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Where the Wicked Walk

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Chapter 21:

            Will woke with an urgency that belied the dragging weight of his muscles. There was a disorienting lack of knowing just where he was and how he’d gotten there; it took far too long for him to realize that it was Lecter’s office and that he’d fallen asleep in the armchair. His neck ached, and his back cringed from the awkward angle. The fire had gone out hours before, ashes cooling against the stone. He stared at them, then found himself rising to his feet, needing something.

            Down the darkened halls he ventured, a weird sort of urgency that pushed, pushed. He paused at a corridor, unsure, then turned to the right, the very blood in his veins urging him forward, whispering that if he just walked faster then it’d be alright –run, if he could. His side burned; he couldn’t. He couldn’t run, but he could hurry, hurry fast.

            Will stopped just before a door that he found to be locked after a brief test of jiggling the handle. His hands passed over the frame, glided along the heavy, sturdy wood that remained as a barrier to him –a barrier to what? He pressed his fingers to the whorls of the wood, like he could ingrain his fingerprints to it if he pressed hard enough. He was becoming part of this place, he thought dazedly. He was bleeding into the walls, the paint, the hunger. He wondered if Molly would tell Wally to trust him now.

            Go, go, something urged, and he pushed harder. The smoke of dreams still curled through his mind, foggy and hot in the lungs, and he leaned against the door, pressing his cheek to it. Go, go.

            He gave a start when the sharp sound of a lock turning cracked through the otherwise silence of the hall.

            The door opened, and Will stepped back to give them space. He shifted impatiently from foot to foot, a tremor working its way through, him; when the door opened just enough to admit him, he pushed it the rest of the way, a hiss of aggravated air rushing past his lips. He had to go; he had to go.

            “Will-” they said, but Will wasn’t listening. He was pressed against him before he could truly think, before he could fight against the rush of endorphins that flooded him as his skin met skin, as his heartbeat thudded once, twice. It was dizzying, the sense of utmost relief as he pressed his face into the hollow of his neck, needing something –contact, exposure, relief.

            It was a drug, and it washed over the walls of his mind, leaving him drunk off of the sensation of just what it was to feel sweet, sweet peace. Arms wrapped around him, and god, could it feel any better? Could he feel any more at ease? This thing that lay draped around him, this chemical reaction that made his muscles loosen their tension, made his bones stop grinding against his sinew; he blinked starlight from his eyes, imprints leaving bright lights in his vision.

            It was that thought that prompted him to look up, to blink past the haze that reassured him that everything was going to be alright if he just touched. Shock was a dousing of cold water across his skin, a sharp plummet in his stomach that sent him stumbling back from him, falling over himself where he landed on the floor of the hall, hard.

            “No, no,” he whispered, horrified. No, this wasn’t true; no, this hadn’t happened. In all of his nightmares, in all of his wildest thoughts that ran rampant throughout an imagination that more often than not sought his destruction, he hadn’t thought to consider such a thing, such a fucking thing that had less than a one percent chance of occurring:

            A staggered connection.

            Hannibal Lecter was his soulmate.

-

            “Dr. Chilton, thank you for taking the time to speak to me.”

            “No trouble at all; this is a messy business, as I’m sure you know,” Frederick replied. He didn’t often like to play the martyr; it stemmed from an issue that he had with pride, according to the psychiatric evaluation he’d done on himself years before. “I have agents swarming my establishment, investigations on all of my employees, bad press…I found a reporter in one of my laundry bins, trying to hide from security.”

            “Well, with three people of your employ aiding Hannibal Lecter in his current killing sprees, we have to take precautions,” Jack replied.

            “Three?” Frederick sniffed.

            “Three,” Jack affirmed. Frederick often equivalated him to that of a bull dog because of his mannerisms. He could almost hear him setting his jaw as he continued, “Further information has revealed that a Matthew Brown of your establishment is working with Dr. Lecter.”

            “Matthew Brown?” Frederick said, scalded. “No, no, I haven’t employed him for at least three years, Agent Crawford. You can’t blame me for him.”

            “No one is blaming you for anything,” Jack replied calmly. “What can you tell me about him?”

            Frederick found himself pacing, a certain sort of unease at a question like that. Despite sitting before many a certifiably insane person with a magnifying glass, he didn’t take well to being in what he’d heard his employees call ‘the hot seat’.

            “Dr. Chilton?”

            “Yes, yes,” he said, irritated. “It takes a moment to try and remember someone you fired years ago.”

            “Fired?”

            “Matthew Brown, yes…yes, I fired him.” He nodded, the memories slowly surfacing. “He had a habit of speaking to the patients. It wasn’t anything altogether horrible, but it is a rule here. I don’t like the orderlies getting too friendly with the patients; it breeds the idea that they could potentially get them a lighter sentencing if they were to become friends, or it could ruin the integrity of the screening procedures for letters and potential gifts that come into my establishment.”

            “Do you know what sort of things he’d say?”

            “Well, that was the problem of it,” Chilton replied, pacing. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but Crawford often made him feel like he had. “He would disable my microphones so that when I played it back, I couldn’t hear anything. Fired him right in front of everyone to set a better tone in my workplace.”

            “Did he speak often with Dr. Lecter?”

            “As often as he did any other.”

            “And there’s no way you could find out the sort of things they discussed?”

            “What is this, years ago he planned some sort of…of heist in order to free Dr. Lecter?” Frederick demanded. “All because I fired him?”

            The silence was long, the sort of silence Frederick liked to do when questioning people that came to his office. He could recognize it as a sort of power play, to see how long the other could hold out before speaking. Seeing his own tactics turned against him was in poor taste, in his opinion. He paused by a window and stared down at another set of agents that made their way up the steps of the hospital, suited and serious.

            “I understand that this is a frustrating thing for you,” Jack said after he supposed an appropriate amount of time had passed. “I’m just trying to do what you’re trying to do.”

            “Oh, are you?”

            “Help people as best as I can. Hell, we get Lecter fast enough, I may be able to persuade the courts that he’s still best suited locked up behind your bars rather than someone else’s.”

            “He is best locked up behind my bars, Agent Crawford! If it hadn’t been for-”

            “Thank you for the information regarding Mr. Brown. I’ll call you if I have anything else.”

            “Now wait just a moment! You’re saying that-”

            He wouldn’t be able to confirm what Crawford was saying, though. The call disconnected, and he hung up the phone, grinding his teeth. It was a bad habit, and sooner or later he’d have to do something about it, but there they were. There they were, and his hospital was under enough suspicion that he’d be lucky to get a borderline personality disorder sent to his doors, let alone anyone as rare as Lecter after this was through.

            A troubling state of affairs, indeed.

            He was musing and scowling out of his window at nothing in particular when there was a knock at his door.

            “Come in,” he said dismally.

            He turned around, and a man and woman entered the room, steps in sync. Her fair hair and pale eyes were a stark contrast to the man’s short, buzzed hair and darker skin tone, but from head to toe they were dressed the exact same. Chilton couldn’t have said if it was the eerie, blank expressions, or if it was the knowing look they gave one another, but it set his teeth on edge. He found himself grinding his teeth again despite the ache in his jaw, and it took far too long for him to relax, shoulders rolling forward then back. He thought their pattern and distinction odd, but no comment was made. If he wanted Lecter back in his cell, he’d have to play nice with the FBI.

            “I just got off of the phone with your boss,” he said by way of greeting.

            The man tilted his head slightly, his dark eyes fixated on Chilton with the sort of intensity that made Chilton nervous. His lip curled in retaliation, and his spine stiffened.

            “I don’t think you have,” the man said. He had a smooth sort of speech, the hint of a musician’s tremor to the words.

            “Haven’t I? Has the FBI sent another department? How many people are you going to have crawling through my work space?” Chilton demanded. The woman closed the door behind her, her head tilted as she surveyed Chilton from head to toe.

            “Is he what you thought?” she asked the man.

            “Oh, yes,” the man said lightly. “Exactly as he was described.”

            “Now see here, I want to speak with your boss! The FBI can’t send people left and right as they like, coming here and interrupting what-”

            “Do you want to speak with him?” the man asked.

            “Wh-what?” His interruption ruined Frederick’s tirade, muddled the whole thing. He’d had a couple of clever quips to toss in, just to really dig it to him.

            “Do you want to speak with him?” the man repeated, just as calm as before.

            “…Yes, in fact, I do.”

            The man produced a satellite phone, which was odd enough in Frederick’s humble opinion, but he made no comment on it.

            “It’s dialing,” the man assured him.

            “After I’m off the phone, I want to see your credentials,” Frederick muttered, and he put the phone to his ear.

            “Good afternoon, Dr. Chilton,” their boss said.

            His voice after all this time was chilling, sent an icy pain down his spine that froze him in place. It wasn’t so much that it had been a long time since hearing it, but rather what the ramifications were of his hearing. His eyes, wide with shock –and dare he admit a little bit of fear? –bounced from the woman to the man, and he managed to shuffle away from them, shaking his head.

            “No…” he managed, which wasn’t at all what he wanted to say. ‘Help’ would have been nice; perhaps a ‘someone call the police’ could have also sufficed, if he could have yelled. They were blocking the door, though, and he wasn’t the sort to leap from a three-story window just to try and save himself.

            “Oh, yes,” Hannibal Lecter said pleasantly. “Before you, you see two of my associates, I’m sure.”

            “…Yes,” Chilton said faintly. He broke out into a sweat, gaze bouncing between the two of them.

            “That is Tobias Budge, a lovely musician from the Baltimore Symphony, as well as Maggie Kester.” There was a pause, and one thing that Frederick hated most of all was Dr. Lecter’s ability to wield pauses far better than Frederick himself could. “You remember Mr. Kester, don’t you? Rick Kester?”

            Chilton’s knees buckled.

            He caught himself, though, and he leaned back against the wall as he stared at the woman and the man, side-by-side and perfectly calm. “Yes…” he managed, a break in his voice. “Y-yes,” he said, a bit stronger. “I remember.”

            “I found Tobias after he shoved the neck of a cello down a man’s throat to try and play his vocal chords,” Hannibal said. “And Maggie all but tracked me down through Francis Dolarhyde. She’s resourceful. The agent that brought her husband to you –you remember that agent, yes? –she killed by placing a magnet on his pacemaker. He had a bad heart.”

            “I don’t know where you are, Hannibal,” Frederick said, swallowing down the terror clawing its way up his throat. “I don’t know where you are, I couldn’t possibly…”

            “A long time ago, Dr. Chilton, I informed you that if I should ever manage to be released from your institution, I’d never forget you. You laughed and informed me that there was no such likelihood, seeing as how you held the key to my future.” There was a pause that oozed bitter delight. “Do you recall?”

            Frederick certainly recalled. He didn’t feel quite up to acknowledging it, though.

            “I’d hate to not keep my promises though, even after my release. I think it’d be quite discourteous of me. As I’m unable to personally sit down and catch up, seeing as how I’m currently busy, Mr. Budge and Ms. Kester were more than happy to come by.”

            “Dr. Lecter, really, you don’t have to-”

            “Oh, but I do, Dr. Chilton. I keep my promises, however I may.”

            The line went dead. There was a prolonged pause; Chilton was quite familiar with pauses and just how varied they could be. He used them far too much in his work, or so the critics said. There were some pauses used to illicit guilt. There were some pauses used to test people, to wait out their impatience until they couldn’t keep quiet any longer. Some pauses were used to deliver a particularly good jab against colleagues that didn’t understand his genius. There were some pauses when Chilton struggled to come up with something that fit the narrative of what his diagnosis was on an inmate –those pauses were especially troublesome for him and kept him awake late at night. Dr. Bloom informed him that he had those sorts of pauses all wrong, although he humbly thought otherwise.

            This was a pause of resignation, though. It was a stalling sort of pause, the kind when one realizes just the sort of situation they’re in right before everything falls to pieces. He could see this pause in all of its wretched glory, see it for what it was and what it meant for him. Chilton numbly hung up and passed the phone back to Tobias Budge’s patient and waiting hand.

            “It’s so nice to finally meet you in person. When you testified to have my husband killed by lethal injection, I thought a meeting was long overdue,” Maggie gushed. She had matching brown eyes, flat and soulless despite her eager tone. “Let’s sit down and chat.”

-

            Freddie Lounds’ foot sunk into a particularly soft spot in the ground, and she cursed.

            She was only a mile or two into the woods, but it felt like an eternity. Her car was parked as discreetly as she could get it on a turnabout, and there was a moment of hesitation where she’d debated the honest pros and cons of just going back to it and calling the cops. She wasn’t cut out for hiking through the woods towards the potential hiding place of a den of serial killers. She was a writer, for God’s sake, not some woodsy folk.

            Investigative journalism and all. If Jack Crawford wasn’t going to play nice, Freddie Lounds figured that she in no way owed him anything that would help him catch Clark Ingram. He said find Will Graham, and she’d find Will Graham. Maybe get some kind of award for being the only one smart enough to hunt down the man that’d stuck an FBI agent with a stiletto with his partner not even fifty feet away. Jack Crawford was so concerned with sticking it to Lecter that he was missing the piss in the proverbial pie.

            It probably said something about her that she was more concerned with her story and her career than helping anyone -she often wondered if that made her a psychopath to some degree, that her successes were more important than their lives. As she picked her way around a particularly muddy patch near a fallen tree, she wondered at her gall, that she’d rather go about this the hard way than just call Crawford and tell him she’d found Ingram. Pride. There was a whole lot of pride involved.

            Maybe not a psychopath, but certainly a narcissist. She wanted the glory, and it’d be a damn good feeling to shove it in his face when she called him from the safety of her car with Will Graham in tow. ‘Found your guy,’ she’d say casually. Found him and I didn’t have to incarcerate someone else before I got to him.

            Her readers would just love that.

            She wasn’t quite sure about the girl that’d accompanied him, though. She didn’t seem the murdering sort -she had an innocent, mom-did-drugs-and-I-suffered sort of expression. Freddie couldn’t discount her, though; it was the innocent ones you had to look out for. There was something about her that was utterly recognizable, but Freddie couldn’t put a finger on it. Emma. Clark Ingram had called her Emma. Something to table later, after she’d saved the day.

            Hannibal Lecter had murdered at least fourteen people while aiding others in therapy, after all. You couldn’t discount the innocent ones.

            She wondered if Will Graham would allow a photo op of her saving him when the time came. Things to think about later, when she wasn’t sidling around a tree in order to avoid slipping down an unpleasantly muddy hill.

-

            Lloyd was woken abruptly by his phone vibrating off of the nightstand and onto the floor. Drug-induced sleep was difficult to wake from; it left thick dust over his thoughts and made his throat hoarse. He groaned, shifted, and tried to turn just enough to scoop his phone up. The wound burned in anger, and he triumphantly grabbed it before collapsing back into bed, sighing. He hurt. A lot.

            “What do you have?” he asked, turning the speaker phone on.

            “You’re going to want to see this,” Nick said by way of greeting. “I found it.”

            The laptop was far easier to reach. He kept it just to the side of him while he slept, for ease of access in case he woke with a hunch. He turned the brightness down as it started up and burned his eyes. The e-mail loaded, and he clicked the prompted link with a yawn.

            “I gotta say, these guys have a flare for the dramatic,” said Nick as Lloyd waited for it to load. “I think this is more theatrics than genuine belief, but maybe that’s just me trying to normalize these weirdos. Either way, it’s wild.”

            The page loaded to a black screen with red ink dripping from the top of the page to the bottom. Lloyd blinked lazily and stared at it, thinking of how his blood had looked dripping onto the pavement. The thought hadn’t come to him before; trauma, most likely, that his mind had repressed it until now. He’d laid there, pressed on top of the assailant, before someone turned him onto his back. His blood had dripped to the pavement much like it did on the webpage, and he wondered just who’d designed it to get the vision oh-so very right.

            “How’d you find it?” he asked. His voice was rough, gravel across concrete. He waved his mouse over the screen before it shifted from an arrow to a pointing finger on a particularly plain spot, and he clicked the apparent link curiously.

            “A bit of this and that. Say, I got a date lined up with a girl from that soulmate site. Wish me luck, right? They claim I’ll find ‘the one’ with just one date, but it can’t be that easy. I need to make a real experiment of this.”

            “Nick,” Lloyd cut in.

            “I mean, if she’s the one then I won’t complain, you know? Her photo was cute and all, but I’m not going to get too excited. It’s easy to get your hopes up, I’m sure, but-”

            “Good luck with the date –now tell me about how you found this place.”

            “You don’t really want to know, do you? Because if you do, I’m actually really fucking proud of it, but it’s kind of like ‘how do I cut this down to laymen’s terms so that you-”

            “You’re right,” Lloyd cut in irritably, waiting for the screen to load. “I don’t really want to know.”

            “I figured. So, you find the link yet?”

            Lloyd hummed an assent.

            “Here’s where it gets good, right? Has it loaded?”

            “It’s loading.”

            Nick’s excitement bled into the earpiece. “Guess what, it won’t ever load. It’s a dummy link. It makes you think that you’re going to, like, the next step, but then you don’t. You just look at this seventh-grade emo site for sad kids for ages and it never loads.”

            “So how’d you get in?”

            “Looks like these guys are basically recruiting those with a little bit of tech smarts. Smart on their part. They don’t just want fangirls, they want some real shit. If you basically hack into the interface –sounds more complex than it is, trust me –it pops up with a chat box that you can send a message to them through. They get back to you pretty quickly.”

            Lloyd froze, staring at the hourglass loading icon as it continued to turn and turn and turn. “I’m…guessing you did exactly that.”

            “Hell yeah,” Nick said with a laugh. “Guess who I’m talking to right now?”

            Lloyd’s blood went cold. “Who, Nick?”

            “Agent Francis-Fucking-Dolarhyde, that’s who,” Nick crowed. “I’m tracking their IP right now. I’ll send the information to Crawford once I find them. The little fucker’s trying to give me the slip, but I’m good. I’m damn good.”

            “Nick, do not engage with them,” Lloyd said, and he pulled himself to a sitting position with a wince. “You think he’s not tracking you and looking into your background as you try to find him? He was an actual FBI agent, not one of your tech buddies that you play Dungeons and Dragons with on Roll20.”

            “That’s a really sharp crowd, Uncle Lloyd,” Nick said off-handedly. “Don’t knock them just because one of them keeps playing a Halfling that dies every other session.”

            “Nick, I’m serious, don’t-”

            “Besides, you wanted my help, right? He won’t find me. I’ve got no trail that can be tracked, and this will show the FBI just how to find these ass holes. I’m helping you out, remember? That’s my job? That’s what you got ahold of me for?”

            “This isn’t one of your games that you can talk yourself out of if you get in too deep. One mistake, and you’re dead. Do you hear me? In the real world, to lose means that you die.”

            “I won’t lose. Don’t worry.” Nick was miffed; it sounded through on the speaker as he let out a curt huff of breath. “You’re welcome, by the way. I’ll call with more information.”

            “Nick-”

            He hung up, and Lloyd cursed, glaring at the screen that kept dripping blood with slow, lazy ease. A lot of animations made blood look odd, just different enough that no one took it seriously. They made it ooze rather than spread like water, reaching and grasping with all intents of a liquid set free from a container.

            Liquid spreads to meet the space in which it rests. In a cup, it is a cup shape. In a box, it is a box shape, his eighth grade science teacher said.

            He stared at the blood dripping, and he nodded to himself as he bookmarked, then exited the browser. Whoever made the animation certainly knew what it was like to see blood spilt. They had a perfect, genuine understanding of just what that looked like, had seen it often enough to know.

            And Nick was barreling straight to them.

            Oh, good!