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Out Of The Depths

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I have hills far steeper to climb, valleys much darker to pass through. And I have to get it all out of myself. Neither religion, morality, nor reason can help me at all.
-- Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

 

When he first wakes up, it’s not for long. It’s long enough to know he’s not really awake, to feel the drugs pinning him down in this blurry half-place. Long enough to feel the pain lurking in his body beneath them. Enough to realise he already knows just how shitty this is going to get, and to wish he didn’t.

-------------------

The second time, he has a few more minutes and he’s more aware. More aware of just how many tubes are in how many parts of his body (and some of those he’s a lot more aware of than others). Maybe he could move. Maybe he’ll choose not to – moving never leads to anything good when he wakes up like this.

There are people here. People who talk in medical jargon around him, and don’t talk to him. There’s someone beside him, and then there are more drugs and he can’t think any more.

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The third time, he’s actively seeking some clarity. ‘My name is Will Graham,’ he thinks. He doesn’t try to say it out loud. He doesn’t know when he last drank anything, but his throat is telling him it might have been weeks ago. ‘I don’t know when or where I am.’ After some further contemplation, ‘Every part of me that I think about hurts.’

He flexes a big toe to test that last thought. Okay, his toe doesn’t actively hurt, but the general increase in muscle tension sends pain knifing through his knee, and he huffs out all his air in a sudden loss of breath.

He can move and feel his leg, then, he concludes, as he sucks in replacement air. Until somebody tells him more medical details, he’s going to look at the positives and check that box as ‘good’ on the mental list he’s making.

Someone comes over to his bed again. They don’t make eye contact, except when they shine a light in his eyes and it makes him squint and then try to turn his head away, and he regrets that when the pain shrieks in his skull.

Will doesn’t try to talk to them, and they don’t talk to him, and while he’s not unhappy about the lack of conversation (he’s feeling the exact opposite of sociable right now), there’s something odd about it. Someone should be smiling at him, asking how he feels, telling him he’s going to be fine, and it’s good to see him awake. This person just wants to poke and investigate him, check on some of his tubes, entirely professional and entirely missing the personal.

It feels like Beverly scraping under his fingernails, while they watch the flakes of blood drop on to the sample tray.

He reaches out further, for more information (better too to ignore the person messing with his urinary catheter, always better to be somewhere else in his head while they do that). There’s medical equipment, drip lines and pumps and monitors, all standard, all modern units. There’s another set of footsteps nearby (in the room? Just outside the room? He’s not going to move his head again to check), and beyond that there’s… quiet.

There are windows, and there’s sunlight, and dust is dancing in the streaks of it above his head. It’s daylight, and a hospital should be full of endless, echoing noise, and it’s not.

The person by his bed has a needle now, and there are drugs again, and that’s as far as he gets.

-------------------

The fourth time… the fourth time, he’s a lot more alert than he’s been so far, though that’s a pathetically low bar to aim for, and Jack Crawford is sitting by his bed.

Jack’s head is dipped, hunched over the files in his lap, and from this angle his hair’s looking almost all grey now. Will can’t say he’s noticed that before.

“Jack?” It comes out whispered and cracked, not surprising Will and probably not Jack, since he’s here, waiting.

Jack lifts his head from the open file, gives Will a quick, assessing glance. “I’ll get you some water.”

Water comes from outside the room, it seems, and as Jack leaves, Will decides maybe it’s a good time to try that moving thing he’s been mostly avoiding. He braces hands and feet to push himself up the bed, and fuck, fuck, ow, that’s a serious reminder that he was stabbed in the shoulder.

The knee that bitched at him earlier isn’t entirely happy either, but that message is getting kind of swamped by the screaming from the nerves in the vicinity of his collarbone.

The pain ramps back down fairly quickly when he stops moving, so okay, he still has drugs on board, and they’re still working. He wriggles more to one side, so he can push mainly with his left hand, and by the time Jack comes back, he’s got himself half way sitting up against the pillows.

Jack gives him a contemplative look, but he doesn’t say anything, just offers him the glass, with a straw in it. Will takes it with his left hand.

The water is tepid, not cold, as he sips it. It slides over his tongue and down, without ice-teeth to bite at the healing ridge of tissue inside his cheek and the rawness in his throat.

“Thanks.” His voice sounds better this time, more Will and less an eighty-year-old smoker dying of emphysema. He takes a few more slow mouthfuls, rests the glass between his hands on the bed covers, and decides he might be able to manage an actual sentence.

“Where are we?” That part sounds almost normal, so he goes the rest of the way. “It looks like a hospital, but it’s not.” It doesn’t look too much like a hospital room, really, unless it’s a very expensive, private one, but Will doesn’t feel up to elaborating.

“No, it’s not. You’re at the Verger-Bloom estate.”

Will’s head starts to jerk up, stops short at the lance of pain, but he’s already looking Jack in the eye. “Alana?”

“Alana and her family aren’t here. I think you might remember why.” Jack’s tone is drier than Will’s throat. “I’m in contact with them, I have access to their property and their money for your care, but I don’t know where they are.”

Will lets his eyes drift closed again, the air leaving his lungs soft in a sigh. It’s good that they’re safe. It’s good that he doesn’t have to deal with Alana’s stares right now, as well as Jack’s.

“What day is it?”

“Friday. Four days since we found you.”

Five since the prison transport and the night at the cliff house. Fuck. He must have slept through an entire termite mound of activity.

And nobody’s handcuffed him to his bed yet. Will’s finding positives in all kinds of places today.

“Can you give me the medical rundown?” he asks. “The staff here aren’t chatty.”

“I assume you remember being stabbed?”

Hell, yes, he remembers being stabbed. He remembers every single time in shocking, techni-feely detail, all the way back to the first time when he was still a cop. He remembers Hannibal. “It’s hard to forget,” he says. “What else?”

“You have glass cuts and contusions just about everywhere. You bounced on your head at least twice.”

That all makes sense. “My knee?”

“It’s swollen, but you didn’t blow your ACL. There could be a partial tear - we’ll get it imaged if we need to, depending how it feels when you walk on it.”

It’s all… so much better than it could have been. Given he’s supposed to be dead.

Jack drags a hand across his face, over the top of his head. “You can’t imagine the last few days. I think I’ve had maybe one night of sleep over the five.”

“I might be willing to trade you,” Will offers.

Jack’s eyes on him are harsh. “I really don’t think you would.” He sighs, and slouches a little lower in his chair. “It’s chaos. So many meetings. FBI, the Marshals, the state police, everyone’s keen to pass the blame, and that’s when the official inquiry’s only barely gotten started. They’re all looking to me for explanations, and I don’t have a damn thing to give them. So why don’t you tell me, Will – what the hell happened out there?”

This has been inevitable since he woke up and laid eyes on Jack.

Will deliberately loosens his fingers around the glass as he lifts it, takes another slow drink before he starts to talk. He’s going to be talking for a while.

“Dolarhyde attacked the convoy in a cop car. He took out the police escort and set Hannibal loose. I hit my head when the van crashed. Hannibal grabbed my gun and took me with him. He thought he might need a hostage.” What he says has to be close to the truth – close enough to match everything the FBI will have found in the wreck of the house, and on top of the cliff. “Hannibal ran to a house he kept – he had clothes there, and cash. Dolarhyde must have followed us.”

Will waits for Jack to ask the obvious questions – how Dolarhyde knew about the transport, why he shot all the law enforcement but Will, why they didn’t notice a tail.

Jack doesn’t ask any of it. He just sits, watching Will.

Will takes another sip of his water in the silence. If Jack’s playing the let-them-talk game, he might as well get this over with. “Dolarhyde shot Hannibal through the window, before we even knew he was out there. Hannibal was down, he looked to be out of the fight, so Dolarhyde came after me. He stabbed me in the face and threw me out the window.” Close is going to work. The wine might be harder to explain, if Hannibal didn’t put such an emphasis on manners and playing the perfect host. The Italian police surmised he’d entertained more than one man at dinner who didn’t survive through to dessert. Will can make it hold.

“I stabbed Dolarhyde in the leg.” Will’s mouth twists up at the corner, and he feels the tug of stitches stiff and sharp along his cheek. “We stabbed each other back and forth, like whack-a-mole, only bloodier.” His shoulder is throbbing heat with every beat of his pulse as he tells it, even through the layers of drugs. “Hannibal jumped Dolarhyde from behind while he was still distracted with me; he got his hands on an axe from the wood pile.” Will can’t think about how Hannibal had looked then, moon-pale and bloody and vicious, how Hannibal had looked at Will, not while he’s talking to Jack. “We both attacked him then. I can’t say which one of us actually killed him. You’ll have to let the autopsy report do that.”

Jack sits up straighter again, as he finally interrupts. “You took out Dolarhyde, not Lecter?”

“He seemed like the priority at the time. I’m not ratcheting up the drama when I say he threw me out the window – he was strong.” Will looks down at the glass in his hand, swirling it to watch the water cling and drip down the sides. “You read his military background, saw what he left of the convoy. He would have killed me one on one, Jack. Hannibal was shot. He looked the better choice to be left alone with.”

“And once Dolarhyde was dead?”

Will lifts his head and stares Jack down, hard and cold and bitter with his words. “I pushed Hannibal over the cliff. He grabbed me and dragged me with him.”

Maybe Will’s used that tactic too often with Jack now – the more he needs to sell the lie, the more he uses eye contact to do it. Or maybe Jack’s just smart enough to know – he’s not Will, and he’s not Hannibal, but he’s not terrible when it comes to reading people. Either way, Jack’s not entirely buying what Will’s offering.

Will’s not going to change his story, especially not that last part. Having Jack add ‘suicidal’ to Will’s list of medical problems won’t do Will any favours, and he suspects he’s going to need all the favours he can get.

“You didn’t fall far. We found you on a ledge maybe twenty-five feet down, and the last bit was more a slide than a fall,” Jack says. He always has had bigger priorities than Will’s increasingly self-destructive choices, and for once it might actually benefit Will. Jack leans forward, elbows on the edge of the bed, and his hands are steepled tight. “What happened to Doctor Lecter?”

“I don’t know.” At least Will doesn’t have to lie for this part. “I don’t even remember landing.” He remembers falling, remembers the cold rush of wind roaring past his ears, with the ocean surf below.

“Did he still have a hold on you as you fell or did he let go?”

Falling, clinging, clutching ever tighter through the twists in his stomach as he waited for it to be over. No, there’d been no letting go, not from either of them.

This time he resists the urge to look Jack in the eye, just shakes his head once, a movement small enough not to hurt. “I don’t remember.”

Jack breathes out long, and sits back fully into his chair again. “Well, you’re alive, and we don’t have his body. I’m assuming he’s alive too, until we have real proof that he’s not.”

Will’s assuming the same. There’s no way one of them hit that ledge without the other. So what happened after that?

He doesn’t want to believe Hannibal saved himself and left Will there to die. He doesn’t want to believe Hannibal bled to death on the ledge before his body slid away into the sea.

He needs to ask, but Jack can’t make the connection.

“You haven’t found any sign of Hannibal?” he asks instead. “No blood anywhere else?”

“There was so much blood around, it was a nightmare to reconstruct – we had to wait for the lab testing to even be sure who bled where - but everything we have fits with what you said.”

“The car w- he stole was still at the house?” Careless. He needs to think it through more, but the drugs are like wool stuffed in his head.

If Jack noticed, he's not showing a reaction. “Under the carport, hidden from an aerial search.”

“Yeah, that’s where he left it.” That doesn’t mean anything. Hannibal probably took whatever Dolarhyde had been driving. “He must have owned that house for years, Jack. Long before he was arrested, just in case.”

“Seven years, at least. We found Miriam’s DNA there. And a fake passport with Abigail Hobbs’ photo on it.”

Abigail. Oh, shit, she still hurts.

“We didn’t find any IDs for Doctor Lecter,” Jack continues. “That’s another reason I’m going with ‘still alive’ as my main bet.”

That might be more promising. Maybe. “Unless he already picked it up, had it on him when he went over the cliff.” When Will pulled him off the cliff, when he tried to kill them both.

He’s… okay now, that he failed. ‘Happy’ isn’t something he feels capable of, but he doesn’t want to be dead, either.

“He might have,” Jack says. “It still leaves me needing a body before I’ll sleep through the night.”

Will can ask it now, what he needs to know. “How did you find me, Jack? How did you know where to look?”

“We finally got a signal from your phone at the house. Then we followed all the blood out to the cliff.”

His phone. He turned it off before he got in the police car. It was in his coat, hanging on a hook by Hannibal’s front door.

Hannibal’s alive. He’s alive, he made sure Will was found, and he got away.

Will thinks he’ll have to figure out how he feels about that at some point, but it won’t be now. The drugs are numbing everything, not just his body.

Maybe it’s the drugs. Or maybe it’s just him.

Numb to everything. It sounds almost good. Maybe he can figure out how to make it stick.

Jack bends down to scoop up the files from the carpet by his feet. “I’ve got to go, there’s another meeting – I can barely get away from the office this week.”

Will never would get the chance to look at those files. Even if Jack left the room again, he’s not up to crawling around on the floor and back into bed.

“Stay in bed,” Jack says. “I’ve told the staff not to bother you, so sit tight and let them do what they have to.” He walks away, crossing the room, towards the door.

Jack’s leaving, and Will hasn’t even asked. “How are Molly and Walter?”

Jack stops, turns back, and for the first time his face has softened, something close to sympathy in that look. “They’re safe. She’s healing. They’re doing about as well as you might think.”

Will can’t think of any way that normal people would deal with this. He’s been dealing with it for years, and he doesn’t ever do it well. “Can I talk to them? Can you arrange a phone call?”

Jack checks his watch. “I’ve really got to go. I’ll be back in a couple of days. We can talk more when you’ve had some more sleep.”

Will’s nowhere near drugged enough to miss that Jack didn’t answer the question.

-------------------

Will spends a lot more of the next couple of days awake.

He gets to know the routine. There are specific hours when he’s given painkillers and antibiotics; twice a day he gets thoroughly inspected head to toe, and food is reintroduced to his life. It’s a lot better than the food in any hospital he’s ever been forced to stay in. Even Hannibal might have said it was passable.

The painkillers mostly keep the headaches away, and the rest of his body bearable, if he’s careful what he does. The medical team remove about half of his tubes, and he manages to reach the bathroom by himself, over the bitter protests of his knee.

He spends so much more time awake, he’s starting to get suspicious about the first four days. Was he unconscious because of the head injury and the blood loss, or was he being kept deliberately sedated?

The nurses and doctors (he assumes they’re licensed, but he doesn’t ask) still don’t talk to him, beyond giving medical instructions. Jack said he’d told them not to hassle Will. That would be Will’s choice too, but it’s just as likely they’ve been told it’s a bad idea to get friendly with him.

He knows that downstairs there will be guards on the doors, with guns. What he doesn’t know is if those guards are all about protection, or if they’ve been told to make sure Will stays inside. He’s not going downstairs yet; he’s in pain getting as far as the bathroom, so the point is moot, but the question sits in his head.

He wonders if he’s getting paranoid. And then he laughs at himself hard, laughs until the pain is so bad he’s caught breathless between panting and sobbing, because possibly the most ridiculous thing about the past half decade of Will Graham’s life is that somewhere in the last eighteen months, he forgot to be paranoid.

He suspects his official status is currently a lot closer to ‘person of interest’ than innocent victim. Realistically, that’s the best outcome he can hope for.

It’s easier to think about that than about… anything outside these walls.

There’s going to be a lot more to think about. He just doesn’t want to do that yet.

Nobody else comes to see him, after Jack’s visit. That’s not surprising. Alana’s hiding with her family, likely on some private island somewhere, if she’s smart (and she is); Molly and Walter are… terrified, living under protection. There’s nobody else who might want to.

Except someone who wouldn’t get within a half mile of the doors to this house. And he’ll be smart about that too.

-------------------

Mid-morning of the third day, there’s a change to the routine. Breakfast, morning physical and dressing changes, first round of drugs, all the same. The eleven a.m. top up of opiates doesn’t happen.

It’s not forgotten. The blond male nurse (he never asks their names; maybe they wouldn’t tell him anyway) gives his IV antibiotic, works through the passive range of motion exercises on his knee, and updates his chart. Will’s still on his twelve hour schedule of non-steroidals. There’s just no morphine.

It’s a little past noon when Jack shows up in the doorway.

Jack’s first visit was timed for when Will was waking up, still part-drugged, conscious enough to hold a lucid conversation, but Jack was really wondering what Will might let slip if he got to him fast enough. Apparently Jack wants him entirely alert this second time around, and that’s… not necessarily boding well for where this chat will be going.

Will decides there’s no down side to getting his demands in first, and he starts before Jack even makes it to the chair. “I want to talk to Molly.”

Jack pulls up his seat, drops into it heavy and tired, but the look he sends Will’s way has no give in it. “You can’t.”

That’s… a lot more direct than he was expecting. “Why not?”

“Because officially, you’re not alive yet. I’d like you to think about keeping it that way for a while.”

It’s so ludicrous, Will takes a second to remember to breathe in again. Jack’s been involved in some convoluted, crazy plots (mostly Will’s plots, if he’s honest), but this is... “You didn’t tell anyone you found me?”

“No more than I had to. It seemed like the safest choice till we got some facts figured out.”

Well, that explains why he’s got this personal medical set-up in the Verger mansion, instead of a real hospital room. “Safer for me, or safer for you?”

“That’s one of the things I’m still figuring out. Maybe for both of us, in the short term at least.”

“So, I’m what right now? Missing?”

“Missing, and according to formal FBI statements, likely to be dead. As far as anyone knows, you fell from a cliff into the ocean.”

Missing. Shit, that’s... Dead would be one thing, dead would maybe even solve some problems in the end, but missing is too cruel; they don’t deserve that. “What about Molly and Walter? Leaving me ‘missing’ hardly seems fair on them, Jack.”

Jack leans forward from his chair, staring at Will hard, without a hint of sympathy. “Everything about this entire goddamn mess was unfair on them.”

“You coming to our door and dragging me back into everything I walked away from, that really was,” Will hits back.

It’s almost true, what he’s saying. He’d honestly thought he’d locked that version of himself away, sealed deep in the attic of his head, that his new life could be his future. The stupidity of that delusion is spectacular in hindsight – Hannibal would always have come for him, even if Will had slammed that door in Jack’s face.

Jack sits deep into the leather again, lets his breath out slow, and his voice is back to normal volume. “I don’t know exactly what happened last week, but I know none of it was the plan we talked about. I know Doctor Lecter’s on the loose again, and you don’t seem half so angry about that as I’m feeling.” His eyes fix on Will. “The only thing I can be absolutely certain of is that Hannibal Lecter’s not done with you. Do you want Molly and Walter to be there when he comes calling?”

No. Fuck, fuck, no. That can’t happen to them again; it should never have happened to them once. Flash of instant, familiar self-loathing, because Will did that to them.

It hurts, and he swats the anger away from himself, slamming it into the first part of Jack’s speech instead. “What exactly are you accusing me of, Jack?”

“Doctor Bedelia Du Maurier is no longer giving her scheduled lectures, but I imagine you wouldn’t know that since you’ve been asleep.” Jack’s tone has gone dry, dry like one of Hannibal’s Nantais folle blanche whites that he likes to serve with the shellfish. “Would you like to guess what I found, when I started poking through the details? I found that she was in touch with the storage company and putting her life in lockdown two days before news of Doctor Lecter’s escape ever went public. She was making her plans before I even filed the paperwork on the request for Hannibal’s transfer. Now she’s nowhere to be found. Again. And I have to ask myself, just how is it that that devious bitch could know how it was all going to go down long before I did?”

It’s hard to remember, looking at Jack now, that they used to look at one another as friends. They both know too much for that to ever come back.

Jack subsides into the chair again, and this time when he speaks, his words are almost soft. “This is the deal I’m offering, Will. As long as you’re officially missing, I don’t officially have to ask you any awkward questions about last week’s shit show. You get a place, nice and quiet, out of the way, just how you like it, and I’ll be waiting when Hannibal Lecter drops by to say hello.”

Will doesn’t have to give it even a moment’s thought. “Your plan has flaws, Jack. Hannibal’s not going to come looking if he thinks I’m dead in the Atlantic, and that’s what you’re letting everyone believe.”

“If Lecter’s alive, the way we’re both assuming he is, he knows the last place he saw you wasn’t in the ocean.”

That’s… undeniably true. Will offers up another truth in trade. “He didn’t come looking for me the last time he ran.”

“He didn’t have to,” Jack says, bluntly. “You went off chasing after him. He just left you the bodies, so you’d know where to look. This time you’ll be sitting tight, and he’ll come.”

Will’s paying a little more attention now – Jack seems to have put some real thought into this idea. “He won’t know where to find me, if you’re going to hide me away in some cabin in the woods.”

“He will, because you’re going to tell him.”

Will almost wants to laugh then, but he doesn’t because that would really fucking hurt, again, and baiting Jack’s not worth that much. “Whatever you think I might have done, Jack, I can promise you Hannibal didn’t stop to give me his forwarding address while he was escaping from a prison transport.”

“Wherever Hannibal Lecter’s gone, I don’t imagine he’s camping out in the kind of backwater that doesn’t have high speed internet,” Jack says, and Will doesn’t imagine he will be either. At first, maybe, because he’s injured, and he didn’t have time to plan ahead, but he’ll make more comfortable arrangements before long. “He’ll still be reading all about himself on Tattle Crime,” Jack continues. “He can’t resist it. I’m sure you can come up with a way to send him a message.”

It’s… almost starting to sound plausible, if still somewhat distant from the esteemed halls of ‘sensible’. Will looks at Jack now with genuine curiosity. “How do you plan to get Freddie on board with this?”

“You can promise her an exclusive,” Jack says. “’My fight to the death with not one, but two serial killers.’ It’s juicy enough that she’ll agree to hold off on publishing till you’re officially back in the world.”

Will’s face twists up tight, and there’s a flash of pain like his cheek is getting stabbed all over again. “You’re pimping me out to Freddie Lounds now? Just how many morals do you have left, Jack?”

“A lot less than I used to have,” Jack says, blandly matter-of-fact. “Maybe a few more than you, but I’m still figuring out that last part.”

It’s hard to be angry at that particular jab. Will’s still trying to work out for himself what moral lines he might have left, and he’s finding them uncomfortably sparse. “Well, I have to admire your confidence, Jack. You go to all this trouble to keep me your little secret, and now you think your best move is to tell a reporter.”

“Ms Lounds is alive because we both did the same for her once,” Jack says, and his assurance is total. “She’ll sit tight, if we ask her to.”

She actually might, if the pay-off looks to be big enough, but she’ll need to be convinced of some other factors too. “Even if I go for this deal, there’s no guarantee she will. The last time we played games with Freddie, the results were messy.” As much as he’s never liked Frederick Chilton, it’s vaguely disturbing to Will that he can say that and feel nothing. Or maybe it’s disturbing that it’s not disturbing. No regret, no pity. It’s all nothing.

Jack’s mouth twists down and his cheek twitches. Either he’s still a bit more human than Will’s feeling right now, or he’s just better conditioned in socially acceptable behaviour. “It was messy, but not for her, and Freddie deals in mess. She didn’t hold back on her coverage of what Dolarhyde did to Doctor Chilton.”

“Did she sneak into his hospital room to take photos?” Will can still feel something, apparently. He can still feel really bitter about that.

He’s just realising there’s at least one up side to being sequestered away in a billionaire’s mansion. He might have plenty of time to look for more.

“Oh, she tried, but he was still under armed guard. She got herself firmly escorted from the premises. I heard there were scuff marks on her shoes.” The humour’s all there in Jack’s voice now, the smile that rarely makes it onto his face, and for a second it’s almost like it was four years ago, before Will told Jack too many truths, and walked away.

Almost. But Will’s not that person any more, and Jack’s not forgotten that. “If all this works, Jack – if I cooperate, if Freddie cooperates, if Hannibal comes – what happens afterwards? Where does it leave me at the end of it all?”

Jack looks Will straight in the eye then, and he’s one hundred percent professional again. “You stay missing for as long as it takes to get Hannibal Lecter back in his cell, or better yet, dead. After that, it’s your choice – you can go back to being Will Graham, or you can become somebody else, get Freddie Lounds off your case forever.”

“Witness protection?” That seems unlikely, when Jack’s preferred option is that there’s nobody for him to be a witness against.

“Minus the protection. You get the identity; from there your life’s entirely your own.”

That sounds… almost pleasant. Not to be Will Graham any more – to be anybody, to be nobody. “What about Molly? Walter?”

Jack’s expression doesn’t shift. “If you take that part of the deal, it’s just for you.”

“You’d make me choose? I get my life or I get my family?” Will’s oozing bitterness again, and it may not be the best way to get anything he needs out of this, but he just can’t stop; every time they’re in the room, in his head, it’s there.

And for a second, so is that sympathy from Jack, the look Will saw when he asked to talk to them during Jack’s first visit. “You married a smart woman, Will. Maybe too kind for her own good, but she’s no kind of fool. The deal I’m offering you is that I stop asking questions. I’m not sure how you’d get that deal from Molly.”

Jack’s marriage was a good one, a long one. He knows a lot more than Will does about making relationships work, and Will knows enough to know he’s right. There aren’t any answers he can give Molly that would cover even half of what she’d need to know, and there’s nothing that will give her back the man she thought she was marrying. The man Will had wanted to believe she was marrying.

Molly’s far too intelligent and practical to read Tattle Crime, or any of the more litigation-baiting gossip tabloids. Anyone who read those might have gone on one date with Will Graham out of naked curiosity, but they’d never have shown up for a second.

Molly always knew there was a lot Will wouldn’t talk about from his old life as a profiler, but he let her think it was the normally disturbing details of a job that was all dead bodies and murderers. He told her Hannibal stabbed him – that kind of scar needs some explanation when the clothes come off – but he didn’t explain why, and it hadn’t seemed like there was a good point in their relationship to tell her, ‘By the way, that serial killing cannibal’s still completely obsessed with me, it’s highly unlikely to wear off, and oh yes, he’s the most deviously intelligent person I’ve ever met.’

He shouldn’t have married her. He should have told her, let her make her own choice. Should have let her make her choice for Walter, shit.

Telling her that much would at least have been fair, even if he couldn’t begin to tell her the rest of it. Will’s made a lot of terrible decisions over the last few years, but what he’s done to Molly might almost be the worst of them.

He loves her. He didn’t want to tell her; she made him happy, she made him laugh, and he hadn’t wanted her to go away.

Will’s pretty sure there isn’t an apology that will cover it.

’A life without regret would be no life at all.’ Hannibal’s words echoing back at him from the past. By Will’s current score, he must be the liveliest person on the planet.

Will looks down at his hands, at his fingers twisted together compulsively on top of the sheets of his fake hospital bed. “Do I get dogs at this secret hideaway of yours?”

Jack sighs. “You want dogs, you get dogs.”

Will drops his head back against the pillow, and closes his eyes; it’s too much even to look at the room right now. “I’ll take the deal.”

He’s still not sure what deal he’s really taking, but he wants out of this fucking mansion and into a world he can walk around in. The rest of it, he can figure out from there, but he needs to be able to breathe to do it.

Chapter Text

The routine resumes. The medical checks, the antibiotics, the painkillers, the physical therapy. The pain in Will’s knee starts to reduce, it looks less like it belongs on an elephant, and the medical consensus says he’s not going to need more surgery.

That’s the second best piece of information Will’s gotten since he woke up.

He finds clothes in the room, in one of the drawers, and they’re actually his own. Jack must have brought them from the motel. He wonders vaguely who ended up paying his bill – the FBI were supposed to cover it when he flew in to help with the Dragon case, but Jack’s superiors might be less impressed by that idea now.

He negotiates the challenge of the stairs, slowly, and investigates the closer rooms on the ground floor. The guards are there, with guns, exactly as he’d surmised. He doesn’t test his theory about them. He doesn’t see how it would help.

The doctor takes out his last IV and switches all his meds to pills. More of him is hurting less, as the days go by. Parts of him are starting to itch more.

Eventually, he has all his stitches and staples removed. Between the knife wounds and the glass, he has a lot of stitches. It takes a while; takes too long with the nurse pressing in, leaning across him, with hands on his skin, a stranger touching him. Will doesn’t want anyone touching him.

He has no visitors, not even Jack.

Abigail comes to see him sometimes, when he’s feeling particularly dissatisfied with… everything. He hasn’t seen her in more than two years; he’s not surprised she’s back now.

He sees her for the first time when he’s waking up. There’s nothing special about this time, at least not until he sees her. He wakes up and she’s standing by his bed.

“Hi,” he says, with a hint of a smile, because that’s what people say.

“Hi,” she says, and her smile is a little bigger. And that’s all it takes, because she’s back.

He’s missed her. He always misses her, whether she’s there or not.

She’s not here covered in blood. She’s not a killer, and she’s not a victim; she’s just Abigail, and she loves him, and she’ll always be willing to stay with him.

Mostly Abigail sits with him in agreeable silence, and that keeps things simple. Easier than if the medical staff were reporting to Jack that Will holds lengthy monologues with himself.

She’s impressed with the Verger house – of course she is, she’s seventeen. She’s always seventeen. He gives her the full tour of the interior more than once (it’s good for rebuilding his own strength and mobility), listening to her comments on the furnishings, the décor, the panelling. Will doesn’t have a lot to say about them. She’d be better off having those conversations with Hannibal.

Sometimes she wants to talk about the reason she’s here, about what he’s really thinking, and he steers her away. She’s stubborn and persistent, because she’s a teenager, but he cuts her off with steady patience, and eventually they lapse back into companionable silence.

She’s always been a reflection of the turmoil he has buried in his head; in a way she was from the start, even while she was still alive.

He’s very carefully not thinking about anything that might lie more than a few days ahead of him.

-------------------

It’s two days after Will loses the last of the stitches when Jack comes back. He strides in through the door with an energy that’s been entirely absent from his last two visits, and Will knows instantly something’s changed.

“Get your things,” Jack tells him, skipping anything so banal as a greeting. “It’s time to go.”

Will stays stretched in the armchair where he’s reading in the sunlight, feeling something that might almost be ‘content’. Alana and Margot have a lot of books, and Will has a lot of time. “Go where?”

“We’ve got a place for you, and the medics tell me you’re good to go,” Jack says. “It’s not as big as I’d like, but I had to work with what was for sale.”

Will doesn’t need space. He doesn’t have anything to fill it with. “You pushed a conveyancing deal through in a week?”

“If I ever buy property again, I’m kidnapping Doctor Bloom’s lawyers.” There’s that flash of humour again in Jack’s words. Some patterns are hard to break, Will thinks. Even when you know you should.

It’s what he agreed to – what he asked for, more or less, because he doesn’t want to stay here.

He pushes himself up from the armchair, grimacing at the healing muscles in his shoulder, and again when his weight hits his knee. Some things still take a second or two of adjustment.

“Give me five minutes,” he tells Jack. He only has his clothes to throw into a bag; nothing else here is his.

Nothing anywhere is his, if he’s realistic – it’s all Molly’s now.

He leaves the book sitting on the chair.

Outside, there’s a very unsurprising black SUV in the driveway, with dark windows; perfectly standard, and perfect for moving someone you don’t want to be seen. Jack’s up front, with one of Alana’s bodyguard types in the passenger seat, an assault rifle across his lap, as well as the holstered handgun. Will climbs in the back, alongside another of the dark-suited security clones.

Neither the seating arrangements nor the atmosphere are really conducive to conversation, and Will’s not feeling chatty anyway. He’s more comfortable leaving Jack to the driving, looking out the windows and keeping track of where he’s being taken.

Not so far, as it turns out. They cross the Susquehanna River on Highway 1, then soon after that they’re heading north again, through Oakwood and back towards the water. The roads get narrower, the houses sparser, until they’re bumping along a dirt road through the trees, and five minutes later it opens up in front of a house.

It’s a single storey, Craftsman style with a wide porch out front, all wood and overhanging eaves. There are similarities to his old house in Wolf Trap, though this one’s smaller without the upper floor, and Will feels a brief pang for his one-time place of safety, his boat on an ocean of mist. Selling it had been strange, but necessary back when he was meticulously severing from his life anything that was tangled up with Hannibal. He’d managed to shed everything that was tied to Hannibal, apart from himself.

He doubts Jack was actively taking Will’s tastes into account when he picked this place. It’s the usual north-eastern style of an older, back-country house that nobody bothered to demolish and replace with something more modern. The clearing it stands in is maybe three times the size of the house, and from there it’s forest all the way. Nobody’s going to overlook this place and accidentally see a man who’s supposed to be thoroughly salted out in the Atlantic; that’s why Jack wanted it.

Will smells the earth, the damp of the leaves, when the SUV’s doors open and he’s acutely desperate to get out, everything air-conditioned and artificial since he woke, and he needs something real.

He sits tight, lets Alana’s hired security check out the house and the edges of the clearing, because this is what he agreed to, the lesser of two prisons he chose.

The guards return, reporting all clear, and Will climbs out, the earth pressing down beneath his shoes, soft and damp. He closes his eyes, and turns his face into the breeze, up towards the sky and the sun, and just breathes.

When he opens his eyes, Jack’s giving him that studying look again, one that’s becoming more familiar with each visit he makes – the one that says Jack has absolutely no idea what to do with Will Graham.

Will Graham doesn’t know what to do with himself, so that’s no surprise.

“Come on inside,” Jack says. “See what you think.”

Will’s knee has stiffened up with the car ride, and he follows Jack slowly up the steps onto the porch. By the time he gets there, Jack already has the door open.

There are only four rooms – living area, kitchen, bathroom, one bedroom – and everything is basic, but comfortable. There are a lot of cameras around the house, both inside and out. Will doesn’t see one in the bathroom, and he doesn’t have to check the window in there to know it won’t open.

“I take it the phone’s tapped?” he asks, because he feels like making a point.

“And the internet’s monitored.” Jack’s reply is bland, all fact and no implications. “My number’s in the phone, and so is Freddie’s – don’t use that one yet.”

Freddie’s still not in on the big secret, then. Jack’s certainly confident – he’s gone to all this trouble in the expectation she’ll play along.

“I had the place stocked up for you,” Jack says. “Food, cooking things, soap, all the basics should be here. Anything you need replaced, or anything else you want, let me know and I’ll arrange it.”

Will’s standing in the living room, looking at the sofa with its casually draped throw covers, the wide rug elaborately patterned under his feet, and he doesn’t have anything to say.

Jack sighs. “Take a look around. Tell me if there’s anything I missed.” He lets himself out onto the porch, closing the door behind him with a soft click.

Will’s still staring at the sofa, the rug. They’re fine, it’s all fine, there’s nothing wrong here, except everything’s wrong.

He moves his eyes across the room, drags himself out of… whatever. Jack said to look around, and he probably should. He’s not sure what he could need right now, but maybe there’s something, if he tries.

He fixes on the cupboard by the front door. It’s not far.

He makes the few steps, and tugs the door open. It’s the obvious place to store outdoor wear, coats and boots and hats, and they’re all there.

There are a couple of fishing rods, and a set of lures on a shelf.

The rods are good – the same model he used to fish with back in Wolf Trap. Maybe if you wait long enough, Will muses, there’s an advantage to having the FBI seize and catalogue everything you own as evidence in a murder inquiry. The lures are store-bought, made mostly of nylon. He’ll have to make his own.

“You might have to teach me how to fish again,” Abigail says at his shoulder. “It’s been so long, I think I forgot.”

She’s looking up at him with that half-smile she has, always hoping to be accepted, and never quite sure. He sees her as perfect, the way he knew her, hair tucked back behind her ears, and he matches the sad, gentle curve of her lips. “I don’t mind. I missed spending time with you.”

Her smile gets bigger before she breaks their gaze. “This place isn’t so bad,” she says, turning away from the cupboard to peer around the room. “It’s cozy.”

She’s a wilderness kid at heart, something she shares with Will. “It could be,” he admits. It won’t be as lonesome, if she’s here.

“Come on, I want to see the rest of it.” Her teenaged curiosity is in full flow, and he follows her round the house as she pokes through the pantry and the refrigerator, finding all the practical, everyday necessities present and correct. One notable absence is a set of good kitchen knives – Hannibal would be appalled by the paltry selection, short and dull bladed. Apparently Will isn’t to be trusted with anything that can be easily weaponised, or maybe Jack was thinking more of Hannibal when he made that choice.

The bathroom is small, in proportion with the rest of the house, and misnamed, because there’s no space for a bath, only a shower. There’s soap, shampoo, bathroom tissue and safety razors, everything in the obvious places.

“I like the bed,” Abigail tells him, flopping herself down across it, starfish-like, and it easily fits all of her, her shoes hanging over the edge because her mom taught her manners. The bed is bigger, and the mattress thicker, than anything Will slept in before he married Molly.

“Jack’s trying to be nice, under the circumstances,” Will says, as he takes in the rest of the room. His glasses are sitting on top of the nightstand, and Will huffs in something that’s almost a laugh. He has no idea where Jack found them, or why he even bothered. Will doesn’t remember where he left them – probably back in that bland, miserable motel room in Baltimore.

This house might effectively be a minimum security prison, but it feels less like one than that room did.

Will looks through the closet and drawers, finds the expected range of clothes in his size and style, mostly casual shirts and sweaters. And then he’s run out of house to explore.

He goes out on to the porch where Jack is waiting, leaning against one of the supports. “It’s fine, Jack,” he says, because it almost is.

The bodyguard clones are nowhere in sight. Will doesn’t ask where they’ve gone.

Jack’s got that look again, staring at Will somewhere between confused and unsettled, total failure to understand. “Will you be okay?” he asks.

Jack can handle one more truth. He’s heard enough of them. “I have no idea.”

If there’s a hint of surprise in Jack’s face, it’s at the honesty, not the sentiment.

“I have to get back,” Jack says. “Call me if you need anything. Or if you want to talk.”

It’s been a long time since he talked to Jack about anything but the work. Not since Bella’s funeral.

Jack opens the door of the SUV, pauses for a second, then turns back to Will. “Should I get something done about the dogs? You can take a look online, I can send someone out to the Humane Society.”

When Will smiles, it tugs at the rough line of newly-healed skin across his cheek, but it’s the first real smile he’s felt in weeks, and the pain is barely there. “No need. The dogs always find me.”

-------------------

With Jack gone, Will is on his own in the house, and he’s alone, really alone, for the first time since he woke up.

There are the cameras, and there’ll be people watching, but that’s not the same as having them right there in his space, or lurking just outside the room. They’re not hovering over his every breath, every movement, in case he sickens; they don’t care what he does, if he talks to Abigail, to himself; they only care that he stays, and that he stays alone.

Now that he has his space, Will’s not entirely sure what to do with it. He slides his eyes past the computer in the corner of the room, almost tempting, and mostly toxic.

What would he do anyway? Log in and check his email? He’s fairly sure missing-slash-dead men only get spam.

He’s not going to go anywhere near any news sites. He doesn’t want to read what the world thinks about him, or Hannibal, or Dolarhyde, or the FBI, any of it.

He’ll have to, eventually. If he sends Jack’s message to Hannibal, he’ll have to drown himself in the foul marsh-waters of Tattle Crime to watch for his answer, and then he’ll get the most lurid versions of every conspiracy theory the world can imagine.

He doesn’t see any reason to start looking at that now.

He vaguely debates hitting up some fetishistic porn sites, give Jack’s people something to monitor, and run up a pay-per-view account at the same time. It would be petty, but Will can admit his situation is making him feel really quite petty, at the moment.

His security guards won’t care, and Alana and Margot are paying for everything here; nothing would make even a fleeting impression on their bank accounts. The level of satisfaction to be gleaned isn’t really worth his time.

He goes to the kitchen, pokes through the choices in the freezer, and finds something to microwave. He’s not hungry – he doesn’t remember the last time he felt hungry, and a big part of that is probably the ongoing antibiotics and opiates combination – but it’s all rote, automatic actions, something to do that needs no thought, watching frozen chicken alfredo with a few limp pieces of broccoli go round and round.

He stirs the pasta half way through cooking, and when it beeps the second time, he puts the plastic tray on a plate and takes it to eat on the sofa, with the plate in his lap.

He knows exactly the look Hannibal would give him, for both the food and his appalling dining etiquette, and it would make him smile, if he wasn’t so blisteringly aware that his respite is gone.

He’s alone, and he’s out of time. Jack’s got this place set up, and he’s going to want Will’s message for Hannibal soon. That means Will needs to figure out what he actually plans to do. And he can’t do that unless he looks.

Looking might require a drink.

Will shovels his dinner down mechanically in just a few minutes, takes his plate and fork back to the kitchen. This house was stocked by Jack Crawford, so there’ll be a bottle of whiskey around here, something decent he’ll actually want to drink. He finds it in one of the smaller kitchen cupboards, the odd-shaped one backed into the corner, where there’s nothing really logical to put in it.

He takes the bottle and a tumbler, and goes out to the porch, sitting beside Abigail on the steps. It’s cold out, with the sun gone, but he needs the air and the rustle of the breeze playing through the leaves after two weeks trapped inside. He pulls his fleece closer round his neck, and pours himself a glass. The measure’s on the generous side, a long way from what he’d get in a bar, but Will’s not paying for it.

Abigail nudges him with her elbow, and gives him the look that says he’s being obtuse. “You already know what you need to do,” she tells him, tugging a strand of hair out from under her scarf.

Will takes a big slug of his whiskey, swallowing about half of it and enjoying the burn. “No,” he says, watching the liquid settle back into the bottom of the glass. “I really don’t.”

“What else do you think you need to know?”

“What’s going on at the FBI would be a good start,” he muses. Jack will have told him most of the truth – the official line about him being ‘missing, probably dead’ will definitely be real, he could check that online right now – but Will would love to know what the internal commentary on Will Graham is saying. That will have a lot of influence on how easy his life might be when he stops hiding here.

He doesn’t have a Beverly this time. Beverly, who was smart, and funny, and honest, and who died because she got caught up between Will and Hannibal, just like Abigail.

Jack would have been his key once, but Jack’s more the padlock now.

There’s nobody left inside the FBI who will risk anything at all for Will Graham.

He swallows down the rest of his whiskey, and thinks what he really needs is a second glass.

Abigail’s giving him a teenager’s exaggerated eye roll as she watches him pour. “You’re just dwelling on the details. The details are excuses. Once you know what you want, you can fix the details later.”

“What I want is a whole lot of things, and most of them I can’t have,” he says, bitterly. Abigail herself is right near the top of that particular list.

“That makes it easier, then,” she tells him, with a hint of a smile. “Not so many things to choose from. Just look at the ones you can have, and decide.”

It sounds so simple, when she puts it that way. Eliminate the impossible, Conan Doyle style, and deal with whatever’s left over.

That system works well for Sherlock Holmes, the dispassionate observer, and not so well for Will, who’s actually invested in his own life. So much of what he has to discard as impossible isn’t pleasant to lose, starting with the idea that Will Graham will be living even a half way normal life any time in the next ten or twenty years.

He takes another drink, turns his head to look at Abigail again, sitting on the steps with the night breeze wafting strands of hair over her face. She huffs them away from her mouth, and reaches up to tuck them back behind her ear. “How did you deal with this?” he asks. The chaos of suspicion and guilt and publicity had exploded around Abigail when she was only seventeen, and Will had thought he understood at the time, but now that he’s going to be living it himself, he can’t imagine how it was for her.

“I had you, and Hannibal,” she tells him. “You treated me like a person, not like a freak, and not like I was going to blow away if the wind ever touched me.”

“I could have done more,” he says, because it’s true. He would have done more, if he hadn’t been so wrapped up in his own twisted guilt and fear from killing her father. And if his brain hadn’t been set on fire, but there wasn’t much he could have done about that.

“It got easier after you knew about Nick,” she says. “It was better when I didn’t have to lie to you. I didn’t like doing that.”

Will doesn’t have anyone he can be honest with. Most of the time, he can’t even manage to be honest with himself. “I didn’t like lying to you either,” he admits. He’d been trying to shelter her, and she hadn’t needed that. She’d needed the truth. “I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.” He’s never actually said that, and he wants her to hear it.

She gives him another one of her sad smiles. “You’re making excuses again,” she says, “talking about me when you need to be talking about you.”

She’s right, obviously she’s right, because she’s not here, and he’s talking to himself.

His whiskey glass is empty again.

He figures he can use one more drink before he really starts to look.

-------------------

Later, when he’s vomiting almost half a bottle of good whiskey into the kitchen sink, along with a sad few remnants of pasta, he thinks maybe he approached this the wrong way.

-------------------

He wakes the next morning a little after dawn, feeling fucking appalling. He can honestly say there’s nothing the least bit unexpected about that.

Apparently he fell into the bed without bothering to undress last night. He drags himself upright long enough to grab a glass of water and a couple of ibuprofen, swallows the lot, then buries himself under the sheets again, still in his clothes.

He wakes again, a few hours later, and this time he makes it to the shower, and dresses in something that doesn’t smell of sweat and booze with a faint overtone of vomit.

He’s too old for hangovers. They last a lot longer than they used to.

He doesn’t feel remotely like eating, but he knows from experience that food is the only way to settle the acid nausea roiling in his stomach. There’s a loaf in the bread box, and he sticks a slice in the toaster – it’s a simple one, his brain’s grateful to find, not a model with thirty settings for him to fight his way through, like Hannibal had.

Hannibal wouldn’t be making toast anyway. He would cook up something with eggs and bell peppers, mushrooms and sausage (and don’t ask for details about the sausages), giving Will a running commentary all the while on the importance of eating healthily, and how to counter the medical effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the body.

Will ponders what Hannibal would have thought of the food at the BSHCI. He’s almost surprised he didn’t starve himself in protest. Maybe he’d persuaded Alana or the staff to feed him better than anything they ever gave to Will – that would be much more Hannibal-like than staging a hunger strike.

The toast pops up, and Will considers the options available to put on it, before his stomach reminds him it might be safer to eat it dry. He nibbles on it slowly, and tries to figure out what the hell he’s going to do with today.

Yesterday evening was… spectacularly unsuccessful, and not just because of the vomiting. The drinking part thoroughly flooded out the thinking part, and Will needs to give the whole ‘deciding what he’s going to do’ idea a brand new shot at some point.

He should at least walk off his hangover first. And he should probably stop thinking about shots.

He finishes the slice of toast, and that’s enough for now. He can try something else in an hour, if he’s managed not to retch again meanwhile. He drinks another glass of water, because it’s really not worth risking coffee, but air is what he needs the most.

The morning has an edge to it, a hazy sun and a crisp chill perfect for hiking. It’s the kind of morning he loves, if he was in more of a state to be appreciative. He stands out on the porch, inhaling the world deep and deliberate, and after only a few minutes he can feel it starting to clear inside his head.

He tests out his knee on the steps down from the porch, and it seems to be the one part of Will having a reasonably good day, so he figures he might as well take a look around. He’s going to be here a while, whatever happens.

There are a couple of trails leading out of the clearing, and he picks one that runs more or less parallel to the driveway. The trees surround him, wrapped in leaves the intense vivid green of mid spring, birds active between them in the dappled morning sunlight, and Abigail is right – this place is already so much better than the mansion.

The trail is short, opening into another clearing, and Will’s found the control centre of Jack’s operation.

It had to be here somewhere. Jack can’t monitor the cameras from his department, or the secret of Will Graham will last three minutes at most, and a response team needs to be close if someone, Hannibal, does show up.

It’s a full sized RV with blacked out windows, sitting next to what was probably the last owner’s work shed. It’s hooked into the mains, because the monitors for the cameras will take a lot of power, before anything else is allowed for, and there’s another batch of cameras all around it.

A couple of cars are parked further down the dirt road that leads out of the clearing – it will connect back to the same road that brought them here yesterday. Will can’t see inside the RV, and there’s no obvious noise or movement, but if he didn’t know it already, the cars tell him they’re in there.

Will’s been ignoring their existence since he got here. He can do exactly the same now. Knowing where they are doesn’t change it.

The trail continues on into the woods across the clearing, and Will goes around behind the shed, avoiding the watching eyes from the RV. It takes him a minute back in the green to regain his sense of equanimity, falling into the scents of moss and earth, the susurration of leaves rising and falling with the swirling caress of the breeze on his face. The trail is smooth, the dirt packed tight and growth-free, well used by the previous owners.

He’s gone maybe a hundred yards when he walks into his invisible wall.

“Sir, stop right there,” a voice calls from behind. There are two sets of footsteps back there, not running, but walking very purposefully his way. “You can’t go any further, Sir.”

Sir. It’s almost enough to make him laugh. Jack and Alana have hired him the world’s most polite prison guards.

’It’s not as big as I would like.’ Jack hadn’t been talking about the house. He wanted more private acreage.

Will wonders what would happen if he just kept on walking. Would they shoot him?

Probably not, he decides, Jack wouldn’t have authorised that. But he’d lay bets they’ve got permission to restrain him, drag him back by force if needed, and Will doesn’t need another round of bruises when the worst of the last set are still fading.

He doesn’t talk to the guards, and he doesn’t look at them. He turns and he stalks back towards the house, taut and angry.

In his mind he stalks, at least; his knee decides it’s just about done for today, and Will’s progress becomes more of a limp as he gets closer. The anger, that stays with him, all the way back, and he picks up the phone and hits the speed dial for Jack.

“Hello?” Jack’s voice is cautious. He knows who it should be, but he can’t use Will’s name if he’s at the office.

“Your guard dogs are barking already, Jack,” Will says, with deliberate bite.

“Is someone there?”

“Only me. Apparently they’ve been told that’s a problem.”

Jack breathes out hard and long enough for it to carry through the phone. “It’s not a problem if you stay on the property, near the cameras.”

“Then you can bring me in for questioning and lock me in a cell,” Will says, pure acid. “It’s all the same to me.” Let them pin on him whatever they think might stick – if Jack’s putting him in a prison, he might as well be convicted of something first.

Jack has nothing without Will’s cooperation, nothing but a pissed off ex-not-quite-FBI agent held in indefinite, expensive purgatory. Will doesn’t have a whole lot of leverage here, but he’ll damn well use what he has, and this is one round he can win.

There’s shuffling and the sound of a door closing from Jack’s end of the line, and when he speaks again, he keeps his voice low. “Staying out of sight is part of the deal. If you go out hiking the fields, you’ll be recognised.”

“There wasn’t a field in sight, Jack, nothing but trees. I know how to keep below the radar.”

There’s silence for a while then, as Jack ponders his response. Will doesn’t need to say anything more – he knows this play is his. “I’ll tell them to relax the boundaries a little,” Jack says eventually. “But you have to be watched, Will. You can’t be roaming around the woods alone when we’re expecting Hannibal. Get used to it.”

“Fine, just… keep them out of my way.”

“I’ll tell them to keep their distance,” Jack agrees. It’s as good a deal as Will’s going to get, and he hangs up.

He searches the cupboards in the kitchen, pulls out a can of vegetable soup that his stomach should be okay with and a pan, and sets it heating on the cooktop. The only coffee here is instant, because Jack buys coffee, he doesn’t make it, but Will’s fine with that, even if he can hear Hannibal’s opinion of it in the back of his head.

Molly never liked it either, but Will’s inner voice shaped itself into Hannibal’s years before he met Molly.

Venting some of his many frustrations on Jack appears to have been a useful exercise – as the tension ebbs away with the simple actions, Will’s discovering his headache is only a wisp now, instead of a rope wrapped taut around his skull.

His soup lunch works out passably well. His body seems to have reached a compromise state, and if he doesn’t abuse it unduly, it will tolerate him living through the rest of the day without abusing him back.

The rest of the day is still a lot of hours. A lot of hours when all Will technically has to do is wash a couple of mugs and plates, and eventually microwave some kind of dinner.

His new living room catches the afternoon sun, shafts of it stretching across the patterned rug. Tree shadows dance across the wall behind the sofa, telling him how the breeze fluctuates, how it sounds ruffling leaves, how it will feel brushing through his hair.

He pulls his foot close to his chair, and finds his knee is more or less back to its baseline level of pain after the rest. It’s mild out by now, and he only needs a light sweater as he negotiates the three steps down from the porch, and crosses the clearing to sit against a tree, looking back at the house. His knee won’t much appreciate getting up again, but there are branches to haul on, and he likes the sensation of grass and earth beneath him, the uneven bark pressed against his spine through his clothes.

It’s warm here, in the sun.

“Feeling better?” she asks.

She’s sitting on the grass, with her knees bent and her arms wrapped around them, the sun catching all the highlights red and gold in her hair.

“By some definition,” he says, giving her part of a smile. “These things are always relative.”

“Relative like time, and teacups,” she says, and her expression turns a little sadder.

“He was talking about you,” Will tells her.

“I know that.”

“Did you know it then?“ he asks, because he’s never been sure. “Did you have any idea?” The look on her face, when she took Hannibal’s hand, when she turned towards Will.

“I… I knew it was all wrong,” she says, hugging her knees in tighter. “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.”

It wasn’t. It really, really wasn’t.

She’s resting her chin on her knees, hair swinging forwards, throwing shadows across her cheekbones. “He did it because he loves you.”

“I know.” It’s a fucking terrible reason, but Will can understand it anyway. “He loved you too, and it didn’t stop him.”

She shakes her head. “He didn’t love me. He… liked me. He knew I was important to you, and that made me important to him, but it was always about you.”

It always is, with Hannibal, and it’s flattering, and disturbing, and appalling and fascinating, all rolled up together, just like everything about the man.

“The question’s still the same. It hasn’t changed,” she says. The question he asked in a church in Italy, the answer she gave three years ago, and even then she’d been dead for months. “Do you want to go with him?”

Always, but that’s not the whole answer now, any more than it was then. “I don’t know.” Thinking about Hannibal has never been conducive to thinking rationally. He watches her sitting across from him, and all he feels is the sadness, none of the anger. “I probably need to figure this out for myself,” he says. His thoughts are his own, not hers, and he has to be honest with himself, in the end.

“You sure?” she asks, and she’s rolling her eyes at him again. “You did such a great job of it last night.”

“I’m sure.” This time he’s almost smiling. “I left the whiskey inside.”

“Fine,” she says, and her smile is big, and genuine. “But if you get tired of moping, and you want some advice, you know where to find me.”

“I know,” he tells her, and he does.

And then he’s alone with the sound of the wind and the trees, and everything in his head.

It’s all so big, and tangled, it’s hard to even know which thread to pull on first. Most of them won’t lead to clarity; they’ll only tug the whole knot tighter, make it more impenetrable.

His emotions are… not helpful, right now. They lead him to cliffs, and a leap into the dark.

There’s no point thinking about what he wants. Anything he wants is impossible, or else a very bad idea. He has to stick with the facts, and approach the problem from the other end this time – eliminate whatever he really doesn’t want, and figure out what options are left to him from here.

Options. Okay. Obvious choice number one – he can go the media. Doesn’t matter which, any journalist who isn’t Freddie fucking Lounds makes the cut, say, ‘Hi, I’m Will Graham, and I’m not dead.’

The trial-by-press will be brutal, assuming he can avoid another actual trial, with lawyers. The chances of that are surprisingly good. Anyone who can implicate him in anything more than supposition is conveniently dead or missing right now. He doesn’t see how there can be enough to convince the DA to make a case.

Maybe Jack can track down Bedelia again; he did it once before. Bedelia might just be pissed enough at Will to want to spill her guts, but it will be tricky for her to talk about Will, about Hannibal, and still keep her own fictionalised history intact. She’s not going to get another immunity deal from Jack and the attorney’s office, not after the way she exploited the last one, and Jack has no leverage against her. It’s not illegal for her to quit her job and take a long vacation travelling the world, however suspicious the timing might look.

He doesn’t realistically think he’s going back to a cell, whatever choice he makes, but Will Graham will be poison. There won’t be Molly or Walter – even if she might forgive him, which seems… implausible at this point, he can’t be with them while Hannibal’s alive. Not them, and not anybody, not even half way in his life. He won’t paint a target on anyone else.

He’s not going to have a lecturing job, whether or not he could persuade his mind to go there. The idea of even a fourth rate institution hiring him is more than laughable. He’d consider dog training, but that means training the people as much as the dogs, and he’s not up to that level of being sociable. He can earn his way as a mechanic again – it lacks intellectual stimulation, but it’s good busy work, and his lifestyle doesn’t need a big income. He’s lived that way before, just him and the dogs in the quiet, and he was content, if not exactly happy. He can live that way again.

He’s lived that way before. Before Hannibal pushed his way into Will’s life and made him want someone to be there with him, before Alana had briefly been… whatever it was they’d almost been. Before Abigail and Molly and Walter had made him think of family.

He’s lived that way before. He doesn’t want to live like that now.

And inevitably, eventually, there will be Hannibal. Wherever Hannibal is right now, he can’t be feeling any healthier than Will is, but that will change. Jack’s not wrong – he will look, he will find, and however long it takes, he will come.

Will Graham’s life is something Will Graham has absolutely no control over any more.

That’s not news to Will, but he’s not looking to throw himself over a cliff when he thinks it today. He can put that down to being wrecked on adrenaline and endorphins, extreme emotional intensity leading to temporary instability (surge of something insanely like love slamming through his entire soul, terrifyingly aware how very easy it would be to make a truly life-altering decision in one overwhelming instant). He chose the other, more literal cliff instead.

The resurrection of Will Graham really doesn’t work; there’s not a good angle to it anywhere. Definitely no journalists, then.

Option two is simpler – he can walk out of here and not come back. Not be Will Graham any more, just be nobody.

He doesn’t have Hannibal’s resources, no cash, no conveniently arranged new identities and careers. He doesn’t need them. It’s not impossible to live under the radar in America, and Will has the skills and the knowledge to do it. It still leads to not-Will living as a solitary hermit with his dogs, but at least there’d be no press, no Freddie Lounds drilling through his life.

There would always be Hannibal. It would take longer, if he’s hiding, but Hannibal knows he wasn’t dead there on the cliff, and he won’t stop looking. Will could spend years living that way, wondering which day he’ll come home to find Hannibal sitting on his sofa, and what the hell he’s going to do when he does.

Will’s never known what he’s going to do when he’s looking at Hannibal. There have been times when he’s absolutely known, and when the moment hits, he ends up doing something… very different. It’s an inconvenient blind spot to have about himself, but Will can admit after so many years that making plans around Hannibal really only works when the man himself isn’t there.

He can also acknowledge that if not-Will spent years living in bitter isolation, he would want Hannibal to find him, no questions asked, and totally non-conditional. Will teeters close enough to that edge already.

That option is only a tedious and convoluted way of ending up in a place he could have gone to by choice any time in the last five years.

That’s two things now that Will knows he definitely doesn’t want. This approach is at least working out better than yesterday’s, though he’s not sure yet if there’ll be anything left that he does want when he’s done.

He tips his head back against the tree, feeling the ridges in the bark press against his skull, barely cushioned by his hair. Closes his eyes and runs his hand through the grass alongside him, letting his fingers grasp at the blades, tugging at them gently. If he’s not leaving as Will Graham, and he’s not leaving as somebody else, then he supposes he’s staying for a while. Like Abigail said, it’s not so bad here.

So he needs to consider his options for staying.

He can go along with Jack’s plan, and claim his new identity at the end of it. It’s the only choice that gives Will some kind of life back, any kind of normalcy.

Except he can’t. He told Bedelia he wouldn’t put Hannibal back in a cell, and he meant that. Will spent enough weeks inside the BSHCI that the thought of Hannibal languishing years in there itches under his skin. He could live with it so long as he didn’t think about it, until he had to go there, had to look, and see. He did it once; he won’t do it again.

As for killing Hannibal – he’s tried it, tried it hard, and he can say now that it won’t happen. Can’t happen, not when Hannibal’s there, standing in front of him, alive and looking at Will (looking at Will like Will’s the only thing that’s important in this entire universe). It doesn’t happen even when Hannibal looks so much more like the monster than Will’s friend.

Will couldn’t kill Hannibal when he had a gun in his hand and Hannibal was stabbing him in the gut. It seems unreasonably optimistic to assume he’ll do it in more benign circumstances.

Well, maybe that’s not the whole truth, not technically. Apparently he can kill Hannibal just fine as long as he’s killing himself at the same time, but Will’s already decided he’s not doing that again. One murder-suicide attempt is enough for one lifetime, even a life as fucked up as his. Especially when failing at it wrecks his body quite this much.

He thought he could let Dolarhyde kill Hannibal. Stand back and do nothing; if it wasn’t him killing Hannibal, it would be guilt-less.

As it turns out, that doesn’t happen either.

If Jack does try to kill Hannibal, (’or better yet, dead’)… that scenario doesn’t seem like it ends well for Jack. Jack’s not his friend any more, everything between them hollow space and hot lava beneath the fragile crust they walk on, but Will doesn’t want to be trapped into making that choice, and there’s a tingling all down his spine telling him that he would.

Will doesn’t want anybody else he knows to die.

He can send a different message to Hannibal, almost like Jack wants; he can warn him to stay away.

He turns that one over in his head a few times, twisting it around, considering all its angles.

He doesn’t immediately find a terrible one, so he lets it sit there, spinning.

Jack’s going to give him a line of communication to Hannibal. Will’s supposed to find a way to say, ‘Hi, it’s me,’ without telling the whole world. It needs a little subtlety, but it’s not so hard.

Will needs to find a way to say, ‘Hi, I’m bait, mind the trap,’ without Jack starting to sniff at the air, wondering just where the rats are nesting.

That’s something of a more interesting challenge. It might even turn out to be mildly entertaining.

It’s the only thing Will can do right now for anyone that matters to him.

It’s the only thing that gives Will Graham any kind of agency in his own fucking life. And he wants that. He wants to take something back.

The sun is warm on the skin of his forearms, below the rolled up sleeves of his sweater. He breathes the scent of wildflowers and leaves, looking up into the blue of the sky.

He’s found what he wants. He wants control.

Chapter Text

Will wakes the next morning feeling genuinely hungry, and that’s novel enough to be of note. His breakfast is only cereal, simple, quick and mindless, but the cold of the milk on his tongue, the crunch of the granola between his teeth, is actually… satisfying.

He powers up the computer while he eats, and opens a browser window. He has zero interest in what’s happening to the world outside this place, that’s not changing, but he can at least find out where this place is, instead of aimlessly wandering random trails.

He maps the route Jack took across the river from the Verger estate, zooms in on Oakwood, the last place he saw with a sign, and mentally reconstructs the turnings and the bends in the dirt road until he has a fix. There’s not a whole lot out here. It’s maybe a half mile to Will’s nearest neighbour, but that’s for the deer, not allowing for which way the trails go.

The Conowingo creek is a little way out to the east. There had to be something close by, or Jack wouldn’t have bought the rods.

Will zooms in and out while he finishes off his breakfast, until he’s thoroughly familiar with both the configuration of the immediate woodland, and everything in this north-eastern corner of Maryland. It doesn’t take long – there’s not much of real interest anywhere north of Baltimore.

He takes his bowl and spoon to the sink, makes a coffee while he washes them out and sets them to drain. It’s not on the level of deliberate, conscious thought, not yet, but it’s percolating there in his head now, the question of how to reach out to Hannibal with messages under messages. The mug is warm in his hands, the coffee is feeding his brain, and he takes his drink out to the corner of the porch, where it catches the morning sun, which is when he hears the SUV.

His good mood survives maybe ten seconds after Jack’s arrival.

“I know it’s early,” Jack says. “We’ve got a bit of time, if you still need to grab breakfast.”

Will looks at the SUV, with the inevitable dark windows. “Where are we going?”

“It’s time we had our chat with Freddie.”

The muscle in Will’s cheek tightens, the scar across it stiff against the movement. “Do I have to be there for this?”

“I’m telling her you’re alive, Will. She’ll want to see you.”

She’ll want to do a lot more than that. She’ll want to stick needles under his skin, and see which places make him squirm. “You can’t take me to her place, Jack, she’ll have cameras recording everywhere.”

“And I’m not bringing her here, or we’ll never keep her away from the place,” Jack agrees easily. “Neutral ground is the way to go – we’re meeting her at a motel.”

At least Jack’s not going to want him to cozy up with Frederick Chilton any time soon. That puts Will at fifty-fifty on his list of people it would really be worth staying dead for.

He takes his mug back inside, leaves it to soak in the sink, and goes with Jack.

They stop by the RV and pick up two of the guard dogs – same rifles, same look, but they’re a different pair than the ones they came here with. They’re rotating through. Nobody wants to live here twenty-four-seven, camped out on a permanent security detail.

Will keeps track of the route again, confirming everything he learned from the map earlier. They’re heading back towards Baltimore, obviously. Jack won’t want to meet Freddie anywhere near Will’s secret location, and the city is central and meaningless.

They pull in at an anonymous travel motel just off I-695, and Jack already has the key to the room. The guards stay with the SUV – they wouldn’t look very anonymous, walking across the parking lot with AR-15s – leaving Will to go inside with Jack, alone.

The room’s typical of its kind, décor from a decade ago, all neutral beiges with some darker stains splashed across the carpet. Will drops himself into the armchair by the foot of the bed, leaving Jack to pull the roller chair out from the laminate desk.

The drapes are closed, and the lighting is dim. The room hums around them, the buzzing electrical frequency of its old, cheap refrigerator and the background rumble of trucks on the interstate overpass.

“Try not to antagonise Freddie too much,” Jack says. “I need her in a mood to cooperate.”

Will stares into the blank, dark screen of the TV, and huffs out the beginnings of a laugh. “Well, that really depends on her, Jack,” he drawls. “I’ll play nice if she will.” It’s not much of a promise. Freddie’s had her claws stuck into Will since the first time she ever saw him, before he ever did anything, back when he really was entirely blameless. It feels like a particularly long time ago.

Jack leans forward a bit more from his chair, his hands interlaced in his lap. “I worry about you, Will.”

So the voyeurs did tell Jack that he practically drank himself into a coma the first time he was left alone with booze. Lovely. Jack also knows he hasn’t requested a resupply, and it’s not on nightly repeat.

“I’m fine,” Will says, flat.

“A couple of days ago, you said you didn’t know if you’d be fine.”

“So I’m getting better.” He genuinely is. It’s good to have made a decision; to have something in his head to work and plan towards. It’s gratifying to have found there’s still something he wants right now that he can actually let himself have.

He’s definitely not feeling wretched enough to passively acquiesce to Jack’s pity or concern.

“Maybe you should talk to Alana,” Jack offers. “I can ask her to call you.”

“Oh, I think she’d want to do a lot more than talk to me, don’t you, Jack?” Apologising to Alana would go down about as well as it would with Molly. ‘I’m sorry I helped the man who promised to murder you and your family escape, although thinking about it now, I find I’m not actually sorry at all.’ It’s a wonderful opener for those friendly chats they haven’t had in years.

Maybe he should have taken Jack up on his suggestion back at the house, and eaten a second breakfast before they left; a mouthful of food would be a good excuse not to have this conversation.

He would be grateful for the knock on the door, then, if he didn’t know who it is. She’s early. She’s always early, the reporter’s habit of needing to be somewhere before the rest of the rats.

Jack gets up to let her in, and her eyes jump right past him onto Will as the door opens. She doesn’t have a bag with her, and Jack runs a handheld metal detector around her, checking for recording devices. From her lack of protests, Will assumes this was all part of the pre-meeting negotiations.

Jack stands aside, and she slides in to sit herself neatly on the end of the bed, a few feet away, one shin resting on the other.

“Well, hello Mr Graham.” She looks him over, that head half-tilted way she has. “It’s fascinating whenever I see you, you’ve always got a new set of scars. Is that another knife wound? You’re going to look very piratical when it fades a little.”

“The Great Red Dragon bit me,” Will says drily. “I bit him harder, maybe you read about it.” Hannibal did the actual biting, of course, but Freddie never lets the finer details of the truth ruin one of her stories.

“Not another lovers’ tiff, then,” she says, amused. “So tell me, how close did you come this time?”

Will tips his head back against the chair and glares up at the ceiling. It’s off-white, and starting to peel. It needs new paint. “I’m tired, and I hurt too much to play games, Freddie. I’m not even going to pretend I know what you’re fishing for.”

“Every time you disappear, I find myself thinking this will be the time you don’t come back. At least, not by choice,” she adds, with a hint of teeth under her smile.

“And yet here I am, disappointing you again.” He’s not sure how much of it’s a choice. He has too much in common with the ceiling.

“And yet there you were, Hannibal the Cannibal just happening to escape while you were part of his security team,” she kicks back. “It’s funny how you seem to be the only one who survived that. Will you feel any guilt at all, when he starts murdering people again?”

“Ms Lounds,” Jack finally interrupts, “I was hoping we could have a conversation that’s a bit more constructive this morning. I have a proposal for you, if you’re interested.”

Freddie’s gaze moves to Jack then for the first time since she walked in. “Go ahead, Agent Crawford. I’ve a feeling it might be the most interesting thing I’ve heard all week.”

Will’s left in some sort of peace, then, as Jack runs through the plan with Freddie – at least, the plan as Jack understands it. Will’s version runs a little differently.

‘Will you feel any guilt at all?’ It’s an interesting question to ponder, given that he intends to leave Hannibal loose in the world. Will he?

It’s going to be a while before the question stops being theoretical. Hannibal won’t be risking murder while he’s injured, not unless someone’s a direct threat, and he’ll be taking precautions against recognition in the short term.

Will can be blamed for Hannibal being free, but he also tried to kill him with a long drop, so he counts himself ethically neutral on that point. If Will chooses to give one small nudge to let Hannibal stay gone, all Hannibal’s actions after that are still entirely his own.

Three years apart didn’t remove Hannibal from Will’s head, or from the tangled mess of complications that currently constitute his ‘feelings’. But three years, and the Dragon, removed one facet of the blurring – Will no longer feels responsible for whatever it is that Hannibal does.

His own kills, the personal ones, the ones he held in his hands with blood and pain, they feel very different. It’s a line as distinct and sharp as the blade when he sliced open Dolarhyde. Watching Hannibal kill, even watching Hannibal kill Abigail, it doesn’t come close to the same… visceral intensity as doing it himself.

Killing with Hannibal – that might be a third thing entirely (heart hammering, circling, waiting, Hannibal watching him, watching him and moving with him, both of them together, Dolarhyde’s flesh simultaneously taut and yielding round the blade of the knife, and the utter, vicious satisfaction that that evil motherfucking bastard is finally dead). A thing so very particular, it’s incomparable in his mind with anything else, and guilt having no part in it at all.

A sample size of one is no realistic basis for a hypothesis; he’ll put that aside and work with the defining line he can currently prove.

Will figures he probably needs more restoration than the ceiling. He needs a whole new set of rafters; he’s gone way beyond the paint.

He’s not sure that actually bothers him.

His attention is dragged back into the room, as the low tone of Jack’s voice is replaced by Freddie’s when he gets to the point of his sales pitch. “I’m running a dating site for murderers now?” she asks, with exaggerated politeness.

“I haven’t murdered anyone, Freddie,” Will says. It’s practically automatic by now.

“Maybe not, technically, but the line’s an interesting one. So many dead people seem to happen all around you.”

Will straightens his head, turns to look right at her for the first time since she walked in, and Jack steps in then, literally, standing to cut between them before Will can really start to attack, the way he always ends up snapping with Freddie. “Ms Lounds, it’s because of all the dead people that we would very much like your help in apprehending Doctor Lecter.”

“And what should I hope to get out of it?”

“Your own personal starring role,” Will offers. “How I helped catch America’s Most Wanted, by Freddie Lounds.” He wants to get his alternative pitch in early, before Jack can start on the ‘selling Will’ option. He’s already gifted enough of his life story to Freddie’s brand of journalism.

“What about my own personal safety?” She glances back at Jack. “And please don’t say you’ll protect me, Agent Crawford, I might have to laugh at you.”

“Doctor Lecter doesn’t have a particular interest in you,” Jack says. “We’ll take care that anything we ask you to publish remains polite, so it stays that way.”

Freddie’s still looking entirely sceptical, and Will can’t say he blames her. “It felt like a particular interest, when he wanted to kill me before he ran off to Europe.”

“That was because you knew too much about him,” Will says. About both of them. “There’s no point singling you out now that everybody knows. You’re really not that special, Freddie.”

Jack throws Will a quelling stare, then he’s smiling back towards Freddie. “He’s in hiding right now, and he’s very publicly known, thanks in part to your work,” Jack continues, and Will thinks he should dial it back a couple of notches. Freddie’s smart enough not to buy into the flattery. “He’d prefer to be just about anywhere in the world, other than the US. We believe that his exclusive priority will be making contact with Will.”

Freddie tilts her head a little more towards Jack. “That’s the first thing either of you have said that I can really believe.”

“Will you do it, Ms Lounds?”

Freddie’s eyes flick from Will to Jack. “Conditionally. I have final say on what goes on the site – if I don’t like it, I won’t publish it.”

“That seems perfectly reasonable,” Jack says.

Will doesn’t think there’s ever been anything reasonable about Freddie Lounds, and that’s just one more incentive to get this right. He can actually bring himself to look at her with something like a smile, when she agrees – he’s going to enjoy this multi-layered game.

-------------------

It’s lunchtime when Jack drops Will and the security back at the house. Will thinks he should probably invite him to stay for food, but he has nothing to say to Jack, and given the reality of his life right now, addressing the social niceties seems particularly pointless, so he doesn’t.

He microwaves the first frozen meal his hand hits on the shelf, not caring what it is, and he’s giving it no thought as he eats.

Everything’s in place now; the next move is all his, so he needs to have his play ready to make.

Will has spent the last three years trying to forget Hannibal, and pretty much everything from over two years of his life. He failed, inevitably, and not just because there’s always that lightly sleeping place in Will that doesn’t want to forget. His obsessively detail-oriented brain has been deliberately trained to remember, to connect, and now he needs it all back for a very thorough tour of the past.

It’s almost amusing, when he really starts to let himself roam through it; the sheer normalcy of so much of it, of time spent in an office or at a dinner table, chatting about work with a friend. The oddities of the moments and the phrases his mind catches on. ’It holds among its molecules the vibrations of all our conversations ever held in its presence.’ Will’s brain clings to those vibrations between them far more tightly than any office chair.

He’s never expected to be quite so thankful for Hannibal’s embellished conversational style. Dozens of evenings drinking wine, discussing psychology and morality and appallingly over-stretched metaphors, as Hannibal talked all around the edges of murder and what was in the food. Somewhere among the imagos and mongooses and Nietzschean trout, there has to be a phrase that will raise flags for Hannibal that won’t sound wildly out of place.

Will has some distance from it all now. Not enough, maybe – it’s never really going to be enough – but more than he had back then, which was none, his thoughts sometimes seeming like nothing more than an extension of Hannibal’s, Will pitching himself so deep inside his mind in the desperate quest to understand.

He still has the understanding now, but he’s also gotten something back of himself. Not to mention a little something extra of himself, something that used to be so much smaller, before he let it loose, before he fed it.

’Killing is changing the way I think.’ His own words to Hannibal, over dinner, and the circumstances then were a lie, but the words are just as true, each time he does it.

Garret Jacob Hobbs, Randall Tier, Francis Dolarhyde – it’s not that he likes it more each time, because he liked it the first time. What’s changing is the baggage that comes with it, the baggage that tells him he really shouldn’t like it quite as much as he does, and compared to the portmanteau he was dragging around with him for months after killing Hobbs, Dolarhyde hasn’t even left him with a wallet.

Hannibal talked him through it after Randall Tier. Talked him through it, as he washed and dressed Will’s knuckles with a doctor’s hands and a killer’s eyes, and then talked him through so much more. A singularly bloody night that Will is incapable of burying or forgetting, as Hannibal taught him the finer points of skinning and dismembering corpses, as they created the reality of Will’s design.

’Every creative act has its destructive consequence, Will.’

Does it follow that everything destructive triggers some creation? With the amount of destruction in Will’s life, it would be pleasant to think so. The families who would have been Dolarhyde’s next victims would definitely think so.

Will doesn’t have anyone to talk to this time, but he doesn’t need it. Dolarhyde really had to die – Jack, Alana, everyone was in agreement, so Will needn’t fear personal bias in that judgement call. The details of how he died, the personal depths of Will’s involvement, none of that matters, so long as he’s gone.

Repeated exposure is immunising him against society’s moral censure, against his own socially constructed conscience, and Will’s okay with that. He doesn’t miss Garret Jacob Hobbs haunting him through the nights, and he has no desire to share his dreams with Dolarhyde.

Hannibal would be pleased with his progress, would applaud Will’s evolving acceptance of himself. Will’s not sure he looks at it quite that way – it’s more that he’s accepting of reality. There are some people alive that the world is better off without, and whether or not Will Graham chooses to pretend to himself that he doesn’t feel that way about them, they’re out there just the same. If those people come for Will – if they come for anyone Will cares about – he’ll do everything he can to kill them, and he’s entitled to feel just fine about it afterwards.

Nobody missed Garret Jacob Hobbs, not even Abigail, and nobody missed Randall Tier, and nobody will miss Francis Dolarhyde.

Nobody except Reba. She won’t miss the Great Red Dragon, but she’ll miss Francis, and she’ll be furious with herself for missing him; she’ll spend years wondering what the hell she did to deserve that being her life.

Will’s fork scrapes against the plastic of the tray. His plate is empty. No more… chicken pad thai, he thinks it was, when he bothers to think about it at all.

The day is overcast now, the wind distinctly chill, and he pulls on his fleece before he goes to sit out on the porch, nursing his coffee. The clouds are dark, and the air is humid; it’s going to rain soon. He’s not in the mood to walk the trails, anyways. The restlessness is all in his head, not his body.

He’s only been out there a few minutes when he hears the rustling beyond the clearing, in the trees. It’s not his watchers – they don’t come near the house, they have the cameras for that. He sets his mug down alongside the support pillar, a couple of feet away from him. Something’s coming fast, sweeping aside the undergrowth uncaring, and no wild animal makes that kind of noise, too wary of scaring prey, or of being prey.

A shape comes barrelling out into the open, long and low, and Will smiles when he sees her. She’s a mixed breed, large parts hound and it’s anybody’s guess what else. She’s young, alive with enthusiasm, and she comes happily when Will clicks at her.

Her coat is a deep, rich red, dulled with the dirt and burrs that come from sniffing her way through a hundred bushes, but Will finds no fleas or ticks as he runs his hands through her fur, and there’s no sign of any pregnancies, so she’s likely fixed. A farm dog, probably, maybe a hunting dog in season; she spends her days exploring the fields and woods, but she has a home out there, someone who makes an effort for her.

She likes company, though, and she sits with Will as he fusses over her, rolling on her back with ease, totally confident that the world and all its people are good. She kicks over his half empty mug with a splayed out leg, spilling coffee across the painted wood, and he laughs and pets her belly.

In his head, he calls her Grace, because she’s all legs and endless, lolling tongue, and she has none.

With the initial greetings and excitement over, she settles in to sit alongside him, pressing into his thigh and ribcage. He slings his arm over her back, running his fingers absently through the fur at her shoulder.

Life is simple for a dog like Grace. She’s never met a person she doesn’t like, never met a person who doesn’t like her. Unlike Will’s strays, she’s never had to deal with the world when it turns ugly, never had to decide what she’s willing to do to survive, whether to run and hide or whether to stand and bite.

The rain kicks in while they sit, the first few drops multiplying fast into a steady downpour. Will’s shoes are getting wet, his legs stretching out from under the eaves onto the exposed steps, but he doesn’t mind. He feels more comfortable now than he has since he woke up to find himself living in yet another changed version of his own reality.

Will doesn’t hear anything, but Grace’s ears prick up, her muscles tense beneath his hand, and then her claws scrabble against the wood, and she’s dashing off into the rain and the undergrowth, back the way she came.

He gathers in his damp feet and his newly chipped coffee mug, and he goes back inside. He unlaces his shoes, peels off his socks, wanders barefoot through to the kitchen.

His breakfast cup is still waiting in the sink alongside his lunch plate, and he sets about washing the few pieces of crockery, a simple routine that leaves his head free to sift through his Hannibal-filled life, looking for the right cue. He’s amused to think of how much he’s like Grace, sniffing her way along the trails and under the bushes, hunting down the burrow that holds the rabbit. She only needs to make sure she keeps her nose out of the traps.

’In the vaults of our hearts and brains, danger waits. There are holes in the floor of the mind.’ Will gives a twisted sort of smile as he hears Hannibal’s words again, echoing back at him from four years ago. He’s fallen through more than a few gaps in his own head, since they had that particular fireside chat. He never did figure out how to avoid them, only how to wall off that entire wing and not go poking around in there. Now he’s back inside the crumbling maze of corridors, unlocking doors and exploring rooms, still with no idea how to sidestep the drop that’s always waiting if he takes a certain step.

Grace has it easier with her rabbits. When there are a thousand tangled scent trails, she just follows the strongest, and she can tell when the earth below her is becoming less solid.

Will can tell too; he’s rarely stupid. It’s just that recognising it never changes his course.

He leaves the mugs and plates to drip by the sink, and dries his hands.

Maybe he’s over-complicating things, digging through his memories for odd references from one in a thousand conversations. Maybe he should stick with whatever’s the most obvious, like Grace, the scent most clearly laid down.

He picks up the phone and calls the second number in its memory.

“Freddie Lounds.” She has a perfect telephone voice, pure professionalism and genuine interest, not a trace of the life she lives in the sewers.

“Is this a good time?”

If she’s surprised to hear from him so soon, it doesn’t show in her tone, and she’s definitely paying attention now. “It’s good enough.”

Nobody’s close by to overhear, then. “I want you to publish another piece about Hannibal. You can write whatever you like for the rest of the article, I only need the last three lines.”

“Remember that I get to veto it if I don’t like it.”

“You get to veto, you don’t get to edit,” Will counters. “If you run it, it goes in exactly the way I phrase it.”

“So tell me what you have, and I’ll let you know.”

She’s silent as Will recites his sentences, keeping his words slow enough so she can type as he speaks. The pause extends after they’re both finished, and Will gives her the time to absorb it. Sewer rats don’t survive unless they’re careful.

It’s a very long minute before she speaks again. “That’s what you want me to write?”

“That’s what Jack Crawford wants,” Will says.

The pause this time is shorter, but it’s there. “Mr Graham, I don’t believe any of our collaborations have ever ended in quite the way you suggested, or quite the way Agent Crawford suggested, come to that.” The phone is pressed tight and cold against Will’s ear, and her voice is echoing with humour in his head. “It won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t actually care, because I think there’ll be a story in it for me either way. You have yourself a deal.”

“Thank you, Freddie,” he says with studied formality, and he hangs up.

He sits back against his chair, and he breathes and waits for his heart rate to ease into its regular rhythm.

She’ll publish it. It doesn’t matter what she might think, or suspect, or even what she might say to Jack, so long as she puts it on the site. That’s all Will needs.

He doesn’t know how fast she writes. He doesn’t know how long he’ll have to wait.

The rain is still thrumming on the roof above him, streaking down the windows outside the protection of the porch. He goes to the cupboard by the door, and starts a more thorough inspection of the fishing gear Jack left for him. The rods he knows, familiar as his own on their racks at Molly’s house (and it’s definitely Molly’s home now, feeling less like Will’s with every day that passes). The lines are quality – fluorocarbon Berkley Vanish in four, six and eight pound strengths, ideal for trout – and the reels are machined aluminum with adjustable drag.

Somehow he doubts that Jack bought him a Maryland fishing licence, certainly not one with Will Graham’s name on it. Will figures they can both live with that. Some illegal fishing won’t be the worst of Will’s crimes this month, or of Jack’s, come to that.

The reels come pre-loaded, but Will prefers a finer line, easier to place on the cast, and he decides to re-spool the five weight reel. He’s rarely fishing for monster trout, but they are wary, and they won’t take the lure if the line shows in the water. He sits on the sofa to strip the reel to the backing line, ties on the four pound line with an Albright knot, and winds on the fly line until the reel is full. He uses a nail knot to attach the nine foot leader, and it’s good that he’s practiced at this, because he doesn’t have any of the tools to help him structure it. The tippet will have to wait until he has a good lure.

He knows it all by rote, which is useful, because his eyes won’t stay with the line, drifting over to the computer in the corner, where nothing will have changed, not yet.

Freddie can write fast, when she’s motivated – most exclusives won’t stay that way if she takes a couple of days to ponder her phrasing before she publishes. She knew this morning what the deal was, and Jack would have given her some idea even before that, to get her to agree to the meet. She probably had something part written before Will called.

He makes himself another coffee, because Grace spilled half the last one, and he prods the desktop out of sleep mode. He pulls up Tattle Crime in the browser, and if it’s there it will be on the home page, the latest article linked big and obvious.

It’s not there.

He doesn’t look at what is there, beyond a glance at the headlines, because he doesn’t want to know about any of it.

He opens Wikipedia in a new tab, and types in Oakwood, Maryland. There isn’t much – really just census data in a stub, and that fits with the size of the place from what he’d seen on the maps. He expands his search to the names of some of the larger nearby towns he’d found online, getting a feel for the size of the places and what might be there. There’s nothing anyone would call significant, but some towns closer to the interstate have more obvious amenities.

He tabs back to Tattle Crime every few minutes, clicking refresh and waiting for the layout to change, refreshing until it does; and the banner headline reads, ‘Hannibal the Cannibal: where is he now?’ with the sub-heading, ’21 days later - what we know and what the FBI don’t want you to know.’

He clicks the link.

He doesn’t read the bulk of the article. Freddie’s cautious enough not to take her speculation to excess and risk annoying Hannibal (she’ll have no qualms about annoying Jack), but if she messed up, that’s going to be very much her problem. He scrolls his way straight through to the conclusion.

‘Maybe Hannibal Lecter was dashed to pieces on the rocks below a cliff in the Atlantic, like a fine teacup dropped to shatter on a kitchen floor. Maybe the teacup will draw itself back together, and this century’s most notorious murderer will re-emerge to kill again. For everyone’s sake, we will have to hope he does not.’

Will sits staring at the end of the article, rereading the lines he dictated. She edited after all, of course she did – that descriptor of the ‘century’s most notorious murderer’ isn’t Will’s – but she didn’t change the substance, and she left the vital phrases intact.

The first few comments are already starting to appear below, more each time he clicks refresh. He’s not the only one seeing it. It’s out there now.

He’s done it. He’s done the only thing he can, the only thing that makes a difference; he’s dropped his own teacup, and the pieces can fall around him how they will. Nobody’s putting this one back together again.

He jumps as noise erupts at his elbow.

The phone is ringing. It’s never done that before.

He squints at the display, and the caller ID says it’s Jack. Freddie will have told him that she’s published her piece.

Will hits the answer button, but he doesn’t speak, in case it isn’t Jack.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Oh, it’s definitely Jack, and Will’s heart rate spikes again for the second time today, but he pushes his voice into something casual as he answers. “You wanted a line that means something to Hannibal. Falling teacups, that’s what I’ve got. Nobody but Hannibal is going to connect that with me.” Bedelia might, possibly – Will never wanted to probe too deeply into what Hannibal talked about with her – but he doesn’t picture her reading Tattle Crime, and even if she did, she’s not going to be interested in contacting any of them.

“I can’t imagine anyone’s going to connect that with anything,” Jack grumbles.

As long as Jack doesn’t connect that last line too closely with Will, only the obvious oddities in the previous two. “He’ll get the message,” Will says, and he doesn’t have to fake his confidence. “Breaking teacups has been a thing with Hannibal for years.” Literally and metaphorically. Abigail and Will, both of them teacups, both of them pulling their pieces back together in different ways.

“It all sounds a bit overblown,” Jack says. “It’s not your typical Tattle Crime editorial, speaking to the massed tabloid readers.”

“This was your plan, Jack,” Will reminds him. “It’s a bit too late to worry that Freddie doesn’t write the way Hannibal talks.”

Nobody does, except Will sometimes when he’s with him, because it’s as infectious as everything else about Hannibal.

Nobody does anything the way Hannibal does.

Now Hannibal gets to prove himself exceptional at hiding as well. He did it for over twenty years, before Will detonated a fission bomb in his meticulously ordered life. It’s harder now with his face known – he can’t utilise the same tactic of hiding in full view, but he can do it, if he wants to. He just has to want it more than he wants anything else.

“Well, I guess it’s what we’ve got,” Jack says into the silence. “There’s nothing we can do now, except wait and see if he answers.”

“He’ll answer,” Will says. He’s certain of it. Hannibal shouldn’t do more, that’s the point of all this, but he’ll acknowledge that he saw the warning.

“You’re sure he’ll use the site?”

“He wouldn’t if he had a choice, but it’s the only access route we’ve opened. Unless you’ve got a leak I don’t know about,” Will can’t resist adding. Alana’s staff at the house, the medical crew, the rotating guard dogs in the RV – there’s a time limit on all of this. Too many people know about Will for all of them to stay quiet indefinitely.

“Alana tells me she pays very well,” Jack says. “They know that stops the day you become news, and I don’t know any journalist who can out-spend the Verger empire in a bidding war.”

Jack has a point, and maybe they’ve got longer than Will was anticipating. “I’ll let you know when I find something,” he says.

“You do that,” Jack says, and hangs up.

Will closes the browser and powers down the computer. The heavy patter of rain above his head has stopped, and when he checks the window, it’s eased off into a misty drizzle. It’s still only mid-afternoon, and he pulls on his fleece and a dry pair of shoes and socks, figures he’ll go explore the trails some.

Maybe Grace will show up again. He’d like that.

The second phase of this starts tomorrow.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Will eats his breakfast with the computer again. He sets Tattle Crime as his home page in the browser – his jaw is tightening as he does it, but he’s going to be back here a lot. Hannibal’s still there on the front page, pushed down a couple of headlines by an overnight robbery-murder in Florida and a body found in a Chicago park.

He doesn’t imagine Hannibal will be persuading Freddie or anyone else to write an article on his behalf, but Will skims them anyway, to be sure.

He focuses his attention mainly on the comments, which is inevitably where he finds most of the dramatic and lurid speculation about the Murder Husbands. The majority opinion seems to be that Will has run away with Hannibal, and they’re responsible for the latest batch of dead bodies everywhere from Juarez to Hong Kong.

He almost did. If they hadn’t been standing by a convenient cliff, he would have.

The bodies part of the hypothesis, well, that’s obvious stupidity. None of the crime scenes read anything like Hannibal’s work – it’s all too rushed and opportunistic. Hannibal only leaves that kind of untidiness behind when he’s cornered, when he needs to be gone in a hurry, and those people were civilians; they wouldn’t have been a threat. Some of the deaths aren’t even related. They’re clearly the actions of different killers, with different motives, including several cases of mundane domestic murder.

There’s a secondary group who opine that Will and Hannibal died together in a romantic tragedy. ‘Romantic’ isn’t a word Will would use to describe anything about that day, it was all a bit too heavy on bodies and blood, but he’d worked hard enough at the ‘dying’ part. Will credits those people the smartest of Tattle Crime’s readers, though he’s not selecting from a company of the highest intellectuals.

A further subset of commenters like the idea that Will, Hannibal and Dolarhyde had a polyamory arrangement, until someone’s jealousy got the better of them and it all turned murderous. That’s… different from anything Will had been expecting to read, and he can’t quite decide if it makes him more inclined to collapse with laughter or throw his granola up into the sink to join the whiskey.

Finally, there are the usual fringe of lunatics who think Will and Hannibal were abducted by a UFO, or that they’re vampires, or selkies who disappeared back into the sea. That last one seems to be the most popular of the minority madness. At least it’s consistent with the setting, unlike the vampires. Vampires wouldn’t have much liked Hannibal’s expanse of floor to ceiling windows.

He wonders how much of all this Molly has heard, how much Jack was able to protect her from. He hopes like hell they can keep it from Walter. They’ll still be hiding under armed guard for now, and this kind of speculative garbage doesn’t make CNN, but Walter will have to go back to school eventually…

’Everything about this entire goddamn mess was unfair on them.’

It was, it is, and there’s absolutely nothing Will can do to fix that now.

Hannibal will be reading all this too. He’ll definitely be finding it amusing, sitting at some polished desk with a sleek laptop, a glass of Saint Emilion grand cru classé and that closed-lipped half smile he so often wears.

He’ll be reading this and thinking about Will, deciding how to react to what Will’s telling him.

It’s too soon for that decision to be made, too soon to expect an answer, but Will checks anyway. He can’t afford to miss it, when it comes.

He’s right, though. He searches the whole site and there’s nothing from Hannibal, not yet.

That’s okay. Will has plenty of time. It’s not as if he’s going anywhere.

Will’s days fall into a routine not so different from his weekends when he lived at Wolf Trap. There’s a little less variety – Jack hasn’t provided him with any boat engines to work on – and a regrettable paucity of dogs, but the woods smell the same, the tang of earth and moss after the rain.

Jack doesn’t come to the house again.

Will doesn’t blame him; there’s nothing more for them to say about Jack’s plan, and he has no idea what else they could talk about. Hannibal is so intricately entangled into Will and Jack’s history, there’s no conversation between them that doesn’t lead to a minefield.

One benefit to the near-total absence of chit-chat in Will’s current life is the subsequent lack of socially awkward silences. He won’t miss those.

Grace comes by to visit most days. Will doesn’t feed her – he has no idea if she might be on a particular diet for medical reasons, and he would have been pissed if random strangers fed junk food to his dogs, or even good food without his knowledge. But she likes Will well enough without bribery, taking advantage of willing hands and easy attention, and Will doesn’t have a whole lot else to distract him. He keeps a check on her health as he pets her, never finding anything amiss, and she’s a perfect companion – filled with energy and eagerness, wanting nothing more than to please, and she makes Will smile.

Sometimes she finds him out in the woods when he’s walking, or just sitting in the quiet away from the cameras. Sometimes she’s waiting on the porch when he wakes in the mornings, and he lets her in for the ritual of breakfast and coffee, before they head out into the mists together.

She’s shedding with the spring, and within a week there’s a thin layer of reddish hair spread across the sofa throws, and Will’s coat. She loves to sprawl pressed alongside him, and she makes the house feel less like Will’s prison.

He calls Jack, and asks him for a food resupply, and a dog toy. He gets six.

He works through his physical therapy exercises on his knee and shoulder religiously, several times every day. His knee is dulling to just an ache with time, no more stabbing pains if he puts some twist into it. His shoulder won’t ever be normal again – it wasn’t normal before Dolarhyde stuck a knife in him, and at least people keep fucking up the same one – but he wants it as good as it can be.

He finds the trail that leads to the Conowingo Creek. It’s a good stream, perfect for trout, and the selection of lines Jack left for him will work well with the depth, and the pace of its flow. He looks up the Maryland and Cecil County fishing regulations online – he may not have a licence, but sticking to the catch limits is the responsible thing to do.

He makes the old work shed his base for tying his lures. It gives him a reason to spend time in there, and it’s a place where previous owners often leave things behind. He searches his way gradually through the drawers and the corners, under the bottom shelves, but he doesn’t find anything, useful or otherwise. If this place held any of the usual abandoned clutter, Jack had it all cleared it out before he brought Will here.

Will doesn’t have a complete set of equipment for making lures from scratch – Jack did his best, but it’s not his hobby – so he adapts the shop-bought flies, adding feathers he finds on the trails, elk hair that’s snagged on the bushes, a few reddish contributions from Grace. He uses a variation on the roll cast to try them out, with the action all coming from his elbow and wrist, minimising the repetitive strain on his shoulder. Spring is good for fishing, when the water is warming and the trout are stirring, and his new lures are effective – fresh, pan-fried trout is a good addition to his mostly frozen diet. It isn’t easy to slice and gut them with Jack’s poor selection of cooking knives, but he manages.

He never does get to remind Abigail how to fish. She hasn’t been back since Will made his plan, found his focus, and that’s only what he expected. He fishes alone, or sometimes with Grace splashing through the water upstream, grabbing at floating sticks and leaves as they pass. She doesn’t do much for his catch rate, but her entertainment value makes up for everything.

He spends more time indoors when it’s wet. Jack didn’t provide him with a good set of raingear – Jack’s definitely the type who prefers nature when it’s more amenable – and Will’s fleece will only keep out so much water before it soaks through. Those days are tedious, and long, and they set him on edge.

He watches his watchers.

There’s three of them at any time, and they work only six hour shifts, less likely to get tired and lose an edge. It’s tough to sustain a real level of alertness even for six – four would be better, but four would mean a lot more people who know about this place, who know about Will. Six is a reasonable compromise.

Mostly they sit in the RV, watching the camera array. When Will crosses his invisible fence, out of view, one of them follows at a discreet distance per Jack’s instructions, scanning with binoculars in daylight, infra-red if he goes out after dark. The others stay inside, watching the cameras. They don’t lock themselves in; the door’s always closed, but handle only, in case something happens and they need to move in a hurry.

Some of them are obviously ex-military; others have cop-based training. It’s in the way they move, and how they handle their weapons, the stances they use when Will deliberately makes them jumpy by arranging some noise off in the trees, because fishing line has more uses than the conventional. They all carry an assault rifle, a handgun of their particular choice, and a few of them wear some kind of knife.

Will thinks the blades are a mistake. If they’re expecting Hannibal, they can expect to find their own knives in their own arteries, but he sees no reason to tell them that. It’s their job to know it.

There’s an age variation among them. Some of them are young, reactive, fast; some of them are older, a little slower, but very observant and aware. A couple are young and still obviously a touch more green, wavering between sharply tense and that bit too relaxed as nothing ever happens, and Will watches those more.

He tests their patterns. When the same three are on shift, is it always the same one who follows Will each time, or do they change it up? Patterns are the key to everything, and Will wants to find them.

He’s sitting tight, for now, but if at any point he decides he’s leaving, all these will be Will’s need-to-know details. He doesn’t have an ending for this game in mind, but Jack can’t keep Will here indefinitely, and he’ll have to switch things up when it becomes obvious Hannibal’s not going to show.

Watching and analysing the guards also alleviates the boredom. Will has a whole lot of time to fill, and his catch limit of two trout a day is more than he’s going to eat. He releases some, when the fish are biting, and he can hook more than he has a use for.

He takes a few fish to the RV sometimes. His guards aren’t going to socialise with him, but most of them will accept a freshly-caught trout, and it lets Will get a look at the layout inside. It establishes a pattern of Will being around them, and being harmless.

In the evenings, after dinner, after dark, he goes online and looks for Hannibal.

Two weeks pass that way, the daily routine varying little, and Will searches the entire Tattle Crime site, every page and link, every single day, and there’s nothing there. He’s perpetually dragging his brain through a sewer and still finding no sign of Hannibal, and how does Hannibal read this garbage? He’s so consummately educated, refined, cultured (less so, maybe, when he’s splattered with blood, with something sharp in his hand), and then he adds this trash to his list of hobbies, alongside the philosophy and the operas and Renaissance art. Admittedly, Hannibal only runs a search on his own name, while Will’s having to dredge through every single appalling word of it, but still…

Maybe Hannibal isn’t reading it. Maybe Hannibal can’t read it right now.

Will doesn’t much like the maybes.

Will liked having a plan, and now his plan is stuck in the advertisement break of The Big Deal, waiting for others to offer up the next set of doors for him to choose from. Will prefers games when he’s the one opening the doors.

He’s spending more of his days outside; time in the house of cameras and silence leaves him feeling trapped, restless. He heads out with the dawn, to walk or to fish. Walking tires his healing body and builds strength back into his knee and underused muscle, while the splash of the stream over the boulders and the repetitive motion of casting eases his mind. He eats the meals he has to, and he drinks too much coffee, and very deliberately doesn’t drink too much whiskey, and after nightfall he seeks out Hannibal, who isn’t there.

Disruption to this routine comes from a source he doesn’t anticipate, and hasn’t prepared for. He’s on his way back to the house from an afternoon of fishing, when he hears voices, two people talking on the trail.

They’re getting closer. He can’t retreat, he has the creek behind him, and it’s shallow enough to cross, but not before they see him, and there’s his tail to consider, back there with an assault rifle and obligated to follow after him, and shit, they’re still coming.

Fuck, they’re going to recognise him. His face will have been plastered everywhere over this past month – less so in the last couple of weeks, as the news cycles spin, and constant ‘what if’s with no new information grow stale, but just how fast do normal people forget? And how will Jack’s hired security react if he’s recognised?

He should hide, and there’s nowhere to go. There are trees everywhere around, but it’s all secondary growth, nothing substantial enough to conceal a man, and lurking unsuccessfully would be suspicious as all hell; that would really make them look.

Most of the photos out there show a bookish guy in non-descript glasses, usually caught three-quarter profile as Will turned away from the camera. The DMV shot, and that Tattle Crime photo with Chilton are pretty much the only ones that show him full face. None of them are of a man with a dramatic facial scar, and what can pass as a genuine beard. Shaving hasn’t seemed like a priority since he woke up, not to Will, and certainly not to his right shoulder muscles, after Dolarhyde sliced a knife through them.

He paints on a pleasant smile, and he waits.

They round the corner a little ways down the trail, a man and a woman, early fifties maybe. Grace is with them, sniffing through the edges of the bushes a little way behind, and that makes sense – her home and her people couldn’t be too far away.

“Hey there,” the man calls out as he approaches.

“Hi,” Will replies, simple but friendly, as he scans their faces. “Good day for a walk.”

“Good day for fishing,” the man says with a smile. “I’m Rudy, Rudy Dyer.”

“Mary.” The woman offers her hand.

“Steve, Steve Owens,” Will announces. Steve’s a boring name, common. Not obviously common like John, just ordinary. He waves his hand vaguely towards hers. “Better not, unless you want to share the fish slime,” he says, pushing his smile wider. There’s no suggestion of anything odd from them yet, no puzzled background to the openness, wondering where exactly they’ve seen his face before.

“You bought the Mason place, huh?” Rudy guesses.

“I still get some of their mail,” he lies. Jack and Alana could have bought it from the Martians for all Will knows. He only knows his address because he mapped the place online. “I moved in a couple of weeks ago, I’m mostly living out of boxes.” It almost makes him want to laugh, given his circumstances, but it covers why he won’t be inviting them over.

“We know how that goes,” Rudy says, and he’s smiling again.

Grace is a lot easier than people, and Will rests his rod against a tree before he bends down to make a fuss of her, turning his face away from them without it seeming like avoidance. “She’s a great dog. Is she yours?”

Mary laughs. “She’s supposed to be, but she’s anybody’s who’ll give her the time of day. She used to come over and visit with the Masons. I guess she’s gotten you on her list now?”

Will’s smile is genuine as he pets her belly. “I don’t mind. She’s good company.”

She’s not Grace, but he doesn’t ask her name, because it doesn’t matter – she belongs to them, not Will, but she’ll still be Grace in his head.

“You have dogs of your own?” Mary asks.

“I did. I left them with my wife, when we separated.” It’s a strange sort of truth, and oddly neutral to say. He loved Molly; he never planned to leave her. But when he was sitting in a prison van staring at Hannibal, when he was sharing wine in a moonlit room with Hannibal, when he was standing by a corpse and bleeding and pressing his whole body into Hannibal, there’d been no space in his head for even a passing glimpse of Molly.

“Sorry to hear that,” Rudy says, and he sounds like he means it.

Will shrugs. “It was mutual.” It wasn’t, but it will be, once Molly knows the truth, instead of Jack’s omissions and lies, instead of Will’s. “I miss the dogs.”

“Well, Sophie’s always willing to be shared,” Mary says.

“She’s been a big help.” He doesn’t have to lie about that part, and Will steps back as Grace (Sophie) hears something in the trees, twisting to her feet to head off after it. Will’s fairly sure his tail is creeping by out there, working past them so he won’t meet the Dyers on the trail.

“I guess we’ll see you around,” Rudy says, “and maybe you can come on over once you’ve gotten yourself more organised.”

Will considers giving them a couple of fish, because that’s the kind of thing people do, and he decides against it. He doesn’t want to encourage any neighbourly visits. “I guess you will,” he says with another smile. He picks up his rod and starts along the trail, towards the house, while the Dyers head on towards the creek.

He stops after only a few yards, turning back to watch, to study with careful eyes. They’re still walking at a natural pace, the same as when they arrived; their voices carry to him easily as they talk, though the words don’t. There’s no stiffness to their movements, no cautious low tones exchanged between them, and they’re either very, very good, matching Hannibal’s level of seamless deception, or they’re exactly who they appear to be, and they have no idea.

Will’s never met another human being who can do what Hannibal does, and as he walks back to the house, he’s almost relaxed; as close to it as he ever gets, these last few days.

Chapter Text

A third week passes, and nothing changes, and Will’s vague sense of unease is edging into outright agitation. Hannibal got away, but he’d been shot, and so much after that would depend on the medical care he had access to. He physically can’t operate on himself. There could have been complications, infection, Hannibal could be (dead) seriously ill and alone, and Will’s found something else to add to his extensive list of things he absolutely does not want.

Not knowing is unpleasant, the constant itch in his head of so many possibilities, scenarios circling and switching and scratching at his skull. Being stuck here on this patch of land and watched, with no way to set about finding out, is transforming his agitation into full-on fucking fury.

He spends a lot more time indoors, compulsively clicking refresh on Tattle Crime pages. He doesn’t want to go far from the house, doesn’t want to risk meeting Grace’s people, or anybody else, and certainly not any of Jack’s guard dogs. This would be a really bad time for him to try to be sociable.

He can’t settle inside, can’t just sit and be still and do nothing; he can’t go outside, no further than the edges of the clearing, too close to the edges of his own control. He paces the four rooms of his tiny house-prison, and he wasn’t this antsy when he was locked inside a ten foot cell, because at least then he had a plan, he had intent, to get himself out, and to get Hannibal.

He cuts his coffee intake in half. It doesn’t help.

He briefly considers whether his encephalitis might be back, though they’d assured him that it was viral and unlikely to recur. He runs a quick analysis of himself – he’s not sweating, he’s not hallucinating (Abigail’s been gone a couple of weeks now), no headaches (not before he restricted his caffeine, anyways), he’s mostly sleeping through the nights, and has no vivid, twisted nightmares. He only wishes he could skip some time, instead of every hour dragging by on crippled legs, feeling like three. He’s not physically sick, he concludes, even if he’s circling his sofa like he used to prowl the edges of Hannibal’s office when he was half out of his mind.

Grace is his anchor. When she’s there, he can burn off his own energy along with hers, throwing rope toys across the clearing for her to retrieve, or playing chase over the lawn around the house. When she’s not, the days crawl, and so does the inside of Will’s head, because he has no information and a lot of imagination, and he clicks and clicks on Tattle Crime and finds nothing that matters.

Until he does.

It’s not in the comments, and it’s not in the articles. It’s an advertisement, a prominent one on the right hand side of a piece that Will was skimming a second ago, and has already forgotten.

‘NATURAL PEST CONTROL. Do you have snakes slithering by your house? Mongooses for sale or rent.’ And then a phone number.

It’s not remotely obscure. It’s got a flashing banner edge that changes colour. Hannibal’s injured, he’s supposed to be hiding, and this is as subtle as one of his more expressively patterned suits.

The number won’t be real. It probably belongs to an actual pet store somewhere, whose employees will be wondering why the hell there’s a sudden rash of phone calls about mongooses. Hannibal would find that mildly entertaining.

Hannibal’s talking to him, and he’s pleased; he’s amused. Will dragged him over a cliff last month, and Hannibal’s still there.

There’s nothing surprising about it. Hannibal spent years in jail for a chance to seize back Will’s attention, so why would a little thing like another failed murder attempt make him give up on Will? But sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that Will’s not the only one whose life has been utterly demolished by everything that’s happened between them.

When he can let go of the rage and the self-loathing for long enough to look with outside perspective, he can actually think maybe Hannibal’s gotten the worst of it, because Hannibal doesn’t even mind. For everything Will’s done to him, after the years of deceit and violence and manipulation, Hannibal still thinks his life is better because he loves Will. It’s fucking appalling.

Except sometimes when Hannibal’s there, and suddenly it’s not. And when it’s not, it’s the singularity in Will’s life, the entirely inescapable and infinitely absorbing centre of everything. Hannibal, the black hole in the middle of the galaxy, monstrously huge and destructive, and so perfectly hidden by his own camouflage, so very hard to see even when he’s looked at straight on.

Sometimes Will thinks he might have killed one of his own dogs if it would drag that teacup back together, if it would reset time so he would never have met Hannibal. Hannibal can’t even want that.

There’s no restart button on Will’s life. This is what he has now, this house of cameras, this empty wreckage. And Hannibal, always Hannibal.

He’s still staring at the ad. Minutes passing, and Will just looks and looks, and it’s still there and real, in its attention-grabbing box with the changing colours.

Hannibal got the whole message; he knows now. Do you have snakes slithering by your house? Oh, yes, Will has snakes.

And Will has his answer. He’s achieved what he wanted, he’s kept Hannibal away from Jack’s noose.

Now he needs to decide what, if anything, he’s going to tell Jack.

Jack will want to know, so that Will can pass on the next message. With contact established, Jack needs Will to tell Hannibal just where he is, so Hannibal will come.

That’s not going to happen. Hannibal knows about the trap. Will can keep quiet about the ad, let Jack think Hannibal never replied, that Hannibal might be dead.

Jack doesn’t believe Hannibal’s dead. He never will. And it’s… good, having a way to get in touch with Hannibal if he needs to, if he wants to. Will doesn’t have that without Freddie, and he doesn’t have Freddie without Jack.

There are potential complications. If Jack knows Hannibal has replied, that he’s out there and interested, Jack’s going to want more that Will won’t let him have. But this entire game is only buying more time – time for Will, time for Hannibal, time to finish healing and figure out some stability.

He picks up the phone and hits the speed dial for Jack.

He doesn’t close the browser.

-------------------

Jack looks from Will to the monitor, and back to Will. “That’s Hannibal?”

Will leans back in his chair and puts a hand to his chin, struggling to keep the smile from reaching his lips. “That’s Hannibal.”

“Snakes and mongooses?” Jack doesn’t quite raise an eyebrow, but it must be close.

This time Will does smile. “I’m the mongoose in that scenario. It was more flattering than the alternative.”

“What the hell did you two spend so much time talking about? Wait, no, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”

Anything. Everything. Every single thing that happened in Will’s life, and almost nothing that happened in Hannibal’s, at least not at first, because most of what happened in Hannibal’s life didn’t matter to him, it was all mirrors. It was only later that they could talk about the things that were actually important to Hannibal. (Sipping wine in a room all polished wood and dancing fire, flickering light on Hannibal’s face and the casual discussion of murder, evening after evening intense and charged, like ball lightning zig-zagging through Will’s life.)

“I don’t imagine there’ll be any point trying to track whoever placed this ad,” Jack says.

“I doubt it.” That’s part of the delay, why it took so long; Hannibal’s need to be careful, to set up untraceable payments. Jack will try anyway.

The other part – well, Hannibal probably was annoyed at Will for trying to kill him again. It takes a week or two for that to wear off sometimes.

Jack’s still staring at the screen over Will’s shoulder, with a slight frown. “He suspects something, doesn’t he? That line about the snakes bothers me.”

Will shrugs, deliberately keeping his eyes on the monitor, and away from Jack. “Probably. We’ve set traps for him before, Jack. You can’t be surprised if he’s feeling cautious.”

Jack breathes out, slow and heavy through his nose. “Cautious or not, he’ll have to come in the end, if he wants to find out. All right, we’ve gotten his attention now, and he’ll be watching for more. This time you’ll let him know where you are.”

Will turns away from the screen, looking directly at Jack for the first time since he came in the door. “You realise we can’t get that information to Hannibal without giving it to Freddie.”

“I’m sure she’ll put it together, but she’s the connection we have,” Jack says. “I’ll get Alana to set a team watching her; they’ll become very distracting if she gets too close.”

“We can make it harder for her,” Will muses, turning back to the multi-coloured ‘look at me’ flashing on the monitor. “Hannibal used the advertisement route, so he’ll be watching those too. We can do the same, instead of going through Freddie directly.”

“That works,” Jack says. “Call and let me know when you have something, I’ll have Alana arrange it through one of the Verger subsidiaries.”

“It doesn’t have to say anything meaningful,” Will tells him. “Just buy an ad in the same format as Hannibal’s. Make it for something a bit strange, so it stands out, with a company address in Oakwood, Maryland.”

Oakwood’s a small place, and conveyancing deals are a matter of public record. There can’t have been many of them in the last month.

Jack gives it a few moments’ thought. “That sounds easy enough to do,” he agrees. “I should have something suitably weird later today.”

“I’ll be looking to see how your idea of weird compares with Hannibal’s,” Will smiles. This way, Will doesn’t have to give Jack any more details that mean something between him and Hannibal. They can keep some for future use.

Hannibal won’t come here, but he’ll stay in contact with Will, by whatever means he can. Will’s just opening up a few more options.

“I’ll try not to disappoint,” Jack says, and the humour’s back in his voice.

Will pushes his chair back from the desk, and goes to the kitchen. “Coffee?” He doesn’t want to socialise with Jack, but he’s already seen half of what’s happening here, and Will would prefer him not to start looking into the rest.

Jack straightens away from the screen, and considers. “Can I grab a cup to go? I can’t disappear half the day, and I’d like to get back to Baltimore before I hit rush hour.”

“Sure, I’ve got travel mugs.” Jack knows that, because Jack supplied them, and Will sets the water to boil and grabs one from the cupboard, with a conventional cup for himself. He gathers teaspoons and cream and sugar, and measures coffee into the mugs, and Jack’s standing watching him all the while.

Will’s out of obvious things to do, and the water won’t boil for a minute or so yet, and he leans back against the countertop to return Jack’s curious stare.

“What will you do, when Hannibal comes?” Jack asks eventually.

“The last time I saw him, I pushed him off a cliff,” Will reminds him.

“Sometimes you do that,” Jack says, “and sometimes you don’t. I could wish you were more predictable, Will.”

Will can only laugh at that, short and humourless. “Me too, Jack.”

Jack walks over to join him at the counter, leaning alongside him, turns his head to look at him. “Do you even know, yourself?”

Will shrugs. “Most of the time, I have no idea.” He’s keeping his answers truthful through the low level interrogation, words of literal honesty that obscure the lies.

Jack’s expression doesn’t change with Will’s answer – it’s what he expected, and he’s only reading the frankness that sits exposed on the surface. “The security team are here to protect you, Will,” he says, “but they have to protect themselves too. When Hannibal comes, when they’re dealing with a murderer, if you choose the wrong side, they will treat you as the enemy.”

Will tips his head. “That’s a fair warning.”

“I hope you remember it,” Jack says, and his concern is genuine.

“So do I.” The water is boiling, and Will moves away to pour it over the coffee. He adds cream and sugar to Jack’s, because he doesn’t need to ask, and hands him the mug.

Jack salutes him with the cup. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“You haven’t tried it yet,” Will warns him. “It’s not Starbucks.”

Jack smiles. “Then take the thanks while it’s still on offer.” His expression drops back into earnestness. “You can call me, you know.”

“I know.”

Will doesn’t bother saying goodbye, as Jack walks past, and out to the waiting SUV.

Molly covered those aspects of conventional behaviour patterns, the last couple of years. She’d compensated well for Will’s more asocial habits, one of the traits she shared with Hannibal.

He realises, as he watches Jack drive away, that he always thinks of Molly in the past tense now. He’s boxing her up inside his head, tucking her away in a corner of his attic, sealed behind a locked and plastered over door, where she won’t hurt any more.

He’d put Hannibal in there for a while, and it had actually worked. Until Hannibal found the Dragon to open the box for him, and hurled himself at that door, cracking the plaster until it fell away in giant chunks and exposed the hinges to attack.

Molly wouldn’t throw herself forcefully back into Will’s life. She wouldn’t even knock. She’d protect Walter, and she’d build a home. Because Molly was a normal person, and that’s what normal people do.

Will isn’t feeling remotely normal, but that’s been true most of his life. It’s only the kind of not-normal he feels that changes.

He turns away from the window, and goes back to the kitchen to fix his own coffee.

Chapter Text

It’s easy enough to let himself drop back into the routine of his first couple of weeks at the house – he walks, he fishes, he plays with Grace, only he walks a lot further and with a lot less pain. He keeps just enough contact with his guards to check that nothing changes, still the same faces in the same patterns, and if they’re a bit more tense now that Jack’s warned them Hannibal might actually show up at any time, it doesn’t reflect in their reactions around Will.

He opens a new tab for Tattle Crime, and uses that to do his daily (maybe several times daily, and sometimes, because it’s raining and he’s bored, it can be more like hourly) checks through the site for Hannibal.

The original tab, with its banner ad, its colour-sweeping confirmation of existence and acknowledgement, he leaves untouched.

Jack’s identically formatted advertisement shows up on the site the day after Hannibal’s, in the form of a hypnotherapist in Oakwood, offering treatment for ophidiophobia. Will gives Jack points for trying to reassure Hannibal that he’s being paranoid about the snakes, but he’s too late; Hannibal won’t believe it now, and Will’s original warning is only reinforced.

Will’s not worried this time, when the days begin to merge into a week, then longer, and his searches don’t turn up anything new. Hannibal might not even use the site again, now he has more information to work with, but Will still checks.

Hannibal’s not been caught, because that would make the news everywhere, and as long as he’s not been caught, then he’s fine. Whatever the idiots who comment on Tattle Crime might think, there aren’t any bodies turning up that look like Hannibal’s either; he’s not fishing for attention, like he had in Italy, because he already has Will’s attention.

He’ll change up his methods again, obviously – not even Will knows for sure how many unidentified killers over the decades have all been Hannibal – but Will’s seen enough to tell the patterns between the patterns now, and he would recognise what he saw. Hannibal’s being careful, exactly how Will predicted he would be. Hannibal’s not a classic psychopath – he doesn’t lack dedication or long term goals (he loves Will, that’s definitely not typical), and he never makes the same mistake twice. He’ll be particularly keen to avoid repeating his experience of incarceration.

The only mistake Hannibal repeats is Will, and that’s because he doesn’t believe Will is a mistake.

Will takes a couple of dry days to go over the exterior of the house. Its single storey build makes it easy to access the roof from the porch rail, even with Will’s limiting shoulder. Normally at this time of year, he’d be doing repairs, fixing cracked tiles after the winter storms, replacing any rotten wood or repainting where it peeled, but the Masons had kept the place in good shape. That’s fortunate, because Jack didn’t put a set of woodworking tools in the shed. Hannibal had ably demonstrated the unorthodox use of a hammer at Muskrat Farm; it’s unsurprising that Jack opted not to leave one lying around.

None of this is Will’s life; it’s only the slack between the tides, before the current comes rushing back, but Will’s had more unpleasant interludes. He doesn’t know how long this one will last – it won’t be anything like the two years that Molly was – but he’s in no particular rush. He doesn’t have anything to hurry for. His knee heals, and his shoulder stabilises, and if Grace is the only thing that makes him something like happy, there’s nothing terrible about being here either.

The weather takes a turn for the worse towards the end of the month, a series of thunderstorms moving through as the temperatures rise. Will spends more time walking in the woods, or just sitting by the creek and watching the water flow between the storms. It’s too breezy for fishing on those days, no way to steer the cast to where the fish lurk in the shadowed pools.

He’s out of new places to explore by now – he knows all the trails, and a good part of the woods between them, where the undergrowth is thinner. He complies with Jack’s requirement to stay in the trees, and avoids the fields beyond; he has his own reasons for not wanting to be seen, and recognised.

He runs into Grace’s people a couple more times, notably when he takes the paths east of the house, and he dodges their invitations to visit, and then starts avoiding those routes altogether, going off trail when he heads out that way. He can bluff his way through the expected social interactions when he has to, but it’s tedious. His knee’s okay with uneven ground now, the softer earth and accumulated debris more off-putting to the older couple, and Grace can find him anywhere when she’s in the mood.

He’s half expecting Grace when he catches the first flash of movement, a shape at the edge of his vision too solid for swaying branches, and then he turns his head and his heart rate spikes by maybe fifty percent, because she’s human, a memory dragged out of just a handful of days from three years ago, and she’s real.

The hunters around here don’t wear double-breasted European coats and fitted leather boots, and she’s dressed down to the local style of loose denim and fleece, but she’s still one hundred percent distinctive.

She’s carrying a shotgun, and there are a couple of dead rabbits hanging from a tie at her belt. She’s looking straight at Will and moving easily in his direction, her feet picking through twigs and blackberry canes without effort.

Will leans back against the trunk of a nearby tree, and waits for her to get close. She’s picked a good day for it, with the spring wind rising towards the evening’s predicted storm, creaking the branches and thrashing the leaves along the trail. His tail would have to be right up in their faces to overhear them. “I’m still not over being stabbed and falling off a cliff. I’d prefer it if you don’t shoot me again,” he says by way of a greeting. At least there’s no possibility she’ll push him from a train this time.

Whatever she’s been doing the last three years, she’s not been working on her sense of humour. “That depends on you, and your intentions.” Her stare is still icy as she cocks her head, studying. “He believes your intentions are good, so I’ll believe it too, unless you prove differently.”

Will’s heart rate jumps again, if that’s even possible, because Hannibal still trusts him. And he knew that, and it makes absolutely no sense, but now she’s standing here telling him it’s true.

“The only intention I have right now is that nobody else dies.” Will shakes his head, looks down at the dirt. “You can’t be here. Jack Crawford knows you.”

“His people don’t. Jack Crawford is in his office. And he owes me.” Her eyes narrow and harden. “If he doesn’t remember that, I’ll remind him.”

Jack only met Chiyoh the once, that Will knows of, and that was in Italy. It’s unlikely Jack’s told Alana’s private security team to be on the lookout for her, and she’s very obviously not Hannibal Lecter. Will’s tail will tell Jack that he chatted briefly with a hunter he met in the woods, and if they don’t mention her ethnicity, Jack won’t even catch on after the fact.

Things would go very differently if Bedelia Du Maurier were to show up here; Will’s sure she’s on Jack’s well circulated shit list. Not that he can picture Bedelia tramping through the woods in her pencil skirts, she might have to surgically separate herself from her wine glass.

“Whatever Jack owes you, it matters less to him than our mutual friend, I guarantee it,” Will says, because Jack’s not the same person he used to be, any more than Will is, any more than Alana is. Hannibal the black hole, bending space-time through his gravity, reshaping everyone within his orbit.

“Perhaps.” Chiyoh’s looking him over again, carefully. “He does inspire… emotions of extremes.”

He has to laugh then, short and a little bitter, because Will knows everything about the extremes Hannibal inspires, all of them, intimately and from every angle.

“He wants to know if you’re trapped here. If you want to get out,” Chiyoh says now, and Will’s head jerks up to look at her again.

Of course he’s trapped, and not entirely by Jack.

If he says he’s trapped, he’ll wake up one night soon and find this place has become a bloodbath. Neither of them needs to invite that kind of attention.

The second question he can’t even answer for himself. Does he want to get out? Getting out presupposes having somewhere he plans to go.

“I can leave any time I want,” he says, and it’s true by now. “I haven’t decided to, yet.”

“You may not have as long as you think to make your choices,” Chiyoh warns him. “There’s a woman with red hair and a camera who comes here sometimes, but she doesn’t get close, so far.”

Freddie will keep trying though. And once she gets a picture, the whole game changes again, another cog adding to its complexities. Whether she publishes right away, or uses it to pressure Jack, Will’s going to find another layer of his remaining control wrenched away.

The one thing Freddie won’t do is blackmail Will directly with it – her sense of self-preservation is whole skyscrapers higher than her opinion of Will Graham. He won’t get any warning when it happens.

“Here. Look interested.” Chiyoh holds out the shotgun, barrels pointed away from them both in practiced gun safety. Along with the gun, she hands him a small piece of paper, long and thin, with neatly trimmed edges.

He raises the weapon to his shoulder, slowly, carefully, not to aggravate the newly healed muscles. He sights along the barrel, upwards into the flailing tips of the trees, feeling the weight and balance of it. The wood is polished perfection under his fingers, the metal of the action intricately engraved. It’s as much a piece of art as it is a weapon, well suited to the woman who owns it.

He lowers the shotgun and hands it back, glancing down at the strip of off-yellow paper he holds in his palm. There’s a phone number – a long one – and even in figures, that precise, perfect handwriting is unique and unmistakeable.

“There will be no further contact,” Chiyoh says, and it’s the right choice, because this game Will’s playing is too dangerous, and it’s sucking in the people around them again, the way it always does. But he feels the words sink into him, heavy, and it’s not what he wants. Yet another realisation added to the very long list of things Will Graham doesn’t want, and there’s so little left that he does.

“Goodbye, Will,” she says, and she turns and heads back along the trail, the way she came.

Will looks down at the roots of the tree, running deep into the earth by his feet, fallen leaves skipping by his shoes as the wind catches them, and resolutely not staring after her because his tail is watching, and they can’t know how much he wants to, how much she matters.

His heart rate is still frantic, even now she’s gone, and he shoves his hand with its piece of paper into his pocket, before he makes his way back to the creek along the trails; he needs the water, needs the calm of its flow, he needs to be able to think. He twists the paper round his fingers as he walks, smooth with sharp edges up against his skin, his proof that she was real, his proof of everything.

He reaches the stream, sits on its bank with the earth soft and leafy beneath him, the water dancing broken sticks and battered foam past his eyes as it flows off to find its ocean. He presses the paper flat into his palm with his thumb, draws it out to glance at the writing, just once in passing as he lays his hands on his thighs. His heart rate spikes again at the familiarity of the figures, the exact alignment of sweeping curves and precise points on invisible lines.

His fingers press harder into his knees.

If this is how he feels after seeing the messenger, how would he feel actually seeing Hannibal?

(Kneeling on a cliff, touching Hannibal for the first time in years as he takes Will’s hand and pulls him to his feet, not letting go, still holding, holding, and both of them are seeing it in each other, seeing it all. Touching more and more until he’s plastered up against him, and it’s all Hannibal, all through his head, all through his heart – )

Will thinks he has an inkling how it might feel, and it’s… not so shocking any more.

He’s spent years hating Hannibal; hating Hannibal for loving Will, hating himself for loving Hannibal, hating both of them for everything that shatters around them and blasts his friends with the shrapnel, and none of it changed the love.

What’s finally collapsed after the years of strain is the hate. He doesn’t feel it. For everything Hannibal’s done to Will, to Will’s life, to his friends, when he thinks about Hannibal now, the only thing that surfaces is that… he misses him.

And if (when) he sees Hannibal again, ‘misses’ will be an understatement, because everything intensifies around Hannibal, breathing intensifies around Hannibal, and there are entire layers of awareness beyond ‘misses’, but…

He misses him. He misses the conversation; he misses acceptance. He misses having someone look all the way into Will Graham and not see something strange, something crawling tight along the edges of creepy.

There’s more to it now; there’s been more to it for years, but what started it all is still what anchors it, is still what anchors Will into the remnants of this life.

The paper scratches against his fingers, and he tilts his hand just enough that he can see the numbers, stares into the paper concealed in the shadow cast by his body until he knows them, until he won’t ever forget. And then he still stares, because the writing is his connection, and everything is tied to it; and then he crumples the thin slip tight into a ball, leans forwards and drops it into the stream by his feet, because he needs to do that too.

-------------------

He stops at the edge of the clearing, with his back against a tree and the wind teasing his hair across his forehead. The house stands surrounded by its expanse of grass and flowers and rough dirt driveway, a simple structure of wood and glass where people had made a home.

The house, with all its guards and cameras, feels a lot more sinister now that he has something real to hide. There’s nothing left of Abigail’s coziness, or Will’s connection to his Virginia haven, in what he sees.

He’s trapped here indefinitely in the remains of his life – trapped by his own choices, and Hannibal’s, as much as by Jack. Just like Chiyoh when he first found her, locked in stasis for years, by her own choice, and Hannibal’s.

Will set Chiyoh free of that, gave her another life to choose.

Maybe what she chose wasn’t so different in the end, if she’s crossing the world delivering messages for Hannibal. It doesn’t matter what she chose. It matters that she had a choice.

Chiyoh’s given Will a phone number.

It’s not the same thing. It’s a phone number that leads directly into another trap. A trap as big as the entire world, instead of one cabin and a patch of woods; a trap as small as one man he can’t ever get away from.

(He’s wrapped in blood and moonlight and Hannibal, and he’s smiling), and he can’t imagine ever wanting to.

He should be feeling horrified at himself. He was horrified at himself. He stood on top of a cliff, with his world collapsing into Hannibal’s singularity, into the murderer who sent Dolarhyde to kill his wife and stepson a few days before, and he did the only other thing, which was to throw them both off it.

Being horrified at himself is exhausting; it always has a time limit. This time he’ll skip suicide and take a whiskey instead.

Dusk is getting close now, coming early with the heavy, scudding clouds, and it’s grown chilly out, the bark of the tree warmer against his hand than the sweeping gusts of air. The rain will start soon. He crosses the clearing into the house, grabs a tumbler and the bottle, toes off his boots and stretches himself along the sofa that smells comfortably of dog.

The whiskey sloshes into the glass, shimmering gold under the yellow of electric light, and it tingles pleasantly in the back of this throat as he sips, and considers what he knows.

’There will be no further contact.’

That’s the one part of Chiyoh’s message that isn’t entirely the truth. Hannibal is offering Will space, a pause to decide, but it’s the illusion of choice, and Will doesn’t have any illusions left. Hannibal can be patient, when he has to be, he’s more than proven that – but if Will doesn’t call that number, at some point after months, or a year, or more, Hannibal will tire of waiting and he’ll come to Will.

Hannibal, who tried to have Molly and Walter killed.

Hannibal killed Abigail, and Will forgave him for that, twice. It didn’t get any easier the second time.

Hannibal killed Beverly, and he tried to kill Alana, and Jack, back when that mattered more. Hannibal stabbed Will, and framed him for murder, and let him think he was going crazy, and there was the saw, though thankfully his memories of that part are hazy. He’s past wondering if there’s anything he won’t eventually forgive Hannibal for.

He’s already established that Will Graham doesn’t have any future Will might actually want. He doesn’t see that there’s much of a future likely if he decides to abet an internationally wanted murderer either, but he’s not sure one choice looks significantly worse than the other.

Hannibal’s offering him a trap packaged in love – love that’s utterly unconditional on anything Will might do, or might not do. Hannibal’s loved Will through betrayals, and murder attempts, and three years locked in a cell. He’s not likely to stop loving Will because he doesn’t put the spice grater back in the right drawer of Hannibal’s immaculate kitchen.

There might be some genuine tension over their differing tolerance levels for dog hair, he can’t help thinking, but Will’s sure there’s a compromise in there somewhere, and he finds the thought of that conversation is making him smile.

Love isn’t all Hannibal’s offering; he knows that too. He’s offering Will moonlight and blood, black and warm and clinging on his hands, and the vicious, overwhelming satisfaction of taking out the trash, but that’s an optional extra. It’s not optional for Hannibal, but what Hannibal chooses to do is for his own conscience, such as it is, not Will’s.

Will doesn’t have to make every decision in his life right now. Some of them can wait, can be considered and… made later.

’There are means of influence other than violence.’ Chiyoh’s words from years ago. When Will used non-violence with Hannibal, when he used smiles and friendship, evenings of dinner and wine, and soft conversation, the results of that were lifelong binding on both of them. Devastating in a way that didn’t hurt at all, until Will fought it, and Hannibal fought back, and then they devastated both their worlds.

He wonders again, how it would have been if he’d made a different choice four years ago. ’We could disappear now. Tonight.’

Will couldn’t have made that choice then – he wasn’t quite this person yet. He’d tried to do what was right, instead of what he wanted, and in the end it had wrecked the lives of everyone around him, whether they survived it or not.

Will can look back now over all his decisions, all his reasons, and he doesn’t see how he could ever have ended up anywhere but here.

’This is your best possible world, Will. You’re not getting a better one.’ And Will has to laugh at himself with the memory, because if he’s going to walk away from this brittle reality and elope with a serial killer, it seems oddly apt that he should be doing it on the advice of Frederick Chilton.

Chapter Text

He spends a few days thinking, before he moves. He only gets one chance to do this the simple way.

He has to make it fast, and it has to be clean. Will won’t stay ‘missing’ for too much longer – once Jack knows he’s gone, there’s going to be a sighting of Will Graham, miraculously not sloshing around in the ocean after all, and he’ll suddenly find himself a ‘person of interest’ again. Giving Jack an excuse to launch a full-on manhunt, by leaving bodies here, for instance, would put too many limitations on his movements.

He wants a cop, not one of the military types. Cop training he knows backwards, military probably add in all kinds of dirty tricks, and they tend to be physically fitter. Will’s not intending to get into a protracted fight, but a lot of things haven’t gone quite the way Will intended over the last few years, and there’s room for some variance in his plan.

He wants a very specific cop-bodyguard; the younger one whose attention levels can wander, who relaxes that little bit more when it’s just him and Will out among the trees. He’ll come with the second shift on Thursday.

Will skips his shower on Wednesday morning, shuts himself in the bathroom with the water running, and writes a letter to Molly. It doesn’t take long, but nor do Will’s showers. He pushes the letter behind the pedestal of the standalone washbasin, and dunks his hair under the faucet before he walks back out into the cameras.

After breakfast, he goes fishing.

He fishes for maybe an hour, with a couple of good sized catches, before he goes to sit on the bank facing the creek. His watchers are used to him taking a break, fiddling with fishing line, tying leaders to the main reel, dealing with snags and knots, changing tippets to switch out the lure. They don’t watch so closely – it’s boring and normal, and he has his back to them as he twines together multiple lengths of the eight pound line.

Grace comes to sit with him, pressing most of her weight up against his side in typical hound style, and further obscuring their view as he loops the braided line around into a snare-style running noose. He coils it into his pocket when he’s done, slings his arm over Grace and hugs her against him, laughing as she licks enthusiastically at his neck.

He takes his fish to the RV when he’s done. Will won’t be around to eat them, and it’s a waste to leave them to rot.

It’s difficult to spend the rest of the day being normal, for whatever definition of normalcy includes a house full of cameras, being watched every second by guards.

He spends a couple of hours clicking through the pages of Tattle Crime, because that’s what he did before Chiyoh, but he’s not reading any of it now. He stares at the screen and runs through his plans, seeking out the flaws, the consequences of bad luck or bad timing, the corrections that might need to be made.

He makes dinner early. He drinks too much coffee, and when he goes to bed, he doesn’t sleep. He stares at the dimly moonlit ceiling and listens to the calls of the barred owls, and tries not to toss and turn obviously, and have the watchers question why he’s disturbed and restless.

He’s up and making breakfast before dawn, heading out towards the creek with all his fishing gear as the light comes, and there’s nothing unusual about any of that.

He goes to one of his frequent spots at the stream’s edge, sets his pack down on the bank in the open, and roots through it, once, twice, very obviously looking for something that isn’t there. He stands his rod against a tree, leaving his pack beside it, and heads back towards the house.

His tail won’t return to the RV if Will’s going to be coming right out again in just a few minutes. He’ll wait on the trail, and Will will walk right by him.

He finds him along the path, and nods his head at him as he approaches. Will doesn’t talk to them, except when he’s bringing fish.

Will stops just after he passes him, turns as if to say something, grabs the AR-15 slung around the guy’s neck and slams it upwards, hard into his chin and throat. The man staggers, gasping, and Will pushes at him so he goes down backwards into the dirt. Will drops his full bodyweight onto the man’s chest, kneeling on him, pushing the last of the air from his lungs, and slaps a hand over his mouth for good measure.

He’s lying beneath him, winded, desperately trying to suck air back into his compressed chest through his nose, and Will uses his free hand to relieve him of his sidearm. This guard’s one of those who didn’t do his research, who’s stupid enough to carry a knife, and Will takes that too, and holds it to his throat.

“Quiet,” he says, and the man nods slight and slow into his hand.

“Hannibal’s not here, and he won’t be, don’t worry about that,” Will tells him. Jack said they would treat him as the enemy if he sided with Hannibal against them, and that’s not what’s happening. “I know you were told not to shoot me, so that rifle round your neck is useless. You need to remember nobody gave me any orders about you. I don’t want to hurt you, but I can. Do as I say, and we’ll both be fine.”

His eyes are big and shocky, blown wide with adrenaline, staring up at Will, then flicking down towards the knife he can feel but can’t see beneath his chin. His chest is trying to heave beneath Will’s knees, the struggle for air tight in the skin across his face. His fingers are hooked into the dirt of the trail, clutching automatically when there’s nothing there to grab for. Will can feel everything in his head, close, like he’s touching it. For now, at least, this guy’s all flight and no fight.

That might change when he lets him breathe. “I’m going to let you up,” Will says. “Move slow.” Taking him down was easy, it was all surprise. Now he needs to be methodical.

Will rolls his weight back from his knees onto his toes and stands, backing off fast to cover him with the Glock from a safe distance.

He wonders if Jack told them he’s not a great shot. If the guard’s smart, that makes Will a lot scarier. If he did try shooting to distract, or to wound, even Will can’t be sure what he’d actually hit.

Will’s counting in his head, waiting, and he gets to twenty before his wannabe guard pushes himself to sit upright on the trail. “That’s far enough.” The guard freezes.

“What the fuck are you doing?” He’s got enough breath back to talk now, and this is when Will can’t afford a mistake. His leeway for variance is getting thinner.

“Leaving,” Will says simply. “That’s all. Get rid of the rifle. It’s no good to you anyway.”

The man seems to agree because he unslings the AR-15 from round his neck and pushes it away without protest.

“Have this. You know what to do with it.” Will uses his left hand to release the rolled up cotton shirt tied loosely round his waist, and throws it to the guard, before he thinks to start on, ‘Hi, my name’s Tom, let me tell you about my family,’ and all the rest of that tedious police handbook psychology. His eyes never leave the guard, and the Glock doesn’t twitch.

The man catches the wadded up cloth one-handed, in what looks more like reflex than thought; Will sees some baseball history behind the action. “Why should I?”

“I said I don’t want to hurt you. I haven’t said I won’t.” His hostage sits utterly still, the shirt in his hand trailing over his knees. “Don’t worry, it’s clean,” Will adds, with mock concern.

There’s a pause of maybe five seconds as neither of them move. Whatever the guard’s looking for in Will, he finds it, because he reaches up behind his head and ties the makeshift gag in place. He won’t make it tight enough, obviously, but Will can fix that later.

“Drop the radio.” Will doesn’t have to worry about any surprises as the guy reaches inside his coat. He knows exactly what weapons each of them carries, he has done for weeks. “Don’t throw it at me,” he warns. “Just toss it on the path.”

The guard moves slow, and does as Will instructs, nothing sudden or surprising. “Now your phone.”

He’s still being obedient, which is good. Will’s almost got him.

Will tosses the spool of eight pound line to land just in front of him, and it rolls the last foot up to his legs. “Tie this round your ankles. Under your pants, over your socks. Keep going till I tell you to stop.”

This time the man doesn’t balk, doesn’t bother to check again if Will means it. He reaches forward to wind the line around his legs, passing the spool from hand to hand.

Fishing line’s terrible for this, almost impossible to tie it tight enough to prevent escape without cutting off circulation, and the guard’s obviously going to leave it on the loose side of that equation, but it’s all Will’s got to work with, and he has his insurance plan to back it up. This would go a lot easier with a roll of duct tape, but Jack didn’t provide him with one of those.

Will watches as he wraps the line something like twenty times, which is more than enough. He unhooks the line nippers from the belt loop of his jeans, and throws them to him, so he can cut it and knot the end. The guard takes a good, careful look at the nippers, long enough to be certain just how useless they would be as a weapon, then puts them down on the trail as Will instructs.

Will feels himself start to relax, just a little. The control is weighted all in his favour now. His prisoner’s not going anywhere, unless he starts humping down the path like a caterpillar.

“Turn around.” The man doesn’t look too pleased about that – he prefers Will where he can see him – but he wriggles on the spot until he’s got his back to Will. “Hands behind you.” He crosses his wrists at his back.

“I’m going to tie your hands now,” Will tells him. “I’ll be kneeling behind you, and you can throw your head back and break my nose, and if you get lucky, you can stun me for just a few moments. But you’re still tied up, and I still have your knife, and you are not going to enjoy where things go from there. Do you understand?”

The man considers it for a second, the possible outcomes and the reality of Will’s words, and then he nods.

Will pockets the Glock as he walks up behind him, takes the spool of line, and ties his wrists, as securely as he dares without risking permanent damage, which isn’t securely enough. When he’s done, he adds a few loops of extra line round his legs too, pulling them a little tighter than the guard did.

Will can take his eyes off him now, briefly, and he scans the trees set back from this section of trail until he finds a bigger one he likes. He looks down at his prisoner, hunched on the path. “Follow me.” The man glares at him above the gag, and shows no sign of movement.

Will doesn’t bother threatening him with a weapon. “Don’t act like I’m an idiot. You can shuffle far enough, and you won’t like it if I drag you by the hair.” Neither would Will’s shoulder, so he’s pleased when the guard subsides and starts to wriggle through the leaves, pushing with his bound feet.

“Over here.” Will directs him to his chosen tree. “Sit with your back against it.” The man complies, angled back against the trunk, leaving space for his hands at the base. He’s thinking Will’s going to tie him to the tree with more line, he’s thinking he’ll have worked his hands free within fifteen minutes of Will leaving, and he’d be right if that was what Will was planning to do.

He takes his pre-made noose from his pocket, and his prisoner starts to grunt around the gag, and struggle against his ties, throwing himself sideways away from the tree. Will grabs him by the hair, and after a couple of false starts, he gets the noose in place around his neck, and the man instantly freezes. “Try not to kill yourself,” Will tells him, as he hauls him back upright, and secures the other end to one of the thicker branches. “If you wriggle, it gets tighter. Don’t. Move. You’ll have a long and boring day, and they’ll find you in,” he checks his watch, “five and a half hours.”

He tightens the gag before he leaves him, just in case Grace’s people pick today to wander this way, then collects the radio and phone from the trail. He checks the safety on the AR-15, ejects the magazine and the chambered round, and tosses everything away into the bushes, because they’re no more use to Will than they were to the guard.

One down, two to go.

The guys in the RV are a lot easier to deal with. They’re not wearing their rifles, sitting inside watching the cameras, they’re expecting Will at the door with a trout, not a Glock, and they’re not allowed to shoot him.

There are Flexicuffs in the RV, far quicker than all that messy improvisation. Will destroys the satellite phone, and takes the batteries from the guards’ personal cell phones. He’s outside again in under five minutes, with three sets of keys in his pocket.

He stabs two of the tyres on the RV and the spare car. Even if they do get loose before the next shift finds them, they’ll be walking.

He goes to the house, grabs enough clothes for a few days, and stuffs them into a small backpack, along with the letter for Molly.

He has a mental debate with himself over the glasses. They distract from the scar, give a person’s eyes something else to focus on, make him look milder and unassuming. They also make him look a lot more like all those pictures that the media splashed around, but it’s been a couple of months now since he was front page news; most people don’t hold a mental image that long, and look for it in the parking lot at the mall.

Less than an hour after shift change, Will’s bumping down the dirt road in the one car that still has air at every corner, and heading for Elkton, near the state line. It’s a smaller town, not an obvious stopping point for a criminal, but big enough and close enough to the major routes that strangers don’t stand out.

He leaves the car in the park and ride near the interstate, lost in the rows of daily commuters, and takes the bus to the strip mall stores on the edge of town.

It isn’t hard to steal a wallet. He just has to watch the people, pick out the ones who are stressed and distracted, and work with those.

Apparently small children are very distracting. There are several possibilities around, and he keeps tabs on a few; the wavering levels of attention, the purses, the lines of pockets in jackets and jeans that tell where the wallets are. He chooses a man loading groceries into a car, with two kids chasing each other underfoot, and Will bumps into the man as he dodges one of the running boys.

Will’s an average guy, not big, not threatening, with glasses and a friendly smile alongside his apology; there’s the scar now, jagged across his cheek making it a little harder to create that image, but the man suspects nothing as he drives away.

There are two credit cards in the wallet. Will takes them both, and the small amount of cash, leaves the wallet and the rest of its contents on a bench. Maybe it will make its way back to its owner. If not, that’s down to whoever finds it, and Will tried.

He crosses the street, heading into the Walmart superstore – definitely glasses off for this part, some store assistant’s going to be looking him right in the face for five to ten minutes – and picks out the cheapest pay-as-you go Net10, with a twelve volt car charger. The phone needs to get a signal; it doesn’t need to be quality, when it’s only ever going to be used once. He adds on the basic pre-pay and the ten dollar global calling activation. As long as he keeps the total under fifty dollars, he won’t need to sign for the credit card.

There’s enough leeway left for him to ask for a book of postage stamps.

The first credit card he swipes doesn’t work. It’s probably maxed out – it’s that kind of town. He smiles apologetically at the cashier, mumbling about forgetting his automatic payment dates, and when he tries the second, the sale goes through.

The card will be traced to the store, and he’ll be on the security footage. It doesn’t matter. The phone needs to charge, and Will intends be a few hundred miles away before he uses it. Jack will pull the call data from the closest cell towers, and the international number would stand out.

He drops the letter for Molly into a mailbox, addressed care of Jack’s office. He can’t send it direct; he doesn’t know where she is.

He doesn’t know if Jack will even give her the letter, once Will’s officially alive again.

He hopes Jack will let her read it. Will didn’t bother trying to explain, because there’s no way he can. He only told her she doesn’t need to be scared anymore; the threat is gone. Her life, Walter’s life, they can have them back.

He deliberately wrote that they won’t ever see him again. He’s in no position to get it notarised, and Will knows nothing about family law, but maybe it will help her hasten a divorce for abandonment. It’s the only thing Will’s able to give her. He’s leaving her everything he owns, and that really doesn’t make up for anything.

He scans the parking lot and picks out an older, battered looking pick-up. Something modern is too hard to steal, and Will needs to be quick and subtle. Once he’s inside, he tosses his bags onto the passenger seat, wires it up, and starts driving.

He doesn’t have long before this truck’s reported stolen, but it’s less than sixty miles to Philadelphia International, and it’s interstate all the way. His next stop is the long stay parking near the airport, where he swaps his temporary transport for another, one that won’t be missed for a while.

He finds the toolkit in the trunk, breaks open the phone’s melded plastic packaging, and starts it charging. He’s got some time to play with now, and this is when he’ll put the distance in.

It doesn’t matter which way he goes, not when he has no idea yet where he’s planning to end up. It only matters that he goes. He heads north, because he’s about to run out of east, and he doesn’t want to double back.

He’s in an anonymous vehicle, lost in the mid-morning traffic. He still has ninety minutes before the noon shift shows up, and Jack even learns he’s gone.

For the first time since he left Oakwood, he’s got a buffer, and Will’s abruptly thinking, not just executing a plan.

It’s noteworthy, and kind of amusing, that today’s little spree of petty, low-level crime has put him at more risk of arrest than everything else he’s done since he met Hannibal. The false imprisonment goes somewhat beyond petty, but that’s not what he was risking arrest for.

It’s ridiculous that he feels an actual twinge of guilt over taking a man’s wallet, when his history of criminal behaviour includes multiple counts of attempted murder (two indisputable, he figures by now, plus a couple more that would get reduced with a plea), conspiracy to murder, accessory to murder most likely (Will’s never been entirely sure what a legal team would make of the complexities of his first outing with Hannibal at Muskrat Farm). He’s notched up everything murder-ish but the act itself, and all of those had seemed like the best idea around at the time, and none of them give him any qualms.

His mind is still making a very clear distinction between the innocent who deserve nothing, and the guilty who deserve everything, and that’s… interesting, given that Will is now placing himself unhesitatingly on the ‘guilty’ side of that line.

Whatever else he might eventually choose to do, or choose not to do, he will protect Hannibal. It’s what he does every time, when the threat is external, not coming from Will. And Hannibal being exactly who he is, it’s more likely to be a question of ‘when’ it comes up, than ‘if’.

Will’s only going to get guiltier, and he can stare that fact right in the eye, finding nothing inside him that seems to care. He only cares about getting far enough to use the phone, watching its charge indicator climb as he drives.

Jack found a fake passport for Abigail at Hannibal’s house by the cliff. He didn’t find one for Will.

There would have been one, four years ago. Hannibal took it with him.

Will wonders vaguely what his new name is, and hopes Hannibal didn’t choose anything odd.

His name isn’t going to be the biggest of the issues in his future, and everything will detonate around them explosively in the end, but all he has to do for now is drive.

He drives, keeping on the interstate, going five to ten over the limit, just like all the rest of the traffic. He drives north until he’s into New York state, and then crosses eastwards again. He drives until he’s in a parking lot by a lake somewhere north of Albany, and he sits in the car and looks out at the water, the wind kicking up waves on its surface and powering the sailboats that push through them in a wash of spray. He lets his mind sit by a stream, and call up a strip of off-yellow paper with a number meticulously shaped across its surface.

Will doesn’t recognise the country code. He wasn’t going to google it from Jack Crawford’s tightly monitored internet browser. The Net10 lets him access over a hundred countries direct dial – he’s screwed if Hannibal’s gone somewhere weirdly obscure, but that’s not really his style.

It could be the middle of the night where he’s calling.

Hannibal won’t care, as long as Will calls.

He punches in the number, and hits talk.

The clicking wait is long – continents long. Long enough for him to wonder what if he got the number wrong, what if –

And then it starts to ring.