When four non-descript SUV’s pulled into Will Graham’s apartment complex, he knew something had happened.
He hadn’t seen a column of cars like that for quite some time –six years, in fact. The first time they’d come to question him, he’d been near-frightened by the manner in which they sequestered him and talked circles around him to the point of dizziness. Now, outside as he was with his dog, he saw them before they’d parked, and he had enough time to mentally prepare himself for the onslaught.
Agent Jack Crawford led the group, and honestly that was just the icing on the cake.
“I’m not seeing any psychiatrists,” he said, rubbing Winston’s ears to reassure him.
“Is that what you thought I was going to ask?”
“The last time you showed up at my house, it was to pester me about my psychiatrist and if he’d ever mentioned anything suspicious,” Will replied, not looking at him. “You, in fact, asked if he’d ever ‘confided in a desire to cannibalize anyone.’”
Jack Crawford, despite Will’s prickly tone, smiled. It made the crinkles around his eyes emphasize the mismatched colors of brown. “How have you been, Will?”
“Good,” he said, glancing to Jack’s dress shoes. They were scuffed, indicative of a lot of foot work in the past day or so. “Not so good for you, though.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he noted two agents ascending the stairs towards his apartment. One of them barely avoided kicking a terra cotta pot off of the ledge as they went.
“What makes you say that?”
“There’s at least four agents per car, and four cars in the parking lot,” said Will, and he sat down on the metal bench to get somewhat comfortable. He sensed the lengthy conversation like the dips in the warped metal. “The only reason you’d come to me with that kind of arsenal and unpolished shoes means something happened.”
Jack sat down as well, and that solidified Will’s suspicions. Things were grave indeed.
“I haven’t been home to give them the proper shoe shine,” he admitted with a bark of laughter. The forced ease sat on the back of Will’s neck and made him cringe.
“Is it about Hannibal Lecter?”
Will sighed and looked up at the sky. Sensing his uncertainty, Winston put his head in his lap and whined.
When he said nothing else, Jack ventured, “That’s a nice dog, Will.”
“I adopted him,” Will replied absently, scratching Winston’s ear. “He was going to be killed at the shelter, but I adopted him before they could.”
“You empathize with dogs, too?”
“I empathize with anyone,” he retorted. “Even those no one should empathize with.”
“People like Dr. Lecter?” Jack tested.
“I haven’t heard from him, Agent Crawford,” Will said, looking to him. He focused on the fat of his earlobe and frowned impressively. “He sent me a letter last year, congratulating me on my doctorate. I burned it.”
“Other graduates frame his letters,” said Jack. Will could sense his admiration, that he wouldn’t want to keep something from someone like Hannibal.
“Other graduates weren’t his patient.”
Jack hmm’d low in his throat and nodded. He was at odds with what he wanted to say, a hesitance in his mannerisms. Behind him, the other agents that had tarried around the SUV’s fanned out through the apartment complex.
“Just tell me,” Will prompted.
“I’d show you if I thought it would help.”
“Just telling me is fine.” Will didn’t want to see whatever it was Jack wanted to show.
Jack nodded and shifted on the uncomfortable bench. “A woman walked into a police station just the other day. In front of everyone, she strode over to the nearest officer and gutted him with a linoleum knife. She was shot down, and autopsy revealed that underneath her clothing, she’d written over every inch of her body from the neck down.”
The mention of the linoleum knife was enough. “Which article of his had she written on her skin?”
“Evolution of Violence from Human Ancestry,” Jack replied.
Will nodded along, lips pressed so tight he felt the blood leave them. He rubbed Winston’s ear with a little more vigor, chastised himself silently for even asking. He hadn’t needed to ask. He didn’t need to know what sort of sick person paid homage to someone like Hannibal Lecter.
“Well, what matters is that he hasn’t contacted me,” he said at last.
“Has anyone contacted you about this?”
“No one. I hadn’t even seen the news report.” Will smiled, grim and just as ugly as Jack’s. “How’s your wound?”
It was a savage attack, all things considered. Jack Crawford, despite being a prickly and obsessive agent when he was on the case, was a decent person. The gut wound he’d taken from Lecter when he brought him down had nearly killed him. If Will hadn’t found him, walking into Hannibal’s office for his appointment, he’d have certainly died.
Sometimes, Will still dreamt of how Jack’s blood had felt all over his hands.
“Very healed,” Jack assured him. “Aggressive tactics when you’re feeling cornered won’t work on me, Will. I’m just concerned for you.”
“I know,” Will said, and that was as apologetic as he could make himself sound. He dipped his head and used both hands to rub Winston’s ears. Self-soothing through use of an animal, and it tended to work as far as he was concerned.
“Given how he’s behaved around you, I just want to make sure that you’ll call us if anything happens.” A pause. “You will call me if anything happens.” It wasn’t a request.
“He’s still locked up, isn’t he?”
“Yes. I had a chat with him this morning.”
Will nodded, logging that fact away as an immense relief. Hannibal Lecter was best suited behind bars, not walking as a free man in any place.
“Then I’m fine,” he assured Jack. “I’ll call if something odd happens, but I don’t think he’d give much consideration to me. I was one of many patients.”
Jack gave him a look that said he thought Will had clearly lost his marbles. “He asked me just this morning how you were doing,” he said slowly, like speaking to a toddler. Will opened his mouth to object, and Jack continued, “Above that, you were the one that found me, Will. You called for an ambulance, and as you tried to staunch the blood flow, he stood not ten feet from you and didn’t kill you.”
“I was his patient,” Will repeated stubbornly.
“I would bet my life that if it were any other patient that walked in that door, we’d both be dead,” Jack countered.
His confidence bled from his pores, and Will found himself taking some of it as a result, an unconscious act that left him feeling strangely lucky to be alive. He’d sometimes wondered at that; as he’d stood on the stand and answered questions against Dr. Lecter, as he’d sat at the back and listened to the verdict, and for many years after, he found himself wondering just how he’d survived Dr. Lecter. It wasn’t luck; that was certain. Dr. Lecter had stood hidden in the shadows of his opulent office, watched Will as he tried desperately to save Jack, and he hadn’t killed him. He’d made the conscious decision not to hurt Will –he’d even snuck out of the exit rather than even engage Will in any sort of threat or banter. Sometimes, Will woke in the middle of the night with the sensation of someone’s eyes burning into the back of his skull, and he considered asking Dr. Lecter just why he’d decided to spare him.
Then common sense would set in, and he’d go back to sleep.
“The officer died, didn’t he?” he asked suddenly, feeling cold.
They considered one another, and Will sighed, patting Winston’s side. The dog licked at his pant leg and sidled off to sniff about the grass; the cold seemed to grow with his departure.
“No need to be sorry, Will. We’re hoping this is an isolated event, but I just wanted to check on you.” Jack could sense Will retreating within himself, lost to his thoughts of the cop that’d died so that a fanatic could make a statement. He took that as his cue to leave, and he stood, holding his hand out to shake Will’s. After a beat, Will followed suit, shifting from one foot to the other.
“If he’s still talking about me, I don’t know what that means,” he said. “I mean, maybe if we were soulmates, but that’s not the issue.”
“What do you think the issue is?” Jack asked.
“I’d say it’s a lot of him wanting to pick at you the only way he knows how,” Will replied. “And since you’re here, that’s a pretty easing picking on his part.”
He was doing that thing that he did when he was nervous about something, picking up the tone and cadence of phrases from others. He felt Jack’s stare like a sunburn, and he shifted again, stepping away. He’d tried to work on that, once, when he’d been seeing a therapist.
Then that therapist went and ate a lot of people, and therapists didn’t seem like such a good idea after that.
“Keep in touch, Will,” Jack reminded him. He grabbed a walkie-talkie from his jacket pocket and pulled it out, murmuring a curt, “Move out,” into it before he headed back to his army of cars.
Will watched him leave, each car peeling out of the parking lot with smooth, uniformed efficiency, and he let out a slow breath that burned on the way out.
The news was horrible when it wanted to be. It made a light mockery of the baffled FBI and DC police, all the while spreading a fear-mongering sort of behavior regarding the illustrious ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’. Will sat on his apartment couch with his roommate, Beverly, Winston curled up at their feet.
“How does he still look good, even after six years of no sunlight?” Beverly wondered, elbow-deep in the popcorn bowl on her lap. The photo provided was of him in profile, stark cheekbones lethal, giving way to deep-set eyes and a prominent brow. The orange jumpsuit didn’t give his skin the same sallow look that it gave others. Will scowled at the photo.
“He’s going to enjoy the attention,” Will noted.
Will tried often enough not to think about the not-so-good doctor, but at her innocent, unobtrusive question, he tried. He thought back to the days he’d sat in a comfortably crafted, leather chair and attempted to open himself up to the sort of scrutiny that would potentially help him combat his hyper-empathy. He thought back to the calm, witty, and oftentimes remarkably clever doctor and how Will always left feeling as though he’d taken some sort of monumental, pivotal step in understanding himself.
He thought back to those god-awful ties that Dr. Lecter always, always wore, and he snorted.
“Yes. It’s been years since he’s been in the news, and if there’s one thing that an intelligent psychopath like Dr. Lecter needs, it’s an audience to admire his work,” he said after a minute. When the news cut to commercial, he muted the television and rubbed the stress from his eyes. “Someone admiring him so acutely that they painstakingly wrote his words on their skin, then murdered a cop the way he tried to murder Agent Crawford? I’ll bet the son-of-a-bitch is just preening in his cell right now.”
Beverly nodded and chewed noisily around an over-stuffed mouth of popcorn. “I know you don’t like talking about it, but what was it like to be in therapy with him?”
“…Far more calming than you’d think,” he said slowly. Her nonchalance in asking made it easier to be honest. “Despite everything he did outside of work, he was actually a very good therapist.”
He unmuted the television when the news came back on, and he stared at the picture of the woman that had made the gruesome attack. Due to the nature of her death, they didn’t show a crime scene photo, but they did show her Facebook profile picture. She was innocent-looking, from her blonde hair to her dark brown eyes and her engaging, full-lipped smile. The picture of kindness. The picture of something sweet.
“Authorities have revealed the woman as Melinda Carson, a full-time worker at a local convenience store with a soulmate and a son that made the attack on Officer Henson,” the news anchor said. Her own mismatched eyes narrowed in mock-speculation. “Her boyfriend is unavailable at the time for questioning, but sources say that she seemed, for all intents and purposes, a completely normal young woman.”
“They all seem normal, don’t they?” Beverly commented. She shoved another handful of popcorn into her mouth.
“You’re the one studying criminology,” Will replied.
“So far, I’d say they all seem normal until you start finding body parts in their freezer.”
Will thought so, too. As the picture cut away from her and back to a picture of Lecter, he looked instead to the decorations on the wall that Beverly had insisted upon putting up. Never one to really care about wall décor or if the curtains matched the paint, he’d let her have at it with the critical eye of someone that enjoyed Pinterest far too much.
“I mean, she’s got a soulmate, too,” she continued, “and a son. How does someone just…do that when they’ve got a family to think about?”
Will had taken classes on that, given his current occupation. “He’s either involved with her and completely supportive and aware of it, or she’s placed her obsession far above his head,” he replied.
“What do you mean?”
“She has a soulmate. If there was any fault in the soulmate, from his behavior to his looks to their connection, she’d naturally place her interest somewhere that she felt she’d never reach. A desire and connection for someone she’d never have, therefore she could give her fantasies a place to go wild.” He snorted. “Just because she has a soulmate doesn’t mean she particularly likes them. Hell, it could just be a half-connection, and she resents the shift of her eyes.”
“That’s true,” Beverly allowed. “I read your thesis. You should have titled it ‘Soulmates Aren’t the End-All.”
“I thought about it, but I also wanted to graduate,” Will replied. “The entire panel of judges all had soulmates. Hell, even you have a soulmate, Beverly.”
“Saul is a good guy,” she replied, “but even I know that not everyone gets a good guy as a soulmate.”
“When am I going to meet him?”
“Soon, I promise.”
The news cut to commercial once more, and he muted the TV, stealing a handful of popcorn. He’d never met Saul, busy as he was with his residency and Beverly firing on all pistons for her final semester of grad school. Despite how comfortable he was in her presence due to the last four years of rooming together, Will didn’t know too much about her apart from her design quirks and her avid adoration for Mac‘N Cheese when she was drunk
It was better that way, though.
He still felt Jack’s concern like a sheen of dried sweat on his skin, so he muttered a quick goodnight and made his way to the bathroom to try and wash it off.
He woke with a start to someone in the room.
They weren’t quiet about it, if he was being entirely honest. His desk chair clattered to the side, and there was a muffled uumph as they ran into the edge of his dresser. Silence descended, save for their heavy breathing, broken by a stifled sneeze. Will sat up and stared into the shadowed outline of their presence, and he let out an irritable, slow sigh.
“Molly, what are you doing?”
“Sorry, go back to sleep,” she hissed, and despite himself, he cracked a grin.
“I can’t go back to sleep. Hang on.”
He turned on the lamp to the side of the bed and blinked blearily up at her frozen form near the end of the bed. She held her high heels in one hand and a clutch in the other, her cheeks flushed from drinking far too much. Her matching, darling blue eyes were wide and shiny like marbles.
“Sorry, sorry,” she said, tossing her things down. “I thought to surprise you.”
“I am surprised,” he promised her. At the foot of the bed, Winston guarded his legs and watched Molly with the sort of wariness that only a loving dog could provide. When she extended her palm, he sniffed it and allowed her closer with a wary fwapping of his tail.
“Can I get in?” she asked, nudging the bed with her thigh.
Will debated it, then sighed and scooted over for her. In the time it took for him to get situated, her clothes were discarded on the floor, and she was sidling up to him beneath the covers, smelling of sweat, grenadine and peach vodka.
“We went out dancing, and I thought of you,” she said. “I’ve thought of you all night.”
“We can’t keep doing this,” he murmured, but he found himself wrapping an arm around her all the same. As they laid back, she snagged the lamplight and they lay pressed together in the dark, the alcohol-induced heat of her skin warm and inviting in his foggy mind.
“You say that every time, but you’ve never asked for your key back,” she said lightly. Kindly. Molly was never the mocking sort, and their on-again-off-again relationship was made all the easier for it. “You still let me go on walks with Winston, and when you got into your car accident, I’m the one you called.”
“I know,” he said, tracing idle designs against her shoulder. Her bare skin, despite smelling like she’d been partying, was tempting. Stress is what he’d label the thoughts surrounding Hannibal Lecter, and Molly was the sort of person that eased his thoughts, took the stress away. Caring about Molly was easy. In the four years he’d known her, caring about her was as natural as breathing.
In reality, it was his fault that it was an on-again-off-again sort of thing. In the words of Molly last time he ended things, if she had her way then they’d always be on.
“You’re not going to kick me out of bed, are you?” she asked when he didn’t reassure her. “If you did and I had to get back into that sweaty dress in order to go sleep on the couch, you’d be a cruel sort of person you know.”
“I like you in this bed,” he assured her.
“For now,” she said, and she leaned across his shoulder to kiss his bare chest. “That means you’ve either reevaluated your stance on ‘Will Graham in relationships is a terrible idea’, or you’re feeling particularly vulnerable right now.”
Well, there was that. Molly, for all of their pauses and their more-off-than-on relationship, probably knew him better than anyone else.
“…I’m feeling particularly vulnerable,” he admitted after getting a feel for how the admission would sound. Calm and level, all things considered. His voice was low and smooth, even though his blood felt like it didn’t quite fit in his veins. Her mouth passed along his chest, paused at the dip where the ribs met in the center of his chest.
“…You saw the news, didn’t you? Is that why you came?”
She wasn’t a liar by any means. She kissed her way to his collarbone and paused there, biting it. “I did.”
“You were worried about me.” His hand slid along her arm, glided beneath the covers to press to her bare hip.
“Despite your stance on us only ending in misery someday, I maintain that I do care about you.”
“I care about you,” Will said. He rolled to his side to stare at her shape in the dark, and he sighed. “I care about you, Molly.”
She kissed his lips and adjusted around him. Her mouth tasted like the maraschino cherries from mixed drinks. “I know, Will.”
“Jack Crawford came to see me. He was worried, too.”
He couldn’t see her smile, but he could hear it. “Do I have to share with Jack Crawford?”
“This bed can’t fit you, me, Winston, and Agent Crawford.”
“Thank god.” She kissed him again, pressing into him as her arms curled over his shoulders with fingers tangled into his hair. “We’re good together, aren’t we?” she whispered against his lips.
“We’re good together,” he promised. Her kisses made him dizzy, made him feel like he was the one who’d spent his evening drinking.
She rolled them so that she could straddle him properly, knees pressed to the beginning of his ribs as she leaned down to kiss him properly, all tongue and wicked, sinful things that made some of the anxiety that’d crept up his spine fall away. His hands settled low on her hips, and Will focused whole-heartedly on every inch of her skin that was pressed tight against him. They were good together.
Things were good.
Despite the late night, Will woke early. It was a shame, since he didn’t have to show up for his residency until early afternoon, but it wasn’t the worst that’d ever happened to him. Pressed snug against his side, Molly’s halo of dirty blonde hair was disheveled and mussed, her face hidden by the curve of his arm. He stared at it, blinking bad dreams from his eyes, wondering just what had woken him –had his dream been bad enough to wake him? Had she elbowed him in her sleep?
It took far too long for him to hear his phone vibrating by his bed, but once he recognized the sound, he grabbed it and hit accept, pressing the phone against his ear with a blurry, slurred, “Hello?”
“Will, it’s Jack. Why weren’t you answering your phone?”
It was his tone that made Will tense, so much so that it stirred Molly from her still-drunk slumber. She murmured something under her breath and kissed along his arm, nuzzling it before closing her eyes tight, reaching over to rub shapeless designs into his chest.
“I was asleep, Agent Crawford. People at” –he paused to look at the clock by his bed, scowling –“seven AM are normally asleep.”
“I’m going to need for you to pack an overnight bag, Will,” Jack said, and there was that damn tone again. Will sat up, detangling his arm from around Molly’s hold. In that moment, between the sense of knowing and unknowing, he felt vulnerable once more, all of Molly’s hard work dashed against the rocks.
“I’ll explain more once we get to you, Will, but right now I just need you to listen to me.”
He thought to argue, but a numbness crept into his skin, something cold and hollow. It stifled whatever stubborn retort he had, until all that he could do was nod dumbly against the phone.
He gave a start. “…I’m listening, Agent Crawford."
“First, I want to reassure you that everything is going to be okay. I’ve got my guys headed your way, and I’ll be following right behind them. They’ll be there within the hour.”
“First,” Will echoed. Unaware of anything wrong, Molly curled around him, snoring lightly.
“Second, I need for you to reassure me that you’re going to follow my instructions once I’m there.”
“Will you follow them, Will?” Jack prompted.
“Thank you.” The phone crackled with the sound of his long, tired sigh. “Third…early this morning, Hannibal Lecter escaped from the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He was aided by what appears to be four accomplices.”
The words took on an odd cadence as Jack said them. Sitting there, bemused and still half-asleep in his bed, an icy sort of sensation slithered down his skin, much like someone had poured a bucket of water over him. He let out a strangled, muted noise, a mix between a squawk and a whine, and he had to catch his phone as it started to fall from his grasp.
“How?” he asked when he could force words from his lips. “How did he escape?”
“We can discuss that when we-”
“How, Jack?” he pressed.
Jack sighed, and Will could hear his years in the noise, rocks tumbling to crush against his back and break him. “He was helped by a nurse, a guard, and two visitors.”
“Okay,” Will replied. “Okay.”
“I’m on my way, Will,” Jack promised. “I’m going to make sure nothing happens to you.”
Will hung up and stared blankly around his room. He thought of his dreams, memories distorted with the past, time strong enough to take some of the sting away. He thought of how it’d felt to walk into Dr. Lecter’s office and see Jack Crawford bleeding all over the rug he’d dug his feet into for the past two years, a mix of horror, surprise, and disbelief. The blood was warm on his hands, Jack’s dress shirt cold. He’d used his own jacket to try and staunch the flow.
Unbeknownst to him, Hannibal Lecter had stood just ten feet away and watched.
He thought of luck, and how there hadn’t been any true luck in his living, how Lecter could have simply gutted him and been done with it if he’d wanted, made a quick getaway with none the wiser. He hadn’t, though. He’d let Will call an ambulance, and he’d let the two of them live. Hannibal Lecter had given Will time that day, had given him enough time to live and grow and dream.
It seemed that that time had run out.