, listen–"

            "Jack! I need you and Will to come here as soon as possible." His voice is harried but there is something else lining it, something not unlike pride. "I have the Ripper in custody."

           

 

Chapter Text

Will stands unmoving under the fervent stream of hot water from the showerhead. His normally unruly curls drenched and plastered to his cheeks, the back of his neck, forehead. He keeps his ring on even in the shower, and turns it idly with his thumb.

            Come live with me and be my love.

            Will thinks perhaps Hannibal Lecter is right – the Ripper does desire Will in this way. So simply, and so horribly.

            The words of Marlowe, in the voice of Hannibal, have haunted him throughout the evening, in the night, now into morning as Abigail can distantly be heard humming in the main rooms, in the kitchen, where she attempts to follow the instructions of re-heating written out by Hannibal in his damnably beautiful cursive. Will found nothing but fitful sleep the night before, battling with himself to please not become rigid while sharing a bed with a young girl. He lost the battle time and time again and only turned on his side, away from Abigail who sleeps with all the heaviness of the ocean.

            Maybe the Ripper really is insane. Will has never thought so prior, always considered the Ripper remarkably sane for a man on a thrice-yearly killing spree, so intricate and mindful. But how could he be in his right mind if he truly wants to marry Will? If he truly thinks any such thing could ever be on the table?

            Will knows not his face.

            Will knows not his manner, save for that when he kills.

            Will could not love this man.

            Will could not live with him and be his love.

            When Hannibal spoke to him, body so close to Will's that Will felt his warmth, smelled his scent which is not unlike earth and chestnuts, part of Will imagined it was the Ripper speaking to him. As if there were never any Marlowe at all who penned such things long ago, as if this was the Ripper speaking from the very gulf of his being, beseeching Will as the corpse did that day on the beach, with ring in hand, proffering and asking, telling, making wild promises of love and spring and all days that end in warm nights wrapped up in each other's arms and essence.

            And Will had answered the Ripper through Raleigh, who preached reason and sensibility where Marlowe had only his star-stricken gaze. Will was made for a specific purpose and it in no way includes living with his quarry. Will's body would not allow such a thing. Will's sense of justice would not allow such a thing.

            Will's father would not allow such a thing.

            The water pouring down over Will's head begins to cool but Will makes no move to shut it off. Perhaps the cold will chill his longing. Last night felt like something in a dream. Surely he has desired such, to be so close to Hannibal, to hear him speak in such a way.

            But Hannibal was speaking for the Ripper. And it might as well only be considered a dream. Will closes his eyes now, lets the water run down his thick eyelashes and hang in fat droplets until they are forced down his face by those behind. He presses his lips together and cannot help but smile. He will keep that dream always.

            "Will? Hey, Will?"

            Abigail calls to him, her voice just outside the bathroom door.

            Will pushes a hand back through his wet hair, pokes his head out of the shower curtain. "What?" he calls over the roar of water.

            The door opens before he can properly protest and suddenly Abigail's torso is in the room, letting out all the steam and allowing in two dogs who sniff along the floor. "Abigail," Will cries, making sure all is covered by the curtain.

            "Oh please. I'm not interested in that." She frowns and holds out Will's vibrating phone. "This has been buzzing at me for five minutes – should I answer?"

            "No, no–" That would not do at all. Will knows the fewer people who know of Abigail's residence under his roof, the better. He reaches a hand out of the curtain, wipes it briefly against the towel on the nearby rack, and takes the phone from Abigail's thin fingers. Eyeing the screen, he sees it's Jack. "Thanks, I got it," he says.

            Abigail shrugs, and ushers the dogs out before shutting the door again.

            Flipping the phone open with one hand and shutting off the water with the other, he answers and asks if this is about a case. He stands dripping wet in the middle of the bathroom, feet cool on the linoleum. And he listens to Jack for a long time, eyes wide on himself in the mirror and yet not seeing. He listens. And he hears the words. As if someone else is speaking through his mouth, he ascents and says he will be at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane as soon as he can.

            He dries himself marginally, dresses in the clothes he'd placed on the counter– jeans and a green sweater. When he exits the bathroom, he looks up to see Abigail behind the kitchen counters, holding bits of cold sausage up for the dogs, who mull around her, noses in the air.

            She smiles, and looks up at Will. "Breakfast is almost ready."

            "I can't stay," Will mutters. He looks down at his ring. "I have to go do something."

            "Oh. Police work?"

            "Mm."

            Abigail's eyebrows knit and she too looks at his ring. "Is it about the Ripper?"

            Will clenches his hand. "Maybe," he says. "Will you be okay by yourself?" He walks towards the door, toeing on his shoes. Pulls on his jacket. His phone is ready in his right hand, to call Hannibal. He stands by the door, the knob in the other hand.

            Abigail smiles, and salutes. "I'll hold down the fort."

            It makes Will smile despite his mood. He leaves.

*

The sky is a bruised blue and grey, mottled with clouds. The wind kicks up high, and shakes the nearly naked branches of trees that surround the vast building that is the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Frederick Chilton's grand castle. Will stares up at the peak of it from the parking lot, standing idly beside his Mercedes. Jack has already gone inside, is probably greeting Frederick in the main room this very second. Will finds he cannot enter the building without Hannibal.

            He needs his tether.

            The Bentley pulls up in moments, sidles next to the Mercedes, and the two cars of identical color look lovely beside each other regardless of Will's resistance to washing his. Hannibal steps out, in a dark blue suit with light blue tie, and he approaches Will with something of a hurried step. It may be imagined. But Will sees in Hannibal's eyes some bottomless darkness and when he stands before Will, the first thing he says is, "Are you all right?"

            Will doesn't know. But he nods.

            Hannibal does not look convinced, though he says nothing to refute it. Instead he takes one more step closer to Will and motions for them to go inside, allowing Will the courtesy of walking ahead. Will slows his steps so that he falls into time with Hannibal and they enter the wide door of the hospital together.

            Upon entering the vast expanse of the building, they find Jack and Frederick who stands in a grey suit, hair neatly combed to the side. He looks up brightly upon hearing footsteps and then his smile falters at seeing Hannibal beside Will. Will barely cares enough to roll his eyes. He continually fiddles with his ring in his pocket. Thumb rubbing gentle against the band, then settling across the ruby. He inhales deep.

            "Will, so glad you could make it," Frederick says, approaching. He eyes Hannibal. "And Hannibal, what a surprise."

            "It shouldn't be," Will says, "us being partners and all." He ignores the blanch of Frederick's cheeks, and walks ahead, feeling that Hannibal is by his side.

            "Yes, well." Frederick recovers quickly. His and Jack's steps fall in with Hannibal's and Will's. "Jack probably informed you on some of this, Will– but I must add that Abel Gideon, since the massacre early this morning, has refused to speak to anyone regarding it. When prodded, he simply says that he will only speak with Will Crawford."

            "And the body is still unmoved?" Jack asks.

            Frederick nods. "Quite. I knew Will would want the scene to be fresh."

            They walk in a group through the long halls and Frederick recounts what happened that morning: that Abel Gideon had been deemed unresponsive in his cell and was rushed on a gurney to the infirmary. He was left alone with one nurse. Frederick insists he was handcuffed to the table, but somehow was able to free himself and before the nurse could hit the panic button or run, he had done this to her.

            This.

            Will walks into the infirmary first. And when he sees it, it has the effect of something approaching nostalgia. As one would feel upon seeing an elementary school uniform or pictures of a grade-school best friend. This, the old and ferocious man of Will's adolescence. He whose tableaus were drenched not in enticement and understanding but raw power and derision.

            The infirmary itself is in tatters, beds and equipment knocked over and aside. The floor mopped in blood. Iron-scent saturates Will's nose and Jack presses his lips together in some attempt to withstand the smell. Frederick lingers by the door. Hannibal is by Will's side, staring as Will does. In the center of the room, impaled upon various implements ranging from IV-drip stands to metal poles dislocated from gurney structures, is the nurse. Her body bent backward in a heavy arch, front plane bared to the ceiling.

            The Wound Man.

            Will remembers this, seeing pictures when he was but young. Once, as he had the pictures spread out on his bed – study them carefully, Jack had said – Phyllis walked into his room and before he could hide them, she had seen. She snatched the pictures away and went storming downstairs to find Jack. Will trailed her at length, cringing, hiding behind the stair banister as they argued downstairs. Phyllis had shouted in whispers, as she does when she is truly incensed.

            You will fuck him up, she'd said.

            Jack had implored her to see the bigger picture.

            Yes, the bigger picture. Will can see the bigger picture.

            "Well?" Jack asks from a few feet behind. "What do you think, Will?"

            Will swallows. He twists the ring around in his pocket. Faster, faster. "I see... the Ripper." He tilts his head back, squinting at the woman. "I don't feel him."

            From behind, Frederick's whisper can be heard: "What does that mean?"

            Jack shushes him. He says, "Go on."

            This is the old Ripper. The one who roamed the earth before proposing marriage to Will. The one who had no inclination towards delicacy – he had no beloved to tempt with promises of roses and sunny days and bottomless affection. Will grips the ring in his pocket.

            "I'd rather postpone judgment," Will mumbles, turning his head slightly to look back at Jack and Frederick. "I... have to see him."

            Frederick nods. "Of course."

            Hannibal has been eerily still and quiet almost upon entering the hospital. He stands near Will and Will feels comforted by this to some extent but he does offer a sidelong glance at his psychiatrist, one which is not returned. Will thinks perhaps the gruesomeness with which the nurse was killed has unnerved him. Will forgets sometimes that Hannibal is a normal person as any – and he too can be disquieted when faced with gore. It occurs to Will to try something akin to reassurance, as Hannibal has done so for him time and time again. As Will passes Hannibal for the door, he allows his knuckles to brush against the psychiatrist's. This seems to draw Hannibal out of his inner thoughts and he looks at Will and Will looks back at him, one eyebrow slightly raised.

            Frederick, overly-observant to Will as he is, seems to take notice of this. He clears his throat heavily as if something were actually lodged there.

            "Abel Gideon is back in his cell, Will. Downstairs. Do you want me to–"

            "Yes, take me to him." Will glances downward. "Then, you can leave. I want to talk to him alone."

            Frederick nods, and motions towards the door, allowing Will to exit first. Will resists looking back at Jack or Hannibal. He has to do this alone. There is a pounding in his ribcage, and in his head. He can barely think straight as he and Frederick walk the empty halls, but he is listening. He is listening to Frederick tell him how Abel Gideon had come to the hospital not long after the Ripper's last cycle, when he was apprehended quietly at his home, after a neighbor had heard screaming. When the police kicked in the door, there was Abel, finishing his dinner amongst the dead: his wife – wife? his wife? he wouldn't – and her family. In the past week, he had been noted telling a few orderlies that he was the Chesapeake Ripper. And only this morning did he, Frederick says, prove it.

            That word stings Will like hot oil.

            Prove.

            As they come to the security door before a long hall of cells, Frederick calls to the guards to unlock the door through the panel room. The sound is not unlike a depressurization. Will stands before the door, the clear window that shows him the lonely grey hall.

            "He is in the last cell, Will," Frederick says. He gazes at Will with some emotion Will cannot be bothered to discern. Perhaps it is longing.

            Will swallows. And he cannot help himself. He says, "Will you wait here, Frederick?"

            He looks almost surprised, then gladdened. "Yes. Yes, of course, Will. Right here."

            Will nods. He opens the door and travels then alone, leaving Frederick behind. All the cells are located on the left side of the hall, and Will tries not to look at the people inside them. Their shadows on the wall, illuminated by an ill blue light. Will's shoes echo along the floor and the shadows in their cages move; some follow Will until they can no longer, barred by their walls. Most do not speak to him. In a cell close to the middle of the walkway sits Tobias Budge. Will cannot help but look at him – just long enough to take stock of him in his dark blue jumpsuit, the bandages around his neck which remind Will of Abigail. Tobias sees Will, then goes back to looking at his hands. Will wonders if he misses his instruments.

            He comes to the last cell.

            Abel Gideon is this: shorter than Will had imagined, and thicker, and thinner of hair. His eyes are ice blue. Will stands away from the glass of his cell, and Abel comes from his cot to the glass immediately, with measured steps.

            "There you are," he says. His voice is amiable.

            Will cannot speak. He opens his mouth, he tries, but nothing comes out. He has nothing prepared. Will can feel his mouth gaping slightly, his eyes round, his fingertips shake inside his pockets as he feels he must keep his ring hidden.

            Abel – the Ripper? are you the Ripper? are you my – smiles just a little and tilts his head forward. "Will Crawford," he says.

            Will's head snaps up. He wears a confused look on his face. Is this what he imagined? Would the Ripper say his name in such a way?

            "I'd been wanting to see you. Good old Dr. Chilton wouldn't hear of it though. Not until I gave him a reason to call you."

            Are you the Ripper? Are you my–

            "He should be grateful, really, me giving him a reason to have you over. Anyone can see he's sweet on you."

            Will is in tremors. His upper lip pulls back ever so slightly to reveal one dull canine.

            Abel presses his lips together, shrugs. "But we both know you won't have him, isn't that right?"

            Are you my–

            Are we–

            Abel smiles bright, so bright that it changes mid-expression to a grin. Hundred watt. Brighter than the sun behind its blanket of clouds outside. He raises his left hand and waggles his fingers at Will.

            "Come on," he says, "let's see what my baby looks like in finery."

            Will's eyes widen and he feels something pulling him in, something forcing its way out. What escapes him next is not a scream but a cry of war.

*

In a long hall on the floor of the infirmary, Jack and Hannibal wait with an orderly escort. Jack cannot help but pace about, in a half-circle the width of three or four feet. He would rather be down there with Will. He shouldn't have let him go alone.

            "Jack, your pacing will not help things."

            Jack looks up, and finds Hannibal looking half at him, half at the wall. His shoulders are stiff, his eyes dark. For a wonder, Hannibal Lecter does indeed look troubled. Jack has never seen him look anything other than at ease, as if the world were simply one great show and he was alone in the audience. Jack sighs. He shouldn't be surprised. Will is his friend, his patient. Of course he would be worried, as Jack is.

            Yet Hannibal does not know. And Jack supposes he should.

            "Dr. Lecter," Jack begins. He eyes the brown-haired orderly who leans over by the wall. He looks young, and disinterested. Jack decides it is okay to continue: "Listen, I know you're aware of Will's training regarding hunting. But the Ripper, for him, I took different measures." He looks down at the ground for a moment, then back to Hannibal's face. "If Will comes across him, if he thinks it's him, or–"

            "He will react."

            "Yes."

            "Do you know what kind of reaction it will be?" Hannibal pauses. "Specifically."

            Jack lifts his shoulders then lowers them. He places his hands in his pockets. "I'm ashamed to say I don't." He's ashamed to say a lot of things regarding this. But Hannibal is Will's psychiatrist and there are things he must know. "It's a violent reaction, I know that much. To what extent, I can't say."

            Hannibal looks at Jack for a long moment. He swallows, and opens his mouth to speak, cut off suddenly by the orderly's walkie-talkie buzzing at his hip with a static-lined voice that is markedly Frederick Chilton's: "I want guards to basement floor one! Abel Gideon's cell! Now! Get here now! Now now now–" It cuts off and the orderly's shoes squeak loudly as he speeds down the hall, shooting between Jack and Hannibal, the tails of their coats kicking up in his wake.

            "Will," Jack shouts, racing down after the orderly. He feels that Hannibal is behind him, and they are down the hall and metal staircases on the orderly's heels and skid to a halt just short of ramming into him as he hits the door to the cell floor, opens it widely and runs inside.

            Down the hall, two guards are pulling at Will's arms, one each, dragging him away from the glass door to Abel Gideon's cell. Other inmates are at their own glass walls, pressed into corners to try and view the scene. Jack's eyes are on Will who is straining against the guards and Frederick who is standing nearby, hands out, shouting things to try and calm Will. And Abel Gideon who stands by the glass smiling, saying, "That's it, sweetheart, fight harder, I'm right here, I'm right here. That a boy. Come here, darling."

            Jack almost shouts it. He feels he has no choice. Before he does, Hannibal is striding in front of him, and just as the guards and now-assisting orderly pry Will from his insistent scratching at the glass, Hannibal stands between Will and the glass, presses the front planes of their bodies together, his mouth at Will's ear, and he says something. Will's eyes nearly go back in his head, and he sags against Hannibal immediately, clinging to him. The guards nearly fall over, what they were a moment ago holding back with all their strength now going slack forward.

            Jack's eyes are wide, mouth slightly open.

            He said it.

            Hannibal Lecter used what was most likely the heel command, by the looks of how Will went to him.

            Jack swallows, and his gaze travels to Frederick who looks harried and confused. Frederick looks back at Jack.

            First things first, Jack decides. He rushes over to help Hannibal get Will to his feet, and barely. Will is wobbling, half-conscious. Abel Gideon has stopped his taunts, and now sits back on his cot, arms behind his head, watching as if this is some sort of sideshow. Jack almost wishes Will had been able to get to him – it would only be just. They leave the hall and it is quiet between everyone working with Will, all manner of quiet: confused from Frederick, fear from the orderlies who know not if Will intends to pull such a stunt again, and from Hannibal it seems a sort of concentrated silence, as if he is thinking a thousand things at once and studying each in a millisecond.

            They bring Will to a different infirmary room that is used for staff and employees only. They put him on a bed which does not look overly comfortable and he lays there in a daze. Hannibal takes Will's shoes off, sets them to the side. Will's hands slide languidly over his torso and opposite arms as if he is cold, and in the bright lighting from overhead, the ruby of the ring glints.

            Jack narrows his eyes at the thing. If the Ripper is locked up, there is no longer any need for it. He reaches for the ring and barely lays a fingertip on it before Hannibal's hand is placed simply but heavily over the back of his.

            Jack looks up. "Dr. Lecter?"

            "We must not remove it," Hannibal says. "It will have a negative effect on Will's mental state."

            Frederick looks down at it. "What is that thing?"

            "The Ripper gave this ring to Will," Hannibal says.

            "What in–" Frederick gawps at Jack. "You're letting Will walk around with a serial killer's engagement ring on his finger?"

            "It wasn't my idea," Jack cries.

            "Well no wonder he has issues," Frederick says. "I say we take it off right this minute and toss it into the nearest gutter. The Ripper is incarcerated, what need is there for this?"

            "Will has not identified the Ripper," Hannibal says simply. His hand has not yet moved from Jack's.

            Frederick waves an arm back towards the door. "What more proof do you need?"

            "Will's word," Hannibal says.

            "Pft."

            Jack swallows. He looks from one psychiatrist to the other and then asks Frederick if they can use his office and discuss this further there – he would rather not shout over Will's body as if he is in some kind of coma. Will is going to come out of this state and when he does, Jack does not know what he will have retained from what is said around him, though this he keeps to himself. Frederick assents and leads them away from the infirmary, up two flights of stairs and into the quiet comfort of his office, which is lush with rich-colored furniture, and wide windows that look out onto the lawns at the back of the hospital, where there are cobblestone walkways and wild flowers for visitors and guests who wish to take strolls.

            Upon entering the office, Jack immediately plops down into one toffee-colored armchair. He feels tired. Frederick sits behind his desk and looks moody. And Hannibal stands somewhere between the two of them, eyeing out the open window, down into the grasses below. The daylight from outside is low, overcast.

            The silence is broken by Frederick, who seems more at ease in here, in his chair, where he must feel king. "That ring should go. Abel Gideon is obviously the Ripper."

            Jack says nothing. For all of Frederick's foibles, Jack finds he does indeed agree with the man. He has seen enough of that thing on Will's finger. It has tortured his mind, confused him, probably just what the Ripper wanted.

            Abel Gideon, Jack corrects himself. What Abel Gideon wanted.    

            He squints at the thought. A name for the Ripper. A real name. It doesn't even sound proper.

            Hannibal turns from the window, the bare light outlining the curve of his face. He says, "Tell me something, Frederick. Do you allow your patients access to media? Such as newspapers?"

            Frederick eyes Hannibal. "Yes, of course. Well, for those who are not unruly."

            "And is Abel Gideon unruly?"

            "He is now."

            "Prior."

            Frederick glances over at Jack before placing his hands together on the desk, fingers laced. He looks back at Hannibal. "He was allowed newspapers, yes. Though I fail to see what this has to do with that ring."

            "It has nothing to do with the ring and everything to do with whether Abel Gideon is simply pretending to be the Ripper."

            Jack blinks. "Dr. Lecter, you think Gideon is pretending?"

            "Either that or delusional."

            Frederick narrows his gaze. "In the cell, when we were trying to drag Will away from the glass, Abel Gideon was goading Will, saying things–"

            "Fishing," Hannibal says. "It is a possibility. He could be the Ripper. He could also merely be influenced by ingesting much in the way of over-sensationalized media on the subject of the Ripper and be in search of attention." Hannibal eyes Jack over his shoulder in something not so unlike airiness. "Either way, we should wait for Will to confirm or deny this."

            "Will reacted," Frederick says suddenly. "He's trained to react to the Ripper, isn't that so, Jack?"

            Jack finds himself being stared at by both psychiatrists. He feels now something that perhaps Will has felt over and over – too much attention and pressure from the forces exuded by such men. He sighs. It's no wonder Will had been opposed to taking one.

            Finally, Jack says, "We wait for Will's word."

            In no uncertain terms, Jack knows the Ripper is Will's and it should be he that confirms or denies him. Jack cannot take that right from Will. God knows he's earned it. It will not prove troubling to wait – whether Abel Gideon is the Ripper or not, he is locked up and can do no harm to anyone as long as they are more careful with nurses. Jack sees Frederick looking morose at his desk and Hannibal walking towards the door, past them both.

            He says, "It would be highly convenient if Abel Gideon is the Ripper. The northeast will be that much safer."

            Jack nods eagerly.

            Frederick says, "He is."

            "I do hope so." Hannibal is at the door. "It would be unfortunate for all involved if he is not. Woe be unto the man who presumes to take the Ripper's fiancé. Or, indeed, he who facilitates such." He leaves.

           

           

 

Chapter Text

The bright light overhead is the first thing Will sees upon waking and he immediately groans, squinting his eyes reflexively.

            A voice at his side says: "I asked if they could turn the light down but it seems it's either on or off, unfortunately."

            Oh. Will knows that voice. And just the sound of it tells his body to relax, he's okay, nothing is going to hurt him. Even before he opens his eyes, his mouth twitches to a smile. And upon fully opening his eyes, he looks away from the light and finds Hannibal at his side, sitting with one leg crossed over the other in a metal chair pulled up to the side of what seems a hospital bed. Will looks towards the other beds that stand empty and the open door further back. Somewhere down the hall, he can hear something mumbled fuzzy over a walkie-talkie. They are still inside Frederick's castle then.

            And Will remembers, just bits, like flashings behind his eyes. Abel Gideon floors below. And something switched on in Will and something switched off, and he can remember feeling his blood flow in his veins and he can remember something else, very far away, as if Will was standing upon one sleepy shore and on the other, across waters rough and ruining, was someone else calling to him. Hands cupped around their mouth. Words coming as if through the roaring echo of a seashell. That which calls from smooth insides.

            Deep inside.

            "I wanted to kill him," Will says simply, voice roughened. He looks at Hannibal, his ashen hair fallen forward in bangs, the way Will loves seeing it. "I was going to. I really was, doctor."

            Hannibal nods.

            Will smiles, and his eyes water. "I'm a monster."

            "You are immaculate."

            There is water at Will's eyes but when he smiles, it seems to evaporate. He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. "Flatterer," he says. He feels his cheeks redden and though he has looked away, when he looks back he finds Hannibal shaking his head.

            "Not at all," he says.

            Will bites his lower lip. He can remember the guards coming to him, pulling him away from the glass. Will knows there was no way he could have really gotten to Abel Gideon through the cell but he might have dislocated his shoulder trying. He remembers, too, Frederick nearby attempting to calm him. And for all the man does get on Will's nerves, Will cannot help but feel bad for causing such a scene. He might have disturbed who knows how many orderlies' days.

            "I... I didn't hurt anyone though, did I? Anyone who came to help?" he asks.

            "No, you didn't. You seemed to not be concerned with anyone at all but Abel Gideon."

            Will nods, and looks down at his lap as he slides upward to seated. The ring on his finger. His ring. He frowns at it, clenches his hand.

            It doesn't feel right. Abel Gideon. The Ripper.

            "I don't know what's wrong," Will murmurs.

            Hannibal leans forward just slightly. "I'm going to ask you not to worry about it for the moment, Will. You're still a bit dazed, and I don't want you overexerting yourself."

            It makes him feel like some kind of invalid but he knows Hannibal is right. He doesn't feel up to deciphering right now – the insides of his mind feel like they are lined with switch plates, traps, perils, and anything Will would do to try and navigate those dangers would be futile. He looks at Hannibal. The soft look in his eyes which, now, are a lighter shade of hazel, brightened by the harsh room lighting. Will wonders if Hannibal had a hand in stopping him, in pulling him back from Abel Gideon's cell wall. He cannot say for sure, but something pulses in him and whispers to him, Yes.

            Will looks down at his feet, his black socks, and then his shoes which are at the foot of the hospital bed, lined neatly beside each other. He nearly laughs as he knows this must be the work of Hannibal. He moves closer to the edge of the bed, swings his legs over to dangle just above the ground.

            "Will," Hannibal says. "You are not properly rested."

            Will rolls his eyes. "I blacked out, I didn't just have an operation." Why he is blacking out upon the eve of killing people lately is something wholly worrying and something he does not feel equipped to query at the moment. He shoves it aside and back, into a corner of his mind for later. For now, he must stand, and when he slides his feet onto the floor the first thing he does is nearly topple over, grabbed instantly by Hannibal who has risen and taken Will's waist in his arms.

            Will's hands have gravitated to Hannibal's chest, his eyes wide and startled, set on Hannibal's own.

            "I did tell you," Hannibal says.

            "I... I'm stubborn, I guess."

            "Indeed you are."

            Will smiles, once again feels the need to look away, perhaps down or aside, but Hannibal's pull for eye-contact is strong, overpowering of any weak need Will has for demureness. Will's fingertips rub lightly at the lapels of Hannibal's suit jacket. It's dense, warm. Will feels Hannibal's hands set firmly on Will's own hips. That deep scent again, of earth, of woods. Will's gaze is released suddenly and he allows it to settle on Hannibal's mouth.

            "Hello, yes, so sorry to interrupt," Frederick says, speed-walking into the infirmary. He comes from the open door to stand a few feet from both Will and Hannibal who have, by now, slowly parted from each other to send wry glances at Frederick. And Will swears he spies a redness at the man's nose and ears which can only be from indignation, as he continues: "I was just coming by to see how Will is doing. Feeling better, I see." His voice is dredged in disdain.

            "I'm fine," Will sighs, re-seating himself back on the edge of the bed. "Thank you, Frederick. You can go now."

            "I think I'll stay and chat," he says, smiling forcibly up at Hannibal. Hannibal, to his credit, looks entirely disinterested and says not a word for the duration of Frederick's stay in the infirmary. Will can hardly kick him out since it is indeed his hospital, and so he endures small talk until Jack comes in, too, to check on Will's state. There are more footsteps just out in the hallway and Will catches glimpses of teams dispatched to clean the patient infirmary, pick up the body and mop the blood from the floors. The forensics teams remain unneeded as the culprit was caught red-handed and smiling.

            After Will is well enough to walk on his own, and too drive, he and Hannibal and Jack bid Frederick goodbye. Jack apologizes for the trouble. Will does not care to apologize.

            Jack stands by his car, phone to his ear, as he talks to those back at the Unit. The hour grows late and the overcast day turns fast to overcast night. Will stands with his back against the driver's side of his Mercedes, with Hannibal standing by his side, looking up into the clouds as Will does.

            "Have you told Jack about Abigail?" he asks.

            Will eyes Jack across the parking lot, cringing. "No, and please," he says, looking up at Hannibal, "I mean, if you could. If you could not tell him, at least for now. He already thinks I'm out of control, I don't wanna throw having Hobbs' daughter living in my house on top of that. That you and I are looking after her."

            Hannibal raises one eyebrow slightly, smiling. "Of course not."

            Will is mildly surprised that was so easy. "Really?"

            "Will, you are my patient. Anything you don't want me to tell others, I will keep to myself." He pauses for a moment and looks down into Will's forest eyes. "Too," he says, voice lowering, "it is not really your father's business what you and I do together."

            Will lets out a noise on accident, and it is low and slightly wanton, the shadow of a moan. He exhales, blinking embarrassed, and nods, muttering a goodbye. As he moves to open the door, Hannibal is watching him placidly, with something lurking under that expression and Will thinks, in the seconds before he shuts himself in, that it is the beginnings of a smirk.

*

The next day, Phyllis is out at work. It is just after 10 AM and Jack stands on the porch of his house, looking out over the yard which is now dull brown, swirled with dots of red and yellow from leaves. Trees naked, bending in the wind. The sky pleated grey with clouds. Jack breathes in deep and exhales.

            In but a few moments, a familiar Bentley comes to the opening of the driveway, turning in and coming to a slow halt behind Jack's own car. It produces Hannibal Lecter, pristine in the blustery day, in a dark red suit, with red and black swirled tie. The strikingness of his dress does indeed startle Jack – his dark eyes accompanying, hair combed back, he seems demonic. It does not suit Hannibal, and yet it does.

            He comes up to the porch, standing at the bottom step. He looks up at Jack and something in his eyes glistens. "It's good to see you, Jack."

            "You too, Dr. Lecter. Please, come in. We have a lot to talk about."

            "Indeed."

            The come into the house, Hannibal following at length behind Jack. Jack leads him through the wide living room, across the hardwood floors, and under the grand archway into the kitchen. He remembers doing this so long ago, with Frederick Chilton. Leading him into their house, and showing him pictures of the Ripper killings. And how Will had come from upstairs into the kitchen, and how Frederick had turned around to see him. Their eyes meeting. When later Frederick asked after the boy, Jack did divulge some particulars on Will's training. Methods Jack was using. And he brought up, dazedly, over a glass of whiskey in the night, the commands. This seemed to both startle and intrigue Frederick to no end, but Jack would not, could not, detail them. It would be imprudent to tell another, especially one as manic as Frederick, of how to tap into Will's override program.

            Frederick was not the one. Jack supposes he could sense that even back then.

            He sits now at the breakfast nook, with Hannibal sitting on the other side, the cool light from the window illuminating his face.

            Jack is looking at the one.

            "Dr. Lecter," he begins. "I feel I must explain myself about the commands you've seen me use with Will. Well, one of them. At least, I thought I needed to explain myself. But in light of yesterday, it seems not."

            Hannibal nods ever so slightly. "I understood your hesitation to use such a command within earshot of Frederick. I feel that was the right decision."

            "You said it to Will without Frederick hearing."

            "I did not mean to overstep any boundaries–"

            "No, no," Jack says hurriedly. "No, I... I was very impressed with how you thought on your feet. Listen, Will is... when he gets like that, it's not anyone who would just jump in between him and someone. I knew Will wasn't trying to hurt anyone but Gideon but no one else knew. Not even you, doctor."

            "I simply did what I felt needed to be done," he says.

            "And that's why we're talking." Jack swallows. "Phyllis is out at work, or else we couldn't have had this conversation here. She doesn't know about the commands I have for Will."

            "Does she not?"

            "It's..." Jack looks aside, out into the yard from the window. He cringes inwardly. "She wouldn't take kindly to it. Let's just say that. She knows about a lot of his training, how he thinks, that he has an overt response specifically for the Ripper, but... if she knew everything, well, I just don't think she could take it." He pauses. "Sometimes I can't take it."

            Hannibal shifts in his seat. "You made something unique, Jack. Not everyone will be able to appreciate Will."

            Jack looks across the table. "But you can."

            "Yes," he says. "I can."

            Jack smiles a bit and nods. He begins to move from his side of the banquette, sliding until he comes to stand on the floor. "Can I show you something, doctor?" he asks and Hannibal nods, rising to stand with him. Jack leads him again, back through the living room and towards the back, where the wooden staircase leads up into the second floor of the home. The upstairs hallway is darkened and the two of them travel down until they meet the second room on the right, a door which has been closed since Will moved out of the house. Jack opens it, and allows Hannibal entry first, then entering behind him.

            The room is half-lit by way of the day coming in through parted blue drapes over the wide window at the back of the room. It is modestly sized for an adult and large for a child, which Will was when he first came to inhabit it. He has always liked the color blue and thus is the shade of his bedclothes, throw rug, some posters on the walls of Neptune and Venus. There is a writing desk on the other side of the room, covered with a few textbooks of psychology and sociology that Will left behind when he moved out. A dim scent shrouds the room, something which Jack likens to linen, washed but left out for years. A soft scent. Will's adolescence is in that scent.

            Hannibal walks into the middle of the room, and he inhales deep. He turns back to Jack. "Will's old room."

            "Mm. We kept it just like he left it. Hasn't happened yet but if he were to stay the night, he could use it." Jack shrugs. "He doesn't like leaving his dogs overnight though."

            Hannibal smiles as if he can see this would be a concern of Will's. He walks along the outskirts of the room, touching against the desk, laying fingertips at the sill of the window. He comes to the bed which is full-sized and made by Phyllis' hands, after Will left. Will never makes his bed. Hannibal seems to pause for a second, and then he gingerly sits at the head of it, just beneath the neatly stacked pillows.

            Jack watches him. He looks thoughtful, at peace.

            Jack says, "Down. Heel. Rip. These are the three commands that will override his sense of free will. He can't deny them, and I implemented them to be used in dire situations. When he's unruly or something terrible is happening. Mainly for the Ripper."

            "Heel is the one you used with Tobias Budge and I used with Abel Gideon," Hannibal says, running his fingers along the bed spread.

            "Yes, doctor. Heel brings Will to you and forces him to stop what he's doing." He pauses. "It's after-effects cause him to black out or simply remain conscious but in a dazed state for a while. Down is slightly less intensive, but is primarily used when he gets too worked up. I'm sure you've seen that Will can get extremely tense when on the subject of the Ripper, to the point where it impedes his senses, and makes him completely unable to be led. He freezes up, goes inside himself. Down is used to relax all the muscles in his body, put him in a serene state. He doesn't black out after it, but I've noticed that he can... lose time."

            Hannibal is nodding. "I've seen Will look surprised to find himself where he currently is."

            "Probably an after-effect."

            Hannibal looks up suddenly, his eyes dark. "And rip?"

            Jack presses his lips together. "That's an active command. The other two are passive, but rip, it's... it's only for the Ripper. I'd only ever use it on the Ripper. It's a failsafe. During his training, when I took him through trials, simulations of meeting the Ripper, there were times when he would freeze up, out of... fear, I guess. Mass amounts of fear. I had to make it so he wouldn't hesitate if need be, because–"

            "The Ripper won't hesitate," Hannibal says.

            "That's right."

            It is quiet for a moment. Hannibal says, "Have you ever used that active command in a real situation?"

            "No, never. Only in test runs when he was young." He pauses. "I would ask, doctor, that you not use it either, unless something happens that calls for that level of... reaction." He sighs heavily, shakes his head. It feels odd to say this aloud. There was a time when he thought he would take these words with him to his grave. But since the basement of the Chordophone String Shop, what Beverly said outside has been haunting Jack. That Will was only alone in that position because of Jack calling Hannibal away. And Jack can't stand the thought of Will being in danger again, alone again, staring down a psychopath without guidance. Sometimes Jack regrets his decision to ever let Will off the leash. But perhaps he can re-leash him, and give the reigns to Hannibal Lecter.

            After a long silence, Jack resumes, "This is such a big thing to ask of you, Dr. Lecter."

            "Hannibal is fine, Jack," he says, smiling. "I must say that what you're asking of me is something that requires time, understanding and commitment."

            Jack winces. "I'm sorry, I–"

            "All of which I have for Will and Will alone."

            Jack blinks, and looks from the floor where his disappointed gaze had turned up to Hannibal who sits serene in the sliver of light coming through the window. His pointer and middle fingers rubbing in slow circles along the bedspread. His eyes widen the smallest bit, and the light pours into them, mixing the black into something deeper, some shade darker than dark, and Jack exhales, smiles.

*

The next day, Jack feels it is necessary to speak openly on the matter of Abel Gideon. He has given Will a good day and a half – mainly due to the wooziness he must have experienced in the wake of the command. Too, he could see in Will's eyes as he half-recovered on the infirmary bed in the hospital, that he was trying not to think of what had happened. Overwhelmed, or frightened. This Jack understands but it is also something he must force Will to address within himself.

            Jack has given Will, mind and body, to Hannibal Lecter. The day prior, as Hannibal walked back down the porch steps and drove away in his Bentley, Jack felt something deep in his core. Something tugging at him. He thought perhaps that it was sadness, at not having been everything he could be for Will. Will is resentful towards him, this Jack knows, and perhaps it is what he deserves for changing the boy into this. Yet it is done. It is done. And there must be someone to help Will, to walk with him and handle him when he cannot stand to handle himself. Hannibal Lecter has proven strong in this area, yes, perhaps stronger than Jack. He will take these commands and use them wisely, Jack hopes. He will calm Will and be there for him when Jack cannot and even possibly when Jack should not.

            Perhaps this is freedom. Perhaps he can rest a bit easier knowing there is someone there for Will. Jack spent the rest of the day thinking about the word commitment. And Hannibal's ideas of such.

            Hannibal, thusly, is also present in Jack's office the next day. He sits in the leftmost seat of the three pulled up to the desk. The center is occupied by Will which seems to be the only thing sedating Frederick Chilton who sits in the rightmost chair. There is a tension in the office which is heavy and stale and Jack feels the majority of it rising off of Frederick and Hannibal. Will looks tired but not unfocused. He doesn't seem to be aware of the tension between the psychiatrists or if he is, he does not care. His green eyes are set behind his glasses and he looks at Jack.

            Will leans forward before Jack can speak and he places his hands on his knees. That ring still present, glinting in what Jack believes to be a horrible way. "I need to see him again," Will says, softly, clearly.

            Jack furrows his brow. He did not expect this. "I... Will, last time–"

            "It won't be like last time."

            Hannibal turns to look at Will at his side. "You don't believe Abel Gideon is the Ripper then?"

            Before Will can answer, Frederick leans forward to gaze past Will and send a half-glare Hannibal's way. "That's ridiculous. Of course he's the Ripper." He whips his head forward to look at Jack. "Will reacted. And did you see that scene in the infirmary? The Wound Man. I know it well; it's one of the things that separated the Ripper from any idle serial killer in the early days. Abel Gideon replicated it to a fault."

            "It is not impossible to replicate," Hannibal says. "With a deft hand and a driving force."

            Jack shrugs. Frederick does have a point. "I don't see how Gideon could have known to replicate that, since photos of those murders were never made public."

            "Curious," Hannibal says, looking at Frederick.

            Frederick looks like it is taking all his will to not roll his eyes. It is something he would not bother to withhold if it were Alana Bloom or any of the many other psychiatrists that he has snubbed over the years. Jack feels that Frederick may be keeping himself in slight check – whether this is in some vague attempt to respect the psychiatrist Will himself has chosen or if it is out of some fear of Hannibal's quiet, icy stares, Jack cannot say.

            Again, however, Will seems unbothered by this. He looks only at Jack. "It's not any of that. I don't care about The Wound Man. If Abel Gideon is the Ripper, that's not the deciding factor."

            Jack blinks widely. "Then what is, Will?"

            Will eyes Frederick. "You said Abel Gideon murdered his wife and her family around the dining table. And then waited to be arrested."

            "I did."

            Will looks almost to laugh. He rubs his thumb against the gold band of the ring he wears. "His wife," he says. His eyes widen. "Why would the Ripper have a wife?" He looks at Jack, then at Hannibal. "Come on, it's an open question. Why would the Ripper have a wife?"

            Frederick knits his brows. "What do you mean? You know very well that psychopaths keep things from their families, friends. They use their own relationships to cover themselves, to blend in. Before that, no one suspected Abel Gideon of being the Ripper, of doing anything out of the ordinary. He was a simple surgeon with a family, a home in the suburbs."

            Jack is nodding along. And he looks past the three in the seats before him to see the mannequin that stands back in the corner, its chest littered with pinned notes. One of them notes a hunting or medical background. Will himself had said it.

            Will shakes his head and slowly raises his left hand. Hannibal looks at the ring placidly. Frederick glowers at it, as if it were sentient and threatening him verbally. Will says, "The Ripper wants me to marry him. He wants me to live with him and be his love."

            Frederick openly gawps.

            Hannibal's expression has changed only barely. He looks at Will as if expecting him to continue.

            Jack cannot find words within himself.        

            "So," Will says easily, "it would be ridiculous for him to already have a wife. Cover or no. The Ripper is in love with me."

            Finally, Frederick speaks. "Your hypothesis for Abel Gideon not being the Ripper is that he has– I'm sorry, had– a wife?" He turns to Jack, looking helpless. "You can't be serious."

            "And not only that," Will says. "He let himself be taken without a fight, knowing now that he can never be with me. He's locked up. But this ring is a promise of love and affection and security." His eyes seem, for just a moment, to glaze over. "A vow that he would make me beds of roses."

            Frederick's eyes widen. He seems lost for a moment, then says, "He's crazy, Will. There's no accounting for a crazy man to make good on his word, if indeed that is his word at all."

            Jack swallows. "You really don't think it's him?"

            "I'm not certain," Will says. He brings his hand back a bit, closer to his face. "Last time I saw him, I was so hyped up being alone with him, I can't have had any real time to discern. That's why... this time, I don't want to be alone." Will pauses and he looks to his left, to Hannibal. His green eyes are wide as worlds. "Will you see him with me, Dr. Lecter?"

            "Of course, Will. You needn't even ask," he says.

            Will smiles.

            "If this charade is going on despite all reason, I am going to be present as well," says Frederick.

            Will sighs heavily. "Of course, Frederick."

            Jack looks from each one of them before finally settling his gaze on Will. "Are you sure this is a good idea, Will?"

            "Mm." He nods and looks down at the ring. "I have a plan. It'll be fine. I have some things I'd like to ask him. And depending on how he answers, I will have my answer."

            Frederick does not look thrilled by this idea and Jack cannot blame him. The last thing he wants is for Will to have another fit, which may indeed happen if he comes to the conclusion that Abel Gideon is, without doubt, the Ripper. Still, Jack hopes it is him. This would mean so much. Twenty years of death and gore come to an end. He looks out now at the three before him, as Will and Hannibal smile softly at each other and Frederick rolls his eyes in the opposite direction. He wonders how it would make Will feel. Twenty years of learning about a man, becoming infused with his very essence, and then to find he had simply been captured by local police and thrown unceremoniously behind bars. Deep in the dungeon below Frederick's castle. Jack can't help but think that would have some effect on Will. Looking now at his soft smile, Jack thinks maybe that is why he is trying this again. Denial, some hope that Gideon is not the Ripper after all. Jack finds it difficult but he does manage to sympathize. And he hopes Hannibal will ease him through this.

*

The date is set for Thursday afternoon and Will walks out of the BAU thinking about it. He is filled with trepidation and no small amount of dread. Though he felt that in the meeting, he did exude the proper amount of confidence to lull Jack into thinking he has this under control. In truth, Will feels like he is free-falling and he has only two things: the ring, in which he knows is a promise, and Hannibal Lecter who stands by his side on the concrete in front of the building, who too will stand by his side on Thursday afternoon.

            Hannibal looks at Will. "Don't be nervous," he says.

            Will swallows, smiles. He shakes his head and his curls blow in the breeze. The air chills faster and faster each afternoon, and the sun has not appeared for days. "I can't help it," he says, and there is a chuckle in his words. "Isn't that pathetic? I was raised to catch this man and I'm scared to see if it's him, if it's–" if this promise was a lie.

            Hannibal places a hand on Will's shoulder, the warmth of his palm seeping through the jacket and plaid beneath. "I believe in you, Will."

            "Thank you." Will fights the urge to lean his cheek into the man's hand. "Maybe after this, we can get back to our normal appointment times. Everything's been so hectic lately."

            "I understand. Perhaps, too, Abigail's been a bit of a handful for you."

            Will laughs, thinking of the girl back at his house. The girl who is trying to teach the dogs to roll over, to no avail, and also spends her time with Will telling him of all she learned in Santa Monica, about veganism and West Coast rap. He says, "It's... different, having her around. She's pretty curious about my job. About you too."

            "Well, maybe we can alleviate some of her curiosity," Hannibal says.

            Will looks up, worried.

            Hannibal smiles. "Just about me. I was thinking this weekend we could trade off. It would give you some time to yourself."

            "Oh, Dr. Lecter, you don't have to–"

            "I want to. We're taking care of Abigail together, aren't we?"

            Will pauses, and he feels his face heat. "Well, yes... I mean, we are, but you already supply food and clothes for her." Will clears his throat. His gaze lowers. "And, um, also, I don't want her to, I don't know, cramp your style. If you have friends, or–" Will pauses, wets his lower lip. "I don't want people to think–"

            Hannibal is laughing and his hand, which has not moved from Will's shoulder, now grips and the pressure is reassuring and more – Will has not been able to touch himself for days, sharing a bed with Abigail as he does. He has thought about it in the shower, but the bathroom has no lock and Abigail wanders in and out as if it were a part of the kitchen. Will feels himself go red and rigid as Hannibal says, "My concern is not what others think. My concern is Abigail and you, Will."

            Will can only think to say, "Oh."

            Hannibal smiles, eyes glistening. Will doesn't know what he's done to deserve such kindness, but he's glad for it. In the time he's spent talking to Hannibal, he'd forgotten about Abel Gideon until he saw the glint of the ring. And even now, it seems like it is far away. And what is before him is Hannibal: Hannibal pristine and smiling at him, Hannibal's eyes on him and only him. Finally, Hannibal does remove his hand. "Oh," he echoes.

           

           

Chapter Text

In the days before Thursday, Will spends much time with Abigail. The prospect, too, of switching off with Hannibal has brought out some longing in Will to try and be a good host so that Abigail will not simply be overcome by the lavishness of Hannibal's lifestyle and never want to return. He thinks about this while she sleeps, snoring and dead to the world, in bed next to him in the early morning. He considers turning one of the upstairs empty rooms into some semblance of a guest room.

            To her credit, Abigail does not seem overly concerned with going between Will and Hannibal's houses at the weekend. Her primary concern over breakfast Tuesday morning is whether Hannibal has any dogs.

            Will says no, no pets of any kind.

            Then does he have a pool, she wonders.

            Will doesn't know what likeness pets hold to a pool and how she could be comforted by the latter's existence in the absence of the former but says none of this. He simply says no. She shrugs in response and notes that at least there will be more food like this and her own bed. She says this while eyeing pointedly Will's one bed and then Will himself, who can look only resigned.

            He tries to distract her, and by extension, himself. It occurs to him that she never replied to his letter, simply showed up one night on his doorstep and thus never answered his closing question: does she like poetry? He tests this by showing her Whitman and Sidney and ultimately Marlowe, which he blushes through while reading. Abigail looks moderately interested at best.

            Her father appears off and on. Out on their walks with the dogs, standing on the banks of the river, or in the house at night as they ready for bed. Hobbs stands in the corner of the room. He sits on the bed. He watches Abigail in her white socks, the pink scar on her neck which she has become comfortable letting Will see. Or perhaps she no longer cares. Hobbs often will turn his milky eyes to Will, open his mouth and spill bile. But he will not speak when she is present, and Will cannot help but wonder: would she hear him?

            In bed that night, Will stares up at the ceiling. He asks, "Do you still think about your dad?"

            "Yeah. I can't help it," she says. "He's inside me. I don't know if this is what Hannibal meant back in the hospital. But I loved my dad. I wanted to be with him forever and ever." Her voice sounds younger, years younger. "We could have run off and got married." She laughs a little, and brings a finger up to caress her jagged scar.

            "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I took that away from you." Will pauses, and says this carefully: "I wish I could give it back."

            Abigail turns to him in the moonlight. Her eyes look like her father's in death. "Me too."

            On Wednesday Hannibal comes by to drop off more food and clothes for Abigail. He brings in all manner of ceramic tupperware and dishes the prices of which Will can only guess at. It fills the house up with warm spiced scents and sends the dogs into frenzy. The clothes have the same effect on Abigail. She digs into bag after bag, each bearing the name of some department store, each smelling like springtime perfume. Hannibal and Will stand by watching her holding skirts and sweaters along the front plane of her body, and she smiles, and she looks like a normal girl. Will would dare anyone to be able to discern that she's had her throat cut by her father. Anyone who could not see what lurks behind the braid thrown over her shoulder.

            Hannibal says he cannot linger as he must get back to Baltimore. Will feels a pull within himself, and he wants to ask Hannibal to stay. He doesn't. He says only, "Thanks for everything, Dr. Lecter." He lowers his voice a bit, eyeing back at Abigail. "You're really going to spoil her."

            Hannibal's countenance is bright, and before he can reply, Abigail strides forward to say, "Hey, why do you call him Dr. Lecter?"

            Will blanches. "Uh." He looks up at Hannibal.

            Hannibal is smiling and he only looks at Will calmly.

            "Well, I." Will looks back at Abigail. "I mean–"

            "You guys know each other so well," she says. "It's weird for you to keep calling him that, Will."

            "Weird?" Will sighs. There's that label again. Though he thinks now he does not mind it in the same way he once did. Not since Hannibal has taken it for himself in stride. Too, Will does not know where Abigail got the idea that they know each other well. Perhaps it is true in Hannibal's case. Will has let spill things to Hannibal he could never divulge to anyone else in the name of modesty. But sometimes Hannibal seems to Will as someone he does not completely know. He doesn't even know where his accent is from.

            At length, Hannibal pats a few of the dogs goodbye and hugs Abigail. He tells her he looks forward to having her over. On the porch steps, he turns back and tells Will he will see him tomorrow.

            Will lingers near the open screen door. The day is growing dark, and the wind chills him through his thin sweater. He nods to Hannibal, and glances back into the house to see Abigail otherwise occupied. He bites his lower lip.

            "See you tomorrow," he pauses, "Hannibal."

            Hannibal raises one eyebrow, smiles, and nods graciously. Will is so overcome with embarrassment that he nearly runs back into the house.

*

It is raining. Barely, and haltingly, but finally and at last, it is raining when for the last week the sky has threatened, hinted, never delivering. It only started just as Jack exited his car, making the small trek from parking lot to the grand entrance of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Thursday has arrived with all the immediacy that was promised and there is something hanging in the air besides the humidity from rain, besides sodden leaves hanging just barely to wasted trees. Even in the building, footsteps of orderlies, guards, and Frederick Chilton approaching are echoing deeper and tinged with some trepidation.

            Or perhaps it is all in Jack's head.

            Frederick is neat and coiffed, in a dark blue suit and checked tie. Jack shakes Frederick's hand as the psychiatrist cranes his neck to see over and around Jack.

            Jack rolls his eyes. "He's coming, Dr. Chilton." And as if Jack had formally hailed him, the doors open once again and Hannibal Lecter is holding it open for Will to first walk through. Both Jack and Frederick turn to face him. Jack notices this: where once Will would fuss or at the very least shy away from a psychiatrist treating him like some lofty prince, he barely seems to notice Hannibal doing it. Or perhaps he has come to adapt to Hannibal's manner of doing so; his deep nods, his silent listening to Will as if in reverence or restrained awe. Be it that or anything else, Will enters the building in a quiet air, head held upright, eyes easy. That ring on his finger, the gleam of which physically incenses Frederick who stiffens at Jack's side.

            After greetings, Frederick assumes his role of administrator; he preoccupies himself with giving visitor badges and re-briefing all present on cautions. He is specific as they will be meeting with Abel Gideon in one of the conference cages in a wide room just downstairs. Frederick speaks on spitting distance, pissing distance. Jack listens idly and when he eyes over at Will and Hannibal, they are raising their eyebrows at each other and miraculously Will is making a face at Hannibal to which Hannibal's lips twitch to a barely-contained smile. Frederick is too lost in his own power to notice. But Jack notices.

            Finally, Frederick leads them downstairs. The room he described is filled with wide windows and allows a grey half-rain light down onto the floor. The cages, like bone-dry dunk-tanks, stand empty save one. Abel Gideon sits placidly on the metal bench inside, hands folded on his lap.

            His icy eyes zero in on Will as he walks smoothly ahead. Jack, Hannibal and Frederick stand behind him. There are chairs set behind the line but it seems none of them feel like sitting. Where Will stands, he toes the line set by Frederick.

            It is quiet when Abel finally says, "You've brought an audience this time."

            Will's head tilts at him. "I did. Do you mind?"

            "Not at all, dear. You do what makes you feel comfortable. But," he pauses to eye Frederick, "we really don't want to make the good doctor jealous."

            Frederick rolls his eyes, but there is indeed some red to be seen at his cheeks and neck.

            Will walks along the line, slowly, one step in front of the other, as a child would navigate cracks in the sidewalk. "Why not?" His voice is all levity. "Who cares if he's jealous?"  

            Abel watches him. "Oh, no?"

            "No," Will says. He bites his lip, holds his hands gently behind his back. When he turns fully to face the cage, Jack can no longer see his expression. "To be honest, the only one jealous here is me."

            "Now why would that be?"

            Will takes a step past the line. It is small, and Jack feels he is in no real danger. Abel Gideon doesn't seem like the spitting, pissing type, and Hannibal is lax at Jack's side. Frederick looks minutely perturbed, merely for his rules being blatantly ignored.

            Will shrugs lightly. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe your wife would do it." When Abel raises an eyebrow in response, Will releases his hands and raises his left to face-height. The back of his hand facing Abel. The ruby. "Remember this? Finery?"

            Abel seems to ponder for a moment. "You're saying you're jealous of my wife. Darling, she's dead. You know what that means, right? I've done you no great wrong. Indeed, you should be thrilled. Come here."

            Will takes another step. "You were engaged to me before you killed her."

            "These things take time."

            "I guess." Will takes another step, sliding his foot forward along the glossy floor, and at this Jack does tense a bit. Hannibal continues to stand motionless. Will continues: "Why did you fall in love with me?"

            Abel's amused smile spreads now to a grin. "Fishing for compliments, my love?"

            "Yes."

            "Well, it should be obvious."

            "I want everyone to hear." Will's voice takes on some lower register, scraping to a growl. He motions back to Jack and the psychiatrists behind. "They don't believe that you're in love with me. They think this is just the gesture of a madman."

            "Men who are in love are mad," Abel says.

            Will takes another step and he is now two feet from the cage. Jack looks on in wide-eyed wonderment and Hannibal at his side has moved the slightest bit forward. His eyes dark and focused. On Jack's other side, Frederick looks as if he is having a hard time containing the urge to call Will back. His entire face has gone red.

            "Yes," Will says at length. "You are mad, aren't you? You'd have to be, to have allowed yourself to be captured like that. Do you even think? How could you have done it? If you meant to marry me, don't you think you being incarcerated might be a bit of an obstacle to that end?"

            Abel says nothing.

            Will says, "Stand."

            Abel does. He rises to his feet and uses the small bit of space he's allowed to come up to the bars, leaning his forearms over them. He seems to search Will's eyes. "Oh, you are upset, aren't you?"

            "Livid," Will says. "You kill people. You set them up as if you understand me. You give me this ring–"

            "I gave it to you and now I've got you," Abel says. "You're down here and you can't ever leave. You can go back to your daddy–" he shoots a glance at Jack over Will's shoulder "–for a time, but you'll never truly belong, will you? No, even now. You walk through and around each other as if on different planes."           

            Jack's eyes widen.

            Will closes the distance until he stands flush against the bars and at this Frederick shouts his name, and Jack makes to move forward but is held back by a steady and light hand upon his chest. Hannibal, who's eyes have not moved from Will, who is leaning ever so slightly forward, body poised as a lynx. Hannibal says, quietly, "Let him look."

            Jack turns back to them to see Will and Abel staring deep into each other's eyes. Will's left hand wrapped around one of the bars, his ring glinting brilliant. Will's voice is so low Jack is barely able to hear.

            "You talk a big game," he says, leaning his forehead against his hand. "Oh. Like this was all your plan. But the truth is it wasn't. You left me alone, as a man should not do to his fiancé. Are you okay with that, Abel? Giving up reign over my mind and body? You don't know." Will places his other hand upon his stomach and slowly moves it up his torso. Until it reaches the long white column of his neck, and travels into the dark warmth of his hair. On both sides of Jack, he can hear either psychiatrists' breath hitch. Will says, "You don't know what I'm like. And now you never will. Do you think about..."

            Abel Gideon's mouth looks dry. He says, "Steady, love."

            Will screams suddenly, violently, "Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?" And with a rattle of the bars, he releases his hold there and storms back, towards the left side of the room and another staircase. He calls back towards Jack and the others, "I want to talk to Frederick in his office. This minute." And he ascends the stairs and Frederick nearly runs after him.

            When they are gone, Jack is left horribly confused, and he turns to see Hannibal. His expression is completely unreadable and more than that: a dark look of a bottomless crevasse, as he eyes Abel Gideon in his cage and the staircase where Will and Frederick have gone.

*

There's something buzzing through Will's veins – is it excitement? Turmoil? The pureness that can only be indecision?

            But no, that's not it.

            The decision is made.

            Will strides quickly into Frederick's office, whirling around on one heel as he comes to lean back against the desk. He taps his fingers against the desktop, the deep cherry wood. Little twitches are going off in his toes, in his shoes, and there is a stutter in his heart. There is a stutter in his head. Blood pounding in his ears.

            Frederick finally comes into the archway, shutting the grand door behind him softly; he looks at Will in the half-light that comes from the parted curtains at the tall windows.

            "Will," he says and sounds placating, "you did not follow my instructions."

            Will can only laugh. He shakes his head and raises his hands, palms up. "You caught me."

            Frederick moves from the door further into the room. "That was some display you put on."

            "A display for a display," Will says. He leans back on his hands and looks up at the ceiling. He feels Frederick's gaze on him, along the open expanse of his throat, his chest's slope down into his stomach. He is not unaccustomed to it. He felt it when he was a child. "I got what I needed from Abel Gideon."

            "Did you?"

            "He's not the Ripper." When Will says it, he feels something in him that had slowly been on the deflate for days fill back up. It feels good, so again he says, "He's not."

            Frederick pauses. He looks at the floor then, straightening his tie with one hand. "Will," he says. "How can you possibly know that from that conversation?"

            Will nods. He knows Frederick is not without point – and he thinks too of Jack who will probably have the same to say. Will wonders how he can explain it to them. That he looked into Abel Gideon's eyes and found there no love. He looked for raw longing and animalism and a man who felt he was owed a hand in marriage. A man who had gorged himself on caution, delicacy and wilderness in equal measures. Will put hunger into his own voice, the call, and waited for a response. He received none.

            How does one explain the intricacies of a dance performed by two when one barely knows how he himself dances? Will moves to the Ripper. He moves with him. He can explain kills and scenes and tableaus. He doesn't know how to explain sex.

            Will says only, "He doesn't love me, Frederick."

            Frederick looks startled. He says, "No, Will, he does not. But I must press you on this. If Abel Gideon is not the Ripper – on this I confess difference – and the Ripper is indeed still at large, what makes you so very sure he does love you?" Frederick stands before Will. "Your basis for Abel not loving you, allowing himself to be captured, I can see, but then the Ripper you're sure is still out there has not come to you. What kind of lover stands in the shadows, watching you scream at an insane man in an asylum?"

            Will shuts his eyes. Indeed. What kind of man loves like this?

            When he opens them again, he has found no answer inside himself, and he finds Frederick standing very still before him, his right side illuminated by outside light. The rain dropping steadily against the windowpanes, dotting shadows along Frederick's face.

            Will sighs, "I... I don't want to trouble you with all this, Frederick."

            Frederick looks aghast at the mere suggestion. "Trouble me," he says, begs, taking one of Will's hands in both of his own. "For God's sake, Will, trouble me. It's all I've wanted for the duration of our acquaintance. I am a psychiatrist, but no mind reader. I don't know how to help you unless you tell me."

            Will looks down, at his hand in Fredericks'. He's done this once before. When Will was thirteen, and Frederick's consultations on the Ripper cases ended. He had come into administration position at the BSHCI. He bent a bit for Will's adolescent height, and took Will's hand. Looked into his eyes. One day you'll come visit me at my castle, he said. Do you know what happens in a castle?

            Will had shaken his head.

            A prince becomes a king.

            Presently Will looks up into Frederick's deep-set eyes. It seems almost as if Frederick himself is remembering that time as well. He rubs his thumb over the smooth skin of Will's palm. "You've grown up so much, Will. But you are indeed the same boy I met in Jack's kitchen so long ago. You are not responsible for fulfilling your father's broken promises, this much I know, but I had hoped–" He pauses suddenly. Exhales. "It is folly."

            "What did my father promise you?" Will asks.

            And it happens before he is fully aware; he's barely had time to react. Yes, Frederick's mouth is upon his. And he feels the man's lips move against his own, the soft smoothness as they pass over and against one another. Their stubble brushing rough. Will makes a sound of muted surprise and raises his hands, trembling, coming to connect with Frederick's shoulders. Frederick's own hands suddenly on Will's hips, gripping with a force that is slightly unsure and yet roughened by decades of want. Will doesn't know what he's doing. He doesn't know– and so he opens his eyes briefly and sees his hand resting on Frederick's shoulder. And the gold and the ruby. In the dreary of the office, it shimmers as if in ire.

            Will's eyes widen.

*

The guards have taken Abel Gideon away. He seemed unresponsive as they took him from the cage; after watching Will storm away, everyone present might have felt the same way. He and Frederick have been in the office for some time and Jack and Hannibal stand in the wide room of cages alone now, and Hannibal has barely moved a muscle.

            "For the life of me," says Jack, sighing, "I don't know what Will was trying to prove."

            "Love, Jack," Hannibal says simply. "He was trying to prove, or disprove, Abel Gideon's love for him."

            Jack thinks about it for a moment. How realistic can a psychopath's marriage proposal be? How realistic can it appear to Will? Before he can ask either of these things to Hannibal, there is a sound at the stairs and both men turn in time to see Will dashing down, across the floor and running between them, past them, towards the other stairwell across the room, that which leads out of the building. Frederick is lagging behind, hair slightly askew, and he is calling Will's name.

            Will is gone, and Frederick comes to stand before Hannibal and Jack. The right side of his face is smarting red. Frederick groans aloud, and calls, "Will, stop, let's talk about this!"

            "What in blue fuck is going on?" Jack cries, looking at where Will has gone and back to Frederick.

            "Your son smacked me," Frederick says, pointing harshly at his face.

            Hannibal looks at Frederick. "What did you do to warrant such action?"

            "I didn't do– I–" Frederick looks from Jack to Hannibal to Jack. "I," he says. He exhales largely, smoothes one hand back through his hair. "Okay. I may have kissed him, but–"

            Jack is immediately caught between disbelief and horror and before he can speak to it, he feels something like roaring heat at his side. He glances at Hannibal, the only one there, who is simply standing still, looking at Frederick. But it feels like standing next to a bonfire. Jack quirks an eyebrow at him for a second and it seems Frederick can feel it too, or perhaps is struck by the solemn, infinite look Hannibal is giving him, for he has quieted at once.

            Jack's voice is simmering. He says to Hannibal, "Can you please go talk to Will?"

            "Yes," he says and turns immediately to leave.

            Frederick stares at his back as he walks away. "That isn't necessary, I'm more than capable of–"

            "You don't get to talk right now," Jack bellows. He insists then that they go to his office, and Frederick walks alongside him, glancing everywhere but at Jack as they go back upstairs. Jack looks at the redness on Frederick's face.

            When they are inside the office, door shut, Jack turns to face Frederick. He opens his arms wide, looking skyward.

            "Well, you really did it now, Dr. Chilton," he says.

            "Jack–" He sounds exhausted. "I really don't need a lecture."

            "You're getting one. I can't believe you. I thought Will was the only child I had to deal with. Keep your goddamn hands to yourself."

            "Oh, I have to keep my hands to myself," Frederick says, voice seething. He walks along the carpet, past Jack.

            "What does that mean?"

            "You gave him to Hannibal, you don't care what Hannibal does to him, but if I do it–"

            "Hannibal is not–"

            "Oh, isn't he?" Frederick nearly shouts, and his voice breaks. His eyes are red when he whips around to face Jack, standing now near the windows, the long thick curtains half-drawn. He takes one in his hand, crinkling the fabric, and yanks it aside, spreading more dim light into the room. He motions for Jack to come to the window.

            Jack eyes him lowly and does cross the carpet. When he comes to stand beside Frederick, he looks down through the rain-sheeted windowpane and at the back walkways and grasses behind the building, a few stories down. Beyond is the tree line, nearly naked with fall. And near the center, off to the left side of a modest gazebo surrounded by tended flowers, are Will and Hannibal on the walkway. Jack narrows his eyes. He has no hope of making out what they are saying by lip-reading but Will stands a few feet from Hannibal, face pinched, mouth opening and shutting. He is shouting. Hannibal then walks forward and places a hand on Will's shoulder. Will shakes away from it. The rain pours steady on them, darkening Hannibal's hair, shining Will's curls. Will turns back fully to face Hannibal and is pointing violently towards the building. Hannibal stands still, silent. Finally, Will places his head in his hands. His shoulders trembling. And Hannibal does not hesitate to come to him, placing his arms around Will.

            Will jerks in the hold once, twice, before lunging forward, arms wrapping around Hannibal in kind, pulling in, squeezing. His face pressed into Hannibal's chest. Hannibal places his cheek aside Will's head and allows Will to weep.

            Jack looks back at Frederick. "Listen. Will's a grown man. He can make his own decisions regarding this. But I'm not going to sit around and let you cause him unnecessary grief and confusion."

            Frederick's eyes are still on the two down in the field. "Then there exists such a thing as necessary grief and confusion he must experience."

            Jack says only, "Don't make me tell you again."

*

The rain is falling harder. It has wet Will through his jacket and sweater, and he feels damp on his skin. He sits now under the roof of the one gazebo which holds pride of place in the center of the grounds behind the hospital. It interconnects cobblestone walkways which spiral outwards in varying directions; some of which lead back to the building, and some go into the tree line and the woods beyond. Will doesn't know how far they go. The woods are dead. Living flowers, tended by employees and groundskeepers, surround the gazebo, the last sign that summer ever was. They climb the white banisters behind where Will sits on a bench and frame Will's head, and Hannibal's, who sits beside him and is equally soaked.

            The bench is modest and fits the two of them without much room elsewise. Their hands on the bench inches apart.

            Will says, finally, "I'm sorry I yelled."

            Hannibal looks at him. "There is no need for apology, Will." He looks back out at the gazebo opening, where the rain falls insistent to earth. Red and yellow leaves lay drenched on the walkways. "I was pleased you used my first name."

            Will is caught off guard by that and so he snorts laughter. He looks up at Hannibal, smiling wryly. "You are–"

            "Weird."

            "Just like me."

            "Just like you."

            Will leans back a bit, and feels the flowers behind him scratch their petals and tender leaves at the base of his neck. "I'm glad that Abel Gideon isn't the Ripper. But I feel like there's a bleakness ahead of that feeling. Where do I go from here? I feel lost."

            "You will be found," he says. He sounds so sure. Hannibal always sounds so sure. Will looks at him from under lashes that are still damp with rain and tears. When Hannibal had come after him, he was in no mood for a psychiatrist's attempt at him – it felt like regression, as he was on the night he first met Hannibal. Frederick's mouth on him had elicited some wretched feeling that started in his ring finger and built up, propelling him from the office, through the hospital and outside. Was it the Ripper? Was he angry? Will couldn't tell and his senses were in disarray. He lashed out at Hannibal before he could remember.

            Yes, who he is, and who Will now is.

            Will sighs deep and says, "What do you think Abel meant? 'I've got you and you can't ever leave'."

            The rain continues to fall, pattering on ground and grass alike. The roof overhead. Hannibal turns a bit and takes a flower from the vines behind. One which had been tickling at Will's neck. It is white, six-petaled, with one stripe of dark pink tracing the inner curve of each. Will raises a hand to touch the petals and it feels of velvet – too, his fingertip connects with Hannibal's own.

            "When Persephone was found in the field by the god of the underworld, he took her into the rift of the earth to become his wife. Though she longed for home initially, he forced her to eat pomegranate seeds, the food of the underworld. This obligated her to return to the god for part of the year eternally." Hannibal takes his other hand to Will's left hand, and indicates the ruby that flashes. "Your pomegranate seed."

            "Do you think I'm trapped in the underworld?"

            "I think you venture there." He pauses and places the flower gently behind Will's ear, letting it bloom from his dark curls. "This is called asphodel. Persephone is often depicted wearing a garland of them. They are for death and the dead."

            Will wonders if he is what is considered of the dead. He doesn't feel dead. Indeed not, with this flower in his hair and the ring on his finger and Hannibal looking at him like the world took shape in Will's very eye, he does not feel dead.

            Will says, "Persephone was raped."

            "Was it rape?" Hannibal turns from him, looks out again at the tree line. "Scholars dissent on that."

            "I'm no scholar," Will says. No, he is not that. The rain continues and Will's hand slides from his lap, back to the cool smoothness of the bench. "But I know consent." He remembers the garden at the Four Seasons Baltimore, and looking up at the moon with this man beside him. That was short months ago. Will exhales and he moves his hand until his fingertips slide over and through Hannibal's, lacing easily. He spreads his fingers wider when Hannibal slides his own forward, their palms coming to press against each other. Locked.

            And Will looks out, up, at the sky. He thinks, How came we here?

           

 

 

Chapter Text

At 9 AM, Jack is sitting at his desk in the office, with one mug of coffee before him and seven empty sugar packets scattered across the desk. He stirs, endlessly, until the coffee is no longer black but an off-brown, some shades lighter than his skin. Last night, after Will had gone back to Wolf Trap and Hannibal back to Baltimore, Jack went home to Phyllis and told her what happened at the hospital. He left out the parts about the ring and Will's outburst with Abel Gideon.

            He prefaced it with: "Okay, now don't get in a knot."

            Phyllis looked up from her book immediately. She had been lying in bed, encircled by pillows and her skin glowing in the soft light from the bedside lamp. Her scent of body wash and cocoa butter permeated the room. She shut the book and placed it on her lap.

            "Will," she said, her voice half-choked.

            "He's fine," Jack said, raising a hand. "He's at home."

            Immediately, her hiked shoulders lowered, her eyebrows tenting dramatically. "Don't do that! Jesus, Jack. Okay. Well, what happened? What did you do to him?"

            Jack gaped widely. "Me? Nothing. It was Dr. Chilton. We went to his hospital today, and," Jack paused to shrug, "well, one thing led to another."

            "And?"

            When Jack told her, she threw her book against the wall and grabbed her cell phone from the nightstand. Jack spent the next twenty minutes half-wrestling, half-pleading with his wife to not call Frederick, don't, just don't, it's unnecessary. At last she relented, tossing her phone over near where her book landed in the corner of the room. She said they never should have allowed him near Will when he was young. She said he would do anything to be with Will. She said you'd find more morals in a shred of road kill off an Alabama turnpike than in Frederick Chilton.

            Jack thinks about that now.

            And Will walks into the office, easing the glass door closed behind himself. He is clad in the same clothes as yesterday and his hair is wild, eyes circled dark behind his glasses. He sits in the lone chair before the desk, depositing himself into it as one would set a heavy knapsack. He's slouched over, lax.

            He looks drained. Jack knows from past experience, however, better than to bring attention to it. He looks at his cup of cold coffee and says, "Can I get you some, Will?"

            Will eyes it, shrugs. "Are you going to finish that one?"

            "Uh. Well, no." Jack hands the mug over and only when Will takes a sip does he remember that the contents are more sugar than coffee.

            But Will swallows it as if it were water. The mug is drained and he sets it back on the desk. He shakes his head lightly and looks almost canine, as one does to shake off water after a bath. Will clears his throat and says, "Abel Gideon is not the Ripper."

            Jack presses his lips together.

            Will continues: "Look, I know it doesn't sound right from the outside looking in. But, Dad, this is the Ripper. I would know him if I did this to him. I put Abel to the test and he failed with flying colors."

            "What was that test, Will?"

            "Love."

            Will has said it simply, as Hannibal Lecter did standing in the wide room below the hospital. Jack feels like he's missing something – like there is something in the room that is big as a boulder and solid. Like he could walk into it, and could not pass through it. Yet it is invisible. And he feels, too, as if Will and Hannibal can see it clear as day, and they both are staring at it together, inly marveling, outly calmed by its presence.

            Jack leans forward, his elbows on the table. "Abel Gideon was very convincing."

            "Yes. Yeah, he was." Will shifts. He brings his left hand aloft and stares at the ring. "He is mad. But he is not the Ripper. The Ripper would have passed my test." His voice lowers, his gaze softens. "He'd have done anything to be with me. He would have never allowed them to arrest him. None of it fits. The wife, The Wound Man. It's rounded pieces when what I need is a square. Something convinced Abel he is the Ripper. And through that, he's able to be convincing. But he can't fool me directly." He whispers: "I'd know his love anywhere."

            Jack's left eye is twitching. He can't get it to stop. He doesn't think Will notices.

            He says, finally, "Will, that ring is unhealthy for you."

            "Yeah, I know."

            "We need to put it in the evidence room." Or the garbage, he thinks but will not say.

            Will shuts his eyes. He brings the ring up to his lips and presses them together. There follows a long moment of silence, and Jack bears witness to the second when Will's thick lashes wet and overflow, releasing two crystalline tears that travel the curves of his cheeks. Navigate his stubble to come together, join, and drop with a minute pat to the lap of his jeans. Will smiles jaggedly and opens his eyes.

            "Hey, Dad," he says.

            Jack swallows. "Yeah, Will."

            He laughs a little. "Do you think I'm weird?"

*

Perhaps Will is blessed.

            He drives through Virginia countryside on his way back to Wolf Trap mid-morning. His hands ten-and-two on the wheel. He doesn't normally drive like this but he needs something to hold onto. He needs something. The ring on his finger glints in the sunrays coming through the windshield. He presses his lips together and feels the gold against his skin, really thinks to feel it.

            Perhaps, yes, perhaps he is blessed.

            He never would have considered that – bedeviled, maybe, before thinking of it, and he now thinks of it like this: when he asked Jack if he was weird, Jack came around the desk and put his hand on Will's shoulder. When his shoulder began to shake, Jack leaned down and put his arms around Will and brought him in close. Will could smell the aftershave, the scent of the fabric softener Phyllis uses, and the distant smell of simple hallways in his childhood home, memories which he associates with lazy summer days when the windows were open and he ate watermelon almost faster than Phyllis could buy it. Winter mornings in the basement shaking snow from his boots. Fall nights up late, reading psychology books. Spring sunrises with birds calling outside his window. And his posters of Neptune and Venus.

            Will has wanted normalcy for a long time.

            He thinks he is in position to have some. This surely is a blessing.

            Yes, but first. First he must be sure.

            On the way home, Will tries not to get his hopes up. He has a wild imagination, and vivid, so vivid, and he can see the future he wants for himself as if it were happening before his very eyes. Early this morning, before Will made the trek to Quantico, Hannibal called. To avoid waking Abigail, Will went upstairs in the empty rooms of the house to answer. Tonight, Hannibal is scheduled to come pick Abigail up. And yet he said on the phone that he wanted to come by earlier. He said he had somewhere he wants to take Will.

            Alone.

            Will felt his body grow hot even as he assented into the phone's receiver. And he couldn't stop thinking of it – is Hannibal Lecter interested? Is he– would he–

            Would he really?

            This could be the answer to Will's problems. One of many, but perhaps the biggest of them all. His obsession with the Ripper is unhealthy. It has driven him to distraction. He has let the Ripper into his head and there he has bashed the walls and torn paintings down and jack-hammered the floor. Will is in pieces. He feels he is no closer to finding the Ripper than the day the ring worked its way onto his finger.

            In order to combat this, Will takes his feelings for Hannibal – which he has been batting away desperately in attempt to save face – and examines them.  

            Here is a man who knows Will. Here is a man who said he would never let anything happen to Will. As prominent as the Ripper has become in Will's life, Hannibal has managed to match him. When Will sees the Ripper ahead of him, he can turn around and be assured that Hannibal is behind him.

            Friend. Psychiatrist. Partner. Yes, Hannibal is that, all of that.

            And Will cannot forget the feeling of Hannibal's hand against his own, locked into his own. Hannibal placing a flower in his hair. Hannibal holding him in the rain despite Will yelling at him, despite Will sobbing and clutching at him. Hannibal who once told him that Franklyn was jealous of his face.

            Will thinks he will simply die if he is wrong. But he must try to address it. He has to get rid of this sickness on his finger, and he has to find something normal to cling to. If he could have that, just one small normal thing, he could face his job easier. The sun would perhaps shine just a little brighter.

            As he arrives home from Quantico, he spends the rest of the morning rousing Abigail and the dogs. He isn't sure if it is Jack's sugar-drink coursing through his bloodstream but he suddenly feels mass amounts of energy. He didn't sleep well the night prior so consumed was he by his visit to the castle. Abel Gideon's loveless eyes, Frederick's mouth on his. Will thought about all his time spent wondering how and who his first kiss would be and, too, all his time trying to avoid Frederick Chilton.

            The futility of the universe. It would be funny if it didn't make him want to cry.

            He and Abigail eat the last of the breakfast sausage brought over by Hannibal. Abigail sits on a stool at the counter, Will stands and eats. He thinks he shall have to procure a dining table, along with a bed, a dresser and some other things young girls will need.

            "Hey, so," she says over a mouthful, "I've never been like one of those kids who go between parental homes."

            Will almost chokes on his eggs. He looks up at her. "Oh, no?"

            She is slurping ungracefully at a cup of orange juice. "Nope. But I always heard from kids in school that had that kind of situation– it's really better. Two Christmases, two birthdays. And the parents always try to outdo each other."

            "Well, if that's what you're after, sorry to say, Hannibal and I aren't going to be outdoing each other over you."

            Abigail blinks, then smiles. "Hey, you called him by his first name! Oh, are you two like officially a thing now?"

            "Official?" Will feels his entire face heat to which Abigail only begins laughing and slapping her knee. Will says, "It's– we're not–" And he thinks about holding hands in the gazebo. He thinks about normality. What does he really, really want?

            After Abigail goes back to eating, she says between bites: "I knew it."

            Will doesn't acknowledge that. He eyes her for a long time, and says, "Abigail, have you... you haven't started dating yet, have you?"

            "Ew. No," she says, waving her fork. "What an old-people concept. Love is, like, free, man."

            "Are you serious?"

            "Nah." She shrugs. "I don't know what I believe about that kind of thing. I'm trying out different stuff. There was this boy who used to hang around Goldleaf though. When I got there, the girls pointed him out to me, standing out on the lawn. The administrators would chase him away every day but he'd come back always. And some of the girls would go out and sleep with him in the woods behind the building. That's the only kind of dating that went on there."

            Will swallows. He isn't going to ask if she participated and he hopes she will not volunteer such information.

            She says, gnawing at a cilantro sprig that is surely for garnish alone, "Why? You thinking about dating?"

            Yes, Will is thinking about dating. But what he says is, "Finish your breakfast."

            The rest of the day goes by painfully slow. Will goes out with Abigail and the dogs, he tries to clean the living room, and helps Abigail pack her bags. She'd previously only had one small knapsack. With her new clothes and accessories, she grabs one of Will's large traveling suitcases from his closet and claims it as her own. Day turns to night, and Will keeps eyeing out the front window.

            Abigail stands in the middle of the room, holding Winston's attention with a piece of meat. She is persistent in teaching him to sit. She looks over at Will by the window. "Chill, he'll be here," she says.

            "I know that," Will says, moving away from the window. "And I am chill."

            "Uh huh." While she is staring at Will, Winston lunges upward, snatching the piece of meat from her fist and runs. She shouts at him, to no avail.

            It is just after 6 PM when headlights appear in the driveway and the dogs all begin a chorus of barking to hail the Bentley. It is full dark out and Will feels his heart in his throat. He is already sweating and he has just changed into this shirt as he felt the last one didn't look right on him. The dogs are jumping, frolicking, and raising dander and hair along the carpet. Will is trying desperately to escape it all. He feels in pieces.

            Hannibal comes to the front door and Will and Abigail make an effort to keep them from bounding onto him. When they've calmed, Hannibal gives Abigail an affectionate scratch on the head, lightly rustling her hair, and tells her they'll go to Baltimore later tonight. When he and Will leave the house, Abigail calls after them to have fun and she elongates the word fun in a winding, nasally voice that Will is going to remember to chastise her for later.

            Will sits in the passenger seat of the Bentley and he taps his fingertips against his knees. Above, stars wink down, few at first and soon the number multiplies as they drive further and further out into Virginia countryside. The sky is glass-clear after the rainstorms of the day before have ebbed.

            Hannibal eyes Will and says, "You haven't asked where we're going."

            "Oh," Will mumbles. "Was I supposed to?"

            Hannibal seems as if he cannot hold in a light chuckle. He looks ahead at the road, illuminated only by headlights. "No, Will."

             "Well, now I'm pretty curious. I mean–" Will looks out the window, at the wide expanse of fields on either side. This isn't the way to the highways or into mid-Virginia. Indeed they are leaving cities and byways far behind. "Is it a surprise?"

            "In some ways. In some ways not."

            Will furrows his brow. He wishes Hannibal wouldn't speak in riddles on such simple matters. It seems that Hannibal is aware of the face Will is making in his direction and once again, he laughs.

            "We did agree that after Abigail was handed off to me, we would resume your therapy appointments, remember?"

            "Yeah. But– therapy, out here?"

            "Therapy out here."

            Will nods as if he understands. He doesn't understand and he feels that Hannibal knows this – so present is a somewhat mischievous smile on his face. This prompts Will too to smile. He cannot help it. Would not want to help it.

            A while longer in the car, the road turning from smooth to slightly unkempt. Road crews seem to not venture out this far. When they turn off the road and to the left, wheeling onto a wide field of grass and rocking further, Will's eyes scan the surrounding area.

            He remembers.

            He is shocked to silence while the car continues through the wide field. There is nothing but dry dead grasses for a mile in every direction until the landscape breaks and rattles, changes into dark forest. The sky above is curved, as if the underside of a snow-globe and streaked black-purple, dusted with stars. The lack of cities for miles and no florescent lighting gives the sky its elder power to startle. A reminder to the eyes that the sky is sister of the sea, and bottomless and ageless. Will's eyes are wide on it as he exits the Bentley.

            Hannibal parks, and the headlights, the last of human light, shut down. His footsteps crunch through the brown grass and Will can hear it peripherally but pays little attention. His eyes drawn now to the dark jagged line of treetops against the sky. Blacker than above and draws from Will no awe at agelessness or majesty, but something simmering, threatening to boil. His eyes wide, body strung tight and still. Still as before a lunge.

            "Will." Hannibal's voice.

            Will grits his teeth together. He cannot answer.

            "I want you to think." His voice closer, somewhere behind. The crunch of grass again.

            Will can't think.

            "That night long ago, when your father took you to this very forest. When he left your side in the dark."

            There is trembling that starts down in the small bones of Will's feet. Travels into his ankles, and up the long straights of his legs. Rattles his hips and moves up into his spine. Meets the sockets of his shoulders where suddenly he feels two strong, sure hands place themselves. And that touch is grounding. Will clenches his fists at his sides. Tether.

            "Now," his voice in Will's ear, "you walked through this forest. And your father told you there was a monster here. A monster that crawled from your very nightmares and into the world. Does this frighten you?"

            "Y-Yes."

            Hannibal's lips grazing the shell of Will's ear. His forehead connecting with the dark warmth of curly hair. "Say why."

            The forest-dark, the leaves whispering to each other overhead. Secrets in the air, monsters roam the earth. Devilment in the soil.

            "I'm not ready to see the m–" Will's voice cracks, "monster. I'm not. Daddy, I'm not."

            Hands on his shoulders tighten. "But your father knows you are ready. And that is why he must leave your side. Even at a young age, Will, you were far more capable than many grown men."

            "But it's dark."

            "Monsters can see in the dark."

            "Ye–" He swallows over saliva. "Yeah."

            "As can monster-hunters."

            The warmth of Hannibal's hands soaks down through Will's coat and plaid shirt, travels into his shoulder sockets. Cascades the length of his spine. Into his hips, the strong pillars of his legs. The flats of his feet.

            Branches broke beneath him that night. He bumped into tree trunk after tree trunk. Lacy spider webs caught in his hair. And he remembered the thing that looked into his eyes in his nightmares, the thing that looked into his heart in his daydreams, the basement, the light flashing, the glossy pictures of blood and gore and The Wound Man and skulls cracked open and organs pulled out all these things pushed into his face pushed into his face pushed into his face–

            "And I will be a hunter, a truly great hunter," Will says, his voice a low drone.

            "Yes, Will." That voice like silk sliding into Will's ear. "For the dark is not the home of merely one type of monster. The dark is home to any who are brave enough to use it. Are you brave, Will?"

            His back pressing up against Hannibal. "I am brave," he says. His head lolls slightly to the side.

            "You must find it within yourself to stand against your own inhibitions. That which frightened you when you were a child is now your asset." His right hand sliding from Will's shoulder, moving gently across his collar bone. "And though your father began the project, you have grown beyond anything he could have imagined. The dog who bites sheep is no sheepdog, Will. That dog is wild yet. And you–" He takes Will's chin in hand and tilts his head up, placing his gaze on high. "You are illuminated."

            Light blue and purple streaks like pieces torn from lightning bolts shoot over the vast expanse of the sky – one, two, at first, and then they come in numbers too large to count. Will's eyes widen and then he's blinking, squinting, startled by the force of light with which they come as they wink to wake in the east and bound and disappear in the west.

            "A..." Will's voice is slightly hoarse, catching, "A meteor shower."

            Hannibal lightly rubs his thumb against Will's stubbled jaw before releasing him completely, taking a step to stand at his side. He stares up at the sky and the light from above streaks across his face.

            The stars backlight the meteors, clustered together so tightly, and beyond that is the purple-dusky blast of the Milky Way. Fields surrounding them and the forest surrounding that seem to move even further back. The small patch of grass where they stand might well be twenty miles wide. Worldwide. The cities and populations, the seas and mountaintops descend in on themselves, existing no longer. It is simply Will and Hannibal and the eternity looming overhead. Dark eternity.

            They are silent for a long time. Will doesn't know how long – just that when he finally takes his eyes from the sky, after the last of the meteors have petered out, his neck is sore. He rubs at it, feels it crack, and looks over to see Hannibal eyeing him, smiling.

            Will starts laughing.

            Will hasn't felt this light in a long time. This good. It feels strange, as if he had been at sea for years and years and now has finally come to his feet on solid land. He wobbles when he walks, and is afraid he might fall, so he ambles his way to the Bentley and makes it just in time to collapse onto the hood of the car. He is still laughing, giggling, as one drunk, as if he had been gulping Star Shiraz or Meteor Merlot all night. He turns a bit and sits on the hood, reclining until his back is against the curve of the windshield, his legs splayed out front. His hand over his mouth as he laughs, and he feels furnace heat in his cheeks.

            "God," he says, removing his hand and letting it fall to the sleek black paint. His eyes again on the sky. "I," he says and doesn't know what he meant to come after that. He looks over and sees Hannibal unmoving where he was left. "Hannibal."

            "Yes, Will."

            "Where are you from?"

            Hannibal raises an eyebrow.

            "I-I mean your accent," Will says, smiling. "I've thought about it, and I... well, I was thinking you know me so well. And sometimes I feel like I don't know much about you."

            "You know more about me than you think." He pauses. "Lithuania."

            "Lithuania," Will echoes. He'd narrowed it down to Baltic states a long time ago, but hadn't gotten any further. "And do you, I mean, can you still speak it?"

            "I can speak five languages."

            Will's eyes round. "That's amazing." He allows his head to fall back a bit until it too rests against the windshield. His smile diminishes until it is a small amused line on his face. "I... listen, I don't want this to come out weird, but–"

            "What have we already said about weird between us, Will?"

            "That we can be weird together."

            "That's right."

            "Yeah, but–" He bites his lower lip, fiddles with the zipper on his jacket. "See, weird between us is okay. I mean I like it. It's other kinds of weird I don't like. I don't want to be." He inhales, exhales largely. "I'm a monster-hunter. I'll always be that. But what I don't have to be– don't want to be– is someone who goes nuts over a serial killer." He raises his left hand and looks at the ring planted there. That which has plagued him for weeks. Once he could not stand the thought of parting with it. "If I allow the Ripper to get too far into my head, who knows what will happen. And it's just not... I can't keep this up. It's not normal. Hannibal, I was thinking about yesterday. You know, when we were behind the hospital. And even though I'm sure I spent most of that time crying, I realized I felt better. And it didn't have anything to do with the Ripper. It was just you. I feel like that's the kind of thing I need in my life, just sometimes being normal. Everything else is so chaotic. And I have to continue with my job, but that doesn't mean I need to scream at psychopaths in cages or slap people. Lately it's felt like this ring is controlling me." Will takes the ring with his other hand and slowly frees his finger from it. "I've decided I'm not going to be wearing this anymore."

            Hannibal's eyes are on him, on the ring, moving with it as it slides from Will's finger, finally to set in Will's opposite palm.

            Will says, "I don't want to be Persephone."

            It is quiet for a moment before Hannibal crosses the few yards of grass between them. He comes to the Bentley's side, and seats himself on the hood upright beside Will, looking into Will's face and then down into his outstretched hand. "Persephone," he begins, "didn't have a choice. She was taken in maidenhood and when she returned to the surface, the pomegranate seeds had changed her from the inside out. Her newfound sexuality changed her as well. These two things are intertwined."

            "Sexuality," Will murmurs.

            "That's right."

            He shakes his head. "Hannibal, I don't want to be with the Ripper." He grips the ring in his fist and sits up slightly, searching the darkness to find Hannibal's eyes. "I," his voice breaks and he feels warm, so warm, "I just want to be with you."

            Hannibal looks at him. Looks at him, so quick and intense Will feels something tangible strike his chest. Hannibal places his hand over Will's closed fist, rubbing his thumb over the pinked knuckles. He leans in until their bangs come to mingle into each other, their foreheads touching, Hannibal's build pushing Will down until he comes again to lay back on the windshield.

            "Then be with me," he says as their mouths come together.

            Will is open-mouthed immediately, half in surprise, half in a wonderment so intense it could trade places with horror. His moan melts into Hannibal's mouth and Hannibal is flush against him, one hand on the back of Will's neck and the other gripping onto Will's hip. Pressing in a way that might bruise, that will surely remind him in a day that this was not one of his fantasies. Will's hands in Hannibal's ashen hair – it's just as soft as he had imagined, and smoother, and it falls in feathers through his fingers as he continues to run his hands in it, grips it, down to the roots.

            He forgets he doesn't know how to do this and he cannot find it within himself to be embarrassed as his teeth bump against Hannibal's – Hannibal seems incapable of anything but loving it and his teeth are buried into Will's lips and he is sucking Will's upper lip, his left canine, pushing their tongues together. Hannibal is starving. Will is dying of thirst. There is food here, and there is drink. Will feels tears in his eyes. He didn't know a kiss was this. He didn't know it was this. He clings to Hannibal as if he were life. As if he were–

            "–when he was unaware he was being seen."

            –bone and blood and organs–

            "It suits you."

            –and Hannibal is groaning into Will's mouth as if Will were–

            "Exacting, calculating, and utilizes these dynamics–"

            –the only one in the world who is capable of receiving him this way–

            "I wouldn't allow you to be separated from it."

            –as if Will is a vessel into which Hannibal could pour his passion–

            "I pursue you where none else has pursued you."

            –and Will won't ever overflow, he is bottomless and Hannibal is ceaseless–

            "Come live with me and be my love."

            –and Hannibal loves him, he loves Will with a heat that no sun could match, so deep is this love that no ocean's floor compares, no poem or song or epic and all that has been written on love is folly because he is breath and he is the Orionids and he is–

            "You are immaculate."

            –his.

            Something tears in two in Will's chest. It is not a clean split.

            Will is crying when he lunges forward, tackling Hannibal from the hood of the car and with such a force that both of them fall over into the grass and dirt, and Will's cries alternate from sobs to screams, and there is no one for miles to hear. He has Hannibal beneath him, straddling the man's waist, hands pinning his wrists to the ground above his head. The entire length of Will's body poised rigid. In the light from the stars, he sees Hannibal's calm eyes, his kiss-swollen mouth which is slanted into a wonder-filled smile.

            Will doesn't know what he's screaming.

            He doesn't know what he's saying. But his eyes are wide and his pupils narrowed into slits, the green surrounding them fervent and burning and he clenches his blunt fingernails into Hannibal's wrists so that they bleed. Slams them again and again into the earth.

            Will is going to kill him.

            Not because he is the Ripper.

            But because he lied. And he thinks this is what he must be screaming. He can see his own tears pattering Hannibal's upturned face.

            Hannibal is saying, "I never lied to you, Will. I never did. Will, listen–"

            Will won't listen. Will raises one fist back and seconds before it slams into Hannibal's face, Hannibal says one word that Will cannot make out and Will cannot crawl out of this deep deep hole, this darkness that descends around him; he is tired and it is home.

*

Will is lolling in and out of consciousness and he feels rocking beneath him, has felt it all along, but now it comes to a stop and when he opens his bleary eyes he sees his house illuminated by the headlights of the Bentley. He is in the passenger seat. Buckled in. His left eye is half open. His right a quarter open. There is the familiar sound of dogs barking in the house, the lights turned on.

            The passenger side door is suddenly open, and Hannibal is leaning over him to unbuckle his seatbelt.

            Hannibal.

            Will is trying to lift his hands to strangle him but they don't move at all. He is half-lifted from his seat, Hannibal's shoulder under his arm supporting him. He walks with Will to the front of the car, at the head of the driveway which is a few feet from the porch. The screen door opens and Abigail is dragging out her huge travel suitcase, ambling with it down the steps.

            "Hey, you guys took forever," she says, coming to stand before them. She is smiling until her eyes fall on Will's dazed countenance, and she says, "What happened? Too much to drink?"

            "Exactly," Hannibal says. "Will must sleep it off, that's all."

            She laughs. "What a lightweight."

            "We mustn't make fun of him. He has had quite a night." Hannibal uses his key ring to pop the trunk of the Bentley. "Put your things away and get in the car, Abigail. Say goodnight to Will."

            Abigail pats Will on the shoulder, grinning at him. "Hey, I can hold more than you, I bet. We'll have a drinking competition sometime. See you later, Will." She walks away and Will holds a hand out to her, he tries, but only manages to move his pinky finger in her direction. Her russet braid bounces as she throws the suitcase into the trunk, shuts it, and slides into the passenger seat.

            Will's eyes follow her, and Hannibal uncoils himself from Will. He stands before him, silhouetted by the headlights, the rest of his body steeped in shadow. Will cannot discern his expression.

            He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out the engagement ring. Will's eyes settle on it. He is floating in his own mind like a dead thing brought to a calm surface. What did Hannibal do to him?

            Hannibal takes Will's left hand and so reverently does he re-place the ring on Will's finger. He then takes Will's chin in hand, tilts his head up, and kisses him in a quiet, solemn way. When they part, Will can see Abigail's face behind the windshield, and she is somewhere between shock and open-mouthed smiling.

            "We will talk about this later, Will," Hannibal whispers.

            Will can only stare at Abigail. "D-Don't..." His mouth feels as if it were shot full of Novocain.

            Hannibal leaves him then and slides into the driver's side. He shuts the door and Will watches as Abigail tugs on his sleeve, her mouth moving quickly, smiling, and Hannibal smiling quietly back at her. She is waving now at Will as the Bentley backs out of the driveway. Waving fervently. Will's hand rises to waist-height, and he takes a step into the gravel. And he is crying again. But he thinks Abigail cannot see that. What she sees is Will waving goodbye.

           

 

Chapter Text

From the living room, slowly and yet suddenly, music rises in a steady volume and reaches Jack as he stands at one of the kitchen counters. On a bamboo cutting board, he slices into red onion which he fights against – a losing battle as his eyes water. A pot of salted water boils on the stove, and all the wide windows in the kitchen stand open, allowing Saturday morning light to flood into the room. Across the island counter sits another cutting board, overflowing with diced red and green peppers. Potatoes piled high.

            Phyllis wanders back in from the living room, the soft tempo of music behind her. Her cell phone in hand, a white apron tied around her pajamas. Her feet in baby blue slippers. She frowns down at the screen.

            "Will isn't answering," she says. "I wanted to see if he wants to come have breakfast with us. Or maybe dinner tonight."

            Jack wipes at his eyes with his elbow. "We're not cooking two meals in one day, are we?"

            "Listen to you. You're lazy. Do something useful and call Will."

            "Bella, let the boy alone." Jack returns to chopping the onion, faster now to finish and rinse his eyes at the sink. He thinks of how distraught Will seemed the day before in the office, and yet as he left, how he seemed open to the idea of releasing his hold on the ring. Jack knows too that he was to meet with Hannibal Lecter later that evening. He hopes the two of them came to the conclusion Jack has found himself at long ago: it is no good for him. He says to Phyllis: "He's had a rough week."

            "I know that," she says, placing the phone on the counter. She goes to the cutting board opposite Jack and scoops the mounds of peeled and cut potatoes into a bowl. Mixes in salt and sumac. "That's why I want him to come over here. He needs some relaxation time."

            The onion is finely diced and Jack shuffles back towards the sink, washing his hands and then rubbing water into his eyes. As he dries them with a paper towel, he says, "Sorry to tell you this, Bella, but this is no longer his relaxation spot. Hannibal is. He went to see Will last night. I'm sure it's taken care of. Will seems to respond to him immediately. It's like magic. I guess I just don't have whatever psychiatry prowess he has."

            Phyllis is laughing. When Jack turns around to face her, she can barely contain her smile – indeed not, she is beaming, hand placed at her mouth.

            "What is so funny?" Jack asks.

            "God, Jack. You really are clueless."

            "What does that mean?"

            "You know Will has a crush on Dr. Lecter, don't you?"

            Jack pauses. He looks at the crumpled paper towel in his hands, then back up at Phyllis. "You're crazy."

            Phyllis laughs louder, so loud it rivals the music. "Oh, Jesus." There are tears at her eyes, as if she had just been chopping an onion herself. Her cheeks flushed red. "Jack– you're a smart man, really. But sometimes I feel like you wouldn't know human emotions if they mugged you in the street. I don't know how long this has been going on but Will's in deep." She takes a breath, steadying herself near the island. Jack can only look at her in wonder. "It's adorable. Is Dr. Lecter a nice man?"

            "Well. Well, sure. I mean, yeah, but–" Jack is at a loss. "But–"

            Phyllis gathers the bowl of potatoes and brings them to the boiling water on the stove. As she walks past Jack, she says, "Good. If he breaks my baby's heart, I'll break his neck." She dumps them in.

*

Will has been vomiting all morning.

            Initially came the remnants of the previous night's dinner he had with Abigail. Then, not long after, nothing but stomach bile and thick globs of saliva that hung from his tongue and canines down into the basin of the toilet. Now, not even that anymore. Dry-retching. Heaving, feeling like his organs will come up next. At intervals he wishes they would and he would be done with the whole mess. The mess which is, and has always invariably been, Will Crawford.

            He opens his eyes to find himself still gripping at the toilet bowl, on the tiled floor with Winston curled up behind him and a few of the other dogs curled up in the bathroom doorway. Will is half sweating, half freezing. He blinks, lifts his head a bit and feels it sore – whether from a headache or taking a nap on porcelain, he knows not. The first thing he sees once his vision comes together again is the ruby gleaming on his finger and he leans over into the bowl, retching from the bottom of his being, and expending nothing but one thin strand of saliva that is yellow in color.

            His voice is hoarse when he speaks. His eyes red. "Why," he says.

            Leaning against the bathroom counter is Hobbs. Will sees his muddy shoes before him on the floor and as he looks up, gaze traveling his blood and dirt coated clothes, he sees the man looking down at him. Behind him, in the mirror, is no reflection. Hobbs says, "You were blinded by love."

            Will is nodding. His eyes fill with tears again and easily overflow, though he has no energy in him to sob. He simply lets his eyes run, like faucets, like waterfalls, those which take rivers out to the sea, the dark sea.

            Hobbs watches him for a long moment. Winston, beside him, raises his head to stare at Will – he tilts to the side ever so slightly. Lets out a low whine.

            "Oh," Will says, reaching a hand over to pat the dog's head. Ruffles gently his ears. "Hey, it's okay. It's okay."

            Winston continues to watch him. Whines again.

            Will says, "Don't cry. Hey, don't cry." He grits his teeth then, sobs once as suddenly as a shiver, and his nose begins to run. He leans over further, takes both hands to Winston's fur, rubbing into it, as if to calm him. "Don't cry. Everything's okay." On his knees, leaning over the dog. Eyes and nose dripping steadily. "Don't worry. Don't worry." He places his head, his face, into Winston's stomach and shudders, sobs, clutches, and even as the other dogs move away for fear, Winston keeps still.

*

In the evening, Jack sits in the living room after eating five slices of pizza. He and Phyllis shared one – half vegetarian for her, and half meat-lovers for Jack. In the end, Phyllis was less hungry than she thought and Jack was so hungry he said he'd even eat some of her not-really-pizza pizza.

            He flips through channels idly and somewhere between an Italian cooking program and a hour-long special on the Orionids, Phyllis comes down into the living room with a book in hand. She sits a cushion over from Jack, seemingly uninterested in the television, and begins to read. Jack stares at the screen, as a man looks up at the night sky and the rain of meteors streaking blue and pink against the interminable blackness.

            During a commercial, Jack eyes over at Phyllis. Her feet are propped up on the coffee table. Her reading glasses poised at the tip of her nose. Though she holds no physical likeness to Will, Jack is sure that she is in him or he is in her. He doesn't know how it works with adoption, but one thing is certain: they have rubbed off on each other. Jack has walked by Will's room during his adolescence and seen Will's feet propped up on the wall, lying on his back in bed, reading in just such a way. The same concentration; the small nibble at the center of the lip with one front tooth.

            On the television, the program returns and the man says, "–what is often referred to as a shooting star."

            Jack says, "Okay, so, how do you know it's a crush?"

            Phyllis snorts immediately, closing the book in her lap to look the opposite direction while she laughs.

            "I'm curious," Jack persists.

            "Jack–" She turns back, one eyebrow raised. "Just trust me."

            "I do trust you. But I don't know, I never thought much of it. I mean, I've seen Will... act a certain way around Hannibal, but I–" He pauses to think. He sighs. "It's just something he told me."

            "Who? Will?"

            "No; Hannibal." Jack recalls their conversation a while ago, in the kitchen of his home. Jack would not dare tell Phyllis all that Hannibal disclosed – this much might be too horrific for even her, as it certainly was for Jack – but he feels he could outline. "Just that Will's kind of been kept in an... adolescent state. Prepubescent. And that now that he's not–" he hesitates and skirts around the word leashed, "living with us anymore, he can be more free to–" he hesitates again, searches, "explore."

            Phyllis furrows her brow. "What, you mean have sex?"

            "Jesus."

            "Oh, Jack! Of course he's going to want to." She grabs her book again, flipping through the pages. "Lord knows you kept such an eye on him here, he couldn't blow his nose without you catching wind of it. Now that he's living out in the middle of nowhere, his own house, and this nice new doctor comes strolling around him, paying him special attention, of course he's got it on the brain." She pauses, looks up. "I hope it didn't take a learned doctor to tell you that."

            "Well."

            Phyllis shakes her head. "Like I said. You're a smart man, but I have to wonder sometimes."

            She is quiet then, having finally found the page she abandoned. Jack looks back at the television, and now they are speaking on Neptune and the storms that take place on its surface. Jack thinks of the posters on Will's walls upstairs. He thinks of the eleven-year-old he used to be, the boy who came running downstairs in white socks and an oversized Fleetwood Mac shirt, asking for a staple gun to adhere them to the wall. He thinks of Phyllis telling him to use tape.

            Jack says, "You don't... think... Hannibal and Will have–"

            "I am never going to finish this chapter," Phyllis says, not bothering to look up.

            "I'm just asking."

            "What business is it of yours?"

            "Don't start, Bella. You're just as nosy as I am and you know it. I had to use the jaws of life to pry that phone from your hand when I told you what Chilton did."

            Phyllis' eyes round. "Of course! I'd have been fine with it though, if you hadn't said Will ran out of the building after slapping the man. God, Jack, Chilton is our age. He really has no business anywhere near Will."

            "Hannibal isn't exactly Will's age."

            "Still." She seems lost in thought for a moment, and adds, raising a finger into the air, "And you know that man's always been weird about Will. Even when he was young. It was a mistake to let him in the house. Like if you feed a cat once. Then it'll stick around forever, hoping for scraps."

            Jack considers she may be right. He has felt unease over Frederick ever since leaving the hospital the last time. Will's outrage over Abel Gideon, Frederick's subsequent play for Will. None of it sits right. He doesn't tell Phyllis this. Says only, "Hannibal can be a little weird."

            Phyllis smiles. "Okay, but is it Will's kind of weird?"

*

Somewhere throughout the course of the day, Will managed to pick himself up off the bathroom floor. He spent the afternoon sitting in one of the fur-covered armchairs in the main room. His stomach rumbled and he ignored it. He was out of hot pockets and there were only ceramic and glass tupperware containers left in the fridge. Will thinks he would die before eating from them.

            After the sun goes down, when he realizes he hasn't moved in hours, he stands from the armchair. Every joint in his body creaks. He finds jeans along the floor, pulls them up his cold legs, and a shirt, and a jacket. He bundles up and spends the next half hour going from the house to a hundred or so feet out back, carrying a shovel to make a modest pit of dirt amongst the dry grasses. Gathers rocks from the surrounding area. Wood from his chopped stores in the shed behind the house. And then takes a whicker basket from inside, fills it with as many books of poetry as he can, hauls them out to the pit where the wood has caught fire.

            The dogs mull in the grasses, some turning to pay slight attention to the flames.

            Hobbs stands on the other side of the fire; it illuminates his milk-blue eyes, his mouth crusted in dirt and bile. His hands shoved down into his pocket depths. He watches as Will takes the first book from the basket. Will thinks he still has two more baskets worth in the house. It will be a long night.

            He needs a long night.

            It is a Sidney book, the major works, including the full set of Astrophil and Stella sonnets. Will flips it open idly, comes upon a page that he can barely read but for the firelight. The line flashes at him like warning:

            I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe.

            Will tears the page in a sudden fit, and he tosses it into the fire and tears again and again, tens of pages, until he must come upon a hundred, and some fly into the wind, escaping the flames, but still Will tears, until the spine of the book is broken and Will tosses that in too.

            He watches it curl and blacken and then grabs another book.

            Over the wind that moves about them, Hobbs says, "Will she be okay?"

            This is the Whitman book Will was leant. He does not want to look inside for he knows what – Whoever you are! claim your own at an hazard! – waits in the pages. So he opens it, eyes shut, and begins tearing into the thick pages with his teeth. Between bites, jagged, full of paper, he says, "She's fine. He won't hurt her. She's his bargaining chip."

            "What is he bargaining for?"

            Will tires of the tearing and tosses the book into the fire. Though he tries to look away, he swears he saw the line: None has understood you, but I understand you–

            Will stares into the fire. "Me," he says.

            "He has not come by."

            "Nor will he."

            This is what Will does. He thinks like a killer.

            Hobbs says, "She is the meat he holds above your nose. He is waiting for you to sit."

            The orange and red flare and whip into each other as the breeze kicks up. Far off, there is some sound like a coyote howling. Or it could be Winston. Few stars are out.

            When Will says nothing in response, Hobbs presses: "I don't want my daughter to be used as meat."

            "I can't do anything about it."

            "You could kill him."

            Will clenches his fists at his sides. He looks off to the left, and takes a quick head-count. He sees six dogs. Winston is gone, off somewhere towards the tree line which stands serrated against a dark blue sky. Will bends at the waist, grabs another book. He doesn't care to make out the author, but by the heft of it he thinks it must be Auden.

            After swallowing over some foreign lump in his throat, Will says, "Something is the matter. I can't kill for some reason. Even when I want to. I tried to kill Tobias Budge, and I blacked out. I tried to kill Abel Gideon, and I blacked out. I tried to kill–" Will shudders then, and fresh tears spring to his eyes when he had thought he was all but dry. He grits his teeth, then says, "It doesn't work. Something keeps me from it."

            "Your conscience?"

            "I don't think I was given one of those."

            "But you were given something."

            Will looks up, mid-tear of a page. He stares at Hobbs and something rumbles in the back of Will's mind, something that has the mass of a leviathan, but sleeps, and lays buried under twenty thousand leagues. It seems to heave in its watery prison, and resettle. Will squints his eyes. He drops the book down into the fire.

*

Sunday at midday finds Jack staring at his cell phone. Late last night, he did call Will, because Phyllis would not cease bringing it up. To prove to her Will was fine, he called– and received only the answering message. This is nothing if not common. Will sometimes is standoffish, rude, petulant, and just plain does not want to talk to Jack. This is something he's learned to accept. Though he does count it odd that Will ignored even Phyllis' calls.

            It is not often but at times he does find himself wondering about Will's choice of housing. It is indeed so far away from anything – what if there were to be an accident? The only ones present at that house besides Will himself are the dogs. When Will first informed Jack and Phyllis of his intentions to move to Wolf Trap, neither of them would hear of it. Jack recalls their joint conversation at the breakfast nook, all bathed in the light of the morning, and Will's fast-blinking eyes behind his glasses staring at them from the other side of the table. His fingers tapping against the knotty pine.

            Phyllis asked for him to choose a place closer to home.

            Jack said at least try for an apartment near Quantico.

            Will seemed subdued at first. His mouth downturned, eyebrows tented. After a long silence, he looked from one pair of brown eyes to the other and said he was not a child anymore and refused to be treated as such. The tone with which he spoke these words shocked both Jack and Phyllis and they found themselves loathe to it but compelled by the simple fact that Will was right – he was not a child.

            He is not a child.

            In Jack's hand the phone begins to vibrate, startling him out of reverie, and his first thought is it must be Will. He flips it open without a glance at the call screen and is greeted by the voice of Hannibal Lecter.

            "Oh, Hannibal," Jack says, feeling himself smile. The thought comes upon him that it is not Will but it might as well be. He finds this comforting. "How are you?"

            Hannibal assures Jack that he is well, thank you, and that he is calling to inquire as to Jack's plans for the day – which is to say, if he has some free time to talk in person about a matter that has been weighing on him of late. Something he feels should be discussed with Will expressly absent.

            Jack agrees to all. When he hangs up, he scours the house to find Phyllis – she is standing in the living room with the remote in one hand, pressing it harshly at the cable box. The television is static-lined and grey.

            "Oh, Jack," she says upon his entry, "can you fix thi–"

            "Hannibal is coming over, Phyllis," he says, nearly stumbling over his words in a tizzy.

            She looks at him. "Okay," she says. "And?"

            Jack motions at her form. "Don't you think you should get out of pajamas?"

            She looks down. Pink pajama pants and a blue-and-white striped robe over. "Well. Maybe."

            Jack sighs.

            It doesn't take long– within the confines of an hour, Phyllis is dressed and idly reading at the breakfast nook and Jack is dizzy with worry about what it is that has Hannibal driving over to his house, so urgent is this business that it could not wait for Monday at Jack's office. He hopes it is not to do with Will. There are enough Will-shaded problems ricocheting about at the moment. It would simply be too much to add another. Too, since Phyllis is present, he hopes it is nothing to do with the commands or any other sordid training business. Jack can only wait.

            When Hannibal arrives, he stands on their porch in a deep brown suit with a striking light blue shirt beneath. His hair falls limply around his ears, at his forehead, and when Jack opens the door for him, his smile is bright in the afternoon, framed by rustic leaves falling behind him across the driveway.

            He compliments their home for Phyllis' sake as she is unaware of his having seen it prior. She greets him enthusiastically, shaking his hand, and blinking at Jack as Hannibal withholds her hand, bringing it to his lips to kiss softly.

            At length, she says, "Well, I'll be upstairs so you two can talk."

            "Please," says Hannibal, "if you would, Bella, join us. I would like to get your input on the matter as well."

            "Oh?" She looks at Jack and Jack can only shrug. The three of them sit in the living room, draped in a cool sunlight washing in through wide windows. Jack and Phyllis sit on the couch, and Hannibal sits in a cyan-colored armchair diagonal from them.

            Jack still feels on edge, as if he is walking along the precipice, until Hannibal says, "This is about our mutual friend, Frederick."

            Jack exhales, relieved.

            Phyllis says, "Oh, Dr. Grabby."

            Jack groans.

            "That's right," Hannibal says, smiling a little. He crosses one leg over the other. "It has troubled me what he put Will through. It would be deceitful for me to not express how protective I feel of Will. And his subsequent crying over what happened in Frederick's office caused me no small amount of concern."

            Phyllis' lips press tight together and Jack has resigned himself to a belated lecture about leaving the crying part out.

            Hannibal continues: "And I began to think about what Will disclosed to me on the subject of Abel Gideon. That he himself was convinced he was the Ripper. Has he made mention of such to you, Jack?"

            "Y-Yes," Jack says, recalling. Will in his office, empty-eyed and wearing that ring. Will saying Abel was not the Ripper, could not be, for love. Jack doesn't repeat this for Phyllis' presence and Hannibal himself does not as well, possibly for the same reason. "Yes, he said Abel was convinced. Also, I remember what you said in Chilton's office, about him possibly pretending." Jack pauses, eyebrows knitting as he looks at Hannibal's calm face. "Do you mean that possibly Dr. Chilton had a hand in–"

            "It would be narrow to not at least consider the possibility," Hannibal says.

            "But why would Chil–"

            At this, Hannibal barely raises one eyebrow and it hits Jack like an arrow to the chest. Will's obsession with the Ripper and his engagement. Frederick in coils over Will's fascination. Abel Gideon being the Ripper would mean the Ripper was behind bars and thus of no more importance to Will. Jack looks at Hannibal in realization, then at Phyllis who has both eyebrows raised.

            Hannibal notices this as well and says to her, "We are considering whether Frederick Chilton might have used some unorthodox methods in administering therapy to a man claiming to be the Ripper. Our reasoning for this is the notion that Frederick has been making more riotous advances towards Will, although it seems he has always been amorous to some degree. Of late, he's shown flares of jealousy that I am Will's psychiatrist and he is not. This perhaps could be part of some larger plan to attract Will's attentions."

            Phyllis mouths the word oh and settles back against the couch cushions. Arms crossed, she looks at Jack and says, "Told you."

            "Told me?" Jack cries. "You didn't say anything about this!"

            "Not this specifically," she says, rolling her eyes, "but that Chilton is a freak. I'm sure he's done something to try and realize his crazy daydreams about the boy. This really is your fault, Jack."

            "Here we go."

            "It's true though." Phyllis eyes Hannibal and says, "Do you know that Jack promised Frederick he could do cases with him once he was grown?"

            "It wasn't a promise, exactly–"

            "What a thing to say," she continues, "to a man who looked at our adolescent son with chocolate stains around his mouth as if he were ripped from the pages of a Maxim magazine."

            Jack's left eye twitches and he tears his gaze from her to place it back on Hannibal; he who looks borderline amused at this. Jack says, "I'm sorry, Hannibal, I know you're not a marriage counselor. Though sometimes I think we could use one."

            "I can give you some referrals," Hannibal says, smiling at both he and Phyllis. He rises from the armchair. "I'm afraid I must be on my way for now. I simply stopped by to tell you my thoughts on the matter. What you do with this is completely up to you. They are simply thoughts."

            Jack rises immediately, to shake Hannibal's hand. "Oh, no, Hannibal, this has been very helpful to me."

            Hannibal smiles. He graciously takes Phyllis' hand as she too comes to stand and once again kisses the smooth skin there. Phyllis leaves to go upstairs and over Hannibal's shoulder, to Jack alone, she is mouthing so handsome! so handsome!

            Titanic effort keeps Jack from rolling his eyes.

            At the door, as Hannibal is turning to leave, Jack says, "Hannibal, by the way. Have you heard from Will this weekend? I haven't been able to get him on the phone, and his mother worries."

            Hannibal's hair is blowing in the wind. "Ah, yes. He was feeling under the weather Friday night. I gave him something to help him sleep, so he may keep to himself for the weekend. It won't be long before he's well."

            Jack sighs heavily. "Thank you. Now I can get her off my back."

            Hannibal smiles, waving as he descends the steps. "Anytime."

*

It is night, but just barely. The stars have come out in the wake of the descended sun, and the barest lines of blush-pink linger at the tree line, the hem of nightfall. Will can see it from his bed, out of the open windows. The dogs look mildly confused but eventually settle – Will has been up all day, outside, inside, alternating in cleaning and tearing things down. He has barely stood still and all at once his body gave out in the yard, exhausted, and from there he managed to pick himself up, discard his clothes through the kitchen and living room, and make his way into the bed.

            He had been dreading this. The silence, stillness.

            Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom'd routine–

            Will has burned all of his poetry. Yet he cannot burn his mind. Hollow walkways fill with it, are overflowing with words of love and longing, and regret and sorrow.

            If these conceal you from others or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me.

            In the bed, Will thinks he cannot take this. He thinks he will simply shrivel into himself and be lost to the minuteness of his own inner infinity. This is too much. He attempts to rebuke the instinct to whimper in his sorrow, for he does not wish to disturb the dogs. They have been through the roughness of his moods, seen him act in ways he should not. Their pack leader must not rattle so easily; if he is lost, what becomes of the pack?

            Chaos. Disorder. The vast explosions deep within the bounty of the universe.

            Will cannot stop his mind from running to it, running to him, and he cannot think the name, cannot think the names. It is forfeit and rot. Nights spent in this bed stroking himself fevered and flushed to those wicked fantasies, those which were encouraged by the very man – men? no, it is singular – incorporated into them. Shall he call himself an idiot? No, that is too high of praise. Or a fool? No, in that is too much dignity.

            Will turns on his side and comes face-to-face with Hobbs who lies with him beneath the covers. His scent of death and decay permeates the sheets, the pillowcases.

            In a whisper, Will says, "Are you here to comfort me?"

            "I am no comfort," he says. At length, he adds, "I'm sorry."

            "You died for me once. I can ask no more of you."

            One of his eyes is rolling upwards. The other sagging down, the eyeball bulging in its socket. He murmurs, "Everyone wants to be loved."

            Will nods. "I am part of everyone."

            "What else do you want?" he asks.

            "Forgiveness."

            "Then you are forgiven."

            Will nods, swallows. He turns his back to Hobbs and places his hand beneath the fabric of his boxers.

           

           

 

Chapter Text

It is mid-morning on Monday when Jack arrives at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The sky is clear blue with wisps of white, moving like slow waves above the lone spire of the castle. He had made an appointment late the night before with Frederick Chilton, asking for a follow-up interview with Abel Gideon. Frederick had been generous with the short notice and implored him to come whenever convenient. Abel has nowhere to go and no one to see, he'd said.

            As Jack walks into the cool of the building, he comes to stand before Frederick who is in a brown suit and yellow tie. Jack eyes him with a friendly countenance. But his eyes are open. He scrutinizes Frederick's manner, the quickness of his glance, every slanted step. He has spent the last night in something near sleeplessness, thinking about what Hannibal said. He has not been able to get it out of his head and he knows he must be careful– he does not want to damn Frederick before exploring this possibility further. But as he thinks back on all Frederick has done and said, he finds the man damning himself with every half-smirk and flash of dark green eyes.

            It is neither fair nor right.

            Frederick walks ahead of Jack just a step, as they descend the stairs into the room full of cages once again.

            I have known Will for years.

            Able Gideon stands in the same cage as prior. In his dark blue jumpsuit, shoulders slightly rounded forward, he looks modest and small. A surgeon in his life pre-dungeon. Yes, Will had said that.

            I have wanted Will for years.

            He wants me to live with him and be his love.

            Do you know that Jack promised Frederick he could do cases with Will when he was grown?

            This swims in Jack like the ill-fated shark it is. He feels queasy. But he doesn't allow himself to succumb to it. He stands squarely in front of the cage harboring Abel Gideon, at the line which is set. Frederick stands beside him. He has yet to ask after Will but he exudes the question from his every open pore.

            Abel looks at Jack steadily. "To what do I owe this pleasure, Mr. Crawford?"

            Jack shrugs his shoulders. At his jacket pocket, his visitor tag jingles. An orderly stands over in the corner, leaned against the wall. Jack says, "I wanted to see how you found your interview with Will." Jack pauses. "Your fiancé."

            At his side, Frederick noticeably stiffens.

            Abel looks off for a moment. When he turns back to Jack, his soft smile tilted to a smirk. "Your son."

            "That's right. What did you think of him?"

            He laughs. Shakes his head. "That young man is ready, isn't he? How old is he anyway? Knocking thirty, if he isn't already there, I'd guess. He's an overripe fruit, Mr. Crawford. Someone ought to pluck him before he bursts with his own juices."

            Jack knows this is some tactic to unnerve him. It doesn't make it any easier to hear. He says only, "Aren't you the one wanting to do that?"

            "Your son is gorgeous, Mr. Crawford. Truly. But I'm afraid I'm not his intended."

            Jack's brown eyes narrow and at his side, Frederick readjusts his shoulders, clears his throat. He is staring Abel down. Jack eyes Frederick quickly, then returns his gaze to the cage. "You said you were the Ripper."

            "I did say that."

            "You killed that nurse in a display of The W–"

            "The Wound Man, The Wound Man," Abel says, waving his fingers towards the ceiling in mockery. He sighs heavily. "Yes, yes. I did kill that nurse. What's one more murder for someone in here for life? What's more, what's the stigma of the Ripper to someone already behind bars?" Abel looks now at Frederick. "It's actually a pretty sweet gig if you can swing it. Comes complete with a sweet virgin bride. Oh, how we all do long for one as pretty as Will Crawford. Those luscious curls, and, Heavens, that mouth. Imagine all the ways you could–"

            Frederick nearly shouts, "That is enough." He motions for the orderly in the corner. "Please, take him away. Jack, I'm sorry you're being harassed by lewd comments. No father should have to hear–"

            "No father, indeed, Frederick," Abel says, his voice jovial and hoarse as a crow's caw. "No father, indeed."

            The orderly comes to the cage, twirling in one hand a thick set of keys. Jack says nothing as he collects Abel, who comes out of the metal box in chains around his ankles, chains around his wrists. He is small in stature. And he says nothing more, only watches the two of them with that glacier stare as he is led away into the hall beyond the room.

            Jack stands with his hands stuffed into his coat pockets, unmoving, as Frederick paces in a small circle before him.

            "Monster," Frederick mutters. "This is what I'm stuck with all day."

            "He seems like a handful."

            "They all are," he sighs, long-suffering, as if he is to be pitied. From his suit pocket, he pulls out a small packet of aspirin. He rips it open and downs the two capsules in a practiced gulp as if he has done this a hundred times.

            A small silence passes between them and Jack finally shrugs and says, "Doctor, I feel I should address the elephant in the room. Why is Abel Gideon suddenly saying he isn't the Ripper?"

            "How should I know?"

            "You're his psychiatrist," Jack says.

            "Don't remind me." Frederick looks at the now-empty cage. "He's a literal insane person, Jack. There's no accounting for consistency. Tomorrow he could tell us he's an extra-terrestrial." Frederick snorts softly, places his hands in his pockets then. "Don't you think Will should be here to discern him, anyway?"

            "I'm pretty sure Will doesn't want to be around you right now, Dr. Chilton."

            Frederick, at this, has at least the decency to redden. "He can't stay mad at me forever. It was a moment– a moment where I misread him. You do know I would not force myself onto Will."

            Jack nods slowly.

            "Good. Should anything occur between Will and I, I would like it to be he who–"

            "Dr. Chilton," Jack says, unable to keep the bite from his tone, "you know Hannibal is Will's psychiatrist."

            "Yes, yes." Frederick's brow furrows. "Will isn't bound to him. He can change his mind."

            "Why would he do that?"

            Frederick motions to the hallway behind him, where the orderly and the prisoner had gone. "I have the Ripper, Jack. We can dissent until kingdom come, but meanwhile, the northeastern seaboard can sleep safe in their beds, free from the fear of evisceration." He bares his teeth ever so slightly, and his eyes darken, as if he is looking not at Jack but through him, into the back of his skull. "Will is going to see that in time. He's reeling from the loss of his quarry, this I know, and I'm sorry for it. But it is done. He will soon see that his chosen psychiatrist led him in a circle while I now have what it is he was wanting. The ring, the engagement, it is all farce and he will know it once the cloud of the hunt clears from his eyes."

            Jack looks at Frederick. As he clears his throat, swallows, looks away. Jack watches. And he was listening. He listened and found himself in awe. He feels now as Phyllis must have when he refers to Will's cases as hunts. The otherworldliness of the terminology, and something else inside, something like surety that Will is no normal man, but a hound, or worse yet, one who stands engaged.

            Frederick makes some excuse about having another appointment. Jack knows it for what it is but allows him his cloaks and his office. When Jack is exiting the building, he feels nauseous again and what saves him from succumbing to it now is his cell phone ringing, the call screen flashing the name: Beverly Katz.

*

Will thinks perhaps he should eat. He hasn't since Friday, and everything he'd had that day he vomited into his toilet the following night and into morning. Two days without food has left him weak, too weak to drive to the store in town. And Abigail finished off the last of his hot pockets. He has only what is in a few ceramic dishes in the fridge, sprigged with cards of elegant cursive for re-heating instructions. Will tells himself he will eat only enough to re-gain his strength and then he will go out back and break all the dishes.

            He goes into the kitchen and takes out one ceramic bowl – off-white in color and molded into the rim are little ocean waves.

            Briefly, he does entertain the notion of breaking all of them in the kitchen and going back to lay down. But hunger overrides him. He does not deign to heat the food, at least. Simply eats it cold, and with his hands, standing at the counter. Each time he places a piece of meat into his mouth, a fingertip grazes his lip. And when it is the bottom, he remembers a sucking there. And when it is the top, he remembers swift, sweet bite.

            He remembers. And he would like to tear his own skin off. Hang it on the clothesline out back until the chilled autumn air dries love from it, and too, any traces of regret.

            As he eats, he looks along the counter and finds his cell phone sitting lonely and forgotten. He's sure he hasn't touched it since Friday night and thinking now of all that could have happened – murders, autopsies, a simple mother's worry – he cringes and grabs for it. Upon flipping it open, he is not surprised but still agitated. Thirty-eight missed calls. They are varied but overwhelmingly the majority are from Phyllis and Frederick. Will scrolls down the list. A few from Jack but none in a row, which means there hasn't been a crime scene. A couple from Alana. Will sees none from–

            Then he checks his text messages.

            There is one – no writing, but a picture, sent to him. It is a colt blue Lexus, gleaming beneath a bright sky, and hanging out of the driver's seat is Abigail, smiling huge, her brown locks freed from their braid. She holds up a peace-sign to the camera. Will checks the date – it was sent around noon the day before.

            Will raises his phone in a fit of fury and just before he smashes it against the corner of the counter, it begins to vibrate. He eyes it from his fist, sighs, and flips it open. He doesn't care who it is.

            "What do you want?"

            "Hey, is that any way to speak to a girl?" Beverly's voice is buffeted a bit by wind. She says, "I just called Jack, he's coming over to a crime scene. Your presence is requested too, Your Highness."

            Will snorts. He asks where it is.

            On his way over, he still feels light-headed. He isn't sure how much help he can be – he's obviously dehydrated, still hungry to a degree, and has done nothing but vomit, cry and burn things all weekend. He is in no state to look at some killer's leavings. Yet some part of him thinks normalcy, even if it is only considered normalcy in his life, may calm him somehow. It is when he has almost pulled up to the motel Beverly gave him directions to that he realizes he did not ask her to refrain from notifying his partner. When he arrives and sees the familiar Bentley parked next to Jack's car, Will almost turns around and goes back home.

            He parks, on the other side of the parking lot, and walks over to the thicket of agents who guard the yellow tape. On the other side are reports, and a mop of red curly hair bounds over to Will immediately before he can reach the inside.

            Freddie Lounds says, "Will, can I–"

            "Not in the mood," he says, shoving past her and ducking under the tape. When he is beyond her reach, he notices she is not overly bothered – settles instead for flashing pictures of him. In the midst of the buzzing agents, nearing the concrete walkway which joins the line of motel rooms, Will finds Jack in his brown coat and hat. He stands by an open motel door.

            "Oh, Will, there you are," he says. He raises his eyebrows. "Feeling better? You look..."

            "Terrible, I know," Will grunts. Then: "What do you mean – feeling better?"

            "Hannibal told me you were under the weather this weekend."

            Will hadn't been aware until just now but he is sweating profusely. And he can feel it pooling beneath his arms, and at the back of his neck. The blowing winds do nothing to abate it. He tries to take a deep breath. He doesn't know what to do – and he thinks it now, he must – he knows Hannibal is here, but when they see each other, what if Will cannot help but to tackle him again? Jack would not understand and no one would believe him.

            The lone bit of proof Will has to go on is thus: He kissed me like he had killed for me. Like it would continue to. Like he saw in me his equal, in mind and body. He kissed me like he knew I was his, that I had been bred and groomed and taught all my life we two would come together. We both knew it to be true.

            If Jack couldn't understand about Abel Gideon, he would not understand about Hannibal Lecter. Will needs to get concrete evidence, as he had for Hobbs, as there was ample amounts of for Budge. Will must keep himself in check.

            "I think I'm still a bit," Will searches for the word and settles on, "plagued."

            Jack twists his mouth. "Plagued. Right. Well, go on in and we'll try to get this over quickly. It's... well, just prep your stomach."

            "My stomach's fine," Will mumbles, walking past Jack and into the motel room. When he enters, the sour smell of blood floods him, and to the head of the room, there is a bed, and two people on their knees, naked, flayed at their backs; the skin flaps hooked and lined to the ceiling, rising off them like wings. This is all background.

            The foreground is this: Hannibal stands at the foot of the bed between them. He turns as Will enters, and the soft light from outside hits the angles of his face. His ashen hair nearing gold. His burgundy suit pressed and clinging to his form. Will feels something inside him lurch and he grits his teeth, digs his heels into the carpet to keep himself off of Hannibal.

            He swallows. Cannot say a word. His lips tingle, tremble, when he looks at Hannibal's mouth. And he remembers. His fists clench, his very fingernails buzzing for where they once dug into the man's wrists. And he remembers. He jerks once, violently, upper lip rising back from his teeth. Then he swallows again, over a huge lump of saliva that has almost hardened in his mouth.

            Hannibal takes one measured step towards Will, sees Will standing overly still, and takes another.

            "Don't," Will says.

            "You never replied to the picture I sent you," Hannibal says, voice soft. Agents buzz outside; Jack cannot be far away. The door is wide open. Hannibal's eyes on Will look like he takes none of that into account. He is speaking as if they are alone in a church. Where only God can hear. "Abigail wondered what you thought of her in her belated birthday present."

            Will narrows his eyes.

            "I said it was from both of us," Hannibal offers.

            "I have a job to do," Will says, motioning past Hannibal to the bodies. "Just let me work."

            "May I work with you, Will?"

            There is a sliver of hesitation in his words. Will thinks it horrifying. For he believes what he is seeing is Hannibal in a demure state; he neither presses nor takes any closer step to Will. Yes, it is clear now – his stance, the slight move of his thumb against the side of his pointer finger, the unclouded sheen of his hazel eyes. He watches Will as one would watch a firestorm. Entranced by the beauty of destruction. Wary of being burned.

            As if he is the one who has been hurt. As if he is the one who has spent the weekend in coils and turmoil. Yet he knows nothing of torment. Will cannot stand it. He feels himself jerk again, shaking suddenly as a wolf who is tearing meat from a fresh carcass. He shouts, "Beverly!"

            In a second, at the threshold of the door, Beverly appears, eyebrows raises into her bangs. "What? I'm not a governess, don't shout for me!"

            Will whips around, eyes like green fire in the light. "I need a plastic sheet for the bed. I need to lay on it."

            His will is done in minutes, though Beverly grumbles throughout it. Once again, she leaves the room, and in her wake, the hotel bed is covered neatly with plastic. Will walks to the side of the bed, around one of the bodies which is male. Hannibal stands at the foot, quietly, his eyes never leaving Will's form. Will tries to ignore him. His body is responding to Hannibal's presence: twitching, tightening, aching for Will to attack him, but Will resists with all he possesses. He lays on the bed and takes his mind elsewhere. Blurs all around him until it is static edges lining a clear picture. The bed he lays in and the two bodies before him.

            Knelt in prayer.

            Will closes his eyes.

            He tries to sleep. Though it is fitful, fruitless, as something buzzes in the back of his head – what is it? Something troublesome. He finds himself slightly afraid, or better yet, worried. He is alone, alone.

            Something is soon to descend on him and he is worried for himself. So, yes, he must acquire defenders. Defenders not for his body, that which had always been forfeit, built up from sand, but for something infinite. His soul? Yes, he claims it so. So, then.

            Who will bear witness to my soul?

            Angels. But they cannot be any angels.

            For I am he who has sinned greatly, and thus I will break open demons. Crack their shells into wings and open them to grace, and in this I too will be opened. May I be forgiven.

            Will's lips twitch.

            Forgiveness.

            Amen.

            Will gasps slightly, opening his eyes as if he comes from the depths to the surface. Looking up, he finds Hannibal standing at the bedside, staring down into Will's face, his now open eyes. Will's immediate reaction to Hannibal's closeness is to lunge, but he grips the plastic sheet beneath him to help himself stop. He feels his pupils narrow, and his sweating returns though perhaps it had never really ceased as he is wet all over. Wet all over. His curls clinging to his forehead, and a bead of sweat rolls from the tip of one to slide down the shell of his ear. Every little shiver his body takes is magnified and Will bares his teeth.

            Hannibal only continues to look at him. Eyes dark. Hair falling against his forehead. And this: his lips part so gently, such a small amount, but through them are the points of his teeth.

            Will stares there as if it is the well of eternity. Sparks go off in him, and his molars ache. Slowly, his legs part ways from each other. He feels himself grimace, teeth bared, and he feels himself too become achingly rigid, straining against his jeans. He wants to tell Hannibal to get the fuck away from him before–

            And yet.

            Hannibal's gaze travels the length of him. He knows. Will is certain he can tell. Their eyes come to meet again and Will is red, red, he hates himself, and yet he cannot say it for he is caught, tangled and bound in the web of Hannibal's spider eyes.

            "Well? You got anything?"

            Will almost yelps, startled, and he looks across the room where Jack stands at the door, where too Beverly, Zeller and Price crowd behind him, looking anxious. Will has no idea how long he's been in this bed nor how long Hannibal and he have been looking at each other. He swallows; sits up in bed. He cannot stand or what is already clear to he and Hannibal will be abundantly clear to the rest of them. He makes an attempt to look casual but Hannibal's nearness is affecting him.

            Almost as if he understands this, Hannibal takes a wide step back.

            "Will?" Jack asks. "You okay?"

            "Fine. I'm fine." He is covered in sweat. His blood pounding inside him. "It's, uh– It's prayer. The killer made these people angels to watch over him. Something's happening, he thinks he's going to die. So he's making angels to watch over his sleep and these guys– they aren't normal, there's something off about them. If you can try to find out who they are, it might help."

            "Off," Price says. "Like, what exactly?"

            "Criminals," Will says. His fingertips twitch.

            Beverly looks at Jack. "Seems he threw up on the nightstand; I should take some samples."

            Jack nods as if to authorize this and Beverly approaches the bed. She eyes Will. "You going to get up?"

            "N-No–" Will twitches and his jaws snap in Hannibal's general direction. One of his pupils is narrowed, the other full and round.

            Beverly's eyes round. "What is up with you, Will? Are you okay?"

            "Are you still sick?" Jack asks.

            "Just get the stuff," Will says, half-whining, and he launches himself from the bed, close to running out of the room. He pushes past Zeller and Price and they nearly spin on their heels with his haste. He is sure he's caused some kind of disruption but it is beyond him to help it. He feels close to tears. When he reaches the parking lot, he finds a somewhat secluded area behind one of the forensics vans, and he leans against it, slightly hunched over. He has never felt this alone before.

            In a moment, the corner of the van is rounded by Hannibal. He keeps a distance of a few feet but still Will snaps at him, then turns slightly away, bringing his hands up to opposite arms.

            "Go away," he mutters.

            "Will, you must allow me to help you."

            Will blushes scarlet and snarls, "I don't need your help!"

            "We both know that isn't true." He pauses, lifts and drops his shoulders. "It would be damaging to Abigail for you to abandon her at this point, Will. She is quite fond of you."

            "I–" Will is unsure how he accomplished this, but he now feels an overwhelming amount of guilt. Though he knows it isn't true. "I haven't abandoned her." His voice drops to a venomous whisper: "You're keeping her hostage."

            "I am doing no such thing. You can see her at any time. You don't have to call or alert me before coming over. She is your daughter as much as she is mine. And my home is yours to enter and leave as you please." Hannibal seems to allow himself to look fully now at the ring, that which gleams on Will's finger. He says nothing of it, only then turns back to look Will in the eyes. "You know how I feel."

            "You've poisoned me," Will says, weakly, voice breaking. He feels like a stranger in his own body. "And I don't care how you feel." And with that, he strides around Hannibal, managing in some way not to clamp his teeth into the man's shoulder. The vision of such comes upon him and he shudders, and hardens to a degree he thought once impossible. He escapes the tape, the reporters, goes to his Mercedes and drives away. As he goes, he feels the terrible sensation of being a small, helpless organism piloting a man's body which is then driving a car. He barely has control. And he must live this way.

*

Jack watches from the concrete walkway as the Mercedes leaves the parking lot, nearly running over a reporter on its way. It swerves into the street and merges with traffic in an ungainly fashion. Jack watches wide-eyed, mouth slightly agape.

            Hannibal Lecter approaches him from the parking lot, and he comes to stand by Jack's side just beyond the open motel door.

            "What is wrong with him?" Jack asks, looking at Hannibal and yet not expecting a real answer.

            "Will is still sick," he says.

            "Does he need a hospital?"

            Hannibal shakes his head slowly. He does look slightly bothered and this does not surprise Jack. Hannibal is possibly the closest person to Will at the moment – whatever illness or bouts of weirdness Will displays probably effects the doctor nearly as much as Will himself. In this, Jack finds a bit of comfort. That he is not the only one who knows Will's trials, that Jack no longer has to shoulder the burden of the mess he's made alone.

            Jack mumbles, "I guess if he's sick, he doesn't need to hang around skinned bodies. Anyway, Hannibal," he says, turning to look fully at the psychiatrist, "I went to see Chilton this morning, and Abel Gideon."

            Hannibal looks at him. "Did you find anything of importance?"

            "Abel Gideon told me he's not the Ripper after all. I don't know what to believe."

            There is a silence, which the wind fills. The trees surrounding the concrete lot shake, their branches creak. The lapels of Jack's coat flap against him. And the sun gleams suddenly, hitting Jack squarely in the eye. He squints, through which he sees barely half of Hannibal's expression.

            "Perhaps I can assist you in interviewing Frederick on the matter." His face is bleeding sunlight, and his lips are pink. Jack cannot see his eyes. "It might do to have a second opinion."

            "Yes, of course. Let's do that. God, this sun is blinding."

 

 

Chapter Text

Will hasn't gone home. He's been sitting in a supermarket parking lot in the heart of Baltimore for hours, wrenching within himself, stewing, simmering, boiling. His body is restless, tireless in its longing to tear the Ripper apart. To tear Hannibal apart. But Will cannot – and he thinks this cringingly, with some sense of humor for what Hannibal has accomplished. Oh, he is brilliant. Will has always admired that in the Ripper. Even when he was young. How smart you are, he would think to the glossed pictures in his small hands.

            Hannibal is everything. He has insinuated himself into every facet of Will and Jack's lives. Will can barely name all the things he's become: friend, confidant, psychiatrist, fantasy lover. And yes, briefly, though it lasted only the length of half a kiss – the length of a tiny eternity – he was to be Will's real lover. Will thinks it as he sits scrunched in his driver's seat, beneath the patchy sky, the burgeoning softness of parking lot lights overhead. Yes, Will wanted that. Normalcy. He thought he could survive the rest of his harried life if he had this – if he could somehow manage to truly bind himself to his tether. Being with Hannibal had always been so simple, so fun.

            And that, perhaps, is what hurts most of all.

            He will grit himself and take Hannibal down. Even if he must do it quietly. But first: Abigail.

            Your daughter as much as mine.

            Hannibal has, too, made himself Will's co-parent and Abigail's caregiver. Will shudders to think what he could have told her, what he could have done to her over the course of their residence together. Will is not to have it one more night. He has waited all day, for the moment when he is sure Hannibal must be back in his office for an appointment. And when that moment comes, he starts the engine in something like anger, and speeds down the darkening streets of Baltimore until he comes to that lofty three-story house in the heart of the city. It stands bricked and looming against the purple of the sky. As expected, the Bentley is absent. The Lexus sits in the driveway alone, and there is a light on in the uppermost floor, standing now to Will as the beam of a lighthouse to one in the throes of the sea.

            He parks beside the Lexus quickly and comes to the front door. Knocks, looks around. He inhales, exhales greatly and tries to calm himself. It would not do to spook Abigail. He must reassure her, and take her with as little knowledge given on the subject as possible.

            It is quiet for a long moment and every sound – a dog barking, a car horn blaring, the far-away jet of a plane as it rushes away from Baltimore-Washington International – unnerves him, gets his back up. Finally, padding on the other side of the door, and he feels himself being looked at through the peephole. The door opens.

            Abigail stands behind the opening door, hair glossy around her shoulders. She smells of melon and cucumber, and is wrapped in a fluffy white bathrobe. Pink candy-striped pajama pants cover her legs, and thick green headphones settle around her shoulders.

            "Hey there, Daddy-o. What're you doing here?"

            "Abigail," Will says, sighs, at the sight of her unharmed. He clears his throat. "Can I come in?"

            She opens her arm into the foyer. "You don't have to ask, you know. Didn't Pops tell you that?"

            Will walks in, looking at her with one eyebrow barely raised. His body is trembling in the house, the Ripper's house. And Daddy-o? Pops? Since when did they become anything other than Will and Hannibal?

            In the expanse of the house, Will feels small. He remembers coming here the first time to have dinner with Jack and Hannibal both. Feeling shy and somewhat excited to have been invited. Staring into Hannibal's deep eyes over candlelight. Even then, yes it is so, he felt a distant fluttering in his heart. Part of him wishes he had never kissed the man – perhaps then he would not know what even he does not want to know. Going back to that pure, excited feeling even at the thought of him. Will closes his eyes tight for a moment, swallows the wish down, and opens his eyes again. He cannot go back. The only way is forward.

            "You okay?" Abigail comes to stand beside him. Her scar is half-visible under her hair, and it is bright pink from her recent shower.

            "Y-Yeah. Yeah. Hey, Abigail, let's pack your stuff. You can come back over to my house."

            She tilts her head. "But I've only been here a few days! Hey, did you see my new car? Isn't it gorgeous?"

            "Yeah. You look nice in it. But really–"

            "I asked Dad about getting a personalized license plate." She holds her hands out as if framing a picture with her fingers. "I want one that says 'cut throat' but I have to figure out how to shorten it. I was thinking you have to have the whole word 'cut' but then that only leaves three spaces for 'throat' and I can't see how that'd work. Anyway, he told me to ask you about it. Got any ideas?"

            Will frowns. He looks back out towards one of the windows – the desolate street. "Abigail, please come with me."

            She shakes her head. "No," she says.

            Will gapes. "But–"

            "Hey, come here. Lemme show you something."

            She turns on her heel and begins through the house, seemingly expecting Will to follow. He does, helplessly. He isn't sure what else to do – he doesn't want to frighten her, and he can't simply toss her into the trunk of his car. He thinks of what he can say to her, to convince her to come without arousing much suspicion, and she leads him up the staircase to come to the top floor. Down a dimly lit hall which is peppered with long mirrors and small tables with wide vases of flowers. At the end of the corridor is an open door that light tumbles from. Abigail goes in, Will follows–

            Her room. Will can tell immediately by the queen-sized bed that is lush with down comforters, an obscene amount of pillows. It is painted in a rose-pink, with a staggeringly huge vanity – white, with molded lining of roses – and a carpet that Will's shoes sink down into. String lights hang like the branches of weeping willows down around the room, and through another door at the far side of the room is a bathroom, that which Will can only see half of but a deep-seated jet tub catches his eye. Will grits his teeth. Hannibal is adoring her to him with sheer luxury.

            She stands amidst the room like a princess, arms raised on either side. "Isn't this gorgeous?"

            "Yes," Will sighs. "Yes, it is."

            "Pops really turned out for me."

            "What does that even mean? Abigail, I know I don't have all this stuff, but I'd really like you to come visit, even just for a while."

            "And I will," she says, nodding. "Just as soon as you get me a room at your house. Papa-san, I'm not sharing your bed anymore. I'm not five."

            "I understand. And as soon as we get there, I'll order all the furniture you want. You can pick it out–" He thinks of his account depleting but continues: "Anything you like."

            Abigail's winter eyes light. She runs over to the dresser on top of which is a stereo. In a second, she flicks it on and there is the sudden boom of a thick, reedy bass, studded with rap lyrics. Abigail goes over to her cloud of a bed, nodding her head in time with the beat. She opens a laptop that had previously been perched upon a heart-shaped pillow, and places it in her lap. She asks Will to come over and see the website full of furniture she would like; she goes on to say that Hannibal – Father, she calls him this time – has been teaching her about room design. Will tries his best to seem interested and at the same time asks where her favorite clothes are and her suitcase so he can begin packing them. The music pounds in his ears and he has a headache. He isn't sure how much time passes but he feels a roiling sickness in his stomach upon realizing he hasn't gotten anywhere and the shopping cart Abigail is filling online is closing in on a twelve thousand dollar purchase. Abigail is saying something about accent colors.

            Then, Hannibal is standing in the door.

            "Dad," Abigail chirps, running to the stereo to turn the music off. It had been so loud that Will hadn't heard the Bentley pull up nor the door open and he stands in her room by the bed, holding a sweater of hers over her open suitcase. His eyes on Hannibal narrow, his upper lip slightly pulled back. Hannibal watches him placidly, with something nearing a smile. But he says nothing to Will, only looks at Abigail.

            "I could hear your music from the street, Abigail."

            "Ah, it wasn't that loud."       

            "I disagree."

            She grins. "Oops. Hey, can Daddy stay for dinner?"

            Hannibal does now turn to Will fully. Still, he speaks only to the girl: "Of course he can. I'll set three places. Abigail, come down in an hour."

            "You got it." She flops back on the bed, spread out like a starfish, and pulls the laptop onto her stomach. She seems then as if she is alone – completely ignoring Will and as such, Will follows Hannibal out of the room and down the stairs, fighting against himself to dig his nails into the man's back.

            In a hushed, incensed whisper, Will says, "Give her back to me. Right this minute."

            "Take her," Hannibal says as they enter the kitchen. He grabs an apron from a hook near the refrigerator, and eyes Will as he places it around his waist. He has removed his suit coat, his vest, even his tie. He stands now in his white button-up shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows. Will's body does not know what to do. Hannibal stops, walks to the island where Will stands on the other side. He places his hands flat on the stainless steel surface. His eyes on Will are somewhat imploring. "She is your daughter. Ask her to come with you."

            "She won't. You've got her living like a princess."

            "She lives comfortably."

            Will's intent is to scoff but something jerks inside him and he is up against the counter, leaning forward, teeth bared.

            Hannibal looks into his eyes. "It is so good to see you, Will." There is an echo to his voice that shocks Will back from the counter. Deep, reverberating, as if two men were speaking in unison, and their voices meld almost perfectly but for the slight lag between them. Two men – Will's mind flashes in remembrance of his fantasies; the Ripper biting his shoulder, Hannibal's tongue in his mouth. In response to this, Will releases a pained growl and he grabs the ring from his left hand and slams it down onto the counter.

            "I am not yours," he says, voice wavering. He swallows. "And I'm not staying for dinner." With that, he turns on his heel, not bothering to take stock of whatever expression Hannibal now wears. It is moot. He goes through the dining room, the foyer, until he reaches the front door and the open air of the night greets him on the other side. In the driveway, the Bentley sits behind the Lexus. They look like they belong together. Though it is a guise. Will knows better. And before long he will force them apart. The Lexus will sit in Will's driveway in Wolf Trap. And the Bentley, along with this house, will be torn asunder, and condemned.

*

The mannequin stands in the corner of Jack's office, untouched since last Jack and Will pinned the note cards to it. Jack stares at the mannequin now, at its littered chest, its stillness, the way it looks in the light. As if it were a person.

            A man who is now of middle-age or approaching middle-age.

            God, Jack, Chilton is our age.

            He doesn't take no for an answer.

            Will is going to see that in time.

            And he thinks he understands me. And so he wants me.

            I have known Will for years. I have wanted Will for years.

            Jack feels something bubbling low in the back of his head, something that is rising in temperature and coming now to a slow boil. He thinks of Frederick Chilton sitting high in his castle. He who came into the throne not long after the Ripper murders began. He who saw Will in adolescence and was immediately drawn in a way Jack had never seen before, in a way Phyllis could see was disconcerting. How he had lunged for Will when he came of age. The seething glances at Hannibal Lecter for possessing him. And Abel Gideon and how he could not have known of The Wound Man but for doing it himself prior – or being given such information by someone who had been privy to the Ripper cases' early days.

            Once, on the eve of Frederick's leaving the Ripper case and too, the eve of his becoming the BSHCI administrator, he said to Jack over whiskey in the silence of the night: Think of it, Jack. What a good match the boy and I will make. I will have the whole of the hospital at his disposal. He can get real experience with the psychopaths, question them to his heart's content. He will have the run of the place, this I promise you.

            Jack had been more than tipsy and only smiled. He raised his glass to Frederick. Just don't lock him up with the prisoners, doctor.

            Frederick clinked his glass to Jack's. He smiled, pressing the pad of his thumb against his lower lip. Indeed not. He will be my own special prisoner.

            My own.

            Jack feels like he's sinking.

            He feels unequipped to handle this and the thought almost makes him laugh. He is the Chief of the BAU. He is the last word. He is the king of this building and even before Will was meant for this hunt, this case of the Ripper came to Jack's desk. Jack remembers the repetition and the blood and the taunting the Ripper put him through so early on. At that time, Will had just come home from the orphanage. And Jack spoke to his friend at the head of the K9 Unit languidly about this killer.

            Little fox thinks he's smart, huh?

            He is smart, Jack had said.

            Sure, sure. But a fox's smarts ain't nothin when a hound's got him by the neck.

            Jack thought about getting a hound. And he'd looked down at Will – pale Will, sleeping Will, who still sucked at his thumb in unconsciousness – and saw in him a hound pup.

            The idea that the fox had strolled into Jack's house – not crept, not slithered, no, no, you idiot, you let him in, you let him see your hound pup you let him see Will – and touched Will, fed him chocolate, watched him napping, the thought turns Jack's stomach to rot. He stands in his office but he is really standing in a sandpit and he is sinking into sour loathing and it is because of this that he flips his cell phone open at his side and speed-dials Hannibal Lecter.

            "Hello?"

            "Hannibal, listen, remember when you offered to interview Chilton?"

            "I do, Jack."

            "Is that still on the table?"

            "Indeed it is." There is a pause. "Has something come up?"

            "You could say that. I feel like pieces are falling together in my mind. I'd like to have him brought in for questioning tomorrow morning – now," Jack sighs into the phone, placing his other hand deep in his jacket pocket, "he won't like it but we can guise it under the Abel Gideon mess. Cataloguing it. We don't have to tell him–" Jack pauses.

            "Tell him what, Jack?" That tone again. Deep, serene.

            "That I have some suspicions." Jack will leave it at that. He doesn't want to outright accuse Chilton when he does not yet have evidence – and to tell one of his colleagues of all people would be a misstep. So he hopes Hannibal will understand.

            Hannibal simply says, "Of course, Jack. It would be my pleasure. Around what time in the morning?"

            "Let's shoot for 11 AM. I'll have a few agents escort him to the Unit."

            "Understood."

            Jack is almost moved to smile. Hannibal's compliance has often surprised and beloved Jack to the man. He catches himself thinking at times that Hannibal is more obedient than Will is when not under a command. It is a bit funny. At length, Jack thanks Hannibal again for all his help and Hannibal insists it is nothing if not his pleasure. No sooner do they hang up does the office door burst open with Beverly Katz behind it – Jack is no longer even surprised anymore and he knows chiding her will do nothing to tame her ways. She is saying something about another murder, apparently by the same Angel Maker who they dealt with the day before. As Jack walks past her, out of the office, she says, "Should I call His Highness?"

            "Beverly."

            "I'll take that as a yes."

*

The day has been frigid, and the evening windy, and when the sun has set, Will thinks he really will catch a cold if he stays out any longer. But the house has of late felt like a prison – he came to it the night before after his failed attempt to rescue Abigail and sought its four walls, it's safety and secrecy. But in the morning he could not abide the stale scent of it, the containment. Will has felt as if his own skin holds him prisoner and he cannot escape that so he has settled for the outside, the banks of the river that winds lazy behind the house. Hobbs has stood with him, his form diminishing into shadow as the moon lingers overhead.

            "You cannot do this by yourself," Hobbs tells him. They both stare at the sliver of moon on the water, rippling pearlescent against dark waves. The flash of a perch fin. Hobbs turns to Will and his eyes are half-moons. "This is too much for you."

            "Shut up," Will says. "Just shut up. I can do it. I was trained for this."

            "For him alone. But he has our daughter."

            "He won't hurt her. She's bait for me."

            Hobbs looks back at the river, and in the underbrush the dogs are rustling. Two tails catch the moonlight. "And what will he do when he realizes you can't be caught with that kind of bait?"

            Will grits his teeth and before he can answer, his cell phone buzzes in his pocket. He grabs it, fiddling with the button on the jacket. When he looks up, phone at his ear, Hobbs is gone. Will can still smell him, still feel the heavy cloud of judgment where he stood. It is a crime scene, one reminiscent of the murder from the other day. Will gets the location from Beverly – some alleyway in Baltimore – and time passes like a lapping wave against a pebbly shore until he arrives, and he sees the man suspended against scaffolding in the dimly lit fold of a dirty alleyway, hung with fishing line like in the motel room and the hooks dig into the flayed skin on his back, his wings. His pride of place is just above the first story of the two surrounding buildings and beneath him, like an altar, is a dingy mattress on which are a bloody set of testicles.

            Price is picking them up with tweezers, lowering them into a plastic bag that Zeller holds open.

            "Now, the question is," Price begins, "who's are these?"

            "His," Will says.

            "The murderer?" Jack asks, standing at Will's side. He is staring up at the angel as well. Hands stuffed in his pocket. At the mouth of the alleyway, the yellow tape keeps onlookers at a safe distance. It's almost easier this way. Will wishes every murderer would use an alleyway to deposit their leavings.

            Will nods. He eyes Jack from under a heap of unruly curls. And he thinks about what Hobbs said – you can't do this by yourself – and he wonders what Jack would say if Will were to tell him who Hannibal is. Who the Ripper is. That they inhabit the same body and speak with the same voice and have kissed Will with the same mouth. Will watches Jack carefully and imagines all the things he could say to that – none of them are I believe you, Will and yet that is not the worst of it. He believes above all that he would not hear Good you did good and that is true pain.

            Will knows this: he was the hound meant to keep the fox from the hen house. But he made the mistake of admiring the fox's sharp ears, his bushy tail, the gleam of his eyes in the night. And he let the fox charm him.

            Oh, Will thinks, you idiot. What have you done?

            "Yeah," Will says. "The murderer."

            "So, I know you were absent during the autopsy, Will," Beverly begins, leaning against one of the walls, "but you were right. Those people he killed were on-the-run criminals, and when we checked his vomit, it was riddled with pretty specific cancer medications. This guy has a brain tumor and he's probably close to kicking it."

            Jack starts: "Then these angels are–"

            "Praying over his soul." Will nods towards the full bag that Zeller is now holding at arm's length. "And he's becoming an angel too. One from the Old Testament. They don't have any genitals." Will considers them lucky. If he didn't have any, maybe he wouldn't be in this situation. "He thinks his soul will be saved despite all the wrong he's done." Will eyes the hanging angel, one bright green eye flashing. He clenches his fists. "But God isn't into second chances."

            Will notices Price and Zeller eyeing each other; he doesn't care.

            Jack looks at Will, one eyebrow slightly raised, and says, "So he's just waiting to – to transform into an angel?"

            "That's right."

            "Right." Jack hums and continues to stare at Will, like he's weighing him. Will is used to this look and he hates it, he hates it. "So, how do we catch him?"

            "You don't. You wait until he dies."

            "Will, he's going to kill more people–"

            "Criminals!" Will's voice cracks in something of a screech and he raises his arms up towards the hanging angel. "He's killing criminals, and there's nothing we can do about it! He doesn't even matter! I am being wasted on this– you're sending me after some ball-less angel and I am meant for the devil himself!"

            Jack squares himself at Will, shoulders rising, and he says to the stunned forensic team by the mattress, "Go do something."

            They scatter immediately, leaving for the yellow line and the vans. And suddenly Will is alone with Jack and all the bluster and frustration he'd felt in the moment prior have dissipated. Jack is staring at him, eyes dark, and his voice is low and hard, a strong line of concrete compared to Will's unhinged masonry: "You do not tell me what is and isn't a waste, Will. You've been on the job for months, don't let your head get big on two drag-ins. This devil you're so keen on isn't what's in front of you. This is what's in front of you."

            Will is limp before Jack. He says in a wet whisper, "The devil walks among us."

            Jack's mouth hardens to a thin line. "Yeah, Will. I know." His gaze drops from Will's, lands precisely on Will's left hand which is now bare and the space where his ring once occupied has felt cold. "You got rid of it," he says, a sort of dull surprise.

            Will is nodding. And he hasn't given poetry much thought recently except – come live with me – things that have fallen from Hannibal's mouth. But he says, as if to reassure Jack, but can only truly be comfort to his own ears: "I am lovely and lonely. I belong deeply to myself."

            Yes, that rings true on many fronts. He is alone in this.

            Jack stares at him in that way. As if Will is weird. But he holds his hand out to Jack now, fingers flexed and barren. "See, Dad," he says. "I'm not weird."

            "Will."

            "You were right," he continues, "it was messing with my head. I don't want it near me anymore."

            "Where is the ring, Will?"

            "I tossed it into hellfire." Will thinks of Hannibal staring at him over the stainless steel island. And he wonders why he turned away so fast. Why didn't he stay a half-second longer to see the look on Hannibal's face? He's sure there must've been some kind of hurt or recoil from Will's rejection. Will hopes there was. Will hopes he was able to hurt him. And yet that is nothing compared to what Will is capable of. Nothing compared to what he will do. He will rip the fox to shreds and he will bring the bloodied rags of flesh to his father and fling them in his face.

            Make from this what you will, Will is going to say. Regale me in the bounty of our hunt – what you have brought on us all.

           

 

Chapter Text

Jack can tell this is going to be a long day – the notion comes upon him immediately at being woken just after 5 AM by Beverly's insistent phone call. The tissue sample from the Angel Maker and the registry of his cancer treatment drugs have met and mingled and produced a name: Elliot Buddish.

            Jack feels this urgently. He is pressed for time but he will press further – he is having Frederick Chilton brought to the BAU for questioning in hours but this, this is important as well. Jack has been annoyed and irked at what Will said last night, standing beneath the hanging angel – that it doesn't matter, that it is a waste. Perhaps Elliot Buddish is dying but that does not mean Jack can allow others to be taken down on his way to the grave. And criminals? Be they criminals or ordinary citizens, it is not Elliot Buddish's job to deal out judgment. This is no vigilante state and the thought that Will would say such a thing aloud is in itself unnerving.

            The ring was gone from his finger. Into the hellfire, he'd said. As such, why does Jack not feel relief? He has wanted this so. Indeed, he dreamed of the day when Will would see reason, when he would no longer push gold and stone to his lips and look hazy-eyed into the ether. The Ripper's hold on him glittering one minute, and gone the next. Jack wonders how this came to be.

            Jack can barely stop thinking of it, what the Ripper has made of Will. As he and Will stand in Jack's office, opposite the doe-eyed and demure Mrs. Buddish, Jack barely hears her. It is a background drone, something like lazy bees buzzing around Jack's head. Every opportunity he gets, he looks at Will. The flash of his green eyes, the circles beneath them, the morose way he holds himself. Arms crossed, shoulders slumped over. And Jack swears there is a tan line on his finger from where the ring has been – if one were to meet Will on the street, they might think him newly divorced. His sulky countenance would aid that deduction. Indeed, Will's moods have overall worsened of late, specifically since the fiasco at Chilton's castle.

            And this very thought turns the gas up beneath Jack's pot which is boiling over. He is so lost in his thoughts that he barely comes in at the end of Mrs. Buddish's voice:

            "–a farm. Where he grew up."

            Will nods solemnly and looks over at Jack. When he does, Jack is startled to look back at Will and just behind him, looming over his shoulder is the mannequin. Faceless, covered in pinned notes.

            Will says, "You want to go out there? Just to see if he's left something there?"

            Jack nods. He looks at his watch, and thanks Mrs. Buddish for her time. He heard her in bits and pieces, about her separation from Elliot following his diagnosis. He had become distant and obsessed with religion. Jack and Will take their separate cars to the same farm out in rural Virginia. Will's Mercedes is in the lane to the left of Jack, sometimes lagging behind, sometimes surging just a bit ahead. And Jack catches sight of Will through his barely-tinted windows. Will knew about the religion almost immediately.

            Will's instincts.

            Jack wonders if this is why he had never much cared for Frederick Chilton. Why he shied away at the man's ardent displays, his constant longing to be near Will. His courtship, his offerings. Jack feels sick.

            They come to the farm Mrs. Buddish described, that which is the setting of a fire that took place in Elliot's childhood. The place is desolate in the late fall that hangs dreary over the large stretch of land. The grasses dry, the trees naked and leaning. The barn, which Jack imagines once stood tall and bright red against a clear blue sky, is now a shadow of its former self: grey, patchy red roof mottled with rust, boards creaking in on themselves. Will gets out of his Mercedes and walks into the open barn, Jack following behind him at length.

            Inside, there is hay and a dead man hanging from line and fishhooks in the rafters. His back flayed into wings but messier and haphazardly as if he had done them himself – his fingers shaking not only with pain but resolution.

            Will looks up at him through his glasses, hands stuffed into his jeans pockets. The wind whispers to the barn, reaches and chills the two inside it, and the hay rustles at their feet.

            "Do you think God will forgive him?" Will asks.

            Jack eyes Will, one eyebrow slightly raised. "I don't know, Will."

            Will stares at Elliot Buddish for a long moment. The man's face is calm in death though his body is streaked with his own blood. Another moment passes and Will says, "His wife and kids won't understand why he had to go off and do all this alone."

            "I don't think anyone will."

            "I do."

            Jack says nothing.

            "Yeah," Will continues. His shoes scuffle in the hay. "I do."

            "Why, then?"

            "Because–" Will looks at Jack. "Because he felt it was his job. He was dying. And he never did any good in his life, probably, not real good. Not something people would remember. But those people at the motel, that guy in the alley. He took out criminals, and he did it by himself. Who knows how the hell he singled them out. And who the hell cares. Besides, his family would have worried if he hadn't put distance between them. And you saw how Mrs. Buddish talked – detached. Like he was already dead."

            "Worry," Jack echoes.

            "That's right."

            Worry, Jack thinks to himself. He looks at Will's face and thinks he's right. Jack has not told Will about his suspicions surrounding Frederick Chilton. He knows this: Will can be lofty and coltish but it is ingrained in him to go after a job well done. He wants that. If he knew, if he were certain he had been resisting the Ripper's advances all his life, he would feel broken. And Jack, too, would feel like he broke Will. As if somewhere in all the fiddling Jack did in his head, he snapped a wire, or gave some line of code a typo. Deep within the program that is Will Crawford. There exists a virus. No, Jack could not bear that – and Will could not bear that. Not unnecessarily.

            But if Jack is right – Will is going to find out very soon. And Jack doesn't know what to do about it. He says the only thing he can, through the throbbing headache he now has, and the feeling of walking along eggshells:

            "Will. I believe you about Abel Gideon."

            Will, who had looked lost in thought, suddenly jolts. "You do?"

            Jack nods. "I don't think he's the Ripper."

            Will's hands are out of his pockets; they are pallid with the cold. He rubs his thumbs lightly together. "Thanks, Dad," he says.

            Jack smiles and tells Will that he needn't be here for the clean-up. Jack is going to call backup and get Buddish down and logged away. As Will is walking out of the barn, he turns back and his form is half-lit by the daylight and half in the shadow of the patched and yawning roof above. He touches the old frame of the doorway.

            "Hey, Dad?"

            Jack looks up from his cell phone. "Yeah?"

            "I–" He pauses. "There's nothing wrong with me, right? I mean, nothing went wrong when you trained me? I–" He bites his lower lip. "I work, right?"

            There's an emptiness – as if someone had just hollowed out Jack's stomach. He almost drops the phone but keeps it, and keeps his gaze steady on Will. "Yeah, Will. You work. You're fine. Why?"

            His fingers drum against the wood. "It's just that– you remember Tobias? And Gideon? I was going to kill them."

            Jack says nothing.

            "I just mean– what if I need to defend myself? In an emergency. I keep, something keeps–"

            "Will. You're all right, Will."

            Will looks at him for a long moment. "I'm all right," he says and turns for the opening again. He goes to his Mercedes and backs off the long lot, past Jack's own car, and onto the dusty high road that brought them here. When the sand and grit settles in the wake of the car, Jack exhales, unaware that he was holding his breath. He has told himself often that one day he would alert Will to the presence of the commands. But he finds that every day he wakes up, it is not yet that day. And the same is true for this day. Not yet. When it is done, it will have to be gentle and when Will is mature enough to understand why Jack has done this. Will has not come to that place yet.

            In Jack's hand, his cell phone begins to buzz, startling him. He flips it open, says, "Beverly, I was just about to call you. Buddish is dead, his body–"

            "Yeah, Jack," and she sounds unlike herself – low-toned and calculating, "that's going to have to wait. We have a problem."

*

It is folly, and perhaps hopeless. Will cannot put it into words.

            The blackness he feels in the wake of an attempt. Thrice it has happened – it can be no accident. And each time, yes, and every single occasion was attended by Hannibal Lecter. Tobias Budge, Abel Gideon, and then Hannibal himself. Each time he was present and Will wanted to kill someone and somehow it had not happened.

            What has Hannibal done to him?

            Until he understands, trying to kill Hannibal head-on is a foolish game. He cannot win. This thought turns Will's bones to icicles, his blood to arctic rivers. As he drives into Wolf Trap, he thinks of what he can to do combat this. If Will thinks of it for too long, he becomes discouraged. Hannibal has a way to stop Will from killing. Hannibal has Abigail wrapped around his finger. Hannibal has reason and sensibility on his side – for who would believe Will if he told them how he knew of Hannibal being the Ripper? Who would believe such a tale?

            I kissed him and knew.

            For he could not hide the love in his heart when his lips met mine.

            Will's lips tingle as he pulls down the lonely road to his house. His eyelids lower. He had felt so wanted. So essential. It was nice. At least he felt that way once. Once is enough.

            He pulls into his graveled driveway and feels tired – and feels exhausted at suddenly seeing another car parked up near the house. It is markedly Frederick Chilton's. Will's knee-jerk reaction is to back out again and drive away but he thinks he'll be damned before he lets Frederick run him away from his own house and dogs. He parks and resigns himself– begins thinking how best to kick Frederick out without expending too much energy.

            It seems Frederick has just arrived. There is heat running off of his car, and he is still in the driver's side. The dogs in the house are barking, their joint voices rising together now in unison as they see Will from the windows. Will walks alongside the car and Frederick opens the door, bursting out and he is nearly coated in blood and emitting a rough iron smell that Will knows so well from crime scenes.

            Frederick is wild-eyed, panting, holding out trembling red hands to Will.

            "You've got to help me," he says.

            Will raises an eyebrow. "Frederick, what's this about? I'm very tired."

            "Will! For God's sake, Hannibal is a madman!"

            "Yeah. I know."

            "I mean, he's the– w-what do you mean, you know? How could you possibly–"

            Will says, "I kissed him."

            Frederick, for all his shaking and rattlement, has the wherewithal to look put out and Will then re-considers his decision to not drive away. He sighs and tells Frederick to get in the house and stop making a scene in the driveway. Will allows him usage of the shower and the dogs sniff at his discarded, bloodied clothes along the carpet. As the shower runs in the bathroom, Will lingers near the door, hearing Frederick inside muttering under his breath even over the run of the water. Will is doing what he can to maintain a disinterested front but his heart is racing. What is Hannibal doing? And why is he doing it to Frederick of all people? He's high-profile, and closely connected with Jack– if anything, he should–

            The bathroom door opens, flooding steam and the dogs come to crowd again around Frederick who is half-dressed in clothes from a bag he brought in. Jeans and a t-shirt, pulling a red sweater over that. Will has never seen him so casual. And indeed, has never seen him so distraught. Will studies his face as one might study local buildings as they fall amidst a natural disaster. In something near disbelief – I have passed that building every day to work, one thinks as its foundation rocks. As it hits the ground, one then thinks, How impermanent life is.

            How fragile.

            "Will," Frederick says, "you have to talk to your father. He's under some– some impression about me! He sent agents to my house for some interview nonsense–"

            "My dad?" Will asks, and his voice is a bit smaller than he thought it would be. "What do you mean? What impression?"

            Frederick ignores him, incensed, continuing: "And Hannibal came into my house from the back way, put some chloroform against my face and when I came to, the agents were dead – one of them speared like The Wound Man on my dining room table! Blood everywhere! And I–"

            "To make you out to be the Ripper," Will whispers. His mind suddenly feels engorged with blood. "And my dad will believe it." How could he have missed this? "Because you love me." Will blinks, startled, and wonders why Jack kept this from him.

            "I–" Frederick stands amidst the room, hair wet, eyes ringed-red. His bag his on the chair behind him. Instead of answering Will, he turns back for it, rummaging through. He has a pistol, a small semi-automatic, and he roughly shoves it into the back of his pants in such a clumsy fashion that Will is sure the man has never shot at so much as a pop bottle. Frederick Chilton as the Ripper. Can Jack really believe such a thing?

            "Do I look like a killer? Honestly," Frederick is muttering, gritting his teeth. "How can Jack be so blind?"

            "Hannibal places his hands over your eyes," Will says softly, "and it feels good to let him guide you. So you don't second-guess your own blindness."

            Frederick looks at Will. He says, "I'm leaving the country."

            "Frederick, stay here. I already know who Hannibal is. I'm going to catch him."

            "I'm sure you will. And when you do, I will return, rest assured."

            "No, I need help, I need your help," he says at length. He thinks of his inability to kill, of Hannibal's ability to stop him, and if this is some psychiatrist trick, something he's done– Will thinks, in one fleeting moment of hope, that perhaps Frederick could undo it. "Hannibal's done something to me. I don't know what but–"

            "Oh, has he? Well, sorry, Will. I did try to help you, I tried for years, but you turned me down– for who? Hannibal Lecter, oh yes. We shan't forget that."

            Will eyes Frederick for a moment, as he rummages through his bag, continuing to grumble, as he bats the dogs away. And Will is sure he is seeing something. He is sure of it – but he cannot know yet what it is, or why it is in front of him. Only this: Frederick's current predicament isn't about the blame of the Ripper at all. It is wholly different.

*

On the highway, Jack is breaking the speed limit by a clear ten to fifteen miles per hour – and yet it is not enough. He had hung up on Beverly after hearing her for less than two minutes. He could surmise the rest. The agents hadn't return and thus, Beverly had sent more to check on them after Frederick did not answer his cell phone. When they reported back to her – the massacre, the blood everywhere, The Wound Man splayed out on the dining table, speared with all manner of kitchen cutlery – she called Jack. He had mumbled something to her that was studded with curses and punctuated with Will Will Will.

            Because where would the Ripper go but to his intended?

            And on the drive to Will's house, Jack can do nothing but imagine the worst-case scenarios and they never truly are the worst-cases because they devolve into something more horrific with each passing mile. Even as Jack's car is joined on the long winding ways by other cop cars, sirens and lights whirring red and blue, and Beverly's own car which is tailing his hotly, her face barely visible in the rearview mirror.         

            If his cloak is discarded, what would Frederick want with Will? To kill him? To carry him away?

            He tells himself Will was made to confront this man.

            And he tells himself Will needs help.

            When he arrives at Will's house, he is not surprised to see Frederick's car but sickened all the same, and bile roils in the pit of his stomach. He almost doesn't park correctly, surging out of the driver's side door and the other cars that had joined him on the road pull up to his flanks – Beverly is foremost, and she has her hair tossed about by the wind, her leather jacket clinging to form, her gun drawn, as is Jack's.

            Jack is already calling, "Will–"

            The dogs are barking and the front door suddenly opens, producing Will in the same clothes and countenance that Jack saw him leave the farm in. He eyes the front yard with something like dull surprise and slight resentment.

            Jack can only feel desperate relief at seeing him.

            "Dad, put the guns away," Will says. "He's inside, but you have to listen–"

            "Will, get out here, Chilton is–"

            "Listen–"

            Jack has no time for listening or Will's blatant disregard. His footsteps through the gravel and dry grasses crunch and break foliage and he hears Beverly behind him. Will, as they approach, looks up towards the ceiling as if there is nothing for it.

            "He has a gun," Will intones as Jack and Beverly enter the house, nearly pushing Will out of the way.

            At that second there is a sound through the back of the house – the other screen door slamming against its jamb. Jack's mind is buzzing and he tells Beverly to stay with Will; he hears Will's protest like some static-lined music in the background. He is through the house and out of the back door almost immediately and he sees the wide expanse of Will's property stretched out before him, hears the breaking of twigs and bark to the left, just into the woods there.

            The oncoming winter has stripped the woods of density and leaves; indeed there is nothing hiding Frederick's bright red sweater as he breaks through young and dying trees. His harried breath, his giant gulps of air, all of this Jack hears in surround-sound as he chases Frederick into the woods, further from the house. The sun is bright through the crooked lean of boughs overhead and it shines down into Jack's eye, shines down onto the clear of the water that trickles over rocks at the small stream. Jack follows Frederick as he crosses the stream, attempting to jump from rock to rock but stumbling and wetting the lower half of himself, water-logging his jeans and boots.

            "Jack, this is crazy," he's shouting, voice broken and breaking further still.

            Jack is shouting back at him to stop running. Stop running or Jack will wing him. Jack barely hears himself and he sees Frederick floundering and remembers Will telling him that Frederick had a gun – at this point, Jack thinks he would shoot Frederick even if he was unarmed. Fractions of seconds go by and in these, Jack thinks a headshot would be too good for him. And in these, Jack thinks knee-shots would be too good for him. And in these, he wonders, really wonders, is a life in a cell just? In exchange for the multitudes of lives, in exchange for the gore, in exchange for the times he watched Will as a child, in exchange for the torment he has caused the boy. And the kiss.

            Flashing before him, Jack sees The Wound Man and he sees Will crying in Hannibal's arms behind the hospital and he sees Will's wide wonder eyes, sees his lips moving, asking, Dad, do you think I'm weird?

            Frederick trips.

            Jack raises his gun, standing yards away from him, him trembling in the frost-coated dirt, the sun in his murky green eyes.

            I made him this way because of you.

            Frederick looks at him, one hand slightly raised. "Jack, don't," he says.

            Then, soft, on Jack's trigger hand. He looks down and sees a thin white hand covering his own, and looks to his side to see Will there, expression calm, eyes glinting like firestone in the sun. Beverly is lagging behind, breath ragged, muttering something about not being able to withhold Will. He stares at Frederick for a long moment and then says as if to himself, "Oh, I see now. I see. This is your punishment. And it is my gift."

*

The rest of the day passes in a blur that is shaded thusly:

            Frederick Chilton is arrested. Jack understands this not within the normal confines of law and order but the vast expanse of philosophy on the subject of justice and eye-for-an-eye. What can this be attributed to?

            Twenty years.

            Twenty years of blood and gore and running the FBI ragged and thin during his hunting times and worrying the board to something nearing insomnia during his off-months. This has been understood readily in something not unlike mass hysteria. He remembers the early days when speculation was all they had. Millennia, it seemed, before Will would be ready and eons before they would come to slap cuffs on his wretched wrists amidst a late fall day. The northeast in a panic over the intensity of the gore; newspapers back then were not on tablets as today but read on morning commutes, flapping and ink-dripping things that smudged against civilian fingertips. Ink seeping under clean and trimmed nails as they wrenched their papers in horror.

            This is so: families have been torn apart. Then, and it has come over many it can be supposed, the name the Ripper is apt in more than how he has torn into bodies. The fabric of livelihood as it was once understood. Things changed slowly but surely. In some way, it might be said that things changed almost at once – a door once stood open, unlocked in a middle-income American home. As the Ripper descended upon cities, towns, neighborhoods, that door locked in trembling fear. Calls came like bullets, to local police stations in every northeastern town, reporting strange figures lurking on corners in the dark, or just the shadow fading under a lamppost that lit itself after dusk.

            Suspicion arose like a cloud of locusts over a wheat field and descended as such. This is the nature of gossip surrounding a serial killer. The casualties outnumber those who have simply been killed. A way of life has circled the drain and then dribbled down like so much sludge. This Jack knows. How, then, can Jack be satisfied with watching Frederick Chilton being driven off in a heavily armed van? He has seen the bones. And he thinks about justice in a way he has been trained not to think about justice. In a way he has chided others for thinking about it.

            He holds onto this hatred for a bit. Holds it in the inner pocket lining his suit jacket, as if it were a picture of a beloved or some token from a time long since past. It is small comfort, and it is poison. Twenty years is a long time, and the Ripper has worked his way into Jack's heart, his family, his only son who watches the van drive off down a dilapidated road. And Jack sees the look in his eyes like calm waters. When Will turns back for the BAU, steps into the building, Jack watches the van for a bit longer until it hits the first light, pauses, and then turns down the street. Eventually it will meet with the highway and arrive at the BSHCI where its cargo will be housed until the trial date. There is an Acting Administrator present until the state board fills the position permanently.

            Jack did not want him housed for any period of time at the BAU.

            After the van is out of sight, Jack takes that little trinket of hatred he has been harboring throughout the day. He lets it fall to the ground and in his mind he crushes it beneath the heel of his shoe. There can be no use for such things. Indeed, the best thing for it is to let it go. He will have to suggest this to Will, who has not spoken a word since his strange statement in the woods behind his property.

            The door to Jack's office closes softly and the very room seems different. Perhaps its scent has changed. Or better yet, even the air. Perhaps once it circulated this way and now it circulates that. It is hard to say. The mannequin is still in the corner, chest riddled with clues, its fabric frayed at the hems. Jack will have to tell Beverly to remove it.

            He deposits himself in his chair behind the desk. Will sits before it, hands perched upon his knees, hair rustled by the cold wind outside. He is sitting very still. Jack supposes it must be talked about but he has no idea how to broach it or from what angle. What must Will be feeling?

            "That," Will says suddenly, slowly, "was a mistake, Dad."

            Jack looks at him. His shoulders are knotted. "What was?"

            Will eyes him, then tilts his head back towards the door. "Frederick is not the Ripper."

            This should have been expected.

            Jack is tired, but he knows Will deserves an explanation. Too, he feels guilty. He wanted to tell Will of his suspicions but it seemed ludicrous to go to him with such regarding someone he's known so closely when all he had was speculation and some likeness with the mannequin's pinnings. Who would believe such a thing had it not sprung from their own mind?

            Will gnaws a bit at his lower lip.

            Jack sighs.

            And together, they say, "I didn't tell you–"

            They stop, hearing the other's voice in an echo, and look at each other wearing surely similar expressions – of confusion and some hesitancy.

            Will's voice is small, and he says, "You go first."

            "Okay." Jack drums blunt fingertips against the hard wood of the desk. He says, "I went to see Abel Gideon again on my own. And he told me he wasn't the Ripper. When I confronted Chilton about his change in tune, he just said Abel was crazy. I guess that I could believe. But then I started thinking about what Hannibal sai–"

            "Hannibal," Will says.

            "Yes." Jack eyes him closely. "And he was telling me his thoughts on Abel Gideon possibly being coerced into thinking he was the Ripper. I thought, now why would Chilton do that? But then I was thinking about what Hannibal said about him, what you said about him, even your own mother said about him."        

            Will stares openly.

            "That he's been in love with you for ages, Will." The words leave a bad taste in Jack's mouth. It's the first time he's said them aloud. They were clinical thoughts, things to examine in the hollow of his mind. But now they're real and all the things they imply– indeed, state outright, are in the air, floating softly about the two of them like fireflies in the summer. "That he was the one who appeared in our lives around the same time as the Ripper. He fits the profile you described perfectly. He kissed you."

            Will presses his lips together as if in remembrance.

            "And I was thinking– maybe he put Gideon up to taking the blame, so we'd have a 'Ripper' in custody. And he could get you off the scent. He even told me in no uncertain terms that one day you'd see you made the wrong choice in Hannibal. That he had the Ripper and you'd see you should be with him." Jack pauses, shakes his head. "And even after all that, I wasn't ready to believe. I just wanted to bring him in for questioning. It wasn't until the agents–"

            "It's Hannibal."

            Jack looks up. "What?"

            "Hannibal. Hannibal is the Ripper."

            Jack eyes Will wryly and sighs. "Hey, it's been a long day. I know this is weird, but I'm not joking–"

            "Neither am I." His voice is small but clear. He looks at Jack through those glasses with round green eyes. "Hannibal set Frederick up. And he set him up because he kissed me. And because he thinks maybe I'd like to see Frederick get punished for it. Like what I said earlier."

            It's an odd feeling coursing through Jack. Something like cold water that has mixed in a bit with his warm blood. "Will–"

            "I don't have proof, except–" Will pauses, presses his lips together again. He looks down for just a second, then replaces his gaze on Jack. "Hannibal can do something to me. I don't know what it is or how he can do it, but– remember Tobias Budge? Me trying to kill him?" Will leans forward a bit now, his lips moving faster and his eyes alight as if he is confiding in Jack some new, wondrous thing he has discovered. "And then how I couldn't, how– how with Abel Gideon, I tried but couldn't, and I blacked out again?" Something dark and old, that the populace at large has not been privy to. "So when I found out, when I reacted to Hannibal as the Ripper, I tried– tried to kill him, but he stopped me. Somehow he made it so I got so woozy, I couldn't hold my arms up. He did something to me, Dad. Got in my head somehow. So I–"

            "You attacked Hannibal," Jack says. His mouth feels numb.

            "Yeah, but he stopped me," Will emphasizes as if Jack had not heard him the first time.

            "He stopped you because you were trying to kill him, Will." Jack wasn't ready for this. Today wasn't the day. But Will is blaming Hannibal for–

            Will's eyebrows knit. "You have to believe me. I know it sounds crazy but he– I saw his mouth move and–"

            Jack almost can't say it. But he thinks of what will happen if he doesn't. He says, lips moving slightly slower than they should, "The commands."

            "What?" Will tilts his head. It is somehow, in some way, funny to Jack– this movement of his. The way his curls bounce with the tilt of his head, the way his eyes round in curiosity. He did such a thing when he was little, in just this way. And it reminded Jack of a hound pup and Will would catch him smiling, laughing, and he would say, What's the joke, Dad? What's funny?

            "The commands, Will. You have commands."

            "What does that mean?" His voice is lighter now, as if Jack is the one attempting a joke.

            Jack says it in a way that is like ripping off a band-aid; quick, and with a futile hope for painlessness: "When you were in your training, I conditioned you to be commanded by three different words. You can't refute them or ignore them. You act on them, Will. And when you do, they thread into your instincts and after you obey the command, your body reels from their use. You black out, or you can't control your movements. I issued one during your fight with Tobias. Hannibal saw me and he did it during Gideon." Jack swallows. "Then, because he is your partner, Will, I gave them to him to use w–"

            "You–"

            "With restraint," Jack interjects, voice hard. "And I believe if you were trying to kill him, that is cause enough to..."

            Jack stops. He looks at Will who has ceased to look back at him but now has raised his hands slightly, palms up. He looks down at them as if they are not his. His right, then his left. He blinks. His glasses slide a fraction of an inch down his nose and when he looks up again, his eyes are wintergreen and shimmering behind the print-smudged lenses.

            That secret he earlier looked to be telling Jack: his countenance is such as if Jack has told Will that thing he discovered was no secret at all. Indeed not, though to Will it was magic and otherworldly– a heaving leviathan slumbering in an undersea cave. But it is common knowledge to all who live on the surface. Didn't you know? Hadn't you heard? That has lived below us since the Golden Age. There is nothing new under the sun.

            Will's shimmering eyes fill and slowly overflow. His hands still raised in mid-air and slightly away from himself as if they are coated in blood.

            "What have you done to me?" he asks.

            "Will–"

            "I," his voice creaks, "I'm human. I am no dog, no animal."

            "Will–"

            "I'm human," he cries, the chair's legs scrape against the ground as he rocks forward suddenly, to his feet, standing before Jack's desk. His hands tremble violently and he takes them to his opposite arms, clenching until his fingernails dig into his shirt and the skin beneath. As if he means to tear the skin from himself. "I'm human, I'm human!" His mouth caved in from grief. "What– h-have you done?"

            Jack sits in silent horror. His brown eyes wide on Will.

            Will sobs openly and for a long moment it is quiet in the room. For a long moment Jack does not think he is breathing. Will's cheeks are fire-red, his nose running, his closed eyes streaming. And Jack finds some strength within himself to barely lift a hand in Will's direction – this seems to frighten him, as if Jack is reaching out to harm him. Will's voice is broken and water-logged and he says, "Don't come near me, don't, please don't," as he moves towards the door, through the door, out the door.

            When it is shut, Jack turns his head and vomits onto the carpet.

*

It is dark out. The ground is covered in frost. It coated the bottoms of Will's boots as he exited his Mercedes in the driveway, coming up the gravel slowly to his porch. On the ground, there are drops of blood that must have fallen from Frederick's clothes.

            Inside the house, the dogs are full of cheer. Will has been gone a while, and he opens the screen door in his wake, allows the dogs to run out into the front. Six of them race forward, barking and jostling each other in their journey to the yard. Winston does not join them. It is hard to see in the dim lighting, but Will can tell him by his ears and by the way he sits so very still. His eyes gleam against the last of the light from the moon which moves now behind a veil of clouds.

            Will stopped crying in the car. His face is splotchy and red, but in the dark all is concealed. He leans down, then takes a knee before Winston. Takes his cold hands to the dog's ears, ruffling them, warming his own hands.

            Winston tilts his head.

            Will swallows a lump of saliva. In the dark, the moonlight hits the flash of his throat. He presses his forehead down to Winston's, and closes his eyes.

            From the blue armchair in the corner of the room, there comes a familiar and dank odor. Will knows it is Hobbs even before the dead man says, "What will you do now?"

            Will hums, moving his cheek to press against Winston's head, rubbing lightly together his stubble and the dog's fur. He says, "I'm done being everyone's dog."

            Hobbs eyes him. "Who is everyone?"

            "Hannibal Lecter. My father."

            "Everyone that constrains you."

            Will is nodding. He releases his hold on Winston, who remains still, and he rises to stand, his form silhouetted by the remnants of moonlight. He clenches his fists at his sides. "They think they can constrain me. They think I am at their mercy."

            Hobbs leans back in the armchair, his dirt and blood coated fingers gripping the fabric.

            "But I know I have them where it counts," he says, soft, voice lilting as if on spring winds. "Love. There is no stronger constraint than that. And," his voice shaking now, his hands shaking, "I will use it to grip them. I'll use it to constrain them. I will soon have them on their knees for me–" He is hard as anything, straining against the denim of his jeans, heated along every surface of his body. "And they will find no mercy here."

 

           

 

Chapter Text

Three days have passed since Frederick Chilton's arrest. Within that time, the first snow of the winter has fallen. It coats the streets of Baltimore in something like pallid sludge. Temperatures have suddenly plummeted and with them, the clouds, descending lower to the surface as if sentient and intent on smothering life. Pressing white from above, rising white from below – it feels claustrophobic. Jack has never had much patience for snowfall; its constant hold on the nature of traffic, the delays of stores opening and the stream of complaints the agents give him for not having the parking lot of the BAU properly salted. Though now it is different than impatience.

            Indeed, he thinks he hates it.

            Jack looks up, bundled in his heavy winter coat, as the snow continues to fall from evening sky to the stately rooftops of Hannibal Lecter's home. It collects in dull-white clumps over protruding brick sills and deepens the bend of already bending trees. Jack knocks on the door and believes he has arrived a bit early. He was too anxious to sit in the car any longer.

            At length, the door opens, revealing Hannibal in a simple button-up shirt, and dark brown slacks. His white apron wrapped tightly around his waist.

            "Hannibal," Jack says hurriedly, sighing. "I'm sorry I'm early, I just–"

            "Not at all. Please come in." Hannibal smiles and moves back from the door, allowing Jack to move into the warmth of the house. Jack believes still that he will never get over the lavishness with which Hannibal lives his life. And in such a way Jack cannot put into words – it is more than the high ceilings, the stately home, the glossed floors and paintings that must carry price tags of hundreds of thousands. It is in the very air breathed around Hannibal. He moves through life, not with it. And he does so with every angled grace he can afford.

            Jack allows Hannibal to take his coat and hat and place them on the coat rack in the foyer. Moving through rooms: the dining room low-lit, and then into the kitchen which is chrome and hollow but for the dense scent of cookery. Hannibal returns to the island by which is the stove-range, and a cutting board piled high with vegetables. He picks up his chef's knife and continues where he had been seemingly interrupted.

            "You sounded troubled on the phone, Jack," Hannibal says.

            Jack nods. "I didn't mean to sound dour about accepting your dinner invitation though. You know I'm only too happy to come eat your food."

            Hannibal smiles, raising one eyebrow down at his hands that work the knife and vegetables deftly. "I know, Jack. But I don't blame you. I myself have felt troubled in the wake of Frederick's arrest. To think we all could have missed such a thing right in front of us."

            Jack feels a pang in his stomach. And, too, in his heart.

            Hannibal looks up at his silence. He continues: "You should not feel at fault, Jack."

            "I think I can only feel that."

            "I did not see it either," says Hannibal. "Nor Alana. Not even Will."

            The pang turns to a long, thin needle. Piercing straight through. Jack remembers then, the look on Will's face three days ago in his office. The moment before he started crying – that was perhaps the worst. That expression he wore as he looked into his own hands. As if he were suddenly taken out of the body he had been born in, and placed into one similar but wholly different. As if he knew he could not escape this skin-laden prison. The burden of his living.

            Jack says, "That's what I wanted to talk to you about, Hannibal. Will, he's been... well, things have been compromised."

            "In what way?"

            "He knows. He knows about the commands. I told him."

            Hannibal pauses only minutely, then resumes chopping. He looks aside, checks under the lid of a stainless steel pot, then closes the lid once again. "He was bound to find out sometime, Jack. It's good you told him."

            "Is it?"

            "We can't have Will walking around unknown to himself. He must know what he is, all of it. That is the only thing that will help him along."

            Jack is not quite sure he feels the same on this matter. But he says nothing to dispute Hannibal – he looks to his side at an offshoot of the island, upon which sits a ceramic bowl full of fruit. The molding on the outside rim are carved waves. Jack takes a finger to run along the serrated edges.

            He hadn't been aware of his long silence; Hannibal speaks, eyeing him. "Is something else wrong, Jack?"

            "I," he says, swallowing. "Will accused you of being the Ripper. He's not thinking right. And he said he tried to kill you." Jack looks at Hannibal's face, searching his countenance.

            Hannibal says, "Yes, that's true."

            "Hannibal, don't you think that's something you ought to have mentioned?"

            He sighs, and seems to have some regret. "I did not want to worry you, Jack." He pauses. "And more than that– I did not want you to blame Will. I was unharmed, and I used the down command to cease him. It happened after that day in the hospital – when Frederick kissed him."

            Jack grits his teeth. That he allowed the Ripper to touch Will in such a way– he thinks he will never forgive himself.

            Hannibal moves about the stove range quietly for a moment, turning off burners and moving squared white plates from an open cupboard to the island. Jack notices off-handedly that there are three plates. As Hannibal begins laying the foundation of his dishes – thick red sauces drizzled around the edges – he looks only into the depth of the plates as he says, "I feel I must tell you, Jack, that my relationship with Will has edged towards the unprofessional at times."

            Jack looks up, having been lost in thought. "Unprofessional?"

            "Will has expressed interest. I reciprocated."

            "But–" Jack begins and finds himself at a loss. He watches Hannibal's hands as he places food on the plates, sprigging them with flourishing pieces of rosemary. "But, Hannibal, don't you think– I mean why–"

            Hannibal says, "I do confess it was probably the wrong time for such. Post-Abel Gideon and Frederick's attempt at him. Will probably had a latent reaction to Frederick when we kissed."

            Jack frowns at the word kiss.

            Hannibal looks at him, as if he is on the verge of laughter. "I assure you, Jack, it was consensual."

            "Okay, but. Just," Jack sighs, shaking his head. "Listen, lately, I've felt like there's been too much secrecy. I know this must be rich, coming from me. But the damage is done and Will knows my secret now. And we all know Frederick's. I don't want any more of this. Whatever this... this thing is you've got going on with Will, can you please just handle it?"

            "Indeed," Hannibal says, removing his apron as he has finished plating. He begins to take the plates in hand, one balancing on his forearm. "Shall we?" he asks, walking through the kitchen and into the dining room. Jack notices then what he had not before: there are three place settings. Hannibal sets the plates down.

            "Are we being joined by someone else?" Jack asks.

            Hannibal smiles, standing behind his seat at the head of the table. Jack stands in front of the fireplace and he is slightly startled when Hannibal calls aloud that dinner is ready – his dark eyes settle on the open archway of the dining room, where it connects with the foyer and main rooms. From which appears a girl who is brown of hair and pale of face. She is clad in a mint-green sweater and long white skirt. Her feet are bare. She smiles upon entering, eyes a cold winter under the dim chandelier light.

            Jack gapes, eyebrows knitted. "Abigail Hobbs?"

            She grins at him, saluting. "Hey there, Gramps."

*

Monday morning greets Will with a cold blast as he exits his Mercedes. The grounds surrounding the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane are blanketed with heavy white; the trees sag beneath the weight and the building itself seems all the whiter for it – no longer the dim, brown and red of autumn but a white that is almost blue, almost translucent. A crystal palace standing amidst a snow globe. This tiny white world.

            Will's coat tails flap gently in the breeze as he makes his way from the parking lot to the front of the building. He is barely half way before he catches sight of bright red curls bouncing towards him. Will's countenance, once having been calm and easy in the bright of day, now diminishes into something fighting back disgust.

            "What're you doing here, Freddie?" Will asks, eyeing the reporter's coat hood, lined with fur, and her heeled boots that click across the frozen walkway.

            She smiles, showing teeth slightly smudged with red lipstick. "I'm trying to get an interview with the Ripper. I've been trying for days, but the newly-instated baroness inside won't allow it."

            Will nods, sure that this is so. Throughout the last few months, while Freddie Lounds insistently poked and prodded on the outskirts of cases and crime scenes, begging for interviews with staff of the Unit and Will himself, she was denied – this seemingly forced her to go into some rogue state where she published blatant falsehoods verging on fairytales about the state of the investigation surrounding the Ripper. These articles ranged from declaring Will and the Ripper wedded at the coming of the ring to arousing suspicion that the Ripper and the Angel Maker were one and the same: the latter being the former's new form of repentance. None of these Will took note of and was simply given the highlights by an overly-excited Beverly while Price and Zeller chortled in the background.

            Because of this, Freddie Lounds has become widely regarded as nothing more than a heretic on the sidelines of real journalism. As before, she is on the fringes of society, trying desperately to find a foothold of some note– a proper interview. Will surmises this quickly and makes to move around her.

            "Sorry about your luck," he mumbles.

            "Wait, Will. Can you talk to her for me? Maybe put in a good word?" she asks.

            Will eyes her through his glasses. The sun is slightly behind him and Freddie is easily visible, every toss of a curl by the wind, every flick of her gaze. Will says, "Sure thing," and heads for the entrance. She calls thank yous after him and he hears the fast-clicking of her camera shutter. He lets the door shut behind him.

            Everything has changed, and yet nothing has. The foyer is still the same vast room, but it is chilled inside where once it was warm. And to greet him, approaching with the click of black heels, is Alana Bloom, in a white and black pantsuit which hugs her hips and waist.

            "It's so good to see you, Will," she says. She wears a laminated tag at her lapel that shines in light from the windows; it names her Acting Administrator. "I'm sorry we're meeting under such depressing circumstances though."

            "I'm not depressed, Alana," Will says easily, taking in a step in the direction from which she has come. She follows him on instinct, walking at his side, matching his gait. It has been long since Alana felt herself a real contender for the position of Will's psychiatrist and in her mind, Will thinks, he is still spoken for. But she cannot help herself – long years of displaying herself readily for Will have ingrained themselves in her every move. She cannot change this. Will is almost comforted by it; in this, he finds normalcy.

            They stroll through the wide rooms, the halls, of the palace.

            "How has he been?" Will asks. "Has he said anything?"

            Alana purses her mouth, shrugs. "Just that it's not him, he hasn't done anything. He sounds like Abel Gideon now." She pauses to smile. "He really doesn't like that their cells are right next to each other."

            "Abel?"

            "Oh, Abel loves it. Frederick's miserable."

            They come now to stand before the glass wall of one of the conference rooms, which is filled with one lone window and a table to which Frederick Chilton is chained, sitting in his dark blue jumpsuit. He seems to notice Will and Alana standing outside immediately and he ignores her to look only at Will.

            Alana nods to the orderly who leans against the wall outside. "He'll be here when you need to be let out, Will. Are you sure this won't be weird for you?"

            Will eyes her through his glasses. His lips twitch to a smirk. "I'm sure," he says.

            Alana gives an uneasy smile. As she motions to the orderly to unlock the door, Will pauses for a moment and looks back at her.

            "Oh, and is it true that Freddie Lounds has been wanting to interview Frederick?"

            "Yeah," she sighs. "She's persistent. I'm thinking of letting her just to get her off the property."

            Will shakes his head. "Don't allow it."

            "Oh?" Alana blinks.

            "She'll fuck up my work."

            "Oh," Alana says. She sets her face in a resolute expression. "Right."

            Will smiles and turns into the room, allowing the orderly to lock him in now with Frederick Chilton. Will eyes him for a moment before coming to sit opposite him at the table and he has barely sat down before Frederick's voice breaks in his first calling to him.

            "Will, where have you been? I've been waiting for you to get me out of here, this entire thing has gone way too far. This trial nonsense, and now they've instated Alana in my position– do you know she put my cell beside Abel Gideon's? That man insists on goading me at all hours, and he sings at night– how much more humiliation will I be forced to endure?"

            Will rolls his eyes. "Oh, Frederick, pipe down."

            "Pipe dow–"

            "You're fine." Will leans forward a bit, his biceps coming to connect with the edge of the table. He takes a full look at Frederick – there are circles beneath his eyes, and his stubble is growing, but he does indeed look healthy. A little less sleep on an uncomfortable cot never killed anyone. "You're fine," he repeats. "You're safe here. To be honest, this is the best place for you until I can catch Hannibal. You're in a nice little box he can't reach into."

            "I don't want to be in a nice little box." Frederick's deep green eyes are negatives of Will's own eyes. Frederick's the seafloor. Will's the sky. "And what makes you so confident you can catch him now anyway? I'm his get-out-of-jail-free card. No one is looking for him now."

            "I'm looking for him."

            "He knows, Will. He knows you know– he's not going to be careless around you."

            Will snorts, looking towards the window. "You don't have any faith in me at all, Frederick."

            "What does that mean? I simply can't see–"

            "I'm going to make Hannibal kill again," he says. "And when he does, everyone will know the Ripper is still at large. That it's never been you. They cannot connect you to earlier Ripper killings. And my dad will finally start believing me, despite this mess you've gotten yourself into. Despite how he thinks the world of Hannibal."

            Frederick looks somewhere between disbelief and hope. "How do you expect to make him kill someone?"

            "That's not for you to worry about. I've got what he wants."

            "Pray tell."

            Will smiles, brings the fingers of one hand up to his mouth. He licks the very tip of his middle finger, and drags it down his neck, to the hollow of his collar bone.

            Frederick's breath hitches, the muscles in his arms tighten beneath the fabric of the jumpsuit. "Will," he hisses.

            "I know what I'm doing. As for you, you need to start confessing to what you did to Abel Gideon."

            "I–" Frederick's eyes widen. "I–"

            "My dad and Hannibal know you coerced him to call himself the Ripper." Will looks at Frederick with something like frankness. "In your trial, confess to that, and that alone. Go for temporary insanity with the two agents. You can win that, and be kept here until I catch Hannibal. Whatever you do, don't mention his name. If you start crying out that it's him, it will make my job harder and harder."

            Frederick says nothing for a long moment. Then, "I should think my lawyer would be giving me any such coaching, Will."

            "I'm no lawyer," he says. "Just a guy who's going to save your life."

            It is quiet then. Will looks out the window and in his periphery he sees Frederick turn to do the same. There is snow on the other side of the sill, and in the quiet, there is noise from the parking lot: a car shooting off exhaust. The day is so bright Will thinks he might hear birds sing. But then he remembers it is winter and everything is dying or leaving. He exhales smoothly and rises from the chair.

            "You're leaving," Frederick says softly, and it is with a hint of question, or pleading.

            "I'll be back," Will says, moving towards the door. He sees the orderly recognize him – he comes to the other side, a key ring visible in his veined hand. "I meant what I said. This is the best place for you right now, Frederick. When I take Hannibal down, there will be casualties. I don't want you to be one of them." He faces the glass, and sees in its reflection Frederick's expression soften.

            "All right, Will," he says.

            The door opens and Will steps out of the room. Alana is waiting for him again in the foyer, and she inquires as to how the interview went and if Frederick said anything of note. Will is vague in his answers– he does not want many people to know of Hannibal yet. Frederick, though Will has scoffed at him, does indeed have a point. Hannibal is well aware of what Will knows and coercing him to be unsafe will not prove easy. Though, as Will steps out again into the frigid air, he finds himself unafraid. He has been trained well. And, as it turns out, more deeply than he ever thought. He rolls his shoulders, hears his neck bones pop, and walks towards his Mercedes.

*

It is nearing nightfall – this Jack can see from his office window. He has been making excuses lately to stay in the realm of the Unit and with the following mounds of paperwork on Frederick, excuse has not been hard to come by. Though he grows distracted by his own thoughts and finds himself looking outside at the burgeoning parking lot lights that settle gold in the purple dusk, and give the white ground some ethereal look, like Heaven beaches stretching for miles.

            In the past few days, Phyllis has probably spoken three words to Jack. Though it may be two. He isn't sure. Her look of horror upon hearing of Frederick Chilton's arrest as the Ripper was brief – nigh indiscernible to anyone who did not know her well, as it soon devolved into some dark brooding expression that Jack had rarely seen upon her face. Perhaps once, yes, when she found the glossy pictures of The Wound Man in a small Will's hands. Jack remembers that she stormed downstairs, and Will was lagging somewhere above in the boughs of the house. She told Jack he would fuck Will up.

            She didn't know Jack had already begun work on that particular project.

            She knows not still. And Jack feels that now that Will is aware, it surely is only a matter of time before she finds out as well. Her dark look had nothing to do with the commands, however, and on this Jack can commiserate for he too has felt something akin to an artery-deep disgust when he thinks of the Ripper having been ogling the boy for years and years.

            Jack does not want to think it, but he thinks it nonetheless: what happened when Will was young? Jack was not always in the room with Will and Frederick. He let Frederick talk to Will, get to know him – it was Jack's notion at that time that when Will grew up, he would be doing cases with Frederick by his side. Jack knows Phyllis thinks of this as well. And she does not say it though it hangs in the air like a foul smell: where were your instincts, Jack? While you spent all that time with the boy in the basement, building his, where were yours?

            Where were they?

            The door opens, and Jack sighs inwardly, knowing from the boldness that it is Beverly. She wanders into the middle of the room and stands before his desk, her shoulders slightly rounded, her eyes dim but pleasant. She holds her hands behind her back and smiles.

            Jack's head is in one hand. "What do you want, Beverly?"

            "I'm here to take the mannequin back down to the basement," she says. Shrugs. "You need anything? Coffee?"

            Once, long ago, Jack asked Beverly to get him coffee. She whirled on him, outraged, declaring she wasn't an intern.

            "No, thanks," he says. He releases his head and eyes the mannequin over in the corner with its note cards and pins. Now, he can only see the face of Frederick Chilton on its blank head. It is a thing of terror.

            Beverly exhales a breath and nods. She goes to the mannequin and begins unpinning the note cards, tossing them into the wastebasket near her feet. One by one, they fall in, crumpled into misshapen balls. Long silence follows where Jack watches her, where Beverly clears the mannequin's chest. She takes her time. And at last, she stands back, looking at it with its minute holes – and she takes it by the shoulders, pulls it to her and turns on her heels.

            Jack nods. His eyelids feel heavy. "Thanks, Bev," he says.

            Beverly smiles, nodding. She is at the door, maneuvering her way through the threshold with the mannequin's metal stand lagging behind and catching slightly on the carpet. She wrestles it free and before she leaves the room completely, she looks at Jack. Says, "Maybe we'll get some peace around here for once."

            "Yeah, maybe so."

            "Hey, I didn't see it either, Jack. No one did."

            Jack looks at her. One long strand of black hair has found its way to connect to the corner of her mouth. He nods. "Thanks, Bev."

            She smiles again, showing teeth, and lets the door close quietly behind her.

*

Will's watch turns itself to 7:30 PM and he stands from his chair in the waiting room. He has taken off his jacket and holds it ruffled beneath one arm. His black curls are slicked back, though one has become unruly and bounces from the hold to dangle at his left temple. Will breathes in, deep, and holds it for a moment. He presses his lips together, eyes closed, and clenches one hand tight. And as if it were planned–

            He turns–

            And the door opens, revealing Hannibal Lecter in a dark blue suit. So dark it is almost black and soft lighting of the waiting room reflects some emotion in his eyes when they meet with Will's, when they fall to take in the length of him. Will's body jerks lightly in response to seeing him, and the muscles in his legs tighten as if in preparation for a lunge. He bares one canine then fights his mouth to conceal it once more.

            Will takes his coat and hands to hold behind his back. Shrugs his shoulders lightly. "May I come in?"

            "Of course," Hannibal says, his response pausing just a bit. He seems ever so slightly taken aback, but as with everything that confronts him he seems to take it in stride. He takes a step back from the door, holding it widely open for Will as he has come to always do. Will strides in and with much effort is able to avoid biting into Hannibal's neck. As he moves past Hannibal, into the lush bounty of the office, he notices Hannibal's lips part, as if he is tasting Will – testing his scent, the sight of him, the soft pat of his shoes on the carpet, drinking it in to discern the flavor. And Will turns again just before he drops into his normal seat, allowing his jacket to fall beside him on the armrest. And in this moment he too takes in Hannibal; the Adam's apple curve of his throat, his tie and hair the same shade of browned ash.

            Will crosses one leg over the other. His fingertips trembling. His neck heated.

            Hannibal closes the door and moves through the room, taking stock of Will's minute movements; every jerk, every half-muted snarl. He smiles and sits across from Will, one leg crossed opposite of Will's.

            "The prodigal patient returns," Hannibal says.

            Will shrugs. "The prodigal fiancé."

            Hannibal nods at Will's barren left hand. "You don't have your ring."

            "Mm. Some might say I swallowed it."

            Hannibal eyes him, and tilts his head back, revealing a stretch of skin at his throat. Beneath it beats Hannibal's pulse and Will suddenly sees the man not in clothes and features but in arteries and veins and the churning of blood, ever present, thudding and rushing beneath the skin– he grips the armrests of his seat to keep himself back, and feels one eye twitching rapidly.

            "Hannibal, don't–" Will cuts himself off, shaking his head rapidly, and plants both feet flat on the floor. He is silent for a moment, then calms a bit. His heart is racing. He is so so warm. "I know. I know about my commands. I know you used one on me when I tried to kill you."

            "So, your father told you."

            Will nods, rubbing the heels of his hands against the leather of the chair. "He told me– when I told him you were the Ripper."

            Hannibal's eyebrow raises slightly. "And what did he say to that?"

            Will shifts, looks towards the windows. Outside, it is dark, and once again snowflakes fall to earth. Their crystalline faces coming to press against the glass and melt for the warmth on the other side. Will says, "He did not believe it to be true." He looks back at Hannibal and feels a throb somewhere in his lower abdomen. "He said you were just in using the command when I tried to kill you."

            "I see."

            "That's why I came here."

            "The commands?"

            Will exhales and he lightly loosens his shoulders by shaking his head from side to side. His curls bounce with the motion. And he does this carefully– he leans forward, elbows perched upon his thighs. He says, "I want you to take my collar off."

            Hannibal says nothing for a long moment.

            To press him, Will says, "I know you can do it. So do it."

            "You want me to reverse what your father did through therapy," he says carefully, as if he takes each word from a place pinned high.

            Will licks his upper left canine. "Uh huh."

            Hannibal makes a soft sound, akin to one note of laughter. "Should I succeed in relieving you of the commands, Will, you might once again try to kill me. And then what would I do?"

            Will exhales suddenly. His mouth is working against itself, attempting to grimace, but Will controls it enough so that it simply rests, relaxed. He leans back, rubbing his palms against his thighs and parts his legs, feeling his breath come faster, his face heat. His entirety is red, and he is rigid in his boxers, his jeans, so fully that Hannibal could not miss it, nor could he miss the thudding at Will's pulse, his neck, the rise of his upper lip to reveal one saliva-slicked canine.

            Will says, voice trembling with his own hungers, "I know you. My father may not, the entire world may not, but I do. And I know you want to see what I'm like. Underneath the failsafe and commands, all the chains I'm wearing. You want to see me naked. So do it. And know that when they're off– what I do, is what I do."

            Hannibal's pupils are wide, as are Will's. And Hannibal's subsequent growl is so low-toned that were someone else present, they could not possibly hear it. No, but Will can. Will can.

 

 

Chapter Text

"What I want to know is: where is the ring?"

            Jack attempts to keep a placid expression in response to the terse tone used by Kade Prurnell. He finds it difficult. This was not how he intended to spend his morning – there is still paperwork to file on not only Frederick Chilton but Elliot Buddish who Beverly and Price have been complaining about floors below. Something about one of the interns accidentally slicing off the left flap of flesh flayed from his back. The notion of Abigail Hobbs now bounding between Hannibal and Will's houses too has been tickling the back of Jack's mind – and looming over all, ever-present, is Will, only Will, standing silent and far from Jack like a bad omen. Jack has not contacted him for days and every time his phone rings he jumps at it as if it might be Will, as if perhaps he would initiate some conversation on what has transpired. Jack knows better. He knows he must say something. He can chalk his silence up to the upcoming trial of the Ripper, or Hannibal and Abigail, or Phyllis' perturbed glances, or even the Inspector General's Office spitting purse-lipped Kade Prurnell at him. But the truth is this: Jack is frightened, and ashamed.

            Jack exhales. "There's been some clerical error in the evidence room. Some mistake. It was mismarked and now it's a bit lost in the shuffle–"

            "Lost in the shuffle," she echoes, aghast. Her eyes are seemingly narrowed eternally and her blond hair, cropped short, shakes not from its smooth comb-back. "Jack, this isn't some two-time-loser's sneakers. This is a key piece of evidence in the Ripper case – with his upcoming trial, you should be putting priority on finding this."

            "And I am." Jack can't hide the exhausted cut of his tone. He's had three cups of coffee already and they've done nothing.

            Kade looks at him. She shoots a sigh sideways, eyes along the walls of the office. "This is going to be a PR disaster. It's been nothing but since that boy of yours has been running wild through cases."

            Jack feels electricity at his back, in his spine. "Will is not the problem here," he says.

            She says, "Jack."

            Jack does not budge on this – he squares his shoulders, straightens his back and leans forward to place his elbows and forearms on the desktop. He is not unfamiliar with the Inspector General's overall opinion on Will. It is now as it was when he first was instated. In the aftermath of the Shrike, when it was revealed that Will worked as expected, they eased back. Now, though the Ripper is caught, the fact that he was someone who consulted on the case and had overwhelming access to sensitive information has set not only the Inspector General afire but too the state board and the media.

            Kade eyes his posture. "You know I don't want to start something, Jack, but–"

            "Then don't."

            "The boy's been photographed with that ring on his finger," she whispers, as if it were a secret shared between them. Jack is all too aware of the fact that everyone knows. "Frederick Chilton's engagement ring."

            "Don't tell me you buy into those fairytales the rags have been printing."

            "Fairytales, yes, well," she hums and looks on the seat next to her – her large black purse sits half-opened. She reaches a hand in, digs around, and produces glossy photographs which are promptly deposited onto Jack's desk. The Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane stands tall over fields of snow and at its entrance stands Will; he is entering and exiting. Kade says, continuing in her whispers: "These were taken just yesterday. The boy's been visiting with the Ripper, given private access by courtesy of Acting Administrator Alana Bloom – who, by the way, Jack, also happened to be in the obscene little pageant show parading for your son's affections."

            "I know all that," Jack says, snatching the photos up. He allows his gruff tone to cover the horror of this news. Jack had no idea Will was going to see Frederick.

            "None of this is going to look good in court."

            "And why not? Why can't the FBI issue follow-up interviews to the man we've been chasing for twenty years?"

            Kade snorts. "You're saying you authorized this."

            "I'm saying that."

            She leans back a bit in the seat– places a hand lax over her mouth. Finally, she shakes her head. "Keep him away from the Ripper. The defense is going to use this against us."

            "He's just interviewing–"

            "Culpability, Jack. The ring, the fact that he wasn't the one to actually catch the Ripper. Do you know what they're going to say? They're going to say the boy fell in love with the Ripper and hid him, and that you gave this entire shit-storm agency."

            "Kade–"

            The door of the office opens and Jack groans aloud, heralding Beverly before she properly enters. Her black hair hangs lank around her pale face and she eyes Kade who doesn't bother to look back at her.

            "Am I interrupting?" Beverly asks.

            Jack says, "You might as well. What do you want?"

            "Uh, well, we've got a body."

            "Where?"

            "At a stable out near Covington. The horse is dead–"

            "Jesus, Beverly, we aren't veterinarians."

            She smiles, giving a thumbs-up. "Don't worry, there's a human's body inside the horse!"

            Kade looks at Jack and Jack sighs.

*

Will's morning has been one struggle after another. He woke biting his own lower lip, turned fully onto his stomach, grinding his hips down into the mattress. When consciousness came upon him, the gold light of dawn flooding the windows and too his eyes, he exhaled – soft, to not rouse the dogs. He turned his face into the pillows and let himself continue–

            The problem:

            Half of his mind egged him in one direction, that which is overwhelmingly dredged and dripping in Hannibal's dark eyes, his strong hands, the very same hands that have caught him in multiple falls, the hands that slipped the bedeviled ring onto his finger. The same hands that did the work of Will's adolescence. When he stared at bodies cut open, kidneys missing, bowels littering a room like Christmas lights. All the same person. And Will has considered the thought of Hannibal's hands coated in blood and bodily fluids, dark clotting matter under his fingernails. And he has considered those hands on his hips, clutching his pale flesh and bending him over any available surface. An autopsy table. Jack's office desk.

            The other half of his mind stood fervent and outraged in the storm of Will's half-woken lust. That which is and always will be, in Will's addled brain, the voice of Raleigh. Preaching sense and sensibility – beseeching with Will to please think of someone else, anyone else, not the one you are attempting to confine to a prison cell. There are so many things on the surface which could satisfy you, this voice said. Do not torture yourself with afterimages of the underworld. These things cannot last.

            Of course they cannot last, said the other half, that which may be attributed to Marlowe. This is why they are so delicious. It is fine, in this way, to amuse yourself. Take your happiness where you can get it, little prince.

            Said Raleigh: It is not happiness.

            No, it is not that. But it feels good.

            And so Will had done it, with fervor and a back so finely arched there could be marbled statues carved in admiration of it, of him, lost in a daydream, the ruined coliseum of his mind through which monsters have run rampant – the corridors of which are filled shadowy with those who practice Ancient Disciplines in low-toned pact. Will came into his hand, the sheets, thinking of Hannibal's teeth in his shoulder, thinking of his own hands around Hannibal's neck and somehow, in this fantasy, Hannibal lived through Will's constant strangling of him. And that, perhaps, is what excited him most.

            Raleigh's voice solemn in his ear: One day it will not be enough. These fantasies cannot hold.

            Will'd sighed, apple-red in his cheeks, drooling into his pillow. He said, "They will hold."

            Presently he walks about the house in a state of complete undress; he thinks he needs coffee before he can consider doing anything of import. His stomach is smeared white, his eyes still foggy. Most of him stands in the kitchen, leaning at the counter nearest his percolating coffee pot. Some of him is yet in the bed. And a minute sliver of him is still coming, still with Hannibal inside him, crying out in desperation, I am going to kill you. I am– I'm going to– Hannibal–

            Will's phone buzzes beside the coffee pot, moving with its vibrations to knock into the appliance. Will, leaning with his chin in his hand, propped up by his elbow, eyes the flashing, the screen telling him that his father would like to speak with him.

            Will quirks an eyebrow, and smiles, taking the phone to flip open.

            "Hi, Dad," he says.

            There's a pause, like Jack's throat catching in a swallow. He says, "Will. Hey. We– I mean, we need to talk. I mean, soon. I'm sorry I haven't called you. Everything– everything's been hectic." His voice trails off.

            Will watches the pot before him fill with warm brown liquid. He watches the bubbles, and leans forward now, both elbows on the counter. He is dripping white onto the linoleum. "That's okay," he says. "Don't worry about it. What's up?"

            Jack pauses again, as if he cannot parse the chirp in Will's tone– the ease. Will only smiles at this and arches his back, stretching forward as a cat after repose. He allows the silence, allows for Jack to navigate it on his own.

            Finally, he says, "It's just that right now we need to take care of this crime scene."

            "A body," Will says. "Got it. So, where?"

            Jack relays the name of the stables, the directions on how to get there. And Will is nodding, filing these away in his mind to be used on the drive over. Jack seems to be close to hanging up but then asks, in something nearing hesitation: should he call Hannibal Lecter?

            And Will laughs at this. Shakes the curls from his eyes and rolls his shoulders. He says into the phone, "Uh huh."

*

The snows out near Covington, toeing the state line of West Virginia and Virginia proper, are vast and uninterrupted for miles. Piled atop maples and ashes, those which have been barren since mid-autumn. The only buildings are the stables and the barn further back from the leaning fence which seems to sink into the snow banks. A rust-red pickup truck sits off to the side of the main building. Arriving vans of the forensics teams produce Beverly and Price. Initially Jack had wondered where Zeller was – Beverly informed him with no small grin that he was on leave for his wedding and subsequent honeymoon.

            Jack simply sighed in response.

            From the big road, snows like mist kick up and plowing through it is a familiar Mercedes. Not far behind it is a Bentley which gleams even beneath the dimmed midday sky. As the two cars roll up the long pathway to the stables, Jack feels a roiling in the pit of his stomach. He stares only at the Mercedes, its wheels turning to stop, its lights shutting off. The door opening, producing Will, only Will, of course only Will – what had Jack expected?

            He doesn't know – and yet in this he finds no comfort. From where Jack stands at the archway of the stables, the slight warmth of inside at his back, the cold of outside on his face, he can see the ease of Will's green eyes from behind his glasses. The toss of his curls in the bleak whiteness of wintertime. How he stands just so – very still, as Hannibal Lecter emerges from his Bentley and approaches Will with measured steps. Jack has not seen Will stand in such a way before. Head cocked to the side, body poised at once as if he wants to step closer to Hannibal and as if he wants to step widely away.

            The two of them seem to greet each other wordlessly, and then there is a sudden jerk in Will as they walk. He looks at Hannibal at his side, mouth twisted, and then untwisted when he looks at Jack. His countenance easing, lowering, from a boil to barely a simmer.

            "Will," Jack greets. He nods to Hannibal. "Hannibal. The body's inside."

            Will nods, and for a wonder he smiles at Jack – which Jack cannot account for. Will should be furious. He has every right to be, Jack is in no way clueless enough to not grasp this. And he walks ahead, leading Hannibal by a wide foot. Jack knows too that Will had been angry with Hannibal – or on some level confused about him. Accusing him as the Ripper in the wake of Frederick Chilton's arrest. Jack had assumed this was an aftershock, a blind ripple outwards towards a decimated shore. Will had wanted to catch the Ripper himself. Will has always wanted that.

            Jack has a headache. As a result, throughout their time spent in the stables, he doesn't say much. He feels as if he were sitting in an audience, a darkened grand hall, the multitudes of seats beyond and behind him empty. It is simply he who looks on at the lit-up stage, the actors who make sweeping gestures and long monologues.

            Do they speak to the other actors?

            Do they speak to the audience?

            Or are they simply lost in the daydream of the play itself, placed fervently within their own roles?

            Jack stands back and watches, this: the horse laying dead on the ground, cut open and birthing a woman by cesarean section. Her eyes open, dark and sunken, on the ceiling. Hay in her hair, stuck by way of uterine fluids and blood. Hannibal and Will kneeling before her, separated by feet of space and Will twitches every once in a while. This could be attributed to the dank odor in the room which is growing stronger despite the cold winds from outside. Beverly bends down too, moving a swab against the dead woman's mouth.

            Will is saying something, just the side of his jaw moving clues Jack in on this. And Price looking down at him, nodding. Beverly inputting something. Hannibal's gloved hand reaching across Will to touch the woman at her neck and the lines of Will's body growing rigid at first, then jittering, as if he were masonry in the wake of an earthquake.

            The actors in this play are committed, bursting with fervor in their lines, throwing themselves into their respective personas. He can see that. What he can't see is why. What gives them their fervor? And how can they do this time and time again? This same thing? And is it the same? He sees Beverly with her long black hair, a drop of water at the left of her chin from where a snowflake melted. And Will with his mossy eyes behind black-rimmed glasses. The look to be the very same people they were two weeks ago – and yet, the lens through which they have passed – indeed, they all have passed – seems to echo in their countenance, their stances. Frederick Chilton revealed as the Ripper has changed them all. Yes, this is so.

            And yet.

            And yet, though Jack knows none of them can ever go back to that time, part of him wishes they could. How could he think this? How could he wish it? Simplicity, surely. Back when they were still eluded by the Ripper. When he was some dark mass always ten steps ahead, leaving only glimpses, half-imagined scents, shadows, the echo of a footstep. Jack had hated the uncertainty back then. The not knowing. Oh, he'd had no idea. No idea that now, in the aftermath, with the Ripper locked up in the dungeons of his own castle, the sensation of being lost has increased exponentially. And something more, some–

            Some trickle of regret. The Jack of the past would deride he who now stands in the cold stables, wishing he didn't know all he does. But the Jack of the past is trapped behind the glossy veil of Time and though he does not know it, he is lucky.

            The crime scene diminishes. The curtain closes and the actors prepare for the second act. When the curtain rises again, Jack finds himself staring at the bright light of the autopsy room in the floors under the BAU. The drabness of the walls and the boldness of the light working against each other and then blend and meld into a singular synergy.

            Beverly is saying something about strangulation.

            Will stands on the other side of the table, looking down into the dead woman's face. She is splayed out and purpled on the metal. Hannibal, far to Will's right, looks on in silence.

            All of them, even Price who had been examining dirt samples from beneath the woman's nails, seem to start at once, and their attentions are brought to her heaving chest. Heaving, as if in mockery of life. It is Beverly who cuts her open, with some beleaguered help from Price. And from her chest flies a bird. It comes bursting forth with all the immediacy of a live birth and beats its wings, bashes itself against the lighting, the ceiling, flinging old blood onto the floor below. Beverly's muffled cry. Price jerking and moving behind Jack. Hannibal standing with his hands behind his back.

            And Will, who looks up at the bird, his eyes obscured in the bright light. He says, "Oh. So she was alive after all."

            The bird is captured and the autopsy wrapped up. Will has been speaking on healing, life, the killer's motive and strategy behind this. Though, he says, whether the killer placed the woman in the horse is another matter entirely. Jack hears these things in periphery. He is staring at Will as he speaks, and in some quiet way, he comes to the decision that now is the time to talk to Will. Now. Right now.

            "Will," Jack says, and the word seems to come from deep in him, suddenly, like a coughing fit. He waves at Will as he is walking by with Hannibal. Their closeness is wider than usual and though Will has been eyeing him constantly, his attention is taken immediately to Jack. Both of them pause in front of Jack, in the lightened halls just outside the autopsy room's glass wall. "Will, do you have a minute? I– we need to talk."

            Will looks at him, raises a slight eyebrow. "Okay." He turns back to see Hannibal and squares his shoulders. "See you at our appointment tonight."

            Hannibal nods deeply, and bids goodbye to Jack. He leaves then, Oxfords clicking along the polished floors.

            Jack watches him, just until he hits the end of the hall, and as Hannibal turns around the corner, he looks back at Will. Will snorts softly, and shakes gently his shoulders, turning back to Jack. "Well," he says. "I'm all yours. Should we go to your office?"

            "No," Jack mutters, eyeing the empty hall. "Here is fine. Will, I–"

            Will looks at him. Eyes open. Blinking every so often, and slowly. Jack has so many things he would like to say. To ask. He thinks of Hannibal, Abigail Hobbs, Frederick Chilton. He has daydreamed about this moment, in the time he and Will have spent separated from each other. He imagined Will as he was that day in the office – shivering and clutching at himself. Crying. Screaming that he's human. He's human. Damning Jack the way Jack knows he deserves. The way Jack might even crave. But Will is standing before him in this moment and he is not crying. He is calm, and looking at Jack with a pleasant attention.

            Jack says, "You're still continuing your therapy, I guess."

            "Mmhmm."

            "Then, I guess everything between you two is–" he searches, "being handled?"

            Will looks to smile. "It's an ongoing process. I've been having a lot of feelings lately. About what's happened. About the Ripper."

            "Chilton."

            Will rolls his shoulders lightly. Shakes an errant curl from his eye.

            Jack says, sweeping a hand upward, "That's kind of what I wanted to talk about. I've had a visit from Kade Prurnell from the Inspector General's Office. They're pretty in coils about the upcoming trial – who Chilton was, what he had access to. They want the trial to go off smooth."

            Will nods.

            "Kade's looking for the ring, Will. It's evidence."

            "Oh, that."

            "Yes, Will, that. What did you do with it?"

            "I told you," he says. He lifts his left hand and looks at the blank space on his ring finger. "I gave it back to the devil."

            Jack feels himself begin to simmer. "What does that mean?"

            Will sighs, looking put upon. His hand falls down to his hip, plants itself there. "I'll look for it," he says, looking aside.

            "You lost it?"

            "Hell is a big place."

            "Will–" Jack stops himself, hearing his own voice take on edge. Though Will looks unaffected, Jack feels he cannot yell at him. So he inhales, feels his torso expand with the breath, and then deflate. He moves on to say, "There's something else."

            Will looks at him.

            "There are pictures of you going to visit Chilton," he says, and in this he cannot help but to lower his voice. It comes naturally, as when speaking on the dead. "I didn't know you were doing this, Will."

            "It was once. So far."

            "So far?"

            "Was it Freddie Lounds who took those pictures? She's just mad because I told Alana not to let her interview Frederick."

            Jack shakes his head, slowly. "Will, you can't go see him. Kade thinks this is some kind of tryst. It's going to be used for defense and to make you and I and the entire Unit look bad. We already look like we're–" He stops himself from the word inept. He thinks blind but then rethinks it. And all the while Will looks levelly at him.

            Will says, "Like we don't know a serial killer when we see one."

            "He hid in plain sight. None of us saw it."

            "No. It's not enough to look." Will's eyes take on a deeper green, that of algae over a bog. His upper lip rises. "You have to feel him," he says, grimacing, and all at once then looks surprised, as if he did not know he was speaking aloud or was accompanied. He touches his hand to his lips then, and turns away. He begins to leave, his boots clicking in the same steps where Hannibal's had gone before him.

            "Will," Jack calls after him, startled at his sudden departure. "Where're you going?"

            He continues. He raises a hand back. "Hunting," he says.

            "What about the–"

            "Cover for me," he says. He rounds the corner and is gone. And Jack is starring at the place where he disappeared, his afterimage. And Jack knows he will cover. He owes that much.

*

It's dim in the office. Shadow-lighted and flecked with the warmth from the lit fireplace back behind Hannibal's desk. Will had never given it much thought, never seen it lit. He supposes it's appropriate with the snow falling outside and the chill that had followed Will into the building. Its melted from him now and he is nothing if not hot-waterlogged and liquidized in the leather chair. His wine glass drained on the side table. He'd tried to refuse the drink but Hannibal said he needed to be relaxed.

            I am relaxed, Will'd said.

            Then he shook and snapped his jaws in Hannibal's direction, to which Hannibal could only smile and pour his glass near to overflow.

            He is floating now – dark pink shirt unbuttoned once, twice. His shoes kicked off by the desk. And Hannibal fetching something from the red lacquered cabinet, turning back to Will in his burgundy and gold vest, his shirt rolled up to the elbows. His tie is off. Where did his tie go? He'd had it when Will walked in.

            Will watches him approach and feels his upper lip rise. He places his head in his hand, lets it loll to the side.

            He says, "Are you going to take my collar off now?"

            "It cannot all be done at once," says Hannibal. His footfalls silent as a cat's. Will thinks it must be terribly frightening to be killed by Hannibal. So quiet as he approaches. You would not hear him. And by the time you know what's happening, it's happened, and it's over. Will wonders what it looks like. "I have to discern what it is your father did to you in the first place. Your collar, Will, has three links. They are most probably entangled within each other. These things are buried inside you. We cannot remove them as you are now. We must regress you, and because they are lodged so far down, we will be using a deep level of regression therapy."

            "Deep," Will says. He watches as Hannibal places a small device on the nearby glass table. It stands upon a round metal base and holds a thin florescent light at an angle – it is only the size of a pen. Hannibal is kneeling now by the glass table, forearm resting over his knee. His eyes are following every tiny move Will makes. And Will looks from him to his drained wine glass. His face moves into a lopsided smile. "Hannibal," he says, "you gave me something."

            "Just something to relax you. You'll be fine."

            The room is so dark. Will says, "I can feel it, you know. Now that I know it's there. I can feel it all the time. It feels like there really is a collar around my neck." He watches as Hannibal touches the back of the light's metal base, and it flicks on. Will's eyes follow it slowly, barely able to keep up, as if in a lag. It is bright blue, and lights half of Hannibal's face as it swings to the left, and when it right-swings, Hannibal is sodden with shadow. "Like, I want to– to just–" Will smiles and shakes his head. "Rub my body against the ground and walk backwards to slide it off. The way dogs do when they haven't been leashed before."

            "Mostly puppies do that, Will."

            Will grins. The light flashes. It turns Will's eyes blue to the left. They are green again on the right-swing.

            "Are you a puppy, Will?"

            Cold blue – the light is cold blue. Will's voice is soft, his eyelids lowering. He says, "They got me from the pound."

            "How old were you when the Crawfords adopted you, Will?"

            And the smooth knell of it– back and forth. The blue obscuring Hannibal's face. "Ten," he mumbles.

            "And how old are you now?"

            Obscuring the office.

            "Eleven."

            "That's good, Will."

            Will shivers and there it is that's good Will it's good Will that's what he likes to hear! How strange is this voice saying it now though it's not Dad no definitely not. But it's fine it's calling to him from the big blue of the sky some voice like God and Will stands small and rustled in the grasses out behind the house. He is going through the fields looking for mice and monsters – those are the same thing you know at least they are right now. One day Will is going to be done with his training no more mice for him and he will catch huge monsters oh just gigantic like you never seen do you understand yet that Will is going to be a monster hunter and Dad told him he will be a great monster hunter oh he will be a wonder for the ages. Mom isn't so hot on the idea but it's okay yeah its fine she just doesn't need to know. This is Will and Dad's secret. It's fun.

            And that big God voice is asking questions now it's really too many questions and Will is trying to be quiet – can the mice hear God talking? Will hears him like a booming in his ears. And he's asking simple things things anyone would know right okay like what are the mice for and oh man wouldn't God know that these mice are practice mice?

            Practice for what? What does Will do with the mice?

            Oh well Will doesn't know what he does so much as what the mice do and what they do is well sorry to say they die. Will doesn't remember so great the middle bits but he remembers the after bits and he knows they're dead just that but it's for the monster training so in the end it's okay. It's to catch bad people who hurt good people. That's way more important than a few mice.

            Like oh–

            Will should probably say this because this is important.

            Like the other day when he came out of the basement with Dad and Dad kept asking are you okay how do you feel and Will was fine yeah he was okay truly but he couldn't stop shaking for some reason he was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane – that's a Momism, God – and if he's honest he was feeling a little pent-up because he's been getting headaches and there are these things Dad wants him to remember but between all that and the flashing lights and the books he's been reading – psychology sociology criminology anthropology do you know do you know do you know how a killer thinks – he's gonna burst.

            God's speaking to Will in the field and he's asking again asking what Dad does when Will feels like that what Dad does when Will gets in so tight up to his neck in aches and he can't think right? What does Dad do?

            Dad makes it all go away he–

            He–

            Yeah his lips move and Will is loose lanky and gooey and nothing's wrong anymore. And then after that oh after that is the best part because then he says good Will and Will feels great better than great he did a good job and he'll always do a good job he's going to be so good he's going to always be so good and one day he'll catch the monsters the way he catches the mice like this one right here the one in his hands. Will picks the mouse up and cups it softly and goes back to the house because tonight Mom is going out and he's got training to do and when Mom is gone like that they can get a lot done and Dad has enough time to clean the blood out of the basement because for such tiny things–

            For such tiny things they sure do bleed a lot.

            The blue cold sky. The blue cold sky is fading and it's dark and there's fire in the sky and God is counting backwards from five and when he reaches one:

            Will jolts, his eyes opening, one small breath escaping parted pink lips. He sees Hannibal sitting across from him in the leather chair. His dark eyes reflect flickers of firelight and he is leaned forward, elbows upon knees. Will swallows. He is drenched in sweat.

            "H–" His voice catches, throat dry. "H–"

            Hannibal smiles at him and rises from his seat, bringing with him a small bottle of water he'd had sitting nearby. He hands it to Will who is still hazed with something resembling sleep. He looks at the water bottle now in hand, and at the side table. The light is off, and still. He looks at it distrustfully.

            After a long drink of water, Will exhales wetly and looks up at Hannibal standing feet away. Will is damp at his temples, perspiration newly dotting the line of his scalp. "How... how was I?"

            Hannibal's hands are in his pockets. He looks out of the snow-frosted window, then turns sidelong to consider Will slumped in his seat. "Oh," he says, "you were sublime."

 

 

Chapter Text

Jack stands beside his car in the parking lot of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He leans his back against the driver's side door and gazes up at the building looming overhead. It looks strange though he's seen it in the throes of winter many a time. The sky beyond it is crystal blue, speckled with white from passing clouds. He supposes it is not the structure of the building itself but the knowledge of she who now governs it, and he who sits below in the cells. Jack will never cease to wonder at the passage of time.

            He stands away from his car as another pulls into the parking lot – Kade Prurnell's silver Audi. The windows tinted darker than Jack's. When she exits, they two make polite yet stiff greetings and walk side-by-side into the building. Jack watches her go ahead of him to come first to Alana Bloom. Jack is no stranger to office politics. He has had to play this game before – various reasons, one of which being Will's instatement, brought him to stifle his tongue and give in to the wills of the Inspector General, Internal Affairs, Washington. Being Chief of the BAU does not negate these necessities. Indeed, his station might even facilitate them.

            Jack knows when to push and when to let himself be pushed. And he knows when, and how, to merge the two.

            Alana greets Jack first though Kade is the one in front of her. Jack thinks Alana can probably sense Jack's unease towards Kade and is reacting accordingly – though this really does nothing to aid Jack's abating of Kade's suspicion of collusion.

            She leads both Jack and Kade through the vast halls of the hospital; Alana's black pumps and Kade's grey heels click together and apart, in an ungainly din that drowns out Jack's own soft footsteps. Up flights of stairs until they come to Alana's office. Jack examines it wearily, as if the mere sight of the plush, coffee-colored furniture and heavy curtains brings in old memories. Sitting in here with Frederick Chilton, discussing the Ripper and Will. As if Frederick was who he claimed to be. Jack never gave it any second thought, took Frederick at face value. Just a harried and beleaguered man who had some fondness for Jack's son. He kept the facade shockingly well – for not even Will noticed it consciously.

            Only this: he never liked the man. Jack wishes he would have listened to Will's protests instead of chalking it up to childish petulance and an aversion to being told what to do, who to be with. If Jack could go back in time, he would re-do many things. There are some, however, that he would keep the same. Yes, it is so.

            Alana sits behind the grand desk, and she looks small there, in a way Frederick never did.

            Kade and Jack sit before the desk in wood and leather chairs, those which are studded by gold-plated buttons on the armrests.

            It is silent, save for soft talking on the other side of the door. An orderly walking by. Someone buzzing another on the radios. A cart wheeling down the hall, destined for those below – it is nearly noon and lunchtime for the patients. Jack thinks of Frederick deep in the bowels of the hospital.

            "So," Alana says, pressing her lips together. She raises her eyebrows in Jack's direction. "What can I do for you? This is about Frederick Chilton, right?"

            Jack says, "Well–"

            "Yes, and about the visits you've been allowing the young Mr. Crawford," Kade says, overriding Jack. Jack can barely find it within himself to care enough to roll his eyes. She looks at Alana only, taking no heed of him in any case. "You are aware, Dr. Bloom, that the Ripper trials are in a few short days."

            "I am fully aware," Alana says. Her normally round eyes narrow.

            "Then you must know that allowing the man who is on trial for mass murder to see the young man he has been taunting over the past few months is not a smart idea."

            Jack cringes at her use of the word smart – it rings like a bell in the air, one sharp and high-pitched, incensing Alana immediately. She says, "Listen, Mrs.– Mrs.–"

            "Prurnell," she supplies. "Kade Prurnell."

            "Listen, Kade. Will Crawford has been through a lot at the hands of Chilton, I know that. Some might even term it traumatic. This being the case, one should do whatever is in their power to allow the victim of such trauma to confront their abuser. To find closure. It is in a controlled setting with guards a scream's distance away. If Will were to be in some way triggered–"

            "I don't care about that," Kade says, her face pinching. "This isn't about feel-good cuddle therapy. This is about what may or may not become a matter of Internal Affairs."

            Alana sits upright, stiff, and has the countenance of a flint stone ready to set fire to wood. Before she once again opens her mouth, Jack leans forward, holding a hand up. He notices both women look at him as if he has suddenly walked in, unannounced. He sighs. "Let's rethink this. Will had no idea Chilton was the Ripper, so the thought that he was somehow turning a blind eye to it for – to use your phrasing, Kade – falling in love is crazy. If you knew him the way I knew him, this wouldn't be an issue."

            "But I don't know him the way you know him. Neither will the jury, neither will my superiors at the Office."

            Alana says, "Will has only come once and it was for an interview which was very short."

            "Nevertheless," says Kade. "I would like you to cease Chilton's visitation rights for all save his lawyer, until the trial is over with." She turns to Jack at her left side. "Tell that son of yours to turn his attentions to the matter at hand. All that's important is that we get Chilton the death penalty. The boy is going to be on the witness stand and we've given the defense enough ammunition against him."

            "We haven't given them a thing," Alana says. She places a hand flat on the desktop, fingers stretched out. The softness with which she placed it there, for Jack, intensifies the shadow stare she gives to Kade. "Chilton will be convicted whether or not Will visits him. There's too much evidence against him for–"

            "But there is also evidence against this department's capability," Kade says, jamming her pointer finger down onto the hard leather of the armrest.

            Jack bristles. He swallows down whatever insult had been on the tip of his tongue and says in a placating fashion, "Will is not going to be visiting Chilton anymore." He looks at Alana who tents her eyebrows at him. He nods at her once, and in this she is silenced.

            "Good," Kade sighs the word. "That is all I wanted."

            Alana frowns.

            "We will get through this in some way," she continues, moving now to rise from her seat. She looks at her watch, a thin silver-linked glistening against the inside of her wrist. "I must be on my way. Thank you for your time, Dr. Bloom."

            She is leaving the office quickly, her heels soft against the carpet and then loud once again as they come in contact with the glossed floors outside. Even amidst the orderlies and guards, the wheeling of carts, through the grand door of the office, Jack can hear her, until her steps diminish and she is gone from the wing.

            Jack turns back to Alana, her normally soft face hardened and discomfited. He says, "Disregard what I said. Let Will do what he wants."

            Alana blinks, and she turns to him with a bounce of her hair. Confusion on her is slight and fast-passing. She smiles.

*

The scent of the murderer from the previous day's crime scene has occupied Will for most of his day. There were employees of the stables to interview and question on the dead girl, she who had been sewn into the horse. And the matter which Will finds most enchanting: the bird inside her ribcage. These things are byproducts of Will's day job and he knows he must keep up appearances. Hunt the gobies on his father's time. Hunt the white whale on his own. Though these things, it seems, are not always properly kept separate.

            It is so messy. And perhaps this is an asset to Will – the fast switching between lanes. He feels immersed in his hunts for the first time since his training, when he was but a boy with eyes only for the approval of his father. It is all he thinks about and it intertwines within every facet of his life. As was the case this morning, when he was interviewing the man, Peter Bernardone, who used to work at the stables where the murder occurred. He'd been kicked in the head by a horse years ago and can no longer speak without a near constant stutter and his eyes blink almost as rapidly. Will had listened to him calmly, quietly, allowing for the man's shying away and his fear. After hearing of the horse, the woman and the bird, Peter had asked, haltingly, after the bird alone.

            Will could not get that out of his head all day. The asking after the only living thing – that which had made it through the murder and blood.

            Presently, Will half-sits on the edge of Hannibal Lecter's office desk. The room once again draped in shadow and highlighted with fleeting flicks of firelight that come from just behind. Will's coat is thrown on the chaise; his black button-up shirt opened at the collar. Shadows move against his throat as he swallows down wine from his half-full glass. He knows the wine is spiked, as it had been the night before. He tries to discern any odd taste now that he is aware of the drug – he finds he cannot. Whatever Hannibal is putting in it is nigh untraceable. Will cannot help but admire this deft hand.

            Hannibal stands near, in vest and tie, his suit jacket over the back of his leather chair. His glass is drained, sitting near Will on the desk and catching and bowing the reflection of the fireplace.

            "Does this endear him to you, Will? The fact that he is so innocent?" Hannibal's gaze snags on Will's mouth, and the rim of the glass that presses against his pink lower lip.

            "Yeah," Will says. "It's admirable." He pauses, gaze downcast into the deep purple liquid. He tilts his head back and swallows down more. "Wish I could be like that," he says.

            "You are quite innocent in some ways."

            Will snorts soft laughter – unsure if it is the alcohol, the drug, or if he truly found that funny. He looks up into Hannibal's face and though his body jerks him into a snarl at the man's nearness, Will manages to grin through it. "And I'm not so innocent in other ways."

            Hannibal smiles. "Do you mean what you're doing here?"  

            "What am I doing here, Hannibal?"

            There is a pause. Will continues to rub his lower lip against the rim of the glass. Hannibal eyes him for a moment before leaning just a fraction of an inch closer, in the direction of Will's ear. He lowers his voice to say, "Going behind your father's back. Letting me take your collar off link by link. You know he would not approve, Will."

            Will feels it starting at his scalp: a fizzing that flashes and bolts its way into the dip at the back of his skull, his shoulders, the arch of his lower back. Will hardens immediately and almost breaks the wine glass in the resulting clutch of his fist. He contains this with a low-toned grunt, a twitch of an eye. Will exhales, watches Hannibal straighten again and stares smoothly at Will, the entire length of his body.

            "I–" Will sips from the wine again. "That. And the essence of my job. I catch murderers. I'm always thinking about death, decay. It's ingrained in me."

            "Perhaps, then, innocence is overrated."

            "I don't think so. I quite liked my innocence, when I still had some to claim. Things were uncomplicated, unclouded. Not like they are now." Will raises an eyebrow. He thinks the drug must be effecting him already. Hannibal is but a foot away and Will's snapping and jerking is going off only once every moment or so. The room is heated, perhaps overly so. His muscles feel loose, easy. He says, "You are part to blame for that, Hannibal."

            Hannibal's left hand is flat on the desk, half a foot from where Will's right hand is placed. He looks down at the two of them. "I have not done much to you physically, Will."

            "But psychologically," Will says, chuckling behind his glass, "there've been changes. How I used to think. How I think now." He lowers the glass to the other side of the desk, abandoning that which is now only dregs. He shifts his shoulders to lean heavily on the one hand closest to Hannibal. "But what I think about when I'm alone. Who I think about. That hasn't changed." Will hears it: Hannibal's throat clicks as he swallows. Will works to hide his smile and settles for biting his lower lip. He rolls his shoulders involuntarily.

            Hannibal is still staring at their hands. "How does that make you feel?" he asks.

            Will takes his hand from the desktop. He places it on his right thigh which, by the thick fabric of his jeans, presses against the insistently rigid outline of himself. He watches Hannibal's black-hole gaze which trails Will's hand, rubbing firmly against the denim. "Filthy," he says, soft.

            A moment passes in which the only sound in the room is the tender crackle of the fireplace. And too: Hannibal swallows again. The heel of Will's hand is slightly rough against the dark blue of his jeans, and he continues to slowly press into himself in a long stroke. Just enough pressure to make it feel good and though he would like to go faster, he controls the urge. Slow enough it could be called torture. Will watches Hannibal only; the ashen bangs falling across his forehead from their former slicked-back position. The part of his lips. Shoulders, biceps straining against the soft fabric of his dress shirt. Will isn't sure how much time has passed, but he is going to start leaking soon if he does not stop. With much effort, he takes his hand away and slides off of the edge of the desk. He glances back at Hannibal whose countenance would seem only minorly ruffled to most. To Will, he looks as if he would like to rip something to shreds. Cloth. People. With the same ease.

            Will tilts his head towards the cabinet before walking to his chair. "Get the light," he says. "I'm ready."            

*

This has become apparent to Jack: Will is growing more and more accustomed to his job. This has obvious benefits. Though he has never been through a period of residency at a police station like many incoming and young agents, Will has had years of training threaded through with exposure to overwhelming gore. He does not sicken nor have panic attacks at crime scenes in which the team is finding itself digging up a gravesite of fifteen women. Instead, he watches placidly from the sidelines, standing a few feet from Hannibal Lecter. The dusky orange glow of sunset behind them while one of the young forensic scientists vomits but yards away in a bush.

            The graves are sixteen in total; one being empty, recently dug up. They are once again in Covington, not far from the stables where the woman was sewed into the horse. Jack thinks of his life in darkly jovial sentiment: Just another day lost in the funhouse. Sometimes it's the only way he can manage to smile. He wonders if Will is the same way – if he makes light of things in his own head, or to peers, simply to get by.

            Jack knows this much – Will has been particularly good-natured of late. He has been timely with his interviews, cordial to the forensics teams, and when Jack can overhear him speak with Hannibal Lecter, he is polite, smiley even. Though he does seem to make a point of giving the doctor a wider berth. Jack wonders if this is a new step in his therapy.

            In the wake of the discovery of the sixteen graves, Beverly and Price manage to link the dead woman in the horse as being the missing sixteenth grave. This news procured by scrapings from beneath her fingernails – dirt, which matched that of the other women. On this, Will was sent once again to interview the stable hand who'd been kicked. When Will returned to Jack, he gave the name of a Mr. Clark Ingram, he who is the social worker of Peter. While Jack thought it to be farfetched, he allowed for Clark Ingram to be brought in for questioning. He stands now behind the one-way mirror on the other side of an interrogation room beneath the BAU. Will by his side, looking on as Hannibal Lecter and Clark sit opposite each other in the bare concrete room.

            Jack watches silently for a while. He listens to Hannibal's calm, serene voice asking questions and, too, plants his gaze intently on Clark who is sitting directly opposite the mirror. His face is pale, slightly doughy. Eyes dark, hair neatly coiffed. His answers are short, clipped. He does not seem calmed by Hannibal's cadence but indeed irked by it.

            Will shakes his head, hands deep in his jeans pockets. "He's it."

            Jack raises an eyebrow in Will's direction – he does not remove his gaze from Clark, but says to Will: "How can you tell?"

            "Look at him. He's dead inside."

            Jack has noticed the eyes. They are deeply-set, and so brown they are nearly black. More than that, there seems to be an emptiness there. His face moves, his mouth smiles, but all of it is slightly removed, as if he is controlling his body from a place so deep inside that there is a lag between reaction times. And for the life of him, he cannot control his eyes. No matter what Hannibal says, whether he is making light, or speaking gravely on the dead women, Clark's eyes do not change.

            "He's a monster," Will says. "An ill-practiced monster, we can say that. The fact that it's written all over his face. He probably doesn't come into contact much with people who can see this. He hangs around people like Peter all day, people who probably don't even like looking at others, much less trying to figure out if they're murderers or not."

            "He keeps blaming Peter." Jack knows this game: it is simple enough. He's seen it before, but what is never simple is proving it. Disadvantaged people in the care of the state, given over to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists who mistreat them. Jack has not met with Peter Bernardone, but from Will's description of him, he does not sound like the type to possess even the capabilities or thought process to successfully murder and bury sixteen bodies. Yet, the question remains that if Clark buried them, someone had to dig one up and put her in the horse.

            Just another day lost in the funhouse.

            Will's fists clench within his pockets. Through the gleam of his lenses, Jack can see his fervent green glare.

            "You want to get him," Jack says.

            "Mm."

            "Can you really see him that clearly?"

            Will is nodding. "It wouldn't be so bad," he says, "if Peter wasn't so innocent. Who knows what Clark has said to him. What Clark has done."

            Jack watches him for a long moment. "Those women were innocent too, Will."

            It is quiet. Inside the interrogation room, Clark has told Hannibal that if he is not under arrest, he would like to be on his way. His voice skirts the edges of terseness. In response, Hannibal is only a gentleman and nods, saying that he is free to leave when he wishes.

            Will seems to have been holding in a breath. He releases it, and says, "But Peter is alive."

*

It has just begun to snow again. Though the wide fields throughout Wolf Trap have been peppered for days with leavings of the last fresh snow; these have come to wither, melt, and grey. It is early evening when the sky is overcast, and the smallness of Will's house stands lit-up and fervent in the oncoming dark. Through open windows in the living room, Will watches a lone car pass by his house, its headlights shining long and then diminishing down the road.

            He has not been able to concentrate much since the interrogation room. Seeing Clark Ingram for the first time lit something in him, something that is not so unlike when he first saw Hobbs in his kitchen, the knife held to his daughter's throat. So blatantly his charge, standing in a way that spoke to Will, shouted at him, demanded something from him. Will has paced about in his living room, which initially excited the dogs until it became worrisome to them. They lie now in various piles of pillows and blankets by the heater. Winston sits upright on the bed.

            Will has his cell phone in hand. He flips it open, then closed. Jack wants proof. Will presses his lips together. Then he will press Peter for proof.

            Will flips open the phone once again, and calls Hannibal.

            On the drive to Covington, Will sits silently in his car, letting the darkness of night soak its way into him. The snows blow over the hood and roof of his car, the windshield wipers little assistance. Will has not been alone with Hannibal since their previous session the night before. He can't think much on it without feeling himself grow hot – as if Hannibal is before him again, watching his movements with such intensity it could pass for awe. Will grips the leather-covered steering wheel tighter. Rubs his thumb against the underside of it in slow circles.

            As he comes up to the stables, he finds that the Bentley has beat him there. It is snow-swept and lolling, heated, with Hannibal still sitting inside. He exits upon Will's arrival, his parking beside the Bentley. Just as Will is unbuckling himself and turns to open his door, he finds it is opening, with Hannibal on the other side. He steps back and makes way for Will to exit.

            Will does so, stepping out. His boots crunch the piling snow. His cheeks are slightly pink, and too his nose, and not simply for the cold. He looks away and his curls blow across his ears, his neck.

            "You don't have to do that," he mumbles.

            "I know." Hannibal shuts Will's door behind him. The stables ahead are lit up, and they seem like Will's house amidst the frigid night – a beacon of warmth. Hannibal takes a step in that direction, looks at Will, and nods for him to follow.

            It occurred to Will that he might be able to find Peter here – though, ex-stable hand as he is, he has seemed overwhelmingly worried about the animals who live here in light of the disturbances. When both Hannibal and Will come into the back of the barn, a wide room lined on the right with gated pins inhabited by sheep. The ground littered in scant remains of hay. Above are dim lights, one of which blinks on and off and it reminds Will of Peter's eyes. Peter, who kneels before a dead horse at the back of the room.

            His back is turned to both Hannibal and Will who approach him. He twitches, at the shoulder, at the wrists. Looking over him, Will watches as he finishes sewing the horse's stomach where there has been made a large incision. For a long moment, Will can only watch. Peter reminds him so much of himself in some way – the twitching, the blinking, the grand distaste of eye-contact. Will thinks he might have been just like Peter if he had sustained a similar head injury. And he wonders if his life would have been better or worse.

            "Peter," Will says, gentling his voice. Peter's head jerks in response. "Is your social worker in that horse?"

            Hannibal looks at Will and then takes the smallest step forward, as if to get a better look.

            Peter ceases his sewing. Near the horse's bleeding head is a ball-pein hammer, laying in the reddening hay. Finally, Peter does turn around, and his face is downturned, eyes watering. His shaking hands dripping with blood.

            "I," he says.

            Will nods. "It's okay. It's all right." He approaches Peter with slow, measured steps. Peter does not seem disagreeable to Will taking his shoulders gently in hand and helping him to his feet. He places an arm around Peter's frail shoulders then and walks with him towards the doors. Looking back briefly, Will tells Hannibal that he will return in a bit. Hannibal does not seem bothered and as Will and Peter walk out of the door, he sees Hannibal wandering over to the sheep pens.

            Once outside, Will finds he does not feel the cold so harshly as he did upon exiting his car. The snow blows past, spiraling from the black sky. In it, Peter is shivering, though his jacket is thicker than Will's.

            Will stands before him and says, "It's okay, Peter. I'm not mad at you for it."

            Peter looks at Will; his gaze flickers up, then lowers again.

            "Really. I actually envy you," he says. A snowflake drifts to the corner of Will's mouth and melts for the warmth there. "Just getting to do what you want. No one to control you, command you."

            Peter swallows.

            "Living like that..." Will can't help but smile at the thought. And he feels it now, fervently, that collar at his neck. A phantom itch of sorts. Only it isn't shorn from him. Not yet. He swallows, lets his tongue run over the top row of his teeth. "I know what Clark was really like, Peter. I could see it. He was supposed to be someone you could trust and he took advantage – I would have killed him too, if I could."

            There's a small intake of breath from Peter. He brings together the tips of his fingers, looks at Will's chin. "I didn't... I didn't kill him. I-I just wanted... him to see. What it's– what it's like. Death."

            Will furrows his brow. He looks at Peter, then back at the building. He is able to get Peter to stay by his Mercedes while he edges back inside, having quickly drawn his revolver from the glove compartment. As he approaches the inside of the barn, the hay rustling lightly in the wake of his footsteps, he sees Hannibal standing before the horse which is busted open, having spilled bowels, blood and stomach lining onto the floor. And, too, Clark Ingram, who stands like a newborn, sodden with fluids and half retching, half coughing out a blood mist.

            Hannibal's body moves ever so slightly. Will thinks he must have heard him come up from behind and he says to Clark, "You might want to climb back in there if you know what's good for you." He takes a wide step to the side, and Will is confronted fully with the sight of Clark, his eyes beady and cold as a dead fish, awash in horse blood. Will's pupils immediately narrow and the veins on his wrists stand out. The revolver is cold in his hand. He hasn't held it like this since Hobbs.

            "Oh," Clark says, sighing. His mouth moves to open, something that might be considered a smile. "Officer. Thank God you've come."

            Will feels a shudder jolt him from the inside out. He eyes quickly at Hannibal, who stands motionless a few feet away, hands in his woolen coat pockets.

            Clark drops to his knees in surrender. His hands open, palms up. "I'm the victim here," he says.

            Will might laugh if he could. Clark does say so with conviction. Will rolls his shoulders and leans his head to the side, a few curls falling away from his eyes. Hannibal's countenance is somewhat as it had been the night prior, when they two were alone in his office. When Will simply allowed himself to be watched. When all Hannibal could do was watch.

            Will says, "Are you going to command me?"

            Clark looks at him, mouth moving to a confused gape. "What?" he asks. "You guys are from the FBI, right? Please, Peter is a mad–"

            Will clenches the handle of the revolver, the sound of which silences Clark, jerks him backward an inch.

            "Are you?" Will asks.

            Hannibal stares at his hand, his wrist, his arm, up to the smooth curves of his face. He speaks slowly, and clearly: "I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself."

            Clark says, hands shaking, "Hey, come on–"

            Will's voice is high-pitched, nearing a giggle, as he says, "Consent not to subordinate me, Hannibal. Now or ever again."

            "Ever," Hannibal says.

            Will shoots Clark through the chest, just once. It does not hit his heart straight through, but comes close enough that Clark lies out on the floor and dies within seconds. His head hits back against the carcass of the horse and his body slumps in on itself, sliding minutely until his shoulders and all above are once again in the cavernous insides of where he had crawled out of. His legs are splayed apart from each other, and twice do his fingertips twitch where they lie in the horse's spilled organs.

            Will's hand lowers, perfectly still. He looks at it, the gleam of the revolver reflecting Will's be-speckled eyes. The fiery green. The throbbing green. That which pulses as his heart does – a constant, heavy bass. It reminds him of Abigail's music.

            For a moment, it is as if in a daydream. Some fantasy gone awry. He had not been assured of all he had been told until this very moment – yes, even in the aftermath of both Jack and Hannibal confirming the existence of the commands, it seemed a fairytale, just some ghost story to scare him. But it is real. It exists, otherwise Will could not have done this, if there existed any real trouble with his ability to kill. So. He really has been controlled.

            He opens his hand and lets the gun fall down into the thin carpeting of hay. At his side, Hannibal's footsteps crunch nearer until he comes to stand but a half foot away. So close that Will can smell him, even in the overpowering flood of blood and animal permeating the wide room. Will's body jerks, and his eyes which are still narrow-pupiled and electric green turn to look up into Hannibal's nebulous gaze.

            Will's teeth bare completely, his fists clench at his sides. In something of a deep exhale, he says, "You liked it. You liked watching me."

            Hannibal's lips part. He is nodding.

            Will thinks he could do it. He's already killed one. He might as well do it. Somewhere inside him, his good sense is screaming in its prison, beating against the bars with bloodied fists, crying out: Stop, stop, what will Jack think? You cannot do it here, you cannot do it now–

            Will is in tremors. He stares at the soft plains and valleys of Hannibal's face. The geography he has mapped hundreds of nights in his mind. He tents his eyebrows and moves closer, the lapels of their coats coming to slight contact.

            "Am I worth watching?" he asks.

            Hannibal says, in a solemn tone of grievous confession: "I have not seen your like before."

            Will presses up and forward until his mouth covers Hannibal's top lip, the side, the corner, dragging down to meet his mouth fully. His hands on the man's chest, grabbing fistfuls of his sweater, pulling him down, in; Hannibal's hands gripping Will's hips. The suddenness with which their mouths open to each other is hailed by nothing more than Will's broken moan. He presses himself flush against Hannibal and drinks him in as if he were a wine to be tasted only once. The sweet give of his flesh. The pink lips he'd kissed in the afterglow of a meteor shower. When he had looked on high. And had felt high. And he feels high.

            Teeth – yes. Hannibal's sharp against Will's whole upper lip, pulling, sucking, and Will with tears in his eyes and Will leaking in his jeans. His body throbs with flashes that start behind his eyeballs like a migraine: images of Hannibal holding him down over a table, images of Will stabbing Hannibal through the heart. Will's thighs opening. Will's body long, languid, red as any netherworld fruit to be picked in the harvest season. Amidst flowering trees boasting thick, fleshy petals. Soft as silk. Blushing red and heavy-hanging stamen. Greenest of leaves. Open. Blooming. Dripping wet.

            Will catches himself, like some kind of electric shock. He pulls away though he is so rigid he is indeed sore from it. He drops his hands from Hannibal's chest, and forces the man to release his hips. Standing still so close, Will's eyes half open, focusing blearily on Hannibal's own eyes, he presses just the lips of his parted mouth to Hannibal's once again. Does not kiss him but pushes their tongues flat against each other. The full wetness of each mingling for the longest second. Will licks up along Hannibal's tongue slowly, feels himself being given every opportunity. He is panting catastrophically when they part, when he forces real distance between them.

            Hannibal is looking at him, mouth wet, chest heaving, eyes starless.

            Will is sure he looks similar and feels himself burning red. He jerks once, snaps, and shakes himself in some attempt to regain control. To center, he steps forward quickly, snatching the folded handkerchief from Hannibal's coat pocket. Silk, pristine. Not for long. Will walks backwards with it, bends and picks up the hammer that has been laying on the ground.

            He says, "We have work to do."

*

It was 12:35 AM when Jack startled in bed, the buzzing of his cell phone bumping loudly against the nightstand, a few books, a glass of water. He lunged for it with one arm, blind, as he now wears an eye-mask to bed though he has yet to acclimate to it. Phyllis took pity on him and bought him a black one – masculine. In the din of noise from his clambering, Phyllis woke beside him but simply turned over. When Jack answered, hearing the call about there having been an altercation and Will shooting someone, Jack rose in a roar from the bed, simultaneously alerting Phyllis as well.

            He barely was able to put on pants and a jacket before Phyllis nearly attacked him, demanding that he hurry and see to Will. The drive out to Covington is long on any normal day but in a whirlwind of snow that night with thoughts of Will once again covered in blood and trembling as that spring day, the drive seems infinite. When Jack arrives, he sees the red and blue flashing of police cars and ambulances. Yet beyond that, beyond that–

            Jack almost doesn't park the car correctly. He stumbles out, walking through the sea of blue uniforms, and EMTs on stand-by. He thinks of Will emptying his gun into Hobbs. The blood on his glasses, on his wrists.

            And then: like something out of a dream, Jack comes to stand before two parked cars, the Mercedes and the Bentley sitting side-by-side. On the trunk of the Bentley, perched with one elbow on his knee, is Will. Beside him, with a cut and bruised cheek, is Hannibal who is being dabbed at with alcohol and gauze by a young female EMT.

            Jack stands amidst the snow falling ever insistently to earth.

            Will raises a hand in greeting. "Hey, Dad."

           

           

 

Chapter Text

It was, if anything, unexpected.

            He remembers feeling something akin to skepticism upon pulling the trigger. Not believing Clark Ingram would really die. No, not at all. Something would have stopped his death – Hannibal calling out a command, Jack bursting in through the doors behind, Clark making a mad rush at him, even divine intervention. Any such thing was possible. What was not possible, certainly not, was Clark Ingram with a hole in his chest and Will's arm jolting from the kickback.

            From there, Will merely reacted to his own actions – simple enough. Placing Clark's handprints on the hammer, and beckoning Hannibal to him with the tool. Landing a swift cut against the man's cheek with the claw of the hammer drew both blood from Hannibal and a deep moan from Will. He jerked, once, violently, and turned away quickly so as not to be incited. A long moment passed, and Will kept his gaze downturned. In tandem, they shuffled the heels of their shoes into the hay, and Clark's, indicating a severe struggle. Will showed this to Jack, looking at the dead body calmly, as a pointer dog would to its charge, the hunter himself standing back at length. And like any good hunter, Jack cleaned up the mess and after considering Will for a long moment, he said good, Will, and Will felt a serene and singular little trickle of glee down his spine. Cold water after a muggy summer day.

            The loving embrace of a job well done. And Will can't help but wonder if that need, that love of such a phrase, will disappear once the collar is fully removed. Part of him hopes not. It feels good. And Will would like to keep what feels good.

            Clark Ingram died not in vain. Though Will did not plan his death, he can account for it and put it to use. Like a lab rat who expires so suddenly in an experiment. There has been knowledge gained here. And Will operates on the pursuit of the greater good – the bigger picture. He knows its value like few do. 

            Hannibal had enjoyed watching Will kill Clark, with something close to veneration. Those dark eyes that lost all flecks of maroon or hazel, any shimmering in the bare lighting overhead. The brightest of stars could not have brought color into those eyes. At that moment, Will thinks it to be true, Hannibal was head-over-heels. Bare-boned and fraught with his own adoration. Yes, much like he had been in his office, as Will sat upon his desk. The same expression, countenance, as if he could barely keep himself off of Will. Will had felt such when they kissed in the wake of Clark's death. Sex and death pouring from each of Hannibal's pores, flooding one single vial that could be most readily referred to as Will Crawford.

            "Do I really have to hear all of this, Will?" Frederick asks, looking wholly morose in his blue jumpsuit, his chains to the table. From the window, bright morning light finds its way to the man's face, illuminating the bags under his eyes. In just his short stint in the institution, he looks to have aged a few years. Though it may only be due to his lack of sleep, which, he has complained haughtily, can be attributed to Abel Gideon one cell over.

            Will sits across from him in the glass conference room, curls perked and slicked back save for one. His glasses recently cleaned and spotless. He tries to hide his grin; it doesn't work much. "Oh, come on. Are you really that jealous? The man is a psychopath."

            "It's not about jealousy," he insists, though the cerise color at his cheeks says otherwise. "What does all this have to do with me?"

            "You doubted me, right? Well, here's proof that I can do what I say. Hannibal is getting off on watching me – he loves it, but what happens when you see someone you want to be with touching themselves?"

            Frederick makes a somewhat-disgusted gasp and rolls his eyes.

            Will answers himself: "You want to help them. You want to do it with them."

            "I'm sorry, I'm failing–"

            "Hannibal saw me kill a man. He's going to want to kill someone with me."

            Frederick's dark green eyes clear a bit. The sunlight hits them in just such a way. It shaves years from his tired face. "Your big plan," he begins slowly, "is to go on killing people until Hannibal one day joins you in some kind of unholy lustmord?"

            Will shrugs. "It won't take long."

            "Oh my God."

            "Frederick, it's the only way."

            "Oh, you're right, Will. Absolutely. The only way. Yes. Except, I'm not sure– telling your father, the Chief of the BAU? What is the matter with you?"

            Will snorts, crossing his arms and turning away. Frederick continues to complain, rattling the handcuffs as he does so. Will sighs heavily, tunes out. Jack would not believe him and this is not merely conjecture, it is fact. Will did attempt to tell him once – but it sounded weak, even to Will's own ears. Frederick had just been arrested, with mountains of tangible evidence in his bloody wake, and Will had only a kiss. Has only a kiss. And his surety. These things will not go away. He interrupts Frederick to tell him as much.

            "You could work together to get proof, real proof," Frederick says. His eyebrows tent. "Will, I know you feel you must do this alone. But you're playing with fire here. You said it yourself, the man's a psychopath. I've seen it first-hand. What lengths he's willing to go to put me away, to secure you. You dangle yourself like a lure in front of him – what happens when he rips the lure from the line? Hannibal does not strike me as an overly patient man."

            Will considers this, leaning forward with one elbow on the table. Chin cupped in hand, his pinky finger pressing against his lower lip. "He's been reasonably patient," Will says.

            Frederick exhales a small breath from his nose. He sits back in the chair, shoulders lax, and looks placidly at Will. As if seeing him for the first time in a long time. Considering each new angle of his face. The fervent glint in his eye. Frederick says only, "You are very young, Will."

            At this, Will feels offence and he makes a noise not so unlike an unnerved animal. Shakes his head, rolls his shoulders. He moves from the table, lets the legs of the chair scrape back against the bare floor. As he moves to the door, the orderly on the other side takes his cue and brings forth the heavy key ring.

            From behind, Will hears Frederick's voice: "Talk to Jack, Will. Please. I don't want to see you get hurt."

            Will doesn't turn back to see him. "I'll see you in court tomorrow, Frederick. Remember what we talked about."

            "I remember."

            Will nods once, and leaves.

*

Jack considers, instead of a party, a psychiatric evaluation for Will. It seems almost redundant, in light of Will having been with Hannibal as a patient for quite a while now. And Jack is sure that if something has gone wildly awry within Will that he would have been notified by his doctor. Still, Jack can't shake this feeling that holds him in a vice grip, something that is dully sharp and heatedly wet, the utmost of paradoxes. It is as simple as the way Will looked last night, in the blowing snow, sitting on the trunk of car as if he had just been out carousing all night and finally found a moment to rest.

            It is light-years from the Will he saw staggering from the Hobbs' house. And Jack finds it odd that he had just been considering earlier that day how used to the job Will has seemingly become. Could this all be part of it? It is so that many cops and agents find their footing in violence and accept it as part of the job. But Jack saw in Will more than acceptance. Something like relief. A quietness around him, settling like feather-light snowflakes.

            In private, as Will was preoccupied with EMTs shining lights in his eyes and checking him over for injuries, Jack pulled Hannibal aside. He seemed calm, although bleeding from the mark on his face.

            Jack had asked him if shooting Clark Ingram was the only way. He felt unease about bringing up the commands in Will's presence – even if he was yards away, out of earshot. As such, he did not ask Hannibal if he could have issued one. Only looked at him in the blue and red lights that passed over his face. His hair askew, his sweater and overcoat ruffled.

            He'd said, "I'm afraid so."

            Similarly, when Jack arrived home before the sunrise, he found Phyllis up in the kitchen, waiting. She'd nearly rushed him upon his entry, demanding to know what had become of their son. Jack relayed all he'd seen and upon Phyllis' large exhalation, Jack asked, "Don't you find it... odd, that he's so calm about this?"

            "Maybe it's shock."

            "He wasn't shocked. I know what shock looks like."

            Phyllis groaned. "You don't like it when he's in tremors over shooting someone. You don't like it when he's calm over shooting someone. What is it you want from the boy, Jack?"

            "I-I don't know– something in the middle?" he asked, exasperated.

            Phyllis rolled her eyes and went back to bed.

            Jack tried not to think on it until now as he sits in his office at mid-morning, a cup of lukewarm coffee loitering next to his hand. Sugar packets strewn across the desk. Out in the hall, shoes pad and click alternatively across the glossed floors. Muffled voices and one, markedly Beverly's for the smooth trill, rises above the others. And someone responds to her – voice calm and sedate. Will's, only Will's. In a moment, the door opens and Will appears: in a moss green sweater which mimics the color of his eyes. Jeans. Much less dog hair than Jack remembers him usually wearing. He must be making an effort to look presentable lately, though Jack does not know the reason for it.

            "Will," he says. "Please sit down."

            Will does as told; moving with muted footsteps across the carpet. He seats himself softly, crossing one leg over the other. Will is under the impression he is here for de-briefing on Clark Ingram. But Jack couldn't care less about Clark Ingram.

            Will clears his throat lightly and begins: "So, late last night I was thinking of going to question Peter again. I called Hannibal to meet me at the stables in Covington. I figured maybe a psychiatrist might be useful with Peter – when we arrived–"

            "Will, I'm sorry."

            "–we," Will slows to a halt, having been glassy-eyed in remembrance and his gaze clears now, settles on Jack. "We," he says. Then: "What?"

            "About the commands. I'm sorry."

            Will says nothing.

            Jack moves the fingers of his right hand in lopsided circles against the desktop – they run into sugar packets, graze the mug beside. He keeps his eyes level on Will. "You didn't have a choice when you were young. When I implemented them. You had no real idea what I was doing and it was a violation of my position– my status as your father. I shouldn't have done it. I'd gone far enough with the training as it was, and I–" his throat catches, clicks, he swallows over it, "I could see you were having trouble with it. The images, the things you were put through."

            "I was going wild," Will supplies, his voice a soft whisper. He leans forward just a bit, elbows on his thighs. He presses his lips together, wets them.

            Jack nods. "And I–"

            "Wanted to tame me."

            "Something like that."

            Will shrugs his shoulders – some noncommittal gesture. He looks unsure. In this moment, Jack looks at him and can feel something akin to relief. Within the past few days he has seen Will in some odd state, something like airiness and ease. Jack is not used to seeing Will that way – he is used to this: Will looking into the ether, thinking, his countenance soft and fidgety.

            Jack says, "I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not a doctor. I shouldn't have done it."

            Will snorts. "Is that because you think you made a mess?"

            "You're not a mess, Will. You're not." Jack truly believes this. He knows Will does not. And he also knows he cannot possibly get him to – only that he must try. "The way you are – what you're like naturally. That's not a mess at all."

            Will's eyes – green water recently troubled. "How do you know what I'm like?" he asks.

            "I've seen you at home. How you are with your mother." He shrugs. "How you used to be with me. I know what you're like, Will."

            Will blinks and there is a bit of water at his left eye. He hurriedly rubs it away with the heel of his hand, his glasses riding crooked. His eyes are ringed red. After a moment, he says, "I'm not going to forgive you right now."

            Jack says, "I'm not asking for that."

            "Then what is this about?"

            "Honesty."

            Will scoffs.

            "I know, I know." Jack raises a hand to rub at the back of his neck. He presses lightly into pressure points, holds for a second, then releases. "Listen, I've told Hannibal the same thing–"

            Will visibly stiffens.

            "Will," Jack says, imploringly, "we have to get everything out in the open. This department is about to take a big hit in the upcoming trial. There's been speculation over what exactly is transpiring between you and Frederick Chilton."

            "That's crazy," he says.

            "I know it is," Jack insists. "So help me out here. Tell me what's going on. Will, you've been acting different lately. It's all over you, and I don't know why."

            Will lolls his head to the side, rolling his eyes. "And you can't have your hound dog going rogue, right?"

            "I don't want my son trying to handle something he isn't equipped to handle."

            Will exhales, looks wet around the eyes again. He smiles in a rueful fashion. "Don't, Dad, don't pull that–"

            "I know about Abigail Hobbs."

            Will pauses. Where once he had been looking towards the map of America on the adjacent wall, he now turns to look fully at Jack. "You met her," he says softly.

            "I did."

            Will grits his teeth. "Hannibal."

            "Don't blame Hannibal, Will. I'm glad he showed me. I told him I wanted honesty between us, and he pulled her out of the woodwork. He told me you two are looking after her." And Jack has considered what this might mean – the possibilities are so vast he has not come to a conclusion. Only this: with Will's reactions to Hannibal, what Hannibal said about reciprocating interest– perhaps there is some burgeoning relationship that Will is having trouble navigating. He would prefer if he was wrong. "What is going on with you, Will?"

            Will barely seems to be listening anymore. His fingertips pressed to his lips, eyes flashing quickly along the carpet as if following the movements of some tiny insect. "Hannibal is trying to make it seem like I'm the one with all the secrets. Like I'm the one who needs to be dealt with– Jesus. He's so–" Will bites his lip. His eyes flash up to Jack. "Okay, you know what? Two can play this game. He's right, Dad. I have been taking care of Abigail with him. And you know what else? Hannibal is the Ripper. Just like I said before."

            Jack sighs. "Will, not this aga–"

            "And you know what else?" His voice rises. "I don't need you to believe me. I just need you to not fuck up my cover."

            "Will–"

            "So do what you want with him. Go to his house for dinner. Make sure he still thinks you're his friend. I'm telling you this not in hopes that you'll believe me but so that you won't tip him off to what I'm doing."

            "And what are you doing, Will?"

            "I'm doing what he did to me." Will swallows – it seems labored. "Seduction."

            "Jesus Christ."

            "So, listen. You'll see me getting close to him. And you'll see him getting close to me. And when the moment is right, I'll bring you so much proof, you're going to choke on it." Will bares his teeth ever so slightly. One thin strand of saliva connects his left top and bottom canines. "Do not tip him off. I mean it. If you're really sorry about the commands, you'll do this."

            Jack feels it– a pang in his chest. He says only, "Will."

            "You're sorry, right? Right? That's what you said."

            "Yes, I'm sorry."

            "Good. Then do what you're telling me to do." He gets up from the seat, and walks swiftly from the desk to the door. Before exiting, he says, "Prove it."

*

The feeling post-regression can only be described as disorienting – and, to a great extent, thirst. Will drinks down perhaps two bottles of water after he comes back to himself, after the light has stopped moving and Hannibal places it back in the cabinet. Will feels as if he has been speaking quite a lot but he cannot remember anything he has said. It comes upon him in some kind of horror: has he said anything about his plan? But no, he thinks not. From what Hannibal has said, he has regressed Will back into his childhood to find and dislodge the links of his collar. Back then is too far for any such notion to be buried there, to be unearthed.

            Too: Will's feral reactions to Hannibal are a bit waylaid in the aftermath of the regression. This seems to wear off after a half-hour or so, and by that time Will is back to snapping at Hannibal when he wanders too close. Sometimes not even incited by distance or lack thereof. In this lull, it is almost calming. Will feels something akin to control over his body – dehydrated and exhausted though he is.

            The office is quiet, warm, darkened. Will has finished his second bottle of water, which sits knocked over on the glass side table nearest his chair. He moves about the room languidly, coming to stand beside the ladder that connects bottom floor and balcony.

            Hannibal watches him from feet away, standing beside one of the pillars of the balcony. He says, "Did your father de-brief you on Clark Ingram today?"

            "Mmhmm." Will leans his head back against the wooden rung. He closes his eyes. "I don't think there's going to be any celebration party from him though. I don't think he's very happy about it."

            "What is the difference between Hobbs and Ingram?"

            "Me." Will smiles. "Always only me."

            Will cannot hear Hannibal move closer to him but he can feel it, smell it: his scent like warm good earth, a deep mossy woodland. When Will opens his eyes, Hannibal stands before him, a foot away. His vest and tie are a burnt gold. His shirt lined with barely-visible stripes.

            He says, "Perhaps I should throw you a party."

            Will smiles, revealing the whites of his teeth. "If you think I come to therapy to get free bashes for me offing serial killers, you're wrong."

            "What do you come here for, Will?"

            "Freedom," he says off-handedly. "And–" He pauses, raises one hand still heavy from the haze of the drugs, the lights. He takes his fingertips to touch at the buttons of the vest Hannibal wears. Rubs one, then drops his hand to rub at another.

            Hannibal's eyes on him. "And?"

            "Experience," he says with a loosening of his shoulders. He tilts his head, smiles, and adjusts himself into an open bearing, which Hannibal responds to almost immediately. When their open mouths connect, Will cannot stop himself from moaning: light, airy, slightly high-pitched. Relaxation and a pent-up wanting rolled up into one. And it feels good to be able to speak truthfully, for there was no lie in Will's mouth before Hannibal's tongue. He does indeed want experience. Yes, and more than that–

            Will sucks harshly at Hannibal's lower lip, eliciting a groan from him which is further muffled by Will's mouth. He would be lying to himself if he did not admit to thinking of this all day, of that – as it had been in the stables. As it had been beneath the stars. Why should he deny himself this? It is for his benefit as much as it is for the purpose of seducing Hannibal. The truth is shameful: Will has never gotten to do this before. Only that he has seen magazines, television shows, commercials of couples kissing in the backseat of cars, in alleyways, in beds. The feeling of unparalleled thrill as it is tickling the back of Will's neck – the oh I shouldn't but the fuck it feels so good when he grabs Hannibal by his shoulders, pulling him in close enough to feel friction at his groin.

            He has seen this before in a movie: Hannibal's hand is on his hip, gripping, and Will takes it to move lower smoothly, encouraging Hannibal to settle it finally on Will's backside, cupping fully with a force that is not Hannibal at all but wholly the Ripper, definitely, unmistakably the Ripper, and Will's shuddering sighs continue as he hooks his hands behind Hannibal's neck. Rubs his thumbnail against the man's nape in long smooth strokes.

            And from deep inside him, crying out in reproach, in horror, is Raleigh: What are you doing? What do you think you are doing? This is not necessary.

            It is painfully necessary, says Marlowe who can only be prideful at Will's hands now in Hannibal's hair, the upward grind of Will's hips. He is under mass amounts of stress. How can you tell him releasing it on the man who has wronged him is not good?

            Hannibal is going to want more than this. This will not be enough.

            Hannibal's hips pressing into Will's. One hand clamped beneath Will's backside, the other moving upwards at his side, lifting the shirt and placing fully against fevered flesh. Will gasping for breath and refusing to pull away long enough to breathe.

            Marlowe's melodic whisper: You are not afeared of what Hannibal will want. Your worry is for Will's growing appetite. His alone.

            Yes. The tired confession. I fear that.

            Will's body snaps from languid to lethal and he pushes Hannibal's hands away, snapping then at the man's neck– Hannibal has already taken two wide steps back and is staring at Will with an amused gaze. Will's foggy eyes clear – shaken from them are many hungers. And he simply stands lost and panting. For a moment, it is silent. Hannibal moves back until he is beside his desk, then sitting against the edge.

            Will swallows, smoothes a hand back into his hair. It is damp with sweat. He says, "I, uh, I should be getting home. I have to feed the dogs." He feels heat in his cheeks, neck, his whole body. He grabs his coat from the chair, bundles it beneath one arm.

            As Will walks by Hannibal, jerking lightly, Hannibal says, "Your daughter would like to see you."

            Will slows to a stop, looks back. "Would she like to see me? Or would you like to see me?"

            Hannibal seems to be hiding his burgeoning smirk. He looks aside, red mouth opening slightly before saying, "You could say both. Though we have the trial during the day, she suggested I invite you over for dinner tomorrow night."

            Will smiles now, one eyebrow raised. "All right. I'll be there." He pauses, left foot angled towards the door. He shakes his shoulders and moves quickly towards Hannibal. He coaxes the man's mouth open and slowly, with a thick pressure, flattens their tongues against one another. He moves away just as fast, with Hannibal's saliva on his bottom lip. He is at the door in seconds, though Hannibal has not moved. Will can see only a dazed look in his eyes and when Will is in the waiting room with the door shut behind him, he smiles. The collar removal. The kissing. Will is getting exactly what he wants. He hasn't felt this good in a long while.

*

Jack had nearly forgotten but he has a strong distaste for court. Though some might attribute their own dislike for it to the need for a suit and tie, the long hours spent hearing and giving testimony, Jack finds none of this particularly disagreeable. What he cannot abide is the smell – once, Phyllis told him he was crazy for it, but this he insists is true: a courtroom has a particular smell, a kind of high-class stench that he likens to stale justice. Almost as if something expensive is rotting. It is in every marbled column of the lobby, and the green glossed floors and the intricate groves of the cherry wood desks that sit beyond rows and rows of pews: the desks at odds, the defense and persecution.

            Jack cannot remember a case so big in recent years. He is sure it will take days and the thought of having to live within this smell, come home with it on him, jellies his insides.      

            He stands in the lobby, surrounded by lawyers and city council members who walk around him, from the front door and to it, carrying with them blasts of the frost outside. The chandelier on high is star-bright, and illuminates Jack's coffee-brown eyes to something like café au lait.

            There are fast-clicking steps coming from behind which are suddenly at Jack's side, ending in a chipper trill in his ear: "Hey! Such a turn-out, huh? I saw a fight in the parking lot."

            Jack sighs, "Beverly, this isn't–"

            "Don't say it," she groans, folding her arms. She is clad in a dark grey pantsuit, her hair up and folded in a bun, clipped by a single lotus blossom pin. "You're such a killjoy. We should be celebrating, right? This has been like twenty years in the making."

            "Maybe we should save celebrating for after the trial is over," Jack says.

            "Oh, come on, it's not like he's just going to walk. We got him dead to rights, this is all formality."

            "A case this big is never a formality." This voice is familiar and approaching on Jack's opposite side. He and Beverly turn back and see Kade Prurnell walking with fast-aired immediacy and a pinched scowl.

            Beverly leans into Jack and says, "Oh, look, it's your favorite investigator."

            "Beverly."

            Kade comes to stand before them, sending a minute glower at Beverly who bounces her eyebrows in return. She turns fully to Jack. "I suppose that clerical error was never solved, then."

            Jack mumbles something about interns. While Kade prattles on about responsibility and codes of ethics, Jack finds himself tuning out and fading Kade into the background. The foreground to him appears over her angled shoulder, yards away near the grand doors of the courtroom which are now opening to the public. Will is present and dressed in a suit – Jack is nearly bowled over by surprise. In the past, it took the jaws of life to force the boy into anything resembling such but he stands now near Hannibal Lecter in a calm blue suit, a dark blue tie and grey shirt beneath. Hannibal stands in grey and red, coiffed and exacting as is his manner. And their stance – wide from each other though in some way it seems as if they are mere inches apart. Jack cannot pick it apart exactly, only this: Will's tilt of the head as he looks up into Hannibal's eyes, as he listens to Hannibal speak. And a single lock of Hannibal's bangs falling forward as he moves to look at his wristwatch. Will then places his hand against his mouth, smiling, then laughing, stifling the giggling for their proximity to others – but it rings, it rings in Jack's ears, as if it were echoing through the vast room.

            "They sure are getting cozy, huh?" Beverly says, looking now where Jack is and has probably interrupted Kade for the ruffled expression she now wears.

            Kade turns to look over her shoulder. "Jack, what is the boy doing?"

            Jack takes in a huge breath. He straightens his tie. Says, "His job. I guess."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The day has been long and it is a hazy orange dusk when Jack arrives home. On his suit, at his cufflinks and lingering even in the car is the scent of the courtroom. Phyllis' car is parked ahead of him and when he enters the warmth of the house, he pauses at the front door to shake off his shoes which are coated with snow and salt.

            Quiet settles throughout the house and it is calming for a moment – the particular opposite of having the loud din of lawyers shouting at each other. The prosecutor pleading with the jury to understand that temporary insanity makes no sense with a maniac like the Ripper. And Frederick's lawyer, a Mr. Uhl, who only one of Frederick's class could afford – slick and dark-eyed, a forty-something who's made a name for himself on the back of getting high-profile criminals off. While this has unnerved Kade Prurnell – she who never left Jack's side during the day and succeeded only in annoying Beverly – Jack remains untroubled by it. Frederick cannot walk.

            The quiet diminishes as soon as Jack hangs up his coat and hat – he hears the thudding squish of footsteps in plush house shoes come from the top of the stairs, down the wood flooring and into the living room. Phyllis stands in her pajamas and robe and Jack almost smiles. Though she is still lightly sore at him for the revealing of Frederick Chilton, she is far too nosy to withstand silence in the midst of the trial. Indeed, he'd had to convince her it would only be a hindrance for her to show up in person.

            "Well?" she asks. "Is it over?"

            "No," Jack says, shaking his head. He wanders over to the couch and deposits himself with a wide exhalation. "Both sides are pretty stubborn and there's a lot to go through."

            "Well, is he going to get the death penalty?" she asks. Her voice is a register higher than normal, as it comes to be often when she cannot contain herself. She sits a cushion from Jack, one leg tucked under her body. "What about life imprisonment?" Her fists clench the fabric of candy-striped pajama pants. "It's too good for him."

            "It is." Jack looks up at the ceiling – the bubbles of plaster. "But he's claiming temporary insanity in the case of the two agents, and no connection whatsoever to being the Ripper."

            "What? That's such bullshit!"

            "I know."

            "Well, you have to do something."

            Jack nearly guffaws. "What do you expect me to do? I have testimony tomorrow but I can only say what I saw – which, admittedly, isn't much."

            "What about Will?"

            "His testimony is tomorrow too," Jack says at length. He squints his eyes, thinking of Will today – how he'd not given one glance to Frederick and how Frederick could barely keep his eyes off the boy. Furthermore glaring at his close proximity to Hannibal Lecter and the near constant glances they shared. Jack swallows and he looks aside to Phyllis, as she speaks on Will's well being and his need to have closure to this. Jack lays his hand on her knee, taps her. "Hey," he says.

            She stops, looks up at him through big brown eyes. "What?"

            "About Will." He pauses. "I think he's been trying to grow up lately."

            She raises her eyebrows. "What do you mean by that?"

            "I feel like it's his relationship with Hannibal. Something... Hannibal brings something out in him. And I'm not sure Will knows quite how to handle it."

            "Well, that's not surprising." She looks across the room, then back at Jack. "You stay out of it though, Jack."

            "Stay out of it?"

            "You heard me."

            "Bella, if he makes a mistake–"

            "And he will." She smiles. "But it's his to make. I know you like your iron-grip on the boy, but–" Shrugs rounded shoulders. "You've got to let him go at some point."

            Let him go. Into hellfire.

            Will is indeed walking through darkness. I am walking with him.

            It makes Jack feel uneasy. He says to Phyllis, "Things are happening so fast."

            She says only that she knows, she knows.

*

Will drives along roads clumped with old snow, greyed slush imprinted with tire tread, litter, broken twigs from dying trees. Streetlights flicker to burn overhead. And beyond that, a cloud-spotted evening sky. The lights pass over the driver's side window, and then into his left eye. In the passenger seat is a white teddy bear with black button eyes and a red scarf around its neck. It is buckled in.

            Earlier in the day, at the courthouse, Will can only remember feeling restless. The containment of his suit, his tie, the uncomfortable wooden bench to be sat on all throughout the trial. And the reigns he had to keep on himself – it would be foolish to hold any meaningful eye-contact with the defendant, though Will felt Frederick's eyes on him almost constantly. In not a simply imploring fashion, but something nearing wry distaste as Will went through the trial seated next to Hannibal Lecter. Keeping himself in check snapping wise was difficult for such a long time, and his body wrestled control away from him more than once. But overall, it had the desired effect: Will was highly aware of Jack's constant eyeing of him, with some air of disapproval.

            Let him disapprove. Will is not done yet. He is multitasking in what he finds to be the most deliciously satisfying of ways. Once, Will's philosophy was something akin to take what you are given and expect no more – want no more.

            Now, all he wants is to take – given or no – take, yes, and take more. From Hannibal, Will is taking his freedom. The collar slowly loosening from his neck, that which he was given in childhood and has grown with him, unknown and unseen. And getting to explore other facets of himself, these things which have stood dormant for years and years. Throughout the trial, as lawyers lobbed volleys at each other, as the judge spoke, as the bailiff droned on, Will wavered in and out of the present, and his eyes drifted shut – Hannibal's earthen scent enveloped him, settled into his lungs like seawater. And Will felt himself grow rigid, rubbed the heel of his hand distractedly against his thigh. Thought back to the Baltimore office the night prior and Hannibal's mouth on him, hands on him. Though Raleigh proclaimed him errant, Will knows he needs this as much as any freedom. He will take that which he never had, courtesy of Jack, expunge it from Hannibal, and lock him away in the aftermath.

            Dilatory and dumb he is not. But in his wake all shall be chanted. This: showers of proclamation long held at bay. The oncoming of true hunger.

            And Raleigh, poor and morose he sits in the addled walkways of Will's mind, he still cries out: Why Hannibal? Why him?

            Will and Marlowe flick idle gazes aside. Why not?

            The Mercedes rolls over old snow and salted pavement. It parks behind the Lexus, adjacent to the Bentley. Will emerges from the car with the bear stuffed under his arm and feels in his chest something like moth wings batting against his ribcage. He adjusts, readies. He is at the door and knocks and subsequently hears a familiar and quick-footed padding.

            Standing barefoot and chin-height to Will in the glossed and gilded foyer is Abigail. Blue jeans cuffed at ivory calves, a yellow-striped blouse. Her arms are bare, lacking the brown she'd carried from Santa Monica. "Yo, Pops," she cries, hugging him once the door shuts behind him. She recoils, bouncing. "Oh, God, you're freezing! What's this?"

            Will sees her staring at the bear and he holds it out, as if in defense. "Oh, well," he hums and feels himself redden. "It's for you."

            She takes it from his frigid fingers. Holds it up as if to look it in the eyes – search its inner truth. After small consideration, she says, "I'm not five," and hugs it to her chest.

            Will smiles. Motions to her dress. "It's got to be thirty out. You're dressed for eighty."

            "There's that fatherly love," she says, beaming. She struts ahead, through the right of the foyer. "Come on. Dad said to bring you in when you got here."

            Dad. Will wonders how Hannibal takes to such names when it is simply he and Abigail alone together – probably like a swan to water. He does seem in favor of any small purchase he can take over her. Over his relationship with Will. Let him have this then. The closer, the better.

            They pass through the dining room: three places set, candles lit, the chandelier turned down low. Moving into the bright and chrome kitchen is somewhat shocking to the eyes. The scents, though, are welcome and Will's stomach clenches at the warmth, the spices that linger in the air. And minute sounds: bubbling, a copper lid returning to its copper pot, a knife undulating against a rigid bamboo cutting board. The slow, sharp thuds that follow. And Abigail's feet sounding sticky against the linoleum, and Will's shoes clunking behind her.

            Hannibal stands at the stainless steel island in a blue shirt and apron; Will remembers the last time he saw him here – when he took off the ring. The open mouth of Hell.

            Hannibal looks up, smiling upon seeing Will. "Pleased you could make it," he says. He turns his gaze to the white bear still pressed fervently against Abigail's chest. "And bearing gifts, it seems."

            "Mmhmm," Abigail hums. She spins around on the heel of one foot. "My daddy is trying to buy my love."

            Will blanches immediately. "What? No, I–"

            She laughs, nudging her shoulder against his. "It's okay. Father does it all the time."

            Hannibal nods once, and smiles.

            It is so that Will has arrived just on time and Hannibal is finished cooking – he makes mention that Abigail was absolutely no help in preparing dinner. As such, it is her job to carry the plates into the dining room. He has been teaching her in some ways, Will notices. The grace with which to carry plates, that which requires a great deal of balance and poise. Abigail seems liable to topple over simply walking from one side of a room to another, such is the nature of her bounding gait, but this she seems to take careful pride in.

            Will's body does not react to Hannibal until he is within distance – he sits at the head of the table while Will is seated to his left, Abigail to the right. Will feels his shoulders tense, his jaws grind. At intervals, his shoulders jerk and to keep himself in place, he grips a fork with his right hand, and grips his own thigh with his left. After having been in this state all day at the trial, it is nothing short of exhausting and tiresome. And in some way, depressing. His body knows not what it does, or why, only that it would like to in turns stab Hannibal with this pointed fork and, too, pin him to the table and push their tongues together.

            Will's eyelashes flutter.

            "–something weird, but it's actually really great. Dad?"

            Will exhales, swallows.

            "Dad?"

            Will jolts, eyes opening startled green and wide, on Abigail and Hannibal – the former who sits with her head tilted, her new bear ever-present in her lap. The latter chews quietly, seemingly forcing back a smile. "Huh? Yeah?"

            Abigail groans. "You weren't listening to me!"

            "I-I was; I am!" Will looks at Hannibal, who offers no helpful clue on what was being said. He eyes back at Abigail. "You were saying?"

            She presses her lips together. "I said, when I found out what Papa's been cooking, I thought it would have tasted weirder. You know. Like, off. Get it? Off, offal. But yeah, it's really good! I feel like I only want to eat this stuff for the rest of my life," she says and returns to cutting into her meat.

            Will looks at her, then down into his plate. Square – like something from a modern art gallery. Swirls of red, and meat that is two hues away from a bleu doneness. "What he's been cooking," he murmurs.

            Abigail's mouth is full, over which she says, "I was thinking of going vegan until I started eating all this. Now," she swallows with so much force she might choke, "there's just no way!"

            Hannibal's voice is soft, amused: "Many find that after they explore the true delights of being a carnivore, there can be no other way of life."

            "Word," says Abigail.

            Will stares fully at his plate. And something is thudding, not in his chest, but in the back of his head, like a vein that is now pumping overtime and with it, Will's mind races. His mouth wets, and as his hands work – knife and fork against the meat – he licks saliva from one canine.

            When Will was approaching the end of his eleventh year, already firmly in the grasp of the Crawfords and now receiving from Jack high-definition crime scene photographs from the Ripper, he stared at the stitches of victims, those both closed and reopened from autopsies. He remembers: laying on his bed on sticky summer afternoons, the windows open, curtains drawn back. The whirring whines of cicadas in the sun. His feet on the shadow-cool wall, rubbing dirt marks into alabaster paint. Head hanging back over the side of the bed, blood rushing down. And a photograph of a third in the Ripper's latest cycle: a man who was missing his kidneys, lungs, heart. Will had often seen the Ripper's victims missing organs. Jack had called them trophies. And Will in his naïveté, thought of a trophy room: flashy lights and pedestals to display bloody organs. He imagined this room as the pride of place in the Ripper's house. And he was right. Yes. Even so long ago, in his youth and dreamy state of mind, he was right. The Ripper does have a trophy room. Trophy rooms. His kitchen: to craft the trophies. His dining room: to display them. Works of art. Oh. Twenty years in the making. Will is flooded with something like euphoria and he wishes that eleven-year-old boy were here right now, he wishes he were standing beside the table to see what his tiny deductions were in actuality.

            Will would say to his younger self, See? You really are great.

            You're good. You're so good.

            Will snorts soft laughter, and he places an overloaded forkful into his mouth. Shuts his eyes and chews.

            Over the course of dinner, Will continues to fight against himself. He can hardly help it: the jerks occur every time he looks at Hannibal. And he has to look at Hannibal. Hannibal, in his blue shirt, his bangs flooding his forehead, hair relaxed in a way that is nearly mussed. The veins on his hands. Oil painting lovely. Will finds himself caught staring multiple times and, though his immediate reaction is to look away, he forces himself to maintain eye-contact. And something drips from his chest down into his groin. Something warm, viscous.

            Will's confusion begins when it is time for dessert. Will keeps himself seated and hears, at his back, Hannibal returning from the kitchen. At this moment, Abigail flounces from her seat, bear in hand, and announces she will be in her room if anyone should have need of her. Hannibal sets down only two desserts: one in front of Will, and one before his own place setting. Will furrows his brow at Abigail's sudden departure, and then realization comes upon him like night over the land. And he wonders just how well-trained Hannibal has made her.

            At length, he supposes it's for the best. He would rather not have her in the room when he cannot help but to snap at Hannibal and maintain a rigidity at the same time.

            "You know," Will murmurs, post savoring a melting bite of some lighter-than-air cake drizzled in hardened maple syrup, "my dad and the inspector woman have been looking for the engagement ring in the Ripper case."

            "That doesn't surprise me," Hannibal says. He is staring down into his plate, working his spoon. The cake so soft nothing but is needed.

            "I told my dad I tossed it into hellfire."

            Hannibal raises one eyebrow. "And here you are, dining in Hell."

            Will smiles, shakes his head. "The ring doesn't make a difference in the case. I don't know why they're so hot on it. But he– he made an implication that because of all the media coverage, it would seem as if I had been goading the Ripper–"

            "You mean Frederick."

            "Don't," Will says easily. Though his hand clenches the cutlery. One pupil narrows. "Lies of omission are necessary, I know. But don't deny yourself." His voice drops to scrape a whisper and this forces Hannibal to look fully at him. "If you deny yourself, you deny me."

            "I would never deny you, Will."

            Will exhales through his nose and his pupil fattens, widens impossibly. He says that he knows, and finishes his dessert with an extreme discomfort betwixt his legs. Dessert passes and Will feels he really needs to be going. He is exhausted – he hasn't spent this much time around Hannibal since before their first kiss and thus, before his body became not his own. Though, the collar reminds him, it hasn't been his own in a very long time. Still, he can barely abide the constant snapping, the clenching anything nearby, the tense muscles. Hannibal takes this in stride; he has not made mention of it. Instead, he washes dishes calmly and ropes Will into drying. The nearness is nigh unbearable. Hannibal's deep scent, as it had been earlier today in the courtroom. The running of water. Clanking of dishes, and Hannibal's smooth voice in the background. What is he saying? Will has no idea. Only this: whenever he says Will's name, Will feels like he might faint. He snaps to attention when the water shuts off and Hannibal is standing facing him, looking down at a dishrag he meticulously folds into a neat triangle.

            "It's tiring, isn't it, Will?" Hannibal says. He sets the dishrag on the counter, smoothes it down. Then, turns his gaze onto Will's heavy-lidded eyes. "This constant push and pull your body takes you through. It is no result of your collar directly but every bit a result of your father's training."

            Will sighs, looks along the counter where he places the fingertips of one hand. The steel rim of the sink. "There's nothing to be done about it." He pauses, eyes Hannibal in a shrewd manner. "Unless I want to be drugged constantly."

            "Well."

            "I don't," Will says, trying to look stern but only fails in laughter. He shakes his head. "Jesus."

            Hannibal's resounding laughter is soft, short, merely a chuckle. And he places his hand simply on top of Will's. Fingers still damp from soap and water. "I didn't mean that."

            Will grips the sink and counter edge and his upper lip rises slightly.

            "The only way to help this is immersion, Will," Hannibal says. He takes his thumb then to rub the fleshy webbing between Will's pointer finger and thumb. And he steps closer, diminishing the space between them until they reach that final instant before their mouths collide: in this, Will is used to the strange sensation of his body being pulled into two halves. One which wants to tell Hannibal to fuck off and the other which wants to whisper, Come here, baby, I have waited all day. Will sighs out his frustration into Hannibal's mouth and tastes maple syrup on his tongue and it is strange and wonderfully surreal as like visiting a foreign country and finding they too have comforts seen in the homeland. At once new and familiar.

            Will is shaking his hands loose from Hannibal's tentative hold on him – it is too much, and yet Hannibal presses him further, uses his larger build to push Will back against the counter, and wraps one arm around his waist, and plunges his other hand into the wild thicket of dark curls. Will is struggling away and surging forward, clawing at the man's shirt to pull him closer and bucking his hips back to get him away. Suddenly, one half takes the other and slams it into submission: Will bites fiercely into Hannibal's lip and wrenches himself away.

            Hannibal and Will both breathe labored, staring at one another. Hannibal stands feet away against the island; his lip bleeds freely. Will's eyes like cat's for a long moment, body statue still.

            Hannibal looks at him as if he is stained glass. "Just like that," he says.

            Will swallows. Hannibal's blood is in his mouth and he must leave. And late that night, when he is alone in bed, he thinks back to that moment. When Hannibal's eyes were bloodnight and he followed Will to the front door and said goodnight to him in a calm, serene manner, while dripping red onto his shirt. Will whirled on him quickly, fleetingly, and laid a firm hand on Hannibal's thigh, just below the left pocket of his slacks. He touched where the ring was hidden, and Will would know its shape anywhere. The gold and ruby he once wore like tradition. Like homage. Like fealty. Feeling it there, Will released something like a hiss, and quickly walked away, down the walkway to the Mercedes. He felt Hannibal's gaze along his back. And he uses that feeling now in bed and comes with lurid force and says the man's name with every shuddering breath because it is all he has.

*

Jack sits on the prosecutor's side of the courtroom, two rows back, betwixt Kade Prurnell on one side and Beverly on the other. He can barely watch Will's testimony and tries to keep his fidgeting to a minimum. Beverly's expression, much like that of Price's one seat over, is something like lip-biting interest mixed with dread. And Jack thinks Kade might open a vein. Hannibal Lecter sits one row ahead, beside a now-empty space, and he looks only amused, as is his usual manner.

            Will sits on the witness stand, clad in suit and tie, and holds himself in a lofty countenance while the defense lawyer, Mr. Uhl, idles in front of him, asking him if he knew the defendant had feelings for him.

            "Of course. Everyone knew." Will adjusts his glasses.

            And had he not been a bit distraught over Will's refusal of his offer of psychiatric help?

            "Oh, he was indeed distraught." He flips a reluctant curl from his line of sight.

            Distraught enough to have an psychotic episode manifesting itself in likeness to the Ripper killings? The same serial killer – he might add – that Will Crawford had been so addled by? Some might say: infatuated with.

            Will bites his lower lip. "Some might say." He smiles and his gaze passes over Frederick like a shadow over a darkened tide. "Yes, that sounds likely."

            Jack suddenly feels like the chimichanga he had at lunch isn't sitting so well. During the successive recess which occurs after Will's testimony, and exactly before Jack's, Jack can barely exit the courtroom before Kade begins to lecture him, incessantly, her shrill voice in his ear asking why wasn't the boy updated on the angle the prosecution was taking, didn't he have any sense, why is he treating the fate of a seasoned serial killer as if it were a game?

            Jack regards Kade with a blank face, hands stuffed into his grey slacks. He doesn't tell her the truth: that to Will, Frederick isn't a serial killer at all. To Will, this trial is a game, just one big joke that is being played on all of them. And the punch line is Frederick's innocence, and the joke-teller is Hannibal Lecter. That's what Will believes. Jack looks now over Kade's shoulder to see Will walking up, his gait a smooth glide.

            He stands beside Kade, catching now her ire. She says, "I hope you're proud of yourself," before storming off with striking steps in the direction of the bathrooms.

            Will watches her go. "What got into her?"

            "Will," Jack hisses. "What was that all about?"

            He looks up, over the rim of his glasses. "Not quite sure what you mean," he says.

            There is a glint in his green eyes, as if he is gleaning pleasure from this. Before Jack can say anything to it, the two of them find themselves joined by Beverly and Price on one side and Hannibal Lecter moving silently beside Will. Phantomlike and silver-clad, his eyes dark beneath overhead lighting. And on his bottom lip, centered, a blossom of a cut.

            Beverly looks at him brightly and taps her own bottom lip. "Hey, what happened there?"

            Hannibal's mouth moves into some semblance of a smile, as if he has just been reminded of it. It looks like a deep cut for such a sensitive place. And Jack is nothing short of startled when Will raises his hand slowly, and takes one knuckle to caress the length of Hannibal's tie. And Will says, "Immersion therapy accident."

            Beverly and Price eye each other, Price muttering, "Okay."

            Jack attempts to shake this off and move on to other things. "Listen," he says to all present, "I have a feeling that the jury is going to buy this whole temporary insanity thing."

            Beverly says, "You really think so?"

            Jack eyes Will, who only shakes his shoulders and looks in the opposite direction. "Call it a hunch," he says.

            "I suppose as long as he is put away, it doesn't much matter," Hannibal says. He looks aside at Will briefly. "As long as he's understood what it is he's done. Temporary insanity or no. Every action has its consequence."

            "Some heavier than others," Will murmurs.

            "Indeed."

            Jack sighs. If this shakes in Frederick's favor, than the title of the Ripper will once again be an empty and unclaimed mantle as far as the FBI is concerned. He tries to look into his own heart and think about what this will mean for himself – and for Will. Is he going to pursue this thing with Hannibal Lecter? Jack wearily looks at the two of them who are looking so fervently into each other's eyes that it is visibly making Price uncomfortable. Beverly is tugging one lock of her hair and looking up at the ceiling, perhaps hoping for some topic of conversation to fall down upon them.

            As if answering her inner call, Hannibal says, "I know this has been a stressful time for all involved. As such, we should celebrate the things that have gone our way."

            Jack raises his eyebrow. "Like what?"

            "Ah," he says, eyeing Will once again, "like Will's successful kill of Clark Ingram."

            Will looks at him, eyebrows tented. "I told you you don't have to do that," and his face looks to be on the edge of stern, though his mouth is half curved into a smile.

            "Oh, God," Beverly cries, "yes, please! I'd do anything to have a night off of work. And free booze, right? You don't have to ask me twice."

            Price elbows her, none too discreetly. "You weren't even invited."

            "You are all invited," Hannibal says. In the wake of this, Beverly returns Price's elbowing, harder from the sound, and as he gawps in pain, Jack returns his gaze to Will and Hannibal who speak amongst themselves. Will's bright eyes, his trembling fingertips, the bob of his throat as he swallows. And he thinks about how fervently Frederick denied having anything to do with the two agents' deaths in his house – and how, so suddenly, he had changed his tune and sings now, beautifully, in chorus with his lawyer and Will's own ghostly-supportive testimony. The thought strikes him startlingly, like lightning from a clear sky: Will is going to do what he wants.

*

Will is humming.

            He can't name the song – it's been years since he's listened to the radio, at least not since the early 00's. But he can't shake it, some Southern-tinged woman's voice in his head, and languid piano in B-flat major. He continues on, bottom lip pinched under two front teeth, sitting upright amidst his tangled bedcovers. The room is shrouded in soft lamplight; the midnight dark covering outside in shadow. Dogs lay haphazardly on their pillows and blankets by the heater and there is a heavy fog throughout the main room from the open bathroom door – the shower Will has stepped from not long ago. He is naked and taming his half-wet curls with a red sable brush. His soft white back turned to face Hobbs, who sits at the bed's edge.

            That evening's appointment with Hannibal had been a blur of wine and regression. Nothing remembered and yet Will knows he comes out of those hazed sessions lighter – some small amount of weight unaccounted for, akin to the fabled soul-weight. It takes Will a few minutes to come back to himself, to re-settle, but tonight he had staggered to Hannibal immediately and dropped himself into the man's arms, forced their mouths together. In the time before the drugs wear off completely, Will feels free, and so he pushed himself against Hannibal with all available faculties. Seated on the cherry wood desk, heels hooked around Hannibal's knees.

            Hobbs says to Will's turned back, his bounty of dark hair: "You feel just in your exploration."

            Will continues to hum. Takes one satin curl from over his left ear and brushes it out.

            He'd taken his hands from around Hannibal's neck and moved them to the man's broad chest; undid the silver tie, tossed it aside. And two of the topmost buttons, running his fingers into an ocher vale of chest hair. He shuddered violently, moaned, having thought of doing this so long ago: when he was ignorant of Hannibal's otherness, when he could only shy at the thought of sharing sugary saliva with this man. The down beneath his fingertips. Will splayed his hand against Hannibal's chest, felt Hannibal's hands press and knead into his hips.

            "Have you thought about what you will do when you capture him?" Hobbs asks. His voice is roughened and lowered, and Will's humming almost covers it though it itself is soft. "Where you will go to find this kind of comfort?"

            And Will's head was tilted upwards, mouth open wide as possible to receive Hannibal's zeal for him, his tongue flush against Will's and tasting every hidden corner of his mouth. One hand removed from Will's hips and working with precision at Will's own shirt buttons. Flicking two, three free and taking the left side of Will's chest in hand. Feeling the ongoing thud of his heart. A thumb rubbing so slightly at the hot pink underside of a nipple. Will moaning like someone was hurting him. No one had ever touched him that way before. Absolutely no one. It felt like his skin would strike and catch fire.

            Will hums the piano keys with easy sighs as he lays back on the bed, arching in such a way that the small of his back is the last to come into contact with the covers and sheets. Overhead, he sees Hobbs looking down at him. Will smiles and continues brushing his hair back, away from his eyes.

            "Will you simply think back to this time?" Hobbs asks. "Can that be enough again?"

            Not long after, Will could feel his reactions coming back: soft, at first, just light snappings, and moving his hands to Hannibal's wrists to ease him back. Hannibal took his mouth from Will's, dragging it down and aside to Will's stubbled jaw, leaving a light trail of heated breath and saliva. Down further, to the lone spire of his neck, to press the flat of his tongue against the throb of Will's pulse. This jolted Will immediately, and he jerked forward, pushing Hannibal's hold from him completely. His pupils both narrowed, mouth fixed in a snarl. Hannibal stood at idle, smiling at Will, saying something about Will's vital points being heavily guarded.

            He'd said it was yet another thing Will would have to overcome if he hoped to be free, truly free.

            Will had decided it was time to go: he grabbed his coat, hurriedly re-buttoned his shirt. He was barely at the door before Hannibal caught him by the wrist and whirled him around, letting his back slam into the door. In the second before Will lunged at him, Hannibal pressed their bodies once again together and took his hand to Will's groin, pressing the heel into the heated stiffness between his legs, trapped against denim and one thigh. Will felt like he'd had the wind knocked out of him, and let out some ragged exhalation that keened high and low as Hannibal slowly moved his hand – like agony, like exaltation.

            He thought his legs were going to give out; his back flat against the door and Hannibal whispering in his ear – do your fantasies measure up to this, Will? when you imagined this, how fast did I go, Will? do you want me to slow down? – things that were all a blur in the moment and only clear looking back, thinking back, about the swift kiss Hannibal pressed to Will's jugular before removing all of himself from Will. Before watching Will taking giant gulps of air and, at length, stumbling out of the office.

            Now:

            Will holds the brush's wooden back against his chest with both hands wrapped around the handle. He stares at the ceiling which is background to a fore-blurry Hobbs. He who speaks to Will in the absence of his humming.

            "Your own hand has never felt so good."

            Will smiles. It's true. And that was only through his jeans.

            Hobbs looks away from him, to the wide open room that is empty save the dogs. He says, "I am still the only one here. Though you killed Clark Ingram, he does not come to you."

            It is silent. Will shuts his eyes for a long moment, then re-opens them. He can still hear the song in his head. "No," he murmurs, and rolls over onto his stomach. He rubs his loose curls that fall forward into the mattress and lifts his hips just enough to snake one ivory wrist down between him and the sheet, to find himself. "You are my first," he says and licks his lips. "You will always be special to me."

           

 

Chapter Text

"I mean, are you really surprised? You saw his legal team – he went all-out. And," Will pauses, chewing on the pad of his thumb, smiling open-mouthed around it, "it's a good thing too. A little time to himself in Alana's palace will chill him a bit. When he gets out, he'll be so grateful to us, he won't think to sue for wrongful imprisonment. All's well that ends well."

            Will is giggling, a golden sound in the dry dreary of Jack's office. But Jack sits across from him, encircled by haphazard paperwork, day-old coffee mugs and ink-dry pens – and he does not feel like giggling. Indeed not, for if Will was not his own son, he would have been chucked out of the office posthaste. Jack has far too much work to do to brook lofty daydreams on Frederick Chilton's recent win of his trial – temporary insanity. When the verdict came the day prior, Kade Prurnell's face turned the shade of cayenne and she stormed from the courtroom before the foreman had quite finished speaking. She has not returned to Jack yet, but he has found himself on edge ever since her departure – finds himself eyeing the clouded glass door of his office, peering oddly into open stalls in the men's room, even stiffening at the coffee pot in the break room, as if she would come hurdling herself at him from some blind spot armed with all the rage of the Inspector General's Office.

            Jack taps his pencil's dull point against a sheet of paper. "Wrongful imprisonment," he says, pressing his lips together. "Will–"

            "Yes?" Will looks at him from under a tangle of curls. His thumb removed now from his mouth, slick with saliva. He runs the hand back through his hair and stretches lightly.

            Jack sighs. "You helped Chilton get his plea."

            "I did. I promised to help him." He looks aside, drums fingertips against the pulse at his throat. "I told him that once we got him clear from any death penalty, he'd be safe long enough for me to catch Hannibal."

            Jack frowns.

            Will looks at him, eyes rounded in mock-innocence. "I'm only doing what I was trained to do."

            There's a pause from Jack during which he resists the urge to roll his eyes. He's rarely seen Will behave in such a petulant manner – there was a brief moment of it when he was a teenager, though, to Jack's knowledge, it was to no extent this extreme. The most he did back then was try to get out of doing dinner dishes. Sometimes he would purposefully use up all the hot water in the shower and come out of the bathroom in a flood of steam, lobster-red. And yet Jack knows this is his fault: Will is rebelling against the existence of the commands. He's angry, but does not yell at Jack, and he has not breathed a word of it to Phyllis. This silent seething, every arch of his eyebrows and sucking on his fingers is something like torture.

            "I never trained you to try and seduce your quarries, Will," Jack says at length.

            Will chuckles. "No," he says. "This is special. It's the only way I can do it, with my– handicap."

            "I'm sorry, Will."

            "Don't keep apologizing." He turns away.

            "Okay," Jack sighs. "So, you're still thinking Hannibal is the Ripper."

            He nods, head still turned to the side.

            "Can you give me anything?" Jack asks. "Anything at all to tell me why you might think so– Hannibal is so... I've never seen him violent."

            "Oh, and you've seen Frederick Chilton in the midst of mass murder then? Jesus, Dad."

            Jack grinds his teeth. "The man confessed to killing two of our agents."

            "Because he had no choice – Hannibal nailed his ass to the wall with that one. Fingerprints everywhere, fleeing from the scene, his background. It was the only way he could live – confess to just enough and then live out his days in the cells." His leg is bouncing idly, a gesture of his mind twenty places at once. "You want to see Hannibal violent. I can make him violent. I can do it."

            Jack is not quite sure he likes the sound of this. Though, he realizes, that there is little he can do. With the end of the trial, the general summation is that Frederick is indeed not the Ripper. The agents in the building do not believe this to be true – fixed as they are on the death of their own. They would link Frederick Chilton to every serial murder within his lifetime if they could – but the forensics teams cannot link him even to one prior Ripper murder. The Ripper has always been clean.

            "You don't have to believe me," Will says at Jack's silence. He crosses his arms over his chest and shakes the hair from his eyes – shakes his shoulders. "I just need you to not hold me back from him."

            "I'm not," Jack says. His voice is small.

            Will swallows. He exhales a large breath and then, finally, does turn his eyes on Jack – bright and wide like wintergreen butterfly wings. "Remember when I was little? And everyone was wondering why the organs were missing in the Ripper case? And you and Frederick and everyone else finally decided they were trophies?"

            "Yes."

            "Well. You were kind of right. But think about it – twenty years back. They would have disintegrated into nothing. Killers, if they keep trophies, it's things they can hold onto every day. They can look at and be proud of."

            Jack raises one eyebrow.

            "But not Hannibal," Will says. "He's too smart for that. He wants to enjoy his trophies in a different way. That's why he uses them in his cooking."

            Jack feels his mouth move – into what form he cannot say. Perhaps a grimace or frown. Either way, it does not seem to please Will for he shakes his head and mutters something about Jack not believing him.

            "Wait," Jack says, before he feels Will is about to get up and walk away. "Wait. Just– hold on a second. You say Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper. And he takes organs to use in his cooking."

            "That's why he's always using offal."

            "Yeah, but a lot of people do that."

            "They do not."

            Jack groans. He closes his eyes for a long time. When he opens them, he raises a hand. "Okay, okay. Listen, if you think he's doing all this stuff, then obviously someone else must have their suspicions too. Let's talk to the girl, Abigail–"

            "Absolutely not," Will says and his voice is so deep Jack almost doesn't recognize it. It is wholly disconcerting – and the veins on Will's neck stand out. "We are not involving her – are you nuts? Think of what Hannibal will do if he finds out."

            "Will, you say he's a killer but you're letting your daughter stay in his house?"

            Will looks slightly mortified at this. "She isn't my daughter–"

            "She called me grandpa! And gramps and granddaddy and– and whatever else popped into her head."

            Will does not respond to this. He says only: "We're not involving her. And I let her stay there because I really don't have a choice. Hannibal believes he is in charge of her, and he believes he is gaining purchase over me. It's just a matter of time before he makes a mistake, and when he does I will pull her out. Not a moment before." He takes his thumbnail then to chew in his mouth.

            Jack watches him. And after a while, Will says he must go. He tells Jack to just think on what he's said. And Jack does – because he can do nothing else. He goes through the day thinking about eating human organs, and Abigail Hobbs, and Will seducing Hannibal Lecter. These things pass from his conscious to his subconscious, and in the valley of slumber he finds these notions and even there, he considers.

*

"You saved his life."

            "I assisted," Will says, smiling behind his half-full glass. He sits on the chaise in front of the two windows at the far end of the office. Outside, it is dark and the wind blusters the trees, scratching branches against the glass panes. Will drinks calmly, opening his throat to the drug-laden liquid that slides in, down. The wine is pink.

            Hannibal approaches him, his countenance amused. His own wine glass left behind on the desk. "I do not think Frederick would be alive without your lovely performance," he says.

            Will shrugs. "He's not going anywhere." He pauses, moving the glass from his parted lips, and looks up now into Hannibal's face – he who stands feet away. Will licks one canine and says, conceding, "I appreciate the gift. But since it is mine to do with what I wish, I prefer to keep him in a glass bottle."

            Hannibal does not sit with Will – it would be too rattling for him without the drug completely at work. So he lingers nearby, caressing every angle and curve of Will's face with a lovelorn gaze. He says then: "Frederick Chilton must be like family to you."

            Will crinkles his nose. "What? No, not at all."

            Hannibal seems to almost laugh. "You recoil but it's true – you've known him longer than most people ever know each other outside of familial ties."

            "I have known you just as long," he says, smiling.

            Hannibal tilts his head just the slightest but makes no statement to refute it. He knows it to be true as well as Will does – Will met Hannibal when he was but ten and though he would not come to see his face for twenty years, their relationship began on that day. They two walked the same earth and looked up at the same sky. Time and its cousin, Fate, stood by and waited for the two of them to come together. Looking at them with something like smiling favor.

            "Still," Hannibal says, "he has doted upon you for years. It must have felt nice, even at a remove."

            Will places one leg over the other, allows it to bounce gently as he recalls. "I guess, when I was young, it was nice. Just having someone bring me gifts out of the blue. My favorite chocolate, my favorite toys. Always trying to win favor with anything he thought I might enjoy." He bites his lower lip, and looks up again at Hannibal. "Not unlike present company."

            At this, Hannibal does laugh the smallest bit. "One cannot help but be drawn to your allure. To place offerings at your feet. To have them rejected, at times, is only part of the process."

            Will grins and quotes: "There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child."

            "That adored child's power over Humbert was illusory."

            "You think so?" Will knocks his head back and downs the last few sips of wine. A drop of it lingers on his bottom lip, in the little furrow left by teeth-marks. "Because if so, then power to you is only physical strength." Will closes his eyes and inhales, exhales with the same depth. When he opens his eyes again, he finds Hannibal has moved to sit beside him and Will's jerk in his direction is minor.

            Hannibal holds in his hand a small switchblade – four-inch handle that is colored opalescent and shines in the dim lighting. The small pocket-clip on the back of it is golden. Will's pupils narrow at the sight of Hannibal armed but his reaction is slow and before he can move, Hannibal places it in Will's hand.

            He says, "Power is not physical strength alone. Nor is it the ability to enchant. It is maturity and understanding. It is experience."

            Will holds the switchblade up, over his head. He feels slightly dizzy. "You're giving this to me," he murmurs.

            "Yet another pale offering to your evolving glory," Hannibal says. He takes Will's hand in his, lifts it to his mouth and kisses the smooth skin at the knuckles. Upon rising from the chaise, he goes to the cabinet and fetches the light.

*

In the days passing, monotonous weekdays filled with paperwork, the clicking of agents' shoes amidst the BAU floors, and the constant re-filling of the coffee pot, Jack finds he cannot abide this any longer. He is going stir crazy within the confines of his office, and too, within the confines of his own house. Phyllis has not been agreeable lately following the result of the trial – she insists, insists that Frederick Chilton is indeed the Ripper – for, she has said, why else would he have been such a lech to the boy over the course of twenty years? Why the fervent adoration? Why the desperation?

            Jack finds her words swimming within him, and the words of Will, and all the things spoken at the trial from both lawyers and those who sat on the witness stand. Like bees buzzing sluggish in the back of his mind. He finds he cannot escape them. And so on Friday afternoon, amidst a briskness that chills him to the bone, he exits the BAU and gets into his car. Drives in what he thinks is an aimless direction, until he finds himself staring at the lone spire of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

            He stares up at it for a long moment through the windshield. The reflected rays of sunlight seep into his brown eyes. At length, he exits the car and walks along the frozen pathways that crunch with salt beneath his boots. Like some kind of Halloween lawn attraction, Freddie Lounds pops up from out of a bush nearing the entrance.

            "Oh my God," Jack says.

            "Jack, listen," she cries. Her hair is wild and a twig is caught in one bright red curl. "I really need your help. Chilton's verdict is a goldmine and I can't get near him for a quote."

            "What do you want me to do about that?"

            "Just talk to Bloom for me. Will won't do it – he just likes to antagonize me."

            Jack frowns. "That makes two of us." He sighs, turns from her for the entrance. "I'll see what I can do." Though what he intends to do is not mention it at all.

            "Thanks, Jack," she says, the words accompanied by her shutter clicking in his wake.  

            Jack simply shakes his head as he walks inside the building. Alana is not privy to his arrival and thus, he finds an orderly to alert her. As he stands in the empty foyer, he finds himself debating leaving once again. His neck is itching, his fingertips won't be still within his pockets. As he looks out towards the wide windows, he sees red curls bobbing amidst the bushes and that alone keeps him from returning to the outside. At last, Alana appears before him, a hurry in her high steps. She is dressed in blue and immediately asks him what is wrong, why has he come.

            Jack apologizes for the short notice. Only– only. Only he must see Frederick, he says at last. He finds himself unable to think of anything else since the trial's end. He must speak with him face-to-face.

            And Alana's countenance immediately eases and she smiles. At this, she does not bother putting Frederick in a conference room – and Jack suspects she is doing this for Frederick's safety alone, unsure herself what Jack might attempt with physical contact available – and takes Jack to the bottom floor of cells to meet with Frederick in the place that will be his forever-home.

            Jack remembers this place: the long walkway with cells lining the left, each with its own glass wall, wide holes through which can be passed soft papers. When last he was here, Will was having a fit over Abel Gideon and while Jack stood helplessly encased in indecision, while Frederick, frazzled and confused, tried to shout comfort and reason, Hannibal strode through and came to Will – wrapped him in a strong embrace and whispered command into his ear. Will going slack against the man, Jack remembers this. As he stares at the end of the hall, it is all he can see.

            Alana, behind him, says, "Frederick's at the end."

            "Thanks."

            Jack takes his steps with purpose. Along the right are merely shadows of the men on the left. And as he nears the end of the hall, he sees the shadows of Tobias Budge, of Abel Gideon, of, finally, Frederick Chilton.

            Frederick looks up from a book. He is sitting on his cot in his blue jumpsuit, eyes a dark green, face slightly pale. He has been freshly shaved. And in his expression, Jack is able to discern some worry.

            "I did not know I was receiving a visitor today," he says.

            Jack shrugs. "I didn't know I was visiting."

            Frederick nods and softly closes his book. "Yet here you are."

            Jack nods, his lips pressed together. He bounces on his heels, once, and turns aside, facing the way he'd come. He shakes his head. "I don't know what I'm doing here," he says. "I don't know what good it will do."

            "If this is about the trial–"

            "It's about Will," he says with some edge to his voice. Then: "And the trial. And you. It's – it's about everything. Frederick. God."

            "Jack," he says, moving to the edge of the bed, "Will has told me not to say much on the subject, but since you're here, I feel I must restate my claim. I am not the Ripper."

            "Will told me. He told me that's why he helped save you."

            "So–" He pauses. "Will's told you who is then."

            "If he is, if he framed you, why didn't you say so? When I was holding a gun to you, Frederick, why didn't you say so?"

            Frederick's eyes widen, his eyebrows rising into limp brown bangs. "Surely you jest. Imagine, me caught with blood on my hands after a supposed frenzy of killing, crying out for mercy and that it was your beloved friend who was behind it all along. I would have looked twice as crazy as I already did and that's saying something."

            Jack shakes his head again. "You were the one dripping in proof."

            "I'm well aware," he says, motioning to the cell around him. "But you can't link me to any other murder, not in the Ripper's history, nor any history at all – for the simple fact that I am not a murderer."

            "Then by that logic neither is he."

            "You suspected me firstly because of my love for Will–" and he pauses here to swallow, "–can you not say the same of him?"         

            "That and only that."

            "Then let it be the starting point."

            Jack grits his teeth. "To what end?"

            For a long moment it is silent. A few cells down, a prisoner is crying softly. Jack looks that way briefly, then turns his attention back to Frederick. The book in his lap, his fingers drumming the hardcover gently. He says, "Will is going to get you want you need. Until then, allow yourself to be open."

            Jack nearly laughs. He raises a hand from inside his coat pocket and makes a vague gesture. "I'm open," he says, and then sighs. "You were silent this whole time, didn't try to finger-point, just because Will told you to. How could you have been sure this would work – that he wouldn't get you the chair?"

            Frederick nods, eyebrows tented. "I considered that outcome. I suppose it was blind trust."

            "In what?"

            "Will, of course."

            Jack searches Frederick's eyes. "So you trust him."

            Frederick swallows. He tilts his head and then, in turn, seems to be searching Jack's own eyes. He says, "Don't you?"

*

On Saturday night, Jack's car stood cloaked in shadow and frost and the scant golden cast of light shining out of Hannibal Lecter's wide windows. He sat in a suit and tie and with Phyllis in the passenger's seat, clad in a long-sleeved blue gown, with morning glories in her hair. Her silence permeated the car, having been so since leaving the house, indeed nearly since the end of the trial earlier in the week. Many cars parked along outside the stately home before them, including one snow-and-dirt stained Mercedes.

            Phyllis had looked over at Jack and said, "Well? Are we getting out?"

            He took in a breath, exhaled it slowly, and looked over at the blue Lexus beside the Bentley and in front of the Mercedes. He bit his lower lip and looked at Phyllis. "I need to tell you something," he'd said.

            Her eyebrows dropped to form an unamused line above her expression. "What now?"

            And so he told her. And he didn't think she would be able to wipe the horrified look off of her face for love nor money; yet presently when they enter the home, greeted by Hannibal himself, thrust now into the finely-scented and humming inner workings of the party, Jack watches as Phyllis comes face-to-face with Abigail Hobbs in her form-fitting gingham, her braided russet hair. Behind her, standing on either side, are Hannibal, and Will who looks aside, half-cringing.

            Phyllis embraces Abigail steadfastly, while Abigail cries out, "Granny!"

            Upon their break of bond, Phyllis turns slightly and whispers to Jack with a bright smile, "If you keep anymore grandchildren a secret from me, I will smother you in your sleep, so help me God."

            Jack whispers through teeth fervently: "Will said she wasn't a grandchild, so just relax, okay?"

            It seems at that moment that Abigail grows bored with their company and flounces off through the crowd that undulates in one wide and marble-tiled floor of Hannibal's large home. Most of the guests Jack has never seen before, and they are peppered by men in white jackets and black bowties, carrying trays of hors d'oeuvres and crystalline glasses of white wine. In the back right corner of the room is a glorious grand piano and to its left are wide windows which look out onto the back garden and stone patio. Snow had fallen earlier in the day, layering on top of the old, and now ceases, leaving the skies black and nigh undisturbed.

            Phyllis concentrates on Will, lightly adjusting the tie he wears, complimentary to his smoke-grey suit. She is speaking to him in a low tone just feet away and Jack notices her smile and Will's far-off look and light frowning – this can only mean she is chiding him cheerfully on the subject of Abigail. Even from where Jack stands with Hannibal, he can hear Will mutter: "Mom, it isn't like that..."

            Jack sighs. He feels his hand suddenly fill with a glass stem and opens his eyes to find Hannibal obliging him with drink.

            "I'm so pleased you could make it, Jack," he says, then sipping from his own glass.

            "Oh, of course," Jack hums. "This is really too nice of you, Hannibal. I'm sure Will told you you didn't have to go through all this trouble."

            "He did. And I promptly ignored him."

            "I can see." Jack eyes upwards at the high ceilings. A waiter passes him by and Jack catches a glimpse of the small bits of food on the tray – they look like roses made from raw meat. Remembering what Will said in the office days ago, he finds his stomach unsettled.

            Hannibal draws his attention again. "Can I get you anything to eat, Jack?"

            "Oh– oh, no, I'm not– well, I'll stick with wine, for now," he says and kicks back the rest of the glass.

            Hannibal smiles. "It's been a while since we've seen each other in a setting that has little to do with legal proceedings. Now that the trial is over, I hope we can all move past such things."

            Jack doubts it. The Ripper case's pending reopening at state level and Will's current insurgency would tell otherwise. Jack doesn't say this to Hannibal. He simply grabs another glass from a by-passing waiter and begins to suckle anew. He says after a sip, "It's nice, at least, to be celebrating something. Even if it is Clark Ingram's death."

            Hannibal eyes him. "Oh, not at all. As when you threw your party for Will in the wake of Garrett Jacob Hobbs, it was not his death we were celebrating. But Will's life and how he chooses to live it. Isn't that right?"

            Jack, in all honesty, had not given it that much thought. Will's official oncoming to the Unit, Hobbs' downfall – yes, those things were on his mind upon constructing the party. But Will and how he chose to live his life, that never entered into it. To be sure, Jack cannot say whether he finds this manner of looking at it agreeable or not. Only this: Jack does not know how Will wants to live his life. And if he is doing what he wants to or not. It could be said yes, since he is pursuing Hannibal Lecter with no visible cause. It could also be said no, as he would not be in this line of work if it wasn't for Jack.

            Jack murmurs, "Mm."

            "Hey!" Suddenly, Beverly is at Jack's side, one long pale arm draped across Jack's shoulders. "Saw your wife, she looks great! What're you doing, hiding over here?"

            Jack turns to see her – a black evening dress with straps sliding down two downy shoulders. To her other side is Price, who is holding two wine glasses, one of which Jack assumes to be Beverly's so that she is free of arms to accost people. She looks over at Hannibal and beams with a smile undoubtedly fueled by alcohol. "This is such a great party, Hannibal, thanks for doing this! Z is gonna be so pissed when he comes in tomorrow and the rest of us show up hammered."

            "No one's getting hammered," Jack grunts.

            "Speak for yourself," Price says, promptly downing both glasses in hand and demolishing Jack's theory on their separate owners.

            Hannibal smiles and nods graciously to them both. "I hope you will enjoy and help yourself to all available. For now, I must take care not to linger in one area too long." And with that, he seems to dissipate into the crowd, and upon looking to the right, Jack finds that Will is gone as well. He can just make out Phyllis' hair and morning glories, and she stands to a far off side of the room with Alana Bloom who Jack has only just now noticed.

            Finally, Jack shakes himself loose from Beverly. He eyes around them, surrounded by no one of note, and then says to both in a conspiratory key: "What do you two know about cannibalism?"

            Price blanches. "Jesus, Jack, I just ate."

            Beverly shrugs. "What do you wanna know?"

            "Well, what do you think about that being the Ripper's MO? The reason why he's taken all those organs over the years."

            "I thought Chilton was the Ripper," Beverly says, eyebrows cocked.

            "Not what the judge said," says Price.

            "Forget the judge. Forget Chilton and everyone else." Jack eyes around them again. Returns his gaze. "Now, let's just say we don't have a suspect. How would you feel about cannibalism being his means of utilizing the organs?"

            It is quiet for a moment, filled in with the din of conversation and someone, though Jack cannot tell who, is idly playing at the piano.

            "Well," Beverly drawls, "I guess. I mean, there's not much else you can do with them, unless you're putting them in jars of formaldehyde and just keeping them in a room. But there's not much fun in that."

            "Black Market," Price intones.

            "Yeah, Price, because we all know the Ripper's been selling organs for decades like some back-alley loser." Beverly rolls her eyes towards Jack as if they both share a common skepticism. "This is the same guy who bought that classy ring for Will. My money is still on Chilton. He's the only one with that much of a raging hard-on for–"

            Jack clears his throat heartily and startles Beverly into an uneasy smile.

            "Oh," she says, laughing, "you know. You know how it is with him."

            "Yeah," Jack sighs. He raises his gaze across the room and it catches on Will once again, who's back is turned to him. He stands by Hannibal amidst a circle of socialites who seem to be of Hannibal's close acquaintance. They shake Will's hand as if he is being firstly introduced, and Will is nodding to each of them in turn. Behind their backs – Will's grey suit jacket and Hannibal's maroon, Jack spies this: Hannibal's fingertips coming slowly to connect with Will's own that loll at his side. Will's twitching in response, and connecting back for the briefest of seconds.

            Beverly and Price seem to also have been watching and they look at each other and Jack.

            "Okay," Beverly says, "maybe Chilton's not the only one. But Will was definitely not into it with Chilton."

            Price looks at her. "So you're saying he's into it with Hannibal?"

            "Do you need glasses?"

            Price scoffs.

            Beverly nudges at Jack's elbow. "And did you get a load of their daughter?"

            Jack groans. "She's not their daughter– she's– well, she's–"

            "She asked me if I knew any embarrassing stories about her dad," Beverly injects, raising a finger. "And she meant Will."

            Price asks, "What'd you tell her?"

            Beverly goes on to re-tell a story Jack has heard fifty times – and one he is not altogether convinced is true. While she regales Price, he tunes out. And he cannot help himself, he allows his eyes to follow Will and Hannibal around the room; the two of them rarely come to separate. Hannibal seems to have no trouble getting Will to talk to others, does not have to drag him by the wrist like a child the way Jack did at the party post-Hobbs. He thought he would need a ball and chain to get Will to speak with the psychiatrists and without such he only lasted a few moments before reportedly running off to the garden. Jack remembers that night clearly: how he subsequently kept his distance from Will, hidden as it were, so he could not cling to family. He finally succeeded in clinging to one – Beverly – and removed himself largely from the rest of the guests.

            Presently Jack watches him and though his back is mostly to this side of the room, Jack can catch glimpses of his face. His expression, which is calm, lined by amusement at times, most of which are when Abigail comes to their side to grab a piece of conversation before fluttering away again. His hair is brushed back, he is completely free of dog hair, and his glasses ride evenly – smudge free. Jack, for a moment, considers how he looked so long ago in the Four Seasons Baltimore. The two Wills of these different nights would not recognize each other. Surely not. They might not even get along.

            And for the rest of the evening, Jack ponders how this came to be. What changed him? Or can this be attributed to the natural course of things? Months ago, in that ballroom, Will was born into the Unit. And he has crawled through cases and attempted kills and another successful kill, and he stands here like this. Though Jack told Phyllis days ago that Will is growing up, he hadn't felt it as viscerally as he does at this very moment, on this very night.

            The party itself begins to wind down towards 11 PM. Most of the guests are leaving and Jack uses the churning of the tide to conceal himself while he takes one meat-rose from a tray and covers it in a napkin, placing it in his coat pocket. He will have it tested in the lab the following morning – for nothing more than curiosity's sake.

            Beverly and Price have already gone, and Alana bids Jack goodbye as well. Jack stands now with Phyllis at the doorway, heading out. Will does not have his coat on, and seems to be staying longer. Jack notes the golden clamp in his back pocket, that which can only belong to some sort of pocketknife, and he silently prays that Will does not plan on knifing Hannibal when they are alone. He almost insists Will comes with them but decides against it. Hannibal has the commands to protect himself if need be.

            Phyllis presses a kiss to Will's temple and leaves for the car. Jack pats him on the shoulder and tells him to come to the office first thing tomorrow morning to help with post-trial paperwork. And Will rolls his eyes but does assent, and as Jack strolls down the cold walkway to his car, he thinks of Will's face in the morning in the wake of the lab results on the food. And Jack will say, See? I've looked into it, and it's just beef, just beef.

            Maybe then he can get some peace.

            Upon shutting the car door behind him, he looks over at Phyllis in the passenger's side. She takes the clip of morning glories from her hair and lets it settle softly to her shoulders. "Anything else you and Will are keeping from me?"

            Jack laughs limply and starts the engine.

*

Will is exhausted. He hasn't spoken to so many people since Hobbs' death, and probably has never spoken to so many who aren't directly connected to the FBI. The resounding quiet in the house after Jack and Phyllis leave is the nicest thing he's heard all day. Now, even the waiters have gone. Scents of food still fill the air, and his own footsteps on the floors sound desolate to him. He's cast off his suit jacket and tie, left them by the door on the coat hanger. When he re-enters the main room, he finds that Hannibal's own suit jacket is folded neatly over the back of the couch, and he sits in his white button-up and slacks beside Abigail at the piano bench.

            Earlier in the evening, Abigail revealed to Will that Hannibal has been teaching her piano. A replacement, she'd said, for her current music tastes. Hannibal had responded, amused, that it was simply meant to be an alternative should she ever tire of her present interests. She said she would one day perform a sonata of all of Kanye West's albums. And she looked so resolute in her declaration that Will actually felt bad for snorting laughter.

            At present, she looks to have forgotten the slight and is bright-eyed, smiling. "Hey, Daddy, do you wanna hear me play something?"

            Will shrugs, watching as Hannibal rises from the bench and approaches him. "That depends," Will hums. "Is it Kanye West?"

            "No," she grumbles. "Papa said no Kanye on the lower floors of the house."

            "Recently implemented house rule?"

            "Very recent," Hannibal says, standing beside him now. Will feels his left eye twitch and his shoulders jerk in Hannibal's direction. He readjusts, pushes a lock of hair back behind one ear.

            "Okay, then." Will motions to her. "Let's hear it."

            She wiggles her fingers in the air just above the keys and grins. Places them down in something of an unsure motion – face pinched in concentration. The key is F minor and flows from the piano throughout the hollow of the room. Her fingers tremble minutely and she keeps her gaze steady, on the keys, as if they might fly away from beneath her fingertips. Will watches her, listens, and a smile comes to his face. It sounds nice. He's sure he's heard this song before, but cannot place it at all. He is caught within the walkways of his mind, trying to find its source, when he is suddenly pulled back out with the suddenness of Hannibal's hands on him.

            Will blinks widely, startled, and feels himself moving in Hannibal's strong grasp. Will is pulled to face him, one hand on Will's hip, the other higher up his mid-back and Will's hands in turn fall to Hannibal's shoulders.

            "What're you doing?" Will hisses, falling into step as Hannibal's body commands him. Will grips at the man's shoulders, wrinkling the fabric beneath his hands, and feels his upper lip rise in a snarl. "I'm not–" he lowers his voice, "I'm not drugged, this is too much contact."

            "Just relax," Hannibal says, with an expression as if he is about to start laughing.

            "I am relaxed."

            Will is the opposite of relaxed. Every tendon in his body is tightening as he and Hannibal move in a slow, methodical circle. Will glances over at Abigail who is entranced in her own fingertips. She continues to play and looks to be in her own world where she is trying to master music.

            Hannibal presses his left foot forward, coaxing Will's right to move back in response. And then, the turn.

            "You said you didn't want to be constantly drugged," Hannibal hums, speaking softly. Will jerks once, twice. Hannibal continues, his hold strong and even on Will: "We agreed to work on your immersion therapy."

            "We didn't agree to this. Hannibal–" Will lunges forward to bite and Hannibal spins him away with one hand, bringing him back just as quickly, so quickly that Will is dizzied. "Hey–"

            Hannibal is chuckling, and turns them again. "Will, I–"

            "–have everything under control?" Will asks, voice dripping in skepticism. "Is that what you want me to believe?"

            "Not at all." He pauses, from looking at Abigail to turn his eyes fully on Will. "Isn't that why you come to see me? So that no one can have control of you? This is about relinquishing control. For both of us."

            "Uh huh." Will can feel it – his entire body heated and it settles most at his neck and in his cheeks. He thinks he must be bright red. And Hannibal's earthy scent is crawling along Will's exposed skin and making its way inside as if he is drinking it. He sighs and bites his lower lip. "Well, if you get hurt from playing with fire, I'm not going to feel sorry for you."

            "I'll keep that in mind."

            Will quiets and listens to Abigail's playing. As he is turned once more, he sees her over Hannibal's shoulder, her profile softened by lamplight and the lowered lights of the overhead chandelier. Will kneads his hands into Hannibal's shoulders and twitches again. He looks up and sees Hannibal's pulse thudding against his neck. Will bites back a low moan and turns his head away from the sight.

            "Wouldn't it be nice?" he whispers into Will's ear, the murmur so sudden and intimate that Will's whole body shudders in response. Hannibal has pressed their bodies closer, hands settling on Will's lower back. "To not have to worry about whether you're currently drugged or when said drug will wear off." The palms of his hands spread warmth that starts there on Will and travels the lengths of his legs and up his back, into the nape of his neck. Will releases something soft that is not quite a moan or a mewl but somewhere in between. "To allow your decisions to be made by your own, innate self. Not a command, or an instinct created by your father." The hot thunder of his voice in Will's ear – that strong reverberation. Will's eyelashes flutter, and he turns his nose slightly inwards to rub against the corner of Hannibal's jaw. "I need you to tell me exactly what you want, Will."

            Will swallows. His mind is hazy – he thinks he is expected to say something. He murmurs, clutching at the fabric of Hannibal's shirt: "I do. I want that. All of it."

            "Then you will have to trust me," he says, leaving one hand on Will's lower back and dipping him. Will is minutely surprised at this, but it feels nice, and he is twice as startled when he is yanked back up and his mouth comes into contact with Hannibal's. Just once, and fully. Will purrs into it, growls into it, and suddenly the music comes to a slow stop and Will realizes Abigail is still in the room. He pulls away, licking his bottom lip hurriedly, untangling himself from Hannibal's arms.

            Abigail stands from the piano bench, grinning. "Hey, how'd I do?"

            "W-Wonderful," Will says, readjusting his shirt. "Just amazing. I had no idea you could do that, Abigail."

            Hannibal nods to her, eyebrows raised. "She is growing in skill each day."

            Abigail seems to bask in their praise for a moment longer, and then raises both arms above her head, stretching to the left and then the right. "Ahh," she sighs, and moves slowly across the room towards the stairwell. "I'm absolutely beat. Man. I'm off to bed, guys." She looks back at them over her shoulder and yawns, mouth wide open. "I am so tired, in fact, I think I shall fall asleep right away. No doubt. And I'm going to stay asleep, too. An earthquake couldn't wake me. No way." At the stairwell, she pauses and waves specifically at Will, it seems. "Have a good night," she sings and ascends the stairs.

            Will watches her go, the swish of her dress and click of her heels, until he can no longer see her. It is with a wholly confused expression. He looks back at Hannibal. "What's gotten into her?"

            Hannibal turns to Will completely, seems to eye the length of him from head to toe, and back up again. He smiles.

            Will tilts his head, the expression he wears insistent. "What?" he asks.

           

           

Chapter Text

"I will not be chained down."

            "I would not have it so."

            "Nor gagged."

            "Indeed not."

            "Th–" A pause. "There will be blood."

            "I have gathered as much."

            "And you're... okay with that."

            "Quite."

            Will shifts ever so slightly. He stands just feet from the left side of the bed, that nearest the door of the bedroom. His form steeped in the low lighting thrown from the fireplace at the opposite end of the room. Green eyes shadowed, a glimmer of sweat at the thud of his pulse: neck and both wrists. Gaze fixed on Hannibal who stands on the other side of the bed nearest a deep wooden nightstand. He has walked across tile and carpet and begins now to remove his wristwatch and silver cufflinks. And though his countenance is calm, Will can see clearly himself being watched for any sign of refusal. Will can see himself in the reflection of the other man's eyes: that he looks as a rabbit before a bolt. He does not want to be that. He was not trained to be that. Yet he is frightened.

            The sound in the room: merely the crackling of insistent fire brought from small cinders to roar. A grand clock striking the midnight hour down the hall. And Will's own heartbeat, the blood sloshing down minute tunnels throughout his body. The small ruffle of fabric against skin as Hannibal rolls up the sleeves to his elbows.

            When Hannibal is done, he moves from the farther bedside, around the teal ottoman, to come to Will. In response, Will jerks back, and is caught once again in Hannibal's grasp: his thick hands on Will's upper arms. One of Will's pupils narrow, his upper lip in mid-rise. He has enough of his faculties to say: "What if I can't?"

            Hannibal smiles. "Remember what I said about immersion therapy?"

            "So this is therapy," Will says, smiling through his grimace.

            "Akin to." Hannibal moves his hands along Will's arms, downwards, leaving them to touch his hips. He yanks Will in with one swift, small movement and presses their mouths together. Feeling tongue against tongue does something to steady Will though he senses fireworks going off in each fingertip, and each muscle along his back strung tight. His breath fast coming. Hands on Hannibal's chest, skirting along the exposed collarbone above. Will has wanted this so – to the point of distraction, to the point of bitterness, but he cannot feel any of that now. No, all he can feel is nervousness, a skittering that is bone-deep, and something else, like disbelief. It is much like that night in the stables with gun in hand, staring down Clark Ingram. He had not believed himself capable of killing. In similar manner, he does not believe himself capable of fucking.

            Will is suddenly jolted by sensation of Hannibal's hands upon his bare lower back – he has shifted Will's shirt from tucked position in his slacks and the resulting warmth is enough to heat all extremities with a surging sear. His hips buck forward to line flush against the other's. A gasp meeting a moan. Hannibal's hands pressing further, upwards, and higher still to meet with shoulder blades and laying flat between them. Will's gasp dwindles now to a lone growl, and his teeth bare into the kiss. Hannibal is smiling against him, and flicks his tongue against the top row of teeth before withdrawing.

            Will surges forward and bites, catching only the underlip. Old wound from days past reopens, blotting tiny drips of blood. Hannibal exhales a small chuckle and turns Will fully, his back to the side of the bed, and then, looking once into those narrowed pupils, he places a chaste kiss on Will's nose and shoves him back – Will's pupils fatten once again in surprise as he finds himself on his back, surrounded by infinitely soft comforters and pillows, thread counts sky-high.

            "Hanni–"

            He is on Will in seconds, pressing him further into the cumulus texture of the mattress. Mouth to mouth, and in this Will feels some comfort. Tries to regulate his breathing, his twitching which is massive now from head to toe – ah, but his heartbeat. He can do nothing to calm that. It thuds so strongly it might well break his chest. To center, Will contemplates other matters. Hannibal's fingers unbuttoning Will's own shirt, quickly, until it is undone, and he moves to shove it roughly down Will's arms.

            "Hey, I– Hannibal–" Will's protests die out when Hannibal's mouth comes to secure one nipple. In response, Will's mouth opens soundlessly, eyes wide and open on the blue ceiling; one hand in ashen locks, one gripping a shoulder thick with muscle. He is salivating faster than can be swallowed. The softness of Hannibal's mouth diminishes, sharpens, until tongue is replaced by the points of teeth and Will feels them scraping the skin surrounding the nipple. He winces, bares his teeth in response. Heart beating in a steady stream that sounds to his own ears like one low hum. Engulfed, then, by Will's sudden shrill cry upon Hannibal's surging movement upwards – his mouth latched now onto Will's neck, sucking, kneading the skin there and then – and then, he bites. Once, and just enough to draw the scantest traces of blood. And all at once Will's pupils narrow impossibly to shards of onyx. Bucks his hips up, manages to unlatch Hannibal and punches him with one strong right hand into the face.

            Hannibal is chuckling – Will can hear it from where he resides inside himself. Encased in glittering fragments, each a sense that vibrates by way of the very air moving around him. Suddenly he can feel more intensely the bed beneath him, the give of the fabric, and the body beneath him as he tosses himself atop Hannibal, gripping the man's shoulders with blunt fingernails drawing blood. And he looks down on Hannibal's expression; a bloodiness at his nose, eyes filled with recognition and serenity.

            He says, "There you are."

            Will cannot respond, only this: he yanks Hannibal up by the shirt and bites down with force into the underlip again, now tearing into it anew and with a fresh draw of blood. Hannibal's hands suddenly on his shoulders. And holds him in place, long enough for Will to release, and all he can see is Hannibal's blood-wetted smirk before the smack of their foreheads together and Will cries out, eyes going back in his head. He nearly loses consciousness and lolls off to the side, reeling.

            When his eyes come back down, rolling still slightly, he is on his back again and his shirt cast off. Where, he does not know. His glasses, too – though, these he can see are at the edge of the bed, broken clean in two by the head-butt. Will feels already a rising welt in the center of his forehead. Head resting on the down pillows enveloped in silk. He blinks once, twice, eyes narrow and attempting to focus on the figure above him. Hannibal's serene face dabbed with blood, red at the forehead center, and his hands working deftly on Will's belt buckle and zipper as he straddles Will's waist.

            Will's growling begins low in his throat.

            Hannibal is saying, "You don't have to be afraid of the fall, Will. That's what I'm here for– to catch you." One motion relieves Will of his slacks and he is bare now but his blue-plaid boxers. The slacks lay just feet away on the other side of the bed. Hannibal is still fully dressed.

            Will feels incapable of speech. He slides legs from under Hannibal and turns himself forward in one fluidity, launching onto Hannibal once more. He has the other man at the bottom of the bed and raises one balled fist – it lingers and falls with Hannibal's quick punch into Will's solar plexus, which knocks the wind from him and draws a stuttered exhale, widened eyes, wetting eyes.

            Hannibal catches him with one forearm around his middle and tosses him back onto his back against the wealth of pillows before the headboard. Will is clutching his stomach and trying desperately to regain his breath. He feels veins stand out on his neck, in the area where Hannibal bit – where Will bears his mark.

            "You'll be all right." Rustling then – Will cannot see the cause. Not until Hannibal is laying upon him again and Will can feel their skin to skin, and Hannibal's chest hair to Will's bare chest, the heat of which, and the moltenness of their mouths together once again; crushed, by Hannibal, the man's hands on Will's cheeks and Will's half-open eyes bleary in front of widened pupils and he is shuddering with breath. His legs wrap loosely around Hannibal's thighs. Heart jackhammering against ribcage.

            Will sighs, licks at Hannibal's tongue slowly. Tastes blood in their teeth. One hand on Hannibal's shoulder smoothes over the skin there, pressing pads of fingertips into soft flesh. The other hand punctures the man's back, indenting red furrows which fill to overflow.

            A small, long whine from Will. Punctuated by: "I–I don't think I can do this." A kiss, wet and dragging. "Hannibal."

            Hannibal's hands moving downward. "You're doing wonderfully." At the band of his boxers, dragging pointer finger along the pleats. Then in a line to caress below, and meet with Will himself, heated and engorged with blood, throbbing, and separated by a sheerness of cloth.

            Will shudders, mouth open. "Am I?"

            Removal of mouth to replace at ear: "Oh yes."

            Will's back in arch – pressing the front plane of his body further into Hannibal's. He is swallowing constantly, shutting his eyes, and opening them, pressing the side of his face to Hannibal's. He breaths in: the telluric scent of all that surrounds him. The feeling is something otherworldly. Hannibal's pillows, his sheets, comforters, he himself, all of these things encasing Will, holding him, catching him. He reticulates, throwing an arm back overhead, stretches into the downy flood beneath.

            A slow exhale of breath, as Hannibal travels the southward current of Will's body. A kiss: wet with blood and saliva, and it repeats itself along sweat-salted shores. The mountain range of collar bone. An inlet darkening with bruise at the solar plexus. Soft open oasis of the navel. And from there, a coarse vale of hair that lowers and now smoothly unabated by the hindrance of fabric. Will's gasp and the ghost of a smile. His hands resting in feathered hair, as–

            The engulfment.

            Will's head thrown back, neck curving to accommodate the bounty of pillows behind. Back arching, fingertips pressing lightly into hipbones. Flesh moving and simmering with hot spring below. A full taste. A tongue. The flat of which pushes against veined underside, and, a faint pursing motion of curved lips.

            Lips which have said: You are immaculate.

            Will is crying out and forcing the heels of his hands to his mouth. Wincing on the updrag of flushed lips against equally flushed skin. Releasing heated, elongated moans upon the downslide. And the swirling of the tongue, the flickering against the tip – then, the smooth push against it which forces Will to leak heavily into Hannibal's mouth and he's muffling himself with terrible desperation.

            And with all immediacy, it is gone: the heat and dripping wetness of a mouth, that which Will had never even daydreamed before. And he has let his daydreams wander far. Too far, Raleigh might say. And Raleigh might be right, but he is not here now. Nor Marlowe. And certainly not Hobbs. The hollow of Will's mind is deathly quiet and still and those who would occupy it with thought and promises and mitigation sit in corners now, like woodland creatures in the dark. In silence and awe, not dissimilar to Will as Hannibal pushes his hands away from his mouth and says, "You are not to be gagged, remember?"

            Will is siren red. Says, "B-But... Abigail–"

            "Is sleeping through an earthquake."

            Presses his mouth to Will's and shares the salted taste. Will's bare legs shift against Hannibal's, those which are still sheathed in black slacks. He makes soft noises of dissatisfaction and shifts further to encourage Hannibal to part with any barrier between them. Hannibal seems to take interest in other matters – moves his mouth from Will's, down to his chin, the line of his jaw and Will can feel himself tighten, his breath quickening, and he's murmuring no no don't but Hannibal does it, he bites again at Will's neck and with it fills his upper body with force to keep Will down as he thrashes, pupils narrowed and dagger-sharp.

            Hannibal's whisper in his ear: "You have to get used to this."

            Will is sucked once again into that splinter prison and he uses his shoulder to ram into Hannibal's collarbone, forcing him back. Will rolls to the left, one full turn bringing him to the middle of the bed. Hannibal's hands on his waist, Will kicking back, landing the heel of his foot into the give of a stomach.

            Will finds his slacks on the bed and feels into the back pocket quickly, grabs the pocketknife there. Cold in his heated grasp.

            And a hand, fisted, gripping into luscious dark curls and ripping back. Will on his stomach, grimacing, tendons standing out along the front plane of his body. Hannibal holds down the hand in which lays the knife, still buried within itself. Will thrashes, yanks against the hold. It is unyielding. And Hannibal uses his own weight to force Will to stillness, for the briefest of moments, and there is a vacuum of sound – during which, Will cannot see what Hannibal is doing. These sounds: a wet suck, a shift, an exhalation. And following: Will's gasp like a winter wind. Hannibal's fingers, two, shoved into him, dripping with saliva. Will's eyes wide on the mattress, on his hand held down, on the blurry reflection of himself in the gold of the pocketknife clip.

            Insistent pressure. Fingers sinking in up to first joint, second, then bare knuckles. Following: a crook, a come-hither gesture, a stilted slide outwards, and inwards. Will's eyelashes fluttering shut. Head falling forward, back arching. The sensation is elation and ringed with pain, subtle, but enough to agitate his already splintered state and his growling rises from low-toned to fervent. Then: Hannibal surges forward and adds another finger – Will hisses – and buries sharp teeth into the back of Will's neck in a deeply possessive hold – at this, Will's mind begins to fry itself and he is screaming, kicking, his hand holding the knife manages to flick it open and Hannibal releases it. Just before Will can flip over, Hannibal sends an exacting punch to Will's kidney.

            The resulting pain rockets from there to every extremity, effectively stunning Will in lightning. He is overcome with some sensation of nausea and begins to drool a thick bile onto the comforters below. The exhalation following is deep; eyes roll in their sockets. Will is unable to resist as Hannibal calmly flips him onto his back. His is unable to move, only watch as Hannibal shucks himself of his pants. Then, boxers. The silhouette of his body is orange-glow from the fire roaring behind. Illuminates the sweat standing out on his shoulders, biceps. There is blood and bruise upon his face. Will's eyes roll up to the ceiling.

            Hannibal is over him again. Will's legs up and angled around his hips. Will is incapable of speech in just this second. Throat dry. Splinters rattling in his mind, around him, sounds like wine glasses bumping against one another. Will tastes his own blood and Hannibal's upon his lips. That which Hannibal presses a kiss to. He pulls away and his eyes are starless. Again: leans in, slowly prying Will's mouth apart with his own. Presses their tongues together fully.

            His hand busies itself once again between Will's thighs. The in and out motion, a scissoring test of give. An upward undulation. Into Will's ear, some calm mumbling: this will hurt.

            At this, Will's ragged breathing evolves to whimpering. Wait wait.

            Hannibal promising Will is going to be fine.

            Wait no wait.

            Kissing him.

            The fingers removed. A shift, and lining up. Will has not enough faculties to tense in preparation. He is languid and open. Will's mind in a blind panic and something happens, some siren goes off loud enough to shatter the splinters and they fly outwards from their encasing of Will, just far enough to allow him to move. In one motion he grabs the pocketknife which had fallen to the pillow, flicks it open and holds the unstained blade to Hannibal's throat above him. Presses enough to pinch. Will's entire body is bruised and unmoving. Only the arm with the knife present with some foreign strength.

            Will says I will kill you if you do it.

            Hannibal smiles and says yes you will.

            The push is slow, steady. And Will's arm is in tremors, his mouth paused open in a strangled cry as Hannibal persists. The knife against his throat shivers and draws a thin line of blood which travels the blade to collect at the point. The heat, the pressure and brand of a sear. Will's cry escalating. His body ripping open. Hannibal's hips unyielding, his arm hooked now beneath one of Will's knees to angle himself further. The blood at the point of the blade drops to Will's cheek. Hannibal is seated fully inside.

            And the look on his face: passes from certainty and calm to muted surprise and disbelief. A countenance whose twin rests upon Will's own face, though tinged with startling pain.

            Then the withdraw, the slow pull back, and the sure surge forward which picks up in speed, taking its power from Hannibal's hips that come again to meet with Will's white thighs. Smooth exhalations from Hannibal and a trembling in his shoulders as he leans forward, into the knife, cutting himself further, dropping his head to the side of Will's. Saying, so clearly into Will's ear, a miniscule syllable: "Oh."

            No fantasy could have prepared him for such. Neither the pain, which racks his entire body with every slow thrust, nor the surprising sensation of intrusion, for he has never shared his body with another. His mind, yes, with all the dark and dreary creatures who settle there. This is other.

            Hannibal makes no move to take the knife from Will. He allows Will to keep hold of it, to press to his throat, as one might allow a child a security blanket. And Will's cries sound, to his own ears, quite childlike – something like screaming with each push forward, though high-pitched and unlike himself. More akin to how he might have screamed when he was but ten. When he had first come to contact with the man who would later take him, strip him of his petals and cast them off into the wind. Whirling free in a winter blast of air.

            Will jolts suddenly with the feeling of Hannibal's hand on him, stroking him in time with the thunderbolt pains between his legs. Will presses his lips together to abate the stream of cries that follow – the constant jerking from pain to pleasure and the spasm of agony whenever Hannibal brushes against his upper midsection, where a rib has been undoubtedly bruised. Hannibal is licking, too, over the bite marks he has placed on Will's neck, with such attention to the tooth-indented furrows that it must graze the line of obscenity and obsession. His thrusts grow rapid as he lays tongue to his own work and Will's cries grow erratic and red flashes before his eyes. Yet he grows harder in Hannibal's grasp, in every seasoned flick of the wrist, in every thumb-rubbing slick over the tip, the leaking, the pouring, that which Will cannot stop nor stem, can neither bargain nor plead with his own body.

            The splinters, shivering far from Will's body in midair, clatter at once to a floor and die there, disperse into steamy air. The fresh call of empty space. The ability to move free of obstruction. Will sounds like he is drowning.

            Hannibal's hips snapping into him. Whole body quaking on top of Will, every move dire in purpose. Hannibal squeezes him once, at the base, and Will gushes immediately, coming so hard that his hands shake and he drops the knife to the bed. In response, he grips onto Hannibal, his shoulders, into his hair, the lower back drenched with sweat, fingernails digging in now; in some way this is desperation. The phantom of a childhood instinct which wails to Will's lust-driven body: hurt him hurt him hurt him.

            Will's stomach is coated white and overflowing, dripping down his sides and onto the blankets. Hannibal's hands on Will's neck, jaw, their mouths together, working widely against one another, with one another, Hannibal's last devout groan echoing down into Will's body. This deep place where his ten-year-old self stands incensed and wild, screaming: hurthimhurthimhurthim

            And Will feels it: the stillness which is minute in length. Hannibal pausing, then shuddering, the frantic grip on Will's wet hips. The tightening of his stomach as he comes into Will. The push for even further, even more, though Will has no more to give and is likely being torn. He is screaming.

            And, at a remove, somewhere he can look down on his own body, his war torn face coated in blood and tears – he tells this to the child: I have hurt him. I have killed him. He was dead upon entering us. Our body his coffin.

            The child looks to be displeased by this explanation, or worse: he does not understand it. Will looks at him; knobby-kneed and frail, naked and bruised, bleeding from between his legs as Will does in present. And Will knows he can do nothing for it.

            Power is not physical strength alone. Nor is it the ability to enchant. It is maturity and understanding. It is experience.

            Yes.

            Will lays plastered to the bed, cannot catch his breath. Eyes half-shut. Hannibal breathing in much the same manner atop him, dragging his lips around the curve of a stubbled cheekbone. To place against a wet mouth. One single, hard kiss. Then allowing their foreheads to rest together. Will thinks anything he might attempt to say would come out simply mist. He instead moves his nose against Hannibal's, before the other man raises and slowly removes himself – this pulls a pained cry from Will which he did not think he had in him. He hears Hannibal murmur apologies into his ear, nuzzling against an errant curl there. Will swallows with much effort and while Hannibal settles to his side, placing a hand gently upon Will's chest, Will finds he cannot move onto his side nor do much but turn his head in Hannibal's direction. The dying firelight casts its warm glow on their jaws, the flash of stilted breathing at their necks.

            At length, the fire falls to naught but soot. And the room is darkened. Only one long bar of moonlight from the barely parted curtains. It passes into Will's eye and he falls into the chasm of sleep.

            This moonlight bar has turned to sunlight and is so insistent over Will's face that he wakes at 7 AM with Hannibal already stirring beside him. As his consciousness warms to being, he fills his body up like water into a basin. And each porcelain shore is miserable; pain unlike anything he's felt before wracks not only his head and midsection but his backside and deep in his gut. Will cannot moan or cry out, simply feel it with a dull sensibility. He looks over at Hannibal who is staring at him, his outline sun-gold, his hair a mess. Will has never seen him like this. His left eye is blackened, blood dried beneath his nose. There is a large bruise against his ribcage. A blood-red line against his throat. Will sees these things and feels something like pride but then realizes with an ominous sense of horror: If Hannibal looks like that, what must I look like?

            He thinks it is better if he does not look into a mirror.

            The next half-hour passes in something like a daydream. He manages to get the idea across that he must leave, that he is to meet Jack at the BAU. Hannibal helps him up and every movement Will makes takes monstrous effort and is met with monstrous amounts of pain. Standing is a labor. Moving to find his clothes is almost impossible. Bending over is impossible. Hannibal helps him in a quiet efficiency; he wears red pajama pants and has pulled on a simple sweater. Will wears now his clothes from the night prior and he moves a hand under silk pillows to find the pocketknife. He closes it and slips it back into his pocket. At the edge of the bed, still, are his glasses, cleaved clean in two. Will holds them for a moment, then drops them to the floor. He is helped by Hannibal out of the room and down the stairs – each one a horror.

            Will leans against the great wooden door, and Hannibal slips his shoes on for him one by one. Then helps him with his jacket. The house is quiet, and Will wonders if Abigail is awake – though he thinks not. She would have been kept up at all hours by Will's screaming and though once this thought would have caused him monumental embarrassment he is in too much pain to care at this moment. When the door opens, Will is greeted by frost and new snow which falls in giant snowflakes from sky to earth. His car is whitened and shimmering. He turns back to Hannibal, steadying himself against the man's chest. Hannibal takes Will's chin in hand and brings their mouths together; a grazing of tongues, a fullness of lips. Will's hum upon their parting.

            Hannibal says to him, "That was the easy part."

            Will feels dizzy. He raises an eyebrow. "And wh–what is the hard part?"

            "It already happened. In the years before I saw your face."

            He kisses Will again, lasting seconds longer, Will's cold fingertips ghosting against the man's jaw. When Will turns away, he feels Hannibal's gaze upon his back; every step he takes like a newborn fawn who has not yet learned to walk. He nearly falls upon his car but steadies, rights, and gets into the driver's side. Sitting is catastrophic, almost takes his breath away, and does spring new tears to his eyes. He swallows, and sees Hannibal still in the doorway. He backs out of the driveway and can still feel that gaze upon him, even down the street, even out of the city.

*

"So, what even is this– some kind of ha ha you weren't able to come to the party so here's some food but wait a minute you can't eat it you have to run DNA testing on it joke? Because if it is, it's really lame."

            Jack heaves a sigh and looks aside. "Z, it's not a joke."

            "Well, whatever. It's beef anyway. High quality," he says, looking again at the sample he has on a glass tray in hand. Zeller's hair is mussed, and bags carry heavy beneath his eyes. Though he has just returned from his honeymoon, his vacation days have run dry and thus, Jack is told, had to hurry from his early-morning flight in to the BAU, navigating the perilous white roads. The meat, which is arranged still in a rose – though with petals plucked – wilts to the side and is a dingy brown now where it had once been almost pink. Jack supposes the bruising from the ride in his pocket did it no favors. He looks at it now with a discerning eye and at last shakes his head. There is nothing for it. He will do as planned – and upon Will's arrival, show him the lab results.

            Jack walks through the long halls with Zeller as he recounts the highs and lows of his honeymoon. Mainly the lows. Zeller conveys that his new bride was nothing if not a pessimist from the time of their vows. "I took her to Maui – we had the whole fucking island outside our balcony, the beach ten yards from our hotel, the sunrise every morning and all she could do was talk about the sand in her sarong. It's a goddamn beach."

            Jack says, "Well, look forward to that every waking second until you're dead."

            "I already feel dead."

            They come to stand just down from the lobby and the door opens, producing Price and Beverly who drag in out of the cold with snowflakes in their hair, their eyes bloodshot. By far, Beverly looks the worse for wear, her slender form sagging under the weight of heavy coat. Price is yawning upon coming to stand with Jack and Zeller, and it catches throughout the circle of them: from Beverly, to Jack, then Zeller at last, who ends his yawn with fervent glare in the direction of company.

            "You guys got to go to Hannibal's party, too?"

            "Of course," says Beverly. "We're not shut-ins, you know."

            Zeller sighs. "That's the second one I've missed."

            "Second?" Jack asks.

            "Yeah. When Will shot Hobbs, I missed that party. Now for this guy, whatever his name is, I missed this one too. Well, I'm not missing the next one." He looks at the tray of meat he holds in resolution. Then at Jack. "Hey, are we allowed to bring wives to these?"

            Price motions to Jack. "He brought his."

            "Sweet," says Zeller.

            Jack frowns heavily. He says, "We're not going to be making a habit out of this. I'd rather Will catch than kill and that's going to be our focus going forward."

            Zeller raises his eyebrows in response. "Since when did you care about something like that?"

            "A lot has changed while you've been gone," Jack says, turning slightly as he feels the glass doors open again to allow in winter winds. And with them, Will. He appears through the doors at an angle, and sags against the door handle which gleams brass under overhead lighting. A pause there, and then pushes himself from it, staggering in stilted footsteps through the expanse of the lobby. Jack furrows his brow, and looks between Beverly and Price and at his sudden silence, they lower their voices, bring speech to halt and turn back.

            "Will," Beverly says in a tone like question.

            He seems to notice them standing now yards before him and continues in slow measure. He looks to be limping and as soon as he raises his head and Jack sees his face from under dark curls, he rushes forward, hearing three sets of footsteps follow. Jack dips to one knee, arm out and catches Will around his midsection just as he aims to fall to the floor. At the touch, Will cries out, and raises upward, managing to keep his feet. Jack rises with him, a thousand scenarios rushing through his head at once. Will is breathing hard and holds arms across his stomach. His left eye is blackened to bluing, his nose wiped of blood, lip split. There stands a bright red welt upon his forehead and his neck is scrawled with cerise marks of teeth and more bruises still which run from sizes of a thumbprint to a small fist. Will looks like he's been beaten or mugged, or even mauled.

            Price and Zeller are trying to get him to speak as to what happened. Beverly is asking about a car accident. And Jack looks into Will's raised eyes – your glasses, Will, where are they? – and they are swamp green and Jack cannot see himself in them, nor any of the others.

            Will is muttering under his breath.

            "What?" Price asks. "Will, what's wrong? What happened?"

            Will swallows, blinks rapidly, and looks again at Jack. He says, loud and even, "Hannibal fucked me."

            Jack's expression is a dull sort of horror and he cannot tell those of any of the others, for he does not care to look at them. He sees only Will, the way he holds his stomach, and sways on his feet. Jack looks at him hard, with eyes unblinking, and for so long that he feels them moisten. He swallows down something with great effort, and it is hot and thick, and he can almost not speak over it. The wetness at his eyes intensifies.

            Jack says, "We need to take you to a hospital." His mouth feels full of rot. "I'm going to–"

            "I liked it," Will says.

            Jack flinches, as if he'd been struck. He presses his lips together; they are dry and they might well crumble. He glances at his sides to see the forensics team, each with their own unique expression of shock and alarm. Jack's gut is as a graveyard.

            "Yeah, I liked it," Will repeats when met with no answer. He sways lightly from one foot to the other before stilling himself. He winces. "And you know what? I don't have any idea if that's how it's supposed to be. I don't have anything to compare him to. To compare it to. I feel like I got run over by a truck." He swallows again, with more effort. "I also feel like–" And he pauses to smile. Shakes his head. "I'd had no idea what I'd been missing for years and years. Guess who's fault that is?"

            Will turns then for the side, walking around Price with heavy labor. Price offers a shaky hand with which to steady Will, but he refuses, pushes away. He says something about waiting in Jack's office, and as he limps down the lighted walkway, agents turn from their conversations to look over at him. And Beverly now is shaking Jack's shoulder, saying his name in hushed tone, but Jack cannot look away from his son, no, no, he cannot look away.

 

 

Chapter Text

He is in pain. Will can see it seep from every pore along his skin – he is bleeding it, though indeed his straightened countenance would seek to hide this from view. He cannot even sit in his great chair behind the desk as he usually does. He stands behind it, gripping the top of the chair with wringing hands. His throat swallows, stilted, and his expression is one tightened near to breaking. Will is astounded and intrigued by this. Though he knows Jack cannot see it in him – no one could, perhaps save Hannibal. Will is too torn and ragged to reveal any such emotions. He is hiding in plain sight, standing near the wall by the office door. He cannot sit either, for reasons much different from Jack's.

            "We're filing a rape charge," says Jack, and his voice is not his own – deeper, perhaps, but soft. A droning, as if he is speaking at some remove. Careful in his words, and tentative. Searching for some answer within his own mind.

            Will blinks slowly. Shakes his head from side to side. He feels it as if in slow motion, and the pounding at the back of his brain is making it hard to think. "No, we're not," he says.

            Jack looks at him.

            Was it rape? Scholars dissent on that.

            "No," Will says softly, eyes downcast to the floor, "it wasn't rape." When he averts his gaze, he finds Jack still staring at him. His brown eyes seem to rest on Will's busted lip.

            "How can you say that?" he asks.

            A swallow. He tastes blood. "Because it's true. I wanted to." He takes in a deep breath and feels pain at a rib. Resists cringing for it, as it will only unnerve Jack further. Ah, Will has wanted this. He has wanted it so – to see Jack with true regret in his eyes. And he has not seen it until now – no, not when he confessed to the existence of the commands, nor when he apologized for them. But Will sees it now, clear as day, in Jack's eyes and the glow from his whole being. It is like an aura: true sorrow. But Will feels it in a limbo, a place where he must tread cautiously. Sorrow, in this way, can easily turn to anger and Will would not have him turn this aggression on Hannibal before the collar's full removal. That would not do at all. He must keep Jack here on the precipice.

            Mourn the loss of my innocence. Do not wreck my freedom. Will swallows down more blood from his lip, finds his throat scratchy. Jack is staring at him as if he is waiting for Will to continue. After a long moment, he does: "I wanted this."

            Jack, with trembling hand, motions to Will's body. "You wanted this."

            Will considers. He sways on his feet. "Yes," he says.

            "He's told you to say this."

            "He has not," Will says. His voice skirts indignation, but Will jerks it back – forms it into some likeness of imploring kindness. He brings his gaze to meet Jack's. "Hey. Listen to me. Really listen, Dad." He pauses. "Are you listening?"

            "Yeah."

            "I wanted this. I did– I do."

            "You told me he's the Ripper."

            "I stand by it."

            "Yet you wanted to have sex with him."

            "I wanted to have sex. And Hannibal is– Hannibal is–" His mind races through all the things that first appear: Hannibal is gorgeous, Hannibal feels so fucking good, Hannibal knows how to handle me, Hannibal knows how to make me come when I'm screaming in pain, Hannibal is freeing me– "–he's willing."

            Jack does not look moved to reason. Will can see his eyes jittering, thoughts going off like fireworks behind them. And Will cannot know what they are – this proves highly unnerving. His fingertips grow itchy, and he rubs them against one another. Standing is difficult, but sitting again would be nigh unbearable. He tries to lean back against the wall behind him and the touch against his backside almost jolts a shriek from him. He stands still, swallows, tries again: "He's beat up too. Really, I mean it. He's got a black eye, a mark on his forehead, and a cut against his neck. We were just– we were–" He barely knows how to explain it. He doesn't want to link it back to therapy regarding taking away Will's reactions to the Ripper. He doesn't want to give Jack any inkling he is getting the collar removed. He settles on: "We were just being a little rough."

            And there it is: Jack looks at him. With the scantest beginnings of a raised eyebrow and Will is instantly transported to his seventeenth year, when he had only just begun any interest in driving. Like all things normal, Will was a late bloomer, not attaining his driver's license until his twenty-first birthday. At seventeen, he took the keys to Phyllis' car in the middle of an icy night, snuck out to fields not ten miles down the road and looked up at the wheeling night sky. He'd lost track of time and, rushing to return, steered the car wildly into a patch of black ice, thereby running into a reasonably shallow ditch. Not shallow enough to back out of. He walked home in the pink dawn, and explained what happened to Jack who stood in the yard in robe and slippers, the morning paper under one arm. And post-explanation, Jack gave Will just such a look, and in this Will does not feel thirty at all but seventeen again and like he has done something worth punishing.

            He grits his teeth against such a feeling. He is not a child. He has worked to gain this advantage over Jack and he will not relinquish it yet.

            "I'm not going to apologize for doing what I want with who I want," Will says. "If we're going to catch Hannibal, we're going to do it without inanely accusing him of rape."

            "So, you still intend to go through with your plan."

            "Yes," Will says.

            Jack swallows. And his eyes turn away from Will – to the opposite side of the room. Will does not like this; again, he is shut off from what Jack is thinking. Finally, he glances back at Will. "He's not going to be your psychiatrist anymore."

            "No," Will says, almost before Jack is quite finished speaking. "No, you don't get to make that decision. That's for me to decide." His voice becomes shrill, his eyes wide, in something like desperation. "And I'm deciding he is my psychiatrist until he's locked away in Frederick's place."

            "Will–"

            "Absolutely not," he shrieks. His eyes wet, red veins scrawled throughout the whites. "You opened this door, Dad. You opened it. Now we will walk through it." Will clenches his fists at his side, twitches twice, and stills. It is silent in the room for a long moment, after which Jack attempts to get Will to a hospital – Will refuses. He does so not on the grounds that he does not think he needs one but out of sheer obstinance and resentment. He can take care of himself. He has felt the almighty power of experience and it has left him ragged. But it has not left him helpless. No, never that.

*

It is best described as drowning, and living through it. A land-creature now forever at the bottom of the ocean, filled to bursting with saltwater, and yet retaining the barest of faculties. Staring blearily above at the sun-drenched and rippling surface, destined not to return. Encapsulated by the briny deep, a separate plane, where now the creature must live out its murky days. Waiting, ceaselessly, for the wave to break.

            And it will not break.

            Jack stares at the lighted surface, that which is Hannibal Lecter's house across the street from whence he is currently parked. Lit up in the orange-gold downfall of the sun, the drifts of snow atop shingles and sills. The warm place he had been just the night before, with his wife, languishing with friends in the vast living room. It seems strange to think back on it, as if it had never really happened. Who was that man who gladly took a wine glass from the hand of the host? And who was that host? Who is he that would cause Will so much pain?

            The thing is: it doesn't matter who he is. Jack has never felt such ire, not even on that day behind Will's house, amidst the hoarfrost and broken branches, when he arrested Frederick Chilton. And he thinks now to his office earlier that morning, before Will's departure. Will had forced Jack to promise not to confront Hannibal on the subject. Jack duly promised.

            As the day wore on, that promise took hits. Hits in the form of images both real and imagined flashing before his eyes: Hannibal and Will touching fingertips behind their backs amidst party guests; Will closing the door as Jack and Phyllis left him alone with Hannibal last night; Will with Hannibal's hands upon him; Will's lip splitting; Will gasping; Will wincing. And for some strange reason, Jack can only see Will in his imaginings as he was at ten, and it made him retch the contents of his stomach out in the fifth floor bathroom – that which is desolate and nigh undisturbed most days.

            Hits also took form of Beverly, Zeller and Price waiting around anxiously by the door of Jack's office. They passed by so many times, Jack soon lost count, and whenever Jack made an appearance, they stopped speaking and looked over at him with wild, worried looks upon their faces. Jack knows their hearts: they are horrified for Will. And in that is good enough cause to speak to them on the matter. But Jack found he could not. He avoided their gazes, made as if they didn't exist. Phantoms to be walked through. Tired hauntings in the illuminated walkways.

            At day's end, he finds himself here, and his promise is dust in his mouth. His promise is the .22 at his waist.

            Jack has been sat here for a long while. Staring at the lights in the house. Now, they go out like stars, dying in a bereft solar system. He doesn't know what he's waiting for – a sign, perhaps, from somewhere, from something, to tell him if this is as foolish an idea as some sliver of him thinks it to be. Or if it is what he should have done from the beginning.

            The sign comes in the form of the front door of the great house opening, producing Hannibal Lecter. From where Jack sits across the street, he cannot make much of him out. Only that he exits the house in a black overcoat, and he has barely walked down the porch before Jack leaves the inner warmth of his car, crosses the ice-slicked street and approaches Hannibal's trajectory, towards his driveway and the Bentley and Lexus parked there.

            Hannibal notices him at once, coming to slow halt betwixt the cars as Jack ascends the snow covered concrete.

            "Jack," he says in greeting. The wind tousles his hair lightly. "I had not expected you."

            As Jack walks closer, he finds Will was not expressly lying: Hannibal stands lightly marred. Black eye, underlip cut, and a deeper cut at his neck, across his throat. But he is not limping and swaying on unsure feet like Will. Indeed not, he stands strong and perfectly still but for the wind. In his eyes is an ease, a relaxation, and Jack feels his gun at his waist as if it were a part of him.

            Jack hadn't realized, but it's been whole moments and he has yet to speak a word.

            Hannibal eyes him coolly. "Jack?"

            "This is about Will," he says, and his voice is othered, as if it is not really him speaking. He cannot recall, immediately after, moving his lips. And what comes out is somehow understandable, whereas the words buzzing in his skull cannot be parsed. "And how he looked coming into the office this morning."

            There is a pause before Hannibal's slight nod. His gaze moves lower to the bulge at Jack's waist side, beneath his coat. Then, moves back to Jack's face. "And what would you like to say on the matter?"

            "Hannibal, what the fuck did you do to him?"

            Hannibal looks aside quickly, then back. "I would think it's rather obvious what transpired."

            "He said it felt like he got ran over by a truck."

            Hannibal's lips part barely, revealing the points of white teeth. It is neither a smile nor grimace but an expression wholly disconcerting and, coupled with no words, it serves only to agitate Jack further.

            Jack says, "I trusted you with him."

            "You also told me, Jack, to handle my relationship with him. I am indeed handling it," he pauses, "to every extent given by Will himself."

            Jack says nothing. He remembers Will in the office, insisting with everything he had that it was in no way rape. Jack cannot refute Will since he himself was there, but at the same time he is not convinced at all. No matter his age, Will is not as developed in terms of social interaction and relationships as others, and certainly – and obviously – not to the same extent as Hannibal.

            Guess who's fault that is?

            Yes, Jack knows. He knows.

            And he is angry at himself, because he has once again failed Will. He put him in the hands of a man who stood courteous and patient, who took to all Jack asked of him with a kind bearing. And Will himself had slowly and surely succumbed to this man as well, sliding down into a deep comfort. Whether Will had been actively seducing Hannibal or not – he was a child. Will tugged playfully on a rope that stretched into a foggy ether, and felt a yank in response, a yank so violent that it–

            I feel like I got run over by a truck

            –left him black-eyed and bleeding. Now he walks like–

            I got run over

            –he walks like–

            run over

            –a marionette missing strings.

            Jack gasps and moves his hand to touch the hard metal beneath his coat, and as he does so the door to the house opens once again. Jack turns to look – Hannibal does not. The house produces, this time, Abigail Hobbs, in a striking blue winter coat and brown knee-high boots. A white scarf around her neck. She flounces down the steps, smiling, heading towards the driveway and the two men who stand in it.

            "Grandpa," she cries, "what're you doing here? Are you coming with us to the mall?"

            "I," Jack says, in an exhale. He blinks, looks at her and then Hannibal who she now stands beside. "Abigail."

            She tilts her head, and she does so in just such a way that Jack swears he sees Will, his head tilted to the left, his curls bouncing. His evergreen eyes where her winterblue eyes are, staring up at him. She says, "Did you have fun last night?"

            Hannibal watches Jack for a long moment, and he cannot answer. Hannibal places his hand on the girl's shoulder, rubbing lightly. "We must be going, Abigail. Bid your grandfather good evening."

            She nods once and comes to Jack with arms held out, then enveloping him as much as she can. She hugs his middle and Jack responds only with the barest of a return, numb in the hold. Her hair smells of pears and posies. When she releases, she looks up at him again and smiles, walking wordlessly in front of Hannibal in a bounding gait, towards the passenger side of the Bentley. Hannibal gazes at Jack and for a wonder, he too smiles, with the smallest crinkles at his eyes. He turns and enters the driver's side.

            Jack goes back across the street and gets into his car, and by the time he is buckled in, the Bentley has pulled out of the driveway and is off down the street at a stop sign. Jack takes his gun and tosses it into the passenger's seat and when he looks down at it again, he realizes the safety has not been on.

*

At just after 6 PM, there came a knock on the screen door and the dogs all proceeded to churn themselves into frenzy. Will had been lying in bed, resolving to not move for the whole of the day and into the night. He groaned inwardly and took himself up from the bed with great effort. Staggered across the carpet, nearly tripping over an errant wagging tail.

            On the other side of the door, shrouded in oncoming night, stood a man with a delivery: an overstuffed bouquet of flowers for Will Crawford. Will took them to his chest with a numb sort of surprise. The scent so familiar, and yet in the darkness of the living room, he could not tell the sort. Again making his way back to the bed, with a muffled cry of pain, he deposited himself into the bounty of covers and pillows. The lamp at the nightstand flicked on with a reach. And their likeness revealed: asphodel.

            Will felt himself immediately come to blush; so hot he began to feel itchy. And the smile – oh, he could not stop himself. Even through the pain, which, for a second, faded into the background. And the foreground: the flowers at his chest, their luxurious scent, the soft-silky texture of the petals against his cheek.

            For a long while he simply lie in bed with them, the dogs settling after investigating with upward tilted muzzles at bedside. Will drifted in and out of reverie, drifts in and out of reverie, and as he comes to a stable consciousness, can only find himself remembering Hannibal kissing him at the steps of his house this morning. When snowflakes fell to earth.

            Will's eyelids lower.

            It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

            Persephone is having sex in Hell

            Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know

            What winter is–

            "–only that she is what causes it," Will murmurs. He tilts his head back and looks at his desecrated bookshelf, that which now is coated in a light film of dust and has only memories of thick tomes of love, longing, regret. He makes to bite his lower lip, forgets it is split, and hisses in pain. His body throbs around the flowers, a vase of red heat. A moment longer and his gaze on the bookshelf lowers, finds itself set on his cell phone at the nightstand. He reaches overhead with attempt to not disrupt his body's lull of striking pain. Flips it open, presses it to his ear after a speed-dial.

            Will presses the open faces of the flowers to his mouth as he listens to the rings.

            "Hello, Will."

            Will smiles around one petal between his lips. "Hannibal," he says. "I got your flowers." He pauses to suck the petal. "You're so very poignant."

            "All that matters to me is that you enjoy them."

            He cannot help it then – releasing a satisfied sigh. He listens to minute sounds coming through the line, sounds like the fridge door opening and a soft humming of a girlish voice: Abigail. Will licks the back crease of a petal and says, "Their beauty will help me recover."

            Hannibal makes a sound, something like a one-note hum, after which he makes a half-hearted apology.

            Will grins into the phone. "You're not sorry. You animal. I'm in tatters."

            "Ah yes," he says, a smile in his tone, "I think the phrasing was you were run over by a truck."

            Will's eyes widen in sudden realization. He'd said such to Jack this morning in the BAU. He says, "M-My dad–"

            "Is not overly pleased with me at the moment."

            "He actually talked to you?"

            "Just a few hours ago. He came to my house."

            Jack is going to ruin everything. He's going to ruin absolutely everything, and for the simple cause of trying to protect Will. Perhaps Will was wrong to go rub this in his face like that – he meant only to finally show Jack he was no longer a child. To show him that he can and will do as he pleases. He did not mean to goad him into confronting Hannibal. If such action causes Hannibal to believe Will harbors any ill feelings, then–

            Will catches himself in a tizzy. No, he thinks not. He thinks he can salvage this.

            In a tone of long-suffering, Will says, "I told him not to do that." He tents his eyebrows though Hannibal cannot see him. Stares up into the plastered ceiling as if it were Hannibal's eyes. "He's only upset because of how I look. He thinks you raped me, but I told him it wasn't true."

            "He indicated as much."

            Will presses his lips together lightly; he cannot help the smile that comes next. "Did he look really pissed?"

            "You could say so."

            Will laughs. "Well. You can't blame him, can you? I am his son." He pauses, opens his mouth and then takes a calculated risk: "He doesn't want you to be my psychiatrist anymore."

            It is silent for a moment. "And what are your thoughts on the matter?"

            "You are mine," Will says, soft. "It was my decision to be with you. One of the few I've ever gotten to make on my own. And so, I treasure it. My dad will not dissolve this relationship."

            No, Will thinks. This will end when I wish it to end. How I wish it to end. Not a moment before, or after.

            Because it must end, says Raleigh, secreted away in the passages of Will's mind.

            All things do end, says Marlowe, in tone of grievous reproach.

            "Relationship," Hannibal repeats.

            Will nips at a silken petal, tightening his grip on the cellophane wrapping of the bouquet. Pinky finger tangling in the golden ribbon. "Patient-doctor," he says. "Or– whatever it is this has turned into. Is there a name for it– for when–" Will's eyelids lower, and his hand which was once around the bouquet leaves it to move beneath his shirt, pushing it up, and revealing a wide-spread bruise under the left of his chest. He exhales. "For when you mark me up."

            Hannibal does not say anything. Will only knows he continues to stay on the line by his breathing – smooth, even.

            Will presses at the bruise with pointer and middle fingers. The subsequent noise he makes is somewhere between a moan and a grunt. He says, "You bruised my rib. Already it's turning purple. In a day, it'll go green. I can see the tinges now."

            Hannibal's voice is businesslike, but frays at the edges and betrays wild interest. "Does it hurt?" he asks.

            Will presses it again. "Yeah," he says in exhale. Then: "Everything hurts." Then: "I'll be resting for a while."

            "When you are feeling better," Hannibal finally says after a long pause, "we can resume your therapy."

            "And?" Will asks.

            "And," Hannibal agrees.

            Will makes a sound, a lone hum, and hangs up. He lets the phone fall from his open hand to the mattress and he plucks the petal he'd nibbled, and chews, and swallows.

*

It takes three days. Three days of confinement to the house; three days of watching the snowfall outside; three days of crying out upon sitting upright, and then less and then less.

            Will finds himself changing and thus sets to task: finding what has changed. He spends long periods of time after showers, staring into the bathroom mirror, shorn of clothes. He looks into his eyes, bleary green things in the steam. The dull purple hue of his bruises which green and blue. They stand out on him, against skin which has reddened with heated water. He looks, to his own eyes, breathtaking. He would not have thought so upon first seeing himself. But it's true.

            He leans close to the mirror, placing a hand flat against it.

             He says, "It's true, I'm an adult."

            In the three days, he finds himself missing his poetry. It is inane and a non-sequitur, he supposes, as he cannot recall all he burned. Some were gifts, others acquired on random Sunday afternoons at quiet bookshops. But still, he wishes he had not done it – his heart, his head, they are bursting with such, and he would like to look at the words, touch the stale pages, run fingertips over bleeding type. In these days, he feels more tactile than ever before. He reaches out to touch Hobbs, who sits silent and milky-eyed – a lost endeavor. He runs the edges of his fingernails along his own skin. A birthmark. A scar. A mark on the neck made by worshipping mouth.

            His body, like a door opening. He has stepped into something unknown. It is a vast field of senses. It is a valley through which hedonistic marauders rove. Every turn he makes, every flash of his eyes, the arch of his feet, the crook of his jaw, all of it so unknown and wonder-filled. He stands afresh. He wonders if it can be seen from the outside.

            "Yes," Hobbs says on a drear-smeared morning. Will stands at the edge of the bed, bare and shining like sea foam hemming a dark sea. Hobbs sits on the ruffled bedcovers, looking up at him. "There is a newness about you."

            "Do you think he's done this to me?" Will asks, looking down at his hands. They are his own. Yet they are not his own.

            "With your aid."

            "Imprisonment takes two parties," Will murmurs. "The holder and the held."

            "And which party have you been?"

            Will looks aside. There is a distant, high-pitched sound, akin to static or radio waves.

            Hobbs says, "Which party are you now?"

            Will tilts his head back towards the apparition and smiles.

            The days melt like snow. On the third, Will is beyond restless. He has re-touched everything in the house and the dogs all have sniffed him anew, as if he has been somewhere far away and returned with unfamiliar scents, unfamiliar skin. It has come upon him during the course of his seclusion that with this newfound valley that has arisen within him, too are there new needs that must be sated. Long has he insisted he is no longer a child. Only recently has he felt this truly come to pass. Late in the night, he leaves his small house, traveling along frigid roads. Sitting comes easily, as does moving his torso, biting his lip in thought or pause. When he arrives at the tall home in Baltimore, he pulls silently into the driveway. The lights in the house are off upstairs, and one burns bright through the living room windows. Will exits the Mercedes, feels the cold at his ears, and knocks on the door. A long moment passes before it opens.

            "Will," Hannibal says, though his voice betrays no surprise. He stares at Will as he steps back into the dimly lit foyer, allowing for entry.

            Will steps in, door closing behind him, and immediately comes into the warmth of the other man's arms. His cold coat against heated vest and shirt. Head tilted up, mouth reclaiming that which he'd daydreamed of when recovering in bed. Hannibal tastes of blackberries and mint.

            "Your daughter," Will says in a breath before their mouths connect again, "where is she?"

            Hannibal's tongue against Will's, pressing, then away. "Your daughter fell to bed an hour ago," he murmurs. Kisses along the stubbled jaw. Then to leave a lingering kiss against thudding pulse. Will shudders, exhales, nothing more. His body obeying flawlessly. Hannibal says into his ear, "Would you like to see her?"

            Will sighs, shakes his head. "Not at the moment," he says. Slightly, he pulls back, allowing now for space enough to look into Hannibal's eyes. He takes Hannibal's hands in his own, laces their fingers. "I'm," he pauses to smile, "I'm feeling better now."

*

It takes three days. Three days of blaming himself; three days of walking through the office and his own house as one dead; three days of looking at Will's name in his phone contacts, staring helplessly, longingly.

            Jack has never been the religious sort. His mother was, and hers before her, and so on, but in Jack it never took. Now, however, he remembers his childhood when he was easily persuaded to any notion his mother put in his head. Confession, reconciliation, atonement. These things, for the first time in decades, stir in Jack. They fill his head like bees in a hive, swarming lazily his brain. Half of him, he who is still quite childlike in perception, tells Jack: Yes, yes, this is an act of God. He is punishing you for what you have done to your son.

            And the other half, desperate and scornful in equal measures, says: What you might call God is really only Hannibal. And he is not punishing you, he is hurting Will.

            Jack is caught between these two halves of himself. He is them, and he is othered, and he is lost.

            He says, muttering into a lukewarm coffee mug: "Will says he wanted this."

            Both sides lean into either of his ears, whispering in tandem: Yes, but can you trust him?

            Can you trust him to know what he wants? Can you trust him to know what he needs?

            Jack feels a heatedness behind his eyes. He places the mug back on the counter at his side, and places his head in his hand.

            Casually, the voices chime: You can't even trust yourself.

            Eventually, Jack cannot confine himself to the office and home any longer. He takes drives out into Baltimore, into familiar territory. Darkened evenings, lit by lampposts, clouded by overcast sky. Occasionally, it snows. Once, it threatened to thunderstorm. Jack sits in his car across the street from Hannibal Lecter's house and makes no move to exit. He does this whenever he can get away from the office, or when Phyllis will not miss his presence at the house. He does not know what comfort he gleans from this act – indeed, Hannibal could easily notice. It could be called stalking. Yet Jack cares not for what it is called. He does it, he thinks, to check on Will in a roundabout way. The Bentley comes and goes. The Lexus mostly stays. A Mercedes does not make an appearance.

            Time and time again, in his imagination, he sees Frederick Chilton in the cell below Alana's palace. He sees the man looking up at him in the ill blue lighting. Those green eyes deep and wandering. He says, "Don't you?"

            Jack never got a chance to tell Will about the meat sample he tested. He supposes now it doesn't really matter. His mind is no longer on thoughts of cannibalism, nor even on killing. Not even on the promise he broke, speaking to Hannibal when Will had not wished it. He is only a man. He could not withstand it, seeing Will in such a way. And he cannot stand it. He cannot stand it.

            Confession, reconciliation, atonement.

            This is the order. The only option available to him now.

            On the third day, in the evening, Jack leaves his post across from Hannibal's house. Watching the lonely road in front, the coming and going of cars, is only unnerving him to the point of ill thought. He leaves and goes back home, finding that Phyllis has arrived. Into the house, coat and hat left at the coat rack near the door. The house is warm and smells of roasted autumn vegetables: butternut squash and parsnips. Thyme and sea salt. When Jack follows the scents into the kitchen, he sees Phyllis licking at her thumb, standing over the sink, water running. Her eyes light when she tilts her head back and sees Jack under the archway.

            She tells him around the thumb that she's burnt herself.

            She tells him it's not too terrible.

            She tells him dinner will be ready in forty minutes.

            Jack tells her all of it, everything, everything, everything.

*

 "N-Now... if you're– you're always in c-control... of me, it– it isn't fair, H-Hannibal."

            Will is not quite sure if Hannibal is listening. It's hard to tell from where he is lying, angled, on the downy mattress. Will's chest and head and arms plastered to the sheets – the rest of him up on his knees. He is bare but for the thin layer of sweat covering the whole of his body. His chest heavy with the labor of keeping calm, attempting, trying desperately to adjust to Hannibal inside him. Will's cheeks a torrid red, a dab of wetness at his green eyes. Burning by the firelight. His hair in glossy ringlets against his neck, his cheekbone, as he turns his head to look back and up at Hannibal.

            Hannibal leans down, in, slowly. One hand propping himself up on the bed, the other holding gently Will's slick hip. He places his face into Will's wet curls and with such action, forces himself in fully to the hilt. Will releases a strangled sort of cry and seeks to adjust once more, regulating his breathing. Hannibal is breathing him in, the raw scent of his scalp, opening his mouth to breathe heated puffs of air on the back of Will's neck, sliding parted lips to the top of his back and licking there slowly.

            Will closes his eyes, swallows, opens them again. He grips the sheets in his hands and with great effort manages to get onto both hands and knees. Hannibal is nipping at his ear, his shoulder, then to come to his mouth in a kiss that is more tongue than lip. Will nudges Hannibal with the side of his head, suggesting him to ease back a bit. Hannibal does, kneeling with both hands lingering at Will's hips, scraping lightly with fingernails.

            "S-Still," Will says in a gasp.

            Hannibal tightens his grip on Will but says nothing.

            Will pulls away a bit, halted only briefly by Hannibal's grasp. It relents, stilted. Will swallows, and with a hand, pushes hair back and out of one eye. His eyelids lower as he feels himself losing Hannibal's girth inch by inch, until he is still barely inside Will. On an exhale, Will pushes back, regaining him once again, inch by inch, and the friction pulls moans from both, Will's punctuated by a high-pitched gasp.

            With bitten lower lip, Will continues this motion in increments. Slowly, slowly, slowly, more away, more away, and back to him, back to him. Through parted curtains of his bangs, one green eye flashing at Hannibal, Will takes in the part of his red mouth, the infinite gaze that never strays from Will's pulsing form. And Will comes before Hannibal has even touched him between his legs – in a spasm so sudden, he slides down to release his upper body to the soft embrace of the comforters below and is crying out, catching himself only briefly and biting into the sheets. With this, Hannibal leans down into him, in one motion taking one hand into Will's hair and yanking it back, effectively freeing the fabric from Will's mouth. Hannibal's thrusts into him are short, exacting, coupled with elongated groans in Will's ear. In alternation, Will is crying out curses and the man's name, and when he feels the full force of Hannibal's strength and feels him coming, throbbing, Will turns his head fully to clamp his teeth into the side of Hannibal's neck.

            Fluttering of ocher eyelashes. Veined hands gripping desperately at hips. Slowing of the downward motion. Kisses like praise and prayer. Outward slide. Opening of eyes to see a smiling red mouth.

            In the cool sigh of afterglow, the fire has died out and the room is indigo. Against sweat-wetted sheets, Will lies with his legs draped over Hannibal's stomach. He is curled inward, arms around Hannibal's neck, and he sucks damp kisses into the man's neck where there are bite marks. Hannibal runs fingertips along the hipbone turned towards him. The cold flesh at Will's backside.

            Hannibal's voice is soft: "I assume this means you're ready to resume your regression therapy."

            "Mm." Will finishes sucking a mark, then removes his mouth. He lowers one hand from Hannibal's shoulder down into his chest hair, and spreads his fingers wide throughout it. "My body is my own now. I would have the same of my mind."

            Hannibal smiles at him – it is half-shadowed, and he turns to Will completely, pressing their mouths together. In the small pauses, Hannibal mutters promises to Will, which Will accepts with his tongue. Over Hannibal's shoulder, Will sees something blinking cyan on the nightstand. He realizes it is his phone, and upon a squint, he sees the name flashing is marked Mom. Will sighs into the kiss and closes his eyes. At the moment, he is uninterested in anything other than this.

           

 

Chapter Text

When Jack wakes in the morning, his cheek has stopped stinging. The pain of it was less than the shock. It's been years since he has last been slapped: the first and only other time occurred when he was but thirteen. On a spring day behind his middle school, walking from the gymnasium to the fields beyond the building with the rest of his physical education class. A friend of his named West, coltish and ever-jocular, raced briefly ahead and pantsed one of the girls in front of them. Her bright red nylon shorts sliding down brown legs to find their place at her sneakers. Jack remembers standing yards behind, his hands innocent of the act. Yet in the wake of her scrawny legs, her flower-print underwear, he could not help but to laugh. And the girl, Lonnie, twisted her face with such wroth. Stormed towards Jack with hand raised. In retrospect, all the rest of that day and even decades later as he looks back on it, he should have moved or caught her hand. He had enough time to do so. But he didn't – perhaps he was simply unprepared for the connection of her palm to his cheek. Yet maybe it was something else: standing still for her because he knew he deserved it for laughing. Though he had not done the deed – that blame lay on the shoulders of West Overton alone – he felt every bit ashamed for his laughter. And so he took the blow, as he took the blow last night.

            Something like acceptance. A longing for punishment.

            Jack has slept on the couch all night. He was not directed as such but he believed it to be the best course. In the morning, he sits up amidst a knitted blanket, a few pillows, and the teal cushions. He goes about his morning routine as per usual: a shower, shaving, dressing. These in preparation for the day ahead. Post-slap, Phyllis told Jack she would be calling Will and beseeching him to come over in the morning. Jack could hear her calling him last night, leaving messages in that particular tone of hers. Will would know it immediately. A soft but clear whisper. Level-headed. Calm tide hiding beneath its waves a coiled kraken.

            Throughout his morning routine, Jack thinks back on the night: a blur of fervent confession. It was exciting. He didn't think he'd ever considered how it would feel to tell Phyllis – do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God? – all of it. The commands, the basement training, that which she'd seen glimpses of and never really witnessed the full extent. And Hannibal Lecter and Will's accusation. Will's defense of Frederick Chilton. And finally, in culmination, Will's appearance three days ago in the office. Him coming to Jack and the forensics team on staggering legs, black-eyed, crumbling in on himself.

            Hannibal fucked me.

            Jack doesn't think he'll ever forget this scene. Everything seemed so vibrant, as if he were truly seeing the world for the first time. As if he were seeing Will for the first time. Colors, sounds, smells. He will never forget.

            Telling Phyllis as she stood in the kitchen took a long while. By the time he finished, he realized his knees were stiff from being locked out. Phyllis had listened quietly, patiently. She gave Jack her full attention, until hearing the oven timer ding. Quickly, she tended to the food, placed it on the counter to cool, and then turned back to Jack, allowing him to go on.

            And Jack, he spilled. Like a waterfall, with all the urgency and detail he could muster. It came from somewhere deep inside himself. He spoke like a zealot telling of a prophecy, of things past, and things that will come. He told her like he had been in a war. Like he was marred by battle. Yet he knows Will is the one truly marred. Has been for years, bit by bit.

            At the end of it, Jack swallowed and looked at Phyllis. Her dry brown eyes. She took steps towards him, and like Lonnie on that day so long ago – she slapped him, once, and hard. Jack winced, and turned back to her with slight hesitation as if in preparation for another. But he saw no other was coming. Phyllis' lower lip trembled, and she lowered her hand. Then, miraculously, she said, "Why didn't you believe him when he said Dr. Lecter was the Ripper?"

            Jack looked at her, blinking. He did not answer.

            Phyllis opened her hands palm-up. "Jack, what was it all for? If you did all this to him, made him for this purpose exactly, what reason is there to doubt him? If you don't believe him now, you're forfeiting his entire life."

            Jack waited a long moment. When he spoke, he was hoarse from his long confession. "You're right," he said.

            Looking back now, Jack is surprised and yet not. He'd previously thought her utmost concerns would be the commands. Or perhaps even how he had limped into the BAU. But her concern is, as it ever was, for Will as a whole. Jack thinks this is why she is such a good mother. After he is dressed, he comes to contact with her again, as she sits in the living room. She turns around upon hearing him enter and in a tone devoid of cheer or anger, says, "He's on his way."

            In a half-hour, Jack finds himself seated on the armchair in the living room. The wide windows open, raining bright mid-morning sun onto his face, the wood floors. Will and Phyllis sit on the couch, with Phyllis seated nearest the armrest and in turn nearest Jack.

            Will's injuries have diminished vastly, as Jack has expected. Only the barest hints that he had a black eye. His lip healing nicely. There are fresh marks upon his neck, however. Darkened as if made the night before. Too, he still does not wear his glasses. Jack finds this just as well. He would rather look into Will's eyes.

            "Mom," Will says, breaking half a smile. He shrugs. "I told Dad this. It wasn't rape."

            She shakes her head slowly. "That's not what this is about, Will."

            "Then..." Will trails off. Gaze flickers to Jack for the first time since entering the house.

            "Your father told me everything," she says.

            Will tilts his head slightly.

            "The commands," she clarifies.

            When Will's head whips to Jack fully, when his eyes round, Jack nods to confirm this. "Everything," Jack says in exhalation.

            "W-Well," Will begins, moving his hands to his knees, "I don't know what I'm doing here. Those things aren't my fault."

            "Of course not," Phyllis says. She does not look back at Jack to give him any evil glance. Jack is mournful of this. He wants her to look at him that way, to revile him. He wants to be slapped again. He wants all of it. She continues: "This isn't about the commands either though. Nor is it about Dr. Chilton, or the Ripper. Hannibal Lecter, right?"

            Will nods once.

            "This isn't about him as the Ripper," she says. "This is about him as a man."

            "I–"

            "And it's about you too, Will. You, as a man. There are things you should understand."

            "Mom–"

            "Don't interrupt. You need to hear this."

            Will does as he's told. And as he sits there, Jack sees his demeanor change– from the put-upon air he entered with to some countenance he has only ever taken in the face of his mother. A quiet, contemplative air. Caught somehow at the age of twelve.

            Jack can only see the side of Phyllis' face, but her expression looks to be irenic of all things. Around her, Jack sees dust motes in the spiral of sunrays. And Will's green eyes in which nothing is reflected. They sit together on the couch, Phyllis with one leg tucked under her, Will with hands clutching his knees. He listens to her speak on the attachment that comes with loss of virginity, and every first experiment and touch that would be to Will as fresh snow to be stepped into. And more than that: Will is an empath. The thing that first drew all manner of psychiatrists to his feet. That which, perhaps at some remove, also drew Hannibal. For him to pretend to be in a relationship – she uses the phrase "in love," and Jack cannot help the inner shudder that comes upon him – is not so different from him being so. "That would be common knowledge, wouldn't it?" she says and at this, she does eye back at Jack.

            Will is apple-red and his mouth is twisted. Still, he has a calm, submissive look about him, one which he wears specifically for Phyllis alone. Jack cannot remember the last time Will was such a way with him. Indeed not, as he flashes glances over at Jack that say something like: Traitor.

            Training and things involved with it has always been Jack and Will's only means of communion. A Boy's Club. When Will was young, he reveled in it to some extent. Things his mother could not know. Things just between them. Jack does feel traitorous in this. Yet it was necessary. A sacrifice or ritual. Confession. As necessary as the things that follow. And here, Phyllis reveals what she and Jack talked about late last night. The reconciliation.

            "You're not going to be using yourself as bait any longer," she says.

            Will says nothing. He barely moves.

            She continues: "You'll be using your father."

            Will suddenly knits his eyebrows and turns to look at Jack. "What does that mean?" he asks.

            Jack nods, sparing Phyllis a knowing glance. "We're going to try a different tactic, Will. I believe you. I do. And you said you wanted to get Hannibal to try to kill someone as proof, and it's a good plan. But we can't be haphazard. You're going to convince him to try to kill me. Then we'll arrest him. Simple, clean."

            "Simple," Will murmurs. "Clean."

            "It shouldn't be hard." Jack swallows. "I'm sure he told you about me visiting him a few days ago." Will nods at this, narrowing his eyes, and Jack ignores the look. "When I did, I got the feeling like he'd like to do that. To him, I'm sure I seem as if I've served my purpose. Gave you to him. If I were no longer in the picture–"

            "Then it'd just be me and him," Will says.

            "That's right."

            It's silent for a moment, and both Jack and Phyllis study Will for his reaction. He only shakes his head slightly, looking confused. "Don't I get a say in this?" he asks.

            Phyllis does not answer this. Instead, she leans forward and takes Will's hands into her own. From this angle, Jack can see her left eye alone, bright and impossibly wide. She looks, of all things, excited. Squeezes Will's hands. "And then, Will," she says in a buoyant inhalation, "and then your father Will let you go. No more hunting. No more cases. No more killing. You'll be free. To do whatever it is you want to do, to go wherever it is you want to go." She smiles, swallows. "Your father and I have discussed it."

            They have not. Not at all. This is, in actuality, the first Jack is hearing on the notion, and he tries desperately to hide his surprise, his horror. He stares over her shoulder at Will, who is very still and wearing an expression of strange wonder, as if he is seeing something he cannot explain or account for. A UFO or a blurred image ghosting around a corner.

            "This is what all those long years have been for," Phyllis says, "all the hardship you went through. This one man. The Ripper, right?"

            "Mm," Will says.

            "You can do it, Will. One last time." She pauses, leans in the slightest bit more. Searches his eyes. Jack wonders if she notices their loss of reflection. "Is that all right with you?"

            "Mm," he says.

            Will doesn't say much for next few minutes. He mutters that he must be going and that he understands what to do. When he leaves, he hugs Phyllis and Jack watches from a remove as she places one brown hand in his unruly curls. Smoothes them down and back. Over her shoulder, Will's green eyes stare blankly across the room, into nothing. Jack watches this with insecurity. He doesn't know what to do or say in the face of such a scene, can only stand idle. He feels like a monster gazing upon humans. When Will walks out of the door, Phyllis slowly shuts it behind him – it makes no sound when it comes to close. And she turns on one heel, her back pressed to the wood of the jamb. Hands behind her back, she raises her gaze to look at Jack: Jack in white sweater and slacks, Jack tentatively moving his thumb against his pointer finger, Jack standing amidst the sun-drenched living room with a beam of light catching the gold flecks in his eyes. She opens her mouth.

*

His primary concern is and has been the removal of the collar. With Jack firmly beneath the heel of guilt, Will felt for a while as if he had all the time in the world. It felt like fantasy. Now, however, he realizes his error. And retrospect is a horrifying thing, it always has been. Will pushed Jack too far into the realm of guilt, crushed him so completely that he felt his only recourse was to go to someone who has the tenderest hold upon Will. And Will does not consider it such – how can Phyllis ever have something so obscene as a hold? Such soft love is no pinion by which to be held.

            Hobbs has asked him, in regards to his relationship with Hannibal, who is the holder and who is the held?

            Will knows this cannot apply to his relationship with Phyllis. His mother. She wishes to see him freed. And she looked so excited, in such a way that it nearly shocked Will. He did not feel the same in the face of the news. Does not. The thought of freedom from this job – it is strange in a way he has not known. Like being confronted by an idea, a philosophy he had never before encountered. It is slightly frightening, and he wonders why. Why would Jack want to throw away all these years of teachings, of honing blunt sensibility to fine skill? And where would Will even go? What would he even be? He's never before considered being anything but a monster-hunter. It was a childhood fantasy turned reality. He always thought himself, in some grimly funny way, a children's success story. When a child boldly tells their parents they will one day become a pirate, rarely does it happen. Will had wanted to be a monster-hunter and Jack had made it so.

            When Will comes to his therapy appointment in the evening, when his glass of wine is mostly drained and he is looking at the idle light at his left, he says to Hannibal: "What would you have been – if you hadn't become a psychiatrist? What job would you have wanted?"

            Hannibal is sitting across from him in the leather chair. He is red-clad and his eyes are completely black – as they are usually after long sessions of kissing. "I was a surgeon before this," he says, smiling.

            Will chuckles softly. "Should have seen that coming."

            "Why do you ask?"

            "Hmm." He sighs, looks at the dregs in his glass on the table. Eyelids slide half-shut. "I was just thinking. What I would be if I wasn't– well, this."

            "I think it would always come back to this in one form or another." Hannibal eyes him with warm countenance. "What you excel at speaks to who you are. Even beneath your father's teachings, your influences, things that I've told you." He pauses. "It's one of the most intoxicating things about you, Will. You are, wholly, yourself."

            Will would kiss the man if he could. But he is fast drifting off, and only murmurs, "Who am I?" If Hannibal answers this, Will does not remember it. Sometime later, after the regression, Will is warming back into himself. He feels light-headed and his brain is filling up with his life as it is: he is Will Crawford, it is 8:39 PM and he is in Baltimore, Maryland, in the arms of a future prisoner. Hannibal is seated in his leather chair and Will has abandoned his own to sit in the man's lap. Running fingertips along the hair of his exposed forearms.

            Hannibal's elegant fingers are upon Will's neck, giving attention to the bite and suck marks etched upon him.

            "They're pretty," Will says, angling his neck to allow Hannibal better view of his own work. "Like battle scars."

            Hannibal lifts his eyebrows slightly and smiles. "They say there is no stronger bond forged between men than that in war."

            Will almost laughs. "Who says that?"

            "Romans," Hannibal says.

            Will does laugh then, and kisses Hannibal fully upon the mouth. He thinks Hannibal is perhaps the strangest person he's ever met. And this is the first time he has allowed himself to consciously think it: it is a shame he must be locked away. If he were not a killer– if he were not, then Will would– he would–

            He does not allow himself to carry this further. He thinks of Phyllis' hopeful eyes and says, "My dad doesn't much care for the marks. War-forged bond or no."

            Hannibal nods once. "Jack is a man easily horrified by your evolution. Your adulthood. It wouldn't surprise me if the knowledge of such bedeviled him to the point of nightmare."

            "I'm sure he doesn't want to imagine any of this."

            "I'm certain not. Though for him, it could hardly be helped." Hannibal pauses, lowers his eyes to Will's neck again. "Jack has the ability to see much. He can see it, but he cannot understand it. Much in the way he could see you, your abilities, at a young age."

            Will leans in and kisses Hannibal again. He cannot help it, as Hannibal's mouth when it moves is hard to resist. Even when it is perfectly still. Will says upon kiss's end: "You don't think he understands me."

            Hannibal presses his mouth to Will's, his hand to Will's jaw, and connects the flats of their tongues. At their parting, Hannibal says, "What do you think?"

            What Will thinks is this: the freedom proffered from his current line of work is strange and bewildering. But the freedom from the commands is not. And perhaps, if these two things coincide, his path will seem clearer, less muddled with worry and childhood dreams. The bottom line is that time is running out. Will must deliver Hannibal. The sand in the hourglass, where once it seemed a desert's worth, is now that of a handful. And each golden grain is a kiss. Will takes his hands to Hannibal's face and holds the two of their mouths together for a long time, lips moving against one another, tongues over teeth and gums. It feels so good it could stop time.

*

The room is a single, but large. Jack has splurged, because he needs some measure of comfort in these dark times. He is in the last stage:

            Atonement.

            And this is it – this hotel room he finds himself in, banished here by ultimatum. Phyllis had asked him, in the wake of their son's departure, if he'd like to give her some space or jump straight to divorce. Jack sputtered for the former option, packed a bag, and left. He drove down the snowy streets, over the highways and byways, and into D.C where he found the Omni Shoreham in the heart of the city. It is almost the same distance from Quantico as his house.

            When he first arrived into the room, he looked at it silently. Heard the door shut behind him. Dropped his suitcase at his feet. And he began to smile, jaggedly at first, then turning to a wide-spread monolith of mirth. He laughed then, louder and louder, with so much force he started to hiccup. Folded his arms across his middle. Ached deep in his gut. Oh, it was deliciously funny. Tears spurted from the corners of his eyes as he roared laughter. He sank to his knees, weak from joy. On his mind: only Will. Will in the highest sky, Will in the deepest sea. Will finally getting the help he needs from one who loves him dearly. Will being offered freedom.

            Good for you, Will. Good for you.

            Jack's atonement and Will's liberation share a plane. Yes, that is how it should be. Jack deserves this. He deserves this! It feels so good to get what one deserves! This, now. Oh, it is true justice if he'd ever seen it. Trials? Handcuffs? Not at all. This is mainline. This descent. He wished Phyllis were there, if only to slap him again. When he fell asleep in the hotel bed that night, he kept replaying the slap in his head. Not just Phyllis' – but the one given by Lonnie. He replayed them both in quick succession again and again until unconsciousness overtook him. Until they blurred into one single event: the stride up, the raised hand, reared back, launch forward, the glorious impact.

            The next morning, Jack sits in his office, drinking a sugar-loaded coffee. He looks about the room bright-eyed, wonder-filled. Everything looks the same. Yet it is seen through a film of change. He takes his lips to the warm rim of the mug. Sips long and even.

            At the door, there is a stilted knock.

            Jack sets the mug down. "Come in," he says.

            It opens, and Beverly's oval face appears in the crack. "Jack?"

            Jack tents his eyebrows, nearly bowled over by this. "You knocked," he says with air of question.

            "I'm not a heathen, you know."

            "Well, yeah. Come in."

            Beverly does as told, letting the door close behind her. She walks into the office, looking about as if it has been a while since she last entered. Jack supposes it has. She lets out a sigh and shrugs her shoulders. "I was just, well, we were just–"

            "We?"

            A nod back towards the door. "P and Z are in the hallway."

            Jack's left eye twitches.

            She resumes: "We drew lots to see who'd come and talk to you. It's just, we're worried about Will. You haven't said anything about him for days and we haven't seen him at all– what's going on with him and Hannibal?"

            Jack is silent for a moment, at once endeared by their worry for Will and yet hesitant to tell anyone of the measures moving into place.

            Beverly presses: "Is he gonna, you know, file charges?"

            "It was consensual," Jack says. The word still feels mealy in his mouth.

            "Uh." Beverly raises one eyebrow. "Well."

            "I know." It's the only thing Jack can say. He looks down at his mug again and the swirling light brown liquid inside. He allows for: "I'm handling it."

            Beverly's eyes light at this. "What's the plan, boss man?"

            "I'm playing it pretty close to the chest, Bev."

            "Ah. Yours and Will's?"

            Jack pauses, startled. Her face is calm, mouth relaxed. Jack says, "Mine and Will's."

            It is quiet for a moment, just the scuffle of shoes in the hall. Jack thinks it must be Zeller and Price, eager to hear any information on Will's wellbeing. Before Jack can say anything else, Beverly jolts – as if she'd forgotten something. She raises a pointer finger in the air. "Oh, right," she says. "I also came here to tell you we have a body."

            "Beverly," Jack groans, "don't you think you should've said that first?"

            "What in hell for?" she asks. "The body is dead. Will's alive."

            Jack flinches and looks at her. And with an awed expression, he begins to nod.

*

The frigid morning finds Will staring up at the crystal palace. The surrounding area is still imbued with a quietness attributed to the early hour. Will could not stay in bed any longer and found himself rushing on cold roads to Baltimore. He has been antsy and disquieted since yesterday morning. He does not know if he can find counsel here. But it is worth a try.

            Upon entering, he is met with every courtesy afforded to his position. Alana asks if Will would like Frederick brought to a cage or conference room – Will declines. He wants to go to him in his cell, where Will can take the full brunt of what the man is undergoing. Alana obliges.

            She motions for the door to the long hall to be opened, that which is floors below the ground. Will leaves her at the entry and travels alone. He bypasses men: some hulking, some small. He could probably tell each man's killing method, or at least make educated guesses. Being down here fills him with something like certainty. He is of this world: that of serial killers, death and dying. How can he simply leave?

            He comes to pass Tobias, then Abel, and stands before Frederick.

            Frederick is upon his cot; his hair is mussed and he looks exhausted. He sits upright at seeing Will. Distractedly smoothes down one side of his hair.

            "Will," he says. "Alana did not tell me–"

            "Surprise," Will says, smiling. He shrugs. "I happened to be in the neighborhood."

            Frederick looks disbelieving but also uncaring of such. He leans forward over crossed legs. "How is– I mean, what's going on out there? Are you–" and he stops, when his eyes fall to Will's neck. His bottom lip parted from the top.

            Will stands perfectly still.

            At the left of Frederick's cell, there is movement which draws Will's eye. He looks aside and finds Abel Gideon has come up to his glass, icy eyes surveying Will in total.

            "Ah, there he is," Abel says. In his eyes is appreciation, which attracts Will's attention wildly. "Look at that, Frederick. The fruit has been plucked and devoured."

            Will cannot help it – he places hands behind his back and straightens just a bit. Tilts his head to allow Abel a full glance at what has been done. Lengthens the lines of his body as if he were on display.

            "Will," Frederick says, now against the glass. "Will, you didn't. Tell me you didn't let him do it."

            Abel rolls his eyes, though Frederick cannot see the gesture. "Would you rather the boy was dragged kicking and screaming into it?"

            "That's not what I–"

            "I was kicking and screaming," Will recalls. He smiles, lowers his voice: "It was lovely."

            Frederick looks to be between disbelief and desolation.

            Abel says, "Come here, pretty thing, and tell me all about it."

            Will is almost drawn into such an invitation. He does not know why but all he and Hannibal have thus far done is never far from his tongue. He has no one to gush to – on the subject of how wonderfully strong Hannibal is, or how he does a trick with his tongue that makes Will see double. How he said, just last night while knuckle-deep in Will, that Will is too tight for his own good. How he has habit of saying all manner of filth into Will's ear before the actual act but, during, goes deathly quiet in terms of proper speech, as if his brain is scrambled by the sheer deed of being inside Will.

            It is too much to keep to himself. Yet he must. He made a show of preening for Jack and look where it has gotten him. Phyllis did not let him speak at all but lectured him on attachment, during which Raleigh nodded in agreement while Marlowe busied himself reciting his own words – where both deliberate, the love is slight: whoever loved that loved not at first sight? – and Will could only listen dutifully. Abel presents him with open, honest opportunity. But something keeps Will from it. Perhaps it is sullen Frederick standing by. Or perhaps Will does not really want to speak such aloud. To make it real and solid, when it is only ether.

            A sweet dream.

            "I think not," Will says, flashing a coy eye at the man. He shakes his head and looks back to Frederick. "Don't sulk."

            "I'm not sulking."

            "You can't have expected me to stay a virgin forever, Frederick."

            "Oh," says Abel, "trust me, he did not expect that at all."

            Frederick glares at the wall, red-eyed. "Kindly shut up, Gideon."

            Abel shrugs and makes a motion as if he is zipping shut his lips.

            "Frederick," Will says, looking back, "I didn't actually come here to talk about this."

            "Oh, no?" Frederick is looking aside and down, as if he is no longer interested in what Will is saying.

            Will fights the urge to roll his eyes. "No," he says. Takes a step forward. "I'm here because something's happened. Plans have changed, and I– I guess I need your advice."

            At this, Frederick looks up, and Will tells him all: of Jack and Phyllis' plan to use Jack as bait. What Will is now tasked with. And what waits for Will on the other side of Hannibal's arrest. His crown forever removed from his head. His throne collecting dust and dried flower petals in his wake.

            "Would that your mother stepped in before this happened to you," Frederick says, motioning to Will. "She's the only one in your family with any sense."

            Will is going to overlook that last remark as a cheap shot from a wounded man. But he narrows his eyes nevertheless. "My freedom," he says, refocusing Frederick.

            "What of it?"

            "What's the point of it?"

            Frederick looks at Will as if he has sprouted another head. "Isn't this what you want? You never had a choice in what to be, Will."

            Will thinks of what Hannibal said the night before. "But maybe I was always going to be this."

            "I don't see how, without the commands and training. You could have a normal life, if you like. Something away from what's happened, what you've had to do."

            No more hunting. No more cases. No more killing. You'll be free.

            That has rung in Will's ears like funeral bells.

            "This is all I know," Will says.

            "Unfortunate though that may be, you have an opportunity to pave new roads for yourself, Will." Frederick's eyes clear a bit, as if he is no longer mulling over slights. "You could do anything you wanted." He pauses. "You'll be free, as will I."

            Will turns his head. That's right. When Hannibal is arrested, Frederick will be able to be cleared of charges. Frederick will be free and he will want what he's always wanted. It's familiar, yet how different the world will be by then. How entirely unnatural.

            Abel, who had been standing idle by the glass, now says, "Listen, little prince. I don't know you well–"

            "Nor shall you ever," says Frederick.

            "–but," Abel continues, "I am familiar with your line of work. And you stand before me clearly. So think on this: how ready are you to give up all you have now?"

            Will furrows his brow and, unknowingly, shifts his stance back a bit like an unnerved colt. He makes as if he is going to run, and does not understand why. He cannot even understand the question. All he has. All he has?

           

 

 

Chapter Text

Jack has been dreading this to some degree:

            On the icy plain of the parking lot, off the highway in low country Virginia, there is a crime scene sectioned off by yellow tape. BAU vans act as posts for the tape, further keeping away stragglers from the press. Agents and forensics teams shuffle about, taking tenderest steps not to contaminate the organs and bits of flesh which have been torn from the body atop the eighteen-wheeler. The gas station nearby is darkened in the morning sun, the workers gone for the carnage littering their workplace. This is not the thing dreaded.

            That particular thing is currently walking up from the outskirts of the yellow tape – emerging from the binary system that is the Mercedes and Bentley. They arrived together. And wrapped up in long black coats for the frigid day are Will and Hannibal, the latter of the two lifting up the tape for the former to enter first.

            Jack steels himself. Seeing Hannibal once again so close to Will is unsettling in a way he had not prepared for, yet he had indeed prepared. On the way to the site with Beverly, he sat mostly silent, thinking on this. How he would feel seeing Hannibal speak, catching glimpses of the teeth that have been many times buried in Will's neck. Leaving bruises that glimmer green and yellow in the sun.

            From his engaging of Hannibal at his house a few days prior, he is sure Hannibal is aware of his ill feelings. But he need not press the matter. He greets both of them in a calm, clipped manner. Directs their attention to the snow-encrusted cab of the truck and what remains of a male body atop it.

            Zeller has erected a step ladder he haphazardly crawls upon, finding himself staring down at the body.

            "Well," he says over the rising wind, "these are bite marks."

            "Thrilling," says Jack. "You got anything else?"

            Zeller cuts a look down at him.

            "It's a mauling," Price says. Jack can hear him from the other side of both Will and Hannibal – Will standing between the two, perhaps to purposefully keep them separated. "I don't know what we're doing out here. Animal Control should have been called."

            Jack shakes his head. "It's not just this guy. There're recent reports of the same kind of attack in the surrounding area on livestock."

            "So, a mass mauling," Price says.

            Beverly is bagging frozen bits of flesh nearby. "Be serious."

            Price drones on, complaining about the cold.

            For a while, Will and Hannibal have stayed silent, occasionally sending wry glances at each other. Jack will give Will this, if nothing else: he is highly adept at feigning camaraderie. Jack doesn't know if this should make him nervous or not – Will has never had training in underhanded tactics yet he has done just what he set out to do. Hannibal is his, absolute. There is no dithering on this. Jack wonders if they've spoken on the topic as of yet – of killing Jack.

            "What do you say, Will?" Jack asks.

            Will looks surprised, as if he did not expect to be asked his opinion. He shrugs and walks forward, stepping onto the ladder that Zeller has now abandoned. After examining the body himself, he says from the top: "Must've been a pretty big animal to toss someone up here like this. Are any of the organs missing, Beverly?"

            She is yards away, holding up bits of entrails. "Still looking," she calls, "but I'm pretty sure all the pieces are here."

            Will seems to contemplate inwardly. "Not hunting for food then. Must've just been a practice run. Like the livestock."

            "Practice?" Jack asks.

            "Mm."

            Jack persists: "You're saying the animal is practicing."

            At last, Hannibal speaks. He raises a light-colored eyebrow at Jack. "The man responsible for the animal. He who is guiding his pet through these mass maulings." He glances at Price. "As you say."

            Price winces. He and Zeller and Beverly are all skirting around Hannibal, attempting to not attract his attention greatly. They still harbor mistrust and unease regarding Will's state earlier in the week, this Jack knows. And he is vindicated in the knowledge that keeping them all out of exactly what's going on is the right path. Their poker faces are astonishingly poor.

            Will answers Hannibal's statement by verifying it to all: "That's right. Like when I hunt." He turns from the mutilated body to those down below. "I had to practice first. Small stuff when I was younger. Like the livestock around here are to this animal. Then, my first real one. Hobbs. Like this guy."

            Jack is taken aback. His eyes blink quickly in the sunlight. "You're not an animal, Will," he says.

            "Oh," Will hums. He looks up, head tilted. "Am I not?"

            They have gleaned all that they may on this day and thus, it is time for the body to be packed up and transferred. Jack oversees the bags of human remains going into one of the vans. At his side, Beverly sidles up, her hands jammed deep in the pockets of her FBI coat.

            "So," she says, shivering, "if this is the first real run like Will said, then there'll be more of these."

            Jack mutters, "Just another day lost in the funhouse."

            "Eh?"

            "Oh," he says, eyeing her with tented eyebrows. "Nothing."

            Beverly looks about to say something, but glances back over their shoulders nearer the line of tape that the agents are rolling up. She stares for a long time, mouth slightly agape, and at this, Jack too turns to look back. His own gape follows Beverly's. Standing by their cars are Will and Hannibal; the former's hair blowing forward across his face, the latter's hair breezing back. Will is smirking and closes the few inches once separating them to place his hands upon Hannibal's lapels and his mouth on the man's. What commences is less a kiss and more a mutual licking of tongues which melts, finally, into a proper kiss – broken in an instant with Will's lips capturing and leaving Hannibal's bottom lip. The thin thread of saliva between them breaks as they gain distance again. Hannibal says something to Will that Jack is too far to hear, then proceeding to open the Mercedes' driver door, allowing for Will to smoothly settle inside. He shuts it, and heads for his own car, soon thereafter departing.

            "Jesus Christ," says Price, standing now with Zeller at Jack's other side. Their sudden presence startles Jack, whose nerves are already on edge. "I literally cannot think of a less romantic setting than this."

            "And yet," Beverly says.

            Zeller eyes them all from under the brim of his winter hat. "You know, I've been thinking. By the way Will looked before – sorry, Jack – and how he said he liked it, maybe this is just the kind of thing that gets them off."

            Price says, "Can we not?"

            "Whatever happened to 'to each their own' though?" Zeller asks.

            "This isn't the some sexual deviance club." Beverly glares back at him. "We're working, not dating."

            "Office romance?" Zeller looks up in thought. "It could happen."

            "Field romance is the proper term for this," says Price. "Will's just found someone like him is all."

            Jack says, "That's enough," and trudges off towards his car. He leaves the forensics team behind, and hears them loudly wondering if they said too much. Jack lets them wonder. That is the most ridiculous thing he's heard in past weeks. Someone like Will? Hannibal is not that. Not at all.

*

Will's speech has devolved into pure drivel. To his own ears, it sounds like mewling and barely human at all. In the night, he lies bare and sheened by sweat against the mattress. Coverlets and sheets stripped back, pooling at the bed's foot. His lower back upon one pillow, arching him smoothly and, betwixt his legs, sits Hannibal back on his heels – just as bare and coated with perspiration. One of Will's legs is hiked up over Hannibal's thick shoulder, the other laying open and angled outwards. And with every sparsely-paced thrust Hannibal gives, Will finds it lessens the time he will be able to form any sound at all.

            It feels as if it has been an Age. But, in all actuality, has probably been forty-five minutes. This:

            The aftermath of Hannibal's loving hands upon him. Trailing kisses from collarbone to hips, and further down to suck longingly and utilizing that blessed tongue-flip that drives Will to the edge of reason. Finally, Will thought, the teasing would be over. Will was ready upon setting eyes on Hannibal in the foyer. Still, placing himself at the ready to enter Will, Hannibal lined himself up and slowly pushed inward, eliciting soft moans and slight tensing. Then, stopping short. Just an inch inside, then a complete remove which drew a long exhalation from Will. Then, the same motion. Perhaps even a millimeter less. At the third repetition, Will caught onto this game and began to shift his hips; he made to grab Hannibal but the following look Hannibal gave him startled Will into sullen stillness. It sent a sharp tingle down his spine. He swallowed, and lay quiet.

            This pattern of Hannibal's minute push inward and full withdrawal has withstood Will's muttered bargaining, small cries, indignant demanding and something close to weeping. Hannibal seems lost in another world, his hazy gaze on the length of Will's body: the arch upwards of his hips on silk pillow, his chest rising and falling, the devastating clench of his fists above his head. Dark hair wet and curling at his cheekbones.

            "Hannibal," Will whines, long and drawn out as Hannibal takes himself from Will once again.

            He makes a sound that is like acknowledgement, little else.

            "I," Will swallows heavily, "hey."

            Hannibal pushes in again, which causes Will to shudder in pleasure then quake in anger.

            "H-Hey," he cries.

            Hannibal's expression is soft, faraway. He leans his head to the left, against Will's knee over his shoulder. Turns his mouth to the soft skin there and licks.

            Will does not know what he can do or say to goad Hannibal into it – and he has tried everything. He realizes, at some remove, that Hannibal is torturing him. Dizzily, Will thinks of the way the Ripper mutilates his victims while they are alive. This is the sugary flipside of such. The Ripper fucks like he kills.

            This time, Hannibal pushes in the smallest bit more and Will's senses flare at it and he begins mewling anew. Babbling, clenching now the bed sheets, arching his back fully and widening the part of his legs. He says please and hey and when niceties don't work, he sinks into cursing inanely. Hannibal is not moved to comply.

            A few more long moments pass and Will is wretched and still. In a watery breath, softly desperate, he murmurs, "Baby, come on."

            In one fluid motion, Will is filled completely with Hannibal's surge forward, laying down into Will; Will's resulting scream is nigh noiseless, just his open mouth and a limp cry escaping, his head thrown back, and he is coming immediately and with force, pulsating so hard that it drenches the bottom of his chin and fills the dip of his collarbone. Hannibal comes mere seconds after Will, with a few sure thrusts and his hands gripping wet hips. Ruinous breathing racks their entire bodies and Hannibal shifts slightly, rising up a bit to lick Will's chin, gathering the thick liquid there onto his tongue. Proceeds to share it with Will who is only too agreeable to such.

            Upon becoming two beings again, Will is still highly addled and in horrible awe. He clings to Hannibal, arms around the man's neck, face buried under his chin. He wants to say a thousand things. It does not seem wise to give voice to them, to make them tangible notions. Instead, he places kisses along the man's collar bone in hopes that it will satiate his inner need for sentiment. Against his forehead, he feels Hannibal smile.

            Will says, "I didn't think it would be like this."

            "Like what?"

            There's a pause. Will feels his neck redden. "So good."

            Hannibal is chuckling. Smoothes his hand along Will's back.

            "I'm always thinking about it now," Will admits. "Is that, uh– is that normal?"

            "Yes, Will. It's natural."

            Will snorts lightly. "How exhausting. Look at what you've done to me." He smiles into the man's neck. "I'll never be the same."

            "That's true," he says. "And everyone can see it. It radiates from you. Even today amidst the crime scene. You're familiar with the procedure and as capable as ever. Yet–"

            "I've evolved."

            "Beautifully."

            "You are the only one who thinks so," Will says. He slowly releases his hold around the man's neck and moves back enough to look up into Hannibal's eyes. "My dad can't stand it."

            Hannibal smiles. "Nor can he stand me for what I've done to you."

            Will laughs in a rueful fashion. "You two used to be so close. Is all love lost between you?"

            "My love for him was in respect for what he gifted to me," Hannibal says, wrapping one dark curl around his finger. "I would think it obvious as I willingly undo the knot he made in your mind."

            Will smirks and takes one finger into the down of chest hair before him. "He would be livid if he knew. He still has hold on me."

            "Not for much longer."

            "Then it's almost done?"

            "Almost."

            Will stiffens slightly at the thought. Presses himself up once again to Hannibal and kisses him slowly, tantalizingly. Upon parting, barely, Will whispers, "What shall we do when I am free?"

            "Test your strength," says Hannibal. His eyes glazed over. "On those who would place anything upon your head save the diadem that is your birthright."

            Will is nodding, kissing again, and does not make another noise until Hannibal once more is inside him.

*

When Will arrives home in the morning, he feels overwhelmingly guilty. He should not have stayed over the entire night at Hannibal's house again – for when he comes to his screen door, and opens it, the dogs almost bowl him over not in excitement at his return but at their urgent need to relieve themselves. Will sighs as Winston trots out lastly, his brown eyes gazing up at Will half in question, half in wry distaste.

            Where have you been? those eyes say.

            "My job," Will says weakly, watching him go down the porch steps – the third one that creaks – and join the rest of his pack. Will inly chides himself. He cannot even be truthful to his own dog. No, the truth is he was not merely doing his job. His job ended sometime early last night, after planting the seed of laying waste to Jack. Everything that happened after – the vigorous fucking that lasted into the midnight hour, the long slow kissing that followed, waking up in Hannibal's arms, allowing himself to be coaxed into staying for breakfast and listening with a smile as Abigail sat across the dining table, recounting her recurring dreams of being a pirate queen – can be best described as extra-curricular.

            Will stands in the snow layered yard, feeling the cold against his face. The dogs wander, glad to be outside. Their fur ruffles in the light wind of the morning and, at the emaciated green ash nearest him, Winston pees on the roots and continues to eye Will. He cannot help, in the face of this, but feel judged. He'd only recently gotten used to Jack's disapproving gazes. And Raleigh, as ever, resided in his mind, shaking his head as Hannibal poured orange juice for Will this morning. As they stared, smiling tiredly at each other, the morning sunrays through the glass porch door lining their faces. As Abigail busied herself balancing a spoon on her nose.

            Will even brought this up to Hannibal as he tugged on his shoes in the foyer, rushing towards the door after realizing the time.

            "I can't just spend the whole night every time," he said, hopping on one shoed foot, tending to the other. When he rose to stand, he looked into Hannibal's eyes. "I've got responsibilities at home. And as–" he smiled, "–nice as your bed is, I can't drop everything to lounge in it."

            Hannibal pulled him in, arms wrapped around his waist. After a long kiss that tasted of toasted pecans, Hannibal said, "Then perhaps we should merge our beds. Thereby never parting you from responsibilities that surround your own."

            Will was too harried in the moment to parse it much. He kissed Hannibal again, shouted into the house a goodbye to Abigail, and left. Now, as he looks back on it, he realizes that Hannibal's intentions regarding him have not changed in the slightest.

            Come live with me and be my love.

            Maybe he shouldn't be surprised but he is. Maybe he should even be horrified but he's not. Hasn't that been the point of his seduction? To make Hannibal think Will wanted to be with him? To make him believe it so completely that he trusts Will with his body, his secrets, to let Will into his space and run rampant? Will remembers reading this in a Nietzsche book:

            And when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

            Will knows it's truth. Hannibal has, in some way, rubbed off on him. It does not concern him much. He was prepared when he started this to become a bit unhinged. Yet he finds it has been more than that. He molds himself to Hannibal's habits, his ways, and he likes it. He likes spending the night. And it is no random result of loneliness. It is Hannibal. Though Hannibal rarely says much in the first minutes following sex, he has made it overwhelmingly apparent that Will is not to stray from him after the act. It is in Hannibal's every move – the darkness of his eyes, his frequent strong-arming of Will back to his side, away from the other side of the bed. Hannibal has even looked mildly displeased when Will slipped from the bed just to use the restroom. And upon his return, Hannibal bit into his shoulder, neck, leaving fresh marks.

            He is not sure what Hannibal's reaction would be if Will were to just leave the house after sex. Nor is he interested in finding out. Will himself has been shown to have overtly clingy tendencies and, post sex, firmly burrows himself within the sweet warmth of Hannibal's embrace. He is subsequently filled to the brim with some unnamed need, some longing, and he does not know how to express it. He thinks it perhaps has something to do with what Phyllis said on attachment and sex.

            He wearies at the thought of becoming attached. It is not so – Will knows he feels some brief fullness when with Hannibal. But that is not the same thing. Will can feel a certain fondness for the man. For the way he smiles at Will upon waking. For the way he takes one finger to smooth a curl from Will's eyes. For the way he allows Will's head to rest on his chest, to listen to his heartbeat, and how – just fleetingly – it sounds like his and Will's are synching up.

            But that is not attachment. Will is not attached.

            Will looks down, startled by the crunching of snow. Winston is at his feet, sitting, tail perked. Will pets him behind one ear and smiles.

            "Do you forgive me?" he asks.

            Winston closes his eyes, continues to enjoy the feeling of blunt nails scratching. Will is going to take that as a yes.

*

Jack stares up at the plaster bubbled ceiling. The few small cracks within it that wind lazily through and around the bubbles. Upon long moments of staring, they begin to move on their own, together and apart, to form a scraggly W. It is the first thing he sees at opening his eyes each morning he is here in the Omni Shoreham room. There is an overwhelming quietness about this place, specifically in the early morning hours. A vacuum which is highlighted by minute white noises: the chattering of maids out in the red-carpeted hall, the dull hum of cars leaving the parking structure. Someone speaking softly in the next room – a woman's voice. All of this, and the W's.

            Jack squints.

            Wake up, it says.

            He sighs.

            What comes next? it asks.

            Where is your son? it asks.

            Will Will Will.

            Jack swallows, wets his lips, and reaches across the crisp covers to grab his phone from the nightstand. He flips it open and dials Will before he has a chance to stop himself. As the phone rings, he thinks about how he now takes direction from dilapidating ceilings.

            "Hello?"

            "Will," Jack says, still staring upwards.

            "Oh, hey." There's noise in the background, like the screen door shutting. Will mutters under his breath something that sounds like Winston. "Sorry, kind of fumbling here. I just got in."

            Where have you been? the ceiling asks.

            Jack will not ask. He knows the answer. Instead, Jack just nods as if Will could see him. He says, "Did you start it yet?"

            "I did." Clicks of claws against the hardwood floors. Jack can see Will's living room in his mind, though it has been a while since he's visited. The clothes everywhere, the tails raising dust and dander. The wide windows through which rains sun and dreary. The bed Will never makes. "He seemed pretty amenable to it – like he was waiting on me to suggest it. To see if I was ready. Kind of funny he thinks I'd be so eager to kill my dad."

            "Hilarious," Jack says, frowning.

            Will hums good-naturedly. He sounds to be in a pleasant mood. Jack would rather not spend time imagining why.

            "Have you discussed when?" Jack asks, starring still at the W.

            "No," Will says. He pauses. "It wasn't really a lengthy conversation."

            "Just keep me in the loop."

            "Of course I will. Ease off, would you?"

            Jack winces, laying his opposite hand on the roundness of his stomach. Over crisp blankets that smell of some industrial laundry detergent. Nothing like the lilac of home. "Sorry," he sighs. "I'm just on edge with this. It's–" not every day you use yourself as bait for a serial killer, he thinks but does not say. Will has been doing this himself. Jack doesn't think it's right to bellyache. True atonement is obtained through selflessness. He knows this much. Instead, he says: "It's unnerving. Thinking about it. What he might do to me if he catches me alone."

            Will snorts and he sounds muffled, as if he is trying to contain his laughter.

            Jack side-eyes the phone. "This isn't funny, Will."

            "Oh, please," he says, voice jovial, "it's ridiculous. Hannibal won't be doing anything to you without me there."

            "He told you this?"

            "Not in so many words."

            "Then..."

            "We used the word 'we'."

            "That's not really reassuring." Jack turns on his side and places his face in the pillows. Breathes in the foreign scent. Perhaps it will, at some remove, provide a surrogate comfort. Stranger things have happened. He is silent and listens to Will's breathing. Something creaks in the background, as if he is seated on his own bed. It is an oddly calming feeling that the two of them are in beds, in separate cities, holding similar devices. Jack hasn't felt this close to Will for a long time. Maybe months. "I just want this over with, that's all."

            "Mm. Hey, Dad."

            "Yeah, Will."

            "Was this your idea?" He sounds cautious. "This– this bait thing."

            "Yeah," he says. It's true. He suggested it to Phyllis and after detailing the thought behind it, he waited for her verdict. She nodded in a way he did not expect – not as if she were the final word but as if they had both been asked a question and searched, together, for the correct answer. Her nod was considerate, something like: Yes, that sounds about right.

            Will asks, "What about the– after. Was that your idea too?"

            Jack considers lying. But he doesn't. "No. That was your mother's." He exhales and continues telling the truth: "It's a good idea though. She's right. She's right about everything. You should listen to her." His eyes are closed, his face pressed to the pillow. He can almost pretend he's saying this to himself. "It never even occurred to me that you might like to do anything else with your life. I admit– I hadn't thought that far into the future. I just knew what you were good at. I took that and ran with it."

            Will's voice is soft after a lull. He says, "Yeah. You saw what I was. What I am."

            "You could be anything you want, Will."

            "You think so?"

            Jack nods, though Will cannot see this. He thinks of all the things Will could have pursued. He asks, "What do you think you'll be?"

            "A pirate queen."

            Jack sighs.

            In a single note of laughter, Will says, "See you later."

            Jack echoes this and hangs up. He drags himself from the bed and through the next day and a half. It passes in some kind of blur of paperwork, coffee and gore as the animal and his master from the day prior have struck again – this time, in a frozen piece of nowhere, a desecrated bonfire site just away from a nearby tree line. A man and woman torn to shreds. Jack can barely remember what was said around him; just bits and pieces that flash in his ears, his eyes, things like Zeller's sneezing fit, Beverly and Price's eyes looking unnaturally wide through magnifying glasses, and Will and Hannibal starring at each other over exposed femur bones, each looking like they are sharing some private joke that no one else would find remotely funny even if it were explained.

            At the autopsy of the man and woman found at the field, Jack is made privy to the fruit of the forensics teams' labor: the bite marks are of two different animals; one, a cave bear that had been extinct for close to thirty thousand years. Jack remembers feeling dizzy, peripherally wondering when was the last time he ate instead of just funneling coffee.

            As if hearing his thoughts, Beverly appeared to him with an overfilled bag of Chinese takeout.

            Jack took the bag with a limp hand. He said, "You didn't have to do this."

            "I didn't," she chirped, smiling. "I took it from one of the interns!"

            The morning after that, Jack finds himself sitting at his desk, much less dizzy and far more alert. He has made use of his surroundings at the hotel: free breakfast and a laundry facility. His clothes smell of the industrial detergent, much like the bed he sleeps in. The scent of home is already fading. Jack feels as if his whole body is changing, and his scent remains foreign to him. He is expecting Will, but does not expect who he comes into the office with – Hannibal Lecter.

            Jack tries his best not to frown but finds it really cannot be helped.

            "Hey, Dad," Will says, walking in first. He is dressed in a green sweater and black pants, incidentally making some sort of festive ensemble with Hannibal in a red and black suit. Jack is instantly reminded of couples or twins who dress alike or bounce colors off each other. He does not find it the least bit cute.

            "Will," Jack says, attempting a passive tone. "Hannibal. I hadn't expected you."

            They deposit themselves in the two chairs before the desk – Will crosses his left leg over the right; Hannibal crosses right over left. They do this in something like synchrony and Jack is momentarily stunned.

            "I simply came to assist in the capture of Will's newest quarry," Hannibal says, looking at Jack pleasantly. "The mauling the other day has been stuck in my mind."

            "Mm, yeah," Jack mutters. "Gruesome."

            "Indeed. There's nothing more dangerous than a loose animal."

            "Or man," says Will. "Which is what we wanted to talk to you about."

            "The hunter?" Jack asks.

            "It's the same thing– the animal, the man. They've merged." Will's eyes pass over Jack, to settle at Hannibal. "I realized it at the crime scene yesterday. It's a man, and somehow he's made some kind of suit to explore this side of himself."

            Jack looks from Will to Hannibal.

            Hannibal smiles ever so slightly. "Imagine that. A man who is both wild and yet is sovereign over himself."

            "So, this man is delusional," Jack says, testingly.

            "Is delusional the right word?" Will asks. He looks upward as if to ponder this.

            "Will, he's pretending he's an animal and killing people," Jack moans.

            "Okay, okay. But the best of us can get lost in fantasies."

            "And," adds Hannibal, "it is only too tantalizing when those fantasies manifest themselves into reality. A melding of longing and one's own innate sensibilities." He looks at Will fully now. "I imagine that could whet one's appetite for such carnage unimaginably. To the point of realizing your unrelenting hunger."

            Will stares at Hannibal with empty moss eyes. "Starvation," he murmurs.

            "Jesus," Jack mutters, unable to help himself. He has a mind to toss them both out of the office. Or just leave himself. Anything, as long as he doesn't have to endure one more second of watching them rove their gazes along each other.

            Hannibal seems to take note of Jack's beleaguered expression, and – it seems with reluctance – takes his eyes from Will. "I may be biased," he says to Jack, lifting and dropping his shoulders. "I've had a patient in the past who showed such tendencies. He often fantasized about becoming an animal and committing such acts. He also, I recall, worked at a museum which displayed fossils of mega fauna."

            Jack's left eye twitches. He feels this is Franklyn Froideveaux and Tobias Budge all over again. "Tell me, Hannibal," he begins, "why is it your patients are always either involved with someone illicit or are interested in illicit acts?"

            Hannibal smiles. His mouth parts slightly, revealing sharp points of teeth. He eyes Will once more. "I have had a few interesting patients in the past. The pinnacle of which sits beside me."

            Will is giggling, rolling his eyes, but looks to be almost too pleased to contain himself.

            Jack has a massive headache. He says, "Okay. We'll go talk to this patient then."

            "Oh." Will looks over at him, startled. "We can do it, Dad."

            Sure you can, Jack thinks. He says, "Tomorrow," in a final way which brooks no argument.

            Will does not seem to fight this – or has no interest in it. He shrugs, echoes Jack's word, and stands from his chair, prompting Hannibal to follow him. As they go to the door, Hannibal holds it open for Will to firstly walk through. Hannibal eyes over Will's shoulder, saying to Jack, "I look forward to seeing you."

            "Right," Jack says.

            When the door shuts, Jack exhales largely. He doesn't know if 'space' means a no-calling rule, but Jack feels he really should have a talk with Phyllis. Will had extremely fresh bite marks upon his neck and both of them walked into the room absolutely reeking of sex. If Will's affection for Hannibal is truly feigned, he might be the world's greatest actor. He could be that once his job is done. Jack looks down at his cell phone on the desk, and idly raises his gaze. Through the frosted glass of his door, he can still make out two figures standing further down the desolate hallway. Their separation is only a second long before they come into contact and the effect of the glass blurs their forms until Jack cannot tell one from the other. Indeed not; they are a whist being of cloud and color.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"After it first happened, I thought I'd never cut my hair. I didn't want anyone to see this awful scar – but back then, it was way more scraggly and gross. After a while, I'd read some of those self-help books they had hanging around Goldleaf. And in the rec room, they always had Oprah on TV. Talks about accepting yourself and all. So then, I was like, okay, well, I'll just try not to notice it so much and it won't be a big deal. But I kept touching it. You know. It was the last thing my old dad left me, really. Like an inheritance. Once I started thinking about it that way, I just wanted to look at it all the time – more than that, I wanted other people to see it too. So the other day I almost cut it really short, just to show it off. Papa stopped me though – he said he was proud of me for not wanting to hide it, hide myself. But he said someday soon we might need to be inconspicuous for a while, and my scar out in the open might make that complicated. So–" She shrugs, and tilts her head back, until she is looking at Will upside-down. "Here we are."

            "Here we are," says Will, holding in one hand a few locks of her long brown hair. In the other, a red sable brush. He taps her head with the back of it. "Face forward."

            She does. "Father wants us all to run away together. You know that, don't you?"

            "I do." He runs the bristles down through her hair. It is now to the middle of her back. Her bed beneath him is soft, far softer than Hannibal's – almost as if it were custom made for a girl's sensibilities. Will doesn't think he could sleep well on it. "Where would you want to go? If you could go anywhere?"

            "An island," she says, pounding one fist down into the open palm of her other hand. She crosses her legs, her knees bouncing up and down. "Like Tahiti. Or Hawaii. Or Australia."

            Will doesn't like the sound of any of that. He continues to brush for a moment longer before taking her hair and beginning to fashion a braid.

            She continues: "Doesn't matter what I want though. That's all up to you and Pops."

            Will says, "Do you still think about your– your old dad?"

            "Mm!"

            "Me too."

            Abigail had started to hum – whatever languorous beat had been thudding her speakers upon Will's earlier entrance – and suddenly stops. She tries to whirl around but Will has her hair and, chuckling, yanks her by it. He tells her to be still, and she obeys, saying, "You think about him too? Why?"

            "Because he was my first, silly."

            She makes a soft oh sound.

            "I talk to him, you know."

            "What do you guys talk about?" She rubs her bare feet in the plush carpet. "Me?"

            "Sometimes." Will continues to braid and in doing so, thinks back to the afternoon, when he came rushing by his house to attend to his dogs and spend time there before having to return to Baltimore for therapy. He'd earlier been to Quantico. The wind blew and the branches of trees snapped in its force. Will's cheeks bright red from the coolness and the excitement he'd felt. Rushing from one city to another, as if he were racing his own shadows. The world was so vibrant. Even the dead grasses, wet in melted patches of snow, looked to be the loveliest thing. Even a condor banking strayly on a gust. Hobbs was there at the muddled shore of the river, drooling bile, and one eye had popped from its socket: it hung limp against his dirty cheek by red stem. Will had laughed at him and called him Garrett. He'd said, Garrett, what's become of you? and the man's response was so muffled, Will could not possibly parse it. He thought he heard the words of a man are, but beyond that it was difficult. He thought about it for the rest of the afternoon, for Hobbs would speak no more. When it was time to leave again, Will looked at him sagging in one of the armchairs in the house. Will heard some kind of static in the air, a piercing sound, and it sounded like a child's voice calling: What kind of man are you? But perhaps that was the wind.

            "Sometimes," Will continues, taking a yellow hair band and wrapping it around the tail of the braid, "we just enjoy each other's company."      

            The braid is finished, and Abigail whirls around on the floor to face Will. Her expression, at first unreadable and glazed, warms into a winning smile. The braid flops over her shoulder. At once, they both turn around and see Hannibal standing in the threshold – he is dressed down for the evening in plain black pants and deep blue silk shirt. Will has been waiting for his business calls to be finished. He has lamented in the past the woes of a psychiatrist with no secretary. Will does not want to seem too eager but he rises from the bed and is at Hannibal's side in an instant.

            Abigail flops herself onto her bed, limbs spread in starfish fashion. From the crests of comforters and pillows, she peers at them. "'Night, Dad One and Two."

            Will salutes her, and Hannibal bids her goodnight, shutting the door behind them. When they are on the stairwell, Will asks, "Am I Two?"

            "I believe so."

            "That's pretty unfair– she knew me first."

            Hannibal kisses Will – Will thinks it's to avoid laughing. It doesn't matter. Will has been waiting for this all day; he might well be psychic, because he somehow knew it would end up like this: their shirts on the ground leading to Hannibal's bedroom. The exact place Hannibal would bite into his shoulder. The way he would buck his hips up against Hannibal's thigh. These things he fantasized in the car on the way over, nearly drifting into oncoming traffic. Is this what happens when time is of the essence? When every kiss is a treasure? Does one drift through their days in something like mania? Do they laugh shrilly? Do they wear black underwear because a man has said the color on them is bewitching? Do they beg their lover to fuck them and then, haltingly, say hey wait, I have an idea.

            I wanna try something.

            I wanna–

            Will ends up like this:

            Smiling, lip biting. Eyes an overflowing verdure beneath night-thick lashes. Breath heavy, and– an adjustment. Holding onto a hard muscled chest for stability. Trembling fingertips. Eyes fully shut as the adjustment becomes acclimation. The slow downward motion. Pricking of tears at the corners of eyes and one waterlogged exhalation. Leg tendons tightly strung.

            Still, for a moment.

            He presses his lips together, opens his eyes again on Hannibal sitting with his back against the pillows and backboard behind. Hannibal's mouth barely parted, chest rising and falling smoothly. His eyes pulled to Will who sits on his lap, legs folded on either side of his hips, with Hannibal fully inside him.

            Will feels he has not yet adjusted, but he does not care to wait any longer. Or, is goaded into moving by Hannibal's hands on his thighs, shifting further up to his waist – Will catches them with surprising quickness, forces them back and off of him.

            His whole body heaves with his breath. He says, "N-No... no touching."

            Hannibal looks marginally wild; his hair a mess from Will's fervent rubbing of it, his teeth slightly bared not in grimace but some kind of threat. Yet this threat seems, at present, to be mostly empty as he does not try to force the issue. He looks to keep his hands at his sides on the bedspread, as Will has said. He swallows and watches with a dark fire gaze.

            Will has forbade any assistance but almost cannot move for the pain and, what is to him, an awkward position. He leans back just so. One hand behind him upon Hannibal's thigh and the other on himself, giving one teasingly long stroke to blush-pink flesh. It relaxes him enough to ease fully– another stroke, with firmer grip this time, which coaxes him to leak. He brings his gaze back along Hannibal's body to his face, that which is in complete foggy awe. Will arches minutely. Rises up, just inches, and sinks back quickly. Exhales one surprised puff of heated breath.

            He does it again, and again, until his body negotiates the fullness, the release. Will sighs into it, smiling. Where at first he attempted coordination, he has now abandoned it for simple pleasure. He is leaking heavily in his own hand and, too, against Hannibal's stomach– which is strung so tight as he looks to be keeping himself seated, his fists clenched in the bed sheets. Teeth bared. A vein across the mound of his left bicep.

            Will strokes himself again with pressure that forces his toes to curl. He sinks back down. "Not yet," he sighs, voice at higher pitch.

            Hannibal shifts slightly and his countenance shivers from a look of hunger to desperation.

            Rising up. Will squeezes himself. This would be so much easier if he allowed Hannibal to touch him. But he will not rethink this; Hannibal's look of suffering is too good. Will has to shut his eyes against it lest he come too quickly.

            "Not yet," he says again, merely to himself.

            Long moments pass and Will's movements become more harried, his shins jerking across the bed spread. He is making little noises like a hurt animal tending its own wounds. Cooing. Highlights to the stifled grunts from Hannibal which come in time with every tightening muscle.

            "You were–" Will moans as he angles his hips. "You were right."

            Hannibal's legs shift, his heels digging into the blankets.

            Will dips his head back, revealing the column of his throat. "I ha–had opportunities to–" Grips at Hannibal's thighs. "To do this, I– I just didn't. I wanted you." Something happens, some spot is struck inside him as he moves a particular way and it burns coldly, so good he grinds down on it, baring all teeth in his effort. "I wanted you. Before I–" The arch of his back snaps from convex to concave rapidly, again and again. "Before I knew I– I knew. Before I was alive. A-At my conception. Hannibal." Will nearly doubles in on himself as he comes, but Hannibal catches him, letting Will sag into him with the euphoria of orgasm, and Hannibal takes Will in hand: one crossing down his lower back to grip fully his backside, the other forearm across his shoulder blades. He undulates Will's lower back in a quick snapping motion, grinding against that spot Will had been so enamored by, with such memory as if they shared this body and Will had pointed to a creamy place upon them.

            As if Will were to say: There. Right there.

            As if Hannibal, in turn, were to dip his fingers in the thick cream and stir until it was overworked and viscous.

            Dripping.

            Will's arms wrap around the man's neck. In Hannibal's last thrust and their joint cry, Will almost says it. It is at the tip of his tongue. He catches himself in such time that he only manages to say, "I–" and drowns the rest in Hannibal's mouth.

*

Jack has been fantasizing lately, of all the things Will could be. In a doleful moment, he suggested being an actor to his inner self, but in actuality that doesn't suit Will. And Will hinted he might like to be a pirate queen, for whatever reason. Jack doesn't pretend to understand the inner workings of Will's mind, especially lately. It comes to the point where, during Jack's daily travels, he imagines Will in place of whatever person he happens to see.

            At the grocery store, Jack walks along the aisles, looking for a particular sort of coffee. His hotel room has run out. He hears a man's voice over the speaker, calling for Caleb to come to Aisle 6 with a mop. Jack imagines Will with a mop and a bucket in a fluorescently lit walkway. He shakes the mental image from his mind and abandons his coffee search in favor of granola bars.

            There's a long line at the bank later in the day. Jack stands behind a woman who trails two twin girls. They are identically pigtailed, wearing yellow shirts and make a show of butting their heads together. Their mother looks off and up, to the side, wearing a put-upon look. She has the countenance of a stay-at-home mother. Gym-toned and bleach blonde. Jack cannot help but to think of Will in this way; a stay-at-home dad with little children. Spending all his days running errands for his successful partner. Jack doesn't think this suits Will either – he can't see the boy having much patience for twins using his legs as columns through which to run laps. One of the girls seems to grow dizzy and falls to the grey carpet, her pigtails now askew. Sitting there, she looks so much like Abigail Hobbs that Jack finds he must look away. Perhaps Will is a better parent than Jack might think, yet he cannot give grace to this particular path.

            Later, driving down darkened roads highlighted by red and green, Jack finds himself halted in a slew of cars behind a traffic accident. Those ahead of him rubberneck at their windows, fogging the glass. Jack sees enough gore and misery in his day job and thus looks in the opposite direction. The city is dark save the brightness of illuminated office buildings where he drives in the downtown area. The financial district in full swing around him. Through wide and tall windows, Jack sees into an office building and watches a young man who looks, startlingly, like Will. Wild dark hair, a young face, stubbled. He strides up from a desk and stretches with arms back and angled behind his head. Lets out a huge yawn. Jack almost laughs. He wonders if Will would be okay with this – working in an office building. In some ways he thinks not, as Will is too wild to sit still for long. And in some ways he thinks, What other choices are there?

            He has done his son a grave disservice, as all Will knows is hunting. What could the boy do? He must make a point to bring this up with Phyllis. They cannot simply toss him to a world he has no knowledge of.

            As the next day comes to him, Jack finds himself standing in the great foyer of the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore. And he looks at the men and women walking around in uniform, and cannot help but imagine Will in one too. He thinks working at a museum would suit him better than anything else he's been able to come up with.

            "Hey, Dad," Will says, approaching him now with Hannibal Lecter at his side.

            But nothing suits him so much as being a hunter.

            And, Jack thinks solemnly, nothing ever will.

            They conduct an interview with Hannibal's ex-patient, a young man named Randall Tier. He meets with them in an upper floor, nearest an offshoot of exhibits that are fossilized plants tens of thousands of years old. Jack looks at one molding, the five leaves that spread from the middle, showing cracks around the edges.

            Randall is thin but not frail and his countenance is not so unlike Will's – or, Jack thinks, how Will used to be. At spending time with both Randall and Will in the same room, Jack realizes that all of his imaginings he had indulged in the past day – the supermarket employee, the mother, the office worker – he had imagined Will as he was perhaps months ago, in the aftermath of the Shrike's death. With him in the room now, Jack sees that he had not bothered to take into account all the changes Will has since undergone. Clark Ingram seemed to be the point of most of it. Since then, all fidgety tendencies have ceased. He looks Randall Tier in the eye, whereas Randall can only look at Hannibal.

            Jack and Will ask the young man about his whereabouts on the designated attack nights, and about the subject of his therapy in the past with Hannibal. Hannibal, Jack explains, was not at liberty to go into great detail without consent of his patient.

            Randall looks to be agitated and, after long soulful looks at Hannibal – sparing furtive, one might even say distasteful, looks at Will – he declares that he must be getting back to work.

            Jack has no choice but to allow him to leave, and he and Will and Hannibal return to the foyer of the museum. Around them, young children hold the hands of their parents and Jack swears that two of the children are the twin girls from the bank. But they cannot be.

            "Your patient really wasn't very agreeable, Hannibal," Jack says,