He was falling into the mouth of a great blue whale, only it didn’t resemble any whale known to nature. It was much more grotesque, its skin covered in jagged growths that resembled the rocky, lichen covered cliff he had fallen off only a few short days ago, its mouth full of serrated teeth of various lengths and ferocity not signifying one particular type of animal. It looked like it could have been an invention of Randall Tier, Will thought, carved and crafted slowly and carefully to achieve maximum impact. The whale shrieked a piercing roar as Will tumbled into its mouth and down its immense pink tongue, a roar that sounded like everything and nothing all at once. Will woke with a start, sweat drenched and panting in a way that he hadn’t in years. He looked over to see Hannibal, calm and collected as ever despite the circumstances. Did he ever feel anxiety the way normal people do? Will supposed that was impossible since “normal” was not a word one could use to describe Hannibal in any way, shape, or form.
“We’re nearly there.” Hannibal said, looking over at Will. If he was concerned by the sight of his sweaty form, his eyes betrayed nothing of the sort. His expression was mostly unreadable save for a note of sharp focus to the eyes. Will thought to himself that Hannibal was probably actually a fantastic person to have in a crisis, and then promptly snort laughed at the idea of a serial killer being the person he most trusted with his well-being in a crisis situation. What had his life become? Despite the fact that it had been happening gradually for years now and Will had mostly accepted it, there was still a nagging part of his brain that responded with disgust, shock, and rejection to it all.
Hannibal regarded him with a raised eyebrow, an ever so slight change in expression.
“It’s nothing.” Will shook his head, turning to look out the window, taking in the beautiful scenery. Rows of pines with a pink and orange sunset peeking through the branches. The incongruity of it all seemed oddly appropriate. Beauty and pain. Hurt and comfort. Retreating to the beautiful part of nature after the brutality of it nearly killed them both, a poetic duality that had permeated their every interaction since the very beginning.
Hannibal regarded Will with curiosity for another few seconds but didn’t open his mouth to inquire any further. Pulling onto a small dirt road tucked discreetly between a thickly forested area, Hannibal slowed down, the terrain becoming a bit rougher. The car swayed and rocked a bit on the uneven path, and after a few turns, Will began to see an upscale cabin in the distance. It almost resembled an upgraded version of his Wolf Trap house, a similar wrap around porch in the front, a chimney poking out of the roof near the back. But the exterior was made of gorgeous white pine, and Will was sure the interior held an elaborate kitchen and other elegant features catering to Hannibal’s tastes, things that far surpassed the modest style of Will’s former home.
Hannibal pulled in front of the house, and, taking the keys out of the ignition, turned to Will and nodded.
“Here we are.”
“Here we are.” Will croaked back, the words signifying much more than merely their arrival at Hannibal’s cabin (the thought that of course he had a secret house like this flickered quickly across Will’s mind; when had Hannibal been anything less than prepared for all outcomes?). Here they were indeed. All roads leading to where they were now, every fight, internal, physical, real or imagined, bringing them to something that felt final. Will still wasn’t entirely sure where here was, but he knew that they were there together. By choice and by fate. And for now, that was enough for his tired body and mind.
He followed Hannibal to the porch, leaning against the railing as Hannibal walked to the other end and ran his hand along the inside of the window frame, popping out a small section of it and retrieving a key from underneath it, snapping the hollow section neatly back into place. The section was fitted so tightly into the rest of the frame that the hairline break was barely noticeable even up close. It looked just like a small imperfection in the wood.
Will couldn’t stop a small chuckle from exiting his throat. Hannibal turned to him.
“Full of laughter today, aren’t we? I suppose that must signify a return to health.” He looked mildly annoyed, but his voice was tinged with relief at the sight of Will looking more well than he had since their deadly plunge.
“Sorry, it’s just…interesting to see the Hannibal Lecter equivalent of the omnipresent key in the potted plant behavior.”
Hannibal smirked and put the key in the lock.
“Perhaps I should run out and purchase a garish fake orchid for future use.”
“I see I’m not the only one regaining his capacity for snark.” Even as he said it, he felt the small exchange draining the energy from him. He was feeling better, but the pull of fatigue and injury was still there, weighting his limbs and eyelids down like so many buckets of lead. Will wasn’t sure how he could still feel so exhausted and weak when he had slept most of the way while Hannibal, who had driven for God knows how long while Will drifted in and out, was still upright, probably thinking through their (he made a mental note of how easily he replaced the singular with the plural) next move with calculated precision.
However, when Hannibal turned around and motioned for Will to follow him, he could see the exhaustion creeping into his eyes. It was a shift that might have gone unnoticed by someone who wasn’t aware of Hannibal’s subtle changes in expression, someone who hadn’t spent as much time studying them as Will had, but it was there. They slowly trudged up the staircase, which was L shaped and made from dark wood connected by a stark, modern, metal railing, gaps between each tread. It was beautifully constructed and just what he expected, but he kept feeling like he was going to lose his footing and slip beneath the slats like a toddler learning how to navigate their legs, his body growing heavier with every step.
By the time they reached the top of the stairs, Will silently taking note of the fact that they were now in the bedroom, he felt ready to collapse.
“Will, undoubtedly you wish to rest, but I think it would be wise to take a shower and properly clean your wounds before you do so.”
Will nodded slowly, dazed and not really registering the words as he heard them. Hannibal walked toward him, closing the distance between them and reaching for Will’s hand. Without a word, he led him to the bathroom; it was all luscious dark green marble and shiny chrome, a spacious clear glass shower against the far wall, the opposite of the dirt and discomfort of the past few days (how long had it been? Everything had passed by in such a haze, he couldn’t be sure). Hurt and comfort. Beauty and pain. Always. Hannibal turned around and started unbuttoning Will’s torn shirt. It struck Will how interesting it was that he was taking such care with a garment that was already useless and threatening to crumble. How interesting it was that Hannibal had always taken such care with Will, even when Hannibal himself was the cause (directly or indirectly) of the pain that had been inflicted. Images of Hannibal carefully washing his bloody knuckles after Will had pummeled them senselessly into Randall Tier flashed across his memory. Hannibal cradling his face when Will was training an unsteady gun on Clark Ingram, gently wrapping his hand around Will’s as he pried the gun from his grasp. Even as Hannibal sank the blade deep into the tender flesh of Will’s stomach that awful night many years ago, he held him the entire time.
Hannibal removed the bandage from Will’s chest wound and deposited it the trash can near the lavatory along with the bloody shirt. Even the trash can was rather ornate, green and wooden with a Florentine gilt design. Will would have made fun of him for it if he had the energy to do much more than stand there and let himself be disrobed like a child. He looked down at the stab wound, surprised at how quickly it was scabbing over. Deciding he wanted to preserve at least some sense of capability, when Hannibal reached into the shower to turn it on, Will started to take off the rest of his clothes unaided. He stopped at his underwear, not sure if he should continue. When Hannibal announced that he was going to go get Will some towels, he sighed with relief, glad to not have to unpack that whole confusing section of his feelings for the time being.
He finished undressing and stepped into the hot shower. At first, he didn’t even look for soap or shampoo, just stood under the warm spray, head tilted up to meet it gratefully, eyes closed in bliss, enjoying how comforting and gentle it was. He flashed back to the choppy, cold waves threatening to devour them and flood their lungs as they shakily navigated their way back to shore, gripping onto each other so tightly, moving together as one body. Fighting together. Fighting for each other. But fighting for what exactly? What now? What next? Will shook his head vigorously under the jets as if to physically push away the thoughts. He couldn’t process such heavy topics right now although they were doing their best to leak into his brain like so many expanding webs, spidery strands connecting strings of thoughts and having no regard for his current state. It wasn’t anything new. He always had trouble turning his brain off. Sleep was nearly always short, irregular, and fitful.
Will opened his eyes and just as he was about to look around for something to scrub away the grime and dried blood, he heard the shower door sliding open behind him. His breath hitched in anticipation, not sure if what he was feeling was fear, curiosity, excitement, or a mixture of all of the above. Will stood perfectly still, trying to control the ever increasingly rapid rise and fall of his chest, not daring to turn around and meet Hannibal’s gaze. Afraid it would bring back the flood of thoughts he was having such trouble ignoring. He heard a vague sound that he thought was the cap coming off a bottle and finally, languorously turned to look over his shoulder to see Hannibal lathering some gel between his hands. Looking Will straight in the eye, he began rubbing his hands on Will’s back, gently but vigorously enough to get him clean. Will turned his head back around.
“You’re washing me?”
“You’re exhausted. You were standing here completely immobile.” It was said so matter-of-factly, but Will decided to playfully push it anyway. Just to see what would happen.
“If that were any more thinly veiled, it’d be gossamer, Dr. Lecter.”
“Tell me, how much more enervated does Will Graham need to be before his mouth catches up to his body and ceases for a little while?”
He could hear the smile in his voice, and it made Will smile right back. Hannibal moved his hands from Will’s back to his arms, scrubbing in firm circles over the sore muscles. He brought his hands up the sides of Will’s torso, returned to his back, and then, starting from the space between Will’s neck and shoulders, began to make his way down his arms again. It was such a sure, firm yet careful touch. So mindful of his injuries and attentive, taking his time in a way that felt entirely too vulnerable and sweet. Like he was admiring him and memorizing every patch of his skin as he swept his fine, long fingers over it. Those deft fingers, so beautifully sculpted like a pianist’s and yet capable of such destruction. Will had found himself watching those lovely hands as they painstakingly constructed elaborate dishes in the kitchen or committed a detailed sketch to paper. It was hard not to. Hannibal had an undeniably alluring grace about how he carried himself that, if he were to be honest (which he was finally starting to do in abundance these days), was something Will had always noticed and admired. Is this what it could be like? When they’re on the same side, Will no longer fighting so hard against it? It now seemed so obviously inevitable that he could no longer call to mind what reasons he had for running away from it before, could only lament the fact that he had. Could only wistfully sigh, thinking about what could have been if he’d just listened to his instincts and left with Hannibal when he first wanted to. They could have been living a sumptuous life in Italy right now, Hannibal guiding him through the kind of culturally rich existence in Florence that only he could.
Will heard the sound of a bottle opening again, and he drifted away from his “what if” reverie.
“Tilt your head back for me, please.”
Will obliged and Hannibal’s hands landed in his unruly curls, the pads of his fingers beginning to massage his scalp. He involuntarily moaned at the soothing contact, leaning into the touch. It was so relaxing he briefly wondered if he would fall asleep standing up. Hannibal made his way up and down Will’s scalp, pausing at the nape of his neck to rub the tightly knotted muscle, eliciting another involuntary moan from Will. Clasping his hand around Will’s left bicep and pulling lightly, Hannibal turned Will’s body around to face him. Placing the tips of his fingers beneath Will’s chin, he tipped his face toward the water to give his hair a rinse, reaching up to comb his fingers through the hair, wringing out the shampoo.
“I can do that.” Will mumbled sleepily but made no move to replace Hannibal’s hands with his own.
“Look at you. The child fervently insisting he is not tired even as he falls asleep on his mother’s arm.”
“You’re not my mother.”
“No. No, I certainly am not.”
Hannibal reached for a bottle behind him and deposited more gel into his hands, the air filling with a fresh citrus scent, waking Will up a bit. He felt Hannibal’s hands on his chest, cautiously running over his stab wound. Will flinched minutely.
“Sorry. I will not linger there any longer than is necessary.”
Will nodded absently as Hannibal’s hands continued down his torso, light, firm circles that felt so good. So comfortable. How could this feel so comfortable? It had no right to. He sharply inhaled as he felt Hannibal’s hands dip lower, sliding across his hips, pausing to grip a moment before traveling down to the tops of his thighs, pointedly avoiding touching where Will surprisingly found he wanted and needed to be touched. But it really wasn’t so surprising after all, Will thought. Why should it be after all this time? They had been so intimate in so many other ways, shared so much more than most people ever would. Why shouldn’t they share this too?
Will whimpered as he felt Hannibal’s hands leave his body, and he opened his eyes for the first time in what felt like hours even though it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. He felt his eyes soften with longing as he looked at that striking face, just like they did when Hannibal unveiled Abigail to him in his old kitchen. The night he made Will more acutely aware of both of their feelings for each other than he had ever been before. Or maybe he had. Maybe he just didn’t want to admit it to himself. Hannibal gazed back with equally soft eyes, too tired to put on a mask at the moment. Or maybe he truly didn’t want to put on a mask right now. Why would he bother? Everything was so clear now.
Not breaking the eye contact, Will reached behind Hannibal with the intent of retrieving the bottle so that he could wash him in return, but Hannibal caught Will by the wrist before he could. He saw Hannibal’s throat bob as he swallowed hard and then turned his face to Will’s palm and planted a soft kiss, closing his eyes and inhaling his scent reverently. Will loved that look on his face. It was like the mere familiar smell of Will was enough to intoxicate him into a blissful trance.
He felt himself moving without deciding to do so. His body was drawn to Hannibal, gravitationally pulled like it always had been. It was always you. The words hovered in Will’s mind as he reached his free hand to place it on the back of Hannibal’s neck, pulling down until their foreheads were leaning against each other. He could feel the other man’s breath on his face, hot and coming faster every second. Closing his eyes, Will tilted his face forward until their lips met, tentative and feather light, part of him still unsure if this was okay. Hannibal released Will’s wrist and brought his hand up to cup Will’s cheek, pulling him back into the kiss, harder this time, melting away his doubts. It grew more ardent, lips parting to allow tongues to hungrily explore each other. Will could hear himself moaning into Hannibal’s mouth. It felt like the exquisite release of so much tension. Years of it. They gripped each other tighter, arms winding around backs and shoulders, mindful of injury but embracing as close as it would allow. Will’s fingers found Hannibal’s hair and tugged a little, holding it at the root. He wanted more. He wanted to shove him against the back of the shower and grind into him helplessly like a teenager. He wanted to bite and kiss his way down Hannibal’s body, savoring every taste and smell, but as hungry for him as he was, the pull of exhaustion was still threatening to take him under like a river rapid, and he felt his knees buckle. He stumbled backward a bit, Hannibal quickly bringing his hands to either side of his waist to steady him.
“You need to rest, Will.”
“But…we’ve wasted so much time already. We’ve waited so long.” The last few words came out like a defeated whimper, so quiet that Will wasn’t even sure Hannibal had heard them. He hadn’t meant to say it, didn’t even realize how true it was until the words left his lips. He felt like perhaps he should want to take it back, but he didn’t. Not at all.
“I know.” The response was genuine and sweet, Hannibal stroking the side of Will’s face and looking into his eyes.
“Get into bed, please. I’ll be out momentarily. There should be some gauze behind the mirror. Wrap your chest lightly after you dry off. Now that it’s healing, you’ll want to avoid trapping too much moisture.” He pressed one last kiss to Will’s temple.
Nodding briefly, Will opened the shower door and stepped out. He grabbed one of the large, fluffy towels Hannibal had laid out for him, a dark green that matched the bathroom, and dried off his body before wrapping the gauze around his injury. He turned to look back before exiting the room, admiring the curves and angles of Hannibal’s body, wondering how it could be possible that he was a living, breathing human walking among us and not some expertly carved marble statue. Smiling, he walked into the bedroom and dove under the covers, thankful for the incredibly soft, enveloping sheets. It was such a simple yet overwhelming relief to tumble into bed.
Just as he was about to drift off, he heard the shower stop. His breathe caught in his chest for a second. Hannibal would be joining him in a minute. While they had already slept clinging to each other once before, squeezing together for warmth on a brutal beach wasn’t really the same as what was about to happen now, and the thought made Will’s heart beat faster. He heard the sound of feet padding toward him, and then he was there, peeling back the covers on the opposite side, climbing into bed still naked.
“Assuming a lot, aren’t we?”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow in amusement.
“You would kiss me and then turn me away from my own bed? How utterly cruel.”
A lazy smirk spread across Will’s lips.
“Of course not. Never.”
Hannibal turned to face him and reached out to stroke his cheekbone.
“Good night, dear Will.”
He reached over to pull the chain of the bedside table lamp and settled on his back. Will crept toward him and placed his arm over his chest, his head resting in the crook of Hannibal’s arm. Hannibal shifted his arm out from under Will and put it around his shoulders, angling Will’s head to rest more comfortably on his chest. They nestled and shifted, Hannibal’s other arm finding its way around Will, his chin moving to rest on top of his head. They locked into place like this was something they had been doing every night for years. Will was asleep within seconds.
He was back in the mouth of the whale except that he wasn’t really. He was hovering above it, falling in slow motion, falling off the cliff with the whale’s great voracious mouth open and ready to devour him at the bottom. It felt like he would never reach it. Like he would be stuck in midair, forever suspended in fear for all eternity, never able to feel the release of finally meeting his bloody fate, the piercing roar of the creature threatening to burst his ear drums.
And then suddenly, the whale was gone. He was back on that beach with Hannibal, waking up feverish and weak, hearing Hannibal calling his name, asking him to stay with him, asking him if he could walk. The picture blinked in and out like memories coming back to an amnesiac in stuttering, incomplete slides. Breaking into that house in the woods. Dressing wounds and washing extremities, taking care not to leave too much evidence that they’d been there. The burn of alcohol on open wounds, the white hot pain flaring and threatening to pull Will under. Hannibal stitching the gashes in Will’s cheek and chest as he faded in and out of consciousness. Hannibal grabbing supplies from the medicine cabinet and then turning to Will with concern. Holding his face and demanding that Will look at him, respond to his questions. Waking up in a car pulled over into a wooded area and covered purposefully in underbrush, Hannibal asleep in the driver’s seat. Vaguely hearing Hannibal tell him about his house in New Hampshire. Will asking for water and greedily gulping it down when presented.
Will jolted awake, gasping for breath, sweaty and disoriented, forgetting where he was for a moment. He sat upright and looked around, and it all came flooding back. He settled back down with a sigh, catching his breath and noticing that Hannibal was not in bed with him anymore. Will looked over at the side of the bed where he had been and found only a neatly folded set of dark navy pajamas and a pair of boxers in the same color. As he buttoned the pajama top, he chuckled to himself, wondering when he had last, if ever, worn anything of this quality to bed. He was usually just in a plain t shirt and boxers regardless of the weather.
Will contemplated lying back down but then his ears perked at the sound of clanking pans and something sizzling in a skillet downstairs. His stomach growled. When was the last time he had eaten? He couldn’t remember. Descending the stairs, he looked at the interior of the cabin, fully appreciating how gorgeous it was in the daylight and with a clearer, well rested head. There was an ornate stone fireplace in the living room, a lush, chocolate brown U shaped sectional sofa, and the ceilings were elegantly high. He could imagine himself falling asleep reading a book on that sofa, a fire going strong, a dog curled at his feet. He felt a pang of regret thinking about Winston and the rest of his beloved stray family. Following the sounds and smells of breakfast, Will took a left at the bottom of the stairs and found Hannibal in the kitchen, robed and tending to what looked like eggs and sausage on the stove.
“Good morning, Will.” He turned to greet him with a half-smile.
“Morning.” Will had the urge to come up behind him and wrap his arms around his waist, nuzzling his chin into Hannibal’s neck, but it felt entirely too cozy and domestic. Like trying to pet a tiger in the wild. He laughed at the image. Hannibal his beaproned housewife making him meals.
Hannibal regarded him with a curious smile.
“You know,” he said, dividing the contents of the skillets between two plates and turning around to deposit them on two opposing stools on the kitchen island behind him, “I should very much like for you to reveal the sources of these sudden bursts of laughter to me some time. Share with the class, as they say.”
Will shook his head. “I can’t…it’s too embarrassing.” He said as he took a seat in front of one of the plates.
Hannibal sat down as well and tilted his head in that deeply unsettling way he had, as though he was regarding a specimen, a scientist observing the behavior of a rat in his lab instead of a human being looking at another fellow human. It was chilling. I was curious to see what would happen. The words of the past echoed in Will’s mind. Wind us up and watch us go. A god’s large, high stakes chess game. Will absurdly remembered the moment in the second Halloween film where Michael Myers tilted his head after Jamie Lee Curtis called his name in an attempt to knock him off balance in his pursuit. The ridiculousness of associating the two images almost made Will laugh again, but he bit down on his lip just in time to quell it.
“Hmm. I cannot help but wonder what could be so discomfiting to you that you could not share it with me. After all this time.”
You. Always you. You terrify me and yet it excites me and I never want it to stop and I hope you want that too. God, I’m so fucking fucked up. Will’s internal monologue ran wild for a minute and then he thought, what the hell? How could this possibly be scary after everything else? What was there left to fear, especially now that they were finally playing the game on equal footing, all cards on the table so to speak. His becoming finally fully realized. Will took a deep breath.
“When I saw you at the stove, I…wanted to come up behind you and put my arms around you.” He cautiously looked up. Hannibal was placid as ever.
“And yet you did not.” Not a question. Just a statement.
Will let out a frustrated huff as if it should be obvious, and he shouldn’t have to explain it.
“Because…” even though he thought it was obvious, he found himself faltering and in lieu of an explanation, settled on “would you have wanted me to?”
Hannibal smirked at that. It was a very “oh you poor naïve little boy” expression that made Will a little annoyed.
“I think,” Hannibal said, taking a bite of his food and chewing for a moment, “if you have to ask such a question, you’re still not being entirely honest with yourself.”
“Jesus.” Will leaned back on the stool, exasperated.
“I do not believe he is anywhere to be found at the moment. You will have to make do with only me.” Hannibal continued to look amused and rose to attend to the coffee siphon on the counter, pouring them both a hearty cup. He set both cups down, “You know, it is interesting that you seemed to have had much more clarity on this matter when you were in what some might argue to be a less lucid state, influenced by both mental and physical fatigue.”
Will speared a piece of sausage, hesitating to bring it to his mouth.
“It’s pork.” Hannibal said, reading his mind.
“How did you…”
“Both meat and eggs freeze very well, Will.”
“Yeah, but you’d still have to…you know what, never mind. It doesn’t matter.” He took a hefty bite and chewed thoughtfully. “One might also argue that my less lucid state was just that, a moment completely lacking clarity.”
Hannibal considered this and responded, as ready as ever with a rebuttal.
“Will, ignoring your instincts in favor of fighting against them with overwrought mental gymnastics corresponding to perceived morals and restrictions that you have built up in your mind over the years to satisfy some sort of idealized character of what those around you believe to be a good, upstanding person has been a constant struggle for you. And not one for which you are entirely to blame. Naturally, you sought to function as undisturbed as possible in society among your fellow man and naturally they, in turn, reinforced such ideas continually and with ferocity, forcing you to turn against your true nature time and time again. However, you have come so far in discarding all of that. Our battle with the Great Red Dragon and our subsequent plunge into the sea and triumphant reemergence serves as both a very real and symbolic rebirth for you. While I understand that progress is certainly never a straight line, I would hate to think that after all the fires you have walked through, something so small as wanting to dole out affections toward another man would be the thing to cause you question.”
Will ate another bite from his plate, silently cursing Hannibal’s ability to turn everything into a philosophical discourse. He both loved and despised it. It elevated everything and gave Will a challenge, a match of wits he never experienced with anyone else, and yet it also made him tired and wishing for some conversations to just be simple. But he knew this wasn’t simple. Not even close. The nature of the discourse here was completely appropriate.
“It’s not because it’s another man.” Will said decisively, taking a sip of coffee.
“No, I suppose not. It’s because it’s me.”
“Yes.” Will squarely met his gaze across the island.
“And what was different last night?”
“This…here,” Will gestured between the two place settings, “It’s so domestic and…well, normal.”
“And showering together isn’t both domestic and normal? Sleeping in the same bed at the end of the day?”
“Not when it takes place after a journey back from an intuitively coordinated murder and subsequent plunge into the sea and triumphant reemergence as you put it, no. It’s not.”
“Is our version of domesticity not permitted to diverge from that of normal people since our circumstances are naturally askew from that path? Would not everything else, the everyday activities for example, be slightly askew in accordance with our more…atypical activities? That is to say, are we not permitted to have quiet moments of peace that are not so dissimilar to the lives of others? Do you think our life would only ever be fraught with peril and adrenaline simply because of the darker parts of ourselves?”
“Are we having a warped version of the average person’s ‘what are we’ conversation?”
“Perhaps. Would you like to?”
“Yes…no…I don’t know. I just woke up.”
Hannibal nodded sympathetically.
“That is understandable. We have both been through quite the ordeal. There is much to unpack, but it can wait until you are feeling stronger.”
Will watched Hannibal swirling a teaspoon of sugar into his coffee and felt so much all at once. Love and anxiety and comfort and disquiet.
“I didn’t know it could be like this.” He said barely above a whisper.
Hannibal snapped his head up to meet Will’s shy gaze. He reached across the island and placed his hand over Will’s.
“It can be so much more than you ever imagined, Will.”