It was almost eleven in the evening by the time Jack Crawford came to his home, quiet in a way that seemed unnatural. Years had come and gone since Bella’s passing, but there was still a part of him that expected to see her in her familiar haunts. See her pressed into the corner of the couch, feet folded underneath her as she read over her paperwork, one hand idly tracing the rim of a wine glass that sat on the table beside her.
His stomach clenched for those brief seconds between hope and reality when he entered the room, and when it released it was to plummet.
It was getting easier though, her presence fading in a way that was bittersweet. He often wondered if his constant invocation of her disrupted her eternal rest; if thinking of her with sorrow and grief made her spirit stir. For so long at the end of her life, he denied her peace. It wasn’t fair to continue to do it in death.
So he pushed the thoughts of her away, replacing them with cases that never seemed to end.
The more unsolvable, the more he craved them. The bigger hole he could dig himself into, knowing it would one day become his grave.
He sighed as he toed his shoes off, hung his coat on the hook. He pulled his cellphone out from his pocket as he walked to the kitchen, letting the blue light guide him. There was an email about the results to a case being ready, an email about an upcoming trial he was expected to offer his testimony on. He checked his voicemail, listening to the recordings with waning interest as he cradled the phone between his head and shoulder, pulling a bottle of bourbon from his liquor cabinet.
He poured himself two fingers, added another when he listened to a message from a lab tech about some evidence being compromised. By the time the third message played, he had raised the glass to his lips, settling it there without sipping as the familiar voice curled in his ear.
‘Hey, Jack...it’s me...Molly,’ it began, breaking off to huff out an awkward laugh. ‘Been a long time since the last time we got together...I know you’re busy though.’ A sound boomed in his ear, the tinny sound of a large exhale through a phone. There was a second of silence, a lull, and when the voice returned it was strained through tears. ‘Did you know last week was the anniversary? Can’t believe it’s been a year already...I know you...I know there isn’t anything new to report on. You would have called but I guess I was just hoping-’ a strangled, hollow laugh cut through- ‘I was hoping calling you would make the stars align and point an arrow to him I guess. I don’t know what I was hoping, I just miss him and I’ve had wine and Winston’s been missing since yesterday and he was Will’s favorite and I feel like I’ve lost him all over again. I should really get off the phone before I say anything else.’
Quiet followed, and for a moment Jack thought she might have hung up right there, ending the brash and drunken phone call. Just as he was about to pull his phone away, the recording came to life once more. ‘It wouldn’t be so bad if I just...knew what happened. Even if his..his body was found. But I doubt it would be. Because he-um...Lecter eats them. Maybe that’s why we haven’t found anything yet-’
He ended the voicemail, dropping his phone as though it were a grenade, seconds away from detonating. He didn’t like thinking about Will or Hannibal, pushing the two men further from his mind with every case file that was settled on his desk. He had worked the case diligently in the first few months, almost deliriously- forgoing sleep and food in favor of nights cramped over his desk, coffee and breakfast bars keeping his stomach from hollowing too much.
He finally understood what the word obsession meant, his own personal white whale eluding him. Forgetting him, it seemed. Hannibal wasn’t leaving any clues, wasn’t flirting or toying with the police anymore as he had in Baltimore, in Italy.
There was no need to; he had what he wanted. He had Will Graham.
He fought when the case was pulled from him and given to a different team. One with more resources and fewer reasons to whittle themselves to the bone in trying to solve it. He fought it for weeks and even continued to work it, using his personal time to build maps and theories.
The fight was a front though. He was relieved to no longer have those names sitting on the case file, the ink-black letters staring at him like a taunt. He waited the appropriate amount of time before he could drift, let it wane. Long enough that it didn’t seem like he gave up.
Will had told him once, long ago, that he didn’t like to go to crime scenes because he always brought something back with him. At the time he thought it was a dramatic proclamation, an unstable and struggling mind who dedicated himself too much to a case.
He understood him now, though. He brought something back with him.
It was time to let it go.
A whole year had passed, he thought with a sigh, downing his glass of bourbon even if it burned like acid, made his face wince in pain. It warmed him instantly, throat and stomach hot with the alcohol. He poured another two fingers, raised his glass in the air as though in cheers to a dinner party that was made entirely of ghosts. Bella, Hannibal, and Will occupying the empty seats around his dining table.
“To one year,” he announced to the empty room. He sipped this glass, savored it slowly. He wondered if Hannibal was doing the same- raising a glass of champagne (it would be actual champagne, from France, naturally, not sparkling wine) in a toast to his good fortune. He imagined him lounging in a couch with some pretentious extra name, a synonym as if 'chair' wasn’t good enough. A chaise or a davenport. Listening to Mozart or Beethoven, something classical and wrought with sounds that swelled in boom and triumph. He imagined him petting his prized possession- a moment five years in the making.
He tried to chase away the taste of failure with more bourbon.
The official report was Will had been abducted by Hannibal. There was no reason to contest it. Hannibal had been obsessed with him and now that the veil had long since been pulled from his eyes it was startlingly clear that every decision Hannibal made was with Will in mind. From his manipulations to frame Will and make his word worthless, the claims of a sick and delusion prisoner who cried wolf, all the way to turning himself into the FBI. Wanting Will to know him, to see him. Too afraid to think that Will might actually stop obsessing over him long enough to cease hunting him and he would be alone once more. Sending a serial killer to his home out of spite when Will did prove he could live without him.
His cell was filled with pictures of the profiler, drawings from memory that were startling in their detail. Not skipping over a single freckle, a single curl.
It was hard not to bear the burden of the obsession, feel the weight of his responsibility. He had gift-wrapped Will for him, left him on a basket on Hannibal’s doorstep, and ran away with hardly a parting glance. Dr. Lecter will do your psych eval, he had arranged. Had it even been his decision, he wondered? Searching his brain for a slip, a moment that would allow him to shirk the blame to another one of Hannibal’s careful orchestrations. Maybe Hannibal put the thought in there. Maybe he suggested it one evening over dinner, set the trappings to ensnare Will as his patient. “Will killed someone. I can’t imagine the sort of things that would do to someone with his abilities. A trauma for a person without pure empathy-”
Wishful thinking, though. So many interactions were forgotten before his mind knew what Hannibal was and knew to commit them in vivid detail.
His own theories conflicted with the official reports, but only barely. How responsible could Will be? Hannibal spent years playing with him, rearranging the wires of his brain as he saw fit, carving into him more than he carved into anyone else. He was his psychiatrist, a person trusted with righting his thoughts and instead he muddled them, tangled them by letting a fever wreak havoc and gaslighting him until Will was almost convinced he had murdered and cannibalized someone.
And even then, when Will was locked behind bars, he still toyed with him. A child delighted by a toy that did not break with rough-handling and now testing the limits he could go until it shattered.
At what point would Stockholm syndrome be considered? An abduction not of the body but of the mind?
He had Miriam Lass for two years, his interactions minimal because she was not the toy he was playing with, and yet, even she called him kind. He treated her well, she said. Very well even as he cut off her arm for Jack.
Two years under his thumb with only his second-hand interest was enough for her to think him considerate. He shuddered to imagine the damage that could be done when Hannibal offered his full attention, devoting himself for years.
Even if Will walked into that car willingly- and he suspected he did- he was unsure how much it mattered, in the end.
Regrets strung together, all the should haves that haunted him. Should have left Will in the classroom, should have trusted Alana’s assessment that he wasn’t stable enough. Should have trusted Will when he first pointed the finger to Hannibal.
Should have let Will kill Hannibal in Minnesota, in that kitchen so soaked with blood it had a taste for it now.
It would have been neater, so much grief and misery and death avoided.
Should have, could have- but he did not.
There was no point turning over the past, flaying himself on all his mistakes like someone wandering the circles of Dante’s Hell, condemned to the same torture on a loop.
It wouldn’t bring Will back- the Will he knew, not the one who replaced him. The Will who avoided eye contact like a kicked puppy and refused to look at the parents of victims because it was too much to feel their sorrow.
He was a changeling, dragged from his bed one night, and replaced by something that looked like him but was not. Something shadowy that wore his skin like a costume but it fit all wrong.
Winston had gone missing, Molly said in her message. He wondered if he was looking for Will, too.
He wondered which one he would find.
The night was quiet as he stepped outside onto his patio, cold enough that there were no bugs to fly lazily around the light that settled like a halo. Frost clung to the branches of overgrown flowers that would bud once more in a few months. They needed trimming, but he always found a reason to push it off until the season had passed and they were dead and dry once more. They had been Bella’s, and each clip to the brush felt like he was cutting away parts of her. Her tenuous hold on his life cut like the thread of fate. He was Atropos to her memory.
They caught his attention though, something red blooming on the roses that shouldn’t be because it was still too early in the year.
It wasn’t until he heard the distinctive sound of glass shattering at his feet that he realized he dropped his bourbon, the sound piercing the moment and dragging him back to reality. He stepped over the glass, fragments turning to dust beneath his feet until he stood before the roses, breath caught on the sight of the red envelope, the familiar looping script. Jack Crawford.
An anniversary present.
He reached for it, opening it with one hand as his other busied with his cellphone, trying to find the contact of the agent assigned to lead Lecter’s case.
He pressed it to his ear, hearing the soft purr of the ring as he ripped the envelope in half, its contents falling to the ground.
He blinked, swallowing at the sight of Will’s temporary badge, sitting on a bed of frozen grass- frost clinging to the brown-colored blades. His photo, small at his feet, seemed to glance accusingly at him. Even in the identification, he averted his gaze, glasses and curls obscuring him from view. The phone continued to ring as he crouched down, fingers brushing over the card and the leather holder it sat within, stiff from the cold. He lifted it up.
He choked on something- his breath, a sob, the bourbon that shot back into his throat- when he saw what sat beneath it. Polaroid photos, glossy even in the low light. A man prone on the floor, chest ripped open and hollowed out, his heart crushed and pulled over his lungs, ripped from its place.
Panic strangled him, made his hands shake as he held the photo close before letting out a breath of relief.
Short cropped hair, dusted with silver. Skin too golden, too olive tone and face too narrow.
It wasn’t Will.
There was another photo behind it, a man slumped in his chair, large gut marred with blood. Something protruded from his mouth, but it was indiscernible from the small image.
It wasn’t Will either, and dread filled him, crept into him as though he were drowning and it was the water that filled his lungs. Understanding came with it, knowing without wanting to admit it. Voice it into existence as if he had the power of creation and destruction nestled in his larynx.
Will was the one returning the badge. Not Hannibal.
The ring of his phone cut off suddenly, a voice thick with sleep and irritation curling in his ear. “Jack? Jesus Christ, it’s like midnight. This better be-”
He didn’t respond, phone sliding from his ear, and held loosely in his fingers as he picked up the final item from the package. Bile roiled in his stomach, burning from the alcohol which sat like poison in his belly. Something sat on his tongue, dug into his brain. Something he could not name. Surprise? Disappointment? Horror?
None of them seemed adequate, none of them filled the hole that burred into his skull at the sight of the slim card stock in his hands, dark where the frost had seeped into it.
Will Graham’s distinct and messy scrawl, the very same one that filled so many case files and reports.
It was a recipe card.
Will Graham’s Sausage Gravy
2 finely diced shallots
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves minced garlic
8 ounces ground sausage*
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2½ cups half-and-half
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onions until golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the ground sausage and cook until brown and cooked through. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to incorporate, cooking for another minute.
While stirring constantly, pour in the half-and-half. Stir until smooth. Add the salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a simmer and stir until thickened. Add the rosemary and thyme and simmer for another 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
* For most authentic taste, sausage should be made from a pig of your choosing, freshly slaughtered.