“You’re not letting him send you any—” Alana says, worried.
“God, Alana,” Will says, pleased at the perfect pitch of indignation that it arrives at; it sounds compelling and righteous. “No.”
“I know he’s trying to,” Alana says.
“He can try,” Will says.
He is lying.
The first time he fell asleep after Hannibal was — behind bars, the dream was waiting for him. He knew whose it was; in the months of startling intimacy between them he had come to recognize and anticipate Hannibal’s smooth looping handwriting and neat linen envelopes. He picked up the envelope and read the note on it. “Through the gates of horn,” Hannibal had written. The dream was shaped like a shirt; it was assembled hastily; one of the buttons was missing.
Will took his time putting it on. Slipping into Hannibal’s dreams always felt like falling asleep in the snow — so natural that you had to fight it because everything in you was crying out to surrender. He wondered if that were how it felt to others; how many others Hannibal had fashioned dreams for. He let it take him.
Opening his eyes again he was in bed at Wolf Trap, bruised and tired from Muskrat Farm. Hannibal had recreated the injuries well. Hannibal was in the bed with him, hurt and exhausted. He could hear the dogs breathing calmly around the house. Hannibal had been meticulous with them as well. Hannibal looked at him, sleepily.
“This is awful,” Will said. He turned onto his side and let Hannibal slip his arms around him. They lay there quietly. Will didn’t know what he meant was awful. The space heater hummed. “Hannibal,” he said. “What happens in this one?”
Hannibal yawned behind him and he turned too slowly to catch it. He wondered if Hannibal had already noted his curious hunger for these moments of vulnerability. “Nothing,” Hannibal said. “We sleep, and I am here when you wake up.”
This was the worst dream Hannibal had sent him. He had sent many that were beautiful and many that were terrible but none that lit such a dull ache in the pit of his stomach. None that felt so much like home. Will spent too much time in it. Most nights in the dream he tried to keep from falling asleep like that; dragged Hannibal awake with talk, or put his hands on him. But inevitably he would fall asleep and wake up, first in an empty bed and now in this — good, warm, sweet, wrong bed— with Molly.
Molly has been sweet and bashful about sharing her dreams. They have gone fishing. They have attended carnivals. He has seen little corners of her childhood. He wonders if she has noticed that sometimes he deliberately wakes himself up and falls back into another dream, not one of hers. He is tired, and when he is tired it is hard not to simply do what he wants. He nudges up against Hannibal in the bed with the dogs around them and Hannibal says, “It’s late.”
“But I always come, don’t I?” Will says, sharp and rueful.
“Yes, Will,” Hannibal says. “You do.”
“This is awful,” Will says.
“Would you like to see Florence, next time?” Hannibal asks.
“They don’t know you’re sending these,” Will says.
“They don’t know you’re opening them,” Hannibal says. “Thank you for leaving me the key to your mind.”
Will yawns. He can feel Hannibal’s reassuringly reptilian, strange stare on him. “I’d like to see Florence, if I remember and don’t just come straight here.”
“You said you hated this one.”
“I said it was awful.”
“Mm,” Hannibal says. “Those are never the same with you.”
Hannibal’s dream palace’s grounds are exceptionally vast and Will has gotten adept at scaling the fence and dodging through the briars; it inevitably evokes something out of a fairy tale where someone lies trapped within the house waiting to be kissed. Will wonders what the enchanters in the tale would do if the prospect of the transformation of the monster back into a man left the adventurer cold. Hannibal never gave him a key; possibly it was a test; his palace looks forbidding enough but every door opens to his touch once he is over the fence.
He leaves two dreams for Hannibal, to be perverse. His own cramped handwriting spells out IVORY on one and HORN on the other. He wonders which Hannibal will choose.
The next night he finds Hannibal in IVORY and chuckles. Hannibal holds his hand up to the light. It’s gloved. They’re outdoors.
“I thought you’d go for horn,” he says.
“I have never received a lie from you that lacked some element of truth,” Hannibal says. “I was curious what that element was. These gloves are expertly done.”
“I didn’t want you to be cold,” Will says. “But— I wanted it to be cold.”
“Of course,” Hannibal says.
“How cold are you?”
“I feel it,” Hannibal says. “But it doesn’t affect me. What happens now?”
In the bushes, a beast formed from the shape of Randall Tier rustles. Twigs crack. “I thought,” Will says. He feels hot even through the glaze of cold. “I thought we could hunt.”
“Will,” Hannibal says.
“Or,” Will says, “you could watch me.”
“No wonder you labeled it Ivory,” Hannibal says, in the bed with the dogs underfoot. “You are still frightened to admit what you delight in. But where was the lie?”
“Couldn’t you tell?” Will asks. Buster cozies up to him; there is a funny flesh lump missing in his scruff; nothing you could see, only something you could feel. He enjoys finding tiny ways in which the dream is wrong. When he had occasion to stumble to the bathroom mirror he was taken aback at the sight of his own face, radiantly beautiful and terrible like a god’s. “I don’t look like this,” he had told Hannibal.
“I suspect that is true,” Hannibal said, looking up at him as he returned. “Inconvenient how my perception has been altered.”
“You’re not sleeping well,” Molly says.
“No,” Will says. “Too much and not enough.”
“Anything I can do?”
“No,” Will says. Too much and not enough, his mind supplies.
“You said you didn’t want to think about me,” Hannibal says, one night. Outside the windows of his old living room Will sees Florence.
“This is something different than thinking about you,” Will says. “You made this. You’re being deliberately cruel.”
“I did think I was,” Hannibal says.
“Now I’m not certain.”
Will goes to stand behind him. “Show me Florence.”
“You will have to get dressed,” Hannibal says.
“Hannibal, it’s a dream,” Will says.
“That is no reason to let standards drop,” Hannibal says. Will hates when he says things like this; he feels a surge of recognition and possession, mine, whenever Hannibal does. Trying not to think about Hannibal during the day has made his mind oddly fond, when he inevitably gives in and goes looking for him at night. All the places they have hurt each other are blurrier, out of focus.
He leans against Hannibal and puts on the suit Hannibal offers him. It fits; he suspects it really would. “All this time,” he says, as Hannibal finishes tying his tie.
“You haven’t shown me anything worse than this. To hurt me.”
“It would not only hurt you,” Hannibal says; Will looks up at him, startled. It is a surprisingly candid admission.
“I know there are rooms in your house where I can’t go,” Will says.
“As there are rooms in yours.” Hannibal studies him. “All right. I must apologize. This will not be all of Florence. Only the parts of which I am particularly fond.”
Will gives Hannibal his arm. “Show me.”
The strangest dream Will has ever received was from Randall Tier, the night before his death. It was simple and perfect and has haunted him for a long time. Randall simply was a beast and when he looked into the river his reflection was a beast and when he ran his legs had the right length and the dimensions felt right and he extended in space exactly as he meant to.
“It was beautiful,” Will says, tracing his fingers down Hannibal’s chest. “So pure and simple.” There is no hair there; he wonders if this is a vanity on Hannibal’s part. He wishes suddenly with a kind of seasick lurch of regret that he knew for certain. This is all what Hannibal is showing him. It isn’t real. It rises like bile in his throat; he has to sit up.
“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple,” Hannibal says. “Will?”
“I don’t want this,” Will says. “I want.” His head throbs. “I want to see you.”
“You’re seeing me,” Hannibal says.
“You built this,” Will says. “Everything you build is a fortress. I’m not safe. I’m just here.”
Hannibal looks at him. They have not talked much about the dreams they shared after he left the BHSCI. He knows that Hannibal could point out that this is a familiar sensation, reversed.
“I know,” Will says. “But I wasn’t as safe as I thought. Even then.”
He thinks about the dreams — covered in blood; slitting Hannibal’s throat at Muskrat Farm; tightening the rope around the tree so he exploded in a burst of blood. Of how he had made himself look in those dreams, deliberately, the way he still looks to Hannibal now, resplendent and cruel. How addicted they had both become to his designs.
(He thinks about Hannibal’s dream, towards the end of that time, meticulous yet ostentatious, the one where he had noticed a tremor in the neat envelope handwriting and felt frightened as he pulled it around himself— a coat. When his arms disappeared into the sleeves he had arisen in a tent, naked, a lamp burning in the corner, catching in all the hollows and curves of his body; he had been terrifyingly beautiful; it was this that made him shoulder on a tunic rapidly and peer outside the tent flap. There were rows of tents and horses drawn up and stamping in their sleep; there were men shouting and laughing, wine-drunk; there was a walled city. He laughed to himself. His beard was thicker.
He found Achilles’ tent, leaned in the doorway. Achilles was polishing his armor; he looked up, smiling with his eyes only; beardless and clean-shaven and strong and lithe but still recognizably Hannibal for all the curious attention to strange details. “I was coming to you,” Hannibal said, something warm and familiar in his tone.
“I was impatient,” Will said. He waited for Hannibal to peer out of his meticulous disguise; they were both familiar and unfamiliar to each other; there was a knowledge itching under his skin that if he were to touch Hannibal, Hannibal would permit it; that the bodies they now occupied were not strangers to one another. He wondered how Hannibal contrived to leave this impression. Or perhaps he was imagining it. Perhaps the unfamiliarity of the role was only an excuse to admit what was not unfamiliar. The sensation of wanting.
“Come to bed,” he let Patroclus say.
And Hannibal looked up so eagerly and with such momentarily undisguised surprise that he felt his heart leap into his throat; they were going to do it, they were going to seize this thin excuse of unfamiliarity; this was going to be the first time, with the excuse that it was a dream of lovers and not to honor the suggestion would be — rude. It was logical for Achilles and Patroclus to make love; were they not Achilles and Patroclus now?
Then he was on his knees, pulling Achilles up into his arms; Hannibal’s mouth opened for him; they kissed familiarly and unfamiliarly. He kept expecting one of them to break for a moment and look at the other through the mesh of this deception, but neither of them did. It was not the first time that these bodies had embraced thus; he made himself free of Achilles’ body as though this were always permitted. Achilles and Patroclus knew one another as they always did; Patroclus bruised Achilles’ hips with his fingers; fucked him hard and deep and unrelenting; they kissed until their mouths were sore. By mutual assent neither of them betrayed any surprise at this vehemence. There was no need to ask how things were to proceed; the dream made it obvious enough. He pinched Achilles on the foot, on the point where he knew him to be weakest. Achilles’ cock was warm and thick in his hands.
“Suppose all Greeks but we two were to die,” Achilles panted into his mouth, “so we might conquer Troy alone.”
When the sun squinted into their tent they armed themselves and took the field; the other warriors were gone. The plains of Troy filled with their carnage; bodies piled on bodies; they were magnificent and terrible together; they looked at one another through the haze of blood and smiled.
How is it, Jack had asked, and he said, good, I’m fishing.
He wondered, later, thinking furtively over the dream, how much Hannibal’s body was like the one Patroclus had worshiped with his eyes, with his hands, with his mouth. Patroclus had known Achilles very thoroughly, but he is not quite Patroclus and he suspects Hannibal is not quite Achilles.
This thought made it easier to look Hannibal in the eyes when he saw him next, awake.
He managed not to look away but in the course of not looking away he knew that Hannibal saw the feeble spar of lies he was clinging to. But Hannibal only saw one set of lies, and that was infuriating. He wished Hannibal could see them all. This was when he had begun to be frightened. Frightened because Hannibal did not see where he was being steered and frightened because he did not know how to stop it.
The subsequent nights he tried to warn Hannibal off, but Hannibal did not take warning, too eager, stumbling forward. He showed Hannibal the dream where he and Abigail were fishing and Hannibal managed not to say anything. He only looked sorry.
He wishes Hannibal had said something.
Jack never bothered to thread the labyrinth of his dreams.
He had killed Hannibal so many times in dreams; his fingers knew the feeling of the pulse in Hannibal’s throat going sluggish beneath them, his face knew the warm spray of Hannibal’s blood; was that really the only time they had made love? In those paper-thin disguises?)
(It has not been the only time for some time now.)
He doesn’t say any of this. He kisses Hannibal. “Make another one,” he says. “One that leaves nothing out.”
“Why?” Hannibal says.
“Because—“ Will looks at him. “I don’t want this to be a lie.”
“Oh,” Hannibal says, “you don’t?” and Will sees the hurt for the first time.
The next dream is the same shirt but all the buttons are present. The same room, the same bed, the dogs. Hannibal’s chest is dusted with gray hair; his hair has been cut unflatteringly. There is a white prison jumpsuit folded neatly on the armchair where Mason Verger lost his face.
Will goes to the bathroom and peers at his own face; he still looks cruel without being radiant. But there is something tender in the construction of his own image that tears at him and reassures him in equal measure. “Better,” he says.
“I dread to think what else you will ask of me,” Hannibal says, “that I will not perform.”
Will scratches the scruff at Buster’s neck. The funny bump is still not there. “You missed a spot on Buster,” he says.
“Tell me everything I missed,” Hannibal says.
Will takes a step closer, cups his cheek, and kisses him.
Will winds up leaving Hannibal in the HORN dream for much longer than he intends. He can’t get to sleep at first and then when he does he has to go and see about Molly. They go to the beach. It is warm, inconsistently. The sea is pink lemonade. He feels flattened. She always forgets to do his scars.
All the while he feels the curious mental pressure he associates with having someone inside one of his dreams, prodding at it. But Hannibal doesn’t complain when he arrives, even though it means Hannibal has been on his knees, blindfolded and tied to his own bed in the Baltimore house for the whole night, practically.
“Sorry I’m late,” Will says.
“Never apologize,” Hannibal says, trying to keep his tone even.
“Were you surprised?” Will asks. He takes off his belt so that Hannibal can hear it. His pants unzip loudly. His shirt drops to the floor with a thud and his boxers follow it.
“At first,” Hannibal says. “Then I was pleased to find you were so unabashed by the particulars.”
“Do you want to see me when I do this?” Will asks. He lets Hannibal hear the sound of the jar in the bedside drawer opening, his fingers slicking themselves inside, his hand moving on his dick. Hannibal has been ready this whole time, and he has not been empty; that must have been the particular by which Hannibal was surprised he was unabashed, that he had to conjure up sufficient detail to prepare Hannibal fully and leave him like this, where every shift and clench drives a spike of pleasure through his restrained body.
“I think that would spoil it, don’t you?” Hannibal says.
“Good,” Will says. He pulls the dildo out and Hannibal makes a broken little gasp. His hole clenches pathetically around nothing. “You’ve been very good. Do you want me?”
“Do you have to ask?”
“No,” Will says. “But I like to hear you say it.”
“Please,” Hannibal says.
“Good,” Will says. He settles behind Hannibal and pushes in and he is not ashamed to let Hannibal hear the full noise he makes. He wants to tell Hannibal he’s sorry. He lets his body say it; he lets Hannibal catch his sounds, the feeling of sweat beginning to form on his brow, on his body. He wants to make it last but the night is not long enough to hold all the things he wants to give to Hannibal.
He had been too much awake when he had first said yes to Molly. Her dog had slipped its leash and he had managed to grab hold of it, hold it until she could come level with him and latch it back on to his collar.
“Whoops,” she said. “Thank you.”
“No trouble,” Will said.
“It was a little trouble,” Molly said, sly, appraising him. The dog stayed at Will’s feet, expectant.
“What’s his name?”
“Frank,” Molly said.
“Hello, Frank,” Will said. Frank seemed excessively mollified by the attention.
“He likes you,” Molly said.
Will scratched between his ears. He debated saying something cutting about dogs as judges of character. “I have seven dogs,” he said, instead.
“Sucker for strays?” Molly said. “Me too.” There was what he knew he did not have to acknowledge as a pregnant pause. “Want to meet the rest of the pack?”
Will smiled. Molly had smiled back.
That had been a pleasant, awful afternoon, good but wrong, like eating a rich entrée brought to him by mistake. How thrilling this would be for someone else, he kept thinking; idly he tried to picture the person for whom this would be right, began to impersonate him. He would be warm but shy, sweet; he would laugh easily; he would want them to get coffee afterwards; he would want them to see each other the next day; it would not be a game to him.
That night once he fell asleep he tore open one of Hannibal’s envelopes, pulled out the scarf inside, slid it around his neck. It felt like coming up for air.
In the dream it is dark. They are out walking in the snow. In the distance, his house is illuminated like a ship at sea. They fall easily into step, moving towards it, not speaking.
“I thought you had decided not to think about me any more,” Hannibal says.
“I’m not thinking about you,” Will says. “This is a dream.”
“Mm,” Hannibal says. He glances over and Will pointedly does not glance back. Chill wind brushes against his face, tousles his hair with its cold fingers.
“An excess of clever details,” Will says.
“I flatter myself that I have an accurate recollection of the winter,” Hannibal says. “Although here it is very monotonous. No seasons.”
“Do you want me to say that I’m sorry for you?” Will asks. “I won’t.”
“I would not want you to lie,” Hannibal says, smoothly. They reach the door and Hannibal holds it open for him.
Will walks inside, stamps his boots off, turns on the space heater. The dogs mill and stir around him. He squats down to greet them, looks up at Hannibal over them.
“Is it good, Will? Not thinking of me?”
“Wonderful,” Will says. He scratches Winston’s head. Hannibal has rendered him so perfectly that it makes him feel a little raw and sore in his stomach, where the scar is when he’s awake. He touches his side, tries to feel how much of the scar Hannibal has given him. It’s hard to tell beneath the coat. He gets up. removes the scarf first, then the coat, hangs them both up. He starts on the buttons of his shirt and he can feel Hannibal’s reptilian look of attempted unsurprise. Even Hannibal’s mild glitches are so familiar. “I want to see what scars you gave me,” he says.
Hannibal’s eyes on him are brandingly attentive. He undoes the buttons carelessly, slides his undershirt off over his head. The heater has started to warm the room but not enough; the hair on his arms bristles a little in the chill; he bares his teeth at Hannibal; he hates how in dreams Hannibal insists on holding him down and rubbing his face in everything that he has ever noticed. It is a luxuriously miserable sensation. He looks down at the scar. It’s the first detail that has thrown him; it is so clearly a guess; the curve of its slim mouth is all wrong. “Close,” he says. “But no cigar.”
Hannibal cocks his head to one side. “I did not anticipate your curiosity,” he says.
“Didn’t you?” Will says. He reaches for his belt buckle. Hannibal says nothing, only watches. Will slides the belt out of its loops, goes to sit on the bed to undo his boots.
“You find the sensation of being fully seen unbearable,” Hannibal says, “and yet you are irresistibly drawn to it.”
“Why not your study,” Will says, toeing off his final sock. “Why not your house, your office, your – castle? Why here?”
“This isn’t for me, Will,” Hannibal says.
“I thought we were pretending not to lie,” Will says. He slides the pants down. “You didn’t spare any details, Hannibal.”
“There was no reason to,” Hannibal says.
“If this is all of me that you can have,” Will says, “you want as much of me as you can get.” He looks at Hannibal.
“How much is on offer?” Hannibal asks, smoothly.
Will shrugs. “It’s your dream, Hannibal.” He stretches back on the bed, folds his arms behind his head.
Hannibal holds himself deliberately still. “Even now, you disclaim responsibility.”
“Come on,” Will says. He puts a hand on himself. Hannibal watches. It is a strange sensation to touch himself in this form that Hannibal has built for him, with Hannibal’s devouring gaze on him. He feels too intimately exposed and impossibly far away at the same time, as though Hannibal is behind glass staring at him through a microscope. “Don’t you want to touch me?” It comes out a little rougher, almost a whine, as his hand twists.
“Do you want me to?” Hannibal asks, infuriatingly calm. His eyes aren’t calm.
“You’ve touched me before, Hannibal. You remember what it feels like,” Will says. “There’s very little you’d have to guess.”
“There are places that I have never touched you,” Hannibal says.
“Make your best guess,” Will says; he likes how his voice sounds, reedy and raw. He is going to come soon if Hannibal keeps talking to him. If Hannibal keeps looking at him. It will be an effort to stay asleep after that; usually the tide of orgasm bears him up and out of the dream.
“Would you really prefer,” Hannibal says, “the touch of my fingers at the back of your knee to be the sensation of my fingers on the back of someone else’s knee.”
“I wouldn’t prefer it,” Will says, shutting his eyes, “but I want you to touch me, Hannibal.”
Hannibal cups his face in one hand, leans near to catch his breaths. They are coming fast and hard. He spends across his mis-scarred stomach and wakes to the sticky reality of it.
He lay there for a moment memorizing the sensation. Not for a dream for Hannibal, he told himself, feebly. Already it sounded like a lie.
“What have you made for her?” Hannibal asks. “Your wife?” Hannibal is sitting approvingly on his own leather armchair; the armrest knife-wounded; he had looked appreciatively up at Will upon noticing the damage. Will had constructed this dream out of spite; it was supposed to prove a point, to show Hannibal what a parody he was, his absurd office with all its details, revealing if you knew how to look; antlers and old books and the faint library smell; he is not sure when the rendition became fond. Hannibal’s face is illuminated in the cold light of a winter afternoon, fading to evening. There is a fire going. He wishes he had touched Hannibal’s face with his hands. With his lips. He was supposed to be showing Hannibal a caricature; all that he wound up confessing was, I know your face by heart, I know every inch of this office, I have rebuilt this room for you in my mind brick by brick. There is still nothing in it so difficult as a dog. Just Hannibal himself; the suit Will has chosen a riot of plaid, festooned with a pocket square.
Will looks at his hands, suddenly embarrassed, feeling too seen. “We went to the beach,” he says. “She likes the ocean.”
“Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows,” Hannibal says. “A child’s drawing, a yellow sun, blue sea, flat scribble of sand, crayon dogs.”
Will looks ruefully at him. “Don’t,” he says.
Hannibal fingers the dent in the chair. “This is very intimate, Will,” he says. His glance takes in the office, the chairs, his own fingers.
“I’m aware of that,” Will says.
“You weren’t going to show it to me,” Hannibal says, looking at him, flat obsidian eyes glinting dully. Will feels a pang; recognition, longing, familiarity.
“I wanted someone to see it,” Will says.
“Someone,” Hannibal says, knowingly. “Surely you must know by now that there is no one else who can see.”
Will studies his hands. The room is darker now; outside, it is almost entirely dark. How many times he has watched the light change in this room. He can orchestrate it blindfolded. It is a part of him now.
“What happens now?” Hannibal asks.
“I’m going to kill you,” Will says.
Hannibal looks pleased. “With your hands?”
“How else?” Will asks. He walks over to the chair and straddles Hannibal a moment in the fading light, kisses him. Hannibal’s eyes kindle. He traces a hand down the side of Hannibal’s face—guesses, all guesses—until he touches the soft skin of his neck, tightens his fingers around Hannibal’s pulse.
Hannibal watches him, reverent; the room smells of firewood and old book leather; he can feel Hannibal’s pulse becoming sluggish (it is Randall Tier’s, repurposed; he knows this and, he suspects, Hannibal knows it) beneath his hands. “This has become a necessity to you,” Hannibal says, hoarse, proud, triumphant. Will keeps squeezing; the dream buckles underneath him; there is something in him that is unwilling to end the sensation of Hannibal’s eyes on him, even for the pleasure of killing him. Even though they will wake up and come here and do this again. Even these few moments of Hannibal’s eyes on him are precious. Hannibal is in a glass box; they are out of time; they have to steal it while asleep. Hannibal can detect the struggle; his look becomes knowing, sad. “Unfortunate,” he says, “what has become of us.”
“Pathetic,” Will agrees. He lets go of Hannibal’s neck, waits for his thumbprints to bloom in the skin there. He lets Hannibal hold him, sags against him. This at least he does not have to guess at.
“You did not know it would be so lonely,” Hannibal says. Will can feel the rumble of his voice in his chest; this is familiar; this is true.
“Did you?” Will asks.
Hannibal starts to say something. Will doesn’t catch it. He’s pulled up, out, suddenly, awake. Molly is looking down at him, concern printed all over her mild features in big letters for easy reading.
“Hey,” she says. “You okay?”
Will shuts his eyes a second to steady himself, nods with his eyes shut. Opens them. What a strange room, he thinks; it is where he lives now; isn’t that strange? He has barely committed its details to memory. He knows intellectually it must be real. He is awake. Molly is touching his arm. There is an ache in his chest that lingers.
“Bad dream?” Molly says.
“You know,” Molly says, excessively casual; he has always liked what a bad liar she is, “there’s stuff you can take, to not have them.”
Will laughs, unexpectedly, miserably. The sound of it frightens him. He manages a smile. “That’s good to know,” he says.
“You don’t want to?” Molly says. She touches his shoulder, gently, fingers like a bird perching on a branch it doesn’t quite trust. She is so careful with him. It is almost funny.
“I wouldn’t know who I was without them,” Will says. He manages a smile. He suspects the smile looks frightening.
“But it’s making you miserable, sweet man,” Molly says.
Will makes what he hopes is an unintelligible noise; assent, refusal, drop it. He can’t find words that will reassure her. It makes him miserable. It’s the only thing that makes existence bearable. Sleep eludes him after that.
“There might be trouble,” Hannibal says. He reaches down next to the bed, hands Will a package. It’s wrapped, meticulously.
“What is this?” Will asks.
“Dr. Bloom wants to try something,” Hannibal says. “Someone else has been bringing me his dreams and they want to know who. They may be trying to observe.”
“I didn’t think that was legal,” Will says.
“Oh, it isn’t,” Hannibal says. “But he is going after families and Jack would like very much to catch him.”
“Who is he?”
“I suspect he is a shy boy,” Hannibal says. “He sends me only the moments at which he feels most himself. When he becomes a Great Red Dragon. It is beautiful, all light and color and immense, coiled power.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing it,” Will says.
“I suspect you will,” Hannibal says.
“Is that a threat?”
Hannibal looks at him, face gone deliberately blank, then settles back, cards his fingers through Will’s hair. “A promise, perhaps.”
“What do you think I would dream about,” Will says, “if I were actually sleeping next to you?”
“I would like to find out,” Hannibal says. Will is used to his indirection, his expansive evasions; he is never prepared for these small admissions. “Will it hurt you very much, what is about to happen?”
“You could prevent it,” Will says, pointed.
“I think you are afraid it will not hurt,” Hannibal says.
Will wakes up. Molly is asleep next to him. She is smiling in her sleep. He wishes he cared enough to wonder why.
The next night he walks out from his dream house and goes fishing alone. There is a package for him that arrives outside the house with handwriting that he does not recognize. He does not open it immediately. When he does he discovers that it is a helmet. It is meticulously constructed but hard and hurts to put on his head.
The dream is of flight. He has immense leathery wings. Below him he recognizes his own house. Inside it in a cozy parody of domesticity he can see himself sleeping with Molly and a dog curled up at their feet. Wally is down the hall. The layout of the house is all wrong but Hannibal has given his handiwork away with an excess of clever details. Antlers on the walls. A singing fish. Locked doors and disturbed earth in the backyard. Hosts and hosts of fishing rods bristling along the walls. “This is almost camp,” he starts to say to Hannibal before remembering that he is not there to hear, only the curiously flat mind of the dragon. He watches the dragon consume the house in fire and observes himself watching it; he feels a pang of dismay for Hannibal’s elaborate fishing rods, nothing else. This is when he should begin to be afraid.
“It’s beautiful,” he says, but it sounds hollow even to him.
The next day Jack is at his door. “What did you see?”
“What makes you think I saw anything?” Will says.
“We need your help catching him,” Jack says.
“What will you do if he says no?” Molly asks.
“Hannibal’s gotten to him,” Will says. “You’d better ask him.”
“We asked,” Jack says. “That’s why we’re asking you.”
“If I go, I’ll be different,” Will says, “if I come back.” They are out for a stroll in the real wind with the real dogs. Will wonders when he went from missing the reality to missing the dream. This is unhealthy, he thinks; he remembers someone saying. Hannibal, maybe, before they fell into the first of several intimacies. When Hannibal simply saw him slipping into the dreams of others, dangerous dreams fashioned for their wearers only and left strewn in the wreckage of crime scenes if you knew how to look.
But I understand perfectly, Will had kept wanting to say; there is a triumph in understanding perfectly; if there were someone tugging on the other end it would be the only sensation in the world worth having.
He wishes he could go back to the first dream Hannibal made for him, before he could tell it was Hannibal. He would not be able to miss it now. At the time all he knew was, another girl is dead. But still there was something about the construction of it; as if it were made to fit him, particularly; and there is something about the way the air smells in Hannibal’s dreams, more particularly observed than anyone else’s.
Better than real air, he thinks, guiltily.
He wishes he could say this to Molly. Say, in your dreams the sun is a photo slide or a yellow scribble, there’s nothing meticulous about it; there’s nothing specific about the light; the kind of intimacy you’re trying to offer is like something out of childhood. Awful, awful, he thinks. This is awful. Listen to yourself. Who are you now.
“You said ‘if’ twice,” Molly says.
He goes with Jack, sleeps in a hotel.
It is strangely luxurious to be in an unshared bed. He spends the time before sleep claims him working on a dream for Hannibal. It is as meticulous as he can make it, but he tries to forgive himself for not perfectly conjuring a place he has only seen once in the wrong season. He wants it to be spring in the dream. He always likes to pick the weather first.
He puts a bunch of lilies on the altar, tries to find something for Hannibal to wear that won’t insult him. It is detailed work but not ungratifying. When he looks at the Hannibal he has made he wants to be ashamed; he looks soft, luminous, sacred, in a way that Will knows is not accurate; Will would blush, if he were not past all that. What do they ever do now but tell each other too much? What does it matter if Hannibal sees himself?
When sleep comes he feels around to see if anyone is in one of his dreams and then opens the box from Hannibal. In it is a smaller box and a note. The note is in Italian. He thinks it’s Dante. He can piece out parts of it, hearts and seeing and eating, he thinks it’s probably romantic. “Be certain,” Hannibal writes.
In the smaller box is a ring. Will notices now that when he’s asleep he never wears his own. He wishes he were surprised enough to wonder what it means. He puts it on.
The dream is thin, sketchy; charcoal rather than paint; he can feel Hannibal’s haste. He is not in the dream. It is merely a set of things Hannibal wants him to see. They must have been watching.
The dream starts with them leaving the BHSCI. Hannibal is attired in his prison jumpsuit; restrained; the mortifications of the flesh rendered with sufficient accuracy. He sees a glimpse of Alana as she is now.
They move through the door. There is blood on his hands. He is mowing through the guards; they are grinning at each other. There is a plane, somehow, waiting for them. There is a life, too, waiting for them, in painstaking, tantalizing flashes. It is warm there. Hannibal is cooking. Hannibal’s bare shoulder is warm beneath his lips. The amount of knives in the home Hannibal ascribes to them is suggestive.
He can feel a tugging at Hannibal’s end of the dream; Hannibal looks back at him.
“Are they watching?” he asks.
Hannibal leans in, mouth against his ear. “All you must do is get us to the door.”
“What was that?” Alana asks.
“A fantasy of Hannibal’s,” Will says. He is pleased how disgusted it comes out, like fantasy is something to be picked up with tweezers. “Illuminating, in some ways.”
“What form did it take?”
“A gift-wrapped present,” Will says. “All Hannibal’s dreams come nicely wrapped.”
“I know,” Alana says. It’s supposed to be pointed but it just makes him feel pity for her. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t even bother to ask what was inside the wrapping.
He leaves the dream for Hannibal under his pillow. Hannibal’s dream palace is less imposing and more absurd the better you come to know him. The bedroom is much too close to the door. The rooms are all from different houses. Will’s own bedroom-living-room is just over the threshold of the Palermo Norman Chapel. It is all a hopeless and embarrassing mass of confusion. It give Will an uncomfortably sharp pang of affection; not until you love someone can his every display make you wince for him. His things are casually flung all around it. He wanders it sometimes in the course of delivering dreams to Hannibal; lately with Hannibal absent from his dreams, restrained from venturing abroad unsupervised, he has acquired the habit of curling up on one of its sofas and falling asleep. He sleeps soundly, untroubled.
“You’re not supposed to do this,” Hannibal says, deep into one night, finding him, kneeling beside the sofa with an expression of concern. “This isn’t what this is for.”
“You know what I’m doing,” Will says. He grins, in spite of himself.
“Dear Will,” Hannibal says, pushing Will’s hair back from his face. “You have a dream house of your own.”
“I prefer it here,” Will says, stubbornly. “You should leave the gate open. It’s tiring climbing over it.”
“I lost the key.”
“I don’t believe you.” Will studies him. “You’re still afraid of me, after all this. Afraid of what I might do to you.”
“Shouldn’t I be?” Hannibal asks.
“Yes.” Will pulls him in and kisses him. “But you’re even more frightened that I’ll leave you in here alone.”
“And you’re afraid I’d turn you out. And you’d be left with just the world again.”
“I know you won’t,” Will says.
Hannibal presses something into his hand. It’s a key. It is old-fashioned; if Will didn’t know better he would think it entirely decorative. It’s still warm from Hannibal’s palm.
“It didn’t matter so much to you,” Hannibal says, “giving me the key to yours, because there was nothing of importance there.”
“No,” Will says. “Even less now.”
He opens his chest with one hand and settles the key inside his ribcage.
When he wakes he experiences a clarity he has not felt in some time. It does not dissipate when he walks through several sets of locked doors and is standing face to face with Hannibal through glass. He doesn’t smile. Hannibal does anyway.
The call about Molly comes when he is half-asleep; at first he mistakes it for another dream. Then he is fully awake again.
He is pleased she and Walter are all right for the wrong reasons, but no one has to know that.
The dragon is as his dreams suggested; shy, but imposing. The hotel room where they do battle smells strongly of cleaning solution. Will’s head throbs. Lately it has been hard to convince himself that he is fully awake.
“You should be asleep all the time,” he tells the Dragon. “They have ways. And that would solve it.” The Dragon shakes his head.
“There are ways of bringing reality into the world,” he says.
“That sounds like Dr. Lecter,” Will says. “Tear your pleasures with rough strife through the iron gates of life.”
“Horn gates,” the dragon says.
“Yes,” Will says. He knows what to do now. He puts a hand out towards the dragon. “Wouldn’t you like to let him see you?”
“I would like to change him.”
Margot’s dreams always made him sad. It was perpetually winter in them and things that were meant to be warm were not.
He hated Mason’s dreams. Too loud.
“Too loud,” Hannibal agreed.
Insufficiently detailed. Too piggy. Why bother with a nightmare if you did not care about any of the details? The only thing right in them was the pigs.
He wanted to ask how Hannibal spent his nights before their intimacy. For whom he bothered with this intricacy of construction. But it is always too soon or too late for the answer he fears to be true.
I didn’t know who, Hannibal would say, but someone.
Me, Will would say.
Yes. Are you frightened?
Will feels it, that night, when Hannibal opens the package. It’s the same form as what Hannibal sent him, a ring, but, he flatters himself, less rushed.
He can feel Hannibal’s presence the moment he slides it on. Then they are together in Hannibal’s Norman Chapel. It is absurd to worry if he is dressed correctly but he feels a flutter of it, with Hannibal’s eyes on him.
“Will,” Hannibal says, in wonder. He holds himself still, inhales, then exhales. “Lilies,” he says. “Exquisite.”
“It’s not too much?” Will asks, wry twist of his mouth. Hannibal looks back at him like he is the only worthwhile human being on the planet. He feels revealed and a little guilty at having molded the face that holds this expression.
“Moderation is a fatal thing,” Hannibal says. Hannibal walks down the aisle towards him, deliberately, knowingly; he wonders how long they will be able to bear this constant exposed-nerve intimacy, living in each other’s heads. He knows now it is impossible to live without it.
“Sorry, no music,” he says, apologetically. “I didn’t like any of the tunes I remembered well enough.”
“Never apologize,” Hannibal says.
He finds himself thinking of the strange haphazard dream he got from Hannibal in Florence; it was as close to messy as anything Hannibal has ever sent him. He wishes they lasted longer so he could look at it as a curiosity. Hannibal twisted a man’s body into a heart and left it impaled in the chapel; the heart untwisted itself and came tiptoeing up to him on spindly legs. It was important to Hannibal that the man was like him but not like him; Hannibal had not expected him to touch it; it was like one of Hannibal’s old dreams where he was only a speechless monster and not otherwise visible. Will had touched it. Will had wanted to touch it. The chapel changed light and shade and the sound echoed wrong and Will could detect Hannibal’s surprise, his delight, his frustration at his own delight. Will thought about trying to coax the creature into his lap but he did not think that it would accept comfort from his hand; he suspected that perhaps what he was offering anyway was not comfort at all.
That was when they could have shown one another other things, if they had really wanted to hurt one another; Abigail, a stream, fishing; Abigail, a stream of blood, a harpsichord.
(He should not know what Hannibal has been trying not to show him but they have an insatiable appetite for one another’s forbidden rooms.)
He remembers sitting in Hannibal’s kitchen trying to grab at any scraps that were left; a room full of so much blood was usually strewn with bits of dreams. But in the end they were only memories. He had fashioned a dream for Jack, just to be cruel; the two of them turning on him at the dining table; his expression of unsurprised surprise. But in the end it had felt almost irrelevant to Jack; he had tossed it over Hannibal’s wall instead. At that time he had begun to realize they would never be rid of each other. Once you knew that someone could see all the way around you it became a necessity to be seen.
(“Bedelia,” he said, once, in the room with the dogs, mouth brushing the back of Hannibal’s neck, hand pressed to Hannibal’s chest to feel his heart, but the heartbeat remained infuriatingly steady.
“What about her?”
“What did you make for her?”
Hannibal turned to him, smiling already, smug with knowledge. “I was showing her Florence, Will,” Hannibal said. “I didn’t need to make anything for her.”
Will kissed him, bruisingly, with relief. “She wouldn’t have appreciated it,” he said, slotting them closer together, “or she’d have appreciated the wrong things, or it would have just reminded you that she wasn’t me.”
“Yes,” Hannibal said, seriously, with finality, smiling against his mouth. “That’s certainly true.”
Will wished his relief and jealousy were not both so obvious and tangible. But at the same time he was pleased by their effect on Hannibal.
“Would you like me to show you what it was like?” Hannibal asked.
“No,” Will said, too quickly.)
Now Hannibal comes even with him and takes both his hands. “I think that this is meant to evoke a certain ritual, don’t you?” he says.
“I do,” Will says, deliberately. Hannibal’s eyes light up. He will never be able to do without this, he thinks, to be able to whisper these things and have them all understood.
“You’re certain, then,” Hannibal says.
“Could you doubt it?”
Hannibal kisses him; it is a little more desperate than Will was expecting; it makes him feel an ache at the center of himself. It is like measuring something by what it displaces; there is an agonizing and terrible loneliness shadowed forth in the relief of the kiss. But they are not going to be alone. Not now, not any more. It is strange to think that they have kissed so many times yet never kissed. He wonders if Hannibal’s mouth really tastes like this. Maybe he will know soon. He tamps the hope down.
“I’m certain,” Will says.
“I wonder,” Hannibal says, “can reality possibly live up to you?”
“I wonder the same,” Will says. He thinks of saying, but I like the air you make better than the air. But it’s a terrifying thing to say. Even now, when he’s saying it with everything but words.
He convinces them to move Hannibal from his cell. Simply standing near him in the real world the air smells more real, the detail work seems finer. He can’t explain it.
“What do you think it is?” Bedelia asks. “You must have some theory.”
“I don’t,” Will says.
“Could you be made to accept something so prosaic as that you are simply in love with each other?” Bedelia asks. “Or must it be more Grand Guignol than that?”
“I don’t think anything that involves Hannibal is simple,” Will says.
“No,” Bedelia says, and for a second Will thinks he sees pity, infuriatingly, in her eyes, “you wouldn’t.”
“With careful training most creatures can be taught to live on poison,” Bedelia says.
“That isn’t what this is,” Will says.
“Oh?” Bedelia says. “What is it? The metaphor of the cave?”
“Could you turn back around?” Will says. “If you knew everything else was only shadows.”
“It’s really over for you, isn’t it?”
“And you,” Will says. “It’ll be over for you soon, too.”
Bedelia sips her wine. “You’re becoming him on purpose.”
Is that what I’m doing, Will wonders. That night he wanders the palace grounds a long time. He doesn’t see Hannibal. The walls of Hannibal’s house have a heartbeat, steady and sure. He finds the kitchen, leans up against the wall there, falls asleep. He thinks he can feel someone sitting down next to him; there is the vague impression of warmth. Abigail? Or Hannibal? He doesn’t open his eyes in case the hope is wrong.
The dragon mows through Hannibal's guards with his gun. Hannibal pushes bodies aside, makes room for him in the police car. They drive in companionable silence to a familiar place Will has never seen in person. He did not expect it to be poised on the edge of a cliff.
“It’s real,” he says.
“Is it satisfactory?” Hannibal asks.
Hannibal asks him this again when he is helping him into a new shirt. The shirt fits him perfectly; the house has a smell in the air that he associates with Hannibal’s dreams. He feels fragile like blown glass. He feels as he has never felt when awake.
“I don’t feel awake,” he says.
“Mm,” Hannibal says. Hannibal’s fingers trace down his chest, over the scar on his stomach. He had spent many nights teaching Hannibal its shape; it still feels strange beneath his hand. “Does that frighten you?”
“Yes,” Will says. He traces his hand down Hannibal’s neck, through the rough furze of grey hairs on his chest, then down towards his belt. Hannibal is already stirred to interest. “If anything you were pessimistic.”
“Mm,” Hannibal says. “Not about you.”
Will grins. He looks at Hannibal’s face. It is terrifyingly open. He wonders how his own looks. It is alarming to be seeing each other like this, not showing each other anything but what is there.
It is the first time they are touching each other like this. Yet it does not feel like the first time. It feels like a song they have rehearsed together.
“I’m going to kiss you,” he says.
“Perhaps then we will wake up,” Hannibal says, looking up at him.
He tugs Hannibal closer and kisses him, sweet and lingering. Not only sweet. Hannibal’s mouth is warmer and – softer than he imagined. His plump lower lip is unexpectedly chapped. He gasps into Hannibal’s mouth; Hannibal chases the gasp with a desperate, impossible noise in the back of this throat, pushes him up against the wall, pulls back. Hannibal’s eyes are wild, drinking him in. Will is amazed to find himself still smiling. His mouth hurts with it.
“Hello,” he says. He traces his hand down Hannibal’s face; he rakes his fingers through Hannibal’s hair; he is ravenous to touch him. Every detail of him feels obscene and revealing, like something he has conjured in his own head to show himself to maximum disadvantage, to demonstrate all the places he is vulnerable. He is greedy for all of them at once.
“We should not have gotten dressed,” Hannibal says, bending to kiss the column of his throat.
“No,” Will agrees. His hand slides below Hannibal’s belt, into his pants; Hannibal’s cock throbs in his hand, warm and flushed with blood; he is delightfully surprised by all the ways that Hannibal is warm; he feels already that this will be over much too fast. Will tears off his own pants; then he is thrusting into Hannibal’s hand with all the finesse and eagerness of a teenager; he is kissing Hannibal bruisingly hard, trying to crush away all the recollections of kissing Hannibal with the memories of other people’s mouths. “God. Hannibal. Touch me.”
“Will,” Hannibal breathes, desperate, reverent. Hannibal bites his earlobe. Will wishes he could slow this moment, preserve it; there is too much here that he wants to brand on his memory.
“Good,” Will says. And it is good, it is more perfect than he imagined. There is a surplus of texture, the difference between a human voice raised in song and a recording. It is all embarrassingly revealing and none of it is what Hannibal is letting him see, what he remembers, what he guesses. It’s real. Hannibal’s real. He’s here. Will spends into Hannibal’s warm, sure fingers. He can feel Hannibal straining against his own hand. He kisses Hannibal’s throat. Hannibal exhales sharply and comes. It’s warm and unmistakably slick in his hand. He raises the hand, studies it, brings it to his mouth, experimentally, just so he’ll know the taste. Hannibal makes a broken sound.
“Impossible,” Hannibal says.
“Impossible,” Will agrees.
The dragon’s shot through the window catches Hannibal in the side. He sinks to the ground.
“Real,” Will says.
The dragon comes into the house with his camera and his weapons, and Will turns, not fast enough. They attack the dragon together. The dragon hovers between reality and dream; he appears in glimpses, man, then beast, flailing, roaring, shedding flashes of his leathery wings. Will’s knife catches in his gut, tears through flesh with a satisfying rip. Hannibal bites his throat out. The full vision of the majestic beast they have destroyed together hits as his blood spills wetly onto Will’s cheek.
“This was all I ever wanted for you, Will,” Hannibal says. “For both of us.”
“It’s beautiful,” Will says. He settles against Hannibal’s chest. It feels too beautiful to be real. He is unsteady.
It is moments like this when he always wakes up.
His house is burning. That is his first thought. He must get the dogs. The house is on fire and everything in it. He starts for it but there is a hand on his arm. Hannibal’s. Ungloved. It is snowing but some warmth lingers in Hannibal’s palm. He is standing in the field with Hannibal and it is not his real house, the new one, with Molly and Walter in it, but his dream house, the one in Wolf Trap. It is bitterly cold. He tries to push past Hannibal’s arm.
“Will,” Hannibal says.
Will looks at him. Hannibal’s gaze on him is heavy, like a weight, hot and urgent; the firelight makes his face look strange and terrible and severe. He can feel the fire on his own face too.
“Will. I have your dogs,” says Hannibal. “There’s nothing of importance there.”
Will touches his chest, nervous, instinctive. He can still feel the key in his ribcage.
“You said you were certain,” Hannibal says. “Stay with me, Will. Let it burn.”
Will looks down. The dogs mill about at his feet, whining, sensing the tension, ears alert. He finds Buster, scratches his neck. Hannibal has it just right. He lets the house burn.
“Stay with me, Will.”
Thunderous water and Hannibal’s voice, raw and hoarse, startle him awake. Was he asleep? He draws in a sharp harsh gasp. Everything hurts. Hannibal is bent over him, bloodied and hurt and soaked and his face is actually – openly terrified. He is lying on a rocky shore. He is soaked to the skin. His head hurts. The house is a grey dot up on a cliff at a dizzying height.
“Cold’s realistic,” he says.
Something in Hannibal’s face breaks open with relief. Hannibal kisses him. It hurts to kiss him; not to kiss him would be worse. He clutches Hannibal to him and doesn’t let go until Hannibal winces. Then they begin the slow miserable climb back up to the house.
When he is finally in bed he is too tired for dreams. The bed is warm. He keeps starting awake to listen for Hannibal’s breathing. It feels real and painful and lovely at once.
In the morning he yawns awake and drags himself to a medicine cabinet to locate pain medicine. His face in the mirror is drawn, strange; there are new wounds that will become scars; but he feels strangely luminous. His body aches but his mind feels bright, clean, brand new.
He rebandages Hannibal’s wound over the stitching as best he can. The stitches are holding and Hannibal has not lost any more color. But Hannibal will have a scar there, he thinks. A new scar to learn.
“No dreams,” Will says.
“For now,” Hannibal says. He looks about to say something else.
Will studies Hannibal’s wrist, his fingers, his mouth. “I was off,” he says. “I didn’t quite have you.”
Hannibal shuts his eyes. “You will always have me now.”
Will climbs back into bed next to him, settles against his back, lets sleep take him.
When he next dreams he arises in his old bedroom with the dogs and Hannibal beside him and Florence out the window and he says, “Oh.”
He knows without needing to look that they are in Hannibal’s dream palace. He has never begun there before. He suspects that this is where he is going to start all his dreams from now on. He will live here now. There is no returning to another place. This is what the fire meant.
Hannibal watches him realize it. Here, Hannibal is already whole. Will touches his face, his mouth, terrible and beautiful and achingly familiar and realer than any other thing in the world. Home, Will thinks.
“Hello, Will,” Hannibal says.
Will smiles. “Hello.”