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Separately to a Wood

Chapter Text

Will took another bite of the eggs and sausage. “It’s good. Thanks.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” Hannibal let his fork rest against the edge of his bowl. “Will … I have a question for you.”

“Yeah?”

“What would you say if I asked you to marry me?”

Will looked up, startled, and found himself staring into Hannibal’s eyes. He looked down at his eggs again. He wanted to believe it was an unkind joke, but it wasn’t. Hannibal wasn’t the type, and he looked too sincere for comfort. “I’d say you were nuts. And maybe drunk.”

“I am sober. Do I seem like a madman? You are uniquely qualified to judge.”

“You seemed sane enough until thirty seconds ago.”

Hannibal gave him a very faint smile. “You haven’t answered my question.”

“You haven’t actually asked it.”

“A fair point. Perhaps I should say that I didn’t believe in love at first sight until I met you, but I’m afraid that’s not true. The only other great attachment I felt came on me just as suddenly, and I was foolish enough to lose her. That was thirty years ago, and I’m not disposed to repeat the mistake. Would you marry me, Will?”

Will stared at him. “You can’t — this is crazy.”

“Perhaps. If your’e concerned about our financial arrangements, I’m happy to sign any prenuptial agreement you like.”

“Right. I’m worried about the money. That’s the issue here.”

“What then?”

“You can’t—“ You can’t do this. This is not what people do. But Will didn’t do what people did either. He took a gulp of the coffee Hannibal had brought. Like the eggs, it was excellent.

Hannibal rested his chin on his hand. His gaze was warm and just a little amused. “I would cook for you, of course. If that weighs more heavily with you than money.”

For a split second, Will let himself think about it: waking up to the smell of cooking, to someone else in the house. Someone waiting for him when he came home. It hurt more than he’d expected. “I’m not gay,” he said.

“We need not have sex. Although I would ask you to be faithful to me. As I would be to you.”

Will was staring at him again, helplessly, feeling abruptly cracked open. “I have seven dogs.”

Hannibal blinked once. “Unexpected. It would be impractical where I live now, but we can find another place. Or I can move in with you if you prefer.”

“I live in the middle of nowhere. My bed’s in my living room. There’s dog hair—“ He stopped. He was making excuses, not saying no. Trying to explain why Hannibal didn’t want him.

Hannibal sat across from him, patient, waiting.

“You’re serious,” Will said.

“I am.” Hannibal reached across the table and covered Will’s hand with his own.

Will’s heart thumped hard in his chest. “All right. Yes.”

Because Will couldn’t seem to look away from Hannibal’s face, he caught the fleeting expression of surprise and wonder that passed across it, there and gone in less than a second. Hannibal dropped his gaze to where his hand rested over Will’s. “Thank you,” he said.

The words were spoken softly, and they fell into the morning quiet. Will took in the feel of Hannibal’s palm curved over the back of his hand. For a minute, he didn’t think about the day ahead or the eight dead girls at all.

\*

It was easy to put the morning aside and concentrate on work. It was easy to pretend it hadn’t happened at all and, in fact, it seemed more and more likely that it hadn’t. Will went through files and considered, in the back of his mind, whether he might’ve had an extraordinarily vivid dream.

He was sorting through the D - F section of employee records when Hannibal appeared at his elbow. He’d been two filing cabinets down, working his way backward from Z.

“Find something?” Will asked.

Hannibal offered him a bottle of water.

“Oh. Thanks.” Between the dusty files and the overactive space heater, it was welcome. Hannibal watched him as he drank but he didn’t say a word. They both got back to work, and Will felt the day’s sense of unreality grow.

\*

Will stood outside the Hobbs house. Blood speckled his hands and face, sticky in places, dry and itchy in others. He couldn’t see clearly. It took him a long time to realize that the blood had gotten on his glasses too. He took them off.

Hannibal slipped past the mass of uniformed police officers in front of the house. He was wiping his hands on a towel as he walked. It was streaked in red. He handed it to Will, who held it numbly.

“They’ll be all right,” Hannibal said. “The wife and daughter. Mrs. Hobbs is being taken to the hospital, but the wounds her husband managed to inflict before you shot him were not deep.”

“Good. That’s good.” Will shook himself. He scrubbed the blood from his hands and forearms and found a clean corner to wipe at his face.

“You’ve missed a spot or seven,” Hannibal said.

He rubbed harder. “I have to find—“ Whoever was in charge of the scene. Jack was still deposed in court. It occurred to him that the local PD possibly thought he was in charge. He looked around at the milling crowd of police and paramedics. “Get in the car. I’ll drive you back to the motel.”

“I will drive if you don’t mind.”

Will looked at his outstretched hand for a few seconds and then dropped the keys into his palm. “You don’t seem too shaken up by this.”

“I was a surgeon in the ER at Johns Hopkins for more than a decade. I have seen a great deal of blood. And occasionally bloodshed.”

“Bloodshed?”

Hannibal opened the passenger’s side door for him. Will got in. They pulled out onto the road through a swirl of autumn leaves kicked up in the wind of the car’s passage.

“A stabbing in the waiting room. A shooting just outside the hospital. I saw only the aftermath of the shooting, but I was present for the stabbing.”

“And now you’re a shrink. Is that when you quit?” Will scrubbed at his face until his skin stung. He could still feel the blood.

“No. I killed a patient. Or that was how it felt. I could not save her.”

“It couldn’t have been the first time someone died on your table.” Will took a breath. “Sorry. That was — I shouldn’t have said that.”

“You are correct, of course. It was not the first time. But it was the last. My anatomy teacher in medical school was fond of a certain saying. Cooks cover their mistakes with sauces and architects cover them with ivy, but doctors cover our mistakes with dirt.”

Will thought of Hobbs lying on the living room floor, going paler and paler as his blood seeped into the carpet. “Is that better or worse than covering your successes with dirt?”

“Was Hobbs a success?”

“I killed the bad guy. Saved lives.” Will held the towel in his lap, twisted around his hands. It was damp and cold, and his fingertips felt nearly numb. The bloodstains stood out until they were all he could see. “Jack will approve.”

Hannibal didn’t reply. When they got back to the motel, he walked Will to his room. “You should shower and change. If you’ll lend me your key, I’ll bring you some coffee.”

Will had been thinking vaguely of just sitting in the bottom of the shower until the hot water ran out, which, in a motel, could take a while. Coffee did sound good. He looked down at Hannibal’s hand, held out once more for the key. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Marriage is a partnership. I’m sure you’ll do the same for me.”

Will rubbed at his eyes. “Bring you coffee after you kill someone?”

“Perhaps. One never knows what the future may bring.”

“You’re not still serious about that. Not after today.” Hannibal had been standing in the doorway. He’d watched Will pull the trigger. Nine times.

“I am. Now more than ever.” He touched Will’s arm. His hand was warm. “The key?”

Will dropped it into his palm and went inside to start the shower. He stood under the hot water, face turned up toward the spray. It didn’t take long to make coffee. Maybe Hannibal would be there when he got out, sitting at the table by the window. Waiting for him.

It got him out of the shower sooner than he’d planned. He hadn’t brought clothes in with him and didn’t really want to put anything he’d been wearing back on. Even his shoes had a few dots of blood on the toes.

He wrapped himself in a towel and stuck his head out into the bedroom. No one there. He looked for a second at the empty chair by the window and then went to his bag to get fresh clothes.

Hannibal let himself in as Will was pulling on a T-shirt. He carried a thermos of coffee and something wrapped in a white dish towel. He set it down on the table and unwrapped it to produce half a baguette, two kinds of cheese, a red pear, and a bunch of black grapes.

Will blinked at the spread for a second or two. He rubbed a hand through his damp hair. “I’m not really hungry.”

“You’ve had a shock. Food is often grounding.” Hannibal sat down and poured coffee for both of them. He had plates too. And a curved, wood-handled cheese knife.

Will sat down opposite him. He felt disconnected, like he was watching Hannibal slice cheese from a long way off. Like this might evolve into a nightmare at any second. Like the grapes would bleed when he bit into them.

He took one and peeled the skin back from the hole where it had been attached to the stem. The inside was as dark as the outside, the color of dark red wine, not blood. He popped it into his mouth and chewed.

“I presume there is no reason to stay here now,” Hannibal said. “I’ll make flight reservations for both of us, if I may?”

Will tore off a piece of bread. “Why are you doing this?”

Hannibal drew his thumb along the edge of the cheese knife. “Fear and desire motivate most of our decisions. We fear discomfort, hunger, pain, and so we work to acquire money in the hope that we can avoid these things. I knew when we first spoke that I desired you. When you left Jack’s office, I discovered that I also feared losing you. It seems logical to work to prevent that from happening if I can.”

“By bringing me cheese and grapes and making flight reservations?”

“I would cook for you anyway because I enjoy it, though this hardly counts as cooking.” Hannibal tilted his head slightly to the left. Sun fell across his face and bleached it white as bone. “As for the reservations, it seems the least that anyone might do for you after what you were forced to do today.”

Will swallowed and took another grape. “My job?”

“You are a consultant. A teacher. This was not your job.”

“I was supposed to find him. I found him.”

“Yes. You did. And now it’s time to go home.”

Will couldn’t think of anything he wanted more. He wanted to walk in the fields with his dogs. He wanted his mind to be quiet. Maybe then this day would start to make sense.

Jack probably wanted him to stay. Hobbs would’ve had a cabin somewhere. A private place where he could take the girls. Where he could take them apart. Will could see it already, a nest of antlers behind his eyes.

“Okay. Make the reservations.”

\*

Hannibal got them first class seats. “You know the FBI isn’t going to reimburse you for anything above coach, right?” Will said.

Hannibal settled into the window seat and raised the shade to look out at the tarmac. “We shall see.”

Fine. Let him fight it out with the Bureau. Will had made a brief, doomed attempt to downgrade his seat, but the flight was full. And he just didn’t care that much right now.

Hours later, past midnight, he unlocked his front door, poured himself a glass of whiskey, and went out to sit on the porch steps. His dogs ran through the grass and returned to him again and again, sniffing at his hands and shoes. Winston sat down next to him. Will rested a hand on his back and drank his whiskey.

“I said yes,” he told Winston. “Why the hell did I do that?”

Winston tilted his head and made a low whuff noise.

He’d said yes and he hadn’t yet told Hannibal he’d changed his mind. He wasn’t sure he had changed his mind. He hadn’t made it up to begin with. The agreement had been yanked out of him like a tooth. He couldn’t stop prodding at the hole it had left behind.

Hobbs had danced backwards as the bullets hit him. The knife had dropped from his hand. The girl, Abigail, had scrambled away from him, safe and whole. Will looked up at the stars and had a moment of vertigo, as if he might fall up into them. He ducked his head, sick with it, the enormous silence of the night pressing in on him.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out: Hannibal. Good night, Will.

He stared at the bright screen and then, slowly, texted back. did you get home ok?

Yes, thank you.

ok. goodnight.

Will finished off his whiskey, herded the dogs inside, and got ready for bed.

Chapter Text

Jack called Will at five the next morning. “Where the hell are you?”

“Home,” Will said.

“Why are you home? We have things to do here.”

“Do you want me to come back?”

Jack was silent for long enough that Will thought he might say yes. In the end, he just sighed. “What made you think you could take off like that?”

I killed one stranger and agreed to marry another, and I could probably cope with either of those things, but apparently not both. “Thought we were done.”

“Is that what you thought?”

Will stretched and shuffled toward the kitchen and coffee. Jack wanted an apology, and that wasn’t unreasonable. Most days, Will would’ve given him one. Today, he didn’t feel inclined to give anyone anything. “You asked me to find him. I found him. You won’t have any problem making the case, will you?”

“That’s not the point, Will. If I can’t depend on you, we can’t work together.”

Will stared blindly out the kitchen window. He could think of a lot of things to say to that. Most of them started with a summary of all the ways in which the FBI had already judged him undependable, unstable, and unfit. He waited for the usual gut-churning anger, but it didn’t come. There was just a hollow space where it used to be, filled up with the memory of Garret Jacob Hobbs’s blood on the carpet.

“I wasn’t aware we were going to work together,” he said. “The case is over. Hobbs is dead.”

“We’ll talk about this when I get back,” Jack said, sounding more like Will’s father than was entirely comfortable.

After Jack hung up, Will stood and watched the coffee drip. He thought about working more cases with the BAU. He thought about waking up next to Elise Nichols’s body. The way she’d floated away from him into the dark.

Hobbs wouldn’t hurt anyone else. This was why Will had wanted to join the FBI. He’d wanted to catch killers. He’d known he’d be good at it. He’d been less sure he’d ever be good at, or for, anything else.

\*

“They applauded. It was inappropriate.”

“Well, the review board would beg to differ. You’re up for a commendation,” Jack said. “And they’ve okayed active return to the field.”

“Question is, do you want to go back to the field,” Alana said, making it sound not at all like a question.

“I want him back in the field.”

Will looked between them while they looked at each other. A week ago, he’d been gathering dust behind a lectern. Now they were growling over his brain like dogs with a bone. The upshot was that they both wanted him to see a shrink, Jack to prove he’d be fine in the field and Alana to prove he wouldn’t be. No one asked for his opinion.

“Are we starting now?” he said.

“The session wouldn’t be with me,” Alana said.

“Hannibal Lecter’s a better fit. Your relationship’s not personal.”

Will stared at him for a second. “Have you asked Hannibal about this?”

“Do you have any reason to think he’d object?” Jack said.

Will opened his mouth and closed it again. He gripped the edge of his desk. He couldn’t say it. It sounded insane, and he was abruptly seized by the fear that Hannibal would deny it, that he’d changed his mind or never meant it at all.

He picked up his bag and pushed past them. “I just think you should ask him first. That’s all.”

\*

An hour later, he got a phone call from Hannibal. “Jack called me. You may be hearing from him. And from Alana.”

Will negotiated the off ramp toward Wolf Trap with the phone clamped between his shoulder and his ear. “Did you tell them?”

“I told Jack, who told Alana, who called me. I just got off the phone with her.”

“Did they believe you? I wasn’t sure they’d believe me. I’m not sure I believe me. Or you.” Will took the phone in his hand and cracked his neck. He took a cold french fry from the bag beside him. “Or any of this.”

“Perhaps I can help you with that. I’d like to make you dinner tonight.”

“I stopped for McDonald’s.”

There was a brief silence.

“I haven’t actually eaten much of it,” Will said.

“Good. Where are you?”

“Nearly home.”

“And I am nearly at your house as well. I thought I should meet your dogs,” Hannibal said.

Will stared straight ahead at the road, unblinking. “Did you really tell Jack that you — you proposed?”

“Yes, Will. I really did.”

“Okay.” He swallowed. “Okay. I’ll see you soon I guess.”

Fifteen seconds after he hung up, the phone rang again. It was Alana. “Hello?”

“Will. Hi.” She paused. “I just spoke to Hannibal.”

“He doesn’t want to do my psych eval?”

“He said it would be inappropriate.”

“Did he say why?”

Another, longer pause. “He said he asked you to marry him. And you said yes.”

“You sound like you think he might be lying.”

“I don’t know what to think,” Alana said. “I have a lot of questions that I’m not sure I should ask.”

“How about if you save them for the psych eval, since it looks like that’s on you now.”

“If that’s what you want,” Alana said slowly. “We can make an appointment in the morning.”

“Yeah. I’ll call you.”

“Will. Are you all right?”

“I have no idea. I have to go. Traffic.”

They hung up. Will steered his car along the empty roads toward his house. When he reached it, he saw a Bentley in his driveway. He sat in the car and looked at it without really seeing it. Exactly how much money did Hannibal have? What kind of pre-nup would he want Will to sign? How much did it cost to get divorced? Was there a possibility that this incredibly stupid thing he was doing would eat up his savings and leave him and his dogs on the street?

Hannibal stepped out of the shadows on the porch and raised a hand to him. Will got out of the car. He could hear the dogs going nuts inside.

“Hi.”

“Hello, Will. It’s good to see you.” Hannibal’s expression was soft, and he had his hands clasped behind his back, like he was trying to keep himself from reaching out inadvertently.

Will unlocked the door. The dogs bounded out, excited to meet someone new. Hannibal had brought them bits of sausage in a paper bag. He had seven new friends for life. Will couldn’t help smiling as he bent down to stroke each of their heads in turn, exactly twice, like it was some kind of ceremony.

"They’re strays?"

"Not anymore," Will said.

Hannibal nodded and followed him inside. "I have a rabbit stew and the makings of a salad if that’s acceptable."

"Sounds great. Is there anything I can do?"

Hannibal passed him a bottle. "You may open the wine."

That was all Will was allowed to do, that and set the table. Hannibal took over his kitchen, catalogued the contents of his cupboards with a glance, and got to work. The stew went into the oven to warm up in an enameled cast iron pot the color of the ocean. Hannibal set a cooler bag on the counter and pulled out two kinds of lettuce, fresh figs, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese, and a few bunches of herbs. Hannibal minced them into four separate piles.

“What are the two that aren’t chives and parsley?” Will asked.

Hannibal scooped up one pile in his palm and held it out for Will to smell. Will bent over it and breathed in, fingers brushing the back of Hannibal’s wrist. It smelled like spring in the middle of autumn, intensely green and fresh.

"Chervil." Hannibal sprinkled it over the salad and then scooped up the other. He held that out as well. "And tarragon. This is to finish the stew."

"Smells kind of like licorice."

Hannibal nodded. “It is similar to anise, though they are distinct flavors.”

"Alana called me."

Hannibal picked up the chopped chives between the knife and his palm. "Yes?"

"She’s doing my psych eval."

"How do you expect that to go?"

"Probably not great," Will said.

Hannibal scattered the chives and parsley over the salad and took out a jar of vinaigrette, clearly homemade. "Jack wants you to continue to work with him."

"Yeah."

"And what do you want?"

Will took a gulp of wine and started putting together dinner for the dogs. "This is all I ever thought about doing. Stupid to turn it down now."

"Desires can shift as we age."

"Have yours shifted?" Will asked.

"As a young man, I desired a degree of control over life and death. Eventually, as I told you, I found that it was not enough. Death won too often. I transferred my passion for anatomy to the culinary arts, and no one has yet died as a result of my therapy."

"Has anyone survived as a result of your therapy?"

Hannibal wiped his hands on a dishtowel and looked at Will. "Perhaps. The arena of the mind is a more nebulous battleground than that of the body. Both success and failure are less dramatic, if one learns the outcome of the fight at all. Will you get the stew, please? It should be warm enough."

They ate at Will’s scarred kitchen table. Hannibal had brought the same bread he’d given Will in the motel room. "Did you bake this?"

"Yes. I do most of my own baking now. The bakery I preferred closed years ago."

"How long have you been in Baltimore?"

"Since medical school. And you?"

"I used to be a cop in New Orleans. I came here after that. Got a forensics degree. Tried to join the FBI."

"And you were refused."

"Screening procedures," Will said.

"You expect your session with Alana to replicate the results of those screening procedures."

"She doesn’t think I’m fit for field work. Nothing I say is going to change her mind."

"Do you want to change her mind?" Hannibal quartered a fig with his fork and took a bite. His face smoothed momentarily with pleasure. "I ask because you could have had your psych eval with me. Without your prompting, Jack would not have asked me questions I was bound to answer."

Will finished his salad while he thought about that. "And you wouldn’t have volunteered the information? Isn’t that kind of unethical?"

"I would have discussed it with you first, but I do believe you’re fit for field work. I have no moral qualms about providing you with the means to fulfill your desires."

Will swallowed, mouth a little dry from the way desires had rolled off Hannibal’s tongue. "So all I had to do was keep my mouth shut. Story of my life."

"You could see it that way. Or you could regard it as a choice. An ethical choice, perhaps. It was, of course, the proper thing to do."

It was. But that wasn’t why he’d done it. Watching the tilt of Hannibal’s mouth and the faint humor in his eyes, Will suspected he knew that. "I wanted to see what you’d say."

"If I would deny you. Thrice before the cock crows? I am not Peter."

"And I’m not Jesus."

"And here we are," Hannibal said. "We seldom see the divergence of our paths until we have already chosen the one we will walk, and then it is usually too late to go back."

Hannibal raised his glass for a toast, but he said nothing. Will clinked his glass against Hannibal’s. They drank in silence and moved on to the rabbit stew. The room was warm and bright. Most of the dogs were snoring in front of the fireplace. If he’d stayed in Minnesota, he might still be there, lost in a forest of antlers.

Chapter Text

Alana's office had warm gray walls and a warm beige carpet. She had a lot of books, very few of them about psychiatry. Will skimmed over titles: Treasure Island, Black Beauty, some John Grisham stuff, Isabel Allende.

“It gives people something to talk about when they don’t want to talk about themselves,” Alana said. “Besides, who doesn’t like pirates.”

Will flipped through Treasure Island. It had been read more than once and not just by Alana. Some of the pages had small, grubby fingerprints. Alana came to stand at his shoulder. “It’s chocolate,” she said. “Chocolate and pirates go a long way with some of my younger patients.”

“Is that an option for your older patients too?”

“I have a bar in my desk drawer. Lindt.”

He followed her back to the desk and leaned against it. She sat in the chair clearly intended for patients, which left him her chair. “Trying to put me at ease?” he said.

“Pulling out all the stops. Middle drawer.”

The chocolate had hazelnuts in it. He broke off a piece for each of them. “He made me rabbit stew.”

“He’s a great cook,” Alana said. “Almost legendary in the Baltimore social scene.”

“We’re supposed to talk about Hobbs.”

“We don’t have to. We can talk about anything you want to, Will. There are no rules here.”

Will scrubbed his damp palms over the thighs of his jeans. He stared at the far wall and saw Hannibal cooking in his kitchen with his sleeves rolled up. “What’s he like?”

Alana paused. “Well. He was my mentor at Johns Hopkins. Superficially, he’s very patient. A good teacher. If he thinks you’re worth it.”

“If not?”

“He tunes you out. I saw him do it with a couple of people. He’d still answer their questions, but there was no — they weren’t trying, so neither was he."

"What was he like with you?"

"Intense," Alana said. "He rarely answered my questions at all. He’d just ask me more questions and give me two weeks’ worth of reading, and then we’d have a three hour conversation about it while I watched him make duck confit."

"At his house?" Will asked.

“Pretty often. I was … not suspicious, but cautious the first time he invited me over. But it was never like that. We talked. He taught me how to cook. That was it."

"Did you know he was gay?"

"He’s not gay. Or, at least—" She frowned. "It’s hard to sort out what’s common knowledge about him and what might be personal confidences. But he never told me about anyone he was with, so this is all just hospital gossip. There was a guy from the neurology department and then years later, right before he left, there was a woman he met at the opera. So I assume he’s bi."

Will felt his eyebrows rise on their own. "The opera?"

"He loves it. He even took me a few times. I … am not a fan. I think he was disappointed in me."

Will couldn’t help himself. "And how did that make you feel?"

She laughed. "Like I should try harder to like it, honestly. He has that effect on people. Maybe you’ve noticed."

"I haven’t known him that long," Will said. But he’d left his bag of McDonald’s in the car rather than do the fast food walk of shame past Hannibal into the house to throw it away. His car still smelled vaguely of old fries.

Alana was watching him carefully. "Are you attracted to him?"

"I’m straight."

She waited.

Will looked away. ”I don’t know. At this point, I think I’d rather talk about Hobbs."

"Okay. We can do that. Would you like to tell me what happened when you got to the house?"

He walked her through it. That part was easy. He’d been over it all in his report already. The daughter, Abigail, had let them in and called her parents. They went into the living room together. It had struck Will as looking like a nicer version of a lot of the places he and his dad had stayed when he was growing up: 70s era decorating, a lot brown and orange, pine paneling.

Mrs. Hobbs had made a nervous joke about tax evasion. Her husband had looked at her and shaken his head slowly. "It’s for me, Melissa. I’m sorry, honey. It’s for me."

He had a knife in his hand. Will hadn’t seen him take it out. He’d lunged for his wife, and Will had pulled his gun.

"He got to her before I could stop him. The first shot hit him in the shoulder and spun him toward me. He grabbed her hair and put the blade to her throat. I shot him until he dropped the knife." Will took a breath and blinked. The scene was clearer than the room around him. "Hannibal went to help Mrs. Hobbs. I went to make sure Hobbs wasn’t going to get up and try again."

"And Abigail? Jack’s asked me to speak to her."

"She was quiet. Didn’t scream, didn’t say anything. Didn’t move away from the wall until after I checked Hobbs." He could see her there, standing mute with both hands over her mouth, white as snow. "She knew," Will said.

Alana frowned. "About her father?"

"Yeah. She knew, or at least she guessed. She knew he was dangerous."

"Jack thinks she was the bait for all those girls."

"It’s possible. She was afraid of him."

"What makes you say that?"

"She never took her eyes off him. From the second he entered the room, she was right next to him, between him and her mother. She barely looked at us at all." He'd been holding Treasure Island so tightly his hands ached. He set it on her desk. "Hannibal said there was a stabbing at Johns Hopkins while he was there."

Alana nodded. "Two brothers. He disarmed the attacker."

"He didn't mention that part."

"I didn’t see it, but one of the nurses said it looked like he just took the knife out of the guy’s hand, and then the guy was on the floor. And then Hannibal asked if someone would please get the police."

Will could picture it. Hannibal would’ve worn the same expression of calm concentration that he’d had in the wake of the shooting as he tended to Mrs. Hobbs. And calmed Abigail. And kept an eye on Will, who had stood there, bloody and blinking, for much too long.

"Did you think he was joking when he told you about—" Will gestured at himself.

"No," Alana said slowly. "It’s not the kind of thing he would joke about. I didn’t know what to think. I still don’t. What did you think?"

Will grasped after the feeling the Hannibal’s words had created inside him, but he couldn’t find any way to express it. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to try. It felt too small to be let out into the world on its own. He shook his head and avoided her eyes.

Alana propped her chin on her fist and watched him. "But you said yes."

"Yeah."

"And you haven’t changed your mind."

"No," Will said.

"I guess you two have a lot to talk about then."

"You’re not going to tell me this is a terrible idea?"

"Do you think it’s a terrible idea?" Alana asked.

Will gave her a look over the tops of his glasses.

She gave him a tiny smile in return. "Okay. I’ll tell you what I see, and maybe you’ll find that helpful. You are both insular people. You tend to live inside your own heads, I think more by choice on Hannibal’s part and by necessity on yours. You both avoid connections. But neither of you is avoiding this one."

He changed the subject again, circling back to Abigail and her father until the timer on Alana’s desk chimed.

Will sighed and bent over his knees. "Are you going to sign off on my brain, or do I need to come back?"

"I’d like to see you again," she said. "We still have some things I’d like to cover in regard to Hobbs."

He made another appointment and escaped into the crisp autumn air. It was just before five. The sky was a deep, pure blue. People’s shadows trailed after them, stretched and spindly. Will got in his car and sat there, watching them. Thinking. After a few minutes, he pulled out his phone and called Hannibal.

“Hi,” Will said.

“Will. I’m glad you called. Are you free for dinner at my house this evening? Or am I demanding too much of your time?”

“We’re engaged. I think you have a right to demand some of it.” We’re engaged. He shaped the words again silently. Maybe if he said it enough, it would stop sounding so strange.

“You seem more comfortable with that than you did the last time we spoke.”

“I just talked about you for most of my appointment with Alana.”

Hannibal paused. “Indeed. Did you find it helpful?”

“I found it informative. She said—“ He started to pull out into traffic and stopped. “I don’t know where you live.”

Hannibal gave him a Baltimore address.

“Okay. I’ll be a while.” Will paused. He’d meant to ask Hannibal about disarming the man at the hospital, but he thought he’d rather see Hannibal’s face for that conversation. “She said we have a lot to talk about.”

“A fair assessment. I have the prenuptial agreement. You can take it home with you tonight and review it. And suggest any changes you feel are necessary, of course.”

“You’re moving this along pretty fast.”

“Do you object?” Hannibal asked.

Will stopped for a red light and leaned back in his seat. “I probably should.”

“But you don’t.”

Two loners, failing to avoid connection. “No. I don’t object.”

Chapter Text

Hannibal’s house rose out of the dusk with roof peaks like pointed eyebrows over its high-set windows. It was made of brown brick, and the trim had been painted the color of dried blood. Will felt as though it should have gargoyles perched on its roof. Expensive ones.

His phone buzzed with a text, and he gave the house a guilty glance — he’d been sitting out front in the car for almost ten minutes now — but it wasn’t Hannibal. It was Alana. I saw Freddie Lounds outside when I left the office. Did she give you any trouble?

Will texted back. I didn’t see her, hope it stays that way

Good luck with that.

thanks

He put the phone away. It occurred to him, too late, that maybe he should’ve brought wine. Or flowers. He got out of the car and walked to the door empty-handed. If he didn’t do it now, he’d end up back in Wolf Trap.

Hannibal answered the door in an apron, which dispelled some of the Gothic gloom that hovered over the place. "You look as if you’ve had a long day."

"You could say that," Will said.

"Come into the kitchen. I’ll pour you some wine."

Will collected impressions as they moved through the house: dark, rich colors, dark wood, bone-pale marble. More antlers than he’d ever seen outside of a museum or a hunting lodge. He thought of the pictures Jack had shown him of Garret Jacob Hobbs’s cabin.

"Will?"

He’d stopped dead in the middle of the dining room, staring at Hannibal’s antler chandelier. He shook his head and caught up.

"What is it?" Hannibal asked.

"Nothing." Will took the glass of wine Hannibal offered him and took a mouthful. "The Hobbs thing."

"Ah. The Shrike’s nest. I saw the photos. Did you speak to Alana about it? If that’s not too intrusive."

Will leaned against the counter. Hannibal was deboning something with grace and a gleaming knife. "Not about the cabin, no. We talked about the shooting a little. Not enough to get a passing grade."

Hannibal gave him a sidelong look of amusement. "Because the rest of your time was spent discussing me?"

"More or less."

"And what did you learn?" Hannibal asked.

“She said you like opera.”

“Guilty, I’m afraid. I missed a production of Falstaff while we were in Minnesota. You’ve distracted me from a number of my usual pastimes.”

“I saw The Magic Flute once. I thought it was pretty good.”

“I’m pleased to hear it. Perhaps you’ll come with me to the next performance.”

“Sure.” Will sipped his wine and watched Hannibal’s face. ”She also said you disarmed that guy who stabbed his brother at Johns Hopkins."

Hannibal nodded once. He picked up the meat he’d been deboning and slid it into the pan. It sizzled, and its rich scent filled the room.

“Tell me about it?” Will said.

Hannibal shook the contents of the pan and smoothed his hair away from his forehead with the back of his wrist. "I could see that the first wound was to the chest, a shallow slash, stymied by bone. A number of stabbing victims had come through my OR by then. Often, following a non-penetrative chest wound, the attacker will aim for softer parts, the throat or the stomach. I judged it necessary to do something quickly."

"What did you do?"

"I approached from behind, grasped his thumb, and bent it back. He dropped the knife. I pulled back and down until the pain forced him to his knees. From there, it was simple to put him on the ground."

"They teach you how to do that at medical school?"

"No," Hannibal said. He took a bottle of something alcoholic, poured it into the pan, and tipped the pan so that the contents caught fire. Blue flames licked upward like grasping fingers. "No. I learned to fight in the orphanage as a child after my family was killed."

Will watched his face for any trace of emotion and found nothing. He boosted himself up to sit on Hannibal’s spotless countertop. That got more of a reaction.

"There is a chair in the corner there," Hannibal said.

"And I should go and sit in it and stay off your counters?"

Hannibal turned toward him as the flames died down. He opened his mouth, but paused before he spoke. "No. Not if you would prefer to stay here."

"I would prefer that, yeah." Will studied his face. Hannibal’s serene mask seemed to have slipped, but Will couldn’t read what was underneath any better. "What happened to them?”

Hannibal added a handful of mushrooms and herbs to the pan. "Our house was remote. Miles from the nearest town. An intruder killed my parents and … injured my sister. She later died of her wounds. He escaped. Several days later, I walked out of the forest and was picked up by a logging truck. They brought me to the hospital."

"Did they catch him? The intruder?"

Hannibal shook his head. "I could give no description of him. I did not speak for almost two years after that, and it was longer before I recovered my memories. Even now, they have a muddy quality. Like damaged film. I know what happened, but the timing—” He paused. "Events are laid one over another, as if they happened simultaneously and not over the course of weeks."

Will gripped the edge of the counter. "Weeks?"

Hannibal ground pepper slowly into the pan, looking down at the meat. "They told me later that I was missing from school for most of November. I had no sense of the passage of time while my sister and I were trapped with him, so I must accept that estimate."

Will couldn’t speak around the knot of anger in his throat. There was nothing to say anyway. Nothing that would do any good. He slid off the counter and stood next to Hannibal at the stove, hesitating. Hannibal turned toward him with a questioning look. Will put a hand on his arm.

Hannibal’s eyes went blank for a second, like he was still back there, looking into another layer of damaged film and trying to separate it from the present. He blinked down at Will’s hand and then up to his face. His gaze settled on Will’s mouth.

Will stepped back quickly. There was a moment of silence.

"If you would get the plates?" Hannibal said.

Will brought them over. The sound as he set them down seemed unnaturally loud. "What are we eating?"

"Pheasant with cognac and black morels, salt roasted fingerling potatoes, and braised greens."

They went through to the dining room with its antlers and its wild wall of herbs. A bowl in the center of the table held two enormous eggs and a small skull, maybe a squirrel or a rat. Or the rabbit from the stew.

Hannibal indicated the seat to the right of the head of the table. They sat down together.

"I apologize," Hannibal said. "I do not often allow the past to take hold of me. It can be difficult to find my way back."

"Can I help?"

"Tell me something of your own past if you don’t mind."

Will chewed pheasant and thought. This felt like more than getting-to-know-you conversation. It felt like a sacrifice or the payment of a debt. He didn’t know what to offer. "My dad fixed boat motors. Commercial trawlers mostly. We moved around a lot."

"Always the new boy at school."

"Always. I probably learned to fight around the same age you did." Candlelight reflected off the wine glasses, the silverware, the plates, and Hannibal’s eyes, which were fixed on him. "There was a kid at a school I went to in Louisiana. Joe Parker."

"You disliked him."

"That obvious even thirty years later? Yeah, he was a dick. Two years older than me, and I was a small kid. Scrawny. He’d wait for me after school, say stuff, push me around. He liked to catch me in the cafeteria and knock my tray on the floor."

"You’re still angry about it."

Will shrugged. Sometimes the school lunch had been the only meal he’d get in a given day. "Anyway. He disappeared. Never got home after school. And I was the last one to have seen him. The police came to the place where we staying, out on the edge of town. I answered their questions over and over, and I didn’t get why they kept asking the same things. I didn’t get why my dad looked so scared.”

“You were a suspect?”

“Yeah. I never fit in, not at any school I went to and especially not that one. I was always that weird kid. I can guess what my teachers told them about me.”

“Being weird is not a crime,” Hannibal said.

“It was a small town. Me and my dad were outsiders. They didn’t want it to be one of them.” Will took a breath and a drink of wine. "They found his body dumped forty miles away and excluded me as a suspect. I could actually drive by then, but my dad told me not to mention that."

"How was he killed?" Hannibal asked.

"Left tied up in the trunk of a car. The newspapers said it was dehydration. I thought about it afterward. What it would be like to do that to someone. What kind of person you’d have to be."

"And now you know."

Will looked up at him, startled.

"You killed Garret Jacob Hobbs. You have intimate knowledge of the mind of a killer now. Your own.”

"I didn’t — I had to. That’s not murder."

"But you have taken a life," Hannibal said. "When you return to your work with Jack, how will that experience change what you do? Will you find it easier to slip into their skins with this last veil stripped away?"

Will clutched his napkin under the table. He shook his head.

"More difficult, perhaps," Hannibal said softly. "Now that you have felt the thrill for yourself."

Will couldn’t say a word, couldn’t even look at him. He remembered the jerk of Hobbs’s limbs, the blood, bending over him. Hobbs had still been alive, looking out at Will, whispering to him. And then he’d been gone. Meat.

Will put down his fork with a jarring clank. He started to stand up, to excuse himself, but Hannibal took his wrist in a tight grip.

Will looked down at his hand for a long time before he got the words out. "I liked killing Hobbs."

"The enjoyment of killing is a human trait. Perhaps the most human. Animals do not kill for pleasure. To fault yourself for this is to suggest you should be set apart from millennia of history, of war and blood and torture and death. There is something in us that delights in destruction."

Will clenched his hand into a fist and dug his nails into his palm. "Is there something in you that delights in destruction?"

“There was a boy at the orphanage, like your Joe Parker. I was mute and strange and an easy target. He was too big for me to fight and so I hit him from behind with a stone. He fell at the edge of the lake, and I did my best to drown him. I sat on his back and pushed his face into the water until his friends pulled me off."

Will could see it in startling detail. Hannibal’s hair, almost blond in the sun, the other boy under him bucking and heaving, a trickle of blood from the wound. All of Hannibal’s fierce energy and both his small hands concentrated on keeping the boy’s face submerged.

"Do you remember what you were thinking?" Will asked.

"I remember no thought at all. Only purity of desire."

Will let out a slow breath, and his hand uncurled. He nodded. Hannibal released him. They went back to their dinner, and Will felt some knot inside him loosen.

Chapter Text

Will read over the prenup when he got home from Hannibal’s house. He read it twice more to be sure he was understanding all the legalese and then he texted Hannibal.

your prenup is insane

In what way?

Will started to type out a reply and then gave up and called him. "I keep everything I came in with and you give me half your assets?"

"Excepting property," Hannibal said calmly. "I don’t wish to sell the houses."

“You didn’t even exclude the contents. Or the castle.” Will had looked that one up on Google Earth. It appeared to come with an entire forest. He let himself fall backward onto his bed. "Why? And I don’t mean why don’t you want to sell them.”

"I wanted to convince you of my sincerity and to relieve any concerns you might have about this being an attempt on your fortune."

"My fortune. Says the man with the castle."

"There’s a title as well," Hannibal said, a thread of amusement in his voice.

"Jesus. Are you a lord or something?"

"A count."

“What would that make me?”

“If Lithuania were to acknowledge our marriage, you would be entitled to call yourself a count as well.”

Will stared at the ceiling. “I don’t want to be a count. I don’t even know your middle name. Or if you’re a US citizen. When’s your birthday? What’s your favorite color? Fuck.”

“I don’t have a middle name. I am a US citizen. My birthday is January twentieth. I question whether most adults have a favorite color. I don’t.”

“Neither do I,” Will said.

“That will make it slightly more difficult to choose a color scheme for the wedding, I suppose.”

“A color scheme? We’re not just — I thought we’d go to the registry office.”

"I won’t insist, but I think a small ceremony would be wise. It would give people a chance to get used to the idea."

Will closed his eyes. "Are you used to the idea?"

There was a brief pause. "Not entirely."

"Were you ever married before?"

"Never. And you?"

"I’ve never even been to a wedding," Will said.

"I hope to make your first time as pleasant as possible."

Will breathed out a laugh. "Right. No antlers at the reception. Or ostrich eggs. Or skulls. Where did you get that anyway?"

"I know a local taxidermist. She trades occasionally in bones and other oddments as well. Do you object to my interior decor?"

"I kind of like it," Will admitted. "Not crazy about Leda and the Swan in the dining room though."

"And I would prefer not to have fishing prints in the kitchen. I can see compromises will need to be made."

"Hannibal—"

"Yes?"

"You want to live with me," Will said softly, almost to himself.

"I do."

\*

Will was still thinking about that exchange three days later as he rode with Jack to Elk Neck State Forest in Maryland.

“You and Hannibal Lecter,” Jack started. It was the first thing he’d said to Will since he got in the car. Beverly had briefed Will on the case.

“Yeah?”

Jack looked over at him, frowning. “You both still plan on going through with this?”

In his head, Hannibal said: I do. “Yes.”

Jack didn’t say anything else until they got to the scene. They made their way between the trees. Will could hear lowered voice ahead, the click of camera shutters, and the crunch of pine needles underfoot. The forest smelled of damp earth. He couldn’t smell the bodies yet.

"Alana hasn’t cleared you," Jack said.

"We have another appointment later today."

"Right. So I want you to understand that this isn’t field work. You’re here as a consultant."

Will nodded, though he wasn’t sure what the difference was except that he didn’t have a gun. If the killer popped out of the trees, someone else would have to deal with it.

"And Will. Your relationship with Dr. Lecter."

Will looked at him, uncertain what to brace for. "Yeah?"

"If anyone at the Bureau gives you trouble, tell me."

Jack increased his pace and left Will to trail behind, happily excused from responding.

\*

Later that day, Will climbed the steps to Alana’s office. He could still smell the decay, still feel the powder from the inside of the gloves on his palms. Still see Garret Jacob Hobbs looking up at him from a narrow wooden coffin.

He rubbed his hands together and paused outside her office door. If he told Alana, that would be it. He’d be out of the field, probably for good. Maybe he should be out. That might be safer for everyone. He steeled himself and pushed through the door.

Alana turned to him with a smile that faded quickly. "Will? Are you all right?"

"I saw Garret Jacob Hobbs. At the Elk Neck crime scene. The burials."

"What — did Jack take you out again?"

"You didn’t know?"

She clearly hadn’t. Her mouth tightened and then she took a breath and visibly let it go. "Sit down. Do you want some water?"

"I’m fine. Except for hallucinating dead men." Will reached into his pocket and took out the bottle of aspirin. He swallowed two dry. The heat of the office after the chill outside left him feeling stifled and sweaty.

Alana sat down opposite him. "Okay. So you got to the crime scene and then what? Take it from the beginning and tell me what happened."

He did, though there wasn’t much to tell.

"Any other hallucinations? Visual or auditory?"

He shook his head.

"Trouble sleeping?"

He croaked a laugh. "Yeah. Always. More than usual the past couple weeks.”

"How long have you had that headache?"

He tried to think. It was harder to remember the last time his head hadn't hurt. "I guess since a few days before I went to Minnesota. Not the whole time, but on and off.”

"Any other physical symptoms? Fever? Aches?"

"Aches, yeah. I don't know about fever."

"Have you ever experienced anything like this before? Seeing things, hearing things?"

"No." Not like this anyway.

"Okay. Well, we have a number of possibilities, but I'd like to rule out physical disease to start with."

Will left her office without talking much more about Hobbs but with an appointment for a brain scan and blood work. He paused as she was showing him out. "You really don't think this is ..."

"I don't know yet," Alana said gently. "It's possible that it's related to your experiences on the Hobbs case. It’s also possible that it’s something else entirely. Let's wait and see what the test results say, all right?"

He nodded and got out. His phone rang as he walked down the street to his car. It was Hannibal. He paused in the middle of the sidewalk and looked at the caller ID until it stopped ringing. As soon as the screen went dark, he wished he’d picked up.

A text came through: When you’re done with Alana, I’d like to invite you to dinner.

Another text: I have relocated Leda.

Will smiled involuntarily. I really can’t, have to go home and feed the dogs

Shall I come to you then?

Will hesitated. He wanted to say yes, to watch Hannibal cook, to talk to him. Maybe just not to be alone with this. I won’t be good company, you sure?

Quite sure.

ok. see you there.

\*

After dinner, they took the dogs out. It was fully dark. Will had a flashlight in his pocket, but the moon was out, and they picked their way around stones and between stands of dried and matted grass by its pale light.

"The dogs seem more themselves at night," Hannibal said. "More animal, perhaps. Less domesticated."

"They see better than we do in the dark. Maybe we feel they’ve gained an advantage over us."

"And that they might use that to their own ends?"

Will shrugged. "Maybe. They’ll still come when I call."

"A simple relationship."

"They sure didn’t ask for a prenup," Will said.

"You need not sign it."

Will pushed his hands through his hair and tipped his head back to look at the moon. "I can’t think about it right now. Let’s wait until I find out if I’m going nuts or if I just have a brain tumor, okay?"

"Do you want me to go with you to your appointment tomorrow? If you come to my house, I can drive you from there."

Will turned toward him slowly. "I — no. You don’t need to — I’ll be fine."

"I’m sure you will. That wasn’t what I asked."

Will started walking again, aware of Hannibal a pace behind and to his right. He stopped when they got to the stream. The dogs fanned out, sniffing along the edge and nosing at fallen leaves.

Hannibal laid a hand on his back. "I am offering because I would like to help. You are not an inconvenience to me, Will."

Time passed, filled the rush of the water and of Will’s pulse in his ears. He swallowed. "Okay. Yes. If you want to.”

“I do.” Hannibal slid an arm around his waist. "Is this all right?"

Will leaned into him and closed his eyes. Just this was more physical contact than he’d had with anyone in years. It felt so good he ached with it. Or maybe that was whatever the hell was wrong with him. He sighed. "We should head back. It’s late."

"Very well."

Hannibal curled his hand into the crook of Will’s arm as they walked back to the house. When his grip lightened, as if he might be having second thoughts, Will covered it with his own.

A circle of bulbous white toadstools gleamed out of the dark grass. Will nudged one with the toe of his boot. "The scene I saw with Jack this morning … the bodies were covered in mushrooms. The killer was growing them.”

“I saw the photographs on TattleCrime, yes.”

Will glanced at him. “You read TattleCrime?”

“I was looking for something on the Hobbs case. The photograph was on the home page.”

“Don’t take anything you read on there too seriously. Freddie Lounds is more concerned with page views than journalistic integrity.”

“I will keep it in mind. Were the bodies merely fertilizer? There are easier ways to grow mushrooms."

"Not only fertilizer. He kept them alive. He wanted something from them. Something they couldn’t give him if they were dead."

"The structure of a fungus mirrors that of the human brain. An intricate web of connections."

"Maybe he admires their ability to connect the way human minds can’t."

"Yours can."

"I’m not sending out spores into other people’s brains," Will said. He stopped. "But he is. Literally. Those bodies were riddled with fungus."

"Is that why they had to be alive? So that he could achieve through the medium of the fungus what he could not achieve on his own?"

"Connection," Will said.

"It can be a difficult thing to find."

Will stood there, turning the idea over in his mind, until Hannibal squeezed his arm and tugged him toward the house.

Chapter Text

Will slid slowly out of the white MRI tube. The nurse steadied him as he stood and swayed with a moment of dizziness. “You can get dressed now, Mr. Graham. Right through there.”

She directed him to the side room where he’d changed into the gown. His hands and feet felt nearly numb after lying so still in the air conditioned room. His brain was still buzzing from the roar of the machine. He took each step carefully. The floor seemed a long way off.

It took a few minutes to get back into his clothes. All his joints were stiff and creaky. He felt at least ten years older than he was, and his head pounded. He’d taken the mild dose of valium they’d offered him before he got in the machine, and he regretted it now. He wasn’t any more relaxed, just woozy and tired on top of everything else.

He sat down on the bench to tie his shoes and stayed there, bent over his knees. He’d been to the autopsy for the mushroom garden victims before his appointment. Beverly and Jack were looking for a pattern of disappearances connected to a specific pharmacy or doctor’s office. Will hoped the valium would wear off before they found it.

There was a knock on the door.

“Yeah?”

Hannibal opened it a crack. “May I come in?”

“Sure.”

He stepped inside and shut the door behind him. “Are you ready to go?”

Will nodded wearily. Hannibal held out a hand to him. He looked at it for a second and then took it and let himself be pulled up. He was aware of Hannibal watching him. He kept his own eyes around the level of Hannibal’s knees. Hannibal’s hand was warm, and he didn’t want to let go.

After second or two passed. Hannibal pulled him gently closer. His arms came around Will and one hand smoothed over his hair. “All right?” he said quietly.

Will didn’t know if he meant is this all right or are you all right. He nodded anyway, closed his eyes, and leaned against his chest. It felt greedy to want this, but he did want it. Will slid his hands under Hannibal’s suit jacket, warming them, holding on.

"Do I get to blame this on the valium?" he said.

"You can. But you don’t need an excuse." Hannibal brushed a kiss against his temple and stroked the back of his neck.

It felt good. The touch, the closeness. Will transposed this moment to his own house, his own bed. It wasn’t as unnerving as he’d expected it to be.

His phone rang. He groped in his pocket for it and answered it without leaving the sanctuary of Hannibal’s arms. It was Jack.

"Will. We’ve got him. Guy called Eldon Stammets. He’s at work right now. Are you coming?"

"Yeah. I’ll be there." Jack gave him the address of the pharmacy and hung up. Will pulled back reluctantly to look at Hannibal. "I can take a cab."

"I would be pleased to come along."

Will tried to ignore the relief he felt at that.

\*

Jack met them at the back of the pharmacy next to the loading bay. "Will. And Dr. Lecter, what a surprise." He looked at Will. "Do you have Dr. Bloom’s stamp of approval?"

"Not yet."

Jack nodded. “Wait out here, both of you. Hopefully we won’t have any trouble, but I want you close by in case we lose him."

They stood side by side and watched Jack take his small team in. They moved quietly despite all their gear. When they were gone, the night was entirely still. Even the traffic was barely more than a background hum on the far side of the building.

Hannibal was looking at something on his phone. "Will. You may want to see this." He passed it over.

It was a TattleCrime article.

IT WAS MURDER WHEN THEY MET!
Gruesome love connection over a corpse leads to whirlwind romance between two twisted minds!

The FBI isn’t just hunting psychopaths, they’re headhunting them too, offering competitive pay and benefits in hope of using one demented mind to catch another. Will Graham, refused entry to the FBI Academy on grounds of mental instability, is now working with Jack Crawford, head of the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, despite his botched apprehension of the Minnesota Shrike, during which he shot Hobbs nine times in front of his wife and daughter.

Also present at that eerie scene was Dr. Hannibal Lecter, respected Baltimore psychiatrist and socialite, who, having know Will Graham for mere days, proposed marriage to him over Hobbs’s bloody corpse.

There was a lot more, stuff about Will’s profiling work, insinuations that he’d manipulated Hannibal into the relationship, nebulous suggestions that both of them were unbalanced and shared a 'monstrous, macabre connection.'

Will ran a hand over his face. "Shit. If it helps, I doubt anyone you know reads this garbage."

"I’m not concerned for myself."

"Well, don’t be concerned for me. Jack’s had trouble with Freddie Lounds before. She got into Hobbs’s hunting cabin before he did. He found one of her hairs there. He’ll be pissed, but not at me.”

"Unpleasant then, but not a serious issue."

"Your patients might not like it."

"As you pointed out, my patients are unlikely to read this sort of thing. Or to admit it if they did." Hannibal looked toward the loading bay doors. "Did you see that?"

Will reached for his gun, which of course wasn’t there. "No, but I heard something. Stay here."

The loading bay was a cavernous space, sized for semis and full of echoes. He kept close to the wall and pulled a pen light from his pocket, shining it ahead of him in broad sweeps. Something moved. He caught it with the light and saw a rat go scurrying for the cover of a dumpster.

To be safe, he swept the whole bay, but he saw nothing else, not even another rat. When he let himself relax and turned back to the cars, Hannibal was gone.

Will stepped sideways into the shadows and moved along the wall again, crouched low, flashlight off. He picked up a piece of rusted pipe and crossed the concrete apron at a run. When he rounded the nearest vehicle, he saw Hannibal on the ground. He wasn’t moving.

Will lurched forward and skidded to his knees to check for a pulse. He found it, slow and steady. It was the last thing he was conscious of before something hit him in the back of the head and the world went dark.

\*

Will woke up in a confined space. His knees were drawn up, and there wasn’t enough room to straighten his legs or unbend his back. His hands and feet were bound with tape. The surface was hard, carpeted, and vibrating. It took the honk of a horn for him to realize he was in the trunk of a moving car.

He wasn’t alone. There was another body in there with him, pressed tightly to his back. "Hannibal?" he whispered. No response, but the air smelled like Hannibal’s aftershave.

Will felt behind him with his bound hands and shook Hannibal’s arm. He got a low noise in response. He said Hannibal’s name more loudly, shook him harder, and got something that might’ve been a word, but not in English.

“Hey. Are you with me?”

Hannibal stirred. "Will?"

"Yeah. Are your hands tied?"

There was a pause. "Yes."

"Can you turn over so we’re back to back?"

Hannibal didn’t answer, but he did shift himself, inch by inch, onto his stomach and then onto his other side. Will felt behind him, fingers picking at the edge of the tape. He peeled it back, but had no leverage to get it more than a few inches. He shuffled upward, neck pressed against the side of the trunk and pulled. A few more inches. Hannibal pulled in the opposite direction. Working together, in painful slow motion, they got his wrists free.

Hannibal twisted back onto his other side to free Will as well. He touched Will’s face and head with careful hands when he had finished, pausing when he came to the lump on the back of Will’s skull.

"I’m okay," Will said. "Are you?"

"Yes. He didn’t hit me. He had a syringe. I’m afraid I was so concentrated on you that I didn’t see him coming. Was it the mushroom farmer?"

"Must’ve been."

"Where do you think he is taking us?"

"Probably back to Elk Neck," Will said. "It’s known territory for him, and he’s got over two thousand acres to choose from for his new garden."

"In which we will be the inaugural plantings."

"It was that fucking article," Will said. "Freddie Lounds going on about our connection. And then he bugs out when Jack comes in and finds us right there, like we were waiting for him."

"Unfortunate," Hannibal murmured. "If you pull your legs up, I believe I can free your ankles."

It took a few more minutes, but they worked their way free. Will felt along the ceiling and the back panel of the trunk. He’d been hoping the seats would fold down and give them access to the car, but it was solid molded plastic all around them. He couldn’t find a release catch for the trunk lid either. They were stuck.

"How far is it to Elk Neck?" Hannibal asked.

"Little over an hour. How long do you think we were out?"

"There is no way to tell."

"I’m surprised we woke up at all," Will said. He thought of waking up in one of those pine boxes, buried, maybe already blooming with fungus.

"Inducing coma in a non-diabetic body is a much trickier proposition. It requires the same drugs used to sedate patients for surgery. Too much will suppress the autonomic functions, and the patient will die. Too little, and we wake up before he is ready for us. He must have erred on the side of caution."

"He needs us alive. We’re no use dead."

"So we wait. When he opens the trunk, we will be prepared. Unless he has left you your cell phone. I saw mine hit the ground before I lost consciousness."

Will patted down his pockets without much hope. "No. Everything’s gone. Even my aspirin."

They lay together in silence. After a minute, Hannibal shifted behind him. "If you don’t mind. This position is not particularly comfortable."

"Yeah, I think my arm’s asleep."

"Let’s try this." Hannibal put an arm around him and pulled Will back against his chest. He fit his bent legs against Will’s. It put them closer together and freed up enough space for Will to stretch briefly.

He couldn’t see anything, not even a hint of passing streetlights. He could smell Hannibal and feel him, feel the motion of the car, hear the sound of the road. It lulled him, despite the situation.

Hannibal’s breath warmed the back of his neck. His hand moved against Will’s chest. Will leaned back against him, and Hannibal’s grip on him tightened.

Will swallowed. "What you said in the hotel room. About sex."

"I meant it."

"But you want to."

"I want you in every way, but if you truly dislike the idea, I will be content with this. You don’t mind this, I think."

"No. I don’t mind this."

"Would you like to share a bed with me, Will?" Hannibal said in his ear.

He made it sound like a far more obscene invitation. His hand moved across Will’s stomach, and Will was on his way to the single most inappropriate erection of his life when the car slowed, hit rougher ground, and then stopped entirely.

Chapter Text

Both of them feigned unconsciousness as the trunk opened. The cool air was a relief. Will kicked out as hard as he could with his cramped legs. He caught Stammets in the chest. Sammets stumbled back. Will scrambled out of the trunk, head pounding, and got to his feet in time to see Stammets disappear into the trees. He ran after him without a thought.

Hannibal caught up with him as they entered the forest. "Stay by the car," Will said.

Hannibal didn’t answer and didn’t turn back. After a second, he lifted his head like he was scenting the air. "This way."

They turned and kept moving. Hannibal ran almost silently, avoiding every fallen branch and dry patch of leaves. Will caught a glimpse of movement ahead. Hannibal cut his eyes to the side with a nod and veered off. Will went in the opposite direction.

They came up on Stammets’s flanks, just behind him. Will was panting. His head ached, and his vision was blurring at the edges. He put on a last burst of speed, aware of Hannibal doing the same.

Stammets must have heard them. He whirled around with a gun in his hand and his eyes wide, staring straight at Will. He fired.

For a second, Will thought he must be dead. He’d seen the barrel aimed right between his eyes and heard the shot. But there was nothing, no pain, no blood. His senses caught up with him, and he saw Hannibal and Stammets on the ground. Hannibal must’ve jumped him just as he took the shot.

Stammets was struggling, but Hannibal was bigger and stronger and clearly the better fighter. Stammets flailed and kicked. Hannibal drew one fist back and slammed it into his face. Will saw a spray of blood and heard Stammets groan. Hannibal hauled him up by his sparse hair and took his head between both hands.

Will saw almost too late what he meant to do. He grabbed Hannibal’s wrist. "Don’t!"

Hannibal looked up at him, eyes dark and teeth bared. "He meant to kill you."

"That’s not a reason to snap his neck."

"It is the best reason."

Their eyes met, and Will knew exactly what Hannibal had meant by purity of desire. There was nothing else there.

Will tightened his grip and raised his other hand to Hannibal’s face. "Don’t. Okay? I don’t want to help you hide a body tonight. I want to go home. I want you to come home with me."

Hannibal blinked slowly. He lowered his eyes to Stammets, who was visibly trembling in his grasp. Hannibal released him and flung him to the ground.

"You should have let me do it," Stammets said. "You could have grown together. Spores from one of you reaching out to the other. Preserved in the ground. One body and one mind, forever."

Hannibal and Will looked at each other over his prone body, and Will found it hard to look away again.

\*

The local police stuck Stammets in the back of a cruiser. Will and Hannibal sat together in the back of an ambulance, matching orange blankets around their shoulders. By the time Jack got there, the paramedics had given up on convincing either of them to go to the hospital.

"Nice work," Jack said. He nodded to Hannibal. "Both of you. I hear it was a joint effort."

"I did what I could," Hannibal said.

"Statements can wait till morning. I’ve got a car to take you back to the pharmacy. And your keys." He handed over the keys to the Bentley and returned their wallets and phones to them as well. They’d been found in the loading bay dumpster.

The agent assigned to drive them back to Baltimore looked like this was the most exciting thing that had happened to him in his short life but mercifully didn’t say a word the whole trip. Will and Hannibal leaned against each other in the back with Hannibal’s coat spread over both of them.

Will could think of nothing but the way Hannibal had moved when they’d hunted Stammets through the dark woods. The way they had moved together. Hannibal’s hand rested on his thigh under the coat, and Hannibal wet his lips. He spoke low in Will’s ear. "I would not regret it if I had killed him."

Will gripped his hand hard. Neither of them spoke again until they were alone in Hannibal’s car.

"Where shall I take us?" Hannibal said.

"My house."

Hannibal nodded. "Rest. You’ve had a trying day."

"And you haven’t?"

"I didn’t get hit over the head. Or spend an hour in the MRI."

"Okay. Fair point." Will paused. "I want you to stay tonight. In my bed."

"Good. I don’t know that I could bear to leave you at the moment."

Will leaned his head gingerly back against the seat. “This is weird, right?”

“As I said, I don’t have that much experience with romantic relationships.”

“You’re a psychiatrist. You’ve got plenty of experience with other people’s romantic relationships.”

“But other people are not me. And they’re certainly not you.”

“We could’ve planted him,” Will said. “If you’d killed him.” The thought came out of nowhere, or nowhere he wanted to acknowledge. It arrived whole in his mind along with the image of Eldon Stammets lying in a shallow grave with pale, delicate mushrooms rising up out of his eye sockets.

Hannibal put a hand on the back of his neck and wound his fingers into Will’s hair. “Yes. We could have.”

Will spent the rest of the ride trying to convince himself that an unspoken next time wasn’t filling the air between them.

\*

It was late when they reached the house in Wolf Trap. Will ended his night by cleaning up dog piss. Hannibal made them tea and toast, and they took it to bed.

“You seem like you’d worry about crumbs,” Will said.

“I don’t intend to worry about anything tonight, including crumbs.”

Will sipped his tea. “I’m not signing that prenup.”

“But you still intend to marry me?”

“Yes. And I want—“ He stopped. Hannibal waited patiently while Will tried to force the words past an impossible tightness in his throat. “What you said. I want us to share a bed. And — and more than that.”

Hannibal put a hand on his knee under the covers. “How much more?”

“I don’t know. I need time to think.”

“You will have it. And tonight?”

Will shifted closer. “Nothing … deliberately arousing. Is that specific enough?”

Hannibal put an arm around and tucked him close against his side. “It is. And you only need to tell me if I go too far.”

Will finished his toast and set the plate aside. He scooted down far enough to put his head on Hannibal’s shoulder. “I don’t think that’s likely.”

“Get the light.”

Will switched it off. For a second, he was back in the darkness of the trunk, or a coffin, but it didn’t matter. Hannibal was right beside him. Slowly, his sense of space returned. He heard the dogs breathing and their paws scuffing against the floor as they dreamed. Hannibal turned on his side and held Will as he had in the trunk of the car, only with fewer layers between them.

Hannibal had borrowed a T-shirt and sweatpants. Will wore a T-shirt and boxers. It was simultaneously not enough and too much. Hannibal curled around him, leg between his, hand sliding up under his shirt to press over his heart. His lips brushed the back of Will’s neck, and Will’s pulse picked up.

Will reached back and touched Hannibal’s thigh and the bare skin of his hip where the sweatpants were riding low. Will turned over, and Hannibal drew him closer. They lay chest to chest, legs entwined. Will pushed his hands up under Hannibal’s shirt, and two seconds later Hannibal had it off.

Will thought that might fall under the heading of deliberately arousing, but he wasn’t going to complain. He ran his fingers through Hannibal’s chest hair, down to his stomach, and back up his sides. He touched the curve of his collar bone. Hannibal leaned forward to rest his forehead against Will’s.

“You could kiss me,” Will said. “If you want.”

Hannibal stroked his cheek and made a small, amused sound. “Are you sure?”

Will kicked his shin gently. “Don’t be a dick. Just kiss me.”

Hannibal slid a thumb under his jaw, tipped his head up, and fit their mouths together. It was the least awkward first kiss Will had ever had. Hannibal’s lips were warm and soft. Will pressed closer at the first touch of his tongue and clutched at his shoulders.

Hannibal hauled Will over on top of him, between his legs, which definitely counted as deliberately arousing. Will landed with his hands on the hard muscle of Hannibal’s chest and lowered himself slowly down against his body. Hannibal’s warm breath washed over his lips, and they were kissing again, close and very soft and so gentle it made Will’s chest tight.

Hannibal cupped his face carefully with both hands, tongue sliding against his, thighs pressing against Will’s body and holding him close. Will slid his hands up into Hannibal’s hair. He wished he’d taken his shirt off too, but that seemed like a step too far, like asking for something he wasn’t sure he wanted. Probably even asking for this much was unfair.

He pulled back from the kiss and looked down at Hannibal, mouth open, lips tingling from the kiss. He couldn’t think what to say.

Hannibal leaned up to kiss the base of his throat. “You’re worrying. Stop.”

“How?”

“Tell me what you’re worried about.”

Will shook his head.

“Then I will guess. You feel as if you are offering more than you’re ready to give.”

“Maybe. Yeah.”

Hannibal brought their lips together again for a second, one soft touch. He eased them over onto their sides again, facing each other "Then maybe it will relieve your mind to know that I am enjoying this. I am not thinking of the future or of what we are not doing. Only of this, of you, right now, with me."

Hannibal kissed him again and again, more and more lightly. Will’s eyes closed, and he couldn’t get them open again. The last thing he remembered before sleep was Hannibal’s lips against his.

\*

Will’s phone woke him. It was still in his pocket somewhere on the floor, and he got to it just before it stopped ringing.

"Mr. Graham? This is Dr. Miller from Johns Hopkins. I’ve looked over your MRI. We’d like you to come in."

Will got through the rest of the call, agreeing to things and trying to wake up. He disconnected and sat down on the edge of the bed.

Hannibal put an arm around him. "What is it?"

"The hospital. I have encephalitis. They want me to check in for treatment. She said — the neurologist — that I’m lucky they caught it so early. It can get pretty bad, apparently."

"It can, yes. We must thank Alana."

"Yeah." One of the dogs nosed at his hand, and Will scratched behind Winston’s ears automatically. He stared at the far wall. "This is — they can treat it, right? She made it sound like they can, but doctors always sound like that. No offense."

"They can treat it, and most patients make a full recovery, though it can be a slow process. You may wish to consider stepping back from your work with the BAU, at least temporarily."

Will nodded. He wasn’t going to admit it, even to Hannibal, but the idea of stopping for a while was a relief. He could still hear Hobbs at the back of his head, whispering to him. He hoped that was just the encephalitis. "I guess I need to pack a bag."

"And I will need to borrow something to wear. My suit didn’t fare well last night. I’ll get you settled in at the hospital and then go home to change. And you’ll need to tell me what to feed your dogs."

Will looked down at Hannibal’s arm around his waist. "You don’t have to do this. Any of this. You didn’t exactly sign up for — for crazy killers and brain diseases. You picked a bad time to propose."

Hannibal kissed his cheek. "It seems to me precisely the right time. I would not have wanted you to do this alone."

Will groped for his hand and squeezed it hard.

"And you won’t," Hannibal said. "If there is one promise I can make to you, it is that you will never be alone again."