“The reports of your death are somewhat underwhelming.”
Will is sat in the window of a small café in Poznan, the weak spring sunshine illuminating the raised scarring of his cheek. He absorbs Hannibal’s words in silence, sipping at the bittersweet coffee and hissing softly as the heat rolls through fresh cuts inside his mouth. He’s learnt that nothing is to be gained from asking; the tablet showing the reports of his demise belongs to Hannibal. The finance that affords them their coffees and dinners and slow travel through Europe, evading the authorities and seeking something that only Hannibal knows; that all belongs to Hannibal too. Explanation will be shared if, or when, Hannibal wills it.
If Will is to benefit from any of it, he’s been told, he has to acknowledge his newfound dependency. Hannibal no longer considers that Will is supposed to be catching him, bringing him in. According to Hannibal, if anyone is caught, it’s Will, and it’s up to Will to accept that.
Specifically, Will is to accept the leash around his neck and decide how best to deal with it. The transition of the leash from a figurative construct to a very real leather loop sitting warm against his throat, concealed beneath the buttons of his shirt, has not provided much clarity on the matter.
“It seems you have been painted as little more than an overly curious victim of inevitable circumstance” Hannibal continues, concealed in shadows and not raising his eyes from the screen, his mouth curling in mild distaste. “It would be terrible to prove these ill-informed words right, wouldn’t you think?”
“Terrible” Will agrees, trying to smile at the waiter as he’s offered a refill for his cup, letting his face fall into a calm neutral as the young man recoils and splashes the table with the liquid. The waiter keeps his eyes away from Will’s scars as he dabs the coffee with a paper napkin, muttering words Will can’t understand in a tone too affronted to be an apology.
Will is still adjusting to the way he’s regarded; like something damaged and discomforting. Like a warning. His skin will heal, and the ragged pinks and reds of his cheek will subside to something muted; a trail of lines shimmering opaque, and Will wonders if, as his face recovers, it will leave him with the impression of tears etched into his skin.
“Ms Lounds has yet to report on your alleged departure from this world” says Hannibal, a welcome interruption to Will’s morose introspection. Self-pity has done nothing to aid him thus far and it’s too wasteful a use of his energy. No strategy in feeling sorry for what’s unavoidable. He’s being studied by the inscrutable gaze of Hannibal, the tablet now folded inside its leather casing.
“Probably because she’s waiting for the proof of my rotting bones before she believes it” Will answers, his eyes resting on the colourful buildings across the square. “She’s had a lot of resurrections to process; she might be trying to use them sparingly.”
Hannibal smiles; knows that Will has confessed his belief that he’ll be alive for the foreseeable future.
Will keeps his own smile flattened against his teeth, and turns his stare on the waiting staff sharing awkward laughter at the back of the café. The two of them; the man who’d served him and the young woman with him; they look away, sheepish, and Will accepts the probability that he was the subject of their entertainment. They’re young, barely twenty. It doesn’t sting him, their casual reaction to something they don’t understand. He finds himself envious of the naivety that lets them laugh at misfortune, rather than view it a fearful and unavoidable condition of survival.
“I believe it more likely that the fairer Verger has been in touch with her, and that Ms Lounds’ assumptions may be more attuned to our reality than those of our European news sources.”
There are many words Will would attribute to Margot, but fair is not one of them.
Hannibal follows the path of Will’s gaze as it returns to their table.
“Which would suggest that she is waiting for a moment more opportune to reveal her suspicions. I imagine we should be grateful that such a moment has yet to occur.”
Will resists the urge to blow on the surface of his coffee to cool it. There’s a calmness to Hannibal’s mood that he doesn’t want to rankle; not with something as pithy as poor manners. He nods instead, letting the heat of the drink burn into his cheeks.
“That resentment you keep so tightly coiled inside you will be doing nothing to aid your recovery” Hannibal tells him, skimming a finger beneath Will’s jaw to direct his attention more fully. A soft gesture, and one of implicit dominance.
Will says nothing of the other afflictions causing him issue with his recovery; fresh abrasions from cords pulled too tight on his skin, then held there until Will admitted that he’d wanted it, too; scratches running across and through him from contraptions hinting at more cruelty than Hannibal would deem tasteful; and the lack of any sleep not punctuated by intrusions that he only sometimes denied were welcome.
Will’s hand slides protectively over the curve of severed skin in his gut, recently re-stitched, and supposes that he did ask for these things, really. Most of them, perhaps. If only to avoid the absence of any kind of anchor, even if it’s an anchor he knows he needs to upend in time. Will’s fingers press into a crescent of broken skin by his hips; an old mark from Matthew and recently reclaimed by Hannibal, and allows the smallest of smiles to cut the ice of the air around them.
“Not resentful” he offers, and it’s a half truth. An appeasement. “Anxious, maybe.”
“Then you must unwind. Poznan has remarkable history embedded within its buildings. Wander, Will. Take in some scenery beyond that which already lies within your skull.”
“You’re letting me off the lead?” Will asks, and he’d meant it as a figure of speech, but the reality pushes heat into his cheeks. Hannibal takes a long sip of his drink and allows Will long seconds to adjust to his discomfort at the admission.
“Some hours apart would benefit us both” Hannibal answers, smiling.
“Some hours apart will probably require money to explore the city” counters Will, positing it as a rational statement, rather than something pleading.
“I’d thought you more resourceful than that” answers Hannibal, and again there’s the expectation of behaviour that Will keeps failing to meet. It sits heavy in his bones.
“It’s preferable to ask you instead of skimming through your wallet when you leave to use the bathroom” Will tells him.
Will chews at the inside of his lip as though tasting the indignity that he has yet to speak.
“Can I have some money, please?” he asks, quiet but keeping eye contact. He feels childlike with the words and all but squirms from the indignity of it.
“For what return?” Hannibal counters.
Will sighs and lets his shoulders sag heavy on his frame.
“Stop it” Will tells him, sounding tired. Beaten down. “Stop doing this” he repeats, feeling control leaving his senses with the quickening pace of his voice. “You don’t want this. You don’t want me to be a simpering burden on your time and…resources. Stop treating me like…this.”
Hannibal remains cautiously amused by Will’s words, making no move to stop him or interrupt. Seconds pass by in cool silence until he smiles openly at Will.
“For as long as you convince yourself that I am the puppeteer of your actions, you will be treated accordingly.”
Will bristles, and catches his frustrations in a breath which he eases out through his teeth.
Hannibal continues, a hand resting on the shoulder of Will’s shirt with a finger nudging at the leather beneath it. Enough to pull the contact a microdistance closer to Will’s uneasy swallow.
“I’d much prefer you to act like the warrior I know you to be” Hannibal tells him. “From you, I would accept it. Fall prey to it, perhaps.”
Will slides a hand against Hannibal’s jacket in a gesture of acquiescence. He doesn’t believe that Hannibal could be prey to anything less than his own ego, and he fears that he’s striving to become an extension of this and little more. His fingers glean over the soft leather of Hannibal’s wallet, lifting it softly out of the deep pocket, while his other hand reaches to wrap around Hannibal’s shoulder. The awkward demonstration of affection does nothing to deter Hannibal from his cold whispered words.
“But I would be false if I were to say that I found no beauty in the way you suffer for me so terribly. You can hardly blame me for indulging a gift you so willingly give.”
Hannibal’s hands find Will’s wrist at the moment that he drops the wallet back into the woollen pocket. Will smiles, eyes sparking. It was a small challenge, and he’d risen to it. He allows Hannibal a short moment to believe that he’s failed it, too.
“I’ll find you before evening” Will assures him, peeling his arms from Hannibal and revealing the folded Euros tucked inside his fist as he backs out of the café.
Hannibal’s expression is one of mild surprise, indignation and pride.
As Will walks through the square, towards the tunnels and churches of the town’s preserved heritage, he knows that he won’t use the money lifted from Hannibal’s wallet to purchase a throwaway phone. He knows that he won’t hole up in an internet café, researching contact details for Kade Prurnell and the Bureau, that he won’t send them a message saying that he knows where their fugitive can be found, or that he’s travelling with him as a hostage. He won’t use the money to run; he knows he wouldn’t get far before he was caught up to.
He keeps his eyes lower as he walks, deferring toward those who catch themselves staring at the slow-healing slices on his face.
He won’t call for help, and it’s not because he’s scared; that he knows Hannibal would all but smell the betrayal on him the moment he acted on it. It’s not even that he knows that despite Hannibal’s assurances that he prefers Will to be a living thing by his side, that he’d be the first to be thrown into the crosshairs that would find them.
It’s that this would be too short a game and Will’s not sure that he’s ready for it to end.
Hannibal is already too tightly entwined with his thoughts; he’s baiting Will with dehumanising behaviour in order to coax the monster out instead. He’s using petty humilations to goad a greater reaction and, Will realises, as his slowly measured footsteps guide him away from the town, it’s in this that Hannibal is showing his weakness.
Hannibal wants Will to overcome him.
And it won’t be until Will can do this – fully, and given their current dynamic, indecently – that he can finally make Hannibal yield to him. Bring him in, with the least chance of damning retribution to himself.
This game, he knows, is a longer one, and more dangerous for it. And he’s never been good at winning, per se, but he has to try.