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Where the Wicked Walk

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Chapter 32: 

            He was allowed to see Abigail after he gave an official statement detailing the events within the house. He was allowed to see Wally, too, but when he asked about Beverly and Molly, even Jack turned him down.

            “As of right now, everyone is being detained here in respective cells or rooms until further notice,” he’d explained. “Your statement correlates with what Abigail Hobbs said, as well as what we were able to get out of Wally, but even I have to draw the line somewhere, Will.”

            “I’m going to work more with Wally and see what I can do, but I’m going to urge you, Jack, to remember that he is a traumatized child. We don’t know what he went through in that house,” Alana said. The look she gave Jack said quite clearly how many times she’s repeated that same sentiment in one way or another.

            Jack looked as though he had a profound thought to that, but Will clearing his throat took the wind from his sails.

            “They’re victims,” Will had said, staring out of the room he was to be contained within. So long as he behaved and his deadened connection didn’t cause anything ‘untoward’ to happen, the door would remain unlocked for him to come and go as he chose. “I had to get them out.”

            “You’re a victim, too, Will,” Alana had reminded him, standing beside Jack.

            “No I’m not,” Will retorted, and he’d turned to look at them sharply. “I overcame.”

            That was how, much later that afternoon, he found himself seated within the garden that the FBI had dedicated for those battling the all-consuming agony of what soulmate-severance truly was, alongside Abigail Hobbs while Wally tracked a few arachnids trundling through the winter flora and fauna.

            “It’s December,” Abigail said when he sat down. “I thought you’d want to know.”

            Will watched Wally poke at a particularly terrified spider. “I wonder how regulated this garden is. Spiders shouldn’t be out and about like that if it’s December.”

            She looked at him for a long time, then followed his gaze and watched Wally, too. “I heard heaters kick on. You can see the openings up top to even cover this whole place, need be.”

            “That’s a lot of money for an FBI headquarters to use.”

            “Soulmate severance is no joke,” Abigail replied, then immediately caught herself. Will noted her quick movements out of the corner of his eye, how she fumbled for something else to say.

            He still felt hollow, carved out like spaghetti squash. Something was missing, and along his skin there was the burn like the aftermath of shading done on a particularly large and vicious tattoo. A cat scratch that kept getting fussed over, only it was all over his skin and even his eyes hurt sometimes. Blinking hurt. He wondered if it was the fire that finally took Hannibal, or if Dolarhyde had gone back to finish the job after all.

            “What happened at that house?” Will asked raggedly, when words finally came.

            “Agent Crawford asked me not to tell you.”

            “I told him that I killed Garrett Jacob Hobbs because he attacked you.”

            “I said the same thing.”

            Silence again. Wally lost the spider within the cracks of the walls, and he began his next search intently.

            “I only know what happened because I was informed about certain things that were to occur once Jack Crawford managed to find the house,” Abigail said at last. Her voice shook, and Will nudged around the particular use of the word ‘once’ Jack found the house, not ‘if’. “Most of the house…they thought that Dr. Lecter was going to free them. Through embracing death, they conquered it.”

            “I read The Masque of the Red Death,” said Will, and his plucking hands found some grass below their bench. Fingers twitched and fussed over the crunchy and dry texture. “Death is disguised and finds his way to Prince Prospero in the end. He takes him from the palace where he’d locked himself away because in the end, the red death reaches all.”

            “Yes.”

            “Jack Crawford is still alive, though.”

            He looked at Abigail, and her hands fussed with the buttons on her mittens, her eyes trained fixedly on Wally. He tasted the smoke from that night, and he coughed to lessen the pressure in his chest.

            “Unless Jack Crawford was representative of death, not Prince Prospero,” he realized after a moment.

            “Dr. Lecter’s words were poetry,” she whispered, “and he promised all of those fools safety within that castle, knowing full well that one day death would come to tear it down. That was the plan.”

            “What’d he do, Abigail?” Will asked, and even though he could feel the emptiness that told him yes, yes, Hannibal Lecter was dead, he felt his presence then, looming over them with his wicked and careful planning.

            “If the perimeter alarms were to sound, then everyone was to reach into their pocket and withdraw a small capsule with a pill,” she said slowly. “That pill gave them approximately ten to twenty minutes to destroy any evidence within the house that hadn’t already been burned in the fire, then if they were captured they’d already be dead. Secrets couldn’t be pried from them. He wanted Jack Crawford to have to live with that.”

            Will let those words sit in the air between them, heavy with its realities. That didn’t entirely sound like Hannibal, although it did sound like a contingency plan concocted by Dolarhyde. Hannibal wanted a show, and Dolarhyde didn’t want witnesses.

            “Did they find Agent Dolarhyde?” he rasped.

            Abigail didn’t answer, and that was enough of an answer for him.

            “They didn’t find Hannibal’s body, or they wouldn’t have needed my confirmation,” he added slowly.

            “They’re waiting for the place to be stable enough post-fire so that they can round up any bodies missed. I think Jack said agents had the place under control to keep reporters out. The entire house had been installed with an additional pipeline holding gasoline, so when it went—”

            “It went quick,” Will agreed. “I was there.”

            The center of his chest was hollow and ached when his arm brushed it to adjust the hat on his head. He wondered if someone cracked his ribs open, if they’d find dust and cobwebs inside, or if he’d spill out the secrets of the house onto the garden walk for them to collect.

            “I never thanked you for killing my dad,” Abigail said as Wally triumphantly held a bug aloft, the sunlight glinting off of its exoskeleton.

            “He would have died anyway the moment Jack arrived,” said Will bitterly. “Maybe I shouldn’t have notched my belt.”

            A lie, in truth. Garrett Jacob Hobbs would have never let Abigail leave that house alive.

            There was a hesitance to her silence that made him look over at her, her face in profile sharper and far more the manipulative predator that he knew she could be, the same as he knew himself to be. His ribs ached when he breathed. He needed to go see Hannibal.

            Only there was no Hannibal to see.

            “Tell me, Abigail,” he prompted when she didn’t speak.

            “A small selection of us,” she said after a prolonged hesitation, “were to exit through the basement to a rendezvous point in the woods. There was transport waiting, as well as papers that would have gotten us anywhere around the world that Hannibal wanted us to go.”

            “Who?”

            “Dr. Lecter, Francis, Chiyoh, Beverly, Saul, me, and you.”

            Will thought of Beverly and Saul, and suddenly he didn’t feel like talking anymore. Spit turned to rust in his mouth.

            “Then I heard what Beverly did to Saul after she helped us escape, and I wasn’t sure what the plan was anymore,” she continued.

            Will stood, and his hands shook. He stuffed them into the pockets of the standard-edition FBI coat that he’d been loaned, and the breaths that huffed from his mouth curled about his head like the smoke of a great, red dragon.

            “I killed your dad because I wanted to kill your dad,” he said, staring at Wally releasing one bug to go and stalk another. “I think, given the chance, I’d do it all over again.”

            He left her with that, and he headed back to his room with a hand pressed to his chest as though he could find the place where bone and sinew ended and that wretched emptiness began.

-

            Jack was working on paperwork.

            Cases like these were like that, this he knew. The paperwork is what finally let it all sink beneath his suitcoat. He blinked, and he saw firelight. He blinked again, and he saw that he’d scribbled out the words suspect first began in a scrawling, messy script. He’d have to redo it. Maybe not. Maybe he just needed a damn nap.

            Hannibal Lecter was dead.

            Jack wasn’t sure how to express the feelings in regards to that thought, coupled with the hair-raising noise of Will screaming. When he first saw Will emerge from the dark, grasping claws of the forest trees, his heart had stopped. Surely these men were holding him hostage, waiting to pull the trigger in the final moment to show Jack once and for all who was in charge?

            But then Will shouted his name, and everything else wasn’t important anymore.

            He wasn’t sure which noise pervaded his mind more: the gasping sounds he’d made as he tried to staunch the blood flow from Jack’s stab wound, or the sound of his screaming as he dropped to the ground and began to writhe. That scream made his blood cold, made him want to turn tail and run and run and run until he could see that Bella was safe because he knew that noise better than anything else in the entire god damn world.

            Soulmate severance.

            “God dammit,” he murmured, and he grabbed the next file to update. Suspects were being questioned. Suspects were being identified. Bodies were being confirmed.

            Most of the fucking suspects had committed suicide on the lawn of their burning horror house.

            One had survived, though. At the sight of his accomplices dropping, one boy had turned whiter than a sheet and started backing away until he’d backed right into an agent that frisked him and dumped him into the first car that they could have en route to HQ. Don’t fucking lose that one, Jack had said to the agent. You hear me? He dies, your job is mine.

            And Will Graham had become a soulmate to Hannibal-fucking-Lecter.

            A noise just outside of his door made his stomach lurch. The lack of a body was an itch he couldn’t reach, but he just had to be patient. When the place was a little more stable, they’d run DNA scans on anything they could get their god damn hands on. Will’s pain, his screaming, was the best of indications, but at hearing that Will had been the one to kill him?

            There was no wonder to the trauma he’d subject himself to just to save people.

            There was no body yet, though. No body meant no rest for Jack Crawford, no respite from ragged moments of sleep where he woke to Hannibal gutting him again and again and again.

            Will Graham had gutted him too, though. It felt good knowing that Lecter would know just what that felt like.

            He wanted you to lose, Will had said, staring out of the window in his room. That was the trap, Jack. He wanted you to find him, and he wanted to ensure that all of the many ways in which you could find closure would be destroyed, too. Dead witnesses, dead house, dead end. Only now, he’s dead, too.

            Another noise, this time a creak of a shoe on a faulty floor. Jack was standing and striding across his office sooner than he’d have liked to admit, hand tapping at his holster where his gun was. Hannibal Lecter was dead. Will Graham’s agony confirmed it.

            They hadn’t found Dolarhyde, though.

            They hadn’t yet found Molly Foster, either.

            He wasn’t sure what Will would do when he found out that information, but he was tabling it for the time being. Will Graham’s opinion be damned, he was a victim in the circumstances they were dealing with –whether of ‘sound mind’ or not meant nothing in regards to dumping information on him that could potentially impede investigation. He’d been in that house for a couple of months, not a day.

            Who knew what all had happened? What all he’d endured but couldn’t say?

            Enough that his eyes had changed. Enough that Jack hadn’t made it in time.

            The details of the investigation were, therefore, not Will Graham’s concern at this time.

            The hallway was empty, though, bright lights burning on weary eyes. Jack stared at the walls in a muted taupe color, something just off enough from white that it didn’t feel as oppressive –according to studies. Jack didn’t much give a damn about white walls or taupe walls, but maybe this was an indication he should get some sleep, put his head down long enough to quiet the wicked thoughts of –

            “Getting paranoid, Jack?”

            Jack turned around and stared into the eyes of Lloyd Bowman.

            He’d have immediately supposed it was a dream, if Lloyd didn’t look like utter shit. His skin was sallow, and there were lines along his neck that suggested he’d had to sleep at an odd angle for some time. Days, in fact. Weeks. A couple of months.

            With a wound like his, Jack could figure he’d had to sleep at just the sort of angle to keep pressure off of his abdominal walls, away from the muscle and tissue that’d been torn apart by one of Lecter’s followers.

            Lloyd’s smile was wan, and he leaned heavily on a cane. “You didn’t send my wife flowers.”

            “I did,” Jack replied.

            “No, Price did. I asked, and he said he put your name on them, too, but he was the one to pick them out. A nice assortment of lilies ranging from Callas to Stargazers.” After a thought, “Those are her favorite.”

            “She mad at you?”

            “Mostly crying,” Lloyd assured him. “Then relief. A nice, home cooked meal.”

            Silence in the hall. Jack considered Lloyd, and he tried to reassure himself that his heart pounding was because he was angry that this meant that Lloyd had faked his death, disappeared rather than died.

            After everything else, though, Jack wasn’t quite so sure that he could fake anger. Not now. Maybe he was something like his wife, where the anger could set in after he had time to feel relief.

            “You look like shit,” Jack said at last. The words weren’t right; they turned sour in his mouth and made his tongue curl. They weren’t what he wanted to say, but they were all he could say.

            Maybe he could bring himself to be angry, after all.

            Lloyd, bless him, laughed. “You too, if you don’t mind me saying.”

            “I don’t mind.”

            “It was a safe house,” he said when Jack didn’t press for anything. Jack figured he needed to take his time rather than bulldoze into a barrage of questions. It was tempting to, especially since Zeller’s health was touch and go. He couldn’t bully Zeller into living, but he could damn sure talk Lloyd in circles around himself as he all but interrogated him. The lack of a body made him aggressive, fidgety. They needed to get into that house soon.

            “I’m not sorry,” Lloyd continued. “I heard about Zeller, and my only regret is –”

            Jack knew not to hug him, seeing how he leaned on the cane. Instead, he reached over and grasped him by his shoulders tightly, squeezing. He wasn’t sure if he could convey the relief that doused him with a quick bucket of water overhead, but he was trying. Things had become far too emotional, far too muddled for Jack, a person who knew how to categorize and make boxes for people rather than let their lives and his bleed together.

            Something had changed, though, that moment that Will Graham had saved his life. Then later, when –rather than Jack save him –Will had had to save himself the only way that he knew how.

            Lloyd’s secretive smile warmed, and he grabbed Jack by the shoulder and squeezed just as tightly.

            “You’re so sly, but so am I,” he said, and despite everything, Jack had it in himself to laugh, rasping and ugly.

            “Get your ass in here,” he replied, and it wasn’t quite a demand.

            It wasn’t quite a request, either.

            Lloyd followed him into his office, and maybe things were going to turn out alright after all.

-

            Nick Bowman sat across one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen.

            Alright, potentially not.

            It was pretty damn close, though.

            “You play on Roll 20, too?”

            “Yeah, logged maybe a couple thousand hours. It’s one of my passions,” Emma gushed, and she stirred sugar into her tea. They were at a quiet coffee shop near the edge of town, everything draped in taupe and coffee bean décor. They showed migrant workers on canvas paintings sorting beans and carrying large, wicker-baskets of blatant consumerism, but the music overhead was nice and their dark roast really was exceptional.

            It was a good first date, in reality.

            “Awesome,” said Nick sincerely. “That’s just…wow. We’ll have to play together some time.”

            “That’d be fun. I warn you, though: I play rogues, and my sneak attacks are almost always on a nat. 20.”

            “That’s why your character is on my side, not fighting me,” he laughed.

            “Fair enough.”

            Her smile was just on the edge of coy, and her pixie cut framed apple cheeks and a button nose. He wasn’t one to think about details like that, but if this was going to actually be his soulmate, Nick figured that he owed it to her to try and see her as maybe the love of her life would see her. Slight yet sturdy. Capable yet quiet. She seemed, to Nick, a mix of paradox and that American-girl aesthetic that companies looked for in their models for advertising.

            “So, why did you sign up for that site?” she asked curiously. She tilted her head just-so, in order to better analyze his words, and Nick couldn’t help but admit that the scrutiny was kind of alluring. Maybe there was something to Uncle Lloyd’s words, that he didn’t get out of the house enough. Now that there was someone interesting staring across the table at him, he’d have to reconsider the advantages of socializing with people that didn’t live in their own decrepit apartments while they shouted intermittently in their mics about whether or not they were using homebrew, 3.5 rules, or 5e.

            Rules lawyers, the lot of them.

            “I was curious at first, since they claimed they’d find a soulmate for me in a week,” he confessed. “I like to poke holes in things like that. Dunno why.”

            “Sounds like you like to be right about most things.”

            “Maybe.” She laughed, and it bolstered him to continue, “I don’t regret being wrong right now, though.”

            “You think they got your number?”

            “Dunno about them, but I’d like to give you mine, if you’re alright with that. It’s faster than e-mail.”

            “We’re not soulmates yet.”

            Yet. He considered the use of its word and her confidence in saying it. He wondered if Lloyd had gone back to the FBI yet, or if he was still laying low. According to the reports on the news and the interwebs, there was no body accounted for, but it looked like that poor abductee had made a soulmate connection while a prisoner there.

            Then Nick’s own digging revealed that it was Hannibal Lecter of all people he’d connected to.

            It made soulmates sound sticky in his ears, but he understood her feelings on the matter. She’d signed up for a dating site, after all.

            He wrote his number on a napkin for her, since he was feeling rather cliché and that’s what some people did in coffee shops on dates. She accepted it with a smile, and they walked out of the small coffee shop boasting half off specials for soulmates on Sundays. Maybe, just maybe if this worked out, they’d come back on Sundays and bask in the slowly-laid foundation of memories.

            Maybe she’d game with him, and his group would finally have that assassin they were looking for.

            She walked him to his car, oddly enough. It was a piece of shit Camry from the 90’s that, on a good day, turned over the first time. After getting booted from training in Quantico, Nick hadn’t had the best of luck, but at least that car had stuck through his ups and downs, his work and lack thereof. It was a thankless job being someone like Nick, but as he turned around and looked into Emma’s eyes, one hand poised on the roof of the car and the other on the door, he wondered if maybe he wouldn’t have to be alone anymore.

            She leaned up and pressed a kiss to the spot just at the edge of his lips, gentle.

            Then drove a knife into his gut and twisted, hard.

            “Francis Dolarhyde wanted me to inform you that, while your skills are exemplary, he is not currently in the market for a hacker that couldn’t exhibit enough self-control to make it out of FBI training and into the real world,” she whispered into his ear. “But for what it’s worth, I thought you were doing rather well up until this moment.”

            Nick opened his mouth to expel the rush of sound that filled his head with screaming, but nothing came. He felt suddenly cold, then hot, then numb; something wet was gathering along his stomach, his legs, his shoes, but he couldn’t quite reconcile his shock with what that meant.

            Dying, you fucking idiot. You’re dying.

            She pulled the knife from him and wiped it on a clean rag before depositing it into a large envelope. He saw her put the envelope into her purse, but the rest was dizzying to track, his blinks slow and lethargic. A voice, rough and panicked in the back of his mind warned him that by pulling the knife out, she was dooming him to die, but that wasn’t quite grasped onto either. Everything was sliding, sliding, sliding away, and he was eased into the driver’s seat of his car gently, he feet tucked up by the pedals.

            He blinked again, and his vision swam. It was difficult to describe it as pain, seeing as how everything was muted and distorted to the touch, too far away to really grasp onto. His head lolled and bobbed, and somehow he found it pressed against the window, staring at the back of Emma’s head as she strode across the parking lot and climbed into a waiting car.

            As it peeled away, Nick closed his eyes and fell into deep, fading sleep. He kept time with his death based off of the wheezing from his weakening breath.

-

            Zeller’s first words upon waking at the hospital were, “Where’s Jack,” followed closely by, “Where’s Hannibal?”

            Within twenty minutes –twenty only because of traffic –Jack was there, closely accompanied by a harried Price and a Bowman that the nurse insisted on helping into a wheelchair.

            Jack wasn’t sure how to take looking at him, bruised and battered and missing fingers. The head surgeon had informed them that the fresh surgery wound had been to remove his kidney, but it had been done with utmost skill and precision. He was alive, but only just. He was awake, but only just. When Jack saw his blue eyes flickering lazily along the lights and tiles of the ceiling, he crossed the room in two strides and took care to miss the tubes and wires as he put a hand on his shoulder.

            “Hey, Jack,” Zeller managed hoarsely. “Sorry I missed work.”

            “Son-of-a-bitch,” Price muttered, and he circled to the other side. “You’re chipper.”

            “Takes…more to kill me than that,” Zeller managed, and he coughed roughly. It sounded like sand on glass, that noise, but Jack bore it well. He stared at Zeller, committing to memory every nick and scratch that’d occurred at the hands of Lecter and Dolarhyde.

            God, how sometimes he wished Lecter had lived so that he could have killed him himself.

            “How are you feeling?” Bowman asked. “Do you need medication?”

            Zeller shook his head, and he looked back to Jack. “I didn’t…I didn’t tell them, Jack. Bella’s okay, right? I didn’t –I didn’t –tell them where she was.”

            “Hell, I know,” Jack assured him, and god dammit his eyes were stinging and hot. “I know you didn’t, Zeller. Know how I know?”

            “How?”

            “Since we didn’t move her, and nothing happened. She stayed right where you knew she was, and nothing happened.”

            Zeller’s eyes fluttered closed, and his exhale took the weight of his fears with it. “Where’s…Lecter?”

            “Dead,” Price replied savagely. “Graham took him out.”

            “Graham?” Bowman asked, surprised.

            “Heard them talkin’…downstairs. Graham didn’t take shit, there.” Zeller fell into a coughing fit, eyes crushed tight with the pain of it. “Killed the Shrike, killed the guy pretending to be a sheriff…killed Randall Tier. Made others think he was gonna kill them, too.”

            “He’d have done it, given the chance,” Jack agreed.

            “Did you see him?” Price asked.

            “They kept three locked doors between me and the rest of the house. I only saw Dolarhyde and…and Lecter.”

            Thinking of Lecter seemed to take the wind out of his sails. Zeller’s ashen face paled, and he sunk into the pillows as a tremor worked its way over his skin.

            “That sick son-of-a-bitch,” he murmured, and his heartrate spiked. “That s-sick, sadistic, son-of-a –”

            “We got him in the end,” Jack cut in, and he pulled up a chair to get comfortable. “You hear me, Zeller? We got him in the end, dental records pulled from the ashes of what appeared to be an office. That sick son-of-a-bitch is gone.”

            His heartrate calmed, but only just. As lungs battered and bruised from breathing smoke and fire struggled to give oxygen, Bowman wheeled up close to his leg and Price took his other side. The investigation could wait a damn second, Jack figured.

            “I didn’t tell him anything,” Zeller managed, and he closed his eyes tightly. “I didn’t say a word.”

            “I know,” Jack replied, and he clasped what little was left of Zeller’s right hand. “I know.”

-

            Beverly Katz found Will in the same garden that he’d sat in with Abigail Hobbs. It wasn’t necessarily that Will liked the garden, nor was it something particular in the way the evergreen shrubs were trimmed with utmost care; he supposed it was because it was outside, enough of an outside that it wasn’t that room that he was both locked in and yet not locked in.

            He stared at her as she made her way along the narrow gravel path. She looked like he felt.

            “You have something to tell me,” he said.

            Winston lay at his feet, nose snuffing lazily towards Beverly. He’d recognize her scent, although Will didn’t feel as though he should. Too much had changed, and surely her actions had changed her scent, left her a new person altogether that was unrecognizable?

            “Do you want me to say it, or do you already know?”

            She was dressed in a sensible pantsuit with a one-inch heel and a low bun at the nape of her neck. He studied the delicate crease where someone had ironed the perfect, crisp line for her slacks, and he shrugged.

            “You’re not FBI.”

            “CIA.”

            “They sanctioned the shit you did?” he asked, and despite everything he could almost claim the tone incredulous.

            “Some of it.” At his nod, she sat down beside him, a polite distance away. “I’m on a leave of absence while paperwork gets sorted out. May have to be suspended, too.”

            “You’re on national television.”

            “You, too.”

            They stared off at the distance, seeing but not quite seeing.

            “How pissed was Jack when he realized that the woman he’d been dragging through the mud was actually an undercover agent working to take down a slew of serial killers in one fell swoop?” Will asked wryly.

            “Probably about as pissed as my boss was when I debriefed him on removing Wally and Abigail from the premises without also acquiring you,” she replied.

            “I wouldn’t let you.”

            “Our friendship wouldn’t let me,” she corrected. “I could have easily subdued you, but I let you go back. That wasn’t the order.”

            “Orders,” Will scoffed. “Just how many people have been giving you orders, Beverly? Hannibal, Francis, your boss at the CIA –must have gotten confusing to keep it all together.”

            Silence broken only by a crackling loudspeaker just within the door of HQ. Then, “My name is actually Laura.”

            Beverly’s name was Laura. Will chewed a few curse words around in his mouth, but there was a struggle in bringing weight to them. He’d woken empty again, a vessel that sat unfilled.

            “Do you wake up with his name in your mouth?” he asked weakly. “Or do you just wake up hating yourself for what you’ve done?”

            “Will, I set him up,” she said, and she trembled as though a great gust of wind had chilled her. “I put belladonna in his tea so that he’d fall asleep at the perimeter so that we had a clean getaway. That’s how I knew that it was safe to leave in the direction that I took you. That’s why he was so confused when he was accused.”

            He wasn’t sure what to think of that revelation, if it endeared her to him or condemned her. He thought of their friendship, how she knew his quirks and habits without judging him for it, how she was torn between doing right by him and doing right by her country. Maybe the two of them were more alike than Will had supposed; that they were both willing to take the life of their soulmate in order to protect others was a raw sort of commonality, but there they were.

            There they fucking were.

            “Is it true that Freddie Lounds was the one to find the house?” Will asked. At her pointedly confused stare, he added, “Abigail told me, but Jack won’t talk about it. They’re keeping me in the dark.”

            “The rendezvous was at Freddie Lounds’ car, yes,” she agreed.

            “Lounds,” Will swore, and suddenly Earl asking about a Ms. Lounds at the house made so much more sense.

            “She was a pain in the ass, but I wasn’t going to let her go to waste. Not if it got you guys out of there alright.”

            Silence once more. Will tracked clouds listing across the sky and huddled deeper into his coat. Beside him, Beverly –Laura –swung a leg and made idle designs in the frozen dirt.

            “What now?” he asked. He coughed to release the pressure in his throat. “Are you released, or are you detained while under leave until the pissing contest between the FBI and the CIA cools down?”

            “It’s a paid leave due to Saul,” she said off-handedly. “Despite my finding him while undercover, he was still my soulmate. Not even the FBI can get in the way of soulmate grievance laws.”

            Her voice cracked on the word ‘soulmate’. Will’s spit tasted like rust.

            “I don’t know if they told you, but I murdered Hannibal,” Will said.

            What have you done, Will? What have you done?

            “They told me, yeah.”

            “I feel hollowed inside, Beverly,” Will revealed, and his voice cracked. “Like someone scooped out my organs and there’s nothing left.”

            “We did what we had to do,” Beverly replied, and the fierceness in her voice was iron and steel and all manner of repetition until maybe she could believe it herself. “I won’t apologize for it. Neither should you.”

            Will wouldn’t apologize for it, but as he laid down to sleep that night, he wondered at the feeling of his skin along concrete and pull of his ribs against his skin, as though there were something inside of him strung up and tugging him along from a great distance.

-

            There was a break-in that night in a non-descript hotel where Wally Foster and two agents were staying. The agents couldn’t account for how the woman had gotten into the room, but by the time the chaos ended, Wally was gone and hotel video surveillance showed Molly in a grubby baseball cap, jeans, and a ratty hoodie tucking her son into the passenger seat of a beat-up Bronco and driving away into the night with stolen license plates.

            Footage later recovered from the drive of one of Dolarhyde’s surveillance cameras also showed Molly Foster deliberately tripping one of the perimeter wires as she escaped, setting off the chaos that later ensued and led to the willful death of nineteen of Hannibal Lecter’s followers.

            And Darkness and Decay, and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.