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Weak with the Dawn

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Will didn't think about the date until he was already at Hannibal's office with Hannibal opening the door to welcome him inside. "Sorry. I should have asked if you had plans. We could've skipped this one."

Hannibal gave him an amused look. "There is not a great deal of trick-or-treating in my neighborhood. Nor, I imagine, in yours."

"I never get anyone out there. I don't even buy candy anymore." Will paused. "I can't really imagine you handing out fun size Snickers anyway."

"And homemade candies are frowned upon, despite the sort of things they regularly put into store bought."

Will sat down and leaned back in the chair. "What would you make? Popcorn balls? Some people used to hand those out when I was a kid."

"Candy apples, perhaps. They are traditional and visually appealing."

"They look like someone dipped them blood."

"Seasonally appropriate," Hannibal suggested.

"They look like poison too. Like Snow White. That red gloss. Too perfect to be real."

"Also appropriate for the one day in a year that monsters are welcomed among us. Many monsters show only their outward beauty until it is too late for their victims to escape."

"Plenty of people do that too. You don't have to look far for monsters." Will's phone rang, and he closed his eyes briefly. It had to be Jack.

"You ought to turn it off when we're in session," Hannibal said mildly.

"I know. I usually remember." But he hadn't and so he answered.

"Got something for you to look at," Jack said. "It's a weird one."

"It's Halloween, Jack."

"Sorry, were you busy bobbing for apples?"

Will sighed to himself and took down the address. He put his phone away. "I have to go," he said to Hannibal.

"Of course."

They both stood, and Hannibal walked Will to the door. Will stopped there, hand on the doorframe, one foot over the threshold.

"Unless you want to come along," he said. It felt like asking someone out on a date, except that he knew Hannibal wouldn't say no. "The crime scene's in a haunted house. Seasonally appropriate, right?"

Hannibal smiled. "I'd be happy to accompany you."

*

The haunted house stood in an empty field down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It was a squat concrete box with a gravel parking lot and no windows. The massive steel door looked like the kind you'd find on a bank vault.

"It's one of those extreme scare places," Zeller said. "You have to sign a waiver and get a medical exam before they lock you in."

The staff stood out front, huddled together and dressed in a motley collection of rags, fake chains, blood spatters, and their own coats.

"Is that everyone?" Will said. "What happened to the customers?"

"Inside," Price said. He drew a solemn line across his throat.

Will raised his eyebrows. "All of them?"

"All of them," Beverly said. "And we're short one professional spook." She showed him a photo. "Thomas Crane, college sophomore, ROTC, straight A student. One of the kids over there emailed me this, but no one thinks he did it. They all think he's dead."

"But you do believe it was him," Hannibal said.

Beverly glanced at Will, who made the necessary introductions. He was just finished when Jack strode out of the building and headed toward them.

"The back door's sealed up tight and has been all night as far as I can tell," Jack said. "Either he came out this way or he didn't come out at all."

"We haven't found his body," Beverly said to Hannibal. "And everyone else is dead. The kid working the door said no one went in or out since they locked it up."

"Isn't that a fire hazard?" Price said.

"Have you seen the room with the blow torches?" Jack shook his head. "If these people wanted to be scared that badly, I would've given them my job. Come on," he said to Will. "I'll show you what we're looking at."

Will followed him, and Hannibal drifted along silently behind him. Like a ghost. The thought made Will smile. He didn't know many people more solid than Hannibal.

Their first step inside, he could smell it. He glanced back at Hannibal, but of course Hannibal was fine. He'd seen blood. Will shouldn't have brought him if he didn't want him to see more. For a second, he hesitated as he had in Hannibal's doorway.

Hannibal touched him between his shoulder blades. "You don't need to worry about me," he said softly.

Will nodded and moved forward. They entered the next room together. The walls were red with blood. Will leaned forward and looked at it over the tops of his glasses. "Is this fake?"

"That wall is. The employees tell us that this one over here was blood-free at the start of the night. The bodies start in the next room. It's kind of a maze in here. You want a tour before you start?"

Will shook his head. "I'll be fine."

This time it was Jack who stopped in the doorway. He was looking at Hannibal, but Hannibal stayed where he was, attached to Will's side, hands clasped behind his back and an expression of alert curiosity on his face.

"We've searched the place," Jack said. "But Crane could still be in here. Or someone else could."

"We'll be careful," Will said.

Jack gave them a nod and left them alone.

"I hated haunted houses when I was a kid," Will said. "Who wants to be scared on purpose?"

"The thrill is found only by those who do not live it as their daily experience." Hannibal glanced at the walls as they passed into the next room. "I have never found blood particularly frightening."

They looked down at the first body. It was a young man in dark jeans and a T-shirt with the Nintendo logo on it. His mouth and eyes gaped wide.

"What do you find frightening?" Will asked. He knelt down by the body for a closer look. The throat had been cut, but there wasn't much blood there. Most of it had soaked into his jeans: severed femoral artery. One hard, precise stab.

"I have no significant phobias," Hannibal said. He paused. "Including the usual sort. Rejection, intimacy, loneliness."

"Are you lonely, or are you just alone?"

"I have been lonely in the past," Hannibal said slowly. "Long ago. I suppose I fear loss. But that fear is not a constant companion."

"Because you don't have anything to lose." Will shook his head as he stood and brushed off his knees. "Sorry."

"Don't be. You are correct, as I think you must know. I didn't have anything of value to lose until quite recently."

They looked at each other in the dark, close room. It smelled primarily of sweat, of the dozens of people who had passed through it in fear and excitement, and only a little of blood.

"Are you sure you want to stay while I do this?" Will said.

"If you don't object."

"I don't." But he did turn away from Hannibal as he closed his eyes.

*

Hannibal stared at the back of Will's skull as if he might see through it into his brain. Will stood quite still. He said nothing. For a minute or two, he didn't move at all, and then he only raised his right hand and pointed forward into the dark. Hannibal wanted to touch him.

From the next room came a long, tortured creak of metal. Will's hand fell, and his eyes flew open. "Did you hear that?"

"I heard it."

Will drew his gun. "Stay here."

"They have searched the building and found nothing. That suggests the possibility of hidden rooms or passages. Will I be safer here than with you?"

Will looked at him, mouth tight, and then nodded. "Come on."

They stepped forward together. As they crossed the threshold, the lights went out. Will clicked on a flashlight and passed it to Hannibal. The beam showed them nothing but an empty concrete room. Bloodstains on the floor suggested that a body had been dragged across it. They ended at what seemed to be a solid wall.

"Thomas Crane?" Will called. He paused. Hannibal watched his eyes sink half closed. "Your friends don't blame you for this," he said. "No one thinks you did it."

Another shriek of metal came out of the dark. Hannibal turned his head from side to side, but he could not fix the source. Will gestured him forward. They moved on to the next room, further away from the outside and from help and safety. As they did, step by step, Will stood straighter. He looked down at the body in the next room, this one a young woman, also college age, in black jeans and a black sweater with a small white pumpkin in the center. Her eyes were closed. The fatal wound in her case had been a knife to the heart. The pumpkin was stained with her blood.

Hannibal scented the air, but it was thick with blood and fear, and Will's own tension wasn't helping. He stepped forward, trying to get clear of that at least, and Will caught his arm. "Behind me," he said. It wasn't a request.

Hannibal fell back with a stab of excitement to his own heart. He would stay back. He would let Will hunt.

"They don't think you could've done it," Will said into the dark. He looked around, searching the walls as Hannibal had for any seam or crack.

Hannibal spotted something on the ceiling, a line of light, there and quickly gone again. He said nothing.

"If you want them to know, you'll have to tell them," Will said quietly.

Crane came out of the ceiling. Will got one shot off before Crane knocked the gun from his hand and shoved him against the wall. Will went down hard. Crane leapt for Hannibal.

Hannibal let the flashlight drop. He had half a second to decide: fight or not? But Will was already staggering to his feet, and so Hannibal let Crane's blow connect. It hit his mouth and bloodied it. The second landed against his ribs. The third never came.

Will hauled Crane off him in absolute silence. He threw him against the floor, drew back a fist, and slammed it into his face. And then into Crane's ribs. The next fell on Crane's stomach. Hannibal could just see Will's face from where he lay on his side on the floor. Will's teeth were bared. Crane grunted after every blow. Will never made a sound.

Hannibal took a moment to imagine Will sliding a knife into Crane's chest. Or his hands around Crane's throat. Someday. Not now.

"Will. It's enough."

Will turned toward him, blood between his teeth. He took a sharp breath. "Are you okay?"

"I am. And you?"

"Fine. Fine." He looked down at Crane, unconscious and pinned down by the weight of Will's body. Will sat back on his heels. "We need to get Jack. And probably the paramedics."

"I'll go."

"No, not alone. Call. Do you have your phone?"

Hannibal did. He dialed Jack's number and then savored the last few moments he and Will had here together in the dark with their prey.

Will wiped blood from the corner of Hannibal's mouth with his thumb. Hannibal leaned into the touch, and Will didn't pull away until they heard footsteps.

Agent Katz came in first with her weapon drawn, Jack just behind her. "Are you all right?" Jack said.

"I'm fine," Hannibal said. "Nothing worse than a split lip."

"Z, take a look at him," Jack said.

Agent Katz rolled Crane onto his side and cuffed his hands behind him. Will left him and shifted closer to Hannibal as Agent Zeller did the same.

Zeller bent over him and peered at his lip. "Did he get you anywhere else?"

"His ribs," Will said. An ambulance siren wailed in the distance. "Do you want to wait for the paramedics?"

"Hey," Zeller said. "I do have a medical degree."

"All your patients are dead."

Hannibal pulled up his shirt to bare the bruising on his ribs, which cut the argument short. Zeller felt for broken bones with reasonable competence if not the lightest touch. Will just stared.

"You could get it X-rayed, but you're probably fine," Zeller said, which was Hannibal's opinion as well.

"Probably?" Will said.

Hannibal held out a hand to him. Will took it automatically, though he looked startled as he pulled Hannibal to his feet. "I believe I'd like some air," Hannibal said.

"Sure. You don't need us, right, Jack?"

Jack waved them off. Will walked close by Hannibal's side, hand hovering at his back but not quite making contact. "I shouldn't have brought you," Will said. "Not into the house when we knew someone was in there."

"You wanted to," Hannibal said. "You wanted me with you while you walked in Crane's footsteps."

"That's no excuse."

"I wanted to be there."

They paused in the first bloodstained room. Will looked at him, and Hannibal found himself looking down, unable to meet his eyes for more than a bare second. He kept seeing Will's face set in implacable anger as he threw Crane to the floor. He had not expected to find it so affecting. He never expected to find Will as affecting as he did.

"I didn't want you to get hurt," Will said. He touched Hannibal's lip again, the hot center of it, where it had split against his teeth. Outside, the ambulance wailed to a stop. Will shook himself. His hand dropped. "Are you sure you don't want them to check you out?"

"I'd prefer to go home. If you would drive me?"

"Yeah, of course."

When they got out, the paramedics saw the blood on Hannibal's face and came toward them. Will headed them off. "Not him. Inside," he said.

"They'll need a guide," Hannibal said. "I can wait for you in the car." He was fairly sure he knew what Will's response to that would be, and he watched his face set in stubborn lines with pleasure and a faint, unaccustomed warmth in his chest.

"They'll be fine on their own," Will said.

Given the maze of rooms and the corpses, Hannibal wasn't sure they would be, but Jack and Agent Katz emerged from the building at that moment with Crane stumbling between them.

One of Crane's coworkers stepped forward. "Hey, you can't just arrest him because he's the only one left. He couldn't have--"

Crane lunged at him, and Agent Katz jerked him back just in time. "None of you saw me!" Crane said. "None of you ever saw me!" He twisted against the cuffs, teeth bared as Will's had been.

"They see you now," Will said. He had moved to stand between Crane and Hannibal, hands in his pockets, voice calm.

Crane went still as he spoke. "They know."

"They know. You told them."

"I told them," Crane said. "I told them."

His coworkers cowered away from him against the side of the building. Crane was passive as the paramedics approached warily to check him out.

Hannibal handed over the keys to the Bentley, and Will opened the passenger's side door for him. He got in and looked up at Will. "Do you mind taking me to my house? You can leave the car at my office and I'll get a taxi in the morning."

"I'll leave you the car and call a cab from your place."

When Will pulled out onto the road a minute later, he kept his eyes fixed straight ahead. The twist of his mouth suggested he had something else on his mind. "You were right. I did want you there."

"There's nothing wrong with that."

"There is. There would've been even without Crane running around loose. I've done this job so long that I forget normal people don't look at dead bodies every day."

"I have seen dead people before, Will. I've watched a number of them die."

"It's not really the same."

"I'm glad you brought me along."

The road was a gray streak ahead of them. The fields on either side steamed with mist. A bone white moon drifted up over the horizon.

"Will you pull over for a moment?" Hannibal asked.

They coasted to a stop by the side of the road. Will glanced at him. "Something wrong?"

"No. I only wanted to watch the moon rise."

"Full moon. Haunted house. Blood on the walls. Hell of a Halloween."

"Would you think me odd if I said I enjoyed it?"

Will smiled, just a twitch of his mouth at first and then wider until his teeth were showing white in the moonlight. He breathed out a laugh. "I think you're pretty odd anyway."

"I feel I should take that as a compliment."

Will turned to face him. Hannibal could see little of his face but the shine of his eyes and the pale light on his neck at the open collar of his shirt. He touched the split in Hannibal's lip again, and Hannibal leaned into it hard enough that fresh blood welled up. Will slid his thumb down to his chin and kissed him.

"I taste like blood," Hannibal said against his mouth.

"I know," Will said. He sounded desperate and he pressed their mouths together again. He licked across Hannibal's lip and into his mouth. "Was that a bad idea?"

Hannibal slid a hand around the back of his neck to keep him close. "Come home with me. Stay with me tonight."

Will nodded and kissed him once more, soft and slow, a hand curved against his cheek. He closed his teeth over Hannibal's lower lip and then pulled back quickly. He reached for the key. Hannibal touched his wrist.

"Not yet. After the moon is up."

They sat quietly in the dark. After a minute or two of watching the moon float up over the black silhouette of the trees, Will laid his hand over Hannibal's. Hannibal turned his and laced their fingers together. Will's hand was warm, a little rough on the palm. He swept his thumb back and forth over the inside of Hannibal's wrist.

Hannibal closed his eyes and imprinted the feel of it in his memory. He wondered how the full moon would find them a year from now. Will might be in prison. Or dead. A premonition of loss gripped him, and he squeezed Will's hand tight.

"You okay?" Will asked.

"I don't often think about the future."

"But you are now?"

"Yes. I am now."

Will said nothing, but he kept a hard grip on Hannibal's hand, even when he pulled back onto the road to start the long drive home.