For my grandpa
Hannibal is standing by the front door wearing swim trunks and a tank top, with a towel slung over his shoulder and a cooler on the ground by his feet.
“Do I have encephalitis again?” Will asks.
Hannibal frowns. Crosses the room to push Will’s hair up and press a hand against his forehead. “I don’t believe so. Have you been losing time? Experiencing hallucinations?”
“I might be experiencing one right now. Must be, because otherwise you’re standing there in one of my shirts and truly hideous shorts.”
Hannibal sniffs. “Really, Will. I don’t think you’re in any position to be handing out fashion advice.” He looks pointedly at the ratty flannel shirt Will usually wears to monkey around with boat engines, which is being repurposed as a beach shirt for the day. “Besides, when in Rome.”
Will grins. “I’m sorry, did you say something? I’m having a hard time hearing you over that seriously loud floral print.”
“Childish,” Hannibal chides, but he kisses Will anyway.
* * *
Will had been skeptical about having a beach day. There seems to be no law enforcement presence to speak of in Oahu. Certainly no one is looking for two of the FBI’s most wanted here. He’s barely seen any cop cars in the last six months—nothing more than ordinary sedans outfitted with conspicuous blue lights, filled with bored officers writing tickets for expired parking meters—but being out in public with Hannibal still makes him nervous.
He can’t tell if it’s sentiment or prudence or both.
Hannibal’s let his hair grow back out, and the short, neatly trimmed beard he’s started keeping disguises some of his distinctive bone structure, but Will’s certain he would still know that face anywhere. He wonders that everyone else can’t. He’s unsure how much of it to chalk up to Hannibal’s singular features and how much to chalk up to plain, old ordinary love.
Love. It’s such a strange, common word for what they are to each other, inadequate and boring, but he looks at Hannibal, sees him quirk a puzzled smile in Will’s direction, and he knows it to be true.
Huh. Go figure.
The beach isn’t deserted. The beaches here never really are, but they tend to clear out as the sun sinks below the horizon. Tonight it’s quiet and peaceful beyond the occasional peal of ringing laughter from the kids smoking pot further down the shore. The wind carries the pungent, sweet scent of burning marijuana along with little snatches of their conversation. They work somewhere named Seabreeze, apparently, and their boss is a real asshole.
All the young families have already gone home, loading sandy, sunburned kids into cars waiting to carry them elsewhere.
Will tips his head back and inhales the salted air, slitting his eyes against the vibrant orange of the setting sun. He opens them again when he feels a light touch on his hand, Hannibal’s fingers brushing his.
“What are you thinking of?” Hannibal asks.
Will lets his head loll against his shoulder and speaks without bothering to open his eyes. This is new between them too. Trust. Forgiveness.
It’s young and frail, but it grows a little every day. They water it and feed it little chips of honesty, all the parts of them they can bear to spare.
“No one but us monsters here,” Will says. He grins, and it stretches the edges of his scar, healed and filled in with shiny, pink skin—that’s new too. It’s still raw. Still tender.
He feels the ghost of violence and pain with every smile, and the poetry of it makes him smile wider, ripping the nerve endings and making them scream.
He sits up. Picks up his can of beer (It’s illegal to drink on the beach, but who’s going to stop them?) and frowns when he finds it empty of everything but sand. “Did you know it would be like this?” he asks. “When you brought us here?”
Hannibal sits with his knees drawn up and his elbows resting on top of them. His hair is tousled with wind and sea salt, and there’s a cherry flush painted across the bridge of his nose, along the tops of his cheekbones. There’s a freckle near the corner of his eye that Will wants to taste.
He looks so human like this, so imperfect and solid and touchable that Will just wants to sink his hands into it and tear. He wants to spread Hannibal out and roll around in the viscera of him, every impossible bit of it.
He’s staring so intently that he misses whatever it is that Hannibal apparently said.
Hannibal’s eyes crinkle when he smiles. When he really smiles, with crooked teeth that make him look happy and feral.
“I hadn’t given it any thought,” Hannibal says. “I thought you might like it here. I thought I would like to see it with you by my side.”
It makes him feel too much to look at Hannibal when they get like this—open, honest, like spreading their entrails out to the sun—impossibly together after all they’ve done to and for and against each other. It’s better taken in small sips; there’s time for more later, so Will looks back at the water, the vast, inky expanse of the Pacific putting thousands of miles between them and everything else.
Improbably, he thinks of his grandfather.
He says it aloud. There’s no real reason not to, no secrets here at the edge of the world. Nothing to separate you and me.
“Did I ever tell you about my grandpa?”
“Maternal or paternal?” Hannibal asks without missing a beat.
There’s a keen interest in it, a sharp delight at being given the knowledge that there’s still more to learn. More of Will, more of each other. Will is happy to provide.
“Maternal,” he offers, a bloodless sacrifice. “I only met him a few times. He and my dad didn’t get on, but I think my dad tried for a while. Tried to give me a relationship with my family.”
He turns his head to look, and he sees what he was expecting—Hannibal watching him with patient interest, swallowing each new piece of Will’s history whole.
“We stayed with them for a few weeks in the summer once. Dad was between jobs, and school was out. It was actually—it was a lot of fun, to tell you the truth. I got so sunburned I peeled like a lizard, and when I finally went back to school in the fall, I was brown as toast.”
He kicks at a spot of sand and watches a sand crab scuttle.
“It was so hot that summer—it’s fucking hot in Louisiana, you know—so one day, my cousins and I went inside to eat popsicles. There was a whole herd of us, and as luck would have it, there was just enough for everyone to have one. I think mine was strawberry? It was so good after yelling ourselves hoarse outside all day.” He shrugs. “Only I guess there wasn’t enough for everyone. We’d forgotten one of my cousins, and my grandpa was livid. But he didn’t hit us or take our popsicles or anything. He just sat us all down and told us that one day we’d know how it felt to be left out.” Will laughs. “I think that was honestly worse. I walked around for years feeling like my grandpa had literally cursed me.”
“It’s not an unusual thing for a child to think,” Hannibal says.
Will shrugs. “He wasn’t wrong.”
The waves fill the silence.
“Man, he scared the shit out of me.”
He wonders what the inside of Hannibal’s mind looks like. If he imagines Will and his cousins as they were, skinny legs and scraped knees, sticky with humidity in the Louisiana summer. He wonders if Hannibal imagines them at all.
Will doesn’t ask, and Hannibal doesn’t offer.
He thinks of his grandpa, the gruff man he’d only met a handful of times, so few he could count them on his fingers. He thinks of Molly, and then he thinks of Walter. Nothing he can keep, all of it sacrificed to the stew of time.
That’s life, he thinks. You lose and lose and lose again.
He puts his head back again and breathes, letting the ocean fill him.