Will Graham was woken abruptly at 4:09 A.M. with someone choking the life from him.
In the darkness, he couldn’t see. The pressure alone hurt, hurt, and he gagged on air that wouldn’t come as he thrashed and tried to climb from his blankets. Their knees dug into his sides, their pelvis ground into his gut, and when he gagged again, there was a disorienting sensation of his eyes trying to pop out of his head.
The only thing, in truth, that saved him was the two of them unceremoniously toppling from the bed as Will Graham fought for his life.
They fell on their sides, hard. The sudden release of the burning pain on his neck gave way to huge gouts of breath that flooded his veins and made him dizzy, enough that he swayed as he scrambled over and climbed on top of his assailant, gagging on air that he desperately needed.
Whoever they were, they wouldn’t be deterred. As he tried to straddle him and take control, the man’s legs swung up and wrapped around his neck, dragging him back to the ground as he choked him with his ankles, instead. Will struggled, fought feebly, then repeatedly slammed his legs into the man’s chest, blinking stars from his eyes. Was this it? Was this going to be the end for him, strangled in his opulent prison cell in the middle of the night because someone hated him that much?
No. No, no, no.
He shifted and slammed his foot into the man’s gut, knocking the breath from him. Pained, the man relaxed just enough that Will broke his hold and managed to gather his feet up under him, standing and swaying as he caught himself against one of the posts of the bed and wheezed. His lungs burned, his eyes burned, and he thought of Jack Crawford bleeding out on the floor, weakly trying to crawl to his phone for help. Vulnerable. That’s what it was, vulnerable. Someone was trying to waste his life.
They were attempting to stand. Will shifted and used the weight of his body to swing his leg around, kicking the attacker right in the side of the head. There was a grunt, a wet sort of sound as spittle flew from their mouth, and it seemed to bolster him, made Will’s muscles burn with an urge to hurt, to maim. As the man dropped to the floor, Will climbed on top of him and grabbed him around the throat, squeezing as tightly as he could manage. They struggled, and he imagined their eyes bulging as his had; furious, confused, and disoriented as the dregs of sleep clung to his mind and made it hard to see this as real, real. Spurred on by the gulping, gagging sound, he dug his thumbs into his windpipe, growling.
He wasn’t accounting for the knife that suddenly bit into his side.
He felt it scrape his rib, and a burning pain ricocheted, left him cringing off of the man as he clawed at the blade, trying to pry it from his skin. He’d never been stabbed before; movies always made it seem either a casual affair or an all-encompassing pain that never ended, gallons of blood across the floor as a mere pocketknife carved paths of death through enemies and heroes alike.
He ripped it out of his side, and fuck; it hurt more taking it out than putting it in.
They were on top of him before he had the chance to really breathe, really feel just what was happening to him, and in a desperate, wild throw of his arm, he swung the knife up. His side burned, spit curses and made him try to cringe away from his own body, from the pain that thump, thump, thumped with every heartbeat. In his wild throw, the blade met skin, sunk deep.
It parted as easily as cutting paper.
There was a brief resistance, then blood poured like a waterfall, hot and coppery as just at the edge of what he was fast realizing was the man’s neck, the knife got stuck. Will let out a choking, gasping wheeze, and it was in his mouth, tasting like an electric shock on bare skin.
“N-no, no, no, no,” he moaned, horrified as the body slumped into him, far heavier than a body had any right to be. He gagged on the taste of blood and wriggled out from beneath him, dragging himself to his feet. He stumbled, ran into the dresser, then managed to find his way to the lamp, turning it on with fingers wet and sticky, slick with the feeling of what someone else’s life looked like.
He turned back to stare down at the body of Matthew Brown.
“No, no, no,” he whispered, and he slumped down beside him, trying to staunch the flow. Even without a medical degree, he could see it was no use; his entire throat was slit wide, wider than a throat had any business to be. It was a deep cut, a mere inch difference between halving his head and merely giving it a second, wider-set mouth, and bile rose up in the back of his throat.
Matthew Brown stared unseeing to the ceiling –one eye green, the other blue.
The blood was spreading, reaching, clawing for him. Will sat huddled in it, his pajama pants greedily soaking it up as his hands tried to scoop up what they could to put it back in him, like somehow he could fix what he’d done if he just tried hard enough. His lips were painted red, and he could taste it on his teeth. He gagged on the smell, on the feel, and he had to take short breaths through his nose.
Will was only distantly aware of the sound of thunder, the murmurs of concern as people came to investigate the noise then the sudden absence of it. A faint afterthought made him remove the knife from the side of Matthew’s neck, and it fell to the floor with a dull, desolate thud. It’d gotten stuck somewhere there, halfway through decimating vital arteries. Will wondered if someone sewed it back up, they could get him working right again, like a little toy soldier to stand at attention in Hannibal’s army of killers. His eyes shined bright enough. They shined too bright. One eye green, the other blue.
“Will,” someone said, but Will didn’t quite hear it –not the way one should hear. It was a distant, echoing thing, something that reverberated deep in his bones, chilling in the way it pulled at something in him, something he couldn’t name.
He was helped to his feet; dazedly, he looked about and saw dozens of people huddled near the doorway, whispering, staring. He could pinpoint Beverly there, then Saul, then Molly –Molly, with cold hands and a warm son. Off to the side, Francis stared, and Will’s head bobbed as he looked to the one holding him up, the one supporting him as his legs threatened to give out from under him again.
“Will,” Hannibal prompted kindly, and a tremor wracked him, made him fall against his shoulder as he looked down to the body of Matthew Brown. Too much blood. Costume blood, he’d called it while watching movies. He wondered if he tasted it, if it’d come away with the feeling of corn syrup.
He licked his lips; definitely not corn syrup.
“Will, look at me,” Hannibal murmured, and Will looked at him helplessly, mouth working as he tried to find a way to say the words, say something to protect himself, to defend himself.
This was self-defense, wasn’t it?
Then why did he feel so dirty?
“He…he…” He couldn’t find the words. Staring into Hannibal’s mismatched gaze, he was at a loss, a complete loss as the weight of his actions settled across his shoulders, a mantle that dug claws deep to his skin to hook in. He’d just murdered someone. He’d just murdered Matthew Brown.
One eye green, the other one blue.
Hannibal cradled his jaw as he held his gaze, and if he minded the blood, it didn’t show on his face. There was a kindness in his expression, a sort of mercy as he brushed his thumbs along Will’s cheeks, held him prisoner with the sensation of a sort of stability as the rest of the ground gave way. It was hypnotic, mesmerizing. Will’s raspy gasps gave way to short breathes that folded elegantly into deep, even inhales as he stared at him, counting the irregular heartbeats just beyond his ribs.
After a minute that spanned an eternity, Hannibal released him and looked towards the group that still clustered, staring. Gaping.
“Mr. Hobbs, if you’ll take care of Matthew Brown for us,” he said, and Hobbs worked his way through the onlookers in order to heft Matthew’s body onto his shoulder. Will tracked him as he waded back through, disappearing into the darkness of the hall as though Matthew were nothing more than a sack of potatoes to take to the pantry.
“If someone would clean Mr. Graham’s room up,” he said, and someone else broke away in order to hunt down cleaning supplies. “And if someone would find him a change of clothes, we can take the next step forward.”
He was shifted to the side, just enough that people could begin their work. His bare feet sunk into the carpet, soaked as it was with Matthew Brown’s blood, made the spaces between his toes wet and tacky. In the lamplight, it took on a lurid shade, something dark and enticing. In the mirror above the dresser, he stared at himself, the startling shock of his person making his skin cold and clammy, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
The cut of his jaw was angular, the scruff of his beard wiry. Blood trailed through his hair, down his face, along his cheeks; his neck was darkened with it, streaked with lines that ran rampant to the collar of a pajama shirt that stuck to his chest.
Set above the macabre display of his deeds, two deadened, muted blue eyes.
He wasn’t quite sure when, but someone prompted him to the bathroom where he was able to change his clothes, the blood-stained ones removed by an analytical and resolutely quiet Francis. It was then that his wound was discovered, just large enough to be a concern. Perched on the edge of the tub where Molly had doctored him with her cold hands and her warm son, Francis crouched before him with a hand on his knee, lip twisted into something much like a mix between a displeased frown and a child-like smile.
“You survived,” he said simply.
“That is what you have to do around us. You survive.”
Will nodded again.
Francis nodded to the wound, hand gentle on his knee. “Do you want me to fix that?”
Will thought of Red Dragon’s hands on him, how his head burned and the world spun too fast to catch, blurs of colors that streaked and stained his vision. He shook his head.
Francis didn’t press him. He squeezed his knee once, stood, and stepped out of the bathroom to fetch someone else.
Will stared down at the spot he’d been stabbed, but apart from the burning sensation, it didn’t feel altogether too horrible. Felt better that Matthew Brown’s own stab wound felt like, that was for damn sure. He chocked it up to shock; it was hard to feel pain when he was stuck reliving what it’d felt like to cut through living flesh. Far, far too easy.
The wound wept slowly, like it had all the time in the world.
It was Hannibal that led him to the infirmary, but it was a daze of too many faces and not enough space. He was seated on one of the metal slabs, and Hannibal presented him with a small handful of pills, brightly colored in the otherwise bleak, stark room.
Will took them without complaint.
“You’re not afraid that I gave you poison?” Hannibal asked lightly, retrieving a tray of tools. His eyes cut to the side as he worked, keeping a close watch on Will.
Will lifted his arm dazedly and allowed him to begin cleaning the wound. It smarted something vicious, spreading along his spine to his toes, but he held still. Better to feel like shit than to feel like Matthew Brown, he supposed.
“If they are, it wouldn’t matter,” Will said, staring at nothing in particular. “I’m already dead.”
“I’m already dead,” Hannibal murmured, and it sounded like a sort of prayer. “Don’t go too far away, dear Will.”
Dear Will. Dear God. Will stared bleakly at the cupboard across from him, a small label at the bottom declaring it ‘gauze, sterile pads, antiseptic’.
“…Where would I go?” he asked hollowly. No home. Not away from this. Not somewhere safe. Trapped as he was in Hannibal Lecter’s lair, just where could he go that Hannibal wouldn’t be able to follow?
“Into your mind,” he replied lightly. “Internalizing is what you do. Everything you see, you become some part of. You take it into yourself and reflect the world around you.”
“…He was trying to kill me,” Will whispered. “I just wanted him to stop trying to kill me.”
“His eyes changed,” he said, and he felt like he was going to puke. “He tried to kill me because his eyes changed.”
The side of his ribs slowly turned numb, and as he breathed shallow, cold breaths, his skin every so often tugged and twisted as Lecter stitched him back together. As the pain killers kicked in, he felt himself floating, a space between sleep and wakefulness, a space between life and death.
He looked over to watch Dr. Lecter work. The stitches –what he could see of them –were neat and even. He worked with a clinical touch, purely professional as he put him back together. He only glanced up once, briefly meeting Will’s eyes before he went back to his work, head bowed and hands steady.
Will stared at the reflection in the metal of the cupboards; two unfocused blue eyes stared back.
When Hannibal was done, it was bandaged and he was given his clean shirt. He was given a rag to wash his face of the dried blood, and when he felt that he got most of it off of him, Hannibal led him to his office so that he could seat him by the fireplace.
Will stared into the embers and counted the pops of the wood. Numb. Numb was nice.
“What are you thinking, Will?” Hannibal asked. He sat across from him, one leg hooked over the other, back sunk deep into the cushion. The clock on top of the fireplace chimed the time. Five o’clock.
“I’m…trying not to think at all,” he managed, and he stared into the fire. It licked and caressed the wood, even as it devoured it. The wood lay still, still as death, still as Matthew Brown laid on the floor of his gilded cage. He shuddered, but it was a disjointed thing, a disconnect between his mind and his body. Whatever pain killers Dr. Lecter gave him, they were good.
“How did it feel when you killed him?” Hannibal asked. It somehow sounded reverent.
“…Intimate.” He could still taste his blood in his mouth. He could still feel the grain of the leather-wrapped handle in his palm. A sob started to build, but it was stifled by his heavy, ugly breath.
“What associations crowd your mind?”
“Dr. Lecter…” Will managed to tear his eyes away from the fire, and he stared across at his old therapist, his jailer, his mortal enemy. “I…I don’t want to think about this right now. I don’t…want to think at all. Can…can we just stop your games, for now?”
“Can you shut off your mind so easily?”
“I can try,” he said, agonized, and he slid deep into the seat of the chair, turning his head back to the fire. “I can certainly try.”
He felt Hannibal’s eyes on him, even as he slipped into a desolate wasteland of dreams.
Clark Ingram was in a bit of trouble.
Jack Crawford’s silence in regards to the news was broken, it seemed. As he hunkered farther and farther into his chair and watched television, the more uneasy he became, so much so that when Emma returned with a cheap, flimsy hat from the gas station, he put it on with the sort of panic best left to prey, not predators.
“Relax,” she hissed under her breath to him. Clark watched her pluck and pick at the fried pickles she’d ordered, casual in her mannerisms. “You acting like this is only going to get you caught.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re not on the news,” he muttered. When his face flashed up again, he cringed lower into his seat. Following it were the faces of Molly, Beverly, Saul, and Francis. Following those, of course, was Hannibal.
“That’s because I wasn’t so stupid that I waved to Jack Crawford as I left, and I wasn’t so dumb that I lost my wallet at the fucking crime scene,” she retorted. “I’ve had my face in the news before. I survived.”
“Yeah, and how many of you and yours are left not behind bars?”
The glower she gave him could have melted the rubber off of the soles of his shoes. “I wasn’t hired to be your emotional nanny, I was hired to transport you from your job to the house. When the cargo cooperates, it’s a fairly easy job.”
“What other cargo have you transported?”
“Where they arrived safely to their destination, I’m not at liberty to discuss that with you.”
He was only mildly mollified by her successes –whatever they were.
“If I buy you another drink, will you shut up?” she hissed.
They glowered at one another, but he conceded. Another drink was produced for him, and they were left to their little corner of the bar where people cut glances and sent whispers trembling along the air.
He desperately tried to convince himself that it was because they ‘weren’t from around here’.
He’d had a bit of a head rush, waiting like that, though. The gas station bathroom had just been cleaned, and the guy had even tossed an air freshener in there that didn’t make the entire place smell like ‘shittrus’. The little gas station manager had been easy to terrify under the desk, and the feeling of the blade sinking into the mouthy FBI agent’s skin kept Clark awake with the kind of exhilarating pleasure that he’d been searching for since his last kill.
It hadn’t been a woman, but the rush of getting one up and over the FBI made his head light in a different sort of way.
“You two doin’ alright over here?” the waitress asked.
“Just fine, thanks,” Emma replied.
“Sounds good, just holler if you need anything,” the woman urged, and she sidled away with a tray of beers.
“Have you ever killed before?” Clark murmured when the news cut to commercial.
“You’re trying to lay low, and that’s the conversation you strike up in a bar?” she asked skeptically. “Just shut up and drink your beer.”
Any other woman that tried to speak to Clark like that, he’d have slipped into their bedroom the same night and put his hands around their neck. She was one of Hannibal’s, though, and Hannibal didn’t pick just anyone for the jobs that put someone out in the public. He was meticulous in his choices, careful.
If Emma was the one ensuring he was brought to the house alive, Clark wasn’t quite so sure he’d even get one foot in the bedroom.
So, he shut up and drank his beer.
They rolled out of the bar with a crowd of people that had designs on a Waffle House. Clark wasn’t quite sure what the hell a Waffle House was –someone mentioned a grit was involved with it? –but he was buzzed enough that when someone clapped him on the shoulder to tell him that he was ‘a man among men’, he was just calm enough that he could laugh, thank him, and continue walking.
Out on the freeway, Emma drove sober while he lolled about in the passenger seat.
“That sign out there said ‘fresh fruit stand’,” he said to her, squinting out of the window.
“We should stop and get some.”
“If you wanted food, you should have followed the herd headed to Waffle House. It’s the only 24/7 shop in a one hundred mile radius,” she replied. “Besides, we’re not stopping ‘till we get there.”
Clark hadn’t been allowed to know where the big house was until he’d completed his job. He supposed it was a test of sorts, that Dr. Lecter wanted to see how committed he was before he let just anyone join his following.
Clark had never been one for groups and followings and cults, but to finally find a place where his urges were not only accepted, but welcomed, he figured he’d make a few adjustments. Learn to be flexible. Broaden his horizons from the women he took out for drinks to the occasional FBI agent.
Besides, Lecter had told him that if he killed Agent Zeller, he’d have at least five different girls waiting at the house for him, all ready and ripe for his choosing.
Will dreamt of a thousand skies and a thousand stars. He traced them with his eyes, and when they leapt from the air and came raining down in spirals of luminescent fire, he spun around them with outstretched hands, reaching. He grasped with a need that ached, everything just out of reach of his wanting, hungry fingertips.
There was one that landed into his palm, perfect and burning and bright. Without hesitation, he cradled it close and consumed it, something that crawled through his veins and burned, burned down the column of his throat. The world around him spun, bent, and as the fire seared through his veins, he gazed upon the burning embers of light above and had a sensation of everything being just right.
Agent Crawford walked along the hall of the hospital with resolute, slow steps. His phone call with Bella hadn’t sounded so good; he chocked it up to her having to do this alone, seeing as how he was states away without any sign that he’d be home soon. He wondered about his brother, if he should maybe call him –just to have him check up on her, of course. Bella was a strong woman, resilient in the face of any challenge.
Still, just to know that someone was there to support her would be nice.
“Agent Crawford,” the nurse at the desk said with a smile. She accepted his entry into the ward without checking his ID, as he’d been there enough. Zeller was looking better, although he hadn’t woken up yet.
Brain activity is there, the doctors assured him. There’s still a chance that he can recover from this.
At least one of them might. There was nothing that Jack could do for Lloyd.
How does it feel?
“Evening, Zeller,” he said, walking into the room. Time with enough wounded agents had taught him that there were faster recoveries when one still engaged with them verbally. One of his agents that’d taken a hit in the field informed him that they could recall each and every word he’d said to them, logged away in a place where they found the strength to come back to the real world and live.
Fuck, just how many of his agents had taken a hit? Stood at death’s door? Waited for him to save them? Waited for him to do what he felt like he was an absolute failure at?
“All that we can say for certain is that we’ve got a pretty good lead,” said Crawford. He took his coat off and hung it on the rack by a chair, along with his winter hat. The heater by the wall hummed in return, kicking on.
“See, I’m getting in reports of new recruits and officers from some of these small towns, and there’s two precincts that are delayed in giving me what I need,” he continued, and he went over to the heater to turn up the dial. “Both are good spots with a lot of widespread property, and I’m giving them a few more days before I turn up the heat. But progress, Zeller. That’s what Starling calls progress.”
He turned around to face Zeller, finally having worked himself up to seeing the pallor cast over his agent’s skin, the closed eyes and bruises brushed into the hollow of his cheeks.
How unhappy for him, then, to see that there was no Zeller in the bed, stubble having reached epic proportions for one that so easily grew a beard.
Instead, a note rested just at the pillow, the handwriting so glaringly familiar that it seared Jack’s vision, leaving him blinking curling whorls of ink from his gaze as he bellowed for the nurse just down the hall.
And darkness and decay, and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over us all.