Three Years Before:
She was a lovely sort, from the tip of her head down to her feet. On the rare occasion that Hannibal had correspondence with her, her letters were always well-written, to the point, and articulate. Molly Foster wasn’t the sort to mince words, let alone waste time.
In person, she was even more charming, even as he wanted to rip her throat out with his teeth. He wondered if he’d taste Will’s kisses on her skin as he did it.
“I wonder at him ending your relationship once again,” Hannibal said, studying her. “I’d rather thought the two of you were getting along nicely.”
“He’s a commitment-phobe, Hannibal,” Molly said, flipping her hair over one shoulder. “If I get too close, he backs away. When you crowd Will Graham, he shuts down. You have to make him come to you.”
“He shuts down?”
“It’s a defense mechanism that I’ve noticed. He’ll share some things, but you can’t pry. I think he’s afraid to commit because he honestly believes that he’s on borrowed time.”
“Borrowed time,” Hannibal murmured, and he licked his lips. “Is he drinking again?”
“What was the catalyst?”
“I’ll need to figure that out,” she admitted. “It was bad enough he spent the weekend puking everything up before going right back out again. I went back to the apartment to make sure he was alright on Friday night, and whatever set him off, it was…bad. It’s a bad bender.”
“Bad,” Hannibal repeated, and he tasted the scent of her perfume and her unease. A disquieted smell that muddled the air, turned it fetid and foul. “You wouldn’t give me this detail if it was not important.”
“You’d wondered before if he still thought of you. You asked if he ever mentioned you.”
Hannibal felt a thrum of interest at her tone, and he leaned in. “Naturally.”
“I put him to bed when he got most of it up, and I told him that he was being reckless with his life, constantly doing this. One of these days, he wasn’t going to have someone nearby to help him in his drunken stupors. No one deserved to have to bury his body.”
“The guilt of implying people need him alive rather than dead because of the extra work it’d be,” Hannibal agreed.
Molly licked her lips, pressed them together tight. The color fled them, left the edges pale and wrinkled with the effort. “He laughed then, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, Molly…I’m already dead.’”
“I’m already dead,” Hannibal murmured. His skin, thin and stretched over his bones, felt too tight, and the breath left him.
Molly nodded, shifted in her seat. “He looked…unwell. Like he wasn’t there. When I asked what he meant by that, he’d already passed out. I wondered if he was thinking of you.”
“I’m already dead,” Hannibal repeated, and the words rang, resonated deep within him as the doors of his mind palace fell away, left him with the memory of Will Graham staring at him in the courtroom, pulse fluttering in his neck, too fast for comfort. They’d only exchanged words once in the courtroom, in the midst of witnesses and forensics and verdicts. Hannibal could imagine Will’s pulse, heavy and full of life, thudding so hard he could feel it against his teeth as he smiled, stared into the eyes of the only person in this world that could move him and somehow not be moved in turn.
“I’ll give him his space because he was convinced that I deserve better than him, but I’m genuinely concerned, Hannibal. I don’t know if it’s a simple depressive episode, or if there’s more to it than that, but he’s not well.”
“Molly, have you forgotten the date?” Hannibal asked lightly.
“No?” Her brow wrinkled in confusion.
“It’s a commonplace date, all things considered, but for him it holds a special place. It’s the anniversary of his father’s death.”
“…I see.” Realization made the wrinkles of worry smooth away, falling to a twist of pity and remorse. She’d have done more if she knew that, tried harder to break through walls that he lifted between himself and the world.
That was why, ultimately, she was no good for him, though. Hannibal was. Hannibal knew Will Graham better than Will Graham knew Will Graham. While she stepped away when he built his walls, Hannibal knew the cracks in the foundation to help Will lower them instead. She was a proxy, a stand-in until he could break past the walls that contained him. She would have to do, for the moment.
“He held his father in his arms as he died from cancer,” Hannibal explained lightly. Kindly. “In his death, he took some aspect of his son with him.”
“I’m already dead,” Molly repeated with better understanding. She nodded. “Thank you, Hannibal.”
Hannibal dipped his head in acceptance, a small, thin smile about his lips.
He thought about it, though, for long after. Long after she’d left, her perfume light enough to tease but not stifle, long enough for him to be deposited back to his cell where the corner light flickered pathetically, long enough that Multiple Miggs had already masturbated and fallen asleep in a corner, and long enough that the lights in the hall had been turned off, Hannibal thought of those words, of a desolate and broken Will Graham saying them as he curled around a trash can desperately.
I’m already dead.
He thought of Will Graham walking by him in order to take a seat behind the partitions, having done his part in giving his testimony. Hannibal’s memory gave him every detail, from the sweat dotting his temples to the twitches of his fingers at the probing attention. Will never enjoyed close attention, let alone from so many at once. He could smell his sweat, a horrid combination with the cologne he’d worn throughout the entire trial. He could still smell it, something putrid that tickled his nose and tightened his throat. It reeked like something with a ship on the bottle. Cheap, encased in plastic, and set in the back of a medicine cabinet for far too long.
I’m already dead.
His eyes had said that, as he looked at Hannibal, truly, honestly looked at him. As much as Hannibal could see every detail of his starched shirt, his new slacks, and his scuffed shoes, Will Graham saw Hannibal, too. Will saw him, saw the hunger in his eyes, saw the calm, detached manner in which he sat. He’d swallowed so hard his adam’s apple bobbed painfully along his five o’clock shadow, and he ducked his head. In speaking against Hannibal, he knew that he was dead.
“On borrowed time, Will?” Hannibal had asked kindly.
“I advise you not to speak,” the DA urged.
Will looked away from him, and he pushed the partition open, fingers stuttering across the solid, wooden frame before they gripped firmly. Resolutely.
“Oh, yes,” he said absently, like remembering something last minute at the grocery store that he needed to buy. “In reality…I’m already dead,” he added, and he took his seat behind the prosecutor’s bench, utterly and impossibly alone save for the beating of his frantic heart.
Will woke with two blue eyes on day seven.
He marked them triumphantly, a small, savage smile at his mouth at the sight. Even when Matthew Brown unlocked the door and stood poised in it, a slight curl to his lip that had no real purpose other than to look intimidating, it didn’t quite reach Will the way it was likely intended. He wondered if Matthew had spoken to Hannibal Lecter yet of Will’s early morning ‘walk’.
In the kitchen, a plate was made ready for him, pancakes with peach slices and a glaze. Bacon sat on a separate plate next to it, as well as what looked like fresh orange juice.
“Dining alone?” he asked Matthew.
“Everyone is busy at the moment,” Matthew explained. “Although Dr. Lecter wanted to ensure that you had a proper meal.”
“That’s…considerate of him.”
Will ate everything except for the bacon.
He then wandered the house, time an odd sort of thing that didn’t quite sit right. He passed a grandfather clock in the foyer, marked the passage of the secondhand and felt distinctly separate from it. Time may have moved, but he didn’t.
Truth be told, he hadn’t really left the space that he’d stood in while Nate bled to death.
The sole comfort, as small as it may be, was that he could reasonably assume that Nate had deserved it. If he’d tangled with the FBI, he deserved what happened to him. If he was anything like Francis Dolarhyde, he most certainly, unequivocally deserved what happened to him.
That didn’t clean the blood off of his hands, though. It didn’t stop him from dwelling on other nasty, ugly things that liked to crawl deep into his ear to rot.
He paused in the doorway of a parlor at the sound of voices and stared into a room full of people. Followers. Cultists. The word sounded funny in his head, grave depictions of men in robes with curved knives. Usually there was a virgin running around in the trope, and they were generally the captive –captive he may be, but virgin he wasn’t.
These people, for all their odd stares and touching, appeared relatively normal. No robes. No curved knives. If anything, it looked like a book club was meeting, one person standing and gesturing aimlessly while others nodded along, hands grasping at leather bound works.
“You know it,” the speaker said, smiling. “You know it as you live and breathe, as you sit here and look at me; death is just another part of the journey. All of you that have taken a life –those that have felt changed, moved –you know the reality of what we do. What we’ve done.”
Heads nodded, bobbed along. Far too many heads nodded. Far too many killers.
“We know how life is nothing more than light and sound and sensations. Their loss fueling our radiance, our growth and beauty as we become more than what we are in those moments.”
“In those final seconds…I’ve always felt a little bit like god,” someone chimed in, and the main speaker laughed.
“Yes, yes! We are made powerful through them. They give us a precious gift, that they first were seen, and in being seen, Became.”
A squeaky floorboard betrayed him, interrupting the discussion. Heads turned back to survey him, and Will froze next to the entryway, swallowing heavily when multiple eyes rested upon him. He was pinned by their scrutiny, more so when they recognized him than anything else. Expressions of confusion and annoyance gave way to utmost delight.
“Mr. Graham,” the speaker said, pleased. “Please, come in.”
“…I don’t…” want to, he finished silently. He licked his lips, tried again. “…want to interrupt you. Please continue.”
“No, no,” the man urged, and he made his way through the onlookers in order to coax him further into the room. More from a desire not to be touched than anything else, Will reluctantly followed. “With your education, your knowledge…please, share your insights.”
He reached the front of the room and turned, balking under the stare of shining, fervent eyes. Too many stares, like a toy shop with the marble-eyed dolls placed right at the entrance.
“…Uhm…” he swung his arms by his sides, shifted his weight. At least fifteen people sat and stared with naked hope –that was probably the most frightening thing about it, in truth. They were waiting for him to say something. To be something. “…You’d…said that people are nothing more than light and sound.”
“Yes,” the speaker agreed.
“Quick noises, first started and ended because you decided that it should.”
“In those brief moments where we can see their life and death, coinciding in that final moment of something beautiful,” he added with a smile. “Is that not lovely, Mr. Graham?”
He wasn’t surprised at the shock that rippled through the water, soft breaths and even softer murmurs.
“I beg your pardon?” the man asked.
“It’s the ugliest thing in the world,” Will added, glancing to him. “You make it very poetic and artistic because that somehow softens its reality, but killing is…disgusting. That moment where life and death coincides is a revolting and intimate thing to witness.”
“You…you saved Agent Crawford. Surely you saw that moment then?” a woman asked, raising her hand. It was a half-raise, the sort made when they’re not quite sure if they even want to speak. Emboldened by their confusion, Will snorted.
“Did it not invigorate you?”
“No.” He sighed, rubbed his mouth to remove a barely formed curse from his lips. “He said…light and sound, sensations fueling your radiance. What a load of shit.”
“Excuse me?” The speaker’s cheeks darkened.
“Tell me… everyone, be honest, raise your hand if you’ve actually murdered someone,” Will said, ignoring him. “Don’t…don’t lie.”
He was just barely mollified when only three people raised their hands in the room. Just three out of fifteen or so. Not bad, all things considered. Still pretty bad, though.
“Depending on how you did it, surely you realize it’s not all poetry and aesthetics, right?” At their stupefied expressions, he sighed. “It’s…heavy. Dirty. Messy. Slack mouths, a person at their most vulnerable, and you made them vulnerable. You made them that way.” He scoffed, glancing to the speaker again. “Air and light and sound…yeah, it’s not…like that. It’s more…a breath you cut short. Wasted. That’s what death is when you choose to administer it the way he’s preaching. It’s a waste.”
“Dr. Graham, I don’t think-”
“No, you wanted to know, didn’t you?” he asked. “You wanted my insight, and there it is. Your leader took Jack Crawford’s life in his hands, and he tried to waste it. He lived, though, and that’s life and death. You either live or you die, and no one here has the authority to decide who gets to live and who dies. None of us have that authority.”
The room sat in silence, disquieted by his admission, somehow still keen on his words. Their quiet emboldened him, made him feel just strong enough to drive the point home.
“Your friend just died,” he said, looking over all of them. As many mismatched eyes as matching eyes. “Nate? I held him up as he died. There was no poetry in that. Shot from a shotgun shell fell out of his stomach when we were lowering him onto the medic table. It was dirty.”
“He had a soulmate,” one of them protested. “You can’t just…refer to him…like that.”
“He had a soulmate,” Will sneered. “I guess that’s a huge focus for you people, right? Because of your leader?”
“Dr. Lecter has a half-connection to you,” one of them agreed.
“He will bridge the gap so that you can connect back,” another chimed in.
Will’s lip curled, and his gaze looked over the crowd, surprised to see Hannibal watching him just at the doorway to the room. “…What a load of shit,” he murmured.
“You’re a soulmate psychiatrist. Do you truly find no value in their existence?” the speaker asked.
Will stared directly into Hannibal’s eyes as he replied, “I think that I’d rather end my own light and sound and color than deal with the overwhelming disappointment of a soulmate.”
After a pained, taut silence, Hannibal smiled.
“Dr. Lecter said that you understood us,” the speaker stated, appalled.
“But he will,” Lecter interjected, still smiling. “That…is simply something we’ll have to show him. How our lights and sounds and colors can blend to something truly beautiful.”
Will didn’t wait to be beckoned. He waded through the onlookers and made his way to the exit, ignoring the sensation of what it must feel like to have someone walk over your grave.
Hannibal followed him out.
His office was the same as before, apart from a small tray of lunch foods set out for them. Will picked at a sandwich, his back to Lecter. It must have been lunch time.
“Did you enjoy riling them up?” Lecter wondered. Thankfully, he didn’t sound angry at the idea of it; merely curious.
“…They love the idea of what you do. In application, they’d find it messy.” He thought of how the blood felt, drying within the cracks of his skin. “Sticky,” he added.
“Most of them, yes,” Lecter agreed. His voice came closer, crawled along Will’s shoulder as he paused just behind him. “A lot of the people that came to me are, in truth, nothing more than lonely hearts; those left in the wake of despair or delusions, seeking comfort and stability. Quiet places like this are a haven for them.”
“They were easily manipulated.”
“Easily convinced that this is a safe place for them,” he corrected. His arm snaked around Will to grab the other plate where a sandwich waited. “It’s not so nefarious as you make it sound.”
A weird sound gurgled in Will’s throat, a mix between a laugh and a sob. When Hannibal withdrew from him, Will made his way to one of the chairs near the fireplace and sunk into it. He considered the meat on the sandwich, thin slices of white with Cajun seasoning.
“It’s chicken from a specialty deli,” Lecter said, sitting down in the chair across from him. He watched Will with an inscrutable expression, his plate perched precariously on his knee.
“You must hate that I’m making you take lunch here rather than set up at a table with twelve courses,” Will said, inspecting the meat with extreme prejudice. It looked like chicken.
“I can be flexible,” Hannibal assured him.
Hannibal could be flexible. The meat tasted like chicken when he took a bite. Human meat hadn’t tasted like chicken when he’d first had the horrific experience of dining upon it, and he took that as a sign that this came from a deli rather than someone’s ribcage.
It still made him uncomfortable, though. If he managed to live through this, Will would probably consider some form of vegetarianism. Maybe fish. Maybe not.
“Nate didn’t survive,” Hannibal said as Will took small, suspicious bites of his sandwich.
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“I’m more than happy to discuss it. I know that death is…a delicate topic for you.”
He took a larger bite of the sandwich, far hungrier than he wanted to admit. He’d forgotten to eat the day before. “…I didn’t know him,” he said, swallowing it down. “And what I do know of him corresponds to this house and everyone in it. He didn’t exactly have a glowing reference for me.”
“You still held him in some of his final moments.”
“…I did,” Will agreed. Reluctantly.
“Did it remind you of Agent Crawford?”
“I walked into your office for therapy and found an FBI agent bleeding out on the floor, Dr. Lecter,” Will said, fingers digging into the soft bread. He wasn’t sure how many times he’d have to say it, but saying it made it real, resurfacing from the deep dark waters of his mind where he sent sordid thoughts to drown. “He was investigating you for the murders of several people, and you stabbed him. I find no correlation between him, a servant of the law, and the guy that stumbled out of a car from a wound that was likely given to him by a servant of the law.”
“For hours after, though, you stared at your hands, clean but somehow still stained, and made the associations against your will,” Lecter replied calmly.
Will jerked back, stung.
“You’re wrong,” he managed.
“You can pretend all you like that I don’t know you, Will Graham, but I do. For two years you came to me and opened your mind, laying out each piece so that I could examine it, to better understand it. You asked me to build you walls because you didn’t know how to, and you asked me what it was like to be able to compartmentalize your feelings and associations the way that others could. The way that I could. You wanted to know what it was like to be ‘normal.’”
“I shouldn’t have asked you,” Will ground out savagely. “Seeing as how you’re not normal in the least.”
“No, but for once in your life, someone understood. You claim that you don’t make the associations between Nate and Agent Crawford, but it is a lie, and a poor one at that. You stared down at the blood on your hands, and you wondered if you’d always feel that pull, that drive that whispers that maybe one day you will be the one to cause such violence. You wonder when the blood will flow because you willed it, rather than you having to catch it in the aftermath. Then, a quiet part of you said, ‘this is somehow your fault, anyway. If you hadn’t caused a half-connection to Dr. Lecter, none of this would have happened.’”
Lecter had a way of speaking that was almost drug-inducing. His tone, the rhythm and melody of it, had a lulling effect, and Will found himself setting the sandwich down as he stared, enraptured. He swallowed a lump of barely chewed food down his throat, and he coughed.
“…Let’s…say that you’re right,” he said slowly.
“Alright,” Dr. Lecter replied with an encouraging nod.
“It doesn’t matter. Even if I…feel the same, think of them as the same, see myself in their weakest moments, their…balancing act, it doesn’t matter. Even if I can see myself as the one to pull the trigger, the one to take a knife to skin, that’s not reality.”
“In the nightmares you dream while awake, though, it is your reality. That is why you fight it so much. That is why you, for all of your degrees and education and capabilities, are a person that is driven purely by fear.”
“When you’re afraid, you’re rude,” he explained lightly. “Most others entertain a fight or flight response in aggressive situations, but due to your fear of losing yourself within the minds of the people around you, there is an almost constant companion at your side named fear. That is what motivates you, what creates your reactions.”
“His name was Winston, actually, and your thug left him behind,” Will retorted. “Kind of relieved, seeing as I was brought here instead of a safe house.”
“I did maintain that animal therapy was an excellent idea,” Lecter replied. “I’m glad you took my advice.”
Will busied himself with his sandwich, picking over the pieces of it that he didn’t want. The pickles he set to the side, along with the spinach leaves and tomato. He stared at the dressing that’d been drizzled over the meat, and as it oozed over the sides of the bread, he imagined the bloodstains on his shirt from Nate. From Jack.
“His death was inevitable,” he said after a long, stunted silence. “I could see it, even as I couldn’t fix it.”
“It reminded you more of your father, then,” Lecter observed. “Helpless as you were.”
“The medicine made him vomit,” he murmured to the sandwich. “And I caught it in my hands. Called the hospital, but he was already gone. I called anyway, just in case.”
“You helped Nate to our small infirmary, just in case.”
“I didn’t hear screaming,” he said, glancing up. Lecter’s sandwich sat forgotten on the end table near his chair, focused as he was in watching Will decimate his own meal with plucking, nervous fingers. “His soulmate wasn’t here.”
“Alyss has unfortunately been detained by the illustrious FBI,” Lecter informed him. “Therefore the pleasure of her grief was given to Jack Crawford, not us.”
Will knew he should feel some sort of glee in that, Jack managing to get his hands on one of them. He thought of the pain, though, and how horrifying it’d be to hear the screams of someone that thought they were dying. The severance. The shock. He wondered if she’d torn at her own skin to try to pry the hurt out.
“His wife has cancer,” Will said, then instantly regretted it.
“Then Agent Crawford likely witnessed Alyss’ pain and knew that one day he’d share it, should Mrs. Crawford not survive.”
“…Yeah.” He took another bite of food to have something better to do with his mouth than talk.
“Your welcome here was sporadic, I know,” Lecter said as Will tried to focus on his food. “You haven’t properly met these people as a whole entity. They’re all really quite kind.”
“Yeah, well, the first time I met them, they all started grabbing at me and Agent Dolarhyde had to get them to stop touching me,” Will said around a mouthful of food. “Second time, they were in a book club meeting talking about lights and colors and sounds. I’m not exactly impressed.”
“’Slack mouths, a person at their most vulnerable, and you made them vulnerable. You made them that way. Air and light and sound…it’s not like that. It’s more a breath you cut short. Wasted. That’s what death is when you choose to administer it the way he’s preaching. It’s a waste,’” Lecter quoted quietly. “That is what you told them.”
“It’s true,” Will said curtly.
“I find it poetic, in its own way. You chastised him for speaking of death beautifully, but you did the same in your own rendition of loss and life.”
“There’s nothing poetic about deciding that you get to be god,” Will snapped.
“It reveals far more about you than you realize, though, Will,” Lecter replied. He stood and walked over to the small lunch tray, picking up a wine glass and taking a sip. “How would you administer death? Would you be wasteful with your choices, or would your choice in who lives or dies carry far more weight because you’d take the time in choosing?”
“I don’t take on that responsibility. I’m not god; I’m a human being.”
“You’ve thought about it, though,” Lecter chastised lightly. He sauntered over to Will, staring at him as he set his glass on the mantle. “Your adamant and passionate response tells me you’ve dwelled on the thoughts before, enough to make you defensive of them. Enough that once again it is your fear speaking for you.”
Will had no answer to that. He wasn’t quite sure he could make the lie sound convincing if he did.
“How would you choose?” Lecter inquired when Will didn’t –couldn’t –speak. “How would you choose who to kill, if you could do so without repercussion?”
Will mulled the question over, even as he finished the sandwich, even as he was relieved of his plate. Even as Lecter coaxed him to his feet so that he could stare into his eyes, mismatched and ugly and clever, Will thought on the question, dangerous as it was.
Enticing as it was.
“I’d probably start with you,” he said, staring into Lecter’s appalling gaze. “If I was to kill anyone, I’d probably start with you.”