When Will came for him, Hannibal was ready. He did nothing more than set aside the glass he’d been holding when Will walked up behind him, wrapping an arm around his chest and holding a gun to his head. The warmth at his back burns, quickens his blood.
“Was it fun? Leaving me those clues, leading me around by the nose. Playing with your food. Watching me dance for you. Was it fun, Hannibal? Was it worth it?”
The bite to Will’s voice made Hannibal smile. He wondered if Will felt it too—the way his body thrummed, alive, instead of drooping under the pressure of a mold that would never fit.
“You seem upset,” Hannibal remarks.
But are you angry with me? Or yourself?
“I want to know why. Tell me why.”
“You know why,” Hannibal said, amused.
“It isn’t very smart, Hannibal,” Will leaned closer to murmur the words into the crook of Hannibal’s neck, “to nurture murderous impulses in someone who wants to kill you.”
Hannibal didn’t so much as twitch. Why would he, when he already had Will right where he wanted him? When he was already gratified by the way Will had danced for him, come for him in exactly the way he’d envisioned?
“Is it so hard to imagine that I might have simply desired your company?”
“You had my company. You had my trust. You’re the one that threw it away.”
Will’s voice shook in an effort to not crack. But he was dodging, and they both knew it. There was only one thing that brought Will to Hannibal in that moment.
“How does it feel, Will? To hold a gun up to my head?”
Will didn’t answer. Instead, he pressed closer, plastering himself to Hannibal’s back, barrel biting into the soft flesh of Hannibal’s temple. The safety clicks off.
“Is this it, Will? Is this really what you’ve longed for?”
Is this intimate enough for you?
“This is me understanding who I am.”
“And who would that be? Which killer occupies the chambers of your mind? Who’s voice is it that you hear, whispering in your ear?”
Hannibal already knew the answer.
“You. Yours,” Will breathed.
Hannibal felt, in that moment, an unbearable amount of affection for him. A rush of tender feeling swelling deep in his breast, enough to bring sweet tears to his eyes.
“Well, you have me right where you want me. You’re close enough to taste what you’ve wanted for so long. Will,” Hannibal’s voice was low, soft. The rumble of it shivered down Will’s spine. Slowly, Hannibal turned in Will’s grip so that they were eye to eye, nose to nose. He reaches out to cradle Will’s head in his hand. “Do your worst. See if you can take what you’ve longed for all this time.”
And Will, beautiful Will, drawn in by a force larger than them both, pushes closer to kiss him.
“Tell me, Will,” he’d said, and that was how it had all begun.
Will twitched at the order, soft as it was. He started to jiggle his leg, looking around the room. Tapping his fingers against his thigh, shoulders hiked up to his ears. At the time, Hannibal had been happy to let him avoid the question for as long as he could, content simply with the knowledge that Will’s relationship with his father had likely been less than stellar, piecing together his own theories in the back of his head.
Then Will froze, eyes going blank, and blurted out into the silence of the room in a flat, almost robotic tone: “He taught me how to fish.”
Once he’d opened his mouth, it was as though he couldn’t stop, an outpouring of words bubbling through a cracked dam despite the growing panic in his eyes.
“When I was five he let me get two Happy Meals in one sitting, because I didn’t get the toy I wanted the first time. When I was ten, he cleaned up my scrapes when I fell off my bike. When I was fourteen and broke my arm in a fight, he sat up all night to doodle on my cast because I had no friends at school to sign it. He got me my first pair of glasses. He asked me every night about my day, and reminded me every morning that he hadn’t named me ‘Will’ for nothing. He wanted me to be my own person. He did everything he could to help me with that.”
It wasn’t enough, had been left unsaid.
The torrent of words ended just as soon as it began with a snap of teeth, the floodgates slamming closed, his nostrils flaring as he breathed harshly. Hannibal had been able to see the way the tendons in Will’s neck stood out as he clenched his jaw, keeping it closed as long as he could.
“You seem to have only good memories of your father.” Or simply very few.
“He told me to forget everything bad,” Will replied.
“But memory doesn’t just go away when we want it to.”
“No. Sometimes it goes away no matter what we want.”
An interesting response. Hannibal was pleased: he could always count on Will to succeed where others failed—in being interesting.
“Memory gives moments immortality, but forgetfulness promotes a healthy mind. I would have thought you were one to prefer the former, Will.”
“Well, I wasn’t left with much of a choice. Never had many of those.”
“You always have a choice, Will.”
Will clenched his jaw, and refused to look his way.
When Will stormed into his office, hair a mess from running his fingers through it, eyes wild with panic, he’d said, “I quit.”
Hannibal paused, reassessing and re-calculating everything he knew about Will Graham, and slowly put his pen down.
“Should I be expecting a termination of our professional relationship?”
Will snorted, hands twitching by his sides, pacing like a caged beast.
“There is no professional relationship. You’re not officially my therapist. We’re just having conversations. But if you’re asking if you’re still on Jack Crawford’s payroll, I have no idea. Probably not.”
Hannibal sat down in his usual chair, and waited for Will to sit in his.
“Tell me what happened. What was it about this case?”
“It wasn’t—it wasn’t the case. I told him it was the next one, and the one I knew was coming after that, and after that. I don’t—I didn’t mean to quit.”
“Then why did you?”
“Because he told me to.”
Hannibal leaned back in his chair, to belie the eagerness he held inside for what he assumed would be another facet of the fascinating puzzle that was Will Graham.
“You are not meek, Will.”
Will gave a short bark of laughter, “No, I’m not. Except when I am. And isn’t that the problem?”
“Yet you feel compelled to follow instruction.”
Will swallowed, looked around, everywhere, anywhere but at Hannibal.
“Yeah, you could… you could say that.”
“When did you first notice your…compulsive submissiveness?”
“I didn’t. It…it was always there. Since I was born. It’s—I’ve always had it. And I hate it.”
“Nature, not nurture?”
“No. No, this isn’t natural. This—this isn’t me. It isn’t what I was supposed to be.”
Hannibal decided to give it a try.
Will’s entire body tensed at his tone, in preparation for what he instinctively knew was about to come.
“Stand up,” he ordered.
Will stood, albeit slowly, limbs jerking like marionette limbs.
“Look at me.”
Will’s eyes met his with startling clarity.
“Tell me why you felt compelled to follow my instructions just now.”
Will closed his eyes, and took in a deep, shuddering breath.
“My fairy godmother cursed me to follow all orders.”
Hannibal paused. Stared at Will with a slightly quirked brow, letting the words settle around them. Inside his mind, the memories he’s already collected of Will rumbled, shifting about in their rooms. He wondered if he’d have to renovate that part of his memory palace.
Will remained standing.
“You may sit, Will.”
Instantly, Will relaxed and slumped into his chair, pressing his fingers into his eyes and into the hollows by his nose.
“How many people have you told?”
Will stared at him.
“You believe me?”
“I have no reason to believe you are lying, or at least that you do not wholeheartedly believe what you say. Your mind is a powerful thing, Will. Even if what you say isn’t real, it’s enough that you believe it. Though, if it isn’t, I’d have to wonder at the cause of such a belief. Nevertheless, as far as unconventional beliefs go, this is not the strangest I’ve heard in my time as a psychiatrist.”
Will nodded jerkily in acknowledgement.
“Just you. It isn’t…safe to tell people this. You’re the first to even think to ask.”
Or to order him to reveal.
“Given the nature of your…curse, that is understandable.”
Will nodded again, swallowing. He wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs. Hannibal could see his mind buzzing, trying to wrap itself around the revealing of what must have been Will’s greatest secret.
“Well, I think we can mark this as progress.”
Will stared at him in disbelief. Hannibal tilted his head.
“You’ve opened up to me, your psychiatrist, about something you have not opened up to anyone else about before. Addressed an integral part of who you are.”
Will winced when Hannibal said that last part. Struggling, as always, against the shape of his own mind.
“You think this is fixable.”
“I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. Break the curse, Will. Set yourself free.”
Will laughed into his hands.
“You think I haven’t tried?”
“But before, you didn’t have me at your side.”
Will shook his head, still chuckling sardonically.
“I think that concludes our session for today,” Hannibal said.
“If I only had your kind of confidence,” Will said wryly.
“You need only be yourself, Will.”
Hannibal followed him to the door, watching as Will picks up his jacket and puts it on.
“Oh, and Will?”
Will looked questioningly over his shoulder, and seemed startled by how close Hannibal is.
Hannibal leaned closer. Will’s eyes widened in belated alarm, something in them sharpening with realization.
Hannibal smiled, and whispered in his ear.
No one was surprised when Jack Crawford sought Will out with their next killer, despite the fact that he’d quit. Will went with him, as expected. As though nothing had happened. Perhaps nothing had.
“A simple exercise,” Hannibal said. “I want you to focus on the present moment. As often as you can, think of where you are, and when. Think of who you are.”
“It is 7:16pm,” Will recited, “I’m in Baltimore, Maryland. And my name is Will Graham.”
He draws a clock.
It’s a perfectly normal clock.
Blue like the memory of summer in the midst of a winter storm, blue like cooling smoke, blue like the oncoming wave of oblivion. Blue stared back at him, in horror, in betrayal.
He leaned in, close enough to taste body heat.
“Forget,” he whispered. “Forget this conversation. Forget that you’ve told me. But,” he savored the tremor that his voice elicits, “never forget what you feel.”
Blue like forget-me-nots, withering away as he watched.
Soft sunlight filters through the windows, alighting on the swirls of dust motes dancing in the air. It’s a cool morning, the light muted by fog. Will knows that the fields outside of his house right now would be silver with dew, so much so that when his dogs are let out during their morning run, their warm bodies will leave trails of fresh green in their wake. He breathes slowly, registering the warmth by his side, and turns.
Hannibal lies beside him, still asleep. His edges have been sanded down, the sharpness of his cheekbones gentled by morning’s caress, the softness under his chin tempting in its slight salt-and-pepper grizzliness. He lets himself stare for a little bit longer, lets himself have this quiet moment for himself. Everything around him takes on that dreamy state of sleepiness, when colors are blended into the feeling of a warm body next to his. He reaches up to rub at his face, and finds that he’s smiling, and his grin grows wider as he becomes more and more aware of it.
He feels happy. Not just content, not satisfied, but happy. It’s a repressed sort of giddiness, a quickening of his heart, a wriggling of the toes. He has the urge to turn and curl up into Hannibal’s side, shove his nose into his neck, maybe even kiss him with his gross morning breath. But when he looks at Hannibal again, marking and counting the slow inhales and exhales of sleep, he can’t bring himself to disturb him. So he quietly gets out of bed, feet padding over cool wooden floors, over to his bathroom.
Taped to the mirror is a note, written in his handwriting. It simply says:
Will reaches up to tug it off, fingers rubbing the smudged, water-stained edges. He doesn’t need the reminder this morning—he remembers. He remembers that Hannibal knows about his secret. That he’s no longer alone—that he finally has someone he can trust, who he can turn to about this deeply private part of his life that he’d so closely guarded before. The Hannibal in his bed is one that he’s decided to trust with everything—and who knew that this terrible fear of betrayal, this absolute knowledge of the power someone else has over him, this total relinquishment of control—who knew it could be this exhilarating? Exciting? Wonderful? Who knew that teetering on the edge of the abyss could be so freeing?
He goes quickly through his morning ablutions and then whistles, opening the door to let the dogs pile out. He startles for a moment, when Hannibal comes up behind him to wrap his arms around his waist.
“Up so early, darling?” Hannibal’s voice husks in his ear.
This—Hannibal, them—it’s so unreal, Will can hardly believe it. Like the magic of the stage continuing to spin out the fairytale after the curtains have closed, after the lights have turned off.
“It’s not that early. Actually, I would’ve taken you for an early riser, Hannibal. Didn’t think you were one for sleeping in. Don’t you have to,” Will waves his hand in the air, gesturing aimlessly, “prepare one of your elaborate contraptions for breakfast?”
Hannibal presses his lips into Will’s shoulder.
“I am a man that likes his indulgences. And sometimes, it isn’t about staying in bed, but about the bed I am in, and who I shared it with. As for breakfast, I find that I am nourished at the sight of you alone.”
Will has to stifle a laugh as he rolls his eyes. The line delivery is perfect. Everything this man says sounds straight out of a movie.
“God, you’re such a sap.”
“I apologize, dear.”
Will groans. “I should’ve known you’d be one of those partners that uses pet names at every chance you get.”
“An unfortunate personality defect that I cannot seem to fix.”
Will turns in his arms, and nips at Hannibal’s ear with his teeth, enjoying the way he can feel Hannibal’s throat bob in response.
“Go make me breakfast.”
“You like it.”
Hannibal presses a tender kiss to his forehead. Will’s eyes flutter closed at the feeling. He wants this to be real. It’s so easy to convince himself that it is.
“I do,” Hannibal agrees, and Will allows himself to believe.
The body is set in a large circle of forget-me-nots. Jack steps up next to him as Bev, Zeller, and Price bustle around behind him. They’ve already done their first cursory sweep of the scene while waiting for Will to arrive.
“So what do you make of it?”
Will looks down at it. The body lies on its stomach, head buried in the ground. All things considered, this display is…less. Bare. It’s clear that the body wasn’t just dumped here, there is a design . There always is. And this one is very, very purposeful.
This is why the first thing Will realizes is that it’s incomplete.
The second thing he realizes is that this was not a mistake.
You are deliberately telling yourself not to see, he thinks, burying your head in the sand to remain ignorant of what’s right in front of you.
Forget-me-nots are a weed. They grow about you, surround you, as you burrow into your chosen oblivion. They are a reminder of everything you remain willfully blind to.
Your body is a tool, an instrument. It measures your lack of awareness towards the things you refuse to acknowledge, Will.
Will snaps his eyes open.
He’d heard a voice, just then, in his mind. Calling out his name.
His breathing stutters, and he re-enters the reconstruction.
You know what this is. You know what I want you to do. You know you are part of this image.
The forget-me-not circle is demarcated by twelve bundles. Twelve points on a clock. The man lies face down, hands and legs by his side.
He can’t shake the feeling that he’s been here before, seen this all before.
And it’s wrong, all wrong.
Will looks at his watch.
It’s 8:43am. He’s in Easton, Maryland. And his name is Will Graham.
He has a pen and a small notebook tucked into his pocket. If he wanted to, he could take it out, draw a clock.
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he imagines this killer finishing the picture he’d prepared the materials for. Imagines himself.
I separate the body from the head, allowing the man his blindness. I remove one arm, and one leg. The arm is the hour hand. The leg, the minute hand.
It is 8:43am. I am in Easton, Maryland. My name is Will Graham. And I’m not alone. I am here with you.
The man with his remaining limbs is left, sitting propped up by a tree, overlooking the tableau. A headless, mindless body with only half its functionality. Crippled.
You are crippling yourself, Will.
I am here with you, and you are—
“The Ripper,” he tells Jack. “It’s the Ripper..”
Jack doesn’t look surprised. “You’re sure?”
He doesn’t tell Jack that the tableau is unfinished. That the Ripper is communicating with somebody else.
Jack nods, jaw tight.
The mention of the Ripper has preoccupied his mind. He is now a man on a mission.
Will turns his back on the scene as the rest of the team descends upon the body, eager to start their inspection and move the body before the day gets too hot.
He can’t shake off the feeling of eyes trained on his back, or the taste of dirt in his mouth.
Will paces back and forth in Hannibal’s office.
“I knew what had to be done. I knew in a way that doesn’t make sense, in a way that goes beyond the evidence.”
“You couldn’t have done anything, Will. I was with you the entire time.”
Hannibal might as well have directly asked him: Do you trust me?
Will lets out a sigh, and collapses into his chair. Does he?
“How did I know? It was almost like—”
Like I knew what the crime scene would look like before I even got there.
Hannibal steps behind the chair, kneading his fingers into the tense muscles at Will’s shoulders and neck.
“Don’t worry so much. You make jumps you can’t explain all the time, Will. It’s what you do. We’ll get to the bottom of things. You, me, and Jack.”
Will can’t quite bite back his acerbic cynicism, his inherent unfaith.
“Hard not to worry when your body could be walking around without your permission, doing who knows what. He knows , Hannibal. Fuck. You didn’t…”
No. Of course not. Hannibal wouldn’t tell anyone—if only because he would never let anyone else have a chance to know Will the way he does.
“I just—I just know it. The Chesapeake Ripper knows about my curse, he’s met me. And he made me help him, then forget everything I did to cover his tracks. I’m only still alive because I’m convenient .”
The helplessness and anger are secondary only to the fear, the ever-present fear. And with that fear, comes suspicion. Hannibal’s presence at his back, once a steadfast comfort, now feels like the handle of a knife being thrust towards him.
“Think it through logically, Will. You’ve hidden your secret this well for this long. You’d never tell a stranger about it, and it would take much more imagination than even you have to guess at the true nature of your obedience. How could the Ripper have discovered it?”
The only answer would be that Hannibal is the Chesapeake Ripper. Will considers it for a moment. The idea is repulsive to him. His entire mind and body rebel against it, because he wants...he wants so badly to keep what they have.
But Hannibal…fits the profile. Uncannily so. How had he not noticed that before? What else has he failed to notice?
But then he thinks of the note taped on his bathroom mirror. The one that simply says, HANNIBAL KNOWS . The only piece left behind by all the past forgotten versions of himself.
Hannibal is right. Will is an old hand at this—he’s had his whole life to figure out how to hide. The only way Hannibal could know about this is if Will told him. And if Will told him, Will must have trusted him. And if Will starts doubting himself, then it’s all over.
It can’t have been a mistake. It can’t have been.
“It can’t have been you, Will. You know who you are. If you can’t trust yourself, trust me. You could not have been that killer.”
Calm down, Will tells himself. Stop jumping to conclusions. You’re being paranoid.
Just focus on trying to remember. Remember. You can do it. You just have to remember.
They’re back in Hannibal’s office. They don’t need to be here to have their conversations anymore, but they both like it here, so they keep Will’s appointment, even if they usually leave together.
"Once, a classmate told me to go fuck myself. So I left and bought a dildo and some lube, then went home and dealt with it. It was the first time I'd ever considered trying anal penetration."
"Do you resent that that experience came to you through a compulsion?"
"After he said it, I froze for a moment. ‘Fuck’ isn't exactly a specific command, not in today’s context. I could've done a lot of things to fuck myself. I could've gotten into a car crash. I could've gone and killed someone in plain daylight. I could've simply sat down and contemplated all my insecurities and doubts. I could've gotten a drink. Sometimes, taking things at face value is the most innocuous way to interpret something."
Interpretation. The key to Will’s survival.
"What did your classmate really want from you?"
"He wanted me to disappear, and he didn't care how. I didn't matter all that much to him, it was just an everyday emotional outburst."
"But you could read his intent. ‘Disappear’ is a vague command as well. A vague command that you could read, but had the power to choose not to follow. You circumvented his desires and went your own way instead."
It had been a skill that Will had to learn very early, and very fast. Sometimes, his curse is amplified by his other curse—his empathy. Even if someone says one thing, but means another, Will can feel the compulsion to follow their intent, not just their words. To overachieve, in a sense. Take the command further than what the person managed to put into words.
He’s learned, over the years, how to find the space between intention and words where he can fit. Where he can live, though not comfortably. It’s one of the few choices he still has left. What’s most dangerous is when someone means exactly what they say—thankfully, something that is relatively rare.
"I never said he wanted me to die. I could've, but he didn't necessarily hate me that much."
"But you could've, and you didn't."
"My presence offended him, so I removed it. That’s all there is to it."
Will sighs. He hadn’t wanted to have this conversation, but Hannibal is persistent. “You disagree, obviously.”
“I do. I think you’re a fighter, Will. You are rebellious, independent, and highly individual. This curse only brings it closer to the surface. Anyone else with this particular compulsion would never have been able to hide it as well as you have. You take the vagaries of our words and use it to rebel against what you know that others want from you, defying it every step of the way.”
Will rubs at his chin, then looks down with a sheepish laugh. He can detect a note of pride in Hannibal’s voice. It makes him somewhat uncomfortable, getting approval that he hadn’t sought.
“You make it sound so romantic, Doctor. It’s more of a pain in the ass than anything.”
“Ah, but for anyone else it would be more than ‘a pain in the ass’. It would be severely debilitating. Life-threatening.”
“Good thing most people don’t actually wish death on other people, then.”
Though, given Will’s personality, there had been a few close calls.
Hannibal leans forward, elbows on his knees. Will feels a prickle of apprehension under his scrutiny. He instinctively knows that he won’t like what Hannibal asks next.
“Does it amuse you?”
The light reflects off of Hannibal’s dewy eyes as he regards Will with a soft look. Will avoids his gaze instinctively, unsure of how to deal with it, unwilling to address it.
“Being able to read people’s intentions and the gaps in their words, and finding ways to slip in between them. Living with this threat over your head, constantly. It’s thrilling, isn’t it?”
Will jerks back as though stung. The path before him diverges. But Hannibal has already seen through him, already pinned him to the corkboard. He clenches his jaw, then leans forward as well. The two of them, conspirators. His voice drops.
“It…quiets my mind. Focuses it. I’m not as—as overwhelmed, when I’m focusing on one person, or only on the words. It…it feels…”
“You outsmart all those that delude themselves into thinking they’re predators. You disappear from between their jaws before they bite down on your flesh. You delude fate and circumstance.”
Will drops his head so it rests on his thumbs. He takes a deep breath, then looks up again, observing Hannibal through his fringe. Something about the way Hannibal says the word flesh makes him shiver.
“Do you find that romantic, Doctor? Do you think of yourself as a predator, constantly searching for that excitement? That thrill?”
Hannibal’s shoulders shift, as though the muscles in his back were tightening, flexing. It’s the most telling thing he’s done so far today, and Will’s mind latches onto it with the tenacity of a bear trap.
“Are you offering a hunt, Will?”
“Are you in need of one, Doctor Lecter?”
Hannibal can’t seem to contain his amusement.
“Our good friend Doctor Bloom noticed that.”
The mention of Alana jars Will out of the space he’d slipped into. The space where only he and Hannibal exist. He feels a wave of self-consciousness.
“That you like to flirtatiously change the subject.”
“Then she must’ve noticed that you do it as well.”
“Why are we changing the subject, Will?”
Will rubs his hands together, palm to palm. He looks down at his shoes before forcing his gaze back up to Hannibal’s. Here it comes.
“Because, maybe, this isn’t the conversation we should be having.”
Will’s eyelashes flutter, his cheeks stained pink, his lips quirked crookedly into a small but brazen grin.
“Yeah. Maybe we should be talking about how you always stare at my ass as I walk out the door.”
Hannibal stills for a moment before leaning back in his chair.
“I hadn’t realized you’d noticed.”
“You aren’t exactly subtle.”
“I hadn’t realized you had eyes on the back of your head, either.”
Will laughs. Hannibal doesn’t have the grace to be embarrassed and that, somehow, is endearing.
“Oh, I do. It’s part of what makes me such interesting prey. Isn’t it?”
Hannibal splays his hands to the side as though to say, You caught me. Now what?
“Not going to tell me to forget about it?”
Hannibal tilts his head. “Do you want me to? Do you want to forget that we had this conversation?”
Will’s grin drops. Reality rushes back in, roaring in his ears.
“No.” The golden light from the lamp on Hannibal’s desk casts him in shades, charcoal smudges. He doesn’t want to let go of the unreality that he’d been floating in just moments earlier, the possibilities that had seemed so alive. “I… I don’t want to forget anything about you.”
Hannibal’s eyes shimmer with silent emotion.
“I wouldn’t want you to, either.”
“I don’t—I don’t know! I don’t know, okay, I can’t remember.” Will tugs at his hair, pacing frantically.
“Will. Will, you have to calm down.”
It’s phrased very deliberately, like all of Hannibal’s words. A statement that compels, but is not yet a command. Still, Will bristles.
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
Hannibal tracks his movements with his eyes.
“There’s something wrong,” Will continues. His hands have begun to shake, fine tremors that accentuate the mounting hysteria shimmering in his eyes. Lurking behind it is a knowing.
Will knows what this is. It is familiar. He just doesn’t know which direction the danger is coming from. He doesn’t know whose eyes he should be reading, where to look if he is to stumble across rediscovery. The phantom of his father looms behind him, and in his shadow the lion prowls, closing in.
Hannibal brushes a piece of lint off of his leg.
“If you can tell me what it is, we may be able to figure it out. Together.”
It’s meant to be a comfort, but to Will it’s anything but. Mockery, is what it feels like. This is something he’s always had to face alone, why would it be any different now?
“You seem convinced there’s a problem with or without my input,” Hannibal says. “Is there something you aren’t telling me?”
Will chokes the words back, struggling against the urge to scream.
No. He can’t.
He spins to face Hannibal.
“You don’t think something’s wrong?”
Hannibal lets out a small sigh.
“It’s stress. Not worth reporting.”
It’s such a simplistic brushover of everything that’s happening that Will has to laugh.
“Stress? Really, Doctor? That's the most bullshit answer you could’ve come up with.”
“Perhaps a particular kind of stress. Jack Crawford has you trying to understand the minds of killers that appall the principles that Will Graham holds onto. Each time you slip into a mind that is not your own, you are deliberately causing yourself psychological trauma—”
“I am not traumatized!”
“No, you are afraid. What are you afraid of, Will?”
Will sighs, and finally drops into his chair, hair now sticking up at odd angles due to running his hands through it too often. He feels heavy. Tired, more so than usual. He wants to go home and cuddle up with his dogs, forget everything.
Except that that’s where his problem lies, isn’t it? Forgetting.
“I—you know. You know what I’m afraid of.”
“You’re afraid of waking up to a totem of your own making.”
The bald words seem to sink into Will, settling deep into his bones. He’s full of holes now, and everything is leaking out, he’s deflating.
“I can’t remember…anything. Nothing except…vague, fleeting feelings. Impressions. Like trying to trace the trajectory of a bullet fired just from the ringing in your ears. Nothing that makes sense—not without context.”
“Our emotions depend on the situations we are put in.”
“Or the situations we cause.”
It’s said flippantly, without the gravitas that Will feels the words carry innately, swollen and heavy with implication.
“What did you feel this time?”
Will blinks rapidly, and stares at his hands.
“I remember that it felt…good. I—I liked it. I felt…”
“Is joy such a foreign concept to you, Will?”
“It wasn’t joy it was—it was that…that sprig of zest.” His sentence ends in a harsh whisper.
“You yourself said that these emotions make no sense without context. You can’t know for sure that the cause is the same.”
“You’re right, I can’t know. I can’t know for sure, which means the possibility is there. I don’t know anything.”
Will suddenly draws himself up, hands clenching into fists. His eyes are ablaze, and he pins Hannibal in place with the force of his gaze.
“Promise me, Hannibal.”
Hannibal tilts his head, curious.
“Promise you what, Will?”
“Promise me that if I…do something. If it becomes evident that I’ve done something while not…in control of my actions, something you know I wouldn’t do—promise me, that you’ll turn me in.”
“I promise, Will.”
And it isn’t even a lie.
The second of the Ripper’s most recent sounder appears in a small, rural Virginia town on a cool Tuesday morning in October.
The man has his entrails hanging out of him, and he dangles from a large metal hook stuck through his throat.
Will barely even has to blink to know what it is.
It’s a fishing lure. A great, big, grotesque fishing lure, and he and the rest of the BAU are chomping on it with enthusiasm.
“He’s playing with us,” Will says.
“Yeah, well if he is, I need you to figure out the rules of the game,” Jack retorts.
He’s playing with me, Will thinks.
This one, and the last one. Messages for him.
I’ve got you right where I want you. What are you going to do about it, Will?
He sees himself eviscerating the man, pulling out his guts with one vicious yank. He sees himself sharpening the hook so that it pushes through skin and bone and cartilage. He sees himself pulling the man up using a pulley, watching the body sway, rotating this way and that.
He sees himself in the messy mix of gristle and sinew that are wrapped around metal cable, which in turn is wrapped around the man’s rib cage. Dubbing—like the tufts of hair and fur he sometimes uses in his own lures.
He sees himself, all over the crime scene.
He feels like throwing up.
It’s not conclusive—he knows it’s not conclusive. Hannibal would tell him it’s not conclusive. But it feels like a confirmation of all his fears.
He’s suddenly hyper-aware of everyone around him. The way Jack speaks in low tones with a local detective, Price’s snarky tone as he comments on their forensic findings. He feels like he’s been dropped into a pit of vipers, and it’s only a matter of time before they all turn to strike at him.
He’ll be thrown in the BSHCI and never let out to see the day again.
Chilton will ask him questions, maybe even order him to answer truthfully, and he’ll be undone.
He looks at the man, and thinks, I did that, and is terrified by the fact that he feels not guilt or remorse, but a burning sense of self-preservation.
When he goes home, he heads out to the stream.
If the Ripper knows him, he knows about this place.
It takes some time, walking along the banks, scanning the bank and the trees, but he finds it.
A lure, hanging from a tree branch, just for him.
Tightly wrapped under red thread, are tufts of paper. He knows without unwinding it, without taking apart, what they are.
Shreds of his notebook. Bits of his shaky, desperately-drawn clocks. Moments, all of them—moments where he’d woken up confused and vulnerable and scrambled for something to cling to, to remind himself of who he is. His stability, torn to shreds.
A warning. A threat.
Fuck, he thinks.
Will stares sightlessly at the crackling fire. He doesn’t look up when Hannibal draws near, only stirring when Hannibal hands him a glass of whiskey.
“What’s troubling you, my love?”
Will doesn’t appear to hear him. He is a cool statue, untouched by the warmth of the fire, unmoving.
In his mind’s eye he can see the crime scenes. The lures. They swing about his vision like pendulums, mocking.
“I can’t see him. He’s there, and I know him. But I can’t see him.”
The stag huffs by his ear, throwing large shadows upon the wall.
“He wants to be seen,” Will tells him, “but he’s hiding from me, anyway. He wants me to find him. I have to find him, Hannibal. I have to stop all of this.”
Hannibal is motionless. They are twin statues, locked in place. Will’s eyes are distant, lost. Trapped in a realm of death and decay.
“Will, come back to me,” Hannibal says, soft. “Come back to me.”
Will returns in increments. A twitch of his fingers. A sigh. A blink. A swallow. A robotic twist of the head, so he’s looking at Hannibal again.
“I’m here,” he says.
“Stay,” Hannibal commands.
Will closes his eyes. Nods. But even now, even with this, his jaw is clenched. Resistant.
“Come to bed,” Hannibal urges. “Don’t think about it. Just for tonight.”
Will follows him, silent.
His fingers, running through feathers. A hot breath, smelling of wet wood and animal, puffing against his face. He stares at his reflection in the eyes of the stag, but he can’t see his face. The stag nudges him in the chest, and he grasps it by the antlers, fingers curling around rough bone, tugging it further into the forest.
The stream is black, the moon trapped under its rippling surface, glowing. He steps into the stream, making sure to guide the stag around the moon. Neither the stag nor their reflections in the water nor their shadows can touch the light.
As they proceed further into the stream, they sink, falling into an ocean. Will doesn’t know when he let go of the stag’s antlers, but it’s gone. He lets himself drop, slowly, the glow of the underwater moon casting patterns across his skin. He swims down to the barren sea-river-streambed, to the mirror mounted at the bottom. The shadows of his hair, his silhouette backlit by the moon, prevents him from seeing his own face. When he touches the mirror it ripples, and he steps through, into a cold landscape of jagged stone outcrops.
Pressure, on his chest. Squeezing the air out of his lungs. He’s on his back, and the bones of the stag’s last kill dig into his back. He can’t breathe, he isn’t allowed to. Not until he gives in, not until he makes an offering of his own.
He is his own offering, and he’s the figure looming over himself, pressing a forearm into his own sternum. The more he struggles for air, the faster his heart pounds. The bones beneath his back shift, reacting to his heartbeat. They pierce him, splitting apart and branching, growing beneath his skin like roots. He looks up at himself, but there is a blank canvas of skin where his face is supposed to be, only faint impressions of features flickering over the surface, palimpsests of something that used to be familiar.
“Will,” he says. It’s not his voice.
His and the other him’s skin is melting together. The shadows cast over their figures have become solid, ink. It stains their skin black. He can feel the antlers sprouting from his head.
The taste of blood is pooling in his mouth. The other him is no longer holding him down. There’s no need; the bones under his skin have come together to form a cage around his torso. He can’t remember what breathing feels like.
The other him is close now, leaning over him. They are melding, they are merging. Becoming. He closes his eyes, the cage around his chest loosens to let him take his last breath. The faceless him swoops down as his lips part, sinking beneath his skin.
“I feel like... I’m fading.”
“Fading? Or simply changing?”
“Are they so different?”
“One is passive, the other active. One is a loss of control, the other you take control of.”
“Can’t lose something you never had. Can’t take something that doesn’t exist.”
Hannibal is sitting in his chair with a placid expression on his face, head tilted in polite curiosity. Will both hates and appreciates it. Hates the artificiality, appreciates the way it provides a blank wall for him to throw himself against.
“You seem to struggle with your sense of autonomy frequently, Will.”
The spark of defiance in Will’s eyes flickers away with a twist of his lips.
“I’m not…subordinate. Just because I don’t feel in control doesn’t mean I’ve handed the reins over to someone else,” he says, terse.
“No. It just feels like there aren’t any reins at all. No reins, no saddle.”
“In this analogy, are you the rider, or are you the pony, Will?”
Will shrugs. He can feel Hannibal watching him as he peeks out the curtains by the window. When he doesn’t respond, Hannibal continues.
“Life isn’t conducive to stagnation. There is no standing still, no staying in the same place. No constancy. Even standing still provokes change: decay. The only way is forward, Will. Whatever it is that you are trying to hold back, I encourage you to embrace it. Face your fears.”
Will grits his teeth, hands clenching uselessly. “The way forward is blocked.”
“The only obstacle before you is yourself. You need to look past the mirror, Will. It can only reflect what is already behind you.”
“You preach change, but aren’t you supposed to be my source of stability?”
“I am your paddle, Will. Right now your limbs are frozen; you are sinking. I can only help you if you are willing to use me—but in order to do so you must move forward.”
Will felt tired. The thoughts circling in his head too familiar to him, mundane in how familiar they’ve become. He wanted to take his head off like a helmet, step out. Be somewhere that isn’t inside his own skull.
“I’d rather sink than let the current drag me further out to sea.”
“What do you fear is out there, in the depths of the ocean? What monster awaits you?”
“‘The only obstacle before me is myself,’” he mocks.
“The you that lies ahead isn’t someone you need to fear. You may not know him yet, but you will. And once you do, you will no longer have reason to fear him.”
Will’s eyes flutter closed, and he takes a deep breath, the wrinkle between his brows deepening.
“I can’t...see him. He’s just a blurred silhouette, watching me. I’m aware of him, but I don’t know him. But he knows me, because he’s been me. The mirror is one-way. He’s…inevitable. Staying still is the only way to win the battle.”
“Stop fighting. Join forces.”
“You said yourself you do not know him; how do you know that you won’t like what you discover? Why not take a chance?”
“I get glimpses. Fragments.”
He breaks into fine tremors. “I share his dreams.”
There’s a pause as Hannibal puts the pieces together.
“In those dreams, who are you killing?”
Will sucks in a sharp breath, voice dropping to a hush. Afraid (always so afraid). The fear drenches the air around them, dripping from his pores. Underneath it is an anticipation.
“The lady that bags my groceries. The jogger in the park. The phantom of the killers I’m hunting. People I know, people whose faces I can’t see. Sometimes, myself. Sometimes, you.”
It isn’t the idea of him killing someone that scares him. It’s knowing that if he did, he’d enjoy it. Killing Hannibal would be euphoric. It would complete him.
He doesn’t want it.
“And how do you kill? What is your design?”
“With my hands. Sometimes, a knife. It changes. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, what matters is that I get inside you. That I look in your eyes and see myself as you see me. I understand who I am, through you. When it’s over, I take them. Put river pebbles in the hollows where they used to be.
“You’d be kneeling, nailed to a cross driven into the ground. A martyr laid low, kept from rising by the power of my design. You’ll never be eye-to-eye with me, ever again. I crack your chest open wide, break off some of your ribs and attach them to your head. Like a crown, or a halo.”
Or like antlers.
“Then I hook your heart onto a fishing lure named after you, through the aorta. The line is pulled through your mouth, down your throat. Tied to a nail I hammered into your spine, so it dangles from your mouth, over the open hollow of your body.”
Will’s eyes are distant, far away. They glow, smoldering, set like candles in his pale, exhausted face. There’s an iron tang in his mouth, from where he’d bitten his cheek too hard while speaking.
“I take out everything else, leave you deflated. Like I could return and slip inside your skin if I wanted to. I don’t want to. I don’t need to. But I like knowing that I could.”
The light in Will’s eyes blows out, and he returns to himself, feeling shaken. When he finally gathers the courage to look up, Hannibal appears as calm and collected as ever.
“Regretting that rubber stamp yet, Doctor?”
Hannibal gives him an answering smile.
“Not at all, Will.”
He seems pleased. Will huffs out a bitter laugh.
“Then maybe you’re the one that needs an evaluation.”
Hannibal regards him with a fond look.
“You needn’t be afraid of me, Will. Or yourself, for that matter.”
“Don’t I? It seems like there’s nothing I should be more afraid of.”
“Exactly,” Hannibal says. “There’s nothing for you to fear at all.”
The body is half unzipped from its skin. As though the inside musculature were about to step out of its own encasing. The skin has been lovingly parted, peeled back from the incision that runs down the center of the face and to the navel. The man’s mouth hangs open. The hollow cavern between his teeth is suspiciously empty. The tongue has been ripped out.
Will stands at the edge of the taped-off area, just watching. Hannibal is next to him.
“I need to catch him,” Will whispers. “I need to get to him before anyone else.”
“If he knows your secret, I can’t say that’s advisable, Will.”
“I have to kill him. I have to kill him, so no one else can find out.”
“And because you’re afraid you may be involved in his crimes,” Hannibal points out. Will nods, jerkily, hands flexing at his sides.
He turns to look at Hannibal, tracing his features with his eyes.
“I think he knows about you,” Will whispers. Hannibal looks back, and his face scrunches faintly into a worried look of disapproval.
“I can take care of myself, Will. You don’t need to throw yourself into danger for my sake.”
Will gulps. He wants to lean forward, rest his head upon Hannibal’s shoulder. He wants to step forward into his arms, bury his face in Hannibal’s scent. He can’t—there are people here. People watching. Liabilities, suspects.
You have to end this, he tells himself.
Hannibal shifts to the side, subtly brushing their fingers together. Will closes his eyes, savoring the contact.
He has to end this, in order to move on. He has to end this, because now he has something to live for.
He finds it in the same place he found the last one. A lure, dangling from a tree, next to his stream. The hook is pierced through a tongue. There’s a tag, tied to the tip. It flutters in the wind.
I KNOW , it confirms.
Will feels a chill run down his spine, feels sweat building underneath his arms and along his back. His eyes dilate, with fear or excitement he doesn’t know.
“I’ll find you,” he whispers, images of Hannibal flickering behind his eyelids.
“Will,” Hannibal whispers, “Lay back.”
Will can feel the command slip into him, but this time, it’s different. It feels different.
He stops fighting it this time, discovers that he doesn’t need to. He doesn’t...resent this order.
He lies back.
Hannibal worships him with tender lips and soft touches. Trails his fingers up his thighs, traces his hip bones. Kisses his belly button, drags the tip of his nose up Will’s sternum and throat. Slick fingers probe at his ass.
“My beloved,” he calls, and it’s easy, so easy, for Will to answer in return. To let Hannibal swallow the sound of his own name. To let him take control. To choose to give it over, this time.
It’s easy to choose Hannibal.
“Tell me,” Will says, pleads. Their eyes meet and it’s like the world has ceased to exist. Will has never felt so in control, placing everything he has into Hannibal’s hands.
“Let me make love to you, Will,” Hannibal demands, greedy and all-consuming. “Let me inside of you, let me feel you.”
“Yes,” Will pants, parting his thighs wider, knuckles whitening with the grip he has on his knees, “Oh god, yes.”
Their lips crash together and Will releases the grip on his own legs to weave his fingers into Hannibal’s hair, tugging him closer, closer. Hannibal hitches Will’s knee higher up his waist and lines himself up, and begins to push in.
“C’mon,” Will urges, clutching at Hannibal’s back, “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”
Hannibal obliges, sliding home, and they both stop for a moment, just breathing and relishing in the feel of each other.
“You are a treasure,” Hannibal murmurs against his cheek, nuzzling it.
“Yours,” Will says, and then rolls his hips. “I’m yours. Now fuck me.”
“Whatever you desire, dear Will.”
Hannibal begins to move, each thrust going in deep and slow.
“You feel so good,” says Will.
“So do you, darling. You’re so good. So good for me.”
For once, it feels like a compliment. Like something to be proud of. Will has never felt so in control, being owned so completely. He has never felt so in control, trusting someone else so totally.
“I only want it to be you. I wish it were always just you.”
“I’ll destroy the world for it to be so, if I have to.”
Will hides his face in Hannibal’s shoulder, mouth open and gasping against his collarbone.
“Oh—fuck. There. Right there.”
“Yes. Yes, yes, oh god, yes.”
Hannibal nips at his ear, rests his forehead against Will’s.
Will is pleasantly flushed, his eyes bright, mouth open and wanting. He worms a hand in between them to grasp his cock, and begins to pump in time to Hannibal’s thrusts.
“Keep going, keep going, don’t stop, don’t ever stop.”
Hannibal’s rhythm has grown unsteady, his back shining with sweat. Neither has looked away, eyes locked together, gazes intertwined the way their bodies are.
“Inside,” Will grits out, eyebrows furrowing in pleasure, his hand speeding up.
Hannibal groans, long, deep, and low, and releases, slumping over Will as Will moans, tightening around his cock, hips stuttering.
Will pats Hannibal’s back and Hannibal slips out, rolling over onto his side lazily, cuddling up against Will. They lie like that for awhile, syncing their breaths together. Hannibal breathes in, Will breathes out. Will breathes in, Hannibal breathes out.
“Do you think I’ll ever be able to break the curse?” Will asks.
“I think you can do anything, Will. You only need to try.”
Will laughs, then sighs.
“I wish I could see me how you see me.”
Hannibal pecks Will on the lips, stroking his jaw.
“Look at me.”
At the way Hannibal stares at him, adoration in his eyes, hands soft on his face.
“I see you, Will.”
Will’s throat tightens, and he nods, hands reaching up to touch Hannibal’s.
“Okay. I’ll try. I mean, really try. There has to be a way.”
“We’ll find it.”
“Okay,” Will says again, “okay.”
Will lies awake at night, Hannibal breathing softly beside him. He’s warm. A furnace, burning at his side, one strong arm looped around Will’s waist.
Will stares up at the ceiling, mind whirring, never resting. Never resting.
He’s afraid to look at the man next to him, to see. He can never not see things at this time of night.
Besides he knows what will appear before him. The dark monster that curls up next to him in his bed at night.
But he’s wrong.
He knows he is.
He can see the darkness in Hannibal, that’s true. But his paranoia is turning it into something it’s not. Hannibal is not what his mind is telling him he is. He can’t be.
He can’t be.
Will lets out a shuddery sigh, and tries his best not to cry.
He turns in Hannibal’s embrace, scooting closer, and closes his eyes.
He flips through the notebook.
Clock, clock, clock. Ripped out page. Clock, clock, clock.
It’s a notebook of forgotten moments. He doesn’t remember drawing a single one.
He flips, and flips, and flips.
Pieces of him, lost. Gone forever. He presses the heel of his hand to his eyes, slumped over on the floor.
How does one love someone so incomplete?
Will looked up at him. Blue eyes, beseeching. Hannibal wondered if he knew, how imploringly he stares at him, pleading for something he’s not aware of.
“Forget that you’ve told me of these dreams, of your design. In return, I will tell no one, either. Tonight when you go home, dream. Dream of your guiltiest fantasies. Delight in it. And then come back, and tell me all about it.”
He’s open, wet. Raw. Sweat slicks its way down his thighs, pools in the dip of his back. The scene is painted in orange, shadows heightened. Everything is shifting, wavering, swelling with the force of his thirst, his desire.
He is on his hands and knees, within a circle of corpses. They lie around him, naked, their empty, clouded eyes watching him with their hands spread open on their laps, cupping red anemones. Whispers fill his ears, unintelligible but filled with derision.
Hands grip his hips, and something pushes into him. His mouth drops open silently as he shakes, head dropping between his shoulders as he rocks back to take it. He arches his back, presents, wanting them to see, see him getting fucked open on a fat cock, see the way he sweats and trembles, bestial. He knows he paints a lurid picture, and his cheeks flame bright red with his shame, even as he moans and claws at the ground, nails raking through dark earth. The sound of skin slapping on skin, the feeling of being pierced open overwhelms him.
The whispers grow louder. The corpses stare.
Blood bubbles up from the earth, and a hand comes down on the back of Will’s head, pushing his face into the blood-dirt-mud. He can smell the iron, taste it. He licks his lips.
“Please,” he begs, “ please—”
He groans his pleasure into the dirt. Whimpers as his cock twitches, untouched between his legs.
They are envious of you. They envy that you’re alive.
You’re alive because they are dead. Do you like knowing that it’s your fault?
“Yes,” he pants, “yes, oh fuck, yes, yes, yes.”
He whines, tears streaming down his face, out of his mind with the white-hot pleasure rushing through him.
“I don’t care, I don’t care, don’t stop, don’t stop.”
Fingers rake down his chest, leaving deep gouges in their wake. His blood drips, black, down into the earth, to join the blood of the sacrifices that surround him.
He’s flipped onto his back and he looks up at the monster that’s splitting him open. He’s cradled to a furred chest. Antlers sprout from its head, its spine. Its face flickers, features glitching, indistinct. The voice in his head vibrates in his skull, rattling his teeth.
Do you know who you belong to?
Something pierces his sternum. A claw. It drags downwards, gutting him. He gasps, cock still flushed red and hard, twitching. His insides spill out of him as he’s bounced up and down on the thing’s lap. When he looks down, all he sees is coils of barbed wire and shards of glass.
The thing grasps the bunch of wire, and pulls . Will can feel himself emptying, everything inside him tumbling out, his chest caving in as his coal heart is dislodged and tossed to the side.
Who do you belong to?
The thing places its hand inside his empty body, hand running up the ridges along the inside of his spine, up through his throat. He can’t breathe, his eyes rolling back in his head. He can feel it, the fingers running along the inside of his body, familiarizing themselves with the shape of him inside-out. Arching back, he presents himself for further inspection. Over-eager. He writhes, hungry for the pressure that pushes outwards, wanting the thing’s touch to brand. Hungry for the blaze of heat and pain radiating from his core, warming him and electrifying him all the way to the tips of his toes and fingers. The thing’s other hand reaches down and begins to jerk its cock from inside the hollow of Will’s body.
He wraps his hands around the thing’s neck, and squeezes. His fingers sink into its flesh, like parting warm clay. It has no face, but he knows it’s smiling in approval down at him.
Who am I?
Will wakes, coming with a shout, a name on his lips.
Will wakes with a start, limbs flailing. His bedsheets are tangled around his legs and he kicks, frantic, before rolling off the bed and landing on the ground with a loud thump.
He was—he was—
He wasn’t at home, and he was not asleep. Not just now—just now he was—
He doesn’t remember going to bed.
He scrambles for the bedside table, knocking the lamp off in his haste. The pen clicks, pages flip. He looks at the digital clock, blinking blue.
“It is 3:54am. I am in Wolf Trap, Virginia. And my name is Will Graham.”
It is 3:54am. I am in Wolf Trap, Virginia. And my name is Will Graham.
My name is Will Graham.
My name is Will Graham.
He can feel himself spiralling, grasping at something. The clock swims in front of his eyes, the numbers seeming to drift across the page, crowding near the edges. He’s hyperventilating.
No, no, no, no, no.
Will knows this feeling. He’s familiar with it. This is someone wrenching what’s rightfully his away from him.
He grips the notebook. His anchor. A simple grounding exercise. A clutch.
“It is 3:55am. I am in Wolf Trap, Virginia. And my name is Will Graham.”
He draws a clock.
“It is 3:56am. I am in Wolf Trap, Virginia. And my name is Will Graham.”
“It is 3:57am.”
“It is 3:58am.”
“It is 3:59am.”
And my name is—
“Forget, my love,” Hannibal whispered in his ear. “Forget that I know. Forget, and let us start again.”
“It feels like the only thing I can do,” Will said, sounding uncharacteristically lost and fragile. His vulnerability was mouth-watering. A faint gleam in the dark.
“There’s much more to you than your empathy, Will,” Hannibal said kindly, “and you are under no obligation but your own to push yourself this far for the sake of fulfilling an abstract role created by society.”
Will was obviously lost in his thoughts, voice far away, eyes even further.
“It feels like…my entire life has been a game of piecing together evidence, filling in the blanks.”
“Lessons learned from your father.”
Will froze. Something in the air prickled, shifted. The hunter in Hannibal pricked its ears, licked its teeth.
“How do you know about that?”
Hannibal cocked his head, taking a moment to appreciate the stillness that had fallen over Will, the moment before fight or flight.
“You told me about it. We had a conversation about your father, and your relationship with him.”
“I would’ve remembered that.”
And, they both knew, Will’s father played a unique role in his life that made certain topics difficult to avoid.
“Have you been losing time again, Will?”
Will had already stopped listening, face growing red as tremors wracked through his stiff frame. A slow horror, and then a rage creeped into the shadows under his brow.
“You know, don’t you,” Will said, a manic, frantic look in his eyes. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, seeking to grasp something.
“You’ll have to be more specific, Will.”
“Don’t play games with me!”
Will leapt forward, snarling, and Hannibal dove to the side.
Hannibal was halfway to his feet when Will tackled him and they rolled, coming to a stop by the desk, Hannibal pinning Will down with an arm on his sternum.
“Will, please stop this.”
Will shoved at Hannibal’s arm then threw a punch. Hannibal leaned out of range, forced to let up on the pressure he had on Will’s chest.
They’re both on their feet in seconds. Hannibal raised his hands in a pleading gesture, and Will grabbed the letter opener, fingers curling around its base.
Hannibal caught Will’s wrist before the letter opener could hit his face, and he wrenched Will’s arm to the side, forcing him to drop it. It nicked the edge of the table on the way down. Hannibal let Will go, but couldn’t get out another word before Will threw another punch.
It’s dodged. Another swing. Dodged.
Hannibal caught Will around the shoulders as Will threw himself forward, wrenching Hannibal towards him by the lapels of his jacket, face twisted into a snarl. Will’s eyes shone as he bared his teeth. He used his leverage to knock Hannibal down to the ground, hands still wrapped in his suit jacket.
“Will. Stop. Think of who you are,” Hannibal panted, unresisting as Will wrapped his hands around his throat.
“I’ve never known myself more clearly than I do at this moment,” Will answered, squeezing, cutting off the blood flow to Hannibal’s brain.
Hannibal laid his hands over Will’s, gently.
“Will,” he choked out, and Will pressed down harder. “Let go.”
Will trembled, but shook his head in denial.
“No,” he growled. “Not this time. I won’t give in this time. I’m ending this.”
Hannibal barely had any air left. His face was turning dark. His mouth opened and closed, fish-like.
“Now,” he managed, just barely.
Will let go, and they both gasp.
“No,” Will whispered, looking down at his hands in betrayal. Hannibal allowed himself a moment to catch his breath, rubbing at his neck lightly. But he wasn’t done. He didn’t think he’d ever be done with Will.
“Don’t attack me again.”
Will was frozen mid-movement, and he began to shake. He backed away.
“No. No, no, no, no...don’t. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare.”
Hannibal opened his mouth and Will squeezed his eyes shut, clapping his hands over his ears.
“No! Shut up! Just shut up, Hannibal. Not again. Never again.”
Hannibal stood, righting his clothing, brushing off his suit and tugging it straight again.
“Will, I know you can still hear me.”
Will continued to shake his head, curling up and stuffing his fingers in his ears.
“Will, look at me.”
Will rocked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Hannibal could see how hard he gripped his head, trying his best to resist.
Will looked at him.
“Go home, Will. Go home, and forget everything that just happened.”
Will’s eyes were red, and cold. Already, his body was leaning towards the exit.
“I’ll kill you,” he vowed. His footsteps were measured as they carried him towards the door.
“What happened here?” Will inspects a small scratch on the corner of Hannibal’s desk.
“Stumbled while holding a scalpel. Thankfully, only the desk was scratched.”
Will quirks a brow. Somehow, he can’t quite imagine that.
“Huh. I’d pay good money to see you stumble, Doctor.”
“Then I am glad I had the foresight to do so outside your presence. I have appearances to maintain, after all.”
Hannibal walks around the desk, stepping closer, and something in Will reacts, instinctively falling back. Will rubs at his hip, where a bruise he doesn’t remember getting had formed, a red flag that points to the outline of an absence that he has no control over.
“I lost time again,” Will informs him. “Last night.”
Hannibal doesn’t seem surprised to learn this, accepting it in a stride.
“What is the last thing you remember?”
The last thing he remembered was getting into the car with a clear destination in mind. But he can’t remember where he was going.
“Is this a dream?” he asks instead.
Hannibal morphs slightly in concern, all the right muscles shifting and settling into place. He has his therapist face on, just one of many faces that Will has known and lost.
“Have you been sleeping?”
Will huffs, then tugs his sleeve back to reveal his watch. Sleep, ha.
“Do I ever?”
His mouth moves silently as he recites to himself.
It is 8:12pm. I am in Baltimore, Maryland. My name is Will Graham.
“Have you tried meditation?”
They’re in familiar territory, now. Going through the motions. Puppets on a stage, tugged by strings stretching into the past, a past that Will doesn’t have controlled access to.
“I have, actually. Didn’t like it.”
“What didn’t you like about it?”
“Too much—” Will gestures with one hand, “too much. Slept afterwards, but the dreams were worse.”
“You slipped into a headspace that let your mind wander into unsavory places.”
“Yeah, that.” Will can feel himself grey at the edges. He’s tired.
“You must stop losing yourself in your own mind, Will. You cannot keep wandering.”
Will lets out a bark of laughter.
“Losing myself in my own mind, or just losing my mind?”
“How much time did you lose?”
“Must’ve been around, I don’t know, four? Four and a half hours? Came to on the drive back home. Luckily no one else was on the road.”
“The memories sank out of sight.”
Will chews on his lip before rubbing at his forehead.
“Not…completely. I remember…I remember feeling… Safe. Warm. And then hot, too hot. And then cold. Like...realizing that you aren’t dreaming, yet...yet the nightmares haven’t gone away yet. And then…” He purses his lips, “Anger.”
But it wasn’t just anger. It was more than that. It was anger, fear…intent. A clarity.
“The killers you chase mark their achievements. Secure their legacies, to be left behind as dark marks upon the world. You’re afraid of what you may have left behind in the moments you’ve lost.”
Will closes his eyes, squeezing his hands together, and doesn’t deny it.
This was perhaps Hannibal’s favorite part. The way Will’s face slowly morphed, the way he began to shake apart, haunted shadows gathering beneath his eyes.
The Will that everyone else knew, the one that he is most familiar with, avoided eye contact and twitched constantly; tense.
This Will, however, was nearly vibrating out of his skin, adrenaline rushing through his veins. Hannibal could smell it in his sweat, could see it in the sharpening of his eyes.
This was the Will that came out when he saw, and he was so unbearably alive.
Hannibal fell in love all over again, as he does each and every time.
“It’s you,” Will said, and Hannibal didn’t think he was mistaken in thinking that his voice contained both horror and wonder.
“You’re the Ripper.”
Will stood in his kitchen, still dressed in only his boxers. He looked delightfully rumpled. The early morning light glimmered, pearlescent on his skin. Ravishing. Hannibal wanted to wrap him up in his bedsheets, trace over his features with a pencil, a brush, a blood splatter.
Hannibal loved this Will, because this Will was the one closest to him. He knew, he saw, and in that moment he was closer to Becoming. The large, detestable break that stretched between them was bridged for a moment. They only need cross it.
But Will was not yet ready. Hannibal could see it in the way Will’s lip trembled with his every shuddery breath, with the way he was still searching for explanations. For an alternate explanation to what he already knew.
But the lovely thing about life is that you always get second chances.
So Hannibal erases, and they start again.
He draws a messy circle, pentip nearly ripping through the paper. Numbers it in his messy scrawl. Scrapes the pentip against the paper as hard as it will allow, allowing for harsh, straight lines.
4:07am. Wolf Trap, Virginia. Will Graham.
It’s not enough. Maybe that’s why Hannibal asks him to do it—because this won’t be enough. It won’t be enough to hold onto everything he knows, everything he realizes. Come tomorrow, he’ll forget, and all of it will start over again. And over again. And over again.
With a snarl, he rips the page out of the notebook, ready to crumple it and throw it at the wall. But he pauses for a moment.
Scrambling up, he heads to the bathroom, flicking on the yellowy light. Against the mirror, he holds up the page.
HANNIBAL KNOWS, he writes.
When he was a boy he had a habit of writing little reminders to himself, much like this. They were reminders to help him remember things he knew he would forget. Later, he would realize that he didn’t need to remind himself of secrets when he could reconstruct them from the look of guilt in his father’s eyes. And then he stopped, when he realized that he didn’t want to remember at all.
He tapes it to the mirror, and steps back.
He isn’t satisfied, but he knows himself.
He knows who he is.
Around the gaps and holes and the bits and pieces taken from him, he knows who he is.
He stares at his tired reflection in the mirror.
You’ve gotten this far, he thinks to himself. Don’t let Hannibal fucking Lecter get the best of you.
Hannibal learned from his past mistakes. He had to, in order to get this far.
Thus, the first thing he said was, “Stay still, now.”
Will froze, instantly alert, animal instincts baring its teeth as the trap clamped down.
There was struggle in his eyes, but his muscles loosened and he became warm and pliant beneath Hannibal’s hands.
“Tell me, Will,” a phrase that quickly became his favorite thing to say, “Are you attracted to me?”
Will had always been easy to read. What made him formidable was not his ability to lie, but his ability to believe in multiple truths. That’s why, when Hannibal demanded a very specific truth from him, he couldn’t hide from Hannibal the way his mouth dried, the way his body reacted to his emotions as it betrayed him.
“Yes.” The answer is delivered with a whoosh of air, breathy.
Hannibal's hands traveled from his shoulders down over his chest, rubbing in small circles.
“What do you find attractive about me?”
Will closed his eyes.
“Your hands. Your shoulders. Your forearms. Your voice. Your eyes.”
Will’s voice was faintly reverent, faintly begrudging. Like he couldn’t help but say it, and disliked the fact that it was so easy to say.
Unlike Will, Hannibal is a good liar. However, he prefers not to. Therefore, he could be truthful with himself and admit that he could definitely get used to this.
“Your mouth. Your accent. Your words, your thoughts, your mind. Your confidence.”
“What do you think about when you touch yourself?”
“You, watching me.”
Hannibal wondered how long an order can last. If Will is answering his questions now out of compulsion, or something else.
“And then you put your hand on my shoulder one day, and that night I touched myself, imagining it on my throat instead.”
Hannibal smiled, hands edging downwards, over Will’s belly, relishing in the small gasp and back arch.
“Would you have told me if I hadn’t ordered you to?”
“I…maybe. I don’t know, I don’t…oh. Oh.”
Hannibal’s hands slipped under Will’s shirt.
“I don’t think I have it in me to refuse myself this.”
Hannibal inhaled the scent of budding arousal, traced the tip of his nose along Will’s cheek, nudging Will’s head to the side to bare his neck.
“You like me that much?”
“You’re a bastard.”
Resistance. Will’s pride, as it reared its head.
“You’re a bastard, and I like you for it.”
Hannibal dragged his lips down Will’s jaw. Will shivered. “What are you thinking about now?”
“About you in front of me. On your knees. About feeling you on me, in me. Being marked. Being hurt. About feeling you even after, and knowing it was real.”
“You’d savor the memory.”
Will moaned as Hannibal slipped a thumb beneath the edge of the waistband of his jeans.
“Memory gives moments immortality,” Will said, echoing something lost.
Hannibal slipped around the chair to kneel at Will’s feet, body like liquid silver, hands kneading at Will’s thighs. He stared up at Will with dark eyes, letting his possessiveness shine through. Watched as something within Will reached back.
“Do you feel immortal, Will?”
Will looked down at him with flushed cheeks and dew-bright eyes.
“I feel…good. I feel…powerful.”
There was a quiet wonder in his voice.
“I’m going to remember this,” Will said, cupping Hannibal’s cheek.
That’s the thing about immortality—it isn’t real. Everything fades, eventually. Some things end quickly, with an explosion or a sharp slice to the carotid artery. Other things end quietly, slipping beneath the surface and dissipating like blood down the drain.
That’s the thing about mortality—it makes everything finite. It has an end, and the end gives it definition. The punctuation at the end of a sentence gives meaning to every space, every word that preceded it.
Perhaps that’s what Hannibal liked the most about placing one down. About taking the illusion of immortality and dragging it back down to earth. Having the power to end it all—having a say as to all that came before it, giving it meaning.
Or, perhaps, simply erasing it.
He erased. Will forgot. Life moved on, and left Will Graham behind.
“When did you find out? Did I tell you?”
Hannibal decided not to do either them the disservice of feigning ignorance.
“When did you realize I knew?”
Will froze for a moment, before forcing his shoulders to relax. It’s futile—tension ran like a livewire all along his body. It nestled beneath his skin, curled along his spine. Hannibal could smell it—sweat, a quickened breath, blood coursing beneath the thin barrier that is skin.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve figured it out.”
“It won’t be the last time you’ll forget, either, I presume.”
Will let out a harsh laugh.
“Good to know you have confidence in me, doctor.”
Hannibal does. He has utmost confidence in Will Graham.
“You never answered my question.”
“It would be stupid if I did.”
“I could order you to tell me,” Hannibal points out.
“You could. But you won’t. That would ruin the fun, wouldn’t it?”
Hannibal only smiled, taking a sip of wine and considering the way it looks, reflecting the firelight.
“Go home, Will. Take care of your dogs. Eat dinner, get comfortable. Go to sleep. And wake up with no memory of our conversation or any other component related to your visit here today. Forget that I know. And Will?”
He didn’t respond.
Stubborn , Hannibal thought, fond.
“Trust me. I only want what’s best for you.”
Something Will learned, growing up with his father, was that you have to take your blessings whenever you can. The one good thing about having your memory taken from you is that you can’t remember how tired you are. You can hope if you forget your despair. And if you have hope, you can fight.
He doesn’t say goodbye as he heads out the door.
Will looks at the note stuck to his bathroom mirror, in his own handwriting.
He wonders why he feels relieved. He realizes it’s because he trusts Hannibal. The feeling drips through the cracks, oily. Unwelcome. Foreign. All he can think about is going to Hannibal, telling him everything, letting it all rest on his shoulders. All he can think about is not being alone anymore. About not having to struggle against himself anymore.
It makes him sick, because he doesn’t know where these thoughts are coming from. He feels possessed, and it’s a feeling he knows well. Will makes his bed in unwelcome thoughts every night.
He supposes that this can be a form of trust as well. He trusts Hannibal. Yes, why wouldn’t he? Hannibal may be the only person that truly knows him. And Will is in the business of knowing others. He knows Hannibal. Why shouldn’t he trust what he knows?
He trusts Hannibal, all right. He trusts that if given the chance, he’ll betray him again.
Will stares at the clock on the other side of the well-worn page. It’s in his handwriting, of course it is. But he doesn’t remember drawing the clock. (Of course he doesn’t.) The numbers are shaky, the circle jerky in places. He can feel the Will that he doesn’t know, feel him radiating off the page. He’s made of panic, fear, and anger. Determination. The clock hands read somewhere around 4:05. Judging from the desperation, it must be AM. He stayed awake. Why?
Because he was afraid.
No. The clock is a desperate grab at reality, at holding onto what he knows. A simple grounding exercise, Hannibal had said.
…When had Hannibal said that?
No, it isn’t nightmares that this Will Graham is afraid of. It’s a deeper-rooted fear than that. It’s of what he’s always afraid of: forgetting. Loss of the illusion of control.
He flips the clock page over and stares at the words again. All caps. Sure. Confident. A signal, a beacon for his future self. A guide.
Will can smell the breakfast Hannibal is cooking for him wafting in through the open door. He’s numb. The words waver in front of his vision.
It repeats in his head.
The other Will Graham drew a clock to ground him in a reality that he knew would slip away, and in an attempt to reclaim it, to remind himself of what he knew he wouldn’t remember, he’d warned the future Will Graham of just this: HANNIBAL KNOWS.
Hannibal knows, and now so does Will.
The deja vu is devastating in its familiarity, in how easily it slips under his skin. How many times? How many games? For how long? It’s not within Will’s ability to even comprehend, fathom the magnitude of what he may or may not have lost.
He sets the paper back down on the bedside table. Considers the glasses lying next to them, decides to forgo them. Considers what he wants to do.
“You can choose. You can choose, right now, Will.”
Will isn’t shaking.
“That’s what I’m doing. For once in my life, I’m about to choose. You can’t take this away from me. Not this time.”
So many things, taken from him. It’s time he finally take something back. Take something for himself.
“Will you finally choose what you want?”
He is not shaking. He isn’t.
“What makes you think I’m not?”
“You had a choice before. You always have. You didn’t take it.”
The gall that this man had, talking to Will about choice.
“I didn’t because you didn’t let me. You took away my agency.”
He’d tilted the playing field and laughed as Will fell off the chess board.
“What was so different about this time?”
Will hates the all-knowing way Hannibal speaks. He hates Hannibal. He hates him.
“This time I was blind. You blinded me.”
“Every Will I’ve known was powerful. You are no different. You knew, Will. You always knew that I knew. This time, you chose differently. Why?”
Will seethes, silent. The words are close to skin.
“Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”
He hates him.
“Was it really so bad? Forgiving yourself for your loss of control? Forgiving yourself for taking what you wanted, instead of what you think you should have wanted?”
“Shut up, Hannibal. Just shut up.”
Will can’t see beyond his righteous indignation, his gut-wrenching, gut-emptying outrage.
He hates Hannibal. It scratches up his throat, wailing to be released. It feels like liquid energy pumping through his veins. It feels like grief.
He hates Hannibal, and he is not shaking as he holds a knife against Hannibal’s throat.
“We both know the truth, Will. You just have to face it. You turned away from the truth, because you want this as much as I do.”
Hannibal’s voice pierces through the veil and Will is helpless to stop it.
“You chose to be blind, because you are happier that way. You chose yourself this time. And it was easy, wasn’t it? Easier than anything else you’ve ever done. Because it was meant to be.”
Meant to be. Hannibal would believe that. In romantic notions like fate, in powers greater than him. Sometimes only to have something to spite, something to fight against, an invisible opponent to play games with. Sometimes because it justifies his actions. The key thing is that he gets to choose which, based on what fancies him. Will resents him for that—for his ability to choose.
“Why must you struggle so much? Why do you insist on denying yourself? Why punish yourself for what you don’t control?”
“Because you are the one that took control away from me!”
“You gave it to me once. Is it so difficult to imagine that you’d do it again? And again, and again, and again?”
The knife bites into the skin of Hannibal’s throat. Will has to force himself to still, to stop. Not like this. He has to savor this, has to be careful about it. He has to remember this, at least. He can’t lose it in the haze of his own mind, not again.
“I hate you.” Will says it with a calm vehemence, eyes crystal clear.
“Yes. Because you love me.”
Hannibal is infuriatingly calm. Infuriatingly in control. So, so infuriatingly sure of himself, in a way that Will doesn’t think he’s ever been, except with him.
“You don’t get to decide that.”
“I don’t have to.”
“You—you made me do your dirty work! You used me. You made me do things I didn’t want to do, then told me to forget about it.”
Hannibal closes his eyes. He looks mournful, regret coloring his features.
“Is that what happened? Is that what you remember, Will?”
Will grits his teeth.
“I don’t need to remember. I can see it in your eyes.”
Just like he saw into his father’s eyes, and knew. Knew that he didn’t want to fill in those blanks in his memories.
But this is different. He’s no longer a child, and Hannibal isn’t his father. He gave up that life long ago, ran from it to take his own back. He’s scraped together this life for himself, and he isn’t about to let someone else take it from him again.
Hannibal smiles, enigmatic and ever-amused.
“I could order you to drop the knife, right now, if I wanted to.”
“And I can slice your artery before you get a word out.”
That simply seems to delight Hannibal even more. Bastard.
“Can you really? Can you really throw this away, when you know what it’s like, now, to be unafraid?”
“It was a false security. I don’t need it.”
“You don’t. But you want it.”
Will tugs Hannibal’s head to the side, fingers wrapping themselves around neatly-slicked hair, baring his throat to the blade. Hannibal doesn’t resist, molding smoothly under Will’s hands. Will shivers. He knows that Hannibal can feel it against him.
“You’re even more insane than I thought if you think I’m going to let you do this to me again.”
“I once told you to break the curse, Will. And yet, even after, you continued to obey my orders. Why did you?”
The shivers grow so pronounced that Will is surprised Hannibal is still alive. He can hear his breathing in his ears, fueled by the pump of his heart. The temperature seems to drop, like his stomach. He’s surprised he can’t see his breath misting in front of him.
“I remember, Hannibal. I remember, even though you made me forget. I remember everything.”
He broke the curse. He broke it.
“Fickle thing, memory. What exactly, do you remember? How do you remember? The way you remember the crime scenes of all those killers you’ve never met?”
“You ordered me to break the curse. I did. The way I always do. That was your mistake.”
“I don’t make mistakes, Will.”
“You do when it comes to me.”
Hannibal’s faint smile disappears. He appears solemn. Sad. Pitying.
“Was there ever really a curse, Will? Or did you just want to forget so badly you gave your mind an excuse to do it?”
Will knows who he is. He knows. This burden that he carried all his life—it couldn’t have been a lie. There were too many things. Too many incidents, too many close calls. Countless. It wasn’t an illusion. Not to him.
And yet, what he says is: “It doesn’t matter.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says again, “because whatever it was, it’s gone now.”
“Are the memories you’ve recovered really yours, Will? Do you know for sure?”
Will’s eyes are those of a man unwilling to compromise, unwilling to listen. That is answer enough.
“Are you willing to bet this on that certainty? On the malleability of your mind?”
Will is silent. He is done with this back-and-forth, with the games.
And then, “Drop the knife, Will.”
Will’s arm begins to tremble violently, his face screwing up in frustration as he grits his teeth. Hannibal turns to face him fully, twisting carefully in Will’s grip and reaching out to steady Will’s hand, pressing the blade right over his carotid artery.
Will closes his eyes, afraid, because he knows what will happen next, but he doesn’t know what will happen after.
Hannibal has an unbearably fond expression on his face.
“Will,” Will shakes his head, trying to extricate himself from Hannibal, wishing he were anywhere but here.
Hannibal issues his final command.
“Be happy, Will. Be happy, and forget—”