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All Those Dead People

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The alarm buzzed with a piercing screech, and Will Graham rolled onto his side, his hands blindly reaching over the warm body beside his to slam the button with the heel of his palm and turn off its rude intrusion into a cold winter morning. He buried his face in Hannibal's pillow, who pretended to sleep through it, stubbornly clinging on to whatever semblance of sleep he could. Will nudged his shoulder with his chin, his longer whiskers scraping along Hannibal's skin. "Come on, get up, I'm not the only one with a busy day."

Hannibal frowned and groaned in near sleep, rolling onto his side, putting his back to Will. It was a cruel thing to be awoken this early, to be forced out of the comfort of one's bed and the pleasurable heat of its company. Still, he couldn't stop the small smile that erupted at the quick peck Will placed on his cheek, the rough contours of Will's face bristling against his own. "I'll put the coffee on," Will promised. He kissed Hannibal again as he half turned to face him, this time on the lips. The velvet softness of them was sigh worthy. "Unless Abigail got to the coffee maker first."

Hannibal inwardly cursed. "Stop letting her make the coffee, she makes it too strong."

"But I like drinking paint thinner."

He could feel Will leave the bed, the sudden chill of his absence making the effort to get out of it even less appealing. Hannibal pulled the warmed comforter around him as he blearily opened his eyes to the red hue of 8:30 staring back at him from the alarm clock. Beyond it was the wardrobe closet door, wide open, his expensive suits roughly pushed to the left and right, leaving a wide gap in the middle. He sat up in bed at this, his brow furrowed in displeasure. This was becoming an increasingly cruel morning, especially to wake up to something like that, to see the freshly painted beige wall of the closet, his clothes thoughtlessly tossed aside to expose that which he was doing all he could to forget. A flash of something red hit the back of his eyes and he closed them tight before opening them again, the trapped light putting colourful purple spots on the beige surface instead.

"Really, Will, how many times do I have to tell you to make sure that closet door is closed?"

Will shrugged and yawned as he padded across the large room, his hands lazily hunting through the drawers of his battered antique dresser for his own clothes. Nothing he owned needed a hanger, and frankly the more rumpled and wrinkled everything was, the better. He pulled out a pair of dark khakis and a blue cotton shirt that sported a tiny dotted black grid pattern. It was missing two buttons from the bottom, which was not so neatly hidden by the green pullover Will tugged his arms through and over his shoulders, the shirt peeking out from beneath the ribbed hem. "I didn't touch your closet," Will said.

"Well someone opened it."

"Talk to Abigail, she was probably hunting for socks again."

"I told her to stay out of it."

"She's seventeen, Hannibal, everything that is yours is hers."

Hannibal watched as Will slid on his pants, slightly envying the way he could put himself together in five minutes or less, his handsome, rumpled countenance a perfect blend with the wrinkled fabrics and muted colours that hung on him in drab finesse and yet did nothing to halt the feelings of desire that simply looking at him awoke within Hannibal. Theirs was a study in contrasts, with his routine meticulous and exacting, every hair in place, closely shaved and perfectly pressed suits immaculately ready to hang upon his frame with tailored pomp. Will had often accused him of being a peacock, for who else would deign to wear matching vests beneath designer suits and overly colourful cravats in expensive silk. He didn't complain, however, those nights when he delighted in peeling the many layers off in tortuous, slow movements, his mouth open upon every small exposure of flesh.

Hannibal swung his legs over the bed, hands roughly forcing wakefulness into his senses as he rubbed his palms over his face. "She needs to understand that this *our* room, and she can't just walk in here and start digging around for whatever item strikes her fancy. There's a certain boundary that must be set, especially since the items in this room are very precious to me..."

"Is she going to find a sex toy I don't know about?"

"Will, be serious, I can't have her grubby, unwashed teenaged hands stealing my ties and wrecking them with cheap perfume and lipstick. How would you like it if she started stealing your ratty sweaters?"

"She already did. My favourite black one, the one you hate that has the holes in the elbows. She wore it all last week, I didn't hear you complain." Will grimaced, hunting through his top drawer. "Have you seen my watch? It's usually right here in the corner."

"I believe it's holding up the sleeve of a moth eaten sweater currently hanging on a seventeen year old girl. "

Will closed the top drawer with a heaving sigh and glanced over his shoulder at Hannibal, who was still sitting on the edge of the bed, the exhaustion of starting his day almost too much to bear. His open closet seemed to mock him the effort, the wide space an eerie injection into an otherwise pleasant morning. Hannibal fought the urge to leap out of his bed and shut the doors, to keep the shadow of all that it held in its strict prison. But he had promised himself he would forbear this, he would not dwell in a place of memory that held nothing but pain within it. The room was larger, the closet was bigger, it made sense for them to move into it when Will's presence at his home had become far more permanent with every day, and in truth he loathed the thought of them spending any time in separate beds.

The small hints of his late sister's presence were simply going to have to be endured until time put the stamp of his own and Will's influence upon the space, and hers was effectively muted.

He rose from the bed and headed for the en suite bathroom, his body still humming with the feel of Will's skin against his own and how intensely his scent had wound its way into his pores. He hated the thought of washing him off, but one had to remain a prisoner to one's own fashions, and there was a measure of urgency now rising within him at the thought that if he didn't get started Will would gulp his coffee and be out the door before Hannibal even had a chance to make them all breakfast, and that was a crime definitely not worth courting.

By the time he was dressed and ready for his own day to start, Will was on his second cup of coffee and nearly finished his reading of the latest article on Tattle Crime. He showed Hannibal the garish colours of the web site on the iPad, shoving the tablet toward him as he poured a cup of black coffee. Will and Abigail sat side by side on the stools perched at the kitchen island, Will's cup of coffee held aloft and Abigail slightly scowling into a glass of orange juice. Hannibal remained on the other side of the kitchen island standing opposite them, his matching coffee cup brought to his pursed lips in delicate sips.

"I don't know why you guys don't just get a laptop, they're so much more useful. I hate that stupid tablet, it's always running out of batteries every time I want to watch a movie and I think the touch screen is getting worn out, it doesn't work half the time."

"I have a laptop," Will asserted and downed a glug of coffee. "It's at my work, where you can't borrow it to waste our bandwidth downloading anime." He ignored her pointed scowl and nodded at Hannibal who was engrossed in the article in question. "Do you think she got my good side?"

Hannibal was unimpressed. Reporter Freddie Lounds had been a thorn in their side since the beginning of the Minnesota Shrike case and Will was brought in to profile the serial killer who would be revealed as Garrett Jacob Hobbs, Abigail's father. When Will had pursued Hobbs at his home and the ensuing altercation resulted in Hobbs murdering his wife and slicing the throat of his daughter, Will had shot him five times, an overkill Lounds was eager to pounce on. She'd been overtly critical of their resulting relationship as well, and this unfortunate celebrity sat ill with Hannibal, especially since Will had become her favourite target.

"You gotta love that headline--*Will Graham, KILLER and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, ACCOMPLICE*--Freddie's lawyer must be having a field day with that one. Having a meeting with Jack later this morning about these crazy articles, she's skimming libel there."

Hannibal was deeply disturbed as he read the article, and was careful to keep the details of it out of Abigail's view. She would no doubt discover it later anyway, but until then he'd protect her while he could, even with a bit of fair warning. "Abigail, this article outlines the details of your father's death and it isn't wise to read it. It may trigger some very unwelcome feelings I know, however, that my saying this will result in you absolutely reading it at some point--please understand that Ms. Lounds is in the business of selling ad space on her web site and earns her pennies with clicks. You must know this, Abigail, Will and I did not maliciously seek out your father to kill him, nor to harm you. He had committed terrible crimes, as you are aware, crimes of which you are blameless."

Abigail sipped at her orange juice and gave both Will and Hannibal's concerned looks a cheerful shrug. "I already read it before you guys got up. She's an idiot, what's the big deal?" She downed the rest of her orange juice and slid off the stool, placing her glass in the clean, empty sink behind Hannibal. "Funny the things you find out, though. What I want to know is what's the deal with your sister? I didn't even know you had one." Large blue eyes and sweetly freckled cheeks stared up at his stricken expression with what seemed to Hannibal a mock innocence. "This article says she killed herself less than a year ago, is that true?"

Will coughed over his coffee and gave Abigail a furious glare. "Really, Abigail, it's not the time..."

But of course it was the time, the morning had already sealed it with the open closet door, the hit of red behind his closed eyes, the constant, daily reminders that hit him on the hour. No phone calls on his cell phone throughout the day demanding his pick up some treat or other on the way home. No jangling keys at zero in the morning from when she'd decided to stagger home from some art house party. No bulimic attempts to lose weight, the echo of her retching an unpleasant morning alarm. And yet, despite all of this, he loved Mischa, he'd gone through hell with her and she had been his guide, his measurement of what innocence could be, even when it was inevitably corrupted. She was often funny, she had the greatest stories. She was artistic, obsessively so, had art galleries in Baltimore and New York clamouring for her paintings, dark industrial swatches that gleamed with insertions of rusted gears from World War II car parts. 'Accurate history', she'd called it, smears of red over tiny engine scraps and bits of hair painted into the margins. He was a classicist and didn't understand her post modern expressionism, but no matter, he was proud of her efforts and her success.

"Do you miss her?"

"Abigail, stop."

Hannibal sipped at his coffee and didn't look at her. "I miss her as much as you miss your father."

Abigail's cheeks reddened at this and she bowed her head slightly, the chastisement heard loud and clear. "I'm sorry," she muttered.

"Don't be sorry. It's better to talk of these things than to allow them to fester, and though Will was doing his best to be kind, there are some subjects that can never be addressed as such. I lost my sister and you lost your father, Abigail, and both of them were guilty for what they had done." He watched as she hung her head further, her bottom lip chewed, a pang of fatherly patience curling within him. "If you want to talk about it..."

"No. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been such a bitch about it."

"There's no great crime committed here." Hannibal stared down at her with grave fondness. "We can leave it at that for today, if that's all right with you?"

"Sure," Abigail said, but it was clear she was still feeling guilty for the small goading. In many ways she was like his sister, eager to pick the bones of him that smarted the most and yet also quick to defend. There was a lot of his sister's youth in Abigail, the impetuous tongue, the need to invade others' space, the quick and near violent perception that spilled from sweetness. The one large difference was Mischa's utter lack of remorse when one of her barbs hit too closely. Abigail's guilt was a welcome balm against this, and Hannibal gave her a warm, fatherly hug, kissing her on the top of her head with genuine affection. She wiped a tear on his silk tie and he didn't bother caring if she was wearing mascara.

Hannibal checked his watch and was about to start breakfast only for Will to hold up his hand. "I don't have time, I have to get to Quantico for that meeting with Jack before my lectures start. I'll pick up your dry cleaning on the way home, and I need you to pick up dog food. It's on sale at that place near your office."

Will leaned over and gave Hannibal a quick goodbye kiss before he could protest. He smiled into Hannibal's mouth, his body leaning over the kitchen island. His eyes danced with brimming mischief.

"You look pretty."

Hannibal smiled and rolled his eyes at the jibe. A ridiculous thing to say to a man and there was his neck, burning red. "Shut up and go to work."

~*~
Abigail stayed back at the house, insisting she was going to study up on colleges she could attend in the winter semester, which was starting in just two months. The drive into Baltimore was uneventful, his Bentley pulling into the driveway of the Victorian building that housed his office a strangely congruent fixture beside it. It was the stubbornly antique look of it, he supposed. His office took up the entire upper floor, while a couple of legal offices were tucked away beneath it, on the ground floor. He took great pride in his office, the location carefully chosen, the architecture within a draw that pulled on both his vanity and his artistic sensibilities. His office in many ways was like a vast library of psychological texts and surgical leftovers from his days when he practised medicine at John Hopkins. The open space was two floors, the upper level a narrow balcony that housed rows upon rows of carefully placed books.

As was his usual habit, Hannibal locked his Bentley as he made his way up the steps, keys jangling in hand in stoic anticipation. He enjoyed his practise and looked upon the enclave he had found for it with no small sense of pride. Mischa had often accused him of making his office an extension of his overdone wardrobe, but this didn't stop her from insisting he hang a couple of her signature works on his office walls. He had once employed her as his secretary, which proved disastrous. Missed appointments, angry, insulted patients, lost files...He hadn't fired her so much as encouraged her to run off with a cellist from the Petersburg symphony and when that love affair fizzled out (as they all did), she returned and Hannibal had sadly informed her he had no need of a secretary after all. This was a lie, he desperately did need someone to manage his more insistent patients and inform him of cancellations, and the billing system was a nightmare, but it was simply easier to pretend he didn't need one than to suffer Mischa's angry retribution over being replaced by someone far more competent.

He fleetingly wondered if Abigail would enjoy such a role, and contemplated getting her enrolled in a local college for some basic secretarial training. He didn't like the idea of her wandering around his house, isolating herself from the world in ways that reminded him, quite unpleasantly, of Mischa's final weeks and her depressed, relentless pacing.

He was thinking of Abigail, her long black hair tied back, her cheerful face being a balm of sunshine for his morose patients, as he gracefully made his way up the stairs to his office and was quite surprised to see there was someone already waiting for him. He had several chairs situated in what was a mostly closeted space, the door to his office barring entry for those who didn't have an appointment. The young man, who looked to be in his late twenties, stood up from one of the grey upholstered seats and held out his hand in greeting. He had small eyes and a bedraggled beard that would put Will Graham's to shame, and was a rather large man though not overly imposing.

"Hi, I'm Cole Sear." he said, warmly pumping Hannibal's hand.

Hannibal frowned slightly over the friendly greeting. "I don't believe you have an appointment..."

"No, no I don't. I'm actually here on impulse if you can believe that. I was reading an article about you this morning, and I don't usually care about the crap they post on Tattle Crime but..."

Hannibal draped his coat primly over his arm and brushed past Mr. Sear to unlock his office door. "I have no interest in discussing that repugnant article. Please, see yourself out."

He shut the office door behind him with cold finality and was infuriated when a gentle knock beseeched him to open it again. His mouth a grim line, Hannibal wrenched the door open and barred Mr. Sear's nervous entrance. "I have no interest in talking about my work with Will Graham, nor do I have a rebuttal to that vile article, nor do I wish to discuss anything to do with the Garrett Jacob Hobbs case, nor my relationship with Will Graham. Is that clear?"

"Look, Dr. Lecter, I'm not here because of any of that, I'm just..." Mr. Sear let out a tired sigh. "I'm a bereavement counsellor. Mrs. Hobbs was one of my clients."

Hannibal was instantly confused by this, especially since Abigail had never mentioned her mother was suffering any kind of recent loss. Then, the more he thought on it, Abigail hadn't mentioned her mother at all, as though the woman was a wisp of smoke in her life that once was dissipated was easy to dismiss. Against his better judgement, he stood to one side, allowing Mr. Sear in to his office.

"Wow, this place never changes." Sear caught Hannibal's confused look at this and shrugged his large shoulders. "I had a childhood psychologist who practised here. He had nearly the exact same set up, but he wasn't so big on the artwork and the curtains are new. His style was a bit darker, more shadows. I like the blue paint."

"It's slate grey," Hannibal corrected him. He bid Mr. Sear to have a seat across from him, as he did with so many of his patients. He clasped his hands neatly over his stomach. "How can I help you, Mr. Sear?"

There was a quiet moment after this question, as Mr. Sear's eyes roved around the office, taking in all the differences and similarities affixed in his memory. Hannibal wondered what childhood trauma required him to need a psychiatrist in his youth, but as he himself was demanding privacy, he knew better than to wrench that from his guest. "You knew Mrs. Hobbs?"

"Yes, she was coming to see me to cope with the death of her mother. Judith was having a very hard time, she didn't feel her husband was listening to her and she felt a very real disconnect from her daughter. It troubled her a great deal."

"Considering what Garrett Jacob Hobbs was, I don't doubt that she did feel cut off from the rest of her small family. Hobbs had isolated both himself and Abigail from her, had taken the reins as a parent to levels that were, to put it mildly, unhealthy. I had no idea she had lost her mother, and thus, Abigail her grandmother. Strange that she has never mentioned this to me."

Mr. Sear raised a brow at this. "Mentioned it?"

"Abigail Hobbs is currently living with both myself and Mr. Graham. I feel as a licensed psychiatrist I have the ability to help her and we are doing all we can to offer her a stable place from which to be reborn. As you can imagine, it is no easy thing to simply walk out of the grip of a monster. Clearly, it had gone so far as to come between her relationship with her mother, a bond that is usually very strong."

"You think so?"

"Mothers and daughters? Oh, yes. Even competitive, if you believe the Freudians."

"Abigail is living with you," Mr. Sear repeated, and slowly nodded his head. "That's really...interesting. Her mother used to tell me she couldn't wait for Abigail to leave the nest and try to find her own way in the world. She often complained about how her husband would dismiss her feelings and made the universe about himself and his daughter, shutting all other's needs out. It's a cruel thing to do to someone who is grieving, and Judith cared a lot about her mother. She couldn't understand what had happened between herself and Abigail, why that gulf couldn't be crossed."

"Grieving is a lonely process no matter how much support one has."

"I imagine you know that yourself quite well, Dr. Lecter." Sear nodded at the two signature works on his wall, the modernist style in stark contrast to the more classical theme of his other objects d'art. "Your sister's work, I'm guessing. She was very talented."

"She was also very troubled."

"Yes, I suppose she was." Sear leaned forward, an intensity about him that put Hannibal on edge. He couldn't stop himself from putting up his usual cold wall, one that he often used when people were too eager to press into his mental space, a shield that had often come in handy when dealing with manipulative patients and passive-aggressive colleagues. He'd cultivated the skill early in his life, as a protection against Mischa's high strung histrionics designed to pummel his psyche. How he remembered her empty accusations, how she'd scream at him over imagined slights, throw cutlery and dishes at him when he dared to suggest she was wrong in this or that decision. Then the tantrum would ease and she would be kind again, apologetic on occasion, but always there was that layer of threat underneath her care, that she could erupt into that fury anew at any moment, and he wisely kept his shark cage closed.

"Are we ever truly free of them?"

Hannibal's thoughts faltered. "I beg your pardon?"

"The dead. They never stop nagging us, do they?" Sear shook his head. "I keep seeing Judith, she's...She was so worried about her daughter. I'm glad to know that Abigail is in a good place, at least for now." Sear bowed his head and reached into his pocket. He handed Hannibal a battered business card, very plain with white lettering on black. "I hope you don't think I'm interfering or being presumptuous or anything like that--I just figured since I was helping her mom maybe I could have a unique perspective for Abigail. She no doubt has a lot of complexities over her grief concerning her father's death. While I'm perfectly aware you are able to take care of her needs, I am a specialist in bereavement. If you ever need a bit of pressure taken off, I'm the guy to call."

Hannibal gave the man a small smile and pocketed the business card in his suit jacket, thinking he did not need nor would do such a thing. He'd toss it in the trash later, out of politeness. "I will consider it," he said, smiling and lying.

"Yeah." Cole Sear stood up and held out his hand again. "It was good to meet you, Dr. Lecter. Like I said, don't hesitate to call. The dead are patient, but grief, not so much."

The lights above Hannibal's desk flickered and sizzled, giving both men pause. "I guess someone's got an opinion about that," Sear said, and Hannibal found his words chillingly cryptic.

~*~

The strange flickering continued throughout the morning, a distraction that irked Hannibal, his fingers impatiently tapping on the armrest of his chair while Franklyn Froideveaux wept and whined his way through another session, tissue after tissue discarded on the side table when there was a perfectly clean wastebasket for it underneath it. As he loudly blew his nose, Hannibal thought about his strange visit with Cole Sear and the many thoughts and feelings it had evoked within him. He intellectually understood that Abigail would greatly benefit from the man's expertise, but he was reluctant to give up the control of her well being, a latent neediness in himself that he found disturbing. Will himself had not been dealing with the death of Hobbs all that well, and had been transferring his feelings of guilt and horror into unhealthy obsessions, namely his job where the case of the Minnesota Shrike had become the sole focus of his lectures. He'd placed himself in the role of Abigail's father out of guilt, and through his empathy he had emulated much of her father's more benign behaviours, such as talking about hunting and fishing and agreeing that nature's law of all things having a use a religion that was still worthwhile to cling to. It was an ethos Hannibal did not agree with, for there was much in life that had no use whatsoever, that was nothing more than waste upon the crowded space of Earth. Franklyn's whining was one of them. Will's misplaced guilt and Abigail's manipulative use of it. His sister's wrong choice.

"Dr. Lecter?"

Hannibal glanced up at Franklyn, who was stuffed in his patient's chair at an uncomfortable angle, his teary eyes suddenly dry. He sighed and sat back, his meaty hands opened wide in supplication. "This is what I'm talking about."

Hannibal frowned. "What do you mean, Franklyn?"

"You're not exactly very *attentive*, Dr. Lecter." Franklyn stared at the carpet, taking in the pattern in long lengths, anything but to look directly at his psychiatrist. "I've noticed lately you've been really distracted, and while I understand why, I mean how can I not, I read Tattle Crime just like everyone else...And, it's come to my attention that you have a lot of problems of your own. And while I really want to be someone you could befriend, I'm not sure in my own fragile emotional state that I could do that."

Hannibal's cold facade slipped slightly, his face twisting in confusion. "What the hell are you talking about, Franklyn?"

"I can't be your friend, Dr. Lecter."

"Well, that's certainly some progress, I've been telling you this for quite some time. I'm glad you've finally taken my advice."

"I need a psychiatrist who isn't so..." Franklyn rolled his hands as though he could work out the right words the same way one kneaded bread dough. "Involved in his own issues."

Hannibal's mouth was a cut line. "Everyone has problems, Franklyn."

"Ye-ess..." Franklyn bowed his head and grimaced slightly, his shoulders shrugging in forced helplessness. "Look, this is how I see it. You are supposed to be my rock, the guy who has it all together, at least on the surface. I absolutely get it, you're a person whose job is very demanding and now you have certain demands in your personal life...Frankly, with my complex neuroses..."

"Are you firing me, Franklyn?"

Franklyn let out a long, suffering sigh that was more practised than honest. "I just think we both need to see other people."

Hannibal stared at him blankly. He stared at the bundle of tissue still sitting damp on the surface of his glass side table. He stared at the slightly sweaty, unpleasant man who had taken pints of emotional blood from him for months, his hour long session an endurance test Hannibal had come to detest. So he'd read an article on Tattle Crime, had he? Had come to know his psychiatrist as intimately as could be allowed without serving up nude Internet photos and had decided he wasn't quite the shining beacon of limitless care he wanted. Hannibal stared at the way Franklyn kept casting guilty glances towards his late sister's artwork and then averting his eyes, the unspoken words ringing in Hannibal's ears as if Franklyn had shouted into them: "If you couldn't save her, how in the hell are you going to save me?"

"Get out of my office."

"I'm sorry, I...What?" Franklyn shook his head, confused. "Look, I've never had to do this before, and I'm really sorry. I've been dumped by nine psychiatrists before you. Nine! I thought maybe we had a good rapport, but obviously that's not the case and, you can't blame me, not with everything that's out there like that. I mean there's Hobbs and you're living with that freaky FBI guy and there's your sister, I mean that wasn't even a year ago and...You've been really distracted during my sessions and now I finally know why. I feel a little hurt you didn't confide in me and I had to find out that way, it was quite a blow, believe me."

"I am sorry to have disappointed you so, Franklyn. Get the hell out."

"Dr. Lecter, come on, I don't think this is an unreasonable decision. The least you can do is give me a referral."

Hannibal stormed out of his seat to the door of his office, tearing it open. He bid Franklyn to leave with a wide swipe of his hand towards the tiny waiting room, which was currently empty. The lights were flickering here too, and he could hear the old filaments within them sizzling and popping on ancient dust. He would have to have that looked at. "I will send a referral to you later in the week. Please do not communicate with me in future."

Franklyn, inexplicably, looked hurt. He slid out of his chair and onto his feet, his steps heavy and weary. "I...I'm sorry it had to come to this. I've always considered you my friend."

"You have a rather selfish definition of friendship, Franklyn." And with that he closed the door on the gobsmacked man and shut him out of his sights forever. Infuriating worm of a man!

The silence of his office afterwards helped ease the rage welling within him at the audacity of this cretin, and as his emotions were forced into calm he had to concede that this was simply Franklyn's flippant, neurotic nature, that he was sensing danger when it was really nothing more than an unchecked sadness. He *had* been distracted during Franklyn's sessions, and as he picked up the wadded clumps of tissue in disgust and tossed them into the wastebasket, he had to wonder why he had endured Franklyn this long. He had tried to help him and yet there had been no progress. Other than being fired for being a supposed mess, of course, and perhaps he could take some pride in that. The first one to be free of Franklyn's chains by Franklyn himself. He imagined getting calls from other psychiatrists and therapists begging him for the methodology, his advice causing mass Franklyn firings across the Baltimore region. It was a comforting fantasy.

He cell phone rang and he picked up without looking at it, his voice more clipped and professional than it needed to be. "Dr. Hannibal Lecter, how may I help you?"

"It's me. How is your morning going?"

"Wonderful, I was just fired by a patient." Hannibal smiled over Will's quiet, cursing outburst at this. "You do remember Franklyn?"

"The sweaty guy with the balled up Kleenex? How can I forget, he practically slobbered all over you when I met him at that opera event last week. That friend of his was damn creepy, what was his name? Some kind of bird. Budgie, something like that." Will let out a frustrated sigh, and Hannibal could picture him, bent over folders, his glasses askew, his soft a curls a mess and begging for Hannibal's long fingers to comb through them and get trapped. "Ever since we caught Hobbs it's been slow going around here, like there's a shortage of serial killers. Jack has me going over old cold case files from the 1970's, to 'keep me busy'. You and I both know it's because he's trying to disentangle me from the Hobbs case, and he thinks all it takes is a nudge and a flick of the switch. He doesn't get it, that I'm still in there, I'm still in Hobbs's head, and it's damned hard to pull myself out."

"So Jack thinks putting you in a pile of polyester and blood soaked bell bottoms is the cure. Tell me, Will, are you bringing home Pink Floyd albums for research purposes? If so, I shall have no recourse but to soundproof the study."

"I'm shocked you even know who that is."

"I didn't grow up in a complete cultural vacuum, Will. Mischa always did have a penchant for the rock and roll lifestyle."

"I tell you, that decade was serial killer paradise, it's a wonder any of us are still alive." He could hear the rustle of papers as Will organized them on the desk in his lecture hall, the humming buzz of an overhead projector silenced as he clicked it off. "It's not just Hobbs, either, I'm getting tired of all the tiptoeing around me, everyone staring at me like I'm their latest lab project. Dr. Alana Bloom called me into her office today to talk about how I'm coping and it was the most awkward, awful feeling being there with her and with Jack hovering behind me. She calls me a friend, but she won't be alone with me, all because she's scared of analyzing me. Now she can't even do it when it's expected of her. I'm an emotional infection to these people."

Hannibal pursed his lips at this. "That's a tad harsh, Will. Are you still having issues with your students?"

"I can't concentrate on anything but Hobbs, and yes, they are starting to complain again. They want me to branch out into other killings, so they can sink their teeth into relevant information, not this old retread of a solved case. They don't get it, that this is what the field work is. Constant abstract reverb of the same thing until it finally morphs into something you can actually see."

The sadness emanating through him was enough to give Hannibal pause, and he wished he was there, offering a supportive hand on Will's shoulder, his pain magnified and tender to the touch. "You know what the weird thing about all of this is? I think I'm in mourning. I think I'm mourning the death of Garrett Jacob Hobbs and his sick vision. I was the instrument of his death, his murderer. And it's the weirdest thing, but there are times I can still feel a piece of him within me, squeezing parts of me aside to make room for himself, the parts of me that are logical and reasonable."

"Garrett Jacob Hobbs is dead, Will. You are only making room for your guilt." Hannibal reached into his suit jacket pocket and pulled out the small business card Cole Sear had given him. In small white letters on a black background, it displayed his name, 'bereavement counsellor' beneath it and a cell phone number. Nothing else. He found he rather liked the bland simplicity of it, for what could be simpler than death. It was all that came after that was the most painful.

"I had a strange meeting this morning with an interesting young man by the name of Cole Sear. Has he tried to get in contact with you, by any chance?"

"Not that I'm aware of. Why, who is he?"

"He's a bereavement counsellor. He was treating Abigail's mother, Judith Hobbs, after the death of Abigail's grandmother. He has an interesting insight into Abigail's family life, I think you and I should have a formal talk with him. He may give us a better perspective on how to best deal with her trauma."

"She's been giving me a hell of a time," Will admitted. "She puts on the happy act for us, and plays innocent, but I'm not so sure. I forgot my ID this morning and had to go back to the house after you left. We had a huge argument, you should have seen her, she was dressed like she was going to a subway rave, remember those?" Hannibal didn't. "She stormed off out of the house not telling me where she was going. All I did was ask what she was planning on doing all day. She disappears like this all the time, and when I press her to tell me, she refuses to answer. I'm thinking she's got a boyfriend, I'm just hoping she's not getting involved in drugs..."

It was a valid concern, especially with a young woman as vulnerable as Abigail clearly was. Having her in their home was not without its great challenges, her headstrong determination being one of them. She had been sheltered by Hobbs, but was strangely hardened by him too, and this odd juxtaposition of innocence and blood was a difficult combination to mentor.

She had come to them unexpectedly, a couple of weeks after the altercation at her house, where Will shot her father five times and Abigail lay bleeding to death on the kitchen floor, the huge gash in her neck pouring blood in a thick lake beneath her. They had accompanied her to the hospital, where she was stabilized, and they spent rotating shifts at her bedside, hopeful she would wake from her coma.

It would be a great omission not to admit that this bonding over her had also cemented his relationship with Will, the realization of the depth of their affections for each other culminated in a fleeting, innocent kiss goodbye at Wolf Trap. They had both spent the evening at the hospital when Abigail's condition worsened, the doctors whispering amongst themselves that she had suffered a stroke. Hannibal drove Will home to Wolf Trap in miserable silence, and through exhaustion and pathos he had leaned down and given Will's tortured lips a soft goodbye, his thumbs wiping away tears that kept threatening to spill.

Will didn't let him leave. Will's wiry passion pulled him close, then up to the tangled sheets of his bed, where even now Hannibal's body hummed in happy memory of the pleasures he found there.

Just twenty-fours hours after this Abigail suddenly showed up on their doorstep, small suitcase in hand. Obviously, the worries she had suffered a stroke were ill founded, as was the severity of her condition. This was just one of many of her long game manipulations, Hannibal was sure, for Abigail was still her biological father's daughter and she had a predator's instincts for survival.

"I'll talk to her when I get home," Hannibal promised.

The lights in his waiting room flickered and then finally sputtered out. He bid goodbye to Will and hung up his cell phone, his attention riveted on the dark maw just beyond the open door of his office. He could have sworn he'd closed it. No matter. Freddie Lounds and her abhorrent article had chased all of his patients away for the day. He would have to do the same for her.

~*~

He could hear them arguing as he made his way up the front steps of his stately home, and Hannibal braced himself for the war he was about to walk into. Will's deeper voice was riding above Abigail's far more high pitched screaming, none of it stopping for the man who walked casually into his home and hung up his coat with care in the coat closet near the front entrance. Hannibal slid off his shoes and neatly placed them beneath its hem. He was likewise careful with his argyle scarf and his leather gloves, which he peeled off and folded neatly, placing them in the pocket of his coat, the scarf draped around the neck of the coat hanger. Abigail's screaming reached a fever pitch and she let out a slew of curse words at Will, who was now slamming plates against the counter.

"Goddammit, Abigail, you need to go to school!"

"I'm not going there! You can't make me!"

"If you don't go to school, where the hell are you going to go? Right now you're either sulking around this house all day, doing nothing at all, or you're off doing God knows what and it's some big secret--Well, if it has to be a secret, it's obviously not good for you!"

"You don't understand anything!"

She stormed away from him, ready to go up the stairs and it was at this point that she saw Hannibal closing the coat closet near the front of the door, his expression one of unreadable calm. With tears flowing freely she ran up to him and collapsed into a sobbing hug that fiercely trapped him. "He never listens to me!"

Hannibal caught Will's ire and softly sighed. "Will..."

"Don't you dare!" Will marched up to him, a pointing finger held out in warning. "You always do this, she comes up to wailing and crying, accusing me of being the bad guy and you give her a hug and tell her everything is okay, and nothing gets resolved! She has you wrapped around her finger, you let her get away with everything!"

Hannibal could feel the girl's body shuddering in sobs beneath his embrace and he gently kissed the top of her head before sliding his palms across her cheeks to dry her tears. "My dear girl, it seems you know how to press a certain hotheaded man's buttons. Go on upstairs, I'll talk to Will. I'll call you when dinner's ready."

She sniffled and broke free of him reluctantly, her brilliant blue eyes melting every bit of parenting advice he'd ever given any of his patients. With her freckled cheeks now stained red from crying and glassily sad baby blues staring up at him she could have asked for a pony in that very second and Hannibal would have headed straight for the nearest stable he could find so he could gift her the perfect one.

"I don't want any dinner, I'm too upset." She sniffled with theatrical aplomb and dove up the stairs to her room, the door slamming behind her.

Hannibal let out a long breath as Will instantly railed on him. "You let her get away with talking to me like that!"

"She's have a teen tantrum, nothing to get so upset about."

Will frowned, shaking his head, his own eyes brimming with tears of frustration. "Look, I know I don't have the first clue of being a parent. I'm arguing with her when I should be talking to her, and I tried, I really did, but she's so damned stubborn..."

Hannibal placed a warm hand on Will's shoulder and delighted as the slighter man melted into his touch. "I just don't know if we're doing the right thing." Will leaned into Hannibal's chest, burying his face in his neck. "Why is this so hard?"

"Being a good parent is," Hannibal assured him. He kept his arm around his shoulders as he steered Will towards the kitchen. "You can help me make dinner. I have most of the vegetables prepped already. We're having coeur du beouf with fiddlehead greens and potates parisienne. What do you think of that?"

"Another night of awful offal."

"You have never complained before."

"There's a raw beef heart on a plate in the fridge, Hannibal. Abigail kept poking it with a fork, it's kind of grossed me out."

Hannibal was not amused. "So you are going to childishly sulk as well."

"No..." Will groaned and opened the refrigerator door, taking out the offerings Hannibal had already prepared, spreading them out on the kitchen counter. He picked up a couple of pans that he knew were Hannibal's favourites and stood aside to let the man work his passions. "I'm a dick. I know this is your version of stress relief, and you've had a hell of a day. I got your text earlier. No patients? That many people read Tattle Crime?"

"I'm sure they will eventually return, but our gossiping popularity is preceding us. Judgement comes swifter than common sense. Hand me a plate, I will make a portion for Abigail for her to have later."

Will handed him the plate, and Hannibal put it to one side, ready to load it up with more food than Hannibal and Will would eat combined. Abigail had a ferocious appetite, Hannibal had noticed, one that never seemed to be satisfied.

"I think I may have to call an electrician for the office, the lights are acting strange and they went out completely in the waiting room. It is an old house, I imagine it could use some rewiring." He unwrapped the beef heart and began removing fat and arteries with the tip of his chef's knife, then sliced it in half. He dredged it in a small amount of flour, salt and pepper before bringing it to the pan, where a pat of butter swirled and melted along the bottom. The pieces sizzled in the pan, and when they were well browned, he added a portion of red wine along with peppercorns, cloves and a couple of bay leaves. He then lowered the heat to allow it to braise. The smells were tantalizing, a rich dark beef that spoke of blood.

Will's arms wrapped around his waist, his chin resting comfortably on the back of Hannibal's neck. "You look so tired."

"It hasn't exactly been a pleasant day, for either of us."

Will's lips found the pulse point in his neck and Hannibal felt his breath catch as a soft kiss pressed against it. "You still having nightmares?"

Hannibal stiffened slightly at this, and he thought about lying, saying he was sleeping just fine and this was not an additional worry for Will to cultivate. But he knew Will would only resent him for it, for he was near impossible to deceive, his empathic perception cutting into every carefully placed facade with the ease of a sharp knife through butter. "Yes."

"We really don't need to sleep in that bedroom. I know you got some weird fixation on forcing yourself to deal with the loss in this way, but I can't help but think this is a very misguided move on your part. Your sister hung herself in that closet, Hannibal, every time you look at it you see her, you can't tell me otherwise. I don't understand why you are torturing yourself like this."

"There is no point in not facing one's demons. I aim to placate them with normalcy."

"Your wounds from Mischa's death are too raw. We shouldn't be in that room."

Hannibal hesitated over the fiddleheads, which he was going to sautee in butter and lightly season, their bitterness a sharp contrast to the rich meat they were set to accompany. Will had never had a sister, especially not one as creative and brilliant and infuriating as Mischa, whose star shone so brightly the world's cynicism had to slightly turn its head and take small notice of her. She had believed that attention to be permanent, and not fleeting. When her art began to lose favour amongst her usual patrons, their complaints of her subject matter being too dark for the hallways of corporate office buildings, she had taken the criticism as a blow to her person. She, like Will, was a perpetual emotion machine, though it was far more outwardly expressed.

Taking care of her had influenced Hannibal's life a great deal. In ways he couldn't quite articulate, he knew that if she hadn't been in his life, all of the trials they had gone through together would have twisted him in ways he couldn't fathom. As a child, she had been his conscience, an unspoiled innocence that he could place into long corridors of his memory palace and allow her free reign to touch every aspect of it.

"I need to respect her memory, Will, and shutting her bedroom door, pretending that what she did had no consequence, that is not something I can do. Mischa is not banished from this house, there are no dark rooms with cobwebs full of her ghost inside of them." He stirred the beef hearts, the reduced wine thickening into a rich gravy. "She made a terrible choice, I am unable to change that. But she was a person who was very close to me, and as such she had a great influence on who I became. I want to believe I thrived beneath her spark."

"You endured her spark." Will said, and Hannibal felt a lump in his throat at the truth of it.

"Perhaps. But I loathe to think of the kind of man I would have become without her."

Chapter Text

ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE
chapter two

What's truly amazing is how tired a person can feel and yet still can't fall asleep. Hannibal remained in the study, poring over the latest publications in his psychiatric journals, the only one of note coming from Dr. Frederick Chilton, of all people, whose study on excessive sleepiness in schizophrenics was more about his academic posturing than the actual science. All Hannibal had to do was point to a textbook to explain the oversimplification of Chilton's thesis. The schizophrenic mind was a constant whirlwind of pervasive, intrusive thoughts, impressions and hallucinations that never let up. A television of the mind that interacted and refused be silent, inner voices hammering into consciousness. Add to this the added stress of having to deal with an incompetent, pompous ass like Dr. Chilton. It was no wonder they were tired.

He tossed the offending journal onto the floor beside him and stretched out on the comfortable couch Will had insisted he purchase and put in the study. Though he'd originally found the collection of cushions and the bland grey colour of it rather drab, there was something to be said for an item taking function over form. The glass of wine perched on a couple of thick, antique Bibles placed on the floor near the tossed journal was taken up as he lay prone on the couch, his movements graceful and careful. He leaned forward to prevent it from spilling as he sipped it.

The pleasant Argentinean malbec worked some magic in alleviating his tense mood, and he licked his lips after tasting it, drawing more of its fruit upon his tongue. He cradled his arm behind his head as he relaxed back onto the cushion, thinking on how precious Will Graham must look right now, sleeping soundly in their bed, his mouth slightly open as he snored. He thought there could be nothing better at this hour than to join him, even if sleep was impossible. The draw of his skin, and its heady sweetness was a temptation his tired body longed to court. How pleasant it would be to slide into bed and taste the rounded shape of Will's shoulder as he lay on his side, and press his face into the softness of his dark curls, their texture not unlike angora. A latent arousal was stirring within him at this, and he wondered if Will would be receptive to some very late night stress relief.

"Dr. Lecter?"

Hannibal glanced up as he moved to a sitting position on the couch, mindful of the glass of wine near his foot and the journal with Chilton's boring analysis within it. He cleared the floor of his admittedly neat debris and placed it on the desk pressed against the back of the couch, and only then did he bid Abigail to come into the room and sit beside him.

"A restless night for more than one of us," he said, smiling at her reluctant, wisplike form at the entrance to his study, her thin arms crossed over her slight chest. Her long, dark hair had escaped the tie she had used to pull it back and it hung in a messy, slightly frizzy tangle around her head and down towards her slender waist. This somehow made her look younger, like a small child awoken from a bad dream.

She chewed her bottom lip with uncertainty and glanced over her shoulder back towards the kitchen. "Are there any more leftovers?"

Hannibal gave her a warm smile as he launched himself off of the couch and smoothly walked past her out of the study and into the kitchen, his long steps taking him to the refrigerator. "Of course, my dear girl, there are always ample provisions for you. I have a plate made up."

"I ate it already," Abigail said, slowly following him into the kitchen, where he looked at the empty plate in the sink with some consternation. It had been double the portion of both his own and Will's, and yet she was still hungry.

"I'll just make a sandwich, or something." she said.

He pulled out one of the breakfast stools and sat on it, his elbows propped on the island counter's marble surface as he balanced himself, clasped hands joined in a fist beneath his chin. Abigail was quick with the contents in the refrigerator, pulling out large clumps of sandwich meats, mostly Will's that he used for his lunches, and stacking them thick beneath two slices of rye bread, a generous helping of mayonnaise quickly spread across them first. She didn't bother getting a plate and instead opted for a paper towel to catch the crumbs. She stood across from Hannibal, her small mouth taking bites far larger than he'd thought her capable of.

She consumes everything she touches, Hannibal thought, and it was an unpleasant musing. He shuddered, pushing it away.

"Are you ready to talk about the argument you had with Will earlier?" he asked her, and she shrugged, the sandwich earning another, monstrous bite.

She chewed and swallowed and delicately wiped at the corners of her mouth with the paper towel. "I don't really want to go to college right now. I don't like any of the places you guys have suggested, there's nothing that interests me." She started working on the second half of her sandwich. Such a small girl and yet she could eat enough to make a wolf envious. Then again, she was the daughter of a cannibal. Hannibal distractedly wondered if the consuming of human flesh had some accelerating effect on her metabolism. The human body was a cesspit of disease and corruption, and the thought occurred to him that she was suffering from parasites.

"I mean, it's not like I'm going to be able to go anywhere for a while, not with everyone being able to recognize me. A couple of months might not be long enough for people to forget."

"Abigail, you will be shocked at how easily your celebrity will slip from the collective consciousness and into boredom. The interest of the masses is fleeting at best, and you are nothing more right now than a footnote for conversation amongst those who have nothing to talk about. The infamy is your father's, not yours." She finished her sandwich and Hannibal watched as she wiped wayward crumbs from the table into her slight hand, and dropped them into the sink behind her, littering the dirty plate she'd left there. "Studying is a healthy activity and can be useful in healing oneself. It is important to understand that the workings of life continue on past our own sorrows."

"Is that what you're doing?" she asked, and he smarted at this for it was as if she was still hungry and was now taking a bite out of him.

"The loss of my sister has been exceptionally difficult, and yes, I am doing all I can to continue with my routine. I understand, Abigail, though I am sure you think you are unique in your feelings. You are mourning your father, who was both your monster and your protector." He watched her as she turned on the tap and quickly rinsed her hands, flicking them dry as she closed it off again. "Though he takes most of the focus, I'm sure your feelings about the loss of your mother are also complex..."

"I didn't really know my mom." She shrugged and turned to Hannibal, her mood more cheerful than morose. "She was a person on the periphery who made dinner. Nothing more."

Hannibal frowned at this. "But she surely she was a large part of your life when you were very young. She was always there, despite the influence of your father."

"She was like wallpaper to me. Nothing more."

Hannibal wasn't sure about this analysis, for Judith Hobbs had personality enough to seek help for her grieving, had expressed a love and interest in her daughter that was clearly one sided, if Abigail was to be believed. He pulled out the black card he had been given that morning and placed it on the marble surface. "This man is a grief counsellor, who I met yesterday morning. He says your mother was a client of his, that she went to him after your grandmother died to help cope with the loss."

She peered at the name on the card, her tiny elfin features never changing. "I don't know the name. If she went, she never told Dad, or me."

She reached into the refrigerator again, this time for the orange juice. They were going through it on a daily basis, he would have to buy crates of it if this kept up. She opened the cupboard and pulled out a large tumbler, filling it to the brim with the juice. She took large gulps as she turned towards Hannibal. "Why are you telling me about him?"

"I was thinking, as a grief counsellor and someone who can relate to your family due to his familiarity with your mother, that he could be of some use to you. It wouldn't hurt to talk to him."

"No, I suppose it wouldn't," she said, and placed curious, tiny, slender fingers on the edge of the card as she pulled it towards herself.

"So it is fine with you if I ask him to come here for a small session with you."

"Sure."

One small victory. Hannibal reached out and pinched her chin, Abigail's healthy skin chillier than his own usually cool touch. "I will contact him tomorrow morning. Good night, Abigail."

"Good night, Da--Dr. Lecter."

A small well of unexpected feeling rose up in him at this near mistake, and he was in far better spirits when he went up the stairs and into the room he shared with Will. Abigail remained up, but he didn't admonish her for children her age were often night owls, their interests cloaked in the same subconscious velvet as their environment. She was a girl embroiled in shadows, it was only right that she revel in them. Still, he hoped she would be wakeful enough for the meeting with Cole Sear, that is if the grief counsellor had time in the morning for such an emergency appointment.

He slid off his vestments, watching Will's sleeping form all the while, his bed duly warmed by his near nude body. He slid down to his boxers carefully putting away his suit on specialized hangers for the purpose, and locking them away neatly beneath protective plastic covers. He evened out the spacing between them and firmly closed the closet doors, going so far as to use the small hook on the outside of it, gently locking it shut.

With even steps he made his way to his side of the bed and slid unobtrusively beneath the covers, the white duvet warmed by Will, whose presence was similar to having a human hot water bottle in the bed with him. He didn't mind it on these cold winter nights, but Hannibal had to wonder what the arrangement was going to be like in summer, when Will's hot, lithe body would cease to be as comforting. Still, as he stole kisses from the shoulder he had been longing to taste all night, he could concede that the positives of having such pleasant company in one's bed far outweighed all problems of temperature. He would simply turn up the air conditioning when the season dictated it.

"It's about time you came to bed," Will mumbled into his pillow. "Did Abigail eat something?"

"She cleaned out the refrigerator. I'm a bit concerned about this voracious appetite of hers, it's like she can never get full. She may need some testing..."

"They would have found it at the hospital, she's fine." Will groaned and turned onto his side, facing Hannibal. His eyes remained closed as he reached out for him, inching him into a closer embrace. He pressed his forehead against Hannibal's, their noses touching. "Has she given any more thought to college?"

"She doesn't want to go. She thinks everyone will recognize her as the daughter of a serial killer."

"That's not what that is, it's an excuse she's using." Will yawned, and Hannibal fleetingly touched his bottom lip with his fingertips, forcing a small kiss from Will. His limpid eyes opened slightly, and he stole Hannibal's mouth with far more amorous intent. He sank into its pleasing warmth, his body responding to the affection in a natural rhythm that instinctively sparked between them. Chest to chest, Hannibal's arm draped across Will's back, his hand moving lower to tease the band of his boxer briefs, fingers moving back and forth across it in teasing exploration.

"I don't think she's entirely wrong. It's a valid fear, and certainly one that is set to haunt her for the rest of her life. Interacting with others and letting them know the secret of her past is a burden that will be difficult. She will forever be in hiding." He slid his hand past the elastic waistband and palmed the rounded mount of Will's ass. Will sighed, his own touch busy as he impatiently began tugging at the silk of Hannibal's shorts, exposing the bounce of his erection beneath the soft fabric.

"Let's not talk about this right now," Will said, nipping at Hannibal's lower lip, Hannibal's tongue teasing as it darted out to greet him. He kissed his neck, and then his throat, sliding over Hannibal as he pressed his body against him, grinding his hips against him in tortuous circles. Kisses moved gently down the centre of Hannibal's chest as Will dove beneath the covers, disappearing into a being comprised of sensations. Hannibal closed his eyes as he felt Will devouring him, his breath catching as Will's expert tongue slid like moist velvet along his length, only to dive deep into his mouth, soft lips suckling and teasing the tip as he released him. Hannibal felt himself tensing into Will's powerful jaw, his hand tight on the back of his head, wanting to push him down and take his mouth with rough abandon. But Will was stubborn, languid. He pulled Hannibal's hands to one side, gripping his wrists and trapping them against his hips as he slowly moved his hot mouth over his cock.

For all his preening, Hannibal hadn't had many lovers. His sister had been the very model of promiscuity, going through love affairs like a lit fire, burning bright with them for a few weeks only to douse them in apathy as she openly searched for a new one. She was careless with hearts, and Hannibal had turned away more than one of her castoffs who he'd find weeping on their front step, offerings of jewellery and promises bringing no forgiveness from her disinterest.

For himself, lovers were few. In his youth his studies took precedence and when he wasn't studying he was babysitting Mischa's outbursts, an exhausting responsibility and one that often got in the way of potential partners. She did have a habit of theft. Her constant emotional intrusions into his life had left him guarded, his cold persona cloak a barrier that few were able to get through. He'd managed to have one fairly disastrous affair during his time at John Hopkins, with a married man no less, the memory of his touch cringeworthy to him now. Desperation does strange things to people.

Oh yes, Will's mouth was definitely finding all of those little places that made Hannibal's body sing in pleasure, and he couldn't stop the groan that left him, his pinned arms ending in hands that clutched at the folds in the sheet, his tendons tensed in hot searing want that pierced through them, ending in a rush of blood through his groin. His body bucked beneath Will's skillful mouth, and he wanted to ravage it, pummel himself in deep, heedless of how far he'd ram himself down Will's eager, swallowing throat. Instead he cursed as Will brought him over the edge and into release, spilling hard against his hot tongue. Will's released his wrists, his arms wrapping around Hannibal's tensed, quaking thighs as he finished him. Sheens of sweat dotted Will's chest as he slid back upwards, Hannibal's grip seeking his cock to bring him into his own release. Will kissed him, spilling his own salty seed into his mouth, the decadence of that flavour too much to bear as Will came hard against Hannibal's hand.

"Fuck...Baby..." Will collapsed against him, panting hard, his muscular body sliding to one side and his arm pulling Hannibal close. He buried his face in his neck. "Mm...love you..."

Hannibal kissed the centre of Will's forehead in tired bliss. "I'm admittedly partial to how you show it."

Will chuckled at this, his eyes remaining closed. Hannibal felt himself grow wistful as he brushed at Will's hair with his fingertips, not wanting this moment to end. These were his favourite, these late night, unexpected dalliances, where sex was easy and spontaneous, cementing Will's place in his life. It gave him a sense of pride, having him here, in his bed, his place within his soul natural and right. There was plenty of room for Will within his vast mind palace, and he placed him in prominence on every floor, a constant reminder of who he was and how much his influence continued to change him.

Thought forms and dreams were beginning to clutch at him and Hannibal drowsily allowed them in, his lips still pursed on Will's forehead. "What do you think of rabbit?" he asked. "I was thinking of it paired with a mustard sauce."

"You're doing it again." Will's voice was muffled between Hannibal's pillow and neck.

"Doing what?"

"Striking up a conversation after late night sex. The concept of rolling over and going to sleep is lost on you." Will groaned and buried his face further into the cave between Hannibal's shoulder and his pillow. His voice was barely audible. "You need to cancel that stupid dinner party."

"I can't do that, it was planned for months ago. There are friends of Mischa's coming, they would be very put out if I abruptly cancelled it, they would think I was being selfish with her memory."

"They should think you are in mourning and not in the mood to party."

"Mischa's crowd is not so perceptive." Hannibal sighed and rolled onto his back, Will's arm draped across his chest. He stroked it, liking the weight.

The truth was, he didn't want to have the dinner party either, the plans were made well before the entire incident with Garrett Jacob Hobbs and before Abigail had shown up on their doorstep, little suitcase and pocket full of problems in hand. But Mischa's friends and his own associates had latched onto the idea, considering it a wise, civilized way to celebrate her, a kind of culinary memorial that only Hannibal, of course, could pull off with the proper measure of respectful restraint.

"Many of these people have been links to obtaining clients, and it would be unwise of me to abruptly cancel, especially in view of my recent patient exodus thanks to Freddie Lounds. The dinner party will serve a dual purpose, first to assure the elite guests that I am not an emotional wreck who has descended into incompetence via my grief, and secondly to cow my current clients into returning to my practice, with full apologies over abandoning their therapies. I think this will be achieved. So what is your opinion? A mustard sauce? Or perhaps rabbit is a far too timid selection of meat, conjuring images of innocent, fluffy bunnies on a plate. Venison causes similar imagery. The poor cow, if it was prettier to look at we would all be vegetarians. I suppose pork is still an option."

Will's snoring was his answer and Hannibal lay on his back, contemplating colourful plates and arrangements of sliced, cured meats upon long platters, tasteful yet just slightly overdone presentation, the kind that made this sort of crowd salivate in wonder. The vegetable platter could always do with a few exotic insertions, some pickled lotus root to add texture and fried sheets of salted seaweed for dark contrast. As he thought on it, it became clear that neither beef, pork or chicken would do at all, this was definitely a seafood menu creeping to the fore, with fresh lobsters and butterflied shrimp on ice placed within the vast deep ocean colours of the platters. He could see himself there now, at the head of the table, his collection of carefully selected plates--black to complement a cream sauce--and platters piled high with alien Asian delights, the lotus roots, the marinated shiitake mushrooms, wakame, soy bean pods all alongside octopus and boiled baby squid, and black olives rolling up between them like slick, ocean washed pebbles. The silver gleamed in the crystal light that poured down from the ornate chandelier above the table, glittering jewels dotting the darkness of the depths upon his table. He could see shadows of the ocean's waves upon the settings and over the food. He clasped his hands in hopeful expectation.

She staggered into the main dining room on heels that were impossible for a runway model, her beige, sequined dress stained with spilled red wine down the front of it, pooling in a large splash between her breasts, which were dangerously close to falling out of the flimsy prison. The left strap holding the mess up had snapped, leaving torn threads behind. Her thick, bleached blonde hair hung to her shoulders in unwashed clumps, her black make up smudged almost as much as her ruby red lipstick that was smeared across her left cheek. She collapsed noisily in the chair closest to Hannibal, the stench of booze and expensive perfume a sickening mixture that made him retch. Mischa tossed her beaded purse onto the black plate in front of her, hard enough to set the cutlery clanging.

"Big brother, having a damned dinner party." She sneered as she unclasped her purse, drawing out a long cigarette that was mostly weed and lit it up. Her smeared lips puckered around it unevenly, she was too drunk to even smoke. "All because you can't tell them to go to Hell. You're such a fucking pussy."

"It's not something you need to worry about, Mischa," Hannibal curtly replied. "It's not like you're going to be there."

"Oh, I'm going to be there, don't you worry. I'm not letting those bastards who pretended to be my 'close friends' get away with crying over me and acting like I was their soul mate. Bunch of poseurs. Did any of them show up at my funeral? Or call me before I went into that fucking closet to ask if I was okay? Oh, they were too distraught, oh, they had too many of their own problems going on to notice...Whatever. They are losers, and you're catering to them. What does that make you?"

She blew smoke over his careful arrangements, the food withering beneath it. The edges of the pickled lotus root turned a sickly orange and then black. "It's not fair for you to judge me, Mischa, when you have plenty to be guilty of. Instead of talking to me, or anyone else for that matter, you made a rash decision based on your selfish rage. I am not responsible for your actions."

"Oh but you are, big brother." She spewed more poison over the food, turning it blue and black with mould and rot. "You can sit in your little cold shark cage all you want, but I'm under your skin, now. This stupid dinner party stunt won't get rid of me so easily. You're keeping it all together just fine, aren't you, bringing in the lover, playing a little game of house in my old bedroom." She grinned, showing off large, lipstick stained teeth, her accent drawling through her drunkenness. "Poor big brother, wanting to be normal so, so badly. Yeah, but you're slipping big brother. There's holes in your suits, the size of bullets. That's where all the crazy is starting to leak out. What are you going to do now, without me around, being the crazy one, being the unhinged artistic bitch? Look at you, all fancy and put together, you're Mr. Perfect. He's Doing Just Fine, Thanks."

Hannibal's cold person suit was fitting ill, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Mischa, please stop ruining the platters. They took me hours to create."

"What do I care of your hours, your days, your minutes when I have forever now and you can't stop me?" She leapt from her chair and stood on the table, her heels kicking off the carefully made platters and food, stomping all of his efforts into nothing. Blood dripped from her, the stain between her breast spreading in a wide butterfly, the hem of her slight dress dripping with blood as she fell to her knees and crawled towards her brother. Her face was twisted now, grey hued. Eyes that threatened to pop right out of their sockets, her tongue a choked blue knob of flesh stuck in her teeth. Her blood soaked hand reached for him and he leaned back, his chair falling hard onto the softness of his bed's mattress and she was hovering now, her grey face mocking his life, her blue tongue working but it was blocking her words, preventing her from spitting out more of her vicious poison...

Hannibal awoke with a shocked cry on his lips, and bolted upright in bed. He shakily brought his palms against his cheeks, testing their reality. Beside him, Will was happily snoring, deep in sleep. He tried to catch his breath in the darkness and found he couldn't.

The closet was open. His clothes were pushed to either side and the bare, empty space between them terrified him more than his nightmare. He leapt from the bed and slammed the doors shut, locking it secure. He crept back into bed and nestled close against Will's back, hoping some of his easy, sleepy bliss would dare to rub off on him and give him some peace.

~*~

Cole Sear was cheerful when Hannibal called him and as the sudden invitation to Hannibal's home didn't conflict with his morning schedule he was able to arrive for an early morning meeting with Abigail. Will had already left for Quantico and Hannibal had a morning cancellation, though at least his new afternoon client was still set to arrive. He promised Abigail he would remain with her for the initial first session.

"He's not going to be all head shrinky like you are, is he?" She made a face.

"If he does I'll be sure to tell him." Hannibal busied himself in his kitchen, the constant movement keeping him awake. They had finished a pot of coffee and he was ready to make a new one, and against his better judgement he made it as strong as Abigail usually did. She had been the one to make the first batch and its paint thinner aftertaste was a bitter reminder of why he didn't like it this dark, but the caffeine jolt was sorely needed. An espresso or three would not be out of the question.

"Two eggs or three for your omelette?" he asked her as she slid onto the stool, her long black hair cascading down the length of her back. She was bubbly this morning. Cheery.

"Four. And three slices of toast. And are you making bacon?"

"Your appetite certainly has no limits." He got to work getting it ready for her, whipping the eggs until the whites were fully absorbed, the list of inner ingredients growing with every pull of the refrigerator door. He kept busy so she couldn't see how tired he was. He smiled and half listened to her idle chatter about a group of friends she had made, ones who knew the city well and were eager to show her all the sights. He wasn't sure they were optimal, they seemed oddly free with their time, but Hannibal couldn't quite get what she was telling him about them, her words garbling into his exhaustion as he rolled the omelette out of the pan and onto a plate, buttered her toast and finished crisping her bacon.

"Elise wants me to go into town with her later, but Anna thinks we should just hang at the bookstore down the street. She's always such a killjoy, Lori even says so..."

The front doorbell rang and Hannibal quickly turned off the stove and tossed all of his dishes into the soapy water in his sink, to wash later. His movements felt outside of himself as he made his way past Abigail, who was already nearly finished, her bites large and eager, as though she was starving. There was a latent nagging in his consciousness about Abigail's new friends, but he ignored it, chalking it up to lack of sleep. He opened the front door with what felt like a monumental effort, and plastered on a smile that he hoped wasn't too false.

He may have failed in that regard, for the casual young man on his doorstep gave Hannibal a very pointed once over and said, "Wow, I can see someone had a late night." Cole Sear grimaced and held out his hand. "Sorry. I should probably say hello before shooting out observations like that."

Hannibal shook his hand, drawing him inside the house. "Is it really so obvious?"

"If your eyes were any blacker you'd have to be a boxer."

Hannibal found his frankness amusing. "Please, come into my study. I have coffee if you would like one. How do you take it?"

"Black, two sugars."

He left Cole Sear wandering in his study, the man's hands casual in the pockets of his dress pants, his gaze cheerfully taking in the various tomes Hannibal had lined his small home library with. He was surprised to see him take up a large art book that housed the dark visions of Goya within it, and he was still turning the pages in deep concentration as Hannibal arrived in the study, coffee mugs in hand. Sear left the book open, the selection he'd been studying a gruesome one. Saturn, devouring a soul.

Sear took the coffee with a grateful nod. "Thanks. This is a beautiful house, have you lived here long?"

"For the past fifteen years," Hannibal said, and couldn't keep the note of pride from his voice. He could feel Mischa's words slipping inside of his skull, little rotting barbs over how the house was too big, the rooms too cold, what family was he going to bring into something as gothic and horrible as this? And yet, she'd been happily creative here, had entertained guests and had brought her artistic efforts into maturity. She had that habit. She was often unfair. "It is admittedly an old house with the usual structural problems. There was quite an issue with the wiring as of late, one that I've been having with my office as well. As you know it's also in an older building." Hannibal smiled and sat in the comfortable oak chair behind his desk, the light from the wide windows streaming in behind him. "I guess one could say I prefer certain classical styles."

"You have an interesting accent," Sear said, nodding over his coffee. "Is it Lithuanian?"

"I'm shocked you would recognize it. Most people misinterpret it as Russian."

"I meet a lot of people. I make it my job to know everything about them." Sear closed the book on Goya and turned towards Hannibal. "I know you lost your sister recently. From what I could gather from the article, you were fairly close, though it's clear living with her must have been quite the challenge."

"I have always been her charge," Hannibal said, surprised he'd committed that usual sin of those who had recently suffered loss and placed her in present tense. "Mischa was a person of many talents but she was temperamental. Prone to severe mood swings. There are any number of mental disorders she could have had, bipolar being one of them. When she was happy, she was very, very happy and when she was sad..." Hannibal trailed off, not comfortable with where the conversation was going. "I'll get Abigail."

"I'll get myself."

Abigail stood in the doorway of the study, her head cocked to one side as she took in Cole Sear. He remained in a good mood, smiling warmly at her, though the feeling was clearly not returned. Abigail stepped around him as though she was aiming to strike him, a fiercely defensive position Hannibal found strange. "So, you knew my mom."

"Judith Hobbs, yes. She came to me after her mother died." They remained standing, seeming to assess one another, though of the two Cole was the one most at ease. His hands were loose in his pockets, his shoulders pushed back. "She talked about you quite a bit."

"My mother's first name is Louise," Abigail said, and Hannibal went on alert at this, eyeing Cole Sear and wondering if he had seriously misjudged the man and he was one of Freddie Lounds' spies after all.

"She preferred her second name, Judith," Cole said.

Abigail gave him a tense smile. "I know. But my dad always called her Louise. I think that tells you a lot about my family right there." She cast a long glance over her shoulder at Hannibal seated at this desk, her blue eyes shining with more ice than mirth. "You don't have to stay."

"I would prefer if you did, Dr Lecter," Cole Sear quickly said.

"I suppose you think I'm upset about the death of my father, and of my mother," Abigail continued, her voice clipped. "I am. He was a monster and my mom, she didn't even hardly exist. None of that is normal. So how am I supposed to grieve them? Do you have a pamphlet that helps with that? People like you always do."

Hannibal was shocked by her sudden aggression. "Abigail, Mr. Sear is here to help you. There is no reason to be rude."

"I was just asking," she said, unapologetic. She turned on Sear once again. "I get that you think you can help, but I know you can't. You don't know about monsters. If I grieve him, I grieve a monster. Grieving a monster means I understand part of that, there's some of that monster inside of me, too. If I grieve my mother, I'm putting myself in her place and becoming nothing. I might become a monster, it's true. I don't want to be nothing."

"Abigail," Hannibal patiently interjected, "you are not your father."

She gave Hannibal a warm smile and bounded over to him, giving him a sweet hug before kissing him lightly and playfully on the temple and near bouncing out of the study. "I'm busy today. Nice meeting you Mr. Sear. I don't think I'll be needing your help. Sorry."

Sear narrowed his eyes at her departure. "You're going out with friends?"

"Yes. A group of us girls, all going out for ice cream, maybe heading to the bookstore afterwards, which is lame. Anna...Such a killjoy." She closed the door to the study behind her, leaving Hannibal and Sear alone in the room. There was a pointed silence at her absence, with Hannibal left unsure of how to best deal with it.

"I've read up on the case," Cole Sear quietly said to him. He turned back to the book on Goya, thumbing through it as he spoke, his back to Hannibal. "There's speculation she may have helped her father choose victims. That she may have been bait."

"Unsubstantiated rumours."

"But she is afraid of becoming a monster." Cole Sear sighed and turned towards Hannibal, a sadness in his bright, small eyes that wasn't supposed to be there. "I don't want to have to tell you this, but after meeting her like this, I have no choice. Judith was worried about Abigail. She felt she was apathetic at times, too compliant with her father and too much in sync with what he did, all the hunting and the butchery. They were a team that she wasn't a part of."

Hannibal bristled at this, and though a part of him wanted throw Cole Sear over his front steps and out on his ass, Hannibal also had to concede that the information the man was giving him was invaluable. Still, his stance had to be expressed. "Abigail is not a monster."

Cole Sear ran his fingers over Goya's Saturn, the black rendition taking on a renewed significance. "I wouldn't be so sure, Dr. Lecter." Then, noting the stark silence of the man behind the desk, the barely contained calm rage emanating from him, Cole gave Hannibal a polite nod. "Don't get up. I'll see myself out."

~*~

Will Graham's head is in a vice and no amount of aspirin is going to cure the pain shooting through it in drilling fury. He'd tried Tylenol to no avail, Advil, Motrin, every other possible over the counter painkiller known to man and nothing alleviated the ache that sometimes made his eyes water and his mouth clench in agony. The only cure was an inexplicable one, for the second he walked in the door of Hannibal's stately home, the headaches and fevers miraculously disappeared.

He hadn't mentioned the phenomenon to Hannibal because he was sure, now, that his headaches were psychological and the last thing he wanted was for Hannibal to start picking apart his brain in expert analysis. He'd had enough of that in his life, and the latent terror of ending up on the wrong side of crazy was too much of a threat to not protect himself from it. Besides, Hannibal himself was suffering enough, his tired face becoming more haggard as the days wore on, his own grief plastered in the obvious hollow crevices beneath his eyes, turning him into a skull's shadow.

He popped another dry aspirin and swallowed it down with difficulty as he pulled into the long driveway leading back into Wolf Trap, his home in Virginia. He'd had to check on his dogs. They bounded out the back flap and came running towards the car and he had to slow down his speed. Buster, his jack russel, was terrible for nipping at the tires. He pulled up close to the front porch, the car sliding slightly on the layer of ice and snow that had accumulated overnight.

The cold air felt good as it circulated around his head and he turned off the engine and slid out of his car. The crispness of the air was a welcome balm to his lungs, a large measure of stress leaving him as he slowly made his way up the snow strewn porch and through the front door. The fireplace was cold, but the furnace was pumping full blast, a stale heat permeating the small house that smelled like pine and wet dog. Hannibal wasn't exactly a fan of the place, but he enjoyed coming here on weekends with Will, his own home doing little to give him a sense of peace. Pieces of him were in evidence throughout the house, their union officially past the three week mark. An expensive scarf carelessly forgotten on the hook near the front door. Metal Tupperware containers cleaned and lining the counter in the kitchen. Dress shirts hanging in Will's closet in his bedroom upstairs. Toothbrush, shaver, his own brand of shampoo in the bathroom across from it. Small items meticulously put in place to put his own stamp of himself upon Will's life, a shy, endearing intrusion.

In a way it was a symptom of how they had come together, and Will cast a glance outside of his front window to his car and the dogs sniffing around its tires. It was the first night after their visit with Abigail in the hospital, her body freshly shattered and clinging to life. Hannibal had driven Will home in his roomy Bentley, the trip spent in a tense silence that spoke of all the tragedy they had witnessed together for the past forty-eight hours. Will's hands were still shaking, a murderer's hands. He had shot a man in cold blood five times. He had spread his fingers wide across Abigail's neck, trying to stem the flow of her lifeblood. Hannibal had joined him, baptized in that same gory river.

He'd parked the Bentley and turned off the engine. The night crisp like this afternoon was, sheathed in the promise of snow. The dogs hadn't barked, they hadn't bounded out of the house to inspect this new car. Black noses pressed lazily against the front window and when they saw it was just Will his pack tucked down into pillows to go back to sleep.

Hannibal had turned to him, eyes shining black in the moonlight that streamed into the wide windshield. "Are you sure you will be all right, Will?"

He wasn't 'all right'. He definitely wasn't. But he smiled and shakily nodded and tried not to let Hannibal's eyes connect too much with his own because the hurt and pain lurking within them was still so fresh it smarted the back of Will's head as though he'd been struck. "Yeah, I'm...I'll be okay."

"I will be here first thing tomorrow morning," Hannibal told him. "I will bring breakfast. I make a very good protein scramble."

Hannibal was full of these odd little kindnesses, even early on. He wasn't sure when the attraction had started, they were both so distracted by the case, by its bloody conclusion and Will's killing trigger finger that they hadn't paid attention to the signs. So when Hannibal placed his warm hand on Will's shoulder and bid him an equally comfortable "Good night, Will", it had been the most natural thing in the world to lean forward and kiss him on the lips.

He smiled even now at how that had left Hannibal speechless. So he'd created his own conversation, placing another kiss on those half parted, expectant lips, and then another. He liked the way Hannibal's eyes closed as he kept it up, sinking into the sensation as though Will were the finest morsel he'd ever put into his mouth.

He'd kissed him as he got out of the car. Kissed him on the way through the living room. Kissed him up the stairs, unbuttoning his shirt and sliding it off of his arms. Kissed him as he led him towards the small, unmade bed, where so many more flavours of flesh awaited.

Will pressed his fingers hard against his forehead, the pressure severe enough to make him nauseous. The dogs had the right idea, he needed more fresh air. He opened the front door to his home wide, allowing the cold in, his head aching to be frozen. He closed his eyes, grateful for the strong breeze.

"You need to see."

Will's eyes shot open, and there, sitting in a ratty chair he'd been meaning to throw out, was the pale grey form of Garrett Jacob Hobbs. He grinned at Will, his lips spilling blood that blackly hit the thin layer of snow at his feet. "She's *my* daughter, not yours. Neither of you know anything, not yet. But you will. You'll see."

Will was frozen to the spot, his body shaking in terror as Garrett Jacob Hobbs stood up and, with a clenched fist, punched it through the front window, shattering it with the force of heavy dead flesh and cracking bones. Will's terror was broken by the sudden yelp of Buster, and he forced his feet to move, to step away from the grinning horror of Garrett Jacob Hobbs' pale white face and the bullet holes leaking his guts and shards of exploded bone onto his front porch. He backed slowly into his house and saw Buster, limping, a piece of glass stuck in his front paw.

"Hey...Buster...Hey, buddy...Let me see that..." Shivering, Will glanced up, wary of another blow, but Hobbs was gone, only wind and snow remaining. Buster's bleeding paw was in Will's lap and he whelped when Will picked the piece of glass out. Will couldn't stop his heart from hammering hard enough to crack ribs.

Garrett Jacob Hobbs was dead and he had just threatened Will Graham, his murderer. He'd even injured Will's dog, just in case he needed a clearer message.

He pressed his face into Buster's flank, tears spilling. He was going crazy. He was losing his mind, just as he always feared he was going to, and Hannibal was right now too far away to put his pieces back together.

"Hannibal..." Will whispered to the cold air curling tight around him. He managed to dig out his cell phone and press his number, his hands shaking so badly he nearly dropped it twice. It rang once. Twice. Three times...

"Will."

"I'm at Wolf Trap. Come and get me. Right now." Just the sound of his name from the man was enough. Will closed his eyes and forced his breath into a calm he couldn't feel. He wasn't able to stop the choked sob that escaped him next, and though it wasn't the real source of his panic, the poor dog made a good excuse. "Buster is hurt."

"I will be there right away," Hannibal assured him. Will could hear him already at the cloak closet, hangers banging against each other as he slid his arms through his fashionable coat, the front door slammed behind him. "Is there anything I need to pick up on the way? I have a first aid kit ready, which should suffice. How badly is he hurt?"

"It's his paw. There was glass.."

"Keep him calm, and try not to be too upset, dogs are very perceptive creatures and he could injure himself further. I am on my way." He was hesitant to leave it at this, and Hannibal made a small clucking noise at the back of his throat, one Will had learned was a sound he made when hearing a perceived half truth. "Is there anything else, dear Will? Did something happen?"

I lost my mind and a dead man just threatened me.

"It was..." Will closed his eyes and tried to bring himself in a false sense of calm, the truth too strange for Hannibal to hear. "The front window was smashed in. Nothing is stolen."

"Should we inform the police?"

"No. There's no point giving Freddie Lounds more to write about. Just get here, okay?"

Hannibal paused a long moment, reluctant to leave the conversation.

"I will be there as soon as I can."

Chapter Text

 

Buster was not happy to be in Hannibal's home. He growled as Abigail walked into the study, his bandaged paw held up in a pitiful wave at Will as he followed in behind her and gave the usually rambunctious jack russell a quick scratch behind the ears. He was currently curled up beside Hannibal and refused to leave his side, regardless of the fact the man wasn't partial to either dog hair or his tail wagging company. Hannibal sat primly on the comfortable couch, his suit impeccable, the iPad opened in front of him as he perused the latest Tattle Crime articles, their contents not at all pleasing him.

"Your dog doesn't like me," Abigail said to Will, who gave Buster a reproachful look. "He snapped at me earlier."

"Buster can be a bit...Discerning." He tried to scoot the dog up into his arms, but Buster had no intention of leaving Hannibal, who distractedly petted him with a quick finger scratch behind his head, a touch that sent the little dog into happy, back rolling hysterics, deftly avoiding Will's attempt to pick him up. "And fickle. I've been replaced."

"It's simply because I bandaged his paw, he doesn't see me as a threat." Hannibal's bottom jaw worked back and forth as he continued reading. "We are the subject of ridicule yet again. It seems some of your students have been fairly vocal about your obsession with the Garrett Jacob Hobbs case and have been chatting with Ms. Lounds about your tunnel vision. She is accusing you of ignoring new cases that should be taking the FBI's focus, and is suggesting this fixation is based on your newfound need to kill. She's quite a fiction writer, this woman."

Will rolled his eyes. He turned towards Abigail. "How was your grief counselling session this morning?"

"Stupid," she said. She tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder and left the study, heading up the stairs to her room. "Call me when dinner's ready!" she shouted from the top.

Will waited until she was well out of earshot before turning back to Hannibal, his steps taking him deeper into the study as he closed the door behind him. The sun was setting into a purple bruise, bathing the room in softer tones of shadowy greys and blues. "You've been awfully quiet since we got back."

"I'm curious as to why you need to lie to me." Hannibal tore his gaze away from the iPad in his hands to fix Will's shock into his sights. "How was the window broken? I saw no rock, no brick..."

"They could have just used a crowbar, or a sledgehammer or..."

"And stopped their vandalism only at your window? Unlikely. Buster was not in severe distress, the injury is nothing that you haven't encountered during walks in the woods with him, in fact he had a far worse incident last year when you told me he attacked a bees' nest. My dear Will, I don't like being lied to."

Will groaned and sank onto the couch beside Hannibal. His headache was gone, as was his nausea, but the lingering feelings of fear remained as he cast sidelong glances at Hannibal, wondering how best to tell him what had really happened. He should have known better than to try and lie to him, for even with the amount of empathy Will broiled himself in every day, Hannibal's sister Mischa had been the priestess of lies and had made her highly perceptive brother especially astute at ferreting them out.

"I saw Garrett Jacob Hobbs." There. It was out. One stop before crazy town. One used ticket.

Hannibal licked his lips and chewed his bottom lip slightly at this, his dark maroon gaze narrowed on Will's discomfort. "That must have been a disturbing hallucination."

Will's head shook as he thought on it, and he avoided Hannibal's sharp gaze, the scrutiny terribly uncomfortable, as the man well knew it was. "Hobbs broke the window."

"Impossible."

"I'm telling you what happened. It's not my fault if you don't want to believe me."

"This has nothing to do with belief, Will, you are expecting me to deny the very laws of physics. Garrett Jacob Hobbs did not break your window or injure your dog, what you experienced was nothing more than hallucination." Hannibal's voice was clipped as he spoke, the admonishment within his words clear. "You should have told me you were having these experiences."

Will instantly went on the defensive, his fears creeping along his spine in emotional hackles that he was keen to use for attack. "Just because I saw him doesn't mean I'm going crazy, it's probably just stress."

"I'm quite impressed with your self analysis, Will. No doubt stress was what broke your window as well."

Will could feel his mouth twisting into a growling sneer. "Oh no, you don't get to do this. You are *not* playing this stupid game of doctor and patient and putting me in that chair again! I am not crazy, I had a bad day and it grew into a waking nightmare about Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and that's all that happened!" Will could feel his head shaking, the argument already clearly laid out in his mind, for no way was he letting Hannibal in on his worst fears, to wander around in his darkened mind corridors, picking at the scraps of what he thought was the problem. He had a lot of anger still residing within himself over Hobbs, so many conflicting emotions, all of them poised to strike and bite and the last thing he wanted was to wound Hannibal further.

"I am not capable of helping you, Will, if you are not going to be honest with me. I drove for two hours, well past the speed limit, convinced you were lying in a puddle of blood with a severely injured dog. That was an exceptionally cruel subterfuge." Hannibal lightly drummed the tips of his fingers on the top of Buster's head, the dog smiling widely, tail thumping loud on the cushions.

Will raised a brow at this, and gently inclined his head towards Hannibal, who refused to look at him. "You were worried."

"I had the situation completely in my control."

"You sped down a highway, and you just admonished me because you were *worried*." Will impatiently took the iPad out of his hands, pressing the button in the corner and effectively turning the small screen off. "You keep reading Tattle Crime because you are *worried*. You got a grief counsellor for Abigail, who she doesn't seem too keen on, because you were *worried*." Will sighed, and placed a hand on Hannibal's shoulder, hating the way the man flinched at the touch, as though poking about his little insecurities was the same as a punch. "I'm a grown man and I know my mind. It was a momentary lapse, not something to get so worked up about. You don't have to be concerned, I'm fine. As for Abigail...She'll be fine too."

He leaned closer, edging Buster off of the couch, which the dog did with growling disdain,his short legs padding across the carpet, where he turned in a circle three times before lying down in begrudging dismay. Will draped an arm around Hannibal's stiff shoulders, forcing his cold exterior to slip as he slightly sank against Will's embrace. "Whatever crazy I have, it's not something I can't handle. I can manage this."

"I can't help you if you won't let me, Will."

"That's not what this is about, and you already do. This...thing...What happens to me sometimes, these hallucinations, impressions...It's not like what you're used to. I'm not your sister."

Hannibal shivered, and Will could practically hear the gate of his shark cage clanging closed. "I think it would be a good idea for you to come to my office tomorrow afternoon. For a therapy session."

"That's a terrible idea," Will said, shaking his head. "Hannibal, we are in a complex, emotional relationship, and while you are an exceptional psychiatrist, I promise you, it will be a disaster. I know you too intimately, if you start prodding too deep my empathy will kick in and you will be the one left on the ground bleeding, not me."

"I am perfectly capable of compartmentalizing my personal and professional lives, Will."

Sure, Will thought. You're doing one hell of a bang up job of that lately.

Will could feel the tension in Hannibal's shoulders, not to mention the drawn exhaustion that plagued his features, his eyes ringed in dark shadows that had every manner of nightmare to blame. Will always pretended he didn't know, but it was difficult not to be shaken awake by Hannibal's choked cries, a strange noise that would creep out of his dreams and eke through his throat in clicking, gasping breaths. The source of them would slip out and Will would hear him whispering, over and over, the pillow absorbing his torment. "Mischa...Why...Mischa..."

"You are to be in my office tomorrow at two o'clock. No excuses." Hannibal rose from the couch, Buster following close on his heels as he left the study, his head held high and his posture stiff.

"Hannibal...."

"Order something in for Abigail. I don't have much of an appetite."

There was clearly nothing else to be said on the matter and Will silently watched him go, unsure of what he could possibly say to make the tension between them ebb. It wasn't selfishness that made Will cling to his claim of sanity so much as the knowledge that his own madness was, for Hannibal, a sadly familiar territory. He didn't want to have to be managed, to be placed into that vault where all of Mischa's histrionics had once festered, where every day was another endless plod through her emotional mine field. Hannibal couldn't see through his grief at the picture Will was able to envision, his empathy breaking through the cold persona and knowing the relief her death had brought, and the horror Hannibal felt at feeling it.

Will closed his eyes as he sat on the couch and rested his head on the back cushion, the room descending into a navy blue darkness. He could hear Hannibal gently admonishing Buster, telling the feisty, happy little dog to get off the bed. He smiled at this. At least there were some conflicts that were still innocent.

He could feel her before he saw her, for she always brought an odd chill to a room, no matter how bright her blue eyes looked on him or how warmly she fashioned her smile. Will rubbed his eyes open with the heels of his hands and turned his head to the doorway of the study, where Abigail stood. Her hands were clenched into tight fists and big, baby blues were glassy with unshed tears. Her silent distress made Will sit up on the couch in tense expectation, a sick feeling welling within his gut as she glanced over her shoulder to make sure Hannibal wasn't coming back down the stairs. She closed the study door behind her.

"Abigail? What's wrong?" Will watched in confusion as her pretty, elfin face crumbled into tears, her mouth twisted into a terrified grimace. She hurried to the couch and dove into his arms, her face buried against his chest as she heaved dark, heavy sobs.

"Abigail?"

"You saw my dad?"

Will frowned at this, and she shook her head as he placed her face in his hands, his palms smoothing over her soft, yet slightly frizzy near black hair. "It was a hallucination," he assured her, but this only made her choke more.

"He's coming after me," she said. She shook her head, her blue eyes wild with ocean waves of monstrous terror within them. "He's going to get me, and he wants me to be just like him. He wants my soul. He wants me to be a monster."

He held her shuddering body close, his palm smoothing down the wild, tangled ropes of her hair, easing the terror that had gripped her. "So you were listening in?"

"Yes. I heard everything. The heat vents near my window in my room are directly above us. I still had to press my ear to the floor, and I'm sorry, I know it was wrong, but when I heard you mention my father..." She swallowed back her sobs and tried to bring her breathing back into a normal rhythm, Will's strong arms around her a protective barrier against her own fears. "He's coming for me, and he'll hurt you to do it."

Will was calm and patient. "As was said before, he was a hallucination. I'm...I'm having a bit of trouble letting go of your father's case, that's all. It was traumatic, what happened, and I'm not coping with the fact that I took him from you very well. If you had your ear pressed against the vent, you also know that Hannibal wants me to resume therapy with him."

"You said it's a bad idea."

"It is. I could probably use therapy, I'm not going to say I'm entirely against the idea, but I don't think I should be having therapy with *him*. But, as you know, our wonderful Dr. Lecter is a world renowned psychiatrist and knows all. He is omniscient and all powerful. He is the great Oz. He absolutely does not need to listen to the reasoning of his obviously insane patient."

Abigail leaned up and hastily dried her tears. She sniffed and gave Will a self conscious, but impish, smile. Bravery comes in all forms, Will thought. In her case, the smooth easing of her fears with fake feelings of calm. The fact she felt a need to do this made Will sad.

"Buster is in love with him."

"He's gone darkside, yes."

Abigail gave him a far more settled smile, though Will could still see the lingering storm of her terror in her blue eyes, a rolling ocean of pain that would never properly settle. She kissed him in fake happiness on his cheek and bounded off of the couch, her energy absorbed in the darkness of the room. Will found he had barely enough strength to move his head to watch her as she left, the sounds of her steps up the stairs echoing long within the far too large house. He rested his head back on the cushion, thankful for the pain in it to be gone. He closed his eyes and within moments he was asleep.

~*~

At some point during the night he had gone to bed, but it had not been of his own volition. Hannibal, in his usual restless state had found him in the study, snoring and curled against the cushions at an awkward angle. Will still had the kink in his neck, and when he rolled his head he could feel his vertebrae click angrily into place. The alarm was buzzing and Will tried to nudge Hannibal awake to shut it up, the unpleasant noise already matching his mood. He sighed as Hannibal slept through it, even though it was on his side of the bed. Will had to reach over the outstretched body of Buster, who had nestled firm between them on his back, his paws splayed out like his sleepy people, and then over the shoulder of Hannibal, who was curled tightly onto his side. He couldn't quite reach the alarm and as he slapped his hand down on it, expecting it to go into silence, he knocked the damn thing on the floor instead.

Buster growled and yipped at him, nuzzling hard against Hannibal's back as Will tossed off the covers and crawled out of bed. He stood in front of Hannibal as he picked the alarm off the floor and, finally, shut the annoying thing off.

To Will's annoyance, the noise was instantly replaced by the buzzing of his cell phone, alerting him he had a new text message. He grabbed his pants where he had left them on the chair near the bed and fished through the pockets until he found the source. He slid open the screen with a swipe of his finger, and the phone was placated into silence. One text. Jack Crawford.

'I want to see the two of you in my office this morning. Immediately.'

Hannibal slowly opened his eyes as Will brought the lit screen down and into his line of vision. "Jack isn't happy."

"Make sure he has an invite to the dinner party on Friday," Hannibal mumbled.

"You can hand him your embossed invitation yourself. He wants a meeting with both of us this morning."

Hannibal groaned and stumbled out of the bed, his posture bent as he reached towards the wardrobe, which was open. He frowned at it, and then at Will, as though he'd committed some great atrocity that couldn't be formed into words. "Why are you always going into my closet?"

Will had no strength left to argue. He grabbed what he'd worn yesterday and hurriedly slid it on, dog hair and sweat be damned. Hannibal was performing his usual meticulous routine, his hands slowly picking through his suits, a languid halt to his usually graceful movements. Will frowned as he watched him, wondering how he could be so tired after getting what, it had seemed to him, a full night's sleep.

"Are you feeling okay?" Will asked, and Hannibal didn't answer. He headed for the ensuite to shower and Will hoped it would bring him into a proper wakefulness. He needed Hannibal to be strong in front of Jack.

~*~

Jack Crawford was not at all a happy man. He pointed to the computer screen, at the latest Tattle Crime article, where an image of Dr. Lecter picking up his dry cleaning and getting an innocent kiss from Will Graham was splashed in bold, full colour just below the site's banner. "These articles started ramping up again a week ago. Is this true? Are the two of you in a relationship?"

Will felt sick at the black and white words spread wide across the computer screen. "Illicit Love Affair--Killer Will Graham Takes His Psychiatrist To Bed." Hannibal's stoic silence was an entity all of its own as he kept his coat neatly folded in his lap, as though poised to leave at any moment. The man wasn't showing it, but Will knew he was suffering deeply, that he valued his privacy above all else, and Freddie Lounds had violated that in a profoundly unpleasant way. Will caught a few snippets of the article in the tense moments after Jack's question, and was shocked at the audacious cruelty of it: '...Dr. Hannibal Lecter, by courting his patient, has breached ethical law and could lose his license...Will Graham, an unstable killer and Dr. Lecter's lover...Less than a year after his sister's suicide, Dr. Lecter invites even more insanity into his home, where Will Graham is reputed to be living. Considering this picture, it's highly unlikely he's sleeping on the couch...'

Will pinched the bridge of his nose, the hammering in his skull beginning its constant climb along his brain, a pulsing , maddening ache that made him nauseous. He clenched his eyes shut and opened them again, the room barely in focus. Beside him, sitting with cold precision, Hannibal's silence was punctuated by hollowed cheeks and dark circles, his gaze black as it slid across the screen and settled somewhere on the middle of Jack's desk. Will desperately longed to comfort him, but the man kept too many doors tightly closed. He realized Hannibal had no doubt already read the article that morning, while Will was slowly sipping coffee and chatting with Abigail about her plans for the day. He'd had the iPad in the kitchen.

"Will Graham and I have been in an emotional and sexual relationship for the past three weeks," Hannibal suddenly said, his frank speech and firm jaw daring Jack to challenge him.

Jack turned on Will. "And you didn't tell me."

"It wasn't any of your business," Will said.

"It damned well is!" Jack pounded a clenched fist onto the surface of his desk, sending the thin computer screen wobbling. He pointed an accusing, meaty finger at Hannibal. "When I told you to keep an eye on him I didn't mean that close! Dammit, that bitch is right, you could lose your license over this!"

"Will has never been my patient. We have simply had conversations, between friends." Hannibal pulled his coat tighter towards himself and crossed his legs. "Will and I are resuming those conversations, in fact. This afternoon."

Jack was not a man whose patience should be tested, and it was clear to Will that Hannibal was doing just that with his obtuse excuses, and then to dare to tell Jack that what had led to temptation was now being indulged again. Jack steepled his fingers, pressing them hard against the base of his chin. "Have either of you seen what you look like? Honestly, Will, I've never seen a man so pale and sweaty, and you, Hannibal...Do you sleep at all? You've got the blackest eyes, like you've been doing the rounds in the ring."

Hannibal shifted where he sat. "You aren't the first to make that observation, so yes, I'm aware. This has been a very stressful month, Jack, one which has been taxing on Will and I in ways you cannot fathom. As we find comfort in each other's company, I refuse to deny that for us. I care very deeply for Will. I believe he feels the same about me. I would expect more support in that regard, especially considering the slandering evil Freddie Lounds subjects us to every day."

Jack let out a low growl that spoke volumes of his frustration. "Look, the point is, I can't have my agent being a mess in front of his students and I can't have his psychiatrist in an even bigger mess in front of the camera. This is about keeping our department out of the news, and keeping my best weapons finely tuned. Will, I am ordering you to go on leave. I don't want you teaching, I don't want you in this building, not until you can start doing lectures about more than Garret Jacob Hobbs. As for you, Dr. Lecter." Jack let out a long, suffering sigh. "Just go home and get some goddamned sleep."

~*~
The heated air wasn't circulating properly in Hannibal's office, and Will opened a window, allowing in the busy sounds of Baltimore into the opulent space. Being forced on leave by Jack had unsettled Will and Hannibal was quick to medicate the issue with a healthy dose of brandy for them both. Will lightly swirled the amber liquid in the glass, staring into its tiny whirlpool. Hannibal sat in his usual chair, delicately sipping at it, while Will stood off to the side, his head so sore he wished he could pierce it with Hannibal's antique letter opener just to relieve the pressure. He dug his bottle of aspirin out of his jacket pocket and downed a couple of the chalky pills with his brandy.

"A forced vacation is not so terrible an ordeal to suffer," Hannibal said, watching as Will swallowed down the pills. He was impatient with Will's pacing and gestured at the chair opposite him. "Please, dear Will, sit down."

"I'm comfortable by the window." Will sipped his brandy and kept his back to Hannibal. "I find it really amazing how you can find a silver lining in this whole thing. You do realize this marks me for good, right? The FBI won't be asking me to do field work ever again, I'm stuck in classrooms and behind a desk for the rest of my career."

"You hated going out in the field," Hannibal reminded him. "Considering the trauma of what happened, it's unlikely you will ever be able to be so intimately involved in another case and still not be affected by the death of Garrett Jacob Hobbs."

"You make a lot of assumptions about what I can and can't cope with, Hannibal." Will sipped his brandy and pulled the dark curtains closed, the sunny afternoon hurting his head. "This is more about you than me. You don't want me out there."

"Not if you are hallucinating the presence of dead serial killers, no, I would not deem it advisable."

Will wandered through Hannibal's large office, taking in the various items and the careful arrangement of all books and papers that were scattered throughout the space. Hannibal's sketches were in evidence on a wide desk near the opposite end of the office, works that showed Hannibal was an artist in his own right. There was one of Abigail, looking oddly fragile, with a wispy innocence that Will was sure was more Hannibal's paternal imagining than reality. There was a more graphic study of Will's body, his physical form likewise idealized. Mischa's strange, gothic war torn sculptures/paintings were large and imposing on the opposite wall, dwarfing Hannibal's charcoal efforts. Will took a gulp of brandy and leaned against the ladder that led up to the second floor balcony, resting the back of his aching head against the cool rungs.

"Jack is right, you do look ill, Will." Hannibal left his seat and approached Will, his palm sliding across his cheek and along his forehead, his touch so blissfully cold Will couldn't help but sigh into it. "You have a high fever."

Will finished his brandy and placed it on a nearby shelf where it shared space with the carved, white head of a stag, antlers crawling upwards from it like random shards of ice. Hannibal wasn't looking so great himself, his body tense, his expression concerned, his outward appearance overly perfect, belying to Will's finely tuned perceptions a degree of uncertainty. It wasn't vanity this time that made him dress up in far more peacock pomp than usual, the geometric precision of his hair parted and slicked so sharply one could cut oneself on it. This was Hannibal's desperate, naked need for control. Will reached out and slid his thumb along the dark hollow beneath Hannibal's eye, tracing the pad affectionately over the prominent cheek bone. "Jack's right about a lot of things, Baby. You're so tired."

It didn't take much to pull Hannibal closer, a small nudge of Will's palm against the back of his neck. Hannibal still held his glass of brandy between them, a highly ineffectual barrier and one Will deftly took away, placing the glass beside his own. Hannibal licked his lips, his hips instinctively swaying against Will's as he pressed harder against him and found evidence of Will's desire. Will was pressed against the ladder, a rung uncomfortably digging into the small of his back, but no matter. It was no effort at all to press his lips against Hannibal's and taste the last remnants of brandy on his tongue, the pleasant sigh of his body as he sank against Will a heady erotic jolt. Will dove his hands into the perfection of Hannibal's hair, messing the silken locks on purpose. His tongue dove deeper, in needful exploratory want.

Hannibal reluctantly pulled away. "This is not why you are here. This time is meant for therapy, not lovemaking."

"If you want me to talk about my feelings, Dr. Lecter, I think that's going to be a little difficult when all I can think about is fucking you." Will forced a far more passionate kiss on him, liking the way the man melted into it, his resolve near forgotten.

Hannibal pulled away with great effort, his lips red, bruised. "You're making this far too difficult. You are using sex as a way to deflect the discussion we need to have."

Will smiled and laughed softly, his hands beneath Hannibal's jacket, clutching at his waist still girdled beneath his waistcoat. All these layers were like lingerie, Will thought, and the image of unbuttoning it and setting Hannibal's body free from the constraints of expensive fabrics made Will's already rock hard cock twitch and ache.

"We should talk about what happened at Wolf Trap."

"I love it when you lick your lips, just like that. Baby, you are so pretty when you're trying to convince me to be psychoanalyzed." He slid his hands lower, pulling Hannibal's hips harder against his own. "Mm, you like it when I distract you."

"Now isn't the time to indulge..."

Will slid his hand down the front of Hannibal's pants, taking him in hand and revelling in the panting gasp that was the result. Will leaned close and whispered into Hannibal's ear, lightly kissing it. "I have a tube of Vaseline in my left pocket."

The information made Hannibal's knees buckle. He braced himself with his hands on either side of Will, holding onto the ladder with a white knuckled grip as Will stroked him. "You had no intention of resuming your therapy, you came here with the full intent to seduce me."

"I think that plan is working out quite well."

"This need of yours to use my desire to obscure your therapy is telling, Will. There are serious issues we need to address, your hallucinating Garrett Jacob Hobbs, for one. I believe it is a symptom of your inability to let go, a fact that has been exacerbated, unfortunately, by Abigail's presence in our lives." Hannibal's lips parted as Will dove for them again, Will's tongue sliding past small, sharp teeth. Hannibal was breathless when they broke free, Will's stroking pleasantly torturing him. Hannibal rested his forehead against Will's, grimacing as he fought against his panting need. "You have often told me you got so far into the mind of Hobbs it was difficult to separate yourself from him. His loss is something you mourn, just as Abigail does. Why do you not wish to talk to me about it, Will?"

Will felt a pang of deep feeling well up within him as he looked on Hannibal, his hand releasing him to gently stroke his clean shaven cheek with the back of his hand, knuckles grazing his smooth skin. "It hurts you too much to talk about loss."

Hannibal frowned at this, his lips curling into a pout that Will desperately wanted to kiss and take all of the suspicious, painful question out of it. "What do you mean?"

"I know how much you are constantly suffering, I know the loss of Mischa, and how you lost her, continues to give you pain. Talking about Hobbs and that day, and Abigail lying on the floor, bleeding out, and you and me, and...I can see it already, how much it's hurting you." Will pulled his head close, forcing a passionate kiss past those churled lips. He pressed his forehead against Hannibal's when he broke free, his palm at the back of his head in a reassuring caress. "I can't hurt you. That tears me apart more than anything."

He could feel Hannibal slightly shudder at this, his cold persona slipping out of place as he maroon gaze met Will's and, much to Will's displeasure, there was a glassy sheen meeting his own, a tear escaping that slid long down Hannibal's cheek. Will near collapsed at the sorrow of it, and fervently kissed the offending salty line, his fingers diving through Hannibal's hair as he pulled him close into a warm embrace and whispered, "Baby, I'm so sorry. I hurt you, and I didn't want to...I'm so sorry."

Hannibal leaned close, burying his face in the thick forest of Will's curls. "Turn around and let me fuck you."

Shaking in need of him, Will complied, his cheek pressed against the side of the ladder, his hands clutching the rung at his chin. Hannibal undid the button of his jeans with graceful, quick fingers, pulling them to his knees along with his briefs, Will's naked, aching erection ignored as Hannibal liberally slicked his anus with Vaseline, fingers widening him in increasing circles. Sex was a common occurrence between them, and it didn't take much for Will to be ready for Hannibal's length to invade him, the sweet pain of entry quickly morphing into a feeling of fullness, his cock leaking at every gentle thrust.

Hannibal wound his arm around Will's chest, holding him close as he rocked in and out of him, his mouth teasing the periphery of Will's agonized panting. "You undo me," Hannibal gruffly whispered and Will reached behind his head, pulling Hannibal into an awkward angle enough to kiss him. Hannibal slid his lips along the back of Will's neck, nipping the flesh between his shoulder blades.

Will groaned as Hannibal worked his way in him, thrusts steady and even, his hands clasped over top of Will's, who entwined his fingers with Hannibal's, a tangle he didn't want to separate. He could smell Hannibal's expensive cologne and feel the soft fabric of his equally precious suit rubbing against his back, lifting up his sweater and the shirt beneath it. Hannibal kept his face buried between his shoulder blades, the clothes Will wore heady with his own scent and no doubt providing a euphoric layer to Hannibal's already keen senses. Hannibal nipped at Will's ear, his face pushing against the side of Will's head, kisses trailed in a haphazard map of points of desire. The nape of his neck. Will collarbone. The rounded shape of his shoulder earning a sharp nip. Each thrust and movement accentuated with a kiss, as though apologizing for a pain Will definitely didn't feel. He bucked his hips back, encouraging him deeper, the movement making Hannibal snarl against his ear and send Will into half lidded bliss.

The tempo of his hips increased, diving deep inside of Will enough to make him groan, his forehead pressed against the rung of the ladder. He could feel Hannibal's breath hot and panting on the back of his neck, his usual silence bred of a concentration so deeply tuned inward it had become animalistic, a growl that pressed against Will's spine as Hannibal's body tensed hard against him, pushing him against the ladder as he came.

He was breathless as he pulled out, nearly tripping over the trousers at his ankles as he staggered back. He made a move to touch Will's still obvious erection, and Will batted his hand away. "Get on the floor," Will ordered him.

Hannibal pressed his lips hard against Will's half open mouth. "Will...Dear Will..."

"You heard me."

Hannibal complied, and Will kicked off his jeans, snatching up the tube of Vaseline Hannibal had dropped onto the carpet. He could feel Hannibal's come sliding out of him and down his thighs in cold rivulets and that alone nearly did him in. He slicked his fingers and slid them roughly inside, and though Hannibal was spent this clearly didn't leave him immune to a bit of prostate massage.

"Stay on your back, Baby. I want to watch you while I fuck you."

Will teased open the buttons of Hannibal's waistcoat, desire overtaking him as it fell open, his palm smoothing up the crisp white cotton shirt he wore beneath it, teasing buttons open and forcing Hannibal's skin into the now cooled air of his office, the sounds of traffic leaking in through the open window. He slid Hannibal's hips upward and teased his puckered entrance with the head of his slicked cock, watching as Hannibal's head lolled back as he entered him, his cock weeping as he pressed hard against his prostrate with tortuously accurate thrusts, milking him into submission.

Hannibal was usually quiet during their lovemaking, so these soft whimpers escaping him, these words slipping out in a variety of languages, it was enough to make Will's desire spill into instinct, his cock pounding deep and his curses loud as Hannibal's compliance surrendered him into orgasm.

Will collapsed on top of him, breathless, his arms shakily winding around him in a tight, suffocating embrace as he continued to press his softening cock inside of him. "Will..." Hannibal pleaded, his breathless open mouth claimed by the object of his desire. "Will..."

Will continued to lightly kiss him as he slid to one side, their bodies sticky and exposed. He nuzzled Hannibal's neck as he pulled him close, liking the way the man was still riding on afterglow, his maroon gaze dreamily unfocused. "I love you, Baby."

"We've always expressed it best in this office."

"Mm...I agree."

He wasn't sure why he felt the need to risk it, this beautiful moment between them as they lay on the carpet could have easily remained a fond memory. But this was Hannibal's idea, after all. Therapy in session.

"We shouldn't be in your sister's room. You know as well as I do that for whatever reason you have for being there, it's not doing you any good. You aren't sleeping, and when you do you have nightmares. It's creepy and unhealthy for us to be housed up in there."

Hannibal shook his head, pressing his face against Will's chest and murmuring into it. "I can't let her go, Will."

"The least you can do is get rid of that damn closet."

"Please don't make me let her go."

Will stroked the back of Hannibal's head, feeling defeated. The man he loved was hurting so badly and Will felt guilt's ugly stomp around his heart, his stupid hallucinations and thoughts and feelings surrounding Garrett Jacob Hobbs were a selfish intrusion. He kissed the top of Hannibal's head, knowing this was the deepest confession the man was capable of giving him, and it was a huge leap of trust to allow it out.

"Okay," Will said, the matter of Mischa's room, uncomfortable as it was, had been put to rest. "We'll leave it as it is.  We'll stay."

~*~

Will stayed for another hour before heading back to the house, forced as he was to enjoyed an extended paid vacation thanks to the generosity of the FBI. Hannibal was now alone in his office, though the imprint of their lovemaking was in evidence all over him, the scent of Will embedded deep into the fibres of his clothes and on his skin, enough to cause a contact high every time he pressed his nose against his suit jacket's sleeve. Sex permeated the air around him, and he was grateful to not have any patients for the rest of the day, lest the more attuned of them gather why his exhaustion wasn't entirely negative.

As for a therapy session, it had been a disaster. He was forced to concede that Will had a point, they were far too close to one another to be any measure of objective. Will's fever concerned him as well, and he hoped it was nothing more than a casual flu, though his scent was oddly sweet, something not usually encountered with those variety of viruses. Perhaps a check up was in order, and as a former surgeon Hannibal vowed to be thorough when he got home.

Of course, considering their usual pattern in such matters, it was unlikely he would get useful results, regardless of how lovely attempting to get them would be. Hannibal sighed and wondered if his old associate Dr. Sutcliffe would be open to seeing Will, for though he was certain the whole Hobbs hallucination had been emotionally generated, the fever did concern him. Best to rule out anything more physical at play.

There was a soft knock on the door, bringing with it a flickering of lights within the office that gave Hannibal pause. He hadn't yet contacted an electrician, and it was clear that whatever had afflicted his waiting room had now spread into his office. Pursing his lips in consternation at this, he left the sketches he'd been working on, and wiped his hands free of charcoal before taking long, confident steps away from his efforts to open the door. He was greeted by an older man in his late forties, his dark hair receding in a thin widow's peak, a warm and genuinely affable smile at the ready. He pointed to the half light of the waiting room, the amber hue it rendered the space as unwelcome as a tomb. "I see there's still some issues. I had a heck of a time getting the wiring to this place up to code."

Hannibal shook head. "I don't believe we've met."

"Sorry, we haven't. I'm Dr. Malcolm Crowe." He held out his hand and Hannibal took it, a strange jolt of electricity roving up his arm at the touch. It unsettled him, but he stepped aside, allowing the man into his office. Crowe looked around with a marked sense of wonder, his hands casual in the pockets of his loose trousers. "Cole wasn't kidding, you have done a lot to spruce up the place. Those curtains are new. I like the blue, I never would have been bold enough to try the paint. I kept the old wood, thinking it made the place look richer and me more distinguished. I had one hell of an ego back then."

"It's slate grey," Hannibal corrected him. He frowned as he bid Dr. Crowe to take a seat across from him. "I take it you are an associate of Mr. Cole Sear? I'm sorry to say his meeting with Abigail was cut short by her, and she has expressed she doesn't need his expertise. I beg to differ, but she is a headstrong girl at times and quite adamant in her wants. I was hoping to give him an invitation to a dinner party I am having in honour of my sister's memory on Friday. Perhaps a more crowded space in which to talk instead of one on one would be less daunting."

Dr. Crowe raised a brow at this and gave Hannibal a crooked smile. "I was under the impression you were angry with Cole. He said you didn't like the suggestion that Abigail was influenced more by her father than you may realize."

Hannibal bristled at this. "I did not realize patients were so easy to talk about amongst peers."

"Cole Sear is my patient. He has been for many years, since his childhood, in fact. He is good at his job, and he never talks about his clients, and is very strict about that confidentiality. However, he broke a rule with Abigail Hobbs and I'm here to try and figure out why. I hope you understand."

Hannibal crossed his legs, his long limbs spread around him in a casual pose. "I do. Sometimes the best way to come to know a patient's progress or lack of it is to gain the insight of a trusted colleague." Hannibal pursed his lips, the tip of his shoe rolling in a tense circle. "I am sorry to hear that Mr. Sear believes I was angry. I was perhaps concerned about his assessment of Abigail, but upon careful reflection I would not be a professional if I did not entertain that viewpoint. My feelings for Abigail are primarily paternal, and as such I have difficulty with objectivity."

"That can be a serious problem when you're very close to someone," Crowe agreed.

Hannibal found an odd weight attached to these words, and he clasped his hands over his knee, his chin held high in prideful protection as his cold persona washed over him, the shark cage slowly swinging shut. "How can I help you, Dr. Crowe? I'm afraid I don't know your friend Mr. Sear very well, though I can say he is a man with a rather complex thought process, one which I find difficult to decipher. He is strangely cheerful for a man who deals routinely with loss. Most grief counsellors I have treated in my own practise have been afflicted with depression, an empathic side affect of their careers."

Dr. Crowe laughed lightly at this, his eyes dancing as his mirth nakedly met them. He was very comfortable, Hannibal noted, slouching in his chair and acting in many ways as though the office was his second home and it was Hannibal who was visiting, not the other way around. "I think you and I have a lot in common. We both have complex relationships with certain people." Dr. Crowe grinned and looked away. "Though mine is definitely more on the mentor spectrum, and yours is a bit more, forgive my saying so...Carnal." He held up his hands at Hannibal's instant cold flinch at this, and kept his eyes averted, as though avoiding a confrontation with an angry predator. "I don't mean anything nasty by that, I'm just saying sometimes things are just too complicated between people."

Hannibal relaxed, but only slightly. "Will has become a very important aspect of my life. I don't wish to admit it, but there is little I can do to help him through his own crises. He is too reluctant to speak with me about his emotions concerning what happened in regards to Garrett Jacob Hobbs. I'm sure you, like your colleague Mr. Sear, are very well aware of the case."

"I know that having the daughter of a serial killer you both took down in front of her can cause an emotional upheaval or two. Forgive me, Dr. Lecter, but I'm not entirely sure allowing her into your home like that was a good decision. You are already suffering a loss, and Will Graham is suffering his own version of it--can't be helped, when you've been studying a monster that intently for so long. I've treated homicide detectives in my practise, I have a good feel for what Will is going through. But Abigail, she's a bit of an intrusion, don't you think? She's not a child, in fact she's very close to being an adult. Why do you think she's really there, in your home?"

"Garrett Jacob Hobbs is dead by both Will's hand and my own. She is orphaned and needs guidance. We are her fathers now."

Dr. Malcolm Crowe leaned forward in his chair, his hands clasped in front of him as he balanced his elbows on his knees. "Are you so sure that your guidance is the kind she's really looking for?"

A cold hand clasped around Hannibal's heart and he could sense it was the piercing touch of Mischa, poisoning the muscle with her nagging rot. "You need to listen to this man," she seemed to whisper inside of his head. "She is not and never could be me. Get that little bitch out of the house..."

"One can hope," Hannibal curtly replied and Dr. Crowe gave him a respectful nod.

"Why do you think Will Graham is reluctant to talk to you about his problems dealing with Garrett Jacob Hobbs?"

The directness of the question took Hannibal aback, and he searched for an apology within Dr. Crowe's unasked for analysis and found none. Hannibal was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, so it was with some shock at himself that he didn't deflect his answer or hide it beneath overly polite posturing.

"Will is afraid of hurting me. He has a mind comprised of pure empathy, a very rare and complex wiring within him that can allow him to see how others envision the world, an especially valuable skill when tracking down killers. As he is very close to me, he knows that engaging his empathy with me on the subject of loss can be very painful, and my pain will create a highly detrimental ricochet between him and myself. His first instinct is to protect me, and I cannot break that habit."

"I wouldn't call it habit," Dr. Crowe gently said. "I think it means he loves you very much."

"Yes, he does."

Dr. Crowe's eyes were soft, his smile easy. Hannibal realized that as a professional, Dr. Crowe was a formidable psychiatrist, one whom he would have to look up amongst the myriad journals he embroiled himself in daily. Crowe had a way of being wholly disarming, a man dedicated to secrets and keeping them. Thus, it was perfectly normal for him to approach Hannibal once again with a bold, blunt question that hit him hard. It was a method Hannibal himself had employed often, to good effect.

"Do you feel you deserve it?"

He could hear the thud of Mischa's body as it hit the ground after she was cut down, her purple face rigid in death as she lay on the floor in front of her wardrobe, piles of sequins and silk dresses that had been carelessly tossed onto the ground beneath her the debris of her excess. He could still hear her screaming in fury, he could feel her nails as they dug into his arms, her fists tearing out clumps of his hair as he forced her into her room and locked the door from the outside while her hysteria rose ever upward, into feral, dangerous destruction.

"I don't know," he admitted.

Dr. Crowe let out a slow breath at this, and he nodded into Hannibal's cold space, the shark cage still closed, but the gate unlocked. "That's quite the battlefield you're navigating, Dr. Lecter." He stood up and offered his hand out, shaking Hannibal's cool grip good-bye. "You'll get hit by a bullet one of these days. Will you be strong enough to deal with that?"

Hannibal frowned slightly, and didn't get up from his chair. "I hope so," he said to Dr. Crowe as the man quietly left his office.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Abigail stubbornly drank her orange juice and refused to budge in her resolve. Will crossed his arms as he sat on the breakfast stool beside her, furious at how apathetic she was in light of all that was going on in the background of their lives at present. "Hannibal has worked very hard on this, Abigail, it's rude for you not to at least put in an appearance and offer up some support."

Hannibal sipped at his morning coffee, Buster circling around his ankles in hopes of gaining some scraps of bacon, which Hannibal inevitably treated him with. It was no wonder the little dog had fallen so hard for him, his tail whipping back and forth with a furious happiness that slapped hard against the base of the kitchen island. "If Abigail does not wish to attend, there is no need to force her. I can perfectly understand her need to be amongst her peers and not be shoved into the uncomfortable company of strangers, most of whom would be all too eager to discuss the matter of her late father. Abigail, you absolutely have my permission to spend time with your friends instead."

Abigail beamed at Hannibal, while Will glared at him, hating how the man had just usurped his parental authority with such selfish aplomb. "This dinner party is a big deal, Hannibal, it's not right for her to just brush it off like this. It's a family affair."

"One which I dearly wish I didn't have to attend myself. I see no reason to make Abigail one with my misery, and you should understand this yourself, Will. It seems I am the one with ample empathy this morning." Hannibal pushed Will's untouched plate towards him. "Eat up, dear Will. Your eggs are getting cold."

Will picked at his scrambled eggs, wanting to argue the point though it was clear it had already been settled, and without him. He didn't at all agree with Abigail's selfish need to party with her new friends, friends neither he nor Hannibal had yet met and who had a strangely large amount of free time. He shoved a forkful of eggs into his mouth to placate Hannibal, who himself was surviving on black coffee and was reading yet another ridiculous article about them on Tattle Crime. Will had already read it, the news of Hannibal's evening dinner party had been leaked from a variety of sources and as usual Freddie Lounds had put her own negative spin on it, calling it a 'celebration of murder'.

"Elise said I can sleep over at her house," Abigail said, finishing her orange juice and taking her empty plate to the sink. She ran the water and rinsed them, but didn't wash or dry them, that would end up being Hannibal's fussy domain. "We're going to watch Friday the 13th, right from the first one to the last, back to back and see how many of us can stay up for it."

"Slasher films?" Will asked, frowning. He sipped his bitter coffee and gave Hannibal a look, but the man was blank at this information and Will realized Hannibal, who didn't have a television and had seen maybe three movies in his life, had no idea what Will was talking about. "They're horror movies," Will clarified to the unspoken question. "Usually of a young woman in distress, who has a get together and there's a maniac on the loose who kills off all the girls and boys who lose their virginity. The only one who gets to live and/or kill the psycho is the one who kept her purity. At least, that's the Freudian interpretation, mostly they are just excuses for blood and gore and gotcha moments."

"How revolting," Hannibal observed.

"Don't listen to him, they're hilarious. Especially when people get killed in ridiculous ways, like death by g-string." Abigail tossed her long hair over her shoulder and shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her cotton skirt. "I'm going to go get ready. I'm meeting Anna and Lori at the bookstore this morning...Fucking Anna, I swear to God...And then we're meeting everyone else up at Elise's house." She danced from one heel to the other, her shoulders shrugged inward as she looked up at Hannibal, who was inwardly pensive, his mind full of food platters and reams of decoration that he would no doubt be roping a reluctant Will into. "Sorry," she said to him, and stood on tiptoe to give him a sweet kiss on his cheek.

"No apology is necessary, my dear girl."

Will watched her leave, her happy energy taking her up the stairs near two at a time, a disappearing act into her room that was more about hiding herself than getting prepared for an outing. He sipped at his coffee, his eyes hooded at Hannibal as he stared over its rim. "You're spoiling her."

"Why wouldn't I? She is a pleasant girl who has suffered enough. Let her have fun with her friends."

"We don't know these friends."

"Perhaps we are the ones being rude, then, dear Will. We should tell her to invite them over." Hannibal glanced over the sheets of thick vellum he had carefully scripted the menu on in his usual highly ornate style. Sketches of the platters were in light pencil on a sheet of white copy paper, detailed drawings that were rough studies of still life. Will studied them, seeing rich folds of flowers embedded within the dark fruits--figs, split blood oranges and whole plums. In all, the arrangements were designed for a fairly gothic palate, and Will had to wonder where all those heavy meals were going to go when the party was over. He hoped Hannibal had invested in take away bags for their guests, otherwise they'd be eating leftovers for weeks.

"So the seafood menu is off?"

Hannibal gave Will a slightly crooked smile at this. "I didn't think you were listening when I told you about it."

"This is important to you, of course I'd remember." Will pulled the menu towards him, every detail itemized in order of serving, a fact which made Will wonder if Hannibal had hired people to assist for the evening. His eyes clouded over the vast offerings:

i: crimped skate
oysters, scalloped
cod's head and shoulders
trout

ii: pigeon pie
brawn
chartreuse of partridges

"How in the hell do you even know where to find partridges?" Will frowned over the ever burgeoning list. "What is 'brawn'?"

"A Victorian preparation, it's a complete boar's head, including the brains and tongue. It is served with sliced sausages."

"Oh." Will nearly gagged just thinking about it. "Yum?"

iii: pheasant (complete)

"Are you putting a feathered bird on the table?"

Hannibal was confused by Will's disgust. "Pheasant demands it. The skin is removed, the feathers held in place and it is then redressed in its original splendour once the meat has been cooked. It is a truly remarkable sight, Will, one I think you will appreciate when you see it."

"I think I'd prefer to see a live bird more so than a desiccated carcass. I don't like the meat I'm eating to be looking at me." He continued down the list:

roast wheatear

"Are those sparrows? Please don't tell me those are little roasted sparrows."

"They go on tiny spits, over an open flame.  I have a tabletop BBQ for the purpose."

"Hannibal...Seriously..."

calf's heart

iv: artichokes with lemon and pepper
olives with anchovy
Spanish onions

v: blancmange
compote of pears
coffee custard a la religiuese

vi: figs, blood oranges and plums
epergne of strawberries, fresh pears, grapes and dark violets

"How are you going to get all of this done by tonight?" Will checked his watch, noting the time was already nearing nine in the morning and Hannibal was making no headway to his office. "You took the day off, I hope."

"Of course. I am a man of many abilities, Will, but I am not capable of bending time. Since you have unexpectedly found yourself with a considerable amount of that commodity, I have made a list for you to bring to my butcher." Hannibal handed him a small piece of notepaper, his elegant script equally tiny. "Just a few things. Please, don't cheat and go to Costco, they have terrible produce and I am not partial to their olives. The address to the European market is on the back. It's a bit of a ways from the butcher, so go there first, then to the European market and then to the florist to pick up the violets. That should make it a round trip."

"You are sending me all over Baltimore's city limits for groceries."

"Suffering a small amount of inconvenience is no measure against good quality."

Will leaned forward on his arms and looked up at Hannibal, who was looking just as tired as ever, his features sharpened in his cold person suit, his body poured into expensive fabric, putting him into honed angles that dared anyone to challenge him and not get cut. Will knew he was the only brave soul keen to do just that, and he reached out, capturing Hannibal's arm and bidding him to lean over for a welcome, searching kiss. The sharpness of him softened just enough for Will to run his fingers through the fine hair at the back of Hannibal's head, their foreheads pressed gently together in mutual affection. "I guess I'm going to the ends of the earth for you," Will said, and kissed Hannibal's amused, pouting lips. "You're going to be paying me dearly for this after the party."

"I should hope so," Hannibal replied, smiling into another coffee flavoured kiss.

~*~

The European Market was a loud, overpriced and crowded space where every manner of pretentious oils and nut butters could be found, along with specialty organic fruits and vegetables and Hannibal's favourite deli offerings. They had a whole row dedicated to olives, of every size and shape and form save for the ones on Hannibal's list. Just his luck. Will inwardly cursed. He was going to have to substitute and hope this wouldn't cause a tutting click of the man's tongue in displeasure, accompanied by an ice cold shoulder--Hannibal's version of a tantrum, which was just as effective as a screaming match. He opted for the ones stuffed with garlic and hoped the contrasting light and dark of the olives would be flashy enough to grace one of Hannibal's fussy platters.

His headache, of course, was back, the pain searing along the left side of his head and then moving back and forth like hot lava liquid to the other, a piercing roller coaster that pressed deep against his skull. He requested a medium sized bucket of the olives, and slid a thin pencil line across the list. His visit to the butcher had been an experience, and he hoped no one was too curious about the feathered carcass pressed against the back window of his car. The butcher, a sweaty, rather high strung man with a strangely samurai styled hairline, had proudly told him the bird had been hanging in the back storeroom for the past week, aging at room temperature as was the custom. Will was off the pheasant.

He finished up the last items on the list and after paying the exuberant price tag he brought the groceries to the car, layering them in the back seat with all the rest of Hannibal's odd fixings. Not for the first time Will wondered what it was that forced Hannibal into these overblown theatrical triumphs of excess, a symptom that bled into how he dressed and even his choice of home. And yet, the few nights he'd spent with Will at Wolf Trap, he'd been lazy and cheerfully slovenly, not getting out of bed until well after noon and was perfectly content to sit on the worn couch in a pair of pyjama pants and an old red sweater, surrounded by dogs. Wolf Trap was the only place Will had ever caught him truly relaxing, his cold person suit discarded and leaving a warm and affable man in its place--one whom Will now knew existed but who Hannibal never let out for others.

He winced against the pain that speared in a blinding flash behind his eyes and he took out the bottle of aspirin he always kept in his pocket, dry swallowing two more. He figured by now his blood must be thinner than water with the amount he was taking per day, and if he ever suffered another stab wound like the one that scarred his shoulder Will figured he'd bleed out within seconds.

He slid into the driver's seat and slammed the car's door, his hands on the steering wheel. Beside him, Garrett Jacob Hobbs buckled himself in.

Will's hands went white as they gripped the steering wheel, the sound of Garrett Jacob Hobbs' breath a forced wheezing through the five holes Will had pumped into his chest. His face was grey as he turned towards Will, who tried not to look at him, who kept him in the periphery, doing all he could to push the hallucination away.

"You're not her father," Hobbs said, and his voice crackled, like cold cellophane. "You don't know her. You need to see, even if you don't want to. She's my daughter. You're not her father."

Against his better judgement, but driven by fear, Will put the key in the ignition and set the car careening out of the European Market parking lot, clipping a grocery cart along the way. Beside him, putrid and stinking of the copper aroma of drying blood, Hobbs continued to work his grey mouth, saying over and over, "You need to see. She's my daughter. You need to see...."

"Get the fuck away from me!" Will screamed, his fists pounding his steering wheel, his head ready to explode from the fury of his own voice. He rolled to a stop at an intersection, cars blaring their horns bidding him to go through the green light. Will pounded his fists on the dashboard, a trapped animal in a tiny, confined space as he screamed and tore at the air in the seat next to him. "Leave her alone!"

The seat was empty. People in their cars honked their horns and screamed expletives at him. The light turned red and Will slowly calmed enough to pay attention to what he was doing, reminding himself he was heading for the highway, ready to go to home to Hannibal to help him prepare for a massive, overdone, hateful dinner party full of Mischa's shallow acquaintances, with Jack the only familiar face set to attend. He closed his eyes and opened them again in forced calm, easing through the intersection and onto the highway when the light turned green.

He couldn't tell Hannibal about this. He envisioned Hannibal's dark circles, the stress of the dinner party looming over him like a black maw set to swallow him whole, and there was no way he was adding any further fuel to his nightmares. He'd take what admonishments were handed out for getting the wrong olives, and possibly the wrong brand of truffle oil, and he would slice vegetables, and arrange fruits and fuss as carefully as Hannibal and he would make the man he loved proud.

His heart didn't want to co-operate, it hammered hard in his chest, full of adrenaline and ready to leap out of its cage of bones to escape. No matter what assaulted him throughout this day, he would take deep breaths and force it to go easy. He would swallow his terror and give Hannibal a soft kiss when he walked in the door and if any other Hobbs' shaped shadows tried to chase him he would drown them in calm, calm, calm.

~*~
Hannibal was proud of Will's efforts to help him, though he was a tad annoyed that he'd chosen olives stuffed with garlic, as he was sure none of his guests desired such a pungent aroma lurking on their palate. But they would suffice, and he was exceptionally happy to hear the butcher had properly aged the pheasant as per Hannibal's strict instruction, for game birds were tough when in rigor and their flavours didn't fully mature in any less than seven days. Abigail had been gone since the morning and had not contacted him since, a vexation he would deal with later. He would prefer if she at least checked in every so often, if only to placate worries that Will had awoken in him about her mysterious friends whom she had not yet invited to their home.

The large sitting room was already filled with people, the two waiters he had hired milling about the crowd in a harried pace that made Hannibal wonder if he should have hired more. The front door remained open to allow in guests, and Jack and Bella arrived arm in arm, with Bella looking especially radiant despite the illness that plagued her. Her cancer left a distinct aroma in the air around her, and he hoped she wasn't still keeping her condition a secret from Jack. From the happy way Jack held her arm and accepted Hannibal's hand in welcome, he knew she hadn't said a word. Jack picked up two tall champagne glasses that were offered by one of the hired wait staff, and handed one to Bella before turning on Hannibal.

"You look worse," Jack said, sipping at his champagne with a gruff genteel delicacy. Bella hit him on the arm with her light pink beaded purse that matched her elegant, form fitting dress. Jack ignored her admonishment. "I didn't think that was possible, but seriously, Hannibal, you've gone from being tired to looking outright sick. Where's Will? I suppose he's the picture of health, too."

"Jack," Bella grabbed his arm, pulling him away and giving Hannibal a head shaking apology. "He's mourning the loss of his sister."

"All the more reason for him to hear the truth. Dr. Lecter, you look like shit. Get out of the city. Go on a plane, go any damn place. Take Will with you, go on a nice vacation to a warm ocean island somewhere, sleep all day and fuck each other's brains out all night, whatever works. Just go, fix yourselves up, and then come back ready to go to war with me again. Myself, the forensics team, hell the canteen lady in the basement, we all miss both of you, and the sooner Quantico can have you back the better. We need you, healthy and ready for battle."

Hannibal had to concede it wasn't terrible advice, though he wondered what had genuinely sparked it. "I take it you have a new case for Will to pursue when we get back from this wondrous healing holiday?"

"There's a few on the coals right now..."

"And he's not telling you a thing until it's clear the two of you can handle it." Bella steered Jack away, her head gracefully bowed at Hannibal who toasted to her with his glass of champagne in thanks. A pang of sadness hit him as her lithe form pressed closer to her husband. The cancerous odour was stronger now, and he knew it had already spread and would take her quickly, within a couple of months by his estimation. He was going to miss her.

Hannibal moved through the crowd, his glass of champagne held at the ready to sip when someone he didn't particularly want to talk to approached him, a simple enough barrier that put a pause before a conversation could begin. His platters were artfully arranged on the long table now placed in the centre of the large sitting room, his harpsichord pushed against the far windows where it pouted over its ignored opulence. He decided he would stroke its keys later, perhaps have Will join him on the slender wooden bench as he composed a small sonata, one he had been working on before Mischa had made her fateful decision and every one of his efforts had ground to a halt.

"Hello, Hannibal."

The familiar voice hit his ear like sharp tin and he sipped at his champagne as Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier stepped into his sights. She was like crushed glass, a woman made of sparkling perfection that inevitably used her seeming fragility to harm. One had to be careful around her, for Hannibal himself had nearly fallen into her trap, the shards of glass she left behind with her words cutting deep into every step he took as he'd leave her office. His relationship with Mischa had nearly been destroyed by her, for Bedelia's manipulation was twofold, having Hannibal as her patient on her Mondays and Mischa in on Fridays. Her therapy, if one could call it that, had involved her suggesting to Mischa that Hannibal was an unhealthy person for her to latch onto for stability, that he was not allowing her to spread her influence upon the world and was part of that patriarchal mindset that locked a woman's genius away. He was shocked when Mischa accused him of it, and it was a cruel blow when the exact opposite was true. He'd had to rein in so much of himself to manage Mischa's selfishness and volatile moods, her rages so violent they often spilled out in public displays, occasionally ending in charges of assault. He'd spent a lot of time over the years placating those Mischa had hurt, bailing her out and convincing judges that it was her madness that ruled her, that made her break a neurosurgeon's arm in three places, it was her personality disorder to blame for stabbing a coat check girl at the opera in the neck with a pen.

There was so much he wanted to say to Bedelia, to ask her why she would pit Mischa against him, knowing damned well how dangerous such a thing was. As his psychiatrist, she had performed beautifully, a cold voice of reason against the constantly swirling madness Mischa provided from the second he stepped in the door of his home. He had appreciated her carefully chosen words and bland, unobtrusive advice. He had not understood at the time that what she saw was a broken bird and her first instinct was to crush it.

She was intently watching his weakness now, and she was keen to wrap her tight, elegant grip around it, hoping to choke him. "Hello, Bedelia," he said, and even managed to smile. "I had not realized I sent you an invitation."

"You didn't. I am familiar with a man you did invite and who you have been talking to recently, a Dr. Malcolm Crowe." She smiled softly at the way Hannibal slightly flinched at mention of his name. "He's not aware that both Mischa and you were my patients. I find the fact you never mentioned me in your chat with him a rather interesting omission."

"Why would I talk about you, Bedelia? Dr. Crowe seems to me to be a peer of some note. There is no point bringing up anecdotes about someone who is vastly beneath that realm."

She chuckled at this and delicately sipped her champagne. "If you think you are going to hit me where it hurts, Hannibal, you've definitely missed the mark. I do have a good reason to be here, especially since what I have to tell you is, admittedly, highly personal in nature." She paused, mentally checking herself, picking what words would harm with razor sharp accuracy. "I'm writing a book about Mischa, and I've already earned a significant advance from my publisher. Considering how often you yourself have been in the public eye as of late, I'm expecting its sales to be quite spectacular. I'm already booked for the lecture circuit well into next fall."

Hannibal felt his mouth go dry and he downed the rest of his champagne in one gulp. He kept his coldest version of his person suit visible, a cloak that Bedelia smirked at, knowing well that she had rattled him for him to put up this thick of a psychic defence. "I am pleased you disclosed this to me, Bedelia, I'll be sure to have my lawyers talk to you concerning this highly unethical breach of patient confidentiality."

"Mischa signed a full disclosure clause, one that was made so that in the event of her death I am free to use all of my notes, recordings and discuss my progress, or lack thereof, in her therapy in a manner that could benefit others."

"You are benefiting yourself."

"I am part of that nebulous 'others' she spoke of, so yes."

His glass was empty and there wasn't a waiter in sight. It remained in his hand as ineffectual as anything he could have said in retort to her barbs, and he was left with the festering knowledge that Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier was set to completely ruin him.

"Dr. Lecter!"

Bedelia slid away, her champagne glass sipped by her ethereal lips, drawing an energy out of it that felt as though she was depleting his own, leaving a raw and nervous husk in its place. He closed his eyes and fought to bring his cold persona to the fore, the shark cage dented, the cage door slightly crooked on its hinges as it was locked shut. When he opened his eyes there was a new horror waiting for him. Franklyn, two drinks in hand, tight suit on a round body, a pleasant grin plastered on him that made Hannibal want to rip off his lips and feed them to him with his bare hands.

"What are you doing here?" Hannibal asked.

"I got you a fresh drink," Franklyn said, handing him a glass of red wine as opposed to the champagne still making the rounds. He shrugged over the offering. "There was a bottle on the table, I took the liberty since I know you prefer reds. That's one of the things we have in common."

"You didn't answer my question, Franklyn."

Franklyn gave him a small frown, slightly confused. "You invited me. Well, you invited everyone on the symphony board, and as I am a part of that..." Franklyn gave him a self deprecating sigh. "I hope you aren't still mad about the whole...About me not wanting you to be my psychiatrist anymore thing."

"You fired me, Franklyn. Which makes your presence here all the more perplexing."

"I just wanted to offer support. I know this whole thing with your sister has been weighing on you, I mean, you really do look ill, Dr. Lecter, not going to lie...I just felt bad and..."

"So you are here to placate your conscience?" Hannibal looked away from him, seeing Bedelia slide past a thick foliage of indoor ferns he had imported from Indonesia. She glanced at him, meeting his gaze before seeming to dissipate as her absence revealed a far more unwelcome guest hiding behind the thick, rubbery leaves. Freddie Lounds, in fancy dress and dark colours taking advantage of shadows.

"I wouldn't say it's that, per se..."

"Excuse me," Hannibal said, and brusquely pushed Franklyn to one side, the glass of wine downed in two gulps and set on the large buffet table as he picked up the bottle Franklyn had referred to and refilled the glass almost to the brim. He took large gulps and refilled it again, finishing the bottle. He hadn't eaten a thing, he'd been too busy preparing the food to indulge in it, and the sudden downing of alcohol was already beginning to numb his senses. He felt someone's hand on his back, his hand being shook in greeting and sorrow, some useless tit his sister had complained about, the foppish voice barely belonging to a person. He broke away from them and headed towards where Freddie Lounds was hiding, his empty glass placed on a tray, a new glass of champagne snatched up and downed in another gulp before being discarded on the long table, where it rolled back and forth on its side. With his free hand he pulled Freddie Lounds roughly out of hiding and positioned her directly in the middle of the gathering, where already dozens of eyes were trained on them.

"You are trespassing on my property, Ms. Lounds."

She wrenched herself free of his grip, her chin haughty as she surveyed the crowd and made sure they all heard her. "Quite the party, Dr. Lecter. You going to pull another one of these the next time Will Graham kills someone?"

"You have no right to be here. You are trespassing."

"The public has a right to know what kinds of celebrations go on for dangerous killers."

Hannibal spoke through clenched teeth. "This is a memorial. For my sister."

"Ah, yes, your wonderful dead sister, Mischa. A bit of a crazy town trip there too, wasn't she? I have to say it, I don't envy you. I've seen her rap sheet, she was one hell of a tornado. Makes the fact you're shacking up with a killer like Will Graham all the more about type, doesn't it?"

Hannibal felt fire rise inside of his breast. "What are you suggesting?"

Freddie Lounds shook her mane of curly red hair back over her shoulders, her dark purple dress cheap in the harsher light. "You like them crazy."

"Have you come here to destroy me?" he asked, stepping closer to her as she stepped back. "I don't believe there is much worse that can be done, Ms. Lounds. Your careless words have wrecked my practise, you have assaulted my relationships with them, you are making a mockery of my grief. Is it not enough, Ms. Lounds? Do you wish to see blood spilled too? Shall I cut off my arms, my hands, my head, shall I serve them on platters to you so you can feed off of them ad nauseam, where you can shove them into that gaping hole that is your conscience? Shall I offer Will to you, as well? Someone who I love very dearly, and who you relentlessly debase. Shall I cut him apart for you as well? Who do you want me to carve up first for you, Ms. Lounds? William or myself?"

"Hannibal! Stop!"

He felt a firm grip on his wrist, and it took a few moments for Hannibal to realize his hand was outstretched, and that something heavy was in his grip. He relaxed his fingers and it clattered to the ground at his feet.

The carving knife for the brawn.

Hannibal put his hand to his mouth, shocked at the evidence of his own lack of control. He could feel Will at his elbow, whispering something in his ear, but it was a confusing thing to decipher when the entire room was spinning, and he was tired, he was so, so tired, and he could hear Mischa stomping around in his memory palace with deafening clicks of her heels, smashing all of his future plans and his hope with gleeful abandon. He could hear, as though from a long echo, Will shouting "Get her the hell out of here!" and then more soft words in his ear, coaxing him to go upstairs, that everything was fine, that he was just needing a moment, that was all. And he could see Franklyn in his periphery, approaching Freddie Lounds and shouting--Franklyn, shouting!--"You are a terrible person!" and Hannibal couldn't be certain if the words were for her or himself.

~*~
He put Hannibal to bed, forcing him out of his designer suit, which he carelessly hung on a nearby chair over his own dog hair infested clothes, and tucked him tight beneath the sheets and comforter. Buster nestled at his belly, eager kisses given to Hannibal's hollow cheeks. He clutched the little dog closer, and Buster happily rolled onto his back and into the embrace, whining in bliss.

Will's concern had to wait since he now had a dinner party to run on his own, and didn't have the first clue how to be a host. The last actual party he'd thrown was when he was in college and it involved two kegs of beer and a funnel. He kissed Hannibal's forehead, his eyes already closed and his breath even in near sleep.

"I should have listened to you," Hannibal said. His voice was rough, like sandpaper, as though he'd been shouting and had hurt his throat.

"I'll take care of everything, just get some rest." Will sat on the edge of the bed and kissed him on his lips this time, tasting wine on his tongue. He caressed the side of Hannibal's face, brushing his hair back with his fingers, wholly reluctant to leave him. Fucking Freddie Lounds. She'd been screaming for police when she was ousted out of the house, threatening to charge Hannibal with attempted murder.

He got up from the edge of the bed when it was clear Hannibal was genuinely passed out, making sure to lock the wardrobe closed as he preferred it. If it was up to him he'd take an axe to the damn thing, but for Hannibal it was like looking at a mausoleum dedicated to Mischa, and while Will couldn't entirely understand the shape Hannibal's grief was taking, he respected it enough to not press the issue.

He left the room, feeling claustrophobic in the suit he usually reserved for court room appearances, and headed down the main stairs to where the crowd was still milling, the whispered talk hushing when Will approached too close. He struck a casual pose when a rather rumpled looking man came up to him, his peppered beard scratched by his fingertips in thought.

"Is Hannibal all right?" he asked. "He looked..."

"He's resting. This has been a very difficult night, as you can imagine."

"I can," the man darkly said. He shook his head and held out his hand. "Dr. Donald Sutcliffe. Hannibal and I were in residence together at John Hopkins. He actually called me a couple of days ago, to make an appointment for you. He said you were feverish and complaining of headaches." He gave Will's blank expression a shrugging apology. "I'm head of neurosurgery at the Natural Health Science Centre in Baltimore. He wanted me to schedule you for an MRI."

Will took a flute of champagne, and gave the doctor a strained smile. "I'm sure he means well. But I'm fine, really. It was just a flu." Will sipped at his drink and made a face, remembering too late how much he hated champagne. "You've known Hannibal for a long time, then?"

"Yes," Dr. Sutcliffe said, though he didn't elaborate.

"So you knew Mischa."

Sutcliffe was clearly not keen to tell him more, and Will wasn't about to let him go, not just yet. Sutcliffe knew it, from the way he kept looking past Will's shoulder, to his side, anywhere to find escape. He couldn't.

"Look, I'm going to level with you. You're in a relationship with Hannibal and...Let's just say I know what some of those challenges are."

Will raised a brow at this. "You're an ex...?"

"Yes," Sutcliffe said, refusing to elaborate. "I was married at the time. Still am, in fact. He was...It was a bit complicated."

"Things with Hannibal usually are."

"I broke it off within a couple of months, it was amicable, we agreed it wasn't working and...I don't know if that was what did it, or if she just needed to attack him in a way that didn't directly harm him physically, if that makes sense..." He closed his eyes and sighed, as though what he had to say was a memory too ghastly to bring to light. "One day in April, completely out of the blue, she stormed into my office and broke my arm with a baseball bat. In three places. It was a hell of thing to heal and as a surgeon I was terrified it was going to ruin me. I still have pins in my wrist."

Will nodded at this. "Hannibal has told me a few things about Mischa. That she was prone to violence."

"That's not the half of it." Sutcliffe released a bitter laugh. "Her motives were so twisted. She didn't do it because she was avenging her brother, that you need to understand. She did it just to prove to him that she could destroy whatever he touched." Sutcliffe smiled sadly over his glass of champagne. "We couldn't be friends or even acquaintances after that. You're very lucky to be coming in after the storm, Mr. Graham, even if you are having to jump over a residual tidal wave or two."

Will toyed with the stem of his champagne glass, concentrating on the tiny explosions within it. "Why do you think she hated Hannibal so much?"

Sutcliffe openly laughed at this. "She didn't hate Hannibal, purely the opposite. She did love her brother, a great deal, I think. I know it was just who she was. When the storm raged in her she couldn't stop herself."

Will was confused by this. "But she blatantly targeted him."

Sutcliffe gave Will a warm smile. "It's human nature. We often destroy those we love best."

~*~

It was nearly two in the morning by the time Will had finished cleaning up after the party. Most of the guests had left by midnight with a few stray drunken stragglers lurking behind for the last dregs of champagne. He called cabs and paid the wait staff and cleared and wrapped all the leftover food in cellophane (so much of it--he didn't want to be the one to break it to Hannibal that not one person touched the pheasant) and placed the various meats and fruits and assorted platters in every corner of the refrigerator he could find, and when he ran of out of room he dared to lift the trap door in the dining room to go into the drop cellar, where Hannibal had an additional large, restaurant grade fridge pushed against the stone wall. It was mostly bare, since Hannibal only used it for storing his platters and prep for dinner parties, and if tonight was any indication he wasn't about to have many more of those in the near future.

He went back upstairs and swept the floor clean of debris, collecting all the discarded wine glasses and assorted cutlery, which would be cleaned and then stored in the cellar. He was too tired for the task at present, so he left bus bins of the mess on the kitchen counter. Abigail could help with that at least.

He left the dining room table where it was, Hannibal could help him move it back in the morning. For now he had a good tumbler of whiskey to settle his nerves, and he collapsed on the soft couch in the study, relieved for the night to be over.

His head was leaned back on the cushion when he heard the front door open, and soft feet pad into the front foyer. He sat up, getting a good view into the front room, and was surprised to see Abigail stagger in, her steps unsteady. She held high heels in her left hand by the straps, her stockinged feet full of runs and holes. She held a finger to her lips as though to remind herself to be silent as she walked up the stairs like she was navigating a tightrope, her unsteady gait sometimes tumbling her forward.

She hadn't gone to a movie night with friends, she'd gone for a drunken night on the town with them, and as a seventeen year old girl who was under his strict charge, Will was sure Hannibal was *not* going to be his usual permissive self.

He watched her subterfuge with some amusement, not bothering to admonish her. Nature would take care of that by itself with a nasty hangover tomorrow morning, and that was when he'd strike. There were a lot of dishes to do. He had some leverage now, and he was more than keen to use it. If she didn't want Hannibal to know the truth, she had better get used to some suds of a much less fun variety.

He waited until she was in her bedroom and all was silent once again before finishing his small amount of whiskey and calling it a night. He wondered if he should hide the iPad to make sure Hannibal didn't read the scathing article Freddie Lounds was no doubt already typing up this very moment, threats and accusations against the good doctor flying through the keys. He hoped there were no pictures of Hannibal brandishing the knife, that would be especially damaging to his reputation. So much for the dinner party being a public relations tool, it had turned into a weapon in Lounds's hands.

He was at the base of the stairs when a cold hand met his shoulder, fingers digging through his bones and out the other side. He turned to see Garrett Jacob Hobbs, his milky eyes glaring at him in judgement.

"My daughter. Not yours. My daughter..."

"All kids experiment with alcohol." Will tore away from him, the terror of the hallucination ebbing with the single mindedness of its purpose.

"Not...My daughter..."

"Leave her alone," Will said, and it was enough to make the hallucination fade, the icy grip dissolve and leave behind Will's usual, thrumming heat.

He was halfway up the stairs when he heard the shouting, Hannibal cursing loudly in Lithuanian, a panicked tone to his voice that Will had never heard before and one that left him cold. He bounded up the stairs two at a time, the din now accompanied by a tortured whining bark that had to belong to Buster. He burst into the bedroom, his body breathless, every sense on high alert. He had an insane, instant notion that this was Garrett Jacob Hobbs' fault, that he was punishing Will for not taking the drunken state of his daughter more seriously. But it was clear this was not the case as Will watched Hannibal struggle with the wardrobe, his mouth a twisted grimace that was so tight it made the tendons in his neck stand out.

"What's going on?" Will shouted. He could hear Buster's tortured whines and his frantic scratches but he couldn't see him.

"He's locked in the wardrobe, I can't get him out!"

Hannibal's fingers fumbled over the latch, unable to undo them in his panic. Will calmly and curiously approached him, gently pushing his shaking hands aside to flick the latch up and open the doors, setting the little dog in the wardrobe free. Buster instantly leapt into Hannibal's arms, his body wriggling in joy and relief as he licked and nibbled at the man he considered his saviour, and pointedly ignoring the man who had actually freed him.

Hannibal held the little dog tight, whispering tender little apologies to the dog in Lithuanian, the baby talk too saccharine to allow Will in on it. It was a strange thing to see him so enamoured with one of Will's furry charges, especially since he had held nothing but mild tolerance for them before. He watched carefully as Hannibal buried his face in the dog's wiry fur, and collapsed back onto the edge of the bed, his chest scratched with long lines from Buster's pawing claws.

"Someone came in here and locked him the wardrobe," Hannibal said, furious. "Who came in here? Someone must have seen them coming up the stairs, maybe Jack saw..."

"No one came up here, Hannibal."

"Then how did that happen?"

"I don't know."

Will sat on the edge of the bed beside Hannibal, undoing his tie and the top buttons of his white cotton shirt. Buster had calmed in Hannibal's lap, but he steadfastly refused to leave it, pressing hard against his bare chest and offering up odd angled licks. Hannibal scratched him behind the ears, his mind as far away from their bedroom as an ocean is from Mars.

"We couldn't have pets when I was a child," Hannibal said, and his voice was so quiet Will had to strain to hear him. Will began stripping off his suit, offering it far less care than Hannibal, who hadn't yet discovered Will's careless treatment of it earlier that evening. He turned towards Will, maroon eyes darkly hooded as he pressed his lips to the top of Buster's narrow head. "I had a cat, once. When I was a child, about twelve years old. It was an old stray, black and white, extremely friendly and with the softest fur. She used to love being pet on the stomach. She would sleep in my room, at the end of my bed. She used to purr as I studied, curled up on my bed, by my books."

Hannibal smiled softly at the memory, but there was pain in it too, Will could feel it though Hannibal was doing all he could not to express it. He watched Hannibal's fingers, gently stroking Buster's neck, moving up behind his ears and back again across his throat, his torso, as though making sure every hair on him was still in place.

"What was its name?" Will asked.

Hannibal smiled, his eyes crinkling. "She had the same markings as a cow. So I named her Moo."

Will laughed at this. "That's cute."

"She was fat, too. Just like a cow." Hannibal continued petting Buster, who was listening with rapt attention, his fox head cocking back and forth in a vain attempt to understand. "I had her for two years. One day Mischa came into my room while I was studying and Moo didn't really like Mischa because she tended to be a little rough. And Mischa kept pulling her ear, and Moo didn't like it, and she wouldn't stop, and Moo scratched her." Hannibal ran his fingers along the underside of Buster's chin, the dog squinting his eyes in pleasure.

"So she snapped Moo's neck and killed her."

Will felt punched. Sick.

"Did she..."

"She did not get into trouble, oh no, it was Moo's fault for scratching her. She left Moo on my bed, and when I went to pet her like I always did, she was so cold and so stiff....It wasn't the only time. I tried to have pets later in life, but Mischa and animals were never a good mix. She could be very cruel, for no reason at all. I am not. So, no pets."

Will thought about Dr. Sutcliffe, imagining Mischa going at him with a baseball bat, with no real purpose in mind other than to cause harm. He shivered and stepped away from the bed as he stripped off the rest of his suit and laid it over top of Hannibal's far more precious threads. "Buster has really bonded with you," Will said, slipping under the covers and relieved to see Hannibal follow suit. "You should keep him with you, take him to your practise in Baltimore. He's friendly enough, he'd be great with your patients, and there's nothing like slobber to break the ice."

"Therapy dogs are often beneficial," Hannibal conceded. He turned his head on the pillow, facing Will. "If I had a dog in my practise at the time I met you, do you think that would have allowed you to be more receptive to my therapy?"

"Do you want me to answer honestly?"

"Of course."

Will traced his thumb along Hannibal's bottom lip and slid closer to him. Buster was forced to curl at the bottom of the bed, his little snores already filling the room. "I would have decided to sleep with you within the first five minutes."

Hannibal lightly chuckled. "Jack had told me you have seven dogs. I should have known." He twined his fingers in Will's hair, their exhausted bodies pressed close together. His mood turned serious, dark shadows creeping over them as the night became more muffled in stillness. "Tomorrow will be a challenge."

Freddie Lounds. Abigail. Garrett Jacob Hobbs. All the mess waiting for them the second the sun hit the sky and shone all of the debris into stark daylight. Will stroked Hannibal's cheek with his thumb, the soothing gesture making his eyes heady with sleep. "It will be," Will said, and kissed his lips, which were already sighing into uneasy dreams.

 

 

Chapter Text

ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE
chapter five

Abigail's chipper mood slightly annoyed Will, but he chalked up her quick recovery to youth and stamina. They were both up before Hannibal, Will purposefully so as to make sure he had time to hide the iPad, and Abigail due to her hunger. She had already started picking food off the many platters Will had tucked into the refrigerator, the cellophane unravelled and put back askew. He would have to get her to transfer the lot into Tupperware containers, some of it for freezing while others he knew would end up being leftovers for the rest of the week. He gave Abigail's silence over her orange juice a bemused raise of his brow.

"So, you had fun with your friends?"

"Um, yeah. Anna was okay, and Lori didn't pick on her about the bookstore thing for once. Elise was pissed that Diana was over an hour late and we were stuck waiting for her, but it ended up okay..."

She caught Will's raised brow and the muted silence of his expression and stopped herself. She suddenly understood that he knew, and despite the fact he was still sleeping, Abigail cast a highly guilty glance towards the main stairs, as if believing Hannibal could sense the very DNA of her lie. "I won't tell him," Will promised, and he saw the small shrink of relief overtake the young woman's tense shoulders, her smile returning only to disappear at what Will said next. "But you have a lot of dishes to do, and a lot of chores this weekend. I want them done by the time we come back tomorrow night, along with everything on this list."

Will handed her a piece of note paper, outlining the various dusting routines, vacuuming and laundry that was to be done and neatly put away, otherwise Hannibal was going to find out just exactly what she *did* do with her wonderful new friends and risk being grounded until she was fifty. "I think it goes without saying that you are not to see your friends this weekend. Don't try to lie or hide them, you know Hannibal will sniff them out, he'll know they were here."

Abigail lightly stomped her feet and huffed into the air, giving Will an eye roll worthy of a seizure. "You suck."

"Hannibal had a horrible night last night," Will reminded her. They had both read the article and had agreed keeping him ignorant of it was the best recourse. Freddie Lounds hadn't just attacked him, she had brought out her fury in a tome of self righteous accusation that if printed would easily span fifteen single spaced pages. She had spared nothing, from a vicious vivisection of Hannibal's relationship with his troubled sister Mischa to Hannibal's supposedly equally unhealthy romantic interest in that killer FBI consultant known as Will Graham. '...Will Graham, killer, had to drag Dr. Lecter up the steps of his home kicking and screaming, his own bloodlust seeming to have rubbed off on the otherwise placid doctor, whose decorum completely disappeared, leaving a furious animal gnashing in its wake...' Will had felt sick as he turned the iPad off, and hid it behind several boxes of forgotten macaroni and cheese on the top right shelf above the refrigerator, Will's contribution to their kitchen.

"He's been sleeping a long time," Abigail observed.

"He's awake. He's always awake. He's just lying in bed, wondering how in the hell he's supposed to start this day and I can't blame him." As though to make a liar of him, Will heard the tell tale creak of floorboards as Hannibal moved upstairs, his usually light steps far more heavy as they began their trek from their bedroom to the stairs. "You've seen what he looks like, I can't let any more knives find their mark, I have to get him away from this city. We'll be back tomorrow night by ten at the latest, I'll give you a call."

Hannibal, of course, was not a man easily daunted on the surface, and though his world was definitely a far more stressful one this morning than it had been yesterday, he still dressed himself in his very best suit, perfectly coiffed, his steps light and easy as he descended. His attention was momentarily snagged by the silver cufflinks at his wrists, which he sharply tugged at in precise movements, his usually honed style ready to slice into the rest of the day like a samurai blade. He paused at the base of the stairs, his maroon gaze taking in the two small, neat suitcases at the front door before turning on his heel and making a sharp left towards the kitchen.

"Are you going somewhere, Will?" he asked as he made his way toward the coffee maker, a slight frown at the fact it was Abigail who had made the coffee and it was thus destined to be as bitter as how he was feeling. Buster bounded down the stairs in a lag that suggested he'd been rudely awoken by Hannibal's sudden absence, the little dog nearly skidding as he ran into the kitchen to stay stubbornly underfoot of his favourite human.

"We are going to Wolf Trap for the weekend," Will said, and refused to let Hannibal offer any argument against the plan. "Take your coffee to go, we are not wasting any more time. This is an intervention, we are leaving this city, and people behind. We are wallowing in the beauty of solitude, and you are going to eat my Cajun food and you are going to like it."

"You are feeding me Cajun food and you complained of my offal."

"Don't make me bring the accordion."

Hannibal inspected Will's work from his usual spot behind the kitchen island. "Those suitcases look awfully small. Were you able to pack enough, Abigail?"

"I..." She gave Will a sidelong glance. "I'm not going. I've got a lot of stuff to do around the house and I'm going to start looking at colleges again. Will's right, I waste too much time, and even if I don't want to officially enrol in anything, I can take some online courses, right?" She stood on tiptoe and gave Hannibal's smooth, sunken cheek a fleeting kiss. "Have fun at the Flea Barn."

Hannibal was not so keen, being more a planner than a man of spontaneity. "It seems rather rash to foist me out the door without first catching up with you, Abigail. Allow me to finish my coffee, at least. How was your night with your friends? Were the terrible movies all you expected?"

"They were the worst," she said, smiling brightly, and it disturbed Will how easily she could allow the lie to slip past those innocent, pink lips, and how equally simple it was for her to make someone like Hannibal believe it.

"I am glad to hear someone had a good time last night." Hannibal gave her a small, warm hug and a smile. "I would make you breakfast, but it seems Will is eager to push me out the door this morning. There are leftovers..."

"Lots of leftovers," Abigail said. She rolled her eyes as she gulped at her orange juice. "I'm hardly going to starve."

Hannibal began a frowning search, every surface taken into his hawk-like scrutiny. "Will, where is the iPad?"

"We should get going," Will said, setting down his coffee and being so bold as to empty his mug in the sink and usher Hannibal out of the back of the kitchen island and towards the front door. He felt a pang of worry when Hannibal took out his cell phone from his suit pocket and began absently scrolling through it before pocketing it again and grabbing his winter coat.

"I would have preferred to have packed for myself," Hannibal said, that distinctive, unhappy click at the back of his throat expressing his annoyance. "In your hands I'm sure you have packed all manner of inappropriate attire. I've already noticed you neglected to pack my razor kit."

"There's disposables in my bag."

That annoyed click again. "Hardly a substitute."

Will grabbed the small suitcases, an army grade coat thrown over his frame for warmth. He glanced over Hannibal's shoulder at Abigail, and leaned further in, to whisper in Hannibal's ear. "Just stop complaining, and get into the car, so we can get to Wolf Trap and have some very, very special time alone. Together."

Hannibal cricked his neck at this idea, fighting the smile that threatened to erupt at Will's words. "I see. In that case, best to make haste. Good-bye, Abigail, my dear girl! Cell phone numbers are on the fridge, along with Dr. Bloom's, in case of an emergency, and there are ample provisions in the drop cellar, should you feel peckish. Will you be all right alone for one night? I'm not sure, Will, perhaps Buster should stay, or she should call one of her friends to sleep over."

Abigail stared at them both as if they were the stupidest people she had ever met and she gave them a dismissive hunch of her shoulders, her voice tinged with teenaged disdain. "Buster hates me, he growls every time I walk past him, and as if you're going to leave me babysat by a dumb dog. You guys are so lame. I'm going to do what I do every night--Watch Korean horror movies and eat chips until two a.m. Have a blast with the fleas."

"See? She's fine."

Will tucked one of the small suitcases under his arm and awkwardly opened the front door, a thick, cold breeze assaulting them both as they slid out onto the front porch into the gentle snowfall. Hannibal paused at the entrance, looking back at Abigail, who had already dismissed them, and saw that she was again rummaging in the open refrigerator, the metal door obscuring her from his view. He frowned as he followed Will to the Bentley, which, unlike Will's Ford beater, had proper snow tires and would be a safer ride. He stood behind Will as he opened the trunk and practically tossed their suitcases into it.

"Why is she watching Korean horror movies?"

"Lots more gore. Buckets of it. And people get dismembered more creatively."

"It's a strange habit, especially considering her background." He made his way to the driver's side, only for Will to scoot past him and slide into the seat before he could get a chance to get behind the wheel.

"I'm driving," Will informed him. He spun the keys on his fingertip, cementing the notion.

Hannibal stubbornly put on his form fitting, leather driving gloves that went out of style some time in the late 1920's. Every time Hannibal wore them, Will half expected Hannibal to toss on a pair of driving goggles too. "I hate to pull rank like this, dear Will, but this is my car. I am driving."

"You look like you're about to drop dead in the driveway," Will admonished him. "Get in the damn passenger seat, you're in no condition to drive and you know it."

Will leaned over and opened the opposing door, and Buster took the opportunity to happily bark and bound into the vehicle, stealing the middle as Hannibal reluctantly followed the little wagger in. He buckled carefully and sighed as he watched Will put the key in the ignition. "Is all of this really necessary?"

"You need to get away from that house," Will said, with firm finality and he was relieved to see that Hannibal hadn't the fight in him to argue the point.

The drive itself was uneventful. Long wisps of snow drifted across the near deserted stretch of highway leading to Wolf Trap, and while Will's headache returned with a vengeance, he was happy to note that Hannibal seemed more at the ease the further they got away from his large mansion and all of the weight of its violent memories. The bare skeletons of trees welcomed them into the vast blankness the white landscape provided, a strangely peaceful realm where time and space felt suspended, providing a pleasant resting spot for both of them. He offered to stop for breakfast at a few points of interest along the way, but Hannibal was loathe to eat out on the best of days, and with the lurking fear of recognition ever hanging present over them thanks to Tattle Crime, it was a wise omission.

They were an hour into their journey when Hannibal's cell phone rang, a delicate 'Symphony in C' erupting in his coat pocket. He answered it, his voice professional and clipped, a definite angry edge to it that piqued Will's interest.

"Yes, I did call your office earlier, there's a serious matter I need to discuss with you concerning Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier. As you know, she was the psychiatrist treating my late sister, Mischa." There was a pause as Will discerned the tinny notes of apology, bidding Hannibal sympathy in his loss, a nicety Hannibal was growing impatient with. "Yes, thank you. It's quite all right, there is no need to worry about not making it to the dinner party last night, I assure you it was not at all what one would consider a pleasant affair. Yes, I do believe something should be done about Freddie Lounds, but at present I have a far more urgent problem. Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier informed me last night that she is writing a book about my sister and is using her case notes. As you can imagine, this is an infamy I am not willing to participate in, in any capacity, and I do not feel my sister had the wherewithal to sign any disclosure documents as Dr. DuMaurier claims...Yes, I agree. I most certainly would be willing to take her to court over this gross breech of confidentiality. If you could contact her lawyer and...Yes. Agreed. Thank you Mr. Goodman, please keep me appraised of the situation."

Hannibal said his goodbyes and hung up his cell, pocketing it wordlessly. Will kept him in his periphery, his wincing headache exacerbated by the bright swatch of white before them on the highway, but it was not his own pain that concerned him. "What's going on?" he asked, and when the psychiatrist wouldn't answer him, Will lifted one hand from the wheel to reach over Buster and grab Hannibal's hand, entwining his fingers in his, the warm leather of his gloves melting against Will's already hot skin. "Bedelia is writing a tell all book about Mischa?"

"No, she is not. My lawyer will see to it." Hannibal's lips were a fine line, his tiredness replaced with a simmering anger that Will well understood. Though Mischa had been a difficult person to manage when she was in Hannibal's life, she had become just as problematic in death, with various people latching onto her small fame and seeking ways to best exploit it. Though she was never a world class artist, her lifestyle had gained her notoriety enough to bring out the classless gawkers and those who were eager to make a buck off of their hunger for gossip. It was a shock to think that DuMaurier was of that ilk, but then Will had never liked the woman, finding her too cold and self serving, a bitter edge to her perfection that irked him. He was glad he had never brought anything of himself or Hannibal into her confidence during the few times he'd met her.

He brought Hannibal's gloved hand to his lips quickly, kissing his leather bound knuckles before releasing him and putting both hands back on the steering wheel. His eyes ached, and the pressure was building anew in his skull, but Hannibal seemed more at ease. Sleepy, even. "I don't want to talk about any of that when we're at Wolf Trap," Will said, not sure if Hannibal was listening or had fallen asleep. "It's just you, and me, and the dogs, and a nice fire and lots of snow. Hot chocolate and marshmallows and I think there's still some venison in my freezer, you can make a hunter's stew or something, whatever you want. Just as long as you try my gumbo first. We can stop off and get ingredients in town along the way."

Buster nervously pawed his seat as the Bentley pushed headlong into a snow squall, the blanket of white near obscuring the universe from view. Hannibal's voice was as muffled as the world outside. Will was doing all he could to keep him tightly swaddled.

"The article is that bad," Hannibal stated.

Will let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding, his headache pulsing with it. The squall let up after about five minutes worth of driving, and he could sense that Wolf Trap was coming up on his left, the familiarity of the road so entrenched in him it felt like a foot path.

He hated that Freddie Lounds and her poison had seeped into this sacred space, that barbed words and lies coiled even here, in the Bentley, pushing Hannibal further into himself for protection. A part of Will wanted to be honest, to say yes, it was a scathing, ugly, festering scab of an article and one that was set to have Hannibal shunned in certain social circles when the shallow gossip grew and the story expanded, especially when those who Mischa wronged could point to her brother, to Hannibal, and say 'See? No apples fall far from *that* tree.'

"I love you, Baby," he said, instead.

"How much further?" Hannibal asked, and it was as though all his energy had been siphoned, leaving nothing but a spent husk of exhaustion.

"About twenty minutes. We're almost there."

"Will?"

"Yeah, Baby?"

Hannibal leaned closer, ousting Buster from his spot in the middle and forcing the little dog into the back seat, where he sprawled out in comfort. Hannibal leaned his head on Will's shoulder and curled against him in a soft needfulness Will had never experienced from him before. From anyone else, the comfort seeking would be sweet, but from Hannibal it was a frightful telling of the fragile condition of the man. Will tried to keep his mood light, and hoped with all he had that Hannibal couldn't discern his unease.

"Thank you, dear Will."

"Just about there, it's the road up that hill, to the left."

For all of his aesthetic complaints about Wolf Trap, the truth was Hannibal loved the little house just as much, if not more, than Will himself did. The powdery snow blew in the direction of the carefully maintained dirt road to the left leading into the property and Will, being a man comprised of near supernatural amounts of empathy, could feel Hannibal's mood lifting the second the little house came into view. It sat in the middle of a clearing, a single light on in the living room kept on for the dogs, and from their current vantage point it didn't look as though it was floating so much as sliding across clouds, beckoning them into its magical, healing fold. The neighbour he'd asked to check in on the dogs had a snow plough business and had cleared the road leading to Will's front porch as a courtesy. It was a kindness that Will was determined to return, maybe with a good catch from some early morning ice fishing. The large lake that stretched out behind his house was teeming with bass and trout, he'd be sure to snag a half dozen plus dinner for himself and Hannibal.

Hannibal didn't say a word as Will pulled in front of the house, but there was a hint of a smile breaking through, his cold person suit slipping as it always did the second Hannibal stepped onto the front porch. The five dogs came bounding out to greet them and Buster, butts sniffed and wet noses bantered around them, scents telling the news of the week. Hannibal was already half out of his Burberry coat before he even stepped in the front door, and he hung it carefully on a hook for the purpose just to the left of it, draping his scarf over the collar with equal precision. He smoothed down his tie and breathed in the air of the little home, taking into his lungs as Will did the dander and dust. The house had a pleasantly earthy scent, as though the woods outside had invaded, the trees and earth leaving their organic mark upon the house as it was spiritually reclaimed.

Will immediately set to work on the fireplace, while Hannibal stood beside his crouched form, his palm smoothing down the colourful tie he'd worn and which probably cost as much as Will's Ford beater. "If I had been given some time this morning to change, I would have dressed down."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Will said, and stood up from the fire, the lit embers beginning their work on the coals. He still had his army surplus coat on, his face chilled from the air outside that poured in from the open front door. The window Hobbs had smashed was filled with a thick piece of pressboard, the lack of view adding an odd coziness to the living room. He captured Hannibal's face in his hands and gave him a searching kiss that the man positively melted into, its unexpected, eager fervour already sending hearts into fluttering overdrive. Their bags were still in the trunk of the Bentley, but Will didn't mention it, preferring instead to allow Hannibal to set the pace. If his ardour was enough to have them creeping upstairs between moments of disrobing and kissing, Will was not about to complain of frozen sweaters.

Always, Hannibal was practical, and he broke the kiss with a wide grin, his hands teasing the collar of Will's army jacket, lips so close when he spoke he was tasting Will's mouth. "I'll get the bags, dear Will. Shall I bring them directly to the bedroom?"

The hint wasn't lost on Will, whose body responded with a very hot and hard 'Yes, please!' Will nearly purred into Hannibal's kiss, his own hands roving over the expensive fabric of his suit, a tactile pleasure that Hannibal had to know drove Will to distraction at the very thought of easing it off of him. "It's still morning," Will reminded him. "Nine o'clock on a weekend and I'm feeling a bit...Lazy." He nipped at the underside of Hannibal's chin, pulling another little purr out of him. "We could go back to bed..."

He liked the way the suggestion made Hannibal's eyes widen, ever so slightly, his breath quicken. Will slid his coat off as Hannibal left to get their bags, and heedless of the snow piling in through the open door, he left the living room to rush upstairs, to make sure his bed was made with fresh linens and an equally clean, cool comforter to wrap around them in the afterglow. He needed more aspirin, which was in the bathroom cupboard above the sink. His head wanted to explode, but he ignored it, the pain something he was just going to have to deal with. This entire weekend was about easing Hannibal's burdens. He tore off his layers, stripping down to his briefs and tossing his clothes in a pile on the floor of the bathroom before hurriedly remaking the bed. He could hear the soft thud of the front door as Hannibal shut it, cheerful words in Lithuanian uttered to the dogs gathered in curiosity around his feet.

Fresh clean towels in the bathroom. Lube on the side table next to the bed. Tired steps heavily burdened trudging up the stairs as Will finished making the bed. If Hannibal wondered why Will's body was so feverish he didn't have time to think about much more than how desperately he enjoyed tasting it, the suitcases dropped in place as he entered the room, and Will grabbed him by the lapels of his suit, the silky feel as seductive as lingerie as he pulled Hannibal, in shivering impatience, onto the bed.

~*~
Is there anything more pleasant than a warm bed with equally comfortable company? Will Graham, criminal profiler and empath and a man who had once thought dogs were far more worthy of friendship than people, rolled onto his side and watched with transfixed happiness at the way Hannibal's face was so peaceful in his repose on the pillow next to his. His headache was dulled thanks to the healing power of sleep, and though Hannibal's body and to some extent Will's own were now profoundly exhausted thanks to ample amounts of creative sex, this didn't mean Will was about to let a sensual morning opportunity go to waste.

He pulled his pillow with him as he slid beneath the covers, slipping it under Hannibal's hips as he began his exploration. Saturday had been more blissful than he could have hoped for, their journey back to bed lasting well until late afternoon, when hunger stirred them awake. Hannibal's good suit was still carelessly tossed onto the small dresser near the bedroom door, and he'd spent the rest of the day and evening in a pair of comfortable flannel pyjamas and one of Will's old work sweaters, the collar moth eaten and the knit easily a size too small for Hannibal, who was poured into it with soft ease. His cold person suit had been likewise stripped, a gradual process that always made Will feel a strange mixture of pleasure and sadness.

The reluctance was all Mischa's doing, Will knew, for though Hannibal was eager to be affectionate, moving into the realm of actual sex was a matter of carefully removing emotional layers that Hannibal felt the need to keep firmly in place. Hannibal had told him of how Mischa would sabotage his relationships, and since these were fairly few and far between she made sure he knew of just how pathetic most men found his sexual shyness, thus exacerbating it.

She was wrong, in some instances. One of her suitors in particular had taken an interest in the studious, older brother, going so far as to use an affair with Mischa to get to him, a mistake he paid dearly for. Hannibal was only twenty at the time, and he didn't particularly consider the man his type, but Mischa was furious over her lover's interest in her brother, and in one of her typical cruelties, she broke it off seemingly amicable and told the man that Hannibal was a whore who liked it rough and to not pay attention to him when he said no.

Luckily, the resulting pursuit did not end in an assault. A bit of unpleasant, unwelcome handling that was quickly quashed when it was clear the man wasn't a rapist. He felt a considerable amount of pity that Hannibal had to deal with someone as rotten to the core as Mischa, and from that moment he had treated the young and pliable Hannibal as though he were spun sugar. Contrary to what Mischa expected, Hannibal willingly lost his virginity to him, and Will envied what that fresh, shy allure must have been like. When Mischa found out about it, she cut off three of the man's fingers with a pair of garden shears.

It was a long time before anyone would attempt to touch Hannibal again.

But as Sutcliffe had said, Will had wandered into Hannibal's life after that gale force storm, and the fact he was able to touch him with this kind of freedom spoke loudly of Will's ability to fashion a key out of his empathy and use it to open the gate of Hannibal's shark cage without fear of repercussion.

He was opening that gate right now, his tongue and mouth working on him, eating him, spreading him wide as he licked and sucked at a place Hannibal could only associate as dirty and was shocked to find Will revelled in. "There's nothing of you that's filthy to me," Will had assured him, and then, as now, proved it.

He took his time, liking the little moans that erupted from Hannibal's throat, his toes curling as the sensation began sending signals to other sensitive places, a slicked, hooked finger adding a shudder that ended in a fairly loud curse. Hannibal, utterly lost, unable to know what to do with his hands, his mind only barely awake and already dizzy from what Will was doing to him. Will savoured him like he was a meal and Hannibal's little moues of pleasure were dessert. Will worked him until the tense rush of his orgasm began to build, and send his hips rising off of the pillow, his fists clutching the comforter, seeking Will out. He harshly whispered something in Lithuanian, a whimpered near sob that made Will want to come just from listening to him. He grabbed the base of Hannibal's cock, preventing him from release, a timing he knew well. He could easily map all the erotic points of Hannibal's body, and could determine just exactly when to make him hold himself back.

He gently pumped Hannibal's cock, stopping him and starting him, over and over until Hannibal shouted curses and he was so lost in what Will was doing he barely even knew he was there. So when Will slicked him up and slid inside of him, hitting all those precious little notes that lay swollen against the entry around his cock, the shuddering, loud relief that poured out of Hannibal was like watching an angel falling, and the beauty of that was so fucking breathtaking Will spilled over the edge and into him so deep he felt like he'd gone in up to his ankles.

It always took Hannibal a little while to recover after Will had done this to him. How many little deaths had Will given him this morning? He'd lost count after ten.

He kissed Hannibal's chest, wetting his lips with his seed and then pressing them to Hannibal's panting mouth, a renewed thrill of excitement coursing through him at Hannibal's surprised whimper at finding his own taste on Will's tongue. Will collapsed on top of him, entangling him deep in his arms as he pulled Hannibal into a tight, almost smothering embrace, burying him beneath him.

"Did you like that, Baby?" Will smiled and teased his lips against Hannibal's still panting mouth. "Mm, you are so beautiful when you are too fucked to talk."

"Willtukas...Prasau...As tave myliu...Taip...Taip..."

Will had no idea what Hannibal was saying, but the soft pleading of it was too sweet not to reward with a passionate kiss that he hoped Hannibal tasted right down to his toes. He kissed him again, lighter this time, running his fingers across Hannibal's brow and combing his fine hair back with long strokes. "Go back to sleep," Will whispered to him, and as though hypnotized Hannibal closed his eyes, lost in Will's warmth, a reaction that made Will's heart near burst with adoration.

It took a great deal of willpower to disentangle himself from Hannibal's long and lazy limbs, and Will made sure to tuck in the blankets around him, keeping in the heat he left behind. He headed for the shower to get ready. The day was just beginning to wake up from its winter slumber and there was a vast, frozen lake with equally lazy fish looking to be hooked for dinner.

~*~
Less than an hour later and Will was bundled up in several layers, ready to take on the bounty waiting for him in the frozen lake. He rubbed his mittens together with a sense of inward glee and grabbed his gear--a hand auger to drill through the ice and his small, lighter fishing rod, accompanied by a tackle box filled with more colourful lures. He didn't bother with tip-ups, he was experienced enough with the feel of his line to know when he'd hooked a fish and he liked the more traditional method, respecting its simplicity. A tall thermos of hot coffee would give him the warmth he needed, and the fairly large tackle box itself would do double duty as a bench to sit on.

The dogs gave him a passing wag of their tails as he left them behind, leaving them in the house so they didn't scurry across the ice, the shadows of their energetic bodies frightening off the fish. He was keen to bring home something for dinner, a trout maybe, or a bass that he would whip into some Cajun heat that would beat out the cold. Hannibal had balked at the spiciness of Will's sausage and shrimp gumbo, which went surprisingly well as a starter with Hannibal's blander venison stew. He felt a centred warmth at the memory of the night before, the two of them sitting on the floor in front of the fire, the couch at their backs as they ate from Will's chipped and mismatched ceramic soup bowls. Will's headache kept bothering him until he medicated it with a few fingers of whiskey and dulled it into submission. His slight drunkenness brought out more of his Louisiana drawl, and Hannibal had great fun calling him on it, making him repeat phrases and speak what little Creole he knew.

"Louisiana is the most culturally diverse region in all of the United States, dear Will. French, African, Haitian, Spanish, English--A myriad of cultures that were quickly swept into a coalescence not often seen elsewhere. It's fascinating that you, as an empath, are from such a place, for the legends are as much a part of you as that vast mixture. I have suspicions you are in fact a loup garou. The loup garou is known not just for its lycanthropy but also for its keen perception."

Will had chewed on this, his fingers roughly scratching through his dark beard. "Is this your way of telling me I need to shave?"

"I think it's a clear symptom of why you end up with so many canines in your little family here at Wolf Trap. They see you as their god."

"You're so pretty when you're sarcastic."

"You're deflecting, Will. One mustn't deny one's true nature."

"Don't worry, mon cher. I'll be showing you my inner wolf soon enough."

The memory brought a whimsical smile to Will's face, and he hummed in satisfaction over just how wolflike he had been since yesterday afternoon. He was still smiling as he balanced all of his gear in his arms and opened the front door, ready to step out into the cold morning and was surprised to be suddenly confronted by a fairly large young man with small but kind eyes and a friendly presence that Will was shocked to find instantly disarmed him.

"Hi," the young man said, holding out a gloved hand. "Will Graham, am I right? Nice to meet you, I'm Cole Sear."

Will stepped out onto his porch, his smile morphing into a frown as he closed the front door behind him. Hannibal hadn't said a word about this guy coming for a visit to Wolf Trap, and since it had been a surprise getaway for them both anyway, it was unlikely that's where the invite came from.

As though reading his mind, Cole shrugged in apology. "Yeah, I called your house this morning and Abigail told me where you guys were. I figured it was a good time to meet with you, seeing as how she's not exactly keen on talking to me." He gestured to Will's gear. "You're going ice fishing?"

"On that lake," Will said, nodding towards it. He cast a glance behind his shoulder at the house and hoped Hannibal was still sleeping. This weekend was about getting his mind off of everything, and that especially included the subject of loss. The last thing he needed was to have Cole Sear bringing up Mischa and all the pain that brought with it. "You can join me if you'd like."

Cole Sear gave him a wide grin. "I'd love to."

~*~
Will couldn't help it. He liked Cole Sear.

They surrounded the small hole in the ice, a steaming mug passed back and forth between them as they shared a warming cup of coffee. Cole nodded at Will's more traditional methods, and admitted he himself had resorted to sonar to find out where the fish were sleeping. "Of course, it wasn't a small lake like this one, it was on the Atlantic and the inlet opened out into the ocean. A little spot my grandfather told me about, on the far north tip of PEI." He watched in gleeful interest as Will began tugging on his line, gently coaxing the slow moving fish to the surface and not taking it out until its mouth was gaping at the dark hole in the ice. He'd had a good haul so far, a half dozen of bass and counting.

"Abigail came home drunk Friday night," Will confessed to Cole, who was sipping at the hot coffee mug and sitting on a milk crate Will had taken off of his back porch. "Her dead father met me at the base of the stairs and dug his icy fingers into my shoulders and called me a shit dad."

He felt the bitterness rise within him at this, and he tensed the lure, making it dance. "Hannibal doesn't know. He would never have come here this weekend and he needed to get away."

"I wasn't able to make it to the dinner party," Cole said, by way of apology. Cole was quiet a long moment. "I tried stopping by your house earlier. I ended up calling because there were too many reporters on your front steps. Abigail answered. She's fine, don't worry about her. She just closed all the curtains so they couldn't see in."

Will let out a long breath, coated in steam. "Well," he said. "Fuck."

"You need to know that it's not going to be your choice."

Will frowned, and cast a weary look Cole's way. "I'm sorry?"

"Abigail," Cole clarified. He rubbed his hands together and wrapped his arms tight around himself to fight off the cold. Will felt like a jerk, he should have offered him another coat. "Sorry--I just got the words in my head and I tend to blurt things out."

"What about Abigail?"

Cole sighed, hesitating. "I know that her father got under your skin. That you obsess about him because that is what you do. But this...what's happening...It's not about you. Abigail has a choice in front of her, and no matter how much Hobbs is haunting you, how much he wants to harm you, it's because he's powerless in the face of what she decides. You're caught on their battlefield, a random hook, that's all."

Will felt uncomfortable. A fish gaped at the surface of the water in the dark hole and he ignored it. The large fish bumped its bony head beneath the thick ice, the line restricting its movements. "I don't understand what you are saying. What is Abigail set to decide on?"

Cole pressed his lips tight, his cheeks ruddy from the cold air whipping against his cherub face. "You'll have to ask her."

~*~

He waved goodbye to Cole who opted out of saying hello to Hannibal, who Will thought was still in bed. He was surprised to find him groggily stomping down the stairs, rubbing sleep from his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Who was that?"

"Cole Sear, he came out here to meet me specifically, I guess to get a feel for what kind of fatherly influence we're providing. You're right, he is a nice guy, I don't understand why Abigail doesn't get along with him."

"I'm sorry that I missed him. Where did you go?"

Will held up his bounty and Hannibal's gaze instantly brightened.

"Truly remarkable, my dear Will. You astound me." He strode closer to Will, taking the bundle of fish from him and giving him a warm, good morning kiss that took the edge off the heat in Will's head. Will felt a layer of stubble bristling against his beard. Hannibal, stubbornly refusing to use a disposable razor. Hannibal cocked his head to one side, a small smile directed Will's way. "You left me in tatters this morning," he said in a near whisper.

"I'm getting pretty good at that, if I do say so myself," Will playfully answered. He watched Hannibal get out the cutting board, the day's catch going into the sink as he began the prep to gut and scale them. "Wait on doing that. I was thinking we could go into town first and get a few things. I'm running low on dog food again, and maybe we could pick up a nice bottle of wine." He grinned at Hannibal and hoped he didn't detect the little notes of anxiety he felt behind it, the image of reporters blanketing Hannibal's property a painful sting he needed to shield him from. "Let's stay another night."

Hannibal considered it, licking his lips in content at the thought. "What about Abigail?"

"She is being babysat by Italian Giallo horror films at present, Cole told me. Nothing like a bit of Suspira to get one through a lonely afternoon." He wrapped his arms around Hannibal's waist, and pressed his too warm face against the back of his neck. "She has the house to herself and she's loving it. One more night, Hannibal." He lightly bit the base of Hannibal's neck, making the man shiver. "I promise to make it worth it."

"I'm just not comfortable leaving her alone this long," Hannibal said, and Will sighed, pulling out his cell phone.

"I'm texting Beverly right now and asking her to stop by and check on the house. You can deal with an angry, Why Won't You Treat Me Like An Adult seventeen year old girl when we get home."

Hannibal pursed his lips. "That is an acceptable compromise." He sighed and grabbed a roll of wax paper, carefully packaging each of Will's fish and stacking them in the refrigerator to work on later. He was looking a lot better, Will was happy to note, the dark circles already disappearing, his mood upbeat. "I believe a chilled chardonnay will do nicely. Shall this be another experiment in Cajun culinary delights? If so, please be kind enough to go easy on the cayenne sauce, my own palate veers towards the delicately savoury, not Hades heat."

He really was a special variety of dork. Will nuzzled the back of Hannibal's head with his nose before reluctantly separating from him. "Come on, throw on the old sweater, there's socks in the boots and let's go."

"I need to shower..."

Will put a stop to that in its tracks, the last thing he wanted was Hannibal to be stuck in that damn bathing room for over an hour, preening and fussing over the fact that he didn't have his shaver, his favourite toothbrush or his preferred aftershave. How's this for therapy, Doc, Will thought. You can walk out of here, one with the unwashed masses. "No you don't, do it when you get back. I stink like fish right now anyway. Besides, you look sexy in flannel."

That, and the Bentley will absolutely *reek* of sex...

Within ten minutes they were driving off of Will's property and back onto the main highway, heading into town once again for an early morning supply run. Hannibal was woefully uncomfortable with being so unkempt in public, but he conceded Will had a point that it made an excellent camouflage against any reporters who may have sniffed out their current hiding spot. Hannibal hadn't yet read the Tattle Crime article, and Will was going to do all he could to give him a reprieve for at least one more night.

The roads were icy as the Bentley's wheels gave it good purchase, though Will was careful not to go too fast lest black ice send them skidding. He'd managed to keep the keys and as Hannibal was in a good humour he'd relented and let Will drive. His head was pounding with all the force of ice floes crashing against each other, but he fought the urge to wince against the pain and instead took great delight in how tousled and happy Hannibal looked in the seat beside him, easy smiles and a relaxed pose brought into a precious return. The conversation again turned to dinner, with Will suggesting they have blackened bass, and Hannibal responding that charcoal was excellent for indigestion.

He liked the way Hannibal laughed. Warm and genuine, the shark cage left wide open, entrusting Will with the key to the lock. He looked healthy. Relaxed. Will found he couldn't stop stealing glances at him, wondering how it was this eccentric, pompous, beautiful man had become bound so tightly in his heart when he'd been so steadfast against letting anyone in.

"It's snowing again," Hannibal noted, the large flakes slowly descending in a muffling blanket upon the slickened, black road.

Garrett Jacob Hobbs clutched his icy fingers over Will's grip on the steering wheel. The stench of his death was thick in the air around Will as Hobbs hissed into his ear. "You see? I'm going to have her, she's mine. She'll never be your daughter. You see? You take what's mine, I'll take what's yours..."

A blinding spike of pain shot through the centre of Will's skull like a bullet and all he could see was a piercing blanket of white. Hobbs' hands fought Will's on the steering wheel and through what seemed like a vast distance he could hear Hannibal shouting his name, the feel of his hands on the steering wheel before he was thrown back, the Bentley spinning, spinning until it skidded sideways, off of the road and he could see through the side window, there was the thick trunk of a tree on the passenger side and a sound, such a horrific sound, the pointed echo of a universe crashing into crumpled metal and glass and white fading quickly into black.

 

 

Chapter Text

ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE
chapter six

The lights above him flickered back and forth, snapshots of perception that brought words and people into a fuzzy outline within his consciousness. He tried to cling to what they were saying, none of it making much sense to him, a word salad of medical terms that he knew well but had no concept of how they related to himself.

"Blood pressure seventy over eighty."

The world was bleached into pure white, vague thoughts intruding upon the blank space. He wanted to move, but he couldn't, a dull, constant ache powerhousing its way through his body, creeping into his bones, into his chest. He wanted to rub the ache away but he couldn't lift his arm. Long lines of light coursed fast above him in a staccato rhythm and he could discern shapeless forms of colour. Pinks and blues and seafoam green.

Then, in alarming clarity, he saw Abigail leaning over the glint of a silver rail, looking down at him. Soft, freckled cheeks and long dark hair trailed against his arm and he longed to reach up and tuck the errand strands behind her ear. His arms felt tethered to a hard surface, and he tried to speak to her but he had a great deal of difficulty in forcing words out, his tongue swallowing the vowels back. He wanted to tell her he was sorry, and that she wasn't to worry, but all he could manage was a strangled 'A--A..'

She smiled and pulled back and Hannibal felt the weight of her absence like a brick thrown hard against his chest.

"Sir? Please try not to move. He's got traumatic pneumothorax on the left side and a pulmonary contusion, fractures in five, six and seven , no sign of flail chest."

"X-ray will confirm that. Get him prepped."

He could hear someone yelling in the background, a voice that sounded vaguely like Will's, only it was oddly shrill, a note of panic within in it that Hannibal couldn't understand. They were just going to the grocery store. Why was he yelling like that, and cursing? So unnecessary. Hannibal wanted to tell him, but it was getting so difficult to do anything more than breathe.

"Sir, we are stabilizing him now, please get back into your bed, we are taking you downstairs for your MRI..."

"You let me fucking see him!'

Hysteria, loud and forceful, and with Will's voice. How very strange. Heavy feet ran down the corridor, and he could hear scuffling, more curses, more shouting and none of it making sense. They were going to the grocery store, this was so ridiculous. He could hear sobbing now, and there couldn't possibly be a pain worse than this, to hear his dear Will in such distress. He tried to sit up and reassure him that it was fine, he was picking up the wine, and Abigail was here, so why worry?

"Try to be still, okay?" A sharp, professional, female voice at his ear told him, and he tried, he really did, but it was so hard to breathe, why couldn't he get this weight off of his chest, and Will...He could still hear him sobbing, an echo looming long into the corridor on his right. "His oxygen stats are plummeting again, let's get that up to 94% before we take him to radiology."

The blurry lights above him finally stopped moving, and the last thing Hannibal remembered was the mask being fitted over his face and the world fading into a grey, silent mist.

~*~

When he next opened his eyes, Hannibal was in a lot more pain than discomfort, and he winced against it as he tried to get his bearings. Beside him he could hear soft weeping and it took him a while to find the lucidity enough to turn his head and see Will at his bedside, his shoulders hunched in despair. He didn't have time to fully realize what was happening before Will bounded out of his chair, nearly knocking over his IV, its needle embedded in a thick, black bruise on the back of his hand. The tube ran along the length of Will's arm, and save for a plethora of bruises and what looked to be a nasty scab across the bridge of his nose, Will was otherwise intact. Hannibal tried to smile and sit up, only for the pain to hit him full force again, and Will leaned over him, his palms pushing down on both of Hannibal's shoulders, pinning him back to what he now understood was a hospital bed.

"You're awake! Oh my God. Just stay still, Baby, okay? Just..." Will leaned over him and planted a hot kiss on Hannibal's forehead, and pulled the chair he was sitting in much closer, until his chest was pressed against the cold steel bed rails. "You broke some ribs, messed up a lung a little bit, but the doctor says you're going to be okay, just have to rest up and heal."

Hannibal shifted beneath the cool, overly starched sheets and a stab of pain made him groan. He didn't like the way it made Will tense, tears threatening to spill anew. Hannibal reached up slowly to wipe them away, for nothing could be so sorrowful when he was here, awake and Will was sitting next to him, in one solid, shivering in shock piece. Hannibal was surprised to find an unwelcome weight against his wrist and frowned when he saw it was encased in thick plaster.

"You broke your wrist in the crash," Will said, swallowing back his emotion. He was wearing a blue hospital gown and matching housecoat, Hannibal noted, neither of which would keep the chill of his room out very well. "The Bentley hit a tree on the passenger side, and you took the brunt of it. You've got broken ribs, and your lung collapsed. One hell of a cut across your chest, there was so much blood...Oh my God, Baby, I'm so sorry..."

An accident, then. "The Bentley?" Hannibal's voice felt cracked, like crushed glass. He was so thirsty.

"A total write-off. Like I should be." Will pointed to the IV in his arm, tears falling freely now. "I had a seizure at the wheel. This is all my fault. The doctors say I have encephalitis and they're treating me with some heavy duty antibiotics. I shouldn't have been driving. I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry..."

Hospital. They were in a hospital. Despite the heavy weight at his broken wrist, Hannibal reached up with purple fingertips to wipe away the tears spilling down Will's damp cheeks. The reality of what had happened had finally settled into his consciousness and Hannibal was no longer drowsily awake. He remembered watching the snowfall slightly start to thicken as they made their way down the main road heading into town and some fragments of conversation, but everything afterwards was a complete blank. No...Not everything. He'd had a visitor, and he remembered the feel of her hand on his, the light, cold pressure and the calm of her sweet, warm smile.

"Where's Abigail?"

Will head shook slightly at this. "She's at home, of course. I called her earlier, she didn't pick up the phone. Beverly never answered me back and Abigail doesn't know we're here." He reached into the pocket of his blue housecoat and cast a worried glance out into the hospital hallway outside Hannibal's room. He pulled out his cell phone. "I've been trying to get a hold of her for the past three hours, I'm getting pretty pissed she's not answering. She'd better not have any of those deadbeat friends of hers over."

"Encephalitis," Hannibal said, frowning slightly as he worked the word over in his mind. He glanced at the oxygen stats displayed on the stick nurse beside him. He was at ninety-nine percent. "That would explain the hallucinations. When did you get this diagnosis?"

"Yesterday morning. Not long after the accident and they were...They were patching you up..." Will's face crumbled into tears again, and he leaned out of his chair and over Hannibal, hugging him tightly and pressing his damp face into Hannibal's neck, heedless of the oxygen line tugging beneath his nose. Though his wrist was heavy, Hannibal managed to bring his arms up in a bruised embraced, the ache one he'd suffer gladly just to have Will's warmth against him.

"It's strange that Abigail is not answering the phone," Hannibal said, and the worry that had nagged him when they had first left for their pleasant weekend away at Wolf Trap returned with a vengeance. "We should go home. I am a surgeon, there is no reason for us to remain here. I detest hospitals, they are no place for a patient to recuperate. I can administer your antibiotics and as for myself, I'm sure I can manage much better in familiar surroundings."

"Hannibal, this is not a good idea. You need to rest."

"I will rest far better in my own bed, especially since I have such a pleasantly feverish body to share it with. Please, dear Will. Let the nurse know we are discharging ourselves." Against Will's protests, Hannibal forced himself to sit up through the pain, the oxygen tube pulled off of his ears and away from his nose to dangle, discarded, at the side of the bed. Hospitals were dirty places, Hannibal thought, teeming with unknown factions of disease that were just longing to find a weakened host. He didn't seem so bad for having been tossed around the trunk of a tree, even if his body did scream out in agony at every bruised and battered movement he made. Broken ribs were manageable. He was definitely on some powerful painkillers, but in truth they barely took the edge off. He paused at intervals, catching his breath and closing his eyes over the agony of his broken ribs before finally giving himself that final push that lowered his bed rail, allowing his legs to swing over the edge of the bed.

"You're insane. We are not going home. Get back in the damned bed!"

"We need to get back to Abigail, she is a troubled teenaged girl left far too long on her own and she has no idea what has happened to us. She must be out of her mind with worry and I feel sick at being a cause for her terror. Hand me my coat, dear Will. It seems I have no clothes to speak of, this will be problematic in getting a taxi."

"We are not taking a half naked taxi ride back to Baltimore." Will sighed and left his chair to sit beside Hannibal on the hospital bed, the mattress creaking slightly under his weight. He placed a steadying hand at Hannibal's back, the warmth so welcome against his chilled, bruised body Hannibal hummed in pleasure. The Western State Hospital in Virginia was a little ways from Wolf Trap and a fairly miserable distance from Baltimore. Getting home was going to be a challenge.

"Perhaps you could give Jack a call?" Hannibal said, and Will fervently shook his head.

"Bella took a bad turn over the weekend, and I guess she never told Jack how sick she was. He knows about the cancer now. I'm not asking Jack for a thing. You're just going to have to stay here, I'll figure out something about Abigail. She's grounded for life if she doesn't pick up the damn phone."

Hannibal was busy contemplating all manner of things that could have happened in their absence--the house burned down, a robbery gone wrong, Abigail injured from tripping down the stairs--worries that were far removed from the possibilities he knew Will was considering, which was that Abigail was too busy enjoying her sudden freedom to acknowledge something had gone wrong and she was currently getting wasted at a four day house party.

"I don't see my wallet. Do you have enough money, Will, for the taxi? It will be an expensive fare, I'm afraid."

"They won't let me in a damned cab with an IV, Hannibal."

He was willing to argue the point, but was interrupted by a gentle knock on the door of his room, and much to Hannibal's shock and chagrin, a familiar smiling face wormed his way in, stealing Will's chair and plopping his wide girth within it, all the while giving Hannibal and Will a far too gleaming smile.

"Hi guys," Franklyn said, and he shoved a mixed bouquet of rather wilted wildflowers at Will. "These could probably use a vase. Not the nicest, I know, but that's all they had left in the hospital lobby. The daisies got kind of crushed in the elevator, some guy with a knife in his head bumped into me." Franklyn smiled and shrugged, not properly interpreting Hannibal's stricken expression. "Guess you're surprised to see me, hunh?"

Hannibal could only shake his head, dumbfounded. "I can't believe you are sitting here, in front of me, like this. I thought I made it perfectly clear at the dinner party what I think of your selfish attempts at apology." Hannibal watched as Will turned the ratty looking collection of flowers over in his grip, staring at them in mute confusion. "Franklyn, really. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"See, now, that's the kind of thing I mean--er, meant--before we, you know, parted ways." Franklyn let out an easy going sigh. "You're my psychiatrist, you're *supposed* to know what's wrong."

"You're an idiot," Hannibal replied.

"While I appreciate your opinion..."

"That's not my damned opinion, Franklyn, that's my diagnosis!"

Truly, the audacity of the man! Will tipped the flowers in his grip onto his lap, and Hannibal practically shrank from them, an action that cause a surge of pain to shoot up his side. A harried looking nurse marched into the room, her hands on her ample hips as she glowered down at Hannibal and at the discarded oxygen tube at his side. "Got a real party going on here, Dr. Lecter. Mind telling me why you aren't wearing your oxygen?"

"My stats are up to normal levels, it's unnecessary." She continued to stare him down and, again, Hannibal remembered why he hated hospitals so much. Nurses. Pushy, driven, overly helpful nurses. He closed his eyes and measured out an even breath that left his chest stinging. "Mr. Graham and I will be leaving soon."

"Dr. Singh hasn't released you."

"I am releasing myself, and Mr. Graham. If there are forms I need to sign, waivers absolving the hospital of all blame, I will do so. But I am not remaining here." Hannibal glared at Franklyn, who was sadly not at a loss for words.

"You know, Dr. Lecter, you don't look like you should be going anywhere."

"I am going to my home, Franklyn, and since you are so keen to be helpful and apologetic and are such a kind, lovely soul, you are going to help me make that happen." The vicious tone of Hannibal's voice gave Franklyn pause and he opened his mouth as if to protest, only to close it again and sagely nod in agreement.

"If you're looking for a ride..."

"You are taking us back to Wolf Trap, you are helping us pack, and you are then driving us back to Baltimore. I don't want to hear another word from you, Franklyn. After this, consider your apology accepted."

Franklyn gave Will a small grimace, and earned a yawn in reply. "So, you just want to use me like a personal taxi service?"

"Absolutely. I am taking full advantage of your residual guilt and I am offering next to nothing in return." Hannibal removed the needle attached to his own IV that was no doubt a cocktail of painkillers and likewise the various pads that were connected to monitors measuring his vitals. "I am rather curious, Franklyn, as to how you knew we were here. It wasn't so long ago that I myself was made aware. Does Freddie Lounds have that much of a stranglehold on our every move?"

Franklyn paled at this, and Will inched closer to Hannibal, a gesture that, while not unappreciated, suggested to Hannibal that secrets were definitely in the mix. With his lips pressed tight in an angry line, Hannibal snatched Will's cell phone from his grip before he had a chance to hide it, and quickly made his way onto the Tattle Crime website. Ah yes. Right on the front page of the blog, a picture of Hannibal lying unconscious in the hospital bed, his nude battered body on full display with no attempt made to offer him modesty. Will put his hand to his mouth and cursed.

Freddie Lounds, you vile creature. This was just too far.

"I have a few acquaintances who are lawyers," Franklyn offered, being of no help whatsoever. "You have every reason to sue."

Hannibal laughed at this, and the pain made him wince. It was an ugly sound, given the circumstances, and considering how broken he felt the torture was both physical and spiritual. "It seems all attempts at privacy are for naught, dear Will. I am now on the butcher's block, quite literally. Please, if you would both be so kind as to leave me alone for a few moments so I can remove my catheter--Unless, of course, someone would like to take a picture of that, too?"

~*~
The ride home was long and spent in a tense, unyielding silence that not even Franklyn dared to break with his usual idle, mindless chatter. Will was stuffed uncomfortably in the front seat with Franklyn, while Buster and Hannibal were equally ill at ease in the back seat. For such a large man, Franklyn had chosen a tiny compact Volkswagen that would comfortably seat two people at the most, and with no trunk space and a pervasive, cheese smell permeating the upholstery. The ride back to Baltimore felt as though it took days instead of a few hours. Still, the ride was at least quiet. The last thing Hannibal wanted was conversation for it would inevitably turn into a long discussion about the articles that had been hidden from him on Tattle Crime, their poison effectively ruining any healing power he'd earned at Wolf Trap with Will.

By the time they rolled up to the front steps of his house, there was a small group of reporters digging through his garden, and they practically swarmed the car, notepads and recorders in hand, demanding to know what he thought of Tattle Crime, and Freddie Lounds and was Will Graham really a killer, and did he get any fan mail over that picture yet?

Franklyn helped them with their bags, and Buster ran into the house after nipping at the heels of a few reporters who dared to get too close to Hannibal. Hannibal, for his part, leaned heavily on Will as he walked into his home with as much grace and civility as he could muster, his head held high as he walked through the front door and closed it angrily in the faces of the dozen strong gossip merchants who longed to watch him fall. He didn't collapse until he was well inside, and Will deposited him on the sofa in the study, its grey comfort suddenly such a balm to his aching mind, body and soul he couldn't help but weep.

"Dr. Lecter? Are you going to be okay?"

"Franklyn, just go." Will ran a weary, IV bruised hand across his forehead, and watched while Buster bounded onto the sofa and began licking Hannibal's face in earnest.

Franklyn hesitated. "It's really rotten. That's all I can say, Mr. Graham. It's really, really rotten what's being done to him."

He made his leave and Hannibal, feeling guilt over his lack of appreciation for Franklyn's assistance, for he *had* been indispensable, shouted in a weak voice, that he couldn't be sure the man heard, "Thank you, Franklyn."

The front door gently closed behind the large man, and they were at last alone again, the large house practically heaving a sigh of relief at having them back. Will left the suitcases near the front door and with his hands in his pockets he entered the study, concern etched in every micro expression on his unshaven face. He padded softly into the study, his shoes kicked off and black socks soundless on the oak floor. He crouched in front of Hannibal, and placed hot palms on the man's knees, his face looking up at Hannibal's in imploring concern. He asked the one question that always preceded a feeling of comfort, an enquiry that, through countless generations and cultures had been the starting point of healing all ills.

"Do you want some tea?"

Tears threatened to spill and Hannibal nodded almost imperceptibly. He sat in the darkening study with the little dog nestled close to him, staking claim to a pillow near his back and turning three times before curling into a tight ball and hiding his nose against Hannibal's hip. His lungs felt like they were being squeezed with every breath he took, and he fought through the pain to expand them wide, his broken ribs sending piercing screams of agony through his side.

By the time Will brought in a cup of hot tea, he was so weak he could barely hold it, the plaster cast around his wrist getting in the way. Will clasped his hands around Hannibal's and helped him ease the rim of the mug to his lips. The hot liquid instantly calmed the violent spasms rocking his body and Hannibal closed his eyes in relief.

"Mischa would have killed her," Hannibal said, his eyes still closed. He could feel Will's hands over his own, the mug held up together. "She had a strict rule. No one was to make me cry but her. Believe me, dear Will, Mischa made good on that promise, she made me weep more than my pride cares to admit, but she would never have tolerated this. Mischa would be in prison by now, charged with Freddie Lounds's murder. That woman has no idea how lucky she is. Mischa would have made her suffer for her art. She would have ripped her into far more pieces than her careless articles have torn me."

Will leaned forward and kissed him, lightly, and then urged him to hug the mug closer for better balance as he sat back, his palms returning to clasp over Hannibal's knees. "I won't let her get away with this," Will said. Deep, ocean blue eyes met the island of Hannibal's maroon gaze. "I promise you."

~*~
Abigail ran down the stairs two at a time, nearly bumping into Will as he left Hannibal in the study. His hands were still loose in his pockets as he slowly took her in, the panicked,quick intake of her breath telling him nothing. He found no evidence of her having a party or even that she had left the house, since there were no articles with her picture splashed across it and whatever brand of gonzo journalism struck the imaginations of those who were currently crowding their porch. "I take it you had a good few days here at the house alone?"

Abigail railed on him. "Where the hell were you guys? I was so worried! I kept reading Tattle Crime and then that one article said you were in an accident and...That awful picture." She glanced into the study and her blue eyes filled with tears at the sight of Hannibal looking so bereft of hope on the grey sofa, a cup tea poised at his stern lips, his person suit so cold and thick it was like it was fashioned from an iceberg. It had the opposite effect Hannibal wanted, instead of projecting strength he only entrenched pity.

"Why didn't you answer the phone, or call us to find out what was going on?" Will crossed his arms, not buying Abigail's tears no matter how genuine they seemed. "When you found out about the accident, why weren't you there? You could have called Beverly, or Alana, they would have given you a ride."

Abigail loudly sniffed. "But he's okay, right?"

Will sighed. "I'm moving him out of Mischa's room. We'll put him in the guest room near the stairs, it's half the size and it will do." He ran his fingers across Abigail's brow, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "Why don't you dig out some of those leftovers and put something together for him, he'd like that. He hasn't had anything to eat all day."

Abigail bit her bottom lip and tried to smile, the effort painful to watch. "I can't. There's nothing left."

Will frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I might be able to find a can of soup, or maybe that mac and cheese. That'll be okay, right?"

A tight, twisting feeling curled around Will's heart as he walked past her and then into the kitchen, where he wrenched open the refrigerator. Empty platters under torn plastic, eight in all. He pulled them out with shaking hands and placed them on the kitchen counter, an overwhelming feeling of rage at being lied to hitting him. "You had a party. You had all your friends over here and they ate everything. I told you no parties!"

"I didn't have one!"

"Come on, Abigail, there was enough in this fridge alone to feed ten people let alone one!" He turned to see several more empty platters in the sink. "Where are those from?"

"The drop cellar. I told you, I was hungry!"

"Abigail," Will shook his head. Did she really think he was that stupid, that she could just lie like this and it was okay, that he was just going to roll over and believe every stupid, pathetic untruth she dared to spew. "There is no possible way you ate all of this. We were gone for four days, there was enough here for weeks. You can't stand there and tell me you ate an entire pheasant."

"It was really good, you should have tried it." Her lower lip quivered and she glanced into the study and then back to Will. "Please don't fight with me. I swear, it was just me. I didn't have a party. I was really, really hungry."

His empathy wasn't helping him, he couldn't find the lie in her eyes, or in the inflection in her voice, she genuinely believed that what she said was true. But to believe her would deny the very components of reality and it was too tall an order for Will, especially with how thin his patience had been pulled, and it was damn taut, ready to snap.

"You are grounded."

"What?"

"No friends for the rest of the month. No horror movie marathons."

"But I just *told* you...!"

"It doesn't matter, Abigail, you are in our house and you are abiding by our rules and if these friends are this bad an influence that they force you to lie over eating us out of house and home, then it might be a good idea to put some distance between them for a while. He was so worried about you, Abigail, and not once did he cross your mind over the last few days. You've been horribly selfish."

The angry tears spilled then, and she let out a cry of frustration at Will, her little fists pulled tight into white knuckled fury.

"Abigail? Will? Is everything all right?"

They both seethed into a truce at this, Abigail's fists loosening into shaking knuckles. She kept her voice light and even as she projected it into the study. "I'm just going to get your room ready, Dr. Lecter, I'll be back down in a minute."

"I thought I heard you shouting, Will."

"Everything's fine, Baby." He narrowed his eyes at her nervous stance, watching the way she twitched and fidgeted under his harsh scrutiny. "There was something wrong with the fridge, it stopped working on Sunday, Abigail said, so the leftovers from the dinner party spoiled. Had to throw the lot out. I'm ordering in a pizza."

"*All* of it?" Hannibal near shouted, and winced as he did so. Will peered through the open door of the study and saw the warm mug of tea was pressed close against Hannibal's chest. Just one more blow in a series of explosions, Will figured. He turned to Abigail and could see that she understood what he did, that her actions had created yet another undeserved disappointment. She hung her head when she heard Hannibal reply, "What a terrible waste!"

"I'll be right back!" she promised, and not wanting to earn one more of Will's reproachful looks, she escaped up the stairs, the two small suitcases in tow.

Will sauntered back to the door of the study and leaned against its frame, putting Hannibal in his sights. The rows of old books and scattered works of art made the space a near exact replica of Hannibal's professional office, which was set to be neglected for the next few weeks as he recovered from the car accident. Hannibal held his mug of tea close to his chest, its contents cold by now, his dreamy concentration lighting upon stacks of art books on an occasional table near the far wall, one with prints by Goya laying open.

"What are you thinking about?" Will asked, but he already knew the answer.

"I'm thinking I would prefer to sleep in the guest room tonight."

Will smiled and languidly walked into the study, his limber steps taking him to Hannibal, whom he kissed on the top of his head. He pulled out his cell phone. "Pepperoni or Hawaiian?"

"Get both," Hannibal said, fighting the urge to grimace in disgust at this forced indulgence in fast food. "Abigail likes pineapples."

~*~
The next three days were fraught with boredom, with Hannibal too tired to do much more than read in bed and try the keep the nausea induced by his injuries from ruining his appetite too much. Abigail had been exceptionally attentive, and he was grateful for the young woman's company, her smile an easy balm that made his bruised body relax enough to attempt healing. She brought him sandwiches of her own creation and he was proud that she took to heart his culinary advice, wisely pairing acceptable flavour profiles and experimenting with the proper subtlety. Sandwiches comprised of thick, artisan breads, brie and Swiss, rocket and thinly sliced cucumbers with smoked salmon and a shiracha mayonnaise--which Hannibal didn't much care for, but it did pique Will's more Cajun sensibilities.

His recovery was much slower than he had anticipated, and while it had only been a few days, he was expecting to at least be able to sit up for longer periods of time without feeling unbearably drained. Will's recovery from his encephalitis had been swift, the antibiotics working miracles within a day, and while he still retained a far warmer internal temperature than Hannibal and was well in the realm of the human hot water bottle when in bed with him, he was no longer so fevered and damp.

As is the case of many in the medical professions, Hannibal was a terrible patient. Against advice, he would sometimes creep out of the bed to attempt a descent down the stairs to get to the study, and just twice this week he'd nearly tumbled down them as a particular pain in his side hit him, like a fist punched into his gut. He wasn't used to healing so slowly, which is what he'd tried to explain to Will who had severely admonished him, ordering him back to his bed and to stay there until he could at least stand up without the need to vomit.

It was time for lunch and Hannibal was happy to hear the tiny knock at the door and Abigail peek in, a delicate silver tray in her hands. The small flower she put in a slim shot glass was a precious addition to the overall aesthetic appeal of the spread, which today was an assortment of cheeses, smoked meats and olives and wedges of french baguette paired with a lovely, fruity shiraz. "You are a remarkable girl," he said, and she beamed at him. He gestured to his plate. "I'm afraid there's far too much for me alone, however. Not to worry, we can share."

She stole a few olives and smiled at him. "I always end up eating most of your lunch," she reminded him.

Yes, this was true. For while he applauded her efforts, his own appetite had seriously waned and it was sometimes a daunting task just to take a bite. Still, the wine went down easily, and he picked it up before she could steal a sip of that as well. "Abigail, there is something I have been meaning to talk to you about,as it has been perturbing me as of late. I don't wish for you take this the wrong way, you understand, for this is your home and you should feel free to explore it as is your wont." Hannibal smiled at her cheerful shrug at this, and he hoped it would not diminish. "I would prefer, however, if you stayed out of my sister's room. I can hear you rummaging in the wardrobe, which is just behind this wall." He rapped a knuckled on the headboard. "You've been quite carelessly rough with it as well, banging its doors and I can hear you tossing things in and out of it. I am still keeping my good suits in there and as they are careful staples of my wardrobe..."

"I didn't go in that room."

Hannibal gave her a crooked smile, and a small incline of his head. "My dear girl, I am not admonishing you for your curiosity, I merely wish for you not to go into that room, and especially not that closet. There is no need to lie."

Abigail fixed him with a steady stare, her blue eyes suddenly freezing into orbs of ice. "I can't go in there. If there's someone going through your stuff it isn't me." She got up abruptly from the side of the bed and gave him a haughty nod, one that made no secret of the fact she was angry with him. "Let me know when you're done."

Her absence sat ill with Hannibal, as did her lie, for she had to be lying, there was no one else who could have been slamming the doors like they did and screeching his suits to one side and the other, the metal on the hangers scraping against the metal bar in a tinny whine. Even when he tried to sleep, the doors would be banged open, waking him, heavy thumps at its base.

He tried to eat more than a few bites, but he was suddenly extremely tired, and he could only fall back onto the pillows, and close his eyes, Abigail's lovely spread ignored as the heavy lidded draw of sleep pulled him under. He placed his glass of wine on the side table on top of the book on Goya he'd been reading, mindful not to leave a ring on its book jacket.

The thump began again. He frowned, wondering if Abigail was doing her best to aggravate him, for he was the one with the most tolerance and if she was going to get into a shouting match it was always destined to be Will. Tempting his ire was fruitless, for he had an endless amount of patience. He would need to talk to her again.

He heard the tap in the kitchen go on, and his blood ran cold.

Abigail was in the kitchen.

She couldn't be in two places at once.

As if in answer to his thoughts the thumping increased again, so violent the headboard shook from it. He cried out in pain as the banging hammered hard against the wall, wood splintering and cracking, a long, thin crack in the plaster between the rooms running from the floor up to the ceiling, splitting the room in two. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and tried to balance himself, knocking over the glass of wine in the process. How could Abigail not hear the din? It roared in his ears now, and he could hear a whisper eking its way through the crack in the wall, the long line like a central vein through the room.

Horrified and curious, Hannibal leaned against the headboard for support, and pressed his ear against the wall. The thumps were softer now, accompanied by whispers that he strained to hear. With careful manoeuvring, he brought his knees onto the bed and leaned up towards the headboard, peering into the crack to see how much damage had been done and if the fissure was in the other room as well.

He leaned closer, smelling a sickly sweet perfume.

He watched the crack as blue, purple tipped fingers began prying at the drywall. He held his breath, his heart hammering in his chest, all energy siphoned from him as the fingers grew inhumanely longer, like an extended spider jutting through the crack and reaching, testing the air in his room like undead tentacles.

She ripped a hole in the wall with her long fingers that stretched into a seeming infinity, reaching for him, to wrap tight around his throat and make it even harder for him to breathe. She pulled herself out of the crack, dead skin sloughing off with the effort, her bulbous eyes and blue stub of a tongue rolling with conversation. Always, her whispers. The overly long, ropelike fingers of her right hand wrapped tight around his chest, breaking his ribs anew, crushing the rest until he couldn't breathe at all. She pulled herself close, her body ripped to sinews within the crack in the wall, her gaping tongue opened wide to feed.

"Mischa, don't!"

He fell out of the bed and onto the floor, hard. Pieces of glass got stuck in his arm, leaving fresh smears of blood on the oak hardwood. He could hear Abigail in the kitchen, shouting. "Will! I think he fell out of bed again!" And then the back garden door opened and shut, and Will's steps as he ran up the staircase. Hannibal sat upright on the floor, his back against the mattress. He picked glass out of his arm, and put it in a small pile beside his thigh.

He closed his eyes as Will entered the room and who immediately began an angry tirade about how Hannibal had to be more careful, to be less impatient and wait for him to help him out of bed. With muttered cursing he helped Hannibal back into the bed, and Hannibal didn't bother telling him about his strange dream and how awful it made him feel, like he'd been shredded. He was so tired. He could hear Will's nagging for him to lie more centred in the bed, could feel him working on his bloodied arm, bandaging it.

He was so tired. So very, very tired.

Be a dear, my love, Hannibal wanted to say, but his eyes were closing as he fell asleep. Dear Will, tell my sister to stay out of my room.

~*~

"You aren't looking too good."

Hannibal slowly opened his eyes, his head lolling on his pillow. In an occasional chair by his bed, Dr. Crowe sat sprawled within it, looking as rumpled and casual as ever. Hannibal rubbed the back of his neck, feeling the cuts on his arm smart as the scabs were pulled along with it. He winced and inspected them, little dots of blood coming away on his fingertips. "I'm getting rather tired of that phrase," Hannibal said to Dr. Crowe, whose eyes were crinkled in mirth as he smiled. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I heard about your little mishap in Wolf Trap," Dr. Crowe said.

"I take it you've read that article on Tattle Crime and saw the lovely vision of my bruised nakedness. Not my best side, I'm afraid. I'm considering sending Freddie Lounds a better selection, perhaps one immortalized in marble."

"I'm not sure why you'd want to give her that gift." Dr. Crowe laughed and shook his head. "Seriously, I've seen dead flies that look better than you. Not all of this is the accident, is it?"

He sighed, deeply and Dr. Crowe leaned forward his hands clasped in front of him.

"You are a psychiatrist, doing what a psychiatrist does best," Hannibal said.

"And what's that?" Crowe asked.

"Psychoanalysing."

"Is that what I'm doing?"

"No point wasting time with this dance, you know damned well why you are here. Abigail, or Will have sent you because I've been having nightmares."

"From what I understand, they have been an ongoing concern." He nodded at Hannibal's scrutiny. "Abigail told me. You have been known to wake up screaming and then begin pacing the house at all hours."

"There are plenty of things within my memory to create such dark visions, and sadly I am not as much in control of my subconscious as I would wish to be. Tell me, Dr. Crowe, how do you know Dr. DuMaurier?"

Dr. Crowe frowned at this, and leaned back in his chair, knowing a mental brush off when he was dealt one. "She's an acquaintance of mine and one whom I am not exactly fond, to be honest. She told me about her plans for the tell all book about Mischa. You must be pissed."

"Indeed I am."

"Another layer of nightmare to add to your midnight strolls." Dr. Crowe gave Hannibal's concern a bemused smile, one that didn't fit with how Hannibal was feeling. He closed his eyes, suddenly wishing the doctor was gone. He was too tired for all of this, and all he really wanted to do was lay in his bed and curl up close to Will and sleep until all of his aching was miraculously healed. He turned on his side away from Dr. Crowe, but the pain was a dull throb that never went away.

"My sister was a monster," Hannibal said into his pillow.

"I've read some of the police reports," Dr. Crowe said. "She loved the violence, that's for sure. It couldn't have been easy, growing up with a person who was that volatile. You were closest to her, you must have been the brunt of most of it."

"I was," Hannibal said, frowning. "And yet...There were times when Mischa could be the most lovely person in the world." He turned back onto his back and then slowly onto his opposite side, so he faced Dr. Crowe. "She never forgot my birthday. Every year, without fail, she'd get my favourite cake and an incredibly thoughtful gift. My collection of art books came from her. I have been forever grateful for them."

"Being kind once a year is hardly indicative of a good person," Dr. Crowe reminded him.

"Oh Mischa was as far from good as the moon is from churned butter. She revelled in her cruelty, there was nothing she loved more than to make me miserable. But I understood her, and that's the difference."

"Understanding can breed unexpected comraderie. I suspect in this case it's more Stockholm Syndrome."

"Not quite. She was my sister, and she was mad and I'm a doctor of the mind. I think we tended to feed off of one another." Hannibal gave Crowe a rueful smile. "We had a terrible life when we were children, living off of old money, which was no money at all. She was almost murdered by a family friend, did I ever tell you about that?"

Dr. Crowe shook his head.

"He was a hedge funds manager, did a lot of financial work for my father. I don't know the details, apparently his wife left him, there's rumours it was for my father. One night he drove the ten hours it took to get to my family's property and came after my family with a machete. We lived in this vast, massive castle and only four of the rooms were actually livable. Kings living as peasants."

"I suppose title still has more weight than wealth."

"Not any more. Poverty creates a parody of that old system." Hannibal swallowed, his mouth dry at these harsher portions of his memory. "He systematically murdered everyone, our housekeeper, my father, my cousin, my uncle...I remember grabbing Mischa and locking her in the gun closet in the main foyer. I took one of my father's hunting rifles first and after she was safely tucked away, and I waited until he came after me."

"Brave kid."

"I was the heir to the Lecter name. I was a child, at that time I did not realize the lofty history would mean nothing."

Hannibal shuddered at the memory. "It was a life changing moment, I know this. How could it not be? He was desperate to find Mischa, had some strange idea he was going to cook her and eat her, at least that's what he was rambling. And I saw him lumbering down the main corridor, dragging the body of my cousin by the hair. I used to go hunting with my father, one of the few things we did together that I cherished so I was a good shot. I aimed and fired. Single bullet, down he went." Hannibal let out a long, slow breath that caused considerable pain in his diaphragm. "After this, Mischa and I went to live with my uncle and his family in Paris. They always treated us like outsiders. For the longest time, Mischa and I were very close. A universe of two."

"How old were you when this happened?" Dr. Crowe quietly asked.

"I was ten. Mischa was seven."

Hannibal rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palm, exhaustion overtaking him. It had been a long time since he'd talked about that bloody portion of his family history and it was a strange thing to admit, but the incident had little to do with how Mischa eventually turned out. "For Mischa, the whole tragedy had little to do with her. I was her protector, her big brother. She was always a high strung child, laughing and singing when she was an infant and talking to imaginary friends and creatures when she was older. I never clued in that she may have been suffering mental illness even then. When she talked about hearing voices, I thought she meant they were in her imagination, controlled by her. But as she got older the magical beliefs got stronger. She'd claim to see winged creatures that tried to rip her apart at night."

Dr. Crowe pursed his lips at this. "Schizophrenia."

"I'm not sure. She did have long stretches of lucidity." Hannibal pointed to a pitcher near the front window, as well as the small glass beside it. "If I could trouble you for a glass of water, that would be much appreciated, doctor."

He left his seat instantly, his rumpled shirt slipping out of his khaki pants and the uneven hem reminded him a bit of Will. He returned to Hannibal with the glass of water, which he took gratefully and sat back against his pillows once again, the glass balanced in his grip. "When she was seventeen she claimed the devil was courting her, that he was real and would dance with her in the middle of the night. I had always thought it was merely metaphor, for she was a cruel person by then, and I'd suffered her. Every word that came out of her mouth was a lie." He took another gulp of water, emptying the glass and then giving it to Crowe. "Sometimes, when I listen carefully, I can still hear her whispering in the dark to her devil, telling him all her terrible secrets and laughing over them."

He can hear the whispers even now, if he listens carefully enough. Hannibal closed his eyes, trying to will them away, the pain of that lingering echo one that crawls along his damaged ribs and pulls at their fractures.

"Why were you staying in her room?"

Hannibal opened his eyes, momentarily disoriented by the question.

"Abigail told me, she said you and Will shared Mischa's room before coming here. That Will thought it was creepy and first chance he got he set you up the guest room. But I'm guessing it's not much better if you're still listening in, trying to hear those whispers that aren't even meant for you." Dr. Crowe gave the wall behind the bed an impassive sweep of his hand. "What's a little drywall to a host of nightmares?"

Hannibal felt a thick chill wind its way through him. "I don't want to feel helpless," he admitted. "I always had to be on high alert with Mischa, her mood swings were so savage. I keep feeling like I still need to protect myself, and Will and Abigail, from her. It's irrational, I'm perfectly aware of this, and yet I can't stop thinking I need to be vigilant. But the truth is, she's dead, and there's nothing she can do to us now."

"I beg to differ."

Dr. Crowe gave Hannibal a crooked smile, one borne of experience, logic and kindness. He wondered if this is what he looked like to his own patients, and he remembered Franklyn's stricken worry, and very much doubted it.

"The dead, Dr. Lecter, are not so easy in their sleep either. They take from us while they suffer no consequence." He leaned forward, and to Hannibal it was like his words were made of basement air, the cool exhale of breath in a coffin.

"The dead damage the living."

An unpleasant feeling overtook Hannibal, like a wet knife lost in blood. "That must be quite a burden for them."

"Not really. Most of them don't care."

The pillow felt heavy beneath Hannibal's head. "But you are suggesting some do."

Dr. Crowe smiled as he got up from his chair, and he rested a cool hand on Hannibal's shoulder. "Stop taking on the burdens of the dead, Dr. Lecter. You won't get better otherwise."

Chapter Text

ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE
chapter seven

He could hear the steady drip, drip as she walked down the hallway leading towards her bedroom. Hannibal held his breath, hoping she would give up her search and leave him to suffer in peace, but there was no such reprieve from Mischa, not when she felt she had a mission to accomplish. He knew what she wanted, and it sent a shiver of fear through him at every wet footfall that came closer.

Mischa loved her brother, very much. She'd confessed as much throughout their lives together, the weight of that burden heavy as they lived with their aunt and uncle in Paris, and it was Hannibal who was put in charge of Mischa's fierce temper, who was always the one navigating carefully around her tsunami temperament. Their benefactors had threatened them both many times to toss them into orphanages, or boarding schools, to be done with Mischa's furious influence, a suggestion that would make Mischa's rage all the worse. Once, in a tantrum sparked by being forced to wear an outfit more 'appropriate' for her age, she'd smashed every one of her aunt's precious teacups, right in front of her, one by one, ignoring her aunt's crying, her pleading with her to stop. But Mischa loved destruction. She fed off of her aunt's sorrow over broken things that could never be mended. While she gleefully smiled over the smashed remnants, and the threats to put them both out were renewed, it was Hannibal who stepped in, who apologized for the mess, who offered recompense in the form of other teacups purchased at great expense through his own pitiful inheritance to replace them. Mischa was his responsibility. Whatever wrongs she did, he made them right and some tiny light within her had remained enough to come to him first when her madness had razed all she had tried to build to the ground. For this was Mischa's great tragedy and that which tugged forever at Hannibal's empathy for her. Mischa couldn't create, she couldn't make her miserable life into any form of happiness. She could only wreck and ruin and scream.

"It's why you have to suffer, big brother," she said as she slid down the hall, her words slurring as she made her way into her room at yet another ungodly hour, a broken wine bottle in her grip, deep cuts in the soles of her feet leaving red footprints. Blood so thick it hit the ground in a wet squelch. Footprints that would never dry.

Slip, slip, slip.

"Suffering is what makes you alive for me. I don't know you any other way. If you're happy...That's not something that's feasible, because how am I going to find you when it's your shattered, teacup of a soul that tells me where you are? Come out, come out, big brother..." She held the neck of the broken wine bottle in front of her, large white teeth stained a dark red. "It's your heart I want. I need to make sure it hurts..."

He had no doubt that this is exactly what she wanted, and he couldn't be sure the lock on her bedroom door would hold fast enough. He could hear her scraping along the outside of it, the sharp points of broken glass slicing against the wallpaper in the hall, ripping the pattern in a haphazard line. He held his breath, and swallowed, his mouth bone dry as he watched the handle of her door shake, her grip strong and forceful, rattling the ancient door, the hinges too flimsy for him to trust. He cast a fearful glance into her wardrobe, now filled with his own suits, their plastic coverings squeaking together as he slid into it, closing the thin, ornate camphor doors and hiding amongst the plastic and expensive fabrics, hopeful she would give up her search well before she managed to get the bedroom door open. He held his breath, his heart hammering so loud it made his chest quake.

A large mass kept bumping against him, sending the metal rod in the wardrobe squeaking in gentle, even notes. It nudged him again as he hid in the pitch dark, watching as Mischa managed to get the door open and her slim but muscular form stepped into the bedroom, the door's handle and its gears falling to the floor.

She'd taken it apart to get in. Mischa was always good with tools.

The broken bottle was still in her grip, eager to make its mark on him and slice into his chest, to take out his heart and put it on display for her newest work of art. She was always searching for some bit of him to put into her large epitomes of destruction. Torn hair. Smears of his blood. Her works had just as much of her own pain as his embedded within their dark, violent message.

"Hiding from me?" She laughed, and he felt that strange bump beside him again, something large swinging beside him in the wardrobe, covered in silken fabric and feeling far too much like hung meat. "I feel so hurt, big brother. It's why I'm going to hurt you."

A sliver of light entered into the wardrobe, and he pressed his spine hard against the back of it, his breath coming in gasps now which he hoped she couldn't overhear. His heart was so loud. He shifted to one side to get a better look at her through the tiny slit in the door of the wardrobe, at her bloodied dress and the broken strap, at her wild eyes leaking mascara and her mouth twisted into a maniacal grin smeared with far too red lipstick.

He felt the nudge again, and he put out his hand to steady the swinging lump within the closet. It had a human shape. Hannibal swallowed, feeling sick.

The wardrobe door creaked open, revealing it in full.

Will. Arms and legs bound. Will, hanging by the neck by a small rope.

Hannibal's howling scream pierced the entire house, his body bolting upright in bed, the pain rushing through him ignored in the face of his terror. His body and lungs shook as the keening sound repeated itself, the door to the guest bedroom wide open and seeming to beckon all manner of monsters into the room with them from the black maw of the hallway.

"Hannibal! Jesus Christ!"

Will frantically turned on the lamp on his nightstand, leaping out of bed to attack whatever unknown assailant had sent Hannibal screaming. His body shaking, he near collapsed next to Hannibal on the bed after circling it twice, and came to realize it was, as usual, one of his many nightmares, though this one was far more violently expressed. Hannibal was still trapped in it, the image of Will's body swinging in the wardrobe too unbearable to put into words, and he could only communicate through his panicked touch, his arms wrapping tightly around Will as he pulled him into a suffocating embrace, loud, ugly sobbing mingling with a pitiful howl that lay choked in the back of Hannibal's throat. He practically clawed Will close to him, the plaster cast at his wrist hitting Will in the shoulder, his own pain pointedly ignored as his terror gradually subsided.

"Hannibal, seriously, this can't go on." Will dove his fingers into his hair, softly caressing the back of his head as he kissed into the sharp part. Hannibal shakily sighed into it, the feel of Will's hot lips soothing. "You just about made me slip out of my skin, I'm shocked you didn't wake up Abigail. You took the roof off with that scream, you'd think you were being murdered."

Hannibal pulled back, frantically kissing Will's forehead, his cheek, the lids of his eyes, the worried frowning upper lip surrounded by rough, dark stubble. His uninjured hand was pressed against the back of Will's neck, fingers teasing along the base of his skull. He couldn't let got of the dream, the terror of it still so fresh and raw it hovered into every touch he placed on Will, his need to hold him so paramount he was just about ready to swallow him whole.

"Baby, you need to calm down."

"No." Trembling fingertips met Will's chin, lightly caressing the line of his jaw back and forth, as though afraid this reality would prove too fragile and at the barest touch would shatter it. Hannibal forced his breathing into calm, his cold person suit put on in an ill fit that could easily be seen through. He circled his own shark cage, the hinges broken, the door scraping along the bottom of his palace ocean. "I need you, Will."

Soft lips met, Will's nervous embrace near trembling as he held Hannibal close, a repetition of desire that didn't ebb until Hannibal's breathing was finally even, his heart beating back into a normal rhythm. How had he lived without this man, Hannibal wondered, his hands roving over Will's back, lips seeking purchase on his salty skin spread taut over muscle and bone. How had it come to this, that nothing could be warm without Will, that when he thought of life he thought of Will and the two were forever combined. He sank into Will's tight embrace, hands roving over his back as Will slid off his shorts, freeing himself and then Hannibal with impatient tugs on flannel.

Will would tease him later, calling this Hannibal's fetish for classical lovemaking, a sweet vanilla that had become a part of their routine. But there was nothing more erotic than the way Will slid over him, his hot friction meeting Hannibal's own, their mouths and limbs intertwined in a fit that was perfect in its intimacy. He could feel Will's hard length sliding against his own, his hips grinding to meet Hannibal's pace, his hot hands kneading his skin, massaging all the aches lurking beneath it.

This couldn't be taken from him. She could invade his dreams and torture him with her useless words, but Mischa had no right to interfere in this, for this was a bond forged between himself and Will alone, and she was never to be a part of it no matter how much her memory tried to intrude. Dr. Crowe was right. He had to stop allowing her burden in.

Will captured his mouth in a frenzy that left his toes curling, tongue diving deep and being tasted in turn. This was what he could have forever and it didn't matter if he lost it all, if he was left a laughingstock without patients, as long as he could keep this, his dear Will, his love that he could only sigh and worship over. Will, a light that had arrived in a lonely darkness that Hannibal had been born into and had never found reprieve. Until Will. Will, his beacon. Will, his soul.

His bruised, sore body was getting close. He hummed into Will's passionate kiss, and the sound made Will's hips buck faster, the pressure of his cock against Hannibal's slick with precum and hot against his cool skin. He could feel the pressure between them building, and he closed his eyes as his muscles tensed, his body shuddering against Will, who collapsed on top of him, holding him tight, and though Hannibal winced in pain, he wouldn't let Will see it, because a bit of pain was nothing compared to the all encompassing warmth Will blanketed him in.

Cum, sticky and hot, glued them lightly together, and Will traced his fingers in their mingled seed, little circles smeared into Hannibal's soft stomach. "I would have liked to last longer, but when you're looking at me like that, like you are right now...Dammit, Hannibal..."

"Will."

"Yeah, Baby?"

"Kiss me."

Languid, penetrating, a paradise upon the tongue and Hannibal, already sated and now tired fell back on his pillows and let out a soft, quiet sigh, the clutch of sleep ever present, and with it, the chance for dreams. He'd fight Mischa this time. She wasn't stealing this.

~*~

Morning sunlight streamed into the guest room, and Will was awoken by Buster, clawing at the door, eager to go out for his morning pee. Groaning and not at all wanting to leave the easy warmth of Hannibal's lazy limbs, Will kissed his neck lightly and pulled himself out of bed, sliding into a pair of shorts and a ratty t-shirt, and then a pair of worn jeans. A sweater that was slightly too large for him was pulled over his head and it took a moment for him to realize it was one of Hannibal's expensive cashmere designer knits, but no matter, this morning it would do well enough to walk a dog in. A bit of high fashion first thing in the morning wasn't the worst way to start a day.

Leash dangling from Will's grip, Buster happily trotted beside him as he left the bedroom, a pair of soft loafers on Will's feet that Buster repeatedly nipped at while Will admonished him for it. He yawned as he made it to the front door and bent down to hook the leash into Buster's collar, the little dog wagging his tail with far too much energy and enthusiasm for this early in the morning. Hannibal hadn't stirred once and Will felt a secretive smile creep over his face at the possible reasons for that, a bit of late night frottage being one of the main causes. The nightmare that had awoken Hannibal in the first place made Will's smile falter, and he felt a great deal of concern over how little sleep Hannibal had been getting since they'd arrived back home. It had been a week now, and Will felt stronger than ever, the headaches completely cured, his fever gone. But Hannibal still looked tired and weak and sick, and he was sure the man lost at least ten pounds this week alone, he was getting so thin. He'd have to talk to Abigail, see if she could cool it on the crazy sandwich making and see if he'd eat simpler foods instead.

He opened the front door and stepped out into the crisp morning air, eager to fill his lungs and enjoy yet another day that was headache free. The lack of pain in his head really was a novelty that Will savoured. He practically whistled as he walked down the front steps and out onto the sidewalk, Buster eagerly panting beside him as his little legs tried to keep up. He kept nipping at the back of Will's loafers, and he had to stop and admonish him for it. Hannibal had spoiled the foxy little dog rotten, though Will had to admit the nipping seemed to be for him alone. Buster would never bruise one of Hannibal's ankles.

Buster suddenly darted into the bushes belonging to Hannibal's fussy English neighbour, and he tried to pull him out, only to find a fierce resistance in the little dog as he growled and snarled at some unknown target, probably a rabbit. "Buster, come on!" Will shouted, but the dog refused to listen. "We're going back home if you keep up this crap!"

Will was set to eat his words and give Buster compliments later, for the dog wasn't seeking out a meek rabbit lurking in the bushes, Buster had instead found a human sized rat. Freddie Lounds, looking more sheepish than journalistic ferret, crept out of her hiding spot, and smoothed down the cap that seeped long locks of her spiralling red hair, now tangled with leaves and twigs from the bushes. Will stared at her, open mouthed, the utter, vile *nerve* of her coming near their property like this, after all she had put them through for the past three weeks! It was surreal, seeing her here, her eyes wide and her lip quivering like she was afraid he was about to haul off and stab her. And damned well good she was afraid, because that's exactly what Will Graham wanted to do.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Buster barked and nipped at her and Will didn't stop him from doing it. In fact, he hoped Buster would give a good go at her leg and start humping. "You're violating the court order, you aren't allowed within thirty feet of our property."

"Look, Mr. Graham, I know we got off on the wrong foot and--"

"You *amputated* that foot, Freddie. That last picture was the end of it, do you understand me? Do you have any idea how much that has wrecked him?"

Freddie tossed her errant strands of hair from her face and crossed her arms over her thin chest, warding out the cold. "I said it to the lawyers and I'm saying it to you--That picture was a mistake. I had another one on file with his bits blurred out. That one went on the site as soon as the error was detected."

"I don't want to hear your pathetic excuses for ruining a perfectly innocent man. I don't give a damned what you think of me, but you hurt a good person, Freddie." He liked the way she winced at this, as though her conscience was trying to find sway and had to keep running smack into her brick wall of determination for a salacious story.

"Will, I haven't written anything about you guys in Tattle Crime for a week."

"Miracles never cease."

She stomped from one foot to the other, the cold seeping in past her coat and mitts and scarf. Will himself finally felt the chill, clad as he was in a pair of jeans, a sweater and loafers, none of which kept out a lick of the winter air. "I'm not going to write about you guys, not after what I saw in what used to be Mischa's old bedroom window."

Will knew Freddie Lounds to be a lot of things, but fearful wasn't one of them. She was definitely terrified now and it sat all sorts of ill within him, almost to the point he forgot about the teams of reporters that had hounded them since the accident, staking themselves out on the front porch and in their backyard, seeking out any glimpse of the reclusive 'killer' Will Graham and his psychiatrist lover. Come to think of it, no, he didn't want to give Freddie Lounds one iota of sympathy and he shoved past her, Buster yipping at her in a dog's version of a curse. "Stay away from our home. I'm calling the cops next time."

Freddie Lounds ran up to him and in front of him, blocking his path. Buster furiously barked at her, and she risked him biting her ankle as she stepped closer to Will, her cell phone pulled from the deep pocket of her large winter coat. "You need to see this."

Sighing, Will took the phone from her and stared at the picture displayed on its surface. "It's Abigail," he said, shrugging.

She frowned, and took her phone back, her mouth open and closing but for once no words managed to come out. "Yes, I know, that's Abigail Hobbs, who couldn't know who that is? What I want to know is what is she doing in your house?"

This game had been played long enough, and Will stormed away from her with Buster in tow, the little jack russell constantly looking back at Lounds, as if he wasn't sure to offer her pity or a bite. "Leave us alone," Will shouted at her, and if Freddie had any more to say he wasn't about to listen.

~*~

Hannibal stood at the guest bedroom window and watched the furtive form of Freddie Lounds as she near ran from their house, her long, curly red hair bouncing like a trail of blood in the air behind her. The front door slammed shut and he heard Will's steps, accompanied by Buster's little feet, the two of them making their way into the kitchen, Hannibal's favourite gathering place and one that had been denied him all week as he was bedbound. He wouldn't risk trying to go down the stairs alone, he'd earned enough deserved admonishment for that and he was still feeling too weak to trust himself to hold onto the railing with any real strength. So he stood at the window and waited, the front porch clear of all human gossip debris and leaving a pleasant silence in its wake. The pitcher and the glass of water he'd used yesterday cluttered the windowsill and he inspected them with a feeling of malingering confusion.

The pitcher was dirty, as though it had been sitting on the sill for months. The glass beside it was in a likewise state. When Will came in with his cup of coffee and an instant expression of worry and anger over seeing him out of bed, Hannibal gestured to the dusty pitcher. "It's the strangest thing. I could have sworn Dr. Crowe gave me a glass of water from this exact pitcher, and yet here it is, bone dry and clearly ready for a trunk sale. I saw Freddie Lounds on our property, what was she harassing us about this time?"

"She saw Abigail in a window," Will replied, shrugging. He bid Hannibal to return to bed, which he did with limping effort. Once on the covers, Will handed him his coffee, black with two sugars and wonderfully hot. He sat at the edge of the bed, a matching mug of coffee in one hand and the other lightly stroking Hannibal's shin. Hannibal had managed to get dressed, though with the fact he wasn't about to leave his bed the effort was a tad wasted.

Will sipped at his coffee. "Who's Dr. Crowe?"

"He visited me yesterday, in the afternoon. An associate of Cole Sear, he was his childhood psychiatrist." Hannibal frowned. "What do you mean, who is he? Surely you met him, you let him in."

"Nobody but Abigail, myself and you have been in this house all week. Are you sure you aren't mixing up the days when you met this guy? Weird that you'd think he'd be here in your room, this is the first I've ever heard of him."

"I do not 'mix up days'," Hannibal coldly replied. "I've suffered broken ribs, Will, not a severe brain injury. If anything you are to blame, perhaps this is a latent symptom of your encephalitis, a minor bit of memory loss. Nothing to worry about, dear Will, it will correct itself in time."

"I didn't forget anything, I swear to you, no one came to our door, no one was in this room." Will rolled his eyes knowing well that Hannibal had already found his own explanation and wasn't about to entertain the thought that it was his own latent poor health that created the visit, a lurking dream that had clean glasses of water. He shook the uncomfortable feeling off and propped himself up further in the bed with the plethora of pillows behind him.

"Abigail is quiet this morning," Hannibal observed.

"She was drinking orange juice in the kitchen when I went down." Will blushed and turned away from Hannibal's scrutiny. "I might have been a little annoyed with her for teasing me and she's a little miffed."

"Friendly teasing is part of being a family, Will. "

Will bit down on this information, not exactly liking how it tasted. "She...Kind of heard us last night." Will gave Hannibal's creeping blush a slow smile over the rim of his coffee mug. "I mean, how could she not, with the way you screamed after that nightmare. Let's just say what I did to make you feel better got a little noisy, too. She was going to knock on the door to see if you were okay and, well, you clearly were."

Hannibal could feel his cold person suit sliding into place, masking his mortification. "I would have thought this house was more soundproof. Perhaps I should invest in some insulation."

"Maybe." Will smiled and gave Hannibal a quick kiss on the lips, the pleasure fleeting but still putting a happy flutter within Hannibal's stomach. "I'll see you later. I'm heading out to Wolf Trap to check on the dogs. Don't give me that look, I'll be careful driving. I don't have any risk of seizures anymore, I'm safe to be on the road again."

That wasn't the entire reason for Hannibal's concern. What he really longed for was company he could trust actually existed. He sighed in displeasure as Will broke free of him, leaving him behind with his cup of coffee and a cell phone on the night table at his bedside. He cast a weary glance at the phone, knowing that Freddie Lounds would be pulling Abigail into her web soon enough, the poor girl's infamy splattered with grave unkindness across the pages of Tattle Crime. He would have to have a long discussion with her about that definite possibility and shield it from her as best as possible.

His cell phone rang as Will stepped into the shower in the bathing room across the hall, the door wide open and spilling steam into the guest room. Hannibal picked it up and tried to keep the tired weariness from his voice and failed. "Dr. Hannibal Lecter, how may I help you?"

There was a rustling of papers and a harsh cough on the other end of the line and before the man had even uttered one word, Hannibal had discerned he was a heavy smoker. With the gravel drawl that spilled into the cell phone, his first impression was confirmed. "Hello, Dr. Lecter, this is Detective Gerald Hunt from the Baltimore police department, homicide division. How are you this morning?"

How was he, really? He glanced at the dusty glass and matching pitcher still sitting on the windowsill and had to wonder. "I could be in better spirits, as I've been forced into bed rest following an automobile accident this past weekend, which I'm sure you are already aware of. To what do I owe the pleasure of this call, Detective Hunt?"

"I hear you've been talking to your lawyer about Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier."

Hannibal felt a cold tingle worm its way down the centre of his spine. He sat up against the pillows, his cold person suit thick and tightly fitting. "Yes. If you are enquiring if I am taking her to court over her wish to write a book about my sister Mischa, that is correct."

The Detective chuckled at this. "Sorry, Dr. Lecter, but taking Dr. DuMaurier to court may pose a bit of problem for you."

"What do you mean?"

"Just saying, it's going to be kind of hard for her to start typing since she's dead."

Hannibal nearly dropped the cell phone, his breathing catching in an erratic rhythm that he had to force under control. "I don't understand, are you telling me she was murdered this week? The last time I saw her she was at my dinner party in honour of my sister and that was when she saw fit to tell me about her tell all book. This is quite upsetting, Detective Hunt, and as you are from homicide division I can only surmise her death was not one that occurred without violence. Perhaps you should talk to my partner, Mr. Graham, he could offer some assistance in..."

"That won't be necessary," Detective Hunt said, cutting him off. "So, the last time you saw her was at your dinner party last Friday, is that what you're telling me?"

"Yes."

"Then I'd suggest you stop playing with Ouija boards, because Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier has been dead for over four months. She was found in her condo, in her bathtub, fully clothed and her throat cut so deep her head was near cut off. Pretty brutal scene, there wasn't a tile in that was soaked in red, if you get what I'm saying. " Detective Hunt coughed into his fist, and Hannibal heard the clink of ice in glass. A hard drinker, too, and a morning one at that. "What's really intriguing me about all this is that I've been trying to track down your sister Mischa for a while now, and had to give up when I found out she'd gone and hung herself. I mean no disrespect, of course, suicide is a terrible thing."

"I can assure you it is."

"Right. The trouble I'm having is that according to Dr. DuMaurier's appointment book, Mischa Lecter was her last patient that day, at near midnight. You got any idea why she'd see a patient at her home, and that late?"

"Bedelia often had sessions at her condo, especially for Mischa. Mischa kept a very odd schedule that wasn't conducive to office visits. She was mostly awake at night."

Detective Hunt heavily sighed. "Look, Dr. Lecter, I'm going to level with you. This homicide is technically still open, but the facts are your sister was the prime suspect and with her death there went my investigation into a standstill. The only thing I didn't have was motive, at least until your lawyer called asking what the hell was all this about DuMaurier being dead when she's still writing a damned book. I assure you, Dr. Lecter, I saw the bloody body myself. The funeral director probably had to staple the head back onto her neck. There's no way to fake well and truly dead, are you sure it was in fact Dr. DuMaurier you were talking to?" More clinks of ice and now the strike of a match. He could hear the detective draw in his breath as he took in the poison of a cigarette. "Dr. Lecter, you're the head shrink guy, you should know better than anyone that grief can do crazy things to people. "

Hannibal was removed from the conversation. He could only think back to that night, Mischa coming home, stomping through the foyer and screaming at the base of the stairs. He'd been roused from sleep and bounded down the staircase to find her, covered in blood, her face smeared with make up from hysterical crying. He'd tried to comfort her, to ask what had happened, and she attacked him, her nails digging into his arms as he struggled with her, locks of his hair pulled out as he dragged her up the stairs. She'd punched and kicked and bit and it took every ounce of his strength to fight against her vicious adrenaline. He's shoved her into her room and locked the door from the outside, his body battered and smeared in blood, none of which was Mischa's own. She threw herself against her bedroom door, her heavy blows tempting the door off of its hinges, her screaming echoing throughout the entire house:

That bitch! That bitch! That bitch!

"Dr. Lecter? Are you still there?"

He was shaken from his memory, and he hesitated, not liking at all the implications of the conversation. "Yes."

"I was just saying, if you need to talk to someone, I know this great grief counsellor. Helped me more than you can believe, and I think he's someone you might want to meet. Name's Cole Sear, great guy, got me through some real uncomfortable side effects, I'll tell you that."

Hannibal frowned. "I know the man, actually. He's been here, helping a good friend of the family."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that, Dr. Lecter." There was a pause as the detective took a long drink, ice clinking and the contents going down in alcoholic bliss. "The dead are damn pushy, aren't they? We need all the help we can get to keep them from knocking on the door."

~*~

The dogs were, as usual, ecstatic to see him, and they surrounded Will in an enthusiastic puppy pile that threatened to topple him the second he got to the porch. Their unabashed love always filled him with a sense of warmth, and he spent a good twenty minutes on his front porch in greeting, giving each one the attention they fervently deserved. Hannibal's favouring of Buster was a tad unfair to the rest of the pack, perhaps, but then having this many animals around him was too overwhelming and Will had to call it a miracle he'd bonded with any of his four legged, furry besties at all.

He had the key in his front door when a familiar car rolled up the long driveway leading into his property, and Will shielded his eyes against the glaring morning sunlight as Cole Sear parked his car. He headed towards the porch, dogs happily sniffing him though he kept his hands in his pockets, the crisp air leaving his lungs in a thick stream of mist. "I was hoping to catch you," Cole said. "I heard about the accident and I just wanted to check in with you guys. You specifically."

Will raised a brow at this. Cole Sear was strangely apologetic, as though he was harbouring some guilt about the incident. Will shrugged the feeling off and opened his front door, bidding him to come inside to the warmth within. "Don't mind the dog hair," he warned him.

Cole meekly followed Will into the house, his hands deep in the pockets of his winter jacket. His face took on a ruddy complexion when he was cold, making his youth even more pronounced. "I don't mind dogs," he said, as the pack sniffed around him in curiosity. "They're better than people sometimes."

Will snorted at this. "Try *all* the time. Want a beer?"

"Sure."

Will kept Cole in his sights, watching the young man as he paced around Will's domain, taking in the worn furniture and the sparse decoration, his eyes alighting on a series of fishing rods and lures that Will had been working on the last time he'd been here. It felt like a lifetime ago and yet it was only last weekend, when he'd brought Hannibal out for a much needed break only to be plunged into near tragedy and the totalling of a beautiful Bentley. Hannibal had no wish to replace it, had long ago realized its beauty was marred by its thirst for gas that made long trips with it cumbersome. Will was gently trying to persuade him to get an Impala, but Hannibal balked, toting his research that said it was just as hungry for gas and far less roomy. Mention of sex, speed and testosterone had no effect on the man. For now, Will's Ford beater would have to do.

"How is Abigail coping with having Hannibal at home?" Cole asked. "He didn't strike me as the type who would be an ideal patient."

"She's been going out of her way to make him comfortable." Will tossed Cole a beer and he caught it with two hands. He fumbled through his mittens over the tab and Will wondered why he hadn't yet taken them off. "Making all kinds of crazy sandwiches and trying to get him to eat something. He's been a real baby, I'll tell you that, she's got her work cut out for her making sure he doesn't fall down the stairs, injuring himself. He's still not too steady on his feet."

Cole frowned at this and lightly nodded. He sipped at the beer and seemed to wince over it, like he wasn't used to drinking it. "You sure it's wise leaving her in charge of his care while you're here?"

There it was, that weird nag again that Will couldn't shake, the seeming innocence and sheer niceness of Cole Sear always wandering into a grey hue when it came to talking about Abigail. "I'm not sure I know what you mean. Abigail adores Hannibal, she'd never do anything to hurt him--to hurt anyone, really. I like you, Cole, but I have to admit, I'm getting a little tired of these weird digs you keep putting Abigail's way, like you're in on some big secret that I'm not aware of."

Cole paled at this, and Will frowned, wondering what it was he had tapped into. "Sometimes people can be...Draining..."

Will shook his head. "I don't understand what you mean."

Cole was reluctant to expand on it. "Okay, how about we use your relationship with Hannibal as an example. When you met him, when you started getting more intimate, what was it like? Was it energizing, a positive force?"

Will was taken aback by the intimacy of the question and though he wasn't going to reveal many details he couldn't help but instantly feel the rush of emotions that just thinking about Hannibal brought up within him. Hannibal had come into his life during a time when they were both in crisis, and he often thought of that very first meeting, when he'd sat before him in the matching leather chair, his mind wrecked from thinking too much about murder and the emotional toll of getting into the heads of killers. He'd felt like he was made of tiny needles, unlovable, unable to interact properly in the world. So much of what he understood of others had been an invasion into their personal head spaces, giving him too much information that he could use against them the minute the analyzing delved too deep.

Hannibal had asked him about his family, and Will had accused him of going after 'low lying fruit.' It was a fateful observation, for Hannibal had decided in that moment to say to Will, in completely naked honesty: "My sister committed suicide yesterday."

Will had shuddered at this, his stomach caving as though he'd been punched, and Hannibal must have noticed for his next words were: "I'm afraid I did not have time to cancel our appointment and I understand you need my assessment in order to return to work."

"Why would you tell me that about your sister?"

"You are empathic, Mr Graham. I wanted you to understand why my own walls are so high right now. It is not an attempt to deflect you, in fact I would much prefer to be an object of your empathy at present. But this is my particular coping mechanism, as I'm sure you have ones of your own. I have read in your files, and there are plenty, that you have been the subject of a great deal of study amongst my peers and while I do admire the efforts made to understand your point of view, I find the constant scrutiny misguided at best." Hannibal had leaned forward, then, his maroon eyes sad as they remained averted from Will's own. "Being under the yoke of that microscope can drive the best of us to the brink of insanity, the constant self questioning it brings a detriment. I do not wish to do this to you, Mr. Graham. In my opinion, empathy is a virtue, not a personality trait. It is one I'm sorry to say many of my colleagues are lacking."

It was a strange conversation, to be exalted and dismissed all at once, and yet Will did find the need to delve in beyond the cold facade, to get under the doctor's skin just to take a peek, to *see*, and what he found was a hurt, fragile man who was so dedicated to helping others he had pushed aside his own sorrow in order to meet with one Will Graham just so he could sign off a form saying 'Sane Enough to Work'.

Will had smiled at him, then. Had watched carefully as Dr. Lecter nervously licked his lips and wouldn't meet Will's steadfast gaze. The light was low in his office, shadows playing on the sharp angles of his face and body and Will instantly wanted to soften them.

"You're an interesting person."

"I assure you, Mr. Graham, I am not."

Will had smiled widely at this. Maybe it was there, at that moment, when he began to fall for him.

"You're right. " Will said, his mouth tripping over words he couldn't find or that jumbled up together into too many descriptions, making his lips move silently until he finally blurted out: "You're fascinating."

Will blinked as the dogs began barking, chasing each other out of the house and through the front door as they made their way across the property, seeking out the interloper on their turf, which was probably a squirrel. He frowned at Cole Sear who was now sitting on his couch, waiting in expectation for an answer to his question. "Hannibal has always been a source of energy for me," Will admitted. "Right from the first day I met him."

"He makes you feel alive."

"He makes me feel whole."

Cole Sear sighed at this and clasped his hands tightly together, his mittens finally taken off and shoved haphazardly into his coat pockets, the fingers poking out. "Abigail does not make you feel this way." He bit his bottom lip as Will glared at him. "I know exactly how she makes you feel. Frustrated. Uncertain. Constantly at war. And it's not her fault, none of that is, but it's a drain on you and it's definitely a drain on Dr. Lecter who has taken her cause to heart. She is hiding from herself and using the two of you to do it. If this keeps up, one of you will be following her down her path and you don't want to do that."

Will frowned, confused and angry over what Cole was saying. "Abigail is a child and we are doing what can to help her. If she's draining, so what? Give me the name of one teenager who isn't!"

Cole took careful note of Will's fury, backing away from it as he got up off the couch and headed for the door. "I didn't mean to suggest that you're doing anything wrong, you aren't. But she does know better, Mr. Graham. I'm cool with you being pissed with me, but the truth had to come out. She'll kill one of you if this keeps up and she's not capable of feeling remorse for that."

Will's hands clutched into tight fists. "Get out of here!"

Cole Sear, to his credit, didn't say another word. He slunk out the front door and into the bluster of a snowfall, the endless white swallowing him into its emptiness.

~*~

Night was beginning to creep across the horizon as he pulled into their driveway, the light on in the study. He could see Abigail through the window, the back of her head unmoving and seemingly comprised of shadows that played across her from the lit fireplace before her. He felt a surge of warmth towards her and a renewed anger at Cole Sear's words. He opened the door and slid inside of the house on quiet feet, slipping off his shoes as though he were disturbing the silence of a library. He glanced upstairs, and saw that Mischa's bedroom door was open, and light spilled out of it and into the dimmed hallway above.

He snuck his head around the doorway of the study and Abigail looked up from where she was sitting quietly, her eyes slowly blinking as though putting him into focus. "Hello, Will. How was the Flea Barn?"

"Cold and full of dog hair, as usual. Where's Hannibal?"

She hesitated, then bit her bottom lip before turning away from him. "His sister's room."

Will nodded, though he definitely didn't understand. As usual, Hannibal was doing all he could to touch those aches that hurt him most and his insistence on being in that stifling space full of horrific memory was now bordering on psychosis. Will slowly made his way up the stairs, feeling Abigail's eyes on his back, the sensation creating a well of ill feeling in the pit of his stomach that he couldn't shake.

He stood in front of the open door, and he eased his way in, closing it behind him. He turned his head, inspecting the back of the door and the myriad scratches on its surface, the mad scrambling of Mischa as she had tried to claw her way out when Hannibal would lock her in here, terrified of what she was capable of doing to others and herself. He had mistakenly believed this was a sort of 'safe room' for her tantrums, allowing her free reign to destroy until her mood had finally eased and sanity was at least partially restored enough to administer a proper sedative. If Cole Sear wanted to talk about those who were draining, it was Mischa who was the vampire in this case, sucking everything out of Hannibal to the point that even her death took just as much from him.

Hannibal was standing in front of Mischa's old wardrobe, his suits pushed to either side, his gaze transfixed on the blank, beige wall behind them. Will stood at his side, his hands moving up to his hunched shoulders, Hannibal so grateful for the touch he nearly collapsed beneath it. "Madness is contagious, dear Will. Were you aware of this?"

Will kissed the back of his head. "Ever since I met you and fell madly in love with you."

Hannibal turned to Will, his eyes glinting pinpricks of red in the dark gloom of the room. "I think I am losing my mind."

Will's tone was gentle. "I think you are pushing too hard and you need to go back to bed. I need you rested up for tomorrow night. We are getting out of this house and going out for dinner."

Hannibal instantly tensed at this. "The reporters..."

"...Could care less about us right now. Not one article about us on Tattle Crime all week. You've said it yourself, infamy is only so good as the PR it gets. We going to La Gourmand, I have your favourite table booked."

Hannibal gave him a grin that looked like it took too much effort for him to make. "How very delightful, my dear, dear Will."

"Abigail doesn't know it yet, but I'm about to become the favourite dad. She wanted her friends over, and I'm going to give her permission. I was thinking it's not right for her to be so isolated and maybe I need to take a page or two out of your permissive book. She is, after all, going on eighteen and she will be considered an adult very soon. What happens after that, who knows, but I like the fact that we've been here to help her through the most tumultuous time of her life and will continue to be a place she can fall on. With us her world can't crumble." Will pressed his face into Hannibal's silky hair, his arms sliding around his shoulders to fully encase him in an embrace. "Why are you in this room, staring in the wardrobe?"

Hannibal's voice was barely audible.

"This was where she died."

Will closed his eyes, lips nuzzling against the back of Hannibal's neck, and against the curve of his ear. "I know, Baby," he whispered.

"I wanted us to move into this room so I could accept her death, so I could understand that she wasn't coming back and that there was no possible way she could pull me under to drown with her, which I'm sure was her intent. Mischa thought of herself first, always." He shook his head, tears threatening to fall. "But the more the days move forward, the stranglehold she has on my subconscious becomes more powerful. I am doing all I can to shake her off, and yet she keeps clawing me back here, forcing me to stand here, helpless, and wonder how it was I was meant to suffer her rot like this, to be stuck taking care of her long after she's gone. There is no reprieve, Will. She is still destroying me."

An echo of what Cole Sear said played uneasily in Will's mind and he near physically shook it off. "Come on," he said, lightly patting Hannibal's shoulders and bidding him to follow him. "Stop staring into the past, Hannibal. We'll start with dinner, tomorrow. " He kissed his cool cheek. "Some wine, some good food. Nothing puts the light back into you better."

They left the room, Hannibal casting a weary glance over his shoulder at it, only for Will to shut the door and all of the phantoms laying in wait within it to rest.

At least for now.

 

 

Chapter Text

ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE
chapter eight

La Gourmand was Hannibal's favourite restaurant, situated near the trendy portion of Lancaster street in Baltimore and overlooking the East Harbour. Though he was still physically weak, the thought of missing such an opportunity was far too deep a tragedy to even consider, and Hannibal made a grand show of how much better he was getting, the lie clearly transparent to Will, but thankfully unchallenged. Hannibal carefully showered and preened in the bathing room, spending over an hour carefully shaving, primping his hair in an exact part, a collection of colognes and moisturizers bringing him into a sparkling cleanliness that at least pretended to bring him into good health. His extremely expensive Hugo suit didn't fit him with the same closely tailored smoothness he had grown accustomed to, but there was little time to make adjustments now, and if the fit was slightly too large, it wouldn't be by the time his health actually did come back to its usual robust, lean and muscular shape. A visit to La Gourmand was most assuredly a guarantee of that particular aim.

Will had not been remiss in his own preparation, having bought a suit just for the occasion and surprising Hannibal with the careful way he put himself together, mimicking Hannibal's fussy style. Beard trimmed into a thinner, tidier line that accentuated the masculine jut of his jaw, his haphazard locks likewise tamed with a shorter cut, a borrowed cologne from Hannibal that mingled perfectly with his own slightly earthy scent. A dark navy suit that had an almost silken sheen completed the ensemble, along with the delicately dotted lighter blue tie that Hannibal had to fight to keep his fingers from adjusting, if only to have the opportunity to touch.

They stood at the front door together, a mutual appreciation nakedly exchanged between them as Will gave Hannibal a hungry grin and was rewarded with a shy, sultry smile in return that could have sent them scurrying back up to the guest bedroom if time and reservations were not so pressing. "I called a taxi, the parking downtown is impossible," Will said, and he scratched at the back of his head, his brows raised in apology.

Hannibal held out his arm and Will hooked his own into it, elbows locked. "Shall we?" Hannibal asked, and Will smiled and opened the front door.

Abigail gave them a low whistle from the kitchen, and they both blushed slightly as she sashayed closer to them, a mischievous knowing glint in her large, blue eyes. "Something tells me someone is going to get lucky tonight. Look at you two, like peacocks ready to be plucked!"

Hannibal paused at the door and furiously blushed at this, his neck a brilliant red hue. The reaction wasn't due to Abigail's playful words but to the way Will was standing in the doorway, his head turned over his shoulder as his large eyes took Hannibal in, a decided hunger within them that Hannibal had no difficulty in interpreting. Hannibal was not unaware of how carefully he put himself together every day, a constructed person suit that was shut behind his shark cage in an ice cold sea, impenetrable to all who tried to get past his professional persona. But this was a mask that slipped beneath the gaze Will fixed on him now, taking in the reality of Hannibal's pale face and features sharpened from exhaustion and instead of finding disappointment he could only take a step back from the naked, masculine needfulness of Will's desire.

Will's arm was still hooked in his, and he stroked Hannibal's wrist with languid fingers, a touch that sent a jolt of electricity throughout Hannibal's being and made him turn his head shyly away from Will's almost aggressive, longing scrutiny. He pulled Hannibal closer as he waved goodbye to Abigail, and closed the front door behind them, their steps in perfect sync as they made their way to the taxi that was already creeping into their driveway. Will pulled Hannibal close as their ride pulled up in front of them, his lips grazing Hannibal's hot, red ear.

"I'm going to have blue balls all through dinner."

Hannibal coughed nervously and gave Will a secretive, rather demure smile, one that made Will's own suddenly disintegrate. "Jesus, you have no idea what you do to me, do you?"

Composing themselves, they got into the back seat of the taxi, the lingering smell of antiseptic and pine cleaner burning the back of Hannibal's throat. Will entwined his fingers in Hannibal's as he gripped his hand tight, and pulled it onto his lap, an innocent gesture that made Hannibal's breath catch. So many tiny things had such grand significance between them, he thought. A touch that was fleeting was amplified, sending his body into a ricochet of heightened senses that keenly focused on it, as though clinging to that microcosm of perfection that could so easily be wrenched from him at any moment. He hadn't felt this way about anyone in his life, Hannibal realized, not this sensation of feeling safe and comfortable, so embedded into another's soul that just a brush of skin against skin was enough to communicate the depths of their thoughts. What he thought now, as Will's fingers tightened around his own, and his lips whispered some amusing anecdote about his day into Hannibal's ear, was that he couldn't possibly love another human being more than he loved Will Graham.

The taxi ride was filled with this fluttering longing that kept welling within Hannibal's heart, its beat expectant as he longed to sink against Will, and kiss him and make him understand just how precious his existence was. Will cheerfully chatted the whole way there, and though he was sure the omission was going to be discovered at some point, Hannibal didn't listen, content instead to merely observe the way Will's mouth moved, at the wet dew of his lips that he knew were so sweet to taste. By the time they pulled up in front of La Gourmand and left the taxi, Hannibal was starving in a way that made his heart drop into his stomach and they weren't two steps into the restaurant before he stole a small, chaste kiss from those precious lips. The sudden, public affection caused Will to widely grin.

La Gourmand is a high end restaurant that is practically fashioned out of gold and glitter, the lighting sparkling off of six massive chandeliers that glisten beneath an equally shining ornate, gold tin ceiling. The tables are draped in rich, beige silks, punctuated with tiny tea lights embedded in cut crystal glass. Hannibal's favourite spot is near the back of the restaurant, where a private table is pressed flush against the window, overlooking the harbour. They are seated by a young, emotionless waiter, who offers them wine, a Bordeaux, 2004 that Will accepts before they are presented with menus, the near wordless waiter taking leave of them to give them a moment to decide.

Will raises his glass to Hannibal to propose a toast and Hannibal happily complies. He's quiet a long moment, the toast never coming, and they sit there with glasses raised long enough for Hannibal to break the uncomfortable inaction with a small laugh. "Surely there is something we need to acknowledge, Will. We can't sit here with wine glasses raised to Heaven without a request for its blessing being made."

But Will's mood is suddenly serious, and Hannibal is shocked to see the beginnings of tears welling within his large, expressive eyes, his gaze so concentrated on Hannibal it's like he's trying to memorize every atom of his being before he suddenly disappears.

When he speaks, his voice is choked.

"Oh my God, Baby, you are so fucking beautiful."

It's heartbreaking, the way he says it, and Hannibal knows it's full of all the might have beens that plague his empathy, how he could have been assigned another psychiatrist and never met him, how Mischa could have survived her suicide and continued to be a barrier impossible to breach, how that car accident could have shattered him into a million pieces against that trunk, leaving him too broken to repair. So many despairing scenarios that could have stopped every measure of their union and it was only by the sudden, fleeting kiss in the front seat of a Bentley that this moment, this *now*, was permitted to exist.

This was what Hannibal was thinking of when he clinked his glass against Will's, shocking him out of his empathic reverie and bringing him back into the reality that was the two of them, together. A tear slid down Will's cheek and he trembled as he held on tighter to Hannibal's hand, who only now just realized how fierce Will's grip really was.

"Marry me." Will's head shook as he spoke, and he winced as though the words weren't right, that somehow he had to make something so simple far clearer even though the impact had hit Hannibal's chest like a bullet. "I want to marry you. Let's get married. I don't have a ring or nothing, I should have waited to ask you, I'm such an idiot...Fuck, Hannibal, spend your life with me. Is this...What is it people do? Maybe I should go on one knee and ask you? Would you like that?"

"It's not necessary, Will," Hannibal said, and he fought to shove out the words over the intense emotions broiling deep within him, the shark cage wide open as his naked feelings broke the surface of the water.

"I can't live without you." Will seemed shocked at his own words, his breath catching in gasps between words. He pulled the wine to his lips and took an ugly gulp, his gaze never leaving Hannibal's, a fear within them that Hannibal had difficulty interpreting. "You're my whole soul. You're my life."

Hannibal put down his wine glass, forcing himself to break the locked gaze Will had pierced him with. He stared at an empty, beige spot on the table, the surface smooth and free of blemish. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"Is that an acceptable word to use?" Hannibal asked, suddenly self conscious as he looked back up at Will.

Will's face erupted into a wide grin, tears spilling over long, dark lashes that Hannibal longed to kiss away. "Yes. Yes it is."

The rest of the night at La Gourmand felt like a long and never ending dream that spread across a vast reality comprised of Will's touch, and a soft, yet sensual kiss that met him over the flickering flame of the tea light as Will left his seat and leaned over to indulge in it.

"It doesn't need to be a big ceremony."

"Why not?" Hannibal said, his mood bright and his body filled with an energy he hadn't felt in weeks. "I'll be sure to send Freddie Lounds an invitation, it's about time she had something good to say about us."

He dug into his meal with a gusto that belied his latent hunger, the food simple yet exquisite on his tongue. Standard fare, but done to perfection. Steak, rare, potatoes parisienne, a bouquet of roasted vegetables tied together with chives. The steak bled out onto the plate, and Hannibal couldn't resist mopping it up with one of the delicate bread rolls provided with the meal and he chewed on it hungrily, swallowing it down with a mouthful of wine before turning back to Will. "Abigail is free to invite her friends, of course. We finally get to meet them tomorrow night."

At this Will's mood slightly darkened and Hannibal frowned as he took another bite, the steak practically melting on his tongue it tasted so incredible. He hadn't realized how much he'd needed this kind of sustenance, and it was as though he couldn't fill himself up enough, like he had been denied it for too long. Hannibal gave Will a questioning tilt of his head, and Will nodded in response.

"I'm visiting Jack tomorrow night." He paused over his meal, fork and knife hovering over chicken cordon bleu. "Bella isn't doing very well. She can't get out of bed and Jack says she's not really there as it is."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Hannibal said, genuinely saddened. He liked Bella a great deal, and though he'd mentally prepared himself for her absence, it was still difficult to acknowledge that the intelligent, graceful woman who had made the world better by being in it would soon be missing. "Do you want me to tell Abigail to cancel? Jack may be in need of counsel during this sad time."

"No, I want you to meet her friends. I probably won't be long anyway, it's not like Jack's up for any kind of extended company. I'm just going there to offer him some support."

"Bring him some of Abigail's sandwiches. I doubt he is taking care of himself." He continued to dig into his meal, and paused only when he realized that Will had stopped eating, and was staring at him instead, as though every movement Hannibal made enraptured him.

"Will?"

Will pulled out his cell phone and hurriedly waved over the waiter. "We're getting the rest of this to go. I'm calling a cab."

"What on earth for?" Hannibal asked, and he shoved a larger piece of meat into his mouth, eager to finish it.

Will reached over and wiped away an errant piece of gravy from the corner of Hannibal's mouth. "Because if I don't get you home right now I'm going to be dragging you into the men's room and fucking you into oblivion in one of the stalls. Honestly, Hannibal, how did I end up with such an angel like you? If you suddenly sprouted wings and flew to Heaven I wouldn't be surprised."

~*~

Hannibal, of course, had got his way and they had remained at La Gourmand for the rest of their meal, Will eating far too fast and while Hannibal did his best to slow down the pace, his own latent hunger made him wolf down the food as though he'd been starving for weeks. They polished off the bottle of wine between them, and were pleasantly drunk by the time they arrived home, feet slightly staggering against each other as they struggled with keys in the front door lock.

The rarity of feeling this kind of joy when entering the dark confines of his large house was not lost on Hannibal, and he clung to it with soft kisses against Will's neck and lips, a gentle dance of their hips as they were pressed against one another as they staggered into the main foyer. Will shut the front door by shoving Hannibal hard against it, his lecherous grin teasing Hannibal's false reluctance, teeth nipping at pouting lips.

With Will's body and his length hard against him it was difficult for Hannibal to think clearly on the events of the night, the profession of Will's love to become a permanent fixture within Hannibal's very existence, stoking a fire within him that he hadn't realized had been sparked. He didn't ask if Abigail was still awake, or why there were so many dishes still in the sink and what the bedroom door to his sister's room was doing being flung open like that, and light spilling out of it. Will danced his hips against Hannibal's, pressing him deep against the oak door hard enough to make his still damaged ribs smart. He pulled away slightly when Hannibal winced, a pain flitting across Will's face as though he was punishing himself for inflicting it.

"I've wanted to make love to you all night. Since before we got in the taxi," Will confessed and Hannibal's knees quaked. He pushed himself up from the door, kisses deep and searching diving past his lips and down the along the length of his tongue, licking against teeth. He tried to aim for the main staircase, but their slightly drunken steps were out of sync, and Will pushed him, laughing, towards the kitchen, his hands firm on Hannibal's hips, sliding down to cup his ass.

He pressed him against the kitchen island, his kisses more fervent and serious, hands busily undoing belt buckles and zippers, shaking fingers eager to explore. Hannibal had a vague thought that this was risky, that Abigail could come downstairs at any moment, but the fervent heat that had built up between himself and Will had left him reckless.

He wasn't usually like this, so wanton in his desires that he'd throw away all sense of caution and allow Will to roughly handle him, Will's fingers sought him out after stroking his hard cock and diving a digit in. He could feel the trousers of his good suit pooled around his ankles, the cold air of the dark house circulating around his nakedness. Will's hot hand felt like a relief against it, and for a brief second he wondered where Will had found the slick lubricant to prepare him, and it was then that he realized they were still in the kitchen, that Will had spilled a jar of olive oil all over the counter making one hell of a mess and he was now placing a hot, trembling second finger inside, hooking them cruelly to stroke Hannibal's prostate.

Hannibal choked on a small cry as reason left him again, and suddenly he was bent over the sink, Will's naked hips pressed against his own, fingers leaving him to be replaced with a thick heat that left Hannibal gasping. He could feel Will's hands on him, eagerly exploring beneath his white cotton shirt, kisses searing the length of his neck.

His knees wanted to give way, but Will propped him up with his thrusts, hard and rough as he moved inside of him, leaving Hannibal unable to think. "You like that, Baby?" Will harshly said into his shoulder, his one hand pulling Hannibal's chin towards him at a harsh angle the other smoothly pumping his cock. "Oh fuck, Baby, I love it when you moan like that. Just like that. Fuck."

The cries in Hannibal's throat were outside of himself, threats and curses in Lithuanian spilling out of him, along with endearments, Will's precious, loving lust taking him well outside of his carefully constructed safeguards and leaving him threadbare. He felt the crescendo rising within him, a harsh and powerful wave that nearly made him buck Will off of him, his cry loud and near echoing across the ground floor as his body shuddered beneath Will. He came hard against Will's fist, and it wasn't long before Will followed him, his own aggressive shout against Hannibal's ear ending in a panting, affectionate nip. "Baby...I hope I didn't hurt you...You okay?"

Hannibal couldn't answer. He could barely walk let alone speak. Hannibal's arms shook as he continued to brace himself over the sink, Will separating from him and gently cleaning him up, before easing him to standing and bringing his clothes back into a haphazard unity.

"You look so far gone, Baby. Did I sweep you away?" He smiled and kissed into Hannibal's neck and he was sure at some point he was led upstairs and into their bed, but he was too sated and drugged from sex to properly remember it.

When they were safely tucked in bed, sleep gently nudging its way between them, Hannibal nestled his face deep into Will's neck, breathing him in. "Willtukas," he purred, the endearment slipping out before he could stop it. "When do you think we should tell Abigail?"

Will kissed him, lightly, on the forehead, fingers brushing his silky hair back from it. "Any time you want."

Hannibal smiled into this, his face nuzzling deeper. He wondered if there would ever be a time he felt happier.

~*~
Jack Crawford collapsed onto his living room steps, and Will joined him, the proximity of grief a difficult space to navigate. Jack and Bella's condo was a tasteful, spare enclave, and the living room steps were the only place where Jack could safely speak without the risk of Bella overhearing him from the bedroom on the opposite side. Her breathing was heavy and erratic, and her eyes unfocused when Will had gone in to check on her. Jack's need to keep his sorrow private from her was unnecessary at this point. Even if they had conversed by her bedside, Bella wouldn't have heard them.

"Twenty-one years is a long time, Will," Jack said, and it broke his heart to see the usually ironclad man's eyes dampen with unshed tears. Jack loudly sniffed and nodded with stoic reverence at the number. "We had our problems, like everyone does. We never had kids, our careers got in the way of that, and sometimes I wonder if that would have made this easier." He clasped and unclasped his large, general's hands, as though trying to mould an answer within them. "But the facts are, nothing would make this any better. I'm losing the love of my life, Will. Moving on from this, it's just not something a person can do."

Jack pressed his lips into a firm line, denying himself the tears that threatened to flow. Will knew he was waiting for him to leave to have that particular outburst, that Jack was of that breed of man who didn't let their feelings show too plainly, and would rather put on a determined, angry facade rather than let sadness overtake him. "She never even told me," Jack said, shaking his head, that firm, tight lip near cursing over the omission. "If I'd known I would have made the most of every moment, I wouldn't have wasted my time hunting down that bastard Hobbs, I would have taken leave, ran away with her."

"No, Jack," Will said, the sorrow of his observation laying thick in the air between them. "You wouldn't have."

Jack nodded tearfully at this and it was then, in the silence of the evening that had enveloped them and in the quiet presence of Will's empathy, that Jack buried his face in his hands and began to weep.

Will placed a warm hand on Jack's back and felt his own heart breaking at the wracking sobs that erupted under his touch. Across the expanse of the living room, in the bedroom Jack and Bella shared, everything that held a strong man together was slowly grinding to a halt, breaths taken in sporadic leavings that would soon cease altogether. Will waited with Jack until the sorrow subsided and he was able to put his strong face back on again, his fists clenched against one killer he genuinely was powerless to stop.

"I'm glad you're here, Will," Jack said, and Will felt his own eyes grow damp. Jack nodded again and turned away, breathing deep to make the pain he felt in his chest ebb, if only for a moment. "How are things with the wife?"

Will openly laughed at this, and leaned his back against the small metal rail that accompanied the three steps leading into the living room, separating the space from the kitchen and dining room behind him. "Funny you should call him that. I...May have taken him out to dinner last night and popped a question I wasn't anticipating I was going to ask."

Jack raised a brow at this and Will returned it with an exaggerated one of his own. Jack shrugged, waiting for the answer, and Will felt a rush of heat rise along his cheeks and the back of his neck, enough to make him nervously massage a hidden ache with his palm. "He said okay."

"Okay? That was what he said, exactly?"

"Yeah. I kind of botched it, don't blame him."

Jack laughed at this, and it was good to see that even the face of his worst sorrow he could still be strong enough to find the ability to do so. "Don't worry about it, Will. I screwed up a lot with Bella, too. When I proposed to her, I fell in the Thames, made a hell of a mess." Jack shook his head, still laughing. "We were stationed in London together, an overnight stop, and I took her out to this nice little pub with all these candles and soft lights, a bit classier than the usual beer taps. And on the way back to the hotel I figured that was a good time as any to pop the question. We were walking along the docks, and they had construction in this one section, so it was missing a portion of the barrier." Jack shook his head at the memory. "I got down on one knee, thinking I was being some romantic son of a bitch. Slipped on a rock and fell right over into the river Thames. Lost the ring and everything. Bunch of drunks from the pub fished me out, it was so embarrassing..." Jack's laughter ebbed. "She married me anyway, the fool."

Will rubbed Jack's shoulder, drawing strength as well as giving it. He stood up and Jack followed, the night drawing to a close in many ways, not the least of which was the lingering mortality that clung to every molecule in the air. It had a strangely familiar feel, Will thought, similar to what he felt every day in Hannibal's house, and he wondered if the dead affected his empathy as much as the living, if the malingering presence of death could be as easily processed. He imagined it was, and he was no doubt picking up on Hannibal's residual depression over his sister's suicide, and maybe even a bit of Mischa herself. Not to mention Abigail, whose father rode along Will's fever, nearly destroying what made his life whole.

"Hannibal wanted me to tell you how sorry he was he couldn't come tonight. He really did want to see Bella."

"It's not a problem, Will, and I doubt this is a memory he wants to have of her." Jack gave Will a sturdy once over. "Thank him from me for the sandwiches, that was very kind of him."

"Kindness is what he's made of," Will said.

"He's quite the sensitive sort, our dear Doctor Lecter." Jack paused, glancing over his shoulder towards Bella's room before turning back to Will. "You do know, don't you, that it wasn't just you who was affected by the Hobbs case. Hannibal was there with you, he's still a part of that tragedy. His sister was only gone for three months at that point, and from what I understand she was the only family he ever had."

"He's officially the last of the Lecter royal line." Will smiled at Jack's confusion. "He was part of some royal family in Lithuania. They were murdered when he was a kid, and he managed to save himself and Mischa. Real tragedy, I mean it's no wonder she went crazy and he did all he could to save her, even dedicating his career in psychiatry to try to find a way to manage her madness."

"I read the article on Tattle Crime, Will, I know that Freddie Lounds didn't even find the half of how crazy she was. She actually broke a neurosurgeon's arm in three places? With a baseball bat and no motive whatsoever?"

"That's a fact. I met the victim myself."

"Jesus." Jack shook his head at the very thought of it. "How did he manage to survive her? It's no wonder he walks around looking like the world is getting ready to toss a boulder on top of him, he's been carrying it around all his life. I hope he's feeling better, he looked awful at the dinner party." Jack got out of Will's way as he slid on his coat, though he was reluctant to see his guest out. "I thought you were one morose jerk until I met him. Honestly, all I could think was 'Bloom wants *this* guy to keep an eye out for Will?' I know he thinks he hid it from us all, but the facts are, grief is one powerful bitch. Do you know his sister committed suicide the day before he met you? He never told me, I found out from Dr. Bloom later."

"It was one of the first things he warned me about in our initial meeting," Will admitted.

"That's some hard core honesty."

"That's who he is." Will gave Jack a morose smile. "I'm sorry to be cutting this short and I wish I had more time to stick around, but if you need anything at all, I'll be here, Jack."

"I know, Will."

Will let out a long breath. "And with that I'll say goodbye and head back to a house full of giggling teenaged girls. Abigail is having her friends over tonight and I'm sorry to say I've left my long suffering wife, as you call him, stuck with the drama. I'm sure he's been giving lots of boyfriend advice for the past couple of hours."

Will's hand was on the handle of the door and Jack's grip on his arm stopped him. "Abigail?" Jack asked, his brow furrowed so deep you could plant corn in it. "Abigail Hobbs?"

Will opened and closed his mouth and then let out a suffering sigh. He'd forgotten he hadn't told Jack, an omission that was probably more about safeguarding her from his suspicions. "She showed up around the beginning of the month, she had nowhere to go...I didn't want to bother you with it, you already had enough on your mind..."

"Will." Jack's grip on his arm was so firm it was bruising and Will fought the urge to pick off his fingers. "Abigail Hobbs is not in your house."

Will shook his head, and gave Jack an incredulous look. "I just told you she is. There's no question it's her, if you think it's some imposter..."

Jack closed the space between them, his former superior's bulk dwarfing Will beneath his might. "Will, Abigail Hobbs died four weeks ago after complications of a stroke at the University of Minnesota Medical Centre."

Will felt a rush of blood hit his ears, and he stepped away from Jack, the hard grip on his arm finally released. He couldn't form words, he couldn't see anything past the door that he needed to open so he could run home to Hannibal and to his family and to all the hope he had tied so tightly together, he couldn't let any of that unravel.

"I don't...I don't understand..."

"Maybe you should talk to someone, Will. Maybe Dr. Bloom can help, I mean if you're becoming unstable..."

But he wasn't, was he? Because Hannibal was there, was with her, he talked to Abigail too, he saw her, Hannibal was still at home and...

Hannibal. Hannibal had a meeting a psychiatrist named Dr. Malcolm Crowe, who had never shown up to their house while Hannibal insisted he had. He'd spoken with Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier during the dinner party, had been upset enough to call his lawyer, to threaten to sue her.

But Dr. Bedelia DuMaurier was dead. Hannibal had threatened to sue a ghost.

Will tore past Jack and out into the night, running to his car. He had to get back to the house. He had to find his world there, waiting for him, along with Hannibal. He had to hold onto his life.

~*~

Abigail's guests hadn't yet arrived, and though she'd promised they would be quiet in the study, Hannibal made sure he positioned himself in a prominent place in their home--namely the kitchen, so as to keep an eye on this group of young women who had so deeply entrenched themselves into Abigail's friendship. He wondered how Will's visit with Jack was going, and a familiar pang of longing welled its way around his heart as he thought on Bella, his last memory of her a kind admonishment against Jack as she hit him with her pink beaded purse, her elegant body hugged tight in an equally formal dress. Such unions were rare, and it was a cruel thing that Fate had deigned to step in and rip it apart, leaving Jack Crawford alone with all of the murderous glee of killers surrounding him.

Was this what he himself was for Will? Hannibal could not help but think of Will as a man sent adrift at times by his empathy, the boat he was in left without a paddle, the dock too distant in the dark to find. It was a different sort of comfort he offered, Hannibal knew, for Will was always on that black lake, seeking the shore and now that Hannibal was there he could send up his flag, and he would eagerly toss a rope for him to reel Will in.

But what of that black water and how it lapped at the heels of his own feet, who would pull Hannibal out of it as it cascaded with cold purpose over his shoes and seeping into the marrow of his bones, making his legs feel as though they ended in icy stumps? He tried to shake the feeling off as he pulled the iPad closer to him, reading for the third time the article he had pulled up about Bedelia's death, the timestamp in the corner proclaiming it had happened exactly four months ago, and the same night that Mischa had made her fateful decision.

"Is that what it was, big brother?"

Ice filled him, and he knew she was sitting beside him, in the chair next to his at the long oak table. Had he fallen asleep? He couldn't tell, for she was certainly a part of his consciousness at present, the blue tips of her fingers tracing along the paragraphs until she found the one she wanted him to read. "That one, big brother. You always were one to miss the important details, you were always looking too closely, missing the great big fat picture. Stupid, really, the way you could look at something and not know it. It's been this way for months since I've been gone. Stupid, stupid man..."

He frowned at the small paragraph she had pointed out, her breath quickening at the way his face paled at the information, his hand brought to his mouth in cold shock. '...Dr. Malcolm Crowe, an associate of Dr. DuMaurier during her early years in her practise, also suffered a similar fate at the hands of a violent patient when he was gunned down on the staircase of his home. Violence committed by volatile patients is not a new phenomenon, as Dr. Chilton of the Baltimore Hospital For The Criminally Insane attests: "We had one patient only last week lash out at an orderly. Bit a large chunk out of his neck, despite being in a straitjacket. Treating the insane can be very dangerous work." '

"Ain 't that the truth," Mischa said, and he glanced to his left to see she was sitting even closer, the smear of her lipstick a brilliant red that glistened with moisture like fresh, wet blood, even here in the near dark. The stench of soured flesh hit him and he fought the urge to gag. "You know that better than anyone, don't you. You still have the scar on your neck where I stabbed you when we were kids. And the one on your back, when I went at you with a fork. Remember that time you beat me at chess and I broke your wrist? So many good memories."

Hannibal bit down on his fear and disgust, the close proximity of her making him ill. "Mischa, why are you here? You've tortured me enough."

"I will never tire of that. I can promise you." Her words cut into him as though she'd sliced him and he felt tired in her presence, all the happiness and joy at the prospect of spending his life with Will siphoned in an instant. This was never going to end, he understood this. With tears in his eyes, he studied the image of Bedelia DuMaurier displayed in the article, looking as cold and inhuman as she had in life. Mischa had taken so much and she was still doing it, she would do it for all eternity. The visit from Bedelia had proven that.

"You don't have anything to live for, big brother," Mischa said, shaking her head at the tears that spilled from his maroon eyes, hitting the surface of the table in thick, wet circles. "That's the truth of it, isn't it? I'm always here and your dear little Willtukas, he doesn't have a clue about me, about how you want to climb into that closet with me, and string yourself up. It's not as hard as you think. Just a little noose and then a sigh and lean forward and you'll be done in no time, just keep those knees up and you'll do just fine. I'll have you forever then, too. We were always the ones married by destiny, Hannibal. No one else."

Cold hands grabbed his cheek and he felt sick at the touch, bile rising up from the bottom of his belly as he retched. Mischa's smile broke apart her face, the crack spreading across her cheeks like smashed plaster. "You aren't going to survive this. I won't let you."

Hannibal fought to regain his breath, and he closed his eyes, pulling the iPad closer to him. He thought long about what it was he going to type into the search engine, and he swallowed, his mouth dry at the prospect. Will was still with Jack, and hoped he didn't come home too soon, to see him like this, broken and mad and searching for truths that had no place in the world he was building with his future husband.

"Why are you looking for answers you don't want?" she crackled into his ear. Bits of plaster fell from her face, the same beige hue as the back of the wardrobe. Bits of fatty human tissue fell with them, splotches of bone and blood embedded in the drywall.

Fingers shaking over the small keypad, Hannibal typed the name in the top corner of the Google search box.

'Abigail Hobbs'

His finger paused over the return key, and he pressed his lips tight together, his tears spilling long down his cheeks and into the dip of his neck. He couldn't let either of them see him like this, he was really being foolish. He was having a breakdown. After months of tired exhaustion and the constant, negative attention he'd become the brunt of he was finally losing it.

Physician, heal thyself.

"That's right," his sister hissed at his ear and he could smell her rot, the could feel the dust of death putrid upon her tongue. "Erase her."

He hit the little x in the corner of the search box, clearing out Abigail Hobbs' name. He typed TattleCrime.com into the address bar instead and hit return.

His breath caught in his throat, his heart hammering with such force he thought it would shatter his rib cage. Mischa, furious, screamed into his ear, her fingers clawing at the oak table, nails breaking off along with her skin, the fingertips worn to clicking, scraping sharp points of bone.

That bitch! That bitch! That bitch!

THE LECTER HOME--HAUNTED BY PAST CRIMES?

"...As can be seen in the above photo taken by this reporter only last week, the clear image of Abigail Hobbs is visible in the far right window of the upper floor of the Lecter home. Rumour has it this was Mischa Lecter's bedroom the one where she fatefully ended her life by hanging herself in her wardrobe. As you all know, Tattle Crime enthusiasts, Abigail Hobbs was the daughter of serial killer Garrett Jacob Hobbs, and was believed to have acted as bait for her father's victims. She died of a stroke several days after her father slit her throat and left her to bleed out on their kitchen floor. The same day Will Graham put five bullets into her father's torso and became the killer we all suspected him to be..."

"Dr. Lecter?"

Hannibal held his hand to his mouth, holding in the horror he could taste on his tongue, the images of Abigail for the past three weeks running through his mind in a kaleidoscopic ruin that shattered upon careful inspection. No one had ever seen her outside of himself and Will.

Not true. No, not true, Cole Sear had seen her, he knew she was still here, that Tattle Crime was spewing one more outright lie and she was not as Freddie Lounds said, she was not dead, she was not.

He frantically typed 'Cole Sear' into the search engine and tapped return, only to have a stream of articles pour over his name. "Cole Sear, The Reluctant Medium." "Cole Sear Talks To The Dead." "An Interview With Clairvoyant Cole Sear."

"..."It's not something I like about myself and I don't even know if anyone should believe in me or not, I really don't care." Cole Sear was reported as saying. "I've had this ability since I was a kid. Believe me, it's more of a curse than anything."

Detective Gerald Hunt doesn't think so. "Cole helped me through a really rough patch when my partner was murdered. He's a hell of a grief counsellor. Whether he's actually talking to the dead or not, doesn't matter to me. I see dead people all the time. He just sees them a little later than I do."

Hannibal dropped the iPad and nearly toppled from his chair as he looked up and saw Abigail seated at the end of the table, surrounded by eight young women. He let out a cry of anguish as he finally recognized her mysterious friends for who they were--her father's victims. Elise Nichols, Anna Anderson, Lori Sorenson, Diane Woodward, Dee Latimer, Patricia Cohen, Sally Olsen, Rachel Winn. Abigail sat stone still in their centre, her blue eyes unmoving as she stared down the long length of the table at Hannibal, her soft lips upturned in a knowing, sad smile. He tried to talk to her but he could only sob, the ugliness of his grief too desperate to reach out to her.

"I'm so sorry," she said, shaking her head. She cocked it to one side, taking in his frantic sorrow as though she wanted to ease his pain and couldn't. "You and Will, you were so good to me. But it can't be helped, Dr. Lecter. I am my father's daughter. And I'm so very hungry."

Mischa was instantly at Hannibal's side, her fingers digging into his shoulders, her essence seeping who he was out of him and into her, keeping purchase on him as she siphoned his soul out of him. He could feel the tiredness wash over him, like an encroaching coma. He just wanted to sleep. He just wanted to leave all of it, to not feel so heavy and weak any more.

"You tell that bitch to get out of here," Mischa spat in his ear.

"Abigail," Hannibal said, and all he could taste were tears. He reached out for her, his hand open, wanting to hold her one last time. She smiled at him from the vast distance at the end of the table, and nodded sweetly.

"Don't worry. I won't let her win."

Mischa turned on her brother.

"You bastard! You can't let her!"

A howl spun through the very marrow of the house as Abigail flung her head back, her mouth opened wide enough to swallow in the eight souls standing behind her. Like a rushing tornado whipping across the room and tearing pieces of her apart, Mischa was pulled into Abigail's ever widening, black maw, long fingernails scraping against the surface of the table, gouging the wood as she screamed. Mouth unhinged and full of the dead, Mischa slid down Abigail's throat, fingers aimlessly trying to escape past her lips, only to be clamped down on and sipped in with a loud, slurping suck.

She ate her.

Abigail ate Mischa.

Hannibal tried to cry out but he was no longer at the dining room table and it was impossible to breathe. He flailed wildly in the pitch dark and his feet found solid ground, his arms battering against plastic and fabric before the door to the wardrobe was flung open. Something horribly tight was wound around his neck and he managed to get his fingers underneath it enough to allow in a tiny sliver of air. He managed to tear apart the knot holding it place and he gasped in hungry gulps of oxygen, his throat sore and bruised. He stared at the torn tie in his grip with confusion, then tested the tender bruises at his neck that smarted with the tiniest bit of pressure. He was in Mischa's wardrobe. His tie had been noosed around his neck.

Mischa hated him that much. She'd tried to kill him.

He wanted to collapse but the sound of the front door slamming open and shut roused him, as did Will's voice shouting for him. He wanted to shout back, but his voice was stolen from him and all he could manage was a tortured, rasping whisper. Light headed, he stumbled out of his sister's bedroom and into the hallway, and it wasn't until he was at the top of the stairs and Will was looking up at him from the bottom that Hannibal realized he was still alive.

"Hannibal," Will whispered, his face crumpling in agony. He ran up the stairs and heedless of Hannibal's obviously weakened state he wrapped his arms tight around him, as though making sure he was genuinely real. Hannibal could understand the need.

Will kissed him and Hannibal's throat managed to form the words he hated having to say. He could feel his heart crumbling to dust, his body collapsing against Will's as the sobs threatened to return. Long, wet tears slid down his cheeks, burning him.

"Abigail is gone."

Will clutched him close, his arms holding Hannibal together tight as his body wracked with heaving, mournful sobs, the loss so complete it left his shark cage broken beyond repair.

 

Chapter Text

ALL THOSE DEAD PEOPLE
chapter nine

He seated Hannibal at the head of the large, dark oak table in the main dining room, a space full of far too many shadows for Will's liking, but Hannibal insisted. Hannibal was dressed in soft flannels and a terry cloth bathrobe, chosen by Will after he'd administered a hot bath in an attempt to calm Hannibal's hysterical, sobbing shock. Lavender still clung to the air around him, his skin deeply perfumed. Will had washed his back with languid strokes of a cloth, his overwrought muscles pulled from their knots with heated massage. Will had helped him out afterwards, dried him off and helped him get dressed, the terror muted but still lurking heavily enough upon the man to make even the simplest tasks impossible. Hannibal was still trembling where he sat, and the heat from the bath had brought the bruises around his neck into full relief, a thick red line that Will tried not to touch. Will handed him a small tumbler of whiskey and Hannibal took small sips, grimacing after each one. Hannibal was not fond of spirits.

"Abigail.." he began, and Will stroked the side of his face and gently palmed his hair, his hushing a delicate whisper. Hannibal swallowed, deeply, his erratic breathing calming under Will's touch. He grabbed Will's hand with his own, his grip firm enough to bruise. "This is my fault."

"No." Will kissed his cheek and placed a warm arm around Hannibal's quaking shoulders. Will had been just as upset at the revelation, but upon coming home, the wreckage of his partner was pitiable. Between strangled chokes and the calming effects of the bath, Hannibal had revealed that the ugly red line across his neck had been due to Mischa, that she'd tried to kill him in the wardrobe. Will's shaking fingers tried not to trace it, the feeling of having missed the signs of Hannibal's severe depression squeezing his heart tight. He didn't understand how it was that they both saw Abigail and interacted with the vibrant young woman with the depth they did. Grief did strange things. Strange, twisted, unbearable things.

Will was cautious, his arm still tight around Hannibal's shoulders as the man downed another bitter gulp of whiskey. "Do you think you're ready to tell me what happened?"

Hannibal slowly nodded. He put down the tumbler of whiskey and placed his palms flat on the surface of the table, his long, elegant fingers ghosting along an invisible line he seemed surprised to find wasn't there. "You have to understand, I suffered a great deal, Will. More than I have hinted at, the little snippets I've offered you are meaningless compared to what my daily life was like. I lived with the devil's consort."

"You mean Mischa?"

"Of course I mean Mischa, who else would have driven me to such desperation?" Hannibal crumpled again into tears and through Will's coaxing brought his breath was brought back to a hitched, but normal enough rhythm to talk. "She came home, covered in blood. Blood that wasn't hers...I remember everything, now.  I didn't want to, I pushed it out of my consciousness, I didn't want to face it.  Mischa came home, and blood followed her."

Will wanted to interrupt, to remind him that this wasn't what happened this evening, that he wanted to know what went on between Hannibal and Abigail and what realm of the netherworld had been opened to allow her to slip through, leaving them behind. He wanted to know what Hannibal had seen, not this family history lesson that was sure to be full of more of Mischa's usual cruelty. Will sighed and drew on a patience he didn't know he possessed. He couldn't push this. Obviously, the real answers would have to come later, for now he would simply listen, and allow Hannibal's hoarse voice to meander though his memory palace, picking out an irrelevant recollection to help him get through the trauma.

"I had been sleeping and she woke me up, slamming the front door behind her and stomping through the main foyer, blood dripping off of her dress. I met her at the base of the stairs, I ran down to her because in that moment I didn't know the blood wasn't hers. She started screaming at me when I tried to examine her for wounds. That was when I realized she'd bathed herself in someone else's life. That was when I knew my sister had transversed that line between madness and murder."

~*~

Hannibal awoke in his bed, the din of his sister's screaming fury pulling him from it to sleepily wander into the main corridor and then to the top of the stairs. She had another long, drunken party night, he supposed, one of her usual debauched evenings that ended in paranoia and tears. He figured he'd have to perform the exhausting routine that never seemed to end, and he thus would go downstairs, mop her up and plunk her at the dining room table while he went to get her something to eat in a vain attempt to sober her up. The dining room was a strategic spot, it was far easier to clean up her sick if that's what it came down to. Lots of water and some anti-nausea medication that he kept on hand in the pantry ought to cure this. He'd have to pull out of her befuddled mind what illicit drugs she had taken so he could administer counter effects.

He had patients to see in just a few hours, four of them in quick succession starting from seven in the morning. Of course, what did his schedule matter next to Mischa's selfish, high strung needs.

He was so tired.

Yawning, he headed for the head of the stairs, and paused as he looked down at the gory sight waiting for him at its base. He hurled himself down them, the vision of Mischa, her sequined beige dress dripping blood sending him into a mute panic. She was unsteady on her impossible high heels, the golden straps marred with blood splatter, her legs long lines of red. She staggered towards the dining room wordlessly, and Hannibal followed after her, a sick feeling welling deep within him. He grabbed her shoulder and she shook him off, giving him a confident glare that made him doubt her injuries.

"Mischa, what the hell happened?" He stared at his palm, now soaked in a thick red that felt sticky as he pressed his hand into a fist and released it. It was already drying into a flaking burgundy against the creases and between his fingers. "Mischa, are you hurt?"

"I'm fine," she sneered. She collapsed at the head of the table, her beaded matching purse tossed on top of it as though it was a brick she'd been carrying for too long. "I need a fucking drink,"

Dark red footprints led from the front door to the dining room and Hannibal followed them backwards, opening the heavy oak front door to see that his Bentley was parked at an awkward angle in the bushes near their front step, the driver's side window smeared with blindly searching red hand prints as Mischa had fumbled to get the door open. He closed the front door and locked it before shakily following the red outlines of Mischa's heels leading with veering inaccuracy into the dining room. She pulled out a cigarette and lit it, the smoke curling up from between her bloodstained fingers, her smeared red lips cursing around fire.

"Didn't you hear me? I'm thirsty. There's champagne in the fridge door." She took a long drag of her cigarette and turned her head, glaring at him over the dried, dark red flakes shaving off of her shoulder. "Are you deaf as well as stupid? Standing there with your mouth open like that, like some drooling brain damaged idiot. Wake up! I told you, get me a drink!"

"Mischa..." Hannibal shook his head, taking in the blood, her sudden calm facade, the ramifications of what may have happened. "What's going on? What did you do?"

Mischa shrugged and took another drag of her cigarette. She held it aloft in elegant, still dripping fingers. "I went to my therapy appointment with Dr. DuMaurier."

Hannibal felt his blood run cold. "I thought we'd agreed we wouldn't see her again," he said, stern. "Her therapy has been highly detrimental to your progress, she makes excuses for you instead of making you face your poor decisions. She encourages you to project your blame onto me, and I am not responsible for your choices, Mischa, no matter how much you delude yourself into thinking I am."

He marched in front of her looking down at her seated form, her smeared lipstick and mascara only adding to the grand, massive mess that was his sister. "How much longer must I put up with this, Mischa? You do what you like without thought of how it affects others, of how much it destroys me. What has happened? Why are you covered in blood, which from what I can see, is not your own?"

Mischa stared wearily up at him, the cigarette quietly smoked as her large green eyes took him in, the calculation behind them so blatant it was like he could hear the little pistons of her mind click all of her excuses and plans into place. "Did you know that she wanted to write a book about me?" Mischa laughed at this and turned away from him, dismissing his horror. "She thinks I'm some kind of Zelda Fitzgerald, a pure, vibrant artist hidden beneath the yoke of her overprotective brother. It's all bullshit, of course, but she figured that angle would be what sells best. She was a real self assured cunt, I can tell you that, big brother."

Hannibal felt his mouth go dry. "What do you mean by 'was', Mischa?"

Mischa finished her cigarette and chuckled lightly as she put it out on the surface of the near black oak dining room table, an act of blithe vandalism that had more significance than a blow to Hannibal. Her grin was full of large, red stained teeth. "She thought it would be fun to torture you, and I guess she figured you'd be coming at her, all recrimination and anger over her picking on his poor little sister's ignorance. She didn't know me at all, what a joke. I'd go in her office and cry and tell her how mean you were, how *oppressed* I felt, and I liked the way she'd nod her head all sympathetic, yes, yes, I know *exactly* how you feel, I'm a professional woman myself..." Mischa rolled her eyes. "Stupid cow. She could see right through your cold person suit but she couldn't see through my little play on her favourite game, the plight of the victim. She hated you, you know. I told her you did all manner of terrible, stifling patriarchal things, short of being a diddler, of course. She believed every word."

Mischa narrowed her eyes on Hannibal, who stood stock still, as though fearful any sudden movement would cause her to strike him. "She thought she could torture you back with a tell all book. She can't do that, big brother. The only person allowed to torture you in this life is me."

"Mischa..." Hannibal broke eye contact with her, his shaking voice forced into a measure of cold reason that he certainly wasn't feeling. "What did you do to Dr. DuMaurier?"

Mischa shrugged. "I knocked her out with that sculpture you got her for Christmas last year, the white marble stag. The blow alone probably would have killed her, but I had to make sure, I am all about the details. So I dragged her into her bathtub and slit her throat." Mischa used the tip of her broken nail to measure the cut, making a wide swipe across the soft underbelly of her chin. "Ear to fucking ear."

"You're telling me you murdered her."

"Oh look at you, big brother, all of a sudden all quick on the uptake." She grabbed her purse and woozily stood up. "I'm taking a shower."

Hannibal's head shook. "We need to call the police."

"We're doing no such thing, you moron. She's dead, there's nothing left to care about."

But as usual Mischa had not envisioned the large picture behind her actions, the dominos that clicked and fell as a result, leaving Hannibal in ruins. His practise was set to be destroyed, his life forever tainted by the shadow of his murderess sister, the long lonely stretch of it cascading into an infinity of reclusive pain that he was sure he couldn't endure. She had destroyed them both with this, he was sure of it. She had torn their lives apart and there was no amount of mending that would put what meagre life he had built together again.

"No, Mischa, we are going to the police and you are turning yourself in, I am not going to be your accomplice in this. This is too far, Mischa. You are well out of control. You need to suffer the consequence of what you have done."

She staggered past him, and angrily shook him off when he grabbed her arm. "You really are stupid. Clean up the car and park it properly. No one's going to find that bitch until tomorrow anyway, there's lots of time to fix it."

Hannibal felt a well of horror grow inside of him at this, for this was no longer a madness he could carefully, painfully manage, this was outright evil. He couldn't let her get away with it, she was a destroyer, she was sucking all portions of his soul from him with every attack and now, now the monstrosity that was her soul had reached its zenith and she was set to drag him down that long, endless abyss with her.

He grabbed her and forced her up the stairs, and she toppled out of her heels, kicking at him and screaming, begging to know just what the hell did he think he was doing and he ignored her as he dragged her along the hallway, her nails digging hard into his arms, leaving painful marks and bruises. He had to duck from her gnashing teeth lest she bite him. He was handling a human wolverine. All teeth and nails and fury directed at his murder. It would be easy for her to kill him now, she'd had the practice.

He tossed her into her bedroom and shut the door before she could get out, quickly locking it from the outside. He could hear her screaming, her fists pounding on the door, the clawing and body checking of it practically tearing it off of its hinges. She really was an agent of the devil by this point, Hannibal thought.

He slowly made his way down the stairs, the echo of her fury following him throughout the house. He went into his study and reached for his phone, only to hesitate. He closed his eyes, breathing heavily, trying to bring what was left of his life into a better focus. His fingers tapped the receiver once, then twice. He took a deep breath as his hand fell to his side, and he glanced up at the ceiling in the study, listening to Mischa's storming tornado of rage, his heart gasping as he waited for her to calm down.

So many years of this endurance and he was so, so tired, the exhaustion wearing his spirit down to a grey shadow that barely had substance. Ever alone and constantly at the beck and call of her tantrums, never being able to forge his own life as he was so chained to her violent whims. She'd had plenty of preparation for this. Mischa had been murdering him for decades.

It took two hours before Mischa understood he hadn't called the police and her rage subsided into an eerie calm. He took advantage of this and got the syringe ready, filling it with a sedative that she was familiar enough with and would eagerly accept. His hands shook as he tipped the small vial and flicked the syringe, eliminating air bubbles and squeezing out a small portion to ensure they were gone. He didn't cap it, he held it behind his back as he made his way up the stairs and unlocked her bedroom door, slipping into the half light of her room with a familiar ease. "Mischa?" he asked, and she stirred on her bed. She had showered in the en suite, and was free of blood, the offending dress carelessly tossed into a bin beside the wardrobe. She was now dressed in a simple silk nightdress, the tiny straps near invisible. He sat on the edge of her bed, his body rigid and cold beside her.

"Did you clean the car out yet?" she mumbled.

"I have something for you," he said, pulling out the syringe. She looked up at him with half lidded eyes, a dark smudge of mascara still clinging to them despite her having taken a shower. She laughed at him, and eagerly put out her arm.

"How nice, big brother. You know I like the way this stuff makes me dream."

"Of course, Mischa. It will help you sleep."

"I don't have any problem with sleeping," she reminded him, grinning in that usual cruel way of hers, like nothing mattered, and pain was something to laugh at. She shook her muscular arm, eager for him to plunge it in. He swiped at the fleshy portion of her shoulder with a small alcohol pad and put the needle in. He waited a few moments for the initial euphoria to rush over her.

He didn't have much time. If he waited too long, she'd be unconscious and there had to be proof she had enough wherewithal to commit the act before the sedative kicked in and she couldn't change her mind.

He hooked the noose of his thin, silk tie over her head and pulled it taut before dragging her towards the wardrobe, and she kicked and scratched at him as he well knew she would. It was a difficult thing stringing her up, her knees gaining purchase and forcing her to standing and he constantly had to shove them out from beneath her, her flailing arms tearing at him. Despite this, he managed to get the tie knotted tight around the wardrobe's metal bar, her clothes pushed to the left and right of her, some spilling out beneath her as she kicked. He stood back when she was secured, her hands now losing the ability to find purchase at her throat as the sedative fully kicked in, her limbs becoming disjointed jelly as a lack of oxygen and valium pulled her into unconsciousness.

It's a hard thing to kill oneself in a closet. There's always the chance to change one's mind, the feet finding ground and bringing about that last minute rescue. But Mischa couldn't fight against the heavy dose Hannibal had given her. Her legs had melted beneath its heady promise of sleep.

He watched. Her body jerked and her eyes lolled and her tongue protruded out from between her lips, bitten by her teeth, leaving lines of blood to seep from the corner of her mouth. He stood and watched and waited for death to bring him what decades of suffering under her yoke hadn't been able to surrender. He didn't feel remorse when the spark finally dulled in her green eyes and the cold mist of death clouded over them. He checked his watch, and knew he had a few hours yet. He would clean the car. He would go to work and pretend he thought she was sleeping off a rough night. He would burn the dress and make sure the en suite was bleached before he called the police to report her death.

He stood in front of her death and cried and cried until the vast sea of tears within him were dry and all that was left was rasping, dry sobs because despite it all, Mischa was his sister, and the terror of how his life was to be shaped without her familiar, monstrous influence upon his own was a loneliness that utterly consumed him.

But Mischa couldn't go to prison, she couldn't spend the rest of her life pacing angrily in a cage, her vicious mind shattered. He knew, she'd done what she did out of some twisted version of love for him.

He still loved his sister. It's why he couldn't let her live.

~*~

Jack stood rod straight, a stoicism that held within it the firm grip of his military training. It prevented any show of emotion from seeping out of him. From the slight shake of his head as he watched the coffin be lowered into the ground, however, it was clear that his heartbreaking sorrow was very close to the surface and it wouldn't take much to topple Jack Crawford into its black embrace.

Will avoided putting a hand on the man's shoulder, knowing the touch would only bring his sadness over the edge of his firm grip on self, and the last thing Jack Crawford would want anyone to see was a portion of weakness, no matter how logical and normal such an expression would be. Hannibal stood on the other side of Jack, his hands clasped tightly in front of him. He said nothing, only offering the occasional glance at the strong man beside him, on high alert for any sign of distress.

Will sighed and caught Hannibal's eye, noting the maroon gaze had suddenly sparked with an angry sheen, the pinpricks of red turned on a figure in the distance behind them. Will frowned as he made out the black silhouette of Cole Sear, who stood beside his car, hands deep in his pockets. Will gave Jack's arm a small squeeze before leaving him, the touch making him slightly crumble only for that general's stance to stubbornly make its way back, Jack's mouth pressed tighter than before. Hannibal shook his head at Will, the unspoken words being 'How dare he. What are you doing, indulging in that charlatan's intrusion here? Tell him to go the hell away.'

Will had a different take on the matter, and it was evident in the calm of his walk as he approached Cole Sear, hands in the pockets of his dark pea coat, likewise warding off the damp chill. He gave the man a smile and a friendly nod and felt a pang of guilt at how relieved Sear was in response to it. "I'm guessing you're pretty familiar with these places," Will said. "An occupational hazard."

"Something like that," Sear said, still smiling. He shrugged into his jacket, as though trying to make himself seem smaller. "I almost didn't come, but I knew you guys would be here. It was just important to me to make sure you know how sorry I was."

Will shook his head. "Sorry about what?"

"I dunno. Maybe I should have told you sooner."

Will approached closer, keeping his back to the funeral so Hannibal couldn't discern the warm smile he gave Cole. "I wouldn't have been able to hear the truth. It's a tall order asking someone to believe in ghosts, especially what that ghost is eating breakfast with you every morning." He glanced over his shoulder, a grey cast to his features as he looked over the strong width of Hannibal's back. The psychiatrist was now standing closer to Jack, whose sorrow was finally starting to leak out, and threatened to become a burst dam. "He still doesn't believe any of it. He has explained it away with intellectual posturing about 'shared hallucination' and the reinforcement of that illusion thanks to your interference. I wouldn't take it personally, this is more about his pain than anything else. He was very close to Abigail, and whether he's right or not doesn't change that."

Cole sagely nodded at this. "It doesn't matter what he believes. I honestly hope his analysis of it is right, it would make my life a lot easier. It's not easy navigating through the dead and the living at the same time, it caused a lot of problems for me when I was a kid." Cole sighed, the damp air between them sending a chill throughout both men, enough to make them shiver in unison. "I will say this, the dead don't usually go out of their way like that to interact with the living. Most of the time it's quick visits, impressions and flashes."

Will kicked at the earth at his feet, frowning at what Sear was saying. "So what does it all mean?"

"I don't know. But to be that embedded, it's like a possession." Cole shrugged again, eyed his car as though he was already longing to escape. The funeral party was breaking up and Hannibal and Jack were heading up the green towards the main road. "I don't think you've heard the last of her."

Will couldn't stop the small smile at this. "I hope you're right."

Cole Sear dove into his car and started it before Hannibal could confront him, a wise move on the man's part and Will had to wonder just how much of the empath was in him, as well. Probably off the charts and far beyond even what Will had lurking in his own synapses, an empathy that was so finely tuned it transversed one plane of existence and stood on the periphery of another.

"I hope you gave him a piece of your mind," Hannibal tersely said, rubbing his gloved hands together as he headed for the Bentley. "The nerve of him, showing up here. Jack doesn't need to be exposed to the whims of such a flagrant grifter." He turned and gave Will's hesitation on the matter a cold once over. "I trust you made it clear he is never to bother us again."

"He's harmless, Hannibal."

They got into the Bentley, Hannibal's mood still sour as he slid into he driver's seat. He placed his gloved hands on the steering wheel and looked past Will, towards a large hill covered in dark green, the mound so smooth it looked as though stepping onto it would be soft, like trodding on a pillow. Hannibal pursed his lips and nervously chewed his bottom one before nodding towards it. "The tombstone comes next week."

Will reached out and slid a warm hand down Hannibal's arm. "I know, Baby." He leaned his head against the seat support, and didn't yet buckle in. "The hospital had her cremated when no one claimed her body. We didn't have to buy a plot, we could have got an urn. We could have kept her at home, with us."

Hannibal emphatically shook his head at this, his hands tight on the steering wheel. "No." His lips pressed together. "Her father kept her close, he wouldn't let her explore, wouldn't let her be a part of the world. It was up to us, Will, to give her that independence."

Hannibal's eyes welled with tears and Will pulled him into a close embrace. He wondered when it was ever going to pass that their lives weren't going to be buried beneath sorrow.

"I miss her," Hannibal whispered, his voice shaky in Will's ear, and Will held him tighter, mindful of how his shoulders quaked.

"So do I," Will said, and he breathed Hannibal in, kissing him, and hoping for once life and death would give them enough of a reprieve to get them through the week.

~*~

The FOR SALE sign creaked in the summer breeze and was nearly knocked over by a pair of rambunctious children, the progeny of young couple who wandered up the front steps. Hannibal answered the door and gave the couple a wide grin. "Ah, you must be friends of Will. He's in the backyard at present, and be warned he won't let me near the BBQ, he has gone into full bayou mode. I hope you have brought your appetite for catfish."

The young woman standing in front of him shifted from one foot to the other, her long brown hair brushing against her shoulders while her husband stood beside her, a rather doughy man sporting a baseball cap and a Budweiser t-shirt. "Actually, we're here to look at the house," the woman replied. She turned her attention to the two children who were now trying to tear the sale sign out of the lawn. "BRYCE! Put that back! Did you hear me! Put it back!" She turned back to Hannibal, her hands held up in stressed apology. "Busy boys. It's why we've been looking in this area, lots of good schools, big backyard, lots of room for them run and grow."

"I see," Hannibal said, looking over the small family with friendly mirth. They didn't look the type that were able to afford a house of this size, but then he'd long learned not to judge too quickly. There was many a millionaire who hid beneath ratty jeans. "I'm afraid there won't be any formal showings until Tuesday, but I can give you our realtor's card." He dove to the small side table near the front door and pulled out a stack, giving one of the more detailed pamphlets outlining the positive aspects of the house to her silent, but cheery husband. "I would give you a tour myself but we are rather busy with company at present. May I ask how you came to know of the sale?"

"Kijiji," the woman blithely replied. "We saw the ad for the wardrobe."

"Of course," Hannibal replied and inwardly felt a need to chastise Will, who had been rather careless in his description of the various items he had put up for sale. Alongside the pictures of the wardrobe he'd mentioned it was part of an estate sale due to the listing of their home, and several prospective buyers had dropped by the house in the ruse of picking up various furnishings. Hannibal sighed and stared at the wardrobe that was now plunked in the middle of the foyer, awaiting a new, and hopefully much happier, home. He glanced past the couple and at the large truck parked in his driveway. "I take it you want it?"

"Sure!" the woman said, nodding eagerly. Then, waving the pamphlet about the house as a mode of explanation. "I own an antique shop. The wardrobe will be a great addition to the front window."

On display for everyone to see. How delighted Mischa would have been at that irony.

Money was exchanged and the wardrobe was slid out carefully on blankets for the purpose into the bed of the truck, the two young boys seemingly used to this kind of grunt labour and were no doubt a huge part of the delivery portion of their antique business. He watched the wardrobe, tethered to the back of the truck with various bungee cords and ropes, and felt a heavy weight dissipate the further it went until it was no longer in sight.

Buster yipped at his feet, and Hannibal closed the front door, bidding the little dog to follow him to the back of the house, where his guests were splayed lazily across chairs and against the walls, a small gathering collected around Will as he blackened innumerable amounts of fish. Jack met him, a bottle of beer in hand, his large grip slapping against Hannibal's shoulder. "You look good," Jack said, nodding, and Hannibal wanted to return the compliment, only Jack still wore the same harried lines of a man suffering recent loss. Hannibal smiled, and thanked him for the observation.

The celebration had been Will's idea and he had taken it over completely, not allowing Hannibal to add any of his 'fancy' touches, determined as he was to keep it a strictly informal affair for their close friends and a few smatterings of Will's family which consisted of a cousin and a couple of rotund twin aunts in their mid eighties. The Aunties, as Will called them, were fierce, large women who bullied Hannibal out of his own kitchen to prepare all manner of strange fixings, including a squirrel pot pie. A plastic laundry tub filled with ice kept the beer cold and guests helped themselves freely. It was all so alien to Hannibal's aesthetic sensibilities, and though Will had insisted he dress down for the occasion, he couldn't stop himself from wearing a clean, expensive button down cotton shirt starched into lines so sharp a person could cut themselves if they brushed against his shoulder. He skipped the tie, and found his hands constantly smoothing over buttons, searching for it.

"Dr. Lecter!"

He was quite surprised who had made Will's guest list, and the rolling form of Franklyn Froideveux had given him pause. Still, he had to concede that Will had a point, Hannibal had forgiven the man, and Franklyn had driven them home from the hospital and he had been filled with genuine concern for Hannibal's well being and thus Hannibal relented, and allowed the invitation much against his better judgement.

Franklyn looked odd out of his usual too tight suit, which was traded for a too tight black t-shirt and a pair of jeans that were struggling to keep ahead of a plumber's butt. He had a thin, pale woman with strawberry blonde hair on his arm, and she shyly bowed her head at Hannibal and smiled in a sweet way that instantly made him like her. "I want you to meet my fiancee," Franklyn said, beaming with pride. "This is Kathy Primm."

She held out a paper thin hand. "It's very nice to meet you, Dr. Lecter. Franklyn has so many things to say about you."

"I'm sure he does," Hannibal said without humour. He gave Franklyn a curt nod. "So you are getting married? I didn't know you were seeing anyone, Franklyn."

"We just met a couple of months ago," Kathy Primm said, and raised her shoulders in soft meekness. She had a tiny voice, gentle in its delivery and holding just that tiniest bit of mischief. "Franklyn has a problem with arthritis in his knee, and he came to me for some bee therapy." She coughed at Hannibal's raised brow. "I'm a naturopathic healer, I specialize in acupuncture and holistic medicine. In bee therapy I use an actual bee to sting the joint to help stimulate the immune response. It's had lots of good results. Oh, and that reminds me." She rummaged around in a light green purse that was far too big and bulky to be anything less than a duffle bag and hauled out an amber coloured jar. "I make my own honey. Honey also had lots of auto-immune properties, and this is one all natural, unpasteurized, I hope you like it."

"How can I not?" Hannibal said, taking it, genuinely grateful for the gift. He continued smiling at them both. "So, when is the big day?"

"July 17th," Franklyn replied. He wound his arm around Kathy's waist possessively.

"Really?" Hannibal said, feeling an odd tic at the back of his head at the news. "That's the same date Will and I have chosen for our nuptials. A shame we will not be able to attend as a result."

"It's at the mansion at Valley Country Club. We took one look at it and had to book it, it was just too beautiful a spot. Really had to wrangle a little, apparently there's another wedding going on there at the same time." Franklyn gave Hannibal wry grin and a wink. "Good thing I have connections, they're fitting us in and putting the other wedding into the smaller banquet room next door, doesn't look like it'll interfere much, I was told they have hardly any guests. Kind of weird they're having a wedding at all, really."

Franklyn sipped his beer and Hannibal could only silently, stonily, glare down at him.

"Will and I are getting married at the mansion at Valley Country Club on the 17th." Hannibal was incensed by the good show Franklyn put on, his stricken face so pale he could have been made of meringue.

"Hey, I had no idea, oh wow, Hannibal, I'm so sorry."

"That's Dr. Lecter, to you, Franklyn."

"We've paid up already and everything, there's no way we can change it. Honestly, if I'd known it was you..."

"I'm having a hard time believing that, Franklyn. After all this, you are going to ruin my wedding," Hannibal said, shaking his head. "You have pushed me into the smaller venue," he added, incredulous. "The next thing you are going to tell me is that you have absconded with the cello ensemble I had hired."

"I...Well, if they're from the symphony they kind of agreed to do a double bill...As a courtesy to the other wedding party. Which, I guess, is you."

"Are you okay, Dr. Lecter?" Kathy Pimms put a delicate, featherlight hand on his arm. "You don't look too good."

"Ms. Pimms, the next time you give Franklyn one of your bee therapies, perhaps you could do us all a favour and engulf his head in a swarm. Perhaps that will aid him to think clearly, for I am telling you as a man of science, I am at a loss to help him."

He stormed away from Franklyn and headed towards Will, who was eagerly messing about with the rather hideous carcasses of catfish and placing them in steady lines on the grill. Will took one look at Hannibal's chewed lips and angry, cold stance and raised a brow. "I take it you've been talking to Franklyn."

"The audacity of that stupid little man!"

"Don't be a crybaby, it's not a big deal. Franklyn knows some of the same people you do, it'll be a big party, it'll be fun." Will kissed Hannibal's scowl away and handed him a beer. "You need to stop."

Hannibal stared at the bottle of beer like he didn't know what to do with it. Will reached over and twisted off the cap. "Stop being fussy. You need to relax," Will clarified. He paused as he scraped some of the fish that was stuck to the grill off before spraying it down with oil, the flames leaping up. In the kitchen he could hear Will's Aunties let out a whoop joy at the sight of the flames, encouraging Will to set them higher. They were doing something with frogs, Hannibal noted, and shivered at the realization they probably weren't using just the legs.

"Did I see the wardrobe head out of here earlier?"

Hannibal brought the bottle to his lips and downed a good amount of the beer. It was ice cold and tasted like heaven. "Yes."

Will smiled over his blackening fish. "Good." He leaned over and gave Hannibal another kiss, this time on the lips, the chicory flavour of him leaving Hannibal's mouth tingling. Hannibal tried to reposition one of the fish to ensure it obtained proper grill marks, only for Will to smack his hand with the metal spatula. "Hands off!"

The party was in full swing now, with Dr. Alana Bloom fussing with the portable stereo while her girlfriend and Hannibal's patient, Margot Verger, shuffled through a selection of CDs she'd made for the purpose. A rousing din of something punk rock and incomprehensible shot through the crowd and sent a good portion of them bopping heads and singing along, including Franklyn. Jack Crawford was in a chair perched beside the BBQ and was deep in conversation with Will, no doubt about a new case he wanted Will to work on, and when was he coming back? Tomorrow? In an hour if he could swing it? He had the case files in his car's trunk, maybe he could just take a peek?

Some things never changed.

Hannibal snuck into his house for a brief reprieve, the elderly aunts glowering at him in suspicion in case he tried to pull a fast one and enquired about their cooking methods. They were fiercely guarded about their recipes. Considering the highly unusual nature some of the ingredients, he was glad they kept it that way. Even a culinary adventurer such as himself had to draw the line somewhere, and apparently it was at canned alligator.

Buster followed him, the little dog happily wagging his tail and running in a figure eight around his legs in such a rousing bundle of happiness Hannibal couldn't help but be likewise affected. He bent down and gave the little dog a scritch behind the ears which made Buster jump up like a rabbit up to Hannibal's hip, begging for more. Seeing his energy level was accentuated thanks to the all the people fussing over him at the party, he figured the dog also needed a bit of a break from all of the excitement. Hannibal opened the front door and let the dog out as he stepped onto the concrete steps and breathed in the relief of solitude.

Buster ran circles along the edge of the bushes, rolling and snarling and barking at invisible foes--probably squirrels--before bounding back in front of Hannibal and then off again to the far corner. He watched him, wondering how it was the world was full of so much wonder for the silly little thing, that all of life could be so full to bursting with a joy that only a whipping tail could properly express.

In his periphery, a figure came into view. Hannibal turned his head slowly, not able to find Buster right away, and he had to leave the steps in front of his house, past the driveway and sharply to the left. Buster was rolling in the grass, his belly rubbed by one of the guests.

"Hello," Hannibal said and waved.

She was too far away, but he felt the clutch in his heart, he understood the elfin features of her face and her huge blue eyes, the long, nearly black hair that hung to her waist. She ran her pale hands along Buster's tummy before letting the little dog go, a smile meeting his that was full of so much genuine, deep warmth his knees nearly collapsed beneath its significance.

"Hannibal! Can you bring out the steaks!"

Will, shouting from the back of the house, sent Buster scurrying back inside the open front door. Hannibal followed him, giving the harsh sunlight streaming its heat onto the earth one last blinking hope before going back inside, and shutting the door against that other, less visible world, forever.