He woke up to the sound of footsteps, the cadence of them so familiar it made him want to close his eyes again. It was obviously Hannibal, had to be Hannibal. After all, it was Hannibal who brought him here, wasn’t it? Through the fog of pain and the paralytic Cordell had pumped Will with, he had still been aware of the warmth of Hannibal’s body and the slight limp in his steps as he’d carried Will to safety. Then he’d gone away, and Will had surrendered himself to sleep.
Now he sat up in his own bed, his body aching from the abuse it had suffered in the past few weeks. The light from the open doorway glowed like a halo around Hannibal’s figure, highlighted the planes of his face, picked up the silver in his hair. Will leaned against the wall as Hannibal sat down on the chair next to his bed, legs crossed casually, as though he were sitting in his office back in Baltimore across from Will during one of their therapy sessions.
“Do we talk about teacups and time and the rules of disorder?” Hannibal asked. He’d cleaned himself, washed his face so that the cuts on one cheek looked almost unreal, like they were only pasted on.
“The teacup’s broken,” Will said. He swallowed, bracing himself to say what he intended to say, all along. “It’s never going to gather itself back together again.” Hannibal had been ready to cut him open. Devour him. Will would have the scar for the rest of his life, another crack in the porcelain surface of his mind that could never be filled.
“Not even in your mind?” For a moment Will could see the uncertainty in Hannibal’s eyes, the desperation. Then it was gone, and he thought maybe he had imagined it. Hannibal went on. “Your memory palace is building. It’s…full of new things. It shares some rooms with my own. I’ve discovered you there, victorious.”
Will couldn’t decide if it was defeat he really heard in Hannibal’s voice, or something like gaining confidence. This is not ground I wish to conquer, he could tell Hannibal, but that was all wrong, Will wasn’t sure it was the truth, because with Hannibal it was impossible not to wish, not to want, even when he knew he could never truly win. “When it comes to you and me, there can be no decisive victory.”
“We are in zero-sum game.” Hannibal looked pleased at the prospect of one of them gaining what he needed at the expense of the other. A part of Will wondered if it would be so bad, to just give in to him. If he let Hannibal win it all, what was it that he would have to give up?
He tore his gaze away from Hannibal, his eyes landing on the dog bed in the corner. Yes. That. “I miss my dogs,” he said, and in saying it, the feeling welled up inside him. He grabbed hold of it and didn’t let go. If he stayed with Hannibal—but no, that wasn’t an option, he couldn’t—he would never be able to see his dogs again; he couldn’t very well take pets on the run, could he?
“I’m not going to miss you.” That was true, as well. Will hadn’t so much missed Hannibal as he had dreaded the very thought of him, lest he forget what it was he was meant to feel about the serial killer cannibal who gutted him and slit Abigail’s throat. When Hannibal was gone—because thatl was what had to happen—Will wouldn’t miss him, because he would not allow himself to think about him.
Will sighed to relieve the pressure in his chest. The decision was made. He found himself able to say the next words more easily, even as Hannibal watched him with an almost pained expression in his eyes. “I’m not going to find you. I’m not going to look for you. I don’t want to know where you are or what you do. I don’t want to think about you anymore.”
He thought maybe Hannibal was at a loss for words. He looked away from Will for a split-second, then caught his eyes again. “You delight in wickedness and then berate yourself for the delight.”
“You delight. I tolerate.” It wasn’t completely true, but if he was going to be allowed to quit this game without further injury to both of them—he almost laughed at himself. No, injury was unavoidable, no matter how he played it. “I don’t have your appetite.”
Perhaps he had managed to strike Hannibal speechless, after all. Had Hannibal been so sure of him, so sure of his ability to cultivate the requisite appetites in Will, that the resistance he met left him dumbfounded? Regardless of the reasons, he did remain silent.
His eyelashes fluttered, and he looked so resigned that Will’s hands itched to reach out to him. Will forced himself to remain seated on the bed, one hand twisting the bed sheet underneath the thin blanket that covered him. Hannibal paused at the door, as if he wanted to say something, as if he were considering coming back for Will. Will feared that if Hannibal came to him now, pulled him up into his arms, he might break, he might let himself be convinced.
He let out a long, ragged exhale when the door shut behind Hannibal again.
It was another three hours—or maybe it was four—before Jack and his entourage arrived. Will heard them pulling up to the front of the house. He went out to meet them. He let a few men pass him into the house without trying to stop them. Let them search all they wanted.
He was telling Jack that Hannibal was gone—he was safe—when he heard the footsteps in the snow, and saw movement somewhere at the edge of his vision. No, no, no. Don’t do this to me again.
“Jack. I’m here.” Hannibal, approaching with his hands held high. “You finally caught the Chesapeake Ripper, Jack.” You were supposed to leave. Will felt like he was living the same nightmare all over again. Hannibal was down on his knees, hands above his head.
“I didn’t catch you. You surrendered.”
“I want you to know exactly where I am,” Hannibal said, in his infuriatingly calm voice. He turned his head to look directly at Will. “And where you can always find me.” His words held a mocking note in them, meant for Jack, but he was speaking directly to Will, and his eyes told Will that he was sincere.
Jack must have gotten the message too; he shot Will a contemptuous look. I should turn away, now,Will thought. Go back into the house. Make good on my word and never think of him again. It was what he should have done. It was what he’d planned to do. But Hannibal just had to go and turn himself in.
The night that Abigail was killed flashed in Will’s mind: Hannibal’s face a mask of cold anguish, eyes wet with tears as he asked if Will would take away his freedom. Confine me to a prison cell?
Now here he was, voluntarily stepping into one.
“No,” Will said, the word choked in his throat, shaking his head. Breaking, at last. “Don’t—” Don’t surrender.
Hannibal’s mouth fell slightly open in an expression of wonder.
It happened quickly. One second, Hannibal was on his knees, eyes fixed on Will. Then he looked beyond him, somewhere up in the distance, and gave a small, almost imperceptible nod. Will wasn’t the only one who noticed it. He saw Jack tense and open his mouth to give an order, but Chiyoh, hidden in the trees, had already taken her shot. It knocked Jack back onto the ground. He clutched his chest where the blood was already blooming red like a flower.
Hannibal dived down into the snow, rolling out of the way of FBI gunfire as Chiyoh picked off the surrounding agents—there were only eight of them, including Jack—one by one in quick succession. They were no match for an enemy they couldn’t see, and by the time any of them thought to shoot at the trees, Hannibal had a knife out of his pocket.
Within five minutes, the scene was silent except for the gurgling breaths of the dying. Blood stood out starkly in the snow, in patches all around them; it looked black in the moonlight.
Hannibal still held a knife in one hand; he was breathing hard from the exertion. He extended his other hand out to Will, palm up, a smile crinkling his eyes, and he looked so happy.
Will stumbled off the porch steps. He placed his hand into Hannibal’s and let Hannibal pull him close.