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There was a time when deconstructing Will’s mind and watching his resultant descent into madness was gripping. It seemed a form of high art, a thing worthy of the utmost praise—the way Will never lost his clarity, no matter what Hannibal did to him. Neither drugs nor illness nor all of Jack’s killers could take Will Graham from himself.

It always seemed to Hannibal they were doing a dance, one whose steps were only revealed as they moved together, two well-made parts of a whole. It started in Jack’s office and spiraled out across the years, pulling everything to shatter in its rip current. They traded dance partners. They killed those who would cut in.

The music rises to a crescendo, and Will takes him for a dizzying dip at the edge of a cliff.

Hannibal hits his head and comes to at the bottom. His vision is unfocused, and he’s almost certain he has a concussion.

“Why?” Hannibal asks around a mouthful of brine and blood.

“Making it fair,” Will says. Hannibal sees bone sticking out of Will’s thigh, and he doesn’t understand, so he waits. Will tilts his head back and looks up at the moon-studded sky. “Giving God one last chance to take us back, to strike us from the record.”

“But he didn’t.”

“No, he didn’t.” The gash in the side of Will’s face weeps when he grins.

The dance doesn’t end there, but it changes. It takes time enough for Hannibal to notice, between the head injury and their broken bodies, but the Will who gets up at the bottom of the cliff isn’t exactly the one that took them over the top.

Hannibal enjoys this too, in the beginning. Every facet of Will is arresting, and he greedily wants to collect them all, draw them near to him and hold them in his chest. This Will that sprang from the sea is brutal and dark, and he delights in blood as much as Hannibal delights in him. If his grip on reality is just a little more tenuous, it’s just another beautiful thing for Hannibal to collect. A new, gleaming addition to the temple of Will Graham in his mind. Splintered and fractal, and glorious in its disarray.

The newness of what he’s gained is so heady that it takes longer for Hannibal to realize what he’s lost.

It takes him a long while to notice that he is still waiting for Will to come back to himself. To take back what Hannibal (and Jack, and all the rest of them) borrowed. He doesn’t realize what he’s done until years later when it dawns on him with the finality of clanking metal doors—of glass cages and the acrid burn of bleach—that he will be waiting a long time.

That he will, in fact, be waiting forever.

* * *

Will lives in his mind more often than he doesn’t these days. He talks to people who aren’t there more often than he talks to Hannibal.

“Abigail tells me things,” Will says one morning when the sun is filtering brightly into the kitchen. He’s sitting at the table stirring a late cup of coffee with a dark expression on his face. “She tells me all the time.”

“Will,” Hannibal says patiently. “You remember that Abigail isn’t real?”

“She tells me things about you,” he accuses.

It’s only eleven o’clock in the morning, but Hannibal is suddenly very tired.

* * *

Some days Hannibal thinks about killing Will.

He talks about a stag that lives in the woods behind their house, but they live in Detroit and before that they lived in Pittsburgh. There’s no woods, and there’s no stag. Hannibal has stopped trying to dissuade him. He picks up the fruit Will leaves for the stag in the yard and buries it at the bottom of their trashcan after Will has gone to bed.

Hannibal was a psychiatrist. He knows it’s unlikely that anything he did to Will caused this. Hastened it, probably. Contributed, absolutely. Directly and solely brought it about, no.

And yet most days Hannibal feels as though he’s defaced something priceless. As though he has broken into the Louvre and set it alight. Guilt is a foreign language to him, but it’s one in which he’s gaining fluency by fits and starts, without his input or consent at all.

* * *

Will doesn’t eat as much as he should, no matter what Hannibal does. Hannibal has tried cooking things he knows Will likes, things he’s eaten before. None of it seems to make any difference. At best, Will picks at his food. As usual, more of it gets shoved around his plate than anything else.

“If you’re trying to make me think you’ve eaten enough, it’s not working,” Hannibal says at dinner.

Will shrugs. He pushes the food around more pointedly, making swirling patterns out of mashed potatoes and haricot verts.

Hannibal grits his teeth and says nothing. He’s gratified when a few more bites of the unappetizing slurry find their way into Will’s mouth. He’s horrified that this is what passes as success now.

On the bad days, Will doesn’t eat at all. Won’t even come to the table. Hannibal always makes a plate for him regardless. He’ll wrap it and put it in the refrigerator if Will doesn’t make an appearance.

During the worst weeks, Hannibal wakes up to find plate after plate untouched on morning after morning. He slides them into the trash without a word.

* * *

Some days Hannibal thinks killing Will would be more kind.

Other days, Will is fierce and brilliant at their crime scenes. His eyes focus and his gaze grows sharp as they stalk their prey. There’s a spark of recognition when their eyes meet across a gasping, dying body that makes Hannibal catch his breath. For a moment, he sees his mate, bloody and fearless.

Sometimes Will stays lucid for weeks when they’re planning a kill, discussing method and display with Hannibal over drinks, over dinner. Hannibal begins to plan elaborate hunts—far more complicated than necessary—just to give Will’s beartrap mind something to latch onto.

He’s someone Hannibal recognizes then. It’s caused him to escalate, and he knows it. It makes him want to kill sloppily and with a frequency that will get them both caught, if only to catch a glimpse of someone half-remembered and dearly loved from his past.

It’s all the in-between times, the portions that make up the rest of their life together, when Hannibal sometimes doesn’t know Will at all. There’s something vacant behind his eyes that seems an insult to beauty itself.

It’s times like these that Hannibal wonders if God hadn’t taken Will’s bargain after all—if he hadn’t decided to take one of them back.

* * *

Will actually does talk to Abigail often. Or he thinks he does, which for someone with his imagination is functionally the same thing. 

After Hannibal reminds him that Abigail is dead just one time too many, Will stops doing it in front of him. That doesn’t mean Will stops. Hannibal still hears the sound of his voice carrying from other rooms. There are long moments of silence, pauses while he waits for her to speak, as though they’re only talking on the phone.

Will always quiets when Hannibal walks into the room, cuts himself off mid-sentence and glares at Hannibal until he leaves.

“It’s rude to stop speaking to someone mid-conversation,” Hannibal says the next time it happens, when Will is in the kitchen sitting at the table and Hannibal only came in to pour himself a glass of water. “You should at least say goodbye.”

What he means is, I never meant you had to stop.

Will shakes his head, but he glances at the chair to his right. It’s been pulled out just a little, just enough that a slim young woman would be able to sit there.

“Are you hungry?” Hannibal asks.

“No.” Sullen. Not in the mood to talk (to Hannibal).

Hannibal rips a banana off the bunch sitting on the counter anyway. They’re gold flecked with brown, so ripe that their sweet fragrance fills the whole kitchen. He sets one in front of Will, and he sets another in front of Abigail.

Will snorts in disdain—despite it all, he’s still sensitive to any indication he’s being patronized—but when Hannibal returns to the kitchen to start dinner later, two neat peels are sitting at the top of the trash.

* * *

Their bedroom is dark by the time Hannibal opens the door, careful not to make a sound. He needn’t have bothered. Will went to bed hours ago, but he’s not sleeping now. He turns toward Hannibal—Will always knows where Hannibal is these days, no matter how quiet he tries to be. His glasses are still on, and the moon reflects off them in shards of silver.

He watches silently while Hannibal gets into bed.

“If we have children, I’ll cut their throats in the womb,” he says when Hannibal’s weight settles onto the mattress.

“Why?” Hannibal asks. This has been a good week, but sometimes even on good weeks Will gets like this. Hannibal thinks the word is lost— as though he’s gone somewhere Hannibal can’t follow.

“So they never learn how to scream.”

He traces a hand over Will’s face, placid in the dark. The serious mouth that can be cruel as easily as it is kind. The cheekbones that have hollowed out now that Will has lost so much weight. He slides his hand downward, and Will makes no move to stop him. He touches Will’s belly gently, rubs his thumb over the little cord of scar tissue there before tucking Will’s head under his chin.

“Will,” he says as gently as he’s able. “You remember that we can’t, right? Can’t have children like that?”

“Sometimes,” Will says. He presses Hannibal’s hand harder into his abdomen. “Sometimes I think you just won’t let me. Why did you take them all from me?”

Hannibal doesn’t flinch when the words land just as Will means them to. He wonders if Will remembers Margot is a different person. Instead, he tugs Will over him, weightless and pliant as a doll. He folds himself around his delicate boy, wraps him in his arms. He kisses the curls that smell like smoke and fear.

“Sometimes it’s better to scream,” Hannibal says. “Screaming is honest.”

* * *

Hannibal prefers when Will talks to Abigail. She makes him happier than the others. Talking to Garret Jacob Hobbs puts Will in a foul mood for days. Talking to Molly makes him cry. Abigail at least makes him smile.

They’re back in Maine now; Will missed the snow. He’s grown a fondness for the way blood stains it as it melts, and Hannibal still has difficulty denying him anything. Hannibal made sure there were woods behind the house this time, and he stands on the back porch chucking uneaten fruit into it every night. He watches it sail through the air and disappear into the negative space between the trees, never to be seen again.

Some days Hannibal thinks of killing Will, but he can’t. Some days he thinks of leaving Will, but he won’t.

He has everything he ever wanted, and he feels it burning his heart to ash.