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Hyacinth House

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At some point he starts walking through the trees. Twigs catch in his hair, and tar-black mud sinks in between his toes. He realizes when he looks down that he left his shoes somewhere by the house, all his clothes, too. He presses on. The cool slick earth twists beneath his bare feet, and brambles scratch lightly at his sides as he walks through them; all soft caresses and warm sighs that envelop him.

He doesn't know where he's going until he's standing at a break in the trees not big enough to be a clearing. Thick underbrush and small oak trees hole him in on all sides. He stands and waits, watching the lightning bugs that weave through the spaces in between the tree boughs. They're courting each other, he thinks. It's a good night for that.

Moonlight filters in through the leaves like a speckled spotlight. Everything is quiet except for the hum of insects and the rustling of leaves in the breeze. There is a slow shuffle of a beast moving in the dark.

Will is not surprised when the stag steps into the impossibly small enclosure. They stand and stare at each other, and eternity ticks by. Will reaches out, unprecedented in his other dreams, and touches the creature's nose. It is as frightening and surreal as it is majestic. It blinks thoughtfully at Will.

For a moment they just stand together, watching and mingling as one solid being where Will's hand presses flat against its head. A thrumming pulse stirs up in Will's fingers, or maybe it comes from the black animal before him.

The trees gradually begin to fall away. Will barely notices until the colorless void surrounds them. The stag's eyes burn dark maroon like coals in a fireplace, and it tilts its head back to release an earth-shattering bellow. The noise crashes over Will, but he remains standing. The link connecting them keeps him safe from harm. It feels like a life preserver keeping him afloat in the blackness.

Bone white antlers twist up higher and higher into the abysmal vacuum where the sky and all its constellations should be. For a moment, there is only the sound of the stag's roar. When it fades like the final notes of a beautiful song, Will feels himself crying. The feeling trembling within him is a kind of religious wonder, a marrow-deep joy.

He can feel that this is for him, and not just because he is the only one bearing witness to it. He watches as the stag's stalagmite antlers gore the blank expanse above them. They create new planetary bodies of light that somehow seem more familiar and make more sense to Will.

The stag abandons the project it's made from the sky to bow deeply. The death instruments atop its head descend overhead like a slow-falling guillotine. Will looks up into the grotesque daggers that were once calcium and collagen. He is prepared, willing, to have his eyes scrambled into his brain, but the blow never comes.

The antlers are reasonably sized again, and they are brushing against his cheek. The touch is questing and curious. It's a test. Will smiles and reaches up, understanding, in his skin and in his muscles, what he must do. He breaks a tine in each one of his hands, and the animal shrieks, but not in pain. The cry is exultant. Before Will can change his mind, the antlers are sprouting from the palms of his hands into the not-sky again.

They are different from the stag's, but they wind up and up, together; the stag's are ivory and the ones in Will’s hands are shale. They blacken and harden into lead at the tips where they lock into place with the stag's. Streaks of red shoot through Will's every time he struggles against the pull.

Will's hands burn around the tines. He watches as his flesh melts to reveal the mucous tendons and tight ribbons of nerves. He tries to let go, but it's too late. They've wrapped around his wrists and arms and have started to lift him off his feet. The stag watches silently, snuffling through its shiny nose. Will feels lost, but then it noses at his ankle.

He looks down into those maroon eyes. They practically glow red with livid intensity.


He wakes to the sound of his dogs barking and finds himself standing in the middle of the yard still fully dressed, clothes drenched through with cold sweat. The sun has begun to rise over the treetops. There's a knife in his hand. He's holding it by the blade, dripping blood everywhere.

When he drops it, his hand is bathed in the red. The two deep cuts in the middle look like a sacrifice.

He walks slowly back into the house, tracking dirt everywhere and leaving an inconstant trail of blood in his wake. He rinses his hand under cold water that eventually becomes warm and lays his head down on the cool counter top.

His hand is pruned when he pulls it back. He squirms out of his wet clothes until he's standing naked and shivering in the kitchen, clothes piled in soaked heaps at his pale feet.

The cuts are bleeding again by the time he makes it to the bathroom to clean them out and secure his hand in a clean white length of cotton. Hours after he's washed it clean, his hand still feels bloody. He wraps it too thickly in a cotton bandage and changes it once after every lecture. He swears it doesn't get any better as the day progresses.

He sort of expects his hand to be healed or worse, for the wounds to be completely gone, every time he checks. But they are always there, red and wet and hideous yet still drawing Will's eyes.

The marred flesh of his palm is strangely lovely. He studies the sharp points of red in the middle and the hard ridges of burgundy scabbing around the edges. When he holds his hand under the light, it looks almost like road kill, like it's not even a part of himself or part of any human being.

That close-up, anything looks like meat. The thought doesn't even bother him.

He gets home forty-five minutes before he has to leave for his appointment with Hannibal. He uses the time to feed the dogs and throw his clothes from the night before in the wash. He stands and stares for thirty minutes at the closed lid of the washing machine. When the rumbling stops, he throws the wet clothes into the dryer and goes into the bathroom to change the bandage on his hand.

When it's time to go, Will locks the front door behind him. Driving poses something of a problem as he has to hold his hand away from the steering wheel in order to grip it with his fingers. The angle doesn't really allow for his thumb to have any purchase on the wheel, and he nearly crashes twice on the freeway. The young woman in the old Cutlass nearly drives off the road. An older man, accompanied by an even younger woman, in a brand new Maserati flips him off and speeds away.

Hannibal's office is pristine and spacious, and it makes his hand feel grubby where he's hiding it in his pocket. He is on time, though. He usually is if he doesn't miss the appointment altogether for whatever reason, but he's never been injured upon arrival before. For some reason, Will dreads hearing what Hannibal will have to say about it.

Even trying to keep it a secret tucked away in his jacket, Will gets found out when Hannibal offers to hang it up for him. There's something about Hannibal's polite tone of voice that Will can't refuse without feeling terribly rude.

He lets Hannibal pluck it from his shoulders, realizing, belatedly, that he could have taken it off himself and handed it to him. He doesn't think about it too much. Hannibal's hand barely grazed his shirt, and as close as they're standing to each other, he's come to enjoy being near Hannibal in a physical capacity.

A steady, gorgeous serenity pulsates out of Hannibal all the time like a heartbeat set to the rhythm and tone of a bass drum. It placates Will, even as his fear stabs through the calm. It worsens when Hannibal moves away to sit down.

The tension in the air feels potent enough to suffocate, but Hannibal looks blatantly unaffected. Will is about to run out the door when Hannibal points out his hand with all the casual grace of a stranger asking for the time. He doesn't even ask; just mentions the horrible job he did dressing it. He doesn't say horrible, of course, but it is.

He wanted it to look as presentable and tidy as possible. Hannibal probably thought he was a slob already, keeping as many dogs as he did, but Will was determined to look at least a little bit collected in the presence of his psychiatrist, despite the knife wounds in the center of his hand.

The bandage itself is an eye-sore, bulky and bleach white. Will had to strain to close his fingers around it. Every time he did that, the cuts re-opened. Since the drive over, he'd felt the sharp sting of skin tearing at least half a dozen times. Beneath all the cotton, it was probably bleeding again. He hoped the excess layers would keep Hannibal from noticing.

"It was an accident." Will picks at the gauzy cotton wrapped tightly around the back of his hand. The ends fray at his touch. He'd dressed flesh wounds before, but he hadn't taken time, this time, to do it well. He was in a hurry to change the dressing before he left for his hour with Hannibal. He'd decided at the last minute that an ugly but clean bandage would go over better than the neat but filthy one he'd worn home from work.

"Not involving one of the dogs, I hope."

"Oh, no." It takes Will a moment to realize he's asking if one of the dogs bit him. "No, they don't bite." He shakes his head, almost offended at the suggestion that any one of his dogs would turn on him.

"A kitchen accident then." Hannibal offers, leaning back in his armchair and crossing his legs. Will stares at the pleated suit pants, counts the pinstripes he can see before looking down at his own chair. They've definitely been moved. When they first started seeing each other, they were at least several feet apart. Now two at the most separate them.

He could nudge Hannibal's foot with his own, and it wouldn't take more than a minute stretch. He wouldn't even have to move to the edge of his seat to do it. It would look like an accident.

"Something like that." Will answers distractedly, remembering the question.

"I could move the chairs back if you would like." Will looks up, startled. There is a funny little glint in Hannibal's eyes. "I thought we were making progress. The chairs are a physical marker of that progress."

Progress toward sexual harassment charges, you mean. Will blinks.

"I like the chairs where they are." He catches the very bottom of Hannibal's smile before he looks away to the wall behind Hannibal.

"In that case, I will keep them where they are."

The nervous energy in Will's body shocks him into movement, and he stands. He crosses the room, only vaguely aware of how much the action resembles a retreat. Hannibal stands, too, all lithe limbs and an expensively tailored ensemble. Will averts his eyes enough that he can't be tempted into looking. Hannibal would know if he were only pretending to keep his gaze elsewhere.

"How was your dinner party?" He asks absently, running just the tips of his fingers along the stag's back. The statuette has haunted Will the past few months since he first noticed it. That was right before Hannibal smelled him.

Weird chef's quirk, I guess. The smooth, cool feel of it is nothing like the sharp bristles hinted at him in his dreams.

"It went well. I enjoy having people for dinner." Hannibal stands and paces over to Will. "We were in good company, though it would have been much improved had you joined us."

Will lets a small smile flicker across his lips at that. He thought Hannibal had seemed earnest in his suggestion that Will should stay. He's happy to see that he really was. He's actually happy. He doesn't want to linger on why that might be either, but he suspects it's because Hannibal is a friend. They're friends.

They haven't said as much, naturally. It's not the kind of conversation people normally have, but then, he was nowhere near normal. And while Hannibal functioned and fit into a crowd (for those not watching carefully), he was something more than normal, too. Not abnormal, per se. Just not normal. Better than normal.

"I would have made everyone uncomfortable." He becomes slightly bashful as he turns away from Hannibal who now stands two or three feet away. It's not untrue, and he doesn't say it to put himself down, but Will has begun to see that Hannibal dislikes hearing Will describe himself on other people's terms.

The thought of displeasing Hannibal makes him feel uneasy. The thought of Hannibal defending him, even from himself, makes him feel warm.

"They would have gotten used to you." Hannibal says lightly, something dangerous but subdued in the way his words cut off too short to be considered casual inflections from his accent. Will turns to look at Hannibal, focuses his gaze in between Hannibal's eye brows, very close for Will anyway but always a dare when it's pointed at Hannibal.

"Those who know me well know I cannot abide rudeness." Hannibal tips his head as if in response to Will's questioning glance. The minute shift allows a momentary connection to spark between their eyes.

Will sucks in a gasp and lowers his gaze to the floor. He examines the rug for a count of ten. When he looks up, Hannibal has migrated soundlessly to his desk. Will finds that a little disconcerting but takes Hannibal's lead.

He shuffles over to stand across from Hannibal on the other side of the large wooden desk and tests it beneath splayed fingers. He bites back a grimace at the spark of pain that shocks the center of his ruined palm. Hannibal doesn't acknowledge Will as he gingerly flexes his fingers. Will is grateful for the smooth subject change.

"Are you currently working on a case, Will? Or has Jack Crawford given you leave for a sabbatical." Will laughs at the phrasing. Jack wouldn't do that.

"No, there just hasn't been any need for my...for what I do." Jack has been called away to look at a string of murders in New Hampshire. Bodies had turned up in Barnstead, Deerfield, and Hampton, and while they were having difficulties locating the murderer, it was pretty open and shut. He'd talked to Jack about it over the phone for all of two minutes before Jack ended the call and didn't ring him back. That was over a week ago.

"It must be nice," Hannibal says, running a lone finger along his appointment book. They are a musician's fingers. "Having this time to focus on your teaching. Surely the dogs are happy to have you home." He watches them move from the appointment book to a legal pad with a few lines of handwriting he can't read. Will looks away.

"It is nice." And don't call me Shirley. He almost says it just to lamely attempt humor, but he doesn't think Hannibal is the type of person to laugh at overdone, unfunny jokes. That he thought to say it at all makes him feel very awkward.

"Would you like to tell me what happened to your hand, Will?" Will's eyes flicker up to Hannibal's nose and then to his fingers on the desk. He knows from experience now that those fingers have saved lives. They have averted death and crisis, and they have held that power countless times before. He swallows.

"I was sleepwalking."

"You were armed with a knife. Before or after you woke up."

"Before," Will says, a little indignantly. "I'm not an attention-seeker, Dr. Lecter." Hannibal bows his head in agreement and Will thinks, commendation?

"How did you come to find yourself upon waking?" Hannibal asks easily, withdrawing his hand and leaving the desk to find his seat again. Will follows after, hesitating before he sits as he recalls the memory.

"I was in the yard. The dogs were barking, and the knife was in my hand. I'd been out there all night."

"Were you deliberate with the knife, Will?" He thinks about his answer for a moment before finally sitting down. They each sit on the edges of their seats, making it feel as though the chairs have moved even closer together. An inch or two to the left and Will could brush knees with Hannibal.

He should move. His instincts tell him to move, to shrink away from the doctor, but he wants the closeness being offered to him. It has to be intentional. Nothing Hannibal does is ever done carelessly. If this feels so much like intimacy to Will, it's because Hannibal wants it to feel intimate. He wants him ensconced in the feeling. Rather than fight the wave, he lets it strike him down.

"I don't know why I grabbed it in the first place. The dream wasn't...necessarily violent." He slouches a little, letting himself get comfortable without sitting farther back in the chair.


"There's's a stag that I see sometimes. In my dreams, or when I'm—" Will falters, pulling his legs in. "I see it when I'm awake, too."

"Do you feel threatened by the beast?"

"No." Will answers with certainty. "No, never. I should, but I don't. It gored me once with its antlers and held me underwater until I drowned, but I didn't drown. No, I..." Will scratches at his stubble with his uninjured hand. "I just stopped breathing, and then it let me up. But that was a different dream." He raises his eye brows once, forgetting why he brought it up and wondering why he wasn't afraid.

"Is it often hostile towards you?"

"I wouldn't say it's hostile." Will hedges. "More that it's aggressive and inherently violent. It's not for me or because of me. I don't think it has anything to do with me."

"Killing you has everything to do with you, Will." Will is about to argue when Hannibal continues. "Dreams of your own death can be attributed to feelings of repression. Do you feel repressed, Will?"

"Me, repressed?" Gee, doctor, that's a keen theory you've got there. He flinches at his own sarcasm. His saving grace is that Hannibal seems to have grown accustomed to Will's sass by now. The delighted crinkling at the edges of Hannibal's eyes suggests he takes some form of amusement from it.

He figures while that's slightly inappropriate for a psychiatrist, it's probably there for Will's benefit. Point being, he finds comfort in it. At least Hannibal doesn't find him completely petulant.

He doesn't know when he started to crave Hannibal's approval, but there it is. He ducks his head, embarrassed, and wonders vaguely what it would be like to channel the Zen master, to see the world the way Hannibal sees it. But that's a bad thought to have, so Will leaves it up on a shelf somewhere in his brain for a later time when the man himself isn't staring him down.

"More than the fact of your repression, we are left to deal with your attitude towards it."

"You mean, how do I feel about it, Dr. Lecter?" Will lets his cheeky grin show.

"In a manner of speaking, yes." Hannibal crosses his legs. "If that is an unacceptable topic, I would hear more about the stag."

More about the stag it is. Will thinks for a moment, sorting through the most relevant information.

"It's only killed me twice before."

"Except you were not killed."

"No," Will removes his glasses to rub at his eyes. "If it had been real, I would've been, but in the dream, I—I think it was just a way for me to become something else. I don't know what." He shakes his head.

"And last night, did you become something else?" Hannibal is leaning forward. Will notes the shift in his chest where he's staring blearily at Hannibal's tie. It disappears beneath a dark gray vest. The deep purple double Windsor knot makes him look regal. He doesn't need it.

"Last night was different. I made the first move." He clarifies, "Not to kill it. Just—I touched it. I reached forward, and I..." He blinks, and the room jumps inexplicably. When it rights itself, he's standing with his injured hand extended, the hand he used to touch the stag.

For a split second in time, he sees it there before him, breathing and staring. Its heartbeat is wild. Will feels it hammering against his ribcage, damaging everything it touches. It's so close to pain, but he doesn't want it to stop. He blinks, and the stag is gone. He steps back, confused, and catches his foot on the armchair. He rights himself with his wounded hand, and he can feel the slices in the flesh of his palm rip all the way open, sharp and fast like a Band-Aid coming off.

Hannibal stands at the pained noise Will makes and takes him by the arm to a chair next to the desk. He all but places Will in the chair and walks to the far wall where he picks up a First-Aid kit. He lifts another chair with one hand and deposits it immediately beside Will's.

He expects Hannibal to move it, but the man just sits down where the chair landed. This time their knees do brush, and Will can't turn away without taking his bloody hand away with him.

"You should have gotten stitches sooner, Will. These cuts will continue to re-open without them."

"Well, it's a good thing you're a doctor then, I guess." Will mutters, only partially sarcastic now. He likes the idea of Hannibal stitching him up better than some random faceless nurse in a sickly, noisy hospital. His brain can't handle all that death and panic and dread at once, especially not with the way things have been going in the field lately.

"It is a good thing." Hannibal disinfects the area. Will watches.

His hands are all quick movements and precision, and it barely even hurts when the needle passes through. Will wants to attribute that to Hannibal's medical expertise, but he can't tell right now with how his brain has been processing pain.

Hannibal's eyes don't stray from the task at hand, but he does speak. His voice is surprisingly soft when he says: "You were telling me about your dream."

Will is glad he doesn't call it a nightmare, even if he is slightly less glad to detect the quaintly hidden demand in the words. He wants to talk about the stag, wants someone to know about the stag, so he ignores his attitude concerning Hannibal's bossy, though subtly so, interrogation tactics.

"It's like when I touched it, it was able to show me. There was this—" Will shuts his eyes against the tugging of the needle at his palm. The feeling is reminiscent of antlers going into bloom. He plays off the muted noise in the back of his throat as a stuttered wince, but it's something else he really doesn't want to put a name to.

He thinks he feels Hannibal's hands go still for just a fraction of a second, but he isn't sure. He doesn't want to know, so he rushes through the next part. "It did something, and everything else was just gone. It was the two of us, me and the stag, and its antlers grew out, bigger than this room, even. It was—"

Will dials it back a bit, hearing the nearly fanatical chord in his words. He's explaining something that isn't real. He shouldn't get so worked up. "And then it stopped like it was waiting for me to—to reciprocate? I guess?"

"And did you?"

"I broke its antle-" Will's breath catches on the last syllable in the back of his throat. "I broke two in my hands." He says, quietly, when the words return to him.

"How did it react?" Hannibal cuts the thread from the first sewn up cut. Will isn't great with crosshatch stitching, but even from his angle, it looks really good; neat and symmetrical. He moves onto the second line of red flesh, head bent over Will's arm.

"It was excited." Will breathes, examining the part in Hannibal's hair. He could lean in and brush his lips against it. He blinks, trying to sit up straighter in his seat but only succeeding in nudging Hannibal's arm with his chest.

"Will," He freezes. "Please be still."

He does. He stays very, very still. He doesn't even inch away from Hannibal's arm where his chest still presses against it. He can probably feel Will's heart beating frantically, trying to cope with confused yet passionate emotions; a few of them being directed at or inspired by the good doctor.

Seemingly oblivious to the pounding in Will's chest, Hannibal continues his work on Will's hand. He is halfway finished, and when he says nothing to prompt Will to finish telling him about his dream, Will hesitantly picks up where he left off.

"The antlers grew again. When I was holding them, I mean, they…" He nods his head as if to confirm to himself that it happened that way. "We were all tangled up. The tines, you know? I couldn't get away."

"Did you want to?"

"I'm not sure." The answer makes him uncomfortable because it's not a hundred percent true. He knows Hannibal can tell even though he doesn't push it.

"You found true harmony with another being. It can be difficult to pull away from such a pure union."

"You think it's pure?" Will asks, not entirely because he disagrees but because he's fascinated and wants to hear Hannibal's reasoning. He does disagree, simply on principle. He doesn't think anything that murderous or carnal could be pure.

"It is pure in the way that only animals can be pure." The murmur that Hannibal's voice declines to does crazy, unreal things to Will's stomach. He thinks he's in that dream world with the stag for a moment with the way everything else seems to fracture and dissolve from Will's vision when he looks at Hannibal. His voice is like the stag's antlers, scarring the galaxies with its divinity, with its new Creation.

"When you are with it, you are, yourself, like an animal." Distracted enough with the soft look of Hannibal's hair, Will averts his eyes to his hand. Hannibal dabs a clean bit of gauze over the little blood that trickles out of the tail end of the unstitched cut.

He wonders about the stag, about what he would have done in his dream if the stag had bled out of its antlers when Will broke them. He wonders how he knew to break them in the first place. It seemed so natural in his dream, but he couldn't see it now in the sobering light of day.

"Like an animal, animalistic," Will mumbles to himself, well aware of how insane it is trying to assign an MO to a figment of his imagination. "Survival instincts, primal urges; like killing for your mate."

It's the first thing that pops into his head, and it's the only one he says out loud. He thinks it fits the stag. It never tried to break him; only to build him up and craft Will into what it knew he could be. It's almost like when it killed Will, it was doing it to bring out something dormant within him: the thing residing beneath the skin and the rules, beneath the empathy—or perhaps within the empathy.

A cloudy tunnel vision falls over Will, and all he can see are Hannibal's hands on his close but not quite touching. Then that fades out, too, and something very crazy happens.

Wind hisses in his ears. His nervous system hums. Only the impression of the moon is left in the sky; the stars are all burnt out. A thunderous voice shakes Will through to his core.

"You aren't ready for me yet, but you will be." It has no sound; only meaning and intent.

Something in it feels heartbroken. It hurts Will more than the noise, more than the flames engulfing them both when they lash at his flesh.

The stag thrashes, flinging blood everywhere from its thick pelt. It gets in Will's eyes, turning his vision red. It turns everything red, red. The taste in his mouth isn't of rust or salt. It has no taste, only sensation. It is running through a field with the raw earth beneath bare feet; it is elation; it is pain; it is the very essence of life. Will shakes at his core with the intensity of the feeling. It’s like nothing else he’s ever felt before.

"You'll be ready for me soon. You want to be ready for me. You need me."

He can feel that he does want that. He wants to offer something in return for the small taste the stag gives him. He wants to be the thing it has waited for him to be. He wants more of that feeling the stag promises. He wants it in full. He wants to bleed with it.

The beast rears back on its hind legs. Feathers and bones litter the floor. They're in the woods again. The trees are on fire, but the stag's eyes still burn brighter. The maroon coals flicker blue as if to reflect Will’s eyes as he watches the animal in its element. His eyes are amazed, and they are infatuated. And they are not afraid, even as the maroon snuffs them out from the edges inward.

"You can never go back. You were made for this. Can't you see? Don't you see me?"

He tastes ash and blood in his mouth. He's afraid now, but not of the stag. He knows he should be this time, but he is only afraid of himself. He's afraid of his curiosity and of his desire to belong here with the stag. He doesn't know what he must do to earn his place here with such a monster.

"Look at me."

He does. He feels adoration and acceptance.

"I know you see me."

He will, soon. He has to.

"Your stag is an impressive creature." Hannibal muses, startling Will. He manages to catch his eye for a brief second as they flutter open. Had he said something? Before Will can ask, Hannibal is looking down to cut the thread. "He is showing off for you."

He has a retort, but his breath is considerably more labored than it should be, so he takes a moment to set it back to normal. He hunches back into his chair, self-consciously shrinking away from Hannibal. They are still seated too closely together.

Will lightly wiggles his fingers against the stitches and accidentally grazes Hannibal's wrist with his middle finger. The small brush of sensation shoots an interesting current of warmth down his spine. It feels enough like the flames that it scares and invigorates him. Hannibal doesn't pay any mind and proceeds to wrap Will's hand with clean bandages. They feel nicer than the ones Will used, and he does a much better job on top of that.

"He's got a funny way of showing off." Will grumbles when his words finally return to him and he feels adjusted enough to speak without his voice breaking. He realizes too late that he's given the stag an identifiable gender.

"I'm curious," Hannibal straightens in his chair but does not move away. "Do you think it has manifested as an internalized response to your work with Jack Crawford?" Leading the witness.

"If it did, it's what's happening in me. I try not to think about it."

"Why not?" Hannibal still hasn't moved his chair away. Will almost wants to tell him what he just saw, where he just went, but he's terrified thinking about it. Of all the bad things in his head, this one thing that torments him is his doing. He made it. It came from him. He doesn't want to know what that says about him. He doesn't want to know if he's a monster of the same caliber. He can't ask because Hannibal will tell him.

"Maybe I won't like the answer I come up with." He chances a glance at Hannibal to find him smiling. They lock eyes for just a moment before Hannibal unbuttons his jacket with a deft flick of his thumb and forefinger. Will stands when Hannibal does.

"We will discuss it another day. For now, I'm afraid, our time is up." Will checks his watch. They're twenty minutes over.

"Sorry." He blurts out. "I didn't realize we were talking so long."

"I enjoy our long talks." Hannibal says smoothly, nearly cooing at Will with his accent and his cheekbones. Stop it, Will.

"It wasn't much of a talk toward the end."

"I enjoy learning about you in whatever capacity you will allow." Hannibal revises, looking at him full-on. Will feels an internal nudge to return the good doctor's stare, so he does. They watch each other, and Will feels inexplicably anchored in the moment. His feet feel rooted in the ground, and the constant cacophony in Will's head rumbles down into a few scrapes and hisses until there's nothing more than the faint hum of the air conditioner. Will swallows convulsively around a mouthful of air.

Channeling the Zen master...

The name is apt, as Will can pick up absolutely nothing from him. There is silence, and when Will attunes his ears to it, he can make out his own scattered train of thought disturbing the void where the din of everyone else's thoughts usually fills it.

There is a strange tugging at his center of gravity. He hobbles with it. Hannibal is holding the door in one hand and leaning his body slightly toward Will. He smells cologne, or maybe a modest aftershave. He briefly imagines falling at Hannibal's feet, and it hardly even sounds like a bad idea.

"I will see you next week, Will." Hannibal bows his head, eyes not leaving Will's with the gesture. Will blinks and looks away. Shit, how long was I staring at him?

"Jack willing." He tries to laugh, but the sentiment just depresses him and does nothing to distract from their prolonged staring contest that has Will feeling at least a dozen types of ridiculous. His laugh sounds as bitter as he feels just thinking about being carted off to God knows where, away from his dogs, away from the Academy, away from Hanni—

"If duty calls, you know you are welcome to call me anytime." Will can tell Hannibal means anytime, and though he doesn't feel like falling now, his chest feels heavy and full. His heart is racing in his chest, beating obnoxiously in his throat.

"Thank you." Will says, his voice painfully shy and quiet. God, that's embarrassing.

"Of course, Will." Hannibal waits for Will to turn and walk stiffly out of the patients' exit. Will doesn't check to see, but he's positive Hannibal stands there and watches him leave until he's out the door and in the parking lot.