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A Hundred Fires

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It is hard, on evenings like these, to believe it’s the same ocean.

This ocean is a glowing jewel of ultramarine water and alabaster sand, not a writhing black beast brimming with gnashing foam teeth and punishing cold. This ocean laps gently at the beach, a sweet and luxuriant hush with every lick.

Hannibal inhales, tasting cigar smoke in the air, as well as tropical foliage and exhaust fumes from old vehicles. These paint in broad strokes over the slightest edge of aquatic decay that always accompanies the sea.

This ocean, this world, smells different as well.

Hannibal takes his sunglasses off, polishes the lenses on a shirttail, and hooks them precisely in his breast pocket. The sunset has faded to just the rich purples and deep oranges, best viewed with the naked eye. He doesn’t have a camera, but of course he doesn’t need one; he remembers this sunset exactly as he does every other he’s witnessed, be it from 40 years ago or 40 minutes.

Hannibal must admit, though, that these sunsets from the beach near Cienfuegos are the most spectacular he’s seen. He wishes for the seventieth time in as many days that he weren’t seeing them alone.

Hannibal lifts his Panama hat from his head and smooths back his hair, then replaces the hat. He licks his lower lip as an afterthought, tasting salt and fresh air.

He leaves the beach, tourists swarming around but never encumbering him. The crowds part for him and recoalesce behind, like a school of sardines does a shark that passes through their midst. Perhaps these people too, on some level, are aware of a predator among them.

It is not a long walk to his destination, through dark alleys, crossing a few streets. He waves a hand in thanks at a car that slows for him, and then carries on. Three blocks from the beach Hannibal hears music on the very periphery of audible range. Acoustic guitars, drums, piano, a man singing in Spanish. He follows the sound.

The bar is a rooftop lounge and the music fills and overflows the guard rails, pouring down into the streets below like syrup. Hannibal inclines his head at the man standing in the door of the ground floor entrance, slips through the waiting queue and climbs the nearest staircase. The wood is a century old and creaks beneath the soles of his shoes.

The air on the rooftop is cooler and fresher, if not slightly tinged with smoke from big oil lanterns and cigars. A breeze brushes across the few small tables, and Hannibal can smell that his search has indeed come to an end. A predictable one, but an end nonetheless.

Hannibal does not emerge from the shadowed door, but rather lingers and observes.

At his seat in the corner of the patio, Will is barely distinguishable. Like Hannibal he wears light clothing, boat shoes and a hat. He looks like every other vacationing man on the island.

Will is drinking a neat whiskey from a lowball glass. He isn’t drunk, Hannibal can see it from here, feel it even. He is staring at a deep red floor tile, eyes flat and unseeing. His jaw is set in a way that only accentuates the strong line of it. With the lamps casting the right side of his face into shadow, the scar on his cheek is invisible.

His Will, Hannibal thinks. Always distracted.

The song the band was playing ends, and the singer thanks the sparse crowd, followed by a smattering of applause.

Will doesn’t move or snap out of his reverie, so deep in thought he seems to be.

Hannibal smiles in the darkness of the doorway.

Will hasn’t spoken to him in three months. Or, at least, has said nothing of substance.

 

When he jerked awake for the first time since their plummet into the Atlantic, he shuddered and swore and snarled at him like a rabid dog. A week later, he’d given Hannibal a sharp ‘Don’t.’ when Hannibal had taken his chin between thumb and forefinger, and he had yanked his face away.

A month later, when they arrived in Cienfuegos, Hannibal had shown Will to his own private room of the colonial era house they were renting. Will’s body had gone stiff and his eyes hard as he looked at Hannibal over his shoulder.

“I don’t know what you want from me.” He’d said, both wary and angry.

Hannibal had tried to temper his smile.

“I don’t want anything from you.”

Will had looked vulnerable for a second, and then his face clouded over and he slammed the door in Hannibal’s face.

After that, it was another month and a half until he spoke again, this time to quietly reply ‘No.’ when Hannibal invited him to a party on the beach.

Hannibal had gone without him.

 

 

Hannibal shifts aside as two young women pass him on their way back down the stairs. He doesn’t take his eyes off Will even when one of them bumps him with their beach bag and apologizes.

To Hannibal they are just an inconsequential fog. Everything that isn’t Will is a muted grey.

 

It was today that Will broke his most recent multi-week silence.

Hannibal had come into the kitchen, a fresh papaya under one arm and a bag of limes under the other. Will was at the island in the centre of the kitchen, both hands in white fists. His shoulders were hunched, his body hard. Curious though he might have been over Will’s apparent mood, Hannibal knew better than to question him on it. These moods were frequent with Will now, and never did he give a reason why, unspoken or otherwise. More often than not, he would disappear from the room rather than be subject to Hannibal’s probing eyes.

On this particular morning, he just watched as Hannibal began to slice the papaya, eyes riveted to the little glossy black beads that spilled from it once it was halved. Hannibal cleaned and skinned the fruit with ruthless efficiency, placing perfect salmon-pink squares on a plate.

“You may have some of this, if you wish.” He’d said, pushing the plate into the centre of the island.

Will had stiffened visibly, and his eyes flicked up from the fruit to meet Hannibal’s.

His stare was so direct, so incredibly piercing, that Hannibal found himself smiling at the rarely seen show of directness.

“Still trying to discern my countless ulterior motives?” he asked, eyes fixed on Will’s face.

“No. I’ve narrowed it down to two.” Will replied.

Hannibal inhaled sharply. It was shocking to hear Will’s voice after going so long without.

“And what two might those be?”

Will set his jaw, and his scar rippled and pulled taught.

“You either want to kill me or fuck me.”

Hannibal raised an eyebrow.

Well, he certainly had to commend Will for his candor.

“To go so long without hearing you is to forget your skills in observation, dear Will.” Hannibal couldn’t keep himself from smiling now, nor did he wish to.

“I’ve decided I’m going to take the luxury of choice away from you. I’m choosing.”

Had it been anyone else, they would have been too late to notice the glint of metal in Will’s desperately clenched fist, arcing with deadly force towards Hannibal’s throat.

But Hannibal wasn’t anyone else.

It was the work of a scant millisecond to overpower Will, and Hannibal saw fear- real and salient fear- flash in his eyes when Hannibal caught his wrist and relieved him of his razorblade. Hannibal used his body and Will’s surprise to shove him backwards against the nearest counter, pinning his hands on either side of him and using his own entire torso to keep him there. Hannibal bent him backwards, taking away any strength of movement.

Their faces were mere inches from each other, Will’s sharp pants filling the air between them with turbulent warm breath. He attempted to struggle, but could only succeed in shifting a tiny amount, his warm and terribly alive body pressing against Hannibal’s.

His eyes were wide, and Hannibal thought he’d never looked more beautiful.

“You are crude in the extreme, Will, when you declare I wish to either kill you or fuck you.” Hannibal spoke quietly but leaned on the ‘fuck’, knowing Will had never heard him swear. Will’s jaw twitched.

Hannibal let his eyes roam Will’s face, greedily taking in every little detail from so deliciously close. He treasured every inch of his skin, tremble of his lips, flick of his eyes, and squirreled each selfishly away for him and him alone.

“The simple truth is that I seek to possess you, utterly and entirely with no omissions. To have you as my own.”

Will went completely still against him for a beat, his face frozen. Then, he snarled and thrashed wildly, legs kicking.

“I don’t want to be possessed by you.” He hissed, eyes bright like fresh lava, and redoubled his efforts to escape. Hannibal couldn’t help but be pleased by the dynamic difference from the flat eyed, bland expression Will had otherwise worn of late.

Hannibal ignored the pain and discomfort and simply held on, riding out the storm. He could feel Will’s heart beating frantically in his chest, feel the strain of his muscles against him.

His struggling got him nothing.

Will slumped, gasping for breath. He closed his eyes against Hannibal’s calculating stare.

“Let me go.” He wheezed.

“Very well.” Hannibal said.

He stepped abruptly away, leaving Will collapsed backwards over the counter. Will quickly schooled his surprised expression, gave Hannibal a dark look, and stormed out of the kitchen, stumbling against the doorframe in his haste. Moments later, the front door slammed.

Hannibal’s nose twitched in displeasure.

He threw out the papaya.

 

 

From his vantage point in the shadows of the rooftop doorway, Hannibal can still smell the remnants of Will’s fear, can still feel the warm shadow of his body against his. If he closes his eyes, he can remember the precise play of emotions across Will’s face when Hannibal told him he wished to possess him; the anger, the surprise.

The guilt.

The band is playing a new song. It is slower, it’s beat warm, enthralling and inescapable. It reaches inside and wraps a tight hand around the lower spine, veritably forcing every person to sway melodically.

It also makes them yearn to seek out a partner, because this dance is so clearly meant for two.

Hannibal finds himself unable to resist the beckoning call, and he hardly wants to besides.

He emerges from the shadows, taking long, slow strides around the outside of the dance floor. The torchlight catches and pivots in his peripheral vision like shards, but he looks only at the seated figure.

As he nears, Will’s brow furrows yet deeper and his head snaps up; a deer at the scent of a wolf. His eyes meet Hannibal’s directly, endlessly defiant and sharp with no trace of fear. For this at least, Hannibal is thankful.

He no longer wishes for fear from Will.

Not in this world.

Hannibal changes his stance, sliding effortlessly into the graceful pose of a dancer, all the while not breaking their eye contact. He steps closer and holds out his hand, palm up.

The music is seductive and crawls hot across the skin, stretching from Hannibal’s hand towards Will in undeniable invitation.

Will inhales- Hannibal watches his narrow nose flare briefly- and then stands, slow and methodical. They are incredibly close now, and Will’s nerve seems to give as their faces come level. His eyes drop as his cheeks flare pink. His mouth is an undecided moue.

He is angry still, and so beautiful, and Hannibal can’t breathe for it.

“Will you dance with me?” Hannibal says quietly, watching the fluttery cast of shadow from Will’s lashes to his cheeks.

His jaw flexes with tension and he looks for all the world as if he’s going to say no.

But then Hannibal feels his hand, cool and smooth, slide into his, hesitant but there nonetheless.

He can’t help the enormous smile that curves his lips as he draws Will in to him, clasping their hands together and sliding his free hand around the other’s trim waist, feeling his warm and vibrant flesh beneath his light shirt.

The music sets the pace, lets them sway rhythmically yet slow and steady. Their toes brush.

“Put your hand on my shoulder, Will.” Hannibal says gently when he sees his hovering hand.

Will hesitates for only a second or two, and then his hand comes to rest there as directed.

So odd, Hannibal thinks, that the last time they held each other this tightly, they’d been bathed in blood about to plunge into the inky Atlantic.

Will’s hand clenches slightly on Hannibal’s collarbone, as if he too is remembering the same thing.

Hannibal can’t take his eyes off Will’s face, can’t stop smiling, can’t stop the slow stroke of his thumb across the back of Will’s.

They rotate gently and the lights catch across Will’s cheek, across his chin and lips, flashing in his eyes, and then across his other cheek. His scar appears and disappears just as quickly.

As Hannibal holds him, and as the music weaves a heady atmosphere so rich it shrouds them in a blanket, he realizes that this truly must be what love is. This tragic, terrible and all-consuming ecstasy. This enormous feeling that somehow found a way to vex even a monster so removed from humanity as himself.

Will’s eyes are focused on Hannibal’s throat, his lips parted just a bit. Hannibal feels his hips shift in time to the quiet drum beat and accompanying guitar, feels his shirt slide under his palm. He spreads his fingers and presses in possessively, pulling Will closer. Their chests bump, and from how their faces are so near, side by side, Hannibal both hears and feels Will’s breath against his jaw.

Will’s eyes flick up and to the side to catch on Hannibal’s, holding on. When Hannibal smiles wide at him, they drop to his mouth and then quickly back to where they were before, a pink blush rising in his cheeks.

“You should know, Will,” Hannibal says, just barely above a whisper, “I miss you terribly when you choose to withdraw and be silent. Hearing your voice so much today…” he laughs under his breath, “It delighted me more than you could ever imagine.”

Will’s dark brows furrow, and he glances at Hannibal for only a second.

 “Why?” He asks.

Hannibal watches Will’s face, how it ticks with tension.

“Must you really ask me that?”

 Will stiffens in Hannibal’s arms, and then he pulls away. He stalks to the nearest railing, away from the dance floor and the band.

 Hannibal waits a moment, observing, before he nears. He can see Will’s hands, gripping the railing so tightly his knuckles could almost split the skin like an overcooked sausage.

 They stand side by side, the warm tropical breeze swirling across rooftops to them. Hannibal can smell woodfires, diesel fuel, cooling terra cotta, fresh whitewash, drying laundry.

“Maybe I don’t want to be possessed by you.” Will says abruptly, and his hands twist on the rail as if to warp it.

“An entirely normal response. No person wants to be owned. But I think we can agree, my tastes have always run to the grand, and certainly not the normal.”

 Will snorts.

 “And it seems only fair, does it not? Tit for tat? A fair exchange?”

  Will gives him a sharp look. “For what?”

  Hannibal shifts closer, and Will watches with quick, darting glances.

   “For me.”

   Wariness breaks slowly over Will, and he half turns his face away, eyes narrowed.

   “I don’t…I don’t have you...”

   Hannibal says nothing, just waits.

   Will’s breathing gets faster, and he looks suddenly annoyed.

 “Since when? Since when have I had you, exactly?”

 “It’s difficult to say.” Hannibal leans back against the guardrail, looking at the few dancing couples, “I’ve thought perhaps it was when you sat down beside me in the Uffizi gallery, and smiled at me in a way I’d never seen you smile at anyone else. Or when you bit off part of a man’s face a few days later.

  “Maybe it was when you ran to me early in the morning, so terribly lost and confused. Could have been earlier, even, when you blinked up at me through your blood-spattered glasses as you held Abigail’s throat together.”

  Will is staring now, eyes wide.

 “I think, though, if I am to be as honest as I can be,” Hannibal turns, and leans on his elbows beside Will, “it was when I mentioned offhand that you were not fond of eye contact, and you all but sneered at me.”

  Will blinks when Hannibal smiles.

  “From that moment on, I’ve been yours, Will Graham. And I am content to be whatever that ownership may entail. Even as removed as you have been, these last few months have been some of the happiest of my life. This, I owe entirely to you.”

 Will watches him for a long while, studying every aspect of Hannibal’s face. He knows he’s looking for a lie, for a plot or scheme, or a master manipulation. But he will find none.

Hannibal smiles at him, and his face is utterly blank, because there is no façade required. It is the first time in many, many years that this is the case.

Will breaks eye contact, takes off his hat, and spins it idly in his hands. He appears to be thinking.

“I…think I’m going to go home.” he says finally. He spins the hat once more, and then puts it back on his head.

“I will see you there.” Hannibal says, inclining his head.

  Will nods cursorily, and then he is gone.

 

 

 

           

 It is a part of his peculiar pathology that Hannibal is unable to truly feel disappointment. He has applied many theories to himself on this matter- Freudian, Lacanian, Jungian- but none seem to explain this curiosity. He seems unable to truly feel regret of any kind, let alone for events beyond his control.

 Now, however, he believes what he feels is probably akin to disappointment.

 His Will, always so impossible to predict.

 After wandering the streets of Cienfuegos, seeing the sights and wondering vaguely if he should murder someone, Hannibal decides the shine has indeed come off the night, and so he returns to the villa. It is dark and quiet inside, and since he and Will live in opposite wings of the house, he cannot see if Will’s light shines beneath his door or not.

 Hannibal sighs, and puts his hat on the rack next to Will’s, toes off his shoes next to Will’s, puts his set of keys next to Will’s on the line key hooks.

His life, if it must be, can simply be a series of things lined up neatly next to Will’s; always within arm’s reach.  

Hannibal goes to his private en suite, removes his clothing precisely, places all articles in the hamper neatly. He caters to his unapologetic vanity and gives himself a once over in the mirror before turning on the shower. He knows that though he looks astonishing for a man of 55, his younger self would sneer at his aging skin and softer body.

 His younger self, however, didn’t ever really expect to live to 55.

 Hannibal turns on the shower, rolling his shoulders and feeling his neck stretch and strain with use and stiffness.

The water helps, with both heat and gentle pressure, to ease away the aches of a day and the pains of a lifetime.

Hannibal closes his eyes under the spray, ready again to slip into the methodical storing of images of the day into the vast vaults of his memory palace, when he hears something he did not expect.

The shower door opens, drawing a gust of cold air, and then closes just as quickly.

Hannibal swivels, and he feels yet another emotion so difficult for his mind to truly fathom.

Surprise.

Will is standing there, beads of water landing on his chest and running in gleaming rivulets down over his nude body. His eyes are remarkably soft.

“Tit for tat?” he says quietly, hopefully, apologetically.

Hannibal can’t help his smile.

“Tit for tat.”