Spoilers: Begins at the end of Season 1
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"Hello, Doctor Lecter."
The words sounded strange to his own ear. As if he hadn't spoken them countless times before.
They fast faded into the silence that followed, those surreal, densely inscrutable moments that seemed to stand still in time and space, as if everything had been brought to a sudden halt by a simple exchange of greetings. An exchange, he felt, that had carried him inexorably over a kind of precipice, and now here he hovered, frozen, awaiting the downward plunge.
The smile was unexpected.
It took him off-guard. He read it as malevolence, so subtle yet powerful a sign of victory that it nearly caused him to step back, an inadvertent show of deference to the victor. But he didn't. He remained as still and silent as the moment.
"I can't tell you how it pleases me to see you looking healthy again," said the doctor in a gracious, magnanimous tone, his smile unchanged. "They tell me you've made a full recovery, from both the bullet and the encephalitis."
"Funny that," said Will, his own tone cold and inflectionless. "Considering how difficult the latter was to diagnose."
"I blame myself," Lecter sighed, effortlessly overlooking Will's sarcasm. "I should have insisted on examining the MRI results that Dr. Sutcliffe ran, rather than taking his word that no anomalies were present. I may have seen something he didn't. I'm so sorry, Will."
The regret looked disturbingly sincere to Will. It felt disturbingly sincere. He said nothing, holding eye contact with a glare.
"And of course had we been able to check the second scan, we may have discovered then what was afflicting you." Lecter glanced down now, adding quietly, "Things might have turned out differently."
"What a shame Dr. Sutcliffe had to go and get his face sawed in half."
Lecter peered up into Will's stare. They regarded each other through the bars for a long, uneasy moment, Will acutely aware of the doctor measuring his every microexpression, reading him as he would his morning paper, Lecter's own expression one of detached, insouciant curiosity. But his voice was sombre and full of remorse when he said, "It was a shame I couldn't have prevented it."
Will uttered a small huff. Its derision seemed to have gone entirely unnoticed by Lecter, who continued without missing a beat. "Watching you lie in that bed looking so frail, so broken…" He blinked back genuine tears. "It was very difficult for your friends."
"Yeah?" said Will. "How was it for you?"
The doctor narrowed his eyes on Will, his gaze hardening into a mix of assessment and calculation. He stepped back from the barred wall and began slowly to walk its length, and when he spoke, it was completely without judgment.
"Jack has shared with me the story you've been telling about my responsibility for the copycat murders. The elaborate plan I've masterminded to frame you for each of them." He stopped, looked directly at Will, and intoned with both compassion and sorrow, "I gather you still harbour this fantasy."
Will said nothing, merely stared.
"I've explained to Jack that you're not entirely responsible. The psychological effects of the type of encephalitis you suffered can be far-reaching and permanent. Loss of memory, paranoia, delusional ideation even years after initial recovery are all well-documented. The truth is, Will, you haven't fully recovered. This delusion about me confirms that. I fear you may never fully recover."
He paused, as if waiting for some response from Will. None came. Looking a little disappointed, but undeterred, he continued his slow pacing along the bars.
"I understand the confusion you're feeling. Your extraordinary tool of perception has been blunted, perhaps permanently, by your illness. You're overwhelmed by your guilt, and I'm the easiest target to project it onto. I'm the person you trusted most, your closest friend."
"You were never that," said Will, cold and flat. Lecter stopped pacing, briefly looking stung. "And if you think I'm confused, you don't understand anything."
The moment drew out as they faced each other, neither willing to break eye contact.
Will leaned close against the bars, feeling the cold metal chill the length of his body. "But you don't think that, do you, doctor. You think I'm dangerously sane. And that's why you're here."
"I'm here because I still want to help you," said Lecter gently.
"You want to know just how big of a threat I am to you…" Will pressed his face between the bars, his eyes wide and a little too bright, and he smiled. His voice barely above a whisper, it took on a childlike, singsongish lilt. "Encephalitis, shootings, empathy disorder… not to mention job-related stress…. Maybe he has gone completely whacko. Maybe the fever slow-cooked the sharpest parts of his brain. Maybe he's not a threat at all. Maybe…and this would be the worst outcome of all…" the whisper eerily soft now, hardly his own, "he's not even any fun anymore."
The slightly manic smile faded into something more ordinary, more callous, and when he spoke it was in his own voice again. "Or maybe, after studying for months under the best, he's learned how to play a few mind games himself."
Lecter was watching him with arrant fascination.
"What do you think, doctor? What do you see?"
The doctor moved very close to Will, until their faces were just inches apart, their gazes interlocked. Will was more aware than ever of the bars that separated them, and for the first time since his incarceration he felt a surge of gratitude for their unyielding presence. But he refused to give in to his fear. He refused to step back. He refused to look away. And it was that more than anything, the refusal to shut down his empathic gift by simply not looking, that made him so vulnerable now, so wide open to attack.
Lecter's eyes were shining. But they were utterly unreadable. Beneath the glow of fascination and curiosity, a kind of joyful hunger for discovery, there lay an implacable coldness. An impenetrable barrier of ice. Will could feel a shiver running up his spine as he held the stare, as if the cold were reaching through the bars, burrowing beneath his skin, coiling around his bones. He wasn't sure how long he could suppress the shudder that trembled deep inside him. He wanted desperately to step away.
"I see Dr. Chilton hasn't made any progress with you," said Lecter matter-of-factly, and the spell was broken. He stepped back slightly from the bars.
And Will's thoughts shifted to Frederick Chilton, his erstwhile doctor-in-attendance. Pompous and largely incompetent at his best, since his recent return to part-time work at the hospital, Dr. Chilton was a ghost of his former self. Gaunt and pale, looking ten years older than he had before his ordeal, he'd become moody and anxious, easily distracted, clearly suffering the effects of PTSD. While agreeing to work fewer and shorter days, he'd insisted on wading back into casework, and showed a particular—nearly exclusive—interest in Will, who often found him haunting the corridor outside his cell, mumbling to himself and scribbling notes Will suspected were mostly illegible. Though he'd so far proven ineffectual (worryingly so within the staff), Will knew it was only a matter of time before he became dangerous.
"Well, you can't really blame him," Will said, feeling suddenly unfocused, and dimly aware that this may have been the intention of Lecter's remark. "He was turned inside out by a serial killer—literally, in his case. The man's whole identity was ripped to shreds." He levelled his eyes on the doctor, a hard, recriminating glower. "He's a little angry."
"Is your identity in shreds, Will?"
Another long—and for Will nearly interminable—silence followed as they remained fixed on each other, neither willing to give in first or to give anything away. The doctor regarded him with a serene, utterly unfazed openness that demanded nothing, expected nothing, seeming content to merely watch. It was the textbook Rogerian expression of unconditional positive regard, the therapeutic guise honed and polished to perfection, and it was so antithetical to the empathic rush of cold just moments ago that Will felt dizzy. It felt so real, but it couldn't be. This was surely an act. He had that sense again of being suspended high above a vast gaping crevice in the earth, a yawning maw waiting patiently for his fall, waiting to devour him whole. Always waiting, he thought.
But Will could wait no longer. Maintaining eye contact with Lecter was depleting his strength, derailing his courage. Too weary to continue and feeling his resolve splinter, he turned away for the bars. "You can go now."
Lecter remained motionless.
"You have what you came for," murmured Will.
Will slumped onto the cot bolted to the wall of his cell and shrugged disinterestedly. "The post-game handshake. You can walk away congratulating yourself over how politely you've destroyed me."
He leaned back against a tattered pillow, the cot's frame creaking beneath his weight, and closed his eyes. "Doctor Hannibal Lecter is nothing if not civilized," he sneered softly.
But Lecter was still watching him, still waiting. He could feel it. He could feel the drain of his energy, the syphoning of his psyche by the man standing on the other side of the bars. Only a few moments alone with him, and Will felt abjectly exhausted. He found himself thinking of those remote tribespeople who believed that a camera could steal a human soul, and wondered if the gaze of a soulless killer could ever do the same.
He let his eyes flutter open and found a crack in the ceiling to study. "That's your cue, doctor. Cut your losses and walk away. That's really why you came here, isn't?"
The doctor didn't answer, he didn't move. With no sounds at all down the length of the corridor beyond his cell, no noises from the other inmates, no shuffling or chatter from the guards at the far end, the space between them was eerily quiet, and for an instant Will had the crippling sensation that life beyond this space had simply ceased to exist. This wasn't a prison in Baltimore anymore. This was Hell.
Desperately wanting to close his eyes and shut the image out, Will instead pulled his attention from the cracked plaster high above and reluctantly allowed it to settle back onto his visitor. He expected to find himself still being watched, but Lecter's focus had shifted. His head was down and he seemed deep in his own thoughts. It was Will's turn to watch and to wait.
When the doctor finally spoke he seemed to actually be struggling to find the right words. He spoke softly, hesitantly, his voice unsteady with emotion and disarming sincerity. "I came here today as your friend, Will. I'd hoped that…reminding you of our friendship would be a source of support for you…perhaps even comfort. I came here wanting only to offer you that. But in your present state of mind you're clearly unable to accept it. I must admit…" He looked down, closed his eyes briefly. "…it deeply saddens me."
He sighed then, gathering himself, and looked back up. "It was meant to soften the blow of severing our relationship. That part you were right about."
He began slowly pacing again, the fingers of one hand idly trailing the iron bars as he weighed his words. "I did indeed come here to say goodbye. I was advised it would be in both of our best interests, that our relationship had become too entangled. And to the credit of my advisor, I realize now how deeply I had underestimated the damage of that entanglement." He fixed his gaze back on Will. "The damage done to you."
Will rolled his eyes.
"I let you down, Will. I allowed our friendship to blindside me to the true extent of your mental illness."
Will turned to his side and faced the brick wall of his cell. "I want you to leave now." He drew a hand raggedly over his face, rubbed at the ache furrowing into his temples. "Not that I wanted you here to begin with."
"Which is why I've changed my mind," Lecter continued. "You don't need me as a friend."
A high-pitched, crazed little laugh escaped from beneath Will's hand.
"You need me as a therapist."
Will stopped laughing. He sat up on the cot and stared blankly at the doctor.
"When I return tomorrow, we'll resume your therapy sessions."
Will blinked at him. "You can't be serious…"
Lecter smiled. "Our usual time."
He stepped back from the bars and began to move away, his visit ended. Will leapt to his feet in a sudden burst of energy and threw himself against the bars, his brittle composure fracturing into pieces. "No! No, no. That is not going to happen."
Ignoring him, Lecter turned to leave. Will reached through the bars and seized him by one arm, the fine fabric of the doctor's tailored suit crumpling in his fist. Lecter glanced almost nonchalantly down at the hand clutching his arm, then casually back up at him. "Let go of me, Will."
"Do you honestly think I'm so far gone that I would ever let you back inside my head?" hissed Will through clenched teeth, his eyes wide and wild and brimming with furious tears. Lecter made no attempt to move or pull away, an indifference Will found intolerable. He wrenched him closer. "I will never be that crazy again."
That's when he saw it. A glint in Lecter's eye, a brief spark of excitement, and Will realized he's just presented the doctor with an irresistible new challenge. He felt sick.
"You're agitated, Will. You need to calm down." He paused, his focus riveted on Will, the pupils of his eyes ever so slightly dilated. Very gently, as if talking a jumper down from a ledge, he added, "And let go of me."
Will released him and dropped back behind the cage wall, while from down the corridor came the sound of commotion, the clang of an iron door opening, anxious voices. Lecter tore his attention from Will and glanced down the corridor.
"Are you okay, doctor?" came a shout from one of the guards.
"Perfectly," Lecter assured him, smoothing a hand down the sleeve of his creased jacket. "He meant no harm." Any argument from the guards was defeated by a single look from the doctor, who merely watched and waited for what seemed their reluctant retreat behind the door at the corridor's far end. Satisfied, he turned back to Will.
"You can't do this," said Will, the desperation in his tone rendering it less a demand than a plea.
"I'm still your doctor, Will."
"No. You can't. Not against my will. Not if I refuse." His voice was shaking now. "And I refuse."
Lecter began walking away. "Then you can spend your first session refusing my help."
Will matched his strides on his side of the bars, shouting now. "You cannot legally do this to me! I still have rights!"
The doctor paused, sighed, and turned back to Will one last time. "You've had a psychotic break, Will, a complete severance from reality, and from what I can see you've regressed even further into delusion since the last time I saw you. There are certain decisions you are in no position to make. Your choice of doctor is one of them."
"Chilton is my doctor…" The words sounded thin and reedy, unconvincing even to himself.
"Is he?" Lecter asked lightly, mockingly, as if they were sharing an inside joke.
Will shrank back further from the bars, one hand finding the edge of his chair to steady himself. "Please," he said so quietly he wasn't sure it was audible.
"You suddenly look very tired, Will," said Lecter, tilting his head back slightly to cast him an assessing look, one of genuine concern. Will felt confused and a little sickened by its unmistakeable sincerity. "I really must insist that you rest."
A faint smile touched his lips then, a mirror image of his response to Will's greeting, which now seemed to Will a very long time ago. A smile of confidence, conceit, victory.
Malevolence, thought Will.
"Until tomorrow," said his doctor with that smile.
Will listened for the clang of the iron door at the end of the corridor and only began breathing again when he heard it. He stood alone in his cell then, braced against the chair, adrenalin coursing feverishly through his veins as he shook, his heart racing like a trip-hammer. After a few moments, he sank onto the cot, his back to the cold wall, and forced himself to take in slow, deep, steadying breaths. He counted as he inhaled, counted as he exhaled, and gradually his heartbeat began to slow. As his breaths became calmer, and the tremors in his body stilled, he closed his eyes. And he too smiled. He imagined his smile looked very much like the doctor's.
It had been as exhausting as it was terrifying, that treacherous tightrope walk between the pretense of madness and the real thing, between repelling a killer and reeling him in. He knew every moment that the balance had to be just right or he'd lose him. Lector was far too brilliant a psychiatrist to be duped by a clever performance. No. Will had to bury his intentions in knife-edged truth, in raw emotion, in the broken shards of who he still knew himself to be. His performance had to be real.
He let his mind skim over the conversation he had just shared with the master manipulator who had annihilated the life he once knew. He replayed the potent rush of empathic feelings. The brief glitches of confusion when the feelings he absorbed from Lecter (compassion? concern? regret?) couldn't possibly match the cold-blooded reality… distractions he couldn't allow himself in the future. He had to stay focused. He had to stay clear. A single slip could derail everything. At best, the doctor could end their relationship and walk away, perhaps never to be seen by Will again, at least not until the trial, and certainly not in this austerely perfect setting of enforced, claustrophobic intimacy, so cut off from the rest of the world, so insular in its own nightmarish perversion of justice, and Will would never have his chance for vindication…for vengeance.
And at worst?
Sitting alone in his cage, Will shrugged. The worst had already happened. He'd already lost everything that ever mattered to him.
And now only one thing mattered. Destroying Lecter.
It would take patience, and care, and precision of thought, everything he watched the doctor exercise so flawlessly with him over the course of their relationship. He would leverage the one weakness he could see in Lecter—his unnerving fascination with Will—to draw him close, to gain his confidence, to peer into the dark corners of his elaborate design, and then to expose and dismantle it.
At least, that was the plan.
It was of course a stunningly dangerous thing to do, drawing Lecter back in to his life, back into his mind, with no back-up, no allies, no one on the outside aware of his strategy. He would be completely alone as Lecter's patient, once again opening his mind, his psyche, his soul to the consummate evil he now believed his former friend and confidante to be. He had most definitely stepped off that precipice.
His imagination flared, his thoughts racing. He felt light-headed. Shaky.
This time he was ready for the mind games. This time he knew how to play.