Molly Graham slipped into Hannibal’s study late that night, long after Howard had gone off to his next task. Will tracked her even, short steps and thought of the last time he’d seen her in such a muted dark: drunk, wavering, and decidedly devilish as she stripped his clothes off of him and pressed kisses sticky from grenadine and peach vodka across his chest.
He’d trusted her back then.
He didn’t know which Molly it was that faced him, a classy coffee table and years of secrets between them. He thought of his long-dead father and the game he tried to teach him, how each step forward seemed to have led him to this moment where three Molly’s faced him and only one was real -a fool’s sort of game, perhaps. Maybe each and every one of the Molly’s he’d met were real in their own way, and he was finally going to see the distorted thing that they created when merged.
“Hannibal’s asleep,” he said, like that could somehow give comfort.
A taut line left her shoulders, and she nodded.
“I was surprised to see Beverly,” she offered, and her voice was ragged from forcing it to some semblance of quiet. Will wanted to weep that she didn’t ask how it felt to be connected to someone like Hannibal.
“You and I were the only two surprised to see Beverly.”
“FBI, do you think?”
Will sat up on the couch and made room for her, and Molly accepted the silent offer and sat down, knees pressed tightly together with hands clasped. This Molly was contained. This Molly wouldn’t just survive.
“Jack would know,” said Will, and he leaned back into the leather. “He wouldn’t have been so afraid if she was.”
“I wondered. Maybe something else. Maybe she just hated Saul.” A lie, but a good one. He’d heard enough stories about Saul to know that Beverly had not only grown to love him, but she relied on him in some ways.
Silence. He could still catch small wafts of the perfume she’d worn for the day, something that carried over to him when she flipped her hair over her shoulder and stared pointedly at her knee.
“I didn’t even begin to trust it until she said that you were coming, too.”
“I appreciate that, Molly.”
“Then to see you back here, I-” Her voice caught, and there was another long pause of silence. “You came back so that my son could get away. So that Abigail could get away.”
Will’s smile wasn’t kind. “Sooner or later I’m going to have to stop being so nice.”
“Those two kids would be the only ones I’d have said deserved it,” Molly replied, “so you made a good call.”
More silence. It wasn’t the lack of things to say that had Will so quiet, but rather the exact opposite. He thought of masks and faces and how there was no one in the world -save Hannibal -that quite knew him like Molly did. There was ease in her presence, but no comfort. Time changed that. Her lies had changed that.
“I didn’t see you at Saul’s massacre,” he said bitterly.
“I was out in the hall; I left when I realized what was happening.”
“Won’t your keepers be upset?”
“They’re not my keepers,” Molly snarled, stiffening.
“You’re right,” he agreed, and he let out a soft huff of air. “Tell me they’re blackmailing you, Molly. I don’t believe that bullshit about death being rejuvenation or whatever-the-hell they’re chanting now. That’s not you.”
“You don’t know me.”
“I know who it was you pretended to be,” Will pointed out. “To keep a façade that long, there had to be some kind of truth to it.”
He could almost feel the hesitation in her words, so he scooted just an inch or so away from her on the couch, giving space without giving ground. He wondered if her lips still tasted like maraschinos or if she’d been able to scrub their memories away so easily as it seemed.
“They took Wally,” she whispered, and he had to lean in to catch the admission. “They had Wally for so long, Will.”
Vulnerability was an interesting thing. Most people didn’t enjoy being in a position where they could potentially be taken advantage of -no one liked to feel as though their right to choose had been stripped away. Truly, that was the deepest violation to Will, that no only he be taken but made just desperate enough that he had no choice in his future. He either survived, or he didn’t.
He either killed, or he would surely be killed.
“Did you love me before they took him?” he asked, and fuck he was so tired of sounding like this. So fucking, god-damn vulnerable.
“I was starting to,” she said, and when he offered his hand she took it tightly. “I was falling in love with you, and they took him away from me.”
“If it’s true, I don’t hate you for it,” he offered, and the laugh in response wasn’t so amused as it was despairing.
“I used to be a good person.”
“If you say it enough, will you believe it?”
Her grip tightened in his, and she looked across the study to the fireplace whose embers still glowed petulantly.
“You think I’m saying it for myself?”
“I think that you’d say anything if it made you hate yourself a little less.”
She looked at him, and Will wasn’t quite sure what it was that she saw, let alone what it was that she was looking for. She smiled, he smiled, and somehow they were laying against one another, her back pressed to his chest as he wrapped arms around her to keep her from falling onto the floor.
“You’re being bold, Molly Foster,” Will warned her. He thought of Hannibal, still sleeping, and he cringed.
He didn’t let her go, though.
“Did Hannibal honestly send people to look for them?” Molly asked. That was a much more vulnerable question. Will could taste her hope as well as her despair. She was having a hard time overcoming at that moment.
“I don’t know. He’d be stupid not to.”
“Because Abigail not only owes me her freedom but her life,” he retorted, and it sounded a little less giving when he worded it like that. “No matter how horrifying he was, that was the man that raised her. I killed him so that she didn’t have to.”
“So she’s going to find a way to Jack?”
“She will,” he agreed, and he tried to make it sound a little less like a threat and more like a voice of hope. “She’d be foolish not to.”
“I didn’t know her that well, but from what I could see, she was no fool.”
“She’s not,” Will agreed.
More silence, this time broken only by the sudden and sharp sound of the baseboard heater kicking on. Molly flinched as though it were a gunshot.
“Your wound is healing nicely.”
“Which one?” he asked, and he didn’t try and stop the snark from entering his voice.
“…Everyone in the house was talking about how you tried to carve your eye out with a mirror shard.”
“Everyone,” he echoed bitterly.
“Will,” she admonished, but it wasn’t the same as before because nothing could be the same. She’d lied, and even if he could understand it, it didn’t stop it from hurting so damn much.
“None of you have ever been in my position,” he said -not because he owed her anything, but habit begged him to explain. “You can’t say that if you had a forced soulmate connection to someone, you wouldn’t do the same.”
“You’re right,” Molly agreed grimly. “Honestly, I’d have probably killed myself if that had happened to me.”
“No more overcoming?”
She was quiet for a minute or so, then said in a small voice, “I honestly don’t see how I’d survive something like that, let alone overcome it.”
The embers hissed, and a stray bit of wood popped. She pressed back into him, and Will let her.
“You’re all going to bleed me dry,” he murmured, and Molly’s breath caught. “I wonder who I’m going to have to kill next to set you free.”
“You could kill Hannibal,” Molly replied, and a shudder ran through her. “Anyone here that has ever had ill intent towards you only first began it because he looked at you and for some reason you were smart enough not to look back.”
Hannibal’s voice when he was surprised awake in the middle of the night was far less calming than their sessions. Will gripped the receiver tightly and tried to focus on it, though, despite it not having the sort of grounding ability that he so desperately needed.
“Dr. Lecter, I…I’m s-so sorry, but I…”
His voice hitched, and there was silence on the other end. Will took in a warbling sort of breath that got caught halfway in his throat, and he exhaled with the sort of force that reverberated through the tinny speaker.
“I’m not…okay, I’m…I need your help. Please.”
“Where are you?”
“I made it home, I’m at the apartment…please.”
Time was odd. One moment, Will was staring down at the phone, and the next he was sitting on a couch, a blanket around his shoulders. He trembled and clung to the itchy wool. His phone, his phone; where in the world was his phone? Had he lost it? Had he dropped it? Had he ever even made it to the damn thing to call?
“You’re dissociating,” Hannibal noted, and Will jumped at the sudden sound. First, his voice, then the heater; it clicked and hummed low. Then, the whirring of the refrigerator, and suddenly Will was aware of himself, of his heartbeat and how it felt too soft against his skin, how he felt far, far away and connected only by a loose thread that threatened to snap and leave him out of himself.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, and he sunk into the blanket tighter.
“Don’t be,” Dr. Lecter admonished, and somehow even at 3:00 A.M. the man was dressed in slacks and a modest jumper. “You called because you needed help. Did you hurt yourself, Will?”
Will looked down to his knuckles that were split and bleeding, one of them not sitting quite right. He flexed cramped fingers, and it burned.
“I hurt someone,” he said absently, “at a bar.”
“Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Those words didn’t come so easily. He thought about them for a long time before forcing them from his lips, heavy with what he’d done. “He wouldn’t leave us alone -kept hassling my friend.”
“What was the final straw for you?” Dr. Lecter asked.
“He had knife mange,” Will recalled, and he flexed his hands again. “I told him I knew someone savvy around a knife. He grabbed me and hauled me outside.”
Then, Will thought savagely, then I fucking hurt him. I fucked him right up.
“I didn’t know how to stop,” Will confessed, and he curled in on himself, pressing his forehead to his knees. “I just kept…hitting and hitting and hitting him, and he stopped fucking moving but I didn’t, and my friends had to haul me off of him.”
He wasn’t sure what to do about the silence after. He heard the noises of a well-functioning apartment with far too much sound and clarity, and they rubbed against his skin and cursed him. He’d hurt someone, the apartment hissed, and he hurt them bad.
And he’d fucking liked it.
“Do you know the status of the man that you hurt?” Dr. Lecter asked.
“Hannah called an ambulance, and they took me home,” Will said miserably. “I…they just let me go home. They said they called an ambulance, and it was fine.”
“Are you telling me now out of guilt?”
“I wanted to keep hurting him, Dr. Lecter,” said Will, and he lifted his head to look at his therapist, eyes wide and wild and God he felt so unhinged. “I wanted to keep hurting him, but who does that? Who hurts someone and wants to do more, wants to find more people to…to…”
“Did you call me to hurt me, Will?”
“No,” Will blurted, far too quickly. He turned to Dr. Lecter, but he fell just short of reaching out, hands uncertain and afraid. “No, I…I just…felt myself falling. I was standing still, but I was falling, and I knew I needed help. Please…you have to help me. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“You’re not going to hurt anyone,” Dr. Lecter said, and his voice was just gentle enough that it seemed almost plausible to believe.
“How do you know that?” he asked miserably.
“Because rather than go and look for another person to hurt or another person to fight, you called me,” he replied, and somehow even at 3 in the god damn morning he sounded so blissfully calm and sweet. “And where your intent was not to hurt me, I can only assume you took the right steps to de-escalate yourself and get treatment. Your forced detachment from your violence was a dissociation from yourself entirely, yet here you are now able to sit beside someone without harming them. That speaks levels to your control, Will.”
“You’re not afraid of me?”
“I’m no more afraid of your capacity for violence than my own,” Dr. Lecter assured Will, and he stood. “Come, let me treat your hands.”
His touch was clinically kind as he doctored Will’s bruised, cut, and potentially broken fingers. He paused on the right middle finger and felt along it, a shallow bowl of water to the side, as well as a damp and warm rag. The water sat pink and placid.
“Not broken, but sorely used,” he tsk’d, and he gently placed Will’s hand in the water again. “Artificial wounds for you, then. You’ll wear your capabilities for some time, though.”
“I’m capable of hurting people that are used to hurting people,” Will realized.
“Sometimes, Will, hurting bad people genuinely feels good.”
Will’s relief was bitter, like biting into soft spring bark. He thought of how it’d felt so good to hurt someone, and in the end he took the pain of his hands in stride, as a lesson: One could not hurt another without taking some part of it into themselves.
They stayed much like that for most of the dark, early morning, Will too afraid to move and Dr. Hannibal Lecter too kind to dismiss himself until Will was comfortable. Late night TV droned on in the background, although neither one of them truly watched it. When dawn slunk through the window just to the side of them, Will made him coffee, the hesitance in the good doctor’s acquiescence just enough to make an exhausted Will laugh.
“It’s French press,” he assured him, and he busied himself in the kitchen, making more noise than usual to make it. He needed domestic sounds, something smacking of a normal, healthy life. No sleep meant no school, but he’d e-mail the appropriate faculty. Dr. Bloom would be more than understanding if he’d had a rough night, although thankfully the details would remain locked behind Dr. Lecter’s kind mouth.
“I detest the idea of insult, but I am surprised that you don’t keep to the normal and easy forms of Folgers or the Starbucks that I passed on the way here.”
“There are few things that I feel like I have complete control over,” Will replied, handing over a cup. The coffee’s sharp, soothing smell permeated the small apartment. “How well my coffee is made in the morning is one of them.”
“Then you and I are in agreement.”
They drank their coffee in silence, something far less sinister and far more companionable. The only sounds were the scuffing of their cups on the counter or the occasional cough. Dr. Lecter didn’t try to make light of what’d happened. Will didn’t try and justify it. He rinsed both cups, set them in the leaky dishwasher, and saw his therapist out of the door, ready for an honest-to-god nap.
“I can pay extra, if…” His voice trailed off at the firm but absolute shake of Dr. Lecter’s head.
“Don’t think of it.”
He paused just on the other side of the door and turned to look back at Will with a small, mysterious smile.
“This may be an unpopular opinion to society,” he said, and it was just vague enough to make Will look up from an impeccably shined shoe, “but I personally believe that your ease in transitioning from peace to violence stems from a natural need that you have to protect.”
“Fear drives you.”
“It does,” Will agreed reluctantly. “That’s what we’re working on in therapy.”
“With that fear comes a hyper-sensitive awareness of those around you that could pose a threat to both you and your loved ones. Where this person intentionally placed themselves in a position of discomfort, your psyche naturally became what was necessary to keep them from hurting anyone else.”
“Are you trying to justify me beating someone so senselessly that they were unconscious?” Will demanded, and he stared into Dr. Lecter’s unyielding brown eyes.
“I’m not justifying it. I’m saying that personally, Will, it’s a testament to your character that you were so willing and ready to step into that role to protect those that you love. You recognized the threat; then, you neutralized it.”
It was the pride, Will decided, that softened the sentiment. Dr. Lecter, apart from fatigue at the turn of his brow, looked proud as he appraised Will’s disheveled appearance. He was unjudging and fucking proud of what Will had done, what Will had deemed as inexcusable and cruel.
“Thank you,” Will said at last, unsure of what else to say.
“If it’s any comfort,” Dr. Lecter added, and he saw himself down the stairs of the apartment complex.
And somehow, it was a comfort to Will as he closed the door. His bandaged hands ached, and he headed towards the bedroom to sleep. It came in waves, but the relieving part of it was rather than suffer the nightmare of seeing him mutilate a man over and over and over again, instead he dreamt of Dr. Lecter assuring him that he was proud.
The next morning, Will woke to an empty study. The fire had long since died, and the room was cold save for the ancient, rusted baseboard heating that clicked and popped as it tried to push warmth across wizened floorboards. The walls looked as though they were weeping.
He wondered if Abigail had gotten away.
Molly’s perfume had long since faded, as had her presence. Will sat up and shook blurred dreams from his mind where he just kept hitting and hitting and hitting and hitting, and he left the study to go and take a walk. Dr. Lecter, too, was awake, although Will felt his presence on the opposite end of the house, quietly suspicious. The soulmate connection urged him to hurry on his way to where he was most supposed to be.
Rather than do that, he went in the opposite direction.
He didn’t make it far, though; he was intercepted at the steps leading down to the driveway by a tall, lithe man with dark brown skin and a pleasantly cold smile.
“You’re Will Graham,” he said, and his matching eyes were fixated. Just behind him, a woman with matching brown eyes smiled in a way that was just as chilling as her counterpart’s.
Will took an instinctive step away.
“We don’t mean to pry, of course,” the woman said, and her voice bubbled up, eager and all sorts of kind. “We were informed to look for you.”
“We have a special delivery for you,” the man replied, and at that cryptic remark he turned and walked down the steps to the car.
In that moment, somehow pinned in place by the presence of a woman whose expression alone sent warning signals through his mind, at the sound of a sudden, loud whine, he gave a start. His heart skipped, then began to pound; at the sight of Winston barreling out of the back seat of the car, Will Graham made a sound somewhere between a cry of surprise and a hiss of suspicion.
That suspicion didn’t stop him from dropping to his knees as his beloved dog barreled into him and made quick work of licking him everywhere, from the top of his head to the bottom of his shoes.
“Hey, hey,” he soothed, but he wasn’t quite sure who it was that he was attempting to calm down. His hands trembled as he stroked down the soft, thick fur of his closest companion since Hannibal Lecter first decided that he was going to gut an FBI agent. Normally, licking and all other manner of reckless abandon wouldn’t have been tolerated, but after everything that’d happened Will figured that he owed it to himself as well as Winston to let it slide this once.
“Dr. Lecter thought that you’d enjoy having him here,” the man said, awkwardly standing nearby.
Will didn’t answer so much as make another odd noise, something like acknowledgement but also dismissal.
“By your reaction, we were happy to help,” the woman added.
“Did you kill Dr. Bloom to do it?”
Will looked up when they didn’t answer right away, and he looked between the two of them, unsure in truth as to who was the more dangerous counterpart. There was something unhinged about the woman, grief in the way her eyes still seemed sad even as she smiled -this was somehow balanced by the man that stood at perfect attention, his straight shoulders and elegant hands lending an artistic lens to him.
Will decided it’d be safe to just hate them both and hold them at a distance like everyone else in the house.
“Those weren’t our orders,” said the man.
“…That wasn’t what I asked, though.”
“Thankfully, we didn’t have to disobey his orders,” the man added, and he smiled briefly. “Dr. Lecter would have been disappointed if she’d had to be disposed of.”
“Oh,” he said, and Will relaxed his grip on Winston’s fur, unaware that he’d even done so in the first place. He flexed cramped fingers, and he stroked down the dog’s side, willing his hands to stop shaking. “That’s a first.”
“Dr. Lecter respects Dr. Bloom,” the woman informed Will. “He actually requested that we do everything in our power to ensure that it didn’t come to that.”
“I wonder just how far his level of respect extends to the two of you,” said Will, and he looked back to Winston, rubbing the soft spot just behind his ears. “Would he elevate you to art, or would he respect you just enough to spare you?”
That took the woman aback, but the man wasn’t disquieted by the question. “Our work outside of the house is a testament to his regard for us, wouldn’t you think? He keeps people within these walls whose notches on their belt would rival Dr. Lecter’s, and yet it is merely the Symphonic Strangler and the widowed wife of Mr. Kester that are able to blend into society and do his bidding and extend his reach.”
“You have two murders notched into your belt,” Will remembered. He’d studied the Symphonic Strangler due to suspicions of his having a soulmate.
“With the help of Ms. Kester, it’s now seven,” the Symphonic Strangler assured him.
“I don’t recognize your name, but I’ll go out on a limb and say you and your late husband have more notches than that, Ms. Kester.”
Ms. Kester smiled. “Please, call me Maggie.”
“No, thank you.”
“It’s a name you’ll want to remember, as with the help of Dr. Lecter we’re becoming something like a legend,” she retorted, just annoyed enough to make Will laugh.
Will looked back to Winston, his smile crooked. Crouched awkwardly, staring his beloved dog in the eyes like he was the only thing keeping him sane, he said, “Funny thing about legends; they have a habit of inevitable death.”
“As do we all,” the Symphonic Strangler said.
“Yeah, but how much time is left, I wonder?” Will stood, and Winston stood with him, tail slashing through the air with wild happiness. “You’re talking about becoming something like a legend, but even you won’t survive the 24-hour media cycle if tomorrow Jack Crawford and the FBI burned this place to the ground.”
Maggie Kester looked as though she had something profound to say to that, but at the touch of the Symphonic Strangler beside her, she stilled. Their equally complacent smiles as they walked away, saw themselves into their car, and drove away needled at Will, but he reminded himself that their forced calm was a sign of victory.
Hannibal feeling just guilty enough to procure for Will his therapy dog was another reminder of victory. With that, he went inside to plan his next step, Winston close on his heels.