The Dragon’s blood no longer warmed their skin. The sea took them in its cold dark embrace and rolled them to the bottom of the ocean where all lights faded and the only thing left were memories and dreams of moments ago stretching through time.
It started with hesitance.
Hannibal was hesitant, waiting for Will’s response, waiting for his acceptance or rejection after once more laying down all he ever wanted for the two of them. And he got his wish in the form of a loving last gift from the one he cared for the most. Will’s arms clutched at him with a rare need, wrapped around his neck, and his head lay softly on Hannibal’s chest like comfort sought from a lover. Will felt hands tighten around him with careful reverence, heard the steady beating in the other’s chest skip with excitement, and though he couldn’t see Hannibal’s face, Will could feel the euphoria radiate from him in more than just the way he rest his chin atop Will’s head. It was affectionate, far more than either had ever allowed, and Will felt love in touch and gesture, naked and stark and for once not threatening to end him. For once not threatening to hurt, but to hold with all the care of a love true.
The same yearning Will recognized in himself, buried under layers of shame and fear and anger. He felt that same love now burning through his own chest, unabashedly willing to make the place he laid his head a new home. It was for the better then, that he hadn’t seen the look on Hannibal’s face. That would have made his actions difficult. It would have made Will second guess and betray his intentions to the other.
Can’t live with him, can’t live without him. That was a truth Will knew and was living with for a long time.
He closed his eyes and tightened the hold he had around Hannibal as he tipped them over the ledge, eyes squeezed shut and head tucked in the crook of Hannibal’s neck. Will emptied his lungs of air and accepted his fate and his downfall. It felt right. It felt like a victory and it felt like a defeat, their zero sum game. A good way to go for both, wrapped around each other, blurring and melding as they so often do. And perhaps it was the impact, and perhaps it was the fall, but Will was quick to see darkness followed by the glimmer of stars at the bottom of the ocean.
Was this what death looked like; an endless expanse of clouds and stars and moonlight?
It was peaceful, if a little cold.
And then he blinked.
The sea took them and turned off the lights, rolled them in its harsh embrace and with no less mercy spat them out on shore like a disease too great even for the ocean to swallow.
A memory of a touch, of lips covering his to give air, fought to the surface of Will’s hazy thoughts and he blinked again, licked the salt water off his lips, and took in a deep shaky breath.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Coherence was a luxury but that one impulsive thought looped over and over in Will’s head, even though he couldn’t understand. Even though he didn’t know where he was or how he got there. But dead he wasn’t and that felt wrong.
The sand beneath him felt wrong too. His hand and feet were buried in it but his back felt warm and supported by something other. He tried moving a bit, lifting the arm that lay across his abdomen, but it didn’t. It wasn’t his. And neither were the pained exhales.
Will turned too hastily, tugging at fresh wounds, but what elicited a panicked groan was the sight of all the blood seeping into the sand. A black oil spill around them and Hannibal’s ghostly face looking at him, back propped against a large rock.
“Can you walk?” Hannibal was quick to ask.
“Will you live?” Will spat out immediately, unsure yet which answer would feel right to be thankful for.
Hannibal gave him the best grin he could manage at the moment. Traces of blood – his own or the Dragon’s, it was impossible to tell – still clung to his teeth. “I will,” he breathed out, “if you can walk.”
Their destination was much less alluring than a glass house overlooking cliffs. It resembled the cabin found in Virginia, once long ago, almost in another life – wooden and rustic, run down by age, and buried among trees. The inside, though, was less horrific than its cousin. A cabin prepped for hiding and survival with gas lighting, preserved food, and tanks of untouched water at the back.
The chill of the Atlantic was becoming unbearable. The ocean cleaned the Dragon’s blood off of them – cleaned their wounds too, though unkindly – but by the time they reached the safe house with a stolen vehicle, they were stained anew with the marks the Dragon left on them.
The floors were creaky, the walls cold, and the few working lights barely cast shadows of light in their direction. Hannibal pointed out two wooden stools for Will to get, and limbered into the bathroom for the tools that would save their lives. They sat across each other with bags of medical equipment littered at their feet, and peeled their shirts off. Will offered his hands first, while they still worked. The pain in his shoulder would render one useless soon enough, but he also knew the sting of a gunshot and all the danger that came with it. Thankfully there was nothing to sew; his fingers wouldn’t manage that precision.
Sea salt mangled both their wounds, but alcohol was still a mandatory step. Will heard the sharp intakes of breath while he cleaned around torn flesh.
“Doesn’t look terrible,” Will said, as if the man needed assurance. As if he wasn’t talk to a doctor who knew much better the sort of damage he sustained. Maybe Will needed to hear it out loud.
His words came out a little mangled and stiff, jaw tight with pain around the tear on his cheek. Will hadn’t seen the damage, only felt it, but he suspected it wasn’t a charm to look at. He was forced to spit blood often.
Will worked as fast as he could, covering up the entry and the exit wounds with clean gauze and getting up to wrap the bandage around the torso. He noticed throughout the ordeal Hannibal’s fingers digging into his leg, and Will tried to be as gentle as he could. As gentle as his trembling arm would manage. Hannibal shook too, but that was most likely from the cold.
It was then that he also noticed the mark left on his back from Muskrat Farm and fought off the urge to touch it.
On his turn, Hannibal grabbed the scissors to cut the shirt off and leave Will’s shoulder unstressed. He took to tending the face first, gently cleaning it with one hand while holding his jaw straight with the other. Will’s eyes closed, exhausted, and stayed as such through the cleaning, the stitching, and the painful hissing.
Hannibal watched him intently with fondness immeasurable. Even he was torn with exhaustion to the point when articulating what he felt in a logical order was impossible. He just knew this dangerous beautiful thing just tried to kill them both, and the worst feeling he could pull from that experience was mild surprise. The wounds at his hand he cared for with terrible gentleness, last used long ago while cutting a young girl’s ear off. For Hannibal, it all felt like yesterday; pockets of times he could revisit whenever the great expanse of his mind would desire. But for the longest time, while suspended in a glass cage, he could only ever recall calling on to Will in his mind. And sometimes he would come but most times he wouldn’t, so having him real and under his fingertips was a particular satisfaction.
Even after he threw them off the cliff.
Especially after he threw them off the cliff.
Hannibal’s eyes lowered to the man’s barely parted lips and he was certain the desire on his face would be unmistakable were Will to open his eyes. But he didn’t.
When the last of the bandage was getting wrapped around his shoulder, Will’s eyes blinked to life and looked at Hannibal only inches away from him, eyes taking in the whole of him. Will didn’t flinch but there were thoughts on his mind; so many it took a moment to filter them through into words.
“Can this be it,” Will asked with the softest whisper, his head tilting even closer to Hannibal’s. “Can these four walls be our world? Can we pretend nothing beyond that door exists?”
“We’ll have to,” Hannibal answered matter-of-factly, “for a while.”
The eyes focused on him then, the pitch of Will’s voice becoming more sober yet still mellow. “I can’t promise...” He lost thought for a moment when Hannibal brought his hand up to Will’s cheek, thumb pressing down the tape that held gauze in place. “I can’t promise I won’t try this again,” he grabbed Hannibal’s forearm but didn’t seem to have any intentions of moving the hand away, just holding it in an almost desperate fashion as he clarified, “kill us again.”
A beat of silence stretched between them where Hannibal didn’t react beyond gentle caresses with his thumb.
Will changed pace with his words then, no longer asking for permission.
“I want this. I want to suspend us in limbo, where I don’t have to think about it. Where you don’t have to give me a reason to think about it.”
Hannibal’s lips stretched into an amused grin and his hand travelled from the face to the back of Will’s neck. Little effort was needed to gently knock their foreheads together, cold shivering skin against cold shivering skin.
“Then we will have this,” Hannibal breathed out in a whisper as Will closed his eyes again. For a while, he omitted.
Before either made an effort to get up and find warmth in dry clothes and blankets, they stole it from each other for as long as feasible, stuck between a hug and a kiss.
The change of clothes was another challenge for men who had trouble raising their limbs, one more than the other. Finally dry, Hannibal led them to the bedroom where a single bed was found, spacious by Hannibal’s preference but bare of covers. He pulled a pair of pillows and woollen blankets from the closet and neither said a word as they took a side of the bed and lay down with almost synchronized groans of pain.
“It’s still cold,” Will whispered within a minute of a silent attempt at sleep.
“Come closer,” Hannibal said and for the second time that day experienced mild surprise when in the darkness of the room he heard the springs screech. Will rolled on his good shoulder and scooted over, abandoning his pillow for Hannibal’s chest. Hannibal wrapped his arm around Will’s waist and Will did the same with care for the wound he mended.
Neither said a word as sleep took them quickly. Will dreamt to the sound of a beating human heart.