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Oddbodies

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“May I?” Jack reaches out and adjusts Will’s flash glasses (only legally required for driving, but Will finds them a useful prop) so that the rims are no longer blocking Will’s eyeline. Will huffs miserably through his nose. He does not look at Jack's hand, does not note the calluses of gun and pen and keyboard, the particles and sheens of Jack's morning sitting on his skin.

“Where do you fall on the spectrum?”

Will works his jaw. “My horse is hitched to a post that is closer to Asperger’s and autistics than, uh, narcissists and sociopaths.”

Jack doesn't move his lips as he says, in the barest possible whisper, “You know that’s not the spectrum I mean.” His expression makes it obvious: he knows Will heard him just fine.

Will looks everywhere to avoid the searchlight of Jack’s gaze, but it’s pointless. Jack commanded a record number of sentinels when he was in the army. His wife is a prominent campaigner for Guide Skills International. Finally Will admits, “Four out of five. My sense of smell is baseline.”

"Who's your guide?"

"Don't have one."

“Ninety percent of people with two or more enhanced senses have at least a part-time guide."

"Can't have a majority without a minority.” Will starts stuffing his lecture materials into his bag.

"There's minority and then there's unique. How you interpret your observations has been described as analysis elevated to the level of empathy."

"I'd just call it an active imagination," Will grumbles.

"Ah," says Jack, evenly as a guide, smoothly as a man who knows he’s going to get what he asks for, "can I - borrow your imagination?"

 


 

Will looks down at Elise Nichols. Jack looks at Will.

"When you’re ready to talk, you talk. If you don’t feel like it, you don’t talk. We’ll be downstairs. You let me know when you’re ready for us to come in." Jack is too aggressive to be a guide proper, but his experience with the basics is obvious. His words sweep over Will like a heavy, unwanted blanket. As soon as Jack leaves the room Will steps onto the balcony, closes his eyes, and lets the pendulum swing.

He’s never told anyone what it’s like to reconstruct a crime scene, but if he were trying to explain it to a fellow hypersensitive, he’d describe it as the opposite of a zone. Instead of zooming in on a single detail to the point of paralysis, he zooms out, until he can hold every detail in his mind at once, until he understands where each piece of evidence came from and how it got there, until he knows who put the evidence there so well he can step into their shoes.

Beverly Katz's interruption yanks the rug out from under him. "You're an oddbody," she realizes, and before Will can do more than bristle she goes on to say, "like me." She taps a finger beside her eye. "I saw elk antler velvet in the wounds."

Jack bustles in with Zeller and Price, and pretty soon the ideas bouncing around the room jostle Will into recognizing the killer's apology.

 


 

Will makes little kissy noises and holds out a treat for the lanky, ragged dog he found running down the road. He thinks about oddbodies. In addition to all five senses being enhanced, the complete set of diagnostic criteria for sentinel status includes intense ties to a territory and community. An acreage and a dog pack don't count.

And a good thing, too, he decides, as he washes the dog at home, revealing an interesting brindle coat. It was bad enough being the resident freak at New Orleans PD Homicide. Being a full sentinel, scrutinized and wooed, would be even worse. Feeling compelled to put up with it out of some pervasive sense of tribal duty would be worse still. He isn’t even going to touch the whole 'obligatory guide' issue.

Once dry, the dog - Winston, Will decides, he looks like a Winston - leans heavily into Will's touch, soaking up Will's affection and reflecting it back brighter and simpler. He buries his fingers in Winston's fluff and takes in deep breaths of clean, dry dog-scent. Smell will never zone him, his one safe and comfortable sense.

 


 

The boost Will gets from adding Winston to his pack is all but gone by morning, sweated away during his appalling dreams. The rest he loses in the face of Jack's impatient tirade.

"You know what's good for getting unconfused about which direction you're pointing?"

"Don't say it, Jack. I don't have a guide because I don't want one."

"Just because you don't want one doesn't mean you don't need one. It won't help us catch this guy if you stress yourself into a zone while you're on his trail."

"Not. Happening." Will stalks out. He can hear Jack grinding his teeth halfway back to his classroom. This isn't over.

 


 

“He’s out there,” Jack tells Alana. “I need him out there. Should he get too close, I need you to make sure he’s not out there alone.”

Alana gapes. "Absolutely not! It would be totally unethical for me to be his guide."

"How so?"

"Will has been stable at 80% manifestation for years. If a new stressor - like, oh, say, returning to the field - activated additional traits or otherwise destabilised him, he would be critically vulnerable, maybe even at risk of bonding. He needs someone who can maintain their objectivity in that situation." Alana flushes, but maintains eye contact. "For... personal reasons, I very much doubt that I could maintain my objectivity."

"A qualified guide, willing to work with a high-level hypersensitive who might go full sentinel, who can be trusted not to complete an impulsive bond." Jack scratches his head. "You know who probably knows someone, is my wife."

"Probably," Alana agrees. "Although, now that I think about it, I know someone too."

 


 

Appropriately chastened by his time-out in the waiting room, Agent Crawford makes polite small talk while he explores Hannibal's office. He compliments Hannibal's drawings and in so doing reveals that he read up on Hannibal. Hannibal relaxes at the mention of Alana Bloom's referral.

"Most psychology departments are filled with personality deficients," says Hannibal. "Dr. Bloom would be the exception."

"Yes, she would. Yes, she would. She told me that you mentored her during her residency at Johns Hopkins," says Agent Crawford.

"I learned as much from her as she did from me."

"Well, she also showed me one of your papers. Social Models of Sentinel Traits: Disability, Allergy, and Talent."

"Yes." Had he not invested so much into his reputation, Hannibal would love to write a very different paper, about how it is upbringing, more than breeding, that separates the sheepdog from the wolf.

“Very interesting. Very interesting. My wife would love it.”

“Your wife. That wouldn’t be Bella Crawford, by any chance?”

Agent Crawford’s ingratiating smile warms to a proud grin. “You know her?”

“I know her work, and admire it enormously. Entry-level guide training should be as accessible as that for first aid and CPR. Not only can it save lives directly, but it helps potential guides discover a calling. I must have you both for dinner sometime.”

“I hope you still feel that way after the favour I’m about to ask you.”

 


 

Dr. Lecter peers at Jack’s bulletin board. “Tell me, then, how many confessions?” The sound of his heartbeat is unusually slow and steady. Will wonders if he takes medication for a cardiac condition. It seems unlikely; he doesn’t move like a man who has to restrict his exercise.

“Twelve dozen, the last time I checked,” says Jack. “None of them had any details until this morning. And then they all had details. Some genius in Duluth PD took a photograph of Elise Nichols’ body with his cell phone, shared it with his friends, and then Freddie Lounds posted it on Tattlecrime.com.”

Will mutters, “Tasteless.”

Dr. Lecter turns bright, interested eyes on Will. “Do you have trouble with taste?”

Will rolls his eyes and takes a deep, calming breath. Oh, you gotta be kidding me. A fucking guide, not two days after he told Jack a flat no. “My thoughts are often not tasty,” Will snarks.

“Nor mine. No effective barriers.”

This is some high school counselor bullshit. “I build forts.”

“Associations come quickly.” Dr. Lecter comes over and sits down in front of Jack’s desk, picking up his coffee. Jack goes over to fetch something from a filing cabinet.

“So do forts.”

Dr. Lecter notices how Will looks away. “Not fond of eye contact, are you?”

Despite himself, Will is actually a little impressed at the man’s frankness, and finds himself facing him and speaking in kind. “Eyes are distracting. You see too much, you stop paying attention to the rest of the face and don’t see enough… And-and it’s hard to focus when you’re thinking, um, ‘Oh, those whites are really white’, or, ‘He must have hepatitis’, or, ‘How'd she get that burst vein?’”

Dr. Lecter laughs under his breath and looks at Will like meeting him is the best thing that’s happened to him all week.

Will’s discomfort rises back up from its brief ebb. “So, yeah, I try to avoid eyes whenever possible.” He turns back to the desk. “Jack?”

“Yes.” Jack sits back down, but Dr. Lecter isn’t done.

“I imagine what you see and learn touches everything else in your mind. Your values and decency are present yet shocked at your associations, appalled at your dreams. No forts in the bone arena of your skull for things you love.” His soft voice is sympathetic. Understanding.

Oh, no. It’s even worse than Will thought. Not a guide, or not just a guide. A therapist. “Whose profile are you working on?” He turns to Jack and demands, “Whose profile is he working on?”

“I’m sorry, Will,” says Dr. Lecter. “Observing is what we do. I can’t shut mine off any more than you can shut yours off.”

“Please, don’t psychoanalyze me. You won’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed.”

Nobody appreciates his Hulk joke. Jack warns, “Will.”

Will gets up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go give a lecture - on psychoanalyzing.”

Their voices follow him out the door and down the hall. Maybe they know he can still hear them, but it’s more likely that they forget. Everyone forgets how sharp hyperacusis really is.

Jack says, “Maybe we shouldn’t poke him like that, Doctor. Perhaps a less, uh, direct approach.” Not that Jack himself uses anything but, Will reflects bitterly.

Dr. Lecter says, “What he has is pure empathy. He can assume your point of view, or mine, and maybe some other points of view that scare him. It’s an uncomfortable gift, Jack.” Well, he’s not wrong.

Jack hums thoughtfully. Dr. Lecter continues talking, but Will is getting too far away to continue listening without risking a zone, so he dials his hearing back down and starts thinking about class.

 


 

After the macabre mockery that is Cassie Boyle’s display, Will is relieved to dream only in the abstract about it: giving the stag head a body again, blanketing it with the feathers of the ravens. It certainly beats watching while his brain replays a young woman’s lungs getting cut out while she’s still conscious. The ravenstag brings with it the otherworld chill and stillness of the hour before dawn, the exhilaration of setting off into the wilderness.

 


 

Dr. Lecter is well-versed in sentinel etiquette. Asking to come in would have mitigated any territoriality Will might have had over the hotel room. He doesn’t complain about the darkness inside, only remarks, "Blackout curtains. Did you bring your own?" He cracks them open just enough to see by - considerate of Will’s own sight.

Will struggles into a pair of jeans. "Mmm. Standard sleepaway kit: curtains, blindfold, earplugs. I'm lucky I don't have to bring my own bedsheets." Dr. Lecter is toting a soft cooler. The contents thump and squish when he places it on the little table. "What's that?"

"I’m very careful about what I put into my body, which means I end up preparing most meals myself. A little protein scramble to start the day. Some eggs, some sausage." Dr. Lecter sets one dish in front of Will and the other in front of himself.

Will quails at the sausage, but refusing would be more rudeness than he’s prepared to dispense this early in the morning. Might as well get the worst of it out of the way. He spears one and pops it in his mouth, bracing himself for salty death.

What he tastes instead is so surprising he grunts. There’s next to no salt, just a barely-there mix of seasonings that actually tastes good. It’s so different from any sausage he's had before that he can’t even place the meat - which has to be fresh, with so little salt to preserve it.

“It’s delicious, thank you.” He forks up another one and waves it at Dr. Lecter. "Did you make this yourself, too?"

Dr. Lecter nods, looking pleased. "I find commercial preparations, even the best, to be unbearable." He says this lightly, digging into his own breakfast with careful nonchalance.

Will absorbs the hint while he works his way through some incredible scrambled eggs, creamy and fluffy all at once. "You know, you're the second oddbody I've met this week. What've you got, taste?"

Dr. Lecter looks even more pleased. "Smell, actually. Which as I'm sure you know makes up most of what we think of as taste."

Will nods. From what he’s heard and read, hyperosmia can be more trouble than all four other enhanced senses combined; he’s glad he doesn’t have it. "Is that how you got into guiding? Management techniques for yourself?"

"Yes. I found I had a strong interest and aptitude for the work, and it served me well as a surgeon and now as a psychiatrist. We all need guidance from time to time."

The extension of kinship, the excellent breakfast; Will is aware he’s being manipulated, but that doesn’t stop it from working. He likes the doctor much more than he did at their first meeting.

He covers with a half-hearted prickliness, finally shutting down Dr. Lecter’s suggestion that they become friendly with, “I don’t find you that interesting.”

Dr. Lecter just says, calmly, “You will."

Will drops his guard as they talk about the Shrike and the copycat. Dr. Lecter calls him problem-free and a teacup and a mongoose, and God help him, Will can't remember the last time he enjoyed a meal in company this much.

 


 

In passing a box down to the secretary, Dr. Lecter drops a stack of files onto the ground. Will squats to rescue them, and Dr. Lecter goes back inside the trailer. Will hears him step around the desk and then pause for a long moment, before saying, very quietly, "Will?"

"Yeah?" Will calls back.

For the first time, Will hears Dr. Lecter's heartbeat speed up briefly, which is odd because all he says is, "Which of the remaining boxes did you want?"

“Just the ones by the desk."

Dr. Lecter emerges carrying two boxes. "This is the last of them," he says.

"Good thing. I don't have any more room in my car."

They drive to Garrett Jacob Hobbs' address, Dr. Lecter providing direction with the GPS on his phone. As they approach their destination, Will says, "This could be nothing, but just in case it's something, you need to stay behind me. Okay?" All of his senses are revving up, his body suffused with the potential for danger.

"Of course."

Will parks and gets out of the car, Dr. Lecter's heartbeat steady behind him.

There are three other heartbeats inside the house, and one of them gets faster and faster as he approaches (shit, he should have covered his holster with a coat or something) -

- There's a clatter, and a girl's confused voice saying, "Dad?" And Will breaks into a run -

- And a woman's voice screams, "Abby!" And Will draws his gun and kicks down the door -

- And he's there, it's him, Will has felt this man's desperate, contorted, rending love for his daughter, who he holds at knifepoint while his wife screams, any second now he's going to bring the knife to bear, slit her throat so she can be with him forever -

- And Will dials down his hearing and shoots him once in the shoulder and he loses his grip on his daughter -

- And Will shoots him again and again as he lunges for her, knife upraised, snarling like an animal -

- And Will keeps shooting him until he drops the knife, until he backs into the corner, until he slides to the floor, until Will has no more bullets left in his gun and a fine mist of blood on his face and in his mouth -

- And Hobbs is grinning and hissing, "See? See?" -

- And the daughter and her mother are clinging to each other, screaming and crying -

- And Dr. Lecter is there, his slow heartbeat not altering in the least as he takes in the tableau in the kitchen -

- And he shepherds the women outside, his best guide voice curling around them like smoke -

- And Will calls it in, reciting the details 911 will need on autopilot, shaking almost too hard to hold the phone -

- And Dr. Lecter comes back and steers Will outside with a light touch on his sleeve -

- And when the ambulance arrives Dr. Lecter goes away to speak to the EMTs and Will notices how the sunshine looks through the blood sprayed on his glasses and he zones as far and fast as he ever has in his life.

 


 

"It is 10:57 AM. You are in Bloomington, Minnesota. Your name is Will Graham. It's time to come back now, Will. Listen to my voice." The accented voice is familiar, low and hoarse. It pulls at him like a current.

"Will, feel my hand on the back of your neck." There is a hand on the back of his neck. It's big and warm, not dry, but not soft either - callused. The grip on his neck is firm, heavy. The thumb twitches briefly like it wants to stroke him, then stills. Will takes a deep, shuddering breath, like he just woke up.

"You're doing very well, Will. I know that you can hear me, and feel me. Now I want you to look at me."

Will's eyelids flutter, and he blinks, and he is seeing again. What he sees is Dr. Lecter's placid face, a small smile touching his lips and the corners of his eyes now as he sees Will seeing him. His eyes are a very unusual shade of brown - almost maroon. Will never noticed it before.

"There you are. Welcome back, Will."

Will stares, and his alarm must show on his face because Dr. Lecter explains, "You were gone for no more than thirty minutes. I have been here for ten. I apologize for leaving you alone, and for my presumption - I told the medics that I am your guide. I thought you would prefer that to the attentions of the ambulance crew."

Will opens his mouth, and after a long, frightening moment in which he can't speak, he whispers, "Hobbs?"

"Garrett Jacob Hobbs is dead. He will eat no more girls. His wife and child are unharmed."

"...Good."

"How do you feel?"

Will's adrenaline must all have drained away while he was standing around like a goober. Now he just feels shaky and sick to his stomach. He means to say he's fine, but Dr. Lecter's hand is still on his neck and what comes out instead is, "Tired."

"Can we give custody of the evidence in your car to local police?"

"Yes. Why?"

"It is my professional opinion that you need to go home. I would prefer to accompany you, for my own peace of mind."

Will closes his eyes. There's nothing left to do here that can't be followed up on remotely or taken care of by someone else. The Shrike is dead. He misses his dogs. "Okay."

He feels like he's drifting, tethered to his body by a string: a hairsbreadth away from another zone. Will lets Dr. Lecter take care of the things Will would normally have to either get help with, or wait until he was recovered enough to do himself, after a bad zone: booking the next flight home, driving to the airport, signing the rental car back in. He checked out of his hotel this morning, so that's something. Dr. Lecter handles it all with competence and discretion; he makes it quietly clear that Will is his charge and that is as it should be, and everyone's gazes slide right off Will like he's invisible. It's easy.

He keeps waiting to feel embarrassed.

They continue this way right up to Will's front door. Will drops to his knees among his pack, letting them swarm around him and sniff him, nuzzle him until he's close to tears. He doesn't even try to get up until the last of them have bounded off to play and pee before bed.

"Who feeds them when you're away?" It's the first thing Dr. Lecter has said to him since asking if anyone can cover his classes for a few days (Alana Bloom, and from her tone of voice as Dr. Lecter spoke with her on the phone, she will have some choice words for Jack the next time she sees him).

"Um, I pay a sitter." Catherine is a student living in Wolf Trap proper; she does a good job with the dogs, and doesn't mind coming over on short notice.

"Would I be overstepping my bounds if I made you dinner?"

"You already made me breakfast."

"Not in your kitchen, I didn't."

Will summons the ghost of a smile. "Be my guest."

He doesn't eat any of it, just falls asleep on his bed in the corner amid the good smells and the quiet bustling sounds of Dr. Lecter in his kitchen, the breathing of his dogs by the fireplace, the distant babble of the stream on the edge of his property. He wakes in the night to find a blanket tucked over him, and Dr. Lecter asleep in the armchair. He draws the blanket tighter around his shoulders and closes his eyes again.