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The Dark Mirror and the Bright

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Hannibal has nothing left to offer but the truth, so he does. "If I accept opiate-based medication for my current state," he says, "I doubt I will be able to cease drug use voluntarily. And I doubt you will be able to stop me." He forces his eyes to return to Will's face. "It's up to you. Which version of me you wish to have."

Will's eyes glint in the moonlight filtering in through the cabin window. He holds up the syringe, considering it, and then kneels beside Hannibal, pushing up his sleeve. Hannibal tries to pretend that he isn't disappointed. That the person suit contained in the liquid is one he'll put back on willingly.

“I can stop you,” Will says absently.

Hannibal’s eyes are fixed on his face, still bleeding freely. So vicious and violent. He barely notices the cold bite of an antiseptic wipe, the sting of a needle.

“Why?”

“Because I love you,” Will says easily. He ignores the way Hannibal’s breath catches in his throat, or else he doesn’t care. “Because you were just shot, and I don’t want you to suffer right now.”

“But I will,” Hannibal says, the cushioned tide of the drugs already pulling him under, somewhere warm and contented as he pulls his arm back into his own lap. He should be concerned, he thinks, about the way Will is looking at him.

“Right now,” Will repeats, eyes dark as pitch. But not later, remains unspoken. His smile curves like the blade of the knife in Hannibal’s kitchen, all those years ago.

* * *

Hannibal doesn’t expect Will to be judgmental about his drug use—not really—and yet some part of him is waiting for a cutting word, a slant of eyes that betrays judgment simmering below the calm surface of the domestic life they’ve slipped into, as into a coma.

No such look or word comes.

It isn’t particularly hard to acquire a new supply of pharmaceuticals—opiates for calm and cocaine for clarity. A judicious amount of money and the ability to ask the right questions of the right people will get you far in any city.

Hannibal takes drugs, therefore the people of the little town they’re residing in stay safe. He doesn’t question that this is what Will wants, the life he had chosen for them both. It’s fondly domestic, if a bit restrictive. Everything is lightly blurred and blunted around the edges. There are no kill days, and so there are no sober days.

They fall into a holding pattern, and if the edges of his person suit itch in a way they never had before, Hannibal doesn’t complain. He remembers the breathtaking darkness in Will’s gaze, a promise of terrible pain to come. He waits patiently for the day Will decides to rip him open.

* * *

Will watches Hannibal slip the needle into his vein. This isn’t how he typically prefers to medicate himself, but he does it now at Will’s behest. There’s something about the aesthetics that rankles—it feels too common. Tawdry, even. A needle habit shared by junkies in back alleys throughout the world, strung out and glassy-eyed.

He’ll admit that this is different, in enough of the ways that count. They are in their bedroom in Provence. Hannibal’s tools are all sterile, all impeccably clean. A warm breeze blows through the room and makes the gauzy curtains dance on the air, while Will watches him with dilated pupils and slightly parted lips. He wonders if Will knows he’s doing it—wonders if Will does it on purpose to torment him. The warm, animal smell of arousal wafts off him, carried on the wind straight to Hannibal’s nose.

Hannibal’s lip curls, scenting him. He sets the needle aside on the bedside table; he will dispose of it properly later. He leans back on the bed, reclining against the headboard and spreading his arms. Will only hesitates for a moment before taking the invitation. He rises from his chair and prowls over to the bed, stopping to cup Hannibal’s ankle in his hand. He rubs his thumb over the bare skin there, where the hem of Hannibal’s pants rides up to reveal pale flesh untouched by the sun.

He slides his hand up to Hannibal’s thigh and leans forward to press his weight down into him. He touches the place where the needle entered Hannibal’s arm.

“You do this for me,” Will says.

Hannibal lets his head fall to the side, feeling easy and languid. “Careful, you’re making me sound terribly selfless.”

“You don’t want this. Not like this.”

“No, not like this,” Hannibal agrees. He wonders if Will’s eyes were always so blue.

“You do it for me. Because I want this.”

There is a well of resistance in Hannibal that is pitifully small wherever Will is concerned. It’s been ferried away by the morphine coursing through his veins, and when Hannibal reaches for it, he comes up empty.

“You want to see me like this,” Hannibal says, heavy-limbed and heavy-lidded. He licks his lips. “You like it. Why is that? What is it about seeing me in this state that’s so terribly appealing to you?”

“Let’s chalk it up to novelty,” Will suggests. “Let’s say I’m as curious as you are.”

It’s an appealing prospect, but it rings false and hollow. Even with his senses dulled and his mind working at a lagging pace, Hannibal knows it’s an answer lying slightly askew. He drags his hands up Will’s arms.

“You can’t hurt me when I’m on this much morphine.” Hannibal’s lips tilt up in a terribly foolish, fond smile. “Not without trying very, very hard. Is that what you’re looking for?” He trails his fingers down the backs of Will’s biceps, his forearms down to his fingertips. He appreciates the goosebumps that raise wherever he touches. “Am I to be a receptacle for your excess energy? For the cruelty that licks along the cavity of your heart?”

Will digs his fingers into the flesh of Hannibal’s side, pinching the delicate skin there as if proving Hannibal’s point. It doesn’t hurt at all.

“Is it cruelty to put down a wolf that’s slaughtered the sheep?” Will asks.

“It depends how it’s done. It’s a different thing to bleed an animal by a dozen small cuts than to draw a blade across its throat.” Hannibal tilts his head. “Is it cruelty to smother a creature’s true nature beneath layers of muffling chemical cocktail?”

Will straddles him with eyes like pools of tar. He wants to dive in. He wants to drown.

“You tell me, Doctor Lecter. You’re the expert.”

Will leans forward, and Hannibal can feel Will’s breath on his mouth. It fogs humid against his lips, at the place where they’re almost but not quite touching. Will splays a hand across his throat, pressure like a warning.

He tips forward for a kiss and presses down, and Hannibal drowns.

* * *

“I could climb out the window.”

“You could. Seems a little dramatic though, doesn’t it? Especially when you could just ask me to let you out.”

Hannibal eyes him dubiously. “That defeats the purpose of the whole exercise, does it not?”

Will tilts his head. “And what do you think that purpose is?”

“Weaning me off the drugs,” Hannibal says. He very graciously does not add, the drugs you insisted upon after I had been sober for three years.

Will smiles, and it reaches his eyes. “That’s not what this is about.”

It seems this is to be feat of willpower, then. Will is withholding drugs from Hannibal only so long as Hannibal does not request them.

“This is a test I’m destined to fail, mylimasis. Determination will only carry me so far. There are neural changes and the physical realities of addiction to contend with.” The words sit heavy on his tongue, bitter and acidic. This, too, is what Will wants. For Hannibal to admit to something as base and banal as addiction.

“It’s not a test,” Will says, voice soaked and dripping with compassion, so thick Hannibal nearly chokes on it. “Ask me for what you need. For whatever you need.”

Hannibal is determined that he will pass the test Will has set before him. He waits in his room behind a locked door that’s very nearly insulting in its flimsiness. They both know that Hannibal could dismantle the lock in under five minutes if he wanted to. It won’t contain him any better than an unlocked door would—except that he would need to decide to pick the lock. He would need to admit that he can’t do this, that he was weak.

He spends far too much time staring at the doorknob.

The first couple hours are fine. The drugs he’s been using (morphine, cocaine, occasionally an amphetamine) leave his system peacefully and without a fuss. The third hour brings an undeniable restlessness, a certain itching below his skin. He feels irritable and out of sorts, and he frowns as he hears a key turn in the lock. Will enters bearing two plates of sandwiches, some type of meat piled high on bread they’d picked up at the bakery just the other day.

“Hungry?” Will asks.

“Not very,” Hannibal says, but he reaches for a plate all the same.

He’s experiencing the beginning of cocaine withdrawal now—minor psychological disturbances rein. Within several hours, the opiate withdrawal will begin, and he’s unlikely to be able to hold down much of anything at that point. He may as well eat while he can.

Will sits beside him with the other plate in his lap. He pulls two paper napkins out of his pocket and hands one to Hannibal. They eat sitting side by side on the bed. The prospect of crumbs sets Hannibal’s teeth on edge, but he keeps it to himself.

“Have you tasked yourself as my jailer then?” Hannibal asks. “Bringing me rations and ensuring I don’t escape to terrorize the masses?”

“Is that what you want? For me to guard you?”

“If you’re to be my jailer, I’d prefer you were an effective one.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“No, I suppose it doesn’t.”

Hannibal takes a bite of his sandwich, rending the meat between his teeth.

* * *

Will spends the majority of his time with Hannibal, but he comes and goes. He leaves to spend time with the dogs (Hannibal listens to the heavy footfalls of Will moving through the house, the click of the dogs’ nails on the hardwood floors). He cooks meals for them both, simpler fare than anything Hannibal would have made, but by no means appalling (Hannibal tries to guess what he’s preparing by the smell that wafts under the door; he is often correct). He sometimes leaves the house (to run errands? To torment Hannibal with the knowledge that he’s gone?) and Hannibal stares at the door and stares at the door and stares at the door.

He’s in the thick of withdrawal now. Fine shivers rack his body, no matter how many blankets he piles atop himself. Will brings him extras from the hall closet, which Hannibal takes in shaking hands with murmured thanks. It’s bad, and it will get worse. The inevitability of it is almost soothing as he lets Will drag his head into his lap, stroking through his hair like a dog. It should be more mortifying than it is, but Will’s cool fingers feel good against his forehead. He turns his face into Will’s stomach and presses in as hard as he can.

The vomiting starts on the second day, and Hannibal is dimly glad that Will has chosen the master bedroom as his cage—the one with a bathroom attached. Will’s cruelty is a bottomless well that he intends to spend the rest of his life plumbing, but in this at least, he is kinder than Alana.

Will rubs his back and brings him glasses of clean, fresh water—hands him the bottle of mouthwash when he needs it.

A mean little impulse rears its head as he bites out, “I’m not your wife, Will.”

The hand moving in steady circles on his back stills. “You’re not,” he agrees. “If you were, I’d have to hold your hair back while you do this.”

His hand starts moving again, tracing an inexorable track between Hannibal’s shoulder blades, and Hannibal feels at once humiliated and relieved. He lacks either the strength or the conviction to bid Will to stop.

There comes a doldrums in the sea of his illness. Will starts to help him up, but Hannibal shakes his head. His stomach is roiling, sharply pained from being emptied so many times. If he goes back to bed now, he’ll just have to come back. He leans his face against the cool porcelain of the toilet and closes his eyes.

* * *

On the second night, Hannibal is covered in a thin rime of cold sweat. He feels clammy all over, and he’s pretty sure there’s dried vomit crusted at the corner of his mouth. He’s curled up on the floor of the bathroom when Will comes for him. The vibrations of his footfalls feel like an icepick driving into Hannibal’s already splitting head, and he doesn’t bother to open his eyes when Will’s shadow falls over him. A gentle hand lights on his shoulder.

“Come to kill me?” Hannibal asks, the words muffled into his own arm.

“I came to help you shower.”

Hannibal groans. He rolls his head to the side so he can look at Will, squinting even in the low light of evening. Everything has seemed far too bright for hours. “Killing me would be kinder.”

Will huffs, the way he laughs when he thinks something is funny but knows he shouldn’t. “I’ll think about it,” he says, even as he loops his hands through Hannibal’s armpits and hauls him upright. “But first, a shower. I know you, and you’d never forgive me if I let you leave behind a smelly corpse.”

Hannibal makes a pained sound, both at the indignity of being treated like a rag doll and at the vicious nausea the motion sets off. Still he gets his legs under himself and helps Will as much as he can, pushing himself up and staggering upright. Will sits him on the toilet, propping him up against the side of the sink so he won’t fall. It’s absurd that he feels this weak, that even lifting his head is a struggle.

The pipes rattle as they turn on, and the soft sound of water hitting the shower floor lulls him. He watches Will adjust the knobs, checking the temperature.

He doesn’t remember closing his eyes, but he must have dozed off because when he opens them again, Will is crouched in front of him, and the bathtub is full of steaming, clear water.

“Changed my mind,” Will says when he notices the direction of Hannibal’s gaze. “A shower seemed overambitious, considering.” His hands undo the buttons of Hannibal’s shirt, working quick and deft until he can slide the shirt off Hannibal’s shoulders. He unfastens his pants next, stepping on the hem when Hannibal rises so he can walk out of them. His underwear, Hannibal takes off himself.

Hannibal sinks into the drawn bath with a sigh. It warms the parts of him that are chilled through, lavender-scented steam rising to fill his nose. Will sits by his side—is still sitting there when Hannibal opens his eyes again.

“Staying to make sure I don’t drown?” Hannibal asks, teasing as much as he’s able, under the circumstances.

“Yes,” Will says simply. He picks up the washcloth and dips it under the water, then sets about massaging the sickness and pain from Hannibal’s skin with warm, rough terrycloth.

* * *

The third day is terrible. Any good humor Hannibal had retained until now has vanished, leaving him vicious. Ravenous. A creature of hunger and need.

The physical symptoms are distressing. Hannibal is accustomed to managing pain, allowing it to affect him only as much as he chooses. Chemical withdrawal has left his defenses shattered. He feels like an exposed nerve, a live wire left to curl and jerk. The toll detoxing takes on his mind is much more burdensome and that much harder to ignore. He sees things that aren’t there, moving at the corners of his vision. A small voice calls out to him using words he refuses to understand.

Will looks at him with a compassion that crawls along his skin, scuffing it raw like sandpaper.

“What?” Hannibal bites out, rude and altogether too sour to care.

Will smiles, seemingly amused by his lapse in manners. He doesn’t get particularly close, Hannibal notices. Not that there’s anything particularly sharp in this room. Not like that would stop him.

“Tell me what it feels like,” Will says.

Hannibal takes a sharp breath in. He breathes it out slowly. He has given this type of advice to patients with anger management issues and anxiety—take deep breaths, count to ten. Will waits patiently.

“It feels like a terrible flu. Like a restless, ravening hunger. Desperation, distilled to its purest form. Like I might kill to make it stop. Like I might kill you.”

If Will is shocked, put off at all by Hannibal’s declaration, it doesn’t show. He meets Hannibal’s eyes, dark and intense. “I like seeing you like this.”

Hannibal isn’t surprised to hear it, but he’s a little surprised that Will’s said it out loud. Quid pro quo. It harkens back to other times, a doctor-patient relationship that was therapeutic, even as they both bucked against the label.

“Weakened?” Hannibal suggests.

Will tips his head to the side, considering. If he still wore his glasses, Hannibal thinks he could choose this time to push them up. To see more clearly. Hannibal wishes Will still wore them, just so he could do it for him. “Unvarnished. Just you, underneath everything you pretend to be.”

“Artifice can be a type of sincerity all its own.”

“‘We are what we pretend to be’?”

“The distinctions can blur, after a time,” Hannibal says.

Will’s eyes slant toward the window. “But not that much.”

* * *

Hannibal has known hunger in his life. When he was a young boy, after his parents had perished—both before and after he had been taken in as a ward of the state—he had known hunger. He has been fortunate to have no cause to know it in the intervening years. If he has been nothing else, he has been well-fed.

This, though—this craving for the drugs he has become reliant upon feels remarkably similar. It’s a wounded, gnawing ache that starts below his ribcage and works its way through his bloodstream, blood that cries out for help. For healing. For medicine. It’s an altogether terrible kind of ache, one that refuses to be slaked by food or music or Will’s steady presence.

“What was it like the first time?” Will asks. He doesn’t need to be explicit for Hannibal to know exactly what he means.

“Easier, in many ways,” he says. He paces the room, restless and jittery. He refuses to scratch at his arms to ease the feeling of invisible insects crawling beneath his skin. Pacing the length of their bedroom—from the bed to the wall and back—is as much of a concession as he will give to either of them. “Alana saw to it that I had everything required for a safe medical detox, buprenorphine and naltrexone. I was carefully supervised at all times.”

“Bet you hated that,” Will says.

Hannibal inclines his head fractionally. “A necessary inconvenience in service of a goal.”

Will could needle him about that. He chooses not to. He sits on the bed—their bed which has been Hannibal’s bed alone for the last few nights—and watches Hannibal twitch around the room like an overgrown cat. “You didn’t ask me for any of that stuff. Why not?”

Hannibal’s feet stutter to a stop. Looking at Will feels like an act of cataclysm. “You wanted something she didn’t get to have, did you not?”

“To witness,” Will murmurs.

“And now you have.”

Hannibal starts walking again immediately, trying to outpace the appetite clawing at his bones. Knowing he never will.

* * *

It was always a test he was destined to fail; he knew it from the beginning.

“I can’t,” he says, the words cracking themselves free of his mouth. “Mano meile, I can’t.”

He gives up, gives in, hating his own weakness. He has the irrepressible urge to attack it with teeth, to rip out the parts of himself that are less than worthy. He expects Will’s reproach. He waits to see how beautifully Will mauls him.

“I know,” Will says. “I knew.”

Hannibal deflates, sagging against his own interior—hating, wanting, hating. “So all this was for nothing. I give in, you give me a syringe of morphine, and we’re back where we began.” He laughs bitterly. “Was futile suffering your design?”

Will shakes his head. “You’re not getting it. I’m not giving you drugs, Hannibal. I told you it wasn’t a test. You decided it was.”

“If not a test, then what?”

“A rat wheel for your mind, something to keep you occupied, a dark mirror to hold up to my own worst impulses. All of those. None of those.” He crosses the room and takes Hannibal into his arms, holding tight until ribs creak and air is forced from lungs. Will presses his lips against Hannibal’s, taking without apology.

Hannibal looks up and sees nothing but compassion—boundless compassion, cutting and cruel. He drowns inside it, dashing himself to bits on the rocks. He kisses back.

He’s a little dazed when he pulls back, breathless and hungry. The ravenous ache hasn’t abated at all—this isn’t a children’s story where love heals all wounds—but it’s joined by a partner. A companion, a brother-in-arms. His two hungers sit side by side in his chest, sliding together in a warlike embrace.

“If aimless suffering was not your design, then what is?”

Will takes a deep breath. “The plan is, you’re going to get back into bed, and we’re going to stay there for the next two weeks. When it hurts, you’ll take it out on me. You’re going to feel better, and then we’re going to see what else life has for us. Together.”

Hannibal licks his lips. He thinks of blood, thinks of screams, thinks of painting the whole world red at Will’s side, uncaged and unleashed at long last. He thinks of shedding his chemical shackles for good. He looks into Will’s eyes and sees every dark impulse reflected back at him.

He gets into bed, and Will locks them both in.