Dr. Hannibal Lecter struggled to keep his eyes focused, dragging his pummeled, broken body forward through the streets of Florence. Jack Crawford had really done a number on him this time, he had to walk carefully so as not to further injure at least one broken and several cracked ribs, and that was difficult considering his right leg was impaled and practically useless. One arm hung limply from a dislocated shoulder. The fuzziness at the edge of his vision and his difficulty concentrating for more than a few minutes on any one thing indicated a moderate to severe concussion. Stunning and ancient stone architecture lined his path as he moved forward, limping down curved and hard to predict side streets, avoiding the more spacious piazzas. Once he reached an area with fast food restaurants with plastic signs and hole in the wall beauty shops he allowed himself to slow down. A beaten, bloodied man would attract less attention in a less upscale side of town, and in areas where most people have some kind of criminal history there's a smaller likelihood of someone reporting you.
It spoke to Hannibal's current weakened state that he hadn't managed to smell Will Graham's approach over the familiar scent of his own, drying blood. He shut his eyes, taking a deep breath.
"I can't say you're looking well, Doctor Lecter."
"I regret that very much Will. I would much rather have seen you at my best."
The two men stared at each other, a few feet apart, face-to-face. It was almost as though they were back in Hannibal's office. In this case, even with Hannibal covered in blood and Will looking as though he had just walked three hundred miles along a Eurail track, their eyes met with the same sharp intensity as ever.
"The last time you saw me I looked quite a bit worse, you might remember." Will said, absently touching the deep scar on his stomach.
"I remember our last meeting very clearly Will." Hannibal said. "Now, if you'll forgive me, I must sit down." He swayed a bit on his feet, the pain of his beating catching up with him.
"Are you all right?" Will asked quickly, with concern. He stepped forward as though to grab Hannibal's arm before stopping himself.
"I have a broken rib which is threatening to puncture my lung. I would prefer that it didn't; I'm sure you understand." Hannibal slowly lowered himself to the curb, legs trembling as he did so. He eyed the rooftops where Will's glance had betrayed the presence of snipers, but he couldn't focus well enough to figure out which window they were using. "As such, I would prefer it very much to not have to place my hands on my head during the arrest."
Will sighed, and then nodded. He had imagined this going differently. In complete honesty he had imagined arresting/murdering Hannibal Lecter in about every possible fashion. Several of them involved hugging.
"I'm… sorry." Will couldn't believe the words were coming out of his mouth, even if they were true.
"This is not the way this should end, Will." Hannibal said, his eyes were shut, face facing towards the heavens. "We deserve better."
Will could only imagine what Hannibal would think was better. Probably Will personally crucifying him on a cross of Elk Antlers, his organs twisted artistically around each prong. Hannibal probably wouldn't even mind being murdered, he'd just nod in appreciation of the artistry while the life slowly dripped from his body.
"I told you I would never deny you your life." Will said.
Hannibal opened his eyes and met Will's gaze. "More's the pity."
And with that the entire power of the Italian Polizia de Stato and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation was unleashed, surrounding Hannibal and Will in a halo of pointed weaponry. Several helicopters hovered overhead and every single townsperson on the street ducked into hiding while craning their necks to figure out what was going on.
Hannibal met Will's gaze for one final second, and then with a slow exhale of breath disappeared into his mind palace. Will felt abandoned as the police force took the injured and bloody man into custody, and a little sick. As much as he wanted Hannibal Lecter out of his head, he couldn't help but agree. After all they had been through, they deserved better.
Will's first lucid thought, waking up in the hospital after the horrifying discovery of Francis Dolarhyde in his front yard, was that consulting Dr. Hannibal Lecter on the Red Dragon case had been a mistake.
He had thought he could do it. It had been years since Hannibal Lecter had thoroughly fucked him up. He had a wife and family now. He hadn't had a murderous thought or impulse since the good doctor had been institutionalized. But after meeting Hannibal in his cold, undignified cell, after sprinting like a frightened child out of the mental hospital and having nightmares for weeks, he realized how overconfident and rash that decision had been.
Alana Bloom sat by his bed, wearing some ridiculous and expensive outfit that made her look like she came from the land of Oz. She had gone full Verger now. He supposed that her love for her partner must be strong to overcome having to live with that disgusting excuse for a human being, Mason Verger.
"Hello Will." Alana said, and while her voice had never regained the warmth she had had before Hannibal threw her out a window, she did not sound unfriendly.
"Is… Molly here?" Will asked her.
"No. You probably don't remember, as you fled and abandoned your wife and child to Francis Dolarhyde, but Molly ended up shooting him." Alana said, coldly.
"I…oh." Will groaned and laid his head back. "Good for Molly."
"She doesn't want to see you."
"Got that, Alana. Thanks."
"I understand that, given the circumstances, this might not be the most therapeutic thing for you to hear, but I told you not to get involved with this case."
"You did, that is true, thanks for that as well, Alana. Is Jack here? Jesus."
"Fuck Jack." Alana picked up an envelope from the table besides Will's hospital bed. "You have a letter."
"From Molly?" Will perked up until he saw the handwriting on the envelope, as close to perfect calligraphy as you could draw using a hospital issued crayon. "Oh." Will took the letter like someone would pick up an eviction notice. "Does he write you letters?"
"He only writes letters to people he likes."
"I guess you're right. Sorry."
"I take some pride in not being the sort of person Hannibal Lecter likes, Will, even though it makes me feel profoundly unsafe most of the time."
Will was reading Hannibal's letter, and had stopped paying attention to Dr. Bloom. It closed with the very polite statement: "I think of you often. Your old friend, Hannibal Lecter."
Tears, embarrassingly began to pool in the corner's of Will's eyes. Yet again, he found himself with the grand total of exactly one friend. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the manipulative ex who could find a way to isolate you even after he was behind bars. Will wanted to laugh.
Will was in line at a liquor store/Lebanese restaurant down the road from his house when he saw on the news that Dr. Hannibal Lecter had escaped. Black bars censored the grainy footage of Hannibal's two prison guards' brutalized corpses, propped up with their flayed skin looking almost like angel wings. Will found himself frustrated at the censor. He wanted to see the full piece of art. Everyone interviewed on TV was sick, panicked, shell shocked. News reporters struggled to explain Dr. Lecter's escape in a way that wouldn't traumatize too many youngsters watching at home. Will pieced together from descriptions that Hannibal had torn off a guard's face and worn it as a mask. The scene was grisly.
Reporters kept badgering a young woman, apparently the last FBI agent to speak to him. "AGENT STARLING" They all shouted, "CLARICE WHAT DID HE SAY!?" Starling's expressionless face held up better than Will would have expected from an agent in her early twenties. She seemed like a tough nut to crack.
"Friggin' scary, huh?" The teenager working at the counter observed, snapping Will's attention off the screen. "I can't believe Hannibal the Cannibal's back on the streets."
"Hm." Will put his bottle of cheap bourbon down on the counter. "Can I just go ahead and order a dinner for two?" He asked, reaching for his wallet.
But Will's hunch was wrong, Hannibal didn't show up in house that evening. Will ate his double order of pita chips and hummus alone and told himself that he was not disappointed. What did he expect, for Hannibal to show up and ask for one of his dish towel's to wipe another man's blood off of his face? No, he was not so screwed up as to be disappointed.
Hannibal turned up at Will's house about three weeks later. The length of time it takes for the FBI folks sent to guard Will's house to be rotated through the really good staff and roll around to the teenage FBI trainees who had a tendency to get bored and watch their cell phones when they were meant to be on patrol. That was when Will came home from his work as an auto-mechanic to the smell of garlic and spices, and the sight of a well muscled man in a well tailored suit moving around his kitchen like a dancer.
"Tell me you aren't cooking one of my dogs." Will said.
Hannibal gave him a disappointed look. Will nodded and sat down and his tiny kitchen table.
"You've moved down in the world since we last met Will. This isn't the address I shared with the Dragon. And you have hardly any counter space at all."
"I don't cook much for myself." Will said. "And I think you can tell me why I'm not sharing my life with anyone right now."
"Tsk tsk tsk… Will. I'm sure you could have attracted another special someone in the years since we've spoken."
"Yes, and I'm pretty sure if I had you would be preparing them for dinner right now, not… what the hell are you making?"
"One of my guards. I'm going to have to season him up a bit, he was a disgusting person generally and he died under quite a bit of stress. I'll have to counter the acidity. Your spice cabinet is embarrassing Will." He gestured to Will's "spice cabinet" which was made up of salt, pepper, oregano which had expired about 4 years ago, waxy red pepper flakes, and garlic powder which had solidified into a brick. Hannibal handed will a large glass of red wine which was worth more than what Will made in a month these days. He took a resigned sip.
"Did the FBI ask you to consult on the Buffalo Bill case?" Hannibal asked.
"They did. I said no."
Hannibal turned around with two plates of what looked like a fine pasta with a deep red meat sauce. He'd even managed to garnish it with the dried oregano Will had forgotten was even in his pantry.
"Bon appetit." Hannibal gave his little smile and Will found himself smiling back.
"Did you make the pasta yourself?"
"You had flour and eggs Will, I did what I could. Why did you not lend your powers of deductive reasoning to the case of Buffalo Bill? You used to tell me you were morally obligated to stop these killers."
"I'm a little less sure about my moral obligations these days, Hannibal." Will said calmly, taking a large bite of pasta. It was delicious.
"Perhaps your refusal was why they ended up consulting with me." Hannibal said.
"Maybe. You should thank me then, you clearly got what you wanted out of it."
Again, Hannibal smiled. He swirled his glass of wine around expertly, inhaling with a look of peaceful delight.
"I made a charming new acquaintance Will. Her name is Clarice Starling. You would like her very much I think."
"I saw her on the news. Is she Jack's new protégée?"
"Jack is using her like he uses every talented person he meets. To cover up for his own lack of imagination and intellect."
"Sounds like she made a good impression."
"She is very intelligent and capable. She's wasted on the FBI, they'll never see her potential. Much like they never saw yours, Will."
Will nodded noncommittally and continued eating in silence. It was very probably his last supper, and he was surprised at how little he cared. He felt comfortable with Hannibal, in a way he hadn't felt in years. For a moment he pondered what kind of dish Hannibal would turn him into, and all he felt was anticipation at being made into something delicious. It would make a nice change from his current miserable life.
"I'm here to say goodbye, Will." Hannibal pronounced, putting down his fork.
"Are you?" Will asked, presuming the statement to be a precursor to his murder. He wasn't even sweating, he was enjoying just looking at Hannibal without protective glass between them, like the old days.
"I have no intention of being recaptured, and that will involve my complete disappearance."
"And I know too much and cannot be allowed to live, I understand." Will said scratching the back of his neck.
Hannibal's jaw dropped.
"You don't know anything Will, why would I kill you?"
"I know you too well. We have too much history. I'm unpredictable and you know I can surprise you. You've got to kill me."
Hannibal stood up and approached Will's chair, kneeling beside it. His eyes were tender and dark and cold. For the first time Will trembled. Hannibal put his hand to the side of Will's face and Will found himself nuzzling into it, like one of his dogs. Leaning in, Hannibal whispered in his ear,
"I will keep in touch."
He then took Will's head in both hands and slammed it into the wall. Will went limp. Carrying him tenderly, like a parent putting their child to bed after they fell asleep in the car, Hannibal lay him down on the couch. He stood for a moment, adjusting his tie and collar, staring at his prone friend. He stroked the side of Will's face, kissed his cheek, and left him. When Will woke up the next morning his dishes were done and there was a fresh bouquet of wildflowers artfully displayed on his kitchen table. He never reported the incident to the FBI.
Most of Will's life was simple. He had given up being a consultant for the FBI, and had thus lost the main source of stress and the only source of meaning in his life. He didn't date. He fished quite a bit, in fact, his hours fishing were the only truly peaceful and happy moments in his life. He worked as a mechanic at a local garage, where most of his coworkers didn't know that he was that guy with the weird relationship with Hannibal the Cannibal, registered trademark. He didn't socialize much. He was very quiet and came across as odd with the few neighbors with whom he did speak. He owned a large number of weapons.
Most of the time the FBI left him alone. The man who caught Hannibal Lecter for the first and only time was not asked to try to catch him again. This came as a relief to Will, although he was certain that they were not leaving him alone out of consideration for his mental state. They probably just thought he couldn't do his magical deductions anymore.
He rarely, if ever saw Alana. So when she turned up at his doorstep with no makeup, expensive black and white clothes askew, and a look of genuine panic in her eyes, it came as a bit of a shock.
"How did you get here?" Will asked the woman on his doorstep. He lived in the middle of nowhere, Florida. It was a terrible place, very hard to find.
"Margot's motorcycle." Alanna said.
"Oh. Is she out waiting on the yacht somewhere?"
"Will," Alanna closed her eyes and swallowed shakily. "May I come in?"
Will stepped out of the way to allow Alanna into his home. She sat down heavily in one of the cheap folding chairs that he used around his dining table, and took a deep, uneven breath. "Something has happened. Mason's dead." She said in a flat, dull voice.
"Oh!" Will crossed his arms and looked at his guest, trying to feign concern. "Am I… sad? about that?"
"The circumstances are… well, it's all bizarre."
"Did Margot kill him?" Will asked, realizing as he said it that he was being too blunt. He had to get back into the dance of non self-incrimination that used to come so fluently to he and Hannibal.
"As you are probably aware, Mason had invested a considerable amount of money in finding Hannibal Lecter."
"He seemed like a vengeful sort of guy. I'm surprised he hasn't had me brutalized yet, Hannibal had him feed his face to MY dogs."
"Mason Verger was a horrible person, just, just the most cartoonishly awful…" Alana took a deep breath to compose herself. "I was willing to help him find Hannibal. I wasn't going to let him get you."
"You… worked with Mason?" Will could feel the judgment coming through in his tone and tried to stop it.
"We got him Will. For a minute."
"A minute. And now Mason's dead, and Hannibal's out, And you…"
"I'm not in a great place, but I had to tell you, Hannibal didn't escape alone. We weren't stupid, we tranquilized him with a dartgun in a parking lot and we weren't going to let him even wake up, but he was rescued."
"No, not you, Clarice Starling. She came out of nowhere with guns blazing and she fucking SAVED HANNIBAL Will."
Will sat down heavily in his thrift store recliner. So Hannibal had been rescued by his "charming new acquaintance."
"Wasn't she just involved in some big FBI lawsuit?" Will asked, recalling something he had seen on the news a few months ago.
"Yes, they accused her of working with Hannibal Lecter. I thought it was bunk until she Ramboed us."
"Somehow Hannibal's behind all of it, pulling the strings." Will said. "He's got her under his thumb."
"Well, it's a place you're familiar with, Will."
Will bit his cheek, but didn't respond to that.
"You… want me to find him?" he asked, dubiously.
"Look at it this way." Alana said, soothingly. "You aren't finding Hannibal Lecter, you are rescuing Clarice Starling."
"And if I find him…"
"Stop him. And get her out of there. I spoke with her once, on the Buffalo Bill case. I tried to prepare her for dealing with Dr. Lecter. Apparently she did all right."
"Where are you off to?"
"I'm not telling anyone that right now. God knows what good it will do me." Alana shrugged. "He doesn't hate Margot as much as he hates me. That'll buy us some time."
"Good luck, Alana." Will took her hands as he said it, and he meant her nothing but good.
"Hey, can we pull over at Chick-Fil-A?" a truly deep southern accent drawled at Hannibal Lecter from the passenger's seat of his recently stolen Fiat.
He wasn't sure how to respond. Clarice had been under a fairly heavy drug cocktail for the past several weeks, but the past few days he had been slowly weaning her off of it. Maybe this desire for greasy food was a side effect of that.
"No." He replied flatly.
Clarice looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and he saw, with a feeling of cold dread, that she was being serious.
"I'm hungry though."
"Then we'll get something to eat."
"I want waffle fries."
Hannibal stared straight ahead, unsure of what to do here. The last meal that he and Clarice had shared had been the extremely fresh brain of Clarice's former colleague Paul Krendler, who had also been seated at the dinner table with them, under a similar mix of drugs as Clarice. She had handled the entire situation with her usual easy charm and quick wit. Frankly, the evening had been delightful. Clarice had looked like a million dollars in the dress Hannibal had procured for her (an Alexander McQueen, worth upwards of $450,000, just for full disclosure) and afterwards they had had a rewarding chat and retired to their separate rooms. Hannibal had decided not to give her her drug cocktail, just to see how she would react. So far she seemed a bit foggy but mostly fine. Apart from this disgusting craving.
"Hannibal, did you hear me? I want waffle fries." Clarice repeated, infuriatingly.
"I don't eat that kind of food."
"Are you…" Clarice sat up a little straighter in her seat. "Are you judging me? For fast food? You… fucking… you eat people."
"I am not judging you, I simply refuse to eat any meal that I do not consider to be worthwhile. You certainly seemed to enjoy Paul Krendler as an ingredient."
Clarice pursed her lips.
"Well I think waffle fries are worthwhile."
Clarice was about to continue the discussion, but her face fell. "Oh shit, what day is it?"
"No what day of the week?"
"Never mind, they're closed."
Hannibal raised an eyebrow.
"I forgot, Chik Fil A honors their God by abstaining from profits one day a week. A worthless gesture."
"I'm gonna pull the emergency brake if you don't shut up."
Hannibal smiled very slightly and looked at his companion out of the corner of his eye. Even as she looked today, slumped in a car wearing jeans and a tank top, Clarice Starling was reminiscent of a Greco-roman statue. Her skin was pale and clear, and her slight under bite gave her an expression of stubborn determination. He had fantasized about killing her a million different ways, but again and again found that he didn't want to. Even now, when she was actively goading him, there was no urge to snap her neck, no desire to watch the beauty bleed out and leave her skin even paler. He would rather have her to bicker with.
Clarice put her feet, clad in new leather pumps he had procured for her, up on the dashboard of the car. She slunk into her seat like a cranky toddler on a car trip.
Later, that night, in a hotel room in Williamsburg VA, Hannibal sat in a chair in his corner of the room with a book, while Clarice stretched out on her queen size bed, dozing. His eyes ran down her back, which still rippled with FBI muscles on her small frame. He reached into his inner coat pocket for a syringe, containing at this point an extremely diluted drug cocktail, similar to the ones he gave Will Graham to keep him disoriented in their early therapy sessions.
"I'm not going to run away, you know." Clarice muttered, rolling over. Her tank top had gotten pulled down a bit too much as she moved around on the bed, and Hannibal had to focus to keep his eyes on her face. "I won't turn you in." She promised.
"I am afraid that is exactly what someone that was trying to run away and turn me in would say." Hannibal admitted, keeping the syringe in his coat pocket.
"I like you, Hannibal. I always have. You're a real gentleman."
"There are many who would argue otherwise."
"Well, you have killed a lot of people."
Hannibal remained silent. He watched Clarice with interest. At this point, with no further injections, she should be entirely in control of her own actions. There was a very strong possibility she was going to snap out of this blissful dreamy state and attempt to apprehend him. Clarice stretched out, toes curling, arms lifted above her head in a catlike, relaxed stretch.
"And it's not exactly gentlemanly to keep drugging a woman without her knowledge or consent." Clarice said, raising an eyebrow.
Hannibal blinked, surprised. "I apologize." He said softly. "Sincerely. If I had been certain that you would remain in my company without attempting to arrest me I would not have..."
"Am I still under something?"
"Do you feel as though you are?"
"Yes or no, Hannibal."
"Hmm…" Clarice sat up and stared directly into Hannibal's face. She looked beautiful. For a moment Hannibal could see the little girl he imagined, running away from her aunt and uncle's house carrying a baby lamb to protect it. What a magnificent creature she was.
"You know," Clarice said, with a little laugh, "the first time I saw you I thought you looked like an otter."
"An otter. Do they have those, wherever the hell you're from?"
"Lithuania. Yes we have otters."
"I thought you looked like a weird otter."
Hannibal pursed his lips. "I'm not sure how to respond to that." He said.
"You don't have to. I just wanted you to know that I think you're a lot sexier now."
"Sexier… than an otter."
Hannibal tapped his fingers together with concern.
"I spent weeks having conversations with you while you were under the influence of a variety of drugs, and this is the first clear-headed conversation topic you have decided upon?"
"I don't think you understand." Clarice oozed a little bit closer to Hannibal, smiling wickedly and leaning her head to the side, allowing her long hair to sweep down her shoulders. "I'm saying that I think you're cute."
She had been living with Hannibal for weeks, and yet she still smelled like Dial soap and hard work. She looked like truth and forgiveness. Her eyes were deep, dark, beautiful sin.
Hannibal leaned forward the tiny bit further that he needed to touch her face. She leaned in, eyes closed, waiting.
"You're beautiful, Clarice. May I kiss you?"
"Oh hell yes." Clarice mumbled, and then kissed him deeply. Hannibal kissed back, pulling her small waist and hips firmly into his.
For a moment, he thought of Will Graham and a house that he had made ready for them, so long ago. There was a pang of regret, long forgotten, for what might have been. But soon that thought was lost in a wave of kisses and sighs and soft skin and a thick southern accent moaning his name.