Kelly Brown, sitting demurely in her prison cell where she’d declined to give any new information, promptly fell from her chair at 11:42 A.M. and began screaming.
It was not the screams of someone grasping for attention. Jack Crawford stared at the image on his smart phone, and even with his lack of empathy that oftentimes came across as callous, he could see that it wasn’t an act. It was the sounds of genuine pain, of an agony that was more spiritual than physical, and even he could see exactly what it was that took her to curling up into a ball and begging for it to end:
“Sir, should we…?” The guard hesitated, unsure if he should step in or not. His voice was disembodied, off to the side of the live video.
“Leave her,” he decided, watching her writhe. “The only thing we could do is administer a sedative, but that won’t stop this from happening when she wakes up later. She’ll have to endure it now.”
“We lost the suspect who was in possession of her vehicle,” Zeller said beside him, in person. “He did take fire before losing them in interstate traffic. The helicopter couldn’t get to the air in time to track him.”
“If the suspect was her soulmate…” The guard murmured, disquieted. His mismatched eyes were a testament to his own fears. Once, a long time ago, Jack would have also felt a shiver of unease down his spine for the pain he’d one day feel so acutely it tore at his very being. He’d stopped feeling that fear a long time ago, though, probably around the first time he’d been to the doctor with Bella and found out what terminal cancer sounded like coming out of her mouth.
He’d sat in pain with her every day since then. The idea of severance, if anything, meant she’d no longer hurt.
“We’ll question her after,” Jack decided. “She’ll be vulnerable.”
“I don’t think we can do that, Jack,” Zeller said. “Soulmate rights and all.”
The right to grieve the death of a soulmate without pressure from law enforcement. Jack mulled the dilemma over, a curl to his lip. Her screams were subsiding, giving way to sobs that couldn’t quite get traction due to the loss of breath she was experiencing. Her body thought it was dying. She thought that she was dying.
He could relate, although he could certainly choose not to sympathize. She’d almost killed one of his men, after all. Bowman’s fate still hung in the balance.
“Question her after she regains consciousness,” he said after a moment of thought. “No, I don’t want to hear it.” He gave Zeller a dark warning look, then looked back to the video. “Soulmate severance is a serious concern, but so is finding Will Graham and stopping the people that first decided to start attacking our men for standing for what was right.”
“Yes, sir,” the guard replied.
Zeller followed him down the hall after he’d disconnected the livestream, and he didn’t comment on the way Jack’s hands were clenched to large, capable fists.
“Do you think Graham is still alive?”
“Yes.” At Zeller’s dubious expression, he continued, “If he’d killed him by now, he’d want me to know. He’d probably leave pieces of him scattered into the shape of an arrow leading to where his head was mounted.”
“What else have you got for me?” he asked, curtailing that sort of line of questioning.
Zeller frowned. “Due to his good behavior, Lecter was able to meet with these people in a private, unrecorded room rather than the public room,” he said after a brief hesitation. “Chilton said that he has several recordings of psychiatrists going to see Lecter, but they’re discussions of death, focusing particularly of our awareness of our own mortality.”
“How did he muster such a large following?” Jack wondered out loud. “Was he allowed near computers, or did he have access to any technology? Something to reach out towards others?”
“No, but we’re still getting information about those that helped him escape. The nurse and the orderly…who knows who else was involved?”
“God damn,” Jack murmured. “All that he had to do was look like the poster boy for acceptance and tolerance for their psychotic tendencies, and they’d have flocked to him.”
Wherever you go, death follows.
“I’ve got a meeting with the director here.” They paused by the door, and Jack sighed. “We’re going to start looking for places that he could keep a large amount of people under the radar. I’m thinking either vastly rural area, or a predominantly large city like Atlanta. So far, I’ve got Atlanta PD on our side.”
“Do you think they’ll keep information from us if they find it?”
“It’s a serial killer.” Jack smiled grimly. “If anything, I’d say the guys on the brass don’t want to handle it at all, but if it’s on their back doorstep...they’ll cooperate.”
“I’m used to pissing contests with these guys.”
“They don’t want a pissing contest when it’s Lecter. They want it clean, easy…” Jack rubbed the nape of his neck, pressing down the hairs that stood on end when he thought about the bastard slipping right through their fingers. “If you need something from them, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Why did Chilton allow so many different people to meet with this man, one-on-one?” Jack wondered. “That’s what I want to know. Why he thought it was safe to let Lecter talk to these people privately.”
“A lot of what happens there isn’t always run through Dr. Chilton,” Zeller explained. “And the head orderly that would have been the eyes and ears of that place was one of the men that helped Lecter escape.”
“Get a few guys on the inside…” Jack murmured, disgusted. “Get a hold of Dr. Chilton, too. He ducked out of our phone conversation, and I want screenings of all of his staff.”
Zeller turned and strode down the hall of the FBI Atlanta division, headed towards the tech department.
Jack Crawford sighed, collected himself, and strode into the department head’s office to give him news about their only suspect in custody.
How does it feel?
Molly Foster stood in a room with six other people and desperately tried to blend in.
It was difficult to, all things considered. While in the house itself, she tried often enough to spend time with Wally and no one else, but with the tasks she’d been given, people tended to view her with awe-filled, wide eyes. It was her job to keep Will from moving on. It was her that kept him stagnant, waiting for that perfect moment when Hannibal would relieve her of his love. They hadn’t put hands to her the way they’d tried to with Will, and for that she was eternally grateful. Although she had no aversion to touch the way he did, it would have made her uncomfortable, all the same. They loved her, even as they kept their distance and watched.
It was a nuisance, to say the least.
“He didn’t want dinner,” Beverly said in the unkempt quiet. She stood near the fireplace and appeared distinctly troubled. “I’ve seen him like this before.”
“Internalizing, no doubt.”
“Usually he’d go on walks with his dog when he gets like this, but…” Beverly shrugged. Winston was back in DC, and Will was here. Captive. No one would say the word, but he was very much captive. Molly could admit it to herself, although she wasn’t so dumb to say it out loud.
Hannibal sat at his desk and steepled his fingers, staring over them with his normal, sanguine expression. The fire popped and cackled along a poplar log.
“Nate’s death is a troubling thing,” he said at last. “Matthew, you never heard word from Alyss?”
“News in DC is that she attacked Agent Bowman, as planned. He was able to apprehend her before she could get away though, and they traced Nate through Alyss’ car,” Saul said. He sat close to Beverly, his eyes tracking her casual pacing in front of the fire. His adoration was clear, although when he looked from her to Hannibal, it was difficult to see which one he cared about most. That rankled at Molly, made her spit taste sour.
“Francis?” Hannibal looked to him expectantly.
Francis always looked one breath away from biting someone, in Molly’s eyes. He had the sort of eyes that seemed to hold a thousand secrets, but closer inspection gave way to the kind of fear a person only has when they’ve lived under the thumb of another for most of their life. She thought of the wet sound one of the agents had made in the back of his throat as Francis took his knife to their neck, and she had to suppress a shudder. She heard that noise whenever she dreamed.
“I’m not hearing a lot,” he said at last. He always took his time speaking, the words stiff on his lips. She’d seen his writing, though, and that in of itself was an elegant thing to behold; far from the way he puzzled over the sound an ‘S’ should make. “Crawford doesn’t…want a lot of chatter because of me. Nervous to trust his own agents. They have her, though, and he’s in Atlanta right now.”
“Atlanta?” Hannibal looked up from his fingertips and appraised them, expression shifting. It was that face that Molly most feared, the kind of face that made him appear utterly human, even when he wasn’t thinking like one.
“They think we’re in Georgia.”
“We are in Georgia, Francis,” Saul said, looking away from Hannibal to scowl at him. “How’d they find that out?”
“Did something slip through the cracks?” Hannibal asked.
“I’ll find out, Dr. Lecter,” Francis promised.
“I’ve got a guy that can keep us posted on their movements with the Atlanta PD,” Matthew informed them. “Last he said, Crawford was promising utmost transparency so that they could find us faster.”
“I commend Agent Crawford on such designs,” Hannibal said with a thin-lipped smile. The rest of the room laughed, and Molly joined in, although she kept her arms firmly wrapped around herself. “Molly, how was your walk with Will this morning?”
Everyone looked to her, and she forced herself to let go of her self-soothing embrace. Her back stiffened, her chin lifted, and she smiled humorlessly.
“As I expected. Whatever sway I had was gone the moment he realized that I was involved in this.”
“You pointed a gun at him,” Beverly said defensively.
“He would have fought otherwise, and that wasn’t the sort of publicity we needed in a gas station parking lot,” Molly returned. They stared one another down, weighing, assessing. It was often like this between them, a difference of opinion on just how Will was to be handled. Molly wondered what it would be like to have a room full of people assessing and weighing her psyche; she’d probably have a laundry list of mental problems, just like Will.
“He was not receptive to you.”
“Is he at risk for running at this moment?”
“He might have been, had he not seen Nate,” Howard stated before Molly could say anything. “He helped me take him to the medic room, and he went to his room without having to be asked afterwards.”
Hannibal looked to Molly for confirmation, and she nodded in agreement.
“We’ll have Nate buried in the cemetery just a mile into the forest,” he decided. “Matthew, if you’ll look into the matter of Agent Crawford’s movements, and Francis, see if you can ascertain just where they have Miss Alyss. I’ll speak with everyone about the matter, keep them calm.”
“Are we going to begin the next act?” Saul asked, mismatched eyes glittering.
Molly looked to Beverly rather than Saul at the question because she always found it fascinating to watch the two of them together. There was always a sense of desperation, like time was running out. She could never quite place why she felt that way, but she supposed in was in the manner that Beverly always sought him out, eyes shadowed and haunted. She hadn’t made it a secret that she didn’t like the connection at first; years of it gave way to acceptance, though, and Molly supposed that the love followed after that. Saul looked to Hannibal, and Beverly looked to Saul. It made anxiety curdle in Molly’s mouth.
She never gave voice to the feeling though because it was just that –a feeling. Still, though, she watched them now and saw that same haunted look on Beverly’s face that she always did; like one day, all of this would be too much for her, and she’d blow her brains out.
“Given the circumstances, Saul, I think that it’s time to begin the next act,” Hannibal said in the silence that followed. “Matthew, you understand your part?”
“Intimately,” Matthew replied.
“And Molly?” At the sound of her name, she turned towards Hannibal expectantly, hands on her hips. With Hannibal, one would be stupid to look like a victim where he could see. Victims were devoured by wolves, a sheep to be picked off at their leisure.
Molly wasn’t a survivor. She overcame.
“You know what we discussed last. Despite everything, you’re doing wonderful.”
On cue, she gave a bright, chilling smile.
“Thank you, Dr. Lecter,” she lied through her teeth. “In reality, this is the happiest that I’ve ever been.”
Hannibal stared down at Will Graham while he slept.
It was not the calm, quiet sleep of the well-rested, but the anxious sleep of the fearful. He studied the thin membrane of Will’s skin against the pillow, a thread count high enough that Chiyoh had informed him of it when she’d purchased them. While Hannibal couldn’t care less about the number of the tread count for sheets one slept on, he could care that despite its comfort, Will still couldn’t sleep easy.
Granted, he was sure that Will Graham hadn’t had a good night’s rest in a long, long time.
“I’m already dead,” he murmured, and that small thrum of pleasure curled down his spine, settled at the base with a warm, heady hum. He blinked slowly, languidly, committed to memory the short, sharp inhales with the too long pauses between exhausted exhales. The way he slept was much like the way Will Graham lived; curt, hesitant, and altogether worrisome.
He paced the room at his leisure, steps silent since he’d removed his shoes and left them just outside of the door. He tried to imagine it how it could be; fishing lures on the desk by a window, books on soulmate psychology tucked onto the small bookcase, a dog bed that lay unused by the window because despite Will’s best efforts, the dog slept on his bed. He imagined art work just above the dresser, a gift that Will would accept with an awkward shift of his stature before he held it close for the rest of the night. He’d put it up with a level to ensure that it was straight.
Sleep didn’t often elude Hannibal, but it did now. He silently paced the space that Will spent most of his time in, committing the scent of fear and suspicion to his memory. It was a refreshing, something reeking of the bergamot soap he’d left in the shower; a lovely replacement of the memory of the last time he’d smelled him, fear and Wal-Mart cologne blended into a nauseating concoction. Skipping meals, avoiding people as a whole, and locking himself up in his room while he no doubt planned his reckless escape; Hannibal felt each and every step that Will took across the floor, each aggravated thought as he mulled over Nate’s unfortunate end.
He’d thought to put him closer to his own personal quarters, but logic had proceeded ahead of desire. Hannibal needed him in a place where he could learn to become familiar, a place to call his own while he navigated through the house and everything within. If Will could find a safe space in the house, he could become acclimated to the house. Comfortable.
He just needed to take his time. Patience in this, Hannibal knew, was the ultimate key.
The whisper brought him to the door where Saul and Beverly waited patiently. He gave himself one last glance back to Will who turned violently to the side in his sleep. A sigh, one of mourning and pain passed his lips as he readjusted, and Hannibal noted the curve of his hip, the slant of his shoulder as he turned in towards himself. Even in his sleep, there was a relentless chasing, it seemed. Even in his sleep, he could not dream with ease.
He closed the door behind himself silently, then followed them downstairs with shoes in hand. Once at the bottom, he put them on and strode towards his office, their steps trailing after him. Saul smelled of the forest, and Beverly smelled of secrets and vanilla musk skin cream.
“Everyone is in position for tomorrow,” Saul said the moment that the door to the study closed.
“I’ve gotten confirmation from our guy on the inside that no one is expecting a move like this,” Beverly added. Her hand brushed against Saul’s, and Hannibal tracked the motion. While Saul was an easy read, an open book that begged to be seen and loved, Beverly was the spine of that book, stiff and unyielding unless one knew how to apply the right pressure.
“Jack Crawford is in Atlanta currently,” Hannibal said. “What do we know about Alyss?”
“Francis informed me that Alyss is kept at the HQ right now. Because of soulmate grieving rights, they can’t question her until tomorrow.”
Hannibal hmm’d quietly, taking a seat at his desk. Splayed across it lay his current drawing, an art piece of his favorite tableau. The scalpel for cutting fine points for graphite lay just to the side, turned at the perfect angle -45 degrees with the point facing whoever sat diagonal from him. For those of utmost faith in his abilities, they hardly noticed the sharp edge. Those who doubted, who were unsure of him, stared at the scalpel, their eyes darting from his hands to his eyes to the fine point, sweat soaking the collars of their shirts.
“It’s too risky to retrieve her,” he said at last. “With Nate now…indisposed, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about the backlash in letting her wait at the illustrious FBI.”
“We’re not going to rescue Alyss?” Saul asked, unsure. His pinky linked with Beverly’s, seeking a grounding rod.
“It’s too risky,” Beverly agreed. “After tomorrow, it will be even riskier.”
“But she…” Saul stopped at the look Hannibal gave him, something even-tempered and smooth. Time had given him the ease and practice of shaping his face, his expressions subtle but powerful in the way they conveyed his innermost thoughts.
“She’d understand,” Beverly said, interlacing their fingers and squeezing. She was the spine, and he was the rice paper that fluttered at the slightest breeze. “Alyss wouldn’t be so selfish as to put herself above the plan.”
The plan. Hannibal thought of it and leaned back into the supple leather of his chair, a recovered item from his old office. While most of it had been taken to auction, sold to the highest bidder with an affinity to the macabre, Francis had seen the return of his things with a focus most delightful. The man that’d bought his chair in the aftermath of his unfortunate detainment had come to a certain sort of understanding, according to Francis.
That, and he no longer had a mouth capable of calling for help.
“It’s regrettable, Saul, but we cannot deviate now,” Hannibal said at last, looking him over. Under his gaze, Saul was clay, malleable to his whims. He was much unlike Will, who was steel that only bent to the right elements, shaped because he willed it, because he saw fit to be shaped.
It was a fitting person to be a soulmate to him, if Hannibal was being honest with himself –he tried often to be honest with himself, even if it was an ugly sort of honesty. While Will was the steel, he was the heat that would mold him, aid him as he Became more than what he thought himself to be.
“Matthew is going to begin the next step of his part tomorrow as well, sir,” Beverly said.
“In truth, he plays the biggest part,” Hannibal said, and he stood, fingertips brushing just along the edge of the paper.
“He’s braver than I am,” Saul said with a laugh. It was quelled under Hannibal’s stare, snuffed out like the puff of breath to a weak flame.
“Do you mean to say that if asked, you could not do as he does willingly?” Hannibal wondered. He tracked Beverly’s hand, how it twisted to grip and hold onto Saul’s wrist. A warning. A warning and a worry. Beverly Katz was far smarter than Saul, far smarter and far cleverer.
“I…I mean, sir, that…” He paused, struggled with the words, then laughed sheepishly. “Dr. Lecter, I’d do anything for you,” he said instead. A new direction. A misdirection.
Hannibal circled the desk, caught Saul’s chin in hand with the barest of touches. Of all the things to fascinate him in this puzzle he currently pieced together, it was how easily people bent to him, to him and his machinations. Manipulations had always come easy to him, the simplest of words twisting and ensnaring even the brightest of minds –Will Graham had described it so poignantly as he stood his ground and said, ‘we were blind because you wanted us to be blind.’
These people specifically, though, with all of their failings and their desires, were manipulated because they wanted to be manipulated.
“I do hope so,” Hannibal murmured, staring into his eyes. Saul couldn’t keep his gaze, mismatched eyes dropping instead to the collar of Hannibal’s shirt. “Because if Matthew fails, you were who I was going to rely on next.”
Saul balked under his words, but he held still, allowing Hannibal to glide fingertips along his jaw, pausing just at the dip between ear and neck. Just below it, underneath his invasive touch, his pulse hammered. Saul feared him, even as he loved him.
People, with all of their odd and exhilarating unpredictabilities, were utterly predictable. Utterly, utterly boring.
“Good night,” Hannibal said pleasantly to them. He released Saul and turned away, heading towards the decanter he kept on a shelf in the corner. “Matthew will be the one to wake Will tomorrow.”
“Good night, Dr. Lecter,” Beverly said for the both of them. She turned Saul about and led him out, and through the distorted reflection of the glass Hannibal saw her spine, stiff and deliciously unyielding, even under pressure.
He idly wondered just what it’d take to make it snap.
Will’s door was unlocked when he tested it early the next morning. The gum was still in place, and he checked it once more before heading down the stairs. No steps squeaked underneath his feet, and the locks at the main doors were nothing more than short chains and dead bolts. He slipped out into the crisp morning air, everything still blanketed in a dark, calm embrace of night. When it was cold in the south, it was wet, and he felt it just along his skin even though he’d layered appropriately.
He took off at a brisk trot and skirted the car that Nate had all but fallen out of hours before. He hadn’t left his room after that, busy instead with scrubbing every inch of his skin and posting up near the window to test just how sturdy the locks were. Beverly tried to coax him downstairs for food, but he’d silenced her with a long, steady stare that finally made her leave him to the silence of his bedroom and the instability within.
Bugs screamed and complained in the early hours, and he absentmindedly swatted a mosquito off of his neck. Definitely the south. He hadn’t seen that many mosquitos hovering in droves in a long, long time.
Down the gravel driveway took him to trees curling in on either side, dark and imposing with limbs stretching overhead. He picked up his pace and followed the curving, winding road, and in the darkened distance, he spied a wrought-iron gate. The sight of it made his heart lurch, and he tripped over his feet as he picked up his pace to reach it faster. If there was a gate, there was a property line. If there was a property line, he could find someone to help.
Maybe even get a phone to call Agent Crawford directly.
He reached it and pushed into it, a curse hissing from his lips at the heavy chains and padlock that sent the gate forward then jauntily back. The top of the gate was lined with sharpened metal spikes, as well as the iron that continued on, on either side of it. He’d have to risk it. Nothing said desperation like passing your junk along sharpened metal, but it was now or never, and Will wasn’t quite in the mood for never.
“Good morning,” someone said pleasantly behind him.
Will whirled around sharply, and he had to cover his eyes as a bright light was flashed in his face, blinding him.
“A bit early for a morning walk, don’t you think?” Matthew Brown asked thoughtfully. Will blinked a kaleidoscope of colors out of his burning eyes, and he took a step back, brushing against the gate.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he said.
“I like to go on walks when I can’t sleep, too,” Matthew agreed. “It’s not all that safe to do that out here, though, Mr. Graham. Wild hogs will eat a human if they can get their mouth on them, and believe it or not, I’ve even seen coyotes that’ll get desperate enough.”
“I’ve seen that.”
“You just never know what’s out here,” Matthew continued, bobbing his head. “Allow me to show you back to the house, just to be safe.”
“…Thank you,” Will managed, even as he felt his hope shifting beneath him. Thank you. The only words he could muster when he realized that no matter where he was, they would always have eyes on him.
“You’re welcome,” Matthew said pleasantly, falling into step beside him. “I don’t know what any of us here would do if something happened to you.”
The implication was clear: don’t make me be that something.
“You put a lot of work into my safety,” Will said because despite both of them knowing he wasn’t just taking a walk, he felt that pretenses needed to be endured. “I don’t always know what to say.”
“Just a thank you is more than enough for me,” Matthew assured him. They broke the tree line, and the moon sinking in the distance gave them the faintest of light to follow towards the house that stood in sharp relief to the darkness around it.
Matthew saw him into the house and all the way up to his room, and he hovered in the doorway as Will turned on a lamp and made a grand showing of removing his shoes by the bed. When Will looked back to him, the same exact expression of distaste was reflected in his eyes, the intensity of it just enough that it rocked him back onto the bed.
Distaste and a singular, obvious sensation of crippling jealousy.
“Good morning, Matthew,” Will said, mouth suddenly cotton.
“Good morning, Mr. Graham,” Matthew replied, and he closed the door behind him. Will heard the deadbolt turn, heard the heavy retreat of booted footsteps.
He also heard the deadbolt not quite set as the gum did its job.