Will wakes up, sweating. In the dream he was conscious of a sense of liberation; it was almost lucid, as though he could make real anything he touched. In the dream he had touched Hannibal in the center of the chest and watched blood bloom forth beneath his fingers. And Hannibal had smiled.
He is conscious not immediately but by degrees of a voice attempting to soothe him. And then he is fully conscious and sitting upright in — soft, unbearably, luxuriously soft dark sheets, and he remembers where he is and what he has just done. And with whom. His whole body goes rigid and hot-cold all over, prickle of ice exploding from the prickle of heat.
There is a hand pressing in the center of his back. “Will,” Hannibal says. “It’s all right. You’re here with me.”
Will snorts. It escapes him like something caught in a sheet suddenly pulled taut. “Is it all right?” he says. “I’m *here*. With *you*.”
“Does it trouble you?” Hannibal asks, keeping the hand there. “That we have been intimate.”
“Things were intimate before,” Will says, wry twist of the mouth. “What changed last night, Hannibal, is that we had sex .”
“I would consider that a form of intimacy,” Hannibal says. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” Will says, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “But you have to admit that it entails a certain — escalation.”
“All intimacy does,” Hannibal says. “We purchase knowledge of one another in installments over time. I knew yesterday what your hands look like after you have used them to extinguish a man’s life; I know today what your mouth looks like when you come.”
“Not all knowledge can be purchased so simply,” Will says. “You have to barter for it.”
“I paid in kind,” Hannibal agrees. “You, too, know me more thoroughly than you did.”
“Have known you,” Will says. Hannibal catches his look.
“Knowledge of meat,” Will says. Hannibal smiles.
“A blunt interpretation.”
“But an accurate one,” Will says. “Meat. Flesh. Fucking. Making love. One is merely a more elegant synonym for the other.”
“Which was this?”
“Dr. Lecter, I think you would have known if we were making love.”
“Are we so formal?”
“We don’t need to be,” Will says, “Hannibal.”
Hannibal smiles, presses a kiss to Will’s shoulder. “So this was simply an exchange of knowledge.”
“A deepening of intimacy,” Will says. He turns his head, bracing himself, but kissing Hannibal is surprisingly easy. What the fuck is Jack going to say about this , he thinks, and the moment he thinks it the thought lurches fully formed into his mind you’re not going to tell him, are you . He slides a hand around the back of Hannibal’s neck and kisses Hannibal again. He keeps waiting for it to be shocking, unpleasant, wrong. It keeps not being. He shifts his weight to push Hannibal back onto the bed, keeps kissing him. Hannibal grins up at him.
“Are you beginning the bartering again, Will?”
“There is a great deal of knowledge I still lack.”
“Mm,” Hannibal says. “Tasting of the fruit of the tree of knowledge begets the desire for more knowledge.”
“And awareness of your own nakedness.”
Hannibal’s face produces something frighteningly like a smile and Will’s face produces something frighteningly like a smile in return and his stomach plummets. He is just saying the things that are appropriate to say in this situation, he thinks ( who else in the world would know so exactly what to say in this situation? ). Knowing what to say to Hannibal has never been the part that was difficult. “Are you aware, then, of your own nakedness?” Hannibal asks.
“Excessively,” Will says. Hannibal’s hand slides up around his waist, begins making its way appreciatively downwards.
“Will you seek to be covered?”
“In what?” Will asks. The grin hasn’t left his face. Hannibal matches it. Hannibal’s fingers skim along the top of his thigh. His hand is warm.
“What did you dream of?” Hannibal asks.
“It wasn’t that kind of dream,” Will says. Hannibal leans up to kiss him. The kiss lingers suggestively; it takes on a kind of life of its own between them, their mouths together form an obscene new word. The taste of the word in his mouth is not unpleasant. “But you were in it.”
“What did we do, you and I?” Hannibal keeps a thumb on the back of his neck, like a bookmark.
“I touched you,” Will says. He settles on his stomach next to Hannibal, traces a finger down the center of his chest. It feels nothing like the dream. Will studies the soft spattering of hair on his chest; it is a surprisingly human, warm, animal detail. He needs to stop being surprised. If this thing between them were simple he would touch Hannibal again. He must not start thinking too much about what every gesture means. Last night he had managed not to think; he had pretended to himself that it was simple; he had spent in Hannibal’s willing throat and managed not to look away. He had not wanted to look away. The intimacy of it is branded on him. He wishes for the clarity; hate or desire or something perilously close to affection. He wants to kill Hannibal. Intimately, with his hands. He would be alone without Hannibal. Hannibal infuriates him. He watches his hand reach over to Hannibal’s chest and his fingers press there; the dream dissipates in contact with the reality. He could follow his hand with his mouth. “I’m curious,” he says.
“Curiosity is also an appetite,” Hannibal says. “To be sated, like hunger.”
“Or desire,” Will says.
“Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires,” Hannibal says.
“What if what I desired was to kill you?”
“You have often thought of killing me,” Hannibal says; his mouth quirks into something Will recognizes as a sign of warmth; Will’s fingers continue tracing his chest, forming words illegible even to himself. Help, he thinks of writing. S. O. S. Hannibal glances over mirthfully; he sees himself reflected in Hannibal’s dark eyes as something dangerous and exquisite that Hannibal is pleased to have coaxed to touch him. It is heady to be looked at like this. Will’s stomach twists. He wishes Hannibal would stop.
“I could kill you now,” he says. “I could smother you with the pillow.” It is the wrong thing to say. Hannibal is delighted by it; he is lying in bed with Hannibal telling him how he wishes to kill him; Hannibal could not be better pleased.
“The same fate as Desdemona,” Hannibal says, approvingly. “I kissed thee ere I killed thee.”
“No way but this,” Will says, and does, propping himself up on an elbow and leaning down; neither of them closes their eyes; the kiss is electric, hot current snapping between them; Will’s stomach plummets. He tugs the pillow out from under Hannibal’s head; Hannibal lifts his head obligingly.
“You’re not putting up much of a fight.”
“Would you prefer it if I fought?” Hannibal asks.
Christ, Will thinks, kneeling over him with the pillow caught in his hands, Hannibal’s smirk widening beneath him; Jesus Christ, why are you letting me . He is hard now; Hannibal can doubtless feel it. So is Hannibal. He could rut against him. He could press the pillow that still smells of them into Hannibal’s face now and hold it until his limbs go still.
“Go on,” Hannibal says.
Will tosses the pillow aside. He glances at the bedside table and its water glass. “I could break that glass, stab you with one of the shards.”
“You would have to break it carefully.”
“I could,” Will says.
“I don’t doubt it,” Hannibal says. “Would you fuck me, before you stabbed me?”
Will contemplates it. “Yes,” he says; he can’t help the smile that has slithered up his face to match Hannibal’s. “I’d hold the edge against your throat while I fucked you and then I’d cut it afterwards.”
Hannibal’s eyes flicker shut. “An exquisite picture.”
“Your idea of what constitutes an exquisite picture is somewhat idiosyncratic,” Will says.
Hannibal looks guilelessly up at him. “It is not my idea.”
“I could strangle you,” Will says.
“With your hands.”
Will nods. “Intimately.” He slides the fingers of one hand around Hannibal’s neck. They go around easily, not the whole way. He squeezes. Hannibal pulls the other hand to his mouth, presses the fingers to his lips.
“Don’t,” Will says, weakly. He feels nauseated, queasy with the tenderness. Violence feels legible, but this open worshipfulness pries open his ribcage and wraps something cold and slithery around his heart. He ought to feel triumph. Hannibal is defenseless; Hannibal is vulnerable. But the fact that this vulnerability makes him enraged at Hannibal, that his first thought is, don’t let me see this, you damned fool, cover this, protect yourself , freezes him.
He can feel Hannibal’s pulse throbbing beneath his fingers. Suddenly he is sickeningly aware that this is real, he is really here, straddling Hannibal with intent in Hannibal’s bed. It is not a dream. His mouth is damp from kissing Hannibal. He has fucked Hannibal. He is about to. After all this is finished these will always be things that he has done. Hannibal looks up at him as though he catches the thought.
“You are extraordinary,” Hannibal says. Hannibal’s voice is quiet and serious. It sounds almost honest. It’s horrible.
His heart is racing now, jumping, battering itself inside his chest like a wild animal frenzied to escape. “Stop,” he says. He can’t look at Hannibal like this. He feels like a man who has just learned he is not invisible. He had thought he was invisible but he was merely naked. He is naked. He feels naked. Hannibal can see him. But Hannibal is naked too. For the first time he feels afraid. He lets go of Hannibal’s neck.
Hannibal looks up at him, puzzled.
“Will,” Hannibal says. Hannibal doesn’t move to touch him but they are touching; his body is pressed against Hannibal’s. What a time to fall apart, he thinks. His arms feel unsteady; he sinks down ( don’t , he thinks) and lets himself fall towards Hannibal. Hannibal strokes his hair. Hannibal’s heart is steady. He wants to reach into his chest and wrap his fingers around it. If he tells Hannibal that it will all be over.
“It’s all right,” Hannibal says again. “Don’t lose heart. I’m right beside you.”
“How do you manage?” Will asks. “To know what you —“ Will hesitates around the word; want, or feel.
“I trust myself.”
Will snorts. “Trust.”
“You do not trust me?”
Will huffs a breath out through his nose. “It’s something different than trust. It’s.” He swallows. “Like walking on a broken leg.”
“Is it still broken?”
“Even after it heals,” Will says, “it can’t be un broken.”
“Even broken, it is a part of you,” Hannibal says. “Is that how you see me?”
“I’m not saying that,” Will says.
“What you’re saying is nonetheless very intimate,” Hannibal says.
“Yes,” Will says, wretched.
“How do you feel?”
“You are letting me see you,” Hannibal says. “I am privileged to witness your becoming.”
“How can you be certain that what I am letting you see is real?” Will asks. Beneath his head Hannibal’s heart continues its steady metronomic thump-thump, thump-thump.
“This is reality, Will,” Hannibal answers.
“It’s nine thirty-four a.m.,” Will says, deliberately cruel. “You’re in Baltimore, Maryland.” He tilts his head to see Hannibal’s response. Hannibal’s expression does not change.
“You are lying here with me. We have known one another. We know each other. You speak to me and the words are yours,” Hannibal says. “You touch me and I feel the evidence of your desire. What would you have me disbelieve? My eyes, my ears, my hands?”
That is what you had me disbelieve, Will thinks. He tries to cling to the thought but it is difficult with Hannibal so present, so near, the fist of his heart clenching and unclenching. His nostrils are full of Hannibal; Hannibal’s body is firm beneath his hands. His mouth tastes of Hannibal’s mouth. What will Hannibal distrust, he wonders. When he knows.
When he knows what , says a voice he has been trying to stifle, the voice that is screaming at the sight of him like this, nestled intimately against Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal’s fingers moving soothingly in his hair. What have you done, the voice says, that you would not do if this were true? What are you keeping back? Is that not how your mouth looks when you come; is that not the way your voice breaks in pleasure; was it a lie when you told him, there, harder, God, or when you bit your lip to keep from shouting his name? You never said his name because you were terrified how it would sound. You were terrified it would sound true.
But worse than that, says another voice, you know him now ; he didn’t hold back either. They are all etched on your mind, the sounds he makes, the look in his eyes, the little gasp of gratified surprise when you let him kiss you, the first time. He gave as good as he got. You have an encyclopedia of his small grunts now; the word of his mouth on your mouth; the impression of his palms on your hips. And you wanted them, he thinks. That was all you were trying to gain. You wanted to know him. You still want it.
“How do I know that you’re real?” Will asks. He inhales deeply, exhales slowly.
“Close your eyes,” Hannibal says. Will obliges. He feels Hannibal’s hand on his chin, tilting his head up, and then Hannibal is kissing him with a painstaking, excruciating sweetness. His only thought is, Hannibal should not be allowed, it should not be possible for him to, it is not fair that he can kiss like this. Like he is human. Like he could break. Like Will could break him.
“Fuck you,” Will says. He opens his eyes. Hannibal is looking at him. He hates himself for having made Hannibal look at him like that. He feels like something in himself is breaking; something horrible and tender is lurching to life; something frightening is awake now in some far cavern of his mind. He is angry again at Hannibal for permitting this. He clutches at him furiously. “I told you not to lie to me.”
“I am omitting nothing,” Hannibal says.
“You should omit something,” Will says. “Hannibal.” He wants it to sound like a warning; it sounds like a plea of a different kind. He can feel Hannibal’s eyes on him.
He wants to look away; he does not want to know what Hannibal will see. He forces himself to look. Hannibal meets his gaze, rests a hand on his back. Hannibal’s eyes are encouraging, warm. Knowing. But he doesn’t know. He can’t. Will feels sick.
Fuck, he thinks, what the fuck are you doing. He kisses Hannibal’s smug, infuriating, soft mouth. Once Hannibal learns that he is lying Hannibal will not trust again either. Lying, he thinks; a hysterical laugh threatens to bubble up out of his throat. Yes, of course, that’s what this is.
“You’re here,” Hannibal says, pleased. “I see you.”
“I’m here,” Will says. “So fuck me.”
They fuck for the second time, that morning. He tries not to let himself think about it while he’s doing it. He lies on his side spooned back against Hannibal’s chest and lets him set the pace, leans his head back against Hannibal’s shoulder, breathes in and out. Hannibal’s hand wraps around him, works the shaft while Hannibal’s hips piston into him. It’s very good. Midway through he starts sobbing. He bites down on his lip to keep himself from making any noises, promises.
He observes dispassionately as it is happening that he has gone from thinking of this as something he is doing, deliberately, to fish, and begun to think of it as something he is letting himself have. A door through which he can step for a brief time only. Something stolen, from Jack, from Hannibal, for himself. If he were more honest he would know that it is all over.