"Hello, Will," said Bedelia du Maurier.
She was very...elegant, Will decided. But not in the way that Hannibal was elegant, or even Alana. Hannibal was a peacock, ostentatious in his finery, while Alana's mien possessed warmth and cheer. Dr. Du Maurier had all the cool hauteur of a fine art sculpture. Her office--really just a room in her home, off to the side of the entrance--was light and bright, unlike Hannibal's tall-ceilinged cavern, but the sunlight on her features seemed only to emphasize her likeness to Italian marble.
Will could see why Hannibal liked her.
"Isn't it a conflict of interest?" he asked. "Treating both of us."
Dr. Du Maurier inclined her head. "It's not, technically," she said, "though it is a little unorthodox, and not preferred. But the relationship between Hannibal and myself," here her tone turned dry, "is nothing if not unorthodox. Besides, he tells me that you are, technically, not his patient. That you have conversations, not sessions."
Will ran his tongue over his lips. "Yes."
"Then these are also just conversations." Dr. Du Maurier gave a single nod to the floor between them. "Hannibal wants no appearance of impropriety, and he is concerned. He wishes for you to continue to receive the treatment--or conversations--that he can no longer give you."
Will's hand twitched on his armrest. "I'm not happy about this."
"That's a start," said Dr. Du Maurier. "Why don't you tell me about what's making you unhappy?"
The only upshot of the situation was that, for the time being, the commute between his therapist and his home was very short.
"Hi honey, I'm home," Will called into the foyer. He wiped his shoes three times before setting foot on the marble.
Hannibal didn't reply. Probably he hadn't even heard Will. This house was too goddamn big. But Will heard the skitter of claws against the tile, and that dismissed his current mutinous feelings.
"Hey guys!" he said as a furry whirlwind attacked his legs. Buster put his front paws up on Will's knees. "Down, boy," he said, to no avail. The other dogs crowded close, tongues lolling. "You probably want to go outside, huh?"
"Oh, Will," Hannibal said, appearing from around the corner. He was sans jacket and wearing an apron; he'd been in the kitchen, then. "Welcome back. Did you have a good appointment?"
"Yeah, sure," said Will. "Have the dogs been out?"
"Yes, I let them out in the side yard about half an hour ago."
The back yard was better described as a garden: beautifully, perfectly landscaped in a Japanese style, complete with koi pond and a tiny, completely unnecessary arched bridge. Hannibal had not had to request that the dogs not be allowed there. The side yard, however, was mostly grass, with a few fruit trees. It was a good thing it existed, because Will did not relish the idea of walking seven dogs on leashes when they were used to roaming free on Will's property. He still needed to get them all collars and tags.
"Thanks," said Will. "What, um, what's for dinner? Can I help?"
Hannibal smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners in a fashion that never failed to make Will's stomach wiggle. "You certainly may. We're having a leek and rabbit fricassee; you may slice the leeks."
"I'm sorry again that Jack dragged you into this," Will said, once they were in the kitchen. It turned out that a lot more than leeks needed slicing: there were tiny new potatoes that needed to be cut into coins and esoteric greens that needed to be taken apart and combined into some kind of salad. Will saw no point in cooking this much food for two people; did Hannibal cook like this for himself on a regular basis?
Hannibal was at the stove, browning the rabbit, which released a meaty, savory aroma into the air. "Jack didn't drag me anywhere I didn't want to go. I'm happy to assist with the case, and we've already proven that we can cohabitate without undue distress."
"Yeah, well, I still think it's stupid," Will muttered. His potato coins were hopelessly uneven; hopefully that wouldn't fuck up whatever Hannibal was planning with them.
"We do fit the profile," Hannibal said. "A couple from different social strata; recently cohabiting; homosexual. That's not what offends you, is it?" Hannibal added.
"What? No, no." Will's knife slipped so that his potato piece came out as a wedge instead of a coin. "That's not--no. It's stupid because we don't know how they're choosing them; we fit the profile, but we don't know if there's something missing. And you're a civilian; you shouldn't even have been asked to be part of the investigation like this."
"Perhaps the incident with Tobias Budge provided clarity." Hannibal had his back to Will, so he couldn't have seen Will's startled look, but he continued, "He died as a result of injuries I gave him, but I don't feel bad about that. He was a very bad man." He looked over his shoulder at Will, and that moment of unexpected eye contact sent a frisson through Will's spine. "Doing bad things to bad people makes us feel good."
Will looked back down at the potatoes. His lips pulled apart at the corners. "You shouldn't have to know that."
"I already knew it, Will," said Hannibal. "I had a life before we met. I am not a delicate flower in need of protection from Jack Crawford's boot."
Will couldn't help a little smiling twitch of his lips; Hannibal had told him that before. Clearly Will needed reminding. "Okay, okay, point taken. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, then."
"It's no inconvenience," said Hannibal. He began to remove rabbit pieces from the skillet with a pair of tongs. "I very much look forward to our time together. We have so much to learn about each other."
"I respect your need for solitude," Hannibal said, when the food was ready. Once all the chopping was done, it actually came together with surprising rapidity: half an hour later, there it was: some kind of rabbit stew, braised potato coins, and a crunchy salad of greens, apple, and celery root. "We needn't dine together. If it makes you more comfortable, you may take your dinner wherever you like."
"Please," Will said with relief that he hoped wasn't too obvious.
"Where would you like to eat?" Hannibal asked.
"I can eat here in the kitchen." Will looked around. There was an armchair and small table in one corner. It wasn't the most comfortable place, but Will hardly wanted to eat in the living room or in the study, where he might spill sauce on a ten thousand dollar rug. Besides, the dogs weren't allowed in the kitchen, which made an accident less likely.
Hannibal raised his eyebrows. "As you wish," he said, and departed with his plate for the dining room, leaving Will's gently steaming dish on the counter.
Will sank into the armchair with relief, his plate in his lap. He dug into the rabbit, which was firm but tender under his fork. Hannibal had stewed them on a bed of leeks, which fell apart as soon as Will touched it. The sauce was surprisingly spicy. Will didn't think he'd ever eaten anything spicy at Hannibal's house before, but he liked spicy food; the food around here often wasn't spicy enough for his taste. Will swirled a potato coin through the sauce and thought about that.
He was used to eating alone, had done so for years. Solo at fried fish restaurants, at diners, at fast food joints; places where nobody looked at you weird or pitied you for taking up one side of a booth. He ate in the car more often than not. At home it was a microwave burrito or a pan-fried fish filet or a bowl of cereal over the sink. A lot of ham sandwiches.
Hannibal, though: he cooked three courses even when it was just him alone. He probably ate in a three-piece suit even when it was just him at the table, poured a glass of wine for himself, used the correct fork although there was no one to judge. Will was sure he hadn't changed anything about his dinner routine tonight, but he was eating alone just one room away, even though there was someone else in the house with him.
What was it that Hannibal had said, when they were on vacation? Table fellowship is a way of forming bonds with friends and neighbors. The word 'companion' comes from words that mean 'one we break bread with.'
Will got up and took his plate to the dining room.
Hannibal looked up, his fork and knife poised over the plate, when Will entered the room.
"May I join you?" Will asked, hesitating with his plate four inches above the glossy table.
"Of course," Hannibal said.
Will set down his plates and utensils with an ungainly clatter. His chair seemed to scrape loudly against the floor. He heard a sound under the table and peered under it to see, to his surprise, Buffy lying there. She wagged her tail at Will.
"Would you like something to drink?" Hannibal asked, and Will noticed the glass of wine by Hannibal's plate.
"Uh, whatever you're having," Will said. Hannibal got up, and Will said, "I can pour it myself, I'm not your guest."
"You don't have a glass," Hannibal said as he disappeared into the kitchen. He returned with a glass and, since he was standing already, poured Will his wine.
"Thanks," Will mumbled, and winced.
"It will take some time for us to develop a routine," Hannibal said as he sat back down. "It's only your second night here."
"It was different at the vacation house," Will said. "It felt like a different planet, like we were different people there. That was home for neither of us. But this is your home, and for me to be here like this, like this is my home now, it doesn't feel real, and it doesn't feel like I fit. It's like trying on someone else's clothes that are too large, and having to walk around in them somehow."
"You do that on a regular basis," said Hannibal. "You walk in others' shoes, in their skins."
"Yes, and I hate it," Will said. "I don't like to do that in my own home, which this is supposed to be, now."
"I understand," said Hannibal. "Tell me: what would make it easier for you?"
Will let his gaze drift out the French doors that led onto the side yard. It was snowing, tiny flakes that probably wouldn't last till morning.
"Ah," said Hannibal. He got up and opened one of the doors, just a little bit, enough that a curl of cold air washed over them.
Will stared. "You don't have to do that."
"I know." Hannibal resumed his seat and his meal. "Does it help?"
It was stupid, but it did. Will always had a window or the back door open in his house, partly because of the dogs and partly because he liked the fresh air. He took his coffee out on the porch in the mornings, feet bare against the wooden planks, and often sat there in the evenings regardless of mosquitos, watching the dogs gambol and snap playfully at each other. And it helped, too, that it was some kind of visible disarray in Hannibal's life; that Will wasn't the only one uprooted and uncomfortable here.
"Thanks," he said, and finished his dinner in much better spirits.
At least, unlike at the vacation house, they had separate work lives to vanish into after dinner. Of course, Will's work usually involved crime scene photos; if there wasn't some new case Jack had swimming around in his head, there were old ones that Will needed to dump into the heads of FBI trainees: bite marks as a pathology; social exclusion and isolation as a psychopathic trait; unsolved cases such as the Zodiac Killer and the Chesapeake Ripper.
Tonight, though, it was The Bleeder. Will poured himself a glass of whiskey and decided to occupy the coffee table in the living room.
Victim #1: Ben Marlowe, engineering professor at George Washington University. Most likely taken from his home, though there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle. His partner, Victor Truffello, had spent the night away from home after an argument and didn't think it was unusual that Marlowe wasn't there when he got back, assuming that he was at work. He became concerned when Marlowe failed to come home for dinner or respond to any of his phone calls, and reported Marlowe missing the next day. Marlowe was eventually found at the same burial site as:
Victim #2: Terrence White, retired professional football player. Similar scenario: his partner, Edward Macleod, had spent the night away from home after an argument and returned to find White absent. There had been some signs of a struggle, which Macleod had attributed to White's temper. He did not become seriously concerned about White's absence until the next day, when White's church called to say that White had failed to show for ushering duty. Macleod reported White missing, and White's body was eventually found by a couple of hikers at:
Burial Site #1: The hikers, a couple in their 30s, had been walking their dog, who'd gone into a dip in the land and refused to come out, and instead started digging. The dog uncovered a black garbage bag, which turned out to contain the remains of Terrence White; another black garbage bag, nearby, contained the remains of Ben Marlowe. They had both been cut up for easier disposal, but Beverly Katz pronounced that the two men had both died of prolonged blood loss, from dozens of cuts all over their bodies. They had bled out slowly, but "they were unconscious when they died," Katz said. Small mercies. But it was that detail that had given their unsub his nickname.
A Burial Site #2 was assumed, because Mark Ikuhara was still missing, and had been missing for two weeks. Probably The Bleeder had realized his burial site was compromised and taken Ikuhara somewhere else.
"What do you see?" Hannibal asked over Will's shoulder.
Will set his glass down on the edge of the coffee table with a loud clank.
"They're good-looking couples, aren't they," Hannibal observed. He came around the side of the couch to sit beside Will. "Yet another way we fit the profile."
Will snorted. "There are many ways we don't. We're not interracial; the age difference between us isn't nearly as significant"--although Mark Ikuhara and Greg Johnson were only 12 years apart in age, so perhaps that didn't have as much significance to The Bleeder as they thought--"and I'm arguably part of the professional class as well."
"But that's not what's important," said Hannibal. "What does the killer feel is important?"
"He's choosing them carefully," said Will. "He watches them for a while, gets to know their routine. He takes one of them only when he's sure the other's not going to be home for a while, and he keeps them alive because he wants them to suffer. He wants them to die slowly and afraid. But why does he choose only one?"
"Perhaps he wants one of them to live," Hannibal suggested.
The files contained nothing Will hadn't looked over half a dozen times already. Eventually, Hannibal excused himself to his own work, and Will read a few chapters out of a book he was supposed to review. Winston and Clay came to lie on the rug in front of the fireplace. Buster was an inveterate explorer; Will had barely seen him since they'd moved in. He hoped he wasn't getting into trouble. (But when was Buster not getting in trouble?)
But bedtime couldn't be avoided forever; Will felt his eyelids getting heavy. He sighed, pushed himself off the couch, and turned off the fireplace. He put his glass in the sink. The dogs followed him, but only as far as the stairs: there, a temporary gate forestalled their ascent, but not Will's. Hannibal--very reasonably--did not want the dogs upstairs.
Hannibal had given Will his own bedroom; there was no need for the farce to go that far. The authorities had never found cameras or anything of the sort in the victims' homes. Will paused a moment on the landing. To the right was his bedroom; to the left he could see a faint light that indicated Hannibal had gone to ground as well. He gazed at it for a few seconds, seized by some emotion or memory that he didn't quite recognize, before shuffling toward his own bedroom.