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Where the Wicked Walk

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Chapter 22:

            Will paced the floors of Dr. Lecter’s office with a frightful vengeance.

            Dr. Lecter never questioned his stress tics, as busy and fidgety as they were. When agitated, he had a habit of chewing on his lips and cheeks so hard they bled. When he was afraid, he was either aggressive, or he paced to release the tension. Hands that needed to keep busy couldn’t in an office like Lecter’s, so they tapped on his hips. Will appreciated that no matter how he tried to gain control of his emotions, Dr. Lecter merely observed and never passed judgement.

            “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked after a painful five minutes of watching Will pace from the safety of his chair.

            Will stopped his pacing and glared at the bookcase to the side that housed Chaucer and Thorough. “I…I saw someone’s eyes,” he admitted, and God, that made it true. He rubbed at his eyes, like he could scrub away the potential imprint they’d made on him. “I’m so careful about it, but I saw theirs. I saw them.”

            “We’ve only briefly spoken about your aversion to eye contact, but this seems to stem towards something more than just ‘eyes are distracting,” Dr. Lecter noted.

            “What if we become soulmates? What if they’re stuck with me? What if I…I can’t…” He paused and fumed at a painting on the wall, like it was to blame for his misfortune. He wanted to rip it apart, feel the strips of threads from the canvas grate against his fingertips.

            “Your word choice is astounding, Will. ‘What if they’re stuck with me?’”

            “Soulmates take away your choice, Dr. Lecter,” Will said impatiently. He turned away from the bookcase and painting so that he could better emphasize his words. “I’m only about a year into schooling, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that. The fact that your own body takes away your choice, the chemicals in your mind calming you in their presence; whether you want to or not, every aspect of yourself is suddenly drawn to them.”

            “That sounds a lot like general attraction.”

            “General attraction doesn’t give you anxiety or genuine pain when you’re too far apart,” Will snapped. “It doesn’t make you feel their pain like it was your own, consume you to the point that at the first physical connection after waking, you all but fuck one another to try and get the urges in your skin to stop.”

            “Were your parents soulmates, Will?” Hannibal asked.

            Will jerked back as though he’d been struck, and he stared at Hannibal with a genuine expression of horror.

            “It’s not an unfair question,” he added, tracking Will’s slightest movements.

            “…It’s not,” Will agreed. He fumbled with words that lodged in his throat, and he coughed to dispel the pressure. “…They were.”

            “You don’t talk about your mother. We’ve talked about your father, but not your mother.”

            “My father’s dead,” Will said, and he’d paid monthly therapy bills for about a year in order to say that without having some sort of anxiety attack or dissociative episode attached to the fact. “My mother…might as well be.”

            “She’s not in the picture?”

            “She hasn’t been since I was a kid.”

            “What do you remember of her?”

            Will began pacing again.

            “…Questions about mom? I’m feeling…a little cliché,” he said to the vase near the wall. Dr. Lecter didn’t entertain a reply. He waited, as he always did while Will wrestled with the indecision of whether or not to share. He was a patient man. Will sometimes felt guilty that he made him wait so damn much. “…I’d lay on the chaise and cry a bit if I could sit still,” he tacked on needlessly.

            “You can do as you like, as you know,” Hannibal replied, amused. “This is your hour, Will.”

            “I don’t remember much.” He sat after a long, delayed silence. “I…remember that we had the same hair. Her hair, his eyes, her skin tone, his chin. I was comprised of parts from the two of them equally.

            “She had one blue eye, one hazel. When she wore certain colors, they almost looked the same. She left a lot, and I remember dad staring out of the window. He said she’d come back. Then she would, and he’d smile again. Then one time, she didn’t.”

            “Where would she go?”

            “Not too far, since he wasn’t in pain. I didn’t realize distance was a correlation until one day he was popping pain killers to try and make it stop. Then he got a prescription from the doctor so that the distance was numbed. Then when we ran out of money and had to move, he just found a way to get used to it.”

            “So your earliest memory regarding soulmates was the many ways in which it could go wrong,” Hannibal observed kindly.

            Will nodded as he pivoted and crossed the room once more; the steady thudding of his shoes on the floor was cathartic, calming. “Yes.”

            “You watched your father for years afterwards, seeing nothing but his pain and his resilience.”

            “Yes.”

            “So it stems closer to you fearing the reality of not being entirely in control,” Dr. lecter noted. In the quiet of the office, the only other noise was the clock ticking. It beat with the pulse just behind Will’s eye, and he turned from his pacing to stare at Hannibal with something akin to shame.

            “…My perceptions of people are already skewed due to…you know,” Will said. His shoulder twitched into a shrug.

            “Your empathy disorder.”

            “Yes.” He sighed, raking fingers through his hair. “ The idea of…connecting so much with someone that even as I take on aspects of who they are, they become the earth beneath my feet, the air I breathe…doesn’t that terrify you, Dr. Lecter? That simply by existing, they…change you?”

            “Yes,” Hannibal agreed. “You and I are just alike. We don’t enjoy the prospect of someone having the sort of effect on us that would change the essence of who we are.”

            “You don’t…bleed into people the way that I do,” Will said, staring at him. He focused on the spot just below one eye, where the cheekbone gave him the appearance of something not altogether human. “I have a hard time believing that anyone could change you.”

            “Some people, under the right elements.” He smiled, all canines. “I’ve certainly adapted to the needs of my patients.”

            Will frowned. “Did you have to adapt your therapy style to me?”

            “Would you want to know if I did?”

            “Yes.”

            Hannibal considered him, then nodded. “I did. I have always been able to sense a desperate need from you to be honest with yourself; however, there is a resistance you have in sharing such details that would ultimately help you. You have to stop being your own enemy.”

            Will sat down and stared at him, perched just on the end of his chair. “How…did you adapt to me?”

            Hannibal inched closer in his chair as well and rested his elbows on his knees. “You have a natural inclination to view the world as your enemy because of what it has the ability to do. I adapted my therapy so that you would see that out of any other place in the entire world, this was the one safe space in which you didn’t have to have your defenses up.”

            “You’d do that with everyone,” Will protested.

            “This is a safe place for everyone, yes,” he agreed. “But when you came to me and spoke of delusions of blood on your hands, dreams where you indulged in dark aspects of human nature, you spoke with the expectation of someone waiting for judgement.”

            “I’ve been told that some of my thoughts aren’t exactly…tasteful.”

            “Rather than simply assure you that your thoughts are valid, I shared my own with you, too.”

            Will laughed a little, humorlessly. “Do you not share a lot of yourself, Dr. Lecter? Don’t you open up to people?”

            “I’ve certainly opened up to my therapist,” Hannibal assured him. “And I’ve made a habit of opening up to you. You could refer to it as a form of quid pro quo: you’ve shared your secrets with me, so I have shared aspects of myself with you.”

            “Quid pro quo,” Will repeated, and he smiled crookedly. “I’ve given aspects of myself to you, so you gave me some in turn. I think that I can work with that.”

-

            The door didn’t lock.

            That hadn’t stopped him from barring it with a dresser.

            If the stitches in his side hadn’t threatened to rip, he’d have shoved the fucking bed there, too.

            They hadn’t had time to remove the bloodstains from the wood, darkened as it was, but someone had thankfully gotten rid of the rug. Will stared at the spot where Matthew Brown died, and he tried to focus on his breathing.

            Breathe in. Breathe out.

            His blood burned, whispered with a need that urged him to go just down the stairs where he knew Lecter was waiting for him, ever-so-patiently. He dug nails into the skin of his wrist and dragged, focusing on the pain of it rather than the whisper in his ear that said that if he just let him in, everything would be alright.

            He didn’t move. He couldn’t move. He wouldn’t move.

            The mirror above the dresser was shattered. Shards of it lay across the floor, scattered and disorganized pieces that lay every which way. The light from the lamp bounced from piece to piece, leaping and dancing about in a dour yellow glow. His fingers drummed listlessly across the surface of one, trying to resist the urge to stab it into his eye.

            What have you done to your eyes, Will? What have you done to your eyes?

            It was like a drug, he knew, the need to see him. It was a drug, a desperation of two halves to become whole, to balance the chemicals that churned within him that wanted, needed to be with him, needed to quiet the storm within that ached, ached worse than anything he’d ever felt before.

            He’d survived holding his father as he died. He could survive this. He could do this.

            He could do this.

            He looked down to the mirror shard, caught the colors of his eyes. One blue, the other maroon.

            “No,” he said calmly, staring at the fractured image. “No.”

            This was not the darkened halls of his mind, though, where doors opened to nightmares that he fought to contain. His ribs ached, his muscles ached, his eyes ached, and there was far too much of it that was real for this to be one of his dreams, something where he’d wake with a start in his bed, sweating but ultimately alright.

            Hold on, Jack had urged him on the phone, helpless as he was to help. Just hold on.

            He wrapped his hand around the oblong shape of the mirror shard and gripped tight enough to break skin. It sliced smooth through the first layer, brought beads of blood to dot along his skin. Did Lecter feel that? Could he feel it, waiting just forty feet away from him? What else could Will make him feel, now that they were irreversibly connected in a way that’d mark him forever?

            “No,” he growled, and he brought the shard violently to his eye.

            No.

-

            Beverly had to work especially hard to get away from Saul.

            It wasn’t so much that he was terrible to be around; in truth, he was a decent sort of person. He told cheesy jokes, he enjoyed classic rock, and he was respectful of the people around him.

            If she’d found him as her soulmate under any other circumstance, Beverly Katz knew that she could be happy with him.

            As she ducked under a low-hanging branch, satellite phone to her ear, she ruminated on that sour, honest truth: this was not a circumstance in which she could be happy.

            “It’s bad,” she said when they connected her to her boss. “I know you wanted to wait until the rest of the followers showed up to the house, sir, but I don’t think we can.”

            “And why’s that?”

            She sighed and skirted around a tree, gaze leaping around the ever shifting leaves. “Because, sir, Will Graham’s eyes changed.”

            Agent Hoff of the CIA let out a low, aggravated curse.

            “You’re sure?”

            “Saw it myself. One of the followers attacked him in the middle of the night, and Graham killed him in self-defense. Lecter swooped in, stared him down, and Graham woke up with a mismatched pair.”

            Hoff let out another curse, this one particularly exotic. “What’s their next move?”

            “They’re going to Crawford’s next, sir. They might postpone for a day now that Graham’s eyes have changed, though.” She paused beside a stout oak that still clung to his leaves. “Should I take out Ingram when he arrives? Saul got a call that from the transporter that he’s going to be here soon. She’s been driving him in circles because Lecter didn’t give the okay yet for him to arrive.”

            “Only if it can be discreet, Katz,” Hoff said. “Can you make it look like one of the others got their hands on him?”

            “There are a few teenage girls here that he may try to grab. I could make it look like a disgruntled father.”

            “Discreet.”

            “I’ve been discreet,” she shot back. “What do I do with Graham? Now that his eyes have changed, I’m worried that-”

            “I’ve got an idea,” a woman said, dropping down from the tree.

            The phone was dropped, and Katz was on the woman before she could even think to hesitate, before anything more than instinct and training could take hold. She’d been seen. She’d been heard.

            She had her gun to the woman’s temple and was prepared to shoot when she recognized just who it was.

            “…Are you Freddie Lounds?” she hissed.

            “Are you going to shoot an innocent civilian, Agent Katz?” Lounds asked. Despite being pinned from torso to ankles, she looked remarkably calm. Rumpled and muddied, but calm.

            “What the hell are you doing out here?” Beverly demanded.

            “Same thing as you, I’d imagine. Saving Will Graham, finding the nest of killers –only, your face is plastered over every single TV across the nation as one of the top five wanted in conjunction with Lecter’s escape.”

            After a brief moment of hesitation, Beverly clicked the safety back on with a muted snap!

            “Do you understand how utterly stupid you sound right now?” Beverly wondered. “How dangerous this is?”

            “Yes, the patrols out here are unfortunately thorough. I was almost found, and I had to climb that tree and hide out for a few hours. I was thinking about continuing on when I heard you getting patched over to what I assume is your boss back at your HQ.” She shifted once more and glared up at Beverly. “Can I get up, or are you going to hold a gun to me all day?”

            Beverly, after a beat, stood and helped Freddie Lounds to her feet.

            “Ingram should be here,” Freddie said. “They were turning onto a road when I started into the forest miles ago.”

            “How did you find him?” Beverly asked. She didn’t put her gun away, but she didn’t level it at Lounds, either.

            “He left his wallet in a bar, and I followed him.” She preened a bit, fixing her hair and tousling dead leaves from it. “He wasn’t the smartest. Lecter didn’t choose so well for that little venture.”

            “He’s not really a follower, but he was interested in the ‘amnesty’ that Lecter offered,” Beverly replied after a beat. “His test was taking out Agent Zeller.”

            “Is that how Dr. Lecter gets so many of them? He had Agent Dolarhyde track down killers out and about and welcome them to a little group therapy?”

            “That’s classified,” Beverly snapped. “Least of all to a reporter.”

            “Off the record,” Lounds said, and Beverly snorted. “I mean it. I’ve already got a good story going with getting Will Graham out of here alive. You let me help you, and I’ll keep you out of my articles.”

            “It’s a false identity,” Beverly said with an eye roll. “Whatever you put in there about Beverly Katz, it won’t mean much to me.”

            “Katz does seem like an outrageous name,” Freddie admitted.

            They stared at one another, the whistling sound of wind through the trees curling about them. Dead leaves scritched and scratched along one another as they tumbled about, and the sound of a bird chirping off in the distance punctuated Beverly’s long, morose sigh. She was used to slip-ups in this particular job –years before, when she’d first infiltrated Lecter’s following, it seemed that one thing after another had become a dangerously long list of slip-ups.

            “The CIA gathers intelligence,” she said at last.

            “Yes.”

            “When suspects to threats of terror against the government began moving towards Georgia, we took notice. I was to investigate and report back.”

            “Did you think it was a terrorist threat?”

            “We weren’t sure what to think.” Beverly put the gun away and grabbed the phone from a pile of leaves and twigs, closing it. Her boss would have hung up, waiting for another call that everything was clear. She had about ten minutes before he got nervous. “I got here, and although it wasn’t a threat to the government, this is a threat to national security. Lecter had Dolarhyde amassing a cult of killers from all over –not just the US. He’s got a few wanted men from the UK, some from Mexico, three from Canada. Dolarhyde promised them a safe space where the government couldn’t reach them, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s true. Common cell phones are no good out here, this place isn’t on any map, and when they had a guy at the Sherriff’s department, the stretch of road leading here was patrolled by him and him alone.”

            “Why haven’t you done anything yet?”

            “There were about thirty more that are supposed to meet here within a day or so, after the heat lessened. He wanted to strike then.”

            “Are they the thirty or so running around killing Will Graham’s?”

            “Yes.”

            “And Will Graham’s eyes?” Freddie prompted. “I heard you say that his eyes changed?”

            Beverly gave her a nasty, suspicious look.

            “…Off the record.”

            “That doesn’t matter. No, no,” she continued, lifting a hand when Lounds opened her mouth. “The situation is such that we need to pull him. It’s escalating.”

            “Did your boss tell you that?”

            “No, but I can draw my own conclusions. If you’re out here, Lounds, then I need you to get Graham out of here.”

            “You’re not going to do it?” Freddie Lounds asked.

            “I have my own orders, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help.” Orders. Orders like Saul, only Saul hadn’t originally been part of the plan. Beverly hadn’t planned for Saul, but now she had him and it made the years taste bitter. She felt his curiosity for her whereabouts like a warm jacket. Orders like Graham, only becoming remarkably good friends with Graham hadn’t been part of the plan; the look on his face when he realized she was part of Lecter’s clan had been a punch to the gut whose bruise hadn’t healed yet.

            Orders like killing any witnesses, only here was one stupid reporter prepared to get her big break –if she could live to tell about it.

            “Alright, Katz, what’s the plan? How are we getting Graham out of here?” Freddie asked. She had the nose of a journalist, and Katz hated it. She hated how the news spun things, how they fought and griped and pissed and moaned to get a story –whether accurate or not –and she hated people like Lounds most of all because here she was, a civilian in a room with a bomb about to go off, and rather than trying to protect her, Beverly was most certainly going to toss her to the den of wolves.

            If it got Will out safely, though…

            “Alright,” she said, and she planted her hands on her hips. “Alright, this is what we’re going to do.”

-

            Jack stood in Zeller’s hospital room. He wasn’t being of much use, in truth. He stood around the sea of agents, doctors, and security guards whose answers all culminated into one large, horrifying truth:

            No one knew where Zeller was.

Dear Agent Jack Crawford,

            It’s unfortunate that someone else had to bring this letter to you in exchange for Agent Zeller, but as you’re well aware, I’m quite busy at the moment.

            There are not many people in this world that you have a connection to. When I was planning and considering my actions, each step carefully laid out and analyzed, I spent a significant amount of time ruminating on who it is that you tend to spend your time with. Connections fostered through personal experiences and the sharing of like ideas is what brings people together, but imagine my surprise when I realized that you haven’t many people at all.

            There is, first and foremost, your wife. There is your brother, but you are estranged at best. There is Agent Jimmy Price, Agent Zeller, Agent Bowman, and Agent Dolarhyde –that betrayal must have been difficult, I’m sure. Surprisingly, the most intense and painful connection for you is none other than Will Graham, whom I have here at my convenience for awhile yet.

            Agent Dolarhyde works for me. Agent Bowman is deceased, and Will Graham is missing. With Agent Zeller now missing and gravely injured, I wonder at how you’ll tighten your grip on Agent Price. Your wife, to my understanding, is with a select group of people that have her location a secret, even to you. With only one person that holds the knowledge of her coordinates, imagine my surprise, once again, as the intel came to me that it was Agent Zeller who not only knew her security detail, but also her wherabouts?

            Soon enough, you will have nothing left, Agent Crawford. We often spoke of clock hands, the second hand consistently moving time forward without our consent. How small it is compared to the rest of the clock, but how instrumental it is at fostering change and eking away what little you have. Soon enough, there will only be you and me, and what a delightful thought that is.

Do get some rest. My sources say that you are looking rather unwell.

                                                                                                            -Dr. Hannibal Lecter

            He was rereading it a fourth time when Starling snatched it out of his hands and slipped it into a small Ziplock baggy marked ‘evidence’.

            “I’m not done with that,” he snapped.

            “I’m done watching you with that, sir,” Starling replied, and she handed it off to another grunt.

            She wasn’t conventionally pretty, but the sort of pretty that lingered and left imprints on the eyes. As they glared at one another, two starving dogs eyeing a piece of meat, it was surprisingly Crawford that was the first to relax his stance and look away, blinking her fierce glare from his retinas.

            “I wasn’t aware that Zeller knew where they’d relocated my wife,” he said bitterly.

            Starling hummed quietly and looked over to the bed that was neatly made, nary a hair follicle in sight that didn’t belong to someone in the room presently. In profile, her nose was sharp and a deep divot carved a shadow underneath her eye –lack of sleep. Crawford probably had one much like it.

            “Someone had to know. I don’t know, Price doesn’t know; if Zeller’s lucky, he dies from his injuries before he gets to wherever they’re taking him.”

            It was a dark sort of statement to make, but Jack took it in stride –it was the truth, no matter how ugly. He couldn’t quite imagine what Hannibal Lecter would do to him to get that information, but past exploits of the Chesapeake Ripper could give him some form of clarity.

            He hadn’t quite been able to forget what it’d been like to stare at flowers spilling out of the corpse of a man woven into a tree. In his dreams, he imagined himself woven into those branches, his woes caressed with petals that soothed, even as he died. Zeller was going to have a fate much like it if they didn’t get their asses in gear.

            “Still think that Price is not compromised?” he asked. “He purposefully mentions him as one of the few left.”

            Starling shifted her weight and planted her hands on her hips. “You can’t blame Lecter for your circle of loved ones being so small, Jack,” she said quietly. “You’re the kind of man that doesn’t let people in. It’d be easy to pick out those that he could use to jab at you.”

            “Will Graham doesn’t let anyone in, either,” Jack said heavily.

            “All the better for him –if he’s a steel wall, Lecter doesn’t have a chance of trying to change him.”