XIII. Will VII
Will was aware that he was cold—unusually so. He had the luxury of almost always being warm. Hannibal kept most of the fireplaces lit now that it was Winter, and the Baltimore home had central heating despite being a mansion built in the early 1800s.
It was a far cry from Will’s childhood. Although the heat could suffocate down through Mississippi and then the moisture drown you in Louisiana, the cold always seeped through your bones on the boatyards off of Lake Eerie. As a boy, Will never knew how long he’d be staying in one place, where he’d be in a year’s time. His Pappy, in his quest for new places and deeper bottles of gin, dragged Will wherever the winds blew that particular moment. Will, at one point, thought the universe preferred him to be too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and without any color at all in Autumn and Spring. Now, though, now Will should always be warm.
Even when in the Berkshires on his honeymoon, Hannibal brought along layers upon layers of fur blankets. Wool socks were pulled over toes before they could become too cold, and firelight always tickled the red out of Hannibal’s loving gaze as they made love under the cover of nighttime.
But he was cold, now, in this moment, as he put one step in front of the other—his mind knowing he had to look for something, but always being a little confused why he needed to get back to Wolf Trap, Virginia. A dog whined somewhere behind him, but it wouldn’t be Gabija. Gabija was guarding Klara as she slept, safe inside the house, not out walking the lonely roads of Virginia in the middle of the night.
A wet nose pressed up against the back of his knee, through the flannel of his pajamas, but Will didn’t wake up. He was searching for something, but for what he couldn’t quite remember.
His world was a dream, unfrightening. The ghost of Garrett Jacob Hobbs did not appear to him, did not beg him to “see” what Will already secretly knew. A ravenstag followed him closely, watchful, almost like it were watching out for Will, but he slept on… and put one foot in front of another.
At first Will wasn’t aware of the blinding light in front of his eyes, of the sounds of sirens, but then a hand he didn’t recognize touched his arm and the cold seeped from the paved road into the skin of his bare feet.
He blinked. Once, twice. Then he looked around. He was in the middle of a road, a highway, walking the yellow line down it. His fingers flitted up to his eyes, where he felt the light shining, and he wasn’t wearing his glasses. There was a yip and a bark, and he turned to see a mongrel with golden fur and a rather fluffy tail sitting patiently behind him, as if waiting for a command or a treat.
“Sir?” the hazy voice came to him, and Will looked back toward the shining light—a police flashlight pointed between his eyebrows. “Sir, are you awake?”
“Yes,” Will answered carefully, working his jaw. “I think I am now.”
Turning, he saw the dog, just sitting there and waiting for him. There was no ravenstag in sight—and he wasn’t wearing his sleepshirt. The cold rushed at him like a long lost lover, painful and yet good, because Will realized suddenly just how terrifying his situation was.
“Do you usually sleepwalk, sir?” the cop asked, and Will looked back at him, shaking his head.
“A little,” he finally answered. “My husband usually just wakes me up. I think—I—” he looked around. “Where am I?” A shiver ran through him at the thought that he was far from Hannibal, far from his home, and then he wondered if it had all been a dream he had concocted in his fever… all a hallucination, more real than the ghost of Garrett Jacob Hobbs, but no less potent.
“702, sir,” the cop answered. “Can you tell me your name?” No nonsense then.
His mind restlessly piecing together the last few memories before bed, Will swallowed and shivered again in the cold. “Can I get some shoes or a shirt?”
The light flickered to his eyes, a test to see if he was under the influence, and then he was rushed into the back of the police car. He’d driven one of these back in New Orleans, or, rather, sat shotgun as his last partner liked to drive. Before that, he was a rookie, and only allowed behind the wheel for “training purposes.”
“Dog yours?” the officer behind the wheel asked after calling in dispatch. Once they were in the clear, Will would be offered a lift to the nearest hospital as he was running a fever and sweating, despite the cold, and he knew from the look between the cops that he wasn’t going to get away with just making a “phone call.” It was them, or the ambulance. He’d much prefer them.
Will’s mouth twisted wryly. “I think he may be now. Hopefully my husband won’t mind.”
“Not a dog person?” the original cop asked, coming up and offering his hand for the dog to sniff.
“No, it’s not that,” Will returned as he wrapped himself more warmly. “We have a dog—for our daughter—but I don’t know how this guy would fit in.”
The cop nodded, his eyes a dish-water blue. “We can call animal control.”
Will hesitated for a moment and looked at the dog who had followed him as he walked down an icy road in Wolf Trap, Virginia. He had dreamt it had been a ravenstag—a beast of legend—but this furry guy had seen him and followed him, almost like a shade meant to be unseen but to warn off those who meant Will harm. “No,” he decided firmly. “He’s worth a conversation, and if you’re taking me to Reston, I’d rather not be alone before Hannibal arrives.”
“You know we have to take you,” the cop told him, leaning up against the door as he looked into the back of the cop car.
Will nodded. “Yeah. This fever—clearly it’s a bit out of control.”
“Had it for long?”
“Months,” Will responded.
He was able to make the telephone call to Hannibal, who had been weak with worry when he found the bed empty and the front door open, the silent alarm having alerted the security company that something was wrong. The conversation was disjointed, and even though Will had just greeted Hannibal, he heard his husband hang up and the cop take back the phone.
Time appeared to be shifting, ever so slowly, and he didn’t remember when the dog had laid its head on Will’s lap. As far as he knew, the dog had still been sitting at attention exactly where he had been in the middle of the road—and somehow he had found his way into the back of the cop car quite happily without Will ever realizing it.
The trip to Reston was less than seven minutes, with sirens blaring. Will let the officers talk over dispatch and then quietly to one another. His fingers found their way into the dog’s fur, petting lightly, and, as he looked out the window, Will was uncertain if he could give up this stray without his heart breaking a little.
The six others—the six dogs he had rehomed—had all been his “for a while.” He was not their forever home and dogs had always come and gone within his pack with little fuss or notice.
This one, though, was strangely different. His eyes were old—older than any dog he’d ever seen, which was saying something—and he seemed to have that protective instinct bred into him (despite being a mutt) that Gabija also had. This was a man’s dog, though, not a child’s first pet. And although Will felt alone and confused, just having this stray here, in the back of a police car with sirens blaring, made him feel like the world wasn’t quite so out-of-focus.
Everything was prepared when they got to Reston Hospital Center.
He had been immediately transferred to Baltimore State, someone pulling special strings for the dog to come with him, as soon as the cops brought him to Reston. The ambulance was already prepped, he only had to give his social and birthday to be confirmed as the patient, and he was sent off at breakneck speed in the back of an ambulance. His stray shadow was put in front with the driver, and he was given the good sedatives and fell asleep to the rocking of the ambulance.
If Will dreamt then it was of Hannibal and Klara and the weeks they spent in New England. They weren’t memories, per se, but they were beautiful images of smiling and laughter and snow and lovemaking and steamed cider and kisses and searching for monsters and home.
A ravenstag shifted just out of sight, but Will was no longer afraid.
… It was the sound of his steady heart monitor that woke Will what might have been moments or days later. He didn’t quite open his eyes at first, just allowing whatever drugs they had given him to soak through his veins. He drifted perhaps back into sleep, but woke up dimly several hours later when a small body pressed up against his side. His tongue felt heavy in his mouth, almost like it was meant to be fused to the top of his mouth, but he murmured, “Klara?”
It came out, perhaps, more of a slur, but he felt his daughter press in closer. “Papa,” she sighed and pushed closer, her small fingers grasping onto his.
He let his face fall toward where he could sense her, just breathing in deeply. However, it seemed like he had an oxygen line tucked into both nostrils and around again over his ears. From his experience, that wasn’t necessarily a bad sign, but it wasn’t necessarily good either. “Hanni?” he asked, not quite being able to say his husband’s name.
The ravenstag, hovering in the darkness beneath his eyes, shifted, and Hannibal’s warm, solid hand slid into his other one. “I’m here, mylimasis. You just sleep now. We’ll be here when you wake up.”
Will squeezed Hannibal’s hand weakly, not quite feeling up to trying to say anything else, and it was the steady sound of the heart monitor that lulled him back asleep.
… He woke again briefly just before midnight, the moon wide and full and orange above his head. Garrett Jacob Hobbs was huddling beneath the tree off to his left, hands over his head as if to protect himself, whimpering as his fate in hell was forever sealed.
… It was the bright, artificial light of the hospital that eventually roused Will from his dream-filled hallucinations. He blinked, once, then twice, his eyelashes sticking together from his eyes being closed so long.
“You’re awake.” Hannibal’s voice was low, loving, but tinged with worry.
Will blinked again and turned his head to see that Hannibal had pulled a chair directly beside his bed, their hands clasped on the hospital bedspread. The space on his other side felt suddenly empty and, after blinking again, he turned his head to see that there was clearly an impression where Klara had slept.
“A nurse kindly offered to take her to the bathroom and then get some juice.” Hannibal’s eyes were a deep brown when Will turned to look at him again. “How do you feel, my darling?”
Parting his lips, Will suddenly became aware of just how dry his throat was. Hannibal, sensing the problem, released Will’s hand to pour a cup of water for him. The liquid was cool but tasted oddly sterilized, but Will drank it greedily, allowing Hannibal to help him lift himself slightly to better be able to swallow, before collapsing again on the pillow. “How long?” he asked.
“About twelve hours,” Hannibal answered, setting down the cup and settling back in the chair. “I received your call from Wolf Trap just after three in the morning.”
The information worried Will. He must have walked all night to get all the way to Wolf Trap and, for the life of him, he couldn’t understand why his unconscious mind would bring him there.
His confusion must have shown on his face because Hannibal sighed, picking up Will’s hand and kissing the back of it. “I spoke to the police. They found you roughly where you found Gabija.” His bright eyes sought out Will—whose confusion only multiplied.
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“No,” Hannibal agreed. “We went to bed after midnight. If you were found at half-two…”
“… there is no way I could have gotten there without—” His throat swallowed and his confusion rose precipitously.
“Assistance,” Hannibal agreed.
Will could feel his eyebrows scrunching and it almost gave him a headache. “I don’t believe in alien abduction,” he stated.
“Neither do I,” Hannibal stated calmly as if this were a normal conversation between husbands. “I do believe in human interference.”
The words, to anyone but Will, would not have registered as more than a passing comment. This was Hannibal, however. He would obfuscate on occasion, but he never said anything he didn’t mean. “What–?”
The sounds of Klara happily chattering outside caused them both to still. Hannibal squeezed his hand again firmly, kissed his knuckles, and then directed a smile at the opening door. Klara, in a burst of excitement, dropped her juice and flung herself at Will, her small arms coming around his neck. Will’s free arm immediately drew her closer and he could feel the tears well in his eyes at the thought of how he might have lost this—if someone had hit him with their car—or if he had wandered off a bridge—or worse.
Soon they were all settled in together, a nurse called to take his vitals, and the doctor sent for.
“Papa must come home tonight,” Klara told the doctor—some old friend of Hannibal’s from medical school—quite firmly when he insisted on tests. “We have a new dog, and Pater says that my Papa gets to name him. What will I do if I go home alone tonight and cannot give the dog a dignity of a name?”
Dr. Sutcliffe rubbed his hand over his dark beard for a moment in thought and then responded, “I will do my best, but can make no promises.” He seemed calm but had Will draw the face of a clock twice, asking for the clock to show 3:13 and then, after considering for a moment, midnight.
It didn’t help that despite walking out the front door in the middle of Winter, Will had a fever that just wasn’t breaking (or staying ‘broken’) with hospital-grade medication.
Klara looked at Dr. Sutcliffe for a long moment and then, after a quick look to Hannibal, responded politely, “Thank you.”
Will squeezed her small hand, that was gently held in his, and took a deep breath through his nose. “Then let’s get this show on the road,” he decided, his Louisiana drawl a little more pronounced since he was on a slight sedative.
“An MRI, to begin,” the doctor promised, looking over a file he was holding. It was undoubtedly provided mainly by Hannibal, but Will had gone over the details while Hannibal took Klara out to the courtyard “for some fresh air.”
Of course, the MRI would have been torture if Will hadn’t been on some sort of intravenous drug half an hour before. His feet were bandaged from walking outside barefoot in February, but he fortunately didn’t get more than a slight case of frostbite in his left toes, which he was told was treatable.
Klara insisted on walking beside Will’s wheelchair as he was taken to the correct floor, Hannibal a watchful observer who only led her away when it was time for Will to situate himself inside the large MRI machine. He didn’t even have to try to lie still as the magnets shifted on and off, loud shuddering in his ears making the world seem more fluid. He must have drifted off to sleep because he was once again being taken out of the machine, and he was set down again into a wheelchair after putting on his lambskin sweater Hannibal had gifted to him earlier.
(Will had never worn anything so soft. He also didn’t think he’d ever seen it before and wondered if this was meant to be a gift for Valentine’s Day. Hannibal, after all, was sentimental like that.)
Will, however, wasn’t taken back to his hospital room, but instead rolled into a nice office meant for children. Klara was seated at a small table with a fox stuffed animal, drawing with crayons. The room was bright, full of colors, and Hannibal looked completely out of place from where he was sitting on a chair clearly meant for a child.
“Dr. Sutcliffe has privileges here at Johns Hopkins,” Hannibal told him as he took over the wheelchair and brought him over to a series of comfortable chairs over to the side, meant for adults to watch and not interfere with the children. “He’s borrowing this room for Klara’s sake.”
Klara was interested in whatever she was drawing. As Klara disliked coloring and preferred active play such as storming castles or playing Hannibal’s harpsichord, Will assumed that she was being dutiful so the “adults could talk.” He wondered how she managed to always be polite and yet so individualistic. She was the most astonishing child he had ever met (not that Will had much experience with children).
Leaning in, Will asked conspiratorially, “How did you get her to color?”
Hannibal looked at him fondly and then gazed over at their daughter, his face softening ever so slightly. “She’s considering names for your dog.” He slid his hand into Will’s and kissed the back of it again, betraying his worry.
“I’m sorry,” Will began, but Hannibal shushed him with another kiss to his hand.
“You’re safe. That’s all that matters. And you were quite determined that the dog was your—spirit animal—on the telephone.”
Despite himself, Will laughed, having not remembered saying that. “I lost time about then,” he admitted, looking down at their joint hands as he was too shy to look into his husband’s eyes. “I think it’s been happening even before the wedding—but I didn’t want to know, deep down.”
Hannibal leaned forward, his lips brushing against the curls near his temple. “It is my fault for believing it merely to be the stress of your work.” He breathed in deeply. “You smell so sweet.”
“Er,” Will began, turning toward Hannibal, only to have Hannibal silence him with a gentle press of lips upon lips.
“I love you, my darling,” Hannibal swore when he pulled away, leaving Will wide-eyed and confused. “I should have thought deeper into the subject. But we were so happy—and I wanted you to leave field work so you would never have nightmares again.” The admission was so quiet, so hopeless, as if Hannibal believed that all that had transpired was laid at his door.
“It is near done,” Will murmured, kissing Hannibal lightly again, smiling when he realized he had borrowed his husband’s syntax again. “Admit it,” he finally whispered as he pulled away slightly, his blue eyes catching Hannibal’s gaze, no longer feeling any inclination to let his sight shift away. “You wanted to have a baby and keep me home with her.”
“Her?” Hannibal sighed, his eyes begging that this was not a tease.
“I like picking out dresses for Klara to wear to school,” Will admitted, not remotely self-conscious. “Wouldn’t it be fun to start at the very beginning?”
“You can’t—precisely—choose if we…” Hannibal’s eyes flicked down to his lips again, but Will was conscious that they were in a room with a long mirror for a wall (so anyone could be watching, in theory) and they were waiting for a neurologist to tell Will whether or not he needed medication or was going crazy.
“Oh,” Will smiled, sitting back slightly in his wheelchair and looking at Klara, “You don’t want to meet Paris then, and somehow convince her this is a good idea even if she has no idea who I am?”
The answering grin on Hannibal’s face told him that Hannibal had remained fixed on that idea and Will leaned in for another soft kiss.
“I want to get better,” Will told him, laying out his conditions. “I want to find out what’s wrong, get better, and enjoy being a father and a husband for a little before we open up the hornet’s nest that is Dr. Paris Eustace Gellar.”
Hannibal answered with another kiss to the back of Will’s hand. “Then that is what we will do, but I will perhaps do some research on the matter.”
Will smiled at him ruefully, although he knew how tired he must look. “As if you haven’t already.”
Of course, Hannibal looked smug—instead of guilty. It made Will’s heart twinge out of sheer love for this man who had welcomed him into his life without artifice or secrets.
Klara, bless her, remained seated at the small table when Dr. Sutcliff entered. If her eyes strayed to the small tête-à-tête, she didn’t say anything when Hannibal looked at the MRI images and Dr. Sutcliff explained prognosis and treatment.
“Then the sweetness,” Hannibal murmured when Dr. Sutcliff asked if they had any questions. “I wasn’t imagining it.—I had smelled it once before.” He sounded both disappointed in himself and horrified.
“I imagine, with a nose as good as yours,” Dr. Sutcliff agreed carefully, “it is possible you have—scented—encephalitis before. However, you worked in the E.R. It would have progressed much farther than Professor Lecter-Graham’s.” (Always that professionalism that Hannibal insisted on and everyone around him adhered to.). “The sleepwalking, as you say, is a relatively new symptom. No serious loss of time. We are quite lucky that we caught it this early.”
“Then,” Will wet his lips, just wanting to check, “I can go back to work at the FBI. When I’ve been treated and rested,” he added quickly when Hannibal’s hand near-spasmed as his thumb curled around his pulse point. Will knew how much Hannibal disliked the idea, although he would never interfere. Still, Will was going to ask the question.
Dr. Sutcliff hesitated, his cheeks appearing slightly more bloated momentarily, and he decidedly did not look at Hannibal before answering. It was rather telling. Suddenly, when Will’s eyes connected to Dr. Sutcliff’s although two pairs of glasses obstructed the gaze, he was washed over with hesitant intent.
Dr. Sutcliff didn’t care about patients. He didn’t care about their comfort, didn’t care if he caught diseases early or not as long as he got to study the brain in every horrified permutation or illness he could come across. He liked Will’s brain, for once, because of the infection currently cooking between his neurons—not because of any empathy disorder Will had. His curiosity, however, was overruled by professional courtesy to Hannibal. Something about Will’s husband—some shared interest or morbid curiosity from long before—stayed his hand.
“Technically, Professor Lecter-Graham,” he answered professionally, “you can go back to your full work as soon as you are recovered and properly cleared.” His eyes now slanted ever so slightly toward Hannibal, and Will would not have caught it if he hadn’t been staring into his doctor’s gaze. “However, the brain is not well understood. Whatever advances in our medicine or understanding, we are at the infancy in this particular area.”
He reached for his tie, adjusted the knot, preparing for what he was to say next.
“Although we may clear you in a matter of months, you may not be healed for years. Only you—and your family—can say when and if you are ready for stressful work as I understand your work with the FBI is.—If it were I in your situation,” he concluded, “I would relax into academia. Write a paper. Perhaps even consider going for further degrees and studies, if I were so inclined. I would keep my brain engaged but not overtax it. I would not cause my brain undo stress.”
Will held his gaze for a moment—then two—before sitting back in his wheelchair and looking over at Hannibal, who was regarding him calmly.
“That is an idea,” Will thought aloud. “George Washington has been after me for years.”
Hannibal looked curious for a moment. “In what capacity?”
“Lecturing,” Will stated off-handedly, “and further academic study.” He punctuated his words carefully and precisely, taking on the slight affect Hannibal had when pronouncing words that were a little too American for his Baltic verbal mannerisms.
“Hmm,” Hannibal agreed, clearly pleased at the thought. He turned, then, to Dr. Sutcliff, “but he must remain here for the first week and a half of treatment.”
Dr. Sutcliff, clearly now in his element, opened up Will’s chart. “Indeed. It’s best to attack the infection. Our patient needs 24-hour care. His fever will most likely spike within the first day, so I would advise you to perhaps keep your daughter at home for the first few days.” He now glanced over at Klara, who had given up all pretense of drawing and instead was arranging the paper in front of her. “Children can be frightened, no matter how brave they are.”
Hannibal swallowed and Will squeezed his hand. “Then that,” Hannibal decided, “is what we will do.” He lifted Will’s hand up and kissed the back. “You shall not, however, be abandoned, my darling.”
“Never thought I could be,” Will answered simply—not by you, was unspoken. He had been abandoned so many times before. First, by his mother. Then, emotionally, by his father. By woman after woman who wanted to “save him” and walked out after a couple of dates or even months into a relationship. By doctors who didn’t treat him, but instead wanted to study his mind and how it worked.
Never, though, by Hannibal.
Hannibal remained true and constant.
After teary goodbyes with Klara, he was admitted into the ICU to begin treatment, knowing that it would only get worse before it got better.
“What shall I call our new dog?” Klara asked him just before they wheeled him away. “He waits by the door—for you, Papa. I know it.”
Looking at his little girl, Will thought a moment. “Winston,” he decided. “Why don’t we call him Winston, Klara?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “Like the man who won the war!”
“Exactly,” Will agreed, tucking a blond strand of her hair behind her ear. “He will keep away the monsters under your bed until I can do it.”
Hannibal smiled at him lovingly. “Quite right. He kept Papa safe. He shall keep you safe, surely, especially from the monsters.”
But the monsters in Hannibal’s eyes were far darker and Will sometimes feared that the monsters his fevered brain created could be just as frightening in the upcoming days of fever and medication and loneliness…