Will always thought he’d have to become a different person in order to be a murderer. In order to be the kind of person who could love Hannibal and be loved in return, fully and with abandon. As it turns out, that isn’t true. It’s not true at all.
The barrier between being this and that is permeable, nothing more than a wisp of breath. All it takes is a decision, a word. Just one then another, accruing like a snowball rolling down a hill. Cumulative. Choices spiraling out before him like a skein of yarn unraveling. It’s easy.
All it takes is a fall.
As he surfaces, reborn and baptized, he wonders why no one ever told him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asks Hannibal’s prone, insensate form. “Why didn’t you tell me it would be like this?”
Somewhere in the distance, a coyote howls
Later, they’re sitting in front of a crackling fire. They have some time—a little, not much—before they need to flee. To leave, to go—somewhere. There’s time enough to figure out the particulars later. (Maybe. Probably.)
For now they’re lying stretched out over the floor, sitting close but not too close. They’re bruised and broken and aching from dozens upon dozens of injuries between them. They’re weak and lightheaded from lack of blood. Will had to carry Hannibal most of the way, and he still feels dizzy from the exertion.
Will glances over at Hannibal whose eyes are lidded. He’s not moving, and Will’s breath catches in his throat for a second thinking he’s dead.
“You decided that we shouldn’t die after all,” Hannibal says, as if he can see even with his eyes closed, perfectly attuned to Will, even in this. A love that death itself couldn’t wash off. “Did a dose of cold water change your mind?” His lips creak up in a smile that ends on a grimace. “If I’d known, I would have thrown a bucket on you long ago.”
Will shakes his head. “Right conclusion, wrong timeline. I decided before we fell.” Will squints at Hannibal, ignoring the almighty ache in his head. He probably has a concussion. “Did you just make a joke?”
Hannibal’s laugh sounds awful, a limping, wheezing thing. Will’s still glad to hear it. “If you have to ask, it wasn’t a very good one.”
Will reaches out and touches Hannibal’s hand. That’s all it takes. It’s just that easy.
Much of what befalls them in the weeks to come is not easy. There’s nothing easy about sailing a boat when you can barely stand, nothing easy about tending your friend who’s lost far too much blood and gets weak and thin before he gets better.
Will’s not at all sure friend is the right word for what Hannibal is anymore. Their relationship has always gnawed and tore at the boundaries of friendship, but he doesn’t know what else he could call it, so.
They help each other bathe and dress their wounds, washing blood down the sink: yours, mine, and his. There’s nothing erotic about it. There can’t be when everything makes the tears in their skin smart, but it fills something in Will to look at Hannibal’s naked body, to touch and see. There was a part of him he didn’t know was empty, waiting for this, and now it’s not.
* * *
There’s a bunk in the boat, just one, and just big enough for a grown man to fit comfortably. Hannibal didn’t expect Will to come with him. The thought hits like a physical pain.
Will takes one look at the bed and starts pulling blankets and sheets off it, piling them on the floor. The mattress is attached and won’t come free when he tugs, but the pillows join the mass of linens on the ground.
“What are you doing?” Hannibal asks.
Will grunts as he strains the stitches in his shoulder. “Making the bed.”
Hannibal watches, unimpressed. “On the floor.”
“On the floor,” Will agrees. He steps back to admire his handiwork. The cabin is cramped, and there’s now no walkway to speak of, but he’s arranged pillows and blankets and sheets into a little nest big enough for two. The sheets are softest midnight blue, the same color as the deep water outside, and Will wants to sink into them and sleep for days.
“May I ask why?”
Will grins and winces when it pulls at his stitches. “Now we can both fit.”
Hannibal rarely looks surprised by anything, ever. He looks surprised now, just a fleeting twitch of an expression, there and then gone again. His eyes don’t leave Will as Will lowers himself into the pile, wincing the whole way down. He needs to lean heavily on the bunk to manage it at all. It’s ungainly and he feels positively geriatric, but he manages to get himself onto the floor.
He arranges himself, hands pillowed beneath his head and quirks an eyebrow at Hannibal. Hannibal, who goes completely still for a moment before jerking back to life all at once. He finds his own way to the floor with a groan.
It takes some doing to get themselves comfortable, to fit themselves together so no one’s elbows are jabbing into anyone’s ribs, so their heads aren’t pressed into the cabinet door, so there’s no pressure on a gunshot wound, no hair in a stab wound. In the end, they wind up spooning.
“You know we’re going to have a terrible time getting up later.” Hannibal curls tighter around Will even as he says it, tucking their curves and valleys and cuts all together. He wraps Will tight and snugs him against his front so they’re lying back to chest.
Will burrows deeper into blankets that smell of expensive soap and Hannibal. He yawns, and it cracks his jaw, the sensation blunted by painkillers. “Better not get up, then.”
Hannibal huffs an exasperated breath into his hair and doesn’t let go.
* * *
Will is surprised he never noticed exactly how much they do touch, how much they’ve touched each other all along. The affectionate clasp of Hannibal’s hand in his hair, his arm on Will’s shoulder, feels familiar after all this time. Something he didn’t have the vocabulary to miss, but whose lack he felt all the same. It feels like a homecoming.
What’s new is all the ways he now touches Hannibal.
Hannibal has no head of curls begging to be crushed between idle fingers. He does have straight, soft hair as fine as mink and grey as ash. They’re sitting beside each other on the couch the first time Will does it, watching a movie they can both pick at, finding common ground in the shitty dialogue they criticize with withering tongues.
It’s nothing to sink his hand into that hair and run his fingers through it. Hannibal tenses at the first touch, as if expecting a blow. Will feels a twinge of guilt at all the ways they’ve conditioned themselves to expect nothing but pain from the other.
They could talk about it, but the movie is still playing. He privately thinks they couldn’t talk about this anyway. It’s too much, too big. There’s been too much blood spilled and too many years between them to sweep it away with anything so flimsy as words. But he keeps his hand in Hannibal’s hair and he pets it all the same, soothing strokes and scritches at his scalp that punch sweet, soft groans from the man beside him.
As the movie drones on, Hannibal slouches further and further into his touch. It would be almost comical if it didn’t wrench something in his heart. He can’t laugh, not even out of the excess of affection swelling in his chest. Not when there’s a chance Hannibal might misinterpret it and this moment seems so fragile. Hannibal’s eyes are closed, but they fly open when Will disentangles his hand from the older man’s hair.
“Always so alert, even now,” Will murmurs. “It’s okay to rest, you know.”
He doesn’t think Hannibal will. Doesn’t think he could, in Hannibal’s position, and he’s aware he’s being a hypocrite when part of him is constantly tensed waiting for the knife. Neither of them are tame things. It’s impossible to pretend that they are. And yet, he wants Hannibal to know it’s an option—resting, with him.
So he guides Hannibal down with a gentle press on his shoulder. Down, down, down. Hannibal is wary, but he goes, limbs gone loose and liquid from all of Will’s careful attention. Will pulls him down until his head is resting on Will’s lap.
Hannibal looks up at him, a question on his lips.
“Watch the movie, Hannibal,” Will says with a smile that reaches his eyes.
He goes back to petting Hannibal’s hair and feels gratified when Hannibal finally relaxes. They finish the rest of the movie just like that.
* * *
Kissing comes later, but it isn’t hard either. It would be wrong to call it a leap. There’s nothing daring about it. It’s nothing like plunging into vast and unforgiving waters.
It has the quality of a cup tipping over with the flick of a finger, wet and fluid, and a little bit ruinous.
They’re not at home. They’re in a farmer’s market in Northern California. Hannibal is fussily inspecting produce while Will rolls his eyes. (‘They’re plums, Hannibal. They’re going to taste like plums no matter what. Just pick some.’)
He complains, but more for the pleasure of watching Hannibal purse his lips and correct him about the importance of tree-ripening as opposed to buying unripe fruit and allowing it to ripen on the counter. He’s watching Hannibal’s lips and not listening at all when he follows a stray impulse and leans forward, fitting their lips together and swallowing his shocked exhalation.
It doesn’t take any coaxing for Hannibal to bring his arms up, wrapping one securely around Will’s back and using the other to cradle his head. They kiss in the middle of the market, in front of God and man and stands of vegetables piled high. A mother makes a disgruntled noise and hustles her children away from their display, and neither of them notice. Hannibal doesn’t consider ways to prepare her for dinner, and Will doesn’t think of anything but Hannibal.
When they pull apart, Hannibal keeps his eyes closed for long moments, lips parted. He’s so absurdly beautiful, Will thinks, and he tells him so. Hannibal’s eyelashes flutter open, and there’s a deep well of fondness there, one that Will can imagine reflected in his own eyes.
“Would you like to go home?” Hannibal asks, and there are dark and vivid things lurking in the question. For a moment everyone blinks out of existence; it’s just the two of them, alone and set apart, gods at the center of a storm of their own making.
Will blinks and the skies clear. They’re standing in a parking lot amid tents and chatter and smiling children. Couples are everywhere holding hands, and he and Hannibal are among them.
“What about the plums?” Will asks.
Hannibal’s eyes crinkle with silent laughter as he grabs two at random. “They’re just plums, Will. They’ll taste like plums no matter what.”
* * *
Sex doesn’t come for a long time, and neither of them mind in the slightest. For once it feels like time is endless. They have nowhere to be. There’s nothing to do. No patients, no jailers. No Jack and no boat motors. There’s nothing they don’t enjoy, no tasks that must be done. At first it makes him anxious.
At first he doesn’t know what to call it, the sensation of being unmoored, untethered and loose in his skin. It takes long enough for Will to be able to put his finger on it, to call it out and name it freedom.
“Sometimes I feel like I might float away,” he tells Hannibal.
They don’t fuck, but they sleep together every night, curled in on each other like a nautilus. They’re twined together now, limb over limb, and Will can smell the bright mint of Hannibal’s toothpaste, the citrus of his shampoo.
Hannibal doesn’t offer him platitudes. He doesn’t tell Will that he isn’t going anywhere, that there’s nowhere Will could go where Hannibal wouldn’t find him, that he’ll never be alone again. He doesn’t say it even though it’s all true, both threat and promise.
Instead he says, “You gave up everything in your old life. A wife and child, your job, your friends.”
Will waits for the words to cut him, waits for the bite of pain. He’s surprised when it doesn’t come. There’s nothing to be done but exactly what he wants, so he finds Hannibal’s mouth in the dark and loses himself in the warm, slick heat of it. When they break apart, his mouth feels swollen and sensitive. They’re both breathing hard, inhaling each other’s air while they rest their foreheads together on separate pillows.
Will’s voice is only a little ragged when he opens his mouth. Adding to the tally of things he’s burned when he says, “The chance to be seen as a good man. I gave that up too.”
“Was it worth it?” Hannibal asks.
From anyone else, the question would be distasteful. Spineless. It would mean fishing for a compliment, but from Hannibal it’s no such thing. Nothing but honest curiosity, calm without the slightest hint of urgency. It’s soothing. Will doesn’t have to think about the answer.
“A life of villainous infamy in order to have you? Yeah. Yeah, it was. People never liked me much anyway.”
Hannibal’s reply is nothing more than a hand skimming along his ribs, just firm enough not to tickle. He pulls Will closer to seat them more surely together, sealed from stem to stern in matching soft, loose pajamas that showed up in Will’s dresser one day without comment or explanation. His dick is half hard against the luxurious fabric, and he can feel Hannibal’s length pressing against his thigh, and it doesn’t matter. He isn’t ready to cross that particular border yet, but there’s time enough. There’s nothing but time.
They don’t fuck, but they fall asleep holding hands every night. Will thinks of otters, the way they hold hands so they aren’t parted by the currents in slumber. He thinks of himself and Hannibal drifting on the tides, bound together by fate and circumstance.
He’ll tell Hannibal about otters in the morning, he decides. It’s his last thought before sleep claims him, pulling him under with a smile on his face.