It's the same dream again, the one he can't get rid of. Stalking the girls. Killing and eating them. Elation and disgust.
Every time, he feels the power – the absolute control – of shooting Hobbs.
Not just because of his shoulder.
When it replays, he sees himself fail to drop Hobbs on the first shot, but the two that follow hit Hobbs in the chest.
The next seven?
Because it felt good. Better than any other feeling he's ever had.
And each time, there's Hobbs saying to him, "See. See."
This is how it feels to kill. The best feeling.
He's high on that feeling when the scene skips and he becomes Hobbs, holding Abigail tightly, telling her he's going to make it all go away, slashing her creamy white throat.
And each time, it feels so good.
The scene skips again, as it's been doing since the Charleston case, and Hobbs restrains him as he struggles while Abigail yanks down his pants.
She raises the knife. She's got him this time, holding his penis and testicles. He feels a scream come tearing up into his throat.
She moves to slash and –
A flash of fur and –
He slumps against the cabinets, terrified but whole.
When he turns his head, he sees Abigail pinned to the refrigerator, dead, her torso riddled with puncture wounds.
The massive stag stands broadside in front of him and turns his majestic head toward Will. Deep, inscrutable eyes, brown blending to black, stare impassively at him.
The stag bows his enormous head and the scene dissolves into nothing.
As if emerging from a long tunnel into the golden glow of dawn, Will wakes.
A long, heavy, warm weight presses against his side.
For a few happy seconds, he thinks it's Hannibal - that Hannibal has stayed and it's his long, lean body pressed firmly against Will's.
The earthy smell of dog dashes his hopes: it's Winston.
Will runs a hand through Winston's shaggy fur and pats his canine companion. If his throat weren't so sore, he'd say something, but the drugs have worn off. His head aches and his fever is up again.
The stag. It's never done something so assertive before.
The last time Will dreamt of the stag, Winston was walking with him down Meadowlark Road. Winston may be with him now, but Will knows he isn't the stag.
The dream is too loaded with obvious symbolism. Hannibal as the stag saving him from castration - he doesn't know what to do with that idea. He's missing something, but he doesn't know what, and his head and throat hurt too much for him to think about it.
He's just glad he's still in bed and not standing on his roof or knee-deep in Lake Caroline or wandering the Dulles Toll Road.
Better still, he isn't even drenched in sweat – just damp with it. The sheets and pillow will dry quickly.
Will pats Winston again and pushes his heavy body up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Winston snuffs, stretches, and hops off of the bed, following Will to the bathroom.
Will notices the puncture wound in the crook of his elbow as he urinates. No band aid covers it. Hannibal must have taped a cotton ball in place and then removed it.
Will shuffles back to his bedroom, his body stiff and sore from sleeping so much. As he stretches, a note on thick paper in an elegant hand catches his eye. He sits on the bed, Winston at his side, and reads.
My dear Will:
I have left your medication on the table. Take either acetaminophen or Tylenol 3 as soon as possible. Once it takes effect, drink as much water as you can. You will find a few basic items in your kitchen; eat and take the amoxicillin.
Should you feel uncomfortably warm, I advise placing a cool towel around your neck.
I shall return in the morning with breakfast. I hope to find you much improved.
Will's hand stills on Winston's back.
The word sticks in his mind. It's not a typical closing – not a yours truly meant to signify the letter's authenticity. Rather, it reads like a message to him: I am yours.
And then there's everything Hannibal chose not to say.
Along with the scent of ink, a hint of Hannibal's fine fragrance drifts up from the paper. Will takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
Memories from the night before, hazy with fever and drugs, flood his mind. His cock jerks and he swallows convulsively, wincing.
He cannot – cannot – do this.
He rubs his hands over his face. He has kept his attraction to Hannibal locked in the portion of his mind he visits only when he can no longer avoid indulging his sexual needs.
Like earlier tonight. His stomach is still sticky and his sensitive skin still tingles with the frenzied pace he'd used. He hadn't been able to go slowly. Even now, his scalp and muscles recall Hannibal's hands. His strong, gentle, practiced hands.
No. This is too much. He can never let any one in. Never.
Winston, George, Callie – the dogs are all he needs.
Will stands again, stretching, and follows Hannibal's instructions. Acetaminophen for pain and fever first. The pill and water burn down his throat.
While he waits for the pain to fade, he sits on the floor of his bedroom, his back securely against the wall, and pets each one of the dogs thoroughly, saying hello without speaking.
The dogs seem fine. Happy to see him, as they always are. They sense his happiness at their presence and get excited, whining and barking, wanting to jump on him and lick his face. He lets them pile on top of him and feels a weight lift.
Dog emotions are pure and simple, refreshing after the jumble of human emotion. When he lets himself exist in the moment with them, he can stop thinking.
Being with the dogs has kept him sane. He lets himself get lost in their happiness.
By the time the dogs have had their fill – and it's a long time before all six are satisfied – the sharp edge is gone from the pain and his head is clearer, less feverish.
It's not enough, though, for him to bear eating.
He signs heavily and looks from the dogs to the bottle of codeine-laced Tylenol. He's slept more in the last twenty-four hours than he does in the better part of a week. He needs to stay awake so he can think through what happened last night.
But he really, really doesn't want to think about it. And he has to eat. Doctor's orders.
His mouth tugs at the thought. The prurient portion of his mind wants to run with it to fantasy land. How easy it would be to do.
He puts it out of his mind as he swallows the codeine. Until he gets rid of this fever, he won't be himself. Won't be able to resist the things Hannibal does to him just by existing. Won't be able to see the best way forward.
The dogs follow him to the kitchen. Bananas, soup, tea, honey, and, strangely, pretzels wait on the kitchen table. He'll have to ask about the pretzels when Hannibal arrives. It's past four a.m. now; he doesn't expect Hannibal before eight.
Will selects soup and sets about warming it up. The dogs stay close, sometimes getting in his way. Once, he nearly trips over Rufus, the little terrier mix.
While he waits for the soup to cool, he pours himself some whiskey. Alcohol with acetaminophen may be like throwing gasoline on a fire, but he can't bring himself to care about the state of his liver.
Once he's swallowed half of the soup – that has to be enough, he thinks – his head is pleasantly foggy with whisky and codeine.
But he still doesn't want to drink the glass of water he poured. Nausea squeezes his stomach. He hates antibiotics; they always do this to him. Worse, his throat still hurts in spite of the heady mix of drugs.
And yet earlier tonight he'd eaten with ease in spite of his sore throat. Hannibal lifted his spirits that much.
He groans. He's in so much trouble.
Winston, upset by the noise, works his way under Will's arm to lay his head on Will's lap.
Will pets him. "What should I do, Winston?" Will rasps.
The dog looks up at him uncertainly, his brow raised and eyes shifting back and forth. Keying off Will's uncertainty, Will knows.
Dogs always mirror his emotions. They always understand him.
And now a person does, too. No one has ever been so equal a partner, so capable a foil for Will.
He can't risk giving that up for a fling that won't last.
Winston sighs in Will's lap and Will looks down at him.
"Yeah," Will says. "That's how it feels to me, too."
He rubs Winston's head and the dog relaxes.
Will relaxes, too. He can feel himself falling asleep in the chair…
He jerks awake with a start. Myoclonic twitch. Scourge of insomniacs.
Winston's head is still on his lap. He pats Winston.
"Sorry, boy," he says as he pushes the chair from the table. He sways when he stands but stays on his feet.
The dogs follow him in a pack as he returns to the bedroom, slightly proud of himself for remembering to bring the water.
The world wobbles less dizzyingly when he sits on the bed. The dogs scatter to their beds – all except Winston, who looks from Will to the bed and back, asking permission.
"Yeah, come on," Will says. Winston jumps up to sit next to him.
Will shows him the glass of water. "I have to drink all of this before we can lie down."
Will nods, rubbing Winston's head, and makes himself take the antibiotic and chug the water.
It hurts like hell and reminds him of college, graduate school, and the deep south – cheap beer, whiskey, and iced tea on a hot day. Those times seem carefree, though he knows they weren't.
Now, his head is all fucked up.
All fucked up. He snorts. No doubt about that.
No more whiskey with codeine, he decides. It's made him silly.
He turns off the light and nudges Winston over so he can lie down.
The room spins uncomfortably for a moment, then sleepiness overwhelms him and he drops into a deep, dreamless slumber.
When Will answers the door with a robe draped loosely over his shoulders, Hannibal knows that he has refortified his defenses. It's a shame, but not far from what he expected. Will sees himself adrift on a sea of a fear. One does not change such a man overnight.
Will gestures for Hannibal to unpack the food as he shoos the dogs out the back door. Hannibal hears a softness in his hoarse voice when speaks to the dogs. A lesser man would view the dogs as competition.
Instead, Hannibal arranges basic scrambled eggs, oatmeal, tea with ginger, and a lemon and honey mixture for Will. For himself, there is a more elaborate preparation of Lyonaisse salad with a poached quail egg and freshly-pressed coffee from the Valle del Cocora.
"Smells good," Will says, taking the seat the head of the table where Hannibal has placed his breakfast. Hannibal sits on Will's right. "I'm nauseous from the antibiotic and my throat hurts, but I'll try."
"Start with the lemon and honey," Hannibal instructs. "They will reduce the inflammation in your throat. Then try the tea. It contains ginger, which will calm your stomach."
While Will slowly drinks the two beverages, Hannibal relishes the bacon in his salad. Humans have too little meat along the back strap and stomach for him to have bacon as often as he would like. After proper curing, though, the delicate flavor of the cut makes the work worthwhile.
Will has moved on to the eggs. Good. He needs the protein.
Hannibal's eyes linger on Will's left elbow, hidden beneath the robe. Will had been deeply asleep by the time the bag of fluids was empty. Hannibal retrieved a venipuncture kit from his car and siphoned a single vial of rich, dark blood from his vein. Only a highly skilled expert could extract blood from the same puncture wound without damaging the vein or causing bruising.
Blood is always best fresh. Hannibal savored every warm drop as Will slept nearby.
When Hannibal tears his eyes away from Will's elbow, he sees that Will has finished the eggs and begun toying with the oatmeal. Time to move on.
"How often do you suffer panic attacks?" he asks.
He relishes the rich, dark Columbian coffee as he studies the emotions that flicker across Will's face.
"Not often," Will answers, staring the oatmeal. "I haven't had a real one since I worked homicide."
"And before that?"
Will's jaw muscles clench. A faint tremor runs through his body. Hannibal sees him begin to regulate his breathing.
"They were bad when I was a teenager. I had limited symptom attacks when I was a cop. Not many, but enough. Only a few when I was in grad school."
He sighs heavily, still staring at his plate.
"Homicide – I had three full-blown attacks my first month there. The first one lasted for hours. More limited symptom attacks than I cared to count, too. All in the first year. Then they went away for the most part."
He scrubs his face with his hands as if trying to banish the past.
Will nods, lifting his eyes to meet Hannibal's. "Breathing exercises. Self-administered behavioral and cognitive therapy. It's second nature now."
"You have exerted control over the anxiety that threatens to overwhelm you." He intonates the sentence with admiration. It is no small feat, what Will has done.
Will runs a hand over his face again. "I wish sleepwalking were as easy to deal with."
"It can be," Hannibal ventures. "But in your case, perhaps prevention is the best medicine."
Will looks up sharply. "And let people die."
"That is what Jack tells you," Hannibal says. "You are not God, Will."
"I'm not having this discussion again," Will says firmly, his eyes blazing.
"Forgive me," Hannibal says with a disarming smile. He rises and collects the dishes.
Will puts his elbows on the table and rests his head in his hands.
Will is not God: his moral compass is too pure. And yet, unlike so many who share the impulse to moral purity, Will is neither a charlatan nor a demagogue. His guilt tortures him. He never sees the best of himself.
Hannibal will show him the best of himself. In time.
"I didn't mean to snap," Will says when Hannibal returns to the table.
"I should not have pushed you," Hannibal replies.
Will nods tiredly. "Thank you – for everything you've done."
The sincerity in his eyes pierces Hannibal.
"You are most welcome," Hannibal replies with a smile. "I have a dinner engagement tonight, but perhaps I might return tomorrow with breakfast? We have yet to discuss the case."
"Sure," Will says and swallows water with a wince.
"The antibiotics will have reduced the pain in your throat by then, too," Hannibal adds.
"Good," Will says. "Tylenol isn't doing much and codeine makes me sleep."
"Sleep is best for you now," Hannibal says. "Or rest, if the dreams are bad."
Will shakes his head. "They're not."
"Then you should sleep."
Will nods. Hannibal places a hand on his shoulder. "I shall see you tomorrow, my friend."
When Will looks up at him, his eyes are chaotic with competing emotions. The calm sincerity of gratitude and friendship; the fire of lust. Underneath, the stormy sea of fear.
Hannibal must become Will's anchor.
In time, he thinks as Will sees him out.
All in good time.