He doesn't think he's felt anything as beautiful as Hannibal’s arms around him, covered in blood and sweat and then the salted ice of sea water. It's all right if we don't survive this, he decides again, and moves in the water to touch his lips to Hannibal’s before the darkness takes him.
Something jolts him back into light. Just a moment of perfect clarity—Hannibal’s arms cradling his body as they did three years ago, escaping from the Verger property, Hannibal’s hair dripping sea water onto his face—and he goes under again.
When next he wakes there is nothing around him but silence, and for a moment he thinks, No, no, Hannibal’s supposed to be here. Then the fingers entwined with his move, clueing Will in on their existence, and then they squeeze, so hard he flinches.
A mumbled apology, “I'm sorry, Will,” in Hannibal’s accent, thick with fatigue. Will isn’t sure what he’s meant to be apologizing for—whether he’s sorry for bruising Will’s hand, or for holding it—but then Will’s eyes adjust to the darkness and he sees the uncertain sorrow in Hannibal’s face, and he knows that it’s for this, for their living, breathing existence in whatever place this is.
Will attempts speech, but he has to swallow and try again. His throat is parched and raw from coughing up salt water. His stab wounds, bound up and stitched back together by Hannibal, still pain him.
“Why?” he asks, after a few attempts, in someone else’s small, ragged voice.
Hannibal tilts his face slightly, his expression hidden in shadows. “I thought I could lay my life down for you,” he said slowly, “and it proved to be true. It was you yourself I could not give up, as it turns out. Not after…”
It isn’t like Hannibal to hesitate, to trail off like that. Will peers into the darkness, tries to see his face. “Turn on the damn light,” he rasps.
Hannibal turns, shielding Will’s eyes from the glaring brightness as he switches the lamp by bedside table on, allowing the light to hit Will slowly so that Will’s eyes have time to adjust. Will is touched by this little act of consideration, one out of many gifts, big and small, that Hannibal has offered him, as if as salve to everything else he’s taken from Will.
Will studies Hannibal’s features in the lamp light. Hair disheveled, wearing the same sweater he was in when Will pulled him off the cliff. It’s been washed, but Will can still see the brown bloodstains in the fabric, the hole where the bullet passed straight through Hannibal.
“I was lucky it didn’t lodge inside me,” Hannibal says, as though reading Will’s mind. “It missed all major organs, as well. We were both lucky.”
His voice is so very careful, and suddenly something clicks into place for Will. He understand what Hannibal was apologizing for when Will woke up. “What were you going to say?” he asks Hannibal, studying his tired face. “Not after what?”
Will knows the answer to that, too, even before Hannibal replies, but he still wants to hear it, still needs to know he just didn’t imagine it, half-dead and delirious.
“Not after I felt your lips on mine. It was too precious a gift; I could not let the ocean claim it.”
And now he is worried Will will hate him for it. Hannibal Lecter, the man who’d slit Abigail’s throat out of revenge, who’d gutted Will, who’d sliced his head half-open to eat his brains—this man is now afraid Will will hate him for not letting them die.
“God, we are so—” A hundred words race through Will’s mind, but he doesn’t say any of them, because it doesn’t matter; they both know what they were. Will looks down the line of his arm to where Hannibal’s hand still clasps his loosely, and swallows again, searches himself for some sort of truth, some sort of offering he could give. He finds it more easily than he bargained for.
A small tug, and Hannibal comes, props himself awkwardly over Will’s body on the bed, his feet still planted firmly on the ground, but he’s closer now, close enough for Will to touch more than just his hand.
“I’m not angry,” Will whispers. “It would’ve been all right if we hadn’t survived, but—but I just wanted to be with you. I’ve always…” Always, always wanted to follow you.
Silence stretches like they are underwater again, and Will looks down at where their hands are joined, waiting for the courage to say more, or maybe waiting for Hannibal to say something back, to finish his sentence for him.
Something hits his cheek where no bandage covers skin, then his lips; Will licks and tastes salt, and for a single terrifying moment Will thinks he’s hallucinated all of this, imagines himself back in the grip of the Atlantic, ocean spray hitting his face. Then he glances up and sees the whites of Hannibal’s eyes laced with red, tear-tracks gleaming on his cheeks. Hannibal’s eyelashes are wet. Another drop bleeds from the corner of Hannibal’s eye and trails down until it slips off his chin onto Will’s.
“Why are you…” Will begins to ask, but Hannibal’s face breaks into a smile, relief and elation and adoration so clear on his tear-streaked face that Will’s breath catches in his throat. Hannibal moves closer, slow enough that Will could stop him if he wants to; he doesn’t.
Hannibal’s lips move over Will’s, tongue slipping inside to stroke and and lick. He squeezes Will’s hand once more, their fingers still tangled together; his other hand curls above Will’s head, smoothing back his curls.
Will closes his eyes, soaking up the warmth of Hannibal’s attentions, and knows that he was wrong: this is the most beautiful thing he’s ever felt.