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Where the Wicked Walk

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Chapter 25:

            Will cleaned his face up and took a long shower. The back of his head was just scabbed enough that he didn’t bother with a bandage; in truth, Francis’ alternate personality tossing him about wasn’t a concern anymore.

            He’d lied to Jack Crawford. He hadn’t been able to make it.

            There was a discoloration to the wood on the floor, and remnants of the mess Hannibal had made breaking the door down made his lip curl and his stomach turn. He saw himself from the room with the sort of toe-dragging that was forced; something in his veins whispered, begged for him to go find Hannibal, that all would be well if he could see Hannibal, that all could be right if he’d just go find Hannibal.

            Rather than do that, he found himself wandering the house, avoiding the sounds of voices. Any time he’d find himself walking into a room, he’d pause and listen, breath held to the muffled noises of comradery and pleasant conversation. It wasn’t until the library that he found some respite, and he perused row upon row of books of various shapes and sizes, the smell of worn and well-loved paper easing over the tension in his neck with gentle ministrations.

            Hannibal was precisely three hundred footsteps away. The fact that he was aware of that burned with a wicked sort of rage in his gut.

            “Are you sure this is okay?”

            “Yeah, my dad is working the perimeter again; he won’t know.”

            Will stilled beside one of the bookshelves, tensing. Tucked away into the far corner of the library, Abigail’s distinctly manipulative voice was muffled, unsure of itself. Fuck, but he thought he’d finally found a place to be alone.

            “Is he really the Minnesota Shrike?” the boy asked –likely the one Will had passed her off to in order to keep her father away from her.

            “Yes.”

            “What’s that like?” he wondered.

            She didn’t respond to that, and Will pressed his back against the wall, willing himself to melt into it. What was it like, the boy wondered, to be the daughter of a man that murdered girls that looked just like her? What was it like to have someone so utterly, painfully connected that the spider webs of their affection bled out into the lives of the innocents surrounding them?

            “A lot more calming than you think,” she said, and Will nodded along, resolute.

            “I guess you’re not the one he’s eating,” the boy joked.

            Will imagined Abigail cringing along with him, and he nodded again, grim.

            “One day he might,” she said, and the silence following was the sort of heavy that left one weak in the aftermath.

            “One day he might,” Will murmured in pained agreement, and he bowed his head to rest his cheek against his knee. The scabs alongside his eye still ached when he blinked too tight, and his eyelids made muted clicking noises as he closed them. He wondered when he’d be more scabs than man, each little bit of him eked away until there was nothing left. A bruise had been forming where Hannibal had hit him back. He still felt the ache in his knuckles, and there was a surreal tinge that made him unsure as to whose bones were the ones that’d bruised.

            “I don’t think you’re happy here,” the boy said.

            “We’re all happy here,” she retorted, curt.

            “No, we’re…we’re alone, Abigail. You can be honest. When you think no one can see, you’re afraid.”

            “And you think that you know me?” she sneered. Will tasted her unease like sour milk. “You think that you can look at me and see what’s real and what isn’t?”

            “I’m trying to,” he returned, calmly. “I want to.”

            “You can’t always get what you want,” said Abigail, bitterly. “Your home life may have been boring, but at least you never thought you’d wake up just in time to watch your father slice your throat.”

            They were quiet, then. The boy had nothing to say to that, and Will didn’t, either. He wondered if he went to Hannibal and begged him, he’d be devoured; inch by inch until there was nothing left of him but the parts that Hannibal would keep tucked away forever to look upon at his leisure, when they nights were cold and his fucking soulmate bond told him that he missed Will Graham in all of his hateful and bitter glory.

            Will watched their shadows slip out of the library after, Abigail’s hand to her mouth like she could tuck away the kisses he’d likely pressed there for safe keeping. Will remained, and exhaustion gave way to dreams that felt like the uneven dips and sways of a boat creaking on choppy waves.

-

            Jack Crawford didn’t often give way to feelings of delusions of grandeur. He liked to consider himself a logical man –mad when the circumstances allowed, happy when there was something to be happy about.

            Triumph in the face of genuine, honest success.

            “Ten out of the thirty-two isn’t bad,” Starling said –likely reassuring him than not.

            “Considering the other twenty-two are dead, I’ll take it,” Jack replied.

            “All mouths were checked for cyanide pills,” Price chimed in, gesturing towards the hallway of doors whose rooms housed some of the most wanted men and women in the country at the moment. “Each person had a false tooth that was removed with the sleepy juice tucked inside.”

            “Sleepy juice,” Starling repeated, and Jack couldn’t have been sure if she thought the joke funny or if she found it tasteless to think of cyanide as sleepy.

            “No one talking?”

            “A lot of requests for lawyers; seems like they all have the same one.”

            Naturally. Jack frowned and mouthed at the toothpick he’d snagged from the diner on the way out. He hadn’t had much in the way of good food recently; his belt now took another notch to cinch it just right, and there was something in the way his photo had turned out in the newspaper that said he’d maybe lost too much meat on his cheeks. Bella last told him she worried about his health, but now that he didn’t even know where she was anymore, he supposed she couldn’t worry too much about it. Meat or no meat, that bastard was still out terrorizing the public; diner food would just have to do.

            “This guy isn’t requesting a lawyer,” Jack noted, glancing down to the file.

            “I think it’s a set-up to bait you,” Starling said, her voice dropping low in warning.

            “You don’t think he’s willing to talk?”

            “I don’t think he’ll have anything to say that you’ll like,” she retorted. “Remember what Du Maurier said: they want you to find them.”

            The room that he stepped into was tepid, the heater having just kicked on to stir up dry, stale air. Sitting across from him with his hands cuffed to the table, the man regarded Jack much the way an old and unfamiliar acquaintance would; calmly wary, as though one had all the time in the world to test their unease. Jack held the man’s file carelessly, and he paused just before pulling the chair out to sit down.

            “Pleasant day,” Jack said unpleasantly. “Do you mind if I sit?”

            “No, sir,” the man replied.

            “Charles Mead,” Jack noted, sitting down. “Corporal Charlie of the Cyber Surveillance Unit who served two terms in Baghdad and one in Kandahar. Psychiatric discharge from the military post-Kandahar.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “You didn’t ask for a lawyer.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “But you’re not willing to talk much, either,” Jack noted. “Just this ‘yes, sir’ ‘no, sir’ bit. Does that get tiring?”

            “No, sir.”

            Jack rubbed a thumb along his bottom lip, then tucked the toothpick into his inner jacket pocket. The man’s military, blunt gaze didn’t move an inch. “I’d imagine it was Dolarhyde that picked you up and dusted you off.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “They’ll be expecting you to report; what happens when you don’t?”

            “Precautionary measures will be taken,” Charlie Mead assured him in a tone that wasn’t at all assuring. “I’m not concerned.”

            “No, you don’t seem to be,” Jack agreed. “Why’s that?”

            “We planned for you, Agent Jack Crawford,” said Charlie.

            “Is that why you’re not afraid of talking?”

            “What makes you think it wasn’t the plan for me to talk?” he wondered. “What makes you think you weren’t tipped by one of us, manipulated by one of us?”

            “Was I?”

            “Were you?”

            Jack and Charlie regarded one another, and Jack leaned back in the chair, letting its squeak drag out unnecessarily.

            “See, I’ve got time,” said Jack. “Do you?”

            “Time is an illusion,” Charlie murmured. “It’s not the amount of it, but what you do with it that counts. You’d know about that, though. Time and all of its shortness and quickness, I mean, sir.”

            “Hannibal Lecter teach you that?”

            “No, sir.”

            “What’d he teach you?”

            “He taught me how to waste yours,” Charlie replied. “Military teaches us not to waste. Dr. Lecter taught me the art of it. Keep you here, drag you out. Tell you with words that aren’t words how badly you made this, how you’re the reason Will Graham had to be taken. Get in your head with my words that aren’t words and make this all the worse for you because you’re so desperate to hear that you’ll let me talk however I wish, time wasted and all.”

            Jack stilled at that, although his face didn’t show it. Poker face, he heard Bella coach in his head. He felt her distance like a deep, aching bruise along his spine and neck. The farther she went, though, the safer she’d be. Fuck, the farther from him everyone was, the safer they’d all be.

            “He taught you that, did he?”

            “He was happy where things were,” he replied, and he didn’t so much as smile as he gnashed his teeth. “He had his soulmate, his hobbies, his work. Your actions led to this. If you’d have just left him alone, Will Graham wouldn’t be where he is now.”

            “And just where the hell is that?” Jack wondered. His voice held too much iron.

            “Why don’t you ask Agent Price, sir?”

            Jack Crawford and Charlie Mead stared one another down for some time, weighing. Jack had had many stare downs like this in his line of work –there was always that wish, that hope that maybe if he looked hard enough, he’d see behind the mask displayed before him, the best of the best of the best of military intelligence until they booted him out so quickly his head spun, so quickly that a trained killing machine had no other choice but to reach out to those that understood him to ease the screaming and torments from his past.

            “Dolarhyde didn’t have to work hard to get to you, did he,” Jack mused.

            “No, sir.”

            “You got anything else you feel the need to tell me before I go and bring your bosses in?”

            Charlie didn’t rise to the challenge; he kept his bearing remarkably well as he nodded curtly, once. “Wherever you go, death follows, Agent Crawford. How does that feel?”

            Jack had nothing to say to that. It wasn’t until the door behind him buzzed that Jack stood, and he saw himself out with the sort of walk that he supposed a dead man would make, the kind where each step counted because each step was in of itself precious and ultimately numbered.

            Just down the hall, Price signed off on something and shook the agent’s hand, his smile not quite reaching his eyes as he turned to survey Jack. The distance between them was both too close yet not close enough, and when Jack finally reached him with his numbered, doomed steps, it was with trepidation that he settled a hand on his friend and colleague’s shoulder.

            “Price, let’s talk diatoms.”

-

            Dolarhyde was a busy man.

            He enjoyed it, though. Being busy meant that he didn’t have time to socialize with the pawns and idiots alike running through the house with heavy steps and rancorous laughter. Being busy meant that he didn’t risk running into Will Graham in the hallway where he’d have to stare at his mismatched eyes and school himself with utmost care.

            Red Dragon sat coiled behind his lips, daring him to rip Molly Foster’s mouth from her skull for her insolence.

            “The whole house?”

            “Ten imprisoned, twenty-two dead,” his informant confirmed. “Anonymous tip.”

            Francis studied the computer messaging system in front of him, and he nodded. “I’ve got someone.”

            “A new recruit?”

            A rat under the guise of a new recruit. Francis waited patiently for Nate Bowman to reply, and he hummed quietly under his breath.

            “No,” he said at last.

            “What do you think?”

            “They have twenty-two of our dead on their hands.”

            Their silence was understanding. His informant didn’t like him anymore than he liked them, but they’d do their job. He liked those sort of relationships better than the sorts where one had to play nice and pretend so that they could get their work done. Most of the people in the house left him with a wide berth, allowed him to go about his work –awe and fear, he knew. It was not the fear that he wanted, though, but the awe

            Red Dragon could work with that.

            Francis read Nate Bowman’s reply, but a noise out in the hallway stopped him from adding anything more. “Hold,” he said into the phone, then muted it and slunk to the door, peering out.

            Will Graham.

            The dim lighting in the hall prevented his eyes from gleaming too offensively in their awful discoloration. One eye blue, the other maroon.

            Red Dragon hated it. He wanted to eat the maroon eye, devour it and gain power from it, Become more from what it meant, that Will Graham could learn enough of someone to grow from them, to Become some part of them. To know was to understand, and to understand was to Become. Even as Red Dragon abhorred it, Francis found himself hoping from it.

            “I thought you’d be awake,” Will said flatly. His mismatched eyes looked tired, and he had a bruise to match Hannibal Lecter’s.

            Francis blinked lazily at him, head bobbing once, briefly, in assent.

            “I don’t want to sleep in that room,” he continued. That room, that room –the room with the Matthew and the blood and the moment when Hannibal caressed his face so gently as his eyes bore into his head with darkly vivid desire –

            “You would sleep here?” Francis wondered.

            “Which one are you?” Will asked, and it was only then that his low, gravelly voice faltered ever-so-briefly.

            Red Dragon licked his lips. “Always both, Mr. Graham,” Francis reminded him, softly. “We are both now two halves of something whole, for better or worse.”

            Will Graham cringed from that, and the relief at his discomfort with the thought of Hannibal being his soulmate made Francis’ blood warm. He wondered at his skin, at the feel of it beneath hands that would know every which way to turn his body, every which way to bend him, to mold him, to –

            “Better you than…” him was the unsaid word that fell between them. Better Francis than Hannibal. Better Francis in his room with his wires and his computers and his tech than risk someone else finding him, someone else with hunger in his heart and a delightful sheen of red to his teeth as he curled in close.

            “Do you think you’ll survive in here?” he asked, but he regretted it. Survive, survive, but how could Will Graham see him when he was too busy trying to survive him? How could Will see Hannibal as the only monster when Francis was the one turning everyone else every which way around him, playing them against one another, playing them against Will, doling out life and death as was fit, as was necessary, all because he dared to serve someone that years before had sunk his teeth into the notion that someone like Will could ever be changed when –

            “I asked you once to not leave me like this,” Will said shakily, “and you did. You left me there, and now I’m here asking you to not leave me like that again.”

            Francis’ breath caught, and he thought of the first time he’d ever seen Will Graham behind the lens of a camera. Morose. Downcast. Downtrodden. He didn’t photograph well, but the first time Francis had caught his smile on camera, he’d stared at it for far too long before moving on. Purposeful. Not lightened by the happiness, but Francis had wondered for hours later what’d been said to make his eyes brighten so much.

            Francis was no fool, though. He knew what Will meant, the leaving and the staying, and the first time Will had been introduced to his room that was in truth a prison. He’d left him, then, but now…

            Maybe it was the mismatched eyes. They took what little self-control he had, in truth. He reached out, a carefully deliberate motion that he knew Will could track, and he touched his fingertip to the scab just at his temple, tracing it gently down to the apple of his cheek where he paused. Francis’ skin tingled, and he let out a slow, deliberate breath.

            “There’s a couch by the window,” he said at last, and he opened the door more for Will to enter. “And a blanket in the bin beside it.”

            Will was inside of the room and across to the couch before Francis could fully shut the door behind himself. Francis considered him, huddled among a thick, plush blanket, then he lifted the phone to his ear and took it off of mute.

            “I’ll take care of it,” he said to his informant, and he hung up abruptly. Almost at a loss, unsure of himself, Francis turned to Will and said, “If you behave poorly, he will come out.”

            “I won’t touch your things,” Will promised.

            He couldn’t have said if it was the way he said it, or the way he made himself small on the couch, but Francis believed him. This was not a mission to attempt any form of intel –with his bracelet and his eye, Will Graham knew precisely where he stood within the house. The poor man likely wanted rest, a respite from the people around him.

            And he’d sought out Francis to find it.

            It was difficult to remain focused on his work with Will Graham watching. He continued his messages with Nate Bowman. He toyed with security cameras and observed the perimeters that he’d placed cameras on. Saul was working the perimeter, as was Howard and Hobbs. Three for a perimeter that big was risky, but they needed to have eyes closer on the house to watch Will Graham in case he did something risky.

            Something risky like seeking out Red Dragon.

            Time passed. Will Graham, who’d sat so attentively still as he watched Francis work, slowly slumped into his chair. After a time, that slumping became leaning, and leaning became laying. By the time Francis finished securing his databases and passwords, Will Graham lay in a huddled heap on the couch, the blanket haphazardly across his feet.

            Francis would have liked to have said he left him like that, but he didn’t. After he finished shutting down his computers, he scooped up the blanket that smelled of lavender and laundry detergent, and he lay it across him with deliberate purpose, hands tingling at the thought of what it’d been to touch him.

            Red Dragon snarled, wondering at the taste of his blood. His light and sound. His essence.

-

            Brian Zeller lay weak and dying in the basement of The House.

            Hannibal stood just at the foot of the bed and observed him clinically, a detached air to him. Francis Dolarhyde stood just to the side of him, but his presence was ultimately unnecessary. He was as much a doctor as Hannibal Lecter was a door-to-door salesman, however; he provided the perfect emotional manipulation that Hannibal himself couldn’t quite boast. He hadn’t worked with Zeller the way that Dolarhyde had.

            He felt Will sleeping upstairs, a mere eighty-two steps away. His veins hummed at the thought, the reality that what he was feeling was real and true, tangible as one felt that moment when the blade finally broke skin; soulmate, soulmate, soulmate.

            “You were young when I was arrested,” Hannibal began. “You were new to the task force. It must have been a shiny recommendation for you to go anywhere after Agent Crawford gave you a stamp of approval; you ultimately decided to remain with him, though.”

            Brian Zeller watched Hannibal dispassionately, the rising and falling of his chest staggered in time with the heartrate monitor.

            “I commend loyalty such as that,” Hannibal continued, and he glanced to Dolarhyde. “I myself have colleagues and friends who would do much the same.”

            “Fuck you,” Zeller managed hoarsely –his eyes were trained to Dolarhyde, though, not Hannibal.

            “I understand that you had a run in with one of mine,” said Hannibal, and he nodded to the bandages. “I had to fix a couple of poorly done stitches, but the wound should heal nicely now.”

            “You didn’t bring me here to fix me,” Zeller managed, but the exertion of words pained him, and he fell back into the pillows with a ragged sort of noise in his throat, something wet and sticky sounding.

            “Yes, that’s right. It was merely something done out of kindness.”

            “You want something…in return.”

            “You know where Bella Crawford is,” Hannibal agreed pleasantly. “I understand that you’re having a difficult time in regards to pain, but a simple location is all that I request.”

            Zeller let out a slow, uneven breath. The gash in his throat was barely held together, and it showed in how painfully he swallowed. “…Graham…give you that bruise?”

            Hannibal’s heart hummed, even as he couldn’t fight the whisper of anger at someone pointing it out. While alone in his bedroom, Hannibal had marveled at the look of it, something ugly and discolored. He wondered if the bruise was much like Will felt whenever he thought of his maroon eye –something unwanted but hauntingly beautiful. The bruise was a testament to his soulmate’s capacity, his tenacity; the body’s response to violence was beautiful to Hannibal, how the color rose and pressed against the skin, insistent to be seen. He loved it, in truth, what it represented.

            For Zeller to point it out, though…

            “We have all the time in the world, Agent Zeller, to talk about that. For now, though, I’d love to discuss Bella Crawford. Francis?”

            At being addressed, Francis turned with a small doctor’s medical bag, and he offered it to Hannibal with the mildest of expressions, something ranging towards a dangerous interest at Hannibal removed the first of the tools that’d be used to take him to the ultimate goal of finding Agent Crawford’s wife.

            “Now, let’s try this again,” Hannibal said kindly.

            Zeller’s screams were hoarse and muffled, but they resonated in the basement walls just the same.

 -

            Will woke to someone’s hand over his mouth.

            He sucked in a breath, and around the disorienting twists and turns of his sleep-riddled mind, the only thought that he could sink his teeth into was, Red Dragon is going to kill me after all.

            The second thought was, not if I kill him first.

            Within that inhale, though, there was a distinct taste of the same exact Japanese Cherry Blossom that’d plagued his apartment for the last four years, and it gave him just enough of a jolt to freeze.

            And in that freezing, his straining ears caught the sound of her voice.

            “-and we don’t have a lot of time,” Beverly hissed into his ear. “If you want out now, Will, you follow me, and you do what I say. Nod if you understand me.”

            Will nodded.

            “I’m going to let go, now,” she continued. “Don’t scream.”

            He sat up the moment she stepped away, and in the gloom of the office he tracked her over to the small duffle bag that she slung onto her back with quick, efficient motions. She paused just beside the door and motioned for him to follow.

            “Is it time to pay the piper?” he asked.

            “I’ve been doing monthly installments,” she quipped in return. “Come on.”

            Will stood, and he followed her across the room to the door that sat shut, a barrier between him and them. He thought of their first meeting, how she’d been all but pushing to ensure they lived together; it’d seemed like fate, then, that she sought out such a piss-poor apartment and didn’t mind the fact that the washer didn’t work half of the time. It didn’t seemto bother her that her prospective roommate didn’t feel the need to buy a new one, either. ‘That’ll do,’ she said, and it was done. It’d all fallen into place so quickly Will hadn’t thought to be suspicious, but there they were now, a mere foot apart, and Will wondered if he’d ever cease to be amazed by the lunatics running about and fucking with his life all for the sake of Hannibal-fucking-Lecter.

            “Lead the way,” he said, and he gestured to what he hoped was freedom.