He's back in the basement of the music store in Baltimore, holding his gun in front of him, hands shaking. It's dark, even with the lights on, and Will knows he's should leave, wait for backup, but he can't – this is urgent. There's already one dead police officer upstairs, and Will can't make himself sit around and do nothing while another one dies.
The whole basement smells like chemicals, damp wood, and under that, something organic and deathly. Tobias is down here somewhere – Will can hear him moving, breathing, coming from everywhere all at once. Something continues to draw him forward, despite the alarm bells going off in his head, telling him to run, as fast as he can, and his heart is pounding as he approaches the partition.
That's the goal, he knows that somehow. Whatever he's looking for, whether it's Tobias or the other officer, will be waiting for him behind this partition, and he already knows he won't like what he sees. He knows better than to call out, to ask if someone's there; if he's quiet, he and Tobias can both pretend he's still hidden.
There's a dripping sound coming from just beyond the screen, and Will doesn't want to know – knows that it's bad, that he doesn't need to see this. He can hardly breathe; his chest is tight, his heart pounding so quickly it feels like it's about to burst. His hand is quaking uncontrollably when he reaches for the partition, and his mind is screaming not to do this, but his body is moving on its own. This is a script that's already been written, and there's nothing he can do to change it.
He yanks back the partition and the steel legs screech against the floor. For a moment he's blind with panic, waving his gun around frantically.
No one's there. Not Tobias, and not the officer. Will moves slowly into Hannibal's office, keeping his gun raised. The darkness has followed him here, and even with the sunlight shining through the windows, the office is swallowed up in blackness. He can feel Tobias lurking in the shadows, laughing at him from beyond the overturned furniture and broken glass.
"Doctor?" Will's voice is small, a pathetic whisper-yell, as if that would keep unwanted ears from overhearing. He moves further into the darkness, where Hannibal's desk should be. As he moves closer, his eyes focus on the mess – the desk is on its side, the lamp broken. All of Hannibal's neatly arranged papers and notebooks are strewn across the floor, glistening with something dark and wet.
Will's entire body is shaking, drenched in cold sweat, as he moves to the other side of the desk. The chair has been knocked aside, broken; a quiet whimpering sound reaches his ears, and it takes him a moment to realize he's hearing himself. There's a shadowed lump on the floor, between the desk and the chair, and in the darkness, all Will can see is a few light strands of hair.
His chest seizes up, his gun falling from his hands as he collapses to his knees.
"Hannibal?" He's no longer worried about being overheard. Will reaches for him, and he can already feel the stiffness, the cold, through the layers of Hannibal's clothing. "No no no, please…" He rolls Hannibal onto his back, and suddenly Will can see him in perfect clarity. He jerks away as if he'd be struck, letting out a startled yell, hiding his face in his hands. He can't see this, he doesn't want to see this.
But it's too late, the image has already imprinted itself in his mind: cello strings embedded in Hannibal's face, impossibly deep, one hooked into his mouth and slicing open his cheeks, pulling them open in a macabre smile, another right through his eyes. One eye had popped while the other bulged sideways, the white turned a blackened red.
Another, thicker string lay halfway through his neck, and blood still oozed out, forming a black puddle around them. Will's kneeling in the midst of it, and he can feel Hannibal's blood – still warm, somehow – seeping through the knees of his pants.
The warmth moves up his body, and it's heavy, weighing down on his chest. It's suddenly hard to breathe, and Will gasps brokenly, fighting for air, as the heat – the blood – moves higher, brushing his neck, then sliding wetly across his cheek. Something nudges him, cold and wet, and Will jerks awake. Winston is staring down at him pleasantly, his large body draped on top of Will's.
Will lets out a heavy breath, squeezes his eyes closed. The pain of the dream catches up with him quickly, leaving him trembling in the aftermath, and even Winston's gentle licks against his cheek do nothing to calm him. He's covered in sweat, sticking to the sheets, his t-shirt twisted wetly around his torso. He wants to get up and get a towel, but he can't bring himself to move. He slides his arms out from under the sheet and hooks them around Winston, digging his fingers into his fur and holding on tight. He needs an anchor, something to keep him here, in the real world.
Winston whimpers sympathetically when Will buries his face against his neck, breathing in the soft smell of outdoors and something purely dog. It brings a small shred of comfort, but behind closed eyes, all Will can see is Hannibal's bloodied face, gaping throat. This isn't the first time he's dreamt of losing Hannibal; he's been having dreams like this ever since the incident with Tobias, and they get more and more graphic each time.
He hasn't told Hannibal about it. Will has only seen him once in the past few days, and Hannibal still seemed shaken, not ready to start seeing patients again. They're supposed to meet today, work on cleaning up Hannibal's office, and Will isn't going to use that time to talk about his personal issues. His social skills are bad, but he's not stupid; Hannibal has enough to worry about without dealing with Will's problems.
His chances of getting a decent amount of sleep with those images fresh in his mind are slim – not that he wants to sleep anymore after that. He shifts around gently until Winston gets the idea and moves to the other side of the bed, flopping over and watching Will cautiously.
"I'm okay," Will says, rubbing Winston's head. He's not, and he thinks they both know it, and he leaves before Winston's eyes can question him any further, stepping carefully around the other dogs.
A few of them wake up and follow him to the living room, where he pulls off his dampened shirt and tosses it aside. It's still dark outside, just past four in the morning. He's supposed to be at Hannibal's office around ten. It's too much time to kill, but right now, anything is better than sleeping.
He flips on a lamp and sits down at his desk, adjusting a magnifying glass over a fishing lure he's been working on. He can lose himself in this, and that's exactly what he needs – he can't trust himself with his thoughts.
The dogs fall asleep behind him as he works into the morning, the rising sunlight turning the room from black to a soft, comfortable blue. One of the dogs has been snoring for the past hour, and it brings a small smile to Will's face. He wishes he could do this forever, leave the FBI and surround himself with what the things he likes. All he needs are his dogs, his hobbies. He could be happy this way – he could be sane.
His back is starting to ache from hunching over his desk for so long, and he arches back, stretching, allowing his concentration to break for the first time in hours. His dream is almost forgotten – almost. The initial terror is gone, but he doesn't think he'll ever forget what he saw.
He looks over his shoulder, checking on the dogs. All of them had eventually migrated to the living room with him, circled around him like his own silent guardians. He feels safe like this, achingly grateful; he doesn't know what he would do without them. He bites back a smile and turns back to his desk, but it's not quite his desk anymore.
It seems to stretch into infinity, made up of bones piled on top of each other. Fragments of skulls and shards of ribs, bits and pieces of all the people he couldn't save. The sky above him has turned gray, swirling with an oncoming storm, and Will looks back to the dogs for reassurance. They're gone. In their place is Tobias, dark eyes glinting as a smile curls onto his face, blood dripping from his hands.
"Where is Dr. Lecter?" That's all Will can think to say, and it seems so important. His breath is turning to shallow pants, unease washing over him in waves. Tobias doesn't look away from, doesn't blink; a tireless manifestation of evil. Never sleeps, never dies.
"Where is Dr. Lecter?" Will demands again, angry now. He draws his gun, holding it up as threateningly as he can, though it shakes in his hands.
Tobias's smile widens, raises his hands in mock surrender. "I was hoping you'd ask." He steps aside, and there's Hannibal, strung up like the trombonist from the symphony: The neck of a cello crammed into his mouth, his throat pulled open, vocal cords primed for music. Blood is still pouring steadily from his throat, soaking his clothes.
"He makes a beautiful sound," Tobias says, and something in Will snaps. He's screaming, firing one shot after another, hitting Tobias again and again. Tobias barely reacts to the blows, laughing as red splotches bloom on his dress shirt like bloody flowers.
"Will," he says, shaking his head as if chastising a child. He sounds different now, kind of familiar – Will's too lost in his rage, his vision gone blurry, his throat raw. He's never felt such undiluted rage, and his whole body shakes with it. It coils in his chest like a spring wound too tight, and it feels like it's going to blow him apart from the inside.
"Will!" Hands grab him from behind and Will's heart stops, just for a moment, because he knows he's going to die. Then his survival instincts kick in, and he twists away, hitting blindly at the hands that continue to reach for him. They're strong, and they capture his wrists easily, wrestling the gun from his hands and holding them behind his back.
"Wake up, Will," the voice says, closer now. Will breaks free from the dream, sucking in a breath as if he's been held underwater for too long. Hannibal's face is mere inches away, and he's searching Will's eyes imploringly.
Will jerks away from him, looking around frantically for Tobias. But it's only him and Hannibal, and the dogs stare at Will inquisitively.
He looks back to Hannibal and has the unrecognizable, absolutely insane urge to throw his arms around him; to use him as his anchor, his refuge. But Hannibal has already moved back a respectable distance, his hands folded neatly behind his back. Detached, unreachable.
"Are you alright?"
Will is anything but alright, standing in the middle of his living room in his underwear, covered in sweat and shaking violently. "I – what are you doing here?"
"It's noon," Hannibal says. "I was expecting you at ten."
"I'm – I'm sorry." Will wraps his arms around himself in a weak attempt to hide himself. He feels too exposed in Hannibal's presence, too vulnerable.
"Don't be. I thought you might have slept in, but when I arrived, I heard gunfire. So I let myself in."
Hannibal looks around as if this is normal, keeping his usual, detached smile on his face. He turns his gaze toward the fireplace, the hole in the wall, which is now surrounded with a scatter of bullet holes.
"It seems you were doing some remodeling anyway."
Will is too tired, too panicked and confused, for this conversation. "Look, um – can I just get dressed? This is – I don't know what's going on, and I need–"
Will can feel Hannibal's eyes on him as he leaves, and he rushes down the hallway to his bedroom. It's there that he allows himself to break, collapsing on the edge of the bed and burying his face in his hands. These dreams are exhausting him, and he almost feels like he's still in one, detached from time and space and logic.
He draws in a deep, shuddering breath, and lifts his eyes to the window. It feels impossible for it to be noon already, but the sun is shining in brightly, and Will can feel the warmth of it from his place on the bed.
He knows he probably needs a shower; his hair is sticking to his neck, his forehead, but he doesn't have the time. He doesn't want to keep Hannibal waiting. With that thought in mind, Will moves to the closet and pulls on the first shirt he sees, slips into yesterday's pants. It's good enough, though he doesn't dare look in a mirror.
When he returns to the living room, Hannibal is sitting on the couch, the dogs swarming around him excitedly. He's smiling, pulling pieces of meat from a paper bag and feeding them, pausing periodically to scratch their ears and murmur to them. It's a sight that makes Will's heart ache, and he leans against the doorframe, content to watch.
He could have lost this. Hannibal's a psychiatrist; he has no combat training that Will's aware of, no experience. The fact that he survived his encounter with Tobias is a miracle – and the fact that he's here, alive and smiling and generally unharmed. There are still bruises on his face, his lip split, but he's okay, and that's all Will can ask for.
"I'm sorry. Again," Will says. "For getting you into this." 'For nearly getting you killed' is what he wants to say, but the words die in his throat.
Hannibal looks up at him, his expression soft, kind. "Don't be. Tobias was after my patient, he would have showed up with or without your involvement."
"I should have stopped him sooner."
Hannibal ignores this, distributing the rest of the meat to the dogs. They lick at his fingers gratefully, then lean up to sniff his face.
"They like you," Will comments. They're not horribly particular about who they like, but something about this is making Will's heart pound, his hands shake. He wants to be able to see this every day, to have someone here who cares enough to bring snacks for the dogs, who can be his support system. He never thought he needed anyone, but he likes the thought of Hannibal staying close, so he can always know he's okay.
"Would you like to talk about your dream?" Hannibal asks.
Will shakes his head. "No, it's – I don't want to bother you."
"It's no bother. Perhaps it will keep you from shooting holes in the wall. It would be very sad if you hit someone." His hand lands on Winston's head, stroking it casually.
That's something Will hadn't considered, and his chest constricts painfully at the thought. "It's just…" He crosses the room, sitting down on the opposite end of the couch. Two of the dogs separate them, but it still feels weirdly intimate. Will stares down at his hands, which are laced tightly in his lap. "I keep dreaming that – Budge. I keep dreaming about Tobias Budge." The truth is too embarrassing, especially in the daylight.
"You're carrying a lot of unwarranted guilt."
"I don't know if it's unwarranted."
"You did nothing wrong."
Will shrugs, picking determinedly at his thumbnail to keep from making eye contact.
"Tell me," Hannibal continues. "Why are you so troubled by my involvement?"
Will doesn't know when he became so transparent. He sighs, squeezing his eyes closed. "I'm just realizing how – I don't know – impermanent this is. Someone can show up, and they can kill you, and there would be nothing I could do about it."
He's answered with silence, and he chances a peek at Hannibal. He looks perplexed, staring ahead sightlessly.
"I can't lose my only friend," Will adds desperately, as if this will somehow make Hannibal invincible.
This gets Hannibal's attention. "Your only friend?"
"The only one I can trust."
"In that case, I will do my best not to die."
Will laughs, ducking his head. A calmness passes between them, and somehow Will feels closer to him than ever.
"I'm tired of watching him kill you," he admits. "And knowing that he hurt you at all makes me so – so angry."
"I feel the same." Hannibal gestures at the bandages that still encircle Will's hands. "You could have died just as easily. I think the fear of your death is what gave me the strength to kill him."
Will is strangely flattered, and he can't hold back a small smile. "I'm sorry you had to do that. I know it hurts."
A smirk curls onto Hannibal's face, though he doesn't offer a response.
"But I won't die either," Will adds.
"I know you won't." There's a dark promise in that statement that makes Will shiver, renders him speechless. In that moment, it feels like Hannibal isn't the one who needs protection. Maybe he's always been Will's protector, silent and deadly, an angel in the shadows.
It might not be enough to stop the dreams, but for now, it's the most comforting thing in the world. Hannibal would kill for him – has killed for him – and that somehow seems more special than terrifying.
Will helps him stand, taking his hands and pulling him up, and escorts him to the door with more care than necessary. Hannibal is still limping slightly from the stab wound, and though he's more than capable of getting around, he seems amused by Will's attempts to help.
Will drives them to Hannibal's office, so they can begin the long process of cleaning it up. It's not as bad as it was in his dream, but it will take a lot of time – time Will is more than willing to spend with him. Hannibal is meticulous, straightening his books with the utmost care, reading through his papers as if each one is precious.
It's then that Will realizes that maybe, just maybe, he'd be able to kill for Hannibal, too.