“You must be hungry, Will. If you’ll follow me downstairs, I’ve had dinner prepared.”
“…Dinner,” Will repeated stupidly.
“Yes.” Hannibal gave him what seemed to be a somewhat disappointed look. “Francis informed me that you haven’t eaten today, and yesterday was spent feeding an empty stomach with alcohol.”
Francis could kindly go fuck himself, for all Will cared.
Hannibal glanced about the room as though he could see just where Will had spent the afternoon, gaze tracing along the path he’d paced. When Will didn’t reply, Hannibal walked back to the door and held it open for him, gesturing towards it. Will stared at the door blankly, then looked to Lecter for confirmation.
“I wouldn’t do you the discourtesy of making you eat in your room,” he explained.
Will hesitated, torn between trying to melt himself into the walls or comply with the request for food. His stomach twisted, wrenched with hunger –he hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours, that much was true. It’d been difficult to try and even imagine stomaching something when his worst fear was that Hannibal Lecter would find some way to get him out of the clutches of the FBI.
Then that fear was realized, and he most certainly didn’t have an appetite after that.
As he inched closer to Dr. Lecter, he reasoned that he couldn’t escape on an empty stomach. He’d need to eat just enough to at least give him the energy to get away until he could do something –what exactly, though? Where were his opportunities? When would he have the chance?
Dr. Lecter held his hand out, palm up like he was trying to soothe a scared animal. When Will passed him and walked through the doorway, his hand ghosted along his back, a breath away from touching him.
He was led down the stairs, the lights brighter now that the sun had gone down. The people that’d pressed close to him earlier, hands stealing the faintest of touches from him, weren’t present. He was led to the right where the hall bisected to multiple corridors and rooms, doors closed on every side. It was one such room with double sliding doors that he was led into, a formal dining room housing a large, solid wood table decorated with vases of rich flowers whose perfumes clogged the air.
“Everyone was excited to contribute at least one flower to tonight,” Hannibal said. Two places had been set, one at the head of the table and one to the right of it. Will numbly sat down at his place, and Hannibal sat at the head of the table, the faintest impression of a smile near his lips.
“…Yes, please,” Will murmured.
A rich red wine was poured for him, and Will studied it rather than look to the man whose gaze was burning into his skin. Questions, thoughts, and fears crowded their way to the forefront of his mind, but he wasn’t quite sure how to even begin to say them, let alone if he should give voice to the whisper that he most certainly was going to die. After all this time, Hannibal Lecter had finally decided that he was done being charitable with his time.
“This is loin in a blackberry sauce, with fresh figs and vegetables from the garden,” Hannibal said in the quiet. Will looked down to his plate and stared at the meat for far longer than was probably necessary. How did one kindly ask if the meat was pork or not? The thought of it being anything but pork made his stomach threaten to rebel, although there was nothing for it to give. Would these people actually try and force him to eat human meat? Just who had died for this meal?
Hannibal cut into his meat, and Will took that as his cue that he could eat. He managed a cooked fig, the flavor rich and succulent with the sauce it’d sat in. He washed it down with wine that settled sourly in his stomach.
“How have you been, Will?” Dr. Lecter asked. His tone was curious, engaging, like no time had passed since their last therapy session. It could have been a courtesy call, if he hadn’t been taken hostage.
“…Fine, thank you.”
“You’ve been hard at work at your residency. You work with Dr. Bloom at one of her clinics, don’t you?”
“I remember Dr. Bloom. She was a fine young woman, quick on the uptake.” Lecter cut another piece of meat and took a bite, chewing thoughtfully. “She was my TA for a time, when I lectured.”
Will wasn’t quite sure if he should laugh or cry. He speared a few more greens onto his fork and stuffed them in his mouth so that he’d have an excuse not to reply. When he felt particularly brave, he glanced to the mismatched eyes set into Lecter’s face, focusing particularly on the blue one.
He’d be an idiot not to recognize his own eye color.
“She wasn’t specifically involved with soulmate psychiatry, though. She works with family trauma, doesn’t she?”
“She must have an extensive clinic for you, then, so that you can practice your own specialties.”
“Yes.” Will cleared his throat, and when he trusted his voice, he continued, “Dr. Lecter…why…am I here?”
“You’re here because I wanted you to be here, Will,” Lecter replied easily. He tried to catch Will’s stare, but Will avoided it and took a gulp of his wine. “I have quite a few friends that wished to bring that desire to fruition.”
The hysterical laugh tried to bubble up, but he swallowed it back down with another gulp of wine. When his glass was empty, Lecter refilled it without prompt, his shoulders turned so that he could give Will his full attention.
“I don’t know what use I could be to you here,” said Will, although it sounded stupid, even to him. Why keep him alive if he had no use? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“You’ve seen my eyes, Will. Eight years of studies within your specific field of interest, and you can’t make your own conjectures?” Despite having to state the obvious, he sounded kind while doing it. It was like being back in therapy again, the good doctor pointing out an avenue of interest that Will either was too afraid to go down or had never considered.
He didn’t want to consider what he was seeing, though.
“It…it looks like a soulmate connection, Dr. Lecter,” Will said slowly.
“Please, you may call me Hannibal.”
Hannibal was too familiar for someone that Will was certain would eat him within the week. “It’s not…it’s not me, though, it’s…” His voice trailed off, and he fumbled, trying again. “Your eyes were brown the last time I saw you. And my eyes haven’t changed color, so…”
“Within your first week of therapy, Will, you met my eyes exactly once,” Hannibal said lightly. “The next morning, I was surprised to see that one of my eyes had changed color. I felt no different, though, no presence of need or concern. Not wishing to upset any patient of mine that struggled with soulmates, I purchased a pair of colored contacts until I could understand what I was dealing with.
“I met with you a week later, and your eyes were still the same. A half-connection, one bred from my mind connecting to some aspect of yours that didn’t quite connect back.”
Half-connections weren’t as common as a full, established connection, but they were still common. Will’s studies had focused more on the aftermath, a culture of people whose behaviors circulated around wanting a soulmate. More often than not, half-connections were seen as one person not entirely meeting the needs of the other, and society as a whole viewed it with the kind of disdain one gave a sub-par vacuum.
Will felt a cold sensation slither down his spine. Dr. Hannibal Lecter wasn’t the sort of person that would endure being thought of as a sub-par vacuum.
“I’m sorry,” he said slowly. He glanced to his eyes once more, then looked away quickly, swallowing heavily. He didn’t want to believe it. He didn’t want to even consider it. “I…I’m sorry that you…had to endure that.”
“You’ve done nothing wrong, Will,” Lecter replied. He took another bite of food, strokes of his knife cutting the meat with ease. “The longer I spoke with you, the more I understood just why there was no connection on your part. The aspects of yourself that I connected to are things you resisted taking enjoyment in, let alone indulged. Of course your psyche didn’t reach back.”
His mind was whirling with that information, stunning as it was –damning as it was.
“Did they know in the institution?” he asked. “Does Jack Crawford know?”
“The hospital knew that I had a half-connection, but I gave no information on the particulars,” Lecter said. He sounded almost like he was trying to reassure Will. “My lawyer was able to ensure that I wore my contacts, though, as it is a basic fundamental human right. He was quite passionate about it. Agent Crawford wasn’t given leave to have that information.”
Will sorely wished Jack had known about the half-connection. Maybe if he’d been aware that Hannibal Lecter’s designs on Will had even deeper meaning, better precautions would have been taken with his safety.
“Forgive me for saying this, but…” Will’s voice halted in his throat. He cleared it and tried again. “With a half-connection…I still don’t understand why I’m here.”
Hannibal hummed, low in his throat, and Will busied himself with another bite of food. The pork lay untouched on his plate. When he chanced a glance up, he caught Hannibal’s eyes and looked away, staring about the room decorated with such designs at what he was fast realizing was something akin to a date.
But surely not, right?
“You truly don’t, do you?” Lecter said, more to himself than Will. He sighed quietly, like this was the sort of conversation one tried to avoid. “You’re here, Will, because the idea of enduring a half-connection is insupportable to me.”
“Clearly there is something that goes unnurtured in your mind that would connect to me. I had never entertained the thought of a soulmate, but there is no reversal for what has occurred. We can only move forward.
“In your research, I’m sure you’ve come across what we call Âme décalée. It’s the French psychiatric term for the staggered soulmate connection.”
Will wasn’t quite sure if he’d heard him correctly. “Âme décalée is one of the rarest soulmate pairings known to psychology, Dr. Lecter,” he said. His stomach clenched.
“It is. But our minds are somewhat of a rare thing. Is it so difficult for you to suppose that a staggered connection couldn’t occur?”
He wasn’t hearing this right. He wasn’t hearing Dr. Hannibal-fucking-Lecter say that he wanted to somehow create an environment in which Will would endure a staggered connection to him –to become a soulmate to him.
This wasn’t real. This wasn’t real.
“Something to consider, Will,” Hannibal said. His tone was much like it was when he was tabling a particularly difficult thread of therapy from one of their sessions. “We can discuss it later.”
Silence. Their forks scratched faintly against fine china. Will tongued the back of his teeth and struggled to find words.
“I don’t…want a connection to you,” Will finally managed to say, although once it was said, he regretted it. It was too aggressive, too blunt in the face of a man that had been more than capable of gutting someone with a linoleum knife of all things.
We managed to save one of her eyes…
“You haven’t had time to process-”
“I…I don’t want a connection to anyone, let alone you, Dr. Lecter,” Will said. He felt the hysteria bubbling up his throat again, making his stomach churn. The wine wanted to come back up with it. “You of all people should know that I don’t want a soulmate, I don’t want…I don’t know what sort of operation you have here, but Francis Dolarhyde murdered at least five federal agents to get me here, you told Molly that she could shoot me if necessary, you –you fucking planted people around me to…to pretend to give a shit about me for over four years! And this is because you’re trying to force Âme décalée? It’s not…this isn’t…” This isn’t happening.
“Rest assured, everyone within this house cares about you in a fundamentally important way, Will,” Hannibal interjected.
Will found himself jerking to his feet, stumbling over the leg of his chair as he tried to move away from Lecter. Lecter stood as well, although with far more finesse and control over himself.
“I’m sorry that your eyes changed, honestly. Socially, I completely understand the discomfort of it, the issue of having to be part of a society that’s arguably hell-bent on pushing a basic chemical connection down everyone’s throat, but I can’t…I don’t want that!”
“If you were going to kill me, this would be one thing, but I can’t pretend that I could do something like this every single night and enjoy it, not when I literally found-”
He moved so quickly that Will was hardly fast enough to trace the movement, let alone prepare for it. One moment, he was using his dinner chair as a shield of sorts, and the next moment, he was pressed against the wall of the dining room, a butter knife taut against his neck. He wasn’t so stupid as to suppose that Hannibal wouldn’t be able to break skin with it; he was more than confidant that his life hung in the balance in that moment, suspended between Hannibal Lecter’s mercy and his ultimate judgement.
“If I was going to kill you, Will?” Lecter asked quietly. His weight pushed against Will, his skin burning hot. Pressed tightly against Will’s chest, Lecter’s heartbeat was calm, steady. Will felt it through his clothes, through his favorite t-shirt that a gun had been pressed to just hours before.
It’s not smart to piss off the psychopathic cannibal, Will.
He swallowed, adam’s apple bobbing harshly against the blade of the knife, and sweat broke out along his temples.
“If I was going to kill you, Will Graham, you would already be dead,” he said, and god damn if he didn’t sound almost affectionate. “Don’t you recall the last time we stood so close without handcuffs, paunchy bailiffs, and an army of lawyers between us?”
Will nodded dumbly, thought of how Jack Crawford’s blood had felt in his hands as he tried to staunch the flow. He thought of Dr. Lecter standing not ten feet from him and deciding to spare him –not because he was his patient, as Will had stupidly supposed for all this time.
It was because of his eyes.
“I brought you here for a reason. I’m not so foolish as to suppose your thoughts and feelings will change so rapidly overnight, but I’m a patient man, Will. I am willing to create the space in which such foundations could be made. In this house, we will have all the time in the world to see whose theory will pan out –yours, or mine.”
He moved the knife, turned it so that the flat of it glided down Will’s neck, stopping to rest at his collarbone. Will gulped again, tremors working their way over his skin, and he thought of Jack Crawford staring him down the first time they’d ever met, long before he’d ever walked into the bad end of Hannibal Lecter’s linoleum cutter.
“I just have a few questions for you, Mr. Graham.”
“I’m late for class.”
“It’s about your psychiatrist. Dr. Lecter?”
“What about him?”
“Has he ever given you the impression of a desire to hurt anyone?”
“To cannibalize anyone?”
Hannibal reached up with his free hand and jerked Will’s chin down. In his surprise, his eyes met Hannibal’s, and he stared into the mismatched color, horror curdling the blackberry sauce he’d managed to choke down. Within their depths he saw the way flecks of grey dotted the blue, the way tawny streaks of gold caressed the brown so rich it looked red. He also saw a hunger, something primal and something far too dangerous for a human being to contain within their skin.
The sound of Francis’ voice filled the room, jolted Will from the frozen, calculating expression of the man before him. Lecter released him, and he turned to smile at Francis as though this were a common enough occurrence, him threatening guests with dinner knives. Will stayed pressed against the wall, chest heaving with breath that’d refused to come before.
“Everything is quite alright, Francis. Will is tired, though, and I think rest is best.”
Rest was best. A barrier between him and Hannibal Lecter was best. Will raggedly reached up and rubbed the spot where the knife dug in, and when Lecter turned to look back at him, he nodded jerkily. Rest was best. Getting away from Lecter was best.
He skirted around the table the long way and escaped down the hall, his harried steps accompanied by Francis’ long, sure strides. When he reached the main hall, he took the stairs two at a time and fled to the bedroom, not so stupid as to suppose he could make a getaway from the main entry at a time like this.
He would have to find a way to escape soon, though. There was no way he’d survive, not when Dr. Lecter finally lost his cool because his bets were placed on a soulmate phenomenon that had less than one percent chance of ever even happening.
Will sure as hell wasn’t going to place his own bets on the mercy of a man that ate people for a living.
The woman stood just at the edge of the crowd of onlookers, close enough that she could see the whites of the eyes. News reporters milled about, interviewing distraught apartment tenants, but she didn’t pay much attention to those sorts. They’d see soon enough. She wouldn’t have to fight for their attention; they’d give it to her all on their own in just a moment.
She saw the FBI agents walking down the stairs, heads ducked at they discussed their business with rapid, quick speech. Against the fall chill, she pulled her coat closer around herself, a tang in the air from the storm that was soon to follow.
The bodies had been removed from the pavement, but the lake of blood still remained as a testament to the keen and honest brutality of Francis Dolarhyde. It was art, in its own way. It wasn’t necessarily her style, but it was a style none-the-less, and it worked. It sent the perfect message to the FBI, something that would stick with them for the years to come, even as they tried to understand fully what they were dealing with:
We are whoever we want to be. Your friends, your co-workers, your lovers.
She saw her target the moment he came out of the apartment behind the illustrious Jack Crawford. He wore a bowtie to a crime scene, and that’s how she knew she had her man. Jack Crawford was a person comprised of moving parts, a leg that specialized in fingerprints, an arm that extended to toxicology. Each limb was equally as important as another, rising up to meet the head, a bull-man who tended to rush into situations before truly understanding him.
Cut off one limb, watch the bull-man flounder. Cut off another, watch him fall.
Just to the edge of the crowd, she felt the budding excitement of her soulmate, her one and only. It made her own eagerness bubble, beginning to boil. She had to tamp it down. She had to focus.
She shifted closer to the line, waiting for the agent guarding the line to step away in order to force back a news anchor. The air had a smell of chemical cleaner.
“It’s certainly Dr. Lecter’s writing, Jack. I’d pin your marriage on it,” Lloyd Bowman said. His gloved hands tenderly held the paper, as though he were cradling a dove.
“You heard that, did you?” Jack grunted. “Everyone’s gonna use that phrase now.”
“It’s really more of a jab at you than a real clue. He’ll jab at you one too many times, I think,” Bowman said. Despite his slight stature, his voice was deep, and as he laughed, the bowtie bobbed.
“We’ll still do as many tests as we can, see what we’re dealing with.”
“This was left in the mailbox, and we didn’t get it ‘till day two, Jack. I know that no one is wanting to say it, but…have we considered the idea of a cult?”
“A few ‘friends’ running around gutting people doesn’t make it a cult.”
“How high does the number have to climb before it does?” Bowman wondered.
Jack Crawford parted ways with him and headed towards a line of SUV’s, each one as non-descript as the one Francis had delivered Will Graham in. Bowman continued on towards a small transport van with the bold, yellow letters FBI emblazoned on the side. His head was ducked towards the sheet of paper, and she could distinctly see him mouthing the words, ‘you’re so sly, but so am I.’
The moment he passed along the line, she reached out and touched his shoulder. It was a gentle gesture, but it got his attention all the same.
“Excuse me,” Bowman said, and she smiled, a wide, cheek-cringing smile that took him aback with her utter sincerity, her kindness.
“Are you Agent Bowman?” she asked sweetly.
“Oh, good,” she gushed, and when he turned to face her head-on, confused, she withdrew the linoleum knife from her sleeve, and she glided it with ease along his stomach, parting cloth and skin and muscle.
There are many ways in which a person reacts to being stabbed. Her own experience was a burning hot pain that reached her like waves, building then crashing over her. Over time, the burning became muted, like a barrier protected her so that she could focus on the task at hand –the task at that time being, of course, survival. Some people froze, face showing pain but above all an honest confusion at their circumstances. She figured that Agent Bowman was something more along the lines of the latter, a person so used to the laws of order that they drew around themselves that when such a thing as a stabbing occurred, they didn’t know quite how to react.
She was very, very wrong.
Rather than stumble and fall, hands grasping at his insides, Agent Bowman reached out and grabbed her, hauling her over the yellow line so that they fell to the ground together, his weight pinning her down. Screams permeated the air as blood seeped from his wound, and she struggled against him, furious grunts issuing past her mouth. She had to go. She had to go.
She had to go.
“You’re so sly, but so am I,” he murmured against her skin. His breath was ragged, hot, and she hissed a curse as she tried to crawl out from beneath him. Despite his fatal wound, though, he was strong, and as other agents came running, Bowman was removed just long enough for another agent to haul her up, the linoleum knife clattering to the ground as she was twisted into a pinned position.
“We need the ambulance here, stat!”
“Agent Bowman, I need you to stay with me, okay?”
“Back up! Back up, now!”
“You’re under arrest,” the agent holding her said, but she wasn’t quite hearing him. As she struggled, fought against hands that held like iron, her eyes scanned the crowd, heartbeat hammering in her ears as she found who she was looking for. Their concern for her was claws down a chalkboard, and she shook her head, struggling, fighting.
Run, she mouthed to them. Run and don’t look back.
Their mismatched eyes widened, then narrowed in understanding. They broke through the crowd that was eager to get away from the carnage, every step away from her a pounding pain in her skull because that was her soulmate, that was her life, and she was desperately needing him to get away so that everything could be alright.
Everything was going to be alright.