Chapter One

They were fascinating to watch, the two of them. Dr. Hannibal Lecter was a portrait of austerity, sharp and elegant as a fine blade. He was immaculately dressed and poised as ever, his European urbanity giving him the impression of being someone out of an older world: a long-past time that was at once more beautiful and more brutal than modern man could imagine. I could almost believe that he held the secrets of such a world behind those unfathomable blue eyes.

Will Graham was also controlled, but there were still traces of boyish vulnerability in his shattered gaze. The pain always rippled just beneath the surface with him, threatening to flood out in a wave of- What? Violence? Misery? He had not only gazed into an abyss and seen it gaze back, but immersed himself in the gulfs of madness over and over again. How many abysses stared out from those eyes? At the very bottom of those depths, who was the real Will Graham? A murderer? A suicide? Did he even know?

I turned the volume of the live security feed up, and readjusted my headphones. It had been a stroke of brilliance to wire the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane with the highest grade of security equipment. Not all the recordings bore fruit, but certain patients were fascinating to behold. It reminded me somewhat of the trips to the zoo I loved to take with my father as a boy. My father thought monkeys were wild enough, and my mother would inevitably fuss over the lemurs and smaller creatures; I, however, only had eyes for the large predators. There was something invigorating about facing death from the outside of its bounds. A cage held all that natural power at bay, cleverness taming strength. It was the definition of human superiority, I thought, and a marvelous thing to behold.

The thrill of having superiority over mere animals waned as boyhood did. School was … difficult, sometimes. I realized in those hormone-fueled moments of despair that true superiority came with the ability to tame the human animal. I was never made to be a commander of men, nor yet a primitive ape who uses physical strength to impress. I never wished for genius: so much knowledge shoved into a brain that it leaves no room for finesse or cunning. I was fortunate enough to be born balanced in nature, and balanced in mind. I am clever.

As I grew older, I became clever enough to begin to realize what my strengths were and how to use them. Even the strongest human mind has its cracks, openings through which to crawl into. With my influence in the minds of the strong, I have been able to use many of those society deems so much more worthy than I to my advantages. The weaker the mind, the stronger my manipulation.

That may sound cruel, but it is certainly for the good of others, as well as myself. I feel sympathy for those whose minds I can so easily invade. I have sympathy for the sad faults of humanity, that is what drove me to strive to understand them through psychiatry. I may go outside the lines acceptable to today's overly sensitive society, but I do help my patients. I keep them safe from society, from themselves, and I keep civilized society safe from them.

Even now, even after I was … indescribably violated … by Abel Gideon. Even now, I do strive to help. I must. It is what keeps me above them. It is what keeps me outside the cages.

I touched the screen, as if I could reach into Will Graham's mind from where I sat. Then, my eyes were inevitably drawn back to Hannibal Lecter. What had gone on between these two men? What labyrinthine road had led them here? I had theories, of course, many of them … but only those two knew the truth. There was a strange link between them, a similarity that overrode all their differences. Being on the outside of their grand truth, even after Will was put under my care, was galling. To meet one mind beyond my comprehension was bad enough, but two! Yet I failed to grasp the tendrils of their shared madness. There they both were, within my walls, within my reach, but I still could not touch their minds!

"I wish you would let me help you, Will," Hannibal said.

"The way you 'helped' me before?" Will asked Hannibal. The bitterness in his voice surprised me. I had never heard Will Graham speak in true anger before, let alone this tone dripping with hatred. "Why don't we talk about that, Dr. Lecter?"

I watched Hannibal Lecter closely, but he betrayed nothing. Even when he was right in front of me, I could never discern the workings of his mind. The doctor was an inexplicable blend of polite, affable openness and aloof reserve. Will Graham was a brilliant psychopath and he had fooled me, but Hannibal Lecter did nothing but perplex me. I could not even define his falseness.

I clenched my fist, suppressing the urge to hit the screen. They were arrogant, those two: enmeshed in their perversely elitist obsession with one another. I was reduced to being a fly on the wall- in my own hospital! The hospital I had paid for in blood!

Yes, I had paid for it in blood and more. My hand swept down to my stomach, where beneath my clothing and bandages a hideous gash split my flesh. It was an awfully gauche habit, but being in the privacy of my office, I did not fight the impulse. I fancied that I could feel the stitches thread by thread, holding the halves of my body close as if I were a mere piece of butchered meat. A shudder ran through me, infuriatingly uncontrollable. I clenched my hands into fists to keep them from shaking, but the waves of darkness rolled through me regardless.

Hannibal said, "Will, I am sorry I failed you-"

"Failed in what way?" Will interrupted. "Failed to make me the perfect monster? Failed to keep me as your pet friend? How did you fail me, exactly, Hannibal?"

I peered closer at the screen. "Yes, how did you fail him?" I murmured to distract myself from my more personal pondering. "What did you do to him, Dr. Lecter?"

"I failed to keep the darkness from permeating your mind," Hannibal said. "I let you lose yourself, and I … lost you."

"Do you really expect anyone to believe that you missed the signs?" Will asked. He looked directly at the camera, giving me a start. "Do you believe it, Dr. Chilton? That Hannibal Lecter actually didn't notice that I was becoming this monster he claims me to be?"

Pure, unfiltered rage surged through me. To my chagrin, Hannibal looked at the camera, and it felt as if those cold ice-hued eyes were looking directly into my eyes. The look burned, and I almost moved back from the screen. Ridiculous! Why did the man have such an effect on me?

"I take it our unfortunate administrator is back?" Hannibal inquired of Will.

"He is. Most of him, anyway."

Disgusted, I tore off the headphones. They were mocking me? I was barely out of the hospital, and they were making light of my attack? I told myself that Will was a sociopath, incapable of empathy, it was what made him a monster- and I did not care. In that instant, I could have murdered him with my bare hands.

I kept an eye on the footage, but left the headphones off. I could always listen to the recording back later. Hannibal did not stay with Will much longer after that, anyway. He turned and glided out of the camera's view before long. And good riddance, I thought. Intrigued by the man as I was, he irked me to no end. I could not abide an impenetrable mind.

Will Graham sat on his cot. His face lost all trace of emotion, and he stared into nothing. I wondered where his mind went when he was in that state. What did he see? His victims? Did they torment or pleasure him with the memories of their deaths?

I put the headphones back on, but it was silent. I watched Will, trying to will him to speak. I wished he would react, but his control was impeccable. It was quite a change from the anxious, fragile man I had met a year ago. He had been a hateful little thing then, but nowhere near this level of sophisticated evil.

There was a knock on my door, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I had no time to remove the headphones and close the laptop before Hannibal Lecter himself walked in. There was nothing to be ashamed of in my own hospital, I was perfectly justified in my surveillance, and yet I felt oddly caught.

Hannibal shut the door behind himself. "Have I ever told you that I find your invasion of privacy exceedingly naughty, Dr. Chilton?"

The patronization nearly made me lose my temper completely, but I steadied myself. I removed the headphones and shut the computer. My face felt warm suddenly, and I loosened my tie.

"It is my right to be informed as to the goings-on in my hospital," I reminded Hannibal. With effort and the help of my cane, I rose to my feet. "I believe you can understand why that is more important to me now more than ever."

"Doubtless," Hannibal said, though I doubted the sincerity of this flippant agreement. His eyes swept over me, from his admittedly greater height. "I must say that I am surprised to see you back at work so soon. How are you feeling?"

The stitches were grating, and I was so sore that it was difficult to stand. There was concern on Hannibal's face, and despite my prior resentment, I was grateful to have his ear. Pity was despicable, but sympathy could be a balm- from a worthy person, of course.

"Not very well," I confessed. To my relief, Hannibal took my arm and helped me over to my desk. I promptly sat on its surface, exhaling slowly. "Honestly, I couldn't stand another moment in bed. I would hate to say I missed this place, but … Well, I needed to come back. There is something comforting about it. Running this place, I mean. Order from chaos."

Hannibal gave me an odd look that I could not decipher. "You know that it is futile. Oh. You're bleeding."

"I- What?" With a feeling of dread, I looked down. Blood was spreading through the fibers of my crisp blue shirt, ruining it, spreading like a disease. I had seen so much of my own blood by now that I should have been desensitized, but I was still somewhat raw. "Oh God! Oh Jesus fuck!"

"No need for profanity," Hannibal said, patronizing again. Still, he put a hand on my shoulder to quell my panic. "I'll see to your stitches."

I sat very still, trying not to move lest the stitches come entirely undone. Condescending or not, Hannibal's cool self-assurance was a comfort. He asked where the First Aid kit was, and I told him. He promptly fetched it, and sterilized his hands with one of the wet wipes inside. He set the kit on the desk beside me, laying out several items as a surgeon lays out instruments.

"Oh, that's right," I recalled, watching his sure, strong hands. "You were a medical doctor."

Hannibal smiled reassuringly at me. He straightened me by the shoulders, and began to unbutton my shirt. His fine, perfectly-coiffed blond hair brushed near my face as he bowed over me, so fair that it was nearly silver. His scent filled my nose: a complex, intoxicatingly crisp blend of expensive aftershave and a sharp, deep cologne that I could not identify. He smelled exactly as he looked: chic, elite, with a layer of warmth thinly masking an underlying coldness.

It may have been the loss of blood, but I was beginning to feel light-headed. The absurd desire to run my hands through that silky blond hair struck me with such clarity that for a moment I worried that I had. I glanced down at Lecter, but he was now removing my bandages. Knowing that the fantasy was only in my mind, I let it in, toyed with it.

Yes, I could feel his silken hair between my fingers. I would lift his head to mine, and face his enigmatic eyes without reservation. Then, our lips would meet, and I would taste that mouth: thin-lipped but wide, like a shark's, and so finely formed. How would he taste?

Hannibal had my shirt open and my bandages off. His fingertips touched around my stitches, and I shivered. His skin was cold, almost unnaturally so, but it was smooth. I watched him, trying to soak in the touch through my pain. They were a surgeon's hands, but also as strong and toughened as a working man's. How could he be so cold?

"Did I hurt you, Frederick?"

"No," I replied, trying to keep my voice steady. "No, it's … fine."

In truth, I had been attracted to Hannibal Lecter since the day we met. He has never respected me, I knew that, and I will admit to harboring a bit of professional jealousy of his renown and insight. I despise the hold he has on Will Graham, and vice versa. The man told me not to tempt him to serve my tongue up, for God's sake, calling it, in his words, 'feisty'.

Then again, I can be feisty, can't I?

I believe I trouble Hannibal Lecter, a feat I'm certain not any man or woman can accomplish. He and Will Graham share God knows what, Jack Crawford counts Lecter as a close friend, but only I understand his darker nature. We share an appreciation for unorthodox methods of psychiatric treatment, and a singular viewpoint of our craft. He does not deign to admit it, yet, but we are alike. I have always thought we might make a very formidable match, personally and professionally.

Not to be so base about it, but Hannibal was also an exceptionally sensual man. I had never seen him out of clothes, but the lines beneath that suit promised graceful power. His face was beautiful, exotically sculpted as an animal or lizard's would be. Despite the hard edges and bold planes of his structure, there was a voluptuous hunger about him. Those lips tasted life with a discernment beyond pedestrian pseudo-appreciation, as was evident from his luxurious dinners and taste in spirits and wine. To be tasted by such lips, accepted, appreciated and savored as his carefully crafted cuisine would be an oddly carnal thrill. To be caressed by those surgeon's hands and molded into his body …

A twinge of pain made me cry out. Before I could stop myself, I reached out, and grasped Hannibal's shoulder. He felt as hard as stone, and so I allowed myself to cling to him for support. Hannibal only continued working steadily, as if he did not even notice my touch.

I could no longer stand the fantasies cascading through my mind. Impossibly, the pain and intimacy of Hannibal's work were mingling into a symphony of desire. I searched for conversation, and fortunately found the last threads of our previous one.

"What did you mean by 'futile'? What is futile?"

"Creating order from chaos," Hannibal replied, not looking up. "The universe is not structured. Whatever we see as order is an illusion, false patterns we make up to give meaning where there is none."

"That is a rather hopeless attitude to take."

"It is neither an attitude nor an opinion, merely the truth," Hannibal informed me, unbelievably certain.

"Then why do you bother?" I asked. I was not offended by his viewpoint, merely curious. "With therapy? Trying to help people?"

Hannibal met my eyes then. For just a second, I saw such a look of cold condescension that my blood ran cold. It was gone like the flicker of a dying fire, and I wondered if I had misread him. Hannibal changed from angle to angle, like a constantly revolving kaleidoscope mosaic.

"I like to study the chaos," Hannibal told me. "I do not fear it. Quite the opposite: I find it beautiful. I respect it. But I would never be so arrogant as to believe that I can control it, let alone set it to order."

"You think I'm arrogant?" I exclaimed. "That's a laugh!"

Hannibal had finished repairing the stitches. He stood and retrieved bandages from the First Aid kit. "What do you mean by that, Frederick?"

The blood loss must have affected my mind, and my tongue (my feisty tongue, according to Hannibal) was loosened. It was petty and jealous, but the bitterness I had felt while watching Hannibal and Will converse boiled to the surface.

"I know what you think of me," I told him. To my relief, my voice was steady and matter-of-fact. "You and Will, the two of you look down on me. You seem to believe that you are operating on a higher playing field than the rest of us. I suppose that's what made Will so destructively obsessed with you."

Hannibal was unwinding a bandage slowly. "You think it is my fault?"

"Whether intentional or not, you did foster that obsession," I pointed out. "Or am I wrong to think that your relationship with Will Graham was less than—or more than—professional?"

Hannibal moved in a swift, feline motion. He was very close, leaning over me, and our profiles nearly touched. It was close enough to kiss, I noted, and a flutter of anticipation beat its wings up and down my tortured insides.

"You're not wrong," Hannibal said softly. He taped a bandage over the incision stitches, and then began to wrap one around my torso, holding my shirt up. "Are you jealous?"

"What?" I exclaimed, the question cutting through my pretense of disinterest. I cleared my throat, though my cheeks were warm again. "No."

Hannibal smiled. "Yes you are," he said, his voice incongruously gentle. "You are a jealous and spiteful little man that must collect interesting people to make up for the fact that you are wholly ordinary."

The burst of truth assaulted my ears like the crack of a whip. So, Hannibal was finally telling me what he thought of me? The politeness was gone from his demeanor, and he was looking at me as if I were an insect. Anger coiled itself around my desires, hardening all my frustration into a stone I could feel in the pit of my stomach. I clutched Hannibal's arm by the wrist when he reached to fasten a bandage.

"Don't give me your analyses," I said angrily. "I am not Will Graham."

"No," Hannibal said regretfully. "You're not."

I opened my mouth in anticipation of a retort, but my mind could not find one. I swallowed down the tightness in my throat, unable to speak. Hannibal tugged his wrist from my hand as easily as one pulling wings off a butterfly, and continued bandaging me.

"I am not jealous of Will Graham," I told Hannibal. My words sounded sullen, but I was too furious to care. "Why would I be? He sits in my cell, under my care … at my mercy."

"And yet he has what you never will."

"Ah, yes, all my shortcomings are Will Graham's strengths," I said cynically. "I'll never have- what? The genius insight that drove him mad? That finely honed sensitivity to the inner workings of the psychotic mind? His sympathy for the devil?"

Hannibal lifted his face, done bandaging, and my breath caught in my throat. His breath grazed my face, cool and fresh. A finger touched the corner of my mouth, and his lips were less than an inch from mine. I wanted to push him away, defy the weakness of my attraction, but I could not move. Those eyes were as hypnotic as a snake's. I had never felt so paralyzed by a sane man before in my life.

"Me," Hannibal whispered, the words spoken so closely to my lips that I might have said them. "I was going to say, you will never have me."

Hannibal's closeness was gone, all too soon. He stood before me, washing his hands with another of the kit's wet wipes. It took a moment for me to regain my composure. Once I did, the arrogant insult of his words sank in.

"You think this is about you?" I asked. I hoped that I wasn't overplaying my incredulity. Feeling exposed, I tucked my bloodstained shirt in hastily and began buttoning it back up. "Of all the narcissistic, arrogant, delusional crap!"

Hannibal did not react, only stood there with his arms crossed.

"You've brought me the Chesapeake Ripper," I reminded him. It took immense effort and care, but I managed to stand to face him. I was done being physically vulnerable for the man in any way. "He sits in my cell as we speak. Tell me, Dr. Lecter, what else could I possibly want from you?"

Fantasies are funny things. The mind has a way of slowing them to a crawl, fabricating detail by detail a scene of perfect mental and physical stimulation. Reality is rarely so ideal. It comes hard and fast, leaving us grasping futilely at the remnants of memory to piece its best moments back together.

Our lips had been pressed together for several precious seconds before I realized that we were touching. Desire ran through me like an electric charge before then. My arms encircled Hannibal's neck, and my fingers tangibly sank into his soft hair. I ruffled its neatness, wanting more than anything to dishevel him in some way. My fingers met his ears, and I gripped them, holding his head closer to mine. His mouth was clean, and tasted of mints and winter. Idiotically poetic way to describe it, but I have no other words. It was the taste of coldest winter's snowfall.

I ran my tongue over his teeth, slick and thick. I felt them dig into my tongue lightly, and had the oddest thought that he might bite down and rip it straight out of my mouth. There was a trickle of fear in my chest at the notion, but it was dissipated by the heat of want. I wanted him so badly that it was almost an ache.

Then he was gone. The air still felt cool where he had stood. I had held to him fast, but he slipped out of my grip like water through a sieve. I was left in a void, blood throbbing uselessly through my body.

In response to the question I had nearly forgotten, Hannibal murmured, "What you will never have."

Hannibal had hung his jacket over the arm of my sofa. He picked it up now, slipped into it.

"Is that what you and Will had?" I asked, the sting of rejection blending with an ugly jealousy I could no longer stifle. "Your great friendship was really a love affair?"

Hannibal glanced at me, but paid me no regard. He was as remote as an island, as if the kiss had never happened. Without replying, he turned and headed for the door. I moved to go after him, but could not bring myself to. With that fluid swiftness of his, Hannibal opened the door, slipped out, and was gone. The soft thump of the door being closed sent a pulse of regret and fury through me.

Impotent. For the love of God, I actually felt impotent. Not physically (far from it, physically) but in every other way. With a kiss, Hannibal Lecter had stripped me of every last scrap of pride and control I had. When had I lost myself in him? I could not even point to the moment it had happened. All I knew was that somewhere along the way, he had mastered me.

What had I gotten from him? Absolutely nothing. A tease of a kiss, a taste of what I would never have. Damn him! He had cut into my mind and soul with scarcely a shred of effort, and I had not even scratched the surface of his mind!

I realized then that I may not have known Hannibal, but I had someone who did. Oh yes, I had in my possession a man that knew Hannibal Lecter as intimately as anyone possibly could.

I had Will Graham.

I kept Will ostracized from the rest of the hospital's population. He was far too rare a jewel to be thrown into a box with rubble. Rare and sharp-edged: his segregation was as much for the other inmates' protection as it was for his.

Not that he looked so much, naked and locked into a watery box. The secure bathing units consisted of separate showers whose doors were made of security glass and locked from the outside. Will Graham was alone in one of these wet cubicles one evening, when I dismissed the guards and orderlies.

Will Graham was tall, svelte, and he had the face of a young man still. There was a beauty to him, much softer and more innocent than Hannibal Lecter's harsh exoticness. It was surreal to think that this fair-skinned man with the trimness of a teenager and the face of a guileless angel Gabriel was capable of the horrors the Chesapeake Ripper had thrust upon the world.

Will must have sensed my presence. I saw his eyes open and his consciousness return from wherever it was by degrees. He did not look at me, but he spoke.

"Trying a new therapy tactic tonight, doctor?" he asked. "Does the shower have a drowning feature that I was unaware of?"

I was in no mood to play games with Will. After Hannibal's strange confrontation with me in my office, I had been forced back to bed rest by my delicate physical condition. Weeks had passed, weeks of going over the scene over and over again in a lonely bed. Now the stitches had been removed, and I was able to begin my plan to regain my control- of Will and of Hannibal.

"Were you fucking Hannibal?"

Will looked at me then, and I saw a trace of blush creep up his neck. He set his jaw, swallowing. He was an enigmatic man, but nowhere near as opaque as Hannibal. I could see his realization of his naked vulnerability, and the shameful ire the realization brought.

"Subtlety was never your strong suit, Dr. Chilton," he said. There was scorn in his voice when he said my title. "I believe it was that brand of blatant crudity that so irritated Abel Gideon, wasn't it?"

He was goading me, and it was not his best work. "Were you?"

"I don't see how it is any of your business."

The shower controls were at my fingertips. I turned the hot water faucet down until it would not turn further. The water ran freezing cold, and I was pleased to see Will inhale sharply. I gave him a moment, and then turned the water warm again.

"It's a simple question," I told him. "I'm nearly certain of the answer, anyway. Dr. Lecter implied as much."

"Dr. Lecter implies a lot of things."

He was being difficult, even so acutely aware of his helplessness. I turned the water cold again, leaving it longer this time. I saw Will's lovely slender body tremble from the cold. Was this what Hannibal saw in him, this juxtaposition of immature soul and mature body? Was it merely his beauty that Hannibal longed for? The youth he had never quite fully left behind?

I turned the water warm again, but Will was still shaking.

"N-not interested i-in the p-p-people I k-killed anymore?" he asked through chattering teeth. "My vuh-victims? What childhood t-trauma m-m-made me d-do it?"

"Not at the moment, no," I replied. "Answer my question."

"Go to hell."

I dialed the warm water back again and left it that way. Will blew out a breath, and I could hear his teeth chattering. The drops of icy water must have felt like small needles in his tender skin. I watched him closely, wondering how he would endure. There was such an unexpected power in water. No one ever suspected it until it was freezing the blood in their veins, or choking their very breath off.

Will banged his hands against the glass suddenly. I nearly started, but my mind remained rational. The glass could not break. I was still on the outside of the cage.

Will met my eyes, and then he withdrew. There was no other way to explain it: one moment his consciousness was there, pooling in his dark eyes, and the next it was gone. He closed his eyes then, dark lashes sweeping his eyelids down, and was very still. Even the shivering stopped. I turned the water as hot as it could go without scalding him, and then cold again. Nonetheless, Will remained stoic.

It became evident after several more alterations that Will would not be broken here. I called in the guards and orderlies again. There was a streak of steel in the tormented man, after all. I could see the hints of his sociopathic nature now, peeking through that facade of a wounded innocent.

"Why this obsession with Hannibal Lecter?"

The question picked at the gaping wound Hannibal had left me. I waited while Will was dressed and restrained.

"I'll escort him back," I said once Will was secured to the standing gurney he was transported in. The guards gave me a doubtful look, and I lifted my head. "Go."

They went- Of course they did, I was their boss.

"This has nothing to do with Hannibal Lecter," I informed my patient. "I'm trying to understand you."

"And knowing whether I had sex with Hannibal is conducive to that how?"

"It would help me to understand the magnitude of your obsession with him."

I thought that my cover was highly convincing. Yet Will Graham had an uncanny ability to look beneath the layers of ego, straight down to the core of a man. Worse still, he saw how the one created the other, all of the complicated motivations that drove the image we display for the world.

"You have to ask yourself why you are so obsessed with Hannibal, doctor," Will said. "You lock yourself away in this hospital where you can avoid them, but the fact remains that you have a fetish for dangerous people. These walls and bars and restraints are as much for your protection as they are for ours."

I fought to keep the alarm from my face, but it was difficult. "Why would you say that?"

"You forget that I can see monsters, Dr. Chilton," Will told me, as rational as any scientist explaining as simple a truth as Newton's Law. "And you are at least half a monster. But even with all the protections in place, it happened to you again, didn't it? Lines were crossed, and the matches you're so fond of playing with finally burned you."

My traitorous hand flew to my midsection. Will caught the gesture.

"You haven't learned, though, have you?" Will continued. "No, that isn't the right way to explain it. You can't help yourself. You've tried to distance yourself from the madness that you romanticize, but you feel empty without its strength, the chaos of a fractured mind. So you tell yourself that you'll be more careful the next time, and you start playing with fire all over again."

"I do, do I?" I muttered. "And is that- What is it you say? Is it my 'design'?"

Will chuckled, a wry and disturbing sound I had never heard from him before. "You're not creative enough to have a design, doctor. No, that is just the game you're addicted to playing. So ask yourself: where does Hannibal fit into that game?"

I pressed my lips together to restrain my expression. Will's words were disconcerting. It was as if he were speaking my own mind's doubts to me.

"If you're only attracted to dangerous people, then why are you so smitten with Hannibal?"

"Who says I am?"

"Why else would you come here to ask me whether I was sleeping with him?" Will asked. "What do you want to hear? What he likes? How he … performs? Whether you could ever be someone he would actually desire?"

I tried to keep myself from recollecting Hannibal's kiss. Something must have shown through, however, because Will smirked.

"The answer to that last question is, no," Will said. "Hannibal could never love someone like you. Do you know what Hannibal really thinks about you?"

"You're the expert on what goes on in Hannibal Lecter's mind now?"

"I told you, I see monsters," Will said softly. "And that particular monster thinks you're a fraud and a leech. Hannibal thinks that you are a rude, cowardly, self-important fool. A parasite, feeding off of the genius of others."

"Hannibal thinks all that, does he?" I asked dryly. "Are you sure you're not projecting? What does Will Graham think?"

"I don't think about you at all."

Incredible. I had to admit that his persistent high-handedness was something to be admired. I had shown him the totality of his helplessness, humiliated and violated him physically. Yet here he was, speaking to me as if I were a rodent.

"You should consider me," I told Will. I walked close to him, looking up at him up on his gurney. "I am your doctor. I only want to help you."

"Save it," Will said, more weary than angry. "Don't try to sell your savior of the world act to me. I know what you are."

"Your paranoia is getting the better of you."

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't out to freeze you to death in the shower."

Well, what could I really say to that? I left him, sending the guards to escort him back to his cell. I had gone to Will for resolution, yet I left more disturbed than ever. Since meeting Hannibal and Will, I had felt uncomfortable in my own skin. They made me feel … small. Insignificant. I had not felt so insecure since childhood, yet I kept finding myself at their mercy. I had expected Will's imprisonment here to give me some advantage, but he kept cutting me at the quick. What was I doing wrong? Why was I losing this battle?

Will was a brilliant profiler, but to be profiled like a common criminal …

'And you are at least half a monster.'

How could he see me so clearly? I was not only sane, but in complete control of myself. Given my tendencies, I had long since learned to keep a large portion of myself off the table. I had to. Will had overturned the table and dragged out every bit of dust and dirt hidden beneath. How? I had never killed anyone, left no evidence of my persona, given him nothing …

It was then that I realized what Will and Hannibal shared: the nigh-mythical ability to see straight into a man's being. I had studied the human mind endlessly, obsessively, and yet I lacked their natural talent for discerning the complexity of the human brain. The simplest things still baffled me: people loving completely unworthy mates, destruction without purpose, greed without satiation, ambition without goal. I theorized and judged, but I could never quite comprehend the actions. Whether they had lived through them or not, Will and Hannibal both could.

I should veer away from those two men. I knew it. The last time I had been 'burned' by a patient, as Will so eloquently put it, I had lost parts of my body. I would forever suffer for tempting the darkness. But Will was right, after all. I could not help myself. The challenge inflamed me. I had nearly died … I needed this purpose to find life again. The reality of my mortality was already fading away, as the injury healed, and all the evil seduction of life was as tempting as ever.

I did not envy Will Graham. He may have had Hannibal (or not) and he may have his brilliant insight, but he remained an animal in a cage. His mind was broken and inhuman. More than human or less than, it scarcely mattered. Hannibal and I shared something now: we were the ones outside. We were still functioning, still sane.

I alone walked between the worlds of madness and control. I held Will in one hand, and Hannibal in the other. They were not impenetrable, after all. Their link was a crack in both their minds, and I had found it. I had found their weak points, and they could never take that knowledge from me.

Clever, I was always clever. Knowledge is power, but only if one is bold enough and clever enough to use it.