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Vibrio Vulnificus

Chapter Text

When the Chesapeake Ripper’s eleventh victim appears just after dawn, Will Graham has been working without pause for three days. The tenth victim was an obvious Ripper kill, appearing not long after Freddie Lounds’ story about Gideon. Will has not gone home, using the showers at the Academy instead and donning the same clothes again and again. Hannibal has been feeding his dogs. He misses his dogs so much it hurts, but Jack wants the Ripper caught and Will can’t bring himself to say no. Not when he's good at what he does. Not when he can save lives.

But he can't deny the toll it takes on him, even though he tries. He hasn’t slept more than three hours at a time in a week. Maybe it’s a week. Maybe more. He isn’t sure. Usually, he wakes, haunted and drenched in sweat, after only an hour. He doesn’t want to sleep. A permanent zombie-like state, occasionally punctuated by waking dreams of the stag, is preferable to what he sees when he allows himself sleep.

Yesterday, Jimmy Price found him sleepwalking in his lecture hall and stayed with him until he came out of it, thoroughly embarrassed. Everyone else has been pushed hard, too, Price assured him. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. But Will was awkward and uncomfortable nonetheless, happy when Price left and he could dig back into the Ripper again.

The crime scene surrounding the second victim in this sounder is just as gory as the first and the eight before that. No changes. Will’s profile is stuck in a feedback loop. They – Jack, Alana,Freddie Lounds, and him – caused the Ripper’s new activity. He’s letting them know that he’s angry, but the murders themselves reveal little about him. It’s as though his victims are more a means to the end of sending a message than to his usual aims of humiliating the victim, satisfying his desire for surgical trophies, and performing for his audience. He would not have killed now if they had not spurred him to do so. He may even have contented himself with tormenting Jack over Miriam Lass and left it at that.

Idle speculation.

Will stands near the second body and closes his eyes. The pendulum swings; whining fills his ears.

Blood flies off the floor and walls. The victim is alive again. Will imagines rushing toward him, strangling him to the point of unconsciousness – he must be precise, knowing just how much pressure to exert and when to stop. When the man slumps against him, Will drags him to a table and lays him out. He selects a piece of metal from the man’s shop and plunges it through the stomach and into the spinal cord, paralyzing his victim. He’s got ample physical strength and determination. This murder is meant to communicate his power to the meddling Dr. Chilton, Freddie Lounds, and the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, but he will still enjoy himself. He takes his time choosing the organs he wants and carving them out with a scalpel. He knows they know he’s a medical professional with considerable skill. He’s telling them nothing new with this murder. He’s doing it because they provoked him.

Will blinks and he’s back in his tired, aching, shaky body, breathing like he’s run a set of sprints. A new layer of sweat clings to his body and filthy clothes.

The Ripper did not take as much pleasure in torturing this round of victims. He spent less time on them. It’s as though the whole thing is pro forma. He would not have done it if they had not pushed him.

Will was a party to that. Complicit in the death of this man.

“Nothing new,” Will says to Jack.

Anger and frustration rise in Jack’s face. “There has to be something.”

Will takes a deep, shaky breath. “The differences between this one and the first are immaterial. He’s following his pattern.”

Will no longer tries to hide his shaking hands. He’s past the point of caring whether people see him slowly unraveling.

“We did this,” he says, more to himself than anyone else. He’s expressed the same opinion to Jack too many times already.

Jack’s jaw works back and forth; he looks ready to take a swing at Will.

“Keep working,” Jack orders.

And so Will looks again, going over details he has memorized and could easily replicate by now. He swallows two more aspirin. He’s lost count of how many he’s taken.

He doesn’t know how to catch the Ripper based on these murders. The Ripper is too intelligent, too careful to let himself be caught. The Ripper can be caught, but not this time. This isn’t the way to catch him. Will feels like he’s exhausting himself for no reason.

The personnel at the crime scene grate on his nerves. It’s getting harder for Will to be even remotely civil. He wants to snap and snarl, growl and bite every time someone comes near him.

He nearly snaps at Beverly Katz when she suggests a lunch break. While Katz, Price, and Zeller did their work, he'd been staring at the body, reliving the murder again and again and again.

“You need it, Will,” she says in her sympathetic but refreshingly direct, no-nonsense way. “You look ready to drop.”

Will nods. He’s gotten to the point again where he can eat without much pause after looking at a crime scene. He lets Katz, Price, and Zeller lead, and is surprised and pleased when they pick an oyster bar – then displeased when he’s the only one who orders oysters.

“Then why come here?” Will asks. Why he’s chosen to say anything at all is beyond him.

“Crab cakes,” Price answers.

“Soft-shell crab,” says Katz.

“Low country boil,” Zeller finishes.

“You just repeated your orders to me,” Will says flatly.

When they shrug, he takes off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose. No amount of aspirin has eased the headache that’s taken up residence in his skull since the Ripper returned to action.

If he could just sleep for a while without dreaming, he might be able to see something he’s missed. But he’s afraid of sleeping – and he doesn’t think he’s missed anything. The Ripper is too good at what he does to leave clues. Will is too good to miss them. There's just - nothing.

“You don’t think we’re going to catch him,” Price says.

Will starts, annoyed by the interruption but too tired to convey his annoyance. And anyway, he gets along with these three. He doesn’t need to invite trouble.

“He hasn’t made a mistake yet,” Will answers. “You might find something, but all I see is anger, efficiency, and the same message.”

“He wants to make sure we get it,” Zeller adds.

Their beers arrive. Will takes several long pulls of his. He notices stress and lack of sleep in their faces, too, and is glad he isn’t the only one who looks like shit.

Will zones out as they prattle about wound patterns. There’s nothing new to work with. He’s so frustrated and exhausted that he feels himself walking a scalpel’s edge between containing himself and lashing out in some way. Probably verbally, but he doesn’t know. His own capacity for violence terrifies him.

A big plate of raw oysters with fries and hush puppies is a welcome distraction. He orders another beer. The first one has mellowed him out, but he’s still wound too tightly.

“So, Will,” Katz says as they eat, “you’re sleepwalking.”

Will looks angrily at Price, but he doesn’t yell. He doesn’t say anything. Part of it is the beer, but mostly he just doesn’t want to talk any more.

“Sorry,” Price has the good sense to say. “How are the oysters?”

“Good,” Will mumbles.

He loves raw oysters and usually relishes eating them, but exhaustion has sapped him of his ability to enjoy anything. He pushes through the meal, though, knowing he needs the food.

The second beer is a welcome soporific. If he could just sleep for a few hours, he might notice something he’s missed. He snarls at his thoughts, stuck in their own endless loop.

His eyelids are drooping by the time they return to Quantico and the lab. He listens hazily as they begin their work, trying to keep up.

After a while, he opens his eyes and Price, Katz, and Zeller are gone. The body is still on the table, still dead, and the stag is walking toward him.

The stag remains a mystery, invading his dreams and hallucinations with its presence but never acting in a way Will can interpret. The stag stands on the other side of the necropsy table, eyeing Will inscrutably as always.

He blinks and returns to reality. Price and Katz are working in silence while Zeller studies a database. They didn’t notice him phase out. Or maybe they did and they’re used to it, or unwilling to call him out.

Will checks the time. Past three p.m. Either he’s been sleeping on his feet, propped up against the refrigerator, or time has sped up. Or maybe he’s slowed down. He doesn’t know. Doesn’t care.

Jack will be here soon to bark at them over their lack of progress.

Will closes his eyes again, thinking he should find a quiet corner and try to take a nap. Before he can act on that idea, nausea squeezes his stomach so tightly that he nearly doubles over. Sweat bursts on his forehead and the back of his neck like he’s been hit with a water balloon. He has no idea where this is coming from, but he’s certain that he has about five minutes before he vomits copiously.

He must have made a noise because Katz is looking at him.

“Will, are you all right?”

Will clenches his teeth against the nausea and pushes himself up from his position leaning against the refrigerator.

“Excuse me,” he says tightly.

He does his best not to run as he seeks the men’s room and the privacy of the last stall. No one else is here. It’s a small mercy that he appreciates as he spills his lunch into the placid, uncaring bowl.

Chapter Text

Will Graham doesn’t believe in hell. Not in the hell of Scripture nor in the hell of the popular Western imagination. No absence of God’s love, no fiery pits, no mischievous devils for him. But he does believe in hell on earth – hell as a place created by people for people. He’s seen more hells than he cares to count.

Will lies on the cool, white tile floor of the bathroom, grateful for the hard, solid surface. It’s reassuring. He needs that reassurance because his body has turned against him as violently as it can.

This is not his personal hell, he reflects, but it’s certainly hell-adjacent.

He estimates that he’s been here, lying on the floor, for half an hour. He closes his eyes and tries to think of something else – anything else. His dogs. Their faces. Their warm fur. Their happy barks and yips. Their solid comfort.

A violent cramp snatches him from that happier place and pins him to the present. He can’t escape his body. He shivers.

At least he’s been alone for the most part. When he burst into the stall half an hour ago just in time to crash to his knees hard enough to leave bruises and vomit more on the toilet seat than in the bowl, he was alone. Alone in his wretched misery.

He had hardly caught his breath and wiped the emesis – still disgustingly recognizable – from the seat before his bowels groaned and he found himself gritting his teeth against the cramps and embarrassing noises of a truly nasty, painful shit.

Someone may have come in then, heard him, and left. He isn’t sure. It was all he could do to breathe through the pain and humiliation, the nauseous stink of a serious digestive ailment.

After several long minutes, the urge to shit his brains out dissipated and the cramps eased. He’d been able to clean up, mop the sweat from his face with toilet paper, and shuffle to the sink to rinse his mouth out and wash his face with refreshingly cool water. He stowed his glasses in his shirt pocket.

Will stared at himself in the mirror – pale, sweaty, shaking – and wondered what he should do. He wanted to go home to ride this thing out alone where he might retain some shred of dignity, but the thought of driving made his stomach clench. The infirmary on the Marine Corps base that hosted the Academy was an option, but Will could not imagine getting along with the marines who ran the place, nor could he imagine presenting himself, a civilian, at their facility, even though trainees routinely went there.

He didn’t get any further than that before his stomach sent him back to the same stall. This time, at least, it gave him enough notice that he could sink more carefully to his knees, grip the bowl tightly, and dread the inevitable heaves. His intestines joined in again, too, and by the time he could breathe again, he was too tired and sick to do anything but curl up on the floor next to the toilet.

He decided at that moment, staring at his warped reflection in the plumbing, that he would stay on the floor until the worst of it passed. The floor was cool and calm and stable. He needed it: he was falling apart.

He shook and squeezed his eyes shut as his stomach contracted, curling up more tightly. He heard a few men come in, urinate, wash their hands, and leave, all without noticing him. Good. He didn’t want anyone’s attention on him. But it couldn’t last. Not with so much pressure to find the clue that would reveal the Ripper.

He was clenching and unclenching his fist, his nails biting into his palms, in an effort to focus the painful cramping and unrelenting nausea on something he could control when he heard the door open again.

“Will?”

It was Price.

Will shivered and turned his face toward the floor as footsteps approached the stall. He didn’t want to see or be seen.

“You’re clearly not okay,” Price said, “but are you okay enough or should I call someone?”

“I’m okay enough,” Will answered tightly.

“Oysters?” Price asked with a wince in his voice.

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry,” Price said.

And he meant it. He was radiating sympathy. It should have be soothing, but Will was too sick and too tired to be anything but annoyed.

“I’ll tell Jack,” Price continued. “He’s looking for you.”

“Great,” Will replied wryly, closing his eyes. He’d get to repeat this scene with Jack in the near future.

Price left about ten minutes ago. Jack will be here soon.

It isn’t hell on earth yet. It will be if his mind abandons him. But not yet.

The thought hasn’t fully formed in his mind before his stomach clenches in a warning. He grabs the bowl and pulls himself up, trembling, so he can cough miserably into the indifferent water. Not much remains to come up; just a bit of bile and a whole lot of painful nothing. He’s going to pull a muscle, he thinks, as the heaves subside and he lowers himself weakly to the floor again.

He pants and indulges in a groan, wrapping an arm around his cramping stomach. The unshaven scruff on his cheek and chin scratches against the white tiles. Sweat from that round of vomiting cools against his skin. He shivers and wraps his other arm around his midsection, focusing his mind on breathing.

Breathing. Just breathing.

He closes his eyes and thinks about breathing and nothing else.

When he opens his eyes again, the Ripper’s victims are laid out in a row curled on their sides like he is, facing him. Not just the two most recent victims, but the nine before them as well. Their bodies stink of death and failure. Their eyes are closed, but he hears them begging him to save them. To save the next one. To see what they’ve seen so he can know the man who ended them.

The eleventh victim, Donovan Victor, opens his eyes and stares at Will. See what I see.

Will envisions himself repeating the murder he saw this morning: rushing at Victor and crushing the soft tubes of his esophagus and trachea against the hard bone of his neck, squeezing until Victor passed out. Then thrusting the metal rod through his guts and spine to pin him to the table.

Victor wakes up trying to scream but is unable to make a sound through his crushed larynx.

Design.

He deftly slices into Victor with a scalpel, seeking the kidneys. Does he talk to them while he does it?

Will needs to know the answer to that question, but Victor’s open-eyed corpse, facing him again, says nothing.

Beyond their bodies, Will sees the stag’s hoofed feet as it enters the bathroom. The heavy clicks of its hooves echo maddeningly in his head. It stops at the stall door and Will can feel its gaze on him through the metal partition.

The stag, the corpses, and the bathroom fall away as the dream shifts to a scene he’s seen too often: himself bursting into the Hobbs’ residence, calling out, seeing Hobbs with a butcher knife at Abigail’s throat, trying to aim in spite of adrenaline and a bad shoulder, the bright slash of the knife and gush of blood.

Fear and uncertainty as he pulled the trigger the first time. Bang.

Then, as Hobbs moved toward Abigail, assurance. Bang. Confidence. Bang.

And then the split second between the two shots in Hobbs’ chest and the seven that followed, driving him back into the cabinets as Will advanced: in the gaping maw of that split second stands the sum total of his life before he killed Hobbs. Because at that moment the sweetest rip tide of exhilaration like an orgasm overcomes him and bang bang bang bang bang bang bang –

Will starts, adrenaline racing through his body, and for a moment has no idea where he is or why he’s lying on a cold, hard floor. In the next moment, the too-bright lights, the smell of urinal cake, and the vicious, cramping nausea come crashing down on him.

He has just enough time to moan weakly and think that he’d prefer the horror of the dream to this sick moment before he’s pulling himself up as if by instinct and heaving painfully. There isn’t even any bile this time – just hollow emptiness – but his stomach keeps turning itself inside out.

When the last retch is gone, he slumps to the floor, turns his face to the tile, and sobs.

Tears run down his cheek to mix with snot and spit. His shoulders shake helplessly. He hears his broken sobs echo in the tiled room like the cries of a mortally-wounded animal. He chokes on the next one before it can escape.

His outburst lasts no more than thirty seconds, but in those thirty long seconds, he can barely breathe for the weight of exhaustion, illness, and the impending death of another person. It’s too much for him to bear.

Then a cramp pulls him out of his existential misery and plants him firmly in his miserable body.

Tears still stream hot down his face as he pants against the pain.

Too sick to cry. Fuck.

He hears footsteps again – unmistakably Jack’s – and he hastily wipes his face with his sleeve. It’s a ridiculous thing to do since he isn’t going to try to sit up, but it makes him feel marginally better.

“Tell me you’re not sick, Will,” Jack says sternly from the other side of the door.

Will breathes deeply, calming himself, and presses his face against the cool tile.

“I’m not sick, Jack,” he groans mockingly.

He knows Jack can see his legs, that he’s lying on the floor – knows Price told Jack he’s puking his guts out.

“What’s wrong, Will?” Jack asks impatiently.

Will clenches his teeth as another cramp attacks his gut.

“Food poisoning,” he grinds out. “Bad oysters.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Jack says.

“Well, I can’t do anything about it,” Will retorts.

He hears Jack thinking on the other side of the door. Jack will want him to come out or at least to open the door. He won’t accept that Will is sick until he sees it for himself.

As if on cue, Jack says in much softer, almost sweet voice, like he's coaxing a child, “Can you open the door, Will?”

Dammit. Will takes a deep breath. He has no choice.

“I’ll try.”

He curses Jack inwardly as he pushes himself up, his body aching from the hard floor and his stomach threatening mutiny again. He gets to his knees and opens the latch. The door swings open as he sinks against the wall, shivering, his arms around his midsection and knees against his chest.

Jack pushes the door open, takes one look at Will, and looks away in frustration, tapping his foot.

Will focuses his mind on Jack's face. Anything to distract him from his aching stomach.

Jack sighs. His face softens slightly as he crouches so he can be at eye level with Will.

“Okay,” Jack says, his voice still soft, even somewhat sympathetic. “You’re sick. I’m sorry. You look terrible. But I need you back at work. What can I do to make that happen?”

Another cramp forces Will’s eyes closed.

“I’m not sure there’s anything you can do,” he answers tightly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jack replies calmly. “I’ve got a couch in my office. We’ll set you up there with some medicine, maybe an IV if you’re dehydrated, and you’ll feel better.”

And you’ll work.

Will recognizes the steel in his voice. There’s no fighting him on this. It sounds better than lying here suffering - especially the part about medicine to ease the merciless cramping in his gut - even if he won’t have as much a sense of privacy. But –

“I’m not sure I can make it,” Will says.

“It’s not far,” Jack coaxes. “I’ll help you.”

I don’t want any help, Will wants to scream. He knows it would do no good. Jack will have his way.

So instead he merely braces himself for the discomfort of moving and replies, “It’s not my fault if I puke on your carpet.”

Chapter Text

Will curls into a tight ball on the not uncomfortable couch in Jack’s office, grateful that he isn’t on his feet any longer. His stomach hurts so badly when he stands. It hurts now that he’s pressing his knees against his chest, too, but marginally less so.

If the cramping and nausea would just die down a bit more, he could slip into sleep. He’s got to sleep after the strain of the last hour. Jack’s going to have to understand that or wake him up – probably the latter. Whatever. It's out of his control: his body isn’t going to let him stay awake once he feels just a little less awful.

But the cramping in his stomach and gut is unrelenting. He breathes in quick, harsh gasps. It’s as though someone is slicing him open from navel to ribs and pouring lye into the wounds.

Will knows, having heard about people getting sick after eating raw oysters when he was growing up, that it’s supposed to be this bad. However, knowing it and experiencing it are two very different things. He hasn’t been this miserably ill since he was a child.

Worse, it’s happening when he’s needed more than ever. He knows – knows – that they won’t catch the Ripper this time. That he won’t contribute anything meaningful to the case. But that’s no reason not to try. He’s driven, too, by a mix of curiosity and self-doubt. He wants to know more; he thinks he’s missed something. If he could just get rid of his poisoned guts and sleep for a while…

His stomach threatens again and he heaves fruitlessly into the trash can Jack left for him, gripping the couch with all his strength. This has got to stop.

He digs nails into his palms again, trying to focus his attention on something else. He can feel the stinging cuts he left earlier as he makes a new set.

His bowels gurgle and cramp, and he has no choice but to push himself up, ignoring the way his head swims when he moves, and stagger down the hall to the men’s room.

At least Jack’s office is close by. At least he has the room to himself again. He’s in no mood to be thankful for anything, but these half-formed thoughts come to him and he doesn’t have the energy to swat them away.

There’s something deeply disconcerting about an entirely liquid shit. As he hugs his unhappy intestines and grits his teeth against the cramping, Will wonders how much of anything he has left to expel. He recalls a set of three crime scenes he worked when he was in homicide: Warren Henry Slocum, a gastroenterologist and sloppy psychopath, removed his victims to condemned buildings in the small Rust Belt towns outside Pittsburgh and decorated the walls with their intestines. Twenty-four feet, nineteen feet, twenty-two feet of small intestine. Five feet of large intestine. A lot of space for a lot of volume.

He remembers the smell of gastric juices from the stomach, bile from the liver and gall bladder, and shit from the intestines, and his stomach summersaults. He gags and coughs and retches to no avail. Just as well. After three days of work without changing his clothes, his pants and underwear are dirty enough without him puking on them.

When the retching subsides, he takes a shuddering breath and frees an arm from his midsection so he can rest his head in the palm of his hand. Salt from the sweat on his forehead stings the cuts. He needs to lie down, but the urge to dump his organs into the toilet hasn’t abated.

Alone in the bathroom, locked away from others’ scrutiny, he lets tears run down his face again. Soon, he’s going to start praying to a God he isn't sure exists. For now, he does his best to channel all of the stress, frustration, and exhaustion of the past week into hot, free-flowing tears. His chest constricts and his breath hitches. He sounds as mournful as his dogs’ faces look when he leaves for work.

Will’s gut cramps suddenly, interrupting his focus on his emotional wounds, and in a moment of rage, he slams his fist against the side of the stall. It hurts in a good, satisfying way; it’s pain he controls. He smacks the stall again, more weakly this time, his arm shaking as he holds it in place. Another cramp makes him moan. He wipes his face perfunctorily with the sleeve of his dirty shirt and folds his arm back over his gut.

At least no one will know he’s been crying, he thinks, as the emotional outpouring ceases. For all that he’s no better off physically, it feels good to release those pent-up emotions. Good but tiring. Exhausting. He needs very badly to lie down and sleep.

Finally, the terrible, pressing urge passes. He feels hollow, entirely used up as he cleans himself, holding the stall door for support, and flushes the mess away.

At the sink, he washes his hands and splashes water on his face, running a rough paper towel across over-grown stubble. His reflection in the mirror looks red and splotchy where it isn’t fish-belly white. His eyes are red, too: burst capillaries from lack of sleep and painful emesis.

He rinses his mouth out again, wishing he could swallow some of the cool water but knowing it would only come back up. Maybe he should, though, he thinks. It’s less of a strain to have something to choke and cough on. But his stomach rolls at the idea and he spits the water out.

Numb and hollow, he works his way back to Jack’s office and the comfort of the couch. He curls into a ball again and stares blankly at Jack’s desk, doing his best to think about nothing while his body is momentarily calm.

Ten minutes later, the nausea and cramps are back in full force and he’s trembling with pain, sweating and shivering and wishing he had a blanket.

Jack barges into the office and stops in front of Will.

“You’re sure this was something you ate?” he barks.  

 “Pretty sure,” Will grumbles.

Jack seems even more livid than he was earlier. Will doesn’t try to figure out why. He’s too spent to block Jack’s anger and frustration; he simply doesn’t care if he picks up Jack’s emotions and throws them back at the man.

Jack starts pacing.

“He’s smart enough to know you’re working the case and how to get to you.”

Will looks up incredulously, lifting his head slightly.

“You think the Ripper poisoned me?” he asks.

Bad idea to move his head. He puts it back down and closes his eyes.

“Why not just kill me,” he adds miserably.

“You know the answer to that,” Jack patronizes. “You were out with colleagues in a busy area. No opportunity.”

“Why would he risk getting caught? How would he know what I ordered? We know he doesn’t work that kind of job,” Will observes. “It’s not worth it to him to put me out of commission. He’s going to kill again anyway and – ”

Will stops abruptly as his stomach turns. He swallows heavily and concentrates on not throwing up.

Jack’s impatience manifests in the frustrated tapping of his foot on the carpet and the quick swishes of his suit.

“Okay,” Jack concedes, not satisfied but understanding that he can’t push Will any further right now.“Dr. Bloom will be here soon to take a look at you.”

Will doesn’t respond, his attention focused on willing his stomach to stop churning.

“He’s going to take the next one soon,” Jack says. “I need you here.”

Will swallows again and the feeling passes. He relaxes slightly and closes his eyes, relieved that he hasn’t puked in front of Jack. Yet.

“Believe me, Jack,” Will says tiredly, “I’d much rather be working for you right now.”

Before Jack can respond, Will hears the door open again. Alana. She greets Jack and he hears her stop in her tracks when she gets a look at him. He can imagine the silent exchange between the two of them: Alana’s expression worried and sympathetic, Jack’s consternated and falsely sympathetic.

He keeps his eyes closed and his breathing steady. He doesn’t need to see how they see him.

“You’re looking rough, Will,” Alana ventures.

Her perfume is a nice change from the stink of sweat and illness permeating his body and clothes. He focuses on it. It intensifies as she moves closer, taking in his pallor, his shivering, his sweat.

“Tell me how this started,” she coaxes.

Jack shifts his weight impatiently in the background.

Will keeps his eyes closed, not wanting to see the pity and sympathy in her face. He loathes other people’s pity.

“I ate a bad oyster at lunch,” he explains. “I was – violently sick,” he swallows uncomfortably and makes himself breathe, “for about an hour before Jack brought me here. Then again after he left. I’m not as sick now, but the cramps and nausea are –” he flinches, “intense. Talking is making it worse.”

He clenches his teeth tightly as his stomach roils.  

He hears Alana move closer and opens his eyes. She wants to rest a hand on his forehead. Why? Oh. He closes his eyes again and shivers when the back of her cool hand touches his damp forehead.

“You’ve got a fever,” she says quietly. “And chills?”

She brushes his shoulder lightly. His skin crawls. He doesn’t want to be touched.

“Yeah,” he confirms, the shivers multiplying.

He can feel the sympathy pouring off of her. She means well, but it’s intrusive and he wishes she’d stop or go away.

“Will, you belong in a hospital,” Alana says. “More people die from the bacteria in raw oysters than of any other food-borne pathogen. It’s the same type of bacteria that causes cholera. You’re more than just a little sick.”

He can hear in her choice of words that Jack told her he was “just a little sick.” Will knows she’s speaking more to Jack than him. But he doesn’t want to be hospitalized. Not that. It’s too close to confinement; too many strangers would impinge on him with their cold touches and useless sympathy.  

“I’ll be okay if you can just help me out with the nausea and cramps,” Will says tightly.

Perhaps panic rises in his face, perhaps she senses something in his tone, but Alana hears his meaning and changes her approach. He watches her face constrict just so, especially around the eyes, and knows that she’s about to lie to Jack for him.

“Jack, I don’t have anything that will help him without also making him sleepy,” she says. “He isn’t going to be much good to you like this, anyway. But once he’s rested, he may see something he hasn’t seen yet.”

She glances at Will. He’s more grateful than he means to be, but he isn’t sure it shows on his face. He’s simply too tired to be expressive.

“We don’t have time for that,” Jack growls.

“You don’t have a choice,” Alana says, crossing her arms.

God bless her for standing up to Jack. Sensing a confrontation, Will opens his eyes to watch as Jack stops pacing and gets a little too close to Alana.

“You want to put him in a hospital?” Jack says loudly, “When we know the Ripper will kill again so soon?”

Alana stands her ground.

“Yes,” she says, unruffled by Jack’s proximity. “Or maybe Hannibal could look after him. He has the training and the knowledge. If he’s not too busy. And if it’s okay with Will?”

“Fine with me,” Will says from the couch. Hannibal’s house is vastly preferable to a hospital, even though the idea of being this ill in front of the man bothers him.

“I’ll give him a call,” she says. “Will, I’ll be back with something to ease your symptoms soon.”

Will lets gratitude show on his haggard face and closes his eyes. The cramps and nausea have fled and the empty hollowness is back.

Alana must see that because he hears her silently ask Jack to leave. Jack, frustrated but knowing he can do nothing, reluctantly follows her out of the office. God bless that woman.

Will relaxes and sleep overtakes him in less than a minute.

Chapter Text

Hannibal’s smile grows as he thanks the attendant at the visitors check-in and enters the FBI Academy once again as an invited guest. How hospitable of Jack Crawford. Hannibal is not given to fantasy, but if he were, he might have woven a narrative much like the one he’s living: confidant of the head of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, the man who most wants to catch the Chesapeake Ripper; and of Will Graham, the man most likely to catch him.

The irony alone would make it worth the risk, but he’s gotten so much more from them: access to their procedures, their knowledge, their thinking. While the trust of Will Graham and Jack Crawford, both of whom now see him often, is the real prize, everything else rounds out the package, like a fine wine with a fine meal.

He has seen neither Jack nor Will since Jack sat next to him by the fire in his living room and talked about Miriam Lass. The Ripper started a new streak of murders not long after Jack left. He’s kept everyone busy; he’s been quite busy himself. And now they have invited him into the inner sanctum to see the wild geese give chase.

Indeed, to collect the golden goose.

He smiles even more widely.

As he presses the button for the elevator, he recalls the worry in Alana Bloom's voice. Will is terribly ill at the worst possible time. He needs respite from stress and Jack – nothing but sleep and plenty of it. Well, that and support should his dreams trouble him. As they most certainly will.

A man of Will’s gifts and temperament should be nothing but repulsed by the scenes Hannibal creates for him. But Will possesses the qualities of a killer, even if he chooses not to draw upon them. Though Will killed justly, the act exposed him to his own hidden madness. He has been unable to cope with the horror. He will wake terrified and Hannibal will be there to see the ghosts of his dreams.

But Hannibal intends to find out not just what Will sees when he dreams, but also what desires underlie those dreams. The opportunity to do so has been placed, gift-wrapped, in his lap.

How lucky for him that Will enjoys raw oysters, and that, even though it is winter, Will stumbled upon a tainted one. How serendipitous.

Not, of course, for Will. Alana thinks he should be in the hospital, but it’s best for Will, Jack, and everyone (except the Ripper) if Hannibal can ease him through this illness and return him quickly to the field. Alana expects Will to have a very difficult time sleeping. Not only is he ill, he’s also overstimulated. Too many hours at Quantico, too few in Wolf Trap – as Hannibal knows, having been given the task of feeding Will’s dogs.

Will’s dogs, he muses, as the elevator climbs to the Behavioral Analysis floor. Upon receiving the task, he had been sorely tempted for several moments to harvest some meat for the dogs. But the amusement was not worth the risk of changing the Ripper’s patterns; he has been careful not to give Will anything with which to work. Instead, he filed that idea away for later when he can put the Ripper and his show aside and return to killing clandestinely.

He is enjoying himself, though. Not only does he get new canvases on which to compose his masterpieces, but his audience dances for him with such gusto. Their performances have been exemplary.

Will he is most interested in and Will he shall have.

Hannibal stops outside Jack’s office and watches with interest as Alana bends over Will. She’s giving him an injection of dimenhydrinate, as they discussed on the phone, to calm his stomach and help him sleep – and so Hannibal can take him home without additional stress to Will or damage to the leather interior of Hannibal’s car. Hannibal will treat Will’s abdominal pain once Will is settled and Hannibal has consulted with a pharmacist about the best treatment.

He watches until is Alana is finished. A brief glimpse of Will’s bare hip arouses his interest. Quickly, he schools his face so he can smile briefly when she sees him, then shift his now-concerned gaze back to Will.

“Hannibal,” she says once the door to Jack’s office has closed behind her. “You got here quickly.”

“I was visiting a patient in Alexandria,” Hannibal says. It’s only half a lie; he had been in Alexandria.

“I didn’t know you made house calls,” Alana replies, her tone conversational.

“I don’t,” Hannibal answers. “Agoraphobic. Suicide attempt. I’m sorry to say that I expected it; even more sorry that I could not prevent it.”

“I’m sorry,” she commiserates. “I hope I didn’t take you away from your patient?”

“Not at all,” Hannibal replies. “I received your call after our visit ended.”

He nods toward Will inside the office. “How is he?”

“Not well,” Alana answers, her tone brimming with concern. “Showing signs of dehydration. The stomach cramps are worse. But he should be feeling a little better now.”

She pauses and smiles. “Thank you for doing this. He’ll be more comfortable with you than he would with anyone else.”

Hannibal returns her smile, his hand on the door. “That is precisely why I’m here.”


When Will hears the door open again, he knows the noise is significant and that he’s expecting someone, but he has to actively try to remember who it is.

Whatever Alana gave him has knocked him into orbit. Although his stomach still cramps fiercely, the omnipresent nausea has faded into the background. His head feels like it’s been stuffed with cotton, but the fuzziness is a welcome change. He can’t bring himself to care much about anything.

It’s nice, this drug, whatever it is. He’ll have to remember to ask her later. She told him, but he’d been too busy trying not to dry heave on her at the time.

Now, on the other hand – now, he’ll be able to sleep. He expects to be sound asleep – drooling on his shoulder, his head resting against the window – before they cross the river.

In his addled state, he imagines Hannibal’s house beckoning to him like an ancient European fortress, offering impenetrable protection from the outside world. He adds to the image a moat with enormous alligators from the southern Louisiana swamps. The two styles clash terribly, but the scene amuses him. It feels so good to be amused.

A hand rests gently on his shoulder. Hannibal’s hand. The scent he associates with Hannibal fills the air and for the first time since the Ripper murders started, Will relaxes.  

“Will?”

“Mmm,” Will replies, forcing his eyes open. Hannibal’s noble face – high cheekbones, strong jaw, impeccable lips – awaits him.

Sympathy, care, concern: Will sees them in Hannibal’s face but doesn’t feel them strongly from the man. Will likes this best about Hannibal: he keeps his emotions to himself. Will doesn’t have to worry about blocking him or cueing off him. Everyone else broadcasts too loudly all the time, but Hannibal is a pocket of quietude.

“Will?”

He blinks. Did he just space out?

Hannibal’s bemused expression says he did.

Will rubs a hand across his eyes and locates Alana. “Whatever you gave me,” he rasps, “it’s working.”

She smiles. Broadcasting happiness mixed with concern and pity. No.

Will turns his attention to Hannibal and sees but does not feel the same emotions.

Silence. Golden.

“Can you sit up?” Hannibal asks.

Will makes a wobbly, half-hearted attempt, too tired and drugged to move and too comfortable to want to try. He lets Hannibal help him up, hiding a wince as his unhappy knees, bruised from the bathroom floor and bent for too long, protest the movement. Habit compels him to put his glasses on – not just so he can see but because they are a small yet crucial barrier between him and everyone else. He fumbles with the button on his shirt pocket, his hands made stupid by the medicine.

A cramp pierces the haze and he grunts and grits his teeth. Dammit. His blood roars in his ears as he pants.

“Hannibal will give you something for that soon, Will,” Alana says.

Will nods carefully.

“Yes,” Hannibal adds. “As soon as you’re able, we’ll go.”

Will tries to take a deep breath but can’t manage it around the pain.

“It’s not going to get better on its own,” Will says tightly, extending a hand to Hannibal. “Let’s go.”

He hears Alana start to object, but Hannibal grasps his wrist and helps him up.

“Will is right,” Hannibal says to her.

For a moment, as the world spins precariously and his stomach screams at the elongation of standing, Will isn’t sure he agrees. He feels Hannibal’s arm duck across his back and under his arm to help him stay upright as he grabs a handful of Hannibal’s suit jacket.

It occurs to Will that he’s never been this close to Hannibal before – and that Hannibal is much stronger than he looks. He’s doing more to hold Will up than Will is doing to stand.

“Are you okay, Will?” Hannibal asks.

His voice is so close. Will can feel his chest rumble when he speaks. He wishes he weren’t in such bad shape so he could enjoy this moment more.

“I’m good,” Will lies before Alana can suggest a less dignified means of exiting the building.

His students are going to see him like this. Shit. He resolves to keep his eyes on his feet to avoid even the chance of eye contact with them.

He focuses on breathing and staying more or less upright as they move through the halls. He’s vaguely aware that Alana is clearing a path for them toward the parking lot.

By the time Hannibal opens the passenger’s side door, Will is drenched in sweat and ready to collapse – which he does, gratefully, into the seat. He ignores Alana as she encourages him to get some rest and wishes him a speedy recovery.

Instead, he closes his eyes and focuses his mind on the exotic, refined smell of Hannibal that pervades the car. He’s asleep before they reach I-95.

Chapter Text

Will is deeply asleep when a gentle hand on his shoulder shakes him back to wakefulness. He hears Hannibal saying his name.

He’s confused, his head fuzzy and neck sore, until the tightness in his stomach reaches up through the fog to remind him of the past few hours. He groans softly. The pale light of the dying winter’s day pierces his eyes and makes his head throb. He nearly reaches for his aspirin before he remembers why that isn’t a good idea.

Squinting, he unbuckles the seat belt, opens the car door, and slowly climbs to his feet. Hannibal is there to steady him when he sways.

Wordlessly, Hannibal helps him into the house and to the guest bedroom, depositing him on the bed.

Will takes in the room, his eyes less stressed by the lamp light. He’s not the least bit surprised that it’s refined and reserved – a French interpretation of an early American home built by people who still considered themselves English. He’s sitting on a handsome sleigh bed arrayed in neutral earth tones. An antique chifferobe and dresser, a sturdy roll top writing desk, and two Queen Anne chairs round out the surprisingly spacious room.  On the walls are drawings of buildings and scenes Will recognizes only as European. He supposes they’re Hannibal’s, though he notices style variations that suggest multiple artists. He’ll have to remember to ask about them.

He turns to locate Hannibal only to find himself alone in the room.

Did he zone out again? It would be odd for Hannibal to leave without saying something first. Did he fail to hear Hannibal speaking to him?

Will closes his eyes and groans – and then doubles over as a cramp rips through him. He does, at least, recall seeing a bathroom across the hall. He stumbles toward it, accidentally slams the door, and assumes a hunched, pained posture that has become all too familiar to him.

Alana mentioned cholera. That it’s similar to what he has. That people die from what he has. Hugging his mercilessly cramping gut, he understands how that happens: as far as he can tell, he’s losing all the water in his body. Death by dehydration.

His mind wanders to the Civil War – his dad had been an aficionado, taking him to battlefields along the Mississippi and the Ohio. So many deaths by dysentery. What a terrible way to go, dying far from home in a ditch, alone and scared, all because of bad sanitation.

The cramping eases fractionally and he opens his eyes and takes in the room. If he had to go here, at least he’d go in a nice place: low lighting, handsome tiling on the floor and walls, and a soothing fragrance he doesn’t recognize but very much appreciates. Maybe the best thing about losing water and not much else is that it doesn’t stink. It’s just disconcerting and extremely painful.

Eventually, the terrible urge and cramping fade. He’s lightheaded and dizzy when he stands. He grips the counter and breathes and thinks about not passing out.

He wants to rage against the indignity of this illness, but he doesn’t have the strength. Instead, he follows another pattern he’s established today, washing his hands and splashing water on his face to cut the layers of sweat.

Going slowly and using furniture and walls to support himself, Will returns to the bedroom. Hannibal is waiting for him, sitting on one of the chairs with his legs crossed. Will notices a basin, a small, neat stack of clothes, and an IV stand with a bag already hanging from it. Hannibal, as always, is prepared.

Light music plays faintly in the background. Hannibal has shed his suit jacket, vest, and tie. He looks casual - underdressed. There’s something oddly comforting and homey about the scene.  

“Tell me you have something for this,” Will groans as he sinks into the other chair.

Hannibal’s lips twitch. “For your intestinal distress? I do, but you will not recover until the bacteria leaves your system or perishes by fever.”

“I’ll take the fever,” Will grumbles.

He shivers and wraps his arms around himself. Cold. Miserable. Heavy and stupid with exhaustion. But it’s better than the relentless squeezing that’s sent him running for the restroom too often today. He’ll definitely take the fever.

“Doing so will add time to your recovery,” Hannibal replies. “I understand time is of the essence.”

Will rubs a tired hand over his face and shudders as he imagines having to get up over and over again all night. He’s too tired for that. He desperately needs to rest.

“You really can’t do anything about it?”

The slight whine in his tone angers him. He’s not some damn invalid.

Hannibal inclines his head. “I can give you a small dose.”

Will nods gratefully, then grunts and hisses as his stomach cramps again.

“That I can help you with presently,” Hannibal says with a sympathetic smile.

Thank God, Will wants to say, but his teeth are clenched too tightly against the pain. He settles for a quick nod, hoping it will spur Hannibal to move more quickly.

“What I have for you, while very effective, will also render you more or less immobile,” Hannibal says as he brings the basin and clothes to Will, setting them on the writing desk next to Will’s chair.

“You will be more comfortable in clean clothes,” Hannibal says.

Will hears in his tone that this is non-negotiable.  

“This is the closest thing I have to your preferred sleepwear,” Hannibal states with a hint of apology. “I can collect some of your clothes in the morning when I feed your dogs. I will be just outside. Call out if you need help.” 

Will nods tiredly as Hannibal leaves. He quickly unbuttons his shirt, wrinkling his nose at the smell of stale sweat, and washes his upper body. The water is warm and feels good against his skin, but he moves as fast as he can, eager to lie down and take whatever medicine Hannibal has for these insidious cramps.

He should be indignant about this, he muses, as he removes his pants and underwear. Naked in another man’s house, about to put on another man’s clothes because he’s too damn sick to take care of himself. He values his independence above all else. Losing it makes him feel vulnerable and weak, and those feelings make him angry.

But Hannibal doesn’t want to take away his independence. If anything, he wants to restore it. And Hannibal doesn’t judge, doesn’t bear down on him with emotions. Will would be hissing and spitting like a cornered cat under any other circumstances. But Hannibal’s care for him is both kind and distant: that, he can accept.

He’s grateful, even, he thinks, as he dries his legs and dons the black shorts Hannibal left for him. Silk. Of course. The white v-neck shirt is made of the softest cotton Will has ever felt. The clothes feel alien against his skin because they aren’t his, but he has to admit that they’re comfortable. It’s nice to feel clean, too. Nicer than he expected.

He uses the desk to push himself up and calls to Hannibal as he slowly makes his way to the bed, one hand drifting along the scrolled footboard for support while the other holds his stomach protectively. He feels like an old man, hunched over, shuffling along. Awful. Terribly unattractive.

He shoves thoughts of attraction and desire aside. Not now. He feels too disgusting.

Hannibal returns as Will sits on the bed and slowly lifts his legs up. Just like a damn invalid. He turns on his side, draws his knees to his stomach, and lies back against the two pillows Hannibal has arranged. He props his head up on a shaking elbow. Though his body begs him to surrender, he’s too stubborn to lie down completely. He must maintain some modicum of control.

“What am I taking?” Will asks with mild curiosity as Hannibal selects a small brown bottle with a dropper. It looks more like snake oil from a Voodoo shop than something he’d call medicine.

“Tincture of Indica,” Hannibal says, unscrewing the cap and pinching the dropper.

“Never heard of it.”

“It’s a powerful herbal remedy whose primary components are cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol,” Hannibal explains.

Will blinks. “THC?” he says incredulously. “Marijuana?”

“In tincture form, yes,” Hannibal answers implacably. “Tinctures were used widely before marijuana was banned. This one is indicated for cramps and nausea among other ailments.”

“Medical marijuana,” Will says, a hint of uncertainty mixed with curiosity in his voice.

“Recently legalized in the state of Maryland,” Hannibal explains. “It’s best for your particular complaint. Most pharmaceuticals that ease cramping also slow the GI tract, which would set back your recovery.”

Will’s eyebrows furrow. “Will it get me high?” he asks, unsure which answer he prefers.

Normally, he would not consider willfully altering his perception. A bad trip could send him over the edge of psychosis - which is why he doesn’t trust anything but alcohol. However, he trusts Hannibal more than he trusts anyone else, and if he’s got to be this sick...

“Your body will feel heavy and you won’t want to move,” Hannibal answers, “but no, this tincture contains little of the psychoactive compound of cannabis. Instead, you will feel calm and sleepy.”

Will nods. Of course Hannibal has a carefully-considered solution.

“It is administered sublingually,” Hannibal says. “It works best if you don’t swallow.”

Will wants to answer that he doesn’t want to swallow anything right now, but instead he opens his mouth and lifts his tongue. Instinct tells him to flee as Hannibal leans in to squeeze drops under his tongue – he’s never, ever this close to anyone – but he makes himself stay still. A pleasant berry flavor fills his mouth. If he weren’t involuntarily tense, he would hum appreciatively.

“Lie down,” Hannibal instructs. “You will feel it right away.”

Will does as he’s told, his muscles sighing contentedly, and immediately feels heaviness like a weight pushing him down and sweet, sweet, so sweet relief in his stomach and gut.

The absence of pain is pleasure. Better, he feels a pervasive sense of well-being and no desire to question it – a mild, peaceful form of euphoria. If he winds up sleeping well, too, he’ll have to look into this tincture for himself.

His thoughts, worries, memories, emotions – everything – fall away and he feels a full-body tranquility unlike anything he’s felt before. An endless, bottomless peace.

***

Hannibal watches Will relax. He reaches for Will’s glasses and stops himself when his hands are less than an inch from Will’s face.

“Will,” he says softly. “May I remove your glasses?”

Will makes a small noise that Hannibal takes as a yes. He gently slides Will’s glasses down his nose and places them on the nightstand.

Will has wrapped his arms around his chest. Chills. He’s cold. Hannibal arranges the bedclothes around him so he will be warm and rests a hand on his left wrist.

“Will,” he begins again, “I don’t mean to disturb you, but I must start an IV. Dr. Bloom suggested a blood test, too, to detect which pathogen is troubling you. I will need both of your arms.”

Will makes the same small noise of assent and lets Hannibal pull his arms away from his chest. He’s compliant but not suggestible. He may, however, be open to something he wouldn't ordinarily allow - provided he's given a good reason.

“Also,” Hannibal continues, “I have had a long day myself, but I worry you will need assistance during the night. Might I sleep next to you?”

Will cracks his eyes open a fraction. Hannibal sees uncertainty push against drug-induced contentment.

“I assure you, it will be entirely chaste,” Hannibal adds.

Will’s eyes study Hannibal’s for a moment, then close as the last shred of tension leaves his body.

“‘S fine, Hannibal,” he murmurs.

Hannibal smiles and methodically sets about his work. If he were a less patient man, he would push Will to talk to him about the crime scene the Ripper left for the FBI this morning. He so enjoyed Jack’s reserved anguish over Miriam Lass. It was one of the finest emotions he has witnessed. But where Jack was reserved, Will will be – well, he doesn’t know, exactly. Frenzied by the emotional connection. Disturbed and upset by the frenzy.

Appreciative?

Hannibal thinks so.

Not in the sense of gratitude, but as one genius appreciates another.

Hannibal is ready to pierce the vein in Will’s arm when he notices eight small, half-moon shaped scratches on Will’s palm. He proceeds, sliding the needle in with precision and taping it in place, then lifts Will’s hand to rest it in his own. He gently pulls back Will’s curled fingers.

Two sets of nail marks. Hannibal bends down and inhales. A hint of dried blood. The wounds are a few hours old.

The pain and desire for control that drove these two small acts of self-injury elicit a complex response from Hannibal. Exhilaration bordering on eroticism is the one he least expects, though it’s easily explained: this is the first wound he’s seen on Will. How fitting that it’s self-inflicted.

How nice, too, to be primed physically for the act of taking Will’s blood. He takes Will’s other hand and studies the corresponding patterns. Exquisite.

He allows his body to respond as he draws a vial of rich vermillion from Will’s right arm. The heady bouquet is strong with salts and minerals, concentrated by dehydration. Warm and metallic in his mouth, Will’s lifeblood has a bitter finish. Hannibal’s taut cock weeps with excitement as he holds the sensual thrills in balance, relishing the endorphin-filled moment.  

The concerto playing softly in the background pairs well with his mood. Serendipity again. How she has smiled on him today.

The sensations resonate in his body like the stroke of a bell in the air as he finishes the mundane business of connecting the IV and injecting the low dose of loperamide he promised Will. If he’s honest with himself, he, too, needs the rest this dose will allow them both.

It’s hard work, being the Ripper – spending so much time not just on the composition but also the entirety of the mise-en-scene. The acts themselves are enjoyable because they require an intensity of focus and determination that he only experiences otherwise when he cooks and, lately, interacts with Will. Adrenaline keeps him in the moment as he selects, stalks, incapacitates, tortures, and eventually kills. But the many hours of precise, demanding work have begun to tax his reserves. He is no longer a young man.

Finished caring for Will, Hannibal contents himself with a simple repast, prepared and consumed in just over an hour. With a curious mix of relief and anticipation, he repairs to his bedroom, slips into his pajamas and robe, and rejoins Will with a glass of the same cognac he shared with Jack last week.

He moves a chair so he can sit next to Will and peels back the fingers of Will’s hand again to examine the scratches. Will has the hands of a craftsman; they differ in subtle but distinctive ways from Hannibal’s artist’s hands. Will’s hands complement Hannibal’s just as Will as a man of awkwardness and uncontrolled empathy complements Hannibal as a man of grace and selective antipathy.

When the last of the cognac is gone, Hannibal replaces the chair and joins Will in bed. He curls up on top of the duvet with his face to Will’s back, careful to leave a foot of space between them. He inhales Will’s scent, strong at the back of his neck, and allows his body to respond to the titillation of Will's proximity.

He will dream about slicing shallow slits in Will’s soft skin and tasting his blood again, about showing Will an apotheosis without a fall.

Chapter Text

As has happened off and on since the Ripper reappeared, Will dreams he’s the Ripper.

He sees Donovan Victor walk down an alleyway in Annapolis to his small motorcycle repair shop tucked out of sight in a derelict block. A dingy sign marks the entrance. He listens for the click of a lock. Hearing none, he waits until he hears the sound of Victor moving heavy objects. With gloved fingers, he turns the knob and slips inside.

Victor has his back turned. Will walks quickly but quietly up behind Victor and grabs his throat, squeezing until Victor is unconscious. He uses Victor’s body to shove motorcycle parts off of a wooden table as he wrestles the man’s heavy weight up and onto the table. An undrilled drag bar clatters to the floor: the best instrument at hand for the task of pinning Victor to the table.

He enjoys this kind of violence. It challenges his strength, his determination, his stamina. Though there’s nothing sexual about the murders, it’s the antipode of good, meaningful sex, offering the same hormone-laden thrill and fulfillment.

Will grips the metal handlebar. It’s just the right weight for his purpose. He lifts it and plunges it through Victor’s intestines. Victor jerks awake and tries to scream through his crushed larynx. Will ignores him. Slicing through Victor’s abdomen, Will reaches into and behind intestines and viscera for the left kidney, pinches the vessels that feed it, and extracts the healthy organ. Will cuts Victor’s right side and savors Victor’s terror and pain as he repeats the process to retrieve the right kidney.

He does not speak to Victor as he works. He does not need to say anything to this pig of a man.

Will places the organs carefully in something – a plastic bag or something similarly leak- and scent-proof.

He removes the bloody gloves and places them in another plastic bag, careful not to touch the bags with naked fingertips. He washes his hands at the sink in Victor’s shop. Watery blood runs down the drain next to the nail brush Victor used to clean the grease from his fingers. Will dries his hands with a shop towel and places it in the bag with the bloody gloves. He puts on another pair of gloves – nice, thick winter gloves this time, not the surgical gloves he had been using.

He slices Victor's throat and leaves him to bleed out.

Will conceals the organs on his person. He has to wear a coat to do this, but a coat is not out of place in winter.

He must dispose of the bloody gloves and shop towel. He could do this anywhere. He chooses a location far from the scene, leaving only the evidence he wishes the FBI to recover.

Victor’s kidneys are still warm against Will’s body as he leaves the alleyway.

In a dark room, he prepares one of the kidneys. The other he stores for later.

The scene shifts to his own kitchen. Will browns the organ in butter. He wants to taste it as it is: a fresh treat. He’s excited, his mouth watering and stomach growling. So thrilled is he in fact by the anticipation of tasting fresh flesh that an erection strains against the confines of his pants. His body trembles with excitement.

When the kidney is ready, Will puts it on a plate and takes it to his kitchen table. His hard cock rubs almost painfully against his underwear. He reaches down and strokes himself through the fabric, inhaling the scent of the kidney. The keening tension in his groin is relieved slightly as pre-come wets his boxers. He unbuttons his pants and unzips his fly so he can sit comfortably.

With a butter knife, he cuts into the cooked organ and lifts it to his mouth. Uric and mineraly, the meat melts in his mouth. As he savors the rich taste, he slides a palm over the head of his cock and fists himself leisurely.

With his left hand, he cuts another piece of kidney and spears it with the fork. Exhilaration makes him harder and he moans and –

Will’s eyes snap open.

Sweat, terror, and hyperventilation: these are the only things familiar to him. Everything else is foreign. He has no idea where he is. Directly in his line of sight is his arm and a translucent tube running into it. Medical. But he’s in a house, not a hospital. His head and stomach ache; nausea swirls below his ribs. For a handful of disoriented seconds, he thinks he’s been kidnapped – that Jack was right and the Ripper poisoned him with the aim of spiriting him away.

Entirely at odds with his panic is something he’s never experienced upon waking from a nightmare: a hard, needy erection straining against his shorts.

Before he can sort out what’s going on, he feels a hand on his shoulder. He starts, breathing like a flushed rabbit: kidnapped. He grips the side of the bed with his right hand, knuckles going white as he seeks an anchor in physical reality, desperately trying to think of a way to escape.

“Shh, Will, you’re all right.”

Hannibal.

Hannibal’s voice behind him.

Hannibal’s hand.

He’s in Hannibal’s house.

Relief floods through him. His breathing slows from that of a terrified prey animal to something closer to a startled human.

He’s in Hannibal’s house because… he’s sick, very sick… and Hannibal is in bed next to him?

That explains the erection.

Sort of.

He doesn’t know what to make of it. Is it a response to the power and thrill he felt in the dream or to Hannibal’s proximity to him in bed?

Or both?

He hopes it isn’t both.

He swallows heavily, fearing it is.

For the first time, he’s thankful for nausea and a headache. The erection fades quickly in their company.

Hannibal hovers behind him, his hand still resting lightly on Will’s shoulder. Instinct tells him to flee. His tired, feverish, unhappy body tells him not to move.

“You’re in bed with me?” Will asks once he’s caught his breath. His voices breaks like an adolescent’s.

“Yes.”

Hannibal’s voice is so close again. Will can feel his body nearby. Not touching, but very close. Very close.

“Do you recall that I sought your permission?”

That memory, wrapped in hazy relief, returns as well.

“Mmm,” Will replies.

He remembers thinking that the request was a little odd but ultimately reasonable. Hannibal was tired but wanted to be nearby in case Will needed help. It was a good idea: Will does need help. More help than he wants to acknowledge.

He’ll start with something easy, something he can abide – help getting up.

“Can you unhook me?” Will asks. “I need to pee.”

“Certainly.”

He feels the mattress dip as Hannibal’s weight shifts. He’s going to have intense fantasies about this later, when he’s well and the Ripper has gone to ground. When he has time to indulge his lust.

Hannibal rounds the bed and comes into view, dressed in that handsome robe of his, his hair out of place and the pinch of tiredness around his eyes. He’s devastatingly attractive.

No, not these thoughts now. Will refuses to let his mutinous mind and body confuse the inexplicable lust of his nightmare with the entirely justified lust for the man in front of him. He can’t have one of the few good things in his life tainted by his fracturing mind.

Will runs a hand over his face, trying to clear the remains of his nightmare. God, his head hurts. His stomach is hollow yet angry. He feels battered and bruised, as though he’s been caught in the swift current of a spring flood and bashed repeatedly against driftwood and rocks. The current carries him farther from home and closer to the open sea. An anchor, a paddle: he needs one or both so badly.

When he’s free, he pushes himself up carefully and moves to shed the wet t-shirt before he thinks better of it. Instead, he fingers the material.

“Sorry about the shirt,” Will says, not meeting Hannibal’s eyes. He swings his legs over the side of the bed and manages to sit up. The room spins. His hands curl into fists as he seeks something solid.

When Will opens his eyes, Hannibal looks ready to catch him if he falls. Will is relieved, comforted by the kindness – then, without warning, his chest constricts with emotion and he feels tears welling up. Jesus. He is so fucked up.

“Don’t be sorry,” Hannibal says kindly. “I’ll bring you another.”

“Thanks,” he mutters and cautiously stands, embracing the dizziness that, thankfully, tamps down his emotions.

Now Hannibal’s hands are on his shoulders, holding him steady, then moving to one side as Will takes a tentative step. Hannibal helps him across the room – goddamn invalid – and to the bathroom.

Will relaxes slightly when he closes the door. Alone. Good. He needs some space.

What the fuck is wrong with me, he growls to himself as he strips off the now-cold shirt. He pulls his penis out of the silk boxers – Hannibal’s boxers, Hannibal wears these boxers, fuck – and glares at it like it’s a traitor as he urinates.

It does make sense, the way he woke up. He was sleeping in a bed next to Hannibal, wearing his clothes, breathing his heady fragrance. Of course he’d wake up hard.

But the dream. The vivid, revolting dream. The tension of his dream erection as he consumed the flesh of his victim, as taut and needy as the erection he woke up with.

Will’s stomach rolls and he’s vomiting before he knows what’s happening. Acidic bile burns his throat and nose. He drops to his knees in a single, jarring movement, and feels pain lance through them, but his focus is fixed on his tumultuous stomach. This time is more difficult and painful than the others. The strain is immense. Maybe he has pulled a muscle. Fuck.

As quickly as it came, the attack fades, and he’s left breathing heavily and trying to spit the taste out of his mouth. He isn’t sure if this is the food poisoning or a visceral reaction to the dream. He often feels like throwing up in response to his dreams, but it’s never happened before. Then again, he’s never gotten hard in a nightmare, either.

Will sits back on his heels and then the floor as he pulls his legs up against his chest. He rests his aching head on his bruised knees and thinks about his dogs.

He visualizes each of their faces. Their uncomplicated love. Their pure happiness.

Each of their faces. He misses them. The ease of being with them.

He sees wagging tails in his mind’s eye – and then a flash of himself consuming kidney and jerking off.

He starts, suddenly panting, adrenaline jolting through his body.

He studies the floor, trying to banish the images, and realizes he must have fallen asleep. Not for long. Not for more than a few minutes or Hannibal would have come to find him. Because he fell a-fucking-sleep.

Will wants to hit something to direct his anger and frustration outward. Instead, he picks himself up and goes through the motions of rinsing his mouth out and washing his face. Hannibal – kind, courteous, thoughtful Hannibal – has left a bottle of mouthwash next to the sink. Will’s hands shake as he unscrews the top and rinses his mouth out.

He studies his reflection in the mirror. Pale and sallow. Scruffy. Eyes red. Hair wet and matted.

He’s a fucking mess.

Dwelling on it will get him nowhere, though, and he’s too shaky to be on his feet.

When he returns to the bedroom, self-consciously bare-chested, he’s pleased to find a clean shirt waiting for him and no Hannibal. He pulls the shirt over his tired body and notices towels on the bed. He needs a moment to recall that he mentioned using towels to Hannibal. Hannibal remembered. Will doesn’t let himself think about how he feels about all of the considerate things Hannibal has done for him. He needs to feel nothing right now.

He arranges the pillows so he can sit up and climbs into the bed. He draws his knees to his chest again and stares at the duvet, trying not to fall asleep.

When he hears Hannibal coming, his head is heavy, begging to be rested on his knees. Will forces himself to look up as Hannibal offers him a pale disc the size of a dime.

“Ginger,” Hannibal says. “For your stomach. Just place it in your mouth. You do not need to swallow it.”

Will takes the disc and inhales the scent, skeptical that a slice of root will do much for him.

“Does it work?” he asks.

“It works for me,” Hannibal replies.

Will stares at him for a moment before he gets the reference: Hannibal has had food poisoning, too.  

“I thought you were careful about what you put into your body,” Will says.

“I am,” Hannibal answers amiably. “I’m also an adventurous eater. I have encountered a few unwelcome guests in the past. Ginger helps.” He pauses. “Or I can give you something else.”

“No,” Will says. “Everything I’ve had has made me sleepy. I don’t want to sleep right now.”

“Ah, yes, you were having a nightmare,” Hannibal says.

Will says nothing. He wonders how much Hannibal saw. What Hannibal saw. No one has witnessed one of his nightmares in a very long time. Hannibal watching him dream: another thing he doesn’t want to think about. He distracts himself by placing the ginger in his mouth. It clashes with the minty taste of mouthwash and he wants to spit it out, but Hannibal has done so much for him. He won’t be rude.

Hannibal gently takes Will’s arm and reconnects the IV.

“You are under a great deal of stress,” Hannibal says as he works. “It’s not surprising that your dreams are worse.”

“They’ve never been this bad,” Will says vacantly, his eyes fixed on the footboard.

Cool fluid runs into his arm. He shivers – then blinks as Hannibal holds out a hand toward his face like a person trying to make friends with a frightened animal. He wants permission. But for what? Will stares blankly at him until he realizes that Hannibal wants to check his temperature. Probably because he shivered. Chills and fever.

Will silently grants permission but looks away as the back of Hannibal’s hand rests lightly against his forehead. Why would Hannibal choose this inexact method? Because he lacks the equipment? No. Because he wants to touch Will?

Fuck.

“What makes them so bad?” Hannibal asks quietly.

Will blinks, his heart skittering. He lost focus too quickly. He has to backtrack to remember the reference in the question.

The dreams. What makes the dreams so bad?

“The Ripper…” Will begins, trailing off. Images of the crime scenes lurk just outside his vision. “I can see how he does it. I can see why, too. But I can’t see him. He doesn’t want me to see him.”

Hannibal brings a chair from the other side of the room so he can sit next to Will. He crosses his legs as though they’re in his office and nothing is amiss.

“That must be endlessly frustrating,” Hannibal says.  

Will makes a noncommittal noise and rubs a hand over his eyes. His head is throbbing like he’s just looked at a fresh crime scene.

“Do you have anything for a headache?” he asks.

“The tincture I gave you earlier will help,” Hannibal answers, unfazed by the change of subject. “I can give you a small amount now and more later.”

Will closes his eyes. “I don’t want to sleep yet.”

“A few drops will relax you and ease your pain without making you sleep,” Hannibal explains.

Will considers it. Between the headache, nausea, and lingering disquietude, he feels terrible. He’s tense but tired: overused. He needs very badly to relax.

“As long as it won’t make me sleep,” he says.

In answer, Hannibal retrieves the brown bottle. If this works – relaxation without sleep – Will must get this tincture for himself. Whiskey hasn’t helped as much lately as it used to.

When Hannibal leans in with the dropper this time, Will doesn’t feel the overwhelming urge to flee. Perhaps he’s too tired. Perhaps he trusts Hannibal more now than he did earlier today. Whatever the reason, he doesn’t care. He just wants some respite.

The headache and nausea fade slightly as the medicine takes effect. He can still feel them, but they’re less bothersome. It’s as though someone turned the volume down. He leans back against the headboard as his body relaxes. The sense of well-being he felt earlier returns in a milder form. Hannibal gave him just enough to take the edge off of his pain and calm his nerves but too little to cloud his mind.

He must be careful, he thinks, not to mistake Hannibal’s consideration for something else.

Will’s eyes slide lazily to Hannibal as he returns to his chair and crosses his legs again. As though nothing about this is strange.

“So, this dream bothered you because it was frustrating,” Hannibal says.

“No,” Will replies. His eyes shift back to the footboard. “I dreamt about the crime scene this morning. I walked through the murder as though I were doing it. But this time, it didn’t end with the ripping. I dreamt I was eating the organs I’d taken. Kidneys. In my kitchen.”

He can’t bring himself to mention the erection. Not when Hannibal probably caused it. Will is certain Hannibal has no interest in him beyond friendship. How could he? It’s not possible.

“The thought of becoming a cannibal troubled you?” Hannibal inquires.  

“Yes,” Will says. “But it’s not just that.”

He feels Hannibal studying him.

“You enjoyed it,” Hannibal says.

Will sighs and nods slightly, wishing he didn’t have to acknowledge this truth.

“What did you enjoy about it?”

As much as he doesn’t want to have this conversation – not right now, not when the dream is still so fresh – Will knows he needs to talk. And Hannibal, unlike every other person Will knows, is not repulsed by the dark visions Will sees. Nor by the darkness in him. Rather, he’s willing to confront that darkness and help Will toward the light.

Will blinks tiredly as he stares at the end of the bed. “I don’t know,” he answers after a moment. “It wasn’t like killing Hobbs. I didn’t feel powerful. I didn’t even feel like myself.”

“Perhaps you enjoyed it because he enjoys it?” Hannibal suggests. “After all, you feel what others felt when you’re at a crime scene.”

“I suppose so,” Will says. “He does enjoy it. But why my kitchen?”

“You haven’t been home in a while,” Hannibal supplies. “You miss the familiar surroundings.”

“Maybe,” Will says uncertainly. Then he brightens and looks at Hannibal. “How are the dogs?”

“Good,” Hannibal answers with a smile. “They miss you.”

“I miss them,” Will echoes.

Hannibal pauses as he often does when he wants to change the subject.

“I understand from the papers that the murders have been happening quickly,” he says. “The Ripper kills in streaks. Jack won’t let you go home until they’re over or you catch him. Do you know how many are left?”

Will nods. “Just one.”

Hannibal leans forward slightly. “Do you think you can catch him?”

Will sighs. “Not this time. He’s too careful. I don’t think he would have come back at all if he hadn’t been baited.”

“You do not usually doubt yourself, Will. What’s different about this one?”

“He doesn’t make mistakes,” Will answers. “And he’s motivated by anger this time. Annoyance. He’s making a statement. Once the statement is made, he’ll disappear again.”

“But Jack thinks he can be caught,” Hannibal says.

Will laughs bitterly. “Jack has a personal stake in it.”

“So he told me,” Hannibal says. “I was sorry to hear about his trainee.”

Will hears an unspoken addition to the sentence: that he has taken the role of Miriam Lass in this round of murders. It’s too easy a fit, too shallow an interpretation, which is why Hannibal doesn’t voice it.

“You think I’m going to end up like her?” Will asks, shifting his eyes to Hannibal so he can study the man’s expression. Friendly interest. Concern. There’s more, but he’s too tired and fuzzy read it.

“Do you?” Hannibal asks.

Will lets the evasion slide. “It’s possible,” he answers mildly. “He’ll know when I find him. He may know before I do.”

“You have a regard for this killer I have not heard you express before,” Hannibal observes.

Will turns his gaze back to the footboard. “He’s very good at what he does,” Will says. “He’s toying with us because we pushed him.”

“We?”

“Jack, Alana, Freddie Lounds, and me,” Will replies. “They wanted to confirm that it wasn’t Gideon.”

“They,” Hannibal echoes. “You didn’t agree with the method?”

“Not at first,” Will says.

“And now?” Hannibal presses.

Will closes his eyes, feeling guilt like heavy shackles binding his hands. “Now it doesn’t matter.”

He hears Hannibal shift in the chair. He’s sitting forward. Will can see Hannibal’s posture without opening his eyes.

“Will, you burden yourself with guilt for mistakes that are not your own,” Hannibal says. “Is this any different?”

Will doesn’t answer. Keeping up with the conversation is more difficult than it should be. Sleep tugs at him, trying to drag him under. He dreads dreaming again, but he simply isn’t going to be able to stay awake.

Will is relaxed enough to consider taking a risk.

He opens his eyes and clears his throat. “Sometimes, when I’m having a rough night,” he says, trying to keep his voice impassive, “I let the dogs sleep in the bed.”

He can’t look directly at Hannibal, but he sees no overt signs of disgust or dismay. Instead, Hannibal stands and puts the chair back where it was, then comes to rest next to the dresser on which he’s left the brown bottle.

“How is your head?” he asks.

Will looks near him but not at him. “Still hurts.”

Hannibal offers him a tissue for the remains of the ginger slice, then fills the dropper. When he gets close this time, Will relishes his proximity. He’s going to enjoy having Hannibal sleep next to him. In his relaxed state, he thinks only of the positive aspects of nearness rather than all the things that can go wrong. As with whiskey, this drug has dulled his critical reflexes. He realizes it but can’t bring himself to care.

With a larger dose under his tongue, Will slides down the bed so he can lie on his side. He isn’t bold enough to face Hannibal. Better to turn his back.

Hannibal leaves the room wordlessly. Will closes his eyes, weighed down again by the drug. He struggles to stay awake until Hannibal returns. He wants to know that Hannibal is next to him.

When he feels the mattress dip and Hannibal’s body near his, close but not touching, Will finally lets go.

Chapter Text

Hannibal sits near Will and studies him as he dreams, his eyes shuttling back and forth beneath their lids. It’s nearly three a.m. Since Hannibal collected him yesterday evening, Will has slept in one and two hour intervals, waking alternately from nightmares or because his body compels him. Each time, Hannibal, a light sleeper, woke first. He gave up on sleep an hour ago and has been watching Will since then.

This nightmare started a few minutes ago. Hannibal wonders how long it will last. How long Will can last.

As Will sweats through his fourth shirt, Hannibal wonders if this is normal for him. If so, he must have mountains of laundry hidden somewhere. Hannibal doubts it. He’s not seen such piles during his visits to Will’s house. It’s clear that Will sleeps shirtless once he’s soaked his first shirt. For all the trust he extended earlier when he obliquely asked Hannibal to sleep next to him, Will is unwilling to remain shirtless. To do so makes him feel vulnerable – or perhaps he’s just cold. The former, of course.

And yet Will has come so far tonight, relying more and more on Hannibal to help him up as he grows weaker but seeming less and less humiliated by his need for help. He is not a man accustomed to accepting assistance from anyone. A motherless vagabond: how could he be? Yet he seeks Hannibal’s comfort now.

Hannibal wonders how Will will act once he’s well. To try pretend that this night never happened would be disingenuous, entirely out of character for Will. Yet Will is conflicted by his affection for Hannibal as a friend and his obvious desire for Hannibal as a sexual partner.

Though Hannibal does not need such a partner, he would not say no if Will were to acknowledge what’s written on his face and body when he thinks Hannibal isn’t looking. Indeed, Hannibal would take Will to heights of pleasure Will has not reckoned.

The idea itself sends blood straight to Hannibal’s groin. He shifts slightly in the chair.

But as much as he would savor every moment, Hannibal knows it’s best not to let Will into his bed yet – or at all. An affair would almost certainly end with death or incarceration. Hannibal enjoys Will’s company too much to initiate such destruction.

However, he cannot say what Will might do once night turns to day.

Hannibal watches intently as Will’s hands clutch at the sheet and mattress, the flexors, extensors, and brachioradiales of his forearms tight like steel cables. Clenched jaw, frantic breathing, beads of sweat collecting on the towel that covers the pillow: this is a bad one.

Perhaps he will let Hannibal show him the good he chooses not to see in himself.

Hannibal dwells on this thought as Will becomes increasingly agitated. No words issue from Will’s lips. Just the harsh, quick breaths of a man in desperate flight.

Will gasps and his eyes fly open. Hannibal has seen terror in so many pairs of eyes, but never has he seen terror so limitless, so absolute.

Once recognition glimmers in Will’s eyes, Hannibal leans forward and places his hand on Will’s, softly stroking Will’s open palm. Will regards him like a drowning man does a lifeline: for a moment, he’s utterly dependent on the eye contact.

Then Will looks away and groans softly. He lifts a trembling hand to wipe the sweat away. Hannibal offers him a handkerchief.

“You’re not even trying to sleep anymore,” Will grumbles as he dabs weakly at his face.

The corner of Hannibal’s mouth twitches, but he says nothing.

“You’re going to be tired today,” Will adds.

Because of me, Hannibal hears. Will has reverted to self-censure. His nightmare must have featured harsh rebuke.

“I have no appointments until the afternoon,” Hannibal assures. “Plenty of time to sleep.”

Will scrutinizes him, then looks away, satisfied enough with the answer. Perhaps even comforted by it.

Before he can speak again, he hisses and his face contorts – a sight Hannibal has seen too frequently over the past several hours. Hannibal helps him up and supports so much of his weight that he may as well be carrying Will as they work their way to the bathroom.  

Hannibal retreats to the kitchen and pours himself a glass of water. Seeing Will like this transports him to his late teens: a village on the Mediterranean, a fine meal of mussels, and the two days of unrelenting torment that followed. He was afflicted by everything Will has in addition to tortuous tingling and the perception of ice as heat and warmth as chills. His body recoils at the memory. He cannot remain in the kitchen while his flesh shrinks so.

Hannibal fetches fresh towels and arranges them on the bed. Though he focuses his attention on the well-executed performance of Ravel’s piano trio playing lightly in the room, he cannot help but hear Will struggling. His bowels constrict sympathetically. His jaw clenches and he swallows tightly. Wishing to hear no more, Hannibal carries the wet towels and shirts, along with Will’s clothes, to the laundry room.

Such a menial task should annoy him, but nothing he does in service of his plans for Will can do that. Even this task is preparation for the final movement in the symphony unfolding between them.

When Hannibal returns to the sweat-redolent room, Will is leaning heavily against the door frame, shirtless and sagging. Face pressed against the steady wood, he doesn’t see Hannibal. When Hannibal slides an arm under Will's shoulders and takes his half-dead weight, Will doesn’t acknowledge him. Hannibal was young and spry when he faced a similar illness - able to recover quickly; Will, older and overworked, is not so lucky.

Will lies down as if commanded but doesn’t arrange his haphazard limbs in the fetal fashion he's chosen so often. He closes his eyes and trembles. Hannibal wordlessly reconnects the life-giving fluid and selects three unopened vials from the bag of supplies he ordered after Alana called him yesterday. He loads three syringes and sets them aside.

Hannibal places a hand on Will’s clammy, too-warm shoulder.

“My friend,” he says, “neither of us benefits from these interruptions. It may be time to try something else.”

Will blinks slowly, his eyes unfocused. After a moment, his eyes clear and he looks beseechingly at Hannibal like a pilgrim who has traveled without pause and finally found the shrine of his redeemer.

Hannibal smiles benevolently and gently squeezes Will’s overtaxed arm.

“I think it’s best to treat your symptoms more aggressively so you can sleep,” he says.  

Will blinks again, his eyes threatening to close. Hannibal sees a hint of apprehension under the weight of exhaustion.

“And the dreams?” Will murmurs.

“I’ll add a sedative,” Hannibal says.

Will looks up at him again. He searches Hannibal’s expression once – and surrenders.

Hannibal brushes the damp, matted curls from Will’s forehead. In soft, rounded tones, he describes the three drugs and their effects as he injects each one into the IV port.

He can’t tell when Will falls asleep – only that it happens too quickly. In spite of his own tiredness, he watches Will breathe for half an hour until he’s certain he has not given Will too much diazepam.

Hannibal turns out the lamp with a snick, climbs into bed next to Will, and listens to him breathe until they share a single slow, steady rhythm.

Chapter Text

Hannibal wakes from a restful sleep to the sound of the land line ringing in the kitchen. Light peeks through the windows. His carefully-calibrated sense of time tells him it’s nearly 7 a.m. That will be Jack Crawford on the phone, wondering where his protégé is. Hannibal ignores the ringing.

A glance at Will confirms that he has not moved in hours. His legs are still tucked under the duvet; a towel covers his upper body. Messy, matted brown curls face Hannibal. He gently lifts the towel covering Will and tosses it to the floor. Will’s bare back, dry for once, greets him. Will’s scent is strong, uncut by sweat. It’s more intoxicating than it should be – an indication of how deeply Hannibal’s desire for him runs. Inches from Will, Hannibal lightly caresses the soft skin of Will’s strong back.

Will does not stir. His slow respiration indicates not just sleep but sedation. Hannibal has at least an hour – probably more, given Will’s weakened state – before the sedative begins to wear off.

Though he has no intention of pursuing Will, he cannot allow this opportunity to touch him to slip away. He has not touched someone lovingly in too many years. For all the feasts of sight, sound, smell, and taste he orchestrates for himself, he has neglected touch. This morning, with Will’s bare flesh so tantalizingly close, he will indulge tactility. His fingers flex in anticipation.

Hannibal softly strokes the curve of Will’s shoulder. His fingers come to rest on an angry scar that mars Will’s otherwise flawless back. Hannibal recognizes it as an old stab wound – one Will has said nothing about.

One of Will’s secrets. Intriguing.

Hannibal skirts his thumb along the pale, raised length of the two inch scar and wonders how it happened. It was done with a switchblade: a deep stab followed by a clumsy yank up and out. Done hastily. Done imprecisely. Done by a petty criminal. A legacy of Will’s pre-FBI past. He has lingering problems with his shoulder that he has not mentioned.

This is why Will preferred not to remove his shirt. Though the scar is relatively small, Hannibal knows that it’s the story, not the sight, that Will wishes to keep to himself.

It’s a pity. Will has the strong back of a man who takes more care of himself than he lets on. A man who conceals his grace beneath khaki and plaid. A man whose awkward movements belie his beauty.

One day, Will will tell him about this scar. He will express only an ounce of the pain it caused him. He will duck his head and fidget. He will ask without words not to be judged. Hannibal will be patient and kind.

Sometimes – when they have conversations – Hannibal’s interaction with Will rushes along like the countrapuntal polyphony of a fugue. A harmonic give-and-take, quick and lively. Other times, during the quiet moments, triadic chords resonate in the Ionian or Dorian modes. Major or minor, depending on the mood. Often creating the mood.

But this moment now, the two of them in bed, and the future moment of the scar: they are a susurrus in a grove of aspens. They are the motion of light on water.

Hannibal traces the outline of the scar again, then slides his fingers down to Will’s strong spine. His fingertips lovingly grace the notches of Will’s vertebrae. Slowly, he slips his fingers from the bones of Will’s neck to the curve of the lumbar where skin meets the hem of silk shorts, counting the calcium crests in their sheathes. So fragile. So inviolable.

Muscles now. With both hands, Hannibal traces the mirrored contours of the trapezius and latissimus dorsi. The long, thin muscles expand and contract just so as Will sleeps. Dry and hot under Hannibal’s sensitive digits, Will’s permeable integument breathes along with the steady swell and dip of his chest. Heat radiates from his body as it fights the invasive bacteria, incinerating them one by one.

Will has not responded to his touch, but the burn of fever is much like the burn of desire. The same desire threatens to overwhelm Hannibal.

And it will. He will allow it to crash over him.

Hannibal pivots away from Will and off of the bed. He removes his robe and pajama top, recalling former lovers sleeping with their backs turned in the fey light of morning as he crept from the bed and out of their lives. Not this time. This time, he returns, seeking intimacy before satiation.

Intimacy with Will Graham. Desire for Will Graham. It may be worth the risk after all.

The phone rings again in the kitchen as Hannibal returns to the bed. His lip curls.

Once the noise dies, Hannibal slides closer until his bare chest touches Will’s denuded back. He places a hand on Will’s barely-clothed hip and hooks his fingers in the jut of Will’s pelvis.

Will slumbers peacefully beneath his touch.

Emboldened, Hannibal buries his face in Will’s hair where his scent is strongest and places soft, delicate kisses on his neck. It’s easy to imagine that the dried sweat clinging to Will’s hair and skin resulted from a marathon love-making session.

Passion pulses through Hannibal. Achingly hard, he pushes his pajamas aside and strokes himself. He licks and lightly sucks the salt from the soft flesh of Will’s neck, careful not to leave the hint of a mark. He tongues the hard line of Will’s cervical spine and gently kisses the vertebrae notched beneath, lazily massaging the responsive tip of his penis.

He soothes the ache away slowly with his expert hand until his entire body simmers with a balance of need and satiation. Desire is a warm, shallow sea. He bathes in its ripples and currents, buoyant and unhurried.

Time stops. Only the existential certainty of himself and Will as immutable, mutually desiring beings remains.

After a long series of moments that contain days of voluptuous, voluminous tactility, Hannibal signs contentedly. Desire hums in his veins like a fine wine.

Hannibal wipes his hand on his pajamas and finds Will’s iliac spine again. He inches his hips forward until his half-hard cock rests in the cleft of Will’s muscled ass. His hand slides down silk to cup Will’s genitals – like lovers falling asleep after a night of devotion and ardor and ecstasy.

For nearly an hour he lies with Will, reveling in the leisurely undulation of desire and sensation. He alternates between kissing and tonguing and licking Will’s neck and inhaling the alluring scent of Will’s trust.

Perhaps one day Will will come to him to be touched. Perhaps one day soon.

A knock at the door interrupts Hannibal’s sensual reverie.

Hannibal lavishes a final kiss Will’s neck before extricating himself. He dons his pajama top and robe, stops in his bathroom for a dab of cologne to cover the smell of sex, and adjusts his fading erection as he saunters to the door.

He expects Jack Crawford’s angry visage to greet him. He is pleasantly surprised, then, when he sees Alana Bloom’s smiling face instead. A bag of clothes in her hand and the faint scent of dog tell him that she’s been to Wolf Trap.

She has saved him a trip. He smiles as he invites her in. He has always appreciated her thoughtful, measured courtesy.

She steps into the entryway. He reads her reading him: his robe, his messy hair, the lingering traces of sleep. As always, she reserves judgment.

“I hope I didn’t wake you,” she says.

“No,” Hannibal answers. “But I regret that I have not started any coffee yet.”

She smiles and waves a dismissive hand. “I can’t stay long. I just came by to drop off some of Will’s clothes.”

“How thoughtful,” Hannibal says, taking the proffered bag. “You fed the dogs?”

“They wouldn’t have let me leave if I hadn’t,” Alana jokes. She quickly turns serious. “You look like you’ve had a long night.”

There is so much she chooses not to say.

“Not as long as Will’s,” Hannibal replies. “He’s sleeping now. I had to resort to a sedative so he could rest.”

A mix of sympathy and unsurprised dismay appears on her face. “Nightmares?”

Hannibal inclines his head. “And illness. He’s very weak. I doubt Jack Crawford will get him back today.”

“Jack’s going to want to hear that from you,” Alana points out with a knowing look.

Hannibal mirrors her expression. “He will.”

He lets her out with a final thanks and smiles to himself. He knows so few people who are truly conscientious. Only she would know that he’s been feeding Will’s dogs and would not only make the trip for him but would have the presence of mind to collect clothes for Will.

Hannibal checks on Will – still asleep – and leaves the clothes in the bedroom before repairing to the kitchen to start coffee and breakfast for himself. For Will, he will prepare a nutritious broth and soup for later.

As he chops onions and peppers, he searches his memory for the last time he cooked for someone who stayed the night with him. Zurich. He was twenty-eight. She was an exceptional woman, but he had no interest in a relationship. Still, he thought it proper to make breakfast for her.

How many years have passed.

Hannibal browns the onions and peppers with blood sausage and cracks two eggs over the pan.

Dr. Du Maurier thinks he’s lonely. No significant relationships. No friends. He should not be bothered by her assessment but he respects her judgment. He doesn’t want to admit that she’s right… but… she is.

He isn’t sure exactly what Will wants – what the timbre of his desire is. Mere lust? Or something more holistic, more human and less animal?

Will also doesn’t have friends. Just dogs with whom he shares the intimacies of his inner life. He doesn’t want friends. But maybe he wants one friend.

Hannibal plates his breakfast, pours the coffee, and eats by himself. His mind wanders to the first breakfast he shared with Will in Minnesota. Will’s distrust and uncertainty. His forts to keep others out that fail to protect what he values most.

Just keep it professional.

Or we could socialize like adults. God forbid we become friendly.

I don’t find you that interesting.

Talk of the Minnesota Shrike. Will’s instant understanding of the intent of the murder Hannibal committed for him. A positive so he could see a negative. Will’s intensity as a profiler. His response to Hannibal’s carefully-selected questions, meant to guide him to the Shrike. Reconstructing the Shrike’s fantasies. The Shrike’s problems.

Ever have any problems, Will?

Uncle Jack’s fragile little tea cup.

Will’s genuine amusement. His laugh.

Hannibal hasn’t heard him laugh heartily since then. Too many problems clutter his head.  

He is slowly falling apart. Jack brought Hannibal in for one reason: to glue him back together when Jack breaks him.

As Hannibal carries his plate back to the kitchen, the phone rings again. Uncle Jack has quite a sense of timing.

Hannibal assures Jack over the phone that Will is far too sick to return to work. He hears Jack falling apart as well. Hannibal did not cut the first cord – cancer did that for him – but he happily sliced the rest. Jack did not hold up his end of the bargain with Will; he earned his humiliation.

Hannibal hears in Jack’s tone that he will be driving to Baltimore some time this afternoon to see Will for himself. Hannibal snarls. Will is his to protect, his to heal. Jack cannot have him back until Will can stand on his own two feet again. Even then…

Hannibal stops to check on Will again before he takes a shower. Will hasn’t so much as twitched, but his breathing indicates that he’s actually sleeping now – no longer sedated. Careful to keep his movement silent, Hannibal disconnects the IV in case Will needs to get up. His hand moves to brush Will’s hair of its own volition. He stops himself, instead studying Will’s slack, peaceful face. He wants to give Will this peace always.

Hannibal carries these thoughts with him into the shower. The peace of a breeze in the aspens outside Zurich. For Will, he can do this. He will.

Chapter Text

Will climbs slowly out of the deepest sleep he’s had in months. He feels heavy and fuzzy but comfortable, if a little cold. The light streaming through the window tells him it’s morning. He’s woken up here too many times in the past twelve or more hours not to know where he is. He reaches for the comforter with a clumsy hand and pulls it up over his shoulders, shivering slightly until he’s warmer. He drifts back into sleep.

After some time – he has no idea how long – awareness returns. Light. Morning. Hannibal’s house. That phrase comes naturally now, even if he wishes the circumstances of his waking up rested and sore at Hannibal’s house were different. He’s is stiff from being in the same position all night. He thinks about rolling over – how nice it would feel to stretch his legs out and rest his sore back on the flat surface of the mattress.

Several sleepy minutes pass before his leaden body obeys. When it does, his back sighs contentedly. He feels more or less good. Well, not good per se, but also not bad, which is its own kind of good. Rested – something he hasn’t felt in too long. Still sick, but not in an imminent way. Comfortable. He must have slept for several hours. He doesn’t recall any nightmares. No dreams at all.

Because…

Will blanches.

Drugged.

Okay, not drugged. But drugged.

That’s how he feels: comfortable because he was drugged.

He remembers that Hannibal gave him a sedative because he needed it. He remembers that he’d agreed to take it. To be fair, though, he was ready to agree to almost anything at the time.

But still…

Will blinks vacantly up the ceiling, knowing he’s safe but not feeling safe. The muscle memories attached to sedation conjure fear, panic, and desperation. Awful dependence. Failure.

The last time he came out of sedation, he was in a hospital bed. As soon as he could form a coherent thought, he’d worried the bed was in a psych ward and got, as the nurses later told him, combative. Chemical restraints were easier to manage than physical ones, so he woke up drugged twice in one day.

It turned out to be a regular floor, but his fear remains well-founded. What he does could so easily be construed as the work of a nascent psychopath. Who knows when the men he works for will see a rabid cur where they once saw a faithful bloodhound. Or worse, he could one day become the men he imagines being - and if he should ever deserve to be in a psych ward, he would also be unable to comprehend the scope of his own madness. The ultimate loss of control.

The idea makes him shudder.

What he knows is this: if he does one day break in a way that can't be fixed, he’ll know it by waking up from sedation.

Will feels panic try to creep up on him. He’s too calm physically for it to claim him; instead, a profound sense of unease pervades his mind and body.

He feels too exposed now, lying on his back – as though someone could leap upon him and spear him with a motorcycle handlebar. He concentrates on willing himself to move again. Shoulders are easier to turn than hips and legs. Bare shoulders, he realizes, to his chagrin.

When he finally rolls onto his left side, he notices Hannibal sitting across the room at the desk. Writing. Writing intently. In longhand. In an oversized journal.

Will stares at him, blinking slowly. How long has he been there?

He’s wearing a cashmere sweater over an oxford shirt: the same thing he wore the day they visited construction sites in Minnesota, the day Will shot Hobbs, the day they gained a surrogate daughter. Except this sweater is blue. Placid blue. Like an alpine lake.

He’s still not all together coherent, Will realizes, as his mind, bobbing like a boat without a rudder, drifts back to that day. He wonders if Hannibal kept that sweater and the shirt underneath. He recalls a stain on the cuff. Who would keep a ruined shirt? The pragmatic thing to do is throw it away. But he thinks of his own shirt from that day, tossed into the closet once he’d gotten home and forgotten about until this moment, and wonders how close he’s getting to the edge. Again.

He shouldn’t derive any comfort from the knowledge that Hannibal will not only understand this but also not judge him. He does, though. He derives immense comfort from it.

Hannibal has a whole Mr. Rogers thing going in that sweater.

Will blinks. Thoughts like that don’t usually accompany the dying effects of sedative.

He thinks about where that thought came from; his mind wanders aimlessly until he shivers. Right. Of the two ways his body would fight the bacteria, one was fever. He’d stupid with fever.

Where was he? Mr. Rogers?

God forbid we become friendly.

But it’s more than that. Hannibal knows almost as much about him as he knows about himself. Hannibal saw him shoot Hobbs, stayed in hospital with Abigail, understood his fears and dreams – and still Hannibal not only sees him but feeds his dogs, helps him with cases, invites him into his home, and pushes him just enough to challenge him. Never pushes him too hard. Never flinches or pulls away.

Hannibal is his refuge. He’s known that for weeks without acknowledging it.

And now Hannibal has gone out of his way to make this damn illness easier.

“Good morning, Will,” Hannibal says.

Will blinks. He hadn’t noticed when Hannibal stopped writing, capped the pen, closed the journal, and turned in the chair to face him.

“You look better,” Hannibal says with a smile.

“I feel drugged,” Will says. He sounds drugged, too. Maybe it’s not just fever that’s messing with his head.

Hannibal frowns slightly. “The medication I gave you should have worn off by now.”

Will watches through half-lidded eyes as Hannibal stands, adjusts his sweater, and crosses to the bed in a few strides. Hannibal has to reach across his side of the bed – his side of the bed? yes, it still smells like him, fuck – to place the back of his hand on Will’s forehead.

“Your fever’s gone up.”

Will lifts his eyes to Hannibal’s hand. “That’s an accurate method?”

“Accurate enough,” Hannibal replies good-naturedly. He sits on the edge of the bed, his shoulders turned so he can face Will. The professional distance is made intimate by the space of the bed, though Will doesn’t think Hannibal means it to be taken that way.

“Something’s troubling you.”

Will closes his eyes and swallows to avoid snapping at Hannibal’s perceptive niceness. Like this is one of their sessions. He’s irritable, he realizes: memories of a very bad time in his life compounded by illness and his natural abrasiveness.

What would Mr. Rogers want with him?

And then he looks more carefully at Hannibal and he sees it. Hannibal’s expression is more open and inviting than usual. It’s as though he wants to please Will and will be disappointed if he doesn’t or can’t. As though he cares more deeply than he did before about Will’s welfare and happiness.

Will isn’t sure to what to make of this change. All he knows is that he owes Hannibal an explanation. In fact, as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, he needs Hannibal to know this.

He needs help.

“I don’t like being sedated,” Will admits cautiously.

He sees Hannibal infer his meaning. “You had a bad experience?”

Will wishes he weren’t lying down, sick and stupid as he tells Hannibal about this time in his life, but it can’t be helped.

“When I worked homicide,” he begins. He takes a deep breath. “I was doing too much. Seeing too much. Not sleeping.” He closes his eyes. “Nightmares. Sleepwalking. Hallucinations.”  

When he looks up again, Hannibal is watching him intently. “Worse than they are now. I couldn’t get everyone else out of my head.”

There’s no pity in Hannibal’s eyes. Sympathy, yes. But no pity.

Still, Will looks away, knowing that Hannibal reads his expressions as easily as he does a newspaper. He doesn’t need to see Hannibal’s reserved reaction.

“I was at a crime scene – nothing particularly gruesome – and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a panic attack.” He sighs. “I’d had them before, but nothing like this one. It wouldn’t stop. I don’t know what happened, but I woke up in the hospital.”

Will glances at him. He sees the offer of security and feels a little better, a little warmer inside, despite the memory. Then Hannibal’s expression turns inward and it’s like clouds covering the sun.

“They gave you Valium?” Hannibal asks.

“I don’t know. Something like that.”

Hannibal’s jaw muscles stand out, one of the few tells that he’s unhappy or upset.

“I’m sorry,” he says tightly.

“Don’t apologize,” Will says. “It’s not your fault.”

Hannibal doesn’t seem to think so. He looks troubled for a moment before he speaks again.

“That’s when you started teaching?”

Will nods faintly. He doesn’t want to talk anymore. If they were in Hannibal’s office, he’d wander to one of the bookshelves and thumb aimlessly through a volume or stare at one of the drawings or paintings on the wall. The best he can do now is try to sit up.

It’s a challenge. Even though he’s slept, he’s still tired. Weak. Nauseous, too, now that he’s moving. He rests a hand on his stomach and makes a face.

Hannibal rounds the bed and offers a hand.

“Tell me this is going to end soon,” Will groans as Hannibal helps him stand.

“It will end eventually, yes,” Hannibal says.

“Can’t you tell me what I want to hear for once?” Will grumbles.

 “Maybe next time,” Hannibal replies.

Will thinks he hears a slight awkwardness in Hannibal’s tone. He thinks he hears it because he’s never heard – and, honestly, can’t imagine – Hannibal being awkward. But his mind is focused elsewhere.

When he closes the door behind him, he feels an overwhelming sense of loss, like he’s closed the door on the dogs at night when they just want to be near him. He can’t bear to do that, which is why they share a room with him.

Hannibal isn’t one of his dogs, of course, but there’s a love and loyalty he’s never seen before.

That’s got to be it, he thinks as he submits to the misery of the bacteria. It affords him a considerable measure of comfort. He feels hope peeking like the shy sun out from behind the clouds at the end of hurricane season.

Chapter Text

After lunch, Hannibal sits in a chair near the foot of the bed and tries to read. The Purgatorio in the original, beginning with Canto XIX and the ascent to Terrace 5. Avarice and prodigality. Purification achieved by lying face down on the stone. The terza rima sings.

Will shifts restlessly; the sheets slide against his body as he turns. He makes a small noise of discomfort. All the souls in Purgatory don’t sound so real and close and true.

Hannibal watches the outline of Will’s form until he’s still again. Despite the calming effect of the tincture, he’s not sleeping. Not even resting, really. Tossing and turning fitfully. Shivering, unable to get warm. And if he were to sleep, he’d be awake again too soon, whether at the behest of his body or his mind. The nightmares have been worse this morning, feeding off of fever and memory. Hannibal is almost sorry that Will has seen what he’s done.

Almost.

Will appreciates his work and Hannibal does love an appreciative audience. He’s seen both varieties of appreciation in Will’s eyes this morning. Gratitude – deeper now than it has been – for the myriad ways Hannibal has tried to make him more comfortable. And the knowing appraisal of a fellow connoisseur that lingers with the echoing images of crime scenes when Will steps out of his head and back into their shared reality.

Hannibal imagines him as a younger man, looking at more than one crime scene a day. Destroying himself with the violence of others, self-inflicted, until his mind took drastic measures to protect itself. No deeply held sense of moral obligation stood a chance against the assault of such constant cruelty.

Nor can Hannibal’s deeply held sense of self-preservation stand up to the marriage of respect and desire. They are too strong a pair.

When he tries to account for the sudden allure, as he’s done all morning, he returns to the fact that he’s never encountered anyone like Will before. Will is a paradox. He possesses a combination of empathy and disgust for others, the courage to put himself in situations that terrify him, strength in spite of fragility, deep-seated anger over and against his good nature. Will is endlessly interesting.

His initial lack of interest in Hannibal only spurred Hannibal’s interest further. Now that Will returns his interest in earnest, he could, like a child, turn away from the desired object that has become the desiring subject. Instead, his interest has only intensified. They’re feeding off of each other like a binary star system.

Furthermore, Will makes himself vulnerable. He needs protection – mostly from the men whose approval he seeks. Men who do not value him appropriately. Will’s father must have been very much like Jack: a man he could never please. Avarice on the part of the father drawing generosity and privation from the son. A more profound, more destructive cannibalism: a devouring of the soul. Will may have observed the similarities – he isn’t naïve – without realizing how doggedly he seeks Jack’s approval. Perhaps if Will receives approval from another quarter, he won’t tear himself to pieces seeking Jack’s.

Part of this shift in feeling, too, stems from the cut of Dr. Du Maurier’s observations. The deep, jagged cut. It’s as though Hannibal has been bleeding slowly for many years from a wound he hadn’t noticed until the salve for it appeared.

That’s what Will is: balm of Gilead.

Hannibal crosses his legs and tries to read a stanza, but for once, he can’t concentrate. This new development makes him terribly uncomfortable. The notion of depending on another person for any reason troubles him. But he and Will are both fiercely independent, two men accustomed to being alone most of the time. Whatever happens will happen in spurts. There will be no talk of cohabitation beyond a single night here and there. It will be intense and unpredictable, a series of moments to be cherished because they may not come again.

Only in that way would a more intimate relationship work. He knows Will well enough to know that Will wouldn’t want more than that. Will has his dogs and his private life. He will share only so much. As it should be.

That Will told him about the episode that ended his work in the field at all reflects the evolution of his trust in Hannibal. Hannibal expected that evolution. What he did not expect is that he would react to it by evolving himself.

He’s reminded of yin and yang. Of the two serpents intertwined around Hermes’ staff, the origin of the caduceus. Symbols of complementary parts joining to create a stronger whole. Symbols of peace and harmony. To seek peace in any person, never mind a person as chaotic as Will, is unwise.

And yet. And yet.

Hannibal’s lips quirk. Passion has always been his greatest disadvantage.

An impatient, impertinent knock at the door resounds through the house. Will stirs. His little gasp of pain upon moving has an edge of panic to it.

“What was that?” he asks, his voice muffled by the duvet. Hannibal can hear him shivering, affected by chills he can’t overcome. How readily Hannibal would wrap him up and hold him until his shivers subsided and he settled comfortably in Hannibal’s arms.

Instead, Hannibal closes the book and crosses to the side of the bed Will is facing. He’s preferred the left side, having spent most of the night on his right side. His movements suggest soreness that could easily be massaged away.

Will looks up at him with dull, feverish, trusting eyes.

“That would be Uncle Jack checking up on us,” Hannibal replies.

Will blinks tiredly. “Us?” There’s a staggering amount of hope hidden behind that word. Hannibal is staggered by a corresponding feeling.

“He suspects that I’m keeping you from your work,” Hannibal says.

Will sniffs. “I could get shot and he’d want me back at work the next day.”

Hannibal shares a laugh with Will, whose face quickly turns sour. His jaw clenches. “Leave the door open,” he says miserably as he pushes himself up, “I’ll aim for his shoes.”

As Hannibal helps him across the room yet again, he pauses to pick up his robe where he’d draped it over the back of a chair. Will’s face expresses understanding and thanks. He would not have thought to add this simple barrier himself.

Hannibal hears the doorbell as Will takes hold of the countertop and gives a slight nod that says he’s okay.

When Hannibal reaches the front door, Jack looks ready to call in a team with a battering ram.

“Dr. Lecter,” he says impatiently, barging in.

“Agent Crawford,” Hannibal replies impassively. “Come in.”

Hannibal takes his time closing the door.

“How is our mutual friend?” Jack asks brusquely.

“Worse, I’m afraid,” Hannibal replies.

“Worse how?”

That demanding tone. The impertinence.

Hannibal pauses before he answers, his tone and pacing inversely proportionate to Jack’s. “Expelling the poison from his body more frequently. Running a temperature that will be a problem if it increases. Able neither to sleep nor rest comfortably. This is one of the worst cases I’ve seen in an otherwise healthy person. Perhaps if he had not been working so hard when he fell ill, he would have improved by now.”

Jack ignores the castigation.

“You understand I need to see for myself,” Jack says, gesturing for Hannibal to lead the way. “If you would be so kind, doctor.”

As Hannibal leads him toward the guest bedroom, he thinks of Jack’s anguish over Miriam Lass. Perhaps he will have to poke Jack again. It seems he did not learn his lesson the first time.

The bed is still empty when they reach the room. Hannibal watches Jack from the corner of his eye as unmistakable sounds of violent illness drift from the bathroom.

Jack has the good sense to look uncomfortable, even sympathetic for a moment.

“What can you do to help him recover?”

“Nothing more than I have been doing,” Hannibal replies. “I can treat the symptoms, but only time can treat the cause.”

Jack’s hands go to his hips and he looks away with frustration. He would bend reality to his whims and justify it by invoking his obligation to stop violent crimes when ego is as much a motivator as anything. It’s unseemly.  

“I think the Ripper might have done this,” Jack says.

Hannibal appears to consider the theory. “Instances of food poisoning are considerably lower in the cooler months,” he says, “but consuming raw shellfish always carries this risk. What makes you think it wasn’t bad luck?”

Jack sighs impatiently. “A hunch,” he says.

“Your hunches do not often lead you astray,” Hannibal replies. “You have another crime scene?”

“Not yet,” Jack says. “But if he follows his pattern, there will be only one more before he disappears again. Under any other circumstance, Will could have all the time he needs. But I need my best man on this now.”

They look up as the door opens and Will slowly crosses the hall and sinks down into a chair, pulling the robe tightly around himself and wrapping his arms around his midsection. He seems ready to fall over at any moment. The compulsion to stand next to him and give him something solid to lean against is strong, but Hannibal restrains himself. Will chose the chair across the room for a reason, and Jack would read the changes in their relationship if Hannibal were to move toward him. Hannibal can’t have that.

“If I could, I would,” Will says, looking up at Jack. His voice is heavy with weariness but his eyes are defiant. “Do you doubt that?”

Jack’s jaw works back and forth. “No,” he answers at length. “No, I don’t.”

“Then perhaps you will let him rest,” Hannibal says with a gesture toward the exit.

He leads Jack to the entryway in silence.

“Do you think he’ll be well enough to work tomorrow morning?” Jack asks with just a hint of contrition on his voice.  

“Until he starts to improve, I cannot say,” Hannibal answers.

“I would appreciate it if you’d give me a call then and tell me how he’s doing,” Jack says. He’s finally gotten the message Hannibal has been fairly shouting at him: he will leave Will alone.  

“You will hear from me,” Hannibal replies as he lets Jack out.

Hannibal lingers in the kitchen, stirring the broth he’s had simmering since this morning, until his anger and annoyance have subsided. He doesn’t want Will to pick up on them.

Will is back in bed when he returns, sitting up and holding his stomach protectively. He hasn’t taken the robe off. It looks good on him. Hannibal makes a note to get one for him.

Will looks at him through pained eyes. “I think I pulled a muscle.”

“I’m sorry,” Hannibal says. “I should have treated that symptom earlier. It’s not doing you any good?”

“No,” Will says.

“I’d like to give you the same medicine Dr. Bloom gave you yesterday,” Hannibal says. “It will make you sleepy, but it won’t sedate you.”

Will nods slightly, then shivers violently and rubs his arms, trying to warm himself.

If only Will would let himself be held.

Hannibal busies himself preparing medicine for Will. He has enough self-control not to act on his impulses, but they will eventually be hard to ignore.

“I have let your temperature remain too high as well,” Hannibal says.

“I thought it was part of the solution,” Will replies.

“Not if it’s preventing you from resting.”

Will has arranged himself on his side again when Hannibal has the injections ready.

“I don’t want to sleep,” he says hollowly as Hannibal pushes dimenhydrinate.

Hannibal sees Will’s ghosts lingering just beyond his vision. Waiting to claim him when he sleeps. Waiting to devour the sense of self he has somehow managed to retain.

“Perhaps I could read to you?” Hannibal offers. He sets the empty syringes aside and moves a chair next to the bed again. “This is in Italian,” he says, showing Will the book. “Listening for the rhyme and rhythm will occupy your mind.”

Will glances at the cover. “Purgatory?” He laughs weakly.

“It seemed an appropriate choice.”

Will looks up at him. His trust is nearly absolute. Too, Hannibal sees something in Will’s eyes he can only describe as love.

He reaches out tentatively to brush a lock of hair out of Will’s eyes. When his fingers touch Will’s forehead, Will closes his eyes and enjoys it. Hannibal rests his hand on Will’s head for a moment longer than he should. He’s rewarded with a contented expression from Will.

Hannibal withdraws before he goes any further. He must proceed slowly.

He turns to Canto XXVI and reads to Will about lustful penitents exchanging passionate kisses.

Chapter Text

As soon as Hannibal more or less makes Jack leave, Will is assaulted by the faces of the eleven people whom he’s repeatedly killed in his mind over the past week. They rush at him like a hurricane-force wind.

Andrew Caldwell. The medical examiner whose license had expired. Will sees himself cutting a slit below Caldwell’s stomach, digging his fingers into the hot, alive muscles and viscera to reach the organs, and ripping. Ripping with his strong, determined, steady hands, with confidence and assurance. He feels such contempt, such disdain for this scum. Caldwell does not deserve to live. His death must diminish him. He places Caldwell on a bus to be schooled.

Joseph Matthew Lingard. The electrical contractor and devout Baptist who said the wrong thing. A blow to the head and he’s down. Will carries him to the dark space in his mind, pries his mouth open, and inserts a small steel bar. He holds Lingard’s head in place and grasps his tongue, that strong muscle attached like an oyster to its shell. Will waits for a moment, anticipating this violent act. Then he rips.

Later, when he composes the scene – Lingard in the pew, Bible in his hands – he uses the organ to mark Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.”

This little piggy must suffer.

Will shivers, both in body and mind, made colder by the scorn he feels as the Ripper. Hannibal’s robe is keeping him warmer than he’d otherwise be but he’s still not warm enough. He’s been warmest in bed. He must get back to bed.

Will stands carefully, mindful of the abdominal muscles that strain and pull painfully when he breathes and scream at him when he moves. He feels like he’s been doing sit-ups for hours. One hurts worse than the others, though. He recognizes the cramping tightness of a pulled muscle as he sits against the headboard and draws his knees up to his chest along with the comforter. He slips his arms around his stomach and gently rocks back and forth, trying not to listen to the roaring in his mind like a lion hunting the nearest despicable warthog.

The next person who’ll die. Whom Jack thinks he can save. Whom he must save if he is to feel good about himself.

Frustration blindsides him. His hands ball into fists as they clutch his sides. He wants to rage against the illness that’s robbed him of his ability to work. At the fear that he can’t think straight any longer. That he can’t keep the men he profiles out of his head. That more people will die because his headspace is too full of the things he’s imagined doing.

There they are again. They overtop the levee in his mind and flood his vision, blocking out his view of the room.

He drives a broken piece of cast iron like the sword of justice through Norman Tisdale’s hand and arranges his eyeballs on the scales of justice next to him. He rips the arms off of Calvin van der Hoff while he’s still in his best suit. He makes Mrs. Turner watch before he shoots her in the head. He drives Hobbs back, body flailing, with a hail of gunfire.

Hobbs looks at him and knows exactly who he is.

See? See?

The hallucination breaks off and he’s himself again, shuddering and shivering, as unable to separate the sensations from their causes as he is to cordon off the acts he’s committed from the acts he’s imagined. These killers, they’ve laid siege to the stronghold in his mind. His head throbs, punishing him for looking. For seeing.

Will takes a deep breath and focuses on another sense. The scent of Hannibal that’s wrapped around him like a blanket easily supplies a distraction, edging out the fear as oil disperses water.

Hannibal gave him this robe so he wouldn’t feel so exposed in front of Jack. But did he have any idea how comforted Will would feel in it? How close he is to feeling safe? How badly he needs to feel safe?

He must have, Will thinks. Everything Hannibal does is deliberate.

Part of Will prickles at the thought of someone else thinking so much about him. And yet Hannibal’s consideration doesn’t make him feel claustrophobic. Maybe that’s because Will hasn’t had to think about Hannibal thinking about him before. But maybe it’s just because it’s easy to be with Hannibal.

Will growls to himself. It’s easier not to want, not to expect. One can avoid disappointment that way.

It’s easier to keep it professional.

But he’s seen in Hannibal’s expression today that all Hannibal wants for him is some modicum of peace and happiness. They both know such things don’t exist for him. All the same, Hannibal has offered succor, getting closer than Will ever thought he would.

In doing so, he’s acknowledging the impossibility of the ideal but trying for it anyway.

Will knows what that’s like.

He hisses and shifts his hands to his turbulent, aching stomach. Hannibal returns just in time to see him wince.

“I think I pulled a muscle.”

There’s more of a groan in his voice than he would prefer and Hannibal’s face turns all concerned and sympathetic. That is, all reserved, subtle concern and sympathy. Reserved or not, it makes Will feels better. He nods when Hannibal says he needs the drug Alana gave him yesterday. It makes him drowsy and that makes him wary. He’s seen too much already in his dreams today. But it stops his symptoms; the very idea of puking even one more time makes his muscles clench with pain.

A violent shiver overtakes him and he runs his hands along his arms in an attempt to banish the chills. It’s not working. He needs to lie down. Needs the cocoon of Hannibal’s robe and the sheets and the comforter – and yes, the goddamn medicine. Carefully, he curls into a ball yet again and offers his arm to Hannibal for another round of drugs. Hannibal wants him to rest – says the fever he has is preventing him from resting. Will knows that’s true. He’s been restless all morning, unable to settle comfortably, but still sleep has claimed him again and again, opening him to the lions waiting to pounce.

“I don’t want to sleep,” he says, more to himself than to Hannibal, as he watches the drug enter his bloodstream. He’s going to fall asleep again no matter how much he wants to avoid it. But perhaps saying aloud that he doesn’t want it will stave off the carnivores for a while.

“Perhaps I could read to you.”

Will looks up with interest even as he feels dizzy stupidity creep over him. Hannibal is moving the chair again next to the bed where he prefers to sit when he wants to watch Will closely. He has a book. A book in Italian: La Divina Commedia. Will recognizes Mount Purgatory on the cover and recalls a literature class from college and the rich stone and wood interiors of many different Catholic churches in southern Louisiana. The penitents climbing the mountain toward heaven, bearing their suffering and sorrow because they know it will end.

He laughs weakly, wincing when his stomach muscles protest.

“It seemed an appropriate choice,” Hannibal says, clearly pleased by Will’s reaction.

It’s entirely appropriate. And it seems like a good thing to try as a way to stay awake and focus his attention on something other than his body. Hannibal thinks of everything. Every last thing. To have that benevolent, mindful attention focused on him – that love, because that’s what it is, love, whether it’s platonic or romantic – it makes something well up from deep within him, something he thought he felt only for his dogs. It’s on his face, he knows, and he sees it in Hannibal’s face, too. Regard. Care. Love.

And then Hannibal reaches out, not entirely sure of himself, for the lock of hair that’s fallen into Will’s eyes. A tender touch to match the tenderness in Hannibal’s eyes. Will closes his own eyes so he can concentrate on the feeling of Hannibal’s fingers on his forehead. Jesus, it’s nice. Hannibal’s hand comes to rest on his head and his analytical mind notes the resonances this gesture has with a blessing. Though he isn’t Catholic, he’s reminded of that culture, one he knows well. Confession – contrition, disclosure, penance. Absolution. I absolve you from your sins. Go in peace, my son.

Will exhales and pushes those thoughts aside and lets himself simply be. He’s peaceful and content. Hannibal’s hand disappears too soon.

In its place, Will hears the rustling of pages being turned. And then Hannibal begins to read.

His voice, so familiar, is made foreign by a language Will doesn’t know. He hears the rhythm and the rhyme Hannibal told him to listen for – and so much more than that. He hears a story. He sees himself meeting Hannibal in a different life, perhaps in a life that saw him staying in New Orleans and not seeking the FBI and managing to stay more stable.

He envisions a café tucked in an alley off of the French Quarter and Hannibal as a mysterious, alluring man with a kind smile and handsome face who routinely sits outside under the awning and drinks coffee and reads and studies Will from a distance. No one else exists in this world. It’s just the two of them. He approaches Hannibal after observing from afar. Hannibal smiles and begins to read. The words that flow from his kissable lips are melodious and beautiful and deeply meaningful. The words dance, each pirouette and plié executed with aplomb. Their ballet transitions into a passionate tango and the words move hip to hip in a tight rhythm, mimicking that most ancient dance. Hannibal’s message is clear: he means to drive Will mad with lust. Will feels the fires of lust burning close by, ready to consume him. Hannibal is pleased by his reaction and lusty himself. Will can see that when Hannibal glances up from the page. His eyes are piercing and desirous, bare with want and need. Will quivers, enraptured.

Will imagines standing inside those fires, warmed but not burned by them, and dancing hip to hip with Hannibal. The words create the rhythm, fast but controlled. Sometimes Hannibal leads, sometimes Will does. The give and take is equal for they are matched in skill and desire, entirely honest and knowing and known. He’s never felt so confident and self-assured before, and when he kisses Hannibal, he tastes the sweetness of crème de menthe and coffee. The musical language fades into the background and he hears instead the little noises of want and need they’re both making.

He kisses Hannibal for a long time, tongues tangling and teeth nipping as they dance like the words in the French Quarter. Hannibal’s neat, quick hips move expertly beneath his hands. Hannibal caresses and squeezes him in all the right places. Will is both fulfilled by this contact and longing for more, but he’s patient. Hannibal is patient. They’re in no hurry. There’s all the time in the world to lay down with Hannibal and claim and be claimed.

After a while, Hannibal’s tone changes. It’s less urgent, less intense, and soon drifts into the gentle rocking of a lullaby. Whatever is happening in the story, it’s peaceful – in the way that a walk in the woods is peaceful. The scene shifts in his imagination to a hidden trout stream in the Smoky Mountains known only to him and the black bears. He’s just taught Hannibal to fly fish – how to cast and where to cast and how to set the hook when a fish hits the top of the water like life bursting forth into the universe. They’ve caught enough brook trout to have a fine supper. Hannibal helps him clean the fish and batter and fry them, and they eat the fresh trout with a squeeze of lemon as they pass a bottle of whiskey back and forth. Hannibal looks like a master woodsman in the cotton and denim Will has chosen for him. Then they lounge under the trees in their camp as the sun begins to set. Like the words Hannibal reads, the scene is contemplative and tranquil. A controlled serenity, a serenity of choice. The moment stretches itself out like a dog in a sunbeam.

Will is happy. Deeply, truly happy.

The scene follows him into his dreams when he drops into sleep. The stag watches from the ridgeline as he and Hannibal lie in each others’ arms next to the babbling brook.


Hannibal watches Will relax as he reads Dante’s narrative of ascending to the forest of the Terrestrial Paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory and bathing in the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness that washes away memories of mortal sins, and the Eunoe, the river that fortifies memories of good deeds performed in life. Just as he knows Will was seeing lust when Hannibal read of the lustful penitents, he knows Will sees the forest and the rivers, the bliss of forgetting sin and recalling virtue. Given Will’s passion for fishing, evidenced not only by the elaborate fly-tying apparatus but also the numerous fly rods in his house, he should be in a pleasant sylvan place. Perhaps he will dream of fishing. Perhaps he will dream of lust.

Whatever he’s dreaming of, he’s sleeping peacefully. Hannibal is pleased that he’s given Will this measure of tranquility.

It won’t last. It can’t.

But the afternoon and evening pass easily for Will. He sleeps and rests and even manages some of the broth, aided by medication. He feels well enough to take a badly needed shower while Hannibal changes the sheets on the bed. That simple act tires him considerably, though, and he’s pale and pained when he emerges, dressed in his own clean shorts and a t-shirt. Hannibal gives him more of the tincture and he relaxes again. He asks for a translation of the Purgatorio and wants Hannibal to show him which passages he’d heard earlier. He’s asleep again before he finishes the first canto.

Hannibal seizes this opportunity to dose Will with a decent measure of loperamide and enough diazepam to keep him under for at least four hours.

The Ripper has work to do.

He thinks of Will as he composes the scene in the disused part of the rail yard near the Port of Baltimore. He dresses the tax accountant he’s slowly killed and violently dismembered in penury: a study in want, neglect, and privation. The show isn’t intended so much for Will or Jack or anyone else as it is to express the idea of destitution. However, the poverty of spirit Jack nurtures in Will – and Will abides in himself – remains in his thoughts even as he leaves the scene.

Nearly five hours have passed by the time he has stowed the healthy, pink lungs he took from her – every part of her training for marathons, evinced by the 26.2 sticker on her vehicle, shows in the organ – and cleaned the last traces of evidence from himself in the shower.

It’s after midnight. No one will find her until the sun is up. He’s made sure of that. He expects Jack to bang on his door around 8 a.m. and demand Will, no matter what shape he’s in. He had accounted for Will’s condition and Jack’s imperiousness when he selected the location and timing of this last one. He expects to be invited to the scene. In fact, he’s counting on it.

As much as he wants to protect Will from himself and Jack’s willingness to use him, he adores watching Will’s mind work. To watch him in the morning will be to relive the event through a pair of eyes that will see everything he’s seen and, what’s more, feel it deeply. He’s already envisioning Will’s reaction – the subtle changes to his expression that indicate such a range of emotion.

He hears the bathroom door close as he warms two thick slices of excellent farm bread in butter; he adds a small pot of broth to the stove. He’s nearly done layering cold cuts and vegetables on the bread when Will appears, walking gingerly, and goes straight for the chair next to the butcher’s block.

“Midnight snack?” Will asks as he lowers himself carefully.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Hannibal replies, placing the top slice on the sandwich. He’s tired – he wouldn’t consume such pedestrian fare otherwise – and he knows he looks it.

Will scrubs a hand across his face and yawns. “You should try some of that Valium,” he says, his tone slightly accusatory. His attempt to look annoyed with Hannibal fails; he’s still too calm physically.

Hannibal pours the warm broth in a bowl and gestures toward the dining room. He waits for Will to get to his feet and lead the way.

“I’m sorry I had to do that,” Hannibal says. “You were having a terrible dream. I couldn’t wake you. You fought when I tried to calm you down. I worried you would hurt yourself.”

Will sinks into the nearest chair, his eyes searching the floor. He frowns and shakes his head. “I don’t remember any of that.”

Hannibal places the bowl in front of him and sits across the table. “Like other drugs in its class, Valium can cause amnesia,” he explains.

Will pensively stirs the broth. After a few minutes, he looks up at Hannibal. His eyes catch on the sandwich and he can’t stop himself from commenting.  

“That’s the least complex thing I’ve seen you eat.”

“Midnight snacks tend to be simple,” Hannibal replies. He glances from Will to the broth.

Will swallows a spoonful, his movements automatic, his eyes still lost.

“What was I dreaming about?” he asks the table.

“I don’t know,” Hannibal answers. “You’ve had a lot of bad dreams today. I assume you remember some of them.”

Hannibal sees the ghosts appear before Will’s eyes as he shudders. It’s exquisite self-inflicted torture. Too many emotions, all at once. He watches as Will blinks them away, fighting for his sanity.

“It’s better if you talk about it,” Hannibal says.

Will stares at the table. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

He’s lost again. At Hannibal’s urging, he eats more, but he doesn’t look up. Hannibal wonders much time he will need to break down Will's refortified walls. Like Sisyphus, he will keep pushing the stone up the hill. Unlike Sisyphus, he will one day succeed.

He and Will sit quietly at the table with an empty plate and an empty bowl between them. A long time passes before either of them moves.

Chapter Text

“You’re sure you’re feeling all right?” Hannibal asks as the Baltimore cityscape flows past the car.

Will, his eyes fixed on some indeterminate spot on the horizon, hums a distracted yes. He’s been reserved and pensive since he woke up a few hours ago. Hannibal recognizes his behavior as that of an unsure person who needs distance so he can process significant new information. He’s taking the changes in their relationship seriously.

He’s also preparing himself to look at the crime scene. Though Hannibal has not seen Will enter the dissociative state for which he’s renown among scholars of psychiatry and criminal behavior, he knows that Will must ready himself to do what he does. Like any other professional in a field filled with violence, he has his adaptations, his rituals. Still, the assault on his psyche is as consequential as a concussion or broken bone, though he has no visible wound for anyone to see.

Hannibal feels badly that Will must bear such a blow. Killing the profligate, rude, and frankly bad tax accountant had been for Hannibal no different from swatting a fly – except that the fly does not always deserve it. But he conveys intense emotion his work, and Will will feel every bit of that emotion. The mix of sorrow and sympathy he feels for Will hurts. True, like all of his emotions, these are rarefied and distant: more the ideal form of a feeling than the feeling itself. But hurt is hurt.

He takes a small measure of comfort in the fact that Will is well-rested for once. Fed, too, though Hannibal doesn’t consider white rice and toast much of a meal. Still, Will is as ready for this task as he ever is. Perhaps he’s a bit better prepared than usual, actually. When they finally retired last night, Will asked for a dose of the tincture to ease the cramps that still bothered him, laid down, and said nothing when Hannibal, in full pajamas, joined him. Instead, Will merely opened his bleary eyes once, registered that he had a bed mate, and closed his eyes again. He fell asleep quickly and wasn’t bothered by dreams enough to wake Hannibal or himself.

Hannibal wonders how many days will pass before Will comes back to him. Not very many, he thinks. Not when Will, in spite of his general disquiet and specific anger over having been sedated again, allowed Hannibal to share the bed with him. Not when Will slept facing him and dreamed little or not at all. Not when he acted like it was the most normal thing in the world to do.

Hannibal glances at him. He looks as defeated as Jack had looked this morning when asked if Will was well enough to come to the crime scene. Will had caught up to Hannibal by then and answered for himself. He’s not fully well yet – though he should be by this evening – but he’s well enough to be bored at Hannibal’s house if he were made to stay; hence, he’s ready to return to work. Well enough is, well, enough.

And so while Will got dressed in the hunter green shirt that compliments his complexion and personality, Hannibal packed soup, rice, and toast for him. He’ll call Alana later and ask her to have lunch with Will so that he both takes a break and eats; he may need to be persuaded to go home then, too. Not only will she happily oblige, she may even consider this a favor, given her romantic and professional interests in Will. Though Will reciprocates her romantic interest, she doesn’t represent competition with Hannibal in either sphere: they each have very different, not at all mutually exclusive relationships with Will. She and Will could be good for each other, but at present they aren’t. She knows this. He probably does not. But whatever relationship they develop is likely to be the normative kind, whereas what he and Will have is anything but normal, even if aspects of it have begun to feel that way.

“This is the last one,” Will says hollowly as the car approaches the police cordon. “We didn’t catch him.”

Hannibal glances over. Will is talking to the floorboards, giving himself over to his voracious guilt.

“You sound like you hold yourself responsible. Yet you said earlier that you did not expect to catch him this time.”

Will rubs his eyes as though he’s already got a headache, a gesture that also concedes the point.

Hannibal parks behind Jack’s enormous SUV. “I assume Agent Crawford will want you to stay. I will leave the food and medication with him.” He pauses.

“Will.”

He waits for Will, who’s been watching the forensic scientists mark evidence, to look at him.

“Promise me you’ll take care of yourself today. Eat. Don’t exhaust yourself. Go home and see your dogs at a reasonable hour. Promise that you won’t undo my work.”

Will blinks at the last sentence, caught between annoyance at what he sees as interference in his life and gratitude that someone cares enough to interfere.

“Okay,” he says, his eyes momentarily clear. “I promise.”

Hannibal rewards him with a smile. Will returns it more out of the natural human tendency to mimic others’ expressions than genuine emotion, but Hannibal knows that he will go back to this moment later, when his head is not so crowded, and analyze its shades of meaning.

He follows Will toward the scene, trailing behind him and Jack but staying close enough that he can hear their conversation. Jack is all business, asking no questions about Will’s health, even though Will walks slowly and Jack has to reign himself in to keep the pace. Hannibal observes the dozens of FBI agents working the scene. They haven’t missed anything yet, as far as he can tell, and they’re being careful not to tarnish the scene. No one admires his work as thoroughly as the FBI, with their compulsive documentation, collection, and preservation of evidence. It’s quite flattering. If only all of his dinner guests appreciated his creations so expertly.

Will is a careful observer, too. He studies the scattered remains, taking in their arrangement relative to each other and the scene as a whole. He stops frequently, sometimes kneeling, twice touching. He’s particularly interested in the rips and cuts at the joints, and the gaping wound made to access the lungs. This is clearly part of his process: he seeks first to understand the details of this design, to use his word for what Hannibal thinks of as composition, before he opens himself to the motivation and emotions behind it.

Once he’s made a thorough lap, he stops and he and Jack exchange a meaningful look. Jack barks out an order that sends two dozen agents away from the crime scene. Hannibal slips up behind him.

“You’ll forgive me, Agent Crawford, I have yet to see him do this. Might I observe?”

“Go ahead,” Jack replies. “Just don’t get too close. It interrupts him.”

And so now he has the pleasure of witnessing the appreciation of Will Graham, the only person who has ever understood the Ripper in his parts and as a whole. Will is getting closer to understanding Hannibal Lecter in his parts and as a whole, too, but Will won’t see them as the same entity until Hannibal is ready for him to see.

Hannibal positions himself at an oblique angle so he can observe without being seen immediately. Will removes his glasses and closes his eyes. His concentration is pure and absolute. Even from twenty yards away, Hannibal can tell that he’s maintaining a steady physiological state. Hannibal is reminded of a person meditating. Of course, Will is not seeking internal cohesion or insight, compassion or patience, but instead the violence, malice, and guile of a consciousness not his own. Yet for all the activity Hannibal knows is taking place behind his eyes, his body shows only a hint of tension.

That practiced calmness has held him in good stead; it’s part of the ritual that’s kept him going this long. His silence in the car was just as much a part of it as the circling of the crime scene and the relaxed but alert posture. Only something as constructed as a ritual has allowed him to separate himself from the people he temporarily becomes. Still, it’s been obvious from the sleepwalking, the headaches, and the hypnagogic and peducular hallucinations - all intensified by the inflammation of his brain - that Will is slipping into psychosis. His increased capacity for cognitive and affective empathy opens him to worlds of other people’s emotions – and he chooses to inhabit only the most violent, chaotic, and destructive of those worlds. He is a dark man indeed, more than capable of equaling the Ripper if he chose to do so.

But he does not. His reality is governed by mainstream moral and ethical beliefs, chief among them the dictum that thou shalt not kill. However, the divide between his experiential and imagined realities has become so porous of late that soon Will may not know what he’s done and what he hasn’t done. He will be vulnerable to charges of murder from those who dislike or fear him and would prefer to see him locked up, and he won’t be capable of defending himself because he won’t be sure what’s real and what isn’t.

In a flash, Hannibal sees all of this as though it has already happened. He had suspected most of it before he saw Will at work; seeing Will take on the Ripper’s perspective solidifies his opinion. A good portion of Will’s mind – perhaps all of his unconscious mind – believes he’s killing this woman because he envisions it in such detail and with such clarity that he may as well have done the deed himself.

For the first time, Hannibal wonders if there’s a point of no return for Will. He fancies that when things turn truly ugly, he can treat Will’s dissociation if he’s given the opportunity. He can bring Will back from the depths of psychosis. When he first met Will, he had intended to bend Will’s gifts toward other, more violent ends. But that was when destroying Will was just as interesting as protecting him. That phase did not last long. It’s far better to have Will alive and functional if not also well – to help him see his own goodness. That is, if he doesn’t slip so deeply into his torn mind that he’s out of Hannibal’s reach.

He watches as Will suddenly opens his eyes, takes a deep breath like a man breaking the surface of the ocean, and pants, his chest heaving. He’s frantic. Traces of the Ripper’s contempt and brutality linger in his eyes. He calls Jack over. Hannibal hears Will explain the finer details of this kill. He gets everything right, interpreting each decision as though he’d made it himself.

This is what it looks like to feel the emotions Hannibal merely expresses. He swells with pride. Will is a magnificent creature.

He will be haunted by the violent dismemberment of this pig when he sleeps. Perhaps his arms will ache as Hannibal’s do now from last night’s vicious rending limbs. Perhaps Will’s own flesh will mirror Hannibal’s until they become one flesh, joined by violence and passion.

Hannibal has never felt a more intimate connection with anyone than he does at this moment with Will Graham. He had not thought such intimacy was possible. And so when Will comes to him in the next few days because he can’t sleep, Hannibal will take him in and call to mind this moment’s overwhelming, intoxicating closeness. He will render unto Will the same vitality and pleasure that Will has given him. Together, they will find a perfect unity.

Chapter Text

By the time he’s talked to Jack and thanked Hannibal again for everything he’s done, Will feels wrung out. All of the energy he had upon arriving at the scene is so distant a memory that it may as well belong to someone else. He needs coffee to stay awake, but there’s none at the scene and he promised Hannibal he’d take care of himself, which he assumes means that he’ll listen to his body. He isn’t very good at listening to his body. It’s more often an encumbrance and a hindrance than it is a help. But for once Jack makes it easy for him to do what he should when Jack starts driving back to Quantico without a word. Will sleeps well in vehicles, having learned to do so at a young age, and he drops off quickly.

The Ripper is there waiting for him. He sees everything again: the swift, sharp blows that incapacitated her; the removal to that unknown location his mind represents as a dark room; the methodical but passionate and enjoyable ripping. This time, he twists and tears muscles, ligaments, and tendons until the balls of bone come free of their sockets in tugs so violent that he has to take a few steps back to steady himself. She’s alive as he does this, though faint with shock and pain. He feels great power in these feats of strength; the burn in his muscles reflects his own might. He uses a hatchet to separate the feet and hands. The hack marks evince a steady, practiced hand. It’s his own hand, made strong by the ample time he spends working outdoors, running, and hiking with a few of the dogs, activities he keeps up because the exercise helps him sleep.

He transports her parts to the rusted-out, graffiti-covered, post-industrial wasteland portion of the rail yard. He arranges the limbs, torso, and head to suggest impoverishment and abandonment so severe that she was left in this derelict place and torn to pieces by wild beasts. He knows his audience will learn that she’s wealthy or a financial services professional or both, and that they will appreciate his statement about her then. It’s at once an intensely personal and entirely removed manifesto – the work of an artist who spends hours preparing his performance only to sit back and pare his nails indifferently while his work is admired.

When he wakes with a sudden intake of breath a few miles from the Academy, his entire body is tense and he’s covered in a fine sheen of sweat. Jack notices but says nothing. As nightmares go, this one was tame. There will be others, though, and those others will be worse.

Will straightens up and, eager to get out of his own head, says “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you catch him.”  

Jack glances at him, his expression guarded. His jaw works back and forth as he rejects responses to Will’s apology. After a moment, he sighs.

“I’m not one to wonder what might have been,” Jack says. “It’s a waste of time. But in this case, I do. You’re going to stay away from raw seafood from now on, aren’t you?”

It’s not a question. Nor, Will thinks, does it really need to be asked. He can live without ever eating raw meat again.

Will blinks and sees himself as the Ripper. It’s his first kill. Miles Wakefield. He kills the man by ripping the heart from his chest. Forearm deep in the chest, he grasps the heart tightly, feeling its beat quicken with adrenaline, and holds it for a moment. He feels its last pump as he squeezes and tears. As he pulls it out of the chest cavity, blood covers his hand with hot, sticky life.

He doesn’t eat it like an animal, tearing chunks off with his teeth. He’s more refined than that. With a sharp knife, he slices it thinly and eats it off the blade like hunters do with the heart of the first deer of the season.

Like Hobbs did.

See, see,” Hobbs urges. Now you understand.

Will blinks and it’s gone. Adrenaline has him ready to run – or shoot. He notices that they’ve passed through the gate already. How long was he gone?

“Will?”

Jack’s looking at him like he expects an answer, not as though he’s been wondering if Will is present or not.

“Yeah,” Will says.

Before he can think about what just happened, as a cramp stabs him and sticks and fucking hurts. He hates – hates – that he has to ask Jack to drop him off at the entrance, but he’s not sure he can make it from the car to the closest restroom, much less from the parking lot.

Nearly half an hour passes before he’s rid of the urge and cramps and what seems like too much water. Though he’d vastly prefer coffee, he’ll have to start drinking water to replace what he’s lost. Of course, coffee is part water, he thinks as he looks at his red eyes and pale face in the mirror. He looks like a man who needs a strong cup of coffee.

Will remembers the bag of pills Hannibal put together for him this morning. Jack will have it. His mind wanders as he makes his way to Jack’s office. When he saw that neat stack of containers and plain brown bag, he felt like a boy being sent off to school with ample provisions – something he’s seen in movies rather than experienced himself. It still feels strange, being looked after like this. He doesn’t want it to stop feeling strange. If it does, that’ll mean he’s begun to expect it and he can’t expect anything from anyone. He can’t open the last remaining fragments of himself to injury.

Jack isn’t in his office, but Will spies the bag and happily claims it before starting his search for warm and not too old, if not hot and fresh, coffee. He nearly runs into Alana Bloom at the door to the break room.

“Will,” she says cheerfully. “I was just looking for you.”

He glances from the containers of food Hannibal packed from him to what’s obviously her own lunch.

“I see that,” he says. “Hannibal has you checking up on me?”

She shrugs. “He wanted me to make sure you eat.”

Will nods. “I’m going to get coffee.”

Her eyes narrow playfully. “Water is better for you.”

He sighs. “I’m going to get water.”

He fills a glass while she waits. When he tries to help her with the containers, he nearly fumbles them and curses himself for his awkwardness. Somehow, though, they make their way to his lecture hall without incident.

“I heard the scene this morning was especially gruesome,” Alana says as they sit to eat.

“The Ripper wanted to end on a strong note,” Will replies, tossing back a handful of pills for his gut and his post-crime scene headache.

“I’m sorry you didn’t catch him.”

Her eyes are boring into his, missing nothing. His eyes flit around the room like a nervous dragonfly, occasionally skimming across hers. He eats to avoid talking about what he perceives as a failure. He doesn’t want to think about it, either, so he focuses his attention on the delicious soup Hannibal made for him, even though it’s the same thing he’s been eating since yesterday. He doesn’t recognize all of the herbs flavoring the soup and thinks that he ought to learn to distinguish them so he can properly appreciate Hannibal’s cooking.

“You’ve known Hannibal for a long time,” he says after a while.

“Ten years,” Alana says without missing a beat. “Maybe more than that. He was my mentor at Johns Hopkins.”

“That seems like a natural fit for him.”

She nods. “He was a great mentor.”

As he swallows another spoonful, he thinks, not for the first time, that Hannibal’s real calling might have been as a chef. He can’t picture Hannibal running a kitchen every day, though. Hannibal isn’t animated enough to match the chefs Will encountered when he worked as a dishwasher during his brief teenage rejection of the boatyard. He can’t imagine Hannibal yelling at anyone.

He’s a patient and kind, a mentor through-and-through. He certainly knows how to ask the right questions. Will thinks of how many conversations they’ve had in which Hannibal’s smart questions helped him see the answers. His opinions are equally helpful, too. All offered freely and without demand or expectation. And that’s why Will would do a great deal for him if he needed help.

What had seemed like a good idea yesterday – taking this thing he has with Hannibal further – seems like a good idea now, too. He keeps turning it over in his head, looking for reasons that will tip the balance one way or another between the fact that it’s easier not to get attached to people and his desire for a man who also seems to know this fact – and who still seems to want him.

“Why did he quit?” Will asks, trying not to sound too curious.

“He found academia too petty and political,” Alana answers. “He was bored.”

She smiles and oh God she’s attractive. “But you don’t find it boring,” he says flirtatiously.

It occurs to him suddenly that he’s aping a move he’s seen in movies by turning the conversation to her. It’s the ‘I’m trying to get into your pants by talking about you’ move. It tends to work – eventually. And he’s made it like it’s a reflex. He didn’t even think about what he said. This is why she’s never in a room alone with him. Jesus, he’s that obvious.

“I enjoy teaching,” Alana replies. “Hannibal enjoys practice.”

And that’s her response: a rejection via subject change. But Will hears something coy in her tone, too, and again doesn’t think before he speaks. “Did you two ever…?”

She laughs. This is what he likes about her: she isn’t offended by his bluntness. In fact, she seems to like it – or at least not to dislike it.

“Hannibal is an attractive man,” she answers, “and many people in my position have had affairs with their mentors. But no. Hannibal and I are friends and colleagues and nothing else.”

He hears a wistfulness now and knows she’s remembering a time when a relationship with Hannibal was possible. He hears, too, that it’s either not possible or not what she wants now. Because she wants him instead. And he wants her. But he isn’t sure how to proceed with her. In fact, he hasn’t thought past having sex with her. At present, that’s all he wants. It probably isn’t all she wants.

This is much easier with Hannibal. Sex is harder to imagine – he hasn’t been with a man since college and he didn’t give his best performance then – but he knows Hannibal will guide him and care for him and take him places he hasn’t been. He recalls the intense, lustful passion in Hannibal’s voice yesterday and the scenario he’d pictured while Hannibal read and he’s half hard before he can stop himself.

“You’re not eating much,” Alana observes.

Will starts and flushes and stares at the soup. Fuck. Hannibal is in his head and it’s so good that he doesn’t want Hannibal not to be in his head.

“I’m not very hungry,” Will mumbles at the soup. He’s consumed maybe a third of it, but it’s in a large bowl. He stirs it once and puts the spoon down. “I’ll have more later.”

“Okay, but you have to finish the water.”

Will nods, squirming and chaffing at this attention to his eating habits. This kind of attention makes him feel like his skin doesn’t fit right. Hannibal pays this same attention to him, but it never feels so intrusive.

“It’s good to see you better, Will,” Alana says.

Now he fidgets openly, toying with the spoon as he offers a brief smile. He’s relieved when their lunch date comes to an end. He’s not usually this awkward around her, but he’s also not usually thinking about how much he’d like to fuck Hannibal.

Alana advises him to sit and digest for ten minutes as she stands to leave. “You should go home soon, too, Will,” she says. “In a few hours,” she adds when he begins to protest. “Take this with you.” She brandishes the containers. Then she smiles and he sees her trump card coming. “Your dogs miss you.”

That does get him. His heart leaps at the thought of his dogs. He nods and thanks her.

He intends to see what progress Katz, Price, and Zeller have made on the remains, but first he must drink. He opens his laptop to read TattleCrime.com so he can distract himself from the fullness of his stomach. He so enjoys seeing Freddie Lounds eat crow that the distraction works and the water is gone before he knows it. He’s full and sleepy and pleased that Lounds looks like the charlatan she is. He thinks he’ll close his eyes for just a few minutes before he goes to the lab.

Two hours later, Jack shakes him awake. He doesn’t remember putting his head down on his laptop.

“Go home, Will.”

Will blinks and looks up with confusion.

“Dr. Lecter thinks you’re not ready to work yet,” Jack says. “He’s right. Go home. Get some rest. Come back as soon as you can get your head in the game.”

Will sees the same defeat on Jack’s face he saw this morning, along with a nettled expression that tells him Hannibal was more assertive than he usually is.

Will nods and packs his laptop and notes as Jack leaves. He remembers to stop for the food and soon is driving toward Wolf Trap: his dogs, his home. They’re so excited to see him that they forget their manners and jump on him.

“Don’t jump,” he scolds, then praises and pets them when they sit like good dogs. He sits, too, and lets them sniff and lick and express their doggy happiness until they’ve all given him a thorough welcome. He pulls himself up and inspects the house for the messes they always make when he leaves them alone for too long: a few destroyed toys, their stuffing strewn around the living room; some spilled food and water; two accidents. He lets them out so they can burn off some energy while he cleans.

Once the house is not so messy, he calls them in for dinner. He’s vaguely hungry himself and picks at the rice and toast while the dogs eat. He lets them back out again and watches to make sure each one gets ready to spend the night in.

While he watches, he wonders if he should call Hannibal to let him know that he made it home safely. He should. Of course he should. Hannibal has spent most of his time – no, all of his time – for the past few days taking care of Will. He owes it to Hannibal. And yet he stares at the phone in his hand for several minutes before he dials Hannibal’s number.

“Hi,” he says when Hannibal answers. “I just wanted to, ah, thank you again for all the help.”

When Hannibal speaks again, Will can hear him smiling. “You’re welcome. You made it home at a decent hour.”

He hears an unspoken thank you for keeping your promise in Hannibal’s tone.

“Yeah. There’s no reason to stay after this one. The forensics will be just as good tomorrow. And the dogs – ”

He breaks off and looks out the window to make sure they’re all there. It’s getting dark. He should bring them in.

“They are doing well?”

He blinks and realizes he stopped in the middle of a sentence.

“They are,” he answers, feeling stupid and realizing he has nothing to say to Hannibal right now. “Thanks for asking. And thanks for feeding them earlier.”

“You’re welcome. It’s always good to hear from you, Will.”  

And just like that, it’s over. Hannibal reads him so well that he always knows what Will wants and needs. He knew Will didn’t have anything else to say. He knows Will needs a few days – a night at least – to think about this. Hannibal gives him what he needs. And though it’s obvious that Hannibal wants, he’s isn’t needy himself.

Maybe that will change, but Will has seen what Hannibal wants – him – and he’s pretty sure Hannibal wants him on the same terms as he wants Hannibal: physical intimacy without the messiness of a relationship. This physical intimacy will be intense and meaningful, and it might be hard to keep it from spilling over into the friendly part of their relationship, but he thinks he’ll cross that bridge when he reaches it. And anyway, it’s not as though their relationship isn’t already weird.

As he locks the doors and turns out the lights in the house, he thinks of the handful of unguarded gazes Hannibal bestowed on him over the past few days. Yes, it’s obvious what Hannibal wants. He sees again lust on Hannibal’s face and takes a deep, shuddering breath. He palms himself through his khakis. He’s needed to do this for days now. He’s going to enjoy it. He flips through the fantasies he’s constructed about Hannibal, trying to select one. None of them seems right any more – because it’s not going to be a fantasy much longer. That idea makes his pants feel a size too small. He quickly slips out of his pants and shirt and begins to imagine what might happen if he showed up at Hannibal’s house late at night.

First, Hannibal would let him in. He would know right away why Will had come to him. Lust would flash in his eyes. He would smile and say “Good evening, Will,” and step aside to let him in.

Lust would smolder in Hannibal’s eyes throughout whatever conversation they need to have to make this happen. Then he would kiss Hannibal and – there. There’s the right fantasy.

Will smiles as he sits on his bed and turns out the last light.