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Where the Wicked Walk

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Chapter 23:

 

            It was an anonymous tip to a specific address that led Crawford to a nest of the bastards in the end.

            “Can’t trace the e-mail that the tip came on, but they said they tracked the IP address to this place,” Price said in the SUV as the driver cursed and cut through a lane of traffic. They didn’t want sirens in case they spooked him, but they did want to get the drop on the bastard. “Got our best guys trying to see just who it was that did it, but it’s a ghost. Can’t figure who did the good deed.”

            “Maybe one of his own finally turned on him,” Jack grunted. He wouldn’t get his hopes up, though.

            “Was the flight bad?” Price asked sympathetically.

            “Red eye here, no sleep, on the road,” Jack said irritably. “It was a flight.”

            “Well, we wanted to be part of the team that got him, didn’t we?”

            Jack grunted. “We sure this address checks out? It could be a trap.”

            “They checked it out, Jack,” Price assured him. “It’s under the name of one of Chilton’s own ex-employees, and before that it was rented out to someone of the suspiciously familiar name ‘Matthew Brown’ before being bought out from the renting company approximately four years ago.”

            “Hell, it’s three miles from Graham’s old apartment.”

            “Well, it can’t all be about Will Graham,” Price said cheerfully. “If they were this close, it would be a good meeting place for Dolarhyde when he needed to hold Lecter Support Groups. Being close to Graham could be a coincidence.”

            Price tended to think that he was funnier than he was. If Zeller was awake and in full health, he would have bantered with him. If he was still alive, he could have laughed at least. If they knew where he fucking was, they could maybe tell him about Price’s bull shit later. Jack wasn’t quite sure if he was up to the task of bantering, but he was definitely up to the task of rounding up a Matthew Brown -or, at least whoever it was in that house. The ride in the jet had been a long one, his feet stuck to pacing along the floors as he waited: waited on the plane, waited to hear about Will, waited for full autopsy reports, waited for information on the cult. The hardest part of the job, he figured, was the feeling of always waiting –always one step away from where he needed to be.

            Which was exactly where Hannibal wanted him.

            “We’ve got a guy hacking Dolarhyde’s laptop to break the encryption,” Price said, checking his phone when it beeped. “He says that it could still take another day or so.”

            “Do you think Will Graham has another day or so?” Jack wondered.

            “…If what you said about his phone call is true, I think he has time,” Price replied gently.

            Jack wasn’t so sure about that. While time hadn’t given him a perfect understanding of Will Graham, he did know that Will was, first and foremost, a survivor. If he didn’t see a way out, he’d chew off his own tail like a rat stuck in a drain pipe if he thought it’d save him.

            The house that the SUV’s surrounded was a quaint, three story set-up with a white picket fence and a two-car garage. The driver, in his haste, bounced up and over the curb, and Jack gave him a nasty glare as he was thrown about before he hauled ass out of the vehicle.

            While he wasn’t part of the initial rush in, Jack did follow behind with a shotgun and the desire to make someone bleed coursing through his veins. The door was smashed open, and somewhere inside he heard the faint sound of someone yelling.

            Then all hell broke loose.

            In the back yard, there was the sound of a muffled, echoing whumph, then the loud crack of an explosion. Jack had seen explosions before, and this one didn’t quite make his top ten.

            It did, however, create just the right amount of pandemonium.

            Instinct was key in a fight. Jack ran to the side of the house as agents flooded inside, and he kicked the gate to the back yard open, finger on the trigger. Someone ran towards him from the side: bam. They dropped, and he headed towards the fire that was fast spreading across the backyard as agents tried to either detain or drop the dozens of bodies that were rushing every which way. Someone ran for him, knife in hand: bam. They dropped.

            Someone leveled a gun towards one of his men busy handcuffing a suspect: bam. They dropped.

            Bam, bam, bam.

             He wondered if he dropped enough of them, they’d finally stop coming out of the woodwork. Gunshots riddled the air, punctuated by shouting and the sound of crashing and shattering inside of the house. By the time Jack reached the grass where two agents were busy dousing the fire with water from the hose, the sound was slowly quieting around them, a sudden rush of noise that in the wake of the emotion, was left far too quiet in the aftermath. It made his ears ring, and he stared about the chaos that contrasted with the perfect shade of eggshell white on the fence.

            He’d only had to shoot six times. For an extended magazine on a shotgun, that was the perfect amount.

            As he looked back to the many bodies littering the backyard of such a quaint, lovely neighborhood, though, he wondered if it could really be called perfect.

            Wherever you go, death follows.

             “Sir, seven confirmed kills inside, fifteen confirmed in the yard,” one of the men said, holding his gun at port. “Ten living, either wounded or otherwise.”

             “Good job,” Jack said, looking about. “We’ll have a lot to do here.”

            He thought of Will Graham in those moments that haunted his dreams. No one often liked to think about what it felt like to almost die, but Jack relived it often. Shock and post-traumatic-stress gave the memory an odd distortion that made thinking on it oftentimes painful and unclear, but one thing that he always remembered clearly was the expression on Will’s face as he tried to help Jack hang onto the tenuous threads of life. His eyes, eyes that always seemed so afraid, were impossibly wide, and the sounds of his rasping breathing were nails dragging down his back soaked with sweat. Bella often woke him from nightmares where all Jack could hear was the sound of Will’s breathing.

            When he’d recounted the scene to the prosecuting attorney, they recorded it so that Will could recite it word-for-word on the stand. Stress ultimately trashed that plan, but they’d tried.

            God almighty, how they’d tried.

            “There was…blood,” he said, and he rubbed his eyelids roughly, knocking his glasses askew. “I…I looked around, and all that I could think was…there was too much blood. The human body contains maybe a little over ten pints of blood, and even if paramedics got there, would he even live? I could…feel him dying inside of my own skin. Every heartbeat…I thought, I’m going to have to feel someone else die in my arms, too. First my dad, now this man…and Hannibal Lecter did that. He…he did that.”

            “Three injured agents inside, none outside,” the agent continued. It pulled Jack from his thoughts like one removed their foot from a particularly stubborn mud hole –first slow, then all at once. “Ambulances inbound for retrieval. The explosion was from a crude bomb, looks like. Bomb squad will take a look and report back.”

            “…Good job,” Jack said again, hollowly. Looking about at the bodies caught unawares, he wondered what Will would think if he had to see so many bodies. So much blood.

            How does it feel?

-

            It was the pain that ultimately forced Hannibal to break through the barricade Will had made in front of the door.  

            Sitting there, cupped hands pooling with blood, Will tried to muffle the pained sounds. They issued past his lips like curt, short reports of a small caliber gun, and he was hauled to his feet with utmost care.

            He’d missed his eye, but he got his temple quite nicely. The twist of it curled along his cheekbone and down to his jaw. Hannibal looked it over, smeared his thumb through the blood, then sighed.

            “Oh, Will,” he murmured.

            Will held still, catching the drips that slid down his chin. His stomach roiled unpleasantly, even as there was a measure of peace at his presence, at the touch of his fingers that sent tendrils of warmth and assurance through his skin to his very cells.

            He wondered where the mirror shard was, and if he’d have enough time to grab it before Hannibal stopped him.

            “Don’t,” Hannibal murmured, still cradling his cheek. Warm. Assuring. “I can sense your intentions, Will. Don’t.”

             Will didn’t. His hands were still cupped with blood.

             He was led downstairs with the sort of care one gave delicate china; his ribs ached, and when he exhaled sharply, the side of his face ached. In that moment, the gentle touch of Hannibal’s hand on his elbow was the only respite, and even so it was a horrific one at that.

            What did he do to your eyes, Will?

            People idly went about their business in the hall, although their motions and intentions stumbled to a stop when they saw just who Hannibal was walking with. Their stares were pinpricks, and it made Will’s lips twist to a snarl, eager to bite and snap.

            “He’s…”

            “Dr. Lecter truly…”

            “What I wouldn’t give for…”

            “You’re blessed,” someone said at his side, and they touched his shoulder. Will didn’t stop to think; he grabbed them by the front of their shirt and slammed them into the wall, the sharp crack of it echoing down the hall. He felt everything in a slow, sluggish motion; the gaping mouths widened, the pool of blood that began its eager descent to the floor between them. The whispers stuttered to a stop, stunned, and the person before him froze, a deer in headlights.

            His blood splashed and spattered at their feet, and his fingers were slick with it. The seconds passed with harsh presses of his pulse at his neck, and their stare of horror and shock sunk deep beneath his skin like a bad tattoo. They were afraid of him. He’d made someone afraid.

            “Don’t fucking touch me,” he snarled, glaring at them. “If any of you people touch me again, I’ll kill you.”

            “I’m sorry, sir,” they whispered. “I won’t touch you again.”

            Their deference to him, coupled with their obvious admiration, blistered and smarted. After a harsh, slow breath, Will nodded in agreement and let them go, flexing his fingers. Bloodstained hands smoothed the rumpled fabric of their clothing, like he could somehow erase his actions, and he nodded again.

            “Come along, Will,” Hannibal coaxed lightly, and Will turned away from them, trying desperately to ignore the staring. He rubbed at the stiff, sour expression at his mouth, then blanched at the metallic smell that clung to his nose. He’d smeared his face with blood.

            Hannibal led him to the study where he was deposited at the small table. He stared down at his hands, his violent, capable hands. When Hannibal drew away from him to fetch a medic kit, they yearned to reach out and grab him.

            He tried to stomp those urges deep, deep down. His heartbeat stamped soulmate, soulmate, soulmate into his bones.

            “You’re in shock,” Hannibal said lightly, returning. He knelt beside Will to begin cleaning the wound. “And you tried to stab your eye out. You are sometimes prone to internalizing and punishing yourself that way, but you’ve never displayed an outward physical attack.”

             “I don’t want it,” Will murmured. “I don’t want your eye.”

            “Some aspect of you did,” Hannibal replied evenly.

            “No, you…set the foundations that would do this to me. You made this happen to me.”

            “I certainly didn’t make you kill Matthew Brown,” Hannibal returned. “He tried to kill you because of the half-connection born between the two of you, and you refused to let him.”

            “No, you…you encouraged it,” said Will, and he pressed his palms to the top of his pants, trying to rub the blood off of them. If he pushed too hard, would it instead sink beneath his skin rather than wipe away? At least he could say that this was his blood this time, not someone else’s. He let out a choking, rasping laugh. “We’re not the same; we only connected because you forced a situation in which the similarities of our minds would entwine. I’d remind you that there are laws against that, but…”

            The sudden antiseptic against his wound stung and made his eyes water profusely. He jerked away from Hannibal and stood in order to pace the length of the office, shaking hands rubbing roughly against his thighs, like he could wipe away the traces of what it’d felt like to have a person’s dead weight rest against his collarbone.

            “If it was just self-defense, Will, do you suppose that we’d have connected?” Hannibal wondered. His light, pressing tone was belied by the warm, pleased sensation of his contentment that Will could feel like a second skin. Content. Despite everything, the bastard was content with what was happening.

            But of course; he’d managed to give Will his eye.

            “There could have been many things that, in your mind, were perceived as self-defense when you killed. I don’t know your history, your…mind.” He paused and swallowed down the rush of far too much spit in his mouth. He wanted to throw up.

            “There is some kinship in it, though,” Hannibal said genially. “Say as you like, but there had to have been some part of you that –in realizing it was Matthew Brown you’d killed –took pleasure in seeing his death.”

            Will stopped mid-step at that, stung. Blood dripped lazily from his chin, a slow and staggered sort of thing as it clotted and dried. Standing calmly by the table, Hannibal regarded him with a hooded gaze and a crafty smile, and Will thought of the bedtime stories his father told, the ones where the heroes were sometimes lost in their search for glory and gold.

            “If they were pure, they’d have lived.” His father had said. “People like to speak of the pure-hearted ones, but they don’t tell of the many that died before the hero came, the ones that weren’t so pure. The ones that ultimately lost everything.”

            “…I enjoyed seeing Matthew Brown dead,” Will confessed, staring at Hannibal. “If anything, because it meant that there was one less of your cult left in this world.”

            “Did you take pleasure in the way that he died?”

            Yes.

            “…Killing him felt righteous,” Will replied. It scalded.

            “You know, I marvel at that,” Hannibal said, and he abandoned the medic kit in favor of pouring two cups of tea for them. When he offered one to Will, Will shied from it and folded his arms across his chest tightly. “You say, and you have said, ‘I’m already dead.’ I recall that moment in the court room, when you spoke to me and me alone. ‘I’m already dead,’ you said, as though no matter what your next step was, what your future steps were, you were ultimately branded by my actions. The moment you saved Jack, you knew there was a time limit over your head. I thought of that, as I paced the confines of my cell. ‘I’m already dead.’ Yet still you would kill each and every person in this house if it meant that you’d survive it.” 

             “How many nights did you lie awake, wishing fervently you’d just killed me instead?” Will sneered. 

            Hannibal stalked towards him, and the close proximity made him freeze, every inch of skin suddenly far too aware of how close he was. Now would be a good time to touch, his body whispered, betraying him. He locked his muscles, glaring. He swayed forward; he swayed back.

            “You may not feel it as I feel it, but this…this is an experience I have never enjoyed before, Will,” Hannibal murmured. That close, he smelled of alcohol wipes and sandalwood. “Perhaps there were times when a bout of impatience struck me as distinctly troublesome, but make no mistake; this was a plan that I long ago created that I knew one day would come to fruition.” 

           “So much so that you decided that be damned my own wants and dreams, yours were more important.” 

           “You who once sat in an office much like this and confessed to me that sometimes you dreamed of what it would be to not feel so conflicted at all times, to feel as though you didn’t always have to fight a battle in your own mind; can you say that this is so horrible?” Hannibal taunted. “Ever since your father died, you felt that you were dead, too. Tell me, Will: Was killing Matthew Brown so horrible because it really felt so good? Because for once in your life, you actually felt alive?” 

            “Shut up,” Will snarled. 

            “In that moment when instinct and adrenaline were your humble guides, when you didn’t have to stop long enough to remember just who it was inside of your skin, was it truly so horrible to not struggle with the same conflicts that you’ve always struggled against?”

            “I said shut up, Hannibal.”

            “Do you mean to tell me that you’d much rather live listlessly, a shell of your true potential?” Hannibal pressed. 

            “Shut up.” 

            “Because if that is true, then your father pouring his heart, soul, and time into you was a waste. If what you’ve said about him is remotely accurate, dear Will, dare I say that he’d be ashamed to see the conditions in which you’re willing to live, all the while I’m simply trying to help you stop warring inside of yourself and simply come to accept and love who you really are.” 

            Will wasn’t quite sure where his thoughts leapt, but before he could quite consider them, his entire body was swinging into a punch that sent Hannibal flying back, a satisfying crack snapping through the room with the speed of whiplash. His entire arm sang with it, his bones creaking as a sharp sting made his knuckles bitch with a vengeance, and the aftershock of it brought him stumbling a few steps forward where he caught himself against the back of a chair. 

            Hannibal lay sprawled on the ground for several, painfully long seconds. 

            An odd, wheezing snarl rumbled along the tense undertones of the room, and it took several moments for Will to realize that it was the sound of his breathing. His cheek and jaw smarted as though he were the one to have been hit, and a distant voice in the back of his mind whispered their pain is your pain. Their joy is your joy. He’s your soulmate, Will.

            Hannibal stood and adjusted his suitcoat casually, like this was an everyday sort of occurrence for him, to be struck by his captive. Once his cufflinks were straight, he peered up through the fringe of his hair, lips curling into a smile that wasn’t at all kind. 

            “Don’t ever talk about my father,” Will said hoarsely in the silence that pressed too tight. “Don’t…don’t ever talk about him. He lived trying to give me the sort of life that you’ve happily ripped to shreds, all for the sake of your desire to control everything around you like puppets.” 

            “Puppets,” Hannibal echoed, and the tips of his canines flashed. 

            “And you can say that I enjoyed killing Matthew Brown –I did. I did, and it felt righteous. It felt good because he wasn’t a good person, and his death means that innocent people can be kept safe.” 

            “Innocent people like you, Will?” he asked, sanguine sweet.

            Will glared. He had the sudden impulse to hit him again. “At least when I look in the mirror, I can see myself for what I really am.” 

            “And now your outward appearance can finally match realities within,” Hannibal replied, and Will had only a half second to tense before he was sent back on his heels as a fist came from nowhere, creating an explosion of stars across his eyes. He fell back against the table, and the teacup that Hannibal had attempted to offer him before spun wildly before it fell to the ground. The sound of it shattering on the hardwood felt like pinpricks in his ears, and Will steadied himself, reaching up to press his fingers to the skin that smarted and hissed. Just across from him, Hannibal did the same. Between them, the tea spread with reckless abandon, greedily soaked up by the rug.

            “…Your pain is my pain,” Hannibal murmured. He lowered his hand and flexed his fingers. Will felt his knuckles smart, and there was a disorienting sensation of not knowing whether it was Hannibal’s pain or his own in that moment. “If you strike me, I strike you.” 

            “…Even Stevens,” Will replied in agreement. “Does that mean that if I die, you’ll die too?” Dare he sound so hopeful? 

            “Oh, Will,” Hannibal sighed. “You’re already dead.”

            He thought to argue, but there was truly nothing to say. He was already dead, dead long before he’d even met Hannibal Lecter, dead long before he’d even heard of Agent Crawford and cannibalistic therapists. In truth, he began dying when he first heard his father say ‘cancer’, when he first had to catch a chunk of hair that fell from his father’s head. He was dead when his father was standing at the kitchen sink with a teacup in hand, staring out of the window, then suddenly was falling to the ground in convulsions. The teacup shattered, and Will caught vomit in his hands because that’s all that you can do when someone is dying next to you and you know that you can’t bring them back because they’re sick, sick, and the green tea scalded on his bare leg as he called the ambulance.

            The teacup shattered.

            Will didn’t pick up the shards until many hours later, long after his father had been declared dead. The shards were discarded in the trash, and he never saw them again.

            “…Yeah,” he said, and he nodded. He looked to the teacup broken between them, the tea that soaked into the floorboards of the house. He wondered just how much this house would consume from them before its walls wept secrets. “Yeah.”

            He scrubbed a curse from his lips and made his way to the door, foot crunching over the shards of the teacup. It was brittle and gave way beneath his weight, and it gave him a savage sort of satisfaction. Hannibal didn’t stop him, merely watched as he opened the door and slammed it shut behind him; truly, Will mused, Hannibal had no reason to chase him. He had a house arrest bracelet on his ankle that would reveal his location at any time, and he had a soulmate bond that ensured that no matter where he chose to hide, Hannibal would always be able to find him.

            Pacing in the hallway with her hands on her hips, Molly paused and looked up to meet his gaze. He thought of cold hands and bathtubs, how she’d let him lean against her from what he later had realized was a mild concussion. When she saw his eyes, ugly and mismatched and wrong, something in her face shifted, cracked to reveal genuine horror and fear, and its honesty was so raw that it took him aback, made him freeze because all he could think of was Wally on the steps of the house and how he was Molly’s warmth and goodness.

            “…Oh, Will,” she said softly. He felt stripped down to his bones and found wanting. He thought of the game his father had played with him when he was young, and he wondered if he’d only been told two tales from Molly, and he was still waiting on the third so that he could find out what the truth really was.

            “Oh, Molly,” he returned, and he had to resist the genuine urge to cry.

            “Do you always drink so much?” Beverly asked as Will finished another double shot. His vision swayed, but he stayed firmly planted on his barstool, looking about the bar whose noise was too loud, too chaotic amidst his own tumultuous emotions. He couldn’t make much sense of them, so he drank them away. Far cheaper than a cannibalistic therapist, that was for fucking sure.

            “Sometimes,” he said after far too long. “I’m sorry if this is giving you a bad impression of me as a roommate,” he tacked on. 

            “Well, as long as the bills get paid, it doesn’t matter, right?” 

            Beverly Katz was her name, and Will wasn’t so good with small talk. She was his roommate though, and apparently she was the sort that needed to bond with the person she shared a living space with. The last roommate was a quiet engineer that worked odd hours and slept for even weirder ones. His departure to a different school to begin his graduate program left Will with a five hundred dollar rent bill and not enough money to make it. 

            Thankfully, Beverly Katz had answered the ad and firmly believed in chore charts. 

            “This your favorite bar?” she asked when he didn’t try to keep up the conversation. She kept her hair long and framed around an oval face, her chin defiant and her brows tilted just enough to always seem on the edge of a particularly funny joke. Will decided that out of all of the faces he’d seen, she had a nice one. The sort that one could be comfortable around. 

            It was probably the whiskey talking, but that was okay. 

            “I don’t…really go out much,” he said. “Never seen this bar in my life.”

            “No?” 

            “The loud spaces…make me twitchy.” He gestured towards the jukebox that suddenly fired up, and he shifted in his chair, disquieted by the rancorous laughter nearby. “I’ve been told I’m an introvert.” 

             “I could see it,” Beverly agreed. “You one of those geeky types that watch a lot of anime?” 

            “What?” 

            "Nevermind,” she said with a snort. “Nothing, you’re fine. We’ll get along fine. Drink up, cowboy. That Jack and Coke’s got your name all over it.” 

            He was going to say something along the same lines, but when he turned to actually look at her, someone bumped into his chair and sent his drink spilling over one of the few shirts that didn’t have perpetual wrinkles in it. It wasn’t so much the stain that he knew he’d now have that bothered him –in truth, Will only lamented the loss of his drink.

            “Oh my god, I’m so sorry!”

            “It’s fine,” he assured them, dabbing half-heartedly at his chest.

            “No, oh my god, let me get you another drink!” the girl said, and days later Will would figure that it was her tone of voice that made him look up, look up and really see just who it was that’d made him look like the sloppy drunk that he certainly felt like.

            She was pretty. More than pretty; she practically glowed.

            “You don’t have to,” he said, but that wasn’t quite what he wanted to say. “I’ve been told that it’s common for men to buy the drinks instead.” Stupid. Why’d he sound so stupid?

            “Oh?” She sniffed and flipped cornsilk blonde hair over her shoulder, her brows scrunched impossibly high. “What, since I’m a woman I can’t buy you a drink since I spilled yours all over what looks to be like your favorite shirt?”

            “My favorite shirt?”

            “You’re holding onto it like it’s your favorite shirt,” she explained.

            Will relaxed his grip on the front of his shirt –she wasn’t wrong.

            “…It’s my favorite shirt,” he agreed, and he tried to ignore the amused snicker of laughter from his new roommate. He was pretty sure he was bombing this entire socializing thing, it was a mistake as far as he was concerned to even be out and about at a time like this, on the anniversary of finding Jack Crawford bleeding to death on his old therapist’s rug, but-

            -She surprised him when she tugged him from the stool, and his clumsy feet followed, leaving him standing a head or so taller than her and swaying like a scarecrow in the breeze.

            “Say…do you want to get out of here?” she asked breathlessly, excited.

            He looked over her head at Beverly whose brows were up to her hairline. She had mismatched eyes, and she winked one slyly at him, grinning around the lip of her drink.

            “…I…”

            “I’ll bet you’re a smooth talker when there’s no one else around,” she said, unheeding of his hesitation. “I’ll bet you have more to say when you’re not so scared of so many eyes.”

            “I don’t want to see your eyes,” he blurted.

            Her smile made his skin warm from head to toe. “Well how about that; me neither. My name’s Molly. What’s yours?”

            “…Will,” he found himself saying, and he managed a smile. “I’m Will Graham.