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The Bet

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prologue

 

House’s eyes went from the TV to the glass door. Wilson’s shoes were outside, visible under the closed blinds.

The shoes hesitated. God.

And finally: Wilson whisked the door open and came through the blinds. A quick glance at the coma patient, the fries plate in House’s lap. House expected bitter exasperation and medium outrage. But Wilson arched his eyebrows and said, “You owe me money.”

House went for softly offended. “No, I don’t.”

Wilson sat down and nodded at the TV. “Find a news channel.”

“I don’t owe you money. But I definitely don’t owe you any amount of money important enough for it to be on TV.”

Wilson gestured at the remote in House’s hand. “News. Go.”

House found the news. Red capital letters lined the bottom of the screen and said ‘Manhunt Continues’. “Yeah true. That time I said I’d give you money when an unknown manhunt continues for whatever-…”

Wilson took a bag of ships out of his white coat. “Keep watching,” he said. The twitch of triumph on Wilson’s lips got House’s attention.

The news shifted to images of an FBI press conference, given by a black man whose broad shoulders and stern face were familiar. House frowned. “That’s not-…”

“Yep.”

Footage of helicopters flying over a house and a cliff was clipped with FBI agents in zodiac boats. The screen went back to the news anchor, then shifted to two pictures. One of Hannibal Lecter and the other of former FBI agent Will Graham. “Our bet was for Graham’s trial,” House said.

“Our bet was whether or not Graham was Lecter’s accomplice.” Wilson pointed at the TV. “He is. Was. Whatever. You owe me five hundred.”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” House said. “Our bet was whether or not Graham’d be declared guilty at his trial. I said no way. You said yes. I won.”

“The judge was murdered,” Wilson said.

“By Lecter – as it turned out – which was an argument for my side.”

“It’s a crappy argument. Lecter murders people. It’s what he does.”

House pointed his cane at the TV. “Having your face on TV with a criminal’s is not a proof of complicity. It’s a proof of having your face on TV with a criminal.”

Wilson paused. In the silence of the room, the news anchor’s voice was low but clear enough. “We remind our viewers that both Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter are to be considered dangerous. As per an official statement from the FBI, Graham orchestrated Lecter’s escape and both of them are suspects in the murder of Francis Dolarhyde.”

Wilson chewed contentedly. “Five hundred.”

There was a knock on the door and Taub stepped in. “Just so you guys know, the staff finds it strange that there’s yelling in the coma patient’s room.”

“He doesn’t mind,” House yelled over the patient.

Unstirred, Taub held out their current patient file. “Blood pressure just went over 200 systolic. He’ll arrest.” His pager started beeping. Taub blinked slowly. “He has arrested. It’s not scleroderma. Shall we?”

House got up and dumped his fries in the trash. He turned to Wilson on his way out: “No proof. No money.”

“The FBI said-…”

House shrugged. “Don’t care what they say. Didn’t care when they said it was all a fancy covert op at Lecter’s trial. Certainly won’t care now.”

He slipped out of the room to the sound of Wilson’s voice, saying, “Five hundred, House.”

 

 

 

 

one

 

House didn’t remember getting to bed. He did remember the bourbon and, for a moment, thought he was still on the couch. But he was in his bed. Then – why was he awake now?

Then he heard it. It was a muffled ‘humph’ sound. The kind of sound that would have made a decent sex joke.

Except it was coming from someone trying to crash through his front door.

He grabbed his cane and slid out of bed. The sudden rush of adrenalin and the hangover at the back of his throat couldn’t numb the pain in his leg – but they did a good job of trying.

He got in the corridor. From the sound, someone was indeed trying to break in. But it didn’t seem to be working. He thought tons of things: indisposed (and possibly drunk) colleague, pissed-off (and maybe also drunk, because, decidedly, the noise wasn’t exactly strong or regular) patient, and of course, your regular bum.

He reached for his phone and pressed the first two digits of 911, then stood beside the door. “I’m awake, and I have a gun,” he said, though it didn’t come out as robustly as he had planned.

The thumping sounds stopped. House leaned closer to the wall. Whoever was outside was moving, maybe chuffling their feet or something.

Then, he heard voices. Muted. Two of them.

Things, as they usually do, happened fast.

He jumped back at a first loud crack in the door. He pressed the last 1 and dropped the phone to the floor. He took hold of his cane with both hands. But, almost immediately, came another, louder crack in the door.

The doorknob gave in. The door slammed open at the same time as House brought down his cane.

He missed the first man, because he crumpled to the ground as the door let go. When he raised the cane again, a hand shot out from somewhere, and caught it. House tried pushing and pulling back, but the other man threw him back.

House stumbled and fell.

He could hardly see anything with only the lamp post light outside coming in a sliver through the curtains. Crumpled beside him, a dark-haired man breathed raggedly and rushedly. The man who still stood stepped in, and pushed the door shut, as much as it would, behind him. The knob hung from its bolts among shreds of wood, but the latchbolt somehow clicked into place.

Then all went oddly quiet.

This was not a mugging.

Both intruders wore dark clothes. Both were panting, but – House realized – they were both covered in blood. Some dry, some fresh. His brain started working again.

“You survived,” he said, eyes going back and forth between Will Graham, who had curled himself into a sitting position against the wall, and Hannibal Lecter, who leaned heavily against the broken door.

“In our current conditions, that will be temporary,” Lecter said.

“911. What’s your emergency?” came a woman’s voice from the phone.

“You’ve been shot?” House asked Lecter.

Lecter nodded and pulled his hand from his abdomen to exhibit a spot on his right side. Bright, fresh blood surfaced through layers of bandages.

“911,” the phone said insistently. “Do you require assistance?”

House looked at the phone, then back at them. “What about him?” he said, tilting his head to Will. Graham looked at him in a sort of feverish daze, his right hand holding something against the side of his face.

“Knife wounds,” Lecter said. “Torso and face.”

“Torso stab caught the top of the lung,” House guessed, from the wheezing.

“Are you in immediate danger?” the 911 operator said.

House reviewed his options. “I’m assuming you’re not here to get a lift to Princeton-Plainsboro,” he said. “So what’s the plan? Force me to patch you up?”

Some blood came out of Graham’s mouth when he spoke. “There are two plans,” he said, in between short inhales. “If we have to kill you, we take your pain meds from here. Max out on them. Get back on the road.”

“And if you don’t kill me?” House said.

“If you cannot talk, press any button on your phone,” the operator instructed.

Graham’s eyes slid to the phone, then back to House. “Bullet touched his bowels or his kidney,” he said, looking at Hannibal. “You can take it out.”

House huffed. “Here?”

Lecter was panting loudly now. “Time flies,” Graham said. “What will it be, Dr. House?”

House looked at them again. At the broken door. At the blood on his floor. Considered the crisp feeling in his chest. He reached for the phone. Graham lurched forward. Something was shining in his hand.

A knife, House realized.

Graham didn’t have time to get it near House’s throat. “There is no emergency,” House told the operator. Then he hung up and pulled himself to his feet.

 

 

 

 

two

 

“No,” Graham said.

“Look,” House said, “Your assessment of my talents is flattering, but I’m not doing an exploratory laparotomy in my kitchen unassisted.” He frowned. “However weird that sounded.”

I’ll assist you,” Graham said.

“No. You won’t,” House said. He turned to Lecter. “Does he listen to you?”

Lecter had sunk to the floor where he had entered the apartment, near the door. He blinked tensely as if he was about to pass out any second. “You can hold Dr. Wilson in check, Will,” he rasped.

House dialed Wilson’s number.

 

 

Wilson fumbled to find his phone on the nighttable. He answered without looking, trying to remember if he was on-call tonight. “James Wilson.”

It was House. “You won.”

Wilson sank back in his pillow. “Won what?”

“I owe you 500 bucks. You should come here and claim them.”

He checked the clock. 2:18. “House. It’s 2 in the morning.”

“And 500 bucks is a lot of money.” House’s voice had something unusual to it. Not Vicodin unusual.

“House. What’s going on?”

Silence on the other end of the line. Then: “500 bucks is a lot of money, James.”

Ok, this was weird. 500 bucks was not a lot of money, at least not a 2am lot of money. And James. James was just out there.

Before Wilson had a chance to talk again, House said, “Bring a bag valve mask and a few packs of sterile sheets.” Then he ended the call.

Wilson blinked at his phone. This wasn’t House’s joking voice. But of course, House wouldn’t use his joking voice for a real prank. Wilson was worried. What was the prank in worrying him?

Ok, scratch that.

For a moment, he stayed in his bed. He didn’t apprehend the prank per se, but he did apprehend House’s nagging him about his worrying – again. Himself saying that he’d eventually stop answering the worrying night calls – again. House saying that this was their dynamic, that Wilson was worried and that House was the one making fun of Wilson worrying – again.

He got up and got dressed.

The bag and the sterile sheets, though.

 

 

House put the phone down. Graham still held the knife, but he had dropped his arm. His eyes were open, bright with fever. He watched House ambulate in the living room, dragging his leg with him. Lecter had passed out, his chin tilted down on his chest.

House cleaned the kitchen table. It wasn’t long enough to hold a body, but it would have to do.

“How do you know he’s coming?” Graham asked.

House moved the chairs away. “First, he’ll think this is a joke, because it’s something I would do. Second, he’ll figure that I know he’d know that. That’ll get him worried. And Wilson’s worry is as predictable as – I don’t know – killers killing,” he said. Graham didn’t flinch. “Now, he also knows I know what he does when he’s worried.”

“Because you worry him often on purpose?”

House nodded. “Yup. And he secretly enjoys it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t come. That just means he’ll be grumpy when he gets here.”

 

 

 

 

three

 

Wilson got there indeed.

He stopped by Princeton-Plainsboro to pick up the bag and the sheets from the surgical supplies room. No one stopped him: he was a doctor. People would assume that he would use this for some medicine classes he was giving, or more generally, that he had some indeterminate doctoring to do that required a bag valve mask and sterile sheets.

But the truth was, universities ordered training supplies for classes. And, all in all, there was not a lot of doctoring that required surgical material. Except – well – surgery.

By the time he reached House’s apartment, Wilson had elaborated at least four catastrophic scenarios of the whys and hows of House performing surgery in his apartment. One of them was that his bladder’s sphincter had clamped shut again and that he wouldn’t go through another self-catheterization. Another one of them was that one of House’s poker partners (or some even more remote stranger) had somehow been harmed enough (due to House’s intervention or not) to require surgery.

He rang the doorbell. He had forgotten about the $500. What was their last bet? Was it Nurse Ontoon with the new plastic surgeon in the showers? No. No, it wasn’t that-…

House opened the door.

Wilson froze.

He remembered their last bet now.

Their bet was about Will Graham’s trial, three years ago. Wilson had reactualized it just yesterday after Lecter’s escape and Graham’s disappearance.

But Graham had not disappeared apparently. In fact, he was holding a knife to House’s throat, right here and now.

There were very little facial expressions of Gregory House that were actually serious. There was a rush to save a patient, or a tense knit eyebrow to solve a rare problem. But an evidently blank look of gravity – like now – Wilson had almost never seen that. “I need the bag and the sheets,” House said. Wilson handed them over. “And I need you.”

“Need me? Why?” Wilson asked. He pointed at Graham. “For him?”

House motioned for him to get inside. Wilson closed the door. He noticed the knob was broken. There was a crack in one of the wood panels. He had missed it in the dark of the lobby.

House shook his head. “No.” He gestured at something behind Wilson. “For him.”

Wilson recognized Hannibal Lecter, unconscious against the wall. There was no visible blood on him, but the palor of the skin spelled out shock pretty clearly.

“Bullet wound to the abdomen. About… what?” House looked at Graham. “24 hours ago?” Graham nodded. “Bullet out?” House asked. Graham nodded yes.

“House,” Wilson started.

“Is this when you say this is insane?”

Wilson nodded slowly. “Yes, it is,” he said. “Up there insane.” He looked around the apartment. There was some sign of struggle, not a lot. “I… I have no idea what to say.”

“Don’t say anything,” House said. He nodded at Hannibal’s limp form. “Help me get him in the kitchen.”

 

 

They laid Hannibal Lecter down on the heavy, wooden kitchen table. He was entirely unresponsive. Wilson took his heartbeat at the carotid: barely 47. The man’s clothing smelled of salt-water. There was blood and sand caked into it.

House returned from the living room with a leather bag. It looked exactly like a 19th-century country surgeon’s bag. Wilson didn’t know House owned this kind of relic, but he wasn’t surprised either. The bag revealed small compartments with scalpels, clamps, syringes – even tubing for an IV.

They cut Lecter’s clothing on him. The entry wound was in the back. The exit wound in the front was more problematic. The bullet had taken a chunk of flesh with it as it left the body. On the blue sheets covering the table, the blood pooled slowly, but steadily.

 

 

“We need to stop this bleeding. He’s already bradycardic,” Dr. Wilson said.

Will watched them. He still had the knife in hand. But neither doctors had looked at it, or at him, for a moment now. They had put Hannibal’s body on its left side, knees pushed up a little bit. Dr. House took something from his bag and filled a syringe with it. An anesthetic, Will knew, when Hannibal’s body relaxed softly seconds after the injection. Will knew this slackness, the moment that looked almost like death, if not for the innocent peace of dreams it left on one’s face.

The doctors talked in soft voices. Will kept his eyes on them to make sure that they would think he was listening if they turned to him. But he could barely make out the sounds.

The pain was searing. Not like any other pain. Like fire from inside – like being born maybe. Because it felt right. Was this what he had expected when he had said that killing would feel righteous? That he would feel righteous to kill, and righteous to hurt, and righteous to save – all in one?

He tightened his grip on the knife.

Is this what Dolarhyde was after? he wondered. Was this the gift from his Dragon? The unrelenting solidity transformation procured.

He barely remembered the Atlantic ocean. He remembered knives in his lungs – water or dragons. He did not remember swimming. He woke up on the sand at the sound of Hannibal calling his name.

Will coughed up water. “You thought I was dead?” he breathed then.

Hannibal locked eyes with his and said nothing. Will had never noticed before how Hannibal looked at him the way others held on with their fingertips to the edge of the world. He wondered how he could have missed it.

 

 

Somehow, Will had always known this. But perhaps Hannibal had known it – or wanted it – or cultivated it – since much longer. – They worked extraordinarily well together. They were one body, one soul.

It was as if he saw all that Hannibal did see, as if he heard all that he heard, thought his thoughts, felt his insides.

They found a car. Will drove. “We can’t go south. Jack will think about it,” he said.

“No. North. New Jersey,” Hannibal said. “221B Baker Street, in Princeton. The home of Gregory House.”

Will took them north. Either Dr. Gregory House owed Hannibal something, or he would find their situation interesting enough to deserve his attention. They used forgotten, obscure roads. Will took advantage of the autumn weather and covered the scar on his cheek with a scarf. At the wheel, he looked unkempt and tired, but he didn’t look like a criminal.

They came into Princeton at night.

 

 

For Will, most of what happened next had the clarity of a dream just recalled at wake. Every passing moment seemed like it would dissolve in smoke come the next. Yet it was also like Will had always been here, his eyes on two doctors proding into Hannibal’s prone body.

At some point, Hannibal stopped breathing. Dr. Wilson was holding a clamp at the root of the laparotomy opening. He looked at Dr. House. “House,” he called. “House.”

“It’s shock.” Dr. House looked tense, one gloved hand inside the laparotomy opening, his eyes intent on Hannibal’s face. “Take the bag.”

They shifted Hannibal on his back. Dr. Wilson intubated him and pushed air into his lungs with the bag. Dr. House was taking Hannibal’s pulse at the wrist. “We are back at 60.” He looked at Will. “Your boyfriend will be just fine.”

“House,” Wilson muttered. “Not the time.”

“No, that wasn’t quite the papers put it, right?” Dr. House went on.

“It was murder husband,” Will said in a wheezy whisper. His muffled voice came from afar, like if he spoke from behind a steady pour of pain.

 

 

 

 

four

 

Surgery was over in a little less than two hours. Hannibal had started breathing on his own again.

Will managed to stand up, his fingers still clutching the knife. He did not know what would happen if he let it go. He was not afraid that Dr. House or Dr. Wilson would jump at his throat or call the police. He was afraid that whatever was new in him would leave, that he would unmetamorphose. He heard his own, distant voice: “I’m not a killer.”

The kitchen had the unkempt violence of silent battlefields. Some of Hannibal’s blood had soaked through the sterile sheets, run down the table in a streak and pooled on the floor. Dr. House’s sink had been repurposed as a tray for discarded surgical instruments. Will peeked into it and saw cissors and clamps, flesh and flecks of bone broken by the bullet.

Dr. House came back in the kitchen, leaning heavily on his cane. His voice had a quiet to it Will had not yet heard. “If I got the Dolarhyde things right from the papers, he usually shot his victims through the spine, yes?”

Will nodded. “Sometimes. Not always.”

Dr. House gestured toward Hannibal. “I think he aimed for the spine and missed. The bullet entered the back above the liver, but right below the lung. Broke two ribs. It took out a small chunk of bowel, but a piece of rib bone blocked the opening. Caused swelling. Prevented bowel content from leaking.”

“What did you give him?”

“Ketamine,” Dr. House said. “He’ll be under for about four more hours.”

“We’ll see,” Will said. “And Dolarhyde didn’t miss. He wanted him alive. Moving. Responsive.”

Will realized he had seen Hannibal sleep on only one other occasion. It seemed like it was so long ago, the way centuries passing should have felt. The last time he had seen Hannibal asleep, he was in Abigail Hobbs’ hospital room. Finding this memory was like being freshly reminded of a forgotten lost limb. There was nothing in Abigail Hobbs’ hospital bed. Hannibal sat at her bedside and held an invisible hand.

This time, Hannibal was not asleep at all. He was made unconscious. A wild animal pacified. The calm waters hiding the roiling currents below. Will lifted the sterile sheet. His hand was shaking, his breathing was raspy.

On Hannibal’s abdomen, on the right, below the ribs, he saw the fresh surgical scar. The skin was swollen like the lips of a maw. The scar was only five inches long or so, shorter than Will’s own abdominal scar. And it was nowhere near as precise as Hannibal’s hand had been. The curve was sketchy.

“What are you doing?” Dr. House asked.

Wincing, Will lifted his own shirt. His abdominal scar was hard to see under the streaks of dried blood, but scar tissue had an odd shine to it. “Comparing scars,” Will said.

Dr. House nodded. “Very romantic,” he said. “Did you want matching ones?” He sounded only half-serious. Humor was a solid guard, Will knew. Like the antique mirrors – reflecting smiling faces and burning down ships. Of course, it was also fragile and treacherous. Ice that had just barely frozen over.

Feeling as if it were him naked and weak as a newborn bird on the table, Will drew the sterile sheet back over Hannibal’s torso.

Since he had stepped in Hannibal’s cliff house, he had felt like he was no longer looking at himself through a glass. Like he had purchase into the floating world. He had wondered when it would stop. In the ocean, he had thought, maybe now. In the car to New Jersey, he had thought, maybe soon, and any moment now.

But it never did.

Will coughed. His breathing was ragged. His exhale dragged a weight everytime it came back from the bottom of his lungs. Suddenly, Will felt the floor sway under his feet. It was quicker than the sway of the ocean, his legs were turning to air.

 

 

When he opened his eyes again, Dr. Wilson was crouching by him. He seemed concerned, through the tension and the fear.

“We need to take care of this,” Dr. Wilson said. The wound in Will’s chest had started bleeding again.

Everywhere in his body, Will felt that he was dying. But he shook his head.

Dr. Wilson looked gravely at him. “From the sound of your breathing, some part of your lung is damaged. You’ll drown in your own blood.”

Dr. House stood by the kitchen counter. “No,” he said. “He’s waiting for Lecter to wake up. Can’t both be under with us both awake. We’d call the police.”

Dr. Wilson blinked. Behind heavy lids, Will’s eyes didn’t leave him.

Calling the police had clearly been Dr. Wilson’s plan. “Well,” Dr. Wilson said. “I was assuming we’d eventually call the cops.”

Dr. House went to his surgeon’s bag. Took out two vials. “We do need to check your lung,” he told Will. “I’ll give you some amphetamines, to keep you awake.” He took a syringe. “I’ll also give you some oxycodone, for the pain. Just not a lot. Amphetamines boost potency in opioids. Still, this will hurt more than it normally would,” Dr. House explained. “A lot more. Are you okay with that?”

Will nodded slowly.

Dr. Wilson shook his head in utter disbelief.

“I’ll fix your chest first. Before infection sets in,” Dr. House said. “Then your face.”

“No,” Hannibal said in a raspy voice. “That will be me.”

None of them had seen Hannibal wake. He was sitting up now and pushed his legs carefully over the edge of the table. He was deathly pale and made fists with his hands as if to test his strength.

Dr. House’s eyes narrowed. “This is impossible,” he said. “I gave you ketamine.”

“I discovered at an early age that I had an unusually resistent constitution,” Lecter said. “Besides, I have grown curious as to your motivation in cooperating Dr. House.”

“So have I,” Dr. Wilson said flatly.

“Plain and simple,” Dr. House said. “Wilson and I had a bet about you two. I want to know which of us wins.”

Against the wall where he was sitting, Will’s head tilted on his shoulder. His vision blurred, his heart felt like it sank in his torso, all the way to his stomach. Grounding him at the same time as it was undoing him.

The last thing he saw were Hannibal’s eyes. They were on him instantly with a glint in them. Only a week ago, Will would have called it a glint of darkness. Years ago, he would have called it madness. Now the only thing he saw was love.

Will’s head lolled back. He heard Hannibal, telling Dr. House “You should hurry.”

 

 

 

 

five

 

Dr. Wilson put Will on the table. They had changed the sterile sheets, but some of Hannibal’s blood had soaked into the wood of the table. It came through the blue material, first in tiny spots, then as a devouring patch of dark under Will’s torso as they set him down on his back.

The pain in Hannibal’s side felt to his body like the timbre of his sister’s cries did in his mind. Like it would be the shape of him from this point on and never really leave.

He examined Will’s shoulder. Francis Dolarhyde’s knife had entered the flesh just below the collarbone. It had most likely caught the lung inside. The scar would be symmetrical with the one made by Chiyoh’s bullet in Will’s shoulder. The thought of Will’s body and of Will’s mind were so firmly intertwined in him that he found it difficult to see only the scars on the skin, without also thinking of what would be the imprints and shades left in Will’s head by the Dragon.

He injected Will with the anesthetic and opened the skin wider around the wound. The blade had grazed the very top of the lung’s upper lobe.

“How’s his lung?” Dr. House asked.

“Not heavily damaged. I should be able to cover the lesion,” Hannibal said, his gloved hands into Will’s shoulder.

He was indeed able to detach a small piece of lung tissue, apply it to the trace of Francis’ blade and suture it in place. But the muscles worried him more. He wondered if Will would ever regain full amplitude of movement for his right arm. No more stream, no more lines casted.

He closed the wound with as few sutures as he could safely manage. There was no telling when again he would be able to operate.

“Dr. House,” he said then. “I need your help.”

Dr. House stepped forward, his eyes on Will’s chest.

“Not for Will,” he said. “For me. I need a dosage of your amphetamines.”

 

 

Wilson was tired. It was almost six in the morning and the adrenaline wooshed out of his body like water through a drain. Yet his body was tense and hurting. He was used to night shifts and overtime. But things were different with a knife pointed at you.

House showed no sign of fatigue, had shown none through the night.

It had taken Lecter less than an hour to repair Graham’s shoulder. Even slowed down by his recent surgery, his hands were steady. The amphetamines seemed to make him more focused than he was before. Perhaps this was scarier than anything else.

Lecter was working on Graham’s face now. He was leaning over his patient, as meticulous as he could be. House watched, the surgery scrub loosened, both hands on his cane. Lecter sutured the skin carefully, his blank face indistinguishable from the one of any devoted surgeon.

When he was done with the main suture, he stood back to take a look at the scar. “What bet?” he asked.

Oh no. Wilson closed his eyes.

“Wilson and I bet about you and Graham,” House said, calmly. “During Graham’s trial.”

“Will was found innocent,” Lecter said. “And I was incarcerated – eventually. Most would call this a loss on my end and a victory for Will.”

“We bet whether Graham was your accomplice or not,” House said. “No clear winner. Not at Graham’s trial, nor at yours.”

“I won. He just doesn’t want to admit it,” Wilson said.

Lecter’s eyes glinted like the scalpel blade he was rinsing. “What did you bet on Dr. Wilson? Complicity or innocence?”

Wilson looked at the unconscious man on the table. “Complicity.”

“Did Will strike you as a criminal?”

Wilson sighed. Sometimes Graham seemed like the perfect victim, sometimes he seemed like he had wanted them to believe just that. “Well, I was right, wasn’t I?”

Wilson expected Lecter to call out his non-answering – but he didn’t. Instead, he just flashed a grin. It looked perfectly amicable and entirely threatening at the same time. Lecter turned to House. “What about you Dr. House? You thought Will innocent?”

House didn’t answer. “He loves you,” he said. “Doesn’t he?”

For a moment, there was no sound except the slow pace of Will’s unconscious breathing. It was regular now, it didn’t wheeze, it didn’t stutter with blood. It was innocent.

Lecter adjusted the surgical sheet on Will’s torso and removed his gloves. Wilson wasn’t sure if he was taut with apprehension, or if it wasn’t the whole room that was holding its breath. “How do you know that?” Lecter asked House.

House looked at his feet, as he did when he was about to tell an inconvenient, but rather plain truth. Not the kind meant to shock, not one for the show – just one that he knew was true. “When you were under, he checked the scar on your abdomen. Compared it with his,” House said. “It was the way he did it. It was… tender.”

A deep fondness came over Lecter’s face, even if – House watched it carefully – it hardly changed at all. It was like his soul, the deep animal beneath, surfaced into the skin.

The sun was up. Outside, the usual city noises had started. In a bush under the window, birds chirped. It was an ordinary day. Yet it was new.

 

 

 

 

six

 

Dr. Wilson had fallen asleep in a corner of the kitchen, his head pillowed on clean surgical scrubs.

The day progressed as if it were any other day. When Will woke up, it was noon. His head felt light, like it was filled with dawn. Hannibal was by the window, dressed in clean clothes, looking outside or waiting. The kitchen was clean.

Dr. House was sitting down on the floor, near Dr. Wilson. He ran his hand up and down his right thigh. “So, what’s the plan? Knock us out? Or cut us up?” he asked. Maybe his ability to deflect decreased when he got tired: his voice had a cutting, apprehensive edge now.

“The former,” Hannibal said calmly, while Will sat up. “Unless, of course, there is a part of your body that you strongly dislike. Except the obvious.”

For a split second, Will knew, Dr. House thought about it, gazing down at his leg. But he said, “You’re being scary on purpose.”

Hannibal bowed his head as if complimented. “Works wonders.”

“Okay for the knock-out plan,” House said. “You’ll do it here?”

Hannibal nodded to the other end of the apartment. “Near the door,” he suggested. “Will and I entered. We caught you where you tried to stop us at the door, forced you to contact Dr. Wilson to retrieve surgical material, then bound your hands and feet and knocked you both unconscious,” Hannibal depicted.

Will got to his feet while Hannibal offered Dr. House his hand and helped him to the entrance of the apartment. Will followed, testing the steadiness of his legs. His head still swam, despite the tightness in his chest that had to be the lung repair. And half is face felt like it wasn’t there. He didn’t dare bring his hand up to his cheek to the stitches.

Dr. House threw his cane into his bedroom and slid down the wall, beside the cracked door. Hannibal knelt beside him, more slowly than usual, but not without grace. “You’re more than a good surgeon. I’ve never seen hands this steady,” Dr. House said, quietly, in lieu of a farewell.

“Lots of practice,” Hannibal said. He had brought two vials from Dr. House’s medical bag with him.

“Well, of course, you’re insane. One can’t have everything.”

“One can’t indeed,” Hannibal said. He filled a first syringe.

House looked up at Will. “I was expecting more bitchiness. Or does being a criminal change that?”

“Not a lot about me has changed,” Will said. Through the painkillers, he felt the pull in his cheek that should have been pain as he spoke. From head to toe, all seemed like it should be hurting. Yet it wasn’t.

Hannibal found the vein in the doctor’s arm. Meanwhile, House asked Will: “No analysis of my behavior? No challenging my motivations?”

Will shook his head slowly. The words came on their own. Is this what candor felt like? “No need. Noncompliance with social norms is on a continuum with opposition to the law and petty crimes.”

“That,” House nodded. “See? This psych-textbook crap is just as accurate and just as inaccurate as to say that you were Lecter’s accomplice. Or his victim.”

Will felt like he was smiling a little, but it was hard to tell. “We agree on something at last.” He nodded to Dr. House’s arm. Hannibal was just about to prick it with the needle. “Watch for the sting.”

Dr. House frowned. “Wait, wait! What about Wils-…” Hannibal had pushed the plunger already.

 

 

Wilson woke with a start: Graham was leaning over him, pupils dilated wide in his dark eyes, the bandage a neat white on his face.

Wilson’s mouth was dry. It might have been thirst or fear. He asked the only question in his head. “Are you going to kill us?”

“No,” Graham said. “But we’ll have to hurt you. A little, not a lot.” It surprised Wilson how comforting he sounded, as if Graham really tried to soothe him. As if people could be soft-talked into this.

Wilson tried to get up, but Graham held him down. Lecter was not in sight. The blinds had been pulled and the apartment was dark. “House. House! Where…?”

Graham shushed him gently. “He’s out. He’s fine.”

“What do you mean out? He’s not fine if he’s-…”

“He’s not in pain,” Graham said. “We took care of it.”

Wilson tried to fight in earnest. Graham’s arms were stronger than they looked.

“You know he loves you right?” Will said. Wilson stopped fighting then.

Graham went on. “Love is hard enough to see in oneself. In another, it’s nearly impossible.”

“What are you saying? What does this mean?” Wilson muttered.

Lecter had come up behind Will. Tall, slim, his face blank, something like an angel must have looked like. Wilson remembered Milton’s description of Satan – a tall, gigantic angel broken by the fight. Graham held Wilson tightly, and Lecter tore Wilson’s shirtsleeve swiftly and tied a tourniquet on his arm.

“He can’t keep going on like this,” Graham spoke to Wilson, softly. “Sooner or later, he’ll crash. Even once he’s there, he’ll think there’s nothing he can lose that he hasn’t lost already.” The syringe went into Wilson’s arm. “Then, there’ll be a moment when you can leave him or stay.”

“I’m staying,” Wilson whispered. Lecter looked like an heartless angel. Graham looked like dark water that waits for you in your dreams. Wilson’s eyes went shut. “I’m stay-…”

 

 

 

 

coda

 

As it turned out, FBI people were less like police and more like disgruntled accountants.

They had brought House in a plain room made of grey concrete. It had a large, obviously one-way mirror. The table was bolted to the floor and there was a steel handle in the middle of it where handcuff chains could be attached. But House didn’t have those.

They left him there for over an hour. Mind-games.

After that, the metal door opened, letting in a bulky Black man. The man sat down. “Gregory House,” he said.

“That’s me,” House said.

“Agent Jack Crawford,” the man introduced himself.

“I know.”

“You know,” Crawford pondered. He was mostly unreadable. House couldn’t really make sense of the polite smile together with the perpetually knit brow.

Crawford took out his phone, selected something and put the phone on the table. The call clicked, then the 911 operator said “911. What’s your emergency?”

While the call played, House looked around the room, skimming his eyes over the mirror behind Crawford. He couldn’t see anything.

It was hard to hear, but there were some distant voices on the recording. Difficult to understand what they were saying. But then House knew. His own voice ended the call, saying, “There is no emergency.”

“Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter were at your home, 221B Baker Street, Princeton,” he said. “Correct?”

House nodded.

“Lecter had a bullet wound to the abdomen. Will Graham had knife wounds to the torso. You performed surgery on both with the assistance of a colleague, Dr. James Wilson, whom you persuaded to assist you with the surgery,” Crawford said.

“Torso and face for Graham,” House corrected. “Also Lecter did the surgery on him. Not me.” He arched his eyebrows. “And ‘persuaded’ is a bit strong.”

Crawford nodded slowly. “They stayed in your apartment for about eighteen hours. Then they left.”

House nodded too. “Then they left,” he confirmed.

Crawford pocketed his phone. “It would be more believable if you’d rephrased ‘Then they let us go’,” he said. “Puts more emphasis on your non-willingness to participate. On your being a prisoner.”

“Hmm,” House said. “Thank you for the tip. Can we do this bit again?”

“I will be candid with you, Dr. House,” Crawford said.

“Candor is a quiet power. Used by those who know no one will dare question them. Or those who think they’re above the possibility of that happening,” House said.

Crawford smiled. “Thank you for the compliment.” He brought out a file and placed it on the table between them. “I believe your deposition is wrong. I think you lied. Not that I care. But I’d like to know why.”

“Why what?”

“I think they were too weak to effectively restrain you. I think you helped them on your own.” Crawford’s eyes bored into House’s and it seemed to make the room go even more silent. House thought this guy had to be revered by impressionable students and terrifying for his subordinates. “Why?” Crawford said.

House stroked the pulsing numbness in his leg. He thought for a moment. “I wanted to know what had happened.”

“With Francis Dolarhyde?”

“With Graham and Lecter.”

Crawford huffed, but his brow was still set at impressively serious. “What part?”

House went for broke. “I’d like to ask you a question, Agent Crawford.”

“Go ahead.”

“You knew they loved each other?”

It was not how Crawford reacted that told House. It was that he barely reacted, save for a slow exhale. “What makes you say they did?”

House grinned. “Come on. I saw it in five minutes. You had months. Years. You’re here because you’re good at seeing these things, like me. And you tell me you didn’t see it?”

“Oh, I’m not like you.”

“That’s right. I can’t afford to be as candid as you are.”

“Oh snap,” Crawford said, flatly but with a smug admiration. He got up from his seat and took the file. “My investigators will be with you. If you redo your deposition now, you will not be investigated.” He headed for the door slowly and turned. “I don’t think ‘love’ is quite the right word for Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.”

“What is it then?”

“Two vaporous shapes of the same unending chaos,” Crawford said.

House said, “I didn’t take you for a poetic man.”

“Then maybe you’re less like me than you thought.”

House got up. He figured he’d drag his leg around some and go stare into the one-way mirror while waiting for the new guy. “Like you thought Graham was less like Lecter than like you,” he muttered.

He had never been convinced that tragedy applied well to persons, like you meant when you said a tragic figure. He understood that an event could be tragic, but there was no such thing as a tragic sentiment in anybody. But he didn’t know how else to call what he saw emerging on Crawford’s face, only to vanish again. A blink of tragedy.