Water seems so harmless. Soft and pliable, a thing that would break your fall. The thing about water is that it’s deceptively unyielding. From a height of 200 feet, crashing into water might as well be crashing into concrete. People who commit suicide by bridge exhibit the same fatal blunt force trauma as car crash victims.
Will doesn’t think about this in the moments before impact. It’s a long fall, but not so long. They can’t have been airborne for more than a few seconds. Seconds that seemed to stretch out, reaching toward eternity.
He smiles as he falls. He clings to Hannibal just a little tighter, closes his eyes and breathes in the scent of him, blood and sweat and mine.
It feels beautiful. Perfect. Sublime.
And then they hit the water, and Will blunders face first into a wall of pain. He’s robbed of sight. The air is pressed from his lungs, and water invades his nose and mouth. He’s never been hit by a car, but logic says it must feel a lot like this.
He’d turned himself as he pushed off the ledge, angled their bodies so his flesh would break Hannibal’s fall. A poetic gesture, but a meaningless one. Which one of them dies first doesn’t matter all that much, won’t matter for much longer. In fact, it might be an unkindness. Surely being alive in a world where the other isn’t—even for a few minutes—is a terrible fate. Maybe Will is still angry with Hannibal, and that’s why he tries to preserve him here, at the end.
The fall is going to kill them, take them down like dominoes.
But it doesn’t
The riot of pain singing along his nerves is the proof. If he were dead, everything wouldn’t hurt so damn much. He should kick toward the surface, he thinks. He doesn’t want to, and his body doesn’t give a fuck what he wants. His legs kick, and oh, there’s a jolt of pain—quite a lot of it, in fact—and he kicks and he kicks for all the good it does him (none). Everything is black and salt-stinging. He can’t tell which way is up.
There’s burning then there’s floating, and everything fades away.
* * *
He wakes up later. The sky is dim but lightening to a weak pink looks like nothing so much as watered blood, which means it’s much later. Everything aches, and he’s soaked through. He doesn’t remember anything but the water at first, but then it filters back to him in jagged pieces. Dolarhyde, fight, blood, cliff, Hannibal.
Will sits up too fast, and immediately regrets it. He groans aloud at the hot lance of fire that rips though his side at the movement.
Warm, strong hands push him back down. Hannibal, surprisingly gentle. Will lets himself be led, so his head is resting on the ground again. He looks up and sees the stars are still out. They’re faint against the morning sky, flickering dimly, looking very far away. The ground isn’t as hard as it should be. Will turns his head experimentally and finds sand. He rubs his uninjured cheek into it, sighing at the silken feel of it.
It doesn’t occur to him that he’s acting at all out of the usual. Everything feels very far away.
“Will,” Hannibal says. He sounds far away too. “Will,” he tries again. “I need you to hold still.”
The command gets through Will’s muffled head. It feels like his brain is stuffed with cotton, but he obeys. He stills, and Hannibal leans over so that he blots out the landscape, the blooded pink sky, the sun itself.
“Thank you,” he says. He smiles. And then he clamps his hands over Will’s nose and mouth and holds them there as Will thrashes, until the fight leaves his limbs and he goes still.
His face is the last thing Will sees, looking improbably serene and beatific.
* * *
When he wakes up again, he’s dry. Dry and warm, propped up on an alarming number of pillows in an honest-to-god bed. The cotton-headed feeling lingers, but he’s in considerably less pain. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he’s comfortable.
Will looks around and takes stock of his surroundings. The walls are bare. The room looks un-lived in, clean and impersonal. He has no idea where he is but hasn’t the motivation to find out. Not at the moment, anyway. He takes stock of his body. Pain is nosing at the edges of his awareness like a particularly persistent dog, but it’s not unbearable. It’s easy enough to ignore, so he does.
He looks down. The shirt he’s wearing is unfamiliar. It isn’t one he’s seen before, but it’s something he’d own, a dark brown t-shirt, simple and plain… but then it’s not something he’d own because it’s soft, so soft it’s almost slippery beneath his fingers, and it drapes in a way that suggests it was hideously expensive. Certainly not something he’d ever buy for himself.
He pulls the collar aside to look at the wound on his shoulder and finds a thick, white bandage instead. His fingers encounter more of the same when he raises a hand to feel for the matching knife wound on his cheek. He desperately needs to piss. That’s the other thing he notices while conducting his own little personal inventory.
Just as Will’s debating the prudence of attempting to lever himself up off the bed to find a bathroom, the door slides open.
Hannibal looks genuinely pleased to see him.
“Ah, Will. You’re awake.”
“Yeah,” he says dumbly, because he is. “Where are we?”
“Another of my houses,” Hannibal replies, as if this is normal. It probably is, for him.
Will gestures to the bandage on his face. “You did this?”
Hannibal inclines his head slightly. “I did. You’ll want to be careful with it for a few days; you don’t want to tear your stitches. I’d suggest liquids and soft foods, if you can bear it.”
Will nods, and Hannibal looks at him in a way that seems perilously intent.
“I expect you have questions?”
“I guess,” Will says. He doesn’t. In truth, very little is bothering him at present, and he now suspects that has more to do with whatever drugs Hannibal has given him than any genuine sense of well-being, but hell, he’ll take it. “Later, maybe. Can you point me to the bathroom?”
“Certainly,” Hannibal says.
But instead of directing Will to the restroom as promised, he crosses the room in a few strides of his long legs. He’s at Will’s side in an instant, and then his hand is resting on the crook of Will’s elbow, helping him out of bed while his other arm wraps around Will’s back to steady him.
It’s a practical gesture—a clinical one, even—but there’s an undeniable intimacy to it. It’s discomfiting, so Will doggedly ignores it.
The drugs help.
They make their way to the bathroom without incident, and Hannibal insists on helping Will every step of the way. Will walks slowly by necessity rather than choice. He feels ancient, the way everything aches when he moves, even through the blunted edges of the drugs. His body feels strange, as though it’s forgotten how to move. As though it isn’t entirely his own. For his part, Hannibal doesn’t seem to mind. He’s unbothered by their slow progress, bracing Will with strong arms and a gentle grip. It ought to be humiliating (it is, a bit), but it’s nevertheless also necessary.
Which doesn’t mean Will can’t complain. He can, and he does.
“You don’t need to mother me,” Will snaps. If it comes out weaker and less sharp than he intended, he pretends not to notice.
“I don’t,” Hannibal agrees, but he neither lets go nor tightens his grip. He doesn’t dig his fingers painfully into Will’s skin as Will expected he might. They continue their glacially slow progress down the hallway—a silence that is awkward for Will, but probably not for Hannibal.
Since Hannibal is refusing to be goaded, Will lets his eyes roam over their surroundings. There’s a white carpet beneath them, soft and plush beneath his bare feet. The walls here are a cheerful, sunny yellow that seem incongruous with something Hannibal would own. The house doesn’t seem to be much bigger than the house on the cliff. Despite the time and effort it takes to get there, the bathroom isn’t actually far from his room (oh Jesus, he’s already thinking of it as his room; he must be delirious).
He wonders for the first time if he is actually a prisoner. As he thinks it, he realizes the sense that he might be has been lingering all along—it’s only now that it coalesces. The thought makes him tired more than anything.
Apparently he says so out loud because Hannibal chuckles, a sound that should be interpreted as warm but to Will still seems to carry an edge of menace, as everything about Hannibal does.
“You’d be my hostage, I think. Not my prisoner. But no, you are neither.” He cocks an eyebrow. “Were you planning on leaving?”
That startles a laugh from Will, rips it out of his lungs, and fuck that hurts. There’s a labored, wheezing sound that accompanies it, so it seems more like a death rattle than anything else. He gasps and doubles over, and Hannibal steadies him.
“Careful. You’ve broken several ribs.”
“Fuck,” Will says when he can speak again.
They make it to the bathroom at last, and Will has the creeping fear that Hannibal might actually try to come in with him, at which point he would absolutely have to die of mortification. But he doesn’t, simply waits outside the door. This door slides too, Will notices, and his first thought is harder to kick down, if it comes to that.
“Please don’t lock the door,” Hannibal says. “In case you need assistance.”
“In case I pass out and hit the floor, you mean.”
Hannibal makes a small gesture that might be a shrug. “Yes.”
Will slides the door shut and considers locking the door anyway, just to be a pain. The lock is flimsy, a cheap gold-colored privacy clasp that turns to close. It would probably take seconds for either him or Hannibal to pick it open. In the end he lets it alone. The short walk from the bedroom has actually winded him, and he doesn’t have the energy to play stupid games right now.
Whatever Hannibal gave him must be wearing off because his ribs—yes, definitely broken—feel like they’re stabbing him from the inside with every inhale, and the ache he’d felt earlier is ratcheting steadily up in intensity. Will looks at himself in the mirror and almost winces. He looks like shit.
The bandage is covering the worst of the injuries on his face, but his skin looks pale and drawn. He lifts the corner of his t-shirt experimentally and the resulting gasp is involuntary. His side is black and blue, and when he turns around and cranes his neck to see, his back is one big bruise.
Whatever Hannibal gave him certainly isn’t Tylenol because all of that should surely hurt more than it does.
His pants are gone and in their place are a pair of sweats in soft, clinging charcoal grey. He pushes them down over his hips and the small movement makes him sway, so that he has to catch himself against the bathroom counter. In the end, standing to piss when he’s already this dizzy seems like an unreasonable concession to vanity; it’s not like anyone’s going to know besides him, so he shoves his pants down further and lowers himself to the toilet seat, wincing as new sparks of pain flare up the backs of his legs at the movement. His knees and the muscles of his thighs protest the entire way, and he’s panting by the time he’s done.
He thinks about splashing water on his face—would like to do so—but the idea of managing it without wetting his bandage is suddenly exhausting. His skin is clammy and sticky, but he’ll deal with it.
The whole ordeal takes longer than it should, but he manages without major mishap.
He hoped Hannibal would be gone by the time he finished, but of course he’s not. Hannibal is there, waiting patiently outside the door just where Will left him. He’s being kind, or whatever passes for kindness with him. Hannibal helps him back to bed, and Will allows it. Fortunately Hannibal stops shy of actually tucking him in. He’s not sure if his pride could take that.
“Are you in any pain?” Hannibal asks.
“Yeah,” Will says. “A lot, actually.”
Hannibal nods. “The morphine will be wearing off.” He turns away and fiddles with something on the nightstand and turns back toward Will holding out a glass of water and four oblong, white pills. “Antibiotics and painkillers,” he says.
Will puts them in his mouth and swallows.
“I wasn’t going to ask. I figure if you wanted to kill me, you’ve had plenty of chances.” And then, as an afterthought: “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, Will,” Hannibal says.
The last thing Will is aware of, as the unrelenting vacuum of sleep pulls him under, is Hannibal’s cool hand pressed to his forehead.
He sighs and turns into it, although he doesn’t know it.
* * *
Will sleeps a lot for the next several days. Between the meds, the injuries, and the blood loss, he doesn’t have the energy for much else. Hannibal wakes him at intervals to give him pills or change his bandages, and he submits to the care without fussing. Sometimes Hannibal arrives with food—simple things, fruit juice and broths served tepid so as not to irritate the lining of his mouth. The salt of the broth stings his cut, but Will drinks it anyway, and Hannibal looks pleased. He thinks that he should feel hungry, but he doesn’t. Mostly he’s tired.
Will wakes on the the fourth day feeling better, more clear-headed and alert than he’s felt in recent memory. More himself. He sits up and experimentally rolls his shoulder. It hurts, but he’s felt worse. He gets out of bed and pads his way down the hallway that has by now grown familiar. Same cheerful yellow walls, same carpet. Being able to walk on his own, unsupported, is a relief. He makes it into the kitchen before he realizes he hasn’t seen this part of the house before. Hasn’t seen any of it, in fact, beyond his bedroom and the adjoining corridor.
The rest of the house is airy and light, and so is the kitchen. It’s early afternoon. Light filters in through the windows, enhanced rather than inhibited by the thin, diaphanous curtains dressing them. The house itself is single story, and Will takes a lap around it to orient himself. It’s not nearly the size of Hannibal’s house in Baltimore, that half-remembered thing still lurking in the halls of Will’s memory, but it’s bigger than he thought.
There’s a wooden bookshelf in the living room that boasts a small collection of tomes. Classics mostly, but also a handful of dogeared paperbacks that he’s certain Hannibal wouldn’t be caught dead reading. Overall, the effect is one that suggests this is someone else’s house. Someone like Molly, maybe. The thought hits him with a pang of something that isn’t longing but might be kin to guilt. This is the first time he’s thought of Molly since he’d gotten in a stolen cop car with Hannibal.
But the kitchen itself is Hannibal all over. Clean, shining chrome appliances and a glut of counter space. Hannibal himself is nowhere to be found, but as Will drifts back toward the kitchen, he spies a note on the counter.
I have a few pressing errands that can’t wait. I should be back by evening.
Please help yourself to anything in the house while I’m gone.
Well there’s one question asked and answered. The paper is thick and creamy, larger than life in the way that everything about Hannibal is, because of course he couldn’t have just left a note on the back of a receipt like anyone else. The words are written in ink, in a precise hand with firm, deliberate strokes that suggest confidence and a clarity of purpose. Will traces his fingers over them and realizes he’s psychoanalyzing a note in order to avoid thinking about what he’s still doing here. Hannibal has taken him God knows where, and now that he’s ambulatory, there’s no excuse not to call Jack. Not to leave.
Will sighs. Calling Jack is out of the question anyway. It’s not like Hannibal will have left him his phone. It was probably destroyed in their cliff diving expedition, and even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been safe to keep. Tracking his phone will have been the first thing Jack tried once he realized their plan had gone wrong. Will drags a hand over his face and flinches at the spike of pain. He’d forgotten again.
Jack. He can easily imagine what Jack is doing now, standing at the edge of the cliff face where they’d plunged to—not their deaths, but to something else. Something just as momentous. This limbo. Forensics will have combed every inch of the cliff house for evidence. They’ll have found the blood—his, Hannibal’s Dolarhyde’s—and made their assumptions. He wonders if they’ve made the right assumptions.
He wonders if he wants them to.
Now Will notices that there is a phone next to the note. It’s a prepaid phone, black, nondescript and basic. To his surprise, its screen flickers to life when he flips it open and presses the power button. It chirps a welcoming jingle and after a few more seconds, connects to a cell phone tower. Full bars, full battery. Waiting.
Will jiggles it in his hand, thinking. He types in Jack’s number. Erases it. He types in Molly’s number, and his thumb hovers over the ‘send’ button for long seconds.
He should tell her he’s alive, shouldn’t he? It’s cruel to let her think he’s died. (Is it? Some part of his brain that sounds just like Hannibal asks. Or is it better to let her think you died a hero, her sweet man, rather than rose again as a monster?)
That’s him through and through. Him borrowing Hannibal’s voice, the velvety dark accent. Hannibal has never once called him a monster, never once intimated it, even at times when Will wished he would. Will isn’t sure he’s not bullshitting himself, not telling himself what he wants to hear because if he calls Molly then of course she’ll call Jack, and then he’ll have a lot of explaining to do. He’s not sure, but in the end, he erases her number too.
He flips the phone shut and replaces it on the counter. It feels uncomfortably like a declaration. Like a choice. Part of him wishes he could go back to bed, keep floating in a haze of rest and pain and painkillers. If nothing else, that was easy. But he can’t, and he knows he won’t, so he doesn’t try.
Instead, he opens the fridge and goes rummaging through it. His appetite’s finally decided to make itself known, which he figures is a good thing. It can’t have been more than a week, but his broken ribs are starting to show through his skin in sharper relief underneath the mottle where his bruises are fading into sunset hues, looking worse before they get better.
The refrigerator and pantry are well-stocked, full of basic but fresh foods, and Will wonders how this all got here. He wonders where they are. Wants to assume they’re still somewhere in Maryland, but realizes he has no reason to think so. They could be anywhere.
Out the window there’s a driveway that turns onto a dirt road. The whole thing is cradled in tall, green grass, and there’s no signs of civilization or anyone else as far as he can see.
Taken together, it should all be eerie, but it’s not. The solitude is nice. It’s quiet and peaceful, and it reminds him of afternoons at his house in Wolf Trap. He shakes his head. He hasn’t thought of that place in years. At first, after he moved in with Molly, he thought about it all the time. Then time passed, and he’d grown preoccupied with her, with Walter and the dogs, with summers fishing and winters playing board games and typing on his laptop near the fire.
It had been a small life, and he’d successfully managed to pull it snug around himself like a coat. An ill-fitting one, maybe. Someone else’s life, like someone else’s coat, but it kept him busy and it kept him warm all the same.
He shakes himself again, as if he can shake the thoughts off like Winston after a bath. He’s tired again, and he no longer cares what he eats, so he grabs things at random from the fridge. Whatever looks easy. He takes the remainder of a wedge of cheese and a handful of grapes and finds a plate to put them on.
He thinks it would annoy Hannibal if he ate in the living room, so that’s exactly what he does.
* * *
By the time Hannibal comes back, it’s been dark for an hour. Will is stretched out across the leather sofa paging through a book he’d found. He lets it fall to his chest and looks up when he hears the door open.
“Will,” Hannibal says. “You’re up.”
He sounds surprised, although he’d clearly thought it was enough of a possibility to bother leaving a note. Will doesn’t miss the way his eyes flick to the phone still sitting on the kitchen counter. He sees that it’s been moved, surely. It’s a quick gesture, there and gone, but Will catches it all the same. To his credit, Hannibal doesn’t try to hide it.
“I take it you didn’t call Uncle Jack,” he says, setting the paper bags he’s carrying on the counter.
Will sits up so he can look at Hannibal, half-stifling a groan as he does. Hannibal is in the kitchen putting things away. More groceries, apparently.
“You knew I wouldn’t,” Will says.
It’s a guess at best, but as he says the words, Will knows them to be true. Hannibal wouldn’t have left the phone here, wouldn’t have left Will here, alone, if he’d really thought Will would bolt at the first opportunity.
“I had hoped,” is all Hannibal says. And then, “You seemed to like the pomegranate juice, so I bought more.”
“Thanks,” Will says automatically, as if this is something they do. Grocery shopping and talking about their days, and Hannibal getting Will the juice that he likes. “Where are we?” he asks, changing the subject abruptly.
Hannibal takes it in stride. He folds the paper bags and tucks them into a drawer, and the common gesture is so incongruous on him. Will watches his hands; he can’t help it. He’d seen those hands lay into Francis Dolarhyde not long ago, seen those teeth tear out his throat, and now they were in the kitchen, harmless parts of the man watching him with interest.
Hannibal doing terribly mundane things, as opposed to terrible things. For once. The thought jars a laugh loose from Will, and it’s worth it despite the pain in his ribs. He laughs until he thinks he’s losing it and then laughs some more. He can’t stop and doesn’t want to, and it’s not even that anything is funny. It’s that everything is so terribly unfunny—he’s in a little yellow house fuck-knows-where with a serial killer, and this is your life Will Graham.
Hannibal waits until he’s done. He doesn’t look concerned or offended, merely curious. Will is doing something strange and new and interesting, and Hannibal watches it happen the way some people watch videos of wildlife on the internet. He doesn’t mention Will’s outburst, doesn’t ask ‘What’s so funny?’ after Will settles back into silence, and Will is glad for it.
“We’re in Pennsylvania,” Hannibal says when Will has gotten over his fit of hysteria.
Will raises his eyebrows. “Isn’t that a bit… close?”
Hannibal shrugs. “It’s not ideal, no, but I didn’t want to move you any further than necessary. We’re far enough off the beaten path that I think it’s unlikely anyone will look for us here. At least until you’re well enough to travel.”
“And where in Pennsylvania did you say we were?”
He didn’t, and they both know it, but Hannibal doesn’t call him on the transparent manipulation. He just gives Will the information he’s after, as though it’s nothing. Will wonders if he’s really free to come or go as he pleases, or if Hannibal is only trying to convince him that it’s so. “Manns Choice. It’s a farming town in Bedford county with a population of approximately 300.”
“302 now,” Will says absently, mulling it over.
Jack would widen his net in time—assuming he thinks there’s a chance they’re still alive—but he’s unlikely to start a serious search in Pennsylvania in the immediate future. Hannibal is right about that at least. They could be fine here for a while as long as they laid low.
“And why did you smother me on the beach?”
He cuts straight to the chase, and Hannibal looks neither ashamed nor apologetic.
“I wasn’t sure that you wouldn’t try to kill us again, and I needed to get us away from there quickly. You were hurt very badly, as was I. I didn’t have the reserves to fight or convince you.”
“I wasn’t trying to kill us.”
“No?” Hannibal asks mildly. “You did a rather convincing job of it then, but I have to say I didn’t think that murder-suicide was your style. You continue to surprise me, Will.”
There’s something like affection in his tone, and it makes Will’s chest grow tight with an ache that slotted in nicely beside all his other bruises and breaks. God, they’re truly fucked, aren’t they?
“I wasn’t trying to kill us,” Will repeats stubbornly. “But I wasn’t trying not to, either.”
“You thought you’d leave it up to fate to decide,” Hannibal intuits.
Will nods. Despite doing little besides laying on the couch all day, he’s suddenly tired again.
“Should I take your line of inquiry to mean that you plan to stay with me for the foreseeable future?” Hannibal asks, deftly steering the conversation toward ground both more and less perilous.
Will closes his eyes. Moments tick by. After a while, he nods again. It’s a jerky, abortive thing, but a nod nevertheless. A clear signal. He can’t look at Hannibal while he does it, while he agrees to this, whatever this is. This life. This complicity.
This, too, feels too much like a decision. Like something he will not be absolved of.
For a mercy, Hannibal leaves him to it. Will hears the sound of his footsteps retreating as he walks back into the kitchen. Hears the murmur of water from the tap and the metallic sounds of pots and pans being jostled from their places. Will lowers himself back down onto the couch and stretches out on his back. Blows out one long, slow breath and then another. He breathes, in and out, and his breath is no different despite the fact that everything else is. The world is no different, though it should be.
He spends the rest of the afternoon staring at the ceiling, lost in thought.
This is the first time I'm posting a WIP without a set posting schedule. I'll probably be updating at least once a week, but I'm not making any promises at this point. I really just need writing fic to be an escape from the rest of my writing life right now, which means no deadlines. Thanks for understanding. <3
Will drifts into the kitchen lured by the scent of food. While he’s spent the evening alternately staring at the ceiling and the inside of his eyelids, searching for answers to questions he doesn’t want, Hannibal has been cooking. Like everything else he’s ever made, it smells incredible, and Will tells him so.
Hannibal looks pleased. “Steamed trout with polenta. Something easy to eat, I thought.”
He knows where the plates are from his lunch earlier, and he gets them down and begins to set the table unasked. He thinks Hannibal might scold him, might tell him to stop, to think of his injuries and rest, but Hannibal merely points him toward the drawer with cutlery. Will looks through other drawers, out of an idle curiosity more than anything else, and Hannibal makes no move to stop him.
He finds candles in one drawer, slim, tapered white candles that are long and delicate. He thinks of setting them out just because Hannibal would like it. Hannibal’s always preferred ostentation and performance, centerpieces and art. Will looks at the candles for a long moment, sure that he could find a candleholder for them somewhere in this house—Hannibal would probably show him if he asked—and then discards the idea and shuts the drawer. There’s no reason for it. No reason to make something out of nothing, and he’s not entirely sure he means the dinner when he thinks it.
He glances up at Hannibal, who is still cutting parsley, rocking his blade over the pile of fresh, bright herbs and giving no indication that he’s seen or noticed Will’s dilemma.
In the end, it’s a far cry from the dinners they’d had in Baltimore, though the food is just as good. Something in him warms at the idea that Hannibal tailored his menu for Will, in order to avoid causing him pain. They’re sitting on opposite ends of the clean, slightly battered kitchen table, eating with paper napkins and mismatched plates. With pomegranate juice instead of wine.
Will furrows his brow at the last, as his mind wraps itself around that information.
Because they’re both on antibiotics, he realizes. Antibiotics and painkillers, the same ones he’s taking, Hannibal must be taking too. His gaze slides over to Hannibal, sitting serenely at the other end of the table cutting into the flaky fish with his fork. He realizes guiltily that Hannibal was shot recently, and he’s forgotten. (Just like you forgot about Molly, the treacherous part of his mind whispers darkly.) Hannibal has been caring for him tirelessly and must have dragged him out of the water—out of the water, up a cliff face, and into a car—while bleeding from a gut wound.
His thoughts must show on his face because Hannibal speaks directly to them. “I’m fine, Will,” he says. “Don’t trouble yourself. Our Dragon didn’t hit any vital organs, and you took the brunt of the fall.”
There’s that shade of tenderness on his face again, there and then gone. Fleetingly, Will regrets not setting out the candle he’d found after all.
“Does it hurt?” Will asks, filled with an honest curiosity more than pity.
“Yes,” Hannibal says. “But not so terribly.”
They finish the rest of their dinner in silence, and it’s not awkward in the slightest. If Will closes his eyes, he can imagine that they’re back in Hannibal’s office. That the years between them never happened; they’re enjoying wine in front of a fire and enjoying a lull in the conversations they both look forward to each week—mutually felt but not acknowledged.
If he closes his eyes, it’s almost as if the teacup comes together.
But he doesn’t close his eyes for more than a second because if he does, he’ll surely fall asleep. So he looks at the fish instead. Looks at the pomegranate juice, looks at Hannibal. Mostly looks at Hannibal.
And Hannibal looks back, and Will tries to stop his brain from making rapid-fire connections, just once. Tries not to ask the question what does this mean? Because if he asks, he’ll find the answer, and he doesn’t think he wants to know.
“Did you figure it out?” Hannibal asks as they’re clearing the dishes. The question doesn’t break the silence so much as insinuate itself into its cracks.
“Figure what out?”
“Whatever has got you tangled into so many knots. Why you’re here. What you want.”
Will makes to drag his hand over his face and stops at the last minute. It’s a habit that’s slow to die, but even he can learn better. He runs his fingers through his hair instead.
“No,” he says shortly.
“Well, I sincerely hope you do,” Hannibal says, and he actually sounds like he means it.
When Will goes to bed that night, he feels good, and that’s surprising in itself. His belly is full of solid food for the first time in a week, and there’s a pleasant languor soaking into his bones. When he wraps himself in the down comforter, he feels warm and safe.
It occurs to him that that’s wrong, that he shouldn’t feel safe for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the killer down the hall. He tries to dredge up some worry, more out of a lingering sense of obligation than any real concern, and finds that he can’t. More to his surprise, he finds that for once he doesn’t really want to.
His dreams are dark and strange, but then that’s nothing new. They usually are. Have been for as long as Will can remember.
* * *
The days pass in a comfortable blur. They read, eat, and sleep. They take turns cooking and washing up. Hannibal encourages Will to go on short walks. It will keep his lungs strong, he says. Keep the blood flowing and aid the healing process.
Healing is a slow, glacial thing, as it turns out.
Will points this out. He’s surprised by how long it takes, as though he should already be whole again, and Hannibal meets his complaints with a fond smile.
“I thought you’d know better by now,” he says, and the audacity is striking.
“After you gutted me,” Will says because someone should say it aloud.
Hannibal inclines his head, neither confirming nor denying.
Will reaches for anger and finds that it’s nowhere near to hand. He shrugs with his good shoulder instead. “Three years is a long time,” he says. “It’s a long time to forget.”
Hannibal says nothing because of course he knows exactly how long three years can be. There’s a small twitch at the corner of his mouth that says of course he knows. The words hurt, and they were meant to. No anger required.
It’s a bump in the road, and no one dies of it.
His cuts itch madly as they heal, and Hannibal harps on him not to scratch if he catches Will doing it. It’s good-natured and easy.
Sometimes they talk, but more often they don’t. They skirt each other in the hallways—ships passing in the night, Will thinks. Or sharks passing in the slipstream.
He doesn’t ask about the news, about the manhunt because of course there’s a manhunt. He doesn’t ask Hannibal to share what he knows because he’s sure Hannibal has been keeping tabs. Hannibal would move them if they needed to be moved, but he hasn’t, so they don’t.
Will pretends he’s forgotten to care. Pretends it to himself with his silence, and in this, Hannibal lets him keep his make-believe.
He thinks it’s a wonder he never noticed how indulgent Hannibal is, the way Hannibal so rarely denies him anything and in fact never has. The problem with Hannibal has never been a refusal to give Will what he wants—it’s his habit of giving Will everything he doesn’t want as well.
In the tradition of half-remembered Bible stories, Hannibal isn’t the wicked father who gives his son a snake instead of bread. He’s the impassive, curious god who gives his son bread with the one hand and a snake with the other, just to see what will happen.
Will wonders what that makes him.
He supposes it makes him the mad acolyte, the devotee to a murder cult. A cynic who fell in love with the devil, who’s grown so used to snakes with his bread that he wouldn’t know how to eat without the burn of venom in his mouth.
* * *
Two weeks go by, and Hannibal removes his stitches. They sit together beside the kitchen table, chairs pulled out and facing each other. Scissors and forceps rest gleaming on the scarred wood at Hannibal’s elbow, sterilized and smelling faintly of rubbing alcohol.
They’re sitting close, so close that their knees slot together out of necessity, bumping when Hannibal leans forward. There is only so much space in the world, and it’s all somewhere else at the moment. Hannibal starts with Will’s cheek, taking his chin in a surprisingly gentle grip to better angle his face toward the light.
“It’s healed well,” Hannibal says, sounding distantly pleased. “Hold still,” he says, and Will obliges.
Hannibal works quickly and efficiently, snipping the stitches beneath their tidy knots and sliding them free. A neat little pile of discarded black sutures grows on the kitchen table. Hannibal’s focus is wholehearted and intent, and it makes Will feel itchy in his skin (or are those the painkillers?). He isn’t sure what to do with his eyes, so he looks down and watches the black thread scatter when a strong breeze blows.
Hannibal smells like antiseptic and coffee. Will would prefer to close his eyes but can’t bear to do so in his presence. When Hannibal moves away, finished at last, Will can’t help the painfully obvious exhale of breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“Will I scar, doctor?” Will asks in a tone of voice that can’t decide if it wants to be bitter of playful. Not because he cares, but because there’s a tension in the room that he can’t name but needs to shatter.
“You will,” Hannibal says.
Hannibal doesn’t try to couch the words in reassurances, and Will likes that despite himself. He nods.
“Now take off your shirt, if you would,” Hannibal says, perfectly polite. “I think the ones on your shoulder might be ready to come out too.”
Will strips it off without preamble, looking down to catch sight of his own body. His skin is pale from too much time bundled under thick winter coats and not nearly enough time on the water. Hannibal bends closer to examine the stitches before deciding that yes, they can come out.
He leans forward as he works, and as an unintended consequence, Will has the opportunity to observe him without being observed. It feels illicit, like a rare treat. Will drinks in the unconcerned concentration on Hannibal’s face and notices the way his hair falls over his forehead. Will feels like carding his hands through it and then wonders where the impulse came from. He clamps his hands on the sides of his seat instead.
“It’s shorter now,” Will muses.
“Your hair,” he clarifies when Hannibal looks up. “Your choice?”
He can talk now that Hannibal isn’t pulling bits of thread out of his face, and the ability to fill the silence makes him feel as though he’s back on steady ground. They’re old hands at conversation.
“Alana Bloom’s choice, I’m afraid.”
“Is that why you want to kill her?”
It’s meant as a joke, he thinks, and Hannibal takes it as such. He gives a small huff of laughter that doesn’t so much as lend a tremor to his steady hands.
“That’s a promise to be kept and not a grudge,” Hannibal says at last.
Will is saved from having to make any reply at all when Hannibal sets down his tools. “All done.”
Will stands, experimentally rolling his shoulder. It aches still—probably always will, if he’s being realistic, but at least it’s no longer a gaping, jagged hole. “Thank you,” he says.
Will gestures at Hannibal’s side, to where he knows matching sutures lie in a neat row. Where Hannibal has been wounded, although he does a convincing job of acting as though he’s been no such thing.
“Do you want help?” Will asks.
He expects Hannibal to turn him down, to demur politely, so he’s surprised when he doesn’t.
“Yes, please. Thank you for offering.”
Hannibal pulls his sweater and shirt over his head, and it strikes Will that he’s never seen Hannibal shirtless before. Now they’re both half undressed in a kitchen somewhere, gentle morning sunlight pouring through the windows in a peaceful scene out of someone else’s dreams. Except for the stitches and bullet wounds, his mind helpfully supplies. Those mean you’re aiding and abetting a known fugitive. He’s struck by a sudden sense of unreality like déjà vu.
Pulling his own shirt back on breaks the spell, and Hannibal waits until Will’s come back from where he’s gone in his mind to ask, “Have you ever done this before?”
“Yeah,” Will says. At the questioning look on Hannibal’s face, he continues, “My dogs, when I was a kid. Money was tight.”
“They were lucky to get one trip to the vet, never mind two,” Hannibal supplied, filling in the blanks.
“Something like that.”
Unlike Hannibal, Will isn’t practiced enough to do this while speaking, so he falls silent.
He starts with the exit wound on Hannibal’s flank, and Hannibal obligingly turns to give him better access. Will picks up the surgical tools and considers sterilizing them—it’s what he should do, after all—and then on a whim decides against it. He figures they’ve had enough of one another’s blood in their wounds, on their hands, in their eyes and mouths. Forceps shared between them won’t kill anyone.
It takes him longer to remove the stitches than it took Hannibal, but Hannibal doesn’t complain.
“Thank you,” he says once Will’s finished.
After a second’s deliberation, Will removes the stitches from Hannibal’s belly too. It’s not strictly necessary; Hannibal could manage these himself, but it’s easier, Will tells himself. It’s true, but that’s also not the reason he does it, and Will knows it.
When he’s done—really done this time, Will stands back with his hands in his pockets, a little unsure what to do with himself. It’s a new feeling, not one he’s had in this cabin before. Hannibal doesn’t check over the work Will’s done, just tugs his shirt and sweater back over his head with careless grace.
Will starts to walk away, suddenly needing to be somewhere besides the kitchen.
“You didn’t have to leave it to me,” Hannibal says thoughtfully. He wipes scissors and forceps with alcohol and replaces them in his kit. He looks up at Will, already halfway down the hallway making a retreat when Hannibal’s words caught him in his tracks. “You could have gone to a plastic surgeon. The scar would have been nearly invisible.”
Oh, it’s about that.
Will shrugs. It’s an ungainly gesture out of place beside Hannibal’s studied elegance. “I didn’t want to.”
There’s so much there, and they both know it. Like a glacier lurking beneath the water, waiting to sink them both.
You didn’t have to let me stitch you up really means you didn’t have to come with me. It hides all the shades of you didn’t have to stay. He hears the question Hannibal is really asking. It would be kind to give him an answer, Will thinks—a real answer—but he’s not so sure he’s kind anymore, if he ever was. He says nothing, and the moment passes.
Hannibal nods, once. He zips up the leather satchel containing their first aid kit. “It suits you.”
They skirt the edges, for now.
Will finds himself in the bathroom later that night. He brushes his teeth and feels dimly glad that the toothpaste has stopped stinging the cut that’s already knit itself together. He’s had enough of pain to last a lifetime.
He spits into the sink and as he turns to go, wipes the condensation from the mirror as an afterthought. He’s never been given to vanity, preferring to avoid his reflection when at all possible—something his psychiatrist would love to analyze, he’s sure, so it’s a good thing he doesn’t have one anymore. As a rule, he doesn’t like eye contact including his own.
Tonight must feel different because tonight, he makes an exception. It seems he’s been made nothing but exceptions lately. Will runs a hand over his mouth and studies his own face in the mirror.
He’s lost weight eating nothing but liquids and soft foods. His cheekbones stand out in sharp relief, making him look lean and hungry. Older. He turns his head to one side and then slowly to the other, pausing to trace his eyes over the long, red weal dripping along the right side of his face. He traces the same path with his fingers. It feels raised and warm, sore in the way only newly-healed skin can be.
He looks like a stranger, but then that’s always the case. But tonight the stranger looks feral, and that’s new. His own eyes glitter at him mockingly until he turns away.
‘It suits you,’ he said.
Will tells himself he doesn’t care. Still it’s hard to deny the slow bloom of warmth spreading through his chest. He doesn’t have to name it, but he can’t ignore it either.
* * *
Will sleeps through the night as long as he’s on painkillers, but of course that can’t last forever. He’s already taken them longer than he would have if left to his own devices. It turns out his penchant for whiskey doesn’t extend to harder drugs, and Will doesn’t like the way the pills make his skin itch.
He’d stopped taking them once during their second week in Pennsylvania, but the pain crept up until his broken ribs felt like they were stabbing him from the inside every time he drew breath. Hannibal pointed out that he might catch pneumonia if he kept it up but didn’t try to stop him.
Will managed to suffer for an entire day for no real purpose beyond his own stubbornness. It was a day where he mostly took shallow breaths and sat swaying on the couch wearing a pinched expression. By evening, Hannibal had held out two small white pills, and Will had taken them without argument. In the end, it was a relief to give in.
The pills smooth everything out, both the pain in his chest and the nattering in his head. Within a few minutes he feels sleepy, warm and blissful, and sees no reason not to curl into Hannibal’s side. It’s a natural progression to slink down until his head is pillowed in Hannibal’s lap. Hannibal is unbothered. He lifts his arm to make room for Will without raising his eyes from the book he’s reading, and Will tucks the back of his head into the crease where Hannibal’s belly meets his thigh.
He drowses there like this, content to float in that liminal space between sleep and waking. Time passes, but he’s not sure how much. Time seems irrelevant. After a while Hannibal starts to stroke his hair, an absent gesture like petting an animal.
Will makes a contented noise in the back of his throat and pushes his nose into the warm fabric of Hannibal’s pants. He rubs his cheek against it for the tactile drag of cloth against stubble, and Hannibal’s hand stills, hovering in midair for a moment, before he turns the page and keeps petting. In the morning, Will wakes alone on the couch, tucked beneath a warm, woolly blanket. Hannibal is barefoot in the kitchen, and the house smells like bacon frying.
It doesn’t happen again. Will is sure Hannibal would do it again if he asked—or even if he didn’t ask. If he just laid his head back in Hannibal’s lap on some quiet evening—but he can’t bring himself to do either, and he never quite gets that high again.
Hannibal doesn’t mention it. Doesn’t ask why Will did it or why he doesn’t do it again. Doesn’t acknowledge it in any way, which is both a relief and frustration.
They sit beside each other on the couch at night without touching even by accident, not even a glancing brush of knees bumping together, and Will wonders if Hannibal is doing it on purpose. He thinks of asking Hannibal. ‘Are you intentionally avoiding physical contact, Doctor Lecter?’ but the thought is so ludicrous he keeps it to himself.
Now that Hannibal isn’t touching him, Will wants him to all the time.
It’s been a month, and his ribs are better. They still ache, but it’s no longer a bone-deep, lancing agony. There’s no discussion about his medication schedule, and there doesn’t need to be. Will uses up the last of his pain meds, Hannibal doesn’t refill them, and that’s the end of that.
Will is irritable for the first few days, short-tempered with withdrawal symptoms, and Hannibal declines to comment. He brings Will coffee in the morning and tea at night and doesn’t react to any of Will’s cutting, graceless remarks with more than a quirked eyebrow or pursed lip.
The forbearance grates on Will. It only serves to highlight how ungracious Will is being, and it makes him feel guilty, which only makes the irritation worse.
He wonders if that wasn’t Hannibal’s design all along.
* * *
The nightmares come back in full force, barreling down on Will with all the renewed vengeance and vigor of a pack of hellhounds. His nightmares are dipped in blood that runs black in the moonlight. It’s so thick he can taste it. It gets in his eyes, in his nose and mouth until he drowns, sputtering in it.
Will wakes up with the bite of copper still on his tongue, so he thinks he’s still dreaming when he wakes in a borrowed bed hemmed in by sunshine yellow walls that look blue in the dark. He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, and it comes away red. He bit himself in the night.
Will thinks of changing the sheets and then thinks better of it, laying himself back down in the middle of the cold and the wet and thinking he deserves it.
It continues that way for a while. He wears himself tired and thin, and his body stops healing quite so well. He sees Hannibal frowning at him sometimes. He watches when he knows Will isn’t paying attention, but he doesn’t bother to look away when Will catches him at it. He says nothing about the nightmares and neither does Will.
Will’s dreams don’t get any less bloody. They’re all the same, like a matching set. Variations on a theme. It’s always the night on the cliff, the night they killed Dolarhyde. It’s always him and Hannibal. Sometimes they kill Jack, and sometimes they kill Alana. Sometimes they kill Bedelia, and Will wakes with a sick thrill of satisfaction slotted in alongside his nausea.
Sometimes Hannibal kills Molly, and those are the worst nights of all because it’s not Hannibal killing Molly. Not just. They do it together like they do everything together, like two halves of a twisted coin. Hannibal holds her fast, arms held in a vice-like grip and wrenched behind her back. He holds her steady, and Will looks in her eyes. She doesn’t cry, scream, or beg like the others do. Molly trusts him. She loves him.
She still believes that he’ll save her up until the moment Will plunges the knife into her belly and rips her open from stem to stern. Her guts slip out quick as minnows. Her blood is black as anything in the moonlight, and when it drenches him, he feels reborn.
The horror of seeing his wife gutted isn’t what makes him wake screaming. Not her cold skin or lifeless eyes, not the sound her body makes when Hannibal drops her on the ground like a broken toy.
It’s the joy that does it. He licks the blood from the knife and feels so happy about it. He feels whole.
He screams and he doesn’t stop screaming.
Someone is holding him down. He’s pinned in place. An iron grip pressing down on his biceps, heavy and inexorable. There’s a dense weight on his legs. So naturally, Will fights. Tries to twist himself free, wrenches his shoulder and earns himself bright, shooting chest pain for his troubles.
There’s a voice, loud and insistent, calling him back to himself.
He wakes up gasping.
Will blinks, totally unsure of himself and his surroundings for the dragging, awful moments it takes for his skittering brain to catch up to his body—a body that’s soaked with adrenaline and revving for a fight. His eyes adjust to the dark.
Hannibal relaxes his grip on Will’s arms once he’s sure that Will knows him. Hannibal takes a step back, drags a hand through hair that’s soft with sleep, a nervous, wholly human gesture that catches Will off guard—not a difficult feat when he was already feeling so thoroughly off-kilter.
He sits up in bed and they look at each other.
“I apologize for waking you like this.” Hannibal says. His voice sounds sleep-rough, and if Will had any delusions that Hannibal had been up at this ungodly hour reading (or killing people, or whatever it was he did instead of sleeping), that would have laid them to rest. “You were screaming. I worried something had happened to you, and then it seemed unkind to leave you like that.”
“I’m sorry for waking you,” Will says, embarrassed and too newly out of sleep to bother hiding it.
“Nonsense.” Hannibal brushes his apology off as though it’s not even worthy of consideration.
He sits on the edge of Will’s bed pushes one warm, rough hand up under the fringe of Will’s hair to feel his forehead. It will never stop being incongruous, seeing this killer-of-men caretaking.
“No fever,” Hannibal says. He fixes Will with a sharp, knowing gaze that Will can feel even in the low light. “How long have you been having nightmares?”
Will snorts. “You mean recently, or in general?”
“Since we’ve been here,” Hannibal says, ignoring Will’s attempt at self-deprecating deflection. “It seemed to me you were sleeping fine until recently.” He tips his head slightly to the side. “Am I wrong?”
Will sighs. He’s too tired to dissemble. “Since I stopped taking the Vicodin.”
“Hmm.” Hannibal sounds thoughtful. Curious, even. And then, as if coming to a decision, “Come with me.”
Hannibal stands and extends a hand to Will, so there can be no mistaking his intention. Will does anyway, sure that somehow, some way he is missing something. He stares dumbly at Hannibal’s outstretched hand until Hannibal sighs, a soft huff of impatience.
“Will,” he says. “It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. We both need to sleep. Come.”
“I can sleep here,” Will says stubbornly.
“But will you?”
Will sighs, feeling his resolve crumble. Fuck it, it’s late and he’s tired.
“No,” he says and pushes himself out of bed.
He doesn’t take Hannibal’s hand; that’s just one bridge too far tonight. Hannibal is not going to help him out of bed.
But he gets up, and he follows Hannibal back to his room, which isn’t so far away—it’s not a particularly large house, after all—but seems farther in the dark. The halls are eerie in their emptiness.
Some other time, Will might be interested in cataloging the differences between his room and Hannibal’s, or the differences between Hannibal’s room here and his house back in Baltimore. As it is, it’s late and dark, and the silence between them is pinching him even in its companionability. He’s too aware that Hannibal is offering up his bed to share so that Will can rest from nightmares. He’s too aware that it feels like more.
It prickles and gnaws at his side, some amalgam of fear and shame, desire and embarrassment. He thinks of turning around and going back to his bed, where the nightmares are waiting for him, but he at least knows what they are. There’s safety in knowing what to expect.
He wonders idly when he became such a coward.
It would be easy to turn toward the door. He’s certain that Hannibal wouldn’t chase him, wouldn’t demand an explanation. Hannibal has been nothing but courteous to him for weeks (years). He’s about to do it, about to go, but then Hannibal has already turned down the unused side of the queen-sized bed, is already nestled beneath the comforters that could be any color but look silvery grey in this light—
And it turns out Will really, really doesn’t want to go.
So he stays. He slips into bed, and it’s easier than he thought, giving in.
He’s certain he won't be able to sleep at all. The truth of nightmares is that they wait for you no matter where you sleep. A body beside you isn’t a talisman to ward off evil spirits, and Will isn’t so naive as to think he’ll sleep better just because he’s in Hannibal’s bed. Between the blood and vicious joy waiting in his dreams , Will gets into bed with Hannibal resolved to lie still and wait for morning.
It’s a large bed, big enough that they can lie side by side without touching, but not so big that Will can’t feel Hannibal’s warmth next to him, emanating from his solid, utterly human form. Will can smell him, the remnants of the day’s cologne layered over the scent of skin warmed by hours spent wrapped up in covers.
It’s a lot.
Will breathes, shallow and just this side of too fast. He’s aware he should slow down, aware that he is hyperventilating, aware that Hannibal is going to think something is wrong with him.
(Isn’t it, though? Isn’t that true?)
He’ll get less sleep here than he would in his own bed, he knows that now. His brain is ratcheting up and his body is soaked with adrenaline and awareness of the man lying next to him, and how the fuck did he think he’d get a better night’s sleep beside Hannibal fucking Lecter anyway—
And then Hannibal reaches out. His hand unerringly finds Will’s wrist in the dark, fingers encircling the bone, and Will stops breathing. He can surely feel Will’s rabbit-quick heart at the pulse point beneath his fingertips, the evidence to all Will’s fear.
Thank god he says nothing.
He tugs Will’s hand up and brings it to rest on his own chest. Will can feel the steady thump of Hannibal’s heart and the rise and fall of his chest, slow and rhythmic. Everything about Hannibal is steady and solid. He releases Will’s wrist, gives him the opportunity to stay or go as he pleases. He could pull his hand back. He could still leave, slink down the hallway to wait out the night alone.
Will does none of those things. He leaves his hand there, over Hannibal’s heart. Will’s own breathing slows to match, falling in step, and his panic unspools. Dissipates. His heart slows until sleep seems less an impossibility.
They fall asleep like that, connected through one single point of contact. Will closes his eyes and doesn’t dream at all.
* * *
Hannibal is already gone when Will wakes in the morning. The curtains are open, and Hannibal’s bedroom is bathed in light. It’s just this side of too warm, and Will notices with some dismay that he’s sweat into Hannibal’s sheets. He thinks he should wash them; wonders if that’s too presumptuous. In the end, he resolves to do the laundry later and beats a hasty retreat back to his own room. It feels uncomfortably like a walk of shame, enough that he’s glad he doesn’t see Hannibal in the hallway.
He showers and dresses and feels more like himself by the time he’s got clothes on. Nights can be a strange, liminal space. Dreams seem more real by the light of the moon. Whatever peculiar spell had gripped him last night, turning him fragile and bold, had broken. In the clear light of day it seems ridiculous to be afraid of the dark. Ridiculous to seek comfort in someone else’s bed.
After dithering a while in his room (harder to do without a laptop, without a cell phone, without books or work or anything to do) , Will decides to bite the bullet and walks into the kitchen. He can’t hide forever, and even he has to admit that he is hiding.
Hannibal is sitting at the kitchen table drawing. He looks up and smiles, and Will braces himself for the inevitable, the part where they talk about what happened last night, but it never comes.
Hannibal simply says, “Good morning, Will.”
“Morning,” Will mumbles.
The whole house smells like coffee, and Will makes a beeline for the coffee pot sitting on the counter. He fixes himself a cup in a chipped, pastel pink mug and loads it up with sugar. It tastes burnt beneath its sweetness, but it’s hot and soothing anyway. Will leans against the counter and sips it, staring at nothing and thinking.
“I’d have woken you for breakfast, but I thought you could use the rest,” Hannibal says, and it’s the closest they come to acknowledging last night. “I can make you something now, if you’d like.”
“No. Thanks, though,” Will says. He’s beginning to feel guilty over Hannibal’s constant caretaking. He adds, “I can make toast.”
Hannibal nods and turns back to his drawing.
Will wants to feel awkward— does feel awkward as a natural inclination—but Hannibal acts as if nothing unusual or untoward happened between them, and so Will inevitably does as well. It turns out his habitual level of self-recrimination is hard to sustain when he’s the sole participant. Hannibal gives off a constant sense of everything being just the way he wants, as if the world itself molds itself to his whims. It probably does.
Despite Will’s misgivings, it’s contagious. The same sense of laissez-faire calm seeps into Will, so that halfway through his coffee, last night feels like a dream of its own. Something that happened to another Will, the one that belongs to the nighttime.
He isn’t hungry. His appetite’s still touch and go these days, but he said he’d make toast, so he does. The last thing he wants is for Hannibal to decide that he can’t take care of himself and start fussing over his eating.
While Will’s waiting for the bread to toast, he takes his coffee and drifts around to where Hannibal is working at the kitchen table. He’s drawing in a sketchbook, one Will hasn’t seen before, white pages bound in black leather. Will looks over his shoulder in a way he’s dimly aware is probably rude, but Hannibal makes no move to stop him. He keeps drawing unperturbed, making tight, sharp hatch strokes with the side of his pencil. There’s a scalpel lying harmless on the table beside him, and Will feels a pang of familiarity.
Hannibal sets his pencil down and leans back so Will can get a better look. It’s a picture of the ocean, roiling and dark, and even translated through graphite Will swears he can feel the frigidity of it. Cold, damp air and even colder water dragging him down, invading his nose and mouth, so vivid he can taste brine on his tongue.
He blinks, and it’s a drawing again. He’s barefoot in the kitchen with nothing in his mouth but the lingering aftertaste of burnt coffee.
Hannibal is looking at him intently, gazing at his face with no pretense of doing otherwise. Will clears his throat, and Hannibal remains undeterred. He raises the coffee cup to his lips and takes a drink to shelter himself from the scrutiny. Then he talks, because it’s another way to deflect.
“Seascape,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve seen you draw the ocean before.”
“In some traditions, the sea symbolizes the unconscious mind. In others, it means rebirth. The tempest with the power over death and life. Venus was said to have been birthed fully-formed from the sea, clothed in nothing but seafoam and mist.” His eyes slide off Will and back to his drawing. He tilts the sketchbook up to inspect it, then closes it and stacks scalpel and pencil on top. “I’ve never had much reason to pay tribute to the sea.”
“But you do now.” It’s not a question.
They look at each other for several long moments, and there’s something there. The same something that’s been niggling at the edges of Will’s awareness, begging to be let in. But then the toast pops up, saving Will from finding out what it might be.
“I should get that,” he says, although there’s no need.
“Should you?” Hannibal murmurs, sounding like he’s enjoying himself.
Will feels hot under the collar as Hannibal studies him for a few moments more, looking unbearably amused. His mouth is pinched at the corners as though he might laugh, but he only nods and releases Will from his gaze.
The toast is dry and cold by the time Will gets to it, and he eats it over the sink.
Have another weirdly quick update! It occurs to me that maybe I should slow down, but apparently most of the fun in this whole "no update schedule" thing is indulging myself by posting whenever I want. Happy Sunday, y'all ❤
Will never does get around to doing the laundry. He means to, but the afternoon slides by, and he doesn’t quite work up the nerve to walk into Hannibal’s bedroom to fetch the sheets.
Rather than call it a failure of courage, he tells himself he’s busy. He supposes it’s even true, if you can call walking around aimlessly “busy.”
Will’s started to enjoy walking, to enjoy it in a way he didn’t before. His walks are short, always—he may be getting better, but his sides still ache when he stands for too long—but they’re lengthening gradually. He goes out a little further each day. So far he hasn’t met the edge of the property line yet. Although, he reasons, he might not know it if he saw it. This seems like the type of place where you can drive for miles without meeting a neighbor, where private property isn’t necessarily neatly delineated with fences and markers.
There’s a field all around the farmhouse—farmhouse, because he knows that’s what it is once he steps outside. There’s no crops to speak of, just a field made of tall, overlong grass left to run riot over the soil.
The corner of his mouth quirks up at that. Of course Hannibal would own a farm that grew nothing but weeds. The entropy of it probably appeals to him.
Will walks until he reaches a line of trees. The field is bordered by a forest, stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s beautiful in its grandiosity, the sort of thing put on earth to impress men. Oak trees cluster together, their canopies blurring to make a thick, nearly impassable curtain against the sky. It’s darker here. It’s noticeably colder. There’s a distinctive odor of loam and the sweet rot of fallen leaves. It smells fertile.
He hesitates before breaching the tree line, although he doesn’t know why. He’s got a good sense of direction and the burner phone in his pocket; if he gets lost, he can call Hannibal. Will smirks a little to himself then, thinking of gingerbread houses and breadcrumbs and lost little children in the woods. Will is not the type of person who’s scared of fairytales in the dark, so he keeps walking. He’s seen too many real live monsters to be afraid of fictional ones.
(’You’re living with one,’ a little voice says, and he tamps it down. Uproots it like a weed unwanted in the garden.)
Today he walks the furthest he’s gone yet, and he feels a small swell of satisfaction. He comes to the edge of a stream that’s running quick and clear. He sits and pulls off his shoes and dips his feet in because why not. The pull of the water is strong and cool. He tilts his head back and lets the muted, dappled sunlight streak his face. Birds chatter among themselves, and things rustle in the bushes.
It’s all so peaceful, not unlike the stream in his head.
He drowses and splashes his feet in the water and smiles when little fishes come to nibble at his toes.
* * *
Will makes it back just in time for dinner. He hadn’t meant to stay out as long as he did—he really had meant to wash the bedding at some point, but he must have lost track of the time. The sky is still light, but the sun has sunk behind the mountains by the time he walks through the door. He’s aching and thinking of finding a bottle of Tylenol somewhere. The walk to the stream had made him feel hale and strong, but the walk back had been a bit much.
The aroma of something delicious assails him before he’s even fully in the house. Garlic and butter tint the air, and the whole house is pleasantly humid and warm after the nippy chill that set in after the sun disappeared.
“That smells amazing,” Will says.
Hannibal glances towards the door and smiles. His hands don’t stop moving, even as he acknowledges Will. He flips a pan full of vibrant greens, then pours a stream of claret liquid from a bottle and sets a cover over it.
“Did you have a good day?” Hannibal asks.
“Yeah, actually.” Will takes off his jacket and hangs it on a hook by the door. “Hey, where’s the Tylenol?” He asks. Then, frowning. “Do we have Tylenol?”
“Of course. Did you overexert yourself?” Hannibal asks.
“Maybe,” Will admits. He feels less guarded after a day spent outdoors. There’s nothing to guard against among sand and soil and things that creep along the ground. Nothing that lives out there wants to psychoanalyze him, at least.
“You should be more careful with yourself. Respecting your physical limitations will allow your body to heal more quickly.”
Will keeps himself from rolling his eyes, but just barely. He can’t quite bring himself not to needle Hannibal, though. Just a bit. “I didn’t think you had such a nurturing instinct, Doctor Lecter.”
“Didn’t you?” There’s something dark in his gaze, something that makes Will feel like prey, but it’s there and then gone. “Top shelf, right hand side in the medicine cabinet.” He frowns at Will, nothing but perfectly solicitous again. “Did you need something stronger?”
“No,” Will says. “I’m alright.”
He is, isn’t he? He beats a hasty retreat and goes to take his medicine.
* * *
Dinner is heavy and comforting: vinegary greens that melt in Will’s mouth, herbed chicken, and a soft, fluffy bed of risotto. Crispy bits of garlic litter the plates and make everything crunch pleasantly.
They eat, and they talk. Since they’re no longer on a cocktail of assorted pills, wine has made a reappearance at their meals. Will doesn’t remember what he’s drinking, but it’s white and crisp. The dry bite of the wine cuts through the butter of the dishes, and the effect is altogether soporific. By the end of the meal, Hannibal is carrying most of the conversation, and Will doesn’t mind. He likes listening to Hannibal talk.
He tells Will about the books he’d found in the attic, things left by a previous tenant, one of them apparently a first edition antique. The sound of Hannibal’s voice is so soothing, the accent almost melodic if he doesn’t pay too close attention to the words.
Will doesn’t realize he’s leaning forward on the table with his head propped on his hand, eyes drooping shut, until he feels the warm, solid weight of Hannibal’s hand on his shoulder. It’s enough to rouse him from his half-dreaming reverie, and his elbow knocks the silverware to the floor.
“Are you all right?” Hannibal asks.
“Yeah,” Will says. “Sorry, I’m fine. The walk must’ve worn me out more than I thought.”
Hannibal brings him another set of silverware, and they sit down to finish their meal. Except Hannibal is already done, and Will isn’t hungry anymore. He pushes the food around on his plate, aware that Hannibal is watching him. Hannibal is always watching him lately, intent and obvious and utterly unapologetic, gaze as solid as a physical presence in the room with them.
The thought suddenly nettles.
Will pushes his plate away and stands, aware he’s being rude. “Actually, you know what, I’m not feeling well. I’m going to go lie down.”
It’s a lie, and they both know it. He waits. For Hannibal to say something, for Hannibal to call him on it.
“Good night,” is all Hannibal says. “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be up for a while.”
Will can still feel Hannibal’s eyes on his back as he goes.
He walks into his room and shuts the door, resting his back against its cool, smooth wood. He doesn’t bother turning on a light. The cool, gathering darkness in the room suits his mood. He’s alone now; he’s uncomfortably aware that isn’t what he’d wanted. Free from prying eyes, unseen in the quiet.
Will locks the door for good measure, twists the flimsy lock that serves more as a declaration than anything else. It wouldn’t keep Hannibal out. It wouldn’t keep him in, either. The whole thing feels performative, like a show he’s putting on for someone else. When did his life start feeling like that?
He gets into bed with all his clothes on because he’s too stubborn to turn on a light. He gets into bed at all because he left the book he’s reading out in the living room, and he’s definitely too stubborn to go fetch it.
Though he was falling asleep at the dinner table, Will finds he isn’t at all tired now. It’s too early; he can feel it in the way his body resists sleep. His mind is restless and refuses to be silent.
He turns until he’s facing the door, looking at the sliver of light gleaming golden beneath it. He can hear the sounds of Hannibal in the kitchen, Hannibal puttering around the house. The sheets are slippery and cool where they brush against his arms.
He could just get up. Sit next to Hannibal on the couch, share space and read together like they usually do, but that feels too much like giving up. Like admitting to something. That he’s not tired. That he just wanted to get away from Hannibal. That he needs Hannibal to do something instead of just watching him at all times, silent and courteous but always, always holding Will at arm’s length. That he needs Hannibal to kiss him, or fuck him, or hurt him. Anything, as long as Hannibal touches him.
The thought punches the wind out of him in a sharp gasp because it’s true, and it’s been true. It’s the longing that’s been lurking at the edges of his mind, the one he keeps turning away from, but now it’s here at the fore, and Will can’t ignore it. It burns him with how much he wants exactly that. Fantasy comes quickly after that—how could it not?
He thinks of Hannibal, Hannibal with his aristocratic face, all its sharp angles and minute expressions, Hannibal’s lips and teeth—and Will moans again. His hand is down his pants and curled around his dick in a second.
Will shoves his jeans down low on his hips and jacks himself off in quick, rough strokes. He’s aware he’s being too loud, but he can’t quite bring himself to care. It’s over in seconds anyway. As though he’d been walking around balanced precariously on the knife’s edge for weeks and has only just now allowed himself to tip over.
He comes with a groan muffled into one arm, with his hips arching off the bed and Hannibal burning bright in his mind. Hannibal with the knowing smirk, the long, fine fingers.
Will could have sworn the light beneath the door wavered as a shadow passing over it, but then again, he was always prone to imagining things.
* * *
He must fall asleep at some point because the next thing Will knows, he’s waking up. He wakes sitting bolt upright in bed, covered in sweat and gasping. For a mercy, he doesn’t remember his dreams, but he can feel the familiar, jittery sensation of coming to in a body flooded with adrenaline.
The sliver of light beneath the door is gone; the house is plunged in darkness, save for the dim light of the moon through the curtains. Will looks to the nightstand out of habit, looking for a familiar blue glow to tell him how much longer he has to wait out the morning, and realizes that it’s absent. He frowns. For the first time, it strikes him how strange it is that this is a house without clocks.
He must have been quiet because he wakes up alone. No hand on his shoulder, Hannibal nowhere to be found. His feet carry him to the door before he makes a conscious decision to go, and the doorknob doesn’t budge when he twists it.
He wonders if he’d woken Hannibal after all, if Hannibal had tried the door and found it locked. If he’d decided to respect Will’s privacy rather than barge in uninvited. The thought makes him irrationally angry. Privacy between them is a farce at this point. They both know it.
He pads down the hallway and finds Hannibal’s room. His door is open, but tilted shut so that Will has to push it open to see inside. It whines very slightly on the hinges, and Will lingers at the threshold. If Hannibal hears it, he gives no indication. His back is turned, and Will watches from the door. He can just barely make out the slow rise and fall of Hannibal’s chest, limned with moonlight.
It doesn’t occur to Will to go inside. He just looks his fill and lets the sight of Hannibal soothe him, until the cadence of his overeager lungs matches the more sedate pace of Hannibal’s. He takes Hannibal’s unworried, confident calm into himself, drinking it in like a vampire, and in the end it’s enough.
* * *
But of course Hannibal doesn’t let him get away with it.
He doesn’t bring it up until midmorning, after Will has already had his first cup of coffee. Although whether it was a kindness or a tactical choice was anybody’s guess. Both, probably, knowing Hannibal.
“You came to my room last night,” Hannibal says conversationally, while Will is revisiting yesterday’s stream in his head. He comes back from wondering if he’d do better to use live bait or a spinner to catch trout, just in time to see Hannibal tilt his head. It made him look positively reptilian. “You were watching me.”
A normal person would apologize. Of course, a normal person wouldn’t be here at all—in this cabin, or in the position to explain why they were watching their (roommate? friend? tormentor?) sleep—so the point is kind of moot. Will doesn’t want to apologize, so he doesn’t.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he says instead. And then he tips his chin up fractionally, a challenge.
Hannibal is unperturbed. His glance flicks downward back to whatever it is he’s writing.
“You could have come inside instead of merely watching.”
Will swallows, feeling suddenly off balance. “I wasn’t sure I would be welcome.”
He knows it’s a lie as he says it. Hannibal has made him feel a great many things, but unwelcome was never among them.
Hannibal meets his eyes with a cool gaze. “You are always welcome.”
“You shouldn’t say that,” Will says.
“And why not?”
“Because one of these days I might take you up on it.”
“And you think you should not,” Hannibal says.
Will closes his eyes. “Of course I shouldn’t.”
Hannibal can move so silently when he puts his mind to it. Will doesn’t even realize he’s gotten up from the table until he feels Hannibal’s next words as a puff of breath spoken directly into his ear. So close. Heartbreakingly, ruinously close.
“Why shouldn’t you have what you want?” Hannibal murmurs.
The words are humid and warm, full of temptation. Will could melt into him, if only he’d allow himself. He parts his lips to argue, but all the reasons why he shouldn’t— knows he shouldn’t—wither and die on his tongue.
And then there’s a lack at his side, a rush of cool air sweeping back in as Hannibal removes himself from Will’s personal space. It’s cold in the kitchen, and Will is panting in spite of it.
* * *
So that’s how he comes to hold a standing invitation to Hannibal’s bedroom. One spoken aloud and unable to be ignored because of it. He’s cursed with the knowledge.
It makes it harder, in a lot of ways. It makes it harder not to take what he wants, because Hannibal is, as ever, determined to play the devil on Will’s shoulder. To rip away all the reasons why Will shouldn’t.
Touch him, have him, kiss his lips red and bloody, rip him apart, make him like it, let him rip Will apart and then beg him to do it again—and oh, but he wants to beg. Wants to keep and be kept, burn the world down and fuck in the funeral pyre, roll around in the ashes.
Why shouldn’t you have what you want?
It doesn’t escape Will that the answer is because it’s wrong, but they seem to have passed wrong several exits ago, so Will isn’t sure if this last holdout is righteousness or pride or fear. He can tell himself that he’s too proud to go skulking into Hannibal’s bed in the dark of the night, wanting and wounded from bad dreams. It’s almost even true, if he ignores the aching pit in the center of his chest, or the thing that blooms sticky and fragile there.
The truth is he thinks it might crumble if Hannibal looked at it, so he secrets it away and guards it jealously. Privacy is a farce between them, but after all this time, he’ll take what he can get.
* * *
He wakes in the night.
This time it feels like drowning. His body is so thoroughly convinced that even as Will’s eyes fly open, he’s convinced he can’t breathe. He claws at his throat, gasping for breath that won’t come, until it does. His dreams have tossed him ashore, and he’s floundering alive.
His chest burns, and his heart is pounding. He flips on the light; clouds have covered the moon, and the pitch blackness reminds him too much of the Chesapeake Bay as it pulled them under. The harsh white light stings his eyes, but it’s better.
He’s covered in sweat, dripping salt as if he really had just hauled himself up out of the Atlantic, and Will thinks his body has a sick sense of humor. He considers showering—gets as far as turning on both taps in the bathroom before the sound of running water makes him nauseous. He gulps two Tylenol dry and wipes himself with a towel, feeling ridiculous and small even as he huddles on the bathroom floor.
The tiles beneath his feet are cheerful and shell-colored, so cold they burn the soles of his feet and the curve of his ass even through his boxers. He huddles in the far corner, back pressed against the wall, before he realizes he’s being absurd.
(‘Cutting off your nose to spite your face,’ Molly would have said before she fetched him, cooing and soft, and led him by the hand back to bed. And oh, Molly, don’t. Don’t, don’t. She’d have wrapped him up tight, yielding and warm, breasts pressed against his back and smelling of sleep and hay and—
This is not what healthy people do.
Will pushes out a shaky, stuttering breath and forces himself to stop. Stop shaking, stop thinking of Molly, just stop. He curls his lip at the picture he makes and hates it with every fiber of his being. This is potentially the worst thing he could be doing, and the most pathetic, in a long list of things that includes climbing into bed with Hannibal Lecter.
The knowledge that he has actually hit a rock bottom lower than that is what finally propels him up off the floor. He tosses the sweat-dampened bath towel into the hamper and knocks on Hannibal’s door.
He does knock this time. Softly, but it’s there.
Hannibal is a light sleeper—Will has no reason to know it, but he does.
“Come in,” Hannibal says, sounding sleep-softened and harmless. He moves over as Will enters, making room for him in bed.
Will climbs in, and the sheets are vividly warm beneath him. Everything smells like Hannibal, a whole cocoon made of him. He thinks of apologizing. Thinks of saying Sorry for doing this, sorry for being here, sorry you have to take care of me. Sorry, sorry, sorry. He does want to this time, but he can’t make the words leave his mouth.
The last time he was here, Hannibal had been careful not to touch him. This time, he’s no such thing. As soon as Will slides under the covers, Hannibal folds himself around him, wrapping him in a solid, warm embrace. For someone who looks so cold, Hannibal runs surprisingly hot.
He would tell himself that this is unexpected, that he had no idea what Hannibal was offering was anything more than a place to wait out the nightmares, but that would be a lie that strained belief. Even so, Will can’t keep himself from tensing at the sudden contact. He wants and doesn’t want all at once.
Hannibal must feel it, but his grip doesn’t slacken. Even woken from sleep, his arms are fiercely strong. Will could strain and pull in his grasp, and he knows he couldn’t get free. Not unless Hannibal allowed it. The thought is strangely comforting, and it’s what allows him to relax little by little, body loosening by degrees.
And then Hannibal starts murmuring in his ear, and oh god, he’s lost. He’s lost and he knows it.
“I’m glad you came to me, Will. That was brave of you. You can rest now. All will be well.”
He soaks the words up greedily, hungrily, even as they make blood burn hot in his cheeks. What even is this?
“That’s right. Good, Will. Relax.” Hannibal’s breath tickles his ear.
Hannibal is telling him to rest, but his body is saying something else entirely. He’s pressed against Will, chest fitted against Will’s back, legs twined around his, holding him utterly in place. It’s shockingly intimate. Will feels lit up, hyperaware of every point of contact between them, everywhere their bodies touch.
He’s caught between wanting to stay and wanting to bolt. His breath is coming ragged and shallow, and he’s sure Hannibal can hear it. Embarrassing evidence of his condition, but surely Hannibal wanted this, planned this. Surely this is part of his design. Surely he must know—
Hannibal noses against Will’s ear, just a brush of cartilage along his earlobe and oh fuck, Will moans.
“Hannibal,” he says, and it doesn’t sound like his voice. That voice is too soft and too ruined, a jagged thing in the dark.
Hannibal pulls back with a quiet chuckle, though his arms stay curled around Will’s body, a human straightjacket.
“Sleep well, Will.”
Well. If there’s one way to make sure Will Graham would not be able to sleep a wink, it would be this. He’s panting and hard, painfully aroused from the insidiously innocent touch of Hannibal’s hand rubbing small circles over his stomach. He arches back against Hannibal, seeking friction, but he’s effectively pinned in place. Hannibal’s cock is hard against his back, a temptation and a taunt, and Will feels a dark sense of satisfaction that he is just as affected by this as Will is.
The slow drag of Hannibal’s fingertips over the fabric of his t-shirt is maddening.
“Touch me,” he gasps, and Hannibal bends forward to breathe in against Will’s hair.
Will growls low in this throat, caught between frustration and arousal. “You know what I mean.”
He tries to reach behind to grab for Hannibal, but he doesn’t have the range. Hannibal, if anything, only grips him tighter. It’s a pressure that’s only just on the right side of pain.
“You know deep pressure therapy is supposed to be deeply soothing for those suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress.” He folds his chin over the top of Will’s head, settling him into the crook of his neck.
Will snorts. “Oh, therapy, doctor. Is that what this is?”
Hannibal seems to consider it. “No,” he says at last. “It isn’t. Sleep, Will. You need the rest.”
Will can’t move at all, so he does sleep. Eventually. Before Hannibal, in any case.
Okay, expect this to be the last rapid-fire update for a bit because after this, I'll have officially exhausted my backlog of chapters. (yay!) I hate sitting on chapters because then I know what happens, and I want to talk about it with people. The copywriter in me says "It would be smart to wait at least until the fic is off the front page to update again"— but it's more fun if I don't, and we're here for fun and not best advertising practices. ✌🏻
Predictably, Hannibal is gone in the morning. Will wakes up viciously aroused and for a split second contemplates jacking off in Hannibal’s bed just to annoy him. The thought doesn’t appeal for much longer than it takes his brain to come fully online—by then it’s mortifying, as it should be—but it’s long enough to have Will wondering at the sheer territoriality of it.
He’s annoyed enough by the fact of last night that he stubbornly does not touch himself at all.
(’Cutting off your nose to spite your face.’
At least he didn’t sweat through the sheets, Will thinks as he drags a hand through his hair. Small favors.
He stalks back to his room and puts himself to rights, turns the tap in the shower as hot as it will go and scrubs his skin until it’s raw and pink, so by the time he’s facing Hannibal in their shared living room, he feels clear. More lucid than he’s been in weeks. Which is why the first thing out of his mouth is,
“Why are there no clocks?”
“Good morning, Will,” Hannibal says, as he says every morning without fail. As though Will didn’t just ask a massive non sequitur of a question. He runs roughshod over it. “I trust you slept well? No nightmares?”
“I slept fine. Why are there no clocks? No clocks, no newspapers, no television or internet.”
Hannibal looks at him then. “Does this bother you?”
“Yes! No. I don’t know.” He’s beginning to feel frustrated. Ruffles his hands through his hair to make it stand on end, as though he hadn’t just spent time in the bathroom fixing it. “You’re isolating me from the outside world.”
“Isolating? Or insulating?”
“Irrelevant. You can’t just keep me here like some kind of caged bird. Like a pet.”
Hannibal pushes his chair back from the table and goes to Will, cupping his cheek with a palm still warm from the radiant heat of a chipped china mug. “You’re no one’s pet, my dear. And you’re hardly caged.” He cocks his head, and there’s something dark and intelligent flitting behind his eyes, like a shark moving beneath deep water. “Would you like to be?”
Will moans, a soft sound, barely-there but undeniable in the still and silent kitchen. He looks away. He leans into Hannibal’s touch.
Hannibal leans forward and kisses him on the forehead then, a chaste brush of lips. “You don’t have to say it,” he murmurs against Will’s skin. “Not today.”
He smells like soap and aftershave, warm and spicy and invitingly dark, and Will breathes him in.
And then Hannibal lets him go. He isn’t dismissive; he allows Will to stay there, leaning into his touch and drawing strength from the contact for as long as he needs. But when Will pulls away, Hannibal does too. He doesn’t make another move to touch Will, not to grab him or hold him still.
When Will announces that he’s going for a walk, Hannibal doesn’t try to stop him. He simply asks if Will expects to be home in time for lunch.
“When’s lunch?” Will asks, fully aware it’s a loaded question. Now that he’s unraveled a single thread of this—this thing they’re doing—he has a compulsive need to poke at it. To find its edges and grasp the shape of it.
“Whenever we’re hungry,” Hannibal replies.
It’s an answer as unsettling as it is kind.
“I don’t know,” Will says. “Don’t wait for me.”
“I’ll save something for you, then.”
Will would be lying if he said it was anything other than a retreat, but he needs to put space between himself and Hannibal, and he needs it now. It’s fortunate that space is one thing they have plenty of. Clocks, no. Space, yes.
Will yanks his jacket off the hook and pulls it on as he walks.
He doesn’t plan to go to the stream, not consciously anyway, but his feet carry him there all the same. After everything, he still finds comfort in the whisper of rushing water. He shoves his hands in his jacket pockets, wishing he had a fishing pole to occupy them. Hannibal mentioned a previous tenant’s things in the attic, and Will thinks that maybe he should take a look after all. Farmers tended to be fishers, and he’d be happier with a pole in his hand.
There’s a phone in his jacket pocket, Will realizes with a jolt. He’d actually forgotten about it. (He’s sure Hannibal hasn’t.) He pulls it out, and sure enough it still has battery in it. It feels absurdly illicit in his hands. It’s 10:05 a.m. It’s Saturday. Jesus Christ, it’s October. Have they been here that long?
He stays at the stream, holding still at the water’s edge listening to the babble of the current and forcing himself to think this through and not shy away from any of it. He lays out the facts: His absence has certainly been noted. By now he’s either presumed dead or a missing person. If presumed missing, he’ll be considered a hostage or an accomplice. He’s a wanted man, if they think he’s alive. Wanted for what is still up for debate. They’ll want to question him regardless.
He takes a deep breath.
He knows Jack. Knows it’s unlikely that Jack will have given up on either him or Hannibal—he’ll assume they’re alive until he has some reason to think otherwise. They’ll have dredged the sea, looked for bodies to float up on beaches in the area, carried by the tides. They’ll find none, so Jack will keep looking. It’s possible that he’ll give up, in time. If years were to pass without so much as a sighting or rumor (Unlikely. Shockingly unlikely.) Jack would eventually credit that he may have been wrong.
But Hannibal is Jack’s white whale. He’ll be looking for him, which means he’ll be looking for Will.
Will looks at the phone in his hand. He could answer all his questions, find out if he’s been painted villain or victim. He could take it all back, tell them lies. He could go home. It would only take 10 digits.
Needless to say, Will does not make it back in time for lunch.
* * *
He comes to no useful conclusions. By late afternoon, Will has managed nothing but giving himself a headache. The truth is he can’t know anything about what’s going on in the greater world, and it’s no use theorizing without input. It’s an exercise in futility at best, a hamster wheel for an unquiet mind.
Things were better when he’d forgotten about the burner phone. Now he imagines it weighs him down, impossibly heavy for such a small chunk of plastic. The awareness of it burns like a coal in his mind, temptation in the form of a lifeline.
He checks the time compulsively now that he’s remembered he can. It’s 4:15 p.m.
Now it’s 4:16.
Had time always moved so mind-numbingly slowly? Since he’d woken up in Pennsylvania, his days with Hannibal had fallen into a rhythm—Hannibal hadn’t been glib when he said they’d eat when they were hungry. That’s exactly what they did.
They ate when they were hungry, slept when it was dark, rose when it was light or when they were tired of sleeping. They amused themselves with quiet, small pursuits, with wine and conversation. Will went on walks and watched the fish in the stream and the rabbits in the field. Hannibal drew and read and wandered the halls of his mind palace for hours.
It had felt like enough. It hadn’t honestly occurred to Will to be bored (he was content) but now it does.
Now he feels restless, as if woken after sleeping for too long. He’s anxious for something to do, having been reminded that there’s life outside of all this, outside the walls Hannibal has so painstakingly constructed around them. It’s a most elegant trap. Even Will has to be impressed by the simplicity of his design: offering comfort and ease, all the quiet things Will had wanted back before this hell had started. He even left the cage door open, so that Will has the option to leave whenever he wants.
It looks just like kindness.
It absolutely is not.
Hannibal has masterfully pitted Will against himself. The strain of keeping himself from doing the right thing (which really feels like the wrong thing—at this point his moral compass is so fucked it’s a wonder he still knows which way is up) is wearing him out. He’s tired, and he can’t even sleep through the night without Hannibal beside him, and there’s a habit that could get dangerous quickly.
The sun sinks low in the sky, ducking behind the mountains, and Will gives up, shoving the tangled knot of ifs and buts and what thens somewhere far in the back corners of his mind.
* * *
By the time Will walks in, it’s nearly dark. It’s later than he’s come back before, and Will silently dares Hannibal to stay anything about it.
Of course he doesn’t.
He simply takes a casserole dish out of the oven where a roast is warming, and the smell of the meat, rich and warm, hits Will right in the stomach. He doesn’t apologize for keeping Hannibal waiting, but he does sit down at the place setting he’s come to think of as his. He does make an effort to talk and be pleasant, despite the fact that both his voice and brain feel rusty, as though they’re stuck in the wrong gear for anything so wholesome as this.
He doesn’t smile—can’t quite manage that, but he does refrain from scrubbing his face with his hands and cracking up at the bizarre domesticity of all of this.
Basically, he’s trying.
“What did you do today?” Will asks, feeling like he’s playing a bit part in a high school production of Leave It to Beaver.
If Hannibal detects the pinch of irony in Will’s voice, he glides over it easily. “I went into town.” Will’s hand curls tighter around the handle of his fork, trying to ignore the little stab of fear that accompanies Hannibal’s casual announcement. “I also spent some more time in the attic and found some records of interest.”
Will nods, forcibly relaxing his grip and trying to find any scrap of genuine interest for this, trying to hook himself back into the tapestry that Hannibal had woven around them, to reclaim the ease he’d felt before he woke up this morning and shattered the spell. He stabs at the green beans on his plate. “Do we have a record player?”
“We do now. Would you like to hear it later?”
“Maybe another time,” Will says, and Hannibal nods.
Will blows out a breath and sets his fork down deliberately. He folds his hands over his empty plate and dives in headlong. “How close is Jack to finding us?”
Hannibal delicately spears the last bite of meat on his plate. He pushes it through the remaining sauce before bringing it to his mouth and chews thoughtfully. “Not very,” he says at last.
“And that means—?”
Now Hannibal sets down his cutlery as well, laying the fork and knife parallel across his plate. “Do you truly want to know, or would you prefer that I take care of it?”
“He’ll be widening his search radius, Hannibal. It’s only a matter of time before local law enforcement starts canvasing, or someone recognizes you in town, or—”
“Will.” Hannibal cuts him off gently but firmly. “Jack will not find us.” He’s infuriatingly calm in the face of a nationwide manhunt.
“But isn’t it better that we move? I’m better now. I can travel. We could leave the country, or at least travel further west—get out of the East coast.”
Hannibal reaches across the table and takes Will’s hands in his own. It’s a gesture uncommon enough to make Will pause.
“Do you trust me?” Hannibal asks.
Will barely keeps from snorting. “No.”
Hannibal persists. “Do you trust me in this?”
Will sighs. Undeniably, Hannibal has been doing this his whole life. He was good at being a criminal. He’d all but waltzed into the FBI headquarters at Quantico and tap danced in front of them, and still he’d never have been caught if he hadn’t allowed it, of that Will is certain. “Maybe,” he hedges.
“Then let me do this for you. Leave it to me. Yes?”
Will hesitates, but in the end he nods.
They clear their plates and leave them piled in the sink. Will goes to start the washing up, but Hannibal stops him with a light touch on his bad shoulder. “That will keep until morning, I think. I was planning on an early night. Will you join me?”
It’s as clear an invitation as he’s likely to get.
Will may have gone soft and brittle and weird around the edges here, but he can still see patterns as well as he ever could. Hannibal likes to make him ask for things. Likes to make him take what he wants. Asking Will to come to bed with him is Hannibal making it easy.
Will wonders if it’s a reward for letting his concerns about Jack fall. He thinks about operant conditioning—thinks about Stockholm syndrome, of all things—but mostly he thinks he wants to go to bed with Hannibal, and that he’d like to forget all the worries that have plagued him all day like a bad cold. But.
There’s something else he wants to do first. Something that he needs to do, and now that he’s thought of it, he won’t be satisfied until he does.
“In a minute,” Will says. “Go ahead without me. I’ll be right there.”
Hannibal inclines his head and disappears down the hallway, leaving Will alone in the kitchen. When he’s gone, Will braces his hands on the cool granite countertop. He hangs his head and blows out a long breath. Jesus Christ.
He shuts his eyes. Last chance to change your mind, Will. But he doesn’t. He won’t, and more than that he doesn’t even want the option
Will fishes the black burner phone out of his jacket pocket where it hangs against the door. He needs to pick a place, so he leaves it in Hannibal’s box of drawing supplies, amid the sanguine conté crayons and nubs of charcoal. He puts it somewhere Hannibal will find it—somewhere he’ll find it and know it was left intentionally, not strewn on a counter or on a bedside table out of carelessness and happenstance.
He doesn’t want to have to say it, hopes Hannibal will know what he means. Hopes their uncanny brand of knowing each other doesn’t fail now.
He doesn’t want the knowledge—of the date, the time. Of knowing he could end this, make it all stop with a single phone call. He knows Jack’s number, knows it by heart. He’s unlikely to bleach the knowledge of it from his brain folds in his lifetime. Oh, but he could give up the ability to do anything about it.
He could make Hannibal take it from him.
He turns off all the lights and trails down the hallway in the dark.
* * *
It’s one thing to seek comfort in the grip of bad dreams, and apparently another thing entirely to walk into Hannibal’s bedroom with the light on. It feels disconcertingly like being sent as a lamb to the slaughter.
The room is lit by a warm, golden glow softly emanating from a lamp on the nightstand. Hannibal is in bed, and he looks up as Will walks in.
“Did you finish what you needed to do?”
“Yeah,” Will says.
He finds the thought of stripping while Hannibal watches unsettling. He could have done it in his room, could have come here once he was down to his boxers and t-shirt, but that felt too much like giving ground, so he didn’t. Hannibal watches him as he takes off his pants and drapes them over the chair, and Will watches right back. It feels like a challenge, like everything they do, and it’s not one Will is willing to lose.
He undoes half his shirt’s buttons and pulls it over his head.
He walks toward the bed thinking something is about to happen.
Hannibal opens his mouth, doubtless to ask Will yet another slanted, insightful question to probe his mental state—incision cloaked as innocence—but Will has had enough. He’s tired and it’s been a long day, so he beats Hannibal to the punch.
“Why are you doing this?” he asks.
“Because it’s late, and you have trouble sleeping. You sleep better when someone’s bedside you.”
Will laughs, rueful and bitter. “I sleep better when you’re beside me, and there’s a whole suitcase full of issues I don’t want to unpack. But no, don’t brush me off. Don’t pretend you don’t know exactly what I’m asking you. Why are you doing this? Why are you doing any of it? Why take me to a cabin in the middle of the woods to play house? It’s one thing when we were injured, but now we most certainly are not, and I can’t figure out what you’re getting out of this.”
“Not all injuries are physical,” Hannibal says quietly.
Will opens his mouth to object, and Hannibal quells him with a look. “I will address your concerns, but you said a great many things just now. At least indulge me by allowing me to address them in order of interest.”
Will sits on the edge of the bed and bites the inside of his cheek, thinking. He nods.
“Thank you,” Hannibal says. He pats the space next to him, a demand as much as an invitation to move closer, and Will just looks at him until he sighs and relents, folding his hands back in his lap. “Do I need a reason to do any of this? Besides the fact that you and I like it?”
“It’s an insane way to live, Hannibal. It’s insane to cloister ourselves here.”
“According to who?”
Somehow over the course of this conversation, Will has scooted himself closer to Hannibal, until they’re sitting side by side. Until Will can tilt his head to lean it against Hannibal’s shoulder. The contact has a soothing effect on him, and really that’s something that ought to be studied. He changes tack.
“It’s not safe.” He says, turning to look at Hannibal without lifting his head from Hannibal’s shoulder. “We should be keeping closer tabs on the news. One lucky break can turn the tides in an investigation—you know this. No one knows better than we do.”
“No, indeed,” Hannibal says, dropping a kiss in Will’s hair. “But I’ll take care of it.” He cups the bad side of Will’s face, and the touch throbs against the still-raw nerves of his healing flesh. He steers Will gently, turning his face until Hannibal can meet his eyes. “I’ll take care of you,” he says with blinding sincerity.
Will can’t help the shudder that runs through him at that. The words strike at the heart of him, leaving him feeling exposed and hot and wanting.
“You like that,” Hannibal murmurs.
Will jerks free and presses his face against Hannibal’s chest, hiding his face there, as if there was still any part of him that Hannibal couldn’t see. As if it would save him from Hannibal reading his desires, sticky and shameful and so goddamn needy.
Hannibal is undaunted. He trails his fingers lightly down Will’s side. The thin fabric of his t-shirt feels like nothing beneath the touch. He drops his head lower, so he can press another soft kiss against the side of Will’s neck. “Tell me how it feels.”
“Terrible,” Will says, breathless.
Hannibal doesn’t stop. “Tell me why.”
The pressure is light and ticklish, too much and not nearly enough. Will squirms against it.
“Will,” Hannibal says, a warning.
A warning in case Will thought he’d get out of this unscathed, that he’d get away with not satisfying Hannibal’s curiosity. He’s known Hannibal too long; he thought no such thing.
“Because I want it.” Will swallows. “I want you to take care of me. I want to not worry, about any of it. I don’t even want to think about it.”
Hannibal nuzzles along the side of his jaw, lipping at the skin there but never quite giving Will what he wants. “That doesn’t sound so bad to me. It doesn’t sound terrible at all.”
“Wrong,” Will says. “It’s—ah—wrong.”
Now Hannibal scrapes his teeth down the side of Will’s neck—finally. Oh, finally, and it’s a jolt of electricity. He tenses and sucks in a breath. He’s suddenly rock hard and moans with relief when Hannibal tugs Will into his lap. They’re neither of them small men, so Will has to help by clambering over Hannibal’s legs, and then there’s jostling, rearranging limbs and taking care to accommodate injuries. But all the same, fitting together like this feels like sinking into a warm bath.
It feels like finally.
Hannibal’s hands play over his stomach, toying with the soft skin there. He leaves one of them in place, an arm bracketing Will like a steel band around his middle, holding him steady, holding him in place so there’s nothing he can do but lie back against Hannibal’s chest. (To not think and not worry.)
The other hand snakes down his belly, sliding under the elastic of his boxer shorts. Will gasps when Hannibal’s fingers meet skin. It’s a new and shocking intimacy, and Hannibal makes a pleased sound and sucks a bruise into the side of Will’s neck as a reward.
He groans. “Oh fuck. Oh fuck, Hannibal.”
There’s a vibration that might be a chuckle against his back. Hannibal’s long, graceful fingers are drawing his cock from his boxers, stroking as if he already knows everything about Will. As if everything here is his. Will’s belly clenches at the thought because fuck, he wants.
“Lovely,” Hannibal breathes against his ear.
And no, oh no. Not that—
“Turn off the light,” Will pleads, but Hannibal just tightens his grip, pushing Will nearer and nearer to an edge he desperately wants to fall from.
“But I want to see you, lovely boy.”
He doesn’t recognize the sound that comes out of his mouth. He’s never been this loud, but Hannibal pulls it out of him.
“How could someone taking care of you be wrong? Don’t you deserve care, Will?”
There are so many things he could say right now. True things—things like it’s not safe to trust your life to the care of someone who has so often succeeded at ruining it. Things like only a fool would bare their throat for someone in love with the symphony of death and pain. Things like fuck you, of course you’d psychoanalyze me while pulling my soul out through my dick, you fucking nightmare— but his thoughts are skittering like marbles. Disparate and distant and getting further away all the time as Hannibal dismantles him with precision.
He’s overwhelmed and overloaded, and it startles a more terrible truth from him.
“No,” he sobs. “I don’t.”
Hannibal’s arm tightens fractionally around his waist. He twists his wrist where he’s pumping Will’s cock in strong, sure strokes. Will’s teetering at the edge, twisted somewhere between ecstasy and misery and unable to choose until Hannibal decides for him—both. Always both. He bites down hard at the base of Will’s neck, and Will comes so hard he loses track of anything at all.
Will wakes with his heart pounding. Hannibal is sprawled beside him languid as a cat, a proprietary hand slung over Will’s waist. His eyes are open and staring when Will turns his head—not sleeping at all—and it seems he stayed entirely for Will’s benefit.
Will wishes he hadn’t. It’s too early for this. The nighttime version of himself has really stepped in it this time—blundered face-first into a hornets’ nest, neuroses and all, and he doesn’t want to deal with it.
“Morning,” Will hazards, because not talking is only going to make it weirder.
Hannibal’s eyes crinkle at the corners. “Good morning.”
God, it’s already weird.
He thinks this is when he’d kiss Hannibal, but they haven’t done that yet, and Will has the absurd notion of wondering if that’s allowed.
As if anything would be disallowed between them at this point. Hannibal has stabbed him, made him come, and tried to break into his skull with a bone saw. He could definitely kiss Hannibal, and Hannibal would let him—the thing is he’s still not sure if he wants to.
Giving in to Hannibal is giving himself over body and soul—Will is under no delusions when it comes to that. It would be different if it was just sex. He knows what to do with sex. He also knows what Hannibal’s offering, and it’s not just anything. It's love and murder, pain and comfort, all of it mixed together in equal quantities and no way to have one without the other.
He’s already decided to stay, is the thing. He’s given Hannibal his life, tossed aside his job and family, his health and sanity for this. He doesn’t have to like it too. No one could blame him for white-knuckling it clinging onto the few things he has left.
Hannibal doesn’t stir, not to come closer or scoot away. He doesn’t lift his arm from where it’s draped around Will, but he doesn’t hold tighter either. He waits. He watches. Will’s distracted by the slow rise and fall of his breath, so heartbreakingly human without the armor of the suits he used to wear or the sweaters he favors now.
It’s Will’s move.
There are a million things he could do right now. He could pull Hannibal closer for a kiss. He could roll him onto his back, bite the surety off his lips and find out what Hannibal looks like when he comes, what he tastes like when he bleeds. He could ask Hannibal what the hell they’re doing.
The options spread out, gleaming and endless, and in the end Will chooses none of them.
Instead, he rolls away and asks, “Do you want coffee?”
Hannibal purses his lips as though he might say something devastating, which is another thing Will absolutely cannot handle right now. He preempts it, saying “Great! Coffee it is.”
He’s on his feet and out the door before Hannibal has a chance to respond.
* * *
Will does put a pot of coffee on, which makes this something other than an escape, which makes it acceptable.
From down the hallway, he hears the hiss of water through the pipes, the sound of a shower running, and he relaxes. He pours himself a cup of coffee and sips at it, eyeing the tawny drawing box from across the room as though it might leap up and bite him.
The coffee is bracing. It’s bitter and warm, chasing off the chill of half-remembered dreams and grounding him more firmly in the present. He dreamed of snow last night, which never happens. He wonders nonsensically if he is dreaming Hannibal’s dreams.
It’s not a thought that suits in the bright, revealing light of day, and Will shakes it off. It’s warm today. The sun is shining full through the windows. He wonders what time it is, tries to guess it by the position of the light and shadow. 10 o’clock? 11? His fingers twitch with the urge to check.
The shower turns off, and Will is on the other side of the room before he decides not to. He reaches out a hand and rests it against the drawing box’s smooth surface, waiting. Waiting for what, he doesn’t know. Divine inspiration, a sign, to get his nerve back.
For the moment it’s Schroedinger’s cell phone, both there and missing. Once he opens the box, it’ll be one or the other, and Will isn’t quite sure which outcome he’s hoping for. It’s why he left it up to Hannibal.
He thumbs the latch open and hesitates a moment longer. He is being ridiculous. Hannibal just woke up; the phone is probably there.
He doesn’t want Hannibal to catch him at it, and that’s what makes up his mind in the end. What gives him the impetus to flip the lid open at last. Fast, like ripping off a bandaid.
There’s nothing there. Nothing but charcoal and chalk, pencils and the gleam of a well-worn scalpel. It’s gone.
Will suddenly feels weak in the knees, punched in the stomach by some unwelcome mixture of relief and fear. He sits down heavily on the couch, coffee long forgotten, but at least he does make it to the couch. That much, at least, gives him some satisfaction. Nighttime Will may be prone to dramatics like huddling on bathroom floors, but daytime Will is playing no such games.
By the time Hannibal emerges from the shower, dressed in a soft, warm sweater with tendrils of damp hair curling around his face, Will can almost pretend there’s nothing wrong.
“Coffee?” Hannibal asks hopefully, and the warm affection in it makes Will want to bend toward the sound of his voice.
He gets up from the couch instead, shock-numbed legs and all. “Let me,” he says.
* * *
Hannibal settles in on the couch to read. It’s a book Will’s never seen before, not one of the mass-market paperbacks from the bookshelf and none of the more recent hardbounds either. Will would know. He’s looked through most of their books by now, a side effect of having more time than things to fill it with.
Hannibal notices his interest and encourages it. He flips the book shut, keeping his place with a finger and holding it out for Will to examine.
“From the attic?” Will asks, slipping his finger into the book’s pages so he can take the book from Hannibal.
It’s an old book, bound in cracked and scuffed leather stamped with ornate designs that might have been gold at one point. Will takes his time, turning it over in his hands to look at its back and spine. It smells of mildew and cramped, dark places. The spine is heavily ridged, and Will runs his fingers along it. Decorative metal clasps hang open, their shine dulled with age.
“ La Commedia by Dante Alighieri,” Hannibal says.
“Dante’s Divine Comedy.” Will opens the book, feeling the spine creak beneath his hands. The paper is brittle beneath his fingers as he pages through it, careful not to tear anything. “In the original Italian, no less.”
He can’t make out more than every tenth word, but he takes his time looking nevertheless.
“From the 15th century,” Hannibal continues. “This would have been one of the first copies produced on a printing press, although the first editions would not have had these illustrations.”
Sure enough, there are colorful illustrations hand-painted at the beginning of each section, drop caps picked out in gold beside flowers and flourishes. The colors are unfaded despite the years, vibrant pinks and yellows reaching out from the past.
“It’s beautiful,” Will says. He traces a finger over one gilt letter, lingering a while longer before returning to Hannibal’s page and passing it back.
“A wonder of human ingenuity,” Hannibal agrees, accepting the book and letting it rest open on his lap.
“It probably belongs in a museum.” Will says. “It must cost a fortune. Should we really be handling it?”
Hannibal shrugs. “Things are meant to be enjoyed. Books were made to be read. I’d no more leave a beautiful book untouched in a glass case than I would lock a songbird away from the light.”
“Not including the ortolans, you mean.”
“They were well-kept until their appointed time arrived. I assure you, they didn’t want for sunlight.”
“‘For everything there is a season,’” Will quotes.
“A time to kill and a time to heal.”
A smile fights its way onto Will’s face uninvited, a spare, limping thing. “Most people would finish that line with ‘a time to be born and a time to die.’”
“We are not most people. With a Bible full of well-worn verses, why choose one less accurate? Truth and beauty should be valued whenever possible.”
“Like books and drowned songbirds?”
“Yes. Just like.”
* * *
Will manages to rest for a while longer, thinking of books and birds and idly wondering if he should learn Italian. He knows Hannibal would teach him if he asked. But inevitably, his mind turns back to the phone. His hands twitch of their own accord, tightening against the fabric of his pants. He sees Hannibal notice, but beyond a minute tensing of his muscles—there and gone in a fraction of a second—there’s no response.
Suddenly he just needs to know.
He gets up, and Hannibal doesn’t ask him why. He doesn’t ask when Will starts systematically taking the house apart, searching it from top to bottom. Will starts in the kitchen and works his way out room by room, checking cupboards and dressers and drawers. Hannibal obligingly lifts up his feet when Will bends to peer beneath the couch, shifts over when Will peels the cushions off the couch one by one, but he makes no move to help or hinder Will. He doesn’t comment, just turns the page as though Dante is more interesting than whatever madness has Will by the hair.
He says thank you when Will refills both their coffee cups. Later, he makes lunch.
Will goes through his own bedroom and then, after a moment’s hesitation, he goes through Hannibal’s. It’s rude, probably, but then it’s equally possible there are no boundaries left between the two of them anyway. That whatever boundaries remain are no more than wisps of smoke, illusions in his mind.
He opens every drawer, pulls the bedding onto the floor, and lifts up the mattress.
Hannibal finds him paused, lost in reverie as he thumbs through Hannibal’s clothing, all jewel-toned sweaters and dark slacks hanging neatly in the closet. He can see echoes of the man Hannibal was in Baltimore, here. A love of pattern and beauty reflected in cable knits and dark, rich colors.
“Lunch is ready,” Hannibal says, and Will nods. He leaves off with a last stroke of his hand over the fine fabric. He’s gone through all the pockets. There’s nothing in here to find, and nothing to learn about Hannibal that Will doesn’t already know.
There’s a strange look in Hannibal’s eye, one that Will just catches as he turns. He wants to ask but is afraid to know.
Does it hurt to want something that much?
By the time the words are on his tongue, the expression is gone, folded and put away wherever it goes. The silence, at least, is comfortable as Will follows Hannibal down the hall.
They eat a salad that tastes bright with citrus and sharp with arugula, and almonds crunch beneath their teeth. They talk about other things. Pleasant things. It feels like swimming ashore on solid ground. It feels like a truce in a war Will is only waging with himself.
He liked it better when he was at war with Hannibal, in some ways. It at least offered the satisfaction of causing pain and the distraction of strategy. Fighting with himself only makes Will tired.
He doesn’t offer to help with the washing up, and Hannibal doesn’t ask. Hannibal washes and dries the dishes, humming something light under his breath, and Will wades back into the fray, fully aware that he won’t win. Can’t win.
He needs to know, is all.
* * *
In the end, it takes him until nightfall. By then, the sun has been blotted out, chased away by a dim moon, and Will has found absolutely nothing. No phone, no tablet or laptop. Even the car keys that used to hang from a hook in the kitchen are now conspicuously absent and nowhere to be found.
There’s no escape. Will’s mind formulates plans anyway.
He could walk to the main road, follow it until he hit civilization or until a car happened along. It’s possible he’d meet someone who might take a chance on a hitchhiker, but he’s seen the ruin the scar’s made of his face, the feral light that never quite leaves his eyes, and he knows it’s unlikely. He looks dangerous because he is.
Those are his options now, and they aren’t particularly good options. Will hasn’t heard a car in days. His ribs still ache if he walks more than a mile.
He’s trapped. Well and truly trapped. A strangled giggle claws its way from his mouth at the thought.
He’s standing in the kitchen, leaning against the counter. He only knows he’s been standing there for too long because his joints feel stiff when Hannibal takes him by the hand. He threads their fingers together and leads Will to the sofa, and Will goes. He sits when Hannibal bids him sit with a push to his good shoulder—a light touch, more the suggestion of pressure than pressure itself. He lets himself be led.
There are two glasses of bourbon on the table, and Hannibal picks one up and presses it into Will’s hand. Will looks at it, noting distantly that his fingers don’t close around it of their own accord, not until Hannibal patiently folds his fingers over Will’s, encouraging.
He feels like a rag doll, and the sensation isn’t altogether unpleasant.
He takes a drink from his glass, and it’s sugary and smoky. The whiskey is so smooth that the burn is almost an afterthought, a sweetly blooming sensation that he wants to chase. He takes another sip and then another. Hannibal refills his glass when it’s empty, and Will notices that Hannibal’s hardly touched his own.
Hannibal props his head on one hand, elbow resting on the back of the couch. He looks relaxed and casual, and Will thinks I want. He’s not sure if he means the ease itself or Hannibal.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Hannibal asks, and it’s the first time they’ve spoken about it all day.
“Yes and no.”
Hannibal hums. “You didn’t want to find it. That’s why you gave it back to me.”
Neither of them have to say what it is. Will doesn’t trust his voice to speak, so he nods once, slowly.
“I told you I’d take care of you, and I meant it.”
Will snorts. “Somehow I don’t think this is what you had in mind.”
Hannibal tips his head. “I would take care of you in this way and all ways. Don’t suppose this bothers me. It doesn’t.” He runs a gentle hand down the side of Will’s face, tracing the scar with his thumb. “If you need to feel locked in, I’ll be your jailer.”
“For how long?” Will asks despite himself.
“For as long as you need.”
Will can’t help but shudder. They’re quiet for a time, as Will absorbs this. He wishes for a fire, suddenly. He thinks he’d like to see the crackle and shift of flames, something as all-consuming and harrowing as the thing growing between them.
He thinks maybe he’ll suggest a bonfire, but tomorrow maybe. Tomorrow.
“Are you happy?” Hannibal asks, curious. The shifting flames behind Will’s eyes fizzle into nothingness, and he’s looking at a plain yellow wall once again.
Will almost laughs because happy is so much the wrong word for this. Happy lives in a different stratosphere.
“No, Hannibal, I’m not happy,” Will says, and his voice carries a trace of the laughter that didn’t make it past his teeth.
Hannibal’s face falls, and Will feels uncharacteristically kind. Feels the need to soothe and reassure.
“You don’t make me happy, Hannibal. You make me…” He trails off, staring into his cup. The faintly gleaming amber liquid reminds him of God and songbirds, drowning and death. “Whole,” he finishes.
It’s a declaration that should bring the end of the world, but it doesn’t. Instead, there’s a softening of Hannibal’s face that says he understands.
Will closes his eyes, and he’s glad. He’s ready to be done talking for tonight. Hannibal takes both their glasses, sets them down on the coffee table, and folds Will into his arms.
Will lets himself be pulled. He lets his head be tucked into the hollow of Hannibal’s throat, where he can hear the steady rushing of blood, as inexorable as any tide. In so many ways, it’s a relief to give up. It’s a relief to have everything he wants and everything he doesn’t.
He feels trapped, which is to say he feels safe.
I started a companion fic to this story, Destroy/Rebuild. It's told from Molly's POV and it covers the same time period that this fic does. You definitely don't have to read it, but that fic also features Hannibal, and it might give you a more full picture of what's going on in this particular universe. ♥
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Because they can’t stay miserable forever—and he’s including Hannibal in this out of spite, although Hannibal gives no indication of being anything but perfectly pleased with his life and surroundings—Will suggests a bonfire.
They could use the distraction. If he’s honest, he means he could use the distraction.
He has not decided to end his own private war, but he has declared a ceasefire. Let the détente last for as long as it will. Casting Hannibal in the role as jailer has actually gone a long way toward improving Will’s mood. He feels freer than he has in days. Abdicating responsibility has its upsides.
Apparently one of those upsides is Hannibal volunteering to chop wood for their fire. Will’s eyebrows had risen into his hairline when he’d offered.
“I can do it,” Will says immediately.
“I know you can, but better not. Ideally, I’d like you to rest your ribs for at least another week. No heavy lifting or strenuous activity until then.”
Will could think of a few retorts to that—accuse Hannibal of mothering him, roll his eyes, get up, go to the shed and pick up an ax. Instead, he settles for, “You know how to chop wood?”
The idea of Hannibal doing any kind of manual labor is actually kind of surreal. Will thinks he could see Buster gathering wood more easily than Hannibal. The mental image brings a crooked smile to his face, and Hannibal sniffs in a perfect approximation of wounded pride.
“Laughing at my expense, Will?” The words are tart but the expression fond. He’s teasing, faking. Playing.
“You know it,” Will says, grinning wider, though he keeps his thoughts about Buster to himself.
“Wicked thing,” Hannibal says. “Of course I know how to chop wood. I haven’t done it since I was a boy, but they say muscle memory never leaves you.”
He pulls on his coat and scarf, neither of which Will had seen before they moved here. He wonders if Hannibal always kept this house stocked with things he might need—with things Will might need, because he’s had clothes, food, toothpaste and shampoo and razor blades, a bathrobe and boots, none of which he’d packed or purchased. He wonders if Hannibal keeps all of his homes that way, and how many there might be.
He could ask.
He decides he doesn’t want to know. If he’s going to give ‘trusting Hannibal’ a chance, he might as well throw himself into it wholeheartedly. But then—
Will’s smile falters. “You’re okay?” he asks, suddenly aware that he might be exhibiting selfishness. There are things he keeps forgetting. “How’s your side? If it still hurts we can do this another time. It’s plenty warm in here. No reason we need to sit outside to have a fire.”
Hannibal steps back into the kitchen and drops a kiss on the top of Will’s head. He leaves his face there for a moment after, just breathing Will in. Will can feel the light tickle of breath against his scalp.
Hannibal straightens at last. “I’m fine. Your concern is appreciated but unnecessary. I’m meant to worry about you, not the other way around.”
There’s the impulse to argue, to protest. It’s there, but it’s getting easier to ignore with practice. Will nods. He tries gratitude instead.
“Thank you,” he says.
“You’re very welcome.”
The screen door bangs against the frame when Hannibal leaves, and Will watches as his long fingers pull the scarf more snugly against his neck. When Hannibal is gone, Will stares at the shivering door for a moment longer, until he can’t hear Hannibal’s footfalls against the porch. Until the creak of the stairs gives way to silence.
Then he gets up to rinse out his mug and set it in the sink. He lets go of guilt (Hannibal is doing this for me) and obligation (I shouldn’t like it). It’s not comfortable nor is it natural, but he finds that this, too, gets easier with practice.
He walks into the living room to do whatever he wants.
Whatever he wants turns out to be stretching out on the couch listening to the sound of silence. There’s a fleeting feeling that says he should be doing something, anything useful, but it’s dismissed easily enough. There’s something indulgent about being fully present in his body and knowing there’s nothing he needs to do. He listens to the faint chatter of birds outside, and when that wears thin, he amuses himself with his imagination.
There are no trees surrounding their house, nothing but tall grass and weeds in every direction, so Hannibal must have gone to the forest at the edge of the property to find wood. Occasionally Will hears the the faint thok-thok-thok of armloads of dry timber being dropped to the ground, followed by long silences. After a while, he unfurls from where he’s laying and stretches to feel his vertebrae pop. The air in the room is still, and his legs are starting to itch with the need to move.
He fills a glass of water at the tap and brings it outside, letting the screen door bang shut behind him. Hannibal is still gone, so he sits on the porch to wait. There’s a chill in the air, but the sun is bright up above. There’s no ice in the freezer, but the water runs cold in the pipes, and the glass leaves a ring of condensation on his jeans where he rests it against his knee.
Time passes, long enough to watch a sparrow hop along the ground, pecking at something he can’t see—a bug, maybe, or some seeds. Another sparrow has joined it by the time Hannibal emerges from the treeline, and Will shifts his attention, preferring to watch Hannibal to the birds. If he’s still feeling stiff from his own recovering wounds, it doesn’t show. Wood is bundled under one arm and a hatchet dangles from the other, its cutting edge catching the light. He handles the weapon easily, as though it’s an extension of his body. (Will can’t see it as anything other than a weapon, not in Hannibal’s hands.)
He sees the moment Hannibal registers his presence, sees it telegraphed in the curl of smile and tilt of head. He drops his newest batch of wood alongside the rest stacked against the side of the house.
“Will,” he says when they’re close enough to speak without shouting. Says it as though finding Will here is pleasant surprise, like they aren’t the only two people for miles and there’s anywhere else for Will to go, anything else for him to do.
“I brought you this.” Will says, feeling suddenly foolish. He holds out the glass of water that’s grown tepid from his hand curled around it, and Hannibal takes it graciously.
He drains it all in one long swallow, head tipped back and eyes slitted against the sun. Will watches, follows the lean line of his throat as it works against the liquid. He passes the empty glass back to Will, who has the sudden urge to brush away the drops of water still clinging to his lips. With his thumb, maybe. Or his mouth.
Hannibal holds onto the ax, he notices, and the hair prickles on the back of his neck. He’s not afraid of Hannibal—not really, but something in Will’s stomach still twists to see him with a blade in his hand, the way dogs tense when they smell a wolf.
It would be stupid if he didn’t.
“Were you violent as a child?” Will doesn’t know when he decided to ask, or if he did. He does want to know. A single slow blink is the only indication that Hannibal is surprised by the question at all.
“Not particularly. I fought when it was necessary. I didn’t harm animals or younger children. Mostly, I was quiet. I read books, I drew pictures. I looked after my sister.”
“It sounds nice.”
“It was, for a time.”
He can see it, Hannibal as a boy with his nose buried in a book, reading by candlelight after he was supposed to be asleep. He imagines him sneaking sweets for his sister, the both of them hiding from their parents, the sound of their muffled laughter giving them away. He tries to reconcile that version of Hannibal with the one Chiyoh had known, already sly, already dangerous. Brimming with secrets and destined to become one of the big cats.
He blinks and lets the pictures fade.
“Were you?” Hannibal asks.
“For a while.”
Will had always been strange, unusual at an age when standing out meant bullying, name-calling, and stolen lunch money. Meant getting shoved into the dirt and ripping his one good pair of jeans. The first time Will came home crying, his dad laid a heavy hand on his shoulder and taught him how to throw a good right hook. The second time, he looked at Will with disgust. There wasn’t a third time.
Boys didn’t cry, and they didn’t tattle. God helps those who help themselves. If there’s one lesson Will learned and learned well in childhood, it was that help is not on the way.
“You were defending yourself?” Hannibal asks.
“Not always.” Will licks his lips. “I started my fair share of fights. People messed with me less when I did.”
He looks at Hannibal’s chin, avoiding his eyes. What he least wants to see there is pity, and there’s always pity when his childhood comes up. With Molly, with everyone who’s bothered to get close enough that they feel entitled to ask, although admittedly there haven’t been many. It’s one of the reasons Will’s learned not to talk about it, the other reasons being some variation of “I don’t want to.”
When he finally drags his eyes up to Hannibal’s, there is nothing at all that looks like pity. He shouldn’t be surprised; he actually doubts Hannibal is capable of pity, like he doubts Hannibal is capable of remorse. Instead, there’s understanding and curiosity.
Hannibal comes close enough to cup the back of Will’s head with his free hand, and he brings their mouths together in a kiss that’s as sweet as it is chaste. He pulls back before Will has even registered it, before he has a chance to respond.
Will leans forward so their foreheads touch, and they rest there breathing each other’s air.
When Hannibal hefts his ax and heads back toward the woods to bring back a final load of firewood, Will wants to bring his hand to his mouth to feel what Hannibal felt when they kissed. It seems a foolish gesture—foolish and sentimental, so he doesn’t.
He does watch Hannibal’s back as he walks away. Watches it grow smaller and smaller and fade into the trees.
* * *
They build the fire as the sun starts to fade, the riotous oranges and reds above echoed by the ones below.
He and Hannibal sit facing each other on two big logs that were already on the lawn, probably used for this same purpose by whoever lived in this house before them. They were overrun with weeds when Will found them. He’d dug a pitchfork out of the shed and used it to clear away the worst of weeds before Hannibal got back and made him stop. Centipedes and spiders crawled away, fleeing from the sudden destruction of their homes. A border of broken cinderblocks keeps the fire contained, and Will patiently feeds splintered logs into it as the kindling burns.
“Did you have bonfires often, growing up?” Hannibal asks. He looks softened by firelight. His hair is loose and untamed, and it’s harder to see the lines etching his face.
“When we’d go camping. Sometimes we’d go on fishing trips, me and my dad, sometimes one or two of his friends. We’d cook our catches over the fire.” The memory is still vivid, scraping scales away with a pocket knife, gutting the fish and letting the innards fall back into the stream, the smell of meat charring on a stick. “There was music, sometimes. Folk songs on a battered guitar.”
“I’m sorry I don’t have any music for you.”
“I don’t need it. This isn’t that. It’s not about reliving something I only had in fleeting moments.”
Hannibal nods. “The past is more than campfires and fishing trips, and you choose not to talk about yours.”
“So do you.”
They wrap potatoes and ears of sweet corn in foil and roast them in the fire. Will watches the light play off the silver in the dark. It’s later now, and the moon is high.
“What is this about, if not recapturing the past?”
Will answers without looking up. “Pleasure. Doing what we like when we like, because we can.”
There’s a chill in the air, but it’s warm beside the fire. The flames are hot on his face and his hands when he extends them. They’ve both shed their jackets in favor of basking in the radiant heat like lizards, and his back is cold where it’s pointed toward the creaking woods.
Something howls behind him. There’s a series of eerie yips that sound like laughter, and an involuntary shiver runs down Will’s spine. Coyotes, probably. Nothing to worry about, and yet he inches closer to the fire all the same. Hannibal is sitting across from him, a few yards away from the house, and for a moment Will envies him the comfort of something solid against his back.
The yipping rises and falls before trailing off into silence, and Will imagines sharp-toothed, horned beasts crawling from the woods to sniff at his flesh. There comes a moment where he can actually feel the damp huff of breath on the back of his neck. The fine vellus hairs there stand at attention, and he swears he can smell rotting meat.
He refuses to look on principle. There’s nothing there; it’s just a trick of his imagination. He hasn’t hallucinated since his run-in with encephalitis, but at times he still wanders far into his own head before he realizes he’s doing it. He focuses on his breath instead, ignoring the creatures that his mind conjures and allowing them to fade away. He turns his attention back to the fire before him. The orange glow is mesmerizing, and he allows his eyes slide half shut as he watches light play over the cracked logs that have grown silver with ash.
“Come,” Hannibal says, reaching out toward him. His hero come to save him from phantom beasts. Through the flames, Hannibal looks like a specter. Like a demon, something not altogether real.
Will slides beside Hannibal, fitting himself into the vacant space beside him. He sits close, so their sides are pressed together. He leans in and lets his head fall onto Hannibal’s shoulder, noticing the way Hannibal smells like woodsmoke and sweat. He hadn’t washed after chopping and hauling wood for their bonfire, and Will likes it. It makes him smell human. Solid. Real.
It grounds Will and makes him feel as though he might be real too, as if he didn’t die at the bottom of the Atlantic after all, dashed to bits against the sharp stone beneath the waves.
Will turns his face further into Hannibal’s neck and buries his nose there, inhaling at the place where his shirt ends. His skin is hot and alive, and Hannibal makes a small, pleased noise when Will noses beneath his collar. He brings a hand up to cup the back of Will’s head, loose, neither pinning nor inhibiting. Will rests there a while, not moving, just breathing him in.
There was a swimming hole with tall rocks jutting from it, in one of the towns they lived in when he was a kid. It was one of the first few times they’d moved, and he knows that because it was back when he’d still bothered to make friends, before he learned not to bother.
When it was hot, the local kids would go to the swimming hole and dare one another to jump from the top of the tallest rock. Will tagged along, and when it was his turn, he let himself be goaded and cajoled to the top of the rock. He remembers the feel of sun-warmed stone beneath his toes, burning hot and gritty with sand. He remembers a bright shock of fear mixed with the desire for a thrill.
This moment has that same quality.
He’d stepped off then, to whoops and hollers from neighborhood kids. He leaps now, to the quiet crackle of wood splintering under tongues of fire.
He wants to taste Hannibal’s skin, so he does. He flicks out his tongue and licks. Hannibal tastes salty and sharp, and Will wets his lips before doing it again. Hannibal’s hands tighten in his hair.
“Will,” he breathes. His voice is so soft it could have come from Will’s imagination, could be something he’d dreamed up but for the way those long fingers are kneading against his scalp, melting downward to cup the back of his neck.
Will groans against Hannibal’s throat at the suggestion of pressure.
“Harder,” he says and uses his teeth. He scrapes against the tendon that runs along the side of Hannibal’s neck, and Hannibal obliges, twisting his fingers in the curls at the base of Will’s skull.
“Fuck yes.” Will presses the words into Hannibal’s skin alongside biting kisses. The brine of sweat and the thin patina of dirt from a day spent outdoors is overwhelming and not entirely pleasant, and Will could not possibly care less. He can’t get enough—doesn’t want to be anywhere near enough if it means stopping this.
“I want you,” Will says, and the catch in Hannibal’s breath feels like the headiest power. Feels like killing. Like flying through the air on the way to hit bottom, a swan dive beautiful in its finality.
“Anything,” Hannibal says. “You can have it, have me. Anything at all, Will.”
He can hear the unspoken words between them, as if he and Hannibal share one mind. “I just have to—”
He’s not sure who says it, him or Hannibal, or no one at all. He’s not sure the words are even said aloud, but they ring out between them all the same.
“You want me to,” Will says. It’s a question and it isn’t.
“However you want.”
Hannibal says it as though it’s obvious. Maybe it is.
Will gets a fistful of Hannibal’s hair—still shorter than he’d kept it in Baltimore, but starting to grow out. Long enough to grab—and wrenches his head back. Hannibal looks positively exultant. “You really believe that, don’t you?” Will asks. Hannibal’s eyes are unfathomably black by firelight, and Will looks for answers in the gleeful brightness there. “You really believe I should have whatever I want.”
“How can I not?”
Will doesn’t know how to answer that. He certainly doesn’t know what to do with the burning devotion carved into every line of Hannibal’s features, but if he can have anything he wants, then he doesn’t have to. He gives Hannibal’s hair another vicious yank just to see his lips twist in a snarl and then crashes their mouths together.
Imaginary beasts watch from the forest, and Will tips them backward, lays Hannibal out on the dirt. He gets his hands beneath Hannibal’s shirt, running his fingers along smooth planes of muscle and the suggestive curve of belly. He lets his thumbnail catch against Hannibal’s nipple and thrills at the hitch in his breath. He wants to find every hidden spot that makes Hannibal moan and writhe. Thinks of tying him up and playing him like an instrument for hours.
“I want to unmake you,” Will says before closing his teeth around Hannibal’s neck, biting just hard enough to hold him still. Hard enough to feel the firm ridge of cartilage beneath his teeth, to know that he could tear through flesh and collapse his trachea, feel the warmth of lifeblood pulsing into his mouth and down his throat in weakening gushes.
“I’d let you.”
Will groans. Hannibal is saying his name, a litany of it that sounds like holy prayer. He’s holding Will to him as if he’s something precious. As though he isn’t something with teeth, some jagged, sharp-edged thing that hurled them both from a cliff and might again.
They pull apart for long enough to shuck their shirts in movements quick and graceless—Will sitting back on his haunches, Hannibal pinned beneath him so he has to push up on an elbow to get free of his clothes. In the end Will helps, grabbing the hem and yanking it up and over while Hannibal lifts himself. Will is mesmerized by the shift of muscle under his skin as he moves. They’re further away from the fire here, tucked away from its revealing light in the shadow of the log. Hidden, concealed. Creatures of night and instinct.
Will splays his hands against Hannibal’s skin, leaning back to look at him, his own fingers, the two of them together. In the moonlight, they almost look like one thing, a strange and foreign beast.
“Why?” It’s suddenly important to Will, important that he know. “Why would you let me?”
“Because you’re me. Because we are each other.”
“Anyone normal would have blamed it on love.”
“The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health—I’m not his priest, Will.”
Will shuts his eyes and leans forward. He captures Hannibal’s lips in a slow, sliding kiss, all traces of hurry gone. It’s wet and slick and tender. His cock aches where it’s pressed hard against Hannibal’s leg, and he makes no attempt to find relief. They’re so still. Motionless, except for the press of lips and the gliding, probing exploration of tongues.
Hannibal’s hands reach up to frame his face, and it stings when he runs his fingers over Will’s bad cheek, searching, pressing. Hannibal rolls them over in a fluid motion, and Will doesn’t fight it. He lets himself be led, feels the crunch of rocks and dirt beneath his back. Hannibal’s cock is hard and unyielding against him, even through their pants. He presses his hips forward, grinding down onto Will, and the sudden friction makes Will gasp.
Hannibal sets a slow pace, rocking them together for torturous, endless minutes. They’re not kissing so much as panting into each other’s mouths, and even so Will strains upward to recapture Hannibal’s lips when he moves away. He traces the ridge of scar tissue on Will’s face with his tongue—it’s hot and wet; it hurts and feels positively filthy. Will thumps his head hard against the ground, and his mouth falls open in a loud, shameless groan. He can feel Hannibal smiling against his cheek.
He opens his legs wider, twines them around Hannibal’s hips, and the action is met with an approving growl. Hannibal speeds up, thrusting their cocks together with more force, and Will feels his control fraying. Everything is going soft-edged with pleasure. He makes a whimpering noise that he’s sure will embarrass him later, but he can’t bring himself to care when Hannibal’s lips are skimming over his cheekbone, when he sets the sharp edge of his teeth against Will’s earlobe and bites just hard enough to drag another shaky moan from him.
“Hannibal.” He’s clinging, gripping, grasping.
“I’m here. I’ve got you, I’m here.”
He comes with Hannibal’s name on his tongue.
Hannibal ruts against him in the aftermath, chasing his own pleasure and sending little shocks through Will’s oversensitized skin. The seam of his pants bites into his softening cock. It’s too much, riding the knife’s edge between pleasure and pain, and Will brings his hands up meaning to push Hannibal away but ends up drawing him closer instead. He flexes his fingers in the meat of Hannibal’s shoulders, lets his nails dig into the skin for the way it makes Hannibal’s breath grow ragged and harsh.
Hannibal sounds surprised when he comes, with eyes wide and damp. Will surges up and captures his lips again, swallowing the rest of the noise into himself as if he could keep it safe there.
When Hannibal says, “The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health—I’m not his priest, Will.” It's a reference to a speech in the play Equus by Peter Shaffer. The lines are spoken by a psychiatrist:
"The Normal is the good smile in a child's eyes:-alright. It is also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills-like a god. It is the Ordinary made beautiful: it is also the Average made lethal. The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health, and I am his priest."
Hannibal is not a priest of this particular god.
“I miss my dogs,” Will says. Hannibal is lying still beside him, and his breathing is deep and even. Will still knows that he isn’t sleeping. He studies the long shadows on the ceiling.
Sure enough, Hannibal answers immediately. “This would be a good place for dogs. Plenty of space to run, lots of wild rabbits to chase.”
“You don’t seem like you like dogs. Too messy, too wild. They’d get hair all over your nice things.”
“I like you, don’t I?”
A small laugh tumbles out of him in a huff. “Cute.”
Hannibal props his chin on Will’s shoulder, and Will turns his head for a kiss.
“I don’t dislike dogs,” Hannibal says when they break away. “One or two wouldn’t bother me.”
“One or two, huh? And if I wanted more than that?”
Hannibal kisses him again. “Then we should probably build some fences.”
Will smiles into the kiss, allowing himself to imagine it for a moment, a pack of dogs the size of the one he’d had back in Wolf Trap. They even look like dogs he used to have, not only the ones he’d kept with Molly but all the dogs he’s had stretching back since childhood. He imagines them jumping up on Hannibal, getting muddy paw prints all over suits he hasn’t worn in years—imagines the pained, long-suffering look that would complete the scene. He imagines running through tall grass chasing and being chased beneath the dappled sunlight.
Then he sighs. “We can’t get dogs, Hannibal.”
“Oh? And why not?”
“Because if we have to leave— when we have to leave—it won’t be fair to them. We can’t just leave them alone.”
Like I left Molly and Walter alone.
The thought is a treacherous stowaway in the cocoon of calm he’s allowed Hannibal to wrap around them both here, and it chills him all the way through. He pulls away and curls onto his side. It’s raining outside. Will can see the steady drip-drip-drip from the eaves of the house, hear the whispering hush it makes as it hits the window. The air is damp, and everything smells like ozone.
Hannibal reaches toward him—Will can hear it in the sighing rustle of sheets, feel it in the phantom touch of skin hovering above skin—but he must think better of it because the anticipated touch never comes. Instead Hannibal leaves Will with another kiss pressed to his temple. There’s the shift of mattress beneath his weight and the sound of a door closing softly.
They are so easy in their affection these days, ending up in Hannibal’s bed more often than not. They haven’t had sex again since the night of the bonfire, but touches have flowed between them, freely given and freely received. Will announced he was going to lay down midday, and Hannibal had joined him. It’s easy, the way being with Molly was easy.
Now he’s alone, and he buries his face in the pillow. He can just make out the sounds of life in the kitchen, proof that he’s never really alone, and it soothes him back to sleep.
* * *
Dinner is beautiful. There are perfect slices of quiche filled with creamy, savory custard studded with bits of fatty bacon and leek. The edges of the crust are fluted and golden, and Will is pretty sure Hannibal made it himself. Hannibal watches as he takes the first bite and smiles when Will tells him it’s delicious, which it is.
“Do you miss killing?” Will asks.
Hannibal puts his fork down and dabs at the corner of his mouth with a paper towel. It should look ridiculous without the linen napkin, but it doesn’t. “Yes and no. I don’t pine for it, but if the opportunity were to arise once again, I would be glad of it.” He smiles a little, mostly to himself. “Would you believe that what I mostly miss is the meat?”
“Mostly? Not a chance. I do believe that you miss it though.” Will takes another swallow his wine—wine that is probably very good, although he still can’t tell the difference—which he is going through at a prodigious rate. Hannibal noted it with a raised eyebrow but continues to refill Will’s glass without comment, ever the good host.
The house is well-stocked. There’s a liquor collection that mirrors the one Will left back home almost exactly (which was of course Hannibal’s intent), but beyond wine with dinner, Will hasn’t been partaking. It’s seemed like one crutch too many, a way to sink himself deeper into this hole that he isn’t sure he’ll be able to climb out of. And if he’s being honest, it’s been more appealing to sink himself into the fantasy Hannibal has created than into any bottle.
He’ll make an exception tonight, though.
Will wants to be good and drunk for this conversation. The room spins when he leans over the table, which means he’s well on his way. His heart is pounding, intensifying the effects of the alcohol in his system. “You could, you know. If you wanted to. I mean,” he closes his eyes against the way the world sways. “I don’t mean to be your jailer.”
There’s the soft sound of indrawn breath, and when he opens his eyes, Hannibal is frozen. His face does a curious thing; it seems to cycle through many expressions in quick succession, as though he is trying and failing to find the correct one.
When he speaks, it’s slow and careful. “I know I could, in the strictest sense of the word. I don’t believe you presume to think you could stop me if I was so determined?” He looks to Will, who shakes his head almost imperceptibly. “So it’s not that you’re offering me permission. But I also don’t think this is what you want, so why offer it to me? Do you think my relationship with you is contingent on my ability to kill with your blessing?”
Will swallows. He does actually think that, at least in part. The life Hannibal has built around them like a stack of cards is easy and lovely, but he isn’t so naive to think it can continue forever. Hannibal is, at his core, a creature of caprice and savagery tucked beneath a polished veneer. Even his love is brutal.
“Not your relationship with me. Your happiness.”
Hannibal’s face is blank and unreadable. It seems he has given up on human expression after all. “Which you care about?”
“Yes.” It only feels like half a lie when he says it.
“Accurate,” Will counters.
The weight of Hannibal’s scrutiny is intense. He’s trying to understand, trying to fit what Will’s just offered up into his understanding of him. Will wishes him luck at it. After all, hasn’t he been trying to do the same with limited success? His own mind is strange to him, foreign and unwieldy, an untamed wilderland, except when he allows Hannibal to decide what they will be.
“Would you really be able to accept it? If I slipped out of our bed at night and returned to you smelling of iron and copper, bearing gifts from my travels?”
Will’s heart pounds faster at the mention of gifts. He knows what sort Hannibal has in mind. “Would you feed them to me?”
“Only the choicest meats. Heart tartare and the marbled flesh between the ribs.”
“We’d get caught.”
Will sighs. “I don’t want you to.”
“I know,” Hannibal says, infinitely patient. Was he always this way? Surely not. Surely Will would have noticed.
“No, you don’t understand,” Will says, because he doesn’t. He doesn’t know the extent of Will’s depravity. How far he’s fallen, how far he’s willing to fall yet. “I don’t want you to leave, to…” He makes a frustrated sound and wills Hannibal to understand. “Without me. I don’t want you to.”
The thought of waking up in the house alone, with no idea how long Hannibal has been gone or when he’s coming back—without knowing if he’s been caught and no way to call for help—it’s overwhelming and intolerable. He’d woken up alone to nightmares in Wolf Trap and wished he’d woken up alone when he lived with Molly, but it’s different now. Everything is different, and so is he.
Will can feel his cheeks burning, and Hannibal smiles like the cat who ate the canary.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Hannibal says, and Will snorts his disbelief to nothing more than a mild reproving look. “Many people find comfort in the presence of others. It’s not so strange.”
“Most people are willing to be alone overnight. Most people can handle knowing what time it is.”
Hannibal gives him a look that says See? Isn’t it easier when you tell me what the problem is, and Will knows he’s revealed too much.
“Most people haven’t put their trust so thoroughly in someone else. It’s my job to take care of you, so let me. Don’t chastise yourself for giving in to something we both want. You’ve been doing so well.”
“So you won’t? Go out, kill without me?”
Hannibal reaches out and takes one of Will’s numb hands in his. He brushes a kiss along the knuckles, a simple gesture that makes desire lick up Will’s spine. No one’s ever touched him like this, treated him like this. No one in his life.
“We’ll hunt together when you’re ready,” Hannibal says, as if that’s that. Easy and settled.
“And if I’m never ready?”
“I’m a patient man.”
Hannibal’s expression has settled back on that of a doting lover, and it should send shrill alarm bells through Will. And yet for all that he knows it’s theater, part of a show—for his benefit, for Hannibal’s, who can even tell the difference anymore?—Will finds comfort in it.
Hannibal’s hands roam, and one comes up to cup the side of Will’s face. Will leans into it like the needy animal he is.
“I'm going to clean up here. Why don't you go lie down?”
“I’ve been laying down all day,” Will says, a note of petulance creeping into his voice. “You’re going to make me slow and lazy.”
“Would that be so bad?” Hannibal leans in and kisses the protest from Will’s mouth, teasing with his tongue until Will opens his mouth to let him in. A soft sound escapes him, and he tangles his hands in Hannibal’s hair, letting himself get lost in the kiss. By the time Hannibal pulls back, Will is breathless and flushed. “Go lie down. I’ll join you shortly.”
Will gives in. “Okay.”
He gets to his feet, and the room tilts. Lying down suddenly sounds like an excellent idea. He’s out of practice when it comes to holding his liquor. He grips the edge of the table for balance, and Hannibal watches him with faint amusement. Will makes it to the bedroom without taking out a lamp or doing more damage to himself than a bruised shin, and some distant part of his mind thinks that Hannibal enjoys watching him struggle a little too much.
It makes him shiver.
* * *
Will is drowsing on Hannibal’s bed when a soft touch on his shoulder rouses him.
“You’re back,” Will says. He knows Hannibal by smell and by touch; the scent of their soap follows him into the room. Will wonders when it started making him feel safe.
Will opens his eyes and blinks up at Hannibal. It’s almost dark. The room is dim and green—disorienting. It confuses him, briefly makes him wonder where he is until he realizes there’s a scarf draped over the lamp, blocking the light and tinting it emerald.
“Mood lighting?” Will asks.
Hannibal fingers the edge of the fabric. “I thought it might be nice.” It looks soft and slinky as it slides across his hand, and Will idly wonders what it would feel like across his skin.
Their conversation—no, their subtle negotiation— about murder seems farther away as the seconds tick by, as if Will pulled back the veil and Hannibal has been twitching it shut by degrees ever since.
He knows he should move over. He’s sprawled boneless across the bed, arms and legs flung out so that Hannibal has to perch on the edge to sit at all. He should, but he’s so comfortable and his body doesn’t want to obey him. He manages to twitch a leg to the side to give Hannibal more room, and even that doesn’t quite seem worth the effort.
“Did you drug me?” Will asks, squinting at Hannibal.
“No, I’m afraid you’re just drunk, my dear.” He pauses. “Although I did consider it when you began having nightmares again.”
“That’s shockingly honest of you.”
“I don’t lie to you, Will.”
Anymore hangs unspoken between them.
Will curls on his side, which given their current positions, is the same as curling around Hannibal. “Would you have drugged me to make the nightmares better or worse?”
Hannibal chuckles. “Clever boy. Worse, I think.”
“Why didn’t you do it?”
“I didn’t need to.”
Will lets that sink in. He considers whether he’d prefer pretty lies, but he really, really wouldn’t. He loves his monster, bones and all.
Love. How horrible.
“I would let you do terrible things to me,” Will whispers. It’s the worst secret, both for the truth of it and the fact that it’s hardly a secret at all. Anyone who’s ever known them can see that it’s true.
“I know,” Hannibal says.
Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t do what we both know you probably will, sooner or later.
Hannibal’s brow furrows. He opens his mouth. Closes it again. He brings his hand back up to Will’s shoulder and gives him a little push. “Roll over. I’ll rub your back.”
Will goes, hiding his face in a pillow that smells like their shared shampoo. He tries not to think of what Hannibal won’t promise him. Tries not to hate him for it. Fails on both counts.
Hannibal tries to tug Will’s shirt up but can’t get it further than his arms without cooperation, which Will isn’t currently inclined to give. Hannibal is unbothered. He simply smooths the shirt back down and begins running his hands over Will through the fabric, long strokes made of light touches that have Will letting go of tension he didn’t know he was holding.
Will turns his head to the side so he can breathe, and Hannibal digs his thumb into something that makes a tingling numbness radiate through Will’s back. He groans aloud, and Hannibal does it again. He works up the back of Will’s neck, kneading and squeezing the muscles there and making Will sink further into the mattress. He threads his fingers through Will’s hair and pulls from the roots with steady pressure that stays on just the right side of pain.
“Releases endorphins,” he murmurs, and Will can only sigh in agreement.
Hannibal reaches the top of his head and works his way back down until Will’s whole body is singing with the simple pleasure of it. It wipes away the unease that’s been plaguing him, like houses swept away in a flood, and he wonders if that isn’t Hannibal’s answer after all.
“You can’t promise not to hurt me, but you can make me feel good, is that it?”
Hannibal doesn’t answer except to walk his fingers along the curve of Will’s spine. He doesn’t need to. Will can see his design—he’s always been able to, even when he wishes he couldn’t.
Will sighs and rolls onto his back, catching Hannibal’s wrist in the process. He tugs Hannibal toward him, and Hannibal goes. Will pulls him until they’re lying face to face, pressed close so they can feel each other from toes to hips. He suddenly feels very sober.
He brings Hannibal’s hand up to his face and turns it so he can study the veins that run through it, the knuckles decorated with thin white lines—the scars of fights won and lost. Long, articulate fingers that end in blunt, trimmed fingernails. He brings it to his mouth and presses the sharp point of a canine tooth lightly into the pad of one finger. Surgeon’s hands, musician’s hands. Killer’s hands. He presses a kiss to the pulse beating inside his wrist, fragile and human. Hannibal watches him, rapt.
“Why are you doing this?” Will asks again.
“Because you’ve had a difficult day,” Hannibal says.
It’s not an answer. Not a real answer.
Will sighs and threads their fingers together.
Thank you for being patient with me while I worked on a few other projects and took a little break from this fic. I'm back and ready for the rest of this! I don't have an exact final chapter count for you yet, but I can tell you that I'm now planning to split up the big plot arc I had planned over multiple fics. So for now let's call it 3-4 more chapters until the end, and I'll let you know when that changes. <3
Will wakes up in the middle of the night. Not from nightmares this time. Not from anything more sinister than a simple surfeit of sleep. He isn’t used to sleeping this much and now that he’s finally healed, his body refuses to sleep the day and night away.
Hannibal isn’t beside him, Will notes with a prickle of unease. His mind immediately goes to the conversation they had last night, and he thinks for a second that maybe Hannibal has changed his mind, that he’s taken Will up on his ill-advised offer of taking up the mantle of the Chesapeake Ripper once again after all.
He wouldn’t, Will thinks. Not because he puts it past Hannibal to lie to him, no matter what Hannibal says, but because he’s sure that what Hannibal wants more than anything is for them to kill together. He wouldn’t waste the opportunity now, not after everything he’s done to get the both of them to this point. He’s probably in the bathroom.
Will swings his legs over the side of the bed and gets to his feet with a groan. His head is killing him, and he might still be drunk—he hasn’t been asleep for long, then. He forgoes the hall light and finds his way to the kitchen by touch and memory. He fishes a glass out of the cabinet, fills it at the tap and stands there in his boxers, draining it slowly. The water is chilled from the pipes, and he can feel it tracing a cold line down his throat and into his gut. He refills the glass and drinks a little more—not nearly enough to touch his headache, but his stomach threatens to rebel at the thought of any more liquid.
He sets the half full glass in the sink and pads back down the hallway. The bare wooden floor is cold beneath his feet, and he stops at the bathroom door. There’s no sliver of light glowing beneath it, and the door swings open on a cold and dark room when Will pushes on it.
He frowns. He should just go back to bed. Hannibal is around here somewhere. Maybe he’s taking a walk. He wouldn’t leave Will here. He wouldn’t. The FBI didn’t snatch him up in the middle of the night (they would have taken Will; there would have been blood and a fight)—they didn’t, this isn’t—
Isn’t what it seems to be, all of Will’s nightmares made manifest. It isn’t, Hannibal wouldn’t leave. Wouldn’t do this, not after Will all but told Hannibal this is what he fears the most.
Wouldn’t he? A little voice says in his head. It sounds like Abigail; he misses Abigail. So many trains of thought that in that monster of ours’ head. Which line are you on, Will? Where does the train stop this time?
He wouldn’t wars with of course he would. Hannibal delights in Will’s torment at least as much as he delights in his pleasure. That’s the way of it with them.
Will doesn’t mean to have a panic attack half-naked in his boxers, in a hallway, but intentions so often mean less than nothing. He’s still drunk, and that will be his excuse if anyone calls him on it later (like who?). He’s drunk, and that’s the reason his heart is kicking a breakneck rhythm against the inside of his chest. That’s the reason he suddenly feels like he can’t breathe.
It’s bullshit, and he knows it.
The part of his brain that knows it can fuck off.
The house is cloyingly warm, and that’s why he’s going outside. That’s why he’s going outside—it’s not to make sure the car is still in the driveway. It’s certainly not to look for Hannibal, nothing so stupid as that. Nothing so pathetic. It’s because he’s drunk. It’s because he’s disoriented. It’s because of what goddamn Hannibal’s done to him, everything he’s done. All of it throughout the years, stretching forward and backward in time like a fucking moebius strip.
Liar. He pronounces judgment on himself in the same instant the night air hits his skin. It jars through him like a discordant bell, the thought and the cold. It hits him like ice water and douses the mounting fire at the base of his skull. He hasn’t bothered to put on clothes. Not pants or shoes, certainly not a jacket. His hands come up automatically to clasp his arms, protective against the bitter chill.
The cold makes all his too-newly healed wounds ache, and the pain is grounding. It grabs him by the hair, pulls him out of his rapidly spiraling thoughts, pulls him back into his body.
It's fuck-only-knows o’clock. I’m in Pennsylvania with a madman, and my name is Will Graham.
He needs to walk. The thought of going back inside (cloying house, still air, empty bed) is suddenly intolerable. He considers going back for shoes but discards the thought immediately. He’s not going far. He just wants to look.
He gets as far as the bottom step of the porch, gets as far as the prickling sensation of coarse grass and dirt beneath his feet before he hears a familiar voice.
If anyone asked, he’d deny the overwhelming tide of relief that floods through him. If anyone asked, he’d lie through his teeth, but there’s no one to ask. Will Graham might as well be dead, untethered to everything but this man behind him.
“What are you doing up?” Hannibal unfurls from his chair on the porch. He’s bathed in the deep shadows so dark they seem to swim. It’s no wonder Will didn’t see him sooner. He looks like a creature of shadow himself as he rises, until he gets close enough that the shade resolves into familiar features. He gets a better look at Will, shivering in his underwear and disconnects a call. The phone is in his pocket in one breath, and in the next he’s taking off his coat and wrapping it around Will.
The coat is blessedly warm. It smells like Hannibal, and Will hunkers into it without complaint. He pulls the collar more snugly around his nose, half because he really is freezing but mostly for the simple pleasure of breathing it in, soap and the particular scent that clings to Hannibal’s hair and nape. Will lets it soothe him before speaking.
“I woke up,” he says simply. “You weren’t there.”
“Ah.” Hannibal pulls Will close and runs his fingers through Will’s hair. It’s simple and soothing and exactly what he wants. “I apologize. I had some business to attend to.”
Will nods. He doesn’t want to know who was on the phone. It’s enough that Hannibal is here now. That they’re here together. He offers it anyway: “Do you need to call them back? I can go inside.”
Hannibal seems to consider it for a moment. “It’s not necessary, but let’s go inside. I’ll make us something warm to drink.”
He opens the door and ushers Will in. The light only stings Will’s eyes for a second when Hannibal flicks it on. He looks to the kitchen where Hannibal is pulling off soft leather gloves. He looks at the living room.
He isn’t tired, but he has a lingering, bone-deep urge to rest. To wrap himself in comfort, lie among the pillows piled on the couch, and listen to the sounds of Hannibal moving around their kitchen just knowing that he’s there. The living room it is, then. He drapes himself over the sofa still wrapped in Hannibal’s coat. There are blankets he could use instead, meant to ward off the chill on nights like these, but he won’t offer to give it back. He snuggles into Hannibal’s clothes and closes his eyes.
* * *
His world has constricted to a single point called us, and Will finds he doesn’t mind at all.
Once he gets used to the idea, everything else seems so much farther away. It’s as if the rest of his life recedes while his life with Hannibal takes center stage, simple and gleaming, large enough to blot out everything that came before. His dreams take on the tone of the things around him. They grow rustic and green, placid as the river that runs through the forest behind the house.
He doesn’t think about killing. He doesn’t think about Jack. He doesn’t think about Molly or Walter, the mortgage or the job he left behind. His wedding ring disappeared at some point, which should be important but isn’t. The leaves explode in riots of red, orange, and gold.
He thinks about books and music. Thinks about dinner and whether he might be able to catch a fish today, how Hannibal might prepare it. He wonders if he should go for a run before or after sunset. It’s easier and safer by day, but the woods look beautiful bathed in moonlight. Hannibal might come with him.
Mostly he thinks about Hannibal. Hannibal in their bed, licking and biting and taking him apart, hours grown pink-tinged and soft-edged with pleasure. He thinks about how he’d like to get his mouth on Hannibal and often does, distracting him from his reading or pushing him against the wall in the kitchen, earning dusty flour handprints along the back of his shirt for his trouble.
If there’s something Will’s learned, it’s that there is always more time. There’s always more time and nothing to fill it with but each other, so they might as well indulge. And oh, they do. Loud and often.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Will is good at getting into the minds of others. It would be more accurate to say that he’s never known how to stop. The minds of killers have always pressed heavy on his own conscience, oil-slick and weighty, sticky and grasping. In some ways it’s a relief to be filled up with only one killer now, one with a crystalline mind that mirrors his own in ways bright and dark. He doesn’t miss the work, not even for the good it’s done.
He’s not sure he can honestly say it did any good at all, not knowing the cost. Not when every murderer tipped the scale a little more, dragged him a little closer to who he would become. There was just so much he didn’t know then, and he thinks it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
I do. I finally do see.
“I’m not sure I know where you begin and I end anymore,” Will says while they’re lying on the kitchen floor. They didn’t make it to the bed this time. There’s olive oil clinging slick to the inside of his thighs, and he’s making a mess of the tile. He’s utterly unrepentant and has no intention of moving.
“You’ve said that before.” Hannibal props himself up on an elbow to look at Will. “Has it gotten better or worse since then?”
Will shakes his head and feels the ridges of the tile dig into his skull. “It’s not a question of better or worse. It’s a question of degrees. Will I enjoy wanton killing when I become you? Will you feel the horror in it when you become me?”
“Perhaps we become something else altogether.”
“Will become or have already?” He doesn’t think he’s making sense. Sighs. Sits up and makes a face as he feels semen pool beneath him. “I think I’m losing the thread of time. It’s ceasing to have meaning.”
“Time is like everything else. It has only the meaning we ascribe to it.”
Will gets to his feet with a groan. “Has anyone ever told you that you talk like a psychiatrist?” He huffs a laugh at Hannibal’s slow blink, the look of him as he decides what to do with the version of Will he’s getting today. Will is always soft around the edges now, but sometimes he smiles and sometimes he doesn’t. Today is a day worth smiling about. “It’s a joke.”
He holds out a hand to Hannibal, who accepts although he doesn’t need to. Ten years older than Will, and he’s still healed better. Still moves as though he doesn’t know the meaning of pain or bum joints or scar tissue that aches when the heater goes out. His body is a thing of beauty, and Will takes it in unabashed. It earns him a smile, a little curve of lips and crinkling of eyes.
“Old habits die hard,” Hannibal quips back. “Does it bother you, having a looser grasp on the concept of time?”
Will considers his answer. In the end, he shakes his head. “It should, but it doesn’t. It’s peaceful. I feel better than I’ve felt in years.” He gives a small, rueful smile. “I might feel better than I’ve felt in my life. It’s quiet here. It’s everything I wanted my house in Wolf Trap to be. No one in my head but me.”
“You needed a wolf at the door all those years ago,” Hannibal says. “Someone unkind. Someone to deter all who would come looking to shatter your peace.”
Will laughs. “You’d have told Jack to fuck off, if we’d been this then?”
“I would have killed him and strewn his bones on the lawn,” Hannibal says with all sincerity.
Will considers this. It doesn’t spark horror the way it once might have. “If I’d been a wolf at the door then, if I told Jack to take a hike and shut the door in his face, I’d never have met you. Things happen the way they do.”
Hannibal cocks his head. “Did we meet then, or are we meeting now? Or have we yet to meet in the future? In another universe, perhaps we meet over and over in myriad ways. Perhaps that would have been our fate in this one as well.”
“And Abigail would have never died.”
“And you would never have met her to care that she lived. Just another stranger, another foreign mind to disturb yours.”
“I would have known her, I think, the way I’d always know you.” Something hits Will then. “This is how you experience time, isn’t it? This is what you’re showing me, what you brought me here to find.”
There’s a look Hannibal gets on his face sometimes, a kind of quietly glowing pride. He’s wearing it now. He reaches out and touches Will’s face, and Will doesn’t flinch away. He never flinches from Hannibal these days. “I brought you here to quiet what ails you.” He looks, and there’s such love there that it bites at Will’s heart. He turns away from the intensity of it. “But yes, I believe we are more in accord now than we have ever been.”
He pulls back, and there’s regret in the way his skin breaks from Will’s. (They should always be touching, shouldn’t they?)
Will catches Hannibal’s hand in his as it tries to slip away. “Shower with me?”
He wins Hannibal’s smile back, and it seems to him he isn’t the only one changing. Hannibal smiles easily these days. The sun and quiet and autumn air infects them both like a virulent drug.
“I’d like nothing better.”
I updated the tags, so you might want to give it a look. Also, I wasn't sure how to tag this, but this chapter contains descriptive fantasies about murder as foreplay.
The days wear on and on some more. As they do, Will realizes his sense of time isn’t missing so much as it’s changed. The stream behind the house freezes. Snow coats the ground in a thick white blanket undisturbed by human feet. Their nest of a cabin grows even more insular and cloistered as the world outside muffles itself. They sink into each other.
The world changes, and he is standing still enough to witness it.
“What are you thinking?” Hannibal asks. There’s music playing from the record player Hannibal bought back in the summer. It’s something classical, something light, all tinkling percussion and lyrical violins.
Will wriggles his toes where they’re buried beneath Hannibal’s thigh. The house is well-equipped with gas heat, but Will likes keeping it the barest bit chilly in the house. It gives him a reason to cling close to Hannibal for warmth, a reason to be touching him always. Hannibal sighs, exasperated, when Will sticks cold feet on his legs at night, when he presses icy hands to Hannibal’s belly, but he never complains. He smiles for Will, indulges him in this as in everything else. He very pointedly does not turn the thermostat up because he enjoys the casual, constant touch that flows between them just as much as Will does. How could he not, after so long spent in captivity?
“I was thinking of the time you spent in prison.” Will says.
He was half-expecting the reminder of Hannibal’s incarceration to land badly, but it doesn’t. Will can never quite predict Hannibal’s reactions. The things that would upset most people rarely bother him, but sometimes he’ll tense at a careless word, as Will blunders forth unaware. He doesn’t tense now. The lean lines of him are languid and easy as he reclines.
Will’s never known anyone that listens to music quite the way Hannibal does—not as background noise or filler, but as something to enjoy with rapt attention. It’s a full body experience for him. He soaks it in the way plants drink sunshine. He had been doing so a moment ago, taking it in while Will drank him in, but how his attention is wholly fixed on Will and the promise of something new and interesting, like a predator scenting prey on the wind.
“This doesn’t remind you of that?” Will asks. “Nothing to do all day but read and draw, no one to talk to but me?” He isn’t the most talkative at the best of times—never has been, and that much at least hasn’t changed. They can go whole days barely exchanging a word between them.
“Not at all. I can come and go as I please, and it pleases me to stay here, with you. The company here is infinitely better, to say nothing of the food.”
Will thinks of Hannibal being poked and prodded by dozens of different psychiatric professionals over the years, competent and incompetent alike, and none of them able to know the truth of what stood before them. That honor has always been reserved for Will himself. Then he chuckles, remembering the food. “The Salisbury steak was awful.”
Hannibal makes a face. “It was an offense to cows everywhere to even call it steak.”
They grin at each other, sharing a private joke. Even after their laughter dies away, a lingering lightness remains. This is just one more facet of their shared history. It’s easy and clean—this conversation, this day, this life. It hasn’t veered into dark and bloody territory, and it won’t—not unless he wants it to. But Will is an animal of his own nature as much as Hannibal is a creature of his, and it is in his nature to push, to worry at the bruise and see if it bleeds.
“Were you angry I didn’t come for you sooner?”
Hannibal grows quiet and the smile hovers at the edges of his lips before smoothing itself into something straight and unyielding. It’s a blank canvas of an expression, ready to tip into a snarl or a frown. Ready to issue apologies, even, if Will presses just right. Will wants to do no such thing. Wants nothing more than Hannibal will give him, and so he waits.
“Angry isn’t the word I’d choose.”
Hannibal hums a negative. “I was waiting. In stasis. I roamed the halls of my mind palace, and you visited me there.”
He could point out that the Will that visited Hannibal was a figment of his imagination, a conjured shade, but it’s a touch too hypocritical for his stomach. He had Abigail and a stream. Who is he to rip that comfort away from Hannibal? No one at all, not when Will was the one who left him.
Besides, Will remembers the dreams—barely, but he does. His days and nights were stained amber and stank of booze in those days, but there were glimmers of clarity in the dark. He remembers strolling courtyards and chapels, places he has never been but can recall in perfect detail, with Hannibal at his side. He wouldn’t be surprised to travel to Italy, Spain, France, and realize that those places exist after all, just as he remembers them. It distorts his sense of time further, leaves him feeling as though he’s remembering the future. It starts a hysterical laugh fizzing in his chest, clambering to come out, but Will hushes it down.
“If it weren’t for Dolarhyde, I never would have come. You would have been waiting a long time.”
Hannibal looks amused. “The world is full of killers, Will. If it hadn’t been our Red Dragon, there would have been another. All you needed was a good excuse. One would have provided itself, in time.” He sounds so certain.
“Were you so sure of me, to gamble your life on it?”
“I could never fully predict you,” Hannibal says, tracing his fingers along the back of Will’s knuckles. “I don’t mind gambling.” He brushes his lips over the back of Will’s hand, and it lights Will up. Such a silly thing. Such an innocuous, ridiculous, gallant gesture. “It’s not like you left me much choice, my dear.”
Will huffs. His mouth is suddenly dry. “You had all the choices, Hannibal. A whole world full of them.”
“For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? No choices that mattered, except one.” He kisses his way up Will’s arm before placing it gently—so ridiculously gently—back in Will’s lap.
Hannibal’s pupils are dark and wide, nearly swallowing up the whole of his iris, and Will is suddenly ravenously hungry. He can push a little harder, though. He gets right in Hannibal’s space, so close he can feel the heat of him.
“Were you never angry?” he asks. “Not even when you heard I’d gotten married?”
Hannibal goes very still before him.
He goes to turn away, Will can read the intention in the shift of his hips, the slant of his shoulders. The way something in his face goes blank and his eyes seem to shutter. But Will doesn’t want that either. He plants his hands on either side of Hannibal, one on the arm of the couch and one on the back cushion, trapping him. Holding him in place.
“Will,” he says, a warning.
He could stop this. Let Hannibal go, apologize. He wants what comes next, though. Wants the knowledge and reality of it, so he digs his fingers into the upholstery and holds on tight. Hannibal’s breath is slow and even. It’s almost a surprise when his hand shoots up to grip Will by the throat, hard enough that he can feel the cartilage grinding.
Will strains forward to press their mouths together, ignoring the way it makes him wheeze. He presses into the feeling of constriction, of limit and panic. He opens his mouth to let Hannibal in, to taste him. He’d groan if he had the breath to do it. Hannibal licks lazily into Will’s mouth, tracing his tongue over Will’s teeth, stroking against his palate and gums long after Will’s started gasping for breath. He presses into the bright flares of firing neurons denied air, into the fuzzy blackness lapping at the edge of his vision.
Whether or not Hannibal might kill him seems an almost academic question, at this point. Neither outcome seems much worse than the other, so when Hannibal releases him—when Will coughs and sputters and chokes on air taken too fast in an attempt to restore equilibrium, there’s no accompanying relief. No relief and no fear.
No shame, either, not when he pushes himself more firmly into Hannibal’s lap, not when he rubs against him moaning around an aching throat. He scrapes his teeth along the side of Hannibal’s neck.
“Do it again,” he rasps when he’s almost but not quite got his breath back.
Hannibal doesn’t ask if he’s sure, doesn’t check to make sure he’s all right. Doesn’t do any of a number of things Will’s gotten used to in the last several months. He reaches up and chokes the air out of Will again, cutting off his breath and yanking him back from where he’s still trying to nuzzle and mouth at the base of Hannibal’s throat.
“I imagined what she must look like, this wife of yours. Petite, brunette—you seemed to favor that. A simple, pretty thing, then. Easy, after so much of your life has been so very difficult. Did she love dogs, Will?”
Dread and want mingle in the pit of Will’s stomach. Hannibal lightens his grip enough for Will to draw labored breaths, and the sound is ugly and loud. The record plays on in the background, but his world has narrowed to this, Hannibal’s hands on him, words dripping like poisoned honey in his ear.
“Fuck you,” he hoarses, and Hannibal slaps him with a casual disinterest that makes him grind his teeth around a moan. He thinks of pulling away, only to realize that he’s clinging to Hannibal, the lone port in a storm of his own devising.
“I dreamed up ways to kill her. I’d take her eyes for looking at you, her hands that touched you, her tongue that shaped wedding vows.” His hand tightens again, and Will claws at Hannibal’s shoulders, his neck, his face. “But you were already mine, weren’t you? You had nothing to give that didn’t belong to me.”
Will shakes his head, but it doesn’t mean no, and it doesn’t mean stop.
“Maybe I should have you tell me where you touched her, and I can flay every bit of skin that touched yours. Would I have to take all of it?” He peers into Will’s eyes. “Would you watch?”
Will can feel his eyes rolling back in his head. His grip on consciousness is getting tenuous, tethered by nothing but Hannibal’s voice. No, he thinks. Never, but he’s not sure if it’s a lie.
Hannibal lets Will breathe again, and Will gulps in tortured lungfuls. Hannibal lets him, eyes calculating. He moves his hands to the fastenings of Will’s pants and undoes button and fly, utterly unhurried. Will feels numb. There’s bright pain in his chest and throat, but beyond that is a great, flat field of nothing. The inside of his mind is barren and white, echoes of the winter outside. He flexes his fingers against Hannibal’s shoulders, rubbing against the nubbly texture of knit yarn in a mindless attempt at grounding.
Ordinarily Hannibal might peer at him a little too closely, soothe and gentle him, offer him tea and ply him with wine. Will is well aware that this Hannibal here with him now will do no such thing. This Hannibal is electric, an old friend half-remembered. Will smells copper and sees blood running black in the moonlight.
Hannibal runs his hands over Will’s chest before pushing him back against the sofa, firm but not forceful. There’s no rush, no strain. He peels Will’s pants off with a careful deliberation. Will blushes scarlet when he lifts his hips to help—a small motion, but an undeniable one. Complicit. The icy blankness of Hannibal’s face slips for just a moment. There’s a slight crinkling around his eyes, approval and warmth. Will moans at the sight of it.
Will shivers, bare and exposed while Hannibal takes down his own pants. He breathes. God help him, he talks.
“Margot,” he says. “If you’re going to kill everyone I’ve touched, you’ll need to take Margot too.” His voice is ragged and hoarse, but it’s there.
Hannibal looks at him as though he’s a marvel. “Alana,” he murmurs, tracing his fingers over Will’s lips. Imagining, perhaps, the kiss Will had driven through rain and snow to tell him about, embarrassment and wounded pride nipping hot at his heels. Will tries to find it in himself to regret it, but he can’t.
“Any more?” Hannibal asks.
“A few,” Will says. “New Orleans, Virginia—” His lips are dry to the point of cracking, and his cock is aching. This is by far the most fucked up thing he’s ever done. “I kissed a girl when I was twelve, but I don’t remember where we were living then.”
“I could find them and give them to you, let you carve the meat from their bones.” He closes his eyes, savoring the idea. “But Molly, I think—Molly would be mine. I deserve her death, don’t you agree?”
The right answer to that is no, but Will won’t ever know if he would have given it. Whatever he might have said dies on his tongue as Hannibal covers his body with his own. His hand is back on Will’s throat, and Will tips his head back to accept it.
“You like the idea of me taking what I want.” Hannibal runs his free hand down Will’s chest, down, down. He skirts Will’s cock that’s leaking heavy between them. He brushes his fingers lower, rubs against Will’s hole in a way that makes him twitch and gasp. “Lives, vengeance, blood and pain. You want to see what I’ll do.”
Will shakes his head. No. That isn’t— He isn’t—
Hannibal presses harder so that the tip of his finger just breaches Will’s body, the sharp pain of dry skin mingling in his blood with dizzying, aching lust for long moments as Hannibal pushes in and in. And then he pulls away, and Will chokes himself on his own moan as Hannibal leans over the couch to take something from the drawer of the end table. He waits. Doesn’t speak even though he could. Doesn’t even want to.
Hannibal resettles himself between Will’s legs. He cups Will’s cheek, rubbing a thumb tenderly across his cheekbone, his scar, his mouth. His hand slides lower to rest around a neck that already feels bruised—it’ll be livid in the morning—but for now he just lets it rest there without pressure, a threat and a promise.
Hannibal’s other hand dips between Will’s legs again, and there’s a slickness on his fingers that makes Will groan. His eyes slam shut as Hannibal presses in, working his fingers in fast and rough, making Will bite his lips on a scream.
“You want me to take what I want from you. Look at me, Will.”
And he does. He wants it; he looks.
Hannibal looks like he does when he’s killing, intent and incandescent, and the knowledge is almost enough to send him flying to pieces.
“Killing and loving, it’s all the same to you isn’t it?”
Hannibal smiles a predator’s smile. “Look at me,” he says. He pulls his fingers out, and there’s a momentary sense of loss before Will feels the head of a cock nudging against him.
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, yes, fuck—” the rest of it is lost on a strangled yell as Hannibal shoves in.
Hannibal rides him with a vicious brutality that’s not unlike a fight. Loving and killing, and Will wants all of it. He works his hips against Hannibal’s, meeting every pounding thrust until the slapping of skin drowns out the faint, tinny sound of music in the distance.
He claws welts over Hannibal’s back, hands reaching beneath a sweater to rend and tear. To draw blood, to mark this man as thoroughly as he’s marked Will. Hannibal growls but doesn’t stop him. Does arch into the feeling. Doesn’t stop fucking into Will like he’s trying to rip him open and crawl into his skin.
Will is drowning in sensation, and it takes a moment to register that Hannibal is talking, whispering in his ear like the devil himself. “Would you let me do this to you in your old house? Would you like it if I let her watch? We can take her eyes after so it’s the last thing she ever sees. Or maybe I’ll bleed her dry so I can have you in a pool of her blood. We can soak the sheets of your marital bed.”
Will can see it. Suddenly he’s not sweating into the cushions of a too-soft couch in their shared house. Now he’s back in Maine, on the floor of the kitchen he saw every day for years. The linoleum is cool beneath his skin, and everything is sticky and copper with blood. The walls are dripping red, and he can taste it in his mouth when Hannibal bends down to kiss him with such tenderness.
It’s every bad dream he’s ever had, but Hannibal is hitting something inside him just right, and his orgasm swells in him like something monstrous.
“Yes,” he gasps as he comes. “Hannibal—”
Molly watches him with sightless eyes, head bent back at an awful angle, her still-beating heart wrapped in cold hands.
They lie stuck together by sweaty skin, the slick of perspiration growing cold as it dries in the still air. Hannibal doesn’t move off him, not entirely, but he does shift to the side so Will isn’t bearing the brunt of his weight. He runs his hands reverently down Will’s ribs, his flank.
“Leave Molly alone.” It’s the first thing Will says. He doesn’t bother opening his eyes.
Hannibal doesn’t move, but Will can feel his gaze like a physical touch. It’s insistent and hot against the side of his face, and eventually he shifts so he can meet Hannibal’s eyes. The feral thing of a few minutes ago is gone, and in its place is Hannibal in his soft sweaters and longer hair flopping gently in his eyes. The sight makes Will’s heart lurch in his chest.
“I’ll wait to hunt with you,” Hannibal says. “I told you that.”
Will shifts away this time, although he can’t go far with Hannibal lying atop him. It ends up that they’re spooning, Will fitted neatly against Hannibal’s front as Hannibal tugs him close with a strong arm around his waist. There’s a pleasant soreness in the press of his ass against Hannibal’s thigh, a lingering spark of interest at the casual way Hannibal manhandles him. “Yeah, well. We’re never hurting Molly.”
Never. There’s steel in the word, in the way it reverberates through the inside of his skull. There’s conviction in it. If his sense of self has grown fluid and pliable, this much will never change. There’s a comfort in knowing it, in knowing there’s a bottom to how low he’s willing to crawl for his sharp-edged demon of a man.
Will doesn’t see so much as feel Hannibal’s shrug.
“Whatever you want, mylimasis.”
Will tenses for a moment, then huffs and relaxes into the embrace. It should feel like a victory. He doesn’t think about all the reasons it doesn’t.
* * *
He does think about killing, now. He thinks about it all the time.
Watching Hannibal chop slices of pork for an Asian stir-fry, Will imagines blood running thick beneath his hands. It makes his mouth run dry, makes his own hands twitch into fists of their own accord before he smooths them back out. Careful. Careful, now.
Hannibal doesn’t give him a knowing look. Doesn’t seem to notice anything’s happened at all, because the world doesn’t tilt on its axis when Will feels the pull of bloodlust, no matter how much it feels like it should. The blade rocks through the glistening white muscle, shk, shk, shk, parting it into a row of neat, even pieces.
* * *
It’s as though something in Will has woken up, something he thought had gone to sleep for good. Other animals hibernate through the winter, but not Will. The snow’s been piled high for days, and he’s restless and walking the length of their living room over and over. If there were carpet, he’d have worn a tread into it by now.
He doesn’t even notice it, not at first. Not until Hannibal sighs and puts down his latest sketch, and Jesus, how many sketches has he done? He’s long since filled the first sketchbook, and an identical one has come to take its place from parts unknown, aligned at perfect right angles with scalpel and pencil when it’s not in use. It’s a fastidious symmetry that’s started to bother Will for no earthly reason. He resists the urge to move everything slightly off kilter every time he walks by its resting place on the coffee table.
But now Hannibal holds out an arm to Will, a tacit invitation. Will considers resisting just for the hell of it, to satisfy the urge to be contrary for no reason besides his own amusement.
He might indulge that particular whim later—he often does—but for now he doesn’t. He allows Hannibal to pull him down onto the couch, to sink into it as Hannibal wraps his arms around him.
“You’re restless, darling.” Will makes a noncommittal sound. “You’ve been pacing for days.”
“I can’t exactly go outside,” Will says, although it’s not strictly true. Their home is remote, but aside from a dearth of modern electronics, it’s not badly stocked. Cold weather clothes appeared as if by magic as the weather cooled, and Will absolutely could go tromp around in heavy boots if he so desired. The forest and field, pretty and pristine under its coating of white, have simply begun to lose some of their appeal.
“You’re bored,” Hannibal observes, and he kisses the grumpy noise Will makes from his mouth.
“Maybe,” Will allows. He’s irritated by how delighted Hannibal sounds, annoyed at both Hannibal’s astute perception of him and his own transparent, childish displeasure. “You don’t have to sound so happy about it.”
“It’s a very good thing,” Hannibal says, still sounding enormously pleased. “It’s a sign of a well-rested and curious mind. A person in crisis doesn’t feel bored. He simply feels scared.”
“Boredom is healthy,” Will translates.
“It’s the fertile ground from which anything can grow, the genesis of creativity. The mind preparing itself for new challenges.” He kisses the top of Will’s head. “Yes, it’s very healthy.”
Will is afraid the conversation might segue into murder, or maybe he simply wishes it would. He has no delusions about what Hannibal wishes those new challenges might be, but Hannibal simply holds him tight and nuzzles into his hair for a moment more before releasing him.
“Would you mind starting dinner?” Hannibal asks. He picks up his sketchbook and opens it to the page he’d been working on, angling it so Will can see. It’s a picture of Hannibal’s old home in Baltimore of all things, not a setting Will has ever seen him choose before. “I’d like to finish this while it’s still fresh in my mind.”
Will’s never seen Hannibal willingly give up an opportunity to cook, not before his incarceration in the BSHCI and certainly not after. It’s a plainly transparent request meant to give Will something to do, but he’s glad for it. Simple, clean, useful work. A task to complete. It isn’t quite what’s missing, but it does fill the itching need to do admirably well.
Will swings open the refrigerator door to see what he has to work with, glancing over at Hannibal, who pays him no mind. He’s bent over his drawing making little feathering hatch strokes that make a soft scritching noise against the page.
He thinks about the picture of Hannibal’s dining room as he sets chicken breasts out to thaw. The scene is rendered in perfect, painstaking detail so clear he could almost find himself transported back. He wonders what Hannibal dreams about. Wonders if he ever feels regret, longing or nostalgia.
* * *
It’s still the dead of winter. Will marks the passage of time by the length of his hair. It’s starting to skim the base of his collar. Hannibal’s offered to cut it, but so far he’s always declined. Not because he likes the way it looks so much as because he likes the way it feels when it brushes his skin.
He rarely looked at himself in the mirror before, and he has even less reason to do so now. He sees Hannibal and no one else. He knows what his face looks like, and if the sight of the scar dripping down his right cheek is still an unpleasant surprise when he catches sight of it on accident, well. That’s even less of a reason to seek out his reflection.
It’s not that he’s avoidant, not exactly. It’s just that he’d rather see himself reflected in the darker mirror that is Hannibal Lecter. The way Hannibal’s face softens when he looks at Will is all he needs to know. Hannibal studies him when he thinks he isn’t paying attention. He sees himself through Hannibal’s eyes and finds he prefers that version. If he must look at his own features, he’d rather it was through Hannibal’s drawings. It feels more honest that way. Himself, filtered through the lens of Hannibal’s perception—his mind and hands.
If there’s a true version of Will left at all, it’s that one.
It’s still the dead of winter, and his hair has grown long. The snow is piled high in the yard, and going out, even to the car, would take a feat of shoveling.
It’s why he knows the person who’s come to pay them a visit—the one who’s left his car idling somewhere out of sight along the main road—isn’t paying a social call. Doesn’t bear them good intent.
They’re having a spirited discussion about mushrooms, of all things. Specifically, the way Hannibal is going to kill them both if he actually follows through and decides to go mushroom foraging for the first time, alone, in the spring.
“No, seriously. Have you ever done it before?”
“Will, I’ve cooked with mushrooms hundreds of times. Chanterelles grow wild in these woods, and I would simply like—”
“To mistake Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms for them and send us both to the hospital because you were being stubborn—the hospital that we can’t actually go to, by the way.”
Hannibal huffs a long-suffering sigh while Will details all the ways he is absolutely dead wrong. The wine is flowing freely, and Will feels loose and easy in his skin. He still finds himself bored more often than he doesn’t, but tonight it’s a distant buzzing in the back of his skull, infinitely tolerable as he digs his heels into his side of the argument. He’s relaxed and gnawing on the conversation like a dog with a bone, so the first snap of a branch outside doesn’t register as anything more than the wind.
Except Hannibal isn’t arguing with him anymore, not really. He’s watching Will with a soft smile on his face, and it makes Will lose his footing. “What?”
“You’re making plans for the spring,” Hannibal says. His head is propped against his elbow as he leans back against the couch, looking besotted and human.
Will catches his breath, only beginning to sift through the implications of that when there’s a thump and the faint sound of a voice—a human voice—cursing outside. Will narrows his eyes.
He looks in the direction of the noise and then to Hannibal, who catches his gaze. Will can see the second he registers threat. He’d been sprawling relaxed and open a second ago, but now his eyes go sharp and focused, and his posture grows predatory. He keeps talking as though nothing has changed, and Will takes the hint.
“I would buy a mushroom identification book as a compromise,” Hannibal says. He’d sound casual to anyone else, but Will can hear the tension coiled in his voice. It’s there in the way he talks just slightly too loud, voice pitched to carry, playing to an audience of one.
“That’s not good enough. You’d have to take someone who’s foraged in the area before, which means someone who isn’t me. Considering our social circle, that seems unlikely.” It’s true, but Will is no longer interested in their conversation. Whether Hannibal might kill them with poisoned mushrooms months from now is a distant concern when someone is spying on them tonight.
Will is the one standing, so he picks up his glass and makes a slow circuit of the room. He feigns interest in the bookshelf nearest the window. Hannibal is saying something, but he’s no longer paying attention. He positions himself just to the side of the window nearest where he heard the noise and glances casually to his right without turning his head. Sure enough, there’s a person standing there—average height and build—Will can’t tell much more without giving himself away. He nods to Hannibal, who gets up without a sound, silent and deadly, as Will starts rattling off all the mushroom identification facts he knows.
He shifts a little to the side, obscuring their interloper’s view. For all he knows, Hannibal’s going to the kitchen to grab another bottle of wine.
“Chanterelles have folds instead of true gills, unlike Jack o’ Lanterns,” Will narrates to an empty room. “You can crush a Jack o’ Lantern’s gills beneath your thumb. It crumbles like sugar.”
They’re lucky this house has a back door. Or, knowing Hannibal, it’s not luck at all but a feature of his design. He doubts Hannibal would ever take them anywhere that didn’t offer ample opportunities for escape, no matter how secluded.
“Good thing,” Will mutters.
Will Graham’s Mushroom Facts continue uninterrupted. He listens for a shout or a scream, or the crack of bone. He listens in the space between words. His mouth runs on autopilot as his ears strain for a sign.
In the end, there was never any need. He unfolds from his perch against the wall at the sound of the front door banging open, tensing for a fight, but it’s only Hannibal. Hannibal and the unconscious man he dumps unceremoniously to the floor in a flurry of snow and mud.
“Is he the only one?” Will asks.
“That I could tell. There was only one set of footprints that I could see, but it’s very dark outside.”
Will nods, grim, considering the possibilities. He tips the man over with a foot, and his arm lolls helplessly near his head. He stoops down to pull the knit cap from the man’s head—he’s surprisingly young without it. He has no weapons in his pocket, and there’s a college ID tucked beside a bus pass in his wallet. Will swallows.
“He’s not a cop. I think he’s— I think he’s nobody.” He means nobody who’s come looking to arrest us. He means nobody to us.
Hannibal hesitates. Uncertainty is a strange look on him, and Will thinks he might like it—distantly tucks the thought away to examine another time. “I’d like to go find his car. We’re miles from the nearest town. He didn’t get here on foot.”
Will nods, wondering why Hannibal is behaving so strangely. The answer takes a minute to hit him through the adrenaline and clarity of the night: because for months he’s consistently panicked at the thought of Hannibal going anywhere without him. He waits for the stab of fear at the thought of being left alone, but it doesn’t come. Will feels fierce and clear, and utterly himself. “Go on,” he says. “I’ll be fine.”
Hannibal nods and heads back into the snow without another pause, leaving Will with a college kid named Peter Miller crumpled on the floor. Will reaches into his jacket pocket and takes the kid’s cell phone. It feels strange to look at its glowing display after so long spent without, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He flicks to the recent calls screen and notes with relief that the last call was made over five hours ago. He didn’t call the police. He didn’t call anyone.
Will pockets the phone and stands over Peter, considering. After a second’s deliberation, he hoists him onto the couch. It’s farther from the door, for one thing. For another, looking at his head bent at that angle was beginning to give Will a headache. He considers grabbing a knife from the block on the kitchen counter but thinks better of it. The impulse that makes him change his mind is more dark than practical. It’s been ages since he’s had a good fight, and something in him hopes the boy tries to run. There’s not much muscle on him. He wouldn’t get far.
Hannibal is gone for what feels like a small eternity. Long enough for Will to move Hannibal’s pencil and scalpel away and out of sight, to pick up his wine glass and move it out of reach. Long enough for the boy—Peter—to stir and sit up, righting himself with a bleary blink. He rubs the back of his head, winces when he encounters whatever Hannibal did to him.
It’s strange, being in the same room with someone who isn’t Hannibal after so long. He sees the moment Peter comes back to himself, the moment the confusion lifts—concussion, maybe. Hannibal would know. Peter tenses, and Will feels the panic pressing against him, foreign and unwanted. It has a different tenor than his own, and he doesn’t like it.
Peter looks at him with wide eyes, and Will asks, “Are you old enough to drink?”
It’s possible Hannibal’s habit of hospitality is rubbing off on him, part of the way they’ve begun to blur together. It’s equally possible he just wants to distract the man in front of him, barely more than a kid. Either way, it works. Incredulity almost breaks through the fear lining Peter’s face. “Are you serious right now? Aren’t you two cannibals?”
Will shrugs. “Technically, that was part of a sting operation.”
Peter gapes at him. He’d probably have given the kid some wine anyway, but eventually he sighs and relents. “Just turned 21 last month.”
“Congratulations,” Will says. He keeps an eye on Peter when he goes to the kitchen. He can see Peter casting around the room for an exit, a weapon. He can see him doing the mental math for whether or not he can make it out the door before Will chases him down. “You won’t,” Will says, and Peter tenses, guilty.
“Make it to the door. I have knives here, and they’re all very sharp. I’ve had nothing to do for months besides a lot of trail running. You don’t want to try me.”
“I wasn’t going to run,” Peter says stubbornly.
Will shrugs and presses a plastic cup of wine into the boy’s hand. “I don’t blame you. I’d do the same.”
That’s a lie. Will definitely wouldn’t do the same in this kid’s position. He would probably murder his attacker with his bare hands on his way out the door, but that isn’t something Peter needs to know. It’s nothing that will make him feel any better, which is something that’s important to Will at this very moment.
Peter doesn’t drink. He eyes the cup dubiously, and after a second, Will takes pity on him. He plucks the cup out of Peter’s hand and takes a sip himself before handing it back. “See? Not poisoned.”
He walks back to the wall opposite the couch and leans against it, swirling the wine in his own glass. Peter relaxes a little once Will’s put some distance between them, and he finally does take a cautious drink. Better.
Will lets the silence stretch out between them. He’s more comfortable with awkwardness than most people. He’s cultivated it, at times. Making people feel uncomfortable was a good way to make sure they stayed out at arm’s length, without the culpability of having to push them away himself. It’s how he lived for years, before Hannibal. Before everything. If anything, he’s grown better at silence since then. He doesn’t need to push. Most people eventually push themselves; Peter’s no exception.
“What are you going to do to me?” He blurts at last. It comes out in a rush, like one word.
“That depends,” Will says, gently, like hushing a spooked dog. “What were you doing out here?”
“Nothing! My car broke down. I was trying to find somewhere I could call for help.”
Will pulls the boy’s phone out of his pocket. “No, you weren’t,” he says, not unkindly. “Why were you looking in our window?”
The boy’s fear is palpable. It clings to him and hangs around the room like a thick fog. Will can track the motion of his throat as he swallows. He looks at the door, probably wondering where Hannibal is. Will is wondering the same, but he pushes it out of his mind. He needs to be present, now.
“Don’t look there,” Will says. “Look at me. I’m the one you need to worry about right now.” The boy whimpers. “Now focus. Why were you looking in our window?”
Peter takes another drink of his wine to steady himself. “I saw— him. Hannibal Lecter, in town.” He licks his lips, nervous. “I followed him,” he says in a voice barely above a whisper.
“I’ve seen you—both of you—in the paper, on the internet. It just seemed like a good story to take back to school.” He trails off and his voice dissolves into sniffles and then tears. Will shifts, uncomfortable. “What are you going to do to me?”
Will takes a deep breath. He refills Peter’s cup. “We’re going to wait until Hannibal gets back. And until then, we’re just going to sit here. We can talk if you want, but we don’t have to. Okay?”
At the mention of Hannibal’s name, Peter’s quiet crying escalates into an honest-to-god wail. Will grits his teeth. “Drink your wine,” he says, and Peter listens. He takes a long gulp that drains this newly refilled glass and ends on a hiccup. Will fills it again. The kid might as well have a good night on his way out.
They lapse into silence, and Will doesn’t feel particularly compelled to fill it. Neither does Peter, from the looks of it. He’s disappeared into himself, clutching his cup and rocking softly.
By now, Will’s adrenaline has utterly evaporated. This doesn’t feel like a hunt at all. It feels like leading a lamb to the slaughter. There’s no sport in it. No wickedness, no challenge or joy. Just a scared kid with a truly terrible sense of self-preservation, to follow Hannibal Lecter, of all people, home from the grocery store. At least he’s crying more quietly now, Will thinks, with a pang of guilt for how terribly selfish he feels.
He wills Hannibal to come back soon. Tries to find it in himself to pretend this night is going to end with anything short of Peter’s corpse. They could let him go. Better still, they could tie him up and call in an anonymous tip once they’re several states away. No one has to die.
Even as he thinks it, Will knows it’s a lie. A flimsy one at that, paper-thin and easy to crumble. He loves Hannibal too much, needs him too much. He might risk his own life for Peter’s, but he won’t risk Hannibal’s. He won’t let anyone take Hannibal from him—the glaring truth of it cuts through him with the surety of a knife. He wouldn’t kill just anyone for sport, but he would kill anyone for Hannibal.
Monster. The voice sounds like Abigail, and it sounds like Molly. Most of all it sounds like him. Yes, he thinks. I am.
Peter’s going to die, and Will wonders if it wouldn’t be kinder to do it now. He’s lost in himself, caught in his own mortal dread and half-drunk on the wine Will’s been feeding him all night. He could probably cut Peter’s throat before he knew what happened. It would be the better thing to do.
Hannibal had promised not to kill without Will. It seemed only right that Will should return the favor. Only fair. He could blame that thought on the wine later, if he had to.
He’s long past grim resignation and thinking about pouring himself another glass of wine after all when Hannibal returns. Peter’s head jerks up at the sound of the door opening, and Will unfurls from his post against the wall.
Hannibal reads the room. Takes in Peter, takes in Will. Whatever he sees makes him go, “Ah.”
He takes off his coat and hangs it on the back of the door. Peels his gloves and hat off and stuffs them in one of the coat pockets, leisurely. “You’ve been making our guest at home, I see.”
“Something like that,” Will says.
Hannibal crosses the room and presses a chaste kiss to Will’s forehead. It should feel deranged, a macabre ‘Honey, I’m home!’ moment in front of their guest, but it doesn’t. It feels right and easy, and Will melts into it, heedless of their audience.
“You took care of the car?” Will asks.
Peter whimpers, and Will and Hannibal’s heads both swivel to look at him, predatory once more.
“What’s to be done about our guest?” Hannibal asks. The words are pitched low in his ear, soft as a caress, but the house is so quiet Will is sure Peter can hear them anyway. He puts Peter out of his mind.
“We can’t let him go,” he says, but not without some regret.
“We could,” Hannibal says. “If it matters to you. I could make a way.”
Will forces himself to consider it, to imagine the flight away from this place. Bolting into the night, on the run. Away from the peace he’s found here.
He shakes his head slowly, aware he’s pronouncing a death sentence as he does so. It doesn’t feel like someone else, doesn’t feel far away at all. It feels like him, clear and present. He is only himself when he’s with Hannibal, more himself still when he’s killing.
He does regret this man’s death. Regrets it already—it’s past and present as much as it exists in the future. Regret isn’t enough to stop him, is the only thing. He knows that about himself now. Feels himself growing into the knowledge, stretching and flexing into it at the furthest reaches of his being.
Hannibal looks so proud.
He’s found peace here, and he doesn’t want to leave it. Eventually they’ll have to; he knows that. Even Hannibal can’t keep Jack Crawford at bay forever. They’ll leave when the time comes. Just— not yet. He wants to push it back as long as they can.
“So what do we do?” Will asks.
Hannibal hands him a knife—one that he recognizes with a jolt he feels in his gut, before he realizes it can’t be the same knife at all. This one folds on a hinge, but it looks just the same, enough that he feels a throbbing ache in the wound long-since healed. He presses his hand to the scar, pushes against it through layers of flannel to quell the sensation. His other hand wraps around a wooden handle.
It’s easy to kill a man who’s howling for your blood. Harder to kill a man when he’s just sitting on your couch looking at you with swollen, wet eyes.
Peter cringes away from him when he takes a step closer, and Will doesn’t flinch. He gave up the right to flinch away from this when he decided this boy should die. He is so biddable, so meek and spineless. So honestly scared.
Fight, he wants to say. Fight and live. He wouldn’t—live, that is, but he could try. Will would like it if he tried.
Will stops in front of him, puts a hand on the boy’s head to tip it back and expose his throat. Peter is crying in earnest now, tracks of tears and snot making their way down his face. He lets Will move and mold him, pliant. A lamb to the slaughter. He sets his knife against the boy’s jugular; the hair is so silken soft beneath his fingers.
Time stretches on. A moment passes. Another.
Will sighs and takes the knife away, and Peter collapses inward with a shudder. A temporary stay of execution.
“The blood,” Will says. “The couch.”
What he means is, I don’t know if I can. What he means is help me.
“Oh, Will.” Hannibal kisses the side of his head. His temple, his cheek. He wraps a strong arm around Will and draws him close. “You’ve done well. You’ve done enough.” He takes the knife from Will’s hand, folds it and makes it disappear back into his pocket.
Will relaxes into it. It’s alright. Hannibal is going to take care of it.
Hannibal lets him go with a final squeeze. He walks behind the couch and ends Peter Miller with a twist of his hands and a broken neck. He keeps his eyes on Will the whole time, and the emotion there is searing.
You did this.
I did it for you.
The crying stops abruptly, and Will sinks into the blessed silence. He feels better as the miasma of secondhand panic lifts. He feels clean and empty in its wake, like a puppet with cut strings, gutted and hollowed out. He touches Peter’s cheek, touches the salt there. Hannibal lets him, watching. Waiting. At last he tugs the body off the couch and sits down, opening his arms to Will, who goes. He sits in Hannibal’s lap and lets Hannibal envelop him.
They’re quiet for a long time. Will lets the sound of Hannibal’s heart lull him, strong and alive and undeniably free.
“I couldn’t do it.”
“You could have, if you needed to,” Hannibal says, unshakably confident in Will as always. “You knew you didn’t have to.”
“I knew you’d kill him for me.”
“Of course I would,” Hannibal says, easy as anything. As if Will was only asking him to pass the butter, not murder a college student in cold blood. Maybe it was all the same to Hannibal.
“I gave him wine. I talked to him.”
“Hospitality is important. It’s one of the ways we show regard for another’s humanity.”
Will’s mouth twists in something that isn’t quite a smile. “That isn’t why you do it.”
“No, but it’s why you do it.”
Will doesn’t deny it. “Does it make it better or worse, to sit across from a man and wish him a happy birthday before taking his life away?”
“I’m not given to simple classifications of good or evil, right and wrong. There’s beauty and there’s ugliness. There is desire and its lack.”
He’s tired again. Too tired for riddles tonight. He tips his head back against Hannibal’s shoulder, the better to see him. “What does that mean?”
Hannibal kisses him soundly. “It means that you did as you wanted, and I’m proud of you.”
“Are you really?” Somehow he’d always thought earning Hannibal’s regard would involve a great deal more blood. That it would be something painful and dark, that it would bleed him dry. Not this soft-edged thing that almost has the quality of a dream.
“Of course I am.”
Peter’s eyes are open, staring sightless from the floor. Will peers down at them and feels no more or less regret than he did before. He sighs. “What did you do with his car?”
“I moved it out of the way.” Hannibal murmurs the words into his hair. “I’ll dispose of it more thoroughly before sunrise.”
“And the body?”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“I can help,” Will says.
“Do you want to?”
Will shakes his head, and Hannibal tips his face up by the chin, so he can meet his eyes. “Then you won’t. I did this alone for many years. I’ll manage.”
“You shouldn’t have to.”
Hannibal presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, chaste and sweet and hums in agreement. “I don’t have to do anything. Taking care of you is a pleasure and a privilege.”
Will shifts to pull Peter’s phone out of his pocket. He glances at the display before handing it over. It’s getting late; it’s already after 1 a.m. He goes to get up, to let Hannibal free so he can finish what he’s going to do. Drive the car into the city, maybe. Leave it somewhere it’ll be stripped for parts. Maybe drive it into a lake.
Hannibal makes a soft, disgruntled sound and tugs Will back down into his lap. “Stay,” he says.
“You should go. It’s getting late.”
“Just a little longer.”
Hannibal doesn’t have to try particularly hard to convince him. It’s what Will wants, after all. To stay and be held. He settles back and lets Hannibal play with his hair.
“Are you going to eat him?” Will asks.
Hannibal freezes behind him. He’s silent for so long that Will finally turns to look.
“If we don’t use all of him, then it’s just murder?” Hannibal suggests, and Will hears the ghost of Abigail within his words.
He shakes his head. “No, it’s murder either way. But—it doesn’t make him any less dead, eating him or burying him. He’s dead all the same.” He looks at Hannibal. “You may as well get what you want out of it.”
Sacrificing blood to the cruel god of love.
For once Hannibal looks torn. “It would be safer to leave him intact. A mugging gone wrong, perhaps. But maybe…” He trails off, and Will can see that his offer was a good one. He can see how much Hannibal wants it, how much he’s missed it. Compulsion isn’t part of his pathology, but that doesn’t mean restraint costs him nothing.
Will touches the side of Hannibal’s face, briefly wonders how it would feel to carve him a matching scar. It strikes him how very much he wants his monster sated and well-fed. I would give him anything.
“You don’t have to do that,” Hannibal says carefully.
“Maybe I want to,” Will says. “Don’t you want me to have what I want?”
“Yes,” Hannibal breathes. “Always.”
There’s nothing chaste about the kiss that follows, and a dead man watches from the floor.
* * *
Will helps Hannibal load Peter into the trunk of his own car, but that’s the last of the help Hannibal will accept from him.
“I’ll be right back,” he promises, and Will nods. He remembers something—fishes Peter’s phone out of his pocket and hands it over, and Hannibal slides it back into the dead man’s jeans before closing the trunk with a resounding slam.
“Be careful,” Will says, mind filled with images of Hannibal getting pulled over in a stolen car with a body in the trunk. He’s worrying like a wife watching her husband go off to war. The comparison his own brain comes up with annoys him, but he can’t quite bring himself to stop. He just manages to avoid twisting the hem of his shirt in his hands in a nervous gesture.
“I’ll be fine,” Hannibal says. “Try to sleep, Will.”
Will nods, although he knows he won’t. He stands on the porch and watches the car until it turns around the bend and disappears out of sight.
He doesn’t even try to go to bed. He pours the last of the open bottle of wine in his glass and settles back onto the couch to wait. He doesn’t expect to fall asleep, but he must at some point, because he wakes to the sound of the front door closing quietly, to footsteps against the wooden floor. Faint pink light glows through the windows.
“Morning,” Will says, blinking up at Hannibal.
“Good morning,” Hannibal replies. He sounds tired. He looks tired, Will thinks, noting the dark circles under his eyes. He wonders what Hannibal ended up doing with the body, but he doesn’t wonder enough to ask, and Hannibal doesn’t offer the information—Will didn’t think he would.
“You look like hell,” Will says, and Hannibal huffs a small laugh.
“What a charming boy you are.”
Will shrugs. “I didn’t figure you were with me for my charm. You could’ve done better than fishing a feral FBI teacher out of a pile of dogs if you wanted that.”
“I could never do better than you.” The way Hannibal is so earnest at the most unexpected times never stops catching him off guard and making him feel like someone (Hannibal) has reached a hand into his chest to squeeze his heart.
“Come on,” Will says. “Let’s get you to bed.”
Hannibal pulls away halfheartedly. “In a moment. I have some things I need to put away first.”
Will spies a cherry red cooler sitting on the floor near Hannibal’s feet. He’s pretty sure they didn’t own it before. Hannibal sees him notice it, and he goes still in that way he does. His expression doesn’t change, but he’s watching Will closely.
“It’s fine,” Will says, and he surprises himself by meaning it. “I’ve got it. Let’s get you in bed.”
He can’t kill a man in cold blood (yet, an insidious voice in his head adds), but he can do this.
Finally, Hannibal lets himself be led. Lets Will tug him into the bedroom and strip off his clothes slowly, carefully. There’s no heat in it, but Will’s exploration of Hannibal’s body is no less intent for that. He scrutinizes each scrap of uncovered skin, running his hands over it to reassure himself that it’s still fine. They’re still here. Still safe.
At last, he gets Hannibal down to his briefs and turns down the covers to let him climb in. He pulls the blankets up around Hannibal’s chest, feeling a little silly for fussing over a grown man—for tucking him into bed. But the idea that he might be acting foolish comes and goes, drifts away without any weight to it. Will has a hard time faulting himself for it when Hannibal is glowing up at him, looking content and muzzy with exhaustion.
He does stop short of kissing Hannibal on the forehead.
“I’ll be right back,” Will says.
Hannibal nods, waving him off as he turns and buries his face in the pillow. He watches from the doorway for a moment, just looking at his monster who crept through the snow to ambush a man, who snapped a neck with a twist of his hands because Will asked him to, now lying trusting and bare before him. Some things strain belief.
He turns off the light and shuts the bedroom door behind him to go deal with the contents of the cooler Hannibal brought home.
It’s actually not that bad.
It seems like it shouldn’t be true, but meat is meat. There’s a slick, flat organ—a liver—wrapped in a Ziploc bag. Will slides the meat into one of their glass tupperware containers and tosses the bag in the trash, then dumps the ice from the cooler into the sink. It doesn’t matter. If the police show up, they already have bigger problems than trace evidence and a bit of blood in the trash can.
Will is ready to curl up and sleep for ages. He’s just about to go to bed when he spots a smudge of blood that managed to find its way onto the back of his hand. He flicks on the kitchen tap automatically. His hand is almost under the faucet when he stops and just looks at it. He stares at it for long enough that it’d be hard to explain if there were anyone here—but there’s no one but Hannibal, and Hannibal wouldn’t have to ask.
There’s no one here to tell him not to, so Will does what he wants. Follows the dark impulse to its natural conclusion. He brings his hand to his mouth and slowly licks it off.
It tastes like nothing, like salt and skin. Like sweat and tears. His heart beats a little faster, and he quickly washes his hands, lathers them with the rosemary-scented soap Hannibal favors and watches the suds trail into the pile of ice. It’ll all be gone by morning. He doesn’t think about it.
He runs a hand through his hair and turns off all the lights in the house, trails his way back to Hannibal through the gloomy morning light. He gets into bed, and Hannibal shifts automatically, moving to accommodate Will even in sleep. Will curls around his back, holding him tight around a densely furred chest, around a soft and warm belly. He breathes in the hair at the base of Hannibal’s neck and smiles at the sleepy, contented noise it draws forth, as Hannibal seats himself more firmly against Will.
He thinks of the meat in the fridge and can’t bring himself to feel anything but safe.
We made it to the end! Thank you so, so infinitely much to everyone who read this. Your comments made my day every single time, and I loved telling you this story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It can’t last. Of course it can’t.
A pall hangs over their house now, and Will can’t even pretend it’s because of Peter’s death. It is in part, but not fully. Not even mostly. Mostly it’s the fear of discovery. The instincts he gained over a lifetime in law enforcement that he can’t fully put to sleep, not now that part of him has woken up again. It would take more to lull it—more time spent making love and lolling in the sweet grass. Time he’s aware they don’t quite have, not anymore.
Hannibal shields Will from it as best he can. In this at least, he’s as good as his word. There are little things, though. Things that tally up to make the writing on the wall: their days here are numbered, ready or not.
Will wakes more often now. He’s become accustomed to sleeping through the night, so it’s jarring when he’s woken from dreams again and again. His visions all have the tenor of blood, but Will can’t quite say if they’re nightmares or not. They make his heart race. They make him sweat.
He wakes in the night often, and half the time Hannibal isn’t there. If Will creeps into the living room on silent feet, he can hear Hannibal talking on the phone, booking flights and making plans. If he looks out the window, he can see the blue glow of a screen as Hannibal taps impatiently. He doesn’t disturb Hannibal, although he knows he’d be welcome. He pads back into the bedroom to stare at the ceiling until Hannibal settles in beside him near daybreak.
* * *
“Liver sauteed with garlic and parsley.” Hannibal sets a plate before him before settling down at the opposite end of the table with a plate of his own.
There’s a bright green salad to the side, garnished with watermelon radishes and strings of pickled red onion. They’re drinking Bordeaux out of clean, shining glasses, and there’s a spray of delicate white flowers in a little vase on the table. Will has no idea where they came from. It’s beautiful, like every meal Hannibal has ever served, but this is hardly any meal.
Will doesn’t say thank you. He doesn’t compliment everything Hannibal’s done. He picks up his knife and fork, cuts into the tender organ meat and closes his eyes as he brings it to his mouth.
The meat tastes like meat, although it feels like a funerary ritual. He chews and swallows. Hannibal is watching him when he opens his eyes; Will knew he would be.
“It’s different,” Will says.
“The liver is instrumental in filtering ethanol from the body. I’m afraid alcohol dehydrogenase imparts a distinctive flavor that isn’t altogether pleasant, although it can be mitigated with the right accompaniments. Lemon juice, salt, a generous amount of butter.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” Will says. Then, “Why take the liver, then? You knew he was drunk. Why not take something else?”
Hannibal smiles. “Because it was part of your design. You drugged him, that he might not suffer.”
That I might not suffer, Will thinks but doesn’t correct him. Maybe they’re one and the same. Certainly, they are, where he and Hannibal are concerned. With other people… it’s harder to say. The line grows fuzzy. A great many lines do, and he crosses them again and again.
Will takes another bite of meat.
* * *
“Is there anything here you’ve grown particularly fond of, that you’d miss if we were to leave here?” The question isn’t wholly unexpected, but it takes Will off guard nonetheless. Possibly because he wasn’t expecting Hannibal to actually admit that he was reaching the end of his ability to keep them safe here.
Will’s kneejerk reaction is no, nothing, but he takes the time to actually consider it. The truth is he’ll miss a lot of things, but—
“Nothing we can take with us,” he says with a rueful smile.
Hannibal reaches across the table and presses his hand. “You found a home here. You’ll have it again. I will make you a home no matter where we go.”
Will thinks about it, being back in the world of cellphones and digital clocks, airlines and a dozen unquiet minds whispering to his. “I don’t want to think about it today.”
“Then we won’t.”
Their mouths come together like magnets, and then they don’t think of anything at all. Somewhere an invisible clock ticks.
* * *
The day they leave dawns just like any other. Will snuffles into the pillows and tries to pull Hannibal back down into the thicket of blankets when he goes to get up. Hannibal tries to extricate himself from the tangle of grasping limbs with a quietly exasperated, “Will.”
Will holds him for a moment, just because he can, before releasing him and earning a kiss for his magnanimity. He smiles to the empty room and stays a few minutes more, drinking in the easy languor of warm and sleepy mornings. But without Hannibal in it, the bed has lost most of its appeal, and it isn’t long before Will rises himself.
By the time he emerges from the shower wearing nothing more than a towel slung low around his hips, there’s coffee waiting for him on the counter, freshly brewed and still steaming. He wraps his hands around it to feel the heat bite into his skin. Hannibal wraps his arms around his waist.
“I thought I’d go fishing today,” Will says. “Maybe bring back something for dinner.”
The earth is still cold, but the weather has been warming up, enough that the fish might be stirring in the stream. There was a recipe for trout Hannibal’s been meaning to try, and Will wouldn’t mind stretching his legs, clearing the stagnant air from his lungs.
Hannibal puts a hand on Will’s forearm, hot from his own mug. “I was actually hoping you’d sit for me and let me draw you today.”
Will nods, mentally adjusting the shape of the day as it had been taking form in his head. Another day, then. “Okay. Now?”
“Finish your coffee first,” Hannibal says.
He doesn’t need to be told twice. He takes another sip of his coffee and lets the thick bitterness coat his tongue. It’s better than any coffee he’d have bought for himself at any point in his life. Better, even, than what Molly bought, although he’s starting to grow used to it now, these little luxuries. He’s growing used to a lot of things. It’s getting harder to remember why he shouldn’t.
They stand around the kitchen and drink their coffee in comfortable silence, and when they’re done, Will takes both their empty cups and sets them in the sink. He uncoils the towel from his waist and hangs it over the back of the chair. “Where do you want me?”
“By the window,” Hannibal says without hesitation. There’s a chair waiting there, one of the dining room chairs Hannibal must have dragged over while waiting for Will to get out of the shower. It’s draped in a red cloth with a satiny sheen.
Will sits and lets Hannibal adjust him, propping his arm over the back of the chair, angling his hips just so, taking Will’s chin in hand to turn his face slightly to the side. Will lets himself be moved. There’s an intimacy to it, the way Hannibal handles Will’s body as though it were his own. As though it were his right.
He’s gentle and thorough and unwilling to be rushed. He shapes the line of Will’s body until it matches some picture he sees in his head, until Will is gazing out the window with his head to Hannibal in profile. Only then does Hannibal start. Will can’t see him, not without turning his head and undoing all of Hannibal’s careful work, but he can hear the scratching of a pencil and the occasional drag of an eraser. He settles in and lets his mind wander.
“Let me know when you need a break,” Hannibal says, and Will hums in acknowledgment.
He doesn’t ever call for a break, but Hannibal eventually does—more for Will’s sake than his own, he thinks—and Will takes the opportunity to stretch his legs while Hannibal makes them both a second cup of coffee.
He drifts over to where Hannibal’s sketchbook is lying open on the table, peering curiously at the page. It’s a very good likeness, and Will has to stop himself from reaching out to touch his face, rendered in smudgeable graphite. There’s delicate expression there, at once wistful and content.
“Do I really look like that?”
Hannibal brushes a curl from his forehead. “Often. Today you do. It suits you.”
He sits down again, and Hannibal fusses over the draping. Readjusts Will to his liking. They don’t take another break, and Will doesn’t know what Hannibal could possibly be doing—the drawing had looked finished when he saw it, but the scratch of graphite on paper drones on like a soft metronome. They’re at it for so long that the light changes, and Will is beginning to drowse despite all the coffee he’s had. His stomach grumbles loudly, and he realizes he hasn’t eaten anything today.
“My apologies,” Hannibal says. “I’ll make you something to eat after, if you’ll be patient with me a while longer.”
“It’s fine,” Will says, because it is.
This is important to Hannibal; he knows it without knowing why. This drawing is different in the way this whole day is—set apart. Consecrated. It’s a small thing to ask, in the grand scheme of things. It’s such a small price to pay. He’s paid much more. Would, and has, and likely will again. But it’s nice that things are easy today.
He’s thinking of consecration, of cities laid waste and the God of ruin. His mind stalks down dark paths.
“Do you know things that were touched by God were destroyed? They were ruined for their original purpose, set apart so that no mortal could ever use them again.”
“The virgin Mary,” Hannibal says.
“The ark of the covenant.”
Scalpel scrapes against pencil, and curls of wood fall to the floor.
* * *
He doesn’t put his clothes on until it’s nearly dark. Hannibal turns to him with a look that is very nearly regret, and Will just knows. He’s dressed in five minutes.
“Do I need to pack?” he asks.
“I have things for you in the car. Take anything you’d be sorry to leave behind.”
The answer is both everything and nothing, so he says, “I’m good.”
“Jack?” Will asks.
“How long do we have?”
Hannibal pulls out a sleek, black cellphone. It’s the first time he’s done so in front of Will in several months, and there’s a ridiculous moment where Will feels like he’s witnessing something he shouldn’t. It passes. There’ll be time for him to fall apart later, if he needs to. There’s always more time.
“An hour or so.”
Will nods. He stands in the kitchen with his hands shoved in his pockets, for once unsure of what to do with himself.
“May I?” He asks, gesturing toward Hannibal’s sketchbook with a pen already in hand.
“Be my guest.”
Will rips a thick, cream-colored page out of the leatherbound book and starts writing. Jack, he begins.
* * *
Hannibal locks the door behind them when they leave. It’s a symbolic gesture more than a practical one—this place will be swarming with federal agents before long, but the symmetry of it isn’t lost on Will. He smiles and shakes his head, and Hannibal gives him a questioning look.
“Turning off the lights and locking the door on our way out. Leaving a note. Almost polite.”
Hannibal chuckles, a shared memory.
They’re both empty-handed, save for the clothes on their backs and the sketchbook under Hannibal’s arm. They lapse into silence as they get in the car—an ordinary grey hatchback that couldn’t look less Hannibal’s style if it tried. He sinks into his seat as Hannibal gets in. The engine hums to life.
Will thinks about what Jack will find. There’s the note they’ve left, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. To an FBI profiler, their house screams secrets. Will breathes it in and sees what Jack sees: Two bedrooms, one grown dusty from disuse. His things and Hannibal’s, the intimacy of their wardrobes mingling together in the closet. Dogeared books and half-finished fishing lures strewn haphazardly across a table. A nearly empty bottle of lube in their nightstand, a bed full of their DNA.
Evidence of a life they’ve chosen to spend together, all of it.
He thinks about the coffee cups in the sink.
Will takes one last look at the cabin, small and yellow, built on a slant and sinking into the earth. A failure of architecture by any measure, but also home. He runs his eyes over cheery, chipped walls and overgrown fields covered in white. The tall grass swallows it all whole as they drive down the dirt path toward the main road.
Will doesn’t know where they’re going. He doesn’t want to know.
It doesn’t matter.
Hannibal is driving with one hand on the wheel, the other stretched out in his lap. He puts his hand in Hannibal’s and doesn’t look back.
I'm not done with this Hannibal and Will yet. I do absolutely plan to continue their story, and I've actually made a little headway on the sequel. I just think this was a good place to leave them for now, for reasons both story-related and personal. If you want to get notified when I eventually post the next bit of this story, you can subscribe to the Rabbit Hair series.