Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
Zeller opened his door in striped boxers with a crust of saliva at the corner of his mouth. He stared at Will. "Your face. Shit."
"Can I come in?" Will had left Hannibal alone in the Land Rover and he was itching with how much he hated that, but there was no other way this could work.
"You should go to a hospital. I mean, have you? I can take you." But Zeller stepped aside to let him in. Because he was a decent guy and he trusted Will.
Will closed the door behind him. He considered apologizing, but if he was really sorry, he shouldn't do this.
Zeller turned to switch on a lamp. "What the hell happened? Jack sent me and Jimmy home."
Will took the gun out of the back of his pants and pushed it against Zeller's neck. He felt Zeller freeze up and saw the jump of his pulse. "I'm not going to kill you," Will said.
Zeller didn't move at all. He still had his fingers on the lamp switch. "Glad to hear it?" His voice had gone a little high.
"I have a patient for you."
There was a brief, thick silence. "It’s Lecter, isn’t it."
"Yeah. He needs help. You’re a doctor."
Zeller’s hands flexed open and then squeezed into fists. "You could maybe take him to a doctor whose friend he didn’t murder and slice up into a dozen pieces."
"My other choices were worse. You’re it." Alana and Bedelia were out for obvious reasons. Even if Chilton hadn’t been trying to grow his skin back, Will wouldn’t have wanted to risk Hannibal’s life on him. He’d briefly considered an emergency clinic or his vet but, in the end, he couldn’t bear to involve anyone who wasn’t already sunk in this swamp with him.
Will tied Zeller to a chair with rope wound around his chest and arms. He gagged him, cut the phone cord, and put Zeller’s cell phone in his back pocket.
"I'll be back in a minute." Will headed for the door, but Zeller yelled, muffled behind his gag, and rocked the chair back and forth so that the legs clunked on the floor. Will thought he was just being difficult, but when he he looked back he saw serious panic in Zeller's eyes, sweat on his upper lip, chest heaving.
"Don't yell," Will said. He pulled the gag free.
Zeller just sucked in air for a few seconds, head hanging down.
"What is it?" Will said.
Zeller didn't look up. "What if you don't come back?"
"What if you don't?"
Will paused. "Then your neighbors will come up to yell at you for tap dancing on their ceiling."
"There's no one in the apartment downstairs. It's empty."
Will sat on his heels in front of him, one hand on the chair leg for balance. He still felt dizzy and raw and chilled. He’d spent too long in the shower at Hannibal’s cliff house trying to get warm, but all it had done was set his wounds bleeding again. Zeller's fear was eating into him. He had to get back to Hannibal.
"If I leave the gag off, I want your word you won't call for help."
"My word? What the hell makes you think I'd keep my word with you—" He stopped, mouth open, clearly just having worked out that he should've made the promise and broken it instead of warning Will that he would.
Will looked up at him. "You know, you were the only one who apologized to me after I got out of prison."
"Beverly would have," Zeller said.
"If I hadn't gotten her killed."
"I know what you're doing." Zeller shifted, hunching his shoulders against the pull of the rope. "Establishing a connection. Gaining trust. I know how this works."
"The problem is that it still works even if you know how it works. Here's the deal. I'll leave the gag off. If I don't come back, you can shout for help. You’ve got neighbors next door?"
"They’ll hear you if you yell long enough. Okay?"
Zeller gave him a jerky nod.
"But I will come back. I'll bring Hannibal in. You do what you can for him. And then we'll leave. Jack isn't going to blame you for any of this. No one will."
Zeller said nothing.
"I don't want him to die," Will said. He couldn't help the way his voice cracked on the last word any more than he could stamp out the emotion that caused it.
"Shit. Fine. Bring him in."
Will stopped just outside the apartment door to steady himself against the wall. His vision had been spotty on and off all the way from the cliff house and even the short trip to the car winded him.
He’d taken the silver Land Rover parked in Hannibal’s garage. It was parked just where he’d left it, Hannibal still prone in the back, naked and wrapped in blankets. Will opened the hatch and crawled in beside him. He put a hand on Hannibal’s neck.
His skin was deathly cold, but his pulse was still there. He turned toward Will’s touch, just a fraction of an inch, and his lips moved.
"Hannibal? Can you hear me?"
Nothing. The same nothing that Will had gotten on the beach and all the way up the endless, slippery stairs carved into the side of the cliff. Will gave himself three seconds to wallow in exhaustion and despair and then he started unpacking the boxes of medical supplies.
They’d been stacked all along the walls of the garage at the cliff house, and Will had taken as many as he could fit in the back of the Land Rover. He hoped he’d picked the right ones. He carried them up first. He wasn't about to leave Zeller alone with Hannibal, not even for two minutes, not even if Hannibal was unconscious, and especially not with Zeller tied up.
When he hauled Hannibal into a sitting position, he got only a faint sound of pain in response. Hannibal swayed toward him, head on his chest. Will eased him to the edge of the back so that his bare feet hung down, cold and pale. He'd hoped Hannibal might be able to walk, but it didn’t look like that was happening.
Will slid an arm under his knees and behind his back. He braced himself, but he knew from the long climb up the stairs that no amount of bracing would be enough. This time, less numb and more exhausted, Will nearly dropped him. He staggered under Hannibal’s weight and leaned, panting, against the side of the Land Rover.
The pain in his shoulder took up his whole mind. It hurt so much he couldn’t see. He was drowning again.
Hannibal's grip tightened. The Atlantic hit them like a tombstone.
Water forced its way into Will's mouth and down his throat. He swallowed it, coughed, and took a choking breath. He could see nothing. The cold held him as tightly as Hannibal had, and Hannibal was gone.
It was panic over that, not the thought of drowning, that made him strike out for the surface.
He came out of the memory with a gasp and blinked hard, bent over, until his vision cleared. The remote on the key fob closed the back hatch of the Land Rover, and he started the slow climb up to Zeller’s apartment with Hannibal in his arms.
"Where do you want him?" Will said, kicking the apartment door closed behind him.
"What happened to him?"
"Gunshot wound to the abdomen and then I took us over a cliff into the ocean."
"Gunshot – I cut up dead people! He needs a hospital!"
Will gritted his teeth. His arms were shaking. "Where?"
Zeller breathed out hard through his nose. "Bathtub."
Will went through to the bathroom and laid Hannibal down, blanket and all. He bent over the side of the tub, on his knees, panting with effort and pain.
"One … second."
"If you collapse in there, I am going to shout like a lunatic until the cops show up."
Will lurched to his feet. Gun in one hand, knife in the other, he cut Zeller free.
Zeller looked at him for a second and then turned to rummage through the boxes Will had brought in. He picked one and pointed to another. "Bring that."
He walked toward the bathroom, giving Will a wide berth.
Will followed. Zeller was kneeling next to Hannibal. He had a blood pressure cuff on him and a stethoscope pressed to his chest.
"Bring that chair in here too," he said.
When Will got back this time, Zeller had a saline IV bag hooked up to Hannibal's arm. He hung it from the top of the chair. "This guy is really prepared," he said.
Will leaned against the counter, gun still in his hand. "He doesn't leave much to chance. What are you going to do?"
"Clean it. See if I can figure out what's going on in there. It could be worse. He could've bled to death by now." Zeller glanced up at Will. "Was that a tampon you stuck in there?"
"Seemed like the right shape," Will said. He tried not to think about Abigail. He’d found lip gloss in the same cabinet with the tampons, candy pink.
"You should lie down. You look like shit."
Will shook his head. "Can't leave you alone with him."
"He's a patient," Zeller said with an unhappy twist to his mouth. "No matter what else he is. I'm not going to hurt him."
"It's not him I'm worried about."
"He's not waking up anytime soon."
"You want to bet your life on that?"
Zeller looked at him for a long second. "At least sit down."
Will hoisted himself up on the edge of the counter and leaned against the wall. He let the gun rest on his thigh.
Zeller bent over Hannibal, cleaning the wound with a spray of saline from another IV bag that he'd punched a hole in. "Good. Now Drink some water."
Will obeyed, cupping his hand under the faucet. "I think the guy with the gun is supposed to give the orders."
"I’ve got a gun," Zeller said. "It’s in a gun safe because I am a responsible human being." He paused. "I don’t believe you’d really shoot me."
"You should. Wouldn’t be the first time." That was another reason he’d come here. He’d wanted someone who knew what he was capable of and wouldn’t try to play the hero.
"You had to shoot Hobbs. You got a fucking commendation for it. And I know Lounds’ death was faked. Jack told us. Eventually."
"Did Jack tell you about Randall Tier?" Will said.
Zeller turned slowly to look at him. "Tell me what?"
Will stared at the mess of raw flesh and new blood on Hannibal’s side. "I did that."
Zeller stopped moving. "You did what?"
"Cut him up. Mounted him." He could feel the twisted smile pulling at his mouth. It hurt. He could taste blood again. "You weren't wrong about me. You were just … premature."
"You were trying to catch Lecter," Zeller said. He bent over Hannibal's back, probing the wound again.
"I caught him. He caught me."
"Randall Tier would've killed you. It was self defense."
"Killing him was self defense. I didn't have to help Hannibal cook him."
That stopped Zeller again, even his breath, and Will saw the sharp inhale when he remembered that air was something he needed. Part of Will enjoyed it. The rest of him was waiting for the axe to fall. It didn’t.
"The whole thing was fucked from the start," Zeller said. He sounded tired. As tired as Will felt.
Will leaned his head against the wall. His eyes were closing. He couldn’t stop them. Maybe when he woke up he and Hannibal would both be back in prison. The dark ocean rose up to meet him.
Hannibal was under the waves. He was sinking away from the light, falling. Leaving Will again.
Will scanned the sea once more and saw nothing, no body, no rock to cling to, no light, no sign of life. Nothing but void until he looked up. Hannibal's house stood at the cliff top, warm light streaming from its windows.
He watched it for two seconds, for three, and then he took a breath and sank straight down. He turned and dove. Four kicks propelled him downward before his breath and his strength started to fade. The cold held him firmly now, and his shudders were easing. The stinging blackness was the same with his eyes open or closed.
He groped ahead of him in the frigid dark. His heartbeat slowed. It was almost over. And Hannibal couldn't be too far ahead of him.
His hand brushed another in the dark, caught, and held. He had that heard drowning victims experience euphoria in the moments before death, which explained the swell of his heart as he pulled Hannibal in close against his chest again.
Will came awake with a start, flailing as he started to slide off the counter. He caught himself and nearly screamed as his shoulder knocked against the wall. He sat still, bent over his knees and panting.
Zeller looked over at him. He had Hannibal out of the tub now, lying on dry towels. "That's all I can do. I'm pretty sure it didn’t hit any organs. The wound needs to be open so it can drain. Keep it clean." Zeller paused. "He needs blood more than anything."
Will stood up on shaky legs and started rolling up his sleeve. "We're the same type."
"Of course you are. No." Zeller pushed Will down into the chair that he’d hung the IV bag from.
"It's okay," Will said.
"It is not okay. You're so white you're like the ghost of mayonnaise. Don’t be stupid."
Will just held out his arm. He liked the idea of it. His blood in Hannibal's body. Living on like that. Maybe Hannibal had had something like that in mind when he'd tried to open up Will's skull and eat his brain. Consumption, eternal life, two becoming one.
He only realized he'd closed his eyes again when Zeller shook him. He was down on one knee, staring into Will's face. "No, I am not bleeding you dry for Hannibal Lecter. Come on. Stay with me."
Will smiled a little. "If you'd let me pass out, you could've gotten the police."
Zeller drew breath to reply and then froze. Slowly, he looked down. Hannibal had Will’s knife pressed against Zeller’s ribs. No one moved.
"No," Hannibal said. "You could not have."
"Don't," Will said.
Hannibal didn't look at him. The hand that held the knife was unsteady. "He has done all he can."
"Yeah, he has. So we're leaving."
"It would be foolish to leave him alive."
Will slid to his knees and pressed a hand lightly to the center of Hannibal's chest. "I don't think it would be. But either way, that's what we're doing."
Hannibal looked up at him. His eyes were half closed, and he blinked slowly, just once. "You're sure?"
"Yes." Will made himself say it without pause, with certainty, though just the fact that Hannibal was asking left him uncertain of everything.
Hannibal pressed the knife into Will’s hand and let his eyes slide shut again. His arm fell back to the floor, limp.
Zeller scooted back against the wall, out of reach. He took a quick breath. "More adrenaline. Just what I needed."
"I think we'd better go," Will said.
"Best idea I've heard since you got here. No offense." Zeller had been keeping an eye on Hannibal, but now he turned to Will again, jaw tense. "Don't tie me up."
"I have to."
"I won’t tell anyone."
"You can’t make that promise, and I can’t believe it," Will said wearily. "Come on. It won’t be for long."
"You don’t know that," Zeller shot back. "What if nobody finds me and flies lay eggs in my eyes?"
They looked at each other. They’d both seen people who’d died that way. It wasn’t in Will’s top five list of ways he’d rather not go, but it clearly was on Zeller’s.
"I’ll call someone for you once we're out of town. Not more than an hour. DCPD? Jack?"
Zeller looked away. "Jimmy. I'll give you his number. I hate everything about this, FYI."
"So do I." And then, despite his best intentions, "I'm sorry."
"You’re not that sorry or you wouldn’t be here."
Will didn't try to deny it. Hannibal was alive. Will could feel him breathing and the slow steady thump of his heart.
"Let me look at your face before you go," Zeller said.
"It's a hole in your face. It's obviously not fine." Zeller came over to him cautiously, and Will endured the examination of both his face and his shoulder. "You should have stitches."
"Hannibal can do it later," Will said.
"What if Hannibal doesn't make it?"
Will blinked at him for a few seconds and then at Hannibal, again apparently unconscious and pale as moonlight. He tried to think. Blood loss, infection, coma. Anything could happen. Death was still a real possibility. He could no longer imagine a future for himself without Hannibal. He didn’t even know how to try.
"It won't take long," Zeller said.
Will let him do it. They both sat on the floor, Zeller in fresh latex gloves as if Will wasn’t thoroughly infected with everything Hannibal had to give already.
"Did any of you think this plan would work?" Zeller said. He pushed the needle through Will's skin. Will barely felt it. He only felt tired, an enormous sensation, as wide and cold as the Atlantic. "Using the Chesapeake Ripper as bait? The guy who outsmarted us for ten years?"
"The plan wasn't the plan. It was just what they could write down in the report. It was just a setup for them to fight it out."
"And you?" Zeller said.
Will shrugged his good shoulder. "I think they assumed I'd kill whoever survived. Turned out to be a pretty good assumption."
Zeller finished sewing him up, grim and silent. He snapped the gloves off. "Did Jack know about Randall Tier? Did he sanction it?"
"Afterward. He didn't have much choice."
"Yeah, actually, he did. He could've followed the rules. He could've done that with Miriam Lass and he could've done it with you."
Will's throat ached. "Don't feel sorry for me. Remember twenty minutes ago when I had a gun to your head?"
Zeller gave him a twisted smile that would've looked at home on Will's face. "You bond with your captor, right? If you don't, you're breakfast."
Will braced himself on the chair and creaked slowly to his feet. "Nobody's going to be breakfast."
"Today," Hannibal murmured from the floor.
Zeller jumped. Will couldn't really blame him.
"Can you walk?" Will said to Hannibal. "I don't know if I can carry you again."
Hannibal opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. Then, slowly, toward Will, still unfocused. "I will walk."
Zeller looked dubious but, with Will's help, Hannibal made it to his feet and stayed there on his own. Naked and pale and bloody, he should've looked vulnerable. He had earlier when Will had hauled him out of the water. Now he dominated the small room. Zeller pressed back against the wall to get farther away from him.
"He needs clothes," Will said. He hadn't brought any in with him, and the blanket was now soaked with water. "Can we borrow something?"
"Yeah, but I don't want it back," Zeller muttered.
Will knelt on the floor and guided Hannibal's feet into sweatpants and then stood to hold the worn wool cardigan for him. Hannibal obeyed every request, eyes still dull and distant and constantly seeking after Will.
When Zeller was secured, Will took Hannibal down to the car and tucked him into the back again. "You're taking this calmly."
"You're here," Hannibal said, as if that meant all was right with his world, as if that were the single requirement. Will stood too long with his hand on Hannibal's ankle and then he pulled a blanket over his feet and shut the door.