Will felt worn carpet under his feet and cool air against his skin. He heard his own heartbeat, loud in his ears, and his own harsh breathing. Someone walked just three steps behind him, His footfalls were silent, and he didn’t seem to need to breathe. But Will knew he was there.
Will opened his eyes.
He knew this place. He knew the ragged red carpet below his feet, those high rafters, the ancient wooden pews, the stained glass, the chancel with its altar and the cross hung above it. Will paused a moment, one foot in the air, and the presence behind him waited as well. He swallowed and continued walking. He was not afraid, even though his arms were bound behind his back and he was naked as the day he was born. God would provide the lamb.
They came to the chancel. From there he got up onto the table somehow, which was already laid with wood for the sacrifice. The cords were rough and prickly against his skin.
The stranger bound Will’s eyes with cloth. He trembled as gentle hands arranged a lambskin across his lap. Tears gathered in his eyes, and he swallowed against a swell of sudden emotion.
The sound of a match being struck. The crackle of kindling. Will smelled smoke; he could see the light of the leaping flames even through the blindfold. He turned his face toward where he knew the cross was and closed his eyes.
He opened them to the lightening sky and the sound of faint barking, constant and concerned. Gooseflesh pimpled all up and down his arms and legs. He smelled trees, the faint odor of tar, and morning wet. Grit dug into his palms and the backs of his legs. The uneven tiles dug into his back through his t-shirt. Behind him, the barking grew more frantic.
He was on the roof of his house. He had climbed out the bedroom window.
Will almost dropped the phone twice, his hands were shaking so badly. His dogs circled him with anxious, upturned noses, pressing against his legs. Will stumbled downstairs, phone pressed to his ear, to open the door for them. Rather than dashing outside as they usually did, they remained close, so that Will had to step onto the front porch before they would venture to do their business. The morning air was cold against his bare legs and arms.
Hannibal picked up on the fourth ring. “Will?”
“H-hi.” Will swallowed. “Will you come over?”
Hannibal’s tone sharpened. “Is something wrong?”
“I just–I’ll tell you about it when you’re here. If you. Will you come?”
“I’ll come now.”
Hannibal hung up. Will pressed his phone against his forehead until he heard the plastic creak.
Dear God: Thank You for this morning, Your beautiful Creation, the love and loyalty of dogs, and for not letting me walk off the roof of my house in my sleep. Now: what the hell? What was that all about? First gunmen in my church and bodies on my altar–oh, I’m sorry, Your altar–and now sleepwalking? As if the nightmares weren’t bad enough? Where is Your holy presence, Lord?
Will dropped his phone against the table and got on with his day. He poured kibble in the water dish and spooned coffee grounds straight into the basket without a filter. He showered; his hands shook too badly to attempt a shave. He skipped the eggs and settled for dry toast over the sink. The dogs took turns poking their heads into the kitchen to check on him. His head hurt, but he was out of aspirin.
He went out onto the porch to greet Hannibal’s arrival. Hannibal paused at the bottom of the steps and tilted his head. He was wearing the dark blue fleece again today, his version of “dressed down” when he was around Will. Will appreciated the effort even as he wondered if Hannibal even owned jeans, much less a t-shirt.
“I brought lunch.” Hannibal held up a leather bag.
“Great,” Will said, though he wasn’t hungry.
Hannibal followed Will in the door, but once inside he broke free and made himself at home at the kitchen table, which was slowly starting to accumulate detritus again. Will found them two plates, while Hannibal drew two sandwiches on French rolls from the bag, wrapped in wax paper that he sliced open with a knife.
“You sounded very distressed on the phone,” Hannibal said as he arranged the sandwiches, complete with pickle spears, on Will’s melamine plates. “What happened?”
Will lowered himself into his seat and watched as Hannibal produced a thermos from the bag and poured him a cup of what looked and smelled like coffee. “I sleepwalked last night.”
Hannibal had a second, smaller glass bottle that contained what appeared to be milk, though it didn’t pour the same way. “Sleepwalked?”
“Yeah. I woke up on the roof. The dogs woke me up, barking; otherwise who knows what would’ve happened.” Will crushed the heel of his hand against his forehead. “It scared me.”
“No wonder. You might have been injured.” Hannibal sat down at the other end of the table. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
Will picked up his sandwich and took a bite. The crust crunched beneath his teeth. Shredded fragments of pickled carrot and some white vegetable lent texture and tartness to smoky, well-flavored meat. He hadn’t been hungry, but chewing this good food, prepared for him with such care and attention, brought his appetite back. “Thank you for coming,” Will mumbled, and took another bite.
“I’m glad that you called me,” Hannibal said, quietly. “What happened? How did you get on the roof?”
“I must have climbed out through the window, because it was open; I usually leave a window open at night, for fresh air. When I woke up, I was lying on the roof, and the dogs were barking their heads off. I climbed back in through the window and called you.” He paused and took a sip of his coffee, which was shockingly strong–and shockingly sweet. “Wow, what is this?”
“Vietnamese coffee, sweetened with condensed milk,” Hannibal replied. “The sandwich is in the Vietnamese style as well, with grilled lemongrass pork, pickled carrot and daikon, and pork paté.” It was strange and almost funny to see Hannibal eating with his hands, brushing crumbs off of his lips. But he looked as neat and put together as he always did, somehow. “Did you have a history of sleepwalking, as a child?”
“When I was very young, yeah; Dad found me in the kitchen a couple times, not doing anything, just standing there, sometimes in the bathroom. One time he found me in the yard. I think I was usually having a nightmare.”
Hannibal took a sip of his coffee. “Were you having a nightmare this time?”
Will nodded and relayed the dream: himself as the sacrifice, the Ripper behind him, the burning and the flames. “Then I woke up on the roof.”
Hannibal tilted his head. He had finished his sandwich and now attended to his coffee. “It’s post-traumatic stress. The experience may have overwhelmed ordinary functions that give you a sense of control.”
“So if I feel out of control in my head,” Will said, “then I can lose control of my body, too?”
Will gave it some thought. On the surface, it seemed like sound enough reasoning: he had felt overwhelmed yesterday, both by the shock of the morning’s discovery and the subsequent aftermath. But he didn’t feel out of control. Off, yes–who wouldn’t feel off, after the past day?–but not in a way that suggested his body might go for a walk without him.
“Agent Crawford has thrust you back into this gruesome world you were glad to be quit of years ago,” Hannibal went on. “And straight into the thick of it. No ordinary homicide, but the Chesapeake Ripper.”
“What, first you want me to help Crawford, now you think it’s too much for me?” Will returned, frowning. “I can handle it.”
Hannibal’s eyes smiled, crinkling at the corners. “I know that. You’re a strong man, Will. But have you seen this?” He pulled a tablet out of his bag.
It took Will a moment to understand what he was seeing: a website with a lurid red design, shaky white lettering across the top announcing TATTLE-CRIME.COM. The latest headline bellowed, in block capitals, THE FIGHTING PRIEST VS. THE CHESAPEAKE RIPPER.
Will’s lunch threatened to make a return. “What’s this?”
“An unfortunately well-followed tabloid,” Hannibal said, dryly.
Will swiped down on the screen. The articles from the Associated Press and the Washington Post had praised him as “former New Orleans police detective” and “decorated detective from New Orleans.” This Freddie Lounds, however, had gone much deeper than that: “‘His ability to empathize with murderers made him an asset to the force, but too unstable for the FBI?'” Will quoted, voice growing higher and louder with each word. “That’s complete bullshit! I wouldn’t have been accepted to the ministry if I were mentally unstable! ‘But now the FBI hopes to harness that skill for themselves to catch the most infamous local murderer of them all: The Chesapeake Ripper. The question is: can they keep him on a tight enough leash?’ What the hell? I’m not a dog!”
A few lines down was a quote from an unnamed parishioner who described Will as “a little creepy.” Will almost threw the iPad down in disgust, but it was Hannibal’s, so he just handed it back across the table with rather more force than necessary. “Who the hell reads this crap?”
“A great number of people, myself included,” Hannibal admitted. “It’s rather…compelling. While I recognize it for the tabloid fodder that it is, however, other people do not, and I’m afraid many of them are probably members of your congregation.”
Will groaned and scrubbed his hands up and down his face. “You’re telling me that I have to brace for fallout.”
The article was not that long, but Will had to stop reading it every thirty seconds in order to fume. In addition to dragging every bit of medical leave and mandatory therapy under the microscope as evidence of his supposed “mental instability,” there were photos of the body, and how Lounds had obtained them, Will had no idea. They were not particularly artistic and looked as if they’d been taken with a smartphone, so probably they were crime scene evidence that had somehow been leaked; Crawford would not be happy about that.
Once finished flaying Will’s history for all to see, Lounds went on to gush about the Ripper: his strength, his intelligence, his artistry, and his complete disregard for human life and law. Lounds recounted some of his “greatest hits,” many of which Will recognized from the fat manila envelope that now gathered dust on his kitchen table: the Prometheus display; Mrs. Friedman’s white roses; Robert Rivera with his foot in his mouth.
“‘There’s no doubt in this author’s mind that the Ripper knows Father Graham and has deliberately targeted him with a display of Biblical proportions,'” Will read. “‘What the Ripper’s ultimate game is, we may only guess. But if there’s anyone who can understand him well enough to catch him, it’s Father Will Graham. But we know what they say about those who hunt monsters…'” He snorted and let the iPad fall back onto the table.
Hannibal, who’d been tidying up the remnants of their lunch, circled around behind Will’s chair and dug his thumbs into Will’s shoulders. Will heaved a great sigh and bowed his head. “Let’s go for a walk,” Hannibal suggested.
Three collars jingled at the word ‘walk.’
Coloredink is a writer of fiction (fan and otherwise). Her Hannibal and Sherlock works can be found on Archive of Our Own. She currently lives in the Hannibal fandom. You can find her on LiveJounal and Tumblr.
Rated: Explicit, Word Count: 43,973, AO3 Tags: Alternate Universe, Alternate Universe – Priests, Clergymen, Religion, Religious Content, Food, Food Porn, Canon-Typical Violence, First Time, Drama, Courtship, Hannibal is Hannibal, Someone Help Will Graham