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Two Solitudes

Chapter Text

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 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?"

"I will."

"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?"

"Yeah."

"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.

"Will?"

"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 fine."

"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.

Chapter Text

Will had cleaned out Hannibal’s safe before he left the cliff house. The combination had been his own birthday. Among other things, it had held three cell phones. An hour out of DC, he picked up one of them to call Price.

Hannibal stirred in his nest of blankets. "You should wait."  

Will knew that. The longer he waited, the better their chances. But he remembered too clearly the tamped down fear on Zeller's face. An hour could feel like a year. Will had lain on Hannibal's kitchen floor with Abigail for at least a decade.

He ignored Hannibal and made the call, doing his best to disguise his voice so Price wouldn’t call Jack immediately. It would give them a little more time. Price was sleepy and out of it, but Will managed to impress on him the urgency of the situation. He promised to check on Zeller immediately, and Will relaxed one fraction of one degree. He turned the phone off.

"Where are we going?" Hannibal asked.

"You don't have a plan for this?"

"I had many." Hannibal paused. The wind and the vibrations of the road nearly ate his next words. "I did not expect to need them."

"What the hell does that mean?" When he didn't get an answer, Will stole a glance over his shoulder. Hannibal was unconscious again, or asleep, or pretending to be. Will gripped the steering wheel more tightly and stared hard past the oncoming headlights into the dark. "I don't know where we're going," he said.

He didn't have a plan, and he'd have to sleep soon. The road was blurring in front of him. His eyes stung, his neck ached just from keeping his head up, and he was dizzier with every passing moment. They were headed north. He'd been thinking of the New Jersey Pinelands, Wharton or Bass River State Forest where he'd been fishing a few times. He wasn't going to make it that far.

In the end, he pulled off at a rest area, got a couple of hot dogs, and parked the Land Rover in the unpaved side lot with the semis. They couldn't stay there all night but, like the truckers, they could grab a couple hours of sleep. Will got through half of one hotdog, which was all he could stomach, and crawled into the back with Hannibal. He was asleep as soon as he lay down.

He woke with a start at the touch of Hannibal's palm against his cheek. It stayed there. He could hear Hannibal's steady breathing. He knew he couldn’t have slept long, but it would have to be enough. He climbed into the front and got back on the road.

\*

Will had aimed them north because his first instinct was to head south. Warmer, milder oceans that didn't try to beat you to death against sharp rocks. White sand. The smell of familiar cooking.

Logically, he knew it didn’t matter. North or south, Jack would have people looking for them at all the border crossings. Their poster had been printed out and stuck to a hundred walls across the country an hour or two after Price found Zeller tied up in his apartment. North still seemed like as good a direction as any.

"When I came to find you in Italy, I wasn't sure they'd let me leave the country," he said. Hannibal was in and out, drifting. Warm to the touch finally and not the red hot fever of infection that Will had feared.

"That's why you sailed," Hannibal said. His words melted together at the edges.

"There were no charges – yet – but I was afraid I'd get the airport and find myself on a no-fly list."

"Hard to charge a man who was nearly killed saving his friends in the line of duty."

"I didn't save Alana and Jack. I definitely didn't save Abigail. Jack saved us all."

"It was the least he could do," Hannibal said. He coughed, a weak sound, and there was a rustle of movement from the backseat as he turned, or tried to.

Will resisted the urge to look back and make sure he was okay. He wasn't okay. He'd been shot.

Will blinked at the road ahead, the delicate dawn light pouring over pine trees and asphalt and the metal bodies of cars. There weren't many this early. The Land Rover was still in the company of semis and a few vacationers with hard plastic shells strapped to the roofs of their cars.

Silence fell over them for a few minutes, the heavy weight of memories smothering sound, and then Hannibal coughed again and kept coughing.

Will gritted his teeth and tried not to think about infection or pneumonia. It’d be a miracle if one of them didn’t get sick after the night they’d had. "Do you want water?" he asked.

"Please."

Will took the next exit and parked on a dirt turnoff next to a field that might have held soybeans in the summer. Now it was only raised hummocks of earth, the furrows coated in a skim of white from lingering snow. He took the water bottle around to the back and climbed in.

"I should look at your wound," he said while Hannibal drank. "Zeller said to keep it clean."

"How long has it been? I'm afraid events have been rather hazy for me."

"How much do you remember?" Will said.

Hannibal pulled a blanket over his lap and looked past Will out into the barren field. "I remember falling with you. Not the impact."

Will swallowed. "I think you took the worst of it. You were underneath me when we hit."

"How appropriate," Hannibal murmured. "And I can remember you pulling me up from the depths. I thought I was already dead. I remember wondering if I would find the afterlife disappointing."

Will looked down, mouth pulling in a smile that hurt in more than one sense. "If that was the afterlife, it was a little chillier than I was expecting."

Hannibal looked at him, head tilted. "Did you believe you would go to Hell, Will?"

"If there is one, I'd have to."

"What have you done that is so wrong?"

"Seriously?" Will drew his knees up and leaned back against the window. "Murder, desecration of the dead, cannibalism. Is that a sin? I don't know. Murder anyway."

"Self defense."

"Feels like murder when I do it with you. And there was Chilton. And your prisoner."

"You said that Chiyoh killed him."

Will looked away. "I put her in a position where she didn't have a choice."

"Purposefully?"

"I didn't think so at the time. Bedelia gave me some advice. She said that cruelty is less trouble than kindness in the long run."

"That is undoubtedly true from a practical standpoint. Can you be practical about cruelty, Will?"

"No. But neither can you."

They looked at each other for a long, taut moment. Hannibal broke it for another drink of water. "Bedelia is practical above all things. She has no encumbrances to her practicality."

"Do you want me to change your bandages or not? You've got enough supplies to stock a field hospital."

"I didn't know what I would need," Hannibal said placidly. "But if I have stitched things together correctly in my mind, this is only the morning after, as it were. Is that right?"

Will nodded.

"Then it can wait. Ideally until we get somewhere you can rest. I won't offer to try driving, but you're not much better off."

"I know. The nap helped a little." Will smoothed his hands over his thighs and wrapped his arms around his knees. "We're headed  north. Any ideas?"

"I have a house in Newfoundland. It is sufficiently remote that the chances of anyone stumbling upon us are negligible."

"And how do we get across the border?"  

"I had papers for us in the safe." Hannibal frowned and rubbed at the side of his head, over a bruise. One of many. "Let me think."

"I got everything in the safe," Will said.

Hannibal blinked at him and then gave him a slow, small smile. "Of course you did. We have identification then."

"It's also a good bet we have wanted posters."

Hannibal was silent for few seconds. His eyes drooped closed, and Will thought he was gone again, off into his own mind or unconsciousness or wherever Hannibal went when his body wasn't working the way he preferred. Or when his life wasn't working the way he preferred. But after Will had watched a few crows land in the field to peck something in the snow, Hannibal stirred again.

"There are a number of small border crossings in Vermont. I would head for Herrons Line. Most of the border traffic there is local, for work or for weekend trips. One man going camping will be nothing out of the ordinary. I will stay concealed in the back. They won’t look too closely.”

“And if they do? I’m pretty easy to recognize right now." Will gestured at his face.

"It's on the right. If you stay in the car, it won't be immediately apparent. Or if I rest during the day, I can take us across."

"No way. Unless you can put on a Texas accent or something, you're way too memorable." Will curled his hands into his hair and let his head hang from that grip. The tug of pulled hair was a pleasure, temporarily dimming the throb of his face and shoulder. He pulled harder.

"It will take us five or six hours to get there in any case. We can discuss tactics on the way."

Will bit his tongue and then said it anyway. "What if they do recognize us? What are you going to do?"

"You know what I'm going to do, Will. Do you think there is anything I would not do to preserve what I have at the moment?"

"Your freedom?"

Hannibal just looked at him, mostly blank, a little chilly. You know what I mean.

Will did know what he meant. He went around to the front and put them back on the road.

\*

By afternoon, Will and the Land Rover were both running on fumes. He pulled up to the pump at the rest area. It was a small place, no fast food outlets, just the gas station, an area of patchy lawn, a couple of picnic tables, and a sign about keeping your dogs off the grass. The police sketch, or at least a description of his facial wound, must be circulating by now. Jack would have it on every news broadcast from Maine to Georgia.

He glanced in the back, thinking about sending Hannibal in, but Hannibal was passed out again, flat on his back and pale as a corpse. Will's face stretched in an uncomfortable smile at the thought of someone seeing him back there and calling the police. What a way to get caught.

He pulled himself out of the car and filled it up before he went inside. They had to eat. At the very least, he needed coffee if he was going to stay conscious all the way to Vermont. He used the men's room first and pulled up the back of his shirt afterward to check for injuries he'd missed. Everything hurt, and he could see why: the impact with the ocean had bruised his side from his thigh to his hip. Hannibal was worse off. His whole back was mottled blue and purple.  

Will splashed water on his face. When he closed his eyes, he could see the white oval scar in the center of the bruising. He didn't know where it had come from, but he could guess. Mason had branded him like a pig, and Hannibal hadn't said a word to Will about it.

He wiped his face with the tail of his shirt, tucked it back in, and went to scavenge for food in the small convenience store inside the gas station. Hannibal had taken one look at the hotdog Will had offered him and looked away again, not with epicurean disgust, but with an expression that genuinely suggested he might be sick if he ate it. Maybe applesauce.

The TV in the corner by the cash register was muted. Captions played in a black bar along the bottom of the screen. Will saw the sports news out of the corner of his eye, found a jar of applesauce and some packets of instant chicken noodle soup, and froze as his own face appeared on the screen.

He'd paid for the gas at the pump with one of Hannibal's credit cards. He might be on the security camera, but even Jack couldn't check the footage from every gas station along the highway, north and south. If he could get out of the store without being seen, he could find food somewhere else. Steal it if he had to. It wouldn't be the first time.

He considered that now, looking at the packets of chicken soup and thinking that they would fit easily into his pocket, and then he looked up at the TV again. There was no police sketch, no description of his wound, no 'be on the lookout for,' no warnings at all.

The closed captioning read: Cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter, also known as the Chesapeake Ripper, escaped yesterday afternoon during a transfer to another detention facility, killing two guards and four policemen. There was evidence of outside help. The retired federal agent escorting him, Will Graham, is missing. Retired. That was a nice way to put it.

Jack's face loomed large on the screen. He gave the standard speech – investigating all possible leads and so on – but the only thing that really registered with Will was that they were looking for Hannibal. This was a manhunt for Hannibal, not for him. The only thing Jack said about him, when the interviewer asked if they were assuming Hannibal had killed him was: "We won't give up on him."

Even though Jack had to know better. He could've assumed, even without Zeller, but with Zeller – but there was a tone in Jack's voice that Will recognized. Guilt or regret or some combination. We won't give up on him again.

Will stood for a moment, paralyzed between racks of Doritos and candy bars and cans of Vienna Sausages. He scanned the store. The clerk wasn't even looking at the TV. Will walked up to the counter. Better to chance being recognized than get the cops called on him for shoplifting when apparently no one was looking for him. At all.

Back in the car, in a daze, he pulled out onto the highway and put a few miles between them and the nearest television. When he turned off again, it was at a remote exit set about with towering pines that blocked out what little watery sunlight the day had produced.

He pulled over by the side of the road. He'd gotten himself coffee at the gas station, and they'd had hot water for tea, which had worked fine for the instant soup. He tore a packet open with numb fingers. The smell was savory and faintly metallic. He stirred it up with a plastic spoon.

"I suppose you will want me to eat that," Hannibal said.

Will looked at the little bits of noodles floating to the surface. "There's applesauce too."

He brought it and the soup and his coffee and another hotdog around and crawled into the back to sit beside Hannibal again. He handed over the soup.

Hannibal took it with only a faint sort of facial twitch and kept stirring it for a few seconds before he took a sip. "It's terrible," he said.

"Can't be worse than what you've been eating. I remember the mashed potatoes. It was like trying to swallow glue."

"Alana and I had an understanding," Hannibal said. "Decent food, decent treatment. In return, of course, for my silence and good behavior."

Will looked up from the pill bottles and just stopped. He'd seen Hannibal's cell, the books, the relative luxury and had put it together with Hannibal taking the blame for Mason's death, but he hadn't thought about the food. He'd just assumed. Hannibal hadn't been wearing velcro sneakers either. It wasn't a surprise. But it was a surprisingly sharp jab to his dignity.

He thrust a handful of pills at Hannibal. Zeller had told him the dosages. He took his own all together and washed them down with coffee. Zeller. Was it remotely possible that Price hadn't made it over to let him go? A car accident? Price dead or in the hospital and Zeller still tied to a chair waiting for flies to lay eggs in his eyes?

"That upsets you," Hannibal said. He took his own pills with water and sat up straight to take another spoonful of the soup.

"A lot of things upset me," Will said.

"That's understandable. You ought to sleep if you can."

"None of this is going to be less upsetting after a nap."

"Your body is exhausted. The blood loss alone, without the fall and the water, without the fight—"

"Shut up," Will said quietly.

"Are you angry because I was treated better than you were?" Hannibal asked. He held his styrofoam cup of soup like he might hold a china teacup.

"I'm not angry. I'm not even surprised." Will pulled out the phone from his pocket. He could call Zeller. Jack could've held off on the news of Will's involvement with Hannibal's escape for exactly this reason. What would he get out of it? Not a precise location, not in the time it would take Will to establish that Zeller was okay. Will felt like he had when he’d crawled out of the freezing ocean: glacially slow. His brain wasn't working right, and a hot shower wouldn’t help this time. He needed a decent meal and at least twelve hours of sleep, and he wasn't going to get either one.

"Will?"

"What?" he snapped.

"Tell me what's happened."

Will looked up slowly from the phone to Hannibal's grave face. Will thought of the brand on his back, of the long walk through the snow afterward. He remembered feeling Hannibal's arms shake, but he hadn't dropped him once. He'd gotten them home. He'd made sure they were both safe.

"Jack is treating this as a manhunt for an escaped prisoner. He's looking for you. I'm missing. Not officially presumed dead, but close enough."

Hannibal raised the cup to his lips and drank, actually slurping noodles in a way that Will could not look away from. His face was thoughtful. "So you fear that Agent Zeller is still tied up in his apartment."

"Or that Jack is playing some kind of game to get me to tip my hand. Yeah. One of those."

"Which do you believe is most likely?" Hannibal asked.

"I don't know."

"You want to call Agent Zeller."

"I need to know he's okay," Will said.

"Which is of course what Jack would be counting on." Hannibal paused. "It would be better for us if Zeller weren't discovered."

"That's not going to happen. He'd be missed at work. Someone would check on him."

Hannibal nodded. "It would have been better to kill him."

"No, it would've safer to kill him," Will said. He turned on the phone and dialed. Hannibal didn't try to stop him.

It rang twice and then Zeller's voice came over the line, brisk and almost chipper. "Zeller. Hello?"

Will clutched the phone. He honestly hadn't expected to get him. "Are you all right?"

Zeller was quiet for two seconds, and then he disconnected the call. Will held the phone loosely in his lap and stared as the screen dimmed and then went black.

"What did he say?" Hannibal asked.

"He didn't say anything. He said hello. You heard me. And then he hung up."

Hannibal passed him the styrofoam cup, now empty, and reached for the applesauce and a clean plastic spoon. "Have you considered the possibility that he has kept our visit from Jack? You can be quite persuasive."

"I never asked him to do that."

"That is when it works the best, I find."

"What about Price? He’d have to keep quiet too."

"That is a point in favor of it being a trap set by Jack." Hannibal paused. "But he didn’t try to keep you on the phone. The trap could not be sprung."

Will shook his head, which felt even more full of fog than it had before the call.

"What will you do?" Hannibal asked.

Will rested his chin on his knees. The shadows of the pine boughs swayed across the floor of the car and over his skin. He looked at Hannibal's bony ankles. He remembered reaching for him in the dark under the water.

"Will?"

"I don't know!" He'd left the back open, and his raised voice startled a flock of little birds that flew off, twittering, to land on the pine needle strewn ground some yards away. "That was supposed to be the end. It was supposed to be over. If I'd known how to keep going, I wouldn't have had to—" He thumped a fist against the side of the car. It jarred his shoulder. He gritted his teeth against the pain.

Hannibal was watching him, face still and solemn. He had dark crescents under his eyes and deep lines on either side of his mouth. His face, his body, his movement, everything about him was so familiar that Will could barely breathe under the crush of memories it brought.

Hannibal set his soup aside and stuck the spoon in the jar of applesauce to stand upright like a white flag of truce. He shuffled closer. He put a hand on Will's shin.

No warmth seeped through Will's jeans. Hannibal's hands had always been warm. Will closed his eyes and choked on the recovered memories of him cradling Will's head tenderly after he pulled tube from his throat. They'd been warm then.

"Sleep," Hannibal said.

"I can make it to Vermont."

"I have no doubt you can make it to the border. The problem will lie in getting across it, which you will not do if you can't be calm and lie convincingly."

The fact that he was right made Will want to punch him, which was just more proof that he was right. "I can't just lie down and sleep by the side of the road."

"I will watch over you and wake you if anyone comes."

"You can't even stay awake yourself."

"I can if I must," Hannibal said.

The fight with Cordell, Cordell’s screams, the long walk back to the road. All with Mason’s brand on his back and Will a dead weight in his arms. He probably could.

Will shoved the heels of his hands against his aching eyes.

Hannibal stroked down his shin and rested his hand on the top of Will's foot. "Lie down, Will."

The blankets on the floor of the car looked incredibly inviting. Will didn't so much decide to lie down as lean over to get a closer look at them and then lean a little more. He kept sinking until he was blessedly horizontal, eyes closed, head resting near Hannibal's hip.

Hannibal touched his hair once and then cupped his palm over Will's injured shoulder. "When did you sleep last?"

"Parking lot," Will mumbled.

"No, a full night's sleep. In a bed."

Will just laughed. The more he thought about it, the funnier it got. He cracked his eyes open to look up at Hannibal. "Molly always slept the whole night through. I bet you do too, don't you?"

Hannibal sighed. "Not for some weeks now," he said.

"Do you think about me when you're lying awake at night?"

"Constantly, Will. What else would I think of?"

"Sounds like you're trying to be mean, but it's true," Will said. He let his eyes close again. "I know it's true."

"And you?" Hannibal said. "Do you think of me?"

Every night like saying his prayers. He didn't know if he'd said it out loud or not. It didn't seem to matter much. He was sure Hannibal knew. He must.

Chapter Text

Sleep had cleared Will's head enough that he could string one thought after another and look farther ahead than the next tank of gas. They stopped at four camping stores on their drive north. Each time, Will bought one or two things and paid in cash. When one cashier asked about his face, he said it was a hunting accident. His childhood had taught him that nearly any injury could be blamed on a hunting accident.

It didn't take long to get enough supplies piled up in the back to cover the bags, the medical supplies, and Hannibal, which was the plan.

"Just lie down and keep quiet," Will said. "If we get searched, we're fucked anyway."

Hannibal put on a disgruntled expression, maybe at being classed with the luggage, but he agreed. "Where are the contents of the safe?"

Will pulled the bag out of the passenger's side wheel well and passed it back to him.

Will heard him sorting through the various documents. He remembered stacks of cash and what might've been bonds. He assumed there were passports in some of the sealed envelopes. Property deeds, maybe. Hannibal had said he had a house. It couldn't be the only one. Will stared at the long road ahead and wondered where they would end up after Newfoundland.

Hannibal passed forward a driver's license, a passport, and a set of credit cards. Will glanced at them.

"William Roma? Really?" He looked back at Hannibal, who was obviously amused by his own joke as usual.

"You named your boat Nola."

"I wasn't the target of a manhunt, and the battles at Nola are a little more obscure than naming me after the republic you tried to conquer."

Hannibal made a soft noise that sounded oddly like contentment. "Let us say that I'm glad the battle is over, regardless of the result. And I chose this because it is the most disposable and the most easily connected to us. If Jack picks up our trail, let it be at the border and not across it. Canada is a very large country, and Newfoundland contains a great deal of empty space. Good to hide in, hard to search."

Will sighed. "Yeah, fine. I'll have to buy a wallet next time we stop unless you've got one of those in there too."

"Did you not stop to look?"

"I just dumped it all in a bag. I was a little worried—" He stopped short. About you dying, he'd meant to say, and that had sounded fine in his head. I was worried about you. That sounded different. "I was in a hurry," he said.

"Of course. No. You will have to buy something. I will need one too."

"The next Walmart we find," Will said, just to see him wince.  "I was thinking I could buy hair dye too."

"No," Hannibal said firmly.

He turned, frowning, for a look at Hannibal's face and a clue about the logic of that decision. He caught Hannibal's avid, hungry gaze and looked away fast. It was pretty clear there hadn't been any logic involved. He locked his eyes on the road and felt a little warmer than the car's heating could account for.

"I could get glasses, anyway," Will said.

"You have glasses."

"Not with me." They were in his hotel room back in DC, along with his clothes, the book he'd brought along, a half empty bottle of whiskey on the bedside table, and a pretty big pay-per-view bill. Will wondered if Jack would pick that up or if he'd try to stick Molly with it.

His other pair of glasses was at home. It would still be sitting on his bedside table. Francis Dolarhyde had stood in that room. Maybe he'd looked at the glasses, known who they belonged too. Will had been working his way through Pride and Prejudice at Molly's insistence. That was still there, his place still marked with a dried leaf Walter had brought him. They'd pressed it together and preserved the color with spray-on shellac. Will hadn't been sure it would work, but it had. The maple leaf remained red and gold with tiny hints of green at the edges, frozen in time. All of it was still there, waiting. He'd walked away from it. He was still walking away from it.

Dolarhyde had been in his house more recently than he had. He gritted his teeth over that one, feeling the throb of his stab wound and the ache in his jaw. Dolarhyde was dead, stretched out on stone in a pool of his own blood, and Will was abruptly, fiercely happy about that. That hot knife of joy in his chest was one of the many reasons it was good he was walking away.

Half an hour or so later, they found a Walmart. Will went in to buy glasses, canned beans, bread, cheese, and other odds and ends. He stood in front of the hair dye for a long time, unsure exactly why he was letting Hannibal dictate his appearance. He was afraid there wasn't much logic involved in his decision either.

He paid with William Roma's American Express card and walked slowly back to the Land Rover. The sky was starting to dim toward evening, late afternoon light blasting red-gold from the west and staining the tops of the hills.

"Is someone paying for this stuff?" he asked when he got in the car.

"The credit cards? They're all paid automatically out of my accounts. Nothing draws attention faster than debt collectors. Except perhaps tax evasion."

"And of course your taxes are flawless."

"I was audited once. The government owed me over a thousand dollars."

Will smiled despite himself. He pulled back out onto the road. The border crossing at Herrons Line closed at eight. They should make it by seven. After dark, which would be good. Toward the end of the day, everyone wanting to go home. Also good. But all of it would be useless if they had his face stapled to the wall.

"I could call Zeller," he said. "Find out what's going on."

"I see no current advantage to that," Hannibal said. "Either Jack has a description of your wound or he doesn't. What could Agent Zeller tell you that you could trust?”

"Nothing I guess. But I hate not knowing."

"Most people find it difficult to live with prolonged periods of uncertainty, but sometimes it is necessary. This is one of those times."

Will was glad it wouldn't be too prolonged.

\*

They stopped on a dark road outside the town of Howton, VT, population 1286 according to the sign. It was the nearest population center to Herrons Line, if you could call it that. Ahead of them, Will saw sleepy streets with low clapboard houses, a few shops still lit up with brighter signs for Italian food or beer, and a large dark section in the center that must be a park. Off to one side sat a lighted baseball diamond.

He heard the back hatch of the car open. Hannibal emerged and shuffled along the length of the car to where Will stood at the front, bracing himself all the way. When he reached Will, he put a hand on his shoulder. Will wasn't sure who was supposed to be supporting who, but then Hannibal swayed, and Will grabbed the back of his shirt to pull him close.

"You should be lying down," he said.

"I've been lying down. I need to be sure I can move."

Will considered the little town laid out ahead of them. Herrons Line would be even smaller. One guard at the border probably, maybe two at the outside. Even in this state, Hannibal could probably deal with them.

"Just don’t—“ Will swallowed and stopped.

Overhead, the stars were starting to emerge from a violet sky. He looked back at the baseball diamond and tried to imagine the effect a double homicide would have on a place like this. That was hard, but easier, of course, than thinking about the effect on the families of the guards. Wives, husbands, mothers, children. More lives shattered in his wake.

"I will do nothing unless you call out to me," Hannibal said.

"That's not any better."

"You will bear the guilt either way. It should be your decision."

Will nodded. Maybe that was the best he could hope for now. "Do you want the gun?" he asked.

"No. The noise will bring the local police. It should be an absolute last resort. I have this.” Hannibal produced a knife from who the hell knew where. It was small and sharp and glinted like an eye in the car's headlights. "You should have something too."

"I don't want anything."

"What will you do if I am not fast enough? Chase them down and break their necks? It is possible, but not the easiest route to take."

Will closed his eyes as if he could shut out this entire conversation. "Neater that way," he said.

"Yes, but not ideal in an emergency situation when you are already unwell. It takes practice."

"Had a lot of practice chasing people down and breaking their necks?"

"More than you have," Hannibal said. "Although there was Freddie Lounds, of course. When you pulled her from her vehicle, is that what you imagined doing to her? Did you snap her neck? Was it so clean? Or did you have something else in mind?"

Will heaved in a breath that hurt his throat. "I strangled her. Get back in the car. We need to get moving."

Hannibal walked up and down the length of the car twice more in silence and then obeyed. He let Will arrange the camping gear around him, all the medical supplies covered, the tent and pack in clear view from the window.

"Okay? Can you breathe down there?" Will said.

"It's warm but not uncomfortable."

"Don't fall asleep."

"I will be here if you need me, Will," Hannibal said quietly.

Will got back into the car and pulled out onto the road. He wound through the center of Howton and paused a little too long at a red light beside the baseball diamond. "My dad got me a catcher's mitt for my tenth birthday," he said. "We never had a bat, but we'd throw the ball back and forth whenever we could find a place and some extra time. Not that often. I don't even like baseball."

"Positive associations may be attached to almost anything," Hannibal said. "It is the emotion we recall, not the action." He paused. "Did you do that with your stepson?"

Will nodded slowly, though he knew Hannibal couldn’t see him. He'd played catch with Walter and with Molly. They'd carved a miniature baseball diamond out of the brush in the backyard, on the edge of the woods. There'd been a lot of 'if you build it, they will come' jokes. He and Molly had shown Walter Field of Dreams for the first time. He'd loved it, as he loved baseball, which was hardly surprising given his father had played for the Marlins. Will, with his brand new mitt and poor batting skills, was a pale imitation.  

"In the summer," he said. "It was something to do." It was something he'd enjoyed, despite everything. "We'd better get going. The border station closes at eight."

\*

They made it by seven thirty. There was no real gate, just a flimsy plastic pole that could be raised and lowered, with reflective stickers to make it visible in the dark. The border station itself was a white painted house with a little overhang, like a drive-through porch. It looked like it should have a white picket fence and rocking chairs out front. It did have a little flower garden on the side. Will could see the dead husks of roses climbing up a trellis.

The door opened, and a figure emerged. Lights came on. The border guard was an older, plump woman with her gray hair tied back in a tight bun. She wore red framed glasses and smiled as she ambled up to his car. Her name tag said Michelle.

"Evening," she said as he rolled down the window.

"Evening," Will agreed.

"Passport?"

Will produced it, and she looked it over, not like she was looking for a wanted felon, but more like it might've been the only one she'd seen all day.

"Quiet here," Will said.

"That's the way we like it. Business or pleasure?"

"Pleasure. Just wanted to get away for a while."

She shone a flashlight over the contents of his backseat. "Camping?"

"Yeah. Up in Labrador."

"Wild country up there. Make sure you've got extra gas and water."

"I do,” he said. "No problem."

Still she hesitated, frowning. "Anyone know where you're going? When you'll be back?"

He made himself smile, though it hurt. "Well, you do. I'm planning to be back by Sunday evening."

"Where are you from? The city?"

Will tensed, but – the city. That wasn't suspicion, or at least she didn't suspect him of anything worse than being a city slicker getting in over his head. "Washington DC," he said.

Her eyebrows went up. "Politician or lawyer?"

"Neither one. Cross my heart."

"Well, none of my business, but you ought to tell someone, all right? Don't be counting on cell phone reception to save your butt up there. It barely works here in town."

Will opened his mouth to reassure her. They'd roll through and be away, no trouble. Just the way they'd wanted it. If that was in fact what Will had wanted.

"Actually," he heard himself say, "would you mind if I made a phone call? I'm not getting any reception up here at all, and you're right. Someone should know."

She nodded approvingly. “Come on in. I just made tea. You want some?"

"That'd be nice of you," he said and followed her inside. He left the keys on the front seat. Hannibal could do whatever he was going to do.

The interior of the border station was as homey as the outside. It looked, in fact, like someone's home. "Do you live here?" he asked Michelle.

"Sure do. Long hours, but weekends off and honestly I only get maybe five cars through here a day. Milk and sugar? Phone's through there."

"Yes please," he said. He stepped through into a hall. The phone sat on a table by the stairs, the old fashioned kind, heavy and black with a rotary dial. He dialed Zeller's number slowly without letting himself think too much about it.

His call was answered on the third ring. "Yo, Zeller."

Will paused. "Do you always answer the phone like that?"

"When I'm in a good mood," Zeller said and then he stopped. The response had been automatic and now clearly his brain had kicked in and was only letting him breathe into the phone.

"You didn't tell Jack," Will said, very quietly, with a glance toward the kitchen.

More silence and then Zeller made a frustrated noise. "I haven't told Jack yet. After the stuff you said – is he going to bring you in or give you both a quick double tap and leave you in a ditch somewhere? This is the FBI.  We put people in prison. We don't set up serial killer deathmatches."

"I could've been lying to you," Will said. "Manipulating you for exactly this result."

Zeller sniffed. "Yeah, sell me another one. The state you were in, no way." He shifted the phone against his ear, a brief crackle of sound. "I thought you might both end up dead on the beltway in a crash."

"Is that what you were hoping for?" Will said.

Zeller hung up on him.

Will wiped the phone clean of his fingerprints with the tail of his shirt and set it back on the cradle. For a few seconds, he just stood there, breathing in the air of calm that filled the little house. A dog barked somewhere nearby. He heard Michelle in the next room, heavy-booted footsteps and a clatter of china.

He found her in the living room with a tray and two mugs, milk already added but sugar cubes in a bowl on the side. "I didn't know how many you wanted," she said.

Will added one. "Thanks. That your dog?"

"Nah, that's the neighbor's. Rusty. Good dog, but prone to howl at the moon even when he can't see it."

Inevitably, Will thought of Dolarhyde. "I’ve known people like that."

"You all right, son?" Michelle said.

Will nodded quickly. "Like I said, just need to get away for a while." For a while. Maybe forever.

He finished his tea while Michelle talked about the town and Will's heart grew heavier and heavier. This place, like any other, was sure to have its share of human cruelty, but right now he felt like a virus come to contaminate it. He insisted on washing his own mug, leaving it clean of fingerprints, watching what he touched on the way out, half for forensic purposes and half so he would leave nothing behind that might harm her.

He climbed back into the car and lifted a hand as he drove away. She waved him out of sight.

Hannibal said nothing. If he was even still back there. If he hadn't decided Will meant to turn him in and made a run for it. Faint hope, no hope at all: Hannibal wasn't going to leave him. If Will knew nothing else in the world, he knew that.

As soon as Will felt they were far enough away, he pulled off the road and went around to clear off the stuff he'd loaded on top of Hannibal. None of it was pressing on him and he should've had plenty of air, but it had to be hot and uncomfortable. When uncovered, Hannibal did have a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead up by his hairline. Will climbed into the back and knelt over him. Hannibal remained as he was, flat on his back, throat and belly exposed.

Will touched the inside of his wrist to Hannibal's forehead. He felt warm even considering he's been bundled under two sleeping bags for half an hour.

Hannibal's mouth twitched in the ghost of a smile. "Are you worried about me?"

"There's a thermometer in one of these boxes. I saw it."

"If it would make you feel better," Hannibal said.

Will decided that it would. His mind felt disordered. He'd expected the border crossing to bring clarity, some definitive line between his past and his present. But then he'd expected that of the cliff too. He found the thermometer and stuck it under Hannibal's tongue, which would at least keep him quiet for a minute.

When it beeped, Will checked the digital display: 99.5. He showed it to Hannibal.

"A body under stress will often run a low fever, and mine is certainly under stress."

"Is that all it is?" Will asked.

"There is no way to know until it improves or worsens."  

Will stared at the numbers until they blinked and vanished. "The road trip can't be helping."

"No, but it is almost at an end, or at least a pause. Can you keep going?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"We always have a choice," Hannibal said. "We could stop here. You could kill me and continue on your own. You could go back to the border and turn me in. But if you mean, is there a choice that better ensures our safety, health, and freedom, then the answer is no."

Will nodded heavily. "Yeah, I figured. How long?"

"Montreal is roughly an hour and a half north. We can check into a hotel, eat, sleep, and ready ourselves for the drive ahead."

"Right. Hour and a half." That was better than he'd been prepared for. He climbed into the front seat again and pulled back onto the dark road.

Montreal was the biggest city they’d passed through since DC. The lights came at Will from every direction, dazzling, brilliant, and painful. Even the headlights from the opposite lane of traffic blinded him, and he was grateful when Hannibal pointed out a towering glass and steel hotel.

They avoided the valet and went directly to the parking garage. Will shut off the engine and sat in the dark. "I will get the rooms," Hannibal said.

"Can you walk that far?" Rooms. Plural. Will couldn't decide whether that was a relief or a disappointment. And then abruptly he could. The thought of letting Hannibal out of his sight was— "One room," he said.

"Two rooms, adjoining," Hannibal said. "You will be my personal assistant."

"William Roma?"

"No. That identity will need to be disposed of." Hannibal handed him new ID and displayed his own: ordinary names with no meaning that Will could discern. "And yes, I can walk. I will be glad to lie down on a bed, but the rest today has done me some good."

He changed in the backseat, in the gloom of the parking garage, slowly putting on a suit piece by piece from one of the bags Will had grabbed as he'd fled the house on the cliff. It wasn't his usual: dark blue wool, solid and close fitting, expensive probably but not showy. Pale blue shirt unbuttoned at the throat, no tie. The picture of a tired businessman just in from anywhere.

"Where are we from?" Will asked.

"Washington will do, though I doubt it will come up. I have no intention of leaving the room until we're ready to check out." He looked at Will. "You must not become attached to these transitory identities, Will. We are not these people. We merely inhabit their lives for a moment and then pass on."

"You make us sound like ghosts."

"We are ghosts. You ensured that. We are dead to the world that knew us. Any existence we have now is purely theoretical until we make it more than that." He paused. "May I borrow your ring?"

Will stared at him blankly. "What?"

"Your wedding ring. It would be useful to be seen as the married businessman having an affair with my secretary. No one would wonder about the adjoining rooms if we give them a reason to think the worst."

Will was still staring at him. Somewhere nearby a greenish light flickered on the ceiling and emitted a low buzz or maybe that was just the static of Will's thoughts. The light cast Hannibal's sharp face in a sickly light that seemed entirely appropriate at the moment. "Can you use my wedding ring to – no. No, Hannibal. No, you can't."

Hannibal only nodded, took up the lightest of the bags in the back, and walked toward the elevators.

Will, left behind in the dark, looked down at the green glint off the ring. It had stayed with him through the swim in the Atlantic. He hadn't consciously noticed it. After wearing it so long, its absence would’ve been more notable. He wondered now if he should've left it with Zeller to give back to Molly, but no, he'd been over this before, hadn't he? He couldn't remember. Had he stood and looked at the dead Dragon and thought of leaving his ring behind? Had he thought of dropping it in the blood wings like a token? Or had that only been another waking dream?

He leaned forward and pressed both hands over his face, harder on the injured side. It hurt. He wanted it to hurt.

He hadn't moved by the time Hannibal returned and opened the driver's side door to lay a hand in the middle of his aching back. "I shouldn't have asked you for that," Hannibal said.

"I wish you hadn’t."

"But we must deal with what is, with who we are, not with wishes and ghosts." Hannibal slid his hand up to rest on the back of Will's neck. "Do you want me to go? I will survive. I'm familiar with the city. I can find discreet medical attention here. We can part ways if you wish."

"Would you survive? Really?" Will turned his head enough to see him and the flickering green halo that framed his face. "Because I don't know if I would."

Hannibal watched him for a second and nodded. "Then perhaps we should go inside and order some food."

It took some time. Hannibal didn't want them to be seen together, and Will had to struggle into new clothes that wouldn't look out of place in a fancy hotel lobby. Hannibal went ahead and in the end Will decided that a fresh shirt would be good enough. He didn't have to talk to anyone. He already had the keycard Hannibal had given him. All he had to do was get himself up to the eighth floor, let himself in, collapse on the bed, and sleep for twelve hours.

The first part of that plan went fine. In some ways, the bandage that covered half his face was a blessing: people glanced at him and then quickly away, either afraid of being rude or out of some instinctual shunning of a stranger's pain. Either way, he got up to the room with no interruptions.

It was mainly a tasteful beige with quilting on the curtains, blackout shades behind them, and bland art on the walls. A queen bed sat in the center of the floor, looking too crisp and clean to touch.

He set the bag on the bed and opened the door between his room and Hannibal's. It was already open on Hannibal's side. Hannibal had set his own small bag on one of the those folding luggage caddies and now he stood in the center of the room looking nearly as untouchable as the bed, suit perfectly crisp, every hair in place, but with exhaustion pooling at the corners of his mouth and under his eyes.

"Lie down," Will told him.

Hannibal sat on the edge of the bed. "I would like to undress," he said. He looked down at his shoes.

Will had watched him bent double around his wound in the back of the car when he changed clothes and had wondered how he'd done it without screaming. The stab wound in his own shoulder was only a couple of inches deep and it hurt so badly he'd barely gotten the shirt on. "Do you want help?"

Hannibal kept looking down at his shoes, like he could remove them by sheer mental effort. Finally, he nodded. "Please. If you don't mind."

Will got down on his knees on the floor next to the bed. The carpet was a paler shade of beige, thick and soft and cushioning. He settled into it and pulled Hannibal's foot into his lap to untie the shoe and ease it off. Then the other. Hannibal was still wearing Zeller's socks, and Will peeled those off too.

"You'll have to stand up for the pants," he said.

Hannibal stood and unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned and unzipped his fly. He let his pants drop and accepted Will's offered hand for balance while he stepped out of them. Will folded them and set them aside while Hannibal started on his shirt buttons. He moved slowly, averaging one every few seconds and frowning at his fingers as if he couldn't work out why they weren't obeying him more promptly.

Will rose and pushed him down to sit on the bed. He finished with the buttons and helped Hannibal ease the shirt off his shoulders.

"Okay, now lie down," Will said.

This time, Hannibal obeyed without a word. He peeled back the covers and slid between them. When his head hit the pillow, he let out a sigh that Will felt in his own bones. He wanted that to be him.

"Is there anything else?" he said. "Should I—" He looked around the room, utterly blank.

"The do not disturb signs," Hannibal murmured. "That's all. And then you must rest too."

Will put out the signs, first his and then Hannibal's. He stood at the door between their rooms. He needed to lie down, needed to close his eyes, needed to sleep like he couldn't remember needing anything in his life since the last time he was really hungry as a child, a dry spell in his father's work that had lasted weeks and left Will ready to beg strangers for food if his father would've let him.

He couldn't move. Couldn't leave the room that Hannibal was in.

Hannibal was watching him, eyes barely open. He twitched his fingers in a beckoning gesture. "Come here," he said.

Will took a jerky step toward him and then another. He unbuttoned his own shirt and dumped it on the floor. Boots and pants followed, and he climbed into bed next to Hannibal, not touching, but close enough to feel his warmth. He didn't even remember closing his eyes.

He woke up only once in the night. Hannibal’s body was curved behind his, and Hannibal held him close with an arm across his waist. Will blinked twice in the dark and slid back into sleep.

Chapter Text

Will slept until eleven when the phone rang. It was Housekeeping, wanting to know if they'd need their rooms made up today at all. Apparently someone had knocked at ten and gotten no answer. Will told them no, hung up, and passed out again.

The second time, he awoke ravenous, thirsty, needing the bathroom, head pounding unpleasantly, and with a coat of grime that he could feel everywhere on his body.

He left Hannibal asleep and headed for the bathroom. When he'd taken care of everything except the hunger, he wrapped himself up in the hotel robe and sat on the edge of the bed to look at the room service menu. It was closer to lunch than breakfast, so he ordered both: chicken noodle soup and bread for Hannibal, bacon and eggs and toast and potatoes for himself.

Hannibal opened his eyes halfway through the call and watched him. "Okay?" Will said when he'd hung up.

"The soup will be dreadful. Why do you insist on feeding me soup that tastes like aluminum filings?"

"Sorry I can't whip up a bowl of wolfberry whatever-that-was. If there's something else you want, I'll call them back."

Hannibal squinted at him, hair sticking up at a ninety degree angle from the side of his head and a white crust in the corner of his mouth. "Toast. Poached eggs."

Will called them back and changed the order. "How are you?" he said.

Hannibal held out a hand and turned it palm up before he let it drop. "I was shot. I've lost a great deal of blood and then I engaged in two energetic fights for my life, one against the Atlantic Ocean, which is a more dangerous opponent than any human can be, Great Red Dragon or no. I am not well."

"I've got your antibiotics," Will said. "Hold on." He got them and took his own at the same time. After that, he sat on the bed and leaned back against the headboard, staring at the opposite wall. Hannibal seemed content to do the same, except that he was staring at the ceiling.

"I thought you might have changed your mind at the border last night," Hannibal said.

"I didn't change my mind. I called Zeller."

Hannibal was silent for a few seconds. "They won't need to trace that call, you realize. He can check his caller ID for the number."

"I've been in law enforcement for twenty years, Hannibal. I know how caller ID works."

"Then you must realize that your actions indicate a certain division of mind."

Will looked down at him. "Did you think my mind wouldn't be divided?"

Hannibal closed his eyes. His lips parted, but in the end he didn't say whatever was on his mind.

"I'll get fresh bandages," Will said.

He creaked off the bed to get what they needed from his bag, which was ten percent clothes and ninety percent medical supplies. Hannibal's wound had drained so much that the bandage was stuck to his skin, yellow with pus and streaked with red. He watched Hannibal's face, looking for clues as to whether this was good or bad or just normal, but predictably got nothing.

"I hoped," Hannibal said. He watched Will sponge away the accumulated goop.

"What?"

"I hope that your mind would no longer be divided. I didn't expect it, but I did hope."

They fell into silence after that, Will with his head bent low over the wound and Hannibal retreating into his mind. Will cleaned the exit would as well and then taped fresh bandages in place, smoothing them onto Hannibal's warm skin with as light a touch as he could manage.

Hannibal lay on his good side, back toward Will, and Will studied the brand. It had lost most of the detail it must've had when fresh. Mason wouldn't have cared how it healed. It wasn't supposed to have time to heal at all. Will wondered if he would've kept it, framed on his wall maybe, and then winced at the thought, at the fact that this was something his mind had produced, something that, if said out loud—

Wouldn't matter at all. Because this was Hannibal. Not Molly or Alana or even Jack, who would give him that look – what the fuck is wrong with you – the look that most people tried to conceal. Jack didn't even try.

Hannibal would never give him that look.  

"Do you think he planned to keep the brand?" Will asked, touching the edge of it, as much an experiment as his words were.

"It had not occurred to me," Hannibal said, but he sounded as if it were an interesting idea, not as if Will belonged in a straight jacket. "Perhaps. A pillow like Garret Jacob Hobbs used to make? No, that wouldn't suit him. A seat cushion. Upholstery. That seems more likely. I wonder if Cordell’s talents stretched to tanning."

Will laughed. It was a horrible, rusty sound, but it was real.  "One of my dad’s friends was into brain tanning. He said every animal had the right amount of brain to tan its skin. I feel like you’d have too much. Too high a brain to skin ratio."

"I suspect Mason had alternate plans for my brain in any case. He seemed set on consuming as much of me as he could."

"Yeah. Probably." Will’s fingers skirted around the brand. "Does it hurt still?"

"No. The middle has very little feeling. The edges—" He stopped as Will laid his hand over it, covering it up.

"The edges?"

Hannibal took a slow breath that Will felt under his palm. "The edges have more sensitivity than I had expected."

"Do you want me to stop?" Will already knew the answer. He wanted to hear it said out loud.

"No, I don't want you to stop, Will. Do exactly as you like. Please."

That sent a shiver down Will's throat and into his stomach. He rubbed his thumb along the raised white edge of the oval. "Does it feel like a normal touch?"

"No. It feels – the border between sensation and the lack of it creates a sense of newness."

"You sound surprised."

"No one has touched my skin since the wound healed. There or anywhere else."

For three years. While Will was lying in bed with his wife every night, trying to drown himself in her life.

Someone knocked on the door. Will jerked his hand back.

"Room service," Hannibal said. "Go. I will get it."

Will slid away gratefully from the conversation and shut the door between their adjoining rooms.

A few minutes later, after a lot of rattling from a cart in the next room, Hannibal opened the door again and gestured him through. The tray was set up on a small round table by the window that was barely big enough to hold it. Two chairs sat on either side, both with leather seats. Will thought of Mason and the brand and looked up to see amusement on Hannibal’s face that matched his own.

Will pulled open the blinds to let sunlight stream in. The sky over Montreal was a cold autumn blue, and a dust of snow had settled on the roofs of the nearby buildings. Hannibal's expression soured as the light made him squint. He sat up very straight, cut into the yolks of his poached eggs, and stoically dipped toast into them.

"Commercial bread," he said.

"I guess Alana bought yours at some artisan bakery where they've had the same sourdough starter since they brought it over from the old country."

"Starters are maintained and replenished by local yeast. It doesn't matter where one's starter began. It will quickly become no different than one born in the same location where it now resides."

"You bypassed the point of that sentence by a couple miles." Will picked up a slice of watermelon that had come, inexplicably, with his bacon, bit into it, and made a sour face of his own.

"You see?" Hannibal said. "When you are accustomed to the true flavor of things, it is unpleasant to experience the pale imitations that are all most people ever know."

Will ignored the implications dripping off that sentence like blood from a knife. "I wouldn't say I'm accustomed to great watermelon now. Like you said, stores, pale imitations."

"But it grows well in Georgia. In most southern states. The longer growing season is ideal, as is the heat to which the plant is adapted."

"I didn't get a lot of it when I was a kid either. Too expensive." And then something made him add: "I stole one once."

"For pleasure or out of hunger?" Hannibal asked.

"I was always hungry," Will said. He could hear Molly's voice, a criminal mind. He didn't want Hannibal to compare favorably with her in anything, but there it was. And Hannibal's easy acceptance – or more accurately his total lack of morals – made it easier to add: "Not that it wasn't fun. A little."

Hannibal just gave him a tolerant smile over his toast. "I often stole apples from a neighbor's tree. I took my sister with me once. When he spotted us, I had to drop the apples and carry her instead. He chased us much farther than I had thought he would."

"How old was she?"

"She had just turned three." The smile faded from Hannibal's face. "She insisted she was old enough to go with me. Not only to steal apples. Everywhere. She tried to follow me to school."

"What was that like?" Will asked. "Having … that?"

"A sister?"

"A normal family. A home."

Hannibal poured himself orange juice from a glass carafe and held it up to the light coming through the window. Will couldn't tell if he was satisfied with the little bits of pulp swirling in it or not. "You must have some idea. Books, television. Media is full of portrayals of family."

"Sitcoms. Dramas. Not many documentaries out there about family life."

"And you have never asked anyone."

Will cracked his bacon into pieces with the points of his fork. "It's not the kind of question you can ask and get an answer to. People want to tell you that you weren't missing anything. I don't care what I was missing, I just want to know."

Hannibal sipped his orange juice, wrinkled his nose faintly, and set it back down. "It was a supremely ordinary experience. And since I was not an ordinary child, perhaps an alienating one. I might have become less distant from the world if I had grown up as you had, looking in from the outside. Or I might have been much worse."

"Would you change it if you could?"

"No," Hannibal said. "For Mischa's sake if for nothing else. My life would be poorer for not having known her and perhaps poorer for not having watched my parents die."

Will took a careful sip of coffee. "How do you figure that?"

"The evidence of life's inherent instability, the stripping away of things once thought necessary for survival – these are valuable events, if not always pleasant."

"Bedelia told me once that the traumatized are dangerous because we know we can survive. Are you traumatized, Hannibal?"

Hannibal looked at him, not smiling, but warm all the same. "You sound like me. Is this our therapy session? I have missed them."

"If it were, you'd probably say I was evading the question."

"I know I can survive," Hannibal said. "Though I have never considered myself traumatized." He paused. "Until recently, my survival, in one form or another, was something I never questioned."

"The Chesapeake Ripper will live on, even if you don't. Hannibal the Cannibal. Il Mostro. Were there more?"

"A few lives here and there. And of course you saw what Chiyoh kept in my cellar. Certainly I lived in his mind until the day of his death."

"The prisoner. Did you even know his name?"

"I know his name," Hannibal said. "I learned all of their names."

He fell silent after that, and Will didn't want to push him. Or was afraid of what he'd say if he did. "Eat your toast," he said instead. "And tell me where we're going."

Hannibal obeyed, apparently without thought. His eyes still looked very far away, even as he spoke. "We will take the Trans-Labrador Highway. The Land Rover should do well. The highway is partially unpaved, and there are no towns of any size between us and our destination. If there is anything special you want, we should buy it before we leave Montreal."

"We'll be near the coast, right?"

"Yes. The house is within walking distance of an inlet."

"I'll get some fishing gear," Will said.

Hannibal nodded. They ate the rest of their breakfast in silence.

Fishing gear. A house on a remote coast in Labrador. Will turned that over as he drank down the last of the orange juice. It sounded like they were planning a vacation.

"When do we leave?" he asked.

"I will check the news reports while you buy your fishing gear. And I will have a list for you of things I need as well. If we are not in imminent danger, we will stay here another night. I don't believe it will be a problem unless your call to Agent Zeller pricked his conscience."

"I just needed to know," Will said. "Before we left."

"Leaving the country is not the barrier you seem to imagine it to be, Will. They can find us just as easily here."

"You think I don't know that?"

Hannibal was silent for a second, turning his water glass around and around in the ring it had left on the table. "I know you do. And I understand the motivation behind the call. But I would ask you not to do it again. I would ask you to wait, at least, until we are both whole again. Come with me to the house. Rest there. Make no decisions that you cannot take back."

"Don't make any more, you mean."

Hannibal dipped his chin in a slow nod. The sun lit up his eyes like glossy amber with something ancient trapped inside. "I want to live, Will. I was prepared to die with you, but I want to live. At least give yourself enough time to decide whether that is something you want as well."

Will pushed back from the table and stood. "I'm going to get dressed. Make your list."

\*

Will set out into the bright, cold streets of Montreal with a list, a wad of cash, his new ID, and a selection of credit cards. He'd asked about the credit limit, and Hannibal had waved it away. Don't buy a yacht, he'd said, which made part of Will want to do exactly that.

Instead, he found a sporting goods store and stood in front of the fishing gear. Rods, reels, fly tying supplies, nets, waders. In a sort of blow at Hannibal that he knew wouldn't hit home, he bought everything and asked if they'd deliver it. They would.

He walked out a couple thousand dollars lighter and paused on the sidewalk. This was the kind of behavior Hannibal was talking about – not as bad as calling Zeller from the border station, but still an unnecessary risk.

He switched to another card for the stuff Hannibal wanted – laptop, new tablet, some books, winter gear for both of them. Parkas and gaiters. Will tried to picture Hannibal wearing either and failed, but he guessed he'd get to see it. Winter in Labrador. They'd be lucky if they could get out the door when the snow started to pile up.

He called Hannibal's room on one of the two remaining cell phones from the cliff house. He hadn’t been sure it would work in Canada, but the call went through with no problem, and he guessed they didn’t need to worry about roaming charges.

"What is it?" Hannibal said, voice creaking with sleep.

"What do you want for lunch?" He squinted at the darkening sky. "Dinner. The second meal of the day."

"Room service will be fine."

"Are you sure? We're leaving for the back of beyond tomorrow. You didn't even ask me to buy cooking stuff for you."

"It would be too obvious. Your fishing purchases will be bad enough." He paused. "There is a Vietnamese restaurant not too far from the hotel." He gave Will the name of the restaurant and his order.

"I could've paid in cash for the fishing stuff," Will said.

"That would be even worse. More memorable to the staff."

"You could've told me not to do it."

"Life is not safe," Hannibal said. "If we do not take risks, then we are not living, only existing."

"You need more sleep," Will said and hung up on him. He called in the order to the restaurant and walked back toward the hotel rather than hailing a cab. Cars roared past him. He smelled the usual city smells, the fans from restaurant kitchens pulling grease soaked air onto the street, perfume and cologne from the people he passed, food vendors, car exhaust.

Tomorrow they'd be on the road, on an unpaved highway into the wilderness. Now, he ducked through a teal blue door and into the Vietnamese restaurant, a low ceilinged space with white tiled floors and white walls and lights everywhere. Modern art hung on the walls, and all the waiters were dressed to match the decor. It looked like Hannibal's sort of place.

He told the young woman at the front that he had an order to pick up and she directed him to the bar to wait. A TV hung on the wall nearby. While Will watched, it shifted from some hockey game to the news. It was in French, but the footage was easy enough to follow. The top stories were a fire, a series of robberies at convenience stores, and Justin Trudeau holding some baby pandas. Neither he nor Hannibal made an appearance.

Will couldn't wait to tell Hannibal he'd been pre-empted for pandas. He actually raised his phone and snapped a picture before reality hit him in the back of the head.

He looked down at his phone – his pre-paid, untraceable cell phone, because he was on the run from the law – from his own friends – were they his friends? – with Hannibal the Cannibal, with the Monster of Florence, with—

He put his phone away. It was his choice. He didn't have to do this. Hannibal certainly wasn't in any shape to force him. Will’s entire being shied away from that line of thought, but he'd have to face it sooner or later. Either he was with Hannibal or he wasn't.

The news continued on, oblivious to them and to most of the violence south of the border. Will didn't see one story about a shooting, which would not have been the case if he'd been watching the news at home, even up where he'd lived with Molly.

If Will had been left behind again, he wouldn't have thought to look for Hannibal up here. Hannibal had gone to Florence because he wanted to be found. He had wanted Will to find him. Will had known that, but he'd never spelled it out quite so clearly to himself. He stared at the television. Pandas again. Hannibal had wanted Will to find him. And now that he had Will, he would hardly be caught a second time.

"Sir?"

Will looked up. The young woman was back with his order. When he left the restaurant, he felt almost like a normal human being, able to smile and move with the throng, with a destination if not a home, with someone waiting for him.

\*

Hannibal had fallen asleep again. He lay on the bed, half under the covers and half dressed, or maybe half undressed. Shirt gone, pants still on, shoes tumbled under the edge of the bed. One sock on and one clutched in his hand.

Will smiled his helpless aching smile again. He set the takeout bag down on the table. He was half dead himself just from the few hours he'd been out. His face hurt and his shoulder hurt; both of those were constants, but it was the bruises from hitting the ocean and being thrown around by the waves that kept surprising him. He sat down on the edge of Hannibal's bed and stretched out beside him, perfectly happy to have a nap before they ate, even though Hannibal would be pissy about the spring rolls getting soggy.

Hannibal sat up fast as Will lay down and shot a hand toward Will's neck. His eyes were still closed.

"Hey! Hey, it's me!" Will grabbed his arm and then immediately gentled his grip as Hannibal's eyes opened, glassy and distant. "It's me," he said quietly. "It's me. It's okay."

Hannibal's grip eased as well. "Will."

"Yeah."

"You don't smell like yourself."

"No bad aftershave. I left it behind with everything else."

He'd meant it as a joke, but Hannibal seemed to take it at face value. He turned toward Will and buried his face in the crook of his neck, breathing in deeply. His body went slowly loose and heavy against Will's. "It's not the aftershave," he said.

Will put a careful hand in the middle of his back, over the brand. "I brought dinner. You want to eat?" But Hannibal was slumped against him now, breath quiet and even. He didn't move. "Hannibal?"

Hannibal stirred with a jerk and lifted his head. "Will?"

"Right here. Are you okay?"

Hannibal rubbed at his eyes and looked around the room. He didn't say yes and he didn't say no, and Will wasn't sure he recognized anything he was seeing. He touched the inside of his wrist to Hannibal's forehead. It was hot. Will had been out in the cold, but even so, it was too hot.

Hannibal finally focused on his face and blinked slowly at him. "I was dreaming of you," he said.

"What were you dreaming?"

"I dreamed that we walked away across the ocean after we fell. That it turned to wine. The wine dark sea."

"That's the Aegean, not the Atlantic, and neither one of us is Jesus. Hannibal, come on. Are you back with me?"

"Of course, Will. Where else would I go?" He blinked again and a tremor passed over his skin like an electric charge. Will could almost feel it, and then Hannibal was there behind his eyes again, sharp and aware. "I may be worse off than I had thought," he said.

"What can I do?"

"Very little, short of hospitalization. Do I smell dinner?"

"Yeah. Can you eat?"

"I will. And after dinner, I will show you how to insert an IV."

They lay so close on the bed, knees touching, Hannibal's body still pressed against his, Will’s hand wrapped around his arm. "You can't leave me," Will said. He squeezed Hannibal's arm too tight, dug in deliberately with his nails until Hannibal met his eyes. "You're not allowed to leave me."

"I won't," Hannibal said.

They ate thin, glistening rice noodles and wrapped their spring rolls with bunches of mint and cilantro. After dinner, Hannibal dug through the bag of medical supplies Will had brought up and then sent him down to the car with a list.

Will returned, dragging, fighting dizziness by the time he collapsed on the edge of Hannibal's bed. He waved at the box he'd brought and bent over his knees until his vision cleared.

"I'm sorry," Hannibal said. "It must be now. I may be in no shape to instruct you by morning."

"That's not worrying at all," Will muttered. He pulled himself upright again. "Okay. So show me."

Hannibal explained the basics, demonstrated on the back of Will's hand, and then let Will try it on his own hand and then in the crook of his arm. Hannibal watched him slide the needle in. Will tried not to remember Hannibal sliding other needles into him. He'd worn the same look then: consuming curiosity and fondness.

"Good," Hannibal said finally. "Now me." He held out his arm.

Will unwrapped another needle. He swabbed alcohol onto the crook of Hannibal's arm. He put the tip of the needle against his skin. He froze. "I don't want to hurt you." It might have been the most ridiculous thing he'd ever said, but it was still true.

Hannibal might have mentioned the scar across Will's stomach or the one across his forehead. He might have brought up their past mutual injuries, might easily have said that Will had hurt him already, more than a needle could. He didn't.

"But you have done it to yourself, and you know the pain is not great. Concentrate on doing it correctly and don't worry about your patient's discomfort. It will only increase the longer you hesitate."

His voice was calm and detached, and Will realized that this must be the same speech he'd given reluctant aspiring doctors. Don't be afraid to hurt your patients. You have to hurt in order to help. Will positioned the needle and slid it under the skin.

"Good," Hannibal said.

They went over the IV tubing, the bags, how to give antibiotics and morphine intravenously, dosages, more and more until Will felt his tired brain reaching capacity.

"You're talking like you're not going to wake up tomorrow," Will said.

"I don't believe the situation is that dire, but it is better to be prepared."

"What else?" Will said. "What else can I do? Just stick the needle in and hope for the best?"

"Essentially, yes. My body must now fend for itself. If a section of the intestine has been punctured, it is likely that infection will set in and I will die. Short of surgery, there is little to be done about that. With the right conditions, I might attempt the surgery myself, but Agent Zeller was correct when he said I needed blood, and we have none."

"We have mine," Will said.

"He was also correct when he refused your offer of a transfusion. You don't have enough to spare."

Will stood and paced to the window to look out at the city. Behind him, Hannibal tidied away the mess of discarded needles and packaging.

"So when do I give up and take you to a hospital?" Will said. "Would you rather die than go back to prison?"

"I would rather be with you," Hannibal said. "Alive or dead."

Will couldn't look at him. "That's nuts."

"I am legally insane, thanks to Alana and Frederick."

Will felt another reluctant, painful smile yanking at his stitches. "You asshole. Did you see either of them on the news?"

"Alana and Margot have taken their son and gone away. No one yet knows where. Freddie Lounds posted pictures of Frederick in the burn ward, but he was unconscious or asleep at the time. She seems to be the only reporter who managed to get in, though I'm sure others tried."

"And Jack?" Will turned and leaned against the window, glass cool on his back. "What did Jack say?"

"Jack is still running a manhunt." Hannibal paused. "There is a quote from your wife in TattleCrime."

Will sighed. "Fucking Freddie Lounds."

"Do you wish to hear it?"

"I don't know. Do I?"

"I think you do, yes." Hannibal picked up his new tablet and started to read. "TattleCrime attempted to contact Mrs. Foster-Graham on several occasions and finally caught up her with as she was picking up her dogs, poisoned by the Tooth Fairy before his ill-fated attempt at home invasion, from the vet. She responded with hostility to my questions about her husband and said: "The whole lot of you can go straight to Hell." I assume she was including not just the press in that, but the FBI and possibly the entire psychiatric community that regarded her husband as such a prize. The dogs are all fine, if any of my readers were wondering."

Will choked out a laugh or something that could pass for one. He sank onto the bed beside Hannibal, put a hand over his mouth, and swallowed hard a couple of times until he was sure he could speak. "Yeah, that sounds like her."

"Do you want to go back?" Hannibal asked. "It's not too late."

"It was too late the second I left with Jack. The second he came looking for me. If I wanted that life, I shouldn't have left her."

"I thought Jack might fail to convince you."

"Molly convinced me. She sent me away." That still hurt with a surprisingly sharp ache that lodged in his throat and couldn't be swallowed down.

"People are often more intent on doing what they believe is right than on what they desire."

"I guess I won't have that problem with you," Will said.

"Never."

Will believed him, and it eased something inside him, some constant fear. Hannibal would never stay with him out of obligation or pity, never do anything but exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to be with Will, even if that meant his own death.

Will shook his head. It was too much to think about. "I'll change your bandages again, and then we can get some sleep?" He looked at the clock. It was only eight. He'd been awake for seven hours. He'd still have no problem sleeping, and he didn't think Hannibal would either.

"It can wait until the morning," Hannibal said.

Will gathered up the plastic containers from dinner and took all their trash out to the trash can down the hall by the vending machines. When he got back, Hannibal was under the covers, undressed and laid out flat, watching him. Will stood in the doorway between their rooms. Again, he didn't want to go, didn't want to be that far away. Tonight he didn't have the excuse of absolute exhaustion.

He didn't need an excuse. Hannibal wasn't going to think this was strange any more than he'd thought Will was strange for asking about Mason and the brand. Will studied him, stretched out in the bed and looking deceptively normal with his hair in his eyes and a sleepy expression on his face. He wondered if there was anything he could do that Hannibal would think was strange, any line he would draw, ever.

"Can I sleep with you again?" Will said.

"Of course."

Will undressed down to his boxers. He didn't bother with a T-shirt. The other room seemed like a long way away, and Hannibal's bed was comfortable and warm. Hannibal was warm. Will got in beside him and turned onto his side. He touched Hannibal's shoulder. Hannibal let him do it without comment.

"You'll be better in the morning," Will said.

"Perhaps."

"You don't think so."

"I am too aware of the odds and of the usual progression of infection. The fever will get worse before it gets better. Assuming that it does get better."

"There's snow forecast. How bad is this road?"

"It is plowed and open all winter. The government issues complimentary satellite phones to those who wish to drive it. They may be returned at the end of the unpaved section where the cell towers begin again."

"I can't call for help."

"You can if you wish. Not liking the consequences is not the same as having no choice."

Will thought about them taking Hannibal away from him. The hospital and then somewhere more secure, prison, handcuffs, straight jacket, the wait for extradition. Hannibal locked up with no chance to touch him ever again.

Will's hand had moved of its own accord to rest on the slow thump of Hannibal's heart. Freddie Lounds had implied – and Bedelia had said it outright. Yes, Hannibal is in love with you.

"Go to sleep," Hannibal said gently. "There is nothing you can do tonight."

"You don't know what I'm worrying about."

"I don't have to know. It is true nonetheless." Hannibal moved his hand to hover over Will's and, after a second of hesitation, laid it down. "Sleep."

Will closed his eyes. Hannibal was the one who might be dying, but his breath was even and his heart was steady. Maybe there was nothing to worry about. Will imagined them trapped by a snowstorm, lying in the back of the Land Rover together as the cold wrapped around them and the weather buried them alive. It didn't seem like the worst way to go.

Chapter Text

Will peeled away Hannibal's bandages the next morning to clean his wound and stopped, frozen by what he saw. The skin all around the wound was a swollen, unhealthy red, much worse than the previous morning. Will could feel its heat when he held his hand over it.

He glanced at Hannibal's face, but Hannibal didn't look concerned or even surprised. "You knew," Will said. "You knew it was going to be like this. That's why you didn't want me to see it last night."

"I suspected. There was no sense in robbing you of sleep over something you could do nothing about. We have a long drive ahead of us."

Will cleaned the wound in silence, front and back, as well as he could. He was almost afraid to touch it. As much as it had hurt before, it must be worse now.

Hannibal finally took his hand and applied the necessary pressure. Will was the one who flinched away. The towel fell onto the bed between them. He touched his own side. It ached.

Hannibal watched, head craned like a curious bird. "Is it a physical pain you feel when you hurt me?"

Will shrugged his good shoulder. He held the bloody cloth in his cupped hands. "It's – not really. I know it’s not real."

"Where does the distinction lie, between pain you feel yourself and the pain of others?"

Will's stitches pulled as his mouth twisted. "It's only in my head. Just like the pain."

"It's a line you draw for yourself, not one that already exists."

"It's a line I learned to draw because I had to. Worked fine until you came along."

"Is it worse for you? Hurting me as opposed to hurting someone else?"

"Isn't hurting me worse for you?"

"Yes," Hannibal said.

"You look like shit."

"We should go. It's only going to get worse."

\*

Hannibal checked out while Will got everything packed into the car with room for Hannibal to lie down. He stowed the camp stove and the food he'd bought toward the back door for ease of access and padded Hannibal's bed with both sleeping bags.

When Hannibal joined him, gray-faced and walking slowly, he looked as if he might try the front seat but stopped with one hand braced against the side of the car. He let Will help him into the back.

"Where should I be aiming to stop tonight?" Will said.

"Don't stop. Keeping going. Labrador City is roughly fifteen hours away, but it would be better to find somewhere to pull off the road and sleep. The weather should be clear for the next two days, but there is a storm expected after that. The sooner we reach our destination, the better."

Will pulled out of the parking garage and onto the road. The traffic around Montreal thinned and, slowly, they left it behind them. Hannibal grew quieter throughout the day. Will pulled off at a rest area for lunch, but Hannibal slept through it, only mumbling a faint protest when Will tried to wake him.

They took the ferry across to Tadoussac that evening, and Will kept driving. Headlights from opposing traffic streamed into view and flashed away again like the flicker of passing days in a time lapse video. His face hurt. His eyes hurt. His shoulder now ached so badly that moving it at all made him feel sick, and he had strapped his arm close to his body with a torn strip of blanket.

"I should've gotten a sling," he told Hannibal.

He got no answer. He considered stopping to check on him, but what could he do if he found him worse?

The night flowed around them. Another hour, two, three. Past midnight, Will's eyes were closing, and he hadn't eaten for twelve hours. He pulled off the road at the next rest area he saw, just a patch of dirt and gravel along the highway with low pines all around. He drank cold coffee, ate beef jerky, and crawled into the back with Hannibal.

Hannibal lay flat on his back with his mouth open and his limbs sprawled in a mess that seemed unnatural for him. Will pulled the blanket up to his chest and arranged his hands over it. His skin was hot to the touch, his breath shallow. Will finally remembered the IV.

He pulled out the supplies with only a flashlight propped on a box to guide him. The vein in Hannibal’s arm stood out. Will stroked it with his thumb and looked down at his still face. Hannibal had been careful to show him how to avoid air bubbles. Prime the drip chamber, prime the line, expel all air from the syringe before adding the antibiotics to the line.

All easy enough to do. All easy enough not to do. Easy enough to do the opposite. Hannibal had explained the symptoms and treatment of an air embolism with perfect clinical detachment. It would be much simpler than taking him over a cliff.

Will followed his instructions, step after careful step. Hannibal didn’t stir, didn’t make a sound. Will put his fingers against his neck. Hannibal’s pulse seemed slow to him, but it had seemed slow every time he’d checked it since he’d pulled Hannibal out of the water. What did he know? Increasingly little, it seemed to him. He was walking forward into the dark without a candle.

He’d have to take the IV out when they got back on the road. Air bubbles, again, from the jolting of the car. Again, the temptation just to leave it in, see what happened. He might be able to convince himself he’d forgotten.

Hannibal let out a breath that almost had sound behind it. His eyes moved behind paper thin lids, and his head jerked away from something only he could see. Will hesitated with a hand hovering over his hair and then let it fall. He stroked fine fringe back from Hannibal’s face. After a second, he wet a towel and wiped fever sweat away from his forehead and neck.

He wiped his own face, drank water, and lay down on his side. He pulled the blankets over them both and left the window cracked for air. It was still above freezing. It’d be cold by morning – or however long he could sleep – but Hannibal was putting out heat like a furnace. He closed his eyes.

\*

The next day, they hit the gravel portion of the highway outside of Goose Bay. Will pulled over after half a mile of bumping and bouncing and went around to the back to make sure that Hannibal was braced as well as he could be. There wasn’t much to be done. He thought about turning back to Goose Bay, but again – for what? There was no solution to this. Either Hannibal would get better or he wouldn’t.

Clouds were converging from all corners of the sky in a way that seemed to leave Will and Hannibal and their Land Rover at the eye of the coming storm. Will tried the radio, but he got only fragments of voices and static. Either the radio was busted, or they were too far from civilization even for that.

He thought of radio waves stretching out around the cities, overlapping cell towers, the network of roads like a net designed to catch people – a fisherman’s net or a trapeze artist’s net. It depended on your point of view. They’d left both sorts of net behind now.

The taller pines that lined the road on either side gave way to low ones, seven or eight feet tall instead of twelve or fifteen. Trees barely taller than a man, trees often bent in one direction by the constant wind. All around them, when the landscape opened up, it was grassland, steppes, almost tundra. Water in enormous, unmapped shining pools, boulders that had been tumbled into place by the last retreating ice sheets.

He’d passed two cars since Goose Bay, one camper van, and a handful of semis roaring down the road toward him or behind him, passing him in massive clouds of dust that left him blind to the road ahead. The gravel was rough and sharp, and he was glad there was a full sized spare tire on the back, glad he’d brought food and water, glad they could survive if they had to.

At some point, being glad they could survive slid into wondering if that wouldn’t be better. He could pull off the road and vanish, hide the car, build a shelter. They could, as Hannibal had once suggested, disappear.

But winter was coming, maybe sooner than they were prepared for. The clouds closed in, and Will kept driving.

Maybe a hundred kilometers out of Goose Bay, he hit a ridge in the road. The car gave a lurch, and the front tires locked up tight. The car skidded to a halt. Will put it in reverse, put it in drive again, and got them over to the side of the road before the tires locked up again. He spent a few worried minutes searching the back, wondering if Hannibal had somehow provided a spare tire and not thought to provide a jack, but he found it finally, wedged between a box and the wheel well.

When he had the car jacked up – and Hannibal’s IV in again, since they were going to be here a while and Will had been unable to get him to drink more than maybe a quarter cup of water all day – he saw the problem immediately. The clip that held the brake caliper away from the wheel rim had vibrated off on the gravel road. Now, every time they hit a bump, the caliper shot up and jammed against the rim and stopped the car.

Will looked back along the empty road. He thought he remembered a jangling sound not that far back that might’ve been the bolt coming loose. He climbed into the back and knelt next to Hannibal.

"Hey." No response. Will put a hand on his chest. "Give me something. Open your eyes if you can." Hannibal’s eyelids fluttered, but that was all. Will sighed and passed a hand over his face. "Okay. I’m going to leave you for a while. Not long. I need to walk back along the road and look for something we lost, but I’ll be back. Twenty minutes, half an hour at most. You’ll be fine."

Hannibal’s hand twitched. Will took it in both of his. His skin was dry and papery. Will pressed his lips to the join of his thumb and forefinger without thinking. "You’ll be fine. And I’ll be back in no time. I promise."

He left a window cracked, left Hannibal swaddled in blankets, and walked away. He kept his eyes on the road at his feet, searching for anything metal, trying to remember if they had anything to make repairs with in case he couldn’t find it. Wire would do it, but he hadn’t seen any. Duct tape maybe, rolled thin and threaded through the holes. It wouldn’t last, but he could replace it if he had to. And he’d have to. They had a long way to go yet.

The first flakes of snow were starting to fall when Will found the clip. It had been flung to the far side of the road. A search revealed the bolts in the ditch and, ironically, the vibration buffer, which must have come off first. He stuffed them all in his pocket and headed back to Hannibal at a jog.

A quarter mile later, he saw not the silver Land Rover but a massive pickup truck, faded black and dusty. Will paused, panic jerking his heart to a faster rhythm — but they must have stopped to help. That was all this was. An offer of assistance to stranded travelers. He’d say Hannibal was sick and he was taking him to the nearest doctor. That was all. Maybe this person would even have some wire in case the clip worked itself loose again.

Will came around the front end of the pickup. The back door of the Land Rover was open. A man stood there, pointing his rifle at Hannibal.

Will yanked him back by his hair and wrenched the rifle out of his hands. He shoved the butt of it into the guy’s stomach and then threw it away. He shoved the man up against the side of the car.

"No, wait – I wasn’t—" The guy was stammering, fear in his eyes, hands up. "That’s – do you know who that is? That’s fucking Hannibal the Cannibal. He’s a serial killer, he eats people!"

He still had his hands up, this stranger, surrendering. He was a big man, taller than Will and broader too, but Will hadn’t felt it when he’d disarmed him and thrown him against the car. Will couldn’t even feel the pain from his shoulder right now. He was aware only of the hot stream of blood through his veins, the pound of it behind his eyes. He had meant to kill this man with his bare hands.

He could still do it. He wouldn’t even be sorry.

"I know who he is," Will said. He heard the grate of his own voice from a  distance, the full and intimate knowledge there. "I know."

The stranger blinked at him and started to lower his hands, eyes wary. "But then – but what are you doing with him? Isn’t this your car?"

Will thought of putting his hands around the man’s neck and squeezing. It took time and strength to kill someone that way. He might not be able to do it. Did he want to make this a fair fight? He must or he wouldn’t have ditched the rifle. The other option was his fists. The way he’d killed Randall Tier.

"Do you know who I am?" Will said.

The man shook his head. He looked scared. He looked scared, and Will didn’t even have a knife.

Will pulled him away from the car and walked him backward toward the pickup truck, around to the driver’s side, holding his gaze the whole time while the man’s eyes got wider and wider and his mouth gaped in a questioning hole.

He pressed the man against the driver’s side door, but that wasn’t enough. He pulled him back and slammed him up against it so that his head bounced off the window and forward almost far enough to knock into Will’s. The man hissed and blinked, dazed now. Vulnerable. Easy prey.

"Get in the truck," Will said. "You didn’t stop here. You didn’t see us."

The man just stared at him.

"Do you understand?" Will said. "You didn’t see us. Unless you want to see us again."

That did it. Understanding flowed into the man’s face as the blood flowed out and left him pale. He didn’t even ask about his rifle. When Will stepped back, he opened the door and climbed into the driver’s seat without taking his eyes off of Will. When he pulled out, the truck fishtailed on the gravel, sending up a spray to sting Will’s legs and dust to blind him.

When it cleared, he and Hannibal were alone again. Will went to check on him and found his eyes open and glassy.

"Will?"

"Right here. How are you doing?"

"Was there someone else?"

"No one important," Will said.

Hannibal nodded and laid his head back down. "Have we arrived?"

"Not yet. Got some repairs to make and then we’ll be back on the road. Don’t worry about it. Get some more sleep."

Will got him to drink some water and tucked the blanket closer around him again, smoothing it down across his chest. Hannibal reached for his hand, and Will let him take it.

"I heard you before," Hannibal murmured. "I couldn’t answer."

"That’s okay. I’m glad you heard me."

"I’m glad as well." The words sank until his voice was gone and his eyes were closed again.

Will shut the back door to keep what was left of the heat in. He wiped down the man’s rifle, tossed it off the road into the trees, and got to work on the brakes. The repair didn’t take long. Once the tire was back on and everything was tightened down, he stowed the jack in the passenger’s seat. He suspected he’d need it again before they got off the gravel. The tires were good, but they weren’t new. They might have a blowout to deal with or worse.

And then he sat in the driver’s seat and tried to think.

Either the man would call the cops or he wouldn’t. He might have their exact location on a GPS or he might not. There were no turn offs. The highway was a straight shot. They wouldn’t be hard to find if anyone was looking. He thought again of disappearing into the wild. This time, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Chapter Text

Will pulled off the road and into an abandoned gravel quarry as the snow picked up and the night came down. They were about twenty miles from where they’d encountered the man in the truck. Will hoped that would be enough to confuse any search and still close enough to get them off the road before the police showed up, if they were going to. So far, so good. He hadn’t heard any sirens. He hadn’t seen or heard much of anything. Road noise, bird song, wind, and the occasional semi roaring past.

He got out of the car and walked back to the road. No sign of them was visible except for the tire tracks, and those would be gone in minutes at the rate the snow was coming down. He had pulled the car into the depression of the quarry and then behind a mound of gravel taller than most of the trees. It was gradually turning white, along with everything else. He hurried back to the car to give his footprints time to fill up as well. Then there would be nothing left of them.

He debated briefly between sleeping in the car again and the tent, but the tent was rated to 20 below, and he had no idea how cold it might get. It was hovering right around the freezing point now and it wasn’t even full dark yet. He set up the tent by the light of an electric lantern and then skirted the far side of the gravel mound to check that the light wouldn’t be visible. There was a faint blue glow, but from the road, through the snowfall, they’d be safe.

When Will went back to the Land Rover, Hannibal had his eyes open. He was blinking them slowly, squeezing them shut and pulling them open again as if he doubted what they were showing him.

"Hey," Will said. "Can you walk a little bit?"

Hannibal nodded. He let Will help him out of the back and wobbled upright. He clutched Will’s arm with one hand and held the other out, palm up. "Is it snowing?"

"Yeah, it’s snowing. It’s cold. Come on, let’s get inside."

Hannibal stood looking up at the flat black sky a few seconds longer and then he allowed Will to guide him into the tent and into his sleeping bag. "It’s warmer here," he murmured. "I was worried it would be too cold again. Do we have food?"

"We’ve got plenty. Don’t worry. I’m going to get the rest of the camp set up and then I’ll make us something." Will paused. "You want to pick? It’s canned soup or franks and beans. Sorry."

"It doesn’t matter," Hannibal said. He was lying down flat, looking up at the pale green tent as if he could see right through it.

"Can you drink—" Will stopped. He’d hook the IV up anyway. Anything he could do to help, he had to try. Hannibal watched him with a disinterested expression as if he were judging a resident’s work rather than having a needle inserted into his own arm. Will got him some water afterward anyway, and Hannibal drank it in little sips. He seemed to forget about it if Will didn’t remind him, but he got it all down in the end.

Will set up the camp stove in the little vestibule of their tent and heated up canned vegetable soup and hot chocolate from a packet, the kind with little marshmallows. He gave it to Hannibal with bread and cheese. Hannibal drank most of the cocoa, marshmallows and all, and got through a few spoonfuls of soup before he shook his head and lay back down.

"I want to sleep," he said.

"Then sleep."

"If we go outside, will we see the stars? I would like to see the stars."

"No stars tonight," Will said. "Only snow."

Hannibal closed his eyes and turned his head away, a crease between his brows that might have been pain or something else.

Will finished his own dinner, cleaned his wounds, changed his bandages, and did the same for Hannibal. By then, he was more than ready for sleep himself. He got into his sleeping bag, switched off the electric lantern, and closed his eyes.

He might have slept, or it might have been only seconds later that he heard an almost silent thrashing next to him. He switched on the lantern and saw Hannibal, pale and sweaty and wide-eyed, fighting against his sleeping bag. He’d yanked out his IV, and there was blood on his arm.

"Hannibal!" Will grabbed his shoulder and got a handful of his shirt. He pulled down the zipper on the sleeping bag to free him. "You’re okay. It’s me. Can you hear me? Fuck—" Hannibal had swung out with a wild blow and caught him across the face on his bad side. Will spent the next few seconds dizzy with pain and trying to clutch Hannibal close to him so he didn’t hurt himself.

Hannibal gradually went still. His breathing was shallow but steadying. "Will?"

"Who the hell else did you think was in here with you?"

"I didn’t know," Hannibal said, barely above a whisper. "It’s so cold. I wasn’t sure who would be here."

"It’s me. I’m here." Will took his face in both hands. He was paler than he had been, sweaty with fever, high spots of color on his cheeks. "You know it’s me now, right?"

"Yes, Will."

"Okay. Are you still cold?"

Hannibal nodded.

Will set about zipping their sleeping bags together. He got all the blankets from the car and piled them up in a nest. He gave Hannibal more water and wiped his face and arm clean. By the end of it, Hannibal’s eyes were closing.

"Okay. Let’s try this again. I’ll leave the light on this time." He turned the lantern down low, barely a glimmer but enough to show the inside of the tent if either of them woke up confused. "Is this better?"

"Better," Hannibal said, musing. "Is such a thing possible? Can we ever compare our current state with any accuracy to the past or the future?"

"I’m going to take that as a yes," Will said.

He lay back down and closed his eyes. After a second, he reached over and laid a hand on Hannibal’s chest so that he could feel it rise and fall, steady in sleep.

He woke again, sometime later in the night. Hannibal was wrapped around Will as he had been in the hotel, holding on, and he was muttering under his breath. Will listened, but he could only make out the word snow and then something that he was sure wasn’t English at all. He slept again.

The third time he awoke, the rosy light of dawn was coming through the tent, and Hannibal was gone. Will’s heart rate went from calm to jackhammer in a fraction of a second. He scooted out of the sleeping bag and crawled to the open tent flap, already reaching for his boots. He jammed his feet into them and emerged into a red landscape.

Snow softened the corners of rocks and the points of trees. The rising sun hung in a clear strip of horizon just below  the lowering clouds. It reflected off the snow and turned everything blood red. Including Hannibal.

Hannibal was barefoot, on his knees, digging in the snow a few feet away. Will approached cautiously and squatted down beside him. "What are you doing?"

Hannibal looked at him, but Will wasn’t sure what he saw. "The teeth."  

"What teeth?" Will asked.

"Her teeth." Hannibal frowned down at the snow melting on his hands. His palms were bright red from the cold, and the sun turned the water even redder so that he looked like he was bleeding.

"They’re not here," Will said. "Come on, Hannibal. It’s cold. Let’s go inside."

Hannibal stood with Will’s help. A gust of wind sheered off the top of a drift and hit them full force in the face, stinging crystals, dry as sand. Hannibal rocked backward and gripped Will’s arm. "I don’t understand," he murmured.

"You don’t have to understand. Just trust me. You trust me, right?"

Hannibal did focus on him then. "Yes, Will. I trust you."

He let Will lead him back into the tent and dry his feet and hands. Will got him into the sleeping bag again. He was still hot to the touch, feverish, pale and blotchy. He leaned into Will’s hand on his forehead.

Will let him do it. He remembered how good it felt. With the other, he smoothed Hannibal’s hair back from his face. "Whose teeth were you looking for?"

"Mischa’s."

"Did you find them?"

Hannibal leaned his whole weight against Will’s hand, and Will let him move closer, head on his shoulder, body propped upright only with his help. "I prayed to see her again," Hannibal murmured. "And I did."

Will could hear the words in Hannibal’s calm, even voice: Your prayers did not go entirely unanswered. You saw part of her.

He pushed Hannibal back gently and groped for the water bottle. "Drink this, okay? I’m going to make us something for breakfast."

Hannibal took the bottle in both hands and swayed, staring, until Will nudged it up toward his mouth. He drank then until it was empty. Will used the distraction to move away from him and crawl to the opening of the tent. He fired up the camp stove and started boiling water. More cocoa, he thought. He had no idea if caffeine would be bad for Hannibal in this state, and better safe than sorry. Anyway, they only had instant coffee, and Hannibal wouldn’t want that.

But Hannibal in this state was very different from the man Will knew. He drank his cocoa once again without complaint, which Will was glad of. At least it would give him some calories.

His hair had been damp from sweat and dried at odd angles. It stuck out in points and made him look much younger than he was. That suited his expression, which drifted between wonder, confusion, and something Will couldn’t place at all.

Will sat on the far side of the tent from him, which admittedly wasn’t very far, but he needed distance. He needed more distance than he was ever going to get again. Hannibal had that look of confusion every time his gaze drifted toward him. Eventually Will stuck his legs out. Hannibal rested a hand on his ankle, and that seemed to satisfy him. He lay down after breakfast and closed his eyes.

When Will was sure he was asleep, he went out to check on their situation. From the top of the Land Rover, he could see part of the road, still perfectly white. No traffic yet and no plow. No tire tracks that he could see. That meant no police. The man in the truck either hadn’t called them or they hadn’t known where to look. Or they were waiting at the next town. There might be a roadblock in their future.

He climbed down off the Land Rover and back into the tent. All the more reason to stay here. He pulled off his boots and got into the sleeping bag next to Hannibal. It was warm in the tent, a little damp from their breath, close and shaded by the green fabric. He lay down on his side.

Will dreamed of stealing watermelons. Hannibal was there with him. They were both young, both barefoot in the red, dry Georgia earth. It had stained their feet and the ragged hems of their pants, and Hannibal had streaked it down his face in imitation of tears. They whooped as they cleared the fence and ran and ran. Each of them carried a melon. When Will looked at Hannibal’s, he saw that it had cracked open and was dripping blood into the dust.

He woke, rubbing at his eyes. The light was red again, this time with sunset. He drank more water and sorted through cans for dinner. He didn’t try to wake Hannibal until it was ready – beans on fried bread – but Hannibal wouldn’t stir.

Will shook his shoulder. Nothing. He felt for a pulse and found it quick and shallow. His breathing seemed fast. Will checked his wound. The redness around it had spread, and it was draining sticky yellow pus onto the bandage. Will cleaned it, and Hannibal didn’t stir for that either.

After dinner, Will hooked him up to the IV again. He didn’t know what else to do. He sat up with the lantern on its lowest setting, a vigil with no point. He might try CPR if it came to that, but then what? Then nothing. There was no one to call, no way to fix this.

He put on his boots and stepped out into the night. It was snowing again, at least three more inches since the last time he’d looked. When he stood on the Land Rover, he saw in the extreme distance what might be the lights and snow spray of a plow.

He thought of flagging them down, asking them to call an ambulance. Returning Hannibal to Alana’s elegant cell. Maybe he could lock himself away in there with him.

In the end, he crawled back into the tent and fell asleep.

\*

The next day was more of the same. Will changed IV bags, cleaned wounds, made himself food, and slept. And slept. And slept. He pissed in the snow. Hannibal resurfaced enough to piss into an empty water bottle, though not as often as Will would’ve preferred. He worried about dehydration. He worried about the infection. He worried about Hannibal simply slipping into a coma and wasting away. No final end, just a long wait until Will ran out of IV fluid.

The snow kept falling. It was so steady that Will risked a trip to the road, certain that his footprints would be covered soon enough. It had been plowed, but it was solid white again. A single set of tire tracks ran through it, a semi by the look of it, heading back toward Labrador City. Nothing in the other direction, their direction. Nothing heading into the wilderness. Just a white line like an arrow.

After dinner – canned green beans and fried bread with cheese – he turned over onto his stomach and pressed his face into a bundled up shirt so that he could pretend he wasn’t crying. It was exhaustion more than grief or despair, and it didn’t last long. He fell asleep like that and woke with a headache and a stuffy nose on top of everything else.

The third night, a hand on his chest jerked him out of sleep. By the dim light of the lantern, he saw Hannibal watching him.

"Will? Can we go out and see the stars now?"

Will swallowed and waited for his breathing to calm down. "I think it’s still snowing."

"Can we look?"

He nodded. Sure. Why the hell not. He detached the IV and helped Hannibal on with his boots and jacket. They crawled out of the tent together. The snow had stopped. The stars stretched like a net of diamonds over the sky. The Milky Way was a cloudy line off toward the horizon. The shimmering green ribbons of the northern lights twisted and swayed just above the trees.

Hannibal had his face turned upward, and they reflected in his eyes, making them shine pale green in the dark. "I told Mischa that it was the Ouroboros. The great snake encircling the world. I told her that it would crush us all in its coils."

"What’d she think of that?"

"She told me that snakes couldn’t live in outer space."

Will was startled into a laugh, rusty and cracked. It felt good. "Smart kid."

"Yes. She was." Hannibal bent his head. He gripped Will’s arm and pressed a hand over his own eyes.

"Dizzy? You want to sit?"

"I want to stay out here."

Will led him over to a rock and brushed the snow off it for him. Hannibal collapsed onto it and bent over his knees. His back heaved with his breath. "Later, I saw them as visual representations of the circular nature of time. As they are, in a way. The flaring energy of the sun, delayed and then made visible here. It is the simplest sort of time travel. The kind between stars."

"Time only goes in one direction, Hannibal."

"Have we not come around again to our beginning?"

Will looked down at him, at the hope in his eyes, and still had to shake his head. "Doesn’t work like that."

"Doesn’t it?" Hannibal smiled and turned his attention to the lights again. "It feels that way. It feels that way very much. As if we have been turned inside out, made elemental exchanges, and begun again. Some of me in you. Some of you in me. Shall I ask you not to lie to me?"

"I trusted you," Will said. It seemed a pointless statement now. Hannibal knew it. He knew it himself. They had both gone over their history too often already.

Hannibal took up a handful of snow and let it melt out of his palm. "I regret everything between us," he said.

Will stared down at the top of his head. "What?"

"Your pain and mine. Abigail. I regret – I am sorry. I am sorry, Will. Can’t we begin again?"

Will crouched beside him in the snow, hand pressed to his mouth to keep himself silent. He breathed to pulse of the lights. "I don’t know," he said finally. "Ask me when your fever’s down and you’re not high on morphine and I’ll think about it. For now, let’s get back inside."

"Just a little longer," Hannibal said. "Stay with me."

He held out his hand, cold and wet with melted snow. Will took it and warmed it in both of his. They watched the sky until Hannibal started to shake from the cold, and then Will pulled him up and walked him back to the tent.

He sat up and kept watch, a hand on Hannibal’s chest. It seemed impossible that either of them could apologize for what they’d done and still keep breathing.

Chapter Text

Will woke up with his mouth papery dry and an unpleasant awareness that he’d been drooling onto his pillow. Not his pillow. Unless his pillow had gotten a lot harder and more muscular overnight, he was drooling on Hannibal’s chest. There was a hand cupped over the back of his head. Will pushed himself up, and it fell away.

Hannibal was watching him. Will wiped at his mouth and looked down at the damp patch on Hannibal’s shirt. "Morning," he croaked.

"I’ve been waiting for you to wake up," Hannibal said. He sounded like himself again. His fever must’ve broken in the night. His gaze was sharp and clear.

Will felt flayed by it already. He turned his head away. "How much do you remember?"

"Enough, I think."

Will sat back on his heels. Less than a full minute awake, and he was already looking for the hook in Hannibal’s words. Enough. That could mean anything.

"You watched over me,"Hannibal said.

"I thought you were going to die." The words came out dry and cracked, and Will ducked his head, hands pressed hard against the floor of the tent.

"You told me not to leave you. I remember that much."

"We should go," Will said.

Something flickered across Hannibal’s face. He stared at the ceiling of the tent, fingers twisted in a fold of the sleeping bag. "Has it been snowing?" he said finally.

"Yeah. For a couple days. It only stopped last night."

"I remember being cold. Snow on my hands. Lights in the sky."

"You wanted to go out. We watched the northern lights for a while. You—" Will reached for a water bottle and took a gulp. "You talked about your sister. A little."

Hannibal wasn’t looking at him. "I am still very tired."

"Do you want to stay here a little longer?"

Hannibal nodded once. His eyes slid toward Will’s face and glanced off obliquely, down his chest to his hands. "Will you stay with me?"

"I’m not planning to leave you here," Will said and then he understood what Hannibal was asking for. He looked at the wet patch on Hannibal’s shirt. He could still feel the large, warm hand cupping the back of his head. It had been easy last night. Things had been easy between them.

Will lowered himself down again to lie next to him. He looked at Hannibal the same way Hannibal had looked at him, without meeting his eyes. It didn’t matter. He felt the connection stretched between them and pulling him in. He turned his head and put his cheek to Hannibal’s chest, ear over his heart. The thump sounded familiar. He must have been listening to it all night.

He heard the sigh in Hannibal’s lungs. A heavy hand touched his hair and slid through it and came to rest. Will breathed out too, unutterably relieved.

"There might be a roadblock waiting for us at the next town," he said.

Hannibal fingers twined in Will’s hair. "There was – a man?"

"Yeah. I let him go. He might’ve told the cops. I think – I think I scared him pretty badly."

"You can be terrifying. You should be. It suits you," Hannibal murmured, soft and fond.

"It doesn’t suit me. You just like it."

"I do. You are so beautiful in your anger, Will. Otherworldly. As if you might flay with your eyes or sing of death and send the whole world down to Hades. The power in you …" His voice trailed off.

"There’s more in me than that."

"I know. But that is the part you fear. Once you accept it, you won’t fear anything."

"Like you?" Will said.

Hannibal’s hand tightened in his hair. "So I have always believed."

"And now?"

"I fear losing you," Hannibal said. "Before I met you, I feared nothing. I can remember the first pulse of dread that beat in my heart. It was in the moment that you watched me save that man’s life in the back of the ambulance. I saw you watching me, and I thought that you must see every other body I had cut open."

"But you wanted me to know."

"But not then," Hannibal said quickly. "It was too soon." He stopped there as they both recalled the tactics he’d used to prepare Will to know him.

Will clung to last night’s apology like driftwood in a storm, but he didn’t dare ask Hannibal to repeat it. "I didn’t know anything," he said.

“What were you thinking of?”

"I was thinking about your hand covered in blood. And—" He paused, but there was no reason. No need to worry about Hannibal’s reaction. Will could tell him anything. "I thought about you touching me afterward. Leaving a bloody handprint in the center of my chest. I couldn’t stop seeing it. I wanted it."

"Perhaps you did know at some level."

Will shook his head. "It wasn’t – it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t about violence. It was – I felt marked."

"I felt marked by that moment as well."

Will put a hand on Hannibal’s chest where he’d imagined the mark of his bloody palm: just below the throat, in the center of the breast bone. Hannibal pressed a hand over his. Neither of them moved. They barely breathed. Slowly, Will fell back into sleep. He dreamed of Hannibal reaching into his chest and tenderly stroking his heart.

\*

Will cooked for them later that day. Hannibal not only sat up and ate but complained about the food, which left Will so cheerful that he kept forgetting about his wounded cheek and smiling.

"You were worried," Hannibal said.

"You were dying. I was watching you die."

"You intended for me to die."

"I intended for us both to die. That’s not the same thing." Will glanced up from his plate. Hannibal was working his way resentfully through beans on toast. Will smiled again, carefully this time, with only half his mouth.

"But we didn’t. And now we must live."

Will ran his tongue over his lower lip. "I thought about stopping here. Just heading out into the wilderness. Forget the house. Forget everything."

"Disappear," Hannibal said.

"Yeah. Just drop off the map."

"The snow will only get worse."

"I know," Will said. "And we don’t have anything left but a few cans of beans. And it’s not exactly your style anyway."

"I would adapt."

Will studied his face. “You mean that. Some drafty cabin in the middle of nowhere? No electricity, no running water?"

"The idea has a certain appeal," Hannibal said. "There is no room for morality in natural law. No judgement. Only hunger."

Will could see it as clearly as the bloody handprint on his own chest: Hannibal with a knife or a spear, bringing down prey larger than himself, the joy of death, the stomach slit open, his hands sliding in among the guts, the innocence of his smile under a clear blue sky.

"You enjoy morality and judgement," Will said.

Hannibal gave him that exact smile. "I also enjoy hunger and the sating of hunger." He looked down at his plate, and the smile faded. "Under normal circumstances."

"You can cook next time if you keep complaining."

"I’m sure you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances."

"I started cooking for the dogs," Will said abruptly. A silence followed. He hadn’t meant to tell Hannibal that. It felt too much like an admission. It was an admission.

"After Muskrat Farm?" Hannibal said.

"Before. After – after that lomo saltado. I watched you, and I thought – I thought it didn’t look that hard. And I had." He stopped and swallowed. “All that meat.”

"I’m glad to know you didn’t let it go to waste."

"But I kept doing it. After. After I got out of the hospital and later, after Muskrat Farm. After I met Molly." He laughed. It sounded choked. "She thought I could cook for real. For people. Reasonable, right? Who learns to cook just for dogs?"

"Did you enlighten her?"

"How could I? I just faked it. It wasn’t that hard. I never made anything like you did, but – I thought about you. When I was cooking. For the dogs or for her and Walter."

"And what did you think of me?" Hannibal said softly.

Will glanced up at him. His eyes were very bright, and he watched Will unrelentingly. "I wondered how you were. What you were eating. If you were s-sorry you’d—" He broke off, bent over his paper plate.

"I never regretted my decision to turn myself in," Hannibal said. "There was no other choice."

"There’s always a choice. That’s what you keep telling me."

"Then there was no other choice that gave me a chance of having you, and that was all I wanted."

"What do you want now?"

"I have everything I want at my fingertips." He leaned over and brushed his fingers across the back of Will’s hand.

\*

There was no choice but to risk a roadblock. If they turned back, they might find the same thing waiting for them at Goose Bay. They kept going.

Hannibal was strong enough to ride in the front seat, but he still had a tendency to doze off. Will spent a lot of time watching him, the way his short hair fell across his forehead, the sag of his chin against his chest, the awkward fold of his arms. Will recognized that. It came from too much time spent in a straight jacket.

"Who cut your hair?" Will said when Hannibal surfaced long enough to drink some water and look around the scenery.

Hannibal passed a hand over his head. "The hospital barber, I suppose. I was strapped to the gurney of course. Straight jacket and mask. It’s shorter than I prefer it, but not as bad as it might have been. I believe the man was nervous."

"Wonder why."

"He had nothing to fear. As I said, I was restrained."

"Restrained," Will said. "You were always restrained. Was it like wearing a straightjacket all the time when you were talking to normal people?"

"Bedelia called it my—" He paused. "Person suit. Human veil, she said afterward, I think to salve my dignity, but person suit was clearly how she thought of it. The term she felt was most accurate."

"That implies you’re not human. Not a person."

"Not necessarily," Hannibal said. "It implies that she thought I was in need of something to hide behind and that I chose a human form for that purpose. There was no comment on what lay behind the veil."

"You showed her what lay behind the veil."

"Did I?"

"That’s what she told me. What did she think?"

Hannibal unfolded his arms and stretched. "Bedelia knows me well, but she doesn’t know me as you do."

"How do I know you?" Will said, afraid to ask but unable to stop. He looked straight ahead at the unfolding road, the pine trees, the snow that turned the world into a reflector of light.

"You know the part of me that you have made," Hannibal said. "The part that no one else would believe exists."

"The man behind the monster suit?" Will said, going for dry. It came out too hopeful by half.

"As I know the part of you that I have made."

Will swallowed. "You didn’t make me kill."

"No one can truly force anyone to do anything. I only made the choice to kill seem the preferable one."

It had seemed preferable. Sometimes it still seemed preferable. He’d wanted to kill the man in the pickup truck. Maybe he should have. They’d be safe now. He wouldn’t regret it. He knew that. He could still feel the Red Dragon’s blood falling hot across his face. He saw Hannibal’s teeth sinking into the Dragon’s throat. He saw Hannibal’s hand extended to him afterward in the moonlight.

A semi rushed past them, full tilt and spraying snow onto their windshield so thickly that Will had to turn the wipers on to clear it. "It didn’t feel like a choice," Will said. "If I do it again, I’d like it to feel like a choice. My choice. Not yours."

Hannibal nodded once and didn’t speak again. When Will looked over at him about a mile later, he was asleep.

They reached civilization in the form of a hugely overpriced gas station that afternoon. Will pulled into the gravel parking lot and went inside, hoping for some kind of fresh food. There was a bin of slightly wrinkled apples near the back, also overpriced. Will picked out a few and then stood in front of a cooler, staring at the beer. His mind drifted to Hannibal drinking beer from a can and he nearly started laughing. His own reflection in the glass cooler case gave him a stern look. The house was close. He just needed to hold it together a little longer.

He paid for the apples and the gas. The girl counted out his change. "Staying for the winter?" she asked.

"Might be," Will said.

"If you’re not, don’t stay too long. We’ve got another storm coming. Everyone’s picking the wrong time to visit this year. It was so pretty a couple months back."

"Are you getting a lot of visitors right now?" Will said.

She smiled. "A lot for us, yeah, for sure. You and some big city guy in a suit. He said he was here on a corporate retreat. What kind of company sends their people way out here? He didn’t look too happy about it either."

Will agreed that it was a long way to go for any job and got back into the car, frowning. "Is there any chance Jack could’ve found out about your house up here?"

"Anything is possible, of course, but it’s unlikely. I purchased it many years ago through a shell corporation. The FBI is still not aware of the extent of my holdings."

"The girl in there was talking about strangers in town. I want to park somewhere and check it out on foot."

Hannibal nodded. "There is a logging road a quarter of a mile from the house. We can stop there."

Chapter Text

The logging road was a white track through thin pine woods. Will stood on the roof of the Land Rover and shaded his eyes, but he could see nothing of the house nor any sign of another human being.

"It is due west from here," Hannibal said. "There is a long hill before you come to it that is mostly clear of trees. Beyond that, you will be visible from the house if there is anyone there to see." He laid a hand on Will’s arm. "Be careful."

Will almost suggested that they forget it, abandon the house and the possibility that Jack had found them, no matter how remote, and just leave. Find somewhere else. But then he looked at Hannibal’s face. It was gray and drawn. He needed to rest, not rattle over another hundred miles of gravel road.

"I’ll be careful. You wait here for me, okay?"

"Yes."

"Promise," Will said. He gripped Hannibal’s wrist and looked him in the eyes. "Don’t come after me."

"Even if I think you are in need of help?"

"Even then. Especially then. Don’t go near the house, just take off."

"I will wait for you until you return."

Will looked at his tired face. He didn’t think anyone else in the world was so familiar to him. Even his own face in the mirror seemed like a stranger half the time, but he always knew Hannibal. A memory forced itself on him. "Alana said you promised to save me that night at the farm."

"I did," Hannibal said. "That night and always."

Whatever that meant to Hannibal. But it meant something to him. Will turned away and started out across the snow. He could feel Hannibal watching him until he was hidden by the trees.

It didn’t take long, even in the snow, to cover the quarter mile between the logging road and the house. The deeper banks had partially melted and formed a frozen surface hard enough to take his weight if he was careful to step lightly. When he came to the last hill, the peak of the roof was just visible over the crest.

Will let himself down onto his stomach near a low, twisted pine and looked out. He saw nothing. No sign of habitation, no tracks, no vehicles. Just an empty expanse of snow and trees with the house at the center. A bed, a fireplace, running water. The last time he’d been really clean was Montreal. He itched.

Still, he lay on his stomach in the cold snow. He didn’t know what he was watching for until he saw it: the bright glint of a reflection off of glass or metal. Binoculars, a rifle scope, a car windshield. It didn’t matter which. None of them should be out there in the trees beyond the house.

Will slid back down behind the crest of the hill, stood, and started back for the logging road at a jog. He hadn’t gone ten yards before he heard the sound of pursuit. He changed direction to lead them away from Hannibal, heading north. His feet broke through the crust as he ran, and the cold air burned in his lungs. His muscles were stiff from days in the car and in the tent. His body ached all over with bruises. Even if he could outrun them, all they’d have to do was follow his tracks.

He paused to think, panting, braced against a tree. No one was shouting. The voices were quiet. He heard the sound of churning snow under heavy boots and low orders. They were trying to head him off.

He changed direction again, heading for the back of the house and hoping for some kind of vehicle he could steal. He tripped on a hidden tree root and wrenched his knee so badly he couldn’t keep quiet.

"There," someone said. "Did you hear that?"

Will could hear their breath. He wondered if they thought he was Hannibal, if they were authorized to shoot. He gritted his teeth and kept on along a half buried stone wall and around to the back. His hands were numb. His feet were getting there. He was soaked to the knees with melting snow.

The back of the house was a sea of footprints. He scrambled over the stone wall, and his own tracks were lost among dozens of others. He ducked down and ran low. The edge of the forest was close. Their cars had to be in there, hidden by the trees.

He crossed the yard, vaulted the stone wall, and ran. He made it to the shelter of the woods, gasping, throat raw, and started up the hill. His feet slipped on icy snow. He grabbed at tree branches to haul himself up and scraped his palms. He made it to the top.

Jack was waiting for him just beyond the crest with half a dozen armed agents. "Hello, Will," he said.

"Hi, Jack."

"Nice day."

"I’ve had better," Will said.

"Let’s go inside and have a chat."

"I guess it’d be rude to say no."

\*

They escorted him into a room at the back of the house with no windows and a lock on the door. He and Jack sat in folding chairs, and Jack sent someone for coffee. He looked at Will and sighed through his nose. "We found Dolarhyde," he said. "Zeller ran the dental impressions in his throat against what we have on file for Lecter."

"Hannibal," Will said. "He was your friend too, Jack. You can’t erase that by using his last name."

Jack took off his gloves and folded his hands together. He looked older than he had just days ago. "What happened, Will?"

"Dolarhyde found us at the cliff house. He shot Hannibal. Got me in the face." He gestured toward the bandages, now damp from melting snow. "And the shoulder. He planned to change Hannibal the way he changed his previous victims."

"You killed him."

"It was self defense."

"Lecter – Hannibal tore his throat out."

"And I gutted him," Will said. Telling Jack about it left him with a hot, sick feeling. He should’ve kept his mouth shut, should’ve kept that room in his memory locked tight. For his eyes only. His and Hannibal’s.

"And after that?" Jack said.

Will swallowed hard, tasting bile and blood. He couldn’t tell Jack about the cliff, about the fall, about holding Hannibal against his body all the way down. "We left," he said.

"You told me you wanted to run away with him. Did he talk you into it finally?"

Will said nothing.

Jack leaned forward. "You know how many calls I’ve had from your wife since you disappeared?"

Will flinched and looked down at his shoes and the puddle of water forming around them. "What did you tell her?"

"I told her there was a good chance you were dead, and I hoped it was true." Jack paused, and Will could feel him weighing his words. "We know you and Hannibal went over the cliff. We dragged the base for your bodies."

Will didn’t reply.

"You’re still wearing your wedding ring," Jack said. "What do you want me to tell her?"

"You’ll tell her whatever you want to tell her, Jack. You’ll tell her whatever you think will get you what you want."

Jack looked at him for a few seconds, stone-faced and bent over his knees. He pulled out his phone and dialed.

"Don’t," Will said.

Jack handed it over without a word. Will meant to hang up, but the the ring cut off with a click, and he heard Molly’s voice, distant and tinny from the little speaker.

"Did you find him? Agent Crawford? Hello?"

Will closed his eyes and raised the phone to his ear. "Hi," he said.

"You – it’s you. It’s you?"

"It’s me."

Molly started to cry. Will looked at Jack, who had the decency to look away. Will wondered if this was how Hannibal felt when he decided to kill someone. But Hannibal would count himself blameless, and Will couldn’t do that.

Jack picked up his gloves and left the room.

"Don’t cry," Will said softly, uselessly.

"I’m not crying, you asshole," Molly said between sobs.

"Good. I’m not either." He put a hand over his eyes and pushed against the sting of tears. "Molly—"

"Are you coming back?"

For a second, Will couldn’t breathe. The knot in his throat was too large. He couldn’t remember how to swallow or make his lungs work and all the air in them turned to buckshot, hot and stinging from the inside out.

"Will?" Molly’s voice wavered on his name and then came back strong. "You’re not. Are you?"

His lungs came unstuck, and he gulped air. "No. No, I’m not coming back. I’m sorry."

"Me too."

"Tell Walter I’m sorry or – or tell him whatever you think would help."

"I’ll tell him the truth," Molly said. "I think I learned my lesson there. If I’d told you about the dogs—"

"I should’ve known anyway. I should’ve seen it coming."

"It was Lecter?"

He didn’t know whether she meant was it Lecter who sent the Dragon after us like a dog or was Lecter why you left but it didn’t really matter. "Yeah. It was him."

"What happened, Will? Agent Crawford showed me photos from the cliff house."

Will’s anger at Jack grew a little colder. "I thought I could take care of them both. Hannibal and the Dragon."

"That’s not your job," she said. "You don’t kill people."

He stared at the pine knots in the far wall. "Criminal mind, remember?"

She swallowed. "It was a joke."

"I know. I know." He could hear people moving outside the door. "Do you want the ring back? I can give it to Jack. I’ll sign whatever you need me to sign."

"Are you going to prison?"

"No," he said. "I’m not going to prison. I’m going away."

"With Lecter?"

He saw abruptly that Jack had primed her for this conversation. That was why he’d left the room. They were all listening out there, Jack and a room full of strangers, to this most private of conversations.

"Just away," he said, cold now inside and out.

"Aren’t you afraid he’ll come after you?"

"Hannibal’s dead. The Dragon shot him. He died two days ago," Will said. "You don’t need to worry about him anymore. No one does."

He hung up the phone and put it down on the floor.

Jack came back into the room. "You know we heard all that."

"I know," Will said.

"Is it true? Is he dead?"

"I’ll make a statement. Am I under arrest? And if so, what for?"

"You’re detained for your own protection," Jack said.

"Does that come with food?"

Jack gave him a long, level look. "I’ll see what I can do."

He left again. Will leaned back in the chair to wait for an opportunity.

Five minutes later, Zeller slipped into the room and closed the door behind him. He looked at Will, jaw working, back pressed up against the door. "Are you going to tell Jack?"

"You know he has the room bugged, right?" Will said.

"Who do you think wired it for him?"

"You and Matthew Brown should start a club." Will paused. "I guess that means you didn’t tell him."

"I can’t tell him now. I’d lose my job. At the least I’d lose my job." Zeller scrubbed both hands through his hair. "I should’ve told him to start with. I wouldn’t be in this mess, Lecter would be back in prison, and Jimmy Price wouldn’t think I was into bondage."

Will blinked a couple of times. "What?"

"I had to tell him something when he showed up to untie me! And he obviously didn’t know it was you that called him, so I told him it was a sex thing."

"And he believed that?"

Zeller shrugged. "Either he believed me or he just didn’t want to cross-examine me while I was freaking out in my underwear, for which I am forever grateful, even if he does keep sending me links to specialized dating sites."

"Right." Will shook his head and moved on. "Okay. How did you find this place?"

"The guy you threatened on the highway called the police, and they called us. We did a search of the area looking for remote properties bought before Lecter went to prison and unoccupied since. There weren’t that many. We’ve got people holding down a couple of others, but Jack thought this was the best bet." Zeller looked at him finally. "He thought Lecter would like the fireplace."

"Would he?"

Zeller shrugged. "It’s a nice fireplace."

"Hannibal’s dead. Did Jack tell you?"

"He said you said he’s dead."

"You saw his wound." Will looked deliberately away. "He started running a fever in Montreal. It just got worse."

"Where’s the body?"

"I left it in the woods. Something’s dragged him away and eaten him by now. That seems fair, right?"

Zeller stared at him hard and then shook his head. "No. You’re lying."

Will was a good liar normally. The problem right now was that he didn’t want to lie. Worse, he didn’t feel like he should have to. He didn’t feel like he was doing anything wrong, and he knew how dangerous that could be.

"Are we staying here tonight?" he asked.

"Yeah. They’re fixing a room for you upstairs."

"You realize Jack can’t do what he’s doing, right? I’m not an escaped prisoner. I admitted leaving the scene with Hannibal, but that could’ve been under duress. Without your testimony, he has no evidence I’ve done anything illegal. You think he’ll even let me call a lawyer?"

"That’s up to Jack."

"Yeah. And if I’m still here in the morning, we’ll see what he says about it. But you might not want me to be here. I might tell him something you’d regret."

Zeller shoved his hands in his pockets and turned away to kick at the wall. He didn’t do it hard, just bounced his toe off it. He bent his head. "Fucking fuck," he said. "What do you want?"

"I want an opportunity. That’s all. Sometime between now and morning." He thought of Hannibal’s promise and wondered how long it would hold him. "The sooner the better. Not just for your sake. It’d be better for everyone if I disappeared."

"Disappeared. You and him both? For good?"

"Like we fell off the face of the Earth," Will said. “You’ll never hear from us again.”

"I’m not making any promises," Zeller said. He went out through the door and locked it behind him.

\*

An agent escorted Will to an upstairs bedroom and locked him in. The windows had been nailed shut from the outside. He might be able to get out, but not quietly enough to avoid tipping off the agent guarding his door. Instead, he sat on the bed and waited. He felt curiously peaceful. His mind was quiet. An hour or more passed.

Someone brought him a tray of food: coffee, a sandwich, a bag of nuts. The nuts were already open. Inside the bag, he found a thin, flexible piece of plastic. It looked like it had been cut out of a plastic lid, maybe from a tupperware container or a coffee can. He ate his sandwich and frowned at it. This was clearly his opportunity, or at least Zeller meant it to be.

After a few bites, he got it: the door had no deadbolt. Of course it didn’t. It was simple interior lock, not seriously made to keep anyone in or out. They must’ve reversed the doorknob to get it to lock from the outside. It could opened with a credit card, or something that closely resembled one. Of course, the guard would still be out there and Will would still be in a house full of FBI agents, but it was what he had asked for. A chance.

He finished eating first, drank his coffee, and ate his nuts. He listened at the door but heard nothing. If the guy outside was facing the door – but the odds were against that. He’d be leaning against the wall or sitting against it.

Will took a breath, slipped the lock, and pulled the door open. There was no one there.

He was so shocked, he stopped in the open doorway. A toilet flushed and a door opened down the hall. A man stepped out of the bathroom. He and Will stared at each other.

Will turned and ran at the same time as the man started shouting. He took the stairs in two bounds, landed awkwardly, skidded to his knees, and was up again, heading toward the front door.

Two other agents came scrambling out of another room to block his way. Will slammed one man’s head against the wall. He kicked the other one in the knee and then in the ribs. The man’s gun flew out of his hand and slid across the floor. Will grabbed it and ran.

The driveway was clear, no one in sight. They must still be trying to lure Hannibal in. Will ran to the road and across it and into the forest on the other side. He could hear them behind him. He’d have the same problem as before: the prints, the snow.

He had a head start this time, but the cold was closing in on him. His shoulder burned with every pounding step. More than once he tripped on a hidden root and fell and scrambled up again. He was heading back toward the logging road, and he couldn’t, had to find another way.

But he couldn’t expect Hannibal to wait forever. And no matter what he’d said, he couldn’t expect Hannibal to cut and run either. He’d been more than a little worried that the door to his makeshift cell would open and he’d see Hannibal on the other side as he had looked at Muskrat Farm, grim, bloody, and terrifying.

He looped away from the road and nearly fell into a stream. It was still running clear, not frozen over. He stared at it, taking gasping, burning lungfuls of air. He looked up at the trees above him. If his tracks disappeared here, they might follow the stream looking for where they emerged.

He hauled himself up to the lowest branch. They were getting closer. Voices echoed through the landscape, cushioned by the snow. He stepped onto one branch and held onto another as he edged out along it toward the next tree. He made the jump and clung to the tree trunk.

They were coming. He could almost see them. He’d meant to cross at least two more trees like this and put some distance between himself and his tracks, but there was no time. He jumped for the next. His feet slipped. He caught at the branch above him, but his shoulder couldn’t take the strain. Pain cut through him and he fell.

"Will! Stop where are you.” It was Jack.

Will didn’t think. He turned around, raised the gun, and pulled the trigger. Jack stumbled back, hit in the shoulder, the same side where he’d once shot Will.

Will saw the bloom of blood and Jack’s shocked face. He let the gun fall from his numb hand and ran for the road with no thought now other than to make it back to Hannibal.

He emerged opposite the turnoff for the logging road and looked out of the trees, panting desperately. All he could hear was his own breath and his blood pounding. He felt dizzy and sick from the pain in his shoulder.

An off-road motorcycle pulled out of the logging road and stopped near the edge of the woods. Will stared. The rider pulled off his helmet. "I was waiting for you," Hannibal said.

"Where in the hell—" Will didn’t bother finishing the sentence. He grabbed the helmet and the backpack Hannibal gave him and scrambled on behind him.

Someone shouted, too close.

"Hold on and keep your head down," Hannibal said. He turned straight off the road and into the forest.

Chapter Text

Will tried to watch where they were going for about ten seconds until he saw a branch coming straight for his face. After that, he kept his head down. He gripped Hannibal’s jacket and then slid an arm over his chest and shoulder to cling on as they hit obstacle after obstacle without slowing.

He glanced up and peered over Hannibal’s shoulder. The trees rushed toward them. They went over a small boulder and caught about three feet of air on the other side before they crashed down to earth again, wheels skidding. Will gritted his teeth with the pain in his shoulder. They barely even slowed down. The forest was a blur. The sounds of pursuit grew fainter.

Hannibal tore through the woods at an impossible speed. Will expected a collision every second. When it failed to occur again and again, he risked another look around them. Hannibal wove between the trees as if he knew the landscape like he knew the streets of Florence or Baltimore. He jerked the wheel up to bounce them over obstacles, swerved around others, and finally ran them into a shallow stream for what felt like hours of icy spray on their ankles.

The water froze into sheets of ice on their pants and shoes, but Will didn’t complain. If Jack tracked them this far, he wouldn’t track them any farther.

When they finally rolled to a stop, the sun was setting. It turned the snow a rosy pink all around them. Hannibal slumped over the bike’s handlebars. Will laid a hand on his back. "How are you?"

"Not well."

"Do you want me to take over?" Will asked, though he wasn’t sure he could. He knew he couldn’t manage the speeds Hannibal had without crashing them.

"No gas," Hannibal said.

"Ah."

Will unclenched his frozen hands from Hannibal’s jacket and staggered off the bike. He bent his knees a few times to make sure they would hold him and then he examined the contents of the backpack. They had the tent, so they weren’t completely fucked. He set it up. One of the sleeping bags was tied onto the bottom of the pack. He spread it out inside.

"Don’t light a fire," Hannibal said.

Will looked up at the darkening sky. "Yeah," he said. Privately, he had to wonder which was worse: getting caught or freezing to death. It would only get colder.

\*

Will surfaced from tangled dreams. It was still dark out. He and Hannibal were wedged into one sleeping bag. Hannibal was wrapped around him again, breathing quietly, dead to the world. Will had checked his wound before they went to sleep. The rough ride hadn’t done it any good.

Will slipped out of the sleeping bag and then out of the tent to take a piss. Fat, white flakes fell on his upturned face. The sky looked like a shaken-up snow globe. The bike, lying on its side, was half buried already.

He went back into the tent and crawled into the sleeping bag. Hannibal’s arm crept around his waist again, and Hannibal’s nose touched the back of his neck. Will closed his eyes. In the darkness, he saw Jack’s shocked face and heard the gunshot. No going back now.

\*

"Have I made a mistake?" Hannibal said.

Will lay curled around him, blinking slowly at the green wall of the tent in the early morning light. "No. We had to get away."

"They may still search for us."

"That’s a lot of area to cover. They can’t search forever."

"Perhaps they will find our bodies in the spring," Hannibal said.

“They won’t find them here. Come on, get up. Let’s get packed and get moving."

Hannibal didn’t move. "Where will we go?"

"We need better shelter. Somewhere we can make a fire. More food."

"And where do you intend to find those things?"

"We’ll head east for the coast."

Neither of them said that the coast was still likely days away on foot over rough terrain. It was still snowing. The wind was picking up. It howled around the tent, and Hannibal’s expression grew more and more distant.

Will reached out slowly and put a hand on his cheek. Hannibal blinked and refocused on him. "What’s the worst that can happen?" Will said.

"We will die together."

"Right. So what are you worried about?"

Hannibal leaned into his touch, eyes half closed. He didn’t reply.

Will watched his face. "You said some stuff when you were sick. You said it was cold and you didn’t know who would be there."

"Sometimes the past is nearer than the present. Some associations remain fresh no matter how many years pass."

Will hesitated, seeing a forest darker and thicker than this one and a child’s tracks through deep snow. "Who did you think would be there?"

Hannibal turned his face toward Will’s palm, eyes closed now. He said nothing.

Will didn’t push it. He remembered the warmth of Hannibal’s hand on his own face at Muskrat Farm. Hannibal had bent over him, bloodied, Cordell still whimpering on the ground. He had smoothed Will’s hair back and hesitated before he felt for his pulse. Will had seen fear in his eyes.

"I should’ve gone with you," Will said. "After Mason. We should’ve gone then."

Hannibal looked at him, blinking slowly, maybe surprised that Will had let it go so easily. "You needed to punish me."

"It wasn’t enough. It can’t be enough. So why bother?"

"There is no logic or pragmatism to emotional necessity. The heart, as they say, wants what it wants."

"I wanted you in prison." Will slid his thumb over the sharp line of Hannibal’s cheekbone and cupped the side of his neck. "I wanted you to go through all of it. All the little humiliations and indignities."

"You saw me at the end. Was I sufficiently debased?"

Will shook his head. "It didn’t touch you. Nothing ever does."

"Perhaps you would prefer to be my jailer. That would touch me, I assure you."

Will imagined it briefly: Hannibal in a straight jacket and mouth guard, bound and at his mercy. He dropped his hand. Hannibal leaned after it for a fraction of a second and then sat up straight to look at him.

Will crawled out of the tent and into the cold without attempting to answer.

\*

They walked through the snow from just after dawn until full dark. Will set up the tent mainly by touch. They ate a can of beans and collapsed into sleep, wound together in the sleeping bag, breathing each other’s air.

The next morning, Will woke with Hannibal studying his face from a distance of three inches. "Are you happy?" Hannibal asked him.

"I’d kill for a cup of coffee," Will croaked. "You couldn’t have grabbed the jar of instant?"

Hannibal’s gaze shifted over Will’s face, eye to eye to mouth, a dip to the curve of his neck and his hand gripping the edge of the sleeping bag. "Your shoulder is worse," Hannibal said.

"I ripped it open again when I was running from Jack."

"Let me see."

"You can’t do anything."

"Let me see it."

Will gave in. They both knew they wouldn’t make it to the coast. Really, they had all the time in the world.

Hannibal gathered twigs to make a fire and melted snow in the empty bean can to clean Will’s shoulder. The wound was scabbed over with clots of dried blood, and the process hurt enough that Will put a hand over his mouth to keep quiet. He closed his eyes and was back in Florence, begging Hannibal not to drug him, not to hurt him, no, no, please …

He twisted away, half sick and half guilty. It hadn’t all been bad, not even at the time.

"Will?"

"Just finish it."

Hannibal taped a dressing in place. Will put his shirt back on and pulled his coat over it. He wrapped his arms around himself. "You bought me that shirt," he said. "In Florence. It wasn’t yours. It fit me perfectly."

"I did. The trousers too. All of it. A wardrobe."

"Did you really think—"

"I hoped," Hannibal said.

\*

They walked most of that day too. They stopped to heat up more beans over a tiny campfire and kept going. Hannibal was flagging by late afternoon. His steps stayed even and measured, and he didn’t slow or suggest a rest, but Will could see the dullness in his eyes, the way he stared down at the ground two feet in front of him.

"How’s the pain?" Will said.

"Tolerable."

"What would you consider intolerable?"

"I’ve never experienced intolerable physical pain. Perhaps Mason would have discovered my limits, but I doubt it."

"How long can you keep going?" Will asked.

Hannibal lifted a hand and let it fall. "Until my body collapses. Assuming that the infection doesn’t return, perhaps another two days at this pace, in this weather."

It had started snowing again at noon. They were wading through drifts now. Will didn’t think he’d make it much more than a day himself. The cold had bitten into his marrow and he couldn’t shake it, even wrapped up in the sleeping bag in Hannibal’s arms. Their food was running out.

Hannibal stopped and put a hand on his shoulder. "Do you see that?"

Will squinted against the snow glare. He saw a patch of darkness in the side of a hill. "A cave?"

"If it goes deep enough, it will be warmer than the tent."

"Worth a shot."

They slogged toward it. During the walk, they’d picked a few handfuls of shriveled berries and some mushrooms. Will started thinking about hunting. If they had somewhere they could stay, somewhere that could be made more weatherproof than the tent, if he could get a deer – they might not hold out the whole winter, but it would give them a respite. A chance.

Will lit a match as they stepped inside. He cupped his hand around it and held it up. The ceiling was low and curved, not quite high enough to stand. Roots had driven through the rock and trailed down the walls. It was warmer. Not by much, but just being out of the wind made a difference.

Will gave Hannibal the berries to eat and went back out to find firewood.

That night, with a fire between them and the mouth of the cave and hot mushrooms and beans and bread inside them and his bones starting to thaw, Will felt almost hopeful.

They left the fire smoldering and retreated deeper into the cave to lay out the sleeping bag. They got in together. Hannibal leaned back against him with a soft noise of contentment, almost like one of Will’s dogs settling down for the night.

"You bought me a wardrobe and a bone saw," Will said. "Did you know which one you’d give me? Or did I decide that for you when I pulled the knife?"

Hannibal was quiet for a few breaths. "We decided together. Didn’t we? You didn’t know what you’d do when you saw me. I didn’t know what I’d do when I saw you."

"When I was crossing the Atlantic, I thought about you," Will said. He ducked his head so that his forehead touched Hannibal’s shoulder. "I thought about you a lot."

Hannibal put a hand over Will’s on his stomach. He didn’t ask what he’d thought about. Will was grateful for that. He was almost warm by the time he fell asleep.

\*

Will woke with an animal smell in his nose. He heard a heave of breath and a wet clicking sound. The grind of teeth on metal. Something large licking out the remnants of their dinner from a tin can.

He raised his head an inch. He could see it between them and the mouth of the cave. He swallowed twice and put a hand lightly over Hannibal’s mouth. With the other hand he squeezed his shoulder. "Bear," he said in Hannibal’s ear, so low he could hardly hear himself.

Hannibal raised his head to look and then slowly, slowly unzipped the sleeping bag. "Be still," he murmured. "If we’re lucky it will fall asleep or leave."

"If not?"

"Don’t run unless there’s no other option. They are quite fast."

Will nodded. He didn’t feel up to outrunning a toddler right now.

They lay still while the bear nosed through the dead fire and snuffled around. It stood up on its hind legs and scented the air. It looked massive to Will. He’d seen a few black bears when he was out fishing, but nothing this size. It made an inquisitive noise and started lumbering back toward them.

Will was holding his breath. He made himself stop. He’d need the air if they had to run. The bear took up the whole cave passage, floor to ceiling. The smell of it, wild and musky, filled the air. It shuffled closer and paused just in front of them.

The blow came so fast that Will hardly registered the swipe of its paw before it caught him in the side and sent him flying, slamming him into the cave wall. The force of it drove the breath out of him. His head banged a shelf of rock, and he saw lights in the darkness behind his eyes.

Hannibal was roaring. The bear was roaring. Will tried to get his feet under him, but he was dizzy. Another light flared, much brighter. Hannibal held a branch from the fire, lit with a swath of orange flame. He shoved it in the bear’s face and grabbed Will’s arm.

Will dragged himself up and into a run, letting Hannibal lead him blindly out of the cave and into the snow. The bear came after them. Hannibal hit it in the face with the burning branch, and the noise it made sounded like a human scream.

They ran and they didn’t stop for a long time. There was no sound of pursuit. In fact, the forest was eerily silent around them. Eventually, Will fell to his knees in the snow and pulled Hannibal down with him.

"Need a break," he gasped.

They leaned together, both breathing hard, Will’s forehead against Hannibal’s temple. They had nothing now. No sleeping bag, no food, no tent. Nothing but each other.

Will tried to think, but his head throbbed and so did his side. He felt under his shirt. His hand came away bloody. Hannibal touched his wrist.

"It’s just a scrape," Will said. "The head’s worse."

Hannibal cradled his head with both hands, feeling with a delicate touch for wounds. Will leaned into it helplessly. He wanted to sleep. If they slept here, they wouldn’t wake up. Maybe that would be okay.

"It’s not bleeding," Hannibal said. "There’s no depression that I can feel. Are there any problems with your vision? Dizziness? Nausea?"

"I’m fine," Will said.

Hannibal pulled back to frown at him from two inches away. "I saw the impact. It was a solid blow."

"I’m fine."

"Will—"

He was so close. All Will had to do was tip his head a little. "I’m fine," he said against Hannibal’s lips. "I promise." Will kissed him, dry and soft.

Hannibal froze at the touch. One hand tightened in Will’s hair, but the other stayed carefully curved over the hot lump just above his ear. Their breath steamed around them. Will didn’t try to push it any farther. He felt like a wind-up toy that had finally wound down. He just stayed there, nose bumping against Hannibal’s, as still and calm inside as he’d felt while crossing the Atlantic. That same feeling of knowing where he was going.

Hannibal swallowed audibly and heaved a single breath. "If you intended this as a final romantic gesture, I have bad news for you."

"What?"

"I can smell woodsmoke. We may put off our deaths a little longer."

"Our campfire," Will said.

"No, fresher than that. To the north."

"I didn’t do it because I thought we were going to die."

"Then why?" Hannibal said.

Will wet his dry lips. Anything, he reminded himself. He could tell Hannibal anything. "Because you were touching me. I like it. I always did."

"Always?" Hannibal said it like he’d just had the air punched out of him.

Will nodded. He was looking at Hannibal’s mouth. He thought he’d like to kiss him again, but not right now. They had to move. He got to his feet, using Hannibal’s shoulder for balance. It left Hannibal on his knees in front of him, looking up at him like Will was something impossible.

Will took his arm and pulled him up. "Come on. Which way?"

Hannibal took another hard breath. He indicated the direction. They started walking.

\*

The cabin sat in a small clearing next to a lake. Snowshoes hung outside the door. There was a small, lopsided porch. One of the stairs that led up to it was broken. Light shone through a single fogged window and smoke streamed from the chimney.

Will and Hannibal looked at each other and then Will walked up the broken porch steps to knock on the door. There was a long pause. Floorboards creaked inside. The door opened a crack. Through the crack, the barrel of a rifle emerged.

"Who in the hell are you?" a voice said.

"We’re lost. We’ve been walking for two days. My friend’s hurt. Can we come in?"

A face appeared in the crack. It had a wild, grizzled beard, a sharp nose and even sharper eyes. The man stared at Will. "Back up," he said. "Off the porch. Let me look at you."

Will backed up to join Hannibal just off the porch. He held his hands open at his sides, palms out. The man looked them over for a long time. He seemed to linger on Hannibal in particular, and Will hoped that was only his own paranoid imagination. Finally, he nodded and stepped back, lowering the rifle. "All right. Get inside. Don’t expect much. And I used to be with the RCMP, so don’t try anything."

Will tensed at that, but they didn’t have much choice. Both of them stopped just inside the door in relief at the warmth of the little room. A wood stove in one corner radiated heat. A couple of kerosene lanterns and a scattering of candles lit it up. It smelled like food. Between them, they’d had two cans of beans and four pieces of bread in the past two days.

"You’ll have to sit on the bed," the old man said. "I’ve only got one chair."

They sat side by side. The man brought them some kind of meat stew that had been simmering on the wood stove. They both wolfed it down. Hannibal bent over the bowl to eat. He was clutching the spoon hard. Will wanted to look at his wound again, but he didn’t want their host’s curiosity.

"Frank," the man said.

"Will." They shook, and Will nodded to Hannibal. "Harry."

Hannibal and Frank shook too.

"Where’d you two come from?" Frank said.

"We were camping. Got lost. And then we slept in a cave and woke up with a bear."

"That’ll happen this time of year," Frank said. "Well. We can talk in the morning. I was about to turn in when you showed up. I’ll get you some blankets."

In the heat radiating from the wood stove, Will could’ve slept on bare stone with no trouble. He managed to stay awake all of three minutes worrying about what Frank might know or suspect, and then he was gone.

He woke once in the night with Hannibal sitting up beside him and staring into the dark. Will took his arm and pulled him back down. "It’s okay," he whispered. "We’re okay."

"Will," Hannibal said quietly, as if he was reminding himself of something.

"Right here. Not going anywhere."

Hannibal lay down again and turned onto his side. Will did the same, pressed up close behind him, the way they’d been shoved together in the sleeping bag. Even a few inches between seemed like too much now. Hannibal closed a hand around his arm and held on.

\*

It was still dark in the room when Will woke for the second time. The only light was the glow from the stove. In it, he looked around the cabin. Hannibal was still asleep beside him. Frank was gone.

Will tried to force his pulse to stay steady, his breath to stay even. Frank could’ve gone to the outhouse, to get water, anything. He stepped out onto the rickety porch. The sky was still mostly dark, but dawn was easing the world from black to gray.

Will could see their own footprints from the night before leading away from the porch. Another set of tracks, presumably Frank’s, ran out to a small shed. In the crisp, silent air, Will heard the crackle and pop of radio static.

He moved silently through the drifts and stopped just outside the shed door. His heart beat a slow steady rhythm. His mind was empty.

Inside, Frank was clicking from band to band, the squeal and hiss of dead air his only answer. "Anyone," he was saying. "Can anyone hear me? This is an emergency. I’ve got an escaped convict—”

Will pushed the door open.

Frank had his rifle laid out across the table and he swung it up and around to point at Will. He looked as calm as Will felt. "Move back against the wall and keep your hands where I can see them," he said. He thumbed the transmit button on the radio again.

Will dived for his legs and took him down. The radio clattered off the table. Frank struck him in his bad shoulder with the butt of the rifle. Pain screamed through Will’s arm and chest. He grabbed for the stock with his left hand and shoved it away. The rifle went off.

Both he and Frank shook their heads, the shot ringing loud in the close air of the shed. Frank fell back on his ass and swung the rifle like a club. Will fell to the side just in time to avoid it and then jumped for him. He landed on top of him, on all fours, grabbed his head and slammed it hard against the floor. Frank went still under him.

The next second, the door shot open. Hannibal looked down at them. He had a kitchen knife in one hand and an axe in the other. He was panting. Sunrise tinted the steam of his breath pink.

"He recognized you," Will said. His voice was rough. It was the first time he’d spoken that day. He’d knocked a man unconscious before he’d even said good morning to anyone. "Good morning," he added.

"Good morning," Hannibal said. "Is he dead?"

Will turned slowly back to Frank. He felt for a pulse. And found one. "No. He’s still alive."

"What are you going to do with him?"

Will looked down at Frank’s still face. He knew there was only one answer. They couldn’t let him go. They couldn’t leave him behind, even if they had the gear and the strength to go on. They couldn’t keep him prisoner all winter. This was the end of the line, either for Frank or for them. Will couldn’t help remembering the man in the pick-up truck on the highway. If he’d killed him when he’d wanted to, he and Hannibal would be safe right now.

"I can do it," Hannibal said.

Will shook his head. "Help me get him outside."

They dragged Frank out into the snow. Will’s heart was pounding now. He had sweat on the back of his neck and under his arms and on his palms. Hannibal found rope and strung Frank up by the feet. He hung with his head a foot off the ground, swaying in a cold wind.

"The knife," Will said.

Hannibal handed it to him. Will crouched down, watching Frank’s face, listening to the rope creak.

"If it helps, he has a depression fracture in the back of his skull," Hannibal said. “He would require prompt medical attention to prevent permanent brain damage."

Will didn’t know if it helped. He’d given Frank that fracture with his own hands. He touched the skin of Frank’s throat. It was very warm. His pulse was slow. Will pressed the edge of the knife over it.

Hannibal put a hand on his shoulder. "Turn him. Do it from behind or you’ll soak yourself in his blood."

"I don’t know if I can do this," Will said. He felt like he had after the bear hit him: dizzy, the world dimming and narrowing down to a sick, clammy feeling and spots moving across his eyes.

"You can leave him here if you wish. Between the cold, the position, and the head injury, he will most likely die before he regains consciousness."

Will closed his eyes and swallowed down bile and a rising heat that grew hotter as he realized this was going to happen. He turned Frank around to face the tree, put the knife across his throat, and jerked it hard, in and across.

Frank’s body spasmed once like a landed fish. Blood gushed out over Will’s hands, hot and thick. It pulsed for a few seconds, coming in spurts against the rough bark. And then it was over.

The blood still dripped from the wound in his neck, but slowly now that his heart had stopped. Draining rather than being pumped out. Hannibal crouched beside him and reached for the knife. Will kept his hand tight around it.

"It will be some time before either of us can hunt with ease. There’s no point in wasting the meat," Hannibal said. "Let me gut him at least and then the body will keep well enough in the cold."

Will turned his head slowly to look at him, but he couldn’t drag his eyes further up than the solemn line of Hannibal’s mouth. He gripped the knife more tightly. "Tell me what to do," he said.

He knew what to do. He’d gutted deer before just like this, hung up to bleed and so that the viscera would fall easily from the body cavity. That was why it was called offal. Off fall. He still wanted Hannibal’s guidance in this, Hannibal’s warmth just behind him as he stood and cut open Frank’s shirt.

"Do you know their names?" Will said. "Your victims. Your pigs. You must. Do you think of them like that when you’re butchering them?"

"If it upsets you to think of him that way—"

"We’re not talking about me," Will said sharply.

Hannibal put his hands on Will’s shoulders, a steadying touch. "I know their names, yes. Almost always. I find little reason to think of them by name or to think of them at all. Most often when I butcher them, I am thinking of the recipe I have in mind. It is rote work. I find it relaxing."

Relaxing. Will set the tip of the knife just below Frank’s navel. He swallowed a rush of saliva and thought for a second he might vomit. This was nothing. He’d seen so much worse than this. But he hadn’t done anything worse. Not even with Randall. Hannibal had done most of the messy work. And Will had been able to blame his part on the necessity of catching Hannibal. Well, he’d caught him.

He pressed the knife in with a jerk, hunched shoulders, and closed eyes.

Hannibal put a hand over his. "Not so deep. You don’t want to puncture the intestines."

Will drew the knife down with Hannibal guiding him. He opened up Frank’s stomach all the way to his breast bone. The bright red of the gash was shocking. It shifted the body from person to meat more effectively than death had done. Will drew in a long breath of cold air.

Hannibal reached past him to dig into the body cavity and spill the guts out on the snow. Will looked down at them. He didn’t feel sick anymore. He only felt tired.

Hannibal took the knife from his bloody hand and cut out Frank’s heart. "It is traditional for a hunter to take a bite out of the heart of his first kill."

"This isn’t my first," Will said. "It’s not even my second or third."

"You said you wanted the next one to be your choice. This was your choice. The first that was entirely yours."

Will looked at the bloody heart in his hand. "My dad’s friend tried to get me to do this with a deer heart when I was fifteen. I told him to go fuck himself. My dad laughed pretty much the whole way home."

Hannibal’s eyes creased with warmth. "And if I cook it for you?"

"If you cook it, I’ll eat it."

They hoisted Frank’s body higher, out of reach of bears. Will stared up at him, seeing a different body hoisted into the air, glass wings glowing in the candlelight.

"We’ll need to go back to the cave," Hannibal said.

Will blinked and refocused on the present. "What? Why?"

"The medical supplies. We should leave as soon as possible so that we can follow our tracks. If it snows again, I don’t know that I’d be able to find it."

Will nodded. "Right. Okay. I can go while you cook."

"No. We’ll go together. It will be safer, and I want another look at that bear if possible."

"Really? Because I sure don’t."

"It seemed unusually large for a black bear. A magnificent animal."

"Great. You can call the Mounties and tell them all about it."

"Don’t be churlish, Will."

They ate more of Frank’s stew from the night before and set out as soon as it was full light. They walked slowly, and Will’s mind drifted to the future: more food, warmth, fresh clothes. There was even a small metal tub. It was made of tin, not copper, but it still pulled Will’s mind back to the past, to Florence.

They passed the messy depression in the snow where he and Hannibal had knelt together. Where Will had kissed him.

"When you wanted to take me and Abigail to Italy, what did you think it was going to be like?" Will asked. It was the first thing he’d said since they’d left the cabin.

Hannibal’s steps faltered and then he regained his steady, even pace. "I thought we would be together. I hoped we would kill together. I tried to prepare you for that life."

"Live together. Kill together. Cook together. The three of us."

"Yes?"

"Is that all we were going to do together?" Will asked. "You and me?"

Hannibal stepped carefully over a snow-laden lump of a rock and kept his eyes fixed on the tracks ahead of him. "It was all I consciously considered. I had no florid sexual fantasies concerning you, if that’s what you wish to know."

"What about non-florid ones?"

Hannibal was silent for a few more yards as they climbed over a fallen tree. He stopped after they cleared it, one hand braced on a branch and the other pressed over the wound in his side. His face was blank. "At the time, I thought of our life together purely in aesthetic terms."

"I don’t even know what that means," Will said.

"In my mind, it was a series of paintings. Your smile, your hands slicked with blood. Dinner on the table. Abigail drying the wine glasses while I played the harpsichord for both of you. I imagined only the details I cared to see. It was a naive vision."

"No paintings of us rolling around on silk sheets?" Will said, reckless.

Hannibal glanced at him. "Will."

"What? You can talk me through eviscerating a dead body, but we can’t talk about this?"

Hannibal sighed. "At the time, I did not explicitly consider having sex with you, no."

"At the time. But you have since then."

They walked on in silence until Will thought he wouldn’t get an answer, until they could see the dark hole of the cave in the snow ahead of them.

"Yes," Hannibal said. He started forward at a quick pace, apparently more willing to face an actual bear than to hear Will’s response to that.

Which was fine, actually. Having gotten the admission, Will didn’t know what to say anyway. He trailed Hannibal to the mouth of the cave. Hannibal carried a cudgel, and Will had the axe, but he didn’t want to tangle with the bear again, and the thing had been damn fast.

"It’s gone," Hannibal said. "Or it’s retreated further into the cave to hibernate." He held up the backpack.

"Great. Let’s get out of here."

Hannibal looked deeper into the cave, playing Frank’s flashlight back and forth over the walls. "I have read accounts of how bears were once hunted. One makes a long spear with a cross guard. When the bear rears up, the spear is thrust home and the other end planted in the ground. The bear impales itself."

Will grabbed his arm and hauled him out of the cave without a word. Hannibal looked down at Will’s hand on his arm and didn’t try to dislodge it.

Just because of that, and because he could, Will kept his grip on him all the way back to the cabin.

Chapter Text

When they got back to the cabin, Hannibal put the heart in some kind of brine to soak. They took their pills, ate bread and cheese, and made a pot of coffee. Will kept looking down at the blood under his nails. He’d scrubbed his hands in the snow, but it hadn’t been enough.

Hannibal rose unsteadily from the table and pulled out the tin bathtub. When he picked up the bucket to fetch water from the pump, Will took it from him.

"Sit. I’ll get it."

When the water was heated and the bath filled, Hannibal insisted that Will go first.

Will stripped off, more conscious of his own stink than his nudity. His last shower had been in Montreal. He couldn’t remember how many days it had been since then. He scrubbed his skin half raw.

Hannibal wandered the cabin and returned with towels and a pile of clothes. "He was closer to your size, but they will fit us both well enough I think. Here, let me." He took up the tin coffee pot, now clean and full of warm water, and rinsed Will’s hair for him. One hand shielded Will’s face and then ran through his wet hair to make sure all the soap was gone.

The water was pink-tinged with blood, both his own and Frank’s. His shoulder had oozed blood and scabbed over more than once. The bear’s claws had ripped through his coat and shirt and skin and given him three shallow scores across his ribs.

Hannibal knelt by the bath to examine them. His face was very close. Will looked down at his own flaccid cock. Hannibal had bathed him in Florence too. Will had thought about that more than once in the past three years.

"I will bandage it once you’re dry," Hannibal said. "But it’s not too deep."

"Told you I was fine," Will said.

They looked at each other. Will was remembering that moment on their knees in the snow, and he knew Hannibal was too. He got out of the bath and grabbed a towel.

"Your turn," he said.

Will watched only out of the corner of his eye. It was ridiculous not to look when he’d seen Hannibal naked and unconscious and helped him piss in a bottle for three days, but there it was. He only got still-frame images of water sliding down the muscle of Hannibal’s back or caught in graying hair on his chest.

When Hannibal was clean as well, they collapsed into the bed. It was twin-sized or possibly smaller. Two grown men did not fit into it at all, but neither one of them offered to take the floor.

Hannibal had gotten in first and lay with his back to the wall. Will lay on his side in front of him. Hannibal put an arm over his waist like he expected to be told off for it and buried his face in the back of Will’s neck. He breathed there, long inhales and soft exhales that tickled the sensitive skin behind Will’s ear. Minutes passed.

"I know you’re still awake," Will said.

"How do you know?" Hannibal’s voice was muffled, lips moving against Will’s skin in a way that made Will swallow and shift, though there was nowhere to go.

"You hold onto me when you’re asleep."

Hannibal was quiet and still for a moment and then he tightened his arm around Will, hand closing into a fist on the front of his shirt.

"Yeah. Like that," Will said.

"You haven’t objected."

"No."

Hannibal gave him a little squeeze and nuzzled into his hair. "Do you like being held, Will?"

Will swallowed. "I told you I like it when you touch me."

"Is that an invitation?"

Will stared across the cabin at the far wall with its cobbled-together storage shelves. Rope next to books next to kerosene, crampons, and cooking pots. Frank’s clock ticked in the corner by the stove. "I don’t know what to say."

"Then it’s not."

"No. I don’t know. But I don’t want you to stop."

Hannibal dragged his nose and lips over the back of Will’s neck, pressing into the hollow between two vertebrae. "What do you want?"

"Now you want to talk about it? There’s not a bear you’d rather fight?"

Hannibal sighed, and the gust of warm air on his neck made Will shiver. "It seemed a dangerous subject. And the moment you chose to address it was hardly auspicious."

"During a nice walk in the woods?"

"Just after you had killed a man. The first killing you could not blame on me, directly or indirectly."

"Did you think I was looking for a way to blame it on you?"

"You were looking for a way to hurt me," Hannibal said. "I remained unmoved by a choice which caused you significant discomfort. I did not suffer with you, so you had to find another way to make me suffer."

"Were you? Suffering?"

"You always know how to make me suffer, Will."

The low rumble of his voice made Will close his eyes. "Jesus. You need to make that sound less like a come-on, okay?"

"Even if I find it erotic?"

"Hannibal." Will turned to look at him, but that put their faces much too close and Hannibal’s eyes were dark and fixed on him with obvious hunger. Will slid out of bed, only half by accident.

"And now we come to it," Hannibal said. "You will discuss sex when you can use the conversation as an offensive against me. You’ll kiss me when it pleases you and tell me that you enjoy my touch, but you have no intention of going further."

Will looked up from where he’d landed on his knees on the floor. "So what? I don’t owe you anything. I sure as hell don’t owe you sex."

"No," Hannibal said. "But there is nothing I want or have wanted as badly as intimacy with you, and that is why I was reluctant to discuss it. Why raise the question when the answer will certainly be no?"

Will crossed his arms on the edge of his bed and laid his head on them. He watched Hannibal’s face. "Because you like it when I make you suffer?"

Hannibal closed his eyes and shaped Will’s name with his mouth, nearly silent. Like a prayer.

"Do you? Really?"

"I do," Hannibal said.

Power rose up in Will’s throat with a metallic tang. It was the same kind of power he’d felt killing Garret Jacob Hobbs or taking down Dolarhyde. The indulgence of justified cruelty. "You probably shouldn’t have told me that."

"I am well aware," Hannibal said. "Will you come back to bed?"

Will crawled back up on the bed and lay down facing him. Hannibal looked into his eyes, and Will didn’t look away. It got to the point where it should have been uncomfortable and then it went past that. Past the point where it should’ve been funny. The tension in Will’s chest unspooled slowly.

Hannibal laid three fingers along Will’s cheek, fingertips rubbing softly against the grain of his beard. His eyes held varying shades of brown from dark to amber, but Will couldn’t really concentrate on the color. He was distracted by Hannibal, in there, looking out at him. Distracted and pulled in and caught by that connection. He’d spent so much time avoiding Hannibal’s gaze when they’d first met. Now he didn’t think he could look away, and he didn’t want to try.

Hannibal had the beginnings of a beard too after so many days on the road. Will laid a hand on his cheek and felt the stiff hair against his palm.

"Tell me what you thought about when you were crossing the Atlantic," Hannibal said.

"I thought about a lot of things," Will said.

He watched every flicker of Hannibal’s eyes and laid his thumb over Hannibal’s lips to feel the movement of his mouth. Will passed his tongue over his own lower lip. It was dry and cracked in the center. Hannibal’s gaze lowered briefly to follow the motion but snapped back to Will’s eyes half a second later.

"I thought about what it would’ve been like if I’d left with you that night when you asked me to. I thought about some of the same stuff you did. Eating together. With you and Abigail. Washing the dishes. I thought—" He swallowed, voice wavering. "You would’ve shown us Italy. Instead, you showed Bedelia."

"It was not my choice."

Will fisted a hand in his hair and held him hard. "It was your choice. Hannibal. It was absolutely your choice. It was your choice to cut me open, your choice to murder Abigail—"

"Your choice to betray me. To betray us."

"Your choice to manipulate me into a place where I couldn’t do anything else. You made yourself my enemy, Hannibal. And then you had the fucking gall to be hurt when I did the same to you."

"Did you expect me to wait for the police and let them lead me away?"

"I expected you to run," Will said. "That’s why I called you. I wanted you to go. Don’t tell me I betrayed you. I told you to run."

"You must have known I couldn’t."

"I didn’t. I didn’t know."

Hannibal stared at him, mouth twisted into a pained line. "How could you not?"

Will finally had to look away. "You’re not that easy to figure out. Even for me."

Hannibal pulled against Will’s grip on his hair, but not like he wanted to get away. More like he just wanted to feel it. Will held him tighter.

"What else did you think about?" Hannibal asked.

"What it would be like to—" Will paused. He ran his thumb across the soft skin behind Hannibal’s ear. "I thought about having a physical relationship with you."

Hannibal moved a hand between their bodies and pressed over the scar on Will’s stomach. "We’ve had a physical relationship."

Will met his eyes again. "I jerked off thinking about you. Is that a better way to phrase it?"

Hannibal’s fingers curled against his jaw, and his other hand knotted in Will’s shirt.
Will took a slow breath and steeled himself to say things he’d barely let himself think. "I thought about kissing you. I wondered what it would be like to touch your cock. I thought about your hands on me. A lot."

"Because you like it when I touch you," Hannibal murmured.

Will nodded helplessly, leaning toward him. "Yeah. Yes."

Hannibal took that as permission to get his hand under Will’s shirt and against his bare skin. The spike of desire hit Will like another knife to the gut. He held Hannibal’s wrist and breathed carefully, eyes wide and staring over Hannibal’s shoulder.

"We should check the supplies," he said. "And do something about – about the body."

"Likely we should, yes."

But Hannibal didn’t move, and neither did Will. He was so conscious of Hannibal’s soft touch that he could barely find room in his head for anything else. Hannibal’s fingers moved gently against his stomach. After a few seconds Will leaned closer and angled his head to bring their lips together.

He felt Hannibal’s sigh across his mouth. Hannibal’s beard prickled against his skin. He rubbed his cheek deliberately against it, and Hannibal grasped his shoulder. Will moved back to his mouth and touched his tongue to Hannibal’s lower lip before he dipped it inside. He could almost taste the tiny, subvocal sound Hannibal made.

Hannibal’s body leaned into his, big and warm and solid. His hand was spread open on Will’s stomach, and the broad muscle of his thigh pressed against Will’s. Will took his other hand, pried it from his shoulder, and set it on his hip. Hannibal slid it around immediately to his back and crushed him close.

Will stayed there for a few seconds, feeling the hot line of contact between their bodies, and then he broke the kiss and leaned back. Hannibal accepted it silently.

"I’ll check the shed and firewood," Will said.

"Do you want me to deal with the body?"

"No. We’ll do that together."

Hannibal clutched at him again for a second, hand fisted in the back of his shirt, and then slowly released him. "Yes. Then I will see what the kitchen cabinets hold for us."

"Does that turn you on? The thought of cutting him up together?"

"Not in a sexual sense, but yes. It is one of the most intense pleasures I can imagine."

\*

The shed had a roof that extended out a few feet from the building. It sheltered a second pile of split, dry logs. Frank had been well prepared for the winter. Inside, in addition to the small table and overturned chair, Will found gas for a small generator, extra kerosene for the lamps, tools and replacement parts for the pump, and, of course, the radio. He looked it over.

It was a shortwave, and it ran on batteries. Dust coated it. Frank’s handprints stood out, and Will could see the same layer of dust in the cupboard where it had been kept and on top of the extra batteries. He relaxed slightly, one more worry eased. Frank hadn’t been checking in with anyone, and no one would be expecting to hear from him.

Will put the radio back into its cupboard and dragged the chair upright. He sat on it and stared around the little shed. It was barely big enough across to lie down in and just high enough not to bump his head. He couldn’t very well spend the winter in here, no matter how terrifying the thought of going back into the cabin with Hannibal.

Not terrifying. Not exactly. Just too much. Now that they weren’t running for their lives, now that Hannibal wasn’t threatening to die on him, now that they had some chance of a life together, and somewhere Hannibal couldn’t hurt anyone even if he wanted to – they’d come all this way, and Will felt like they’d only just arrived at the base of the mountain they planned to climb.

Instead of going back inside, he took firewood from the stack against the shed and replenished the supply against the cabin. There was a clear trail through the snow, and he followed that down through the trees. The track opened up onto the lake, frozen over and dusted with snow, guarded by distant pine trees on the far side. Will stared out over the flat, white surface. He wondered if Frank had a fishing rod. All of this felt oddly like a reward for killing him.

He turned his back on it and marched along the path to the cabin. It wasn’t a reward. Or if it was, he hadn’t earned it yet. He pushed open the door and stuck his head inside. "Where do you want to do this?"

"The body?" Hannibal nodded to an oilcloth laid out on the floor. "Better to do it inside. He’ll be half frozen already and there’s no sense in making our job harder."

"I’ll get him."

They’d flung the rope over a high branch and tied it off on a lower one. It took Will some time to unpick the knot with his cold hands. When he got it, Frank crashed back down to earth and stared at him with wide, clouded eyes. Will levered him up and got him over his good shoulder. It still hurt.

Hannibal had felt like this, slung over his shoulder on the stairway up the cliff. Heavy and cold. Will hadn’t been able to feel him breathing. He’d just had to keep climbing and have faith.

When he made it to the porch, the door opened, and Hannibal stood aside to let him in. Will laid Frank’s body out on the oilcloth and knelt beside it.

Hannibal offered him a knife. "You may wish to start with the head. It will be easier for you after that, I think."

Will took the knife and looked at his own eyes reflected in the blade. "Are you going to cook his brain like you wanted to cook mine?"

"I don’t typically eat human brain. I could, of course, if you’d like me to."

"I really wouldn’t," Will said. "Why don’t you? You ate everything else."

"I prefer the more flavorful organs."

"But not with me."

Hannibal knelt beside him. "What else could I take from you?"

It was easier to look at Frank than Hannibal in that moment. "Tell me what to do."

"You watched me with Randall."

"Tell me anyway." Will took a shuddering breath. "I want you to tell me what to do."

Silence from Hannibal for a moment and then a hand on Will’s back, and his name spoken reverently into the silence. "Will—"

Will leaned away, half curled over his knees. "Don’t – touch me. Just tell me."

Hannibal took an audible breath and released it. His hand fell away, and his voice was steady. "You must expose the bone. Cut around the flesh of the neck first, the entire circumference, so that when you sever the bone, there will be no remaining connective tissue and the head may be cleanly removed."

Will nodded with a jerk and got up on his knees. He hovered over Frank's body. His hands felt numb again but not from cold. His fingertips tingled, and his entire body felt large and alien. When he sliced into the dead flesh of the neck, it felt like meat. Meat from the fridge. Frank was cold and gone.

He started at the back of the neck and pressed the blade in until it met resistance. After that, it slid easily around the vertebrae like carving around the stone of a plum. It wasn't more than a minute before he could ease the loose flesh back with the blade of the knife and show Hannibal the white bone underneath.

"Very good," Hannibal said. His voice was thick. He didn't touch Will, but it was clear that he wanted to. The desire was evident in his posture, his hands laid carefully on his thighs, the way he didn’t lean closer or try to catch Will’s scent.

"Did you want me the first time we did this?" Will asked. "When we took Randall to the museum, were you thinking about me like that?"

Hannibal took the knife from him and set it against the spinal column. He brought his fist down on the back of the blade and drove the knife clean through. Frank’s head dropped to the oilcloth and rolled to the right so that he faced the door. Hannibal looked down at the stump of the neck. "I thought of how you would look in a suit that I had chosen for you, sitting at my side at the opera. I imagined introducing you to The Magic Flute or Madam Butterfly. I envisioned the walk back to our palazzo through the moonlit streets of Florence."

"Sounds romantic," Will said. It didn’t come out as bitter as he’d thought it would.

"I don’t know," Hannibal said. "I thought it did, at the time. Now I can think of other things that strike me as more genuinely romantic."

"Such as? If you say chopping up a body together, I’m not going to take it well. Fair warning."

"No, this goes well beyond romance for me." Hannibal held the knife loosely in both hands. "In the tent, when my fever was high, you stayed with me. I was cold, and you put our sleeping bags together to keep me warm."

Will looked over at him. He was staring, as Frank was, at the door to the cabin, apparently without seeing it. "I didn’t know how much you remembered about that."

"I remember enough,” Hannibal said. "When I was a child, when my parents were killed, it was winter. Mischa and I went out into a forest very much like this one. I was cold then too."

Will could see the dark forest again and now he saw two small figures laboring through it. Hannibal went first so that Mischa could walk in his footprints. "I know." He tried to say it gently. "You don’t have to talk about it."

"I have told you things that I could not say to anyone else. Thoughts that have a place in the world outside my mind only because I can say them to you."

Will wet his dry lips and joined Hannibal and Frank in staring straight ahead at the door. "You said something to me that night. The same night you were talking about your sister."

"Regret."

"Yeah. That."

"You asked me to repeat it when I was whole and sober." Hannibal shifted. A log popped and settled in the wood stove.

"Only if you mean it," Will said.

"I did. I do. And I don’t. Could we be where we are now without everything that came before?"

Will glanced at him. "You have no idea, do you?"

"Of what?"

"I would’ve been so easy for you. Jesus Christ, Hannibal. Everything you did to me, and I’m still here. Imagine if you hadn’t."

Hannibal was still for a moment. He took Frank’s head by the hair, rose, and walked out the cabin door into the snow.

Chapter Text

Alone in the cabin, Will struggled on with Frank’s body. Hannibal had been right. It was easier without the head. It wasn’t the man who had let them into his cabin and fed them, the man Will had killed so that they could stay alive. It was just a body, and Will didn’t have much of a problem with bodies anymore.

He’d never cut one up on his own though. It probably came apart at the joints, he decided, just like any other carcass. He started with the right arm because it seemed easier than tackling an entire leg. Hannibal could sulk out in the snow for as long as he wanted. Will had plenty to occupy his time.

The flesh of the shoulder gave way under the knife. Will cut down to the bone. With the ball and socket exposed, it wasn’t hard to pop it out of joint and then cut away the rest of the flesh and connective tissue. He pulled the arm away from the body with an odd sense of triumph and held it in his lap.

The feeling didn’t last long. It was the hand that got to him. Had he shaken hands with Frank? Frank had known who they were from the first, or at least who Hannibal was. Surely he wouldn’t have? But the night had blurred into a haze of disconnected images. Will positioned the arm so that he could fit his hand into Frank’s cold, stiff one, hoping for some fragment of memory. It was nothing like a handshake. It was like holding hands with a piece of meat.

Will got to his feet in a hurry, knife and arm tumbling from his lap onto the oilcloth. He went to the door for a breath of air and saw Hannibal’s footprints in the snow. Without thought, he followed them.

They led down to the lake. Hannibal stood at the shore. He still held Frank’s head by the hair.

"You should’ve taken gloves," Will said.

"So should you."

"What are you doing out here?"

"Restraining myself."

"From what?"

Hannibal had found some wire and was winding it around Frank’s head, weighting it with stones. "I don’t know what I would’ve done. I only felt that it would be better to leave."

Will moved closer. He couldn’t help himself. He never could with Hannibal. Icy stones slipped under his feet, and he put a hand at the crook of Hannibal’s arm. Partly for balance. Partly to watch the way Hannibal’s whole body leaned into the contact.

"Were you afraid you’d try to cut my head open again?" Will said. "Or maybe you just wanted to jump me right there on the cabin floor. Do you think I would’ve let you?"

"Did you mean what you said?" Hannibal asked. His voice was rough. "Or was it only intended as another way to make me suffer?"

Will was quiet for a few seconds, looking out at the frozen lake, trying to see past his anger. “I meant it. Whether it’s true or not…” He shrugged. “It feels true. It felt true then. But I don’t know.”

“Perhaps it was, for you. Perhaps you could have done without everything we shared and still arrived at this place.”

“But you couldn’t.”

“No. I couldn’t.” Hannibal flung Frank’s head out onto the ice. It rolled a few feet and then it hit a thin patch, broke through, and sank out of sight. He took a slow breath and let it out, steam coiling through the air. “I haven’t asked you how you thought of me back then. Before your illness settled in. It seems I should have."

"You confused the hell out of me," Will said. He kicked a stone loose from the rim of ice at the edge of the lake and sent it sliding away. "Do you remember smelling me in your office? You said it was my aftershave."

"I remember, yes. Vividly."

“Yeah, I remember it vividly too. I thought about—" He closed his eyes. "It wasn’t sexual. Not then. But I thought stuff about you that I’d never thought about anyone before."

"Such as?"

He could feel Hannibal’s eyes on him, and that was heating him up despite the increasing chill. He pushed one cold hand into Hannibal’s coat pocket. "I had this – fantasy, I guess. There’s no other word for it. I’d be standing at the window of your office. Or sometimes sitting in your desk chair. And you’d come up behind me and touch the back of my neck. With your fingertips or just lay your whole hand there and leave it there while you talked, and—" He swallowed. "Say something."

"It’s a point of vulnerability. To allow the touch might be seen as an expression of trust."

"I never trusted anyone," Will said. "Not since my dad died. And then you – you."

In the pocket of his coat, Hannibal folded his hand around Will’s. "Me?"

"It was like falling in love. Or lust. It felt obscene, the way I trusted you."

Hannibal’s hand tightened around his. "Will—"

Will leaned up and kissed him, lips just catching against his. "I would’ve let you do anything."

Hannibal clutched at his hand. He pressed his mouth against Will’s again, hard, and then pulled back with a jerk. His eyes were dark.

"You like that idea," Will said.

Hannibal took a slow breath. "The temperature is dropping. We should go back inside."

"Anything you say."

Hannibal turned quickly away, but he didn’t give up his grip on Will’s hand. They walked back to the cabin together. Will stopped just inside the door. He’d almost forgotten about Frank.

"Can you continue?" Hannibal asked.

Will knelt next to the body again. "If you tell me how. I was guessing with the arm."

"You did well. The concept is the same with the legs. If you joint him, I will do the finer work."

Will nodded and set to work, aware of Hannibal’s heavy gaze on him. He needed help getting the bone loose from the hip socket, and it came free with a cartilaginous crack that made him start. "What were you going to do with the rest of me?" he said. "After you ate my brain?"

"I wanted to consume all of you. Realistically, it wouldn’t have been possible. My position was hardly secure." Hannibal took the knife from him and began to carve the leg.

"When you drugged me in Florence—" Will gripped his knees. He watched the easy motion of the blade. "I remembered being back in your office. The injections you gave me there.”

"It was not the first time you recalled that memory."

"It was the first time I got all of it. Before, when I let Chilton dose me, it was just bits and pieces. Flashes. But I remembered – you told me everything would be okay. I believed you. I believed you, even after you stuck the needle in my arm."

Hannibal’s knuckles were white on the knife handle. Color drained from his face, leaving him gray.

Will couldn’t tell if it was emotion or exhaustion. Right now, he didn’t really care. "I thought about what you could’ve done to me when you had me unconscious. At your mercy. You could’ve done anything."

"You know what I did," Hannibal said.

"I remember that too. The tube." He could feel it in his throat again, and he swallowed hard. "You holding my mouth open and shoving it in. Working it down my throat. I remember gagging on it. Knowing I couldn’t stop you."

Hannibal sat very still.

"You stroked my hair afterward. Touched my face. I remember the way the gloves smelled and how warm your hands were. You were trying to comfort me."

Hannibal shifted and bent to his work again. "Partly."

"And you liked touching me. You couldn’t do it when I was awake, but you couldn’t stop yourself when I wasn’t."

"I did nothing inappropriate."

"Hannibal, you shoved an ear down my throat. Everything you did to me was inappropriate."

"I meant—"

"I know what you meant." Will got to his feet. The cabin seemed very small. "Finish cutting him up. We need to get him back out in the cold if he’s going to keep."

\*

They finished. In an effort to find somewhere better to store the meat than up a tree, Will checked out the other two outbuildings. One was the outhouse and the other was a small hut that Frank had apparently used as a smokehouse. They got that going and at a stable temperature. By then, the day was sliding toward evening, and dark clouds had started to blot out the golden afternoon light.

"Another storm," Hannibal said.

Will picked up the rope tied to the cabin railing and strung it out. It just reached the smokehouse. There was another that he’d bet would reach to the shed that had held the radio.

Hannibal took up the other rope. He seemed to grasp the idea immediately. "Whiteout conditions. If you cannot see, you must feel your way."

Will looked at him and nodded. Their gazes stayed fixed on each other until Will looked down and away.

"I will start dinner," Hannibal said.

He’d kept some of the meat back, and the heart, so Will knew what dinner would be. He tried, briefly, to feel something about that. Regret, or guilt, or disgust. He shouldn’t have interrogated his feelings. It turned out that what he felt most was anticipation. He was tired and hungry and wanted a hot meal, but, more than that, he missed the taste of it. He’d spent nearly four years missing that taste. And now here they were, in their new home together, and Hannibal was cooking for him again.

He circled the clearing and checked the smoke house one more time. The sky was going gray so that the smoke blended perfectly with the clouds. He pulled open the cabin door and stepped inside.

Hannibal stood at the stove, a dishtowel tucked into his waistband to serve as an apron. He wore one of Frank’s shirts, blue and green plaid flannel, but he had the sleeves rolled up like he always had, just below his elbows.

As he tasted the sauce, Will watched the flex of his arms and the scars on his wrists. He stepped up behind Hannibal and rested one hand at his waist. "Smells good," he said.

Hannibal scooped up another spoonful and held it out to him, one hand cupped underneath to catch the drips. Will touched his wrist as he leaned in. The sauce was sweet and bright with a tang to it that filled his mouth and lingered after he swallowed. "What is it?"

"I’ve added a few other things, but what you’re tasting is the rose hip jelly, I think." Hannibal nodded to a jar on the counter. "A gift, I assume. The jars are labeled in a woman’s hand."

Will looked at the spidery cursive and tried not to imagine Frank’s sister standing over the stove, pouring the pale jelly into jars. Waiting for him to come back to town in the spring. He shook his head sharply. Frank could’ve bought them at a farmer’s market.

"Will?"

He was holding Hannibal’s wrist too tightly, but he didn’t want to let go. He rubbed his thumb along the line of the scar and felt Hannibal go still against him. "You like that?"

"Is that surprising? You liked me touching yours."

Will ran his nail over the thin white line. "Are you sorry I didn’t do it myself?"

"With your hands." It sounded involuntary. Hannibal bent his head and pulled away to stir the sauce.

Will pressed up behind him, chin on his shoulder. "I thought about cutting your throat." He let his lips brush Hannibal’s ear. "About how the blood would get all over me."

Hannibal’s grip on the pot handle tightened, and the pot scraped across the metal surface of the wood stove with a screech.

"But that’s not really with my hands, is it? If I did it now, it’d have to be strangulation."

Hannibal’s breath was shallow, his shoulders and back rigid. Will kept the grip on his wrist and put his other hand around Hannibal’s neck. He felt the bob of Hannibal’s Adam’s apple under his palm.

"I’ve only done this in my imagination," Will said. "So you better tell me when you can’t breath anymore. Hold up one finger, okay? When you get there, or if you want me to stop before that."

"Yes," Hannibal said, low and rough, barely a whisper, though Will wasn’t putting any pressure on his throat at all yet.

"When I did it in my head, I had you down on the floor. I was kneeling over you. My hands were cold, and your throat was so warm. It felt good." He started to squeeze, carefully, watching Hannibal’s fingers. His own fingers dug harder into the soft skin of Hannibal’s throat. He’d been right. It was warm, and it did feel good.

He could feel the pound of Hannibal’s pulse and the wheeze of his breath as it passed under his hand, more and more faintly. Finally, there was nothing.

Hannibal lifted his finger. He was leaning back against Will now. For a moment, Will wanted to keep going, to take him all the way to unconsciousness, to make Hannibal as helpless as he’d been. Hannibal would let him do it. He wouldn’t fight.

Will let him go. Hannibal took a gasping breath and reached back to hold onto Will for support. Will wrapped his arms around his waist and held him.

"I have to move the pan off the heat," Hannibal said. He was hoarse now. "It will burn."

Will did it for him, moving it over to the metal cooling rack on the counter. Hannibal watched him with wide, bright eyes and a hand at his throat. And an obvious bulge in his borrowed jeans.

"I didn’t really mean that to be a positive experience for you," Will said.

"You knew it would be."

“I guess so. Anything I can do to help with dinner?"

Hannibal blinked twice and smoothed his hands down his thighs. "You may set the table. There are plates and utensils on the shelf there."

Will did and then sat at the little table. He’d brought in the chair from the shed so they had two instead of one and a stool. Hannibal served a stew of heart and meat and potatoes, and carrots glazed with rose hip jelly. Will’s eyes closed on their own as he chewed the first bite of the meat.

"It’s been a long time," Hannibal said.

"I thought it would be longer. Forever. I didn’t think we’d eat together again."

"I knew we would."

"Knew?"

"I hoped," Hannibal said.

Chapter Text

They lay in bed together after dinner, Hannibal pressed up against Will’s back. Will heard his murmured confession: "I had given up hope by the time you came. I believed I would never see you again."

Will closed his eyes as he had when he’d tasted the meat at dinner. It was a similar feeling – something longed for and finally attained, but also unexpectedly barbed. Hannibal’s pain racked him, even knowing that no one could deserve it more.

"You asked if we could start over," Will said.

"Yes."

"I think that was the first meal I’ve ever had with you where I wasn’t worrying about something. Jack finding us. Whether I could catch you."

"And before that? Before you knew?"

Will shrugged. "I couldn’t even figure out what I was doing at your house before that. You were—" He stopped, unsure how to say it.

Hannibal traced a finger over the scar on his stomach. "What was I?"

"Not the kind of person who invited me over for dinner," Will said finally.

"Did you think I was interested in you romantically?"

Will almost laughed. "God, no. I couldn’t even believe – you have to see how unlikely it seemed."

"What?"

The words got stuck in Will’s throat, twisted up in a hot tangle that he could feel when he swallowed. "That you liked me."

Hannibal nuzzled the back of his neck. "I liked you. Very much."

"Well, I know that now."

"Why did you think I asked you to dinner?"

"I came up with plenty of reasons. Didn’t really buy any of them."

"You came anyway," Hannibal said.

"I liked it."

"You liked me."

Will rolled his eyes. "Yes, okay? I did. I do."

Hannibal took that as permission to get his hand under Will’s shirt and touch the scar directly. His cock was pushed up against Will’s ass, just a little hard. "Tell me more."

"More about how I liked you? Are you serious right now?"

"More about anything you wish," Hannibal said. "You seem to have a great deal to say."

Will paused. He did have a lot to say. A lot he wanted Hannibal to know. For all sorts of reasons. "I thought we’d eat together in Florence," he said slowly. "When I came to find you. I thought – a lot of stuff. That didn’t happen. Did you use something different to drug me that time?"

“A muscle relaxant. Morphine for the pain. Only a very mild sedative. You were never unconscious."

"I remember all of it. It’s so clear. It’s clearer than anything else that happened over there. That copper tub." The sense memory of Hannibal’s touch, undressing him, the hot water easing his muscles. Naked and helpless in Hannibal’s hands. He squeezed his eyes shut and made himself breathe.

"Did it disturb you?"

"No. Not at the time."

"Afterward?"

Will hesitated. "Sometimes, later, I thought about you touching me when I was like that. When I couldn’t stop you."

Hannibal’s fingers pressed against his stomach. "I only wanted you to be clean and comfortable. I intended nothing untoward."

"I know. Didn’t stop me from thinking about it." He shifted, the memory of light and water moving behind his eyes. "In the bath. Sometimes. When Molly took Walter to baseball practice and I was on my own."

Hannibal’s breath shook, like he was in the grip of some spasm. "Tell me," he said. He sounded hungry.

"The first time, I’d done something to my shoulder working outside. Thought I’d soak it. And I’d almost forgotten. I don’t take baths much, so it was probably the first one since – since Florence." Will closed his eyes and leaned back into the curve of Hannibal’s body for reassurance. He hadn’t even let himself think about this, let alone say it out loud.

Will pictured them both in Molly’s large, pine-paneled bathroom with the gauzy yellow curtains and the light behind them. Hannibal sat on the edge of the tub and looked down at Will, who was floating naked in the water. "You felt the water around you, and you remembered."

"I remembered how good it felt," Will said in a rush. "You were so careful. And I’d looked for you for so long—" He snapped his teeth shut on something that wanted to escape him, a scream or a sob.

Hannibal trailed his fingers through the water and watched him.

"And I’d found you. And there was nothing I could do. I was glad there was nothing I could do."

"Relieved of the necessity of action, toward revenge or justice."

Will nodded. "I could just … rest. For the first time since you’d left."

"It was a pleasant memory. Despite your helplessness."

"Not despite. Because of." Will turned toward him, and they were back in bed, wound up in the blankets and in each other. "And I thought, what if you hadn’t stopped at washing off the blood?"

Hannibal wet his lips. "This seems to be a recurring theme in your fantasies."

"Do you find that surprising? The only times you’ve touched me without hurting me were when I was unconscious or out of my mind."

Hannibal dipped his chin once in acknowledgement. His mouth made some uncontrolled movement, but he didn’t speak.

Will sighed. "Or maybe it was just easier to think about it that way. No responsibility. No consequences."

Out in the forest, the wind moved through pine needles with a thin, sad sound. The cabin creaked around them.

"Were those the only fantasies you had?" Hannibal said at last.

Will looked away. "No. Not the only ones."

"Tell me another. If you would."

Will squeezed his eyes closed as one came to him, unbidden, old and familiar. He bit at the side of his tongue. His throat felt too tight.

Hannibal shifted closer until their foreheads touched. "Will?"

"I thought about you coming to get me," Will whispered. "Breaking out and just – just showing up at my door. We’d go away somewhere. You’d have it all planned."

"And would you go with me?"

Will nodded.

"And then?" Hannibal asked.

"No and then. Just." Will took a shaky breath. "You wouldn’t leave without me. Not again." He tried not to ask, but he couldn’t stop himself. "You wouldn’t, would you?"

"Never, Will. Never again." Hannibal held him in place with that hand on the nape of his neck and pressed their lips together. His breath was warm, and they were very close, the heat of his body palpable across the inches between them. Hannibal’s fingers tangled in Will’s hair. His tongue touched Will’s lips.

Will opened up to let him in. He hauled Hannibal in by the front of his shirt and sealed their mouths together. "I tried to be – normal," he said, half muffled by Hannibal’s mouth. "Happy. Without you."

Hannibal bit his lower lip, not hard, just enough to feel the edge of his teeth. "Did it work?"

"No. Yes. I don’t know. I felt like – like I’d put part of myself away in a drawer. But it was nice. It was simple. Things were never simple with you."

The nip he got for that was sharper. "I should hope not," Hannibal said. "The life you chose, the simplicity of cardboard, of shadows on a wall, of—"

"Hey." Will wrapped a hand around his throat. He didn’t squeeze, but Hannibal stopped anyway. "Don’t talk about them like that."

They stared at each other. Hannibal pressed into his grip, and it made his voice rough. "I wish the Dragon had killed her. That he had killed both of them."

Will didn’t choke him, but he did dig his nails into the skin of Hannibal’s neck. Hannibal made no move to stop him. "After I just got through telling you that I would’ve walked away from them? Hell, I did walk away from them. I’m here. I’m with you."

Hannibal just looked at him, pupils huge in the dim light, and something in them gleamed, iridescent like oil or butterfly wings.

"Tell me why," Will said. "Why did you send the Dragon after them?"

"You know. You must. So you ask because you want to hear me say it."

Will waited. Hannibal was silent. He kept his eyes steady on Will’s for a few long seconds, but then he let them drop, lashes lowering so that Will could only see a faint shine by the light of the kerosene lantern in the corner. He felt in that moment how utterly alone they were, ejected from civilization, entirely wrapped up in each other. And he only wanted to be closer.

"She had what I couldn’t have," Hannibal said. "She succeeded where I failed. Of course I wanted to destroy her."

"Wanted?"

"Want." He looked up to meet Will’s eyes again and spoke slowly. "Not only her. Everyone who has ever touched you. Everyone you have allowed to draw close to you. I would eat them alive, piece by piece, if I could."

Will smiled a little. Apparently Hannibal could tell him anything too. He leaned close again and brushed their lips together. “The Lord thy God is a jealous god?"

Hannibal pressed his face to Will’s neck and took a long breath. "Jealous, yes. I was. I am." He paused. The silence lasted a long time, but always with the promise of speech. Will could almost taste the words Hannibal was trying to get out. "That someone else could fill the space I left. That you could find that with anyone else—"

"I couldn’t," Will said immediately, so fast he nearly tripped over the words. "I couldn’t, she wasn’t – I loved her. Maybe still do. But she wasn’t you. She wasn’t – no one else—"

They were kissing again as if they hadn’t stopped and would never stop. Will’s last words were muffled and broken by the insistent press of Hannibal’s lips.

\*

A howling storm had surrounded the cabin by the next morning. Will lay in bed listening to the wind, the door rattling on its hinges, and the low tick of ice crystals against glass. Hannibal slept beside him, taking up most of the narrow bed, flat on his back with one arm flung out across Will’s chest.

Will took his hand and watched his face. Nothing. He slept on, even while Will moved each of his fingers in turn. After a few minutes of amusing himself with that, he worked his wedding ring off his finger and set it in the middle of Hannibal’s palm. He slid out of bed.

While the water heated for coffee, he stepped outside, intending to head for the outhouse. The wind smacked him in the face so hard he staggered. The door slammed shut behind him, and he was staring into a world of white. He couldn’t even see the trees and he knew they weren’t more than ten feet away. After a few seconds of staring and a few more of preparing himself, he relieved himself off the edge of the porch and hurried back inside.

Hannibal was watching him from the bed. "How is it?"

"Bad. I think I have windburn on my dick. Where’s the coffee?"

"To the right of the snowshoes."

Will spooned some into the kettle and took it off the heat. Hannibal’s hands had been spread flat on the quilt, no sign of the ring. "What’d you do with it?" Will asked.

"I ate it."

Will turned around and leaned back against the counter. "You did not. You would’ve choked."

Hannibal just smiled at him, very thin, eyes half closed. "Would I? Are you certain?"

The desire to kiss him again rose up and pulled at Will, like someone yanking on a particular heart string. He crossed the room and put one knee on the bed. Hannibal reached for him. "The coffee will get cold," Will said. "Breakfast."

"We have all day. We have all winter." Hannibal brushed his hair back and kissed the scar on his forehead. "We have forever."

Hannibal pulled him down on the bed, and Will let him do it, let him settle down at his side and press slow, languorous kisses to his mouth. When he tugged at the hem of Will’s shirt, Will stripped it off and threw it to the floor. Hannibal touched the scar on his stomach. He drew his fingers up over Will’s ribs and along the muscles of his shoulders and upper arms.

Hannibal steered clear of his wound, of the bruises on his side, and stayed well away from anything that might be considered an erogenous zone, as if the scar across his stomach formed some kind of sexual DMZ. After a minute or two, he paused, one hand over Will’s heart. And then he raised the other to stroke Will’s hair and face.

The memory came out of nowhere and hit Will hard. He could smell the nitrile gloves, almost feel the tube in his throat. He stiffened and swallowed hard just to prove that he could.

"Do you want me to stop?" Hannibal said.

"No. Don’t stop." His heart thudded under Hannibal’s palm. It shook his chest.

Hannibal combed his fingers back through Will’s hair, stroked his uninjured cheek, smoothed over the lines of his eyebrows. Each breath Will took came a little slower, a little less desperate. Hannibal touched his throat and kissed his forehead.

"When you put that tube down my throat … what were you thinking when you did it?" Will said.

"I thought it was necessary. I thought it would help you realize what you could be. What we could be together."

Will looked up at him. He knew, but he couldn’t help asking. "And you just didn’t care how much it would—" He stopped and swallowed and swallowed, half gagging on the memory of the tube and half on grief. "I thought I’d killed her."

"Change is always painful," Hannibal said. His face was as calm as a pool of still water. He still soothed Will with his touch, stroking over his face and neck.

Will held onto his wrist. "You’ve changed me so much."

"Less than you have changed me. You’re right. I didn’t care how much it would hurt you."

Will looked up at him, raw with hope and no way to hide it. "But now …?"

"Now I would make another choice."

Will didn’t know if he believed it, but he wanted to, maybe more than he’d ever wanted anything.

Chapter Text

Hannibal went out into the storm and returned, frosted in white from head to toe, with most of a small tree.

"Little early for Christmas," Will said.

"It is not a Christmas tree." Hannibal used the hatchet to hack off the branches. He tossed them out the door.

"Well, it sure isn’t now."

Hannibal scraped it smooth and put a point on it and then he set it in a corner and started cooking dinner.

Will studied it for a minute and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "It’s a bear spear, isn’t it."

"Not yet."

"Hannibal. Don’t."

Hannibal gave Will a small smile over his shoulder. "Are you concerned for my safety?"

"I didn’t drag you out of the ocean and halfway to the North Pole just to watch you get eaten by a goddamn bear. You can hardly carry a bucket of water."

"The bear will hibernate until spring. When it has recovered from its sleep and I have healed, there will be time for hunting."

Will let it go. Spring was a long way away. They might not make it. The bear might not make it. And there were worse things Hannibal could hunt.

The storm blew itself out after a day or two, but another followed on its heels. Will made brief trips to the smokehouse, to the pump, and to get more wood. Otherwise, gratefully, they slept. Both of them twisted together under the covers, accommodated each other’s injuries, and dozed entire days away. They got up only for trips to the outhouse, to cook, and to make more coffee. Will felt as if they were hibernating, and he wondered what would emerge in the spring.

Hannibal removed the stitches from Will’s face and shoulder. They cleaned each other’s wounds and washed each other’s hair. "I’m glad you didn’t dye it," Hannibal said one day. They were both naked, Will just in the bath and Hannibal just out of it. Will was glad too if it made Hannibal look at him like that.

Will got used to Hannibal’s touch, to Hannibal’s erection poking against his ass or his hip or his stomach. He got hard sometimes himself, but it was easy enough to ignore. He wanted to keep ignoring it, to put off crossing that particular bridge for as long as possible. Hannibal seemed content to do the same. If he was jerking off, he was doing it while Will was asleep, and Will didn’t think he’d sleep through that.

They kept Frank’s clock wound to keep track of the hours, but Will lost track of the days. He thought it had been a week when he reached for something with his right hand and his shoulder didn’t scream at him as loudly as usual, but it might’ve been two. Some part of him thought it might’ve been years, and he had to look at Hannibal to make sure neither of them had aged like Rip Van Winkle sleeping in a fairy ring.

Hannibal looked like Hannibal. He stood at the wood stove, frying hash browns and some unidentified part of Frank. His beard had grown out short and mostly gray. He was wearing a blue-gray henley, sleeves pushed up, fabric stretched tight across his chest. He glanced over at Will, and Will looked down at the human remains in the frying pan.

"What is it?" Hannibal said.

"What if I never want to have sex with you?"

Hannibal flipped the meat, metal spatula scraping against the cast iron pan with a raw, ringing sound. "Then we won’t have sex. I think you will though. It’s not a fundamental lack of attraction to male bodies that’s troubling you. It’s me."

"You sound pretty sure about that."

"I am. Plates," Hannibal said.

Will got them. Hannibal divided the contents of the pan between them, and they sat down at the table instead of taking the plates back to bed as they’d been doing.

"How long have we been here?" Will asked.

"Eleven days."

"You feel any better?"

"I do. We are both starting to heal." Hannibal paused, chewing. He swallowed. "You show no hesitation in touching me or in kissing me. Your sticking points are intimacy and lack of control. Both are born out of an inability or unwillingness to trust."

Will smashed his hash browns with the back of his fork instead of eating them. "Got any therapeutic suggestions for that, Doctor?"

"Would you like some?"

"Maybe. Depends on what they are."

Hannibal was silent for a minute or two except for the sound of his fork against the tin plate. "You still feel the inequity between us. Nothing touches me, you said."

"Except for me."

Hannibal inclined his head. "Literally and figuratively. The logical conclusion is that you must put us on an equal footing. If you felt yourself debased—"

"Not debased."

"What then?" Hannibal said.

"I don’t know. Raw. Skinned alive."

"Then that is what you must do to me."

Will stared at him. He looked so calm. "What are you suggesting?"

"Only that I am in your hands."

\*

Will tried not to think about it. He poked at the stew bubbling on the wood stove. He rewound a coil of rope that they’d knocked from the wall at some point. He opened the big chest at the back of the room that usually served as a bench and started going through the contents.

Extra cooking oil, extra salt, another blanket, which he put on the bed. Hannibal seemed to chill easily now, and there was something in his eyes when he got too cold that made Will want to keep him warm, always. Piled in the right corner, he found a small stack of books, which he greeted with relief. On Walden Pond, a book of nature essays and poetry by Loren Eiseley, a couple of mystery novels, a worn copy of War and Peace on the bottom, bookmarked at page 43.

Will left the bookmark where it was out of some obscure desire not to erase Frank from the world more than he already had. He stretched out on the bed and started at the beginning. He’d read it before, and the world and characters fit easily into his mind.

Five minutes later, he was thinking about Hannibal again. Hannibal, who had politely ignored him through all of this and fitted a cross brace on his bear spear.

Hannibal was right. Will was fine with the idea of sex up until the point where he thought about letting Hannibal see him naked, see him come. That was a problem. But he didn’t think he’d have any problem seeing Hannibal that way.

Outside, the sun was only halfway down toward the horizon. Will felt as if he ought to wait until they were in bed together, but – why? There was no reason. They had no schedule to keep.

He sat up and put the book aside. "Come here."

Hannibal had just set a loaf of bread to rise and be cooked later in the dutch oven with coals piled on top. He wiped his hands and came to sit next to Will.

"Lie down. No, leave your shoes on. Leave everything on. Just – lie down. Just like that."

Hannibal obeyed, silent. He let his boots hang off the end of the bed so they wouldn’t touch the covers.

Will chewed at the inside of his lip. "Push your pants down around your thighs. Underwear too."

Still no hesitation. Hannibal unbuttoned, unzipped, and pushed everything down together. His bared cock lay soft against his thigh.

"I want to blindfold you," Will said.

"Are you asking for permission?"

"Do I need it?"

"No, Will. I told you. You can do as you like."

Will picked up one of Frank’s faded, checked bandanas. He lowered it over Hannibal’s watchful eyes and slumped in relief when he had it tied in place. Seeing but not seen, safe from examination and dissection.

"I’m going to jerk you off," he said. "Don’t speak. Don’t move. Don’t do anything. Just lie there and take it."

"Yes, Will." Hannibal was smiling.

Will determined that he wouldn’t be smiling by the end of this. He looked over Hannibal’s cock. He’d seen it often enough by now, but he’d managed to avoid looking at it as a sexual object. And he hadn’t seen it hard.

Soft, it was about average for length and girth. Smaller than his, which gave him a tiny bit of spiteful, petty pleasure. The only thing that set it apart was that it was the only uncircumcised dick he’d ever seen – at least to look at. He’d been in enough communal showers and locker rooms in his life that, statistically speaking, there had probably been more. But you didn’t look, so he hadn’t. He looked now.

He cupped it in his palm. The foreskin was very soft. It covered the head entirely. At Will’s touch though, the shaft started to thicken. Muscles flexed in Hannibal’s thighs, and Hannibal let out a soft breath.

Will wanted to tell him to keep his breaths to himself. He didn’t want any input. Just Hannibal’s physical responses, stripped bare of the mind that controlled them. He pushed Hannibal’s jeans further down and slid a hand along his inner thigh, up to touch his balls and run his fingers over them. They were large and slightly uneven, left bigger than right. He took them in his hand and squeezed, just until he felt Hannibal tense.

He watched Hannibal’s chest rise and fall. He was breathing more quickly now. His cock was about half hard. Will took it in his hand and felt the shift of loose skin around it. He stroked it once and watched Hannibal’s lips part.

"Not a sound," Will said. "Or I’ll stop."

Hannibal closed his mouth and pressed his lips together.

Will turned his attention back to his cock. He got cooking oil, coated his palm with it, and stroked him like that until Hannibal was hard, until he could press the foreskin back gently and bare the head. It looked oddly vulnerable to him. Maybe it felt that way to Hannibal too. He nearly flinched when Will ran his thumb over it.

He stroked faster. Hannibal’s feet flexed back, and his thighs started to tremble. Will stopped. He could hear the slow exhalation of breath. Hannibal was holding onto the sheets with both hands. Will stroked him again, watched the tightening of the muscles in his forearms.

He pushed Hannibal’s shirt up to see the tense plane of his stomach. He put a hand there. The hardness of muscle was immediately apparent, contracting just under the skin. Prison hadn’t left him much in the way of padding, no matter how lenient Alana had been about the food.

Will kept his hand around Hannibal’s cock and watched his face. Hannibal was moving his head a little with every stroke, tensing his neck, shifting his jaw. Will touched his lips. They parted under his fingers as Hannibal breathed in, almost a gasp.

"Did you masturbate in prison?" Will asked. "You’re allowed to answer questions. Nothing else."

"Yes."

"Did you think about me while you did it?"

"No."

"What did you think about?"

"Nothing," Hannibal said. "It was a physical exercise like any other."

"What are you thinking about now?"

"You. How much I would like to see your face as you do this, although I realize of course that the idea is for you to see me without—"

Will put a hand over his mouth and stopped him. "I realize I invited that, but keep your answers brief."

Hannibal swallowed as Will took his hand away. "I would like to see you. To touch. I know you will deny me these things. It’s – maddening. And arousing."

"What about it arouses you?" Will asked. He wished he could see Hannibal’s eyes without Hannibal seeing his, but the movement of his mouth and the seeking way he turned his head was nearly as good.

Hannibal took a long time to answer, long enough that Will stopped the movement of his hand in case it was too distracting.

Hannibal grunted softly. His hips twitched upward and stilled again. "I don’t know how to answer briefly."

Will rubbed slowly over the head of his cock and watched Hannibal struggle to stay still. "Okay. Tell me what you like best about it. And then tell me what you hate the most."

Hannibal’s lower lip slid between his teeth. His legs were spread as wide as the stretch of his jeans would allow. "Your touch," he said haltingly. "Your hands. I have thought of them often. While I was in my cell watching the moonlight move across the room. When I didn’t sleep. That was when I thought of you, and I imagined—"

Hannibal broke off with a quick inhale as Will stroked over his stomach and chest. "Okay. That’s enough. Next?"

Hannibal swallowed. Will watched pre-come leaking from the head of his cock. He rubbed his thumb over the slit.

"I want to see you," Hannibal said, voice rough. "I want to know—"

"Know what?"

"That you are as – affected – as I am."

Will leaned closer. "What if I’m not? I know you’ve thought about that. You had three years to think about it."

"Will—"

"Quiet." He set up a steady rhythm with his strokes, watching the way Hannibal’s mouth opened wider, the pink of his tongue, the helpless flex of his hips. "You said you’d given up hope. Even with me right here, I know you’re still wondering." Hannibal was getting close. Will stroked him faster. "You know I want you, but maybe … just not that much, right? Not the way you want me. Not the same at all."

Hannibal arched off the bed as he came, silent, brow creased and teeth digging in hard to his lower lip. He lay very still afterward. His breath was quick and shallow.

Will dragged his fingers through the streaks of semen on his skin. He reached for the blindfold, but Hannibal caught his wrist. "Don’t," he said, low and hoarse. "Not yet."

Will watched the twist of his mouth and the hard swallow afterward. He felt caught between the desire to comfort him and the desire to dig the knife in deeper. He pushed Hannibal’s hand away and pulled off the blindfold. Hannibal’s eyes were wet. As he squinted against the light, a tear rolled down from the outside corner of his eyes, over the creased skin there, and down toward his ear.

Will brushed it away with his thumb. "What do you want from me right now? Don’t think about it. Just answer."

"Contact. Your hands. Your body against mine."

"Imagine if what you tried to do had worked. Imagine I ended up with your appetite for cruelty. What do you think I’d do right now?"

Hannibal stared up at him. "I can’t imagine it. You would leave, and I can’t imagine you leaving me. Not now."

Will sighed and lay down beside him, body pressed tight against his. “Considering how smart you are, I’d have thought you would’ve gotten that a while ago."

"Will—" Hannibal sounded lost, and he pulled Will to him with a grip on his shoulder and hair so tight it was painful.

Will didn’t stop him. He did try to shift so that he wasn’t putting so much pressure on Hannibal’s wound, but Hannibal wouldn’t let him. They lay together, surrounded by the scent of sex and Hannibal’s come drying between them. Mainly on Will’s shirt, he suspected. "You warm enough?"

"Yes," Hannibal said, muffled against Will’s shoulder.

"You’re right. I wouldn’t leave you. My mind isn’t divided anymore. I’m still angry. But I’m not going anywhere."

"Until spring?"

“Until death do us part. If that’s okay with you."

"Will—"

"Actually, fuck that. Even if it’s not okay with you. Don’t know why you should get a say in it. You never gave me any choice."

Hannibal held him even tighter. "By the time I understood that there was any reason to give you a choice, it was much too late."

Will sighed. "Yeah, for both of us."

He closed his eyes. Sleep was always close by these days, and it came with ease as Hannibal’s fingertips moved over his scalp. The last thing he was aware of was Hannibal’s stew bubbling quietly on the stove.

When he woke up, the stew had been moved to the counter to cool. Hannibal was gone. The corner where he kept the bear spear was empty.

Chapter Text

Will stared at the empty space where the spear had been for a few long seconds.

"You stupid asshole," he muttered. He hauled himself out of bed and reached for his boots.

Will set out at a jog on Hannibal’s trail. He’d found a can of red paint and used it to mark the trees as he passed. Compass and map had gone into his backpack as well food and water, but the snow was falling more heavily all the time. He didn’t trust his ability to navigate back to the cabin through a whiteout with only a compass.

After maybe a quarter of a mile, he started to recognize things: a fallen tree here, a pile of rocks there, the way a certain tree had been warped by the wind. Hannibal’s tracks were leading back to the cave, back to the bear. Of course. Will hadn’t wanted to believe it.

He picked up the pace, lost his breath to the cold air and the spike of pain from his shoulder, and had to slow. He scrambled over the fallen tree that he remembered as being close to the clearing near the cave. Everything was silent, muffled by snow. Hannibal’s footprints were filling in quickly. He wanted to call out, but something stopped him.

A crash echoed through the forest followed by a hoarse cry. Will couldn’t tell if it was human or not. He skidded into a run, ignoring his shoulder, ignoring the burn of his lungs and the way his boots slipped. He gripped tree trunks to keep upright and slid to a shocked stop at the edge of the clearing.

Hannibal stood just outside the cave. He held the spear in both hands. The bear was a massive black shadow in front of him, so unnaturally huge that it looked prehistoric, like Randall’s cave bears. It growled, a long low sound, and Will could see the yellow of its teeth. It charged.

Hannibal sidestepped it. He was flushed from the cold, and his beard and hair had grown so unruly that he almost looked prehistoric himself. Will saw him for a moment clad in deerskin, hair long and gray, teeth bared.

The bear turned and loped toward him again. Will raised Frank’s rifle to his shoulder, but the bear was moving fast, and he wasn’t sure of his shot. A round to the eye should stop it. Anything less would just piss it off.

It reared up on its hind legs. Hannibal darted forward. Will nearly cried out, but his throat was tight with cold and fear and then it was done: Hannibal thrust the spear up and in and planted the butt in the snow. He leapt back out of reach as the bear swiped at him.

The bear roared again and tried to get at him, but it only sunk itself further down onto the shaft of the spear. Will saw what the cross brace was for now: it stopped the bear’s downward slide and kept it impaled, halfway to the earth, unable to attack.

Hannibal bent over, hands on his thighs, panting. He watched the bear’s struggles. Blood dripped down the shaft of the spear. Hannibal sank slowly to his knees.

Will moved cautiously toward him. He knelt next to him in the snow. "Hannibal?"

"Will." Hannibal turned to him and blinked twice, snowflakes catching in his lashes. "Did you see?"

"I saw."

The bear let out an oddly human gasp. Inch by inch, it sagged and went limp. The carcass swayed, and then the spear slipped sideways. They watched its slow collapse until it lay flat in the snow with its long pink tongue lolling out onto the ground.

"You said you’d wait until spring," Will said.

"I wanted … to get something for you. A gift. I needed to."

Will put an arm around him and leaned his forehead against Hannibal’s temple. "You know, Alana told me your insanity defense was crap. I think she was wrong. You are completely crazy."

Will had expected Hannibal to be put out by that, but he only looked quietly pleased, something less than a smile softening his mouth and warming his eyes. "Only for you."

Will nudged him. "What were you planning to do with it? Drag it home and leave it on the doorstep?"

"I had planned to skin it and butcher the meat. Take the best of it and leave the rest behind." He looked up at the darkening sky. "It took longer than I expected."

"Yeah. We need to get back to the cabin."

"We can’t leave the bear. It will be eaten or frozen solid."

"It’ll take forever to skin it."

"Nonsense," Hannibal said. He used Will’s shoulder to get stiffly to his feet. "It’s not so much bigger than a human being, and that’s simple enough. I can do it in the cave. If you light a fire, we will stay warm. I trust you’ve brought food."

Will ignored the first part of that statement. "I brought food, yeah. I guess the cave isn’t a terrible idea."

"I will remove the brain and you can show me how to tan the hide with it," Hannibal said.

Will looked around the clearing at the snow, the bear, the darkening sky, and Hannibal’s openly happy expression. He sighed. "Okay. Let’s gut it and get it inside."

Even gutted, the bear weighed so much that the two of them together could barely drag into the cave. Will left Hannibal to start skinning it and carving off bear steaks or whatever for dinner. He gathered fallen branches to block the mouth of the cave so they wouldn’t have any unexpected visitors in the night this time and then he gathered firewood until it was too dark to see.

Hannibal kept skinning while he cooked – bear kebabs, bread, butter, and chocolate bars for dessert. Fat dripped and sizzled on the fire. Will thought of offerings to the gods and sent up silent thanks to Frank’s shade. And the bear’s. Not that it would do either of them any good.

Frank, at least, had died so they could live. Hannibal had killed the bear, Will suspected, out of a need to do something with his emotions and to not do it to Will. In that way, it was a gift.

"You’re very quiet," Hannibal said.

Will looked out through the branches at the cave’s mouth at the falling snow, white specks on black like static on an old TV. "Thinking," he said.

"Of what?"

"Are we going to stay out here? The cabin, I mean."

The steady scrape of Hannibal’s knife against the skin paused. "Is that a life you would enjoy?"

"Not forever," Will said. "I’d like to see more of the world, and I know there are things you want to show me. But for a while." He looked at Hannibal’s profile, red in the firelight.

Hannibal started carving away meat from skin again. "What is the appeal for you?"

"Not having to worry about anyone else’s rules. We can be anything out here. Do anything."

"We can do that anywhere." Hannibal gave him an almost coy look from under his lashes.

"We really can’t. If you start leaving a breadcrumb trail of bodies behind us, Jack is going to catch up sooner or later."

Hannibal’s expression faded into a still blankness. "Do you expect me to keep killing?"

"I don’t see how I can stop you. I already gave it my best shot."

"Didn’t I say that you can do as you like with me?"

Their eyes met and held for a few seconds before Hannibal looked down at the massive paw cradled in his lap.

"I will … keep that in mind," Will said slowly. "But I’d still like to stay here for a while. We’re safe here. I’d like to remember how that feels."

Hannibal nodded once. After a few more minutes of watching, Will took a knife from the backpack and started on the bear’s other paw.

\*

They made it back to the cabin by mid-morning. Staked out flat on the floor for salting and scraping, the bear hide stretched nearly from one side of the cabin to the other. Will and Hannibal had to edge around it when they went to bed that night.

They lay facing each other, both aching from the physical labor involved in dragging it home, staking it, chopping more firewood, pumping water. The hand Hannibal laid against Will’s cheek was starting to form a callus across his palm. His mouth against Will’s was as soft as ever.

When he shifted closer, Will put a hand on his hip to keep their bodies separate, just by an inch or two.

Hannibal kissed his jaw. "I would have guessed you’d had your fill of retribution. Do you still intend to make me suffer?"

"Not much longer."

"If you’re not as eager for this as I am—"

Will shook his head. "It’s not that."

"Then what?"

"Maybe I just like making you wait. Making you ask." He did. But he also felt they both needed time. Yesterday was too close and too raw.

Hannibal nuzzled into the soft skin of his throat and bit down gently. "Would you like me to beg?"

"Hannibal."

"It’s a serious question. Would you enjoy that?"

Will tipped his head back and let his eyes close. "Only if it’s sincere."

Hannibal pressed closer. This time, Will let him. Their bodies came together in a single line of heat. Hannibal was hard already, and Will was getting there.

"Please, Will," Hannibal murmured against his neck. He pressed light kisses there, up to his jaw and down to the hollow of his throat. "Please don’t make me wait any longer. I need you. Let me show you how much."

"Fuck," Will said softly. His cock was straining against Hannibal’s thigh, and it was so tempting. It would be so easy to say yes.

Hannibal sucked at his collar bone and took it between his teeth for a bare moment, almost a threat. "It could be argued that I owe you," he said. His voice was soft and blurred as if he were drunk on Will’s skin. "You could let me touch you. There is no need to return the favor until you’re ready."

Will stiffened at that. His cock liked the idea just fine, but it also made his chest seize up and his heart give a painful thud. Both of them blind and helpless with pleasure, that he thought he could handle now, but to be stripped raw with Hannibal watching him, cool and remote — no. He caught Hannibal’s wrist as his hand dipped down toward the waistband of Will’s pajamas. "Don’t."

Hannibal leaned back to look at him. "I won’t if you don’t want me to. Is there anything you do want from me right now?"

Will took a shaking breath around the dull ache in his chest. He opened his mouth, but it took a few seconds to get the words out. "Just – hold me. Hold onto me. Don’t let go. Don’t leave. That’s all."

Hannibal pulled him closer, wrapped him up tight in his arms, and kissed his hair. They breathed quietly into each other’s space, erections pressed into each other’s bodies and ignored until they began to fade. Hannibal stroked Will’s back slowly, up and down. Will grabbed handfuls of Hannibal’s shirt, pressed his face into the warm crook of his neck, and closed his eyes.

\*

When the hide was dry, they both sat down on the floor and went to work with their knives again, going after every tiny bit of flesh, fat, and membrane. They scraped until the hide was white and they could see the pores from the inside. It took all day with breaks for meals. Will’s shoulder ached so badly by the end of it that he let Hannibal carry in the water that evening. All he could do was sit still at the table, clench his jaw, and try not to think about it. He’d stopped taking the painkillers — they might need them more later — but he wanted one now.

He must’ve looked as bad as he felt. Hannibal came to sit beside him while the water boiled for coffee and wordlessly put his arms around Will to hold him as he had in the night. Will ducked his head down and rested it against Hannibal’s shoulder. He could feel the vibration of his heart through muscle and bone.

"Do you care that I’m in pain?" Will said. "I mean, I know you care intellectually. More or less. But do you feel it?" He put a hand on Hannibal’s stomach. "Here?"

"Yes. My level of empathy for you has become uncomfortably acute."

Will put a hand on his cheek and kissed him, tongue sliding over his lower lip and into his mouth. He shifted closer.

"You like that idea," Hannibal said.

"I like the idea that you’ll find it harder to hurt me. It’s reassuring," Will said dryly.

"It’s more than that, I think. Isn’t it?"

Will stayed close, lips less than an inch from Hannibal’s, nose bumping his. He swallowed. "It’s a lot of things. It’s … not being alone with it. The pain. After you cut me open – God, it hurt. It hurt all the time, and you were gone."

"I should have taken you with me," Hannibal murmured. "By whatever means necessary."

Will couldn’t say yes to that, but he couldn’t bring himself to disagree either.

\*

Hannibal squeezed the bear’s brains, crushing them in his fists and mixing them into a bucket of warm water. Will sat and watched, resting his shoulder. Two days after the scraping, it still hurt.

He glanced out the window at the angle of the sun. "We should’ve started earlier."

"The perils of living in paradise. No alarm clocks."

"Is that what this is? Paradise?"

Hannibal gave him a warm look over his bucket of brains. "Isn’t it? I suppose you’d like a dog too."

"Wouldn’t mind," Will said.

"Perhaps in the spring. Will this truly take all day?"

"I’ve seen it take all day for a beaver hide. I don’t know how long this thing’s going to take. Once the brain solution is on and starts to dry, we have to keep working it till it’s all the way dry or it’ll harden up and we’ll have to start all over."

"I’m sure we’ll manage. Will this do?" He tipped the bucket toward Will.

"Yeah, that’s fine. Let’s get started."

They worked in the brain solution with their hands, more and more, until the hide was saturated with it and their fingers were wrinkled from the water. When it had soaked up all it could hold, they let it sit for a while and then did it again.

While it started drying near the fire, Hannibal made lunch and Will lay on the floor listening to the wind howl outside.

Hannibal cocked his head to listen too. "I used to hear wolves in the woods at night sometimes when I was a child," he said.

"In your John Carpenter castle. The children of the night," Will said in a bad Transylvanian accent.

Hannibal flipped another pancake onto the stack and poured more batter into the pan. "Was it all in ruins?" he said after a moment of silence.

Will looked up at him, arms crossed behind his head. "Most of it. The part Chiyoh lived in was pretty well taken care of, but even there a lot of the windows were gone. I got the feeling she liked it that way."

"She has austere sensibilities. She was never one for trifles." He paused again. "And the rest of it?"

"Empty. No furniture anywhere that I saw. A lot of dust. A lot of cobwebs. Cold. Damp. Especially the cellars."

"It was never fully modernized. No central heating. Only the fireplaces and the stove. Do you want ham with this?"

"Yeah, thanks."

"I will make kimchi next year, I think."

Will looked up at him and reached out to touch his ankle. "What happened, Hannibal? In the cold and the snow. What happened to Mischa? Where did you see her teeth?"

Hannibal stood very straight, so still that he might have left his body and gone wandering through the darker halls of his memory palace. Will waited him out until he smelled burning and then squeezed his ankle. "Hannibal. Pancakes."

Hannibal came back to life with a jerk of his shoulders. "Yes, of course," he said. He scraped up the pancake, only a little seared on the bottom, and took the pan off the stove. He got down the maple syrup and paused. "The pipes had burst. It was a bad winter. Very cold. They dug a pit to empty their waste. That was where I found her teeth. With the excrement and the food scraps."

Will didn’t know what to say. And, for once, he didn’t think Hannibal wanted him to touch him. He stayed where he was, flat on the floor and as unthreatening as he knew how to be. Hannibal didn’t look angry. Right now, he didn’t look like he’d ever had an emotion in his life.

"They dug it in the graveyard," Hannibal said. "They found that amusing."

"They? There was only one … guest in your cellars."

"Yes. He was the only one left. I disposed of the other two."

"And fed them to him," Will said.

Hannibal nodded. He divided the pancakes and ham between their plates.

The past unspooled like a ragged, bloodstained thread in Will’s mind. "The way they fed her to you."

"Yes," Hannibal said. "Come and eat. It will get cold."

Will got up off the floor. It was the most difficult meal he had ever eaten at Hannibal’s table. Hannibal sat in silence, far away. Will tasted something bitter at the back of his tongue with every bite. Finally he gave up on eating and rounded the table to stand at Hannibal's side.

"What is it?" Hannibal asked.

Will shook his head. He ran his hands through Hannibal's hair and made it stand on end. He touched the growing stubble on his cheeks and chin. Hannibal had trimmed it with a pair of nail scissors, but hadn’t bothered to shave.

After a few seconds of stiff stillness, Hannibal leaned his head back against Will's stomach. He looked up at Will. "Is this where our overlapping selves diverge? Do you not find my pain fascinating?"

"I do," Will admitted. "But it hurts too."

"You disregard your empathy when you have sufficient motivation."

Will stroked a finger down his nose, over his lips and chin. "I don’t even mean it hurts because of that. It hurts you, and I don’t want you to hurt. That’s all.”

"So simple." Hannibal let his eyes close as Will kept touching him.

"You know that’s how it usually works, right? We don’t want to see the people we care about in pain. Even if it is fascinating."

"When you say ‘we’ to whom do you refer? You are no more one of the common run of humanity than I am, or you wouldn’t recognize the fascination to begin with."

"Maybe I’ll just speak for myself then," Will said.

Hannibal turned his head blindly and kissed his palm. "Speak for both of us."

Will looked down at his closed eyes, the thin, trembling skin of his eyelids. He touched him there, smoothed fingertips over his lids and eyebrows. "Sometimes I like to see you suffer. But I don’t want to see you hurt. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," Hannibal sighed. "You understand. To be the cause of your suffering and its cure. That is what I want."

Will stroked through his hair and kissed the top of his head. "Work on the cure part for a while," he suggested.

Hannibal’s expression lightened finally, and the corners of his mouth curved up. "I shall do my best."

\*

They used the table as a breaking post, draping the bear skin over it and pulling it back and forth between them, rubbing it over the edges to soften it. The warmth from the wood stove kept the air dry, and the process didn’t take as long as Will had feared it might. Even so, they were at it till long past their usual dinner hour.

Will hung it in the smokehouse for the final stage, suspended with the skin side down so that the smoke would penetrate it and bind to the tannins in the brain solution to waterproof it. When he came back in, Hannibal was serving soup and dumplings.

Will’s shoulder ached, his back ached, his hands ached. They cramped when he picked up the spoon and he had to stop and flex his fingers before he could eat. Hannibal looked pale and sat slightly bowed to one side, favoring his wound. They ate in silence, socked feet resting together in a tangle under the table as they had for most of the day.

"I found some books the other day,” Will said afterward, when they’d cleaned up and Hannibal was heating water for tea.

"I saw. War and Peace. You started it?"

"I could start over. If you wanted to—" Will broke off, only realizing as he said it how odd it would sound. Read it with me. There were other books. They didn’t have to read the same one.

"I’d like that," Hannibal said.

So they took their mugs of tea and got into the small bed together. It was tight quarters lying down. Sitting up, shoulder to shoulder, it wasn’t actually possible without risking an elbow to the ribs every time one of them turned a page.

"Get up a moment," Hannibal said. When Will had, Hannibal shifted to the middle of the bed and spread his legs. He patted the space between them.

"Should be the other way around. I’ll hurt you," Will said.

"You won’t be putting pressure on the wound. It’s far enough to the side. I’ll tell you if it becomes uncomfortable."

Will eyed him, still unsure.

"I prefer it this way," Hannibal said. "I think you do too."

He was right. Part of Will’s hesitation was the ever-present unwillingness to give into what he wanted. Some part of him ached for exactly this, Hannibal at his back and all around him. The chance to feel that as safety instead of threat.

He climbed stiffly onto the bed again without meeting Hannibal’s eyes and leaned back. Hannibal’s chest was warm and solid, and Hannibal’s chin settled on his shoulder. His arms came around Will’s stomach.

"You hold the book," he murmured in Will’s ear. "And I will hold you."

Will’s throat ached with warmth as he opened the book to the first page.

Chapter Text

Will took the bear skin out of the smoke house the next morning. It was soft and supple and smelled deeply of woodsmoke when he held it up to his face. He wrapped it around him for the cold walk back to the cabin and came in wearing it as a cloak.

Hannibal looked up from his coffee and surveyed him with obvious pleasure. "It suits you. I can fashion a clasp for it."

"I don’t need a bearskin cloak." Will left his boots by the door and tossed the hide down in front of the stove. He followed it down and stretched out on top of it. "This is better."

Hannibal joined him and laid a hand on Will’s stomach. "Perhaps the next one I kill."

"Stick to deer for a while. They taste better, and their hides are a lot more useful."

Hannibal looked down at him, all along the length of his body. "I find this admirably useful."

Will could see himself in Hannibal’s eyes, naked and spread out on the fur, flushed from the warmth of the stove. He wet his lips and saw Hannibal follow the movement of his tongue.

"Shall I ask again?" Hannibal said. "Or beg?"

Will looked up at him, mind still for once. He wanted to say yes, to everything, but he couldn’t, not quite. "What will it mean to you? Why do you want to?"

"Pleasure is the usual reason. Is that not enough?"

"Not for you. There’s always more with you."

"And you are searching for the hidden hook in the bait." Hannibal paused, expression thoughtful. "Why did you enjoy killing the Dragon, Will?"

Will buried his hands in the bear’s fur. The answer filled his head like bells, so obvious and clear that he couldn’t have stopped himself from saying it. "Because I did it with you."

Hannibal smiled at him. "Yes. That is my answer as well."

Will reached for him and pulled him in by the front of his shirt. They kissed like that, Hannibal bent awkwardly over him, Hannibal’s tongue sliding against his. Their lips were chapped from the cold and the dry air. Will’s were still chilled from his trip outside, but they warmed quickly to Hannibal’s mouth. They kissed until his neck ached from leaning up, and then he pulled Hannibal down onto his side.

They inched their bodies closer. Hannibal slid a thigh between his, high up, and Will tightened his legs around it with a small groan. He rocked against it. Hannibal’s hands made jerky progress down his back, alternately clasping him close and trying to push his shirt out of the way.

"We should get undressed." Will sucked Hannibal’s lower lip into his mouth and held it briefly with his teeth.

"Yes," Hannibal agreed. But his hands kept moving down to Will’s ass where they stayed, squeezing, fingers digging in hard.

"It would make this a lot easier."

Hannibal dipped his head to set his mouth on Will’s neck and suck. "It would," he mumbled, very low, pressing the vibration of the words into Will’s skin.

Will got enough of a gap between them to start unbuttoning Hannibal’s shirt, but the mouth on his neck was wet and hot and insistent, and he kept losing track of his fingers. He got it half open and spread out his hands on Hannibal’s chest, just resting there. He felt the beat of his heart, the muscle, the hair sliding under his palms.

Hannibal’s teeth touched the thin skin over Will’s carotid artery. He remembered the spurt of blood across his face when Hannibal had bitten out the Dragon’s throat. It made his stomach twist and his cock pulse, and suddenly he was fighting to get out of his clothes.

Hannibal got the idea after a few seconds and let go of him long enough to do the same. When they were naked and their bodies were touching, it felt like it had on the cliff. There was nothing but Hannibal, and he was all Will needed.

Hannibal pulled Will on top of him. Will dug his knees and palms into the thick fur to keep his weight off Hannibal’s wound, but Hannibal tugged at him insistently. His hands kneaded Will’s ass, and his nails raked down the backs of his thighs until Will felt his limbs go hot and liquid and weak.

They were pressed together, kissing, hot breath and the burn of stubble. Will felt the slide of Hannibal’s thick cock against his stomach. He reached down to touch it. Hannibal shuddered against him, almost a convulsion. He gripped Will’s shoulders. Will could feel the sharp point of each nail.

"How did you imagine this?" Hannibal said, low and hoarse. "Alone on your boat while you were crossing the water to find me?"

"I thought about tasting you," Will said, which was true in several ways. "Can I?"

Hannibal gripped his shoulders tighter and pressed his face into the crook of Will’s neck. "Please."

"Never done it before. I won’t be much good."

"For the best. You’re too much as it is."

Will couldn’t help smiling. "Most people don’t mean that as a compliment."

Hannibal cupped his face with both hands and looked at him, flushed, eyes very wide. “Everything I have said to you or will ever say to you is a compliment."

"Bullshit," Will said but he was still smiling.

"It’s true. It feels true." Hannibal leaned in and pressed their raw lips together once more. "It feels like the only thing I know for certain."

Will swallowed hard and kissed him again. He lost himself in the hot slide of Hannibal’s mouth. He only became aware of his own downward thrusts when Hannibal took his hips and squeezed.

"If you want to taste me, you had better do it soon," Hannibal said.

Will slid down his body and lay in the fork of his thighs. He stroked the soft skin there. He trailed his fingers through the curly hair that surrounded the base of Hannibal’s cock. Hannibal was watching him, propped up on one elbow, unblinking. Will leaned in and licked up the shaft. Hannibal’s head fell back. His mouth fell open. His thighs pressed in around Will, trapping him there.

It felt good. Safe. Will nosed at the base of the shaft and breathed in. Hannibal smelled like sex. He tasted like salt. As Will licked him again and again, the bitter taste of pre-come slowly filled his mouth. It wasn’t a good taste but, in the moment, he couldn’t get enough of it, and he lapped each new dribble of it greedily from the head of Hannibal’s cock. He pressed back the foreskin to bare him further and sucked on the head, tongue always moving, wanting more.

Above him, Hannibal’s breath became harsher and more uneven. He dragged his nails over Will’s shoulders and dug them in. He shifted and squirmed under Will’s weight and wrapped his thighs around him and finally wove his fingers into Will’s hair and held on. "Please. Will. Please."

The plea brought Will back to his own body, his own aching cock. He found he was thrusting against the rug, fur soft on his dick and stomach and thighs. He looked at Hannibal’s face and the dark flush of his cock. He almost looked as if he was in pain. For a second, Will wanted to keep going, to keep him like that, keep both of them right here for as long as he could, but it couldn’t last much longer. Not this time.

He opened his mouth and took as much as he could, only a few inches, though it felt like much more. He sucked, cheeks hollowed out, and stroked Hannibal at the same time. It felt a little odd, but the rhythm was familiar. So were the noises Hannibal made, at least from his imagination, though he’d never imagined Hannibal sounding so abandoned.

Hannibal came without any warning. Come filled Will’s mouth. He swallowed reflexively again and again without any thought of pulling back. He was still tonguing the head for more when Hannibal hissed and pulled him back by his hair. Will looked up at him. He looked wrecked, eyes wild and dark, color on his cheeks like he’d had in his fever dreams.

Will just stared at him. He reached a hand down to his own cock, squeezing to relieve the ache.

"Don’t," Hannibal said harshly. "Let me."

Will rested his chin on Hannibal’s stomach. "What do you want to do to me?"

Hannibal’s expression seemed to stall out in neutral for a second or two at the scope of the question. He stared at Will with his lips parted and blinked once. Will kissed his stomach, rested his cheek there, and laughed.

Hannibal smoothed a hand over his hair. "So much," he said.

"Where do you want to start?" Will couldn’t quite keep still. The soft slide of the fur over his cock felt too good.

Hannibal watched him. "Stay like that," he said. He released Will from the crush of his thighs and slid out from under him, leaving Will sprawled face-down, head resting on his crossed arms.

Will felt boneless and warm from the stove. Without Hannibal’s body under him, the fur slid over his chest and nipples as well. He squirmed a little deeper into it and worked his hips down hard, just once.

Hannibal knelt behind him. He pushed Will’s thighs apart and then urged him up so that his knees were under him and his chest was still pressed to the fur. His dick hung down, heavy and hot. The fur brushed along the shaft, a light, tickling, frustrating touch. He thought about complaining, but then Hannibal gripped his cheeks and spread him open and licked over his hole.

"Jesus!" Will said. He nearly said it again at the next hot wet slide of Hannibal’s tongue but, when he opened his mouth, no sound came out. He gripped the bear skin and stared at the shadows under the bed while his jaw worked open and closed. Hannibal licked and teased. He flicked his tongue back and forth over clenched muscle that seemed to hold every nerve ending in Will’s body.

"Fuck," Will said finally, under his breath, and then much louder as Hannibal’s tongue speared him and pressed inside. "Fuck, fuck, Hannibal—"

Hannibal went back to the slow, broad licks he’d started with and then sucked. Will was silent again, gasping and staring blindly at warped floor boards and dust bunnies. His back arched, and his hips pumped back. He ground against Hannibal’s face, and Hannibal let him do it. Will’s cock hurt he was so hard, and every slow drag of Hannibal’s wet, slippery tongue made him want to cry with pleasure.

"Please," he said. "Please, I can’t—" Couldn’t take anymore, couldn’t coordinate himself enough to get off. Couldn’t do anything but take it.

Hannibal took pity on him and took hold of his cock. He stroked Will, hand slicked with spit and pre-come. His tongue pushed in, and Will came and came until he saw lights behind his eyes.

His shaky thighs gave out, and he fell over to lie on his side, panting. Hannibal spooned up behind him. He nuzzled at Will’s neck. His chin and cheeks were wet from what he’d done. Will gripped his hand and kissed him desperately. He tried to put everything he felt for Hannibal into it, which was, in the end, everything he had.

He rolled over so that they lay face to face. When he opened his eyes, the world shimmered faintly through tears. Hannibal cupped the side of his neck and gripped his hair. His eyes were wet too. They lay there, looking at each in silence, for a long time.

\*

Will lay with a blanket over him, still on the floor, and watched Hannibal clean his come out of the bear skin rug. "How’s that going?" he asked.

"Better than I thought it would." Hannibal finished up and set the rag aside. He sat back on his heels, still naked. His cock rested against his thigh. Will was having a hard time looking anywhere else. One corner of Hannibal’s mouth turned up. "Again?"

"God. No. Not for another hour at least," Will said. He turned onto his back and stretched. "I could just lie here."

Hannibal rested a hand on his stomach. "While I make lunch?"

"Is it lunch time already?"

"Are you hungry?"

"I guess I am. Did I fall asleep?"

"We both did. I don’t know the time," Hannibal said. He sounded pleased about it. "I forgot to wind the clock last night."

They looked over at Frank’s clock. It had ticked constantly since they arrived and occasionally let out a high, thin chime. Now it was still, frozen at 8:05.

"Then I guess we eat when we’re hungry," Will said. He felt as he had when he’d turned on the radio and gotten only static: unmoored from the world.

"And sleep when we’re tired," Hannibal agreed.

And fuck when we’re horny. Neither of them said it. They didn’t have to. Will was tempted to pull him close and go again immediately, but he really was hungry. And he wasn’t sure he could take another round like that without resting up for it first.

He poked Hannibal’s thigh with his foot. "So what are you making?"

"Bear stew," Hannibal said.

Will poked him again. "That sounds like something that needs to cook for way too long."

Hannibal caught his foot and held it gently. "There is bread and cheese while we wait."

"Okay. I was thinking maybe in the spring I could build you an oven for the bread. Out of clay or something."

"Do you know how?" Hannibal asked.

"Not a clue. We can figure it out. Right?"

Hannibal kissed his instep. "I am certain we can."

Chapter Text

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."