In another world, Will and Adam live a quiet life in the woods. Adam doesn’t like Will’s dogs at first. They're messy and noisy, and they leave fur all over everything, so Will compromises by giving most of the wolf pack away before they move in together. He hangs onto Buster who’s got a heart like a lion and “even less of a sense of self-preservation than you” according to Adam, and Winston, who is his heart. Winston who he met before—a tenuous lifeline to a time back before the name Hannibal Lecter meant anything to him.
Before, when things were simpler, and he wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t broken either. Not in the ways that Hannibal broke him. Broke him and shaped him and molded him until he was almost something else.
* * *
It’s been a long day, and his headaches are back. Everyone’s emotions are weighing too heavily on him, and Will is ready to snap at the next person who looks at him the wrong way. He’d spent the day sitting in a courtroom across from Hannibal, who’d smiled at him the whole time. Like he knew something that Will didn’t know. His eyes never left Will for a second.
He tells lies that will get Hannibal locked up but not executed. His feelings for Hannibal are complicated and expansive, but no one should get to kill him but Will, so he spends the day corroborating the story that Hannibal is insane, although they both know he’s no such thing. Hannibal is something else—the devil, probably—but he’s not insane
He spends the day wanting to jump over the table and run to Hannibal—to kiss him or hit him or choke the life out of him—he doesn’t know which, and he figures he wouldn’t know until he got his hands on Hannibal, and maybe not even then. But they’re in a room full of people, and Will is tired. Just bone deep, sleep forever tired, so instead he looks away and lies through his teeth and adds perjury to the list of things Hannibal has goaded him into
The smile on Hannibal’s face says he’s thinking it too.
* * *
He’s supposed to go on a date with a woman named Molly Foster tonight, and he’s wandering through Rite Aid looking for a pack of razors when he bumps into a younger man, clips him with a shoulder while navigating a narrow aisle. He says nothing because he’s too deep in his own head, too buffeted by misery to bother.
“Excuse me,” the man says. He’s a bit odd and a more than a little too thin. It’s a lot like looking in a mirror.
“You’re supposed to say excuse me.”
Will gapes at him for second, brow furrowed, before something possesses him to ask, “Do you want to get a drink with me?”
Will is about to apologize, to say never mind when the man finally answers. “If you mean alcohol, then no, but if you’re asking me for a date, then yes. I would like that.” He tips his head to the side. “Can we have coffee?”
Will smiles, and it feels rusty and awkward in his mouth because he hasn’t smiled in months, but the man doesn’t seem to mind.
When he gets back to his car, he texts Molly to cancel. She’d seemed nice enough, smart and pretty. He’s sure she’ll find someone else. Probably someone better than him. Less damaged, at least.
* * *
It isn’t like before all this happened. Nothing’s been rewritten. Will still measures his life in before Hannibal and after Hannibal—but it gets better. Not immediately, but slowly. Gradually. Glacially, over time. The passage of time matters again because now he has before Adam and after Adam too.
Hannibal means something to him now, still. He probably always will, but what exactly he means grows smaller by the day. It turns out they can survive separation. They were conjoined once, but the place where they were severed heals over. And if the scar still aches by the dark of the moon—if Will is a vegetarian now because there are too many associations with meat that he no longer wants to look in the face—well, the ache gets farther and farther away with every kiss and touch and moan uttered in the dark. The life they’ve built for themselves is good, and Adam is his refuge.
Adam is easy in a way that Hannibal never was. He says what he means, and Will never has to guess. They don’t blur together so much as grow around each other, the way trees planted close will eventually entangle. They lean on each other.
When Jack comes by looking for Will, Adam tells him to leave. He threatens to call the police if Jack doesn’t and doesn’t care a bit when Jack explains he is the police.
“You’re an FBI agent, and you’re trespassing. Local law enforcement will still remove you if you don’t get off our property. You aren’t welcome here, and I want you to leave. Please.”
Jack goes before it becomes an issue, but there’s no doubt in Will’s mind that Adam would have called the cops on him. People only think Adam is fragile, and only because they never bother to look past the nervous tics and shifting eyes, past the slight frame and soft sweaters. If they did, they’d see the steel running through him. If they did, they’d love him as much as Will does, and that would be a terrible shame because Will is selfish and doesn’t want to share.
They talk about it in bed, later. Jack’s visit. Will’s life before—he can feel it encroaching on their space. Trying to press in around them.
“I don’t want to go,” Will says.
“I don’t want you to go.”
He doesn’t go.
The Dragon kills more people than he otherwise would—a few more, or many—but Will never hears about it. He doesn’t read the papers and anyway, people die everyday. God drops churches on grandmothers at mass. Terrible things happen to good people; it happens all the time.
The darkness Hannibal brought out of him is still there. It always will be, but it’s dormant these days. It’s a sleeping black dog, and everyday it falls a little deeper asleep, and the people around him are just a little safer. He holds Adam while he sleeps, all knobby knees and soft tousled hair. He sticks his nose in it and breathes in the scent of soap, clean skin, and the shampoo they both share.
Adam is so easy to love, and Will wants to protect him.
A letter arrives at their door eventually, hand-delivered by Jack. Jack tries one more time to get Will back, and part of him is tempted. Part of him wants to catch the old scent again, to lay eyes on Hannibal one more time. It’s been years.
Will says no. He shuts the door in Jack’s face because love and solitude have blunted his edges, but he can still be rude when it counts, and this is important. It’s worth defending.
He doesn’t go because it’s dark on the other side, and madness is waiting—it’s no less true in this universe. It’s absolutely true, and even now Will has a sense of it. But Will won’t ever think those words in quite that way, because he will never read them. He receives Hannibal’s letter stuffed in a posh envelope with Jack and the FBI’s fingerprints all over it. He takes it and throws it into the fire unopened.
He knows what he has. He doesn’t care to lose it. It’s too important, and Will Graham has learned his lesson.
In this universe, Hannibal rots in a jail cell alone until he expires of old age. He is mourned by no one, survived by none.
Someone might wonder if he gives up on Will at any point. Adam would say yes, and Will would say no, but neither of them will have to bother because they’ll never think on it. It’s a problem built and bred for another world.
Another time, another place, another life.
* * *
In this world, Will Graham wakes up gasping. Adam is thousands of miles away in the arms of a rough-mouthed drug dealer, and Will has his monster. He shudders and presses himself tighter to Hannibal, who snuffles softly and folds him in an arm without waking.
He doesn’t remember his dreams, and he wonders why he’s crying.