One Week Later
“How is your sleep?”
“Staggered, but that’s normal. I don’t force restrictive sleep parameters. If I’m tired, I rest.”
“Lost twelve pounds and don’t have an appetite, but I’m trying. Six small meals a day.”
“How is your hygiene routine?”
“I don’t know, doctor,” Will said sourly, “you tell me.”
The psychiatrist smiled warmly, and Will fixed his gaze to her earlobe. She had a mismatched pair of eyes, one brown and one hazel. Sunlight lit flecks of gold and green in it when she turned her head just right. He wondered if his contacts looked as real and rich in depth as her eyes did, or if they appeared as flat as he felt.
“You appear to have the beginnings of a sturdy beard,” she commented.
“Most men do in the winter.”
“Will, I know this may seem trivial to you, but you did experience a soulmate severance coupled with trauma. It is not abnormal to experience acute anxiety and stress after everything that’s happened. This is a standard psychiatric evaluation, as I’m well aware that you know.”
“And they made it with a woman so that I wouldn’t get flashbacks to Lecter,” Will agreed pleasantly. “Don’t worry, I get it.”
He understood, but it still chafed. His skin prickled, and sometimes he woke in the night with his heart pounding so painfully that he was sure that he was going to die. Hannibal was gone, and Will wanted to rip his own heart out and consume it, all incisors and blood and muscle. Would he scream the same way? Would Hannibal feel it still?
“What are you going to do after this?” she asked. “Who is your support system, and where are you going to go?”
“Seeing as how I was finishing my residency as a soulmate psychiatrist, I’ll probably see if I can wrap it up and move somewhere that doesn’t remind me of anything remotely resembling an Edgar Allan Poe motif.”
She bobbed her head encouragingly. “Dr. Bloom said she’d determine when it was alright for you to return to work. Small steps, Will.”
“I like work,” Will defended. “If she doesn’t let me, I’ll just pick up my old job working on cars and boats. I’m pretty damn good at it, and it’s simple. Machines are easier to fix than people.”
“Taking a break isn’t a sign that you’re not handling your trauma well, Will.”
“Yeah, and you’re going to say that delving into work is a sign that I’m not handling it well, but I have to keep moving. If I sit still, it festers. I feel rotted on the inside, and work gives me purpose. If I’m stagnant, then I just think about it and I’m back in the last place I want to be alone in.”
“And where’s that?”
“My own head.”
Someone must have mentioned his psychosis, as the doctor didn’t continue down that avenue. She must have understood that it was a thread of conversation that he wouldn’t allow to be pursued, no matter how intriguing his mind was to the general world.
“What gave you an interest in becoming a soulmate psychiatrist?” she asked instead.
“Because I wanted to understand the many ways in which to avoid getting one,” Will replied, deadpan.
He wondered just how much they’d prepared her for him. She fussed with her papers, made a few notes. He wondered if her soulmate was just as accomplished and educated, or if they were the sort of soulmate connection that happened out of pure, rotten luck, all opposites and confusion as to how they’d ever last together. Uncertain, but was there really a choice in the matter where soulmates were involved?
He wished them the best of luck, whoever the fuck they were.
“Not many people choose their profession based off of the things they’re trying to avoid,” she noted, and he nodded in agreement.
“Not many people would have the realistic fear of becoming a soulmate to someone like Hannibal Lecter,” he replied, and the clock broke the silence after with its ever-ticking time.
2 Weeks Later
“Dr. Graham, thank you for speaking with me.” A pause. “Even if your parameters were conducting the interview back at the FBI.”
“I appreciate everything you did, Freddie, but that doesn’t mean I trust you.”
This pause was a little gentler, no sarcasm in it. “I’d imagine trust is something you’ll wrestle with for the rest of your life.”
Will thought of the invisible rash that left his skin rough and irritated. He thought of Hannibal and the teacup that’d shattered between them. It must have died in the fire, along with the rest of the wicked things that rested inside of that house.
“I only did this because you rescued Abigail Hobbs and Wally Foster when you didn’t have to.”
Another pause, this one broken by the rush of a door flying open and harried footsteps carrying a passerby alongside them. Freddie didn’t have to say it. Saving Wally Foster didn’t do shit, did it?
Only it did because wherever Molly Foster was, at least Will could say that her son was safe. In the end, she overcame much the way that Will overcame, which was to say that they both did a rather good job, all things considered. He thought of her standing at attention and staring across the vast lawn of that place where he’d been held captive, stiff and unyielding.
“Still no sign?” Freddie asked, and if Will didn’t know better he’d have almost said she sounded mildly sympathetic.
“No.” He licked his lips and bit at the bottom one. “No sign of Dolarhyde, either.”
“He’ll be easier to find. Sooner or later, sick bastards like that get caught.”
Will wasn’t so sure of that. Red Dragon may have had a bloodlust, but he wasn’t mindless. His sense of care was so acute and fine-tipped, and Will wondered if instead of going back inside to kill Hannibal, Red Dragon had simply walked away from it all. Francis Dolarhyde may have cared about him, but Red Dragon only wanted to devour.
“How’d Earl and Duncan take you lying to them?” he couldn’t help but ask.
“Better than I thought they would. I couldn’t believe they went in that place to try and find me. Jack Crawford gave them some sort of ‘Good Citizens’ award.” Despite everything, the surprise in her tone was genuine, and Will believed her. “They made sure their numbers were saved in my phone in case anything came up. I even told Earl’s wife that he did the right thing.”
“Maybe he won’t have to sleep in the doghouse,” said Will lamely.
“You ever think about your actions?” Will wondered, not unkind but not quite kind. “Out of all of us, those two had nothing to do with anything and yet were willing to risk their lives because they thought you were in danger.”
Freddie nodded slowly, lips pursed as she tucked her wild curls behind her ears. “I can’t say that if I realized what they were willing to do for me that I’d have stopped my own plans, but it’s sobering to realize that my actions are not singular or linear in their cause and effect.”
“I’ll bet they help the ratings in your newspaper, though. They seemed awfully fond of you.”
“I’d say thank you, but that wasn’t a compliment.”
Will tracked a few cars pulling in, and he tucked his hands into his pockets. While he may have been appreciative of Freddie, he still didn’t like her. It took someone special to not only investigate the location of a missing person in conjunction with a murderous cult but keep it quiet as she used it to further her own career.
Granted, he couldn’t exactly judge her for her selfish thoughts or feelings. His own thoughts lent something unsavory to him. His skin burned as a reminder to his loss.
“I found it interesting that they’re giving the Hobbs girl over to you,” she commented lamely. Fishing.
“That conversation is outside the parameters of our deal,” he replied pleasantly.
“Off the record,” she retorted. At his side-eye, she continued, “I mean it, Graham. I was the one that drove her to Crawford. I saw how she was right after you’d –”
She wanted to say murdered her father. He could taste the restraint, acrid.
“She’s an adult, therefore they can’t stop her from choosing where she stays. She feels safer with me than anyone.”
“I’d imagine being the hero that felled two of her worst nightmares would do that,” Freddie murmured.
Will supposed that it could also be the simple fact that he was the only person that would have ever allowed her to visit an inmate boyfriend, but he wasn’t going to voice that. It wasn’t common knowledge that Jacob had survived that fateful night where nineteen people had taken their lives rather than be arrested, and it was even less common knowledge that he had struck a plea deal in order to only serve six months with the exchange of full cooperation and open information.
Will hadn’t imagined having one kid, let alone two, but he didn’t figure Jacob’s parents would let him back home anytime soon. He had some time yet before he had to worry about it.
When a taxi pulled up for him, he rolled his shoulders and popped his neck. “Well, Lounds, it’s been…”
Awful, he wanted to say. Seeing you means something terrible has happened.
“It’s been,” Freddie agreed, and he was let off of the hook of simple civility.
He climbed into the taxi, and it pulled away, the heat roaring inside to stave off the New Year’s chill.
“What took you so long,” he groused after sliding the divider between the driver and the passenger open.
Beverly, hair tucked into a discreet Atlanta Braves hat, shrugged and kept her eyes on the road. “Traffic.”
“Is Abigail visiting Jacob?”
“Yes.” A beat. “Again.”
The look she gave Will in the rearview mirror said more than words. He knew her opinions of Abigail visiting an inmate from a house like that. Abigail did it for survival, Beverly for a job –
Jacob honestly thought he could fit in, in a place like that.
She was picked up from the jail where Jacob was to serve his six months, and the ride to Will’s new apartment was spent in silence. Words, Will supposed, had run out a long time ago.
The taxi was ditched in a storage unit four blocks from the apartment, and Will unlocked the door to the place with the same repetitious fiddling as he always had to do. It wasn’t a good place to rent, all things considered. It was a month-to-month lease with a shoddy landlord and lukewarm water. If Dr. Bloom even knew why he was staying there, she’d have ended his work right then and there and requested that he be institutionalized for psychiatric evaluations.
To Will, though, there was something cathartic about living within the space that Beverly had revealed to him as the place in which Francis Dolarhyde used to spy on him for Lecter.
“We weren’t followed,” Beverly said, and she headed into the kitchen to grab a couple of TV dinner trays from the freezer.
“How do you feel?” Will asked.
“Hollow. And you?”
“My skin is burning,” said Will, and he stared out of the window and across the street where his old apartment used to be. There were less cars in the parking lot. He wondered how many people had broken their leases after hearing about what’d happened to him. He wondered how many of them had had to see the bodies of the FBI agents, unable to get home as they were rounded up and questioned.
“I overheard Dr. Bloom and Jack at the jail,” Abigail revealed, tossing her bag on the couch. It was clawed to hell from a cat they’d never owned, but it was only ten dollars and it did the job of a couch remarkably well. “Dr. Bloom thinks that I have a knack for manipulation, and Jack thinks you’re internalizing.”
“Neither of which are wrong,” Beverly added from the kitchen.
Will glanced back to Abigail. “Did they arrive there on schedule?”
“Back door or front?”
“Side door, like you said. They’re also watching tapes from any conversations I have with Jacob.”
He looked at Beverly pointedly.
Beverly looked between the two of them and sighed. “You’re the one that asked her to keep seeing Jacob?”
“They watch her when she visits Jacob. Afterwards, while she’s waiting for us, they discuss it.”
“They mention Lecter?” Beverly asked.
“Only in passing and past tense,” said Abigail.
“And now?” Will pressed.
“They don’t suspect anything more than that as of right now,” Abigail assured him. “Jack is more concerned that he’s going to have Jacob back behind bars within a few months after release. The plea deal wasn’t his idea, and Jack thinks that he’s a loose cannon.”
“Someone that impressionable is a loose cannon,” Beverly retorted.
“Which lawyer did he luck out on to get a plea deal like that,” Will wondered aloud. He chewed on a ragged hangnail, teeth worrying over the same spot that it always did as he was thinking.
“Purnell,” Beverly called out over the microwave humming. “She’s the one that worked with my boss and smoothed things over after the FBI realized the CIA was knowingly involved and said nothing.”
“Bet he hates Purnell now,” Will muttered, turning once more to look out of the window.
“Politics,” Beverly agreed.
“They’re thinking of paying you a visit,” Abigail warned him.
“I’ll keep away from the apartment, then.”
He accepted a TV dinner when it was offered, and he scooped up the dehydrated then re-hydrated vegetables morosely, chewing without truly tasting. Sometimes, he woke in the night with his heart on fire and his skin alight with the flames from that house –in those frantic moments where dreams and reality met, he could swear that he tasted Ortolan.
There were domestic sounds behind him, but he ignored them in favor of watching the people that strolled by, the occasional person that stopped to the stare at the apartment. Photos were common on Instagram and Facebook, those who were close enough to know of it without having to wade into the pool of horrors that the rest of them had endured. Will kept away from social media, although sometimes Abigail commented on it. He wondered if it rankled her as much as it did him. He wondered if he’d been in on it like she was, if maybe it wouldn’t sit on his chest and press the air from his lungs mercilessly. He couldn’t breathe sometimes. He wasn’t hollow, but sometimes breath came short and his skin ached with the need to tear it apart until he could find Hannibal’s forgiveness within the marrow of his bones.
Then he’d get a breath in, and the feeling would pass. More or less.
“Any news on your job?” he asked Beverly.
Beverly swallowed a large mouthful of rubbery chicken and shrugged. “It’s looking like a desk job for me after this. I’ll probably quit.”
“You weren’t made to be behind a desk,” Will agreed.
On a particularly sharp exhale, his heart throbbed and pressed to his ribs. Will pushed his palm against it and willed the pain down, down, down where it could drown with the rest of his horrible memories.
“Still burning?” Abigail asked, hushed.
“Still burning,” Will replied. “No matter how much time passes.”
And, in truth, it’d remain that way. Long after the hollowness had subsided, long after the prickling sensation of someone prying his nails from his fingertips had left, all that remained was that burning. Enough studies while in school and in the psychiatric field told Will what that was –in truth, he’d have known even if he hadn’t read a single book on soulmates, even if he hadn’t had to explain the nuances of it to Jack Crawford so long ago, well before Hannibal Lecter had ever gotten it into his head to start a cult.
“I’m just saying, be glad he doesn’t have a soulmate,” Will warned him. They stood in Jack’s office, overlooking the lawn where Bradford Pears struggled to give shade to those that resented their stench. Will had always hated Bradford Pears. They reeked of semen when the wind blew just right.
“You get a guy like that locked up, and they have a soulmate? They’re your master after that. Their soulmate shows up at 4 A.M. and says the distance burns? You let them in. Their soulmate goes to a lawyer and says they’re having delusions because they don’t see their soulmate enough? The inmate gets regular visits. Their soulmate says that their heart problems are related to the stress of their soulmate being incarcerated? Welcome to the next five years of your life revolving around court cases.”
“You never think about that when you have a soulmate,” Jack mused.
“It’s my job to think about things like that,” said Will. “Soulmate Psychiatry and the law go hand-in-hand anymore. The odds are stacked more in favor of soulmates than those that go without.”
“He didn’t seem to have any serious relationship, let alone one with a soulmate.”
“Good,” Will replied passionately. “Otherwise, I’d say go for the death penalty.”
Maybe it was because he’d almost died at Hannibal Lecter’s hand, but Jack didn’t chastise him for such a cold statement. Will watched the Bradford Pears’ branches sweeping up, up, up to a bright and cheerful sky. He felt oddly capable, thinking things like that. Maybe it was the dreams where his hands, instead of helping Jack Crawford, hurt him. He hated dreams like that.
“With a soulmate, he’d never get the death penalty.”
“Yeah, since you’d be torturing an allegedly good person with the hollowness of soulmate severance. It’s not so bad, the distance. You can put up walls in your head for the burning, for the heart palpitations and the stress. You can’t put up walls for that god damn emptiness.”
“You think someone like that could get a soulmate?” Jack wondered. He was in a wheelchair, although not without voicing his opinion on the matter for the first twenty minutes of being in one. It was the only way they’d allow him to move about the FBI HQ, though. Will had had to drive.
“Anyone can get a soulmate, Jack,” Will replied. “Hell, you got one.”
They both laughed because they were alive, and it was safe to laugh. Hannibal Lecter didn’t have a soulmate. He couldn’t manipulate his way out of the deep, dark pit that the law was going to throw him into.
Things were going to be okay.
Will wasn’t hollow anymore. He burned.
Hannibal was alive.
And this time, Will would finish the job.
Snow crunched underfoot. Breaths billowed from a mouth held thinly shut to stave off the cold. It was a bitter cold, the valley between two large rolling hills creating the perfect path for wind to slice clean through people. Malad, Idaho wasn’t known for its gentle weather mid-winter. Hell, it wasn’t known for much of anything unless you grew up around it.
Chiyoh dragged the dead mule deer into the shed and slammed the door shut behind her. A person could get snowed in real easily in winter, and her presence as an outsider wouldn’t be noticed but for a few months. Even so, she’d have her contact do the talking. She was a Japanese woman in an awfully small town that didn’t take kindly to any sort of visitors, let alone the foreign types.
Field dressing and quartering meat was a mindless task that she fell to with practice. Hunting meant food. Food meant sustenance. Sustenance meant a return to strength. In the many years between her seeing Hannibal and her hearing from Hannibal, hunting was not only necessary, but pleasant and therapeutic, much the same way a phone call between best friends was supposed to be. Chiyoh didn’t have much in the way of friends. She had contacts. She had hunting. She had Hannibal.
Once her work was done, she cleaned herself up and trekked back to the main cabin.
It was quiet inside, smelling of herbs and woodsmoke. On the days when it was bearable, she opened windows to get fresh air inside –a rare thing when temperatures hit the early negatives more often than not. She made quick work of setting water to boil, then ducked into the adjoining room.
Hannibal Lecter lay still on the bed, asleep.
He was a peaceful sleeper, even when his dreams weren’t peaceful. He lay still as a corpse, eyelids twitching. He’d always been that way, even when they were children. Chiyoh would toss and turn, then wake and scowl over at where he slept with ease, hardly needing much time before he was wide-awake and rested. Chiyoh’s stress and worries only showed in her sleep. The rest of the time, they were held with perfect control behind a mask.
She wasn’t sure how she knew when he transitioned from sleep to wakefulness; she supposed it was the pause in his exhale, followed by a deep and purposeful inhale that was too practiced. His eyes opened to slits, and he stared up to the ceiling with the confused expression of someone on some rather powerful medication.
“Your wound looks better,” she said when he didn’t speak.
He hadn’t spoken in some time. He was quiet during their entire trek, from quick exchanges through vans to a private plane that flew low. She wondered if it was the betrayal of Will Graham that quieted him, or if it was the pain from a rather touch-and-go surgery.
“Dolarhyde and Emma have disappeared. My contact lost their trail around Arkansas.”
Silence again. When the kettle whistled, she stepped back into the other room and made tea. By the time she’d returned, he was sitting up in bed, angled with his wound in mind.
“Kester and Budge have also disappeared, although I am in contact with them. They still understand the plan.”
He accepted the cup of tea and dipped his head in thanks, palms pressed to the warm edges as he inhaled the steam. Movements were slow, choppy, and she wondered if the pain medication had waned yet.
“Molly Foster has disappeared with her son, but I don’t suspect trouble from them.” She watched the herbs steep in the hot water before she continued, “There is nothing new on Will Graham at this time.”
Silence was their companion that evening. Chiyoh busied herself with checking and redressing his slow-healing wound, then focused on a small but protein-enriched dinner. It was nothing elegant. It was nothing grand. She wondered if he’d become so used to the lavish dinners that he and his ‘friends’ had done in that house that sooner or later her humble dinners would sicken him and kill him before infection did. She wasn’t one for such grandiose things, though; never had been.
“Will Graham knows,” Hannibal said once their plates had been washed and put away.
She wasn’t sure what to think about the tone of his voice. Even in his darkest moments with Mischa, she’d never heard him sound as he did –tired was a good word for it. He’d made no comment when he saw the rope burns on her wrists, nor had he even given a flicker of reaction when she’d informed him on Abigail Hobbs staying with Will Graham indefinitely. She wondered if he dreamed of dying, how she’d had to restart his heart. She wondered if he dreamed of Will Graham, his mind palace falling away until there was nothing left but those few and precious memories.
Will Graham knows, he’d once said to her, over a derelict burner phone. They’re coming for me.
Several years had passed between both statements. Chiyoh had only met Will Graham the one time, but she could already see the pattern where Will Graham’s knowing was Hannibal’s undoing. Despite everything that Hannibal had told her, she maintained that Graham was a terrible, awful idea.
“He’d have sooner or later felt the difference between soulmate severance and distance coupled with betrayal,” she agreed. She was too polite to point out his broken silence. “It’s too soon to move you.”
“It’s too soon for him to move, too,” Hannibal replied. “Jack Crawford will hold him close, now that he’s retrieved him. But give or take about four months, he will find a reason to leave. Jack will have to let him.”
“Are you going to keep your promise?” she asked.
He nodded slowly, once. “I always keep my promises, Chiyoh.”
“How is your pain level?”
His grimace was, in truth, meant to be a smile. For as long as Chiyoh had known him, most of his smiles had never truly felt kind. More like a perfect sort of face-practice to pass among the general populace. “Bearable.”
Bearable or not, she waited until he’d gone to sleep before she dosed him with something to soften the bond. Although there were many that could compartmentalize the pain of distance, make it something less tangibly horrifying to endure, his wound had gone deep and the fire and smoke had done him no favors.
She left him to rest and stood by the fire for some time, thinking. She couldn’t quite say that revelation reached her, but she banked the embers, then fell asleep in a chair near one of the few windows overlooking the endless stretch of snow that ran on for miles around them. No Will Graham burst through their door with guns blazing and righteous anger. No Dolarhyde, either.
Luckily for them, otherwise Chiyoh would have sent a fist-sized hole through their chest. 30-00-06 rifles weren’t a toy, after all. She’d have them in the freezer right alongside that mule deer if they weren’t careful.
Regardless of Hannibal’s opinion on the survival of Will Graham, Chiyoh had no such reservations. If violence was all that he knew, then violence was what Chiyoh would gift to him.