Francis Dolarhyde watched Will Graham through the lens of a rather expensive camera.
While he couldn’t always be the one documenting the comings and goings of the target -his work with the FBI was a full time job, after all -he did take over the job when he was able to. Odds and ends sort of shifts, the menial tasks of following him home as he stumbled drunk from a bar. His notes were far more extensive, his study of growth and character not only accurate but insightful.
In truth, if left to Matthew Brown, Francis Dolarhyde was more than aware of how quickly the plans would crumble, left in the wake of his petty feelings and narcissism. He thought of daffodils and wondered when they’d be able to finally begin planting them. He wondered if Will would plant one, too.
“I’m back,” Molly said in greeting as she came into the living room.
The apartments across from Will Graham’s were a month-to-month lease with the tenant a lowly, forgettable Henry Brown. He seemed smaller than his 6 feet in height, and the way he ducked his head when paying the rent ensured that the landlord didn’t stare too long at the cleft palate that would make Francis’ alias memorable. He mumbled. He wouldn’t make eye contact. He lived alone and never filed noise complaints. The landlord would, in truth, miss Henry Brown when he finally decided to leave.
Francis Dolarhyde looked forward to taking showers above room temperature water.
“What’s the report?”
“He’s fine.” At a short glance from Francis, she added, “He found his bike, although he noticed that someone had replaced the brake pads and the chain. He thought it was potentially a good Samaritan or someone more along a ‘chaotic good’ spectrum.”
“He saw nothing?”
“No,” she affirmed. “Whoever returned the bike did their job well. He didn’t see a thing.”
Francis Dolarhyde had it on good authority that he did his job very, very well. While the bike thief wouldn’t see another sunset, at least Will Graham had a chain that wasn’t one small bump away from snapping. He glanced down to the photo that he had of Will stopping in genuine surprise to stare at the bike that he used during the summertime for commuting; the photo after was a small, tentative smile, like he couldn’t be sure if he should be more happy than bemused.
“I’ve recruited two more. I’m giving their information to the secondary house for Charlie to scan.”
“You trust Charlie with a lot of things,” said Molly, sitting down on the couch. Perched behind a mesh screen taped to the living room window, he zoomed in on Will Graham going to sit out on the balcony of his apartment, and he snapped a photo.
“He was military. He understands how to follow orders.”
Molly Foster wasn’t military. In truth, he found her to be unnecessary, but he deferred to Dr. Lecter’s opinion in that regard. Dr. Lecter was confident that her presence would ensure that Will maintained a healthy social life, and the confusion in the soon-to-come aftermath would be more than enough to keep him at just the right level of imbalance to potentially become compliant. Compliance meant Change. It meant Becoming.
How happy for Hannibal Lecter, that all of Francis Dolarhyde’s carefully laid plans would lead his inevitable triumph and soulmate.
Normally, Dolarhyde and Molly Foster didn’t speak after she debriefed him. It suited him fine, as she refused to go to the house that was now a home without Wally Foster in it, but sometimes he felt her presence too close and he longed to devour her. Red Dragon whispered lovely thoughts, dark thoughts, and when he snapped another photo he was far too aware of her walking across the room to peer over his shoulder at the image he’d captured.
“It’s a nice photo,” she commented.
“What do you want, Molly Foster.”
People didn’t speak to him unless to voice their wants. He was one of Dr. Lecter’s trusted, and that was something to celebrate, even as he wondered when it would be his turn to look across the masses and see awe and adoration alike. It was his birthright, his claim. Red Dragon hummed in his veins. Would he always stand to the right? In truth, when the time came would Will Graham truly look to Hannibal Lecter? Or could he, perhaps, look to the right of him instead?
Red Dragon snarled behind his lips, but he kept the sound safely tucked away.
“Are you always taking photos of him?” she asked. “When he does…anything that you can see?”
In answer, he silently began to scroll through the previous photos, such as the one where she kissed Will goodbye, just inside the sliding balcony doors. He paused on it and turned to look up at her, waiting.
She stared down at that photo for a long time, wheels turning. Just at Dolarhyde’s elbow, a composition book rested.
“Do you take notes, too?” she asked in disbelief.
“Intel,” he said, and he glanced back out of the window.
Will Graham drank alone and stared down at the street below him, watching cars drive by. His eyes rarely, if ever, looked across the way to the dingy apartments whose residents’ use of the month-to-month lease ensured a constantly revolving door. Dolarhyde would have to leave, soon. Eight months seemed to be the longest a person could go without becoming a memorable tenant. He’d have to start causing minor disruptions to blend in with the common rabble of the apartments soon. A busted leak. An unclean apartment when he finally left. Unmemorable.
“What do they-”
He slammed his hand down onto the composition book as she tried to open it; the sudden sound in the otherwise silent apartment snapped and spit.
“Sorry,” she said immediately, and she retreated. She hadn’t yet found her footing, found her place within this group that for all pretenses was her new home she’d made from a wicked house. Her son was in the secondary house, surrounded by so many nice people that were under very specific orders to be nice. At the price of Molly Foster’s obedience, of course. Footholds were slippery for her, and God how desperate she was to find one.
He turned in his chair to survey her flatly, and he saw her gulp down a nervous sound. She’d seemed somewhat out of breath ever since she first sat down across from him and tried not to be afraid -like she was swallowing down a sob, in truth. He liked seeing that in her, that this person whose lips housed the affection of Will Graham was afraid to show them, lest he rip them off of her.
Red Dragon begged that he use his teeth when he did.
“I keep close intel,” he explained. He may not like Molly Foster, but she was still part of the plan. For now.
She took her time gathering her words, and it was with care that she spoke next. “You have a lot of notebooks like that by your computers.”
“Are they all of Will Graham?”
He blinked once, lazily. “No.”
It was a good answer. She nodded, and the tense turn of her shoulders lessened.
Will seemed to be napping on the balcony, empty glass beside him. Dolarhyde snapped another photo and stood.
“Is there a schedule?” Molly asked, tracking his movements.
“I have dinner with Jack Crawford and his wife.”
Molly said nothing to that. He supposed she thought of his fooling Jack Crawford the same way that she thought of fooling Will Graham -tasteless. Cruel. In truth, it wasn’t just the way that Will Graham leaned into Molly Foster’s kisses that made his blood boil so quickly, no hesitation in the thought that if he pinched her neck in the right spot, she’d become paralyzed.
It was the fact that in reality, she was a good person and no matter how long she was exposed to Francis or anyone from the house, she’d never understand them. She’d never Become like them.
Will Graham, though; Will Graham could understand. In understanding, he could feel, and in feeling he would Become. That was enough to ensure that Francis endured Molly Foster’s ultimately annoying goodness that made her protect an innocent child while ultimately abetting in the fall of an ambiguously grey man.
Dinner with Jack was mundane. Francis thought of how sometimes Will went out onto his balcony late at night and stared at the stars with an expression that Francis couldn’t necessarily name, but something he felt. He kept a photo of it by his heart, next to his biggest secret. He thought of the first time that he saw his eyes and how he felt Changed; how Will Graham hadn’t Changed, too. He drove back to the apartment after dinner and parked seven blocks away precisely. His silent steps jolted a tipsy university student that hiccupped and stumbled out of his way as he strode by.
His silent steps ultimately also startled Molly Foster as she perused the composition notebooks beside his computer.
“What are you doing?”
There are many people that attempt to hide when they’re caught doing something suspicious. They fold in on themselves; they jump. There is a startled moment with hearts racing as they try desperately to hide their flaws, their wrongdoing. Molly Foster instead stiffened, and when she rose to face down Red Dragon, he tracked another gulp that sent her terror back down her throat where it belonged.
“These are all Will Graham,” she snarled, and her anger seemed to match his. “I read every single one!”
“Those are private,” Francis said. Kill her, Red Dragon hissed.
“This is ridiculous, you put, ‘paused on quad between classes…finished homework right before class…an A+ in communications…sat in car for twenty minutes before going home.’ You literally…Jesus, you people record everything!”
There was a heat rising to his skin that wasn’t just anger. It added to his fury, though. “Enough.”
“You even log when he makes the mistake of taking the exit towards Lecter’s old business after class!” she cried, and if she sensed the sudden urge that Francis had to strangle her, it didn’t deter her. “Does he ever have a private moment when you people aren’t hounding him? Does he have any sense of identity left? You’re all sick!”
Something inside of Francis was ripping, ripping, ripping, and he thought of the photo that he kept by his heart, the one where Will Graham stared at the stars with a look in his eyes that reached far beyond himself. He thought to silence her, to take her and place mirrors so that he’d see the Change as it happened, as he took out contacts and stared into mismatched eyes on a still face and tried to make them see.
Will Graham loved Molly Foster. Red Dragon raged and bruised bones as he screamed to kill them both.
Something must have shifted on his face because Molly’s open mouth snapped shut. She gulped again. And again. As his face reddened, hers paled.
“Put the composition book back,” Red Dragon snarled, and Francis tried to think of Hannibal Lecter, of daffodils and a house where Will Graham could plant the seeds for a home. He couldn’t kill Molly Foster now; Will Graham would surely experience the grief process and set their plans back at least three more years.
She set the composition book back. She gulped again.
“Do not touch his things,” Red Dragon said, and Francis held so very, very still. If he moved, Red Dragon would truly take control and everything would be cast adrift, lost in the moment when Francis was forced to realize that Red Dragon would always have some form of control over him, that nothing he did would ever be out of Red Dragon’s reach.
“You will leave, now,” Francis forced his lips to say. He was falling away, falling away and he felt the tail uncurling from around his leg, the wings spreading because he was greater than the sum of his parts, stronger and better and just how easy would it be to Change her?
“Francis isn’t here,” Red Dragon snarled, and smoke unfurled from his nostrils.
“I’m leaving like you said, Francis,” Molly said, and she gulped again. “I won’t touch your things. I’m sorry.”
She didn’t wait for him. Molly Foster backed away, eyes on Red Dragon’s terrible visage the entire time as she saw herself to her purse, then out of the door where she likely fled down the stairs rather than risk the elevator where she could be ambushed at the bottom.
Francis held very, very still. Red Dragon longed to fly after her, to devour her.
To Change her.
Time passed, and he felt control of his limbs returning, inch by painful inch. Pinpricks fluttered across his skin, and Francis made his way to his composition books where he meticulously put them back in order, save one that he took out with careful deliberation. Hannibal Lecter promised daffodils. Francis Dolarhyde stared down at the very first notation he’d ever made on Will Graham, the first time he saw him and was forever Changed. Alongside it, he laid the photo that he kept by his heart and stared at Will Graham longing for the stars, and that feeling that he couldn’t quite name returned, pinching. Red Dragon growled, but it was distant and didn’t feel so dangerous at the moment.
When it was time for bed, he took out colored contacts remarkably close to his own left eye, and he slept. As he slept, he dreamed. As he dreamed, he hoped. As he woke, reality returned.
Francis Dolarhyde stood with Hannibal Lecter and observed Will Graham standing across from them. His dog, Winston, sat at his feet with a guarded, wary gaze set towards them. Francis had almost killed the dog when he removed Will from the apartment, but a quick, curt noise from Molly Foster stopped him. If he killed the dog, they’d lose Will she said. Hannibal Lecter agreed. The dog lived.
It glared at Francis, as though it sensed what its fate had almost been.
“Dinner?” Hannibal asked, bemused.
“Not with your followers,” Will said, and in his own way it was said with haste. ‘Not with your followers,’ he said, as though to remind Hannibal that that aspect of this plan was what chafed most of all, that Hannibal had recruited dozens in his need for Will Graham to be contained. ‘Not with your followers,’ he said, as though to say that somehow, down the road, should Will Graham reach out to Hannibal there’d better not be 30-or-so people reaching back with him.
Hannibal nodded thoughtfully, and that seemed to spur Will on to add, “Just you.” A quick glance was cast to Francis, then back. “And me.”
“And Winston?” Hannibal asked.
Hannibal’s smile was a quick, fleeting thing that disappeared as he leaned back into his chair. “Did you have something in mind, Will?”
Francis heard the ‘dear’ part of ‘dear Will’ without it being said. Red Dragon paced along the recesses of his mind. He wondered what sort of dreams plagued the unwilling other half to Hannibal Lecter.
“Not out there with the table and the whole song and dance,” Will replied. His hand found the top of Winston’s head, and he rubbed one of his ears. “No human meat, no eight thousand courses, no…”
“Games,” Francis said, and the sudden sound from his mouth surprised even him.
Will glanced to him, and his mismatched eyes burned. They were the wrong sort of mismatch, the wrong sort of Change. He nodded slowly, once.
“No games, Hannibal,” he murmured. “I just want…you, me, Winston, and dinner.”
He hadn’t looked at the stars lately, but then again neither had Francis; his work kept him far too busy to look up, let alone look at Will Graham through the lens of a camera. Francis wondered what it was that he saw up there in the darkness of the sky, if he once wondered what it’d be like to try and touch them. He wondered if he asked, if Will would plant daffodils with him.
“I’d love to have dinner, Will,” Hannibal said, and the faint lines around his eyes deepened as he smiled. “Is this an olive branch?”
Will’s expression shuttered, and he rubbed his bloodstained eye savagely. “I hurt,” he said, as though that explained everything. Maybe, as soulmates, it did; too much distance and lack of physical contact so soon into the bond surely ached, a pressure in his skull that he couldn’t quite reach because it couldn’t be fixed without Hannibal. That dependency, surely, was horrific in of itself to someone like Will Graham. He was not a person that vocalized need, let alone dependency.
“If it’s the soulmate bond, we could-”
“Dinner,” Will interrupted, savagely. He looked up and glared at Hannibal, spine stiffening. “Just dinner.”
“Just dinner,” Hannibal echoed, and the smile lessened, if but a tic. “Do you have something in mind?”
“Nothing human,” he warned again, and he turned on his heel and walked out. Without missing a beat, there was Winston close at his side, tail wagging. As Will crested the doorway, he paused just long enough to add, “Thank you for…for Winston.”
Before Hannibal could reply, he was gone.
Francis sat back down at his computer and pulled up new e-mails, ignoring the feeling of Hannibal’s thoughtful gaze on his back. He imagined that the tattoo that he’d gotten in secret so long before -years, in truth- glared back, waiting to leap from his skin and lunge. He wondered what Will Graham would say, if he saw it.
“Do you suppose that it’s the soulmate bond?” Hannibal asked. “Or do you suppose he is planning something unorthodox?”
Francis didn’t look up from reading the update that Emma sent him. At least things there were going smoothly. “What does your bond tell you?”
“He was honest with you.”
“He could be hiding other things, though.”
Francis glanced over to him, then back. He chewed on the fat part of his cheek. “I wouldn’t know if he did. He has engaged with no one.”
That was a lie. Francis was well aware that he’d spoken to Molly, but somehow the idea of sharing that information didn’t sit right. Most things weren’t sitting right anymore, in truth. Francis wasn’t sad to see Saul die, but later that night when he finally allowed himself to rest, he thought of how Will Graham had begged, and how he’d never begged for himself the way he’d begged for them to spare Beverly that sort of horror. Francis covered his ears, but that didn’t hide the truth. He turned his head, but that didn’t stop reality. Something in the way he’d trembled kept Francis from telling Hannibal about Molly.
“It comes down to Abigail,” Hannibal decided. “If she is as clever as she seemed, she will either use the FBI to hide behind, or she will disappear entirely with Wally to avoid the wrath of both the government and our friends. She knows we have people in the FBI. She won’t risk it.”
“The news is calling us a cult,” Francis informed him. “They’ve dubbed us ‘The Red Death.’”
“A few call for Jack Crawford’s head, and Dr. Chilton’s missing.”
“Zeller will break soon,” Hannibal added, and crafty fingers glided along his bottom lip, his thumb brushing the curve of it kindly. “Then we will have the lovely Bella Crawford at our disposal.”
“Nick Bowman, too.”
“Then everything is going to plan.”
“Not if we have to abandon the house,” Francis disagreed. “Precautions can’t be crutches.”
Hannibal studied him from eyes at half-mast, but Francis didn’t give it much attention. They’d had this discussion before. “We must be flexible, Francis.”
“I’m trying,” said Francis, and he forced his shoulders to lessen their taut stretch against the fabric of his shirt. “Constant deviation from a plan is sometimes the sign of a plan not thought out.”
“In this case, the variables of Will Graham?”
“Perhaps. Or the other people. People are messy variables.”
“You’re doing well,” Hannibal assured him. Despite everything, the kind, gentled tone did wonders for Francis. Sometimes, validation from others was nice. Validation from someone he both loved and abhorred was both better and worse at the same time.
“Location isn’t everything,” Francis finally agreed. “Whether she goes to the FBI or not, the red death reaches all. Where it occurs in its final form is nothing but coincidental and only furthers Jack Crawford’s fear and paranoia.”
Hannibal was quiet for a while. Francis watched the latest video upload of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier getting into her car and disappearing into the night, then checked on his other marks. With her leaving, he wasn’t entirely concerned. She hadn’t spoken anything more or less than what was demanded of her, and her removal ensured that she wouldn’t make a grand appearance and muck up the final act of their hard work. Everything was quiet. At the risk of feeling rather cliché, Francis felt that it was too quiet. Things were bubbling, brewing, and it felt like the great, big breath before the righteous fury of a dragon’s roar.
“Have you planted daffodils for every person that has died in this house?”
Francis didn’t look up from the computer. “I have.”
“Did you show Will?”
“The other safehouse has a garden,” Hannibal assured him. Then, “I believe I’ll have dinner with him in the study.”
It was sounding much less like planning and far more like an intimate sharing of personal details. Francis wasn’t sure what to say in turn, if he should allow Hannibal to confide or if it’d burn a little going down, like well-whisky on the rocks.
“Do you want me just outside?”
“I believe so. The first time we had dinner alone together, he was in shock.”
“You held a knife to his throat,” Francis remembered. It’d felt odd, then, seeing it. Will Graham had oozed fear from his pores for most of the drive, even before he knew that they were ‘different’. In that moment, Dr. Hannibal Lecter holding him against a wall with a butter knife had felt surreal almost, as though Francis were pulled in two directions with lack of surety in which way to turn.
“Did that trouble you?”
He took a short sip of the coffee at his elbow. “No.”
It was a lie, and there was a taut moment as he inhaled and tasted Hannibal Lecter’s amusement at such a blatant attempt. He amused Dr. Lecter in the many ways that he contorted and twisted himself to try and be what was necessary. He wondered when the time would come that he could unfurl to his great height, his great strength, and devour. Would Hannibal Lecter be afraid? Would he realize his mistake, letting something like Francis get too close?
Maybe Will Graham would offer to help him when the time came.
“What is Beverly’s current state?”
“She’s sleeping,” Francis replied, and he glanced at another computer monitor to confirm. “When she wakes, she eats little and speaks less.”
“Saul was regrettable.”
“Saul was a mistake,” Francis couldn’t help but correct. “His worship only fell as far as his mouth.”
“You don’t regret his death?”
“I regret that Will Graham saw it.” Francis glanced back to him and studied the way that he tilted his head. “You regret it, too.”
“You wondered once where Beverly Katz’s loyalty lay, and now we know. I don’t regret that.”
“But you regret how he begged you. He turned to you and said ‘please’.”
Regret for someone like Hannibal Lecter was intimate to witness. There was a breath that caught, followed by lips that pressed closed tight. He stared at Francis, Francis stared back, and he was distinctly aware of the color contacts he wore and how one day Hannibal would recognize that they weren’t real at all, that he was just as impressionable as Hannibal and Matthew Brown.
“Tell the members of the house that we’re going into the final act,” Hannibal said, and he stood up from the desk in order to circle it and touch Francis’ shoulder lightly. “We want them at their best.”
“And Will Graham?”
Hannibal’s smile that time wasn’t at all kind, and if Francis had been a lesser man he’d have shivered. “Leave my soulmate to me.”
The unspoken word of warning stayed with Francis long after. Red Dragon stirred just under his skin, hissing.