“Pure empathy,” says Hannibal Lecter, and it will be some time before he realises his mistake.
(He has many reasons to befriend Will Graham. It only becomes apparent later that the fact that Will has the capacity to engender in him constant surprise is paramount among them.)
“Pure empathy,” lies Will Graham, in careful agreement, and knows that it’s only a matter of time before he’s found out.
“That must be quite a burden to bear,” says Hannibal, and Will meets his eyes, sips his tea, and knows, for once in his life, that he is not the only liar in the room.
Will’s hand is heavy in her hair and slipping, smearing with the blood pouring from her artery. Her eyes still have the brightness of the living to them, if only a little, and Will pushes his face into her neck, lips pulling back from his teeth and a sound of pure desire ripped from the back of his throat and--
--and he closes his eyes and turns his back and lets her fade away. She does not want to, but this is not up to her.
“He’s,” Will says, and pauses, ruminates, how to communicate what the flesh that he could feel bruise beneath his hands told him, not wanting to, not knowing how to not, “He’s drinking their blood. Similarities to Richard Trenton Chase. Except-- except not, because he’s doing it directly from the source.”
“A vampire,” says Beverly, from somewhere behind him, “Whoa. That must be a freaky headspace, Will.”
“Yeah,” says Will, not looking back because to look back is to be lost, to feel blood run down his chin and hands grasp at his thighs, and he does not look back because he has cultivated years of this, of drawing back just before the thread snaps, of saying just the right thing at the right time--
--and he almost manages a smile, says, “Yeah. I guess. Kinda freaky.”
(“I can still taste the blood in my mouth,” he does not say.)
She’s waiting for him when he gets home, as he knew she would be.
He knows that her name is -- was -- Katherine, that she had a 3.7 GPA at Goucher College, that she played the oboe, that in sophomore year she bleached her hair and there’s still a little of it present at its curling ends. He knows other things. He knows how she pleaded. He knows how she cried. He knows that when his teeth sunk into her neck that he was harder than he’d ever been in his life and that even through the fractured prism of another man’s memory it stings enough, wire-sharp, through his skin that even thinking of it makes his nail-beds tingle.
“I want you to save me,” she says, and he puts a plate down on his bare kitchen table, says, “You’re about four days too late to ask me that.”
“I want you to save me,” she says, and Will sits down, places his hand palm-flat against the table, breathes out and meets the yellow whites of her eyes, says, “Katherine, I can’t even save myself.”
She’s gone in the morning, but it doesn’t make any difference. There is always another murder. There’s always another one of them around the corner, just waiting to haunt him and parrot back the same pleas and stare down his lies with their hellfire-filled eyes.
He looks out of the window. He drinks his coffee. Perhaps this is true despair, Will thinks, not even being capable of wishing that things were different. Not even caring that things can’t be changed.
He reaches up to rub his face, and finds long, scored fingernail marks in both of his wrists, so deep that they’re beginning to purple, the lines criss-crossed like train tracks. There are dozens of them. They must have taken hours. He looks at them for an entire steady, dizzying minute, and he amends his judgement.
No, true despair is not living alone in the middle of nowhere with only dogs for company. It is not the eternal press of the shadow of Jack’s boot-heel against the back of his neck, or the smiles he has to steal from Alana like a pick-pocket. It is not falling to his knees at crime scenes, pressing his face against the carpet to hide arousal so thick and heady that it makes him nauseous with shame. It is not loneliness or the twist to his mouth that never quite manages to be sarcasm or the feel of a gun against his hip. It is not having no one to call at 3am when he awakes from a night terror. It is not having blood on his hands.
True despair is not knowing whose hands made those marks, and not even feeling the slightest pang of worry.
He does not look beneath his fingernails.
He does not want to know the true depths of what he does not know.
Goucher College campus is known for its deer.
They stand far enough back that Will doesn’t feel odd for looking at them, or appear odd for looking at them, but near enough that he can smell them and feel certain in their undoubtable reality.
“They’re beautiful, really, especially the eyes,” says Beverly, coming up behind him -- and he very carefully does not startle -- “But they cull them every year. With bows and arrows, if you can believe it. Weirdoes.”
Will scrunches up his toes inside his boot, feels the crunch of the icy ground beneath, remembers blood in his mouth and doe eyes going dark, and says, “Oh, I can believe it.”
“I can’t do anything more,” says Will, “I understand him intimately. Every facet, every little clench his fingers made on his knife handle. But I can’t drive them to his house and point a gun at his head. I’m powerless. I know so much but I can’t do anything with it.”
“You sound like one of those psychics on television,” says Hannibal, pouring wine into his glass without taking his eyes off Will’s face, “Explaining why specificity is not their forte.”
Will laughs, long and loud and uncomfortable, and says, “Their closure rate would be nothing like mine, though.”
“That is very true,” says Hannibal, and holds out a wine glass. It is filled with something thick and opalescently red, and Will takes it before he even realises his hand has moved.
“But I bet their dreams are less loud,” says Will, and stops himself (too late) before he can clarify futher.
(“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Hannibal does not say.)
“Would you like some dinner?” asks Hannibal, after a long pause, and Will can’t even be bothered to hate himself for the eagerness of his answering nod.
(“Have you even eaten today?” Hannibal does not ask, either.)
She’s waiting for him again when he gets home.
She’s sitting at the kitchen table, her hair bleached bone white and her skin mottled, her fingernails blue. She’s looking at him, but she’s not saying anything. Her eyes do all the talking for her.
He opens the fridge. Closes it. Turns out the light.
The first time it happened, he was thirteen years old.
Nothing before or since has ever dragged energy from the very marrow of his bones like a Louisiana summer, and he spent days so exhausted it was as if a straw had been stuck beneath his skin and taken the very essence of him with it. The strongest memory in his entire arsenal is how his shirt stuck to his back for three entire months, and how it was always the same shirt, thin and threadbare and a greying white.
(Will Graham hasn’t seen that shirt in twenty years, but sometimes, in his dreams, he’s still wearing it.)
They couldn’t afford an air conditioning unit. Will spent days lying beside a fan and reading books his Daddy bought at thrift stores, dreaming of places he would never go, of becoming a person he would never be. He’d already read one novel that day and was starting on another when he looked up and saw her standing in their bad excuse for a back yard.
She’d waved at him, and it took him a good thirty seconds to work out why this was odd.
She had no fingers.
The rest of it almost felt inevitable, the faint lines of her autopsy scars, the blood running from her ears, her bare feet pressing into the dirt and the clumps of hair that dangled from her scalp in a gory wave.
Will met her eyes (her empty sockets--) and he started to scream, and he didn’t stop for three hours.
(It felt like he didn’t stop for three days.)
They’d called him the Palm Print Killer, because he left one every time but it never made the slightest difference. He did it in blood -- his victim’s, not his own -- on the front door of every house he entered, even the ones where he didn’t get to finish his kill.
Will sat in the library for four whole days and read everything there was to know about the Palm Print Killer. (His Daddy was just pleased he’d left the house, and at least the library had an AC, and it was the only four days in a Louisiana summer where Will couldn’t wring out the sweat from his shirt when night-time came.)
At the end of those four days, Will went out back and puked for ten minutes straight, because he hadn’t learnt a single thing that he didn’t already know from the ligature marks on her wrists.
The second time he saw her, he was eating dinner with his parents.
He knew better than to ask “Do you see her, too?”
(Knowing better has saved him a time or two, or twenty, as the years have borne ever onwards.)
She waved at him, and he looked away, and decades later he thinks, he knows, that he made a choice that day, but if you asked him, he couldn’t tell you what it was.
The first time he ever wakes up hard, it’s to the feel of twisting twine between his fingers and pressing down into warm girl-flesh that bruises beneath his hands. He looks into those socketless eyes--
--and it’s both the worst and most tantalizingly tortuous wake-up of his life.
He was smart, his Daddy said. He’d teach him to fix boat motors so he always had that to fall back on, but it was Will’s job to ensure that a fall-back wasn’t something he was ever going to need. He was smart enough to be the first one in their family to go to college. He was smart enough for a scholarship. He was smart enough to be Ivy League. He was smart enough to make something of himself, to be the first Graham who ever did or would.
(He was smart enough to have a house where you didn’t have to pick between putting the lights on at night and putting food on the table. He was smart enough to escape. He was smart enough to not be poor.)
Will isolated the one thing that made him stand out with sure-handed, dedicated coolness, and joined the FBI when he was twenty three years old. His tutors marveled and his psych tests all came up lined in red, but he was in. He hadn’t made it, but ‘made it’ was a relative term and it was enough, to not have to choose between food and electricity, between spit and a smile. He was never going to make it, but he was going to hang on with his fingernails to what he’d got, because if he didn’t someone would take it from him, someone would figure him out, and surely--
--surely, he thought, it was only a matter of time.
Above all, there was one thing he was always smart enough to know: no one is ever smart enough to ensure they’ll never go back.
He never tells anyone about the girl with no eyes, and that--
--that, he never regrets. (Almost.)
“I’m not this kind of crazy,” says Will Graham, and if anyone would know--
--well. If anyone would know.
(“I see ghosts,” Will Graham still, after all these years, can’t quite force himself to say.)
The echoes in his walls are getting louder.
He bought this land because no one had ever lived on it before. (Although, in a country stolen from its original inhabitants, ‘never’ is an ephemeral term.) There is no reason for the footsteps in the night and the scratching in the walls. There is no reason for him to see anything out of the corner of his eye other than one of his dogs, or the revenant of the person he’s stained his arms up to his elbows in their blood. (There is always one of those. There are always more.)
There is no one else. There is nothing else. Yet, there is.
He knocks through his living room wall until his hair is white with the plaster, and there’s nothing there.
Outside, an animal starts to whine. Every single one of his dogs, sprawled on the sofa and on the floor, do not react even slightly. Will’s back is to the door, and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. There is nothing there, yet--
--and Will drops the sledgehammer, then, a lesson hard-learnt, does not say “Who’s there?”
He’s never had to describe it, except in lies, so he’s not sure he could do it if he tried, because all he knows is the barest hint of enough to know that even if he had met someone else who could do this, they would never tell the truth, never ever ever ever--
--it’s so many things at once, but it always comes back to the blood, the sharp hot pump of it on his own veins, the memories of a dozen men merging into one and then splicing out again, splintering under his fingers as he digs them into the carpet, a man’s dark hair, a woman’s long neck, the flashes of light and the dips of darkness, the red tint to his vision and the words his mouth closes around that he has never said before but he is speaking for a second time, and he brings his hand down and he raises the gun and he flicks open the knife and reaches for the hammer and and there’s blood and heat and his chest feels scarsplit and holy and as his lips curve into a smile, he opens his eyes and looks up--
--and Will Graham doesn’t believe in salvation, but in the designs of the worst men he has ever known, he finds the face of the divine.
“Go fish,” says Abigail, and smiles at Will over the sharp, polished edge of Hannibal’s dining room table.
“Uh,” says Will, and nods, for wont of something better to do. He doesn’t remember how long he’s been here. He doesn’t even remember not being here, the lines blurring so thickly that he isn’t sure he could even tell Abigail what day it is today. Not that she’ll ask; not that she probably even knows herself. (She’s been getting better, lately. ‘Better’ is a very relative term.)
“Go fish!” says Abigal, more insistently, and Will picks up a card, shrugs, a tiny aborted movement that he can’t quite hold in, and Abigail giggles, high and lovely, says, “My turn.”
Behind her shoulder, her father smiles at him, a wolf’s grin, and--
--his hand resting on the fine streak of Abigail’s collarbone, Hannibal says, “So, how are we getting along?”
“I hear things at night,” says Will, later, after Abigail’s gone, “I see things-- things I know aren’t there. I know my brand of crazy and this--”
“Cotard’s syndrome deeply unsettles you, doesn’t it,” says Hannibal, “But it was you who suggested it first, was it not?”
“I was--” says Will, and then pauses. “I was. On some level. I didn’t know what she wanted from me. I--”
“You were confused,” says Hannibal, with the aching slow click of a lock sliding into place, “Something about her confused you. You were confused because-- Oh, oh, William.”
“You can say it,” says Will, and lets it stretch, the moment he’s been waiting for his whole life, the moment where he’s caught--
--and Hannibal meets his eyes and smiles like his face could break from it and tears every down every wall Will has ever built with his bare hands, says, “You were confused because you saw her and she wasn’t dead.”
The next breath Will takes is the easiest one of his life.
When Will gets home that night, his house is empty.
He turns on the light. He sits down. He looks out of the window. He’s alone for the first time since he can remember, and it feels--
--it feels, Hannibal’s leftovers on his kitchen table and his handkerchief in his pocket, his hand still hot where it touched Will’s wrist, horrifically gently, not finding the still-healing gashes beneath the fabric of Will’s shirt, and he closes his eyes and breathes out and--
--it feels, Will finds, like coming home.
“I’ve never told anyone,” says Will, voice breaking, snapping, twenty years of lies and burdens pouring out of his mouth in a flood, “Anyone. Nobody knows.”
“Nor shall you ever need to tell any other,” says Hannibal, “Here. You look pale. I made you breakfast.”
He kneels at crime scenes because they’re altars, because they’re sacred, because for those hot wet seconds he becomes part of something greater than himself. It is a terrible thing, but a great thing nonetheless. Twenty years since the girl with no eyes, and Will has learned that most things that are one thing are also the other.
“He who catches monsters,” says Freddie Lounds, too-clever smirk lobbed at him like a hand-grenade, and Will takes off his glasses, folds his arms, squares right up to her and says--
“The abyss already stared back, Ms. Lounds. I can assure you of that.”
“You are a stone-cold motherfucking psycho,” says Freddie, in a tone that almost sounds impressed, “God, I have got to try and get ahold of your Agency psych evals.”
Will leans back in his chair, places his palms flat on the table, breathes out.
“No need,” he says, “Which off-the-record breakdown would you like to hear about first?”
“You’re safe here, Abigail,” says Will, and does not look outside the corner of his eye.
“Help me understand, Will,” says Jack Crawford, and Will laughs in his face.
He’s not sure what snaps his control, the lack of control from Jack or his own control pulled taut like a bowstring.
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” says Will, “And I wouldn’t even if I could.”
“Is that a riddle, Will?” says Jack, infuriatingly patient, infuriatingly condescending, infuriatingly dismissive Jack, and something else in Will snaps, and he grins, too wide and too bright and too deadly, and pulls back his shirt sleeve, watches Jack’s eyes go dark with horror, leans in and whispers, “I did that to myself.”
“I’ve always known,” says Will, “Since the first bite.”
“Will--” says Hannibal, and Will pushes past him into his house, says, “I’ve always known. They sang to me. You wear death like a cloak. I was waiting for you to tell me. I’ve been waiting for you to tell me since the moment we met.”
“You knew the entire time,” says Hannibal, and Will nods, says, “I-- I want to be there with you. To see if I can create a feedback loop. I’ve never been there as it happens. It’ll-- it’ll feel-- I want to know if--”
Hannibal kisses him so hard his lips bleed, and Will never needs to finish asking his question.
"I don't think there is an afterlife," says Will, "But, if there is--"
Hannibal nods, a quiet gesture of total understanding.
("But if there is a Hell, it won't you have you in it," neither of them say.)
(Two days later, Hannibal tells him about the encephalitis.
"I told you it was the wrong kind of crazy," Will says, and when Garrett Jacob Hobbs peers over Hannibal's shoulder, Will winks, conspiratorial.)
“You’re glorious, Will,” says Hannibal, and and and--
--and Will closes his fingers around the handle of a knife Hannibal is already holding, says, “This one’s dying slow.”
“I know how I’m going to die,” says Will.
It’s edgy and desperate and much, much too honest, leaves something roiling in his stomach like it’s trying to get out. If the ghosts are the greatest secret then this is the greatest burden, the inescapable weight of truth he’s carried since he was twenty-five years old and stood, staring into his bathroom mirror, a razor blade in his hand, and it slammed into him, this thing for which he doesn’t have a name, this perfect HD depiction of his own destruction.
Hannibal’s eyes widen, and his fingers still over the fruit he’s preparing.
“I--” says Will, and swallows, hard. “When you do it, make it quick.”
He considers for a moment, and then smiles, slow and shy, says, “But not so quick it doesn’t sting.”
“It will be the most beautiful moment of your life,” says Hannibal, low and soft, a promise, and when Hannibal smiles like the sun on a cloudy day and pushes the pomegranate seed that’s sticky on his thumb between Will’s teeth, Will lets him.
“Pure empathy,” says Hannibal Lecter, his eyes the dark gloss of an exsanguinated vein and he drips with it, blood wreathed on his forehead like a crown, the ghost of a scalpel in his hand and the secret smirk he keeps hidden in the depths of his skull painted across his face in gorgeous chiaroscuro. He lifts the wineglass, and when the first drop touches his tongue Will hears the screaming of a thousand lambs. Heaven’s chorus could not possibly compare, and Will has to bite his own tongue to hide the smile that would betray him.
“Pure empathy,” says Will Graham, and knows, prays, thanks a God he doesn’t believe in, that his lying days are numbered.)