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Moving Forward

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Jack’s voice continues to drift over the phone line, but Will doesn’t process it. There’s a deer in his backyard. A real one, he's pretty sure. Will's standing frozen in the middle of his living room, and the deer is standing just as still in the yard, watching. Still in his nicest coat and gloves from seeing Hannibal for the first of their renewed therapy sessions. Still in his Hannibal costume. It went fairly well, all things considered. A good start. Will had assumed that Jack was calling to ask how his first fishing attempt went, but he was wrong.

“I see,” Will says, feeling oddly bereft, and the deer suddenly bounds into action, disappearing into the trees. “Thank you for letting me know.”

He hangs up the phone and sets it on the table. He occupies himself with placing his hands next to the phone, leaning his weight against them. Will lets himself focus on his physical actions and sensations, leaving the rest behind. So. Frederick Chilton is in critical condition, probably going to die. Shot in the face by Miriam Lass. Will sent him away, and sent him to his death.

He stands there, doing nothing but wrestling with the horrible and nearly irrepressibly urge to call Jack back and yell at him. Or worse, to drive back to Hannibal’s office and finish what he started in his kitchen the night before, but he doesn’t. Hannibal must know by now that Will has found out about what he arranged. He might prepare for Will to make a move in revenge, just another continuation of their game.

Will breathes deeply and thinks back to the circular conversation they had, looking for the bright spots and clues. Most of what they talked about had little to do with anything important and everything to do with the pageantry of the conversation. It was theater.

“What are you doing?” Will had asked, watching Hannibal makes a note in his book. He tried to keep his tone politely curious instead of suspicious.

“Just keeping my records. January twelfth, the day Will Graham returned,” Hannibal responded pleasantly, snapping the book shut. Will had wanted to rip the page out, tear it to pieces. He sat down in his usual chair instead, waiting. When he didn’t continue the conversation, Hannibal did it for him.

“You look very nice tonight Will, perhaps prison agreed with you more than you thought,” Hannibal said, clearly teasing. Clearly enjoying himself.

“Being released from prison agrees with me more.” Will curled his fingers into the arm of his chair, his cheap imitation of their pervious banter feeling like just that. “But it was certainly an illuminating experience.”

“Illuminating in what way?”

“Mostly in regards to our relationship,” Will said, not allowing himself to get too worked up over the topic. He still had weeks, maybe months, of work ahead of him with this. He couldn’t afford to be hasty.

Hannibal’s gaze flickered back down to his body. “I would say that I’ve had a positive effect on at least one area of your life.”

Will resisted the urge to outright glare. “I try not to let what you do or do not like impact my actions.”

"anymore?" Hannibal raised an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth barely turning up at this side. “That behavior in and of itself suggests a certain level of influence.”

“I didn’t say it was working,” Will said, smiling back, just as slightly. He had been flirting, poorly, but he suspects that Hannibal would see through it immediately if he tried to lie. He wasn’t at a point where he could deceive him, not yet. The rest of the session continued along the same vein. Smoke and mirrors, and all the while, the low throb of betrayal. The hum between them, still alive, even now.

Will takes a deep breath, reminding himself of what he’s doing and why. He can only go forward. Anything else won't be productive.

“Then again,” he mutters to himself as he strips off his coat and makes for the cabinet across the room. “Neither is this.”

The dogs swirl around his feet, still that excited to see him after his long absence as he pulls out the dusty old bottle of whiskey. He holds it up for them to see. “A moment of weakness before the real work starts.” They obviously don’t appreciate his humor, but then Will is running out of actual people to talk with. They keep dying on him.

He sits down heavily on the couch and lets himself sink into it. The knowledge weighs heavily on his shoulders, pressing them down. He hadn’t expected feeling so affected by Frederick Chilton’s death. He doesn’t- didn’t even like the man.

“Guilt,” Will says, staring up at the ceiling. The dogs all watch him from the floor, no doubt sensing his poor mood. "Predictable."

He takes a long drink from his glass and closes his eyes, picturing everyone that he had failed. Frederick. Beverly. Abigail. It hits him like a physical blow, and he curls in on himself, face buried in the couch cushions. He’s too drawn out to cry, and too damn tired to try to do anything else.

Winston comes up to the couch and sits so his face is right next to Will’s. His tail thumps against the floor, making a low, rhythmic sound, and Will smiles reflexively. “Good dog,” he says, raising a hand to pet his head. “I wish I was as good a person as you are a dog.”

Winston cocks his head to the side. Will thinks that he should probably stop talking to the dogs. It’s not a good sign for his sanity. He lies there, watching Winston watch him and thinking about everything that had led up to this.

So many wrong decisions, even outside of Hannibal’s influence. He can’t even blame Hannibal for all of it. Will might have kept them safe. The anger is creeping back up on him now, still present from his visit to Hannibal’s office and inflamed by his failure with Frederick. He stopped himself from throwing himself at the other man, if Hannibal can really be called a man, and beating him bloody, but his self control apparently doesn’t extend to his private behavior.

“Dammit!” He throws his glass, still half full of whiskey, across the room. It connects with the wall next to the cabinet and shatters spectacularly, whiskey and glass falling around in the area, but mostly landing behind the cabinet. The dogs bark, riled up. It isn’t even mildly satisfying.

Will puts his hands in his hair and pulls. “I could have- just, let him stay! I could have done it right. If I had another chance. Could have saved him. Fuck!” he yells and rolls onto his back, trying to calm himself. Winston skitters away, startled by his outburst. Will lets out a harsh breath and rubs his hands over his eyes.

Silence descends, and Will thinks about getting up to clean the glass that had shattered thanks to his childish display. Eventually he pushes himself up and goes over there to get the large and visible pieces, dropping them in the trash. The dogs know better than to get into the rest of it. Will collapses back onto the couch and just focuses on slowing his breathing.

The house is dark, he hadn’t bothered to turn on any of the lights, and it’s easy to just let himself drift off, sink into the dark. One more chance, he thinks, picturing their faces, right before he falls asleep.

***

When he wakes up, Will is surprised to find himself in his own bed. He sits up and peers around blearily, confused. The clock reads six am, which matches the low light of the sun. He must have gotten up off the couch and moved at some point during the night. He scratches his head and tries to focus, but comes up with nothing. Drinking before bed, he decides, and gets up.

The dogs are already up and excited to see him, just like yesterday. Will smiles and gets them breakfast. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to have a hangover, despite his late night activities the night before. He remembers the glass he threw, but then Winston barks, distracting him.

“Ok, ok,” he says as they whine and scratch at the door, reaching into a closet to get his coat out. He follows them outside, taking in the view of his property. Appreciation of the natural world had always come easily to him, but after his stay in the hospital he finds that he loves it even more. The gentle light through the trees, casting an ever changing pattern on the ground below. The give and take of it, life and death in predictable patterns. No one ever wants him to catch a killer fox, it's just their nature. No one tries to prosecute a hawk for scooping up a rabbit. It just is, and he missed it so badly while he was inside it's a physical ache to see it all again.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” he mutters, stroking Buster absently. He spends the morning outside, just being with the dogs.

His phone doesn’t ring that morning, though he’s expecting Jack to call at some point to talk to him about the situation with Miriam Lass and the late Dr. Chilton, who had surely died by now, or for Hannibal to try to lure him out and into the open with his pretty lies. He’s pretty sure his relationship with Alana is over, so it’s not as surprising that she doesn’t call, but it’s still strange to have two days in a row without being called in for something.

“Surely the murderous population of the United States isn’t on a break,” he mutters to himself, and frowns. It’s not funny, even as a private joke.

Cold and freshly determined, he counts it as a lucky break. Will isn’t one to seek out trouble when he has research to do, and he had decided that he needs to gather as much information on Hannibal Lecter as possible before he sees him again. If he has any accessible weaknesses, which Will doubts but won’t give up on, they’ll be buried in his past.

It’s mid-afternoon and he’s already deep into reading about Hannibal’s time at John Hopkins when it occurs to him that he should clean up the glass and whiskey from the night before. Sighing, he gets up, gathering up the dustpan and a trash bag before moving the cabinet. He pulls it away from the wall, grunting with the effort. The dogs swarm in, and he shoos them away, afraid that they’ll cut themselves, but there’s nothing there.

Will stares, unmoving, at the clean floor.

He pushes the cabinet back and slowly walks the edges of the room, searching for the glass. When he doesn’t find any, he goes back to the cabinet and opens the door. Four glasses, the complete set. Four dusty glasses. A cold fear lodges itself in his spine and he takes a steadying breath. With the encephalitis gone, he thought that he was done hallucinating. Apparently not.

Will shuts the door and sits down on the couch, thinking. There’s nothing physically wrong with his brain. He knows this, knows that he had been tested frequently and thoroughly at the hospital. He probably just imagined throwing the glass, or dreamed it. The theory is immensely unsatisfying, but Will has to admit to himself that it’s the only logical answer.

He’s still in the process of convincing himself that he’s not crazy when the dogs all jump up at once and run for the door. Will looks up, disoriented with deja vu, and gets to his feet. Feeling especially paranoid, he pulls the gun from his drawer and sticks it in the waistband of his pants before he peaks out the kitchen window, wary at the idea of two surprise visitors in two days. What he sees nearly causes him to knock over the table in his haste to get the door open.

“Frederick?” he calls out, nearly yelling, coming to a graceless stop in front of the other man.

Frederick Chilton, who is supposed to be dead or at the very least have a hole in his face, is standing on Will’s porch wearing the exact same bloodstained outfit Will knows should be the property of the FBI. He draws back, clearly startled by Will’s tone and clutches at his suitcase. “Ah- yes. Mr. Graham. I’m sorry to impose, but may I use your shower please?”

Chapter Text

Up until the last year of his life, Will had always and immediately questioned seemingly impossible things. If something did not fit with the way Will knew the world worked, he used to try to figure out why right away, because there was clearly a reasonable answer. However, recent events had rather changed his position on rash action and pointing out shifts in reality, which is why when the dead Frederick Chilton asks to use his shower please, again, Will just stands aside and waves him in.

“It’s the second door on the left. Upstairs,” he hears himself say. Frederick doesn’t seem to notice much about his strange behavior. It’s not like he’s used to seeing Will act normally after all.

Bringing his things with him, Frederick mumbles a 'thank you' and darts up the stairs, just like yesterday. Will stares after him, eyebrows furrowed, for a long time. The shower is running, and this is the point where, yesterday, Will had called Jack. Yesterday.

“Ok,” Will says, to himself, as he sit down in his chair. “What’s the angle.”

He stays in the chair at the bottom of the stairs, arms crossed. He pulls his phone out, sees that it says that it’s the day before, January twelfth, then immediately puts it back, deciding to wait for more information. Of course, Hannibal must be involved somehow, Will just doesn’t know how. Or why, come to think of it. It’s either that, or Jack lied to him the night before, but Will decides to deny that option for now. Hannibal must have tricked him somehow, collected Frederick, and now he’s using him to convince Will that he’s crazy. Again. Will frowns.

Again? What would be the point of that?

He pulls out his phone again, ignoring the incorrect date, and sends Jack a text. Dr. Chilton here. He presses send and puts it away again, trying to ignore the awful but irrational guilt that churns in his stomach. Clearly Frederick did not actually get shot last night, the danger is not real. He moves to the other chair so that he’ll be facing Frederick when he comes down the stairs. Doubt crawls through his mind, familiar and uncomfortable. Frederick takes a while getting ready, just like he did the day before. Sweat rolls down Will’s back despite the fact that it’s freezing in the house. He must be nervous. Frowning, Will stands when he hears Frederick start to come down the stairs.

“Thank you Will,” he says, though he’s not looking at him. High strung as he is, Will almost laughs. So much for Will’s dramatic looming presence. “I truly appreciate it.”

Will nods, his patience running thin. “What will you do now? Run back to Hannibal?”

Frederick actually jerks back, shocked. “Run back to him? No, I’m not like you, I don’t need revenge.” He laughs nervously. “I’m running away. Far away.”

“Because that worked out so well for you yesterday,” Will says with contempt, growing irritated again.

Frederick actually meets his eyes, frowning. “What?” It seems genuine, but then so had many other things in Will’s life.

Will huffs, done with pretending. “Spare me. We both know that Hannibal is behind this Frederick, though I can’t imagine what you hope to gain from it.”

Frederick looks alarmed. “Will-”

“Actually I can, you think he’ll spare your life if you do this for him.” Will levies him with a harsh look. “He won’t.”

Frederick shifts on his feet. “Yes, I know,” he says slowly, like maybe Will can’t understand. “That’s why I’m-”

“Leaving.” Will barks out a laugh. “Sure.” Panic begins to curl down his spine. He understands what had happened now. Frederick must have never made it to the FBI headquarters. Hannibal had gotten to him first, convinced Frederick to do this, made Jack make that phone call to Will last night, and then waited. Will should have realized that something had been wrong. It’s just another game, but this time Jack is in danger, or worse. Will can only hope that Hannibal isn’t done with him yet.

Will jumps to his feet, startling Frederick so badly that he scrambles back. “Where is he keeping him, do you know?”

“What?”

“Don’t ‘what’ me you-” A thousand insults crawl through Will’s mind before he decides against the wasted time. “Tell me. Where is Jack.”

“Jack Crawford?”

Will grinds his teeth but maintains his composure. “Yes. Did you see what Hannibal did with him yesterday after he took you?”

Frederick’s eyes flicker to the door and then back to Will. “I- no?”

“Fine. Tell me everything that happened yesterday after I called Jack.”

“I’m really not sure what you mean.”

“You came here yesterday and did the same thing that you did today, and then after I told you that I called Jack you ran into the woods and he went after you. What happened after that?”

Frederick blinks. “Yesterday...Will did you report me to Jack?”

“You know I did Frederick, I don’t have time right now for your-” The quiet sound of car tires rolling up his driveway reach him and Will spins around. He can dimly hear Frederick scrambling around behind him to grab his things and run out the back door, again, but he ignores him. Will stares out of the window. It’s Jack’s car, but that doesn’t mean that Jack is the one driving it.

Will is out the door and halfway across his yard before the door opens, but when it does he skitters to a stop. “Jack?”

He looks the same as yesterday, in his hat and coat and dully furious. “Will. Where is he?” Like yesterday. Like Frederick.

Will stares at him, his own fury building as well, but directed at a different source. How Hannibal had gotten to Jack so quickly and so completely he had no idea. But he will find out. “He ran out the back,” Will hears himself say and steps out of the way as Jack rushes forward, caught in whatever web Hannibal had woven for him. Will scowls, unable to make sense of Hannibal’s reasoning for the very first time. It’s not like him to do something so pointless, so easily noticeable. So rude.

Will curls his hand into a fist and keeps going. Jack car is blocking Will’s so he gets into Frederick’s stupid shiny one, keys still in the ignition, and pulls out of the driveway.

***

When he gets to Hannibal's office it’s still prime business hours. Will had driven like a maniac to get here, still fueled by his indignation and an echo of the biblical rage that had driven him to tell Matthew Brown to kill him in the first place, to stalk the shadows of Hannibal's kitchen and point a gun at his face. Why hadn’t he just pulled the trigger? Every time he hesitates someone gets hurt.

Will parks in the street, not caring if Frederick’s ridiculous car gets towed. It’s not like he’s going to need it where he’s going, Will thinks with only a little guilt. He’s lost to Will now, just another part in Hannibal’s great machine, rotting and rusting from the inside. Jack’s clearly gone too, and Will has to handle this alone.

Will makes himself walk up the stairs to the building like a normal person, taking his time with the door, letting the look on Hannibal’s face when he barges in through the private exit satisfy him instead. Hannibal doesn’t quite jump to his feet, but his movements are distinctly agitated as he stands.

“Will, now is not the time,” he says, visibly annoyed, but his voice is steady. His patient stares at Will with a mix of anger and shame, but Will ignores her.

“Sorry. We need to talk,” Will answers, completely disingenuously, and sits down on the couch on the other side of the room, planting his feet. He doesn’t even try to look relaxed, high strung as he is. He wonders where Jack is now, if he caught Frederick this time too. Maybe he’ll be looking for the rest of his life. Will curls his hands into fists, letting his nails bite into his flesh.

Hannibal scowls, looking at Will the way one might look at a misbehaving child, and turns back to his patient. “I’m terribly sorry Mrs. Grey, please excuse the interruption.”

“You’re not excused,” Mrs. Grey blusters and stands, finally able to direct her anger somewhere. “I think I’ll see myself out, Dr. Lecter.”

The strained exchange continues but Will barely pays any attention. He looks up at the rows of books on the second level, dangling feet having caught his eye. He smiles and Abigail smiles back, her hair tucked behind her ears, whole and lovely. She’s swinging her feet playfully, looking uncharacteristically childish. It suits her. She must feel safe here.

“You might have just come by for your regular appointment time. I’ve been keeping it open.” Hannibal shakes his head. “That was rude Will, even for you.”

Will turns his attention back to Hannibal, now standing next to his usual chair, the expression on his face still touched with annoyance.

“You’re one to talk,” Will says mildly and watches Hannibal’s irritation give way to curiosity.

“How do you mean?”

Will resists the urge to cross his arms or adopt another defensive posture. “You couldn’t even give me a few days before you took more people from me? Really Hannibal, that’s no way to make friends,” he twists the word, making it sound like an insult, some horrid slur.

Hannibal tilts his head. “I admit that I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not. This isn’t what I meant when I said I want to resume my therapy Dr. Lecter.” Will smiles, but the game feels forced somehow, uneven. Hannibal doesn’t smile back. Instead his gaze drifts down to Will’s body.

“I see. Are you going to try to kill me again?”

Will doesn’t deny the gun. “I wasn’t exactly trying before.”

Hannibal stares back calmly. “I disagree. You wanted to pull the trigger.”

“Maybe third time’s the charm.” That makes Hannibal smile. Will wants to punch him until he can’t smile anymore.

“Why don’t you come and sit down.” Hannibal gestures to his old chair. Will considers it.

“Like old times? Aren’t we beyond that?”

Hannibal smirks. “Metaphorically speaking, yes. But practically it is the most comfortable place to sit.” He lowers himself into his own chair, neatly crossing one leg over the other. All of his earlier irritation is neatly buried and Will’s is still simmering on the surface. “You said that you want to resume your therapy, this is where I conduct my practice.”

Will stands and moves to his place. “An interesting theatrical performance in it’s own right though. Kind of like the vaudeville puppet show you sent me today. Heavy handed and easy to shine a light through. Childish.” He sits, the chair familiar and comforting.

Hannibal doesn’t respond. His eyes glitter in the light, and his fingers stay still against the armrest. Will considers him. “Not talking today?”

“You seem to have a lot to say.” Hannibal inclines his head. “Right now I’m listening. Tell me, what did you think of it?”

“It didn’t seem like you,” Will says and realizes that it’s true. It was crude for Hannibal’s style, so much effort for very little gain. Paper thin. Will frowns. “Why bother at all? It didn’t work and I didn’t...respect it.”

Hannibal tilts his head back, his face totally blank. After a long time, he speaks again. “What didn’t work?”

Will scoffs. “The repeat day, Hannibal. It didn’t work. I don’t know why you went through all the effort to try to convince me that time had gone backwards, but it didn’t work. Do you know how long I spent examining myself in the hospital? I know my own mind now, you’ll have to try harder than that.”

Hannibal blinks, one long sustained blink, like a stall for time. Will recognizes it, but it looks odd on him, he had never seen him do it before. After a moment, Hannibal continues. “I know. I’ve stopped trying entirely.”

Will rolls his eyes. “Clearly not.”

“Once again I find that I do not know what you’re talking about.” Hannibal leans forward, elbows braced on his knees. “What happened? You must tell me.”

Will gives him a withering look. “I won’t have this conversation with you at all if you don’t stop playing games Hannibal. I’m tired of that. I thought we’d moved past it.” Naively, but at least it’s true. Will can be the honest one, he always has before.

“Perhaps we have,” Hannibal insists, with what seems like genuine curiosity in his tone. Will knows better now than to trust it.

“Why take Jack?” Will asks, unable to help himself. “It’s so obvious that it’s reckless, even for you.”

Hannibal leans back against his chair. “I haven’t done anything to Jack Crawford.”

“Bullshit,” Will insists emphatically. “There’s no point in denying it now, I’ve already seen him.”

Hannibal’s eyebrows slowly crawl up his face. “I assure you, whatever was done to Jack was not my doing.”

Will fights down all his violent impulses and continues. “And Chilton?”

Hannibal smiles. “You mean the Chesapeake Ripper?”

“Yes, your patsy as he called himself.” Will crosses his legs and glares. “Yesterday.”

Amusement lights up Hannibal’s eyes. “Dr. Chilton realized yesterday? I’m impressed.”

“Well it’s hard to miss the bodies strewn all over his house, if that even actually happened at all.”

Hannibal frowns and falls silent again. Doubt crawls on Will’s skin like so many bugs, but he resists the urge scratch. Hannibal should be gloating, implying many things but saying nothing Will can really use against him. Today Hannibal stays silent, just watching him.

Will leans forward, hoping that for once he can push Hannibal into revealing something. “What is the point of trying to make me think that this all already happened? What do you gain by making me relive a day?”

“You believe that you are reliving this day?” Hannibal asks, leaning forward again to mirror his posture. He steeples his fingers together. “You no longer have anything physically wrong in your brain, and I haven’t done anything to you. As you said, you know your own mind. What makes you think that you are reliving this day?”

It’s Will’s turn to stare in silence, bone deep annoyance warring with real worry. Of course Hannibal is lying to him, but it doesn’t feel that way. In spite of everything, they know each other. Will knows Hannibal almost as well as Hannibal knows him. They're perfectly opposite, and this isn't right. They continue to look into each others eyes, silent and unsure, until Will’s phone rings, startling him.

“You usually silence that,” Hannibal says, visibly amused. “This must be a stressful day for you.”

Will ignores him, staring down at Jack’s name innocuously blinking up at him. “I should take this.”

“Be my guest.”

When Will answers, Jack immediately starts talking. “Will, why did you leave?”

“Well I-”

“Never mind, we got him. I thought you should know.”

Will stares across the room at Hannibal, who is regarding him with interest. “I see. Where are you now?”

“Headquarters. We’re going to get him processed and have Miriam Lass take a look at him.” There’s no change in Hannibal’s expression, though he can obviously hear what’s being said.

Will picks at the fabric of the chair. “Good idea.”

“Great, I’ll see you-”

“Wait, Jack.”

“What? He just came out of-”

“What did you do yesterday?”

Silence buzzes down the line.

“What?”

Will closes his eyes. “Never mind. You might want to leave your gun in your office when you take Miriam to see him.”

“Why?”

“Just trust me.” He hangs up and puts the phone back in his pocket. Hannibal seems enthralled.

“That was interesting.”

“If you say so,” Will says, but he feels sick. Out of the corner of his eye he can still see Abigail, watching from above, and he allows her to comfort him. There’s an unreal quality to her, and unreality that Will can perceive, like he can with the feathered stag. A quality he hasn’t felt all day, not even when Hannibal lies to him. A drop of sweat rolls down his back.

Hannibal nods. “I do. What was that all about?”

“Like you don’t already know.” Will feels a bone deep exhaustion. He slumps back in his chair.

“Will, I really don’t. Tell me.”

“It’s your bizarre scheme, you tell me.”

Hannibal looks affronted. “I do not have schemes.”

Will laughs. “Hannibal the Cannibal. You’re basically a super villain. Maybe that explains it then.”

Hannibal raises one eyebrow. “The time loop?”

“Obviously.”

“It’s not obvious to me. I didn’t do this, Will.” He taps his fingers against each other. “Why did you tell Jack to leave his gun?”

“So Miriam Lass wouldn’t shoot Chilton in the head like you intended.”

“Like she did ‘yesterday’?” Hannibal says slowly, as though speaking to a child. Will glares, but Hannibal smiles.

“Well didn’t you intend that?” Will shoots back. Hannibal’s silence answers for him and Will scoffs. “This is why your plan is so ridiculous, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s so clear what you’re doing it’s unreal. It’s the most unreal part of the entire experience, actually.” Nothing flickers in Hannibal’s face.

“I’m just trying to understand your train of thought Will, you can’t blame me for being interested.”

“Can’t I?”

Hannibal smiles, his dark eyes glittering with amusement. “Perhaps so. Still, will you tell me? I’ll tell you everything I know if you do.”

“I doubt that,” Will says, the bitterness threatening to choke him, but he does it anyway. The alternative of going home to face a world he once again doesn’t understand is too horrible to comprehend. It’s the loss of Jack that does him in, the loss of the bedrock he’s supposed to be standing on. He’d rather sit in this chair across from the smoke that overtook him than face that.

He tells Hannibal everything, and Hannibal drinks it all in, looking more engaged than Will had ever seen him. Will talks for a long time, then Hannibal talks for even longer, theorizing and grandstanding. Will still doesn’t believe him, but he has a few good points. Will could believe him if he chose to. Once again it’s what makes him so dangerous. The sun goes down and they keep talking, caught up in their own world. It’s still so addictive, talking to Hannibal. It makes Will want to tear off his own skin, crawl into Hannibal's world of light and shadow, always has, but he keeps talking instead. Hannibal actually orders food for them from some god awful expensive restaurant, insisting that Will eat something when it comes, which is ridiculous.

“How do I know you aren’t going to poison me?” Will asks from the balcony. He’d been perusing Hannibal’s books while he made the call.

Hannibal actually scoffs, clearly offended. “Please Will. After all I’ve done for you?”

“And you wouldn’t want to do that to the food.”

Hannibal doesn’t answer him, just launches back into another idea about Will’s strange mental state. He doesn’t actually seem to think that Will is caught in a real time loop, but then neither does Will so that’s probably for the best. It’s interesting that he’s not doing a better job of trying to convince Will of his own scheme, but Will is done for the night with trying to understand Hannibal’s motivations. He’ll settle for understanding his methods for now. He climbs back down and keeps talking, keeps listening. They sit close on the couch, then move to the desk, Will perched on it like a bird. The food comes and goes, but Will doesn’t eat any of it.

At one point Jack calls Will again to let him know that Frederick had been shot.

“I thought-”

“I know. I should have listened to you.”

Will stares out the window, feeling blank. “You would think that by now you would have realized that without the hard lessons.”

“I’m sorry, Will.”

“I’m not the one with the bullet in my head Jack,” Will says, annoyed and still residually afraid for Jack’s wellbeing. Fear does make him rude though, so he hangs up without saying goodbye again.

Hannibal steps back into their conversation without missing a beat, pulling Will with him. “What’s interesting about this particular delusion is the accuracy of it. How could you have known that Frederick would come to you with enough certainty to feel that level of deja vu?”

“I didn’t.”

Hannibal waves a hand. “Obviously you did. It appears that your mind-

Will sits up in bed, blinking in the morning light.

For a moment he’s so shocked he doesn’t even know what to think. There’s no residual fog from drugs, no gaps in his memory. Not even Hannibal Lecter can achieve so perfect a transition. Will turns to look at the clock beside his bed. Six am. The dogs rush towards his bed, excited to see him awake. Just like yesterday, and the day before. Maybe they always will. He smiles at them.

“Hey guys,” he picks up his phone. Same time, same date. January twelfth. He lets out a harsh breath, the wave threatening to pull him under. “I think I’m in trouble again.”

Chapter Text

“Hello Dr. Lecter,” Will says tonelessly, putting the phone in the crook of his neck and shoulder so he can better cut up the fish for the dogs. They remind him of good things. Doing things for the dogs relaxes him. It makes him less likely to do something stupid, which is important when he talks to Hannibal.

“Will, what a pleasant surprise,” Hannibal’s voice buzzes down the line, grating in its calmness. Not for the first time, Will reminds himself that from Hannibal’s perspective this is their first conversation since Will threatened him in his kitchen. “To what do I owe the-”

“Are you getting ready to attack Chilton? I don’t want to interrupt you if you’re busy.”

Silence. Will keeps chopping the fish, unconcerned. All the awkwardness of their first therapy session is gone now, Will knows just what to say. At his feet, the dogs weave in and out from in between his legs, whining and begging. He smiles down at them. Eventually, Hannibal responds.

“Of course not,” Hannibal finally says, deliberate and slow. His tone is vaguely curious, considering, but Will thinks he hears some genuine tension underneath. “What makes you say that Will?”

Will nearly rolls his eyes. “No reason, bye.” He hangs up the phone with a fish covered hand. Satisfied, he glances down at Buster. “Well, that answers that question doesn’t it Buster?” Buster just whines, wiggling his butt and Will drops him a piece of fish before turning back to his preparations.

Will had spent the better part of the day trying to decide just how insane he had become, leaving the question of why it was happening for another time. Upon waking up and realizing that he had either been literally trapped in a time loop or tricked by Hannibal again, he set out to figure out which one it was. His first stop was the discount electronics store to buy a new burner phone and gather information. January twelfth. Everyone said January twelfth, talking about the news of the day, and didn’t seems to think that anything was strange.

So he went to the library and checked three different public computers for the date and news with no surprises. Then he changed libraries. No change. Whatever was happening, it was either all in his head, or it was real. Hannibal didn’t do anything to Frederick or Jack, just to him. Or so Will had assumed until he talked to him on the phone.

“What do you think Winston? You’re the smart one,” Will says from his position on the floor, watching them eat. Winston glances up at him but just keeps crunching bones and flesh. Will sighs. “Right.”

Ultimately, Will is either just crazy all on his own, in which case he’ll probably be best off just playing out the delusion, or this is real. January twelfth for the third time. Will bangs his head against the counter. “At least it waited until I was out of prison right? Can you imagine if I had do that forever?”

Winston whines again and lies down with his head in Will’s lap. He stays on the floor with the dogs and waits for Hannibal to show up and demand answers. Surely he’ll want to know how Will knew. He never shows up, but someone else does.

“Frederick?” Will demands a bit more aggressively than he had intended, the surprise in his voice genuine despite having seen this display twice before.

Frederick flinches but he doesn’t run. He looks terrible, just like he did for the past two days. “Mr. Graham. May I use your-”

“Hannibal did this to you?” Will interrupts, amazed in spite of himself. He almost can’t believe it, though he has to admit that being surprised by the sheer nerve of Hannibal Lecter is short sighted at best and likely suicidal at worst. But here Frederick is again, covered in blood and visibly shaken.

Frederick leans away from Will, who had taken several steps closer to him in his interest. “Ah, yes. I-”

Will backs up immediately. “The shower is upstairs,” he says, and turns to go back inside the house. He hears Frederick skitter inside behind him, letting the screen door slam shut as he goes. He calls out a weak 'thank you' as he climbs the stairs. Will doesn’t respond, merely sinking back into his chair to dig his phone out and send Jack the same short text. He hesitates, thinking about how Jack didn’t listen to him about the gun, but ultimately sends it anyway. It won’t do to have Frederick underfoot while he tries to figure this out, and he’ll just be alive again tomorrow.

Will puts the phone and the guilt away for the time being. Hannibal still attacked Frederick even when he knew that Will knew. Interesting. “I guess I don’t know him as well as I think I do,” Will says contemplatively, stroking Winston’s ears. Winston whines and Will nods. “Yeah, that’s a problem. Maybe that’s why I’m here.”

He decides to wait for Frederick to get picked up by an irate Jack before trying to do anything important. The thought of seeing Jack again sends a shiver down Will’s spine, thinking about how he thought he lost him. Maybe he did, if he’s in this thing alone, but it’s better than Hannibal having him.

Will is waiting for him on the front porch when he pulls up, letting Frederick repack his bag and talk to himself in the house. Jack looks exactly the same as he has for the past two days, right down to the expression on his face. Will stands to meet him. “Jack.”

Jack glares at him. “Where is he?”

“Inside, he’s got a gun but he won’t fire it.”

Jack’s glare morphs into a scowl. “We’ll see about that.”

“Hang on a second,” Will puts himself in Jack’s path. “I’m sorry I doubted you Jack. I should have known better.”

Jack frowns, his eyes flickering between Will and the door. “I think that’s my line.”

Will smiles slightly. “Probably. I guess that makes us even.” Jack clearly doesn’t understand his meaning, but his eyes drift to the window now and Will can picture Frederick peaking out from the curtains. He sighs. “Don’t worry. You catch him.”

Jack frowns harder. “I know, and we’re going to talk about whatever’s going on with you after I do.”

“If you say so,” Will murmurs as Jack pushes past him, knowing that they probably won’t. Jack won’t have time until tomorrow, and then it won’t matter. Will goes back into the house to watch. Catching Frederick doesn’t take long, it never does. Not for the first time Will wonders how anyone could think that he’s the Ripper.

He declines Jack’s invitation to come to Quantico, which is new. The change in their conversation must have worried Jack that much that he deviated from the script. He’s clearly worried, but Will reminds himself that he won’t be worried for long.

“We need someone to bring in his car, there could be evidence inside it,” Jack says, watching Will very carefully.

“I’ll come in tomorrow,” Will says with a falsely reassuring nod. “I have some research I want to get done today and I’m sure you’ll be too busy. The car can wait.” Jack accepts it, but only barely.

“Fine.” Jack’s eyes scan the edges of Will’s property. “I’ll let you know if anything comes up.”

“So will I, and I’ll bring the car in first thing in the morning.”

Jack eyes him suspiciously once more time before turning away. Will wonders if there’s a certain combination of words and facial expressions that would have Jack picking Will and putting him in the car by force. He smiles to himself as he watches Jack drive away. Maybe he’ll have the time to find out. The thought is more frightening than anything else, and reminds him of the things he still doesn’t know. Things he intends to find out.

Will goes back inside.

***

Will spends most of the rest of the day doing research on both the nature of time and on Hannibal Lecter. The time research is fruitless, not that he expected it to be particularly easy to discover answers to his particular problem. It seems that much like mental illness, time is understood only basic terms. Will can’t find anything to explain his situation. He likely never will, and he accepts that and moves on quickly.

The Hannibal research is almost as bad. Will picks up where he left off on the first January twelfth and finds plenty of information, but none of it is particularly useful. Obviously he had taken great pains to be both visible and intangible. Both remarkable and nondescript. It doesn’t surprise Will in the least. The monsters buried in Hannibal’s past will be deep down in dark places Will might not even be able to reach.

There’s some information on the Lecter family as a group, but it nearly all relates to the political history in Lithuania. Will doubts that Hannibal would have ever been personally affected by something so pedestrian as a revolution, but the impact on his family likely had something to do with his development. Will locates Hannibal’s only surviving relative, his uncle Robertas Lecter who lives in France but probably not for much longer, and writes down everything he can find on him. Then he writes it over again because he knows he’ll have to remember. If broken glasses come back together then his notes won’t survive the reset. It’s very likely that Will can’t leave marks on anything now.

He looks up flights from DC to France leaving and arriving January twelfth and finds nothing that would allow him to make it in time to have any meaningful conversation with the man. Will shuts the computer with a snap, irritated. He turns to Buster. “All the time in the world and I can’t make it, can I?” Buster barks encouragingly. Will strokes him, thinking about other methods, avoiding what he knows he needs to research next until he runs out of excuses.

Hours have passed before someone knocks on Will’s door again. Will pauses, keeping his breathing steady as he listens to the dogs bark. They knock again but he ignores it, busy up in the bathroom and in no mood for visitors. He keeps the safety off on his gun on a towel next to him and refocuses on his task. Downstairs, the door opens anyway and the dogs go wild. Will sighs when they quiet down, no doubt eating something Will would not approve of. He’s not surprised this time.

“I’m up here Hannibal,” Will calls out and hears more footsteps, first on the floor and then on the stairs. Will doesn’t look up when the door to the bathroom open. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

“Will,” Hannibal breathes, and Will feels a thrill run up his spine for surprising Hannibal for the second time in two days. “What have you done to yourself?”

“Hello, Hannibal. I would stand but I’m not sure I can at the moment,” Will says, maintaining the pressure on the wound. In the tub, the blood is slowly draining. The silence coming from Hannibal is deafening, his curiosity burning. Will sighs. “I’m conducting an experiment.”

“I see.” Hannibal walks into the room and leans against the sink, his expensive outfit looking out of place in Will’s tiny bathroom with the cheap appliances. “To what end?”

Will smirks but still doesn’t look up. The tourniquet tied around his ankle throbs. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Hannibal shifts his weight and Will can feel the intensity of his gaze. “Try me.”

Will’s smirks morphs into a smile. “I did. Yesterday. We had a whole conversation about it. You didn’t believe me.”

Hannibal is quiet for several seconds. I could get used to this, Will thinks, taking another drink from the bottle he had put next to his undamaged foot. The same bottle he had poured from on the first night, forever full. I might have to.

Finally, Hannibal moves to squat next to the tub. “May I? I am still a doctor.”

“Fine.” Will shrugs and lets Hannibal take the rag from him, holding it away from his foot to inspect the damage. “What’s the prognosis, doctor?”

Hannibal looks up, meeting Will’s eyes. “You have cut off one of your toes Will, I think you know what it is.”

Will leans back, resting against the cabinet. “Is that what I did?”

Hannibal nods, and Will enjoys the off balance look in his eye. He wonders if that’s what he had looked like when Will called him earlier. Hannibal continues inspecting him. “I wonder why would you do such a thing?”

“I was curious to see what would happen.” He takes another drink and holds the bottle out to Hannibal, who makes a face. “Or rather, what won’t.”

“I don’t understand,” Hannibal says, stripped down to simplicity as he reaches for a fresh rag from the pile on the floor and wraps it around Will’s foot.

Will smiles more broadly this time. “I know, I am enjoying that part.”

“Are you?” Hannibal tilts his head, taking in the scene. “This is a drastic action.”

Will shrugs. “Only if I have to live with the consequences.”

“What does that mean?” Hannibal asks sharply.

Will frowns, but then he understands Hannibal’s interpretation of his words. “Oh.” He laughs. “You think I’m going to take your favorite toy away from you.”

Hannibal does not seem very amused. “Do you think your life is a joke?”

“Not a very funny one.”

Will.”

Will stops laughing, intrigued by how genuinely disturbed Hannibal seems. “Really Hannibal, I had no idea I was that important to you.”

Of course Hannibal has the gall to look offended. “I find that hard to believe.”

“Why?” Will asks honestly. “You’ve done nothing but lie and manipulate me for the entirety of our acquaintance.”

“Our friendship.”

Will narrows his eyes. “Didn’t you hear me in the hospital?”

“People often say things they don’t mean when they’re upset.” Hannibal’s eyes are black and still. “But I do not. If you kill yourself, I will kill your dogs when you are gone and no one will stop me. I will do so slowly. They will suffer.”

“Wow.” Will shakes his head, though he has to admit the thought would make him angry. “That's an excellent threat, but I’m not going to kill myself. I’m not making it any easier on you to destroy me.”

Hannibal raises a hand and cards his fingers through Will’s hair, probably getting blood all over him. “I only ever meant to help you, to allow you to be yourself. Your best self.”

“Of course,” Will says, with only a little bitterness. He's sure that Hannibal means it, that he's genuine in this. The worst part isn't that Will fully understands what he means, that he's always been able to see through the darkness to the center of the belief, but that he almost wants it too. Wants to see to the center of himself, the most natural, savage and beautiful part. He turns away and lets out a shuddering breath. In his pocket, his phone buzzes. He fishes it out and immediately remembers that he never told Jack not to bring his gun into the viewing room. Frederick must be dead by now. “Goddamn it.” Hannibal’s eyebrows shoot up.

“Do you need to get that?” he asks, his hands covered in Will’s blood, crouched on the floor of his tiny bathroom. He looks absolutely out of place.

“Yes,” Will says, and answers it. “Hey, Jack.” It doesn’t take long, even with Jack making sure that Will still intended to come in the next day. Hannibal watches him intently throughout the entire call, unblinking and silent. Sometimes his fingers drift to Will’s foot or to his free hand, lightly exploring, his curiosity a tangible force. Will can hear the feathered stag breathing through the open window. They’re on the second floor. He can feel the knife in his pocket like a brand. He can sense Abigail in the space even if he can’t see her.

“Ok, thanks Jack,” Will says and hangs up. He reaches for the bottle again but Hannibal nudges it away. “Oops.”

Hannibal regards him with open fascination. “You can’t possibly blame yourself for that?”

“Can’t I?”

Hannibal shakes his head, visibly amused. He seems to have forgotten all his anger and concern. “Will-”

Suddenly, Will remembers and he sits up straight, ignoring the throb in his foot. “I can’t believe that you still attacked him when you knew that I knew. That was reckless, even for you.”

“Your accusations were baseless, of course.” Hannibal shrugs, the gesture uncharacteristically informal, even for their extremely informal situation. “Though perhaps, like you, I was merely curious to see what would happen.”

Will stares. “Curious enough to risk getting caught? I might have called someone.” He might call someone tomorrow.

Hannibal raises an eyebrow at him. “Everything worth doing come with a certain degree of risk.”

“I suppose it does.” Will glances down at his foot.

Hannibal’s attention wanders down to the towel laid out next to Will’s chair. “What will you do with the toe?”

Will snorts. “Why, do you want it for a snack?”

Hannibal gives him a withering look. “Really, Will. That’s hurtful.”

“I don’t think so and you don’t get to say that to me, Dr. Lecter.” He glances down at his foot again. It’s throbbing. “Do you think I need stitches?”

“Yes, and you need to prevent infection.” Hannibal stands. “You should go to the hospital.”

Will stares up at him. “What if I don’t?”

Hannibal frowns down at him for a long time. The silence stretches between them until it finally snaps. “What game is this Will? I’m sorry to say I don’t recognize it.”

Will smiles, the opportunities staring him in the face while the abyss open up underneath him, taunting him with the potential of forever. “I really don’t expect you to.”

Hannibal sighs. “Do you think that Abigail would want you to do this? To harm yourself?”

Will makes a face, the wince involuntary and unavoidable. “Do you think she would have wanted you to harm me? You used her. I think she would want me to harm you, come to think of it.” It’s easier to talk about her than he expected.

“I disagree. She wouldn't have wanted either of us hurt,” Hannibal says, and it’s much harder to hear him talk about her than the other way. Will might be able to forgive Hannibal for what was done to him, but he'll never forget her.

“Of course.” Will feels tired, likely because of the blood loss and the whiskey.

“She loved you Will, but she loved me too.”

Will shakes his head, all the energy leaked from his bones. If Hannibal chose to kill him now, or ever to take him, Will might have to let him do it. He shifts, and lays his head on Abigail’s shoulder. “Fine. Get out.”

Somewhat to his surprise, Hannibal does.

The next day at six am Will throws off his bed sheets and finds that he still has all his toes. “Well, good.” He takes a deep breath.

He feels numb, then afraid, then excited. He thinks about Hannibal getting ready to go attack Frederick, and Frederick getting ready for his day as usual. He thinks about Abigail. He stays where he is for a while.

Chapter Text

Will holds the phone with a firm grip and stares out at his snowy yard. The dogs are all running together, carefree and wild. Will wants to join them. He probably will once he finishes his business.

On the phone, Jack sighs. “You’re sure about this?”

“Yes.” Will taps his fingers against his leg in time to the sound of Jack tapping on his desk.

“How can you possibly be sure?”

“You said you were going to trust me. Jack, when have I ever been wrong?” The tapping stops and irritated silence buzzes down the line. Jack know’s he’s right but he doesn’t want to say it. All Will has to do is wait.

“Fine. How do you know that he’s going to go after Chilton?”

Will smirks reflexively. “Aren’t you going after him?”

“Yes but-”

“You’re following his breadcrumb trail Jack, he’s going to want you to find the gingerbread house.”

“Stop talking to Hannibal, Will your metaphors are getting unbearable,” Jack snaps.

Will smiles more genuinely. “Stress makes you rude, Jack.”

“Go to hell,” he says, but he sounds more willing to be convinced. “You’re sure about this?”

“Yes,” Will insists. And if you fail we can always try again tomorrow. “Send everything and everyone you have. You’ll catch him red handed.”

Jack finally says he will and hangs up, leaving Will alone with his faith and his plans. It had been five identical days since he had cut off his toe. Five days of experimentation, picking Hannibal Lecter’s brain, and researching. Convinced that Hannibal has no idea what is even happening and secure enough in his own sanity to accept the situation, Will had found himself with a passable understanding of what he had gotten himself into but no understanding of why.

He had been left to work on his solutions.

Will tosses the phone in the direction of his deck chair and jogs out into the yard. The dogs surround him happily and he drops down to their level. “Hey guys,” he says, letting Winston put his paws on his shoulders. Will laughs. “I guess this doesn’t bother you as much. Hopefully it will all be over soon. I have a plan.”

Seeing his great enemy brought to justice seems like a good and obvious place to start. As the closest thing to a quest Will is engaged in, it is as likely as anything else to break the cycle. It’s also all he could think of to go on that doesn't involve his death. Once Hannibal is brought to justice, Will might be free to progress. It’s a good thought.

Of course, he should have known better than to hope that it would actually work.

Several hours later he’s standing in the viewing room at Quantico during Hannibal’s eighth straight hour of sullen silent ‘interviews’ in which he had given exactly zero responses. Will is busy watching the clock. Only a few more hours until Will can know if it worked. He picks at the sleeve of his shirt nervously. Hope and doubt seem to have cancelled each other out, leaving him numb. The possibility that he might see tomorrow tomorrow won’t even allow him to enjoy the experience.

Will really should be enjoying it more, it’s the justice he’s wanted come to life. He takes a deep breath and refocuses on the scene in front of him. Hannibal looks ridiculous and indignant in his orange jumpsuit, hair still mussed from the fight he’d apparently had with several FBI agents. To make matters even more degrading, they’ve brought in a rotation of strangers to attempt to interview Hannibal, either not wanting to make Alana or Will try to conduct it or not trusting them to. Of course that hadn’t stopped him from asking for it.

“You have to understand that even if Mr. Graham wanted to speak with you, the FBI would not allow that at this juncture.”

“That’s probably not true,” Will murmurs and Jack shushes him, still glaring through the mirror at his former friend.

Hannibal simply stares at the glass, mouth set in a thin line, looking less like a normal person than Will had ever seen him. It’s as fascinating as it should be disturbing, and Will almost wishes he could look Hannibal in the eye. He wonders if he would be able to empathize with him at all in this mood, blank as he is.

Suddenly Will hears a gun go off in the next room and he whips around, heart pounding. Frederick. They had brought him in anyway as a matter of course and Will hadn’t thought to object. He listens with his fists clenched tightly as Jack talks to the agent that burst through the viewing room door.

“Well why wasn’t someone watching him?” Jack demands, visibly furious.

The agent shrinks back. “We were, but we put him in a low security room because he’s not-”

“You don’t have to tell me what Chilton is and is not, you just have to tell me why we have a dead civilian in our facility!”

Will turns away. Hannibal hadn’t moved, but Will thinks he sees some of the tension missing from his body. He looks unconcerned in a way that makes Will want to claw through the glass and kill him, to wrap his hands around his neck and show him just how wild he can be, give him exactly what he wanted. Instead, Will growls and leans against the wall. Miriam Lass had still shot Frederick. Will feels a moment of horrified guilt through his hope and happiness that he had forgotten Frederick again, and for the first time he finds himself wishing that the day would start over after all so he won’t have to face the consequences of that mistake for the rest of his life.

He regrets that wish very much when he wakes up in his own bed at six am on January twelfth.

“Ok.” Will leans forward and puts his head in his hands, breathing in slowly and holding it for three seconds before letting it back out. “Ok, ok so that wasn’t it. It’s something else.”

He gets out of his bed and jogs up the stairs to shower before he can let himself go crazy. The water helps. Will braces his hands against the wall and tries to let himself relax so he can think. Clearly, just catching Hannibal is not the answer. Will drums his fingers against the slick wall, trying to think. It doesn’t make sense, catching Hannibal is his primary function now, the thing that makes it impossible for him advance in his life. It would make sense for that to be the answer. Unless he didn’t do it right. Unless that’s not the question.

Will turns the shower off and steps out, still thinking. Unless there’s no way out but one. The image of his blood running down the drain bubbles up to the front of his mind and he pushes it back down. It’s far too early for that.

“There’s a way out,” he says to himself, to convince himself. The cool air feels nice against his skin, he can hears the dogs downstairs, he hasn’t avenged Abigail yet. He wipes the mirror off and stares at it. “So what is it?”

His reflection has no useful response for him.

Will spends the rest of the morning with his memories and his dogs. He doesn’t come up with the answer he’s searching for until it literally walks up his driveway and knocks on his door. Will jumps up and opens it, openly staring at the man on the other side. “You.”

Frederick leans away. “Ah, yes. Me.”

“No, I mean-” Will shakes his head. “Would you like to come in? Maybe use the shower?” Will grins, pleased and remembering now. That first night, on the first January twelfth, Will had asked for a second chance after finding out about Frederick’s shooting by Miriam Lass, specifically to save Frederick. Then he wished it again the day before when he should have been so happy to have caught Hannibal. His mind wouldn’t let him forget it.

Frederick mutters something and skitters upstairs. Will nearly laughs. He does not call Jack this time. Instead he sits in his chair and plans, still amused that of all the people in the world, it’s social climbing, unethical, cowardly Frederick Chilton that Will has to save.

“What do you think Buster?” Will asks as he waits for him to come back down the stairs. “Is the universe trying to tell me something? Is Dr. Chilton really worth all this?”

It’s an odd line of thinking for a man Will had previously devoted very little thought to at all.

“Thank you Will,” Frederick says as he comes down the stairs, his shoes quiet on the wood. He seems nervous and unsteady without his cane. Will looks him over with renewed interest as he sets his bag on the table.

Will bobs his head. “No problem. What happened? Specifically, I mean.” He’ll need to know everything if he’s going to save Frederick properly. He’s not sure that simply keeping him alive for the day will be enough, even though it would probably be a good start.

“Hannibal happened,” Frederick snaps, angrily pulling things out of his bag. “He put a half eaten Abel Gideon in my guest room-”

“When?”

Frederick looks back up and blinks at him, owl-like. “What?”

“When did Hannibal put him there?”

Frederick makes a face. “I don’t know the exact time, what does it matter?”

Will nearly smiles. “Clearly you were never a cop, Frederick. I was. Trust me, it’s relevant.”

“Well I don’t know.” Frederick pulls out his passport and starts flipping through the pages agitatedly. “I came home around one.”

Will nods. “Good. Then what happened?” He already knows vaguely but it’s not like he can explain how.

Frederick walks through the entire experience for him in significantly more detail than Will had received before. Most of it isn’t specific enough for Will to do anything with but it’s a good start. If he ever needs to interfere, he’ll need to know the exact sequence of events so he doesn’t get himself killed. Still, it’s decent progress. He’s so engrossed in Frederick’s increasingly hysterical story that he doesn’t notice the car pulling up his driveway until the dogs start barking. Will and Frederick both whip their heads up to stare.

“Will? What have you done?” Frederick asks, very softly as Jack gets out of the car.

Will turns to him, genuinely surprised. “Nothing. He must have figured it out.” Frederick’s expression takes on the edge of panic so Will stands, hands out to calm him like he would do for his dogs. “I’ll take care of this, stay here.”

Jack is already on the porch when Will steps out, and he doesn’t miss the way Will slides the door closed. “How did you know?”

Jack scowls. “Educated guess. I know he’s here.”

Will glances at Frederick’s car, shiny and conspicuous in the driveway. “Yeah. I was just getting his story.”

Jack actually laughs. “Get out of my way, Will.” He puts his hand on Will’s shoulder and Will lets himself be moved. Apparently not calling Jack about Frederick doesn’t do much to help the rebuilding of their relationship. Will would have to keep that in mind, especially since it seems that he won’t be saving Frederick today.

Jack hauls Frederick out of the woods and doesn’t let Will come with him to Quantico. He also probably doesn’t listen to Will’s advice about leaving his gun in his office, but Will can’t be sure because Jack doesn’t call him that night at all. Will drinks four glasses of whiskey and goes to bed early that night to make the restart come quicker.

Will wakes up the next January twelth feeling determined. Even if simply keeping Frederick alive won’t ultimately be enough to make time start again, Will still wants to do it at least once, if only to prove to himself that he can after literal weeks of failure.

After days and days of slight changes to conversations and subtle shifts in body language, Will finds himself standing next to Jack and Miriam Lass in the viewing room. He keeps his eye on Miriam, but finds himself drawn to repeatedly to Frederick as well, guilt curling down his spine when he takes in his defeated facial expression. How many times had he sat in this room and been shot in the face? How many time had Will let that happen? He can’t even remember now.

“I need to talk to Will Graham.” It’s the first thing Frederick says and Will winces, ignoring the look Jack shoots him from across the room. Miriam tenses.

“We can talk about that later,” Alana answers pleasantly. “Let’s talk about you for right now.”

Frederick lets his shoulders drop. “Does it have to be you? Seems like one final indignity.” Will smirks but turns his attention fully to Miriam, who had gone horribly still. It doesn’t take long after that.

She gets the gun from Jack’s belt and spins, all her training coming to the front in one smooth movement. Jack stares, shocked, but Will had been waiting for it for weeks and moves much faster, pushing her arm up by the elbow. The shot goes wide, still smashing through the glass but landing harmlessly in the concrete wall, feet above Frederick’s face. He still screams, as does Miriam, a sound of pure rage and fear, but they’re both saved from it.

The relative quiet in the space is nearly deafening after they get her bundled out and Alana has been removed as well. Only the harsh sound of Frederick’s panicked breaths remain as they uncuff him and drag him out. Will stays in the little room for a while, not really knowing where he should or shouldn’t be anymore. The accomplishment feels good after so many days of planning, and he allows himself a moment of happiness.

No pure hope, not this time, since he doubts this will have fixed everything and he had learned after the first time not too hope too much, but the anticipation of being pleasantly surprised by January thirteenth begins to settle over him. He saved Frederick, maybe it will be enough.

“Will?” Jack calls for him.

“I'm coming Jack.” Will responds, knowing that it won’t be.

***

“It has to be Hannibal,” Will says, ignoring Frederick’s confused look from the other end of the table. Possibly the second strangest part of the entire experience it that he now spends more time with Fredrick than any other person, because he keeps showing up at his house covered in blood and Will doesn't get out much. The strangest part is that he's starting to appreciate the company.

“What does?” Frederick asks, morosely pushing his food around on his plate.

Will takes another bite of rice, one of the few foods he had bothered to buy on his quick visit to the store after he got out of the hospital. At the time, he had been busy thinking about more important things and had only purchased a bag of rice, a bag of potatoes, three oranges, and a quart of milk, so those are the foods that he has in his house everyday. No matter how much shopping he does, those four things are in his house at six am on January twelfth. Will has never been one to be bothered by food, but he suspects that he’s going to learn. He doesn’t quite regret it now, but he imagines he will soon.

“Hannibal is the answer to this. Maybe you’re a part of it too, but that’s not just it.” Will nods to himself and Frederick mimics him, though he’s visibly confused. “Once I can fix that problem the right way, everything can go back to normal.”

Frederick blinks. “Ok,” he says and goes back to eating in silence like he usually does.

Will sighs quietly and eats some more rice. Now that Will knows when the FBI agent Jack sends will drive by looking for Frederick’s car if Will doesn’t call, he can easily solve the problem of Frederick being taken in. Unless Will calls Jack, he doesn’t come. Convincing Frederick to dispose of his car and hide in Will’s house isn’t hard. Getting him to talk after he does it sometimes is, especially when Will knows he must not be making much sense.

Will regards him grimly. “I’m sorry you were attacked Frederick.” Today had been an attack day since Will hadn’t had time to stop Hannibal from framing him altogether with the research he had been doing. These days aren’t great for Frederick.

Frederick glances up but doesn’t otherwise respond. Most of the time the shell shock of the day’s events will keep him fairly unresponsive after the excitement has worn off. It’s part of why Will usually stops him from ever going home in the first place, saving him from the entire experience. On those days Hannibal goes off to Quantico in a straightjacket and Frederick either goes to a hotel or stays with Will anyway, which is interesting. Will had no idea how much Frederick seems to trust him until he saw it in action for weeks at a time.

Will leans forward, trying to and probably failing to project friendliness. He’s never been very good at putting people at ease. “I’m not trying to freak you out with this Frederick, it’s just my...process.”

Frederick eyes him curiously. “And what are you in the process of Will?”

“Catching Hannibal,” Will says emphatically. “For good. It has to be perfect.”

“To be honest, I’ll take anything, perfect or not,” Frederick says and stabs viciously at an orange slice.

Will leans back in his chair, smirking. “It wouldn’t be enough...to catch him for good. I think everything has to be just right or he’ll slip away. I have to kill two birds with one stone.” It’s as close as he’ll get to an explanation that makes sense. If he verges too far away from Frederick’s reality, he goes and hides up in his room for the rest of the night and Will goes back to bouncing ideas off his dogs.

“I suppose.” He makes a face. “So, do you have, uh, any proteins here? I’m not trying to be ungrateful, but if it’s possible at all-”

Will tries to smile, the weight of it settling on him once again. “Sure Frederick, I’ll buy you anything you want tomorrow.”

Frederick looks up and then quickly back down, red staining his cheeks as he makes a wild grab for his glass to cover it up. Will blinks, taken off guard for once. That’s new. He doesn’t realize that he’s still staring until Frederick clears his throat, looking mortified.

“Aren’t you going to be late?”

Will frowns. “For what?”

“You said that you were going to your scheduled therapy session with him.”

That was today? He had thought he said that to yesterday’s Frederick. Will shrugs. “I changed my mind.”

It’s Frederick’s turn to frown. “Don’t you have an appointment?

“Kind of. I’ll just catch the next one.” Will smiles for real this time, still caught on this shiny new part of his endless day. New things are hard to come by recently, and Will isn’t ready to let it go. It’s a good one, all things considered. He stands up to bring his plate to the sink and makes no effort to ignore the sounds of Frederick escaping upstairs. Feeling a little bad, Will almost calls up the stairs to ask him to come back down before realizing that Frederick probably won’t and Will shouldn’t care that much if he does. He sits on the floor and talks to the dogs instead.

“Big day tomorrow,” he says, stroking Ginger’s ears. She snuggles in closer to him as he leans against the couch. Tomorrow he plans on stalking Hannibal Lecter as he sets his trap for Frederick. It’s unfortunate that Frederick will have to go through it again, but if Will doesn’t do something about the time loop soon who know how long it could go on for. How long until Will cracks. He keeps petting Ginger, letting his mind wander.

Will needs to know exactly what times Hannibal will be launching each part of the plan, where exactly he will be standing, and who else can see which parts of said plan. He needs to know Hannibal’s plan far better than Hannibal ever could, and he needs to not get caught because Hannibal could kill him. The most frustrating thing is that he can’t take notes. He can’t make a board, he can’t do any of the things he might usually chose to do, but he needs to remember everything exactly.

If Will is going to execute the perfect arrest of Hannibal Lecter in which no one, including Frederick, gets hurt or dies, thus freeing him from whatever superhuman state he had been trapped in, he needs to know everything.

He falls asleep on the floor and wakes up in his bed, somehow feeling significantly more tired than he had before.

Chapter Text

Perfect day one is not perfect. Will jumps the gun with the urgency of the call to the FBI and a swat team descends on Frederick’s house with an efficiency Will had never seen before. Everything goes according to the FBI’s plan. Hannibal is apprehended, but not by Will. He doesn’t even look at Will as he’s loaded into the van. Not perfect.

Perfect day two isn’t perfect either. Will goes light on backup this time, bringing only Jack, who guns Hannibal down when he makes an abrupt but utterly predictable lunge for Will, his plastic suit creaking ridiculously as he goes down. They bundle him up into the van and cart him away. Hannibal keeps looking at him in anger, even through the glass.

It feels cheap, and Will barely did anything. Even Frederick seems off balance, torn between fear and amusement. He looks surprised when Will talks to him, physically leaning away from his approach, eyes darting over to the van and back. Will leaves him alone. Everyone else seems surprised when Will goes home instead of following Hannibal to Quantico. He feeds his dogs and answers the phone when Jack calls, promising to come in tomorrow after Hannibal has been processed. He lays down on the couch thinks about Abigail. It’s about as far from perfect as Will can imagine.

Will resolves that perfect day three will actually be perfect.

It doesn’t think long for him to decide that he can’t bring Jack, who is too well trained and too protective, or maybe suspicious, of Will to let Will do what he needs to do. At the same time, he can’t very well just go by himself. He needs a witness that isn’t actively being investigated by the FBI, so Frederick doesn’t count. If he hadn’t needed things to be perfect, Will might have even called Freddie Lounds, but those two things are definitely mutually exclusive.

Not for the first time Will feels the loss of Beverly like a knife in between the ribs. She would have known exactly what to do, she would have been perfect. He picks up the phone knowing exactly who would feel it too.

“Will, uh, hey, I was going to call you,” Zeller says when he answers, sounding like he had absolutely not intended to do that.

Will smiles to himself. “Brian. Thanks, I appreciate that.”

“What can I do for you?” Zeller asks, obviously not expecting Will to come up with much at six thirty in the morning.

“I want to offer you an opportunity to help me catch the man who killed Bev.”

Will can almost hear Zeller thinking though the phone, he taps his fingers and bites his lip. He takes a shaky breath. “I’m pretty sure you’re not a part of that investigation anymore.”

“No I’m not, but I know where he’ll be today.”

Zeller suppresses a sigh. “You mean Hannibal Lecter?” His tone is more resigned than mocking.

“Yes, but I also know that you think it’s Frederick Chilton, and we would be going to his house. You could find out for sure.”

“And probably get fired, but sure,” Zeller says, but doesn’t outright deny him yet. That’s a positive sign. “Why would he go there?”

“He’s going to try to frame Chilton for his crimes.”

Zeller actually scoffs. “Please. This isn’t the time for your spy shit Will, this is an open FBI investigation. Take this to Jack if you’re so sure.”

“He won’t listen to me.” Not true. “I need you on this.” Possibly true.

“No, sorry.”

“Fine, I’ll go alone.”

“I strongly recommend that you do not do that.”

“You’re probably right,” Will says, mentally apologizing to Bev before he opens his mouth again. “Going alone was her mistake too.”

Zeller is silent for nearly a full minute before he speaks again, and his voice is almost a whisper. “I can’t believe you just said that to me.”

“It’s the truth.”

“I know it-” he breaks off, and from the sound of it puts the phone down too. Will sits still, absently stroking Winston while he waits for Zeller to make a decision. When he picks up the phone again he sounds tired. “Go fuck yourself, Graham.”

“Do you need my address?”

“No, but I need an hour. Just for the record, I’m coming over there to stop you from doing this and possibly to beat you up, not because I’m coming with you.”

“Alright.” Will hangs up and gets up to make coffee. He knows how to play Zeller, even more than most people, and coffee will be a key component. He sets himself up on the porch with the dogs, letting himself enjoy the day just in case Zeller isn’t enough to help Will protect himself from Hannibal. He might have some fucked up version of eternal life, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be killed. Will intends to enjoy his last morning if that’s what it is.

He spots the car from a mile away, a beacon in the snow. The dogs perk up and stare. Will just waits.

“Jesus christ that’s a lot of dogs,” Zeller says when he steps onto the porch after only forty minutes, with Price at his heels. Will raises his eyebrows and Zeller shrugs. “He was there when you called.”

“And he’s here to make sure that you don’t do anything stupid,” Price says, making a beeline for the door. “Is there coffee or it that too urban for you?”

Will just nods, deciding not to comment on Price being at Zeller’s place at six thirty on a Thursday morning, a torrid affair being just as likely as early morning bird watching between friends with these two in his opinion. In any case it’s none of his business.

They all go inside, and Will’s not surprised when Zeller punches him, hard, but just in the arm. Will had expected the face. “You’re such an asshole, you know that?”

Will nods and doesn’t punch back. “Yeah, sorry about that.”

Zeller bites his lip. “Me too. I should have at least tried to listen to you. If I had, maybe Bev…”

He’s partly right, but Will won’t say so. He needs Zeller on his side. “It’s not your fault. It’s Hannibal Lecter’s.”

Zeller makes a face but Price leans into the room from the kitchen, coffee in hand. “He’s right.” Will’s eyebrows shoot up. He hadn’t even thought about considering Price.

“We don’t know that,” Zeller says, somehow making accepting coffee look like an angry gesture.

“But you can chose to believe it,” Will says, sitting down on the couch to make himself less combative. Price leans against the doorway. Zeller stays standing. “What do you believe? Do you really think that Chilton did that to Bev? That he even could?”

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that Lecter did.” Zeller scowls and drops into Will’s chair. Buster immediately jumps into his lap. Price smiles and Zeller struggles not to.

“Look, all we would be doing is looking. If we don’t find anything, we go.”

“And if we find something?” Zeller asks dryly.

“You two are agents of the FBI. You have every right to act on probable cause.”

Zeller and Price share a look, and Will presses his advantage. “I know you two don’t really care about the prestige,” he says even though he’s pretty sure that Zeller does, judging by the look in his eye, not to mention the revenge. Price cares about Zeller, himself, and the safety of others. Possibly in that order. Will leans forward, elbows braced against his knees. “What if no one else had to die?”

Price frowns, but he’s nodding. Zeller is completely still. “You’re going to regret this Will.”

Will just shrugs. “Good thing I’m used to disappointment.”

They leave within the hour.

***

It’s perfect.

Will, Zeller, and Price lie in wait in the woods next to Frederick’s house. Hannibal will be arriving in eleven minutes to begin his preparations in the basement, leaving the dying Abel Gideon in an unmarked van parked in the back driveway for eight minutes until he comes back. Price has one of those video cameras that automatically saves the videos to the internet when they get recorded strapped to his head. They don’t expect Gideon to be able to testify, but the tape will at least be admissible to Jack if not a court of law. When Hannibal comes back, Will will come out of the trees from behind and Zeller will call the FBI for backup. Will knows from experience that Hannibal doesn’t have a gun on him. Will does.

“Really Will, are you sure?” Zeller asks for the tenth time.

“Yes.”

“How can you possibly be sure?” Price asks, a little sarcastically. He looks sure.

Will glances at Zeller. “This is what I do. I know this stuff.”

They share a look but accept it. It helps that the worst thing that could happen to them now if Hannibal is not the killer is get the cops called on them for trespassing. They don’t have to break into Frederick’s house, which put Price’s concerns to rest, and they won’t get in trouble, which mostly dealt with Zeller’s. Unfortunately it did nothing much for their curiosity.

“Ok, what do we do if Chilton comes home early?” Zeller asks, leaning against a tree and crossing his arms.

Will doesn’t look away from his watch. “He won’t.”

“I suppose you just know that too?”

“No, I called him and told him to stay at the hospital,” Will says and looks up to meet Zeller’s eyes.

Zeller scoffs. Price tilts his head. “Just because you called him and told him to do something doesn’t necessarily mean…”

“Frederick has enough of a sense of self preservation to listen to me on the subject of Hannibal Lecter.”

“He believes you?”

“Yes, and he’s terrified. He won’t come here.” Will smiles, picturing Frederick locking himself in his office just like he locks himself up in Will’s guest room sometimes. It’s somehow charming to see Frederick react in a normal way when so many people in Will’s life, himself included, are so far gone. He certainly reacted normally on the phone.

Will had called him while Zeller and Price were on their way over, considering and dismissing the notion that Hannibal had tapped Frederick’s office phone. Even if he had, he was unlikely to check it today before he went to his house, and Will could always do this over if he had. One more day wouldn’t matter much.

Will smirked to himself when Frederick picked up on the first ring. “Mr. Graham, ah, it’s good to hear from you.”

“Frederick.” It occurs to him briefly that maybe he shouldn’t call him Frederick in this context, but he hadn’t called him anything but his first name to his face in weeks. Luckily it doesn’t seem to bother him.

“What can I do for you?”

Will skips the rest of the pleasantries. “Are you at the hospital?”

There’s a pause in which Will imagines Frederick is deciding if he trusts Will or not. It’s an interesting process to listen to, considering how much time they had been spending together from Will’s perspective. Of course, all of that time had taken place once Will was Frederick’s last resort, and Frederick didn’t remember a moment of it.

“Yes.”

“Good.” Will feels dimly surprised. “Look, when I got released you asked me what you should do.”

“Yes,” Frederick says, more eagerly this time. Will smiles.

“You can stay at the hospital today.” More silence. Will switches the phone to his other ear. “Or at least don’t go to your house.”

“Why?”

“I have reason to believe that Hannibal is going to try to frame you today, and I think it would be best if you stayed as far away as possible.”

“Oh,” Frederick says and Will can hear him tapping nervously on his desk.

“Yeah. So just stay there ok?”

“Ok,” Frederick says, very quietly.

“Great.”

“Will?”

Will paused, having been about to hang up. “What?”

“Thank you,” Frederick said and then he laughed, the sound filled with fear. Will hoped that he would be able to hold it together long enough to get through the day normally. “If I make it out of this, I’ll buy you a drink, or something. A nice one.”

Will blinked. That was new. "Oh. Ok." He considered wishing Frederick luck surviving the day, but decided against it, politely saying goodbye instead. Now, standing in the wood and staring down at his watch, Will almost wishes he had said it after all. He could probably use it, given his track record of not surviving this particular day.

Zeller shifts his weight to his other foot and sighs. “No offense but how much longer do you want to stand out here? I feel like a pervert.”

“Let’s give it ten more minutes,” Will says, knowing that they only need seven. He glances over at him. “Get your gun ready.”

Hannibal is never late for anything, not even his own undoing, so Will watches avidly exactly seven minutes later as Hannibal pulls into the driveway and around to the back of the house, out of view of the street. Zeller and Price both hold their breath when Hannibal gets out of the van, his plastic outfit a shiny bundle in his hands, and starts walking towards the house, but Will’s is steady, controlled. He feels utterly calm.

“Call them,” he says, quietly, and hears Zeller pull out his phone to contact the rest of the FBI. It will be eight minutes until Hannibal comes out of the house again, and another three or four before he gets violent. Enough time for the FBI to arrive without anyone having to die.

Price is nearly vibrating with energy. “Maybe we should-”

“No, stick to the plan.” Will shakes his head.

Zeller makes a frustrated sound. “Will, really-”

“No.” Will keeps his eyes trained on the house, surprised that he doesn’t feel any doubt. It’s possible that Hannibal will notice something about the scene and simply leave, robbing Will of his perfect arrest, but Will doesn’t think so. He can feel that this is correct.

“Will-”

“He’s coming,” Will says and they both shut up. “Call.”

“On it,” Zeller whispers and does as he says while Price points the camera in the correct direction.

Will walks around to the other side of the van so that when he steps out Hannibal’s attention will be pointed away from Zeller and Price. Not that Will really expects Hannibal to look for others. He will expect Will to come alone, and to be fair, he would have if this had been the first time he had done this.

It works, and Hannibal looks positively delighted to see him.

“Will,” he says with no inflection. “What a surprise. May I ask how you knew I was here?”

Will pulls his gun from the waistband of his jeans. “You may not.”

“Very well.” Hannibal raises an eyebrow. “That’s the second time you’ve pulled your gun on me since you were released from prison Will.”

“I’m aware, I won’t be aiming to kill you today though.”

Hannibal tilts his head slightly. “No?”

“No. I’ll be taking you in.”

Now Hannibal smirks. “Do you expect me to come quietly?”

“Yes. I expect you’ll maintain a certain amount of dignity while they strap you down, load you into a van, even when they question you. But I also expect that it will crack after a while,” Will says, and watches Hannibal’s expression turn just slightly sour.

“Is this your revenge Will?” Hannibal asks, sounding disapproving and possibly disappointed. “You put me in prison because you believe that I put you there?”

Will shakes his head, still unable to believe it even after all these times. “I think it’s a little late for your lies, Dr. Lecter, you’re wearing a plastic murder suit. You did put me in prison.”

“Very well, but I’m curious. What will be your revenge for my other crimes as you perceive them?”

Will raises an eyebrow at him, mimicking his expression. “One might say that living well is the best revenge.”

Hannibal shakes his head. “One might, but I don’t believe that you would.”

“I’ve changed since I got out of the hospital. I’ve had time to think. I’m going to move on from you,” Will says, and he means it. If he gets out of this whirlpool he will move on. He’ll go back to fixing boat motors and volunteer at an animal shelter. He’ll fish. He’ll forget this.

Hannibal is smirking now. “Will you? What about Abigail?” he prods, and Will can’t help but twitch, his finger itching on the trigger. Hannibal must see it, his smirk broadens slightly. “Who will you take from me in return?”

“Me,” Will says at a near whisper and Hannibal’s face darkens briefly, the smirk fading away, before completely smoothing out again. The human face melts.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Hannibal says, and he sounds like he means it.

They both move very quickly, but it feel slow. It’s like a scene from an opera Will is never going to see. The glint of the knife in the sun is conspicuous. The sirens in the distance are coming closer. Hannibal lunges for him, and Will fires. Hannibal hits the ground.

When Hannibal tries to rises, Will cocks the gun again, expression grim. “Stay down unless you want another hole in your leg.”

Hannibal shows his teeth as he holds onto his thigh in an attempt to stanch the flow of blood. “Will-”

“Nope, no more talking,” Zeller says from behind him, deftly aiming at Hannibal’s head. Price lingers a little to the left, looking very intently at his camera. Hannibal whips around and then turns back to glare at Will. His knuckles turn white where they are gripping his leg.

“Why are they here?” Hannibal glares up at him accusingly, seeming genuinely offended for the first time.

Will shrugs. “Backup.”

Hannibal gives him a petulant look as the FBI vans pulls into the driveway. People are talking into radios and pointing guns at everything and everyone, even Price, who bats a man three times his size away from his camera. Zeller starts talking loudly to everyone who will listen about the plan and Will nods at this right intervals.

Will lets Zeller be the one to actually put the handcuffs on Hannibal under the watchful eye of ten trained gunmen. Zeller is visibly grateful and has a glint in his eye the whole time. “Honestly, I think the plastic outfit alone might be enough to get a conviction.”

Price hums in agreement. “Crimes of fashion.”

Hannibal ignores them both, narrowing his eyes up at Will. “You are going to regret this.”

It’s Will’s turn to smirk. “You’re not the first person to say that to me today, but so far it seems to be going fine.”

Hannibal smiles back. “So far.”

Will squats down next to him on the pavement, far enough away to easily avoid him if he decides to bite, but close enough to feel the closeness. Hannibal stares back at him impassively.

“So far.” Will nods. “To be honest I’m excited to see what’s next.”

A line appears between Hannibal’s eyebrows, but he doesn’t get another chance to speak. They put the muzzle on him and load him into the van. Will watches him go, waiting for the feeling to creep up, the sensation of something being missing, of imperfection. It never comes, but Zeller comes up and bangs him on the back with his fist, grinning.

“Awesome work, Will.”

Will almost laughs. “You too.”

Price leans into his space as well. “He means thank you. So, thank you.”

Will nods, thinking of Bev. “Again, you too.” They both smile at him and leave together, Price still clutching his camera and Zeller holding Price’s arm above the elbow. Will watches them go, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. He thinks that it finally will when Jack calls, but the conversation is more cathartic than anything else. There’s some yelling, but it’s of the concerned variety and Will wouldn’t have expected anything else.

“You shouldn’t have done it but I’m glad you did,” Jack finally admits, and Will smiles.

“Sounds like the title of your autobiography,” Will says, and Jack chuckles darkly. “Hopefully I won’t have to do it again.”

“You won’t, having Gideon and the tapes should be enough to put him away.”

“Don’t forget to search his house, for real this time,” Will says, probably more sharply than was needed, but he had never really let go of his suspicion that the investigation the FBI had conducted on Hannibal when Will was first arrested had been less than thorough.

“We will. You did well, now get some rest.”

“You too.”

There’s a pause. “Me?”

“Yeah.” Will leans against one of the trees next to Frederick’s house, looking up through the leaves. “You were the bedrock, you were right.”

Jack sighs. “It doesn’t feel that way to me Will. I let you down.”

“I forgive you.”

Jack hangs up quickly after that, no doubt still feeling guilty about not believing him and possibly angry that Will hadn’t trusted him with his plan, but Will feels far better about it than he has in a long time. He snaps the phone shut and keeps looking up through the leaves, thinking about going home to feed his dogs. The FBI had offered to give him a ride to Quantico so he could be a part of Hannibal’s initial processing, but he had declined. They don’t seem to know what to do with him, so they leave him be. He’ll go tomorrow, or maybe next week to give his statement, and he’ll testify at the trial, but he’s not sure if he’ll ever let Hannibal in any part of his life again. That would be too close to what he wants, and Will feels ready to be done playing his games. That path is closed, done. Voices float past him which Will mostly ignores until he hears the one voice that really should not be there.

“-come to arrest me? I need to speak with Jack Crawford, I’m the owner of the house and-”

“Frederick?” Will demands as he walks around the side of the house, incredulous. Frederick turns, wide eyed and clutching his cane in a death grip.

“Will!” His voice comes out a little strangled and Will fears for a moment that he’s going to pass out. “What’s going on?”

Will blinks at him, amazed. “We caught Hannibal, he was trying to frame you. He had Gideon's body in a van. What are you doing here?”

Frederick doesn’t even have the grace to look guilty, he just seems nervous. “I feared that he would come to my office, so I was going to go somewhere unfamiliar.”

“So you came back to your own house?” Will asks, more amused than annoyed.

“Well I wanted to get some things-”

“You could have died.”

“Or worse, been framed,” Frederick says, tugging at his collar.

Will shakes his head. Or both, he thinks, wondering how best to warn him to stay away from Miriam Lass. A problem for another day. Tomorrow, even. Will smiles.

Frederick glares. “It’s not funny.”

Will shakes his head. “It’s a little funny, you should have just stayed in the hospital, I told you I had this.”

Red spots appear on Frederick’s cheeks. “Of course, well, good. I’m glad you caught him.”

Will shakes his head again, something he had been doing a lot for the past few minutes. For the past few weeks, on the days that Frederick was around. “Me too.” Frederick smiles back, all gratitude and buoyant affection. It’s a far cry from the looks he would get in the hospital, but Will supposes that he was allegedly a murderer at the time.

Frederick casts a glance at his house. “Do you think I can go in?”

“No.” Will shakes his head. “They’re collecting evidence. They’ll want to question you eventually I’m sure, but that will be later. They have so much on Hannibal at this point it will just be a formality.”

Frederick casts a look around at the busyness and grips his cane tighter. “I’m afraid I’ll look guilty if I leave.”

Will smiles, remembering. “I didn’t leave and I looked pretty guilty.” Frederick blanches and Will scoffs. “It’ll be fine. You can buy me that drink.”

Frederick blinks over at him, owlishly. “Now?

“Why not?” Will responds dryly. “I think I’ve done my job for the day.”

Frederick makes a face. “That’s fair.”

They go to some fancy bar that Frederick picks out. It’s ridiculous and overpriced but Will doesn’t complain. At one point he catches Frederick smiling to himself into his drink, not even a beer, but Will didn’t want to poke fun. “What is it?”

Frederick casts a sly glance his way. “Just thinking about Hannibal in prison right now while we’re here.”

Will does his best to smile back, but for him the issue is more serious, probably always will be. He has no illusions that Hannibal will be imprisoned forever. One day Will will have to deal with him again, he just needs to get there. “To justice,” he mutters, and raises his glass when Frederick does.

They stay for a long time, hiding out from the rest of the world. Will has hours to kill and he doesn’t see anything wrong with spending them on a little unwinding. Having part of the day not revolve around Hannibal makes it even better. The rest of the world seems to have forgotten them, so it seems fair to Will to forget the world. He enjoys stepping to the side, and today he allows himself to fully experience that enjoyment. Eventually it gets late and Will knows they should probably leave. It would be socially awkward to stay any longer. “Do you need a ride back to your house?” Will asks and sees Frederick actually shiver.

“Ah-”

“Or you could stay at my house,” Will says without thinking, so used to having him there all the time he doesn’t remember at first why that would be so strange. Frederick actually leans away from him, visibly alarmed and possibly a little interested underneath the nerves. Will laughs. “I just mean so you don’t have to sleep there, I have a guest room.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” Frederick responds, looking very confused.

Will shrugs, trying to be nonchalant. It’s hard to be so familiar with Frederick when Frederick doesn’t know him at all. “I just know what you’re going through.”

Frederick doesn’t entirely look like he believes him, but he nods anyway, draining the rest of his drink before they leave. Will bite his lip to keep from smirking again and leads the way outside. It helps to have Frederick around to distract him from the time. With every passing hour Will grows more confident, even closer to developing that dangerous hope that his perfect day will work. He doesn’t want to be alone with his thoughts if he can avoid it, and he know there’s no way he’ll sleep. Being with Frederick has a calming effect on him, the normalcy, the awkwardness, combined with the dogs it should be good enough to carry him through.

It is, Will sits down on the couch with Buster in his lap and two fingers of whiskey in the glass that should be broken on the table next to him, listening to Frederick shifting around upstairs. He strokes Buster’s ears absently, just listening. “Perfect. That’s a hard concept to get your head around.” Buster whines and Will smiles. “I did it though. I fixed everything that was wrong and-”

He blinks and wakes up in his bed, the morning sun coming in through the window.

Will stops breathing. Part of him wants to deny it, to spend a few more minutes pretending that his plan could have actually worked, but he doesn’t. Instead he just lays under his sheets with the increasing heaviness pressing down on his chest. January twelfth, six am. The dogs whine, begging for food. At some point Hannibal will attack Frederick, leaving him vulnerable. Will stays down, finally admitting to himself the reality of his situation.

There is no quest, it doesn’t matter that his primary function is to catch Hannibal. It doesn’t matter if he saves Frederick because wishes aren’t real, they don’t matter. It doesn’t matter why this is happening to him. There is no why, there only is.

There’s only this, or nothingness, and Will doesn’t know how long he can keep it up.

Chapter Text

The phone rings and rings in his pocket, but Will ignores it.

From across the room, Hannibal watches him with a kind of dull curiosity. “Do you need to get that?”

“No,” Will says, and turns it off. He puts the phone back in his pocket and tries to forget about it. “I already know what it’s about.”

Hannibal tilts his head, sharp-eyed and bird-like. “Which is?”

Will sighs, wondering how many more times he can stand to have this conversation. How many days until he can’t do any of it anymore. “Nothing you need to be concerned about.”

One of Hannibal’s eyebrows twitches upward. “Very well.”

Will hums and thinks about Frederick. Jack will stop trying if he can’t reach him soon. He doesn’t really care if Frederick dies or if Will knows it. Will usually remembers to keep the phone off, but today he’s feeling slower than usual. Letting Frederick be attacked doesn’t sit well with him, especially now that he knows that Miriam will shoot him no matter what unless Will is there to stop her, but it’s the only good way to keep Hannibal relatively complacent and willing to accept Will when he comes for his appointment. If only Frederick didn’t have to die.

Will blinks and notices Hannibal again. “You’re staring.”

Hannibal inclines his head. “I'm waiting for you to say something.”

Will huffs. “You’re the psychiatrist.”

“Yet you came to me. I wonder why.”

Will shakes his head. He’s usually better at this when he decides to do it. Resuming therapy with Hannibal now is like being held under the water. Usually, Will knows how to swim. Today he’s drowning.

“I guess I don’t know.”

“I do. You need my help.”

Will breathes in and lets his eyes slip shut for a moment. He opens them again. “I don’t think I would mind it as much, being trapped, if you weren’t here.”

“You feel trapped?”

Will smiles humorlessly. “Yes.”

“Caught in my orbit?”

Will shakes his head. “Knocked out of orbit.”

“Floating in space.” Hannibal smiles. “What will you crash into, I wonder.”

Will laughs humorlessly. “Frederick, mostly. You. Jack less and less. Nothing.”

“So it is the void of space that has you.”

“Something like that.” Will stares out of the window. There's nothing there. He turns back to Hannibal, an old curiosity coming to the surface. “Why do you wear a nice suit under your plastic one? Are you really that pretentious or do you just not own any comfortable clothes?”

Hannibal hesitates and Will presses on, teasing now. “If I was going to murder someone I would probably just wear jeans.”

For an electric moment it seems like Hannibal might lunge, and Will waits for it eagerly, eager for anything, anything, to happen, but he doesn’t. If anything Hannibal seems to become more comfortable. “I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but I believe that I can guess. Presentation is important to me.”

Will hums. “That and it would be almost as suspicious to see you in casual clothes as the plastic suit, and you must change into it in between destinations. You wouldn’t want to be seen like that for practical reasons as well.” He trails off, bored again. Dark water laps at his ankles, threatening to pull him under. Hannibal has reverted to staring again, his hand curled under his chin.

“An interesting theory,” he says finally.

“I’ve been learning about you.” Will tries to smile. “In my spare time.”

Hannibal’s lips quirk but he keeps his expression neutral. “You must have a decent amount of it since you are no longer employed.”

“You have no idea.”

“Not used to being idle.”

“Too used to it.”

“I understand the feeling. I imagine the hospital was difficult for you.”

“It was a prison, and not as much as you might expect.” Not like this. Will lets his eyes drift shut. He’s exposed, unarmed, vulnerable. Hannibal could chose to strike. He could kill him.

Will leaves his eyes closed.

“Am I boring you?”

Will opens them again. He considers the question fairly before responding. “No, actually. It’s rare that you do, even now.”

“You perceive me as dangerous. It is reasonable that you would feel that way.”

Will twists his mouth into a smile. “Are you saying you disagree with my perception Dr. Lecter?”

Hannibal smiles. “Of course, Will.”

They sit in silence until Will realizes he can’t think of anything more to say. He stands and makes his way out, ignoring Hannibal when he calls out to him. It’s rude, more so than Will can ever remember being to him, but Hannibal doesn’t follow Will into the streets. Will walks past his car and down the brightly lit street Hannibal’s office sits on. It will confuse Hannibal to see it still sitting there when he comes out and he will call Will just like he did last time Will left it there, choosing to walk until the reset instead. Will drops his phone into a trash can and keeps walking.

He tries to think of something to do. He stares at passing cars. He can’t come up with anything.

The fear he’d been waiting for so close to Hannibal’s grasp finally grips him.

***

Don’t frame Chilton today, come over here instead.

Will sets the phone down on the counter and keeps making breakfast for the dogs. It doesn’t take very long for him to respond. Hannibal doesn't keep people waiting.

Pardon?

Will rolls his eyes.

I have to talk to you.

He opens the kitchen drawer and drops the phone into it, determined to ignore and therefore annoy Hannibal into coming over. It doesn’t take very long this time either.

Hannibal opens Will’s door without knocking. Will rolls his eyes. He had apparently forgotten to lock his door before he fell asleep on January eleventh. Now he’s stuck with it that way forever. “That was rude.”

“So is ignoring my phone calls, but here we are Will.”

Will inclines his head. “I suppose that’s fair.”

“I consider myself to be a fair man,” Hannibal responds coolly.

“I guess you do,” Will says quietly, thinking about carefully planned out punishments for minor indiscretions. “From your perspective I guess that even what you did to me was fair.”

“I haven’t done anything to you, Will.”

“If you’re going to do that you can feel free to leave.”

Hannibal smiles. “I don’t have the right to defend myself?”

“Not to me.”

“Very well.” Hannibal glances around Will’s house, assessing. Whatever he finds he keeps for himself. “What can I do for you?”

Will shrugs. “Maybe I just wanted to see if you would come. It’s been a while.”

“Has it?”

“It has for me.”

Hannibal is silent for once. Will can’t even enjoy that the way he used to. Everything is dull.

Will glares at him. “Nothing to say?”

“I’m withholding my comments until I better understand the situation.”

“I thought you understood me best,” Will mocks him, trying to illicit a response.

Hannibal doesn’t rise to it. “I think it’s fair to say that you are behaving strangely, even for you. Would you like to tell me what is going on?” He sits down in Will’s chair, across from him like one of their sessions.

Will stares at him for a long time before he speaks again. “I think I’m going through the five stages of grief.”

“For Beverly?” Hannibal asks, and Will briefly feels the walls close in. He fights them back, glaring over at the horned figure. Hannibal presses harder. “It’s understandable, Will.”

“No.” Will’s eyes narrow but he lets it pass. “For myself.”

Hannibal tips his chin back, clearly considering this. “Are you dying?”

Will lets his eyes drift shut. “No.”

“I see. What stage is this?”

“Acceptance.”

“It rather seems like anger to me.”

Will smirks. “No, anger was when I broke into your house and destroyed it. I killed you. That was anger.”

Hannibal is silent for a moment. “Was this when I found you in my kitchen?”

Will gives him a flat look. “Did I kill you then?”

“No.”

“Then no, it wasn’t.”

“I see.” Hannibal leans forward, placing his elbows on his knees. “How did you do it?”

“I shot you in the leg. Then I beat you with the gun until you were gone. After that I threw all your food onto the floor, I dumped out your drawers, I broke your furniture. I jammed a knife through that painting you have in your dining room.”

“Leda and the Swan.” Hannibal nods. “Did it make you feel better, this fantasy?”

“No,” Will says, remembering the evening about eight January twelfths ago. It had been a briefly satisfying tantrum, but ultimately unfulfilling, especially when he drove by the next day and everything was back the way it was before. Unspoiled. Will can’t touch Hannibal, not really.

“Do you fantasize about killing me often?”

Will sighs and stares across the room at him. Hannibal is leaning forward, expression fixed and clearly interested. Will isn’t so sure what his own face looks like. “Less and less.”

Hannibal almost looks disappointed. “Why do you think that is? Are you finally done blaming me for what happened to you?”

Will frowns over at him. “What do I have to do to get you not to lie to me? This is getting tedious.”

Hannibal smiles. “For me as well.”

“I doubt that.” Will says honestly. “Do you fantasize about killing me?”

Hannibal is quiet. His gaze drifts down Will’s body, and Will expects to feel the sharp sexual edge that come when most people look at him like that, but it doesn’t come. “More and more.”

“What stops you?”

“Wouldn't I like to know.” Hannibal’s gaze drifts down to his watch. “Excuse me, I have to go.”

“Are you going to frame Frederick?”

Hannibal makes a face, though Will doesn’t know if it’s because he’s surprised Will knows the plan or because he called him Frederick. “You said something about that before. I don’t know-”

Will waves him off. “Go ahead, I won’t stop you today.” Hannibal stares at him, dark curiosity coming back to life in his eyes. Will turns his back on Hannibal to fish his phone out of the drawer, finally feeling the thrill he had been searching for in Hannibal’s office go up his spine when he feels Hannibal’s gaze of the back of his head. But Hannibal doesn’t strike today either.

“Goodbye Will.”

“Not yet,” Will mutters to himself.

Hannibal leaves, taking all the light and points of interest from Will’s house with him. Will doesn’t watch him go. He goes out the backdoor instead, letting the dogs out and settling in the chair next to the wood pile, phone clutched in his hand. Hannibal’s car gets far enough away that Will can’t hear it anymore. He thinks about calling Frederick, but ultimately doesn’t. He did promise Hannibal that he wouldn’t try to stop him today, and there’s always tomorrow.

Will laughs to himself and leans his head back against his house. Probably getting paint chips in his hair. Doesn’t matter.

His phone rings and Will looks down at it in surprise. The display reads Jack. Eyebrows raised, Will answers it.

“Are you still bothering Hannibal?” Jack nearly growls.

Will laughs and presses his free hand against his forehead. “Did he just call you? That’s new.”

“He says he’s worried about you. We talked about this Will, you have to leave him alone.”

“Talking on the phone while driving, maybe he really is a criminal,” Will says flatly, scanning the edge of the woods. Or maybe he didn’t go very far. He had never provoked that particular response before, or at least not as far as he had noticed. Maybe this is it.

“Don’t be cute, just find the real Ripper,” Jack says and hangs up. Will doesn’t move, still thinking.

“See you soon,” Will says to the now dead line, wondering how this conversation would change their next one. He smirks, already imagining the yelling that he won’t hear. Today is a hiding Frederick day. He settles in to wait.

When Frederick shows up Will is still sitting behind his house.

“I’m back here Frederick!” he yells, not caring how strange it must seem to the other man that he knows already who he is. Frederick amazes him once again by walking through his house instead of around it like a normal person. Will shakes his head, amused in spite of himself.

“Will, thank you for, uh, inviting me in,” Frederick says, his knuckles white from gripping the doorframe.

Will cranes his neck to look at him and frowns. He looks worse than usual. “What happened?” he asks, legitimately for once.

Frederick shudders, the bruises standing out against his pale face. “You were right.”

“I know, what happened?”

“Hannibal attacked me.” Frederick wipes his hand over his face, doing nothing but getting more bloody. “He’s trying to frame me for his crimes.”

“He hurt you?” Will stands up and looks at Frederick more closely. He more damaged than usual, but not as much as Will had originally thought, though there’s also more blood.

“Some, I think he wanted it to look like the FBI agents fought back, or maybe Gideon, I don’t know-”

“He must have been in a bad mood,” Will says and tilts his head, considering.

“Great.” Frederick lets out a small sound that is probably supposed to be a laugh. “Wonderful.”

Will winces, feeling back. “It’s alright Frederick.”

“It’s not alright! He’s using me and once he’s done he’s going to kill me!”

Or get someone to do it for him, Will thinks but doesn’t say. Frederick looks like he’s on the breaking point. Will shouldn’t have pushed Hannibal and sent him straight to Frederick. That was rude.

“I’m not going to let you die Frederick.” He lays a hand on Frederick’s shoulder to anchor him. “I’m going to find a solution.”

Frederick nods. “I’m sure you will, and I will read about it from a safe location.”

Will smiles and shakes his head. “Fair enough. Want a shower?”

Frederick looks down at himself and makes a face. “Yes.”

“Upstairs,” Will says, letting him go. Frederick goes slower than he usually does, probably hurting even worse than he usually does, and Will sits back down in his chair, thinking.

***

Will wakes up on January twelfth at six am and plays with the dogs.

They run in circles in the snow, cutting deep trails. Will laughs and kicks snow up at Winston, who goes crazy for it. He smiles to see Abigail chasing after Buster, even though she’ll never catch him and he’ll never know. He wonders what it would have been like if Abigail could actually be with him. She never got to meet the dogs. Will sighs and keeps playing, a sort of leaden peace settling in his bones. It’s hard to heard them all back inside and dump food into their bowls, but he does it, old determination fueling him.

He calls Alana as he’s getting dressed. To his surprise, she actually answers.

“Will?” She sounds wary. Will can’t blame her.

“Alana, thanks for picking up,” he says and reminds himself that she isn’t a coward. That will help her in the future, if they ever get there.

“Of course, what can I do for you?”

“Uh, honestly I was just calling to see how Applesauce is doing,” Will says, struggling to tie his tie with one hand while he imagines Hannibal doing it with two, the images superimposed on each other in the mirror.

Alana is quiet for a long moment before she clears her throat to speak again. “She’s doing well.”

“Does she miss the others?”

“Yes,” she says, and Will can hear the smile in her voice this time. He tries to smile too.

“Maybe once things are...well I was going to say normal, but, you know. They could visit.”

Alana laughs. “Is this a peace offering Will?”

“Something like that.”

“Alright, maybe.”

“Maybe, I’ll take it. Great.”

“Goodbye, Will,” she says, and he hopes she’s smiling a little.

“Goodbye.” Will hangs up first and finishes tying his tie, eyes fixed on his own reflection. He doesn’t recognize this version of himself until he turns to the side slightly. He dressed the same as the first day he resumed his therapy with Hannibal.

“Appropriate, I guess,” Will mutters to himself and then goes for his keys and his gun, which are next to the note he usually leaves for Frederick just in case he gets tied up in something. Same note, same day. He doesn’t lock the door on his way out.

On the drive over, he lets his mind wander to the now familiar place of wondering. Inventing his future is the closest he gets to experiencing it, and lately Will has been getting creative. It’s difficult, and therefore interesting, to guess what a Will who never got stuck in one moment would have been like going forward. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel and pictures Hannibal behind a glass wall, Will on the other side. He imagines himself bitter and alone, Hannibal missing but not gone from his mind, haunting him forever. He can even see himself in a cell across from Hannibal’s, if he had been allowed to progress under Hannibal’s influence. Deeper in, he sees them together, two predators, far away. He’ll never know now.

There’s light on in Hannibal’s office, doing some early work before he moves on to his day of murder and framing Frederick. Will stares at his light from across the street and waits to be noticed. It doesn’t take long, but then it never had before when Will parks here. Hannibal nods at him from the window, and Will gets out of his car.

When he gets inside, he leaves his jacket on. Hannibal notices, smoothly leaning against the edge of his desk.

“Hello Will. Should I be concerned that you’ve brought your gun to my office?”

Will doesn’t sit. “Yes.”

Hannibal raises an eyebrow. “I see.”

“You don’t seem to.”

Hannibal doesn’t move. “You brought a gun into my house not long ago and threatened me, why should I expect this time to be any different?”

“Because I’m different.” Will drifts over to the windows, watching Hannibal in the glass. Hannibal watches him back. “We’ve shared a lot of memories in this office. A lot of experiences.”

“Most of them good ones, from my point of view.”

Will allows his gaze to wander away from antlers and the growing blackness. “Mine too, actually.”

“Of course, I’m your friend Will,” he says and straightens up and away from the desk.

“Of course,” Will smiles and turns around. He pulls the gun from his waistband. Hannibal doesn’t look at it, keeping his gaze trained on Will’s face. My mind, the dangerous part, Will thinks, and doesn’t raise the weapon yet.

“We still have many experiences left Will, things I wouldn’t like to miss.”

“Things you would like to share.”

“Yes.”

“Tell me.”

Hannibal tilts his head. “Perhaps if we-”

“No. I’m not wearing a wire, I’m not playing a game right now, I just want to hear it,” Will demands, already picturing it himself. He can see it on the floor, a body, maybe Abigail, definitely Abigail, or her father maybe, laying there. Will imagines sinking his teeth in, just giving in to every impulse with Hannibal there to feed off of, to connect his current of energy to. Hannibal smiles, knowing that he knows.

“Do you really need it described?”

Will shivers again. “You know I don’t.”

“Then why ask? Is this a new power play for you?” Hannibal nods to the gun still held loosely in Will’s hand.

“Maybe,” Will says, mostly to himself. It’s an intriguing idea, one of a few that Will had been trying to deny for days on days. He’s been wondering how long he could sustain his momentum if he stepped inside that dream, how long he could take living the same thing over and over if he was living in Hannibal’s fantasy for him instead of trying to live in the real world. If he killed, giving in to everything Hannibal had planned for him.

Will licks his lips, considering it, and Hannibal leans forward. Will smiles, knowing that it would take nothing to get Hannibal to accept his sudden turn, nothing at all. All Will has to do is take the step.

“Maybe I need you to say the words because I just need to defeat you.” He raises the gun, points it at Hannibal’s head. “Maybe that’s the only play.”

“So you simply kill me?” Hannibal shakes his head. “Not a very satisfying conclusion to your story Will.”

“This is real life. Just because a solution is unsatisfying doesn’t mean it isn’t correct.”

“It does to me. This is no solution.”

“It’s the only solution.”

“So this is your reckoning.”

“Yes.”

“Do you feel righteous Will?”

“Not anymore. I’m sorry it had to be this way,” Will says, and finds that it’s true. He is sorry. Sorry to lose the only man who ever understood him, who looked inside of his rank, swirling mind and approved of what he saw. There is no one else.

Hannibal regards him calmly. “As you say, but it doesn’t. Come with me.”

“Come with you into the dark places of my mind, or come with you when you escape from the FBI?”

Hannibal shrugs, the gesture so obviously artificially copied from other, more human people it sends a shiver up Will’s spine. A reminder. “Either, both.”

“I’ve been thinking about that.” Will laughs, letting the gun drop slightly just to see Hannibal zero in on it. He’s paying attention. “Maybe I would have one of these days, but it wouldn’t matter. We wouldn’t get very far.”

Hannibal refocuses and shakes his head slightly. “We would, I promise.” Will mirrors him, leveling the gun again.

“No, Hannibal,” he whispers, deadly serious, and Hannibal starts to look a little concerned. There’s no fear, Hannibal doesn’t have fear, but he seems unsettled. Like his plans are being disrupted, sands slipping away one grain at a time. Will nods. “This has to be done. For me and for Abigail.”

Hannibal must see something true in his face, because his eyes go wide. “Will wait, Abigail wouldn’t have want-”

Will fires and Hannibal drops, a bullet in his brain. Will looks down on him, feeling nothing. He had seen it before. The high pitched sound of the damage to his hearing rings through his ears as he stares down at Hannibal’s body. The blood is fanning out in a oblong shape, soaking into the edge of the carpet. Will frowns down at it.

It’s impermanent. Unless something changes, tomorrow the stain will be gone. Hannibal will be back. Will can kill Hannibal everyday to save Frederick, Miriam, and the rest of the world from his malice one day at a time until his mind finally unwinds. He could do that. But they’ll have to keep doing this forever.

He wanders closer to Hannibal’s body and crouches down next to it, knowing that he doesn’t have to worry about contamination. There’s nothing he can touch anymore. Nothing but himself.

Will stands back up in silence, turns the gun on himself and then stands there next to Hannibal’s body, very still.

He waits patiently for something to happen, for something to change his mind. He feels a surprising lack of urgency. Of course, he has all the time in the world to do it. Will waits, but he doesn’t feel anything. Abigail doesn’t appear. Jack doesn’t burst into the room. He hears no sirens. Will tightens his grip.

The universe doesn’t demand perfection, it demands balance. They both have to die. This is the reckoning. Will lets his eyes slide shut.

He pulls the trigger-

-and immediately sits up in bed, the shock and pain still ringing in his ears. He gasps, heart pounding. He can feel the parts of his skull that are missing but they’re still there. He can still feel it. He can still feel everything, he’s alive.

He gasps, the suddenness of it locking down his muscles for a terrifying moment before they slam back into motion.

“No,” Will breathes, and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. “No.”

His lungs burn, like he’d been screaming. He might have been screaming, might still be screaming. Will takes another breath, gasping. He can't breath, then he can. He’s alive.

Forever.

Chapter Text

Will doesn’t move for a long time.

The dogs come and go, alternating between whining at his side, jumping up on the bed, and wandering through the house. He should get up and let them out, but he doesn’t. He can’t even summon up the energy to feel guilty. One day won’t hurt them, and nothing can kill them.

He mostly keeps his eyes closed even though he’s not sleeping. When Frederick knocks on his door, Will ignores him. The dogs go crazy but Will still doesn’t move. “Go away,” he mutters, wondering absently if Frederick will do it. He’s never ignored him before.

Frederick peaks in the windows and taps on the glass. “Will! I see you, I’m sorry but it’s really important! Hannibal attacked me!”

Will whines like one of the dogs, irritated and with half a mind to kill Frederick himself, but he raises his arm to point at the door. Frederick darts away and within seconds he’s walking inside. “Thank you. You sleep with your door unlocked?”

Will presses his palms into his eyes and pushes, hard. “Move your car. Shower upstairs.” His voice is scratchy and awful. He sounds deranged, dangerous, and Frederick all but runs up the stairs without another word.

The sound of the shower almost lulls Will back to sleep. He rolls onto his stomach and puts his face in the pillow, wondering if the lack of oxygen will knock him out eventually. He’s pretty sure it would. At least then he would be unconscious. It’s not like he needs to worry about dying. His heart pounds at the thought, and he curls into himself tighter.

“Will?”

“Go away,” he says, into his pillow.

Frederick seems to understand him anyway, because he drifts towards the door. “Uh, thank you. For this.” Then he leaves, letting the door slam behind him.

Outside, the dogs bark at him as he leaves in his fancy, conspicuous, stupid car. He’ll be caught of course, but he won’t implicate Will to the FBI. He’ll be taken in, Miriam Lass will shoot him. Jack will call. Again. Will breathes into the pillow and waits to pass out.

The next day is more of the same, and the next day. It doesn’t really matter what Will does. If he doesn’t call Frederick ahead of time he’ll show up and come into Will’s house. If Will points to the door Frederick lets himself in and uses the shower and leaves. If Will doesn’t point to the door, Frederick comes in anyway and touches Will to see if he’s alive and then he uses the showers and leaves. Most of the time Will points to the door, but after a while he gets tired of it. He’s tired of everything, but one day, all at once, he’s had enough.

“It’s open Frederick!” Will yells and the dogs go crazy outside. He had gotten up to let them out every day since the first, returning to his bed afterward with the good bottle of whiskey and laying back down to wait for the next day. When Frederick walks through the door his image isn’t quite blurry, but it isn’t sharp either. Will blinks him away and rolls back over.

“Will?”

“Shower’s upstairs. If you’re staying move the car, I don’t want to deal with the FBI today.”

They enter the familiar long moment of silence before Frederick quietly escapes up the stairs. Will drinks some more whiskey and glares up at the ceiling. It doesn’t take long for Frederick to finish, these days it never does. He used to spend a decent amount of time under the water, probably panicking and enjoying the fleeting normalcy while he still could, but ever since Will didn’t die Frederick hasn't been taking as long. His steps coming down the stairs are just as quiet. Will closes his eyes and waits for him to leave. He doesn’t.

“Uh, are you alright Will?”

Will hums but doesn’t lift his head. “Fine.”

“You don’t seem fine.”

“I might be having an off day.”

Frederick inches closer to the bed. “Are you drunk?”

“Trying to be.” Will opens one eye, wondering vaguely what he had changed today to make Frederick react like this. Probably the yelling. “Why, do you want some?”

“No.” Frederick sits down on the edge of Will’s bed and Will opens the other eye, confused.

“What are you doing?”

Frederick freezes. “I, uh, I’m trying to comfort you?”

Will frowns. “Why? That’s usually my job.”

Frederick frowns back. “It is?”

His attention drifting already, Will glances out of the window. “You have to move that.”

Frederick blinks at him like an idiot. “What?”

“Move your car Frederick,” Will growls, the annoyance coming back in waves.

“Oh!” Frederick jumps up like he had been burned and Will watches with vague amusement as he races out the door and then comes right back in. “Where should-”

“You could dump it in the lake,” Will suggests acidly, just to be a dick. Frederick looks mortified and Will gestures toward the back of the house with his glass. “Put it in the shed.”

“Alright.” Frederick darts out of the door, presumably to go do that. Will stares after him in a haze of vague interest through the alcohol. It generally takes more than this to get Frederick motivated to stay here, and lately Will hadn’t been trying. Usually he just runs. At the foot of the bed, Winston whines and Will turns to him instead.

“Yeah I know, this is new,” Will says and Winston rests his head on the end of the bed. Will smiles at him reflexively. “I think he likes me better a little crazy.”

He considers getting up again to avoid him, but then thinks better of it. If he goes outside, he might get in the car and then he might go see Hannibal. Will glances at the door, wondering when it will happen. Maybe that’s why he yelled at Frederick, why he got him to stay. The future looms in front of him like a great wave, ready to crash down on him, sweep him under. He stays put. It doesn’t take long for Frederick to come back.

He pauses in the doorway, openly considering Will’s childish state. Something about the way he holds himself makes him look like a doctor for once. Will just stares back, feeling nothing at all.

“How long have you been sitting there Will?”

Will blinks at him. “I don’t know. A while.”

Frederick nods. “What are you doing?”

“I’m...planning,” Will lies, poorly.

That makes Frederick frown. “No offense Will, but this kind of behavior doesn’t seem like you.”

Will grunts. “No it doesn’t. Not any version of me.”

Frederick crosses his arms. “Give it time. You haven’t even been out of the hospital for a week.”

“Well,” Will cracks a smile, and it feels like it’s splitting his face. “It seems like a lot longer.”

Frederick begins to look unsettled, even more so than he usually does, so Will changes direction. “Look, I’m sorry this is happening, I’m sorry I keep letting Hannibal do this to you.”

The line in between Frederick’s eyebrows deepens. “You don’t control his behavior.”

Will barks out a laugh. “No, I don’t. I’m not even sure I control mine. If I go see him, I probably won’t stop. After a while I know I won’t.” Will shakes his head, leans it against the wall. “If there’s nothing, if there’s no point, what’s stopping me from stepping into that darkness?”

“Will, speaking as your psychiatrist-”

Will smirks. “Are you still my psychiatrist?”

Frederick doesn’t seem as amused. “You need to fight that urge.”

Will raises his glass. “I’m trying.”

“Are you in love with him?”

Will laughs. Frederick doesn’t.

“Oh.” Will tilts his head, considering. “I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. I know I want to stay away from him.”

“For now,” Frederick says pointedly.

“For now.” Will shrugs. “Like I said, I’m trying.”

Frederick’s eyes dart away, then swiftly back, but it’s long enough for Will to lose the last of his patience. He doesn’t need to be talking about this with Frederick, no matter how close they are from Will’s perspective. No matter how close they could have been. “Look, it’s fine, it won’t affect you. Get some food, go upstairs and stay there.”

Frederick hesitates, but there’s no real reason for him to stay, and they both know it. He leaves. Will feels his absence, which nicer than feeling nothing at all for once, but doesn’t regret it. He rests his head against the wall and lets his eyes drift shut again, seeing moving pictures of death, of horrors he might have committed. Might still commit.

Hannibal’s shadow looms over him, ready to block out the light.

Will just lets himself drift, trying not to think at all.

After that day he doesn’t give Frederick the opportunity to talk to him again, calling in his tip to Jack every morning when he wakes up, saying just the right things to get Jack to investigate. If Hannibal doesn’t frame Frederick, he has no reason to come to Will’s house. Will can live out his solitude in peace, more in a prison than he ever was before.

“Wouldn’t the good doctor Chilton like to see me now,” Will mutters, one arm hanging off the bed, fingertips brushing against the wood of the floor. Old resentment bubbles up, the especially petty kind. He thinks about the asylum, Chilton’s playground, and the man himself, strutting around the place. It’s difficult to reconcile that man with Frederick, the one who ran to Will when he felt scared, the one Will talked to.

There’s a small part of Will that feels guilty, growing smaller every day, that Miriam Lass likely finds and kills Frederick every time Will arranges to be left alone. Frederick dies everyday, and Will knows this, knows what it feels like to die. But the impermanence of the situation absolves him from that guilt, or at least that’s what he tells himself.

One of the dogs whines near the foot of the bed and Will cranes his head to see, his vision only a little blurry. “Hey Winston.” He holds his hand out and Winston darts over, colliding with his arm. Will chuckles, running his fingers through his fur.

“Sorry, have I been neglecting you?” Will scratches him behind his ear. “Not that you would be able to tell either, it’s only been a few hours from your point of view.”

Winston whines again and butts Will’s face with his own. Will hums. “Maybe you can tell something’s wrong though. Maybe you’re a part of it too.” He remembers Winston being there, right at the start. The night he had thrown the glass that had come back together.

“Are you in the anomaly?” Will asks, refusing to say the word magic out loud, even now that he’s apparently going crazy. He’s glad once again that Frederick isn’t in the house to hear him talking to a dog. He wonders what Hannibal would say. He shoves the thought aside. He knows what Hannibal would say.

Will looks in Winston’s eyes. They seem more intelligent than usual. Will thinks that he wants them to be intelligent. “Are you magic Winston? Some kind of forest spirit sent to help guide me in this?”

The dog blinks up at him, open eyed and innocent now. The illusion slips away as easily as Will wishes other, more insidious ones would. Will sighs and raises a hand to stroke his ears.

“You’re not doing a very good job.”

Predictably, Winston does not respond. Will sighs, letting his eyes slide shut again. He drifts back into the dark.

***

In his mind, blood drips down his hands, slipping over his knuckles and pooling in the space between his crossed legs on the floor, dark and viscous.

Will stares at it, wondering if it’s supposed to be his or someone else’s. He doesn’t feel any pain, real or imagined, but that doesn’t mean much. If it’s in his mind it can’t hurt, and if it’s real it won’t last long enough it matter. Will lifts his hand closer to his face to examine it. Everything is muted, softer. The colors are less bright. Even the blood looks black.

There’s an even darker shape in front of him. Not the stag, though he sees that superimposed over the other for a moment like a memory, but it’s about that large. As Will stares at it he sees it move, twitching on the black smeared floor. It turns its head to stare back, the horns sinking straight into the floor. It doesn’t blink.

Will stands abruptly, bored and terrified, dispelling the illusion. Hannibal’s monster disappears and the dogs come back into focus. He sighs and goes to the window.

The outside world doesn’t look as real as the one in his mind, appearing more like a fantasy made in snow and ice than his mundane backyard. Untouched except by the dogs, but even that is swept away by morning, replaced by the same pristine whiteness. Will leans his head against the glass, feeling the cold seep through.

It had been weeks, maybe even months, since he had left the house.

Will sighs and looks down at his hands, seeing the phone clenched in it instead of a bloody chunk of flesh. Calling Hannibal. Cursing, he hangs up right away and throws the phone away from him. It clatters to the floor and Will glares at it, feeling betrayed. Buster runs up and starts sniffing at it. Will tries to make himself relax. It’s not like the call actually connected. It probably hadn’t even shown up on Hannibal’s phone.

Will stares at it, the rising tide coming up in his mind again. How much worse would it be if Hannibal showed up at his house? Will shakes his head to try to clear it. “Goddamn it.”

He crosses the room in quick strides, feeling irritated at himself and murderous towards Hannibal. He scoops up the phone, much to Buster’s distress, and takes it into the kitchen with him. He holds the power button until it goes blank, and then, after further consideration, take the battery out. Bracing it against the side of the desk he breaks it in half, tossing the pieces into the drawer along with the rest of the now useless appliance. Will leans against the counter, trying to decide the likelihood that Hannibal will come to the house when and if he can’t get ahold of Will.

The spot on the floor that had previously been covered in blood glints in the sunlight coming through the window. It shouldn’t look any different from the rest of the house, but it does. Will straightens up, decided.

Any probability is too high.

He can’t remember if he had called in a tip today or if that had been the day before. He leaves the front door unlocked and a chicken scratch note for Frederick. Everything else gets left as it is. Then he throws on his boots and coat, grabbing up a net bag to throw some food into, he calls out to the dogs as he goes. “Come on guys, time to go out.”

They run up to him, visibly excited, dancing around his feet. Will smiles and dips to the floor, running a hand over Winston’s head. He hadn’t been out with them in ages, though from their perspective it had only been a day. Buster makes a jump for Will’s face and he chuckles. “Nice to be appreciated.”

At first the sun blinds Will, and the cold air shocks his lungs. He stands at the back corner of his house, just breathing and staring around at it all, but the darkness at the back of his mind motivates him to get moving. Will shakes his head to clear it. He can stare at the wonders of nature after he’s put some distance between himself and this house.

They head for the woods, past Will’s shed and into the trees. The sun filters down through the leaves and the dogs run rampant, making deep tracks in the snow. Some of them make a run for it, disappearing over the hill. Will lets them go. There’s only a limited amount of time for them to get into trouble, then they’re back in the house when the reset hits, safe again. Will keeps walking, feeling the shadow of the house getting further and further away with every step. All he has to do is run down the clock.

He leaves a winding trail, unable to stop one from forming in the snow but fully capable of making it confusing as hell. They backtrack, leave false trails, even travel through water as if Hannibal were really a beast who could follow by scent. Will smiles, having more fun than is probably appropriate for the situation. He tries not to think about what Alana or Jack would say about this level of paranoid behavior, but then they don’t know the things that he knows. Frederick would probably understand, Will thinks, smiling at the thought of him running through the wood, Jack on his heels, or running to Will’s house.

“Do you think Frederick got caught today?” Will asks the pack, who are all curled up by the fire he had built as soon as the sun started going down, eagerly waiting for food. They’re all looking at him intently, which makes it seem like they’re listening.

Will rolls his eyes, sampling the potato and rice stew, which is essentially just everything he had in his kitchen thrown into a pot, minus the three oranges. “He probably did. He’s probably dead already.”

The sound of a cracking branch echoes behind him and Will freezes, listening. He doesn’t hear anything else, but he still gets up, making for the tree line as quietly as possible. The quiet clearing behind him gradually disappears. The dogs don’t follow, probably too intent on getting into the food now that Will has left it defenseless. Will ignores all concerns about getting lost or getting hurt. The worst that could happen is he’ll die.

Smirking, he wends his way through that trees. If Hannibal is here, he has to know. Everything else is secondary.

Half an hour later, he’s still combing the woods, but less manically now. He ghosts his fingers over the bark of a tree, imagining the squirrel he had been chasing safe in a hole somewhere, unaware of the havoc it had wrought on Will’s mood, when he sees a flash of movement, too tall and thin to be an animal. Will lunges, but then Abigail is stepping around the other side of the tree she had hidden behind, giggling.

“Boo,” she calls out, and Will slows to a brisk walk, smiling.

“Boo yourself.”

Abigail smiles back, her cheeks pink from the cold. She’s wearing the same outfit she had worn the last time he had seen her, so she’s not really dressed for the weather. It makes Will feel better to know that she obviously can’t really feel it.

“I thought I’d better give you something to find before you went even crazier,” she teases, leaning against the tree.

Will sticks his hands into his pockets. “Probably too late for that, all things considered.”

“Fair enough.”

There’s no need to move so Will lets himself be still again. They lapse into comfortable silence, something Will had missed in the past few weeks especially. The silence in his infected house is oppressive, frightening. His safe haven turned into a self-imposed cage. The fresh air feels good on his skin, and it had brought Abigail back to him.

“It’s good to see you.”

“You too. You’re looking better.”

He turns to look around the forest. “It’s better out here. I thought that it would set me loose, but it makes me feel...more like me.”

“Then you should come out more often.”

“Will you be here?”

She smiles, painfully lovely. “I’m always here.”

Will smiles back. He runs down the clock talking to Abigail, and Hannibal never shows up. It gets colder and colder away from the fire but he ignores it even when he starts shaking uncontrollably, the elements seeping into his bones, freezing him out from the inside. It doesn’t hurt, not this time. When he wakes up the next day, the same day, he feels different. Not better, per se, but not the same horrible nothingness he had been feeling. He swings his legs over the side of his bed and plants them on the floor. The dogs look up and he smiles at them.

“Alright guys, we’re going out again today,” he says and claps his hands, his signal for them that they’re going outside. They scramble up, tripping over themselves and each other and Will laughs for the first time in a long time.

They run out ahead of him and make for the woods, excited as always for their first time out for the day since the night before, and Will lingers by the door to wait for them to come back, scribbling a note for Frederick to find as an afterthought. They return in pairs and small groups, expecting to be let back inside but even more excited to follow Will further out. They leave the house behind and head into the trees.

It becomes an easily cultivated habit to retreat into the woods, cutting new paths and finding them gone with the next morning’s snow. Outside it’s like nothing has changed. Will isn’t sure he would be able to tell that time was standing still if he didn’t know it already. The woods had always seemed like a timeless place to him.

Dark shapes sometimes follow him out of the corner of his eye and the specter of Hannibal always lurks in the back of his mind, but it’s easier to ignore when he’s out with the dogs blazing trails or fishing.

The days blur together like they always do, but it’s more peaceful now, better. Will doesn’t bother keeping track of them. He fishes, explores, and watches. Waits. One day, he finds a rock outcropping not too far from his house, only ten miles away. He looks up at the point, intrigued.

“Not a bad view I bet.” He says, and then realizes the dogs had all left. Will sets his bag down, chuckling to himself. He starts climbing up the rock face. It’s pretty high, and he’d been thinking about taking up landscape drawing. He’s a terrible artist, but he certainly has the time enough to learn now. “Crazy Will Graham, out in the woods, talking to yourself.”

Will laughs, and then slips on a patch moss. He looses his grip immediately and falls, hitting the ground a few seconds later. His leg breaks with a sickening crack. He yells, tries to scramble up, and then blacks out.

When he wakes up, the sun is in a different place and he’s in pain.

“Uh, shit,” Will groans and tries to sit up. It doesn’t work out. He lays back down and closes his eyes again. “Ok, so no.”

It’s quiet outside. He misses the dogs. He wonders where they are, but he’s glad they’re not around to get upset about this. He tries to summon up Abigail, wanting to hear her voice. She would tell him to stay still, to just relax, but she doesn’t come. Will tries to breath evenly, relaxing. It had been a while since he had died. He leaves his eyes shut and lets himself fade into the blackness. It doesn’t hurt.

He wakes up the next day and nothing has changed, but he realizes at once that he feels different.

It takes him awhile to get out of bed, though normally he jumps up as quickly as possible, eager to get out of the house. Today he stares up at the ceiling, mind blissfully blank. The calmness of sleep doesn’t leave him until the dogs start moving around, then he goes and sits in the chair out back while they run into the trees, content to wait. When he goes back inside to retrieve his fishing pole, his workbench, which should be covered with half finished lures, catches his eye and he pauses.

It hadn’t seen any use since Will had gone to prison, since the FBI confiscated most of his lures because Hannibal had planted human remains in them. Will stands frozen, waiting for the fear or the anger to rise, but it doesn’t. Curious, he steps closer, but nothing happens. The bench is just a bench today.

Will goes back to the door and props it open so the dogs can come and go as they please, and then walks back to the bench, sitting down and pulling the meager box of supplies from under the table. It’s not much, the FBI hadn’t left him with anything that could have possibly been evidence of his supposed crimes, but there’s still some hooks and wire left. All Will needs are the decorative parts, which should be fairly easy to find, considering he’s probably the most familiar with the natural contents of his property on this particular day as anyone has ever been or ever will be. Newly motivated, Will heads for the woods, mentally giving himself two hours tops to gather supplies, and four for assembly. It might be a few days before he can fish with a new, proper lure during the daylight hours, but he has the time to perfect anything nowadays.

He gets lost it in, sitting hunched over the table, trimming yet another feather into the perfect shape. When he finds the best one he can save time by only going for that one, but today he’s too involved in the art of it to care about the process tomorrow. Not even the house is bothering him, having lost some of it’s malice in recent days. The novelty of being under the roof for an extended period of time amuses him.

Will doesn’t notice anything outside of his own space until all at once the dogs start barking, making a synchronized rush at the door. Shocked, Will freezes, all his muscles locking down at once. Frederick.

He walks to the door silently, feeling all at once overwhelmed and grateful and annoyed. Will’s daily note to him is sitting on the front table, placed there out of habit, but he hadn’t remembered to expect him to actually show up. He crumples it and puts it in his pocket before pushing the door open to stare at the other man, wide-eyed. Will had forgotten somehow, that Frederick would show up to the house. That he really exists.

“Ah, Mr. Graham,” Frederick shifts his weight, looking just as awkward and pathetic as he always has on these days. The familiarity of it makes Will’s chest tight. “May I use your shower please?”

“Uh-” Will blinks at him dumbly. It occurs to him that he hasn’t spoken to another person in ages. He steps to the side, making space. “Sure.”

Frederick escapes up the stairs as soon as Will points to them, his stumbling steps familiar and jarring after so much quiet. Will sinks into the same chair he had sat in during the first day to wait, trying to think of what to do. The FBI agent will drive by eventually, so Frederick’s car will need to be gone by then one way or another. The last thing Will wants to to bring more people into his house. He steeples his fingers together, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees.

It occurs to him that he could easily just kill himself and start the day over. Tomorrow he won’t forget to tip Jack off about Frederick. He’ll never forget that again. One more death won’t make a difference to anyone, least of all to Will, but for some reason the idea doesn’t sit nicely with him. He glances over at his workbench, the lure catching his eye.

It’s beautiful, possibly the only beautiful things left in the world. It’s beautiful and it’s Will’s and he wants it done. He hadn’t wanted anything like this is a long time.

“Well?”

Will looks up, caught by surprise. Somehow Frederick had come down the stairs without him noticing. “What?”

“You haven’t asked me what happened.”

Will blinks, realizing that he’s right and that it’s not normal. He tries to pretend to be normal. “I think I can guess.”

Frederick laughs humorously. “I suppose you can, since it happened to you too.”

“Hannibal framed you,” Will says, trying to make it sound like a question and not the daily reality of his existence that it is. “What happened?”

Frederick tells him, getting some of the details wrong and exaggerating the drama in parts. Will tries not to smile. That wouldn’t be very normal. He doesn’t tell Frederick that he’s going to catch Hannibal this time since he no longer believes it, but Frederick still tells him that he intends to read about the arrest from overseas.

Will rolls his eyes, thankful in spite of himself for his faith. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and run into some of the Lecter family over there too,” he says, just to be an ass.

Frederick shudders. “I’ll avoid France.”

“Lithuania.”

Frederick shakes his head. “That estate is empty, I was referring to his remaining family members.”

Will frowns, but then he remembers. Robertas Lecter, uncle of Hannibal, current resident of France. “Right. How did you know that?”

“Research,” Frederick says distractedly, pouring through his passport for the third time. “He doesn’t advertise it, probably doesn’t want people digging into his past.”

Will doesn’t respond, picturing the empty estate, the new home in France. Hannibal as part of a greater family unit. He looks up and Frederick is halfway to the front door, bag over his shoulder. He had been too busy thinking about Hannibal to notice him. For some reason that makes Will feel more guilty that he ever does when he lets him die.

“Frederick?”

He turns back around, eyebrows raised. “I’m not staying, Will.”

“I know. It was good to see you,” Will says, and means it. “I’m sorry that I’m...the way that I am.”

Frederick blinks, and then blushes. “Oh, well, you too. Thank you again.”

Will nods and watches Frederick trip over his own feet to escape his gaze, smiling as he gets swarmed by the dogs again on his way to the car. Will stands and calls them back inside, leaning against the windowsill with his arms crossed to stare. Frederick looks back up at him as he’s pulling out of the driveway, and waves. Will doesn’t wave back, but he watches him until he’s gone.

Next to him, Winston whines. Will looks down at him. “Sorry, I know you like him. So do I.”

He stares at the empty spot in his driveway, but nothing forms there. No shadow shapes, no ghosts. Will sighs, letting all the air go before breathing it back in. He moves away from the window and back to his lures, settling in for the rest of the day. Winston follows, sitting at his feet.

“He’s never coming back here again.”

Chapter Text

Will leans against the doorframe, looking out at the snow dappled trees. The phone in his hand creaks, the plastic straining under his grip. But he lets it ring.

The past dozen or so rotations had been fairly stable. Minor hallucinations only, less crushing despair. Unfortunately for Will, stability often comes for him hand in hand with boredom, which can be even more dangerous.

The trees sway in the breeze, and Will wonders if he had ever seen this specific thing before. Probably. But maybe not from this particular angle. Maybe there is still something new under the sun.

The phone stops ringing.

“Will.”

“Hannibal,” Will says, surprised at how little he feels. His heart should seize, his pulse race. There’s only calm. Maybe it's the house. Seeing him would be worse, he’s sure of it. Will presses against the wood of the frame a little harder, grounding himself.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Will can hear the specific smile in his voice. He pulls the phone away from his face for a moment, fighting the urge to hang up. Then he brings it back. “I wanted to talk.”

“And here I believed you were still blaming me for-”

“Stop.”

Strangely, the command works. Will cocks his head, considering his next words carefully, holding them up to the light of past words and interactions.

He’d exhausted most of his curiosity already. Hannibal was all that remained. The only constant. Everything easily within reach had been consumed. After a thorough exploration of his property and the surrounding areas, he had reached out farther, digging into the past.

There aren’t that many early morning flights from D.C. to Minnesota, but it takes only five hours in a plane, and it takes around nineteen by car. It’s more or less the same for Louisiana. Under normal circumstances, he would never spend the money to charter an illegal plane on short notice, but he had left normal behind a lifetime ago. Besides, it’s easy to spend money when you don’t have to save it. But those places have run dry for him. Hannibal is the only thing in the world with any color left.

Will breathes evenly and continues. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn't do that. I know you can’t say much, but nothing is better than a lie.”

A long pause buzzes down the line before Hannibal speaks again. “That is debatable.”

“Fine, “ Will answers, eager to move past this part. He has business for once. “I called your uncle.” More silence. Will steps all the way outside, into the sun. “He didn’t seem particularly pleased to hear from me.”

“I would expect not. He is a private man.”

“Might be putting that mildly,” Will says, thinking back to the brief interaction earlier that morning. Robertas might as well have breathed ice down the line, through it probably hadn’t helped that Will had led with a rather blunt approach, trying to shock him. Next time he’ll try a different path.

His new theory, that he can better keep his head, can better resist, if he understands, had so far been going well. Patterns and clues, a trail leading nowhere. Once a cop, always a cop. Some things never change. Hannibal used to be a surgeon, now so is Will, dissecting Hannibal’s past.

Recently, and not for the first time, Will had broken into Hannibal’s house. This time, he had a mission. No destructive fits, no murder in his heart. He went through the rooms systematically, from the bottom up. The basement had been a ghoulish demonstration of Hannibal’s dramatic nature, but ultimately revealed nothing Will didn’t already know. The office was a different story.

Tax records, patient files, several pieces of property spread out across the country. He has a collection of pictures of a beautiful Asian woman with dark, serious eyes. His aunt, Will learns. Long dead. But the crown jewel, at least for now, had been Robertas’ phone number.

“I must say I feel rather violated.”

Will smiles. “Tough.”

“I suppose turnabout is fair play,” Hannibal says, and Will can see him there, at his desk, meticulously pushing his pencils into a straighter line. Not bored for once, pleased to be playing a game.

“Not in my experience.”

A small huff of air, like a laugh, makes Will’s hackles raise. “Life isn’t fair?”

Will picks at the peeling paint of his balcony. “Why does Robertas hate you?”

“I suspect he blames me for his wife’s death.”

“Because you killed her?”

“No.”

“Of course not.”

“I am not the monster you perceive me to be.”

“Who says I see a monster?” Will watches the trees, the birds. “I know you see a predator.”

It doesn’t seem like Will is going to be getting much out of Hannibal like this today. He would need to re-evaluate his strategy with both of them, take a softer approach. Every piece the man let slip would be a tool for the next turn, until something finally clicks. Hannibal is too guarded, too practiced. But Robertas is old, and hopefully not as sharp.

“Much as I enjoy our talks Will, I must go.”

Will glances up at the sun. “I guess you do. Give my regards to Frederick.” He hangs up before Hannibal can say anything else. Rudeness and being left in the dark, a small revenge that had become almost perfunctory, losing its edge. Will sighs and goes back inside.

The house remains benign. No sliding walls. No blood. He almost prefers it that way.

Will makes a sandwich, feeds the dogs, leaves a note for Frederick, and heads out into the endless day.

***

Will keeps his head down as he walks down the sidewalk, shaking with unshed feeling.

The blurring between the days was becoming a liability. He should have known that breaking into Hannibal’s house so soon after talking to him on the phone wouldn’t work. Hannibal wouldn't go to work after that, he’d stay, and catch him at the door.

The look of him was unchanged, but it still caught Will like a punch to the stomach. Suit, hair just so, gracefully aging. An underlying strength in his frame, betraying his true nature. He looked at Will with a depth that used to unsettle him. A hunger.

Will stood on his front steps, hands hanging uselessly at his sides, and thought about punching him, or kissing him. It wouldn’t be the first time, not now. Hannibal always responds beautifully. Sometime he stabs Will, the vicious light in his eyes bright with pleasure, sometimes he kisses him back, devouring. It’s still a shock, sometimes, to see how much power Will has over him. How much he can make him react. The scene in Will’s bathroom swirls before him, Will propped up, bleeding, Hannibal leaning against the sink, the quiet desperation moving under his skin. Whatever caring was for Hannibal Lecter, he has it for Will.

But today Will just left, rationing his interest. The drive that still lives inside him lays satisfied for now with just that look. They’d said all they had to say today. Sighing, he scrubs his hand over his face. Barely midday, and nothing left to do. He veers off the street, hand dipping into his pocket for his gun.

It’s an old familiar friend in his hand, especially now. A dead day is a dead day, and the most efficient way to reset it is to die. Will steps around the dumpster, not really out of view from the street, but enough that anyone walking past will be able to ignore him with ease, and raises the gun to his head.

It’s immediately snatched away, wrenched from his grasp so quickly and with such strength that he feels his wrist bend back to the point of sharp near-breaking. He gasps, caught off guard by the pain of it, and Hannibal slams him against the brick of the building next to them, cutting off his breath. The look in his eyes could set a fire.

“What are you thinking of?” Hannibal hisses, pressing very close. The sensations swirl around Will in a wave, the pain of where Hannibal has him gripped, already bruising, the reek of the trash next to them, the sharp coldness of the the air. Hannibal shakes him, slamming his head back against the wall. “Tell me. Now.”

Will just groans, still overwhelmed and trying to catch up with his own perceptions. “I- I was-” There’s no explanation that Hannibal will accept, but they both know that. Will closes his eyes, shutting one door, and leans his head back against the wall that had just hit him, his head still stinging. Possibly bleeding. Hannibal doesn’t take kindly to this sort of thing, he remembers now. Anger makes sense.

“If you ever do this again, I’ll have you sectioned,” Hannibal says, his voice perfectly steady now, though his eyes still burn with feeling when Will blinks his own back open. “They will put you back in a cage for your own safety. You will not get out again, and soon enough it will be only me that visits you.”

It’s a good threat, or it would be if it meant anything. Will shrugs as best he can under Hannibal’s iron grip, which isn’t all that much. “Do what you have to do.” Will leans back in his grip, putting a few more inches between them that Hannibal closes immediately, giving him another hard shake.

“I will. Do you understand me?”

Will meets his eyes evenly. “Always.”

Hannibal’s mouth flattens out into a perfectly straight line, then the rest of his face hardens. “Very well. Come.”

He pulls Will along by the scruff of his jacket, apparently beyond caring how it looks to be physically leading another grown man out of a dirty alley and back along the street like a child. Will doesn’t bother to put up a fight, which only serves to make Hannibal more suspicious. He glances at Will out of the corner of his eye every few feet, as though making sure he isn’t about to break away and run into oncoming traffic.

When they get back to Hannibal’s house, Will is left in the upstairs guest room while Hannibal disappears with his gun and jacket. Still polite, still careful. Will sighs and sits down on the bed, exploring the rest of the house in is mind. All those unmarked packages of meat. The chamber of drama in the basement. Will had never in his life responded to these things like a normal person, never saw the horror as just that, but the yawning lack of what he feels for it now is somewhat new. Interesting.

“Will?”

Will blinks and looks over at the doorway Hannibal has staged himself in. Arms crossed, leaning against the wood. Not angry, just disappointed. Will smirks. “Done hiding all the knives?”

It earns him a withering look. “Very amusing.”

Will sighs and scrubs his hands over his face. “Not really. Not sure what else to talk about though. Assuming we have to.”

Hannibal steps into the room, one hand smoothly undoing the button on his jacket, a gesture made a thousand times slowed down for effect, his intentions telegraphed to Will as though they were printed across his eyes. “We can.”

“Like old times,” Will says, shifting to the side on the bed, needlessly making space for Hannibal to sit. He does, sinking down with a studied grace.

“I do not remember this part of our ‘old times’.” Their heat mixes between them, creating and simultaneously amplifying that same tension.

Will arches an eyebrow at him, casting out the last line. “Which part?”

Hannibal inclines his head, recognizing the meaning, as always, seeing right through him to the core. The incline turns into a bend, into a dip, and he meets Will’s lips with his own. It’s brief, almost chaste, but lasting.

“Frederick asked me if I was in love with you,” Will says when they pull away for air, remembering. One conversation out of thousands.

Amusement flickers over Hannibal’s face, and he stays close. “Did he? What did you say?”

“I don’t remember. Just that I hadn’t thought about it in those terms.”

Hannibal hums and draws his fingers across Will’s cheek bone. “They do seem insufficient.”

“Or something.” Will leans into his touch. “Incomplete.”

“Inconvenient.”

Will huffs out a laugh and Hannibal swallows it up, pushing him back and back until he hits the bed. Fire catching, touching with purpose rather than simple desire and curiosity. Will lets out a hard breath, shuddering against him.

“I’ve been saving this.”

Hannibal breaths hotly into his neck, raising goosebumps. “As have I.”

Will smirks. “I doubt you mean that in the same way.”

“Enlighten me, then.”

Will cocks his head. The day had already gone to hell, anyway. “I’ve been reliving this day. Lost count how many times I’ve lived it.”

Hannibal blinks. One long, slow blink, as though to stall for time. There’s an economy of movement in him, locked down. Almost like he believes him this time, which is weird. Will is fascinated. “You’ve never believed me before, what changed?”

“I do not believe you.”

Will is the dog with the scent, saliva filling his mouth as he chases his prey. He digs his fingers into Hannibal’s shoulders. “Bullshit.”

Whatever sexual tension that lies between them ruptures as Hannibal straightens, stands, and steps away.

“Well, contrary to your perception Will, there will be a tomorrow.”

“Not for me.”

Hannibal sends him a dry look. “Come downstairs.”

Will smiles. “Dinner time?”

Hannibal does not. “Yes.”

“No sense in letting go of the veneer of society now?”

“Of course not,” Hannibal says, and then leaves, the dull sounds of his careful steps moving down the stairs. Steady. Inevitable.

Will sighs, relaxing back into the softness of the bed for a long moment before pushing himself up to follow.

***

“I wonder if I could have been with you without killing.”

Hannibal shifts in his seat slightly. Getting situated for the next round. “Do you believe that would be ideal?”

Will doesn’t answer, taking another bite of the delicious whatever it is. Something with figs and human meat.

“We have afforded each other experiences we would not otherwise have had.”

“No arguing that,” Will says, cutting another piece. Hannibal follows his every motion. Knife to plate. Fork switches hands. Fork to mouth. Swallow. Hannibal swallows with him. “This must be singular for you.”

Hannibal doesn’t move a muscle. “Yes.”

“To have someone participate knowingly in your design.”

“I understood your meaning.”

“Because you know me so well.”

Now Hannibal smiles. “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”

“Not in Louisiana.” The smile deepens, and Will feels compelled to mirror it. “This wine is great.”

“No, it is exceptional.”

“What is it?”

Hannibal hesitates. “Home.”

Will eyebrows jump. “Now who’s living like there’s no tomorrow?”

The space between them crackles with mirth, lightness. The wave always move so quickly, a sieve for sentiment, pouring between them effortlessly. Unfairly. The man who understands him, who wants to understand him, is a monster, just like Will always feared, curled up under his bed at night. Unjust. A cosmic joke. It used to bother him. Will takes another sip. “Want some more?”

Hannibal inclines his head. “Please.”

Will stands and crosses to the sideboard, where the ice bucket lives. He doesn’t even notice that he’s put his back to the room until Hannibal’s hand trails along his spine, from the base of his back to the base of his neck in an unbroken path until Hannibal’s fingers brush through his hair, cradling the base of his skull. He breathes carefully, pouring the wine as though he hadn’t noticed at all.

Hannibal breathes, leans close. Teeth at the back of his neck. “I adore seeing you like this, free of fear.”

Will leans back, pushing them together. “I’m free of consequences.”

“Is that not the same thing?” Hands slide to his front, tracing scars.

Will thinks about laying in the sun, leg shattered, for hours and hours. The shadows in his house swallowing him whole, rending him from limb to limb. “No.”

Hannibal hesitates, and the house responds, bending to his every whim. It holds its breath, the tension mounting.

Will’s phone rings, shattering the moment. Hannibal makes a low frustrated sound at the vulgarity of it, and in tune as he is, Will feels the same way. Nothing ever fits quite as it should. No design ever quite matches up. He turns, propping himself up against the sideboard and fishes it out of his pocket. French number. Will’s eyebrows fly up.

“Shall I bring our drinks into the sitting room while you take that?” Hannibal asks, apparently recovered from his minor attack of outrage. Will nods, already far away, so much so that he almost misses Hannibal moving, leaning down, kissing his lips. Will jerks back, heat rising to his face, and Hannibal’s expression shifts back to its semi permanent guise of intense self-satisfaction. “Do not be too long.”

“Wouldn’t want to be rude,” Will says, already answering it as Hannibal steps away again, drifting out of the room.

The call connects. “Hello?” The line buzzes with silence for a long moment. Then, breathing. Then, his answer.

“Mr. Graham.”

“Count Lecter,” Will responds, eying the door to the kitchen. Interestingly, Hannibal does not re-appear with a vengeance at the name. “How can I help you?”

Robertas huffs. “I believe that is the other way around.”

“Of course.” Will does the math, and realizes that it’s the end of night in France, almost morning. Will’s call had kept him up. “Did you have something to tell me?”

“Hannibal killed my wife.”

“I see.”

“Do you.”

“More than you know.” Will eyes the painting on the far wall. Leda and the Swan. A woman taken by a god in the guise of a bird. Literally. “I don’t suppose he relates well to...women.” Or anyone. Except him.

“No, he chased her relentlessly,” Robertas growls, and Will’s eyebrows fly up. “He always had problems. Today we say mental illness, back then, he was eccentric. Artistic.”

Will privately doubted that was really what was said. But money had a way of smoothing edges, even those jagged ones. It’s interesting, but ultimately not useful.

“It’s all down to his sister.”

Will straightens his spine. “Sister?”

“Yes, Micha.”

Lighting in the dark. “She died.”

“She was taken, yes.”

“Before you adopted him.”

“Yes.”

A young man, reeling from loss. But, no. Angry. Taken, it was taken from him. Primal. The plates still sat on the table, all the trappings of wealth and manners. Cloth napkins, real china. Human flesh, done up as art. The silence goes on for too long.

“It’s late, I must go.”

Will doesn’t answer, still thinking. He can see it all, laid out like a map in front of him, each step clear. The line goes dead. Micha. Sister, and daughter. His aunt Murasaki. Mother, and lover? An echo through time. Will slips the phone back in his pocket, noting the time for the day has almost run out. But he needs to see Hannibal, see if he’d been listening, see what he thought. Only a few minutes left.

He’d lost touch with time, with having a finite amount of it.

The path to Hannibal’s sitting room seems far too long, eating up precious seconds while Will’s mind races with itself. Micha, Murasaki, and Abigail. She’s the replacement. The daughter perfected, made his own. A killer family, with Will at his side. The real ones were lost, but their value is lessened in light of such perfection. Offset.

Abigail’s value had no limits, not to Hannibal and not to Will. He pauses in the doorway of the room, warm with fire, struck by sudden emotion. A dizzying wave. Why kill her? Why kill his own creation?

It rises up in him, that old familiar feeling of resentment, love cut short. Without her, the space between them is rot, poison. An empty house. A day re-lived and re-lived, empty with no ending, no consequences. Will’s heart seizes, and he realizes that his wish that first night was really for her, not Frederick, not any of the others. If they matter at all, they’re a candle to a star. He raises a shaking hand to cover his eyes, trying to banish it, push it back.

“Will?” Hannibal calls out. Calling him. Will doesn’t have to open his eyes to see Hannibal sitting there, in his impeccably furnished room, bookcases lining the walls, custom fireplace, wine glasses on the dark wood table between the high back chairs. He sighs and does it anyway, then reels back, like he’d been slapped.

Abigail stands behind him, perfect and whole. Both ears. She rests her hand on Hannibal’s shoulder. She’s alive.

“Oh,” Will breathes, then everything stops. Midnight.

Chapter Text

Will sits straight up in bed at six am on January twelfth, his heart pounding. The same day, made utterly different. Abigail.

He drives straight to Hannibal’s house. It’s ungodly early for a social call, but he doesn’t even knock on the door before it opens by an irritatingly awake and alert Hannibal in his tasteful bathrobe. He’s so mad he can’t think straight, but it only makes him sharper. He’s sure, absolutely sure, for the first time in a long time.

“Abigail. She’s alive.”

Hannibal hesitates, and it’s like a light goes off in Will’s chest. Dizzy. “Oh.”

“Will, come inside.”

Will does, feeling caught in a dream. She’s not at his house, this one, his main house in Baltimore. He knows because he had combed over every inch of it. So she must be somewhere else.

“Where? No, you won’t tell me.” He paces into the kitchen, too distracted to notice Hannibal sliding up behind him, pressing a needle to his neck.

The world goes dark, then he wakes up in bed again. He can’t help but feel confused and a bit annoyed. Killed? No, he realizes, knocked out for transport and then it rolled over to midnight before he woke. Of course. He swings his feet onto the floor and pets the dogs. He gets up to let them out. All the while, his mind is with her. But where is that? He picks up the phone.

“Hannibal.”

“Will, it’s early, what-”

“I’m ready.”

Silence. Will can hardly wait. All this time, all the patience he thought he was developing and now he can’t wait. He breathes, in and out, as evenly as possible. Hannibal shifting around, settling himself. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“If you say so. Take me to Abigail.”

That has to have been the plan. Nothing else makes sense. Taketh away, giveth back. Once Will earned it, they’d all disappear together. Will wants it as a physical ache, and he can’t have it. There’s no tomorrow, not for them, not anymore. He’ll have to settle for now.

“I’m afraid I don’t-”

Will slams his hand down on the table, and the dogs whine. “I mean it, I’m-” The line goes dead. Will pulls the phone away from his ear and gapes at it, disbelieving. Hysteria, or something like it, bubbles up in his chest, overflows as graceless, hiccuping laughter. He bends over until his head hits the wood, still shaking apart until it finally subsists. Then he stays down, waiting for Hannibal to come.

It takes about an hour to drive from Baltimore to Will’s house when Hannibal does it. Less, if he’s particularly motivated. It takes twice that for Will to realize that he’s probably not coming, at least not right away. Will sits up straight, the dead spot where his forehead had been pressed against the wood flaring to live again as he moves and rubs his hands over his face, completely exhausted.

He makes a mental note of what he’d said for next time, the pattern coming back to him easily. He did this everyday for years. Minor changes, little steps, building up to an effective approach. Day after day.

But he can’t sit still, can’t just leave her there, wherever she is, not even for a day. Stuck in limbo, even if she doesn’t know it, waiting for a day that will never come. Years? Just the thought of all those days he didn’t find her is enough to make him shake. He has to struggle not to throw up.

Will goes to the desk, pulls his laptop towards him. He opens up an email addressed to the FBI tip line.

To the FBI,

Re: Death of Abigail Hobbs

I, Will Graham, hereby confess to the murder of Abigail Hobbs. Though I did not kill any of the others, I was in a fully functional state of mind when I killed her, and swallowed her ear whole. The evidence to that end found in my house was legitimate, and I regret that I falsely implicated my friend, Hannibal Lecter, in this. I am prepared to surrender myself into custody.

Sincerely,
Will Graham

Will stares at it for a long moment, reveling in the ridiculousness of it all. Then he adds Jack Crawford, the deputy director of the FBI he had met during the trial, and finally, Hannibal, to the address bar. He presses send, then gets up and heads for his car, grabbing his jacket and gun as he goes. Everyday, it’s cold.

The shock he feels upon seeing Frederick’s car pulling into his driveway is probably the most ridiculous part of it all. Will hesitates, his phone going off continually in his pocket, then keeps going down the drive as Frederick emerges, bloody and shaken.

“Will? Where are you-”

“I have somewhere I have to be,” Will says, opening his the door to his car, Frederick close at his heels and the dogs a mass of fur swarming around them both. “You can go inside, but the whole FBI is on their way, probably.”

Frederick blanches, whirling around as though they would descend from the trees at any moment. Will nudges him out of the way and shuts the door. To his shock, the passenger side door opens while he’s turning the keys, and Frederick drops in. “I’m coming with you, then.”

Will stares at him. In his pocket, the phone rings again. Not a lot of time. “I’m going to be calling Hannibal to get a location for us to meet. Then I’m going to kill him, probably, and rescue Abigail.”

“The Hobbs girl is alive?”

“Yes, are you coming or not?” It doesn’t really matter either way, they’ll just be here, or somewhere very much like here, tomorrow. At best this is likely a recon mission, and Will still feels the ants crawling under his skin, demanding that he move, go to her.

Frederick bobs his head, manic energy coming off of him in waves. “Just get us out of here, please.”

***

Unsurprisingly, the house is very nice, and clearly worth a lot of money. Hannibal never settles for less. It’s a very tasteful cage.

Will kicks the door in, contrary to his promise to Hannibal to wait nicely in the car. No doubt he’s already on his way, and Will needs to see Abigail first. At his back, Frederick makes a small sound of alarm, and Will nearly jumps, having forgotten he was there. The car ride had been all but silent, save for Will offering to let him out on the side of the road.

He declined, apparently having decided that being with Will was the safest option. It had surprised him, that trust, the certainty, just like the odd spark of attraction he sometimes saw in him, the urge to reach out. He asked Will to get a drink, once, a thousand years ago or last month, he isn’t sure anymore, and Will accepted.

The difference between now and then is vast, a chasm opened up. Maybe it’s always been there. The potential spark is gone, and Will isn’t that man. Maybe he could have been, before. Before Hannibal touched him and sent him spinning in another direction, the one that came the most naturally to him, all this time, but not now.

Frederick looks at him, wide eyed and normal, and Will looks away, heading into the house. Again, tasteful. Even Will likes it. Nothing overly gaudy or gothic. No suits of armor and bird skulls here. A blending of Hannibal’s style and his own? It’s possible. It’s not much of a prison, but it still is. Wherever she is, she’s clearly not allowed to leave. He can feel it in the air. Will heads deeper into the house. He doesn’t get very far.

“Will!” The fear in Frederick’s voice tells him everything he needs to know.

Will turns, not pulling his gun. “Go hide in the bathroom.”

Predictably, Frederick does it without question.

The look Hannibal gives to the broken down door would be funny under different circumstances, but all Will can focus on is where he wants to be. Hannibal steps inside, stripping off his gloves. “This was unnecessary.”

“Probably,” Will says, turning his body to follow Hannibal as he makes his way into the house. No putting his back to him this time. Not today.

Hannibal goes to the window. “I don’t suppose you had time to pack anything.”

“No.”

“Unfortunate.”

“I’ll live.”

Hannibal turns back around to face him, his gaze moving over Will like a physical touch. He shivers, not caring that Hannibal can see it. The charge between them is stronger than ever, a live wire. Hannibal smiles, and for a moment Will is thrown back into his previous self, wondering how Hannibal did this, how he trapped Will in this prison after letting him out of the last one, but then it passes. Hannibal doesn’t know, he never has. If he did, Will would know.

Will sighs. “I do love you, I never said so before.”

Hannibal inclines his head as though that had actually had a conversation to that effect that he can remember, though of course that had been two days ago. Today, layered over and over again. “But you love her more.”

“Is that how it’s always going to be?” Will asks, his thoughts a swirl of old resentment and desire. “I love her differently. Maybe more, I can’t describe it right now.”

“We have time.”

Will can’t help but laugh. “You have no idea.”

Hannibal sends him a dry look, and takes a step closer. “Perhaps less than before. You took a very rash action today. That will make things difficult for us.”

“Worth it.”

“Perhaps.” Another step. “Did you mean what you said this morning?”

This morning. One out of so many. Will blinks. “I said I was ready.”

“Yes. Did you mean it?”

Will breathes and thinks about it. Considers the possibilities they no longer have. If this were real, and the day was only that, just a simple, single day, would he leave with Hannibal? Leave everything but their connection and Abigail behind? Fly away?

“Yes. I wish it was possible. I want it.”

Something flickers over Hannibal’s face. “It is possible. The FBI does not know this place. We can easily get away.”

“Not permanently,” Will says, already tired of this, of all of it. The pointlessness of the double conversation. He’ll never understand. Will reaches back, pulls his gun. “Are you going to stop me from going to her right now?”

Hannibal searches his face for a long moment, a held breath. “No,” he lies.

Will shoots him.

***

The morning light shines on his face, like it always does. He can hear the dogs. It’s six am, on January twelfth. He leaves his eyes closed, reliving the previous one. He’s happy.

When Hannibal hit the floor, Will turned away, making for the bedrooms. Behind him, he heard shouting, scrambling, talking. Frederick, probably calling the police. It hadn’t mattered.

Abigail was in the back bedroom. Will got the door open on the first try. Not locked. No bars on the window. These things, these factors and realities, pieces of the puzzles, existed, but they didn’t matter.

She came to him. He held her in his arms. The police arrived and made noise and took Hannibal away. Jack was there, yelling. Frederick was there, sticking close to Will’s side as he sat with Abigail, his hand in hers. She was quiet. She held on just as tight, and they waited as the world moved around them. They went home.

The crime Will confessed to didn’t happen, clearly, and no one seemed to know what to do with them, not yet. Abigail had never been formally accused of anything, let alone charged. Jack took one look at Will, and they brought them back. Abigail fell asleep on the couch, and Will carried her upstairs to the guest room, put her to bed. Frederick was there, in the background. Will sat down, the world sliding into a haze of shape and color.

Now, it’s morning again and Will swings his feet over the side of the bed and sits up, content in knowing what to do. Take the dogs out, call Hannibal, write an email, get to Abigail. He has to save her. He looked at her in that little room and knew that he’ll be saving her everyday for the rest of time. He’ll come for again. Always. He accepts it. He’ll take care of her forever. He can’t afford to go crazy, because he can’t allow her to suffer.

He’s going to do this everyday, forever.

He’s just finished with the first point on the list when he hears a noise that shouldn’t be there. Before he can ever turn the feeling into a thought, Frederick is thumping down the stairs, asking about shower settings, and Will just stares.

“Will?” Frederick is very close to him. Close to his face. Here. “Right. I was saying, I understand that you wanted her to have the bed upstairs, but my injuries, that is, as long as we’re here-”

Will can’t hear the rest over the rushing in his ears. Her. Abigail is in the upstairs guest room. Frederick is with him, Abigail is alive and in his house, which means Hannibal is in prison. Today.

He doesn’t check his phone, doesn’t ask. He doesn't need to. All he needs to do is get upstairs and see, see her again.

The door is closed. Sleeping. Will presses his hand against it, then turns around and slides to the floor, like a guard dog, resting against it.

The wood behind his back is solid, holding him up. January thirteenth. It’s going to be complicated. He shot Hannibal Lecter, harbored Frederick, technically, not to mention the fact that the last time they actually talked she admitted to helping her father kill those girls, but Will is prepared for it. He’s ready to move forward.

The solidity behind him is abruptly ripped away, casting him backwards, and for a long moment his has no idea what has happened. Everything about this day is utterly new, incomprehensible. Then he sees her, standing there. The door is open.

Abigail’s hands land on his shoulder, pulling him back up. “It’s real, it’s real I can’t believe it!”

Will holds onto to her elbows and shakes. “You been living it too. All this time, I’m so sorry.”

She looks down at him, all open eyes and age, calming at once. “Hannibal told me about your theory, he thought you were crazy. So I knew it was real, I knew I wasn’t alone.”

Will laughs. “I am crazy.”

“Me too then,” she says and sinks down to the floor with him. Will hooks his arms around her, not ready by a long shot to let go. “I can’t believe you went through it by yourself. I always knew you were coming.”

“Yeah.” Will holds her tighter. “Yeah, I was.”

***

Will gets out of the car and then stops, hands still braced on the door, looking up at the building. The air around it shimmers and bends, setting off a lurching vertigo in his head, spreading down to his stomach, his hands. He closes the door and starts up the path.

The Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane is the same as it ever was, like a place out of time. Starkly beautiful, if a bit overdone. Permeating with fear and disgust. If whatever had happened to him had hit while he was still inside, he might never have noticed it at all. The guard nods to him, board, as he passes by the front desk.

“Will!” Frederick calls out before he’s all the way through the door. Will stifles his wince at the unbridled enthusiasm.

“Hello, Frederick,” he says, avoiding eye contact. Being the hero figure to Frederick Chilton isn’t exactly high on his list for any day, let alone this one.

Frederick chuckles as he leads him further inside, like this is a fun joke between friends. “Nervous? I don’t blame you. Let me know if you need anything.”

Will grunts. He needs a reality check is what he needs. He needs to see Hannibal Lecter.

“It’s great that you’re doing this, but you really don’t have to. The FBI will understand.”

He does, and they won’t, but that’s another issue entirely.

“We need that information. The families deserve to know,” Will says, quoting Jack.

Access to Will is the price of that information. It’s a barely disguised courtesy. Will can’t be seen wanting to visit Hannibal, a man who put him in prison and did any number of other terrible things. This way, it looks like he’s being forced. Like the ache in his chest doesn’t exist at all.

“Here we are, I’ll uh, just leave you to it.” Frederick lingers back at the door, not even crossing the threshold. Will sends him a wry smile. Annoying or not, he was his only real human companion for a long time.

“Thanks.”

The door closes behind him, and Will continues on, down the hall. The other cells are empty. It feels like a long treaded path. An inevitability. When he reaches the end, Hannibal is watching. Waiting for him.

Will looks back. He’s better, recovering nicely from the injury Will gave him without thinking. Would he have done any differently if he knew it wouldn’t just be gone the next day?

“Hello, Will.”

“Hannibal.”

He looks the same. Hauntingly so. Will would know him with his eyes closed.

Hannibal folds his hands behind his back, the picture of ease. “Abigail told me an interesting story when she visited.”

Abigail is at a FBI monitored adult care facility until they can figure out what to do with her. Alana Bloom is her near constant companion, managing and watching her every move. Will visits, and all the staff think he’s a predator, that he’s in love with her. Abigail makes fun of them behind their backs, steals their snacks, and picks at the scar around her ear. She’ll be fine.

“I wasn’t aware she was allowed to come.”

Hannibal tilts his head. “A fishing expedition, I expect.”

Will mimics him. “Fruitless?”

“Not entirely.”

“I could tell some interesting stories of my own.”

“As could I.”

Will freezes, right down to his core. “What do you mean?”

Hannibal smiles, just a little, and looks away. “Perhaps I will tell you, one day.”

Catch and release. Will shifts his weight. “Well, we have the time.”

At that, Hannibal looks back at him, and it catches, building between them. They have something, bleeding through time and whatever glitch took Will. Better than love, stronger than hate. An understanding.

Will nods. Now that he has a future, the only one he can see is with Hannibal. “Next time?”

“I look forward to it.”

“Another day, then.”

Hannibal smirks. “Another day.”