Jack presses the barrel of his handgun roughly against the side of Hannibal’s head. Hannibal listens as the hammer cocks, and finds that he is glad for what is bound to happen next.
He closes his eyes.
Hannibal sits the cellphone on the table in front of Jack. The medication wore off some time ago, and Hannibal sees the way that Jack clutches the arms of the chair, nails digging at the finish.
“The number for the polizia is 113,” Hannibal tells him, though certainly Jack knows this already. He bends to unlock one of the shackles that bind Jack’s arms, then drops the key on the table next to the cell phone.
Hannibal feels as though he is burning up from the inside. He slumps back into his own chair and lays the side of his face against the shiny surface of the table. He wants the finished wood to be cool enough soothe the throbbing of his head. But it's uncomfortably warm, and the smell coming from the overturned plates and platters - congealing grease from his meal and the bitter infusion that he’d fed to Will - is very strong.
It makes him nauseous. His sense of self-loathing is sharp as the bile in his throat.
The still mass in the chair next to him does not accuse. It does nothing but drip blood sluggishly, its crown staining red the tablecloth with which Hannibal has covered it.
Hannibal leans over the edge of the table and vomits.
He is not especially surprised when the barrel of Jack’s gun strikes him across the temple before he can straighten again.
His chair topples over and in doing so catches on the chair at the end of the table and it falls over too. The body makes a dull thud as it hits the floor, distinct from the clatter of the downed chairs.
The table cloth shifts as the chair falls and a pale dead hand is revealed for Hannibal to see.
He wants to reach out and take that hand, and then just as quickly he wants nothing less than to have to touch it. He curls his own hand against his chest as though he's been burned, and the cold metal gun barrel comes to rest just above his ear.
Hannibal takes a step back and looks at the mess he’s made, really looks at it and sees, without the red filter through which he has viewed everything since he heard Will's knife clatter to the pavement, and in seeing he understands how entirely irrevocable it is. He understands also that he knew what he was doing when he did it - every step of the way he had been cognizant of his own actions and what their outcome would be, and that knowledge had done nothing to change his course.
He grips the tablecloth in both hands and pulls, toppling over the skillet along with the rest of the table setting. The alcohol burner sputters out on its side.
He drapes the tablecloth over the body, and watches as the seeping blood stains it.
“I can't see,” Will says, bafflement in his slurred voice. “Why can't I see?” he asks, panic growing suddenly. His eyes blink quickly, abandoned by the loss of the section of his brain that processes vision. “Hannibal? Hannibal, help me -” and Hannibal picks up the long-bladed knife from among his collection of tools and drives it through the rear of Will's brain and down into the cerebellum and Will's body shuts off like a puppet that’s had its strings cut.
Hannibal cuts away another slice from the forebrain, and Will begins to sing, cheerful and out of tune, and after a few moments Hannibal places the song - Stevie Nicks’ Silver Springs.
“So, I begin not to love you… ” Will belts out, and it occurs to Hannibal that before now he has never heard Will sing.
Now he will never know what Will’s usual singing voice sounded like - was just as tone deaf as it is now or had it been more polished? Would it have ever been possible for Hannibal to induce Will to sing with the same joyful abandon that he's found now, absent a significant part of his frontal lobe and the inhibitions that come with it?
“And tell myself you never loved me… no… ”
The singing dies suddenly. Will locks eyes with Hannibal.
His eyes are bright and intent. He is crying, Hannibal sees, but seems unaware of doing so. Will’s face is solemn.
Hannibal’s own eyes burn, but he ignores this. It has no bearing on the task before him.
“No,” Will tells him, forcefully and with great seriousness. “No.”
Hannibal cuts again, scalpel now moving without direction through the tissue, no longer nipping off neat slices but simply destroying whatever his blade comes into contact with.
Hannibal knew before he started that brain could not be cooked in this manner - that it needed to be chilled overnight and poached to maintain its firmness - but he'd proceeded anyway.
The slices melt in the hot oil, become a shapeless mush of gelatin and grease.
He's committed now, though. There's nothing else but to go forward with it, and he scrapes the soggy mess onto a toast point and puts it in his mouth.
It's like chewing clots of greasy mash potatoes, repellently gamey. Sickening. He eats quickly, wanting it to be gone.
He had intended to force Jack to join him in this farce of a meal, but he finds that he lacks the drive to struggle with Jack as though he’s a stubborn baby rejecting his strained carrots.
Will's eyes are on him as he eats. They are aware of what is happening.
Will’s inhibitions disappear with the removal of the regions of the brain that control such things. “Hey, jackass!” he says to Hannibal, tone conversational but voice much too loud. “Why are you so fucking dumb?” He pauses, trying hard to think. Usually, a frown as deep as the one Will makes now would be accompanied by a wrinkling of his forehead, but he has no forehead to speak of left.
His tone is unmodulated when he finally finds the words. “Don’t you get that I love you?” he demands, then pauses again before muttering darkly, “Crazy son of a bitch.”
Carefully, using both hands, Hannibal lifts the top of Will’s skull off. Using a scalpel, he removes four neat slices from Will’s frontal lobe, cradling them gently with his fingers as he transfers them to the skillet.
Hannibal could stop now and, barring infection, Will would probably survive.
It's possible even that he wouldn't be significantly impaired, by most standards - thousands of lobotomized patients had managed to live average lives with similar losses to their faculties.
He might even be happier that way, or at least less acutely aware of his own misery and that of others.
But he would be someone other than Will.
Hannibal doesn't stop. He keeps cutting, lifting away everything of the region that regulates empathy and the finer nuances of emotion. Everything that made Will special, that embarrassment of riches in mirror neurons, is frying in hot oil over the alcohol burner.
The bone saw tears at the skin of Will’s forehead, and the blood flies in bright droplets, but when the blade grinds against bone Hannibal hesitates. He draws the blade sideways instead of leaning into it to cut through the skull, and can feel the vibrations of the saw in the hand with which he clutches Will’s hair.
Will cast his eyes upwards, looking at Hannibal as though he is trying to parse what’s happening. Jack is screaming, but Will is silent, and Hannibal wonders at that. Is it resignation or defiance or something else that keeps him from begging? Or does he believe - does he know - that Hannibal will…
Stop, Hannibal tells himself, and think this through. He edges the saw back from Will’s forehead, letting the blade spin a hairsbreadth away from the pale unbroken skin, and pauses, leveraging the same powerful imagination that erected his memory palace to play forward the possible outcome of this course of action.
He has never been able to predict Will completely, and he is not entirely certain that what he images Will doing and saying should Hannibal cut him open is what he would really do. But Hannibal knows himself better, and he knows with a certainty that if he begins this he will not be able to stop it, and that if he carries through the regret and sense of loss will be something that he won’t be able to survive.
Hannibal turns off the bone saw and sits it on the table, and because it is not running he hears the polizia on stairs.
Moving quickly, he unshackles Will. His body is stiff and unresponsive from the drugs that Hannibal gave him, and Hannibal helps him to slide under the table, where he is hidden - as he was in Hannibal’s imagination - by the tablecloth.
Jack, Hannibal ignores, but he picks up Jack’s gun from where he’d left it and unsheathes his own knife, and moving silently goes to the door, pressing his back against the wall beside it.
When the gunmen break down the door, Hannibal is ready for them.