I. Will I
Life—for Professor William Graham—was a constant stream of differing neuroses.
He had given up on therapy. He had certainly given up on Alana Bloom (and he couldn’t imagine inviting someone into his life as a girlfriend if it wasn’t Alana Bloom herself). He had nearly given up on anything worthwhile and tasty turning up in his life.
Jack Crawford was not an answer to any of the above three items of “never gonna happen, Will Graham.” However, he certainly facilitated at least two of them – however unknowingly.
Jack Crawford was brash, brazen, and for him the ends always justified the means.
Will Graham was under no delusions that he was just such a means to Jack Crawford’s current endgame. It didn’t mean he had to like it (and he certainly didn’t). It didn’t mean that his sense of self-worth was so low, that he would let Crawford drag him into first “borrowing his imagination” and then even set about an impromptu meeting with a man who seemed to be a psychiatrist (he just chose to pick his battles).
Will was no longer offended when people asked him where he placed on the Spectrum. Others—people not able to empathize to the same degree he did—liked to put people in boxes. A list of questions, perhaps, with checkmarks to be placed beside “all that apply.”
Autism – a check, though inaccurate.
Asperger’s – another hesitant check, though also inaccurate.
Narcissism – crossed off completely.
Sociopath – this gained more consideration, more careful thought (as though empathy and sociopathy were not traditionally atypical of one another), but it (too) was ultimately crossed off.
Psychopath – no one asked. They were too afraid—even, on this particularly trying Wednesday afternoon, the inestimable Agent Jack Crawford.
Will Graham (and at this moment Will could concede that his inner monologue had taken the form of a somewhat dry and stiff scientific and sociological essay to better suit the lab techs he could see out of his peripheral vision) did not care to be sociable. For all that he studied human behavior, could empathize with even the greatest outliers of society, Will Graham did not care to join it.
To be able to understand, sympathize, and better yet empathize so completely that he could assume the viewpoint of another separate individual, did not make him remotely talented at employing these moods, these emotions, these behavioral characteristics in social situations. He chose not to “put on” and “take off” people as if they were new outfits. He liked the way he was – even if he had poor grooming habits, too many dogs, and a penchant for wearing flannel shirts to work.
Tonight, however, he was required to be sociable.
Another girl had been taken. Same height (roughly 5 foot 4 inches, give or take an inch or a half either way). Same weight (130 pounds, small breasts). Same hair (a deep auburn that appeared a dark brown except when sunlight directly hit it). Same eyes (blue, of various shades). Same age (18 to 20 or thereabouts). All college students, but all from different campuses. All virgins (or suspected to be) – at least until they were taken. A wind-chafed looked that was typical of Midwestern states but not exclusive to it. Pretty but plain—an underestimated look in Will Graham’s opinion.
The parents were too wrapped up in the thought that their daughter was missing to realize that she had fed the cat. This, in Will Graham’s estimation, could either be a mistake or an indicator of where he took them (the kidnapper was obviously male, white, forties to fifties, blue collar job, and searching desperately for his golden ticket).
Mr. Nichols offered to show him to Elise’s room, but Will brushed him off, just asking directions. He didn’t need parents crying any more than they had been already. Their grief was oppressive and he was not here in Minnesota to empathize with the parents of an abducted girl.
To do so would be counterproductive. He needed his full emotional spectrum focused on whoever took Elise Nichols, not those who were left behind. Jack would get his justice for Elise only if Will stayed focused. Will would get … socialization … with a criminal’s mind, if nothing else.
Although Will could still hear the murmurs of conversation from below, he stepped into the upstairs hallway and noted that the Nichols family were upper middle class and either kept a very tidy and orderly house (with the monochromatic white walls and stain free carpet) or had cleaned just before they went on vacation over the weekend.
The cat was – feline, full of fluff, well-kept fur, and well-cared for. He had obviously eaten recently (since the Nichols returned) but was pawing at the bedroom door that Will suddenly knew had once belonged to Elise Nichols. Cats, Will was aware, were disinterested creatures, but this one obviously knew that something or someone was behind the door.
Will suddenly wished he had permitted Mr. Nichols to accompany him, at least to pick up the damn cat.
Instead, he was forced to text Jack Crawford of all things and ask him to come upstairs.
What he saw when he opened the door after the cat has been shooed downstairs was obviously an active crime scene. Elise Nichols lay still and cold in death, tucked into bed, her hair brushed out.
No DNA evidence would be found, Will knew. The abductor loved these girls, but there was something not quite right.
The answer came with forensics only a few hours later, thanks to one Beverley Katz. According to Elise’s calendar, her monthly period wasn’t set to begin for another eight days. She, however, was wearing a tampon stained with fresh menstrual blood.
The DNA of the blood—when it came—was inconclusive. Menstrual, certainly, but not Elise’s and not a blood relative’s. Someone else’s. The tampon was still relatively fresh when it was removed from her corpse and had most likely been from a living source.
“It’s the golden ticket,” Will told Crawford late into the night, rubbing his tired hand over his drooping eyes.
“Elise?” Crawford asked excitedly. “It’s why he put her back. She was what he wanted all along—”
“No,” Will cut off quickly, not making eye contact. “No, not Elise. The blood is the golden ticket. No, with Elise, something was wrong with the meat.”
He hadn’t quite been certain when he said it, he’d been turning the idea around for a good three or four hours ever since Price (was it Price?) told him that the liver had been sewn back in place and that Elise had undiagnosed liver cancer at her young age. But it fit, almost perfectly. What he didn’t understand was why would the abductor place a fresh but stained tampon inside her body—as if Elise needed it.
“Then what?” Jack asked a little harshly, clearly tired and not afraid to cut to the chase now that he had Will as a dubious consultant.
“The blood—the tampon,” Will told him, swallowing as he thought about it. “That’s your golden ticket.”
“What does it mean?” Crawford asked, clearly confused.
“It’s—” Will pushed for words, searching for a thought. “She was still a virgin.”
“But it’s sexual.”
“What? You mean he can’t get it up?”
Images flashed behind Will’s eyes when he closed them in frustration, and he breathed in through his nose. “I need to sleep on it,” he decided suddenly, not from any true need to sleep in order to see, but because he wanted to go home to his dogs.
Something about his posture, however, his complete resignation—or perhaps Crawford being at the end of his own emotional tether—allowed an opening in conversation that gave Will Graham a chance to leave.
He took full advantage of it.
A little-known fact about Will Graham (and most of his life wasn’t well known as he had no actual friends even though he was now over forty) was that he adopted strays. And tonight—it so happened—was not a night he was adopting a dog.
It was also a little-known fact that Will Graham did not steal lost dogs who already had loving (or at least competent) owners.
As he was driving along the dark streets toward his home in Wolf Trap, Virginia, there was a flash of white out by the trees to his lift. He slowed the car, careful not to appear too obvious, and was rewarded by the white bundle of curls yipping and tripping out toward the road.
“Hey, you,” Will greeted, sticking his hand out of his rolled down car window and clicking with his tongue.
The little dog, certainly a bichon frise, hesitantly came up to him. When Will stopped the car completely, the small dog set her two front paws again the door and reached up, sniffing at his hand.
“Hi,” Will said again, ruffling his hand through her recently shampooed fur, thinking she was absolutely adorable for such a tiny little thing. “You obviously belong to someone.” Problem was, they were a good three miles from the nearest farmhouse—and this was not a farm dog. This dog was meant as a pet, possibly for a child or someone’s (most likely much younger) wife.
Bichon frises were happy dogs with good temperaments and good with children. And this little princess, based on the indentation of her fur, had recently worn a collar. After petting her another long minute and cooing to her while still reaching out of his car, Will realized that her collar had been taken off. Deliberately.
That meant one of two things in Will’s estimation: (1) the toy dog had been abandoned and had her collar removed so someone wouldn’t give her back, or (2) the little bundle of white fluff had been taken and let loose by someone other than the owner.
Well, Will decided, as he coaxed the dog into letting him open the door (and wasn’t she so sweet that she sat down and waited for him to get out, her little tail wagging?) the recent shampoo meant the dog wasn’t abandoned. She was loved, well fed, her eyes were clear, and her nails (upon closer inspection) were perfectly manicured.
Someone had taken the dog and then abandoned her—probably because she was yappy (which she didn’t appear to be) or for revenge on the owner. The idea that she would be ransomed (and she was pretty enough to be ransomed if the owner was wealthy) wasn’t likely since she was wandering the roads of rural Virginia at night.
After just a moment, Will picked her up and began scratching behind her ears, getting puppy kisses in return.
“Oh, you’re such a happy, happy girl,” he complimented as he carried her into the car and set her down on the passenger seat.
He took a moment to situate himself, closing the door and putting on his seatbelt, and turned to the little dog. She was waiting for him patiently, looking between him and the front window. Whoever owned her had certainly trained her.
“Well, princess,” Will teased as he got back on the road, “I know a very nice vet who can see if you have a chip. Otherwise, I know a great printer that would love to run off pictures of your pretty mug.” He smiled at the small dog at just the corner of his mouth, and glanced over at her, seeing her calmly sitting up on the seat beside him as if she hadn’t a care in the world.
It took some coaxing to get her up to the house, the sound of the pack obviously surprising her (definite pet for a child or some vapid female), but he got her in eventually. She was certainly nervous and, although Will would deny it later, he did let her sleep on his pillow after finding her there on four separate occasions in the middle of the night.
Will found her soft doggy-breaths comforting, almost as if she was chasing away his darker nightmares. He woke up in a sweat sometime after 3 AM and almost saw the shade of Elise Nichols lying—dead and bloody and in her nightdress—beside him, her head resting on the pillow. Her unseeing blue eyes looked into his eyes for the longest of shivered moments, begging him to see, see, see what no one else would… only to be dispersed with white fluffy ears shaking as his latest fluff ball got more comfortable on the pillow.
When Will stripped off his sweat covered clothes and placed a towel on the bed so he wouldn’t have to sleep on damp sheets, the little dog didn’t shy away, but curled into his chest, warming him not just in the flesh but in his soul, as well.
Whoever she belonged to, she was not only loved, he could tell, but this furball was a guardian and a comforter in someone else’s darkness.
The next morning, she snuggled close to Will and licked his nose when he woke up covered in sweat (again) and by the time he was making a large pot of joe the next morning, “Princess” (as he called her) had wormed her way into his fractured heart.
Still, Will was waiting when the vet opened at 6:30 AM, a flirtatious smile on her face and he told her the story of “Princess.”
“So you want to find her owner?” Dr. Peggy asked with only slight amusement.
“I can tell she’s devoted—and she wasn’t abandoned.” He didn’t make eye contact with Dr. Peggy, he never did, but she didn’t question him. They both knew that they would never be more than dog-man (if that was the equivalent of “cat lady”) and veterinarian. He was good natured and shy and would never try anything unlike her uncle who crept into her bed when she was a child, and she would never expect him to give her as much consideration as a stray dog. It was the perfect relationship – at least for him.
“Well, then,” Dr. Peggy took her in back and came back with a registration number and a post-it with information. “Shall I do the honors or would you like to see her back to where she belongs?”
Will considered for a long moment, but then at the sweet puppy face Princess was giving him, decided that he couldn’t leave her here, even with Dr. Peggy. She wouldn’t be appreciated, even if she were only here for a couple of hours. “I found her, Doctor, I’ll get her home.” He took the post-it without looking (it had hearts drawn in the corner after a name and phone number) and left with Princess under his arm.
Only after he had them settled back in his car, did Will look at the post-it. “Dr. Hannibal Lecter.” Well, a pretentious vet with a pretentious dog with a pretentious name. Seemed to figure.
He tried not to be sorry to see Princess go. She had a good home, that was certain, and she was lucky she was chipped because now she got to go back to her home.
With that he drove out to Quantico, mentally reminding himself to call Dr. Lecter before his morning lecture.
He called before his first class and was surprised when the nice secretary on the other end of the line put him directly through—and an appointment was made later that day after his last class and between Dr. Lecter’s patients (Will still wasn’t sure if they were of the animal variety or not, but he supposed it didn’t really matter). And, well, Princess gave him an excuse to be even less sociable than usual, keeping the door shut to his office to make sure someone didn’t take her.
Of course, that didn’t stop Crawford from finding Will in the men’s room, head immersed in water-filled sink and blood of his imaginings pooling around his mind.
“Do you respect my judgment?” Interesting question, in Will’s mind. He respected Crawford’s drive, but that was about it… and a person’s drive could be potentially harmful even to everyone affected by it.
“What kind of crazy am I dealing with?”
That caused Will to pause, his back to the mirror closest to him, his hands behind him and holding onto the sink rim for dear life as if he hadn’t been half-waterboarding himself just a few minutes earlier.
“Crazy is the wrong word.” Will hadn’t even realized he had spoken it, his own voice distorted in the echo chamber of the one of Quantico’s many restrooms, but he saw the reaction on Crawford’s face almost immediately.
His face contorted for the slightest of moments before disbelief colored his features. “You think he’s sane?”
“Sane,” Will chewed the word out, “no.” No, that wasn’t quite right, was it. “But he’s not crazy.”
“This psychopath—” Crawford began to explain to him both in anger and as if he were lecturing an idiot – “kidnapped a girl, tucked her into bed, and sometime in between gently put a used tampon between her legs.”
Not the best imagery, Will knew, but Crawford wasn’t exactly wrong with that.
“I call that crazy,” Crawford concluded as if it were obvious and with obvious triumph, causing Will’s gaze to skid away down the row of sinks.
“Not crazy,” Will repeated again. “He loves these girls—or he loves one of them.”
“No bruising, no sexual fluids, no saliva.” Crawford ticked them off on his fingers. “How does putting a tampon in Elise Nichols remotely equate to love?”
“He’s not loving them that way,” Will prodded back, not quite fighting, but still rather assertive for him. “He doesn’t love them—sexually.”
“Except for the tampon.”
“The tampon,” Will pointed out, “is his mistake.” This should have been obvious. “It’s not Elise Nichol’s blood. It’s a message. It’s—” his mind pulled through “an S.O.S.”
This confused Crawford even more.
“He’s left a marker. He knew Elise would be found. He placed her into bed lovingly—like an apology.”
“Apology for what?” Crawford asked, a grain of hope in his stern voice.
“Find who the blood belongs to and perhaps we’ll find out,” Will concluded. “It’s a message, but we don’t have all the pieces. He gave so much away, Jack, so much,” Will emphasized. “It’s almost like he wants to get caught. He wants this to end.”
“He could stop taking these girls.”
“Not until he has the golden ticket,” Will told him darkly, “and we just have to find her before he does—” or perhaps take her away from him so that the man taking these girls knew he didn’t have to keep searching because she was forever out of his reach.
Or he was forever outside the realm of the golden ticket’s influence.
It was a small thought, quiet, less than the words that formed it, but it stuck in Will’s mind. He didn’t voice it though. He knew there was so much he didn’t understand. Something was not quite there.
He ran a hand, wet from the water that had sloshed onto the rim of the sink, over his face. “I’ve got to go see a man about a dog,” he stated gruffly and, fortunately, Crawford let him go, his eyes honed and following Will’s every anxiety driven mood.
The drop—as it were—was at Georgetown University, which seemed to be the most convenient meeting place.
Will had done a quick google search on Dr. Hannibal Lecter to try to get a visual. Along with a rather attractive photograph, Will learnt that he was based in Baltimore and a psychiatrist of all things. He was, however, willing to meet him before rush hour on a Tuesday to get back the dog he called – Gabby something. Will wasn’t entirely sure as it was a bit garbled over the phone.
He sat in the quad, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t see Dr. Alana Bloom who would probably question him on his good works and dog whispering skills. Her brow would show puzzlement with a slightly condescending look in her eye. She called it “professional courtesy of a colleague and friend.” Will called it self-interest mixed with obvious denial.
Anyway, Will didn’t want more than one person witnessing his wayward attachment to a little purebred bundle of white fluff after less than 24 hours. Some fancy psychiatrist was enough.
Settling on a bench with “Princess”—he couldn’t be certain what name the man on the other end of the phone had said, it certainly wasn’t an English name—Will people watched.
He didn’t need Princess sitting at attention beside him, little tail wagging, to know that the stately man holding the hand of a five-year-old girl in a pink coat was who they were waiting for.
The little girl squealed and, after politely looking at the man who must be Dr. Hannibal Lecter, took off the last couple of steps and nearly collided with “Princess” who had pranced over to meet her, Will carrying along as he held the spare leash loosely between this thumb and middle finger.
“Gabija! Gabija!” the girl lisped as she buried her face in the dog’s fur, the little ball of fluff licking her face enthusiastically.
The elegant Dr. Lecter kept his eyes on his daughter watchfully as he approached the small group, a fond look in his eyes, before his gaze flicked up to Will and his expression widened into a true smile. “You must be Will Graham, I believe you said.”
Although Will had spoken to Dr. Lecter for a few minutes on the phone, the weight of his gaze was reassuring and his accent like something out of a haunted fairy story Will had grown up with in the Bayou… dark, luscious, decadent, and undeniably attractive. Will accepted the proffered hand and hesitantly made eye contact for the briefest of moments.
“Yes,” he agreed, looking back down at “Princess” and the small girl. “You must be Dr. Lecter.”
“Indeed,” the man agreed, not releasing Will’s hand (and Will didn’t even think to take it back), “but please, call me Hannibal.”
“Hannibal,” Will agreed, saying the name carefully. “You have a good dog. I couldn’t bear to let Dr. Peggy keep her this morning when I brought her in; I’m afraid I got so attached even after a single night. But she clearly had someone waiting for her.”
“How did you find her?” Hannibal asked, eyes sparking.
Will glanced at him, his blue eyes catching for the softest of moments. “She was near the side of the road, taking cover under a large tree, out near Wolf Trap.” He shrugged, looking over at the ornamental trees on the lawn. “Lord knows how she got there.”
“Hmm,” Hannibal agreed, their hands releasing as the little girl stood up with “Princess” (or Gabija, wherever that name came from) in her arms. Hannibal’s fingers ran through the little girl’s blonde hair. “We’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“She was gone,” the girl explained, a slight slip in place from her age. Her eyes were wide and blue. “I woke up on Sunday and she wasn’t there. I thought she fell into a crack!”
Will took her in, trying to understand her logic but failing to, but gave her a small smile nonetheless. “Well,” he decided, looking her in the eyes as best he could. “I’m glad I could get her home again.”
The girl nodded. “I’m Klara,” she told him with a sense of self-importance that was adorable on her. “And this is Gabija.”
“I know,” Will responded with his own smile as he ruffled Gabija’s ears. “And it is a pleasure to meet the both of you.”
“Klara,” Hannibal suggested when Will made to stand after a long moment. “Why don’t you go sit on the bench with Gabija? There are no cracks here on the sidewalk,” he explained with the patience of a father. “We can bring her back to the car in a moment after I thank our dear Will.”
The turn of phrase was odd and sent a pleasant flip to Will’s stomach.
Nodding, Klara placed her dog back on the ground, and Will handed over the leash dutifully. He waited a long moment before turning back to Hannibal without looking directly at him.
“There were no signs that she had run away,” Will told him carefully. “She was clean, well fed, and her collar wasn’t pried off as if she had managed to get free of it without human assistance.”
Hannibal looked at him, eyes deep and red, and then nodded. “She wasn’t anywhere to be found when we came home from Mass on Saturday. I suspected she was taken—but I would hope that anyone who wanted to injure me wouldn’t do it through my daughter’s dog.” He sighed. “Klara is afraid of stepping on cracks and focused on that. I’m hoping she’ll grow out of the fear.” There was a momentary pause when their eyes connected or held. “We are indebted to you for finding Gabija and bringing her back.”
Will flushed, and quickly looked away. “I was a beat cop in New Orleans,” he admitted. “This sort of thing is par for the course, though more noteworthy now I’m here in the DC Metro area.”
Something akin to being please passed over Hannibal’s countenance at the admission and he looked back toward his daughter. He was wonderfully careful with her without being smothering and it was as Will thought – the dog was the guardian of a child. Klara, clearly, was also being taught the idea of responsibility with the pet that clearly belonged to her.
“Does she have a pink collar?” Will couldn’t help but ask, the idea causing him to grin.
“Lavender. We’ll have to get another because it wasn’t found.—I honestly thought Gabija was going to be ransomed when it became clear she was missing and didn’t seem to be coming back. Most unlike her not to always be where I expect her.”
“Perhaps that was the plan,” Will mused, “and she got away.” A household pet of a well-dressed and undoubtedly well-respected psychiatrist wouldn’t be unheard of. Some people were desperate and depraved enough to take a child’s pet. At least they hadn’t taken Klara, but with Hannibal’s ever-present but unobtrusive attention on her, Will was certain the dog would be a much easier target.
“Gabija is clever,” Hannibal agreed. Then, changing course completely, he seemed to come to life when he suggested, “we must have you for dinner to offer our thanks.”
Will was completely flustered at the thought, and managed to stutter, “That isn’t necessary.”
“I insist,” Hannibal persisted. “I hope you’re not a vegetarian.”
“No,” Will agreed after a minute, because he was uncertain what to say. “Not a vegetarian.”
“Then come on Friday. I’ll call you tomorrow to settle the details—but first I must get my daughter home. It’s been an emotional few days and I think some hot chocolate by the fire and her favorite book might be in order.”
“You sound like the model father,” Will complemented, chancing another glance at a happy Klara who was petting the dog with affection.
“Do you have children?” Hannibal inquired as they made their short way over to the bench, Klara standing dutifully, her small child hands grasping the spare leash Will had clipped onto an old collar that was old and stained and even Will had decided to replace for Buster eight months before.
“No,” Will answered, a little regret at the thought that extending his genetics into a child would be irresponsible. “It’s just me—and my dogs.”
“And it is just us,” Hannibal replied, placing a hand comfortingly at the back of Klara’s pink coat, looking down at her with fondness.
Looking up, the child’s expression seemed to mirror her father’s, but there was nothing else that was similar between them. Where Hannibal’s eyes were an unearthly red, muddled in brown, Klara’s were a clear blue. His hair perhaps was blond in the light, but hers was a child’s straw color that might deepen with age. Still, there was a preternatural similarity between father and child that was clearly placed within each of them.
Klara then glanced at Will. “Thank you, for finding Gabija.” She paused, thinking, and then seemed to bend at the knees. Was she curtseying? It was almost too adorable. Although Will was trying not to think about why he found the idea of Hannibal being single a positive aspect of their conversation, which made him anxious, his anxiety when interacting with Klara was slowly beginning to melt away.
On impulse, he bowed at the waist, hands outstretched, in the mock-play of a prince.
Immediately, Klara smiled and clapped her hands together in happiness, leash firmly between her fingers.
Hannibal looked between them, eyes still fond and yet calculating, “Friday, dear Will,” he pressed.
Will could only agree, his mind still tinged with anxious happiness, “Friday.”
Little did he know he would be seeing Dr. Lecter—Hannibal—much sooner than that.
Of course, the idea of social interaction and dinner (oddly attractive, despite the previously noted social interaction) lost much of its appeal the following day when Will was in the labs and realized—“there’s something wrong with the meat.”
When the three lab techs had finally left him alone with the body (Will didn’t bother to catch their names beside Beverly Katz who was both forthright and rude—another person’s choice of words, not his), he stood over Elise Nicholas, covered in the FBI’s apology of nakedness, cleaning fluids, and an unadorned white sheet for modesty Elise no longer had.
“But he wanted to give you modesty,” Will murmured, thinking to himself and placing every thought outline carefully over the image of the dead girl in the hopes that he might tweak his empathy and truly feel what the killer had clearly felt when he had taken Elise, when he had mounted her when he had sewed her back up and when he had placed her back in her childhood bed. Taking a deep breath, the old nursery rhyme came to his head: Sugar, spice, and everything nice. That’s what little girls are made of.
The tampon had been a specialty brand made and sold in boutique shops in Minnesota. All the ingredients were natural and biodegradable.
There were several boxes lined up in evidence—all mint green with the strange name “sugar love yourself”. Someone’s idea of good marketing gone wrong. Self love usually meant something other than tampons. Still, something nagged him.
Leaving the body for a moment, he walked over and picked up a box and stared at the back where several diagrams depicted “sustainability” and – the perfect fit to make you feel satisfied as a woman.
Were these—sex toys masquerading as sustainable tampons?
The idea, perhaps, should have sickened him. Elise Nichols was only a teenager after all and she didn’t use this particular brand according to the inventory of both her childhood bathroom and her dorm room. But this was part of the message. It wasn’t about Elise Nichols, specifically. This was about the golden ticket –and her relationship to the killer.
He took out a tampon, unwrapped it from its brown paper, and noticed that—completely clean—it still looked like pink cotton candy. He had assumed from the tampon found inside Elise Nichols that the blood had somehow stained the entire thing, but not necessarily.
Closing his eyes, he took a sniff, and was surprised when it smelled faintly sweet. He examined it quietly, standing alone in the lab with Elise Nichol’s dead body, staring at the sanitary product before setting it down and picking up the box to try to discern the ingredients.
Of course, all it said was biodegradable. He’d have to tell the lab techs to run samples of whatever this vanity product was.
There was no applicator, his mind registered as he finally returned to Elise Nichols. Honestly, though, it didn’t need one. It was firm enough as it was. Will Graham had little knowledge of such things—his own mother having left when he was only a child and having limited experience with girlfriends, let alone lovers—but he knew that these biodegradable tampons were quite possibly only pretending to be tampons, in the greater scheme of products.
Will Graham didn’t judge, but he didn’t understand in the least, either.
That night if he dreamt, it was of Hannibal lying beside him, dressed in his warm Autumn coat and purple scarf, his eyes solid and alive with curiosity instead of pity hidden in the brown flecks. It was a relief after dreaming Elise Nichols was lying dead in his bed, but he tried not to make too much of it when he realized he hadn’t sweated through his sheets as he had so many nights before.
On his drive into Quantico, he missed a call, and when he arrived he found—of all things—a missed call from Dr. Lecter and then a brief text message (a sign of the newer times that he found more of hindrance than anything).
Confused as to why Hannibal would be in and around Quantico, Virginia around 1 pm and whether Will was available for lunch (“Who brings a lunch basket to Quantico?” Will asked himself) before texting one handed as he hurried toward his office before checking in on the Elise Nichols murder.
“Yes,” Katz told him definitively when she summoned him down there. “These tampons are designed for not only sustainability but for female pleasure. Niche market.”
“Very niche,” one of the other lab techs said. “I’ve never seen the two combined.”
“First time for everything,” Will mused, though he doubted it was the first time. This product seemed rather—advanced—in what it was trying to accomplish. This iteration or company had been doing research at least for a while.
He walked out with too many questions that needed answering, but was greeted in the lobby by the undoubted form of Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Dr. Lecter—Hannibal—was an elegant man. Refined, cultured, and yet with a hidden sorrow that was well hidden from the world—but obvious to Will the first time that their eyes connected.
It was this sorrow, this vulnerability, along with the strength that Hannibal projected for the sake of his daughter that Will couldn’t help but find attractive.
And Will was attracted, to Hannibal. He didn’t think that it was Hannibal’s attraction for him mirroring back to him (a rare occurrence in Will’s mind).
Most women who met Will in a social situation lost any attraction within the first two minutes of conversation. There were the exceptions of those who wanted to “save him” or “take care of him,” but Will found that insulting.
No, Will’s attraction for Hannibal was clearly felt in the clench of his stomach and the stuttering of his pulse. He had been aware of it upon first meeting the man but had written it off as a onetime occurrence. Then he dreamt of Hannibal resting beside him in his bed and his familiar nightmare became twisted into something of dreamlike fantasy.
And what existed in Hannibal’s eyes seemed natural although hesitant, hopeful yet afraid, and Will relished the idea that he wasn’t alone in his uncertainty for the first time in what was clearly a long time.
He was dressed in a well fitted, silk (or something stronger for the Autumn weather?) suit with a pink shirt and paisley tie in blue. Hannibal should have looked ridiculous standing in the entrance way of the primary lecture hall in Quantico, holding his lunch basket that had a pink bow on it, but he looked almost—right, as his face tilted up at Will’s entrance at that small smile played on his lips.
“Dear Will, I hope I do not take you away from anything important,” he greeted, offering his hand for a handshake that was softer than any handshake.
Forcing himself to look into Hannibal’s gaze for a moment longer than he would grant even the closest of friends, Will’s eyes skittered away over Hannibal’s shoulder and off to the desk.
“What brings you to Quantico?”
“A consultation, I’m afraid. A rather peculiar case.”
“Aren’t they all?” Will asked again before smoothing his hand down to Hannibal’s wrist and catching it there, pulse point hot between his fingers. “Come this way. My office is small, but we don’t have to worry about trainees asking inane questions when we’d rather be—” His mind slid off to the side, trying to say what he wanted to (“alone”) and yet not at the same moment.
“Quite,” Hannibal responded calmly, as if he knew exactly what Will meant (and yet didn’t mean) at the same time. His fingers slid out of Will’s palm, depriving him of the feel of skin to his touch-starved mind, but then the hand fell elegantly to rest at the small of his back. “Shall we?”
Of course, Will’s office was more of a closet than anything without any form of identification other than the name on his door to suggest that a professor inhabited the small white space. “It’s not much,” Will apologized as he straightened his piles.
Hannibal was looking around with interest, as if he could divine Will’s entire childhood history from the tilt of a binder, before sitting down and placing the lunch basket on the desk between them. “Cucumber sandwiches with dried water cress with tomato juice in the thermos.”
Eyebrows rising, Will was stunned. “For lunch?”
“Klara insists that we make lunch together and that she have better sandwiches than her peers,” Hannibal explained as he began to unpack the basket that had been clearly made with two in mind. “She takes responsibility very seriously.”
“I could tell,” Will complimented, “after meeting—Gabbi’a—was it?”
Hannibal nodded. “Gabbija. She is the Lithuanian goddess of fire and, by extension, hearth and home.”
Will was looking over a point on Hannibal’s shoulder, but he didn’t seem to mind that he was (at least visually) being ignored. “Lithuanian?” he asked after swallowing.
“My country of origin,” Hannibal explained. “And yourself?”
“What do you hear?” Will asked, suddenly playful and looking over at Hannibal directly, though his glasses were still partially blocking his view. “When I speak?”
“Is this a game you play?” Hannibal asked, amused. He looked thoughtful for a moment. “It’s not the American South,” he thought out loud. “It’s more refined. It almost reminds me of my Aunt reading me bedtime stories as a child.”
Humming, Will noted: “Positive associations. I could work with that. Unless you didn’t like your aunt.”
“She had the singular misfortune of not being my mother when a mother is what I wanted most,” Hannibal confessed carefully, his eyes sharp and meeting Will’s directly before he spoke this childhood truth. “But a fond recollection, nonetheless.—I suppose this is where I ask about your mother.”
“Low hanging fruit,” Will commented and then smiled self-deprecatingly. “Sorry. I know this is a social visit. I just have this feeling that I’m going to be psychologically evaluated—off the record—since I, too, have been brought on a rather strange case here at the bureau.”
A strange look passed over Hannibal’s face. “The Missing Girls?”
Will sat up straighter and put down the second half of his cucumber sandwich that he had just been about to put whole into his mouth. It would be inelegant, of course, but he was hungry, and there was something in the cream cheese that could become addictive.
“I shall recuse myself,” Hannibal stated authoritatively, sitting forward and catching Will’s gaze. “I didn’t know.”
“It’s an interesting case,” Will hedged.
“And I should be happy to look at it,” Hannibal told him quite plainly, “as reasons to test one’s intelligence and problem-solving skills are always to be desired. But I know you socially, Will. You are to come to dinner on Friday, if you still regard me favorably, and hopefully you might let me take you to an art gallery on Sunday afternoon?”
It was clear that Hannibal had thought of this possibility but had been unprepared to play his cards on the table.
Will regarded him carefully. “And by an art gallery—” he tested.
“I mean two adults who wish to spend time in each other’s company.”
“As in a date,” Will checked again, just coming out and saying it. “In the Bayou, when a boy liked you, he just asked right out.”
A genuine smile lit up Hannibal’s face, making the dark brown of his eyes appear almost golden, and he sat back. “I thought that’s what I had done. Louisiana, was it? Of course, you were a cop in New Orleans.” Then a thoughtful pause. “There is a bit of the American South though, in my professional opinion.”
Will picked up his sandwich and plopped it in his mouth, chewing softly although he couldn’t help the pleased smile touching at the corners of his lips. After swallowing and taking a sip of tomato juice, he teased, “I might have spent some of my early years in Mississippi.”
“A traveler, then, like myself,” Hannibal suggested as they each sat back, satisfied not only with the food but the company.
“I keep hoping,” Will allowed himself to drawl, “I might find a reason to call this place home.”
“I’m sure I can help you think of a few as we get to know each other,” Hannibal promised. It wasn’t arrogant, but there was a surety to the words, as if he was certain he was found something he hadn’t even realized he had been looking for.
Unfortunately, though, Crawford had to call to demand to know where Will was, and that was their cue to get up and leave their recently found sanctuary behind, if only for another day and another meal.
The meeting with Jack Crawford was peculiar. Hannibal accompanied him, nodded to Crawford once, before discussing only the pure facts of the case.
“He does not love them,” Hannibal decided after consideration of the self-love tampon. “Not in the typical way.”
“That much is obvious,” Will shot back, enjoying their secret—if openly having lunch with each other was a secret. “It’s sexual, almost as if he doesn’t want it to be.”
“He’s attempting,” Hannibal suggested, “to halt to the sexual emergence of the girl. They’re virgins and the last one was dressed in a nightshift reminiscent of either a Victorian maiden or a little girl.—And he is benevolent enough to satisfy any sexual urges she may feel with that tampon, removing himself almost entirely from the equation.”
“It was her nightgown—he didn’t give it to her,” Crawford pointed out, his sharp eyes shifting between the two.
Hannibal was seated, one leg over the other, comfortable and confident in himself and the situation. Will had his glasses shoved up his nose and his left knee was jittery despite his attempts to physically push it still with the open palm of his hand over his kneecap. They were both across from Crawford, a clear power play on Jack Crawford’s part. Will, certainly, felt it but didn’t care. Hannibal seemed to have not noticed, though Will doubted even after his short acquaintance with the man that he was never unaware of his surroundings.
“Did she often wear it or was it tucked away?” Hannibal persisted, as calmly as ever. “I have a daughter—not as old as Elise Nichols—and such a garment would be her favorite. I doubt, once she goes to college, however, that she will want to playact ‘Daddy’s little girl’ in such an obvious way.”
He looked over to Will with a genuine smile, but Will was staring back in horror.
“Daddy’s little girl,” he stated, his voice cold and horrified.
For a moment it looked as if Hannibal wasn’t making the connection but his eyes squinted up in dismay and he took a steadying breath. “You think this cannibal is reenacting his relationship with his ‘little girl’—his daughter.”
Crawford shifted angrily. “He wants to eat his daughter?”
“Yes,” Will answered, his eyes still holding contact with Hannibal’s, drawing images and emotions from him that weren’t his own. “He feels a duty to her, he wants to protect her, but the crux of the matter is that he wants to keep her daddy’s little girl.”
“She’s flying the coop then.”
Crawford’s rough voice, the hopefulness at the idea that this girl could get free, jarred Will from looking away at Hannibal.
“That would be a positive scenario for him. No—she loves him too much to let him go.”
“An Elektra complex then,” Hannibal put it. “Not unheard of in the psychiatric community, but we rarely get to study the fathers in the situations. The fathers—of course—rarely turn violent against the daughters.” His voice was calm, clinical, but Will sensed the unrest.
“So,” Crawford tried, “he’s an abusive son-of-a-bitch. Hardly a surprise.”
Will, however, wasn’t completely listening. He stood up and went to the board that should all eight girls. “Auburn hair, blue eyes, 130 pounds give or take depending,” he recited for himself, “wind-chafed. That’s your description of the daughter—and she’s the abusive one. These—these other girls—they’re his cry for help.”
His eyes flitted quickly between the eight, never stopping, even when he felt Hannibal come between them.
“They look just like my sister,” he whispered, the barest sense of horror in his voice. But there was something off, something afraid almost. Afraid for her? No, that wasn’t quite it. Still, Will couldn’t quite place it.
“I don’t buy it,” Crawford cut in. “And your imagination has gotten away from you, Will Graham.”
“You wanted me for my imagination,” Will argued, “or is the good doctor here to psychoanalyze me beyond that?” The words were snapped out, but when his shifting gaze sought out Hannibal again, now off to the side but still behind him slightly, he saw only comfort shining out of his red gaze. “You won’t like me,” he warned this man—more than Crawford—“when I’m psychoanalyzed.”
The message was meant to shove Crawford (and any lackey he might send at Will) away from his head, away from his method, away from his nightmares. But it was also directed at Hannibal, the man who made his stomach flip, warning him that Will was human and not something to be studied.
Hannibal, for his part, barely reacted, perhaps expecting a confrontation around the reason for his presence. “You are a living, breathing human, Will,” he told him carefully, his eyes shifting to the photographs once again. “You are not a science experiment or the monster these girls represent.”
“You cannot believe him—it’s the girls’ fault?”
“No,” Will tried carefully, wondering why Crawford refused to get it. “Of course not.”
“They are the physical representatives for our Elektra,” Hannibal explained carefully, turning away completely for the board. “If a child can murder a pet that he loves because he stuffs it until its stomach bursts, cannot also a child love her father to the point where she hurts him sexually?”
Crawford was standing at his desk, arms crossed and angry—but Will barely looked at him as he glanced over his shoulder. “That is a wild theory.”
“The tampon and the nightgown are the signposts,” Hannibal murmured, though his voice carried.
“I can’t see the signs.” Crawford was definitely frustrated.
“Will can,” Hannibal complimented, “and with his guidance I can see them, as well.”
“Right,” Will decided, not sure where this was heading and he glanced down at his watch so he didn’t have to look at either man. “Just—don’t psychoanalyze me even if I’m your lantern in the dark.” An image of a deserted road, filled with mists, came into his mind, Hannibal walking through it with only a lamp above his head as he tried to read the way home again—“Now, I need to go give a lecture about psychoanalyzing.” He moved toward the door, his hand on the handle. “Call me about dinner,” he added over his shoulder, “and welcome to my own personal purgatory.”
He didn’t hear what either Hannibal or Crawford said in reply (if either said anything at all), but he somehow felt as if the tectonic plates in his life had shifted. He felt unsettled, not quite certain of his footing, and yet he felt as if he couldn’t be sorry for it.
Of course, he more spoke at his class than to his class, but he didn’t care to be sociable when there was no need. He had knowledge to impart to them, and they could take it or leave it. He wasn’t paid to have a chat, as it were.
That night when he got home to his dogs, his eyes unconsciously looked for a small bundle of white fluff – Gabija – but he only found his usual ragtag of mutts. He got a text to get on a plane for Duluth—something about another possible abduction, but when he was just about out the door with his go bag, he got a call from some bored underling at the Bureau, telling him that Crawford had rescheduled his flight for the next day. She didn’t give a reason. Will, honestly, couldn’t care, dropping his bag to his floor and running a hand over his face to dispel the echo of Hannibal’s deep voice in his thoughts.
In the shower that night, Will shivered despite the warm water (one of the few modern luxuries he permitted himself in Wolf Trap) and let his mind wander.
He was lost in a cloud of steam, which lent way to fog, and in the clearing of his imagination he saw a great stag. Its antlers reached menacingly to the night sky, its eyes intelligent and somewhat familiar.
He knew he had a long flight ahead of him, but still went to bed with the hope of another calm night. When he awoke from cold—from an open window and not a night sweat—he turned and saw the living shadow of Hannibal Lecter resting beside him. He was unearthly in his stillness, not breathing and yet fully alive, the projection of a man whose very presence could make Will’s heart rush uncomfortably through his veins.
Not bothering with the window as that dogs seemed to all be heaped on their beds happily and he didn’t want to disturb, Will fell back into a half-easy slumber with the guardian spirit protecting him with his very presence. If he were more awake, he would have believed it disconcerting that after meeting the man only twice, his mind sought out the enigmatic and elegant Dr. Hannibal Lecter for solace.
It was the sound of a car rolling in up his drive at 5:30 in the morning that woke up a second time (the window still open though the shade of Hannibal now gone from his bed).
The dogs wagged around merrily as they sleepily rose, and Will at least had the presence of mind to put on a terry cloth robe over his boxers and thin undershirt.
He managed to feed the dogs breakfast and shove his feet in a pair of old sneakers that barely looked as if they had ever been white as he waited for some signal that the person inside the car was actually there for Will and not someone lost on the back roads of Virginia.
A knock proved that the Bentley was indeed carrying him an early morning visitor.
However, on the other side of the door was what Will (at first) assumed was an active hallucination.
The cool, calm expression of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, wearing designer jeans and a dark green pullover sweater under a sports jacket, met his blinking gaze. The morning was still grey and half a moment later, when neither of them spoke, Will’s alarm on his phone went off.
An amused look crossed Hannibal’s face and he smiled slightly, holding up a picnic basket, which confused Will’s still-muddled brain. “Breakfast? We’re on the same flight.”
“Breakfast,” Will repeated, confused and flustered to realize that the Hannibal at his door might not be a vision of his overactive imagination. He glanced behind him, his eyes trailing the sound of his phone which seemed to miraculously still be sitting on what might pass (to someone who didn’t have any sense of interior decorating) as a bedside table. “Right, come in.” Stepping aside, he quickly dove across the bed—unmade and in the center of the living room in full view of the door—and shut off the annoying alarm. He took a deep breath and realized that, yes, this was happening and, yes, some higher power was merciful enough to give him time to put on a bathrobe.
When he walked into the kitchen, Hannibal was laying out two Tupperware containers and what appeared to be two travel silverware sets. There was also a steaming thermos, which must have coffee. “You get dressed, Will,” Hannibal suggested. “I’ll find cups.”
“I—” Will felt a little lost. “Just a moment. Shouldn’t take long.”
For once, he did not throw on the clothes lying on the other side of the bed as he normally would have, but found clean boxers and a new shirt, a little nicer but still flannel, and then came to the kitchen table where Hannibal had laid out the feast before them.
“Why are you doing this?” Will asked, taking a long drag of the best coffee he had ever tasted outside of the French Quarter. “I thought you were called into profile me—” He didn’t want to mention that Hannibal had offered to recuse himself as Will had found and rescued his dog. There also was now a set invitation to dinner on Friday.
“I did recuse myself,” Hannibal promised as he sat down opposite. He was completely at odds with the kitchen: elegant, refined, and yet he seemed to be completely at home with the old appliances pushed against the walls and dogs wagging as they slopped up their morning water. “However, after a protracted conversation with Uncle Jack—” (Will snorted because he knew how Crawford was when he wanted something) “I agreed to consult in my own right. A hard analysis to balance your imagination and help bridge the gap for mortals like Jack who do not understand your skillset, desperate although he is to exploit it.”
Will hovered over his coffee and turned this all over in his mind. “So–?”
“I am your paddle as you sail upstream,” Hannibal told him. “I remain for your benefit. I have no desire to look for a girl who abuses her father’s trust to the point where she seems to have created a monster, intellectual exercise or no.”
“A monster who loves her,” Will put in.
“A monster whose love she twists for her own advantage.” He took a moment and then a long, deep breath, clearly meant to center his own thoughts. Then he indicated their untouched breakfasts. “A simple protein scramble. I make the sausage myself.”
Obediently, Will picked up his fork and put a bite in his mouth, not really noticing the food on it, before the most heavenly flavor exploded on his tongue. He was aware of his eyes fluttering in pure ecstasy for a moment before he regained himself, only to find Hannibal watching him intently. “Why are you here in my house before 6 AM, Hannibal? I know you live over an hour away in Baltimore. You have a young daughter—a dog—” He added that in before looking at his own ragtag of a pack.
Hannibal took another bite of his protein scramble, chasing it with his own cup of coffee, and clearly was deliberating over what answer to give. His right hand was resting on the table, having set down his chipped mug, and Will reached out and (seeing the flush along Hannibal’s high cheekbones that was not from the coffee) placed his hand down on top of the other man’s.
His fingers slid down the palm, resting softly on the pulse point to confirm what his empathy had already told him (once he was awake enough to realize that Hannibal had dreamt of him early that morning and got up before the sun rose to assure himself that he—that Will Graham—was not just a figment of a lonesome dreamworld).
Hannibal’s eyes slid down to their joined hands, pulse picking up, and then his red gaze flicked openly up to Will. They retained eye contact for several agonizing seconds before Will’s own sight slid down Hannibal’s neck, to the peak of skin at his collar, and then down his arm to where his pulse raced beneath Will’s fingers.
“I do not have my own words,” Hannibal eventually admitted, curling his own long fingers around Will’s wrist in turn. “There is a term—a name—but I fear to speak it would to cheapen…” For once he seemed to be lost for words. “I have a child, a life, a home. I have sought to be responsible and clear-headed for her sake if not my own.”
A sinking feeling coursed into Will’s stomach when before it had been twisted with butterflies. Resigning himself to some sort of rejection before he had even been to a family (and “thank you”) dinner with this man, he made to pull away his hand.
Crimson eyes caught his purposefully and Hannibal’s fingers tightened slightly around Will’s wrist as if to beg him not to withdraw. “I think,” Hannibal pondered, choosing his words, “that your English poet put it best. Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”
Will’s heart clenched and he turned to fully face Hannibal, whose pulse was now beating fiercely against the pads of his fingers.
“Shakespeare?” he asked, licking his lips and forcing himself to look away.
“No, dear Will,” Hannibal correct, a smile evident in his voice. “Christopher Marlowe.”
Heat flushed Will’s face but he did not refuse to remove his hand from Hannibal’s. “We’re agreed then,” he checked.
“Yes,” Hannibal soothed, “we are agreed.—And I ask to walk beside you in this world, first by getting on this plane and going to your Middle West—to Minnesota. If you would prefer that my presence does not intersect with your work—”
“Just don’t psychoanalyze me,” Will teased, spearing more protein scramble onto his fork and half-laughing as he ate it.
“Only enough to say that you are not the teacup Uncle Jack believes you to be.”
“What do you see me as then?”
Hannibal considered for a moment before resuming eating. It was only after Will had confirmed by text that the woman the next farm over would look after the dogs and they were both headed to Hannibal’s Bentley for their early morning drive to the airport that Hannibal stopped and turned to him. “You are the mongoose under the house.”
Will tilted his head in confusion.
“Vicious and protective. The perfect addition to protect everything I hold dear.”
“You would trust me with Klara?” Will asked in confusion, waiting to enter the car on the passenger side.
“Undoubtedly,” Hannibal agreed, “but I meant, more specifically, my heart.”
Their gazes caught in the greying morning light and then, as if my mutual decision, they entered the car. Will looked at his farmhouse, hovering in a cloud of early morning mist, as Hannibal backed out of the driveway.
If he had a silly smile on his face, Hannibal had one to match.
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