Salt stung his wounds, and his eyes, but nothing stung quite so fiercely as this.
'Can you hear me?' said Hannibal. He had Will's face in his hands, and watched as he blearily tried to focus. 'Stay with me, Will. You're going to be all right.'
Will frowned up at him. His hair clung to his forehead, and fresh blood was seeping from the open gash on the side of his face, spreading thinly across his sea-drenched skin. 'What happened?'
'We fell. Luckily, we missed the rocks,' Hannibal struggled to his feet in the surf, 'but only just. Do you think you can walk?' He reached for Will, but Will shook his head, his breath catching sharply as he tried to move.
'Hurts,' he said.
'I know.' Hannibal took his hand, regardless. 'I've carried you many times before, and I'll do so again.'
Will winced, but was able to stand, leaning heavily against Hannibal for support. 'Thank you,' he said. 'I'm sorry.'
'I forgive you,' said Hannibal, without hesitation.
Will was hissing his breaths through his teeth. 'How do we…?'
'The tide is low for now,' said Hannibal, 'and I know a way around the base of the cliffs, but our path to safety will be swallowed up if we linger too long. We have until sunrise.'
They edged along the thin ribbon of shore, stumbling now and then on the shifting stones.
'Are you all right?' said Will, after some time. He sounded exhausted, but Hannibal was determined to press on; soon there would be a wide enough walkway that he could lift Will up without risking a graze against the rock face beside them.
'I've endured far worse,' said Hannibal. 'I'm more concerned for you.'
They were lit only by the setting moon, and in that silver light Will's pained expression was nearly unbearable. 'I'm sorry,' he said again.
'There's no need.'
'No, I—' Will squeezed his eyes shut, teeth gritted against pain, and something else. 'I don't know who you are.'
The roar of the waves faded to a single, clean note of white noise in Hannibal's ears, and his face prickled with a rush of cold, an inverse fever of dread.
But he had to keep Will safe, now. That was all that mattered.
'Don't worry,' said Hannibal, as he gathered Will into his arms, 'you will.'
* * *
Even in the direst of circumstances, Hannibal was always capable of gratitude. He was grateful for the getaway car, with its inconspicuous plates, bags packed in the trunk; he was grateful for the second safehouse, surrounded by its acres of forest, undisturbed since the last occasion he had visited to clean it and restock its supplies. He was grateful for 24-hour grocery stores with self-checkout and tired employees who didn't look up from their work. He was grateful for the sunrise as they drove, with its neon scribbles of cloud.
Hannibal was grateful for the opportunity to begin anew.
Will glanced around the living room, mildly curious, as Hannibal gave him a shot for the pain. He looked up at the framed drawings over the piano, the volumes of poetry and essays in the shelves, the bookends shaped like stylized antelope, as Hannibal began to stitch his wounds closed.
'Why did we fall?' said Will.
'We were too near the edge,' said Hannibal, tying off sutures. 'It gave way beneath us.'
Will looked faintly distressed, but his frown eased a little as his eyes drifted to what Hannibal was doing. 'That sound terrible. What were we doing there?'
'Looking at the moon,' said Hannibal, snipping off close to the knot and beginning a new stitch. 'We'd had a glass of wine, and had been dancing on the patio. Giddy with adrenaline.'
Will considered this for several minutes; Hannibal had finished one gash and had moved on to mending another, when Will said, 'How long have we been together?'
'Several years,' said Hannibal, 'off and on. You left me, for a while.'
Will watched as Hannibal applied the bandages, and seemed to make note of how gently he touched him. 'Why, what happened?'
'Believe me when I say it was deserved.' Hannibal took Will's hand for a moment, then let it go, to start seeing to his own injuries. 'But you forgave my misdeeds, and came back to me again. You're still learning to allow my forgiveness of yours.'
'Do we fight a lot?'
Hannibal tipped his head a little in acknowledgement. 'We have our disagreements, of course. But whenever things escalated, it was usually my doing. If you lashed out, it was only ever in response to my provocation.'
'Are you that much of a bastard?' Will teased him gently.
Hannibal gave him a fond look. 'Yes, but you've been working on improving my character.'
'Is it working?'
'In fits and starts.'
'What am I like when I lash out?' said Will, and he seemed worried what the answer might be. 'Do I…' He scanned Hannibal's face, knowing the damage couldn't all be from the impact. 'Was I ever…?'
'No,' said Hannibal, firmly. 'The worst you ever did was break a vase.'
Will let out a sigh of relief, closing his eyes for a moment. Then, hoping to change the subject, he nodded to the piano bench, and the little end table next to the chair where he sat. 'Seems dusty. How long were we away?'
'We went to Europe for several months, then several different states after that.'
'Wish I could remember,' said Will, clearly disappointed in himself. 'I feel like I've never been anywhere. Did we have fun?'
'We met some interesting people in Florence,' said Hannibal. 'And in Paris, we encountered a man at a party who looked so much like you, he agreed to join in on playing a trick on a friend of ours.'
Will's injection was kicking in, and he was able to stand. He crossed the room—gingerly, of course—to look at the pictures in their frames, the books in the shelf, hoping something would trigger his recall. 'What sort of trick?'
'He and I pretended he was you, for an evening,' said Hannibal. He was twisted a little, stitching up his own side, but didn't seem to be struggling with the task. 'It was very entertaining.'
'What did our friend think of it?'
'Oh, she wasn't amused. But then again, she rarely is.' There was the delicate sound of snipping. 'Tell me, Will, what's the first thing you remember?'
'When I woke up, I suppose.'
'No, I mean what's the first thing after all the things you've forgotten?'
Will ran his fingers along the keyboard cover of the piano, leaving a shining trail in the dust before he opened it. 'Warmth,' he said, 'and woodsmoke. The not-unpleasant smell of dogs. I remember my head hurting, all the time. I was so tired.' He glanced back at Hannibal, who was finishing up. 'Does that sound right?'
'You had encephalitis when we met,' said Hannibal. 'You didn't see a doctor about it until it was nearly too late, but I was able to convince you at last.'
'God,' said Will under his breath. 'Am I always that stubborn?'
Hannibal smiled. 'More or less.'
'There's never been a dog here,' said Will. 'How many did I have, back then?'
'You helped rehabilitate rescues in your spare time,' Hannibal explained as he tidied away the first-aid kit. 'Through a shelter. But you were in a special hospital for several months, and afterward you needed to focus on taking care of yourself more than anything else.'
'I feel like I miss them,' said Will, 'even though I can't really picture their faces. Just this… presence, this weight. Knowing I wasn't alone.' He slid onto the piano bench, and strolled his right hand along the keys. 'I used to play, didn't I?'
'You like ragtime, and jazz,' said Hannibal, 'do you remember? Music is often tied strongly to memory, sometimes as much as scent.'
Will looked over his shoulder at Hannibal, who was changing into a clean shirt he'd retrieved from the wardrobe in the bedroom. There was a strange, large, circular scar in the middle of his back, which was completely unfamiliar. 'Give me a few bars.'
Hannibal paused for a moment, fingers mid-button, and hummed a dozen notes.
Fingers motionless on the keys, Will closed his eyes. 'Again.'
Hannibal repeated it, then Will echoed it on the piano, first with only the melody as one might sing it, then again, closer to the melody's accompaniment. He got an additional measure further, tried to add the left hand, then trailed off.
'I can feel it in there,' he said. 'I just can't quite reach.'
'Things will come to you, in time,' said Hannibal. 'What would you like for breakfast?'
* * *
They lay together, early-afternoon light prying through the gap in the curtains with its gilded fingers.
'Are we going to be okay?' said Will. He'd needed another dose for the pain, and Hannibal had, as well. 'I mean, do we need to see someone?'
'You don't like doctors,' Hannibal told him. 'For good reason, too. I'm lucky you put up with me.'
Will remembered some of the books from the living room shelves. 'How long were you a surgeon?'
Hannibal held him closer. 'Long enough to be glad when I left it behind.'
Will's initial discomfort had faded quickly; Hannibal had been surprised—and relieved—when Will began to lean into his touch, seek it out. When they'd finished breakfast and Will received his second injection, he had leaned against Hannibal, burying his face in Hannibal's shoulder and sighing at the first rush of relief. Now, little-spoon, Will snuggled back into him, Hannibal's fingers laced with his own.
'What do I do with my life?' said Will. 'I mean,' he chuckled, 'that came out a little more existentially loaded than I intended.'
'You used to be a teacher,' said Hannibal. 'But the injustices of the system were weighing on you. You felt used, and decided to retire before you could watch your career disintegrate.'
'Sounds a little depressing,' said Will. 'Do I have any hobbies?'
'You like to fish, and you paint. We often spend time together, creating our respective artwork.'
'But I don't earn a living anymore?'
'There's no need,' said Hannibal. 'I'm perfectly happy to provide for you.'
'So I'm your house-husband.'
Hannibal took a moment to respond. 'You remember we're married?'
'There's a ring-divot in my finger,' said Will. 'And a callus on yours, like it didn't fit properly anymore. Did you stop wearing it after I left?'
'No,' said Hannibal. 'I lost it in Florence.'
'Shame,' said Will. 'Guess I should get you another one, huh.'
'In due time,' said Hannibal, kissing Will's shoulder.
'What happened to mine?'
Hannibal made a thoughtful noise. 'One of the mysteries your mind has locked away, I'm afraid. Perhaps we'll get a new ring for each of us.'
Will raised their joined hands, and kissed the backs of Hannibal's fingers. 'Might be nice,' he said. 'A fresh start. I'm sorry, for whatever I did that drove us apart before.'
'It's already forgiven,' said Hannibal. 'I love you, Will.'
'I—I love you, too,' said Will, his voice breaking a little. 'Why does it feel like I've never said it before? I feel it. I know it, even if…' He swallowed. 'Even if I don't remember you, yet.'
'I'm not going anywhere,' Hannibal whispered, breathing in the scent of Will's curls, still damp from the shower. 'We have all the time in the world.'
* * *
They went about the lengthy work of healing.
When he wasn't sleeping off a profound, bone-deep exhaustion, Will kept busy, getting to know the house. He cleaned up the place, turned objects over in his hands, tried to find some meaning in them. Hannibal would go out now and then, and come home with things.
First, there was lumber.
'What are we building?' said Will. He was leaning in the back doorway with a cup of coffee, wearing one of Hannibal's sweaters, which was slightly too big for him, so the sleeves fell over his hands.
'Look in the printer tray,' said Hannibal, busy unloading the trailer that was hooked up to the car.
Will went inside, and then came back with a sheaf of papers. 'A chicken coop? Really?'
'And a little house for goats, as well. Yet another facet of your keen interest in homesteading.' Hannibal went into the shed with a few boards, then doubled back for another load. 'Eventually, we'll be self-sufficient. Before we went on our vacation, we sat at the kitchen table and bickered over plans for the garden—I believe the sketchbook is in my office somewhere, I'll have a look after lunch.'
Will sipped his coffee, flipping through the coop building instructions. 'What was there to bicker about?'
'You insisted upon pumpkins,' said Hannibal. 'I was of the opinion that you would get tired of them quickly if we planted more than one, since you only ever like them in the form of pie, but you refused to be swayed.'
Will laughed, taken aback. 'I don't think I've ever mustered up a whole lot of feeling on the subject of gourds, Hannibal. You're pulling my leg.'
'They're so tempting to pull,' Hannibal teased him, and Will smiled, looking away a little bashfully. This all felt so new, even though it mustn't be.
'Are you sure you should be hauling stuff around? It's only been a week.'
'Don't worry,' said Hannibal.
A wind-up timer went off inside.
'Dough's risen,' said Will. 'You want some coffee when I come back out?'
'Yes, thank you.'
'Black with sugar?'
Will smiled. 'I know I've just picked that up from watching you in the mornings, but still. Feels good to know something for certain.' And he went inside.
As he punched down the dough and shaped it into loaves, Will tried to picture what the property would look like in the summertime. They'd walked the space where the garden would be, two days ago, and had marked it out with stakes and twine; come July, it would doubtless be lush with vegetation, tomato plants held aloft in their wire cages, heavy with fruit, heads of lettuce clustered round as if gossiping to one another, strawberries looking like little splashes of blood among the leaves. Will liked the idea of never having to go into town unless he felt like it, just living off the land. He and Hannibal, all to themselves.
A part of him ached to know what had happened before, to watch the empty trough of his former life fill up with remembrance. But mostly, Will wanted the ache to go away. He suspected that there was something under there, something that might even be dangerous, that would dart out to strike him if he brimmed once more with truth. Hannibal treated him so gently, with such adoration and patience, and Will wanted to be worthy of that. Will didn't want to know what harm he'd done before, didn't want to feel that pain like it was brand new; he loved Hannibal, and wanted to spend his life with him. That was the one thing he knew above all else, the foundation upon which he could build. When he'd opened his eyes in the stinging dark, dizzy and sick and scared, he'd seen Hannibal and felt certainty, a profound knowledge that everything would be all right, as long as they were together.
Will didn't want that to be sullied, and he feared that knowing the whole truth would destroy that beauty, the peace he felt when Hannibal held him. It was like something out of a dream, and Will relished the sweetness of it, the starstruck quality of new romance.
Every night when they got into bed, Hannibal would tell him a story of their time before:
We were roped into a disastrous dinner party, hosted by the brother of one of our friends. The food was terrible, and the company left much to be desired. You were so irritated by our host's behavior that you made a biting remark, the result of which was that you nearly lost face with him entirely. Luckily, our friend and her girlfriend helped extricate us from the situation, but by then you were so out of sorts I had to carry you home. I would advise enjoying your drinks slowly, Will—you can't handle shots.
I've always enjoyed introducing you to new dishes, challenging your palate, and there was a time when you tried to one-up me a little bit in retaliation. You brought me an exotic cut of meat to prepare for our dinner, and lied about what it was, hoping to catch me in a mistake. Perhaps you thought I would season it improperly, or prepare it in a way that would render it too tough to stomach. You claimed it was pork, and I pretended I believed you, but I knew all along that it was bear.
Will placed the loaf pans on the range for a second rise, covering them with a flour sack towel. Deep down, he hoped he never remembered. He hoped Hannibal never ran out of stories to tell.
* * *
Thick blonde hair pulled back while she worked, what time was it, whose turn was it to take the dogs out, how far along was the treehouse? Now it was dark, the fire was lit, there were mirrors on her eyes, in her mouth, no, that wasn't right.
Soft scarves, scars on the girls' throat, she looked like him, didn't she, it hurt to look at her, was she his daughter? She didn't look like herself at all, with her hair pulled back. It should be down, long and straight as an arrow, straight as the barrel of a gun. She was on the boat with him, she was on the steps with him, she was in the dark with him, swimming, drowning in the thick coppery ocean that filled his nose and his mouth and eyes, sirens, where would they bury her? He couldn't say goodbye.
Slim, tailored coat in the wilderness, too put-together for isolation, she put on lipstick to meet the enemy, down in the ground. Sweet green tea in a cup too small to be satisfying, a taste of luxury long since fled, freedom meant never having to lock up behind you. He'd never seen so many fireflies, not since he was small, and the wonder of it welled up like tears. Our minds can concoct all sorts of scenarios when we don't want to believe something. Searing pain in his shoulder, struggling, losing light. —forgiveness, Will.
He could see the way she looked at him, like he was somehow heartbreak incarnate, felt the burn of acid in the back of his throat at the thought of having hurt her, but no worse than the thought of professional fascination. Soft jewel tones and compassion faded to sharp red, vengeful looks, bulletproof glass looking into a barren room like an incomplete diorama. The crunch of glass underfoot, god, it was raining harder now, she was already soaked but it seemed only kind to cover her, but then when they wheeled him out he saw that his jacket was gone, where had it gone? She must have been so cold.
We're the only ones who will know what this feels like.
He could hear something in the chimney. Scratching.
You're not alone, Will.
Frantic in the dark, narrow grave, the berth, the cell, sprouting. Trying to get out.
We construct fairy tales, and we accept them.
A stare like a shark, something wasn't right, Will knew it wasn't right, but he'd come here because she knew things no one else had seen, he'd come here because I believe you. Slack-limbed in an extravagant room, with opiate eyes, denying everything. Is Hannibal in love with me?
Down in the dark, always in the dark. Soft music. The stroke of a gloved hand over his face, and he felt like he was going to choke, but he swallowed.
I'm standing right beside you.
Will jarred awake as if he'd been startled by a sudden noise, and Hannibal wrapped his arms around him.
'Shh, it's all right, I'm here. Another nightmare?'
Will tried to catch his breath. 'Do I have them often?' God, he hoped not. He turned over, and could see Hannibal illuminated by a slash of moonlight through the window. 'I'm sorry I woke you.'
'It's no trouble, Will.' Hannibal ran a hand down the uninjured side of Will's face, but Will winced nevertheless. Hannibal's gaze remained steady. 'What is it, my love?'
'You were… it's stupid, it's just a dream.' Will squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then opened them again, tried to smile. 'Don't stop.'
* * *
Soon sutures were removed, and the full force of spring unfurled itself like a lush, floral quilt. They'd fallen into comfortable routines. The coop was built, and the goat shed and paddock; plants were going into the ground. It had been a month.
Hannibal was at the stove, prodding sliced sausages around a skillet; Will had a stack of books at the table, Backyard Barnyard: Microfarming for Families; The Goat Care Handbook; Vegetable Gardening for Beginners. When Will got up to refill his cup of coffee, he hooked his fingers into the top edge of Hannibal's apron, and turned him to steal a kiss. It was the first since coming home, the first Will knew. It made him dizzy, with how perfect it felt.
'Love you,' said Will, as he went back to what he was doing.
'I love you, too,' said Hannibal, almost reverently. He seemed suspended in the moment, stopped short by the fleeting press of Will's lips against his own.
Will sat down at the table again, flagging a page with a post-it for future reference. 'Do you think it's weird that I never want to go into town?'
'Not at all,' said Hannibal. 'It was by your request that we move to so remote an area.'
'I just…' Will fiddled with his pencil, 'it's so peaceful, here. I don't want anything to disrupt that.'
Hannibal went to the fridge to retrieve something, giving Will a lingering look. 'I understand, believe me.'
'You're going to get sick of me, though, aren't you?' Will sounded like he was joking, but only because a joke was something you could hide your fears behind. 'You used to do so much more with your life. What happened to all of our friends?'
'Many relationships faded with time, and with distance,' said Hannibal, returning to the stove. 'Margot and Alana got married, and left the country with their son. Jack was never the same after Bella died—and of course he and I had that falling-out.'
Will shook his head. 'From what you've told me, I'm surprised you two were ever friends.'
'I loved him like a brother,' said Hannibal, adding chopped peppers and tomatoes to the pan, 'but we were too similar, I think. He was as determined to get his way as I am to get mine.'
'What did you want to have your way about, so badly that it came to blows?'
Hannibal gave him a little smile, mostly with his eyes (and Will loved that, loved how subtly and entirely his expression could change). 'You.'
Will scoffed a little in surprise. 'Come on, really?'
'He wanted all your time and attention for himself,' said Hannibal, beating eggs with a whisk. 'I couldn't abide that. You were mine; he needed reminding.'
Will felt a delicious curl of heat slide through him, at the thought of being his. 'Didn't he introduce us?'
'No one could have guessed we would bond to one another so completely,' said Hannibal. 'I think he regretted that introduction, in the end.'
Will watched him cook for a while, his reading forgotten. 'I wonder if people ever miss me,' he said.
'I'm certain they do.' Eggs hissed in the pan as he stirred them.
'What if they didn't?' said Will. 'What if I could just… evaporate? Disappear utterly from their minds, like I never existed?'
'I don't think anyone could forget about you, Will, once they had the pleasure of knowing you.'
Will got to his feet and went to stand behind Hannibal, putting his arms around his waist and looking over his shoulder at their nearly-finished breakfast. 'You're the only one who knows me,' he said, softly. 'Sees me.'
He felt Hannibal tense. Or maybe he imagined it.
'This is my favorite breakfast, isn't it?' Will asked, murmuring against Hannibal's neck. 'I mean, it is now, but it was before, too, right?'
'It's the first meal I ever made you,' said Hannibal. 'Simple fare, as a gesture of trust.'
'And you delved into the more complicated stuff later.'
'That took a little more trust.' Hannibal leaned his head back against Will's shoulder, briefly. 'I need you to move.'
'I'm happy where I am.'
'The food's ready.'
'I can see that.' Will didn't move for a long moment, and then he did. 'I think I'm going to do some planting today, and then practice when you've gone to pick up the hens.'
Hannibal portioned out half of the pan of scrambled eggs for each of them. 'You never seem to play when I'm in the house, are you anxious about being overheard?'
Will looked away, smiling. 'Okay, so I'm a little intimidated, Mr Fancypants Baroque Perfection.'
'The piano is yours,' Hannibal reminded him as they sat down. 'I much prefer the harpsichord.'
Will rolled his eyes. 'You're not doing yourself any favors, hotshot. Tone it down, I'm already self-conscious about my lack of refined tastes.'
'I find your taste to be perfectly acceptable,' said Hannibal, and there was a little flirtatious gleam in his eye.
'Is that right?' Will picked up his fork. 'Well. I'll be sure to remember that.'
* * *
He cocked his head to one side. 'I don't know if I believe you.'
'You've been painting for years,' Hannibal assured him. He was a few feet away from Will across the porch, sketching something.
'Then why don't I have any paintings here at the house?'
'You gave many away to friends,' said Hannibal, stopping to sharpen his pencil with a scalpel, 'and you sold a few, of course. But much of the time, you destroyed them.'
'Kind of an expensive pastime,' Will noted. 'Cover a slab of wood in expensive goop and then throw it out? I sound like a dick.'
'It wasn't out of some tormented sense of artistic perfectionism, if that's what you're thinking.' Hannibal set the scalpel down again, and went back to shading. 'They often troubled you. I'd wake to find you in the other room, sat before a panel and shaking.'
Will had been mixing a shade of red that was so dark, it was almost black. 'What kind of things was I painting?'
'Dark things,' said Hannibal, his voice gone quiet. 'Dead men grafted into trees, or onto the skeletons of ancient beasts. For a time, all you painted was the Wound Man.'
'That old medical woodcut?'
Hannibal nodded. 'You would combine it with the iconography of Saint Sebastian; a man destroyed and in the utmost suffering, bristling with golden arrows.'
Will didn't want to admit that he was spooked, so he rolled his eyes. 'Great, I'm an edgy piece of shit. Must be nice for you to have me around.'
'You dabbled in sculpture, while we were in Europe—a beautiful creation of bone and glass. Do you remember?'
Birds traded news in the trees beyond the yard, as Will thought back.
Hannibal gave him a sympathetic smile. 'Perhaps I'll draw it for you someday.'
* * *
Will's head fell back, his fingers curled tight in Hannibal's hair. 'Fuck, that's perfect.'
The point of Hannibal's tongue flicked just so, just right, before he sank down fully again. He only took his eyes off Will to close them in bliss, savoring every second, every inch of him. And on the scrim of his mind, a particular sequence replayed: Will leading him to bed, Will laid out before him like a feast, the dark heat of his gaze when Will told him, Give me something to remember.
* * *
Hannibal had gone out to hunt, and arrived home after sundown. There were dishes drying in the rack; Will had made supper for himself, and there was a plate kept warm for Hannibal's return. Simple fare, a gesture of love. The sound of the piano greeted him, and Hannibal shut the door quietly, so as not to disturb Will, but Will could always see the car's headlights approach, illuminating the trees through the window. He must have known that Hannibal was there, and that he could listen, unseen. Enough distance to overcome his reticence, however uncalled-for it was. Will tinkered around the keyboard a bit, before he started something properly, knowing he was observed.
He played the song Hannibal had hummed for him, that first morning, nearly two months ago. His voice had a rasp to it, even when he sang, and Hannibal could hear his confidence building the farther into the verse he got.
I'm gonna sit right down
And write myself a letter
And make-believe it came from you
I'm gonna write words oh, so sweet
They're gonna knock me off of my feet
A lot of kisses on the bottom
I'll be glad I got 'em
I'm gonna smile and say
'I hope you're feeling better,'
And close with love, the way that you do
I'm gonna sit right down
And write myself a letter
And make-believe it came from you
Hannibal made his way quietly into the living room, and stood alongside the bench. Will leaned into his playing, improvising here and there. Hannibal hadn't known he was that accomplished; it was a pleasant surprise.
Will turned, giving him a shy glance as the song wound down.
'I remembered,' said Will, unable to stop smiling.
Hannibal leaned to kiss him on the top of the head. 'I knew you would.'
* * *
The early summer night was alive with the scream of cicadas. Fireflies wandered the air, drunk on love. Hannibal and Will lay in bed, sheets in a tangle beneath them, covers kicked off hours before.
'Question,' said Will, drawing lazy swirls on Hannibal's chest with the tip of his finger.
'Anything,' said Hannibal. He'd only just got his breath back.
Will got distracted by the urge to kiss him, and it took a while to return to conversation.
'Was I like that before?' Will said at last. 'I mean, I wonder if the dynamic's any different, I guess. Do I still seem like myself? Am I still…' he swallowed, and his tone shifted a little into preemptive melancholy, 'am I still what you want?'
Hannibal propped himself up on one elbow to look at him. 'I always want you, Will.'
Will's voice had that old edge to it, doubt that sharpened its teeth. 'But have I changed?'
Hannibal cupped Will's jaw gently, and ran his thumb along his cheekbone; a familiar, affectionate gesture that tugged at Will's heart, tugged at some memory lying in wait to devour him. 'You're precisely the same, and entirely new. Every moment with you is a gift, Will, and always has been. I could never entirely predict you.'
Will's breath caught in his chest. 'I'm yours,' he whispered, fervent and certain. 'Whatever happens, whatever's…' his jaw was tense, 'in there, I belong to you now.'
'Yes,' said Hannibal, drawing Will into his arms. 'And I intend to keep you.'
* * *
Will ran out of the house, barefoot in the wet grass, calling his name.
Hannibal turned off the saw when he saw Will in the doorway of the workshop, and flipped up the safety visor. 'Will, is something the matter?'
He was breathless, his face flushed, and it was difficult to determine what his tone meant. 'I remembered something,' said Will.
Though he showed no outward sign of it, Hannibal braced himself. He made a mental note of all the potential weapons in the room, and in the yard, in the house. He thought about the strength of Will's arms, honed by building, carrying, tilling the soil. He thought about how fitting it would be to die in the room where he broke down bodies for their mutual consumption, Will as yet unaware of what, precisely, graced their dinner table.
'Tell me,' he said.
Will's expression was so familiar, that dawning comprehension that he couldn't quite believe. That moment where things click into place.
Hannibal had wondered when the end might come.
'It was a red vase,' said Will. 'Wasn't it? The one I broke. There's a, a scuff on the bedroom wall, behind the door. We fought, and I threw it at you, didn't I?' The way he spoke was like a tumbling confession, pleading, earnest and needy for someone to confirm it was true, and it reminded Hannibal of another time, another life. 'I—I think we fought about someone, one of your friends, our friends. I was jealous, it wasn't so stupid, I thought maybe you were—I thought you were sleeping with her, but you weren't, were you, Hannibal?'
He felt like he could breathe again. 'I wasn't.'
All the frantic tension in Will's body seemed to uncoil and drop away at once, and he let out a shaky sigh. 'I remembered,' he said, beaming. 'I saw it and I just, I knew.' And he laughed, bright and sweet and full of relief. 'You'd tell me if I was just making shit up, right? You don't lie to me.'
'Of course not,' said Hannibal. 'I have no reason to.'