The house was as quiet as the grave.
He tried to think thoughts of rest, of just enough unease that they could really feel like his dreams. Would Lecter know the difference? He was awake, that much Will could tell; there was an undertone of savagery, something reeking of tendrils down Will’s skin that suggested he go to find out just what his soulmate was up to in the middle of the night.
Instead, he focused on attempting to dampen his own wakefulness, his own fear. No, no; he had better keep the fear. Surely, underneath it all, Hannibal would always be able to smell his fear?
“Will,” Hannibal had once asked him, “what is your biggest motivator? Your strongest drive?”
“Fear,” Will had replied, and the admission was needles pricking his tongue. More often than not, honesty hurt far worse than the lie.
His footsteps were muffled, but he pained at every squeak, at every huff of air that his straining ears caught. Will hated old houses far more than new houses; they held onto memories and sounds tighter. The carpet that muffled his steps clung to troubles, and the dry wall glared accusingly. Was this house a loyal mistress? Would it rat him out in the end?
Truly, he supposed, it wasn’t the fear that dug him into the darkest parts of his mind. It was his imagination that did him in.
At the base of the stairs he paused, and it took Beverly only a moment to notice.
“I want Wally,” he whispered.
The look she gave him could have melted steel. “No.”
Empathy was like that, he supposed, as he stole up the stairs anyway. He thought of Molly’s kindness and how she hid her light in Wally, and it seemed that he didn’t have much of a choice when he thought of it like that. In looking, Will saw, and God sometimes he sorely wished he didn’t have to see.
Beverly caught up to him just beneath the painting of Deer in Kasuga. Grimaced scowls were shared beneath the painting, and he bared his teeth. Just beneath the surface of his skin, he could feel Hannibal rushing through his veins and arteries, daring her to stop him, daring her to get in his way.
“He’s a child,” he snarled.
There was a brief moment there, stolen in the shadows of the house, that took Will aback. The look on her face was unreadable, but there was something just in the corner of her eye that made it uncertain as to whether or not her fear was for him or of him. He wondered if Hannibal had crept into the turn of his cheek as he’d looked at her; maybe having to stare into his mismatched eyes allowed it to sink in just who it was he was capable of connecting to? The things he must be willing to do to get his way?
“I’ll get Wally.”
“Will Molly let you?”
“Will Molly let you?” Beverly countered.
Grimaces were shared beneath that painting, and Will looked up to it before he nodded somberly, once. Dolarhyde said he could kill anyone in the house and Lecter wouldn’t mind. Rather than kill, Will wondered: if he saved anyone in the house, would Lecter mind? Would his soulmate mind so much if he rescued a few people that didn’t need to be there, that didn’t deserve to be there?
The stag in the painting stared at him, mocking. The moment Beverly rounded the corner to get Wally, Will set out to find Abigail.
He knew her room from his exploration in the house. The door sat closed but unlocked, and when he eased it open it swung on silent hinges.
Abigail lay sleeping; at the sound of his shoe on an unforgiving floorboard, she was awake.
“Dad?” she asked.
Will hated the sound of her voice, then, afraid; who else would leave the lights off as they came in but one that meant to do her harm? The one that honored and ate girls in the image of the one he loved, the one he tormented over? Will stood straight and still as she passed a flashlight over him, the brightness burning.
“There’s a lamp,” he noted, voice far calmer than he felt.
Abigail turned the light off and tossed it alongside her on the bed. “There is.”
“I’m leaving,” said Will in the darkness. He fixed his eyes to the sliver of moonlight beneath the curtain that barely dusted along the floor. “You should come.”
He couldn’t see her suspicion, but he could feel it like the unsettling touch of rancid meat. “Where?”
“Out of here.”
He truly tried to keep the snark from his voice. “Are we really in a position to go home?”
He looked back to her shape in the dim room, and even her shadow seemed to waver. After a brief inner battle, she finally turned the lamp on and set down what she’d been clinging to in her other hand.
“Let me get dressed,” she murmured, and she headed to the closet.
“Nice K-Bar,” he noted, and he turned his back so that she could dress.
“Dad gave it to me,” she replied, “for hunting.”
Once dressed, she passed by him to gather her things, and Will turned to study the knife, picking it up. She’d already removed it from her sheath when Will had called out to her. In that moment, unknowing of who he was, she’d been ready to become a killer. A murderer.
Will could relate to that, although he sorely wished he couldn’t. Matthew’s mismatched eyes hung before him, accusing.
“You gut a lot of deer with this?” he asked.
The blade was sharp against his thumb and broke skin with hardly any pressure. He stuck his thumb into his mouth to lap up the salty copper.
“When my dad and I would hunt, yeah,” she said, and she passed by him to rifle through a box beside the window.
“Was it a gift?”
“The best of gifts,” Abigail assured him, “that I used to kill my mother.”
Silence. Will contemplated the memory of what it’d felt like for another man’s blood to pool in his mouth as he stabbed him. He tongued the aftertaste of his own blood in his mouth and decided that it didn’t taste quite the same.
“Was that the price you paid to come here?” he wondered, hoarsely. “The price so that Hannibal would keep you safe?”
Will could see no grief as he turned to assess her. She stood in profile to him, the lamplight casting half of her in shadow and half in a yellowing light. He saw resolution, and pain. He saw determination and cruelty as she turned to face him, guiltless. Abigail was as much a survivor as he was, only he couldn’t have been certain if he’d have had half of her drive at that age. His father had still been alive, then, and Will had never once woken up in the middle of the night with a knife drawn because he supposed that he was about to die. He could see them, though, her demons; they shifted the planes of her face and made her appear lethal and more than capable.
He then saw the precise moment that her face melted away to mortal terror.
He couldn’t say later why he didn’t hesitate. He felt the quick, rapid blink of his eyelids, the coarse grate of his chapped lips pressing together. Her mouth dropped, and her eyes grew wide; it was the first true and honest image of fear he’d ever witnessed on her face. It was enough, though, for him to turn; in turning, he threw the arm that held the knife out, hard. There was some part of him that felt shock, in how easily the blade gave way beneath skin and tissue -was the human body truly so frail? There was another part of him, though, that hissed out a curse and threw himself further into the knife, shoving it deeper as he stared into the eyes of another monster in the house that’d dared to try and kill him.
Garrett Jacob Hobbs stuttered a breath of shock and pain. His eyes widened, much like his daughter, as he fell further onto the knife to rest against Will’s shoulder as he wheezed.
Will tugged the knife up as he hefted Garrett Jacob Hobbs off of him and onto the floor; the back of the blade parted flesh until it became stuck on the beginning curve of the ribs. He tugged the knife out of him as the body fell limply, and Will marveled at the blood that stained his shoulder and spread out onto the floor greedily.
“Oh…my god,” Abigail whispered, and Will turned to her, heaving a ragged and coarse breath.
“Let’s go,” he ordered, and he stepped over the body of Garrett Jacob Hobbs.
He found Beverly at the painting of the stags. Beside her, Wally squatted with eyes at half-mast. Likely he thought this a dream, something to forget about later over breakfast.
Will wished sorely that it was a dream; if this was a dream, surely he’d wake up soon?
“Not mine,” he interrupted, coldly. “Abigail is coming, too.”
He didn’t have to turn and look to know that she was crouched just behind him. He felt her shock and delight in equal parts, something that tasted bitter like a Vitamin-C tablet stuck on the tongue. The delight was because she was in shock. The hurt would come later, as would the anger. The self-loathing. The grief.
Beverly stared at him, hard. After a short breath, she gestured down the stairs and crept with them, eyes keen on any movement, any sign of another body awake in the house. They passed the hall where Dolarhyde’s security room lay, towards the back door that Will had once stolen out of in order to call Jack. Wham. Don’t do that. Wham. Don’t make me hurt you. Wham. I can’t protect you if you do this. Wham.
His steps stuttered as his head hissed in reminder to the pain. He couldn’t wait to call Jack again.
The back door opened, and they stepped out from the warm indoors to the stinging cold air. The beginnings of winter in the south was a dark affair, with humid air dropping close enough to freezing that it was a wet and frigid bath to be caught outside. Will gulped in a shocking breath and slunk down the marble steps, their feet whispers on the stone, the surest of signs that somebody would find them.
Someone inside of the house began to scream.
A couple of doors slammed.
All of the lights on the house went on.
“Run,” Beverly hissed, and they stood and sprinted down the small incline to pass the pond and reach the forest. Bright light spilled out onto the lawn, marking them, and along with the wet and the cold Will also felt the sudden shock of Hannibal’s surprise.
Quickly followed by his fury.
“Hannibal’s coming,” he chanted, and it hitched in his breath. “Hannibal’s coming, Hannibal’s coming, Hannibal’s coming…”
He slipped on the frosted dew on the ground; he caught himself and continued to run past the pond.
They reached the treeline and burst into it, wet branches slapping their faces. Beverly turned on a small light and flashed it onto the path for them, her own breathing quiet as she forced herself to keep pace with them. The light glanced off of Will and then to Wally’s bright and horrified eyes. He didn’t know why he was running, only that he had to; Molly’s light was smart enough to know when it was the time to question and when it was the time to act.
Will stumbled over a rock and skidded down an incline of freezing leaves and hardened mud. He stumbled to a stop at the bottom and paused in order to help the others down. Abigail fell into him, and he eased her over the rocks so that she didn’t fall. The stitches in his side screamed at the action, but his heart pounded harder: Hannibal’s coming, Hannibal’s coming.
Wouldn’t he always, though? They crested the incline and ran again, their steps a little more staggered, a little more cautious. Wouldn’t Hannibal always come for him, his desire so strong that surely the bond would always lead Will back to him?
How was he of any help to these people, then, that deserved so desperately to get away?
He stopped running and grabbed Beverly, shaking his head. “I can’t,” he wheezed out, and he pressed his hand to the stitches in his side. “I can’t go with you.”
“What the fuck, Will,” she hissed.
“He’ll find you guys if I do.”
“We’ll get you to Crawford now, we’ll-”
“I’ll lead him away from you. Get Abigail and Wally to safety, then bring Crawford here. Whatever the hell you’re doing, Beverly, just get Jack here and I’ll be okay.”
Abigail and Wally stopped, hands on their knees as they tried to breathe. The look on Beverly’s face shifted from blank surprised to a dark unease, something much akin to a genuine friend that honestly cared about what happened to him. It made him uneasy, like he was seeing Beverly for the first time.
“Just promise you’ll get Jack,” Will snapped, and he backed away a few steps, pointedly. “Promise you’ll get Jack here and I’ll be okay.”
“Okay, Will, I promise,” Beverly replied, and she grabbed Abigail and Wally by their arms, hauling them up. “Come on, guys.”
Will didn’t look back as he turned and ran in a completely different direction. He wasn’t sure if he’d be strong enough to do this if he did.
He could feel Hannibal in his heartbeat, urging him to stop, to wait, to hold still just let me find you. He kept running, and it was only after he tripped and fell into a tree that he turned and backtracked, leading Hannibal in a large, looping circle. He could see the haze of lights in the distance that told him that the house was on full-alert. The slices of it cutting through the trees taunted him, and by the time he broke the treeline he was gripping the rips in his stitches as he wheezed to a stop next to the pond that he’d first slipped beside.
Hannibal found him soon after, closely followed by Howard and Dolarhyde. Will glared at them balefully, sweat beading his brow as he spit blood from his mouth from biting the inside of his cheek. While Dolarhyde looked ruthlessly enraged, Howard appeared to be strangely afraid.
Just before him, Hannibal turned his hands out to Will, palms up. Blood stained his suitcoat.
“Will,” he began.
“Will,” he said again, gently. “We found a body in one of the upstairs bedrooms.”
“Alright,” said Will, digging his palm into his stitches. “Alright.”
“Did you murder Garrett Jacob Hobbs?”
“He was going to kill her,” he snarled, and he drew himself up to his full height. “You had something like that in this house, and he was going to kill her. I killed him first.”
Hannibal stepped closer to him, and Will backed away. He stepped in the same place as before and slipped though, and Hannibal reached out to steady him, locking him in place with both hands as he gripped his arms. He reeked of blood and sweat, something metallic and tangy that clung to the back of his throat.
“You killed him to protect her,” he said kindly, “and yet you still came back when she ran.”
“Don’t go after her,” he snarled. “Don’t you dare go after her.”
“Is that why you returned?” Hannibal wondered. “To let her get away?”
“She took Wally, too,” said Will, and he despised how his heart thrummed in delight at Hannibal’s touch, how it ached for him to press close to him and feel him. “She took Wally, but just let them go.”
Hannibal didn’t speak for a few moments, taking Will in by eyesight alone. He likely noted his sleep-rumpled clothing, his bedhead. Did he also see how he leaned to the side, pained by his wounds? Could he still see the bruise at his eye from a fist that smarted, even as it aimed to hurt?
“I felt you kill him,” Hannibal revealed, and he tugged Will close and wrapped his arms around him. “I felt the moment that you killed him.”
Will tried to shift away from him, but Hannibal held tight. “Shut up.”
“And do you know the most surprising part of that for me, Will?” he asked, and he tucked his mouth against his ear to whisper.
“Don’t-” Will hissed, and Hannibal’s arms wrapped tighter, pressing his heartbeat to Hannibal’s.
“I felt not one sliver of guilt or horror as you did it. One could even say that you delighted in it.”
Will closed his eyes, and he pressed his forehead into Hannibal’s shoulder, slumping against him. He thought of Abigail’s eyes, how similar they’d been to Garrett Jacob Hobbs’, and he thought of how they must be now, narrowed in concentration as she tore through the forest and tried to break free. His heart hummed with a contentment that made his bones lazy, and he could almost imagine the chemicals pumping into his bloodstream now that he’d allowed physical touch to creep in. Seratonin was soothing, even as his mind screamed, raged at the way his body gave in so easily to the calming notion that now that Hannibal was near, everything was just right.
“What did you do to me,” he asked, agonized. “Why did you make me do this?”
Hannibal passed a hand over his hair, pausing just at the nape of his neck. There was some part of him that thought to lie, but Will felt it the moment that his resolution hardened to tell the truth. He resented the subtle ways that his body made him more than aware of what his soulmate was thinking.
“Because I was curious,” he said at length, and he passed his hand along the back of Will’s hair again.
Will pressed his face into his neck and tried his hardest not to cry.
“Excuse me, officer?”
Emma wore the only dress she’d packed; a soft blue summer dress paired with a white cardigan. It made the drive a little colder than if she’d worn jeans, but image was everything. She’d even pinned a bow into her short hair to give all appearances of that ‘All-American Gal’ that southern boys just craved.
“What can I help you with, ma’am?”
The officer at the desk looked up from his crossword puzzle and smiled. She noted his quick glance to her left ring-finger, his shoulders deflating slightly when he saw the modest band. She tucked her hands neatly onto the counter.
“My husband is Sherriff Payne. I know he’s missed a couple of days of work, and I just wanted to bring in a doctor’s note as well as a letter from him to the chief.”
“So you’re the elusive Mrs. Payne! We hain’t never seen you at the Bar-Ba-Qu’s! I swore you was a myth!”
Emma made sure to blush prettily as she dipped her head. “Yes, that’s me.” She made sure to sweeten the southern drawl as she added, “He’s got something awful, and he doesn’t have much of a voice otherwise he’d have called. We were in the hospital the first night!”
“Shit, Mrs. Payne, that’s awful to hear. I’ll get these to chief, and you tell that sum’bitch he better get better soon.” He paused, likely realizing what he’d just said. “What I mean, being that I hope he heals up nicely.”
“I figured, thank you.” She smiled, then saw herself from the police department. Barnesville wasn’t a bustling town in the early morning hours, but she was careful all the same. Emma waited until she was getting into her car before she lifted her phone to her ear in order to call the house.
“He’s covered for at least two weeks. Enough to finish the next part of the plan before the final act. After that, they’re going to wonder where one of their own’s gone.”
“Thank you, Emma,” Dolarhyde said. “I’ve gotten a report about what happened at the house in DC. I need you on a flight.”
“Jack,” Price said, slowly. “This is getting ridiculous.”
“Just answer the question, Price. We’re talking diatoms.”
“We’re not talking diatoms,” Price huffed, “come on, Jack; I’m not stupid.”
“No one said you’re stupid,” Jack assured him.
“No, no, you’re wanting me to claim that I was told to search the diatoms in order to find the location that you should begin your search for Lecter because I’m working for him.”
Jack stared across the table at Price; Price stared back dispassionately.
“I was just wondering why you thought to search the diatoms. It could have been bottled water that he poured in the travel container.”
“It could have,” Price agreed. “It also could have been what it was -which was tap water from Georgia.”
“Just a hunch to check it?”
“Just a hunch.”
Silence once more. Price took a sip of the obligatory water set in front of him, and Jack responded with a sip from his own.
“I’ve not been charged with anything, Jack. I’m just humoring you by sitting down to even talk about this.”
“If you were charging me, I’d get a lawyer,” Price continued, “and you want to know who that is? My twin.” At the flicker of annoyance on Jack’s face, Price grinned. “Yes, the one you’ve heard all about. He’s a lawyer, didn’t you know?”
“No one’s charging you. We’re just talking.”
“You realize this is what they wanted? You’re wasting time questioning me when you should be checking in on any relations to Hannibal Lecter or whether or not the paperwork from the precincts came in. They’re just trying to mess with your mind, Jack.”
Jack studied the small dent in the metallic table, a gift from a furious detainee. He wondered if Will was alright, or if he was having a particularly difficult time, captive as he was. What was Hannibal feeding him? What was he doing to him?
“He got Dolarhyde; why not you?” he wondered.
“Dolarhyde was never on our side,” Price retorted. “You can’t think you lost someone that you never had. I’ve always been in your corner.”
“I guess my problem is, every time something happens and you’re there, it leaks. There’s a leak around me, Price, and I’m just trying to stop it.”
“Then you’re wasting your time right now. Just like they wanted you to.”
They considered one another again, and Jack sighed.
“Tell me I’m wrong,” he urged. “Tell me I’m wrong, and tell me why I’m wrong.”
“You and I both know that that’s not how the legal system works. If you make a claim, you have to support it with evidence.”
Price bore his stare remarkably well, all things considered. Years of exposure to Jack in various states of behavior had surely desensitized him to the expression. There was something wretched in it, though, as Jack saw the flicker of genuine hurt on Price’s face. He was bearing their conversation well, all things considered. How would Jack react if someone accused him of being a double agent? He looked at the distorted image of himself on the table, and he sighed once more. What in the hell was he doing?
How does it feel?
“Who is the leak, then,” he asked. “Who is it in my division that I can’t trust?”
“Well if you’d let me out of this room that I was urged to ‘have a conversation’ in, I’d love to help,” Price replied. “Barring anymore accusations thrown my way.”
Jack rubbed his eyes, resented the sting at the edges that said he’d gone too long without sleep. He wasn’t sure how to bring the conversation around. He wasn’t sure how to get control of the thoughts that were tossed every which way in his mind.
He was rather lucky, then, to hear:
“Jack, phone call for you,” Starling said, opening the door. “It’s Freddie Lounds.”
“Lounds,” he swore, and he stood up.
Price tracked his motions and leaned back in his chair, stretching. “She trying to get a new story from you?”
“Naturally, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Starling said, and she smiled grimly. “Says she’s got a special delivery for you, as well as some rather specific coordinates to a house you’ve been itching to visit.”