It’s something he could always do, as far back as he can remember. The first time that really stood out in his mind, he was six and his father was angry. Will did it without thought, running down the hall, trying to calm his wild heart and rapid breathing. His father’s footsteps heavy behind him.
In the end his father had dragged him out from the bed. “Never again,” he’d said, holding Will tight enough to leave bruises on his arms. “Your mother’s gone and I won’t have that under my roof.”
After that, he hadn’t used it for years, save in the privacy of his own room, just to remind himself he could. But it’s been over a decade since he’s thought about it at all. At times he’s wondered if maybe it was all in his head, like an imaginary friend that seems so real until you ask you parents whatever happened to that friend you had in second grade, and they laughingly explain that friend existed only in your mind.
Current circumstances have only served to drive home just how out of touch Will’s mind is from reality. Though the medications he’s taking to treat the encephalitis have mostly banished the hallucinations, some things persist. The clicking of hooves on the stone floor late at night. Lecter’s eyes black, soulless, and demonic, tar spilling from his smiling mouth, haunting Will’s dreams. And this.
As much as the nightmares, it keeps him up at night. Thoughts of what he could do if it were true. No one else believes him about Lecter. Everyone he thought cared for him has abandoned him in favour of the good doctor. If they aren’t going to find the evidence and put him away where he belongs, Will could do it.
Sneak out at night, after the last cell check. Break into Lecter’s home. Leave the evidence on Jack’s doorstep and be back in his cell before dawn. No one would be able connect it back to Will. They’d come rushing in to find him just where they’d left him, and they wouldn’t be able to ignore the proof he’d found.
He lies awake imagining it. Watches it play out like a fantasy behind his eyelids, but never truly considering it as a possibility. It’s just a way to cope. Then Beverly comes to visit, and she offers a real opportunity to bring Hannibal to justice, and Will casts these thoughts aside,
“Sutures were hidden under the stitching that wove him into the mural. One crime made to look like another.” Beverly says, and it all coalesces.
Like the Copycat. And the Chesapeake Ripper. He means to say it outloud, but his mind is racing too fast, putting together all the pieces.
The kidneys were no doubt surgically removed.
Doctor Lecter was a surgeon.
He’s keeping the organs as a trophy, but what is he doing with them?
The images flash before his eyes. Of Cassie Boyle laid out in that field, skewered on the antlers of the stag head, the birds pecking at her remains. Before he has time really process what he’s seeing, he’s at the table in his hotel room, taking his first bite of sausage as Hannibal watches, smiling in approbation.
He’s eating them. Horror sweeps through him, prickling cold down his spine. His stomach heaves, bile rising up in his throat, and he swallows it back. I’ve been eating them, too. We all have.
Beverly watches him, concern warring with mistrust and fear. She’s gone out on a limb for him, and he’s selfishly led her straight into the lion’s den. No more. He’s not going to have Beverly ending up on Hannibal’s plate.
Will shakes his head. “Will?” Beverly reaches out, hesitating before she finally touches him, laying her hand over his wrist. Some of the tension in Will’s frame relaxes; it seems like ages since anyone other than one of the guards has touched him, and Beverly’s touch has always been one of the few he’s welcomed. Warm and kind, with no expectation of reciprocation--only a desire to express fondness.
And Will could have gotten her killed. That, more that his realisation settles heavy as a stone in his gut.
“I was wrong,” he says, barely more than a whisper.
Beverly leans forward. “About what?” she whispers back.
“Hannibal,” Will says, and the lies cling at the back of his throat, choking him as he forms them on his tongue, forces them past his lips. “I was wrong about him.”
“What do you mean?” Beverly asks. Her face is screwed up in confusion bordering on disbelief.
“Look, Beverly, we have to let this go.”
“Are you kidding me?” Beverly hisses. “After twisting my arm to get me to do this for you? Now that you’ve got me doing your investigation for you? He has to know I’m suspicious of him, at this point.”
“Just stop,” Will says, urgent. “Don’t go near him again, leave it alone.”
Beverly just stares at him as if he’s sprouted a second head. “You said no one believed you. Well I do. He was toying with me--he’s the one who suggested I look along the stitches.”
Will shakes his head again. “I would have suggested it too, if I’d been there.”
“Seriously, what the hell?” Beverly demands. “Where is this even coming from?”
The Copycat is dangerous enough, but with the knowledge that Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper, comes the realisation that he could have been killing in a variety of ways attributed to different killers over the years. Who knows how high his body count, or the lengths to which he’ll go to avoid being caught?
Beverly still doesn’t want to tell Jack; she’ll keep pursuing this herself, and Hannibal will kill her without a second thought or a hint of remorse. Will has to handle this himself.
“Listen, I can’t explain it, but it doesn’t add up, something’s missing,” Will says. “Please, Beverly, you’ve trusted me this far, trust me now.”
“Will, if it’s not him…”
Will feels her pity, and his hackles rise, though he fights to maintain a neutral expression.
“I know,” he says. “If it’s not him, who else is there, besides me?”
Beverly’s face says it all.
Will reaches for her hand again and she doesn’t draw away. It’s a small comfort. “Promise me,” he says, locking his eyes onto hers. “Promise me you’ll let this go.”
“Will.” Beverly’s tone is lost. She lifts a helpless hand through the air.
“Please,” Will says, putting all his desperation and fear behind the word, letting her see it in his eyes. She crumples in the face of it.
“Fine,” she says at last, squeezing his hand back. “I promise.”
That night, Will practices after lights out, sitting cross-legged on his bed. Eyes closed, breathing calm and slow, Will focusses, trying to recapture the feeling as he remembers it. The odd, leaden numbness in his limbs. Cold rippling over his skin, ebbing and swelling, like the tide coming in, until it swallows him whole.
When Will blinks his eyes open, everything is clearer. He moves slowly, glancing down, and to his amazement, his uniform is nothing more than an empty shell, holding form around seeming nothingness. Carefully, Will rises to his feet and goes to the mirror, inspecting his lack of reflection.
Of course, it occurs to him, he could be hallucinating right now. There’s only one way to find out. During his last session with Chilton he snagged the key card to his cell. The man was so busy congratulating himself on his skill as a therapist he didn’t notice a thing.
So there’s nothing to lose. The longer he stays invisible, the easier it is to maintain. A reflex he’d forgotten to use. Now it doesn’t take any real effort at all. He strips down, stuffs his uniform with pillows and towels and shoves it under the covers, and makes his escape.
Part of him isn’t sure it would actually work until he walks right past the night guard sitting at the bank of monitors with his coffee and crossword puzzle. The man looks up, curious, at the whining protest of the squeaky hinges on the gate. He shrugs after a moment. Will lets out the breath he’s been holding, passes over the threshold, and is home free.
It’s close to midnight when Will finally arrives at Lecter’s home. There’s a bus station less than a ten minute walk from the hospital, and he manages to slip on with a waitress leaving her shift. Certainly it’s a more circuitous path than he’d prefer, but by getting off whenever the last occupant does, and waiting for another rider, he cuts his way across Baltimore towards his destination.
The windows are black, and Will has the inkling that the house is unoccupied at the moment, though there is no particular indication of that. He goes in through the backdoor, picking the lock, and has a moment of dizzying disbelief that he’s standing here again, in this kitchen, after all that has come to pass.
Immaculate as always, everything in its proper place, Will can almost imagine Lecter moving around this space in that effortless way of his. Smiling at Will across the island as he adds the final touches to a meal. His stomach rebels at the thought. For a moment he’s bent over the counter, clinging to the edge, swept by a wave of dizziness and nausea.
Breakdown later, Graham. It sounds remarkably like Beverly’s voice chastising him, which just stung. Get the evidence and get the hell out.
The refrigerator is pristine and fussily organised. There’s no trace of meat, human or otherwise. Of course, Will wouldn’t expect him to keep it out in the open. Hannibal has been careful.
A faint rattling noise comes from the backdoor, and Will freezes, heart racing. He slams the fridge shut. On tip toes he makes his way to the window over the sink, twitching back the curtain just enough to see Beverly’s hair shining in the moonlight, penlight caught between her lips as she fiddles with the lockpick.
“Fuck.” Will sighs and goes to the door, waiting just inside. He only has two real options here--he can’t let her inside. So either he reveals himself to her, and takes the chance that she drags him back to the hospital, or…
The French door swings open, and Will braces himself. He waits until Beverly starts to step over the threshold before he rushes forward, hands on her shoulders, pushing her back out with the full weight of his body behind it.
Beverly cries out in shock and pain, stumbling on the back step and landing hard on her ass on the ground. She stares at the open door, empty as far as she can see. Will follows her out, stepping heavy so she can hear him coming, and he crouches down at her side, leaning in until his breath stirs her hair. She’s trembling, eyes wide.
Will can feel her shaky fear, but stronger than that, her courage, and Will realises if he hadn’t come tonight, all of that would have been lost, forever. He can’t risk her coming back. “Stay away from Hannibal Lecter,” he growls in her ear, pitched low enough to disguise his voice.
Beverly scrambles to her feet, snatching her penlight from where it fell on the grass. She sweeps the light back and forth over the yard, but the golden glow passes right through Will. “Who’s there?” she demands, and her voice doesn’t even shake.
Will grabs her arm, hard, and drags her towards the back gate. She struggles all the way, getting in a solid blow to his jaw. Her nails rake down his neck and across his chest, hard enough to draw blood. Will stops moving, taking her free wrist and shoving her back against the fence.
“You made a promise, Beverly,” he snarls. Beverly’s jaw drops, eyes darting side to side in utter disbelief, but of course there’s nothing to be seen. “Now go, and don’t come back.”
She hesitates, even as he opens the gate, looking between it and the open backdoor, clearly torn. Then she goes, crossing over to the alley behind the house. “Crazy must be catching,” she says, and Will slams the gate in her face.
Back inside, he’s shaking with unspent adrenaline and the knowledge of what might have happened if he hadn’t come tonight. He locks up the back door and drinks water directly from the faucet until his heart no longer feels like it might beat out of his chest.
Sweat clings to the ends of his hair, invisible until it drips free, then splashing solid against the countertop. He smears a finger through it and runs his hand back through his hair, straightens his shoulders, and gets back to work.
There’s another fridge in the pantry. Will’s seen Hannibal retrieve ingredients from it before. Good a place as any to continue his search. It’s locked, too, and Will feels a dark grin curve his lips. This is it.
Inside the room is illuminated by the light from the glass-front refrigerator. Will can see the vacuum-packed meats in a variety of cuts within. He slides the door open, shuffling through the sealed packages, until he finds them. Two kidneys.
Will releases a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding.
There was always the possibility that it was him all along. That he’d projected his own actions on Hannibal. That he’d created false memories to cope with what he’d done. But no. Here’s the proof.
Outside he hears the sound of a garage door opening--the converted shed in the backyard. He grabs one of the bags and turns, sweeping a paper pouch off the counter. Thyme sprigs spill out and scatter across the floor.
The engine turns off. The garage door sounds again. Will skids to his knees, ignoring the burn, and scoops the thyme towards him. His breath is coming too fast and his head his spinning. He has no idea if he’ll remain invisible if he passes out. Struggling to get his breathing under control, he brushes the thyme back into the envelope and folds it, haphazard.
Then, scrambling to his feet, he shoves the kidney’s back in the fridge and runs back into the kitchen. The pantry door slams behind him just as Hannibal turns the key in the door.
It is surreal, watching Hannibal in an unguarded moment, walking into his home with the expectation of it’s emptiness. There is an expression of on his face, difficult for Will to place at first. Something akin to sadness and regret. Will almost snorts at the idea that Hannibal is capable of anything of the like, and claps his hand over his mouth, holding his breath.
Hannibal closes the door, locks it behind himself, and turns to face the room at large. He pauses in the motion of taking off his gloves, head tilting to the side in a moment of confusion. Recognition bleeds over his face--faint curl of his lip and widening of his eyes-- chased quickly by disbelief. He closes his eyes, draws in a deep breath through his nose and holds it a moment, then lets it out with a long sigh.
Opening his eyes, he takes in the room, seeking anything out of place. His hand drags along the counter by the sink and then turns towards the pantry. For a moment frozen in time, Will is certain Hannibal sees him. Certainly he must hear the pounding of his heart, or his uneven breath?
Purposefully, Hannibal strides across the room, heading straight for Will’s position, and Will sidesteps out of the way of the door just as Hannibal reaches for the handle.
It’s unlocked. Of course.
Will bites his tongue against the automatic curse that wants to slip free. Hannibal pushes through, now alert, gaze sweeping over the pantry. A stray sprig of thyme crunches underfoot, and Hannibal bends, running his fingers along the wood grain and bringing the crushed thyme to his nose. A line furrows between his brows.
Standing, he goes to the refrigerator. Will threw the kidneys back in haphazardly, and there’s no denying that Hannibal notices it at once. But he goes through the contents, and finding nothing missing, slides the door closed again.
For an impossibly long moment, Hannibal stands there, still as a statue, and Will waits, vision spotting black and white around the edges. Then Hannibal turns and leaves the room, locking it from inside and pulling the door closed.
Will waits until he’s moved on to the hallway then starts for the backdoor--he’ll have to come back another evening. It’s too risky now. But he stops with his hand on the knob.
This is a unique opportunity to see Hannibal unaware he has an outside observer. Will’s curiosity overpowers common sense. The tease of possibility, the chance of that mask slipping, affording Will a glimpse of what lies beneath, is too much to resist.
He releases the door knob and follows Hannibal through the dining room.
Even invisible Will leaves his mark on the world around him. The sounds he makes aren’t muffled. He has to take special care with his movements so as not to draw attention. He traces Hannibal’s path through the house by the trail of lights, through the hall and the front parlour, into the comparatively cosy study at the far end of the house.
Hannibal has discarded his outer layers, and when Will cautiously makes his way into the room, he is fascinated by what he sees. Hannibal with his tie hanging uneven around his neck, top two buttons undone, hair falling loose in his eyes. He goes to the bar stand in the corner and fills a glass with scotch, throws back half of it, and chuckles ruefully to himself.
As Will watches, Hannibal goes to stand before the cold fireplace, elbow resting on the mantle. It’s almost impossible for Will to know what’s going on inside his mind. After all, that’s how Hannibal flew beneath his radar for so long--all of his reactions are so tightly controlled, so internalised, very little of it ever makes his way to his face.
Nonetheless, Will is captivated by what he does see. No one else would be able to read it in the subtle workings of Hannibal’s face. The way his jaw works before setting stiff and resolutely jutted forward. His gaze, unfocussed and distant--seeing someone that is no longer there.
It’s an aching loneliness that feels like staring into a mirror, that makes Will want to reach out and touch, tracing his fingers along the lines of Hannibal’s face. Regret that cuts so deeply Will feels the sting acutely in his breastbone, and has to pause to wonder which of them is actually experiencing it.
He could go back now and get the kidneys. He could still go through with his plan and come morning Jack would be on Hannibal’s doorstep with a warrant.
Yet for some reason, Will finds himself slipping out the back door and beginning his long trek back to the hospital, empty handed.
Tomorrow night, he tells himself, and almost believes it.