A/N: Hey there Fannibals. Here's this fic I wrote last month. It's done save for the last chapter. If you've enjoyed my two other fics, you'll probably like this one, too. If you don't want to wait for updates, you can read the whole thing now at An Archive of Our Own (AO3). Find the link in my profile. Also, follow me on Tumblr if you want chapter previews for my WIP, "Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean."
Thanks to the folks who've left nice reviews! I'm glad they're as engaging to read as they are to write!
When the Chesapeake Ripper's eleventh victim appears just after dawn, Will Graham has been working without pause for three days. The tenth victim was an obvious Ripper kill, appearing not long after Freddie Lounds' story about Gideon. Will has not gone home, using the showers at the Academy instead and donning the same clothes again and again. Hannibal has been feeding his dogs. He misses his dogs so much it hurts, but Jack wants the Ripper caught and Will can't bring himself to say no. Not when he's good at what he does. Not when he can save lives.
But he can't deny the toll it takes on him, even though he tries to. He hasn't slept more than three hours at a time in a week. Maybe it's a week. Maybe more. He isn't sure. Usually, he wakes, haunted and drenched in sweat, after only an hour. He doesn't want to sleep. A permanent zombie-like state, occasionally punctuated by waking dreams of the stag, is preferable to what he sees when he allows himself sleep.
Yesterday, Jimmy Price found him sleepwalking in his lecture hall and stayed with him until he came out of it, thoroughly embarrassed. Everyone else has been pushed hard, too, Price assured him. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. But Will was awkward and uncomfortable nonetheless, happy when Price left and he could dig back into the Ripper again.
The crime scene surrounding the second victim in this sounder is just as gory as the first and the eight before that. No changes. Will's profile is stuck in a feedback loop. They – Jack, Bloom, Lounds, and him – caused the Ripper's new activity. He's letting them know that he's angry, but the murders themselves reveal little about him. It's as though his victims are more a means to the end of sending a message than to his usual aims of humiliating the victim, satisfying his desire for surgical trophies, and performing for his audience. He would not have killed now if they had not spurred him to do so. He may even have contented himself with tormenting Jack over Miriam Lass and left it at that.
Will stands near the second body and closes his eyes. The pendulum swings; whining fills his ears.
Blood flies off the floor and walls. The victim is alive again. Will imagines rushing toward him, strangling him to the point of unconsciousness – he must be precise, knowing just how much pressure to exert and when to stop. When the man slumps against him, Will drags him to a table and lays him out. He selects a piece of metal from the man's shop and plunges it through the stomach and into the spinal cord, paralyzing his victim. He's got ample physical strength and determination. This murder is meant to communicate his power to the meddling Dr. Chilton, Freddie Lounds, and the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, but he will still enjoy himself. He takes his time choosing the organs he wants and carving them out with a scalpel. He knows they know he's a medical professional with considerable skill. He's telling them nothing new with this murder. He's doing it because they provoked him.
Will blinks and he's back in his tired, aching, shaky body, breathing like he's run a set of sprints. A new layer of sweat clings to his body and filthy clothes.
The Ripper did not take as much pleasure in torturing this round of victims. He spent less time on them. It's as though the whole thing is pro forma. He would not have done it if they had not pushed him.
Will was a party to that. Complicit in the death of this man.
"Nothing new," Will says to Jack.
Anger and frustration rise in Jack's face. "There has to be something."
Will takes a deep, shaky breath. "The differences between this one and the first are immaterial. He's following his pattern."
Will no longer tries to hide his shaking hands. He's past the point of caring whether people see him slowly unraveling.
"We did this," he says, more to himself than anyone else. He's expressed the same opinion to Jack too many times already.
Jack's jaw works back and forth; he looks ready to take a swing at Will.
"Keep working," Jack orders.
And so Will looks again, going over details he has memorized and could easily replicate by now. He swallows two more aspirin. He's lost count of how many he's taken.
He doesn't know how to catch the Ripper based on these murders. The Ripper is too intelligent, too careful to let himself be caught. The Ripper can be caught, but not this time. This isn't the way to catch him. Will feels like he's exhausting himself for no reason.
The personnel at the crime scene grate on his nerves. It's getting harder for Will to be even remotely civil. He wants to snap and snarl, growl and bite every time someone comes near him.
He nearly snaps at Beverly Katz when she suggests a lunch break. While Katz, Price, and Zeller did their work, he'd been staring at the body, reliving the murder again and again and again.
"You need it, Will," she says in her sympathetic but refreshingly direct, no-nonsense way. "You look ready to drop."
Will nods. He's gotten to the point again where he can eat without much pause after looking at a crime scene. He lets Katz, Price, and Zeller lead, and is surprised and pleased when they pick an oyster bar – then displeased when he's the only one who orders oysters.
"Then why come here?" Will asks. Why he's chosen to say anything at all is beyond him.
"Crab cakes," Price answers.
"Soft-shell crab," says Katz.
"Low country boil," Zeller finishes.
"You just repeated your orders to me," Will says flatly.
When they shrug, he takes off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose. No amount of aspirin has eased the headache that's taken up residence in his skull since the Ripper returned to action.
If he could just sleep for a while without dreaming, he might be able to see something he's missed. But he's afraid of sleeping – and he doesn't think he's missed anything. The Ripper is too good at what he does to leave clues. Will is too good to miss them. There's just - nothing.
"You don't think we're going to catch him," Price says.
Will starts, annoyed by the interruption but too tired to convey his annoyance. And anyway, he gets along with these three. He doesn't need to invite trouble.
"He hasn't made a mistake yet," Will answers. "You might find something, but all I see is anger, efficiency, and the same message."
"He wants to make sure we get it," Zeller adds.
Their beers arrive. Will takes several long pulls of his. He notices stress and lack of sleep in their faces, too, and is glad he isn't the only one who looks like shit.
Will zones out as they prattle about wound patterns. There's nothing new to work with. He's so frustrated and exhausted that he feels himself walking a scalpel's edge between containing himself and lashing out in some way. Probably verbally, but he doesn't know. His own capacity for violence terrifies him.
A big plate of raw oysters with fries and hush puppies is a welcome distraction. He orders another beer. The first one has mellowed him out, but he's still wound too tightly.
"So, Will," Katz says as they eat, "you're sleepwalking."
Will looks angrily at Price, but he doesn't yell. He doesn't say anything. Part of it is the beer, but mostly he just doesn't want to talk any more.
"Sorry," Price has the good sense to say. "How are the oysters?"
"Good," Will mumbles.
He loves raw oysters and usually relishes eating them, but exhaustion has sapped him of his ability to enjoy anything. He pushes through the meal, though, knowing he needs the food.
The second beer is a welcome soporific. If he could just sleep for a few hours, he might notice something he's missed. He snarls at his thoughts, stuck in their own endless loop.
His eyelids are drooping by the time they return to Quantico and the lab. He listens hazily as they begin their work, trying to keep up.
After a while, he opens his eyes and Price, Katz, and Zeller are gone. The body is still on the table, still dead, and the stag is walking toward him.
The stag remains a mystery, invading his dreams and hallucinations with its presence but never acting in a way Will can interpret. The stag stands on the other side of the necropsy table, eyeing Will inscrutably as always.
He blinks and returns to reality. Price and Katz are working in silence while Zeller studies a database. They didn't notice him phase out. Or maybe they did and they're used to it, or unwilling to call him out.
Will checks the time. Past three p.m. Either he's been sleeping on his feet, propped up against the refrigerator, or time has sped up. Or maybe he's slowed down. He doesn't know. Doesn't care.
Jack will be here soon to bark at them over their lack of progress.
Will closes his eyes again, thinking he should find a quiet corner and try to take a nap. Before he can act on that idea, nausea squeezes his stomach so tightly that he nearly doubles over. Sweat bursts on his forehead and the back of his neck like he's been hit with a water balloon. He has no idea where this is coming from, but he's certain that he has about five minutes before he vomits copiously.
He must have made a noise because Katz is looking at him.
"Will, are you all right?"
Will clenches his teeth against the nausea and pushes himself up from his position leaning against the refrigerator.
"Excuse me," he says tightly.
He does his best not to run as he seeks the men's room and the privacy of the last stall. No one else is here. It's a small mercy that he appreciates as he spills his lunch into the placid, uncaring bowl.