Ch. 1: Doubt

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom – William Blake

Will Graham emerged from his battle with Randall Tier victorious. His west-facing window was smashed in and there was damning evidence all over his living room floor and his clothes. The entire scene should have dismantled his calm. It should have shredded the last bit of sanity he possessed. But Graham knew how to replace a window and, better than virtually anyone, he understood how to wipe a crime scene. These were easy solutions. What he didn’t know how to do was deal efficiently and expertly with a dead body. He certainly knew someone who did.

In his time with the FBI, Will had caught every single person who had tried to conceal their crimes save for one man. It was the same seductive monster who had sent him the wretch presently staining the area rug. That horrifying creature, inhuman and inescapable, had encouraged one of his protégés to attempt to kill Will in his own home.

Tier had been a boy influenced into a red haze by none other than Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Will’s not-quite-official-psychiatrist, sole friend, and easily the most prolific serial killer of this century. Hannibal had toyed with Tier as he toyed with anyone that amused him. Then he fed the boy to Graham’s own wrathful hands in order to awaken the suppressed bloodlust hidden within them.

Randall Tier smashing through his living room on a snowy Tuesday evening should have been the final transgression between he and Hannibal. It truly should have been. Literally no one should have to even utter words as ridiculous as “and then my psychiatrist sent a kid in a pneumatic tiger killing machine suit to come murder me.” Yet this was Graham’s life. He loathed it. He couldn’t stop it. And a dark, secret part of him loved it.

The fight had been exhilarating. It had been thrilling to thrash a rival of Hannibal’s attentions. It stirred up many emotions and left him exceptionally confused. Tier’s unexpected visit felt as much a test from Hannibal as it did an exquisite gift from him. Most likely the ‘good doctor’ was simply playing, curious to see which of his attempts at influencing others would prove superior. Will Graham was dangerously close to delighting in the fact that he had won. Quite easily, in fact.

He was losing focus. Wavering on a knife’s edge.

He wanted to see the glint of Hannibal’s pride shimmer in those liquid amber eyes when he saw his equal emerge, radiant and bloodied. Will wanted the Lithuanian’s mysterious smile to grow wide and toothy, showing vicious mirth and recognition which he granted no one else. Will also yearned to deal Hannibal an extraordinarily violent reckoning. Will wished it was Dr. Lecter’s blood streaming down his hands rather than Tier’s. Hannibal had thrown him into the pit once again, endangering not only him, but this time his dogs and the sanctity of his home. And yet still…He needed to show Hannibal the splatters of Tier’s lifeblood on his knuckles and the carnage he had wrought on the demented boy. He had done it with nothing more than rage and his fists.

It made no sense.

Will had enough self-awareness to understand this was about needing to revel in his own euphoric vengeance. He understood that he wanted to be seen doing it. That much was clear. He was just forgetting who that vengeance was supposed to be aimed at and who was supposed to be celebrating it alongside him. Was he catching a killer for Jack Crawford or becoming one with Hannibal Lecter? His plans with Jack and his plans with Hannibal lived in alternate universes, coexisting and completely irreconcilable. He could only make out the pale contours of his wavering design.

So Will did what he always did when he was unsure of himself. He packed his trunk – lined carefully with plastic sheeting from the barn – and began the long drive to Baltimore to see the one person who could give him reassurance. The one person who had filled his life with more deadly chaos than he could comprehend and still managed to soothe every ache he possessed.

What came from Hannibal must always return to Hannibal, it seemed. Theirs was a dance and a duel. An ellipsis of desire and destruction, interrupted only in the final seconds before it went too far.

This really should be the moment Will conceded that their game was over. He just…couldn’t accept that it had to end.

 

<> 

 

His bloodied hands knew the route to Hannibal’s far too well. Will thought of the Devil as he made the automatic turns along the beltway. As a child, his dad had impulsively dumped him off at random churches for Sunday school sometimes when he needed a break from single fatherhood. It was an impromptu and unconvincing religious instruction, but some of it he recalled well. Lucifer fell from Heaven because he blinked. He had doubted God’s plan.

Will was filled with doubt about the plans for which Jack and Hannibal had simultaneously recruited him. Like the Devil, he too questioned the imperfection of humans. There were flaws everywhere Will looked. After all, as a Special Agent in the FBI, he forced himself to stare into the horrors of humanity and empathize with them every day. He was too well acquainted with the worst of human nature. It was Will’s specialty, after all. Lucifer had dared to ask how so much ugliness could be divine. With a corpse in the trunk, the fallen archangel’s concerns didn’t seem so far off. Graham was transporting a dead serial murderer whom he had just murdered because of – and maybe for – another serial murderer. This was real. He was Will Graham, it was 10:18pm, and this shit was actually happening.

If God cast out his archangel for doubting his plans, which of the men who held so much power over him would cast him out? Whom could he bear failing more – and how hard would he fall?

As he crossed the Potomac River, tungsten bridge lights flickered in orange beats across his dashboard. Will tried to count up how many times he’d killed now. In the FBI protocols he himself had helped to write, this very likely qualified him as a serial killer too. Two unrelated deaths in self-defense or in the line of duty were more or less freebies. A third would create a pattern. No one, not even he, would dismiss that fine line between two and three kills.

Fuck.

The first stretch of I-495 in Maryland was dark, and for that he was grateful. Will allowed himself to wander into the bleakest hallways of his mind. He had priors no one knew about. They were in files buried in Louisiana, the indictments sealed and his record expunged by the courts. He’d been a minor and he was convicted only on circumstantial evidence. After Hurricane Katrina, he wasn’t even sure they still existed. Those papers might have been washed away in the floods. They might have been digitized before the storm and lived on in some data bank. He simply didn’t know. The mere memory filled his stomach with panic.

The government was routinely lazy, sending out underpaid young agents to conduct security clearances for new hires. He’d blown his psych eval, of course, but if someone really grew curious, say someone like Jack, and started poking around, he would be royally fucked. Post-9/11, the FBI had unprecedented jurisdiction. They could unopen any court document or request any data. He knew. He’d done it many times. They could easily uncover his juvenile idiocies if those records were still floating out there. They were the stupid mistakes of a gullible kid trying desperately to fit in, and every protocol he had crafted marked his numerous underage arrests as serious red flags. Combined with his more recent activities, Will would be right back to the dungeons of the BSHCI – this time for good. Or worse, he could be sent to federal prison where pretty little things like him did not tend to last long. His dogs would be sent to the pound and those equally unwanted animals wouldn’t last long either.

He took the exit which would put him on the fastest route to Chandler Square and made sure to stay under the speed limit.

 Will was supposed to be the clever fisherman, luring Hannibal to his line, bringing him out of the shadows to end his oeuvre of gory art. Yet Jack’s motives were patently impure. A sour lump of rage swelled in his throat at the reminder that he worked for people who only wanted access to his unique gift. If they could have it without having to deal with him, they would do so gladly. The Behavioral Analysis Unit used him like a show pony and in spite of their seeming expertise on the subject of human behavior, not a single agent there could understand him.

Hannibal could. He saw through him with serpent eyes that enchanted. He whispered to the buried secrets of Will’s own heart with his silvered tongue, coaxing out the demons. And now Will was transporting a corpse across state lines. For him. To him. Because of him.

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