Chapter 13: Return
Doctor Du Maurier felt her pulse slightly quicken while she was escorted to Crawford's office. She was not sure what was going to happen to her, but she tried to prepare herself for anything that might be in store for her. Basically, she expected Crawford to instantly order someone to handcuff her and take her to an interrogation room, and that she would spend the rest of her day being interviewed and cross-examined. But before she was left alone with Jack Crawford in his office, the FBI Agent hadn't given any order to his subordinates to chain her. He started to organize papers on his desk.
"Please, take a seat, Doctor," he told her without looking at her.
This was not the start Bedelia expected after introducing herself as Caroline, but she tried not to let this development throw her off the track.
"I need your help," she said, sitting down on the chair opposite the desk. She paused because she believed that the man was going to instantly say a few words to this, or at least ask something, but Crawford mutely waited for her to speak.
"It's about Hannibal," she continued. "I think I made a mistake, and now he wants to take revenge." She stopped again, waiting for a response, for an avalanche of questions, but nothing. Silence.
Doctor Du Maurier started again, "I need your help with stopping him. I believe he wants to hurt me... and Will Graham too."
Crawford seemed quite busy with ordering piles of documents on his desk. "Certainly, that should be avoided," he answered with some delay, keeping his eyes on the papers.
"Will's life might be in danger."
"After your call, I've already sent someone over to check on him." Jack turned towards the telephone on his desk, and dialed a number. He gave a brief order to one of his subordinates to re-check the patrol car nearby Will's house. He still hadn't looked at the woman sitting opposite him.
Doctor Du Maurier found the situation odder and odder. However, she tried to continue as she planned, "I'm willing to give you any assistance you might need with the investigation. And I understand that you'll also need to examine my involvement in this case."
"Yes, that's the procedure. Someone's going to take your statement."
And that was all Jack said. Silence again.
Bedelia started to find the atmosphere embarrassingly tense. She made an attempt to proceed, trying to remain undisturbed, "I want you to know that I'm indeed ready to help you catch Hannibal, and this is not a trick in any way..."
She stopped speaking when she saw Crawford returning to the ordering of his documents. She really had to notice now that the always so determined and goal-directed man was suspiciously silent and definitely avoided looking at her.
"Is there a problem, Agent Crawford?"
Something visibly awkward and hasty appeared in the so-far mechanical motions the FBI Agent made to arrange his documents. His reply was constrained, "No, nothing. Go on, please."
Bedelia lightly tilted her head to one side.
"But you do seem to be ill-at-ease," she insisted.
"It's... it's just the last message you wrote." Crawford cleared his throat. "I mean... It's not that I have any problem with it, I'm just... I'm just a bit uncertain how to react now. I haven't been in a situation like this for at least two decades; I'm not even sure what to think about it."
Bedelia tried to remember what she wrote last. Maybe something about the chosen time or method of the video call? She couldn't recall anything that could be the cause of this strange reply.
"Most probably, there must be some kind of misunderstanding," she tried to reason.
"Most probably." Crawford's tone was anything but convincing.
"I don't think I wrote anything in my last message that could lead to this discomfort."
"I wouldn't use the word discomfort. On the contrary. I... er..." The overtly uncomfortable expression intensified on Jack Crawford's face. "Alright, let's get back to the topic of Hannibal; that should be our priority right now. How exactly do you intend to assist the FBI, Doctor?"
"I presume I know him better than anyone else here. I might be able to help predict where he might plan to go," Bedelia gave a short reply, and then decided not to let Crawford drop the former subject, so she switched back to it, "Could you please name what made my last message extraordinary?"
"You don't think that it was a bit... surprising?"
"I don't think I wrote anything surprising."
When Bedelia saw the way Crawford suddenly stared at her after hearing her reply, she knew that there was definitely something weird going on. She asked, "Can you show me the message in question, please?"
The FBI Agent leaned to the drawer of his desk, and took out his palmtop. He set it on the table without a word, switched it on, searched for a link, and then turned it towards her, so that Doctor Du Maurier could read the online conversation 'Caroline' and 'Will' had had on International Love. She noticed that after the brief messages she had sent 'Will', there was a last, much longer and way more detailed mail sent by Caroline123, though it was definitely not written by her.
With growing surprise, she started reading the message.
"Dear Agent Crawford,
I need to express my apologies. Yes, I know that it was you who used Will's data to create an online profile for him. When I first saw the link, I suspected that an FBI Agent or group of Agents had made it, since I was sure right from the start that it wasn't Will. My initial guess had already been you, though I needed some time to become certain about it.
I used my first messages to check whether I was talking to the same person or several Agents. And then I ultimately concluded from the quickness you managed to gain information about the color of the gift I had sent Will that I was right and you were the one I was talking to. I don't think Will would have revealed the nature of the gift with such delay – but still quite quickly – to anyone else.
I'm very sorry for not being completely honest with you; I'm trying to redeem myself now. I led you to believe that you were talking to Hannibal, but you weren't. In fact, you were indeed talking to the woman you saw on the picture. And I was not telling lies when I told you that you knew me in person. The last time we met, you wanted to use me to get closer to Hannibal. And I think you know now who I am.
It's time for me to clear this matter up. After what happened during the video call, I chose to abandon my plan. Originally, I wanted to create a situation where Hannibal and Will might be able to find a way to get past their boundaries and ingrown loneliness with the help of true love. I meant to help them, but I had to sadly see that my plan had only led to the suffering of all parties involved, and therefore, I don't want to continue this any longer. I'll delete my profile from International Love, and this is the last mail I'll send you.
But before I finish, let me also add a personal matter to my message. I have always found your intelligence and charisma attractive. And, as you see now, I knew it all along that I was talking to you online. And I must admit, I enjoyed speaking to you more than speaking with all the other men I met throughout the site. I considered this for a while, and I think it would be a most pleasant idea if we developed our relationship to a more intense level. Do you want to try it with me?
I understand that this might seem too sudden, and more like an imposition right now, so you can take as much time with your answer as you need. I just wanted you to know that I'm very much interested in you. You don't need to reply now; I'll visit you soon, and you can tell me your answer in person.
P.S.: I don't mean to pressure you to say yes, but I must mention that I'd love to see how dominant you could be with me behind closed doors, with your bossy style."
Bedelia gazed at the message for a few long, mute seconds.
"It's... it's not..." She had to swallow before she continued speaking. "I didn't write this."
Crawford crossed his arms, turning away from the screen. "I've figured now from your reaction."
"It was Hannibal," she said, her voice still weak.
Now it was Doctor Du Maurier's turn to cast her eyes down. She hadn't blushed since the age of thirteen, but now she felt some suspicious heat creeping on her cheeks.
In spite of the awkward situation, she couldn't help but smile.
Will was still not sure what was happening, but seeing Doctor Lecter had such an intense effect on him that he couldn't care about the answers anymore.
Hannibal placed the last dog into the truck next to the others with calm resolution, but when he turned back to Will afterwards, the mild glimmer in his dark eyes and the tension of his facial muscles revealed that his emotional state was inwardly far from the peaceful dispassion he showed.
Will's hands started shaking with an almost painful tremor. It felt as if fluid ice was circulating in his veins instead of blood, his limbs turned so cold in a flash. He wanted to say something, to form at least one normal sentence like a question about what the hell Hannibal was doing to his fishing set or his dogs, but the only thing he could emit was a short, guttural sound.
And then his knees gave in to the emotional shock and to the too much vodka consumed. He overbalanced, and his body was close to collapsing on the ground.
But instead of meeting jagged, stony surface, he found himself in Hannibal's strong arms. His forehead pressed against the doctor's neck, and his quivering hands clutched at the older man's coat with blind force.
He was there... Really there... Will still couldn't believe it, though he could feel it now in all its intensity. He could even sense the warmth of Doctor Lecter's body through the multiple layers of clothes.
And just when he thought this was the most absurd storm of sensations he could take, Hannibal started closely smelling him.
Will realized with a dismayed shudder running along his spine that he must be stinking from alcohol and unkemptness.
They were standing there behind the truck, in each other's arms, tight in a now pointless, but painfully forceful embrace... And Hannibal was slowly, meticulously smelling first Will's neck, then his hair, then his bearded jaw, then the front part of his jacket, and then his mouth.
After finishing the careful examination of Will's smell, Hannibal slipped one hand between their bodies, under the younger man's sweater, and put his palm on the scar across his abdomen. Will let out an unwitting growl when he felt cold fingers pressing against his skin through his t-shirt.
"It's larger than I thought," the doctor murmured into the curls of Will's hair.
"They opened it further during surgery." Will's answer came in short-breathed gasps. He moved even closer to the other man. He was not sure that with doing so, he wanted to push Hannibal's hand away, or he wanted to let the touch intensify.
Hannibal slid his hand under the t-shirt, and ran his fingertips along the bare surface of the scarred tissue.
Will realized that he had been softly kneading the muscles of the doctor's back for a while, though he had been doing it unintentionally.
"I hate you for everything you did to me," Will whispered against Doctor Lecter's coat.
Hannibal's fingers didn't stop; they started exploring every single detail of the scar with aimed, slow motions.
"I hate you too for what you did to me." The doctor's response was quiet, calm, yet bitter.
Will's whole body shook from the emotional exertion, and he buried his face deeper into the collar of the doctor's coat while giving his answer, "I should try to kill you right now."
Hannibal moved his fingers gently, but decidedly, discovering the little curves of the tormented flesh of the scar. "I should try to kill you too."
"I should use the most painful method possible..." Will added, his voice muffled by the doctor's scarf.
"I should choose the most agonizing way..." Hannibal responded while giving a last, tender caress to Will's scar with his fingertips, and then removed his hand from underneath the younger man's t-shirt in order to be able to embrace him with both arms. "Torture you..."
Will took some deep breaths, and then looked up to face Doctor Lecter, watching him through blurred, unsteady eyes, taking in the sight of the doctor's high cheekbones, pale skin, and every familiar line of his serene expression.
He said in a broken sigh, "I despise you more than anything."
And then he rubbed his mouth to the older man's lips, letting their surroundings fade into the shadows of his recurring dreams.
Hannibal froze with surprise when he felt Will's kiss on his lips. He was prepared for a lot of reactions and a lot of complex mental impacts he might experience, but he was definitely not prepared for Will kissing him.
There was no rational way to describe it. He felt an unpleasant, clammy pressure on his lips and the taste of cheap liquor. He should've flinched, should've undergone repulsion, but he felt something entirely else instead...
He would've given all the months spent at five-star hotels, eating most exquisite foods, visiting beautiful landscapes and seeing wonderful towns... for a single second of this alcohol-smelling, sticky, stubbly touch on his mouth.
"Will..." He wanted to say something, but his mind seemed to have drifted to another state. Somehow, everything turned shapeless and elusive when Will's mouth was stroking his.
The next moment, he chose not to contemplate any longer. He pressed his fingers to the back of Will's head, and forced the younger man with sudden strength to deepen the kiss. Teeth were grazing, warm breaths filled his mouth, and he pushed his tongue hungrily against Will's. He could feel the taste of vodka mixed with the bitterness of pills and the sour, acidy undertone of starvation. He could literally taste every hour of loneliness and self-loathing Will had gone through, and it seemed to him that through the desperate, forceful kiss, Will could also feel the pain the doctor had to endure without him.
The kiss showed too much, and Hannibal knew it, but it was too late to do anything against it. These were the moments of raw, strange happiness.
They only stopped kissing when their jaws were already aching from the unusual effort, and they were both disgracefully panting, out of breath.
It almost made Hannibal feel uncomfortable how unprepared and instinctive the words were which suddenly escaped his lips. "I don't want you to have a life without me... because I don't want to live in a world which doesn't include you. I'm unable to ultimately let go of you," he uttered in a rush. After saying these sentences, he saw that it would have been pointless to try to preserve the rest of his pride, it was already in ruins, so he stroked Will's lips with his mouth again, and finished his confession, "I know that we are out of time, but I can't stop wanting to risk everything for you again. I still want it."
"It's too late." Will's answer came in low, pained syllables. "It's too late for us."
They continued with the brief caresses of their lips without further talking, giving each other soft pecks.
Finally, one of the dogs got bored with watching the couple's clumsy, unplanned kisses, and let out an impatient bark.
The gruff sound broke the spell cast on the two men, and they parted with a few faltering inhalations. Will wiped off some saliva from his mouth.
"Er, what are you planning to do now?" he asked from the doctor, turning towards the back of the truck with nervous haste.
"I'm preparing everything for my departure."
Will's eyes darkened, though he didn't seem upset. "You are going away again right now, aren't you?"
"Yes." Hannibal put his arms back around Will's waist. "However–," And slowly, but with imperative force, he started pulling the younger man in the direction of the front passenger seat of the van, "Someone, whose opinion I hold in great esteem, managed to convince me not to change my feelings to rational chances. So this time – regardless of it being too late or not – I'm not leaving you behind."
- The End -