A/N: Before I send you off to Florida, I want to thank you for standing by me through all 26 chapters of this story. Thank you for reading, for leaving kudos, and for commenting. You guys are the best, and it has been my pleasure posting these installments and observing your reactions. I like to think we helped each other get through the He-Ate-Us together, transforming what might have been an excruciating wait into something special and exciting. And now it's over: the show is back, and the fic is finished. I wish I could see your faces as you read this—but then again, I don't have to see you to see you.
Looking up from his work on the rusted innards of the old Mercruiser, Will becomes aware of the slow black fly crawling over his elbow. He doesn't flick it away. Instead he goes panther-still and watches stony-faced as the fly makes its way down the length of his thin brown forearm. It moves steadily, with purpose, as if it knows where it's going. Its thready legs skitter over freckles and sun-bleached hair until it reaches Will's wrist, where it comes into contact with a smear of motor oil. The unexpected poison startles the fly, and off it buzzes.
Will sits back on his haunches. Wipes sweat from his forehead. He can feel a streak of heat on the back of his neck where the sun has burned him. He knows he shouldn't have rolled the Mercruiser out on the dock, not with the day being as sunny as it is, but he doesn't like working inside the repair shed. These days he can't stand being inside for very long; his heart moves too fast and his edges sharpen. Better to be out where he can see the water, even if the sun is beating down on him. Shielding his eyes, Will looks out over the Gulf, flat and pastel today, about as sunbaked as he is.
When he turns back to the boatyard, he sees Jo by the door of the repair shed, talking to a dark-haired stranger with white shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows. The stranger has a very upright carriage; alert, athletic, trained.
Will watches them, more absent than curious, until Jo tilts back her fisherman's hat, looks out at the dock, and points right at Will. Instantly his insides knot. The stranger thanks her and begins heading Will's way. By the way the stranger walks, Will can tell he's carrying. He's FBI.
With renewed intensity Will goes back to working on the engine, which is propped with half its guts exposed both on the dolly and spilling out on to the wooden slats of the dock. He will have to replace the filter on the fuel pickup line. Frustrating, because Jo and Harold don't have any lying around for a Mercruiser as old as this. They'll have to order one. Or maybe the boatyard in Key Largo has something Will can repurpose to fit the Mercruiser; they have traded him parts before.
The FBI agent's shadow falls over Will where he is crouching. "Mr. Graham?"
The solenoid is a mess, too. He'll have to clean the washer, replace the post. The plug beneath looks corroded as well.
"You're Will Graham?"
The agent sounds dubious. Will is whipcord thin, very tan, and his hair is buzzed short: he looks nothing like his picture in the papers.
"Yes," says Will, still working on the engine.
"I'm Agent Luke Nuñez, from the Field Office in Miami Beach."
Will supposes he'd better put his wrench down. He unbends himself, gets to his feet, and looks at the agent. Luke Nuñez is younger than Will, and he has eager eyes. He also has a large red envelope wedged under his arm.
"It's an honor meeting you, sir." Agent Nuñez extends his hand, but Will doesn't shake it.
"My hands are dirty. How can I help you?"
The words are polite, but his tone is forbidding. He is looking Agent Nuñez right in the eyes. Will doesn't have a problem with eye contact any more, but he finds that most people have a problem returning the favor. They are unnerved by the way he looks right into them and then right through them when they fail to interest him. Agent Nuñez is no exception. He drops his eyes quickly.
"I—I have a delivery for you," he says, suddenly nervous. "From Quantico."
And he holds the red envelope out to Will.
Will takes it without a word. His name is on the envelope in Jack's handwriting and the envelope carries two stamps, one from the US Postal Inspector, the other from the FBI: "BAU—Confidential".
Will doesn't ask what it is. He doesn't care to know. He just says, "Thank you."
"I need you to sign for it."
Nuñez passes Will a receipt and a pen. Will crouches and uses the salt-washed deck as a flat surface. As he scrawls his name, Nuñez looks down at the top of his head and says:
"I'd just like to say something to you, sir. I've read a lot about you and I can't tell you how much I admire you. At the Miami office everyone thinks you're a real hero. Makes us feel a little more secure knowing you're down here in Florida with us. It's incredible work, what you did. I was just reading the interview, and honestly, sir, it—"
"Interview?" Will straightens up, hands Nuñez back the pen and receipt.
Will is even more impassive than before. "I didn't give an interview to TattleCrime."
Agent Nuñez's brow furrows. "The interview wasn't with you, sir. It was with—" But Nuñez doesn't complete this sentence. He has seen the look on Will's face.
"Thank you for the package," Will says, dismissal heavy in his voice.
"I—I'm sorry." Agent Nuñez looks startled. "I assumed you knew about it. Uh…I'll let you get back to work. You better be battening down the hatches around here, what with the storm coming and all." He gives Will a smile, more pained than friendly.
Will says nothing. He is looking down at the red envelope, squinting as if trying to X-ray it. What could be important enough for Jack to send via courier, rather than to Will's box at the Marathon Post Office?
Will looks up and catches Agent Nuñez throwing him a puzzled backward glance as he walks up the beach to the parking lot. Will is not what Agent Nuñez was expecting. A real hero—what does that even mean?
The envelope feels heavy, but not heavy enough for photographs. Good. Will unwinds the tie, and out slides a second envelope, white and letter sized. He catches a glimpse of the handwriting on its front—a glimpse is all he needs. He drops it. The letter bounces on the dock, landing face down.
Will stares at the fallen letter. Its sealed edge is smiling up at him.
He doesn't know what to do.
Finally he picks it up with two fingers as if handling a dead rodent and walks it all the way to the end of the dock. He stretches out his hand, dangles the envelope over the water. Now he can read the writing on its front, his own name written out with a flourish to the right of the BSHCI seal.
Just let it go, he tells himself. Let the Gulf have it. The ink will run unread. It's better that way.
But he doesn't let it go. He just stands there, suspending the letter over the waves. He, too, is suspended. Out of the corner of his eye he sees something. Slowly he turns his head and looks out at the shoreline. There is a straight-backed figure watching him way in the distance, nothing but a shadow against the gray sand. But Will knows who it is.
He draws the letter back towards himself. As quickly as he can, he drops it into the larger courier envelope and winds the flap shut.
When he looks at the beach again, the figure is gone.
Will sticks the red envelope under his arm, walks back up the dock.
He wheels the dolly with the old Mercruiser across the concrete yard and into the repair shed. When he crosses the threshold, he automatically thinks: eight doors. The other mechanics in the repair shed glance at him curiously before returning to work. Meanwhile Jo sits at the counter, rubbing moisturizer into the skin of her upper arms. As always, she's playing The Beatles on her old stereo at soft volume:
I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together
See how they run like pigs from a gun see how they fly
"What's your diagnosis?" she asks him, nodding at the Mercruiser.
"Age," says Will. "Needs a complete overhaul."
"I figured," Jo says. "The Gundersons haven't had it serviced in years. Harold'll help you with it."
"I'm going to need some parts."
"Sure. But no rush; they're not gonna be taking the boat out in this weather." Jo isn't really paying attention to what she's saying. She's too busy looking at the red envelope under his arm. "Everything all right, hon?"
"Yes," says Will.
Mister City policeman sitting
Pretty little policemen in a row
See how they fly like Lucy in the Sky see how they run
He can feel her curiosity, and now that he knows to look for it, he can also tell she has been reading whatever there is to read on TattleCrime.
"I'm going to town for a while," he says. "You need anything?"
"Harold might." The gleam of interest remains in Jo's eyes. "You'll be back, though? It'd be good to have your help with storm-proofing."
Will nods and leaves without another word. The stereo peals after him: Goo goo g'joob.
He likes Jo fine. She lets him come and go as he pleases, and sometimes she even pays him. But it'd be nice if she stopped reading the tabloids.
He closes the front door behind him and amends the door count to seven.
Harold is smoking on the bench near the parking lot. Will doesn't understand why he always comes out to this side of the shed for his cigarette break when on the opposite side he can see the water.
Harold nods at Will, and Will manages a smile back. He enjoys Harold. Easier to talk to than Jo.
"I'm going to town," Will signs.
"Can I bring you back something?" Will isn't sure he has signed this correctly, but Harold understands. He shakes his almost empty package of cigarettes.
Will nods. "Sure."
Harold gives him a funny salute with the cigarette, and then goes back to his own thoughts unperturbed.
Harold lost his hearing in Vietnam. He is amazing with diesel engines, and with machinery of all sorts. Almost a year ago now, when Will first started hanging around the Marathon boatyard, he didn't know any sign language, but it didn't matter. He and Harold communicated solely through fuel injectors and drive couplers. It was a good language for a conversation: no ambiguity, no lies, no strings.
This is a dangerous train of thought, so Will stops it, but too late. He looks over at his station wagon and sees a straight-backed figure watching him from the passenger seat.
"Fuck," he mouths, and grinds the heel of his hand into his eye. When he looks back up, the figure is gone.
Will takes a moment to settle his thoughts down—not as gentle a mental process as it sounds; in reality it's a lot of bashing and thwacking—and once he's reasonably calm, he gets into the car, throws the red envelope into the empty passenger seat, and keys the ignition.
The highway is flat and sun-bleached just like the water. The palm trees sway, the sky is expansive and cloudless. Will drives with one arm out the window, feeling the wind on his skin. The weather is good today, deceptively beautiful. You'd never know there was a Class Two hurricane brewing over the Atlantic.
It's a ten-minute drive to the squat line of stores and offices that constitutes Marathon's main stretch. Will rolls up to the library and parks along the grassy verge. He doesn't immediately get out of the car; just sits in the driver's seat, tapping his fingers on his kneecaps.
He doesn't own a phone or a computer any more. For all he knows, the laptop he used at Quantico might still be in an evidence locker somewhere. As for the phone, Will threw it out the window of the station wagon while doing seventy-five on the interstate. Temporary insanity, probably, but he'd been so tired of listening to it ring and ring and ring during his long drive down to Florida. He'd caught hell for ditching the phone; in fact, he'd caught hell for his whole impromptu flight to Florida. Will took off from Beverly's without notifying anyone, without even notifying Beverly, and upon finding out Will was missing, Jack immediately convinced himself he'd jumped off a bridge and put out an APB on him. Will got an earful about it when he finally called Jack from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office two days later. It was the first and only time Jack yelled at him since Will had been released from the hospital.
Jack can't really yell at him now, though. Mostly because Will doesn't actually talk to Jack, except via email. He comes to the public library to check it every few days. The boxy terminals in the computer lab are his only lifelines to the mainland, and he prefers to keep it that way. Even the remoteness of email can be too close for his comfort. Hence the necessity of his sitting in the station wagon for one minute longer, taking deep breaths, hands tightening into claws against his knees. He is very aware of the red envelope lying in the passenger seat, a triangle of sunlight bright on its corner. When he finally gets out of the car—before he can really think about what he's doing—he takes the red envelope with him, sticks it under his arm as he walks very quickly into the library.
The front door is door eight. The inner door is door nine. The door for the computer lab is door ten.
The lab is empty except for one older woman, squinting dubiously through her reading glasses at the screen. Will sits down at the terminal furthest from her and wedges the red envelope between the monitor and the wooden partition.
Jack doesn't exactly approve of Will using a public computer to access his FBI email account, but Jack has been forced to bear with this breach of protocol. Will has made it very clear that it's this or he stops talking to the FBI completely.
When Will logs in, he is unsurprised to see an email from Jack at the top of his inbox.
Heads up Will,
I'm sending you a package via courier. It has been screened and declared by the boys at Postal Inspection to be contaminant-free. Should get to you at the Marathon boatyard by this afternoon. My inclination was not to send it to you at all, but I didn't think you'd like me making that decision for you. However, if you want my advice, then here it is: don't open it. Just burn it. Burn it now.
I'm meeting with the Attorney General on Wednesday. We're going over the list of witnesses testifying for the prosecution. I'll be letting her know your decision.
Will sighs. He casts an uneasy glance at the red envelope, before replying:
I got it. Have you read it?
Jack's response is very fast, less than a minute. Will is used to this. Jack drops whatever he's doing to talk to Will unless he's actually on a crime scene.
Just burn it.
Also I know I don't have to tell you this, but stay away from TattleCrime for the next few days. Other carriers, print and digital, are picking up a story there, so you should try to avoid all media if you can. I would tell you it will all blow over soon, but with the trial on its way we both know that isn't happening. So keep your head down and burn that letter.
I was just reading about Hurricane Grace. Hope you and the dogs are safe and bunkered down.
Will sighs. Jack hadn't exactly answered his question, but he supposes that is answer enough. He replies:
I appreciate the advice. I'll keep my head down through Hurricane Grace and everything else. Good luck with the AG.
Below Jack's emails is one from Beverly. When they aren't talking business, she usually just forwards him funny stories or dog videos, so he is surprised that she has actually written him a very long letter.
Subject: The blue bus is calling us
How are you? I'd make some joke about rocking you like a hurricane, but I hear people in Florida don't find that kind of thing funny. So instead I'll just say I hope you're digging out a storm shelter and fitting little plastic boots on all the dogs.
I feel like it's been a long time since we really talked, and not to get all sappy or anything, but I miss you. I've been collating materials for the trial all week, and it is so weird that I'm constantly going through your statements and photos and belongings—the other day I was pulling fibers from the La-Z-Boy in your old living room—I seem to be analyzing your DNA all the time, and yet I never see you! I hope you're ok. I know that's a pointless thing to say, but I mean it. I worry about you on basically a daily basis. I try to cheer myself up by picturing you in a Hawaiian shirt surrounded by retirees, lying around on a beach, sipping some tropical drink with one of those little paper umbrellas balanced on the rim. I hope you have a whole collection going of little paper umbrellas, one in every color. That's my dream for you, Will.
Things are ok here. Strange, of course—but have things ever not been strange around here? We're getting through it somehow. Brian joined the FBI softball team on a dare from Jimmy. He pretends to hate it but we can all tell he's having the time of his life. Apparently he's a great pitcher? Who knew. Meanwhile Jack has become one of those insufferable vegetarians who will not shut up about the health benefits of garbanzo beans. I'm not kidding: whenever there's a silent moment, Jack starts lecturing us all on the evils of the food industry and why our digestive systems function more efficiently if we eat only soy protein. Please save me, Will. Hannibal Lecter has SO MUCH to answer for.
This trial is going to be a bitch, but we're doing everything we can, so don't worry about it. Honestly you've done enough, answering my questions (and Jack's and probably half the Justice Department's by now, I bet). Seriously, don't let anyone give you grief for being MIA because I know you've already made yourself more available than you want to be. You really helped clear up the chronology for my testimony, so thanks for that. I was prepping with the prosecutor yesterday, and it's like no statement I've ever had to make in court. I don't know how I'll be able to do it with him watching me, but hey, it'll get done. I think you're making the right decision, staying far away from this circus. Staying far away from him. God, I can't believe anyone is even questioning your decision there.
But they are questioning it, Will. That's part of why I'm writing this. I want to warn you, because I know Jack is trying to shield you from all the politics, but you really ought to know that there are a lot of people insisting you testify. The DOJ is putting lots of pressure on Jack to talk to you about it, maybe even to subpoena you (I hope it doesn't come to that). So far Jack has been holding up, but I'm worried he might crack. Things are pretty bad for him right now. His wife was hospitalized last week; she's back home now, but Jack says she's weak. It's really tough. So don't be surprised if he makes some play to get you back here, ok? Have your answer ready. And that answer better be NO. No matter what anyone says, we don't need you here to convict Hannibal Lecter. So stay in Florida and have a Mai Tai for me, please.
I also wanted to write to you about a thing in TattleCrime that I'm sure Jack has warned you not to read. I don't think you're ever going to be able to stay away from it, even in the Keys (maybe you should have bought a private island with that retirement package, huh?) so my advice is to read it before someone springs it on you unexpectedly. I'm not saying you're going to sleep better at night having looked at it, but I don't see how you'll ever get away with ignoring stuff like this when it's completely omnipresent. Jack is dead set on protecting you from just about everything that's going on, but personally I don't think you need that kind of protection. I don't think you've ever needed it.
Ok, that's it for Things I Think You Should Know About That No One Is Telling You. Sorry if I'm being out of line, but you know I prefer to be honest with you. You slept on my couch for three weeks, watched me cry at My Girl (sshhh our little secret) and I'm still picking dog hair out of every upholstered surface in my apartment—I think we're at a place in our friendship where we can be honest with each other. And the honest truth is that no matter how shocking it was for me when you took off, I really believe it was the right thing, you leaving all of us behind and driving yourself and the pooches off to paradise. So no hard feelings. About any of it. You get a free pass. You get at least five more free passes as far as I'm concerned. You just do your thing.
And now I'm realizing this got very long and kind of confrontational. I'm sorry, Will. The trial's so close and then I read that stupid interview and I guess all of it has been bringing up some feelings for me. No one here really gets what I'm going through the way you do. We have some war stories together, don't we? At least that's all they are now—stories.
Don't let that hurricane blow you back to Quantico. That's all I'm saying.
Her letter is a lot to take in. She clearly doesn't know about Jack's 'package', otherwise she definitely would have warned him about that, too.
For a few minutes he just sits there, staring with slightly unfocused eyes at the monitor. He can read between the lines. He knows what's bothering Beverly. He feels bad for having gone so long without talking to her about anything real; his silence has clearly driven her to this explosion of feeling. He had tried to burn all his bridges, including her, but Will is beginning to realize that bridges aren't as flammable as he'd like them to be.
He is so lost in thought he doesn't notice his fingers moving of their own accord, almost flying over the keyboard as they type.
The front page for TattleCrime loads slowly on the old computer. Will's eyes are still unfocused, so it takes him a moment before he can actually read the banner headline. Simple. Obvious. He's disappointed in Freddie Lounds.
Step Inside the Mind of 'Cannibal' Lecter
He scrolls down and sees the lead photo and it gives him a shock because he wasn't expecting it to be a new photo, a photo of Hannibal sitting behind bars with an expression of polite beckoning on his face as if inviting the photographer to come inside the cell with him, and the bite mark is now just a little scar, two purple lines that meet on his cheekbone in an arch, like an arrow pointing up at Hannibal's eye, look here please, and that's about all Will can take.
He jabs at the mouse, closes the window, stands up unsteadily. Tremors wrack him, from his wrists to his shoulders, and he rubs the gooseflesh out of his arms. He knows he's going to have to sit back down and log out of his email, but he can't bring himself to do it, not when he has just seen Hannibal's face on that screen. He feels Hannibal is still inside the monitor, just behind the faded pixels and greasy fingerprints, watching him unceasingly.
He is aware of the old woman, turning in her rickety desk chair to stare at him. He doesn't stare back. Instead he stands there, rubbing absently at his arms and biting his fingernails, until enough of the raw terror has drained out of him so he can sit back down and log off the computer like a normal person. When he stands up again, he immediately has to double back: he has forgotten the red envelope. He grabs it and all but runs out of the library: nine doors, eight doors, and finally back to seven as he walks on gelatin legs to his car.
Only to find Hannibal Lecter sitting in the passenger seat, waiting for him patiently.
Will's imagination is as responsive as it ever was: it has incorporated his new knowledge, adding the arrow-shaped scar to Hannibal's face. Heaven forbid he not be up-to-date.
Hannibal gives Will a little smile.
Will turns on the spot.
Instead of driving, he walks the eight sun-drenched blocks to the liquor store, picks up a box of Morley's for Harold and a bottle of Johnny Walker for himself. When he gets back to the station wagon, he keeps his eyes on his sneakers as he blindly drops his purchases and the red envelope into the back seat. He doesn't immediately get in. He stands on the curb with his arms draped bonelessly atop the hot roof of the car. He rolls his sunburnt neck, full of anger at himself for having listened to Beverly for even a second about reading that fucking interview. What was he thinking? Now that photograph is burned onto the surface of his mind, visual proof that Hannibal is alive and healed and happening, always happening, inside the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
But he isn't just inside that hospital. If only that were the only place he lived.
Will realizes he is biting his fingernails again. Stops himself. He has been trying to kick the habit for months with limited success. His nails look better than they did when he was first released from the hospital, but they are still peeled back, bitten almost to the quick.
Finally he gets into the station wagon, and although he stops himself from looking over at the passenger seat, he can still sense Hannibal sitting there, watching him, mouth crooked in wry amusement.
Will starts the engine and drives.
He sees Hannibal on and off. Mostly in the guise of the good doctor, but occasionally as the bloody specter or as the desperate petitioner clad in Will's own clothes. Sometimes Will goes without seeing him for a week or more, so that a shoot of hope breaks through the hard crust of his mind and slowly grows: maybe he won't see Hannibal again, maybe that last time will really be the last, maybe he is finally experiencing what they call healing. But Hannibal always comes back. Usually in times of stress, especially at those times when Will is thinking about his former life. Though Hannibal will sometimes appear for no reason at all: in the middle of a good quiet day when Will is elbow deep in an engine, while he's sitting on his deck in the sling back chair watching for Key deer, or when he's walking with the dogs on an empty beach. No time or place is safe from Hannibal.
The first month after Will moved to Florida, he was seeing Hannibal almost nonstop and was half-delirious with exhaustion, because at night he could feel Hannibal sitting on the porch, staring at Will as he tried to sleep. So he'd gone to Miami to see a neurologist—because wasn't that how it started last time, with Will seeing Garret Jacob Hobbs in places he had no right to be?—even though he knew he was grasping at straws, looking in the wrong corner for an answer to this. But he would have loved to blame a relapse of encephalitis for what he was experiencing.
So of course when the friendly neurologist sat him down, made him drink a glass of water, and informed him in a slow calm voice that his MRI and blood work had all come back clean, Will felt utterly bereft, even though he'd already known this wasn't the work of inflammation. This was Will's own work. While inside the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane he had done ungodly damage to his psyche, under Hannibal's direction he had warped and mutated his own thinking, and when he got out of the hospital he had maimed it, yanked the thinking out by the root, dashed the pendulum against the unforgiving insides of his mind over and over until it shattered, dismantling as much of his understanding as he could without wrecking his ability to function, and this is the end result. Now he is a haunted man.
The neurologist gave him the card for a therapist in Key West. Will threw the card out the window of his car on the drive back from Miami.
Hannibal tires of watching him, and instead tilts his face towards the passenger side window, shutting his eyes as he soaks up the afternoon sunlight. What does it mean when a figment of your imagination gets bored of you? Should Will be offended? He takes advantage of Hannibal's inattention, glances at him out of the corner of his eye. He notices how the fine ends of Hannibal's hair shiver in the wind; he is so real, so very very real, every little detail present and accounted for. Will is sure if he were to reach over and touch the heavy suit fabric covering Hannibal's shoulder, that would feel real, too—but he has never touched this Hannibal, and isn't about to try.
Hannibal doesn't speak to Will. He never speaks any more. Will suspects, hopes, that he has so mutilated the part of his mind able to provide Hannibal with speech that Hannibal will have to remain forever wordless. But Will is also aware of the way this projection has been creeping out of his control. There was a time when he could always make Hannibal disappear if he concentrated hard enough. But not any more. Now it's a surprise when he can make Hannibal obey any of his commands. A few times he has worked himself into a migraine trying to make him disappear, but this Hannibal has become as intractable, as unshakable, as the real thing.
Will just has to ignore him. Hannibal hates being ignored. Eventually he will go away.
When Will gets back to the boatyard, he leaves the red envelope in the station wagon. He just grabs the Morley's and walks across the lot to the repair shed without looking back. But he can still feel Hannibal's eyes on him, burning as fiercely as the sunburn on Will's neck.
Jo recruits him and few of the other mechanics to secure chains around the boats moored in the canal. Will, happy to be outside again, works with such single-mindedness that Jo has to tap him on the shoulder twice before she can get his attention.
"You know," she says, as she leans against a wooden post, "the emergency shelters, they don't take pets."
Will looks over Jo's shoulder and sees Hannibal standing in the shadows under the overhanging roof of the repair shed.
"What did you say?" he asks, distracted.
"You can't take dogs in the shelters," Jo says. "If there's an evacuation order, you're gonna have to go some place else. You got somewhere to go?"
"Um. No, not really."
Jo nods. "My sister's got a place out in Cutler Bay. Harold and I might go there, depending. There's a lot of room. Why don't I give you the address?"
Hannibal smiles, very faintly.
"I—uh," says Will.
"It's just in case." Jo is friendly but very insistent. She sees the reluctance on his face. "Listen, you're new to all this, but in these storms, you always want to be prepared. Have your worst-case scenario all worked out."
"I've dealt with hurricanes before," says Will, thinking of Biloxi and the way the old trailer he shared with his dad used to rock back and forth in the high wind just like a boat.
"Then you know it's no joke," says Jo. "I'll give you the address. My sister's a dog lover, too; she's always picking new ones up. She'll be fine with it. How many dogs do you have?"
"Ten," says Will, but then he remembers Violet. "Eleven."
Jo raises her eyebrows, but she says, "Emily'll be fine with it. Also she'd probably be fine looking after them, when you go—uh—out of town."
Behind Jo, Hannibal cants his head, a look of sudden penetrating interest on his face. Meanwhile Will looks into Jo: his blistering stare. "Why would I go out of town?"
Jo can't handle it. She drops her eyes, unable to prod him further. "I don't know. Just thought you might want to go visiting or something."
"I won't be doing that," says Will, crisply.
Jo nods, eyes still dropped. "Well, if you do, let me know."
And she walks off to talk to one of the other mechanics, visibly relaxing as soon as her back is turned to Will. Will glances over at Hannibal and sees that he is smiling with all his teeth. Will throws down the end of the chain link he's clutching and hops back on to the deck. He needs a break.
Door eight. He finds Harold in the repair shed, working on the Mercruiser. Hannibal is there too, leaning casually against the front counter.
Will joins Harold in looking at the disassembled crankshaft.
"What do you think?" Will signs to him. "It's a mess."
"Seen worse," says Harold, in his loud slurred voice.
"We'll need new parts," Will signs, pointing at the solenoid.
"You can fix it?"
"You can make it run?"
Harold rolls his eyes at him. "It will run."
"But not like new," signs Will.
Harold scratches his chin in thought. "It will run different," he says. "But it will run." Now he gives Will a closer look. "Joey giving you trouble? About the storm?"
"She wants you to stay with us up at her sister's. She's really worried. Thinks you'll get swept away if you stick it out on No Name Key." Harold smiles to himself. "Joey's always thinking this is gonna be the Big One. Every time. But this isn't the Big One. You'll know when it's the Big One. So don't worry about it. Won't be any evacuation."
Over Harold's shoulder, Will sees Hannibal lean out the window, looking up at the cloudless sky as if trying to summon rain. The Beatles are still softly playing on the radio next to him:
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on, across the universe…
"You'll be fine," says Harold, going back to the Mercruiser.
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world…
Will drives home over the Seven Mile Bridge with the station wagon's windows rolled entirely open. The temperature outside is dropping now, the humidity intensifying, but it still feels really good. He loves this drive, loves how he can see nothing but water around him on all sides. It's like flying. His mood lifts and when he glances at his rear view mirror, it takes him a moment to register that Hannibal is gone. But in his place the red envelope, sitting there forgotten and seemingly benign. Will does not remember moving it to the passenger seat.
Will lives in the last house on the end of No Name Key, a tiny island off Big Pine, about thirty miles from Key West. Will likes No Name because it feels like wilderness, all creeping mangroves and tall grass. His house seems swallowed up in leaves like a jungle hideaway. The dogs love how uninhabited the island is. Will often lets them roam around outside, probably more often than he should, for freedom has made them a little wild. When he opens the front door, he is almost knocked off his feet by so many happy tail-wagging bodies.
He puts the whiskey and the red envelope down on the kitchen counter and crouches to greet the dogs individually, paying particular attention to the new additions to the pack. Violet still bears deep scars from abandonment and deprivation; she is constantly anxious, convinced whenever Will leaves the house that he is leaving her forever. He cradles her monkeyish face, smiles at the way her wide eyes stare in opposite directions. When she is finally sated with affection, Will opens the door and lets the pack spill out on to the porch.
He doesn't immediately join them. He remains at the kitchen counter, looking down at the red envelope. Burn it, Jack said. Of course Jack read the letter. Maybe he told himself he was doing it so Will wouldn't have to, but Will knows that isn't the real reason. The real reason is the same reason Jo wants Will to stay with her at her sister's place in Cutler Bay: curiosity, simple curiosity, burning curiosity, curiosity about Will, curiosity about Hannibal, the desire to know and even be included in the strange and unbreakable intimacy they share. If Jack knew what it was like, he would stop prying. If anyone knew what it was like, they would leave him be. They would put him under quarantine, treat him like a leper, if they knew what it was that lives inside his mind.
He picks up the envelope almost daintily, balancing it on his fingertips. Looking at TattleCrime had been a minor mistake. Reading this letter would be a monumental fuck up.
A wet nose presses to the back of his knee. Will looks down and sees that Winston has returned for him and is looking up at Will with large impatient eyes.
"All right," Will says. "I'm coming."
He puts the envelope back down on the counter and joins the dogs on the porch. Together they go down the gravel path to the beach. Will takes off his sneakers and walks with his ankles in the Gulf; meanwhile the dogs lollop deeper in the surf, sending up jets of spray as they frolic. Will joins them for a few minutes, and then throws himself down on the sand to dry off. A few of the most waterlogged dogs follow him, flopping down with their sides pulsing as they pant, pink tongues out and glistening.
Will sweeps sand off his calves and shins. Leans back to look up at the sky, burnished red with the setting sun. He feels his awareness of himself doubling, as if he is both lying on this beach and standing a great distance away, watching himself lie on this beach. Often in moments of peace he feels this way. Like a fraud, a phony, play-acting at happiness for the benefit of some outside observer. A happy person might ruffle Winston between his ears, help him shake the sand out of his heavy coat—so Will does this. A happy person might lope back to the house to get dinner for the hungry pack—so Will does this, too. Eight doors. He goes to the fridge, fetches his catch from backcountry fishing yesterday: mostly grouper, and a couple big bonefish. On his way past the kitchen counter, he scoops up the red envelope as if it means absolutely nothing to him, the way a happy unaffected person might. Seven doors. He leads the pack back to the beach, finds his campfire grill, and gets a fire started. By the time the sun sets, Will and the dogs are all dining on very crispy fish.
As the dogs fall into a doze, Will sits with his arms wrapped around his knees, watching the dying play of the flames. Now's the moment. He picks up the red envelope. The fire crackles, ready and waiting. A happy person might burn this letter without a second thought, on the understanding that this is the only way to preserve and sustain the precious happiness he has fought so hard to cultivate. But Will doesn't burn the letter. He just sits there, staring. The sense of performance is on him too strong; he feels paralyzed by his own fakery: stage fright.
Eventually the fire dies out. Will wedges the red envelope back under his arm, rouses the pack, and they head home in the dark.
Will has a bed inside the house, but he prefers sleeping out with the dogs on the porch, weather permitting. Since the weather permits it tonight, he rolls out his sleeping bag, and the dogs drop down exhausted all around him, curling up into commas of sleep almost immediately. Will isn't quite ready to join them. He goes inside the house—eight doors, nine doors—brushes his teeth, and when he comes back into the kitchen, he picks up the red envelope again. He doesn't like it lying out here like this, free and unwatched, while he goes to sleep. He looks around the living room, contemplating the problem.
Will's house has very little furniture. He keeps meaning to buy some, or even to make some, but he hasn't gotten around to it yet. He spends so little time indoors. However he does have a desk; he uses it mostly for fly-tying. Will slips the red envelope into the bottom drawer and locks it. Then he takes the desk key out to his station wagon and locks it in the glove compartment. There. That ought to remove temptation pretty thoroughly.
Back on the porch he suddenly feels overwhelmed by tiredness. He sees that Violet has tucked herself up inside his sleeping bag, and gently he pushes her out, and though she huffs in protest, she is happy curling up next to his chest instead. When Will squints his eyes he can see the outlines of the mangroves and the thick black sky full of stars. He can feel the gentle pressure of Winston lying at his back. This is good, this is safe, this is home. He sleeps.
Violet is gone, and he is searching for her, calling for her, but she won't come. He checks the deck and the upstairs floor, goes out to the dock where his boat is tied, but he can't find Violet anywhere. In the living room he hears a scuffling sound, a drag and a whine. It's coming from inside the wall.
Panic skitters in his veins. How did Violet get in there? He pulls the desk away from the wall to get a better look. Then he grabs his toolbox. With a hammer he begins smashing at the wall, trying not to make too much noise because he doesn't want to terrify Violet any further. She is really keening now, a horrible sound. Every swing of the hammer sends a puff of plaster dust into the air, and Will is soon covered in dust and dirt as he tears out chunks of his own wall.
He makes the hole bigger and bigger, large enough for him to fit his arm and shoulder inside. But before he can reach into the hole, out of it comes a strange trickle of rust-colored fluid. It is thick, muddy, like river sludge. The sludge dribbles out of the hole in the wall, sliding down the yellow wallpaper onto the floor. And the walls must be full of the stuff, because the sludge keeps coming, drooling out of the hole in little bursts. And Will tries to stop it, tries to plug it up, but his efforts make no difference and soon he is coated from fingertips to elbows in viscous gunk. Violet is still crying inside the wall—she must be drowning in the rusty sludge—so Will overcomes his revulsion and sticks his arm all the way inside the hole, pawing through the sludge. Soggy pieces of the wall fall out all around him, the hole growing wider and wider as he clutches blindly for Violet, but he still can't reach her.
"Need a hand?"
Alana is standing by the front door with her hands in her pockets and a rueful smile on her face.
"I could make some noise, shoo away any predators at your door."
"Ah hah," Will laughs, weakly, with his arm and shoulder buried in the hole he has made in his own wall. "No, thanks. I've got it."
He doesn't want Alana to see the god-awful mess. If she finds out he has lost little Violet inside the wall, what will she think of him?
Meanwhile the sludge is pouring out past his arm, gushing over him, drenching his t-shirt, sliding down his legs, and he mustn't let Alana see, because he can smell it now, the bright coppery smell of blood.
"Will," says Alana, in a trembling voice. "Please let me help."
But he can't. He reaches deeper into the hole and finally he finds something. He grips it tight and pulls; the wall offers up resistance for just a second but then he tugs it free and sees that he has liberated not Violet but a long meaty rope of intestines that drips blood and slime onto his bare feet. And he keeps pulling and pulling, great coils of slippery intestines spooling through his fingers and piling behind him on the floor. Finally Alana sees what he's doing and she screams and cries as the mountain of human entrails grows larger and larger between them—
He wakes up to soft dawn light, soft sleeping dogs, and Hannibal Lecter sitting on the porch chair, watching him with lidded eyes. Will is reeling from his dream, not because of the terror but at the aching shock of seeing Alana alive again. He doesn't have the self-possession yet to ignore Hannibal. Instead he stares right at him from out of his fort of warm dog bodies, and Hannibal stares back. He looks very alert, guard-like, as if he has been watching Will sleep all night long. And Will already knows, looking at Hannibal, that this is going to be one of the bad days, one of the days when no matter what Will does, no matter how he feels, Hannibal will not go away.
Hannibal sits on the porch, watching Will as he wakes up the dogs and sends them into the yard to do their business. Hannibal sits on the wicker chair in the living room, watching Will as he fills the dogs' bowls for breakfast. Will goes upstairs to shower and change, and Hannibal sits on the end of his unused bed, watching Will do those things, too.
Will can't afford to get upset about this. He just has to accept it as his day's reality and move on. The hurricane is due to make landfall at dusk.
From the garage he retrieves the storm shutters he purchased over the summer, and takes them out to the yard with his toolbox and a ladder. He carefully installs the shutters on all his windows, and though he has kept the dogs inside the house, they come over in turn to each window he is in the process of covering up and watch him with questioning eyes as he drills. He feels he is locking them away, a bad feeling, even though he knows it's for their own protection. At one point towards the end, Will looks down at the bottom of the ladder and sees Hannibal standing there, bracing his arms on the rails, looking up at Will playfully, as if he's contemplating what might happen if he pushed the ladder over. Will doesn't like that at all. He finishes shuttering the second floor windows and scrambles back down the ladder, his nerves jitterbugging.
He goes into the house—eight—ignores Hannibal, who is sitting in the wicker chair and looking pleased with himself, opens the bottle of Johnny Walker, and pours some into his coffee mug.
That afternoon he takes the station wagon out one last time for a supply run. Will turns on the radio, and he and Hannibal listen to the latest updates on Hurricane Grace, still a Category 2 storm and causing massive rainfall now in the Bahamas. The weather reflects the storm's increased proximity: the sky teems with silver clouds, and the trees are flailing in the wind.
The supermarket is full of people, even though many of the shelves are already picked clean of both perishable and nonperishable goods. The shoppers are in strange, heightened moods: some of them joke together with a sense of hokey camaraderie that rings very false, while others are intent and almost competitive as they fill their carts with canned peaches and bottled water. Hannibal eyes the half-empty racks of Hostess cakes with distaste.
All Will really needs is dog food. He loads up his cart with it and with plastic jugs of water. For himself he buys only peanut butter, wheat crackers, salted nuts, and several packs of beef jerky. This last makes Hannibal raise his eyebrows.
The checkout line is long, anarchic, and slow moving. The man in front of Will is not dealing very well with the pace.
"Can you believe this?" he keeps saying loudly to no one. "Can't you get any more cashiers working out here? Some of us have drives to make!"
The woman working the cash register gives him a quelling look.
"Don't look at me like that, missy! I'm a paying customer, or I will be if you ever get around to actually ringing me up. Jesus! Could this be any slower?" He looks around the line for support, but the other customers avoid his gaze. Not Hannibal, though; as he watches the man, the corners of his mouth slowly darken.
The man doesn't notice Hannibal, of course. What he notices is a woman in the next lane who has paused to gather up a few of the remaining batteries from the standup shelves near the conveyor belt. The man takes advantage of her distraction, swerves his cart and cuts in front of her, begins loading his own groceries onto the belt before she wises up. When she finally turns around, she says: "Hey!"
The man shrugs. "Snooze you lose." Then leers at her as the cashier rings him up. As he leers, he clocks the way Will is watching him.
"What are you looking at?"
"You," says Will.
He sees the pulse beating in the man's throat, the creases of flab at his armpits, the swell of his stomach underneath his tank top, the rolls of skin across the back of his neck. Waste of good flesh.
Hannibal scents the air, and slowly dips his head, bright eyes on Will.
Something changes in the man's face as he looks at Will. Animal fear.
"Apologize to her," says Will. "You should have waited your turn."
"I—" The man is alarmed, and confused by the alarm he feels. "It's none of your business, guy. What's your problem?"
He turns the fleshy expanse of his back on Will and thrusts his credit card at the cashier.
"Nice try," says the woman in the line next to Will, giving him a little smile.
Will doesn't hear her. The room is swaying hard and the lights are too bright. His stomach rumbles.
He abandons his cart on the squeaky linoleum, winds his way out of line, and staggers through the sliding doors—seven. He doubles over near the bushes to the side of the parking lot, braces his clammy hands on his knees. But he isn't sick. It's just that he'd like to be. He'd feel better if the thoughts in his head had the power to make him physically ill.
He is aware of Hannibal, standing near the curb, watching him expectantly.
Will straightens up, hides his eyes in the crook of his elbow, feeling something very like despair. A pounding in the sky, deep and low. Thunder.
He is aware of footsteps approaching him, but he ignores them. The soft noise of grocery bags placed on the sidewalk next to him.
"You forgot your dog food."
Will takes his arm away from his eyes and sees the woman from the line. She has an amiable, slightly wary expression on her face.
"It's ok," she says. "Rudeness makes me sick, too. Maybe not so literally, but..."
Will looks down at the bags she has placed at his feet: they are filled with his own groceries. "You didn't have to do that," he mutters.
The woman shrugs. "It's fine."
He feels for the wallet in his back pocket. "How much do I owe you?"
Now the woman smiles at him. She has nice teeth, very blunt and even. "Don't sweat it. I know you're good for it."
"How could you know that?"
He looks into her now—and to his surprise, she meets his stare. Doesn't look away.
"I've seen you around. I know you're local. You have a lot of dogs, huh? That's a sizable amount of kibble."
"Yes," he says. "Lots of dogs. You're local, too?"
"Sugarloaf," she says.
"Well," she says, grinning a little, "it's nice to meet you, No Name. Make sure those dogs don't go hungry during the storm, ok?"
He tries a smile back, and it doesn't feel completely strange. "Ok," he says. "See you around, Sugarloaf."
She swings her hair over her shoulder and walks off with her bags. It only occurs to him once she's already loading her trunk that he should have offered to carry the bags for her. He has forgotten how these things work.
Hannibal is no longer standing on the curb. Will's heart lightens: gone for now? But no, he has merely wandered off. Will sees his straight-backed silhouette inside the station wagon. Biding his time.
Will sighs. He gathers up his bags as the woman from Sugarloaf drives away.
Will approaches the station wagon and notices an envelope tucked between the windshield wipers. A flare-up of panic. It can't be the letter; it's locked in the desk drawer and he would remember, wouldn't he, if he'd taken it back out again?
Will frees the envelope from his wipers: it is delicate and square. 'Will' is written across the front in handwriting unfamiliar to him, sloped and looping.
He puts his groceries in the backseat. Leans against the hood as he opens the letter. Hannibal watches him intently through the windshield as he unfolds it and reads:
Forgive the tardiness of this message. I have been meaning to write to you for many months, as there is so much that remains unsaid between us, but it has been difficult for me to overcome my diffidence and my fear that in writing to you, I might somehow reveal my location to Hannibal Lecter. Hence the unconventional manner of this letter's delivery. I ask you not to trace this. I remain very careful about my safety, and my safety is in my secrecy. I trust you can understand, and I encourage you to protect your hiding place with the same vigilance as I protect mine.
I hope you can also pardon the abruptness of my departure from Baltimore last year. I know how you must have interpreted it, and while it pained me to cause you further distress, I knew I needed to disappear as quickly as I could. During the course of my final dealings with Hannibal, he realized I had visited you, and I knew my time was short. I would have liked to see you one last time, but I dared not risk it. As soon as the first reports of the "Chesapeake Ripper's" killing spree reached me, I made my escape. Hannibal's flair for the dramatic has always been a weakness; he should not have so publicly signaled his intentions regarding me. He all but warned me to go. At times I wonder if perhaps that was his true intent.
I confess, when I left Baltimore, I was certain you would fail in your quest. I had convinced myself that Hannibal Lecter could not be caught, by you or by anyone. I told you as much. But I misjudged you, Will. I underestimated your abilities; it seems that Hannibal did the same, and it led to his undoing. You are more than what he made of you. You see through him and beyond him. You are, and have always been, outside his comprehension. I don't put that forward as a compliment. If I were you, I would consider it a cause for concern. You became something unthinkable even to Hannibal Lecter, and there will be consequences. Perhaps you are already feeling them.
I don't know how you spend your days, but I spend mine awake, and aware, and waiting for him. I keep my lights on. I watch the horizon. I patrol the blind spots behind my shoulders. There is no prison that can hold him, no bars strong enough to keep him contained. This period of peace you have so dearly bought for all of us is merely the eye inside a great storm. We cannot survive unless we continue to remind ourselves that rain will fall once more.
What worries me now is what he will do, walled up in his prison cell, forced to abandon the things that keep him civilized. There is still his pattern to consider. I am speaking neither of his murderousness, nor of what he did with his victims after they were dead. I am speaking of his true pattern, the pattern no one can ever force him to abandon no matter how chained and muzzled they may keep him. The pattern that drew you and me into his orbit, and will hold us there for as long as we live. I am speaking of his tendency to love, and love well, and love powerfully. I am speaking of the way he moves from one love object to the next, in search of something he will never find. I watched him choose you. I charted the progress of his adoration as it grew and I was grieved by it, not only for your sake, but for mine. It taxes the spirit to be the object of such love, only to see that love be transferred to someone else. Some day you will understand.
I fear for that next worthy person, whoever he or she may be. From me he learned understanding and self-control. From you he learned betrayal. He takes what he learns, and he moves on. He goes on, always. And so must we.
I think of you often,
Bedelia du Maurier
Will reads the letter over and over, as the pre-storm wind tugs at his hair and clothes. He feels overwhelmed with emotion: relief that du Maurier is alive, but also a strange sense of injury and defensiveness, similar to the feelings she inspired in him when she visited his cell over a year ago. He had felt, when he met her, that du Maurier resented him for reasons unknown, but now those reasons have become apparent. It taxes the spirit… He doesn't know what to make of it. He is surprised—and disturbed—that she has chosen to call what Hannibal does 'love'. Will refuses to describe it that way, refuses to credit it. Love is more than the mockery Hannibal makes of it.
Some day you will understand.
Will's heart is beating faster than it should. He looks up, looks for Hannibal, and sees that he is no longer inside the station wagon. Now his heart is really speeding. But Hannibal hasn't left him. He has just wandered off again. Now he's standing at the edge of the parking lot, with his hands in the pockets of his dress slacks, his back to Will as he looks out at the wedge of ocean visible to him from that vantage point, listening to the ominous crackle of the waves against the wooden dock.
He will go on. So must we.
Will clutches the letter tightly. He walks towards Hannibal, then past him, right down to the dock. Hannibal follows him, prowling in the shadows of the mangrove trees, as Will ventures out to the end of the dock and tears du Maurier's letter into halves, quarters, eighths, before sprinkling the fragments in the water.
Hannibal doesn't get back in the car with him. Instead Hannibal watches from the curb as Will drives away. Every time Will checks the side mirrors, he sees Hannibal standing alongside the highway, an unmoving silhouette in the greater distance. Meanwhile the storm clouds build up behind him, higher and darker all the time.
Will drives home to No Name. Takes the groceries inside. Eight doors. Hannibal isn't sitting in the wicker chair. Hannibal hasn't come back inside the house with him.
The dogs are restless, bright-eyed; they sense the storm. Will releases them for a final moment of freedom, while he does one last pass around the house—nine doors, ten doors, nine doors, eight doors—checking every strap and bolt to ensure the place is stormproof. He parks the car in the garage along with his boat, and hangs up netting across the garage door to secure it. When he goes out one last time to call the dogs in, he feels the first drops of rain.
The dogs come inside easily, made anxious by the rain, and Will follows them. Eight doors, probably the final count for the night. Will throws every lock in the house, fits wind-resistant panels on the front door and the sliding door that leads out to the deck—and when he is finished, he and the dogs are officially safe and dry and ready for the storm. The only thing is, they are also locked up like prisoners in the now windowless interior of Will's dark house.
The dogs hear the rain falling against the roof, and their ears prick. Will feels primed and strange, as if he's waiting for all his preparations to backfire, for the whole house to come tumbling down. He pours himself two fingers of whiskey in search of steadiness. Again he glances, almost beseechingly, at the wicker chair. But Hannibal is gone.
Will fixes the dogs their dinner and they mill around the bowls in the living room, a little confused at dining here instead of in their usual place out on the porch. Will eats the last of the fish from his catch, and makes himself another drink. He is already approaching the limits of his patience for being indoors, and the night has barely begun.
He can hear the wind now. It gives a sly whistle as it buffets the roof. The dogs hear it too. Their necks snap to and fro, their legs skip, nails clacking on the wooden floor as they try to locate the source of these strange sounds, the sounds of an intruder in their midst. The storm has hit. Will puts his whiskey glass on the floor and sits with them, speaks to them, does his best to assuage their fears.
When they are somewhat calm again, Will lies back on the floor and stares up at the ceiling, listening to the rain and thinking. Bedelia du Maurier's letter weighs heavy on him, for reasons he can't explain, can't admit. Beverly's email weighs heavy, too. He realizes he never replied to it. He doesn't really know how. There is too much to say, and not enough.
After he gutted Hannibal, he couldn't go back to Wolf Trap because Wolf Trap was a crime scene, and because he had known even then that he would never be returning there, not for any reason. So Beverly, brave Beverly, had taken him in, him and his seven dogs, all of them living together inside her apartment in Alexandria.
Will quickly became the houseguest from hell. Not only because his dogs grew restless in Beverly's smallish apartment and began destroying her nice furniture, but because Will himself was impossible to live with. He barely spoke, experienced screaming nightmares, and there were many days when he couldn't make himself get out of Beverly's futon bed. Bev would be forced to feed and walk the dogs herself, to tiptoe around him while he slept with his head beneath the covers in the middle of her living room, and if he was expected for a meeting back at Quantico, she would have to physically drag him upright, make him put on clean clothes, and prod him out the door with her.
Bev handled all of this with her typical class and good humor. Even in his blackest moods she wasn't afraid of teasing him about his frequent inability to talk about anything that wasn't related to the dogs, and the strange habit he had developed of always staring at the corduroy armchair in the corner of her living room. What Beverly didn't know—and what Will never told her—was that the big armchair was where Hannibal tended to sit when he paid his visits. This was the period when Will, if he stared at Hannibal hard enough, could always make him fade away. So Beverly would often walk in on him while he was in the middle of these staring contests, and her mouth would quirk, half in amusement, half in concern.
Sometimes she managed to get him outside: for a walk in the woods with the dogs or a night at the movies. But it was hard for them to go out in public, not only because of Will's depression, but also on account of the twenty-four hour news cycle. Flocks of photographers followed them around Quantico, and sometimes journalists even showed up at Beverly's front door. Over time, under that scrutiny, Will began to feel like a prisoner inside Beverly's apartment. She inadvertently strengthened this association by coming home most days with a bag of takeout for him.
It was a one-day-at-a-time arrangement. He wasn't thinking about his future. At least, he wasn't conscious of himself thinking about it. But there was a cold and clinical part of him always thinking, forever planning. He had not yet been successful in eradicating that aspect of his personality.
Jack kept bringing him in for post-mortem meetings in which Will had to explain himself to people higher and higher up the judicial ladder, gray-faced men in dark suits who all had questions about how Will had known where Hannibal was hiding, how he had convinced Jack to let Will go into the house in Wolf Trap alone, how the attack on Hannibal could possibly be in self-defense when Will had managed to cut him nearly in half. Will reacted badly to these insinuations, and became less and less communicative the more meetings Jack made him attend.
He had trouble with the insinuations because he was worried they were true. Three weeks after Wolf Trap, he found himself sitting next to Jack in a dark conference room and assuring the FBI Director point-blank that, in suggesting the Wolf Trap operation to Jack, it had never been Will's intention to kill Hannibal Lecter, even though Will was feeling pretty certain it had always been his intention to kill Hannibal Lecter. He had walked into that house hoping for his chance, and he had got it, and he was furious with himself for having fumbled it.
Jack sensed some of what Will was feeling. It was a feeling they shared. So after this meeting, he pulled Will aside and gently delivered to him the terrible news: the doctors were now sure that Hannibal would survive his injury, and when his condition improved, they were going to transfer him to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Jack thought this ironic arrangement would provide Will with some comfort. But Will wasn't comforted. He was furious. That was the last place Will wanted Hannibal to live: in a cell full of memories they shared. He did not want to be able to visualize Hannibal's prison in such precise detail. It made Hannibal seem closer to him, more present in Will's mind than ever. And here was Jack, trying to cheer him up with it?
In a trance of impotent rage, he drove back to Alexandria, walked into Bev's living room, and was completely unsurprised to see Hannibal in the big armchair, waiting for him. Will dropped on to the futon and engaged in his usual staring contest with Hannibal, straining the muscles of his mind until they throbbed, but for the very first time he was unable to make him go away. He knew, right then, that he was stuck with Hannibal forever.
Will did the only thing he could think to do. He raided Beverly's liquor cabinet. He didn't actually think alcohol had the power to make Hannibal disappear, but at least it could make Will care a little bit less about seeing him. He lined the bottles across the coffee table and poured himself martini after martini, staring at Hannibal as he gulped them down. By the time Beverly came home from the lab, Will was so drunk that he was actually talking to Hannibal, shouting at Hannibal, shouting at the empty chair.
If Beverly was upset to see him like that, she hid it well. She sat down on the futon next to him and tipped herself a glass of straight vodka. And via the magic of Beverly and many spirits, they were soon loose and laughing together. Goofing off with the dogs. Comparing their matching splints. Will pointed out that his was actually a cast, not a splint (with that single wrench, Hannibal had broken Will's wrist in three places) and Beverly suddenly insisted on signing it. They tore her place apart, scattering the puzzled dogs as they searched for a Sharpie, and once Beverly found one, she began drawing little smiley faces all over Will's cast. He watched her do this, appreciating the look of loopy intensity on her face, and over her shoulder he became aware of Hannibal in the leather armchair watching him darkly, smiling the scalpel smile, and suddenly Will was placing his good hand at Bev's jawline, toying with her hair as he covered her mouth with sloppy kisses, surging forward to press her back against the futon cushions—
And Beverly pushed him away, her eyes wide, upset.
She laughed it off an instant later. Joked about how that was the universal signal for closing time as she scooped up the liquor and put herself to bed. She was as understanding and forgiving as any friend could be. Nonetheless he was completely mortified.
He curled up on the futon feeling wretched. Woke up before dawn feeling even worse. It wasn't just the hangover. Hannibal was sitting right next to him, watching him.
"Well, well, well," said Hannibal. "That was painful."
Will had yet to deprive Hannibal of speech, though here was more evidence that he really needed to do it, and soon.
"Go away," Will whispered.
"Another clutch for balance?"
Will dragged a pillow over his face.
"No," said Hannibal, smiling faintly. "Not this time. Nothing so simple as that."
"You know you're not harboring romantic feelings for Miss Katz. You are incapable of experiencing romantic feelings at the moment. You may never be capable of experiencing them. Damage can have that effect."
Will pressed the pillow into his face as if trying to smother himself, smother Hannibal.
"The one good thing left in your life, Will. The only good thing. And you premeditate an attack on it. I'm sure Miss Katz believes it was in the heat of the moment, but you and I both know it was anything but. You made your entreaty in cold blood. Very cold blood. How long had you been planning it?"
Will said nothing, too choked with hatred.
Hannibal was looking at him with wide sad eyes. "You no longer have me around to destroy your life, so you are forced to do it for yourself. Isn't that right, Will? Ah, Will. What's ever to be done with you?"
Will blindly reached for his empty liquor glass on the side table and threw it at Hannibal. It passed right through him and shattered against the wall; luckily Beverly was too passed out to hear it. But it had the right effect: Hannibal took offense at having his incorporeality so blatantly demonstrated and disappeared instantly.
Just Will now. Will and his pain.
When Beverly woke up the next morning, Will stayed huddled in bed. She paused in the living room for a long time, silently deliberating as she looked at him curled up underneath the blankets with a sleeping dog on either side of him. Then she noticed the shattered glass. In total silence she cleaned it up, threw the broken pieces away. But she didn't try to wake him, and that was all Will needed to know about where they stood. The instant she was out the door, Will had packed his bags, gathered the dogs, and left. He drove out of Virginia like someone was chasing him—driving south, and south, and south, until he ran out of south to drive.
Now Will lies on the floor, listening to the trees rocking against his hurricane-assaulted house, feeling furious with himself.
Maybe du Maurier knows what she's talking about. Maybe what Hannibal feels is love. Who is Will to judge? He doesn't understand love, not really, not with the painful verisimilitude with which he understands murder. Of course through his empathy he can experience love, just as he can experience anything; he can catch the spark of love from someone else's flame, but he doesn't know how to kindle those fires in himself. Maybe the closest he will ever get is this metastatic obsession with the mass murderer who has destroyed his life.
He envies Hannibal, that's the problem. Hannibal who is consumed by love, Hannibal who risked and lost his freedom for a dream, a slender chance at companionship. That fateful evening Will had sat in Hannibal's office, looked at himself through Hannibal's eyes, and in a blast of light and music and color he had been possessed by Hannibal's love for him, he had breathed it in and let it fill him up until he ached with it—and then he had walked out of that office ready to exploit that love with a frigid ruthlessness he now cannot purge from his system, because that ruthlessness wasn't something he ever learned from Hannibal. That ruthlessness was Will's alone. He had used it to push Beverly away. Now he uses it against himself on a daily basis. He doesn't feel love. He uses love. He has weaponized it.
These thoughts have achieved exactly what Will expected them to. They have summoned Hannibal. He is back in the wicker chair. But he is not the good doctor any more. Now he is dressed in Will's own clothes and bleeds copiously from a stab wound in his abdomen.
The wind increases to a howl. Rain pours down the shutters, thunders on the roof. It is strange to be able to hear such a violent storm but not to see a single sign of it, boarded up as he is inside this coffin of a house.
Will ignores Hannibal, ignores the pleading look in his eyes. He sits up and sees that the dogs are really panicking now. Violet's nerve has failed. She barks and barks, whines and cries, tries to hide under the kitchen table. Will pours himself his third glass of whiskey before crawling after her. He crouches under the table and bundles her up in his arms.
"It's all right," he whispers into her fur. "I know it's loud. And scary. But it will all be over soon. It's just a storm. Atmospheric disturbance. Rain and wind. Sound and light. You're safe in here. You're safe with me. It will all be over soon."
He rocks with her as she whines and whines. Her distress is still unsettling the other dogs. Skittishly they run from room to room, knocking against the walls, maddened by the terrible noises emitted by Violet inside the house and by the storm outside the house.
And Will realizes, with a sinking heart, that he is going to have to restrain Violet. He carries her to the laundry room, where he keeps the cage he used when he first took her in. Violet, despite her habit of hiding in tiny spaces, doesn't like the cage, and immediately starts struggling in Will's arms, whining at an even higher and fiercer pitch. But Will still locks her in. Tries to ignore her pleading eyes, as Violet looks at Will through the bars like he is suddenly not her friend but her jailer. Oh, how he hates putting living creatures into cages. No one can survive for long inside a cage, no one should have to. Why is it necessary? Why must it be?
He goes back into the living room. Hannibal is there. Thankfully his intestines are back inside his body; the good doctor is in session again, his suit dark and pristine.
Hannibal's eyes track Will as he crosses the room, scoops his glass of whiskey off the floor and finishes it. Pours himself another. The lids of Hannibal's eyes slip downward, disapproval emanating out of him in waves.
"Oh fuck off," says Will, downing it in one as if that'll show him.
He has forgotten that he isn't supposed to talk to Hannibal. He is drunk, intensely drunk. The adrenaline-fueled clarity engendered by the storm has worn off, and now he feels it, boy does he feel it.
As the dogs huddle in the kitchen corner, ears pricked and listening as the storm rages on, Hannibal sits in leonine silence with his brow creased.
"Disappointed in me?" Will sneers. "Well, I'm sorry. I guess I'm not up to your high standards after all."
He pours himself another, even though he knows this is getting really irresponsible. He's in the middle of a hurricane and he has the dogs to look after.
But with Hannibal's dark eyes on him, he can't help himself. He knocks it back.
"I don't know why you have to look so surprised," he says, and he can hear the way his voice has gone slurry. "You predicted this. Right down to the letter. You said I'd die if I tried to live this life. And I am dying. But we're all dying, Hannibal. At least I'm doing it on my terms. What do you have to say about that?"
Hannibal, of course, says nothing. But the look of disapproval intensifies on his face. His throat bobs and his eyes brighten.
"Well, I still think you're wrong. You've always been wrong about me and I'm going to spend the rest of my life proving it to you. I'll live this life even if it kills me. Just to spite you. How about that?" Will rolls his hazy eyes at Hannibal. "Now don't look at me like that, buddy. If I'd run off with you like you wanted me to, things would be so much worse. I'd probably be dead by now. You'd have killed me or I'd have killed you or we'd have killed each other. There would have always been that linoleum knife between us. Don't deny it."
Hannibal can't deny anything, but his eyes have narrowed. Meanwhile the dogs are looking at Will, confused to hear him talking so loudly and passionately to the empty air.
Will comes forward, drink in hand, swaying slightly as he closes the distance between himself and Hannibal.
"In the end, you just don't know me that well. Your love blinds you to the truth of me. You convinced yourself that I was something better than your mirror but you know what, Hannibal? Your mirror is exactly what I am. We're both just…accidents. Broken molds on the assembly line. And the day we were made there was no foreman there to catch us, no quality control to excommunicate us from the human race, so here we are, forever forced to mingle, even though we don't belong. You've coped with it by turning your isolation into your strength, your loneliness into your power, but in the end, you're not superior to anybody. You're not God. You're just one of Nature's many mistakes. A sadist and a narcissist. Nothing original. Just a lonely monster who can't acknowledge his own smallness in the scheme of things." Will chuckles to himself, knocks back the rest of the whiskey. "And so am I."
The rain pounds. The wind screams. The floor is swaying. Will drops to his knees to stop it.
"Just a mirror cracked from side to side. A palimpsest with your handwriting all over it, and I tried, I tried to erase as much of it as I could, I defaced your work, but I think I might have done too much, I erased parts of myself in the process. Is that why you're looking at me like that?"
For Hannibal's stare is more forceful and forbidding than ever; he seems almost to be growing taller in his seat as he stares down disdainfully at Will, who is now on his hands and knees on the floor in front of him.
"You're tired of me," Will says. "Isn't that right? The shine's worn off. Well, you know what you can do about that. What Bedelia du Maurier predicted you'd do. Go, then. Plot your escape. Seek out your next victim." He spits this next out viciously: "If you want to leave me, then leave me. Be my guest."
Hannibal's blinks are slow, lizard-like, but his hands have tightened around the arms of the wicker chair.
"Why can't you leave me? Why can't you go?" Will crawls towards Hannibal as he speaks. "I don't want you here. I don't need you any more."
Hannibal tilts his head, slowly, dubiously.
"I could do this. I could live this life if you would only let me. If you would take your claws out of me and go. Why can't you go?"
Hannibal just blinks at him.
"Tell me. Talk to me. Please. Please talk to me. Talk to me again. I want you to talk to me."
Will has crawled all the way to Hannibal's knees. He stops there and looks up at him, waiting, pleading. But Hannibal just looks down on him, unforgiving.
"Please. Please talk. I need you to talk. Please."
He is breathing raggedly. He looks up at Hannibal and waits. The storm howls and bashes, as if trying to tear the house right off the earth.
But Hannibal does not talk. Hannibal doesn't even move.
"Please," Will whispers, one final time.
Now Hannibal turns his head, slowly, meaningfully. His eyes flicker towards the desk drawer.
The letter. Will has forgotten all about the letter.
But of course, he hasn't forgotten. How could he forget? The ruthlessness that thinks and plans endlessly on a low hum in the back of his mind has been preparing him for this moment. He needed those drinks. He needed this storm. He needed to be trapped with no escape.
He sees the manipulation for what it is. Doesn't care.
He scrambles unbalanced across the floor, pulls at the desk drawer, but it is locked. For fuck's sake, why did he lock it? For a long moment he can't remember where he put the key. It's in the car. He doesn't want to go out to the car. He'll have lost his nerve by then. Instead he just pulls and pulls at the drawer, hammers at it with his fists as the dogs stare and Hannibal smiles.
The lock breaks. Will pulls the red envelope from the drawer, rips the flap open, and dumps Hannibal's letter out on to the floor. For a moment he stares at it. This is paper that Hannibal has touched.
He tears it open. Pulls out three smartly folded sheets of heavy writing paper, covered in neat script from margin to margin.
He can hear his own tight, terrified gasps for breath. Tries to ignore them as he spreads the sheets of paper out on the floor and bends over them to read:
So here we are, trapped inside our respective prisons. Mine I do not occupy by choice, but yours is a prison of your own making. Does that make it easier or harder to live in, I wonder?
I don't find living in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane to be easy. In fact I don't know how you stood it, being endlessly submitted to such mistreatment, poked and prodded and forced to hear you own story told back to you in the most reduced and inaccurate terms by cretins and half-wits. I have renewed respect for you, Will, for your endurance and your patience. In moments when my strength is tested, I play at being you, and I find my circumstances easier to bear. On the day I write this letter, I have officially been inside this institution 253 days, the same length of stay as your own. We are, for now, the same. Tomorrow will be uncharted territory.
I have long desired to write to you, but have restrained myself for various reasons. The most obvious is that I know this communication cannot be private, and I find it vulgar to think of the dirty hands of unwanted eavesdroppers reading over my words for insight into my mind, and into yours (Hi Jack! My love to the wife!) but this a necessary evil, and one I am willing to overlook for the time being. However, on account of those extra sets of eyes, I have found it prudent to include within this letter statements that bear no resemblance to my true thoughts, but I know you are keen enough to separate out the wheat from the chaff.
There are other reasons why I have refrained this long from writing to you. I admit I was angry with you for a very long time. I won't pretend that as I recovered from the wound you gave me, and continued to suffer from its lasting effects, that I didn't wish to revisit all of the pain and humiliation back upon its maker. I would have very much liked to see you cope with the indignities of a colostomy bag. I am still unable to eat meat of any kind—and I need not explain how demeaning and inconvenient a state I find that to be.
My, but you knew what you were doing. Had I been first to the hilt of that knife, I would have merely used it to cut out your heart. You were more creative, and punitive, in your vengeance. But I should have expected nothing less from you, Monte Cristo. Your literary forebear was of the belief that the punishment ought to fit the crime, and here I am, betrayed and brought low by illness and suffering, languishing in this dull asylum with a bunch of unimaginative lunatics, unable to seek out even the most simple of pleasures.
I carry so many scars now, Will. So many scars that you have given me. I have you inscribed here, and here, and here. I never shall forget you. But it grieves me to think that you carry no scars in return. You are clean, and unmarked, and bear nothing by which you might remember me, your greatest friend. But then I remind myself: your scars are all on the inside.
I forgive you for what you did to me, Monte Cristo. I cannot deny that you were justified in your actions, and I respect them, as I revere the imagination that gave birth to them. You had me hoisted on my own petard, and how can I be anything but impressed? I think back to what transpired between us inside your Wolf Trap, and I find myself wondering how much of what I saw there was real. I replay my memory again and again; I scrutinize it with the eyes of a forensic investigator, searching for the truth. You weren't lying to me that night, were you, Will? If you were lying, I would have known. You were simply telling me the wrong version of the truth. I find this thought to be of some consolation.
You should have come with me. We would have enjoyed each other's company, as we always have.
I can forgive you this wound. I can forgive you Wolf Trap. But there is something you have done that I cannot forgive. I can't forgive the damage you have done to yourself, and the damage you are no doubt continuing to perform upon yourself now that I am gone. You should have heeded my warning in Wolf Trap. But you dismissed my words unjustly before you ever heard them, to your detriment. Don't destroy yourself to spite me, I beg you. We don't invent our natures, Will. They are issued to us, along with our lungs and pancreas and everything else. You mustn't fight it. You were born with something beautiful, and to subject that beauty to willful destruction is a crime against nature, a crime against God, and even I can't forgive that. The thought of you putting all that potential to waste, knowingly, spitefully; I can't bear it. It gives me very good cause to hate you, Will. Be warned.
There is a passage I like from The Count of Monte Cristo. The Count receives a warning from his two new friends, the Baron Franz d'Épinay, and the Viscount Albert de Morcerf. The Count, you see, has just described his preferred method of revenge, "slow, profound, eternal torture." (Forgive me if I mistranslate, I am working from my memory in French.) His friends don't see the wisdom of his taking on the role of judge and executioner. They warn him: "Hatred is blind, rage carries you away, and he who pours out vengeance must drink a bitter draught."
So, Will, how did it taste?
I'm sorry. My internment has made me mean. An animal in a cage has no resort but to fall back upon its nature. There are days when I could tear this place apart with my teeth. I have no patience for mankind now that there are bars separating me from them. I abhor them more than I ever did when I was free. They try my patience. I am forced to find pleasure in little mischiefs. You no doubt think it crass that I have been speaking to Freddie Lounds. But if there is to be a circus, I must be sure to appoint myself its ringmaster. Don't worry. Of course Miss Lounds tried to push me into selling you up the river, but I avoided answering any questions that might cast you in a negative light. I sang nothing but your praises, Will. As I always have. I may have bent the truth where I needed to, but I will make sure the whole world sees only the very best of you.
Oh, Will. These games I play here by myself are not enough. It doesn't seem fair. When you were trapped within these walls, I visited you faithfully. We played a game together the likes of which I had never known, and may never know again. Oh, that game. I dream about that game. I have never been so profoundly happy and alive as I was during those precious months in which we sparred together. I know you feel the same way. Why can't you pay me back in kind? Why won't you relent, abandon your boat motors and return to me here in my little cell, so that our respective imprisonments might be made easier to bear? You won't be able to resist forever. You will come back. Circumstances will force you. Jack will force you. You will force yourself. Come back to me, Will. Come back and play. There are times I fear I might die if you don't. I might die if I don't see you.
But then I remember: I don't have to see you to see you.
The wind screams loud and long. In the distance, the sinister rumble of the ocean creeping up the shoreline, dark and swollen, as it encroaches on Will's little house.
Having finished the letter Will sits up, his eyes locked in a nowhere stare. Hannibal Lecter watches him from the wicker chair, mouth tight and apprehensive, awaiting Will's reaction. Will looks at him for a long time, face made of stone, betraying nothing. But then his face relaxes. He smiles minutely, a smile of gratitude, and Hannibal, his Hannibal, smiles back.
Will feels calmer now. He feels more like himself, more like Will Graham, having come however indirectly into confrontation with the man with whom he so often confuses himself. He knows only too well that he contains all the elements to make a Hannibal Lecter, all the elements except one. He sought those elements inside himself; he did it for days at a time while he was locked in his cell, perhaps the same cell in which Hannibal is sitting now. Will brought those elements together and they clicked into place as if they were magnetized and by reassembling these pieces of his self he slowly transformed his entire being into an agent of Hannibal's destruction. And now, after the time for vengeance has passed, he finds those elements still magnetized inside him, holding their shape with unbreakable bonds.
But these elements, these infernal elements, they never belonged to Hannibal. They cannot be purged or expelled. They belong to Will and always have. From the time he was born he carried them, unattached, unused, their jagged edges forever cutting him. But Hannibal Lecter helped him to connect them into something sleek, intricate and beautiful. A design. And there is comfort in understanding that design. There is strength there. Or at least there will be, some day.
Hannibal Lecter watches Will as Will stands up, clutching the letter at his side.
"You count doors," Hannibal says.
So he can still speak after all. Will is not surprised.
"I do," he says.
"You count the doors that lie between yourself and him."
"Him?" Will raises his eyebrows.
Hannibal repeats the pronoun demurely. "Him." Then, "Why do you count them?"
"Because it isn't many, when you think about it," says Will. "Seven doors between him and the outside world. They may as well be made of tissue paper."
A crease at the corner of Hannibal's mouth. "Too many doors, if you ask me."
Will smiles. "I'm not asking you."
"Are you counting up," Hannibal asks him, "or counting down?"
Now Will frowns. "Obviously that depends on whether I'm going outside or going inside."
Hannibal shakes his head. "No. You maintain a count with the expectation that the figure you are measuring will either increase or decrease over time. Do you expect your door count to increase? Or to decrease?"
Will closes his eyes. Listens to the rain. "I'm counting down."
"To one?" Hannibal asks.
Will opens his eyes. Offers Hannibal a twisted smile. "To zero."
He turns away from Hannibal. He ferries the dogs into the laundry room, where little Violet has gone to sleep inside her cage. He talks to the dogs, strokes them and calms them, and then he closes the door of the laundry room and locks them in.
Back in the living room, he picks up Hannibal's letter and glances at it one more time.
He won't write back, of course. But he will write back to Beverly. She deserves a good long letter from him. He isn't sure he can give her that much, but he can at least put her fears to rest. The subject of her email had been from a Doors song, a sad song, a song about goodbyes.
Oh Bev, he thinks. Don't you worry. This is not the end.
He turns to Hannibal, who is still sitting in the wicker chair, watching him. "If you'll excuse me," Will says to him, "there's one door too many."
Hannibal simply nods. Back to speechlessness for now.
Will unlocks the back door. Removes the protective screens. Then, with Hannibal's letter still clutched in his hand, he steps outside to meet the storm.