III. Will II
Will dreamt almost every night—but it wasn’t of Garrett Jacob Hobbs. See? he had whispered as the life had seeped out of his eyes on that kitchen floor.
And Will, looking down at Abigail, saw the monster that she was hiding behind her beautiful blue eyes and almost unnatural auburn hair.
He dreamt of the monster. But the monster was not the man he had shot. Will dreamt of blood seeping from the slice in her throat, her arms outstretched into wings, a siren so horrifying in her unnatural beauty that Will secretly wished she had died with her father in that kitchen.
The first time he awoke with the vision of Abigail in his mind’s eye, the plane was getting ready to land and Hannibal’s firm hand gripped his wrist, finger curled into Will’s pulse point, strong and resolved and present. Hannibal hadn’t let go until well after the plane had landed in Dulles and then it was only to grab Will’s overnight bag before leading him out to his car.
The next time Will dreamt of Abigail, he shook himself awake and took in the freshness of the air in the moonlight. When he turned his head it was to see Hannibal sleeping peacefully beside him, undisturbed and in the flesh—no longer a figment of Will’s fevered imagination.
For the first time Will woke to a hauntingly perfect vision of his reality—instead of a vision of his addled mind.
Although his clothes were ruined with his sweat, Will was careful not to strip down completely naked as he normally would. He knew Klara was sleeping one door over and, although he found himself every night in Hannibal’s bed, whatever the two of them had with one another had remained almost completely chaste since Will had shot Garrett Jacob Hobbs less than twenty-four hours earlier.
Will didn’t want to disturb Klara in her own home, even if he had been invited into her world. The beautiful child had smiled and curtsied to him as Hannibal explained something to her quietly in French that Will didn’t quite catch. Then she had taken his hand and dragged him up to her room where she showed him the new lavender collar that she had picked out for Gabija.
Now, in the dead of night, he went into the en suite bathroom and cooled off with a quick shower only to find that Hannibal had awakened and laid out a spare set of silk pajamas (undoubtedly his own) for Will to change into.
The third time was much like the second, except after taking several steadying breaths Will turned to see Hannibal’s unguarded gaze as he blinked into wakefulness.
“Go back to sleep,” Will murmured, settling on his side to look at the man who confessed with every quiet gesture his devotion to him.
At first Hannibal didn’t respond, but then he gently moved forward and kissed Will’s forehead, tender and sweet. It was the first romantic touch that had passed between them.
Will’s heart leapt into his throat at the unreality of the situation and was more than half convinced that this was just another lucid dream and Hannibal would slip away into the ether of his imagination once again.
A long moment passed and the pressure remained until Hannibal eventually pulled back.
When Will looked at him, waiting until he felt comfortable to make eye contact in his sleepiness, Hannibal murmured, “You’re slightly feverish.”
“Is that so, Doctor?” Will teased, drifting a little more now, eyes sliding shut. “Or is that your professional opinion as a father?”
He didn’t hear the answer as he fell back into dreams of blood and regret, but when he woke the next morning, Hannibal gave him two Children’s Tylenol with his orange juice. Gabija sat next to Will, wagging her tail, only wanting to be petted and not begging for food. The little white ball of fluff was incredibly well-trained, better trained even than his six strays, who he would let out later that afternoon after his lecture and practice at the F.B.I. gun range.
The fourth time, Will somehow woke naturally in the early morning light, his nightmare vision of Abigail Hobbs fading into the form of Klara Lecter. His eyebrows creased in confusion and he reached for his glasses. He blinked once and saw Klara standing in her pajamas—just as she had been just a moment before. Gabija was sitting beside her and happily wagging her tail.
“Papa said you would help me choose which sweater to wear,” Klara informed him self-importantly.
Will looked back at the digital clock on the nightstand—reading just a few minutes before seven—and then glanced behind him to see that Hannibal had clearly risen, making his side of the bed even though Will was still sleeping.
When he turned back to Klara, she was miraculously still standing there, waiting for his answer.
“What are the choices?” Will asked, swinging his feet out of bed, glad he had let Hannibal talk him into wearing a pair of his silk pajama bottoms with his usual undershirt. A pair of slippers, a deep royal blue lined with rabbit fur by the look of it, were tucked next to the robe Hannibal seemed to have laid out for him.
Klara waited, watching him sink his feet inside him new slippers (they were exactly his size), and when he had tied off his robe, offered her hand for Will to take.
And without a second thought, Will took it, falling into the role of protector and fashion specialist.
(Gabija followed behind them happily and only disappeared when the smell of bacon wafted up the stairs. As he watched the little dog eat breakfast, he inquired after her diet, and quietly suggested that he could make her something special, which only made Hannibal smile in contentment, the lines about his eyes crinkling in satisfaction.)
That particular evening, however, Will didn’t quite make it back to Wolf Trap to his own dogs as he was ambushed.
Crawford, naturally, was the perpetrator. Alana attempted to give him roughly ninety seconds of warning, but this almost confused Will more than helped in the situation.
“Dr. Lecter’s a better fit,” Crawford admitted and Will looked up at him sharply. “And there’s less of a personal connection.”
Will looked between the two askance and forced his mind back into the conversation. “Sorry?”
“Will,” Alana tried, coming up to him with a half-step before aborting the movement. Always so cautious, always so sure never to cross the line she had created and tortured herself with yet congratulated herself for. He always felt simmering desire waft off of Alana whenever they were together. Part of it was sexual, not necessarily romantic, and a great deal of it was prurient curiosity masked in the professional. “I am your friend first and foremost” (Will doubted it might always be the case) “but if you would prefer.”
“No,” Will deferred, not certain he wanted to know Alana’s professional opinion of him. “But it can’t be Hannibal, either.”
At Will’s use of the other man’s given name, Alana was visibly surprised, and then cocked an eyebrow in question.
“We knew each other before he began consulting for the F.B.I,” Will explained, fiddling with the glasses on his nose. Granted, they’d met only met because Gabija had been taken…
… and she was taken. Will had had almost a week to observe Gabija in her natural environment. She was sweet, good tempered, and devoted to Klara Lecter. Gabija would never leave either Lecter—and maybe perhaps Will, as well, since he’d been enfolded into the family unit so quickly and almost seamlessly—without some sort of outside interference.
The thought disturbed Will and he’d even gone around Hannibal’s property his first morning there as guest (or live-in lover?) to try to determine what had happened—and found tire tracks out in the back of the property that decidedly belonged to a vehicle other than the Bentley.
“Hannibal?” Alana’s feminine voice brought Will back to the current conversation and he looked again between Alana and Crawford.
Crawford was observing him carefully.
“Yes, do you know Dr. Lecter?”
The question visibly startled Alana once again and she crossed her arms in an unconscious defensive movement. It was Crawford, however, who answered:
“Dr. Bloom referred Dr. Lecter when I wanted you to be psychologically—evaluated—the first time.”
“Well,” Will noted sardonically, decidedly not making eye contact with either of them. “That clearly didn’t happen since he recused himself as soon as he realized it was me you were talking about.” He picked up his travel mug that Hannibal had filled with French pressed coffee that morning and half-smiled to himself as it was pink and read “Daddy” on it. Apparently, it had been a gift from Klara that she had picked out herself—and just that morning Klara insisted that he could borrow it as he “looked sleepy.”
At the sight of the mug, Alana looked visibly confused, but she didn’t ask.
“I need you cleared for the field.”
“I wasn’t cleared in the first place,” Will pointed out, looking pointedly at Crawford’s right shoulder as he took a sip of his remaining coffee, “but if it helps you sleep at night.”
“It will help me sleep at night,” Crawford told him. “You put ten bullets in a man.”
“A man who murdered eight girls and ate all but one.” A man so haunted by his own daughter’s twisted desires that he’d rather provoke F.B.I. agents in a blatant suicide attempt—although Will hadn’t actually spoken about that to anyone, not even Hannibal.
“All but Abigail,” Alana murmured, quietly, her eyes on the pink travel mug.
No, Abigail Hobbs somehow survived, and Will could barely get a full night’s sleep because she hadn’t bled out on the kitchen floor to join her simple-minded mother and abused father in the afterlife. She was now a woman who knew only how to twist and abuse and humiliate—and her reward was a coma and the best drugs the government could provide.
He took a deep breath and turned to set the now-empty mug down. “She still hasn’t woken up?”
Alana opened her mouth to speak, but once again Crawford spoke first: “No.—Back to the point, Will.”
“Maybe Dr. Bloom,” Will shot back, feeling lightheaded in the strange conversation, “can refer someone else who knows me personally.”
“I had no idea either of you ever would have met,” Alana admitted, “and I never referred to you by name when asking him to consider the situation.”
“Well, then,” Will tried, drawing a hand down his face and noticing he was sweating slightly at the hairline, “maybe Hannibal might suggest someone. He knows me better than either of you,” (and that was certainly true as he knew Will’s nightmares and cradled his unspoken hopes in his hands) “maybe he knows someone in the professional psychiatric community.”
Crawford had his hands in his pocket, but he looked over at Alana for input.
“Have him give me a name.”
“You’re not my therapist,” Will reminded her pointedly, feeling oddly territorial of Hannibal and their small snow-globe life they had built together. “But whatever makes Jack sleep at night.” He clipped his briefcase together and picked up the travel mug.
“Pink’s not your color,” Crawford finally pointed out, amused, now that he’d gotten what he wanted.
“Klara is nothing if not thoughtful.” At Crawford’s confused look and the blank expression on Alana’s face, he sighed and looked off to the side, at the empty seats. “Klara Lecter is five years old and she thought I needed coffee—and insisted I borrow her father’s favorite mug.” He lifted it up for emphasis and, out of the corner of his eye, caught Alana’s bewildered expression.
After checking his watch and swearing, seeing that he would barely make it to Wolf Trap and back in time for dinner at the Lecter household, he realized that something had to change. The thought was on the tip of his mind—but the newness of his situation and the unreality that something this good could happen to him stayed his hand.
He had already buckled up and was about to start the ignition when he saw Alana Bloom rushing through the cars quickly, her eyes searching him out desperately.
Pausing, Will considered. He could pretend he hadn’t seen her and that he didn’t know she wanted to speak to him, but Alana was like a dog with a bone when she had a bee in her bonnet (not to mix English language metaphors). Unfortunately, however, as he put his foot on the breaks and flicked the ignition, their eyes connected through the windshield and he knew if he didn’t deal with whatever she wanted now, it could be worse later.
With a sigh, he turned off the car and got out, leaning between the car and the door, almost using it as a shield.
“Will,” Alana greeted, coming up, clearly uncomfortable but attempting to project confidence. On anyone other than Will it might have worked—unfortunately, he empathized right through every trick she might try.
“Alana.” Will wouldn’t meet her eyes, not giving her the opportunity to use it as a jumping off point. Her emotions were also rather chaotic, and he didn’t need them on top of his own instability.
“I’m confused,” she admitted after several tense seconds. She uncharacteristically pushed a hand through her russet hair. “I’ve known Hannibal for years—”
The admission caused Will to look over, reading her body language and feeling her hovering desire that was now twisted away from him. Oh. It was like that, then.
“Who’s Klara?” she began again, her eyes looking at him with no hint of the vulnerability she obviously felt. Alana was good at projection but Will always saw directly through her, which is why he’d never allow her to be his therapist, even if Crawford demanded it in exchange for Will returning to the field.
Will considered for a moment, looking out over the cars. “I think that’s a question to take up with your colleague. Hannibal and I don’t remotely know each other in a professional capacity.” He said this carefully, wanting her to understand the full implication without causing overt offense, “So I’m certain our spheres of influence and modes of knowledge are different.”
He now sounded like a psychiatrist since he was mirroring her speech and empathizing with her desire for professionalism, despite her need for even the smallest bit of gossip.
For the longest moment he was uncertain whether Alana would accept his answer, but she finally nodded her head in thought. “He never lets anyone close, not even when he was at Johns Hopkins,” she finally mused. “I wouldn’t allow his perceived friendliness to be mistaken for actual emotional intimacy, Will.” She then turned her pretty brown eyes on him and Will caught the calculation, buried though it was. “He always was an enigma that wrapped himself in openness. Perfect camouflage.”
Will’s eyes connected with hers for a moment and Alana’s sheer jealousy, so carefully tapped down for years upon years, flooded into him. He felt uncomfortable in her skin and wanted to get away from Alana as quickly as possible—although he had always thought of her favorably despite her academic interest in his mind.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he clipped out, her jealousy almost strangling him.
He slid back into his seat and put his hand on the ignition, where he had left his keys, and didn’t even think before turning on the car. He wanted safety—he needed warmth—and his brain felt feverish with all of the conflicting thoughts.
It wasn’t until he pulled up in front of the Lecter residence that he realized he had neglected his dogs in his effort to be back in Hannibal’s comforting orbit.
Sighing at himself, he admitted that he couldn’t keep up going back and forth. He loved his pack, he had rescued each one, but that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t let himself be rescued. Wallowing in loneliness in a farmhouse in Virginia with only dogs and whiskey for company was not worth the warmth that waited for him inside the Lecter house.
Decision made, Will cut the engine and the smile that lifted his lips was genuine, thoughts of Alana left far behind him.
As soon as he entered the house, Hannibal enveloped him in a large hug and breathed him in deeply. “You’re home early, my dear,” he hummed as his fingers stroked down Will’s neck.
“I—” Will just clung onto him, his briefcase hastily shoved toward the coatrack and the travel mug still clasped in his left hand awkwardly. “Am I?”
“Are you what, dear boy?” Hannibal asked after a long moment, but before Will could answer, Klara came running in with a tiara on her head and Gabija prancing right behind her, a pink boa half draped over the little ball of fur.
The small girl looked up with large blue eyes, her dusty blonde hair falling in whispers around her face. “William! Gabija doesn’t want to be a princess!”
“Oh,” Will answered, looking back at the dog who was quite happy to let the boa fall off her and onto the floor of the entryway in wisps of childhood fantasy. Will, admittedly, was a little out of his depth. Still, he looked directly into Klara’s eyes with little difficulty and saw her sweetness and guilessness. “Perhaps she could be a lady-in-waiting?”
Hannibal wrapped an arm around Will’s waist in obvious approval of his suggestion. “Klara,” he told his daughter. “Will just got home from work. Perhaps we might make him some tea and let him settle before we ask him to storm the castle to rescue you.”
At the suggestion (the second part), Klara’s eyes lit up. “Are you a knight? Sir William, then?” She looked extremely pleased at the suggestion. “Papa,” she asked and then flipped into French, which Will could tell from just a few days was most likely her first language. “Un chevalier peut-il épouser un comte?”
Will could pick out a few words, but didn’t quite understand the full question. Something about knights and counting… it didn’t quite fit in his mind despite having grown up in the Bayou. Cajun French was different from Continental French, which was different from Quebecois. Glancing over at Hannibal, to see his reaction, he noticed that his—lover?—seemed pleased and smug with the question.
Hannibal’s thumb stroked between Will’s shoulder blades comfortingly, considering him for the longest moment. “Bien sûr que oui,” he began, that same pleased smile on his lips, “but,” he added, switching to English, “this is a conversation for later, Klara. We must also remember that ‘Sir William’ does not speak French as we do.” This last bit was said with sincerity but no sternness.
Klara looked slightly chastened. “I’m sorry, Sir William,” she told him, coming up to him and hugging him carefully around the waist.
Will leaned down and hugged her to him tightly, half bending over and grateful that Hannibal was thoughtful enough to steady him. He closed his eyes and took in the moment of unadulterated sweetness. “I just have to brush up on my French,” he decided. He stood up and touched Klara’s head carefully as she looked up and smiled at him.
“I can find the best tea!” she declared and with that she was off. Gabija followed merrily after her, pink boa left behind for new childhood wonders.
A little disoriented from his emotions, Will peered over at Hannibal. His eyes slid up his neck, over a cheekbone, to finally look into his eyes, which were content and still smiling. “I don’t know what she said.”
“The usual—knights and princesses and other members of our royal court,” Hannibal soothed. “But you’re home early, my dear.” He took the travel mug out of Will’s hand and led him toward the kitchen, hand still pressed between Will’s shoulder blades.
“I—” Will realized, reaching into his pocket, “need to get Mrs. Next Door to feed the dogs.” His slightly sweating fingers fumbled over the keys as he took out his beat-up cell phone.
Hannibal ran a soothing hand down Will’s back.
“And you don’t have a change of clothes,” he murmured. “But not to worry. I’m certain we can manage.”
Will was only half-listening, but he hummed in agreement as he sent of the text message and allowed himself to be settled in a stool at the counter. Hannibal left him there to begin making the tea, Klara having lined up a mug with a snowflake on it that clearly was hers. He smiled at her thoughtfulness.
He fell easily into the domesticity, allowing his mind to be soothed and somehow found himself invading a castle (the couch made up with blankets) and rescuing Gabija from an evil witch that Klara insisted was named Queen Mischa, of all strange things.
Will didn’t question it when he found a pair of his work pants that he’d left behind washed and ironed, along with a three shirts—one white, one purple, and one with an interesting sort of pattern he couldn’t tell—pressed and never worn, laid out for him to choose. “Have you been planning this?” Will asked, tone teasing but entirely serious with his question.
Hannibal looked over from where he was taking out his cufflinks (on what was decidedly his side of the bed, the side closer to the door, closer if Klara needed him in the night), and didn’t look remotely embarrassed to have been caught out. “What gave it away?”
“I don’t know,” Will griped good-naturedly. “The rabbit fur in the slippers in my exact size? The brand new electronic toothbrush that appeared yesterday with an organic toothpaste that wasn’t yours? ‘His’ and ‘Her’ matching towels?”
“’His’ and ‘His’,” Hannibal corrected lightly. “I want you to feel like you’re welcome here, Will.”
At this Will let their eyes connect in the mirror where he was now hovering over a watch stand that hadn’t been there that morning, although he had been looking away at the wall for most of the conversation. He saw such honesty in Hannibal’s gaze, a deep-rooted hope, but also the slightest tinge of fear… not of rejection, but of something else. Biting his lower lip uncharacteristically, Will looked away and down at his shoes. “I was thinking, in the car when I drove here on autopilot, that I should try to start rehousing the pack. Gabija fit in well with them but Klara would get lost among six mutts, and she needs my attention more than a pack of strays that can find decent homes elsewhere.”
He hadn’t been looking toward Hannibal so was taken by surprise when he looked up to see Hannibal kneeling beside where he was now perched on the end of the bed. Will had somehow gravitated there without consciously realizing. “I would never ask—“ Hannibal began, wonder in his voice.
Will looked deeply into his crimson eyes, letting his fingers rest carefully against Hannibal’s cheek, his skin alight where they touched, skin to skin. “You have so much—and yet whenever I try to show that I mean this—that I want—” he sighed, looking around “you always believe that it’s a dream come true that you barely even conceived…that you almost seem to think you don’t deserve…”. The thoughts tumbled out of him, half-formed and yet undeniably true.
Hannibal didn’t answer with words, but instead took Will’s hand between his own and kissed the palm of it tenderly. “Why did you come home early, my darling? You looked as if you had seen a ghost.”
“I saw,” Will corrected, letting his fingers curl around Hannibal’s cheek, “Alana Bloom of all people—who seems to think I shouldn’t know you on a personal level for whatever reason.”
Hannibal stilled preternaturally for a moment and then kissed Will’s palm one more time before coming up to sit beside him on the bed. Will leaned into him, shoulder to shoulder, and relaxed when Hannibal’s arm came around him, kissing the top of his head in reassurance. “I mentored her at Johns Hopkins.”
“Well, Crawford wants me to have a psych eval since I shot Garrett Jacob Hobbs and both he and Alana wanted you to do it.” He took a deep shuddering breath. “I declined due to our personal friendship, as I called it.”
Hannibal pulled him slightly tighter, but said nothing.
“Alana—” Will began again, “her lust for you and jealousy at the idea that I knew you—that I was carrying around that travel mug that Klara lent me—that she didn’t know who Klara was—it was all—” He sighed and gathered his words “—strange.”
Hannibal clearly took his time to form his answer, but Will was too tired to quite notice and he leaned further into Hannibal’s firm touch.
“Students,” Hannibal articulately explain, “you may have found in your own experience, develop unusual fascination with their mentors.” He then seemed to consider his next words in a long but not uncomfortable silence. “She knows little of my life outside of the hospital. She was capable, of course, but her intense fascination with my personal life led me to disclose none of it to her—even when we became colleagues.”
“I told them you’d find me a psychiatrist to ‘clear me’—as you know me better.”
At this, Hannibal huffed a laugh. “I do know someone. She’s retired, but I’m sure if I ask this one favor—”
“Well, then,” Will murmured, content and tired, “that’s settled.” He looked up and kissed Hannibal lightly, the first time he had initiated a kiss. “You don’t want me in the field, though.”
“You have perfect empathy,” Hannibal began, a non-answer, but one clearly directed to his purpose. “You brought something back with you after you shot Garrett Jacob Hobbs. Regret, I think.”
Will let his gaze scatter away, but then forced it to return to Hannibal. “Not the way you think.”
Hannibal studied him carefully.
“It was suicide,” Will told him. “Suicide by cop—or F.B.I. consultant. I regret Abigail Hobbs won’t answer for what she did.”
A stillness fell into the room. “Such women rarely do, but she may not recover from her coma. She may never wake up.”
“Then I hope she’s suffering in purgatory,” Will stated in distraction. “I don’t—I don’t want to think about her being alive. Not before bed. I see her—and she disgusts me.”
Hannibal’s gentle touch on the back of his neck startled him, although perhaps it shouldn’t have. “Then come to bed,” Hannibal murmured, drawing him into a light but protracted kiss. “The rest will follow tomorrow.”
When Will woke up shivering that night, sometime past two in the morning, Hannibal was wrapped around him, holding him close.
“Hush,” Hannibal murmured, pulling Will closer to his chest, kissing his shoulder from behind. “You’re a little feverish.”
Will had already fallen back asleep when Hannibal fetched two Aspirin he kept locked in the en suite. Visions of blood curled around Will’s mind, a half-smile on his sleeping mouth.
The smoothness of their routine was easy the next morning, the travel mug becoming Will’s by default. His trips to Wolf Trap continued, and Mrs. Next Door took two of the dogs for her farm, which only left four others. Will checked in with Dr. Peggy, who agreed to post fliers, her soft eyes always asking but she never put her questions into words.
It was three days later when Alana walked into the end of one his lectures just as he was turning the lights back on, a less-than-gruesome image projected behind him of a man clutching his chest and riddle with bullets in an open street.
“Two thousand words,” he commanded over the noise of his students putting together their bags, “on the phenomenon of ‘suicide by cop.’ I don’t want word-for-word from the textbook or Wikipedia.” He pointed to a girl in the back row with a long scarf, though he was looking over at the EXIT sign over the door. “That means you, Holder!” He didn’t make eye contact with her but he was certain she froze in place, guilty as charged, and he sat back against his desk, leaning into the wood, as everyone filed out.
Alana had her arms crossed again and looked apprehensive. She was, however, as lovely as ever. It was a soft kind of loveliness, tinged with her judgment and her self-righteousness and her high opinion of her own intellect. He would at one point have thought to compare her to an avenging angel, but she had never been so hallowed—she merely created that persona around her and had convinced herself of its validity.
The usual waft of desire was coiled in around her despite her obvious wish to be perceived as both sexual and beyond mere human want. A red skirt wrapped around her waist, her breasts barely held within a bra meant to offer neither support nor illusion, and her long russet hair had been styled to perfection just seven minutes before she walked through his classroom door. She was readable with just a glance with no need for empathy—and now she was here to declare judgment as if she were completely unknowable to even Will’s imagination.
“You have an appointment with Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier.” An opening move, a pawn moved two spaces, as Alana seemed to be thinking of chess moves. He wondered if she had picked up the habit from an elderly relative or had decided it was the best way to achieve her goal after reading too much Machiavelli late into the night in an attempt to seize culture. Hmm. Perhaps a little of both.
“Yes,” Will agreed, uninterested. “I know.”
“She’s notorious in the field—and retired.”
“Does that mean you won’t accept her verdict, especially if you don’t agree?” he asked her, already knowing the answer. He twisted around to pick up his travel mug, and looked down at the top so as to avoid Alana’s questioning gaze.
“That’s unfair, Will.”
“Is it?” he mused, only now letting his vision drift somewhere off to her left. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is Crawford’s opinion, and I got a memo from him just before lunch giving me the go ahead.”
Alana was discomfited and let it bleed through. “He’ll do anything to get you out there and looking.”
“And you’ll do everything,” Will decided, “to be both friend and psychiatrist. Alana, you are an oxymoron if you were anything. If you are both then you are neither.” He let his mouth slide over the word—oxymoron. A layman’s term, unprofessional, unsophisticated. The slightest hint of a Louisiana drawl covered the word for emphasis and to make it sting just a little more when he saw that Alana was fixated once again on the travel mug. “Anything else?”
She glanced away, her hair falling over her shoulder with the hint of sexual provocation. It was made as an unconscious gesture, but Will doubted it was entirely innocent. “You’ve changed over the past few weeks. I can’t place it. I’m not certain it’s good for you. The field—”
“I didn’t change,” Will cut her off, rudely, in a way he knew Hannibal wouldn’t approve, “because I shot Garrett Jacob Hobbs or because I looked and saw him.” The image of the tortured man, riddled with bullets, came to his mind. See? See? In his mind he was still cradled in Hannibal’s arms after the trauma, and he found it more comforting than even the mindscape of his favorite fishing spot. “If I changed,” he thought aloud, fully sliding off the desk onto his feet after grabbing his briefcase, “It might be because I have a more fulfilling personal life outside of teaching.”
“Dogs and fishing?” Alana asked, her voice light and teasing and completely affected. “Or phantom children?”
“Dog,” Will amended, now walking past Alana. “Haven’t been fishing in awhile. But maybe I’ll take a weekend if I am not cleared for duty by the illustrious Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier.”
He took the rest of the afternoon off, as he couldn’t be in the field, going out to Wolf Trap and sitting in his jeans and linen button up that he’d let Hannibal slip into the closet for him to wear, and felt as if the world was slightly sliding away into unreality. His reduced pack (now three), ran about happily, sensing the change in the wind but being too good natured to complain. The dogs and Will always had an unspoken contract. Will never knew how long he was staying in one place, never having actually set roots down anywhere despite nearing forty, and the dogs accepted that this place they called home might not last forever—but Will agreed silently as he shut them back up (after responding to a message from Dr. Peggy that she might have found a home for Chloe) that it had been a nice shelter from the storm while it had lasted.
Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier was an elegant if not eccentric woman. She welcomed Will into her house after he had clearly been trying to talk himself into staying calm on her front porch for a full two minutes before knocking. Her smile was enigmatic, but not warm, and she led him into a sitting room where a bottle of wine was chilling with two glasses.
“You’ll forgive, Mr. Graham,” she began gesturing a chair to him in reach of the wine but far enough from her own chair to create a sense of professionalism, “if I indulge my usual habits as I am still retired. I never drink enough, however, to become intoxicated, I assure you.” Not anymore, was the unspoken confession. Will wondered what had happened to the illustrious Dr. Du Maurier to cause her to hide in her mausoleum of a house with her bottles of chilled wine.
“Not at all,” he agreed. “You’re doing me the favor.”
Du Maurier did not acknowledge the fact but simply inclined her head as she poured them each a half-glass. After they settled, she looked at him pointedly over his glass. “Why do you want to go into the field, Mr. Graham?” Her light eyes gleamed and she took a sip of her wine without ever letting her eyes leave his form.
He fiddled with his glass but did not meet her gaze. She didn’t seem to need him to, to ask the most pointed and directed question on the subject.
“I save people’s lives,” he told her. “I see—” At this, he did let his eyes slip into hers, into the shallow pool of her thoughts and emotions as everything darker, everything more important, had been locked so deep into her own psyche, he doubted she even dreamed about it anymore, “what others can’t,” he concluded, taking a sip of his own wine and being confused by the sweet flavor.
“A little wine,” she told him, “that I import from Macedonia. They’re not known for their greatness in wine production, but their grapes are beautifully tended and plucked only by virgins on the second day of the waxing moon.”
Confused by this, he looked up at her sharply and saw she was teasing him, calmly and surely, but with the lightest shadow of playfulness.
A long moment passed when she just regarded him. “Why do you want to save people’s lives?”
“It’s my duty,” he told her. “I have unprecedented talent.” He tried not to be defensive, but he didn’t like this sort of thing. He was grateful he had met Hannibal before any professional connection, not because he selfishly wanted the tentative future they were quietly building, but because he knew if Hannibal had been his therapist, he might have ended up telling the man everything.
“That means,” she told him quite carefully, “that you can. And, before the past few months, if I understand it, you were a single man with a house in the middle of nowhere who had too many animals to even pretend you weren’t the loneliest man in the tristate area. There was no one to care. No one you might protect—even from your own thoughts.”
He hesitated a moment, and then sighed, drawing a hand down his face and noticed it was fortunately not damp from sweat.
Du Maurier leaned forward and looked at him for the longest moment. “I know the barest details of the case. A man was abducting girls and—cannibalizing them. Girls who looked like his daughter.”
“It’s more complicated,” Will admitted.
She opened her hands in supplication. “What do you know—what did you see?”
“His daughter,” he spat the word, “at some point began to rape him. I imagine she was careful so that it was—gradual.” In his disgust he put the wine down and got up and began to pace a bit. “She was clever. Sneaky, I would imagine. She’d have to be.”
Du Maurier placidly looked up at him from her chair and sipped at her wine. “Why didn’t Mr. Hobbs stop it?”
“He loved her because she was his daughter. Her transgressions,” and her his voice purred over the spiritual word, “were his to bear.”
“The sins of the daughter are on the head of the father,” Du Maurier mused, clearly thinking. “You still shot him when he tried to kill her.”
“He wanted me to,” Will admitted quietly. “It was suicide. I put him down—and made sure she couldn’t hurt him again. He’s free.”
Taking another sip into the silence, Du Maurier set it down gracefully. “You saved his life by shooting him—overkill, in the minds of the F.B.I., I understand, but you saved him.” Then, after a moment, she nodded. “The papers are a formality and everything should be order by the end of business tomorrow, Mr. Graham. You do not—become the killers, as some might fear. You empathize with the victims, which I understand—is desirable.”
Will paused and looked at her as she gazed unequivocably back
“Yes,” she mused, checking the watch on her delicate wrist. “I see why Hannibal is in love with you.” The statement was casual and she gave Will no time to respond before she picked up her wine again. “We have another thirty minutes, and I have no other patients. Sit, finish your wine, as soon as I write the letter I will consider you a friend—through Hannibal—at the very least. Tell me, Mr. Graham, how you find being a father of sorts for the first time in your life?”
Mind short-circuiting for the barest of moments, Will came around and took his wine, sitting carefully. “Why would you think I’m in the role of her father?—it’s early days.”
“I know Hannibal,” she told him. “A dear, old friend. He’s been such a support over the past few years—”
When Will looked at her in question, not wishing to pry, she actually colored slightly in embarrassment and her fingers fluttered to her long, white neck. “I retired because a patient attacked me in my office, and I nearly died.” Another quick sip. “Hannibal, as I said, has been invaluable. A true friend, and those are rare in this life.”
“I’m sorry that happened to you,” Will murmured. Then he switched tact, answering her earlier question, as her desire not to linger on her trauma slipped into his mind: “Klara just decided I was part of her world. I am ‘Sir William’, I rescue Gabija from the castle, and I am now even on ‘monster duty’ some nights.” He blushed. “I didn’t want to think that she was my daughter…”
“Didn’t want to hope,” Du Maurier qualified for him. “I understand.” Another sip of wine, a thought. “Are you—unbalanced—by how quickly you seem to have moved into the relationship?”
“No,” Will answered honestly. “The situation with Hobbs facilitated my moving in by accident, but we haven’t even gone on a proper first date.” He blushed at this, still unused to the situation of being wanted, of being loved. “I sound ridiculous.”
She turned to him and gave him a small smile that had the hint of genuine emotion. “Not at all. And—while unconventional—you and Hannibal are now moving into a sexual relationship, whether that is tonight or in another year. You know—on the outset—that you are compatible as life partners and as parents. Most of us don’t have those assurances when beginning a romantic relationship.”
“He seems—” Will hesitated “—to attract women everywhere I look.”
At this, Du Maurier laughed. “I did notice that when he was at Johns Hopkins. He would always attempt professionalism and somehow the bright minds he favored were tenacious in their pursuit of him. But you have an advantage over them.”
“Don’t say ‘he’s gay’, because we both know Hannibal isn’t.”
This sobered Du Maurier for a long moment, as she once again considered. “It may not be his natural preference as he’s always seemed to prefer aesthetics over preconceived notions of beauty and attraction. But women—they revolt him—in the sexual sense. At least I believe they do.” She paused, hesitating. “It has been my assessment over the many years I have been privileged to know him.”
Will tilted his head. “Trauma,” he extrapolated when her fingers fluttered once again to her neck.
She nodded. “I believe the source of his trauma to be Klara’s mother.”
“I never asked,” he admitted, “about Klara’s mother. He’s never said.”
“And I doubt he would tell you even though he loves you,” Dr. Du Maurier agreed in that thoughtful way of hers, each word carefully chosen and considered before spoken. “Hannibal would never tell anyone in the world—because whatever she did is something so horrific, that he will desire to take it to his grave, if only for the sake of Klara and her happiness.” She seemed worried as she pondered for a moment, sipping at her wine. “I try not to dwell because I’m certain I’m imagining—from my own experience.” Her eyes fluttered down to her glass before piercing Will with an unguarded look he couldn’t help but meet. “I believe you understand me, Mr. Graham.”
Will, however, barely acknowledged the statement with a nod.
He gazed into his barely touched glass, thinking.
He remembered how Hannibal had reacted to the scene of Garrett Jacob Hobbs dying, of Abigail Hobbs sputtering and bleeding out. Hannibal hadn’t stepped in to replace his hand over Will’s on the slice in Abigail’s neck. Instead, he had pulled Will off her completely and held him until back-up arrived.
There was some clue in it, but Will didn’t have the necessary pieces to jump into his imagination and solve one of the many mysteries of Hannibal Lecter.
“He’s a Count, did you know?” Du Maurier mused, loosened by the wine, “and Klara is technically a Countess by birth.”
This had Will blinking at her as Klara’s innocent question in French came back to him. “So, the ‘princess’ thing is more than the usual Disney fascination?” He took a final sip of his own wine as Du Maurier had just finished off hers.
“My dear Mr. Graham,” she intoned as she leaned forward, as if to tell a deep and dark secret. “Does Hannibal seem like the type of man to let his precious daughter waste her childhood on Disney?”
And, with that realization, Will threw back his head and laughed, truly relaxed and glad that not all attractive and intelligent women were in love with Hannibal Lecter—who Will wanted with a desperation that almost frightened him.