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A Great and Gruesome Height

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No amount of planning can prepare him for the reality of the free fall.

Once, Will might have identified the stomach-clenching sensation as terror, but now he can give it it's proper name: freedom. The wind whips at his hair, and he presses his face more firmly against Hannibal's chest, drawing in a deep breath thick with the coppery scent of blood and the salt of the rising Chesapeake.

Recalling what Hannibal said before, Will draws in his abdomen and balls his hands into fists so tightly they ache, still clinging to Hannibal's shirt. Hannibal is the one guiding them, using the momentum to turn their bodies in a tight arc.

In his mind, the fall lasts a small eternity. In reality, it's maybe two seconds.

They hit the water at close to fifty miles per hour. Rocks kicked loose in their fall break the surface tension, then Hannibal leads them in feet first. It softens the impact for Will only barely; he feels it shuddering through his limbs, rattling his spine, shoves his head hard against Hannibal's chin. As they plummet deeper and deeper, pressure building, Hannibal's arms go slack, his body a limp, dead weight.

Will's right arm aches all the way down from his shoulder, and his fingers won't grip, but he refuses to panic. He twines his legs around Hannibal's chest, clenches his thighs tight and locks his ankles together. The water is pitch black, and if he loses Hannibal for even a second, he knows he won't find him again. They rise together, or they sink together. Will readily embraces either scenario.

For a long moment, they drift with the current, lower and lower. Everything is silent and Hannibal lays heavy and still, cradled between Will's thighs. Will closes his eyes and imagines the bay's arms closing around them like a mother's embrace, washing away the blood, soothing the pain.

It's a reoccurring dream of his, to slip beneath the welcoming waves, watching the light fade as he goes down, down, down, until he's past the point of return. And then the panic fades, replaced by a sense of peace, of belonging, and Will braces himself, opens his mouth, and breathes the water in.

Something buried deep in Will stirs, rebelling against the thought. His muscles contract all at once. He presses his lips closed tight and starts dragging them up one armed. Each stroke is agony and they never seem to rise any higher. The waves are pushing them relentlessly towards the bluff, then jerking them back. All the while, pressure builds in his ribcage, rising up and aching in his throat. His strength flags quickly, and he feels his thighs loosening their grip.

Hannibal surges against him, coming to life. He draws them chest to chest, arm a steel band around Will's back. They rise, light filtering through slowly but surely, as Hannibal effortlessly cuts through the water.

Closer to the surface, the current is stronger, and they are buoyed up. Will gasps for the air while he can, before they're pulled under again. The waves are relentless. Calm in the daylight, the bay is roiling angrily now. A storm is building, and Will isn't entirely sure how much of it is real and how much is in his mind.

They're tossed against the cliff face, three times in quick succession, and again Hannibal takes the brunt of the impact. His fingers dig into Will's skin, but he is soundless. On the fourth swell, they move as one, scrambling to find purchase. The striations bite into the tender flesh of his palm and it's impossible to say whether he's slick with water or blood. Everything is black in the shadows.

One of them is wailing, and it's all too blurred for Will to know which. Maybe they both are. His one good arm strains to pull his weight even as his fingers slip and it feels like tearing. But then Hannibal is wrapping around him again. His chest heaves against Will's back, his arms coming up on either side, caging in him in and Will takes a second to lay his head back against Hannibal's shoulder and calm his wild breathing.

Then they're moving, an awkward sideways climb, stopping whenever the waves crash, threatening to wrest them back. The journey is painful and long and more than once Will pushes back against Hannibal's weight, ready to succumb to the water. Each time Hannibal presses him flat against the wall. His breath is hot on the skin of Will's nape and his mouth just skims there, so light it might be imagined.

And they move again, as one.