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Two Solitudes

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Will built them a bigger bed. There wasn’t room for a queen or even a full double, but at least it was wide enough that they could lie side by side. They used extra blankets to extend the mattress. Sometimes they laid the bear skin over the top of them when the cold grew vicious and ice formed on the inside of the windows.

They ate and slept and read. Sometimes, they walked. The lake froze solid, and Will went ice fishing to get some variation in their diet. As they slid into the deep of winter, it got too cold even for that, so cold that it hurt just to breathe. They used the outhouse and came straight back inside, and it was really too cold even for that. Will kept expecting his piss to freeze solid on the way down the hole.

Like the bear, they hibernated. To save fuel, they spent a lot of the day curled together in bed. They had more sex than Will had ever had over any sustained period in his life, including his marriage. There was nothing else to do.

He lay in bed at night with Hannibal’s head on his chest and tried to remember the feel of plastic-wrapped meat or the exact sound of a car turn signal. It was harder than he would have believed, as if his entire life had been a dream and he had just woken up.

One dark night in February, he shook Hannibal from sleep.

"What is it?" Hannibal’s voice was thick. He squinted at Will in the dim orange light from the wood stove. "A nightmare?"

Will took a breath to speak and let it out again. He wet his lips. "I haven’t had a nightmare since we got here," he said.

Hannibal touched his cheek. He looked pleased. "Then that is not why you woke me."

"No. I want to bury Frank. In the spring. I mean, what’s left of him." He bit the inside of his cheek. "How much is there?"

"Mainly bones. I was going to make stock, but I can save them."

Will nodded. "Save them."

"You want to honor him," Hannibal said.

"Yes."

"Will burial do that? Is that what he wanted?"

"He wanted to be free," Will said. "That’s why he came out here. After everything he saw in his work, he wanted to be free of the world, but the world came after him."

"To be trapped under the earth is not freedom."

Will looked away. He knew what Hannibal was trying to do. He’d asked the same question about Randall Tier the night they’d cut him up for display. What did Randall Tier want. Will had seen it immediately.

An image formed in his mind, a wind chime made from bones, hanging from a tree at the edge of the lake. It sang when the wind blew through it.

He knew what kind of people made displays out of human remains and he knew all the reasons why they believed they were doing the right thing. He didn’t want that to be him. But there was Randall Tier. The Firefly Man. Frank was already dead. And the pull was strong.

"Will?"

"I don’t want to be a killer," he said.

Hannibal said nothing, possibly out of kindness. He could hardly say anything reassuring, not when Will’s body count just kept growing.

"Can we clean the bones?" Will asked.

"We can. I’ll bring them inside in the morning."

It felt good to think about it, like the easing of a constant pressure behind his eyes. Will fell back asleep with the hollow sound of bones singing in his mind.

\*

They scraped the bones clean. When the first warm weather came in April – warm meaning that the lake ice started to thaw and stepping outside was no longer an invitation to frostbite – they put the bones outside to be cleaned further by weather and insects as the forest woke up. They hung them in a chicken wire cage from a tree branch.

Will tied off the rope and looked up at it. "It feels like religion," he said. "Some old time religion with beheadings and blood on stones."

"Are we the worshippers or the gods?" Hannibal asked.

"I know which you’d prefer."

Hannibal slipped an arm around his waist and drew Will back against him. "We could be gods here. Gods of the forest. Taking any that come into our path as our rightful sacrifice. If we lived even a century ago, people would eventually come to fear and worship us."

"But we don’t. If they come, they’ll come with guns and ATVs and helicopters." He elbowed Hannibal gently. "I know you’re smiling. Stop it."

"It would be as grand an ending as the one you tried to give us."

Will closed his eyes and let himself see it. They could find the nearest town. They could take people. Maybe one a year, just before the solstice. They would bring back the sun together, the old way, with blood and fire. He wanted to hate the idea, but he didn’t. It might be a long time before they were caught.

"Do you really want to?" he asked.

Hannibal rested his cheek on the top of Will’s head. "I don’t know," he said. "You make me uncertain of everything."

"I know exactly how you feel."

\*

By May, the weather had turned decidedly toward summer. The air was crisp, and their breath still steamed in the early mornings, but Will could go without a jacket for most of the day. Hannibal still wore every layer he could get his hands on, but he had stopped looking out into a distant winter that Will couldn’t see. He looked less gray, as if he were only now getting out of prison.

Will dragged him down to the lake so that they could hang Frank’s bones together. Will had cut some of them and drilled holes through others and strung them along a piece of twisted deadfall that he had waxed and polished. He hoped that the wind would blow through them and give them a voice.

Part of him knew that this didn’t make up for taking Frank’s life, for forcing him to spend his final moments in pain and fear. Some other part of him felt that it did. He closed his eyes and listened to the wind rattle the bones and felt the sun on his face. Something warm and content curled up at the bottom of his soul.

"You want fish for dinner?" he asked Hannibal.

"That would be good, yes. Perhaps I’ll see if I can find something green to go with it."

He left Will at the edge of the lake with the bones and walked off into the woods. Will cast his line into water that shone like a blue mirror of the sky overhead and dreamed of summer

When he got back to the house that evening, Hannibal was cooking black morels and fiddlehead ferns. Will steamed the fish. It wasn’t the most filling meal but, by unspoken agreement, they ate nothing that had not come fresh from the woods or the water that day.

"We should do this every year," Will said.

"A rite of spring?"

"Yeah. Something like that." He looked around the cabin. "We should clean this place too. Figure out what we’re going to need. Find the nearest town."

They were out of flour and sugar, low on cooking oil, low on salt, and only Frank’s prodigious collection of potatoes and canned goods had seen them through the winter. That and the fact that they’d spent more time than Will would’ve thought biologically possible asleep. Healing. His shoulder still ached, especially when the barometer dropped, but Hannibal moved with ease, as if he’d never been shot. Even the exit wound had left a relatively small scar.

"We have no money," Hannibal said. "We have nothing."

Will knew that was true, that it was a problem they’d have to address, and soon. He couldn’t make himself worry about it. He felt like they had everything. "Maybe we can sell the bearskin," he said.

The look Hannibal gave him suggested that he’d better think of another option.

"Right, okay," Will said. Maybe they’d steal what they needed. Stealing didn’t seem that bad when compared to – to killing a guy and turning his bones into wind chimes. Will rubbed at his eyes and the back of his neck.

"What is it?" Hannibal said. "If you’re concerned about what I will do—"

"I’m concerned about what I’ll do. About what I might think it’s okay to do. I – fuck. I need to tell you something. And I wish I had a drink."

Hannibal looked at him for a moment and then stood. He reached onto the top shelf behind the empty flour canister. The whiskey bottle glinted when he held it up to the light. "Will this do?"

"Where the hell did you get that and why didn’t you say anything sooner?”

"I found it the first day we were here. I suppose I was saving it for something. For a celebration."

They moved from the table to the bearskin rug in front of the stove. Hannibal poured them each a measure of whiskey into a tin cup and held his up in a toast. "To the end of winter," he said.

Will tapped his cup against Hannibal’s. They drank it down, all at once. Will poured them another and held up his cup. To Frank, he wanted to say. Or to Abigail. But then there were too many names down that road and too little alcohol. "To the dead."

They drank to the dead, this time more slowly.

Will swirled the remaining whiskey around in his glass. "I told you that Chiyoh killed the prisoner."

"Yes."

"Afterward, I—" He finished his whiskey. He hadn’t had a drink since the wine at Hannibal’s cliff house, and he felt a little warm already.

Hannibal poured him another. "Afterward?"

"He wanted to be free. Like Frank. But not like Frank. Frank wanted to live. The prisoner wanted to die." He closed his eyes, remembering Beverly. "Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens’ claws."

"Did you give him wings, Will?" Hannibal asked softly.

When Will opened his eyes, he saw Hannibal leaning forward, intent. He nodded.

"Tell me," Hannibal said. "Tell me everything."

Will told him about binding the body, about the snails, about smashing the wine bottles and cutting his hands on the glass. The whole cellar had smelled of sour wine and death and blood. "I lit so many candles," he said. "It was the only light down there, and it reflected in his wings and my face reflected in his wings and the snails were moving and there was wine on the floor like blood and—"

And Hannibal kissed him. He pushed Will down onto his back and lay down with him and kissed the words that came out of Will’s mouth until Will got out the last part, the important part.

"I made him fly. I hauled him up off the ground and made him fly. I – I did it for you." Will stared at him and felt drunk, but not on whiskey. "I wanted to show you. It was beautiful. It was beautiful.“

Hannibal’s voice broke on Will’s name. He pulled Will toward him. They pushed at each other’s clothes but, when they were naked, they only lay entwined. Hannibal’s body was warm and hard all over and more familiar to Will than his own. He touched the brand on Hannibal’s back and kissed the scars on his wrists.

"I want to see it," Hannibal said.

"We can go."

"I never planned to return to that place."

"I never planned to tie up a dead guy and cover him snails," Will said. He felt Hannibal’s amused breath against his hair. "I think we’ve both done a few things we never planned to do." He paused. "I want you to see it. I didn’t realize how much until just now."

Hannibal let out a long breath. "All right. All right. But not yet."

"Not yet. We’ve still got things to do here." He reached back for the whiskey and held up the bottle. "We need another toast."

"To life, then. To our life."

Hannibal took the bottle from him, took a mouthful, and kissed him. Whiskey flowed into Will’s mouth, warm as blood. They both swallowed. Neither of them broke the kiss. They breathed into and around it, as if it might go on forever. Will imagined the two of them dying like this, tangled together. Inseparable, bodies merging in decomposition until the only way to tell them apart would be to count out their bones.

"You’re smiling," Hannibal said against his mouth.

"I know," Will said. "I’m happy."