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Aftermath

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Hannibal cupped his chin in his hand, dark eyes unflinching in their gaze upon the man sitting opposite him.

“How long have you known?” Hannibal's voice rumbled through the short distance between them, as though it was the opening peels of thunder that marked the start of a long storm.

“Known, or known ?” Will stretched the words out, deliberate in the pronunciation.

A silence stretched between them. It was neither comfortable nor awkward, they knew each other well and intimately. And now Hannibal knew. The younger man, if he did not quite remember, was most certainly aware now. Aware of the past. Their past.

They had survived the fall, from some kind and sweet fate that was brought to them by the breeze. It had curled around them, cushioned them as they had fallen through the night together. There was no gunshot ringing through the air this time, Will was not ripped from him, but it was still as dangerous. This time they landed on the same side of the perilous divide. Hannibal had been the stronger, pulling them from the sea. Having a plan and somewhere to flee to, having the means to care for them both. Hannibal always had a plan.

Closing his eyes, Hannibal imagined this was how it should have been the first time they'd escaped. Could he say that he had atoned for that sin yet and forgive himself now? Could he allow the filth to wash away that had covered his face as he wept alone into the mud of the forest? Could he cradle this now in his hands and open himself up? Was there any other way now? No. This was the only way.

Will had been half conscious when he had said it. Hannibal had been dressing his wounds; clean white bandage, wrapped tightly over pure marbled skin. Marred over the years but perfect nonetheless.

I am Will Nightingale.

The words had frozen Hannibal’s hands, for a moment at least. He had needed to keep moving, if he had given into that hesitation, Hannibal was not sure what he would have done. That name uttered into the hush between them, after the chaos. It had seemed deafening to his ears and the words echoed into the silence that followed. Will knew, his blue eyes had opened for a moment before fluttering shut, sleep taking him deep. It had been fortuitous, Hannibal supposed, the wait had given them both time to heal for them to face this.

And now here they sat, in the knowledge of the very thing that Hannibal had been hinting at for years. Slowly coaxing the memories from the man in front of him, buried deep in trauma. Gently, and not so gently at times, but Hannibal had needed Will to remember. Be who he was supposed to be. His Will.

Will huffed out a disbelieving laugh, dropping his eyes as he shook his head. Then he turned his face up sharply, eyes narrowing and a flash of anger behind them as they locked onto Hannibal's. His tongue separated his lips as he prepared the words he wanted to say.

“How could-” Will stopped, shaking his head slowly, “ Why did you do all this?”

“I felt it was only right that you should know.”

“For my sake or yours, Hannibal?”

Hannibal looked away then, to his left. To a small table that held a finger of whiskey in a crystal tumbler. A book lay closed, Marcus Aurelius - Meditations. Hannibal grunted his own short laugh. Apt . His head swung back around to focus on Will.

“For both of us.”

Will snorted in disbelief at that. “And you couldn’t just tell me? Like any other person would?”

“Firstly, Will, as you are well aware I am not any other person .” Hannibal’s fingers curled around the cool glass that he how held, as he brought his drink to his lips and took a sip. It was an oaky, smooth blend and the warmth of it spread down his throat. Hannibal returned it to the table with a clink. “Secondly, I did not know how you would react. You may have pushed me away, unable to accept yourself.” He watched now as Will’s jaw tightened for a moment before the muscles relaxed again. So he was controlling his irritation, to a degree at least.

A hand scrubbed across stubble and Hannibal scrutinised those fingers as they flexed. How many times had he stroked across the knuckles, bathed the wounds inflicted upon them, taken them in his own with some poor, wretched excuse? Every time it had brought the image of that small hand, knuckles white with strain as it had grasped at Hannibal’s own through the gap in that divide which had separated them so very long ago. Hannibal’s eyes closed, he pushed away the image.

“So you manipulated me? You made me responsible for your murders,” another short mirthless laugh was barked from Will. “What exactly was going through your head when you put an ear in my stomach? How did that help your cause exactly, Hannibal ?” Hannibal flinched at the way Will spoke his name, the harsh tone scolding him.

“I did a great many things. Regardless of how I feel now, in hindsight, it brought us here to this moment. I can not regret my actions.” Hannibal’s mouth turned down at the corners as Will’s eyes cut into him, as easily as a hot knife separating butter.

“And you are sure you know what this moment is, Hannibal?” The younger man’s eyes were dangerous now, alive and impassioned. Hannibal realised he should fear what had evolved in the being opposite him, but all he had was a deep pride that was almost suffocating.

“No, I am not.” There was another long pause, Will didn't move. Hannibal folded his hands in his lap, hesitating to continue. He owed the younger man honesty now, that at the very least. “Do you know how I put the ear in your stomach.”

Will was caught off guard by the question, dark eyebrows drew together and a short, trepidatious reply passed out of his mouth. “No.” Leaning forward, Will waited for Hannibal to continue, his face hardened again as though his body was tensing for a blow.

“A tube. Down your throat.” Hannibal watched as Will subconsciously massaged his neck between thumb and fingers. “You were pliant and trusting in your state. A beautiful mess. I could touch you as I wished. Your body moved as I desired it to, as you would have done as the child I knew. I was reminded of the trust you held in me then.”

Will closed his eyes briefly, a war between rage and pain was evident on his features. “But I had trust in you then, before you… did that -”

“No,” Hannibal interrupted Will and Will let him, “You didn’t know who I was to trust me then. When you saw me, your trust in your illusion died.” Hannibal inhaled a shaky breath. “You saw me as a child, your trust in me never left you. Your love for me did not die when you saw through me. Even when I had to leave you, you had nothing in your eyes but desire for my safety.” His exhale was equally thorough. Hannibal felt wounds spreading over his skin as he spoke of things he had never dared to before.

A million questions raced through Will’s mind but he could not grasp one long enough to craft it before it was pushed out of his grip by another. His memories had been fleeting, parts seeped into dreams and nightmares, he wasn't sure what was real and what had been fabricated in his own mind. No, it was best to stick to what he knew.

“Framing me, gutting me, trying to cut me open.” He counted off on his fingers before cutting off with a sigh. “That was a part of your plan?”

Hannibal gave a small nod. “When I framed you it was with dual purpose, I won't deny that it was premeditated. I thought pushing you through that would awaken that part of you, the part I knew was in there. The part I had seen. I also used you to deflect attention from me.” Hannibal’s spoke in the way he did describing ingredients that made up a dish, so inconsequential and casual that Will almost laughed. He bit his lip, unsure which part of the statement he should tackle first.

“The part you had seen ? No… I don’t want to know. Not right now.” Leaning back in his chair, the younger man closed his eyes and reached up to scrub at his face again. “I had to confirm it for myself. I called my dad after I came to see you the first time, when you were incarcerated. There was too much. Too many coincidences…. So it was then that I knew . But I have known …,” Will trailed off, gesturing an immeasurable shrug. Something had always drawn him to Hannibal, time after time, again and again. Something unseen like he was chasing a dream that was slipping through his fingers as the light of day stole him away. The way in which Hannibal said his name and the thoughts that seemed to be passed in those lingering looks. The way Hannibal touched him - so much tenderness lay behind the pads of Hannibal's fingertips it was still shocking after all these years. There was no tangible memories. No. But there had always been solid feelings and an inexplicable connection.

Hannibal simply nodded. Drawing his lower lip between his teeth before he released it to speak. “You already know why I gutted you, why I tried to eat you. Do you not, Will?”

“I… I betrayed you.” Will answered quietly, his eyes dropped to the floor to count again the number of wooden planks that divided them before Will continued in a soft voice, “I tried to kill you.”

“No, that is not why . That may have spurred me towards my actions, but it was not the reason behind them.” Hannibal explained carefully, eyes intent on the Will now. The younger man took his own glass from the side table that mirrored Hannibal's. He cupped the vessel in both hands, searching the content for the answer he already knew. Hannibal waited for Will to take a deep breath before he continued. “I made a vow to always love you. I kept that vow. That was the reason behind my actions.”

Will grunted as his hands dropped his untouched drink to his lap, flopping back into the chair. “That’s not how you love.” he knew how stupid the comment was before it had even left his mouth.

“That is exactly how I love. I know no other way.” The room was quiet excepting for the noise of quick breaths, Will could hear the tick of his own pulse as the air crackled with tension.

“To devastation.” Will murmured.

“Love to me is devastation. It is cruelty, it is consumption, it is possession. Whether you, or anyone, equates that with your perceived notions of love or not, that does not take it from me. It doesn't make it less. If you remembered you would know why, a part of it at least.” There was a tone of defense in Hannibal’s voice that mingled with irritation, he quickly smoothed it over as his hands ran slowly over the tops of his thighs. Will could almost hear him counting down from ten in Latin to himself.

“It certainly makes it worse , to those you love.” Will quipped, he began to relax in the chair, sinking his bones into the soft cushioning. Perhaps it was the whiskey that he had just started to drink, but the tension was starting to melt.

“Yet, I love you to a degree I cannot even consume you. I cannot complete my own notion of the act with you, because I love you too much. To my own destruction.” Hannibal picked up his glass, swallowing down the dregs of his drink. The burn in his throat hotter now, distracting him from the bitterness of his thoughts. He placed the glass down with a soft clink and stood, turning towards the doorway opening onto a hall that led to their rooms. Hannibal paused in the boundary, hand rested on the pine frame but he did not look back at Will. “The thought of you not drawing breath in this world whilst I occupy it, overwhelms any of my instincts. If I had killed you, Will, it would not have been long before I followed.” With the admission clearly stated, Hannibal retreated from the room.

Will sat, watching the now vacant space that Hannibal had filled. His mind was a blur of thoughts and perspectives and he dearly wanted to find his own. Closing his eyes, he focussed on his breathing. Hannibal was as rigid and stoic as always, outwardly at least. Yet, the emotion that trailed his words was something not often seen. In fact, Will had never seen this level of vulnerability in Hannibal, it had lodged itself in the man from the moment Will had decided to take them over the cliff. Hannibal had let him, he had been willing to submit to life itself once that deadly nature was uncovered in Will. Hannibal’s personal crusade.

Will pinched the bridge of his nose as a sigh streamed out of him. He had never seen Hannibal speak so candidly about himself, Will was unsure if he had even heard the word love , in regards to Hannibal’s own experience, spoken by the other before. Never in such a direct manner. It seemed foreign there, on Hannibal's lips. It was human emotion after all. Seeing through the careful stitching of the person suit Hannibal wore, as Will had learnt, it was easy to assume there was no authentic humanity to the man anymore. Will was reminded abruptly that the remnants of a soul was still in there. Tattered and perhaps wretched, but still violently alive.

But do you ache for him?

Will opened his eyes onto the empty glass that sat next to the lonely chair. He had answered that question on the cliff, not only did he love Hannibal but he had found no other way to live than for them both to wink out of existence, together . Will could see no way that they could exist and not feel the weight of his conscience. He was terrified of the future now that they had survived. But even more so, Will was terrified of the past he did not know, and yet it was the only thing he could think about. They had trusted and loved each other, in another life. Hannibal had seen him in that life too.

Will needed to know.

Easing from his comfortable seat, he followed in the direction Hannibal had disappeared. Will placed his empty glass next to its twin before he left that room. It seemed appropriate.

The bare soles of his feet padded softly across the floor boards, he should have worn his thick socks he decided. The chill from the snow outside permeated their cabin, even warmed constantly as it was.

Will stopped at the doorway of Hannibal’s room and paused, letting his eyes travel over the man who sat, slouching forward and on the edge of the mattress, cradling his head in his hands. An alarming majority of Will wanted to reach out, to soften the tense muscles with a touch. Instead the younger man just stood there, contrasting the Hannibal he had first met (as an adult) and the one presently sat before him.

As much as he could tally up the abusive things that Hannibal had done, on the other side of those gilded scales sat Hannibal’s losses; the things he had done and given up for Will. From the proud psychiatrists with no one on his trail, to the man who knelt to surrender in the mud and rain, simply so Will would know where he was. He had left his heart for him, gruesome and magnificent. He had given up his eccentricities and comfort for prison greys. For Will . For the boy he had known and was trying to revive. For the boy he had loved, and the man in that same boy's skin who had renewed that ancient emotion.

Will sighed again to signal his presence, he knew it was simple etiquette - Hannibal would know each step Will had taken since standing from his armchair. He was probably mapping the short voyage in his mind whilst doing ten other things simultaneously. Will wanted to laugh at the thought but the mirth evaporated as he absorbed the room and its sole occupant. Will took a step forward and Hannibal remained silent, his eyes glued to the floor, watching something that was not visible in this dimension.

“I know that my dad found me, beaten and unconscious. I’d been shot. But he didn't know anything else past that,” Will began, his voice rough with emotion as he took slow steps into the room and thrust his hands in his pockets, “he took me the next week, back to Louisiana.” Will paused, he could almost feel the quickening pulse in Hannibal’s being. “Can you…” he hesitated, pushing hands deeper still and taking another step closer, “would you tell me?” Hannibal's eyes came to rest on him then, weighing and measuring. Will regretted not pouring himself another whiskey.

Hannibal looked at Will, unable to stop the palimpsest his mind created by laying the measure of the man here and now on top of those detailed schematics he retained of the boy who would hesitate, waiting for his invitation to sit next to Hannibal in the dinner hall. His eyes lingered, as they usually did when he looked at Will.

“I have never spoken about it before.”

“Is that a refusal?” Will's words bit with hurt and rejection, poorly veiled. Now he had decided to hear, he was scared of refusal.

“No. It's a warning.”


Will nodded minimally. Hannibal gestured to the bed, invitating Will to sit and he did. Both men sat, looking forwards and waiting for the words to come.

Chapter Text

“We were orphans. For a long time without each other.” Hannibal gathered air into his lungs before releasing it heavily, his body beginning to relax into the space. “You know already what had shaped me, until that point.”

Will nodded. He was aware of the boy who had lost both his parents and then shortly after his sister, at the hands of men who would not die of natural causes. What had happened to Will to end up there?

“I never asked about your own demons.” Hannibal spoke on the ends of Will's thought. The words tinged with regret, still after all the years that had past.

“You didn't? That seems… unlike you.” Will couldn't help the disappointment that welled inside him. Since finding out that his heritage lay somewhere other than the Graham line, Hannibal had been his only lead in rediscovering some of his shielded past. What had happened to his own family?

“I was mute.”

You didn't speak?” Will replied with a disbelieving snort of laughter before amber eyes cut his amusement short. Although Hannibal's words and statements were always succinct, Will couldn't imagine him silent. Even when faced with probable death, the man always had a cutting remark that slid easily from his tongue.

“No. I did not.” Eyes looked forward again. “One day I followed you. You had found a puppy, a frail scrawny thing, you were feeding it your lunch.” Hannibal smiled recounting the memory, Will couldn't help but mirror the expression. It was the first time he remembered Hannibal feeling something close to contentment when looking to his past.

“I had a dog?” Will’s tone inflected, a measure of joy found in the distant thought.

Hannibal hesitated before continuing. “It died. It was perhaps a week or two old.” The look that was directed at Will was apologetic.

“Oh.” The small tug of pain within him was genuine, remembered. “I came to you?” Will turned to meet that gaze now. Hannibal simply stared back, unblinking.

“You remember?” The older man asked, the eagerness in his question was as painful as the memory Hannibal had just shared. But he wanted to remember.

Will shook his head. “No, I just know that I would.”

Hannibal smiled just the same. “You did. Quietly, not wanting to impose your grief. I held you. And I never let you go.” The older man watched Will’s smile deepen at the words; honest, simple and dedicated. Colour rose in Will’s cheeks. “You wanted to fly free. So we tried.” Hannibal swallowed the emotion that Will could hear was building in his throat. “We planned to escape, in the quiet of the night, unobserved. Together.” Hannibal’s voice tightened and his chin dropped to his chest. Will watched as the older man studied his bare toes. There was something oddly intimate about them being together and barefoot, recalling memories of their childhood as though they were about to dangle their feet into a lake, right here and now. Perhaps they had done that very thing all those years ago. He focussed on the older man’s motionless face, Will could sense the clear memories that were passing in front of his eyes. Hannibal was replaying the events in his mind, scrutinizing every action to see where things could have changed and a different outcome obtained. Will wondered how often Hannibal picked the past apart, trying to find the fault and blame that embroided the cloth of their existence. How often had Hannibal fantasized about this life that could have been and tried to discern who they both would be now if they had had each other? This taste of regret that resonated in Hannibal made Will doubt everything he thought he knew of the man.

Will inched closer and ran a palm down Hannibal’s back, the tips of his fingers passed over bone and muscle and the callused skin of the brand that would forever tarnish that body, Will mapped the other man despite the layers of clothing between them. Both of them wore scars now, their story being written on their skin. Hannibal softened at the contact. How many times had his strength carried Will? Overwhelmed him, fought him, protected him? Will’s spiralling thoughts silenced as Hannibal leaned towards him.

“I had been caned and banned from the library, one of the boys had informed the librarian I was smuggling books out. We used to read together, in our tree. We’d lose ourselves from humanity for hours, in Shakespeare or Dante.”

Will huffed out another laugh. “I thought you were mute?”

You read to me.”

“That must have been dreadful for you.” Will grinned, nudging Hannibal playfully with his shoulder. He used to dread reading in front of the class when he was at school, as soon as he was under scrutiny with a script to be followed, Will would freeze or stutter. The expectations of what they wanted to hear or see would overwhelm him.

“It's actually one of my most soothing memories, Will. The night I was punished, you snuck up to my room, smuggling me some books.” Hannibal’s grin matched the other man's for a moment before it faltered and his eyes glazed over, trapped in a terrifying moment. “You crawled into my bed and fell asleep in my arms.” Will's heart ached for those two boys who had found each other in such hopeless dark, at the same time his body tensed, dreading what he knew was coming. “The other boys woke up before we did and that was our fate sealed. They had a bet on, you see. A-”

“Bag of boiled sweets.” Will finished, staring at a spot on the wall. He felt Hannibal freeze. “I used to have a dream, I still do sometimes. I would win or triumph in something obscure and from my pocket I would pull out a bag, then I’d open the crumpled, dirty paper and share sweets with a beast on a pedestal... You .” That was before the dream went dark and Will was ripped from the being or torn limb from limb, sometimes he would drown and sometimes he would fall endlessly through night. Every time it would end in terror and now he knew why.

“You dreamt of me.” Hannibal murmured almost to himself. Perhaps the notion that he had been present in Will’s life, even in such abstract form, relieved those aches that had spanned decades. The warmth of that thought dulled as Hannibal prepared to continue. “The first to make me talk would win the sweets. They decided to use you that night. They never succeeded in making me talk but they did, however, wake the thing that was dormant. They had you, he had you.” Whatever Hannibal could see now, it was not just a memory. Fingers curled into the material of the bed spread. “Two of them I beat unconscious. The third I thought I had killed.” Hannibal took another deep breath, the recollection draining him and scrubbing raw the man’s well hid emotions.

Will waited, but he knew what was coming. It was deja vu, seeing something twice in quick succession. As Hannibal spoke, the moments seemed to resonate in him. Images and forms triggered by the words.

His own hands. Small and covered with blood, pressing down a spoiled shirt on the boy's mouth, life left those eyes slowly. Fedor.

I did it.” Will’s voice was shaky. “Fedor.” He heard Hannibal exhale as though he had been holding his breath for years. “And…” His eyes focussed on Hannibal then, strong and fearless. “And then you spoke.” The older man’s face tightened, holding back the allievation that wanted to present itself in the form of tears. Will had thought that these fragments he was reclaiming would impact him in a greater way, he was in awe of what they had lived through. Even before the cliff, Will had known that he was capable of anything - the good and the bad. Realising that facet had presented itself so early as it had, was not so unbelievable as he would have assumed it would be. What did overwhelm him was how deeply their past had effected Hannibal, all he wanted was to rid the man of the guilt and remorse that was so deeply embedded in him.

Hannibal was sure his heart would stop. He remembered. The look in Will’s eyes and the focus on the importance of Hannibal’s words mirrored his memory exactly. So much so that he couldn't stop his hands from reaching up to hold Will's face, just as Hannibal had done when he had spoken Will's name for the very first time, Fedor's blood on both their faces. Black in the moonlight. Hannibal cradled his face gently as though Will might be taken away again if Hannibal gripped too tight. He had held the other like this before, many many times, but not in perfect clarity. Every detail on Will was magnified somehow; the weathered lines, the stubble that dusted his face and naturally contoured, the hair that fell forward and curled just so on his forehead, his eyes that had always looked into him. Endless, timeless, blue and green dancing together, like the sea after a storm. Just like his scent. This human, the only living human, that held his heart in a vice that had never relented it’s hold.

Moving towards Will, Hannibal brushed his lips over the other’s forehead. The kiss was almost not there at all, but the younger man let him touch and move him, persuaded by Hannibal's hands and trusting. Reluctantly, he released his grip and sat back, trying to focus on the rest of the story he had a duty to tell.

“Then we ran. I took your hand, and we ran. Through the rain and the mud.” Hannibal closed his eyes as vivid sensations raked through him from that night. His hands rested open and upturned on the top of his thighs, remembering how useless they had been in saving Will. He had been holding the other so securely , he had him . So close to safety and then that gunshot, lodging itself in Will’s flesh. Hannibal flinched now just as he had then, when that bullet had hit home, but here in the present, as he sat on his bed in the cabin in the middle of obscurity, it wasn't the cruel bite of metal. It was Will's palm sliding over his own that caused his body to react so violently. Certain his imagination was getting the better of him, Hannibal opened his eyes to see fingers lacing through his own. A shuddered breath left him as he gripped the hand that held his, hypnotized by it before he staggered on.“And when you couldn’t walk, although you would never admit it, I carried you.”

There was a pregnant pause, expectation from one and dread in the other. Hannibal could feel Will’s pulse against his own, the heartbeat of another calming him. Not just another heartbeat, Will's heartbeat. It thrummed against his flesh, a secret code that only the two of them understood.

“And then?” Will prompted softly, squeezing Hannibal’s hand in reassurance.

“And then we came to the military border. Tall, wet and topped with wire. We would have crossed, but they came as I was pulling you up. You fell. We fell, separated.” Hannibal grimaced as he remembered Will's voice, small in the torrent that had surrounded them, admitting in shame that he couldn't get up, that it was done, that Hannibal should leave him. “And you couldn’t get back up.” Hannibal’s head dropped slightly, weighed down by the admission.

“I remember a gap, I held your hand through it.” Will's voice picked up speed and confidence as the images flicked through his mind like a slideshow. “I told you to go.” The younger man added, voice firm. He had told the Hannibal to go, he had begged against the older boy's stubborn and futile loyalty.

Hannibal nodded, raising Will’s hand to his lips to press a kiss there as he had done that night. The hand now a strong, hard thing, but still beautiful to Hannibal. Still those same hands he had never wanted to release. “I am sorry.” Hannibal's voice was humble and drenched with regret, just like the rain that had drenched them that night. Unrelenting and unbearable. A soft snort of laughter pulled Hannibal from his sombre daydream.

“Sorry for what? Getting us out of despair? For making sure you were not caught so we could be here now? Or sorry that, for once, you did as I asked?” Will chided. The skin on his hand still tingled where Hannibal's lips had pressed. He was hypnotized by Hannibal in this moment - taking note of every slight motion, every syllable profound to his ears. It was like reverie.

A low rumble sounded from Hannibal's chest, amused at Will's words. His remorse subsiding to allow the pleasure of the other man's company seep into his bones. “Loving you was not the only vow I made that night. I also vowed that I would never leave you again and that you would always know where I was. I kept them all, sometimes in contrast to what you asked of me.”

Will shook his head. “If you had just told me that a while back perhaps things would have been easier to understand.”

“I disagree. You would only have understood here and now. Coming to this point on your own feet.” Hannibal countered, he didn't need to elaborate on Will's actions that had been necessary to bring them here. Slaying the Dragon had marked the coming of this age between them, for Will to understand and accept himself fully and, therefore, Hannibal.

Will hummed in amused disagreement but pressed the issue no further. “So,” Will hesitated as his eyebrows furrowed, the hand that he held felt at home there. Hannibal’s fingers curled tighter around his hand, the pressure pleasantly pushing air from Will in a sigh, willing him to continue, “You loved me how you loved Mischa. To protect and to guide.” It was half statement and half question, the younger man worrying the correct threads to pull in order to unravel the truth he needed to hear.

Hannibal pursed his lips at the question, Will's pulse quickened against his hand. “What would you prefer my answer be?” There was a moment that followed his words which allowed Hannibal to absorb Will's reactions to his question intently. The younger man swallowed, wide eyes flittered down to Hannibal's lips so quickly it could easily have been missed, a short breath making his lips part and tremble, his tongue ran along lips, the lower brought between Will’s teeth - all wonderfully subconscious. Hannibal's smile deepened and a flush bloomed in Will’s cheeks as he noticed.

“That wasn't an answer.” Will muttered. Blue eyes searched the room, looking for a distraction from the intense gaze that pulled Will back, always back to Hannibal. The palm that was pressed to Hannibal’s own began to sweat, but Will didn't take it back. Hannibal had indeed given him answer enough and the reality was visibly dawning on Will’s face.

“When we were children, yes. I saw in you the same naive openness that I missed in Mischa and I wanted to look out for you. But there was always something else that tied me to you, a curiosity or a kinship. An understanding .” Hannibal paused, tracing the veins on the back of Will's hand with an attentive finger. “Meeting you as an adult gave me the opportunity to admire you in other ways.” As Hannibal met Will's eyes, his fingers stopped their tracing and moved of their own accord towards his face, to push a curl behind the curve of the man's ear. Hannibal allowed himself to enjoy the texture of the soft strands and the shiver that ran through Will at Hannibal's words or touch, he wasn't sure which. “But you already knew that, Hm?”

Will found himself staring. He did know and had known somewhere in the back of his mind for a very long time, it was only now that it bubbled to the surface, revealing itself as the beautiful truth that it was; to be loved and desired for everything that he was, nothing more or less. His lips worked fruitlessly as words died in his throat, he was willingly snared there - by Hannibal's eyes, by his hands, by his words. The pad of Hannibal's thumb gently ran over Will's lower lip and his eyes fell closed at the tender touch. Just as suddenly as it was there, the thumb was gone. The younger man nearly nuzzled into thin air, where the hand had been. Instead, his chin dropped to his chest and his eyes remained closed as he tried to maintain his senses.

“So, what do you want from me, Will?” Hannibal’s question was gentle, no demand in the words but a simple request for boundaries to be established.

“I don't know.” The reply was barely audible.

“Do you want me to leave you here alone, to consider?”

Will couldn't help the laugh he grunted. Of course Hannibal would offer to vacate his own room so that Will could think alone. “No.” The word strong and final.

“Do you want me to stop?” Hannibal's voice was low, almost a whisper. A promise that danced over Will’s skin. Blinking his eyes open, he dared to meet Hannibal’s gaze.

“No.” Will declared it as though he had just understood the notion within himself, as though he had just allowed himself to acknowledge his own desires. “You were playing the longest long game in history, Hannibal-” Will gasped gently on the name as the hand returned to his face, long fingers taking their time to stroke over the features: across his brow to stroke down his temple, tracing jawline and down the bone of his nose then finally brushing over lips again.

“It was all worth it, to be here.” Hannibal’s reply was absent minded as he focussed on Will, now he had permission to touch without pretence he was lost to his own gratification. His thumb worked its way over the crest of Will's chin, drawing a line straight down his neck and over the Adam's Apple that bobbed under his touch. Laying his palm flat to the other’s neck, he felt the pulse there, so wonderfully strong and vibrant. If Will couldn't say it, Hannibal could feel the love that was fed into his flesh by the other. His hand fell lower still until he reached the clavicle which he traced over Will's shirt. All the while, Hannibal counted the beats of the man’s heart and found immense pleasure in the way his chest had begun to heave with anticipation.

Will swallowed thickly, trying to work moisture back into his mouth. He was not quite sure what was past this point between them and, at the same time, this seemed as natural as breathing. Acknowledging and enjoying the attentions of the man was not new to Will, wanting to return them, however, was . Perhaps not entirely new but newly uncovered. A man, who had known him better than he himself had and since he was a boy, more intimately than anyone he had ever known. In comparison, this felt like a drop in the ocean. Yet still, he could feel the heat creep up his neck, like this was the first time he had been caressed. He knew Hannibal would feel like this, Will was appreciating a rare exhibit that only Hannibal had permission to touch and see. He had never felt so unique and adorned as he did with the other man. Will wasn't sure he deserved it.

“I wish I could remember it clearly, like you, like it was this life.” Will wanted to say he wished he had never forgotten but he didn't need to. Hannibal simply smiled. What would they have become if they hadn't been torn apart? What could they have accomplished?

“It is another life for me now too, maybe we should focus on this life that we have. Reunited and together. If that is what you wish.”

Will could only hum in agreement, his worried thoughts quieted as Hannibal’s thumb found a soft spot, just behind Will’s ear lobe, that pushed his eyes closed again, the sensation was dizzying. The slow stroke of that finger made his heart skip a beat. He felt touch starved. Opening darkened eyes to the man next to him, Will could see he knew. Satisfaction laid over Hannibal’s features, not even caring to hide it. Will almost laughed, but instead the air expelled him as a nervous and staggered breath. It was an answer in itself.

“If you want coherent conversation, Hannibal, you may have to stop touching me.”

“We have plenty of time for coherent conversation.” Hannibal murmured, he was as engrossed in the contact as the other. “We have both been alone too long without each other. That's how you put it, correct?” The man's voice was a low vibration, Will shivered under the unspoken implications weighing down the others words.

We are alone, without each other.

It was what Will had said. Will had learned to accept his isolation, having known company with Hannibal in the world, he could not leave it alone. He would always return to his side. Fate and circumstance would return them to each other, a complex puzzle made out of only two pieces.

“Like a moth to a flame.” Will breathed.

Hannibal's lip quirked in that way that said he disagreed. “Like the moon and the sea.”

Will snorted. “Which is which?”

“I don't think it really matters.”

“So that makes you the moon?” Will retorted with a knowing smile.

“And that would make you the sea, the only thing in the dark chaos of the universe that is polite and generous enough to reflect the moon's own light back.” Hannibal replied, his hand that had been exploring Will was still now, cupping the man's cheek, finger tips entwined with his hair.

“And so I am at mercy to your gravitation?” Will felt himself soften under the hand that held him, the touch that would guide him easily now, he knew he would not resist whichever way it deemed to pull or push, just how Hannibal’s body had not resisted his will on the cliff. An image of a young Hannibal carrying him through the rain and mud, to safety they had only just arrived at was projected into his mind, a dedication that had remained - it had evolved and it looked like no one else’s interpretation of the notion but it was Will’s to claim and cherish, and he wanted it. Will edged closer to the man whose words were close enough to tease his skin into bumps.

“In this instance, I believe we are at each other's mercy.” Hannibal searched deep eyes that reflected the heat of his own.

“What happens when the moon meets the sea?” Will's lips were trepidacious over the shapes they made forming the words. Hannibal pulled him closer still, cheek flush to cheek, his lips brushing against Will's ear. His fingers tightened their grip on flesh and cotton alike. He felt dizzy, the hand tenderly holding his head was the only thing keeping him upright. Warm breath travelled past his ear.

“The moon would drown in the infinite depths of the sea, it would never want for more than the embrace that surrounded it.” Will closed his eyes, knowing his own breath rushed out of him carrying a groan that was hardly there at all. Hannibal's mouth curled into a smile, he could feel it against his skin. The smile was followed by a soft kiss, a thumb stroked at the corner of his mouth as another kiss pressed down on his cheek, this time a little lower. Another landed, it was so close to his mouth now Will thought that he would stop breathing. Then they ghosted just at the corner of his lips, bookended by thumb and mouth. They parted as Will caught his breath. The wait seemed phenomenal, he could feel the individual molecules moving and shifting in the space around them, he could almost hear the air crackle with the tension. The first roll of thunder inevitable.

Hannibal held back, for what he wasn't sure. He did know that once his lips met Will's it was done. He was gone, he was Will's as much as the other would be his. Gentleness raged against passion. Half of him wanted to devour and delve, plunge into the depths of the other man and lose himself there, the other half desperate to savor and dance across the surface delicately, peel back layer by exquisite layer of the man and relish every moment, every movement, every sound. Hannibal hesitated, running his nose alongside the man’s. Deep breaths were echoed back from the other. Hannibal licked his lips slowly, sweeping the distinctive taste of Will's skin into his mouth and letting it wash over his tongue. He hummed in satisfaction, lips released and parted as he shuddered, they were so close his lower lip brushed over Will’s upper lip. He could see the younger man clearly, even with his eyes closed. Everything he had lost had returned, that and more. He needed to see him, his Will. Opening his eyes, he found Will staring right back, foreheads pressed together.

“I am home.” Hannibal whispered. Before he had a chance to claim the kiss, Will tilted his chin up, taking the opportunity from the other man as their lips finally met; a soft, light thing but a long moment of stilled completion. Releasing Will’s hand, it weaved its way to the other side of his face, holding him fast. As the younger man pulled back, satisfied or to take a breath, Hannibal didn't know, but he was not done yet. He paused for a moment more, the last thread of his restraint frayed beyond repair.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Hannibal murmured.

“Just kiss me.”