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Sometimes he lies awake at night, eyes tracing the tiny splotches on the ceiling where the paint has been shoddily touched up, a foreign constellation on pale canvas, and thinks, what if? Closes his eyes and unlocks a door, walks down a hallway. And he’s there again, in that moment.

 

He knew even before the knife sank into him, and when it did, when Hannibal cradled his face with one large hand and thrust the curved blade into his flesh, Will let out a soft, involuntary cry of pain. But he took it. He knew he deserved it, just as he’d thought Hannibal had deserved to pay for everything—for Abigail.  

“H-Hanni-bal?” The syllables tumbled out of his mouth, and Hannibal’s hand froze for a moment, an inexplicable delay. Their pain felt collective; it hurtled through the small space between them in shuddering breaths.

And then Hannibal’s hand came away, taking the knife with it, the blade slipping out of Will and then clattering to the floor. Hannibal’s arm circled around him, caught and held, and the hand that had wielded the knife instead pressed its palm against Will’s wound. They stood there, shivering, Will’s head fallen against Hannibal’s shoulder, Hannibal’s tears dripping onto the side of Will’s neck and coursing down the curve of his collarbone.

“I meant to tear into you. Rip you open and leave you exposed. As you’d done to me, Will.”

Will gathered another hiccuping breath. His fist tightened on the fabric of Hannibal’s shirt as Hannibal supported him. “Didn’t you?”

Hannibal’s fingers smoothed over Will’s hair again, sifting through icy, dripping strands and pressing warmth into his scalp. “Not as I imagined I would.” It was on the tip of Will’s tongue to ask him why, just so he could hear Hannibal say the words.

It turned out he didn’t need to ask. “You said my name just now as though you were asking for forgiveness.” Hannibal’s words were so carefully blank, as thick as his voice was with tears; he was too afraid of being wrong, of letting treacherous hope in, of showing any feeling.

Will closed his eyes, and swallowed, breath labored. Behind him he could hear the soft tread of Abigail’s feet approaching them. Abigail, who was still alive because Hannibal had always meant this. Always meant for them to have a place together. He nodded; guilt scratched at his insides.

“I forgive you, Will,” breathed Hannibal, fingertips brushing away the tears on Will’s face. “Will you forgive me?”

“Yes,” he whispered, and surrendered to inevitability.

 

A step back, his hand turns on the doorknob, and the possibilities close behind him. Will turns over in the bed—winces when his stitches drag against the surface of the mattress.

Not inevitable, after all. There are no certainties in life or death. The only reliable things are time and memory, and those are more likely to fail than to bring any relief. Will passes a caressing hand over the ironic smile ripped into him by Hannibal. He closes his eyes again. Opens another door.

What if?