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"NIGHT OF THE RIPPER"

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~~~⊰X⊱~~~

 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

November 25, 1982—Thanksgiving Day – 5:00 p.m.

It’s still early in the evening, but the landscape is already awash in an inky darkness, the days growing shorter as the winter solstice draws ever nearer.  The outlines of trees are visible in the distance as a full moon rises and backlights them in silver.  A cold breeze blows and fans through the tall yellow grass, which seems to wave at him in a beckoning call toward the house that sits nestled at the base of a valley looking bright and warm and welcoming. 

Up the hill hidden behind the tree-line Hannibal Lecter stands, relaxed with his hands in the pockets of his wool coat, studying the landscape below.  The house is Victorian, lovingly preserved, and he admires the gables, dormers, and decorative millwork under the eaves that look recently painted.  The house is surrounded by about 20 acres of land, and the forested terrain around it and the mountain behind it create a sense of privacy—privacy Hannibal very much appreciates for the work ahead.  The landscape immediately around the house is well tended, and pots of fall mums decorate the porch, and a big wreath hangs on the front door made from colorful leaves, berries, pine cones and acorns, topped off with a big gold bow.  So very welcoming.    

The owners of the house, Dr. David Miller, and his wife, Kathryn, live in the house year-round, and their daughter, Sarah, visits occasionally from Baltimore, where Hannibal knows she lives and works.  It’s Thanksgiving Day and Hannibal had known that Sarah would be driving down to join her parents for the long holiday weekend.  Her red Mustang is currently parked in front of the house and he can imagine the delightful family reunion taking place inside. 

He has seen no sign of dogs or any other pets.  There are no neighbors close enough to hear any loud or unusual noises that might occur tonight.  Nodding with satisfaction, he turns around and heads back through the trees to his RV to comfortably wait out the hours ahead for the time when all the family members will be asleep thinking they are safe and snug in their beds.  As it so happens, he already has someone in his RV patiently awaiting his attention that he can begin his fun with.  A hitchhiker he picked up. 

He breathes deeply of the cold, crisp air and smiles in anticipation.  His senses are especially attuned when he’s on the hunt, and he can smell the small animals in the forest cowering in their burrows knowing a predator is near.  He can hear the whisper of feathers carving the wind as a hunting hawk circles hundreds of feet overhead, also looking for prey.  And he can almost taste the blood and fear and pain of what’s to come.  He smiles and licks his lips in anticipation.    

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

“Hey, Will,” Officer Bobby Cooper called out, looking up from his desk at the Wolf Trap Police Station as he watched fellow officer Will Graham dragging a resisting and handcuffed Dexter Gore toward their lock-up room in the back.  “Dexter again, huh?  What’d he do this time?” 

“Dexter here was down at Chester’s Bar watching a football game when he got into an argument with Leroy Avery over whose defensive line was better,” Will answered.    

“That bastard said the New York Giants have a better defensive line than the Detroit Lions!” Dexter said loudly, slurring his words heavily despite the early hour.   

“And, he would be right,” Bobby said smiling over at him. 

“Well, then you can just kiss my ass too!” Dexter shouted out belligerently, twisting around to glare at the other officer.  “And how come I’m the only one got arrested?” Dexter asked as Will pulled him on toward the back.  “How come you didn’t arrest Leroy?” 

“Because Leroy didn’t pick up a chair and throw it at someone,” Will answered evenly, taking the handcuffs off and putting him in one of the three empty cells.  “And the way I heard it, the chair almost hit Emily Thompson, so it’s a good thing it missed her or you would have been picking your teeth off the floor after her boyfriend got through with you.  Now you just sleep it off and someone will drive you to your car in the morning,” he said, closing and locking the door. 

Will went and sat at his desk across from Bobby’s, leaning back and letting out a big sigh.      

“Chester pressing charges?” Bobby asked. 

“No.  He just wanted me to lock him up before he threw any more furniture around and ended up hurting someone.  Anything happen while I was gone?” Will asked, looking over at him.  

“Nope.  All quiet so far.  Unless you count Gladys’ usual call.” 

“Even on Thanksgiving Day, huh?  And what did our local busybody call to report today?” Will asked, looking amused.  “She spot Melissa Childs and Sam Fulton up at the point making out again?  I’m pretty sure teen pregnancies in this town have dropped dramatically since she purchased those binoculars and that telescope of hers.  That woman is better than birth control.” 

Bobby chuckled.  “No, it wasn’t horny teenagers this time around.  Says she spotted one of them big fancy RVs on the outskirts of town, cruising slow-like.” 

“And why does Gladys find an RV cruising on the outskirts of town suspicious enough to report it to Wolf Trap’s finest?” Will asked, leaning back in his chair with his hands laced behind his head, smiling. 

“She said it was suspicious because no one around these parts owns anything like that, and there ain’t no trailer parks around here to park something like that at.” 

“Well, she would know.  Nothing gets by Gladys.  And why doesn’t she think it was just passing through?” 

“She says if it was just passing through with no intentions of stopping somewhere in town, then there was no reason to get off the interstate in the first place.” 

“I guess Gladys never heard of sightseeing,” Will said. 

“She thinks whoever is in it is cruising around looking for young girls to snatch up and sell into white slavery or prostitution, or some such.  She said it definitely looked like it was up to no good.”   

Will chuckled and shook his head.  Gladys was an 80-year-old widow whose house sat on top of a hill, so she had a pretty good view of a large portion of Wolf Trap.  After her husband died two years ago she had bought a pair of binoculars to take up bird watching to help her pass the time.  Only she found out binoculars were also good for spying on her neighbors without them knowing about it.  She bought a telescope shortly after that, and with the telescope she could spy on people clear across town.  Every day now she called the station with something new to report, from teens making out up at the point, to poachers out in the woods.  Will just figured she was bored since her husband died and this was how she filled her empty days, but more than a few of the town folk wished Gladys would hurry up and join her husband in the great beyond so that at least if she snooped on them from heaven they wouldn’t have to hear about it.   

“So, what do you think, Bobby?  Should we put out an APB on a suspicious-looking RV?” Will asked, smiling over at the other man. 

 

November 25, 1982—Thanksgiving Day – 11:00 p.m.

Hannibal stood looking down at the house.  The lights had all gone out 15 minutes ago.  An overabundance of Thanksgiving food and drink had the family turning in early.  That was fine by him.  The sooner he could begin, the sooner he could finish his work here and head for home.  But, just to be safe, he would wait another hour to make sure everyone was sleeping soundly.  Pulling his coat tighter around him he looked up at the night sky.  It looked like a storm was on its way.  How fitting.  He smiled and headed back to the RV to make his final preparations for the night ahead. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

“Hey, Will, thanks for working over your shift tonight so I could spend Thanksgiving with the family,” Captain Walsh said.  “I really appreciate it.”      

“Not a problem, Captain.  Thanksgiving should be spent with family.  How was it?” he asked. 

“It was great.  Sally came in with the grandbabies from Vicksburg, and my wife outdid herself with the cooking.  Can’t even button my pants I’m so full,” the captain said, rubbing his protruding belly, which hung several inches over his belt. 

“Glad to help out,” Will said, getting up from his desk to head on out.  It was only right that the captain got to spend the holiday with his family.  Will didn’t have a wife or kids—not even a girlfriend.  But having no ties or complications actually made things a lot easier now, because when he arrived home from work last night he had found a letter waiting for him in his mailbox from the FBI Academy saying that he had been accepted into their next 20-week training program starting in January.  In a few short weeks he would be headed to Quantico, and then in less than a year he would hopefully be fulfilling his dream of becoming an actual FBI agent.   He was so excited he could hardly contain himself.  He hadn’t told the captain yet, not wanting to spoil his holiday.  He would wait until after the weekend and tell him first thing Monday. 

“Oh, and Will?  Do me a favor.  Get a haircut, for chrissake,” the Captain said.  “You’re starting to look like a damn girl.” 

Smiling sheepishly and running a hand through his unruly curls, Will said, “I’ll take care of it this weekend, Captain.  See you tomorrow.” 

Will hated going to the barber because no matter how many times he told Floyd not to cut it too short, he always felt scalped afterwards.  But, on the bright side, if he got it cut now, that should give it enough time to grow out a bit and look decent by the time he left for Quantico. 

He headed to the men’s room to change out of his uniform.  He didn’t feel like heading home just yet.  He was still too wound up about the FBI letter to just go home and sit around; plus the holidays were always a bit depressing when you lived alone.  So he changed into a comfortable olive green long-sleeved two-button cotton shirt, a pair of well-worn jeans, his sneakers, and a quilted plaid flannel shirt.  He then headed out to Chester’s Bar to have a couple of celebratory drinks before going home to his empty house. 

 

November 26, 1982 – 1:30 a.m.

Hannibal took a moment to admire his handiwork.  It had been quite an eventful and satisfying night, but it was time to start packing up and head home.  He had a long drive ahead of him and he had to work tomorrow, so it would be good if he got home early enough to get in a few hours of sleep so he would be at his best.  

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will decided it was time to call it a night.  He had spent over two hours at Chester’s drinking whiskey and snacking on peanuts while watching various sports programs on the bar’s TV with the other people like himself who had no one to spend Thanksgiving with, but he had to work tomorrow so it was time to go home and get a little shuteye.  He got up and tossed some money on the bar, feeling pleasantly buzzed after having four whiskeys when he should have stopped at two.  Chester had pursed his lips at him in disapproval at the third drink, and by the fourth drink he could clearly hear the man thinking ‘Keep that up and you’re gonna end up a drunk like your old man.’  But he didn’t care.  Today had been a special day—not just a holiday, but a day of celebration, of new beginnings.  Plus, the whiskey would ensure that he slept like a baby tonight.  And then in a few short weeks he would kiss Wolf Trap good-bye and show these people that he could make something of himself, that he was nothing like his old man.    

After saying goodnight to Chester and the others in the bar, he went outside and headed for his car.  He shivered and buttoned up his quilted flannel shirt as the night air was especially chilly after being in the warm bar for so long.  Still, the weather wasn’t too bad for this time of the year.  He got in his car and started it up, waiting a few minutes for the engine to warm up and the windshield to defrost.  Then he headed for home, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. 

He was driving down the county road fifteen minutes from home when he happened to glance out his right-hand window and catch a peek of something through the trees that had him chuckling.  “Well, I’ll be.  What do you know?”  He pulled the car over onto the shoulder of the road and got out, looking down through the trees into the valley below.  He could just make out that big RV that Gladys had reported.  It was sitting off to the side of Doc Miller’s house.   And there was Sarah’s red Mustang parked in front.  He’d know that car anywhere.  Her folks had gotten it for her as her high school graduation present, and it was Sarah’s pride and joy.  He’d been in the same class as Sarah in grade school, and they’d gone to the local high school together.  He knew she lived in Baltimore now, but it looked like she was visiting her folks for the holiday.  The RV probably belonged to Doc’s brother.  Will knew he lived in South Carolina now and liked to travel, so he probably drove up here to spend the holiday with the family.  

There were lights on in the house, so it looked like some of them were still up.  Despite the hour, Will suddenly thought it would be a good idea to go down there and see if Sarah was still up and say hello, the idea no doubt encouraged by those four shots of whiskey still coursing through his system.  He figured if Sarah was heading back to Baltimore tomorrow, he might not get another chance to see her before he headed off to Quantico.  Maybe he would give the family a good laugh by telling them how Gladys had called the police and reported that RV as being suspicious. 

He had already driven past the gravel road turnoff that went down to the Miller house, so he decided as long as he was out of the car anyway to just cut through the woods and head down there on foot. 

The incline was fairly steep, and despite a full moon out tonight he stumbled on a few tree roots he didn’t see.  Truth be told, he was a bit unsteady on his feet.  He definitely shouldn’t have had that fourth whiskey, especially on an empty stomach.  Still, the air was crisp and he was enjoying the sound of fall leaves crunching beneath his shoes. 

It was a pretty good walk and he was a little out of breath by the time he broke through the forested area into the clearing, but he was smiling thinking how nice it would be to see Sarah again.  He’d had a major crush on her from the sixth grade on, as soon as he hit that stage where girls weren’t yucky any longer.  But Sarah’s father was the town doctor, and her mom was a schoolteacher, and such a girl had no business being interested in a boy who was the son of a waitress who had up and run off with a trucker passing through town when Will was eight, and a father who had buried his grief in the bottom of a bottle.  No, Sarah had been way too good for him and he had always known it.  But all that was about to change now that he was on his way to becoming an FBI agent.  Maybe he would go ahead and tell Sarah and her family the news first, see how impressed they would be.   

He walked across the manicured lawn, looking over at the RV.  It was at least thirty feet long, and he thought how nice it would be to travel around the country in something like that.  Maybe someday he would be able to afford to buy one of his own, and then he could go on vacations in it, maybe visit the Grand Canyon.  He’d always wanted to see the Grand Canyon.  Maybe he would even have a family by then to go with him.  He smiled at the thought. 

Climbing the stairs onto the wraparound porch, he walked around toward the side of the house where the RV was parked and where he knew the kitchen door was located.  He had been to this house twice before so he knew the layout.  Once was for Sarah’s sweet 16 party, and the other time was for a high school graduation party that Sarah’s parents had thrown.  He knew whoever was up was probably in the kitchen, as that’s where most folks tended to congregate to have late night talks.  He imagined Sarah and her mom sitting at the kitchen table with a couple of hot chocolates laughing and catching up on each other’s lives.  Will wondered if Sarah had a boyfriend now.  If not, maybe she would be willing to exchange phone numbers and stay in touch. 

When he got to the kitchen door, hand raised to knock, he was surprised to see the door open, which was strange as it was a chilly night.  He walked through the door into the kitchen, but it was empty.  He could still detect the faint foodsy aroma of sage and cinnamon from their meal, and his stomach gave a loud rumble as all he’d had to eat this evening were those peanuts at the bar.  Maybe he could sweet talk Mrs. Miller into making him a turkey sandwich, if there were any leftovers. 

He walked over to the living room next, but it was empty as well.  Huh.  Maybe there had been a medical emergency of some sort and they had all rushed out of the house and left the door open in their panic.  He hoped Doc or Mrs. Miller hadn’t suffered a stroke or something. 

He walked back to the kitchen door and quietly closed it.  The Millers wouldn’t appreciate coming home to a cold house.  Thinking he should just go ahead and leave, he froze when he heard what sounded like a floorboard creaking upstairs.  Maybe one of them had stayed home.  Maybe it was Sarah.  Or it could be Doc’s brother.  He would be in his 70s now. 

Thinking he’d just go upstairs and see if everything was okay, he went to the staircase right off the kitchen and headed up, the thick carpeting on the stairs muffling his footsteps.  He reached the top of the stairs and was about to call out when that open door popped back into his head, causing a trickle of unease to break through the whiskey haze that was causing his brain synapses to fire a little slower than normal. 

If someone had stayed home, why would the kitchen door be open? 

He frowned, then shook his head feeling foolish.  Whoever was home just wasn’t aware that the door had been left open, that’s all.  It was still warm upstairs. 

Nonetheless, he stood there for several seconds hoping to hear the sounds of talking or a record player or something coming from one of the rooms, but it was eerily quiet and he suddenly felt a prickle of unease.  Something about this just felt … off.  He swallowed and licked his lips and told himself he was being stupid.  After all, this was Wolf Trap, not some big city.  The worst things that happened here were bar fights, domestic altercations, and the occasional hunting accident.   He forced himself to move but decided to keep quiet. 

He had never been upstairs before.  The upstairs hallway was long and had doors on both sides, then looked like it turned off to the right at the end in an L-shape.  The hallway was dark and deserted, but light was coming from two open doors.  He headed toward the first open door on the left.  He passed a small table sitting against the wall with a fancy bowl full of potpourri sitting on it, and it had the air up here smelling like cinnamon and cloves and oranges and pine.  It was very nice.  Very homey. 

Right before reaching the doorway, Will hesitated, listening again, hoping to hear talking, or even snoring, that there was an explanation for the open kitchen door and he was about to be soundly chewed out by the doc or his wife, or some member of the family, for frightening them half to death. 

Finally, he stood at the threshold of the room.  The door was halfway closed, blocking his view.  He brought his hand up to lightly rap on the door, then lowered it.  There was something on the part of the wall that he could just see through the half closed door.  A splash of red that didn’t look like it belonged.  The hair on the back of his neck suddenly stood up, and he automatically reached for the firearm he usually wore on his side, but then realized it was currently locked in the glove compartment of his car as he was off duty. 

He put his fingertips on the door and pushed.  The door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges and Will froze, putting a hand over his mouth to stop the scream that was trying to get out.

This was Doc and Mrs. Miller’s bedroom.  He knew this immediately because they were both currently dead in their bed, crimson streaks staining the wall, bed, and the colorfully patterned ginger jar lamp with pleated shade that was the source of the light he had seen and that was now highlighting their bodies. 

He took his hand away from his mouth and stepped further into the room, fighting the nausea that had his stomach churning.  An acidic burning rose in his chest, and a bitter taste filled the back of his mouth.  He had never actually been to a murder scene before, only read about them.  Not quite the same thing.  Especially when you knew the victims personally.  Not the same thing at all.  He swallowed, suppressing the urge to vomit. 

He moved closer.  Not only were Doc and Mrs. Miller both dead, their bodies had been posed, creating some sort of macabre tableau. 

Will frowned as tendrils of familiarity swirled around trying to make connections through the whiskey fog in his head.  He had seen this particular killer’s MO before.  But where?   

He walked over to Mrs. Miller’s side of the bed first.  She was lying flat on the bed, as if asleep, and looked pale, as if she had lost a lot of blood, but looking at her Will could find no blood on her.  He lifted a piece of cloth that was lying across her throat and he could see that it had been slit.  So it was her blood staining the wall and bed, but whoever killed her had cleaned her up, put a clean gown on her, and had tucked her into bed with a sheet pulled up to her waist and had placed a bunch of fresh purple hyacinths in her hands.  He knew they were hyacinths because this particular flower grew wild around these parts. 

Will saw the scene play out in his head.  The killer had snuck in here while the couple was sleeping and went to Mrs. Miller’s side of the bed first and had quickly slit her throat.  He hadn’t necessarily wanted to kill her, but he had to ensure she didn’t interfere with his intended target.  She had simply been collateral damage.  As such, when the killer was finished with his work up here, he had cleaned her up and placed these particular flowers in her hands as an apology.  Will would bet his next paycheck this type of flower meant ‘forgive me,’ or something to that effect. 

Walking around to Doc Miller’s side, it was a very different scene altogether.  Doc Miller was clearly the intended target.  His throat showed signs of strangulation, a much more personal method of killing someone.  After the killer had cut Mrs. Miller’s throat, he had gone to Doc’s side of the bed and probably pinned him down until he was awake enough to know what was happening, and then slowly choked the life out of him. 

The doc was posed sitting up on the bed wearing his white doctor’s coat and stethoscope.  The killer had placed what looked to be a handmade papier-mâché mask over his face painted in swirls of bright lime green.  The mask was frowning or grimacing, he couldn’t tell which.  The green color and expression made Will think of envy or jealousy.  The Doc’s coat was open and his chest was bare and had been opened up and the organs removed.  In place of the organs were shards of glass and crushed flowers.  The flowers looked like yellow carnations and orange lilies.  He didn’t know the meaning of these flowers, but the fact that they were crushed might indicate crushed hope or crushed dreams.  The broken glass might represent pain or broken promises.  He would have to go to the library and research the meanings of these particular flowers to get further insight.   Whatever the meaning, he sensed anger from the killer, and perhaps even a touch of petulance.   

As someone with aspirations of joining the FBI, Will studied everything he could get his hands on regarding cases the FBI was involved with, and he knew he had seen pictures similar to this:  a killer who took his victims and created a tableau that was horrible, yet had artistic flair.  A tableau that had meaning if you could look deep enough into the killer’s mindset to interpret it.  A killer who removed organs …

Will’s eyes widened, and despite the warm temperature upstairs he broke out in a cold sweat and felt his knees grow weak.  As unlikely as it seemed, this was the work of the Chesapeake Ripper, a killer who had first made headlines in all the papers worldwide two years ago when he had killed a Supreme Court judge and his wife and then displayed them very publicly in front of the courthouse.  Other kills had followed which were equally sensational, and the Ripper had quickly risen in the ranks of the FBI’s most wanted, earning him a place on their ten most wanted list.    

The Ripper’s kills were unique and unmistakable.  And now the Ripper had decided to pay a visit to Wolf Trap, Virginia and kill a small-town doctor and his wife. The question was, why?      

Will came out of his thoughts when he heard a sound coming from a room down the hall and remembered what brought him up here in the first place.  He had heard a noise up here.  And in his shock at finding Doc and Mrs. Miller, he had forgotten all about Sarah.  Was that her down the hall?  Is it possible she had managed to hide, avoiding the Ripper’s detection?  Or maybe it was Doc’s brother. 

Will started toward the door and then paused as the image of that open kitchen door came back to the forefront of his thoughts yet again, and a horrible thought suddenly occurred to him.  What if the Ripper hadn’t left yet?  What if his work here wasn’t finished and he was still in the house somewhere, perhaps down the hall in the other lit room arranging Sarah in a similar tableau, or even now cutting her open to remove a trophy?  What if he’s the one who had left the kitchen door open? 

For a moment Will couldn’t breathe.  It was a terrifying thought, one that made him want to get in the nearest closet and close the door and hide like a frightened child.  If the Chesapeake Ripper was still in the house, Will knew he was no match for him, especially when he didn’t even have a weapon. 

But then another thought occurred to him.  What if the Ripper had Sarah in the other room but hadn’t killed her yet?  Or what if Sarah had woken up when the Ripper was killing her parents and had managed to hide from him?  Maybe the kitchen door was open because she had managed to escape the house. 

There was only one thing certain:  there was someone else alive in the house besides him right now. 

Will fought to remain calm, to remember his police training.  Panicking could get him killed.  He wished he had his gun on him, or at least had had the presence of mind to grab a knife or some other weapon when he was down in the kitchen. 

Okay, first things first.  Before he checked that other room to find out who was in there, he needed a weapon.  He had seen one of those wooden blocks full of knives on the kitchen counter. 

Gathering his courage he walked back to the doorway and stood there, listening for any sound.  Seduced by a long silence that seemed to promise safety, he poked his head out the door, looking left down the hallway toward the other lit room—and his heart nearly jumped out of his chest when he saw a man standing ten feet away outside the other lit room.  The Ripper.  Even though the man was facing away from him Will knew it was him because of the long, wicked-looking knife he was holding by his side.  A knife that had red streaks on it. 

Will froze, petrified, afraid that if he moved the Ripper would catch a glimpse of the movement out of the corner of his eye and come after him.  He opened his mouth to breathe, afraid the Ripper would hear his stuttered breathing through his nose. 

Although terrified, Will remembered his training and studied the man, gathering as many details as possible to report later.  Assuming he was still alive, of course.  The Ripper was a big man.  Six feet two, maybe even taller.  Wide shoulders, narrow waist.  He was wearing some sort of dark jumpsuit that stretched tautly across his broad back.  His hair was thick and appeared to be dark blond in the dim light, neatly barbered against the nape of his neck.  Will couldn’t see his face, and in all honesty he hoped never to see it unless it was behind bars. 

He tensed as the Ripper suddenly lifted his head, scenting the air like a dog, and Will had the sudden fear that he could smell the alcohol on his breath and closed his mouth quickly, taking a chance and pulling his head back inside the room.  There he stood, frozen in place, terrified that any movement might cause a floorboard to creak and alert the Ripper to his presence.  He realized then how extremely lucky he had been up until now.  The floors here were covered in thick padding and heavy carpeting that had hidden the sound of his footsteps and, more than likely, saved his life. 

Listening intently, he finally picked up faint sounds of movement that sounded like they were coming from that other lit room down the hall and he let out a shaky breath he didn’t realize he was holding.  He listened again but didn’t hear any cries from Sarah, or any muffled screams.  But if there was even the slightest chance that Sarah was still alive, he needed to help her.  He had taken an oath as an officer of the law to serve and protect its citizens, no matter how ill equipped he felt going up against a killer of the Ripper’s caliber. 

Still hearing movement in the next room, he poked his head out the door and, seeing the hallway empty, exited the room and partially closed the door so it looked like it was when he found it, then walked back down the hall toward the staircase and quietly descended the stairs back to the kitchen.  He remembered then that he had closed the kitchen door and quickly opened it, realizing that if the Ripper had seen that door closed he would have known someone was here. 

He selected a large knife from the wooden block on the kitchen counter and headed back up the stairs.  The knife was long, sharp, and of good quality with a solid handle.  He remembered the knife the Ripper was holding, coated in blood, and nervously swallowed.  He hoped that blood belonged to Doc or Mrs. Miller and not Sarah.  And he really hoped his blood would not be joining it.    

When he neared the top of the stairs he paused to listen, then peeked around the corner and, finding it empty, walked quietly down the hallway past Doc and Mrs. Miller’s room, headed for the second lit room.  He held the knife up at the ready should the Ripper suddenly pop out of the room.  He kept telling himself that he had the element of surprise on his side, but his whole body was trembling with fear.  When he was close to the lit room he paused and took a couple of fortifying breaths, trying to envision every scenario he might come upon.  He wasn’t a fool, he knew there was a good chance that if he came face to face with the Ripper he could wind up dead.  But how would it look, him going into FBI training with everyone knowing that he, a police officer, had been in the same house with the Ripper and hadn’t even tried to stop him? 

He just needed to move quickly before he lost his nerve.  After taking one last breath, he gripped the knife tightly and stepped through the doorway into the room expecting anything.  But what he hadn’t expected was to find the room empty.  He let out a shaky breath and lowered the knife, looking around.  The bed was mussed as if someone had been sleeping in it.  It looked like a girl’s bedroom with its beige, peach and lavender décor.  He walked to the dressing table and saw pictures of Sarah and her friends tucked into the sides of the mirror, so it appeared that this was Sarah’s old room.  But where was she? 

He walked to the window and peeked out the side and moved back quickly when he saw the Ripper carrying someone in his arms toward that RV—his RV, Will realized.  It was a woman wrapped in a bedsheet, one pale arm trailing limply, head lolling to the side, face concealed by her golden hair.  Sarah.  He couldn’t tell if she was dead or merely unconscious.  

He remembered then another Ripper case around six months ago where the Ripper had killed a couple up in Minnesota and their 15-year-old daughter had never been found.  The FBI initially thought she had escaped and run off to hide and would turn up eventually, but she never did.  Everyone assumed then that the Ripper had taken her for some nefarious reason. 

And now he was taking Sarah. 

But how had the Ripper gotten past him without them seeing each other?  He exited the room and walked to the far end of the hall and looked around the corner where the L-bend was and saw another staircase there.  While he had been coming up the stairs after retrieving the knife, the Ripper must have been going down these stairs carrying Sarah.  What if the Ripper had instead chosen the other stairs to go down just as he had been coming up?  The Ripper would have thrown Sarah at him, knocking him down the stairs where he would have then easily overpowered him.  Or, what if the Ripper had gone down before he had and seen the kitchen door closed?  He would have known someone was in the house and put Sarah down and quietly snuck back up the stairs and found him.  And then there was his car.  What if he had driven his car down here instead of walking?  The Ripper would have heard the car and been lying in wait for him.  That knife would most likely be coated in his blood now. 

The thought of all those close calls had his stomach twisting further.  Still, miraculously, none of that had happened.  He had been unbelievably lucky so far. 

He had seen a phone in the other bedroom on the nightstand next to Doc Miller, and now that Will knew the Ripper was outside, he could make a call to the police station without fear of being overhead.  He raced back to the bedroom, not sure if the Ripper was finished with his work here or would be coming back, and picked up the receiver.  Dead.  Of course it was dead.  The Ripper wouldn’t have left that to chance.  Since the phone cord was intact, the Ripper must have cut the phone line outside before entering the house, which meant all the phones would be dead. 

He opened the drawer on the nightstand, hoping Doc might have a handgun.  With a gun maybe he would be brave enough to go outside and confront the Ripper.  No such luck.  Nothing but a bible, a pair of reading glasses, a tube of lip balm, and a box of tissue. 

He started moving again, heading back down the stairs into the kitchen.  If he didn’t keep moving his mind and body would freeze up.  He looked out the corner of the kitchen window toward the RV and saw that two doors were open on the motor home now: one at the passenger side of the cockpit, the other on the same side but two-thirds of the way toward the back.  

Will couldn’t tell where the Ripper currently was because all the windows in the RV were curtained.  The Ripper had probably taken Sarah through the back door to get her situated.  There was a chance he would exit back through the back door as well, and maybe if Will positioned himself next to the door he could surprise him as he came out and stab him through the neck.  He gripped the knife tightly in his hand and exited out the still open kitchen door, praying the Ripper wouldn’t exit the RV as he was creeping toward it. 

He reached the motor home and pressed his back to the wall beside the open rear door, waiting for him.  If he came outside again, he’d go at him even as his foot was reaching for the ground.  The element of surprise was still working for him, maybe better than ever because the Ripper was close to a clean getaway and feeling so good about himself that he might be careless.

Maybe he wouldn’t come outside again, but at least he would have to reach out to pull the door shut. Standing on the step, leaning out to grab at the handle, he would not be well balanced, and Will would have the knife deep into him before he had a chance to jerk back.  At least this is what he hoped. 

Movement inside.  A thump.

Will tensed.

He didn’t appear.

Silence again.  What was he doing in there? 

The aluminum wall of the motor home was cold against his spine, and he shivered because it seemed that some of the coldness of the man inside was seeping through to him.

Waiting, he began to lose his nerve.  He had too much time to think about all the things that could go wrong.  Maybe he should just sneak back up to his car and wait for the Ripper to leave and then follow him at a discrete distance.  Yes, that was the smart thing to do.  If Sarah was alive the Ripper would wait until he got her to his lair to carry out whatever he had planned for her.  And if she was already dead, it wouldn’t matter.  And if anything happened in-between, he had his gun in the glove compartment. 

But before he could act on that thought, the Ripper came out of the motor home.  Unfortunately, he didn’t use the exit Will was standing next to.  He stepped from the open cab door at the front of the vehicle.

Will’s breath caught in his throat, and the chill wind from an oncoming storm seemed bitter with the scent of failure.

Once again the Ripper had his back to him.  Will thought about trying to sneak up on him, but he was too far away.  He would hear Will coming and he would lose the element of surprise, which he knew he needed to even the odds.

The Ripper stood just outside the cab door, twenty feet from him, stretching almost lazily.  He rolled his shoulders as if to shake the weariness from them, and he massaged the back of his neck.

If he turned his head to the left, he would see him at once.  If he didn’t remain absolutely still, the Ripper would surely spot his slightest movement even from the corner of his eye.

The Ripper was downwind of him, and remembering how he had scented the air, Will was half afraid that he would smell his fear.  He seemed more animal than human, even in the fluid grace with which he moved. 

Finished stretching, the Ripper moved briskly toward the house.  Up the walkway.  Onto the porch.  Inside.

He never looked back.

Will’s pent-up breath stuttered from him in a tattoo of fear, and he inhaled with a shudder.

He glanced at the house, wondering how long the Ripper would be gone.  He was probably double-checking everything to make sure he had left no evidence behind.  That might give Will enough time to get Sarah out of the motor home and head for his car.  Even if she were unconscious, she was petite and he could carry her fairly quickly.  Once they entered the forested area the Ripper wouldn’t be able to see them. 

In addition, if the Ripper had drugged Sarah, he might not even check on her again, might not even realize that she was missing right away.  Will could race back to town with her and they could set up roadblocks.  Call the FBI and get them in here, get a helicopter out looking for him.  The one good thing about the Ripper riding around in this vehicle was that it was big and would be easy to spot

Gripping the knife, his heart raced as he pulled himself in the back door, quickly moving to the right out of the doorway in case the Ripper happened to look out the window and see him. 

Moving right, toward the front of the RV, he quickly took in the layout.  Behind the driver’s chair was a small open closet with hooks where a long wool coat and a rain coat were hanging, a pair of boots sitting on the floor below them.  Next to that was a long sofa upholstered in dark material.  Opposite the sofa on the passenger side was a kitchen area with a small refrigerator, microwave, sink, cabinets.  The step well he had entered was next to that.  Then on the back wall was a cozy dining booth upholstered in red vinyl.  Running off the battery, a lamp hung aglow over the table.  Behind that wall Will imagined there was a bedroom.  That must be where Sarah was. 

He started moving.  The steel floor was carpeted, of course, but it still creaked softly under his feet.  Will had expected the place to smell a bit like a butcher shop, but instead the air was redolent of rich, dark coffee and expensive cologne.  How odd—and somehow profoundly disturbing—that a man like this should find any satisfaction at all in innocent pleasures.

Will quickly took a peek out the open door toward the house, and seeing no one looking out the window he crossed the open doorway and headed toward the back of the RV.  There was a short narrow hall on the passenger side of the RV illuminated by a low-voltage safety fixture, and Will could see it led all the way to the back of the RV.  There was also a skylight overhead, and he got a little light from the moon.  On the right were two closed doors, and at the end a third stood ajar. 

“Sarah!” he whispered, as though the Ripper might hear him all the way from the house. 

The first door opened into a tiny bath. The space was a marvel of efficient design: a toilet, a sink, a medicine cabinet, and a small shower stall.

Behind the second door was a closet.  A few changes of clothes hung from a chrome rod.  The Ripper had been wearing what appeared to be a dark one-piece jumpsuit that was no doubt what he wore to protect his clothes when he was on one of his hunts.  These clothes must be what he wore when he wasn’t working.  He saw polo shirts and Hawaiian-style shirts with bold patterns and casual slacks—the perfect clothing for a tourist just out traveling around in his RV.  Another part of his disguise.

At the end of the hall was a small bedroom with imitation-wood paneling and a closet in the back with an accordion-style vinyl door. The meager light from the hall didn’t brighten the place much, but Will could see well enough to identify Sarah, lying face down on the bed, swaddled in a sheet, with only her small bare feet and her golden hair revealed.

Urgently whispering her name, Will stepped to the bed and dropped to his knees.  If she wasn’t drugged and he could wake her, they could move faster to his car than if he had to carry her. 

Sarah didn’t respond.  

“Please let her only be unconscious,” Will prayed softly as he brushed the hair off her face, smelling the lemon-scented shampoo she was always partial to. 

He knew right away she was dead.  As his fingers brushed her skin, it was already cooling to the touch.  Then he was looking into blue eyes that were open and staring at him in death. 

Will’s eyes filled with tears as he looked at this girl who he had known pretty much all his life.  She had been so bright, so full of life, so loved by the entire town. 

“Oh, Sarah, I’m so sorry,” he said, stroking her hair, grief threatening to overtake him. 

But then rage overtook his grief at the thought of this sick bastard taking Sarah even though she was dead.  Maybe she was something he could touch and look at and talk to for a few days to remind him of the kill.  A souvenir much more substantial than the surgical trophies he took from his victims.  If the Ripper had indeed taken that girl up in Minnesota, then she must be similarly dead. 

Will’s stomach cramped painfully, wondering if he hadn’t stayed to have those last two drinks at Chester’s if he might have arrived in time to stop this from happening.  He was suddenly filled with guilt and self-loathing.  He let her hair fall back over her face to hide eyes that stared into his and seemed full of accusation. 

Still, now that he knew she was dead, he could concentrate on nailing this sick fuck’s ass right to the wall.  He would head back to his car and follow the RV back to the Ripper’s lair.  Then he would find a phone and call the police and the FBI and they would come and surround wherever this monster called home and either capture him or kill him, Will didn’t care which.  In this way he would find justice for Sarah and her parents and the girl up in Minnesota and all the others he had killed. 

Nearby a door slammed hard, shaking the thin metal walls around Will.

The Ripper was back.

Something rattled.  Rattled.

With the butcher knife in hand, Will swiftly backed away from Sarah to the wall next to the open door.  He was burning with fury, afire with the need to hurt this man, slash him, spill his guts, hear him scream for daring to come to his town and kill his people. 

He’ll come into the room and I’ll cut him.  He’ll come and I’ll cut him.  It was a prayer, not a plan.  He’ll come.  I’ll cut him.  He’ll come.  I’ll cut him.

The shadowy room darkened and Will held his breath.  The Ripper was at the door, no more than an arm’s length from him, blocking the meager light from the hall. 

Silently, he white knuckled the knife in his hand to keep the trembling at bay. 

The Ripper was at the threshold.  Right there.  Right there.  He would come in for one more look at his trophy, for one more feel of her cool skin, and Will would get him when he crossed the threshold, cut him.  He would aim up, under the chin. 

Instead, the Ripper closed the door and went away.

Aghast, Will listened to his retreating footsteps, the creaking as the carpeted steel floor torqued under his shoes, and he wondered what to do now. 

He heard what sounded like a zipper, and then cloth rustling and he imagined the man peeling off that jumpsuit he wore that would be coated with evidence from his crimes tonight. 

After another minute he heard the driver’s door slam.  The engine started.  The brakes released with a brief faint shriek.

And then Will’s stomach dropped as he realized that they were moving, and he was now trapped inside a moving vehicle with a dead body and one of the most ruthless and cunning killers in the nation. 

Chapter Text

As the motor home bumped along the Miller's long graveled driveway, Will could hear Sarah’s body moving, giving the eerie feeling she was still alive. 

Blinded, still pressed to the fiberboard wall beside the bedroom door, Will could hear the spray of gravel rattling against the undercarriage.  Very shortly the motor home would reach the county road, smooth blacktop, and then head off to who knows where. 

If Will tried to bail out of the RV now, the Ripper was sure to hear the back door bang open when the wind tore it out of his grasp, or spot it in his side view mirror.  There wasn’t another house for more than a mile, something he was sure the Ripper knew, and he would certainly risk stopping and giving chase, and Will would probably not get far before the Ripper brought him down. 

But then he remembered his car parked on the shoulder of the road a little ways down.  If he could jump out when the RV stopped to turn onto the county road, he could run to his car and drive off before the Ripper had a chance to stop him.  And he knew his small car could outrace the large RV. 

He had his hand on the doorknob still working out the details in his head when the vehicle slowed and hung a wide left turn onto a paved surface and picked up speed once more.  The county road.   He had missed his chance. 

Okay, better to wait now.  Give him a few miles on the county road, maybe even until they reached a more major route.  If they were passing through a town or traveling in at least sparse traffic, the Ripper wouldn’t be as quick to come after him if people were nearby to act as witnesses. 

Will remembered seeing a small reading lamp bolted to the side of the built-in nightstand.  By the time he felt his way across the small room, the motor home began to slow.  He hesitated with the lamp switch between thumb and forefinger, heart suddenly racing again because even though the room seemed tightly sealed he was afraid some trickle of light would show on the other side and then the Ripper would come and get him, trapped in the little bedroom. 

He finally gathered his courage and clicked the lamp switch, positioning his body between the lamp and the door, and was relieved when only a circle of muddy light fell on the bed.  He tried not to look at the body, even though it was mostly concealed by the sheet.  

Although he wasn’t likely to find any weapon better than the butcher knife, he had nothing to lose by searching for one.  Maybe the Ripper kept weapons stored here in his bedroom. 

The single nightstand had two drawers. The upper contained a package of gauze pads, a box of disposable rubber gloves, a package of long zip ties, a small plastic squeeze bottle of some clear fluid, a roll of cloth tape, a comb, a hairbrush with a tortoiseshell handle, a half-empty tube of K-Y jelly, a full bottle of some fancy skin lotion, a pair of needle-nose pliers with yellow rubber-clad handles, and a pair of scissors. 

He could imagine the uses to which he had put some of those items, and he didn’t want to think about the others.  He considered the scissors.  But the butcher knife would be more effective if he needed to use it. 

In the lower, deeper drawer was more paraphernalia, none of it useful to him, and he put it away. 

As he got up from his knees, he noticed that the window over the bed had been covered with a sheet of plywood that had been bolted to the wall. A couple of folded swatches of blue fabric were trapped between the plywood and the window frame: the edge of an underlying drapery panel.  From outside, the window would appear to be merely curtained.  

Will pulled at the plywood, tried twisting the heavy bolts, but the wood was thick and mounted securely.  Anyone trapped inside would never be able to open the window and signal passing motorists for help. 

As there was no other furniture in the cramped bedroom, the closet was the only remaining place where Will could hope to find a gun or anything that might be used as a weapon.  He circled the bed to the accordion-style vinyl door, which hung from an overhead track.

When he pulled the folding door aside, it compressed into pleats that stacked to the left, and in the closet was a dead man.

Shock threw Will back against the bed.  The mattress caught him behind the knees and he almost fell backward atop Sarah.  He managed to keep his balance, but he dropped the knife, and then froze in fright, heart hammering, afraid the Ripper heard the sound.  But the RV moved on at a steady pace. 

Will moved back to the closet.  The rear of it appeared to have been retrofitted with welded steel plates fixed to the vehicle frame for added strength. Two ringbolts, widely separated and high-set, were welded to the steel.  Wrists manacled to the ringbolts, the dead man hung with his arms spread in cruciform. His feet were together like the feet of Christ on the cross — not nailed, however, but shackled to another ringbolt in the closet floor.

Clad in a pair of jeans and a gray t-shirt, his head was hanging down, his chin on his chest.  He had dark, curly hair and Will could see bruises on his arms.  With his face hidden, Will could almost imagine he was looking at himself hanging there, a premonition of things to come, and he started to hyperventilate. 

He pulled the pleated-vinyl panel shut with shaking hands.  The magnetic latch clicked into place with a sound like snapping bone, making him flinch. 

He had read about sociopathic violence and had seen pictures of the crime scenes—the Ripper’s included—but seeing it in person is so much different than reading an unemotional, factual accounting of it in the comfort and safety of your home or office.  The descriptions and pictures were never sufficiently vivid enough to make him want to retreat to a corner and sit on the floor and pull his knees against his chest and hug himself.  That was precisely what he did now — choosing the corner farthest from the closet.

He had to get control of himself, quickly, starting with his manic breathing.  He was gasping, sucking in great lungfuls, yet he couldn’t seem to get enough air.  He was feeling trapped and claustrophobic.  The deeper and faster he inhaled, the dizzier he became.  He put his face in his hands, and his hands were cold but his face seemed colder.  He was surprised to feel tears on his cheeks.  Eventually he regained control of his breathing.

The motor home rolled on.  Wherever they were headed, Will did not want to go there.  He intended to get off between destinations, and the sooner the better while he was still in familiar territory. 

He left the corner of the bedroom to retrieve the butcher knife, which he had dropped when he’d been rocked backward by the sight of the dead man in the closet.  Then he went around the bed to the nightstand and switched off the lamp.

Being in the dark with dead people didn’t frighten him at the moment.  They weren’t half as terrifying as the living right now. 

The motor home slowed again and then turned left.  Will leaned against the tilt of the vehicle to keep his balance. 

They must be headed toward Interstate 495 now.  A right turn would have taken them south past the town of Falls Church headed toward DC.  He wasn’t sure what communities lay to the north.  He knew eventually they would pass through Bethesda, which wasn’t too far.  He was at a distinct disadvantage not being able to see out the window. 

He sidled blindly to the door and stood with one hand on the knob, waiting for instinct to guide him.  He thought about the body in the closet, which appeared to have been dead for less than a day, and about Sarah, freshly dead on the bed.  Then there were Sarah’s parents.  Four people murdered in twenty-four hours.  Will somehow sensed that the Ripper was a singularity, conforming only in part to standard profiles in aberrant psychology, as purely alien as something from the stars, a runaway killing machine, merciless and irresistible.  He just had to hope that the luck that had kept him alive so far held. 

He remembered seeing a large rearview mirror mounted above the driver’s seat earlier.  The vehicle had no rear window, so the mirror was there to provide the driver with a view of the lounge and the dining area behind him. The Ripper would be able to see all the way into the end hall that served the bath and bedroom, and if the devil’s luck was with him, he would glance up just when Will opened the door, stepped out, and was exposed.

When the moment felt right, Will opened the door.

A small blessing, a good omen: The ceiling light in the hall was out.

Crouching in gloom, he stepped out of the room and quietly pulled the door shut behind him.

The lamp above the dining table was on as before.  At the front of the vehicle was the green glow of the instrument panel — and beyond the windshield, the headlights were silver swords.

After moving forward past the closet and bathroom and out of the welcome shadows, he crouched beside the paneled dining booth. He peered around the booth to the back of the driver’s head, about twenty feet away.

He seemed so close — and, for the first time, vulnerable.

Nevertheless, Will wasn’t foolish enough to creep forward and attack him while he was driving.  If the Ripper heard him coming or glanced at the rearview mirror and spotted him, he could wrench the steering wheel or slam on the brakes, sending him sprawling.  Then he might be able to stop the vehicle and get to him before he could reach the rear door — or, if he happened to have a gun, he might swivel in his chair and shoot him down.

The back entrance through which Will had entered the RV was forward a couple of feet to his right.  He crawled there and then sat on the floor with his back against the kitchen setup just past it with his feet in the step well.  The kitchen cabinets/countertop came out from the wall about two-and-a-half feet, so Will was effectively concealed from the driver.

He put the butcher knife aside.  When he leaped out, he would probably fall and roll — and he might easily stab himself with the knife if he tried to take it with him. 

He didn’t intend to jump until the Ripper either stopped at an intersection or entered a sharp turn that would require him to cut his speed dramatically.  He couldn’t risk breaking a leg or being knocked unconscious in a fall, because then he wouldn’t be able to get away from the road and safely into hiding. 

He didn’t doubt that the Ripper would be aware of his escape even as it began.  He would hear the door open or feel the cold wind blowing in, and he would see him either in his rearview or in his side-mounted mirror as he made his break for freedom; then the Ripper would know that he hadn’t been alone with his collection of corpses, and he’d pull off the highway and come back along the pavement, panicky, to have a look. 

Or perhaps not panicky.  Not panicky at all.  More likely, he would search with grim, methodical, machine-like efficiency.  This guy was all about control and power, and Will found it difficult to imagine him ever succumbing to panic. 

The motor home slowed, and Will’s heart quickened.  This was it.  As the driver reduced speed further, Will rose into a crouch in the step well, body tense with anticipation, and put a hand on the lever-action door handle. 

They came to a full stop, and he pressed down on the handle … but it didn’t move.  Quietly but insistently he pressed up, down, up — to no avail.  The door was locked. 

He couldn’t find any latch button.  Just a keyhole. 

He remembered the rattling that he’d heard when he’d been in the bedroom and the Ripper had come back inside and closed this door.  Rattle, rattle.  The rattle of a key perhaps?

The bastard had probably modified the door lock to enhance security, to make it more difficult for a burglar or casual intruder to stumble upon any cadavers that might just happen to be aboard.  Can’t be too careful when you have dead bodies stacked in the bedroom.  Prudence requires certain security measures. 

The motor home pulled forward through the intersection and began to pick up speed again. 

He should have known that escape wouldn’t be easy.  Nothing was ever easy.  He was grateful now he hadn’t raced out of the bedroom when they were driving away from the Miller home when he had thought to jump out quickly and run to his car.  If he had done that he would have come to a locked door with no way out and would probably be hanging in the closet with the other curly-haired cadaver.  Luck had been with him once again, he just hadn’t known it at the time. 

He sat back down, leaning against the kitchen set-up, thinking furiously.  He had one advantage.  The Ripper didn’t know that he was on board. 

If he couldn’t just open a door and jump out, then he was going to have to kill him.  He could just lie in wait here and surprise him, gut him, step over him, and leave by the front.  He would survive this.  He was not going to die when he was so close to turning his life around and fulfilling his dream of becoming an FBI agent.

The engine vibrations rose through the floor, half numbing his butt.  Total numbing would have been welcome as his tailbone soon began to ache.  He shifted his weight from cheek to cheek, leaned slightly forward and then leaned back, but nothing provided more than a few seconds of relief.  The ache spread to the small of his back, and mild discomfort escalated into serious pain. 

The motor home was cool, and down in the step well cold air leaked in around the door. The engine and road vibrations penetrated his shoes, beating relentlessly on his heels and soles.  He flexed his toes, afraid that his cold, achy feet and stiffening calf muscles would develop cramps and hobble him when the time came for action. 

The prolonged inactivity not only took a physical toll but soon began to take a mental toll as well.  Emotional safety lay in movement, distraction.  But circumstances required him to be still and wait.  He had too much time to think — and too many disturbing thoughts on which to dwell.

After what Will guessed to be about 45 minutes, the motor home slowed.  They were angling to the right.  Slowing.  Pulling off the highway and stopping somewhere. 

As they climbed a slight incline, their speed continued to drop.

Wincing at the pain in his calves and thighs as he moved, yet relieved to be off his butt, he rose just far enough to peak around the kitchen setup toward the front.

Beyond the driver, beyond the windshield, at the top of the low rise toward which they were headed, a structure appeared, indistinct and unidentifiable. A few tall sodium-vapor arc lamps cast a sour, sulfurous light.    

He squatted behind the side of the kitchen area again.

He picked up the knife.

They had reached the top of the rise.  They were on level ground once more.  Steadily slowing.

Turning around, facing away from the exit, he eased into the step well.  Left foot on the lower step, right foot on the higher.  Back pressed to the locked door, crouching in shadows beyond the reach of the nook lamp, he was ready to launch himself up and at him if he came back through the motor home and gave him a chance.

With a final sigh of air brakes, the vehicle stopped.

Wherever they were, people might be nearby.  People who could help him.

However, this may be no more than a deserted roadside rest area: nothing more than a parking lot, some picnic tables, a poster warning about the dangers of campfires, and rest rooms. He might have taken a break to use the public facilities or the john in the RV.  At this hour of the night they were likely to be the only vehicle on site, in which case there wouldn’t be a soul in sight. 

The engine cut off.

Quiet.  No vibrations in the floor.  Will strained his ears but could hear no sounds of people or cars coming from outside. 

Now that the motor home was still, Will was shaking, stomach muscles fluttering.  Scared out of his wits.  Because he wanted to live.

He would have preferred that the Ripper go outside and give him a chance to escape, but he expected him to use the RV facilities instead of the public rest room.  He would come right past him.  If he couldn’t escape, then he was determined to finish this.  Will Graham would go down fighting, not cowering and begging for his life. 

He expected to hear him moving, heavy footfalls and the creak when he stepped on a weak seam in the floor, but there was silence. Maybe he was taking a moment to stretch his arms, roll his achy shoulders, massage the back of his neck, and shrug off the weariness of the long day.

Or perhaps he had caught a glimpse of him in the rearview mirror.  Will imagined him easing out of his seat and creeping toward him, avoiding all the creaks in the floor because he knew where they were.  Pouncing on him where he crouched in the step well.  Chaining him in the closet with the other dead man, a matching set of curly-haired cadavers to take home for his perverse enjoyment. 

Will looked over at the dining booth with the lamp hanging over the center of it.  He wondered if the angle of the Ripper’s approach would give him a warning, cast a shadow, or if he would just be a sudden silhouette standing over him. 

He held the knife in front of him, trying to steady his shaking hand, and waited. 

Chapter Text

Sitting at the steering wheel, Hannibal takes a moment to close his tired eyes and massage the back of his neck.

From behind his seat he takes a long wool coat off a hook.  He is not going to be outside that long, but it’s just a precaution.  He had removed the jumpsuit, and hopefully no blood had soaked through onto his clothes, but one can never be too careful.  Still, the heavy cloth jumpsuit is not perfect and he needs to look into other alternatives.  Perhaps a jumpsuit made of some type of plastic and tailored to his measurements.  But where he would obtain such an item without arousing suspicion is another matter.  Perhaps a small country overseas where they welcome American money and ask few questions.  He would research it more thoroughly at a later time.  Right now he just needs to get some gas and stretch for a moment.  He could have waited on the gas until he got home, but despite how awake he was during his visit to the Miller home, now that the adrenaline is fading he finds himself getting tired behind the wheel and needs to get out and walk around a bit in the brisk night air.  He can’t risk falling asleep at the wheel and getting into any kind of accident, not when he has two bodies in the back. 

The man currently residing in his closet had been an impulse, one he rarely acted upon.  He had seen him hitchhiking and had thought, why not?  Still, it had been risky.  But then when the man had tried to solicit him for sex, Hannibal had pulled over at a rest stop, as if to take the man up on his offer, and had overpowered him and chained him in his closet to contemplate the error of his ways before he eventually killed him.  It’s not that the man had been unattractive, because he was in his own way, and Hannibal enjoyed sex with men as well as women; it’s that Hannibal Lecter did not pay for sex and thought it rude that the man had asked for money after he had so kindly offered him a ride and had given him something to eat. 

Still, on the positive side he now had two nice trophies to take home to Abigail for their sessions. 

He finishes buttoning the overcoat, turns up the collar, and slips on a pair of soft leather gloves.  He is always conscious of leaving fingerprints along the path of his murder ventures.  He reaches over the driver’s seat and takes the keys from the ignition and checks that the brake is firmly set.  And he is always compulsively careful during these trips.  Other killers get caught over foolish mistakes.  Not him.  He opens the door and gets out of the motor home.

As he steps out, he inhales deeply of the cold, crisp mountain air and feels instantly invigorated.  He smells rain in the air and smiles.  Despite how careful he always is, rain is nature’s way of washing away trace evidence, like tire tracks, and so he welcomes the rain. 

All eight gasoline pumps are self-service, so he needs to go to the cashier in the associated convenience store to pay in advance and to identify the pump that he’ll be using so it can be turned on.  He is parked at the outermost service island.  

The convenience store — buff brick below, white aluminum siding above, big windows full of merchandise — stands in front of rising hills that are covered with huge evergreens.  He glances around, but there is little traffic at this hour.  When a truck passes, it cleaves the wind with a cry that seems strangely Jurassic, and Hannibal smiles at the primitive sound. 

A Pontiac with Illinois State license plates is parked at the inner service island, under the yellow sodium-vapor lamps.  Other than the motor home, it is the only vehicle in sight.  A bumper sticker on the back announces that ELECTRICIANS KNOW HOW TO PLUG IT IN.

On the roof of the building, positioned for maximum visibility from the highway, is a red neon sign that announces OPEN 24 HOURS.  

As Hannibal approaches the entrance, the glass door swings open, and a man comes out carrying a family-size bag of potato chips and a six-pack of Coke in cans.  He is a portly man with long sideburns and a walrus mustache.  Gesturing at the sky, he says, “Storm’s coming,” as he hurries past Hannibal.

“Good,” Hannibal mutters. 

He watches as the man with the walrus mustache goes to the Pontiac, wondering what an electrician from Illinois is doing on a road in northern Virginia at this hour of the night.

Hannibal is often fascinated by the way in which lives intersect briefly, with a potential for drama that is sometimes fulfilled and sometimes not.  A man stops for gasoline, lingers to buy potato chips and Coke, makes a comment about the weather to a stranger, and continues on his journey.  The stranger could just as easily follow the man to the car and snap his neck.  There would be risks for the stranger, but not serious risks; it could be managed with surprising discretion.  The man’s survival is either full of mysterious meaning or utterly meaningless; Hannibal is unable to decide which. 

If fate doesn’t actually exist, it ought to.

He enters the small store and it is warm, clean, and brightly lighted.  Three aisles extend to the left of the door, offering the usual roadside merchandise: every imaginable snack food, the basic patent medicines, magazines, paperback books, postcards, novelty items designed to hang from rearview mirrors, and selected canned goods.  Along the back wall are tall coolers full of beer and soft drinks, as well as a couple of freezers containing ice cream treats.  

To the right of the door is the service counter.  There’s a cash register on the counter and a selection of cigarettes and cigars lining the wall behind it.  One employee is on duty, a middle aged man with thinning hair who is sitting on a stool with his elbows on the counter reading a magazine.  This time of night there would be little business.  The man doesn’t even look up from the magazine when he says “What can I do for you?”

Although Hannibal thinks it’s a bit rude, it suits him just fine that the man is not paying attention to him.  “I am at pump seven,” he says.

The radio is tuned to a country station.  Hannibal isn’t all that familiar with country music, but he is familiar with this singer, Johnny Cash, and Hannibal finds the lyrics “I fell into a burning ring of fire” sung in the man’s deep voice pleasing. 

“How you want to pay?” asks the cashier, looking up from the magazine at Hannibal now. 

“Cash,” Hannibal says, pulling out his wallet.  “I would like a fill-up please.”  Laying three twenties on the counter he said, “This should be more than enough.  I will return for my change.”  He might as well fill up here.  He tries to avoid going to the gas stations around his home as much as possible.  He doesn’t want anyone getting used to seeing him and noticing the pattern that his trips just happen to coincide with Ripper kills.  As unlikely as that is, it’s just another precaution he likes to take.      

He heads back out to the RV to pump his gas.  He removes his gloves, not wanting to get that gas smell on them.  Although he’s been in the store no more than a minute, the night seems markedly colder than it was when he went inside.  Invigorating.  He catches the fragrance of pine trees and spruce — even fir from far to the north — inhales the sweet greenness of the heavily timbered hills behind him, detects the crisp scent of oncoming rain, smells the ozone of lightning bolts not yet hurled, and breathes in the pungent fear of small animals that already quake in the fields and forests in anticipation of the storm.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

After Will was certain the Ripper had left the motor home, he had crept forward through the vehicle holding the butcher knife in front of him.

The windows in the dining area and the lounge were curtained, so he was not able to see what lay outside.  At the front, however, the windshield revealed that they had stopped at a service station and Will felt a twinge of hope. 

The problem was, he had no idea where the Ripper was.  He had left no more than a minute earlier.  He might be just outside within a few feet of the door.

He hadn’t heard him removing the gas cap or placing the pump nozzle into the tank.  But from the way they are parked, fuel is evidently taken on board from the driver’s side of the motor home, so that was most likely where he would be.

Afraid to proceed without knowing the Ripper’s exact whereabouts, but even more afraid to remain in the motor home and miss his chance, he slipped into the driver’s seat.  The headlights were off, and the instrument panel was dark, but there was enough backglow from the dining-nook lamp to make him supremely visible from outside.  He quickly checked the side mirrors on the RV, and was relieved when nobody was on either side,

At the next island, a Pontiac pulled away from the pumps.  Its red taillights swiftly dwindled.

As far as he could see, the motor home was now the only vehicle at the station.

The keys weren’t in the ignition, of course.  Will would have been surprised if they had been.  He wouldn’t have tried to drive off anyway.  There would be employees — and whoever pulled off the highway next, and Will didn’t want the Ripper killing someone in order to take their car to pursue him.  He would not be the cause of an innocent person’s death.

After re-checking the side mirrors and still seeing no one, he cracked the door, wincing at the hard sound, jumped out, and stumbled when he hit the ground, his legs a bit stiff from sitting in the cold stepwell.  The butcher knife popped from his hand as if greased, clattered against the pavement, and spun away.

Certain that he had drawn the Ripper’s attention and that he was already bearing down on him, Will scrambled to his feet spinning left, then right, with his hands out in front of him in pathetic defense.  But there was no one in sight, and Will’s heart stopped trying to pound its way out of his chest.   

He pressed the door firmly shut, searched the surrounding pavement for the knife, couldn’t immediately spot it — and then froze when a man came out of the station about fifty or sixty feet away.  He was wearing a long dark coat, like the one Will had seen hanging behind the driver’s chair when he first entered the RV, and his dark blond hair shone under the florescent lights.  Will knew it was him. 

There was a set of pumps between him and the Ripper, so the Ripper hadn’t seen him.  He thought about just strolling casually toward the store like a customer, but the Ripper would spot him and wonder where he had come from.  His psychosis probably included a measure of paranoia, and he would look around and see no other car at the pumps.  The Ripper would pursue him.  Relentlessly.

Instead, even as he saw the Ripper leaving the store, Will dropped flat to the pavement and crawled on his belly under the motor home.

The Ripper’s footsteps didn’t falter, he didn’t suddenly speed up, so he must not have seen him.

From his hiding place, Will watched the Ripper approach.  As he drew close, the sulfurous light was so bright that Will could make out the details of his shoes.  Will turned his head to follow him as he went around the back of the motor home to the driver’s side of the RV, where he stopped at one of the pumps.  The blacktop was cold against Will’s thighs, belly, and chest.  It leached the body heat out of him through his jeans and both his shirts, and he began to shiver.

He listened as the Ripper disengaged the hose spout from the nozzle boot, opened the fuel port on the side of the motor home, and removed the tank cap.  He figured it would take a few minutes to fill the big RV, so he began to ease out of his hiding place even as he heard the spout thunk into the tank.

Still flat at ground level, he suddenly saw the butcher knife.  Out on the blacktop.  Ten feet from the front bumper.  The yellow light glimmered along the cutting edge.

Even as he was sliding into the open, before he could push to his feet, he heard footsteps on blacktop.  He glanced back under the motor home and saw that the Ripper evidently had fixed the nozzle trigger in place with the regulator clip, because he was on the move again. 

Frantically and as silently as possible, Will retreated beneath the vehicle once more.  He could hear gasoline sloshing into the fuel tank.

The Ripper walked forward, around the front of the RV, and then paused.  He walked to the butcher knife, stooped, and picked it up.

Will held his breath, though it seemed impossible that the Ripper could intuit the meaning of the knife.  He’d never seen it before.  He couldn’t know that it had come from the Miller house.  Although it was indisputably odd to find a butcher knife lying on the ground at a service-station, it might have fallen out of any vehicle that had passed through here. 

With the knife, the Ripper returned to the motor home and climbed inside, leaving the passenger door open behind him.

Over Will’s head, he heard footsteps on the steel floor.  As best he could tell, the Ripper had stopped in the dining area. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal studied the butcher knife he found on the blacktop, turning the knife back and forth so that the light over the dining table danced off the blade.  What a strange thing to find just lying around.  He had never believed in omens before, but right now holding this blade he felt a sense of … anticipation, a feeling that something interesting was about to happen.  He’d never felt like this before and he felt almost excited by it.  When he had picked it off the blacktop, the blade had been cold but he could swear the handle had been vaguely warm.  Quite the mystery.  He laid the knife down on the kitchen counter, and then went back outside, around the RV to the pump. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Overhead, the Ripper seemed to be occupied in the dining area.  The floor creaked under him as he shifted his weight.  Will thought about making a break for it, but then the Ripper exited the RV and walked back around to the pump. 

Will considered remaining under the vehicle, letting the Ripper tank up and drive away.  The gas pumps would shield him from the Ripper’s view in his side mirror.  Then he could go inside and call the police.  But the Ripper had found the butcher knife; he would be thinking about it, turning over possibilities in his head. Though Will could see no way that he could grasp the significance of the knife, Will had an almost irrational feeling that the Ripper would find him if he remained where he was.

He crawled out from under the motor home, took one more look under the RV to make sure the Ripper was still standing by the pump, then got to his feet, crossed to the inner service island, and stepped between the pumps.  He glanced back, but the Ripper remained behind the RV.

He opened the glass door and went out of the night into bright fluorescent light and the twang of country music.  The cashier, who was behind the counter reading a magazine, looked up expectantly at him.  Will was just about to say ‘I need to use your phone to call the police,’ when he glanced through the glass door that had just closed behind him and saw the Ripper coming back around the RV.  He was looking down, scanning the area where he had found the knife, and so he hadn’t seen him.  Once again, Will didn’t want the Ripper to spot him and wonder where he came from considering they were in the middle of nowhere and there wasn’t another car waiting to be gassed up, so he moved quickly away from the door and out of sight.  He glanced out the corner of the window and saw the Ripper coming toward the store.  When he had seen the Ripper coming out of the store he assumed that he had already paid for his gas and wouldn’t be coming back inside.  He had thought he would be able to call the police and get them out here and after the RV before it had gotten too far from the gas station.  But, for whatever reason, the Ripper was headed back here. 

The cashier was looking at him quizzically now.  There was no time for an explanation or a phone call.  Instead, he said, “Look, I don’t want him to know that I’m here.  Please, just act like I’m not here.  I’ll explain later.”  And before the man could reply, he walked away from him, along a wide aisle with goods shelved six feet high on both sides.  He had tried not to let his panic show, but he’s not sure he succeeded. 

As he stepped out of the aisle to hide at the end of a row of display cases, Will heard the door open and the Ripper enter.  A gust of cold wind came with him, and then the door swung shut.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

The cashier is staring at him strangely now, as if he knows something he shouldn’t, and Hannibal pauses feeling uncharacteristically confused for a moment. 

“I put fifty dollars’ worth of gas in my RV, so you owe me ten back,” Hannibal says, studying the cashier. 

Hannibal frowns.  The man’s movements are stiff, jerky, as he pulls the ten out of the cash register.  It’s almost as if he is afraid.  But what did he have to be afraid of? 

The cashier lays the ten on the counter in front of him, as if he doesn’t want to risk touching him, and isn’t taking his eyes off him, as if memorizing his face.  Hannibal suddenly feels threatened.  This will not do.  This will not do at all.  Hannibal’s survival instincts are telling him that this man somehow suspects something, and that makes him a liability.  A liability that would now have to be dealt with. 

“Are you a hunter?” Hannibal asks conversationally while putting the ten in his wallet. 

“Fishing’s my sport,” the cashier says, holding up the magazine, and sure enough it’s a fishing magazine.

“I never cared for fishing,” Hannibal said.

“Great way to get in touch with nature — little boat on the lake, peaceful water.”

Hannibal shakes his head. “But you can’t see anything in their eyes.”

The cashier blinks, confused.  “In whose eyes?”

“The fish.  They have those flat, glassy eyes, like a doll’s eyes.  It’s nowhere near as exhilarating as when you hunt down and take the life of a warm-blooded creature.”

“Well, I never said they’re pretty.  But nothing tastes better than fresh pan fried trout.” 

“I will admit that nothing tastes quite as good as food that you’ve hunted and killed yourself,” Hannibal says with a slight smile, and his smile seems to put the cashier more on edge.  He must be letting his person suit slip, letting his predator show.  He needs to put the man at ease, have him lean closer so he can grab him. 

He pulls a Polaroid out of his inside coat pocket.  “This is my daughter, Abigail,” he says, laying the photo on the counter in front of him so the cashier will have to lean over the counter to get a good look.  “Isn’t she lovely?  I’m teaching her to hunt.  I think she’s going to be a natural.” 

As the cashier leans across the counter to look at the picture of Abigail, Hannibal takes a quick look out the plate glass window to make sure no one is driving up.  He then grabs the cashier and pulls him over the counter and wraps an arm around his neck.  The cashier is thrashing, fighting to breathe.  A kick against the counter sends Hannibal stumbling backwards into a wire carousel of paperback books.  He tightens his hold on the man’s neck and then twists sharply.  The sound of bone snapping is as loud as a gunshot in the quiet little store. 

Hannibal lets the body fall to the ground.  He surveys the area behind the counter and spots a row of wall switches.  They are labeled with the locations of the lights that they control.  He shuts down all the exterior lighting, including the OPEN 24 HOURS of red neon on the roof. 

When he also switches off the fluorescent ceiling panels, the store is not plunged into total darkness. The display lights in the long row of coolers glow eerily behind the insulated glass doors. A lighted clock advertising Coors beer hangs over the counter.

Nevertheless, the shadows are deep, and the place appears to be closed. It’s unlikely that a customer will pull in from the highway.

Of course a county sheriff’s deputy or highway patrol officer, curious about why this establishment that never closes is, in fact, suddenly closed, might investigate.  Consequently, Hannibal doesn’t dawdle over the tasks that remain. 

After dragging the cashier’s body back behind the counter and out of sight, Hannibal knows he must deal with the security system, which has recorded everything that he’s done.  A video camera is mounted over the front door and focused on the cashier’s counter.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Huddled on the floor with his back against the end panel of the shelves, as far as he could get from the cashier’s counter, Will was convinced that the Ripper would hear his ragged, shuddery breathing in the sudden silence.  But he couldn’t quiet himself, and he couldn’t stop shaking any more than a rabbit could cease shivering in the shadow of a wolf.  It had happened so fast.  He had been listening to the Ripper talk, surprised by his accent—was it Russian?  Romanian?—and how cultured his voice sounded.  Then when the Ripper had mentioned having a daughter named Abigail, he had been wracking his brain wondering why that name sounded so familiar.  He had had no idea that the Ripper was planning to kill the cashier until he had done it.  And it had been over within seconds.  He had heard the sudden struggle and had started to get up to try and help, but then heard the sound of snapping bone and the thump as the body fell.  He had never felt more helpless than at that moment.    

He had thought that nothing could be more devastating than finding the bodies of Doc and Mrs. Miller – and then later Sarah – but this had been worse.  This time he had been in the same room when the Ripper had made a kill, close enough not merely to hear the struggles of the cashier, but to feel them like punches in the chest, and he had been helpless to stop it.

He wondered why the Ripper had done it.  It wasn’t so he could rob the store.  Robbery was never part of his M.O.  Nothing had ever been taken from his victim’s homes—except for the surgical trophies, of course.  Maybe he was just going through a “hot” phase and needed another kill.  After all, he had already killed four tonight, and now five.  It could be he was on a roll, escalating his kills. 

Will was in control of his breathing again, but his heart knocked so hard that his vision pulsed, and the carotid arteries thumped in his throat as though jolts of electricity were slamming through them.  He felt suddenly exposed by the display-case light to his right and threatened by the shadows to his left.  Again convinced that safety lay in movement, he leaned away from the light and looked around the corner into the aisle in front of the coolers. The Ripper was not in sight, although he could hear him moving at the other end of the store.

On his hands and knees, stomach clenched in terror, he crawled into the spill of cooler light far enough to look along the narrow aisle, seeking something on the shelves to the right that might serve as a weapon.  Without the butcher knife, he felt helpless.

No knives were conveniently for sale.  Near to him there was a hanging display of novelty key chains, fingernail clippers, nail files, pocket combs, styptic pencils, packets of moistened towelettes, decks of playing cards, and car air fresheners in the shape of pine trees.

He reached up and took one of the metal fingernail files off the rack.  He wasn’t sure how much use it would be, but in the absence of a satisfyingly sharp length of steel, this was the only weapon available to him.

The overhead fluorescent panels suddenly blinked on.  The brightness froze him.

He looked toward the far end of the store.  The Ripper wasn’t in sight, but across one wall his shadow swelled huge and then shrank and then glided away like that of a bat swooping past a floodlamp. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal switches the lights back on only to look at the video camera mounted above the front door.  Of course the incriminating tape is not contained in the camera.  If access were that easy, even some of the dimwitted thugs who make a living sticking up service stations and convenience stores would be smart enough to climb on a stool and eject the cassette to take it with them or otherwise destroy the evidence.  The camera is sending the image to a video recorder elsewhere in the building. 

The system is an add-on, so the transmission cable isn’t buried in the wall.  This is fortunate for Hannibal, because if the cable were hidden, the search would be more time-consuming.  The line isn’t even tucked up above the suspended acoustic-tile ceiling.  Bracketed to the sheetrock, it leads openly to the back partition behind the cashier’s counter and through a half-inch-diameter hole in that wall to another room.

There’s a door to that room, and he finds an office with one desk, gray metal filing cabinets, a small safe with a combination lock, and wood-pattern Formica storage cabinets.

Fortunately, the recorder isn’t in the safe.  The transmission cable comes through the wall from the store, continues through two more brackets for a distance of about six feet, then drops down through the top of one of the storage cabinets.  Hannibal shakes his head at the ineptitude.  No attempt at concealment whatsoever.

He opens the upper doors to the cabinet, doesn’t find what he seeks, and checks below. Three machines are stacked atop one another.  Tape whispers through the bottom machine, and the indicator light shines above the word RECORD.  He presses the STOP button, then EJECT, and he drops the video tape into his coat pocket.

A telephone stands on the desk.  He rips the phone cord from the wall.  No doubt a new cashier will come on duty in the morning, and there’s no point in making it easy for them to call the police.  Something might go wrong with his plans, delaying him here or on the highway, and then he will be glad that he bought himself an extra half hour by disabling the telephone.  Hannibal always prepares for any eventuality.  It’s what helps keep him free and alive. 

Beside the door is a pegboard on which hang eight keys, each with its own tag.  With the exception of the current regrettable interruption in service, this establishment is open twenty-four hours a day — yet there’s a key to lock the front door.  He slips it off its peg.

In the work area behind the cashier’s counter once more, after closing the office door behind him, Hannibal snaps down a switch, and the overhead fluorescents wink out.

Now he goes shopping.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will was relieved when the lights went off.  He heard the Ripper go into a back room and what sounded like some file drawers opening … and then, silence.

He had crept out of the cooler-lighted aisle and returned to his shelter at the end of the shelf row, where he quietly peeled open the cardboard-and-plastic package that contained the nail file.  It was only about five inches long and a half an inch thick, and as a weapon it felt small and clumsy in his hand, and looking at it it looked next to useless. 

Now he clutched this pathetic weapon and prayed that the Ripper would finish whatever he was doing and just leave.  He didn’t want to have to go up against him with a nail file.  If the Ripper found him, he might be able to poke him in the eye with it, or perhaps stab it into his temple.  More likely, though, the Ripper’s reflexes would be uncannily quick; he’d knock the file out of his hand before he could do any damage. 

Even if he managed to wound him, he would gain only precious seconds to turn and flee.  Hurting and angry, the Ripper would come after him, and with those long legs of his, he would be swift.  And then the Ripper would bring him down like an animal and snap his neck like he did the cashier.  Or worse. 

He heard movement, the creak of the counter gate, footsteps.  Half nauseated from protracted fear, he was gloriously heartened when it seemed that the Ripper was leaving.  Then he realized that the footsteps were not crossing toward the door at the front of the store, they were approaching him.

Will was squatting on his haunches, back pressed to the end panel of the shelf row, feeling panicked, not immediately sure where the Ripper was.  In the first of the three aisles?  Toward the front of the store?  In the center aisle immediately to his left?

No.

The third aisle.

To his right.

He was coming past the coolers.  Not fast.  Not as if he knew that he was here and intended to attack him.

Rising into a crouch but staying low, Will eased to the left, into the middle of the three passages.  Here the glow from the coolers, one row removed, bounced off the acoustic-tile ceiling but provided little illumination.  All the merchandise was shelved with shadows. 

He started forward toward the cashiers’ counter, thankful for his soft-soled sneakers — and then he remembered the packaging from which he had extracted the nail file  Shit, he’d left it on the floor where he’d been squatting at the end of the shelf row.

The Ripper would see it—probably even step on it.  Hopefully he would think that earlier in the night some shoplifter had slipped the nail file out of the packaging to conceal it more easily in a pocket.  Or maybe he would know. 

He turned back, leaned around the corner, and snatched up the empty package. The stiff plastic crinkled in his shaky grip, but the sound was faint and, luckily, masked by the Ripper’s footsteps.

The Ripper was at least halfway down the third aisle by the time Will started forward along the second.  But the Ripper was taking his time while Will was scuttling as fast as he could and he reached the head of his aisle before the Ripper arrived at the end of his.

At the terminus of the shelf row, instead of a flat panel like the one at the far end, there was a freestanding wire carousel rack holding paperback books, and Will nearly collided with it when he turned the corner.  He caught himself just in time, slipped around the rack, and sheltered against it, between aisles once more.

On the floor lay a Polaroid photograph: a close-up of an attractive girl about fifteen or sixteen years old, with long auburn hair.  

Will picked the Polaroid up.  So this was the Ripper’s daughter, Abigail.  Abigail.  Why did that name sound so familiar?  She also looked familiar.  He had seen this girl before.  But where?  Then it came to him.  Abigail Hobbs.  That was the name of the girl up in Minnesota that had disappeared after the Ripper had killer her parents.  Was it possible that the Ripper had taken her alive?  But why?  Was he a pedophile as well as a murderer? 

Will studied the Polaroid.  Perhaps it was just a picture the Ripper took from the Hobbs house that night. 

The girl’s features were composed but not relaxed, frozen in a studied blandness, as though her true feelings were so explosive that she would self-destruct if she acknowledged them.  Her eyes subtly belied her calm demeanor; they were slightly wide, watchful, achingly expressive, windows on a soul in torment, full of anger and fear and desperation.  No, this was definitely not a photo the Ripper had taken from the Hobbs’ home as a souvenir; this was a photo he had taken himself. 

If the Ripper had her and she was still alive, he was no doubt keeping her prisoner somewhere.  She had to be locked up somewhere secure.  After all, the Ripper left her alone to go on these hunting trips of his and he needed to be sure that she would still be there when he got back.  He probably had a secure basement in his home with no windows. 

The Ripper’s footsteps brought Will back to the moment.  Judging by the sound of them, the Ripper was no longer in the third aisle.  He had turned the corner at the back of the store and was now in the middle passage.

He was coming forward, leisurely covering the same territory over which Will had just scuttled.

What the hell was he doing?

Will wanted to take the photograph but didn’t dare.  He put it back on the floor where he had found it. 

He went around the paperback carousel into the third aisle, which the Ripper had just left, and he headed toward the end of the shelf row again.  He stayed close to the merchandise on the left, away from the glass doors of the lighted coolers on the right, to avoid throwing a shadow on the ceiling tiles, which the Ripper might see.

Will was having a difficult time telling which direction the Ripper was headed.  Yet he didn’t dare stop to take a bearing on him, lest the Ripper circle again into this aisle and catch him in the open.  When he reached the end of the row and turned the corner, he half expected to discover that the Ripper had changed directions, to collide with him, and to be caught.

But he wasn’t there.

Sitting on his haunches again, Will leaned back against the end panel of the shelf row, the very spot from which he’d started.  Gingerly he stuffed the empty packaging from the nail file on a shelf behind some soup cans. 

He listened.  No footsteps.  Other than the noise made by the coolers, only silence.

He clutched the nail file in his fist, prepared to defend himself.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal stuffs a protein bar and a packet of nuts into his pocket.  That plus the thermos of coffee he has in the RV should help keep him awake the rest of the drive home. 

He spots the fallen photograph of Abigail and picks it up, stares at it a moment in thought, and then places it back inside his inside pocket.  He looks around making sure everything is in order. 

Finally he leaves the store.  Using the tagged key that he took from the pegboard, he locks the door. 

At the corner of the building is a public telephone.  The handset has an armored cord and he could attempt to rip it off, but that would look suspicious should someone stop by.  If everything looks normal they may just assume the cashier had to leave on an emergency and had just locked up and left.  Instead, he unscrews both ends of the handset and removes the microphones and wiring and stuffs them in his pocket with the peanuts and protein bar.  He then screws the ends back on and hangs the useless handset on the switch hook again. 

His work here is done.  Although satisfying, this interlude was unexpected and  it has put him behind schedule. 

Far to the north, lightning causes pulses of light in the dense layers of clouds.  Looking up, no stars are visible.  Above lie only sullen masses of clouds harried by a cold wind, briefly veined with lightning, pregnant with a deluge.

Hannibal hurries across the blacktop toward the motor home as the first drop of rain hits his shoulder. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Crouching at the end of the shelf row, Will had listened to the door open and close, not daring to believe that the Ripper had left at last and that his ordeal might be over.  Breath held, he’d waited for the sound of the door opening again and for his footsteps as he reentered.

When he had heard, instead, the key scraping-clicking in the lock and the deadbolt snapping into place, he had gone forward along the middle of the three aisles, staying low, cat-quiet because he expected, superstitiously, that the Ripper might hear the slightest sound even from outside.

Will hesitated, then rose from his crouch and leaned around the end of the shelves.  He looked to the right, past the first aisle, toward the glass door and the windows at the front of the store.  With the outside lights off, the service islands lay in murk as deep as that on any river bottom.  He could not at first see the Ripper, who was at one with the night in his dark coat.  But then he moved, wading through the darkness toward the motor home. 

Will stepped into the open area between the heads of the three aisles and the cashiers’ counter.  The photograph of Abigail was no longer on the floor.  He wished that he could believe it had never existed. 

But at the moment, the cashier was more important than Abigail or the Ripper.  He was sure the man was dead, but he needed to be certain. 

He found the cashier behind the counter staring up at him with unseeing eyes, clearly dead.  “I’m so sorry,” Will whispered, guilt flooding him at his inability to help the man.  But he would get revenge for this man, for the dead man in the RV closet, and for Sarah and her parents.  He would see this bastard caught and put away so that he couldn’t hurt anyone else. 

Will walked into the office behind the counter and found the phone, the cord ripped from the wall.  He saw the open file cabinet and the recorder with the DVD removed, and Will suddenly had an awful thought.  What if the Ripper took the DVD with him, and instead of destroying it decided to watch it when he got home, to revisit his kill?  Wouldn’t he be surprised when he saw an unknown man walk into the store right before him and hide.  He would know that someone was in the store and had borne witness to his crime.  And the Ripper never left witnesses behind.  Will still hadn’t gotten a good look at the Ripper's face, but the Ripper might be able to get a good look at his face on the video and then he would do everything in his power to identify him and track him down and kill him. 

Yet one more reason Will needed to make sure he got caught.   

He hurried back into the public part of the store and stood off to the side of the window. 

The motor home was still parked in the same spot.  The headlights were still off.

Will had planned to telephone the police and give them a description of the RV and tell them what direction the Ripper was headed.  Now, by the time he got to a phone, called the cops, and made them understand the situation, the Ripper might have as much as an hour’s lead.  Within that hour he would have several choices of other routes that branched off the interstate.  The more miles he traveled before an all-points bulletin went out for him, the harder he would be to find.  He would soon be in another police agency’s jurisdiction, first a different county, and perhaps eventually a different state, complicating the search for him.  Will could call the FBI, but would they believe him when he told them he had spotted the Ripper?  They must get dozens of leads and sightings and prank calls daily.  And how fast would they be able to get their people down here? 

Will watched as the Ripper climbed into the motor home, unhurried, clearly confident that he was in no imminent danger of discovery.  He pulled shut the door.

Christ, he was going to get away.  No, he couldn’t be allowed to get away, free to do this again, shatter other people’s lives.  And then there was Abigail.  The way the Ripper had spoken about her, Will knew in his gut she was still alive.  There was no telling what hell the poor girl had suffered since her capture, but he was sure she was alive.  And Will was her only hope right now. 

He stepped close to the door again and pushed.  It was locked.  It could only be unlocked with a key.    

He heard the motor-home engine turn over.  Out at the motor home, the headlights switched on.

“No!”

He ran around the store.  There had to be a rear entrance.  Both practical function and fire codes would require it.

There was a small hallway at the back of the store.  The first door he came to was the employee bathroom.  Then at the end of the small hallway was a metal door featuring a pair of over-and-under deadbolts with thumb-turns.  Bingo.  He disengaged the locks and opened the door, and a flood tide of moist cold wind washed into the office. 

Behind the store spread a twenty-foot-wide paved area, and then a steep hillside rose with serried trees that were black in the night and restless in the wind.  A security light in a wire cage revealed a parked car, which probably belonged to the cashier.

Cursing the Ripper, Will turned to the right and sprinted along the shorter length of the building, around the corner, past public rest rooms.  He rounded the second corner and reached the front of the building.

The motor home was pulling away from the pumps.  It was starting to rain and with the overhead lights off Will couldn’t distinguish the license plate, couldn’t even be sure what state it was. 

The motor home picked up speed.  It was already out of the service area, entering the eighth-of-a-mile lane that would take it back onto the highway.

All Will could think was he was going to get away, and it was his fault. 

He saw a public phone and ran to it, grabbing the handset and hitting the 0 button simultaneously.  There was only silence.  He shook the handset.  Nothing.  He pounded on the cradle lever with his forefinger.  No dial tone.  Looking at the handset he unscrewed one end of it.  Goddamn him! 

He stood there running his hands through his hair in frustration, thinking hard.  On the highway, a truck appeared from the south behind a blaze of headlights.  The truck driver would have a CB radio.  But it didn’t pull off to tank up at the dark, shuttered service station.  It shrieked on past.

The lumbering motor home was almost to the far end of the connecting road.

Seething with frustration, with anger, and with fear for the girl whom he had never met, Will turned away from the motor home and hurried around the building back the way he had come.

The cashier’s car.  It was a blue Honda.  Ten years old.  Unlocked.  Will scrambled in behind the steering wheel.  The worn-out seat springs creaked, and a candy-bar wrapper or something crackled underfoot. The interior stank of stale cigarette smoke. 

The keys were not in the ignition.  He checked behind the sun visor.  Under the driver’s seat.  In the coin tray on the console.  In the ashtray.  No such luck.  He was going to have to go back in and check the cashier’s pockets. 

He ran, feeling like he was running in slow motion while the Ripper got farther and farther away from him.  He ran back through the rear door and through the store till he reached the clerk and dropped to his knees, going through his pockets.  He found the keys in the man’s right pocket.  But then as he started to get up he just happened to glance to the right and spotted something.  Under the counter where the cashier had been sitting he saw a simple wooden sleeve mounted under the counter, and sticking out of the sleeve facing him was the butt end of a gun.  Will knew that service stations and convenience stores that were open 24 hours were frequent targets for late night holdups, and as a result a lot of store owners kept a weapon within easy reach that they could quickly grab and defend themselves with. 

Will crawled over and grabbed the gun, then ran back to the car.  He got in the car and jammed the keys in the ignition and the engine turned over at once.  Turning on the overhead light, he examined the gun.  It was a Smith & Wesson .38 Chief’s Special, a revolver used by a lot of undercover cops because it was smaller and easier to conceal.  This particular gun had a five-round capacity, and when he opened the chamber there were four bullets in it.  He closed the chamber, feeling hopeful.  He now had a car to follow the Ripper and a good weapon.  

He placed the gun on the seat next to him and put the car in gear.  Tires shrieked and he peeled rubber in his haste to get started.  Smoke bloomed from the spinning wheels, but then he shot out from behind the building and rocketed past the service islands.

The connecting road to the freeway was deserted.  The motor home was out of sight.

At this point, the interstate was a four-lane divided highway, so the motor home couldn’t have gotten across the median to turn south. The Ripper had to have gone north, and he couldn’t have traveled far in the little lead time that he had.

Will turned north and went after him.  The hunter had now become the hunted. 

Chapter Text

At four o’clock in the morning, oncoming traffic is sparse.  As he drives, Hannibal eats the flavorless protein bar and sips his gourmet coffee.  He really must do a better job bringing a sufficient quantity of quality food and snacks on his next trip.  He had thought he packed an adequate amount, but then ended up running short after feeding some to the hitchhiker when the man had asked if he had anything to eat.  Still, with each trip he gains more experience, gets better at his craft, learns to plan for the unexpected.  Soon he will have it perfected. 

He has Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 playing on the cassette recorder.  This piece is nicknamed 'Raindrop' due to the fact the repeated A flat pulsing through the texture is thought to sound like repetitive raindrops.  The raindrops currently tapping on his windshield seem to be accompanying the piece, and the windshield wipers flick back and forth like a metronome, keeping time to the music. 

Listening to the haunting strains of Chopin, feeling exhausted but totally relaxed from this night’s activities, Hannibal Lecter is a happy man.  He experiences life differently than do other people.  He is a singularity.  Because his mind is not cluttered with foolishness and false emotions, he is able to perceive what others cannot.  He understands the nature of the world, the purpose of existence.  But most of all he understands himself.  Because of these insights, he is free, and because he is free, he is happy.  There is only one thing that he is lacking that will make his life perfect.  He already has half of it, and he is hopeful he will find the other half soon. 

The rain is coming down harder now and lightening is flashing, illuminating the mountains and trees around him as clear as day.  Visibility is poor and the road has a lot of twists and turns, so he lessens the pressure on the gas pedal.  He feels a touch of annoyance that this will put him even farther behind schedule, but he has to learn that things will come up that might delay him and plan for that eventuality as well.  That’s what separates the good killers from the truly great ones.  He inhales deeply and appreciates the smell of ozone in the air.  Hannibal knows all his senses are enhanced, but none so much as his sense of smell.  He enjoys all the scents the world has to offer:  The scent of rain as it cleanses the earth, the coppery scent of hot, fresh blood, the scent of arousal on a man or woman as he’s fucking them, and the scent of fear when they know they’re about to die. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will kept his foot down hard on the accelerator.  He was speeding and was halfway hoping to see a cop car in his rearview mirror flashing his lights to pull him over. 

Against all odds, he had survived the events of the past few hours.  The Ripper didn’t even know that he existed.  He had made it.  Part of him just wanted to pull over to the side of the road and surrender to the shakes that he was strenuously repressing and thank God that he was somehow still alive.  But as he drove, he knew he couldn’t do that.  There was an innocent girl that needed saving.  Will admitted to himself that it was possible Abigail was already dead and that the Ripper carried her picture around as some sort of twisted reminder, just like he took Sarah’s dead body.  Still, if there was any chance she was still alive, he needed to help her.  And his gut was telling him that she was alive.  Plus, he would never be able to relax knowing the Ripper had that videotape, wondering if and when he might decide to watch it and see his face. 

He kept his foot pressed firmly on the accelerator despite the increased rain.  As the Honda crested a hill, the motor home was suddenly on the long gradual downslope ahead, five hundred feet away.  Will’s breath caught in his throat, and then he exhaled with a whispered, “Shit!”

He was approaching him at too great a speed.  He eased off the accelerator.

By the time he was two hundred feet from the motor home, he had matched speeds with it.  He fell back farther, hoping that the Ripper hadn’t noticed his initial haste.

He was driving between thirty and thirty-five miles per hour, a prudent pace on this two-lane highway, especially with the rain.  The Ripper wouldn’t necessarily expect him to pass him, and he shouldn’t be suspicious when he remained behind.  After all, at this sleepy hour, not every driver out and about was in a blistering hurry or suicidally reckless.

At this more reasonable speed, he didn’t have to concentrate as intently as before on the road ahead, and he tried to relax back into the seat, his left hand on the steering wheel, his right hand settled on top of the gun on the seat next to him like a security blanket. 

Southbound traffic passed in the oncoming lane: a big rig with a lead-footed driver, a Chevy close in its wake — then, following a long gap, a Ford.  Will paid special attention to the cars, hoping that one of them would be a police cruiser.

If he spotted a cop, he intended to get the cop’s attention with the car horn and flashing lights and by making a weaving spectacle of himself in the cop’s rearview mirror.  If he was too late with the horn and if the cop didn’t look back and catch a glimpse of his reckless slalom, he would turn and pursue him, reluctantly letting the motor home out of his sight.  The cop car would have the advantage of having a radio, one that could call for immediate backup.  They would capture the Ripper, learn where he lived, and hopefully find Abigail locked up in his basement. 

Will wasn’t hopeful about finding a cop anytime soon.

The Ripper seemed to be uncommonly lucky.  He conducted himself with a confidence that unnerved Will.  Still, overconfidence could be a weakness.  The Ripper probably thought that he was invincible.  Well, he was about to find out otherwise when Will led the police and the FBI right to his front door. 

The worst was behind him now.  He just needed to calm down and follow him at a conservative distance. 

Lightning crashed in the sky at that moment as if warning Will to stay vigilant. 

In those stroboscopic flashes, the motor home seemed to glow, and Will caught a glimpse of the license plate.  It was a Virginia plate, but it was probably fake or stolen.  Highway signs showed they were heading toward Maryland, unless the Ripper turned off soon. 

Thunder cracked loudly overhead like a gunshot and Will jumped, heart hammering in his chest, and he realized how on edge he still was.   Looking at the dashboard clock he realized he had been up for close to 24 hours now, had had very little to eat in that time, and he was running on pure adrenalin at this point. 

He pictured Abigail’s face again to stay focused.  He thought about what it would take to survive spending six months with the Ripper.  His heart went out to this girl and he was surprised to discover that he could care so much about the fate of a stranger.

More lightning, more ferocious than before, followed by thunder so loud he felt the car shake.  The rain seemed to be coming down harder now and fell not straight down as before, but at an angle in a punishing wind that had kicked up.

Will switched the windshield wipers to their highest setting, but the motor home continued on, showing no signs of slowing down and began to disappear into the downpour as visibility declined.  The Ripper was not lowering his speed in respect of the worsening weather.

Afraid to let the Ripper out of his sight for as much as a second, Will closed the gap between them to about two hundred feet even though he was worried that the Ripper would attach the correct significance to his maneuver and realize that he was being followed.

Southbound traffic had been sparse to begin with, but now it declined in direct proportion to the power of the escalating storm, as though most motorists had been washed off the highway.

No headlights appeared in the rearview mirror either.  The Ripper had set a pace that no one but Will was likely to match.

He felt almost as alone with him here in the open as he had been inside his abattoir on wheels. 

Then, as enough time passed to make the lonely lanes of blacktop and the dreary pattering of the rain less threatening than monotonous, the Ripper suddenly surprised him.  With a quick touch of his brakes, without bothering to use a turn signal, he angled to the right onto an exit lane.

Will fell back somewhat, again concerned that the Ripper would become suspicious, seeing him take the same exit.  Because theirs were the only two vehicles in sight, he could not be inconspicuous.  But he had no choice other than to follow him.

By the time he reached the end of the ramp, the motor home had vanished into the rain and thin mist, but from the ramp entrance, he had seen it turn left.  In fact, the two-lane road led only west, and a sign indicated that Carroll Park was in this direction.  He turned left. 

He was far from his own familiar territory now and had no idea what type of cities or towns lay ahead, or whether they had their own law enforcement agencies. 

Leaning forward over the steering wheel, squinting through the rain-smeared windshield, he increased his speed, eager to catch up with the Ripper again, because he might live in some town up ahead and turn off before he saw him.  It was a good idea to let him out of sight for a minute so the Ripper wouldn’t think that he was too eager to stay on his tail, but soon he would need to reestablish visual contact.  They seemed to be driving through a wooded state park area right now, tall trees on either side of the highway that seemed to shelter them from the worst of the deluge.

On this narrower, twisting route, it wasn’t possible to maintain the pace they had kept on I-495.  Furthermore, the Ripper apparently had decided that he no longer needed to make good time, perhaps because he’d put what seemed a safe distance between himself and the dead man at the service station, and when Will caught up with him in hardly more than a minute, he was driving under the posted speed limit.

Now, closer than he’d been before, he could make out the license plate number and he memorized it.  He still thought it was a fake or stolen, but he would continue to use his police training and gather any details that he could. 

Easing off the accelerator, Will glanced at the speedometer — and spotted a red warning light. The fuel-gauge needle was below the EMPTY mark. 

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” he muttered.  The cashier worked at a gas station, was probably the owner since he had a gun, and yet he didn’t keep his fuel tank filled?  One of life’s constant little ironies. 

He had no idea how long the warning light had been burning because he’d been concentrating intently on the motor home and the rain-slick pavement.  The car might have a gallon or two in the tank — or even now be running on fumes. 

Not knowing how much farther it was to where the Ripper called home, Will knew trailing him to his home base was no longer an option.  The Ripper might be stopping somewhere in the Baltimore area, but he could be headed up toward Philadelphia, or even further.  What the hell was he going to do now? 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

As Hannibal rounds a curve into a straightaway flanked by fragrant pine trees and cedar, stark white bones of lightning crack through the black skin of the sky.  A roar of thunder like a bellow of rage shudders the air. 

Rain washes the smell of lightning down through the night and Hannibal inhales deeply.  To him, lightening represents power.  Last week lightning struck the roof of a church and it collapsed, killing 34 worshipers as they sang a hymn.  So killing must feel good to God, too.  After all, he does it all the time.  And are we not said to be created in his image? 

Hannibal has actually taken a longer route home, adding a half hour to his time.  As eager as he is to get home, he has enjoyed being out in the storm, watching nature’s destructive light show flashing all around him. 

Headlights appear behind him, visible in the angled side mirror.  A car.  For around a half-hour one followed him on the freeway, hanging at a distance.  This must be a different vehicle, because this driver is more aggressive than the one on the freeway, closing the distance between them at high speed. 

Recklessly, the car — an older model Honda — pulls around the motor home, into the lane reserved for oncoming traffic even though this is not a passing zone.  There is no other traffic, and they are on a straightaway, but he knowns the Honda has insufficient distance to complete the maneuver before the next blind turn in the road, especially on the treacherous rain-slick blacktop.

Hannibal reduces speed.

The racing Honda pulls alongside him.

Looking down through the windshield of the car, Hannibal has barely a glimpse of the person behind the steering wheel, because the rain and the high-speed windshield wipers inhibit his view.  Nothing more than a suggestion of curly hair, a pale hand on the wheel, the wrist covered in plaid.  The wrist size would indicate that the driver is most likely a man.  He appears to be alone.  Then the car moves far enough forward so that Hannibal is looking down on the roof, and the windshield is out of sight.

They are rapidly approaching the curve.

Hannibal further reduces his speed.

He can hear the shriek of the Honda as the driver accelerates.  With so little effort that he would not increase his heartbeat, Hannibal could pull the wheel to the left, slam the motor home into the Honda, and force the car off the road.  It would either roll and then explode — or shatter head-on into one of the trees lining this stretch of road.

He is tempted.

The spectacle would be gratifying.

With difficulty, he reigns the impulse in.  He has already killed five this night, two unplanned.  As satisfying as it would be, best not to tempt fate.  He applies the brakes, cutting his speed further.

The Honda streaks past him, kicking up a high spray of water.  It enters the curve ahead with a flash of brake lights: red in the black storm, then it is gone.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Passing the motor home, going too fast to prevent the Honda from straddling the double yellow line all the way around the curve, Will had been afraid that the parched engine would cough and choke and fail.  Now that he had seen the red warning light, he was aware of it, even when he wasn’t looking at the instrument panel.  But the Honda ran confidently on dregs, on fumes, on some strange grace.

He needed to put distance between himself and the Ripper, and gain time to set his plan in motion.  He pushed the car as hard as he dared on the storm-slicked pavement.

The narrow road rounded another bend, straightened out, entered a gradual descent, took another curve, rose on a gentle slope, but descended again, and in spite of the intermittent interruptions of these extremely low inclines, the land was generally monotonous in its contours.  Will entered another almost imperceptibly declining straightaway and found the ideal circumstances he required. 

Glancing in the rearview mirror, he figured that he had gained a full minute on the Ripper, maybe a minute and a half, depending on whether the Ripper had appreciably increased his speed after he passed him.  Anyway, a minute should be long enough. 

He brought the safety harness across his chest and lap and snapped it into place while slowing the car to thirty miles an hour.  Even at this speed he seemed to be hurtling through the woods.  He let the speed decrease to twenty-five, wondering again about the wisdom of what he was about to do.  Then he drove off the roadway, flew across the right shoulder, thumped through a shallow drainage ditch, and, bracing himself, rammed into the base of a large oak tree.  The left headlight burst, the impact-absorbing bumper cracked and crumpled and collapsed as it had been designed to do, and metal shrieked briefly. 

Because he was wearing the harness, he wasn’t thrown into the steering wheel or through the windshield, but the diagonal strap tightened so hard across his chest that he grunted with shock and pain. 

The engine was still running.

With no time to get out and inspect the front of the car, Will was afraid that the damage wasn’t sufficiently impressive to convince the Ripper that someone could have been injured in the crash.  When he came upon this scene a few seconds from now, he must take everything at face value without hesitation.  Otherwise, if he was suspicious, nothing would work as he had planned.

Immediately he shifted the Honda into reverse and backed away from the tree. The ground was carpeted with wet pine needles on which the tires spun before gripping, but not enough rain had fallen to churn the earth into mud.  Rattling and clinking, the car bounced across the shallow drainage ditch, which ran with only an inch or two of muddy water, and backed onto the pavement again.

Will glanced toward the top of the gently ascending slope down which he had just driven looking for the glow of approaching headlights from beyond the curve.  Nothing so far.  But the Ripper was coming.  No doubt about that.

He didn’t have time to reverse even part of the way up the slope.  But he needed to build a little speed.  With his left foot, he tramped the brake pedal as far toward the floorboards as it would go, and with his right foot he eased down on the accelerator.  The engine whined, then shrieked. The car strained like a spurred horse pressing against the gate of a rodeo chute.  He could feel it wanting to surge forward, as if it were a living thing, and he wondered how much acceleration would be too much, enough to kill him or trap him in wreckage.  Then he gave it a little more juice, smelled something burning, and raised his left foot from the brake pedal.

The tires spun furiously on the glistering blacktop, and then with a shudder the Honda shot forward, rattled and splashed across the ditch, and slammed into the trunk of the same oak. The right headlight burst, metal squealed, the hood crumpled and tweaked and popped open with a sound oddly like a hard strum on a banjo, but the windshield didn’t shatter.

The engine stuttered.  Either the fuel had been exhausted at last or the crash had done severe mechanical damage.

Gasping for breath after the cinching punishment of the shoulder harness, praying that the engine wouldn’t fail just yet, Will popped the car into reverse again.

Ideally, the Honda would be blocking the road when the Ripper came around the bend.  He had to force him to stop — and to get out of the motor home.

The battered car wheezed, almost stalled, then unexpectedly revved, and Will said a silent thank you as it rolled backward onto the pavement.

He pulled across both lanes but swung around a little, angling the car uphill so the Ripper would be able to see the damaged front end as soon as he negotiated the curve.

The engine clunked twice and died, but that was all right.  He was in position.

At the upper curve, darkness still held.

He put the Honda in park, so it would not coast backward when he took his foot off the brake.

The headlights were both broken out, but the windshield wipers continued to thump back and forth, operating on battery power.  He didn’t switch them off.

He opened the driver’s door, feeling horribly exposed in the dome light, and started to get out, feeling the adjoining seat for the gun.  He panicked for a second when he couldn’t find it, but then spotted it on the floor where it had been thrown upon impact.  He tucked it into his waistband and raced across the road toward the other side.  He needed to be away from the car and in hiding by the time the motor home appeared, which would be any second. 

The cold rain quickly chilled him as it soaked through his clothes.

In the direction from which he had come, the night brightened faintly, and the tree trunks near the shoulder of the curve began to glow as if in the radiance of a sudden moon.

Will sprinted off the slippery blacktop and splashed through another shallow drainage ditch, shuddering as the icy water poured over the tops of his sneakers.  On this side of the pavement, the trees were set back twenty or thirty feet from the shoulder.  He headed for the woods at a point directly across the highway from the oak into which he had driven the Honda.

Long before he reached the nearest tree, he skidded on the spongy mat of wet needles, fell, and landed on a cluster of pine cones.  He crawled on his hands and knees to concealment as the highway behind him flared with light and an engine quarreled noisily with the storm.

The motor home had turned the bend.

Will was only fifteen feet or so from the highway, which wasn’t far enough, because there was little underbrush to provide cover beneath the trees.  He must not be seen or all was lost. 

Fortunately, all his clothing was dark and his hair was dark, especially now that they were wet.   Yet he still felt visible.

But the Ripper would be focused on the Honda, surprised to see it angled across both lanes.  He wouldn’t immediately glance to either side of the highway, and when his attention did flicker away from the car, he was likely to look to the right, where the Honda had run off the road and struck the tree, not to the left, where Will was hiding.

Will stood and positioned himself behind the trunk of a large tree, making sure the trunk was between him and the oncoming headlights.  He peered out warily at the highway.  The lights got brighter and he heard the hiss of air brakes being applied. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal slows the RV and then stops as he observes the scene ahead.  The shoulder is neither wide enough nor firm enough to accommodate his motor home to go around it.  Although this scenic highway is obviously little used in these hours before dawn and in such foul weather as this, he is loath to block traffic any longer than is absolutely necessary.

He pushes the gearshift into park, engages the emergency brake, but leaves the engine running and the headlights on.  He turns his music off and opens the door and listens for a minute, all his senses coming to life, eager at the opportunity presented before him.  He doesn’t bother to slip into his coat, and when he gets out of the motor home, he leaves the door standing open.

This is the same Honda that passed him a few minutes earlier.  He is not surprised to see it in this sorry condition, considering the reckless speed at which it had been traveling.

Evidently, the car had skidded off the road and into a tree.  Then the driver had backed it onto the pavement again before the engine failed.

But where is the driver?

Another motorist might have come along from the west and taken any injured person to get medical treatment.  But that seems too fortuitous and too timely.  After all, the accident can’t have happened more than a minute or two ago.

The driver’s door is open, and when Hannibal leans inside, he sees that the keys are in the ignition.  The windshield wipers sweep the glass. The taillights, the interior ceiling light, and the gauges in the instrument panel are all aglow.  Hannibal inhales deeply and wrinkles his nose in distaste at the smell of stale cigarette smoke, but also picks up the faint hint of cheap cologne.  Men’s cologne.  The kind you might buy at a drug store with a little ship on the bottle.  So, he was right, this is a man. 

He steps away from the car and looks at the tree toward which the tire tracks lead.  The bark is scarred from the impact but only superficially.

Intrigued, he surveys the rest of the forest on that side of the highway.

Quite possibly, the driver climbed out of the wrecked car, dazed from a blow to the head, and wandered into the forest.  Even now he might be traveling farther into the woods, lost and confused — or maybe, having collapsed from injuries, he lies unconscious on a bed of wet leaves.

If the man is, in fact, wandering in the woods, he could park the motor home and search for him. Perhaps he could make use of that knife he found at the service station to bring the man down. 

He imagines what it would be like to take off his clothes and enter the forest naked with the knife, relying solely on his primitive instincts to stalk him and bring him down, the rain and mist cold on his skin as he drags him to the forest floor, the man’s hot blood steaming in the cold night air.  Maybe he would rip his throat out with his teeth.  He is surprised to find himself growing erect at the thought of it. 

As tempting as it is, he would be wise to be on his way.  He must put more distance between himself and the places where he took his entertainment during the night.  Being good at what he does requires, among other qualities, the ability to repress his most ardent passions when indulgence in them is dangerous.  If he instantly gratified every desire, he would be less a man than an animal — and either long dead or imprisoned.  Being who he is and what he is means being free but not reckless, being quick but not impulsive.  He must have a sense of proportion.  And good timing.  He often needs the timing of a tap-dance master.  Not to mention a well-developed person suit.  A truly flawless person suit combined with self-control can take a person far.

He sighs at the forest with regret, then turns and walks back toward the abandoned car. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

As the Ripper had walked down the roadway to the abandoned car through the headlight beams from the motor home, Will had crept upslope through the dark forest, moving parallel to him but in the opposite direction.  He had circled behind the tree to the right with his left hand flat against the trunk for balance in case he stumbled over a root or other obstruction in the dark.  

He moved from tree to tree, using them as a shield.  He peered out once more.  The Ripper stood near the open door of the Honda, gazing into the forest on the opposite side of the highway.  Will was worried that another motorist would come along before he could carry out his plan. 

He moved on to the next tree.  As he peered around the trunk, Will saw the Ripper getting into the Honda.  He would have to move the disabled car out of the way, because there wasn’t room to drive around it.

He glanced at the motor home.  Perhaps because he knew what lay within it — a dead man closeted in chains, a dead woman swaddled in a white shroud — the vehicle seemed as ominous as a hearse.   

He could just wait in the grove.  Forget about his crazy plan.  The Ripper would leave, and life would go on. 

So easy to wait.  Survive.

But would Abigail survive?  What if he turned on the TV in a few weeks and suddenly saw her face on the news, dead at the Ripper’s hands and knowing he might have done something to save her?  As an FBI agent he would be hunting killers like the Ripper all the time.  What kind of agent was he going to make if he fell apart the first time he was up against one? 

In truth, he didn’t feel suitably prepared to face a skilled killer like the Ripper.  He was a small town cop used to dealing with small town problems.  He felt woefully inept. 

He leaned against the tree, suddenly weak.  Weak and shaking.  Shaking and almost physically ill with despair, with fear knowing there was a good chance if he went through with this he would end up dead.  All it would take was one slip and the Ripper would take him down. 

Will was brought out of his despair by the taillights and interior lights of the Honda dimming with the grinding of the starter as the Ripper tried to get the engine to turn over.  He finally gave up on trying to start the engine and put the Honda in neutral, and was pushing it backward on the slightly sloped pavement.

Will stepped out from between the trees.

The Ripper pulled the steering wheel hard to the right, letting the momentum of the car carry it backward in an arc until it was facing downhill. 

Will approached the highway.    

The Ripper got back into the Honda and let it coast downhill, steering it onto the right-hand shoulder.

Fierce lightning again, and a long hard crash of thunder like vast structures collapsing high in the night.

Will reached the motor home.

Jesus help me.

The driver’s door stood open.

Oh, God.  What the hell am I doing? 

He couldn’t do it.

He had to do it.

Downhill, on the shoulder, with a rattle of twisted steel, the Honda was coasting to a stop.

Who will save Abigail if not me?  She’s probably already given up hope. 

Downslope, the Honda came to a full stop.

Will climbed into the cockpit and hurried back through the motor home, murmuring, “Jesus, Jesus,” telling himself that it was all right, this crazy thing he was doing. 

Will knew his chances would not be good if he came face-to-face with this man.  The Ripper was taller than him and wider through the shoulders.  He knew instinctively that he was older than him and more experienced with hand to hand fighting.  But Will had no intention of it coming to that.  He intended to hide until they arrived at his house and then find out where Abigail was being held.  With that information, he would go to the police, and they would get this sonofabitch and free Abigail.  And if the Ripper found him before that happened, he now had a gun.  In his estimation that leveled the playing field considerably.  But he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. 

Will reached the rear of the motor home.  The closed door to the bedroom.

Jesus, he didn’t want to go back in there.  With Sarah.  With the man in the closet.  Trapped in a room with no windows and no way out. 

But it was the best place to hide, so he opened the door and went in and closed the door behind him and eased to the left through the darkness and put his back against the wall, shivering with cold and fright.

Will prayed that the Ripper would drive straight home and not stop at some point between here and there to have a look at his trophies.  He tried not to think of all the things that could go wrong with this plan. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Lights off, windshield wipers off, Hannibal Lecter sits in the dead car by the side of the road.  Thinking.

There are numerous ways that he can proceed from here.  Life is always a laden buffet of treats, a vast smorgasbord groaning with infinite choices of sensations and experiences to thrill the heart, as well as the palate — but never more so than now.  He wishes to exploit the opportunity to the fullest possible extent, to extract from it the greatest possible excitement and the most poignant sensations, and he must, therefore, not act precipitously.

Luck had given him a glimpse of the man in the rearview mirror: as fleet as a deer across the blacktop, hesitating at the open door of the motor home, and then up and inside and out of sight.

He must be the man from the Honda.  There is no other explanation. 

In the accident, he might have received a hard blow to the head.  Now perhaps he is dazed, confused, frightened.  This would explain why he doesn’t approach him directly and ask for help or for a ride to the nearest service station.  If his thoughts are addled, the irrational decision to become a stowaway aboard the motor home might seem perfectly reasonable to him.

He did not appear to be suffering from a head injury, however, or any injury at all.  He hadn’t staggered or stumbled across the highway but had been swift and surefooted.  At this distance and in the rearview mirror, Hannibal wouldn’t have been able to see blood even if he had been bleeding; but he knows intuitively that there was no blood.

The longer he considers the situation, the more it seems to him that the accident was staged.

But why?

If the motive had been robbery, the man could have accosted him the moment that he stepped onto the highway.

Besides, he isn’t driving one of those elaborate three-hundred-thousand-dollar land yachts that, by their very flashiness, draw attention, and thieves.  The vehicle he chose is a less conspicuous ten year old model, and though well maintained, worth around fifty thousand dollars.  It seems pointless to wreck a car for the purpose of looting the contents of an aging vehicle that promises little in the way of treasure.

Also, he had left his keys in the ignition, the engine running.  The man could have driven away in the motor home if theft had been his intention. 

Hannibal is baffled.

Deeply. 

This man is defying all logic, everything he knows of human nature.  He is an enigma, as mysterious and intriguing as anyone Hannibal has ever known.  Very few things surprise Hannibal, but this man has managed to surprise him.  What experiences he will have with him are difficult to imagine, and he is excited by the prospect of such novelty. 

He gets out of the Honda and closes the door.

For a moment he stands staring at the forest in the cold rain, hoping to appear unsuspecting if the man should be watching him from inside the motor home.  He stares at the forest as if he’s a concerned citizen wondering what happened to the driver of the Honda, maybe considering searching the woods.

After a few thoughtful seconds, he returns to the motor home and his intriguing new passenger.

At the door, he sees that the man is in neither the pilot’s nor the copilot’s chair.

Swinging in behind the steering wheel, he glances back but can see no sign of him in the lounge or the dining area.  The short and shadowy hall at the end appears deserted as well.

He swivels in his chair, gets up, and moves back through the motor home to the kitchen and dining area. The butcher knife, found on the service-station blacktop, lies on the counter as before.  He wonders if the man is armed.  From the distance at which he’d seen him, he hadn’t been able to discern whether he was empty-handed or not. 

He picks up the butcher knife and walks farther back, through his narrow domain, with special caution at the end of the kitchen area, behind which lies the step well.  He’s not crouched here either. 

Into the hall.

He opens the bathroom door, quickly and noisily, aware that stealth isn’t possible in this reverberant tin can on wheels.  The cramped bathroom is as it should be.  His stowaway is not seated on the toilet or in the shower stall. 

Next the shallow wardrobe with its sliding door.  But he isn’t in there either.

Which leaves only the bedroom.

Hannibal stands before this last closed door, positively enchanted by the thought of the man huddled in there in the dark, unaware of those with whom he shares his hiding place.  Evidently he has not yet sat upon the bed and found the sleeping beauty.

Hannibal is further intrigued.

The temptation to throw open the door and watch how this intriguing man reacts to finding out he has been sharing the room with dead bodies is almost irresistible.  Following that spectacle, however, they will have to get down to issues at once.  Hannibal will quickly learn who he is and what he thinks he is doing here.

Hannibal realizes that he doesn’t want this rare and mysterious experience to end.  He finds it more pleasing to prolong the suspense and chew on the puzzle for a while.

He was beginning to feel a bit weary and bored from his recent activities.  Now he is energized by these unexpected developments. 

Certain risks are involved, of course, in playing it this way.  But certain risks are worth the payout, and he has the strangest feeling that this will be one of them. 

Hannibal has learned to trust his instincts and he backs quietly away from the bedroom door.

Noisily, he takes some dry clothes out of the closet, making sure to rattle the hangers, and changes out of his wet ones so that the man will think that he came to the back of the motor home not in search of him, but to dry off.  If the man continues to believe that his presence is unknown, he will proceed on whatever course of action brought him here in the first place, and it will be interesting to see what he does.

He goes forward again, pausing in the kitchen to pump some of his gourmet coffee into a cup from the two-quart thermos on the counter by the cooktop.  He also switches on a couple of lights so he will be able to see the interior clearly in the rearview mirror.

Behind the steering wheel once more, he sips the coffee.  It is hot, black, and bitter, just the way he likes it.  It warms him up nicely.  The man in the back must be freezing after being out in that cold rain.  He secures the cup in a holder bracketed to the dashboard.

He lays the butcher knife on the co-pilots seat within easy reach.  If the man suddenly comes out of the room and tries to attack him, he can easily grab it and use it as a weapon.  But he doesn’t think that the man will try to harm him, at least not soon.  If harming him was the man’s primary intention, he would have gone after him already. 

Strange. 

What next? he thinks to himself, enjoying the mystery and intrigue that his stowaway brings. 

He drinks more coffee as he looks out into the dark.  A night of mysteries.

Hannibal smiles as he shifts the motor home out of park and releases the emergency brake.  Onward into the unknown then.

After he cruises past the damaged Honda, he glances at the rearview mirror.  The bedroom door remains closed. The man is in hiding.

With the motor home rolling again, perhaps the stowaway will risk turning on a light and will take this opportunity to meet his roommates.

Hannibal smiles at the thought.

Of all the expeditions that he has conducted, this is by far the most interesting and exciting.  And it isn’t over yet.  He hopes this stowaway will not disappoint him. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

When Will felt the RV start moving again, he slid down to the floor in the darkness, back against the wall.  He hugged his knees to him and clutched the gun in front of him like a lifeline.  

Crazy.  He was crazy to be taking this trip. 

But he has nowhere else to go now. 

In this moment Will felt like this was where his entire life had been leading.  

He was wet and cold and frightened — yet strangely he was at peace with his decision.

“I’m coming, Abigail,” he said softly.  “Help is coming.  Just hold on a bit longer.”

Chapter Text

Hannibal drives out of the forested area and gets back on the I-495 and sees the signs for Baltimore.  He will be home in 20 minutes. 

For the first part of the journey, he glances frequently at the rearview mirror, but the bedroom door remains closed and the man seems comfortable with the cadavers, or, perhaps, with his ignorance of them.  With the bedroom window sealed off with plywood, no outside light penetrates in there.

Hannibal is a superb driver and he makes excellent time, even in bad weather.  We do best those things that we enjoy doing, which is why he is such a success at killing and why he combines that enthusiasm with his love of driving rather than restrict himself to prey within a reasonable radius of his home. 

He seldom glances at the rearview mirror any more. The man is a mystery, and mysteries of this nature can’t be resolved by the sheer desire to resolve them.  Ultimately he will reveal himself, and Hannibal’s enjoyment of the experience will depend upon whatever purpose the man has and just how far he is willing to go to achieve that purpose.

The waiting is delicious, and Hannibal licks his lips in anticipation of bringing this man down and tasting his flesh. 

Throughout this last leg of the journey Hannibal leaves his music off, although not because he is afraid that the music will mask the sounds of the man stalking forward through the motor home.  In fact, he rarely listens to the radio or music while driving.  In his memory palace is a vast library of recordings of the music that he likes best: the cries and squeals, the prayerful whispers, the shrieks as thin as paper cuts, the pleading and sobbing for mercy, and the erotic inducements of final desperations.

Finally he exits the highway, following the rain-swept, two-lane county road to his private driveway.  He lives in a rural area 30 miles outside of Baltimore.   

The entrance is securely gated and flanked by thickets of pines and brambly underbrush.  The gate is made of tubular steel and barbed wire, set between stainless-steel posts in concrete footings.  It features an electric motor with remote operation, and when Hannibal pushes a button on the hand-held control that he fishes from the console box, the barrier swings inward to the left in a satisfyingly stately manner.

After driving the motor home onto his property, he brakes to a stop once more, rolls down his window, holds out the control unit with the signal-transmission window reversed in his grip, and presses the button.  In his sideview mirror, he watches as the gate closes.

The driveway is long as his property encompasses thirty-two acres that back up to a government-owned wilderness, which measures many miles on a side.  

Hannibal drives up a modest incline, between looming ranks of tall pines, spruces, maples, and then the trees recede a little, and he crosses the bald hilltop.  The road descends easily, in a graceful curve, into a small vale, with the house at the end and the hills rising behind in the drizzling rain and misting fog.  The house is not visible from the county road, and he likes it that way.  After all, what he does requires privacy. 

He smiles at the sight of home.  Home is where Abigail patiently awaits.

The house is a large, modern log house.  Hannibal has owned the house for three years now.  He chose it due to its close proximity to Baltimore, and the fact that his nearest neighbor is over five miles away.  He has had to do a bit of specialized remodeling, mostly in the basement, but the house suits his needs perfectly for now. 

In addition to the house, there is a barn, not because the previous owner of the property farmed any of the land that he cleared of trees, but because he kept horses.  This second building is older than the house, of traditional wood-frame construction on a concrete footing and fieldstone stem wall.  Wind, rain, and sun long ago laid down a silver patina on the durable cedar siding, which Hannibal finds lovely.

Since he owns no horses, he uses the barn as a garage.

Now, however, he pulls to a stop in front of the house rather than continuing on to the barn.  The man is in the motor home, and he will soon need to deal with him.  He prefers to park here where he can watch him from the house and wait for developments.

He glances at the rearview mirror.

Still no sign of him.

Switching off the engine but not the windshield wipers or headlights, Hannibal waits for his guards to appear.  They have been trained not to charge willy-nilly at approaching vehicles, and even to bide their time with intruders who are on foot, the better to lure them into a zone from which escape is impossible.  These guards know that stealth is as important as savage fury, that the most successful assaults are preceded by calculated stillnesses to lull the quarry into a false confidence.

Finally the first black head appears, bullet sleek but for its pricked ears, low to the ground coming around the corner of the house.  The dog hesitates to reveal more of himself, surveying the scene to make sure that he understands what is happening.

“Good boy,” Hannibal says quietly, appreciatively.

At the nearest corner of the barn, between the cedar siding and the trunk of a winter-bare maple, another dog appears.  It is little more than a shadow of a shadow in the rain.

Hannibal wouldn’t have noticed these sentries if he hadn’t known to look for them.  Their self-control is remarkable, a testament to his abilities as a trainer.

Two more dogs lurk somewhere, perhaps behind the motor home or belly crawling through shrubbery where he can’t see them.  They are all Dobermans, five and six years old, in their prime. 

After doing his research, he chose this breed because of their extreme loyalty, high intelligence and great trainability.  The Doberman is known to be energetic, watchful, fearless and obedient.   They rank among the more-likely breeds to show aggressive behavior toward strangers and other dogs, but highly unlikely to show aggressive behavior toward their owners.  He had these dogs imported from Germany where the breed originated because American breeders have been breeding a calmer, more even temperament than their European counterparts, no doubt in an effort to make the breed more appealing to families. 

The dog by the corner of the house slinks into the open, and the dog at the barn emerges from beneath the black-limbed maple.  A third Doberman rises from behind the massive and half-petrified stump of a long-vanquished oak in the side yard.

The motor home is familiar to them.  Their vision, while not their strongest suit, is probably sufficient to allow them to recognize him through the windshield.  With a sense of smell twenty thousand times more acute than that of the average human being, they no doubt detect his scent even through the rain and even though he is inside the motor home.  Yet they don’t wag their tails or in any way exhibit pleasure, because they are still on duty.

The fourth dog remains hidden, but these three drift warily toward him through the rain and the mist. Their heads are lifted, pointy ears flicked up and forward. 

These creatures, if confronted by anyone other than their beloved master, would not hesitate to tear the throat out of that luckless person.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Although he would not have believed it possible, Will had been lulled into sleep by the hum of the tires and the motion of the motor home.  The brakes woke him.  Immediately he realized that the motor home had come to a full halt.  He scrambled to his feet and stood with his back to the wall, tense and alert, gun at the ready.

The motor home started moving again, and from the tilt of the floor and the laboring sound of the engine, he knew that they were climbing a hill. Then they reached the top and headed downward.  Soon they stopped again, and at last the engine cut out.

The soft pattering rain on the roof was the only sound now.

He waited for footsteps.  Standing there in the dark everything felt surreal, like he was in a dream.  It was a dream that could easily turn into a nightmare. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal takes the time to put on his raincoat and pick up the butcher knife.  He considers if there’s anything else in the motor home that the man could possibly find and use as a weapon.  He goes back into the kitchen area and removes all the knives and puts them in his pocket just in case. 

He switches off the lights.

When he descends from the motor home, heedless of the cold drizzle, the three big dogs come to him, and then the fourth from behind the vehicle.  All are quivering with excitement at his return but still holding themselves in check, not wanting to be thought derelict in their duty.

Just before departing on this expedition, Hannibal had placed the Dobermans on attack status by speaking the name Nietzsche.  They will remain primed to kill anyone who walks onto the property until he speaks the name Mozart, whereupon they will be as affable as any other group of sociable mutts — except, of course, if anyone unwisely threatens their master.

He holds his hands out to the dogs.  They eagerly crowd around to sniff his fingers.  Sniffing, panting, licking, licking, yes, yes, they have missed him so very much.

They live in an enormous kennel against the back of the barn, which they can enter and leave at will. It is electrically heated during cold weather to ensure their comfort and their continued good health. 

Hannibal has rigged electrically operated dispensers inside the kennel, which in his absence automatically pay out measured portions of food for each Doberman.  Their communal water trough is fed by a drip line, but if it should ever cease to function, they can find their way to a nearby spring that runs through the property.  They constitute an efficient and reliable security system: never a short in any circuit, never a failed motion detector, never a corroded magnetic contact — and never a false alarm.

Oh, and how these dogs love him, how unreservedly and loyally, as no memory chips and wires and cameras and infrared heat sensors ever could. They have been taught to kill not merely in self-defense, not just for food, but for the sheer savage pleasure of it, to please their master.  They are acutely aware that their master can match their savagery, and they mewl softly and quiver and roll their soulful eyes at him in worshipful awe.

Hannibal slams the door of the motor home.

The dogs spring to his side, jostling one another to be close to him, alertly surveying the rain-shrouded surroundings for any threat to their master.

Quietly, so the man inside cannot possibly hear the word, he says, “Mozart.”

The dogs freeze, looking up at him, heads cocked.

“Mozart,” he repeats.

The four Dobermans are no longer on attack status and will not automatically tear to pieces anyone who enters the property.  They shake themselves, as if casting off tension, then pad around in a vaguely bewildered fashion, sniffing at the grass and at the front tires of the motor home.

If any visitor were to attempt to harm their master, of course, they would leap to his defense, whether or not he had time to shout the word Nietzsche.  The result wouldn’t be pretty.

They are trained first to tear out the throat.  Then they will bite the face to effect maximum terror and pain — go for the eyes, the nose, the lips. Then the crotch.  Then the belly.  They won’t kill and turn at once away; they will be busy for a while with their quarry, until no doubt exists that they have done their job.

Even a man with a shotgun could not take out all of them before at least one managed to sink its teeth into his throat.  Gunfire will not drive them away or even make them flinch.  Nothing can frighten them.  Hannibal has taught them well.

“Home,” says Hannibal.

This single word instructs the dogs to go to their kennel, and they take off as one, sprinting toward the barn.  Still, they do not bark, for he has schooled them in silence.

Ordinarily he would allow them the freedom to relax and roam and play now that they’re not on duty, but his mystery passenger prevents Hannibal from dealing with the dogs as he usually would.  If they are a visible presence, they will inhibit him, and he may cower inside the motor home, afraid to exit.

The man must be given enough freedom to act.  Or at least the illusion of freedom.

Hannibal is curious to see what he will do.

He must have a purpose, some motivation for the strange things that he has done thus far.  Everyone has a purpose.

Whatever the man believes his purpose to be, Hannibal knows that in the end, his true purpose will be to serve his, whatever he decides. 

The last of the racing Dobermans vanishes behind the barn, to the kennel.

Hannibal walks through the soggy grass to the modern log house and climbs a set of steps made from split logs to the front porch.  The porch roof is fitted with recessed lights that come on automatically when it’s dark and bathe the porch with soft lightening.  This is so he can easily find his way from the barn to the house when he comes home from his late night excursions. 

Although he carries the butcher knife, he conceals it and makes an effort to appear otherwise nonchalant in case the man has come forward from the bedroom at the rear of the motor home to watch him through a window. 

He unlocks the front door and enters the house.  He closes but does not lock the door behind him, allowing the man to have access if he chooses to take it.

Who knows what he will choose to do?

Already his behavior is as astonishing as it is mysterious.

This man excites him.

Hannibal turns from the shadowy front room and heads for the enclosed stairs to his left.  He quickly climbs the steps two at a time, one hand on the oak banister, to the second floor.  Rooms are situated to the left of the stairs facing the front of the house, and to the right of the stairs facing the barn.  Hannibal turns left and goes into the large master bedroom in the corner that has windows facing both directions.   

In his private chamber, he drops the knife on the bed and crosses quickly to a set of glass balcony doors that face the front of the house.  The doors are covered by blue drapes with blackout lining.  He doesn’t need to draw the drapes aside to see the motor home on the driveway set back thirty feet from the house.  The two pleated panels of fabric don’t quite meet, and when he puts his eye to the two-inch gap, he has a clear view of the entire vehicle which is just barely illuminated by the porch lighting.

Unless he slipped out of the motor home immediately behind him, which is highly doubtful, the man is still inside.  He can see down through the windshield at this angle into the pilot’s and copilot’s seats, and he has not advanced to either. 

He shrugs out of the coat and tosses it atop his neatly made bed. 

When he looks out the balcony doors again, there still no sign of the mystery man at the motor home below.

He hurries into the hallway to the bathroom.  White and black tile, white paint, white tub, white sink, white toilet, polished chrome fixtures with white ceramic knobs.  Everything gleams.  Not a single smudge mars the mirror. 

He reaches behind the shower curtain and cranks the COLD faucet all the way open.  He isn’t actually going to take a shower, so there’s no point in wasting hot water. 

He quickly adjusts the shower head until the spray is as heavy as it gets.  The water pounds down into the fiberglass tub, filling the bathroom with thunder.  He knows from experience that the sound carries throughout the house; even with rain on the roof it will be heard downstairs.

On a wall shelf above the toilet is a clock radio.  He switches it on and adjusts the volume.

The radio is set to a Baltimore station featuring twenty-four-hour-a-day news.  Ordinarily, when bathing and attending to his toilet, Hannibal likes to listen to the news, not because he has any interest in the latest political or cultural developments, but because these days the news is largely about people maiming and killing one another — war, terrorism, rape, assault, murder.  And when people can’t kill one another in sufficient numbers to keep the reporters busy, nature always saves the day with a tornado, a hurricane, a big earthquake, or an outbreak of flesh-eating bacteria.

Now, however, news will not set the stage properly.  Hastily he turns the tuning knob until he finds a station he listens to frequently that plays classical music.  He is pleased to hear Pachelbel’s Canon in D playing.  The simple yet varying set of three violin tunes that are repeated over and over again lend a hypnotic feel to the piece.  Listening to this calm music, if the man enters the house he will be lulled into a state of false security. 

Perfect.

He hurries back to his bedroom, to the balcony doors, having been away from it no more than a minute.

On the driveway below, the motor home stands as before.

The man must still be inside.  He probably won’t just burst out of the vehicle and run pell-mell; he is likely to exit warily, hesitant on both sides of the door.  From this high vantage point, he can see around most of the vehicle, with the exception of blind spots toward the rear on the port side and at the very back, and the man is not in sight.

“Ready when you are,” Hannibal says, feeling his excitement and curiosity grow. 

He thinks about the man.  He is bold, no doubt about it.  But Hannibal can’t figure out what he’s doing, what he’s after; and when he understands his motivation, maybe he will be disappointed.  But at least for now he is something new and interesting in his experience.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

After the Ripper left the motor home and slammed the door, Will had waited in the dark bedroom for a long while listening to the rain patter on the roof.

He had told himself that he was being prudent.  Listen.  Wait.  Be sure.  Absolutely sure.

But then he’d been forced to admit that he had lost his nerve.  Although his clothes were still damp and he was cold, the current source of his chills was the ice of doubt in his gut.

Even remaining in blackness with two dead bodies was far preferable to going outside where he might encounter him.  He knew that the Ripper would be back to claim his prizes, that this bedroom was not, in fact, a safe place, but for a while what he knew was overruled by what he felt.

When at last he broke his paralysis, he moved with reckless abandon, as though any hesitation would result in another and worse paralysis, which he would be unable to overcome.  He yanked open the bedroom door, plunged into the hall with the gun held in front of him, and went all the way forward past the bathroom and through the dining area and the lounge, where he stopped a few feet back from the driver’s seat.

The only light was coming through the windshield, and he could see that the Ripper wasn’t here.  He was alone.

Outside, directly ahead of the motor home, lay a large sodden yard, a few dripping trees, and a rough driveway angling to the right where he could just make out a barn.

Will moved to a window and cautiously peeled back one corner of the drape.  About thirty feet away sat a log house softly lit up by lighting on the porch.  He couldn’t help but admire the beautiful design.  The house was big, two stories, made of logs the size of telephone poles, large plate glass windows on the first floor, and windows and balcony doors on the second that opened up to a flat roof that covered a large porch that went across the entire front of the house.  The logs had apparently been preserved with many coats of creosote that had allowed them to keep their original warm color, and the house seemed to glisten with the soft lighting and the drops of rain that clung to it.  Will didn’t want to admit that he liked anything belonging to the Ripper, but if this was his house, he did.  It’s exactly the type of house he would have chosen to live in if he had the resources to purchase it, which he doesn’t. 

Although he has no way of being certain, he had to assume that this is the Ripper’s home.  

And the Ripper must be inside.

He glanced at the windows of the house and could see that the drapes were all drawn on the first-floor windows.  Consequently, the Ripper could not casually glance out one of them and spot him when he stepped from the motor home.  Looking up at the second-floor windows and the balcony doors, the drapes were all drawn on those as well.

Will went forward and leaned over the driver’s seat to look at the ignition.  The keys weren’t there.  He slipped into the copilot’s seat, feeling frightfully exposed.  He searched the console box between the seats, then the glove box and both door pouches hoping to find proof of insurance or something that would reveal the name of the Ripper and the exact address of this place, but he could find nothing helpful.   

The Ripper would be returning soon.  For some demented reason, he had gone to a lot of trouble and taken risks to bring the cadavers, and most likely he would not leave them in the motor home for long.

After double-checking the windows to make sure that all the drapes were still closed, he cracked open the door.  A cold knife of wind stabbed at him through the gap.  He got out and closed the door behind him as quietly as possible. 

The sky was low and turbulent, but the rain had slowed to a drizzle.  Forested hills rose behind the house, vanishing into a pearly mist.  Looking at the house and smelling the fresh moist scent of pine and cedar in the air, he was starting to have that surreal feeling again, like this could not be happening.  The Ripper could not be living in such a picturesque house.  But he knew better.  There were two bodies in the back that said as much, and if he didn’t stay sharp, he would be joining them. 

He hurried to the split log steps and went up onto the porch.  He placed his back to the rough wall next to the door and listened for any sounds within. 

He heard music.

Classical music.

He stared out at the meadow, along the lane that led from the house to the top of a low hill and then out of sight.  Perhaps beyond the hill he would see other houses where he might find people who could help him.

But then again, maybe not.  The Ripper had obviously chosen this place for the privacy it afforded him. 

He remembered the two brief stops that had awakened him, and he suspected that the motor home had passed through a gate.  Nevertheless, even if this was a private driveway, it would lead sooner or later to a public road, where he would find assistance from residents or passing motorists. 

The top of the hill was approximately a quarter of a mile from the house.  This was a lot of open ground to cover before he would be out of sight. If the Ripper saw him, he would probably be able to chase him down before he got away. 

And he still couldn’t be certain that this was even where he kept Abigail.  He might have a second location somewhere, perhaps a cabin hidden in the woods, where he kept her locked up and visited her from time to time.  If Will brought back the authorities and Abigail wasn’t here, then the Ripper might never tell them where to find her.  She would be trapped somewhere until she died of starvation or dehydration. 

He had to be certain that Abigail was here.

But if Abigail was here, then when Will came back with the cops, the Ripper might barricade himself in the house.  It would take a SWAT team to pry him out of the place — and before they got to him, he might use Abigail as a hostage to escape.  Or he might kill her and commit suicide.  You never knew how killers would react when cornered. 

In fact, that was almost certainly how it would play out.  He would know that his freedom was at an end, that his games were over, that he would have no more fun, and all he would see available to him was one last, apocalyptic celebration of madness. 

Will couldn’t bear it if he inadvertently caused this girl’s death. 

But maybe there was another option. 

After all, he had a gun now.

And the advantage of surprise.

He realized that he was arguing himself into taking the most dangerous course of action open to him, making excuses for going into the house. Going into the house was obviously crazy, Jesus, a totally crazy move.  But he was striving hard to rationalize it, because he had already made up his mind that this was what he needed to do.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Coming out of the motor home, Hannibal watches the man cautiously emerge.  Average build, pale skin, dark, curly hair, and he has a gun in his right hand, some type of small revolver.  And the way he’s holding it makes it clear that he’s familiar with handling a gun.

“What a treat you are,” Hannibal says softly, eyes glued to the man as he sprints from the motor home to the house and out of sight. 

Hannibal has never been so intrigued by anyone as he is by this spunky man, this mysterious adventurer.  Never has someone come to him like this before. 

Hannibal glides quietly across the wall-to-wall carpet out the open doorway of his bedroom and down the hall to his office.  This room also faces the front but has a clearer view of the road leading out.  It is also covered by a blue drape, which he parts.

No sign of him.

He waits, holding his breath, but the man doesn’t head east along the lane heading for the way out.  After half a minute or so, he knows that he isn’t going to run. 

Hannibal smiles.  If the man had taken off, he would have been sorely disappointed in him.  He doesn’t think of this man as a person who would run.  He is bold.  Hannibal wants him to be bold.

Had he run, he would have sent the dogs after him, not with instructions to kill but merely to detain.  Then he would have retrieved him to question at his leisure.

But he is coming to him.  For whatever unimaginable reason, he is coming into the house.  With his revolver.

Hannibal will need to be cautious.  But oh, what fun he is having.  The gun only raises the stakes and makes the game more interesting.

He goes back and peers out a window in his bedroom.  The front porch is immediately below the window, but he isn’t able to see it because of the overhanging roof.  The mystery man is somewhere on the porch.  He can feel him close, perhaps directly under him.

He steps back out into the hall and stands at the top of the enclosed stairs.  He can see only the landing below, not the living room, but he listens.

If the man opens the front door, he will know, because one of the hinges makes a dry ratcheting sound.  It’s not a loud noise, but it is distinctive. He left the hinge ungreased for that very reason.  Because he’s listening specifically for that corroded hinge, not even the soft sound of rain on the roof, the pounding of the shower into the bathtub, and the music on the radio can entirely mask the sound. 

He slips off his shoes as he listens, eagerly awaiting the sound he knows will come.  And then he will descend the stairs and prepare to meet this remarkable man.   

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Crazy.  But he was going to do it.  For Abigail.  For Sarah and her parents.  For the man chained up in the RV.  But also for himself.  Maybe most of all for himself, to prove that he had what it takes, that the FBI hadn’t made a mistake accepting him into their program. 

The chilly wind kicked up, and shatters of rain that dripped off the porch roof were blasted under the porch roof.

Standing before the door, gearing up his courage, Will looked down and saw a WELCOME mat in front of the door.  “Sure, come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly,” he mumbled as he wiped his shoes thoroughly on the mat, not wanting to leave wet footprints for the Ripper to see, still not sure how this was going to play out.   

Trying the doorknob, he was relieved to find it unlocked.  He slowly pushed it inward and then cringed as one hinge rasped.

The song on the radio finished and at once two voices arose from deeper in the house.  Will froze on the threshold, but then realized that he was listening to an advertisement.  The music had been coming from a radio.

Will considered the fact that it was possible that the Ripper shared the house with someone.  He couldn’t conceive of him having a family—a wife, and maybe even children—but he knew there were cases where killers had unsuspecting families. 

Voices on a radio, however, were no threat.

With the revolver held in front of him, he went inside.  The incoming wind whistled into the house, rattling a wobbly lampshade and threatening to betray him, and he quickly closed the door, nervously scanning the perimeter in case the Ripper was nearby and had felt the breeze. 

But he was alone. 

The radio voices came down an enclosed stairwell to his left.  He kept one eye on the doorless opening at the foot of those steps in case more than voices descended. 

The ground floor was all open spaces with high ceilings and no dividing walls.  It was nothing like what he had expected to find.  To the right was the living room area.  There were hunter-green leather armchairs with footstools flanking a big stone fireplace, a tartan-plaid sofa on large ball feet, oak end tables, and a section of bookshelves that held perhaps three hundred volumes.  On the hearth of the fireplace were gleaming brass andirons, and on the mantel was an old clock with two bronze stags rearing up on their hind legs.  The decor was thoroughly but not aggressively masculine — no glassily staring deer or bear heads on the walls, no hunting prints, no weapons on display—nothing to hint at his proclivities.  Just cozy and comfortable.  Rather than being burdened with the stench of death, the house was redolent of lemon-oil furniture polish and a subtle pine-scented air freshener, as well as the faint and pleasant smell of char from the fireplace. 

To the left of the doorway, without any architectural division, was a dining area with a large, rectangular oak table surrounded by chairs with hunter-green tie-on back and seat cushions.  A stately oak china cabinet sat against one wall.  He wondered if the Ripper ever had guests over for dinner.  He could picture the guests sitting at that table dining with him, ignorant of the fact that they were mere sheep dining in the presence of a wolf, and that there was a young girl possibly languishing in the basement directly beneath their feet.  And all the while the Ripper would be smiling at them and basking in his own cleverness. 

Selling H & R Block tax services and then doughnuts, the radio voices bounced with enthusiasm down the stairs.  The Ripper had it cranked up too loud; the volume level seemed wrong to Will, as if he was trying to mask other sounds. 

There was another sound, similar to but different from the rain, and after a moment he recognized it.  A shower.

That was why he had set the radio so loud.  He was listening to it while taking a shower.

Will felt his tension ease somewhat.  He was in luck.  As long as the Ripper was in the shower, he could search for Abigail without the risk of being discovered. 

He hurriedly crossed the dining room and entered the kitchen.  Stainless steel appliances, grey and black speckled marble countertop, an oak island in the center with a rack above it suspended from the ceiling holding copper pots and skillets above.  Grey and white ceramic tile on the floor.  Everything spotless, everything in its place.

The normality of the house terrified him:  the gleaming surfaces, the tidiness, the homey touches, the sense that the person who lived here might walk in daylight on any street and pass for human in spite of the atrocities that he had committed.

Don’t think about it.

Keep moving.  Find Abigail. 

Upstairs, the music started again, but it was softer in the kitchen than in the front room.  If he had been an aficionado of classical music, however, he would have been able to recognize the tune from here.

The noise of the running shower was more apparent in the kitchen than in the living room, because the pipes were channeled through the rear wall of the house.  Water being drawn upward to the bathroom made an urgent, hollow rushing sound through copper.  Furthermore, the pipe wasn’t tied down and insulated as well as it ought to have been, and at some point along its course, it vibrated against a wall stud: rapid knocking against wood, tatta-tatta-tatta-tatta-tatta.

It was a reassuring noise because Will knew if that noise abruptly stopped, his safe time in the house was limited.  In the subsequent silence, he could count on no more than a minute or two of grace while the Ripper toweled off and dressed.  Thereafter he might show up anywhere.

Will looked around for a telephone but saw only a wall jack into which one could be plugged.  It would have been reassuring to know that if he found Abigail he could call 9-1-1 and that help would be on the way. 

He spotted a door off the back of the kitchen.  Although the Ripper was in the shower upstairs, he turned the knob as quietly as he could and crossed the threshold with caution.

Beyond lay a combination laundry and storage room.  A washer.  Dryer.  Boxes and bottles of laundry supplies were stored in an orderly fashion on two open shelves, and the air smelled like detergent and bleach. 

The rush of water and the knocking pipe were even louder here than they had been in the kitchen. 

To the left, past the washer and dryer, was another door painted a light grey.  He opened it and saw stairs leading down to a black cellar, and his heart began to beat faster.  This was the most likely place he would be keeping Abigail. 

No windows at all below.  Not even a turbid leak of gray storm light seeping through narrow casements or screened ventilation cutouts.  Dungeon dark.

But if the Ripper was keeping her down there, how odd that he wouldn’t have added a lock to this upper door.  

Still, she might be sealed in a windowless room deep below, or even manacled in place.  Abigail might have no hope of reaching these stairs and this upper door, even if left alone for days to worry at her restraints, which would explain why the Ripper was confident that one more barrier to her flight wasn’t necessary, even when he was away from home.

Nevertheless, as compulsively careful as he was, it seemed peculiar that he wouldn’t be concerned about a thief breaking into the house when he was gone on his little killing excursions, descending to the cellar, and inadvertently discovering the imprisoned girl.  Will hadn’t seen any signs of a security system.  The Ripper, with all his secrets, ought to have installed a steel door to the cellar, with locks as impregnable as those on a bank vault.

Will felt a touch of despair.  The lack of special security might mean that Abigail was not here and that he did have a second location.   Or maybe he had been wrong all along and she was dead. 

Will didn’t want to dwell on that possibility.  This is why he was here, after all, to find out if Abigail was still alive and if she was in this house.

Leaning through the doorway, he felt along the stairwell wall for the switch, and snapped it up.  Lights came on both at the upper landing and in the basement.

The bare concrete steps — a single flight — were steep. They appeared to be much newer than the house itself, perhaps even a relatively recent addition.

The high-velocity surge of water through plumbing and the hard rapping of the loose pipe against the wall told him that the Ripper was still busy in the bathroom above, no doubt conscientiously scrubbing away all traces of his crimes.  Tatta-tatta-tatta…

“Abigail,” he called out softly. 

No response.

Louder.  “Abigail!”

Nothing.

Will didn’t want to go down into this windowless pit, with no way out except the stairs, even with a lockless door above.  But he couldn’t think of any way to avoid the descent, not if he was to learn for sure whether she was here.

Tatta-tatta-tatta-tatta-tatta…

Listening intently for the slightest change in the sound of the rushing water and the vibrating pipe, Will went down one step at a time, his left hand on the railing, the gun extended in his right hand.  He was clenching the gun so fiercely that his knuckles ached.

Halfway down the stairs, he glanced back and up.  The landing seemed a quarter of a mile above him, as far away as the top of the knoll had seemed from the front porch of the house.

Alice down the rabbit hole into a madness without tea parties.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Standing next to the open cellar door, Hannibal hears the mystery man call to Abigail.  The man is not that far away from him, so there can be no mistake about what name he speaks.

Abigail.

Hannibal is stunned.  Stupefied.  There is simply no way for him to know about Abigail.  Yet he calls to her again, louder than before.

Hannibal suddenly feels uncertain.  This is no longer fun.  The mystery is too deep.   And alarming.  He feels anxious, exposed, emotions he’s not used to feeling

He remembers the way the man was holding the gun and goes back out to the kitchen and peers out the window, expecting to see a swarm of police bearing down on him, but all is as it should be. 

Perplexing. 

Suddenly feeling fearful and plagued by doubt, unaccustomed to both of those emotions, Hannibal takes a moment to think.

On those infrequent occasions when he has guests to the house to dinner, he always leaves a Doberman in the laundry room.  The dog lies in here, silent and dozing.  But if anyone other than Hannibal were to enter, the dog would bark and snarl and drive him backward. 

When the master is away, Dobermans vigilantly patrol the entire property, and no one has a hope of getting into the house itself, let alone into the cellar.

Hannibal wonders now if he should get the Dobermans and send them into the cellar after the man.  They could incapacitate him so that Hannibal could get the gun away from him.  But then one or two of the dogs might get shot.  It’s not that he has any real affection for them, but he’s put considerable time and effort into their training. 

After a hesitation, he goes back into the laundry room and leans through the open door and looks down the cellar stairs.

The man is more than halfway down the stairs, moving slowly, cautiously.  He has one hand on the railing, the revolver held out in front of him in the other hand.

He’s definitely holding it like someone in law enforcement would. 

Hannibal needs this man alive.  He needs to know what he knows and how he knows it. 

He eases through the doorway onto the upper landing.

As close as he is, the man does not hear him because all is concrete, nothing to creak.

Hannibal thinks about trying to sneak behind him, pushing him so that he tumbles down the stairs, probably dropping the gun.  Then he can drop on top of him, dominate him, let him know that he holds the man’s life in his hands. 

But what if this unusual man somehow senses him behind him, turns and shoots at him.  No, best to let this play out.  There is no other way out of the cellar so he will have to come back up these same stairs.  And Hannibal will lie in wait for him.  The man will think he’s still in the shower and so he’ll be slightly less vigilant, and Hannibal can come up behind him and overpower him. 

Then Hannibal will get his answers. 

Hannibal smiles, feeling in control again.  He steps back out of the doorway, lest the man glance up the stairs and see him.

The man must be to the bottom of the stairs by now.  He will allow him to explore.  After all, this is what he has come here to do.  And he is curious what the man’s reaction will be to the things he discovers down there.  Once more, the game is on. 

Chapter Text

Will reached the bottom of the cellar stairs, gun held in front of him.

A wall of mortared stone was to his right.  There was nowhere to go in that direction.

To his left was a long chamber.  He moved away from the foot of the stairs and faced this new space.

On the left side of the room in an alcove sat an oil-fired furnace and a large electric water heater.  Toward the back of the room was a heavy plastic curtain that went from one wall clear across to the other that made his anxiety go up a notch, the murky shapes behind it looking sinister.  A large floor freezer sat right outside the plastic curtain, and he suspected that if he looked inside, it would be full of the Ripper’s surgical trophies.  He shivered and looked away, trying not to think about that.  He would only look behind that plastic curtain if he had to, if he could find Abigail no place else. 

He really hoped he didn’t have to look back there. 

To the right were tall metal storage cabinets with vent slits in the doors, a long workbench with a couple of power tools on it, and a wall-mounted tool organizer with all manner of tools neatly arranged.  And then right next to this work area in a concrete-block wall, a strange door awaited. 

Click-whoosh.

Will swung to the left and almost squeezed off a shot before he realized that the sound had come from the furnace: the electric pilot light clicking on, fuel taking flame. 

Over the sound of the furnace he was still able to hear the vibrating pipe.  Tatta-tatta-tatta.  It was fainter here than on the stairs, but still audible.

He took a couple of deep breaths, letting his heart settle back in his chest, and then walked over to the door.  Evidently for soundproofing, the door in the concrete wall was padded like a theater door, in leather-grain maroon vinyl divided into quilt-like squares by eight upholstery nails with large round heads covered in matching vinyl. The frame was upholstered in the same material.

No lock, not even a spring latch, prevented him from proceeding.

Putting his hand on the vinyl, Will discovered that the padding was even more plush than it appeared to be.  As much as two inches of foam covered the underlying wood.  He gripped the long stainless-steel, U-shaped handle.  When he pulled, the vinyl-encased door softly scraped and squeaked across the upholstery on the jamb.  The fit was snug:  When the door swung all the way free of the jamb and the seal was broken, there was a faint sound similar to that made when one opened a jar of vacuum-packed peanuts.

The door was upholstered on the inside as well. The overall thickness was in excess of five inches.

Beyond this new threshold lay a six-foot-square chamber with a low ceiling, which reminded him of an elevator, except that every surface other than the floor was upholstered. The floor was covered with a rubber mat of the kind used in many restaurant kitchens for the comfort of cooks who worked on their feet for hours at a time.  

The strangeness of the place sharpened his fear, yet at the same time he was pretty sure he understood the purpose of the padded vestibule.

Directly opposite the door that Will held open was one more door. It was also padded and set in an upholstered frame.

Finally, here was a lock. The upholstery plumped around a heavy-duty brass deadbolt.  He couldn’t proceed without a key.

Then he noticed a small padded panel overlying the door itself at eye level, perhaps six by ten inches with a knob attached. It was like the panel over the view port in the door of a maximum-security prison cell, which he suspected is exactly what this was. 

Tatta-tatta-tatta…

The Ripper seemed to be taking an unusually long shower.  On the other hand, Will hadn’t been in the house more than a few minutes; it just seemed longer.  If he was having a good scrub to make sure there were no traces of his crimes left on his body, he might not be half done. 

Tatta-tatta…

He would have preferred to hold open the outer door while he stepped into the vestibule and opened the panel on the inner view port, but the distance was too great.  He had to let the door fall shut behind him.

The moment that the upholstered door met the upholstered jamb with a whisper-squeak of softly abraded vinyl, Will could no longer hear the vibrating water pipe.  The quiet was so profound that even his ragged breathing was barely audible.  Under the padding, the walls must have been covered with layers of insulation.

Or perhaps the Ripper had shut off the shower just as the door had fallen shut and was even now toweling dry.  Or pulling on a robe without bothering to towel off.  On his way downstairs.

Fearful, unable to breathe, he opened the door again.

Tatta-tatta-tatta and the rush of water moving at high velocity, under pressure.

He exhaled explosively with relief. 

He was still safe for now, but he needed to get a move on. 

He just needed to find out if Abigail was indeed here and then do what had to be done.

Reluctantly he allowed the door to fall shut again.  The rattling of the pipe was again sealed out.

He felt as though he was suffocating in this room. 

Trying to keep his breathing even, he walked over to the door and pulled open the small padded panel on the inner door.

Beyond was light.

The port was fitted with a sturdy screen to protect the viewer from assault by whoever or whatever was within.

Will put his face to the port and saw a large chamber nearly the size of the living room under which it was situated.  In portions of the space, shadows were pooled deep, and the only light came from three lamps with fringed fabric shades and bulbs that were each putting out about forty watts.

At two places along the back wall were panels of red and gold brocade that hung from brass rods as if covering windows, but he knew there could be no windows underground; the brocade was just set dressing to make the room more comfortable.  On the wall to the left, barely touched by light, was a large tapestry: a scene of women in long dresses and cloche hats riding horses sidesaddle through spring grass and flowers, past a verdant forest.

The furnishings included a plump armchair, a double bed with a carved headboard, a dresser, an immense armoire, bookcases filled with books, cabinets with mullioned doors, a small dining table with two chairs, and a refrigerator.  In one corner he saw a treadmill next to a small table with a record player on it.  In another corner was a screen, and, if he had to guess, it would probably be shielding a toilet and a sink, maybe even a small shower. 

A movement in the room, a shadow coming out of gloom, interrupted his musings and proved to be the captive.  It was Abigail.  She was dressed in taupe loafers and a sleeveless light blue dress that came to just above her knees, and was belted with a taupe belt that matched her shoes.  Her hair was long and straight, pulled back with a headband.  She looked every inch the lovely young lady. 

Will imagined the Ripper provided her with the clothes he wished her to wear, and he was trying to picture this man out clothes shopping for a teenage girl. 

Abigail went and sat in the armchair facing away from him.  She never looked toward the door. 

She was holding a book.  She opened it, turned a few pages, and appeared to read.

As far as prisons go, he felt a sense of relief that Abigail had a nice room, that she hadn’t been chained like a dog to an iron ring cemented into the floor, living in her own filth.  She also looked healthy and well-fed.  He honestly wasn’t certain what he had been expecting.  He was also still confused as to the why.  If the Ripper had wanted a sex slave, why take Abigail?  From the pictures he had seen of the girl, she was pretty, but very Mall of America in her looks.  Sarah, on the other hand, had been quite a beauty, his high school’s prom queen, but the Ripper had chosen to kill her.  Very perplexing. 

Will started to call out, to tell Abigail to hold on, that he was going to get her out of here.  But something held him back.  What if he told her this and then the Ripper visited her and saw an unaccountable excitement that she couldn’t quite hide in her demeanor?  Or what if he got the girl’s hopes up that she was going to be rescued, and then failed her?  What if the Ripper found him as he was trying to escape the house and killed him, leaving the girl in the basement waiting for help that would never arrive?  No, it was best not to get her hopes up only to crush them.  He would get help for her or die trying, but he would not be the cause of crushing her young spirit any more than he’s sure it already had been. 

Now that he knew Abigail was locked up safely in the basement, he could tell the authorities to send a SWAT team to storm the house, take the man down quickly.  This was actually perfect as they wouldn’t have to worry about her getting hurt since she would be safely shielded from gunfire and tear gas in her prison below. 

Will felt his first surge of real hope that things were going to work out.  He quietly closed the small port and turned from the locked inner door and pushed open the outer one. 

Tatta-tatta-tatta-tatta-tatta…

As he stepped out of the heavy sound-baffling of the vestibule and into the first room in the basement, the rattling pipe seemed louder than he remembered.

Tatta-tatta-tatta…

Perhaps a minute had passed since he’d opened the padded panel on the view port.

Will suddenly realized that there was an alternative solution.  Since the Ripper was still in the shower, he would be naked and defenseless.  And now that Will knew where Abigail was, there was no real need to keep the Ripper alive.  He could end this right here, right now. 

Tatta-tatta-tatta…

He went to the cellar stairs, pondering his choices. 

Even if the man finished showering and shut off the water before Will was able to reach him, he’d still be naked and defenseless, toweling off, so Will could go in there, into the bathroom, and open fire on him point-blank, shoot him down, empty the revolver into him, the first shot right through his black heart, then put at least one round in his head to be sure that he was really done for.  Take no chances.  No chances at all.  There would be no capturing him and putting him on trial, no sleazy lawyer trying to get him off, no pleading of insanity.  He would do this for Abigail, so she would know that the threat was permanently eliminated.  The families of all the people he had killed would also rejoice knowing the sick bastard was dead. 

But could he do it?  He had never killed anyone before.  What if came face-to-face with the man and then froze, unable to pull the trigger? 

Tatta-tatta-tatta…

Thinking ahead as he climbed the stairs, Will wondered if he should just shoot him through the shower curtain — if it was, in fact, a curtain instead of a glass door.  If the shower curtain was opaque though and he couldn’t see behind it, he would be shooting blind, lessening the chance of hitting a vital organ. 

His heart rattling like the copper pipe, scared about the coming confrontation even if the bastard was naked and defenseless, Will reached the upper landing and entered the laundry room. 

He could pull the curtain aside, but what if the Ripper saw his shadowy shape approaching through the curtain?  Or what if he finished his shower and pulled the curtain open just as Will was reaching for it? 

He walked past the dryer and the washer, through the fragrance of laundry detergent, reaching the open door to the kitchen.  Crossing the threshold, Will had been deep in thought about what course of action to take and hadn’t been as alert as he should have been.  He was already rushing into the kitchen, with too much momentum to halt, when the Ripper came at him from the right.  He was big, strong, a juggernaut, neither naked nor defenseless, and Will realized with a sinking sense of alarm that the shower had been a ruse and that the Ripper had known he was here all along and must have been watching him.

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal comes at the man fast, hoping to surprise him and subdue him before he raises his weapon.  He tries to drive him backward and slam him against the cabinets, but the man reacts quickly, sliding out of the way, raising the revolver, the muzzle two feet from his face.  Hannibal’s lightening reflexes are the only thing that save his life as he slaps the gun arm away just as the man pulls the trigger.  The loud report echoes in the room, and Hannibal is vaguely aware that the bullet hit the wall near the ceiling. 

Hannibal grabs the man’s gun wrist and holds on while managing to get behind him and wrap an arm around his neck.  The man struggles as Hannibal applies pressure, cutting off his air.  Hannibal hears a shot, feels a spray of linoleum near his right foot.  The man is angling the gun back trying to hit him in the leg.  He applies more pressure on both the wrist and the man’s neck.  Another shot hits the floor, but nowhere near his feet this time. 

The man’s struggles weaken and the gun slips from his fingers, but just as Hannibal feels a twinge of disappointment that the fight is already over, the man surprises him by lifting his feet and kicking off against the island in the middle of the kitchen.  Hannibal’s back hits the kitchen countertop hard and he grunts in pain.  His grip around the man’s neck loosens enough so that the man is able to twist away from him.  As he goes to grab him again, the man grabs the glass coffeepot out of the coffeemaker he has sitting on the kitchen counter and smashes it on the floor between them.  Apparently he was quick to notice that Hannibal is shoeless.  Clever, clever boy. 

“Come on!  You want me, you want to kill me so bad, then come and get me!  COME ON, ASSHOLE!” the man yells, clearly furious, taunting him, trying to get him to come at him across the glass in his stockinged feet. 

Hannibal cocks his head and studies the man.  This is the first real look he’s gotten of him.  He’s younger than he had expected, looks barely out of his teens.  Face flushed, chest heaving, blue-green eyes blazing with challenge, he is quite a vision. 

Hannibal smiles then, but it seems to unsettle him.  The man’s eyes flick down searching for the gun which, as Hannibal already knows, has ended up next to his right foot.  Hannibal waits for him to spot it, then places his foot on the gun and casually slides it several feet behind him while observing the man’s expression.  The man’s eyes track the gun as it slides away, and then he looks back up at him with murder in his eyes.  There is no fear, only hatred, and the look is so pure that Hannibal takes a mental picture and knows he will draw it later. 

Hannibal waits, curious to see what his next move will be.  He doesn’t have to wait long.  The man grabs at one of the big copper skillets hanging above the island.  As soon as Hannibal sees him reach up, he runs around the island away from the glass knowing there is a certain technique to lifting the pots and skillets off their hooks. 

The man is cursing as he struggles to free the skillet, and just as he gets it loose from its hook, Hannibal reaches for him.  He ends up having to bend backwards in order to miss the backhanded swing that has the skillet missing his face by mere centimeters. 

Hannibal manages to grab the wrist holding the skillet with his left hand while grabbing the man’s throat with his right, then slams him up against the refrigerator hard, hoping to stun him, but the man seems to anticipate this because he brings his head forward at the last minute and takes the brunt of the force in his back and shoulders.   

Hannibal twists the man’s wrist hard, and the man cries out and drops the skillet.  He applies more pressure to the throat and the man claws at the hand on his throat with his one free hand, looking desperate.  But once again the man surprises him when he forcefully jabs the heel of his left foot behind Hannibal’s right knee while simultaneously placing his hand on his chest and pushing hard.  Hannibal’s right knee gives out and he can’t regain his balance.  He feels himself falling backwards and grabs onto the front of the man’s shirt and takes him down with him. 

They hit the ground awkwardly with Hannibal on the bottom and the man lying on top of him, and Hannibal can’t help but be a bit bemused at the man’s stunned expression.  He looks like he’s at a loss what to do now.  But then his face sets with determination and his hands go for Hannibal’s throat.  Hannibal slaps his hands away before they make contact and he grabs his upper arms, quickly rolling them over, reversing their positions.  Straddling the man, he raises up on his knees and flips him over onto his stomach, putting him at a further disadvantage.  The man immediately tries to crawl away but Hannibal grabs at his waist and finds his belt through the layers of clothing and pulls him back.  The man’s sneakers squeak across the floor as he digs the rubber toes into the linoleum to stop the backward slide, but to little effect as Hannibal pulls him back under him.  The man immediately tries to turn over and face him, but Hannibal shoves him back facedown and lowers his body on top of his, pinning him to the floor.  He wraps an arm around his throat once again and pulls back, arching the man’s back, hearing the man’s vertebra crack as his spine is stretched.    

The man is twisting, arching, writhing, bucking underneath him in an attempt to toss him off, and the feeling is so sexual that Hannibal finds himself growing hard. 

But Hannibal knows the man has already lost this battle, whether he knows it or not.  He smiles as he applies more pressure to his throat while pressing down with his hips, dominating the man further, and the man is now wheezing and making small sounds of distress as he seeks to breathe.  Finally, his body goes limp. 

Lying atop the man, Hannibal is breathing heavily after the struggle, but he has never felt more alive, more invigorated.  He buries his nose in the man’s neck, breathing in his scent while enjoying the feel of his body pressed underneath his.  He searches for the carotid artery with his lips, and when he finds it he sucks it into his mouth and feels the strong pulse as blood rushes through it.  The man will be all right.  He lets his tongue linger to taste the man’s sweaty neck before reluctantly removing his mouth. 

He has never been this close to capture or death before.  This young man is quite extraordinary and he will have to think of something special for him.  But first he needs answers.  

He gets off the man, rolls him back over, and studies his face, now in repose.  Checks flushed with exertion, a light sheen of perspiration coating his skin, hair a riot of curls, thick lashes, pink lips.  Hannibal realizes that this young man is extraordinarily handsome.  One might even call him beautiful.  He brushes a sweaty lock of hair off his forehead and feels the texture of it.  He has always found curly hair to be aesthetically pleasing, sensual, and a bit wild, and he therefore tends to be attracted to people who have curly hair, which is probably why he had picked up that hitchhiker. 

He checks the man’s pockets and pulls out his wallet and a folded envelope. 

Standing up and looking down at the man he says, “Never has a lamb so willingly come into the lair of the lion.  And you are quite the tasty morsel, aren’t you?” 

He then walks out of the room with a slight spring in his step to make arrangements for his special guest.    

Chapter Text

A little after six-thirty in the morning after getting his newest guest settled, Hannibal sets the dogs loose. 

At the back door, at the front door, and in his bedroom are call buttons that, when pushed, sound a soft buzzer in the kennel behind the barn. When the Dobermans have been sent there with the word “home,” as they were sent earlier, the buzzer is a command that at once returns them to active patrol.

He uses the call button by the front door and then steps to the living room window to watch the front yard. 

The sky is low and gray, fog still shrouding the tops of the trees, but rain is no longer falling.  The drooping boughs of the evergreens drip steadily. 

From the direction of the barn come the Dobermans.  They pad side by side for a distance, but then split up and proceed, each in its own direction.

They are not on attack status at this time.  They will chase down and detain any intruder, but they will not kill him.  To prime them for blood, Hannibal must speak the name Nietzsche.

One of the dogs comes onto the porch, where he stares at the window, adoring his master.  His little stump of a tail wags once, and then once again, but he is on duty, and this brief and measured display of affection is all that he will allow himself. 

The dog returns to the yard.  He stands tall, vigilant.  He gazes first to the south, then west, and then east.  He lowers his head, smells the wet grass, and at last he moves off across the lawn, sniffing industriously.  His ears flatten against his skull as he concentrates on a scent, tracking something that he imagines might be a threat to his master. 

On a few occasions, as a reward to the Dobermans and to keep them sharp, Hannibal has brought home a live captive and then turned them loose, allowing the dogs to stalk them, forgoing the pleasure of the kill himself.  It is an entertaining spectacle.

Secure behind the screen of his four-legged guards, Hannibal goes upstairs to the bathroom to take a shower for real this time.  He adjusts the water in the shower until it is luxuriously hot but lowers the volume of the radio, leaving it on the classical music station, foregoing the news.  He doesn’t want to listen to the news right now, he wants to think. 

He strips off his clothes and steps into the shower, and as his hands roam freely over his body soaping it up, he lets his mind drift to the intriguing man chained up downstairs.  Hannibal went through the man’s wallet and he now knows that his name is William Graham, and he was surprised to see that he is an officer with the Wolf Trap Police Department, the same town the Miller family lived in and met their demise at his hands, which could not be a coincidence but only adds another layer of mystery to this whole thing.  Also, according to a letter he found in his pocket, he has just been accepted into the FBI’s training program.  What a remarkable young man.  There was little else to be learned from the wallet—no pictures of any kind—and Hannibal is very much looking forward to their upcoming talk.  He also can’t help but think again what an extremely attractive young man he turned out to be.  As he soaps his stomach, he replays their stimulating altercation in the kitchen, then closes his eyes and lets his hands roam lower as he remembers how good it felt at the end having this man pinned underneath him. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will came out of his unnatural slumber squinting at the bright overhead light stinging his bleary eyes.  As his eyes focused he frowned at the unfamiliar sight of his surroundings.  Then he remembered the Ripper and the captive girl and groaned.  Christ, not only had the Ripper outsmarted him with that shower deception, he had managed to overpower him as well, even though he had had a gun.  He hadn’t even managed to wound him. 

He was sitting forward in a chair, slumped over the table in the dining area facing the state-of-the-art kitchen.  His head was turned to his left, and he was looking through a window overlooking the porch and the front yard.  The RV still sat in the same place, about thirty feet in front of the house. 

The Ripper had removed a seat cushion from one of the other chairs and had placed it under his head, so his face wouldn’t press uncomfortably against the wood, and there was a blanket draped over his shoulders.  He shuddered at his thoughtfulness.

As he tried to lift his head, he felt a wave of dizziness and remembered the Ripper’s arm wrapped around his throat, squeezing the life out of him.  He was frankly surprised to still be alive. 

Outside, a movement caught his eye.  Something as black as soot bounded across the green lawn, scampered up the steps, and crossed the porch. It came to the window, jumped up, put its paws on the window stool, and peered in at him.  A Doberman Pinscher, and Will couldn’t help but admire its beauty, but what he didn’t like was the way the dog was staring at him. 

He shifted in the chair, and the clink of chains indicated that getting up might not be a choice either now or later.  His hands were in his lap, and when he tried to lift one, he lifted both, for his wrists were cuffed.

He tried to pull his feet apart — and discovered that his ankles were shackled.  Judging by the noisy rattling and clinking that his small movements generated, there were other encumbrances as well.

The steel cuffs on Will’s ankles were linked by a sturdy chain.  A second and far longer chain, connected by a carabiner to the first, wound around the thick legs of the chair and around the stretcher bars between the legs, and returned between his feet. 

The long table he was seated at was beautiful, high polished oak that matched the color of the logs throughout the house.  It looked handcrafted—Amish if he were to take a guess.  He was seated at the head of the table, and when he leaned back and looked underneath the table, he saw it was supported not by four legs, but by wide supports at either end, and the chain hooked to his ankle cuffs was wrapped around the support nearest him and connected again to the carabiner.  The chains didn’t contain enough play to allow him to stand.  Even if he’d been able to stand, he would have had to carry the chair on his back, and the restricting shape and the weight of it would have forced him to bend forward like a hunchbacked troll.  And once standing, he could not have moved from the table to which he was tethered.

His hands were cuffed in front of him.  A chain was hooked into the shackle that encircled his right wrist. From there it led around him, wound between the back rails of the chair behind the tie-on pad, then to the shackle on his left wrist. This chain contained enough slack to allow him to rest his arms on the table if he wished.

He froze when he noticed his wallet and the letter from the FBI placed on the middle of the table.  So, the Ripper knew now that he was a cop and where he lived.  He spotted the gun as well, but it was on the corner of the kitchen counter, well out of reach.  He remembered firing off three rounds, which meant there was still one bullet remaining.  He sighed deeply and sat with his hands folded, leaning back, waiting.

He was thirsty and he had a headache, but at least he was alive.  He glanced at the window again and was relieved to see the Doberman was no longer at the window staring at him.    

He then saw two dogs at once on the lawn, padding back and forth, sniffing the grass and the air, pausing occasionally to prick their ears and listen intently, then padding away again, obviously on guard duty.  So, even if he had avoided the Ripper’s detection and gotten out of the house to get help, those dogs were probably out there on patrol and would have torn him apart.  God, he had been so naïve thinking he could do this. 

As he sat there chained to the table he was overcome with humiliation.  He had failed to protect himself, and worse than that, he had failed Abigail.  His only consolation was that he hadn’t said anything to her, hadn’t given her hope only to have that hope crushed.

He folded his hands on the table and leaned forward until his forehead was pressed to the backs of his thumbs, and he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable meeting. 

Then he heard footsteps approaching.

He raised his head and opened his eyes.

The Ripper entered the kitchen from the laundry room, evidently returning from visiting Abigail, and Will felt a fresh wave of shame and humiliation.  He hoped that he hadn’t told Abigail about the foolish police officer who had thought to free her and was now chained upstairs to his table. 

The Ripper glanced at him briefly, smiled and said, “Ah, good, you’re awake,” and then picked up an apron and tied it around his waist, and without saying another word moved to the refrigerator, removed a carton of eggs, and put it on the counter beside the sink.  He deftly broke eight eggs one-handed into a bowl and threw the shells in the trash. He set the bowl in the refrigerator and proceeded to peel and chop a Bermuda onion.  He handled a knife like a master chef, his movements quick and sure. 

Will hadn’t eaten in more than twelve hours; nonetheless, he was dismayed to discover that he was suddenly ravenous.  The onion was the sweetest scent that he had ever known, and his mouth began to water.  After everything that had happened he was surprised that he had an appetite at all.

The Ripper put the onion aside and lifted one of the skillets off its hook—quite easily, he  noticed with annoyance—and set it on the stove, then took some type of sausage wrapped in butcher’s paper out of the refrigerator and started frying it.  He moved easily and efficiently in the kitchen and seemed to be enjoying himself.  He kept his work area neat.  He also washed his hands thoroughly between each task and dried them on a hand towel, not on the dish towel.

Will watched him while he cooked.  He had gotten a brief look at him during their altercation in the kitchen, but he was able to really study him now.  He was not what he had expected, not some moonfaced, pale-lipped, heavy-jawed villain.  He was handsome, with dark eyes that were a beautiful contrast to his burnished golden hair, and he had high cheekbones that Will guessed came from Slavic ancestors.  He was also a bit younger than Will would have guessed—around 32?  There was nothing crazy in his clear eyes.  He had broad, clean features, a wide mouth and a nice smile.  He was clean cut and dressed in a maroon pullover V-neck sweater with the sleeves pushed up, charcoal grey slacks, and slip-on loafers with no socks.  No one looking at this man would suspect in a million years that he was a killer.  He looked more like one of those male models you see in advertisements for one of those hoity-toity clothes designers, like Ralph Lauren. 

Finally the Ripper took the skillet off the burner and set it aside, then came to the dinette table.  He pulled a chair out from the side of the table and faced it towards Will and sat down, crossing his right knee over his left and leaning back with his right elbow on the table looking relaxed and self-confident. 

Humiliation, which had seemed on the verge of consuming him, instead had burned itself out for the time being.  A strange combination of smoldering anger and bitter despondency had replaced it.

“Now,” the Ripper said, “I’m sure that you’re hungry, and as soon as we have a little chat, I’ll make you a nice protein scramble.  But to earn your breakfast, you have to tell me the circumstances that led you to be in my motor home, and how you knew to look for Abigail here.” 

Will glared at him. 

With a smile, the Ripper said, “Don’t think you can hold out on me, Will.  It is Will, isn’t it?  Officer William Graham from Wolf Trap, Virginia?” the Ripper said, tapping the wallet on the table.      

Will would be damned rather than tell him anything.

“Here’s how this is going to go, Will,” he said amicably.  “I will kill you anyway.  I’m not sure how yet.  Possibly in front of Abigail.  She’s seen bodies before, but she’s never been there at the moment itself, to hear that last scream, to watch the light fade from their eyes.”

Will tried to keep his eyes on him, show no weakness, but he felt sick at the thought of being killed by this man while Abigail was forced to watch.

“However I choose to kill you, I’ll make it a lot harder for you if you don’t talk to me willingly.  There are things I enjoy that can be done before or after you’re dead.  Cooperate with me and I’ll do them after.”

Will tried unsuccessfully to see some sign of madness in his eyes, but this man looked as sane as he was.

“Well?”

“Why are you keeping Abigail locked up in that room downstairs?  Are you some fucking kiddy rapist as well as a murderer?” Will asked instead.   

“I have never touched her in that way,” he said, looking truly offended.  “And I would ask that you refrain from using such vulgar language please.” 

“Then why are you keeping her alive and locked up?  What are your plans for her?” 

“My plans for Abigail are none of your concern.  We were discussing you.” 

“But you've already said that you’re going to kill me, so what harm is there in telling me?  Please, indulge me.” 

The Ripper stared at him for several seconds and then smiled.  “Very well.  I’m 33-years-old now, and while I am relatively happy with my current lifestyle, it does create certain obstacles.  For instance, I know I can never live a so-called normal life with a wife and children of my own.  Being that close to someone involves too great a risk of having my extracurricular activities discovered.  Besides, having to hide such an integral part of myself from my family would seem wrong.  When you have a spouse and children you should be able to share all aspects of your life with them.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t desire such a thing at this point in my life, the same as anyone else does.” 

Will was suddenly having a bad feeling the direction this conversation was going. 

“When I killed Abigail’s parents I had intended to kill her as well.  But she surprised me.  Instead of running and hiding, or crying or screaming hysterically as most children her age would have done, she got a rifle and stood up to me and tried to kill me.  I could see that she wanted to kill me.  Such potential.  It was then that an idea started forming.  I certainly can’t have a family in the normal sense of the word, but I could create one of my own, a wife and daughter that know what I am and are accepting of it.  A spouse and child I can come home to and talk freely about my proclivities and not have to hide anything from.” 

“Okay, let me get this straight,” Will said, looking at the Ripper, again searching for any madness in his eyes.  “You killed Abigail’s parents, and then kidnapped her with the intention of making her your daughter?  You’re trying to create some sort of a…what—a murder family?” he said with stunned disbelief. 

“Crudely put, but essentially correct.  Oh, it’s taken quite a bit of work and conditioning, but I believe she is nearly ready to accept me as her father.  I bring bodies home and I work on them in front of her, have her help me.  She was a bit squeamish at first working on people, but I was delighted to find out that she had experience butchering large animals, such as deer, so it wasn’t a big leap for her.  I believe she even enjoys it now.” 

“So that’s why you took Sarah’s body?” Will asked. 

“Precisely.” 

“And what about the wife?” Will asked, still having a hard time taking this in.  “Have you got her locked up in a room somewhere as well?” 

“I have been unsuccessful in finding someone with all the right qualifications,” he said frowning. 

"And what qualifications would those be?" Will asked, curious as to what a killer like the Chesapeake Ripper would look for in a spouse. 

“I was hoping to find someone brave, intelligent, surprising, protective.  Someone who would be a good mother and role model for Abigail, protective of her, and someone who would be a soulmate and passionate lover for me.  It’s a shame you’re not a woman, Mr. Graham,” the Ripper said, looking at him thoughtfully.  “I suspect you would have been perfect.” 

“My loss,” Will said sarcastically, after getting over his initial surprise at that statement.   

“You’re also as good at hiding what you are as I am,” he said, still looking at Will closely. 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Will said, a little disconcerted at how this man was looking at him. 

“Just look at you.  One would never guess looking at you that you’re a both a police officer and someone qualified to be accepted into the FBI training program.  With your boyish good looks and questionable taste in clothing, I would have guessed you to be a college student.  Or possibly a mechanic in a garage.  But when you had your gun pointed at me ready to pull the trigger, that look on your face, I could tell that you wanted to kill me.  There’s steel underneath that soft, misleading exterior.” 

“Well, as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover.  You’re a perfect example of that.” 

The Ripper shrugged.  “True.  But no more stalling,” he said, putting both feet on the ground and leaning forward in his chair, and Will suddenly noticed that he had a small but wicked looking blade in his hand that had come out of nowhere.  

“Here’s the situation, Will — either you tell me everything I want to know, or I’ll work on your face with this knife while you sit there.  For every question you refuse to answer, I will take off a piece — the lobe of an ear, the tip of your nose.  Carve you like scrimshaw.”

He said this not threateningly but matter-of-factly, and Will knew that he had the stomach for it.

“I will take all day if need be,” he said, “and you’ll be insane long before you’re dead.”

“All right, fine.”

“All right what — conversation or scrimshaw?”

“Conversation.”

“Good boy,” the Ripper said, leaning back again and smiling amicably. 

Will was prepared to die if it came to that, but he saw no point in suffering needlessly. 

“So, Officer Graham from Wolf Trap, Virginia, just how did you come to be in my motor home?  From the beginning please, and don’t leave out any details.”   

“All right.  But may I have something to drink first?  I’m dehydrated.  And a couple of aspirin would be nice, if you have them.”

“Of course.” 

At the sink, he drew a glass of water.  Then he put three ice cubes in it.   He started to bring it to him, then halted and said, “Would you like a slice of lemon added?”

Will knew he wasn’t joking.  Home from the hunt, he was working now to recast himself from the role of savage stalker into that of accountant or lawyer or real estate agent or doctor or whatever it was that he did when he was passing for normal.  Some sociopaths could put on a false persona that was more convincing than the best performances of the finest actors who had ever lived, and this man was probably one of those, although after immersion in wanton slaughter, he needed this period of adjustment to remind himself of the manners and courtesies of civilized society.

“No, thank you,” he said to the offer of lemon.

“It’s no trouble,” he graciously assured him.

“Just the water please.”

When he put the glass down, he slipped a cork-lined ceramic coaster under it.  He then went out of the room and came back and set two white pills in front of him next to the water.  Sitting back down in the chair, he waited patiently.

Will examined the pills and saw the word “Bayer” stamped across the front of each one, so he knew they were safe to take.  He was able to pick up the pills with his cuffed hands and put them in his mouth, self-conscious of the fact the Ripper was watching his every move.  Once the pills were in his mouth he picked up the glass with both hands and had just enough slack in the chains to tilt it awkwardly and drink.  He drank thirstily until the glass was empty, then sat back with a sigh.  The cool water had tasted like heaven to his dry mouth and slightly sore throat. 

The Ripper got up and refilled his glass and set it in front of him again and sat back down. 

“When I entered the room a moment ago,” the Ripper said, “you were sitting with your hands folded, your head bowed against your hands.  Were you praying?”

“No.”

“There is no point lying to me.”

“I’m not lying.  I wasn’t praying just then.  I’m surprised you believe in praying and God.”   

“God is terrific.  He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshipers last Wednesday night in Texas while they sang a hymn.” 

“And did God feel good about that, about killing all those people?”

“He felt powerful,” the Ripper said, smiling.  “Now, you’ve had your drink and I want to know all the details of last night.  Remember,” he said, tapping the wicked little blade on the table, “scrimshaw.”

Will nodded.  He told him everything then, beginning with the moment that he had spotted the RV and Sarah’s red mustang in front of the Miller house and, seeing the lights still on, had decided to stop by and say hello. 

“It was a bit late for a social call, wasn’t it?” Hannibal asked curiously. 

“It was.  But I’d been out drinking, celebrating the acceptance letter from the FBI, and got carried away and drank more than I normally would.  Plus I’d had a bit of a crush on Sarah in high school.  She doesn’t visit Wolf Trap too often and I didn’t want to miss the chance to see her before she left.  The whiskey had me thinking it was a good idea at the time,” he said, shrugging.    

Hannibal nodded, thinking how delightfully twisted fate could be.  “Continue,” he said.   

Will went through the whole night in detail, delivering his account in a monotone, not by calculation but because suddenly he could speak no other way.  Thinking about the events of last night seemed surreal, like he was trapped in a nightmare, and if he could just wake up he’d find himself safe and sound in his bed and that none of this had happened. 

If only it were that simple. 

So he droned on, reliving the events of the night. 

In spite of his spiritless recitation of events, the Ripper was a rapt listener.  He began in a relaxed slouch, lounging back in his chair, but by the time Will finished, he was leaning forward, hunched toward him.

He had interrupted him several times to ask questions.  At the end, he sat for a while in contemplative silence.

Will couldn’t bear to look at him.  He folded his hands on the table and looked down at the table.

After a few minutes, he saw the Ripper get up.  He went back into the kitchen and turned the stove back on, resuming his cooking. 

Will smelled butter heating in a pan, then browning onions.  But in the telling of his story, he had lost his appetite, and it didn’t return with the aroma of the onions.

Finally the Ripper said, “It’s strange that I didn’t smell you right away at the Millers’.”

Will frowned as he remembered watching the Ripper standing in the Millers’ hallway as he raised his head and sniffed the air.  “You can do that?  You can just smell people out, as if you were one of those dogs out there?” he said, inclining his head toward the window. 

“Usually,” he said, taking no offense, and with what seemed to be utmost seriousness. “I have unusually heightened senses.  And you must have made a sound more than once through the night.  You surely can’t be that stealthy.  Even your breathing I should have heard.”

Then came the sound of a wire whisk vigorously beating eggs in a bowl.

He smelled bread toasting.

“In a still house, with everyone dead, your movement should have made currents in the air, like a cool breath on the back of my neck.  And when I walked through a space where you’d just been, I should have sensed the displacement of air caused by your passage.”

A sizzling arose, much louder than the cooking sound of onions, and a new aroma.

“But you were invisible to me” he said, frowning, pausing his movements, looking like it was bothering him.  Looking at Will he said, “How did I miss you?  What makes you so special?” 

The Ripper looked truly troubled.  Will assumed that for someone as compulsively careful as he was, knowing that he had missed a person who was actually standing in the house with him would trouble him, because if it happened once, it could happen again. 

Will didn’t want the Ripper getting upset, especially when he was chained up and helpless to defend himself, so he mumbled, “If I was special, would I be here chained to your table?”

The Ripper looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, “I suppose you’re right.”

Several minutes later the Ripper brought plates to the table.  Will raised his head and moved his hands as the man set one in front of him. 

“Rather than make you eat with your hands, I’m going to give you a fork,” he said, “because I assume you see the pointlessness of throwing it and trying to stick me in the eye.”

Will nodded.

“Good boy.”

The Ripper then took the corner of a cloth napkin he held in his other hand and, with a quick motion, snapped it open and laid it across Will’s lap, like he was a waiter in one of those fancy restaurants. 

Will looked down and saw a steaming plate of scrambled eggs with sausage, onions, melted cheese, and what looked like spinach mixed in.  He could smell spices as well, and there was a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top of it.  Two pieces of buttered toast, each neatly sliced on the diagonal, were arranged to bracket the egg dish. 

The Ripper poured him some coffee made in an alternate coffeepot, since Will had broken the glass one, asked him how he took it, and then set it next to the plate. 

Famished only a short while ago, Will could barely tolerate the sight of food now.  He knew that he must eat, so he picked at the eggs and sausage and nibbled the toast and drank the coffee.  He had to admit it was very good, but he would never be able to finish all that he had given him.  Still, the little bit he had eaten, combined with the coffee and the aspirin he had taken, were at least making his headache lessen.

The Ripper, on the other hand, was sitting at the opposite end of the table and ate with gusto but not noisily or sloppily.  His table manners were beyond reproach, and he used his napkin frequently to blot his lips.

Will was deep in his private grayness, and the more the Ripper appeared to enjoy his breakfast, the more his own dish began to taste like ashes.

The Ripper finished the food on his plate, washing it down with coffee. 

“You look so glum, Will,” he said.

Will didn’t bother replying.

“I suspect you’re feeling like a failure right now.  After all, you are a police officer, and you’re probably thinking that you failed Abigail, yourself, and God too, if He exists.” 

That’s exactly what he was thinking, and he hated the fact that the Ripper could read him so well.  “What do you want with me?” Will asked instead.  What he really meant was, Why put me through this, why not just kill me and get it over with?

“I haven’t figured that out yet.  I find you singularly unique, and whatever I do with you, it has to be special.  I need to give it some further thought.  Maybe I’ll break your mind.  I’ve had captives down in that room before Abigail, but with a different intent.  The first day or two, they all think they’ll go out of their minds with fear, but they’re wrong.  It takes longer than a day or two to drive someone insane, truly and irrevocably insane. Some of the captives held on to their sanity for weeks.  One of them cracked on the eighteenth day, but three extraordinary ones lasted a full two months.”

Will met his gaze across the table.  The FBI knew about the kills the Ripper left in his signature tableaus, but they had no idea about all these other people he took and killed.  This man had killed so many more people than they knew. 

“Psychological torture is so much more interesting and difficult to undertake than the physical variety,” the Ripper said.  “The mind is so much tougher than the body, a greater challenge by far.  And when the mind goes, I swear that I can hear the crack, a sound as loud and satisfying as bone splitting — and oh, how it reverberates. 

“When they crack, some of them writhe on the floor, thrash, rend their clothes.  They tear at their hair and claw their faces, and some of them bite themselves hard enough to draw blood.  They maim themselves in so many inventive ways.  They sob and sob, can’t stop for hours, sometimes for days, sobbing in their sleep.  They bark like dogs and screech and flail their arms as if they’re convinced that they can fly.  They hallucinate and see things more frightening than I am to them.  Some speak in tongues.  It’s called glossolalia.  Do you know the condition?  It’s quite fascinating. Convincingly like a language yet meaningless, a ranting or pleading babble. Some lose control of their bodily functions and wallow in their filth. Messy but riveting to watch — the true base condition of humanity, to which most people can only admit in madness.”

Will swallowed, feeling sickened.  But as hard as he tried, he could see no insanity in this man’s eyes, only a placidness and watchfulness.  He wanted to look into his eyes and see a crazed animal.  But all he saw was a man – one living at one extreme end of the spectrum of human cruelty, but nonetheless only a man.  And this man terrified him. 

“Some take refuge in catatonic silences,” the Ripper continued.  “But I always break them out of that.” 

“The most intense experience of all is showing mercy,” Will said, and had no idea whatsoever where he had found those words.  They sounded like a plea, and he didn’t want this man to think that he was begging for his life.  Even in his despair, he would not be reduced to groveling.

A sudden smile made the Ripper look almost like a boy.  Will thought that he was smiling at what he’d said, amused by his naiveté, but this was not the case, as he made clear with his next words.

“Maybe what I want from you, Will,” he said, “is to be Abigail’s final test.  Not to kill you in front of her, but to see if she can kill you without hesitation or remorse.  Then I’ll know for sure that she’s ready to take her place beside me as my daughter.  You can be there at the glorious moment of her becoming.” 

Oh, God.

“You would provide the ultimate sacrifice for her.  After all, you came here for her.  Fate just seems to have chosen a different path for you.” 

Dear God, it would never come to that.  He’d never be the final test to Abigail’s becoming.  Though in shackles, he would find a way to commit suicide before he would let him take him down to that room to turn that young girl into a monster like him.  He would bite open his own wrists, swallow his tongue, contrive to fall down the steps and break his neck, something.  Anything.

Evidently aware that he had jolted him out of gray despair into stark horror, the Ripper smiled again — and then turned his attention to his breakfast plate.  “Do you intend to finish that?”

“No.”

“I will finish it then.  I always have quite the appetite after going on one of my hunting trips,” he said, smiling at Will.   

He got up and picked up Will’s plate and set it in his place in front of him.  Using Will’s fork instead of his own, he cut a bite-size piece of the sausage, put it in his mouth, and moaned softly in delight.  Slowly, sensuously, he extracted the tines from his mouth, pressing his lips firmly around them as they slid loose, then reaching with his tongue for one last lick as Will watched, unable to pull his eyes away. 

After he swallowed the bite of sausage, he said, “I could taste you on the fork.  Your saliva has a lovely flavor — except for a faint bitterness.  No doubt that’s not a usual component, just the result of a sour stomach.”

Will could find no escape by closing his eyes, so he watched with a sort of morbid fascination as the man devoured the remains of his breakfast with a sort of sensual delight. 

After he was finished eating, he started gathering up the plates, cups and silverware.  He picked the napkin off Will’s lap and grabbed him under the chin, raising his face, and used the napkin to wipe his mouth like a child.  He paused and used his thumb to wipe at a spot on the corner of Will’s mouth, as if a crumb of food were caught there.  Will tried to remain still and let the Ripper finish whatever he was doing, but then the thumb brushed lightly across his bottom lip and he gasped, looking up in surprise. 

“You really are a very attractive man, Will,” the Ripper said looking at him thoughtfully.  “A beautiful mouth and lovely eyes.  I would love to see what you looked like if you weren’t so rumpled and sweaty, your face smudged with dirt, your hair straggly from the rain.  Quite stunning, I think.  Maybe later I’ll bathe and shave you,” he said thoughtfully. 

Will’s eyes grew wide with shock.  What the hell?  “I thought you were going to kill me?” 

“Oh, I am.  But I also said I’m not sure how yet.  There’s no rush, is there?” 

Will didn’t think it was possible for things to get worse, but they suddenly had.  The thought of this man bathing him, touching him intimately, had his panic resurfacing. 

The Ripper took the dishes over to the sink, put on yellow rubber gloves, and hand-washed them, along with the bowls, pans, and utensils.  He was efficient and fastidious, using steaming hot water and lots of lemon-scented dishwashing liquid.

Will had one more question that had been bothering him, and at last he asked, “Why the Millers?  Why choose them of all people?  It wasn’t random, was it?  The way you displayed Doc Miller felt like he had wronged you in some way, though I can’t imagine how.”

“No, you are correct,” he said, glancing over at Will.  “It wasn’t random,” he agreed, scrubbing the skillet with a plastic scouring pad.  “A few months back, I wrote a paper that was published in The American Journal of Medicine

“You’re a doctor then?” 

“A lot of serial killers are,” he said, smiling at Will.  “I currently work in an ER.  I’m surprised you hadn’t guessed that considering the missing organs.” 

Actually, Will had suspected as much, but he didn’t say so.  “So, you’re a doctor and you take organs as trophies.  It’s a little hammy, don’t you think?  Couldn’t you just take a lock of their hair instead?” 

“I don’t take them as trophies, Will.  Keeping parts of the people I have killed in a freezer just so I can look at them from time to time would be a bit hammy, as you say.  I actually make good use of them.” 

“What—you mean teaching Abigail?” 

“No, Will,” the Ripper said, shaking his head and smiling.  Turning off the running water he faced Will and said, “I simply enjoy the taste of a fresh cut of meat.” 

Will’s mind went blank for a few seconds, trying to protect him from the horror of where his thoughts were now going.  Finally, taking deep breaths and trying to control the queasiness in his stomach he said, “Please tell me that sausage wasn’t made from human flesh.”   

“By the look on your face, I believe you already know the answer to that, Will,” the Ripper said, enjoying the expression of horror on Will’s face, and then turning the water back on. 

Will had to swallow several times to keep the small amount he ate from coming back up.  Somehow he didn’t think the Ripper would take too kindly to him vomiting all over his table. 

“But, as I was saying,” the Ripper continued, as if nothing had changed, “I had written a paper for The American Journal of Medicine that was published.  I had put a lot of time and research into it, and it was very well received by the medical community.  But then in the next issue there was a rebuttal by a Sarah Miller disputing the validity of parts of my research.  She was wrong, of course; my research was sound.  I did some digging and found out that Sarah was a nurse who currently resided in Baltimore.  The rebuttal sounded like something another doctor would write, and after digging a little further I discovered that her father was a doctor.  I found a couple of papers that he had written in the past and the writing style of the rebuttal was exactly the same.  I assume he had helped her write it to get her noticed in her hospital and possibly boost her career or standing in some fashion.  I also learned that she would be visiting her parents for Thanksgiving, and it gave me the perfect opportunity to kill both her and her father for their rudeness.” 

“Just because she challenged parts of your research was no reason to kill her!  We have a little thing called freedom of speech in this country and she had every right to voice her opinion!” 

“My findings were sound and it took me the better part of a year to complete, and yet that rebuttal written over the course of a few of days cast doubt on not only my research, but my competency.  And that I could not tolerate.” 

“Jesus!” Will said.  “You can’t just go around killing everyone you think has slighted you in some way.  You could have simply written your own rebuttal, backing up your findings with facts.” 

“Even had I done so, there would have remained that seed of doubt in some people’s minds that Sarah and her father had planted.  The damage had already been irrevocably done.” 

“Well what about Mrs. Miller?  She didn’t do anything to you!  You think just because you cleaned her up and put hyacinths in her hands as an apology makes everything all right?” 

At the flicker of surprise that Will glimpsed on the Ripper’s face, he knew that he had guessed the meaning of the flowers correctly. 

The Ripper looked at him with a touch of admiration and said, “Mrs. Miller was collateral damage.  I would have spared her if I could.  But she wouldn't have been happy living when her husband and child were dead, so, in a way, I did her a kindness.” 

“Christ,” Will said looking down at the table again.  So Sarah, with Doc Miller’s help, had written a rebuttal to an article, not knowing it was written by a serial killer, and now she and both her parents were dead.   

Every life leads to a series of quiet epiphanies — or at least to opportunities for epiphanies — and Will was washed by a poignant new grief when he thought about the Miller family.  Sarah, beautiful Sarah, reads an article in a magazine and maybe mentions it to her father, and they decide to write a rebuttal together, never suspecting the tragic consequences it would have to their whole family.  Now Sarah would never marry, never have children, never grow old.  Her life’s journey had come to a violent end because she had supposedly hurt this man’s reputation. 

Will watched in silence as the Ripper finished thoroughly wiping off the counters and rinsing the dishpan and scrubbing the sink. 

“What’s your name?” Will asked suddenly.  He had no idea why he asked, it just popped out.  He was just tired of thinking of him as “the Ripper.” 

The Ripper looked at him in genuine surprise and smiled.  “My name is Hannibal.  Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  It’s a pleasure to meet you, Will,” he said, inclining his head slightly but never breaking eye contact.    

Will just nodded.  Hannibal.  Hannibal Lecter.  An unusual name for a highly unusual man. 

Will watched as Dr. Lecter turned back to hand-drying the plates, pans, and flatware in the drainage rack, returning each piece to the proper shelf or drawer.  Watching him carry out ordinary tasks, he looked as innocent as they come.  He smelled of soap, some type of expensive cologne, and lemon-scented dishwashing liquid.  But in spite of all this, Will found himself expecting to detect a whiff of brimstone.

Hannibal finished the breakfast clean-up and returned to the table, sitting back down and leaning forward again.  “Now, Will, I have a few things to do upstairs and outside — and then I need to sleep four or five hours if I can.  I’ve got to go to work this evening and I need my rest to be in top form.  It was a long night, after all.  So when you shift around in the chair, try not to make too much noise.  Besides, those chains will scrape the wood if you’re not careful.”

“Well, I’d hate to mar the furniture,” Will said scornfully.

Hannibal stared at him for perhaps half a minute and then said, “If you’re foolish enough to think you can get free, I’ll hear the chains rattling and then I’ll have to come back in here to quiet you.  If that’s necessary, you won’t like what I’ll do to you, I can promise you that.”

Will said nothing.  He was hopelessly hobbled and chained down.  He couldn’t possibly escape.

“Even if you somehow managed to get free of the table and chair, you can’t move fast in those chains, and attack dogs patrol the grounds.”

“I’ve seen them,” he assured him.

“Even if you weren’t chained, they’d still drag you down and kill you before you’d gone ten steps from the door.”

He believed him — but he didn’t understand why he felt the need to press the point so hard.

“I once turned a young man loose in the yard,” Hannibal said.  “He raced straight to the nearest tree and got up and out of harm’s way with only one bad bite in his right calf and a nip on the left ankle. He braced himself in the branches and thought he would be safe there, just wait for the dogs to grow bored and leave and then he would escape.  I could have gotten him out of the tree, of course, but I decided to let things play out.  The dogs stayed vigilant.  On the third day he fell asleep or got dizzy from dehydration, I don’t know which, and fell out of the tree.  It was all over very quickly.”

Will said nothing.  Dr. Lecter was making a point:  There was no escape.    

“So you will remain and stay quiet?” 

Will nodded. 

“Good boy,” he said, putting a hand on his knee and patting it. 

“Don’t!” Will said, jerking his knee away, startled by the touch.  He then froze, realizing his error.  It was a reflexive outburst to having this man put his hand on his knee, especially after that unsettling comment about giving him a bath, but he knew he should have just kept his mouth shut.  His nerves were strung tight and it had just caught him off guard, causing him to react without thinking. 

He saw Dr. Lecter cock his head and look at him, but he did not remove his hand from his knee now.  Jesus, why hadn’t he just kept his mouth closed. 

“You do realize you’re my prisoner, Will, and I can do anything to you that I so choose.  If I wish to touch you, I will touch you, and you can’t stop me.” 

“I’m sorry, it just slipped out,” Will said, hoping that if he apologized, that would be the end of it. 

Hannibal pulled Will’s chair out from under the table the few inches the chain allowed so that they were more fully facing each other.  He then placed both his hands on Will’s knees. 

Will kept his eyes on Dr. Lecter’s chin, refusing to make eye contact, and he kept his mouth shut.  But then those hands started moving forward, the thumbs pushing into the soft flesh of his inner thighs, and Will looked up at him in alarm.  “What are you doing?” 

“Making a point.  Showing you that when a predator catches its prey, the prey doesn’t have a say in what the predator does to it.  You’d best come to terms with that right now, Will.”   

Will clenched his teeth, refusing to react.  The hands moved until they reached the V of his body, bracketing his groin.  Please let him stop there, please let him stop, Will thought desperately. 

After a few seconds the hands slid back down and Dr. Lecter stood up suddenly, removing his hands, and Will let out a relieved breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.  That is until he felt his hair grabbed roughly and his head pulled back, and then Dr. Lecter’s mouth came down hard on his. 

Will struggled, making distressed noises, but Dr. Lecter kept a firm grip on his hair, and had placed his other hand under his chin, his long fingers curled around his throat applying slight pressure to exert control.  Will tried to slide down in the chair, but the chains held him in place and he was effectively hobbled.  Then, realizing this was a show of dominance on Dr. Lecter’s part, Will forced himself to relax and willed his body to go limp and unresponsive.  He even let his teeth fall apart a bit, wondering if the man would take the bait. 

Hannibal continued kissing his unresisting mouth and then stopped, looking down at him.  “You are a clever one, aren’t you,” he said, releasing his hair.  Then, licking his lips in a semi-erotic manner he said, “And, as I said, Will, you taste delicious.” 

Will refused to look at him.  He knew his cheeks were flaming, both in anger and embarrassment.   

Hannibal picked up the wallet and letter from the FBI and put them in a drawer underneath the kitchen counter, along with the gun.  “You won’t be needing these any longer.” 

As Hannibal turned to leave, and as badly as Will wanted him to leave, he realized there was one more issue to discuss.  “Uh, one thing before you go…”

Hannibal stopped and turned to look at him, and Will noticed with discomfort that the man’s eyes dropped to his lips.

“What can I do for you, Will?”

Could you please let me use your bathroom?” he asked, feeling slightly embarrassed at his need to go.

“It’s too much trouble to undo all the chains just now,” he said.  “If you should go in your pants, I’m going to bathe you later anyway.  And I can always buy new chair cushions.”

He turned then and left the room without another word. 

Bastard!, Will thought.  Leaving him to pee his pants.  Will was determined not to endure the humiliation of sitting in his own waste.  He had a faint urge to pee, but it wasn’t insistent yet.  Later he would be in trouble. 

Halfway across the living room, Hannibal stops to listen to the man in the kitchen.  He hears no clink of chains.  He waits.  And still no sound.  The silence troubles him.

He’s not sure what to make of him.  He knows so much about him now — yet he still contains mysteries.

Shackled and in his complete control, Will smells of despair and defeat.  In the beaten tone of his voice, he realizes he is already as good as dead, and he is resigned to it.  Yet there’s something about him…

From the dining area comes the clink of chains.  Not loud, not a vigorous assault on his bonds.  Just a quiet rattle as he shifts position — perhaps to clasp his thighs tightly together to repress the urge to urinate.

Hannibal smiles.

He goes upstairs to his room.  From the top shelf at the back of his walk-in closet, he takes down a telephone.  In the bedroom, he plugs it into a wall jack and makes a couple of calls.  The calls help him ease his person suit back firmly into place. 

Although he is confident that the Dobermans, in his absence, will never allow anyone to get into the house, Hannibal keeps only two phones and secretes them in closets when he is not at home.  In the extremely unlikely event that an intruder should manage to sprint through the attacking dogs and get into the house alive, he will not be able to call for help.

After making his calls, Hannibal goes out to the motor home.  He deftly changes the license plate from a Virginia plate back to a Maryland plate. 

One by one the dogs come to him, sniffing at his hands and his clothes, perhaps disappointed to find only the scent of dishwashing soap, not the scent of blood.  They are starved for attention, but they are on duty.  None of them lingers long, each returning to its patrol after one pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears, and a word of affection.

“Good dog,” Hannibal says to each.  “Good dog.”  He knows these small and necessary expressions of affection will keep the dogs devoted to him.  Once Abigail joins him as his daughter, he will have to teach them that she is family too.  

When he finishes switching out the license plates, he stands, stretches, and yawns.  He’s tired now, so he’ll deal with the bodies later.  It’s cold out so they should remain relatively intact. 

He looks around, surveying his domain.  At ground level, anyway, the wind has died.  The air is still and moist.  It smells of wet grass, earth, moldering dead leaves, and pine forests.  With the rain finished and the sun starting to climb, the mist is lifting off the foothills and off the lower flanks of the mountains behind the house.  The dark rainclouds are off in the southeast now, traveling away from here.  The sun creates a bit of warmth on this chilly November morning. 

Hannibal smiles, feeling content.  It was an eventful night and things had taken an unexpected turn, but not unpleasant.  Not unpleasant at all.  Deciding to kiss Will had been a spontaneous decision, but he was surprised by how much he had enjoyed it.  He was going to have to make a decision what to do with him, but it didn’t have to be now.  He would take his time.  He found he was very much looking forward to coming home after work tonight and bathing and shaving him.  Will wasn’t going to enjoy it, but something told Hannibal that he was. 

Chapter Text

Chains rattling softly, Will folded his hands on the table in front of him and put his chin on them.  According to the kitchen clock, it was a quarter to nine.  He had been awake well over twenty-four hours, except when he had dozed in the motor home and when he had sat here unconscious after the altercation with Dr. Lecter.

He closed his eyes simply to rest them.  Although exhausted and numb with despair, he did not expect to be able to sleep, but he hoped that by keeping his eyes closed and letting his thoughts drift to more pleasant times, he might be able to take his mind off the dire situation he was in and off his mild but gradually increasing urge to pee.

He was suddenly standing at the Millers’ open door back in Wolf Trap again, but this time when he stepped through the door he saw Sarah and her mom at the kitchen table talking and laughing over pie and coffee.  They waved him over, and he closed the door and joined them, feeling happy and relieved to see them both.  Then, that happy image shattered when he was awakened by sounds of movement. 

He lifted his head and sat up straight, blinking at the bright light now coming through the dining room window.

Dr. Lecter was standing at the kitchen island, and it looked like he was making a sandwich. 

“Ah, Will, you’re awake.  Good.”

Will looked over at the clock and his eyes widened.  Almost two o’clock. 

“I thought it might take a brass band to bring you around,” Dr. Lecter said.  “You were sleeping like the dead.” 

He had been asleep for five hours.  His eyes were grainy, his neck was stiff, and his mouth was sour.  He could smell his body odor, and he felt greasy. 

He had not wet himself in his sleep, and he was briefly lifted by an absurd sense of triumph that he had not yet been reduced to that level of humiliation before this man.  

Dr. Lecter was now wearing a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the top button undone, dress slacks in a subtle plaid, and polished shoes with socks.  This must be his work attire.  He had the apron back on as he worked. 

Will saw the muscles in his arms and back flex and shift as he moved.  No wonder he had been overpowered. 

Dr. Lecter brought a plate over and set it on the table before him.  Sure enough, it contained a sandwich. 

“Roast beef with fresh horseradish on a toasted sourdough roll.”    

There were slices of fresh fruit beside the sandwich and a couple of triangles of cheese.

“I don’t want it,” Will said. 

“You have to eat.”

“Why?” he said glumly, looking out the window at the yard.  The dark clouds were gone, the sun was shining, and the beautiful day seemed to be mocking him. 

“If you don’t eat,” he said, “I’ll eventually have to force-feed you.  I don’t think you’d like having a tube forced down your throat.” 

He walked away and returned with a full glass of water.  Smiling, he said, “You’ve got to keep those kidneys functioning or they’ll atrophy.”

Bastard!  Now he was thinking about how much he needed to pee again. 

Tapping the plate in front of him, Dr. Lecter said, “Eat.  I have to leave for work soon and I don’t want to be late.” 

Will watched him glance at the clock and realized he must work the second shift at the ER—probably three to eleven.    

“I’ll finish dressing and be gone.  I should be back around 11:30, and then we can see what the night brings,” he said, smiling. 

Will shivered at his words. 

Dr. Lecter switched off the lights in the dining room and kitchen before leaving.  Will had light from the window to keep things bright, but once the sun set around five o’clock this time of the year, he would be sitting in darkness, his own thoughts being even darker still.   

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal steps onto the porch, locks the front door, and then whistles for the dogs.

The days are growing shorter and colder.  He wraps the scarf around his neck and slips on his leather gloves. 

From different points of the compass, the four Dobermans sprint toward him, racing to the porch.  As they scamper to Hannibal and jostle one another to be the closest to him, their big paws thump on the boards in a fandango of canine delight.

He bends over and pats each one.  He needs them to be especially vigilant tonight with his unusual prize chained up inside. 

Oddly like people, these Dobermans appear to be unable to detect the insincerity of Hannibal’s affection.  They are only tools to him, not treasured pets, and the attention he gives them is no different than the oil changes he gives his car to keep it in peak performance. 

The dogs are no doubt deceiving him just as he deceives them.  Their love is nothing but respect — or sublimated fear of him.

He stands, and the dogs look up expectantly.  Earlier, they had been summoned from their kennel by the buzzer; therefore, they are now merely on an apprehend-and-detain status. 

“Nietzsche,” he says.

As one, the four Dobermans twitch and then become rigid.  Their ears first prick at the command word but then flatten.

Their black eyes shine.

Abruptly they depart the porch, scattering across the property, having been elevated to attack status.

Pulling his scarf tighter around his neck, Hannibal walks toward the barn, where he keeps his car.

He leaves the motor home parked in front of the house.  Later, he will deal with the bodies, see if they’ve been kept fresh by the cold, and if they are, having the motor home here will minimize the distance that they have to be carried as he will bring them down into the basement for Abigail’s lessons.  Still, with the sun shining brightly today they may start to corrupt and he will have to dispose of them.  Having Will here has thrown off his schedule, but the sense of excitement he feels at coming home after work tonight and starting their fun makes it worth it. 

As he walks, Hannibal draws slow, deep breaths and clears his mind, preparing himself for reentry into the workaday world.  He enjoys the charade of his second life, passing for one of the repressed and deluded who, in uncountable multitudes, rule the earth with lies, who pass their lives in denial, anxiety, and hypocrisy.  He is like a fox in a pen of mentally deficient chickens that are unable to distinguish between a predator and one of their own, and this is a fine game for a fox with a sense of humor. 

Every day, all day long, Hannibal weighs other people with his eyes, furtively tests their firmness with a friendly touch, breathes the enticing scents of their flesh, selecting among them as if choosing packaged poultry at a market.  He does not often kill those whom he meets in his public persona — only if he is absolutely certain that he can get away with it, and if the particular chicken has been particularly rude and promises to be especially tasty.

If Will Graham hadn’t disturbed his usual routine, Hannibal would have spent more time re-acclimating himself to his role as one of them.  He might have watched the news on television, skimmed an issue of Time magazine to remind himself of those things that the desperate ruck of humanity uses to anesthetize itself against the awareness of its true animal nature and the inevitability of death.  He might have stood before a mirror for a while, practicing his smile, studying his eyes.

Nevertheless, by the time he reaches the silvered-cedar barn, he is confident that he will slide back into his second life without a ripple and that all those who look into his pond will be comforted to see their own faces reflected.  Most people have expended so much effort and time in the denial of their predatory nature that they cannot easily recognize it in others.

He opens the barn door, pauses, and glances back toward the house.  He suddenly wishes he could call in sick, take the day off so he could spend more time with Will.  Maybe take him downstairs and introduce him to Abigail, see how the two of them hit it off.  He is starting to have a strange idea.  An unexpectedly crazy and strange idea.  If Will Graham was a woman, he would be exactly the type of person Hannibal would choose to keep as his spouse.  But who’s to say his spouse has to be a woman?  Though still mostly frowned upon, same-sex relationships were becoming more accepted.  It would most certainly raise some eyebrows, but maybe he’s found the right one after all.  He already knows that he enjoys kissing him, and he suspects he would enjoy other pleasures as well.  Yes, when he strips him down and bathes him tonight, he will gauge both their reactions to his touches, see if he can entice Officer Graham’s body to respond to him.  

He licks his lips in anticipation, feeling a sudden twitch of interest from his cock.  Yes, he is very much looking forward to tonight. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

After Dr. Lecter turned off the lights and left the kitchen, Will had leaned back in his chair, away from the table, because the smell of the roast beef sandwich sickened him.  It wasn’t spoiled; it smelled like a roast beef sandwich ought to smell.  But it brought to mind thoughts of the sausage he had eaten earlier made out of people, and the very idea of food made him want to gag.

Besides, eating was an admission of hope, and he didn’t want to hope any more.  He had spent his life hoping for something better, a fool intoxicated with optimistic expectations.  But every hope proved to be as empty as a bubble.  Every dream was glass waiting to be shattered.  Like his dream of becoming an FBI agent and showing the people of Wolf Trap that he was more than just the son of the town drunk and the woman who had abandoned her own child. 

In all his years, he had never before felt lost, not truly lost.  Frightened, yes.  Sometimes angry.  Sometimes confused and bleak.  After all, when you’re only eight years old and your own mother runs away from home and abandons you, it’s confusing.  When your father starts drinking to dull the pain of that betrayal and starts becoming abusive, it’s frightening.  But always he had held onto the belief that if he could just hang in there until he was an adult, that he could break free from his parents’ influence and create the life that he wanted to live, choose his own path.  And things had finally seemed to be going his way.  Becoming a police officer had been a start, but being accepted into the FBI training program was a game changer.  It would have totally turned his life around. 

But it seemed that fate was once again having a big laugh at his expense.    

He heard the front door open behind him, and then after several seconds of silence where he could actually feel Dr. Lecter’s gaze on the back of his head, the door closed, indicating that he was leaving for work. 

Will closed his eyes, feeling relief that Dr. Lecter was gone, and felt tears trailing down his cheeks.  He was crying.  Through the many hours since the horror of last night had begun, he had felt tears welling more than once, and he had repressed them.  But now that the cause of all his misery and despair was gone and unable to see his weakness he couldn’t dam this hot flood.  He despised himself for crying — but only briefly.  These bitter tears were a welcome admission that there was no hope for him.  They washed him free of hope, and that was what he wanted now, because hope led only to disappointment and pain.  

All his troubled life, since he was eight years old, he had refused to weep freely, really let loose with tears. Being tough and dry-eyed was the only way to get respect from those people who, on seeing a single tear, would give pitying looks to that poor Graham boy whose own mother didn’t love him.  So he held back the tears and put on a brave face.  But holding back the tears now wouldn’t make a bit of difference.  Come tonight Hannibal Lecter, ER doctor, would come home, and he could only imagine the horrors that awaited him when that happened.  He had already hinted at a couple of possibilities, including taking him downstairs and having the girl he came here to rescue either watch him die, or, worse, kill him herself in order to cement their father/daughter relationship and turn her into a killer.  And then there was that comment about bathing him that had Will’s gut twisting even further as he tried not to imagine that humiliation. 

Will let a lifetime of grief and hurt burst free from him.  Great wet sobs shook him so hard that his chest began to ache.  His throat soon felt hot and raw.  He sagged in his clinking chains, in his imprisoning chair, face clenched and streaming and hot, stomach clenched and cold, the taste of salt in his mouth, gasping, groaning in despair, choking on the smothering awareness of his terrible solitude.  Profoundly alone, unloved and lost, he spiraled down into a mental black hole.

After a while, an engine roared.  He heard the brassy toot of a horn: two short blasts and then two more.

He lifted his head, looked through the nearby window but couldn’t see the car.  There must be another road going behind the house that Dr. Lecter was using since the RV was still sitting on the road in front of the house blocking it.  The jaunty toot of the horn mocked him, and that mockery rekindled his anger somewhat.  He stared out at the beautiful sun-filled day and wondered if this might be the last one he ever saw.  He regretted that he had spent so much of his life alone, with no one at his side to share the sunsets, the starry skies, the turbulent beauty of storm clouds.  He wished that he had reached out to people more, instead of retreating inward, thinking that he was unworthy of people’s love since even his own parents didn’t love him. 

And the chance had now passed to act upon it.  He would die as he had lived — alone, with only a killer as his companion at the very end. This further realization might have wrung greater rivers of tears from him, but instead it brought to him thoughts of Abigail, a girl who was younger than him, whose parents had probably loved her, who had been living a normal life with school and friends and her whole life ahead of her.  But Hannibal Lecter had come into her life and decimated it.  He had killed her parents, robbed her of her freedom and choices yet to make.  She would never finish high school, go to her prom, graduate, date, experience love.  And now he was trying to take her father’s place in some twisted version of a parent and mold her into a killer like him.  Fury burned through Will at the thought. 

He blotted his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt.  He actually felt calmer now after his little breakdown.  His heartbeat was surprisingly slow, like that of a sleeper in the dreamless rest provided by a powerful sedative.  He pulled the water to him and took a couple of small sips while he thought.  He didn’t drink much as his bladder was a constant reminder that he needed to go. 

He tried to pull away from the table to stand up.  But a loop of chain secured his chair to the solid piece of wood that supported this side of the table, limiting his movement.  If he dug his heels into the wooden floor and attempted to scoot backward, he would probably not be able to move at all.  At best he would only drag the heavy table with him inch by inch.  And in a lifetime of trying, he would not be able to put enough tension on the chain to snap it.

He failed to give up.  There was always a way, a solution, and he had around eight hours to figure something out. 

He leaned forward, pulling taut the chain that led around his back from the left handcuff to the right. It was wound between the spindles of the rail-back chair, behind the tie-on pad. He strained, hoping to hear the crack of dry wood, jerked hard, harder, a pain forming in his back and neck, but he would not let pain stop him.  He jerked harder than ever, scarring the nice furniture for damn sure, and again — pull, pull — firmly holding the chair down with his body while simultaneously half lifting it off the floor as he yanked furiously at the back rails, and yanked again, until his biceps quivered.  Pull. As he grunted with effort and frustration, needles of pain stitched down the back of his neck, across both shoulders, and into his arms.  Pull!  Putting everything he had into the effort, straining longer than before, clenching his teeth so hard that tics developed in his jaw muscles, he pulled once more until he felt the arteries throbbing in his temples and saw red and silver pinwheels of light spinning behind his eyelids. But he wasn’t rewarded with any breaking sounds.  The chair was solid oak, the spindles were thick, and every joint was well made.

His heart boomed, partly because of his struggles but largely because he was brimming with an exhilarating sense of liberation.  Which was crazy, crazy, because he was still shackled, no closer to breaking his bonds than he had been at any moment since he’d awakened in this chair.  Yet he felt exhilarated as adrenalin was now coursing through his body with his recent activity.  Will pictured in his mind the look on Dr. Lecter’s face if he came home to play with his new pet but instead found an empty chair.  That was very motivating. 

Sweat beaded his brow.

Think, Will, think.  Okay, forget the chair for now.  To get loose from it, he would have to be able to stand and move. He couldn’t deal with the chair until he was free of the table.  Right, table first. 

He was unable to reach down far enough to unscrew the carabiner that joined the shorter chain between his ankles to the longer chain that entwined the chair and the table.  Otherwise, he might easily have freed his legs from both pieces of furniture.

If he could overturn the table, the loop of chain that wrapped around the table support and connected with his leg irons would then slide free as the bottom of that support tipped up and off the floor.  

Okay, plan in place, he scooted his chair to the right as far as the chains would allow him to go.  He would have the best shot if he could lift the long table at the corner, pushing to the left.  He placed his cuffed hands under the table and lifted.  It weighed considerably more than he expected — a two-inch solid oak top — and he couldn’t get much leverage while he was forced to remain seated.  As he strained, one side of the support tipped up an inch, then two inches.  The water glass slid across the surface and dropped off the table, shattering on the floor and he hissed, “Yes!” — but then because he had underestimated the weight and the effort required to move it, he had to relent, and the table slammed down. 

Will flexed his muscles, took a deep breath, and immediately returned to the task.  This time he planted his feet as far apart as his shackles would allow.  On the underside of the table, he flattened his upturned palms against the oak, thumbs hooked toward himself over the smooth bull-nose edge.  He tensed his legs as well as his arms, and when he shoved up on the table, he pushed with his legs too, getting to his feet an inch at a time, one hard-won inch for each inch that the table tipped up and to the side.  He did not have enough slack in the various tethering chains to be able to get all the way — or halfway — erect, so he rose haltingly in a stiff and awkward crouch, cramped under the weight of the table.  He put enormous strain on his knees and thighs, wheezing, shuddering with the effort, but he persevered because each precious inch that he was able to gain improved his leverage; he was using his entire body to lift, lift, lift.

The sandwich plate slid off the table and china cracked and skittered across the floor.

The pain in his neck was excruciating, and someone seemed to be twisting a corkscrew into his right clavicle.  But pain couldn’t stop him.  It motivated.  The greater his pain, the more he identified with Sarah and the whole Miller family, with the young man hanging in the motor-home closet, with the service-station cashier, and all the other people Dr. Hannibal Lecter had killed; and the more he identified with them, the more he wanted this man to suffer a world of hurt.  He was in an Old Testament mood, unwilling to turn the other cheek just now.  He wanted Dr. Lecter screaming on a rack, stretched until his joints popped apart and his tendons tore.  He didn’t want to see him confined to prison or a state hospital for the criminally insane, there to be analyzed and counseled and pitied and instructed as to how best to increase his self-esteem, treated with antipsychotic drugs, given a private room and a television, book deals and some made-for-TV movie about his life trying to paint him as some misunderstood victim himself.  No, what Will wanted was to condemn him to the skilled hands of an imaginative torturer and see how the sonofabitch liked being on the other side of it.  Turn him loose and set a pack of dogs after him to tear him apart and see how he liked it.  This ardent desire was not noble in the least, but it was pure, a high-octane fuel that burned with an intense light, and it kept him going past the point of endurance. 

This side of the table support was off the floor perhaps three inches — he could only guess — approximately as high as he had gotten it before, but he still had plenty of steam left.  Bent in a backward Z, as hunched as a God-cursed troll, he muscled the table up, knees aching, thighs quivering with the strain, his butt clenched tighter than a politician’s fist around a cash bribe.  He encouraged himself aloud by talking to the table as if it possessed awareness: “Come on, come on, come on, move, you sonofabitch, move.  Higher, come on, you can do it, damn it, come on!”

Initially the chair remained exactly where it had been when his butt parted company with it, but as his arms lifted higher and stretched farther in front of him, the heavy chair was hoisted off the floor by the tightening chain that circled behind him from wrist to wrist and wound through the vertical spindles behind the tie-on pad.  Now he was lifting the table in front and the chair at his back.  The hard edge of the seat jammed against his thighs, and the curved oak headpiece of the railed back pressed cruelly below his shoulder blades, as the chair began to act like a V-clamp to prevent him from rising much further.

Nevertheless, Will squeezed against the table as he lifted it, separating himself from the confining chair enough to be able to rise out of his crouch just one more inch, then one more.  At the extreme limits of strength and endurance, he grunted loudly.  Sweat glazed his face, stung his eyes, but he didn’t need to see what he was doing in order to get it done, so he simply closed them.  The cords in his arms and neck were standing out and he felt as if he were about to burst a blood vessel from the straining. 

Fear crept back into his mind at the thought of what Dr. Lecter would do to him if he couldn’t get free, if he came home and found broken china and glass on the floor and that he had most definitely scratched up his oak table with the chains. 

While Will’s mind had drifted elsewhere, the table crashed onto its side hard enough to jar the dishes in the china cabinet and cause a small picture to fall off the wall.  Although this was exactly the result he had been striving for, he was so surprised by his abrupt success that he stood there for several seconds in stunned silence, and then he let out a loud whoop.  Smiling, he sat back down briefly while waiting for his gasping breath to come back down to normal. 

Half a minute later, when he stood and tried to pull away, the chain was still stuck.  He bent sideways to look under the table and saw the chain was still trapped under the support, one end still resting on the floor. 

Pushing the table further onto its side until the support came fully off the ground, he was able put one foot on the chain and slide it toward him.  He then lowered the support back to the floor. 

He scooted backward in his chair, and this time nothing impeded him.  The loop of chain rattled across the floor, no longer anchoring him to the table. 

Although Will was far from being free, farther still from being safe, he was exhilarated, because at least he had done something.  His headache was coming back and his back was currently aching like an SOB, his wrists and ankles felt as though they had been bruised and abraded by the shackles, his joints ached and his muscles burned from the demands he had put on them, and yet he was grinning and exhilarated.

As his heartbeat slowed from its frenzied hammering, Will leaned back against the cushion, still breathing hard, and surprised himself by laughing.  “I think I scratched your table, Dr. Lecter,” he said out loud, and then he laughed louder. 

He blotted his sweat-stung eyes on one shoulder of his flannel shirt, and then on the other shoulder.  With his cuffed hands, he awkwardly bent forward and pushed some of the curls off his brow that were sticking to his sweaty forehead. 

Will suddenly detected movement out of the corner of his left eye.  He turned to the window and nearly jumped out of his skin when a Doberman was standing with his paws up on the window stool staring right at him.  Its pointed face was right on the other side of the window with only a sheet of glass between them.  Its inky eyes were cold and merciless, shark-like in their steadiness and glassy concentration.  Inquisitively, it pressed its wet nose against the pane, leaving a wet smear on Dr. Lecter’s clean window.

A thin whine escaped the Doberman, audible even through the glass: neither a whimper of fear nor a plea for attention, but a needful keening that perfectly expressed the killing passion in its eyes and made the hair on Will’s arms stand up. 

He was no longer laughing.

The dog dropped from the window, out of sight.

He heard its paws thumping hollowly against the boards as it paced rapidly back and forth across the porch.  Between urgent whines, it made a low quarrelsome sound.

Then the dog jumped back into view, planting its broad forepaws on the window stool, eye-to-eye with him once more.  Agitated, it bared its long teeth threateningly, but it didn’t bark or snarl.

Perhaps the sound of the water glass or plate shattering on the floor, or the crash of the table tipping onto its side had carried outside, and this Doberman had been close enough to hear.  The dog might have been standing at this window for a while, listening to Will alternately cursing his bonds and encouraging himself as he had struggled to be free of the table; and certainly it had heard his laughter.  Dogs had lousy eyesight, but they had phenomenal hearing and sense of smell. 

The window was about five or six feet long and four feet high, one solid pane of glass.  If there had been numerous smaller panes separated by wide sturdy mullions of wood, Will would have been a lot more confident.  But the opening was large enough to admit the agitated Doberman if it tried to smash through the glass to get to him.

Surely that wouldn’t happen.  The dogs had been trained to patrol the grounds, not to assault the house.

Will remained perfectly still and waited until the Doberman dropped from the window again before he reached to the floor and picked up the loop of excess chain to avoid tripping over it.  Listening to the dog padding back and forth on the porch, he rose into the Rumpelstiltskin crouch that the burdening chair imposed.  He shuffled his feet across the floor toward the kitchen, avoiding stepping on the broken glass and the fragments of plate and the fruit on the floor, and went to the wall switch where he had seen Dr. Lecter turn off the kitchen and dining room lights.  He could tell the light outside was already starting to dim and he didn’t want to be wandering around blind when it did get dark.  Glancing at the kitchen clock, it was close to three-thirty now.  Fortunately the light switch wasn’t set too high and it switched both lights on. 

Glancing back and seeing the Doberman at the window again, he felt even more exposed.  When he looked at it, the Doberman twitched, flattened its ears to its skull, immediately pricked them again, found him with its eyes, and fixed him with its gaze.

Trying to ignore the Doberman, Will bent forward as far as his fetters would allow, hoisting the chair on his back.  He strove to reach the carabiner that linked the shorter chain between his leg irons with the longer chain that had encircled the table support and that still wrapped around the stretcher bars of the chair. But even free of the table, he was trammeled in such a way that he could not put his fingers on this coupling.

He waddled into the kitchen, opening one drawer after another and studying the contents.

When he passed the telephone jack in the wall, he paused to stare at it, frustrated.  If Hannibal Lecter was, in fact, a doctor and attempted to maintain any type of social life whatsoever as a cover for his true nature, he would have a telephone; the jack wasn’t merely a dead plug left by the previous owners of the house.  He must have the phone hidden in the house somewhere. 

It was no wonder the FBI hadn’t been able to catch him.  He was impressively careful and methodical when it came to covering his ass.  An agent of chaos, leaving behind devastation in the lives of others, he nevertheless kept his own affairs tidy and avoided mistakes.  Will could almost admire him. 

He continued opening drawers.  In the fourth, he discovered a compartmentalized tray containing a collection of small culinary tools and gadgets.  The man did seem to like to cook. 

He parked the chair beside the open drawer and sat down.

Outside, the Doberman was pacing again, paws thumping faster than before, all but running back and forth on the porch, back and forth, and whining louder as well.  Will couldn’t understand why it was still so agitated.  He wasn’t breaking dishes or overturning furniture any longer.  He was quietly looking in drawers, minimizing the clatter of his chains, doing nothing to alarm the dog.  The animal seemed to realize that he was attempting to escape, but that was impossible; it was only an animal.  Yet it raced worriedly from one end of the porch to the other,  jumped to peer in the window again, fixed him with its fierce black eyes, and seemed to be saying, Quit touching my master’s things, asshole!

He plucked a wooden-handled corkscrew from the drawer, examined the spiraling point, and discarded it.  A bottle opener.  No.  Potato peeler. Lemon-rind shaver.  No.  He found an eight-inch-long pair of heavy-duty tweezers, which was probably used to extract olives and pickles and similar items from tightly packed jars.  The gripping blades of the tweezers proved too large to be inserted into the tight keyholes on his handcuffs, so he discarded them as well.

Then he located the ideal item: a five-inch-long steel pin, which he believed was called a poultry strut.  A dozen were fixed together by a twist tie, and he pulled one loose.  The pin was rigid, about a sixteenth of an inch in diameter, with a point at the end of the shank and a half-inch-wide eye loop at the top.  Smaller struts were made for pinning shut roasting chickens, but this larger one was made for turkeys or other large fowl.

The thought of succulent roasted Thanksgiving turkey brought the smell of it immediately to mind.  Will’s mouth watered, and his stomach growled, and he now wished that he’d eaten some of that roast beef sandwich Dr. Lecter had made him.

He held the strut between the thumb and the index finger of his right hand, and slipped the point into the keyway on the left handcuff.  Probing experimentally, he produced a lot of small ticking and scraping sounds, trying to feel the lock mechanism in the gateway of the cuff.

He remembered watching a lot of movies where people had fashioned lock picks out of paperclips or hat pins or ball point pens and managed to open the lock within seconds.  After ten minutes Will realized that movies were full of shit. 

On the porch, the dog wasn’t pacing as fast as it had paced earlier, but it was still disturbed.  Twice he heard it clawing at a back door, once with considerable fervor, as if it thought it might be able to dig its way through the wood.

Will switched the strut to his left hand and worked on the right cuff for a while.  Ticks, clicks, scrapes, and squeaks.  He was now sweating as much as when he had been struggling to overturn the heavy table.

Finally in frustration he threw the turkey strut on the floor, where and it bounced ping-ping-pinged across the tiles.

Even if he found a more suitable tool to work on the handcuffs and the shackles on his ankles, it could take hours for him to finally figure out the proper technique for lock picking.  He couldn’t dedicate hours solely to the job of freeing himself from the chair and chains, because once he was unfettered, there were many other urgent tasks to be done before Dr. Lecter returned.

He slammed the drawer shut in frustration.  Holding the chain out of his way and hauling the chair with him, he got to his feet and shuffled toward the living room.

Behind him, at the window in the dining area, a weird screeching made him jump.  He looked back and saw that the Doberman was scratching frantically at the glass with both forepaws.  Its claws squeaked down the pane with a sound as unsettling as fingernails dragged across a chalkboard. 

He shuffled on hoping that once he was in the living room the dog might lose track of him. 

Squeak-squeak-squeak.

Claws, glass.

Squeak-squeak.

He had always loved dogs, but there were exceptions to every rule. 

The living room was dim as the drapes were drawn over both windows in this room.  He made his way over to an end table next to the couch and fumbled around the shell of the socket and then around the base of the lamp itself.  As his fingers finally pinched the rotary switch, he was suddenly certain that a strong hand was going to come out of nowhere, that Dr. Lecter had only pretended to go to work and had then crept back into the house and had been watching his struggles from some hidden location with amusement, that he would say “nice try,” and then punish him for damaging his table. 

The switch was a nub of ice between thumb and finger.  Frozen to his skin.

Heart drumming like the wings of a frantic fettered bird, Will broke his paralysis and clicked the switch.  Soft light washed the room, and as he looked around, heart hammering in his chest, he was still alone. 

Jesus, Will, get a grip, he thought, and realized his hands were trembling. 

He shambled to the gray river-rock fireplace that extended from floor to ceiling across a large section of the north wall of the room.  The deep hearth in the center wasn’t raised, which would make his work easier.

He had considered going down to the cellar, where earlier he had seen all those tools.  But he had quickly ruled out that solution.

Even if he could reach the tools, attempting to descend the steep cellar steps while hobbled with handcuffs, shackles and steel chains, and carrying the heavy oak chair on his back would be undeniably risky.  Also, his strength wasn’t what it ought to have been, because he hadn’t eaten much in the past twenty-four hours and because he had already been through an exhausting physical ordeal.  Furthermore, he was shaky, and all it would take was one misplaced step to have him pitching forward and cracking his skull like an eggshell on the concrete or breaking a leg in thirty-six places. 

Besides, even if he could lay his hands on a sharp-toothed saw small enough to be easily handled, he wouldn’t be able to use it at an angle that would allow him to bear down with effective force.  To free the lower chain from the chair, he would have to cut through all three of the horizontal stretcher bars between the chair legs, each of which was an inch or an inch and a half in diameter of solid oak, around which the links were wound. To accomplish this, he would have to sit, bend forward, and saw backward under the chair. Even if the upper chain had sufficient slack to allow him to reach down far enough for the task, which he doubted, he would only be able to scrape feebly at the wood.  With luck, he’d whittle through the third stretcher sometime next month.  Then he would have to turn his attention to the five sturdy spindles in the back of the chair to free the upper chain, and not even a carnival contortionist born with rubber bones could get at them with a saw while pinioned as Will was.

Hacking through the heavy steel chains was impossible.  He would need a blade that could carve through steel for that. 

He was resigned to more primitive measures than saws.  And he was worried about the potential for injury and about how painful the process of liberation might be, but he was running out of options.

On the mantel, the bronze stags leaped perpetually, antlers to antlers, over the round white face of the clock. 

A quarter to four. 

Over seven hours until Dr. Lecter returned.  He still had plenty of time. 

Will shuffled onto the floor-level flagstone hearth and then to the right, past the firebox and the brass andiron, past the deep mantel.  The entire area flanking the fireplace was smooth gray river rock — just the hard surface that he needed.

Will stood with his left side toward the rock, twisted his upper body to the right as far as possible without turning his feet, in the manner of an Olympic athlete preparing to toss a discus, and then swung sharply and forcefully to the left.  This maneuver threw the chair — on his back — in the opposite direction from his body and slammed it into the wall.  It clattered against the rock, rebounded with a ringing of chains, and thudded against him hard enough to hurt his shoulder, ribs, and hip.  He tried the same trick again, putting even more energy into it, but after the second time, he was able to judge by the sound that he would, at best, scar the finish and chip a few slivers out of the oak.  Hundreds of these lame blows might demolish the chair in time, turn it into kindling; but not before he ended up a bruised and bloodied mess, bones splintered and joints separated by the repeated recoil. 

By swinging the chair as though he were a dog wagging its tail, he couldn’t get the requisite force behind it.  He had been afraid of this.  Dr. Lecter’s furniture was too well made.  To free himself from the chair, he would have to use his body as if it were a pneumatic ram, and unfortunately he would have to endure serious pain.  He was already in pain, but what was coming would be worse. 

He stood thinking while listening to the hollow ticking of the mantel clock as precious seconds ticked by.

If he went upstairs first, maybe he would find a telephone and be able to call the police.  They could trace the call, come and deal with those Dobermans, get him out of these chains, and free Abigail.  And then they could lie in wait by the roadside and arrest Dr. Lecter when he came home.  With one simple phone call, all his problems would be solved. 

But he knew in his heart that he was not going to find any telephones upstairs either.  Hannibal Lecter was unfailingly thorough.  A phone would be in service in the house whenever he was home — but not when he was away.  He might even have it locked in a safe, or actually unplug the unit and take it with him each time he left.

Chances are he would just be wasting precious time. 

Positioning himself in front of the corner edge of the fireplace, he turned his back and shuffled six feet from it, stopped, closed his eyes, and gathered his courage.

Possibly one of the spindles in the rail-back chair would crack apart and be driven forward.  The splintered end would puncture the tie-on cushion or slip past it and then skewer him, back to front, straight through his guts.

More likely, he’d sustain a spinal injury.  With all the force of the impact directed against the lower half of the chair, the legs of it would be driven into his legs; the upper half would first pull away from him — then recoil and snap hard against his upper back or neck.  The spindles were fixed between the seat and the wide slab of radius-cut oak that served as the headrail, and the headrail was so solid that it would do major damage if it cracked into his cervical vertebrae with sufficient force.  He might wind up on the living-room floor, under the chair and chains, paralyzed from the neck down.

He had always had a gift for being able to picture the way something could play out, and sometimes that proved to be a curse as the many ways a situation could go wrong jumbled together, creating chaos and doubt in his head. 

Without opening his eyes he shut down his thoughts and hurtled backwards as fast as his leg irons would allow.  He had to shuffle frantically to build speed, had to throw himself toward spinal injury in quick little baby steps.  But then he slammed into the rocks, and felt jarring pain throughout his upper half.

He’d been bent forward slightly to lift the legs of the chair behind him and to ensure that they, rather than another part of it, would strike first and take the hard initial blow.  With his entire weight behind the assault, there was a satisfyingly splintery thwack on impact — and the oak legs were jammed painfully into the backs of his legs.  Will stumbled forward, and the upper part of the chair whiplashed into his neck, as he had expected, and he was knocked off balance.  He dropped to his knees and fell forward with the chair still on his back, hurting in too many places to bother taking an inventory.

Hobbled, he couldn’t get to his feet unless he was gripping something.  He crawled to the nearest armchair and pulled himself up, grunting with effort and pain.

No spinal injury yet.  He felt pain, but better to feel pain than nothing at all.

The legs of the chair and the stretcher bars between the legs seemed to be intact. But judging by the sound of the impact, he had weakened them.

Starting eight feet from the wall this time, Will shuffled backward as fast as he could, trying to ram the chair legs into the rock at the same angle as before.  He was rewarded with a distinctive crack — the sound of splintering wood, though it felt like shattering bone.

A dam of pain burst inside him, but at least he hadn’t been knocked off his feet this time.  He shuffled forward.  Not pausing to catch his breath, still hunched to ensure that the chair legs would take the brunt of the impact, he charged backward into the rock wall.

Will woke face down on the floor in front of the hearth, aware that he must have been unconscious for a minute or two.

The worst pain was in the back of his head.  He must have struck it against something.

His eyelids tried to drift back closed, send him back to the darkness so he didn’t have to think about his pain or his problems. 

He drew his mind to Abigail trapped in the cellar.  Abigail being raised by a surrogate father who was a killer and a cannibal. 

Somehow he got to his hands and knees.

He heard the hollow thump of paws on the front porch floor.

When he pulled himself to his feet against an armchair, he grimaced in pain as he looked back toward the dining room area at the window.  Two Dobermans were now standing with their forepaws on the windowsill, staring his way, their eyes radiant yellow with reflections of the soft amber light from the lamp on the end table.

Looking toward the fireplace, no pieces of wood had fallen off the chair.  His body would break apart before this chair did.  He had one other idea, but it scared the crap out of him.  It was dangerous and he could easily end up dead, paralyzed, or broken into a million pieces, but he was feeling desperate now.  He couldn’t move forward until he got free of this chair and these chains. 

He walked back through the kitchen, through the laundry room and managed to open the basement door.  He looked down at the long incline of hard concrete stairs with their nice wood breaking edges.  He did not want to think about what they could do to his body. 

He turned around and positioned his back to the open doorway. 

Jesus, I don’t want to do this!  

He backed up slowly until one foot felt the edge of the doorway, his heart hammering. 

Please don’t do this! 

He tucked his neck into his shoulders, put his feet together, and tucked his arms in the best he could. 

There must be another way! 

He was trembling so hard the chains were rattling. 

Please don’t let me die! 

Then he thought about the innocent girl trapped in the basement who had probably lost all hope of ever being rescued.  He thought about what Dr. Lecter planned on doing to him if he couldn’t get free.  If he died, at least it would be on his own terms, not Dr. Lecter’s.  He closed his eyes, said a quick prayer to any deity who might be listening, and leaned backward.  There was a brief moment when everything went quiet and he felt a sense of calm weightlessness—but then gravity took hold and pulled the chair backward, and Will’s world turned upside down as he toppled headlong down the long flight of stairs, and everything went black. 

Chapter Text

Will jerked awake with his heart hammering in his chest, covered in sweat.  He had been dreaming that Dr. Lecter was feeding pieces of him to Abigail while he sat at the table watching and asking, “How do I taste?” 

When he realized he was lying on his side on the basement floor he was frankly surprised to still be alive.  He wondered how long he had been out. 

He was in so much pain that he couldn’t separate it into individual pain; it was all one big pain.  But pain was good.  He actually welcomed the pain because it meant he wasn’t paralyzed.  He slowly started moving individual body parts to see if anything was broken.  He started with his ankles, then knees, elbows, wrists, fingers, shoulders, neck.  Surprisingly, everything worked, although there was substantial pain involved. 

There was one pain though that was separate and more urgent than all his other distresses.  Unlike the agonies of tortured bones and muscles, this painful pressure in his bladder could be relieved easily, and he wouldn’t even have to put himself through the gruesome ordeal of moving from where he lay.

“Hell no,” he mumbled, and slowly sat up. 

Getting to his feet, he disturbed deep hurts that had slept as long as he had been lying on the floor but woke as soon as he began to rise: grindings in his bones and hot flares in his muscles.  Some were intense enough, at least initially, to make him freeze and gasp for breath, but by the time he was standing, he knew there was no single pain so terrible that it would cripple him; and while the burden of his combined agonies was daunting, he was going to be able to carry it. 

The chair lay on the floor around him in fragments and splinters amongst the chain which now pooled around his feet, and he could now stand up straight and move more freely.  He couldn’t believe that this had actually worked.  He felt dizzy with relief. 

There was a clock mounted on the wall over the work bench, and the time showed almost five o’clock, which unsettled him.  The last he remembered, it had been a quarter to four.  That meant he had lain unconscious for over an hour.  This realization made him feel weak and uncertain again.  He had lost a lot of time. 

If Dr. Lecter was to be believed, he still had over six hours until he returned.  But there were quite a few things he had yet to accomplish before then.

Will shuffled backwards toward a bench, the chain being dragged along with him as it was still attached to his leg manacles by the carabiner between his ankles that had been connected to the loop around the table support.  He could deal with this now that the chair was off him. 

His left knee was throbbing and he suspected he had cracked the kneecap soundly while tumbling down the stairs.  He sighed with relief as the pain lessoned somewhat when he sat down on the bench. 

Bending over, he screwed open the metal sleeve to reveal the gate in the carabiner, and then disconnected himself from the chain.  As the heavy chains fell away he felt lighter.  With every accomplishment he felt freedom getting closer. 

Now he just had the handcuffs and the manacles around his ankles to deal with. 

He walked to Dr. Lecter’s workbench and studied the tools arranged neatly on the pegboard on the wall.  Hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc. … nothing that would get his shackles off.  There were a couple tools on the workbench, but, again, nothing that would work on his shackles. 

He walked over to tall metal cabinets with the vent slits in the doors and, opening the first one, he found cans of paint and lacquer, paintbrushes, and drop cloths folded as precisely as fine linen sheets.  The next cabinet contained a full-body padded jumpsuit with black leather straps and chrome-plated buckles.  He saw small rips in it and knew this was what he must wear when he worked with the dogs.  There was also a helmet, not unlike a football helmet, up on a shelf above it.  In the final cabinet, Dr. Lecter stored several power tools, including a battery operated electric drill already fitted with a smaller drill bit.  Bingo.  That was precisely what he needed. 

Will pulled it out and squeezed the trigger to test it, and it came to life, issuing a shrill whine.  He quickly sat back down on the bench and inserted the tip of the bit into the keyway on the shackle that encircled his left ankle.  When he pressed the trigger, steel spun against steel with a hellish shriek.  The bit stuttered violently, jumped out of the keyway, and skipped across the two-inch-wide shackle, spitting tiny sparks.  If his reflexes hadn’t been good, the whirling auger would have bored through his foot, but he released the trigger and jerked up on the drill just in time to avoid disaster.

The lock might have been damaged.  He couldn’t be sure.  But it was still engaged, and the shackle was secure.

Okay, now that he knew what to expect, he inserted the bit into the keyhole again, gripping it with both hands this time, and bore down with more effort to keep the bit from kicking out of the hole.  Steel shrieked and blue wisps of foul-smelling smoke rose from the grinding point, and the vibrating shackle pressed painfully into his ankle.  The drill shook in his hands, which were suddenly damp with cold sweat from the strain of controlling it, and pain shot up his left forearm which he suspected had sustained a fracture.  A spray of metal slivers swirled up from the keyway, and Will felt a sting in his cheek.  Stopping the drill he found a splinter of steel embedded in his flesh.  It was about a quarter of an inch long and as thin as a sliver of glass.  He was able to grasp it between his fingernails and pluck it free.  The tiny puncture was bleeding, and he felt a thin warm trickle making its way down his face to the corner of his mouth. 

Determined, he drilled the keyway.  The shackle around his left ankle popped open.  Not more than a minute later, the lock on the other shackle cracked too. 

Will put the drill beside him on the bench and rose shakily to his feet, every muscle in his legs trembling.  He had done it, he had freed his legs.  He was still handcuffed, however, and he could not hold the drill one-handed while he bored out the lock on each manacle.  But he already had an idea about how he might extricate his hands.

Although other challenges faced him in addition to the manacles, although escape was by no means assured, jubilation swelled in Will as he climbed the cellar steps.  He still went one foot at a time as his left knee felt hot and swollen.  He also kept a two-handed grip on the handrail because he felt a little light-headed. 

Half way up the stairs the hot pressure in his bladder suddenly had him doubling over with severe stomach cramps.  He leaned against the wall of the stairwell, clutching the handrail, suddenly sheathed in sour sweat, moaning low and wordlessly in misery.  He was certain that he was going to pass out, tumble backward, and break his neck.

But the cramps passed, and he continued climbing.  As soon as he was back in the laundry room, he headed out in search of a bathroom. 

There was a hallway off the far end of the living room, and there were three doors, but the one at the end of the hallway stood open, revealing a bathroom.  He headed there as quickly as he could go.   

Standing in front of the toilet, his manacled hands shook as he unzipped and freed himself.  He was hit by more waves of cramps, and these were markedly more vicious than those he had endured on the stairs.  He had refused to wet himself at the kitchen table, refused to be reduced to that degree of helplessness.  Now as he stood there and tried to relax his body, he couldn’t make water, though he desperately wanted to do that — needed to do it to stop the cramps.  He wondered if he had held out so long that a bladder spasm was pinching off the flow.  Such a thing was possible, and abruptly the cramps grew more severe, as if confirming his diagnosis.  He felt as if his guts were being rolled through a wringer — but then the cramps passed and relief came.

With the sudden flood, he was simultaneously laughing and sobbing, not with relief but with a weird sense of triumph. 

Getting free of the table, getting free of the chair and chains, freeing his ankles from the manacles and not wetting himself seemed, together, to be quite an accomplishment, and he felt the first real spark of hope that he was going to get out of here and survive this, and free Abigail as well. 

He had so much pain in his back from the battering that he’d endured, especially low around his kidneys, that he checked the bowl for signs of blood.  He was relieved to see that his urine was clear. 

When he was done he moved over to the sink and glanced in the mirror and was shocked by his reflection.  His hair was tangled and lank with sweat.  The right side of his face along the jaw seemed to be smeared with a purple ink, but when he touched it, he discovered that this was the trailing edge of a bruise that mottled that entire side of his neck.  He had dried blood on his forehead from a cut, and fresh blood on the side where the drill sliver had got him.  Where it wasn’t bruised or bloody or smeared with dirt, his skin was gray and grainy, as if he had been suffering through a long and difficult illness.  His reflection gazed back at him with a haunted expression so unnerving that he turned away from his own reflection in confusion and fear.

But then he forced himself to look back, and this time what he saw was the face of a fighter, and every fighter sustained some punishment, both physical and emotional.  Without anguish and agony, there was no hope of winning.  And Will had every intention of winning this fight. 

He turned on the faucet and splashed his sweaty face with cool water and drank a bit as well. 

Leaving the bathroom, just for the hell of it he decided he was going to check the upstairs and see if he could find a phone. 

At the top of the stairs he saw several doors.  The first door to the left of the hallway turned out to be Dr. Lecter’s bedroom.  It was a large room with a big bed in the center neatly made, carved furniture, more bookshelves full of books, paintings on the walls, a record player with classical music albums next to it, a comfortable chair near the fireplace, and thick carpeting on the floor.  The room even smelled like him, and Will repressed a shiver.  He imagined that Dr. Lecter spent a great deal of time in here reading and listening to his music and thinking up ways to ruin people’s lives. 

Will checked the room for a phone, and then checked the nightstand for any weapons, but he found neither.    

He opened a door in the room to a large walk-in closet.  It contained suits and ties and starched dress shirts and polished shoes, all neatly arranged.  But nothing that would be useful to him. 

Down the hall from Dr. Lecter’s bedroom was another bedroom and Will paused as he looked around it wide-eyed.  It was clearly a room for a girl.  Dr. Lecter must have prepared this room for Abigail for when the time came that he had brainwashed her into accepting her role as his daughter. 

There was no phone in that room either. 

He closed the door feeling his sense of urgency grow.  He quickly checked the other rooms—no phone, no weapons. 

Before leaving the second floor, he turned off all the lights.  If Dr. Lecter came home early before Will could get away with Abigail, the lights would warn him that something was amiss.  He would be lulled by darkness, however, and as he crossed the threshold, Will might have one last chance to kill him.  He had seen where Dr. Lecter had put his gun and it still had one bullet in it. 

He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.  In spite of his fantasies of pulling the trigger on Dr. Lecter, he didn’t want to have to confront him again.  He was a survivor, and he was a fighter, but Dr. Lecter was more than either: something come down from a high darkness.  His earlier physical confrontation with the man showed he was no match for him, and he didn’t want another chance to prove it.  But that didn’t mean that he couldn’t be the one to stop him.  He just had to get out of here and bring in the cavalry to take this man down.  That would be satisfying enough because Dr. Lecter would know who it was that was the instrument of his downfall.    

One tread at a time, Will went back down the stairs and to the kitchen.  Thankfully, neither of the two Dobermans was at the window in the dining area.    

He got a drinking glass out of the cabinet, filled it from the cold-water tap, and drank the entire glassful in long swallows before lowering it from his lips. 

He went back to the bathroom, found the bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet, went back to the kitchen, poured out seven aspirin in his hand and took them all with another glass of water.  If he was still alive tomorrow he was going to feel every ache and pain two-fold, but for now he just needed the aspirin to take the edge off the pain enough to get him through this evening. 

He went to the refrigerator next.  He avoided the Tupperware containers that might contain mystery meat, and found a plate of sliced cheese and fruit covered in plastic wrap.  He took it out and tore off the wrap and stood over the sink, eating voraciously, stuffing his mouth until his cheeks bulged.

He was in an uncommon state of mind as he ate: now moaning with delight, now half choking with laughter, now gagging and on the verge of tears, now laughing again, his emotions all over the place. 

Rinsing his hands in the kitchen sink his mind went back to the dogs outside.  Once he got Abigail out of that room, how the hell was he going to get them past those damn dogs?  Dogs out there with big-ass teeth and eyes black like sharks’ eyes. 

Will spotted a key organizer next to the spice rack.  The keys to the motor home hung from one of the four pegs; the other pegs were empty.  Of course Dr. Lecter would be careful with the keys to the soundproofed cell downstairs and would no doubt keep them on his person at all times.  Heaven forbid any part of this escape be easy. 

As Will went to turn off the lights he paused, went to the kitchen counter and pulled open the small drawer underneath.  He retrieved his wallet and letter from the FBI and stuffed them into his front pockets since he was still handcuffed.  These were his and he was not leaving them here in the Ripper’s house.  He took the gun out next and opened the chamber and saw the one bullet still there.  Good.  He was worried Dr. Lecter might have taken the bullet out.  He glanced over at the kitchen clock.  It was six-ten, and suddenly the night seemed to be a sled on a slope of ice, picking up speed.  He clicked off the lights and headed back through the laundry room to the cellar.  It was time to free Abigail from her prison. 

Will made it down the stairs and opened the outer door and stood there studying the thick inner door of the soundproofed vestibule.  He looked at the deadbolt securing the door on the left side, then looked at three large hinges that secured the door to the frame on the right side.  The pin in each hinge had a slightly rounded head that overhung the hinge by about a sixteenth of an inch all the way around.

Will walked to the work table and studied the tools on the mounted pegboard.  He selected a hammer and a large flathead screwdriver.

He pulled the bench over so that he could prop the outer padded door of the vestibule open.  Then he placed the gun on the rubber mat on the vestibule floor, within easy reach.  He just kept having this fear that Dr. Lecter would decide to leave work early and come home and sneak up on him. 

He started with the middle hinge since it was the easiest to reach.  The length of chain between his manacles was barely long enough to allow him to use the tools.  He held the screwdriver in his left hand, with the flat tip of the blade angled under the pin cap.  Without sufficient play in the manacle chain, he couldn’t grasp the hammer by its handle, so he gripped it instead by the head and tapped the bottom of the screwdriver as forcefully as possible considering the limitations on movement.  Fortunately, the hinge was well lubricated, and with each tap, the pin rose a little farther out of the hinge.  Fifteen minutes later, in spite of some difficulty with the bottom pin, all three of the pins were laying on the ground. 

The hinges were formed of interweaving knuckles that were held together by the pins.  Now that the pins were removed, the door was kept in place only by the tight fitting frame and the deadbolt on the left side of the door.  Will would just have to go in through the right side.  He used the clawed end of the hammer to start pulling at the hinges to separate them and pull the door away from the frame.  He pulled at the upper hinge, then the middle, then the lower, and back again.  The door started to come away from its tight-fitting frame in increments.  Once the knuckles of the hinges separated fully, he was able to wedge the hammer claws behind the hinge more fully, and he got better results.  Upper, middle, bottom, and back again.  Once the door was pulled out enough for him to get his fingers behind the door, he put the hammer down and gripped the door with both hands and pulled, putting his weight behind it, even while his left forearm screamed in pain. 

He managed to pull the door open a little over a foot, which was as far as the deadbolt on the left would allow, and squeezed through the opening and entered the cell. 

Abigail was standing in the middle of the room looking at him wide-eyed.  Of course she would have heard him working on the door but have no idea what was going on.  She looked frightened and started backing away.  “Who are you?” 

Will couldn’t blame her for being frightened of him.  He looked a mess and she had no idea who he was. 

He held up his cuffed hands in an appeasing manner and said, “Abigail, my name is Will Graham.  I’m a police officer and I’m here to rescue you.” 

“You’re here to rescue me?” she asked dubiously, glancing at his manacled hands. 

“I was Dr. Lecter’s prisoner, but I broke free.  And now I’m going to get us both out of here.  But first I’m going to need your help.” 

“Where is he?” she asked, looking nervously toward the door. 

“At work.  He said he’ll be home around 11:30.  Do you know if that’s true?  Is that the time he normally gets home from work?” 

“I have no way of knowing.  I don’t have a clock or a TV, or even a radio in here.  I never know if it’s night or day.  I don’t even know how long I’ve been here.  What day is it?” 

“It’s Thanksgiving day.  Well, the day after actually.” 

She paused, looking stunned.  “So long.  I had no idea,” she said, looking at him so wide-eyed and vulnerable that Will’s heart nearly broke. 

“Well, you’ll be free soon enough, and then he’ll be the one locked away in a cell, hopefully forever.  We can do this if we just work together.  But first I need your help getting these manacles off my hands.  “I found a power drill that we can use.” 

They squeezed through the door and Will picked up his gun and the hammer as they passed through the vestibule.  Abigail’s eyes kept darting around as if expecting Dr. Lecter to jump out at any minute.  Will knew the feeling.  He remembered being down here before and foolishly thinking Dr. Lecter was in the shower when he had apparently been watching him the whole time. 

Will picked up the drill and gave the trigger a couple of squeezes so Abigail would know what to expect noise-wise.  He handed her the drill and glanced at the clock again.  Seven o’clock.  Four-and-a-half hours left.  They could do this. 

He remembered seeing a pair of googles in one of the storage cabinets and retrieved them and had her put them on in case of more flying slivers.  He then straddled the bench and sat down, put his hands on the flat surface, and turned his wrists to expose the tiny keyhole on the left manacle. 

“Just put the drill bit in the hole and squeeze the trigger and bear down,” he said, looking up at her expectantly.  He longed to be free.  Even if Dr. Lecter did come home early, at least if he was free of his shackles he could put up a fight.  And he still had that one bullet left in the gun.   

Abigail inserted the drill bit into the key hole and squeezed the trigger experimentally, but stopped when the motor shrieked and the drill bit popped out of the hole.  She looked up at Will questioningly. 

“It’s all right, Abigail.  It made that same noise when I did the ankle cuffs.  And there may be a bit of smoke as well, but don’t let that frighten you.  Just bear down on the drill so it won’t pop out.” 

She nodded and positioned the bit back in the keyhole and squeezed the trigger again, this time not letting up and bearing down on the drill as he instructed.  The steel manacle pressed painfully against Will’s wrist.

Suddenly the drill motor whined.  Steel squealed against steel, and the sound was followed by the thin, acrid odor of hot metal.  Vibrations in Will’s wrist bones spread up his arm, and he had to bite back a scream as the pain flared mercilessly in his left forearm.  A clatter, a hard ping, and the left manacle fell open.  He managed to give her a shaky smile while rubbing the free wrist and forearm. 

“One down, one to go,” he said, positioning the right cuff. 

More confident now, she inserted the drill bit quickly and made short work of the second cuff. 

With a laugh of relief, Will shook off the manacles and raised his hands, gazing at them in wonder.  Both of his wrists were abraded — actually raw and seeping in places. But that pain was less severe than many others that afflicted him, and no pain could diminish the exhilaration of being free at last. 

“Thank you.  Thank you, Abigail, you did a great job.” 

She took the googles off and smiled, pleased at the praise.  “Now what do we do?” she asked. 

“Now we have to find a way to deal with Dr. Lecter’s guard dogs.”   

“How are we going to do that?” she said, looking frightened.  “He took me upstairs once and made me watch while he turned a woman loose in the yard, told her she was free.  She started running, and then these four dogs came out of nowhere from different directions and just tackled her to the ground and ripped her apart.  She was screaming and screaming until they finally killed her.” 

Somehow Will wasn’t surprised.  It had probably been a lesson to discourage Abigail from ever trying to escape, because now she would know that even if she somehow managed to get out of her room, she couldn’t leave the house, because if she did, those dogs would be out there waiting to rip her apart if she put so much as a toe outside. 

But something Abigail said disturbed him.  “You said you saw four dogs?” he asked, his heart dropping a bit more.  He had only ever seen two. 

“Mm-hmm, there were definitely four,” she said. 

Crap.  Two was bad enough, but four was so much worse.  Still, free of manacles and shackles, no longer carrying a chair on his back, with a stomach full of fruit and cheese, and with a gloriously empty bladder, he had nothing to think about except the dogs.  But an idea was forming.  He went back to the metal cabinet and opened the middle one back up and looked at the padded jumpsuit again, then pulled it out. 

He also pulled out the helmet with the Plexiglas face shield, a pair of heavy gloves, and a round bit of padding that probably tied around the neck to protect that. 

Dr. Lecter’s extraordinary safeguards told Will everything that he needed to know about the savagery of the dogs. 

“What is that?” Abigail asked. 

“This,” Will said, “is hopefully how we’re going to get out of here.” 

Chapter Text

Will carried the gear up the cellar stairs, Abigail right on his heels.  He went through the laundry room into the kitchen and tossed the gear on the kitchen island, then turned the lights back on.  He no longer cared about keeping the house dark.  As soon as he went out the front door and confronted the dogs, there would be no hope of lulling Dr. Lecter into a false sense of security if he came home early. 

According to the mantel clock, it was seven-twenty.  A little over four hours before he came home.

Abigail had been sticking to him like glue, looking around twitchily like a frightened rabbit. 

Will put the protective gear on now.  He hadn’t wanted to put it on downstairs and then clumsily navigate the steps.  It was designed for Dr. Lecter so it was a bit big on him, and he hoped the extra bulk didn’t impede his movements. 

Nevertheless, he was vulnerable in places, especially at his feet and ankles.  Dr. Lecter’s training gear included a pair of leather boots with steel toes, but they were several sizes too large on him and would slow him down.  What he was hoping was that he could quickly sprint to the RV before the dogs detected him, and he would be faster in his own shoes, but that meant that his feet and ankles were vulnerable.  Still, he was pretty sure his feet would not be the dogs’ first point of attack. 

He had considered carrying the hammer in his hand, but with his agility impaired by the thick padding and heavy gloves, he was afraid he couldn’t use it effectively enough to hurt any of the Dobermans, or even dissuade them from attacking.

Instead, Will was equipped with a lever-action spray bottle that he’d found in a laundry-room cabinet.  It had been filled with liquid glass cleaner. He had emptied the bottle into the kitchen sink, rinsed it out, considered filling it with bleach, but instead chose pure ammonia, of which the fastidious Dr. Lecter, the keeper of a spotless house, possessed a gallon jug.  Now the plastic spray bottle stood beside the front door.  The nozzle had been adjustable to produce a spray or a stream, and Will had set it to STREAM.

Abigail had continued to follow him around like a shadow as if she were afraid he would vanish if she turned away. 

“Now here’s what I’m going to do, Abigail.  I’m going to run to the RV that’s parked right out front and hopefully get inside before the dogs spot me.  Once I’m inside I’m going to back the RV up to the house toward a set of balcony doors I saw in Dr. Lecter’s bedroom on the second floor.  They open to the porch roof.  If I can pull close enough, you'll be able to step onto the porch roof and then onto the RV roof, and there’s a skylight in the roof of the RV that I can either open or bust out, and then you can drop down through it.  That way you won’t have to go anywhere near those dogs.  Sound good? 

Abigail nodded, looking relieved. 

“But just in case I can’t get the RV close enough to the roof, maybe you can look around the house, find something to use as a plank to bridge the gap so that we can get you across.  Don’t worry, I’ll be there to help you across.  But if you could find something, that would be really helpful, okay? 

“Okay,” Abigail said, nodding again. 

Will had given her the task to keep her busy.  If the dogs did end up attacking him, he didn’t want her watching it out the window. 

“Okay, wish me luck,” he said, smiling at the girl in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion. 

“Good luck,” she said, giving him a small smile in return. 

Once she walked away on her errand, Will peaked out the window to see if he could spot any of the dogs.  It was dark out now and the chances of seeing them in the dark were slim to none, but he didn’t see any movement in the porch lighting. 

The heavy protective suit was beginning to weigh painfully on his bruised muscles and sore joints. Minute by minute, the discomfort was going to make him slower mentally and physically.  He had to act while he was still reasonably sharp.

He put on the visored helmet and tightened the chin strap to keep it secure. The curved shield of Plexiglas came two inches below his chin, but the underside was open to allow air to flow in freely — and there were six small holes across the center of the pane for additional ventilation and so that it didn’t fog up with his breathing.

One more glance out the window.  No Dobermans in sight.

The yard beyond the porch was dark, and the meadow beyond the yard seemed as black as the far side of the moon.  The dogs might be standing out there, watching his silhouette in the lighted windows.  In fact, they might be waiting just beyond the porch, crouched and ready to spring.

He glanced at the clock.

Seven forty-five.  Shit, where was the time going?  Even after they escaped, he needed time to find a police station; and then the police would need time to organize and be in place to grab Dr. Lecter as soon as he arrived home.  If Dr. Lecter came home before that happened and realized they had escaped, he would immediately make a run for it, setting up shop in another town, or even in a different country.  He couldn’t let that happen. 

Heading for the front door he mumbled, “Please, just let this one thing go smoothly.” 

He pulled on the leather gloves, which were heavy but surprisingly flexible. They were too large but had adjustable Velcro bands at the wrists to hold them in place.

He had made a small cut in the thumb of the right-hand glove and stuck the RV key blade through it.  The entire blade, with all its tumbler-activating serrations, extended beyond the tip of the thumb, so it could be inserted easily into the keyway on the door of the motor home.  He didn’t want to have to fumble the key from a pocket if the dogs did attack him, and he sure as hell didn’t want to risk dropping it in the dark.

Of course, the vehicle might not be locked, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

From the floor, he picked up the spray bottle in his left hand, gave a couple of test squirts to make sure it was working, and then quietly disengaged the deadbolt lock, listening for the hollow thump of paws on the porch, and finally cracked open the door.

The porch looked clear.

Will crossed the threshold and quickly but quietly pulled the door shut behind him.

He hooked his fingers around the lever on the bottle.  The effectiveness of this weapon would depend on how fast the dogs came at him and whether he could aim well in the brief window of opportunity that they would give him. 

In a night as windless as it was deep, not a single leaf stirred on the tree at the north end of the porch.  Without even the faintest breeze to carry his scent to the dogs, maybe they would not be aware that he had come outside.

Yeah, and maybe pigs can fly but just don’t want us to know.

The night seemed to be soundless.  With his ears under the padded helmet, however, he wasn’t able to hear small noises.

The motor home stood in the driveway, thirty feet from the porch straight ahead of him.

Still seeing no movement, he moved forward slowly.  He reached the steps and held onto the banister as his eyes swept, scanning the yard, looking for any movement.    Still no sign of any dogs.

The night was so chilly that his breath formed a faint fog on the inside of his visor.  Each flare of condensation faded quickly — but each seemed to fan out across the Plexiglas farther than the one before it.  In spite of the ventilation from under his chin and through the six holes across the center of the pane, he began to worry that his own hot exhalations were gradually going to leave him effectively blind.  He was breathing hard and fast, and he was hardly more able to slow his rate of respiration than quiet the rapid pounding of his heart.

He angled his breaths toward the open bottom of the face shield to minimize the problem.  

He took one porch step at a time, still seeing no movement.  He felt terribly exposed in the porch light. 

He was on the flagstone walkway now and still hadn’t seen any signs of the dogs.  Feeling emboldened, he decided to go for it, sprint to the RV.  Feeling the key against his right thumb, he had just started to move when it came at him, as black as the night out of which it came, as silent as the high patchy clouds sailing slowly across fields of stars.  It must have been standing at the front of the motor home watching him.  It didn’t bark or growl.

Because it blended in with the night, he almost failed to see it in time.  It was not until it reached the pale light around the porch that he spotted it.  Because he forgot to exhale with calculation, a wave of condensation spread across the inside of the visor.  At once, the pale film of moisture retreated like an ebbing surf, but the dog was bearing down on him like a locomotive, ears flattened against its tapered skull, lips skinned back from its teeth.

Will frantically squeezed the lever of the spray bottle that he clutched in his left hand.  Ammonia shot six or seven feet in the still air.

The dog wasn’t within range when the first stream spattered onto the flagstone, but it was closing fast.

He felt stupid, like a kid with a water pistol.  This wasn’t going to work.  Wasn’t going to work.  But oh, Jesus, it had to work or he was dog chow.

Immediately he pumped the lever again, and the dog was closing the distance fast, and he wished that he had a sprayer with more pressure, one with at least a ten-foot range, so he could stop the beast before it got anywhere near him, but he squeezed the trigger again, and this one got the dog as it was within six feet of him.  He was aiming for its eyes, but the ammonia splashed its muzzle, spattering its nose and its bared teeth.

The effect was instantaneous. The Doberman lost its footing and tumbled toward him, yipping, and would have crashed into him if he hadn’t jumped aside.

With caustic ammonia slathering its tongue and fumes filling its lungs, unable to draw a breath of clean air, the dog rolled onto its back, pawing frantically at its snout.  It wheezed and hacked and made shrill sounds of distress.

Will started moving, going around the dog and scanning the area, trying to move faster knowing the yipping would draw the other dogs.  Three more according to Abigail. 

He was surprised to hear himself speaking aloud: “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…”

Onward, then, halfway there.  He glanced back warily and saw that the big dog was on its feet, wobbling in circles, shaking its head.  Between sharp squeals of pain, it was sneezing violently.

The second dog virtually flew out of the darkness.  From the corner of his eye, he detected movement to his right, turned his head, and saw an airborne Doberman coming at him like an incoming mortar round.  Though he raised his left arm and started to swing the bottle toward the dog, he wasn’t quick enough, and before he could loose a stream of ammonia, he was hit so hard that he was nearly bowled off his feet.  He stumbled sideways but somehow maintained his balance. 

The Doberman’s teeth sunk into the thick sleeve on his right arm.  It wasn’t merely holding him as a police dog would have done but was working at the padding as if chewing on meat, trying to rip off a chunk and severely disable him, tear open an artery so he would bleed to death, but fortunately its teeth hadn’t penetrated the thick padding to his flesh.

After coming at him in disciplined silence, the dog still wasn’t snarling, but from low in its throat issued a sound halfway between a growl and a hungry keening, an eerie and needful cry that Will heard too clearly in spite of his padded helmet. 

Point-blank, reaching across his body with his left hand, he squirted a stream of ammonia into the Doberman’s fierce black eyes. 

The dog’s jaws flew open as if they were part of a mechanical device that had popped a tension spring, and it spun away from him, silvery strings of saliva trailing from its black lips, howling in agony.

He remembered the words of warning on the ammonia label:  Causes substantial but temporary eye injury. 

Squealing like an injured child, the dog rolled in the grass, pawing at its eyes as the first animal had pawed at its snout, but with even greater urgency. 

The manufacturer recommended rinsing contaminated eyes with plenty of water for fifteen minutes. The dog had no water, unless it instinctively made its way to a stream or pond, so this one wouldn’t be a problem to him for at least a quarter of an hour, most likely far longer.

The Doberman sprang to its feet and chased its tail, snapping its teeth.  It stumbled and fell again, scrambled erect, and streaked away into the night, temporarily blinded, yipping in pain. 

Listening to the poor thing’s screams as he hurried toward the motor home, Will winced with remorse.  It would have torn him apart without hesitation if it could have gotten at him, but it was a mindless killer only by training, not by nature.  In a way, the dogs were just other victims of Hannibal Lecter, their lives bent to his purpose.  He would have spared them suffering if he had been able to rely solely on the protective clothing.

Okay, two dogs left.  Move, move, move.

Will reached the passenger-side cockpit door of the motor home and tried the handle.  Locked.  Of course it was locked. 

Just five seconds without dogs, please. 

He pushed the key with his thumb so that it was out as far as possible while trying to maneuver it into the lock.  

His hand was shaking and he was having trouble seeing in the dark and the key missed the keyhole and chattered against the chrome face of the lock cylinder.  He would have dropped it if it hadn’t been embedded in the glove.

From behind this time, just as he was about to slip the key into the door on his second try, a Doberman hit him, leaping onto his back, biting at the nape of his neck.

He was slammed forward against the vehicle, the face shield on his helmet smacking hard against the door.

The dog’s teeth were sunk into the thick roll tied around his neck, no doubt also into the padding on the segmented plastic collar that he wore under the jacket to protect his neck.  It was holding on to him by its teeth, tearing at him ineffectively with its claws like some demon in a nightmare.

As the dog’s impact had pitched him forward against the motor home, now the weight of it and its furious squirming dragged him away from the vehicle.  He almost toppled backward, but he knew that the advantage would go to the dog if it managed to drag him to the ground.

Stay up at all costs. 

Lurching around a hundred eighty degrees as he struggled to keep his balance, he saw that the first Doberman was no longer where it had been. Astonishingly, the creature hanging from his neck must be the one that he had squirted on the muzzle.  Now that it was able to get its breath again, it was back in service, giving its all for Hannibal Lecter.

On the plus side, maybe there were only two dogs.  Maybe Dr. Lecter had lost two dogs since Abigail saw them last. 

Will had managed to hold onto the spray bottle in his left hand.  He squeezed the trigger, aiming several squirts over his shoulder.  But the heavy padding in the jacket sleeves didn’t allow him to bend his arms much, and he wasn’t able to fire at an angle that could splash the ammonia in the dog’s eyes.

He threw himself backward against the motor home as hard as he could, and the dog took the brunt of the impact.

Letting go of him, falling away, the dog squealed, a pitiful sound that sickened him, but also a good sound — oh, yes — a good sound as sweet as any music. 

Will scuttled sideways, trying to get out of the animal’s reach, worried about his ankles, his vulnerable ankles.

But suddenly the Doberman no longer seemed to be in a fighting mood.  It slunk away from him, rolling its eyes to keep a watch on him peripherally, shaking and wheezing as though it had damaged a lung, and favoring its hind leg on the right side. 

Two dogs down.  Please let that be all of them. 

Move, move.

Will was turning to the passenger door again — and cried out as a third dog, much heavier than the other one,  leaped at his throat, bit through the jacket, and staggered him backward.

He was going down—shit!  And as he went, the dog was on top of him, chewing frenziedly at the collar of the jacket.

When Will hit the ground, his breath was knocked from him in spite of all the padding, and the spray bottle popped out of his hand and spun into the air.  He grabbed at it as it tumbled away, but missed.

The dog ripped loose a strip of padding from around the jacket collar and shook its head, casting the scrap aside, spraying his face shield with gobs of foamy saliva.  It bore in at him again, tearing more fiercely at the same spot, burrowing deeper, seeking meat, blood, triumph. 

He pounded its sleek head with both fists, trying to smash its ears, hoping that they would be sensitive, vulnerable. “Get off, damn it, off!  Bad dog!  Off!”

The Doberman snapped at his right hand, missed, teeth clashing audibly, snapped again, and connected.  Its incisors didn’t instantly penetrate the tough leather glove, but then it shook his hand viciously, as though it had hold of a rat and meant to snap its spine.  Though his skin hadn’t been broken, the grinding pressure of the bite was so painful that Will screamed.

In an instant, the dog released his hand and was at his throat again, pushing Will’s chin up and working its way closer. 

Howling in pain, Will stretched his left hand toward the spray bottle lying in the grass.  The weapon was a foot beyond his reach. 

He tried to heave the Doberman off him, but it was heavy, bearing down stubbornly, paws digging frantically at him, trying to disembowel him.

As the dog wrenched at Will’s protective collar, he could feel its hot breath against the underside of his chin.  If it could get its snout under the shield at a slightly better angle, it might be able to bite his chin, would be able to bite his chin, and at any moment it was going to realize this.

He heaved with all his strength, and the dog clung, but he was able to hitch a few inches closer to the spray bottle.  He heaved again, and now the bottle was just six inches beyond his grasping fingertips.

He saw the other Doberman limping toward him, ready to rejoin the fray.  He hadn’t damaged its lungs after all when he had slammed it against the motor home. 

Two of them.  He couldn’t handle two of them at once, both on top of him.

The one on top of him licked the underside of his chin, licked, tasting his sweat.  It was making that horrible, needful sound deep in its throat.  Soon its teeth would reach that same spot. 

He remembered the key sticking out of the hole in thumb in the right-hand glove, and pinching it as hard as he could between his thumb and forefinger, he swung it with as much force as he could muster toward the dog’s mid-section. 

The dog yipped and brought its head up from his neck but didn’t get off him, so he kept stabbing at it with the key until it scuttled backwards off him, yipping. 

Will saw the other Doberman coming toward him.  This one was a bit skittish now about getting too close to him, so instead of going for his throat it decided to go for his right foot.  Will kicked at it while scuttling sideways toward the spray bottle. 

Will kicked again when it got closer still, and the Doberman bit the heel of his shoe.

HIs frantic breathing fogged the inside of the visor making it hard for him to see.  Kicking with both feet to ward off the limping dog he felt blindly for the bottle. 

Will touched the spray bottle.  Closed his fingers around it.

In spite of his kicking, the injured dog got ahold of his foot again and this time bit through his sneaker.  Teeth pierced his right foot.

Will triggered a thick stream of ammonia toward his feet, working the trigger frantically until abruptly that Doberman let go of him.  Both he and the dog were shrieking, living now in the same commonwealth of pain.

The dog that he had stabbed with the key seemed to be encouraged by his screams and was back on him, pressing its muzzle toward his chin, under the visor.  Snap-snap-snap.  And the eager hungry whine.

He jammed the bottle in its face, pulled the trigger, pulled, and the dog scrambled off him, screaming.  But a few drops of ammonia penetrated the visor through the series of small holes across the center of the pane.  He wasn’t able to see now through the fogged Plexiglas, and the acrid fumes made breathing difficult.

Gasping and coughing, eyes watering, he rolled over onto his hands and knees and crawled toward where he thought the motor home stood.  He bumped into the side of it and pulled himself to his feet.  His bitten foot felt hot, perhaps because it was soaking in the bath of blood contained in his shoe, but at least he could put weight on it with only tolerable twinges of pain.

Three dogs so far.

If three, then surely four.

The fourth would be coming.

As the ammonia evaporated from the face shield and less rapidly from the front of his torn jacket, the quantity of fumes decreased but not quickly enough.  He wanted to remove the helmet and draw an unobstructed breath, but he didn’t dare take it off until he was safely inside the motor home.

Choking on ammonia fumes, trying to remember to exhale downward under the Plexiglas visor but half blinded because his eyes wouldn’t stop watering, Will felt along the side of the motor home until he found the door again. 

The key had slipped out of the thumb hole and Will had to maneuver it back through.  He pinched it between his thumb and forefinger reciting almost there, almost there, over and over again in his head.

A dog was wailing in the distance.  Nearby, another was crying pitifully and howling.  A third whimpered, sneezed, gagged on fumes.

But where the hell was the fourth?

Fumbling at the lock cylinder, he found the keyhole by trial and error.  He opened the door and hauled himself up into the copilot’s seat.

As he pulled the door shut, something slammed into the outside of it scaring the crap out of him.  The fourth dog.

He moved into the dining nook area and gratefully took off the helmet and gloves, breathing shakily.  He stripped out of the padded jumpsuit so he could move more freely. 

As he removed the jumpsuit the fourth Doberman kept leaping at the side window, its claws rattling briefly against the glass before it dropped back to the lawn.

In the fourteen hours or longer since he had been in the motor-home bedroom, the air had acquired a faint scent of corruption, and Will realized with dismay that Dr. Lecter hadn’t removed the two bodies from the RV.  The thought of Sarah’s body back there decomposing had him feeling nauseous again.  He went to the front and sat in the driver’s seat and opened the driver’s side window an inch to let some fresh air in while breathing through his mouth, trying to avoid the smell, and trying not to think about what was causing it. 

He pulled the gun out of the back of his waistband and put it in the console next to the  seat.  Then he put the key in the ignition and turned on the engine. 

He drove the motor home off the driveway onto the lawn and then put it in reverse and started backing it up, aiming for the set of balcony doors he had seen in Dr. Lecter’s bedroom on the second floor.  They opened onto the long, flat porch roof, which came out about eight feet, so if he could just back the vehicle right up to the porch, Abigail could step off the porch roof right onto the top of the RV and lower herself through the skylight and they could drive away from here right now, end this nightmare. 

He let the big vehicle roll slowly, anxious not to tear up the thick grass, because under it the ground might be muddy from the rain.  He didn’t dare bog down.  This idea might have worked; unfortunately someone had built up the area in front of the house on either side of the porch about three feet high so that they could plant ornamental flowers and shrubs, and had surrounded that built up area with a three foot high rock wall.  Will was afraid to pick up speed and try to ram it because he was worried that the back end of the RV would get caught up on the rock wall.  So he just let the RV coast slowly backward until he felt it connect with the wall and it came to a jarring halt. 

He knew instinctively it wasn’t close enough.  Hopefully Abigail had found something they could use to bridge the gap. 

He put the vehicle in park and left the motor running.  He was nervous about leaving the engine running, because the sound of it would mask the approach of another vehicle in case Dr. Lecter came home early, but he needed lights so he could see what he was doing. 

A folding metal stepstool was stored in a narrow slot between the kitchen cabinetry and the refrigerator.  He carried it into the short hallway at the end of the vehicle and opened it under the skylight, which was a flat panel of frosted plastic about three feet long and perhaps twenty inches wide.

He climbed onto the stool to inspect the skylight, hoping that it either tilted open to admit fresh air or was attached to the roof from the interior. Unfortunately, the panel was bolted into place from the outside.

Under the padded jumpsuit, Will had tucked the hammer into his belt.  He took it out now and stood on the bottom step of the two-step stool.  The top of his head was only ten inches from the skylight.  Averting his face, he swung the hammer with his uninjured left hand, and the flat steel head met the plastic with a horrendous bang and clatter that sent pain rocketing up his painful forearm.

The skylight was undamaged.

Will was right-handed so he wasn’t getting the same power with his left-hand.  He wished the dog had gotten his left hand instead of his right.  But he swung the hammer relentlessly, blocking out the pain.  Each blow reverberated in the plastic overhead but also through all of the strained and weary muscles throughout his entire body. 

The motor home was at least ten years old, and this appeared to be the original factory-installed skylight.  It wasn’t Plexiglas but some less formidable material, and over many years of sunshine and bad weather the plastic had grown brittle.  Finally the rectangular panel cracked along one edge of the frame.  Will hammered at the leading point of the fissure, making it grow all the way to the corner, then along the narrow end, and then along the other three-foot length.

He had to pause several times to catch his breath and to change the hammer from hand to hand, even though he could barely grip it with his right hand.  At last the panel rattled loosely in its frame; it now seemed to be secured only by splinters of material along the fissures and by the uncracked fourth edge.

Will tossed the hammer on the floor, slowly flexed his hands a few times to work some of the stiffness out of them, and then put both palms flat against the plastic. Grunting with effort, he pushed upward.

With a brittle splintering of plastic, the panel lifted an inch, jagged edges squeaking against each other. Then it bent backward at its fourth side, creaking, resisting him…resisting…until he cried out wordlessly in frustration and, finding new strength, pushed even harder.  Abruptly the fourth side cracked all the way through.  He pushed the panel out through the ceiling.  It rattled across the roof and dropped to the ground.

Through the hole above his head, Will saw clouds suddenly slide away from the near full moon.  Cold light bathed his upturned face, and in the bottomless sky was the clean white fire of stars.  The cool fresh air rushing in suddenly felt like freedom.  They were so close now. 

He climbed onto the second step, and stood with his head in the night air, above the open frame of the broken-out skylight.

He wished the stool had a third step.  He would need to muscle himself up onto the RV roof, and unfortunately he was at a less advantageous angle than he would have liked and all his muscles were currently screaming in pain.

He placed his hands flat on the roof on opposite sides of the twenty-inch-wide rectangular opening and struggled to lever his body out of the motor home. He strained so hard that he could feel the tendons flaring between his neck and shoulders, his pulse pounding in his temples and carotid arteries, every muscle in his arms and across his back quivering with the effort. 

Pain in his right hand and left forearm had stars appearing before his eyes, but he focused on thoughts of Abigail, alone and afraid and probably pacing the floor and wondering where he was.  That image of the girl empowered Will, put him in touch with hitherto unknown resources.  His shaking arms slowly straightened, pulling his body out of the hallway, and inch by inch he kicked his feet as if he were a swimmer ascending from the depths.  At last his elbows locked with his arms at full extension, and he heaved forward, out through the skylight, onto the roof.

On the way, his shirt caught on small fragments of plastic that bristled from the skylight frame.  A few jagged points pierced the material and stung his belly, but he broke loose of them. 

He crawled forward, rolled onto his back, hiked his shirt, and felt his stomach to see how badly he had been cut.  Blood wept from a couple of shallow punctures, but he wasn’t hurt seriously.  Just one more injury on top of all the others he had suffered in the last 24 hours. 

From far off in the night came the howls of at least two injured dogs.  Their pathetic cries were so filled with fear, vulnerability, misery, and loneliness that Will could hardly bear to listen. 

He eased to the edge of the roof and looked down at the yard to the east of the house.

The fourth Doberman trotted around the front of the motor home and spotted him at once.  It stopped directly under him, gazing up, teeth bared.  It seemed unfazed by the suffering of its three comrades.

Will moved away from the edge and got to his feet.  The metal surface was somewhat slippery, but it was relatively flat, and he was thankful for the rubber tread on his sneakers.  If he lost his footing and fell off into the yard with no weapons and no protective clothing, the one remaining Doberman would tear out his throat in ten seconds flat. 

He sighed in frustration when he saw that the motor home was still about six feet from the porch roof.  He really hoped he wasn’t going to have to try and jump the distance. 

“Abigail!” he called out.  “Abigail!” 

He waited.  He saw a face appear at the dining room window downstairs and he motioned her upstairs. 

She appeared at the balcony doors and opened them up. 

“I was getting worried.  What took you so long?” 

“Dr. Lecter’s dogs are unfortunately very good at their job.  We’re almost home free, but this is as close as I could get the RV.  Did you find something we can use to bridge the gap?” 

“I think so.  Hold on one second.” 

She came back with an aluminum extension ladder, the kind that you can make longer or shorter.  This could work.  It had rubber caps on all four ends which would help keep it from slipping out of place. 

“Good work, Abigail.  Hand one end across to me.” 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Beep-beep…beep-beep…beep-beep…beep-beep…

Hannibal pauses in the middle of washing his hands in the ER, surprised by the soft beeping coming from the general direction of his pocket. 

“What is that?” Dr. Lynch asks, looking over at him while washing his own hands next to him in preparation of seeing the next patient in the ER. 

“That is a beeper that’s connected to the security system in my home,” he answers, drying his hands quickly and pulling out his keyring which contains a small remote.  He presses a button and the beeping stops.  “It would appear that someone is attempting to break into my house.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave early or I may arrive home to find the place cleaned out.” 

“Of course,” Dr. Lynch replies, drying his own hands.  “By all means, do what you must.  I can cover for you.” 

“I am in your debt, Charles,” Hannibal replies, already heading for the door. 

The alarm is not, in fact, an alarm to the house.  With the dogs guarding the place he has never felt the need to add one.  What the alarm is connected to is the RV.  He had installed a silent alarm on the RV as a precaution so that if anyone tampered with it while he was on one of his hunting trips, he would be alerted instantly.  But to date the alarm has never gone off.  Not until now. 

Of course, it is possible that one of the dogs, smelling the bodies inside, jumped on one of the doors and set the alarm off.  That seems a far more likely explanation than the alternative; the alternative being that Will Graham not only managed to free himself from chains, handcuffs and ankle manacles, but has somehow also managed to get past his four formidable dogs.  But instinct is telling him that it is not the dogs who have set off the alarm.   

As soon as he is outside the building away from watchful eyes, he moves faster, feeling an unaccustomed sense of panic.  Everything that he has worked toward, everything that he has accomplished, the life that he has made for himself here will be lost if Will Graham manages to escape.  And then there is the considerable amount of time he has invested in Abigail, the child that he has come to think of as his daughter.  He knows for a fact that if Will Graham is in the process of escaping, he will take Abigail with him.  Will risked everything, including his own life, to try and rescue her and he would not leave her behind now.  It’s possible that this might cause his escape to be delayed … at least Hannibal hopes so.  If he hurries he may still be able to salvage this. 

He gets in his car and heads out, keeping to the speed limit even though every fiber of his being is telling him to floor it.  He knows there are several areas where county deputies hide out looking to catch and ticket speeders, and he can’t risk being pulled over.  He has already drawn attention to himself by leaving work early; he will not compound that by having a deputy pull him over and remember it. 

He looks at the clock on his dash.  Adrenalin is coursing through his body as his mind is already envisioning the many scenarios he might find upon arriving home and all the different ways it can play out.  Ideally, he will recapture the pair.  If they leave him no choice, though, he will kill one or both of them to protect himself.  However, if they are already gone, he will have to immediately flee.  He has several bank accounts outside of the U.S., so money isn’t an issue.  The issue is that reestablishing himself elsewhere will be time consuming and inconvenient.  And then there would be the loss of Abigail and the man he had pretty well decided was the one destined to be his mate.  His perfect family had finally been within his grasp; he can not lose that now. 

The thought of losing both Abigail and Will has cracks forming in his calm demeanor, allowing some of the panic he is holding in check to seep through and make him feel uncharacteristically reckless.  He presses his foot down a bit harder on the gas pedal, knowing instinctively that if he does lose these two they will be very hard, if not impossible, to replace.  One thing is for certain, if Will Graham has managed to free himself and he can arrive in time to stop the pair of them from escaping, he will ensure that the two of them never escape him again. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will set his end of the ladder firmly on the middle of the RV roof while Abigail positioned her end down on the porch roof.  The rungs were unfortunately narrow and rounded and Will wondered if this was safe.  He had best try it first before he had Abigail walk on it. 

“I’m going to try walking across it first Abigail.  Hold on to your end to keep it steady for me.” 

She bent down and took hold of the end rung with both hands. 

Will planted first one foot, then the other on different rungs.  The foot that the Doberman bit immediately complained.  Holding his arms out to his sides like a tightrope walker, when he felt centered he took one step, then another.  With the next step, however, his injured foot slid somewhat inside his shoe and he bobbled to the right and knelt down quickly and grabbed hold of the ladder, barely managing to keep himself from falling sideways into the eager jaws of the dog awaiting below.  He looked down and he could swear the dog had an eager, expectant expression on its face as if it expected him to fall. 

“Are you all right?” Abigail asked, holding onto her end of the ladder so tight her knuckles were white.   

Not really, he thought, heart hammering at his close call.  “I’m fine.  Just not very graceful,” he said smiling over at her, trying to ease her worry. 

He got up again in a sort of semi-squat and took the last three steps quickly, stepping off it sideways onto the roof. 

Abigail stood up.  “Do you really think I can do that?” she asked worriedly. 

“I know you can.  I’ll go back across first and be there to grab you if anything goes wrong.  It’s just six steps.  Easy peasy, all right?” he said encouragingly. 

“All right.” 

“But I have to do something first.  It’ll only take a couple of minutes.” 

He walked through the balcony doors into Dr. Lecter’s bedroom. 

According to the mantel clock, the time was twenty minutes to nine.  A little over two-and-a-half hours left.  They were okay.  They were almost home free now.    

Will went through Dr. Lecter’s dresser drawers until he found his sock drawer.  Choosing a pair of cotton socks over fancy dress socks, he went to the bed and sat down.  He gingerly untied and removed his right shoe while Abigail watched.  His sock was sodden with blood, and he peeled it off.  From two punctures in the top of his foot, blood welled dark and thick. It was seeping, however, not spurting, and he wasn’t going to die from the wound itself anytime soon.  However, his foot had been sliding around inside the bloody shoe and he needed to dry it out before he attempted the ladder again. 

Looking up at Abigail’s questioning look he said, “One of the dogs got me.” 

She just nodded, eyes glued to his foot. 

He put one of the dry socks on, feeling strange about putting on something that the Chesapeake Ripper had worn, and used the other sock to wipe out the inside of the shoe. 

“Does it hurt bad?” Abigail asked. 

“It doesn’t feel good, but it won’t kill me,” he said smiling up at the girl, her freckles standing out against her too pale skin.  He wondered when she’d been outside in the sun last. 

She nodded again but looked uncertain. 

He grimaced slightly as he slipped his shoe on.  His foot was throbbing.   You can do this, he thought to himself.  You can get yourself and Abigail out of here, end this nightmare.  It’s almost over. 

“I need a couple more things, and then we can go.  You can help me with one of them.  I need you to find me a long stick, like a broom or a mop.  My guess is you’ll find one in the laundry room.  Can you do that for me?” 

“Sure.  But what are you going to do?” 

“I’m going to go to a room down the hall I saw earlier that I think is his office, see if I can find a bill or something with this address on it so we can tell the police exactly where he lives.  Sound good?” 

“She nodded and rushed off.” 

Will limped down the hall and found the room he had seen earlier that looked like an office.  This was probably where Dr. Lecter sat when he paid his bills and conducted his other business, like a regular human being. 

He opened the door and walked to the desk.  Nothing on it.  He tried the desk drawers but they were all locked.  He ran his hand through his hair in frustration.  How paranoid was this guy?  Without knowing the address he would have to describe how to get here, memorize the route he takes to the police station so they can backtrack it, and if he ended up zig-zagging around while searching … 

He tried the drawers to a tall file cabinet, which were also locked.  Just as he was about to look for something to use to try and pry open the desk drawers, he spotted the corner of something sticking out on top of the file cabinet.  Reaching up and removing it, he saw it was a copy of The American Journal of Medicine, the magazine that Dr. Lecter had published his article in that had started this whole fiasco. 

But what had him smiling was the mailing label affixed to the bottom corner of the cover.  “Gotcha, Dr. Lecter,” he said.  So, he was currently in Maryland, not Virginia.  He ripped off the cover and folded it, tucking it into a back pocket of his jeans, and then headed back to Dr. Lecter’s bedroom to see if Abigail had returned. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Abigail ran downstairs to the laundry room and found both a broom and a sponge mop.  She had no idea what the man needed them for, so she headed back toward the stairs with both. 

Squeak-squeak-squeak.  She jumped and glanced over at the dining room window and saw a Doberman clawing the glass.  Its pointy ears were pricked, but they flattened against its skull when she made eye contact with the creature.  The Doberman issued a needful keening that caused the fine hairs to stiffen on the nape of her neck. 

“Go away!” she said.  She had been fearful of these dogs since she had watched them tear that woman apart.  And that bite that man had on his foot looked really painful. 

Squeak-squeak-squeak. 

She was anxious to get back upstairs and away from the hateful things.  She had just reached the stairs and had her foot on the first step when she heard a sound that chilled her to the bone, the sound of breaking glass.   She looked behind her and screamed. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will had almost reached the bedroom when he heard the sound of breaking glass and Abigail’s scream. 

He ran to the top of the stairs and looked down.  Abigail had started up the stairs moving as fast as she could clutching a mop and a broom, and he could hear the scrabbling of claws coming from the direction of the dining room.    

“Run, Abigail!  RUN!” 

Then not one but two dogs appeared, running for the stairs.  He knew they would overtake Abigail before she reached Dr. Lecter’s bedroom. 

“Hurry!” he yelled.  He stood at the top of the stairs waiting for her to reach the top and pass him.  The two dogs were barreling up the stairs, bumping into each other in their eagerness to get to her first, which actually hindered their progress somewhat.  As soon as Abigail reached the top and passed him he grabbed the banisters on either side, lifted both legs and kicked out as hard as he could, nailing the lead dog in the chest.  It fell backward into the dog behind it, and they both tumbled down a few stairs, but not all the way down.  Still, it bought him some time, and Abigail would have reached the room by now. 

He ran for the room, and as soon as he crossed the threshold, Abigail slammed the door shut behind him and then they both jumped as a heavy body slammed into the door.  Both dogs started jumping on the door and clawing it. 

“The door doesn’t lock!” Abigail said, looking frantic. 

Will saw there was no lock, just the spring latch activated by the knob.  “It’s okay, they’re just dogs.  They can’t operate a doorknob.”

But then Will heard a new and disturbing sound.  Not the clatter of the door shaking in its frame.  A harder rattling noise.  Metallic.

The knob was jiggling back and forth.  One of the dogs must be pawing industriously at it. 

“You were saying?” Abigail fired back. 

The door wasn’t well fitted.  Will could see a half-inch gap between the edge of it and the jamb. In the gap was a gleam of shiny brass: the tongue of the simple latch.  If the latch was not seated deeply in the jamb, even the dog’s fumbling might, by purest chance, spring it open.

He quickly crossed the room and tried to pull the dresser in front of the door, but this room was carpeted and the dresser was heavy wood, and he could barely budge it. 

He looked for a straight-backed chair that he could wedge under the knob, but there was no such thing in this room.  The nightstand didn’t seem bulky enough to prevent the dogs from shoving the door open if, in fact, the spring latch popped out of the jamb.

Abigail came over, and between him pulling and her pushing, the two of them managed to drag the dresser partway across the bedroom door. That seemed good enough. 

The Dobermans were going crazy, barking ferociously, as if they knew they had been foiled.

“Okay, time to go!” he said urgently. 

“Here,” Abigail said, picking the mop and broom off the bed and handing them to him. 

“Thank you, Abigail, these are great.  And I’m sorry.  I didn’t know I was putting you in danger sending you downstairs looking for these.” 

“It’s okay,” she said shrugging, in typical calm teenage fashion, but Will could tell she was pleased by the acknowledgement.    

They went out the balcony doors onto the porch roof again.  Will tossed the sponge mop toward the center of the RV and it landed without sliding off.  He discarded the broom next to him.  He only needed the one. 

“Okay, hold the ladder again, and once I’m across I’ll be there to help you.” 

Will stood on two of the rungs like before, waited till he felt centered, then quickly crossed the ladder while the infuriated Dobermans raged in the house behind him. 

Once on the RV roof, he turned around and put his foot on the ladder to hold it in place and held his arms out to Abigail. 

“Don’t be afraid.  Just hold your arms out to the side, and when you feel centered, go.  Remember, it’s just six steps and I’ll be here at the end to help if you need it.” 

She did as he said and started across, but then her foot slipped on one rung.  Fortunately she went straight down on her hands and knees, not sideways.  She was gripping the rung white-knuckled and looked terrified now, close to tears. 

Will knelt down.  “Abigail, it’s all right, you can crawl the rest of the way.  Look at me.  Look how close you are.  We’re almost there.  Come on, you can do this.  Once you reach this side we’ll get into the RV and drive away from here.  We’ll be free.  Free,” he repeated, holding out his hand to her. 

She looked up at him and started moving again, crawling stiffly along the ladder.  When she made it to the end he helped her stand and gave her a hug.  She was shaking. 

“You did so good,” he said.  “So good.  You are one brave girl, Abigail.” 

She gave him a shaky smile. 

Will picked up the mop and took Abigail’s elbow and led her to the open skylight.

“Okay, we’re going to drop down through here, but I have to do something first.” 

He stretched out on his stomach, leaned into the skylight, and used the mop to push the stepstool toward the back of the hall and out of the way. Dropping down onto it, one of them might have broken a leg. 

They were so close to escape and Will wasn’t taking any chances.

Then he used the handle of the mop to rub along the edges of the skylight to smooth any rough edges so Abigail wouldn’t get scratched.  That done, Will got to his feet and tossed the mop away. 

“Okay, Abigail, just sit on the side, put your legs through the skylight, then just drop to the floor and head to the front of the RV.  Okay?  I’ll be right behind you.”

Nodding, Abigail did as instructed and dropped into the motor home.  She landed on her feet but stumbled on the hammer that Will had discarded earlier, and had to put one hand against the wall to steady herself.  She nudged the hammer to the side with her foot. 

“Go forward and get in the co-pilot’s chair,” Will called down.  “I’ll be right there.” 

But just as Will was about to squat down, he startled when he heard another window shatter.  Unfortunately, this one wasn’t downstairs, this one was upstairs.  Unbelievably, one of the dogs had actually gone into one of the other upstairs rooms and broken through a window and now stood on the porch roof about twenty feet away from him. 

The Doberman shook itself, expelling glass slivers from its fur, and then it looked right at him, body tensing.  It drew its lips back, showing its teeth, and in the moonlight it almost looked like the dog was smiling at him.  It flattened its ears and lowered its head, streamlining its body, and Will knew it was getting ready to charge him.  He glanced quickly down at the skylight, then back at the dog, trying to estimate his chances of attempting to jump through it before the dog charged, but it was too late.  The dog was already moving, running across the porch, easily leaping the six foot gap between the roof and the RV, coming right at him with such velocity that, when it hit him, there was no doubt it would carry him off the top of the motor home and into the yard. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal Lecter’s eyes keep darting to the dashboard clock and he cannot believe how slow time is moving.  Only one minute has passed since he last checked it.  He briefly wonders if the clock is broken.  He has driven this same route hundreds of times, yet never has time dragged as it seems to be doing right now.  Still, he is only ten minutes from home—he's so close.  The big question is, what will he find once he gets there? 

Chapter Text

As the dog was rocketing toward him, Will twisted aside, but the dog was a lot quicker than he was, correcting its trajectory even as it bounded onto the vehicle.  When it landed, however, it slipped on the slick surface of the RV roof, skidded, claws screeching on metal, and, to Will’s astonishment, it tumbled past him and slid off the side of the roof.

Howling, the dog fell into the yard, squealed when it hit the ground, and tried to scramble to its feet. Something was wrong with its hindquarters. It couldn’t stand up.  Perhaps it had broken its pelvis.  It was in pain but still so furious that it remained focused on Will rather than itself.  The dog sat barking up at him, its hind legs twisted to one side at an unnatural angle.

Will looked back over at the porch roof remembering that there had been two dogs trying to get into the bedroom.  Not barking, wary and watchful, the second Doberman had also come through the broken window onto the porch roof.  This was the one that he had squirted twice with ammonia, hitting the muzzle both times, for even now it shook its head and snorted as if plagued by lingering fumes.  It had learned to respect him, and it wasn’t going to rush at him as rashly as the other dog had. 

Sooner or later, though, it would realize that he no longer had the spray bottle, that he was holding nothing that might be used as a weapon.  Then it would regain its courage.

What to do?

He wished now that he hadn’t thrown the sponge mop away.  He could have jabbed at the Doberman with it when it attacked and knocked it off the RV roof.  

Think.

The dog was pacing on the porch roof but keeping its gaze fixed on him as if it was contemplating its next move.  It would occasionally look down at the shards of moonlight-silvered glass, among which it carefully placed its feet, and glare up at him from under its brow as if this was all his fault.

Will tried to think of something he could use as a weapon.  Maybe Abigail could hand something up to him. 

“Abigail,” he said softly, keeping his eyes on the dog. 

The dog halted at the sound of his voice.  Ears pricked up and forward. 

“Abigail,” he said slightly louder. 

The dog was growling at him now, seemingly upset by the sound of his voice. 

But Abigail didn’t reply.  She had done what he had told her to do and gone up front and couldn’t hear him 

Will instinctively knew that when this Doberman attacked, he wouldn’t be lucky again.  This one would not hurtle across the porch roof and slide off the motor home without getting its teeth in him.  When it leaped at him, he would have nothing to fight with except his bare hands. 

The dog started pacing again, panting in agitation. 

Will’s mind raced.  He had never before been able to think quite this clearly and quickly. 

Although loath to take his eyes off the Doberman, he glanced down at the skylight, calculating his chances. 

The dog stopped, no longer panting.  It stood rigid and vigilant.  As Will watched, its ears twitched and then flattened against its skull. 

This was it. 

“Screw it,” he muttered.  Tightly crossing his arms across his chest, he jumped through the broken-out skylight, but his aim was slightly off-center and one of his elbows smacked the skylight frame, sending pain shooting up his left arm into his shoulder, and causing him to fall off-center and land with his full weight on his bitten foot.  Pain exploded through the foot, causing him to lean heavily against the wall to take his weight off the foot while gasping and waiting for the pain to subside. 

Paws thumped on the metal roof overhead, and Will froze, hoping he would hear the screeching sound of nails as this one too slid off the roof, but instead he heard the clicking sound of nails on metal as the dog made its way toward the skylight. 

He grabbed the stepstool, which he had pushed aside with the sponge mop, and dragged it in front of him.

Spotting the hammer on the floor, he snatched it up and slipped the handle under the waistband of his jeans.  

The dog appeared in the opening above, a predatory silhouette in the moonlight.

Will picked up the stepstool, which had a tubular metal handle that served as a backrail when the top step was used as a chair.  He eased backward to the bathroom door, realizing just how narrow the hall was.  He didn’t have enough room to swing the stool like a club, but it was still useful.  He held it in front of him in the manner of a lion tamer with a chair.

“What’s happening?” Abigail asked, suddenly behind him. 

“Stay back, Abigail.  One of the dogs is on the roof and it might try to come through.” 

He briefly considered having her get the gun from the console, but he wanted to save that last bullet just on the off chance that Dr. Lecter drove through that gate before they got out of here.  

“Do you know how to drive?” he asked instead, not taking his eyes off the dog. 

“I drove my dad’s pick-up a couple of times.” 

“Do you think you could go upfront and put the RV in gear and slowly pull away?  When the RV starts moving it may cause the dog to fall off the roof.  Then I can take over.” 

“I’ll try,” she said, moving back to the front. 

“Just stay put, you bastard,” he said looking up at the looming dog, dismayed to hear how shaky his voice was. 

He felt the RV jolt a bit as Abigail put it in gear, and Will prayed that as the RV started moving over the bumpy front lawn that the dog wouldn’t be able to keep its footing on the slippery roof and slide off.  They were so close now.  So fucking close he could taste it. 

The RV started moving and Will felt hopeful that this would work. 

But that’s when the Doberman jumped.  The instant that it landed in the hallway, it seemed to ricochet off the floor and straight toward him without any hesitation. 

Will didn’t take a defensive position.  That would be death.  He had one chance.  One slim chance.  Aggressive action.  Go for it.  He immediately rushed the dog, meeting its attack head-on, jamming the legs of the stool at it as though they were four swords.

The impact of the dog rocked him, almost knocked him down, but then the animal rebounded from him, yelping in pain, perhaps having taken one of the stool legs in an eye or hard against the tip of its snout.  It tumbled toward the back of the short hall.

As the Doberman sprang to its feet, it seemed a little wobbly.  Will was on top of it, jabbing mercilessly with the metal legs of the stool, pressing the dog backward, keeping it off balance so it couldn’t get around the stool and at his side, or under the stool and at his ankles, or over the stool and at his face.  In spite of its injuries, the dog was quick, strong, dear God, hugely strong, and as lithe as a cat.  The muscles in his arms burned with the effort, his bitten hand was throbbing, and his heart was hammering so hard that his vision brightened then dimmed with each hard pulse, but he dared not relent even for a second.  

When the stool began to fold shut, pinching two of his fingers, he popped it open at once, jabbed the legs into the dog, jabbed, jabbed, until he drove the animal back against the hallway wall where he caged it between the paneled wall and the legs of the stool.  The Doberman squirmed, snarled, snapped at the stool, clawed at the floor, clawed at the bedroom door, kicked, frantic to escape its trap.  Will leaned his body against the stool, pressing it into the dog, then let go of the stool with one hand so he could extract the hammer from his waistband.  He couldn’t control the stool as well with one hand as with two, and the dog eeled up the bedroom door and came over the top of its cage, straining its head forward, snapping savagely at him, teeth inches from his face, slobber flying from its chops, eyes black and bloody and protuberant with rage.  Will dropped the hammer so he could grab the stool with both hands again and keep the dog from tearing his face off, pushing it back against the bedroom door once again.  But now what?  He couldn’t keep the enraged dog pinned forever. 

He started to call for Abigail so she could hand him the hammer, but just then she squeezed past him going straight at the dog.  He hadn’t even realized that the RV had stopped moving.  “Abigail, what are you doing!  NO!” 

He then saw the hammer in her hand. 

While Will struggled to keep the dog pinned, afraid for Abigail, the girl swung the big hammer up, then down.  It struck with a pock on bone, and the dog screamed. She swung the hammer again, landing a second blow on the skull, and the dog stopped screaming, slumped.

Will stepped back, letting the stool clatter to the floor and stared at the girl in shock.  She was staring down at the dog. 

The dog was still breathing. It made a pitiful sound.  Then it tried to get up.

She swung the hammer a third time.  The dog went still.  That was the end of it. 

“I always hated those dogs,” she said, looking up at him, a calm expression on her face that terrified him.  There was a small amount of blood splattered across her face and dress. 

Breathing raggedly, dripping cold sweat, Will took the hammer from her and tossed it aside.  He wasn’t a psychiatrist; he wasn’t sure what to say to her right now.  Finally he settled for, “It had to be done.  Now let’s get the hell out of here,” and he gave her a light push toward the front of the RV feeling like he wanted to throw up. 

He took a moment to step inside the tiny bathroom and splash handfuls of cold water on his face and swished some in his mouth.  His reflection in the mirror scared him.  He was bruised and bloodied.  Eyes sunken, encircled by dark rings.  Hair dirty and tangled.  He looked crazed.

In a way, he was crazy.  Crazy with a love of freedom, with an urgent thirst for it.  He was going to get out of here and Dr. Lecter was going to be caught, and then Abigail would get the help she needed to recover from this, and he would go on to fulfill his dream of becoming an FBI agent where he would devote his life to stopping killers like Hannibal Lecter. 

There was a washcloth in the bathroom and he wet it with warm water, squeezed it out good and took it upfront with him.  Abigail was waiting patiently in the co-pilot’s chair for him. 

“Here,” he said awkwardly, handing her the washcloth.  “You’ve got a little blood on your face.” 

“Thanks,” she said, taking it and wiping her face with it. 

“You doing okay?” he asked cautiously, having no idea what was going on behind that fragile looking exterior. 

“I’m fine,” she said, calmly. 

Will nodded and put the RV in gear and set it in motion.  No doubt Abigail would need some serious therapy.  You couldn’t live with the Chesapeake Ripper for six months without being affected. 

“Everything is going to be all right, now,” he said reassuringly.  “You’ll see.”

The instrument panel included a clock.  According to the clock it was nine fifteen.  Two hours and fifteen minutes before Dr. Lecter was expected home.  But they still had to find a police station or sheriff’s office quickly so that they could mobilize their people and get them out here to lie in wait for the good doctor when he returned home, and Will had no idea how long that would take or how far he would have to drive to find one.  Still, they had time, it could be done.  It had to be done. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal’s mind is racing.  If Will has made it inside the RV, it’s possible he has already escaped and is on the road.  His first instinct will be to find the sheriff’s station, which, Hannibal knows, is in the town behind him about twelve miles back.  Since he hasn’t spotted the RV, it’s possible that Will is still on his property, but it’s also possible he has already found the sheriff’s station or has gone in the opposite direction.  If only he knew whether Will made it to the sheriff’s station.  And even if Hannibal were to spot his RV on the road, how would he get Will to stop?  The RV would tear through his car like tin foil. 

Hannibal suddenly has an idea.  He needs information and he needs a way to make Will stop should he come across him on the road.  There’s an old barn a mile down the road that a deputy is usually hiding behind, lying in wait for speeders.  Maybe he needs to be pulled over by one of the county deputies after all.  He smiles and presses down harder on the gas, going 20 miles over the posted speed limit. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will turned the RV onto the driveway and followed it, heading for freedom.  He wasn’t accustomed to driving anything as large as the motor home, but he handled it well enough.  After what he’d been through in the past twenty-four hours, there wasn’t a vehicle in the world that would be too much for him to handle.  If the only thing available had been an army tank, he would have figured out how to work the controls and how to wrestle with the steering, and he would have driven it out of here. 

Glancing at the side mirror, he watched the log house dwindling into the moonlit night behind them, and his heart felt lighter the smaller the house got.  

The place was so picturesque and full of light and appeared so welcoming that no one could ever have guessed what atrocities were being committed inside.  Its looks were as deceiving as the man who owned it. 

He wished that he had been able to turn the lights off as that would clue Dr. Lecter immediately that something was wrong if he made it to the house, but if he could just find a police or sheriff’s station quickly, that wouldn’t be an issue as they could apprehend him as soon as they spotted him approaching his driveway.  Or perhaps they could even learn where he worked and apprehend him at his job.  It all came down to time. 

Abigail had fallen silent.  She was staring forward, her hands folded on her lap. 

“We’re on our way,” Will assured her.  “Not far now, kiddo.  Not far.”

She just nodded and looked straight ahead.  It was impossible to know what the girl was feeling.  She was showing no emotion—no fear, no sobbing, no relief.  It worried him.  He felt like he could explode from the full array of emotions washing through him right now.  Perhaps this was part of Dr. Lecter’s “training,” that as his daughter she needed to keep her emotions locked inside. 

Well not for long.  A therapist would get her to open up and talk about what she’d gone through and get all those toxic, repressed emotions out of her. 

He nodded as he drove on.  Yes, Abigail would get all the help she needed, and soon this would just feel like a bad dream. 

They topped the bald rise and started down a long gradual slope where trees crowded close to the driveway.  Will was sure that Dr. Lecter had paused on both sides of a gate the previous morning, when he had driven onto the property, and he figured it couldn’t be much farther ahead.

Dr. Lecter hadn’t gotten out of the motor home to deal with the gate so it must be electrically operated.

Gripping the steering wheel with one hand, Will checked the visor above him first, and then opened the console box between the seats.  He fumbled through the contents and found a remote-control device just as the gate appeared in the headlights.

The barrier was formidable.  Steel posts.  Tubular steel rails and crossbars.  Christ, even barbed wire.  He hoped to God that this was the remote-control for it so he wouldn’t have to ram it, because even the big motor home might not be able to break it down.  And a broken down gate would definitely tip Dr. Lecter off and have him making a run for it. 

He pointed the remote control at the windshield, said a little prayer, pressed the button, and jubilantly said, “Yes!” when the gate began to swing inward.

He let up on the accelerator and tapped the brake pedal, giving the heavy barrier time to come all the way open before he got close enough to obstruct it.  The gate moved ponderously.

Fear surged as he was suddenly sure that Dr. Lecter was going to pull his car into the the driveway, blocking them, just as the gate finished opening. 

But he drove between the posts to a two-lane blacktop highway that led left and right.  There were no helpful signs indicating what lay in either direction, and no cars visible in either direction. 

To the north, left, the road climbed into a forested night with no indication what was beyond.  To the south, the lanes descended, curving out of sight through fields and woods.  In the distance, though, a faint golden radiance lay against the night, as if a town waited in that direction.  South it was. 

Despite being in a hurry to leave, Will took a few seconds to roll down his window and aim the remote control behind him and close the gate.  Again, he didn’t want Dr. Lecter to have any indication that anything was wrong.  If he was delayed finding the authorities, this would buy him a little more time.    

After the gates closed, he turned south and his heart lightened further.  They had made it. 

“We did it, Abigail, we’re free,” he said, feeling suddenly giddy. 

His biggest fear now, though, was that Dr. Lecter would somehow evade capture.  After all, he knew Will’s name, he knew where Will lived, he knew that Will had been accepted into the FBI training program.  He had enough information to stalk him and get to him and make him pay.  Will needed this to end tonight for his peace of mind, as well as Abigail’s.  He wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing the Ripper was out there somewhere plotting his revenge.  And a horrible and painful revenge it was likely to be. 

Will shuddered.  He just desperately needed to find the local sheriff’s office.  Or even a phone booth.  If he could find a phone booth somewhere he could call information and they could connect him to the nearest station.  After all, he had Dr. Lecter’s address now.  Feeling a sense of urgency, he accelerated.  Twenty miles an hour. Twenty-five.  He held the motor home at thirty miles an hour, but he found it easy to imagine that he was going faster than any jet plane.  Flying, free. 

They were in a rural stretch of countryside, with no houses or businesses to either the east or the west of the road, no lights except the glow in the distance.  Dr. Lecter had chosen his house well. 

Will looked down at the odometer.  “It’s three miles behind us and getting farther by the minute,” he said to reassure the girl. 

They crested a low hill, and Will felt panic as he squinted in the sudden flare of oncoming headlights.  A single car was approaching uphill in the northbound lane. 

Glancing at the clock, it was nine twenty-five.  Dr. Lecter should still be at work for another two hours, but he had been having this premonition all day that Dr. Lecter would come home early.  Could this be him?    

He sat up taller and gripped the steering tight, ready for anything.  If this was Dr. Lecter, just let him try playing chicken with a 30 foot long, 6,000 pound motor home and see who comes out on top. 

But then Will started laughing as the RV headlights illuminated the black and white design and the words Carroll County Sheriff on the side of the car in large letters. 

“Abigail, look, a sheriff’s car!” Will said excitedly, taking his foot off the gas while pounding the horn and flashing the headlights to get the other car to stop. 

As Will braked the RV to a stop, the sheriff’s cruiser slowed and went past, pulling over onto the shoulder and coasting to a stop thirty feet behind them, red brake lights standing out starkly in the dark. 

“Thank god.  They’ll have a radio and can call in reinforcements, get set up before Dr. Lecter gets home and then capture him,” Will said, opening the door and hopping out, wincing as his bad foot hit the pavement and his swollen knee complained, but he didn’t care, they were home free now. 

He ran/limped toward the car with both hands up in front of him, showing the sheriff or deputy, whoever was inside the car, that he was harmless.  He couldn’t believe his luck.  After all the crap luck he’d had over the past 24 hours, finally, finally something was going his way. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal is driving toward home in the stolen cruiser now, listening to the radio for any word on Will and Abigail when, to his surprise, his RV appears over a rise coming right at him … and then it’s signaling him to stop.  He has the deceased deputy’s hat on and tilts his head down to hide his face as he passes the RV and then pulls the cruiser over onto the shoulder of the road and slowly comes to a stop, wanting to put some distance between the vehicles, hoping that Will will get out and distance himself from the RV. 

Now he watches Will in the side mirror as he limps down the road toward him and shakes his head in wonder.  Although he is annoyed with Will and the trouble he is causing him, he is enormously taken with him as well.  “What a clever boy you are,” he says softly, watching as he draws nearer. 

He’s holding the deputy’s handgun in his right hand.  Although he abhors guns and prefers not to use them, he does have a gun at home that is handy for emergencies and he is skilled at using it.  And this definitely qualifies as an emergency. 

Just a little bit closer, he thinks, his left hand on the door handle. 

When Will reaches the back end of the cruiser, Hannibal intends to get out of the car, force him to the ground at gunpoint and handcuff him with the deputy’s handcuffs.  If Will tries to flee, he’ll put a round in one of his legs, bring him down and cuff him and get him back in the RV.  He just has to disable him and get him back in the motor home before another motorist comes along.  It’s late and this road is sparsely traveled, so he is hopeful he can gain control of the situation quickly. 

Abigail is the wild card.  He knows that Will wouldn’t have left her behind, so she must be in the RV.  The question is will she fight or will she come back with him willingly?

Although annoyed, Hannibal feels excitement coursing through his body as Will draws nearer and is not surprised to feel an erection growing.  Never has anyone challenged him like Will Graham has. 

Will is almost where he wants him.  Hannibal grips the door handle with his left hand, waiting for him to come just a little bit closer. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

As Will drew nearer to the cruiser, he was perplexed why whoever was in the car still hadn’t opened the door to get out, or even opened the window.  Will slowed, suddenly feeling a trickle of unease.  Something about this felt off. 

It was too dark out here to see inside the car.  He stopped when he neared the trunk of the car, feeling more uneasy by the second.  Glancing at the driver’s side view mirror, he saw a pair of intense eyes watching him.  Eyes that he recognized. 

SHIT! 

He spun away from the car, running back toward the motor home as fast as he was able, adrenalin coursing through his body and temporarily dulling the pain in his foot and knee.  But even as his heart hammered and he pushed himself to go faster, he felt as if he were running in slow motion, like in a dream, through air as thick as custard, and that any minute Dr. Lecter would catch up with him and grab him around the throat. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal sees Will hesitate, then stop, an almost comical expression of realization on his face. 

Will has figured it out.  He turns and runs. 

Hannibal was hoping he wouldn’t have to shoot him, does not want to add to the injuries he obviously already has, but Will has left him no choice now.  He gets out of the cruiser and raises the gun. 

Although Hannibal is quick getting out of the car, Will is surprisingly fast despite his disabilities.  By the time he raises the revolver, trying to take aim and distinguish Will's leg in the dark, Will is already pulling himself into the motor home and drawing the door shut.

Hannibal calmly walks toward the RV and aims for the tires instead. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will reaches the open door and glances back quickly toward the car.  With the cruiser’s door open, Hannibal Lecter is bathed in light and Will sees that he has a gun in his hand and is lifting the gun toward him. 

Gasping, he pulls himself up into the driver’s seat, shutting the door quickly behind him. 

“What is it?” Abigail asks, voice tight, feeding off Will’s panic. 

“It’s him.” 

Will puts the RV in gear … then hears a shot fired.

“Get down!” he yells, ducking down, not sure where Dr. Lecter is aiming, but he doesn’t want to take any chances of a stray bullet hitting Abigail.  As he starts pulling away he hears multiple gunshots and feels the sluggish drag of the RV and knows what Dr. Lecter is doing.  He won’t be able to get any speed with the rear tires blown out.  By slowing them down, Dr. Lecter will have more time to escape, if that’s what he’s planning to do now. 

“Oh, hell no!” Will says, stopping the RV, anger coursing through him.  

He is ending this tonight, one way or another.  He will not spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, constantly wondering if this is the day the Chesapeake Ripper is lying in wait to kill him. 

He is just going to have to run the sonofabitch down. 

Will looks in the side mirror and sees Dr. Lecter heading back to the cruiser.  He puts the RV in reverse and aims for him.  The steering is sluggish with the back tires blown, and the RV is slow picking up speed, but he has it going in the right direction. 

He sees him in the side view mirror turn when he hears the blown tires making a whumping sound on the asphalt as the RV closes the distance, and now it’s Dr. Lecter’s turn to look surprised.  Will smiles, looking like a demon with the green glow from the dashboard illuminating his face.  Now Dr. Lecter is the one running for his car.  He isn’t raising the gun so he probably emptied it blowing out the tires.  Good.  Very good.    

“Come on!” Will says, slapping the steering wheel and urging the RV to move faster.  If Dr. Lecter gets in the car and puts it in motion, he will never be able to catch it. 

Not wanting Abigail to look up and see him running Dr. Lecter over, Will shouts, “Just keep your head down!”  

He turns the wheel slightly, adjusting the angle, and he is heading right for Dr. Lecter who has just reached the open door of the cruiser.

“Come on, come on!” Will pleads, trying to coax just a little more speed out of the RV. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal looks back and sees the RV bearing down on  him.  He dives into the cruiser to get out of its way.  As he does so he yanks his legs in after him, knowing that this is going to be close.  Will has surprised him yet again.  He had expected him to run, not turn and fight.  Once again he has underestimated him. 

Something raps hard against his right foot, cold wind rushes in around him, the driver’s door tears off and clatters end over end along the blacktop and he hears a horrific screeching as the RV scrapes along the side of the cruiser. 

Hannibal’s right foot is numb, and although he feels no pain yet, he believes that it might have been crushed or even torn off.  When he sits up in the driver’s seat and reaches down with one hand to feel for the expected stump and the warm gush of blood, he discovers that he is intact.  The heel was torn off his shoe.  Just that.   The rubber heel. 

His foot is numb, and his calf tingles all the way to the knee, but he smiles.  It seems that fate is on his side.  It doesn’t want Will Graham to win because Hannibal knows now beyond a shadow of a doubt that this young man is meant to be his.  This is the one he’s been looking for.  Anyone else would fall woefully short in comparison.  He wants this man more than he has ever wanted anything in his life, and he will do whatever it takes to possess him

The motor home is two hundred feet past him, heading south, limping along on its flat rear tires.

Because he never switched off the engine when he pulled onto the shoulder of the highway, Hannibal needs only to shift it into drive. The tires kick up a storm of gravel that thunders against the undercarriage. The car lurches forward.  Hot rubber shrieks, bites into the blacktop, and Hannibal rockets after the motor home, trying to formulate a plan.

Too late, distracted by his numb foot and recklessly eager to get his hands on the man, he realizes that the big vehicle is no longer heading south, it’s heading right for him at maybe fifteen miles an hour but picking up speed as it limps along. 

He slams his foot down on the brake pedal, but before he can pull the wheel to the left to get out of the way, the motor home crashes into him head-on with a horrendous sound, and it’s like hitting a rock wall. His head snaps back, and then he pitches forward against the steering wheel so hard that all the breath is knocked out of him, while a dizzying darkness swirls at the edges of his vision. 

The hood buckles and pops open, and he can’t see a thing through the windshield. But he hears his tires spinning and smells burning rubber.  His car is being pushed backward, and though the collision dramatically slowed the motor home for a moment, it’s picking up speed again.

He tries to shift the car into reverse, figuring that he can back away from the motor home even as it’s pushing at him, but the stick first stutters stubbornly in his hand, clunks into neutral, and then freezes. The transmission is shot.

He suspects Will is going to push him off the highway.  In some places the drop-off from the shoulder is eight or ten feet and steep enough virtually to ensure that the car will roll if it goes over the edge.  Worse, if they are hung up on each other, as he currently suspects, and if Will doesn’t have full control of the motor home, he will most likely roll it off the road on top of his car, crushing him.

Maybe that’s what he’s trying to do.

He’s a singularity, all right, in his own way just like him, and he admires him for it.

He smells gasoline.  This is not a good place to be. 

He decides his only option at this point is to bail out through the missing door. 

They’re traveling at fifteen or twenty miles an hour, gradually gaining speed because the cruiser is in neutral and no longer resisting the backward rush.  He jumps.  The pavement comes up to meet him as though he’s a parachutist with huge holes in his silks.  He hits and rolls, keeping his arms tucked in against his body in the hope that he won’t break any bones.  He tries to keep his head up, but he takes a bad knock, and another.  

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will sees Dr. Lecter spring out of the car, slam into the blacktop, and roll across the highway.

“SHIT!”

By the time Will brakes to a full stop, Hannibal is sprawled face down on the far shoulder of the roadway, one hundred feet behind him.  He’s lying perfectly still.  Though Will doesn’t believe that the tumble has killed him, he’s sure that he must be unconscious, or at least dazed after that tumble. 

Now is the time to finish this. 

He opens the console and retrieves the gun—the gun with the one remaining bullet.  But one bullet is all he needs. 

“Stay here,” he says to Abigail.  “I’m ending this right now.” 

He gets out of the RV and limps toward Hannibal, who is now on his hands and knees fifty feet away with his head down looking dazed.

Will wants to be close enough so that there is no possibility of missing.  He only has one shot and he can’t blow this. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal gets slowly to his feet.  His right ear is badly abraded, torn, and he smells blood.  There’s a brassy ringing in both ears, but remarkably all bones are intact. 

He spots Will limping toward him with a gun in his hand pointed at him.  Will looks wild, deranged, like death itself, and Hannibal has no doubt that Will is planning to kill him. 

He sees no way out of this.  He has no vehicle and no weapon.  Either way, if this is how it is going to end, he won’t cower or beg.  Still, he admits to being a bit surprised that fate is suddenly letting him down.  He was so sure that they were meant to be together. 

Maybe fate had decided it wanted Hannibal to be Will’s becoming.  How delightfully ironic. 

Hannibal stands there calmly as Will closes the gap, gun pointed straight at his head, no fear, no hesitation, murder in his eyes.  He’s magnificent. 

Then he spots a figure running up behind Will.  It’s Abigail. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will hears the sound of running feet and turns his head slightly to the side without taking his eyes off Dr. Lecter.  “I told you to wait in the RV.” 

Abigail stops beside him, slightly breathless, and says, “No.  I want to watch this.  I want to see him die.” 

Shit.  Will had been ready to shoot him, had wanted to shoot him, but he doesn’t think he can bring himself to do it with Abigail watching. 

“Abigail, please, this isn’t something you should see.” 

“He killed my parents and kept me locked in a cellar for six months.  I think that gives me the right,” she said stubbornly. 

Looking at Dr. Lecter, Will frowned in frustration, torn as to what to do.  Finally, shaking his head in defeat, he said, “Dr. Lecter, if you lie face down on the ground and put your hands behind your back, we can end this without further bloodshed.”  He is going to need something to tie him up with if Dr. Lecter submits.  But if he makes any sudden movements, he will shoot him irregardless of whether Abigail is watching or not. 

Dr. Lecter gives a single nod and Will thinks that he is nodding at him in agreement, but then realizes that his eyes are looking over his right shoulder.  And Abigail is no longer standing beside him.  Will realizes a second too late what this means as pain explodes on the back of his head, and then everything goes black.   

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Hannibal looks down at Will’s unconscious form, then up at the girl who is standing there looking at him uncertainly.  “You were going to leave me,” he says simply. 

“I thought about it, but when I realized that he was going to kill you, I just couldn’t let that happen,” she says.  “And I knew that he wouldn’t shoot you if I was here.” 

Clever girl.  He holds out his arms to her and she runs to him, wrapping her slender arms around him.  He holds her close and kisses the top of her head.  “Well done, my darling.” 

She looks up at him with adoration and says a single word that he’s been waiting six months to hear, a word that brings joy to his heart:  “Father.”   

Will has turned out to be Abigail’s final test after all, just not in any way he could ever have envisioned. 

They both look down at the unconscious man on the ground.  Hannibal squats down and rolls Will onto his back and checks his pulse.  It’s beating strong.  Good.  He brushes the hair off his face and shakes his head as he sees the damage he’s done to his beautiful face, but nothing looks permanent. 

Abigail kneels down next to him.  “What are you going to do with him?  Are you going to kill him?” she asks, and he can detect a hint of anxiety in her voice. 

“You like him,” he states. 

“He’s nice,” she says, shrugging, trying to appear nonchalant.  “And he thought he was helping me.”    

Hannibal nods.  He can see Abigail is trying to school her emotions as he’s been teaching her, but it still needs a little work.    

“Abigail, as you know, I promised you that I would eventually find a woman suitable to join our family that would act as a wife to me and a mother to you.” 

“Yes,” she says, tilting her head and looking at him curiously. 

“How would you feel about having two fathers instead?” 

It takes her a second to realize what this means, but then the radiant smile that breaks out on her face is answer enough. 

She looks down at Will and strokes his hair affectionately.  “Papa,” she says. 

Hannibal smiles in return, feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and happiness.  He hasn’t felt like part of a family since he was a child, since before his sister Mischa died.    

“Now, let’s get you two mischief makers back home where you belong,” Hannibal says with real affection.  “It would seem I have quite the mess to clean up before someone comes along.” 

And with that, he lifts his new mate into his arms and carries him back to the RV, his daughter walking by his side, and for the first time in what seems like forever, he feels complete. 

Chapter Text

Consciousness comes to Will in increments, and with it comes pain.  First, the light pressing against his eyelids makes him turn his head away in discomfort, but just that movement causes the pounding in his head to intensify.  He tries to move his body and there is more pain.  Pain everywhere.  A medicinal smell reaches his nostrils and he wonders if he is in a hospital.  He hears voices speaking softly in the background but can’t make out the words.  He tries to lift a hand to his face but realizes it’s somehow restrained.  His eyes fly open in panic, but he has to blink against the light as his eyes adjust. 

“Oh, father, he’s awake!” a girl’s voice says excitedly, and he cringes at the volume of it while trying to put a face to the voice.   

“Good,” a man’s voice replies, and Will hears footsteps coming toward him. 

He lifts his head and looks down to see why he can’t raise his arms, and sees that his wrists are encased in what appear to be heavy leather restraints with fleece lining; the type used to restrain mental patients.  He wonders if he is currently in a mental hospital?  His ankles are similarly restrained when he tries to move them.  There is also a band around his middle holding him down.  He looks around as his eyes fully adjust to the light and realizes with a stab of fear that he is back in the cellar of Dr. Lecter’s home. 

He feels confusion and panic as he tries to remember how he got here.  Memories come slowly back to him and start playing through his mind.  He and Abigail had escaped.  They were on the road headed to freedom.  But then Dr. Lecter showed up in a sheriff’s car and tried to stop them.  But…he had overcome him, he thought frowning.  He had actually overcome the Chesapeake Ripper, had a gun trained on him and was about to kill him.  But then Abigail had showed up and he couldn’t force himself to kill the man with her there watching.  He was about to tie him up when …  He groaned and dropped his head back on the pillow.  Abigail.  Abigail had hit him from behind.  But why?  They were so close to getting away, had fought so hard for their freedom.  Why would she do that?  Why would she betray him at the moment of their freedom? 

He looked up as the girl in question appeared beside him and sat on one side of the bed.  Dr. Lecter came around on the other side and checked an IV bag that he just now noticed was dripping some type of fluid through a tube into his arm. 

“How are you feeling, Will?” he asked cordially. 

“Like shit,” Will said, not feeling the need to mince words as he stared up at the ceiling, bitter tears of defeat welling in his eyes.  This was it then.  After everything he had gone through, everything that he had endured, just when victory had seemed to be within his grasp, it wasn’t the Chesapeake Ripper who had brought him down, but the teenage girl he had fought so hard to rescue.    

This was like some twisted fucked-up fairytale where the white knight goes to rescue the fair damsel in distress from the evil dragon who is holding her prisoner, but while making their escape the damsel knocks out the white knight because she’s decided she likes living with the evil dragon, so the evil dragon then eats the poor white knight, and the damsel and the evil dragon live happily ever after.  The end. 

He looked over at Abigail then.  “Why?” he asked simply. 

“Because you were going to shoot father.  Or have him locked away,” she said shrugging.  “Either way, I couldn’t allow that.” 

“So, she was yours all along,” Will said bitterly to Hannibal. 

“I was ninety-five percent certain she was mine, but I discovered early on that she has a penchant for manipulation, something that you have now discovered for yourself.  So until I was one hundred percent certain, I could not risk letting her out of this room.  As I mentioned to you, I was thinking about letting her kill you to prove herself to me, but thanks to you she has proven her loyalty to me in a totally different way.” 

“So is that why I’m still alive?  You’re going to have her kill me now?” he said, looking over at Abigail to see if she was upset by the idea.  Apparently not as she just smiled at him. 

“I would sooner burn down the Louvre and all that it contains than kill you, Will.  You are one of the most unique and surprising individuals I have ever come upon.  You have the beauty of Michelangelo's David with the fighting spirit of Julius Caesar, yet the compassion of Mother Teresa.  I have never met your like before.  Nor, I expect, shall I ever again.”

Will found himself frowning and feeling embarrassed by that strangely flattering description.    

“If you’re not going to kill me, then what are you going to do with me?” Will asked, dreading the answer but needing to know where he stood.

Abigail and I were just fixing up this room for your stay.  Abigail will be staying in a room upstairs now.”

“My stay?  Oh, I see.  You’re going to keep me down here and play your little mind games on me, drive me insane for your amusement,” Will said, anger breaking through the numbness as he remembered Dr. Lecter’s very graphic description of other people he had kept down here before.   

“Breaking a mind such as yours would be a travesty, Will.  No, Abigail and I have decided to keep you.  You are to be the final piece to our family.” 

After several seconds of stunned silence Will said, “You said you were looking for a wife, a mother for Abigail.  I don't understand."  He was feeling confused and his panic was resurfacing.

“A wife would have been more ideal, would draw less attention and speculation, and as a killer I do prefer to blend in and not draw attention.  But I also realize that I will never find anyone else that comes as close to my ideal of perfection as you, Will.  You are singularly unique and everything I’ve been looking for—smart, brave, compassionate, stubborn, surprising, and you know how to think outside the box.  I examined you thoroughly while you were unconscious, and there isn't a part of your body that you did not damage in some way trying to escape me.  If you were an animal whose paw was caught in a steel trap, I have no doubt you would have chewed off that paw in order to escape rather than be captured.  And that is exactly what I would have done in the same situation.  I believe we are more alike that you would like to think.” 

“That’s not true,” Will said, trying to block out the disturbing image of Dr. Lecter examining him while he was unconscious.  “We’re nothing alike.  You’re a killer, I’m a cop.  We couldn’t be more opposite.  My job is to stop people like you!” 

“You think we’re nothing alike?  Really?  There at the end you were going to kill me.  As you approached me I could see my death reflected in your eyes.  You wanted to kill me.  The only reason you didn’t is because Abigail showed up.  Is that not true?” 

“I would have killed you to prevent you from escaping and perhaps coming after her, or after me.  I would have killed you as a matter of self-preservation to ensure our continued survival.  I don’t kill for pleasure like you do.  We’re nothing alike.” 

“Perhaps.  But it certainly shows your potential.” 

“But I’m a man,” Will tried again, feeling frantic.  “You said you wanted a wife, a mother for Abigail.” 

“The fact that you’re a man doesn’t bother me.  I’ve always been quite liberal in that regard.  Oh, it will be frowned upon by some, but an individual would be making a grave mistake if they insulted me or my family.  Isn’t that right, Abigail?” 

“That’s right.  And I’m happy that I’m going to have two fathers.  I like you, papa Will, and I’m glad that we’re not going to kill you.” 

“Abigail, how can you be all right with this?  He killed your real parents!” 

She looked at him thoughtfully for a few seconds and then, looking suddenly older, said, “If I had left with you, what do you think would have happened to me?”

“The authorities would have contacted your relatives, gotten you help … I’m not really sure of the procedure,” he said, looking a bit at a loss.    

“My parents were both only children.  I didn’t have any other relatives.  If I had left here and gone with you I would have been a ward of the state, just another orphan with no other family to claim me, eventually sent to live with foster parents with other foster kids.  Too old for someone to want to adopt, no money, wearing hand-me-down clothes.  I would have finished high school, and then as soon as I was 18, kicked out to make it on my own.  I would have probably ended up working at a McDonald’s or a Wal-Mart making minimum wage, barely squeaking by.  Why would I want that when father here will give me the kind of life that I deserve?  Do you know that my biological dad refused to let me date; had already told me I couldn’t go to college?  He wanted me to stay at home with him and be daddy’s little girl for the rest of my life.  And mom went along with everything he said.  Living here with you and father I’ll have the best clothes, go to the best schools, get a good job, have the best things.  And he enjoys spending time with me and teaching me things.” 

Will stared at her in disbelief.  She was totally brainwashed.  He had gotten to her too late.  Six months was a long time to have someone like Dr. Lecter messing around in your head. 

“But the things he’s teaching you are wrong, Abigail.  Can’t you see that?” 

“The things he’s teaching me will put me at the top of the food chain and help me survive.” 

Looking at Hannibal he said, “You may as well kill me now because I am never going to be your … spouse or partner or whatever you want to call it.” 

“Are you familiar with the term kismet, Will?” 

“Kismet?  No.  What is that?” Will asked, confused by the change of subject. 

Kismet is the force which some people believe controls the things that happen to us in our lives.  Think about the series of events that led to you being here, Will.  How many people would have stopped at someone’s house at 1:30 in the morning to say hello, even if the lights were on?  Yet you did.  And then you got into my motor home of your own free will, even though staying hidden in the house would have ensured your safety and survival.  Again at the gas station you could have escaped me, but instead you chose to follow me.  You then staged a car accident to sneak back into my motor home so that you could accompany me home.  I never forced you in any way to come home with me.  You even walked into my home of your own free will.  And even tonight when you did try to escape, once again our paths crossed and you stopped for me instead of driving on.” 

“I stopped because I thought you were the sheriff!” Will argued. 

“If one were to believe in fate, you came to me practically gift wrapped, Will.  You were meant to be with me.  To be with us.” 

Will’s head was currently throbbing and spinning and he was having trouble concentrating.  “It wasn’t kismet or fate, just a string of bad choices and bad luck,” he said finally, closing his eyes against the light that was making his stomach churn. 

“Yet every choice you made brought you to me, Will.  Was it your bad luck or my good luck?” 

Will's eyes jerked open as he felt Dr. Lecter’s cool hand suddenly on his forehead.   

“We’ll have plenty of time to discuss this further at a later time.  You’re running a slight fever and have a lot of healing to do, and rest is the best thing for you right now,” he said, standing up, and Will saw him pulling a syringe out of his jacket pocket and injecting whatever was in it into the medication port of the IV bag. 

“No, wait!” Will protested, struggling against his restraints, even as he watched the liquid funneling down into the tube and felt the effects of the drug quickly going to work.  “No,” he said, weakly, his eyelids fighting to stay open.  “I don’t want this.” 

“You don’t want it now.  But you will,” Hannibal said confidently, sitting back down next to him and running his fingers soothingly through his now clean hair.  “You can’t fight fate, Will.  Everything is going to be all right.  You’ll see.” 

“Sweet dreams, papa,” Will heard Abigail say through the growing haze, and then felt a feather-light kiss on his cheek. 

“Sleep well, my darling,” he heard Dr. Lecter say, and then felt a surprisingly tender kiss on his lips before darkness overtook him and he fell down the rabbit hole where he was sure madness awaited. 

“There, he’ll sleep for several hours now and we still have much to do to clean up the mess you two made.” 

“You really like him, don’t you?” 

“He’s exactly what I’ve been searching for but had little hope of finding. 

“He’s pretty now that you cleaned him up.  And he’s really nice and brave.  I can see why you want to keep him.” 

“Wait till the bruises and contusions go away and we put him in some decent clothing.  He is going to be stunning,” he said looking down at the man fondly.  “Now, have you gathered everything you want from this room?” 

“Yes, father.” 

As they stood, Hannibal thought about all the things he still needed to do.  The RV and the deputy’s car had been firmly stuck together, so he had had to drive the RV with the car attached slowly back to his house.  It had been a slow and tedious four miles with the back tires of the RV blown out, and he had never felt more vulnerable than during that ride home.  If another motorist had passed them, it would have been all over.  It was truly remarkable luck that he had make it without encountering another single vehicle. 

Both vehicles were now hidden in the barn.  He had then gone back and picked up any visible debris on the road, but at first light he would have to do a more thorough sweep, especially since the Sheriff would eventually be out looking for his missing deputy, who was currently in the trunk of his own car.  He didn’t want the Sheriff to find anything suspicious on that stretch of road that would have him looking any closer.   The deputy would just disappear without a trace.  Since Hannibal knew this particular deputy had a reputation for cheating on his wife, many would suspect he had just run off with another woman.  But he would need to get rid of the car and the deputy quickly, just to be safe.  Since the car was not drivable, dumping it in a nearby lake was out of the question.  However, the previous owner of the house had left a small backhoe, and he could dig a large hole with it and push the car in the hole and bury it and the deputy in one fell swoop. 

He also still had the two bodies in the RV to dispose of, plus he had found one of his dogs dead in the RV as well.  He had spotted another of his dogs in front of the house with a broken pelvis and likely spinal damage, and had quickly snapped its neck.  He would have to locate the other two dogs and see what condition they were in. 

Then he needed to put the house to rights.  He had seen the table on its side and the broken chair at the bottom of the cellar stairs, giving him a good idea of how Will had managed to escape his chains.  And he had seen the padded suit inside the RV, giving him a good idea how Will had gotten past the dogs.  He couldn’t help but be impressed by Will’s resourcefulness and determination.  Later on, when he had time, he would ask Abigail for a full accounting of the events that transpired after Will had freed her.  

Checking off things in his head, he would need to go to the hardware store and buy a new deadbolt for the cellar door, plus new window glass for the downstairs and upstairs windows.  He was grateful Will had found the remote control to the gate, because a broken gate would have been visible from the road and hard to explain.  

He would also have to call off work for the next two weeks so his own injuries had time to heal, but he already had an excuse in mind for that one.  He would tell his employer that his brother and sister-in-law in Lithuania had died in a tragic automobile accident, leaving their teenage daughter orphaned.  He would need to attend the funeral and pick up their child and bring her home with him as he was the girl’s only living relative.  That would explain Abigail’s sudden presence in his household. 

“Sorry about your dogs,” Abigail said, bringing him out of his thoughts. 

“They were obviously not as full proof as I had thought, especially when up against a superior opponent, so I will dispose of them.” 

“Good.  I didn’t like them anyway.” 

“I’m still amazed Will was able to get past the four of them.” 

“He’s really smart and brave.” 

“You like him too, don’t you?” 

“Yes.  But he’s not happy to be here.  And he doesn’t seem to like you very much.” 

“Neither did you at first, as you recall.  But that will change.” 

“Can we go on a vacation together?  Somewhere sunny?  I’ve missed the sun.” 

“I think that sounds like an excellent idea.  But it may take some time for Will to come around.  He would appear to be quite stubborn.  And quite frankly I would be afraid to leave him here alone for any length of time as he might figure out a way to burn the place down.  Anyway, let’s take your things up to your room and get you situated; then you should get some sleep.” 

“Yes, father.” 

Hannibal pulled the blanket up over Will’s chest and softly kissed his lips again.  “Sleep well, my darling,” he said, unable to resist the urge to stroke his curls one last time.  When he had bathed Will, he had taken great pleasure in washing his hair.  He had already decided he would leave Will’s hair longer.  He loved his hair and just wanted to bury his face in it.    

“All right, come along, Abigail,” he said, picking up the box of things she had chosen to take to her new room. 

“Can I go back to school?” she asked. 

“Of course.  We may need to change your appearance and your name though.  What color hair would you like?” 

“How about the same color as yours?  Then I would really look like your daughter.” 

“Hmm.  That would suit you with your pale skin and eye color.”  It would also go along with convincing people that she was his niece.  “And henceforth as we will be telling people that you are my dead brother's child, your name will be Abigail Lecter to further discourage associations.  How do like that?” 

“I love it!  And as your daughter I should have your last name.” 

“Good.  Then it’s settled.  Come along then, darling, I still have much to do, he said, putting an arm around his new daughter and sighing in contentment as he glanced back at his new mate.  He had his perfect family now.” 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Two Days Later

“Ah, Will, good, you’re up.  I’ve brought you some breakfast.”    

Will, who was sitting in the armchair looking down at his lap, did not look up at Dr. Lecter, did not acknowledge him in any way.  He was no longer restrained to the bed now that the deadbolt had been replaced, but Dr. Lecter had put the leg manacles back on him so that he quote, “Would not be compelled to try something foolish,” end quote.  Not that having the manacles off would do any good right now.  He was still in so much pain with all his combined injuries that he looked like an old man when he tried to move around.  Yet he refused the pain medication that Dr. Lecter offered him.  He wanted to keep his mind sharp, wanted to keep his guard up for whatever Dr. Lecter had in store for him. 

“Still not speaking to me I see.  Well, I’ll just leave your breakfast on the table here,” he said, setting the tray down.  “I also brought you a newspaper to read.  I thought you might enjoy catching up on the news.  Well, I’ll see you at dinnertime,” he said, leaving without another word. 

As soon as the door shut, Will shuffled eagerly over to the small dining table.  He was surprised Dr. Lecter brought him a paper, and he was anxious to see if there was any news about the Ripper and the killings in his home town. 

He sat at the small table and looked over his breakfast, which consisted of oatmeal topped with fresh blueberries, toast, juice and coffee.  He picked up a spoon and ran it through the bowl of oatmeal, making sure the doctor hadn’t tried to add mystery meat chunks to it.  He had refused to eat any meat products that Dr. Lecter served him.  Seeing the oatmeal was lump-free except for the plump blueberries, he put a spoonful in his mouth and was chewing as he quickly unfolded the paper, but then froze as he read the front page headline of the Baltimore Sun

Is This the Face of a Killer?

24-year-old Wolf Trap Police Officer Sought in Connection to Chesapeake Ripper Killings

And there staring back at him was his own picture.  It was the picture taken the day he had become a police officer wearing his shiny new uniform. 

He pushed the oatmeal away, no longer hungry, his whole body shaking, as he read on.   

“There may be a break in the Chesapeake Ripper case.  Authorities are looking for 24-year-old Wolf Trap, Virginia police officer William Graham in connection with two separate homicides that happened late Thanksgiving night and into the following morning. 

Doctor Kevin Miller and his wife, Kathryn, were found murdered in their home in Wolf Trap, Virginia in the Ripper’s horrific yet artistic style, complete with missing organs.  Officer Graham’s personal vehicle was found parked on the side of the main road in front of their house, and his fingerprints were found inside the house.  Authorities initially believed the young officer, who was off duty at the time, went down to the house to investigate something suspicious that may have caught his eye.  However, in a startling new development, Officer Graham’s fingerprints were also found 50 miles away in a Stop N Shop Gas Station, where the owner of the business was also found murdered, his neck broken.  A pay phone outside the gas station that had been intentionally disabled also had the young officer’s fingerprints on it. 

The Miller’s daughter, Sarah, who is a nurse residing in Baltimore, was visiting her parents the night her parents were slain and is now missing, and this reporter has learned from fellow police officer Bobby Cooper that Officer Graham has had a crush on Miss Miller since grade school, and there’s speculation that if Officer Graham is indeed the Chesapeake Ripper, he may have killed her parents in order to kidnap Miss Miller.  The owner of Chester’s Bar told this reporter that Officer Graham had been in his bar earlier that night drinking more than usual and seemed to be in a celebratory mood …” 

The article went on about Will’s mother deserting him, his father’s drinking and possible abusive behavior before his death, Will’s troubled childhood and being a loner.  There was even speculation by some of the townspeople that were interviewed that Will had caused his father’s death.  His father had fallen over the side of his fishing boat one night and drowned.  His alcohol level had been off the charts.  There had been no witnesses. 

Will sat back in the chair stunned.  They all thought he was the Chesapeake Ripper, and Will had to admit reading this that the evidence seemed pretty convincing, even to him. 

Will looked at the picture of the reporter who had just ruined his life, one Freddie Lounds, a woman with curly hair and a self-satisfied smirk on her face.  He let the paper fall to the table feeling numb.  He had never felt so utterly defeated and betrayed.  The girl he had risked everything to rescue had turned on him, and now the police department he worked for and the townspeople he had known his entire life were convinced he was a killer.  How could they think for even a second that he was capable of the atrocities committed by the Chesapeake Ripper? 

Feeling a flood of rage, he swept the contents of his breakfast and the offending newspaper off the table to the sound of breaking glass and china.  Staring at the mess he had made, he felt no better.  He put his elbows on the table and put his face in his hands and sat there for the next several hours replaying the words in the article over and over in his mind, letting them eat away at him like cancer. 

 

Hannibal was in his office watching Will on a TV screen that was receiving feedback from several hidden cameras he had secreted in the room.  He had known that that article would devastate Will far better than anything he could do to him.  Hannibal knew that the FBI would go through Will’s life for the past two years with a fine tooth comb and check his whereabouts at the times of all his kills and realize that Will couldn’t possibly be the Chesapeake Ripper, but it didn’t matter, this one article had done its work. 

Will’s own people had just made his job so much easier.  Getting Will to mentally cut ties with his coworkers and any friends he had in Wolf Trap will have him accepting his new life with him that much quicker.  But then, that’s what he had intended when he had called Freddie Lound’s answering service and left that anonymous tip about Will being at the house and the gas station.  He knew her reputation and knew she wouldn’t be able to resist digging further, and she had not disappointed.  Maybe he should send her flowers to show his appreciation.  Or perhaps a fruit basket. 

He smiled and turned off the screen. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

As the days passed, Will started to relax to a certain degree.  Initially every time he heard the deadbolt click he expected Dr. Lecter to come through the door and start his diabolical plan to brainwash him into wanting to stay with him, but all Dr. Lecter did was bring in a tray of food, ask him how he was doing, check the refrigerator to make sure he had sufficient healthy snacks, and then leave with the dishes from the previous meal.  And this happened twice a day, breakfast and dinner, day after day. 

As soon as Will was able to get around without pain, he spent most of his time trying to find a way out of the room.  He analyzed the door, the walls, the ceiling, the floor, air vents, but Dr. Lecter had designed the room well and Will could find no weak areas he could exploit. 

Will’s days fell into a routine.  He ate, he showered, made his bed.  He walked on the treadmill as soon as his injuries allowed him to, and he listened to Dr. Lecter’s classical records on the record player.  It wasn’t really his kind of music, but when you’re living in a large room where the only sound is the sound of your own dark thoughts, any sound is welcome.  And, he had to admit a couple of the albums weren’t that bad.  Then he would read for a while, walk on the treadmill some more, etc., until Dr. Lecter showed up with dinner. 

Initially he didn’t try to speak to Dr. Lecter at all.  But as the days passed he came to realize with a disturbing sense of clarity that he missed interacting with other people, and even began to look forward to Dr. Lecter’s two visits a day.  When you’re all alone day after day, cut off from radio, TV, all contact with the outside world, stuck inside the same four walls and denied all human contact, just seeing another face, just hearing the sound of another person’s voice, even briefly, was a relief. 

But then when Dr. Lecter would leave without trying to engage him in conversation, he would feel disappointed, angry even. 

One day when Dr. Lecter dropped off his meal, Will got angry and yelled, “Why would I even consider being the partner of a man who ignores me and won’t even speak to me?” 

Dr. Lecter just smiled in that knowing way of his and said, “If I had tried speaking to you in the beginning, Will, you wouldn’t have spoken to me.  I’ve just been giving you sufficient time to think things over without feeling pressured.  A little more time should do it.” 

And then he turned and left without another word.  Asshole!  It didn’t make Will feel any better knowing that he was right.  Those first two weeks Will had refused to even acknowledge Dr. Lecter. 

Will wondered if this was how he was planning to break him, to have him so desperate for human company that he would become eager for any companionship, even from his two jailers.   

And so Will’s routine continued.  He ate, he read, he spent more and more time on the treadmill, feeling well enough to run now, and running a little farther every day. 

Will would eat around any meat product on his plate, drooling despite himself as he inhaled the smell of spices and rich, thick gravy and sauces coating the meat, knowing that it was quite possibly human flesh.  Initially he would scrape the sauce off and examine the meat, look at its texture, try to determine if it was beef or pork, but since he had no idea what human flesh looked like when cooked, he refused to risk it. 

When Dr. Lecter picked up his plate at the end of the second week, he tsked as he observed the waste. 

“Will, you can’t go on simply eating vegetables and bread.  You need protein to maintain good health.” 

“I would be more than happy to eat the meat, Doctor, if you give me your word upon serving it that I am not about to consume the flesh from one of your kills.” 

Hannibal studied Will.  He had first-hand knowledge how stubborn he could be, even to the detriment of his own health.  “I’ll make a deal with you, Will.  I promise that I will serve you meat that has come from an animal four days out of the week, and the other three will be meat from a human, provided you give me your word you will eat meat at least three days out of the week.” 

Will looked at him suspiciously.  “What’s the catch?” 

“The catch is that when I serve you your meal I won’t tell you whether it’s human or animal, you will have to make that determination yourself.” 

Will thought it over.  So four meals out of seven would be animal meat, which meant he had a better than fifty percent chance he wouldn’t be eating human flesh.  He had to admit that he had been craving meat desperately, even dreaming about it.  You can’t be a carnivore your whole life and then suddenly become a vegetarian overnight. 

“Agreed,” he said. 

Hannibal smiled. 

The next night he brought Will a slab of meat cooked to perfection and smothered in mushrooms and a rich buttery sauce that had Will drooling immediately.  Will cut into the meat and examined it.  It looked like steak, it smelled like steak.  Would Dr. Lecter serve him human meat the very first day, or would he lead off with animal meat to lull him into a feeling of security?  Or, perhaps he would lead off with human meat, knowing that Will was desperate for the taste of meat.  He took a cautious bite and moaned with delight as the meat seemed to melt in his mouth.  He took another, enjoying it immensely, and suddenly he was stuffing it into his mouth as fast as he could chew and swallow it.  But in the back of his mind was the constant worry that it wasn’t animal meat he was consuming. 

He ended up throwing it all up.  He had eaten it too fast, and the worry that he might have just eaten a person had his stomach roiling and it just wouldn’t stay down. 

Nonetheless, when Hannibal came to collect his dishes later on and saw the meat gone, he smiled. 

So for the next six days Will went through a similar process, examining the meat, smelling it, asking himself if it looked like something he had eaten before.  He ate meat two more days, but only ate a small amount, and his stomach still protested with worry. 

At the end of the seven days when Dr. Lecter picked up his plate Will said, “Was any of the meat I ate human?” 

Hannibal smiled at him and said, “If you couldn’t tell the difference, Will, does it really matter?” 

Will fumed.  But he continued to eat small portions of his meat three days a week from that point on. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

As the days started blending together, Will began to lose track of how long he had been here. 

He was lying on the bed reading a book when the deadbolt snapped open and Dr. Lecter was standing in the doorway.  But instead of coming in with his dinner as he expected, Dr. Lecter said, “Come along, Will, we’re going upstairs.” 

Upstairs?  Will felt a thrill of unease.  On the one hand, just the chance to get out of this room was something to look forward to.  On the other hand, perhaps this was the day Dr. Lecter decided he was going to begin his torture or brainwashing or conditioning, or whatever the hell it was he had planned for him.  Perhaps he was going to take him upstairs and chain him to the table again.  Or, perhaps he had realized he had made a mistake, that Will wasn’t the one after all, and he was going kill him.   

“You get some new dogs you want me to try and get through in one piece?” Will asked, trying to sound flippant to hide his growing unease. 

“No, no dogs.  But I do have a surprise for you.” 

“Hopefully it’s not the kind of surprise that will result in me losing a body part.”  

Hannibal looked at him in exasperation.  “Will, as my intended and one of Abigail’s fathers, I would hardly wish you harm.  I wish you would see that.” 

“All I see is that you’ve been keeping me locked in this cellar against my will.  Besides, I don’t like surprises,” Will said petulantly. 

“We’ll see,” Hannibal said.  “But I need you to put these on first.” 

He handed Will the ankle manacles, and Will sighed.  “I guess you don’t trust your intended,” Will said, as he sat on his bed, looking at the manacles. 

“This is just to discourage you from trying anything foolish and spoiling things while you’re upstairs,” Hannibal said.  “It’s for your own good as well as ours.” 

If this is what it took to get out of this room, he would put them on, he thought, snapping them into place.    

Hannibal motioned him through the door ahead of him, and they went up the stairs and through the laundry room.  The last time he went up these stairs was when he had freed Abigail.  It seemed like a lifetime ago. 

As he shuffled through the laundry room ahead of Dr. Lecter, adrenaline was coursing through his body and he was bracing himself for anything. 

Or so he thought.    

As he reached the kitchen and looked through the house into the dining room and living room beyond, he froze.  The house had been transformed.  The dining room table that he had last seen bare and turned over on its side was covered with a white table cloth and set with china and crystal glasses, flowers, candles and napkins.  There were lights all around the room, and the staircase to the second floor was draped in pine branches and red bows.  Then he spotted a tree in the living room with lights twinkling merrily and realized what this meant. 

“Merry Christmas, Will,” Hannibal said softly beside him.  “I thought you might like to spend Christmas with your family.” 

“This isn’t my family,” Will said, but without any heat. 

It was Christmas.  Which meant he had been here a month now.  The warm foodsy smell of cooking permeated the air, and his stomach growled in anticipation.  The tang of fresh pine in the air told Will the glittering tree in the living room was real.  The Little Drummer Boy, one of Will’s favorite Christmas songs, was playing softly in the background. 

Abigail was standing by the table smiling broadly and literally bouncing on her toes, she looked so excited.  And he was surprised to see she had blond hair now, the same color as Dr. Lecter’s. 

Hannibal’s hand was suddenly on the small of his back, moving him forward toward the table. 

“Merry Christmas, papa Will!” Abigail said, coming over and hugging him. 

Hannibal pulled out the chair at the end of the table for Will, and Will sat down, feeling numb.  He kept looking around.  Everything was so beautiful, like a scene out of a magazine. 

Hannibal went back into the kitchen and returned carrying a large platter with a ham on it, pink meat steaming.  An actual ham.  There was no way that was human meat, and Will felt his appetite go up a notch further.  Hannibal brought other dishes to the table, including a sweet potato casserole, buttered peas, steaming rolls, butter, honey, and a pecan pie.  A real traditional Christmas meal.  He was overwhelmed.  When was the last time he had had an actual Christmas meal?  It was when he was seven, the Christmas before his mother left.  They had had a wonderful meal, and then afterward his dad had gone out to the garage and came back wearing a big grin and bringing him his present, which was the bicycle he had been wanting, complete with a big red bow.  It was one of his favorite childhood memories, spoiled only by the fact that his mother would run off and leave him several months later.  They had never celebrated Christmas after that.  His father usually drank himself into a stupor during the holidays as if the pain during those times was more intense than other times.  Will had quickly come to dread the holidays. 

And now here he was sitting at this beautiful table watching Dr. Lecter carve the ham while Abigail chatted on excitedly.  Like a real family.  What. The. Hell. 

Hannibal took Abigail’s plate and filled it with food first before setting it in front of her.  He then did the same with Will’s plate, and then his own.  He poured them each a glass of red wine, and then standing at the head of the table lifted his glass and said, “I’d like to propose a toast.  Here’s to life, to love, and especially to family.  May this Christmas together be the first of many more to come.” 

“Oh, that was a good toast, father!” Abigail praised, sipping her wine. 

Will picked up his glass, still feeling numb, and took a sip of his own, wishing it was something stronger.  Maybe this was a dream.  He was dreaming he was spending Christmas with a cannibalistic killer and his protégé. 

“Bon appétit,” Dr. Lecter said, sitting down and smiling, and then he and Abigail started eating.  Will picked up his silverware and slowly joined in.    

While Dr. Lecter and Abigail chatted away, Will listened in while he ate.  It seemed they were talking about some classes Abigail was taking, and Will was surprised.  He wondered how Dr. Lecter had pulled off enrolling her in school. 

“You’re going to school now?” he asked, surprising himself.  He hadn’t planned on joining the conversation, but curiosity got the better of him. 

“Not yet.  Father got me a private tutor in town to finish up this school year.  I’ll enroll in school next year and finish up high school, and then it’s on to college.”  

“Does this have anything to do with the fact that you’ve dyed your hair?” Will asked. 

“Do you like it?” Abigail said excitedly.  “I really look like his daughter now.” 

Will looked at Dr. Lecter questioningly.  “How do you plan to pull this off?  The name Abigail Hobbs will be recognized.” 

“Yes, but not Abigail Lecter.  Abigail’s father, my brother, and his wife died in a tragic car accident in Lithuania, where they lived, and Abigail has come to live with me, her only living relative.  I’ve had school transcripts and a birth certificate forged, so there will be no questions.  I’m also teaching her Lithuanian so she can be convincing.” 

“Linksmų Kalėdų, papa Will.  That’s Merry Christmas in Lithuanian,” Abigail said proudly. 

“It seems you have it all figured out,” Will said. 

“When I go to college, I’m going to study to be a doctor just like father,” Abigail said proudly. 

Will just nodded, and went back to eating.  Abigail’s future seemed to be figured out, but his future was still a big question mark.  Still, he couldn’t help but be entertained listening to the two of them chatting away.  After being in that cellar for a month with practically zero human interaction, just hearing the sounds of voices other than the ones in his head was a treat.  He also noticed with amusement that Abigail’s eyes would occasionally dart to the Christmas tree, where he saw several colorfully wrapped boxes stacked underneath. 

After dinner, Hannibal cut them pieces of the pecan pie topped with fresh whipped cream, and made a pot of coffee to accompany it.  Then they all retired to the living room where Will settled into an armchair near the fireplace feeling full of good food and totally relaxed for the first time in a month. 

Dr. Lecter poured an amber liquid from a cut crystal bottle into a tumbler and handed it to him. 

“A little after-dinner drink,” he said, smiling. 

Will put it to his nose and inhaled deeply, identifying it as whiskey, but not the cheap stuff he drank, this was top shelf stuff.  He closed his eyes as the first smooth, smoky taste burned a path down his throat.  Damn, that was good stuff. 

His appreciation of the drink did not go unnoticed by Hannibal. 

“All right, time for presents,” Hannibal announced, and Abigail suddenly looked like any other excited child on Christmas day as she jumped up and down clapping her hands.  Grabbing the first box, she ripped off the paper and opened it up, and it contained a beautiful coat trimmed in what appeared to be Russian sable with a matching fur hat. 

Abigail tried them on and she was suddenly transformed from a little girl to a stylish young woman.  Other boxes included a designer handbag, leather gloves, and boots.  Will wondered just how much Dr. Lecter had spent on his daughter. 

He was actually enjoying sipping his whiskey and watching Abigail open her presents.  It was such a domestic scene that for a while he actually forgot he was a prisoner here. 

At one point Dr. Lecter came over and refreshed his drink. 

There was still one box under the tree and he looked at Abigail expectantly wondering what the last box contained.  When she picked it up, however, she walked over to him and set it on his lap. 

“This one's for you, papa Will, from father and me.  I helped find some of the pieces.” 

Will sat there stunned, looking between Abigail and Dr. Lecter.  His first instinct was to refuse it, but looking at Abigail and her look of expectation, could he really hurt her feelings like that?  Yes, she had betrayed him, but he still blamed Dr. Lecter’s conditioning on that. 

Plus, something Abigail said had him curious.  She said ‘I helped father find some of the pieces.’  To him that meant that this wasn’t a coat or scarf or something bought at a store.  He put the whiskey down on the end table and licked his lips in nervous anticipation.  He hadn’t received a Christmas present since he was seven. 

He pulled the top off the box and stared at the contents with surprise when he realized what it was he was looking at.  Inside were all the things one would need for making fishing lures.  There were small tools, a magnifying glass complete with stand, plain wooden lure bodies and colored thread.  There were colorful feathers and small shells and bits of glass and beads and things that sparkled.  There was also a waterproof paint set with brushes for painting the lure bodies.  It was an incredibly thoughtful gift that had taken time and consideration to put together. 

“How did you even know I fished?” Will said, looking up and swallowing the lump in his throat. 

“Freddie Lounds’ article mentioned your father died when he fell off his fishing boat and drowned.  I just figured fishing probably ran in your family.” 

Will nodded.  That made sense.  Then looking up at the both of them he said, “Thank you,” before putting the top back on it, feeling a confusing array of mixed emotions, something Dr. Lecter had probably intended. 

He picked up his whiskey glass and drained it and said, “I’m a bit tired.  I’d like to go back to my room now.” 

“Oh,” Abigail said, looking disappointed.  “Well, Merry Christmas, Papa Will,” she said, coming over and hugging him again, and after a couple of awkward seconds, he hugged her back. 

“Merry Christmas, Abigail.” 

Hannibal escorted him downstairs and followed him into his room.  Will set the box on the end of his bed and stood there.  He knew Dr. Lecter was standing behind him, watching him.  He felt rather than heard him approach him, and yet he didn’t turn around.  He was still trying to sort through the conflicting feelings going through him, not helped by how relaxed and mellow he was feeling by the overabundance of food and whiskey. 

“You know, Will, there can be many more evenings like this one with the three of us together as a family.  You enjoyed tonight, I could tell that you did.” 

Will didn’t move.  He had enjoyed tonight.  More than he would have thought. 

And then Dr. Lecter’s hands were on his shoulders, and still he didn’t move.  The words ‘lonely’ and ‘touch starved’ went through his mind.  That had probably been Dr. Lecter’s design leaving him down here alone for so long, hardly speaking to him during his brief visits, not allowing Abigail to visit him.  It’s very hard to be cut off from all human contact like that. 

“All you have to do is join us,” Dr. Lecter said in that hypnotic, exotic voice of his, and Will swallowed as he felt Dr. Lecter move even closer, suddenly nuzzling his hair, breathing in deeply of his scent. 

“Did you just smell me,” Will asked softly, more curious than upset. 

“The body wash I chose for you compliments your natural scent perfectly.  You smell wonderful,” he said huskily, lips suddenly next to his ear, and Will realized that Dr. Lecter was now pressed fully against his back as he nuzzled him. 

Will closed his eyes, pleasant sensations going through his body.  The thought of having more evenings like this one was tempting, to actually have a family, spend holidays together, talk about their dreams and desires.  But wasn’t his dream to join the FBI?  Hadn’t that been his dream for the last several years.  And wasn’t it Dr. Lecter who was taking that dream away from him by keeping him here? 

He must have stiffened because Dr. Lecter suddenly stopped nuzzling him. 

“Good night, Dr. Lecter,” Will said.  “Thank you for letting me out of my dungeon for the evening, and for the gift.” 

Sighing and stepping back, Hannibal bent down and took the manacles off him.  Then he said, “Good-night, William.  Sweet dreams.”  And with that, he left, and Will was left once more in the quiet of his room with an aching loneliness pressing down upon him.   

As he lay in his bed that night replaying the events of the evening, he couldn’t help but think that here he was the prisoner of a murderer and cannibal, and he had just had one of the best Christmases of his entire life.  How fucked up was that? 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

New Year’s Eve came and Will was once again invited upstairs to celebrate the coming New Year with his “family.”  And, once again, he was made to put the ankle manacles on, giving him no real chance of escape, unless he could figure out a way to knock Dr. Lecter out and take the key.  Plus, he had no idea if any of those dogs were still outside.  Abigail had killed one, and the one that fell off the roof of the RV probably hadn’t survived, but that still left two possibilities between him and freedom. 

The days droned on and Dr. Lecter kept to his routine of bringing down food twice a day.  Will added making fishing lures to his daily routine of running on the treadmill, reading, and listening to the doctor’s music.  Still, he was starting to think he would go mad down here, so much so that he kept hoping for another occasion that would bring him out of the cellar and back into the main house.  And then it came. 

He made his way up the stairs in his manacles trying to think what the occasion could be.  As he made his through the kitchen toward the dining room, Abigail was nowhere in sight.  The table was set for two with candles and low lights. 

“What’s the occasion?  Where’s Abigail?” 

“Tonight the adventure will be yours and mine alone, Will.” 

Will frowned, looking at the table again.  “What’s the date today?” he asked suspiciously. 

“It’s February the 14th.” 

Oh hell no.  Valentine’s Day. 

“I thought tonight might be a good night to speak of the future.” 

Oh boy.  “All right,” Will said nervously, sitting at his spot at the table, feeling a bit awkward. 

Hannibal brought out two plates with what appeared to be prime rib, although Will couldn’t be certain, fresh asparagus, and au gratin potatoes. 

They both started eating.  Dr. Lecter looked relaxed but Will felt really uncomfortable.  Valentine’s Day was for…couples, and he had not given Dr. Lecter any indication he wanted to remain here with him and Abigail.  Finally when the silence was starting to get to him he put his silverware down and said, “Just what do you want from me, Dr. Lecter?  You keep me locked up in that cellar, barely speak to me, and only bring me upstairs when there’s a special occasion.  So, I repeat, what do you want from me?” 

“I’ve made no secret what I want, Will.  I want you to be part of this family,” he replied, taking a sip of his wine.    

“Well we all want things, Dr. Lecter.  What about what I want?  As my so-called loving partner, shouldn’t you be concerned with what I want, with what makes me happy?”  

“And what is it you want, Will?” he said, looking up at him.  “Do you want to go back to Wolf Trap, living all alone in your little house, surrounded by people who don’t really know you if they could think for one moment that you could possibly be the Chesapeake Ripper?” 

Touché.  “I want to be free.  I want to be out of that cellar.  I want to fulfill my dream of becoming an FBI agent so I can put people behind bars who go around hurting people and think that they're above the law.”    

Hannibal put down his utensils and dabbed at his lips with his napkin.  Looking pointedly at Will he said, “What if I told you there might be a way for you to get what you want once I get what I want?” 

“You mean me,” Will said bluntly. 

“Yes.” 

Will sat there speechless for a minute.  He hadn’t expected that. 

“That would be a neat trick, considering the FBI either thinks I am the Chesapeake Ripper or was taken by the Ripper and most likely killed.  I don’t mean to question that undeniably brilliant and diabolical mind of yours, I just don’t think me joining the FBI is a possibility so long as I’m with you.  The only way I can see me joining the FBI now is if I were to kill you and escape, bringing the FBI to your cold, dead body.  But I doubt that’s what you have in mind.” 

Hannibal smiled.  “No, it’s not.” 

“Then I don’t see how it can be done.  You getting your dream would seem to cancel out mine.” 

“Oh, you would be surprised what I can accomplish when I want something and I’m properly motivated, Will,” he said meaningfully, eyes dropping to Will’s lips. 

Will looked away, uncomfortable by the heated look the man was giving him.  “So, tell me then, just how would you propose to pull off this miracle?” Will asked, curious despite himself. 

“You’re not ready to hear it yet.  When you’re ready to join us, then you’ll be ready to hear how it can be done.” 

Will sighed.  “I wish you’d understand that it’s not going to happen.  I’m not going to change simply because you wish it.” 

Dr. Lecter just smiled that infuriating know-it-all smile and said, “Finish your food before it gets cold, Will.” 

Chapter Text

Two days following the rather awkward Valentine’s Day dinner, Hannibal came down the stairs dragging a large box.  He told Will it was a piece of exercise equipment called a Bow-flex. 

“You’ll need to assemble it, but this will allow you to work on your upper body strength,” Dr. Lecter had told him.  "I want you to keep your body in peak condition.”  

So Will put it together, enjoying putting his inherent mechanical skills to use.  It turned out to be a large contraption with all sorts of pulleys and levers. 

And so Will added workouts on the Bow-flex to his daily routine, working diligently on increasing his upper body strength, motivated by the thought of how easily Dr. Lecter had overpowered him in the kitchen that first day. 

The days and weeks continued on mostly as they had before, although Dr. Lecter would occasionally sit down and spend a bit of time talking to him now.  However, somehow their conversations always ended up feeling like some kind of therapy session.  For instance, there was the conversation regarding Will’s parents …

“Do you resent your parents, Will?” 

“I think my life would have been very different if my mother hadn’t left, causing my father to turn to alcohol to block out that betrayal.” 

“How so?” 

“My mother’s abandonment and my father's subsequent decent into becoming the town drunk made me a bit of a pariah in the community, forcing me become more of a loner.  If I had had normal, loving parents, I might have been a more outgoing, loving person, willing to reach out to others.” 

“Even if your parents had remained together, that doesn’t mean they would have been loving parents.” 

“True.  But they were when I was a child, and I can’t help but wonder.” 

“What if I told you that I believe your mother leaving you while you were young actually made you a stronger, better person than you would have been?” 

“How so?” 

“You had to grow up faster, take on more responsibility, and make decisions at a much earlier age than the other children who were reliant on their parents.  Plus, your father’s abuse made you more sympathetic toward the suffering of others, having experienced abuse and suffering firsthand at such a young age.” 

“True.  But it just as easily could have had the opposite effect.” 

“Precisely.  For some it would have turned them bitter, cruel, vindictive.  But not you.  You turned a negative into a positive.  You overcame your circumstances, and even chose a career where your job was to help those in trouble.  If you had had loving parents, as you described, you would have probably been content to work in a garage repairing motors, like your father, came home from work every evening with grease embedded under your nails to your small town wife, eaten, made love to her before retiring, and then up before dawn to do it all again.” 

“That sounds pretty good to me.” 

“You’re lying to yourself if you think that.  Living a life of mediocrity would have bored a mind such as yours.  That’s why you hope to join the FBI.  Even your job as a police officer isn’t giving you enough of the stimulation and excitement that your mind needs.  Or is it perhaps that you like the idea of riding in on a white horse and playing the hero?  Is that what you want, Will?  To be the hero?” 

“No, that’s not what I want.  I want the bad guys to know that they can’t get away with hurting people, stealing from them, causing them pain, that there will be consequences for their actions.  I want to protect those who can’t protect themselves.  But I’m not looking for recognition. A simple thank you is always nice, but I’m not looking for anything else.” 

“The pressure you experienced during your youth could have broken you, but like a lump of coal under pressure, you didn’t break; instead you turned into a magnificent diamond.  You’re a singularity, Will, much like myself.” 

“Being a singularity isn’t necessarily a good thing.” 

“Perhaps, but it’s better than being mediocre.  It’s better than being one of the sheep in a herd of other sheep, all milling around and doing what all the other sheep are doing.  Isn’t it better to be the wolf, wild and free, following your instincts and submitting to no one?” 

“But when a wolf gets too bold and starts killing the sheep, the sheepherder goes after it.  There’s always a reckoning, Dr. Lecter.” 

“Not when the wolf is part of a strong pack who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect each other.  If you were part of our pack, Will, Abigail and I would do everything in our power to protect you.  You would never be alone.  And a wolf will lay down its own life to protect its mate, as would I.  Wouldn’t it feel good to be loved and protected that strongly?” 

Will was looking at his hands now.  He nodded without looking up.  “Yes.  Yes it would.” 

“I’ve enjoyed our talk, Will.  I feel we’ve made great progress today.” 

 

And on it went.  Will always felt pensive after his talks with Dr. Lecter because Dr. Lecter knew how to weave a bit of truth into their conversations in order to twist things, leaving Will feeling confused and off balance afterwards.     

But there were good visits as well.  His favorites were the days when Abigail would come down with Hannibal.  He felt more relaxed, less self-conscious with Abigail in the room with them.  She came down one day while he was working on a lure using the kit he got for Christmas, and she walked over and looked at his work and asked if he thought she would be able to make one.  He had gotten up and sat her down and for the next hour he guided her through the steps of making a lure, letting her pick the feather and colors and bits of sparkle that she liked.  Dr. Lecter had sat by quietly just watching them, looking content.  When they were done, Abigail had taken the lure over and excitedly shown Hannibal. 

“Look what I made, father!  Isn’t it beautiful?” she’d said excitedly. 

“It is indeed,” he said, examining her work and glancing over at Will.  “In fact, it’s so beautiful that I shall have to buy a frame so that we can put it on display.” 

Will had smiled at Abigail’s enthusiasm, and he and Dr. Lecter had shared a look, as if Abigail was truly their child.  It had unsettled Will how comfortable he was growing when he was with the two of them. 

He found himself getting more torn and confused.  He wanted to stay firm in his beliefs, but it’s hard to keep the hatred burning when the man in question seems fond of you and is not harming you in any way, other than taking away your freedom. 

As time continued to pass though, Will grew more anxious.  He knew it must be springtime now and he longed to see the outdoors.  He dreamed about it.  The new grass, the buds on the trees, the spring flowers breaking free from their hibernation, and all the rich springtime smells. 

He was also starting to get paranoid that Dr. Lecter would eventually grow bored of his resistance and decide to get rid of him.  He started having nightmares of Dr. Lecter sneaking into his room while he slept and strangling him.  He would shoot up in bed covered in sweat and clutching at his throat, sucking in great gulps of air trying to catch his breath. 

His mental condition started deteriorating.  He stopped showering and shaving, until Dr. Lecter threatened to bathe and shave him himself.  He would pace back and forth across his space and rub his forearms in agitation, leaving angry red furrows in its place. 

Dr. Lecter was not blind to these changes and had asked Will what was wrong, only to have Will snap “Besides being the prisoner of a cannibalistic murderer?”  But there was something else going on and Hannibal decided it was time to move things along.  He came down with a bottle of the whiskey he knew Will liked, and once they were both seated, he poured Will a healthy portion, which Will immediately downed, gasping slightly as it burned down his throat. 

Hannibal immediately poured him a second one. 

“Something seems to be bothering you lately, Will,” he said.  “Would you like to tell me what it is?” 

“I’m trapped underground, my life in stasis, while life goes on aboveground in the real world.  Everyone else is going on with their lives, moving forward, and I’m stuck below ground frozen in time like a dragonfly caught in amber, my very existence dictated by the whims of a killer,” he said, downing the second drink. 

“It’s more than that though, isn’t it?” 

“What do you care?  I’m just a plaything to you,” he said, slumping back in his chair. 

Hannibal took the glass out of Will’s hand.  He had added a mild sedative to the bottle of whiskey in order to relax Will.  As Will let out a deep sigh and the fight seemed to leave him, Hannibal brought out a pair of velcro bands he had brought with him and secured Will’s wrists to the arms of the chair. 

“What are you doing?” Will said slumped in the chair, mildly anxious but unable to put up a fuss. 

“I’ve given you a mild sedative,” he said, pulling a syringe out of his pocket.  “I’m now going to give you a dose of sodium pentothal, and then we’re going to have a talk and get to the bottom of a few things.” 

“Sodium pentothal?  You’re giving me truth serum?” Will said anxiously, struggling uselessly while Dr. Lecter inserted the syringe into a vein in his forearm and injected the fluid. 

“Why are you giving me truth serum?  When have I ever lied to you?” 

“You haven’t, so far as I know, but I’m going to be asking you some questions that you may be reluctant to answer, and I want to know that the answers you give me are one hundred percent truthful.  This way we can get to the root of what’s really bothering you.”  Sitting across from him Hannibal watched Will’s eyes, and when they started to look slightly unfocused he said, “Let’s begin.  What is your full name, Will?” 

“William Alexander Graham,” he said, speaking slowly, but without hesitation. 

Hannibal nodded.  The serum was working.  “And tell me, Will, what is your biggest fear right now?” 

Will looked up at him, and Hannibal couldn’t help but be affected by the deep sadness he saw there.  “That I’ll die down here.  That you’ll grow bored of me and that this strange attraction you seem to have for me will fade and you’ll decide that you made a mistake and kill me, and then I will just disappear as if I was never born and the world will go on believing that I was the Chesapeake Ripper and was capable of committing all the atrocities that you committed.” 

Hmm.  “What if I told you that the FBI has already cleared you as a suspect?  When they cross checked the times of the killings with your whereabouts, they determined that you could not possibly be the Ripper.  They’re still confused about a few things, like your fingerprints at that service station where the clerk was killed, but they no longer think that you are the Chesapeake Ripper.” 

Will nodded, and he looked suddenly lighter, as if this had been weighing on him.  “That’s good.  I’m happy to hear that,” he said. 

“What have you missed most since being locked up here?”

“My freedom.  I enjoy the outdoors and sometimes I feel like I’m in a tomb, like I’m already dead and buried down here.” 

“You didn’t say you miss being with people.  Do you miss the people back in Wolf Trapp?” 

“No, not so much.  I had a few friends, but no real close ties.  When I thought I was leaving for FBI training, I knew there was nothing or no one I would regret leaving behind.” 

Hannibal nodded again.  And now for his next question.  He was very much looking forward to the answer to his next question. 

“What is the worst thing you have ever done, Will?” 

When Will hesitated at this one, Hannibal knew he had struck a nerve.  He repeated the question:  “Will, what is the worst thing you have ever done?” 

Will swallowed.  “I killed my father.” 

Hannibal froze, momentarily stunned.  Very little surprised him these days, but Will had managed to surprise him yet again. 

“So the people in Wolf Trap were right and you actually did kill your father, as they suspected?” 

“Yes.  I didn’t plan it, but it happened.  I didn’t realize they suspected me, but I don’t think they really cared.  My father had become a nasty, belligerent drunk and no one was sorry to see him dead.” 

“Tell me what happened, Will.  How did it come about that you killed your father?” 

“The day before my 17th birthday I came home from work and he was there.  I still lived at home out of financial necessity, but we rarely saw each other as he was usually out working at the garage or at the bars until late.  For whatever reason though, this particular evening he was home and relatively sober.  He said, ‘Tomorrow’s your birthday, isn’t it son?  Why don’t we go out on the fishing boat tomorrow and celebrate.  Spend a day together like we used to when you were young.’  My gut told me to say no, that it was a bad idea, but my heart wanted to believe that maybe he was finally getting his shit together and it would be okay.  So the next day after working at the grocery store, where I stocked the shelves and bagged groceries, I went out to the boat.  He had gotten this really nice 29’ Grady fishing boat when I was little and he still had it.  It was a beautiful boat, and every weekend in the summer he and mom and I would go out on the lake and fish and mom would have a picnic basket.”  Will sighed.  “We used to have so much fun on that boat.  But when I got there this time, I saw whiskey bottles scattered all over the deck but I didn’t see him.  I started to leave, but then he came out of the cabin, drunk as a skunk. 

“’Jesus, I knew this was a mistake,’ I said, and I was going to leave, but he was already untying the boat and pushing off.” 

“’No,’ he slurred, ‘I said we was gonna spend your birthday together, and we’re gonna,’ and then he set the boat in motion, heading out into the lake.  I thought about just jumping overboard and swimming to shore.  We were still close enough that it would have been an easy swim, but he was so drunk I decided I’d better stay with him. 

“At the time of my 17th birthday I was close to graduating high school and had been saving up to go to the local community college the next town over.  Somehow he heard about it because he said, ‘So, I hear you’re planning to desert your old man like your whore of a mother.’ 

“’I’m going to college to try to make something out of myself, dad,’ I said.” 

We were in the middle of the lake by now and he stopped the engine but didn’t drop the anchor. 

“’Just like your mother.  Being a mechanic isn’t good enough for you, so you’re just gonna up and leave me.’ 

“I was getting mad by then and said, ‘Better than sticking around here and becoming a drunk like my old man.’ 

“’What ‘d you say, boy?!  What’d you say to me?!’” he said, and he was furious.  He had a quick temper when he was drunk.  He grabbed the front of my shirt and slapped me across the face.  I was trying to get away from him but he kept slapping me saying things like, ‘You’re just a two-bit whore like your mother.  Good for nothing from the day you was born.’  It didn’t matter to him that a lot of the time the only food in our house was the food I bought with the money I made working any job I could get from the time I was 13 mowing lawns and shoveling snow and delivering groceries to some of the elderly folks in town. 

“He slapped me again so hard my ears were ringing, and I’d had enough.  I pushed him as hard as I could, and he stumbled backwards and went over the railing into the water.  My old man may have been drunk, but he was still a strong swimmer.  I looked over the side and he was splashing around and cursing and saying he was going to kill me when he got back on the boat.  I was frightened and I was furious.  I’d reached the point where I had had enough.  Enough of his abuse and of him belittling me, comparing me to my mother and making my life miserable since I was eight.  I picked up a fishing hook that was secured to the side of the boat and used it to push him under.  He got free at one point and was looking all wide-eyed and desperate now, but I didn’t care at this point.  How dare he invite me out to spend my birthday together, and then turn up drunk and physically and verbally abuse me.  I pushed him under again and held him under until he stopped moving.  Then I pulled the hook back up, dried it off on my shirt and secured it back to the side of the boat.  I jumped overboard and swam the mile back to shore and made my way home without anyone seeing me. 

“The next day someone spotted the boat drifting near the shoreline untethered and called it in.  They found the old man’s body a day later.  His blood alcohol content was through the roof, so they just assumed he had fallen overboard and drowned.  Things got a whole lot better for me after that.  I sold the fishing boat for ten thousand dollars, bought myself a cheap car, fixed up the house a little and got a tenant to help pay for expenses, and commuted back and forth to college until I got my degree.”  

Hannibal nodded.  Unexpected, but very informative.  “Do you feel guilty about killing your father?” Hannibal asked. 

Will looked down at his lap. “Like I said, things were so much better for me after he was gone.” 

“But do you feel guilty about it?” 

“No.” 

Hannibal smiled.  “You have been here quite some time now, Will.  How do you feel about me?” 

Another pause, but then Will said, “I want to despise you; I should despise you.  But then I watch you with Abigail.  My father was basically a good man, but he was a terrible father.  The worst. You, on the other hand, are a terrible person, but you’re a good father.  It’s … confusing.” 

“Being celibate for so long must be hard.  Tell me, have you ever fantasized about having sex with me?” 

After several seconds of silence Will let out a strained, “No, not fantasies….” 

Hannibal caught the hesitation.  “If not fantasies, then what, Will?” 

“Dreams,” Will whispered. 

“Tell me, Will.  Tell me what happens in these dreams.” 

“You’re down here in this room telling me you love me and that you want us to be together always.  I’m angry and frustrated and I tell you that you don’t know what love is, that if you loved me you wouldn’t keep me locked up.  You tell me again that you love me.  I say ‘prove it.’  You get down on your knees before me, and then you’re undoing my pants and taking me into your mouth.”  Will swallowed at this point and Hannibal could see that his breathing has picked up.  “You’re sucking me and I’m enjoying it, enjoying the feeling of power, of having you on your knees before me, but I’m also still angry, so I start fucking your mouth hard.  You take it at first but then try to back off, but I won’t let you.  I grab your hair in my hands and hold on, not letting you move while I continue fucking you.” 

“And then what happens?” 

“I wake up and I’m coming all over my hand,” Will says softly, embarrassed. 

Interesting, Hannibal thinks.  In Will’s dream he’s not passive or a victim, he takes charge, dominates; he’s the aggressor.  This has been extremely informative.  Perhaps the reason they’re not making progress is that Will has an alpha personality, although clearly not a stereotypical one, and Hannibal has been treating him like a beta-personality.  Perhaps he needs to find a way to let Will’s aggressive alpha tendencies come out so they can move forward on equal footing.  It’s time to try a new tactic. 

“Have you considered actually having sex with me, Will?” 

“I’ve considered it.  I’ve considered it as a possible way to gain your trust and get out of this room, and I’ve considered it as a possible way to feel alive again, because I’m starting to feel dead inside.”   

Hannibal nodded.  “One final question, Will.  Do you think you would enjoy having sex with me?”

Another pause.  “I think everything you do you do extremely well, and for that reason I’m terrified that I might enjoy it,” he said, looking haunted. 

Hannibal smiled.  “Thank you, Will.  That’s all I need for now.  This has been extremely informative,” he said, standing and undoing Will’s wrists.  Now, you need to lie down and rest.”

He guided a sleepy Will to his bed and helped him lie down. 

The way truth serum drugs typically work is by placing the patient into a “twilight sleep,” a state where the patient is conscious and unable to feel pain.  They usually can’t remember anything between the time the drug is administered and the effects wear off.  Will would most likely remember him injecting the truth serum, but not what they discussed. 

Staring down at Will, the wheels were already turning.  Yes, this had been very informative indeed.   

 

It took Hannibal several days to set up what he had in mind, and during that time he left Will alone to stew.  Will was furious about the truth serum, and that anger would actually help move things along, so he delivered his meals and immediately left without engaging in conversation while Will threw questions at him that he refused to answer. 

Seven days later he was ready.  He went downstairs with Abigail and a surprise guest for Will. 

Chapter Text

Will was working his arm and chest muscles on the Bow-flex when he heard the deadbolt being disengaged.  Since it had only been a couple of hours since Dr. Lecter had brought him his breakfast, this was not a typical visit.  He wondered what the occasion was.  He had been fuming over the truth serum episode for days now and had been itching for a confrontation with Dr. Lecter, but the man had been avoiding him, just delivering his meals and leaving immediately without speaking to him. 

Will was surprised when a stranger preceded Dr. Lecter through the door, with Abigail coming up the rear.  He was around his height with dirty blond hair and a wiry body, but he had a face like a weasel, and there was something shifty about the way his eyes kept darting around the room.  As Will approached them he looked at Dr. Lecter quizzically.    

“Will, I’d like you to meet someone.  This is Marvin Sorrento.  Marvin, may I introduce Will Graham.” 

“Hey,” the man said, tipping his head back slightly in greeting. 

Will noticed then that Sorrento had his hands bound behind his back.  Even so, the man was not being subtle as he looked him up and down as if sizing him up, and that perpetual shifty look on his face was rubbing Will the wrong way.  He was getting a really bad feeling about this.  He glanced over at Abigail to get a read on her and was not comforted to see her looking anxious.  He also noticed that she was staying well away from Sorrento.  Just what was Dr. Lecter up to? 

“How do you do?” Will finally replied.  “Pardon my surprise, but I don’t usually get visitors down here,” he added, looking between Sorrento and Lecter. 

The man smiled then, showing teeth that were stained by years of smoking and bad hygiene, but the smile did not reach his eyes.  It was the smile of a man who Will knew instinctively was a predator, a smile that was meant to intimidate, and Will felt a primal part of him stir at the challenge. 

“So, what’s this about?” Will asked Hannibal, ignoring the other man completely and going for a bored attitude.  “Have you finally grown tired of me and decided to replace me?” he asked, flicking his eyes to the other man.    

“Not at all, Will,” Hannibal said smiling, and it was not a reassuring smile.  “Mr. Sorrento here is wanted in three states for theft, murder and rape,” he said bluntly. 

Frowning and looking sharply at Sorrento again, the man didn’t seem ruffled or offended by this announcement. 

“His rape victims have all been under the age of 18,” he added.   

Looking at Hannibal in shock Will said, “Then why the hell is he even in the same room as Abigail?”  

The man in question looked over at Abigail then and gave her a slow, lecherous perusal before looking back at Will belligerently, smiling even bigger.  Will saw Abigail actually cringe and take a step further back as if she couldn’t stand being in the same space as the man. 

When Will looked at Hannibal, he couldn’t believe he was just standing there calmly while this man ogled Abigail. 

“Mr. Sorrento is here, Will,” Hannibal continued, unfazed, “because you have begun to stagnate down here, and it’s time that we motivate you so that you can take the next step in our relationship.  We’ve been at a stalemate far too long, having made little to no headway lately, and if we can’t move forward, we can’t make progress.  I’ve decided that what you need is a little push.  Something that will help level the playing field between us.  So I’ve made a deal with Mr. Sorrento here.  I am going to lock him in this room with you, and only one of the two of you is going to leave this room alive.” 

Will looked at Hannibal with stunned disbelief.  “You can’t be serious!  You’re actually going to try and manipulate me into killing someone?”  

“That is essentially correct.” 

“Well, forget it!  I am not going to be manipulated into killing someone simply because you wish it!” Will said, angrily.   

“If you don’t kill him, I’m sure he will have no qualms killing you.” 

“Fine!  Then let him!” Will said, beyond furious.  “I’m sick and tired of being locked up down here, so let him kill me and I’ll finally be free of you; then you can go out and find yourself another pet to lock up down here and start all over again.  I refuse to be manipulated, Dr. Lecter!” 

Hannibal had suspected this reaction, but he had an ace up his sleeve.  “I’ll also be locking Abigail down here with the two of you.” 

“What!” Abigail said, looking pale and frightened. 

Disbelief and shock went through Will in equal parts.  He looked over at Abigail then, searching for some sign that this was all some sort of twisted game that she was in on, but Abigail looked genuinely frightened.  The trembling of her hands and her rapid breathing told him that she was being blindsided by this as well. 

“Dr. Lecter, I don’t know what you think this is going to accomplish, but please don’t do this!” Will said, feeling suddenly sick with fear that not only his life, but possibly Abigail’s hung in the balance. 

“I have told Mr. Sorrento here that he can go free only if he kills you.  I also told him that the door will be locked for one hour, and during that hour he can do whatever he pleases in this room with no interference from me.  If anything should happen to Abigail, Will, it will be on your head, not mine,” he added, driving his point home.  “As one of her parents now, you need to show that you can protect her.  I will provide a single weapon.” 

And with that he pulled a knife out of his belt and cut Marvin Sorrento’s bonds, and then threw it across the long room.  As Will watched the knife to see where it landed, he heard the door shut behind him and the deadbolt click into place.  Dr. Lecter was gone, and Abigail was looking at him with real fear on her face. 

“Will, look!” she said with panic, and Will saw Sorrento already running across the room, headed for the knife. 

Will took off after him, heart pounding.  If Sorrento reached the knife first, his odds of surviving this would drop significantly.  But if Sorrento did kill him, surely Dr. Lecter was bluffing and would not let this man hurt Abigail.  Would he? 

The only thing Will knew for certain was that Dr. Lecter could be ruthless.  All the Ripper kills proved as much.  Maybe if Will died it would provide another test for Abigail, to see if she could fight off another predator. 

The knife had hit the floor and skittered somewhere around his exercise equipment on the far side of the room, and Sorrento was looking around wildly for it, his back to Will. 

Will took advantage and jumped on his back and wrapped his arm around the other man’s neck.  Maybe he could pull one of Dr. Lecter’s tricks and cut off his air until he passed out.  Then he could tie him up.  No one said he had to play by Dr. Lecter’s rules.  He would try to incapacitate him instead of killing him.  

Sorrento suddenly bent forward sharply at the waist, his head nearly touching the ground, and Will found himself going head over heels over the man’s back and landing on the floor on his back, his right leg hitting the treadmill, sending pain shooting up his leg into his hip.  Only quick reflexes had him rolling to the side, saving his head from being squashed like a melon as a booted foot came down hard where his head had been mere seconds before. 

He heard Marvin cursing, and when he looked up, Abigail was clinging to his back, having decided to enter the fray, figuring that her fate was now tied to Will’s.  Sorrento grabbed her arm and pulled her off him, throwing her roughly to the ground. 

She landed on her stomach with a loud oomph, and then got to her hands and knees slowly, apparently winded by the fall and having trouble catching her breath. 

“Stay just like that!” Sorrento said, looking down at Abigail with a crazed, excited expression on his face, and Will felt disgust when he saw the bulge in the front of his pants. 

Will got off the ground favoring his left leg.  Sorrento turned to him and said, “Every girl I ever fucked was asking for it.  Every single one.  Just look at this one on her hands and knees with her tight little ass in the air just begging me to stick my cock in it.  I am gonna break that little filly in, show her what a real man feels like.  I might give you a run for your money as well before I kill you,” he said, looking Will up and down.  “With all that curly hair you look like a girl, and when you’re on your hands and knees, who can tell the difference?” 

“I think I’m a little old for you,” Will said, trying to control his anger while looking for an opening. 

“A hole is a hole as far as I’m concerned,” he said smiling, showing those yellow teeth of his.  “I’m sure that doctor fella won’t mind if I take my time before I kill you.  Marvin here’s man enough for the both of you.”  He then rushed Will. 

They came together like lovers with Sorrento’s arms wrapped tightly around Will, but then a surprised look came over his face.  He looked down, confused, even as he tried to step back.  But there was resistance from the knife currently stuck in his gut.  While Will was on the ground he had spotted the knife under the treadmill and grabbed it while Sorrento had been distracted by Abigail.  Keeping it hidden from Sorrento’s gaze, all he had to do when Sorrento rushed him was hold it in front of him and let Sorrento do the rest. 

Looking the man in the face Will said, “Like you said, Marvin, a hole is a hole,” and then he twisted the knife for emphasis.

Sorrento fell to the ground placing his hands over the wound trying to stop the bleeding, even as a red pool continued to spread out around him.  Will curled his lip in disgust at the man as he watched him die.  He couldn’t dredge up an ounce of pity for him.  Even knowing Dr. Lecter had manipulated this whole thing didn’t change the fact that he was glad to have rid the world of such a low life and that no more young girls would fall prey to this lowlife. 

The body finally went still, and Will suddenly felt sick to his stomach.  He looked down at the bloody knife in his hand and then threw it away as if it burned him. 

Abigail was suddenly in his arms hugging him, saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you, papa Will.”  Her whole body was trembling and Will found himself hugging her back and making shushing noises while he tried to calm her.  Despite the fact that she was the reason he was down here, she was still a child, and she had no doubt felt frightened and betrayed by her “father.” 

Speaking of which, Will heard the deadbolt unlock and watched the man walk in, closing and locking the door behind him.  He was smiling widely.  “Well done, Will.  I knew you could do it.” 

Will separated himself from Abigail and walked up to Hannibal, and promptly punched him in the face, wishing now he hadn’t thrown the knife away.  Hannibal’s head snapped back and he stumbled a couple of steps backwards, but he stayed upright, though he was holding his jaw now. 

“You have no right manipulating peoples’ lives like this!” Will shouted angrily.  “And that animal hurt Abigail!  Threw her to the ground!  Threatened to do terrible things to her, which I’m sure he would have done if he had managed to kill me!  A child should not be subjected to things like this!” 

“Abigail is nearly a young woman and she needs to learn that there may be times when she will be in a situation where she may have to fight for her life.  Things don’t always go the way we plan and we need to be ready for any eventuality.” 

Turning to Abigail Hannibal said, “You handled yourself well.  You fought back, and your distraction helped Will locate the knife and kill Mr. Sorrento here,” he said smiling at the trembling girl. 

“Really?” she said, looking pleased now.  

“Really.  Although we may want to consider enrolling you in a class to teach you street fighting.  A little dirty fighting can compensate when facing a larger opponent.” 

“I’d like that,” she said, leaving Will’s side now and looking adoringly at her father. 

Will just threw up his hands.  Really?  It’s that easy for her to forgive him? 

“Well, let’s get the body out of here,” he said.  “I dare say there’s not much in the way of decent meat on this one.  It’s obvious that he smokes and drinks,” Hannibal said distastefully, “but perhaps the kidneys will be salvageable.  What do you say to a nice kidney pie, Will?”

Will curled his lip with disgust.  “Do whatever you want with him,” he said, looking at the body with distain.  The man really was a pig and deserved to be treated as such.  The world would be better served with him being in a pie rather than walking the streets looking for teenage girls to assault. 

Will froze, feeling suddenly uneasy with his thoughts.  That sounded like something Dr. Lecter would say.    

“How do you feel, Will?” Hannibal asked him suddenly, looking at him with such intensity that Will could imagine he could see inside his head and read his thoughts. 

How did he feel?  He had never killed anyone on the job, but as a police officer it’s always in the back of your mind that it may happen some day.  If he had come across this man in the middle of an assault, the result may have been the same.  He was still furious at being manipulated, but as adrenaline continued to course through his body he also felt invigorated, powerful, and alive.  He hadn’t felt this alive in a long time now, he realized. 

Swallowing, he looked at Dr. Lecter and said, “I killed this man in self-defense, not because I wanted to.  And now there is one less predator roaming the streets harming innocent people,” he added, looking at Dr. Lecter pointedly.  “It was a necessary evil, but I highly resent the fact that you orchestrated this and put Abigail in harm’s way at the same time.” 

But from the look on Dr. Lecter’s face, Will suspected that he could read the thoughts he left unspoken.    

“I believe we have made great progress today, Will.”  And with that, he picked up the knife that Will was hoping he had forgotten about, grabbed the dead man by the collar of his shirt and started dragging him out.  Hesitating by the door he turned back to Will and said, “Abigail and I will be conducting one of our lessons on the body out here.  You are welcome to join us if you’d like.” 

Will couldn’t hide his surprise.  Dr. Lecter was extending an invitation to join one of his and Abigail’s lessons on human dissection.  Did Dr. Lecter really think that after manipulating him into killing someone he would be all right with watching them butcher the body?  Will shook his head no. He also had a problem that needed taking care of.  He watched Abigail and Dr. Lecter leave the room with the body, leaving a trail of blood in their wake. 

As soon as he heard the deadbolt click into place he immediately peeled out of his clothes and limped to the shower.  Although he had only gotten a small amount of blood on him, he felt like he was coated in it.  He needed to scrub his body clean, but more than that he needed the privacy of the shower as he knew Dr. Lecter had cameras around the room that he hadn’t been able to locate.  He had found a couple but knew there were more. 

Will had learned from the psych classes he had had to take in college as part of his law enforcement curriculum that physical arousal can be triggered when adrenaline courses through the system and activates our muscles, such as when engaged in sports and other physical exertions.  But it can also be caused as a deeply programmed response to physical threats.  It’s a curious process where negative emotions get converted into pleasurable excitement.  And although Will wasn’t proud of it, felt guilty even, there was no denying the fact that he was aroused right now. 

As the shower bathed his body he looked down at his right hand, which was still streaked with Sorrento’s blood, and tried to slow his breathing and calm his body’s reaction, but adrenaline was still coursing through his system. 

Finally giving in, he wrapped the hand that had killed Marvin Sorrento around his length and pumped himself fast and hard, crying out when the resulting orgasm shook him seconds later to his very core.  Slumping against the wall waiting for his pounding heart to come back down to normal, all he could think was Goddamn you, Dr. Lecter, and What the holy fuck? 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Things changed after he killed Marvin Sorrento.   After giving him a week to cool off, Dr. Lecter starting paying him more visits, spending more time with him, and even offered to teach him how to play chess.  He had to admit that Dr. Lecter was an interesting man, and he had some very amusing stories about his time spent working in the ER.  Abigail also started accompanying Dr. Lecter more often.  Although Will was still angry at being held a prisoner and about Sorrento, these visits did help pass his boring days.  And although he constantly looked for ways to escape the room, Dr. Lecter never underestimated him, never took any chances, and always locked the door behind him.  And he knew the man carried a knife on him at all times. 

A few weeks went by and Will became accustomed to these visits, so when he heard the deadbolt unlock he looked up expectantly.  He had been sitting at his table reading up on various chess moves in a book Dr. Lecter had given him, and he was eager to try out some of these moves if Dr. Lecter was up for a game.  But Will felt his stomach drop when another stranger walked through the door, preceding Dr. Lecter. 

Please, please, not this again, Will thought anxiously, standing up and looking at Dr. Lecter with trepidation.  At least Abigail wasn’t here this time. 

“Will, this is Clark Ingram.  He’s a social worker.  Mr. Ingram, this is Will Graham.” 

Will stayed back, not approaching them.  “I am not doing this again, Dr. Lecter,” Will said emphatically. 

Going on as if Will hadn’t spoken, Hannibal said, “Mr. Ingram here is responsible for the deaths of at least 16 women.” 

“Dr. Lecter here is mistaken,” Ingram said nervously.  “He’s confusing me with someone else, I swear.  I’m a social worker.  I help people,” he said, looking for all the world like an innocent victim, but Will saw a coldness in his eyes. 

“Mr. Ingram has also used his position as a social worker to manipulate the people he was supposed to be helping,” Hannibal added. 

“Not me at all.  Ask anybody and they’ll tell you what a nice guy I am,” Ingram said beseechingly.  

Will looked at Dr. Lecter and said, “Not my problem.” 

“As before, only one of you can leave this room alive.” 

“This is crazy,” Ingram said, smiling that fake smile of his that probably fooled a lot of people.  “I wouldn’t hurt a fly.” 

“There will be no weapon provided this time.  You will simply need to improvise.” 

“I am not playing this sick game of yours again, Dr. Lecter!” 

“I will just leave the two of you to get acquainted.”  And then he cut Ingram’s bonds and left the room, locking the door behind him. 

Damn him.  Damn him to hell. 

Will kept a leery eye on Ingram as the man walked around the room looking at everything. 

“This is crazy, am I right?” Ingram said.  “He just grabbed me on my way home from work.  So, how long has he had you locked down here?”  

“I’m not sure.  Three months.  Four months.  Maybe longer.” 

“And you said he’s done this before, put someone in here with you with the same instruction that only one can come out alive?” 

“Yes.” 

“So what happened?” 

“The other man attacked me and I was forced to kill him.”  Will hoped this would act as a warning, that he was not some helpless victim down here. 

“Hey, I remember reading about you.  You’re that police officer that went missing.  So why has he kept you for so long?” Ingram asked, looking at him curiously.    

“He…just wants to see if he can drive me insane,” Will answered, not comfortable telling the man the truth. 

“Well, you still seem pretty sane, so whatever he’s doing is clearly not working,” the man said shrewdly, still walking around.  “Listen,” he said, studying the books on the bookshelf with his back to Will.  “We don’t have to do what he says.  We’ll just wait for him to come back, and I think between the two of us we can take him.” 

Will actually gave it some thought.  After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

“I like your thinking, but Dr. Lecter won’t be easy to take down.  For one thing he keeps a knife on him at all times.  For another, he has cameras and microphones in here and I’m sure he’s listening to everything we’re saying.” 

“That’s inconvenient,” Ingram said, turning around, and it was then that Will saw that somehow while the man’s back was turned he had managed to take off his belt and was now wielding it like a weapon.  He attacked Will immediately, holding the leather tongue of the belt and swinging the heavy metal belt buckle at him. 

Will dodged the first swing, which barely missed his face and caught him painfully on the shoulder as he was trying desperately to back away from him.  As Will backed up, holding his arms up to protect his face and looking for something he could use as a shield, the next calculated blow hit his unprotected ribs, causing him to double over in pain, even as he backed into a wall and was suddenly trapped. 

Ingram took advantage by moving in on him and wrapping the belt around his throat, twisting the two ends in front of his throat so that it tightened like a vice.  Will’s breathing was immediately cut off and he tried desperately to get his fingers under the belt, but could find no purchase.  Ingram was smiling openly at him now, all pretense gone, an excited look on his face, enjoying the act of killing. 

“All the people I killed, it was because they were unworthy of me.  I’m sure you understand, Mr. Graham.  Why should they continue to live if they aren’t worthy?” 

Despite having trouble breathing Will tried desperately to remember his police training.  Because he was young and slight of build, the instructors had drilled into him different ways to get out of life-and-death situations in close up hand-to-hand combat.  He went through them quickly in his head now.  He immediately dismissed a punch to the throat or the temple.  With Ingram this close and with his arms up like they were, he wouldn’t be able to punch at the right angle or get sufficient strength behind the punch.  He dismissed several others, but one did come to mind that might work, and he it did it now before the oncoming dizziness made it impossible.  He reached over the man’s arms, grabbed his nose, and snapped it quickly to the side. 

The effect was instantaneous.  Ingram let go of him, backing away and howling like a wounded beast while holding his nose.  The one good thing about breaking the nose is it has the added effect of making the person’s eyes water, which makes it hard for them to see. 

Will pressed his advantage.  He was livid, anger burning brightly through his body, heart pounding.  The whole time the man was talking to him about teaming up, it was just a smokescreen while he plotted how best to kill him.  The man was a parasite.  He pictured him giving that same phony smile to every woman he had killed, making them feel safe, making them trust him.  Using his role as social worker to make people think he was going to help them when all he wanted to do was get close to them and kill them.  This man needed to be put down like the rabid dog he was. 

Desperately looking for a weapon to use while Ingram was still incapacitated, he grabbed the lamp off the bedside table and yanked the cord from the wall.  He thought about strangling the man with the cord, but decided there was a better way.  The base of the lamp was wood, but he ripped off the lampshade and tapped the light bulb against the table and looked with satisfaction at the jagged edges it created.  He went toward Ingram, holding the base of the lamp with the broken bulb facing Ingram, and now it was Ingram who was backing away, wiping his still tearing eyes while pleading with him not to hurt him, that he hadn’t wanted to do this, that it was all Dr. Lecter’s fault and that he hadn’t had a choice if he wanted to get out of here. 

“We all have a choice, and you made yours,” Will said coldly as Ingram’s back hit a wall and Will thrust the jagged edge of the broken bulb into the man’s throat and pushed with all his might. 

Will knew he hit an artery when he was hit with a spray of blood, and Ingram’s eyes bulged and he made a gurgling sound as blood filled his mouth and throat.  He was thrashing, trying to escape, but Will had him literally pinned to the wall. 

A lucky knee kick connected with Will’s stomach and had him stumbling backward, and Ingram fell to the ground on his knees, hands wrapped around his throat trying to stop the bleeding while gasping, trying to draw a clear breath. 

Ingram was clearly on his way to dying, but the fact that he was still breathing seemed to offend Will.  Will took his foot and shoved Ingram sideways onto his back, and then placed his foot on one of Ingram’s wrists so he couldn’t use that hand to try and staunch the bleeding. 

Will stood above the man and watched him die, still holding the lamp in his hands. 

Ingram finally stopped moving, his body going limp, eyes staring up blankly at Will. 

Suddenly feeling like he was being watched, Will turned his head and saw Dr. Lecter standing in the doorway. 

“Magnificent,” Dr. Lecter said. 

Will stood there, body tense and poised, anger and adrenalin still coursing through his body.  Dr. Lecter was standing in the open doorway.  This was his chance.  He headed for him, again holding the lamp like a weapon, his intention clear on his face. 

“Will, stop,” Dr. Lecter said, pulling the hidden knife out.  Will paused, but then grabbed the chess book off the table and threw it at Dr. Lecter’s head while running full out at him.  Thanks to the exercise equipment and healthy eating, Will knew that he was stronger now than he was the last time he fought Dr. Lecter, and he was more than ready to put it to the test. 

Dr. Lecter held up his hands to block the book flying at his face, which temporarily blocked his field of vision.  On instinct, he stumbled backward out the door and quickly slammed it. 

“NO!” Will yelled, reaching the door even as he heard the deadbolt click.  “Get back in here and fight me, you bastard!” he yelled, pounding on the door with the base of the lamp.  “Open the door and face me like a man, you sick sonofabitch!”    

He pounded until his arms were exhausted and his body started coming down from the adrenaline high he was on, and then he slumped to the floor.  He got up after a few minutes and walked back over to the body and looked down at the damage he had done.  He had done that.  And, he realized with dismay, he felt no guilt whatsoever that he killed him.  Dr. Lecter was intentionally pitting him against men that were the worst of the worst, the type that he would be going after if he were doing his duty as a police officer.  The type that the world would benefit from by their absence. 

Shaking his head, he looked down at himself, at the blood coating his body and his hands.  These hands had killed two men now in a relatively short period of time.  It felt surreal now, like he had dreamt it. 

Feeling suddenly exhausted, he was rubbing his bruised neck and heading for the shower when he heard the deadbolt unlocking and Dr. Lecter walked in, locking the door behind him, a knife clearly visible in his hand.  He was probably just here for the body.  Will didn’t even have the strength to yell at the man right now.  But Dr. Lecter walked slowly toward him, stalking him, his expression unreadable, and Will felt a trickle of unease, uncertain about his intensions now.  Was he upset that Will had run at him and was planning to kill him now?  

As Hannibal advanced toward him, Will found his back against the wall.  Dr. Lecter stopped right in front of him and studied his face, which had dapples of blood on it. 

“If you’re going to kill me, just do it and get it over with,” Will said, meeting his gaze defiantly. 

Hannibal smiled, and then went down to his knees, setting the knife on the floor next to him. 

What the hell!?

Hannibal reached up and started to unbutton Will’s pants, and Will immediately tried to move away, but Hannibal grabbed the waistband of his pants to stop him while Will struggled to remove the offending hand while saying, “Stop that!  What are you doing?!”  Hannibal used his free hand to cup the front of Will’s pants and massage him, and Will sucked in a breath, feeling his knees go weak.  Hannibal took immediate advantage by quickly unzipping and freeing him, and Will’s mind went blank as Hannibal drew him into his mouth. 

Jesus.  Oh, Jesus.  Will wanted to stop him….needed to stop him….and in equal parts didn’t want to stop him. 

He grabbed hold of Hannibal’s hair to steady himself and was startled at how soft it was.  But then his anger returned, and he threaded his fingers through Hannibal’s hair and held tight, knowing he was hurting him, wanting to hurt him.  He started thrusting then, using him, punishing him, but was surprised when Hannibal took the punishment without complaint.  Will cried out as he came, and Hannibal swallowed every drop. 

Will was leaning against the wall and trembling in the aftermath of his orgasm, and when Hannibal released him and looked up at him, Will’s anger was replaced by embarrassment.  He moved away, quickly zipping himself up, unable to meet Dr. Lecter’s eyes. 

All Hannibal said was, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Will,” as he grabbed the body and left, a small smile on his face that Will didn’t see. 

It was only later when Will was in bed going back over the bizarre turn of events that he realized with a dawning sense of unease that this had been an exact reenactment of a dream he had been having. 

Chapter Text

As days passed after the Clark Ingram incident, Will stayed in a constant state of nervous agitation.  Every time he heard the deadbolt unlock he held his breath, worried that Dr. Lecter would be bringing in yet another killer to pit him against.   It was only when he saw no stranger precede him that he would start to relax, only to have his fear replaced by an uncomfortable awkwardness because he couldn’t look at Dr. Lecter now without remembering what the man did to him after Clark Ingram’s death.

His nightmares were also getting worse.  He would wake up gasping for air as he felt Clark Ingram tightening the belt around his neck, or dream that Marvin Sorrento had stabbed him, instead of the other way around, and that as he lay bleeding on the ground he was forced to watch the man attack Abigail while powerless to stop him.     

He was sitting at his table working on a new lure, trying to focus his mind on something that was familiar and comfortable, when he heard the deadbolt unlock, and felt his stomach clench with the now familiar dread.  Only this time when he looked up his fears were realized and his heart sank as a man preceded Dr. Lecter through the door.  But this man was unlike the other two Dr. Lecter had brought down here previously.  This man was huge—six foot two or taller, wide shoulders, at least 200 pounds of pure muscle.  He had close cropped hair and a scar from cleft palate surgery.  Danger seemed to radiate off him, and there was a touch of madness in his eyes. 

And this man scared the crap out of him. 

Will stood up, trying to hide the intimidation he felt. 

“Will, I’d like you to meet Francis Dolarhyde.  You may not recognize that name but I’m sure you’re familiar with his work.  In the papers he’s generally referred to as The Tooth Fairy. 

“Don’t call me that; I hate that name,” the man in question growled.   

“Of course, forgive me,” Dr. Lecter said apologetically. 

Will’s gut tightened further and his eyes widened in shock as he recognized the name.  The Tooth Fairy was another killer on the FBI’s most wanted list, a man who killed entire families, including children, but paid special attention to the mothers.  He left mirror glass on their eyes and bite marks on his victims’ flesh.  This man was an animal. 

Will swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry.  He was a realist and he knew that if Dr. Lecter had brought this man down to try and kill him, there was a very good chance that this one would succeed. 

“I’ve been having a fascinating talk with Francis,” Hannibal said, “and he believes that when he kills someone he is subjecting them to a process called ‘changing’ which is beneficial to them, in addition to helping him achieve his transformation of becoming The Great Red Dragon. I have told him that killing someone like you, a police officer, will help him achieve his transformation more quickly. 

“You interest me, Mr. Graham,” Dolarhyde said in a deep voice, looking him over clinically.  “You’re odd-looking for an investigator.  Not very handsome.  But I can see you’re... purposeful.” 

Will felt a chill go up his spine as the man kept staring at him as if fixated on him.  He wasn’t looking around at his surroundings like the other two had, wasn’t trying to locate items that could be used as a weapon, he just continued to stare at Will.  Will imagined that he was picturing what he would look like dead with pieces of mirror glass on his eyes.  Will also noticed then that Dolarhyde’s hands weren’t bound like the other two men either, which meant that Dolarhyde was here willingly.  Will knew that there was no way he would be able to defeat this man.  He thought briefly about submitting to Dolarhyde and letting the man kill him, but immediately dismissed it.  Picturing the man savaging him with his teeth…. no, no way.  He couldn’t just let him do that. 

He looked at Dr. Lecter, his expression placid and seemingly uncaring, and felt his body suffused with anger.  Anger was good, because it would burn out the fear, and he determined then and there that if he was going to die today that he would go down fighting until his dying breath. 

Dr. Lecter went to the door then and shut it, but Will was surprised to see that he shut it with himself still inside.  Apparently he wanted to watch his death close up and personal, the bastard. 

“Begin,” Hannibal said calmly, and before Will could even react, Dolarhyde slammed his fist into his jaw, sending him reeling, and then tackled him before he could regain his balance.  They both plummeted to the floor with Dolarhyde’s full weight on top of him. 

Will was on his back, desperately trying to catch his breath with 200+ pounds sitting on his stomach and his jaw throbbing painfully.  He figured he had about two seconds before Dolarhyde either choked him to death, or bit into his jugular. 

Dolarhyde grabbed the front of Will’s shirt with one fist and cocked the other for another brutal punch, which would no doubt incapacitate him, but Will grabbed the pinkie of the hand holding his shirt and give it the hardest twist he could, flipping it all the way over. 

It’s a little known fact that where the pinkie goes, so goes the hand, wrist, arm, and body of the person attached to it.  Otherwise, something breaks along the way.  And your opponent’s size is inconsequential.  He saw Dolarhyde grit his teeth briefly, but then twisted his body to follow the pinkie and fell off Will. 

Will jumped up and glanced over at Dr. Lecter to see what he was doing, but he was just standing there leaning against the door watching the whole thing with apparent interest. 

Will’s brief inattention cost him as Dolarhyde came at him, picking him up as if he weighed nothing and hurled his body across the room.  His back slammed into the bookcase before falling to the ground, pain shooting up his spine while books rained down on him.  He struggled to get up even as Dolarhyde was already barreling toward him.  He had just straightened up when Dolarhyde punched him in the stomach, and Will dropped to his knees, curling in on himself as he noisily lost his breakfast.  Before he could recover from the pain, Dolarhyde shoved him onto his back and sat on him again.  Will grabbed at Dolarhyde’s wrists as they headed for his throat, but the man pulled back one hand and slapped him so hard across the face that he saw stars.  Then both of those enormous hands were wrapped around his throat, squeezing. 

“I am the Dragon,” Dolarhyde said, a crazed look in his eyes as he tightened the pressure around Will’s throat, cutting off all airflow.  “I am not a man.  I began as one, but now I am becoming more than a man, as you will witness.  Some people call me insane, but you are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing.  You are an ant in the afterbirth.  It is your nature to do one thing correctly.  Before me, you rightly tremble.   But, fear is not what you owe me.  You owe me awe.”

Will was desperately pulling at Dolarhyde’s wrists while struggling to draw a breath.  He was feeling light-headed and seeing black spots swimming before his eyes.  This was it, he thought bitterly.  He was going to die here and now, his life cut short, his dreams unfulfilled.   

The pressure on Will’s neck suddenly lessened, and as oxygen filled his lungs and his vision cleared he saw Dr. Lecter behind Dolarhyde with his arm wrapped around his neck trying to pull him off him, but Dolarhyde stood suddenly and twisted his body sharply, shaking the man off of him.  Dolarhyde roared at the betrayal and charged Hannibal.  Hannibal pulled out the knife he kept hidden on his person, but instead of using it on Dolarhyde he shocked Will by tossing it in his direction. 

Dolarhyde was on Hannibal now, pinning him against the wall, and then Hannibal cried out as Dolarhyde bit into the joint between his neck and shoulder.  Will picked up the knife as he stood up, slightly shaky.  He had a decision to make.  The key to the door was in Dr. Lecter’s pocket, so he wouldn’t be able to just leave and let the two of them battle it out.  He had to make a choice.  If Dolarhyde killed Dr. Lecter, then he would go after Will next, and even with the advantage of a knife Will wasn’t sure he could overpower the much bigger, much stronger Dolarhyde.  As much as he hated to admit it, his best chance of surviving this was to work with Dr. Lecter to kill Dolarhyde, and then perhaps he could kill or incapacitate Dr. Lecter, get the key and escape. 

He jumped on Dolarhyde’s back and plunged the knife into his neck but somehow missed the jugular.  Dolarhyde’s head jerked up, freeing his teeth from Hannibal’s flesh, and he roared as he shook Will off him.  Unfortunately, Will lost his grip on the knife, which was still buried in Dolarhyde’s neck. 

Will watched wide eyed as Dolarhyde pulled the knife out of his neck as if it was nothing, then came at him gripping the bloody knife in his hand.  Will saw Hannibal out of the corner of his eye removing the ridiculous paisley necktie he was wearing and wrapping it between his hands and knew what he intended.  Will had to distract Dolarhyde so that Dr. Lecter could get the necktie around Dolarhyde’s throat and incapacitate him.  Will backed toward his bookshelves as Dolarhyde advanced on him and grabbed a book off the shelf and threw it, quickly followed by several others.  As Dolarhyde was deflecting the books, Hannibal pounced, wrapping the tie around Dolarhyde’s throat and pulling it tight.  Will grabbed a large hardcover book and advanced on Dolarhyde, using it to knock the knife out of his hand just as Dolarhyde was getting ready to jab it into Dr. Lecter’s leg.  In retrospect he should have let Dolarhyde stab Lecter, but things were moving too fast to think clearly. 

Hannibal was holding on for dear life as Dolarhyde drug him around the room, roaring and slamming him into the wall, into the bookcase, into anything he could in an effort to get Hannibal off him. 

Dr. Lecter was taking a beating so Will figured it was time to get back into the fray.  He picked the knife up off the floor and went straight at Dolarhyde, hoping that the man was dizzy by now from lack of oxygen and wouldn’t see him coming.  He aimed the knife at Dolarhyde’s heart, but Dolarhyde was still moving around trying to get Hannibal off him and the knife hit his sternum instead and bounced off the bone, slipping out of Wil’s grip and clattering to the floor just as Hannibal took one hit too many against a wall and lost his grip on the tie and fell to the floor. 

Dolarhyde was looking a bit unsteady now, but he spotted the knife and picked it up before Will could get to it.  He was looking between Will and Hannibal, and for a moment he looked reptilian, like the dragon he longed to be.  He was losing a lot of blood from the neck wound, but Will had no doubt that he was still dangerous, like a wounded lion. 

Will and Hannibal exchanged a look, knowing that their fates were intertwined, and prepared for Dolarhyde’s attack.  Dolarhyde went for Hannibal, probably because he felt betrayed by him, and Will ran to the table where he was working on his fishing lure and grabbed a pencil that he had been given to sketch and make notes.  Hannibal had made sure that there wasn’t much down here that could be used as a weapon, but his police training had taught him how to improvise in a pinch, making weapons out of ordinary household items, and using a pen or pencil was one of them.  Now he just had to get close enough to try and drive it through Dolarhyde’s eye or temple. 

Dolarhyde had Hannibal pinned against the wall again, but this time he was pressing the knife point toward his face.  Hannibal had both hands wrapped around the wrist keeping it from reaching his face, but Will could see that the knife was inching ever closer.  He ran up behind Dolarhyde and slammed his foot behind the man’s kneecap, and Dolarhyde immediately dropped to his knees.  Hannibal took the opportunity to quickly move out of reach of the knife.  Will showed Hannibal the pencil and Hannibal nodded in understanding.  Before Dolarhyde could stand, Hannibal knelt behind him and wrapped his arms around Dolarhyde’s body, pinning his arms to his sides so that he couldn’t use the knife.  Dolarhyde struggled immediately to free himself. 

“Now, Will!  Hurry!” Hannibal shouted knowing he couldn’t hold Dolarhyde long. 

Will ran to the still kneeling Dolarhyde and forced his head back, plunging the pencil into his eye.  That should have done it.  The pencil should have entered the brain and killed him instantly, but incredibly he was still moving. 

Dolarhyde let go of the knife he was still gripping when the pencil entered his eye, and Hannibal used his foot to slide it across the floor toward Will.  “Finish him!” 

Will didn’t even think about it.  His adrenalin was spiking and he was filled with an uncontrollable rage—at Dolarhyde, at Dr. Lecter, at his current circumstances, his feelings of helplessness—they all come to a head as Will grabbed the knife off the floor and brought the blade across Dolarhyde’s throat.  And he smiled as he did it, feeling slightly crazed himself.  Blood sprayed all three of them as Dolarhyde fell backward, flailing and writhing, his life’s blood pooling around him. 

Will stared down impassively at Dolarhyde, breathing heavily as he watched his twitching body finally go still.  He felt exhilarated.  He felt sick.  He felt powerful.  He felt guilty.  He had been sure he was going to die, but he was alive and Dolarhyde was dead, and there was a certain power at knowing he had faced death head on and had come out the victor.  Of course he wasn’t blind to the fact that Dr. Lecter had made sure that he struck the killing blow.  Speaking of which, Dr. Lecter walked over to him, also coated in Dolarhyde’s blood, and stood far too close to him.  Will could see that he was also breathing heavy, see how his eyes were dilated from the excitement of the kill.  Will frowned.  Did he himself look like that?  He hoped not. 

Dr. Lecter touched his cheek then and said, “Beautiful.” 

Will glanced back down at the body and felt suddenly confused as the adrenalin was starting to fade from his system and his emotions were evening back out to normal.  He saw the pencil still sticking out of his eye and the gaping hole in his throat and he felt suddenly dizzy.  He started shaking his head.  This wasn’t him.  Dr. Lecter was trying to turn him into a killer like him, but this wasn’t him.  He was not a killer. 

Dr. Lecter grabbed his wrist firmly and removed the knife, which he hadn’t realized he was still holding onto, and tossed it away.  He then took his hand gently and guided him to the small shower.  “We need to get you cleaned up,” he said, as he began unbuttoning Will’s bloody shirt, and Will didn’t try to stop him.  A part of him felt like he was having an out of body experience.  Now that it was over it felt like it hadn’t been he who had slit Dolarhyde’s throat but that he had simply been an observer to the bloody events that just happened.  Because that could not possibly have been him.  There was no way he had smiled when he slit a man’s throat.  He suddenly felt like he was losing himself. 

“Stay with me, Will,” Hannibal said, as he undid Will’s pants, seeing the unfocused look in his eyes. 

Hannibal had undressed Will before, but Will had been unconscious and severely injured that time after his and Abigail’s near escape.  Hannibal had not been able to appreciate Will’s physical attributes then because Will had been covered from head to toe in bruises and contusions.  But seeing Will now in good health, splattered with blood and laid bare before his eyes was quite a different thing altogether.  He could see the effects Will’s diligent exercise routine was having, sculpting his body, defining muscle groups.  It quite literally took his breath away.  Hannibal marveled at the proportions and symmetry of Will’s physique.  He was stunning.  He was Michelangelo’s David come to life. 

Hannibal adjusted the water so that it was warm but not hot and then gently pushed Will into the shower.  He wanted to keep him in a relaxed state.  He swallowed thickly as he watched the water sluicing down Will’s body, making his skin glisten. 

Hannibal quickly stripped out of his own bloody clothes and he saw Will’s eyes widen slightly, but even though Will averted his eyes, he didn’t move.  Hannibal got in the small shower behind him and grabbed the soap and started washing him with clinical, methodical efficiency.  As they showered, Hannibal tempered his thrill at Will allowing him to touch him and took delight as he slowly lathered Will’s beautiful hair and body with his bare hands, fighting to maintain his ironclad control which threatened to slip at any moment. 

Hannibal had admired Dolarhyde, just as one artist may admire another, but The Dragon had merely provided a necessary catalyst.  The other two killings he had forced upon Will had simply been a prelude to this one.  He was confident that Will could defeat the other two with the right motivation, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to defeat The Dragon alone, just as he knew the fight would be vicious and bloody.  But it was what he had needed to ignite Will’s savage passion as he fought to stay alive.  And by the two of them working together to simultaneously save each other and kill Dolarhyde, it couldn’t help but create a bond of sorts between them.      

He could still feel Will’s underlying tension as he massaged his shoulders.  This was a turning point in their relationship.  How things proceeded from this crucial point on would either push their relationship to the next level, or send it backwards, perhaps never to be salvaged.  Hannibal needed to go slow.  He was not about to ruin what he had worked so long for by reacting hastily now.

He turned off the shower and dried Will off.  He kept his touches gentle, clinical, speaking to him in soft tones, watching Will closely for clues as to how he was feeling about Hannibal crossing the boundaries into his personal space. 

He led Will naked to the bed and saw Will glance over at Dolarhyde’s body across the room, his breathing picking up noticeably.  Hannibal sat him on the side of the bed facing away from the body.   

Hannibal’s patience was finally starting to pay off.  He had been guiding Will toward this stage of his evolution for months, letting his ties to Wolf Trap fade behind him, letting extreme loneliness weigh down upon him, letting him grow comfortable around him and Abigail, and letting him experience what it felt like to take a life and come out the victor. 

He had been pleased with the outcome this evening.  Will had finally let loose and released some of his savagery, and it had been glorious.  He was also pleased with how Will still wasn’t objecting to being handled.  He knew that part of Will was inside himself right now trying to process what he did, come to terms with it.  Will would be having trouble dealing with the fact that a part of him had enjoyed it.  And he had enjoyed it.  Hannibal had seen that smile and look of savage triumph on his face at the end when he had slit The Dragon’s throat.  But these unfamiliar feelings would be trying to pull him in two different directions right now, and Hannibal needed to ensure that they went in the direction he wanted them to. 

He knelt down before Will and took his hands between his own.  Will’s hands were cold, and Hannibal rubbed them, infusing them with his warmth.  Will stirred a little at Hannibal’s touch, his eyes following the motion as if hypnotized, but Hannibal sensed the tension still coiled within him as he sat on the edge of the bed.  Hannibal stood then, and Will lifted his eyes slowly, taking in Hannibal’s nakedness as if just noticing it for the first time.  Hannibal’s lips twitched slightly as he noticed Will’s sudden discomfort and the slight blush now staining his cheeks. 

“You’re cold, Will.  Let’s get you tucked into bed,” Hannibal said, pulling down the blankets and getting Will to lie down and then covering him up.  Hannibal started to turn away.  He needed to get dressed and then dispose of the body.  But Will’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.  “Don’t go,” he said, looking slightly panicked.  “I…don’t want to be alone right now.” 

Hannibal looked down at Will and saw vulnerability then.  Will did not want to be left alone with his dark thoughts right now. 

“All right,” Hannibal said, secretly thrilling and wondering the best way to proceed.  “How about I just lie next to you until you dose off?” 

Will didn’t protest as Hannibal laid on top of the blankets next to him.  Here they were, both naked, lying mere inches apart, and although Hannibal took pride of his self-control, he couldn’t stop his body’s reaction to being so close to that which he desired most.  Still, he refused to act on it.  He needed Will to make the first move.  Will needed to know in his own mind that he had initiated things, not Hannibal, so that there would be no accusations of coercion.  So Hannibal lay there with his hands fisted, breathing deeply, trying to reign in his slipping control. 

“What are you thinking about right now, Will?” Hannibal asked, needing a distraction. 

“Right now?  I’m trying not to think.  I don’t want to think about anything right now.” 

And suddenly Will rolled toward Hannibal, leaned over him and closed the space between them.  His lips came down hard on Hannibal’s.  He was kissing him desperately, like the world was coming to an end and these were their last precious moments to live. 

Hannibal let Will take the lead, taking pleasure in his mouth and the way his body was moving against his and the little sounds he was making, but eventually the blanket between them became an annoyance.  Hannibal needed to feel Will’s skin.  He flipped them over suddenly, so that Will was on his back, and ripped the blanket from between them, then dropped his body onto Will’s, resuming the kissing. 

Hannibal wondered in that moment if Will was enjoying the feel of their bodies finally touching, the sensation of skin on skin as much as he.  As Hannibal slid their bodies together he reveled in the sensuousness, the carnality of feeling Will’s entire body pressed against his own.  Will’s eyes were heavy lidden now, his pupils blown, just the slightest hint of color shining beneath thick lashes.

Hannibal watched Will to see how his subtle movements against him would register with him.  Will moistened his lips with that pink tongue of his, and Hannibal felt Will’s legs suddenly snake around his hips and tighten slightly, even as he saw raw desire reflected on his face. 

This was the moment he had been waiting for. 

Hannibal grabbed Will’s wrists and pinned them over his head against the mattress.  Will looked slightly alarmed at first, but Hannibal kissed him breathless and then just took a moment to look at Will trapped beneath him.  His arms bent over his head, his wrists pinned to the mattress, chest rising and falling with each breath; a perfect pose of complete surrender that Hannibal had fanaticized about with frustrated longing many a night during these long months of waiting.   Will was made to look like this.  Will was made to be his and his alone. 

Hannibal longed to see Will’s face contorted in pleasure.  What Will needed now, following Dolarhyde’s killing, was to further lose control and give himself over to his urges, violent and otherwise, with Hannibal guiding him. 

Hannibal looked at Will.  He had allowed Will a few seconds to decide if he truly wanted to take the intimacy further.  Whatever happened, he needed this to be a fully conscious act on Will’s part.  He knew Will didn’t love him at this point, but bringing intimacy into the picture would cross another barrier and bring him closer to that goal. 

Will showed no signs that he wanted Hannibal to stop. 

Hannibal slid his hips over Will’s, his already hard cock lightly skimming the skin of Will’s own, now warm and erect.  He enjoyed the sharp intake of air and the shudder running through Will’s body.

Hannibal leaned in close and inhaled Will’s still damp hair, burying his face in the curls that he loved so much.  He had dreamed of this moment for so long, and the reality was proving to be so much better. 

“Violence and intimacy.  Sometimes there’s such a fine line between the two,” Will said softly, surprising Hannibal.

“Yes,” Hannibal said, looking down at Will, studying his face.  “But both can be equally enjoyable in their own way.” 

“Yessss,” Will said, throwing back his head and sucking in a breath as Hannibal pressed more tightly against him, grinding his hips into Will’s in a slow rhythmic motion.

Hannibal kissed him then, deeply and forcefully.  He knew that what Will would be looking for following their act of violence wasn’t sweet, romantic sex, but something more dark, more primal to try and exorcise the unfamiliar emotions he was feeling. 

As Hannibal released his grip on Will’s wrists, Will cast aside his shy demeanor.  It was like Will had suddenly come alive, and Hannibal was suddenly assaulted by teeth and claws.  It was like Hannibal had a wildcat in his bed, and he welcomed this surprising other side of Will with open arms….and with teeth and claws of his own. 

Hannibal plundered Will’s mouth with his own and shuddered in surprise upon feeling Will’s teeth trap his tongue, biting down hard enough to release the iron tang of blood.  Hannibal’s heart thudded in his chest and he clenched Will tighter, moved his hips against him more frantically, his own need growing more desperate.  Will released his tongue and then Hannibal bit him back, and Will arched beneath him, his hands suddenly in Hannibal’s hair, grabbing and pulling painfully, mouths locked together in spit and blood. The groping and twisting had been savage and unrestrained after that.

When Hannibal had had enough of ravaging Will’s mouth, had felt the urgent straining of Will’s cock against his own, he sat up. Will wet his lips and stared up at him with eyes glazed with passion.

Hannibal straddled him, then brushed damp curls away from his face, the better to see his expression with what was to come.  He crouched over Will bending low to trace his lips over a pink nipple.  He felt Will stiffen and gasp as he splayed his fingers across Will’s stomach and down, pressing gently as Will’s hips jerked in response to his touch.

Hannibal flicked his tongue across the tip of a nipple, and then drew it in his mouth and sucked. 

The soft moan that escaped Will’s lips as Hannibal suckled him set his blood on fire.  Will inhaled sharply as Hannibal teased the other nipple, sucking and then biting down gently, Will’s hips bucking off the bed in response. 

Will groaned loudly as his hands found Hannibal’s hair again, tugging and pulling in impatience as he muttered incoherently.  He tightened his legs around Hannibal, pulling him back against him and started moving against him, craving friction. 

Will’s breathing and frantic movements told Hannibal Will was nearing his release.  He looked down on him, flushed and sweaty, looking so wanton that Hannibal wanted to drive himself into the core of Will here and now and finally possess him fully.  His cock was throbbing with the need of it.  But taking him now would be too much too soon.  He had made so much progress this night, and he didn’t want to chance ruining it by going too far. 

Still, there were other ways for them both to complete this intimacy and find their release together.  Hannibal smiled at Will as he took both their cocks and held them together. 

The feeling of Will’s cock rubbing against his own was nearly too much for Hannibal to bear.  He watched as Will trembled and clutched at the sheets, moaning and throwing back his head as Hannibal worked their cocks together, working them faster and faster until they both exploded in orgasmic rapture as wave upon wave of pleasure radiated in pulsing beats outward from the epicenter of the explosion. 

Hannibal hadn’t taken his eyes off Will the entire time and loved that he had been able to watch Will’s face as they found their release together this first time.  His expression had been a myriad of pain and pleasure, anguish and bliss. 

When Hannibal felt both cocks starting to soften, he collapsed next to Will, storing every single detail of this moment in his mind palace.  Still, as much as he would like to stay, he had things to do.  He didn’t want to ruin this by having Will’s first sight upon getting out of bed be the body.  He wanted to keep Will’s mind focused more on the pleasantness of how things ended.  Dolarhyde’s blood would already be congealing on the floor, and he needed to remove it and clean it up, and then butcher the body while it was fresh. 

Reluctantly he got up and pulled the blankets over Will.  Will’s eyes were already drooping, and he was looking more relaxed than Hannibal had seen him the whole time he had been down here.  He gave him a gentle kiss on the lips, and Will watched as he walked to the door, totally unconscious of his nudity.  As he opened the door Will frowned as he realized he had not used a key.  “Wait.  Do you mean the door has been unlocked this entire time?” he asked with disbelief. 

“Yes, Will.  Just in case Francis managed to kill me but you survived, I wanted you to be able to get out of the room.  Now, I need to get some fresh clothes and clean up this mess.”  And with that he left, locking the door behind him. 

Will lay there looking at the locked door.  Dr. Lecter had left the door open and stayed in the room with him this time knowing it would take the both of then to take down Dolarhyde, and that it would be a brutal battle.  He also made sure that Will struck the killing blow, then followed it up by tenderly caring for Will while he was in a fragile, confused fugue. 

At least that’s what Will let him think. 

Will closed his eyes then, feigning sleep, always conscious of the cameras in the room and worried that Dr. Lecter might even now be watching him, looking for any signs of subterfuge.  But his mind had never been more awake.  Although he had most certainly felt confused after killing Dolarhyde, as soon as Dr. Lecter had led him to the shower and started undressing him, Will knew what he was doing and that this had ultimately been part of his design.  That unexpected blowjob after the last killing had just been leading up to this.  So he’d had to make a decision right there on the spot:  either continue to resist him and have things stay as they were at a stalemate with Dr. Lecter continuing to mess with his head and throw killers at him from time to time, or pretend to begin to succumb to his manipulations and hopefully be one step closer to freeing himself.  So he had made the decision to succumb.  He couldn’t continue to stagnate down here in this sunless prison, alone, anxious, never knowing what was about to walk through that door, but yet part of him still looking forward to Dr. Lecter’s visits because he was so starved for the sound of any voice other than the one in his own head. 

Will had actually felt the smugness dripping off the man as he had meekly submitted to Dr. Lecter’s feigned concern and ministrations.  Will had taken a risk allowing things to progress to such an intimate level, but had been relieved when Dr. Lecter hadn’t tried to have anal intercourse with him, because he’s not sure he could have let the ploy go that far.  He had to admit to feeling uneasy at how turned on he had gotten.  He was right in thinking that Dr. Lecter was good at everything he did. 

But Will was in no way ready to give up on getting out of here; nor give up on his dreams.   He had worked too hard and too long, gotten too close to achieving them to give up on them now. 

Dr. Lecter enjoyed manipulating people, and he was good at it.  The only way he could think of to beat Dr. Lecter and have any chance of getting out of here was if he changed tactics.  He needed to out-manipulate the manipulator.  He needed to fight fire with fire, and he just prayed that he wasn’t the one who ended up getting burned. 

Chapter Text

After a restless night filled with violent and erotic dreams, Will finally untangled himself from his sheets and got up and headed straight for the shower. He needed to wash away not only the sweat coating his body, but also the lingering musky scent of Hannibal Lecter that was clinging to his skin and serving as an uncomfortable reminder of what had happened between them. 

A couple of hours later while he was running on his treadmill, trying to work out a little of his stress and thinking about what his next move should be, the door opened and Hannibal walked in, smiling at him.  But what interested Will more was the fact that he had left the door wide open behind him. 

Stopping the treadmill and wiping his face on a towel he had nearby, he walked toward Dr. Lecter and smiled back at him. 

“I’m glad to see you up and about,” Hannibal said, because I have a surprise for you.  Today is Saturday and I thought that you, Abigail and I could spend the day together as a family.  How does a nice picnic outside sound to you?” 

“Outside?” Will said, hardly daring to believe it.  “It’s been so long since I’ve been outside,” he said, feeling hopeful, but still fearing this might be a trick.  “What month is it, anyway?” he asked. 

“It’s the end of May, and the sun is shining and it’s a comfortable 74 degrees outside. 

Will started at that.  Six months? He’d been down here six months?  He hid a flash of anger at the thought that a half year of his life had passed him by while he’d been stagnating down here in this prison, that time never to be gotten back. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” Hannibal said.  “You’ve wasted quite a bit of time being down here.  But after the events of last night I’m hopeful that things are going to change and we can start moving forward.”  Hannibal stepped closer and put his hands on Will’s shoulders.  Will forced his body and facial expression to stay relaxed.  “You don’t regret what happened between us yesterday, do you?” Hannibal asked, cocking his head slightly and searching Will’s eyes. 

Will looked down with a small smile on his face and blushed slightly.  Looking back up at Dr. Lecter through his lashes he said, “No.  As much as I would like to, I can’t bring myself to regret it.” 

“Good,” Hannibal said, looking pleased.  “Then we can start making up for lost time starting right now with a family picnic.” 

“I would love that,” Will said.  And he meant it.  Just to be outside again….it’s something he had been dreaming about. 

“Then shall we?” Hannibal said, turning to the door and holding out his arm for Will to go ahead of him. 

“No leg manacles?” Will asked with surprise, his heart leaping with hope. 

“I thought that we might try giving you a bit more freedom and see how things go.” 

Will’s smile grew bigger.  “Well, I hope you made a lot of food, because I’m starving,” he said, preceding Hannibal up the stairs and through the laundry room.  Abigail was in the kitchen waiting for them, and she looked excited.  When she saw Will she ran up to him and gave him a big hug. 

“I’m so happy father is letting you out of the basement at last, papa,” she said, looking truly happy. 

Will hugged her back, looking toward the window and feeling his own excitement grow when he saw blue skies and sunshine. 

“We’re going to take things slow and see how they go,” Hannibal said cautiously.  “Now, everyone grab a dish off the counter and we’ll head outside.” 

The kitchen counter was laden with covered dishes and Hannibal handed one to Will, one to Abigail, picked up a dish of his own, and then they made their way outside.  They headed toward a tree where Will saw a table set up with a grill nearby.  There was also a plaid blanket spread out under the tree in the shade. 

“Where are the dogs?” Will asked, looking around nervously. 

“The dogs proved to be a less effective security system than I thought, so they have been disposed of.” 

Will felt a twinge of guilt.  As much as he hated those dogs and was glad they were gone, he knew they were just doing what they had been trained to do and were now dead because of him. 

“Good,” is what he said, hiding his thoughts. 

The spot was beautiful, set near an old oak tree with wide spreading branches.  They deposited their dishes on the table and then Will just stood in the sun with his arms out and his face tilted back, eyes closed, enjoying the first feeling of sun on his skin in six long months.  He inhaled deeply, enjoying all the fresh smells.  He looked down at his arms then and saw how pale he was. 

Will walked over to Hannibal just as he was placing something on the grill, which already had a layer of charcoal briquettes that were covered in white ash and glowing red, perfect for grilling.  Will loved the taste of char-grilled food and was hoping for hotdogs or burgers, but suspected that he would be disappointed.  And he was right. 

“What are we having?” he asked, as he watched Hannibal placing long sticks on the grill that were skewered with meat, onion, green peppers, and tomato. 

“It’s shish kebab,” Hannibal replied.  “Or perhaps I should call it dragon kebab,” he said, looking over at Will. 

The smile fell off Will’s face.  He suspected that this was a test, but he couldn’t pretend to be pleased with this; Hannibal would see right through that. 

“It’s not to your taste?” Hannibal asked upon seeing his expression. 

“Knowing where it came from does make it much less appetizing,” Will said diplomatically.  “Even if it was steak and I had met the cow it came from personally, I would still find it hard to eat.” 

Hannibal smiled.  “It’s something that you’ll become accustomed to in time.” 

Will decided that he needed to make a stand on certain things because if he appeared to be giving in too easy to everything it would look suspicious, so he said, “Hannibal, you do realize that in order for a relationship to work it often requires a bit of compromise on both sides.  No two people have the exact same likes and dislikes.  If I don’t wish to eat human flesh, I shouldn’t be forced to, any more than I should require you to turn vegetarian to please me.” 

“You seem to enjoy my cooking, and you are aware that you have eaten human flesh while you’ve been here.” 

“There is no doubt that you are an incredible cook,” he said, deciding to throw in a compliment, “and I’ve known that some of the meals have contained human flesh, yes.  You did tell me that four days out of seven you would serve me animal meat but wouldn’t tell me which was which.  As hard as I tried, I was never sure I guessed right, so I’m sure I have eaten human flesh from time to time.  But there’s a difference between knowing you’re eating human flesh and hoping that you’re not.” 

Hannibal just hummed in response.  Will wondered if he had lied about feeding him animal meat four out of seven days.  He decided to just change the subject.  “I wish there was a lake nearby so we could all go fishing,” he said.  “After all, I have all those new fishing lures I made with my Christmas gift,” he added, smiling over at Abigail, hoping to get her in on the conversation to keep things light and upbeat.  “Nothing tastes better than fresh, pan fried fish.” 

“Oh, can we go fishing!” she immediately chimed in, as Will had hoped.  “I would love to see how papa Will uses the lures to fish!” 

“Maybe someday we’ll plan a fishing trip,” Hannibal said, placing a nicely charred kabob on a plate and handing it to Abigail. 

“Someday soon, I hope,” Will said, smiling at Abigail and taking the plate that Hannibal handed him.  He felt his stomach heave at the sight of the meat nestled amongst vegetables.  This was a person who had been alive just yesterday and who had died at his hands. 

They ate together at the table while Abigail chatted away, as usual.  “Father says we can all go on a vacation to Martinique as soon as you’re ready to join the family,” Abigail said.  “I hope that’s going to be soon, papa,” she added, looking at Will wistfully.  “I really want to go to the beach.  I’ve been to a lake before, but never seen an ocean.  I want to experience what it feels like to walk on a beach covered with sand and have it squish between my toes!” 

“That does sound nice.  I do need to work on my tan,” he joked, eating the vegetables off the kabob but leaving the meat untouched.  Hannibal had also roasted corn on the cob and had made a salad, so there was plenty to eat, but oh what he would have given for grilled hotdogs, or fried chicken and homemade potato salad. 

The whole time he ate he could feel Hannibal’s eyes on him, watching him. 

 

After dessert, which was some kind of fresh apple tart, they all sat on the blanket under the tree and Will decided to try and broach the subject of the future.  “So, Abigail, I guess you’ll be starting college in the fall.” 

“Yes, and I can’t wait!  I’m going to study medicine so I can become a doctor like father.” 

“She’s growing up so quickly,” Hannibal said, looking at her a bit wistfully. 

“Yes, and I’ve been missing out on a lot of it locked up as I am,” Will pointed out. 

“Regrettable but necessary,” Hannibal said apologetically.  “But I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about our future as of late.  Abigail’s future, my future, your future.”  

Will was excited that the conversation was going in the direction he had wanted.  “Well, I would certainly love to hear those thoughts,” he said, laying down and putting his head on Hannibal’s lap.  He knew that Hannibal loved his hair, and sure enough Hannibal immediately started playing with his curls.  “Tell me what you’ve been envisioning our future to look like,” Will prompted.    

“I’ve been thinking about going back to school myself and getting a degree in psychiatry,” Hannibal said thoughtfully, rubbing a curl between his thumb and index finger.  “Being a medical doctor has had its rewards, but being a doctor of the mind, now that I can see being a much more satisfying and interesting career.  I’ve been reading up on the subject a lot lately, and it’s fascinating the many different facets that involve how the mind works and the many things that affect how it processes information.  So I’m thinking about continuing working at the hospital while I take classes on the weekend.” 

“That means you’ll be home even less than you are now,” Will observed.  “And just what will I be doing while the two of you are off bettering your educations and looking forward to interesting careers?” he asked, holding his breath as he waited for the answer. 

“I was thinking that if things work out, you could fulfill your dream of attending the FBI academy at the same time.  That way perhaps you and I will finish our studies around the same time and can move on to the next chapter of our lives.” 

Will frowned.  “You mentioned that before, but I can’t just reapply to the FBI academy and hope no one notices that I’m the man who was initially suspected of being the Chesapeake Ripper and then later on was no doubt presumed dead at the hands of the Ripper.  People will most definitely ask questions, most of them concerning you.” 

“With what I have in mind, the FBI will welcome you into their academy with open arms.” 

“Okay, well you certainly have my attention.  Just how do you plan to pull off this miraculous feat?” Will asked, feeling intrigued and excited, but also highly dubious. 

“In order to achieve this, you would have to kill the Chesapeake Ripper.” 

Will stared up at Hannibal for a moment and then said, “I’m sorry, I think I heard you wrong.  What do you mean I would have to kill the Chesapeake Ripper?  May I point out the obvious, that you are the Chesapeake Ripper?” 

“Two years ago the owner of a house 20 miles north of here passed away.  His only relatives lived out of state and just wanted the house sold, so I purchased it through their lawyer using a third party and under another name.” 

“So?” Will said frowning, not really knowing where this was going. 

“I bought that house in the unlikely event that if my presence here was ever compromised, that I would have a place I could go to quickly to hide out until it was safe to move.  That house is set a mile back from the road in the woods, completely blocked from view by trees.  I don’t think anyone even remembers the house is there anymore.  I had a few renovations done to the house immediately after purchasing it, especially in the basement, but no one has been out there since.” 

“Still not sure where you’re going with this,” Will said. 

“Patience, William.  Tell me, does the name Abel Gideon mean anything to you?” 

Will frowned.  “I know I’ve heard the name, but I can’t place it right now.”  

“Abel Gideon is a doctor who killed his wife and her family a little over three years.  He was caught and found guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to be locked up in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane.” 

“Yes, I remember that now.  Didn’t he escape?” 

“Yes, he escaped while they were transferring him to the hospital and he killed two orderlies in the process.  He was never found.  As it so happens, the Chesapeake Ripper made his first kill a few months after Dr. Gideon’s escape.” 

“Okay,” Will said, the wheels turning now, “I can see how some might consider the possibility that Dr. Gideon is the Chesapeake Ripper, but how does that help me?” 

“I’m glad you asked,” Hannibal said, smiling.  “Because, as it so happens, Dr. Gideon is currently a guest of mine.” 

Will sat up then, looking at Dr. Lecter.  “How in the world did you track him down when the police and FBI haven’t been able to?”

“About a month ago when things seemed to be …. coming together, I called a couple friends of mine from the old country who are very good at tracking people down and I set them to the task of finding him.  They called me earlier this week and said that they had located him, and he is now residing in the basement of that other house.”

“Go on,” Will said, hanging on his every word. 

“Since I haven’t been living in this other house, my friends have been working on getting it ready.  They’ve cleaned it up and wiped away any traces of old DNA, and they’re now making it look lived in.  Once you have made the decision that you wish to stay with us, I’ll have Abel spend time in every room, making sure he touches items in every part of the house so there will be no doubt he lived there.  I’ll spread the DNA from several victims around.  I’m having my friends dig up a few bodies I have buried on the property here and they’ll rebury them on the other property so that cadaver dogs will find them.  I have meat from several victims stored in my freezer downstairs and can plant them in the freezer at the other house.  By the time I’m done there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Abel Gideon has been living there and that he is the Chesapeake Ripper.  The story will be that Dr. Gideon has been keeping you prisoner in his basement there, but that you managed to escape but was forced to kill him in the process.  And the beauty of this plan is that you can use the true accounting of how you ended up being caught by the Ripper and what transpired, only it will be Abel in the motor home instead of me.  We’ll have to work out a few details—for instance, I would like you to exclude any mention of Abigail—but this should work.  And, as such, the FBI will be only too happy to accept into their next semester the man who killed the Chesapeake Ripper.” 

Will stared at him, dumfounded.  The whole thing was absolutely fucking brilliant.  “How in the world did you come up with this?”

“It has taken considerable thought to come up with a workable solution, but I knew it was your desire to join the FBI, and I will always try my best to make you happy, Will.” 

“But I would have to go away.  I’d be at Quantico for several months.” 

“And I will be working and taking classes to achieve my psychiatry degree and have very little free time during that period.  It couldn’t be more perfect.” 

“We can’t be together during that time.  It would look suspicious for me to be in Virginia and suddenly be in a relationship with someone from Baltimore when I was missing for six months.” 

“We’ll stay in touch by telephone, and after you have completed your training and have graduated, we will arrange to meet somewhere public and then start a relationship.” 

“You mean you’re going to…date me?” Will asked, surprised despite himself. 

“I look forward to it.  I will introduce you to opera and theater …” 

“And I’ll introduce you to fishing and boating,” Will said, smiling. 

Hannibal smiled back.  “Quid pro quo.”

“Quid pro quo.”  

Will suddenly felt at odds with himself.  Despite everything, the fact that Hannibal had given this so much thought and had come up with a way that they could be together with Will fulfilling his dream of being an FBI agent was strangely touching and made Will feel guilty about the fact that he was planning to betray him. 

“Of course, working for the FBI will also give you the added advantage of keeping an eye on things to help keep our family safe,” Hannibal added. 

Our…family.  Will swallowed the lump in his throat, and as he looked over at Abigail, the confusion he felt was real.  Still, the fact that Hannibal mentioned he could help keep the family safe could only mean that he had no intentions of stopping killing, and that helped strengthen Will’s resolve.

“Now, why don’t I go in the house and get us some wine so we can celebrate the start of new beginnings,” Hannibal said, giving Will a quick kiss before getting up and heading toward the house. 

“I don’t suppose you have any beer,” Will said, and chuckled at Hannibal’s expression. 

Will was suddenly alone with Abigail, but she had wandered off, probably to give them a bit of privacy.  He thought about escaping.  He could run toward the road and climb over the fence.  The dogs were gone now, and he would have a good head start.  But he knew in his gut that this was another test.  Dr. Lecter was probably watching him out the window, might even have a gun trained on him in case he did run.  This would probably be the first of many tests he would have to pass before Dr. Lecter trusted him enough to carry out his plan. 

Will was going to have to deliver an Academy Award winning performance in order to convince Dr. Lecter that this is what he wanted. 

He lay back down on the blanket with his hands behind his head looking up through the branches of the tree, trying to appear as relaxed as he could while he fought an inner voice that was screaming at him to run. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

During the next two months Will spent more and more time upstairs with his ‘family.’  He helped Hannibal prepare meals (and subsequently learned a lot about cooking), helped Abigail hone her lure-making skills, had heated theological discussions with both of them, played chess and card games—all the types of things that families normally did together.  They would sit in the living room in front of the fireplace watching a crackling fire with Will leaning back against Hannibal’s chest on the couch while the man nuzzled his neck and touched him reverently and Abigail sat in a nearby chair either chatting or reading a book.  It was like a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. 

And, of course, out of necessity, he would succumb to Hannibal’s seductions, spending more and more nights in the man’s bed, being brought to greater and greater heights of ecstasy.  Will hadn’t had much sexual experience before meeting Hannibal, and being with someone older who was so skilled at bringing pleasure was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience. 

He had managed to stave off full consummation in their sex-play until one night, after about a month into his deception, when he and Hannibal were lying in bed together just holding each other and talking about a variety of things in general, Hannibal had just suddenly opened up and started telling Will about his past—specifically about his parents and his sister.  Will knew that Hannibal talking to him about his past was a milestone, an indication of trust bringing him one step closer to freedom, and he should have been thrilled, but as he listened to the story of Mischa’s death, his heart broke.  It also explained a lot about how the Chesapeake Ripper had come to be.  Will couldn’t excuse what he had become, but he could better understand it now. 

Will had felt Hannibal’s pain as he talked about his murdered family—could actually feel it as if it was his own—and he had been overcome with an overwhelming need to comfort him.  And so that night he had surrendered his body fully to Hannibal for the first time. 

Six weeks after Dolarhyde, Hannibal had surprised him by throwing one more killer at him.  Will was angry about this, but knew this was probably meant to ensure that he would be able to kill Abel Gideon in cold blood, so this test was likely to be a deciding factor whether he was ready or not.  What he hadn’t expected, however, was that this one would be a woman.  Will had been shocked when Hannibal brought her in.  He had a deeply ingrained sense that you never hurt a woman.  Even after hearing how this woman had kidnapped young boys from their families and then later brought the boys back to their homes to kill their families made it no easier to face her. 

Hannibal had given them both knives this time, putting them on a somewhat even footing.  Will knew he was stronger than her and shouldn’t have a problem overpowering her, but could he bring himself to kill her? 

If the woman had begged and pleaded for her life, he couldn’t have done it, but she had made it easy for him by coming at him wild-eyed and screeching like a banshee.  He had actually felt the evil exuding from her like a sickness.  He had driven the knife into her chest and ended it quickly.  He had walked up to Hannibal then and shoved the bloody knife at him and said, “If you want me to be with you, don’t ever do that again,” and then walked away. 

Afterward he had forced himself to watch Hannibal and Abigail butcher the body, but refused to participate.  He still resisted eating meat, only eating it if Hannibal guaranteed that it came from an animal.  Will had to take a stand on certain things because Hannibal was shrewd, and if he had any inkling this was all an act, it would be all over. 

Seven weeks after Dolarhyde’s death, Will’s heart leapt as Hannibal told him it was time to put his plan into motion to free Will so that they could start the next phase of their lives. 

Will was ecstatic.  This was what he had worked so hard for.  Then why the hell did he feel so goddamned conflicted and guilty? 

Chapter Text

Will nervously paced the confines of his new prison in the basement of the second house, his steps faltering at every imagined sound.  This was the day that Hannibal had promised him that he would finally be set free, and the expectation of that impeding freedom after eight long months had his heart pounding and his nerves on edge.  He was also plagued with doubt.  What if Hannibal was lying to him?  What if this was just a trick to make him think that he was going to be freed, only to have Hannibal snatch that freedom away at the last minute?  He had spent the last two weeks down here in this basement suffering, preparing, waiting, and they had been the worst two weeks of his life because his freedom was so close now that he could taste it and the anticipation of it was killing him.  He didn’t know if he could bear it at this point if Hannibal changed his mind.  If Hannibal wanted to drive him insane, that just might do it. 

He had chewed his thumb nail down to quick and noticed with annoyance that it was bleeding.  Looking at his hands, they were grimy.  He had been stuck in this basement for two long weeks so that it would be covered in his DNA.  During that time he hadn’t showered, had barely had anything to eat or drink, and he was feeling slightly dizzy as a result of dehydration.  This was all part of Dr. Lecter’s plan to make him seem a convincingly abused victim of the nefarious Chesapeake Ripper.  After all, it would seem kind of strange if he showed up well fed and in excellent health after being the Ripper’s captive for eight months.  Eyebrows would most definitely be raised. 

Finally he heard the door open and Hannibal was standing there smiling at him. 

“It’s time, Will.  Are you ready?” 

Will smiled back, relief flooding his body.  “I’m more than ready,” he said, following Dr. Lecter up the stairs.  When they reached the main floor Will saw Abel Gideon secured to a dining room chair, and his smile faltered as he had flashbacks of that first day when he had been similarly bound to Dr. Lecter’s dining room chair at the other house and had nearly killed himself getting free.  

Dr. Gideon was looking surprisingly calm, considering the circumstances. 

“Dr. Gideon, I’d like to introduce you to Will Graham.  Will, this is Dr. Gideon.” 

Will just nodded at the man, not really knowing what to say.  ‘Pleased to meet you’ seemed a little inappropriate. 

“Mr. Graham, a pleasure,” Dr. Gideon had no hesitancy saying.  “So you’re the young man Dr. Lecter has been telling me so much about,” he said, looking him over, and Will gave Hannibal a questioning look. 

“Dr. Gideon and I have had many conversations while he’s been my guest,” Hannibal said.  “He’s a most fascinating man.” 

Dr. Gideon had been occupying Will’s former room in the basement at the main house these past two weeks.  Will just nodded as he studied the man he was to kill.  He swayed then, feeling slightly light headed, and sat down at the table. 

“You’re suffering the effects of the dehydration, Will.  Here, I’ve brewed some tea and you can have a small amount to get you through this,” he said, pouring Will a cupful.  “We don’t want you passing out at a crucial moment,” he said, eyes flicking to Abel meaningfully. 

“No, we certainly wouldn’t want that,” Abel said with a touch of sarcasm. 

Despite the bitter taste, Will was so thirsty he drained the cup.  He sighed then, feeling a bit better. 

“Sorry I can’t give you more, Will, but we don’t want to reverse the dehydration.” 

“I understand.”  He kept looking at Dr. Gideon, confused as to why he was acting so calm.  “Dr. Gideon, what exactly do you think is going to happen here today?” he finally decided to ask. 

“You’re going to kill me and tell the police that I’m the Chesapeake Ripper,” he replied evenly. 

“And you’re….all right with that?” 

“Well, it doesn’t thrill me, but I’ve known for a long time that I would eventually be caught.  This ending is so much more interesting than being sent back to the BSHCI where I would be locked away and fed Jell-O and thorazine for the rest of my life.  Dr. Lecter is a wonderful cook, by the way.” 

“Yes, he is that,” Will replied, frowning.  Looking at Hannibal Will whispered, “Why is he not bothered by this?”   

“No need to whisper, Will.  I’ve been doing a little reading on hypnotherapy lately, and it’s a fascinating subject.  I may have tried it out on our friend here with good results.” 

Hypnotherapy? Will thought, frowning.    

“Well, I need to get to work now,” Hannibal said.  “Remember, Will, you need to time it so that you kill Abel and reach the road at 11:20 p.m., which is when I drive by that stretch of road on my way home from work.  That way I can say I spotted you as I was driving home and picked you up, and it won’t raise any suspicions.  You don’t want to kill him too early because they’ll verify the time of death and you don’t want any discrepancies.  Once I pick you up at 11:20, I’ll drive you back to the hospital where they’ll examine you, verify that you’re suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, and you can tell them you were taken prisoner by the Chesapeake Ripper, but killed him while you were attempting to escape.  Make sure his DNA is on you.  Have you decided how you’re going to do it?” he asked. 

“I was thinking that bashing him on the head would be the most feasible in an escape.  If it was a real escape I could, for instance, run to the fireplace and grab that cast iron poker and use it on him.” 

“Excellent!” Hannibal said, smiling.  “That should have the benefit of splattering your clothing with his blood.  Perhaps you should stab him with the tip of the poker as well to make it appear you were trying to keep him from advancing on you.”  

“Good idea,” Will said, feeling so many emotions going through him right now that he thought he would explode. 

“Things will be a bit of a whirlwind for you with the police and FBI wanting to question you, but since I do work at the hospital, I should be able to come by and see you once or twice without raising suspicions before you’re discharged,” he added, smiling.  “Time will pass quickly, my darling, I promise.  And once you’re released from the hospital and the FBI is through asking their questions, we can talk frequently on the phone.  We’ll be together before you know it,” he said, bending down and giving Will a kiss on the lips.  “Now, I really must go.  I will see you at 11:20.  Good luck.”  And with that, he left. 

Will sat there for a few seconds just staring down at the table, then got up and looked out the window, watching the rear end of Hannibal’s car disappear through the trees.  He stood there for a while, thinking.  Something was nagging him about this entire situation, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. 

He went back to the table and sat back down, looking at Dr. Gideon.  “So, you’re not upset at all about the fact that I’m supposed to kill you?” he asked at last. 

“I’m a killer.  I enjoy killing.  I was caught by another killer, a superior one.  There’s no shame in that,” he said serenely. 

Hmm.  The fact that Hannibal had messed with Dr. Gideon’s head to the point where the man was okay with dying was highly disturbing.  Will got up and started pacing.  His heart was racing, he felt sick to his stomach, and he was still feeling light-headed, despite the tea.    

“So, Mr. Graham,” Abel said, pulling him out of his musings and looking at him curiously, “when’s the main event?” 

“What?” Will asked. 

“When are you going to kill me?” 

“Oh.”  Will sighed.  “I was supposed to kill you around an hour before meeting up with Hannibal,” he said. 

“Supposed to?” Abel said. 

“I’m not going to kill you, Dr. Gideon.  I’m going to wait here for about 30 minutes until I’m sure he’s really gone, and then I’m going to make my way to the road and flag down a car and have them take me to the nearest police station.  Then you and Dr. Lecter will be put into custody, where you belong,” Will said, going to the sink and filling a glass with water and draining it.    

“Well-well-well, it would appear that the brilliant Dr. Lecter has an Achilles' heel after all and has made a grievous error in judgment.  He was so convinced that you have feelings for him.” 

Will looked at him, and then looked down, battling his emotions. 

“Ah, I see,” Abel said. 

“What do you see?” Will said with a touch of annoyance. 

“You do have feelings for him, but you’re going to betray him anyway.” 

“It’s not betrayal,” Will said, pacing again, feeling agitated.  “He held me prisoner for eight months!” 

“Eight months is a very long time.  Why do you think he kept you alive for so long when he’s killed so many others?” 

“He…believes he loves me.” 

“Believes?  You don’t think he does?” 

“I believe that he does feel something for me, but I don’t know if someone like him truly knows what love is.  You don’t keep someone locked up for eight months if you love them.  You don’t make them kill people if you love them.  He’s trying to make me like him, and if he truly loved me he would love me as I am and not what he wants me to be.” 

“So, you don’t share his feelings?” 

“Any feelings I may think I have for him right now are nothing more than some form of Stockholm Syndrome from having been with him for so long.  I’m a police officer and I know that a certain kind of bond can form with your kidnapper after being with them for a length of time, despite what they’ve done.  I’m sure that once I’m away from him and his influence, those feelings will fade and I’ll know I did the right thing.” 

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself of that?” Abel asked. 

“It doesn’t matter,” Will said softly, going back to the window.  “I’ve made up my mind.  I know what I have to do.”  

"What you 'have to do' isn't the same thing as what you 'want to do'," Abel said.  

Will shook his head, forcing his thoughts to go back to Thanksgiving Day when he had found Sarah and her parents dead by the Ripper’s hands.  He couldn’t let himself forget that this was who Hannibal Lecter really was.  He couldn’t let his thoughts get tangled up with the feelings of family he had felt over the last couple of months, or of the unexpected passion he had experienced the nights he spent in Hannibal’s bed.  But no matter how hard he convinced himself that he was doing the right thing, he was still plagued by guilt.  He couldn’t help but think that if Hannibal really and truly did love him, this would be an ultimate act of betrayal and hurt the man deeply.  He shouldn’t care, he didn’t want to care, but he did.  He couldn’t deny that there was a part of him that had come to care for Hannibal and Abigail, and these last couple of months where they had interacted as a family had begun to feel real. 

In addition, Hannibal was the only person who had ever made Will feel that his life had meaning and value.  His father hadn’t.  His town hadn’t.  His captain at the police force hadn’t.  Oh, his captain treated him well enough, but whenever there was a trickier case to be handled, he always bypassed him for one of the other officers.  Hannibal was the only one who made him feel like there was more to him than what people saw when they looked at him, and for that reason he would feel a certain sense of loss when Hannibal was behind bars.  As for Abigail, he had no idea what would happen to her.  Her life had been upended when Hannibal killed her parents, and now it would be upended again, and he truly did regret that.  She had never actually killed anyone, so he hoped that she would still be able to attend college and fulfill her own dreams.  Maybe once he was an FBI agent he could help out with her tuition, despite the fact that she would despise him. 

Shaking his head he realized that all this guilt and regret was just a waste of energy and getting him nowhere.  He knew what he had to do, what it was his duty to do, and he was going to do it. 

He suddenly couldn’t stand to be here any longer.  He needed to get both out of this house and out of his own head.  Walking over to Abel he checked to make sure his bindings were secure.  Hannibal had used wide bands of strong velcro over his clothing to strap him tightly to the chair and leave no incriminating marks.  Will was supposed to take the bindings with him and dispose of them somewhere in the woods after he killed him. 

“Just sit tight, Dr. Gideon.  Someone will come for you later tonight.” 

Will opened the door and stood there a minute feeling overwhelmed now that freedom was finally within his grasp.  He started walking and felt himself hyperventilating and took in large gulps of fresh air and immediately regretted it when he felt dizzy from it.  He concentrated on slowing his breathing, and when it had evened out he started running, feeling a sudden sense of urgency to reach the road.  He wouldn’t feel completely free until he was in someone’s car headed for the police station.  It was like that first day back in Hannibal’s house when he was trying to escape and imagined Hannibal jumping out at him from every shadow.  Despite everything that Hannibal had done to arrange this, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this was all some sort of trap. 

He stopped running for a few seconds when his head started spinning.  Maybe he should have drank more water before leaving.  Looking behind him, the house was no longer in sight, and even though he hadn’t reached the road yet his heart sang with a sense of freedom and a feeling that he was leaving everything behind him.  Always look forward, never look back, he thought to himself.  It’s time to look to the future.  He moved on, feeling himself getting even more light-headed and had to slow down.  The trees actually seemed to be closing in on him.  He knew he wasn’t walking in a straight line any longer, but zig-zagging as spots started appearing before his eyes, and he was forced to pause occasionally.  At one point he thought he saw a black stag staring at him through the trees and wondered if he was hallucinating. 

Sheer willpower kept him moving, not to mention the thought of what Hannibal would do to him if he caught him and discovered his betrayal.  He pushed himself through the dizziness and lost all track of time.  He had no idea how long it had taken him but he finally spotted the road ahead and felt a surge of hope.  Hannibal left for work at 2:30 for the 3:00 to 11:00 shift, so the time now should only be between 3:00 and 3:30.  That would give him plenty of time to flag down a car, and he was hopeful that there would be traffic on the road at this time of day and that he wouldn’t have to wait long for a passing car. 

He stumbled and fell twice before making it to the road as he imagined tree roots reaching up to trip him, and the spots were beginning to move faster.  He just wanted to lay down on the ground and close his eyes, but he forced himself to move on.  He finally reached the road and then stood in the middle of it, looking in both directions, praying that a car would come before he passed out.  He thought he saw a car in the distance through the spinning spots and put up his hands.  “Help me,” he said weakly, but the spots were spinning faster now and starting to merge.  He felt his face hit the blacktop and heard the squeal of tires, and then everything went black. 

Chapter Text

Will’s mind drifted through fuzzy shapes and muted, swirling colors.  He felt bone-weary, his body weighed down with fatigue.  He wanted nothing more than to continue to just drift, but he sensed dark things hidden in the shadows waiting to pull him down into the abyss, so he fought his way upward through the haze toward consciousness. 

He took a deep breath and recoiled as his nose was assaulted by a smell that triggered an unpleasant memory and set his heart racing—a medicinal smell that he had last smelled when something bad had happened.  He frowned as his mind fought through the murk to make the connection, but it was struggling.  His eyes flew open in panic as he tried to raise his hands and couldn’t, and when he tried to move his feet, they were similarly bound.  Frightened and confused and feeling like this had happened to him before and he was in danger, he struggled against his bindings, trying to free himself, crying out in desperation and despair. 

He heard startled voices then and a loud, fast-paced beep-beep-beep-beep-beep coming from somewhere as he continued to struggle, trying to process all the noises, sights and smells around him, but his mind didn’t seem to be functioning right.  Everything seem disjointed and hazy. 

“Get the doctor!” he heard a woman’s voice yell, as a set of hands was suddenly pressing against his chest, and the same voice was telling him to calm down. 

A small hole in the fog appeared and in a moment of clarity he realized that he was in a hospital.  He had thought for a moment that he was….somewhere else, but he couldn’t remember where.  He tried to calm down then while looking up at the face of the startled nurse standing over him, but he could feel himself shaking as adrenalin continued to surge through his body.  He tried to remember why he was in a hospital, but he couldn’t.  He suddenly felt tears trailing down his face, but he was confused as to whether they were caused by pain or relief or frustration.   Every time he felt a memory floating toward the surface, it was snatched away.  As he tried to wipe the tears away, he was once again aware of the restraints.  Why was he restrained? 

A doctor was coming toward him now with a needle and he instinctively knew that he was about to be sedated.  “Wait!” he said, in a gravelly voice.  The doctor hesitated and looked at him. 

“I’m sorry,” Will said woozily, wondering why his throat was so sore. “Didn’t know where I was for a minute and I panicked,” he managed to get out.  “I’m….all right now.” 

The doctor hesitated and then quickly checked his vitals on the monitor.  He took out a penlight and checked his pupil response.  “A motorist found you passed out in the middle of the road and brought you here.  We initially thought you had been in some sort of a drunken altercation, but there was no alcohol on your breath.  It turns out you’re suffering the effects of a strong hallucinogen that we’re trying to flush out of your system.  We had to restrain you because you were hallucinating and becoming violent and were a danger to yourself and others.” 

“What?” Will said, having trouble following him.  “Hallucinogen?  Don’t….understand.” 

“Until this drug is flushed out of your system you’re going to have trouble focusing and remembering things,” the doctor said.  “Let’s start with something easy.  Can you tell me who you are?  You didn’t have any identification on you.” 

“Yes, I’m…”  Will frowned.  He actually had to think for a second.  Words seemed to be swirling around his head and not wanting to come together.  “Will Graham.” 

“Why do I know that name?” the doctor said, frowning. 

“Isn’t he that police officer they thought was the Chesapeake Ripper for a while?” the nurse said. 

Will frowned again.  Chesapeake Ripper?  He knew that name from somewhere. 

“You’re right!” the doctor said, looking startled.  “But then they cleared him; said he couldn’t have been.  Holy cow.  Uh, Mr. Graham, how did you come to be here in this town?” the doctor asked. 

Chesapeake Ripper.  Chesapeake Ripper.  Will knew that name, but from where?  A few memories struggled to the surface then and Will’s eyes widened in realization.  “Ripper,” Will said groggily, trying to focus.  “Ripper here.  Call…police…”  And then he drifted off again, his mind still under the control of the hallucinogenic. 

“Jesus Christ,” the nurse said.  “Did he actually say the Ripper is here?” 

“Will Graham’s been missing a long time.  Everyone assumed he was dead.  But if the Ripper’s had him all this time and did this to him….  I’m going to call the sheriff right now,” the doctor said, heading for the door.  “Just keep an eye on him.” 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

“Mr. Graham?  Mr. Graham?” 

“Huh?” Will said as a voice seemed to reach out to him as though through a tunnel. 

“He was given a very powerful dose of a hallucinogenic.  I don’t know if he’s going to be able to talk sense right now,” he vaguely heard a familiar say. 

“I need to see if he can tell me something…anything.  If he was with the Ripper, the Ripper could be getting away.  Mr. Graham, can you hear me?  I’m Sheriff Harker.  You asked the doctor to call me.  You said something about the Chesapeake Ripper.  Do you remember that?” 

“The Ripper?  The Ripper…..yes….escaped.” 

“You escaped.  Do you know from where?  Please, Mr. Graham, try and just tell me that.  Where did you escape from?” 

Will frowned, trying to make sense of what the man was saying.  He picked out a few words to concentrate on:  Sheriff…..Ripper…..Where?  “The Ripper….” 

“Yes?  Where is the Ripper, Mr. Graham?!” the sheriff said excitedly.    

“21….21779…County Farm Lane,” he said, recalling the address on a magazine that he had seen….somewhere.  “Ripper there.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Graham!” the sheriff said, turning to leave. 

“Wait!” Will said weakly, frowning.  There was something else.  Something important.  What was it?  “Twenty miles….20 miles north of there….Abel Gideon.” 

“What’s that?” the sheriff said.  “You said the Ripper is at 21779 County Farm Lane.  Is he there or 20 miles north of there?  Is Abel Gideon the Ripper, Mr. Graham?” the sheriff asked excitedly. 

“Abel Gideon…there….not Ripper,” Will said, his eyes and thoughts starting to lose focus.  “Hannibal Lecter….Ripper.  Works…. in hospital….” He said, trailing off, the drug taking hold of him yet again. 

“Okay, if I’m understanding him correctly, he said someone named Hannibal Lecter is the Ripper and he works….what, here in this hospital?” 

“That’s what it sounded like to me,” the doctor said, looking disturbed at the idea. 

“And he’s saying Abel Gideon is not the Ripper but is 20 miles north of where the Ripper is?  So, what, are they fucking neighbors then or something?” the sheriff asked, looking confused.  “Do you have a Hannibal Lecter working here, doc?” 

“Not that I know of, but if he works in the cafeteria or is part of the cleaning staff—I mean, I don’t know all the staff here.  I can have HR check into it.” 

“Do you think Graham here is hallucinating now?” the sheriff asked the doctor. 

“It’s entirely possible.  He’s been given a high dose of a hallucinogenic called Psilocybin, which is sometimes referred to as magic mushrooms.  Psilocybin can produce hallucinations, an inability to differentiate reality from fantasy, panic attacks, and psychosis if consumed in large doses.  But if this man really is Will Graham, I’d check out both places and see what’s there, if I were you.” 

“Well, both the Ripper and Abel Gideon cases belong to the feds, so I’m going to have to call them in on this one anyway, and something tells me I’m better off.  My gut is telling me that this is going to be one fucked up shit-show of a case, and my gut is rarely wrong.” 

The doctor nodded.  He had examined Mr. Graham thoroughly after the hallucinogenic was discovered in his system, and he agreed with the sheriff on this one. 

“Why don’t we go ahead and pay a visit to HR first though, just in case this Hannibal Lecter does work here,” the sheriff said. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Will was dreaming.  He was running through the woods at night and could barely see.  There were voices calling to him, telling him to join them, but as hard as he tried to catch up to the voices, tree roots and branches kept appearing out of nowhere as if to ensnare him, slowing his progress, and he never seemed to get any closer.  Then he reached the edge of a cliff and barely stopped in time to keep from tumbling over the edge.  He saw two black birds in the distance flying away.  One of the birds called back to him:  “I wanted you to join us, to be free.  I let you know me... see me.  I gave you a rare gift, but you didn't want it.  You didn’t want us.” 

“Didn’t I?” Will called back.  “Wait, don’t go!” he yelled, as the birds got smaller and smaller, and he was suddenly left alone in the dark feeling so forsaken. 

“Don’t go!” he called out loud, waking with a start, heart pounding, covered in sweat.  Looking around, he was in a hospital room.  He had a vague memory of waking up here before.  There was man in a black suit sitting on a chair looking at him curiously over a newspaper. 

“Bad dream?” the man asked, folding his newspaper and tucking his reading glasses into his inner jacket pocket. 

“Who are you?” Will croaked, trying to sit up but realizing he was strapped to the bed.  Where am I?” he asked, vague memories of waking up here before trying to come to the forefront. 

The man stood up, setting the paper on the vacated chair and walked over to Will, pressing a button to raise the head of the bed.  There was an air of authority about him.  “I am Special Agent Jack Crawford from the FBI, Mr. Graham,” he said, offering Will some water, which he gratefully took.  “And you are in the MedStar Union Memorial Hospital.  We received a very surprising call from the sheriff yesterday saying that not only had they found you, but that you claimed to know the location of the Chesapeake Ripper.” 

Yesterday?  What the hell?  “That’s true,” Will said, adrenaline starting to pump.  “The Ripper’s probably not there any longer, but he was at 21779 County Farm Lane.” 

“Yes, you managed to give the sheriff that address yesterday.  You also said something about another place 20 miles north of there and something about Abel Gideon?” 

“Yes, Dr. Lecter also kidnapped Dr. Gideon and kept him in that house, and when I escaped from there, Abel Gideon was tied to a chair.  I don’t know if he still is.” 

“We’ve already been to both locations,” Agent Crawford said tiredly, rubbing his eyes. 

Clearly it had been a long night for Agent Crawford. 

“And?” Will asked when no further information was forthcoming.  “Did you find either Hannibal Lecter or Abel Gideon?” 

Agent Crawford sighed.  “Before I answer that, let me ask you a question first, Mr. Graham.  How did you manage to escape the Ripper?” 

Will sighed.  “After the Ripper captured me he decided he wanted to keep me around because he found me interesting, I guess.  He kept me locked in a room in his basement.  Once I realized there was no escaping there, I decided to try and convince him that I wanted to stay with him.  It took a long time, but I finally convinced him.  He knew I had been accepted into the FBI Academy before my capture and that it was my dream to join the FBI, so he said he could make it happen.  Later on I found out that he had managed to locate and capture Abel Gideon and that Dr. Gideon fit the Ripper’s profile.  His plan was that I kill Dr. Gideon and pretend that he was the Ripper and say that I had escaped him, thereby resurfacing as the man who killed the Chesapeake Ripper.  But I was planning to escape all along, so I left Abel tied to a chair and ran toward the road to flag down a car, only I got dizzy and passed out.” 

“That’s quite a story,” Agent Crawford said.  “So which house are you saying you escaped from?”   

“The house 20 miles north from where Dr. Lecter lived.” 

“And this Dr. Lecter, did you tell the sheriff that he worked in this hospital? 

“If this is the only hospital within a 30 minute drive from where he lived, then, yes, he worked the second shift as a doctor in the ER.  He would leave for work at 2:30 to make his shift.” 

“Mm-hmm,” Agent Crawford said. 

“What’s wrong?” Will asked.  “Did the Ripper get away?” 

“No, he didn’t get away, Mr. Graham,” Agent Crawford said. 

“Okay,” Will said, actually a bit surprised at that.  Studying the man’s face he said, “Why do I get the feeling there’s more that you’re not telling me?” 

“The Chesapeake Ripper is dead, Will.” 

Will’s heart stopped beating for a second.  No-no-no, this is not what he wanted.  He had not wanted Hannibal dead. 

“Dead how?” he asked, distress clearly written on his face. 

“It would appear that you killed him.” 

“Wait….what?” Will said, confused.  “I don’t understand.” 

“I’m not surprised that you’re confused.  You’ve been the prisoner of the Chesapeake Ripper for eight months, and during that time it appears that he starved you and abused you and gave you hallucinogens so that he could control you and mess with your head and your memories.  We’ve seen the results of your bloodwork and apparently he’s been giving you high doses of Psilocybin, which comes from a certain type of mushroom.  These mushrooms are generally ingested orally or brewed in tea, so he was probably feeding them to you and putting them in your drinks, but apparently he was also injecting high doses directly into your bloodstream as well.  The doctor found a fresh needle mark on your arm.  So it’s not surprising that you’re confused and can’t remember exactly what happened.” 

Huh? 

“You were not found on the road outside the secondary house, as you describe it, you were found on the road outside the house at 21779 County Farm Lane, which you said was the Ripper’s residence.  It looks as if you took quite a beating trying to escape.” 

“What do you mean?” Will asked. 

“Well, the bruises on your throat indicate he tried to strangle you.  You also have bruises on your face and body, a cracked rib and a split lip.  We found skin cells under your nails from where you apparently scratched him in your struggle to escape, and we’re waiting for the DNA results, but we’re pretty certain they’ll belong to Abel Gideon.” 

What the fuck!?  That would explain why his throat was sore, but that never happened.  Will touched his tender throat in confusion and a sudden image of Abel strangling him appeared lightning-quick into his head like a flash, and then it was gone.  Wait, when had that happened?  Abel was still tied to the chair when he left him.  And why had someone said they’d picked him up in front of Hannibal’s house when he had passed out in front of the other house 20 miles away?  None of this was making any sense.  Everything was wrong! 

Seeing his confused look, Agent Crawford continued.  “The house at 21779 County Farm Lane was just a smoking ruin when the sheriff went to check it out.  The farmer who spotted you and picked you up said he saw smoke in the distance and notified the fire department about it after he dropped you off at the hospital.  But by the time the fire department got out there, there wasn’t much left of it.  When my team arrived on the scene the ashes were cool enough to go through, and when we went through the ashes we found a single body.  DNA matches what we have on file as belonging to Abel Gideon, but we’re waiting for confirmation on dental records.  He apparently died from a single bullet hole through the head.  He was shot with this gun,” Agent Crawford said, pulling a baggie out of his pocket.  “Do you recognize it?” 

Will nodded, feeling numb.  Even slightly melted he recognized that gun.  It was the gun he had found at the service station where Hannibal had killed the clerk.  The gun that had still had one bullet left in it.  Will was starting to get light-headed again. 

“The hospital turned over your clothes for analysis and we found gunpowder residue on your shirt sleeve.” 

“I don’t understand,” Will said, truly looking confused.  “Where is Hannibal Lecter?” 

“Will….”  Agent Crawford sighed.  “We’re still checking into a few things, but it’s possible there never was a Hannibal Lecter, that you hallucinated him.” 

“No.  No,” Will said, shaking his head emphatically. 

“All signs point to Abel Gideon being the Chesapeake Ripper, and he is dead now at your hands after a vicious altercation.  The fact that you can’t even remember the altercation you had with him or shooting him should prove to you that your memories are….confused. 

“The way we have it figured, Abel kept you in a drugged state so he could play his sick mind games and keep you compliant, but somehow during a somewhat lucid moment you tried to escape.  You two fought, you managed to get your hands on that gun and you shot him.  Then, still under the influence of the drugs, you decided to burn him and the whole place to the ground before wandering to the road where you passed out.” 

“No.  That’s not what happened,” Will said, shaking his head again, even though he had a massive headache now.  “Number one, I did not kill Abel Gideon.  He was alive when I left him.  Number two, there is a Hannibal Lecter and he is the Chesapeake Ripper.  I was his prisoner for eight months, I should know.  Did you check the hospital for a doctor named Hannibal Lecter?” Will asked. 

“HR has no one by the name of Hannibal Lecter listed as an employee of this hospital.” 

Will sat there, stunned.  If that was the case, then either Hannibal had given him a phony name or somehow used an alias when he was employed with the hospital. 

“Well what about the house?  What name was it registered under?” Will asked, trying to sort through this. 

“The house was indeed listed as belonging to a Hannibal Lecter.  It was purchased not too long after Abel’s escape from the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  A third party broker made the transaction, but we have been unable to locate him.  He seem to have vanished.  It’s possible Abel killed him.  The previous owner of the house never met the buyer.  I’ve had some of my people checking certain facts, and they think Hannibal Lecter is an anagram that Dr. Gideon simply came up with.  So it’s possible you heard the name mentioned in passing at some point and your drugged mind simply created a second person.  

“An anagram?  For what?” Will said, getting more frustrated by the second. 

“For ‘Intrench Abel’.” 

“And what the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Will said, feeling himself grow angry. 

“Well, the word intrench, which is a less common spelling of entrench, means to place within or surround with a trench, especially for defense, or to place oneself in a strong defensive position, or to establish solidly.  That house was secluded and had a strong gate, and it gave Dr. Gideon a solid, defensive position.  We’ve had cadaver dogs go over both locations and have found several bodies buried on both properties.  So he definitely needed a secure place to ‘intrench’ himself in and give him the privacy he needed to….do the things he apparently liked to do.” 

“You have got to be kidding me!” Will said, staring at the man as if he was crazy.  “You can’t possibly believe that.” 

“That second home was listed as being purchased by a Neal Bigedo, which is most definitely an anagram for Abel Gideon.  The agents have gone through the second home with a fine tooth comb.  So far the only fingerprints they’ve found are Dr. Gideon’s and yours.  So it would appear you spent time in both of these houses, we’re just not sure why.” 

Will thought furiously.  He thought back to the label on the medical magazine that he found the day he tried escaping with Abigail, and now that he thought about it, the label had had an address on it but no name.  But Hannibal had written an article in that medical magazine, the one that Sarah got killed for rebutting.  Whatever name he used when he submitted the article would probably be the name he used at the hospital!  Probably.  It was possible he used a fake name for that as well.  Damn him!  He was apparently a master at covering his tracks.  Will didn’t know how he was going to be able to prove anything if Hannibal had already fled. 

“Abigail Hobbs was with him,” Will said.  “She is alive too.  Dr. Lecter took her as sort of a surrogate daughter,” he said, trying to find something to say to make Agent Crawford take him seriously. 

Agent Crawford gave him such a pitying look then that Will wanted to smack it off his face. 

“Will…we found a freezer full of organs and body parts at that second house and we’ve already identified an ear we found in there as belonging to Abigail Hobbs. 

Will was visibly shaken now.  That bastard.  He did not cut off Abby’s ear!  I’ll kill him!   

“Will, it’s not your fault you’re having trouble telling fantasy from reality.  He was most likely drugging you the whole time you were there.  It’s also clear you were starved and physically abused.”  Agent Crawford looked down as if contemplating something and then said, “The doctor examined you thoroughly after finding the hallucinogenic in your system and said there were also signs of recent sexual activity, so apparently he was forcing himself on you as well.  He may have been trying to force himself on you when you escaped.  Your shirt was torn as if he was trying to rip it off of you.  I’m sorry, Will.  Just be happy that you’re still alive.” 

Will didn’t have to hide his stunned expression.  No one was ever supposed to find out about that.  He had never intended to disclose that.  He suddenly needed to be alone.  His head was throbbing and he needed to process this.  “I think I need to rest now,” he said, and whatever expression was on his face, Agent Crawford just nodded. 

“Of course.  You’ve been through a lot.  We’ll need to get a formal statement from you later, but it can wait.”  After a few seconds he said, “Will, do you happen to know what the Ripper was doing with the organs and body parts he kept in the freezer?” 

“He was eating them,” Will said woodenly, frowning as he had a sudden image of Abel punching him in the face. 

“Eating them?” Crawford said, looking slightly alarmed.  “Well, that certainly puts a different spin on the theory that he was simply taking trophies from his victims.” 

Jack headed for the door then, but stopped and turned back around.  “I know that you had already been accepted into the FBI Academy and were due to start your training shortly before you were captured.  We have a new semester starting in a little over a month, and if you think you’re up for it, we’d love to have you attend, free of charge.  Consider it the FBI’s way of saying thank you for helping us solve this case.  There are very few people who could have survived being with the Chesapeake Ripper for eight months and suffered the kind of abuse that you have and lived to tell the tale, Will.  You’re a real hero, and you should be proud.” 

And there it was.  That had been part of Dr. Lecter plan, that he be treated like a hero by the FBI and invited to attend their next program, and it had worked.  It was just the rest of it that was all wrong. 

“Thank you, Agent Crawford,” he said.  “I would like that very much.  If you wouldn’t mind, can you have the doctor come see me?  I’d like to see if he’ll undo these restraints.  I need to use the bathroom.” 

“Of course,” Agent Crawford said, leaving the room, and Will lay there feeling stunned.  He knew, knew that Hannibal was real, but apparently it was going to be hard convincing the FBI.  The question now was, should he bother even trying?  If Hannibal and Abigail were gone, maybe he should just let the FBI continue believing that Dr. Gideon was the Ripper. 

The big question in Will’s mind was what exactly had happened after he had passed out?  Hannibal had apparently drugged him with that tea he gave him, but why?  He needed to remember! 

After the doctor came and checked Will over, he took off the restraints and said he would send some broth up for Will.  As soon as the doctor left, Will stumbled to the bathroom, dragging along his IV pole, and looked at himself in the mirror.  He was unprepared for just how awful he looked.  It was like Agent Crawford had said.  His throat showed clear signs of strangulation, his face was bruised, his lip was split and puffy.  He pulled up his gown and saw bruises on his body, and there were also bruises on his arms as if someone had been grabbing at him.  It did look as if he had indeed been in a life or death struggle. 

He suddenly had another quick flash of Abel sitting on him and punching him and ripping at his clothes, only this time he saw Hannibal standing behind Dr. Gideon goading him on, and he felt suddenly dizzy with the memory.  He needed to lie back down and try to work this out in his head.  You manipulated this, Hannibal.  Just what the hell were you trying to accomplish with all theater and misdirection? 

He lay back down and closed his eyes and concentrated on remembering.  He took deep, cleansing breaths to calm his racing heart, and when his heart rate was close to normal he was surprised to see a pendulum swing behind his eyelids, which had never happened to him before, and then he watched as Dr. Lecter’s design unfolded. 

I have set everything up meticulously.  I am certain that Will will betray me because he simply cannot accept the fact that he has developed deep feelings for me and Abigail.  I was hoping with time he would bond to me as Abigail did, but my stubborn Will is made of sterner stuff.  The only way at this point to ensure that he stay with me willingly would be to break his mind, and to break Will’s beautiful mind would be a travesty.  I find that that is not what I want.  I want Will as he is and I want him to choose to be with me of his own accord, and for that reason I must let him go.  I have to give him time away from us so he can explore his feelings without thinking that he’s being influenced or coerced by me.  Only then will he come to understand that what he feels is real.   

I give him a cup of tea and tell him that it will help with his dehydration, but it contains a hallucinogenic.  I kiss him good-bye, holding on to a smaller glimmer of hope that I’m wrong.  But as I park my car and wait, watching from a distance, my heart still sinks painfully when I see my stubborn Will stumbling into the road, and know that I was right to make the plans that I did. 

I put him in the car and drive him home.  My friends are standing by, and they collect Dr. Gideon and bring him along as well.  When we’re home, I inject Will with a stronger dose of the hallucinogenic and wake him up.  I force Abel to strike him repeatedly and strangle him.  Will attempts to put up a fight, but the drug makes him dizzy and uncoordinated. 

I have Abel tear at Will’s clothes so it looks like Abel was trying to force himself on him.  If the doctors examine Will thoroughly they will know he’s been sexually active and I want them to arrive at the conclusion that he was not a willing party.  I make sure that Will scratches Abel so that he has Abel’s skin cells under his fingernails.  I want there to be no doubt to anyone that Will had to fight viciously to escape.  I then place the gun in Will’s hand and help him aim and pull the trigger.  I use the same gun Will brought along and threatened to shoot me in the head with, which amuses me.  It still had a single bullet left in the chamber.    

I carry Will out of the house, and then my friends and I set fire to the house with Abel’s body still inside.  I set the barn on fire as well.  I can’t have the FBI discovering any other DNA other than Abel’s.  I have covered my tracks well.  But everything still depends on Will.  How far will he go to convince the FBI that there was indeed a Hannibal Lecter?  Or is it possible that he go along with what the evidence will show, that Abel Gideon was the Chesapeake Ripper and that I was simply a figment of a drug-induced psychosis?  I did work in the ER, but under a different name.  I tendered my resignation two weeks ago citing I was going to move to Lithuania with my niece because she wasn’t adjusting well here.  Still, if Will decides to purse it, there are leads to be found and followed, although he will have a hard time proving anything concrete. 

I have ensured that Will will be able to pursue his dream of going to the FBI Academy where I have no doubt that he will excel, in part thanks to me.  He doesn’t know it yet, but he has grown both physically and mentally while in my company.  The Will that came to me eight months ago was strong, but he was also innocent and naïve.  Under my guidance he has gotten in touch with an even stronger, darker side of himself, and this will help him excel in his studies and in a job where he will be immersed in identifying, locating and capturing killers.  

Abigail is waiting in the car for me.  She looks so sad, her disappointment mirroring my own.  I already have alternate identifications set up for the both of us.  We will disappear without a trace, leaving this life behind and start another, but we’re both hopeful we will cross paths with our beloved Will again in the not too distant future, and hopefully when that day comes and he has had a chance to reflect and to examine his feelings away from us, he will finally be ready to accept that his feelings for us are genuine, and upon that happy day we will welcome him with open arms back into the bosom of his family. 

I leave his unconscious body on the road knowing that he will be discovered eventually, and then Abigail and I drive away, both feeling incomplete with one-third of our family missing…. 

Will opened his eyes, and the tears were flowing freely now as realized that Dr. Lecter set him free, despite knowing that he would betray him, and the reason that he did so was because he loves him.  He really and truly does love him.  His dream came back to him:  I gave you a rare gift, but you didn't want it.  You didn’t want us.  Didn’t I? 

What that dream had been telling him was that there was a part of him that did recognize that Hannibal loved him, but he couldn’t accept it.  How could he when the man had been holding him captive for eight long months and manipulating him and making him kill people? 

Will lay there and thought long and hard about what he should do next, and after several hours of mental debate he finally arrived at a decision.  Hannibal had said that fate seemed to have played a large part in bringing the two of them together from the very beginning, so he was going to put this back in fate’s hands and see what happened.  When he finally gave his statement to the FBI, he would give them a full and true accounting of everything that had transpired over the past eight months, and then he would leave it to them to do with it what they will.  After all, they were the FBI, the best of the best, and it was their job, their duty to solve this case.  If they took the information he gave them and they still decided that Will was delusional due to drugging and abuse and proclaimed that Abel Gideon was the Ripper and that the Ripper was dead—fine.  But if they took the information he gave them and decided to dig deeper, as they should, giving credence to the possibility that Dr. Lecter wasn’t a hallucination, and then track him down—that was fine too. 

He would leave it in the FBI’s capable hands, and he was sure they would leave no stone unturned in discovering the truth.  Fate would not win this time; hard work and scientific fact would. 

And so that’s what he did.  When he gave his statement he disclosed everything, including the killings he did and the sex, since they already knew something had gone on.  The only thing he withheld telling them about was Hannibal’s past and Mischa, because he was sure that Hannibal had never revealed that to another living soul, and it just seemed wrong somehow to share that. 

Also, Agent Crawford had reluctantly brought in a sketch artist so that Will could describe this theoretical Dr. Lecter, and Jack’s attitude had been so condescending about it that Will had gotten pissed and just ended up giving a description of a very generic-looking male. 

The FBI spent the next week conducting and compiling all their findings, and then shortly thereafter the newspaper headlines proclaimed “R.I.P Ripper.”  Tasteless, Will had thought.  The article was complete with his picture.  What was ironic was that they used the same picture of him that they used when the story had run that proclaimed that he himself was the Chesapeake Ripper. 

So fucking Hannibal Lecter had outsmarted him and he had outsmarted the F.B.I.  Despite Hannibal beating him at his own game, Will couldn’t help but be impressed by the man’s brilliance.  And although he tried to deny that what he was feeling was relief that Hannibal and Abigail had gotten away, that’s kind of what it felt like. 

A few days after that, to Will’s utter disgust and dismay, Agent Crawford set it up so that he attend sessions with a self-important psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Frederick Chilton to help him with his confused state of mind.  Jack had told him that he would need to be rubber stamped as mentally healthy by Dr. Chilton in order to be allowed to attend the FBI Academy. 

Will went to his sessions, gritting his teeth the whole time while the pompous Dr. Chilton explained away everything he told him by twisting the meanings into things like hatred of his father and sexual frustration, making Will want to scream and strangle the doctor with his own tie.  Finally, after his fifth meeting with Dr. Chilton when he was ready to rip his hair out at the man’s condescending attitude and knowing that he was getting nowhere, he decided to put the manipulative skills he had learned from Hannibal to use and gave Dr. Chilton an Oscar-worthy emotional performance, telling him that he could finally see now how right Dr. Chilton was about everything and thanked him profusely for all his help getting him through this terrible time.  

Will got rubber stamped that same day by a gloating Dr. Chilton and started his training at the FBI Academy shortly thereafter.  

Chapter Text

Five months later…

The graduation ceremony was a moment that Will would never forget. 

Standing in the auditorium wings, full of nervous anticipation and clad in their freshly pressed suits, the soon-to-be-agents all raised their hands and took the FBI oath together.  Then, one by one as their name was called, each trainee strode onto the stage to receive their credentials and badge from the FBI director himself, making it official. 

As Will’s name was called, he anxiously made his way across the stage.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw hundreds of people in the audience who had come to support their family and friends.  Still, it hadn’t felt real until the shiny gold badge was placed in his hand.  At that moment, he knew that it was true.  He had never thought this day would come, but against all odds he had done it.  He had finally fulfilled his dream of becoming an agent of the F.B.I.    

The last test before becoming an agent, just two days prior, had been a tough one.  All the trainees had to wait in a single-file line waiting to get blasted in the face with oleoresin capsicum—a substance more commonly known as pepper spray.  While your eyes burned like crazy, in order to pass this test you were required to open at least one eye, attack a punching bag, and defend yourself from an assailant who was trying to take your pistol out of its holster, all the while a boom box blasted out the sounds of gunfire, screaming, and police sirens to further confuse your senses.   

Amidst the chaos, Will had managed to subdue his subject and complete the final test.  He had spent more than 800 hours in and out of classrooms diligently learning what it takes to become a special agent.  He and the other trainees had worked together, studied together, and sweated together to complete one of the most challenging experiences of their lives.  Out of the 192 students in his class, only 113 had made it all the way to the end and graduated.  And he was one of them. 

As he stood to the side now looking down at his badge and waiting for the rest of his class to get their badges, he found himself standing a little taller, a little prouder.  No one would ever look down their nose at him again. 

As the last trainee—Zeller, Brian—was called and received his credentials, the audience stood and applauded enthusiastically, and then there was laughter and hugging and tears. 

Will felt some of his happiness fade as he watched alone from the sidelines.  There was no one here to bear witness to his achievement, to hug him, to celebrate with, so not everything had changed, and for one brief second he wished that Hannibal and Abigail were here to see him graduate.  He could picture Abigail bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet and giving him a big hug and Hannibal putting his hand on his shoulder and giving him a proud look.  He quickly dismissed that thought and joined the rest of the graduates as a photographer took a picture of the entire class. 

Although the 20-week course had been grueling mentally and physically, Will hadn’t found it all that difficult.  In fact, he had breezed through it, impressing all of his instructors.  He hated to admit it, but if he gone into the academy as the small town cop he used to be, he would have struggled; but being with Hannibal all those months had made him stronger, both mentally and physically, and had prepared him for anything that the FBI had thrown at him.  He had ended up graduating top in his class.  Jack Crawford, the man himself, had extended him a job offer to join his team even before he reached the end of the program, and he had happily accepted. 

Later that evening there was a party in the dorm with food, liquor and dancing as the grads celebrated their last night together before they departed for their individual assignments.  Fellow classmate Beverly Katz came up to him and hugged him.  “We did it!” she said, clearly already tipsy. 

“We did indeed,” he said smiling and hugging her back.  Bev was one of the few people he genuinely liked.  She was incredibly smart and not shy about speaking her mind, but she was never cruel, and he liked that about her.  Brian Zeller and Jimmy Price stood behind her.  These three always seemed to hang out together. 

“Jack Crawford offered the three of us a job with his unit,” she said happily. 

“Me too!” Will said, truly pleased that they would also be on Jack’s team.  He was relieved that he wouldn’t be joining Jack’s team not knowing anyone else, and he already knew that he could work well with all three of them, which was a definite plus.  That wasn’t the case with everyone.  The more he had excelled in his classes, the more there had been petty jealousies and snide comments and innuendo made about his time spent with the Ripper.  At one point in his life he might have just kept his mouth shut and taken it, thinking he didn’t deserve any better, but he wasn’t that person any longer, and anyone making a derogatory comment directed at him soon realized the error of their way as he put them in their place.  And if things got physical, fine, he did not back down from a fight.  They soon learned that the soft looking ‘pretty-boy’ was not to be trifled with. 

Looking at Bev, Jimmy and Brian, Will suspected that Jack’s team was getting a serious and much needed upgrade from his current team—that would be the team that had convinced Jack that Abel Gideon was the Ripper.  

Just then he heard one of the other graduates shout over the music, “Graham, telephone!” 

Will excused himself and headed out into the hallway where the communal phones were located. 

“Hel-lo,” he said happily, feeling slightly buzzed now after a few drinks. 

After a few seconds of silence Will felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.  He suddenly knew who was on the other end of the line.  He just knew.  “Dr. Lecter?” 

“Hello, Will.” 

Will’s brain seemed to lock up as he was flooded with a tidal wave of emotions.  Six months had gone by without so much as a peep from the man.  “Why are you calling me?” he managed to say. 

“I wanted to congratulate you on achieving your dream of becoming an FBI agent.” 

“Thank you,” Will said breathlessly as his heart hammered in his chest and he was having trouble breathing. 

“I knew you could do it, Will.  Abigail and I are both so very proud of you.” 

Will closed his eyes, feeling his throat constricting with emotion.  He hated to admit it, but he had longed for someone to say that to him, to acknowledge and recognize all the hard work he had put into getting here.  It’s just too bad the only person who seemed to care was the Chesapeake Ripper. 

“Where are you, Dr. Lecter?” Will said, trying to keep his voice from sounding as choked up as it currently was.   

“Somewhere beautiful and warm with a sky currently full of glittering stars.  You’ll recall I promised Abigail that I would take her somewhere sunny.  Of course, we had hoped that you would be with us.  I wish you were here now to see it with us.” 

Will felt his heart clench and his eyes fill with unwanted moisture.  “I couldn’t stay with you, Dr. Lecter.” 

“I know that, Will.  I knew it then.” 

“Then why—“

“I have to go now, Will.  I just wanted to wish you all the best in your new career.  I do hope that our paths cross again in the future because Abigail and I have missed you and our family feels incomplete without you.  Good-bye, Will.”  And then softly he added, “You looked lovely in your blue suit, Will.  The tie I sent you brought out your eyes and complemented it wonderfully.”

Will’s eyes widen with surprise as the full weight of his words sank in. 

When the tie was delivered to him from an obviously upscale store, he had thought it was a gift from one of his one-night stands.  He had had meaningless sex with several students of both genders to try and relieve some of his loneliness while attempting to purge the memory of nights spent with Hannibal from his mind.  But they never lived up to Hannibal and he never slept with them more than once.  The card accompanying the tie had simply said in typed letters “To wear on your special day.”  He had almost not worn it, but eventually had given in as the beautiful silk tie looked far better than the single polyester tie he owned. 

“Dr. Lecter?…Hannibal?!” 

But there was only a dial tone.  Will stood there with the receiver pressed to his ear touching the tie, and for a moment he felt such an aching longing that it nearly crippled him. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

One Year Later …

Henry Madsen was running down a deserted street in a rundown industrial section of Annapolis, Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay as if the devil himself was chasing him.  And maybe he was.  He ducked into a ramshackle old factory building and tried to get his bearings in the dark.  He spun around quickly thinking he heard a sound, but the only sound he heard was the sound of dripping from some rusted pipe somewhere … that and his own harsh breathing.   Still, he had a sense of a terrible threat in the looming shadows, and that was a feeling Henry was not at all used to.  He took off, moving as quickly as he could in the dark.  And then he heard it, footsteps trailing him, gaining on him. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Jack Crawford, Beverly Katz, Jimmy Price, Brian Zeller, and a team of four other FBI agents were waiting impatiently as a fifth man forced open the door of an unremarkable house that was situated in an ordinary suburban community. 

As soon as the door burst open, Jack started barking out orders, urgency in his voice.  “Check every room, every closet, every air vent, nook and cranny!  Price and Zeller, check the basement!  You three!” he pointed at three of the agents, “search the outside grounds.  Look for a shed, a trap door leading to a bomb shelter, dirt that looks freshly dug … anything!  Leave no stone unturned.  Katz, you take an agent and check the upstairs, and I’ll search this floor with the remaining agent.”  

Fifteen minutes later after a thorough search of the house and grounds, they all came up empty. 

“Keep looking,” Jack said, running a frustrated hand through his short hair.  “If Graham says she’s here, then she’s here.” 

“Her oxygen ran out two minutes ago,” Beverly said urgently, checking her watch. 

“Call the paramedics and have them here standing by with oxygen,” Jack said, as he turned to search again.  “Somewhere in this house or on these grounds there is a missing 10 year old girl who is out of air and out of time.  We have to find her.  We’ll switch.  I’ll take the basement, Bev, you take the yard, Brian and Jimmy check upstairs, and you three search the main floor.  We’re missing something.  Now go!” 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Henry was searching for the back of the factory, and hopefully a way out, but he couldn’t see well enough in the dark.  However he did come across a rusty ladder and started climbing it as he heard the footsteps behind him growing ever louder.  When he reached the top of the ladder there was a pale sliver of light, and when he looked up he saw a small broken section of glass in a dirt crusted skylight with a few pigeons roosting in the rafters nearby.  In front of him was an ancient metal walkway that didn’t look safe by any means, but he spotted a door on the other side of the walkway that he hoped would lead to freedom.  Stepping up to the walkway he shook his head as he could see that it was clearly eaten up with rust.  Looking down all he could see was a black chasm.  He looked at the door again gauging his chances, even as he heard the sound of someone climbing the ladder behind him now.  The only thing he knew for certain was that he didn’t want to get caught.  If he did he’d spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance for parole, not after killing five children.  Well, six if you count the one who should be out of air by now.   

He looked behind him and a figure had appeared at the top of the ladder now, and in the dim light he could see a set of cold eyes that blazed with purpose.  It was Will Graham.  He knew his face because he had been featured in Tattlecrime a lot lately.  Freddie Lounds seemed to have developed a particular fondness for him and had taken to calling him the FBI Bloodhound because he had sniffed out and caused the arrest of more killers over the last year than in the FBI’s previous three years combined. 

As Graham advanced on him, Madsen made a choice and sprinted across the walkway.  He was halfway across when something fell—a minor part of the superstructure, a sheared bolt maybe, but it plunged, reverberating into darkness.  The walkway shifted but held, so Madsen ignored it, holding onto the railing for dear life, and reached the door on the other side, feeling relief.  That is until he tried the door and found it locked. 

He looked around desperately and spotted an iron bar on the ground and tried to pry the door open with it … but it doesn’t budge. 

He turns and sees Graham just staring at him from across the walkway, and Madsen feels like he’s being studied, dissected.  Madsen studies him back.  Pictures don’t do the man justice.  He has the childlike face of an angel, but his eyes and growing reputation would suggest that he’s anything but.     

Madsen gives up on the door.  It’s not going to open.  He’s trapped.  He lifts the iron bar as a weapon, a warning, but the crazy sonofabitch doesn’t take the warning.  In fact, he smiles at him, a smile that makes the hair on Henry’s arms stand up, as Graham steps onto the walkway and heads toward him. 

Madsen decides he doesn’t want to be trapped against the door, so he decides to meet him halfway.  He needs to kill Graham.  Either bash in his head with the metal rod or knock him over the side of the walkway.  Madsen figures he has the upper hand because Graham will want to take him alive in order to get the location of the missing child who is out of time.  Madsen, however, has no such compunctions about killing Graham. 

As they advance toward each other, the walkway jolts under their combined weight. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Beverly checks her watch again.  It’s now four minutes past the time Madsen said the girl’s air would run out.  After six minutes without oxygen there’s a chance of brain damage.  She’s waited long enough.  She pulls the walkie-talkie off her belt and calls Will. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Despite the walkway now listing dangerously at an angle, Madsen and Will continue to advance on each other.  Madsen raises the bar to strike the first blow, but he’s taken by surprise at how quick Graham is, grabbing his raised wrist before he can bring the bar down on the other man’s head.  They struggle together like lovers when the walkway suddenly lurches further sideways and they both lose their footing.  Graham manages to grab onto the railing, but Madsen falls, dropping his weapon, which goes tumbling into the darkness.  He goes over the side but catches himself just in time and hangs onto the side of the walkway.  He tries to scrabble back up but the metal is rusted and flaking. 

When he looks up, Graham is standing there holding onto the railing just staring down at him. 

“I guess you know now how all those little girls felt, Henry … trapped, frightened, wondering if they’re about to die,” Graham says to him in a surprisingly soft and sultry voice. 

“Oh, God—”  He tries to scrabble up again but can’t.  “Help me!” he says desperately. 

“Where’s Chloe, Henry?” Will asks, kneeling down, but not offering to help him.  “Where is she?” 

“Help me!” 

“Tell me where she is,” Will says in the same soft voice, and as Madsen looks up he sees something dark slither behind a pair of incredible eyes. 

“She-she’s in the living room!  For God’s sake, the living room!  There’s a panel behind the china cabinet … behind the plasterboard …”

Will’s walkie-talkie comes to life then and he hears Bev’s anxious voice. 

“Will, we can’t find her!  Do you have anything?!” comes Bev’s anxious voice.  “It’s four minutes past when Madsen said her oxygen would run out!” 

“Living room behind the china cabinet,” Will replies calmly.  “Let me know when you find her,” he says, not breaking eye contact with Henry.    

Will waits patiently.  He needs to hear that the girl is safe.  He continues to stare at Henry impassively. 

“I’m going to fall!  I told you where she is, now help me!” 

“I have to make sure that you’re not lying to me, Henry.” 

“I’m not!” 

“I wish I could believe you, but a man who enjoys killing little girls is certainly not above lying.” 

“I’m not lying now, I swear to god!  She’s there!  Please!”

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

“Will says she’s behind the china cabinet!” Bev shouts out, and Jack immediately pushes the china cabinet aside and it falls over with a crash, glass and china breaking.  He grabs a crowbar from one of the agents and started chopping away frantically at the large square of plasterboard that he can see has been nailed into place.  Then another agent shows up carrying a sledgehammer that they must have gotten from a tool shed, and Jack tosses the crowbar aside and grabs the sledgehammer and starts hammering away at the plasterboard while a couple of agents desperately rip at the loose pieces, tearing sections off.  Beverly glances at her watch again.  Six minutes!  Come on, come on! she thinks desperately.  She looks behind her to make sure the paramedics are standing by.  She nods as she sees that they’re ready to jump into action.   

Behind the plasterboard lies a layer of soundproofing, and behind that Jack finds an upright, coffin-sized container that has an oxygen cylinder attached to it.  The cylinder is marked with a faded medical logo and the gauge currently reads empty. 

Beverly remembers she’s still holding the walkie-talkie.  She puts it to her mouth and says, “She’s here.” 

“Is she alive?” 

“Don’t know yet.  Stand by.” 

Jack and the others drag the container out of the wall and fumble with the latches, getting it open.  A fragile looking little girl lies inside, eyes closed, deathly pale, not moving.  Jack hauls Chloe from the coffin, lays her on the ground, feels for her pulse.  “No pulse!  Get over here!” he bellows to the paramedics. 

They get to work immediately doing CPR.  They place a bag valve mask over her face and try to squeeze air into her lungs. 

“Bev, is she alive?” Will asks again, looking down at Henry, who starts begging again. 

Please!  I can’t - I can’t - oh god - please!” 

“One moment,” Bev says as she watches the paramedics frantically trying to revive the girl, unaware of the scene playing out on the other end of the walkie.  But then she hears the child coughing, breathing, starting to cry.  She takes a deep breath and feels tears trailing down her face.  “Will, she’s alive!” 

Will hears cheers and clapping through the walkie as Bev leaves the connection open so he can hear it.  He feels weak with relief.  He shuts off his walkie then and looks down at Henry and smiles.  “Thank you, Henry.” 

With a relieved look on his face Madsen says, “You’re welcome.  Now help me up.” 

“First, Henry … tell me about the others.”

“What?”  Madsen says, the look of relief disappearing.  “What others?  Help me up!” 

Will studies Madsen, tears now shining in the man’s eyes, eyes that are looking up at him pleadingly.  He might have been moved if he didn’t know what this man was capable of, how many lives he had destroyed. 

“How many more were there, Henry?” 

“What?  None!  That’s it!”

“Tsk-tsk, Henry.  No more lies.  Let’s see, there was Arielle, wasn’t there?” he says, counting on his fingers.  “Oh, and there was Gabriella.  And let’s not forget little Emma.  She was only eight years old.  Then there was Jessica.  She was the first one I watched being dug out of the ground right after I became an agent, but it was too late for her.  And now there’s little Chloe.  So how many others were there?  How many others did you take that we don’t even know about?” 

No answer.  Will can see the wheels turning in Madsen’s head as he tries to think his way out of this. 

“Tell me where to find Arielle’s body, Henry.  She disappeared 18 months ago but a body was never found.  Her parents need to see the body, otherwise they’ll always hold onto that small glimmer of a hope that their little girl is wandering around somewhere out there with amnesia.  They need closure.  Tell me where to find her, Henry, and I’ll pull you up,” and Madsen is again struck by how soft his voice is, almost like a lover’s caress.   

Then they both hear it, the sound of sirens approaching. 

Will frowns.  That would be his police backup, the backup that Jack ordered him to wait on before moving in.  Not much time now.  But when he looks back down at Madsen, the man is smiling at him now.  It’s a grin of triumph, and Will sees it for what it is:  Pure evil.  He’s seen that look before. 

“You won’t let me fall, Graham,” he taunts.  “You’re FBI.  You need to bring me in alive.  And when you do, that’s when I’ll tell you where the body is, but only after my lawyers make a deal.  So just cut this bullshit act off yours and pull me up,” he says defiantly. 

“I see,” Will says, squatting back down before Madsen.  He smiles back at him then, and Madsen’s smile falters as he looks into Will’s eyes and sees something that doesn’t belong in a face that pretty. 

“You’re right, Henry, I am FBI and I am bound by duty to bring you in alive, unless my life is threatened.  Are you aware that I was the unwilling guest of the Chesapeake Ripper for eight long months?  And the one good thing he taught me during our time together is that killing predators outright is just such a much more efficient and effective way of eliminating the problem.  That way there are no bargains, no deals, no pleas of insanity, no early release from prison, no chance for the case to be thrown out due to evidence mishandling, and, above all else, no chance for them to ever do anything else like this again.  So, if you have nothing more to say to me, I guess we’re done here.” 

And with that Will grabbed the front of Henry’s shirt and pushed. 

Madsen’s expression changed from defiance to stunned surprise.  He cried out, hands flailing as he tried to find the metal again, and then there was a frozen beat where he seemed suspended before he tumbled into the night down into the darkness. 

Will looked down impassively at the barely visible broken body on the floor far below him just as his backup arrived. 

“FBI agent Will Graham,” he called down to the officers below, who were swarming the warehouse with their flashlight beams weaving around and their guns at the ready.  “Henry Madsen is down there,” he said pointing, as he was suddenly blinded by a dozen flashlight beams turned his way.  “I’m afraid he slipped and fell while trying to elude capture.” 

The flashlight beams were now highlighting Henry’s broken body, and Will thinks he looks much better in death than he ever did in life.  He makes his way carefully back to the ladder and climbs down. 

We can cross one more murdering psychopath off the list, he thinks calmly.  I fucking hate the ones that hurt animals and children. 

Chapter Text

Two months later …

“Come in,” Jack said, looking up from the case file he was working on to see who was knocking on his door.  “Kade.  To what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked. 

“Your boy Graham has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the Henry Madsen investigation,” she said sourly.  “With no witnesses, there’s no other conclusion that could be reached.” 

“Well, it’s about time,” he said brusquely.  “You’ve had my best agent benched and doing teaching work for two months now.” 

“He’s cleared, but I want you to know that we’re going to be keeping an eye on him, Jack, and you need to keep him on a short leash.” 

“Kade, Will Graham has a talent for solving cases that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  The police and the previous task force I had assigned to the missing girl case were nowhere close to identifying Madsen as the kidnapper, but Graham solved it within a week.  In his first year as an agent he has been instrumental in identifying and catching Eldon Stammets, the pharmacist who turned people into mushroom fertilizer; Elliot Buddish, the angel maker; as well as several others.  Our rate of case closures has more than doubled since he joined the team.  He has a gift for getting into the minds of killers and tracking them down that is unprecedented.” 

“I’m not questioning his effectiveness or his contribution to the unit, Jack, just his methods.  He’s a wildcard, and you need to keep him under control.  It’s Dr. Chilton’s opinion that Mr. Graham gets a little too deeply into the minds of the killers he’s trying to catch.  He thinks it might be a side effect of being held captive by a killer himself for so long, and he’s suggesting that Mr. Graham be put under his care and start seeing him on a regular basis.”    

“I know what Dr. Chilton thinks,” Jack said with derision.  “I also know that he’s writing a book about the Chesapeake Ripper, so I think his suggestion may be a bit self-serving.”  After a few seconds he sighed and said, “But I’ll keep a closer eye on him.” 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

Jack stood outside the lecture hall waiting for Will’s class to end.  When the door opened and the students started filing out, he walked in as Will was loading his papers into a briefcase while a couple of cute female students stood nearby trying to get his attention, but Will seemed oblivious to them.  When the girls saw Jack, they rushed off, and Will finally looked up and saw him and smiled, but his smile looked more like a grimace. 

“Hi, Jack.  To what do I owe this visit?” 

“I wanted to tell you in person that you’ve been cleared of any wrongful doing in the Henry Madsen case.  Given the circumstances, the Inquiry found no grounds for disciplinary action.  Which means that you’re cleared to come back to field duty.  That is, if you want to,” he said tentatively.  “If you prefer teaching we could let you teach and just have you consult on the occasional case from time to time.”  

“No thank you,” Will said, concentrating on his packing to avoid eye contact, something Jack noticed he’d been doing a lot lately.  “I’d rather face killers than students constantly asking me what it was like being held captive by the Chesapeake Ripper.” 

“All right, that’s good,” Jack said, relieved, “because as it so happens I have a case I’d like you to take a look at, a case that I think you’ll find particularly interesting.” 

“Right now?” 

“Unless you have somewhere you need to be.” 

“Nope, I’m done with my classes for the day … hopefully forever.  Let’s go.” 

As Will walked with Jack out of the building, he passed several people, men and women alike, who gave him hopeful looks, but he had stopped trying to block out memories of Hannibal with one-night stands.  They just never made him feel the way Hannibal had, which left him feeling even more unsatisfied afterwards.  He thought that perhaps it was because Hannibal was older and more experienced, so he had actually seduced an older man, a senior agent, but that man had wanted to roleplay and have Will call him daddy, and since Will had killed his own father, he had been actively avoiding that man ever since. 

Nowadays he would lie in bed at night feeling restless and on edge while listening to classical music that he never used to like.  He would pump desperately into his fist as he relived some of their more intimate moments together and come harder to his fantasies than he ever did with any of his trysts.  As much as He wanted to forget about Hannibal and turn his life around, and as much as he was trying not be the loner that he had been in Wolf Trap, he found himself regressing and becoming more and more withdrawn.  His relationships with people were superficial at best.  He had even gone back to living in his old house in Wolf Trap, something he thought he would never do, but found that he enjoyed the solitude there. 

“You ready for the speech?” Jack asked him as they headed for the Behavioral Science Building, interrupting his thoughts. 

“Um…yeah, I guess,” Will said, not in the mood for a lecture.” 

“Rule number one, don’t get yourself in this situation again.  Which means the next time you have a suspect cornered in an abandoned factory, you wait for your backup to arrive as instructed.” 

Will nodded and waited for more.  When Jack remained quiet he said, “Is that it?”

“That’s it.”

Will let out a relieved sigh.  “That was a good speech, Jack,” he said, a small smile on his face.

“Thank you, I worked hard on it.  Just remember it.” 

As far as Jack was concerned, closing cases was the be-all end-all, and so long as Will Graham was closing cases, he could do it any way he saw fit.  When it came to catching killers and making him and his department look good to his superiors and to the press, the ends most definitely justified the means as far as Jack was concerned. 

Jack led Will into his office and sat behind his desk.  Will took a seat across from him, anxious to see what this latest killer was up to.  If Jack was presenting it to him right after coming off his suspension, that meant the case had Bev and the rest of the team stumped.  He loved the tough cases because they occupied one hundred percent of his mind, leaving no room for other thoughts.  When he was in-between cases, he always felt a bit adrift and spent way too much time in his own head. 

“This murder happened five days ago, but since you were on suspension I couldn’t ask for your help.  So unfortunately the crime scene has already been processed and removed, but I’d like you to take a look at some pictures,” Jack said, handing over the file he had been looking at earlier. 

Will relaxed back into the chair and opened the file, clearing his thoughts, ready to let his mind pick apart the scene, but as soon as he saw the first photo he froze, looking up at Jack, who was watching him intently.  He swallowed and looked back at the picture, trying to keep his hands from shaking.  The Chesapeake Ripper—the real one—had been keeping a low profile….until now. 

“It would appear we have a copycat,” Will said calmly, although he felt anything but. 

“Yes, that’s what I was thinking as well,” Jack said.  “Although I do remember when we first found you that you insisted that Abel Gideon was not the Ripper.” 

“Yes, and you and your staff and Dr. Chilton took great pains to convince me that I was delusional due to the effects of psychological trauma and drugging.” 

“So there’s no doubt in your mind now that Abel Gideon was the Ripper and that this kill is the result of a copycat?” 

“I don’t know how I could think otherwise when there was never any evidence to the contrary,” Will said evasively.  He had hoped that Hannibal had taken Abigail and fled the country, but it would seem that that wasn’t the case.  Apparently not only was he still here, but he had decided to start killing again.  Just what the hell was he up to? Will wondered, as anger stirred within him.   

“Hmm.  Well what do you make of the killer’s display?” Jack asked. 

Will took a deep, calming breath and studied the picture again.  The victim was obviously a man, although his face had been obscured with a black nylon stocking so that he appeared faceless.  He seemed to be sitting on the ground propped against something, and his face was turned upward. 

“Where was he found?” Will asked. 

“He was found in the middle of a park ten miles from here posed like this.” 

Only ten miles from here.  So the arrogant prick had purposely planted the kill right in the FBI’s back yard.  Was he flaunting the fact that he was back? Will wondered, as he inwardly seethed.   

“Although his face was obscured with a stocking,” Jack continued, “it was upturned and appeared to be looking at the sky … or possibly the sun.” 

Will nodded, remembering how often he had mentioned to Hannibal that he missed the feeling of the sun on his face.  He suspected this kill contained a message that was meant for him.  If the message was meant as a challenge, if this was Hannibal’s way of throwing down the gauntlet, he would soon find out that Will was more than a match for him. 

“And that’s his own heart he’s holding in his hands?” Will asked.  

“Yes.  His heart was removed and the chest cavity was filled with white tulip pedals.  White tulips are fairly rare so we’re trying to track down where the killer might have obtained them.” 

White tulip pedals—definitely a message, Will thought, frowning.  He’d have to go to the library to see what it meant.  He flipped to the next picture, which was a close-up of the heart.  “It appears that part of the heart is missing?” Will said, looking at Jack. 

“Yes, for some reason the killer took a third of the heart with him and left the other two-thirds.  I’m assuming that’s his way of copying the Ripper’s tendency to take a trophy, although I’m not sure why he didn’t just take the whole thing.” 

Will swallowed thickly as the pieces started to fall into place.  The heart represented their family, and one third of the heart was missing.  He flipped to the next picture and felt his heart actually stop for a second as emotions overwhelmed him.  He held the picture up to Jack in silent question. 

“Yes, we found sand and that fishing lure tucked inside the remainder of the heart.  We’re having the sand analyzed, but preliminary results say it would appear to be sand from an island in the Caribbean,” Jack said, frowning and shaking his head.  “But we have no idea what the sand and lure signify.  Do you?” 

Will had never mentioned the Christmas present that Hannibal and Abigail had given him, or that he had taught Abigail how to make a fishing lure.  So there was no way they would know that this was the very first lure that he and Abigail had made together.  The fact that Hannibal and Abigail had taken that lure with them when they fled spoke volumes and made Will’s own heart ache. 

He knew the sand would be from Martinique, the place Hannibal had been planning to take him and Abigail to once they were a family.  But he needed to find out what the symbolism of the white tulip was. 

“Any ideas, Will?” 

Will looked up at Jack, having forgotten he was even there.  He was having trouble focusing. 

“Will, are you all right?” Jack said, frowning.  “You look a bit pale.” 

“Uh, yeah.  Sorry, Jack.  Just seeing this is bringing back memories of the night I came upon that Ripper kill in Wolf Trap.  What’s this carved into the heart?” he asked quickly to avoid any further uncomfortable questions, squinting at the last picture. 

“It’s either the number 8 or an infinity sign, depending on how you look at it.” 

Will nodded.  “And…and who is the victim?” he asked finally, dreading the answer.  Despite what he thought this tableau was trying to say, if Dr. Lecter had killed another doctor for disputing one of his papers, or some other innocent who had merely annoyed him, there wasn’t a hole dark or deep enough that he could hide in that Will would not be able to find and flush him out of. 

“Now there’s the rub,” Jack said, scratching the side of his face.  “The victim has been identified as Conrad Duncan.” 

“Conrad Duncan?” Will said with surprise, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief as the tension drained from his body.  “Wasn’t he the man accused of shooting those people in a convenience store robbery but got off because the only witness disappeared?” 

“The one in the same.  This man was a nasty piece of work, so whoever this copycat is, he actually did us a favor.  It may be a vigilante disguising the kill to look like one of the Ripper’s kills, although I can’t imagine why.  We’re currently looking into anyone who had a grudge against the man, but that’s a pretty long list.” 

Will suppressed a pleased smile of surprise.  Hannibal had killed another predator, not an innocent person. 

“So, any thoughts?” Jack asked. 

“It could be that the killer is disguising his or her kills to look like those of another killer in order to disguise their own M.O.  They chose a killer to copy who was really bold and flamboyant, and it’s clever really because we’re seeing the Ripper’s M.O. and not their own.  It’s possible the props they added don’t mean anything, that they just added them to muddy the waters and waste our time.  It’s a pity I wasn’t able to see the actual crime scene,” he threw in for good measure.  “I don’t have much to go on, but I’ll give it some further thought.” 

“Well, let me know if you come up with anything.  It’s good to have you back, Will.” 

Will left Jack’s office and went straight to the FBI’s library.  He found the book he needed and looked up the significance of the white tulip with shaking hands. 

White tulip:    When relationships are tense, nothing like the purity of whiteness can restore calm and symbolize rebirth and renewal all at once. The white tulip, which blooms in the springtime, is associated with new beginnings.  It denotes that you wish to resume your relationship with someone you love with a clean slate, staring over, as though nothing had ever tainted it to begin with. 

And there it was.  Hannibal’s display was not a challenge, it was an invitation.  He was offering him a second chance to be with him and Abigail, a second chance to be part of their family.  After all this time, Hannibal still wanted him.  It was an overwhelming feeling.  Now the question was, is that what he wanted?  His logical side was telling him to leave things as they were.  Why rock the boat when things were going so well?  But his emotional side was telling him that he needed to see Hannibal again, that maybe once he saw him in the flesh he would be able to get over this lingering infatuation he seemed to have developed for the man and put things behind him once and for all and get on with his life without all the mental baggage he’d been carrying around. 

Martinique had no extradition treaty with the U.S., so Hannibal was meeting him on neutral territory.  Will would have no jurisdiction to arrest him, even if he wanted to. 

Today was the first of the month and the eight carved into the heart would be the date that Hannibal would be expecting him. 

He put in his request for a few days off and booked a flight. 

Chapter Text

At his first sight of Martinique out the plane window, Will was transfixed by the tiny island that was almost swallowed up in the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.  As the plane made its decent toward the Aimé Césaire International Airport, the white sand beaches outlining the island were so white they seemed to shimmer.  Will’s eyes darted from the exotic palm trees to the lush forested hills to the colorful towns scattered throughout the island with fascination.  It was just so unlike anything he had ever seen before. 

While packing for the trip it had occurred to him that he had never actually taken a vacation before.  Oh, when he was working for the Wolf Trap Police Department he had taken a day off here and there and gone fishing, but he had never taken an entire week off and actually gone somewhere new, and the feeling was unexpectedly exciting. 

Exiting the plane with his carry-on and wondering what to do next since Hannibal and Abigail were nowhere to be seen, he was pleasantly surprised to see a driver holding a placard with his name on it waiting to pick him up, even though he hadn’t arranged for one.  The driver drove him to a beautiful hotel sitting right on the beach, then smiled at him, handed him a key, and told him he was already checked in and to have a pleasant stay.   

After stopping at the front desk and asking if there was a Hannibal Lecter registered at the hotel (which unsurprisingly there was not), he had dropped off his single bag in a luxurious room, kicked off his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, and stepped out of his balcony doors right onto the beach.  He knew that Hannibal would make himself known when he was ready.  Until then there was no reason why he should stay cooped up in his room when there was so much to see.  And so here he was, strolling along the beach of one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen feeling like he had stepped into paradise. 

He stopped for a moment and flexed his toes, moaning in delight at the feel of powder soft sand squishing between his toes.  Raising his face to the sky with his arms held out to the sides, he just stood there and reveled in the feeling of being bathed in the sun’s sultry rays.  It occurred to him then that this was strangely reminiscent of the invitation Hannibal had left him with the victim’s face upturned toward the sun.  Will knew in that moment that this was exactly what Hannibal had wanted him to experience.  It seemed kind of strange to think that he had Hannibal to thank for him taking his first ever vacation, but then again Hannibal did have a way of forcing him out of his comfort zone and into trying new things, both good and bad. 

Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal.  What was he going to do about Hannibal?  His logical side was berating him for even being here in the first place.  As an FBI agent, his feelings regarding Hannibal should have been crystal clear and he should have just ignored that unorthodox invitation and left things as they were.  And yet, here he was.  However, he did need to make a decision about Hannibal once and for all and stick with it this time.  He thought he had made his choice that day with Dr. Gideon when he had put aside his feelings and decided to escape.  Apparently not because here he was feeling just as torn and conflicted about Hannibal today as he had on that day.  The problem was, despite all the negative things that Hannibal had done, some positive had come out of it as well.  Hannibal had made him stronger and given him a sense of worth and confidence that he had been lacking.  He had also given him a sense of belonging and family that he hadn’t experienced since he was a small child.  And he believed that he in return had helped Hannibal come to terms with the loss of his family.  It’s like they had helped each other heal old wounds that had been festering down deep inside for far too long.   

Still, the whole thing was crazy and he still couldn’t believe that he had decided to come here.  Shaking his head, he continued down the beach deep in thought.  Hannibal’s invitation had made it clear that even after all the time that had passed and even after Will had betrayed him and run off that he still wanted him.  It was hard not to be flattered by that.  And although Will should not even be considering being in a relationship with someone who had killed, didn’t that make him a hypocrite?  Had he not himself killed?  Even excluding the people that Hannibal manipulated him into killing, he had still killed both his father and Henry Madsen.   

The fact that he worked for the FBI could most definitely be problematic, but right now Jack and the FBI felt like they were a million miles away and seemed like the least of his concerns.  It was so freeing knowing that Jack couldn’t just call him day or night and demand that the turn up at a crime scene.   Will vowed then and there that no matter what happened between him and Hannibal today that he would start taking yearly vacations and go somewhere.  He had to admit though that it would be nicer to be enjoying this beautiful island with someone he cared for.  Vacations were also things that families did together.  He realized then that this was one of the reasons why Hannibal had chosen this location to meet.  He had learned that everything Hannibal did was calculated, strategic and had purpose behind it.  It’s funny how clearly Will could see his manipulations now. 

Will wasn’t sure how this meeting was going to go, or what he even expected or wanted to happen.  He didn’t think he would know until he actually saw Hannibal.  How he felt when he saw him again would decide how things proceeded.  At that point he would either indicate to Hannibal that he was open to some type of a relationship, or he would tell Hannibal unequivocally never to contact him again or risk being arrested.  If the latter were the case, things could end up going south very quickly and then the vacation would be over with.  But he hoped not because he was already in love with this place.   

Sighing, we went back to sightseeing.  Looking out at the boats on the ocean, he wondered if he might be able to do a little fishing while he was here.  He had never fished on an ocean before.  He remembered as he’d instructed Abigail how to make a lure that he’d promised to teach her how to fish, and this could be the perfect opportunity to fulfill that promise.  But there he went getting ahead of himself. 

Looking around, he saw people sunbathing or swimming, children building sand castles.  Up ahead he saw a lively game of volleyball in progress.  He smiled as he watched seagulls vying for food as they fished for small crabs at the waterline, running back and forth as they dodged incoming waves while other gulls circled overhead making their haunting seagull cries.  He was so distracted by all the sights and sounds and smells that he nearly walked right past them. 

“Papa?  Papa!” Abigail cried, running up to him and literally throwing herself into his arms.  Will wasn’t use to uninhibited demonstrations of affection, but he remembered that Abigail had always been a hugger so he forced his body to relax and hugged her back.  The fact that she still called him papa after all this time had him instantly choking up. 

He held her at arm’s length then and took a good look at her.  “You can’t be Abigail.  Abigail is a child and you’re a grown woman,” he said, noticing how much she had changed and feeling a touch of sadness that he had missed it.  Her hair was back to its natural auburn color, and she wore it in a long glossy sheet halfway down her back.  She was tanned and radiated good health. 

He spotted Hannibal over her shoulder then, looking totally relaxed in a loose-fitting white gauzy short-sleeve shirt and beige shorts.  His skin was bronzed and his hair glistened with sun-kissed highlights.  He was standing back and watching them with an expression on his face that Will could only describe as pleased.  As soon as Will laid eyes on him, any remaining doubts about being here were swept away with the ocean tide.  His mouth had gone dry and his heart was trying to pound its way out of his chest at the mere sight of him. 

“Hello, Will,” Hannibal said, speaking first. 

“Hello, Hannibal,” Will said back.  He had wondered what he would say to Hannibal when he first saw him.  This initial meeting after not having seen each other for so long and considering the way they had parted could most definitely be a bit awkward, the conversation stilted.  But he suddenly knew exactly what to say to break the ice.  “I have a question for you, Hannibal.” 

“Oh?” Hannibal replied curiously, smiling and cocking his head in a way that was both familiar and endearing.  “And what would that be?” 

“Why in the world would you let Abigail go out in public like this?  I mean, what is she even wearing?” he asked, looking scandalized as he eyed the two strips of cobalt blue material that barely covered her private areas. 

“Apparently it is called a bikini, and quote ‘all the girls are wearing them’,” Hannibal said wryly.  “Believe me when I say that we have already had this conversation.  But as Abigail is now 18, she needs to be free to make her own choices.” 

“Don’t be such a fuddy-duddy, papa,” Abigail replied sassily, tossing her long hair over her shoulder.  “Having a beautiful, healthy body is nothing to be ashamed of.”    

“You’re right, having a beautiful body is nothing to be ashamed of,” Will said.  “I just don’t think you should be showing off that much of it outside of a marriage bed.” 

“You’re such a square,” Abigail said, rolling her eyes dramatically in typical teenage fashion. 

“Oh, then I suppose it would be all right with you if I paraded down the beach wearing nothing but a G-string, demonstrating that I also have nothing to be ashamed of,” Will countered, cocking a defiant eyebrow at her. 

“Oh my god, you wouldn’t?!” Abigail said, looking at him with real horror. 

“I just might if you keep wearing that,” he replied. 

Hannibal chuckled and stepped up to Will then and hugged him.  “I’m the psychiatrist here, but you seem to have a better handle on child psychology,” he said, holding him tightly like he didn’t want to let go. 

After a second Will found himself sighing and melting against him.  It’s funny how perfectly they fit together.  He had to admit he had missed being held like this.  And why did Hannibal always smell so damn good? 

“Fucking queers.” 

All three of them looked over with surprise at a man who had just walked past them. 

“Get a room, homos,” the man added, shooting them a look of contempt over his shoulder. 

Will felt Hannibal’s muscles tense, but he made no attempt to go after the man. 

“You’re showing a remarkable amount of restraint,” Will commented, looking at Hannibal. 

“That man was terribly rude,” Hannibal said stiffly, “but someone convinced me that rudeness is not a good reason to kill a person, so I have been practicing restraint.  I will admit that it has not always been easy.” 

“Father’s been trying to change to please you,” Abigail chimed in. 

Will was most definitely pleased by this.  If he had to pick one thing that was the biggest argument against being with Hannibal, that would have been it.  So to learn that Hannibal had already taken it upon himself to change in order to please him meant a great deal.  “You haven’t changed totally though, have you?” Will said.  “While most people send flowers in a vase with a card when they want to reconcile, you sent me flowers in a dead predator with your message carved into his heart.”   

“I had hoped that my eliminating another predator would be perceived as a gift.” 

“Well, if you had killed an innocent person, we most definitely would not be standing here talking right now,” Will said.  He wanted to make sure that Hannibal knew exactly where things stood if there was any chance for….whatever this was to work out.  “I was frankly surprised to get your invitation at all after so much time had passed.  I thought for sure that you and Abigail had forgotten about me and moved on with your lives.” 

“We could never forget about you, Will.  You are a part of us.  I just wanted to give you some time away from us to be able to think clearly, and I then waited for what I perceived to be the right moment to approach you—the moment when I felt you would be more open to finally joining us.  I have been following your career closely in Freddie Lounds’ articles, and when I read about Henry Madsen, that’s the sign I had been waiting for. 

“Henry Madsen?  You mean the child killer who slipped and fell to his death while I was pursuing him?” 

“Slipped?” Hannibal said, smiling and raising an eyebrow.  “I know better, Will.  I may be the only person who truly does know and understand you.” 

Will realized then that that was probably true.  No one in the FBI could understand how dark his thoughts could get when dealing with some of these killers.  It was as if he became tainted by the criminals he tracked down, and that taint did not go away once they were caught.  And who could he talk openly with about these occasional darker tendencies he had?  Jack?  Dr. Chilton?  No, Hannibal was the only one who would not only understand him, but wouldn’t judge him for it.  “Well, perhaps I did help him a bit,” Will admitted.  “The thought of someone who enjoyed killing children drawing one more breath was just inconceivable to me.  Someone that vile, that evil, who had destroyed so many lives had no right spending one more second among the living.  Which actually brings me to an interesting fact about that very rude man who just passed us.” 

“Oh?  And what fact would that be?” Hannibal asked, frowning as he looked down the beach at the man growing smaller the distance, and Will could see the effort he was making even now to restrain himself. 

“As it so happens, I recognize him.  His name is Nicholas Ryan and he’s currently being sought by the FBI on 23 counts of swindling seniors out of their life’s savings.  When the FBI was about to close in on him, he suddenly disappeared with their money.  It would appear that this is where he ended up.” 

“So…” Hannibal said cautiously, “would you agree then that a man who preys on the elderly has no right spending one more second among the living?” he asked, using Will’s own words and searching his eyes hopefully. 

“You know,” Will said, smiling and putting his hands on Hannibal’s shoulders, you taking on other predators makes you kind of like a super hero.  It’s actually kinda hot.” 

Hannibal started to move after the man, but Will held him back.  “If you start following him now, he’ll see you and get spooked.  Let Abby track him,” he said, looking over at the girl, who had been listening in on their conversation intently.  “She can follow him and find out where he’s staying and if he’s rooming with anyone, and then you can take care of that particular problem later on tonight.” 

“Perhaps we can take care of it together?” Hannibal asked tentatively, searching Will’s eyes.   

“Perhaps.  But no Ripper tableau.  I certainly don’t need the FBI getting wind of anything like that.  Jack is already suspicious about that kill you dropped in our back yard.  He’s a smart man and I’m not sure he fully bought into the copycat theory.  Mr. Ryan will just disappear, like tourists do.  And definitely no organ removal.  While I’m here on this island I want to eat fresh seafood, not whatever ‘catch of the day’ you might have squirrelled away somewhere.  Understand right now that I am not turning cannibal just to please you.” 

“Whatever you say,” Hannibal replied, smiling, because if Will was negotiating with him, that meant he had already made the decision to stay with him. 

Hannibal felt lighter than he had in a long time.  He had to admit that he had been plagued with doubt as to whether Will would show up or not, and that uncertainty was something he was not at all used to.  It’s just that Will could be so unpredictable, which was unfortunately part of what also made him also so appealing.  He had known that In order to keep Will that some compromises would have to be made, and he was willing to try in order to please him.  He actually found killing other predators to be surprisingly satisfying.  They were more challenging prey because they were less fearful, confident in their misconception that they are the biggest, baddest thing out there, and it was satisfying to see the look of shock upon their faces as they realized the error of that thinking.  That lack of fear until the very end also meant that the meat wasn’t infused with that bitter taste that prolonged fear caused. 

Unable to hold off a second longer, Hannibal kissed Will then, his hands finding their way into his hair, tightening his grip on those curls of his and angling Will‘s face so that he could deepen the kiss.  He was glad Will hadn‘t started wearing his hair short because, god, how he loved the feel of those silky curls.  He could sit for hours just touching his hair.  They broke apart, both flushed and panting slightly, recognizing that this was neither the time nor the place.  As they looked over at Abigail, she was giving them that look that kids got when they realized their parents do get intimate, and she was looking totally embarrssed by their public display. 

Will smiled at her and said “Go,“ pointing his chin down the beach toward the soon to be deceased Nicholas Ryan, and Abigail nodded and headed after him.  Will and Hannibal continued walking down the beach side by side.    

“So, what have you and Abigail been up to the last 18 months while I‘ve been fighting crime and making the world a safer place?” Will asked, trying to get his mind off that scorching kiss.   

“Abigail and I went to Italy for a few months where I changed my name to Roman Fell.  When the newspapers proclaimed with certainty that the Chesapeake Ripper was dead and I was certain that you weren‘t going to pursue things further in an attempt to convince them otherwise, we moved back to Baltimore.  I studied for a degree in psychiatry,and received it fairly quickly since I already had a medical degree under my belt, and I now have my own private practice in Baltimore.  Abigail is enrolled at Johns Hopkins and is excelling in her pre-med studies.” 

Will nodded.  “Not surprising.” 

“We have been relatively happy but have both continued to feel that a very crucial part of our lives was missing.  You‘ve made us both very happy by coming here today, Will.  I‘m not sure what I would have done if you hadn‘t shown up, ” he said, taking Will‘s hand and squeezing it affectionately.  “Now, tell me what you have been up to—besides fighting crime, that is?  Have you...been seeing anyone?” he asked casually, but Will heard the underlying tension in his voice that he was trying to hide.   

“No, I‘m not seeing anyone.  Believe it or not, I moved back into my old house in Wolf Trap.” 

“Why in the world would you do that?” Hannibal asked with genuine surprise.   

“I know it seems strange, but sometimes we miss things, even when we know they’re not exactly good for us,” he said, looking at Hannibal meaningfully.  “I also have two dogs now.  Not watchdogs—these are the lovable mutt types that sleep on the furniture and leave hair everywhere.”  Will laughed at Hannibal’s expression. 

“Clearly there are things that we need to work out if you are open to continuing this,” Hannibal said cautiously. 

“As much as I was hoping that seeing you again would help me walk away and forget about you, it is proving to have the opposite effect,” Will said.  “You would know better, but I believe a noted psychologist by the name of Carl Jung said, ‘What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size,’ and that would appear to be true.  I have resisted my feelings for so long, and it’s just made me miserable.  So maybe it’s time I stop resisting and just go with the flow and see where it takes me.  If you’re willing to meet me half way on certain things and we take it slow—and I’m talking baby steps here—maybe, just maybe we can find a way to make this work.  I have no desire to live in Baltimore, but I have no problem spending weekends there.  I’d be nice if you and Abigail came out to Wolf Trap from time to time.  I could teach you both to fish.  We can try and make this work,” Will said.  “But so help me, Hannibal,” Will warned, “if the body of a single innocent should ever turn up with your signature on it, I will stop being the object of your affections and become your worst nightmare:  that is, a man with a gun and a badge who knows how you think and won’t underestimate you.”  Will sighed, “I daresay Jack is not going to be happy with me when I’m not able to solve this ‘copycat killer’ case.” 

“Speaking of Jack,” Hannibal said casually, “he contacted me a few days ago.” 

Will stopped dead in his tracks and Hannibal chuckled at his stunned expression.  “He contacted me in a professional capacity,” Hannibal clarified.  “A colleague of mine, Alana Bloom, recommended me to Jack.  Apparently Jack has an agent that he wants me to speak to and evaluate.  It’s another psychiatrist’s opinion that this agent is dealing with the aftermath of a past trauma that may be affecting his job, and Jack wants a second opinion on the matter to make sure that this agent is stable enough to perform his job.  I told him I would be happy to evaluate this agent.” 

Will groaned.  “That must be Dr. Chilton.  He’s always trying to get me to talk to him and to open up about my time spent with the Chesapeake Ripper, but I had no idea he was expressing concerns to Jack.” 

“This could not be more perfect though,” Hannibal said, “because it will provide a way for us to publicly meet and eventually start an open relationship.  Fate has once again interceded on our behalf.” 

“So it would seem,” Will said, shaking his head at how Fate did seem to keep sticking its nose in their business.  After a few seconds of walking in companiable silence Will said, “I have to ask you, Hannibal...” 

“Please, call me Roman.  You‘ll need to get used to calling me that name now as the name Hannibal Lecter will raise red flags with your FBI associates.” 

“Is Hannibal Lecter even your real name?“ 

“It is, but very few people living are aware of that fact.“ 

Will nodded.  “Roman then, if you knew that I was going to try and escape after all your careful work and planning, why did you let me go?”  Will needed to hear the reason for himself. 

“A rather droll American novelist by the name of Richard Bach once wrote, ‘If you love someone, set them free.  If they come back they're yours; if they don't they never were.’  As I came to care for you, I wanted our relationship to be on an equal footing and for you to choose to stay with me of your own free will, but as long as you felt you were my prisoner or under my influence, you were never going to accept the fact that you did have feelings for me.  So I had to let you go to allow you time to examine your feelings away from me and without feeling you were being influenced by me, but I needed to do it in such a way that I protected both Abigail and myself, and it was my sincere hope that your feelings for us were at least strong enough at that time that you wouldn’t protest too strongly to Dr. Gideon being thought the Ripper.  Believe me when I say that leaving without you was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  But I needed you to want to be with me.  I needed to know if you could want me as much as I wanted you.” 

Will sighed.  Hannibal had basically just admitted that he loved him, and although Will wasn’t in a mindset to say it back yet, it did validate to him that he made the right choice coming here.  Love often came from the most unexpected places.  “I was so confused and angry at first when I realized that you had tricked me, but then when Jack first told me the Chesapeake Ripper was dead without me knowing that it was Dr. Gideon, I think that’s when it first struck me how much I did care.  I never want to feel that devastated again.” 

Hannibal smiled.  He had always considered himself a patient man, ruled by his head, not his heart.  But that was before he had met Will.  It had taken almost two years for Will to finally accept the fact that they belonged together, and those two years had severely stretched his patience to the breaking point.  But now it appeared that his patience had paid off. 

“Oh, and Roman?” Will said sweetly. 

“Yes, darling?” 

“If you ever, and I mean ever, cut off another piece of Abigail like you did her ear, I guarantee that you will sorely regret it.” 

“I understand,” Hannibal replied, trying his best to look contrite, even as his heart soared.  Oh, how he had missed his stubborn, sassy Will. 

~~~⊰X⊱~~~

When Abigail returned from following Nicholas Ryan, Hannibal took his family out to lunch and Will happily ate fresh seafood while listening to Abigail chat away about Italy and school and this boy she was interested in, and anything else she could think of. 

Then later on that night Will went along with Hannibal and watched as he showed Nicholas Ryan the error of his ways.  Abigail had wanted to come along too, but Will had put his foot down.  It was his hope that Abigail would turn out normal and not follow in Hannibal’s footsteps.  Will had to admit that watching Hannibal in action against another predator was….stimulating. 

Before Hannibal took Nicholas Ryan’s life, Will asked Hannibal politely if he would please find out what Mr. Ryan had done with the money he had swindled from all those seniors, which Hannibal had happily and most effectively done.  Will would take that information and make sure that Jack received it anonymously, and although he knew it wouldn’t be easy, it was his hope that Jack would be able to recover the money and return it to the victims. 

Then afterwards, while the excitement of watching Hannibal had Will’s blood running hot, he took Hannibal back to his room where they dropped all pretenses.  Frantically ripping at each other’s clothes, all the pain, the loneliness, the sorrow and longing that had been bottled up for nearly two years erupted in a display of pent-up passion that was primal, raw and intense as they joined in mind, body and spirit, and the next day both would bear the marks of that explosive first encounter.  Will wondered if this was why his flings had always fallen so short.  Having people consider him a quote ‘pretty boy,’ they tended to treat him like he needed to be handled gently in the bedroom.  Gentle treatment in the bedroom bored him.  Hannibal had opened a door and shown him what it felt like to totally let go, to be uninhibited and free and able to unleash his baser side, and it felt good to be with someone who didn’t hold back, who gave as good as he got and who reveled in the savagery every bit as much as he did. 

When they made love a second time, they did it in the shower, taking it slower and getting reacquainted with each other’s bodies.  Then later on as they lay wrapped in each other’s arms they were each lost in their own thoughts. 

Will wondered if there was any way this could have been avoided.  As much as he had resisted it, it did seem like that fickle bitch Fate kept trying to throw them together.  Fate certainly had a twisted sense of humor pairing a cop with a killer.  On the other hand, wasn’t it a common saying that opposites attracted? 

Hannibal was thinking that nothing would ever separate Will from him again.  He hadn’t felt this happy since before his sister died.  Will seemed to be a soothing balm to the blistering pain that had been created by Mischa’s death, and he needed him in his life like he needed the air to breathe. 

Someone coined a phrase ‘you can’t have everything’ but Hannibal thought that that person was a fool because they obviously set limits on how far they would go to get what they wanted.  Hannibal’s thought was that if you wanted something bad enough, there should be no limits to what you are willing to do to achieve it.  He’d had to kill, kidnap, imprison, drug and manipulate, but in the end he now had everything he wanted, and woe be to anyone who tried to get between him and what was his.  As he tightened his possessive hold on Will he vowed that anyone who tried would quickly find out that the day might belong to them, but the night belonged to the Ripper. 

~ The End ~