Will was discovered hours later by a boy around the age of ten. Will recognized him almost immediately, from his light blonde hair to his too serious face. He paused a polite distance away from Will –four and a half steps, to be exact –and he tilted his head in such a genuine gesture of curiosity that Will found it amusing rather than off-putting.
“You’re Molly’s son,” Will said when the boy gave no greeting.
“Yes.” The boy huffed a breath and buttoned his jacket. It seemed Georgia was going to finally allow it to be cold, and it was a chill that sunk deep. “You’re Will Graham.”
“I am,” Will agreed.
“…Mom said that I can trust you. Is that true?”
Will considered him, from his nicely laced shoes to his raglan sleeved jacket. It looked far too big for him, the jacket of an adult rather than a kid. He wore it with pride, though, that much Will could see. This was a jacket of heritage, of ancestry. At the tattered edges of it, he could sense nostalgia, a boy that worried over the threads of it whenever he was at his most vulnerable.
“What’s your name?”
“Wally. Wally Foster.”
“…Is that your dad’s old jacket, Wally?” Will asked.
Wally smiled a little and bobbed his head. He turned in order to show off the back, the name ‘Foster’ in a proud, arched cursive.
“It was my dad’s, but he gave it to me,” he explained turning back around to give Will his undivided attention. “So it’s mine now. It’s my favorite. He played baseball.”
“What…happened to your dad?”
“Cancer,” he said after a beat. Will’s lack of disgruntled behavior bolstered Wally, and he sat down on the step that Will’s feet rested on.
“My dad died from cancer, too,” Will revealed quietly.
Wally nodded, and Will noted his fingers sliding along the cuffs of the jacket, worrying at the threads of it.
“Your mom said that you can trust me?” he asked, and he silently chastised himself for the break in his voice.
Wally flashed him a grim smile and nodded. “She said…we can’t trust anyone in this house, but we can trust Will Graham. If something happens, I’m supposed to find you.”
Will focused particularly on that, on her words said in the mouth of a kid. “She said you can’t trust anyone here?” he whispered, leaning in.
“Yeah.” Wally fiddled more with the sleeves, and he let out a sigh. “She said not even the other kids. ‘Cept maybe Abigail, but she’s not a kid. You and Abigail.”
“Did she say why we can’t trust them?”
Wally liked the comradery Will gave, saying ‘we’ rather than ‘you’. His face brightened, and he shifted closer, like he was sharing a secret. “She said they’re not nice people, Mr. Graham.”
“Just Will is fine, Wally.”
“’Kay, Will. She said they’re not nice, and they could hurt us if we’re not careful.”
Will nodded thoughtfully and looked out over the front yard, a brilliant and loving display of hydrangeas and lavender intermingling into a garden of sorts. He wondered if that was five hundred yards, or if his newfound babysitter would start chirping at his leg if he went too far.
“Do you think that?” Wally pressed when Will didn’t speak.
“Do you think they’ll hurt us if we’re not careful?” Wally pressed.
Will thought of the blood down the back of his head that morning in the shower, the way Molly’s hands had felt at the top of his scalp, cold. Her once warm hands were cold, and he didn’t recognize her anymore.
In truth, he saw more of her in her son than anything else since his arrival at the house. The parts of her kindness, friendliness, and light were all wrapped into a small, neat bow in her son. Will had wondered where she’d hidden the parts of herself that first drew him to her, a lighthouse when his world was crashing around him, and he saw it now in Wally. She made herself a fortress of stone, something cold, calculating, and willing to pull the trigger should the need arise.
And all of her goodness she hid in Wally.
“You know what, Wally, I do,” Will said with a quiet sigh. “I think your mom is awfully smart, and you should listen to her.”
“I try to,” Wally assured Will. “My dad said the same thing.”
“It sounds like your dad was a good man.”
“Say, I’m going to go and see if they have a soda,” Wally said, jumping up. “Since…since I’m going in there, do you want one?”
Will smiled a little and nodded. “That’d be nice, Wally. Only if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Well, I was going to go there anyway,” he said, and he was up the stairs and running into the house the way only a kid could run when their mother was smart enough to give their kid the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth.
Which begged the question: if Molly was really in on all of this, why would she warn her son away from the people that she should supposedly view as her family –the one place she could call ‘home’?
Will was approached by a young woman that evening when he was attempting to isolate himself in his room. She stood at the foot of the stairs, wind-chafed and resolute, and he recognized her as the girl that’d first found him after Nate had died, hands bloodied and mind frozen in shock. She’d worried for him, for a breath of a moment.
“You’re…Will Graham,” she said quietly, and he tensed.
“Please don’t try to touch me,” he said warningly. He wouldn’t throw her about like he’d done with Matthew, but there was only so much a person could take before they began drawing lines by force. He imagined his hands around her throat, squeezing before tossing her aside, and his stomach turned. Violent thoughts pushed towards the front of his mind, begged entertainment. He blinked and banished them away. He’d been in the house for too damn long.
“No, I’m…I’m sorry they did that.” Her smile was watery, wavering as she shifted and reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind one ear. “Some people here are…well, you know.”
“Are you Abigail?” he asked. He thought of Wally, rambling about just who he was supposed to trust.
“I am,” she affirmed. “I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re…you’re having a hard time, I just…”
She stopped talking and looked down, sniffling discreetly behind a hand. She looked to be about seventeen or eighteen, far too thin for a healthy diet. She carried sorrow in the dip of her shoulders, resolution in the set of her jaw as she looked back up at him with intent, blue eyes.
“You’re not like other people here,” she said at last, and something in her voice made him tense.
“Is it that easy to tell?” he asked dryly.
“I heard a lot of people wondering why Dr. Lecter would bring you here.”
“I’m wondering the same about you,” Will replied, and he rocked back on his heels as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. “How old are you?”
“Old enough to understand what I’m seeing when I see it,” said Abigail, and she sniffed again and looked down. “Did you ever hear of the Minnesota Shrike?”
“That’s my dad,” she revealed, and she glanced up beneath her lashes to study him. “He’s here, in this house.”
“Well it looks like Dr. Lecter extends amnesty to just anyone,” Will sneered.
“He killed girls that looked like me.”
“I thought maybe being here would…stop him from that, but…Mr. Graham, it was either them or me, and now that he can’t go about to find them…I’m scared that he’s going to Change me.”
Will thought of Red Dragon whispering his wants, his need to Change. Farther down the hall, there was the sound of plates clattering, glasses clinking as dinner was set. Abigail glanced from the sudden noise, then back to him, her mouth fluttering before pressing tightly shut. Despite the openness of the stairwell, she was divulging something much like a secret to him, and he softened his voice to recognize that.
“Dr. Lecter wouldn’t stop him?” Will asked.
“He would if you pretended to care about it,” she revealed, equally quiet. “If…you pretended to care about me, he’d pretend, too. Enough to stop my dad, should he decide to eat me.”
Will thought about that, eye-to-eye with Abigail Hobbs on their respective stair steps, although they didn’t allow their gazes to meet directly. He thought of Wally, then Molly, then the reports he’d read on the Minnesota Shrike, the profile he’d drawn up as an essay in one of his classes when rumor had risen that the Shrike had a soulmate. The flash of her eyes screamed her penchant for manipulation, although the longer Will stared, the more he was convinced of her honesty. If he cared, then Hannibal cared. If Hannibal cared, then everyone else cared.
“Just what are you trying to ask me to do?” he asked at last.
“Sit with me at dinner? He always sits next to me and touches my thigh while we’re eating.”
“And this isn’t a magical quest bestowed upon you by Dr. Lecter to ensure that I start participating in the endeavors of this place?”
She had the grace to smile a little. “He asked everyone to leave you alone, actually. He wants you to come to us on your own terms, but…I just…”
“You’re trying to survive however you can,” Will realized, staring at the turn of her jaw. He could smell the stench of it, the same as it was for him. They were survivors, something much the same as the other as they tried to survive their lot in life. Rather than submit to her father’s whims, she instead tried to find a way around it, to preserve herself however possible.
Will could respect that, although he balked at the thought of having to sit down among so many obviously unstable people.
“Please,” she whispered, and he cringed from it. “I see the way people here look at you, and I…please.”
“…I’ll do it,” he said, and her shoulders slumped in relief. “Although whatever superpowers you think I’m capable of, I can’t guarantee.”
“Thank you,” she said, and he was forced to follow her down the hall, towards the formal dining room where people were helping to set the table, their chatter amiable and excited.
When they saw Will and Abigail, it was even moreso. He ignored the way their heads dipped close together, their faces alight –if they really were unsure of him and his place in the house, it didn’t show with how they looked at him. Perhaps Abigail was right: Hannibal wanted him, therefore they followed through with his desires.
“Dr. Lecter would want you to sit down there,” Abigail said, gesturing towards the head of the table.
Will eyed the spot with extreme prejudice before he meandered towards the seat, ignoring the stares pinned to his skin.
“You sit there,” he decided, motioning towards the end seat.
“Your father can’t sit on your other side if you’re on the end,” Will said, and he sat down pointedly in the second chair in.
Abigail smiled and sat down on the end chair, relief oozing from her skin.
“Thank you,” she said again.
“Thank Wally,” he grumbled, and when someone swooped by to fill his glass with wine, he managed a grunt towards them, too. The house arrest bracelet chafed on his ankle. He’d have to find a way to get the fucking thing off of him. Maybe take Abigail and Wally with him when he ran.
Just how many other people were there that were trapped due to the faults and failures of their parents? Their lovers? Their families?
When Hannibal walked into the room, deep in conversation with Molly, Beverly, and Francis, he didn’t stop in his tracks at the sight of Will seated beside a quietly contemplative Abigail, but he took immediate notice. His gaze flickered briefly over them, analyzing, before a perfectly subtle smile graced his lips and he looked away. His incisors flashed as he seemed to taste the room before him.
The space beside Will on the other side remained empty.
“I’m so happy to see you here, Will,” he said as he stopped just behind his chair.
Will took a long, pointed gulp of his wine.
“I wasn’t aware that you knew Abigail,” he continued, and the voices coalescing along the table stilled to better hear him.
Will had a wild urge to say something particularly nasty, what with the way everyone watched the two of them, waiting. He took another gulp of wine, swallowed it down, and wiped his mouth. Just behind Hannibal, a few steps back, a man with a halo of hair, a shiny head, and dagger-like eyes observed first him, then Abigail that sat just out of reach.
Her father, then.
“I do. She’s been showing me around the house.”
“How kind,” Hannibal Lecter murmured. “Thank you, Abigail, for making him feel more comfortable here.”
“I was more than happy to, Dr. Lecter,” Abigail replied, and it all felt rather forced to Will, this pseudo-conversation when the three of them were more than well-aware that there was something far larger at hand. “He said it may make it feel more like home.”
Presumptuous. Will gave her a particularly dark side-eyed stare, which she returned with little to no guilt.
“Dinner will be delicious tonight,” Hannibal Lecter said by way of reply, and he skirted the table to sit at the head of it.
Without ceremony, the man with the balding head sat down on the other side of Will. He smelled of sweat contained beneath layers of jackets for a prolonged amount of time, coupled with the aftertaste of cold, dry dirt. The turn of his cheek screamed meekness, but the cunning glint in his gaze as he watched Will from the corner of his eye put Will on guard immediately. He thought of the women he’d only ever read about, people whose lives were cut short due to a covetous, hungry need. He’d have liked to have thought he could have seen someone like Hobbs in a crowd and known them for what they were, but it was a lie, something to self-soothe. In reality, Hobbs looked –at first glance –much like the sort of person you’d forget about immediately after seeing.
Ultimately leading to your downfall.
“Mr. Graham,” Garrett Jacob Hobbs greeted quietly. He had a well-mannered, salt-of-the-earth sort of speech, quiet and dignified.
“Mr. Hobbs,” Will returned lightly.
“I wasn’t aware that you’d met my daughter,” he said, and the way his tongue curled around the title was possessive while maintaining all forms of politeness.
“She’s been by far the kindest person in this house,” Will said. “I’ve found her to be invaluable.”
Hobbs had no reply to that. His mouth shifted and curled in on itself, as though it were fighting back the words he desperately wanted to say. A quick glance to Will’s hardened stare made him shift and busy himself with his glass of wine.
There were no speeches, no pep-talks. The food was set out for everyone, and those that helped to cook it were thanked, everyone friendly and obliging as they patted one another on the back and thanked Hannibal warmly for such exquisite cuisine: paella with freshly foraged mushrooms, cuttlefish, and a velvety red wine to compliment the taste.
Will picked his way around what he deemed to be a questionable and therefore undesirable meat.
With Abigail beside him, those that snuck glances made no move to speak. Beverly and Molly sat across from him, and it was as easy to avoid their stare as it was anyone else’s. His eyes fixed to the corner of his glasses, and he fiddled far too long with his spoon between bites.
“Abigail,” her father said, speaking around Will’s back. “I’d like to speak with you after dinner, before my night watch.”
“She was actually going to take me to the library,” Will said for her, after he polished off the wine. He needed it to keep his mouth from becoming too sharp. “Sorry.”
On the other side of him, Abigail shifted in her chair, uncomfortable. He felt her father’s stare against his skin, prickling and persistent, but he ignored it. She was one of the only things that could have brought him to the table, one of the only things to convince him away from the solitary room that brought him some form of respite. If the look in Hobb’s eyes was any indication, he’d made a good call. One of few, but still good.
Despite the disquieting sensation of so many eyes on him throughout dinner, when Abigail reached out underneath the table and took his hand to squeeze it, Will didn’t recoil from her. Instead, he returned the gesture, squeezing just as tight.
Hannibal Lecter was the one to walk about with him on the grounds that evening. It wasn’t so much an option, in truth; Will had waited until Hobbs saw himself off towards his shift of night watch, then left Abigail in the presence of a boy somewhat near her age that smiled with an awkward cheekiness. Standing there in the foyer and watching Abigail walk away left Will with something aching just at the space where his ribs met in the center of his chest –something painful and persistent.
Then Hannibal appeared at his elbow and suggested a walk.
He zipped his coat against the cold and huddled into the shell of it as he trudged through the damp grass. Hannibal followed, a whisper of a step behind, and if he had something in mind to discuss, it wasn’t voiced. He let Will pause just at the edge of the forest, and he didn’t give voice to the warning that the chafing ankle bracelet provided.
Birds cried in the dying light, the sun sinking far too soon now that Fall was upon them. Will tracked fast, frantic leaps of bats dancing among the trees in search of bugs, and he stuffed his hands deep into his pockets to maintain warmth. There was the crisp smell of acorns and clover, coupled with the rancid bitterness of the dying leaves on the forest floor. Will inhaled it and held it inside of him as long as he could. When he exhaled sharply, great clouds puffed and curled about his mouth, wisping up above his head.
“You once told me that you dreamt of a house in the middle of a forest,” Hannibal said quietly, disturbing the quiet. “That sometimes, if your dreams became lucid, you would walk to. Standing in the field beside it, you would look back to the lights and feel some semblance of peace. It appeared much like a boat adrift on the ocean, and it was one of the few times within your own mind that you could feel safe.”
When Will said nothing in response, he continued, “Is that what you were searching for when you called Jack Crawford? Some semblance of safety?”
“Some semblance of sanity,” Will muttered.
“And you found a Great, Red Dragon instead.”
“There were no speeches tonight. Are you trying to normalize these people to me?” Will asked. He glanced back to Hannibal, scowling. “Because I sat next to a man who’s murdered at least eight women and ate them during dinner.”
“And you stand now in front of a man that’s killed fourteen.”
“No, I stand in front of a man that was convicted for the murders of fourteen,” Will corrected crossly.
Hannibal neither confirmed nor denied. He merely smiled, the faint moonlight above making his blue eye appear far darker than it was.
Will looked back to the forest that contained the remnants of his panic, the aftershock of the fall of Randall Tier. He felt a scream building, but he didn’t want to let it out. If he started, Will figured he’d never stop –scream after scream after scream before he was swallowed whole by them all.
“Who did you kill?” Will asked, agonized.
“You refer to something recent?”
“Who did you have these people kill?” Will reiterated, and he swallowed down a curse. “That has Jack Crawford sounding so tired?”
“Thirty-two other people in this country held some variation of your name. My friends supposed that for me to be with someone, they should be utterly unique in every way,” Hannibal said after a long, pressing pause.
His words stirred something in Will, something that made him round back on Hannibal, a snarl jerking past his lips.
“Don’t call them your friends,” he hissed, and just beyond Hannibal’s shoulder there were faint shadows moving in front of curtains pulled across windows. “Don’t call those people your friends when you and I both know that you don’t give a damn about them. You don’t give a damn about anyone.”
“And don’t…don’t try and claim that you give a damn about me. You just want to possess me, control me because you don’t like being out of control. You have your pawns in there, and you have your lackeys, but when you’re out here trying to wrap me up inside of my own head, don’t try to bull shit me and tell me that any of those people are actually your friends, Hannibal Lecter. Not when just hours ago, you were content to inform me you’d kill any of them, should they stand between us.”
The look on his face was impassive; it was his eyes, though, that made Will pause, made his breath suck back down his throat.
God, he almost looked proud.
“You see me in a way that no one else does,” Hannibal murmured. His voice was low, like he was revealing a grave, dark secret. “I’m glad that you’re becoming comfortable enough to speak your mind to me, all things considered.”
All things considered being the fine line Will walked between living and dying, he supposed.
“I shouldn’t be surprised that you could fool them all, considering how many of us you fooled.”
“Some people just want a place where they feel like they belong, Will. Humans, despite everything, are social creatures. Pack creatures.”
“Well, you may be fooling them, but you’re not fooling all of them.” Will watched a shadow pause before one of the curtains before they drew it open to stare outside. His smile was a snarl. “There are a few of those people that are well aware that the things you care for are in limited supply.”
“You refer to Abigail?”
“I refer to any of them that have to go to sleep with one eye open.”
“I have Garrett Jacob Hobbs under control. Rest assured he won’t harm anyone here.”
“His daughter isn’t so confident.”
Hannibal smiled. “She’s resourceful, isn’t she? You’re so wary of my manipulations that at the first scent of an honest sob-story, you find your way to her and seek to protect her from not only Garrett Jacob Hobbs, but my presumed apathy to her plight. So sure are you of me, but you fail to see her in her entirety.”
“She’s like me,” Will said, and he was suddenly aware of just how close Hannibal had become. A mere breath separated them, a strong breeze enough to make them touch. He stiffened his spine and wet his lips. “Sometimes…we have to do terrible things to survive.”
“You led to the fall of Randall Tier.”
“And whatever she’d done, it’s only so that she survives. I can respect that.”
“Survive, survive,” Hannibal chanted, and his head dipped low, far too close. “That is your mantra, dear Will. To survive; not to live, not to Become. Just where are your lines, I wonder? When is it no longer survival, and instead basking within your own dark desires and fantasies?”
Will thought of his dreams where he dipped hands in blood and licked them, thoughts when he wondered if he’d have to break Abigail should she dare touch him. Whatever his expression, it delighted Hannibal; his eyes brightened despite the gloom of the evening, and he withdrew, allowing Will his space, allowing Will enough air to breathe.
“Just a thought,” Hannibal said, and he turned and headed back into the house.
Will, despite everything in his bones screaming for him to run, had no other choice but to follow.