Chapter 1: The Boat
Hannibal clicks on the sterile overhead light in the crowded cabin below deck. Will had been in and out of consciousness for about 20 hours now after Hannibal's painfully slow stitching into his face and shoulder – possibly an overly cautious effort, though more likely a petty punishment for Will’s attempt on their lives. Will blinks through what he identifies as an opioid fog. Through a lacerated face, a stab wound to his upper pectorals, and a number of broken bones he can’t tally, he’s grateful for the fog.
“Will?” Hannibal’s twinkling accent curls his name in a familiar way. “You seem quite lucid now. Are you ready to come upstairs?” In a thin undershirt that shows all of the contours of his bandages, Hannibal stifles groans while he shuffles between the cots. He drapes a coat over Will’s shoulders before tugging him above deck.
Will coughs through brief system shock while more memory floods back to him in sync with the blinding noon light. “Chiyoh?”
Chiyoh barely looks over her shoulder from the sheltered control area. “I knew he wouldn’t remember my saving his life,” she scoffs almost to Hannibal but mostly to herself.
Hannibal moves robotically so as to not undo Chiyoh’s surgical work in her initial triage and he finds his place near Will.
Will looks around. He’s sitting in a clean and unfamiliar white boat with no sight of a shore. “I, uh, am not overwhelmingly appreciative, actually.” It’s the first full sentence he’s consciously managed in a day.
Hannibal notices his wandering eyes. “We’re headed north. I only woke a half hour before you did.”
Will opens his mouth to speak knowing there was a lot to say, though he really just feels an impulse to apologize that they survived at all. However, Chiyoh’s immediate rescue suggests that Hannibal isn’t sorry for or surprised by their survival.
Chiyoh interrupts, “you will be flying out of St. John’s.”
Will flicks his still tired eyes over to her. He wants to ask if he is dead, but he asks instead, “is that somewhere in New England?”
“So we’re in Canada?” His boyish incredulity contorts his face around his new bruises and stitching.
Chiyoh answers in her gentle rhythmic English while pointing down at a square bag at her ankles, “I took the liberty of putting a few stamps in your passports to make your synthetic lives seem more lived in.”
Hannibal smiles at her proudly. She does not return the smile and continues, “it was hard to orchestrate a flight from St. John’s that didn’t connect back in the States but I did. I found you a connection through Oslo. That will take you right into Helsinki and then from there… you will begin your next life.”
Will, still feeling some strange bond with her after their short and turbulent history, feels compelled to ask, “and you?”
“This is where we part ways. I’ll stay around here. I haven’t made any arrangements yet, but I’ll figure something out.” Chiyoh truly does not look sad or defeated, but she does naturally lean toward cold illegibility.
“I’m sure you will.” Hannibal looks at her again with a pleased smile. He admires – he’s always admired – her specific brand of nobility and loyalty to him, especially now as their moral contract to each other comes to an end.
Hannibal runs through the healing process that he and Will can expect for their broken vertebrae, ribs, and ankles from the fall. He ranks their wound care priorities: gut stitches and infection prevention, followed closely by spinal compression fractures. The next 12 hours will severely dent their recovery process, but the years taken off their bone health will be well worth it to live without a cage. Luckily, the doctor can expertly monitor their opioids and makeshift splints. Hannibal pulls a bound folder out of the bag by Chiyoh’s feet and helps the younger man back down the narrow stairs, clear now that he didn’t bring them up to socialize. Both men relax again in the quiet warmth of the ship’s cabin and Hannibal turns off half of the lights so they can avoid additional tension.
Undoing the folder’s fittingly classic twine-fastened cover, Hannibal slides out a thin notepad, several passports of different colors, international bills, cards, pamphlets, and more birth and citizenship documentation.
“We’ll be Canadian expats.” He hands Will the two blue passports from the pile.
The passports contain their photographs, each about a decade old and edited to look like two men who might’ve arrived here in some alternative, less treacherous way. Tomas Moze Sabonis of Toronto and Samuel Max Boucher of Calgary.
“Hello, I’m Sam - I’m Samuel - Sam. Hi, I’m Sam Boucher. Sam.” Will rehearses, trying to adjust to his new name. “Boucher? You made me French-Canadian?”
“In this life, your name will fit properly in my mouth. Boucher. Boucher .” Hannibal, unsurprisingly, recites the name with a musical authenticity.
“Tomas Moze Sabonis. A simple name but still very you .” Will looks up from the documents to the side of Hannibal’s pleased face. “‘Moze’? Really? Your middle name is ‘the boy saved from the water’?”
“A charming coincidence.” Hannibal laughs out now at the absurdity of life.
Will joins in, managing the best eye contact he can with drugged vision.
“Helsinki. That's close to Lithuania.” Will remarks after they settled into silence, still thumbing through their papers.
Hannibal notes what Will tries to not-so-casually imply. “I won’t be going there. I don’t feel in any way indebted to my homeland – that I might owe it some pilgrimage. Will you?”
“Will I… what?”
“Will you feel compelled to return?” Hannibal prods with an unmoving stare, “as we prepare to leave here, do you find yourself already imagining your homecoming?”
“I don’t think there’s anything for me here.” He laughs breathily without breaking eye contact. “Quite recently I was convinced there wasn’t anything for me on earth.”
Their eyes mutually agree to not address his villainesque murder-suicide leap at this moment. Maybe that is a conversation for the plane.
“Nothing here for you, Will Graham , or for people like you?” Hannibal scoots forward on his opposite cot to get a closer look at Will. “In your head, are you the monster or are you inhabited by it?”
“We are not monsters. It’s that we’re–” he grimaces and spits out his last word, “beasts.”
Hannibal successfully buries his smile at Will’s reflex to use ‘we’ and continues to prod. “I find when people say ‘beast’, they refer to a human reduced down to his most human urges, desires. It’s so foreign to the urban man that we’ve exoticized ‘primal’ to mean ‘animal’.”
Will, despite his injuries, finally falls into his more combative state. “For someone so intellectual, you do really worship instinct.”
“We are all savage at our core; we are stupid and desire-governed creatures at our most sincere. To ignore these carnal wants is to deprive the human spirit. It would be cruel.” Hannibal looks around the cabin with a smirk he means for Will to see.
“So you are human. You admit it.” Will weakly mocks through bruised ribs.
The man snaps his attention back to him. “Oh, I take pride in it.”
After a few minutes of flipping through the thin European map book, Will attempts a less charged conversation. “Finnish. Is that similar to Lithuanian?” He wonders if he’ll be alone in his linguistic setbacks.
Hannibal chuckles, “no, not even a little.”
“So. Were you planning for Helsinki or hoping to trek off into some mysterious forest?”
“Nothing quite so dramatic, but yes, I’d pictured seclusion. It’s easy to blend in as a private person in Finland. It’s sort of what everyone is doing.”
“Done some anonymous travels there, have you?”
Hannibal closes his notepad and it’s clear he won’t answer that question. “The Finns mind their own business.” He clears his throat to signal a subject shift. “So we’d be outside of Helsinki’s greater metro area but still within a distance where we might enjoy city culture from time to time. And close enough to not raise eyebrows as foreigners.”
“So we’d really just be…” Will twirls his fingers while looking back to the atlas.
“In a cabin in the forest, yes.”
He pushes the borrowed, slightly off-prescription glasses back up his nose while he looks back to Hannibal. “That’s uncharacteristically homely of you, doctor.”
“Well you know me to work with my body, how far could that really be from embracing life in the rustic?”
“Surgeon to psychiatrist to logger.”
“If you think that is versatile, consider my extra-curriculars.”
Will chokes out a surprised laugh, not expecting someone so guarded and proper to poke fun at himself, much less speak so openly about life as a cannibal. Of course, if there were ever a time to loosen the ties of the mask, it'd be now.
Chapter 2: Walls Without Varnish
After hours of suspiciously quipless, good-natured conversation, Will swallows another hydrocodone he takes from his jacket pocket and interrupts what may as well have been silence.
“In a cabin tucked between the inland towns in a country full of lakes." Hannibal sighs out. "Perfect for fishing. I have enough money to carry us through the foreseeable future, but fish markets are consistent income and I know – what?” He pauses his rattling off at the sight of Will’s curious smile.
“I assumed you’d planned your escape for you, but you had me in mind?” He carefully watches Hannibal for any telling microexpressions. “Or are you just selling me on it?”
“Which story would you prefer? That I planned our joint escape or that I have made the last minute decision to take you along?”
“I think you planned our leaving together,” Will accuses.
“And you prefer that story? That I created a future for us?”
Knowing that he can not let himself fall so gracefully into Hannibal’s flirtation, Will pivots. “So, do we run after this? Is it just this?” He gestures ahead of them.
“With this plan, they lose us. They’ll be looking in countries with no extradition treaties or with high population densities, where we speak the language, with less bureaucratic organization. But they can’t imagine us looking for freedom in the vast wild.”
“It’d be too obvious.” Will smiles. It’s such an antique concept that is harder and harder to pull off: disappearing by simply hiding far away. “So we’ll be two men living in a secluded cabin in Northeastern Europe.”
Hannibal responds in a low but rosey hum, “we will never be found.”
Their energy for the remaining stretch of the trip borders on manic, both masking their thrill with electric back-and-forths. Through hours of flights and tense, thinly veiled flirtatious resentment for each other, they both also do the difficult work of hiding all real battle scars, even swallowing the pain of walking on perhaps shattered ankles from their fall. Luckily, their bags are nearly empty save their documents and medical gauze.
The cabin is nicer than Will had pictured. Instead of the gray, creaking, and unsealed wood he associates with the word “rustic,” there are light pine walls sealed cleanly together. There is no stain or varnish on the wood and some of its knots jut out, giving the cabin a youthful, raw, and bright feeling. Still, it’s clear that it was made by nearly expert hands. Will smiles at his mental image of the polished and wealthy city man sawing and hammering for weeks to create a future getaway cabin. It actually makes some level of sense, though.
The walls will hold in heat pretty well, giving no hint of the outside wind once they shut the door behind them. There’s a small fireplace in the corner and slim stairs to a lofted area tight to the ceiling, a potential storage space.
“I built this place years ago. Before we met.”
“From scratch?” Will’s idea of a Baltic lumberjack hiding in a Scandinavian forest is thoroughly disconnected from his view of the man in front of him.
“Something funny?” Hannibal unconsciously puffs out his chest to remind Will he’s not always tied up in literature and art history. “I admit I purchased the wood. I’m not a mountain man.” He quirks his face into a charming smile.
“Ah.” Will returns the smirk and continues to look around. “It shouldn’t be this difficult to picture you wielding an axe.” He mumbles mostly to himself.
“So there is a bed in that room,” Hannibal points through an open doorway to a queen sized bed, “and another right here,” he lists, pointing now to a narrow twin that might just be a cushion along the window, “and, well, this is the kitchen.” In the annexed area, there is an unplugged and empty refrigerator with transparent doors, a large stone island for meal preparations, and a gas stove. In a fittingly backwoods style, there is a wooden dining table with four wooden chairs, though nicely varnished and fixed on a dark slate floor.
When the older man hangs his coat before walking through the kitchen, Will notices a wet patch of blood is shining on his lower back.
“Oh. Hannibal, your wound reopened.”
“Ah, okay.” He immediately sits at the table and removes his shirt. “Can you fetch my supplies from the smaller bag?”
Will grabs the whole bag to bring to the table. “What… do you need?” He stares down a little helplessly at the leaking wound, also pausing at the expanse of deep blue bruising around the right side of his rib cage.
Hannibal boldly reaches around his back and presses into his own wound. “Luckily, it doesn’t need to be restitched. Just blotted and re-bandaged.” He swivels to Will with humble eyes. “Would you?”
“Oh, sure.” Will rustles through the bag to find gauze, topical antibacterial gel, and an unused rag that he promptly soaks and wrings in the sink. Instead of climbing back into the seat behind Hannibal, he stands the man up and replaces him in his chair to have a better look.
Hannibal feels vulnerable and a bit childish now, not used to being nursed to health. Usually his scars can’t be discussed with hospital staff.
Will methodically blots away his blood, making sure that the opening isn’t actively gushing. It isn’t. When he lightly applies the gel and tapes a large square of fresh gauze across the broad back in front of him, Will isn’t entirely sure why he takes his time.
“There will be more medical supplies in the bathroom, which is attached to the bedroom.” Hannibal points carefully back out through the annex doorway. “It’s best that we stay off our feet and avoid jostling too much.”
In the bedroom, Hannibal robotically pulls himself to lay flat on the bed. “I want to remind you, Sam, that I gave us a proper pharmaceutical cocktail to allow us to move with minimal pain across the world. If you don’t give yourself over to these opioids and submit yourself to bed rest, you will regret it. Now is not the time for reality.” Hannibal drifts off quickly with the aid of oxymorphone.
Will acknowledges his own need for some level of sobriety while they still wear ankle braces and blood-saturated gauze, but he takes a single hydrocodone pill and climbs into bed alongside Hannibal, where they lay, skinny and ravaged and unsure they’ll open their eyes again.
Chapter 3: Lakes
Will groans down at the pain he wakes up to. He swings his eyes around the orange-glowing room with a confused brow.
“Setting,” Hannibal breaks through Will’s blur to answer his question. “The sun is setting. It’s afternoon.”
“Ah.” Will smiles at the ceiling, exhausted from lifting his head to watch Hannibal tend to his ankles at the edge of the bed. “Ah!” He hisses and tries not to jerk away from the testing fingers.
“Luckily, it seems your ankle fractures are worse than mine,” Hannibal chuckles to himself, “which means that I can ensure your bones set properly and you can make sure I avoid infection. Well, worse infection.”
Will frowns at the ceiling, trying to envision resting life.
The expert voice continues on from the far edge of the bed, now finished replacing the small wooden splint. “The most fortunate of all realities: our spinal compression fractures from hitting the water are nowhere near what they could have been if we added another one hundred feet to our descent. Certainly, we won’t rock climb ever again, but we could sleep on our sides within the week.”
Will scoffs and looks down his body at the doctor peering back. “Wahoo,” he scoffs.
“You expected to die. You wanted to die.” Hannibal says without question.
“The more I think about it… the less I consider it a duty to the world – that I tried to remove three serial killers off the planet in five minutes – but more of a service to us.” He rests his head back.
“You didn’t think we’d heal.”
“I didn’t think you’d heal.” Will tries his mind at telepathy to say the rest: and I didn’t want to live without you .
Despite their lack of supernatural mind tricks, Hannibal hears what isn’t said. He pats the bed to signal a mood change. “If you don’t mind, could you rebandage me? I’m afraid the probability of infection is a little too realistic for me to try to privately address it. Flailing arms.” He mimics clumsily trying to properly tend to his own back, something he tried in the mirror while Will was sleeping.
“Yes, if you bring me the supplies, I can do that right now.”
When Hannibal returns without a shirt to now sit on the side of the bed, it’s more clear now why he is excited to be able to sleep on his side.
“I had enough access to the site to rinse it, but not enough to apply the gel or tape more gauze.” Hannibal speaks while facing the window.
Will perches himself up against some pillows, now even further grasping why it is so important that just his ankles and ribs were worrisome. He puts some gel onto his fingers to apply to the exposed wound, careful not to submit to the impulse to roughly smooth it in like sunscreen. Once it glistens over every part of the reddish broken skin, he stiffly reaches for the gauze and tape, now taking the opportunity to graze the pads of his fingers across the man’s bruised back. Soon it will be a memory that they were ever this injured. Reentering society with walking aids will blend into the world more than bloodied gauze.
Hannibal’s eyes observe Will’s focused exploration, careful not to hint that it should stop.
A moment later, Will does break his trance to look up at the eyes he knew were watching him. “We really can get past this.”
“It’s our next life. We’ll both be lucky enough to keep becoming.” Hannibal smiles weakly but comfortably, patting Will’s chest and gathering their medical supplies to return them to the bathroom.
When he leaves for the main part of the cabin, Will feels a sharp pang of loneliness and cold, making this the real first time he’s aware of their new home here in the taiga.
Hannibal quickly returns with water and some airplane peanuts before climbing into bed himself. He hands both glasses to Will while he props a pillow under himself to relieve some pressure off his wound. Hannibal drains the glass, takes a mouthful of peanuts and chews them, already drifting to sleep.
Will smiles down at him, charmed by how medicinal he’s turned the burst of protein and sodium. Looking down at the resting doctor, he considers how much precious energy he must have donated to take care of him. How he manages to blur selfless heroics with puppeteer manipulations. Will slides cautiously back into his corpse pose to sleep through another dose of hydrocodone.
The outdoors are familiar enough. There are tall, dark pines that don’t quite smell like the pines of Appalachia. The water is brighter and so cold here it doesn’t hold the same reek of aquatic life iconic for the bayou or the polluted Chesapeake. It’s just quiet and crisp and it reflects your life right back at you. It asks a person to become anonymous in the sheltering of endless nature but simultaneously hyper-aware of their trivial personhood. How truly small their lives had been. How in the span of life on earth, their unimaginable survival is unremarkable and will be forgotten. It's simply open and all possible and impossible.
“Will?” Hannibal interrupts his poetic internal ramblings.
Will jolts back to his place on the lakeside, fishing pole thrashing with his waking. “Yeah?”
“Did you catch anything for dinner? If not, I have plenty for stew now after heading into town.”
“I didn’t catch anything, I uh – wait, yes, I did, but it –”
“Will–,” he grabs his shoulders and lifts his hat to get a clearer view of the younger man’s eyes. They’ve become more comfortable with touching after a week of caretaking. “Are you okay?”
Will barks out a breathy laugh. “I really, I really don’t know what that is.”
“What do you want clarity on?” Hannibal’s face doesn’t flinch with emotion at this; he’s gentle and stoic still, but warmer now than ever.
“I am stagnating or still asleep. I think if I am not going crazy then I’m-I’m not doing .” He winces at the doctor’s accidentally tightening grip on his injured shoulder.
“Are you looking to unlearn that, the impulse to go mad, or are you looking for something to make you go mad?” The doctor asks without judgment, prepared for either answer.
“Everything is so obvious now. It’s just us, with enough money for life, a home, knowing that no one will come knocking at our door looking to put us away. I just know everything. It’s not that I’m agitated by the thought of some potential storm coming but by the concept that maybe we’re past storms.”
“Are you saying you want to be on the run?”
“God. No. I mean, that is, I think, what the agitation was born from, but–” Will stumbles on his own words, hoping that he’ll trip on some that might say what he actually means.
“Is there something in particular you thought would stay in motion or did you make the mistake of romanticizing the calm of stagnation?”
Will shakes his head with a bashful smile. “I don’t think it was a mistake to romanticize it. I just - I just had prepared my body for anxieties that died there. In the Atlantic.” He waves noncommittally while he looks back at the lake.
“So it’s not the anxiety you want. You just wanted the heart to race again.”
Will doesn’t answer aloud. That was exactly it.
Hannibal proceeds, “it will. Your heart will race again.”
Will’s eyes wander around Hannibal’s face, searching for an upturned corner of a mouth, a crinkle in his brow, a glint, a heat, but he finds nothing. Just the doctor, still introducing him to himself. “I’m getting comfortable with pretending you’re all-knowing. I like going along with it.”
“Pretending?” Hannibal smiles in facetiousness.
Will looks back out at the lake. “You operate with so much performed confidence that I begin to believe you actually do see the future.”
“Are you trying to wound me?” He looks confused more than rejected.
“No, no.” Will takes off his hat and uses it to wipe flecks of lake from his forehead. “I’m saying - in this life we’ve made - I’m enjoying the comfort from believing all of the things you say to calm my nerves.”
“Or to unsettle them,” Hannibal corrects.
“Yes, right, what you say to promise my familiar anxieties.”
“‘Time has been transformed and we have changed; it has advanced and set us in motion.’ Will,” Hannibal reaches out and roughly brushes his matted curls back into life and mischievously grins, “I promise you a lifetime of movement and discomfort. You have my word.” He lets his hair go and starts the hobble back to the cabin to start dinner preparations.
In no quiet way, Will’s heart stutters to life again.
Chapter 4: Tidying Up
The fish stew is hot and humanizing after days of broth and gaining consciousness. Will’s muddy walking stick leans up against the door and he makes a mental note not to track it through the house.
Hannibal breaks the silence, “I’m quite happy here.” He swallows a bit of stew. “I hope you learn to acclimate. To relax. Or maybe you can work yourself up trying so hard to be worked up again.”
Will smiles back, feeling playfully patronized. Familiar.
The clothes all smell of wood and storage and hang comically loose on his frame. They’re charming and climate appropriate, all a life away from what Hannibal wore in Baltimore. In front of company, that is. Insisting on less opioid dependence, Will is careful to wrap his tender ankles with splints and the thick socks he found in one of the closets. They spend the cold days in bulky sweaters on a surprisingly comfortable mattress, alternating drowsy care for each other. It makes Will feel more at home, more honest, than he’s ever felt. He feels unlocked and alarmingly content.
After his moments of reflection, he crackles out a response. “I’m very happy, too. I think I’m actually, uh, feeling well enough that I could even make up the other bed. We can begin to treat this more like a home and less like a hospital.” Will laughs uncomfortably, flipping through a few of Hannibal’s possible reactions to that.
Hannibal internally flinches at the comment, but explores the chance that Will’s suggestion is from a wave of insecurity rather than dismissal. “If you’re feeling well enough.” He makes no effort to veil his true meaning through any chilled body language.
Will looks down at his empty bowl. “Soon, then.” He softly clears his throat. “Just something to shoot for.”
After clearing their bowls and storing the remaining stew for the following morning, the two men move quietly around the cabin. It's colder today than it was yesterday but Hannibal doesn’t attempt to maintain the fire, expecting they’ll fall asleep early. There isn’t much for entertainment around the cabin except for a few old books, making food and sleep and ritualistic bandaging their daily tasks.
Will pads over to the bathroom to clean his facial wound, which often weeps after eating.
Hannibal closely follows him in and stops his hand on the sink knobs. “Let me.”
Will is perfectly capable of seeing to his own gashes in the mirror, but he allows the other man to care for him anyway. Any warm hand is welcome in the cold and quiet life they’re settling into.
Hannibal steadies his jaw with one hand while the other traces along the healing scar. “It’s closing well. Cheek tissue is rather resilient."
“And here I was worried about your Frankenstein stitching.” Will tries not to make any facial expression while his cheek is examined.
Hannibal lowers his hand but keeps the other holding his jaw. He responds in his small curled smile. “It’s possible, at the time, that I was also bitter about our survival.” His smile sinks pensively and he drops his hand to give Will’s chest a single pat before reaching for his toothbrush.
Will does the same.
Still unsteady on his feet, Will stretches dramatically to pull at the wool blanket from the closet’s highest shelf. With the thick throw folded over his hands, he pivots to look expectantly at Hannibal, who has already closed his eyes. Will has no desire to transfer his bedside belongings over to the other room’s cramped, likely freezing day bed and he understands he has a standing invitation to stay in their shared room. In their shared bed. After two seconds of thought, he clicks off the lamp and climbs through the dark, back into his habitual hospital-like rigid shape on his side of the mattress and quickly falls asleep.
In the morning, he drowsily peers outside to see heavy rainfall. Considering how cold it was at night, he half expected snow today, but he’s happy for the excuse of the weather to feel no obligation to productivity.
Hannibal peeks through one open eye at the rain outside and hums drowsily to himself. Not aware that Will woke a few moments ago, he whispers at a volume appropriate for the gray morning, “Will?”
Will turns over onto his side with a breathy sigh. “It’s Sam.”
They both chuckle a little more heartily than their tired bodies are used to.
Hannibal rests his hand over the hand Will had let fall between them on the bed.
Will feels his heart enter his throat. Suddenly very aware of the Scandinavian morning air, he pulls the blankets over both of their shoulders and clasps Hannibal’s hand again underneath. It makes sense. It makes such obvious sense to be here, touching with no medicinal need.
It’s profane and pathetically boring how much they both need to touch like this, warm and in no rush. They doze again.
The men wake again after drifting back to sleep. Neither man wants to shake off the inelegant drowsiness before they weakly and clumsily push their arms to pull the other closer – Will’s hand on Hannibal’s hip and Hannibal’s hand on Will’s neck, around his ear, then the back of his head, now rustling through his curls.
Hannibal’s breath quickens and he gathers enough energy to fully blink open his eyes, which finally drink in their situation, careful to remain a participant rather than his typical, distant perch as an observer of life.
Will flutters his eyes closed again, trying to regulate his breathing through his nose. He can’t help but wonder again if he’s dead or feverishly dreaming in a psychiatric prison somewhere, but he finds himself nodding softly and seriously to the other man.
Still clumsy and compensating for their bruised and broken bodies, they shift closer into an embrace, then to exhale into a room temperature open-mouthed kiss that crushes their entire faces together more than it provides any nice sensation to their lips. But it’s better this way. Not hungry or desperate or even particularly sensual. Just their having to be tangled. Both with the invading desires to stitch their matched souls, to inhabit the same body if they ever find a way.
Hannibal rolls them so Will is flat against the bed, but he breaks the increasingly eager kiss to yelp in pain from the movement. “Gah!”
Will freezes in place, not sure what hurt him.
Hannibal flies his hand down to press against his stomach and does little to breathe through another groan at the pain. He rests his head back on his pillow and laughs through his slowing breath, “maybe not that quite yet.”
Will returns the small laugh, relieved to see the other man in good spirits. “What can I do?”
“I twisted against the abdominal tearing. The exit wound is where the majority of the damage is.” He tugs up his shirt to find, unsurprisingly, some yellowish spotting through his gauze. “I’m not sure we should have survived.”
Will feels a sting at the remark.
Hannibal notes the small dimming in his eyes and clarifies, “it will be a beautiful life here, Will. But you and I know we always live against the odds. Doomed to ‘despite’s.”
“I can be happy in the ‘despite’s.” Will clambors over to the bathroom through his own pain to gather the medical supply kit – it’s become a routine he could manage in the complete dark – and from this point on, the men silently resolve to tend to each other even in the places they can reach themselves.
“There is an unpredictability in internal wounds. Filling everyday life with little chaoses.” Hannibal breathes heavy and quick through the feeling of torn tissue.
“Pain worship,” Will chides.
“Not pain worship,” the other man corrects while he stiffly reaches for his unmarked pill bottle. “You are not the only one who misses the glitches in the calm.”
While he tests Hannibal’s response to poking fingers, Will looks up in a smile to catch his gaze.
“Not that I was calm.” After a particularly painful press into his gut, he yelps out, “are you trying to make certain that I was shot in the stomach? I could have told you that. In fact,” he winces in a spasm, “I believe you were there.”
“Okay, sorry. Sorry.” Will moves back to re-bandaging the wound, much more gently now, holding a hand over Hannibal’s chest to calm his breath. “I’m almost done. Almost done.” He winces along with him, remembering his own gash into his organs. Will suppresses a shameful giddiness looking down at the man again.
Chapter 6: Neighbors
Hannibal’s extra opioid boost puts him into a solid sleep, leaving Will to fill the morning himself.
Will walks out into the yard with his muddy walking stick, half-hoping he’ll find more wood to make a house-appropriate one. It’s a gorgeous morning, despite the gray and what has now turned into a hard drizzle. It’s rejuvenating and grounding after so many days without a good grasp on time.
“Hello!” A voice calls out from the edge of the lake.
“Hello?” Will tries to locate the source. He sees a tall, red-haired man waving one hand almost comically, with a mug in the other. Will and the man slowly approach each other, both taking their time through the leaf crowded grass. He supposes property lines aren’t as heavily enforced social barriers here as they would be in the US. As the man approaches, Will notices he’s actually rather attractive and older than he seemed from far away.
“You must be Sam.” The man, strangely, offers his left hand to Will rather than his right.
“Uh, yep. Yes. And you are?”
“Oskar.” Noticing Will’s hesitant and increasingly confused expression, he adds, “I met your – em – housemate the other day. I offered him a ride into town, showed him around a little bit.”
Will notices only a slight Scandinavian accent vaguely tugging on Oskar’s English, suggesting he learned it at a young age. “Ah, yeah,” he unsuccessfully shuffles through his memory for Hannibal’s new name, “he, um, mentioned making it to the store.”
“Tomas, was it? Forgive me, I’m not good with names. Or faces. Or memory.” He chuckles out.
“Yes! Tomas. That’s okay, neither am I.” Will drifts, nearly forgetting how to socialize properly. If he ever knew. “So…”
“I live just down the road. Tomas was headed there, looking worse for the wear.” Oskar moves his face theatrically, trying to make it clear he’s speaking out of concern rather than mocking. “It’s only 3 kilometers into town but I like the company anyway.”
Will pauses, suddenly feeling very foreign. “Would you like to come in?” He points a thumb over his shoulder.
“Sure, that’d be nice.”
The two men very slowly make their way up the slight slant of the yard, making sure not to slip on the wet leaves. It isn’t until Will sets his soggy walking stick next to the side door that it’s clear he’s injured.
“Tomas told me you two got into a bar brawl,” Oskar laughs. “Been there myself. A few times.” He lifts up his pant leg to show a long scar down his calf.
Will assumes Hannibal made the astute judgment that Oskar would empathize with that story.
“Yes. They… had knives.” He makes a point to wince at the fake memory, probably over-acting his body language. “Oh, can I take your coat?”
“Sure, sure.” Oskar sheds his wool-lined coat and hangs it on the wall hook himself.
They walk across the slate tiles into the main cabin area, with Will less embarrassed to search for support on the wall. They slide out of their wet shoes before they step onto the pine floor.
“It’s lovely,” Oskar offers. He’s quite expert at avoiding letting any silent lull creep over them.
“Tomas built it a few years back.”
“I remember. I’d drive by it sometimes. Before you settled in.”
Will smiles to himself. “I didn’t know him back then.”
Oskar doesn’t miss the glint in Sam’s eyes but considers it more polite not to make assumptions. Especially not about a subject he’s uncomfortable broaching.
Will catches the man’s uncomfortable tight-lipped smile. “Make yourself at home. I’ll just change out of this wet shirt before I sit down with you. Maybe I can get Tomas to start a fire. I think he’s, um, still asleep.” He retreats into what is very clearly the only bedroom.
“Tomas?” He sets a hand on Hannibal’s shoulder to see if he’s lost still to his drugged sleep.
“Hmmm?” Hannibal grunts with closed eyes, though foggily understanding the use of his alias. “How long have I been asleep?”
“Just another hour, I think,” Will whispers.
“Okay.” He quickly leans up to throw his feet over the side of the bed. “Okay, I’m up.” Hannibal regrets the quick movement and resents the fact that he was woken up from a blissful dreamless nap, but he moves to the bathroom to splash water on his face.
“Oskar is here. I told him you’d start a fire.” Will clarifies, not sure completely why he offered that, knowing that Oskar wouldn’t jump to accusations of criminal behavior from learning Hannibal was sleeping in.
Hannibal doesn’t respond while he painfully swaps out his shirt for a company appropriate sweater. One that wouldn’t show any leakage should his wound weep again.
Will stares at him sympathetically, feeling largely responsible for his pain. He stifles a smile and makes his way back into the main area and sits by the bookshelves.
“Hello, Oskar.” Hannibal breaks through the soft conversation to make his way straight to the fireplace. “You just ran into each other among the trees?”
Will can’t help but hear probably misguided and paranoid suspicion under Hannibal’s charming host voice.
“Yes, I like to circle the lake. I don’t expect many locals to be out in the rain.” Oskar looks over at Sam. “Nice to meet Sam here.” He looks between the two, now making the conscious effort to accept what sharing a cabin means for two expat men. “Sam says you haven’t known each other long.”
Hannibal swallows a weak groan from climbing back to standing once the flames begin catching. “I must apologize. I suppose I am still rather affected by my sleep. Yes, we’ve known each other only a few years.” He looks to Will. “Out of touch for half of that time, actually.”
“Found our way back.” Will doesn’t mean for that to sound quite so romantic and he notices the – weirdly enough – matching expressions from his audience. He makes another guess about his neighbor. “Tomas did some time in jail.”
Hannibal throws his eyes to Will and chuckles. “Shit happens.”
Oskar becomes even more comfortable, mistakenly feeling closer to them. “Ha! I’ve been there, my friend.”
“So did Sam, actually.” Payback.
Will looks a little agitated at the memory but Hannibal doesn’t feel guilty about his quip.
Oskar notices the tension and tries for a subject shift. “Looks like you’re short on reading material, here,” he points at the shelves. “I actually have quite a few books I have already read – or purchased and will never read – if you’d like some additions. Probably just as dusty.”
Will decides he does find the man rather charming. “That’d be lovely. Since arriving, we’ve been a little short on activities.”
“If you’re looking for a little käteinen to warm the pocket, I have a friend at the market. You could sell wood or game, fish, anything.”
Will gathers that ‘käteinen’ is money or currency or something.
Hannibal looks rather pleased with himself and Will realizes he likely played nice with Oskar for that connection.
“Yes, certainly. I fish and he hunts.” Will’s face drains, feeling like he had revealed something. He wonders if he’ll ever feel free from the chase, though remembering that he never let Hannibal go. Not until he found him. But that was different, his brain supplies.
“Speaking of!” Oskar slaps his legs and raises to standing. “I love to meet the neighbors but I also love to get to work on time.” At the sight of Sam trying to get up, he puts a hand on his shoulder. “No, no, stay seated.”
“I will show you out,” Hannibal states, forgetting to wear a performative smile.
“Don’t kill him.” Will gets the patronizing but necessary demand out of the way.
Feeling lectured, Hannibal almost wants to look offended but he allows himself to feel predictable. “I won’t.”
They share a crinkled smile made severe by the hot glow of the fire.
Hannibal walks over to Will and offers both his hands to help him to his feet.
Will’s smile fades into a searching, heated expression and he takes the hands offered to him, gripping him above the wrists. He is careful to not put too much weight on Hannibal despite accepting the gesture.
Hannibal pulls him to his feet a little closer than he intended. He brushes the curls out of Will’s face, drawing them further out than they need to be. “We'll have to get you new glasses.”
“It hasn’t been a problem,” Will huffs out quietly.
“I miss them. They suited you.” Hannibal’s voice is much lower now than before. He lets his hand slide out of Will’s curls to drag a thumb along the healing gash on his cheek. It’s irritated and raised and probably won’t fully scar over for another week at least. Hannibal stares at him for a moment, not at all hesitant about his next move but making sure this moment – looking at each other like this – is a moment on its own. Rain begins to smack at the windows and the two break their gaze to admire the storm again. It’s noon but dark like the evening. That, in combination with the shadows the fire casts around the room, gives them the distinct desire to lay in their dark bedroom again, to sleep beside each other, touching just enough. All without so much as breakfast or very much conversation.
Will is the first to look back at him. To dare to intentionally and obviously dwell on the pout of the other man’s lips.
Still with his hand on the side of Will’s face, he pauses his thumb on Will’s slightly parted lips.
He removes it to then replace it with his own soft lips.
Their faces are hot on the side of the fireplace and they both still taste the way they did hours ago. Here, just standing, just trailing their lips along the other’s, not roaming their hands very far or fast, they allow this to be changed. Somewhere in the pit of Will’s stomach he knows that he’ll never extract the doctor from the memories of his worst pain, his rawest anger, but perhaps closer to the surface, maybe here on his grazing finger tips or on the tip of his turning tongue, he knows that he craves that. To observe and be wounded by a life finally worthy of his interest, a vile world finally deserving of his rare gift. And this wild man – the beast he makes gentle – will one day have touched every inch of his skin. Is it sick to want this? Probably. Is it a punishment? Yes.
Chapter 7: The Tower of Babel
What they might feel twisted shamelessness in being.
They spend this afternoon pressed against each other, as though they’re water to flush out the other’s wounds, acknowledging without words how absurd it is that they specifically break apart their established fused life to momentarily exist opposite each other – to give to each other, to take from each other.
“Are we evil?” Will asks without segue during a lull in their day of intimacy. At the sight of Hannibal’s due surprise, he adds, “I spent so much of my career tracking the pathological, maybe reinforcing my own road to being one as well.”
“Morality is the herd instinct in the individual,” Hannibal quotes. “You have to first ask: were they evil? Is that what your crime scene re-imaginings told you? You know, perhaps your empathy disorder is not meant to place you well acquainted with humans, but to help you see them from above.”
“Is that biblical imagery or do you imagine yourself as a bug?”
“More like a rodent. A mouse.”
“You’re no mouse.” Hannibal raises a mischievous brow. “Those who look past you, who diagnose you, might mistake your distance as rooted in meekness. But those who truly pay attention to you – they see you’re not stored away in some protective fort you’ve constructed, but in a cage. Behind the bars you’ve welded to imprison your own becoming.”
“Well I’m out now,” Will huffs, partially pointing out the link between the figurative and the sensitive subject of their shared history.
Hannibal climbs out of bed to wash up in the bathroom, leaving the door open to continue their conversation.
“Certainly more of an escapee , not quite absolved of your sins.” Hannibal’s voice calls out from the bathroom. “This is all to say, you feel jettisoned from the world because you’ve been forced by your neurology to feel it all embedded in you and, in some drowning man’s attempt to learn what is you and what is them, you remove life from the earth. Even your own.” Hannibal peeks his head around to look at Will’s reaction.
“To eliminate the competition? Between the voices?”
“Not to do anything. Not for a purpose. It’s you in your genuine self, being as animal as you are in your dreams. Just to reduce yourself to the essentials” He leans, completely naked, against the door frame. “Have you ever considered, Will, that you are not plagued with this ultra imagination to see through the eyes of the anonymous… as some social survival compulsion to blend in? You’re aware it’s not a superpower or a perfected talent. You’ve wished for it gone, probably begged to feel less, so why are you granted an aerial view of human thought?”
“You’re saying it’s a ‘gift’ not an illness?”
“No, you are certainly mad. But a man with this many lives in him? I’d sooner fear him if he felt well at all.”
They both chuckle at this. Hannibal is the only person qualified to call him crazy. Diagnostics are created in the context of the individual - to pathologize him by the level it disturbs him; Hannibal knows what disturbs Will. And is privy to what doesn’t.
“I will let you categorize me, doctor – but you are not some tool in my life to help me unearth myself. Which is what I thought you were. You’re not the shovel that digs me up, all my filthy and tangled roots. You’re the mirror. I guess I couldn’t make sense of myself until I saw it – uh, me – all inverted.”
Hannibal quietly crawls back into his spot on the bed, considering a response. Will has clearly given this a lot of thought.
“It's funny. Everything you say I am – or once believed I am – is what you are. You are the person that introduces these beings to themselves. That translates their work into their meaning. Not as their god but as a tower of Babel. And I?” He turns his hand in the air emptily and continues, “in my life I transform things, sculpt people. But I’ve only ever been that tower to you alone.”
“To help me know who I am despite the wriggling weight of the others.” Will swallows, willing his voice not to waver. “When you lied to me – let my brain burn so that I’d believe I was…”
“Unrestrained… I was only left with you and then I was... everyone else. Holding every axe, every throat. It didn’t boil me down to my essentials as I think you’d hoped. It blurred me into everyone.”
“They are your passengers and I’m…”
“More.” Will stares with daring heat but breaks it with a laugh. “I hated it.”
“My attempt to play God with you, Will, made me a polytheist.”
“Is that your attempt at flattery? Suggesting that now I'm a deity beside you?”
“It isn’t a compliment. Some deities are reflective. It's possible we're doomed to counter each other.”
"It's possible we're 'doomed' because we're bad."
"Do you believe that? That the clumsy, vast universe has an inherent knack for punishing the uncivil?" Hannibal grabs Will's hand to pull him closer.
Will laughs again, though softer now. "No."
Will pushes up to lean against the headboard, encouraging Hannibal to scoot back as well. “I’ve noticed: Even when you’re gentle you aren’t gentle.”
“Are you referring to…” instead of finding crude words, he kisses Will’s shoulder, not breaking eye contact.
“No, no,” Will chuckles with a big smile that’s becoming more and more an identifying trait of his. “I guess I expected knowing you in the private world without some shared professional obsession with… each other… I thought you’d be less, I don’t know –”
“Cold? Distant?” Hannibal finishes. He’s been accused of such.
“Intense.” He sees the other man’s face scrunch, trying to gather why that would be a bad thing. “It’s not destructive to me, just – disarming .”
“And you feel the need to be armed around me.”
“Of course I do!” He laughs loudly, knowing Hannibal would find it amusing. “I just feel… you never put your strength down.”
“I think what you’re describing is our both being men,” Hannibal pokes at Will’s lack of coordination in relationships and sexuality.
“Oh, please, you know your severity isn’t from something so plain as gender. You have to know your charm has nothing to do with any feeling of familiarity you offer people.”
“I’m an attractive man. I know this. I’m seen as exotic almost everywhere I go. I know this,” Hannibal states this matter-of-factly, seeing no point in skirting around the classic ingredients for high society success.
“But you’re not exotic because of your nationality alone. I doubt many people have met someone so obviously hot-blooded below such a - a reptilian chill. Your ‘charm’, Hannibal, is because, y’know… you invite questions.” Will smiles again feeling actual joy from the opportunity for psychoanalysis again (without being the subject of it).
“Not many people have worked so hard to break through my alleged mysteries, Will. I’m afraid you may be projecting your initial impressions of me onto the world.”
“Maybe I was just the best at it. I knew how to meet you.” Looking at Hannibal’s less whimsical expression, he confirms, “you don’t like that you’re knowable.”
“For people like you and I – we will always be meeting each other. I may never stop meeting you.”
“That might be too esoteric for me.”
“No it isn’t.” Hannibal leans an elbow on his blanketed knee to turn to look directly at Will. “As long as we live, we will keep meeting new forms of ourselves. And of each other.”
Will leans in and hovers his lips in front of the older man’s. “You just don’t like that you’re knowable.” He kisses him with a small peck before shuffling to the kitchen to make breakfast.
“Will. I have to ask.” Hannibal waits for Will to look up from his oatmeal and to realize this was a put-your-spoon-down question. “You planned for us both to die. Did you have any imagination of what would happen if we both survived?”
It isn’t the first time they’ve discussed that night, but Will still feels sheepish. “I… didn’t think it was possible.”
“You began that evening together saying – in so many words – that you’d die if it meant I was dead.”
“I had to.” Will picks up his spoon again but just to hold it in his fist. “Die, I mean. I knew what I was becoming and I had to kill it.”
“And did you?”
“Did I die?”
“Did you kill the part of you that you couldn’t be – wouldn’t be – and surrender to the rest?” Hannibal doesn’t hide his awareness of what part actually died in the ocean.
“Nothing so poetic on purpose. I assumed you’d die, Hannibal. But if you lived , which you have a knack for, and it was me instead, I wouldn’t want to make you live without me.”
“Tabling your veiled narcissism for the moment,” Hannibal affectionately and gratefully smiles, “I want to know. Is it dead?”
“I did kill the small part of me that wasn’t convinced I wanted this – if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No, that’s what you’re worried about,” Hannibal watches Will resume eating and continues, seeming to interrupt himself, ”I like to think neuroplasticity works for the soul as well. Like a lobotomy. You take the bit out that hurts you and then the lost parts’ necessary workings soon twitch alive again in the remaining. In this case, it’s not your motor function, but your peace. You feel you’ve extracted all your chances for peace in a compromise for your thrill. But the peace will fill in again. In the negative space.”
“I feel peace here.”
“You feel bored here.” Hannibal resumes breakfast, folding the oatmeal over to find the bites left warm. “Not the same thing.”
“You know, you prod so much at me, doctor, I think it’s you that’s unconvinced.”
“I just want you to be happy.” Hannibal says this openly, shedding any pretense of psychiatric interest. “With me.”
Will usually likes to see the other man succumb to mundane human life, when he shows an obvious psychology developed somewhere between his primal hunger and his intellectual musings. This insecurity, however, Will finds disturbing. Likely because it asks him to be just as vulnerable. He scoots his hand forward to reach out to Hannibal. “I am everything with you.”
Hannibal, feeling overwhelming relief, responds largely, “I am everything with you as well.”
As they clean their bowls in the two compartment kitchen sink, Hannibal kisses the back of Will’s bent neck and Will turns to face him.
Hannibal bluntly pokes, “do you feel punished by the universe for loving me?”
“When did I say that I loved you?”
“Do you deny it?” Hannibal is not, in any way, unsure.
Will responds first with a large laugh, also not quite embarrassed. It would be a little late to play coy. “I don’t feel punished.”
“You’re excited by the fact that I still could hurt you.”
“Intrigued might be a better word.”
“Well instead of promising you that I wouldn’t, that I feel no need to, I will leave it as another one of my mysteries. In an effort to keep you curious and waiting around.” He kisses him, gently but not gently.
Instead of asking Hannibal if he feels punished by his love for him, a love he’s already certain of, Will asks, “and are you still inconvenienced by loving me?”
Hannibal remains silent.
“Another mystery you’ll leave for me, I guess,” he smiles.
“Not inconvenienced.” He towels off the dripping water from the bowl and spoon, sets it on the rack, grabs his coat, and leaves wordlessly through the side door.
“But he is who he is.” Will mumbles, half annoyed, half affectionately, and sets his bowl beside the other.
He watches through the window. Hannibal only has the option of heading left into town or heading right toward the lake. He needs to walk to town pretty frequently for food and to meet with their utility providers. Despite feeling comfortable in their escape, it’s safer to stay without a phone or an IP address. He probably also feels an itch to charm people, Will thinks. Today, however, Hannibal strides down the hill toward the lake shore.
Within twenty minutes, Hannibal returns through the door with Oskar, both laughing about something.
“Hello, Sam!” Oskar is thrilled to be invited back so soon. “Tomas was explaining righteousness. All I did was ask him about his hunting.” He looks to Sam, who he expects is used to his housemate’s not always tone-appropriate philosophizing.
“It’s all very convenient in the aerial view of our small humanities. Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”
“Walt Whitman,” Oskar remarks proudly, not often getting a chance to show off his worldliness.
Hannibal closes the door behind them. “I find that if you dwell on finding a moral compass in an entirely relative, invented, tiny world, then you will waste yourself.”
Will joins in the conversation now, pulling three beer bottles out of the fridge and setting them on the kitchen table. “Our existence, Tomas, depends entirely on tunnel vision to stay moving forward… it is hard to stay so blind to the bigger picture.”
Oskar sits first and the other two men join him on either side, careful to not make him a third wheel. If the Finns have a discomfort with the concept.
“Just as Emerson tells us. We cannot be too squeamish with our actions. Or we’d never get anything done,” Hannibal adds with a tight-lipped smile and slides a bottle to Oskar.
Oskar eagerly picks up the bottle opener that’s already on the table.
“Samuel and I were just saying that we’d love to have you some time soon for dinner.”
Will looks over at Hannibal with a warning gaze, but doesn’t miss a beat. “Tomas is a fantastic cook.”
“But we have been skewing pescatarian lately and I’ve yet to become accustomed to working around those flavors,” Hannibal sends back without looking at Will. “Later this week?”
“Well, what did you gentlemen eat before you embraced life by the water?” Oskar smiles flatly.
Will thinks that is an odd question; it’s not inappropriate or overly private, just too boring a conversational pivot, even for someone as ordinary as Oskar. “Tomas can prepare anything and make it elegant,” he responds.
“And what is your most unconventional dish?”
Hannibal looks over to Will and looks back at their guest. “Each one is a little different. It’s more that I enjoy the unordinary things the world has to offer.”
“Why come to Finland? We don’t really celebrate the unordinary.”
Will isn’t completely sure why his heart starts pounding.
Hannibal once again fields the question. “Just looking for a change, I suppose. Why did you move back here?”
Oskar clears his throat, shifting slightly in his chair. “What makes you think I’ve left and come back?”
“You have an interest in a lot of American culture.” Hannibal sets down his drink. “You’ve watched a lot of American news.”
Oskar rises to his feet. Will rushes to block the side door and Hannibal moves to get close to Oskar’s side, preparing for any sudden movements.
“Not much happens here. Of course we watch Western media. I recognized you immediately.” He pulls out a gun to point at Will. “Couldn’t recall your real names but this one’s face,” he points his gun at Hannibal like an accusing finger, “stays in the mind, wouldn’t you say?”
Hannibal directs a cartoonishly satisfied grin toward Will, nearly giggling while he raises his eyebrows in an I told you so.
Will rolls his eyes. “So what is your plan here, Oskar? To kill us and walk away?”
Oskar doesn’t hesitate. “Yes.” It wouldn’t be his first time.
When Oskar spins to look at Hannibal, looking amused and self-assured, Will walks behind him and snaps the neighbor’s neck.
The man crumples to the ground, eyes still open.
In a move of cop instinct, Will grabs the gun and places it on the kitchen counter as though there was any chance that Oskar would spring to life and shoot them both. He rejoins the other man, feeling silly now as he takes in just how utterly dead their guest is.
Hannibal claps his hands together and walks to a drawer beside the stove. He pulls out an oyster shucking blade and a hunting knife. He smiles, balancing calm and thrill. “I will show you how I always begin.”
I hope you enjoyed reading!
i do art on instagram @mjdqi