Hannibal is out shopping when the small boy runs up to him and bites him on the hand.
It is not a playful act. The child bites hard, and then he grinds his teeth in and holds on.
There is for Hannibal a moment of outrage, in which he considers striking the child to knock him away. Hannibal’s face curls, for just a microsecond, into a snarl, and astonishingly he realizes that the boy, who is looking up at him with fearsome defiance, his jaws still locked around the side of his hand, has not missed this.
Hannibal’s eyes burn, but not from the pain; never before has a child reminded him so forcefully of Mischa.
Hannibal sets his face to communicate a shocked but stoic response to the assault, and this is what his father sees, when perhaps three seconds later he crouches next to the boy to coax him into loosening his hold.
He is intent in his purpose, this strange child, and his jaws must be pried away from Hannibal’s flesh, which his father does urgently but with great gentleness.
There’s blood around the boy’s mouth and on his lips, and the man takes a handful of kleenex from his pocket and works at wiping his face clean. The father’s hands, Hannibal notes, are shaking.
He is already stammering an apology as he straightens, asking Hannibal please to not call CPS or the police, and as the man pushes the messy tangle of curls out of his eyes Hannibal sees that he has left of thin smear of Hannibal’s own blood across his forehead without realizing it.
Despite these desperate efforts at placating him, the father does not seem especially apologetic. Much of the aggressive defiance that he saw in the boy is mirrored now in the man, as he tries to gage how Hannibal might respond. He had already been interested in the man, but now Hannibal’s curiosity builds.
The boy continues, unabashed, to glare bloody murder up at Hannibal, but his father’s hand is curled around his shoulder and he seems disinclined to charge again - at least for the moment.
Hannibal raises his hand so that he himself and the man can both study the bite. There is a considerable amount of blood.
“Fuck,” the father says, and quickly unwraps the scarf from around his neck to hand it to Hannibal. The scarf is not unclean, but the scent of dogs and motor oil and an especially unfortunate aftershave is ground into it.
“Do you allow the child to select your aftershave for you?” Hannibal asks, and the man looks at him blankly.
The man shakes this off and asks - or rather, nearly demands, “Do you have anything?”
“Anything that he could catch, from…"
“From biting me? You are asking me if I am diseased?”
A different kind of unease comes into the man; an awareness of the effrontery - the astonishing rudeness - of the question. “I don’t want him to get sick,” he says, defensively.
“I’ve had blood work done quite recently,” Hannibal answers. “I assure you, it all came back clear. I can show you the paperwork, if you like.”
Multiple trains of thought are running through Hannibal’s mind. In one, he continues to admire the man’s good looks, as he had been doing when he was ambushed; his initial positive assessment continues to bare out, as Hannibal studies him more closely - he is unpolished, yes, and extremely world weary, but Hannibal believes that he would clean up quite nicely.
There is another corner of his mind in which he gives serious consideration to what this scruffy and ill-mannered stranger might look like, flayed.
“That’s not necessary,” the man says. And then, after an awkward pause, he offers, “I’m Will.”
“Hannibal,” Hannibal says. “You haven’t introduced me to your son.”
“Champ,” Will says. The boy remains silent. He hugs Will’s leg and glares at Hannibal.
Rather late, Will asks, “Are you okay?”
“I think stitches are in order,” Hannibal says dryly, as he wraps the scarf around his hand. “A tetanus shot as well.”
He raises his eyes to Will. “I can hardly drive like this. You’ll give me a ride to the hospital?” It is not really a question; Hannibal has no intention of allowing him to say no.
Will’s reluctance is palpable, but he says, “Alright. Just to warn you, though - my car is a mess.”
This turns out to hardly be the case; the aging Subaru Outback is somewhat cluttered, but impeccably clean under the scattering of toys and picture books and other odds and ends. Hannibal settles into front passenger seat while Will straps the boy into his booster seat in the back.
A few minutes later, Will parks in the hospital’s emergency room lot. “Here you are,” he says.
“I’d appreciate some company in the waiting room. And, I will need a ride back to my own car when we’re done.”
He can see that Will wants to argue or beg off, but doesn’t quite dare; they are both acutely aware that Hannibal could make a great deal of trouble for him. “You’ve got me over a barrel and you know it, huh?” he asks, and the question is perhaps intended to sound like a joke, but Will’s frustration is evident.
There’s a decent collection of toys and picture books in the waiting room, and when Will suggests that Champ go and look at them he does so obediently, though he casts watchful glances Hannibal’s way periodically. There is, Hannibal notes, something unusual about how the boy holds his right arm.
Will sits down and Hannibal takes the chair beside him. He watches Will in profile as Will watches the boy. “He’s good at entertaining himself,” Will says. “I take him to jobs with me, when I can’t do the work at home. Give him some books or my cellphone to play around on and he’s just as good as you’d please.”
“Where do you work?” Hannibal asks. He already knows the answer to this; there are calluses on Will’s hands, and the scent of motor oil that hangs about him is seasoned with a taste of salt.
“Repair boat engines, mostly,” Will says. “I used to do some consulting work, but not so much anymore.”
Will slouches forward, his fists balled together between his knees. “For the FBI. It was miserable work. I’m better off being shut of it.”
He is educated, Hannibal realizes, despite how he presents himself. That Will is extremely intelligent he has already noted.
“How about you?” Will asks.
“I’m a psychiatrist,” Hannibal says.
He can sense Will closing in himself, and for the first time the bubbling up of real dislike.
“Hm,” he says.
“I am used to encountering hostility in the course of my work, Will,” Hannibal tells him. “I’m feeling some now. Why?”
“I don’t like people poking around in my head. And I like it considerably less when they try to do that to my boy.”
“I suppose,” Hannibal says, “that such a unique child has picked up a number of labels, even as young as he is.”
“Yeah. Well, most of them are bullshit.”
“I’d probably be inclined to agree,” Hannibal says mildly.
“He’s got some problems - he’s troubled,” Will concedes, though Hannibal has made no such assertion. “But he’s doing way better than he used to be. He’s doing fucking amazing, considering -”
“Considering what?” Hannibal asks, mildy.
“That’s none of your damned business, is it?”
“I suppose not,” Hannibal allows. “My apologies.”
“You were following us,” Will says. “Back in the store. Why?”
“To be completely frank,” Hannibal tells him, “I was rather hoping to get your number.”
“Why?” Will demands again, then he meets Hannibal’s eyes and it clicks into place for him. “Oh.”
“Silly of me, I know. I suppose that you’re probably straight, not to mention unavailable.” He supposes no such thing, and there is no ring on Will’s finger.
“No,” Will says. “I mean, it’s not that -”
He runs his fingers through his mess of curls. “Listen - It’s complicated.”
The boy has noted his father’s agitation. He drops his book. Hannibal is neither intimidated nor frightened at his approach, but he watches Champ carefully. When he tries to insert himself between Hannibal and Will, Will catches him under the arms and lifts him into his lap instead.
“We’re alright,” Will says softly. “We’re safe.”
Champ relaxes, but only minutely. He continues to watch Hannibal with a suspicious glare.
Hypervigilance, Hannibal thinks. Aggressive response to perceived threats. It’s all a bit too familiar. The boy has yet to speak in his hearing, and Hannibal wonders if he experiences trauma-related mutism.
Whatever has happened to the boy, it’s evident that it is not Will's doing. Hannibal understands perfectly well that the boy attacked him because he noted that Hannibal was regarding his father, and sense a potential for danger in that consideration. He is obviously fiercely protective of Will, and Hannibal is very curious as to why.
But remaining so intently on guard for so long is draining, and eventually Champ’s scowl is conquered by a yawn, and his head begins to lull against Will’s arm.
He’s asleep by the time the nurse comes to invite Hannibal back into the ER, but jerks awake at the sound of voices. Champ looks around, eyes glassy and very large, and then fixes his gaze on Hannibal as he rises to go.
He feels the boy’s eyes tracking him as he walks away.
Hannibal suspects that they will be gone by the time he’s finished in the ER, but when he comes out Will is still waiting for him, the boy sleeping in the chair next to him, slumped against Will’s side.
Will rouses him and they stand. “Any problems?” Will asks him, and Hannibal notes the anxious twitch that runs across his face.
He gives them both a disarming smile. “Not at all,” Hannibal says, and holds up his bandaged hand.
Hannibal follows them back out to the station wagon. The drive back to the lot where Hannibal’s Bentley is waiting is not long. Will parks beside it and reaches into his pocket.
He holds out a small piece of paper, and curious, Hannibal takes it and unfolds it. Will’s name and a phone number are written there.
“Well,” Hannibal says, making no effort to hide his delight, “then this all hasn’t been for nothing.”
Will is gruff, but Hannibal understands that it is only because he is embarrassed. “Don’t get any ideas,” he says, looking out the windshield rather than at Hannibal beside him. “Just - when you get the bill, call me. I’ll pay you back.”
“I won’t accept any such thing,” Hannibal tells him.
He puts his own card in Will’s hand. When he gets out and walks to his own car, it is with a spring in his step and a curious but pleasant lightness in his chest.
The first time Will Graham laid eyes on his son, the boy, who was almost four years old, lay trembling on the high thin ledge that marked the boundary line between life and death.
He hesitated in the doorway of the ICU, afraid to draw closer to the small, still figure in the bed that seemed much too large for him, but he’d rallied his courage and stepped forward.
The boy was not awake, but Will lifted his hand with the same caution that he might have exercised in holding an irreplaceable and invaluable piece of fine china. Will spread his other hand, palm upwards, against the sheets, and lowered Champ’s hand onto it. He curled two of his fingers over the boy’s hand, careful of the IV line running from the back of Champ’s hand.
There were words stuck in Will’s throat, choking him like a tumor, but they all tasted too much like platitudes and and irrelevancies to spit out into the world, too corny to convey the enormity of what had happened or the whirlwind of emotion that was hammering Will.
I didn’t know you were out there, he wanted to say. Your mom never told me, but that felt like a excuse - like he was laying blame on the dead. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you, he almost said instead, but was no better.
You can’t die, he thought, then with inchoate insistence, begging he didn’t know who or what; He can’t die. He’s just a little kid.
A stupid, desperate thought, of course - Will had seen enough dead kids in the course of his work to know perfectly well that they enjoyed no special immunity from death simply because the unfairness and cruelty of life felt so much more acute when embodied in a dead child.
“Please,” he said instead, the broadcast prayer of the faithless. “Please.”
When the boy woke, some hours later, he was not comforted by Will's presence. He turned his dark eyes up to look at Will, and the beeping of the heartbeat monitor accelerated alarmingly, and panic spread across Champ's face.
Will moved away, quickly, not knowing what else to do. It had taken a long time for Champ to stop being afraid of him - longer, still, before he trusted Will.
Now, two years later, as he leaves behind Hannibal and the Bentley that probably cost twice as much as their house, Will realizes that because their shopping trip was cut short there is nothing at home to make for dinner.
The idea of going back to the grocery store tonight to start over again, especially when it might mean facing down store employees who saw Champ bite the guy, is entirely too daunting.
“You want McDonald’s?” he asks, and Champ, who had been brooding in thoughtful silence, brightens at once.
“This isn’t a reward,” Will informs him, as they slide behind a booth in the back corner of the restaurant. Champ, who has begun to diligently line his chicken nuggets up on the paper tray cover, does not look up at Will, but he cringes, and the shadow of anxious hurt falls over his features.
There is in Will a desperate fear that he is doing badly by Champ - that if he were himself more functional that the boy wouldn’t be struggling the way that he is. He works hard on keeping the anxiety carefully hidden, but he knows that Champ can sense it; he’s sharp - sharper even than Will was at his age.
Will doesn’t ask the boy to look at him. He knows, from the way that he himself experiences the world, that Champ will have an easier time focusing on what Will has to say if he is not forced to contend with eye contact.
“Can you explain to me why you bit Hannibal?” Will asks. The name taste strange on his tongue, and he feels an odd desire to find some excuse to say it again.
Champ’s fidgety hands pause. He takes a deep breath, and Will thinks it possible that he’s about to speak, but in the end he only shrugs with his left shoulder.
Will knows perfectly well why Champ did it - or at least, he thinks he knows. The boy’s inner space is an almost endless procession of suspicions and fears. He does not, under the best of circumstances, like most men, and he especially does not like it when men pay attention to or touch Will, and in particular if they are large men with big hands. He is terrified that he will lose Will, like he lost his mother.
Hannibal is not, really, especially large, but there is a power and authority in the way that he comports himself that is the same as bigness.
“Did you think he wanted to hurt me?” Will asks.
Champ lifts his head long enough to meet Will’s eyes. He takes after Will in very many ways, but his eyes are a deep brown, so dark that it is almost impossible to make out the pupils in them.
He nods, emphatically. His dark curls spill over his face, and Will reaches across the table to brush the hair out of Champ’s eyes, making a mental note that he needs a haircut soon.
“Listen,” Will says. “I keep you safe. You don’t have to worry about keeping me safe. Alright?”
Champ doesn’t answer, but that isn’t especially surprising.
I haven't had a chance to reply to everyone (I always feel like yall would rather have me work on more fic than replies...) but I want to say how happy the comments I received on the first chapter made me feel. You guys are all wonderful. <333
So this story is probably going to be bigger than expected... I've set it for six chapters but I suspect there's considerably more to it than that.
Nearly a week passes before Hannibal receives the text message from Will.
Hannibal is pleased, seeing it. As the days went by he’d considered being the first one to get in touch, but Hannibal’s instincts insisted that if given time to work through the idea with himself and his son, Will would eventually approach him, whereas too obvious a pursuit might serve to drive him away.
Listen, this is probably weird, but - would you like to come over for dinner sometime?
Hannibal sees no reason to waste any more time playing coy. He texts back immediately.
I would like that very much, he writes. Then, weighing the riskiness of the question, he sends a second message. Why do you think that it might be weird?
Ten minutes pass without a reply, and then Hannibal prods, Is Champ comfortable with the idea of my visiting?
He’ll tolerate you, Will texts back, almost at once. Then, after a pause of perhaps fifteen seconds. Probably.
Then it’s a date. When shall I come? Hannibal asks.
Thursday night, around six? Will answers. We can order pizza or something.
Thursday is perfect, Hannibal sends back. But if I can suggest an alternative plan…
It has been decades since Hannibal has been given cause to seriously consider the demands of a child’s palate.
Bright colors. Simple, straight-forward flavors. High fat and carbohydrate content, though nothing too sugary - not if he wishes to fulfil his ambition of spending some time speaking with Will alone after Champ has gone to bed.
He readies the chicken for roasting at home, stuffing it with lemons and garlic. Hannibal suspects that he detected just the barest hint of Louisiana in Will’s accent when he was agitated, and he takes that into account when he seasons the bird, using a Cajun-inspired dry spice rub consisting of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano and thyme.
After Will welcomes him into his home and greetings are made, and Hannibal’s other bags set aside on the counter for the time being, Hannibal needs only to preheat the oven and slide the roasting pan containing the chicken inside.
The dogs, which which there are three, tried to crowd in on Hannibal when he stepped into the house, but Will has since put them outside. Now, Champ watches him from the around the edge of the threshold leading into the kitchen as he unpacks the ingredients and tools he intends to use in the creation of the rest of the meal.
Will steps past Champ, pausing to ruffle his curly hair, and sits down at the table to watch Hannibal cook - or rather, to watch Champ watching Hannibal.
Hannibal looks over his shoulder at Champ. The boy’s eyes are wary, but not overtly aggressive.
“Would you like a job to do?” Hannibal asks him.
Champ looks to Will, and something passes between them.
“It’s safe,” Will tells him, and Hannibal wonders how he knows that - and if he is as confident as he sounds. Even in the short time that they have spent together, he knows that many of his own particularities have not flown under Will’s radar; that is, in fact, a large part of what has so interested Hannibal.
Despite Will’s reassurance, the boy approaches warily. Hannibal pays little attention to him as he does so, sensing that, as with his father, Champ will greet too much interest as an overt threat.
There is a stool tucked under the edge of the counter - Hannibal guesses, correctly, there to be used by Champ when he helps Will cook. Hannibal pulls it out and then steps away from it; just a suggestion.
Hannibal busies himself at the stove top while Champ climbs up onto the stool, pouring the cavatappi into the pot of boiling water and the stirring in salt and olive oil.
Then he steps smoothly towards Champ, hands gathering up tools and ingredients as he goes. The boy shies from Hannibal’s sidelong approach, and the stool begins to wobble, threatening to fall over and spill Champ on the floor. Hannibal shoots out a leg to stabilize the stool, the bridge of his oxford catching on the footrest even as he hears the legs of Will’s chair scrape against the floor as he rises.
“Careful -” Will begins, then he makes a small sound, both rueful and relieved, when he sees that the crisis has been averted, and Hannibal hears him slide his chair behind the table again.
“Do know know how this is used?” Hannibal asks Champ, showing him the cheese grater. Champ doesn’t answer, but the intensity of his stare stikes Hannibal as a negative, so he demonstrates before putting the tool and piece of gruyère cheese in the boy’s hands.
Hannibal watches Champ for a few moments, assuring himself that the boy has the task well in hand, then occupies himself with other jobs, oiling the casserole dish and beginning to melt some butter in the skillet. He crumbles fresh bread into the hot butter to brown.
When the first piece of cheese has been reduced down to a small chunk, Hannibal takes it away before there is any risk of the boy accidently catching his skin on the grater, and gives him a block of sharp cheddar instead.
Once that is finished, Hannibal takes away the cheese grater and the bowl of shredded cheese and gives Champ a vegetable peeler instead. Champ is familiar with this tool already, but the bundle of multi-colored carrots - reds and purples and white and golden yellow - make the boy’s eyes widen in delight.
Hannibal lowers the heat and begins to mix the shredded cheese in with the cavatappi. He adds guoda to the pot, as well, and then just a hint of nutmeg.
From his seat at the table, Will says, “You’re making macaroni and cheese?”
Hannibal feels a small spike of annoyance. “Yes,” he says, rather stiffly.
“This seems like a lot of work for macaroni and cheese.”
Champ frowns at the criticism. Without looking up from his work, he says, “It’s going to be really good.”
Will’s entire face opens up when he laughs, and the weary shadows under his eyes become that much more beautiful. Hannibal makes no effort to hide the fact that he is staring. “I don’t doubt that,” Will agrees.
Spreading the cavatappi and cheese sauce in the casserole pan, Hannibal carries it down to Champ’s side of the counter. The curiosity with which the boy regards him is marked more with eagerness than caution now, though Hannibal knows better than to imagine that he will be won over by a half hour spent working together in the kitchen.
Nonetheless, he is immensely pleased with himself as he tosses the breadcrumbs and the last of the shredded cheese together and instructs Champ on how to layer the mixture over the pasta. His distribution of the topping is not entirely even, but it is easy for Hannibal to correct this serendipitously before sliding the dish into the oven beside the chicken.
It is short work, from there, to finish putting together the carrot and apple salad. They put it fridge to chill while the rest of the meal cooks.
Dinner goes just right, though afterwards it takes longer than Will might have hoped to get Champ down for the night.
Hannibal is waiting for him on the couch when he comes out of Champ’s room, leaning back among the cushions with a novel, the picture of well-bred patience. He looks up at Will, curiosity sparkling in his eyes. “Everything is all right?”
“I was worried he’d be afraid to sleep with a stranger still in the house,” Will says. “And he was - a bit. But mainly he’s just wound up. He was stubborn about going to bed because he doesn’t want to miss anything interesting.”
“That’s gratifying to hear,” Hannibal says.
“Don’t get too confident - he’s still scared of you. But he’s scared of almost everyone, so also don’t take it too personally, yeah?” Hannibal nods, affable, but Will presses on, insistent. “You need to know that nothing is going to happen between the two of us unless you understand that you’ll have to keep putting work into making sure that you don’t frighten him.”
“I believe I’m capable of doing that.”
“You’re off to a good start, I have to say.”
“From the beginning, I’ve taken for granted that your consideration of our seeing one another is contingent upon my demonstrating that I can get along well with your son.”
“Yeah,” Will says. “But you like him in his own right, too.”
Will does not realize how deeply that has touched him until he says it outloud. He is, himself, used to being regarded as strange and suspicious, even potentially dangerous, but it stings like acid to see Champ rejected.
Hannibal says, “Will you tell me what happened to him?”
Will worries his lower lip between his teeth. He has spent a lot of time over the last week debating how to explain the situation to Hannibal - if he should tell him at all.
He settles on a straightforward recounting of facts, hoping that will keep the anxious churning in his own guts from becoming overwhelming. “His mother was killed,” Will says. “About two and a half years ago.”
Hannibal makes a small sound. “I’d imagined it might be something like that. I'd run through the standard platitudes, but I think that you would only resent that.”
“Thank you,” Will says stiffly, and almost wishes that he hadn't when Hannibal observes, “The boy’s mother. Not your wife?”
Will is coming to understand better with every minute they spend together that Hannibal is not only too insightful by far; he is cunning and calculated in his intrusions, as patient as he is demanding. It the normal course of things Will might have found it infuriating, but there is something at once flattering and reassuring about having Hannibal’s attention. He finds that he is, despite himself, enjoying it.
But the question is both embarrassing and extremely difficult. Will’s first impulse is to be evasive, but he forces himself to answer honestly. “She was… an old fling. My only fling, really. I didn’t, um, know that Champ actually, you know, existed. Until I got a call telling me that his mother had been murdered, and my name was in her will and on his birth certificate.”
Hannibal makes a noncommittal noise to encourage him to go on.
“The thing is,” Will says slowly, “her boyfriend did it, and Champ was in the apartment at the time.”
“How much did he see?”
“I’m not sure - I don’t think Champ even knows, for sure, at this point.”
“Memory is fluid in that way, especially in regards to traumatic events which take place when we are young. It is difficult to separate facts from imagination, or to know how much has been repressed.”
There is something in Hannibal’s tone that makes Will watch him closely; he sounds almost self-reflective. “He saw more than was good for him, anyway,” Will says. “More than he should have had to see. And the boyfriend saw him. When the… rotten son of a bitch realized he was there, he went after Champ, too.”
Will is struggling, now, to keep his voice even - to conceal just how much rage is simmering below the surface. He is not sure that Hannibal, as accommodating as he’s been, will be willing to accept that anger. “Champ hid under his mom’s bed. It was big - heavy - and he was in a hurry by then, I guess.
“He bent down and shot into the shadows instead of trying to move the bed or pull Champ out from under it.”
Will taps his own shoulder, just above the end of the clavicle, and winces as though the touch pains him. “Got Champ here. It nearly killed him - things were touch and go for a while.”
“I noticed from the way that he uses it that he seemed to have some old injury in that arm.”
“It still hurts him,” Will says. And though he would like to stop there, the words run on, escaping him. “He playacts it sometimes. Not the part with his mom - he’s never been able to talk about that. He crawls under my bed and whispers about how he is hiding from Robert and that he needs to stay quiet or else he’s going to be killed. Then he makes gunshot noises and screams and rolls around.”
“That’s not unusual behavior for a child who is still processing extreme trauma,” Hannibal says.
“I know that,” Will snaps. “That doesn’t make it any easier.”
“No, of course not,” Hannibal agrees. Then he says, “When I was a boy - somewhat older than Champ was when he lost his mother, understand, but still a boy - my younger sister was murdered before my eyes.”
“Fuck,” Will hisses, and then stumbles over his own tongue, trying to think of what else he ought to say.
Hannibal goes on as though he hadn't spoken. “There was, for a long time, a… compulsion to act out what had been done to her. I never fed that impulse, and eventually I am pleased to say that I outgrew it, but it took time.”
There rises in Will, for the first time, a protective instinct towards Hannibal, and he says, “I’m sorry you went through that,” knowing that the words are useless for all their sincerity, but that they must nonetheless be spoken.
Hannibal waves this away with a lithe flick of his wrist. “She was about the age Champ is now, when she was killed. When he first approached me I was reminded forcefully of her for the first time in years.”
“What, when he bit you?”
Hannibal nods. A faint smile plays at the edges of his mouth.
“She must have been a hell of a kid.”
“Oh, she was,” Hannibal says, his admiration evident. “Her name was Mischa.”
Then Hannibal asks, almost casually, “The man who shot Champ is in prison?”
“Yeah. That's complicated, and I don't want to get into it tonight, but yeah. He is.”
Hannibal says, “What would you like to do tonight?”
Will tries to quell the anxious beating of his own heart. Looking at his own hands, folded in his lap, he says carefully, “I think I’d like ask you if you’d like to go to bed with me, but maybe that’s gauche, asking so soon.”
He forces himself to glance up, and when their eyes meet Hannibal smiles.
Will is pliant under Hannibal’s touch, and astonishingly eager, and yet there is in Hannibal a sense of uneasiness. He cannot shake the feeling that he is being used - not deliberately or maliciously, no, but used nonetheless.
He pauses, kneeling on the floor by the edge of the bed, his fingers hooked under the waist of Will’s jeans, and looks up past Will’s naked chest to the underside of his jaw. He watches Will’s adam’s apple bob, anxiously, and then he leans back to look down at Hannibal.
“Alright?” Will says, and his lower lip plays between his teeth uneasily.
“Are you clutching me for balance, Will?” Hannibal asks.
Will scowls, but his hands drop from Hannibal’s shoulders. “Do me a favor and don’t try to psychoanalyze me in bed.”
Hannibal moves to his feet and then sits on the bed next to Will. He spreads his palms over his knees and says, “I've changed my mind. I don't want to do this - at least not tonight.”
“That's okay,” Will says, rushing to reassure him. “That's - I understand.” A pause, and then he says, “Did I do something wrong, though?”
“I don't want to be a fling.”
Will is silent.
Hannibal says, “Why did you invite me here?”
“I like you.”
“I think that I do,” Will says, but there is a shred of uncertainty in his troubled frown. “I like that you like me. I like that you get along with my boy - that you are willing to like him. Is that…” he hesitates. “Shallow? Not a good enough reason?”
“Yeah, so what?” Will snaps. And then, after a long pause, he asks more softly, “Aren’t you?”
There’s a vulnerability to the question that makes Hannibal feel terribly exposed. It is his turn to be silent.
Will is quiet beside him, skin flushed, though Hannibal is not sure if it is from embarrassment or frustration or latent desire. His hair is mussed - it was Hannibal’s own fingers that put it out of order - and he reaches up and tucks one of the errant curls down behind Will’s ear. He shudders like a racehorse at the touch, and curses under his breath.
“Are you toying with me?”
“I’m thinking,” Hannibal says, with a shade of annoyance. “I’m deciding what I want.” But maybe there isn’t all that much thinking involved - certainly, less than Hannibal is accustomed to - because now that his hand is on Will’s skin again he does not want to draw it away. His fingers wander, nimble, down the ridges of Will’s spine. Will is much paler, beneath his clothing, than Hannibal would have expected; his face and arms are quite golden.
Will’s breathing has become labored.
Hannibal leans in close, and sees the small hairs on the back of Will’s neck stand on end at the feel of his breath against his skin. “How long has it been?”
Will’s eyes widen at the question, then he turns his head away. “A while,” he says, stiffly.
Will tries for a self-deprecating laugh, but it isn’t very convincing. “Champ was six in October. You do the math.” Then, defiant and a little spiteful, he meets Hannibal’s eyes. “What about you?”
“Longer than that,” Hannibal says, without shame. “And, truthfully, I can hardly remember the last time I wanted someone for the sake of wanting them. But I saw you, and I thought - no, I felt - that it would be a terrible mistake if I didn’t…” He trails off, losing his train of thought.
Will is trembling. Hannibal can see the press of his erection, doubtlessly painful, against the fabric of his jeans. He leans in closer and says, “I wonder if I could make you come without even touching you.”
Will’s head jerks towards him, hurt and furious, and Hannibal’s hand finds the side of his face and cups it, deft fingers tracing the line of his jaw.
“There is something so special about you,” he tells Will. “Something utterly unique - perhaps unprecedented. Do you know that?”
Will begins to shy away, but then he leans into the touch instead, his own hand coming up to brush with tentative fingertips at the back of Hannibal’s wrist. He tries, almost desperately, to make a joke of it. “And I was worried that I might be coming on too strong.”
Hannibal ignores this. “I’m going to work out what it is,” he says, and draws Will into a kiss, and when they come apart Will is not the only one breathing raggedly.
“Come here,” Hannibal says.
“Did you change your mind again?”
“My prerogative,” Hannibal says, and pulls Will into his lap. He leans his chin over Will’s shoulder to look down at what his hands are doing as his fingers find Will’s belt buckle and unfasten it. He undoes Will’s fly and draws his cock out into his hand, and Will presses his body back against Hannibal and hisses his name out between his teeth. That pleases Hannibal immensely, he finds, and he leans over the knape of Will’s neck and breathes him in as his hand strokes Will’s cock.
His other arm is curled around Will’s chest, and now Will clutches Hannibal’s wrist and forearm with his own hands, and buries his face in the space between, trying to muffle against Hannibal’s skin the high whine that comes from his throat.
Will comes almost at once, of course, and when Hannibal sees embarrassment closing in over him he draws Will into another kiss.
Hannibal lets Will push him gently down onto his back, and he is just getting down to the business of returning the favor when, when on the other end of the hall Champ begins to howl.
It is over as quickly as that.
“Sorry,” Will says, rolling out of the bed.
Hannibal watches Will from the bed as he quickly peels his jeans off and towels off, then pulls on a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Perhaps thirty seconds have elapsed and Champ is still screaming, but though Will is moving with a quick intensity he is not panicked, so Hannibal knows that this is not an unusual occurrence.
He darts into the bathroom to wash his hands, and raises his voice over the water to tell Hannibal, “This is going to take a while.”
It is, Hannibal suspects, a suggestion that he ought to go home, but Hannibal lays back in the bed and folds his hands over his stomach to watch as Will hurries out of the room, absentmindedly leaving the door hanging open behind him.
The panicked shrieking transitions into sobbing almost at once, and for a long time that is all Hannibal can make out, but as Champ begins to quiet down he is able to make out the undercurrent of Will’s voice. Hannibal cannot understand what Will is saying, but he finds the steady distant flow of words immensely soothing.
After a while, Hannibal dozes.
When Will steps into Champ’s room the boy lunges towards him across the bed. Will moves forward quickly to catch him up in his arms before he can plummet over the edge. He untangles Champ from the wet blankets and carries him to chair that stands beside the bed. Will sits down carefully and rocks him until the sobbing stops, talking softly as he does so; a stream of comfort words, largely meaningless but for their intent.
When Champ is calm enough to allow Will to put him down, he stands the boy on his feet and helps him out of the dirty pajamas. In the normal course of things, Champ would be more than capable of doing this himself - would, in fact, insist on exercising his independence in the matter - but now he is wrung out out and, it seems to Will, barely present in his own body.
That vacancy used to terrify Will, not the least of which because he recognizes in it his own tendency to dissociate, but now he accepts it the same way he accepts the bed wetting and the nightmares and the long stretches of wordlessness; none of it ideal, maybe, but common place - unavoidable facts of their lives. Will knows that it will fade.
Let’s jump in the shower, Will tells him, and Champ clings tightly to his fingers as they cross the hallway to the bathroom. Will get the water running and tests the temperature, and then he puts down the lid on the toilet and sits to wait while Champ washes up.
He gives Champ a towel and they go back into his room, where Champ puts on clean pajamas while Will strips the bed and disinfects the plastic sheet before remaking the bed with fresh linens.
Will finds the paring knife when he lifts the corner of the mattress to tuck the sheet in. This again, he thinks. Weariness descends on him with enough force to nearly knock him off his feet. It is, perhaps, the dozenth time he’s found weapons hidden in the boy’s room this winter. When he turns to glance at Champ he sees that his back is to him, so Will wraps a stray sock around the blade and puts it in his pocket. There will be time enough to rehash the issue tomorrow.
“Bed’s all ready,” Will tells him, but when he tries to shepherd Champ towards it the boy digs in his heels. He thrums with anxiety, and Will feels the fear flowing under his own skin, making the shadows hostile and every tiny noise a threat.
The bed is tainted by nightmares, at least for the rest of tonight.
“We can go lay down in my room,” Will tells him, “but I think Hannibal is still there.”
Champ makes an angry sound and bangs his fist against the side of his dresser.
Will’s sense of guilt splits off in too many directions for him to track it effectively, and he does not know, really, if he should feel guilty at all. He wonders if he has done something wrong by inviting a stranger into their home and then into his bed, or if the error lies in never having done so before; were he socially competent enough to maintain adult friendships, having a visitor - even a lover - stay the night would not feel so outrageously outside of the norm for the boy. Will wonders if the error, wherever he might have gone wrong, might be corrected by turning Hannibal out and telling him to go home or if that will only compound the problem.
He says at last, “I’ll sleep in here with you if you’d rather do that.”
“Those are your options, little buddy,” Will tells him, and Champ sighs as though the entire universe has disappointed him and heads down the hall towards Will's room. Will takes a few quick steps to pass him in the hallway.
Will peers into the room ahead of Champ, not sure really what he is checking for but needing to confirm to himself that it is safe.
A suspicious part of his mind wonders if Hannibal might be feigning sleep, though to what purpose he can’t quite say, but a long look at his shadow-bathed face convinces Will that this is not the case.
At rest, Hannibal’s face looks at once older and much younger, soft and slack and naked of any machinations. He’d thought Hannibal striking, but now he looks almost silly, head propped up a bit on the pillows, mouth slightly agape and chin pressed against his chest, feathery hair drooping down over his closed eyelids.
I have no idea how old he is, Will realizes with a pang of concern. I hardly know anything about him.
Will wonders what it is about himself that could possibly interest Hannibal - what Hannibal imagines he has to offer.
‘There is something utterly unique about you,’ Will thinks, but he has put the things that make him special aside, as best he can. Champ has been his justification for doing so - his excuse, his ticket out of the hell that looking at everything Jack Crawford needed him to see put him through.
When it had only been his own sanity on the line, saving lives was worth toll that it took on him, but Champ needs him to be stable - to be safe , in every sense of the word. That is the important thing.
Champ crawls up onto the bed, hugging the edge of the mattress, and Will slides in after him, putting himself between Hannibal and Champ.
Hannibal wakes with a start, and there’s a moment of confusion in which he struggles with the afterimage of the nightmare that is still painted beneath his eyelids and with the disorientation of finding himself in a strange room in a strange bed.
Beside him, Will rolls over and closes a hand around his bicep. “Alright?” he mutters, and when Hannibal turns his head to look at him he sees that Will’s eyes are still closed. He is not really awake, and as Hannibal watches him he sinks back down deeper into sleep.
Hannibal cannot remember Will getting into bed with him, nor Champ, but the boy is there too, curled like a fetus against Will’s back.
Strange, that he did not wake when they came in.
He slides out of bed silently, careful not to disturb the two of them. He’s slept in his pants, but his shirt is folded on the dresser where he left it. The idea of wearing the same outfit two days running is distasteful to him, and he regrets not having packed an overnight bag, but it hadn’t occurred to him that he might be invited into bed; Hannibal wonders what other surprises might be in store for him.
For a few moments he considers opening Will’s closet and availing himself of a clean shirt, in the very least, but he is not sure that it will be well received if he takes the liberty, and so he refrains.
Will has left his jeans on the floor; probably he’d exchanged them for the sweatpants he is wearing now quietly and in the near dark. Regardless of motive, the disorder nags at Hannibal, and he bends to pick them up. When he does so, the small knife sheathed in a child’s sock falls out of the pocket. Hannibal picks that up, too.
It’s simple for Hannibal to put the pieces together; Champ hid the knife in his room and when Will found it he hid it and took it away. It’s been over four decades since he’s had real cause to fear that danger might descend upon him in the night, yet he sleeps better when he knows that there is a blade close to hand.
There are, in fact, weapons at the ready throughout his house, and only some of them in plain sight. Hannibal thinks of the scalpel the rests on his desk and the syringe that is taped under the shelf in the bathroom cupboard to the folding knife under his own mattress. He’s never had cause to use any of these things, but they bring him peace of mind.
Hannibal thinks now that he will have to sweep the house for these, as well as any of the dozens of other things that might harm or be harmed by a small inquisitive child, should Champ and his father visit. The prospect of undertaking this task is pleasant, and there is a bounce in Hannibal’s step as he walks down the hall and into the kitchen to start breakfast.
It is evident from the instant that the boy joins Hannibal in the kitchen that Champ intends to communicate that he has overstayed his already tepid welcome.
He stomps around the kitchen in bare feet, ignoring both Hannibal and the fact that he is already making hot food in favor taking down a box of cereal. The boy weighs no more than fifty pounds, but he throws his weight around as effectively as he can as he pours himself a bowl; he slams the cupboard door, makes his chair legs squeak on the floor when he pulls it out, and sets the bowl on the table so hard that milk slops over the edge.
Hannibal turns from the stove to watch him placidly.
For a time, Champ tries to pretend that Hannibal isn’t there. He hooks his arm around his cereal bowl and hunches over it, resolutely looking in any direction other than towards Hannibal.
Champ drops his spoon on the table with a clatter.
“Are you going to be in love with him now?” he demands.
Hannibal considers the question. “I haven’t decided yet,” he says, and believes this to be an honest answer. “Does that possibility trouble you?”
Champ gets up from his chair and stalks toward Hannibal. He throws his head back to glare up at Hannibal, and tells him, “If you do anything bad I’ll stab you.” He jabs at Hannibal’s belly and says, “I have a knife. I’ll stab you here and you’ll die.”
The knife he speaks of is currently laying in the sink where Hannibal left it, but there is no reason to tell Champ that.
Hannibal regards the boy. Champ is putting on a defiant, vicious face, his lips skinned to reveal an uneven mixture of adult and baby teeth, but it is obvious that he is afraid. The fear wells in his dark eyes and bleeds from his pores, a juvenile scent like that of an overstressed puppy. And something else - there is a weary element to that fear, as though the boy is tired with it in a manner that ought to be well beyond his age.
Often times, he knows, abusers profess love as a means of regaining access to their victims. He wonders if he looks something like the one who killed Champ’s mother, or if all strange men wear his face.
Hannibal is acutely aware that he is being tested.
“I’ll bear that closely in mind,” he tells him, and when Champ narrows his eyes Hannibal is surprised but not displeased to find himself inundated by a powerful desire to protect the fearsome little creature.
Turning back to the stove, Hannibal says, “I’ve made pancakes with apple and cinnamon. Would you like some?”
There is a long silence, and then he says guardedly, “Okay.”
Will is still rubbing the sleep from his eyes when he comes into the kitchen.
“Smells good,” he says. He wonders if he should go to Hannibal - touch him - but Champ is watching him intently from above his stack of tiny pancakes, and Will supposes that he has tested the boy’s tolerance for a new person drawing attention away from him enough already.
Therefore, Will goes to Champ instead and ruffles his hair. Champ wiggles away and pushes the hair out of his eyes before looking up to grin up at him.
“You behaving?” Will says, and sees stubbornness paint over the guilt that shines for a moment in Champ’s eyes. The boy doesn’t answer.
“Exemplary,” Hannibal says, without turning from his work at the stove. “Absolutely golden.” From the corner of his eye, Will sees Champ lean in over his plate and smile secretively.
Will brushes his fingers through Champ’s hair, more gently this time. “You’re a good kid, yeah?”
A few minutes after Will sits dow Hannibal joins them at the table, putting Will’s plate in front of him before sitting his own down and sliding into his own chair.
When Champ has finished eating and gone back into his room, Will says tentatively, “There was a knife in my jeans…”
“Yes. I put it away.”
“Okay,” Will says, with a tinge of embarrassment. “I just wanted to make sure he didn’t take it and put it someplace else.”
“It’s not unusual for children who have experienced traumatic events that make them feel as though they are unsafe during the night to crave the reassurance that comes from feeling that they can if needs be defend themselves and their loved ones, Will.”
“I know it,” Will says. “I used to do the same thing, but I was at least ten when I started that.”
What it is that comes into Hannibal’s face is gone before Will can decode it. Taking a slip of his coffee to clear the lump in his throat, Will says, “You pissed about last night?”
“Why do you believe that I might be pissed?”
“Why do you always answer questions with another question?”
Hannibal raises an eyebrow.
“I had to leave so quickly - I got mine but you didn't get yours.”
“I was aware that you have a child before I accepted your invitation,” Hannibal says, and despite himself Will laughs. “It happens. And, in any case, I think that I’m right in imagining that there will be a reckoning of accounts?”
“Saturday evening, shall we say?”
Remember when this was going to be three chapters?
I got the line about being in love from the documentary, "The Secret Lives of Six Year Olds."
When Hannibal knocks, Champ comes to the door alone. This has never before happened, and Hannibal looks at the boy’s anxious, drawn face and then past him into the house.
“What’s the matter?” he asks, but Champ doesn’t answer. Instead, he reaches up and clutches the side of Hannibal’s hand, fingers incidentally closing over the faint scar from the bite he gave Hannibal almost three months previous.
Hannibal enfolds Champ's hand in his own and they go forward into the quiet house.
He finds Will on the back porch, sitting on the steps in the dark while the dogs nose around in the yard. Spring has made its first inroads towards breaking what has been an especially bitter winter, but Will is not dressed appropriately to be out there in the chill.
When Hannibal slides the screen door open, he is struck forcefully by the scents of nervous sweat and whiskey. Startled by the noise behind him, Will climbs clumsily to his feet, and Hannibal sees that he is tremendously drunk.
“Hannibal,” he says, turning, and sways so badly that he has to grip the porch railing with the hand that is not holding his glass. Beside him, Champ grips Hannibal’s hand more tightly. “I didn’t know you were coming over.”
“It’s Thursday,” Hannibal says. He has, since their first date, spent every Thursday and Saturday night here. On weeks when he does not have patients on Friday afternoons, he often stays through the entire weekend.
“Right,” Will says, and it is obvious from the way that he says this that he did not know this - that he’s lost track of what day it is. “Sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking,” and hurries towards the door. Hannibal moves to allow him through, watching as he passes by, and then follows after.
Will busies himself in the kitchen cabinets, evidently too ashamed to face the two of them. His glass sits on the counter, half an inch of amber liquid in its bottom. "Do you want a drink?” Will says, refilling his own to the rim.
“I was under the impression that you don’t pretake,” Hannibal says, his voice carefully neutral. The two times he has brought a bottle of wine to go with dinner, Will has demurred.
Will shrugs with one shoulder. “What the hell, right?”
He continues to drink heavily throughout the evening, though Hannibal leaves his own before dinner drink untouched, ice melting to mute the bite that the bourbon imparts on the air.
Champ is anxious throughout the evening, his eyes darting between the two adults as though trying to guess which bomb will explode first, and Will does not seem to notice. He is lost in himself, tangled up in a miserable sulking rage, and the more he drinks the further he seems to go away from them.
When Champ says softly, “I want to go to bed, please,” Will makes a vague effort to shake himself out of it.
“You haven’t finished your dinner,” he says, enunciating carefully to keep from slurring the words, and that’s true. The boy, who usually has an excellent appetite, has taken only a few reluctant bites.
Champ looks down at his plate, and roses of incensed color bloom on his cheeks. Then he shoves the plate across the table. Pasta sauce splashes like blood splatter, and when Will jerks back his hand knocks his glass off the edge of the table.
When it shatters on the floor, Champ gives a high, startled cry, and bolts from the table.
Will moves to follow him, but staggers as he gets up from his chair.
“Sit back down,” Hannibal tells him. “I’ll put him to bed.”
Will chances a glance at Hannibal’s face, and whatever he sees there shames and frightens him, because he drops his eyes at once and mutters, “Sorry.”
Hannibal has caught small glimpses of part of Champ’s scar before, and he has seen the way that the old injury aches, impairing his use of the arm. It is only for the first time now, as Champ shrugs out of his t-shirt and takes the pajama top that Hannibal holds out to him, that he sees it in its entirety.
Fury is already roiling within him, but the sight of the tangle of pink scar tissue against the soft brown skin awakens in him an icy cold outrage that Hannibal has rarely in this life allowed free reign. Pictures of what he would like to do with the man who held the gun play vividly behind Hannibal’s eyes, and he does not at first notice that Champ, looking up at him with wide eyes, is shaking.
Hannibal is sorry for multiplying the boy’s distress. He makes his face reassuring, and turns back the covers so Champ can climb into bed, then draws the blankets back over him gently. He knows Champ is not fooled.
Down the hall, something falls over and Will curses loudly.
Hannibal wonders if he has been wrong about Will - if he has missed something of fundamental importance in the man.
He asks Champ, “Does he get like this often?”
“Never ever,” he says quickly. The boy is desperate to be believed, but Hannibal thinks that he is telling the truth. That, at least, is a relief. “Never before. Something bad’s happened.”
Then, his desperation edging him towards tears, Champ says, “Please don’t be angry.”
“I’m not angry with you,” Hannibal says, and knows that Champ sees the evasion at once for what it is.
Hannibal brushes the hair back from the boy’s eyes and stands. He walks to the doorway, but then he pauses and goes back.
Champ pulls the blankets up to cover everything but his eyes and watches as Hannibal draws the linoleum knife from under the mattress and slips it into his pocket.
By the time Hannibal comes back into the kitchen, Will has transitioned to remorse. Or, at least - or rather - guilt and self-loathing.
“Is he okay?”
Hannibal stares back at him flatly.
Will runs a hand down his face. “Shit,” he says, bleakley. “I’m messing everything up.”
“I’d like an explanation,” Hannibal says, and hears the danger in his own careful voice.
Will catches it, too, he supposes, and to a certain degree it sobers him. “I needed to take the edge off or I was going to do something stupid, but I got carried away. I just -”
“The piece of shit is back on the streets.”
The pieces of the puzzle that have been missing snap into place for Hannibal. The anger begins to go. In its place, he feels relief and… anticipation.
“Who?” he says. Hannibal knows, of course; the man who shot Champ. He simply fishing for the man’s name.
Will brings his fist down on the tabletop, and the dishes clatter. “Who the fuck do you think?”
Hannibal takes the knife from his pocket and lays it in front of Will. It gleams dangerously on the table. It is not, rationally, any worse than the kitchen knives Champ usually takes, but there is something more threatening about its potentialities, somehow. Hannibal knows that they both sense it.
“You’d do well to put a lock on your tool chest,” Hannibal tells him.
Without any forewarning, Will starts to cry. They are angry, helpless tears, and the helplessness of them only multiplies the fury bubbling through to the surface.
Hannibal himself feels calm, now that he understands what has provoked Will to behave so badly, but he watches the man and judges it unwise to go to him now; it is evident that Will does not wish to be touched.
Will is tumbling into rage, and Hannibal lets him fall, admiring the descent.
“I’m going to kill him,” Will says, and he pushes away from the table violently and lurches to his feet. His chair tips over and clatters to the ground behind him. Hannibal does not flinch, but he is conscious that the sound was loud enough that Champ very likely did.
“I want to… I want -” Will is saying, his voice a frustrated, outraged growl as he comes towards Hannibal on unsteady legs.
“Lower your voice,” Hannibal says levelly, watching his approach.
Will leans his face in close to Hannibal’s. His tears fall, unheeded. “I want to fucking kill him,” he hisses in a low rush. “I want to hurt him. I want to see his blood. I want to beat the sonofabitch to death with my fists. You understand me?”
“I do, Will,” Hannibal says.
Now that he fully understand what Will is feeling, Hannibal adores him for it. The murderous rage makes Hannibal, in some fundamental way, feel less alone. For the first time in his life, it gives him a feeling of hope that he might be honest about himself and his past and still be not only accepted but understood.
Perhaps Will sees something of that thrilled pleasure in Hannibal’s face, because for an instant he looks puzzled. He steps back, uncertain and worried, and stumbles over his own feet.
Hannibal catches him by his upper arms before he can fall, and then Will is clutching at him. “It’s time for you to go to bed,” Hannibal tells him, and steers Will towards his room.
He sits Will on the edge of the bed and kneels to unlace his boots.
“Hey,” Will says, taping clumsily at Hannibal’s shoulders. “Hey, Hannibal?”
Hannibal looks up at him, his face carefully neutral.
“You’re kinda terrifying, you know that?” Will tells him, and in the morning he will not remember saying this. “There’s something in you that’s just so…” Then he trails off, not sure how to finish the thought.
“I think I love you, though,” Will concludes. He won’t recall saying that, either.
Hannibal pauses for a long moment, processing that. Then his hands go back to work, pulling off first one of Will’s boots then the other.
He turns down the covers, and says to Will, “Into bed with you,” and as obedient as a child Will swings his legs up into the bed and lets Hannibal draw the blankets over him.
Hannibal steps towards the door, but Will’s voice stops him. “Wait,” he says. “You aren’t coming to bed?”
“I’ll be back,” Hannibal says, switching off the light.
He closes the door softly, and heads down the hallway to check on Champ.
This one's short, but I won't be able to update again for a couple-few days, probably, and I didn't want to leave folks hanging on a distressing note...
Will wakes up catastrophically hungover and alone in bed.
Dumb piece of shit, he thinks to himself, and the very act of thinking seems to make his head pound harder, you’ve ruined everything.
He can’t remember everything about yesterday evening, but what he recalls is enough to make him feel certain that Hannibal will have seen just how fucked up he really is. Hannibal will understand now that the life which Will has cobbled together for the sake of trying to give Champ at least the illusion of safety and semi-normality has been built on sand, and that Will himself has all the stability of a human card castle. It has been a tremendous struggle to achieve even that much, to cut out the drinking and to find a way to manage his own mental health, and most of all to distance himself from the intrusive violent desires that have always followed him but which became so much more a part of who he was when he worked for Jack Crawford, engraved beneath his eyelids and etched under his skin.
That it is not enough is a fact of which Will is acutely and constantly aware.
Now Hannibal will see that too. He has to.
But when Will hauls himself out of bed he finds Hannibal in the kitchen, making breakfast with Champ as though nothing has happened.
It’s only the boy who regards him with mistrust and displeasure, and Will aches at that and tries to conceal his desperation to make it better. His head is a thudding mass of pain and he knows that he is still not thinking clearly.
There’s coffee ready, and Will pours himself a cup and sits down at the table. When breakfast is offered Will declines with a sharp jerk of his head, and then wishes he hadn’t when the movement makes the pain spike.
Eventually, Champ goes out into the back yard to play with the dogs. Hannibal turns to Will, expectant.
It takes a while for Will to put the entire story into something approaching a coherent narrative. There are more sharp edges to it than he knows how to manage, even more than two years later, and his own feelings are only that much more unruly. He feels the rage simmering inside himself like banked coals, waiting patiently for the fuel it needs to set itself roaring out of control, and fire has no regard for who it burns.
He tells Hannibal about getting the phone call informing him that Terri had been killed, the stab of grief that it brought even as old regrets began to resurface, but after that the confusion - he hadn’t seen her in years, and couldn’t understand why he was being contacted instead of her next of kin
“It took me a second to remember that there wasn’t any next of kin. Ward of the state - orphan, you know. That was something we had in common, after my dad did me the favor of drinking himself to death.
"It was different for her, though. Her parents had loved her, for as long as they were alive, and that made a difference.
"She didn't like it when I talked, um, the way I do when I have to talk about my parents. The way I just did, you know? I figured that was why she didn't get into touch when she found out she caught pregnant. Must have thought I'd be absolute shit as a father, and I can't blame her... I was angry a lot back then."
And he laughs, ruefully, at himself - as though any of that anger has gone away.
The idea came to Will, for some absurd reason, that the man on the other end of the phone was building towards asking him to shoulder the responsibility for planning the funeral, and he was trying to think of the best way to beg off without coming across as a piece of shit - and without feeling like just that. He was going to say that he wanted to help, in any way that he could, but that there was no possible way that he could get away from work - that more people were apt to die if he did.
“I’d been on the Minnesota Shrike case at the time, and it was an absolute nightmare - the dead girls kept piling up, and we had nothing, absolutely zero leads -”
“I remember reading of that,” Hannibal says. “Hobbs was the name. He killed himself, didn’t he?”
Will nods. “Almost a year after I brought Champ home. We - they - never actually caught him, not really. He just imploded after a while - killed his wife, cut his daughter’s throat and shot himself. They might have all gone to their graves without anyone realizing what Hobbs was, but when the executor was inventorying the family’s possessions, she uncovered some, um, disturbing objects.”
“You don’t want to hear about any of that,” Will says. When instead of agreeing Hannibal simply watches him impassively, Will wets his lips and says, “This isn’t what I meant to talk about.”
It took Will time to parse what the man on the other end of the phone was saying when instead of the funeral he began to speak of a child.
“‘Your son,’ he said, and it was like the earth had suddenly swung free from its axis and was bucking beneath my feet. I had to ask him to repeat himself three times before I could understand what he was telling me, and it took a lot longer for me to really grasp the implications.
“It still,” he confesses, “doesn’t feel entirely real. That’s weird, isn’t it?”
“Not at all,” Hannibal reassures him.
That sense of unreality built when he was informed that the kid was in the hospital - that he had been shot and was in critical condition.
“It was confusing,” Will says, and his head pounds harder as the old emotions play through his mind. “I’d been thinking that there’d been an accident, you know? A car crash. Something like that. But this man was talking about murder and I hadn’t though, you know, even with the work I was doing -”
“That it might strike someone you’d cared about, however fleetingly.”
“Yeah,” Will says. “That’s it exactly. And just up and shooting at a kid -
“I’m not naive,” Will says, and it is desperately important to him that Hannibal understand this.
Hannibal’s voice is quiet and thoughtful. “You know entirely too well what nightmares might befall children. We both do.”
There is quiet in room, but through the kitchen window they can hear Champ laughing and calling to the dogs. Will looks through the window and sees the boy, awkward but happy in the puffy blue coat that he has almost outgrown.
“What was the name of the man who did this to him?” Hannibal asks, and for Will there is a moment in which he has the profound sense that he is standing on the edge of a precipice, and that Hannibal is there with him; if they fall - one or both of them - it will be Will’s own doing.
The feeling does not fade so much as it is pushed away by Will into the back of his mind.
“Szász,” Will says, and feels the hair on his arms bristle as his skin breaks into gooseflesh at the thing that flashes in Hannibal’s eyes for just the briefest of instants. “Robert Szász.”
“Eastern European? Hungarian?”
Will shrugs. “American. White. I dunno.”
“You’re certain that it was him?”
“Not the slightest doubt in my mind.” Will watches him carefully. “I’m good at reading people, Hannibal,” he says, and sees it again - slightly different this time, and just as indefinable, but a flash of something that Hannibal doesn’t want seen. Does he feel anxious? Threatened? Pleased?
Will goes on. “But he got his friends to lie him up so he had an alibi for that night. It was infuriating. We knew we had him - everyone, all of my co-workers, they reached the same conclusion that I did - but the physical evidence wasn’t there.
“Or rather, there was too much of it. It wasn’t any shock for his fingerprints to be present at the scene, along with hair and skin flakes and the rest. He had his own place, but he stayed at their apartment more often than not.
“The gun, of course, was long gone.
“So we were looking for other approaches.”
Will pauses. The anger inside of him has grown huge again, but like shrapnel from a bomb is beginning to shoot off in directions other than Szász.
Speaking of Jack is in some ways more difficult than talking about Szász. Will thought Jack was his friend, and in some wounded childish corner of his mind he’d wanted Jack to be the stand-in for a father who was rarely there for him. And they didn’t part on good terms. It wasn’t until Will was out from under his thumb that he started to really understand the extent to which Jack has taken advantage of his need to please the older man.
“Jack Crawford thought Champ could pick the guy out of a lineup. It wouldn’t have been admissible in court, probably - Champ was barely four at the time - but Jack pushed for it because if we had a witness it would be something to lean on Szász and his buddies with.”
Jack pushed for it and Will let himself be pushed, the combined force of old habit and own fervent desire to see the man punished as severely as the law would allow.
“It was a complete disaster. I don’t think he could even tell the men in the lineup apart. They pulled back the curtain on the two way mirror and Champ went ballistic.”
At that point, Champ had only been out of the hospital for a few days. Will spend most of that time in the hotel suite he’d rented for them, trying to acclimate Champ to his presence.
He’d gotten far enough that Champ would allow himself to be held in Will’s lap, and that’s where he was when he saw the men in the line up.
Will’s hope was that he’d able to calm Champ if the sight of the men was disturbing to him, and when he began to shriek Will by instinct curled his arms around the boy. Champ’s right arm was still in a sling, the shoulder a bundle of pain and damaged nerve endings and knitting flesh, but he’d spun around in Will’s grasp and clawed at his face with his good hand.
It had taken time, even after the curtain was closed again, to convince Champ to stop screaming and trying to fight him, and when he went still at last the stillness was something approaching catatonia. It was then that Will realized that the boy had wet himself. He’d torn his stitches, too, and was bleeding.
In that moment, Will decided to walk away from it all; to leave Jack, and his work, and a trial that neither he nor the boy could influence, behind himself, and to take Champ back home so the child could at least lick his wounds in peace.
Szász’s friends didn’t break under questioning; they were, Will guessed, more scared of Szász than they were of perjury charges that would never materialize anyway as long as they all stuck to the story.
“They weren’t able to make a murder charge stick, but when the cops raided his place they found that Szász had a regular little pharmacy set up, and they’d hit him with possession with intent to distribute,” Will says, and hears the bite of bitterness in his own voice. “He took a plea deal for that rather than letting it go to trial - no arguing with those facts - and that should have kept him locked up for at least the next five years.
“Something changed, I guess. He turned snitch or got some other sort of deal, I don’t fucking know, and now he’s out.”
Hannibal leans back in his chair, that impassive yet intentful expression on his face again. “And do you intend to do something about that, Will?”
Will’s first instinct is to try to play innocent - even to lie outright. But he fights that. “I’ve thought about it,” he says. He has, in fact, thought of little else since he got the courtesy call two days ago; his mind is, still in this moment, fixed on the gun that is locked in its safe on the highest back shelf in his closet.
“But I’m not stupid, Hannibal. I know I wouldn’t get away with it.”
As soon as the words are out of his mouth he wonders if they were a mistake - if he shouldn’t have put things so baldly. It is impossible to tell from Hannibal’s face if it was the wrong thing to say.
“I’m not dangerous,” he says, and behind his ribs his heart beats like the wings of a trapped bird; he does not know, really, if this is the truth, much less if Hannibal’s believes it. More importantly, he does not know if he wants to be believed. “I’m not going to do anything - all of that stuff I said was just drunk talk."
He pauses, wondering if he should go on. Then he says, "I'm not going to risk losing my boy for a shot at making the sonofabitch pay."
Hannibal leans forward. His hand rests on Will’s knee, a heavy and comforting weight, for perhaps the span of five of the rabbit-fast beats of Will’s heart, and then he stands.
When, a few days later, Hannibal puts the envelope with the tickets and hotel reservations into Will’s hands, he can see that it comes as a surprise.
Will looks down at the printed logo for the water park and vacation resort, which is located a couple hours’ drive away from his house, studying it.
“A gift,” Hannibal says.
Hannibal wonders if he scents suspicion in the air, or if it is something else.
“This…” Will begins, “isn’t exactly your style.” What he means, Hannibal knows, is that the water park, with its glowing metal palm trees and hundreds of feet of glaring teal waterslides, is tacky.
“Champ’s expressed an interest.”
This is undeniably true; they have both seen the way the boy perks up when advertisements for the theme park play on the TV.
Will looks in the envelope more closely. “There’s only two tickets.”
The next part is tricky. He has not, up to this point, told Will a direct lie, and he is not certain that he will be allowed to get away with it, even temporarily; Will is astonishingly sharp.
“I’ll be out of town this weekend,” he tells Will. “There’s a professional conference in Cleveland.” That much, at least, is true, but Hannibal has no intention of attending. He has somewhere other than Cleveland to be. “But I thought you two might enjoy yourselves while I’m gone.”
That this will be a chance for Will to make up for last week’s bender is something that Hannibal leaves unspoken, but he knows this much is understood.
“This is… nice.”
“But is there a ‘but’?”
“I’d rather go on a family vacation.”
Hannibal is startled. Something is thrumming inside of him, but he can’t quite seem to put a name to it. Silently, he takes a deep breath to calm himself, and asks, “Are we a family, Will?”
Will frowns at him, and something about his expression makes Hannibal feel suddenly inexplicably foolish. He could laugh out loud from the delight of it - Will is constantly full of surprises. “I mean, shit - I want us to be. Don’t you?”
Words stick in Hannibal’s throat.
It is Will who draws him into the kiss, but once they are close against one another Hannibal doesn’t want to let go.
His mind is already made up, and Hannibal has no intention of changing the plans that he has laid out so carefully, but there is in him a nagging fear that he might be making a mistake.
Hannibal wonders if he has read Will wrong. He wonders, when all is said and done, if he will be forgiven.
They have a fantastic time at the water park, the two of them, despite Will’s fretting that Champ might be overwhelmed by the crowd, but they have been home for less than forty-eight hours when Will picks up the phone and hears Jack Crawford's voice on the other end of the line.
Champ is under the bed.
The boy is trying to be silent, but during the pauses in the conversation between himself and Will, Hannibal hears the rasping rush of Champ’s frantic breathing.
He wonders if that was how Szász found the boy, the night he killed Champ’s mother, or if he’d chase Champ, driven him into the dubious protection of the shadowy space beneath the bed for lack of any other means of retreat.
A pity I don’t think to ask, Hannibal thinks, watching Will move around the room as he stuffs things into the overnight bag.
Will is talking. “I can be back by this time tomorrow, if the flights lineup for me. Thirty-six hours, worst case, if Jack really decides to give me a hard time.”
“Don’t worry so much, Will. Everything will be fine while you are away.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he says, as though Hannibal hasn’t spoken.
Will gets down on his belly and peers under the bed. “Hey, buddy,” he says, voice gently coaxing. “I’ll be home again real soon, but do you want to come out and say goodbye before I leave?”
Will lays there for several minutes, but Champ doesn’t move. “Alright, that’s okay. I love you and I’m going to be home as soon as I can.”
Will gets to feet and picks up his bag. Hannibal follows him to the front door.
When Champ starts to scream, Hannibal’s head jerks back towards the sound.
“He’s fine,” Will says, though Hannibal can see in Will’s eyes the way he feels the shrieking on his own body - how it gets under his own skin and pains him as though he has himself been wounded. “I told you he does this - you just have to let him get it out of his system.”
“Of course,” Hannibal says, but though he knows the boy is only modeling past traumas as a means of understanding them and to help himself work through his current feelings of distress, he finds himself shaken; the cries sound, to him, decidedly too real.
“Whatever you do, don’t try to pull him out from under the bed. You’ll end up with a new set of scars.”
Hannibal nods, thoughtful. His hand wants to go his stomach, to the place where the dead pig's knife cut him, but he doesn't let it.
Will goes on. “He hasn’t done this in months, you know - not since right after your first visit. He’s getting better, I think.
“Better isn’t the same thing as well, but he is getting better, and you’re a part of that. I can’t thank you enough for this - for all of this.”
Does he know? Hannibal wonders, watching Will as he fiddles with the strap his bag, shifting the way the weight hangs from his shoulder. He isn’t sure, but Hannibal thinks perhaps Will knows but is refusing to really know.
“We could go with you,” Hannibal says, almost impulsively. “Get a hotel room outside of the city. Jack needn’t ever know that you aren’t traveling alone.”
“No,” Will says, rather sharply, and then winces at his own tone. “Sorry - No.
“Listen, I know how this is going to go and I know what Jack is going to spring on me, and I am going to need some time to… decompress before I see Champ again. To get my head back on straight so I don’t worry him.”
Hannibal nods. “You have your envelope?”
“I do,” Will says, and taps his pocket for confirmation.
Champ falls silent within a few minutes of Will’s car pulling out of the driveway, but Hannibal gives him his space. He tries to busy himself in the kitchen instead, and several minutes pass aimlessly before he realizes that he is simply puttering.
I’m antsy, he thinks, and turns the feeling - which is almost entirely foreign to him - over carefully, examining it from all angles.
Much is hanging on the outcome of Will’s meeting with Jack Crawford - and on Will himself. Hannibal cannot, really, predict how the next few days will play out.
Hannibal opens the fridge and then the freezer, studying the well-stocked shelves. Knowing that there is no lack of food there is a comfort, but he does not allow himself to stare for too long.
He closes the freezer door and his eyes catch on a photo from the waterpark. It’s a tourist souvenir, snapped from a mounted above one of the park’s biggest water slides to catch pictures of riders as they speed down the steep incline.
In the picture, Will and Champ are seated together in a brightly colored inflatable raft, their faces wild with joyous excitement. There is an anxious element to Will’s grin, and his arms are wrapped tightly around Champ’s waist as though worried he might be swept away, but Hannibal can find no fear in the boy’s open, laughing face.
Lifting the magnet, Hannibal takes the picture down and turns it over. There is no timestamp or date on the photo, but that doesn’t matter; doubtless, there will be a digital copy in Will’s email account, and the email will be dated.
And anyway, hundreds of other vacationers and at least a dozen employees will have seen Will and Champ at the water park over the weekend, so if needs be it will not be especially difficult to find many people willing to sign a statement swearing to as much. Hannibal knows, as well, that the water park has security cameras mounted in the parking garage, hotel lobby, dining areas and around the attractions.
It probably won’t get as far as checking security footage or finding witnesses who can affirm Will’s abli, in any case; Will has an envelope full of more than two dozen debit card receipts for meals, parking, swimsuits, water toy rentals and other varied incidentals.
There will be no arguing that Will was anywhere near Portland when Szász was taken apart.
Hannibal puts the photo back on the fridge. Of course, tomorrow morning, Will most likely will be looking at photos of how Hannibal spent his weekend. Hannibal supposes that Jack will show him the body as well; that’s likely one of the reasons Will has been ordered to fly out to where it was found rather than being interviewed at a more local venue.
The boy has dust bunnies in his hair when he finally comes out from under the bed.
He’s worn himself out with screaming and crying, and he wanders shakily into the kitchen, his red-rimmed eyes bleary as he looks around the room.
Champ’s face is dirty, too, and Hannibal wets a washcloth in warm water and kneels next to the boy, wiping away the dust and tears and drying snot. “Better?” Hannibal suggests, without rising.
Champ turns his head and looks at him, eye to eye, and Hannibal sees that the boy somehow knows that it’s his fault that Will has gone. “I want my Dad.”
“I know,” Hannibal says, straightening. He turns his back on the boy, busying himself with the task of rinsing out the rag at the sink. It is his understand that, since Will brought Champ home from his mother’s, the he has never been away from his father for more than an hour at a time. “He’ll be back in a day or so.”
“No,” Champ says determined despite his exhaustion; he is too tired to yell anymore, but Hannibal can see that he is on the verge of weeping. “Now. I want him now.”
Hannibal ducks into the bathroom and finds a comb. When he steps back into the kitchen he points at a chair and says, “Would you sit there, please.”
Champ does, begrudgingly, and Hannibal begins to comb the cobwebs from among his thick black curls. “You’re nearly due for a haircut,” Hannibal says, and the boy grumbles tiredly in return. Already his head is drooping, his body trying to curl itself inwards under the weight of weariness. He jerks himself upright stubbornly, but it’s a losing battle.
“May I pick you up?” Hannibal says, and when the only answer is a half-awake murmur, Hannibal lifts him from the chair. Champ’s arms curl around the back of his neck as Hannibal carries him to his room.
Champ sleeps through most of the afternoon, but wakes in time for dinner.
He is dispodent now rather than actively angry, seemingly resigned to the situation.
Hannibal has resolved to keep him busy, to prevent him dwelling more than is necessary on Will’s absence, so when the table has been cleared Hannibal takes from his travel bag the sketch pads and an assortment of art supplies.
“I’ve gotten you a gift,” Hannibal says, and hands him an unused sketchbook and a mental case of Derwent colored pencils.
Champ takes the supplies eagerly, though after a few minutes he gets up from the chair beside Hannibal and moves to the other side of the table. It’s not a slight; the boy is clearly just more comfortable working in relative privacy, and so Hannibal does not question him.
Hannibal focuses on his own sketches instead. He draws the dogs sleeping in a pile near the heating vent, and masonry of the cold fireplace, and when he feels that these warm up sketches have served their purpose Hannibal draws from memory the picture of Will and Champ that hangs behind him.
He is so lost in the work that he almost doesn’t notice when Champ sighs down at his own drawing.
“Do you not like the pencils?” Hannibal asks.
“Crayolas are better.”
“That’s actually not true.”
“That actually is true,” Champ insists, and Hannibal is amazed to hear a hint of his own accent in the boy’s voice. “Crayolas are the best kind. These are smeary.”
“That’s to allow you to blend the colors. Let me show you.”
When Hannibal holds his hand out for the sketchbook Champ hesitates, apparently embarrassed, but the he turns it over.
The drawing is, Hannibal supposes, a species of family portrait.
Despite the boy’s inexperience, it’s easy to recognize two of the figures as attempt at more or less drawing Will and Champ himself true to life, but a third figure has been rendered entirely in black. There is a sense of the creature having been stretch out; it is spindly limbed and more than twice the height of the other figures, so tall that the antlers that crown its head extend beyond the top of the page. Black spikes protrude from its body, curved like fishhooks.
“Who is this?” Hannibal asks, already knowing.
“You’ve drawn me as a monster,” Hannibal observes, and finds himself surprised by how unsettled - how hurt - this makes him feel.
“Give it back,” Champ says, and when Hannibal hands the sketchbook back Champ returns diligently to working on the drawing.
Hannibal watches him.
“You’re my monster,” Champ says, without looking up from his picture. The black colored pencil streaks across the page, its tip already worn to a nub. After a moment’s thought, Champ adds, “Dad’s too.
“You’ll keep the real monsters away.”
Hannibal blinks, stunned. He can feel pleasure blooming in his chest, fiery-colored like a marigold.
He supposes that he ought to try to correct the boy, or at least dissuade him from expressing this conclusion in front of others - especially his father - but there seems little point.
Champ is, after all, essentially correct.
It’s not surprising that the nightmares come for Champ while his father is away, or that the boy wets the bed in his fear.
Hannibal, who has himself forestalled sleep out of the suspicion that his own dreams are apt to be unpleasant tonight, is ready, and he goes to the boy quickly when he hears the first cries.
There is, when Hannibal opens the bedroom door, an instant of breathless terror on the boy’s part. It gives way to a piercing shriek as Hannibal’s shadowy form fills the doorway.
Then Hannibal flicks on the light and Champ knows him again.
Champ stumbles in the tangle of his blankets in his hurry to reach him, and Hannibal catches him up before he can fall. Champ's foot jabs him in the belly, hard, just above were Hannibal placed the stitches, but he does not allow himself to respond to the pain.
Under the scent of urine there is the genderless, electric smell of the childhood’s terrors. It burns, deeply unpleasant, in Hannibal’s nose.
As he is striping the bed Hannibal remembers how many times he has woken from his own nightmares in this little house, his own screams building in the back of his throat, to find Will’s hand closed around his forearm, at once comforting and grounding him; Will, more competent than he knows and more weary than he will ever admit, so used to taking care of, watching him with concern but no panic or mockery as Hannibal brought his breathing back into control and forced the images behind his eyelids back into the dark pit in which they belonged.
Hannibal hopes, as he tucks Champ in under the clean blankets and settles himself into the plush chair next to the boy’s bed, that those times are not over.
There’s a minibar in Will’s hotel room.
The close proximity of the booze is on his mind as he tosses and turns through the night.
The craving isn’t entirely unwelcome; it’s a lot like a toothache, and as he lays in the unfamiliar bed, waiting for sleep that never comes, he is able to poke and prod at the desire to have a drink - to have several drinks - and that distracts him from more challenging thoughts.
It’s not until the morning, when he is dressed and almost on his way out the door, that he at last gives in.
For courage, Will thinks, and downs the three shot-sized mini bottles of Jack in quick session.
Then he goes back into the bathroom to brush his teeth again.
Hannibal wakes as the dawn sun sends its first rays through the window in Champ’s room.
The boy is not in his bed, and there’s a moment of alarm - surprising in its intensity - but then Hannibal looks down and sees Champ curled like a puppy by his feet. He is asleep, half his small body under the chair, only his head and the upper part of his torso sticking out from between the chair legs. One hand clutches the cuff of Hannibal’s pajama bottoms.
He detaches himself carefully, peeling Champ’s fingers away with the utmost of care, and then he lifts the boy and puts him back in his own bed, under the covers.
As he starts breakfast, Hannibal becomes aware of the anxiety building within his chest to an almost unprecedented degree. He is a man who savors his own feelings, whenever they hit him, but this he does not enjoy.
When Champ gets out of bed and comes to sit at the table, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Hannibal fills his plate. He eats obediently, but there’s obviously little joy in it. The boy’s mind is on his father, of course.
“I have something for you,” Hannibal tells him, when Champ’s plate is clear. “A gift.”
The boy perks up a little at that, curious.
Hannibal takes the buck knife from his pocket and unfolds the blade so Champ can see it.
Will and Hannibal have discussed the idea of giving Champ a small, safer pocket knife, something that he might keep under his mattress for the sake of a sense of security without there being much risk that he accidently cut himself reaching for it, but Will has yet to give his explicit consent to the idea. Hannibal is aware that he may, once again, be overstepping his bounds, but supposes that Will is less likely to hold this little infraction against him than the matter of Szász.
Hannibal holds it out, handle first, and Champ takes it from him. He turns it over in his hands. “It’s tiny,” he says, a shade unhappily.
“If you need to use it, it’ll do the trick,” Hannibal says. He has clean the knife thoroughly, of course; forensics could take it apart, piece by piece, and would not find the slightest speck of Szász’s blood still clinging to it.
“But you won’t need it,” Hannibal goes on. “Nothing is going to hurt you while your father and I are here. This is only to help you sleep easier.”
He takes the knife back and shows Champ how to close it safely.
“Go put it under your mattress,” he tells the boy.
Jack watches studies Will carefully as Will studies the flayed body, but the feel of the other man’s eyes on his skin provokes little anxiety in Will. He knows that he is under no threat of arrest, or even serious suspicion.
“Bev did the autopsy,” he tells Will, almost casually.
Will already knew as much; he recognizes her stitch work.
There’s a stab of nostalgic regret at the name, but Will doesn’t allow memory of his old friend to distract him. It would be too easy to ask after her, to allow Jack to arrange a lunch meeting, for old time’s sake.
Will knows perfectly well that this entire trip has been a pretext to get him to weigh in on the case - to get Will to come back to work for him full time, if Jack can manage it.
He has no intention of taking that bait.
“The skin was removed in a single piece,” Jack goes on. “Bev thinks he was still alive when that started.”
Will tries to keep his face impassive; it would be bad for Jack to see the vicious joy this news provokes.
When he is fairly confident that he can keep the satisfaction from his voice, Will asks, “What did he do with it after that?”
Jack is still watching him intently when he passes the photos to Will, but Will knows that it has much less to do with seeing if they make him sweat than a hope that they might inspire Will to respond to the old scent.
In the pictures, Szász's skin has been stretched over the frame of a mounted skeleton like gory taxidermy. The work is cunningly done, and in its own way somehow beautiful.
He looks up. “The skeleton belonged to a boar, didn’t it?”
Will remembers Hannibal pulling him aside a couple of days after his bender, when Will was still in a misery of shame and anger. He had told Will that his outrage was natural, completely understandable given the situation - even healthy, provided he didn’t allow it to drive him to overindulge in alcohol again.
Hannibal told Will that he felt much the same way.
More than once, he referred to Szász as a pig.
Suspicions fall into place, becoming facts.
Will wets his lips. He puts the pictures away and turns back to the body, taking in the way Szász’s teeth are exposed where the lips have been cut away, knowing exactly what those clouding, lidless eyes saw last. The air around him is painted with Szász’s screams.
He thinks about Hannibal, home alone with his son, hundreds of miles from here.
Will finds that the thought provokes no anxiety.
It may have been a mistake, Hannibal reflects, as he watches Champ climb up on the tailor's pedestal, to have allowed himself to be so creative with Szász.
That Will, in his heart of hearts, will approve of the killing itself is something that Hannibal has little cause to doubt, but he might not tolerate the way Hannibal took the man apart, or Hannibal’s joy in the process.
The tailor is circling the boy, taking his measurements.
“Hold your arms out like this,” Hannibal tells him, and demonstrates, extending his own arms like a scarecrow, ignoring the pain in his middle that stretching provokes. Champ giggles because Hannibal looks so silly, and tries to do as he’s been told, but the laughter is bubbling up in him now and it is hard to stand still. The tailor, Hannibal sees, is despite all efforts at maintaining a professional demeanor, grinning around his mouthful of pins, and Hannibal feels the smile on his own face, broad and stunningly easy.
Hannibal has been cagey about too ostentatious displays of wealth, sensing Will’s discomfort with such things, and the little suit with its pale blue linen shirt and smart grey slacks and vest, though high quality, is not bespoke. It doesn’t take long for the tailor to make the alterations to fit Champ’s measurements.
They pick out ties while they wait.
They have left the morgue behind for an interview room. Will stares across the table at Jack levelly.
“You don’t think I did this,” Will says.
“Not especially,” Jack allows. “But I thought you might have some insight into who would have targeted Szász for this kind of violence, and why.”
“Am I going to get a consulting fee, since you’ve wasted my time to make me fly all the way out here just to look at the case file for you?”
Jack’s look is measured. “I could arrange that.”
“Don’t do me any favors. I don’t work for you anymore,” Will says. “Are you going to keep jerking me around, or can I go home to my boy now?”
He almost said, Can I go home to my family now?, but thought better of it. It will be best if Jack doesn’t know that he is seeing someone; that might put ideas in the man’s head, introduce new suspicions.
It’s another three hours before he’s allowed to leave, and when he walks out of the building Will doesn’t look back.
If he decides to get rid of me, Hannibal thinks, as he allows the boy to lead him on a meandering course through the art museum, Will won’t tell anyone at the bureau before he acts.
For all Will knows at the moment they are still back at the house, and he will not risk the possibility that Crawford might send in a SWAT team to apprehend him and ‘rescue’ the boy. The sudden appearance of multiple strange men armed with guns would be Champ’s worst nightmare, and would only send the boy fleeing into Hannibal’s arms, if it didn’t drive him into a catatonic terror first.
No, if Will reaches the conclusion that Hannibal is dangerous he will try to remove the threat himself, and he wouldn’t do it with a gun. If he couldn’t distract Hannibal long enough to snatch up the boy and bolt, he would wait until Champ was out of the room to make his move; Will would not want Champ to know that he had hurt Hannibal, or for the boy to see the body.
It will not, Hannibal hopes, go that badly, but he does not deceive himself into thinking that he can predict what Will might do next. There is nothing, Hannibal understands perfectly well, that Will won’t do to protect his son; Hannibal respects this about him.
Champ is tugging at Hannibal’s sleeve insistently.
When Hannibal crouches down beside him, the boy whispers, scandalized, “They’re naked !” and gestures at a pair of sculptures of Greek heroes.
“So they are,” Hannibal agrees, and steers the boy in the other direction. “This next gallery,” he explains, “has some excellent paintings of dogs.”
They are browsing a special exhibit titled Imagining Home when Will’s text arrives. Champ is staring intently up at a peice by Walter Henry Williams, studying the young Black girl on the canvas as she leans against the railing of a high story balcony, her head bowed, face hidden from view. He does not notice the soft chime of Hannibal’s phone.
I’ll be home in a couple of hours, Will’s messages reads. Is everything okay?
Just fine, Hannibal messages back. But we’re actually in Baltimore right now - I wanted to keep Champ busy. We could meet you at the airport and go out for dinner after, if you like?
He is thinking, It will be safer for us to meet in public. He won’t try anything in front of a crowd, and I can gauge how he’s feeling about me.
On the plane, nearly the exact same thought is running through Will’s head.
Sounds good, Will texts back. See you soon.
Some bonus material:
First, a series of AMAZING chapter covers made by the one and only byk23, of the famed Cannimal Sanctuary.
Additionally, in case you are curious about how Champ looks after Hannibal gets it into his head to dress the boy, I have these photos to offer:
While we are at it, why don't I introduce you to Will's other sons?
This is Thomas, who you can meet in my Identically Different role switch AU. He's Margot and Will's boy.
And this is Buddy:
Ya'll haven't had a chance to meet him yet, but he's going to feature in an upcoming Season Four fic, tentatively titled CANNIBALS VS PREDATOR.
Finally, I've been seeing a lot of discussion about the importance of author permission statements, so this is me officially offering blanket approval for any or all transformative works/fanworks inspired by ATTACHMENT or any of my other fics, including but not limited to art, remixes or AUs, fic covers, or whatever else might happen to strike your fancy. <333
There is no doubt, when Will meets Hannibal’s eyes across the crowded terminal, that Hannibal knows that he knows.
He supposes it has been Hannibal's design from the beginning that Will would understand he was the one who killed Szász. There is a bald vulnerability to that which nearly takes Will’s breath away.
He cannot maintain eye contact with Hannibal. Will drops his eyes to Champ instead, and continues to stride forward as Champ breaks away from Hannibal and darts through the crowd towards Will.
He crouches down to meet Champ as he hurls himself into Will’s arms. Looking down as Champ hugs him fiercely, the thought comes to Will that his son’s neck is thin enough that a decently sized man could strangle him with one hand.
Will cups the back of his head and feels the delicate curve of Champ’s skull just beneath his thick curls. He sees in the dark of his imagination a universe in which the bullet that struck Champ’s shoulder entered through his temple instead, blowing out the back of his skull where Will’s hand rests.
The world is so dangerous, and Champ is so small and vulnerable, and he has already suffered more hurt than he should have ever had to see, and whatever anger Will might have been harboring against Hannibal for the act itself - if ever there had been anger - falls away as easily as that.
Champ is squirming in his arms, his voice rising to a whine as he complains that Will is squeezing him too hard.
Relaxing his grip, Will laughs and says, “Sorry, buddy, I just missed you a lot.”
“Then you shouldn’t have left,” Champ grumbles, but he is still clinging to Will’s neck.
When Champ is finally willing to let go, Will steps back to hold Champ at arm’s length and look him up and down.
The new silk tie is such a brilliant riot of peacock colors that Will feels as though he might go blind just from the shine of the light reflecting off of all those blue and green and purple and golden hues.
“Look at you in that smart new suit,” Will says, but he isn’t sure exactly how to feel about it. He has a suspicion that it might have cost more than every other item of clothing in Champ’s dresser. It is not the first time that he’s felt nettled by a sense of inadequacy when Hannibal spends money on things for the boy or them both that Will might never have been able to afford on his own.
His hands still on Champ’s shoulders, Will turns his head up to look at Hannibal and says, “You’ve been busy.”
“I thought it better that we stay occupied rather than dwell on your absence.”
That we is curious. Will wonders what to make of it - is he simply showing Champ courtesy, or did Hannibal really miss him so acutely?
“You put down your mark fast.”
Hannibal doesn’t answer. His expression remains impassive, as it often is, but his eyes search Will’s face. Will has seen starving strays with eyes that searched like that.
It is a lot to handle, and he scoops Champ up as an excuse to look away.
“You guys want to get dinner?” Will suggests, and Champ crows in his ear, “McDonald’s!”
Hannibal winces, visibly, and Will is startled by the sound of his own laughter.
“Why don’t we let Hannibal pick tonight,” he suggests.
“I have just the place in mind,” Hannibal says, and Will thinks that the guarded relief in his voice has to do with more than having dodged fast food.
The restaurant isn’t that formal, Will supposes, even if there are no prices on the menu and he isn’t sure how to pronounce half the entrees. They are seated on the back patio, which overlooks the waterfront, and at least Champ isn’t the only child there.
Will isn’t exactly under-dressed, but the other families there are dressed in rich people casual, and he feels rumpled and out of place in comparison. They haven’t done anything in particular to him, these strangers, but experience puts Will on edge.
Champ has been glued to his side for the past hour. When they sat down, Champ pushed the side of his own chair right up against Will’s so their legs touched.
The boy gave Hannibal his attention when he was walking Champ through the menu, but now he is leaning against Will’s side with his eyes closed, drowsy and possessive. His fist is curled tightly around a few of Will’s fingers, and the expression on his sleepy face is determined but at peace.
“Busy day, huh?” Will says to Hannibal.
Hannibal opens his mouth to say something, but then closes it when Champ begins to stir.
He looks up at Will blearily, half of an uncertain smile on his face and just a hint of worry in his eyes. Will ruffles his hair and wonders how much of the tension between himself and Hannibal the boy can sense.
Will says to Hannibal, “Do they really put fucking kobe steak in the mac and cheese?”
The waiter is coming towards them, dishes balanced cunningly on a large tray, and Hannibal says, “See for yourself.”
Champ perks right up when the macaroni and cheese with the small bites of steak hidden under breadcrumbs is placed in front of him. Will sees his nostrils flare, breathing in the scent happily.
The grilled mahi mahi with artichoke caponata that Hannibal has ordered for him is, Will cannot deny, absolutely beautiful, but he does not find Hannibal’s own dish nearly as appealing.
But Champ’s eyes lock on it the fancy crackers and grey paste with curiosity. “Gimme a bite?” he ask, and Will winces and tells him, “At least say ‘please’ when we’re out in public.”
“You wouldn’t like it,” Hannibal says. “It’s liver pâte.”
“I like the word ‘pâte,’” Champ informs the table at large. “I want some, okay?” And, remembering what Will just told him, he adds, “Please please please?”
Will halfway expects Champ to spit out the liver pâte the instant that it touches his taste buds, and he can see Hannibal bracing himself for the same eventuality, but finishes what he’s been given quickly and asks for more.
“This is an unnatural child that you’re raising,” Hannibal informs Will, as Champ downs another crostini with its burden of pâte.
Will says, “I’ve noticed.”
They stand in the airport parking lot. Champ leans drowsily against Will’s leg, his suit jacket rumpled.
Under the bright shine of the halogen lights it has never been more clear that Champ is his son. He looks like a smaller, darker version of Will, and Will is stamped in every line of his features and his bearing and in the way that his mind works.
The suit doesn’t change that, nor does any of the little tics and mannerisms and turns of phrase that Champ has picked up from Hannibal as though they are his own.
It was not really Hannibal intention that their day together or the new outfit should somehow dilute the connection between Champ and Will; it is only that he wants, as badly as he has ever wanted anything, to be a part of the both of them too.
Hannibal wonders what will happen when Will and Champ drive away.
Does Will intend to flee from him - to take the boy and disappear into hiding? Should he expect a SWAT team to pay him a visit later tonight, in his too large and too empty home?
He senses in Will no machinations against him, but the man is astonishing difficult to read. Hannibal know that Will could conceal from him important things, if he really wanted to.
As though the idea has just occurred to him, Hannibal says, “Champ left a book in the backseat. Let me get it for you.”
“Why bother?” Will says. “You’re coming home with us, aren’t you.”
It is more of a command than a question, but Hannibal thinks that’s perfectly fine.
And we have a family portrait by Toni-of-the-trees.
Probably only one more chapter to this story, unless the remaining scenes become larger than expected, but good news -
I'm fairly confident that this is going to be a series. The next story is still foggy, but I think the main plot line will revolve around Champ starting kindergarten and Will and Hannibal butting heads with the school psychologist. Meanwhile, Will and Champ spend more time at Hannibal's home, and perhaps meet one of Hannibal's patients who also has a young son...
Yall interested in a continuation?
Next Chapter is the last in this story, but not the end of the series, and should be coming pretty soon.
In the meantime, why not visit me on tumblr? This is me.
I've also been working on a playlist for this fic, which you can find here. I'm still building it, but since I will be done with this story before the list is completed, I thought I'd share it now.
Will carries Champ in from the car, and though the boy is at least half-way dozing, his head lolling against Will’s shoulder in time with his gait, Champ's small hands clutch Will fiercely, as though he expects him to try to sneak away again.
It takes some coaxing to get Champ to let go, but Will is in no hurry - in fact, he welcomes the delay in putting Champ to bed, as it stalls everything else that might come next - and he sits on the edge of the bed and talks softly to the boy until he assents to changing for bed.
Will turns the sheets down and lifts Champ into bed, and the boy is asleep almost as soon as his head hits the pillow. Will folds the blankets up over him, and then bends over Champ to brush his hair back and place a gentle kiss on his forehead, and there is in his chest such a swelling of fearsome love for the boy that Will cannot imagine what the vacancy of his absence would feel like. He knows, without guilt or hesitation, that he would do anything for Champ.
Hannibal is a silent presence behind them, a thing separate from the father and son.
Will reaches out and switches off the bedside lamp, casting the already dim room into shadows. A Ninja Turtles night light glows warmly in the outlet by the door, casting a faint green light.
Hannibal says, “I suppose I pushed him harder than I ought to have today.” His voice, soft in the still quiet which had previously been occupied only by the sound of Champ’s breathing and Will’s own, might have been soothing, if not for the faint uncertain tremor to it.
Will straightens and turns to face Hannibal. In the dim light, backlit by the neon glow of Champ’s nightlight, Hannibal’s face is a mask of shadows; skull-like and sickly green in color, the eyes dark incomprehensible pits.
“You’re lucky he tolerated it,” Will says. “He’d have gotten fed up if it was me, but you get away with more because you’re still new.”
In the shadows, Will sees the white flash of Hannibal’s slanted teeth as briefly he worries his lower lip between them. Then he says, “I suppose I wanted to fit as much into today as I possibly could, as I wasn’t sure that I would still be welcomed in your lives tomorrow.”
Will steps forward and takes him by the hand. He pulls Hannibal out of the bedroom, out into the hallway and at last into the uncompromising light of the kitchen, where Will can see him better.
Less than four months have passed from the day they first met, and now Will studies Hannibal’s worn face, wondering at how quickly it has become so dear to him, and sees the things warring beneath the carefully placid surface; the fear of rejection that might, despite all affection, still twist with vicious ugliness if not properly managed, and despite that fear an utter lack of shame in the knowledge that Will knows what he did.
And is it love, the thing that rests beneath all that pride and danger and vulnerability? Will thinks that it could be.
Swallowing around the lump in his throat, his voice barely more than a whisper, Will says, “How many others have you killed?”
There are bags under Hannibal’s eyes, as there always are when he and Will reunite at the end of his work week. Hannibal only really sleeps, Will knows, when they share a bed.
Beneath their dark circles, Hannibal’s eyes blink slowly. Will watches as he weighs the risks of answering honestly.
“Four,” Hannibal says, simply.
“Tell me why.”
“I told you of my sister,” Hannibal says. He had spoken hardly a dozen words on the matter, but Will nods. “When I was a young man, hardly grown, I found two of the men who had murdered and… mutilated her.”
There is a hitch in Hannibal’s words here, barely detectable, that suggests to Will that he is hiding something, not for the sake of deceitfulness but because it is too painful to speak on. Will’s dreams are already full of murdered children from the case he has worked, his thoughts haunted by the knowledge of how close Champ came to joining their numbers, and he has no desire now to press Hannibal for details.
“I killed those men. The last of their number eluded me for some years, but eventually I found him as well.”
“And the last one?”
A different kind of hesitation now. “It is not… professionally ethical for me to speak on those particular matters,” Hannibal tells him.
Will feels something hard and unsatisfied come into his face, and knows that Hannibal sees it too, because he sighs and concedes a certain amount of ground. “The man was a child rapist. That’s all I can tell you, Will. The risks extend beyond myself, you must understand.”
“Did you really do it for the victims, or did they provide you a convenient excuse to do what you wanted to do anyway?”
He can see Hannibal debating the merits of trying to lie. At last he says, “It’s possible, isn’t it, to weigh the situation and do the right thing, regardless of if one’s motives are entirely selfless?”
Will is silent for a long time. He watches things building up inside of Hannibal, all those difficult feelings that would be so dangerous to articulate, and sees the way that Hannibal masters himself. The man is a powerhouse of self-control, but Will thinks that if the pressure was allowed to build to the point of explosion the resulting meltdown might be apt to burn anything in its path.
But he has to keep pushing. He needs to know.
“Did you anticipate my rejection, when you decided that you were going to do what you did?”
Hannibal lowers eyes. “I believed that you would understand. Later, though, I began to have my doubts. I became worried.”
“That I would turn you in?”
The nod is almost imperceptible, but Hannibal says, “Not necessarily… but your moral topography is complicated, Will, and I can’t always predict what you are going to do.”
He looks up again, and his eyes are sharp and utterly lacking in shame, for all the miserable anxiety that is in them. “And I am… acutely aware that what I did to Szász is considered socially unacceptable. That who I am is difficult for others to accept.”
Will is silent, and after a time Hannibal lifts his hand, tentative, to touch Will’s face.
Will catches the hand in his own before it can cup itself around the side of his face. “It’s strange,” he tells Hannibal, “how I feel like I know you better than I’ve ever known anyone - short of Champ and my own self. Knowing you feels intuitive, like it’s in my nature. But I’m still missing so many pieces.”
I want to know more, he is trying to say. I want to know everything, and I want to understand everything, and I want to love every part of you, even the things that scare me a little.
But Will cannot quite wrap his tongue around the words, so instead he tightens his grip on Hannibal’s hand, and gentle but insistent, pulls him toward his bedroom.
Hannibal lets Will discover the injury for himself.
There is so much more that they need to talk about, Will knows, important things that need to be aired out, navigated, and negotiated for this to work, but it is all so complicated, a tangled briar full of thorns and pitfalls, only some of which he can see from where he is standing now.
There is a sense of resentment simmering inside of Will, and the feeling shames and worries him, and he is afraid to face up to it.
He doesn’t really know where to begin, but he had been thinking, If you makes love to him you can watch the quiet, blissful way that he melts into your touch, see how glad he is for you to be touching him and how honest and sincere that joy is, and it will be easier after that to figure out what you need to do next.
So he sits Hannibal on the edge of the mattress. Quickly, Will strips down to his boxers, tossing his clothing carelessly into the hamper, and then he crowds in close to Hannibal on the bed.
The expensive and intricate outfits are armor to Hannibal, Will knows, something else that he hides himself behind, and he moves with a cautious gentleness as he peels away Hannibal’s clothing, piece by piece. He goes slowly, though he is eager to see again the entirety of the man beneath.
Will drapes the suit jacket and waistcoat over the bedside table neatly, then unknots Hannibal’s tie and places it on top of the pile.
When he comes to Hannibal’s linen shirt Will tugs on Hannibal's sleeve, trying to get him to rotate a little to make it easier to reach all those little buttons, and when his abdominal muscles flex Will hears the faintest hitch in Hannibal’s breathing.
Will lifts his eyes to meet Hannibal’s, and sees for the first time that some of the pain still lurking in his troubled eyes is physical. Sudden fear grips Will, and though Hannibal’s hands come up to try to stop him damaging the garment, Will jerks the shirt open, buttons tearing loose and pinging away in all directions, and folds it back.
The long bandage runs diagonally across Hannibal’s stomach. Will clasps his hands together to keep from pulling at the tape himself and says, “Let me see.”
Hannibal’s eyes search Will’s face, for just an instant, though Will is not sure what he is looking for, then he peels back the bandage.
Will understood that Hannibal captured Szász and transported him, alive, to some quiet local for the pleasure of being able to hurt him before he was permitted to die, and he has little difficulty grasping the degree to which Hannibal hurt him and the emotions that underpinned that violence, though the cold fury that steered the careful work of Hannibal’s knife differs to a certain degree from the wounded red hot outrage that made Will desire with all sincerity the chance to tear the bastard apart with his bare hands.
He has spent a great deal of time thinking about these things over the last few days, and he has considered carefully the possibility that Hannibal’s willingness to act on those impulses might constitute a threat to himself and Champ, both in the sense of Hannibal’s potential dangerousness and the possibility that his actions might still bring the law down on their heads.
But it had not occurred to him, as he weighed these risks against his instincts and the desires of his heart, that Hannibal had put himself in real physical danger when he confronted Szász.
That great and severe harm might have come to Hannibal when he acted on his and Champ's behalf had not been part of the calculation, and now he stares at the neat row of stitches, knowing by instinct that Hannibal did the work himself. The gash starts at the base of the right side of Hannibal’s rib cage, and curves gently as it runs beneath Hannibal’s navel, finally tapering to an end just above his left hip.
“He stabbed you,” Will says. He is thinking, If the blade had been only a few inches longer, or if Szász got a better angle, he’d have gutted him. He is thinking about burying Hannibal, and of what that would do to Champ. The phrase If Champ lost another parent, he would... floats vaguely in the back of his mind, but he can’t quite acknowledge the thought, much less dare to complete it, anymore than Will can really face up to how he might have himself responded to losing Hannibal.
These things bring with them more anger than Will feels capable of controlling.
“...Yes,” Hannibal agrees, after a moment’s pause. “Or he tried, at least. It looks worse than it really is, Will. It’s hardly a scratch, all things considered.”
He is watching Will expectantly, and Will realizes suddenly that not only is Hannibal pleased with himself and this battle wound that’s sure to leave a remarkable scar, but that he also anticipates that he will be rewarded with sympathy.
“You stupid crazy sonofabitch .”
Hannibal rears back, as shocked as if Will slapped him, and then his face clouds with rage.
Will doesn’t care. “You could have been killed,” he says, feeling as outraged as Hannibal looks. “Where the fuck do you get off, taking on a risk like that and not even telling me first -” He swallows back on the rest. It’s a struggle to keep from shouting, but he reminds himself that Champ is sleeping down the hall.
Hannibal cocks his head, regarding him with a great deal of curiosity and not a little spite, and asks, “If I had told you beforehand would you have wanted to join me?”
Will has been asking himself that ever since he confirmed for himself that Hannibal was the killer. Now, he doesn’t answer, which is in itself a kind of answer. Instead he says, “You should have trusted me enough to share what you were planning.”
“It’s not a question of trust,” Hannibal says, almost gently. He is reining in his anger now, Will can see, and that makes it easier for Will to get a handle on his own.
“Plausible deniability,” Will says, seeing.
“Yes. If I’d been caught the consequences would have fallen on me alone. If you were arrested as an accessory - or worse, if the both of us were found with blood on our hands - consider what might have become of Champ.”
Will has spent plenty of time reminding himself what might happen to Champ were he to do something foolish enough to land himself in jail; that is the reason why, when Will learned of Szász’s release, he forced himself to go looking for a bottle instead of his gun.
“Foster care,” Will says, and the words are a curse in his mouth. He knows far too well what that’s like, but it would be so much worse for Champ; Will had been older than Champ when the system tried to swallow him up, and he had not possessed in the same quantity the stoutness of heart or intrinsic sense of right and wrong that leads Champ to dig in his heels and resist when he feels himself to have been wronged or threatened. And, Will knows enough about it to recognize that it would all come down on Champ that much harder because he is Black; that every hint of aggression, no matter how justified or how clearly driven by trauma or a desire to protect others would be exaggerated, deliberately misinterpreted, disportionately punished.
There are people in positions of authority - people who profess to love children, who have built their entire careers around helping children - who look at his son and see not a vulnerable and sensitive six-year-old, but a threat to be stomped out. Will has met enough of them already to know to be suspicious, and to recognize the extent to which Will’s own whiteness is a shield for Champ, but only so long as Will is there and able to at least pass for sane and stable.
“That can never be allowed to happen to him,” Hannibal agrees, as though Will had verbalized his chain of thought, and there is something about the way in which he says it that makes Will wonder, more acutely than ever, what kind of childhood Hannibal had; he has mentioned his sister twice now, but of other family members he has said nothing whatsoever.
But it’s not that easy for Will to let go of the sense that he has been cheated. He says, “Those concerns didn’t stop you from having your fun. It would have been a hell of a lot safer if you’d just shot Szász.”
“I can’t offer you pure selflessness, Will; it’s not in my nature,” Hannibal tells him, and Will snorts and looks down at his hands.
Hannibal cranes his own head, trying to achieve eye contact. “I don’t think that you are really angry with me.”
“Maybe not,” Will says. “But I’m a lot of things. Mostly I’m ashamed, I guess.”
“You have nothing of which to be ashamed,” Hannibal tells him.
“I’m his father,” Will says, not meaning for it to sound as possessive and frustrated as it does, “I should be able to protect him. I want to be the one who protects him.”
Then, to take the sting out of it and because it is as much the truth as everything that came before it, Will says reaches out to touch Hannibal’s skin above the gash and says, “I want to be the one who protects you, too.”
Hannibal leans back, his mouth slightly agape with astonishment, and it seems to Will that it would be good to reach up and kiss him now, so that’s what he does.
This story keeps growing, doesn't it?
One more proper chapter to go, then a short epilogue from Champ's perspective...
It’s a peculiar idea, being protected.
Hannibal can’t say that he's ever hungered for such a thing, or even that he knows what to do with it now, but as Will tends to him Hannibal turns the idea over in his mind like a coin from a foreign land and of uncertain value.
Will’s hands are on his shoulders, patient and strong as they knead from his muscles tension that Hannibal had hardly been aware that he was carrying, and Hannibal reaches back and catches one of Will’s hands and draws it to his lips, laying a kiss atop the pulsepoint and feeling Will shutter with delight. Hannibal closes his eyes and inhales, drawing in the scents of motor oil and the sea, ground into Will’s flesh under the fresh smell of soap.
He has known from the beginning that within Will there is a great capacity for spite and cruelty and savage rage, and if he does not possess those characteristics to the same degree that Hannibal does himself they are nonetheless qualitatively the same. The vindictive, righteous anger that called out not only for Szász to repay blood with blood but that yearned to personally deliver up justice with his own bare hands is proof enough of that, and that Will remains not at all concerned with the moral implications of Hannibal taking the task upon himself only drives the point home.
There is a nearly bottomless well of anger within Will, but Hannibal can see the way that he has turned that anger to the service of his love for his son, how Will has cultivated it in specific and deliberate ways for Champ’s benefit. What might have been a bitter scattershot disdain for all the world has been repurposed into a fierce paternal protectiveness, and Hannibal knows himself to be an incidental beneficiary of this process.
So much of the tolerance that Will had shown Hannibal over these past four months - the straightforward compassion and all the affection and the open vulnerable willingness to understand are a result of Will having worked to make himself into the kind of man that Champ needs as a father.
Now, Will is so very gentle with him as he lays Hannibal back on the bed and carefully devests him of the last of his clothing. Will’s touch is soothing, and Hannibal feels himself becoming drowsy even as he grows hard.
Will lifts Hannibal’s hand to his lips and lays kisses along each of the knuckles, one by one. Starting at the back of his hand, Will’s fingers trace the veins in his arm thoughtfully, a light brush of skin on skin that climbs to the ball of his shoulder and circles it, then dances down to his collarbone. The hand stops, briefly, over the left side of his chest, fingers spread wide and palm pressed against Hannibal’s flesh to feel the steady beating of his heart, and then it goes on, wandering lower as Will takes in the shape of him, detouring around the knife slash to follow the jut of his pelvis.
The hand detours to the left to hover just above the base of his cock, fingertips ghosting over the hair that grows above it, and Hannibal’s breath comes out in a mellow sigh.
He watches Will worry his lower lip between his teeth, hesitation and anticipation mingling across his features as he looks down at the red line that the knife made, and Hannibal understands that he is worried about aggravating the wound on his belly.
“Do you want to,” he asks Hannibal, “or will it hurt?”
Hannibal makes his face reassuring in response. “Go on,” he tells Will. “If I want for you to stop I’ll tell you.”
The truth is that the cut doesn’t hurt Hannibal very much - or at least, that the pain is such that he can easily put it out of mind - but even if that were not the case he would not dream of telling Will to stop now.
He needs it, and he understands how much Will needs it.
It’s not simply about sexual desire, Hannibal knows, not for either of them. It is for Will a way of asking for approval, and for comfort, and for reassurance that he is wanted, and of giving these things in return.
There is in Will such a need to be loved and to love well, and though he might have preferred something for strenuous, in deference to Will’s fear of hurting him Hannibal makes no objections when Will slides down between his thighs and takes him up in his mouth.
Will is cautious at first, sucking briefly at the tip in a gesture that is almost a deep kiss, and then stopping to watch if the sensation caused in Hannibal movement that might inadvertently provoke pain.
Hannibal, who intended to lay back and allow himself to be spoiled, feels a pang of frustration as Will starts again and then pauses almost as quickly, going so gently and with such a weight of caution that it becomes slow torture, and he balls the sheets in his fists and tries not to sound on the verge of desperation when he says, “It’s alright, Will. I’m not made of glass.”
He is not as subtle as he would like to be, it seems, because Hannibal can see a twinkle of delight in Will’s eyes when he lets Hannibal’s cock slip from his mouth, as though he has discovered a new trick and is filing it away in his mind for future use, but he doesn’t make Hannibal wait much longer. Wrapping his arms around Hannibal’s thighs and pulling him closer, Will begins again, in earnest this time. Heedless of the bolt of pain provoked by flexing his abdominal muscles, Hannibal leans forward to bury his fingers in Will’s hair.
His fingers are still twined among the curls when he comes.
In the aftermath, breathless and self-satisfied, Hannibal still does not want to let go. Will doesn’t insist that Hannibal release him, but instead lays down with the side of his head resting on Hannibal’s thigh, his legs drawn up close to his body so they don’t stick over the side of the mattress. One of Will’s hands strokes the skin midway up Hannibal's thigh, and before very long Hannibal untangles his hands from Will’s hair and begins to comb his fingers through it, each movement of his hand coming in time with the rhythm of Will's own stroking.
After a few minutes Hannibal says, “Come here,” and Will does, sliding up the bed until they are laying on their sides face-to-face, so close the the tips of their noses almost touch.
When Hannibal reaches for the waistband of Will’s boxers to reciprocate, Will tries to demur. “You don’t have to if you don’t feel good,” he says, catching Hannibal’s hand in his own. “I know you’re real tired.”
“I want to,” Hannibal says, and watches Will smile, soft and vulnerable. He blushes and ducks his head, as shy as if they’ve never done any of this before.
When Hannibal pushes down Will’s boxers and draws his erection into his hand, Will whimpers. Hannibal gives him another reassuring smile, his heart thrilling at the sound, and Will gives a shaky laugh and presses his forehead against Hannibal’s shoulder to hide his face.
He starts out at the same halting pace that Will exercised a few minutes before, and is gratified to feel Will huff out air against his chest and clutch his upper arms a little harder every time the movements of his hand around Will’s cock slows.
“ Fuck ,” Will hisses against his skin. “Stop stopping, Hannibal, please… ” and Hannibal relents, picking up the pace and gripping Will more firmly, and now Will is panting and Hannibal can feel the sound vibrating inside his chest as between jerky breaths as Will whines, the sound thin and high as he tries to choke it back, muffling himself against Hannibal’s skin, and not for the first time Hannibal wonders what it will be like when they finally get a chance to do this while they are alone in the house.
“How loud could I convince you to be,” Hannibal asks speculatively, “if you weren’t concerned about being overheard?” and the idea is all it takes to tip Will the rest of the way over the edge, and he comes hard, hips jerking against Hannibal’s fist.
Will laughs again, once he has some of his breath back. “You’re so full of yourself,” he says, but as though the idea pleases him.
“Shouldn’t I be?”
Will snorts and gets to his feet. “Let’s change the sheets,” he says, and Hannibal nods and helps him to do so.
They change into their night clothes and lay back down, and Hannibal anticipates falling to sleep easily.
Instead, he finds himself laying in the dark, listening to Will’s breathing. From the sound of that breathing he knows that Will is still awake, too.
Questions start to close in on him, a dozen different worries and the foreboding sense that despite all evidence this is too good to be true. Hannibal doesn’t know what he is going to say until he says it.
“Do you think I’m dangerous to him?”
“No,” Will says, without the slightest hint of hesitation. “I think he’s the safest kid in the world when he’s in your vicinity. I’ve wondered, though, what might happen to me if I tried to take Champ away from you.”
Shocking, still, the power that father and son both have to hurt him. Hannibal is silent for a long time, not quite able to bringing himself to claim that Will suspicions are entirely baseless. At least Will does not sound too troubled by the idea.
Eventually, Hannibal says, “You wouldn’t do that.”
“No,” Will agrees. “But what happened to Szász can’t ever happen again - not under any circumstances, not without my knowing.”
It’s easy to agree to such a concession, when he has already set the same strictures for himself. “I wasn’t planning on it, Will,” Hannibal says. A pause, and then he adds, “My monster is on a tight leash, I want you to understand that.”
“I know it,” Will tells him. “It’s easy to admire that about you.”
Hannibal puts the compliment aside for now; he can work out how it makes him feel later. “What else do you need from me?”
“Champ can’t know that it was you.”
Hannibal thinks that is, perhaps, a hopeless ambition, but he says, “If he finds out he won’t have learned it from me.”
"Good," Will says. "Okay." Then when the silence grows he adds, “Don’t sound so nervous about everything,” and Hannibal blinks in the darkness; he was aware of his own uneasiness, but had not thought he sounded overtly anxious.
Will’s hand comes out of the darkness. It finds his cheek and strokes it.
“Anyway, I can’t break up with you,” Will goes on, teasing now. “Champ likes your cooking more than mine. He’d starve.”
It’s such a small thing to panic over, that little joke about Champ starving, but Hannibal knows that trauma is not rational, and he knows further that this is not a thing that he has any control over; when he feels his adrenaline spike and his heart begin to pound he accepts it as something he will have to pass through, and closes his eyes in darkness against the sense of vertigo and focuses on regulating his breathing.
Will’s hand pauses on his check. “Hannibal?” he says, and then Hannibal feels the press of the back of his wrist against his forehead. “You’re clammy.”
Hannibal doesn’t answer, and Will’s hand withdraws as he reaches to turn on his bedside lamp. Hannibal recognizes the worried way Will is watching him, but he doesn’t answer the unvoiced question.
There will be time to discuss the matter later, perhaps; Hannibal has always felt revolted at the idea of sharing the story with someone else, but he thinks that he might want Will to know, that his knowing might offer him something fundamental that he has gone too long without - understanding, maybe, if not absolution.
For now, it is enough to know that Will has seen almost every facet of himself - more than anyone else has ever seen - yet has accepted him.
Will is touching him again - not as a lover but in the same way he touches Champ when the boy wakes screaming from a nightmare, rubbing his back and his shoulders with firm, calm, grounding touches. Eventually, he takes Hannibal’s hands in his own and squeezes, a promise that he will wait out whatever this is with Hannibal.
He wants to protect me, Hannibal thinks again, with a kind of wonder.
Hannibal closes his eyes and lets Will help him.
The next chapter is the final one for real, but I'm in the process of outlining the next story in the series.
I do take requests, and tend to find prompts to be highly inspirational (this fic itself is a produce of a prompt from ByJoveWhatASpend). So, if there is anything that you are interested in seeing as the series progresses or that you are curious about, please feel free to request. I can't promise to deliver on all requests, of course, or to stick to the original prompt, but I love to hear ideas.
Champ’s nightmares are full of dead people.
He struggles up from sleep, his heart pounding like there's a frightened bird trapped inside his chest, and the scream is poised just behind his teeth. He clamps his jaw shut and, breathing hard through his nose, holds the scream in until it gives up and slinks down into his belly.
He needs to pee so badly that it almost hurts, and he untangles himself from the sweaty sheets and hurries down the hallway for the bathroom.
When he’s done, Champ stands in the bathroom doorway for a few seconds, thinking about what he wants to do next. He’s proud of himself for handling the nightmare as well as he has been so far, even though it was one of the really bad ones, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t still frightened or that he wants to go back into his own bed to be all alone, so instead he pads down the hallway and opens the door to his Dad’s room.
They’re sleeping, Hannibal and his Dad, and Champ is quiet as he goes forward to the foot of the bed and untucks the blankets from under the mattress.
He wiggles under the sheets and squirms up between his Dad and Hannibal, feeling the cool fabric of Hannibal’s silk pajama bottoms as he crawls towards the head of the bed, and now this is as much about the fun of being sneaky as it is seeking out comfort, and when his head pops up from under the blankets there is a grin on his face.
Champ’s Dad is on his left and Hannibal is on his right, and his own head is in the gap between their pillows. When he turns to the left he can see his Dad breathing, and can hear the faint whistle of air through his nose, but when he looks to the right he starts to get scared again; Hannibal’s face is turned towards him, eyes closed and hands tucked under his cheek, but he seems as still as a plastic doll.
There is a moment in which the after-image of his nightmare superimposes itself upon the waking world, and Champ sees again Hannibal among the dead, laying still on floor beside his Mama and his Dad and the dogs, glassy-eyed and leaking blood, and Champ feels the roar building up in his chest. He balls his fists to hit Hannibal - to make him move, to make him stop looking so dead - but then in the dim light of the room the man’s eyes open.
Hannibal regards Champ calmly, and he feels transparent - like Hannibal can see everything that’s going on in the inside of Champ’s skull, but is isn’t exactly a bad feeling.
“Did you dream?”
Champ nods, silently, and then he reaches out and curls his arms around the crook of Hannibal’s elbow. He holds on tight, watching to see if it’s alright - if Hannibal will get angry at him - and though his face remains impassive Champ can see the happiness in the gleam of his eyes.
“I didn’t yell when I woke up,” Champ tells him, and juts his chin out proudly.
“You didn’t,” Hannibal agrees, his voice low, and Champ sees his own pride reflected in the subtle lines of his face.
“I was going to yell, but I didn’t. I didn’t pee the bed, either,” he adds, and Hannibal nods against the pillow.
Champ mimics the movement, then he lets go of Hannibal, but only long enough to turn part-way over to tug at his Dad’s nightshirt until he rolls over in his sleep and curls his body around Champ. Then Champ grabs Hannibal by the forearm again and pulls so he knows to slide closer to himself and his Dad.
Clutching him at the wrist, Champ draws Hannibal’s hand against his chest and holds onto it like a stuffed animal. He feels the big hand turn in his grasp, palm pressing carefully against his chest to feel the beating of his heart, which is steady and calm now.
It’s good. Champ feels as safe as a caterpillar inside its cocoon, warm and protected on every side. It’s just what he wanted, climbing up here, and he yawns hugely and lets his eyes droop shut.
Sleep follows quickly after that, and if the nightmares come for any of them in what is left of the night, they do not face them alone.
That's it for this story, friends.
I expect that a sequel will be forthcoming relatively soon, though I'm probably going to stick a pin in it for a couple of months to
A.) Finish my big Identically Different Roleswitch AU,
B.) Work on a fairly short AU in which Hannibal is a shark creature, based on some recent art by Camilleflyingrotten.
But no worries, this little family will be back. :)
Meanwhile, you can also visit me on tumblr, where I occasionally post headcanons, previews, moodboards and other bonus material for this and other fics. I'm also currently doing a giveaway on a free copy of the RADIANCE anthology, so if you are interested you can enter at the above link.
I want to thank everyone for being so supportive as this story unfolded. I never imagined that the response would be so positive. And my apologies for not having responded to every comment yet - I tend to feel like ya'll would rather I use what free time I have to write more fic instead of replying - but I want you guys to know that each one means the world to me.
And... I think that I am going to wander away now because I've got myself all weepy. XD
Best to you all,