Summary

Will Graham: principal oboist of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra, psychiatric patient, murderer.

Chapter 1

The guard in the security booth nods absently at him as Will buzzes himself in. The stage entrance is quiet; it’s too early for Will to accidentally run into any orchestra colleagues, but late enough that the stagehands are finished setting up for the afternoon’s rehearsal.

Will glances at the clock at the end of the hallway entrance to the backstage area. He has two hours before the official beginning of the service, which means probably an hour of having the stage all to himself before the harpist, timpanist, and the more fastidious of his woodwind colleagues start arriving. It’s enough time to choose a reed, warm up, and run through all of the difficult passages of the program three times. Less than three, he won’t feel prepared; more than three drifts into obsessive territory that decreases your chances of success instead of increasing them.

(You, obsessive? He recalls Ben saying sarcastically, slipping his flute onto its peg and leaning back in his chair. Can’t imagine that. Will had very nearly allowed himself to shoot back I could teach you the trick of it, if you want– it starts with buying a metronome and a tuner, and actually using them while you practice, but he’d decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort.)

Fall is beginning to turn to winter, and the heater is broken in Will’s car; he’d worn a jacket for the drive between Wolf Trap and Baltimore, and wrapped his oboe case in a parka stuffed with hand warmer packets on the seat beside him. He peels off his own jacket and puts the ungainly package containing the delicate instrument down on one of the long tables lining the backstage area. It’s the same spot backstage that he’s deposited his belongings every rehearsal and performance since his first with the orchestra, nearly ten years ago; although there are no official assigned spots, everyone knows their place. Will had known it since his first day, when the concertmaster had patted him on the shoulder and murmured you’re going to want to put your shit right there, that’s where your predecessor was. Will had been grateful for the direction, and distinctly less grateful for the way the man’s hand had then travelled down his back and over his ass. He’d tried to stay away from him after that, though there’s only so far that the principal oboist of an orchestra can avoid the concertmaster without skipping out on necessary artistic conversations.

He breathes a sigh of relief when the case is comfortably room temperature upon unwrapping. Last winter, an unusually cold one in Virginia and Maryland, he’d ended up having to repair cracks in the oboe three separate times thanks to his practice spot on the main floor of the drafty Wolf Trap house and the hard, brittle grenadilla wood of the instrument. This year he’s filled the place up with even more space heaters than he needs to keep the dogs happy, as well as a large, expensive humidifier. It seems to have worked, so far: no cracks. At least, before the thing with the car heater. He’ll need to fix it, for the oboe’s sake if not for his own.

Will himself would be entirely happy to simply bundle up for the daily drive; it seems ostentatious to work on the heating or air conditioning for a car, when he’d spent his entire childhood being trundled around in the backseat of a vehicle where both had broken and never been fixed. Silly thing to spend money on, Willy, Will Sr. had grumbled the one time Will had broached the subject after watching his dad wipe frost off the inside of the windshield with his hand. It’s a damn car, not a palace. Supposed to get you places, not make you feel good. It’s hard to argue with that logic, even now that Will has a job with tenure and a large enough paycheque to send some home to Dad every month. But the oboe is liable to crack if it’s not fixed, and the dogs will shiver pitifully on their way to vet appointments in the city, and that makes it worth the effort.

Will leaves the jackets on the table backstage, makes a trip into the dressing room to fill an ancient 35mm film canister with water to soak his reeds in, then slings the strap of the oboe case over his shoulder and heads for the stage. The orchestra management has been trying for years to prevent musicians from bringing their instrument cases onstage for concerts; it looks messy from the audience, apparently. But even they are aware that such a request is a lost cause when it comes to the wind section, who will cheerfully ignore it and continue bringing their bags of reeds, knives, eyeglass screwdrivers, cigarette paper, pliers, swabs, feathers, sandpaper, and emergency backup duplicates of all of the above onstage. Will Graham, the principal oboist sitting onstage inspecting his reeds through a pair of magnifying eyeglasses two hours before each service, is of course a prime offender when it comes to onstage clutter, but at least he’s hardly the only one.

The stage lights are on at performance setting for the rehearsal, which Will likes; if he’s going to be blinded during the concert, he’d prefer to rehearse that way, too. The house lights are turned up a little, though, casting soft a soft yellow glow over the grey upholstery of the seats and the concrete balconies that jut out from the sides of the theatre space. It’s always distracting for Will, looking out into the hall from the stage and feeling the echoes of the thousands of human minds crammed into the space nearly every night. Proximity to others is always difficult for him, but at least once the house lights go down for a show the audience is cast into shadow deep enough for them to nearly fade away. Once the concert starts, Will is left very nearly alone; he’s still on stage with nearly a hundred other musicians, of course, but at least they can’t try to talk to him during the concert.

So perhaps it’s because of the house lights, that echo of teeming humanity that always has Will cursing the porous and poorly-protected boundaries between himself and the outside world, that are to blame for the fact that Will is nearly at his seat before he realizes that for once he hasn’t gotten here first; Ben is here.

Benjamin Raspail, principal flutist of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra and principal offender on every out-of-tune woodwind chord and rhythmically wonky solo in the orchestra for the past thirty years, is slumped in his seat, third from the right on the first riser. He’s dressed formally, as if this is the concert and not a rehearsal: tuxedo shirt, black tie, tails. There is a splotch of red in the centre of the pressed white shirt, and it spreads slowly as Will watches, expanding outwards and soaking more of the expensive fabric. The blood runs down his body and drips from the tips of his jacket’s tails onto the painted black wood of the risers. They are, Will sees, the tiniest bit uneven: the blood drains off to the left, towards Will’s chair.

There is a ticking noise, muffled but noticeable in the echoing emptiness of the hall. It could be a bomb, Will thinks, but the thought seems to come from very far away, and it can’t prevent his body from walking towards his former colleague as if in a trance. He puts his oboe case on his own seat. Then he reaches out, undoes the bow tie– a real one, he notes distantly, when he had only ever seen Ben wearing tacky clip-on versions– and unbuttons the top four buttons of the flutist’s blood-soaked shirt.

There is a metronome lodged in the space in Ben’s chest where his heart used to be. It ticks away, sixty beats a minute in 4/4 time, steady and reliable the way that Ben never was.

Will blinks at it, then laughs. It is, he thinks, a very good joke, which is the last coherent thought he has for a very long time.

Chapter 2

Chapter Notes

Things happen very quickly, after finding the body. Or at least, it seems that way to Will. The officer sitting across from him in the Baltimore PD’s least intimidating and most tastefully appointed interview room– this is, he gathers, where they bring the people who are truly being interviewed, in an accurate and not a euphemistic sense– seems to feel differently.

“There’s no reason for this to be difficult,” she’s saying, and her voice is a decent attempt to be gentle that would fool anyone but Will. He wishes he could be fooled by it, but the current of frustration underneath is too obvious to him. It grates against his skin. He can see her too clearly, returning to her neat one-bedroom apartment and lying awake at night wondering what she’d done wrong that she couldn’t get what she needed from the dazed-seeming oboist from the symphony. Her badge identifies her as a Sergeant Park, and Will wonders if he was a prime assignment, or one nobody else would take.

“Mr. Graham,” Sergeant Park says, “ I understand you’ve had a shock, and we both want this to go as quickly as possible so you can go home. I just need to you explain what happened in between your finding the body and contacting security. You’re not a suspect, we’re just trying to understand.”

Will’s lips feel dry. There’s a glass of water in front of him on the table, but it feels like somehow the wrong moment to take a drink from it, like sucking water out of your reed during a colleague’s delicate solo. Sergeant Park is looking at him expectantly.

Trying to understand. Will’s body still buzzes with the energy of the crime scene that had swiftly assembled itself on the stage, merely a few minutes after he had calmly walked back to the security booth and explained that his cell phone was out of battery as he didn’t usually use it, and he would need to borrow the office’s phone to make a call to the orchestra personnel manager to procure another flutist for the day’s rehearsal, as the usual one was dead. The Baltimore PD, however, had nixed the rehearsal and subsequent concert entirely, as apparently they needed more time to stand around on the stage whispering do you think it’s him? in awed tones to each other. They weren’t looking at Will as they said it, so Will actually believes Park when she says he isn’t a suspect.

It’s merely the matter of the forty-five minutes that elapsed in between his entry to the building and his return to the security desk that requires accounting for.

It’s not that Will doesn’t remember the time passing, and more that the entire concept of time seems to have become warped, twisting and folding in on itself. He remembers driving in to work in his freezing car, his fingers tapping out Tombeau de Couperin on the steering wheel, a nervous habit that has nothing to do with actually practising Tombeau. He remembers entering the hall, getting reed water from the dressing room, entering the stage from the left wing, and finding Ben’s lifeless body dripping with blood and ticking away from the chest.

He also remembers, as if it had really happened, slicing through the skin of Ben’s chest with a scalpel. He remembers the flutist’s screams as Will approached him with the bone saw, and the surprisingly low-pitched whine of the instrument slicing through his sternum. He remembers removing the heart and then considering, hands slipping through the dead man’s abdomen like running your fingers over options on a grocery store shelf. He remembers placing the metronome– a Korg TM-40, dual digital tuner and metronome, the sort of thing a student would buy for $20– inside of him, sewing him up around it, dressing him carefully as if for a concert. He remembers feeling pleased with his own design, pleased enough that the artistic statement would still be worthwhile if nobody else understood the joke, but perhaps a little bit hopeful that it would land.

Presumably, remembering all that– no, not remembering, something else that isn’t remembering but isn’t all that far off– is what Will had been doing during the forty-five minutes that he stood on stage, alone with Ben’s ticking body echoing someone else’s memories into Will’s mind. He’s not sure how to explain that to the Sergeant, and when his mind returns to the present, he looks up across the table to realize she is no longer there.

She’s in the doorway of the interrogation room, talking quietly with a man who’s standing just outside. Will can see his head trying to peer around hers, close-cropped greying hair and a low, quick voice that manages to sound angry even without Will hearing the words he’s saying. He’s wearing a suit, not a uniform, which seems like bad news for Will.

Sergeant Park glances back at him, and this time her gaze is both frustrated and worried. Will doesn’t look away quickly enough to avoid meeting her eyes for a moment, which seems to be some sort of tipping point; she can no longer avoid whatever’s coming. “Mr. Graham,” she says gently, “This is Jack Crawford of the FBI. He’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Will considers saying no, thank you and getting up to leave, just to see what would happen, but decides he probably doesn’t want to know. Sergeant Park steps aside to let Crawford in, then steps out of the room and closes the door.

Crawford takes the seat across from Will and seems to take him in carefully. Will has his oboe case clutched on his lap– a habit ingrained from too many years of a shitty student-model oboe being his only possession of any value– and his two jackets, one for himself and one for the instrument, both piled on the floor beside him. He’s wearing jeans and a plaid button-down, which Will is aware disconcerts people: for some reason, everyone expects classical musicians to dress like hedge fund managers, not welders. Which is ridiculous; Will remembers his dad shuffling through the syllabus for Will’s music degree and shrugging, seems like a trade school to me. You learn to do one thing with your hands and do it well, no hippy-dippy shit. ‘Sfine with me if you’ve got the loans for it.

Crawford extends his hand. Will feels no desire to shake it, and doesn’t see any reason in particular why he should, so he doesn’t. His glasses slip down his nose minutely as he stares at the outstretched hand wondering how long Crawford will hold it there before getting the message. Incredibly, Crawford leans in instead, and pushes the bridge of the glasses up Will’s nose. Will flinches away.

“Do you know why I’m hear to speak with you, Will?” Crawford asks, and despite having no particular attachment to the formality of Sergeant Park’s Mr. Graham, Crawford’s casual assumption of intimacy still rankles. Worse, it works; Will has no defences against the emotions and personalities of other people, and Crawford is a Personality if ever Will’s met one.

He feels a sudden stab of gratitude for his own father, who’d reacted to Will’s teenage proclamation that he was going to join the police force with You, Willy, a cop? You’re too delicate for that, son. Perhaps in another universe that would have spurred Will on all the more in attempt to prove him wrong, but the band teacher at the school he’d managed to actually finish up the school year at had reacted to Will’s news that he was moving away for his dad’s work by pressing the oboe case containing the school’s one decent oboe into his hands and saying, you should have this, nobody else is going to put in the effort on it like you have. She’d probably gotten in trouble, or maybe even put up the money to replace it herself– even a student model oboe runs a few thousand dollars– but Will hadn’t thought about that at the time, just stammered out a thank-you and clutched the thing to his chest like a child. So his dad’s discouragement from a career in law enforcement had stuck, and Will had turned instead to the only other thing, besides having truly freaky brain, that he could do and other people couldn’t. Being able to play the oboe pretty well didn’t gain you a ton of social capital in high school, true, but at least he knew he could walk into the band classroom of any new school he ended up at and have a place. He even managed to get into a couple youth orchestras when they ended up in bigger cities, and that came with a whole new cadre of oddball friends, at least until he inevitably moved away before the final concert. Still, it was something. It was enough.

Will looks at Crawford across the table, and imagines he’s the kind of person he probably would have ended up working for, if it weren’t for that illicit gift of the plastic Lorée from the kindly band teacher. Someone who would see Will as a tool in his toolbox, and use him accordingly. Not that playing in an orchestra is much different, of course, but at least the stakes are clear going in.

(For a moment, just after Crawford says Do you know why I’m here to speak with you, Will, his face warps and transforms until Will is staring into the pale, severe face of the Professor. His stomach twists, Will blinks, and Crawford is back.)

“No,” says Will, because it’s true– he knows why he’s being interrogated, probably something to do with his reaction to his dead colleague being to stare at him for nearly an hour instead of screaming, vomiting, or some more socially acceptable response– but he’s not entirely sure why the FBI is taking an interest, and he doesn’t particularly want to know.

Apparently he’s going to be told anyway. Crawford pulls a briefcase onto his lap, and pulls out a series of photos, which he lays out on the table in front of him. They’re all photos of murder victims, and when Will leans in to look at them despite himself, the sense of déjà vu is almost eerie.

There’s nothing superficially similar about any of the photos to the scene Will had walked in on at the hall. There are dead bodies of all races and genders, some clothed, some naked. Some are outdoors, some inside; one appears to be in a church pew, and there is a second photo beside it of a tongue holding open a page in the Bible like a bookmark. There’s no reason for the photos to remind him of anything: before this morning, Will had never seen a dead body besides that of an aunt, his dad’s sister whom he’d never even met before her funeral. But the feeling of looking at them is akin to the strange visceral pleasure of tuning a chord; listening to the beats generated by out-of-tune soundwaves crashing together get slower and slower until you finally slide into place and they disappear entirely. It feels right. When you’re in tune, really in tune, you don’t need to question it, you just feel it. Will just feels, now, what Crawford is telling him.

Well, that at least explains why the FBI is involved. “A serial killer,” Will says.

“We think that you discovered a Chesapeake Ripper murder, Will,” says Crawford. “Now, I want to impress upon you just how important it is that you provide any information or recollection that you might have of your morning to Sergeant Park or I. The Chesapeake Ripper traditionally kills in groups of three, and this is his first victim in a while. We don’t know how he chooses his targets, but clearly your colleague Mr. Raspail drew his attention. We’re just trying to protect you. Do you understand?”

Will tries, and nearly succeeds, to hold back his snort of laughter. Laughing at the FBI when you’re being interrogated following discovering a grisly murder is probably a terrible idea, but he can’t help it: he can still feel the Ben’s heart beating in his hands like he’d pulled it out himself, and the idea that whoever had done that– someone called the Chesapeake Ripper, apparently– would kill Will next is so incongruent that he can barely believe an actual FBI officer came up with it. “I already use a metronome,” Will says, and Crawford’s brows knit together in confusion, as if he really can’t feel the disdain dripping off of the killer like oil.

Crawford shakes his head, apparently deciding that Will is either too shaken or too stupid to be of any use, and sweeps up the photos to return to his briefcase. “Well, if you remember anything further, please don’t hesitate to call me,” he says in a clipped tone like reciting from a textbook, and leaves a card with his name and phone number on the desk in front of Will.

Crawford leaves, and Park comes back a few minutes later. She looks defeated. “Well, you’re definitely on an FBI watchlist, but you’re free to go,” she says.

“Thanks,” Will remembers to say, because none of this is her fault. She’s probably right about the watchlist, too, which is an odd thought to consider when it’s real, and not just people joking about their internet browsing habits.

She eyes him critically. “You don’t have to drive too far, I hope? We can get a cruiser to take you home, if you like. You don’t look too great.”

“I’m not far,” Will lies, and Park looks somewhat reassured. He grabs his jacket and the oboe case, and flees the building.

Chapter End Notes

Tombeau de Couperin oboe geekery.

 

If you recognize Will’s dad’s line here, yes, I’ve written it in another fic 😛

Chapter 3

Chapter Notes

Will is throwing sticks for the dogs in the sharp grey light of the early morning when the landline rings.

He’d slept a couple hours, pretty decently for a man who’d walked into work to find a dead body, and woken up early to give the dogs a good long walk and have time to practice before driving into Baltimore for the afternoon. The Baltimore PD had seen to it that the dress rehearsal and concert that was supposed to have happened the previous day had been cancelled, meaning this evening’s second performance of yesterday’s program was also cancelled for want of a rehearsal.

However, that still left a school show in the late afternoon: two thousand Baltimore public school children, transported to the symphony hall in a chaos of yellow school buses, who would learn to play simple tunes on the recorder and then listen to the Philharmonic play Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Will has a pair of expensive specialty musicians’ earplugs that he occasionally uses during particularly loud sections; supposedly, the special plugs turn down the volume of the music around the user without distorting pitch perception. For the school concerts, though, he uses big orange foam plugs from the drugstore: the sound of two thousand screaming children with recorders always feels like being physically hit, the moment he steps onto the stage.

So he’s half-hoping, when he picks up the phone, that the other end will be the personnel manager informing musicians that the school concert has been cancelled too, perhaps on the grounds that parents object to their children visiting a recent murder scene.

It is, in fact, the personnel manager: Peggy sounds stressed, which isn’t unusual, so Will has no idea if what’s coming is good or bad for him, personally. “Hello, Will,” she tries. “How are you doing?”

Will stares at the pad of paper he keeps beside the phone. He can nearly hear her vibrating out of her skin on the other end of the line with the sheer awkwardness of the question. “Terrific,” he says eventually. He’s not entirely clear on whether he’s trying to make her feel even worse so she’ll get to the point, or if he really is terrific. After all, he has a house, a car, a job, and a pack of dogs. It’s better than he’d ever assumed he would do for himself. What’s one dead body, and a strangely beautiful one at that, in comparison?

“There’s going to be an emergency board meeting in the green room during the show today,” Peggy says, and Will deflates slightly at the implication that the show is, in fact, happening. “They have requested to meet with you after the service.”

“Okay,” says Will dully. There is truly nothing he would rather do less than go to a board meeting, but with any luck, all they want is for him to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement promising he won’t describe the bloody scene on the stage of the Philharmonic’s performance hall to any potential donors or ticket-buyers. Since he doesn’t want to talk to any of those people anyway, let alone describe murder scenes to them, that should be pretty easy.

The traffic to Baltimore is light and Will arrives around the same time as his colleagues for school shows, about an hour before the downbeat of the concert. Musicians mill about backstage, and Will can’t tell if they’re avoiding the stage because someone was recently murdered on it, or because the children have started to arrive and the noise is building even with two supposedly soundproof doors in between the hall and backstage.

If finding Ben had changed anyone’s reactions to him, Will doesn’t notice, probably because not all that many people talked to him in the first place; his social circle within the orchestra is small and strange. There’s Kathryn, the principal horn player, whose brash boorishness is such a transparent coping mechanism for a life spent with other brass players that Will doesn’t mind it: she allows it to melt around him, leaving behind a core personality just as obsessive and meticulous as Will’s.

There’s Jerry, the second bassoonist, has only ever talked to Will about cars and knives, and apparently isn’t going to stop now; he’s located a reed knife used by his former teacher and brought it in to show to Will. The thing is so old that the constant sharpening has ground it down thin enough that it’s basically a rod instead of a flat blade, which Jerry seems to find endlessly amusing. The Professor had had one like it, Will remembers; a Landwell double hollow ground blade, sharpened so many times it looked like a miniature fencing foil. He’d spend hours staring at it as she’d worked it over his reeds in his lessons, imagining what would happen if he grabbed it from her hands and thrust it into her neck.“You’d just need to sharpen the tip a bit and you could stab someone with it,” Will points out, which to his relief, Jerry seems to interpret as merely a light-hearted joke.

Then there’s Adam, a strange, skittish violinist who, despite Will’s barely ever having said a word to him, seems to have zeroed in on Will as someone who would like to be told facts about a different subject each day. Will doesn’t mind, actually, and today’s facts are about musicians who have died onstage. Israel Yinon died while conducting An Alpine Symphony, Will learns, and Giuseppe Sinopoli while conducting Aida. “Wasn’t there that bass player in Atlanta who died during There’s No Business Like Show Business? Will contributes, and Adam looks irritated.

“I was going to say her next,” he says, and Will grins. Clearly Adam hadn’t intended to make him feel better, or even conceived that that would be a normal thing to attempt, but somehow Will feels better about the impending meeting anyway.

After the concert, Will takes his time swabbing the oboe and putting it away. If the board wants to meet with him, they can damn well wait for him to show up. Eventually, though, he is nearly along backstage and there is no other option but to head to the green room.

The green room is mostly grey and tan, not green; the couches had been re-upholstered recently with uncomfortable faux-leather. Seven of the highest-ranking board members are assembled, looking uncomfortable and nervy.

“Will,” says Kade Prurnell, gesturing him to an upholstered seat. The chair of the board is tall and severe and commands the room casually. Will has only ever seen her on the rare occasion that she makes a speech to the audience before a concert, and had been hoping to keep it that way.

He had expected to be shoved some papers and given a speech on protecting the reputation of the orchestra. Instead, Kade arranges her face into a decent semblance of sympathy that, to Will, appears somewhat grotesque. “On behalf of the entire board of directors, Will, I would like to express sincere compassion and condolences for what you were made to live through yesterday,” she says. “The psychological toll of seeing a colleague– a friend, I’m sure, as you played so beautifully with Ben that I can’t imagine you weren’t the best of friends as well– not just killed, but debased in that way, must be enormous. I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now, but I want you to know that you have the complete support of this organization, and of myself personally, in your journey to healing.”

“Uh,” says Will. “Okay.” When Kade doesn’t start talking again, and the seven faces arranged around him in the room just keep staring, he adds, “Thanks?”

Kade clears her throat. “Among the many members-at-large of this Board,” she continues, “We count a Baltimore psychiatrist of some reputation. Although Dr. Lecter couldn’t be here today, he contacted me personally after hearing of the incident, to offer his services, pro bono, to any musicians who felt they were in need of extra support during this difficult time. Peggy will be communicating his kind offer to the musicians of the orchestra at the start of the next rehearsal, but since you were the individual most immediately, ah, affected, I took the liberty of providing Dr. Lecter with your phone number directly.”

“Oh,” says Will again. What he really wants to say is Fuck you, how dare you give out my phone number to your rich society friends to soothe your own conscience, but he doesn’t. Historically, being perceived as having a problem with authority has not worked out great for him.

“You’re under no obligation to have an appointment with him, of course,” Kade rushes to add. “I’m merely aware of how difficult things can become when in a state of heightened emotion, and I didn’t wish to make calling Dr. Lecter yet another thing you needed to remember.”

Will checks his watch. “I’ve gotta get on the road before rush hour,” he says.

“Of course,” Kade soothes. “Thank you very much for coming in, Will. And I do hope that you’ll take Dr. Lecter up on his offer. I think he could really help you in these trying times.”

“Okay,” says Will for a third time, and privately thanks whatever weirdo deity might have an interest in his case that anyone rich enough to be on the Board of Directors of the symphony is probably too busy and important to even notice which appointments are being made in his practice. Dr. Lecter’s secretary will call, and Will will tell them they’ve got the wrong number, and that will be that.

Chapter End Notes

“Wasn’t there that bass player in Atlanta who died during There’s No Business Like Show Business? Why, yes.

Chapter 4

Will only picks up the phone because if he lets it go to voicemail, the secretary will know they have the right number from his recorded message. He’s just started practising when it rings, going through the modulating chromatic scales that the Professor had made him replace with the warmup exercises from her own method book. He’d started playing them again occasionally once he got the Baltimore job, though, enjoying the way the tonalities lap against each other like waves.

He stops playing in the middle of a scale, puts the oboe on its peg and picks up the handset of the rotary dial phone that had come with the house. “Hello?”

“This is Dr. Hannibal Lecter,” comes the voice on the other end of the line. “Am I speaking with Will Graham?”

Shit. Will leans against the wall and twists the phone cord around his finger. “Yeah,” he admits.

“I hope that Ms. Prurnell warned you I was going to call,” says Dr. Lecter.

“She did,” says Will, and then quickly, before the doctor has time to get anything else out, he adds: “And while I appreciate the, um, offer, I think there may have been a– miscommunication? I don’t do well with being psychoanalyzed. So. Thanks but no thanks.” He breathes out, a concentrated stream of air away from the phone. There. He was a bit abrupt about it, sure, but at least it’s over.

“Or a lack of communication,” says Lecter. “I believe Ms. Prurnell gave me your phone number before ascertaining your consent, which was certainly discourteous to you.”

Will doesn’t quite laugh, but his relieved smile is probably audible when he says, “Yeah. A bit. I’m sure she meant well.”

“Purity of intentions,” muses the doctor. “And yet God can see the contents of our hearts, and still greets his creations’ best intentions with fire and brimstone. Very well. Shall I tell Ms. Prurnell that you declined my offer, or would it perhaps be better to ease her mind by implying that you had accepted it?”

Will blinks. He’d expected Lecter to report back to the board, of course; he’d been half-prepared for another meeting trying to convince him to reconsider. “You’d do that?” he says. “Tell her– what, rubber-stamp me?”

Lecter chuckles softly. “That’s one way of putting it,” he says. “Although to the best of my knowledge, orchestral oboist is not one of the professions that requires any particular level of psychological stability. I could inform the chair of the board that you were entirely insane, and there would be nothing she could do in response.”

“True,” says Will. “There was an oboist around here who died of dementia recently. Took a long time to diagnose, because at first people thought it was just regular crazy oboe personality.”

“I shall keep that in mind.”

Will finds himself smiling a little, and it’s such an unusual reaction to another person that he almost feels a bit bad about his previous rudeness. It’s not like a busy and respected medical professional is going to care that he doesn’t have to do pro bono work– he’s probably relieved– but Will says anyway, “Sorry about– I mean, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. It’s very nice of you to offer. But I live out in the woods, and I don’t like to come into the city unless I have to, and I haven’t really had great experiences with psychiatrists in the past. So.”

“Very understandable. Well, should you change your mind, I would be happy to make a house call.”

“I– what?” Will jerks at the phone cord nervously. He hadn’t been expecting that. “Seriously?”

“I see no reason why not. This is an unusual circumstance.”

For a moment it’s on the tip of Will’s tongue to ask what on earth the circumstance is, and then he remembers the murder.

“Um,” he says. “That still leaves… the part where I’m really bad at being psychoanalyzed. Also, I live in Virginia. Wolf Trap. Are you sure?”

“I would be pleased to visit Wolf Trap. I have been meaning to take in a concert at the Filene Centre, in any case, and perhaps this would be an ideal opportunity. As for the psychoanalysis, of course I can make no promises as to my own private thoughts. However, as it pertains to our conversation, I will do my best to make it just that: a conversation.”

Will leans heavily against the wall behind him, then allows his back to slide down it until he’s sitting on the floor. The cold plastic of the phone presses into his cheek. Most of him wants to back out now. He suspects Lecter would let him; he was gracious about it the first time, after all. But there is a small part of him that is strangely, morbidly curious about how all this could possibly go. A wealthy Baltimore professional like Hannibal Lecter probably hears “Wolf Trap” and pictures wealthy suburban mansions. Which is mostly true, but means that Will’s little slice of forest, his drafty fixer-upper that’s never quite fixed up enough to use the top floor of, will come as a shock to him. And some part of Will wants to see that shock in person, even if just to confirm that he was right about this being a bad idea.

Finally he just says, “Why?

“Surely it’s reasonable to expect anyone motivated enough to serve on the board of directors of an orchestra to take an interest in music,” says Lecter, “and also to expect anyone interested in music to take an interest in musicians. I find you interesting, and I believe you feel the same towards me.”

Will laughs. “Bit of an ego there, Doctor. I haven’t even met you yet; I don’t find you that interesting.”

“You will.”

The line is silent for a moment. Will is smiling a little, feels like he wants to laugh again, but something about the utter seriousness in Lecter’s voice makes it catch in this throat.

“Okay,” Will says. “Well, we most often have Mondays off. But you probably work on the weekdays and have the weekends off, like a normal person.”

“I believe Monday will work. My schedule is not so full that I can’t make arrangements.”

“Really?” says Will incredulously. “And you do your own scheduling? I was expecting you to have a secretary. Actually, I was planning on telling your secretary that they had the wrong number.”

“I used to. She was pre-disposed to romantic whims, and followed her heart to the United Kingdom. I was sad to see her go, but elected not to replace her. I prefer to keep my practice small enough that I can handle it on my own; it leaves more time for my hobbies.”

“Sounds nice.”

“It is. Do you have hobbies, Will?”

Will runs suddenly sweaty palms against his thighs. Hobbies. (The only reason anyone should go into music as a career, he remembers The Professor intoning, is if their only alternative is to shut their head in an oven. Do you feel that way, William? He remembers squeaking Yes, suppressing his dad’s voice in his head muttering what the fuck kind of cult is this, Willy?)

“Not really,” Will says. “I used to fish.” Then, unbidden by his brain, his mouth offers: “It was something I used to do with my dad as a kid.”

“I’m afraid any response I could give to that may stray into the forbidden realm of psychoanalysis,” says Lecter, his voice warm and amused. Will can’t place his accent– perhaps it’s a mix of origins. He makes a note to have an answering probe about displaced childhoods at the ready, in case the doctor gets too curious about Will’s own. “I should be able to make it to Wolf Trap for two o’clock on Monday,” Lecter continues. “Will that do?”

“Yeah,” says Will. “That’ll do.”

*

Will dreams, that night, about Ben– kind of. In the dream, it is the Professor onstage in his place, her thin mouth frozen in a grimace of pain, her chest torn open and dripping blood. Will turns the metronome to spit out sixteenth notes at 208 beats per minute, and places the wildly ticking box gently into the space that he always suspected was empty anyway. He wakes up gasping, soaked with sweat, head aching. His hands drip with blood and gore that fades away before he has the chance to rub it into his skin.

Chapter 5

Chapter Notes

For most of the weekend, Will manages not to think about the fact that he’s playing host to his own therapy session. There’s a Pops concert– movie music, just one rehearsal before the concert when most of the musicians could do and have done the same kind of show on none– and he rehearses a few times for a woodwind quintet concert at the university. Will doesn’t actually teach students there– it takes a Masters’ or Doctoral degree to get a real teaching position in music at a university in the US, and despite being unequivocally the top dog oboe-wise in the city, he doesn’t have those– but Kathryn does, and she’s invited her colleagues from the Philharmonic to play a faculty recital. Ben was supposed to be among the performers, and his place is taken easily by a quiet and inoffensive freelancer named Cindy. The rehearsal is all the more pleasant for the replacement, and she seems entirely sanguine about the circumstances of her hiring. She doesn’t even look curiously at Will, and he makes a mental note to suggest to Peggy that she be hired for Philharmonic gigs, too.

So by one o’clock on Monday, the appointment seems to have rushed up on Will with little warning. He stands in the living room, looking around. What is a house supposed to look like, when a doctor makes a house call? The mere idea seems charmingly old-worldy, and he imagines for a moment Lecter showing up in a top hat with a Gladstone bag tucked under his arm. In that case, Will supposes, usually the patient would usually be bedridden. He folds up his bed instead, taking the unusual step of converting it fully back into a futon and putting the cover over it. There’s no reason Lecter has to know he sleeps in the living room.

He vacuums and mops, although he feels faintly ridiculous doing it. It’s not like his house is a mess, exactly. It’s a perfectly reasonable adult dwelling, and Will has been taking care of himself for a long time. But he can’t help the feeling that the contents of his mind are going to be extrapolated from the contents of his space. After all, that’s what Will would do to Lecter, if he were going to the doctor’s office: evaluate the decor, extrapolate what kind of a person Lecter is and how he intends his patients to feel upon entering. Perhaps he should have gone to the office after all, Will muses while vacuuming up the cane shavings from underneath his reed desk. Showing his own space without having the chance to to take in Lecter’s feels like allowing himself to be at a disadvantage.

You’re having a conversation, not playing a tennis match, he tries to convince himself, but can’t quite manage it.

He nearly puts on the coffee machine– are you supposed to serve refreshments, at your own therapy session?– then hesitates, digs out a French press a former student had once given him, and puts on the kettle instead.

A knock comes at the door at one minute past two. Even though he’d been expecting it, Will still startles a little. He’s not particularly used to the sound of anyone knocking on his door; even deliveries usually go into the big mailbox at the entrance to the long driveway. He swings the door open and squints into the afternoon light.

Dr. Lecter doesn’t exactly match Will’s satirical mental image of the housecall-making Victorian doctor, but he’s actually not that far off. He is wearing a suit, at least; dark tan jacket on a white shirt and lighter tan pants, which should look sloppy. He holds himself too straight, and exudes overall too strong a sense of calm confidence, to possibly look sloppy. And he is, in fact, carrying a large leather bag; Will remembers him saying that he’d like to see a concert at the Filene, and wonders if he’s booked a hotel in the area for afterwards.

“Dr. Lecter,” Will says. “Thank you for coming.” He stands to the side to allow him in, and seven dogs immediately crowd forward to sniff at him.

“Call me Hannibal, please,” says the doctor, and leans down to offer his hand to the pack to sniff. “Had I known there were guard dogs, I would have brought a peace offering. There is some freshly-made sausage sitting in my refrigerator that I can see would not go to waste here.”

“You’d have friends for life,” says Will. “And they’d be begging at the table for days afterwards. Do you want coffee? I just made some.”

“Please,” says Hannibal, straightening up from his impromptu canine scrum.

Will leaves him to get settled in the living room, somewhat curious what that might look like. There’s a chair that could be interpreted as facing the futon– will he take one of those? Will they sit facing one another, like adversaries, or together on the futon like old friends? “Anything in it?” he calls from the kitchen, and Hannibal calls back “Black, please.”

Will wonders if Hannibal has an old-fashioned psychiatrist’s couch, in his office. He seems like the type.

When Will returns to the living room, Hannibal is standing in front of his music stand, next to the reed desk; not so close as to tip over into the category of “snooping,” but clearly looking.

The stand is heavy with sheet music. The parts for each concert must, according to the musicians’ contracts, be provided at least two weeks in advance of the first rehearsal; but for difficult concerts, most players in the wind, brass and percussion sections go into the library and request them early. Will has about the next months’ worth of music on his stand, as well as a smattering of particularly worrying pieces from farther ahead in the season. “Yeah,” he says, “It’s a mess.”

Hannibal takes that as the permission that it was intended to be, and shuffles through the music on the stand. Will places Hannibal’s coffee mug on the reed desk, and settles himself on the chair opposite the futon to watch his reactions.

Hannibal looks at the parts carefully, like he’s really reading them and not just making a show of it. Will hadn’t been sure what to expect of a member-at-large on the board of the symphony. There are music-lovers involved with the board, of course, but they’re frequently outnumbered by socialites who see membership as a way of gaining access to a class of social events that it behooves their status to be seen at. Overall, that’s a good thing, or at least a neutral one: board members have both fundraising responsibilities and a fiduciary duty to the organization, meaning if the orchestra goes belly-up, members of the board could end up personally financially liable. Which is a very good reason to recruit only board members who have money to spare, which Hannibal clearly does. It does tend to mean, though, that the governing body has only the faintest idea of what actually goes on on a day-to-day basis in an orchestra.

Perhaps this is some sort of educational opportunity, then. “I have a rotation,” Will says, watching Hannibal page through his part to the Doctor Atomic Symphony. “The stuff that’s farther out on the horizon, I cycle in to practice once or twice a week. The stuff that’s two weeks to a month out can be a few times a week to every day, depending on the difficulty.” He gestures to the part Hannibal is holding. “That’s the week after next. More often than not, I know the piece, maybe have even played it before. That’s a symphony based on an opera that was only premiered in 2005, though, so it’s new to me. Usually, by the time rehearsals start for a program, I stop practising it except to warm up specific passages. Stops me from getting too far inside my own head about it.”

Hannibal places Doctor Atomic back on the stand, and picks up the principal oboe part to Peter and the Wolf. “Are you often too far inside your own head, Will?”

Will hesitates. It’s an invasive question, but Hannibal says it so casually that it feels like a volley that Will wants to return, not step away from.

Still, he’s not even sure how to answer that question; how to describe that it’s not being inside his own head that’s the problem, it’s the fact that everyone and everything else seems to want to be in there, too, until he’s not sure what is self and what is other. It makes him an exceptional ensemble musician, Will knows: he can see out the corner of his eye a colleague lifting their instrument to their mouth, know before they even take a breath that their attack is going to be slightly late, and adjust the beginning of his own note accordingly. Nobody even notices that he’s doing it, they just know that playing with Will is easy in that beautiful, serendipitous way that usually only comes with the most perfectly-matched of musical partnerships. Most of the time, Will doesn’t even notice he’s doing it, either. Until he gets off stage, and realizes just how many other people live rent-free inside of his skull.

“I build forts,” he says. Often not successfully, but at least it’s an honest answer.

Hannibal’s eyes flick over to Will, but he doesn’t ask for clarification. He gestures to the part in his hands. “A young boy defies his guardian’s orders to catch a wolf and bring him into captivity, saving the animals of the forest from ending up as lunch. All except the duck, whom the wolf swallows alive.”

“That’s me,” says Will, “Eminently comestible.”

Hannibal replaces the part on the stand, and instead of taking the futon, sits down on the hard plastic chair next to the reed desk. He crosses his legs one over the other and leans back as if it were fine upholstery. “Your superiors certainly seem to think so,” he says. “I think Kade Prurnell sees you as Prokofiev’s duck, liable to be swallowed whole by the experiences thrust upon you.”

Will can’t help the burst of laughter that bubbles out of him. Mostly because it’s a ridiculous thing to say, but also because it’s the most ridiculous possible way of framing something that is essentially true. Of all the positions in an orchestra, only a few are expected or allowed to be divas, to be delicate, to require special handling and treatment; the concertmaster, of course, and perhaps the principal cello, flute, oboe and horn. There’s no rhyme or reason to the idea that those positions are filled by individuals who might be less than completely emotionally stable. It does, however, tend to be largely true.

Will doesn’t mean to be fragile, and he likes to think that he’s done a good job of projecting an image that isn’t. The Professor taught him not to let your blood stain the water when there are sharks circling. It’s baked into the stereotype, though: a thin, twitchy oboist who can’t make eye contact, shows up two hours early to nearly every service, and is always the first to ask to tune chords at break. He never had a chance, image-wise.

“How do you see me?” he asks.

The early-afternoon light slants in through the window and casts Hannibal’s face in pale yellow. His eyes appear dark and sunken, and Will follows the faint glow of his eyelashes as he blinks. “Perhaps there are more carnivores in the forest than are dreamt of in Prokofiev’s philosophy,” he says.

Will stares at Hannibal. Hannibal holds his eyes a moment, then turns to look at the reed desk, surveying the machines and tools. Will’s hands feel slippery with the memory of Ben’s heartblood, his ears ringing with the echo of his screams.

“These are very beautiful,” Hannibal says.

Will stands up and walks over to stand beside him at the desk. Hannibal is surveying the line of reeds in the process of being scraped down for use. There isn’t much beauty that Will can see in it; they’re organized haphazardly, the desk still strewn with knives and cast-off bits of sandpaper. The only object that is anything approaching attractive is a large c-clamp affixed to the corner of the desk, from which hangs a rainbow of colourful string.

“Utilitarian,” Will says. “Not beautiful.”

“There is beauty in the creation of something useful out of raw material that has, in itself, no obvious use,” says Hannibal.

Will drums his fingertips against a box of unprocessed cane; thin tubes of wood from the arundo donax plant, waiting to be split, gouged and shaped. “I guess so,” he says. “After a while the novelty wears off, and it’s just carpentry.”

Just carpentry,” says Hannibal, amused. Will recalls him saying God can see the contents of our hearts, and still greets his creations’ best intentions with fire and brimstone towards the beginning of their phone call, and wonders if Hannibal is a religious man. If so, his ideas of religion seem a tad twisted, but maybe that’s just what being a psychiatrist does to you.

Will follows the doctor’s gaze to the c-clamp on the edge of the desk. “For tying reeds,” he says, without Hannibal having to ask. “You hold the cane to the staple with thread, and it’s useful if you have a variety of colours to distinguish reeds from each other. I tie the string to the clamp to hold it steady while wrapping it around the reed, so there’s a little bit left on the clamp from each reed when I cut it free. That’s almost twenty years of reedmaking, there.”

Hannibal reaches out and cards his fingers through the threads like it’s a horse’s mane. “Quite a trophy,” he says. “A record of your career that expands every day.”

Will looks at it. It’s true: the thing has followed him everywhere. He’d put the first string on it in the band teacher’s office of a high school he has long forgotten the exact location of, under the watchful eye of a local university student that the teacher had brought in to tutor him. “Do you have… trophies of your career?” he asks.

“Certainly,” says Hannibal. “Of course, in my line of work, the only visible records of my success or failure are the lives being led by my patients. Or the lives not being led, of course.”

Will is a little surprised that he’d added that last bit; it’s hard to imagine Hannibal wanting to talk about his failures. “Is your therapy often fatal, doctor?” he asks. Which is just as invasive as Are you often too far inside your own head, but then, Hannibal had started it.

“I was a trauma surgeon, before I was a psychiatrist,” Hannibal answers. “Fatalities are inevitable. It happened one time too many, however, so I transferred my passion for anatomy into the culinary arts. In my new specialty, no one has died as a result of my therapy.”

“Well, that’s reassuring,” Will murmurs.

“Will you teach me?”

“What?” says Will, momentarily confused. Then Hannibal gestures to the desk in front of him, and Will is even more confused.

“You didn’t drive all the way to Wolf Trap to learn how to make an oboe reed,” he hedges. But then, he actually has no idea what Hannibal did drive all the way to Wolf Trap for.

Hannibal just waits, looking at him, and Will can’t figure out why he wants this. He’s not used to being unable to figure out someone else’s motivations, and it feels a little bit like pressing his face against a cool sheet of glass. He wants to lean against it harder.

Will shrugs. “Okay,” he says, and pulls up his chair next to Hannibal’s.

He starts from the beginning. Will shows Hannibal how to split tube cane, trisecting it with a sharp razor blade, then guillotine it to the correct length, scoop out the inside wood with a planing board and gouging machine, and shape it with a knife against the mold of a shaper tip. Hannibal follows along on his own piece of cane, and every step of the process where Will would expect a beginner to ruin their attempt and need to be furnished with a new piece, Hannibal manages to make his way through. They each add a piece of string to the collection, typing the wood to a metal and cork staple that attaches reed to instrument. Finally, Will hands Hannibal yet another knife. “All that was just preliminary,” he says. “Now for the real work.”

Will watches Hannibal’s hands as he follows Will’s lead on scraping the reed; carefully removing bark with the edge of the knife, making sure the thickness of the reed is perfectly symmetrical and sloping down with the thinnest wood towards the tip. Hannibal’s fingers are strong but nimble, and Will has to remind himself over and over that he was a surgeon; it’s not so surprising that he can adjust quickly to the idea of a knife scraping, instead of slicing. He adjusts Hannibal’s grip on the reed or the knife a few times, and suddenly has no idea whether he’d done it because it was necessary, or because he just wanted to touch Hannibal’s hands, like there is some secret contained inside them that could be transmitted through the whisper of skin on skin.

Hannibal’s finished reed probably isn’t one that Will would take to work, but it’s pretty impressive for a first try. “Will you play it?” Hannibal holds it out to him, his severe face oddly soft with the request.

Will chuckles. “It’s only a first-day scrape. The cane is made of plant cells, it’s a living organism; it needs time to rest and get used to its new shape before it’s playable.”

“On another one, then. Will you play the Duck theme for me?”

“Ha. No.” Will stares down at his hands, and puts the reed he was working on back on the desk.

In the silence, they both listen to the sound of Buster chewing on an ancient, tattered bone on the carpet behind them. Will swallows. “Sorry,” he says. “This was– weirdly nice. But I’m not really into…”

“Singing for your supper?” Hannibal suggests.

“You haven’t offered me supper.”

“I’ll have to rectify that, then.”

Something far too warm and bright twists in Will’s stomach. “It’s not that. It’s just…” he sighs. “I’m not sure I know how to explain this.”

Hannibal settles himself into his chair more fully. “Ordinarily, I would suggest psychoanalysis as a means of excavating supposedly unexplainable emotions, but I have been reliably informed that I ought to avoid the subject.”

Will’s chair creaks as he shifts. His mouth feels slightly dry, and he remembers suddenly the habit an old school fellow used to have of drinking the water he had soaked his reed in, when he got thirsty in the middle of a concert. It had always seemed vaguely repulsive to Will, despite the obvious fact that the reed water didn’t contain any germs that weren’t also on the reed itself. Will takes a sip of coffee instead, now cold, and says, “Well, to start with, people who do something for a living don’t usually do it for fun as well. I was going to ask you if you shrink heads as a hobby as well as a job, but it kinda seems like you might be the exception.”

Hannibal’s expressions are never large but Will finds his mind has calibrated itself around their minuteness, so that the tiny crinkle at the edges of his eyes is as good as a grin. “I have no desire to shrink your head, Will,” he says. “If anything, I believe a mind can always do with expansion, and very rarely benefits from contraction. But yes, I must admit to being an amateur in all things, including those areas in which I also by necessity call myself a professional.”

“An amateur,” says Will, tasting the word in his mouth.

“Yes. The term today carries connotations of ineptitude, but of course the word itself means merely a lover of a subject. One motivated by the highest aspirations of art, unshackled by constraints of income or the shackles of his own mind.”

Will swallows. The concept feels like a meal that is too hot in his hands. He doesn’t want to hold onto it for too long, for fear that he’ll get attached to something he can’t have. He gave up the chance to feast at that particular banquet a long time ago.

“It’s not like I do this for the money,” he says, and Hannibal looks amused. Will hadn’t really suspected him of thinking that, but it’s good to have confirmation. “Playing the oboe would be a truly terrible way to do it, if I wanted a guaranteed way to get rich. But it was never… I was never that, I don’t think. An amateur. Even before I was a professional, I was never an amateur.”

“What were you?”

Will shrugs. “A kid, I guess. A kid who needed something to be other than the new guy in class who feels too many feelings that aren’t his. The oboe fit the bill. Some other things could have fit the bill too, arguably, but this one was there.”

“A lot of expectation to place on a musical instrument,” says Hannibal.

“And then– it wasn’t really like I ever decided to do it for a career, you know? It was just a logical next thing to do. There wasn’t anything else that I was special at in the same way that I was special when I played the oboe.”

“Wasn’t there?” Hannibal murmurs, and for a moment Will is back on the stage, standing next to Ben’s lifeless corpse and feeling like he’d put it there. Like him putting it there would have been right. Like he could see the person who did put it there just out of the corner of his eye; someone else in on the joke.

“Nothing of value,” says Will. “So. It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing, or don’t like my job. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for any of this. I’m the only one of my graduating class in my studio who has a full-time tenured job in an orchestra; my life is really good, objectively. Playing the oboe just isn’t something I do recreationally.

Hannibal nods slowly, thoughtfully. He picks the reed that he has just made back up, eyeing it critically. Then he says, “Come to my house for dinner, and play with me.”

Will blinks in surprise, and accidentally says “What do you play?” instead of Did you hear literally anything I just said?

“Primarily the harpsichord, although I also own a piano. Come play with me, for my pleasure. And dinner.”

Will should say no. He’s fairly certain that he should say no, wants to say no. He isn’t what Hannibal wants; he’s no well-socialized, genteel chamber musician, sharing a spot of music before supper. This isn’t what he does.

“What do you want to play?” he says.

“I think Bach would be appropriate. The music of amateurs the world over; some of his best-known works were produced in collaboration with us.”

Will can’t help laughing at the word us, as if Hannibal himself had been walking the halls of Frederick the Great’s musical court along with Johann Sebastian. “There’s a sonata in G minor,” he says, still scarcely believing that he’s encouraging this. “How is your harpsichord tuned?”

“I keep it at 440. I rarely have the opportunity to play with others, and a Baroque tuning would only be advantageous if it were to adjust to a similarly tuned companion.”

“Okay,” says Will, “Fine.”

Hannibal smiles, and this one is bigger than just a crinkle of the eyes. Will is fully aware he’s probably going to regret this the moment the doctor has left his house, but for the moment, just seeing that smile seems somehow worth it.

“Do you have any dietary restrictions?” Hannibal asks.

“Nope,” says Will. “I’ll eat anything.”

Chapter 6

Chapter Notes

“Oh,” says Kathryn, just as the woodwind quintet are swabbing out and packing up from their final rehearsal, “And you know how that presenter wanted us to repeat this show in Strathmore?”

“Yeah,” says Will. Although the quintet was originally supposed to play just the one show, at the university, he doesn’t mind doing it again; and anyway, he likes Strathmore. It’s a compound with two venues, the Music Centre for orchestral concerts and the Mansion for chamber music, and they’re both very pleasant. Best of all, it’s only a twenty-minute drive from Wolf Trap.

“The presenter wants to wine and dine us with their major donors afterwards,” says Kathryn, and his heart sinks. “They’ve booked hotel rooms for us all, because apparently the expectation is for us to need to drink enough at the hotel bar just to be able to talk to the donors that we’ll be useless for the rest of the night.”

“Oh, that’s nice!” Exclaims Cindy, the replacement flutist, and Will knocks his estimation of her down a few pegs. Min, the clarinetist, sucks the moisture off her reed and mutters something about a night away from the kids. Even Jerry just shrugs and says, “Works for me.” Kathryn is looking pointedly at Will; of all of them, he is apparently well-known as the least amenable to wining and dining.

“Yeah,” Will sighs. The headache which had been pressing on the insides of his skull since the beginning of the rehearsal now blooms in full force, but he’s grateful that it at least held out until the end. “Okay. I guess this is just my life now.”

It’s not until the other three have taken their leave and it’s just Will and Kathryn ambling slowly towards their parking spots that Kathryn asks, “What did you mean, this is just your life now?”

“Oh.” Will feels his cheeks colour slightly. He shouldn’t have said it if he didn’t want to talk about it, and though he doesn’t really want to talk about it, he had said it, so obviously at least some small part of him does. “I think– I think I’m going on a date with someone on the board?”

“Whaaaat!” Kathryn grins, punches his arm lightly. “I always wondered what someone would have to do to catch your eye. My top guesses until now were either own a knife-sharpening business or be a vet with a really poor work/life delineation. Weirdly, being a rich fuck hadn’t actually made the list.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t really on my list either,” says Will. “He’s a psychiatrist. That definitely wasn’t on the list.”

“Wait,” says Kathryn. “Are you going on a date with Lecter?”

“Er. Well. He invited me to his house for dinner, I think it’s a date. I’m not really sure. Anyway, wait, do you know him?”

“Not personally,” says Kathryn. “But I heard all about him, because John had to play in a string quartet at one of his dinner parties, and he wouldn’t shut up about how insane it was for like, weeks afterwards, back when we were doing the Brahms trio together and I was trapped in a room with him for hours at a time.”

John?” Will’s eyebrows shoot up. “Played a dinner party gig?”

“I know. And here we all were thinking that the perks of being concertmaster were that first, you can be a fucking creep for thirty years and still have a job, and second, that you don’t have to play any goddamn dinner party gigs at rich peoples’ houses like a trained monkey.”

“So how the hell did he get roped into it?”

“Apparently the request came through Prurnell, not from Lecter himself. And it was framed less as a request and more of a here’s-what-you’re-going-to-do-if-you-want-to-keep-acting-like-a-dick-at-work-with-impunity kind of implication. So. And once John had agreed, all the other principal strings fell in line and agreed to do it, too. Which is how Lecter managed to put together a private dinner party with a string quartet consisting entirely of the principal strings of the Philharmonic.”

“Wow,” says Will.

“Ha. Second thoughts?”

“Never really had first thoughts. Was pretty sure this was the worst idea ever from the moment he asked.”

“You could back out.”

Will kicks at a stone in the loose gravel of the parking lot. They’re standing in front of Kathryn’s car now, an ostentatiously shiny pickup truck. “I… don’t think I want to? I don’t know. We’ve, um, talked a bit.” He decides he definitely doesn’t want Kathryn to know yet that Hannibal has been to his house, so he forges on. “He’s interesting. Kind of weird. Doesn’t really care who notices that he’s weird.”

Kathryn’s smile is growing, Cheshire cat-like, and Will is grateful when she doesn’t vocalize any of the probably extremely raunchy statements on the tip of her tongue and instead just goes with, “Well, I guess it’s a good match, then.”

“It’s not a match. Just a dinner. And, uh, we’re playing a Bach sonata together, because apparently he plays the harpsichord.”

Kathryn whoops with laughter and squawks “Oh my god, you’ve got it bad,” and Will ambles away to his car not entirely able to refute her.

*

The dinner with Hannibal is on a Monday, of course– there’s no other evening that Will has free for the entire week– and in the absence of the man himself, Will becomes steadily less sure that Hannibal really wants to spend time with him.

He looks around the main floor of his house, shabby carpets and thick with cane shavings and smelling of dog hair, and it seems utterly bizarre that someone who apparently holds private parties where he can coerce all of the principal strings of the Philharmonic into playing goddamn dinner accompaniment music, like they’re students trying to make a buck, would want to invite Will to be part of his world. He considers the idea that dinner may just be reluctant payment for the chamber music Will had agreed could come before; Hannibal would hardly be the first wealthy amateur to use money and status to nab professional collaborators like feathers in his cap. If that were the case, though, he could have just paid Will like any normal rich person, and avoided a trip to Wolf Trap and a probably very boring reedmaking lesson. Wind players are, as a rule, less choosy about employment than string players. There are fewer gigs seeking wind music of any kind than string quartets, and thus even well-positioned players can be bought for a decent price, no blackmail required.

But Will remembers Hannibal’s eyes burning into him as he’d said there are more carnivores in the forest than are dreamt of in Prokofiev’s philosophy, and the strange softness in his face when he’d asked Will to play his reed, and he can’t quite imagine that that’s it, either.

Will dreams, Sunday night. Well, he’s been dreaming every night, but the others are miasmas of strange images and unpleasant feelings, and this one plays like a movie that can dig into his guts with claws. In the dream, Will is playing a duet with the Professor, and Hannibal is at the piano. They’re in the smallest recital hall at Will’s old music school, a stately wooden room with heavy curtains and a chandelier hanging low from the ceiling– but in the dream, according to that strange dram logic where you just know where a place is despite all evidence to the contrary, the room is Hannibal’s living room. Hannibal stares at the piano keyboard unhappily, visibly wishing for a harpsichord instead, but his wishes don’t matter; he’s merely the accompanist in this scenario. Either Will or the P. will have to give Hannibal a cue, and normally the responsibility would be whoever has the higher-ranking part, but Will can’t tell what the music is, and his vision blurs when he tries to make out whether it says “oboe 1” or “oboe 2” on the part in front of him. The P. is glaring, and clearly whatever is going wrong is absolutely Will’s fault and entirely due to Will’s incompetence. Will wilts under it, and in that moment he realizes he has two choices: he either has to apologize to Hannibal that he can’t do something as simple as cue an oboe duet and leave the P. to play with him alone, or he has to–

he has to–

Will wakes up with a feeling like there is something lodged in his throat, and something else gripped tight in his hand, and is up, out of the bed, and staggering across the room in panic before the image has completely dissipated from his mind. Air enters him in great gusts, and he remembers that he can still breathe.

(Your breathing technique is going to hold you back your entire career if you can’t learn to breathe into your belly, Will, he hears the P. intone. That one had left him in the library for weeks, poring over anatomical diagrams and descriptions of gas exchange in the alveoli, before concluding definitively that there are, in fact, no lungs in one’s stomach. He had wisely chosen not to share the results of his research into the interplay between the intercostal muscles, the smooth muscle of the diaphragm, and the spinal column with the P., and simply nodded along at such nonsensical phrases as column of air and open your throat.)

Eventually, he realizes he can not only breathe, but move and perceive. He looks at his right hand, which he had been so certain contained a knife; a proper pointed kitchen knife, not a dull-tipped reed knife. His hands are empty.

Will showers, takes the dogs out for a long walk, spends the afternoon practising and making reeds. He adds the Strathmore gig into his calendar, and briefly considers asking a neighbour to check in on the dogs on that night– but no, he’ll only be gone a night, and he can be back early the next morning. He’ll leave extra food out, and they’ll be fine. He even more briefly wonders what would happen if he asked Hannibal to dogsit, and nearly descends into a private fit of giggles. No. He’s not going to do that.

Getting dressed for the evening takes longer than it should. Will has formal clothes, of course. Symphony concerts are usually played in either a tuxedo with black tie, or a tailcoat with white tie; both are absolutely absurd levels of formality for the average man, considering plenty of people merely rent tuxedos for their own nuptials. Professional musicians, meanwhile, are expected to have both black and white tie dress at the ready. Men retiring from the Philharmonic have a tradition of leaving their clothes in the dressing room, to be donated to charity cases new to the orchestra or substitute players who don’t own their own garb or, god forbid, show up with the wrong colour of bowtie.

But you don’t wear formal clothes to a dinner for two– at least, not this one, Will is fairly certain, although it sounds like his work clothes might fit the dress code for some of Hannibal’s other events. Instead, he digs out a pair of pressed black pants and a deep red button-down that he used to wear to play woodwind quintet concerts in music school, where “wearing coloured shirts” was considered the height of avant-garde concert fashion. He looks slightly unnatural when he stares at himself in the mirror, like Hannibal is going to take one look at him and know that Will is dressed up for him. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s what getting dressed up is; a way of indicating regard for and awareness of the circumstances around you.

He brings a bottle of wine. It’s not the kind of wine that makes a statement of any kind, but it’s above Will’s usual price point and he needed to bring something. It sits on the passenger seat of the car along with his oboe for the ride to Baltimore,

“Your house is terrifying,” is the first thing Will thinks to say, when Hannibal swings open the door and invites him in. Maybe not the most suave start to a conversation, but it’s true; even the front entranceway is painted in dark jewel tones with pieces of art and– taxidermy? Will squints at a shape cast in shadow– on the walls. It opens up into a living room– parlour, Will corrects himself, is probably the right word for it– on the left, and a dining room on the right with the single largest table that Will has ever seen in a private residence.

Hannibal just stares at him for a moment, head tilted like a bird trying to decide if that flash in the air was an insect or a trick of the light. “Thank you,” he says finally.

Will licks suddenly dry lips, then laughs. “Sorry,” he says. “That wasn’t– your house is great. Life has just been weird lately.”

Hannibal accepts the bottle of wine with apparent pleasure, and Will trails him into the kitchen as he asks, “How would you characterize this weirdness?”

The kitchen, despite being identifiably extremely expensive, at least feels like a room that has a purpose, and is thus comfortable despite the bright white lighting and gleaming stainless steel. Hannibal busies himself pouring wine, and Will has a glass in front of him before he’s even established whether or not he wants one in his own mind, let alone out loud.

(Did you really think you were driving home tonight? He questions of his own opaque mind as he takes a sip. You pointedly refused to pack a change of clothes– but there’s a toothbrush in the oboe case, of course. It’s only because a clean mouth makes reeds last longer, but it’ll do in a pinch.)

“Don’t you think it probably started when I found the dead body at work?” Will asks.

“I wouldn’t want to presume. Did it?”

Will is relieved to discover that the wine he’d brought is actually pretty decent. He swirls it on his tongue, considering. “No,” he says finally. “I think that… focused it. Gave it an explanation. Part of it was always there. If you’d polled the members of the Philharmonic, high school yearbook-style, on who among them was most likely to find a dead body, they probably would have said me.”

“I can’t imagine that the probability of finding a dead body increases in correlation with any particular personality trait,” says Hannibal. “Surely murder victims left lying around are events rare enough to be nearly random, and thus everyone on Earth is equally, if minutely, likely to stumble across one.”

“Mmm,” Will taps his fingers against the counter. “You’d think. Not this one.”

Hannibal’s eyes dart to Will’s face over the top of his wine glass. “No?”

Will opens his mouth, then closes it. A part of him wants to tell Hannibal that it had felt like the murderer, apparently a serial killer of great interest to the FBI, had been making a joke. He wants to sit in this psychiatrist’s immaculately appointed kitchen and describe how it had felt like the moment when you’re sitting in the audience and the house light are up just high enough that suddenly the performer’s eyes lock with yours, and you know they see you, even in the moment that they’re entirely focused on what they’re doing, and playing only for themselves– they’re also unexpectedly playing for you.

That had usually only happened to Will at recitals. Usually when his friends were playing, a little uncertain and searching the audience for a friendly face.

He doesn’t say that. Instead he says, “I don’t know. It’s stupid. I’ve been getting headaches. Having weird dreams. Maybe I’m coming down with something.” When Hannibal opens his mouth, Will realizes what he’s done and holds up a placating hand. “No doctoring. I’m fine. Do you want to play now? Can we take wine into the parlour?”

Hannibal’s lips twitch in a minute smile. “A very effective diversion. Yes, of course. Won’t it stain your reed?”

“Yeah,” says Will, trailing Hannibal through the dining room and the front hall again, There’s an enormous herb garden hanging from the wall of the dining room, though there isn’t exactly a surplus of natural light for them to thrive on. “Probably. Don’t really care. They only last a few days anyway.”

“They blink into and out of existence like fireflies.”

“More labour-intensive and psychologically perilous than fireflies.”

“Perhaps.” Hannibal sits down at the harpsichord, and Will sits down on a turquoise upholstered chair and unzips the oboe case. “My sister and I used to raise fireflies in captivity. I cannot say that the lives we furnished them with were easy or safe.”

You have a sister, Will doesn’t say, struck by the sudden, inexplicable conviction that he shouldn’t.

Will soaks his reed and sets a music stand up just inside of the gentle curve of the harpsichord’s lid, where he and Hannibal can easily see each other, and finds his hands are sweating. He wipes them on his pants. Nerves are normal before a performance, of course, but Will is self-aware to realize he’s not concerned about his own playing, in this scenario.

The first movement of the sonata Hannibal has chosen starts with both keyboard and oboe playing a pickup, a de-emphasized note that comes before the first true beat. Unfortunately, the keyboard pickup comes exactly one sixteenth-note before the oboe pickup; meaning that not only does the keyboard player have to give the cue to start, they have to do it skillfully enough that the oboist can catch it immediately. Cuing is a difficult skill, a form of body language that appears effortless when done well and somewhere between awkward to downright spasmodic when done badly. Most amateurs do not do it well, and even though Will knows realistically that the worst that can happen is they have to try again, or maybe Will even has to count them in, the thought of seeing Hannibal struggle to use his body to communicate feels sharply painful to him.

He stares at Hannibal. Eye contact– there’s no alternative to it, in the suspended moments before the music starts. Then Hannibal breathes, and his shoulders move with a gentle roll that pulls Will along like a tide moving out from the shore, and they play.

So, the cue was fine, Will thinks as he keeps looking at Hannibal, both curious and strangely enthralled, as he rounds off the first phrase and the harpsichord continues on its own. Hannibal is completely absorbed by both his own part and by Will’s, in the strange way the one plus one equals one only in this particular context, so Will does the same; allows himself to forget that he is a separate person, that he doesn’t play the harpsichord, that he might be getting laid tonight and he still has no idea how he feels about that, that this is the weirdest house he’s ever been inside, and just plays the damn oboe.

There are three movements to the sonata; they pause without speaking in between each of them, as if this were a concert. Hannibal watches the rise and fall of Will’s chest in the silences, waiting for the slight familiar exertion of the instrument to wear off and Will to raise the oboe to his mouth for the next section. Hannibal’s fingers trip over each other every so often, which is only natural for an amateur player with a demanding job and probably limited practice time. Still, he plays his slips off elegantly, never allowing his rhythm to falter even when he’s forced to drop a few notes. Out of the strange submerged mental space of chamber music, it occurs to Will that some of his colleagues could learn to do the same.

Will allows the final note of the last movement to hang in the air. He remembers an eccentric chamber music coach at a festival once drawing a messy loop-de-loop on the blackboard excitedly, intoning that notes must end like this! With a loop! Which makes no actual sense physically, but it’s a nice mental image; energy spinning off into eternity. Note endings are what separate the sheep from the wolves, in woodwind playing; having control over your air and reed to the very end of the sound takes years of concentrated practice. It would be unrealistic to expect Hannibal to appreciate above-average oboe note endings, Will thinks, but perhaps on some level he does. One can always reach out and hope for an audience, even if an audience isn’t expected.

(Like the Chesapeake Ripper, Will’s treacherous brain supplies.)

Hannibal is smiling, his hands slowly lowering from the air above the keyboard to rest lightly on his thighs. His eyes are shining in a way that Will immediately looks away from, as if there could possibly be privacy right now.

There’s room on the bench beside Hannibal and Will sits down on it, so they are side by side but facing opposite directions. He leans back until the bottom of his spine touches the edge of the harpsichord’s keyboard, and Hannibal can see his face, even if Will keeps his eyes downcast.

Hannibal’s body is warm, and Will wants to lean into it. He digs the bell of the oboe into his knee.

“Not so bad?” Hannibal says gently.

Will assumes for a moment that he’s fishing for compliments, and then remembers the conversation that had started all this; Will’s reluctance to bring music outside of the carefully constructed forts he keeps it inside. He breathes the ghost of a laugh. “Shut up. It was nice. It’s nice playing with you.”

He looks up, and their faces are already so close together that it requires barely any movement, no clear initiator or single moment of decision, to press their lips together softly.

Will feels him shift slightly to draw closer, Hannibal’s body very warm, and then one hand comes up to cup Will’s cheek and pull him back. “Dinner,” Hannibal whispers.

Will nods. “All right,” he says. “Dinner.”

Chapter End Notes

In case you’re wondering, for a tangle of personal reasons that deeply inform this story but are completely irrelevant from a reader perspective, the nomenclature “the Professor” and “the P.” are homages to Terry Castle’s stunning essay of the same name. On the off-chance that you’ve read it, though, don’t read too much into that plot or content-wise.

 

Bach oboe sonata in G minor

Chapter 7

“When did you learn to play?”

Hannibal has set down plates with a flourish, and the question comes out of Will unexpectedly. Hannibal hesitates, as if trying to sort through his own reaction far enough to determine whether or not it is unwelcome.

“Paris,” he says finally, settling himself in the seat opposite Will. They’re across from each other horizontally, thank God– Will had been half-afraid that they would be expected to sit at the head and foot of the enormous table. “And before that, Lithuania. Though there was a significant gap in between my periods of instruction.”

Will stares at his plate. “What is it?” he says, mainly to buy himself time to decide whether or not to ask the other question.

“Tandoori liver,” says Hannibal, “with carmelized onions, saffron rice and marmalade yogourt sauce.”

“It smells delicious,” says Will, which is true, and he can’t keep the note out of surprise out of his voice. The last time he’d had liver was when he’d gotten a couple whole chickens from a nearby farm, necks, livers, heads and feet included. He’d decided to sauté the livers for use in dog food, and the pungent smell of the cooking organs had nearly driven him out of the house in disgust. This is completely different, rich and spicy and enticing. Before he can lose his nerve, he adds “What happened in between your periods of instruction?”

“My parents were killed, and I was placed into the care of an orphanage,” Hannibal says. He picks up a forkful of meat and chews it carefully, eyes closed in pleasure. Will just stares. It’s not like he’s doing something unusual, not really. He’s just eating. But it’s the way he eats, the pleasure of it evident on his face, that is both captivating and almost a little bit embarrassing to look at. It’s too much, too obvious. (Other people came to the concert to enjoy the music, the P. points out in his mind. Your job is to play the concert, not enjoy it. Nobody cares about your emotions if you sound like crap.)

Will can’t think of anything to say to the revelation about the orphanage, and he suspects Hannibal doesn’t want him to. He just eats instead, and finds that the sharp focus of Hannibal’s attention shifts to him the moment he raises his fork to his mouth. It feels terrifying, like a test he can’t possibly live up to. Will is good at shoving down emotions; his are usually of the type that it’s preferable not to feel. He’s not good at showing them, and especially not good at showing them off. He shuts his eyes, so that he can’t see the expression on Hannibal’s face as Will tastes his food.

“I was planning on serving this particular cut to the Philharmonic Board,” says Hannibal. “But I reconsidered. You are much worthier company.”

They talk about the season and the oboe and Hannibal’s cooking; safe topics, easy enough to merely enjoy each others’ presence and the sound of each others’ voices. Will tells stories of the strangest conductors he’s ever worked with, the soloists who stormed offstage, the players who got themselves fired mid-rehearsal from student ensembles. He doesn’t tell any stories of the P. He wants to offer her up as entertainment, to laugh at her quirks in the same way he laughs at the conducting teacher who’d screamed at his student that her Beethoven was absolutely libertine in front of the entire orchestra. But he knows with utmost certainty that Hannibal would know, he would see through any facade Will threw up of this being just another amusing anecdote to laugh off. Will is not used to being in the company of people who can see him at least as clearly as he sees them. And he’s not even sure how clearly he sees Hannibal.

(You’re being unreasonable. It’s not my fault that you have a problem with authority, Will. You’re going to have to sort it out before you win a job, because your behaviour towards me is really quite childish, she says, echoing through his head like a gunshot. What would you tell him about me, anyway? That I took a chance on you, a near-beginner from an unstable home with a broken high school oboe, and built you into a player ready to win a job? That every good thing in your life right now is thanks to me? I made you. I was willing to love you like a mother loves a son. Go ahead, tell him.)

Hannibal clears their plates when they’re finished eating, and Will trails him into the kitchen. “What can I do?”

“There is nothing to do.”

“I’m really good at washing dishes.”

“I guarantee you my dishwasher is better,” says Hannibal, and Will remembers that some people own dishwashers, and feels his face heat a little. “Perhaps we should take dessert in the parlour,” Hannibal adds.

“I’m… genuinely not certain what kind of dessert you’re talking about right now.”

Hannibal turns to face him, one hand on the handle of the refrigerator and his face caught somewhere between incredulous and elated. Will bites the inside of his cheek, then chuckles. “You meant dessert to eat, huh.”

“I would not suggest the parlour as a first choice of location for any other kind.”

“Yeah, that upholstery looked expensive.” Will ducks his head to avoid Hannibal’s extremely half-hearted attempt at an offended glare, and marvels at just how easy this is. It’s not like it’s ever been difficult for Will to be able to tell when someone wants to have sex with him; it’s almost as easy as it is to fall into them, use someone else’s desire as a proxy for his own and never bother figuring out whether he even had any in the first place.

Whereas most people hide their fundamental hedonism deep, covering it in a cloak of respectability that Will is forced to wade through, Hannibal’s hedonism is the cloak. Will isn’t sure what’s underneath it yet, but it makes it easy and actually fun to poke at him, trying to push the curtain away. He gets the feeling that Hannibal even wants him to.

Back in the parlour, Hannibal places two saucers with gold-painted ceramic cups on the small table in between two chairs. “Is that ice cream?” says Will. “It smells kind of spicy.”

“Cardamom,” says Hannibal. “Closer to a dessert called qulfi on the Indian subcontinent; a cold custard made by cooking milk slowly enough that it thickens and caramelizes.”

Will takes his saucer and tucks his sock feet underneath his thigh on the plush upholstered chair, leaning into the side of it. For a few minutes, the only sounds are the clink of their spoons against the dishes. Will tlicks his spoonfuls clean, letting his tongue linger outside of his mouth for a moment longer than completely necessary on each repetition. Hannibal watches, of course, like Hannibal always seems to be watching.

“You’re very demonstrative tonight, Will.”

Will shrugs. “I feel good. The headache I’ve had for the past month is weirdly benign tonight. And I like you. So.”

“I thought you didn’t find me that interesting,” teases Hannibal.

“And you said that I would. Why were you so sure?”

“I wasn’t.” Hannibal sets his dish back down on the small table. “I merely hoped.”

Will stares into the fireplace. There’s no fire in it at the moment, and it would be much more aesthetically appropriate for them to have built a fire, but they both know why they didn’t; neither was planning on being in here for long enough for it to be worth it. “So,” he says. “Not the parlour. Where is it, then, that you’d recommend we take… second dessert?”

Hannibal stands up a little too quickly to be suave, and comes to stand beside Will’s chair. Will, still sitting, finds himself at the right height to lean gently against Hannibal’s side, and finds it firm with muscle but warm and yielding to his touch.

“Appalling,” Hannibal murmurs, but his hand comes down and lands on top of Will’s head, fingers threading through curls, and Will shivers with it and leans into him harder, tipping his head forward to expose the back of his neck to Hannibal’s exploratory hand.

Hannibal leans down and nestles his nose into the join of Will’s neck and shoulder. Will can feel the cool intake of air against his skin.

“Did you just smell me?” He’s not surprised, not really; Hannibal had used his nose first on all of his food, too, Will suddenly recalls, as if there’s an inalienable order of operations to the senses, and smell must always be used before taste. Arousal curls around him at the thought of being just another item on the menu, and just what that might mean.

For a moment, he wonders if he should be more nervous. Will hasn’t had sex with a man before, but then, he hasn’t had sex with all that many people, period. A couple women in music school; one girlfriend early into his time in Baltimore. She’d been a stage hand at the concert hall, a black-clad shit-talking third-generation IATSE member. Will had learned two things from that relationship: first, that the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees was the closest thing he’d seen to a mob since a run-in with a landlord who was actually in the Mob, and second, that he apparently feels better about being in relationships with women who don’t really care if they’re in a relationship with him or not. It had fallen apart out of apathy, not antipathy. She still makes sure that Will’s chair is adjusted for his height before he comes into work, which is nice.

He doesn’t feel nervous, though, or if he does, his body has become adept enough at sorting out the unavoidable physical reactions of a body preparing to undergo a novel experience or a significant output of effort– and concerts are both, never quite losing the edge of terror that comes from being on stage– from genuine fright requiring a readiness to flee the situation. This is definitely the former. Will feels a strong desire to flee most social situations, but now, with this strange man’s head burrowing into his neck, he’s right where he wants to be. “Never mind,” he adds. “You can smell me all you want.”

“Upstairs,” murmurs Hannibal, and that is where they go, up the stairs in a cadence that only barely avoids the general feeling of excited children.

Apparently they could have had a fire after all, because there is another fireplace in Hannibal’s bedroom, and two chairs arranged in front of it. Will doesn’t bother to comment on the fireplace or the prints arranged around the bed or the– is that armour?– but he does say, somewhat stupidly, “You have a porthole above your bed.”

Hannibal has manoeuvred him so that they are standing at the foot of the bed, which has some sort of strange other upholstered bench in front of it that isn’t a part of the actual mattress. Will sits down on it, bringing his face about level with Hannibal’s stomach again, but he’s turned around to stare at the perfectly circular window above the head of the bed, through which the faint light of the moon shines in a thin stream. It’s swung open a little, a small enough gap that just a hint of the cool fall breeze dances across his face.

Hannibal glances up. “I do,” he says. and his hands are back on Will’s head, one grabbing fistfuls of hair and tugging lightly, and the other cupping the sharp edge of his jaw. “It faces into the back garden, so I promise there is no artificial light that enters it during the night. I find I sleep comes easier when I have a small reminder of the outside world entering into the carefully civilized environment of the bedroom. That said, I can cover it if it disturbs you.”

Will shakes his head. “It doesn’t disturb me,” he says, and scoots himself back, over the circular pillow that probably has a fancy name he doesn’t know, up to sit at the head of the bed. “Take off your clothes,” he says, and enjoys the infinitesimal moment of surprise on Hannibal’s face before it resolves into contentment.

“With pleasure.”

Will shucks off his own clothes with a disregard that feels almost sacrilegious considering how much time he’d spent choosing them and putting them on, and he watches Hannibal undress rather more carefully, lit by a bedside lamp and the small echo of moon from the porthole. It catches at him, this tiny unassuming window that Hannibal keeps open above him as he sleeps. It suits him too well, a man both perfectly self-contained and reaching out desperately in a way Will can’t quite see yet. Will is close, but he isn’t inside, and he’s used to being inside people long before they think to invite him to their bedroom.

Hannibal is both well-muscled in a way that is a little bit intimidating to Will, who rarely does any exercise that isn’t in some way intended to improve lung capacity or endurance, and startlingly human underneath his suit. Will reaches out towards him, inexplicably wanting to touch the tangle of greying chest hair before any other part of him. It’s slightly wiry, trailing off downwards towards a belly that was completely flat underneath a well-tailored shirt but slightly soft once revealed. Will wants to press his fingers into it, feel the shape of Hannibal’s ribs and organs, but decides that perhaps that would be rude. He pulls Hannibal towards him instead, pressing their torsos together until they end up lying chest-to-chest on top of slightly mussed coverlets.

Will presses his face to Hannibal’s shoulder, breathing him in just like Hannibal had smelled him. He smells like spices from the kitchen and salty sweat underneath that, and Will wonders if Hannibal was nervous for this. If he’s perhaps nervous still, and there’s simply no other way to tell. His heart is beating steadily, slowly, and Will recalls a conversation with an older student, towards the beginning of his degree; Will’s first concert with the university orchestra. He’d stood backstage, holding his oboe and reeds and water, shaking like a leaf at the thought of going out there under the bright lights and playing, playing where people could hear him, and his heart beating so fast that he was half-convinced it was going to burst right out of his chest, or perhaps that he would simply keel over of heart attack right there and then. A healthy nineteen-year old, dead of cardiac arrest. Hey, a friendly fourth-year trumpet player had told him, it’s normal. The only people whose hearts don’t speed up in response to performance activation are psychopaths. So congrats, you’re not a psycho. Strangely, that had actually helped; Will had always wondered that, about himself.

“I like the porthole,” Will says into Hannibal’s skin. “Sometimes, at night, I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields. When I look back, from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.”

Hannibal’s hand travels up and down his back, nails scratching lightly into his bare skin. “And now you are inside the boat,” he says. “How does it feel?”

“Good,” Will whispers, and tips his face up to kiss him again. Unlike their previous chaste press of lips, there is no mistaking his intention. Will all but shoves his tongue into Hannibal’s mouth, tasting cardamom and underneath something that reminds him of the taste of fresh blood, like chapped bitten lips on a cold day. Hannibal takes the hint and pushes the coverlet underneath them down a little before rolling entirely on top of Will, his arms boxing in Will’s shoulders and his entire body pressing him down into the mattress.

Will thrusts up experimentally, and finds himself with very little room to move. Hannibal is not crushing him so hard as to make it genuinely difficult to breathe, but hard enough to draw conscious attention to the process of drawing in air and pushing it out. It feels good; he wants it harder, wants to be pushed down into oblivion until all he has to think about is breathing. He’s good at breathing; quick breathing in between phrases, pushing out used-up lungfuls of carbon dioxide, circular breathing for long phrases. A world expert, essentially. He rakes his fingernails across Hannibal’s back hard enough to leave scratches, pulling him down.

For a while they just move against each other, both artless in the sense of there being no identifiable sexual act taking place and sublime in the feeling that perhaps their skin, the thin permeable barrier that delineates the difference between the self and the other, simply needs to be reintroduced to the other body that it should have been considering as a part of the own self all along. Will feels Hannibal’s cock in between his thighs, sticky with sweat but not slick enough to glide against his skin, and his own pressing into Hannibal’s belly. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, and finally he grabs on to Hannibal’s hair with both hands in the midst of Hannibal sucking bruises into his neck that will definitely show, and says, “What do you want? Please don’t make me choose. I’m not even sure I exist any more.”

Even as he says it, though, it’s not quite true. Will is used to dissolving inside of others, expects it even, when he’s doing something that means getting close to them. Playing is one such activity. Sex is another. But dissolving into Hannibal feels like a strange ouroboros of the self, where just at the moment he thinks he is lost, he realizes he’s been right there, right here, all along. As if Hannibal contains Will just as easily as Will contains others.

So before Hannibal even has the chance to open his mouth, Will accidentally blurts out “will you suck me?” as his mind is consumed by images of Hannibal’s mouth. Hannibal gives one last hard suck just above Will’s collarbone, that makes him arch up off the bed in simultaneous pain and need, and starts crawling down his body.

“You always exist, Will,” he says, and his tone is far too fervent to be merely responding to Will’s aroused word soup. “Please believe that anything I would do to you, I would do only because I believe you are far too supraliminal to be erased by it.”

Will has neither the time not the mental capacity to sort through that statement, because Hannibal opens his mouth like he’s about to eat him and slides Will’s cock right to the back of his throat. He emits a soft gagging sound, quickly swallowed, which Will knows he should probably feel bad about despite it being one hundred per cent Hannibal’s decision to choke himself on Will’s cock, but he simply can’t find it in himself when Hannibal starts sliding his lips slowly up and down his length.

“Fuck,” Will moans. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, Hannibal.” He reaches down and tangles his fingers in Hannibal’s hair, because he’s pretty sure Hannibal wants him to, and there’s really no other thought in his mind besides getting more of Hannibal’s mouth on him. It’s not like he’s never had a blowjob before, but he’s never had anyone suck his cock like it’s the greatest privilege of their life to do it: Hannibal’s eyes are closed, spit drips down his chin nearly unnoticed, and Will can actually feel the little moans and gasps he emits every time he slides Will down his throat. Obscene would perhaps be the right word, if it weren’t entirely too worshipful for that. It feels like it lasts forever, like this act is suspended outside of time, but in reality Will is aware that this is too good to possibly last for more than a few minutes. I exist, he reminds himself, and as pleasure lances through his body and Hannibal swallows down his come like he had indeed been waiting for second dessert, it’s not actually all that hard to believe.

Hannibal immediately launches himself back up Will’s body and kisses him, Will’s mouth lax with something close to shock and leaving him no time to decide how he feels about tasting his own semen on someone else’s tongue.

“Will you fuck me?” Will says, the moment his mouth is available. “Do you want to fuck me?”

Hannibal’s lips part, his lower lip so soft and vulnerable that Will can’t stop himself from reaching out and biting it. He doesn’t draw blood, but he feels Hannibal’s hard cock twitch against his leg as he does it. Finally Will releases him, and Hannibal sits back on his heels.

He licks his lips and stares down at Will, debauched. For a moment Will is pretty sure that Hannibal is going to take him up on it, and he actually does feel a stab of nerves, albeit pleasant nerves. Then Hannibal says, “I think it would be prudent to leave an area unexplored, to carry us into the future.”

“You– are you seriously afraid that I’m not going to want to do this again? After that?”

Will stares up at Hannibal, and realizes that the answer is, in fact, yes. Out of all things, Hannibal is still afraid that Will won’t find him interesting.

“I think merely that perhaps a sense of advancement and expansion could be preserved,” says Hannibal, “If we reserve some acts of intimacy for the future.”

Will licks his lips. “Eventually we’ll run out of various acts of intimacy to be reserved.

“I very much doubt that.” Hannibal sounds so sincere that it’s impossible not to believe him. His fervency seems to extend beyond the merely sexual, and Will wonders what other acts of intimacy Hannibal has in mind.

“Here,” says Hannibal gently, and he is reaching into his bedside table to squeeze lube onto his hand. It seems nearly funny, for Hannibal to be a normal person with a bedside table that has lube in it. Will glances at it briefly, not managing to catch a glimpse of any of the other contents of the drawer, so he is left to imagine them. A vibrator? A Bible? It’s impossible to say, really.

Instead of slicking his own cock, Hannibal’s slippery hand comes down in between Will’s thighs. The tender skin on the inside of his leg tingles with the contact of Hannibal’s warm skin, and he presses his thighs together, squeezing Hannibal’s fingers between his flesh. “Oh,” he breathes. “Okay. Yeah, okay.”

When Hannibal lowers his body on top of Will’s this time, it feels like every inch of them is pressing together; including his cock, which slips between Will’s thighs like it belonged there from the beginning. Then Hannibal starts to thrust, and they’re so close together that Will nearly has the wind knocked out of him each time; he lets it happen, breathing out as their torsos press together and in as Hannibal draws away. It makes him feel light-headed, the air coming into him too fast and too shallow, but the haze of unreality descending on the entire scene just makes it better. It’s easier to believe that this is real when it feels a little less present; after all, nightmares always feel real when you’re in them. Reality is more variable than that.

Hannibal comes with a grunt between Will’s legs; an inelegant, unplanned sound that makes Will want to gather him up and hide him away from the world. He rolls them onto their sides slightly and holds him, feeling the harsh pant of Hannibal’s breath against his shoulder. He feels wetness there, and it takes him a moment to realize that Hannibal is licking at his collarbone, practically teething at it. Will holds him tighter.

“There,” he whispers, blindly following his well-worn instincts; he’s not sure why he’s so certain that Hannibal is looking for comfort in this moment, but he is. “Hey. I’m not going anywhere.”

For a few minutes he thinks that isn’t going to get a response; Hannibal licks and nips at him like his clavicle is some sort of chew toy. Then Hannibal pulls his head back and says, “No one can guarantee such a thing.”

“Okay, I don’t intend to go anywhere of my own free will,” Will says. “Better?”

Hannibal brings a hand up behind Will’s head, cradling it. His eyes are so dark as to appear red-tinged in the low light. He kisses him softly in lieu of an answer.

Eventually, the drying semen on Will’s skin becomes uncomfortable. He starts to push himself up; there’s a door slightly ajar off to the side of the bed, through which he can see the soft white glow of an ensuite bathroom. Hannibal pushes him down firmly and gets up himself instead, coming back with a washcloth. Will bites his lip as Hannibal bends over him to clean him. Somehow, this feels more exposing than the sex had; lying still and allowing himself to be washed. He takes in Hannibal’s reverent face, and closes his eyes against it. The image still burns in his retinas.

“You said once that God punishes his creations even though he can see our best intentions,” Will says, as if he can take how utterly transparent he feels right now and reflect it back onto Hannibal. “Do you really believe that? Do you even believe in God?”

Hannibal disposes of the cloth in a hamper in the closet, and settles himself back on the bed beside Will. The wind makes a soft whooshing sound as it passes by the porthole window above their heads. Hannibal’s hand strokes over Will’s shoulder, first gently and then with a thumbnail digging into the skin to form a raw pink line. The act of inflicting a small hurt on Will, changing his body in some tiny way, seems to ground Hannibal, so Will stays still and lets him do it.

“The forbidden is always all the more powerful for being forbidden,” Hannibal says finally. “Under gosateizm, wards of the Soviet state were discouraged from considering the possibility of God’s agency in our lives.”

By the time it occurs to Will that he ought not to let his reaction to this freely offered information show in his face, it is too late: Hannibal’s mouth twitches in amusement at the obvious fascination Will is betraying. A deliberate bombshell, then, intended to give Hannibal back the upper hand from his moment of vulnerability. He erases his own vulnerability through further vulnerability, Will considers, and wonders if he could learn the trick of that himself.

“Did you?” says Will. “Consider it anyway?”

Hannibal’s eyes are thoughtful, faraway. “I was punished, once, for a volume of Yevtushenko’s poetry found under my mattress. I could not understand why, at the time; I argued that surely as long as I was reading Russian and not Lithuanian, my guardians ought to be pleased with me.”

“And yet you still hid it,” Will points out.

“Just so. Yevtushenko writes of humour personified, like a small God.” Hannibal’s voice comes slightly stilted, clearly translating in his head from a half-remembered verse: “Humour was imprisoned, but to no avail; he went straight through prison bars and stone walls. Coughing like any man in the ranks, he sang a folk song as he walked, rifle in hand upon the Winter Palace. He’s used to dirty looks, but they do him no harm; and humour at times with humour glances at himself. He is ever-present; nimble and quick, he’ll slip through anything and everyone. So glory be to humour; he is a valiant man.”

“And God is the same?” Will says. Then the lines tug at something in his memory, and he adds, “Wait, I know that one. Shostakovich set it to music, right?”

Hannibal’s nail trails down his shoulder and over his chest, a sharp line of pain then soothed over with a gentle fingertip. “Yes, although the Thirteenth symphony was quickly banned in the Soviet bloc. I heard it for the first time in Paris, by which time I was living with my uncle and aunt. And again in Baltimore, shortly after I arrived; I suppose, in programming for the 1992-1993 season, the music director of the Philharmonic felt it timely.”

“Must’ve been weird for you.”

Hannibal draws his hand with its surprisingly sharp nails back, with the reluctant gesture of one holding himself back from doing too much damage. Will wants to tell him that it’s OK, he can keep going, but he doesn’t want to call attention to the it. He rolls over instead, pressing his back into Hannibal’s chest and wriggling until Hannibal puts an arm around him. Will can no longer see his face, but Hannibal’s voice is warm in his ear as he says, “Yes, God is perhaps the same. Though God and Humour perhaps have more in common than mere longevity.”

“God must have a sense of humour, to make all this?” Will guesses.

“I collect church collapses,” says Hannibal. “Did you see the recent one in Sicily? The facade fell on 65 grandmothers during a special mass.”

“Hilarious,” Will deadpans. But at the same time, he can’t help but shiver a little and press back into the warmth of Hannibal’s body. It feels too closely aligned with the humour of Ben’s heartless torso, how Will’s first, awful, secret instinct had been to burst out laughing.

“And you?” Hannibal rescues him from his gory train of thought after a few moments. “Do you believe in God?”

It’s not much of a rescue. Will swallows, and the movement attracts Hannibal’s hand to his throat, as if he could feel from the outside the workings of the muscle. He doesn’t hold tightly, but Will can still feel his pulse beating against Hannibal’s hand. “All of the religious options I was presented with as a kid were… a particular flavour,” he says. “I’m… I’m not great at… discipleship.

“Hm. Are you unwilling to be so trusting as to hand your agency over to another?” Hannibal’s hand is cool against the heat of Will’s throat. He closes his eyes, and Hannibal continues: “Or are you all too willing to lose yourself in a leader, constantly searching for a guru who can take the responsibility of being Will Graham away from you?”

Will rockets upright. He’s stumbling to his feet before he even realizes what he’s doing, and then realizes he has nowhere to go and no desire to go anywhere, and merely braces himself against a corner of it and breathes. His heart is beating hard and fast like he’s just been running, and his head aches.

The Professor is sitting up against the headboard, and while it may have been merely irritating for her to slip her face over Jack Crawford’s, it is absolutely intolerable for her to do the same to Hannibal. “Go away!” Will wheezes at her, and at least some parts of his brain are still communicating with each other, because she is mercifully replaced by Hannibal’s fascinated face, head tilted minutely to one side and eyes burning into Will with curiosity.

“Sorry,” Will gasps, and collapses back into the bed beside Hannibal. “Sorry. That wasn’t– not you. Sorry. I… guess you hit a nerve, is all. Maybe I do need psychoanalysis after all.”

Hannibal’s hand is back in his hair and Will collapses gratefully and completely ungracefully over his lap, cheek pressing into Hannibal’s thighs. “I am, of course, biased on that subject,” says Hannibal, voice warm and amused.

“Will you be my psychiatrist?” Will mumbles, only half-joking. “I– I think I might be really fucking crazy. Just so you know.”

It is, of course, an absolutely ridiculous question to ask with your head an inch from your prospective doctor’s naked cock. “In that case, I think we have already passed quite a few ethical boundaries in our patient-psychiatrist relationship,” Hannibal points out. “We will have conversations, Will. About whatever you like.”

Will doesn’t like. He doesn’t like and doesn’t like and doesn’t like, right up until he gives up the pretense of planning on going home that evening and brushes his teeth with the toothbrush in his oboe case. He doesn’t like, until he’s back in Hannibal’s arms in bed again, the light extinguished and the faint sound of the wind passing over the porthole nearly enough to make him feel like he’s on a boat, one that has found safe harbour for the night.

Then he says into the darkness, “You’re right. I was a disciple, once. I wanted it more than I’d ever wanted anything, to be able to just give up. Give everything I was to someone else, and let everything worthy about me be solely to her credit.”

“A guru,” says Hannibal quietly. “A paddle to travel upstream with, when you have given up on the motor as hopeless.”

“It sounds ridiculous,” Will whispers. “An oboe guru. What kind of idiot manages to get lost in waters that shallow?”

And that’s it, he realizes, that’s the crux of it; he is deathly, terribly afraid that the answer is nobody, only you. Only Will Graham, alone.

“And your fellow-disciples?” Hannibal asks. “No collector of disciples has only one, surely. What became of them?”

“Um,” says Will, trying to rummage through the muddled contents of his brain to produce any memories on the post-music-school exploits of his studio-mates and the other ragtag assortment of students pulled into the Professor’s orbit. “Well. None of them have jobs like mine, that’s for sure. Most kind of dropped off the radar once they inevitably fell out of favour.”

“So you are exceptional only in that you were able to maintain your sense of self,” Hannibal points out, and Will recalls his fervent anything I would do to you, I would do only because I believe you are far too supraliminal to be erased by it.

“I guess,” Will accepts grudgingly, and wonders if perhaps, this psychiatrist thing might not be the worst thing in the world.

Chapter 8

“I… could’ve thought harder about this one, yeah.” Will crows the reed he’s planning on playing for the rehearsal, blowing air through the reed alone and listening to the richness of the overtones even in the strange harsh sound. It’ll do. The inside of his skull aches every time he blows through it, and he can’t remember if that was always what it felt like to play the oboe, or if this is some fresh new hell the instrument has seen fit to bestow on him. Maybe if he just keeps honking on the thing, Kathryn will stop talking.

“Could’ve thought harder.” She stares at him sarcastically, standing in front of his chair on the first riser of the wind section as she buzzes absent-mindedly on her mouthpiece, warming up her lips in between casually verbally destroying Will’s entire ego and along with his vague hope that maybe nobody would notice that he was coming in to work literally in the middle of a walk of shame. “You’re dressed like a twenty-year-old who’s just been told he’s going to a fancy restaurant for the first time, for an eleven AM pops show rehearsal, which you rolled up to twenty minutes before the downbeat in the passenger seat of a Bentley. Kinda seems like you did think about it, and specifically what you thought was ‘You know, I’d really like everyone in this orchestra to know I got laid last night.'”

On Will’s right, Cindy, who has been hired for a couple Philharmonic shows and knows what’s good for her if she wants to be hired for more, determinedly pretends not to hear the conversation and feigns absorption in minute adjustments to the position of her flute’s head joint. On his left, Marcos is scraping a reed vigorously. Mercifully, he’s barely said a word to Will in ten years and is unlikely to start now; he’s been second oboe for nearly forty years and had expected, for reasons not entirely clear to Will, that he would win the principal job upon Will’s predecessor’s retirement. He’d been auto-advanced to the semifinal round of the audition because of his previous membership in the orchestra, but then promptly voted out by a blind jury of his peers, and had never forgiven Will for daring to win the job and do it well. Still, he’s pretty quiet these days, and a section-mate who is functionally mute is far from the worst that Will’s had.

Will wants to tell Kathryn to shut up and go away, but some part of him isn’t quite ready to. After all, she’s right. Will could have packed a change of clothes when he left the house last night; he’d known there was an eleven AM rehearsal the next morning, and he’d know there was a possibility that– well. Maybe, on some level, he had wanted this. If only because of the way every sidelong glance reminds him of Hannibal, of the fact of him, his mere existence in some upscale office halfway across the city a strange comfort.

And Will is feeling like he needs comfort, right now; his brain feels rubbed raw, like every soft, gentle thought and emotion he’d had in Hannibal’s bed was taken out on credit, and the bill is now coming due. The stage lights are always bright, but now they’re nearly intolerable. He’d pawed through his oboe case backstage, convinced that his metronome was on inside of it, until he’d located the thing and seen with his own eyes that it was off.

Now, he realizes he left his tuner backstage in his weird hallucinatory frenzy. He glances at his watch: 10:57. Marcos probably has a tuner– actually, most other members of the wind section probably have a tuner– but it would be mortifying for the principal oboist, whose unique job is to give the tuning A at the beginning of each rehearsal and concert, to turn around and just ask for a tuner from someone else.

He gets some odd looks slipping off the stage at three minutes before the start of the rehearsal, but he makes it to his spot backstage and grabs the tuner quickly. The cacophony of the orchestra warming up is both filtered through the walls, and piped through a sound system from the stage to the backstage, such that it can be turned up and down in all of the dressing rooms and allow soloists or orchestra musicians not required for a particular work to gauge how close they are to their entrance. He has the curious sensation of the noise literally going in one ear and out the other, like a ribbon of tape running clear through his head. I don’t want to be here, he thinks desperately, and then he sees it.

Will’s seen animals indoors before. He’d gone to a music camp on scholarship once, a lakeside affair that would have been utterly idyllic if not for the the brutal competition to get into the top orchestra and the gruelling rehearsal schedule once you were in it. A raccoon had gotten into the repurposed former airplane hangar that they rehearsed in, nosing through cases and backpacks while the conductor shouted Just ignore it, we have work to do. He spent a couple years of his elementary academic career in schools full to the bursting and classes overflowing into portables, flimsy-sided affairs with mice and squirrels and the occasional pigeon venturing into the warm space in the winter. More recently, he’d once left the door open as he let the dogs run around in the yard and a deer had nearly wandered right into his house.

This is not a raccoon, or a pigeon, or a deer.

Will follows the stag into the wings of the stage. It’s strangely glossy, and he strains his eyes towards it in the dark to make out the source of its lustre, and makes out that it is covered in what looks like feathers, in lieu of fur. It’s staring out through the wings onto the stage, watching his colleagues warm up in the last few minutes before the rehearsal starts, and though it is a perfectly reasonable temperature onstage– it’s required to be, actually, as the musicians are permitted to refuse to play if the temperature drops below 65 degrees– the wings suddenly feel chilled and dry in only the way that a forest can feel chilled.

The stag stares at the musicians, and Will stares at it and wonders what it sees. If all of this fuss, just to be able to make sounds that don’t even last past the moment of their occurrence, seems worthwhile to the stag, or if everyone here is perhaps wasting their time.

He desperately wants it to turn to look at him, to acknowledge him with the same intensity that it is filling his field of vision. There was something he was supposed to do, Will recognizes fuzzily in the back of his mind. It had seemed important, like the most important thing, which is ridiculous. Nothing could be more important than–

“Will?” His name is a sound that Will recognizes. It happens again: “Will, are you okay?”

Peggy is standing in front of him in the gloom, gently tapping his left arm, the one he’s not holding the oboe with. She’s a short, solid woman who had been a cellist in the orchestra for years before moving to the personnel manager job. She’d done both jobs for a year, apparently, but quit playing the cello to work solely on the administrative side with no apparent difficulty or regret. “My wrist always did bother me,” she’d said cheerfully when Adam had once obliviously trampled though the zone of awkwardness that always accumulates around a musician who makes the unthinkable decision to just quit, unforced, and asked her outright why she’d chosen an administrative job over a playing one. “It was only a matter of time. And besides, now I don’t have to practice once I go home from work. When the day’s work is done, it’s done.”

Among her duties is to call the rehearsal to order at the appointed time: a job that requires only that she watch the official clock like a hawk until the second hand ticks over to the official start of the service, and then that she clap three times while making eye contact with Will. The orchestra silences itself immediately, Will gives three tuning A’s in a row– for the woodwinds first, then the brass, then the strings. The conductor can then start the rehearsal with no further faffing around, and things proceed in an orderly fashion from there.

Well. Usually. Currently, the principal oboist is standing in the wings at two minutes past the official start time of the rehearsal, staring into space.

“Hi,” he says stupidly. “What time is it?”

“11:02,” she says, and the mingled concern and annoyance in her voice slips through his mind like ice water. He blinks several times. There is mostly eerie silence on the stage as everyone waits, broken by the occasional murmur or noodle on an instrument to try to break the mood. He is holding his oboe, which is good, because he’ll need that, and a tuner, which is also good. This is his job. “Shit,” he says.

“Are you all right?” Peggy says again, and it’s clear that she’s really hoping the answer is going to be “yes,” because she doesn’t feel like having to call another oboist on this late notice.

“Yes,” Will parrots. His head aches. His feet ache, like he’s been walking for miles and not simply from the back of the stage to the wings. He half-expects to look down and find himself covered in leaves, but when he hesitantly takes a few steps out into the bright stage lights and looks down at his shoes, they are clean.

There are a few muffled sarcastic slow claps, then a not-quite-quiet-enough hiss of “Quit it, asshole, he’s fucking traumatized,” which makes Will wish for more slow clapping. He shuffles to his seat on the riser. His reed is dry, and he slobbers on it desperately before cacking out a wobbly A.

The rest of the rehearsal happens. He plays the notes on the page, borne along as if by a force outside of his control. Time is always wonky during the music– it speeds up and slows down, the concentration of a couple of pages full of notes carrying you along at a galloping pace and the space in between rest expanding, taffy-like, nearly to the breaking point.

At the break of the rehearsal, everyone leaves him alone, and Will plans on keeping it that way. He pulls out his phone, intending to pretend to have someone to text, and then he realizes that he actually does have someone to text. He pulls up Hannibal’s number, and hovers his fingers over the keys.

What does it mean when you have a hallucination that is weirdly better than all of your other shitty hallucinations? No. Not that.

I had a really nice time last night. Technically accurate, but perhaps too little too late on the dignity front for a man who had, of his own free will, uttered the phrase second dessert not twelve hours earlier.

I’ve never told anyone what I told you. You probably get that all the time. The extent to which that’s way too true for comfort tugs at him: Hannibal is a psychiatrist, a repository for the dark underbellies of hundreds of perfectly normal people. In that respect, Will is just like all the others.

I’ve got a killer headache and this pops show fucking sucks but hey, at least Ben is dead. Small mercies! For a moment he tries to imagine Hannibal receiving that one, and realizes with a jolt that he genuinely has no idea what it would look like. As if there’s a boundary beyond which he can’t extrapolate Hannibal’s reactions, and he’s never encountered that boundary with anyone else.

Finally he types, the Phil has a pops and a masterworks this week and I have to play an out-of-towner with the quintet beginning of next. I’d like to see you though. Want to come to the rehearsal on Friday? I think you’d like the rep. He sends it quickly, before he can second-guess himself, and starts soaking up a reed for the second half of the rehearsal.

Chapter 9

Chapter Notes

Will dreams, because he always dreams. At least, he’s fairly sure he has always dreamed. He remembers waking up caked in the fine powdery salt of too many layers of dried sweat often, the mornings before lessons with the Professor, or after them. Any day of the week, really; he remembers her walking down the row of practice rooms once, staring into the little playing card-sized windows at the students cloistered inside them. Everyone had talked about it; by common agreement, the practice rooms are students’ space, not professors’. The practice hallway is the workshop, common area, psychiatric breakdown central, and social space of a music school, all rolled into one. Anyone found squatting in a practice room not practising could, by general agreement, be asked to leave; unless they were in there to cry post-lesson, which was considered a perfectly legitimate use of a room and an opportunity for amateur psychology consultations on the part of any older and wiser students who might happen upon it. The point is, it’s not somewhere where you might want your private teacher happening upon you, and for the most part, the professors had no interest in witnessing that side of their students.

Except her. From the day that she had walked calmly down the hallway, beady eyes peering into every room, Will had stopped feeling safe just because he wasn’t supposed to see her that day.

So he dreams that he’s back in one of those rooms, the strange comfort of his neighbours’ practising bleeding through the walls around him. The walls are painted white, but the corners have filled up with pencilled graffiti over the years; some of it encouraging, Take a deep breath! You got this! and much of it on the spectrum somewhere between mildly concerning to outright disturbing.

He’s sitting slumped against the heater. The practice hallway is made up of former dormitory rooms, which means they’re terribly soundproofed, but the saving grace is that each room has its own large window and a heater that you can turn up and down individually. Will used to come to school for seven in the morning every day, part of an elite and dubiously prestigious cabal of morning practicers who merely nodded to each other solemnly on their way into the building, and in the winter he’d always spend a few minutes each morning slumped with his back to the heater, warming up, trying to convince himself to get started on yet another day.

In the dream, he isn’t alone; the feathered stag is lying on the floor opposite him, in front of the door, its body in a position to prevent anyone who tried to come into the room from swinging open the door. The posture feels achingly familiar; he’d spent hours sitting on practice room floors like this, across the room from studio-mates and fellow students, deconstructing their own neuroses both inborn and induced. He looks at the stag.

“Hi,” he says, and the stag snuffles and rests its head on its front paws.

Now, with the luxury of time and no rehearsal about to start to snap him out of his contemplation of this new and novel hallucination, Will can examine his own feelings, and realize that out of all possible reactions, he feels comforted by its presence. He can hear footsteps from down the hallway, an exaggerated ring of shoes on polished floor that must be part of the dreamscape, and he knows that in a few minutes, he’s going to see the P.’s face appear at the window. What are you doing in here, Will? he imagines her saying. Just fucking around? Maybe I should have given your spot to someone who was actually going to practice.

Quickly, Will pushes himself up and crosses the room. He wedges himself in between the stag’s warm body and the door, and the stag lets him slip down until it’s all but covering him, tucked low enough that someone peering in through the window wouldn’t be able to see him. The footsteps stop outside the door, and Will breathes very slowly and quietly, feeling feathers brush reassuringly against his cheek.

The P.’s eyeroll is very nearly audible. “Gullible,” she says, voice cracking through the room like a gunshot. “Gullible and lovesick. Do you think Hannibal Lecter doesn’t have his own motivations for taking you on? Do you think he doesn’t have his own plans? Do you have any self-awareness at all?”

Will holds on to the stag, shaking, and doesn’t say anything. Eventually, her footsteps retreat down the hallway. He listens to the ambient sounds around him, closing his eyes and sinking into the soothing knowledge of the trumpet player buzzing on his left, the violinist playing Don Juan on his right, the trombonist down the hall whose name he can’t quite remember, but he remembers that the guy wore earplugs all the time, even to practice. By the time the dream dissolves around him, he feels almost safe.

Will wakes up soaked in brine and irritated. The P.’s technique book sits on his stand, buried behind piles of music, out of sight but never quite not-present enough to move from the stand to a shelf. He doesn’t want to see the spine of it blaring out at him, anyway, would rather just bury it in parts and forget about it. He feels it there, though, as he makes coffee and breakfast and eats at the formica table across from his reed desk, as if the P. herself were glaring at him from the other side of the room. He slams down his coffee cup and growls, “I know. I know he does, okay? Will you just let me believe for a couple scant minutes of my day that someone actually thinks I have value?” He then feels extremely silly, and even more irritated than before.

He’s still irritated when he gets onstage the afternoon of the rehearsal Hannibal is coming to. It’s an afternoon dress rehearsal; just enough time in between the dress and the concert to grab some dinner and for the brass players to rest their lips, though they’ll be playing more quietly for the dress anyway to reserve their strength. For the first time, sitting on stage and watching his colleagues filter on slowly, Will thinks to wonder whether the music really will be to Hannibal’s taste. He hadn’t thought to ask whether he enjoyed opera, and contemporary opera at that. The first piece on the schedule for the rehearsal, by dint of it being the one requiring the largest forces, is one of the ones that Hannibal had noted on Will’s stand when he had come to Wolf Trap: the Doctor Atomic Symphony, a suite of music from a 2005 opera by John Adams recounting the tense few days before the first test of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. The second half of the rehearsal will be the Rachmaninoff piano concerto making up the second half of the program– a concerto usually appears on the first half in the standard format of an orchestral concert, but the Doctor Atomic symphony is an unusual enough work to displace the usual format.

It’s five minutes before the start of the rehearsal, the stage a messy cacaphony of musicians warming up and chatting, before Will notices one of the side doors open into the hall. Usually, when people are invited to sit in on rehearsals, they choose to stick to the seats along the side of the hall, made nervous by the strangeness of a huge, empty concert hall. Hannibal, of course, heads straight for the centre of the hall, a row sufficiently far back that he doesn’t have to crane his neck to see Will. And be seen by him.

Will ducks his head to hide his amused grin. Despite the headache pounding through his skull, he wishes the stage lights were bright enough that he couldn’t see Hannibal looking entirely comfortable sitting by himself in the middle of an empty concert hall.

Of course, once the rehearsal starts, he hardly has time to pay attention to anything not happening on the stage; the music director of the Philharmonic is an efficient rehearser, which musicians tend to appreciate. Nobody likes playing the same sections over and over, or sitting around bored while a too-poetic maestro tries to find exactly the right words to express what he– always a he, for some reason, with the too-poetic types– means. The first half of the rehearsal is a compact hour, and then there’s a twenty-minute break as some musicians switch off and the stage hands bring the piano onstage.

Will puts his oboe on its peg, then picks it back up again, as if it’s a talisman that he had better take with him for good luck. He wanders to the front lip of the stage, ignoring the cello section who are congregated near the front of their space on stage to gossip.

Hannibal is standing just in front of the first row of audience seats, and sits down on the edge of the stage. He means to slip off the stage and stand beside him, but Hannibal steps forward first, a hand on each one of Will’s knees and his body just barely in between Will’s thighs. It’s not obscene, but it’s certainly unambiguous. Will wants to press closer, but he would have to put the oboe down and jump off the stage to do that; instead, he just concentrates on the warmth of Hannibal’s hands through the fabric of Will’s slacks.

“Hi,” Will says. He meant to say something more than the stupefied greeting his dream-self had mustered for the feathered stag, but it suddenly feels like ages since he’s last seen Hannibal, even though it was only a few days. It feels like they must have known each other since forever, and their separation is intolerable. He feels like he’s been dragging himself through mud for the past couple days, and he’s finally at the finish line.

“Hi,” says Hannibal, amusement touching the corners of his eyes. Hannibal leans forward and kisses him, light and chaste, and in the moment that he pulls away, Will is almost certain that he catches sight of the stag, slipping like a shadow through the last row of seats at the back of the hall. He shakes his head slightly, like he could readjust his head’s relationship to reality just with a little bit of percussive maintenance.

Hannibal lingers close, and Will can hear the deep intake of air through his nose. “How do I smell?” he mutters, partly embarrassed and partly curious. He had showered that morning, it couldn’t be that bad. “Crazy? Does crazy have a smell? How is it?”

“Enticing,” says Hannibal, straightening up. Will can feel the eyes on the back of his neck from the few musicians milling around the stage, but he doesn’t care. He feels nearly dizzy with the realization that this is his, he gets to have Hannibal. Or maybe he just feels dizzy with regular old dizziness, which isn’t all that unusual these days.

“What did you think of the Adams?” Will recovers the presence of mind to ask.

“I enjoyed it,” says Hannibal. “More than the original, in fact; I saw the opera at the Met several years ago. I must say that I was unimpressed by the vast majority of the libretto, and the symphonic version did not suffer overmuch from its removal.”

Will laughs, and relaxes into Hannibal’s grip on his knees. “I’ve only ever seen it in bits and pieces,” he says. “I recall liking the parts of the libretto that weren’t actually written as libretto for the opera. There’s a poem by John Donne in there. It doesn’t make much sense in its context in the opera, but I like the musical setting of that text. Not that Richard doesn’t play it great, too,” he adds quickly, as if the Philharmonic’s trumpet player, to whom the melody belongs in the symphonic version, might be lurking behind him listening.

“Holy Sonnet fourteen,” Hannibal says. “Batter my heart, three-person’d God. An odd choice for the librettist to assign in the opera to the character of Oppenheimer, a Jewish man.”

Will shrugs. “The real Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Gita himself, despite not being Hindu.”

“True enough.” Hannibal’s hands slide slowly over Will’s legs, just a touch too slow to be casual, but not quite straying into anything inappropriate. The bright stage lights behind him feel faded, as if everything in the room is dim in comparison to the bubble containing the two of them. “I suppose the violence of Donne’s yearning for his God is recognizable regardless of creed,” he says, and then his hands still, and his eyes catch Will’s and hold them as he recites: “Take me to you, imprison me; for I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free.

Will feels caught, riveted. He wants to look away, but he can’t; he knows the line that completes the sonnet. The flash of the strange feathered beast in his peripheral vision no longer feels out of place. “Nor ever chaste,” he whispers, “Except you ravish me.”

For a moment, he feels strangely peaceful. If only he could stay forever, sitting here with Hannibal’s strangeness and warmth crowding in on him, he could be content. Then he hears Peggy clapping her hands to signal the imminent beginning of the second half of the rehearsal, and feels a hand patting the top of his head invasively.

Will realizes he’s sitting on the lip of the stage in front of the concertmaster’s seat, and John is returning to his spot. He’s standing behind Will, having just fucking patted him on the head, but when Will twists around to look at him, John is staring at Hannibal.

“Careful with this one,” he says, jocular, a multimillion-dollar del Gesù violin on loan from a wealthy donor dangling casually from his hand. “He’s a little tease.” Then he’s sauntering away to his seat, like he has the perfect right to say anything he likes to anyone. Which, apparently, he does.

Will’s face burns. “Idiot,” he mutters. “Sorry about that. Ignore him. Do you like Rachmaninoff?”

For a moment, Hannibal is eerily, inhumanly still. Then he blinks, and offers a smile that feels both kindly and somehow brittle. “Certainly,” he says. “I don’t practice the pianoforte enough to have the proficient pedal technique needed for the Romantic masters; it is always a pleasure to witness virtuoisty so far outside of one’s own skillset.”

Will swallows. “Okay,” he says. He wants to say come back or where have you gone? but he doesn’t have the words; instead he says, “Will you kiss me again?”

Hannibal does, lips warm and soft and slightly to the left of centre of Will’s mouth. There are enough musicians assembled back on stage now that the irascible, slightly unhinged principal oboist receiving romantic advances while sitting on the lip of the stage will surely be the talk of the dressing rooms before the show tonight, but he can’t find it in himself to care.

“Okay,” says Will, pushing himself to his feet, “I’ll see you later.”

“You will,” says Hannibal.

Chapter End Notes

Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14; John Adam’s musical setting in Doctor Atomic; the arrangement in the Doctor Atomic Symphony.

I realized I forgot to include some non-obvious links in Chapter 7, so I’ll drop them here if anyone’s reading along in real time– Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s Humour, and Shostakovich’s musical setting in the 13th Symphony.

Chapter 10

Chapter Notes

It’s pleasant, Will reflects, that the iteration of the woodwind quintet concert at Strathmore is before, not after, the iteration at the university. Nerves are a fact of life for a professional musician; but what Will wouldn’t have anticipated, when he stepped into his current role, is that the level of nerves he feels seems to be inversely correlated to the social status of the audience. Playing for dumb rich people, who rarely care what the music is as long as the concert is an opportunity to be seen in public talking to so-and-so and wearing such-and-such, is easy. Playing for students, especially music students attending the concert to hear what they one day might be able to play like, is much more intimidating.

Today’s concert is the former, and Will is feeling pleasantly workmanlike as he makes his way to the room set aside as the quintet’s dressing and warmup room at the venue. The Mansion at Strathmore is, as the name suggests, a Colonial Revival mansion housing small concerts and art exhibitions, and the social stratum of the clientele hasn’t changed since it was first built as a summer home for a captain and his wife. It’s the kind of place where it feels perfectly clear to Will that he is a servant, in the hierarchy of the building, and that is perfectly fine with him; he’s content to play his part and then get out. Except tonight, of course, when apparently the presenters are insisting that they be allowed to take the musicians out afterwards, as if the unmannered personalities of the musicians themselves are part of the entertainment of the music.

Will grimaces, and considers that perhaps he’s being too hard on rich assholes. He has, after all, recently become rather fond of one particular rich asshole, and thanks to his not-particularly-well-thought-out rendezvous with Hannibal at rehearsal, the entire Baltimore musical scene seems to know it. For the most part, Will doesn’t really care. As long as people talk about him behind his back, and don’t try to involve him in the conversation, he’s happy.

He hears voices as he approaches the warmup room, and he slows to make out what’s being said. It’s Kathryn– she’s the most outgoing of the group, and tends to be the point person to presenters and organizers– and she’s using her Serious Voice, which is only slightly more indoor-appropriate than her Loud Brass Player Voice.

“–just wanted you to be forewarned,” she’s saying. “I know the donors are excited to meet the musicians, but sometimes the expectations are a little bit mismatched on these kinds of things. He’s not mean-spirited or anything. It’s just a regular crazy oboist personality. And he found a murdered corpse recently, so he’s been under some stress.”

There is a high, tinkling laugh– a nervous sound. “Of course,” the other voice says. “Of course. I understand. Thank you for letting me know, Kathryn, you know I very much appreciate your putting all this together.”

“No prob,” says Kathryn, and Will hears her start buzzing her lips, a clear dismissal.

The door to the warmup room opens, and the sound of heels clicking on the wooden floors emerges. The woman wearing the heels has a plastered-on smile and an expensive handbag. She is tapping away at her smartphone, and nearly misses Will, who has leaned against the wall of the hallway.

“Hi there,” he says, just for the strange pleasure of watching her head snap up and the mingled surprise, confusion, embarrassment, and just a touch of fear pass over her face.

It’s odd, he reflects as she scurries down the hallway, that it’s that last one– her fear— that lodges in his belly and warms him from the inside out. If he could conjure up more pleasant hallucinations than his loathsome glimpses of the P. and the terrifying and now ever-present impression of improbable wildlife out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he would enjoy exchanging grins with a ghostly image of Hannibal, who would no doubt find it just as funny as Will does.

Instead, he pulls out his phone. I miss you, he texts, and then, because he wants to be sure to get a reply as quickly as possible, What are you eating tonight?

Sure enough, only about thirty seconds later he gets a message back: Muscovy duck leg with a port sauce and root vegetables. It would be better with your company at the table. Then, a second later there is another message, accompanied by a picture: I am occupying myself tonight with a batch of sausages. The image is of a long tube of sausage laid out on Hannibal’s kitchen prep table, not yet divided into links.

Will smiles, oddly charmed by the peek into a work in progress. Looks good, he types out, and then instead of sending it he deletes the entire message and types instead, Unsolicited sausage pics are generally held to be rude. He sends it before he can think better of it; even if Hannibal is utterly nonplussed by it, he wants to have an excuse to have just a little more time here, before he has to go warm up for a concert in front of a bunch of assholes who have to be warned before they can even be allowed to meet him.

Have they not been solicited? My mistake.

A bubble of laughter escapes Will involuntarily, and he hears Kathryn’s buzzing stop in the room next to him. His fingers are only slightly unsteady as he types back, All right. Let’s meet the meat before her head pops out of the room.

“Will!” she says, and whatever else she might be Kathryn is a terrible actor, and Will almost feels bad for how obviously she’s wondering how long he’s been standing there. He would reassure her if he could, but don’t worry about the bit where you told the concert presenter that I’m crazy– actually, if you could give her a call and tell her I’m way too crazy to hang out with her friends, that would be great, probably isn’t the kind of reassurance she’s looking for.

He drops the phone back into the outside pocket of his oboe case and forces the pre-existing smile on his face to mold itself outwards, as if it were created for her. “Hey,” he says. “I checked into that hotel they’re putting us up in. Pretty slick.” He had, too, seriously considered buying a bottle of cheap whisky to place on the nightstand for afterwards. Unfortunately the whole point of the hotel is that they want the musicians to get smashed with the donors in the hotel bar, though, so even the opportunity to drink himself into oblivion on bleached hotel sheets has been removed from him.

“Yeah, I tried to warm up in the room and a maid came and knocked on my door to ask me to please stop playing my recorder,” says Kathryn, rolling her eyes. Will laughs, and starts unpacking his oboe. He keeps a bottle of ibuprofen in the inside of it now, and swallows two of them, rubbing at his temples. He tries not to imagine how nice it would be to be laid out on Hannibal’s couch right now, the doctor’s gentle hands in his hair. If he thinks about that, he’ll just get mopey.

(And there’s no reason to be mopey, the Professor snaps at him. Do you know how many students– students more talented than you— would kill for the job you have right now? So few music students even make it into the profession, and you have the gall to bemoan your good luck when by some strange fluke you actually win a job?)

He tries not to check his phone. it doesn’t buzz, and Will soaks up some reeds and warms up trying to ignore the sinking feeling that perhaps Hannibal is disgusted with him, and Will doesn’t even get to see what that emotion looks like on him. It’s only nearly an hour later, when Jerry, Cindy and Min have all arrived and they’re all standing in their own little corners of the room, noodling aimlessly as they wait for a stagehand to come get them to go onstage, that he finally gets a text message.

By all means. There is an image attached, and for a moment Will’s eyes don’t quite resolve it into a coherent picture, it’s so absolutely unexpected. Then he clicks to enlarge it, and realizes that it’s Hannibal. He’s sitting in front of the fireplace in his parlour, the angle wide enough that the room is clearly recognizable. He has his trousers pushed down, and his erect cock is straining upwards into the centre of the photo.

“Oh my god,” says Will out loud, and luckily everyone else in the room is making enough noise that they don’t hear him. (Or perhaps they just decide that talking to himself is the next stage in Will’s crazy oboist personality, a small part of him thinks viciously.) Despite the fact that Will had essentially asked for this– well, he’d been joking. Mostly. Flirting. Maybe. He isn’t entirely certain how flirting is done, so it’s very possible that he’d gotten it wrong. Clearly. Either that, or this is just Hannibal, another facet of his personality that actually, upon reflection, makes a certain amount of sense to Will: his strange, nearly confrontational honesty, how everything in his vicinity seems to take on a metaphorical significance that he cannot ignore but has to speak into being.

Will looks at the picture again, and tries to focus on something other than the main event, because he really doesn’t want to be going out on stage with an inconvenient erection. Everything about Hannibal is precise and deliberate, from his home to his speech to his meals. If he sent Will this photo, it was because he wanted to say something with this photo specifically. Will imagines Hannibal arranging himself in his parlour, undoing his belt and pushing down his pants. He can feel, as if he is Hannibal, his excitement, and also something that feels deeper and more complicated that Will can’t quite make out. He looks through Hannibal’s eyes around at the room, moving his gaze and the gaze of the camera this way and that even as he absent-mindedly strokes himself to hardness. When he finally snaps the picture, Will realizes, it’s with deliberate attention not just to the foreground, but also to the back. It intentionally shows enough of Hannibal’s parlour– his fireplace, his furniture, the art on the walls– that anyone who has ever been to his house would be able to recognize the location. And if Kathryn is to be believed about the dinner parties, that’s quite a large number of people.

Will realizes, with a jolt that feels more like arousal than the actual arousal does, that this is– vulnerability. It’s intentional, a gift, a picture that Will could show to anyone he likes and they would have good reason to believe his claim that it’s Hannibal Lecter’s dick, because Hannibal has taken pains to identify himself.

He doesn’t even have to ask himself why, really. Being with Hannibal feels like a dangerous game of one-up-manship, Will showing more and more of his soft underbelly and Hannibal giving him enough in return that it just makes him want to give more. Will wonders what Hannibal wants in return for this. He would happily accept a similarly incriminating picture of Will’s dick, probably, but that doesn’t feel like it, somehow.

He’s still dumbstruck, trying to come up with a message in return and utterly failing, when a stagehand knocks on the door loudly enough to interrupt the disarray of noises inside the warmup room. “You all ready?” he asks, indifferent, and Will quickly puts the phone away and grabs his oboe and reeds, his music having already been set out on the stage. He takes a deep breath, and tries to sink into the stagehand’s calm, unpretentious demeanour. Despite having now spent more of his lifetime playing concerts regularly than not, he still feels nearly sick with nerves in the moments before walking onto the stage, every time. He tries to hold the image of Hannibal’s naked lap lit by firelight in his mind, but it trickles away like water as the reality of performance crashes over him.

He sighs. The distraction was nice while it lasted. “We’re ready,” he says, and they head to the stage.

Chapter End Notes

“Noodling,” btw, is slang for playing little bits and pieces of nothing in particular on your instrument, usually as a warmup or a nervous habit. (Can also be a noun: “so-and-so’s noodle” would be the thing that person usually plays unconsciously. Over a lifetime they can develop into distinctive calling cards; I’ve heard the supposition that the opening of Till Eulenspiegal was based on Strauss hearing his father unconsciously playing something similar every day.) Other vocab I think I’ve used here before: a “cack”, either as a noun or “to cack” as a verb, is the beginning of a note that either doesn’t start when you mean it too, starts too explosively, or starts on the completely wrong note (the latter more common on brass instruments.)

Chapter 11

“So, I got the hat made, there was no problem with that, and I was rather fond of it– it was only a diplomatic occasion, of course, but naturally I would always treasure the hat that I had once worn to tea at Buckingham Palace– but I was living ever so far out into the country at the time, very rural, and where am I supposed to find a hat box in a place like that?”

The woman across the table from him is swaying slightly, her glass of expensive wine miraculously not spilling down her white blouse. Then Will tries to bring a hand to his own drink and realizes that he, in fact, is the one swaying.

(The P. had drank beer, when they went out together. He’d ended up at bars with her often, with other students and sometimes alone, when she’d buy him an oversized pub salad and a coke without consulting him for his preference. He would eat quietly as she sipped her beer and regaled him with stories of her student days and brief period of time in an orchestra, before she’d gotten a teaching job. Then she’d say well, Will, anything to say? We’re all friends here, right? and he would press his lips closed to avoid asking her why she’d left the orchestra, if her job had been so prestigious.)

“Uh,” he says, “where indeed?”

The woman across from him is much older than the P., and has none of her easy, enticing intimacy. She’s talking at Will instead of to him, which suits him since he has no idea what she’s talking about.

“So I was driving with my husband one day,” she continues, “and we see a warehouse with a big sign on it that says Cowtown. And gosh if it isn’t a– I don’t know what they’re called exactly, a cowboy supply store. So I said to my husband, well, cowboys wear hats, surely cowboys must need hat boxes to put their cowboy hats in. And he agreed, so we went in and I went up to the counter in this store full of cowboys just looking at me like they’d never seen a lady before in their lives, and sure enough, the nice cowboy at the counter not only sold me a hat box, but when i told him all about how this was for the hat I was going to wear to tea at Buckingham Palace on a cultural diplomatic trip, he even had it monogrammed for me. And the moral of the story is that people really aren’t all that different from each other, after all,” she finishes triumphantly.

“Huh,” says Will. He tries to think of something else to say to that piece of information, and then changes gears and wonders what Hannibal would say to it. Surely Hannibal is good at talking to these kinds of people. For some reason, though, when he tries to slip into what he knows of Hannibal’s mind like a suit, all he can imagine doing is standing up and stabbing the woman in the eye with a butter knife. Which, no, that can’t be right.

He hasn’t had all that much to drink, but his skin feels heated from the inside out, like a too-large glass of whisky after coming in from shovelling snow. His phone is a solid weight in the pocket of the jeans he’d changed into in his hotel room, after the concert and before putting in his appearance at the bar, and it feels like the unanswered message from Hannibal is burning a hole though the fabric. “I own a hat,” he offers stupidly.

The woman’s eyes dart slightly down the table, clearly having intuited that Will is not, as a conversational partner, the catch that he may at first have seemed to be. Everyone else is engaged in conversations, and there’s nowhere for her to retreat to. Will feels rather badly for her. “So,” she says, with a forced smile, “What is it like to play the oboe?”

“It beats fixing boar motors, or at least I thought it would,” says Will, and then he can no longer keep his eyes from the spot he’s been assiduously not looking the entire evening: the entranceway to the hotel bar, cast in shadow, where the stag is waiting for him. It narrows his eyes, and the intention is unambiguous.

“It wants me to go,” he thinks, “I need to go, it’s important,” and then he realizes that he had in fact said that out loud, and the woman with the cowboy hat box is looking at him with a combination of fear and relief. Will gets up and allows his feet to follow, and breathes a sigh of relief when the artificial, staged darkness of the inside of the hotel bar gives way to the messy darkness of the outdoors. It’s a cold enough night that he can see his breath very faintly on the air, and he keeps watching it puff up out of him and then disappear. The stag walks slowly, but it never quite lets Will catch up. It’s peaceful, to know that there’s no way for him to get closer. He just needs to follow. He follows. He…

He just needs to–

He just–

Will’s toes are freezing.

He blinks. The toes he could live with, although he does wonder where on earth his shoes went. His fingers, though, are so cold they feel numb to the bone, like sticks instead of living digits, and he is far too used to paying attention to the state of his fingers to not notice that.

It’s still dark around him, but the darkness has a different shape. The streetlights have faded from view, but he can still hear the sounds of traffic from every direction. He was following an imaginary stag, he remembers, which now seems like a fairly unhinged thing to have done. Even so, he still thinks he might keep on following it if it reappeared.

His phone is still in his pocket, thank God. He pulls it out and pulls up a map with shaking fingers. The little blue dot that represents the phone is in the middle of a green patch, not all that far from the hotel, labelled as a cemetery. Sure enough, if he squints into the darkness around him he can make out rows of headstones stretching off into the distance.

The dial tone nearly surprises him. He hadn’t meant to call Hannibal, and yet clearly he had, since he is.

It takes a while for him to pick up, and Will is nearly convinced that he isn’t going to when the line clicks into life. “Will,” Hannibal says, and his voice sounds like it is coming from farther away, like he’s on speakerphone instead of holding the phone to his ear. There is a faint whooshing in the background, and then a soft, rhythmical clicking that Will finally identifies as a turn signal. Hannibal is in the car.

“That’s not what they usually mean when they say you should picture the audience naked,” Will says.

“Isn’t it? My apologies, then. I had no wish to distract you.”

Will leans against a nearby headstone, then finds himself fully sitting down on it. It’s an old one, the curves worn smooth by time and the letters faded, faintly visible now that his eyes have adjusted to the dark. “I wanted to be distracted,” Will says, one finger tracing the lettering of the name on his makeshift seat. He feels a sinking feeling in is stomach, because he knows, now, what he has to offer Hannibal in return.

“How was the concert?” Hannibal asks. Filling time, letting Will get around to whatever he really needs to say on his own time.

“I’m in a cemetery,” Will says, matter-of-factly, forcing it out of his mouth like bile and feeling, already, immensely better for it. “I followed a hallucination here. I don’t know where my shoes are. I don’t remember getting here, I’m losing time. I think there might be something really wrong with me. I– you told me once that I exist, but I’m not so sure any more.”

There. That is a worthy offering, something Hannibal will take with hands just as gentle and as greedy as Will’s accepting the photo.

“Reality can be slippery,” says Hannibal, and his voice is low and smooth against the background noise of the road underneath him. Will wants to slip into it and never return. You need a handle to reality for you to hold onto. Think of the time. Think of where you are. Think of who you are.”

Will swallows. It seems like a fairly impotent tool to deal with a loss of reality– he couldn’t have thought of where he was while he was following the stag, that was the point— but to be fair, he actually doesn’t know why time it is right now, so he might as well look. He pulls the phone away from his face for a moment and squints at the glowing screen. “It’s 11:43 PM,” he says. “I’m in North Bethesda, Maryland, and my name is Will Graham.”

Hannibal hums. “North Bethesda,” he says. “Would you like me to come get you, Will? Perhaps you would find it comforting to sleep in your own bed tonight, regardless of the desires of your patrons and donors.”

The reply gets stuck in Will’s throat, like it might emerge as a sob instead of a word. It feels like Hannibal is trying strings onto his mittens and stringing them through the sleeves of his jacket, coddling him. But when he thinks of walking back to the hotel room and burying himself in the bleached white sheets without the breathing of dogs around him or the faint swooshing of wind through the trees surrounding his house, it escapes him unbidden: “Yes. Yes, please.”

He hears a turn signal again, and surmises that wherever Hannibal was going to or from before, he is changing his route. He wants to feel bad about it, but can’t. “Will you send me your location?” Hannibal says. “You can stay right where you are.”

Will nods, then realizes Hannibal can’t see his nod, and mutters “yeah. See you… when you get here.” When they hang up, he sends a screenshot of the map on his phone, the dot indicating his current location like a tattling schoolfellow. Then he slides down the headstone and closes his eyes, settling in to wait.

The Professor is behind his eyes. She’s not saying anything, just sitting at her desk making reeds. She doesn’t need to say anything: Will wants to tell her I’m sorry, this is my fault, I know it is, without anything escaping her lips. He remembers a clarinetist with scoliosis who had gone and apologized to the P. after being told off by her for slouching in rehearsal. If that guy had managed an apology, surely Will can muster one. After all, the scoliosis wasn’t even the clarinetist’s fault, and Will’s hands still sometimes feel slippery with Ben’s blood.

He opens his eyes and clicks his phone back on, instead. He navigates to the picture Hannibal sent, feeling slightly surprised when it is still there. He’d half-expected that to be a hallucination, too, but it glows at him cheerfully in the darkness, the warm interior of Hannibal’s parlour and the flushed red of his hard cock. It’s the only thing that feels real about his surroundings.

Will is still staring at Hannibal’s dick not half an hour later, when the man himself appears on the gravel road that circumnavigates the graveyard. Will blinks into the headlights of the Bentley. He quickly closes the photo, but casts one last look at the time on his phone. “How did you get here so quickly?”

“A casual disregard for speed limits,” says Hannibal, and Will is too glad to see him to think any further about how he got here, it only matters that he is. He falls into Hannibal’s arms more than he walks there, and feels strong hands holding him tightly enough that he barely needs to use his legs to hold himself upright. Hannibal’s nose fits into the curve of his neck and breathes in deeply, and that is right, too.

They have to go to the hotel first, to pick up Will’s things. Hannibal guides him through the too-bright entrance with a hand on his back, and Will doesn’t even feel capable of looking around to make sure that none of his colleagues or their drinking companions are seeing him. He hadn’t done any unpacking, just grabs his oboe case and overnight bag and leaves the key on the dresser.

Hannibal’s car is all black leather inside and high enough off the ground that it feels disconnected from the road in the way that Will’s Volvo definitely does not. There’s a seat warmer on the passenger seat, which Hannibal clicks on for him without asking, and Will shivers into it. The shoes that he’d changed into after the concert are permanently lost, apparently discarded somewhere in North Bethesda for reasons that he now has no memory of, but at least he had the uncomfortable formal black ones he’d worn for the concert to change into in the hotel room. They pinch his toes, but he’s pretty sure Hannibal’s isn’t the kind of car where you can take your shoes off. Usually he’d be all for trying to test Hannibal’s boundaries and seeing what happens, but it feels like he’s pushed hard enough tonight just by being himself.

Will leans his head against the window beside him just for a moment, and wakes up to the familiar sound of his own gravel driveway. It wasn’t a long drive, but he feels heavy, as if all of his limbs had been filled with rocks the moment he stopped moving.

“I’m fine,” he mumbles when his door opens, but Hannibal ends up half-carrying him to the door anyway, and Will figures maybe this counts as repayment in intimacy, too. He doesn’t particularly want to be helpless, but there’s something in Hannibal that wants him to be. He’s too tired to examine that further; right now he’s just grateful for it, like permission.

The bed, which he’d folded up into a futon for the occasion that Hannibal had come to his house, is now in the form that he usually keeps it in, and fairly shoddily made to boot. Will pauses for only a second before changing into clean boxers and a t-shirt right in the middle of the living room; Hannibal has seen him naked, of course, but intentional nakedness is different from incidental nakedness. It’s more intimate to show someone your body in the moments where it is merely a vessel, to admit that you inhabit it as such.

Hannibal is sitting in a chair by the window, watching him. “You don’t have to stay,” Will says as he crawls under the sheets, but of course even that is more of a request than he meant to make; it implies that staying is an option.

Hannibal hears it for the permission– for the plea– that it is, and starts removing his own clothes with no apparent hesitation. When he slips into bed beside Will, he is wearing only underwear, and Will finds himself curled up against his chest without any intention of being there.

Hannibal holds him carefully at first, then tighter as Will burrows inwards, a feedback loop of comfort. “God, I have to play that show again tomorrow,” he mutters, and he can feel Hannibal’s frown against the crown of his head.

“Would it not perhaps be better to call in sick?”

Will laughs. “And find another oboist who just so happens to have been practising the exact right obscure woodwind quintet repertoire for the past couple months? There’s no such thing as calling in sick to this stuff. if someone is sick enough to cancel, the whole show is cancelled.”

Then, in a much smaller voice: “Do you think I’m sick?”

Hannibal’s hand rubs up and down his back, and Will wishes suddenly that he’d left his shirt off. “I think you have been under an unusual amount of stress recently, and have a stressful occupation,” Hannibal hedges, and Will hates himself for the way his heart sinks. He closes his eyes, tightens his fingers around Hannibal’s shoulders and tries to wait for sleep.

(What, you wanted to be sick? The P. sneers. So then you’d have an excuse for being the way you are?

Yes, Will admits, because he might as well.)

Chapter 12

Will wakes up alone, and for a moment assumes either that Hannibal had patients in the city today, or that he had imagined the entire previous evening. It takes a minute for his senses to report their input to his brain, and for the clanking sound in the kitchen and the smell of eggs to convince him that Hannibal is, in fact, still in the house. And cooking. Of course.

He wants to feel bad about it, maybe should. He had forced– okay, accepted– Hannibal to come pick him up nowhere near Baltimore, and Hannibal had… somehow gotten there faster than is humanly possible, and held Will as he slept, and now is making him breakfast. But Will also has spent enough time with Hannibal to realize that this– being in Will’s space, drawing intimacy out of him that he hadn’t meant to give– is some strange sort of gift for Hannibal, apparently one of his very favourite things to do. And if Will is going to be crazy anyway, which he apparently is, then there might at least be someone around to enjoy it.

Plus, he’s actually really hungry.

When Will makes his way into the kitchen, he has to stuff a laugh back down at the sight: Hannibal, who had slept in his underpants and has no clothes besides the one he came in, is wearing a very subtly chequered pair of suit pants, beltless, and is shirtless. He’s standing over the stove, where a pile of scrambled eggs waits in a bowl and Hannibal is sautéing a pile of slightly overripe tomatoes that one of Will’s neighbours had foisted on him at the end of harvest season in her garden.

“Good morning, Will,” Hannibal says, and Will goes to stand beside him and is rewarded with a small, casual kiss on the forehead. “How are you feeling?”

“As okay as I ever am. I actually slept pretty well, though,” he says. “You… didn’t have to do this.”

“I find myself doing many things for and to you that are not strictly necessary for my survival,” says Hannibal. “As well as some that are. How is your headache? You mentioned that it had been bothering you for some time, last week.”

“Feels like my brain is pickled.” Will leans over and hovers his face above the pan, earning himself a gentle shove to the side. “That smells great.”

“You could make coffee,” Hannibal suggests, amused.

“I don’t actually drink it, most days. Everyone I went to school with was paranoid that caffeine would make their embouchure shaky, so I never got in the habit. Just for guests.” Will puts on the kettle and digs out the grinder, anyway, and Hannibal doesn’t tell him not to make it just on his account.

Hannibal garnishes the bowls of eggs with herbs Will is grateful hadn’t actually disintegrated yet from the bottom of the crisper drawer. Buster and Winston come to nose at Hannibal’s leg when he picks up his fork, and Will clicks his tongue.

Bad,” he snaps. “No begging.” The dogs slink away, and Will scowls. “They don’t normally do that,” he says to Hannibal. “Sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into them.”

“I cannot blame them for following their instincts,” Hannibal says, and Will snorts.

“They’re domestic animals. Their instincts are mostly shit, they’d eat rotten garbage given half a chance.”

“A deal with the Devil, domestication. Protection and comfort, and all you need give up in return is your basest self.”

“I guess in this case, I’m the Devil?”

“Humanity nearly always is, I find.” Hannibal is gazing at the dogs contemplatively, and Will enjoys the feeling of having absolutely no idea what he’s contemplating.

After breakfast, Will warms up and tests a few reeds while Hannibal bangs around the kitchen, cleaning and inspecting Will’s pots and pans, herbs and spices. Will allows it since it’s a completely transparent gambit to hear Will practice, which for some reason people always think is going to be very interesting, before they actually hear it. Listening to someone practice isn’t a private concert; it’s being subjected to the loud tuning drone that Will plays long tones with, then a couple passages played over and over again so slow as to be barely recognizable. Will recalls a jazz saxophonist from school, who had chosen bandmates by walking up and down the rows of practice rooms and asking the players who sounded the worst, when they were by themselves; the people willing to sound bad on their own time usually proved to be the most capable players. People who practice by running through parts like it’s a recital are usually shit.

After about an hour of this, either Hannibal is bored or he has somewhere else to be, and he drops a quick kiss on Will’s forehead before heading out the door. Like they live together, and he’ll be home in the evening.

Will finds himself wishing that Hannibal would be back in the evening, listening to the crunch of his tires on the gravel as he drives away. The sound echoes in his mind as he packs up and starts getting ready for the concert– a matinée in the early afternoon, when most students at the music school are at loose ends after morning ensemble rehearsals and before afternoon classes. It’s in the school’s mid-sized recital hall, sparsely used during the year with a flurry of activity towards the end of each semester when suddenly everyone is playing recitals and juries, but today, it will probably be empty until the faculty recital.

Will’s head is pounding and he wants nothing better than silence and dark, but he’s barely looked at the repertoire for two weeks out, and the drive to Baltimore in an unused stretch of time. He digs out a CD of Beethoven’s 2nd piano concerto– he’s surely played it before, but it’s one of the less common ones and he has no memory of it– and manages to get a recording on his phone of Joseph Martin Kraus’ D major symphony, which he has never heard before and isn’t particularly looking forward to hearing for the first time. It’s perfectly unobjectionable music to listen to while driving, which is perhaps why his rebellious brain objects to it so strenuously, and he is feeling unreasonably put-upon by the time he arrives at the venue.

He’s early, and has to resist the urge to wander around the music school for a little bit to get the lay of the land. He’d never been to Baltimore before winning the job with the Philharmonic, and this place feels like an odd echo of his own school; the same but different, and immeasurably more comfortable without the threat of the P. wandering the hallways. But then, if Will were to walk around aimlessly, some of the wind students would surely recognize him, and he doesn’t particularly want to intimidate anyone. He heads straight to the recital hall instead; there’s no unionized stagehands here, just work-study students who’ll show up to help out backstage closer to the start time of the performance, so he feels around in the dark backstage until he finds the panel of light switches. He fiddles with them until the stage lights up with something that should be more or less suitable for the concert.

It’s very suitable, at least, to illuminate the performance currently occupying the space.

Will should be surprised. His reaction should absolutely, definitely be surprise.

His dress shoes echo on the polished wood of the stage as he steps towards the display. Most of the Philharmonic’s concertmaster is supine on a raised platform covered by a white sheet, which Will realizes after a moment is probably a riser from the small storeroom backstage. There is another white sheet and a red plush blanket draped over his torso, tastefully covering from his chest down to right above his knees. The blanket looks soft, something synthetic that you can buy from any wal-mart but that feels decadent to wrap yourself in naked and burrow into in the dead of winter. One of his arms is arranged so that the elbow points upwards across his chest, and his knees are bent, body twisting slightly to the side, as if he still might be able to slither out of this mess somehow.

He is not going to be able to slither out of this, because his head is placed carefully in a fabric-lined wicker basket to the side of his body.

Will sets down his oboe case and his bag at the side of the stage. His mind feels very clear, as if it has been wiped clean like an etch-a-sketch in preparation for some new design. Nobody took note of me coming in, he thinks. There are cameras at the doors, but they’ll only review the footage to try to identify the killer, and he couldn’t have placed this here during the day, so they probably won’t even review footage after the opening time of the school. He has time. He is conscious of the killer having had the same thought, the feeling of all the time in the world to do what he needed to do, and for a moment the boundaries of Will Graham, oboist, fuzz and blur. Instead of pulling back from it, Will leans into the feeling. I killed this man, he thinks, and it isn’t true but it feels truer than anything.

He takes a step forward, close enough that the tang of blood fills his nose, closes his eyes, and places this scene in his mind in the way he places his entrance in the midst of a tangle of accompanying sound: he knows where it goes without being able to explain why, no second-guessing himself when he allows himself to feel the flow of the music.

He drags John’s body into the recital hall under cover of darkness. The violinist is tall, but not particularly heavy; not an unreasonable load for someone prepared to haul all manner of bodies with ease. It is enjoyable work; Will’s heart rate slightly elevated, both from the thrill of the kill (he’d have done it somewhere private– soundproofed– he wants to enjoy it properly– to lean in and scent before he tastes the power of death, a hearty meal for him alone. Well, him and one other, perhaps) and the exertion of hauling him here.

He sets the scene deliberately; sheets and blanket purchased specially for this occasion, with cash, somewhere large enough to be anonymous but too small to bother keeping security footage of customers for too long. Will steps back. He meant for it to look like this. He means this, every part of it. There is an image in his mind, anger and retribution–

Will pulls out his phone, and after a few minutes of searching where the solution seems just out of his reach but itches at the back of his mind, pulls up an image of a painting. He steps back, holds the phone up to compare to the image in front of him, and it clicks into place with a feeling of rightness that is almost erotic in its release of tension. Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes stares at him from both sides, unmistakable despite the visual differences. In the painting, Judith saws away at the neck of the lecherous Assyrian leader, her muscular arms straining as blood spurts from his arteries. Will scrolls through a page of information about the work; by convention, the avenging woman or her maid frequently carries the head away from the scene in a basket. Will reaches out to run a finger over the thick cane of the basket carrying John’s head, then thinks better of it and merely looks.

There’s nothing left to do here, he thinks with satisfaction. I have slain the lustful general and left him for you; you may do with the trophy as you please. This is my design.

He turns around. The Professor is sitting in the audience, the exact middle seat of the exact middle row. She looks paler than she did in person, and there is a greyish tinge around her eyes. Will sets himself at centre stage, feet set slightly apart, shoulders relaxed, as if he about to take the first breath of a recital. The lights beat down on him, too bright now despite his having chosen the settings himself.

The P. spreads out her arms over the seats beside her, crossing her legs casually. ” Artemisia Gentileschi was sexually assaulted by her mentor,” she says, her voice echoing in the empty hall. “Did I abuse you, Will? Am I the villain in your story? Did I ever treat you with anything other than a mother’s love? Do I deserve to be butchered like your colleague there?”

Will walks to the staircase at the side of the stage slowly. He doesn’t want to get closer to her, but he needs to see it from her perspective; the audience to this theatre that he feels unreasonably possessive about. He didn’t make it, he knows; but the part of him that did knows that it is for him.

“No,” he concedes. “You don’t deserve that.” He walks down the row of seats carefully, as if there are people sitting in them whose knees he must avoid, and sits down in the seat next to the P. She smells of powdery perfume and cane shavings. The darkness of the audience seating recedes into the background and the lit-up portrait of John’s death expands in its illumination to fill his entire field of vision.

Another piece clicks into place, the rightness of the thought washing over him. “He didn’t either,” Will says out loud, and when he spreads his own arms out over the backs of the seats, there is no imagined echo of contact with the P.’s limbs already occupying the space. “Decapitation isn’t the judicious and reasonable response to being a creep. This isn’t about justice at all. It’s not even about ethics.”

“It’s aesthetics,” the P. says, and this time when Will glances to the side to take in his most persistent hallucination, he allows his gaze to soften with fondness.

“I miss you,” he says. “I miss who I thought you were. I miss who I was before you. Sometimes I even miss you you really were.”

The P. sniffs. “I’m hardly inaccessible,” she says. “An eight-hour drive at most, and you could be at the door of my office, begging for reed help.”

It’s true enough. Will’s ghostly recollection of the P. sits patiently beside him, as he contemplates the fact that the real one is still exactly where he left her. “I’m not going to do that,” he says. “You’d be entirely too happy to have me. Strut me around, your student with a real orchestra job, and hope everyone ignores the fact that I’m your only student who made it to where I am. The one pony in your stable who hasn’t collapsed into the mud. Yet.”

“Do you plan on collapsing into the mud soon, then?”

Will leans back farther in his seat, puts his feet up on the back of the chair in front of him in the way he never would with anyone else in the hall. “I think I might be on a completely different racetrack,” he says. “Not sure what there is to collapse into, when I finally do.”

He’s still sitting there, shoes perched on the seat, the P. flickering in an out of existence beside him, when Cindy opens the door to the recital hall and screams.

“Looks like we don’t have to play this concert after all,” says Will, voice entirely placid and, perhaps, just a touch of an accent that isn’t his but that he knows all too well slipping into his syllables like honey. “Do come in, if you like. I was just about to call some friends in law enforcement.”

Chapter 13

The rough backs of the photos make a high scraping sound as they slide across the table towards Will. Jack Crawford’s fingers are thick and calloused but gentle with the photos, as if the hard work of his crime scene technicians is deserving of more tenderness than Will.

“One,” says Crawford. “Two. Both with organs removed. The Chesapeake Ripper kills in groups of three, as I recall informing you the last time you inexplicably stumbled across one of his murders, Will.”

Will looks at the photos, though he doesn’t need to. John’s headless corpse still feels burned into his mind in the blaze of stage lighting that he’d stared at it through, and he feels the ticking of Ben’s false heart in his veins. He wants to run his fingers over the images, familiar like the way his own unwholesome mind is familiar to him inside the sterile white walls of the interrogation room. This time, he’s in the “We Mean Business” room, not the “Just Tell Us What Happened, Sweetheart” one. The Baltimore PD are nowhere to be seen, and instead he has Jack Crawford. Who, to be fair, he had called, right off of the business card that Will’s been carrying around in his wallet all this time, more out of having neglected to throw it out than any perceived need. “I take it,” he tells Crawford, “You think it is not, in fact, inexplicable.”

Crawford leans back, one arm on the table and one hanging loosely by his side. He looks both exasperated and entirely comfortable, the frown he wears having apparently etched itself permanently into his face during long hours of trying to understand the minds of serial killers. Will thinks that Crawford looks good, probably, compared to what Will himself would look like in a similar circumstance.

(I don’t understand serial killers, he thinks. Just one.)

“Are you telling me that we should be considering you a suspect, Graham?” Crawford says, deadpan. Will knows that he isn’t, and he also knows that Crawford doesn’t really care what Will thinks as long as he can scare him into cooperating.

And that, Will realizes, is the difference between this meeting and the last. After Ben, he had been cooperating, as much as his own errant psychology will allow. Now–

Now, he is no longer sure where this game is going to end, but he’s certain his next move doesn’t involve sharing any more of his thoughts than necessary with the FBI.

“Wouldn’t be very smart, The a serial killer hanging around to call in his own crime scenes.” Will taps a finger on the second photo, the one of John laid out headless. “You said he takes organs. What organ did he take from this one, then?”

Crawford looks for a moment like he might not tell him, then he sighs and says, “Kidneys.” He leans forward. “Will. The Chesapeake Ripper has a sense of humour. He would find it endlessly amusing to set up a series of kills where the final victim discovers the first two. Has there been anyone new in your life, recently? Has anything strange happened? Have you noticed anyone unusual around your house?”

There’s still time, Will thinks. He could say it. He could tell Crawford Yes, I met someone new, who is delighted with the fact that extremely strange things won’t stop happening to me, who has been to my house and most definitely qualifies as unusual.

“Everyone in the orchestra business is unusual, but we’re pretty insular,” he says placidly. “I haven’t seriously talked to anyone not involved with the Philharmonic in ages. Sorry. I’m pretty boring.” It’s even true. Hannibal might debate him on the “boring” point, of course, but Hannibal isn’t here.

Hannibal isn’t here, except for the pieces of him that Will is beginning to suspect have already been buried so deep inside him that he’ll never get them out.

His palms itch. He rubs them on his pants, and says, “Are we done here?”

“Why, do you have places to be?”

“Yes.”

Crawford scowls at him. equal parts irritated and confused. Will’s private life isn’t actually a part of this investigation yet, though, so Will just holds his gaze until Crawford snatches the pictures back from him and says, “Fine. I hope for your sake that you wake up in the middle of the night with an epiphany about someone who’s been following you around, Graham.”

I’ve already had my epiphany, Will doesn’t say.

He can’t be certain, after all.

He reminds himself of that– youdon’tknowforsureyoudon’tknowforsureyoudon’tknowforsure— as he drives across Baltimore, and parks in Hannibal’s driveway beside the Bentley with the heated seats that he’d collapsed into like the sack of meat that he is after Hannibal had picked him up from the graveyard.

Hannibal opens the door, and he doesn’t seem surprised to see Will at all. Will stares for a moment, and wonders if he’s about to say something terribly gauche like I think you might be a serial killer, and you’re also the only person I trust to help me sort out how I feel about that, but instead he holds out his oboe case, still unopened since he’d left his own house, and says, “Can I put this down?”

Hannibal steps aside to let him in. Will places his oboe case beside his uncomfortable black leather shoes, then straightens up and crashes his mouth into Hannibal’s.

Hannibal makes a tiny, high noise as his back hits the wall, surprise or pleasure or just the byproduct of the wind being knocked out of him. Or perhaps he’s getting ready to kill Will– Will can’t actually rule out that Crawford is right, and he’s the intended third victim. He just can’t think about it right now with Hannibal’s hands grabbing his neck and the back of his head and holding him steady so their teeth clack together only slightly less with the force of the kiss.

Supraliminal.” Will pants. “You called me fucking supraliminal. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Hannibal’s answer is to become infinitely more gentle, walking Will backwards slowly into the front hallway like he’s a doll. Will lets himself be guided, and thinks absurdly about Hannibal’s honesty, how every question receives the answer that cuts closest to its core in the tangled web or metaphors and lies that is his life. He thinks he is probably going to find out what it means to be supraliminal, if he hasn’t already.

“Bedroom,” Will suggests, in case it wasn’t already obvious where this was supposed to be heading, and gasps when Hannibal gives up on subtly manoeuvring him and simply picks him up, one hand under his knees and one under his arm. Will clutches Hannibal’s shoulders more out of instinct than anything else, the sudden precariousness of leaving off contact with the ground entirely taking over. And then it’s too late to demand to be put down, and Hannibal starts hauling him up the stairs with an ease that is, after all, not surprising. Not any more.

Nothing about Hannibal is exactly surprising, not if Will allows himself to think with his whole mind instead of the small sliver portioned off for daily use. Having horse blinkers permanently glued to the mind’s eye is useful, for a musician expected to sit in the same seat and play exactly their part and no more, year upon year. The best orchestral musicians are the people who are born with them on, a strange kind of brilliant stupidity that Will has always envied. (When the Professor had said that The only reason anyone should go into music as a career is if their only alternative is to shut their head in an oven, Will had thought at first that it was an exaggeration. Then he’d realized that many of his school friends actually did feel that way, including some, unfortunately, rather literally including the bit with the head and the oven.)

Being with Hannibal is like having the blinkers that he’d gone to so much trouble to affix pulled off of him and thrown away. It feels blinding, very nearly literally, and when Hannibal sets him down on the bed Will buries his face in the soft spice-scented fabric of Hannibal’s torso until he needs to lie back to help Hannibal pull his clothes off.

Will is naked, and Hannibal is at least significantly less clothed that he had been when Will had knocked on his door, and then Hannibal is holding a soft rope against Will’s hands, like a question.

It is a question. “Where the fuck did that come from?” Will says unsteadily.

The corners of Hannibal’s eyes crinkle, but he stays otherwise completely still. “The chest of drawers.”

“Right.” Will leans his forehead against Hannibal’s shoulder. “Right. Of course.” For a moment he trembles on the edge of disaster, do you tie them up? Or just drug them? Do you like hearing them scream? hovering on the tip of his tongue. Then he sinks further into Hannibal’s body and relaxes, because there is nothing he can possibly do about it now, and that feels good. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, okay, whatever you want.”

Hannibal loops one length of rope around Will’s wrists, tight and knotted securely but not so tight that it cuts off his circulation. Will pulls on it, wondering if he could ask Hannibal to do it tighter. He imagines livid bruises on his wrists, his hands not working right for days afterwards. I can’t come in to work today, he would have to tell Peggy. I had sex, and now my hands don’t work right. It sounds relaxing, actually. He could pretend it wasn’t his fault. He doesn’t ask, just bends his elbows so that his bound wrists are tucked underneath his chin instead.

Hannibal procures another length of rope, this one coarser, and binds Will’s ankles. This time he isn’t careful; Will’s ankle bones grind together, tolerable only as long as he doesn’t try to move his legs too much. He lies still, hearing his own heartbeat in his ears, staring up at the porthole above him.

Hannibal sits back on his ankles to Will’s side. He’s looking at Will like he’s a feast, and despite the fact that he’s just come from a grisly murder scene and a sterile interrogation room and theoretically he was planning on coming here to figure out whether or not Hannibal is a serial killer– it no longer seems to matter all that much. Will is hard already, his entire body feels like it’s tingling, and he doesn’t have to think about anything other than his own trapped body.

Hannibal reaches out and trails a finger down Will’s stomach, from the bottom of his sternum to just above his public hair. “Alright, Will?” he asks softly.

Will closes his eyes, and that is better. It feels terrifying to have to say out loud just how alright this is, being bound and helpless and entirely in Hannibal’s hands. “It’s good,” he forces out.

A warm hand combs through his hair, and he feels Hannibal shifting on the bed. “How was your concert this afternoon?” Hannibal asks, and Will hears a plastic-on-plastic sound, a tube or pump bottle of lubricant, before Hannibal’s harm hand wraps around his cock gently.

He swallows. “Now?”

He doesn’t need to open his eyes to see Hannibal’s smile. “Yes, please. Tell me about the performance.” If you want me to keep going is implied.

The performance. Will tries to think, wishes that he could come up with something other than the bare honest truth, but he can’t. “It was… thoughtful,” he says, and bites his lip as Hannibal’s thumb sweeps over the vein just underneath the head of his cock. “Deft. Practiced. I used to go to graduation recitals of any upper-year students I could, back at school. Instruments I knew nothing about, playing esoteric repertoire that I’d never even guessed the existence of. And I realized that all expertise is alike– not in the particulars, but in how it lodges in your chest and makes you feel like the world is all right for a moment– but each incompetent is incompetent in their own way. Fuck. Hannibal. Can you–“

“Wait,” says Hannibal. His voice is low, breathless. “Just wait until I decide what to do with you next.” His hand strokes slowly, just a bit too light to create momentum, leaving Will suspended in pleasure with no way out. Will presses his lips together and breathes through his nose, hanging on.

Hannibal shifts, and Will feels him coming to kneel over his hips and squeezing. His knees press into Will’s kidneys and feet press bruisingly just above Will’s knees, which is somewhat astounding that he can exert that much force just with his legs. Will pictures him, ridiculously, at the gym, assiduously working on the hip adductor machine just so that he can squeeze the life out of Will with the power of his thighs alone. It doesn’t feel bad. One finger traces the curve of his lips, and Will realizes he’s smiling despite himself.

“How did it feel, then?” says Hannibal, and Will hears the plasticky sound of the lube cap again. He keeps his eyes closed, sinking into his own helplessness.

“Close. Like I had done– things that I haven’t. But it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t me.”

“Do you wish you had?”

Hannibal’s knees shift, and Will’s cock is enveloped in velvet heat completely different from Hannibal’s hand or mouth. His eyes fly open, and catch on Hannibal’s face, his eyelids fluttering closed with concentration as he lowers himself slowly onto Will’s cock.

“Oh my god,” says Will. He hadn’t been expecting– well, anything, really. He had had no expectations, so finding himself suddenly enveloped by Hannibal’s body, touching his insides, hits like a punch to the gut.

Hannibal sinks down inexorably, and then the muscled flesh of his ass is pressing against Will’s pelvis. He sits back, hands just above Will’s knees, painful, his hair coming loose from its careful arrangement and sweeping across his forehead. “Will,” he says. “Do you wish you had?”

He’s clearly not going to move until Will starts talking, and once Will starts he can’t stop. “Not specifically, but I wanted it like– like I’ve always wanted to be an– an amateur. You used that word the first time we met and it scared me so much. I wanted to be able to do that to him just because I wanted to. Not because he deserved it. Not because of anger or compulsion. Just for pleasure. It’s terrifying how much I want that.”

Hannibal braces his hands on the mattress now, hair falling into his eyes, slowly raising and lowering himself on Will’s cock. It feels almost too tight, the lube just barely allowing for the slow drag of skin on delicate skin, and it makes Will want to give more. “I saw her again,” he says. “I talked to her. It almost felt good.”

Bringing up other people during sex is usually a no-no, but Hannibal just moves faster, the skin of their bellies slapping together obscenely. Will moves to try to grab him, pull him closer, and then realizes his wrists are tied together. He struggles against the restraints instead, and in response Hannibal leans down and puts more weight on him, pinning Will to the bed as he takes what he wants from him, and that’s just as good. Better.

Will can only tell when Hannibal is coming because it nearly prevents him from breathing, the way he grips Will’s biceps with his elbows and crushes him. Will doesn’t want to breathe. He half-expects Hannibal to pull off of him afterwards, but he doesn’t; he just keeps working Will’s cock with his own slick passage until with comes, unable to move anything but press his own wrists together as hard as he can.

The room is silent and still in the few moments after. Hannibal’s house, despite its age, has a muffled quality; Will hadn’t thought to wonder, the first time he came here, why someone living alone would spend money on soundproof retrofitting. Now he knows, but the knowledge feels far away. It could belong to someone else. He could simply be crazy enough that nothing he knows has any relationship to reality.

Hannibal eases himself off of Will’s softening cock, and moves to undo the ropes. Will shakes his head, burrowing further into the softness of the pillows above him. “Leave it,” he mumbles, half-hoping to not be heard. “I like it.”

Hannibal hesitates for a split second, and then a tiny, slow smile spreads across his face. He lies down at Will’s back and pulls his loose, bundled-up body to his chest. Will spreads his palms flat against each other, like praying.

He has to be sure. Will tells himself that’s the only reason for it, an entirely logical and unemotional check on the truth that had settled in his gut at the recital hall. “Do you want to know who she is?” he whispers.

Hannibal’s hands rub up and down his arms, working blood into the muscles that can’t quite make it past the ropes at his wrists. “The one you gave your discipleship to, once?”

“Yeah.”

“If you wish to tell me.”

Will’s actions are no longer based on anything so insubstantial as wishing. Instead, it feels inexorable when he opens his mouth and speaks the Professor’s name. He even gives the name of the school and her office number, as if Hannibal couldn’t find that out perfectly well for himself.

Hannibal doesn’t say anything, and Will falls asleep in the last remnants of the liminal space between conjecture and clarity. He only stirs a little when he feels the pressure being released on his wrists, Hannibal soothing him back to sleep as he frees him against his wishes.

Chapter 14

Chapter Notes

Beethoven’s 2nd piano concerto is not one of his best. Which is Beethoven’s own opinion, not just Will’s, although Will can certainly sympathize with the composer’s desire to get the thing out of his sight as soon as it had fulfilled its intended purpose at a charity gala. He watches from his seat in the wind section as the piano is dragged onstage for the beginning of the rehearsal, and has the strange sensation of having reached the exit point of a maze he had never actually realized he’d entered. One way or another, this is the end of the line. It would be appropriate to mourn that, perhaps, but right now he’s just distracted and impatient and not at all wanting to spend an afternoon with a first-rate composer’s second-rate work.

It could be worse, the Professor says, dancing from between the notes on his page and the spots in his vision, everywhere and nowhere. It could be Wellington’s Victory.

Will grins ruefully. “Nobody fucking plays Wellington’s Victory any more,” he says. “If you do, you have to tell the story of what he said about it, and orchestra conductors are all too chicken to say the word ‘shit’ from the podium. How long are you going to hang around, anyway?”

As long as I’m needed, of course, she says primly. You’re so very helpless right now, Will. A delicate teacup. You could shatter at the slightest provocation, and all my hard work would be undone.

“Oh, eat shit,” says Will, a little too loudly, and one of the stagehands pushing the piano onstage gives him a look that is even more unfriendly than the standard-issue IATSE resting bitch face.

He wiggles his fingers experimentally again, feeling the pull of tendons in his wrists. As much as he had been adamant the previous night that Hannibal not untie him, he’s rather glad that the doctor’s good sense had prevailed, and Will had woken up to only his ankles still immobilized. He probably wouldn’t have been able to play today otherwise, and as much as the thought of being incapacitated is attractive, he needs something to do today.

He needs to distract himself, or he’s going to go crazy waiting. Well, crazier than he actually is.

There’s quite enough going on in the orchestra that it should, at least, be that. John has been replaced temporarily by the assistant concertmaster– a position that exists specifically to designate a player with the responsibility of playing concertmaster when the concertmaster is absent. The concertmaster is, indeed, absent, and although the FBI had done their level best to keep the identity of the Ripper’s latest victim from leaking, Cindy had been there, and gossip is enough of a potent social currency that she could hardly be faulted for letting it slip. This time, the story that gets around about Will’s part in the thing is sinister-sounding enough that nobody approaches him at all; even Kathryn heads straight to her own chair upon arrival, without her usual pass past the wind section to take the piss.

Besides the general unease around Will, there is an odd duality to the air’s charge as musicians start trickling in for rehearsal. John had been well-liked as far as generally acknowledged creeps go– and there are certainly enough of them in the orchestra business to allow for some being better-liked than others– but everyone still knew that the Philharmonic would probably be better off without him. Will can practically read it off of his colleagues; the mingled horror of the reality of death in their midst, and the unspoken intimation that some sort of twisted justice has been served, a frisson of deep-seated pleasure that nobody would dare speak aloud.

The newly promoted concertmaster stands up at the beginning of the rehearsal and gestures to Will for the tuning A. She’s one of the nearly unlimited supply of ferociously skilled violinists in the country, nearly indistinguishable from each other in their utter brilliance, all of them standing out so far from the pack that the pack simply re-forms in an attempt to outshine itself. In the end, it was so easy to replace John. It would be slightly more difficult to replace Will– exceptional oboists are more rare than exceptional violinists– but there are still hundreds, probably thousands, of desperately skilled, hungry young oboists ready, willing and praying to one day take his job. It takes a month, at the quickest, to call an audition– most locals of the musicians’ union require that the ad be placed in the relevant industry publications at least one month before the date of the audition, to give candidates time to prepare– but the best-case scenario is that a candidate will win the audition, be offered the job and sign the contract all on the same day, and be in their seat in the orchestra within a couple weeks after that. It’s so easy, Will thinks, to make people as replaceable as livestock.

Today’s concertmaster raises four elegant fingers, calling for four tuning A’s instead of the Philharmonic’s usual three, meaning she wants the lower and upper strings to tune separately. Meticulous. Will wonders how many tuning A’s he’s given in his life. Three per rehearsal or concert, with around two hundred services per season, as laid out in the Philharmonic’s contract. He’s been with the Phil for ten years, and before that four years of music school, during which half the time he was playing second and thus not giving the tuning note, and before that mostly high school band, where oboes are uncommon enough, and the students generally incompetent enough, that they’re not given the responsibility.

Ten thousand A’s, Will decides, is a reasonable guess to cover all of that. He raises the reed to his mouth and wonders if it will feel different, now that he’s a murderer.

It doesn’t. Everything feels disconcertingly the same, once the rehearsal starts; the conductor is even a guest, not the Philharmonic’s usual music director, so the pompous bald Maestro doesn’t even have any idea that there’s been a roster change from the usual.

The unremitting reality of it swirls around Will’s ankles, thick like molasses. The soloist is young, what’s called an “emerging talent,” a euphemism for “the bargain we booked to fill in the gaps in the seasons after we ran out of money booking the big names.” He plays perfectly well, as well as anyone could play Beethoven’s 2nd piano concerto. He, too, is replaceable. Will imagines him laid out inside the lid of the piano, flowers adorning his torso on both the outside and the inside. As long as you’re a murderer, you might as well have the chance to do it with your hands. Of course, the young man has committed no aesthetic sin, much less any ethical one, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. It would just be art. A commentary on their shared status. An elevation– anyone can play the piano, but only a select few can be made into something greater.

Will nearly misses his entrance, lost in thought, and is pulled back after sixteen bars of rest in the nick of time by his own tapping fingers. Nearly all wind and brass musicians count rests on their fingers– Will recalls his own surprise when he’d gone to the symphony for the first time as a student and realized that the professionals were doing it too, subtly against their legs or the sides of their instruments– and over the years his fingers have become better at counting than his mind is. Even now, when his brain feels a little like it’s dribbling out of his ears, the sensation of reaching the number he’d been waiting for in his hands has him putting the oboe to his lips in a motion that is nearly unconscious.

Your hands have always known what to do, Will, nobody says to him, but this time instead of the Professor’s voice in his head, it is Hannibal’s. It should sound filthy, or sinister, but instead it’s just true. He recalls Hannibal’s gentle fingers untying him in the middle of the night, setting his hands free despite his sleepy protests.

They play through the piece once, and then return to the opening, and Will learns that there is a better target of his newfound (newly acted upon, not newfound) murderous impulses than the soloist: the guest conductor turns out to be a true master of the orchestral edging game, one of the types that makes rehearsing an endless sequence of coitus interruptus, stopping every three bars to give some inane, unnecessary comment and then going back to the beginning of the entire section yet again. Will wonders if the unfair, frustrated rage that he feels building in the pit of his stomach is what Hannibal feels, when he chooses victims. Rage that is all the more enraging for being objectively overblown. it’s the kind of thing that Jack Crawford is paid to think about, probably, and now Will is thinking about it for free just to get through the rehearsal.

He doesn’t kill the maestro, somehow. Will remains silent, except for the music on the page when requested, and docile, as he was always supposed to be. In between the rehearsal and the evening’s concert, he sits in the green room and eats leftover steak and kidney pie that he had arrived just too late for the previous evening, but which Hannibal had insisted on packing into a glass container for him. Nobody asks what he’s eating. Eventually Kathryn joins him, with a soup and salad from a nearby takeaway place, and they complain about the conductor, and then about previous conductors, a lazy, default conversation that they’ve had a million times and that other musicians can drift into and out of at will. Nobody mentions John. It’s as if he’s been erased from the face of the Earth.

After the concert, Will puts the ringer on his phone on– he usually keeps it off by default, a good habit to avoid embarrassing incidents in rehearsal that also means people don’t usually try to contact him, since he’ll never pick up anyway. He drives home to Wolf Trap through aching darkness, the kind of night where the overcast sky glows grey with the lights of the city and then fades into eerie, opaque black as he approaches his house. The stag runs alongside the car, its lungs strong, hooves clacking distantly on the pavement, keeping him company. It’s peaceful. He feels suspended as if in a womb, not yet ready to exit but knowing he can’t stay there forever.

The dogs greet him enthusiastically, snuffling at his hands as if he might have food for them. “When do I ever feed you right in the door, you idiots?” Will mutters, and Winston gives him a mournful look, as if he can understand the insult. He probably can. “Sorry,” Will says. “I didn’t mean it.”

He places the phone on his bedside table and plugs it in. It’s objectively not much of a plan; there’s no guarantee it’s going to ring. And yet music schools are insular, cultlike places at the best of times; one of the few types of educational institution where regular students can live on in the memory of their successors, part of a teacher’s stable of protégés, practically siblings. Some people even take the familial metaphor further, referring to their teacher’s teacher as grandteacher, which implies things about the relationship that Will once used to love.

Now, it just makes him certain that someone will call. The network of students is tightly woven enough that someone currently at the school will tell someone more recently departed, and they’ll tell someone else, and the impromptu phone tree will make its way to Will probably within minutes. And that’s only if one of the young ones doesn’t post it on social media first.

He takes the dogs out, letting them run around to tire themselves out before bed. It’s a full moon, and he imagines for a moment that the dogs, too, are becoming something different. But they still come when he whistles and are nothing but dogs as they crowd back inside, that strange combination of powerful and vulnerable. Animals that have given up a part of their animal self. A deal with the Devil, Hannibal had called it.

Buster has trouble settling, and after a few minutes Will calls him up onto the bed and lets him settle at Will’s feet. He usually tries to keep the dogs off the bed– there are too many of them, and if they all decided they were allowed up, soon his bed would have no more room left for Will and smell so indelibly of dog hair that he would forget a human ever belonged there. But perhaps it doesn’t matter any more.

Will falls asleep quickly, Buster snoring gently with his head resting on top of Will’s left foot. He is vaguely aware of the weight, the way his leg is slightly more difficult to walk with, as he finds himself dreaming of the forest behind his house, cutting his way through the underbrush painstakingly as he makes his way to the stream.

“You said that you used to fish with your father, as a child,” says Hannibal. He’s much more elegant as he hacks his way through the overgrown wood, in a way that a real human body could never be. Will resents his own dreaming mind for presenting him with an idealized version of the man– he would have enjoyed seeing Hannibal in jeans and muddy waders, wincing as twigs snap back in to his face.

“And then you said you wouldn’t psychoanalyze me,” Will says.

“And yet the nature of our relationship has changed since then. You specifically asked me to be your psychiatrist, I think.”

“So? What’s your verdict, Doctor?”

They arrive at the stream as Will speaks, and they have fishing gear that Will hadn’t been aware of carrying there. Hannibal is still wearing a three-piece suit, which would be extremely funny to have him wade into the quiet stream in.

“I’ve already given you my verdict,” says Hannibal, and when Will looks at him he looks terrifyingly sad. It’s the same expression he had worn when he’d told Will that he always exists, that first time in bed, but it’s as if there had been a thick layer of gauze over the emotion before, that is now ripped away.

“Anything you would do to me, you would do only because you believe me far too supraliminal to be erased by it,” Will says, and he’s standing in the middle of the stream now, water flowing past his knees in patterns that Will feels as if each eddy was solid, passing through him and buffeting his insides. Hannibal is gone, and the stag cants off into the woods after him.

When Will wakes, it’s not because his alarm goes off, or because the phone rings. It’s just his own mind, a shift of tectonic plates that leaves everything about him the same except the very foundation. It’s still early, the sun casting red light onto the clouds at the horizon but not yet lightening the sky. He lets the dogs out and leaves plenty of food for them. He manages to eat himself– Hannibal will feed him if he ferrets out that Will is hungry, and Will doesn’t have time for that– and starts the car.

Chapter End Notes

What Beethoven had to say about Wellington’s Victory, in response to criticism that it simple isn’t very good, was “What I shit out is better than anything you could ever think up.”

Chapter 15

Chapter Notes

The door to Hannibal’s house is open, and he is in the kitchen. Speakers that Will had never noticed before are perched on top of the cupboards, playing– Will’s mind stutters. it’s Bach. A Brandenburg concerto, one he’s played plenty of times. It’s on the tip of his tongue. He knocks it aside.

“Did you know I was coming?”

Hannibal spins around. It’s either faked, or he truly hadn’t heard Will coming in. The idea of him putting on reactions for Will feels nauseous, though, so much more horrible than anything that came before or anything that will come after. So Will chooses to believe it is real, and falls into Hannibal’s tiny smile at his presence, and the way he makes no move to hide the small cooler whose contents he is unloading into the refrigerator.

“I wasn’t expecting you, no.”

“So you just… leave your door open all the time?”

“Often enough. Occasionally, something interesting walks through it.”

And then you kill it, and… another piece clicks into place. Eat it. Then you eat it. That piece of information should change something, but instead it just feels good in the way that things that make sense feel good. It’s in tune with the rest of the chord, and Will relaxes fractionally. He places his oboe case carefully on the floor. He’d brought it, not planning to play it at Hannibal’s house, but not wanting to leave it in the car, where it would get cold. Hannibal glances at it, then back up at Will.

Will steps towards the refrigerator, and Hannibal doesn’t stop him. He could go through the cooler, try to puzzle out what’s what. Instead he raises his arms a little bit to his sides, and lets Hannibal step into them.

Hannibal’s hands are on his forehead, and it takes the contact of someone else’s skin to realize that he’s sweating. He usually is, these days; at least under bright stage lights everyone is equally sweating like a pig, but now it’s just Will soaked with brine in Hannibal’s pristine kitchen. Hannibal leans in to smell him again, and as he does he says, “How are you feeling, Will?”

Will leans close. He needs the solid wall of Hannibal’s body to lean against, to even begin to answer that question.

“I used to be so scared of playing concerts,” he says haltingly, trying to feel out the logical beginning of his thoughts. “I still am, a lot of the time, but I’m better at it. Better at being scared. I used to– hyperventilate, when I was in school. My hands would seize up and I would sit there dumbly trying to make them move quickly enough to play the oboe. Eventually just the idea of playing in front of an audience made me feel like I was about to die.”

“You’re hardly the only person in the world to report crippling performance anxiety,” Hannibal says. “Most, however, don’t choose to make performing the basis of their entire career.”

Will shakes his head against Hannibal’s chest. It is important that he understand this. “No,” he says. “That was the point. I wouldn’t have lasted this long without it. It was the reason that I kept going. If it hadn’t felt like wading through molasses, I wouldn’t have kept struggling so hard. I would have looked back.”

“And been turned into a pillar of salt?”

Will shakes his head. He feels too crumbly and insubstantial to refute that more thoroughly, and Hannibal’s hands move to hold his shoulders tightly as if he can feel how close Will is to disintegration.

“So I got good at the fear,” Will says. “Every concert became like a parallel universe. An arena I could step in to do battle with myself. And it worked so well because once it starts, you can’t leave. Time works differently there. You can’t think ahead to the future, because the future only exists in a space after you have played the next bar, and that’s too impossible to contemplate head-on. You can only think about things as they happen. Hours pass like minutes, a symphony takes the blink of an eye from the perspective of having finished it, but counting sixteen bars of rest is an eternity that can fit more heartbeats than the entire rest of your life.” Hannibal’s fingers press into his back so hard he fancies that he can feel each bone and pad of muscle in them, and he leans into it. “So. How do I feel. I feel like I’m counting rests. Like this is suspended in time, apart from the real world.”

“I see.” The refrigerator makes a faint humming sound beside them. Will wonders if Hannibal could be distracted into forgetting the rest of the meat in the cooler entirely, leaving the lid open for it to spoil on the floor. “And what would you like to do with this time-outside-of-time, Will?”

Hannibal is so goddamn warm. It’s like he’s absorbed the warmth of so many other bodies– how many are there, inside of him? Dozens? Hundreds?– and all of it is Will’s now. For a little bit.

“I want you to fuck me,” Will says, and he can feel rather than see Hannibal’s wince at the term. “Don’t. Don’t say anything. Don’t say make love. I want that too. But a fuck is the least you owe me.”

Hannibal goes very still as he asks, “The least I owe you for the past, or the future?”

And there it is, what they’ve been dancing around, the thing that Will’s mind has been trying to protect him from seeing all while he chooses to barrel towards it. In the same way he steps out on stage knowing that he cannot leave until the task has been completed– always and only the self out there, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms, he’d read somewhere once– he has stepped out again, only now he has a partner in the dance. Hannibal is acting upon him in ways he can’t fully see yet, and Will has chosen to let him, because it’s the first thing he’s ever encountered that he had the power to choose freely.

“Both,” says Will, and that is that.

The porthole window is closed when they reach the bedroom, and Hannibal reaches up to open it without Will asking. The music is still on in the kitchen– had Hannibal left the contents of the cooler, or put them away? Will can’t remember– and the door is open so that the faint strains of sound reach the bedroom despite the house’s excellent soundproofing.

“Which one is it?” Will mumbles. Hannibal’s bedroom is warm enough that being naked barely feels different from being clothed. Hannibal doesn’t like being cold, Will thinks, and that feels like secret knowledge to tuck inside the walls of his heart.

Miraculously– or perhaps only naturally– Hannibal understands the question. “The Brandenburg? It’s the first.”

Will nods. He had expected, when he’d embarked upon a career in music, that he would get better at identifying works that he knew by name as he went on. Instead, the opposite seems to have happened; he recognizes nearly every tune he hears from the orchestral repertoire, and can often tell the composer, era and sometimes even the orchestra playing on the recording from style; but the more works he knows, the more they knock about in his head like marbles, unidentifiable and vaguely irritating.

Despite the wording of Will’s request, Hannibal is gentle. He makes his fingers slippery with lube and pushes them gently but firmly against Will’s hole, asking for entrance and being admitted with no fanfare whatsoever. Will gasps and tamps down the urge to squirm away from the pleasure. He’s never done this before; it’s never even occurred to him until Hannibal, until he realized that he needed to feel Hannibal inside his body to complete the entrance into his mind and spirit that the man has somehow already managed.

“Have you read Bach’s dedications of his concertos to his patrons, Will?” Hannibal says, his fingers stroking over Will’s prostate in a way that comprehensively rules out any attempt at a reply. Will manages to shake his head a little.

Hannibal’s eyes close, and he adds another finger. “He wrote to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in French, asking him to accept the gift. La priant très humblement de ne vouloir pas juger leur imperfection, à la rigeur du goût fin et delicat que tout le monde sait qu’Elle a pour les pièces musicales; mais de tirer plutot en benigne consideration, le profond respect, et la très humble obeisance que je tache à lui temoigner par là.

Hannibal pulls his fingers out. Will’s head is spinning, his body heavy and tingling, ready. He doesn’t know much French, but he’d heard Louisiana Creole in a couple of towns he and Dad had passed through as a kid, and anyway, the intention is clear enough. “Kind of obsequious,” he mutters.

“Bach felt only honour in prostrating himself before the worthy,” Hannibal murmurs. The velvet-soft head of his cock presses big and warm against Will’s hole, then slips in with so little pressure Will can scarcely believe it was that easy.

“Is that what I’m supposed to feel?” Will asks. “Honour? In letting myself get lost in you?”

But of course Will isn’t the one lost inside right now; Hannibal is inside him, rocking gently, pressing Will down, safe. It feels incredible. He wants to stay here forever, but that isn’t an option.

“Are you lost, Will?” Hannibal says. “Do you feel lost, right now?”

Will pulls him down, their chests flush, It limits Hannibal’s range of motion, so that they are more just pressing together harder then relaxing in lieu of actually drawing in and out, and it feels just as good.

“No,” Will whispers. “I feel…. self-aware.”

Hannibal doesn’t answer, so Will continues, as if the other man’s silence was permission: “I’m going to miss you. After you do whatever you’re doing to me– I’m going to hate you, and I’m going to miss you the entire time until I forgive you.”

“Will,” Hannibal moans. “Will.” It’s probably an admission of something when Hannibal spills inside of him at that, just the barest sensation of warmth and moisture, and only unglues himself from Will enough to be able to reach down and stroke Will’s cock hard all while softening inside of him.

When Will comes, he wishes it could be hard enough to black out; it feels like it shouldbe, the orgasm ripped from a place deeper inside him than he knew existed. His mind clings resolutely to consciousness, though, as Hannibal eases gently out of him and pulls him close, ignoring the way Will’s semen spreads sticky across both of their bellies.

Will breathes for a collection of moments impossible to count. He is conscious and self-aware. He exists.

His phone, from the floor beside the bed, makes a dinging sound.

He doesn’t need to know what it says; or rather, he already knows, with a bone-deep certainty that he can’t explain. It could only ever have worked out this way, so the next thing to happen must be the next thing that happens. He kisses Hannibal, very softly, memorizing him.

“I need to go,” he says.

Hannibal’s lips follow Will’s as he pulls away, just a tiny bit, small enough to be unconscious. He just nods, and Will climbs out of the bed and briefly into the shower.

Hannibal is dressed in stunningly casual clothes when he emerges, khakis and a soft red sweater, and Will wants to stay here with him so badly that his heart could stop beating with it. Hannibal is silent as Will retrieves his oboe from the kitchen– he doesn’t ask what Will is planning on doing with it– and they accompany each other to the door. When Will walks out of it, he doesn’t look back. Pillar of salt, indeed.

He looks at his phone only once he’s in the car, the engine warming to blow hot air through the chilled vehicle. It’s a text from an oboist a few years behind him, one of the few possible candidates that he’d been expecting to hear from. She’d stayed behind in the city where they’d gone to school, never quite managing to do well enough at auditions to have a hope at a job like Will’s, but good enough to cobble together a career out of teaching and freelancing. The alumni who stay close to their alma mater never truly leave; the music school becomes a permanent hub of their life. Many even continue to practice in the school’s practice rooms, slipping in past the keycard-access doors with the help of current students who know that will be them one day. It’s easier than finding an apartment where nobody will complain about your long tones.

The message is a blurry picture of the outside of the music school building. It’s surrounded by yellow tape and blue-uniformed officers. The message says, They’re not letting anyone in, but Will, everyone’s saying someone killed her. Do you think it’s true?

Will throws the phone on the passenger seat beside the oboe and gets on the highway.

Chapter End Notes

The Brandenburg dedication: …begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigour of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.

Chapter 16

He hadn’t considered this part.

Will had driven through the darkness of the fading night and the pinkish light of the rising sun; by the time he arrives at the music school it is mid-morning, around the time that students would usually be traipsing to rehearsals or grabbing an early lunch.

Instead– of course— the school is surrounded by police cars. There’s tape blocking off the majestic steps up to the entrance of the old building, and although it’s merely plastic, a flimsy barrier that could physically prevent nothing at all, Will drives by it with a sense of coming back to reality.

He parks several blocks away. He’d never had a car while he’d been in school, preferring to live close enough to the school to be able to walk. It’s a student area anyway, crowded pothole-filled streets and most of the parking spots filled by staff and faulty arriving for work for the day, not by the residents of the street. Will steps out of the car, and recognizes– intellectually at first, and then with a growing sense of peace– that it is a nice day. It’s cool and crisp, the occasional snatch of birdsong hovering in the air, and groups of students walk by talking and laughing. Will has a sudden urge to take a walk through the campus of the university instead of setting off straight for the music building, which is somewhat offset from the main academic quad. There used to be a cafe in the student union building, he remembers, that he would sometimes go to for lunch. His stomach rumbles, and his head aches. Perhaps some caffeine would do him good.

He could probably spend all day there, happily. He would read the student newspaper, full of passionate invective against the injustices of the world, and let the time slip by him like it always seems to when he’s not paying attention, these days. At the end of the day, a hipster twentysomething barista would tap him on the shoulder and tell him nervously that the cafe was closing, and needed to leave. Then he would get in his car and drive home, back to his lonely, safe little house in Wolf Trap with his dogs and his reed desk, and–

–he isn’t going to do that.

Will’s mind focuses in with an almost audible snap, as he discards all of the possible futures that could happen if he just turns around now. Instead, he heads towards the music building at a brisk clip. He walks past the front entrance, nearly having to push his way through the curious crowd of students that have gathered on the sidewalk, watching the police officers stand nervously around the front door. (No FBI– yet, Will had probably left before Jack Crawford did, since Jack would have only received the call once the local police decided that it was a matter for the FBI.)

He keeps walking, as if walking past the building had been his intention all along, and sure enough the crowd thins out towards the back of the building– an entrance used mostly as a stage door to one of the recital halls. There is a girl huddled next to the door, her hand cupped furtively around her face.

Will watches the wisps of cigarette smoke rise up from where she’s trying very hard to not make it obvious that she’s smoking. There’s no violin hickey on her neck, and her nails are long– that rules out the possibility that she’s a string player or a pianist, then. Her furtiveness with the cigarette suggests she plays a wind or brass instrument, and had picked up the cigarette habit in high school and never managed to get rid of it once she started attending an institution where smoking was more liable to get you labelled not very serious about your instrument in lieu of getting you thrown in with the cool kids.

“Hey,” says Will. “Um, could I bum a cigarette? I forgot mine, and, uh, I don’t want to hang around… out there.” He waves his hand towards the front of the building.

Her eyes flick down to the oboe case that he has slung by one strap over his shoulder, and she relaxes. She hands over a cigarette and a lighter, and Will lights it, not at all looking forward to what comes next. It’s not that he’d never smoked before– Dad had smoked like a chimney, there were always clouds of smoke around any apartment or trailer they settled in. Will had never gotten in the habit as a teen, preferring to spend any money he earned helping with Dad’s motors on reeds or other oboe paraphernalia.

The smoke burns his lungs as he draws it in, but he forces himself to hold it and blow out slowly like getting the nicotine into him is a relief. Beside him, the furtive brass player– Will can see, now, the distinctive circular pattern of chapped skin around her lips– is leaning against the wall and smiling at him.

“Hell of a day,” she says. “By the time I got here, the cops weren’t even letting anyone in. One of those obsessive pianists who got 24-hour access to the building on some dumb pretense came in to start practising at five in the morning, and found a dead body, apparently.”

Will feigns shock, hopefully managing to pass off a small cough as an expression of horror. “Seriously?”

She shrugs. “Yeah. Which is fucking irritating, because I’ve got a brass quintet gig at some elementary school tomorrow, and I haven’t looked at half the music for it, so it’s not like I can just go home and not practice all day. Luckily one of the sound techs realized they weren’t monitoring this entrance, so as long as you go in and cut through the pit to the theatre, they won’t see you as long as you head straight to the practice hallway.”

“Oh, thank God,” says Will, and it’s easy to slip into this role; he takes another drag on the cigarette, and it burns slightly less on the way in. “I have a lesson tomorrow. I don’t care who’s dead, I need to do some long tones.”

The girl laughs and stubs out her cigarette. “I know, right?” she says. “Well, good luck.” She buzzes her keychain, with a fob that opens the students-only doors in the music school attached, and Will quickly extinguishes his own cigarette to follows her through.

They make their way through the dark basement, the underbelly of the school’s theatre, and then enter out into a stairway where the girl starts to head up the stairs. She pauses as Will turns to exit the stairwell onto the main floor. “Uh, you don’t want to go out there, the police are going to catch you,” she says.

Will pauses, his hand on the door handle, the words anything I would do to you, I would do only because I believe you are far too supraliminal to be erased by it echoing through his mind.

“That was his plan all along,” he realizes, and says out loud, because there’s no point in staying in her good graces now, and perhaps it’s better for her, if she remembers him as a crazed weirdo instead of a perfectly nice wind player that she let into the building without ever becoming suspicious of him. “He never knew what to do with me, from the very beginning. I saw too much, got too close, but I wasn’t law enforcement, and he liked me too much to kill me. And I just keep walking into it, because I’d rather do that than go back to who I was before.”

The girl stares at him for a moment, then mutters, “Okay,” and hightails it up the stairs. Will hears the beep of her fob opening the practice hallway, and feels a small pang that he won’t get to see it, will never know for sure if the stag that he’d dreamed protected him from the P. in his dream really stalks its halls.

He pulls a couple painkillers out of the outside pocket of his oboe case, and swallows them. He might not have access to it again for a little while, so he might as well attempt to see straight while he still can.

Then, he steps out into the crime scene that is the lobby of the music school. He closes his eyes, and a pendulum swings behind his eyelids, taking him back to when he made this.

I walk down the hallway towards Will’s guru’s office.

I’m dressed for the occasion; although such a moment demands clothes that border on the ceremonial, it’s only logical to cover them with clear plastic. I’ve chosen black tie dress, for this; the orchestral musician’s standard uniform. When she sees me, her first thought will be to wonder if I’ve just come from playing a concert.

I’ve come early enough that there are still students in the building, practising until they’re kicked out by security at midnight. I will need to keep her quiet in her office until both the students and security have left, before setting my scene. Chloroform, despite its reputation, is too slow-acting to be effective; strangulation is simpler and more enjoyable. I would prefer that she be alive as I set my scene, so I have brought drugs to be administered once she is unconscious; if she happens to die in the course of the strangulation process, however, the outcome would still be acceptable. This performance is for more than my own amusement; it is for Will. My own needs and desires, for the first time in my adult life, come second.

You cannot control with respect to whom you fall in love. This is my design, but it is for him.

When I draw closer to the office door, however, I realize she is not alone. My plans have never been ironclad, and I adjust as easily now as I ever have; in fact, perhaps this is preferable. Strangulation, in an attempt to preserve her life for a few more hours, is now too slow.

I open the door, and lock it behind me. The student who is playing his way through a long phrase, with Will’s guru and two other students watching him attentively, does not break off his phrase as I enter; his eyes flick over to me, but he is too well-trained to allow distractions to stop him entirely. He does not stop playing, in fact, until after his guru’s neck is snapped (easily– her body is frail, despite her outsize aura of power) and she lies blank-eyed on the floor. I would prefer to kill him next, as a reward for his admirable focus, but the other two students are opening their mouths to scream, so common sense dictates that they be next. The boy who had been playing the oboe has still not caught his breath well enough for more than a hoarse groan before he joins his former colleagues and teacher in a heap on the ground.

My raw materials are now provided, but I still have several hours before it is time to arrange them. I turn off the light and lock the door from the inside, then use the time to look around the office; a space that I now realize I could feel the echoes of both in Will’s home and in his mind. I go through the books on the shelf by the light of the streetlamp in the alley behind the building; touch the photos of famous oboists, mentors, and favoured students. There is one of Will, his professional headshot on the orchestra’s website, labelled ‘Will Graham, Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra.’ I look at it for a long time, and imagine him here in my place. I imagine him seeing this scene from the vantage point of the future; I imagine him sitting alone in a cell, the obvious culprit for the crimes I committed. I imagine us killing together, because this is a self-indulgent moment, and I am indulgent of myself at any moment I can convince myself to be. I am not yet certain of how these visions fit together, yet I am certain that the only way to go is forward.

Slowly, the strains of practising that float through the air from the poorly-soundproofed practice rooms fade out; finally, I hear the security guards making final rounds of the school. I know, from a conversation between janitorial staff overheard earlier, that there are certain students that have 24-hour access to the building; mostly sound design students, who need access to a lab to complete work, but some other students manage to get access too, and use it to practice earlier than the building opens. I am skilled and practised at setting up my displays quickly, but I intend to enjoy this one; should anyone come across me as I work, they will simply become part of the work itself.

When the time comes, I make use of the desk from the office. I empty the drawers, since they are heavy and inessential to the presentation; but the wooden desk and all of the items on top of it, I haul down the stairs to the lobby of the building. I replace the items exactly as they were set up previously, many of which I now even know the names of thanks to Will’s reed lesson: pre-gouger, gouger, splitter, shaper tip, knives, sharpening tools.

Will’s guru, I arrange teaching her final oboe lesson in the lobby, minus a heart. (Taking the heart; clichéd, but metaphorically unmistakable and culinarily versatile.) The students remain whole; they gave their hearts and minds to her, and she will retain them to the last. She sits at the desk, holding in her hand a half-finished reed from her desk and a knife which has been sharpened so many times that there is barely any blade left. I am impressed with the feat; cooking and butchery both require sharp knives, of course, but mine are nothing compared to the edge on Will’s blade, or this guru’s thin, barely-there heirloom knife.

Her students, I arrange kneeling around her desk. Many of them had their own knives out when they were interrupted, and it is trivial for me to match each knife to its rightful owner by scent. Their faces are more horrified than adoring– nothing to be done about that– but once the tableau is complete, I step back and find I prefer the irony of the disciples’ troubled faces as they worship to the idea of blank trust and awe that I had envisioned.

I leave with my trophy and only the picture in my mind to remember the scene by: Will’s guru holding her final gathering, and Will himself absent from the worshippers.

I want to set him free.

This is my design.

I want to–

I want to set him–

“Free. He wants to set me free. He wants to–“

“Sir, this is a crime scene. You need to leave.”

“It’s a gift for me, but part of the gift is that he knows I’ll know that I did it as much as he did.”

“Sir, I’ll need to see some ID, please.”

The stag stalks around the corners of the scene, comforting in the blurred edges of Will’s eyesight. “I can see every part of it. I’m participating. I chose to.”

Rough hands on his arms. “Sir, I am going to reach into your pocket and take a look at your ID, now.”

“Come here,” Will breathes, and the stag does, its breath hot on his face. He leans into it and the stag doesn’t let him fall– or perhaps that’s just the handcuffs being clicked around his wrists.

“Mr. Graham, you’re going to need to come with us.”

Being arrested, Will thinks as he’s bundled into a car, is actually rather relaxing. Nobody expects anything from him at the moment but to be a body, and that part he has no choice about. He makes a note to tell Hannibal that; perhaps he could try it one day, when things between them inevitably reverse and recapitulate. It’s his last thought before darkness and calm overtake him.

Chapter 17

Will wakes up handcuffed to a hospital bed, feeling actually pretty good.

It takes a few minutes to sort out what, exactly, feels good. He has, he’s fairly certain been framed for a number of crimes. He’s been framed by someone who loves him, which should probably make it worse, but instead feels more like a challenge, the raring-to-go feeling he always used to get the minute a big audition was announced. He is unable to go anywhere, since he’s chained to this bed, and judging by the number of IV lines entering his body, there is something really rather wrong with him.

On the other hand: he can’t go anywhere. He can’t even pick up the phone to tell Peggy she’ll need to hire another oboe player, for tonight and probably actually for a good long time. For the first time in his life, he feels no guilt about that. He’s not going to practice the oboe today, or tomorrow, or the next day, and there’s not a damn thing anyone, including him, can do about it. He waits for the Professor’s voice to comment on that– surely she must think that he’s lazy, uncommitted, that she shouldn’t have accepted him to her school in the first place, that Will doesn’t deserve anything he’s ever been given– but she is silent.

Ah, yes. He killed her. That explains it.

Also, something is wrong with him. That, too, should probably make it worse. Will opens his eyes fully, even the low light of the hospital room making him squint. Jack Crawford is in a chair on the other side of the room, as far away from the bed as he can get, asleep.

Will clears his throat, and then doesn’t even need to fake the loud, hacking cough that follows. His throat aches, which is a sensation that flickers into his consciousness slowly and then, once he has noticed it, overtakes nearly everything else. There is a glass of water with a straw in it beside his bed, which he manages to take a sip out of by sliding the handcuffs as far up the railing as they’ll go and leaning over to catch the plastic straw with his tongue.

Jack is awake, now, watching him awkwardly drink. He looks deeply tired, somewhat perplexed, and completely ferocious. “You were on a ventilator for a while there,” he says. “Passed out in the cop car and had to be taken to the hospital. You were running a fever of 106. Very dramatic. I suppose encephalitis explains why the Chesapeake Ripper would suddenly start showing up confused at his own crime scenes; I was wondering about that bit.”

Will can’t help it; he laughs. For the first time in recent memory, laughing doesn’t make his head hurt even worse than it did before– and now that he thinks about it, his head barely hurts at all, though the laughter isn’t doing any favours for his throat. it just makes him laugh harder.

The perplexed portion of Jack’s expression grows momentarily stronger. Since it doesn’t matter at this point, any more, Will gasps out even as the realization comes to him, “Oh my god, he knew. He knew the entire time, and I practically told him what do do with me. I told him that there was an oboist who died of dementia, who everyone thought was just a regular crazy oboist personality. I handed it to him.”

Jack scowls. “Who knew?”

“The Chesapeake Ripper,” says Will, because this may be the stage of the game that he and Hannibal are playing for now, but it’s not going to be forever. Jack Crawford is angry, but he’s not blind. Eventually this temporary blindness will fade, and Will will find a use for his anger.

Jack’s expression snaps closed again. “We had a good long time to search your house, Will,” he says. “We found your collection of– reed thread, is it?”

That statement is confusing enough to actually pull Will up short. “Well, I should hope so. it’s attached to my desk.”

“We found your collection of reed thread,” says Jack deliberately, “which contains the hair of both the former concertmaster and principal flutist of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra.”

Will blinks. He remembers the feeling of dirt between his toes in a graveyeard in North Bethesda, how his desperate call to Hannibal had been answered by the man himself showing up more quickly than anyone could have made it from Baltimore to Strathmore. Not so very quickly, though, if he had merely been on his way from Wolf Trap. North Bethesda would have been an ideal pit stop after tying some hair discreetly into Will’s thread collection, while keeping his dogs quiet with pieces of meat that would have them begging at the table for days afterwards.

He suddenly wonders what happened to his phone. If the FBI had gone through his phone, too, and laughed at the artistically rendered dick pic, the dick pic which was supposed to function as some sort of insane alibi, as if it was proof in and of itself that Hannibal had been sitting at home taking pictures of his junk instead of out causing murder and mayhem. Well, at least that explains the protracted wait time in between Will requesting the photo and receiving it. Hannibal hadn’t been appalled; he’d been driving.

I am going to fucking kill you, he thinks, and for once in his life he has no idea if he’s being serious or not.

*

Eventually Will is released from his heavily guarded room at Sinai into the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He passes through the doors of it masked and tied to a gurney, and feels nothing but self-awareness.

I’m finally an amateur at something, he thinks, staring around the grey blankness of his new cell. This. He intends his amateurism to match up to Hannibal’s perhaps even exceed him one day; but in order to do that, he first needs to face him.

Will isn’t an oboe player any longer; whatever part of him needed to clutch desperately to stability through the public performance of stability itself had died as Hannibal (as Will) had snapped the P.’s neck. It feels like preparing for a concert, though, as he sits on his cot listening to the buzz of the gate and the slow, purposeful footsteps coming down the hall. It feels like preparing for a solo that won’t disappear the moment he releases the notes into the air.

“Hello, Will.” Hannibal’s voice sounds the same as ever. It sounds like Hannibal has been telling him the truth, in his own way, all along.

Will stands, slowly. He moves to the grate of the cell like he has all the time in the world, which in a way now he does.

“Hello, Doctor Lecter.”