HEART, MEET BULLET
"I'm not happy about this either, Jack, but the DEA was perfectly clear." Purnell placed her palms flat on the surface of her desk, her frustration and forced control keeping her fingers tensed. "They want Will Graham. They want him now."
Jack paced her office, hating every pore in her sanctimonious body and hating the DEA even more for wandering into his territory and marking up the place with unreasonable demands. He couldn't just 'hand over' Will Graham like he was some kind of empathy machine, passed around from department to department, his unstable condition left unchecked. It was a guarantee he'd burn the man out before he could finish the work Jack needed him to do, and if it sounded heartless it's because it was. Will was his to use, and whatever idiot in the DEA thought he was some kind of magical dowsing rod for the Columbian cartels they could kiss their request goodbye. Jack wasn't budging.
"Let me get this straight, you want me to just hand over my key team member to some outside department knowing full well he is barely hanging onto his sanity as it is. You got some kind of nerve, Purnell. The answer is no. We're working on the Ripper case and that is all he can handle right now."
Purnell was not unsympathetic. She loosened the tension in her fingers and clasped her hands, staring at them for a long moment, her shoulders hunched together in determination. She wouldn't look at Jack and he found the omission distressing. "Any other time, I would agree with you, and I want to agree with you now. But the problem the DEA is facing is just too big not to bring every weapon at our disposal into the arsenal, and right now Will Graham is their best hope." She saw the way Jack kept staring at her open door and she nodded at it. "Shut the door and the blinds, Jack. We need to have a talk."
Purnell's caution gave Jack pause, and he did as requested, taking his time as he twisted the blinds closed, obscuring the bland image of a white hallway in the door's window. Purnell let out another sigh and pointed to towards the sunlight streaming in from the large window facing the Quantico jogging track, the light leaving a triangle on the ground before her desk. Jack glanced out the window. There were already several joggers doing laps.
"That one too," she said.
Frowning over the sudden paranoia, Jack did as requested, closing the blinds and pulling the beige curtains over them. He then returned to the seat in front of her desk and sank into it as though she had a gun pointed at him. "What's this all about?"
"We're talking national security, Jack. I can't be too careful."
Much as he was curious about her predicament, Jack couldn't stop himself from checking his watch. The meeting in the lab was supposed to have happened half an hour ago and instead he was sitting in Purnell's office, wondering why the woman wouldn't get to the damn point already. The priority in his mind was to stop the Ripper, not pander to the whims of the bullshit that the DEA was flinging in the background.
It was way too quiet and isolated in her office right now. Jack could feel his mouth go dry.
"There's a power shift in the drug coalitions in the Eastern Bloc. It's creating some serious waves between factions and there's a good chance it could start an all out war. Most of the problems will be concentrated in Europe, but there are ties here along the Eastern shoreline. So far the factions are keeping the peace, but if word comes down that war has begun we can expect to have some bloody streets in Philadelphia and New York."
"That's a real shame," Jack said, shrugging. "And it's not my department. I'm hunting a serial killer, Kade, not an army of drug addicts. I can't see how Will's work is supposed to help the DEA."
"We have intel that the war is starting due to a theft, one that has crippled the faction in Romania. Word has it the person responsible was in the upper echelons, working directly under a drug kingpin by the name of Darko. He owns over a hundred strip clubs throughout Europe and he's a skin trafficker over here. He's been known to come to our shores and occasionally get friendly with the Columbians."
"This still means nothing to me," Jack reminded her. "You haven't answered the question, what does the DEA want with Will?"
Purnell wouldn't budge and instead kept talking as though he'd said nothing. "Darko cut a deal on a massive cocaine shipment, he was the central figure between a deal with the Russians and a smaller drug portal from Turkey. Two and a half billion dollars was to be electronically divided between the two factions involved, an untracked transfer of funds that avoided the physical problems with transporting that kind of cash. A clever enough system and near impossible to trace. The funds were to be filtered through several different aliases and false accounts and from what our white collar geeks can figure they had created an independent online banking system. Of course, it didn't happen the way they wanted. The money went entirely into one account, and it's since been closed. All that money, gone without a trace. Not one dime went to Darko and because of the shady way the deal went down no one is willing to give him a loan. There's rumours he still owes almost a billion to the Columbians for the purchase of the cocaine. Our sources say he's being a hothead and that's causing a lot of conflict, especially since his backup funds are systematically being quashed."
"Two and a half billion going missing would cripple the economy of a small country," Jack said.
Purnell nodded. "Darko is in very bad shape, and the missing money is not making him or his Romanian group many friends. European law enforcement has been shutting down his strip clubs on a tip he's been using his strippers as mules. The massive cocaine shipment was discovered when Turkish police got an anonymous tip and showed up at the main holding facility they were housing it in--a warehouse near a dock in Izmir. There are no friends left for this guy. Darko made an enemy, and we're here to make sure no one on this shore pays for it."
"The poor, bullied drug dealing scumbag."
Purnell gave him a stern glare at this, and then, shoulders relaxing, she opened a bottom drawer in her desk and to Jack's shock brought out a tall bottle of rum and a couple of shot glasses.
Jack couldn't breathe.
This was damned serious.
"What's really going on, Purnell? You didn't call me down here to steal my agent to sniff out drugs like a German shepherd, what the hell is this?"
She poured two shots. "National security."
Jack sat back, understanding washing over him.
"You talking about guns?" She nodded, and Jack could feel the tendrils of something rotten coiling in his stomach. "So Darko dabbles in the gun trade as a financial backup. What kind of firepower are we talking?"
"On our shores?"
"Yes. Sold to suspected terrorist cells in our country that we have not yet been able to get a handle on." Purnell poured the shots and took one before continuing. She grimaced and shook her head before setting the glass back down on the surface of her desk. It was clear she was meaning to fill it again. "Like I said, Darko's funds are gone, so he's heading for the alternative route in a big way. He's dumping firepower where ever he can to offload his debt to the Columbians. We know he's had domestic buyers, and the firepower is considerable. We're not talking semi-automatics and handguns, we're talking rocket launchers, portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems. The threat is real."
"Well." Jack took up the shot glass and downed the rum in one quick gulp. Its heat ran through him like crawling fire. "Fuck."
"We need Will to help us find the guy who took down Darko. There's rumours but nothing concrete that he might be here in the States. He was Darko's main assassin and he knows all of the details of Darko's business dealings. We're hoping Will can look at the crime scenes from his past murders and get a read on the guy. We need to get to him before anyone else does."
Jack narrowed his eyes at this, a nagging unease twisting around in his gut even more. "For the information he's going to just hand over to you, of course." Jack placed the shot glass back onto her desk with a heavy slam. "You bastards are planning on giving him immunity."
Purnell was tight lipped. "This is a matter of national security, Jack."
"He's a goddamned killer for hire!"
"Lower your voice."
"You've sunk too low!"
"Is that what you think?" she shot back. "So are you ready to watch the news and see reel after reel of bombed out hospitals and churches and schools, because that's we're talking about here, Jack! Any moron with an agenda walking around with enough firepower to wipe out a city block! We need this guy on *our* side!"
Jack shook his head, the firm roots of right and wrong refusing to let him go. "Goddammit, Purnell, I thought you would know better than to go to bed with the CIA manual. You're telling me you want *my* star team member pulled out of a case to go and find some international murderer so you can give the guy a smile, a milkshake, and a Big Mac. Fuck you, Purnell."
"Say whatever you want to me, Jack, now's your chance. The only thing you're not permitted to say is no. The DEA team assigned to the case is heading to the lab in an hour to rendezvous with Will Graham. You don't have much time to get him up to speed, so I suggest you get on it."
Will Graham, FBI profiler, cursed with the gift of empathy and working his way through another morning full of demons, sipped at his double shot espresso and wondered how Hannibal could remain so refined and perfect after getting no sleep. They had left just a few scant hours after coffee, and Will wasn't entirely sure he had the timing right, there seemed to be an hour or two missing in between, but he was getting used to that feeling as of late. He'd probably dozed off in a chair, though it was weird that his sleep was blissfully dreamless. No black stags, no encroaching, piercing threats to cage him in, shuffling his consciousness around nightmares.
He stared at the body of the young woman before him, a corpse that was the work of the Minnesota Shrike's copycat. He had already gone over with Jack and subsequently the team over why he'd thought her death was different from the others, mainly that her body had been dumped upon the antlers with sloppy disregard. Garrett Jacob Hobbs had a great reverence for his victims, he wanted to show his appreciation and exaltation for what their deaths offered him. This was wasteful and tactless, the killer had no regard for the victim and even held her in contempt.
"I don't know what Jack expects us to find here, we've been over this woman with a fine toothed comb. If we took her body apart to the molecular level we couldn't be more thorough." Beverly Katz shook her head, going over the woman's arms, once again, with a black light, searching for trace evidence she knew she wasn't going to find. "Jack's getting really weird about this."
"Jack's obsession with closing the case is what makes him an excellent FBI agent," Hannibal reminded her. "His frustration is understandable, and given that we may have a second serial killer on our hands his determination has naturally become accentuated." He glanced at Will, who was finding it difficult to focus on the woman before him, the flicker of the black light making the back of his head ache. "Sometimes the abrupt death of a suspect can leave an investigation without a sense of closure. This may be what Jack is truly seeking."
Will pinched the bridge of his nose with his forefingers, trying to ward out the pain that was now creeping along the back of his skull and journeying quick behind his eyes. "What do we know about the victim?"
Beverly shrugged, and handed Will the file, which he tentatively took from her, as if the thin weight of it was too heavy to keep in his grasp. "Her name was Gail Ferdinand, she was a real estate agent. Thirty-three years old, not married, no kids." Beverly clicked off the black light and set it aside. She peeled off her gloves and tossed them into the wastebasket at her feet. "She was making an awful lot of money for a woman who sold third rate condos for a living. According to the people in the real estate firm where she worked she had a habit of stealing other agents' commissions. Would offer to type up the mortgage agreements and then would put her name onto the sale. There were a few other things, but that's the big one that earned some formal complaints, which of course went nowhere. A sale is a sale as far as the agency she worked for was concerned."
"I imagine that made her quite a few enemies," Hannibal said.
"Yeah. Pretty rotten thing to do to your co-workers who aren't exactly pulling in the millions on house flipping these days." She placed her hands on her hips as she looked down at the body. "Sorry, Gail. You were a bitch."
Will yawned and checked his watch. Jack was over half an hour late, and the fact bothered him. Jack was never late for anything, and it was strange that he wasn't already in the lab when they arrived, putting in an all nighter himself as anxiously waited on his team. "I hope Jack shows up soon, I just want to get this over with." He crossed his arms as Hannibal gave him a reassuring look, forcing him to face him in a gesture that was more intrusive than comforting.
"You look very tired, Will. Are you sure you are up for this?"
While he appreciated the concern emanating from both his friend and psychiatrist, he bristled at the suggestion of weakness. What he really needed was to be in his bed, surrounded by his dogs, the afternoon uninterrupted by nightmares and his waking self free of hallucinatory visions.
What he said instead was, "I'm fine."
He could almost sense Jack's anger before he saw the man, the rolling wave of fury getting ever closer as his heavy, marching steps led him into the lab. He ignored both Beverly and Hannibal as he stormed into the room, and with a curt nod at Will bid him to follow him into the hall outside of the glass enclosure. Beverly gave Jack's brusque entrance a confused pause, while Hannibal remained impassive, his usual stance when confronted by stressful situations and one that Will borrowed in order to deal with the tidal wave of emotions practically pouring out of Jack's skin.
"What's going on?" Will asked, and Jack grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him further away from the lab, to around the corner and out of their sight.
"The goddamned DEA. They want you."
"I just spent the last hour soothing the nerves of Kade Purnell. I have been ordered to send you to the DEA to do a consult on one of their cases, and believe me, Will, if it wasn't an important one I wouldn't be sending you to those war dogs. I still don't want you to go."
"What are you talking about?" Will's head shook, his headache taking such firm root in his skull he thought his brain was about to leak out of his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose again, doing what he could to keep the grey matter in. "I'm a profiler, I get into the minds of serial killers, what the hell do they need me for?"
"Mr. Will Graham?"
Will blinked his eyes beneath the harsh lighting of the hall, the two DEA agents standing before him with a heavy stack of paperwork and bad attitudes leaving little imagination as to what the rest of his day was going to be like. "Jack, I'm in the middle of the Ripper case, I came here after a night of no sleep to work on it, I am not in the right mindset to go playing crystal ball with people who have no understanding or appreciation for what it is I do."
"For what it's worth, Will, I understand how you feel."
"I doubt that very much," Will said, annoyed. He pressed his fingers against his temple and grimaced at the DEA agents standing like tin soldiers waiting for him to follow them. "About the victim, Gail Ferdinand. She had a lot of enemies at her workplace, she had a habit of stealing their commissions. It's not an obvious lead, but I get the impression it may be why she was chosen to die. Explore that angle, you'll get something out of it."
"I want you in my office when these idiots are done with you, we can go over any of the additional findings Beverly and Dr. Lecter uncover."
"There won't be any more evidence," Will said, sighing with exhaustion. "Jack, I can't...Please. Can't it wait until tomorrow morning?"
Jack made a move to protest, only to take a step back and maybe realize, for once, that he was pushing his team too far. Will closed his eyes and willed Jack away. When he opened them, he'd gotten his wish and Jack was already halfway down the hall, abandoning him to the cold, ignorant clutches of the two DEA agents who were now flanking him.
"Need a coffee, 'bro?" the one with a blonde brush cut said. She jiggled change in her pocket and nodded at her partner. "I'll be back. We've been told to treat you right, so it's all lattes and cake, the good stuff."
"Get me a brownie and a mocha," barked her partner, a meaty, red faced man in his mid-thirties with a wide chest that looked like it bench pressed pianos every night.
"Fuck you, Trey, get your own."
"Charlene, it's too early in the day for you to be a cunt."
"Too early in the day for you to be a little bitch."
Great. Not only was he insulted enough by being forced out of his prepared state of mind to deal with the Ripper case, he now had to contend with two bickering agents who hated each others guts. Will followed the agent named Trey down the long corridor leading to an empty meeting room that he had no desire to be in. He collapsed into one of the orange plastic chairs and was appreciative that it was uncomfortable. At least there would be no risk of him dozing off in here.
"What the fuck, do you think this is, nap time? Wake up!"
Will was startled into consciousness and he looked around the meeting room in a confused daze. DEA agents Charlene and Trey were seated at the end of a long table, a pile of papers and photographs strewn all over it. A small laptop had been brought in at some point, the images of two murders being committed in grainy relief replaying over and over again.
Stunned, he pulled some of the papers towards him and realized he was looking at international police reports, specifically ones from Romania.
"So tell us again how you think these two murders tell us something about this guy. Frankly, I'm not buying this whole evolution shit you've been spewing for the last hour, if a son of a bitch is a killer, he's a killer, full stop." Charlene rolled up the paper a sub sandwich had been wrapped in and tossed it into the wastebasket in the corner. Lunch. They were eating lunch.
'Review what I've been saying. That's going to be a hard request,' Will thought, 'Considering I haven't got a clue what's been happening since I stepped in the door.'
"I shouldn't have to repeat myself," Will said, by way of a save and from the annoyed looks the agents gave each other it was clear they were hating him a lot more than they hated each other.
"Look, you said these murders happened decades apart, right? That's pretty obvious, I mean, one is clearly from an old VHS tape and this one is a digital image. The MO is the same in both, single shots to the head and a disappearing act. The murderer manages to stay out of the view of the cameras..."
"Because he's been caught once before..." Will said, the words slipping out of his mouth automatically, as though his subconscious was taking up the slack. He shook his head, but the feeling of displacement refused to abate. He concentrated on the images before him, pushing away the thought that it was extremely dangerous to be losing time while he was on the job, and just where the hell did his mind go without him?
He hit play simultaneously on both opened screens and was instantly struck by what had no doubt already been said. "His MO did change," Will said, pointing to the grainier images on the right. "There's hesitation here, he paces a little, you can see his shadow. There's interaction off screen, maybe he taunts the victim. But over here..." He pointed to the clearer image. "No pacing, no interaction. Barely any movement at all. He's honed his killing skills to perfection and not only that, he's become bored of them. In neither of these images do I get the impression he is a man who enjoys killing. To him it is a job, and a pretty crappy one at that."
Will picked up the papers surrounded the laptop, the police reports detailing murders with near exact settings and enactments while a few were clear anomalies. The rough translations tacked onto the reports gave him a clearer picture than the images did, and he closed the laptop and pushed it away to get a better study of them. After a few skimmed readings he got the understanding that he was looking for a murder for hire gangster type, someone who had been in the business for a very long time, possibly decades.
"These." He picked three murders out of the descriptive stack and placed them in a line before him. The level of brutality described within them suggested a very different murderer, but Will had a feeling they were still the same one, only this time he had a personal vendetta. "There is something about these murders that give us a key into how he thinks. These are murders that occurred with large blocks of time between them. This one in 1998, this one in 2001 and this one in 2013. The one in 1998, the victim is a middle aged businessman, and he was clearly tortured before his death, as evidenced by the missing fingers on both of his hands and the removal of his left eye. Single gunshot to the temple killed him off. Same with the victim in 2001, only this was a fifty-seven year old father of three, and an upper level judge in the Romanian legal system. Found with both hands missing all fingers, he was missing his ears and was shot in the right eye, the barrel of the gun pressed against it, as evidenced by the burnt skin surrounding the wound."
Will drummed his fingers on the table as he concentrated on the third report, the pendulum swinging in the back of his head with a ringing clarity he wasn't sure he wanted to share. The last one was a politician running for the mayoral candidacy for Bucharest. He was found in the same state, fingers missing, along with his tongue. The pockets of his suit jacket were stuffed with DVDs, which were proven to have belonged to the victim. Hundreds of hours of kiddie porn.
"I am stealth and efficiency when needed and I feel nothing for those whom I am required to kill. They or those around them have made the choices that have created their destinies and I am outside of it.
But this one will have to suffer, this one will lose those things that he used to work his evil. This piece of meat is on a level far lower than even my wrongs can match. I am not vindicated for what I have had to do, but this one will give me my sense of peace. Through this I will right my greatest wrong, for even from the likes of me, lines must be drawn. I understand love and passion and this is the one who is its destroyer. I will take great pleasure in watching him suffer as he has made so many innocents suffer.
Go ahead and try to touch one of them again, you piece of fucking shit.
This is my fucking design, you diddling cunt."
Trey's fingers snapped rudely in front of his face as Will pushed the papers away, the DEA agents both looking at him in what was angered worry. "You sleeping again or what?"
Will pushed his seat away from the table and stood up, gathering up his jacket in his arms. "I need to go."
"Woah, hold on! You haven't really told us anything yet!" Charlene tried to block his path as he made his way to the door. "We need to know where to find this guy!"
"At the very least can you tell us if he's in America?" Trey begged.
He hated his empathy, the way he could so finely tune into what other people were feeling, ferreting out those micro expressions and fragments of speech that told him everything he needed to know. Trey and Charlene both thought he was an incompetent, pointless stain on the FBI's roster and talking to him was the DEA's act of desperation. They didn't believe in his expertise any more than they believed in UFOs or television psychics. He sighed, their judgement pinning him in place, his head aching, his body tortured in exhaustion.
"I'm not a magic pointer, I can't tell you exactly where. What I can say is it would be stupid if he wasn't in America and he is a lot of things, but a moron isn't one of them. You want to find this guy but I think you ought to just wait and let him contact you. If he's here it's because he's pissed off those who hired him and he'll be looking for sanctuary. See what kinds of family and upper echelon criminal connections you can find that could make him comfortable in America. It's unlikely he left Bucharest unscathed, he likes confrontation and I'm betting he'll have an injury as a result of that. It's probably not fully healed yet."
There was a lot more he could have said, but he wasn't in the mood and frankly, the DEA didn't deserve it. He knew there was a bigger story underneath the cover they'd given him, he didn't buy the excuse of a 'gang war' about to erupt on the eastern coastline due to the embezzlement of cocaine funds. Jack wouldn't have pulled him out of his own investigation if he didn't think it was something a lot more important than a turf war destined to become more of a skirmish among the guilty than a real threat. He would have appreciated some honesty, but that was in short supply between departments and Will was already tired of navigating it.
The door was barely closed behind him when he heard Trey's voice whining at Charlene. "What the hell was that? The jerk gave us nothing."
Will slammed the door behind him and kept walking. If Jack thought he was going to his office to have a pleasant little chat about the Ripper case he was set to be disappointed. There was only one place Will wanted to go, and that was home to Wolf Trap, to his dogs who were infinitely more reliable and open minded than people.
Will's foul mood refused to abate, especially when he was forced to admit to himself he had to pay Hannibal's office a visit and let him know about the latest blackout. Will inwardly groaned at the thought because if there was one thing he wasn't in the mood for right now, it was therapy.
Traffic was busy this time of day and he was lucky he managed to get a parking spot a couple of blocks from Hannibal's office. He checked his watch, a habit he was getting into if only to ground him into the present, to ensure he hadn't skipped a few more hours as the day wore on. Three in the afternoon. His head was pounding and the bright, warm sunlight seemed to pierce the back of his brain like a dagger. He rubbed his neck with a sweating palm and worked out the kinks in it. The Victorian house that held Hannibal's office was still well out of view, and he inwardly cursed himself for not trying to find a closer parking spot.
Why had Purnell pressed Jack to torture him like that, leaving him locked in a room with two agents of ignorance who refused to listen to a word he said? The man they were looking for, if he was on the run, wasn't a threat to anyone per se--guns for hire usually weren't when they didn't have a job to do and from what he could glean from the man's sudden defection from Darko's gang was that he either had a death wish or wanted to retire. Maybe both. Not exactly the kind of criminal that would put Purnell on high alert, seeking out whatever divining rod she could to bring the guy into their fold.
Why would someone be allowed into the club of the good guys when they were so clearly on the opposite side? Just what, exactly, could this guy offer?
Hearing his name a second time, Will stopped at the intersection and turned around, searching through the crowd of people gathered at nearby cafe patios that littered this part of Baltimore's downtown core. Behind him, on the opposite side of the street, almost a full block down, a long arm waved frantically at him, and as he took off his sunglasses to get a better look (damn but that light *hurt*) he realized he was looking at a familiar face that did not belong to the one he was going to visit.
Abandoning the unwanted intrusion of therapy, Will shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and casually headed towards the cafe. A sea of people were going in the opposite direction and he liked the way he felt like he was going against the grain, changing some preordained destiny into a shape that was his own. In a bowling shirt that was more shockingly ugly than the last one he'd seen him in--this one was a collage of ink drawn pineapples and wine glasses--Nigel Lecter couldn't have been more out of place than if he'd been dropped on the moon and asked to sing the aria from La Boheme.
"Hello...Uh...Nigel, is it?"
"The only fucking one. What brings you here?"
"I..." Will was distracted by the large, nearly empty monstrosity of coffee and whipped cream topped with chocolate and what seemed to be a dozen cherries, kiwis and pineapples. It sat in a liquefying mess in a large plastic tumbler in front of the man. "I was just about to have a chat with Hannibal at his office and...What the hell *is* that?"
"I have no fucking clue. I asked for a cappuccino and they gave me this fucking thing. Coffee and these fruits don't mix, it's like sucking on ass."
Will gave him an amused shrug. "You know, you could have sent it back."
"I wanted to but the waitress who gave it to me is missing. I have been trying for half a fucking hour to give this thing back. They look at me, they wave, they nod, they walk away. Are they fucking saying hello or goodbye?"
"I'm not sure," Will said, and to his surprise discovered he was smiling. "A wave can mean many things in America."
"You're fucking telling me. You know what, I think that waitress quit. Walked right off the job. Left me here to fend for myself against whipped cream and poison. Well good for her. I wouldn't want to work with these cunts either." He pointed to the empty chair across from him. "You look like shit, by the way. Sit down before you fucking hit the concrete. I'll get you a coffee. But they'll probably bring you a goddamned green tea, the stupid fucks. It's that kind of place."
Will stood rooted to the spot, happy to be smiling and just standing there in the sun having a stupid conversation with a cussing Romanian thug in an ugly shirt. Was that something to bring up in therapy?
"I don't think coffee is going to cut it," Will said.
"You're probably right. I shouldn't force you to share my misery."
"I don't mind misery, just not the kind they offer here."
"You look like someone beat you with a bag of shit."
"You mentioned that already. I have had a shit day, and I was about to go wallow in misery over it in an uncomfortable leather chair. But now I'm thinking since we're both miserable, we could commiserate about it over a couple of real drinks."
Nigel tapped the side of his head as he gave Will a smile in return. "Intelligence is a fucking beautiful thing. It shines through a good idea. And that's a fucking good idea, my friend. It's shining right into brilliant."
Nigel tossed some money onto the table and Will inched out of the way as Nigel nimbly stepped over the low cast iron fencing that caged in the cafe's patrons. He felt a little guilty, almost as if he was playing hooky from school, but Hannibal wasn't expecting him and there were plenty of reasons why he could have blacked out. The lack of sleep being a big one.
Lies that you tell yourself, a little voice inside of him said, and he quashed it down as he walked with Nigel, a curious smile refusing to leave him. "How long do you plan on staying in Baltimore?"
"A long time. Forever, maybe. Unless somewhere better shows up."
Will raised a brow at this. "Hannibal said you weren't staying long."
"Not with that fucker, no." Nigel pulled a package of cigarettes out of the side pocket of his bowling shirt and shook one out. He cupped his hands over the flame of his lighter as he lit it, the ember turning to ash as he sucked it into life. He let out a slow release of smoke as he snuck a glance at Will. "Why are you seeing him? You fucked up in the head or something?"
"I am a FBI profiler, and as you said yourself last night, it's a sure fire way to become a head case, so, yes."
"You don't look fucked up. Not today, anyway. Just pissed off, maybe a little sick." They paused at an intersection as they waited for the light to change and Nigel, much to Will's shock, reached out with the back of his hand and pressed it against Will's forehead. He'd normally flinch from such a touch, but the coolness of Nigel's skin was such a welcome balm Will couldn't stop himself from closing his eyes and pressing against it. He felt a pang of sadness when a frowning Nigel took his hand away. "You're on fucking fire. A good drink will cure a fever like that. I know just the one. Follow me."
The bar was dingy and filled with smoke, the low light hiding the few regulars that dotted the place like flies. They sat together in a booth near the back, the leather seats torn and leaking dark yellow Styrofoam. Nigel had ordered him something called a palinka, his delight that the bartender had once visited Bucharest and always kept it in stock earned him a large conversation and a big tip, along with a promise that this was to become their favourite bar. Will forced it down with a grimace, the tart pear flavour making his eyes water. It tasted like rubbing alcohol mixed with fruit juice.
"You see?" Nigel said, clinking his long, thin glass against Will's. "Now we are friends."
Will pondered his glass, smiling sadly over it. "It's nice that it's this easy." He enjoyed the warmth the strange drink left behind, and despite his original misgivings he forced himself to take another sip. It was working wonders on his headache.
"So, Mr. FBI profiler, Mr. Fucked Up Mess, who has had a very bad day, but it is now better because you are with me--Why were you going to see my brother?"
Will gave him a good natured narrowing of his eyes. "Doctor and patient confidentiality," he teased.
"Ah, you are talking bullshit. We are friends now, we can say anything."
"Good," Will said, liking the way Nigel was looking at him, a little bit too curious, a little too interested. "Tell me why you are hiding out in America with a brother you hate."
Nigel's gaze didn't waver as he took a gulp of the palinka and set his mostly empty glass beside Will's. "I am a businessman, and as such I sometimes have to deal with people who are not entirely appreciative, or honest. Let's just say I've found myself a severance package that the cocksuckers refused to give me. Naturally, they are fucking pissed, but they will get over it. Some new bastard will come along and fuck them over with something else--that is how business is done. My transgression will be mostly forgotten."
"Mostly," Will said, watching as Nigel downed the last of his palinka in one gulp and motioned to the bartender to bring them another round.
"Well of course they are going to try and fuck me up no matter what, they are motherfucking bastard cunts. I just have to stay ahead of them long enough to die of natural causes before they can catch me."
"Seems like a kind of stressful way to live."
"Not as much as you would think." Nigel pulled out his package of smokes and took out a cigarette with his lips, a suave grace Will found alluring. The halo of smoke that surrounded him after he lit it spun threads around the two of them, a hazy ease that made Will feel relaxed.
"Are you telling me, Mr. Nigel Lecter, that you may be involved in criminal activities?"
Nigel shrugged, a stream of smoke leaving his lips. "If I say nothing else to you, I won't have to lie."
"You abhor lies," Will said, his gaze travelling up the length of Nigel's neck, taking in the serpent tattoo that crept up towards the back of his ear. "I killed a very sick, very bad man. I shot him five times in his kitchen. He slit his wife's throat, practically cut her head off and left her on the front porch to bleed out and just as I ran into the kitchen, before I shot him, he slit his daughter's throat right before my eyes. Her name was Abigail Hobbs, she was seventeen years old and she bled to death in my arms."
Nigel took a long drag of his cigarette as he continued to regard Will. "That's some hardcore hands on shit. Why did he kill his family like that?"
"Because I was there to arrest him."
"Killing and eating at least eight young girls aged seventeen to nineteen. Ones that we know of, anyway."
Nigel choked on his cigarette and nearly dropped it. "Jesus Goddamned Christ. Eating them? You fucking said that, right? *Eating.*"
"His freezer was full. He would use their skin as leather and make purses and handbags for his daughter and his wife. Some of the furnishings were stuffed with their hair. He used every part of them, nothing went to waste." Will took the glass of palinka and took a longer sip than before. It was getting easier to drink it. He rested his head on the back of the booth, closing his eyes. He could feel Nigel move closer, the cigarette dangling on his bottom lip as he brought his arm up to grip the cushion behind Will's head, caging him in on one side. "I had to get into his head. That's what I do. That's why I knew that he didn't believe he was doing anything wrong, from his perspective the killing honoured them. In his mind it made them more than what they were before." He kept his eyes closed as he smiled, knowing he had Nigel's full scrutiny, a rather sadistic part of himself enjoying the discomfort he was giving the man. In the past, he'd found this kind of blatant honesty had been a good tool for weeding out the shallow.
"I got so far into his head it was like I knew when he was pouring himself a cup of coffee. He's taken up space in my mind and shaking him out has been difficult."
"Is stupid bullshit."
Will turned his head to find Nigel's face close to his own, an inward fire burning.
"That's what it is," Nigel said. "You are just tired, you need rest, and you aren't allowed to have it. Fucking nightmares and sleeplessness and motherfucking meetings over corpses. Some asshole gets into your head, big deal. The cure is time. What's to fucking understand? I get what you are telling me, it takes time to shake that fucker out and put your own fucking head back on. Instead you are getting text messages all night to go over and over crimes when your boss knows you are unwell. Some fucking bitch toys with your emotions and calls herself a friend. My brother makes you have some fucking crazy chat session just to leave you a zombie for the rest of the day. What kind of fucking miserable people are these?"
"People who believe they know what's best for me," Will said, downing the last of his palinka. His headache was gone. He closed his eyes, enjoying the bliss of being free of pain.
"No, they fucking don't, they want what's best for themselves. Selfish pricks. They should know you ought be in the world's most comfortable bed, sleeping until noon every day and thinking of nothing more than what you would like to eat and who you would like to fuck. Darling, you are a mess. Why can't anyone see that?"
The sweetness of it was like a drug, and Will couldn't stop himself from indulging in it, the strong emotions Nigel was feeling wildly nipping at him, wanting to bite and tear into him, if only to subdue and comfort. Nigel slid his palm across Will's forehead, a similar gesture to one he'd had from Hannibal, only Nigel's touch betrayed a far more open intimacy.
Will turned his head and opened his eyes, locking into maroon depths that were so similar yet so vastly different. There was nothing of Hannibal here within this swirling hurricane of uncontrolled feeling that refused to hold itself back. Rage, fear and love all lived in the same place in this man's heart.
Nigel put out his cigarette in his empty glass of palinka, and Will stole his mouth, lips soft and eager to please opening slightly to offer him the velvet tease of his tongue. He could feel the panicked speed of Nigel's heart, his soul fluttering in response as his breath caught up with the rush of unexpected pleasure the kiss brought with it.
Will pulled away gently, his head dizzy with the sudden assault of emotions Nigel was stewed in, questions, desires and need mixing in a complex miasma of longing. As Will pressed his face against Nigel's shoulder, taking in the strong masculinity of him, the scent of alcohol, cigarettes and sweat enveloping him, he could sense a strong, unyielding presence taking root in unexpected soil. Something honest. Organic.
"I'm a bad man, Will," he heard Nigel saying, but it was as though it was from a far distance, and all Will could really concentrate on was how was cool his skin was on his hot flesh, and how nice it was to just fall against someone and know there was no hidden agenda beneath their comfort.
"But you can better fucking believe it I won't let anyone hurt you."
Will was drifting as he lay pressed beside Nigel in the booth, the feel of Nigel's fingers softly petting locks of his hair so soothing it was like a sedative.
"Will, I'm warning you. If you kiss me again I'm going to fall hopelessly fucking in love with you."
Lifting his head slightly, the heavy weight of sleep making it difficult, Will's lips traced the hollow of Nigel's cheek.
"Too late," he said.