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Mono no Aware

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Will wakes to water sluicing out of his mouth and breath on his face. It’s hard to tell it apart from the spray of the ocean and the salt stinging in his cheek. Everything from his jaw to the space beneath his eye is on fire.

A hand touches his unwounded cheek. The hilt of a thumb rests on the corner of Will’s mouth. Fingers trace the ridges of his brow, cheek, and jaw. Water insinuates itself where friction and matter are not enough to close the void between one body’s end and the other’s beginning. Blood ekes out of the chasms in his flesh. The burn of it shifts from the harsh jolt of tearing into a slower dripping sensation.

The trace of Dolarhyde’s knife carved into his face aches, wanting almost to itch. Will concentrates on the slots in his skin where his blood mingled with that of the Dragon. He imagines their essences collide about as well as acid corroding its container.

Will is the acid. His white blood cells are the acid eating away at Dolarhyde’s influence. All that’s left is time, salt, and biology.

Hannibal is there, too. He is an amalgamation or usurpation of those things. His memory undoes the spools of time. Salt is of his body but does not allow him to be petrified as it did with Lot’s wife even though they both had looked back. Biology can’t explain Hannibal’s durability, his strength, or his limitlessness.

Math can’t either. It can’t reverse time, but Hannibal can and does.

His hand on Will’s face is the oar that took them to shore. Hannibal’s shoulders are the raft that Will clutched to his heart as they fell together, endlessly but quickly.

“Will,” Hannibal says on a strained sigh. “I need you to speak.”

“You do,” Will murmurs back, throat hoarse and tainted by salt. “Don’t you?”

Hannibal’s fingers flutter over his ear and press smoothly down the curve of his skull. His fingertips rove gently along and land unerringly on the pulse hammering in Will’s neck. Calculated and patient as ever, Hannibal holds there and waits without seeming to breathe.

Will opens his eyes, groggy and in pain but unmistakably alive. Hannibal’s eyes shine in the darkness the same black as blood spilt in the moonlight. His smile is slow and cautious. They are close on wet, cold ground. Hannibal’s lips are glossy from their plunge into the Atlantic. The bunched strands of his hair drip onto Will’s chest. They help each other to sit upright.

“Are you all right?” Will hears himself asking as his eyes light upon the blood still oozing from beneath the bullet and Hannibal’s hand alike.

“I’ll survive.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Will inches his hand over the wound in Hannibal’s stead. A craving stirs under his skin to feel what Hannibal feels like when life is coursing out of him. He presses his palm there, an immovable object adhering itself to an unstoppable force—his hand and Hannibal’s blood.

Hannibal gasps at the pressure or at the implication of Will’s touch. Will wonders if he’s thinking about the same thing that Will is.

“Gunned down at the hands of another,” Hannibal muses, short of breath and clearly in pain. He raises his chin to observe Will’s face, angling his head to better see the jagged tear in his cheek. “Cut by a knife not my own.”

Will doesn’t turn his face to let Hannibal examine more closely. He watches until Hannibal finds his gaze with his own and holds him there when their eyes meet. Shivers rack Will’s body from the cold. He doesn’t look away even as the chill holds fast to his bones. His hand twitches hard against the dip in Hannibal’s skin, causing a short burst of warmth to spill out over his freezing fingers and down his wrist. Hannibal doesn’t flinch away from him.

“It isn’t my flesh caught in your teeth or your blood in my wounds.”

“No,” Hannibal agrees. “It has never been my blood in your wounds or your flesh in my teeth.”

“Hasn’t, isn’t.”

“And shall not be.”

A light shines from farther out on the water. Will looks first and can’t make out the features of the person driving the boat toward them. There’s only so many people he expects it could really be.

“Are you sure about that?” Will asks, voice drowned out by the very familiar cry of the boat horn.

Hannibal smiles when Will turns to look at him. The shape of it on his mouth is still uncharacteristically shy. A searchlight cursorily skates over Will’s person and then swings toward Hannibal where it lingers. Hannibal pays it no mind, evidently finding Will’s face to be the far more interesting spectacle of the two.

“I am, in fact.”

--

The gash in Will’s cheek is a splendorous thing to behold. It is even better than the gout of blood that shot out of his mouth when Dolarhyde stabbed him. Hannibal thinks, as he takes to the disinfected wound with a needle and thread, that Will might be fretting over the inevitability of a scar.

Hannibal sutures what is sure to be a charming dimple to the smile on Will’s stomach and moves onto the cut above his clavicle. The wound is superficial, due in part to the length of the blade but also due to its location. Will stands from his perch immediately behind Hannibal on the toilet and stays in the bathroom as Hannibal pries the bullet out of his body. His skin still thrums where Will pressed his hand to the fount of blood pushing out of him.

Will bends his neck to see over Hannibal’s shoulder, warm breath teasing over exposed skin. The bathroom is extremely close quarters for even one person but absolutely diminutive when faced with two.

They’ve changed clothes: a soft robe for Will, sweatpants for Hannibal, and warm socks for them both. The sweatpants hang low on Hannibal’s hips. Will’s robe opens over his sternum to reduce unnecessary chafing to his dressings. There’s no attempt by either of them to shorten the distance, but the listing halves of the robe still graze Hannibal’s skin and make his heartbeat skip recklessly in his chest.

He can’t decipher what Will’s intentions are, but the thought of their proximity and more, that Will initiates it, nearly sets his hands to trembling. Hannibal finishes with the sutures, tensing when Will reaches around him for the roll of elastic bandages on the sink. He listens and watches Will’s deliberate movements in the mirror.

The strained moment flickers by and Hannibal raises his elbows to the sides. Will circles his arms around Hannibal’s waist wordlessly and binds him. He cuts the bandage at Hannibal’s front and takes his time securing it along Hannibal’s navel. The robe drags across Hannibal’s back and against his sides. He can’t even lament that he doesn’t feel Will on his skin, their closeness alone is so satisfying.

Will ducks his head, chin dropping past Hannibal’s shoulder. Lips trail down the curve of his flesh for just a moment. Will takes his hands away and steps out of the bathroom in a quick, smooth retreat. Hannibal can’t lament his evasion either.

In the cabin, Hannibal discovers Will collapsed on the bed with a quilt flung haphazardly over his feet. There’s room enough on the mattress for Hannibal to crawl in beside him, but he won’t tonight.

He contents himself to sit at Will’s bedside in a chair, watching him sleep as he has in times past. His exhaustion would make sleep an easily attainable goal, but he can’t himself rest until the point that it becomes wholly unavoidable. Before he can follow Will in slumber, he must see to their host and rescuer where she waits for him, singularly, at the wheel.

There is no robe for him to wear when he finally leaves Will to his dreams. They look peaceful or perhaps it’s only that they find him peaceably enough. Hannibal shrugs on an over-sized shirt and a coat to shield himself from the cold and climbs up onto the deck.

Chiyoh is where they left her, steering the boat with both hands and bound up in a warm coat that covers her from neck to knee. Her boots, gloves, and hair meld her to the jet curtain of nightfall. The black sea, the black sky, and the black gun packed away in a stowed trunk are extensions of her.

He had left her in Lithuania as a girl with coal in her heart and terror in her belly. Extreme pressure converted those quantities into diamonds. He can see wildfires sparking in her eyes and in the quiet language of her mouth.

“How did you know where to find us?”

“Your involvement with the man who hunted you made your intentions predictable. His involvement with you, in turn, made him predictable.”

“In what way?”

“He approached him—your unmei no hito.” She points a studious look at him that withers into something warmer and more delicate, tinged with nerves. “Sit, Hannibal,” she half-commands, half-chides him. “You’re wounded.”

He limps closer and drops into a seat at her right. She allows him a moment to relax and turns her eyes forward again. Her face looks serious in profile. Mist from the sea sprays them as they sail onward. Chiyoh’s only indication that the elements touch her is the single curl of hair over her temple that shudders in the breeze. Specks of foam and salt water on her cheek catch the light from the full moon. They shine like fragments of shattered glass.

“The house overlooking the bluffs, this boat…?”

“Bedelia Du Maurier,” Chiyoh tells him, killing the engine as she does. “She told me yours was a tower by the sea.”

It hasn’t slipped his mind that he told Bedelia about his property on the edge of the cliff. He contemplates the conversation in the absence of the boat’s revving motor.

They had been sitting by firelight in a Florentine estate, Bedelia consumed with a glass of Chassagne-Montrachet and Hannibal fixated on an elegant dish of delectable candies. He took them into his mouth one after the other, remembering Ortolan birds in the sugary, near almond taste of the marzipan strawberries. In a slow, ecstatic performance of nostalgia, he had related to Bedelia the story of his own experience making them with Abigail.

Hannibal had lightly teased her for getting sugar all over the countertop. The more strawberries they made, the more her creativity inspired her to experiment with different molds. Her last was formed into the shape of a human ear. It looked more like a flower petal than anything else.

He recalls, even now, the words he had said to Bedelia in Florence: We stayed in a house overlooking the Atlantic, perched on the brink of ruin as a drop of blood balanced on a knife’s edge. She loved it there. I believe she wished us to stay.

Hannibal smiles into Chiyoh’s silence. Clever Chiyoh. His clever, beautiful sister in everything but in blood.

“I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea,” Hannibal recites.

Chiyoh’s face, hardly anything like a fortress to him, closes off. “You need to rest, Hannibal.”

“Yes.”

The shadows in her face age her, but they are nothing to the darkness in her eyes or to the prominence of her frown. He stands and she tears her gaze away from him. She does not lift her gaze even when his steps bring him close enough to touch.

“I was a child and you were a child,” he says, softer, tilting his head to one side as if to see her better.

“I was a child,” she tells him, turning away from the controls to face him. A wrinkle pinches between her eyebrows. One corner of her mouth trembles. “You left me.”

“You elected to be left.” He raises his hands slowly and she allows him to hold her by the tops of her arms. “Would you have come with me, then? Could that have been our life?”

A delicate tremor passes through her. He feels it beneath his hands like a current of electricity.

She whispers, “No.” Her eyes glisten, lending a look of devastation to her expression. “You needed me to need you now, not then.”

“Just as you need me to need you.”

Her chin drops, head ducking in almost a bow. Hannibal sees her eyes squeeze closed just before he leans in to press a kiss to her wrinkled forehead. He holds there until the skin smooths beneath his lips. She sighs but does not cry. The engine roars to life once more, giving them reason enough to separate without idling too long on the conclusion to their exchange, so many long years overdue.

“Thank you, Chiyoh.”

She doesn’t respond.

He lumbers back toward the cabin, aware that in every step down and down and down, Will waits for him at the end of the descent as Eurydice did for Orpheus.

Will sleeps heavily without stirring as Hannibal sinks into the small, stiff armchair at his bedside. He’s since drawn his arm up and rolled onto the side that lets him rest his face on the bed. Hannibal stares as unabashedly as he would if Will were awake, manners be damned. The disquiet of the boat and the rush of the sea beneath them do nothing to hinder the effect of his creeping exhaustion. Adrenaline could only accommodate his resistance for so long, after all.

--

There is little natural light bleeding into the cabin, but Will can see Hannibal blinking awake in the chair. He presses his temple into rustling sheets and sighs, catching Hannibal’s attention. Will holds out one hand in a clear invitation, but Hannibal does not move.

“Come here.”

Hannibal hesitates. Will emits a tiny sigh and pivots gingerly on one hip. He eases slowly from his side onto his back.

To the ceiling, he whispers, “Please come here.”

It’s easier, and harder, to envision someone other than Hannibal rising from the chair to join him in the bed. Especially confounding is that Hannibal keeps his hands rigidly to himself. Will ought to be grateful for it, but he can’t reconcile what he should be feeling with the ravenous curiosity that he very much does feel. He turns his chin toward Hannibal but slides his eyes closed to luxuriate deeper in the smooth, warm darkness shared by the two of them.

Hannibal is out like a light when Will wakes next. He hasn’t moved from the position he held when they fell asleep either, meaning that they still don’t touch. Will gets up to use the toilet before wandering up to the deck with the coat Hannibal wore as he slept in the armchair.

Chiyoh is driving the boat. He has no idea how long she’s been at it, but the sun is past the midpoint of the sky and her eyes are bloodshot when she turns to acknowledge him. She looks every bit herself, even if the frayed edges are a bit disconcerting to behold. Will thinks to smile but doesn’t, sparing a thought for the stitches in his cheek and one more for the feeling of train tracks coming up hard and fast under his body.

“You can take a break. I’ll cover.”

“You aren’t going to ask me whose boat this is,” she observes, a question buried somewhere in the statement.

“It’s not mine.” He shrugs. “Doesn’t feel like Hannibal’s.”

She gives him a tense, longsuffering look. Appearing to change her mind at the last second, she asks with more of an inquiring tone now, “What will you say if someone thinks to ask what happened to your face?”

He raises his hand as far as his jaw and grazes his fingers there. It hurts, but it’s a foggy, bland kind of hurt tinged with analgesia. “Mad dog bit me.”

“How appropriate,” she murmurs without relinquishing her hold on the wheel.

“Chiyoh.”

She doesn’t speak, but the ice in her expression is enough of an answer for him. Her weariness wins out over recalcitrance and she steps back, maintaining her grip on the wheel until he can replace her hands with his.

“Don’t worry,” he offers, attempting to reassure her. “I know what I’m doing.”

“I never believed otherwise,” she says without looking at him. Her exit is only halted by her retrieval of a suitcase. She takes it with her and doesn’t speak or look at him again.

Will drives the boat a ways further in the same direction until he can safely dock them at a small town on the water. He ties them to a post at a beach and ventures down into the cabin to check on his travel companions. Chiyoh, whether she initially warred with herself over the proper course of action or not, is asleep in the bed. She and Hannibal both sleep like corpses on their backs, chins tipped waywardly toward the ceiling. Their hands overlap between them and Will wonders if it was done intentionally or unconsciously.

He slips out of the cabin as quietly as he can and stumbles off the boat onto dry land. It’s not exactly the right season for the beach to be overly crowded, so he buries his hands deep in his coat and stands on the docks, looking. His first instinct is to stretch his legs and see what there is to see, but Hannibal might think he ran and Chiyoh might shoot him. Will contents himself with sitting on the edge of the dock and watching his reflection in the water a few feet below.

A noisy low-flying plane cruises overhead about ten minutes later and Hannibal emerges from the boat. He scans their surroundings before noticing Will and visibly relaxing.

“Chiyoh is still sleeping,” Hannibal explains when neither of them moves to say anything else.

“Oh.”

“Do you know where we are?”

“Only that we needed to stop.”

Hannibal casts around once more, head held high and shoulders dropped back. He’s taken to wearing a simple t-shirt that can’t be warm enough in the chill of evening.

“It’ll be dark soon. We need to eat.”

“I think we will find food and lodging here,” Hannibal chimes in optimistically. “This coastal town is as good a place for us to quietly disappear as any.”

“Figured you’d want to leave the country.”

“Yes, when we’re able. Have you ever been to Argentina?”

Will looks away from Hannibal’s smile, blinding as it is. He contemplates their future in the deep blue stains creeping up from the sea to sink the sunset into nightfall. Hannibal sits beside him, folding his legs rather than letting them dangle beside Will’s.

He’s had it up to his fucking neck with Hannibal’s timidity and drops his hand heavily on Hannibal’s knee. Beyond that first contact, Hannibal doesn’t make him wait. He lifts his own hand to weave their fingers together. His hand is cold and the bulbs of his knuckles beneath Will’s fingertips are busted open. The flat line of Will’s mouth shivers into a smile.

“You don’t want to go back to Italy?” he asks Hannibal after a time.

“We have all the time in the world to go there.”

Pressure suffuses Will’s palm; Hannibal’s squeezing his hand. Will drags his gaze away from the blended shadows on the horizon and drinks in the sight of Hannibal’s cut-dappled face. Hannibal drinks him in, too, throat bobbing as if Will were a morsel or fine wine to be swallowed. Will lets his mind linger on the image, sure that Hannibal is thinking of it and that he’s thought of it.

“I’ve never been to Argentina,” Will mumbles, leaning in closer and delighting in Hannibal’s flicker of surprise on Hannibal’s face. He pushes just shy of being able to reach Hannibal’s lips and brushes a kiss over the corner of his mouth instead. “There’s a lot I’ve never done.”

This close he can see Hannibal’s eyelashes fluttering. He can’t hear his heart over the hushed waves on the ocean, so he corrects that sensory deficit by sliding his hand over Hannibal’s sternum, bold and fearless for all that he knows Hannibal is helpless to deter him here. He’ll let Will take anything he wants from him—as much as he can bear to want from him.

Hannibal’s heart skips beneath his hand and Will wonders, with his lips still pressed to warm skin, if this is one more way that they’ll transcend time and salt and biology together. From beneath the cloud of a decadent little shiver, Hannibal whispers, “I can teach you. I’ll teach you.”

Will smiles, pleased at the beauty in participation. God help him, but he’s curious.

Chapter Text

Sometime in the middle of the night, Chiyoh awakens. She looks marginally better than before but not exactly rested. Hannibal stays seated beside Will on the docks and doesn’t move to greet her or waylay her determined march onto the shore.

Her departure into the shadows is a silent one. Will only really believes that he sees her go at all because he hears the faint thump, thump, thump of her boots on the planks as she passes him. He watches her form disappear into the myriad mess of silhouetted nightfall. Her initiative is clear to him, for if she were leaving them to do anything but scout the area for a base to stow them in, she would have at least told Hannibal.

She would have ignored Will entirely either way, so he doesn’t concern himself with her motivations for now. It’s obvious that she dislikes him, but he doesn’t detect any immediate danger from her at this point in time. As much as she has proven herself to be capable of violence, she spoke the truth in citing it as a resource to utilize only when absolutely necessary.

Suffice it to say that he isn’t worried about Chiyoh. She serves herself first, but Hannibal’s interests are as relevant to her decisions if not even more so than her own.

They follow her with their eyes beyond the point that either of them can still see her. Perhaps Hannibal can, in fact, trace the outline she poses against the merged horizon. Its black flows in a single direction for its infinitude. Lazily, Will seeks out that touch of infinity in himself. The aura of it isn’t black like the void. It’s a dull red like Dolarhyde’s torn throat and eviscerated belly.

It’s the wingspan of the Great Red Dragon and the upheaval of Randall Tier’s flesh over animal skeletons. It is the holes he put in Garret Jacob Hobbs’ body. The lush purple of his and Hannibal’s bruises occupy its corona like a sweltering, magnificent atmosphere holding them together and keeping them enthralled to gravity.

Will opens his eyes and is surprised by the night. His eyes had held so much red. The world holding him, by contrast, cannot ever satisfy what he has become.

At his side, Hannibal points his focus up and out over the water. He rubs idly at the spot beneath his bandage and brushes his elbow along Will’s side. The slide of feather-light friction triggers a nonspecific memory Will has of spiders. Maybe something from when he was a child.

“A strange thing to look at the stars,” Hannibal prompts, destroying their peaceful silence. “We are encouraged to consider temporality and the necessitation of perspectives other than our own.”

“Alternate hemispheres,” Will murmurs, meaning celestial division but also meaning the human brain, peripherally. “Alternate time zones.”

“Yes.”

“All of us watching the same moon.”

“And experiencing the world in a million ways beneath her light,” Hannibal almost chirps.

“Only a million?”

“Some interactions are, undoubtedly, the same.”

“Nothing is ever unique,” Will argues, leaning back gingerly on his hands and dropping his head back as far as it will comfortably go. “Each day that we move forward, there are more and more things that can never be new again. I’m not new to you, not anymore.”

“I disagree,” Hannibal murmurs, his voice softened but still directed outwards at the sea. “You always find it within yourself to surprise me.”

Will supplies, “Even for all your whispering through the chrysalis.”

“Exactly.”

Hannibal does look away from the water then, judging by the slight increase in volume to his voice. Will lifts his head slowly and returns his gaze, slipping away into the back of his mind where that stolen influence registers the strongest.

Before, Hannibal slipped into his headspace like a cold current in a warm lake. Now he’s more like the lake itself, laden with mystery and quiescent but reactive to interruption. Will sees himself the way Hannibal must see him through eyes that are warm even in the dark—perhaps warmer for its cover. Could be he doesn’t think Will can see the look on his face, or maybe he looks that way because he’s sure that Will can see him.

Will’s memory is a spectacular thing of grids and boxes and channels. Hannibal keeps a palace of many rooms. Will keeps straits, deltas, rivers, and banks, and within every drop of water and in every imagined fish scale that glints in the individual particles of sunlight, there are memories. None of them are ambiguous. Every isolated one is a universe of its own making.

Hannibal has looked at him in this way before. He has always, always looked at Will the way he looks at him now.

“You aren’t new to me either,” Will says. He doesn’t fully mean to voice it but finds he’s unable to regret that his thought will erect a new corridor in Hannibal’s battered kingdom.

“I haven’t been new to you for some time now.”

The edges of Hannibal’s eyes crinkle, followed by a buoyant plumping in his cheeks, and lastly accented by a twitch of his lips. Will’s never paid much attention to that expression on Hannibal’s face before. In fact, he has sometimes actively ignored the affection that radiates from it. There it is now, as ever, pointed at Will unabashedly.

“If you did break a teacup and it did bring itself back together after, do you think that you would know it had been broken once?”

“If it bore no evidence of its previous destruction in the aftermath of my actions, then I would break it again.”

“Why?”

“It doesn’t satisfy me for a thing to be left untouched by chaos.”

“Untouched by you, you mean.”

“What difference is there in matters of destruction?”

The sound of boots on the planks silences their conversation. Chiyoh breezes past them and into the boat, light as air and quick as a bird of prey diving after a mouse. She resurfaces from the cabin with a suitcase he hasn’t seen and the one holding her rifle. Presumably, the keys to the boat are tucked away in one of her coat pockets.

“I have what we need. Follow me.”

--

Chiyoh swiftly reaches her limit of what she can stomach from her travel companions. At least they can boast of tending to their own wounds. If they’d had cause to solicit that service of her as well, she might have taken the boat and left them to fend for themselves.

Luckily for them, they need fuel before the boat will take them any further as it is down to the bottom of the tank. Their stomachs are about in the same condition, running on fumes. Ten minutes from the docks there is an unoccupied house she’s commandeered for their purposes. It’s likely a timeshare, judging by the ratio of dust to the functionality of the furniture. Someone pays enough attention to it for the structure not to be in disarray, but clearly no one has come to live in it for some time.

There’s no food in the kitchen, which is distressing, but there are fishing rods in one of the disused, oddly colorful bedrooms. Will offers to try his hand at catching them something to eat, but Hannibal insists he see to his wounds first. Chiyoh does not roll her eyes.

She retreats noiselessly out the backdoor and sits on the porch. There are no chairs, but fouler things have touched her than sand and damp wood. The amusingly petulant thought strikes her that Will Graham let her kiss him on the train to Florence. She wonders if Hannibal knows that a kiss preceded the push or if he knows that the push happened at all. It’s a strange series of questions to consider.

Will walks back to the docks alone. Hannibal rejoins her on the porch. Insofar as she can see Will’s pronouncedly injured strut from behind, nothing about his demeanor demands her suspicion. Apart from her intense distrust of him in general, that is. Hannibal sighs at her left.

“You aren’t fond of him, are you?”

“He presumed to force my hand many times. I am not obligated to forgive him.”

“Are you obligated to forgive me?”

“Yes.”

“Why? Because we are family?”

“Is that not why you forgive him when he hurts you?”

Hannibal looks at her with a medley of lightly felt emotions dancing across his face. Displeasure is not even remotely one of them.

“I am not biased toward him in the way that you are.”

“Are you biased toward me?”

Chiyoh considers the question and finds it unanswerable. “I have been away from you too long. You are all I have in this world, but I don’t know you anymore.”

Melancholy is a tangible thing twisting in her chest. It is a ribbon rent in warring directions until the threads binding it fray and snap apart. Hannibal holds out his hand to her, and though her instinct is to reach for him, she darts her gaze up to his and hesitates. The familiarity of the gesture provokes the wild bird in her chest. It beats its wings against the bars of her rib cage.

“You have always known me,” he says. “Even when you were learning me, you knew me.”

She looks from his hand to his face, all of him adorned with fresh cuts and bruises. Her hand finds his while their eyes are locked.

“I will never lie to you, Chiyoh.”

“You won’t be honest either.”

He doesn’t answer.

--

Will really can’t help it if bringing back their sustenance for the night fills him with an ancient, wholesome sense of pride. It’s late when he returns to the cabin. He passes Chiyoh on his beleaguered ascent up the dirt-and-leaves driveway. She points her eyes at him much like a lighthouse directing a beacon of light into a cave, but she doesn’t move to receive him or the bounty he’s collected.

Hannibal is in the kitchen wiping down counters and procuring tableware. It must be well past three in the morning.

“We could wait for breakfast,” he tries, setting down the cooler they found in the garage. It’s filled with water and two big fish. They don’t have the luxury of ice.

“I feel I would be more inclined to sleep with food in my belly.” There’s an upward lilt to Hannibal’s voice like there would be if he were posing a question.

Will takes it as in invitation to argue his case or leave the matter settled and eat now. He shrugs and passes off his haul. There isn’t much in the way of raw ingredients at Hannibal’s disposal, but he makes do with the salt, pepper, and vinegar that they find in the cupboard. Will expects Hannibal to be dismayed at the shortage of possibilities but is treated to a very different sight.

The small, under-stocked kitchen suits Hannibal just as much as the gargantuan one he kept in Baltimore. By comparison, the one he bustles around in now is plebian, but Hannibal looks regal within it, still. Baggy sweatpants and a fish fry comprised of five ingredients don’t do anything to steal his grace or his dignity. Watching Hannibal improvise with scraps makes Will realize the futility of subjecting someone like him to prison. Hannibal delights in having plenty, but he can thrive off having just enough.

Will observes as Hannibal slices the meat from both fish into equal, edible thirds. He carefully allots two portions to the three plates so that they will all have the same amount of food. In the waking hours, they’ll have more options available in terms of food acquisition, but Will doesn’t see what they have now as a deficit.

“I’ll get Chiyoh,” Will offers, standing to his feet.

They eat by candlelight at the dinner table. The green checkered tablecloth crinkles audibly at any and all movements, of which there are few. Chiyoh eats quickly and washes her dishes before retreating to one of the three bedrooms. Will looks at Hannibal and listens for the click of a closed door.

“Where are you going to sleep?”

Hannibal looks at him, not surprised but entering into a mild state of bewilderment that Will likes immensely. He can already tell that it would be in his best interest not to tease Hannibal this way in front of Chiyoh. She probably wouldn’t inflict bodily harm on him, but she wouldn’t forget it and he finds he’s actually not keen on the idea of giving her more reasons to resent him.

“Does your answer hinge on how you think I’ll react?” Will asks when many seconds tick by and Hannibal still hasn’t answered.

“It does,” Hannibal admits, lowering his eyes and taking the last bite on his plate.

Will lets Hannibal chew on it—the fish and the confession. He tracks Hannibal’s hand with his eyes as he sets the fork on his plate and wipes his mouth with a paper napkin.

“We shared a bed on the boat out of need. There are other accommodations here.”

“There are,” Will says.

“I suppose I’ll take the room nearest the front door. I would prefer to give you the more expedient escape route in the event that we are discovered.”

“What if I wanted the front bedroom?” Will bites back his smirk, savoring the sight of Hannibal’s rigid uncertainty. “Would you let me have it?”

“Your preference should hardly take precedence over caution.”

“I’d argue that we’re here right now because my preference took precedence over caution.”

Hannibal smiles, relaxing. “Caution has always been the deterrent to our happiness.”

Will leans in over the corner of the table, rustling the tablecloth with his knee. He lets his voice drop to roughened gravel. “Then why are you being cautious now?”

“Falling in love,” Hannibal says loftily, like a separate proclamation devoid of conditions or explanation. “I fell for you immediately, but how I felt in the beginning is a pittance to what I feel for you now.” He licks his lips, teeth chasing his tongue over pink skin in time with his bobbing Adam’s apple. “And I still have not said it to you.”

“You just did,” Will whispers, unable to remain flippant about it when Hannibal speaks so plainly with him.

“Can you say it back?” Hannibal asks, genuinely curious. “I suspect not. I won’t force you. If it never happens, it will be enough of a privilege to have your friendship.”

Hannibal takes their plates to the sink to wash them. Will stays frozen where he is for a long, ugly minute and leaves for the bathroom to resettle himself. Half his face in the mirror is obscured by bandages. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to leave the house in daylight without drawing attention. Perhaps even when they come off, the same hindrance will apply to the scar left in his skin.

The door to the right of the bathroom is cracked while the one to the left of the bathroom is tightly closed. He slips into the vacant room without turning on the light and lets his eyes adjust to its particular brand of black. The shape of the bed appears first like a landmass floating in the ocean. Next, he locates the window. He leaves the blinds closed but the curtains open so that he’ll some chance of waking with the light. The bed creaks when he crawls into it and under the blanket.

Hannibal’s words sting him like the wound in his cheek long after he closes his eyes. The odd pain follows him into his dreams.

--

Hannibal wakes with the dawn to the smell of coffee. He makes the bed in the front room before venturing into the kitchen just across the hall. Chiyoh is dressed and polished, cooking eggs on the stove. She isn’t wearing her coat, so she looks less like a femme fatale out of film noir and more like an ordinary human being.

“Haven’t you been busy,” he muses, smiling at her flatly unimpressed expression.

“I had three years of quiet.” She transfers the fried egg onto a plate. “It is a welcome change.”

“What did you do while I was away?”

“Someone found me. He thought he found me, I should say.”

“You ensnared him,” Hannibal surmises, smiling when she doesn’t correct him. “Who was he?”

The coffee maker stops burbling. Chiyoh cracks another egg and pours them each a cup of coffee while the egg spits in the oil on the pan.

“No one of consequence.”

Hannibal sips his coffee where he stands, hip propped up against the counter. It’s unsweetened, but the brew is rich and strong. Not a bad choice, all told. Chiyoh must have selected it this very morning as soon as the shops in town opened.

“Did the boat belong to him?”

“Yes.”

“How did you kill him?”

Chiyoh turns the egg in the pan with a spatula and looks at him, eyes impassive and lovely. Without the usual kohl lining her eyes, she looks half her age. Her clear skin and her big eyes render her precious and innocent at first glance. The dangerous glint in her eyes, though, lends a feral tint to her face. It has been there for as long as he can remember.

When they met in her childhood, she had looked at him that way. She was a girl a fraction of his size but challenging, audacious, and daring enough to assert herself as his protector regardless their age difference.

“You did kill him, did you not?”

“No,” she tells him, faultless in her honesty.

“Why not?”

“He is a resource. Dead, he means nothing to me.”

“He means little more to you alive.”

“You allowed Bedelia Du Maurier to live.”

“I can’t imagine he will for much longer,” Will says from the doorway, looking ruffled and glorious. He avoids meeting Hannibal’s eyes and heads directly for the coffee machine. Blithely, he asks, “Were you wanting to head back to Baltimore before or after Argentina?”

“She will be expecting us now,” Hannibal replies as casually as he can. He smiles at Chiyoh’s glare. “Better to wait.”

They dine together, hungry still from their meager meal only hours before. Hannibal washes their dishes after while Chiyoh drinks more coffee at the table.

He hears a chair scrape the tile and a few moments later, Will is standing beside him to dry the dishes Hannibal has scrubbed clean. Another chair scrapes the floor, followed later by the door to the back porch swinging open and shut.

Will is drying a coffee mug when Hannibal finishes with the frying pan. He takes up another dish towel, sees to the pan himself, and sets it back in the cupboard for later use. When he straightens out, Will is still examining the plain white mug in the cradle of his palm. Hannibal takes his moment of introspection to stare, in turn, at the scar over Will’s forehead. The morning sun strikes the healed skin in such a way that the straight line resembles melted down silver.

“Are you thinking of breaking it?”

“I’m thinking of when I went to your house that morning.”

Hannibal remembers there had been snow on the ground outside. They had talked of fine China and of old mugs, of Satan and of saints, while Hannibal made coffee.

“I’m also thinking of breaking it,” Will concedes.

“Wait until we have our own to break.”

“I guess it would be rude.” Will shelves the mug in its proper cupboard and closes it. “I’ve been thinking about what you said.”

“And?”

“You think I don’t want you.”

“Do you?”

Will blinks rapidly at his question, for some reason always blindsided by Hannibal’s occasional detours into direct discourse. He looks at the table and at the opening into the hallway that leads to the living room where the couches are. It also leads to the porch where Chiyoh is and she could come in through the door at any moment. At least, Hannibal supposes that is Will’s train of thought given that his next course of action is to grab Hannibal’s wrist and tow him into the front bedroom.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Will says, pushing the door closed and walking around Hannibal to sit on the edge of the bed. “I think it’s weird that you’re taller than me and that your hands are so big, and it freaks me out that you feel and sound and smell so masculine. But you’re you, and I’ve…” He licks his lips and winces briefly, probably because of the slit in his cheek. “I spent a lot of time trying to…control you. And in doing that, I had to confront...myself.”

Hannibal frowns, unseen for Will’s rubbing his eyes with the fingers and thumb of one hand. He shuffles closer and sits a safe distance away from Will on the bed. Will drops his hand but doesn’t turn his body to face Hannibal’s.

“What I feel for you…I’ve felt it for years now—not as…as love, but as…” He licks his lips again, slower in the action so that he won’t disturb the hurt in his cheek. The words, “Needing you,” tear their way out of his throat. “It wasn’t something I could ever let myself think about.”

“And now you can,” Hannibal fills in, gentle with his words and with what they mean. “You are free to explore the idea.”

Will looks at him and deliberately raises his knee onto the bed so he can shift the axis of his body toward Hannibal. His eyes are clear and the mirth he had been flung at Hannibal so playfully before is gone.

“You belong to me,” Will tells him, perfectly aware of the subtle shiver that works its way down Hannibal’s spine.

“To whom do you belong, Will?”

“You need to ask?” A smile twitches over Will’s mouth. He shakes his head, looking rueful. “I sailed across oceans for you. Even if I never…” He swallows. “If I never loved you, I didn’t do that out of loyalty to anyone else. I did it to be near to you.”

“Because we’re conjoined?”

“Because there’s a part of you that makes a part of me feel…right. Like that part’s supposed to be there, like it sings for you.” Will’s eyes shine in the yellowing sunlight that filters in through the cracked blinds. His voice comes out thicker. “When I’m with you, I feel less strange. But you don’t make me hide. You don’t make me forget what I am.”

“I thought you resented me for that.”

“I did.” Will nods and looks down at his lap. “I don’t anymore.”

“Then what shall we do now?”

“I want to be where you are. I want to want you back. It just feels like it makes sense. But I need to get used to you first. You’re nothing like I’ve…I mean…”

“You have never been with a man,” Hannibal says. “You have never wanted to be with a man.”

“That you’re a man is secondary to who you are to me,” Will sighs, sounding as though he has agonized over the fact for a long time. Perhaps he has. “I can’t explain it any other way.”

Hannibal stares. His belly is a cacophony of flustered tides and flashes of warmth. He almost doesn’t, but he has to ask, “Can’t you try?”

Will’s throat clicks around a stuttered, nervous gulp. He looks away, and Hannibal is about to rescind his greedy request when he breathes out, in a single rush of air, “Yes, I’m in love with you, damn it.”

He bolts out of the bedroom, not even going so far as to properly close the door behind him in his escape. Hannibal can’t make himself move to remedy it.

The knock that comes on the door less than a minute later startles him. Chiyoh pushes the door open and the look on her face is all cold steel. It grounds him. She looks fantastically irritated at whatever she deduces about him based on his appearance. Her impatience is a much needed dose of cold water over his head.

“What did he do to you?”

“Why do you ask it like that?”

“He looked deranged just now. You aren’t much better.”

“It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

She furrows her eyebrows at him, takes a moment to decide whether he is telling the truth, and closes the door, clearly dissatisfied but leaving him be. Hannibal lies back on the bed and lays his hand over his forehead, wondering for the first time in many years whether he might be losing his mind.

Chapter Text

Hannibal doesn’t press for details concerning the man whose existence Chiyoh has confirmed without explaining. It would please him to know, but his interests are focused elsewhere. For the time being, at least, he is all too content to banter lightly and affectionately with Will.

He also banters with her when they are alone. If these opportunities are not forthcoming during the day, he has taken to knocking on her door late at night with soft knuckles and stealing more time for them. She has no problems with these transgressions. They are given out of yearning and not pity.

Will avoids her insomuch as he can, interacts with her distantly but politely when he must, and only rarely attempts small talk with her. She is not oblivious to his and Hannibal’s intentions or to what is building between them just because one half of their party neglects to converse with her.

She has not ever been blind to the possibilities there. Such permutations of choice and consequence were less plausible before, but they were always blindingly visible. The potential was visible. Chiyoh could see it in the beginning, so she imagines Hannibal has seen it for a long time. Will can’t be far behind.

Their second week at the cabin, Hannibal removes the stitches from Will’s cheek. Chiyoh listens from her bedroom as he explains the general healing process of facial wounds as they correspond to the rate of blood flow. Her door is cracked and the bathroom door is open, which means she can hear the careful slide of metal as each suture is precisely snipped.

She can also hear what happens when Hannibal starts to deviate from the cleaner topics of blood and biology. He branches off into a tangent flavored by mythology and only gets so far.

“Dionysus, you’ll remember, never knew his mother. He was called Eiraphiotes for the way in which his father spared him after Semele—”

Chiyoh tilts her ear toward the door, listening for any sign of distress from Hannibal, but as the moments drag on, there is only quiet. After a time, she hears a soft sigh.

Almost indistinguishably, Will says, “Polymnos was one of his lovers.”

It’s like that then, Chiyoh thinks, shameless in her eavesdropping. About time.

“As was Ariadne,” Hannibal adds, less garbled but clearly floored by…a kiss?

Chiyoh slinks off the bed, creeps toward the door, and closes it without making a sound. Her thoughts on what she has heard don’t take on a hostile inflection. She is not curious about what they will do next, so long as Will makes no move to injure Hannibal as he had before. Their dealings from this point on cater primarily to the outcome of Will’s intentions toward Hannibal.

But Hannibal, with only the passing of a week, has shown to her that he trusts those intentions. He hungers for them, and that, decidedly, is not Chiyoh’s concern.

Hannibal knocks on her door that night as he has several times already that week. She opens the door for him without asking after his motives. He steps in quietly, a strange sight to see in his despondent moods, as he is currently. Chiyoh leaves the light off and climbs back into bed, allowing it when Hannibal climbs in beside her. The absurdity of it has become routine with repeated exposure.

“Do you worry that he will go to your room only to find it empty?”

Hannibal’s hand finds hers beneath the blanket. “He will not try until we are both well.”

“But he will try?” she asks, having no doubt as to whether he knows that she knows.

“Yes.” Hannibal sighs, fingers pressing to hers and easing back, hands not clasped but in neat alignment. “He has his heart set on it.”

“You have your heart set on it.”

“To a point,” he agrees, voice soft in the warm dark. “Only as much as he would allow, in this.”

Chiyoh heard him tell in hushed tones of the nature of Mischa’s death when she was young and when Hannibal first began to see her as a companion and not as an obstacle. They had only spoken of it once. A second conversation had been wholly unnecessary in that time of their life together. And later, when the prisoner was spared and when Chiyoh was not, they had not spoken of it. They had communicated silently, as Hannibal communicated many things to her in those days, about what was to be done.

She twists slightly and tests her fingers against his, sliding her palm along his until their fingers slot together like the thready cilia of a Venus flytrap. His skin is soft in some places and roughened in others. Until recently, the mounts of his knuckles have been scraped open and raw from violence.

Smatterings of scabs and smooth scar tissue punctuate the erratic expressions in his flesh. She traces a tendon veiled beneath uninterrupted skin, draws the tip of her finger higher over the valley between knuckles, and curls her fingers sideways around Hannibal’s.

“Is this something you need?” he asks, openly curious as far as she can tell. His free thumb roves in a back-and-forth sway over her palm as a pendulum does across a clock’s face.

“No,” she says, “but you offer it and I am curious.”

“Were you curious when he offered it, your quarry?”

“Circumstance demanded that I behave in accordance with his expectations of me.”

“So have your encounters with Will.”

“And I have not killed him either,” Chiyoh retorts, as sweetly as she would have spoken to John when they lay in bed together like this.

She still does not speak his name to Hannibal, for speaking it would be the equivalent of condemning him to die. Chiyoh has no misconceptions about his attitude toward the kind and soft-spoken John Brigham whose existence is a mere suggestion in Hannibal’s thoughts. It is enough for Hannibal that Chiyoh is known by someone other than himself that a death sentence be admissible.

“Is that something you need?” he inquires, gentler, more intent on the answer for his fascination with her drive to kill. He is like Will in that respect. It is a parallel she has observed of them before.

“Does it kindle in me the way it kindles in you?” She orders her thoughts while he waits through her contemplative deliberation. “Yes, but its fire does not fuel me.”

“What does fuel you, Chiyoh?”

“Loyalty.”

“To me?”

“To you and to Mischa, but to Mischa first.”

“You never knew her,” Hannibal whispers, not disparagingly—never that—but wonderingly. He rolls gingerly onto his good side, toward her, and turns their hands so that his is flat on the bed. “She is everything and nothing to you, always. Perfect in her inability to possess a flaw or harm you. Precious in that we can never save her.”

Chiyoh unlaces her fingers from Hannibal’s. She draws her hand gently down the side of his forefinger until his thumb stops her in the dip of his hand. The motion is not unlike racking the slide of a gun. Hannibal’s fingers curl slowly and methodically around the edge of her hand. They fit around each other like the same pair of hands on a single firearm.

Mischa’s name sours on her tongue when she thinks to continue the conversation. She blinks, bewildered, when Will’s name floats up as the much more palatable option.

“Did he kiss you?”

Hannibal exhales and raises their hands near the pillows. He turns his palm to face the ceiling and locks their fingers together before sliding his cheek over her the back of her hand.

“Softly,” he whispers, “slowly.”

For a while, Chiyoh cannot find a response anywhere within herself. She does not fidget or breathe or even think a word, emotion, or image. All that her mind can process is Hannibal’s steady breathing beside her and the weight of his cheek warm on her hand. She is no stranger to intimacy or its propensity to eliminate the distance between minds and bodies, bodies and minds.

“Dionysus never bedded Polymnos,” she manages. The sound of it is inadequate to her ears, but Hannibal’s lips only part in a wide smile.

“Polymnos died before he could.”

“Now you have died,” she says, working through metaphor, sultry entendre, and warped philosophy that merges with psychoanalysis and old religion to understand him. “But there is no altar or tomb upon which for him to kneel.”

“He needs none,” Hannibal replies, using the lush tone of voice that he does when something pleases him. “I will kneel for him.”

To share this space with him and to hear his heart, she believes that it would be no grievance to him to kneel. He would and will, if permitted. Chiyoh finds it bizarre, but the very edges of that thrashing concept slow for her and allow her to grasp the essence of the thing. She had said loyalty before when Hannibal spoke of physicality and aggression.

She runs her thumb down the side of Hannibal’s thumb, tracing the spidery lines in the skin and circling the raised skin where bone lies beneath the surface. Perhaps it is not so incomprehensible a thing to learn.

--

At the end of their second week, Will is ready to leave. Leaving takes preparation, though, so he distracts himself with salves. He and Hannibal are restricted to the house during the day, so he reacquaints himself with confinement and, after some impassioned lecturing from Hannibal, salves.

He daubs white petrolatum on his cheek and watches the ruined skin twitch as his jaw works. The neat but raised line across his cheek is ugly in a graceful wrath-of-God kind of way, like a collapsed house in the aftermath of a hurricane. In the mirror, his eyes looks dubious, and he wonders if Hannibal has seen him looking that way, as if he can’t believe where they are and what they’ve done.

He wonders at it because he can believe where they are. The things they did are entirely plausible to him.

Hell, he’s always been known for his ability to imagine anything. It’s not a stretch, this life on the run with Hannibal and his original surrogate sister. It’s actually, really, the most plausible outcome their wild chase with the Dragon could have had—impromptu cliff-dive, included.

Will hoped they would have been killed in the fall. He hoped. Now he hopes that they’ll leave this cabin in Kill Devil Hills within the next few days if not tomorrow.

He’s been meaning to check in with Chiyoh about their next destination. Florida would be a good first stop as it would lead them right into Cuba afterward. Chiyoh likely has her own route plotted out, but they’re both sailors, apparently. Navigation should be a joint effort.

Will tapes a much smaller bandage over the glossy, healing gash in his face. He cleans up after himself and finds Hannibal casting lines over a clean white page in the living room. Where he had sketched Achilles and Patroclus in his office the last time Will watched over his shoulder, Hannibal sketches a woman now. Her features are slack and her arms down. Her face is not one that Will has seen before.

“Semele,” Hannibal says, soothing a harsh bit of graphite with his thumb. “In the moment that Zeus destroys her.”

“Modeled after someone you know?” Will asks quietly, noting the full, pregnant belly.

“Her eyes come from a professor I met at Johns Hopkins.” Hannibal scrutinizes his drawing a few seconds longer and lifts his chin to gaze back at Will. “The shape of her jaw is my mother’s.”

Will seats himself on the arm of Hannibal’s chair and takes his time looking from his eyes to his chin to the woman on the page. He expects for a moment that Hannibal will recoil or go rigid with tension, but he melts instead. His shoulder eases back slightly to allow Will to lean in. Their bodies press in one line from hip-and-waist to ribs-and-shoulder.

Hannibal draws and Will watches, content to study the woman’s jaw while Hannibal goes to work on constructing an aura around Semele. The tiny crosshatched lines coiled around her body lighten the further away from her that they venture. He keeps the sheet of paper in place with the heel of his hand. Will’s body impedes his usual wider range of motion, but Hannibal doesn’t squirm out from under or push him away.

The repetitive sound of pencil brushing paper lulls him into relaxing on his perch. He shifts minutely on the arm of the recliner, grateful for the soft, agreeable upholstery that doesn’t squeak with every movement. It’s one of the more extravagant pieces of furniture in the house. Hannibal continues drawing until Will lifts his hand to his shoulder. His reaction isn’t the immediate freeze and halt that it was before.

It’s slower than it was and sweeter, tinged with enamored awe more than trepidation. Actually, he doesn’t imagine that Hannibal feels that for him anymore. His eyes don’t say that he does.

“Chiyoh would like to leave tonight. Are you amenable to that?”

Will hums his agreement, unprepared for how it buzzes in his chest or for how Hannibal’s eyelids droop slightly with his blinking. He hums again and slides his hand across to the other shoulder, barring his arm over Hannibal’s back in a heady, vibrant line.

His shoulders are firm and threaded with muscles, masculine. Strong. Will’s not sure.

But it’s wonderfully familiar to see Hannibal’s eyelashes flutter for just a fraction of a second and to feel his shirt rumple in the back where Hannibal’s fingers have grasped a fistful of it. It’s easy to be close. It’s workable, even if he doesn’t find himself helpless to that effortless type of seduction borne out of attraction.

“I’m amenable,” he murmurs, needing to say the words.

A smile touches the corners of Hannibal’s mouth. “How is your cheek?”

“Hurts. Do you want to see it?”

“Later, perhaps.” Hannibal releases his shirt and soothes his fingers along the small of Will’s back. “Did you use the antibiotic?”

“Yeah.”

“No swelling or redness?”

Will shakes his head. “It’s fine.”

“And the other one?”

“My other cheek?” Will asks with one raised eyebrow, purposely guessing incorrectly.

Hannibal tilts his head, eyes glittering with amusement. “Your other stab wound, Will.”

“I think the sutures can come out tonight.”

“Oh?” Hannibal asks neutrally, though his eyes light up unmistakably at the sight of Will’s flushed face and warming neck. “They could have come out last night. If you prefer, we will do it now—or you may remove them yourself, of course.”

Will doesn’t want to remove them himself. “We can do it now.”

He shrugs as if his heart isn’t pounding at the possibility of another tentatively stolen, yet weirdly pleasant kiss. Hannibal sets his pad of paper down on the vacant arm, waits for Will to stand first, and breaks away for the other hallway while Will walks to the bathroom.

It’s a tiny room, only a bit bigger than what they have on the boat. It fits a shower, a toilet behind the door, and a sink beneath a window. He sits on the toilet and removes his shirt, sitting in thrumming silence until Hannibal joins him with the kit he keeps in the front room.

Hannibal shuffles around the tiny workspace without commenting on Will’s choice to sit rather than to stand. He’s every bit as casually professional as he had been the first time when Will did stand, leaned up against the edge of the sink. Hannibal arms himself with the sharp stainless steel scissors and forceps Chiyoh bought for them from the nearest pharmacy and looks at Will.

“This will be easier than your cheek.”

He steps forward and Will has a flash of panicked indecision where he doesn’t know whether to part his knees or move them to one side, but Hannibal decides on the safer option for both of them. It’s the safer choice, but he still goes right to his knees like that’s where he belongs, the bastard.

Will opens his mouth. Not a sound comes out.

Hannibal snips at the sutures over his clavicle, working in comfortable silence. The first two cuts come out easily enough. A strange tugging accompanies their removal, but Will bears it without flinching. It doesn’t hurt, in any case. Most of what he feels lately that hurts less than his cheek doesn’t register in his mind as pain. The cold press of metal to his skin that meets him without cutting him certainly doesn’t hurt.

Hannibal pulls the clipped bits and deposits them into a dampened square of paper towel folded in his hand. They look like tiny shriveled umbilical cords. It reminds Will of what Chiyoh said about the unborn and the sound of water. The memory inspires peace in him.

Eventually, Hannibal has to lean across Will’s lap to get at the very last section. It resists extraction, naturally, so Will lifts his hand for Hannibal to stop. He turns and inches his legs apart. Hannibal hesitates before standing to toss the rest of the sutures in the bin. He checks Will’s eyes for a change of heart and sinks back into a graceful crouch between Will’s knees.

“Was it okay the other time?”

Comprehending the non sequitur, Hannibal says, “Yes, Will.”

“Just, I know it was okay. You made that face at the end. That’s not what I mean.”

“How do you mean it?”

Hannibal tugs at the remaining suture with the forceps, cuts the line, and inches it out. Will rolls a displeased noise around on his tongue at that last pinch of upward pressure. He sighs at his opening to speak.

“I don’t want to dangle this in front of you like…”

Like I did before.

The words dry up in his mouth. Hannibal’s expression doesn’t change but something in his eyes flickers with old, fragile hurt. It flickers in Will’s heart like a fire.

Will whispers, “See?”

Hannibal presses his lips together and drops his gaze. His chin tips downward so that Will can see the crown of his head. He sets his hand there and watches Hannibal’s hair spring up in the spaces between his fingers. From this angle, he can’t see Hannibal’s face, but he can see how his shoulders bunch upright before going slack.

“What if I decide at the end of this that I can’t want you?”

“You did promise me a reckoning once.”

It’s said wryly, but Will doesn’t like how thick Hannibal’s voice sounds at the end. He dislikes it enough, apparently, that his instinct is to tighten his grip in Hannibal’s hair and pull. There’s really only one thing to do from there.

This kiss is not like their first and it is not like the half-given one they shared on the docks. It is hard and dangerous and Hannibal gasps against his mouth.

“Careful with your cheek,” he breathes, one hand clumsily and frantically finding purchase on Will’s knee.

Will’s hand is still caught in Hannibal’s hair. Hannibal’s breath is on his chin. He takes the only direction he was given and kisses Hannibal again, carefully, loosening the knot of his fist to skim down the back of Hannibal’s neck.

Hannibal is pliant, but Will isn’t sure yet if that’s a given quality of his lips that always pout or if it’s the effect Will alone has on him. He’s hungry for the privilege of that knowledge, but Hannibal’s lips in general don’t arouse that response in him, yet.

They don’t arouse, typically, and Will hates that he can’t mirror what Hannibal feels with feeling of his own. He hates it. He wants it to be real the way he saw it as a real thing there over the bluffs, the two of them doused in blood and gore, just before Will tipped them over. It’s unrealistic to want to have that rushing storm inside of him all the time.

But Hannibal does have it inside of him, for Will. And Will wants to reciprocate.

It’s the wrong reason to want, but it’s the best he can scrounge up with his lips soft against Hannibal’s. He starts to pull away and goes still when Hannibal catches his jaw with two fingers.

“Stop me,” Hannibal entreats, the soft plea riding out on breath alone, “if I need to stop.”

Their lips touch again. Hannibal is gentle and reverent but mindful of the tender patch of skin just to the right of Will’s mouth. A strong hand works its way up the side of Will’s neck and into his hair. His eyes slip closed. He starts to open his mouth for the tongue flicking at his bottom lip, but Hannibal coaxes him against it with one hand cupped beneath his chin. The heel of that hand hovers over Will’s throat. The tip of a pinky finger grazes the pulse in his neck. He remembers how Hannibal looked in the moonlight with his head tipped back to view the sky, throat bared.

An unwilling, shuddering gasp spasms in Will’s lungs and forces him to jerk away. He exhales that trembling breath against Hannibal’s cheek and shivers hard when Hannibal’s response is to nuzzle his temple with a questing nose. A sigh crashes down over Will’s unhurt cheek. He blinks fast and catches his breath, confused and enthralled and elated but only confused when the last two fade all too quickly.

He pushes a terse sigh through his teeth and bumps his forehead with Hannibal’s in frustration. Hannibal smooths his hand down Will’s side, warm skin on warm skin.

“It’s okay, Will.”

“It’s not, I…I know what I felt,” he insists, quietly angry at himself. “What I feel.”

“What you felt or feel has no need of correlating to external expression. Validity is found in honest acknowledgement, not in false action.”

“It’s not false, I’m trying to tell you.”

“Then give yourself time to grow in it, for it to grow in you.”

Will’s lips part around a frown before squeezing into a harsh, upset line. Without lifting his eyes above Hannibal’s throat, he asks, eyes and throat burning equally, “You’ll whisper through the chrysalis?”

“I could never resist that opportunity when it was presented to me in the past. I suppose I cannot now, not if you ask me to.”

“I’m asking you to.”

Hannibal smiles and presses a chaste, delicate kiss to Will’s cheek, accepting the request. His lips tremble against Will’s skin.

--

They leave the cabin that night. Hannibal watches fondly as Will attempts to argue navigational matters with Chiyoh. It’s nightfall and while she is clothed in all black again, she looks less severe now than she did their first time on this boat with her. Will wears a bandage to protect his cheek from the wind and the sea salt, but it doesn’t protect him from Chiyoh’s scathing rejection of his ideas.

They aren’t arguing where to go but how they will get there. To Hannibal’s trained ear, he can hear that her acerbic tone with Will, while still healthily bitter, has diminished somewhat. He wonders if Will can hear the difference and decides that he probably can. Hannibal deeply enjoys watching their spat unfold.

Will retreats into the cabin at the end of it and Hannibal stays on deck to watch the stars for a time. When the charm of constantly wind-chafed skin grows dull, he carries himself down to the cabin as well with the modest goal of chasing sleep.

He finds Will sitting up in bed with his back to the headboard, his eyes closed, and a box in his lap. Hannibal approaches the bed and stands at the foot of it, staring appreciatively at the contoured shadows in Will’s jawline and down the curve of his throat. Will doesn’t hear him over the cacophony of the boat in motion, so Hannibal wanders closer still and sits on the edge of the bed.

Will cracks one eye open and almost smiles. He extends the box to Hannibal: a portable chess set that must belong to Chiyoh one way or another.

Hannibal opens it and does smile. “Brown, or brown?”

Will snorts. Hannibal would swear on his life in this very moment that there can never be a more pleasing sound to his ears.

“Brown,” Will says.

They arrange the board together, Hannibal perhaps guessing correctly that Will wants the darker pieces while he takes the tan regiment for himself. He watches Will rub his thumb beneath his lip and contemplate the board. A great surge of affection broils inside of him at the wonder of such a small, incidental gesture. He makes himself silently swallow it down.

Will moves a pawn forward two places. His wedding ring glints in the low light of the cabin.

Hannibal moves a pawn forward one space and swallows down a very different wave of emotions. He wonders if he can fool himself into believing that one day Will might replace that pretty lie with a bloody, glorious truth they made together.

Chapter Text

Hannibal opens his eyes in the cabin with stiff limbs and a dry mouth. Will is fast asleep behind him in a full sprawl on his back. He stirs at Hannibal’s quiet retreat from the bed but doesn’t wake. The bathroom is not far from the sleeping quarters, so Hannibal uses the facilities quickly and quietly without difficulty.

Washing his hands finds him lightheaded and splashing his face with water chases that dizziness into exhaustion. In the mirror, the visage staring blankly back at him looks drawn, haggard.

He’s far from dead on his feet, but that resilience may be the cause for his gaunt appearance. A high tolerance for pain has had him pushing limits ever since he fished Will and himself out of the water after their tumble over the bluffs. The way that some people overuse hyperbole, Hannibal could be accused of frequently underestimating the nature of a dangerous thing.

A phone call, for instance. Or a patient referral. A gunshot wound in his side.

His body has carried him through worse. It will not fail him here, not even if the lackluster gleam of his eyes looks suspiciously hazy. He inspects his wound beneath the sealed flap of the bandage and winces. Theatrical sensualist or no, Hannibal is still a very competent doctor. The gunshot wound hurts today more than it has lately, which is cause for concern.

Sleep would reward him far more than his sprightly behavior the two weeks they spent in Kill Devil Hills did. They don’t need him to guide the boat anyway. Chiyoh splits the sailing duties between herself and Will. Hannibal is the third wheel in their outfit.

He slinks out of the bathroom back into the cabin and walks quietly into the connecting lounge that leads to the deck. Chiyoh will be up there at the wheel, guiding their tentative journey to Florida. He entertains the idea of going up and sitting with her a while, but the sight of his reflection stays with him in shuddering afterimage and he stays where he is.

Despite its balmy atmosphere, the cramped cabin is comfortable in its heat. All their stored up body heat, spent breath, and medicinal-smelling wounds have made it like a sticky, humid day. He’s reassured by it as heat means blood and life. It means he has not come away from an old life alone, not again.

He pulls a long inhale of air into his lungs and searches for Chiyoh in the motley aroma that swaddles his senses. Soft notes of her scent sing out over his and Will’s like the hardy pollen carried off flowers in a strong breeze. She is the sharp cut of oleander branches rising out of an ikebana arrangement. Hannibal breathes in the smell of them for a time, undisturbed. It does little for the harried fluttering in his heart—something obtrusive like a murmur.

Laying his obedience at the feet of his caretakers, he traipses back to the bed. Will has rolled into the warmth Hannibal left behind in his sleep, unharmed cheek buried in the pillow.

Hannibal pushes down his urge to sketch Will as he is in his slumber and rounds the other side of the bed to climb in. Will makes a questioning noise just as Hannibal is settling under the welcome cloud of sleep.

“Hannibal?”

“Hello, Will,” he sighs, drifting in between sweet blackness and taut wakefulness for the purpose of conversing with his bedmate.

“’s Chiyoh still up?”

Hannibal shifts onto his side, aided by both his and Will’s injuries falling on the right sides of their bodies. A gruff sound rattles in his throat before Hannibal says, “Yes.”

If Will speaks to him beyond that exchange, Hannibal misses the words.

--

Will wakes in miserable, episodic bursts. After the one occurrence where he’d opened his eyes to find Hannibal gone, Hannibal is always there, looking emaciated. Prison had thinned him out enough for Will to notice when he first saw him, but he hadn’t looked unhealthy. He didn’t look ill at the cabin either. He hardly even looked injured.

The last time that he stays awake, Hannibal is still out, barely breathing and certainly not mundane enough, even in his evident weakness, to snore. Will creeps out of bed, takes a moment to wake up more completely in the bathroom, and spares a glance for Hannibal curled on his side before heading up to reconvene with Chiyoh. She doesn’t glare at him, but she doesn’t smile. He doesn’t take it personally since she really doesn’t smile at Hannibal either.

“I don’t need to change yet,” she tells him.

“Okay.” He sits in a chair just a few feet away from hers. “How long was I out?”

“Six hours.”

“So we’ve got another…four, I’d say? What’s our nearest port town?”

“Myrtle Beach.” She nods her head at the map he’d gotten her to look at with him. “At the end of this stretch, Myrtle Beach will be the nearest port town.”

Will makes some kind of vague gesture with his hands and stretches his neck and his shoulders, unseen. Chiyoh keeps her eyes on the water far out ahead of them and on all sides. He wonders if she was always this way, so focused and goal-driven. Those two qualities alone, discounting who Hannibal is and his ability to endear himself to virtually anyone, explain her character to him succinctly enough.

“He looks feverish,” he says over the waves and the wind and the motor.

Chiyoh doesn’t reply and for a while he thinks she won’t. The key turns in the ignition and the roar of the boat’s propulsion dies down.

He watches her for a moment but she doesn’t move. There’s a perfect loose curl spiraled out over her temple that he’s grown strangely accustomed to seeing. Apart from that single anticipated anomaly, she is to him as she usually is—a statue. Eventually, she drops her hands into her lap, a shiver of humanity over marble.

“Take your watch then,” she tells him, not unkindly.

Will does. He gets them to Myrtle Beach, considers the port and the people, and docks the boat. Chiyoh climbs above deck immediately, clearly not having slept a wink since she went into the cabin. She tells him to stay in the boat, so he does the only sensible thing he can fathom and goes to check on Hannibal. He’s conscious and isn’t delirious, which is a decidedly good thing.

“Where are we today?”

“Myrtle Beach.”

Hannibal pushes off his pillows that Chiyoh must have propped up against the headboard. Will steadies him with his hands so he can sit up properly without hurting himself.

“I’m worried you might have an infection.”

“Chiyoh said as much.”

“We’ll get you something for it,” Will says, not fully aware of where the words are coming from but meaning them with the full force of his being. “Just say what.”

Hannibal hears that unwavering, unidentifiable thing riding the waves of his voice and smiles, serene. “I’ve made a list. Chiyoh insisted that I entrust her with it.”

“That’s probably the wiser choice. No way to know if Jack suspects her involvement in getting us the hell out of dodge. Bedelia could have said something, but…”

“She has not,” Hannibal tells him, still smiling that blissful, relaxed smile. “She won’t.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Bedelia is not deluded by the same dreams that Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom share. She is more like Margot in that sense. It is enough for her to exist without us. The farther we are from them, the less danger there will be in their lives.”

“Jack and Alana dared to dream of revenge,” Will fills in, hanging onto that idea, liking how it sparkles in his mind like light glinting off glass. “Bedelia knows you won’t be caught again.”

“I suppose she does.” He sounds less convinced than Will is.

“They were lucky to catch you once,” Will muses, dropping his voice for Hannibal’s benefit. “And if not for me, they wouldn’t have.”

“If not for me, they wouldn’t have caught you,” Hannibal volleys back, head listing tiredly to one side. “What if we are again to be the cause of each other’s demise?”

“When it was my turn to be in chains, you exonerated me. When it was your turn, I broke you out,” Will murmurs, speaking on autopilot but reaching consciously for Hannibal’s hand on the bed. “If they get us again, then we’ll get out again. History repeats itself. No one will ever adapt to us or what we’re capable of.”

Hannibal looks helpless for a great many seconds that Will doesn’t count. The slight part to his lips is rapture, the unchecked lift of both fair eyebrows is amazement, and the twitch of his fingers in Will’s palm is unfiltered hope. Will forgets in this raw expression of utter happiness that Hannibal could possibly want anything more from him than what they already have.

Unaware of the direction Will’s thoughts have taken, Hannibal’s eyes shine for just a moment out of that long silence. He looks down and smiles into his lap. Their fingers clasp together in a single lock, hands inverted and thumbs aligned with pinky fingers. Hannibal traces the line between Will’s last two fingers with his thumb.

--

They are on the water for two weeks exactly before they get to West Palm Beach. Chiyoh brings the boat to dock early in the morning with Hannibal and Will both on deck with her to watch the dawn break over the water. Will fills the tank and stays at the wheel with Hannibal at his side while Chiyoh ducks down into the cabin to sleep. Hannibal wakes her at Longboat Key, closer to evening but not dark out yet.

As they were in North Carolina, the docks Will has chosen for them are right on a beach with houses near the water. She takes him with her to procure a boat slip and leaves Hannibal in the boat with her rifle. He’s been off the Rocephin for days now, but she would rather be cautious than stupid with his health after the scare he gave them.

At this hour, only a few people are still bringing their boats in, but they’re entirely focused on their own business and ignore the odd pair she and Will make walking together. Will walks with an easy gait about him that is not likely to draw attention. Her quick steps and straight back, by contrast, create a dissonant image when juxtaposed with his lazy stride.

She grits her teeth and rolls her shoulders into an unimposing slouch, taking care to sway through the hips so that her walk doesn’t mirror Will’s too closely. He notices what she’s doing and clearly finds it amusing.

“What if we don’t find an empty house this time?” he asks once they are far from the scant crowds by the docks.

She swings an impassive glance at him. “‘This time’?”

To his credit, he doesn’t stumble. His jaw drops open in quaint surprise and he says, “Were there people in the house in North Carolina?”

“No,” she says plainly, bored with the question that he shouldn’t have to ask.

“Okay, and if there are people in all these houses, are you ready for that?”

“Are you?” She points a flat look at him and then directs her gaze forward, slipping back into her rigid posture. “I am not the one who had to jump off a cliff in order to be at peace with my ‘becoming’ as you so deftly phrased it before. You waste your querulous sympathy on me.”

She doesn’t look at Will and Will doesn’t speak. He keeps pace with her easily and only troubles her again when they come upon a darkened house.

“You didn’t bring the gun with you,” he reminds her.

“It would cause a sensation.”

“Hannibal using it on the boat wouldn’t?” he asks, brows reaching up toward his hairline. The scar on his forehead hides itself amongst wrinkles and shadow.

“He isn’t meant to use it. Ideally, he will have the sense and strength to hide until a stealth kill is possible.”

“Then why did you leave the gun with him?”

“To acknowledge the danger of leaving him alone,” she replies evenly, not owing him an explanation but preferring it to their usual silence. “To accept whatever outcome his continued survival might cost.”

Will doesn’t refute this answer. He merely takes his cues from her and maintains a casual walk at her side. An older couple emerges from a house on their subtle sweep of the neighborhood and Will promptly scoops her hand up in his. It’s lucky for both of them, and perhaps for the couple, that she doesn’t flinch or reflexively go for his still-tender cheek with her fist.

He ignores her and smiles at the pair of people already looking at them, offering a slight tip of his head that is promptly returned by both parties. Chiyoh silently fumes. Will walks with the confidence not of a man who has had his life taken from him but of one who has just reclaimed it.

His hand stays affixed to hers out of the clinging power of his fingers and nothing else. Their palms don’t adhere and it is not at all like when Hannibal holds his hand to hers.

“We look more wholesome as a couple,” he explains when they happen upon a house with no car and all the lights off near the end of the street. His head inclines that way in an unspoken signal even as he adds, “And more forgettable.”

“I should break your fingers.”

“Honestly I’m surprised you’ve waited to have an excuse.”

She glares at him and drags him around the bend in the street by the hand stubbornly linked with hers. They circle around to the back of the houses they scanned and Chiyoh counts down to the one Will indicated. Through the clear glass door they can see luggage strewn out along the foot of a couch. They keep walking. She counts down to the next house she’d had her eye on.

“This one,” she murmurs, taking her hand out of his grasp with some semblance of calm.

“Not sure a neighborhood was the right choice,” he says even as she picks the lock on the backdoor. “I’m sorry I didn’t get your permission before I took your hand.”

One of the picks scrapes the inside of the lock and she swallows down an astonished curse. Chiyoh swivels the interior mechanisms until her interference yields a loud click. The door slides open easily on a metal dusty track. She listens to the reassuring emptiness of the house and turns to regard Will before stepping inside. A quick but thorough scan of the house tells her what she already knows: the house is presently uninhabited.

“I will say this to you once and only once,” she begins without raising her voice. He has fallen back into place at her side after searching his side of the house. “When we met, you pushed me to kill for you in the guise of killing for myself. Since then, I have taken many lives protecting Hannibal from you or because of you. In Florence, I had you in my sights and it could have been the end of you, but it was not. At that abhorrent estate when Hannibal carried you to safety in his arms, it could have been the end of you. But it was not. I am responsible for you in the same respect that I am responsible for Hannibal.”

His jaw clenches and somehow she foresees what he is about to say. He grouses, “You pushed me off a train. That was you being responsible for me?”

“Did you think I owed you my gratitude for what you did?”

“Were you happy there?” he asks, voice creeping up in volume but careful not to breach the decibel that would make it a yell. “I gave you an out. I made it so that it wasn’t your fault. It was what Hannibal wanted anyway and you knew it. You knew it then and you know it now.”

Chiyoh stares at him, torn between believing him and still very much desiring to twist his fingers until they break one by one. “You thought you had power over me because what you did resulted in my liberation. You thought that Hannibal’s wish for it to be as you made it meant that your decision was the right one. You thought that you could transfer what you knew about yourself onto me.”

He opens his mouth but hesitates. She can see him editing his thoughts.

“You are a usurper and you assume where you should not,” she murmurs, tearing her eyes away from him and searching through the drawers in the kitchen for a spare key. She finds one, unmarked, in a drawer nearer a cabinet and pockets it. “We will go out the backdoor and come in through the front with Hannibal.”

Will unlocks the front door on their way out just in case the key doesn’t work. Together they walk out the backdoor in cold silence. Chiyoh’s thoughts are less venomous on the walk back.

--

Once they get Hannibal back to the house, Will goes walking on the beach with his shoes in one hand. He doesn’t invite Hannibal along. The walk from the boat to the seaside property was enough of an athletic feat to expect of him for the rest of the week. He walks barefoot where the water rushes over his toes in chilled waves and watches his heels sink as his weight shifts. Where the sand is very wet, his footprints don’t last.

He returns to the house when it’s much darker and by then, Hannibal is sleeping again. Chiyoh is awake and sitting in the kitchen with a cup of something that steams. She looks up at him and her face is not entirely closed off.

The unflattering thoughts she harbors for him can’t be fixed by one conversation or even by several, but at least a sliver of the armor she wears against him daily has been chipped away.

Hannibal sleeps in a bedroom with a large window facing the water. The view will be breathtaking in the morning, so Will wrestles silently with the curtains and then wrestles with himself over where to put himself. The past few weeks on the water haven’t been easy. Hannibal’s infection, albeit minor, was stressful to combat while juggling shifts with Chiyoh and docking the boat only when they couldn’t avoid it.

There hasn’t been time to deal with the aspects of their relationship that they said they would. Beyond the logistics of his sexuality and how it pertains to any kind of intimacy with Hannibal, his daydreams haven’t been of touching Hannibal. He’s deeply fascinated with the surest method of getting him to make a filthier version of the sound Will’s only heard suggestions of when they kiss, but that’s as far as it goes.

No, the fantasies he’s been entertaining of late are bloodier—not because he’d enjoy killing Hannibal but because he’d enjoy killing with Hannibal. He’d imagined it during the long hours he spent driving the boat while Chiyoh slept and when Hannibal was recovering.

He stands by what he said to Hannibal after the mess with Mason Verger concluded. Hannibal’s appetite is not matched in him. Even with the taste of it lingering on his tongue and caught in his teeth after the Dragon, he isn’t hungry for it.

Curious, yes. Ravenous, no.

But he does wonder what it would do to him to feel cooling blood sink under his nails while the same blood dries in patches on Hannibal’s skin.

From beneath the blanket on the bed, Hannibal sighs in his sleep. The sound of it is the opposite of fussy. He’s probably dreaming about cooking his enemies into his favorite gourmet dishes and then eating them. Will looks at the window, strips off his sweater and shirt, sits on the edge of the bed to undo his shoelaces, and kicks off the ugly slacks that don’t fit him right.

Hannibal doesn’t move toward or away from him when he slides in behind him under the blanket. Will minds the shortened space between them and falls asleep with his knuckles loosely pressed up against the nodes in Hannibal’s spine.

The sun is not what wakes him in the morning. In his sleep, Hannibal turns onto his back, flattening Will’s hand to the mattress. Will grumbles something and groggily extracts his hand. A sharp hiss through Hannibal’s teeth jolts fully out of his dreams. There’s a moment of crazed silence and Will hears Hannibal scenting the air for him.

“It’s me,” he clarifies needlessly.

“Will.”

“Yes.”

Hannibal twists sinuously away from him and frees Will’s hand from beneath his back. He settles once more on his back and rubs one hand over his face.

“Sorry,” Will grumbles, throat rough from sleep and weariness.

“You startled me.”

“That’s a first,” he yawns.

“And you said nothing new could transpire,” Hannibal remarks, voice lilting at the end. He pauses to echo Will’s yawn. “You said nothing could be new.”

“I said fewer and fewer things could be with every passing day,” Will argues, not sure why he’s encouraging a philosophical discussion. They finally have a proper bed on solid ground to sleep on and they should be sleeping, goddamn it. “Go to sleep.”

“Did you open the curtains?”

“Thought it’d be nice to wake with the sun,” he answers in place of a simple ‘yes’.

“Are you now revisiting the idea?”

Will sighs and pushes fingers to his eyes. “Yes.”

Hannibal doesn’t say anything further, but Will gets up anyway and pulls the curtains closed as Chiyoh had left them however many hours ago. The room isn’t cold, not even in just his underwear, but he misses the collective warmth of their bodies. His mind hadn’t made an effort to replace the sensory information at his fingertips with mementos from elsewhere. He returns to his side on rote and stops with his knee on the edge.

“Move over,” he whispers.

“No.”

“Hannibal,” he huffs, a strong flash of rebellion blossoming in his chest.

He steps with his knee where it is near Hannibal’s elbow and swings his other leg over Hannibal’s hip to climb over him. Except, he stops with his knees on either side of him.

He plants one hand near Hannibal’s stomach on the bed to support himself and Hannibal turns his head to look at him. Will can see him blinking owlishly in the dark. There’s a blanket between them, but Will is still only wearing one item of clothing. Unashamed as he is of his body in general, he flushes hot all down his neck and chest at their predicament that’s entirely his fault. It’s a small miracle that there isn’t enough light for Hannibal to see, but all the darkness in the world wouldn’t stop Hannibal from hearing how Will’s heart is pounding.

“Um.”

Hannibal stares at him. Will stares back.

“Please be careful not to jostle me again,” Hannibal tells him, sounding breathless—or maybe Will’s blood is just rushing in his ears.

“Yeah. That’s. I won’t.”

He lowers his other hand near Hannibal’s shoulder, carefully swings his other leg over, and pushes forward into an artless dive. Hannibal bounces briefly with the motion and then doesn’t move.

“Sorry,” Will mutters at the ceiling with Hannibal’s back to him.

A second passes, then two. “What have you done that merits an apology?”

“Well, if you mounted me in your underwear in the middle of the night, I might be a little upset. Alarmed, at least.”

Hannibal shuffles beneath the blanket. The rustling stops. His hands are pillowed beneath his cheek. Will sits up on his elbow and can only just make out the impression of Hannibal’s mouth turned up at the corner.

“Perhaps you owe yourself the apology then, Will.”

“Are you laughing?”

“Of course not,” Hannibal says too quickly, but Will can see his teeth where his lips pull back in an unrepentant grin. “That would be inexcusably rude.”

Will considers the quickest, most surefire way to smother that smile but restrains himself. His cheek won’t forgive him the more aggressive kisses Hannibal provokes.

“Ugh,” Will groans, falling back onto the pillows and closing his eyes.

He sees Hannibal’s shoulders bunch in one more stifled laugh before he goes still and peaceful again. Will rolls his eyes, inches closer, and buries his face in Hannibal’s shoulder in petulant retaliation. Hannibal, of course, relaxes utterly against him. Oddly enough, the trust in the gesture gives Will an overwhelming sense of gratification and he, too, relaxes.

The sun still does not wake them. Will blinks his eyes open with Hannibal still asleep before him and his arm slung high over Hannibal’s chest. His nose brushes the base of Hannibal’s skull where the ends of his hair tickle his lip.

Grow in it, he said.

Will closes his eyes, tightens his hold, and falls back asleep.

Chapter Text

Chiyoh sits on the deck of the modestly sized sailboat with Will and Hannibal for most of the trip from the Floridian coast to Cancún. Until they reach their destination in Belize, Will has offered to take over primary responsibility with directing their course. She prefers not to be near him generally, but as the sailing routes become more difficult to navigate, she can’t justify refusing his assistance. Regardless of their poor understanding of each other, there is a quaint charm in sharing wordless company with Will.

It is only when he kills the engine and beckons Hannibal over to teach him how the controls work that she leaves them for the cabin. They’ve gravitated closer by small but noticeable increments ever since this harried journey of theirs began, so it isn’t surprising or even upsetting, but to even look at them as they are puts a sour taste in her mouth.

She doesn’t trust Will, which is undoubtedly at the heart of her dislike for the situation. Jealousy is also a viable explanation. The thought makes the bad taste in her mouth go coppery with the salt tinge of blood.

To be jealous of Will. For what? Their foray into a transformed, possibly sexual dynamic is not something she craves for herself in any capacity. Perhaps it is the intimacy alone that riles her.

Perhaps.

When they drop anchor in Cancún, they spend the first day discussing what is to be done. They need documents and they need shelter. An understated hotel suits their latter problem fine. Chiyoh books them a single room with two beds under a false name and silently plans the best way to acquire documents for them.

“On whose dime are we living right now?” Will remarkably thinks to ask upon seeing the room—or maybe upon noting the fact of the two beds existing within four feet of one another.

“Mine,” Chiyoh tells him flatly, unpacking the meager foodstuffs they’d brought from the boat into the small kitchen.

“Don’t you have funds we can access?” he asks, turning to Hannibal, clearly.

Chiyoh leaves the kitchen and unpacks her rifle. She pockets a small switchblade from a compartment beneath the gun and repacks the rest. It entertains her that Will doesn’t say the most obvious thing that they are all thinking—that these accommodations will not allow him the privacy he has so far enjoyed with Hannibal. She looks up from her rifle case to meet Hannibal’s thinly amused stare in the seconds before he answers Will’s question.

“Before my incarceration, I transferred what remained of my wealth to Chiyoh.”

Will sits on the edge of the bed already occupied by Hannibal and openly studies her in turn. “Wait. So the owner of the boat we’ve been using. Why did you need him if not for the financial support?”

“Why did you take a wife?” she challenges him. “For something so sentimental as love?”

“Actually I ran away with a known cannibalistic fugitive for that,” he replies, matching her sharp, snide tone.

Chiyoh makes her voice saccharine and affects a semblance of innocence. “Have I overstepped?” Over Will’s shoulder, she sees Hannibal’s smirk. She continues, “For there to be no secrets between us, the current will run back in your direction. Be assured of that.”

Will scoffs, but by the determined glint of his murky blue eyes, he doesn’t appear deterred by her warning. He muses, “Something for something?”

As if she would trust anything he offered her to be the truth. “You equivocate as a bird flies.”

“I’ve seen you shoot birds out of the sky,” Will says with a strange half-smile on his face as if they are playing a funny game. They might be, to his mind.

“You were not in the sky when she shot you,” Hannibal reminds him, shifting delicately on the bed to gather his socked feet beneath him. Mostly to Will, he murmurs, “Does it please you to argue?”

“We’ve been on the run together for months now and no one’s been stabbed, strangled, or otherwise mutilated.” Will similarly brings his feet up onto the bed. “It’s going better than I expected.”

Chiyoh grits her teeth and shrugs on her coat. She pats the pocket discreetly for the billfold and leaves the room without another word for or from either of them. Let Will speak his nonsense and let Hannibal fawn over their clashing temperaments. She has work to do.

--

“Perhaps you are too hard on him,” Hannibal chides her their fourth afternoon in Cancún.

“No,” she says.

“No?” Unmuted pleasure bubbles in his chest. To witness this stubborn petulance in Chiyoh is an unfettered delight.

She doesn’t return his smile. Only repeats herself. “No.”

Will is out fishing at present, deemed trustworthy by Chiyoh for this solitary action only for the economy of it. Confident in Will’s absence, Chiyoh shows Hannibal the dress she purchased in El Centro that very morning. It is a beautiful garment done in white with colorful trimmings and a flared skirt. She will look lovely wearing it. Apparently a public event with politicians in attendance merits the purchase.

“What will you achieve by accessing these politicians, I wonder?”

“One politician,” she corrects him. “Though there are others, should she fail me.”

“I was unaware that you had connections here,” he muses. “Let alone ties to political figures. I thought our stay in Quintana Roo was merely a rest stop.”

“Do you think me so reckless?”

Chiyoh doesn’t explain herself and he has no need of pressing her for information now. She checks him for signs of physical distress and smiles small upon finding nothing amiss. Although she would not and will not say as much aloud, his fevered infection before frightened her. He can imagine the two forces at play, always, in her mind: the frail wisp of hope kept alive all their years apart and her unbreakable conviction that she must protect him, now as ever.

He doesn’t ask how she will approach the matter of meeting with state officials or how it will supply them with a need as yet unsatisfied. They require legitimacy if they stay or if they move on. For her confidence that they will settle that matter here rather than elsewhere, there must be roots set in place that she is not telling him about.

Hannibal eyes the orderly case holding her rifle on the bed and considers the options as she pours them a cup of jasmine tea each. The Gulf Cartel could have employed her, though he’s unsure as to whether there is a connection between them or if she intends to insinuate the existence of one. Corruption is hardly unique to any single part of the world, after all. He has faith in her success no matter how she seeks to attain it.

“May I see it?” He inclines his head to the dress.

She sets her emptied teacup on the table. Her seat is across a corner from his, so he cannot look directly at her unless she allows him that privilege. She does not. The hard line of her jaw twitches. Her assumption is that he will tease her for how drastically different the dress is from her usual attire. He waits a beat to make sure she will see his smile once she looks up at him.

Her eyebrows scrunch down in unabashed distrust. She drops her focus from his face to her hands folded on the table. He decides he will not mince his words.

“You used to wear lilac and pale gold silks, a red ribbon in your hair, and pink sakura blooms over bright blue. Do you remember the furisode Obasan made for you? The blue one with the peacock fashioned over the back?”

“Of course. Reserved for special occasions.”

“She did love to see you in ornate dress. You were fonder of slacks and smocks, much to our mutual devastation.”

The harsh line of her brow softens, as does the pinched line of her mouth. It pains her to revive the old memories, but to hear him speak of them smooths the hurt into something more malleable, more comforting. They are more than images and sounds that happened once, preserved in her mind. His acknowledgment and his perspective solidify them, make them real.

Her knuckles shift beneath pale skin. He soothes his palm over the backs of her fingers and catalogues the restlessness in her hands. They ease and go still beneath his. There has been power to her elegant hands for as long as he has known the feel of them in his. Even as a girl clutching after his wrist when he thought she had given up trying to identify a particular sliver of charred bark, there had been determination in her tiny fingers. There had been surety in the slow pulse thudding in her wrist at the same frequency as his own.

“Have you trained in kendo since we parted ways?”

She tilts her head. “Not for some time.”

He nods. It is the same for him.

“You are not well enough to spar.”

“I should like to once I recover my strength,” he murmurs, remembering the past and imagining the future. “We will surprise each other, I think.”

“You were better than me then.”

“You were half my size,” he teases, treasuring the dark pink blush in her cheeks.

Chiyoh very nearly rolls her eyes at him. She turns her hand on the table to cup her hand beneath his. Her other hand covers the back of his, cradling him from knuckles to wrist.

“Hannibal.”

She looks up from their hands and searches his eyes. He lifts his free hand to tuck a curl behind her ear. Still the bewildered child with every emotion splayed on her face, also the hardened killer who learned cruelty at the same time that she gave it. His protector and his charge.

“I know, Chiyoh.”

--

Will takes the second passport when it’s handed to him. The woman—girl, really—fiddles with the two sleek laptops on her desk and yawns. Her name is Leticia. She is contemptuous like a teenager, speaks flawless English with only traces of a native accent to her words, and is a genius in her own right. According to Chiyoh, she’s something of a virtuosic forger. Will doesn’t struggle to believe it.

Her apartment is nice and spacious but devoid of many personal flourishes. What few touches she has allowed in her Spartan living space don’t tell him much about her. It doesn’t much look like she did the decorating herself. The lack of any photographs on the wall makes him more certain of this assumption. Could be that this place is designated for consultations like this one more than it is for living in.

“Are you with the cartel?”

Apparently it’s a stupid question to ask. Leticia looks at him like it is anyway.

“No more than you are,” she says, dismissing him. “I’m with no one but myself. I work for money when I need money. You have money.”

Chiyoh stares flatly at Will when he looks at her. She’s still wearing the white dress from earlier that day. He saw her leave the hotel in it on his way back from the water and almost didn’t recognize her. By now, it’s familiar just from sitting in this room with her for upwards of six hours. Something about waiting up past four in the morning to engage in illegal activity jades a person entirely to what would ordinarily be considered strange.

If he’s being honest, he’s a bit out of his depth where the other two women in the room with him are concerned. Chiyoh never confirmed his whispered suspicions about her own involvement with the cartel, but he wouldn’t put it past her to have worked for them as an independent contractor at one point. Will’s killed people, sure, and he can exude poise just as much as the next skilled bullshitter, but it’s not the same with Chiyoh. She doesn’t read him the way he’s accustomed to being read.

It’s a bit like that with Leticia, too. She looks through him and loses herself in her typing, making him wonder if he might be transparent if not outright invisible.

He keeps himself awake for the passage of night into morning by studying the passports currently in his hands. Hannibal looks himself, for the most part. His haircut from prison hasn’t had time to grow out, though a smattering of ambitious locks does flop over his forehead. It’s endearing to look at. Will shuffles Hannibal’s passport beneath Chiyoh’s and flips hers open.

She looks like those famously vintage shots of Audrey Hepburn from her youth. Only the subtlest implication of playfulness shines through from beneath the stoic veneer of her hard expression. Will racks his brain for the memory that enables him to recognize that spark of play in her face now.

Chiyoh looked at him that way when he showed her the scar on his stomach. There was a flash of it in her face when he found her prisoner. When she spoke of what the unborn hear.

Will blinks and shuffles her passport back beneath Hannibal’s. Chiyoh accepts the final passport, Will’s, from Leticia some hours later when the sun is risen beyond the sheer-curtained windows. She hands it off to him and hands Leticia a sizeable roll of American dollars.

Leticia promptly turns them out once their transaction is complete. She stops Chiyoh at the door while Will checks his photo. He looks harmless. His scar has been edited out completely, facilitated by the beard he’s been cultivating for the same purpose of hiding its existence. It’s been some years since he had a full on beard. He finds he’s oddly looking forward to it.

Chiyoh breezes past him and takes the landing to the stairs instead of boarding the elevator. Will glances back at Leticia in the slowly brightening, empty corridor. She holds his stare without flinching and without smiling.

“Safe travels, Mr. Graham.”

Leticia closes her door and locks it while he stares at the heavily enforced door. Several other locks slink into place. It’s probably the first interaction he’s had with a virtual stranger that’s made any kind of sense, but it means trouble and potential danger. It makes his stomach sink.

“She knew my name,” he tells Chiyoh, once he’s run down five flights of stairs to catch up to her. “She knew me.”

“Not our problem,” Chiyoh murmurs. She doesn’t speed up to escape him. In fact, by the time they reach the ground floor, she’s found a pace that comfortably matches his. “Not her problem either.”

He should ask why she’s so sure, but he doesn’t. Just secures their papers in his jacket and keeps his arm plastered there to keep them safe. Chiyoh leads the way back to the hotel, her stride purposeful and her white dress catching golden in the late morning sunlight. He hates that he can still be drawn by the shape of her lips or the curl of hair beneath her ear. It only takes her looking at him with the full startling force of her presence to jar him out of that cloud.

Hannibal is cooking when they get back to the room. Chiyoh detours into the kitchen while Will walks around to the other side of the bar where the lack of a wall means he can see them. He slaps the passports down on the counter and watches Chiyoh step in close to Hannibal’s side. Without inching up onto her toes, she leans in, touches her brother’s arm, and presses her lips to his cheek. Hannibal hums, a happy sound that bears no words but that still holds every single one that could be said in that moment between them. Chiyoh steps back, turning mid-stride fluidly like a dancer, and menaces Will with her eyes for the duration of a heartbeat.

Not for you, she projects to him even after she has slipped into the next room and closed the bathroom door behind her. I am not for you.

He sighs and slumps into the chair pushed up to this side of the bar, listening to the roar of the bathtub faucet in the other room. His arms function as a warm pillow and for a few minutes, maybe, he sleeps to the sound of Hannibal moving a spatula in a pan. A fragile clinking sound brings the aroma of coffee to his nose and he raises his head.

Hannibal leafs through the passports one by one, smiling at a photo that Will can’t see. He looks like he’s been up for a while. Belatedly, Will notices the presence of a plate of Eggs Hussarde by the steaming cup of dark coffee. He takes a sip and closes his eyes, some contented noise buzzing behind his lips. They had a long night getting the damned passports made.

When he opens his eyes, Hannibal is flipping through another passport, lips twitching into a wider grin. Will is about to ask but Hannibal speaks his mind unbidden.

“Looks like a siren of the silver screen, doesn’t she?” His voice is warm. “Picturesque but fatal.”

“It’s actually pretty alarming that you aren’t blood relatives,” Will mumbles, digging into his eggs. About two bites in, his hunger flares up and he consciously paces himself so that he doesn’t inhale them all at once.

“Do you think so?” Hannibal asks a while later when more than half of Will’s plate has been devoured.

Will nods and drinks the last of his coffee. “Although there’s something to be said about the family you choose. Blood can’t help being blood. We chose.”

“We did?” The barest emphasis falls on the word we.

“You were the one who said I was family,” he says, controlling his voice to the point that it doesn’t tremble, falter, or break. “We had a daughter.”

For a moment Hannibal looks prepared to say that they can again, but Will’s expression shutters at the thought and Hannibal presses his lips together, saying nothing instead. He stacks Chiyoh’s passport in the pile and props his elbows before him so that his torso leans in a diagonal line over the granite. Will eats the last of his breakfast and pushes the plate and mug to the side, stopping Hannibal’s wrist when he goes to reach for them.

He runs his fingers over the stray strands of hair breaking over Hannibal’s forehead and curves his hand down the side of his skull. His first two fingers bracket Hannibal’s ear on the way down and his thumb catalogues first the high cheekbone and then the hard jaw. Will moves his thumb to the corner of Hannibal’s mouth and watches a splotchy flush darken the bridge of Hannibal’s nose and flood the apples of his cheeks. For a moment, neither of them moves. Hannibal lifts his gaze from Will’s mouth to his eyes, flustered and wanting, confused about whether these things are allowed.

Emboldened by his receptivity, Will raises his hand to trace Hannibal’s hairline down to his temple, patiently along the ridge of one fair eyebrow, and over the corner of his eye where he hesitates before venturing across the fluttering, smooth skin of Hannibal’s eyelid as it closes for him, obedient. With the very tip of his finger, Will brushes the fan of Hannibal’s trembling lashes, laying his hand flat against Hannibal’s face, touch light but unyielding. The wider part of his thumb anchors Hannibal’s bottom lip, the bow of his upper lip warm and soft against the pad of his thumb. Will quests with his fingers beneath Hannibal’s eye to the sharp jut of his cheek and very, very lightly, he feels Hannibal’s lips parting wider along the length of his thumb, eyes still blissfully closed.

Will swallows hard and digs his fingers in finally to the angular planes of Hannibal’s jaw. Hannibal stumbles, bent further over the counter to be within Will’s reach. A surprised moan falls from his opened mouth and crashed into Will’s thumb, down his sweating palm. One tooth grazes Will’s skin. His stomach flips.

“Shit,” he whispers.

Hannibal blinks his eyes open and reassembles himself, attempting to casually smooth out the frayed lines to his countenance. He doesn’t succeed. The flush has only grown darker in his cheeks to match the fluid darkness of his eyes. Will sucks in a bewildered lungful of air, staring at Hannibal’s neck where his Adam’s apple bobs with a swallow.

He licks his lips, alerting Will to the shine of his smirking lips. “Are you going to apologize again?”

Will sighs and ducks his head, trying to be put out. He just ends up laughing and resting his elbow on the counter and his chin in his palm. “No, not for that. I won’t get upset if you touch with your hands where you’ve already touched with your eyes,” he murmurs.

A quiet hum answers him. “I feel the need to confess that I have touched many parts of you with my eyes.”

“I can’t believe I used to think you were romantic,” Will drawls, taking up his dishes to carry them to the sink.

He’s washed the fork and the mug and is scrubbing at the plate when tentative hands soothe at his flanks. His mind tells him to lock up, but his body reacts instinctually to a wholly different influence that he almost can’t control. Muscles in the center of his back shiver and loosen. His shoulders droop. He held Hannibal this way over the bluffs. It had been closer than this shy embrace from behind Hannibal initiates now. His body doesn’t thrum in pain or adrenaline, not with the cold dread of falling.

The water runs in the sink. Will’s hands have stopped moving over the plate. He looks up at Hannibal over his shoulder, holds his eyes, and continues scrubbing the last dirty dish.

Though he appears truly concerned about Will bucking him off, Hannibal does step in closer. He pauses for a beat to make sure his attentions are welcome and wraps his arms around Will’s middle. At first he just clutches Will to him in a warm, tight, but escapable hold. His chin drops delicately to Will’s shoulder and Will lets his eyes fall downcast when Hannibal’s hands search through the veil of his shirt for his scar.

Will sighs in time with the slight, increased pressure of Hannibal’s palm over the smile healed into his skin. Hannibal sighs, too, breath warm and soft on Will’s neck. His stomach flips again. He squeezes his eyes shut and rinses off the plate before standing it up on the drying rack.

“Only as much as you wish, Will.”

Will nods and eases himself back, hands still dripping from the faucet with one soapy bubble sliding down his wrist. The lax line of his shoulders tenses up by degrees against the flat expanse of Hannibal’s chest. He runs hot but his intention is gentle. His hand over Will’s stomach has softened but retained its deliberate touch.

“I like this,” he breathes, voice low, conflicted.

“I like it, too,” Hannibal sighs, turning his face to nuzzle Will’s hair.

Chest constricting around a small laugh, Will asks him, “Is there anything you don’t like?”

But Hannibal doesn’t miss a beat. “I am not especially attached to the way you warm your feet against the backs of my calves when we share a bed at night.”

Will sputters, head bowing forward and transferring one hand from the edge of the sink to Hannibal’s forearm. He hears Hannibal chuckle behind him, the cinched arc of his arms staying strong and firm.

“I hope you will continue to warm your feet against the backs of my calves,” he croons happily.

“Did you think I was going to take that as a request to stop?” he asks, half-serious and half-teasing. He flashes a quick smile and shakes his head. “I think even with something you don’t actively like, you can’t say that you don’t like it.”

“Not where you are concerned,” Hannibal cedes, not an argument in sight. “You were wearing plaid and khakis when we met, Will.”

“I was wearing less than that when you ambushed me at the motel.”

“I brought you breakfast,” Hannibal protests, not looking away from Will’s face, not even when Will turns to look pointedly at the drying dishes with a furrow in his brow. “Some things never change, I suppose.”

The back of Will’s neck and the tips of his ears burn. He doesn’t look at Hannibal but tangles his fingers with one of Hannibal’s over his own stomach.

“I guess that one was pretty obvious, in hindsight.”

“My intentions toward you then were not what they are now.”

“You didn’t value me then. Now you do.”

“To the depths of my soul. Deeper than that. Deeper than I could say.”

Will turns his head and keeps his eyes low, near Hannibal’s chin. His breath and his heartbeat and his body heat so near, so alive, are dizzying. He leans in slowly, blinking slowly and drowsily when Hannibal ducks his chin forward to be closer. Hannibal’s cheek is warm beneath his lips. The corner of his mouth quivers, pulling into an unwilling, helpless smile. His lips are soft beneath Will’s and lull his eyes to finally fall closed. Warmth blooms in his stomach but nothing as intense as the raging butterflies from before: calmer, sweeter, and shyer by comparison. Will twists just enough to dislodge their lips and licks his own, tongue brushing Hannibal’s lips but to touch them or to feel them.

“Me, too,” he whispers.

Deeper than the depths of my soul. Deeper than I could say.

Hannibal’s eyes shine, beaming, and his teeth show in between his ruddy cheeks. He touches his forehead to the side of Will’s head and breathes.

Deeper than I could say.

Chapter Text

Hannibal is in the process of shaving in the bathroom when Will walks in on him boldly and without warning. At first, Hannibal’s instincts kick in and he listens for an intruder, muscles coiling and nerves tightening to receive as much information as possible. He doesn’t hear or smell the presence of someone else in the hotel room or even beyond to the hallway. Will himself looks relaxed, if purposeful. Certainly that’s never a bad thing.

There must not be an emergency or Will would have told him by now. Instead he’s just staring, seemingly without a reason except for his demeanor that screams of belonging. Hannibal lowers his defenses, fresh from the shower and predominantly naked as he is.

Will doesn’t display any embarrassment whatsoever at happening upon Hannibal’s state of undress, which is reassuring. His eyes skim down to the towel around his waist and flick back up to his face with a clinical sort of regard, which is less reassuring. Hannibal wonders if Will wants to ask why he can’t shave with pants on at least.

“Is something the matter?”

“No.” Will shrugs, tossing his glance away and then back. “What does Maboroshi mean?”

Hannibal keeps his face neutral, made somewhat more difficult by the foamy water slopping down his neck. Will flicks his gaze down to track the path of one errant drop that skirts around the edge of a nipple and clears his throat.

“I guess I can wait.”

Hannibal bites back a smile, catches as much of the stray water as he can with his fingers, and rinses off his hand and the razor under the faucet. In the doorway, Will doesn’t stray.

Maboroshi means ‘the Seer’,” Hannibal explains evenly. “It is an allusion to The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu. It is often hailed as the first novel and was the first work to be deemed a literary classic. Maboroshi is the final chapter before the eponymous protagonist’s implied death.”

“Implied?”

A smile twitches over Hannibal’s lips. “The title Vanished into the clouds is all that follows.”

He takes advantage of the short pause to finish his remaining cheek and rolls his lips inward to shave beneath his nose. Water from the faucet cleans the blade. Hannibal presses his lips together once more to get at the crease between his lip and his chin. Will wanders closer, looking, even from Hannibal’s peripheral view, as though he doesn’t quite intend to let their gravitational pull seduce him into advancing.

“So why The Tale of Genji then? I get that it’s an important piece of literature, but why did Chiyoh name the boat after it?”

“There are several answers to that question. I may not give you the correct one.”

Will walks around behind Hannibal and leans his hip on the edge of the sink. His leg brushes Hannibal’s and his bent elbow brushes Hannibal’s side.

“What would your guess be?”

“My aunt shared a namesake with the historical Lady Murasaki.”

“Huh.”

“We always found it quite amusing, other striking parallels to the text itself notwithstanding.”

“Do I want to know?”

“I suspect not.” Hannibal rinses the blade in the sink and tips his head back as the water rushes over his hands. The shave looks close enough in his reflection. “It’s quite literary.”

Will remains where he is even as Hannibal bends to wash his face. He watches him pat his face dry with a separate hand towel and tilts his head, eyes bright, when Hannibal challenges him with one arched eyebrow.

“Really, Will?”

“What?” he says. A smile flickers over his mouth, wholly, fantastically deviant to match the gleam in his cloudy blue eyes. There’s not a shred of innocence to him, even if the novelty of their steadily altering relationship is foreign ground to him. “You aren’t shy.”

“Neither are you, clearly,” Hannibal teases, enjoying the heady warmth of Will’s attention. “What you suggest is immodest. Surely you see that.”

This is where you draw the line? Are you serious?” There is still a lovely curve to his lips and his tone has not drifted out of the realm of lightness. He licks his lips and Hannibal clutches reflexively at the knot in the towel, refusing to own that the tension in his belly is nerves. “Chiyoh gives me that death glare if I even think about touching you. She’s not here now.”

“You’re going to capitalize on her absence?”

Will brushes his fingers over Hannibal’s knuckles and seeks further to the knotted towel. “Yes.”

“Will.”

“Tell me ‘no’.”

“Tell me what you mean to do and I will decide accordingly,” Hannibal counters.

“I want to look at you. That isn’t something you’d enjoy?”

“Will you be prepared in the event that I do?”

Will opens his mouth and blinks. “You mean if you get hard.”

“In crude terms, yes.”

“Oh. Well. You’ve got your hand.”

Hannibal sighs and loosens the knot. “That is not remotely what I meant.”

“What’d you mean?” Will eases off the edge of the sink, pushes the door closed, and sits on the closed toilet seat. “Not worried for my virtue, are you?”

“So long as you feel no obligation…”

“Just get over here, Hannibal.”

Hannibal goes and parts the towel with detached efficiency. He allows a few seconds for Will to get his fill before shaking the towel out one-handed. In the interest of convenience, he drapes it over the sink to be hung up at a later time. Will studies him, quietly curious. His right hand quests high up on Hannibal’s thigh. Fingertips ghost through the first fringes of pubic hair before skittering to a stop.

Will raises his left hand to examine it and Hannibal holds his breath. He drops his hand from the dip in Hannibal’s flesh and twists the ring off his finger.

“It would appear that this is where we both draw the line,” Hannibal observes, swallowing thickly when Will’s fingers return to the very root of him. “Whatever that line may represent.”

Will looks up the length of Hannibal’s torso, tightens his fist around him, and says, “This line?”

Hannibal swallows a noise and then swallows again, thickly. “I meant in a more philosophical sense.”

“Is this what you’re like in bed?” Will asks, raising an eyebrow at him. His hand remains a comfortable cuff at the very base of Hannibal’s belly. “Does the façade crack at all or do you just pretend that it does, with other people?”

Will cradles the widest part of his girth in his other palm and pushes up. Hannibal closes his eyes around a single twitch that worms its way down to his groin. A thumb roves over the moistening head and explores the sheath of foreskin for just a moment before fingers cage Hannibal in right up against his stomach. Blood rushes briefly in his ears as it changes course in his veins. He opens his eyes to see Will looking back down.

“My body is a machine just like your body is a machine. It reacts to stimuli.”

“Mason Verger stuck a knife in your back and you didn’t even flinch.”

“And yet here I tremble at the mere touch of your fingers,” he sighs, clenching his hands into fists at his sides. “Pain and pleasure are a matter of perspective.”

Will drags his fingers down the length of him and cups his testicles, making a thoughtful sound through his lips. He moves them in his hand the same way he might roll dice one over the other. With his other hand, he squeezes once and steadily lowers Hannibal’s penis from his belly until it protrudes out of instinct and craving alone.

“Did you flinch at the brand?” Will asks, not close enough for Hannibal to shiver at the whisper of breath from his lips.

“I remember grimacing.”

“Hmm.” Will traces a prominent vein down his shaft and spans his fingers around Hannibal’s hip, soothing down his thigh with the other hand. “I think I’m bigger than you.”

“There is a definitive way to find out.”

Will smirks up at him. “You’ve seen my dick.”

“Not in comparison with my own.”

“Maybe another time,” he mumbles back, cheeks flushed and mouth smiling. His shoulders lift in a shrug. “Maybe next time.”

“Really?” Hannibal breathes, calm, though still sporting half an erection.

“Yeah.” Will eyes that part of Hannibal a few seconds more before looking up higher to his chest. He presses hard and then softer with the tips of his fingers, the heels of his hands, and his palms. One hand drifts down to rove over Hannibal’s stomach, searching out muscle and digging into the meatier section prison afforded him. “You feel different than I thought you would. In a good way.”

“How did you think I would feel?”

Will shakes his head like he can’t place the word. “Different.”

Hannibal nods and places his hands over Will’s where they’ve perched comfortably on his hips. Will drops his head back invitingly. His lips are slack at first, but he changes the angle to fit his upper lip between Hannibal’s. Hannibal chuckles at the first nip of teeth. Will catches his bottom lip and holds, only firm enough to keep him.

The breath from his mouth is warm and the slick suggestion of his tongue is a sinuous brand marking the inside of Hannibal’s mouth, savagely laying claim to his speech. Will makes the softest, airiest of sounds when their lips part and Hannibal chases after it like a man starved all his life for that cadence in that voice. The resounding chuckle Hannibal’s ambition earns him causes the fluttering in his belly to slow from boiling to simmering. He burns hotter, the urgent fuse of his flesh transformed into the patient wick of a candle.

“‘Who holds the devil…’” Will whispers, grinning widely and beautifully against Hannibal’s cheek.

Delirious, Hannibal whispers back. “‘Let him hold him well.’”

Will tightens his grasp on Hannibal’s hips, humming indulgently at the fingers combing through his hair. Hannibal seals their mouths back together and works to summon the sound from Will that inspires his blood to sing.

--

Chiyoh makes the two hour drive into Chichén Itzá to meet with Leticia at the ruins of an old Mayan city. She is alone, which Chiyoh confirms by checking the perimeter twice. Leticia would not have brought anyone with her, but diligence is a precaution that Chiyoh can’t afford to neglect. They meet several yards away from a crowd of colorfully dressed tourists adorned with floppy hats and cameras. Leticia, like Chiyoh, wears large sunglasses to hide her eyes. She’s made no effort to conceal her hair as Chiyoh has with a red silk scarf but instead has styled it so that it falls in a cascade of tight, dark curls over one side of her face.

They wait in silence for the gaggle of noisy tourists to begin their tour. Some twenty minutes later, a man waves them through without charging either woman for a ticket to enter. He nods agreeably at Leticia and averts his eyes from Chiyoh as if looking at her for just a moment might blind him.

“He knows you kill for money.”

“How could he know that?” Chiyoh wraps her arms around herself as they walk, already ten or so minutes down a trail with a long way separating them from other people. “I am discreet.”

“I would not make this journey with any other kind of person. There would be no point.” Leticia takes off her sunglasses and slips them into a tote bag hanging over her shoulder. She looks at Chiyoh, dark eyes far from amused but glittering with camaraderie. “Do you know that someone started a rumor about you after you left? They said you killed a police chief in Mexico City. Apparently, Manuel lent out your services as a favor.”

Chiyoh almost snorts. “Manuel does not believe in favors.”

“No.” Leticia ducks her head to hide a smile. “But as an independent contractor, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he would make his contacts privy to our information. Keeping the right palms greased, as they say.”

Leticia rolls her eyes and Chiyoh bites back a smile. She can’t fully mask the timber of her laugh, so she speaks to smooth over it.

“Do you have a job for me?”

“Yes. Will you be in town a while longer?”

“Another week. Perhaps more, if you require me to stay.”

“A week will suffice.” She reaches into her bag and retrieves a file without looking. “If you’re interested, I can compensate you for your work with real estate in Belize. You need room enough for three. This property will fit three.”

“Belize,” she repeats, only half suspicious.

“You spoke of going there one day. Have your plans changed?”

Chiyoh takes the file and leafs through it without answering. At the front are pristine photographs of a beachfront triplex. Beneath it are shots taken of various other properties with the ratio of bedrooms to bathrooms scribbled on the back. She chooses one with two of each and brandishes it for Leticia to see. A wrinkle twitches between her eyebrows at the accommodations.

“They have taken to sharing a bed.”

“Oh. Really? I didn’t think…strange.”

“You have no idea,” Chiyoh mutters. “What date is scheduled for the objective?”

“Friday night in Mérida.”

“I will see it done.”

“Of course.”

Where the photographs of the Belize properties end, Chiyoh happens on photographs of a very familiar face. She looks at Leticia, almost confused but then understanding too well what she’s being asked to do.

“Manuel will recognize my work. He will know that you sent me after his lieutenant.”

“There are so many ways to kill a man, Chiyoh. You can be creative. I know.” Her lashes fan low and black over the apples of her cheeks, eyes incongruously innocent when she raises them to meet Chiyoh’s. “Surely a place to keep your family safe is worth the added danger of a change in your pattern. How difficult would it be to make it look just a bit messier than you’re used to?”

In her plain white dress, Leticia looks every bit as dangerous as Chiyoh does with a rifle in her hands. She closes the file and passes it back. Leticia plucks a flattering photograph of the beachside property in Belize and slides it into the pocket of Chiyoh’s blazer.

“You aren’t going to ask me why?”

“I know why. Francisco is incompetent, but he is Manuel’s best friend. You would benefit from someone else rising to take his place.”

“Always the clever one,” Leticia whispers, smiling and tilting her head. Her hand is still tucked into Chiyoh’s pocket, warm at her waist. “I missed you.”

Chiyoh walks away, cheeks burning, and closes her eyes when Leticia’s hand drops away.

--

“Did she say where she was going?”

“No,” Hannibal murmurs. He pushes a photograph toward Will as he sits as the table. A two-story house painted a cheerful yellow with white trimming and a clay-colored roof is the centerpiece of the photo. “She left this.”

Will inspects it for a moment before turning it over. “Two bed, two bath. Where does that look like to you?”

“A beach, perhaps, but that does little to inform as to its location.”

“Wonder if it’s hers.”

He sets the picture down and has a drink of the red wine Hannibal had sent up to their room. They’d dined at an outdoor restaurant and had returned relatively early in the event that they might catch Chiyoh on her way back. Hannibal doesn’t say that he’s worried about her. There’s no need to be worried. She’s usually inside at a respectable hour—that is, if she’s not out doing illegal things with Will right at her side.

It occurs to him that she might be out doing illegal things, only alone this time. Will isn’t sure if Hannibal’s had the thought already or if making him consider it would be a good idea.

“She’ll probably get back in the morning if nothing else,” he says, sliding the photo forward and back with two idle fingers. “There’s no way she’d leave me alone with you for any longer than that.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Hannibal agrees, smirking. “Though by that logic, she could just as easily return in the middle of the night, unannounced.”

Will rolls his eyes, hating himself for the heat creeping up his neck for the subtle tease. He gives his emptied glass a little shake. “Technically, we’ve wined and dined. You could hardly call it immodest.”

The corners of Hannibal’s eyes crinkle. “Overeager, perhaps.”

Will palms his cheek and tenderly tongues at the scar tissue on the inside. He probes gently with his tongue, but he can still detect the tiny motions against his hand.

“I feel like touching you.”

Hannibal takes a final drink of his wine and sets his glass beside Will’s. He licks his lips and Will licks his own, greedy for what those lips taste like. Hannibal stands and crosses over to Will’s chair. He places his hands on the back and bends down to scent the shell of Will’s ear and then further back to the post just behind it. The tug and release of his breath there is soft. Will closes his eyes, stomach fluttering with something more buoyant than nervousness.

“Because you are curious, Will?” Hannibal sucks an earlobe into his mouth and ventures down to nip at his jaw. “Or because you are hungry like I am hungry?”

His stomach falls and keeps falling. Hannibal’s hands work down Will’s chest as if to follow that plummeting force dropping in Will’s belly. He stops with his hands poised low in between the scar and Will’s fly. Will bites his lip, catches Hannibal’s wrists, and surges around in his chair to mash his lips into Hannibal’s, graceless and hard and…

Oh. Oh, shit.

“Fuck, Hannibal.”

He scrambles out of his chair and grabs Hannibal by the shoulders. Getting to the bed doesn’t seem like it’s worth the risk of losing the very tentative hard-on he’s fostering. As a compromise, he shoves at Hannibal until he’s on an armchair a few feet away from the table and climbs into his lap. It’s nothing especially new, though it’s different with Hannibal beneath him, warm and immediate and ecstatically pliant. He palms Hannibal through his clothes and seizes his lips, pushing hints of his voice into his heavy breaths out because he knows already that it drives Hannibal crazy.

And that feels oddly good. It feels good to make Hannibal squirm for wanting more of him, for being unable to do much of anything outside of just taking what Will gives him. There’s power in it.

Will would be a liar if he tried to say that didn’t give him even a little bit of a rush. To his dimming surprise, his ego’s not the only thing bolstered by the desperate sounds Hannibal makes into his mouth. He feels himself twitch in his pants and presses harder down on Hannibal’s groin with the heel of his hand. They’re not slowing down. They’re riding this goddamn wave to the finish.

He fumbles at Hannibal’s fly until he can work his hand inside and stays there a few seconds, bewildered and relearning the shape of Hannibal in his hand. There’s a flustered moment where Will’s not sure what to do, but he decides hell with it and drags him out so he can look at him. He even looks different than he had fresh out of the shower—there’s a more urgent coloring to the sensitive flesh and it strains in Will’s hand like this time Hannibal knows Will won’t leave him to his own devices. Will gives him a few testing strokes, confused about the moist heat making slick noises beneath his grip.

Hannibal’s heavy in his hand. A bizarre texture accompanies the weight of it. Will alternates between watching the head disappear into the circle of his hand and watching Hannibal’s face, flushed and equally perplexed. He looks up from Will’s hand on him and opens his mouth to recite some poetry for all Will knows, and Will just loses it right there.

He laughs. It’s so fucking silly. He abandons the doomed hand job and drops his head onto Hannibal’s shoulder when he finds that he can’t stop giggling. Giggling.

Will settles down at the touch of a hand to his back, staying him. He tenses up, racking his brain for a suitable apology that will fit the crime because no one likes being laughed at during sex, especially when it’s hilariously awful and one half of the union just gives up inexplicably.

But Hannibal speaks before he can think of what to say and he doesn’t sound hurt when he says, “Might I suggest that we try to make use of the bed next time?”

Will pulls away to look at his face. He’s winded and red like he’s been running, but his eyes only look entertained, which makes Will feel shittier for some reason.

“I didn’t mean to laugh,” he starts to say.

“I know. Your intentions were genuine, if driven by a weak flame.” He pats Will’s hip, the base of his palm hugging close to his crotch where the last of his erection has flagged. “I take no offense. It flatters me deeply that you wished to try at all.”

“I don’t want to flatter you,” Will protests, bending down and biting Hannibal’s lip. “I want this to be good, for both of us.”

“And it will be.” Hannibal pushes his hand through Will’s hair and does it a second time when it just flops back over his forehead. “I can see now that it will be.”

Will sighs, not put out but just trying to catch his breath. He smooths his hand over Hannibal’s shoulder and down his arm, touching for no other reason than to touch. “I hope Chiyoh’s okay,” he says.

“She is,” Hannibal replies, not a doubt in his voice.

--

Chiyoh thinks of a yellow house with white trim and slinks quietly into Francisco’s second apartment, leaving her coat folded up on a chair. He’s alone, as Leticia assured her he would be. She removes a switchblade from her pocket and approaches the man sleeping in the bed. The moonlight pouring in from the window confirms his identity. She digs her knee onto his chest and drags the knife across his throat as he’s blinking awake. He recognizes her. It doesn’t matter.

She turns her long black dress inside out, stuffs it into a bag, and buttons her coat on to cover her nakedness. The streets of Mérida are dark and quiet.

Chiyoh thinks of a yellow house with white trim on a beach in Belize. She thinks of her brother and his irritating lover.

Leticia is waiting for her when she turns up with the bloodied dress as proof of death. Leticia takes her coat from her, too, and they don’t talk about the yellow house with white trim on a beach in Belize. They don’t talk about anything at all.

Chapter Text

“I want you to leave Alana alone.”

“For what reason?” Hannibal asks agreeably and casually. “Because she bargained once for your life?”

Will sighs and looks out over the water, losing his balance when the engine cuts out without warning. He’s about to jump to his feet and investigate the problem but stops. Chiyoh stands from behind the wheel and escapes quickly and quietly to the cabin in order to avoid their conversation. Hannibal hums, also watching after Chiyoh’s retreat. She’s essentially running away and should look less graceful doing it, damn it.

“You were saying, Will?”

His heart pounds for a fast, lurching moment and he settles his hand over his pocket, seeking for calm and for strength in the talisman he carries there. Hannibal studies his face intently like he hopes Will does persuade him—like he knows already that he won’t be swayed but like the possibility of it excites him.

“Leave her alone. You’ve scared the shit out of her. Isn’t that enough?”

Cleanly and quietly like a child presenting the answer to a math problem, Hannibal says, “I made a promise that I intend to keep.”

Will’s heart pounds again. His fingers twitch over his pocket, uncertain of the sacrifice one must make when dealing with the devil. Even when the devil in question fancies himself a thrall to his stolen prize, well…Persephone ate for hunger, but Hades was, in many ways, hungrier than she was. Needier.

Delighted at his own curiosity and at what he conceives to be his own immovability, Hannibal smiles. Will digs his hand into his pocket and closes his fingers around pomegranate seeds.

“I made a promise, too.” He resituates the wedding ring between his thumb and two fingers to better grip it—to let Hannibal see the flash of autumn and winter in the sunlit gold—and chucks it into the water. A breath stutters out of him to match the one that startles from Hannibal at what he’s done. “Two, actually.”

Hannibal blinks at him. If Will ever doubted it before, he can see now in this very moment the force of how intensely Hannibal feels for him.

“My wife and child,” he says, pointing needlessly at the amorphous section of sea that swallowed his oath, his vows, his Other Self, his previous life, and his forfeited family. “For Margot’s.”

He watches Hannibal’s throat bob. A conflicted expression flickers over his face, and for a sickening, ugly moment, Will thinks he is going to be refused. He fears in that moment that he will be refused. Hannibal licks his lips and eases out of his seat to kneel at Will’s side in a stark display of clarity and allegiance. The aching lump in his throat fades.

“Tell me, Hannibal,” he says, curling his fingers against Hannibal’s scalp in something that might be affection but that is still very much fear intertwined with desperation.

“I will not go against you.”

He tenses his fingers in Hannibal’s hair but not enough to tug at the roots or force Hannibal to look up at him. “Promise me.”

Hannibal lifts his chin to look at him anyway. “I promise, Will.”

The tension drops away. He smooths Hannibal’s hair away from his face and touches his forehead with a gentle reverence that he never quite has before. Hannibal’s eyes flutter closed and he nuzzles into Will’s hand like a satiated big cat, pleased for good company and the touch of a welcome hand. Will observes the fruits of his labor and idly wonders if Persephone felt the barren ice of winter at all through the harvest of the fall.

Will sails them the rest of the way to their destination. Chiyoh remains downstairs and Hannibal eventually goes down to retrieve her. They stay in the cabin a while more before getting back on deck with Will and face a few hours more of the same, dramatic shows of fealty notwithstanding.

It’s raining in Belize when they dock the boat after sundown. They’re near a beach but not right off the coast as they were in Longboat Key. Chiyoh shows them an address scrawled over a crisp slip of paper she produces from her pocket. Will notes as he’s committing the numbers and letters to memory that it’s not Chiyoh’s handwriting. In the half-second before she pushes the paper back into her coat, it snaps in his mind where he’s seen it before.

He decides not to say anything at least until they get to the house. Hannibal suggests they walk there. Chiyoh doesn’t disagree and Will just shrugs, eager enough for the opportunity to stretch his legs. The light rain drizzling over their heads stops about five minutes into their journey and then picks up again ten minutes later. They don’t have an umbrella between the three of them, but there’s no particular need for one. It would only cause yet another rift when it came time for two of them to be shielded and one of them to be left out. Every single arrangement of possibilities for that particular scenario is funny in its own right.

Will tries not to be impressed with the house once they find it. It’s not his, after all, and he has no delusions about considering it his home. They file inside one after the other and find it pristine but for a very limited collection of furniture. Even that touch—the lack of a touch—smacks of the legible script he’d seen on the note in Chiyoh’s pocket. She obtained this house from Leticia. Will has no idea how. He isn’t sure he should venture too deeply into the how of the matter.

Walking in the rain, while not altogether unpleasant, leaves their shoes on the wet and muddy side. Chiyoh removes her shoes first, followed by Hannibal and then Will. He pads into the house as far as the glass sliding door and peers out into the darkness, flexing his toes against his socks. There’s a sense of completion to the place. They’ve arrived. It’s more for them than any other place they have lived in until now.

“Shall we investigate upstairs? Perhaps there are beds.”

Chiyoh appears by the sectional couch several feet from the far wall at the bottom of the stairs. Apparently she’s already performed a full sweep of the house and has deemed it safe. She angles her head for them to follow and leads them to the second floor. The view of the bit of land behind the house is nothing short of majestic from higher up. Nightfall renders the foamy crest of every wave almost cinematic for the contrast between stark white and pitch black. There’s sand and a shoreline and water through the wide windows in the hall. The new moon leaves room for the stars to illuminate their path through the glass. Two doors in the corridor lead to bedrooms and one to a bathroom.

The one to the left of the stairs leads to a bathroom. Across the hall on that side is a bedroom with a bed and a barren bookshelf. Down the other end of the hall is a bedroom just as big with the exact same furnishings. Both beds are queen-size and fitted with unremarkable linens. The three of them linger in one doorway, exhausted and out of sorts. Will stuffs his hands deep in his pockets and lists his head back to stare at the ceiling, imagining how empty it may or may not feel for Chiyoh to inhabit one of these rooms alone. He wonders if she will ever bring someone in to fill the quiet spaces when Hannibal leaves her again. That’s what this room represents—one more physical implication of her isolation and the miserable inevitability of it. She crosses her arms over her chest and sighs almost too softly to be heard, but Will hears it. It trembles within his own lungs and he squeezes his eyes closed before opening them again.

“I think you should share the room tonight.”

Chiyoh turns a dark look on him. The sharp agitation of it dissolves into something smaller and vaguely frightened, and both of them look away, embarrassed.

Hannibal looks between them with unabashed fondness. “Chiyoh?”

Will doesn’t stick around to hear the following conversation. He strides off in the direction of the other room and hides himself from the consequences of his mercy that could be construed as condescension or pity. For everyone’s sake, he hopes his intention remains innocent and well-meaning, tinged with pity perhaps but not meant to humiliate. He takes off his jacket and stands by the window a good twenty minutes, listening. The water kicks on for the shower or bath and Will listens to that, too, for catastrophic activity. Nothing happens, but someone knocks on his door a good five minutes later. He opens the door in his socked feet, fully dressed but for his discarded sweater.

Chiyoh leans on the doorjamb. In spite of her similar sartorial situation, her stern eyes alert him to his spectacular lack of padded clothing. She asks him, “Why did you do that?”

Will blinks at her tone. A smidgeon of it is pure petulance. Some of it is openly hostile but too confused to really focus on the anger driving it. It’s a damn mixed thing to feel, but he’s pretty sure there’s some unhappy gratitude in there, too. He blinks again and shakes his head. “I’ve been hogging him,” he blurts out, too honest for his disorientation.

Chiyoh’s lips part wider as her eyebrows twitch. His honesty disorientates her as well.

“You meant to be…kind,” she surmises, not believing it but hardly sounding skeptical. “—to me.”

“It’s our first night in this house. In your house. You should be with your brother.”

And just like that, her expression shutters. A wall of ice comes down where the wondering, cautious warmth had been searching him out. Will recoils from her just a hairsbreadth, a reaction embedded so deeply in emotion that physicality can hardly catch it. The bathroom door swings open and Hannibal looks at them straight away. Chiyoh’s face is a vault and the air around her chills.

Hannibal steps out of the bathroom for her to wash up after him. He searches Will with a perplexed glance but doesn’t ask. Will rubs a hand down his face and closes the door behind him without giving Hannibal a chance to follow him. Sleeping sounds like the very best idea he’s had in a week, so he crawls under the blankets and drifts off immediately. He’ll shower in the morning.

--

Hannibal goes with Chiyoh to the market in the morning for groceries and other such essentials. They leave without checking on Will, though Hannibal leaves a note. Chiyoh does her half of the shopping while Hannibal sorts through the produce and deli sections with gusto. She meets him at the checkout and pays for their assortment of things. Hannibal carries most of their purchase, but he doesn’t spare her entirely, just as he shouldn’t. Together they haul their groceries back to the house.

They’ll need to look into building up individual wardrobes outside of the minimalist scraps that have served them thus far. Chiyoh has no need of material wealth to be satisfied, but Hannibal confessed his wish to see her in lavish things just as his aunt had seen fit to dress her in lavish things from time to time. She is no doll. Chiyoh has never been that, but to fulfill a wish from time to time for someone she loves is not a misdeed against herself or who she is. Be it an ornate dress or a double-manual harpsichord, a gift is only a gift.

Will is awake and showered when they get back to the house. Chiyoh leaves her shoes by the door and wordlessly procures the coffee they’ve just bought, entrusting Will with the duty of brewing a pot. He doesn’t make any kind of comment but sets right to his task. Hannibal gets started on some elaborate type of omelet while Will seats himself at the table to wait. Chiyoh moves to the long couch in the adjoined room and lies across it with one knee bent upright against the back.

Hannibal fills the comfortable silence with stories of Italy. There was a man called Antony Dimmond there that Hannibal murdered in an apartment. Hannibal remembers him with unfettered amusement. At a break in the retelling of their short relationship that ultimately resulted in a thwarted sexual overture and death, it becomes clear to Chiyoh that he’s actively glossing over Bedelia Du Maurier’s involvement in the story.

Chiyoh puts it out of her mind. If Du Maurier had helped him with the act, then he would not have dared to leave her out of it. She imagines what it must have been like with that lecherous man—fittingly a supplanter in his own right—in the same lush apartment where she discovered Du Maurier with a needle in her arm. Upon recounting the murder itself, Hannibal’s obvious omission riles Will enough that he interrupts Hannibal right in the middle of the killing blow.

“We were married, damn it, just say…I mean, we weren’t married. Jesus Christ, you know what I’m getting at.”

She blinks at the ceiling, jarred out of her thoughts by Will’s outburst. Hannibal scrapes at a pan Leticia had seen fit to start them out with. The towels in the bathroom and the linens on the beds were other such housewarming gifts.

“It is not my intention to make you jealous,” Hannibal concedes quietly.

Chiyoh closes her eyes.

“You don’t…” Will starts, bewildered. Making his voice firmer, he says, “You don’t. What?

The stove switches off. “Am I to understand then that Bedelia’s seamless escape from me does not and has not ever upset you?”

Will makes a sound like an affronted scoff. Chiyoh covers her face with one hand and rubs at her forehead.

“That…okay, yes, but I’m not…no.”

“All right,” Hannibal allows.

There is a solid minute of silence. Hannibal scoops food onto plates and gathers silverware. Chiyoh waits a few seconds before sitting up and rising from the couch. She walks into the next room and sits unwillingly at the table.

Hannibal pushes a plate toward her and with a modest flourish, announces, “Spinach frittata.”

Chiyoh eats silently, noting Will’s marked sullenness as he has a slow drink of milk. The frittata is good, made with melted morsels of Parmesan cheese and tart tomatoes. Hannibal pours her a glass of milk when she nods and she drinks that, too. It’s strange to sit in on their tense quiet without being the cause of it. She’s nearly done when Hannibal takes a pointed sip from his glass and she just knows he’s about to stoke the fire.

“I was jealous of your family,” Hannibal says.

“That became apparent when you sent someone to kill them,” Will replies flatly, not looking up from his plate.

“Did you perhaps intend to send me after my wife?”

Will’s fork scrapes his plate, but he keeps his eyes downcast. Chiyoh sees his neck flush red and closes her hand into a fist around the handle of her fork.

“It’s more than all right if you did,” Hannibal murmurs. “We are a family of murderers after all.”

“Contract killers, more like.” Will flicks a neutral glance at Chiyoh.

“Do not drag me into this,” she warns him and savagely takes another bite of the frittata.

Almost as if the mere inclusion of her voice has cleared the air, it becomes easier to breathe. She finishes her breakfast and washes her dishes in the sink. At the table, Will stares at his fork and Hannibal fiddles with his drained glass of milk. Chiyoh grits her teeth and leaves the kitchen for the second floor. The adjacent living room isn’t far enough to avoid overhearing whatever conversation they are going to have this time.

--

Hannibal spends a huge portion of his evenings after dinner shopping for clothes online. It isn’t especially ideal, but needs must be met. They make do with what they can find locally, but he can’t deny the desire to give his family nice things now that he’s able. Although she hasn’t touched it apart from a few thousand she spent a little over a week ago when they were still in Cancún, his money is still in Chiyoh’s name. He’s baffled and has no idea what she bought with it, but it’s hardly his business to bother her over trifles.

At least, he’d thought it wasn’t his business. The French double-manual harpsichord is delivered late in the night and Hannibal stares as it’s unpacked in a corner of the living room previously left vacant. He stares at it for a long time after the delivery truck drives away. Will is dressed down in an opened robe with shorts and a shirt on beneath when he finds him, still perplexed at the existence of a harpsichord in the living room. Chiyoh is out, probably on a supply run or something similar. She hadn’t said. Will sidles up to Hannibal’s side and eyes the instrument with open distrust.

“Is it yours?”

“Chiyoh purchased it.”

“Ah. Did your aunt have a harpsichord?”

“No,” Hannibal says. “She did not.”

“So…”

“I told Chiyoh that I played it on the day that I surrendered myself into police custody.”

“Oh.” Will’s expression softens and he looks at the harpsichord with a gentler regard. “That’s…nice of her, that she bought it for you.”

Hannibal hums and runs awed fingers over the deep ruddy finish of the instrument’s body. The tapered gold strips over the matte finish are as glossy to the touch as they look. He lifts the prop to reveal the artwork painted on the interior behind the strings. Soft combinations of floral colors overlay a supple tan canvas of polished wood. He sits at the accompanying bench and brushes two fingers over the black keys. Will wanders closer without taking the seat to his left.

“I didn’t think we’d be staying here.” His expression twitches at something in Hannibal’s face when he looks up at him. “No, I…just meant that I didn’t think she’d want us here for the long haul.”

“I suppose we can leave if that is your wish, or hers.”

Will studies him. “But you want us to stay here.”

“Of course. I have everything I need here and everyone I love under one roof. Why would I want to go?”

“Guess I figured that was the endgame. You know, Argentina. Someday.”

“Yes,” Hannibal agrees, “if you like. However, it was Chiyoh’s boat that saved our lives and it is Chiyoh’s house that shelters us now. It would be in bad form to exclude her from our plans.”

“That’s what I’m saying. She’s got all of this. It’s hers.” Will looks away, visibly searching for words. “I need to spell it out for you, don’t I? She hates me, Hannibal. I think it physically pains her to inhabit the same space as me.”

Hannibal takes his hands away from the keys and searches his mind for a conversation he’d had with Chiyoh in the dark after they’d dropped anchor in North Carolina. She’d been angry with Will then and resentful of things she had been made to do because of him. It wasn’t very long ago that Hannibal inspired those same emotions in Will. The striking parallel between their circumstances makes Hannibal wonder if Will hadn’t behaved the way that he did with Chiyoh because he was trying to be like Hannibal.

“When I came into your life, we had a similar falling out. I betrayed your trust for my gain under the pretense of helping you emerge from yourself. Tell me, did you attempt to do this with Chiyoh? Did you mean to free her?”

Will goes quiet. It’s the type of silence that condemns more than words could. He sighs heavily and crosses to sit on the couch, not meeting Hannibal’s stare.

“You forgave me in the catacombs,” Hannibal prompts gently. “Why?”

“You don’t really have to ask, do you?”

“Tell me anyway,” Hannibal insists, voice soft and hands relaxed in his lap. “Please.”

“Because,” Will sighs again. “Because I wanted…I just wanted.”

“And did you suspect that Chiyoh did, in the beginning?”

Will finally points a flat look at him. “Stupidly.”

Hannibal grins and licks his lips to stifle it. “She may forgive you yet. Allow her to be angry with you now. We were angry with each other, no matter how misguided those emotions were.”

“Misguided,” Will laughs, falling against the back of the couch. “You killed Abigail. You took a saw to my head.”

“I wish that…” Hannibal looks down at the keys, sensing it when Will lifts his head to stare at him. “Never mind.”

“You wish you hadn’t.” Will’s face is blank but focused. “So do I,” he whispers. “Teacups, right?”

The front door opens and Will looks away. Hannibal takes a steadying breath and blinks a few times to clear his blurred vision. Chiyoh comes into the room in her bare feet with a small bowl of diced pineapple in each hand. She stops at the sight of the harpsichord with an endearingly guilty expression on her face and extends the first bowl to Hannibal. The second is offered to Will. He looks poised to decline but accepts instead with a mumbled ‘thank you’.

She stands in between the harpsichord and the edge of the sectional couch. After a prolonged moment of indecision, she sits on the far end of the couch with two cushions separating her from Will. He spears a cube of pineapple with his plastic fork and eats it. Hannibal sets his bowl carefully on the bench beside him.

“Shall I play us something?”

Will looks at Chiyoh. She looks at her hands.

“The Well-Tempered Clavier?” Will suggests, eating another piece of pineapple.

Hannibal seeks through his repertoire as he tests an octave on the keys for tuning. It isn’t badly out of shape but by no means in perfect key. He selects BWV 851 and plays with no mind for the few strings he can hear that are not in tune. Will can undoubtedly hear them if Chiyoh does not. The somber piece has a few areas that emphasize which strings are in need of attention, but the joy of playing overrules his fixation with the mechanics of the instrument itself. Outside of remembering Tobias Budge for the last few bars of the piece, he doesn’t dwell on it.

BWV 852 bears a sweeter lilt to its solemnity. It is lighter and calmer, though every bit as complex for its wholesome runs and whimsical swells into darker sounds. Playing it is like draping a warm blanket around his shoulders and dozing off. The playful, sometimes sharp melody leads into the cheerful final round of the arrangement. His fingers play smoothly over the keys until he reaches the end.

Will is watching him already when Hannibal stops. He angles his head to the right. Hannibal swings his gaze in that direction to see Chiyoh asleep with her face turned into the back of the couch. Her feet are drawn up beneath herself and her hands tucked between her knees. She looks like a bird folded up into itself, shoulder blades protruding from her back like bent wings.

“Would you like to play?” Hannibal asks, voice soft so as not to wake her.

Will shrugs and stands, waiting for Hannibal to retrieve his bowl of pineapple before he sits at the bench. “853, right?”

Hannibal nods with a small smile and eats the sweet fruit, closing his eyes at the rush of juice over his tongue. Will plays right at the start of BWV 853, notes falling slowly and patiently to fill the air. He must be more accustomed to playing the piece on a piano, but the narrower range of the harpsichord does not confuse him once. The arrangement is elegant and rounded and sensual, every note plucked from the instrument on time and as close to its intended pitch as possible.

At the break between movements, Will pauses to breathe. His eyes droop closed and he continues, fingers producing messy, infinitely perfect music while Hannibal finishes the last of his pineapple. He takes his and Will’s emptied bowls to the trash in the kitchen and returns to the couch on a sloping, moody harmony. Chiyoh opens her eyes when he sits, and while he worries for the span of a heartbeat that she will be angry at Will using her gift to him, she only holds out her hand for Hannibal to sit closer. He does while Will continues to play uninterrupted and she resumes her position, coiled into herself but relaxed. She rests the point of her jaw on his shoulder and wraps one hand around his arm. Hannibal situates her feet so that the uniform arc of her knees can drape comfortably across his lap, the side of one knee pressed lightly against the bottom of his sternum.

Will keeps his attention fixated on the music and finishes the fugue in a slow ascension from the left side of the keyboard to the right. He licks his lips and flicks his gaze to Hannibal, deliberately not looking at Chiyoh. Maybe it is his way of giving her privacy.

“854?” he says.

“Yes, please, Will.”

The piece is light and quick and wonderful. Chiyoh goes slack somewhere in the middle and drops her forehead into his clavicle. She smells like sea foam and the gritty, balmy flesh of pears or apples, like Aphrodite herself newly birthed out of the depths and fashioned from betrayal and from passion equally. Chiyoh would not be happy for the comparison. He smiles anyway at the thought that they could be deities; a goddess and gods among men. Will peeks up at him from behind the harpsichord as he plays, eyes glittering as if he knows just what Hannibal is thinking. Maybe he does.

It will take time for reality to align with Hannibal’s perception of it. He is happy and in love and all of it is beautiful. Even the parts of their life that truly aren’t, yet. In their suffering, they will find knowledge. In their quarrels, they will discover kinship. From what may begin as hate, they will reap understanding.

Regardless of how events pan out, he’s sure he’ll have a lot of fun.

Chapter Text

Hannibal is pleasantly surprised at the arrival of another delivery—three hand stitched bogu sets and three shinais, one for each of them. It’s the number rather than the contents themselves that Hannibal fixates on.

“You bought one for Will.”

You bought them,” Chiyoh corrects, piling the discarded boxes so that they can be taken out together. “I thought you would want him to learn.”

Hannibal does, but first he wants to spar. Squaring off against him is uncanny and just as she remembers it. Their strength-to-size ratio has remained about the same, and Hannibal is every bit as lithe and quick on his feet as he was in their formative years.

Chiyoh is at an advantage for the first few rounds in that he moves much the same as he did before. After they’ve become reacquainted with each other’s movements and skillset, Hannibal doesn’t allow her the easy victories she had taken from him at the start. Will watches them circle each other in their full protective gear, having commandeered the second living room for the purpose of a friendly match, or forty.

They stop keeping score and Hannibal’s only weakness, once they reach a certain point of knowledge in each other’s faults, is that he likes to preen in front of Will. Chiyoh abuses that chink in the armor only enough for Hannibal to become aware of it, but he does nothing to tamp it down.

Once they call it quits, both of them lifting off their faceguards to reveal sweat-soaked hair and blotchy faces, Will has deduced that there is an extra outfit for him. He allows them their moment to laugh, somewhat embarrassed but gleeful at their exertion and at the shared experience before he holds up the third helmet.

“So which one of you is going to teach me?”

As if he had to ask. But Hannibal looks at Chiyoh with raised eyebrows, hopeful that she might consider it.

Winded but coming down from the high of their physical activity, she says, “What.”

“In return he could teach you to play the harpsichord,” Hannibal tells her, bright-eyed and whimsical and showing his teeth as he bites his lip thoughtfully. “I remember how you cherished the Theremin I made out of Uncle’s old radio. You would love the harpsichord, Chiyoh.”

If her face were not already so hot, she would blush angrily at Hannibal parading the memory in front of Will. As it is, she merely takes herself out of the bogu and lays the shinai on the floor with quiet reverence. Hannibal matches her actions and they bow to each other. Chiyoh’s hair flops over her forehead as she straightens out. She doesn’t look at Will as she marches out of the room.

It cannot be an accident that she discovers Will playing the harpsichord while Hannibal lounges on the long, extravagant couch twice over a period of just a few days. To spite them both and to torture herself, she sneaks downstairs and experiments with the keys every time the two of them steal into the shower together. It’s a regular occurrence now, and while she doesn’t think anything of it, she does take it as a sign that things between them will be progressing further sooner than she thought. No matter.

Chiyoh recalls the Theremin Hannibal made and the conditions under which he built it on one such occasion late in the evening after dinner. She sits quietly at the harpsichord, fingers hovering over the keys, not playing but remembering.

It had been raining and they had exhausted another game of Hannibal’s making—this time he had taken various cooked morsels of meat lathered in spices and herbs, and they had played until she got them all right. He had been so proud and she had been pleased to make him proud. A window or door somewhere was open, allowing a ghostly whining noise to travel through the house.

They found the noise together and upon tugging the backdoor tightly shut, Hannibal got that glint in his eye that she knew, already, meant Prometheus was about to steal fire. They searched through a formerly used study of his uncle’s for usable materials. Hannibal plied bent pieces of metal and a wiry antenna until the currents aligned. She jumped at the noise it made. Once her initial wariness faded, she sat with him and they compelled dying shrieks from it for hours until they were called to the table for dinnertime.

Will comes downstairs alone, hair wet and skin on the flushed side but nothing out of the ordinary for a hot shower. He stops in the kitchen for a glass of water and investigates Chiyoh’s bland occupation of the harpsichord from a safe distance.

“I’m not classically trained. Hannibal would be the better teacher.”

“He wants us to bond,” Chiyoh translates.

Will closes his mouth and nods. “Yeah. He does.”

She looks at him and recalls scenting games from the warm side of a blindfold, the construction of an otherworldly machine, and the thrill of sitting indoors with Hannibal while it poured rain outside. There had been joy in replicating the wind’s eerie song with their hands and unseen frequencies, but the real beauty of the memory was that they were together when they did it.

“Fine,” she says, voice soft and eyes downcast.

He waits a moment for her to look at him and taps his fingers on his glass. A small smile flickers over his lips. “Okay.”

It goes about as well as she’d anticipated. Will instructs by demonstration more than he does through technical description, and while she can keep up well enough, she frustrates easily for his inability to explain most things without just showing her from start to finish, over and over again. As for Will, he absorbs the rules of kendo and does not snicker at the concept of respect within their training space, but the rest of it gives them problems.

“Slide your foot, don’t plod,” Chiyoh berates him for the seventh time in ten minutes.

“Slide, don’t plod,” Will repeats under his breath, near to agitation.

They’ve been at the footwork for half an hour now and Will can’t get the hang of it. Ashi sabaki should be close to the floor and not raised like regular walking, but she can’t pinpoint the proper way to break it down so that Will might understand.

“Explain,” she demands of Hannibal, actually not impatient with Will but exasperated that she can’t properly describe what he’s doing wrong. She’s never had to teach anybody anything before.

Hannibal looks up from the book he’s been engrossed in for the better part of two hours and says, “Imagine you are ice skating.”

“Oh,” Will says, drawing out the word.

Chiyoh grits her teeth. Her reprieve comes when Hannibal suits up and they go a few rounds. It has the dual benefit of working out her pent up energy and giving Will a better idea of how he’s meant to move and how the shinai should be held. Hannibal instructs Will from the sidelines while Chiyoh mostly stands still, deflecting his strikes.

“We should get a record player,” Will says one night, sprawled out on the couch on his back with an ice pack held to his rib cage.

Hannibal plays the harpsichord while Chiyoh watches his fingers fly over the keys. Every once in a while he explains something that he does—points out the octaves, the key changes, the sharps, the flats, and the naturals.

“Fancy a dance, Will?”

“Yes,” Will grumbles, lifting the ice pack and inspecting the welt beneath his shirt. “Much as I’d like live music, until Chiyoh gets a waltz down, we’re a no-go.”

Chiyoh glares at Will and drops her gaze back to the keys when the tempo changes dramatically with a seamless enough transition. Hannibal gives her a small smile and says, “He will, in all likelihood, teach you something slow and fairly easy.”

“That was before you stabbed me with a wooden sword and bruised my ribs,” Will snipes sourly and unthreateningly from the couch.

Hannibal’s smile widens. She doesn’t doubt that Hannibal loves it when Will complains. At least one of them enjoys his sulking. It’s enough for her that Hannibal continues to play the sweet, slow melody that she doesn’t recognize. She feels a quick bite of shame in not being able to name it or lift her hands to play as his companion, but Will jostles his ice pack from the couch and Chiyoh reminds herself that there is an abundance of skills she possesses that Will does not.

It makes her feel better. Resting her head on Hannibal’s shoulder as he plays loosens the very last of that ugly knot welling up in her gut. She closes her eyes and listens to him play.

--

At the edge of the precipice with the wind whispering softly over his skin, Hannibal tips his head back to gaze serenely at the sky. The stars are seldom for the cover of clouds, tinged a muddy gray with moonlight. Will is there with him on the ledge, panting and staggering closer, ambiguous as ever in his intent but wanted regardless. Always, Hannibal wants him.

Hannibal drinks in the sight of him, covered in the Dragon’s blood offering. He looks the part of an insatiable god of old, appeased and fatted on sacrifice. It adheres to him like an inky, wet exoskeleton that he might at any moment shrug out of. Beneath the wash of blood that resembles a chipped shell, Will laughs. His mouth stays stretched into a smile.

It’s beautiful.

He is.

But at the moment where Hannibal could swear that arms should be closing around him because that is what feels right, he feels lips instead. They are warm on his, firm in one instant and trembling in the next. And Hannibal knows. Hands push hard on his chest and he doesn’t care that he’s falling—all he can think is that he didn’t realize his heart could break again beneath the singular weight of that touch.

He thrashes, drowning, and goes still a moment later, blinking hard in the darkness, sucking in dragging gasps of air. The hands pinning his shoulders into the bed go gentle.

“Hey,” Will sighs.

Hannibal presses his lips together and turns his face away, willing his expression into neutrality. The curtains are drawn away from the windows so that Hannibal can see the sky. Morning can’t be a long ways off judging by the reddish tint smeared across the horizon.

“You okay?”

“Yes.”

His voice comes out thick, but Will doesn’t say anything. He lets Hannibal turn so that his back is to him and lies down as soon as Hannibal settles.

The dream clings to him. It fills his senses like an oppressive odor that won’t be removed. He tries to reason with himself over why it would plague him now after everything they’ve been through. Their journey, by all counts, is going exceptionally well. Things are as close to standing still as they could have hoped for them to be. He let a seed of doubt grow somewhere along the path, and now, in their relative time of calm, it has seen fit to trouble his mind.

“I didn’t think you got nightmares.”

“Not for some time,” Hannibal replies, already much calmer for his rationality. “I only ever dreamed of my sister.”

Will surprises him by not asking how those dreams went. “Never your parents?”

Hannibal pauses to remember. He dreamt of his aunt after he left for Johns Hopkins. Once he dreamt of Chiyoh, but it was a strange experience. It was after he met Will, and he supposes, in hindsight, that perhaps he should have known even then that Will would be the catalyst for bringing her back into his life.

The karmic balances of the world have always mystified him primarily because they never seem to catch up to him. He surmises it makes logical sense for Will to be his equalizing element there, too.

“Never my parents.”

Knuckles brush Hannibal’s back through his shirt. He takes the inquisitive touch as a request to turn over, so he does. Will furrows his eyebrows at him and reaches for Hannibal’s hand. One thumb traces inconspicuously along the pulse in Hannibal’s wrist.

“What was it?”

Hannibal considers not telling him, but there’s no reason to withhold that information. It’s only a dream, after all—just his mind trying to make sense of a puzzle he’s not entirely aware of. Dreams are good for jumping to conclusions that might not otherwise have been deduced.

He decides this one is as simple as it appears to be. Will is changeable, and on their best days, he looks mostly bored with what Hannibal has to offer to him in this domestic realm. He’d had another family. If he’d wanted them, all he had to do was push Hannibal over and stay topside. All he had to do was keep his feet beneath him.

“I fell from the cliff alone.”

“Fell,” Will repeats.

“You pushed me. We didn’t fall together.”

“You’re saying I didn’t fall, period?” Will huffs and shakes his head. The timber of his voice beneath the breath is amused. “Is anything with you ever that easy?”

Hannibal doesn’t answer. He ruminates on Will’s response; on how he perceives an inevitability surrounding his propensity for destruction. It could be simpler, of course. Will did at one point, as he lets none of them forget, tumble over the back of a moving train…

How is Chiyoh?

She pushed me off a train.

Lips and then hands, in his dream; a kiss and then a fall. Hannibal’s face breaks into a wide grin and he rolls over onto his back to laugh.

“Oh, Will.”

“What?” he grumbles, sounding put out already.

“Chiyoh,” Hannibal murmurs, chuckling only a little. “Did she kiss you before she pushed you from the train?”

“I…”

That Will manages to make one syllable sound so indignant just entertains Hannibal that much more. He doesn’t laugh, but his smile is unrepentant and clearly annoys Will to no end.

“I’m guessing that’s what happened in your dream then,” he says, voice flat and unhappy.

Incapable of returning to his initial gloom in light of new evidence, Hannibal croons, “Correct.”

Will folds his arms over Hannibal’s chest and studies him, all grave and lovely stoicism. He waits for Hannibal’s smile to fade into something much softer before saying, “You aren’t angry.”

“Will,” Hannibal chides. “Chiyoh is lovely, and you thought, for a moment, that she reciprocated your desire. We can be counted on to make our gravest errors when promised a taste of the thing that drives us the most.”

“And when we’re denied it after the taste,” Will adds, bearing down into him just so by letting his limbs fully relax. His tone becomes sardonic. “And even in that, you get what you want. Don’t you.”

“What do you want, Will?” Hannibal asks him, not unkindly but openly, curiously.

He sighs and presses his forehead to his arm. A few second later, he uncrosses them and plants his hands on either side of Hannibal’s head so he can look at him without lying on top of him.

“I want to know how the hell you win every time.”

“There are consequences for every action. Events can be manipulated before they happen, if not after. It is a matter of choosing an outcome based on the structure of things. The human body is a machine just like law enforcement is a machine—different interfaces which can be broken down and corrupted as systematically as anything else.”

“Knowing the rules in order to break them,” Will supplies.

“And accepting necessary fallout if one must.”

“But you didn’t, with me.”

“No, and I was discovered.” Hannibal tips his head, hair rustling on the pillow. “You wished me dead because of what I did to you. Abigail is dead, now. I waited in prison for three years to hear your voice, only to see that you hated me still for everything that transpired between us. Tonight I dreamt that you left me, again. There are consequences for every action,” he concludes quietly.

The blush of the coming dawn adopts a bluer hue, offset by the dark teal water. Will makes a disgruntled noise and lowers down onto one elbow. Hannibal looks away from the window.

“You don’t even count the other things, do you?” he muses, not looking at Hannibal’s face but at a lower point between them. “The mess we left in the States, Italy…”

“Why would I?”

Will props his head on one hand and drops the other flat on Hannibal’s chest. His expression is almost fond. “Is there a Before Me and an After Me in your mind? To match my Before You and After You?”

“You’ve seen the way my mind works,” Hannibal says, covering Will’s hand with his own. “You know that there are decimated corridors and obliterated mezzanines where I allowed you to roam, unapologetic and bold for the ruin you brought. So much of my life has changed because of you.”

“That’s a yes then, right?”

Hannibal smiles. He’s been smiling faintly ever since he made himself stop laughing earlier. Will ducks his head, motivations unclear until he bends at the neck and swoops low so that his mouth is on Hannibal’s. There isn’t a defined reason for it that Hannibal can decipher from their conversation. Will eases Hannibal’s lips apart with his tongue and he stops looking for one. He turns his head and his eyes flutter closed, stomach flipping, still absurdly unused to this attention.

Fingers ruffle Hannibal’s hair away from his forehead. Will’s other hand slips out from underneath Hannibal’s loosened grip to venture down to his stomach. Meanwhile, he plunders Hannibal’s mouth with his tongue in earnest, pulling back at the choked noise Hannibal makes. He passes up the gasping mouth available to him and nips at Hannibal’s throat instead, gentle with his teeth and generous with his tongue. The thought adds unnecessary fuel on the flame in his gut and he makes another noise that Will rewards by returning to Hannibal’s lips and lavishing him with kisses that are too much and not enough but just right, somehow.

It’s been this way with them for the past few weeks with Will ambitiously testing him out, edging them both a little further than either of them expects to go, and then withdrawing, breathless and confused but usually optimistic about next time.

“How did I kiss you in your dream?” Will asks idly, trailing kisses down the side of Hannibal’s jaw.

“Not like that.”

Will laughs at the harried desperation that must line Hannibal’s reply. He peppers butterfly kisses along Hannibal’s temple and it’s then that he touches back, sliding one hand along Will’s side and the other up the base of his skull. His participation marks the encounter as a lazy one, driven by this casual intimacy rather than experimentation or instant gratification. The dull fire still rages in Hannibal’s belly, but the lashes of it against the base of his spine are not urgent anymore.

It’s nice, if Hannibal had to choose one word to describe it. Will likes kissing him, even if he doesn’t say as much aloud. Of all the other things they’ve tried together, Will’s lips move against Hannibal’s as if a kiss between them is merely a natural cap to a conversation—a continuance detailed in the words unspoken. Hannibal closes his eyes to bask in it.

“Touch me.”

Actually startled at the command, Hannibal breathes, “What?”

“I want you to touch me,” Will clarifies needlessly but patiently.

Hannibal perceives him as such, patient for his utter lack of a need. He can’t deny Will what he wants, and to stand on principle now would only make him a hypocrite for the wrong reasons.

God, but he’s dying to touch Will. He licks his lips, wondering how much he is being allowed here. Will touches his face and follows the line of his jaw where it curves into his clavicle. He purposefully grips Hannibal’s shoulder and steers him onto his side while he dips onto his back, chin tipped just so and lips parted. His hand is warm and sure on Hannibal’s arm, roving and kneading.

“Come on.”

--

They’re lying in bed, warm and comfortable, and morning’s not far off. It’s only natural that taking things further enters his mind as a cozy possibility.

Will tries to be alarmed at his willingness to offer up of himself—really, he does. Volunteering his body in supplication is drastically different from poking and prying at Hannibal in mostly clinical settings, but realistically, they’ve been inching toward a climax of one sort or another this entire time. Hannibal would be proud of the pun.

“Just so I understand,” Hannibal murmurs, bolstering his stance and inching closer without touching Will more than he has to in order to keep his balance. “What are you permitting me to do?”

It’s a fair question, as well as a good one. Will had almost preferred to go in blind calling out ‘yes’, ‘not that’, and ‘what are you doing?’ He has to think it over.

“I just want to know if you can get me off.”

Okay, could have gone better. But he can think of a few times in his life when he’d done worse.

Hannibal raises one eyebrow. “Do you find that you discriminate much between one hand on your cock versus another?”

Will can’t even begin to bristle for the funny twist that bit of vulgarity wrenches in his stomach. He does roll his eyes, though, ignoring the heat that rises to his cheeks. “I’m not asking for a hand job, Hannibal.”

“…Are you telling?”

Will’s breath catches in his throat. “Right, I’m not touching how curious I am that you asked it like that. We’ll talk about it later.” He sighs and manhandles Hannibal until they’re lying together with their legs entwined and Hannibal looking supremely conflicted about it all. “I’m frustrated and you don’t touch me, so I’m asking you to touch me.”

“For the purpose of handling you?” Hannibal asks with a wrinkle between his eyebrows, though he looks game, for the most part. “Or that I might bring you to orgasm?”

“If you can, by all means,” Will murmurs, not half as confident as he projects.

Whether Hannibal can tell that he’s nervous is sort of a moot point. The challenge clearly interests him enough that he’s willing to overlook it. Hannibal leans up and seals their lips together, plunging in once with his tongue when Will opens his mouth for him, unprompted. His thigh angles down into Will’s groin. He chuckles at the surprised noise Will makes into his mouth.

He withdraws to say, “Would you have my mouth, Will?”

“Christ, do you want to use your mouth?”

Hannibal hums happily and gives a slow nod, brushing his nose against the scar in Will’s cheek. “Very much.”

It’s pretty impressive, if Will’s being honest. His body lights up like a Christmas tree at Hannibal’s enthusiastic onslaught, and it is that; it’s exactly an onslaught.

Will’s astonished that he likes it, even if he keeps having the sensation of wires crisscrossing in his brain, firing the wrong signals to his body. He’s been thinking about Hannibal’s body since that hotel room in Cancún, since he held him in his hand and pumped, distantly aroused and hungry for the charade to be real. In his mind, they’re either playing house or they’re working toward some kind of truth.

And if it’s the truth, he fucking wants it already. And if it’s not, then he wants to know that, too. But they’ve been showering together and sleeping in the same bed at night, and Will can’t pretend at indifference anymore. There’s just no point. He’s seen Hannibal naked, felt what his skin feels like against his own. The kid gloves need to come off.

“I am learning that I don’t know how to read you very well.” Hannibal sighs into Will’s skin and worries a nipple with his teeth. He skates his fingers around a bruise Chiyoh gave him from their kendo lesson a few nights previous.

Will starts to push his shirt back down and Hannibal takes the hint to move on. “You seem to be doing pretty well.”

Hannibal eases back slightly and palms Will through his shorts, at first firm but then delicate in his touch. It’s the first time he’s ever touched him there with real intent, and while it probably could have been done in a controlled setting, that’s not what Will wants. He wants Hannibal frantic, working him, and showing him what he can do because it’s all Will’s been able to think about since they took up residence in Belize with this room of their very own to hide away in.

Even in the shower, Hannibal’s careful not to touch him. He’ll react to things done to him, but he doesn’t initiate anything if they’re not fully clothed or mostly vertical. It’s like he knows dumping this encounter on Will with the bedroom atmosphere in place will be enough of an outside influence to be considered cheating.

Will lifts his hips for Hannibal when he slides his shorts off and he expects to be seared all the way through at the feel of fingers curling around him. Hannibal makes him feel the opposite of what he expects, as is his habit. The feel of his hand is warm and edging toward hot, definitely, but it’s not the friction or the pressure that sends a shiver through Will.

It’s the very accidental, extremely vulnerable way Hannibal says, “Oh.”

Gasps it, breathless and alarmed, like he’s the one who’s overwhelmed. Will doesn’t doubt that he is. It’s not hard to relate.

Hannibal shimmies down between Will’s legs, spread wide to accommodate for the span of Hannibal’s knees and then for his shoulders when he settles there. He’s eager, Hannibal is. Will grips hard at the sheets and watches Hannibal take half of him into his mouth in one go, and Will isn’t small.

It only takes him a few tries to get all of Will into his mouth and by then, he’s groaning. They’re both groaning, and Hannibal trails a line of spit and pearly seed where he pulls off to lap at the shiny head with a single-minded kind of determination that Will enjoys personally and as an aftershock of imagined empathy, causing him to shudder hard around a shiver.

Hannibal mouths down the full length of him and continues methodically stroking him. Will tears his hand away from the sheets and closes his fist around a handful of Hannibal’s hair. He can’t stop himself from whimpering aloud at the close heat of Hannibal’s mouth enveloping one testicle and then the other. Before he can get too lost in that sensation, Hannibal’s mouth lifts back up to Will’s dick to replace his hand, and he properly goes to town.

Will’s hand is still clutched in his hair, so he uses it to direct him, pulling down if he wants it harder and gentling his touch if Hannibal’s doing exactly what he likes with no instruction needed.

Hannibal learns quickly and gives Will little reason to boss him around, though he has the shadowy hint of an inkling that Hannibal wouldn’t mind being told what to do. Will tests that theory with a few wayward twitches of his hips and Hannibal, though he gags at the first prominent one, scrambles to encourage him to move more.

A muffled sound like a wail buzzes through Hannibal’s mouth and into Will’s belly, shocking through his back, and splashing up his throat in a hot spray of rushing, feverish blood. Will drops his head into the pillow and digs his heels into the mattress even as his knees splay wider apart. He holds Hannibal’s head where it is and grasps blindly for his shoulder with his free hand, desperate now and yearning like he hasn’t and like he didn’t think he could.

Hannibal, his tempter and his tempted; the Golden Apple and the Serpent in the Garden; the once-angel and the devil; Will’s thrall and captor. A groan drags out of him, lilted at the end to resemble a whine.

“Hannibal—”

His teeth grind in his mouth and his back arches hard enough to hurt. He sees in the instant before his eyes slam closed that Hannibal’s shoulders hunch forward and his hand disappears between himself and the bed.

Will listens as the roar of blood in his ears recedes. Hannibal sputters a grunt and pulls off him with a wet cough, shivering and pressing his forehead to Will’s naked hip. He casts around for the hand still balled up against his scalp and crushes it in his shaking hand. Will can feel him shuddering and panting heavily against his skin. He lightens the pressure of his hand and Hannibal emits a high, soft moan that tapers at the end like a shredded ribbon.

“Did you…?”

“I did,” Hannibal replies, voice gone to gravel just like it did after their fight with Dolarhyde.

Will’s mouth opens in a smile, eyes listing closed again. Lightheaded still, he says, “Ha.” Outside, the sun is starting to come up. “Maybe I should stop leaving the curtains open,” he mumbles.

“Would you like me to close them?”

“Are you getting up?”

“I can hardly stay as I am,” Hannibal rasps back, pushing up and sitting back on his knees. He looks like the embodiment of sin with his mussed hair and the obscene wet patch over his crotch.

“I don’t know, I like you like that,” Will confesses, shameless and lying back with an arm thrown behind his head.

“Debauched?” Hannibal smirks.

“There’s a definite appeal,” Will agrees, rubbing one hand low over his stomach as if he can soothe the butterflies storming his intestines. “I can’t remember the last time I got someone off with no hands. Did you touch yourself at all?”

“No,” Hannibal says, looking mournfully at his soiled nightclothes. “I was attempting to stave it off.”

Will laughs and makes himself sit up. He puts his hands on Hannibal’s face and licks patiently into his mouth, questing for the combined taste the two of them make. It’s not particularly off-putting. Hannibal gives as good as he gets—and apparently, gets as good as he gives. Someone with a castle for a memory palace would, though, wouldn’t he?

“Share a shower?” Will offers.

Hannibal beams and bumps their foreheads. “I love you.”

“Yeah, I…” Will blinks, thrown. “I love you, too.”

Not a big deal, except for the part where it makes his chest tighten and his stomach flip and his hands sweat. Hannibal presses his lips to Will’s cheek and gets out of bed, rooting around in the dark for clothes. Will tosses a bathrobe at him and steals a parting glance at the sunrise peeking out over the water. He thinks it must be a good sign that it’s a bloody one. Portents don’t really work the same way for them, after all.

They walk out into the hallway and pass Chiyoh where she’s headed to the stairs and presumably, for the kitchen. She points a flat glare at Hannibal and rolls her eyes at Will, which seems backwards, but hey, he’ll take it.

Chapter Text

By their third sexual encounter, Hannibal has amassed a library of his favorite sensory details. The shape and swell of Will’s mouth after they’ve kissed reminds him of a wooded ravine in some temperate climate. His hands where they squeeze firm and hard are like the tides that rush and recede, rush and recede. Will’s eyes, lashes fanned low in his pleasure, are the clouds that skim over the moon—liquid and ethereal, near but unreachable, and murky but known.

Will is lazy about disrobing when they’re together, quick to rid Hannibal of his clothes but patient when it comes to himself. Hannibal peels him out of his shirt one night and gnashes a copper taste from his cheek at the enthusiasm with which Will answers his ministration. He doesn’t doubt that Will takes some form of gratification from being with Hannibal in these close, breathless moments, but he hasn’t yet divined the exact nature of Will’s bliss.

As an empath and an eideteker, Will can imagine any emotion and replicate any memory or sensation that he chooses. Hannibal hasn’t asked Will what direction his thoughts take when it is the two of them alone together. The most he had dared to hint at his curiosity came in the form of a nonchalant rhetorical question.

Do you find that you discriminate much between one hand on your cock versus another?

Hannibal basks delightedly in their shared nakedness the first time it happens in bed. Their mingled experiences in the shower don’t compare and he’s glad of it. He’s elated that he can be surprised at the supple slope from Will’s hip to his belly where Hannibal’s cheek brushes up along the planes of his body. The various sensations they craft together ache and hum in the back of Hannibal’s throat like a sob or a laugh needing to be released. Whispered words fall onto the sheets, into the other’s skin, and over the pillows like defoliated leaves.

Will demands much in return for his participation. Because his mind is as vast as Hannibal’s or because Hannibal’s rapture is loud enough to extend its song to Will, he doesn’t object to what they’ve done so far. The closest he’s come is when he sputtered for Hannibal to stop tickling the backs of his knees upon discovering their quaint sensitivity. Hannibal seeks to be a student of Will’s body, but more and more he is faced with the reality that he cannot say with any certainty what Will likes as opposed to what he merely accepts.

In Hannibal’s mind, Will has accepted everything they’ve done in the spirit of curiosity. He has, for the most part, been entirely okay with the arrangement.

Sometimes they sleep. Sometimes they touch curiously and innocuously for exploration’s sake. Tonight they roughhouse and crash onto the bed in a flurry of laughter, sweating and balmy with salt from their run along the shore. Will holds Hannibal down and bites him, grunting a low and animalistic sound when Hannibal all but tears the half-opened shirt off Will’s torso.

Will is still half-dressed and his shirt is splayed open down the middle when Hannibal wrings an orgasm out of him with his hand. The tattered shirt resembles the outer petals on a blooming rose, opened at Will’s throat and narrowly cinched by frayed threads at his abdomen.

“I would that my limbs were yours and that we could be as one body,” Hannibal babbles shamelessly into Will’s shoulder. He slinks off of Will’s front to lie beside him.

Will chuckles and turns onto his side so that they face each other. “Okay, Aristophanes.”

Hannibal closes his eyes around a smile that stretches wide across his face. His hand has slipped over Will’s hip, wet and warm from Will’s semen. Will doesn’t shy away from the mess but pushes into it, slipping his hand down between them to do what he hasn’t since Cancún. The breath stops abruptly in Hannibal’s throat. He hadn’t even noticed that he didn’t come when Will did. He’s grown so accustomed to matching him that the presence of his lingering erection startles him.

Around a glazed smirk, Will whispers, “Did you think I didn’t know what to do with it?”

“I didn’t…think you wanted…” Hannibal’s fingers crush into a desperate fist against the small of Will’s back. He buries a moan in the hollow of Will’s throat. His hips stutter into motion, chasing the rhythm of the hand touching him. “Will.”

“Come on then,” Will croons, voice rumbling in his chest and in Hannibal’s chest, buzzing through them both.

Hannibal struggles to keep his eyes open through the power surge creeping up on his system, but Will’s mouth covers his, giving breath to a drowning man. The next few seconds are nothing to him but white. Harsh whimpers tumble forth from his lips the next thing he knows. Will is there, brushing his lips over Hannibal’s eyebrow, across his fluttering eyelid, and beneath his ear until Hannibal stops shaking.

“Goddamn,” he hears Will murmur on a slow exhale.

He groggily blinks his eyes open and feels fingers tracing a trail of moisture up his cheek to the source. Will doesn’t speak of it; doesn’t even try, really, to dry the errant tear tracks down one side of his face. It’s enough for him to acknowledge that they are there and smeared into the pillow case beneath Hannibal’s other cheek. He nearly sinks into a doze for his satiation but stirs when Will moves away from him and off the bed.

A nauseating wave of panic builds inside him. He sits up after a few confused, foggy moments of incomprehension, back ramrod straight in spite of the fluid touch to his spine. Will halts as abruptly as if Hannibal had called out to him with words. His eyebrows furrow, bewildered.

“If it was not enjoyable for you,” Hannibal hastens to say, “We have no need of doing it again.”

Will opens his mouth and drops his head toward one shoulder. He presses his hand idly to his forehead and rubs at the scar Hannibal gave him. His gaze darts toward the window before flicking back to Hannibal. “You don’t like to sleep in your mess,” he explains, voice low and familiar in the growing dark.

Hannibal blinks slowly, mind moving at a sluggish pace. His body remembers by degrees that he doesn’t have the strength to keep himself upright, but he remains sitting out of sheer stubbornness. He croaks, “What?”

“Hannibal,” Will sighs, walking back to the bed and sitting on the edge. “I’m not doing this to humor you. I’m not even doing it in the spirit of fairness.” He reaches for the sides of Hannibal’s face and holds him with both hands. “I let you touch me because it feels good. I touch you back because I want you to feel good, too.”

There are a dozen things Hannibal thinks to say, but they move too quickly through his mind and he’s fuzzy still from sitting up too fast. He smooths his hand over Will’s stomach, grazing the edge of his scar accidentally and then tracing it with intent. Will covers his hand with one of his own and presses his forehead to Hannibal’s, eyes open but downcast. Their hands bear down just slightly over the curved indentation in Will’s exposed skin.

For Hannibal, it is an obvious thing that he loves Will and that Will, as far as he allows himself, returns the sentiment. It is obvious, too, for Hannibal that calling it love is merely a simplification of the turmoil and the reprieve and the ecstasy that Will inspires in him. He doesn’t need to touch Will or for Will to touch him for that beautiful unity to be realized. Words in themselves are superfluous. Deeds come close to expressing it, but even there, the two of them lie so well that some part of him will always doubt that there can ever really be truth in his actions or in Will’s.

Now that he’s known what it is to touch Will with full permission and even enticement, he isn’t sure if he needs it or not. Desire is a heady, insistent beast, but only rarely can it presume to call itself need. Hannibal needs Will and desires him, which is something of a problem.

“I asked you in Cancún if you hunger as I do. Do you? Or have you decided that curiosity is your sole motivation and reward for what we do?”

He almost expects Will’s ire for the question, but his breaths just keep coming unhurried and warm on Hannibal’s cheek. His eyelashes brush Hannibal’s orbital ridge as he blinks.

“Do you remember when I said I didn’t share your appetite? After Muskrat Farm.”

Hannibal doesn’t need the clarification, but he’s grateful for it anyway as something in his chest splinters at the prospect of loss—at the suggestion that maybe after everything they’ve done, Will really has been secretly repulsed by their encounters. Worse, maybe he’s been imagining women in Hannibal’s place and has only tolerated

“Hannibal.”

He swallows. “Yes, Will.”

“I didn’t share your appetite. I didn’t want to share your appetite. I couldn’t, but after Dolarhyde…hell, before Dolarhyde, before Italy, before Randall Tier, that part of me was always calling out to you. It called out to you when I sent you away and when I saw you in prison.”

Will leans away but doesn’t shrug Hannibal’s hand off. He looks off to the side and Hannibal does nothing to bring back his gaze.

“I meant what I said—that this dream you have for us is beautiful. It is.” He squeezes Hannibal’s hand and ducks his head. “I was going to kiss you before we fell. I don’t even know why. Maybe because I knew you were in love with me and because I’d known for a long time. Maybe I realized I felt the same way.”

His eyes are glassy and wide when he looks up at Hannibal, his lips parted and poised to question or to confess, Hannibal can’t guess which. Will presses them together and wets them with his tongue.

“We killed Dolarhyde and every wall I ever built to keep you out just crumbled to ash. All I could think was how I said we were conjoined and how you…you said I was family.” A tear slides down Will’s cheek and Hannibal bites down on his tongue, squeezing Will’s hand. “I liked killing with you and that—that is a fucking understatement, okay? You don’t get to feel guilty for winning my body when you’ve had my mind for years.”

“What of yourself, Will?” Hannibal asks gently, almost too taken with Will’s admission to find his voice at all.

“What do you mean?”

“You have also had my mind for years. Since we met, you have fascinated and captivated me. Does the added tribute of my body present itself to you as such? A prize?”

Will’s frown is confused and then incredulous. An angry flush creeps up his neck, but Hannibal interprets it a moment later as embarrassed and irritated. “You got the part where I threw you onto the bed earlier and gave you hickies, right? Hannibal, are you kidding me?”

“It is not insensible of me to fret over our incompatibility with regard to your sexuality.”

“Try telling that to my dick,” Will mutters, scrubbing a hand down the unscarred side of his face as he looks away. “Where is this even coming from? We’ve gotten pretty regular about this.”

You don’t touch me how you did tonight, Hannibal can’t say.

Will purses his lips like he heard Hannibal anyway. “You need to get over this complex you have about my interest in women.”

“What ‘complex’?” Hannibal asks, reasonably enough but annoyed at how outrageous Will makes his insecurity out to be. “You are attracted to women and I am decidedly male. Those are simply the facts.”

“Well, sometimes there’s rain in the middle of a drought!” Will protests after casting around for a few seconds to find a suitable analogy. “That doesn’t mean it stops being a drought.”

Hannibal looks at the ceiling and lets go of the dull reply he’d half-thought to say. Will sighs and stands to his feet.

“Now I need a shower. Someone wouldn’t let me clean up before everything dried.” He roots around on the floor for his shorts and tosses his ruined shirt at the foot of the closet. “Let’s go. Up.”

Hannibal goes with him, ashamed of his trepidation but forgetting it when Will washes the salt from his hair. The smell of their shared shampoo wafts up between them, sneaking traces of soap onto their lips and over Hannibal’s tongue. Will steps to the side so that the spray comes down between them as if to make a point and then steps back, bringing Hannibal with him to the other side of it.

“It’s not a perfect metaphor. Don’t overanalyze it.”

“I wasn’t.” But Hannibal smiles anyway.

--

The months grow seasonably warmer in Belize and they spend more time outside as a result. They walk out on the beach together or they sail the boat for a few hours, free in the knowledge that they aren’t bound to any breakneck schedules. Hannibal drives the boat under Chiyoh’s guidance and Will sits with his feet up over the side, letting the sun tan his face, his arms, and his chest.

Chiyoh stays covered up all the while and Will wonders for just a moment if it might be because of him, but Hannibal stays covered, too, so he rules out his vain explanations. He struts about with his shirt buttons undone all down the middle or he goes shirtless altogether. The sunshine is too good not to appreciate it. Anyway, Hannibal likes the freckles he comes home with, which is amusing and oddly satisfying. He doesn’t read into why.

After one such day of sailing and soaking in the vitamin D, Will falls asleep upstairs in his and Hannibal’s room and wakes up late in the evening alone. He wanders downstairs after a quick shower and stops in the kitchen for water. The faint sound of Hannibal’s voice in the other room catches his attention. He strains his ears to listen as he drinks. Chiyoh’s voice picks up where Hannibal left off.

“You took her in after the death of her parents.”

Will sets his glass in the sink and pads, barefoot, to the second living room where they usually spar. The only items of furniture in the room are two recliners and a loveseat, normally pushed up against the walls when they need the floor space for kendo. Hannibal is sat in one of the recliners while Chiyoh sits across from him in the middle of the loveseat. She sees Will immediately when he steps into the doorway, but Hannibal’s back is to him, so he continues speaking.

“She was Athena and Scheherazade, quick to adapt and always prepared to promote any compilation of events that would keep her alive.”

Looking over Hannibal’s head at Will, Chiyoh says, “Athena and Scheherazade, but never Abigail Hobbs.”

“She wasn’t afforded that privilege.”

Will watches Hannibal’s head tip back in the recliner. He walks into the room uninvited and slides one leg onto the arm of Hannibal’s chair, clearly ignoring the other recliner not two feet away. Chiyoh doesn’t even narrow her eyes at him like he expects her to. She only looks between them like she isn’t sure which one of them will speak next on the matter. Hannibal raises his gaze to Will’s, asking silently for Will’s input.

He doesn’t have any real stories to report on Abigail. She was always afraid of him or seeking to be out of his sights for the sake of protecting herself. The version of her he keeps preserved in his memory is a farce—a facsimile of the Abigail Hobbs he only ever knew in passing.

“Talk about the house over the water,” Will says in a small voice, settling in on the arm while Hannibal’s expression softens.

The stories are told in reverent, light tones. Will closes his eyes around the melancholy he can hear in Hannibal’s voice. It’s buried deep in the heart of Hannibal’s old happiness like the smell of char lingering in a cherished, burned place.

Hannibal tells of teaching Abigail to play the piano and of a morning they spent tossing pebbles over the cliff’s edge into the water below. Will listens raptly to the story of the marzipan strawberries, imagining Abigail clearly in his mind at the moment that she drops half a bag of powdered sugar on the counter, covering her and Hannibal equally in a sweet, white cloud of dust.

Butterfingers, he hears her say with just the slightest touch of Hannibal’s voice beneath her own. Sorry.

Will opens his eyes and straightens out where he’d fallen into a comfortable slump at Hannibal’s side. Chiyoh flits her gaze from him to Hannibal, dropping it to her hands in her lap when Hannibal clears his throat. Her expression is hard to read.

“Why did you kill her?”

Nothing about her tone is vindictive or judgmental, Will observes a bit wildly. He expected indignation for the girl that could just as easily have been Chiyoh in another life. All he gets from her instead is a complete lack of understanding—something bordering on apathy but touching closer to pure ignorance. She can’t grasp the incongruity of what Hannibal did and that, as an impracticality, concerns her more than the actual fact of what he’d done. In that blank-faced, bright-eyed delivery of a single damning question, Will gets the thread that connects her to Hannibal.

“I wanted to hurt him.”

Chiyoh understands that answer even less. A pinch appears between her eyebrows, expression transfixed. She looks at Will as if finally remembering his presence and rather than hiding her reaction, asks him, “Why did he want to hurt you?”

Her voice is oddly tender and Will finds that he can’t hesitate to reply. “I was dishonest.”

“In your heart?” she asks, and he nearly double-takes at her uncharacteristic softness—when it comes to him.

Hannibal looks at Will, parting his lips in time with the blush that creeps up Will’s neck. Will imagines the picture they made in Hannibal’s kitchen—the gore and the screams and the tears. He remembers the flip in his stomach when he saw Abigail and the wrenching pain of the knife tearing through his belly. He’d lied; they both had, but there’d been truth in their deception.

It’s thinking like that that caused Hannibal to saw into Will’s head, so he just says, “I tried to be.”

“To our equal detriment,” Hannibal muses. “But I made the same mistake.”

This is the most bizarre marriage counseling I’ve ever been to.

It occurs to Will that this incredibly strange conversation is Chiyoh’s way of seeing his perspective. She doesn’t have Will’s capacity for empathy and she doesn’t share Hannibal’s tendency to see art in every small gesture Will makes.

“Maybe you could tell a story,” Will proposes, about as clumsy with his suggestion as Chiyoh wasn’t with her own.

Hannibal smiles, swinging his warm stare from Will to her, clearly in agreement. Already indecisive, Chiyoh scowls at the look on Hannibal’s face.

She frowns at them, suspicious. “What story?”

--

Chiyoh’s thoughts grind to a halt under the weight of two minds focused on her response. Neither of her companions speaks to urge her on. Will fusses briefly on the arm of the chair until Hannibal coaxes him into his lap, sitting with his back flat against Hannibal’s front and one leg flung over the side of the recliner. A distant image springs forth from the well of her memory. She swallows with some difficulty and averts her eyes, stepping bare feet up onto the couch and wrapping her arms around her knees.

“When he learned ikebana from his aunt,” she begins, addressing Will, “She had trained me already. He was not very good.” She tosses a quick glance at Hannibal and he smiles wide, head tilting fondly to one side. “He cut himself the first time.”

“What kind of flowers?” Will asks, voice soft and tentative in the short silence.

“Oleander,” she tells him, holding Hannibal’s muted, adoring gaze.

The whole of the plant is toxic, Lady Murasaki had informed her nephew, mild in tone and in demeanor. Its outer beauty beguiles as it beckons. It is like a poisoned apple, beautiful and vibrant on the outside but engineered to wound or to kill beneath that shining exterior.

“A poisonous flower,” Hannibal recalls, eyes glinting happily in their unbroken eye contact.

Wistful, she says, “You enjoyed that it was.”

“I did. However, it was an olive branch that I cut through to my thumb.”

Will lifts Hannibal’s hand and examines the thumbs in question. He hums and runs his finger over the first one he inspects. His head angles down and meets in an arch with Hannibal’s.

“That was the first time you spoke to me.”

Chiyoh looks up from the tangle of hands he and Will make across from her. A muscle twitches in her jaw as she looks at Will. “I told him that he bled because he held the knife incorrectly.”

“You scolded me for holding the knife incorrectly.”

“You were bleeding on Obasan’s furniture,” she replies crisply. “And you were holding the knife incorrectly, other indiscretions aside.”

“Other indiscretions?” Will asks when Hannibal doesn’t immediately respond.

Hannibal shrugs a shoulder. “I suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially in the early stages of our relationship.” He nods at Chiyoh. “I was feral when we met.”

“Not feral,” Chiyoh counters, gentling her tone. “Raw.”

She soothes her palm into the rounded peak of her bent knee and looks through the large window at the patient night outside. Hannibal doesn’t speak on her reason for knowing the difference. Will doesn’t either. He contents himself with a single remark. Although she bristles at the first sound of his voice, what he says only exacerbates the heat creeping up her neck and along her jaw.

“Siblings.”

It doesn’t burn her like the last time he said it to her—like the last time Will called Hannibal her brother. It only resonates like the truth. Hannibal beams at her like it’s the truth. Chiyoh drops her chin onto the peak of one knee.

“Tell me about Francis Dolarhyde,” she murmurs, calm and expectant.

Will looks at Hannibal, almost sly in how he does it. Hannibal, in turn, smirks. He lets Will begin, each of them looking excited at the opportunity to share.

Perhaps there is more to the story than she thought.

Chapter Text

Hannibal wakes very early on a Monday morning with every intention of making breakfast but finds himself pleasantly hindered upon attempting to escape the bed. Will has taken to tangling his legs with Hannibal’s in his sleep. The dark net of pre-dawn sky makes his embrace so much more enticing than leaving for the kitchen.

“Will,” he tries, not exactly hoping for results but needing to make an effort.

A garbled response rumbles in his ear. Will presses closed, relaxed lips to the back of Hannibal’s neck, stifling a yawn. “What?” he grunts, arms already tightening around Hannibal’s middle.

Hannibal settles into the chest at his back, thin resolve going thinner. “Breakfast.”

“Later. It’s still dark outside.”

He never quite understood the allure of lying close with someone in bed until recently. As much as they have adopted the practice, he and Chiyoh hadn’t shared a room once before their first night on the Maboroshi. Hannibal likes sleeping close to her and Will both—for vastly different reasons, of course. His appreciation of one doesn’t diminish the love he has for the other.

“At least sleep until the sun comes up,” Will gripes, nipping lazily at Hannibal’s ear.

“Yes, all right.”

Hannibal closes his eyes without meaning to heed Will’s command but blinks and finds the room vibrant with sunshine. Will is awake beside him but shows no sign of getting up. He lies flat on his back with his head turned in Hannibal’s direction. The pillow crushed beneath his bearded cheek looks delightfully soft. After battling with his self-control for a time, Hannibal raises a hand to trace the line between skin and cotton with one finger.

“Morning, again.”

“Good morning, Will.”

“Did you dream?”

“Perhaps. I don’t remember.”

Will allows him a few moments more to peruse his face before turning slowly onto his side. Hannibal takes the subtle invitation to run reverent, careful fingertips over the old gash in Will’s cheek. The soft scar tissue hidden beneath the dark facial hair gives the sheerest resistance beneath his fingers. It reminds him uncannily of a butterfly’s wings. He leans up in a helpless fit of affectionate whimsy to press his lips near the scar but not directly over it.

“What are your good dreams about?” Will murmurs when Hannibal withdraws.

“The contents vary. Of late, I have dreamt of Abigail.”

With a hum, Will says, “She would have liked Chiyoh.”

“I think Chiyoh would have returned the sentiment. There are a great many things they have in common—a shared competence with firearms, for one.”

A smile parts Will’s lips. “I had that thought, too.”

“Their destroyed families,” Hannibal adds offhandedly. “Their fates tied up in ours.”

“Destroyed family?” Will asks, hanging onto the first of Hannibal’s comments.

“I am all she can claim of the old world, Will. Did you think Chiyoh came from a wholesome beginning?”

Will doesn’t answer, but Hannibal can see him stash the information away for later. He doesn’t doubt that he will conceive of a way to bring it up for discussion with Chiyoh later. They are on slightly better terms than they were initially, and although Hannibal has cautioned Will not to act too rashly, he has grown bold in the face of Chiyoh’s reluctant thaw toward him.

“May I now prepare breakfast, Will?”

“I guess.” But Will threads his fingers through Hannibal’s chest hair, touch light but immovable.

“Did you have a request?”

Hannibal studies the lines in Will’s face, the gradual shift of his features that suggests a change of heart. Whatever he had intended to say or do, Will drops it entirely. He takes his hand back and slowly sits up, rubbing a hand over his forehead.

“Did that apron I bought for you come in yet?”

“It came in yesterday. You should know Chiyoh thought that I bought it for her when she saw it. She was furious.”

“Thank God she didn’t think I bought it for her.”

“That would have been a different conversation,” Hannibal confirms, smiling in spite of himself.

Will goes downstairs with him in sweatpants and a t-shirt, asking him on the stairs, “Will you actually wear it?”

“Had you intended otherwise?”

“I just didn’t know if you’d go along with it.”

Hannibal examines the neatly folded garment left on a chair at the dining table. Along the top where it will hang over his collar bone, a red, corrugated material lines the center of the apron. The cheerful, decidedly feminine print of roses and crescent-shaped leaves catches Hannibal’s eye as he drapes the protective item over his head. He stares down at the delicate crosshatched pattern beneath the evenly dispersed splotches of color as he ties the red sash behind his back.

He smooths his hands down the front and along the sides. It has a slimming effect despite the expansion of diagonal lines all across the frock, which is pleasant. Will is staring at him when he finishes, arms crossed. A thoughtful look blooms on his face.

“Well,” he says, sounding disappointed but looking rather intrigued. “That backfired. Should’ve expected it, really.”

Hannibal has a smug remark waiting on the tip of his tongue, but Chiyoh joins them in the kitchen and his unnecessary riposte fades. She sets about making coffee, brewing enough for all of them but only pouring a cup for herself. Will makes two, lingering close by while Hannibal scrounges up ingredients for Croque Tartine Parisienne. Will offers little in the way of conversation, but he brings spices from their steadily growing pantry when asked.

“I may return to Cancún next week,” Chiyoh says, disrupting the comfortable ambience of his cooking. “I have business.”

“You mean your girlfriend,” Will translates with a cheeky glance at Chiyoh.

She frowns and Hannibal braces himself for turbulence. Albeit obviously irritated, she tells him rather tamely, “That is none of your concern.”

Hannibal pauses where he had been whisking milk and flour in a saucepan on the stove. He turns to look at Will and then at Chiyoh. Will also gawks at her, almost cartoonish for his surprised blink. Chiyoh’s face tints a rouged pink, flustered at their staring.

“What?”

Will composes himself and manages a casual shrug. “I expected you to deny it,” he lies.

“Why? You don’t deny it. Neither of you,” she adds as an afterthought, including Hannibal as an afterthought.

He turns back to the stove and reduces the heat to spare the béchamel sauce from his inattention. The other spices Will gathered for him sit on the counter beside the stove, ready for use. Hannibal works quietly, listening for the idle chatter happening miraculously behind him. Will remains in his orbit but not close enough so as to be in the way.

“Wetwork in Cancún?” Will asks, quite calmly, Hannibal is pleased to note.

Chiyoh hesitates. “…Will I kill someone?”

And then Will hesitates. “Oh. Yeah, that’s what I meant.” He waits a beat and further clarifies. “Is there a job there?”

“Not as far as I know,” she says dully.

“So you are just visiting your girlfriend.”

She is not my girlfriend, Hannibal imagines she wants to say.

“Again, it does not concern you.”

Will hears the gentle but definitive warning in her tone and wisely leaves the question alone. He busies himself instead with outright bothering Hannibal where he’s multitasking, broiling cheese and simultaneously melting butter in a separate skillet. Naturally, Will isn’t properly bothering Hannibal so much as he is openly distracting him, which should be bothersome but honestly isn’t.

“I think I chose well,” Will murmurs, running his knuckles just over the knot keeping the sash tied at Hannibal’s back.

“It vexes you, doesn’t it?” Hannibal muses, thoroughly charmed at Will’s fixation with the apron. He salts the eggs cooking on the skillet and shakes some pepper out onto the yolks and their white, sizzling fringes. “Even now, you seek out the flaws in your lot.”

Will doesn’t reply vocally. He merely slides his hand up the center of Hannibal’s back and teases the tips of his fingers above the knot at the base of Hannibal’s neck.

“Actually, for once,” Will says, touching the ends of Hannibal’s hair, “I wasn’t.”

Chiyoh clears her throat loudly from the table and Hannibal flips the eggs, nearly too late to salvage them. He stares at the cooked sides and swallows a rush of air in his mouth. The tips of his ears and the mound of his throat grow warm, then hot.

He assembles the sandwiches and tops them off with crème fraîche, Will’s hand hovering still over the nape of his neck. Hannibal barely remembers plating, much less carrying anything to the table. Chiyoh gives him a strange look midway through their meal, gaze darting down and then back up before away. He glances down at himself and notes with a flush that he hadn’t thought to remove his apron before sitting down to eat. Will smirks at him over his fork, grayish blue eyes sparkling in mixed delight and mischief.

--

Chiyoh wears the simple white apron that they bought in town and sits down to patiently hull strawberries at the table. Hannibal, meanwhile, bustles about the kitchen in the colorful item that is apparently Will’s gift to him. She doesn’t speak into their silence, finding a measure of tranquility in the sounds of Hannibal’s slippers clacking on the hardwood floor and the faint, aimless humming he loses himself to.

The large basket of strawberries before her is to be made into syrup for waffles, which Hannibal will also make from scratch in the morning. For now, the late evening sun sets low over the water, crashing in through the windows that graze the ceiling. Will is in the other room, utilizing one of the recliners as he reads. Chiyoh glanced in that direction as she passed the unobstructed doorway to adjust the drapes.

It’s one of hers that he’s settled down with. The small book itself he holds over a dictionary and a notebook. She had needed to focus her eyes on him to see that for the past hour or so, he’s been studiously translating a book of Indrė Valantinaitė’s poetry.

“Your proficiency with so many languages impresses him deeply,” Hannibal tells her, alerting Chiyoh to the fact that she has been looking over her shoulder in the direction of the second living room. “He would match us if he could.”

“It is different for Americans,” she murmurs, returning to the remaining contents of her basket. “Lithuania was the third country I called home. I was young when we went to France from Japan.”

“And by the time we met, your English was as polished as my own.”

“If by that, you mean unpolished.”

Hannibal raises his eyebrows, a playful half-grin curving his mouth. He ducks his head, motioning grandly with one hand. “Forgive my generosity.”

Chiyoh fights the smile twitching onto her lips. The handful of hobbies and skillsets they share began with ikebana, moved onto scenting games, extended to their respective native languages, and advanced into kendo. Those were the relatively harmless ones anyway. Even then, there had been blood on the olive branch, burning flesh in their guessing games, a prisoner whose pleas Chiyoh understood, and a murdered man she had detected the scent of once before, minus the oil of clove. She looks up from her work with the gutted strawberries and meets Hannibal’s intent gaze.

“Do you remember when you brought me to Lecter Dvaras?”

“You turned seventeen that year.”

“Just before you left.” Chiyoh watches him for a moment before looking away. “You were different that summer. Different enough that I felt unconnected to you. You had been gone for years by then, and only when you came back to us did I feel alone.”

“Is there an explanation for this in your mind?” Hannibal asks softly, sounding as though he has one if she does not.

“Il Mostro,” she answers, looking at him once more. “Italy allowed you to breathe; let you realize who you wanted to be.”

“You as well.”

“Italy was not the home you chose for me, but for yourself.”

“That is not a strike against your character or your company.”

“You did not spare my feelings then, Hannibal,” she reminds him, not callously but not kindly either. “You need not do it now.”

“Then I will not. What were you remembering from that summer?”

“When we walked the grounds together,” she tells him, gentling her voice. “Every few meters we went, I asked you about the sounds and smells in the air. I thought you would be irate with me, but you were patient. ‘A white stork nesting near the water,’ you said of the rustling we heard down the path at the side entrance to the kitchen, or ‘wildflowers and rowan’ for the pollen filtering in through the smashed windows of the dining hall.”

Hannibal’s eyes glitter, warm with joy and unfettered amusement. “And the badger we found in the cellar? You screamed as I had never heard.”

“I was surprised.” She pushes the strainer filled with hulled strawberries toward Hannibal and goes to wash her hands in the sink. Her white apron is as pristine as it was when she first tied it behind her back. “Obasan was displeased to find it in ruins, the estate.”

“Opulence is a passing delight,” he murmurs.

“And yet, Mischa’s handprint endures on the fountain.”

“Is that not an elaborate metaphor for the workings of my own memory?”

“Is it?” Chiyoh asks, untying the bow at the small of her back and folding the apron up. “The very center, perhaps.”

“What lies at the center of your memory, Chiyoh?”

She pauses to think, sorting through reels of time and experience: the first shooting lessons from Lady Murasaki in Lithuania, the shadowy images she keeps in her mind of her birth father—crying the last time she saw him, and Hannibal, every different time life pushed them back together. It relieves her to have an answer outside of him—to have an answer that predates and outlasts him, no matter what emotions she has encountered since their new life started.

“My guardian—Obasan.”

Hannibal nods, stirring the deep red mixture in the saucepan on the stove. They stand side by side, watching the long spoon swirl the sweet, fragrant concoction. A few strawberry seeds float up toward the top and clump together like all the scattered pieces of Pangaea come together. Chiyoh eyes Hannibal’s apron and darts a quick look over her shoulder in the direction of the second living room.

“I think I understand,” she tells him in a muted voice.

He doesn’t miss a beat. “I wondered when you would.”

--

Trapumas, meaning ‘Friability’, is a relatively short poem that gives Will a massive headache. He spent the better part of the previous hour on a poem near the back of the book, thinking it hardly mattered where he started. It wasn’t like he could get through the whole thing anyway. This second poem from the beginning kicks his ass just as much as the other one did.

It’s poetry, so he should have expected the language to be lyrical in addition to incomprehensible. His mediocre, word-for-word translations could never do it justice, but he figures it’s some kind of start. He hadn’t had any inclination toward music today, and whatever Hannibal’s doing in the kitchen, Chiyoh is clearly providing all the help he needs.

Will startles a little at the sound of footsteps at the doorway. Hannibal walks in with a small bowl and a spoon, still wearing the damn apron that was supposed to make him look silly. It doesn’t, not even a tiny bit.

“Indrė Valantinaitė,” Hannibal notes, as if discovering for the first time what Will’s been up to for nearly two hours now. “Curious that Chiyoh would enjoy her work.”

“Why is it curious?”

“They are quite sensual, her poems.” He walks around to stand before Will, holding out the small dish in offering. “I suppose the tone may not sound so obvious in translation.”

Will doesn’t reach out to take the small glass bowl. His brow pinches in confusion. “Sensual? This says something about eggshells and porridge.”

Hannibal makes a face and plants the spoon against the lip of the bowl so he can free one of his hands to point at a line in the book. “Paslydau. Mano baltos kūno dalys atrodė tarsi sukultas senasis porcelianinis kavinukas tarp aštraus ledo šukių. ‘Tripped. My white body parts seemed as if created by the old porcelain pot, the sharp ice shards.’ Kai mane rado – kritau dar sykį. Minkštai tarp kiaušinių lukštų ir vakarykštės košės. ‘When you found me – I fell again. The soft eggshell and yesterday’s porridge.’”

Will stares without meaning to. Hannibal huffs a sigh, carefully extracts the three books and pen from Will’s lap, and piles them neatly on the side table they’d purchased in the last week. He holds out the little bowl again. Still uninspired, Will rests his head back against the recliner, bounces his knees for a moment, and pats his thigh.

Hannibal wars with himself but ultimately gives in, stepping one knee and then the other astride Will’s lap. He holds out the bowl, looking far less confident than he had standing on his own two feet. Will tips his head back and twitches the corners of his mouth, making it clear what he thinks Hannibal should do. To his odd pleasure, Hannibal complies straight away, not eagerly but quick enough for Will not to doubt that he got the unspoken request immediately.

He fills the small spoon with the deep red syrup and raises it to Will’s lips, tightening about the jaw when Will’s mouth opens for the spoon. Playing it up only a little, Will makes a satisfied sound between a sigh and a hum at the sweetness erupting on his tongue.

A meaty glob of a pulverized berry presses between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. Hannibal stares at the picture Will’s mouth makes, eyes dark and transfixed. His audible swallow at the sight of Will’s tongue darting out to catch a fleck of syrup coloring his lip gives Will an idea.

It isn’t something especially new, but it has the sweetness of a first time compounded with the familiarity of a longtime favorite between them. Will dips his finger into the bowl, coating it down to the second knuckle with the red syrup. Hannibal parts his lips to receive him without any hesitation, a look of such concentration on his face that Will has to smile.

Hannibal’s tongue is warm beneath the pad of his finger, adhering to the form of him for a few heady seconds before sliding back to drag the rest of the syrup off with his lips. He licks along the side of Will’s finger to catch the stray streaks of red that he missed.

Will keeps his hand there in front of Hannibal’s mouth and smooths his other over Hannibal’s thigh and up his hip, nothing idle about his intention. He traces the part in Hannibal’s lips with two fingers, the tip of one wet with spit and the other dry but searching for that welcoming heat. Hannibal opens his mouth again, eyelashes fluttering and sinking shut, in bliss to have this—whatever it is.

He bobs his fingers in and out, marveling at the transition in Hannibal from graceful performance to artless need. He replaces his fingers with his mouth on an upstroke and drops his hand to Hannibal’s other hip.

“Here, before you drop it,” Will whispers, taking the dish out of Hannibal’s hand.

He knocks over his pen and notebook, nearly toppling the rest of the stack as well, to set the bowl down on the side table. Reconsidering, Will spoons another portion into his mouth and guides Hannibal’s lips back to his to share it, which is sticky but sweet and for the most part enjoyable. Hannibal trembles slightly in his lap and that makes it worth the spot of syrup he gets on the corner of his mouth.

“Keep your hands here,” Will whispers, lips pressed to the shell of Hannibal’s ear, nodding when Hannibal squeezes his shoulders. “Just here.”

He plants his feet on the floor, knees spread to accommodate the extra weight in his lap, and pulls down on Hannibal’s hips at the same time that he lifts his own. Hannibal gasps, one hand sliding to drag blunt fingernails down his clavicle through his shirt.

“Hands,” Will breathes, grinding them together again, searching for a rhythm or a pressure that he likes but not quite finding it.

It hardly matters that he can’t synch it like he wants. Hannibal makes a desperate, almost confused sound in the back of his throat and Will, catching onto a thread of something he’s deeply curious about, follows that sound. He clutches at Hannibal’s hips and pulls his hair, tugs roughly at the strings keeping the frilly, pretty apron in place.

The kicker is that Will takes a strange, consuming pleasure in doing the unraveling for once. Hannibal’s gone to such lengths to get Will off, in Will’s own stupid words, that he’s forgotten entirely about his own boner on more than one occasion. And since taking a page out of Hannibal’s book tends to provide him with some kernel of wisdom, Will decides it’s high time to at least give it a try.

He undoes Hannibal’s fly beneath the rumpled apron’s front and plunges in, searching and finding and squeezing for really no time at all. Seriously, he can’t have been in there with his hand for more than a minute before Hannibal’s digging his forehead into Will’s shoulder and clawing at Will’s arms like a man buried alive.

Hannibal pants hotly against Will’s throat, head turned in that direction, though that’s about as far as he’s moved. In slow increments, the rest of him comes back online and he slumps further into Will’s front like a broken or gelatinous thing.

“That went a lot better than the last time we tried doing that in a chair,” he observes, resting his hand on Hannibal’s leg without a thought for stains. The apron—beautiful thing of creation that it is—will conceal the worst of it until they can get upstairs and that’s all he cares about. “I think I know why.”

“Why?” Hannibal hums, probably knowing the answer but desiring to hear Will say it.

“I didn’t feel so vulnerable like that.”

Hannibal smiles, loose-limbed and quite nearly buzzing with released energy. “Whereas I did.”

“Everybody wins.”

Will contemplates the veracity of the claim. He believes it. They can both win and it doesn’t have to be about one of them over the other. A balance can be met and maintained. They’ll just have to negotiate terms until they find it.

He waits a moment for Hannibal to comment on Will’s lack of an erection, but he doesn’t draw attention to it. Will’s glad that he isn’t discouraged. Maybe Hannibal even sees what Will’s planning to set into motion. He’d be surprised if Hannibal didn’t, but then, he might just be thrilled that Will’s initiating sex with him and not giggling halfway through. Will’s plenty happy about that, honestly.

--

Chiyoh takes an especially long shower upstairs and walks pointedly to her bedroom with her eyes on the floor. She still somehow manages to hear the end of one bizarre, especially Hannibal-sounding moan before rushing into her room and closing the door behind her.

She wonders how much the poetry, if anything, had to do with their tryst. It would be fitting enough as a catalyst since she bought the book thinking that its sensationally scandalous verse might give her some insight into the impossible romance that Hannibal’s mind has always been. Perhaps one of them will keep it now. That would be better than claiming it after whatever they had just put it through.

It would benefit her to go to Cancún. She should go immediately. Leticia agreed with her the last time they spoke on the phone. Chiyoh sits on her bed and frowns judgmentally at the closed door.

Yes, she had better go immediately.

Chapter Text

On the morning Chiyoh’s set to leave for Cancún, Will rolls out of bed before Hannibal wakes and traipses downstairs where all the lights are still off. Chiyoh’s suitcase still stands by the front door, so he relaxes a bit. Wonder of wonders, he was hoping to see her off before she left. They aren’t friends, but the respect they’ve been fostering prevents a lot of friction on a day-to-day basis.

There’s also the matter of Hannibal. If Will didn’t know any better, he might say that Chiyoh’s been trying to help him along in his quest to reassure him of this thing they’re trying to have.

He doesn’t think he’s reading into the whole matter involving strawberries and their inappropriate use of communal space. There’s no way Chiyoh’s unaware of what they did. She hasn’t killed him for it yet, so she must be playing at being the world’s unlikeliest wingman. Even if the prospect sounds impossible, he posits that Hannibal’s blushing uncertainty frustrates her as much as it amuses Will. His amusement might be the thing that’s putting her off.

Will putters about in the dark and finds Chiyoh in the kendo room. She’s sitting on the floor with her legs folded beneath her and a steaming mug held in both hands. A cool breeze comes in through the opened floor-to-ceiling windows before her. Without turning to look at him, she says his name.

“Sit if you like.”

He spares a glance at the recliner he and Hannibal recently defiled. It’s been pushed up against the wall as per their usual arrangement when they spar. He didn’t hear the shower before he woke up, but her hair is wet and neatly combed. Maybe she ran the downstairs bath adjacent to the kendo room to keep from waking them.

Will sits a good two feet to her right and looks out at their view of the beach. The vast sea breaks over the shoreline in dark, bruised waves. Above, the sunrise is only beginning to crest over the horizon. He stretches his legs and crosses them at the ankles, cold nipping at him through his socks. The floor beneath his palms is cold and only a touch grainy. No doubt the opened windows have allowed some sand to blow in from the coast.

“Were you training earlier?”

“I thought it best to expend my energy before the trip.”

It’s more of an explanation than he expected. He heard her telling Hannibal the night before that there would be a bus and a boat ride involved. Will infers from her proposed route that Chiyoh prefers not to take Maboroshi out by herself. Traveling on it alone to find them before had been unavoidable and inevitable, but here she has the choice to plot her own path.

He realizes after a time that he hasn’t replied and casts about in his mind for something reasonable to contribute. Chiyoh still confuses him at the best of times, shadowy as she finds it in herself to be. Her signals read vivid one moment and shuttered the next—flashes of lightning.

“What is she like?”

“You don’t know?”

He calls to mind the most prominent features about the woman he’d seen, what her safe house had told him, and how she conducted herself crisply and professionally when they met. She’d managed to scare him at the end, showing her hand the way Adam and Eve frightened God in the Garden with their knowledge.

Beneath the youthful, crass disguise, Leticia strikes him as someone all too similar to Hannibal: a contented cat accustomed to seeing her opponents as mice. The anonymous environment she chose for their meeting hid her identity but also the fact of her relationship with Chiyoh, whatever it really was or is. Her casual threat in letting him see their power imbalance smacked faintly of vengeance. It only occurs to him now that she might be jealous of Will for a number of reasons. None of them are difficult to comprehend.

Will risks a glance in Chiyoh’s direction and forces himself to loosen about the shoulders. Her demeanor as it touches the fringes of his awareness runs calm. The usual simmering instinct she carries has softened, tempered by exercise. He wonders if it would be a good idea for them to try sparring together early in the mornings or if it brings her peace at all because she does it alone.

Chiyoh studies him in turn and does the Signature Hannibal Head Tilt. He braces himself for something akin to Chilton’s fumbling attempts at his head, but nothing of the sort happens. She doesn’t push to see what is in him but stays right where she is. Her voice sounds soft as snowfall the next time she speaks.

“When he tells me what you can do, I remember the paintings she kept in the sitting room.”

A glimmer of something fragile and far away but near, so near, dances in her eyes. She looks away from him and out at the sunrise. Will looks out at it, too.

“A rendering of Landscapes of the Four Seasons,” Chiyoh tells him, a small and mysterious smile playing on her lips. “It was a parting gift from her father when we left Kyoto. Theirs was a wealthy family.”

“Yours wasn’t.”

Her face remains impassive. No shift of tension ripples through her hands where they stay molded around the mug. She takes a slow drink from it and returns her hands steadily to her lap. That chapter of her life is an old hurt. He doesn’t seek after the intricacies that make it painful for her to remember.

“Have you seen the work of Tenshō Shūbun?”

Will shakes his head no.

“To look at it gives one the sense of falling into a dream. No single layer may ever be explored to its full potential. Every precipice possesses a wilderness. Its waters are indistinct and cannot be measured. The people are forests and one may lose himself trying to understand one when there are many.”

Chiyoh brings her razor sharp focus back to him. Still she does not pry.

“In the original painting by Shūbun, a house emerges from the mist, secluded and under the sentry of a mountain ridge. Hannibal would say that you live there, that you did live there with seven dogs and a fortress built to keep trespassers out.”

“What do you say?”

“That you painted the house. That you made the fishermen and their boats and fashioned the sky out of empty space.”

Will can’t help but smile.

She’s right, of course. She sees straight through him and has seen through him for quite a long time now. The closest he’s gotten to making sense of her is by comparing her to the ghosts of Mischa Lecter and Abigail Hobbs—and he didn’t know them either. It has always been easy to misread Chiyoh in much the same way that it was easy to misread Hannibal, and Abigail, in the beginning. It is easy to stay out of her head where it isn’t always with other people.

“I had a conversation like this with Hannibal once.”

“I imagine all of your conversations with him are like this.”

“Your conversations with him aren’t?”

Her answer is to say nothing, which he accepts as an affirmative by omission. The smell of coffee brewing draws his attention and he looks over his shoulder toward the kitchen where somehow Hannibal hasn’t made a sound. Flashes of what it must have been like with Lass and Beverly—fast and silent and dire—flicker behind Will’s eyes and he looks back out at the water.

Damned if I’ll feel.

“Turn on the lights, you vampire.”

Chiyoh cracks an actual smile into the lip of her mug and the lights snick on in the kitchen. He has the bizarre thought that he’d like it if she stayed with them instead of going.

“Coffee, Will?”

“Yeah, please.”

“Chiyoh?”

“No, thank you, Hannibal.”

Will hears Hannibal shuffling around in the kitchen, opening a drawer and fiddling with silverware. Chiyoh drinks from her mug and sets it gently on the floor in front of her legs. She sits with her spine straight and her shoulders daintily pushed back.

She doesn’t watch him or wait for him to continue the conversation and it strikes him that his psychosis is entirely uninteresting to her. Outside of keeping him for her brother, Chiyoh has no direct use for Will. Once upon a time, he had thought Hannibal’s only intention was to keep Will up and running for Jack. When the time for reveals had come, she’d derailed his plans to pursue Hannibal by pushing him off the back of a train. Never has she ever wanted or been impressed by Will. Somehow it’s refreshing.

Chiyoh maybe has her moments where she seems larger than life, but at her most basic parts, she’s only human. Being around him will change her just as being around her will change him.

“I don’t suppose Leticia has a piano you can practice on while you’re away.”

“Not at her disposal,” Chiyoh murmurs. “The two of us can be creative, as you well know. Will you continue training with Hannibal in the meantime?”

“You wipe the floor with me anyway. Not sure how much you think I’ll improve while you’re gone.”

She looks at him with something like curiosity and flicks her eyes to the doorway behind him. Hannibal pads into the room barefoot and in his pajamas with two mugs of coffee. He bends at the waist to give Will one of them and then hands over the second when Will holds out his hand for it.

Hannibal seats himself in the space dividing Chiyoh and Will, takes his mug back, and blows the steam away. The action accentuates the hollows of his unshaven cheeks. Will leans over to press his lips to the plumpest point on the mound of that cheek and the smile it earns him is just radiant. There’s less distrust there. Staggering fear, yes, but it’s the sort Will anticipates. Anyone grateful to receive a precious gift would be afraid of taking it for granted.

Will catches bits and pieces of what’s beneath it—longing that challenges all other need, desperation, and yearning. It’s nonspecific. No goal can name or describe it. Hannibal hungers and he doesn’t understand it, but he doesn’t have to understand it for it to be precious to him.

He stares at Will, fed but starving. Sated but malnourished. Something is missing.

--

Chiyoh watches beams of natural light siphon in through the windows while Hannibal slowly adjusts to the distraction at his side that is Will Graham. Even after all that they have weathered together, it still takes Hannibal time.

He has no defense against this man and he wants none. It used to drive Chiyoh insane.

In Virginia, it had been hard to swallow. He’d tried to tell her what it was like—how abhorrent it would be to go on in the world while Will refused to chase after him. She had only wanted to shoot Hannibal just a little bit since he had left her behind, since he fully meant to do it again by sending her away and making himself stay. None of it made sense. It’s still whispers of blood and gun powder to her, if she’s honest.

They’d talked at length about Francis Dolarhyde and Abigail Hobbs. Chiyoh had seen Will with Hannibal in the gallery in Italy, on the cobbled streets, and later, tucked away for privacy and brief, stolen intimacy. She had seen Hannibal carry Will through snow in the dead of night while she picked off their assailants from afar because that’s what she had been for.

She had lingered by the window on the porch of Will’s house like a stranger, watching as Hannibal laid Will down to bed. Chiyoh had been there. She had seen.

It doesn’t bother her that Will does still have safeguards in place to protect himself from Hannibal. She doesn’t blame him. It isn’t her place to compel him to be vulnerable with the one he claims to love. Chiyoh compelled Will to be vulnerable once before, and she suspects she will never hear the end of how she used that moment to deceive him, to harm him.

When her time comes to leave for the boat to Chetumal, Chiyoh allows Hannibal to see her out. Will lags behind, allowing their conversation earlier to act as a placeholder for goodbye. It gives them both the opportunity to preserve the rapport they’ve bolstered thus far.

But Hannibal is different. She pulls him close and with her mind on suibokuga paintings, invokes Obasan’s words from when he accidentally discovered moribana.

“Give life to beauty. It is not enough for a thing to be lovely.”

Ikebana, after all, is the art or giving life to flowers. You see, life consists of more than stringing objects together until they match your tastes. A beautiful arrangement will feed your eyes, but your soul will be hungry if beautiful is all they are.

She doesn’t look at Will, standing out of earshot but watching them embrace. Hannibal’s eyes are focused and bright with recognition at her words when they release one another. A happy, mischievous light skitters across the deep hazel of his irises.

“Do you think us lovely, Chiyoh?”

“I will not repeat what I’ve said,” she snaps, or tries to, while frowning—or trying to.

Chiyoh reads Will’s book on the boat and stares out the window on the bus ride to Cancún. The journey is predictably dull, but the book intrigues. She’d lifted it from his and Hannibal’s bookshelf yesterday while returning the latter’s copy of The Art of War. Finding the illustrated children’s book on the topmost shelf in between Hawking’s The Theory of Everything and Heidegger’s Being and Time had surprised her.

She took it downstairs and promptly asked if she could borrow it. Will had gazed at it a long time with a conflicted wrinkle between his eyebrows. His expression softened inexplicably in the moments before he gave permission, but he had given it. He didn’t tell her why his face looked oddly tender when he saw the book she chose.

But two hours out from Cancún, she finds herself flipping through the The Little Prince one more time with patient hands. She reads it slowly as one does when hunting for clues.

Although she is embarrassed to admit it, the fox pulls at her heart. The red wisp is her when she was a girl and Hannibal right now with Will. It may even be Will, but the boy is Will, too. She doesn’t know.

If asked what it meant to be tamed, she would cite the prisoner she’d captured with Hannibal and she would cite her many years lost to Lecter Dvaras. She might recall a handprint affixed to a fountain and how it had driven the course of their lives. It was all a kind of taming to her mind: castles for cages, towers by the sea, and a unique little boy with a unique little fox.

Never would she have called that arrangement friendship. One is responsible for a destiny subverted, as she was with her prisoner and as she will always be with Will and Hannibal, but to suggest that a bond of love is inevitable…she simply can’t accept it.

Dismayed and annoyed at her sentimentality, she turns to the book of poems she also took from their shelf. Neruda’s poems read best in the original Spanish, but there is a special victory to be had in absorbing dual interpretations of every verse.

Chiyoh brandished this book to Will, too, less certain, and he had called Hannibal over to ask because it had not been his to lend. It was a small thing, but she had respected him for it; respected, equally, the astonished expression on Hannibal’s face when Will checked with him over such a small matter.

The pages tell of love and beauty, of time that passes. She reads them and tries to imagine longing as the poets describe it.

She buries those feelings beneath her skin and lives under them as if the sum of their parts could amount to armor. With Will, she had been the victim and the freed prisoner. For Du Maurier, she had been wrathful and out for a pound of flesh; benevolent but Godlike to Jack Crawford; a girl scarred by abandonment with Hannibal. All these manifestations of herself carried weight because they were true, because they empowered her to move among and beyond them.

Neruda’s longing, the artist’s longing, is deeper and warmer than Chiyoh perceives of her own. It reminds her of Leticia, who had not taken it well when Chiyoh left Mexico.

Given her resources, Leticia must have learned about Peru and about the man with whom Chiyoh lived. Accessing her services through a corrupt politician would not have been necessary in an ideal situation. If Chiyoh had not already predicted that her choices would create a rift with Leticia, Will’s snide remarks about Du Maurier would have told her everything.

It hurts to be replaced. Hannibal taught her that lesson, too.

The bus stops in Cancún before she’s traced out every possible interpretation of the thoughts swarming her mind. Words from Neruda and Saint-Exupéry buzz in tandem with memories of Leticia in Chichén Itzá. Chiyoh finds her at the edge of the bus station, leant up against the side of a taxi with a square of cardboard in hand. The makeshift sign reads 千代.

Chiyoh could laugh at Leticia’s halfhearted disguise. Her sunglasses are like huge bug eyes and her scarf is too warm for the summer heat. She doesn’t laugh, but she does smile and Leticia smiles back.

Leticia’s breath cuts short in her ear at their short, tight embrace before they get into the car. Incapable of mistaking a sound of pain for one of pleasure, Chiyoh takes stock of her after the driver has heard their destination. She asks in Japanese what hurts and Leticia sighs without answering.

A bruise at the top of her cheekbone shows once she slides the sunglasses off her face. Chiyoh doesn’t need to repeat the question. She merely sets her jaw and Leticia sighs again.

“Ki ni shinaide,” Leticia murmurs, trying to be reassuring.

“What happened?”

“It’s nothing, Chiyoh. I promise.”

Chiyoh bites her tongue and looks pointedly out the window to avoid meeting the driver’s eyes. A mere fifteen minutes is all it takes for them to be in Leticia’s apartment of choice.

It is a modest space, big enough for two people and pleasantly cloistered. Both of them have experience on either end of a sniper rifle’s sights, so they can appreciate thick curtains over the windows during the day and blacked out lights after sundown. Chiyoh can be unknown in Belize, but in Leticia’s home, she cannot be anyone but the person her reputation forewarns.

“Tell me who did this to you.”

Leticia takes Chiyoh’s one suitcase and removes the lightweight bag from her shoulder. Chiyoh carefully thumbs open Leticia’s jacket and unravels the looped scarf in turn. The bruises down her side suggest broken ribs, but there is no tape binding them.

“Tell me who hurt you so that I may return the favor.”

“Chiyoh,” Leticia laughs. “When have I ever needed you to save me?”

“In Mérida, the second time we worked together.”

“You know that was different. Play fair.”

Leticia lets Chiyoh guide her into a seat at the table and smiles peacefully when Chiyoh crouches between her loosely splayed knees. There isn’t much she can think to do that Leticia will not have already done for herself. If she refuses to give Chiyoh the name of the person who put those marks on her face and body, then Chiyoh cannot force it out of her. Rather, she won’t.

It is only too comforting to stay there and lean forward so that her knees connect silently with the tile. Some of Chiyoh’s anger dwindles at the slow caress of friction her palms generate in smoothing over the denim of Leticia’s jeans. Fingers curl around her ear and secure a lock of hair behind it. Her palm is a warm, persistent heat draped protectively at the side of Chiyoh’s head. Leticia’s smile softens. Chiyoh closes her eyes.

“Was it Manuel?”

“It was his competition. Once you get past the surface damage, it’s really a funny story.”

Chiyoh suspects she won’t agree, but Leticia spins a tale out of it. Francisco’s death had unbalanced Manuel, leaving the Gulf Cartel relatively vulnerable to outside influences. In this case, rival criminal organizations had begun encroaching on his territory.

“They thought I was a lieutenant!” Leticia chuckles. “Manuel’s lucky it was amateurs who hit us first.”

You’re lucky it was amateurs.”

“If it had been pros, they wouldn’t have come after me.”

Chiyoh straightens out and meets Leticia’s gaze. “Did you anticipate these repercussions?”

A smile quivers over Leticia’s ruddy full lips. Chiyoh makes a sound halfway enraged and halfway disbelieving.

“Obviously I didn’t think I would be the one to take the brunt of it, but yes, can you blame me? You know how I feel about the machismo stifling our ranks. It’s unbearable.”

“Were you the only target?”

“They tried for Manuel. It didn’t work. Two others were assaulted. They sent foot soldiers, so we sent our dirty police. It made for quite a show. You would have loved it.”

“I doubt that.”

Leticia’s smile widens and Chiyoh can’t help but trace the bruises along her eyebrow with reverent fingertips. It doesn’t appear to cause Leticia any pain. At least, if one of them must suffer, Chiyoh can shoulder the weight for both of them.

--

Hannibal watches Will pull the faceguard off his head before removing his own. If he weren’t already red-faced with exertion and heat, he would flush all over at the canted bow Will gives him. His dark hair is black with sweat and tumbles over his pinked forehead in one tightly curled lock.

Will raises an eyebrow at him when he straightens up and Hannibal blinks before returning the bow. Chiyoh would chastise him for forgetting, but it’s hardly his fault if he simply can’t get a grip on himself. It is still amazing to him, and may forever be, that Will is here with him. Even if his intention had been for a murder-suicide when he sent them over the cliff, they are here together and there is no other way for them to be but here, together.

“You’re staring at me,” Will muses. “Go on, what’d I do wrong?”

“What?”

“Did I not slide my foot like I’m meant to? Chiyoh says I learned the footwork wrong so I still make mistakes with it.”

“You were perfect, Will.”

“If I was perfect, I would’ve gotten a hit on you.” Will raises his eyebrows and peels the kote off his hands. He weighs the shinai in one hand and distractedly tests the carved handle with his fingers. “Chiyoh’s going to kick my ass once she’s back either way. I guess it doesn’t matter.”

“She will return to the harpsichord with these same thoughts in mind.”

“Fair point.”

Will sets the shinai down and motions to take Hannibal’s. Without another word, he strips off the rest of his gear and contemplates the shoreline through the closed but unveiled windows. He pushes the hakama down his legs so that he’s in shorts and nothing else. The shape of his body would inspire sculptors and the glisten of sweat on his skin would make painters swoon.

Hannibal gingerly undoes the fastenings on the tare around his waist and watches a little mournfully as Will pull on a pair of sweatpants. It’s not as if he hasn’t sketched Will before, but he would love to draw him in the nude.

“Wanna run with me?”

There is a special grace in Will asking such a question and normally Hannibal would go with him, but tonight he’d prefer to shower and start dinner. Will nods, though Hannibal hasn’t spoken. Hannibal does start to protest Will’s lack of a shirt, but Will reads his mind there, too, and collects his discarded shirt from the back of a recliner.

“Okay, I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Were you going to go barefoot?”

“What? Oh.”

Will darts out of the room to retrieve his shoes. He catches Hannibal on his way out of the sitting room and plants a hot, comfortable palm on Hannibal’s shoulder. With his other hand he holds Hannibal’s jaw and tugs him in so that their lips crush gently together. Will’s beard scratches and his breath warms and Hannibal slips his hand over his hip, lost.

A hitch of breath startles between their mouths when they separate. Hannibal squeezes with his fingers and opens his eyes.

“Hi,” Will whispers, smiling.

“Hello, Will.”

“Think you’ll get tired of saying that one day?”

A laugh falls from Hannibal’s lips and he says, “No, I have always loved saying it. I always will love saying it.”

“Why?”

“There is no one else for me who cannot be contained within a few memories. Maudlin as it may sound, I come to believe more and more every day that I was made for you only.”

Will stares at him and Hannibal can see the gears in his mind turning as he thinks.

“In Minnesota when you learned what I am, you told me the scales had fallen from your eyes. Later in Baltimore, with Abigail, you said you had changed me—and then, scales had fallen from my eyes as well. I allowed myself to be tricked by you, and the pain of your betrayal, what led up to it, transformed me.”

“If you had just told me about Abigail…”

“Beverly Katz was dead.” Hannibal smiles at Will’s red-rimmed eyes, not intending cruelty but only accepting the irreversible truth of his actions. “Freddie Lounds was not.”

Will looks away and then down at his feet. He considers something silently and squares his shoulders. A short shuddering breath catches in his throat.

“I’m never going to be sorry that I hurt you. You’ve hurt me…so much. And the fact that we’re fated for each other—I don’t deny it—but it doesn’t heal everything else. It just changes the way I make sense of it. The axis that everything else hinges around stays the same.” A curt laugh interrupts Will’s words. “I tried to make you cut it out of me. But it’s not the kind of thing that surgery can fix.”

“So you followed.”

“And you stayed.”

And you followed, and I stayed.

Hannibal swallows and tentatively places his hands over Will’s chest, one of them covering the beat of his heart and the other cupping the pulse in his neck. It is unspeakable to him now that he ever thought he could flourish in any world where Will was not there to flourish with him.

Will’s heart skips a beat beneath Hannibal’s hand and he whispers, “I love you.”

Hannibal’s eyes sting, but he opens his mouth to return the sentiment. Will stops him with a kiss, lips soft and tasting of tears. His thumb along the seam of Hannibal’s lips prevents him, still, from speaking his reciprocation.

“Don’t say it. Just hear me. I love you.” Will kisses Hannibal’s other cheek. “I love you. You’re a monster and I’m the same as you, and I love you.”

Lips pepper Hannibal’s forehead and his temples and his eyelids and finally his quivering mouth. Their foreheads press together and after a time, Hannibal buries his face in the curve of Will’s neck to inhale him deeply until his lungs burn with it. The smells of sweat and leather and coffee fill Hannibal’s nose, and Will loves him. He holds him up and he loves him.

Surely he doesn’t deserve it, but life has indulged Hannibal for many a year until this point. He could be satisfied with nothing but Will’s fingers in his hair and Will’s voice in his ear.

Chapter Text

Chiyoh takes a small bite off the corner of their shared chocolate bar and hands it back to Leticia. It’s nearly four in the morning and the sky is dark with the full glory of nightfall. Leticia, like Chiyoh remembers, struggles frequently with bouts of insomnia, so they’ve voyaged up to the rooftop of the apartment building to watch the stars.

Leticia brought a bundle of blankets, one for them to sit on and two smaller ones to guard against the cold. They are plain in appearance, only one of them bearing any kind of pattern in the fabric. The blanket protecting them from the scratchy concrete roof practically glows bright red even with minimal light. The illuminated city blots out many of the stars that should be visible, but Chiyoh still counts three brilliant, wayward meteors flashing across the sky.

Imagine an ember that leaps from the fireplace and how radiant it looks, Obasan’s husband told her on a night like this one, years after they took her from Kyoto. It’s like that in the sky, too, but instead of wood burnt down to ash, those dashing ones are flaming bits of dust.

It hadn’t seemed terribly important at the time, though it gave her cause to wonder about gravity, planets, and constellations. Most of the ones she picks out in the sky now were first shown to her in Robertus’ books and in Obasan’s paintings. Chiyoh’s subsequent education of nucleosynthesis and supernovas lends a few more complex layers to the elegant majesty blanketing their perception tonight, missing constellations and all.

No nighttime sky will ever compare to that of the great, sprawling net which hung over Lecter Dvaras. Japan could have been that for her. If she could remember more of Kyoto than the weight of her father’s hand in hers and the strength of his arms when he held her on his hip, then perhaps.

To her left, Leticia nibbles aimlessly where Chiyoh’s teeth wrought distinct marks in the almond-speckled chocolate. There’s stardust alight inside of her, too. She’s one of Shūbun’s mysteries, a sprawling, impossible wood contained behind brown eyes and a sharp smile.

“Tell me a story?” She turns her head, eyes wakeful but weary. There’s no surprise on her face at finding Chiyoh’s stare resolutely fixed upon her. “Preferably one with an ending I don’t already know.”

“A true story?”

Her comfortable posture goes rigid. That moment of tension casts ripples into their peaceful waters. Chiyoh can’t pretend not to notice it, though she doesn’t think her expression changes. Something about it must be apparent to Leticia since she looks away and scoffs. The small, telling sound hangs in the air around them like cracked glass on the verge of shattering.

Chiyoh’s face goes warm beneath the fortuitous cover of darkness. She folds her hands in her lap.

“That was not the story I meant.”

“You knew I thought of it.”

She could hardly misconstrue the direction of Leticia’s thoughts. There is only one chapter in their history together that Leticia begrudges her.

“Are you angry with me?”

Leticia sighs and reaches for Chiyoh’s hand. She snaps a piece of chocolate off with her teeth and doesn’t answer right away. Her jaw shifts back and forth slowly, melting the chocolate on her tongue as opposed to chewing it. Chiyoh studies Leticia’s throat where it jumps around a leisurely swallow. The moonlight hangs around her like a sheer veil stitched out of diamonds would, concealing nothing while at the same time making her appear untouchable.

She’d looked the same on the one occasion she asked to be taken along for a simple assassination. Shrouded in ancient light and keenly fascinated by the aperture on Chiyoh’s rifle, Leticia could pass for a goddess of old. Chiyoh imagined her divinely powerful, understanding nothing but the gleam of blood on stone steps, and wrathful not for pleasure but in the name of upholding a greater cosmic balance. She imagined her as such after their first indifferent glimpses but before they really knew one another.

There are myriad tales to describe the pedestals they’d built for each other. Ruins of natural wonders come close to explaining their amplified beauty following destruction. Still, the image retains its glory, even if the false ideals initially attached to it have been rightfully discarded.

As recent events and yellowing, falling bruises have proven, Leticia is entirely touchable. There is more in the world for her than sacrifice and red-stained pyramids. She is a whole person, a survivor of many cruelties not to be spoken of lightly. She views Chiyoh in much the same terms—precise, focused in her craft, impressionable. Leticia sees these things, but she also sees that Chiyoh is not immaculate or an overpowered weapon or something as trivial as a pawn.

“Honestly I haven’t thought to be angry with you for quite some time now.”

Her fingers thread through Chiyoh’s and she tugs on her hand so they can lie back on the blanket. The hard floor beneath her shoulders can hardly distract from the warm, sure weight of Leticia’s hand covering hers. She keeps her gaze fixed on the sky, but Chiyoh watches the smooth, graceful profile of her face, undeterred.

Chiyoh flexes her fingers against Leticia’s and relaxes when Leticia squeezes her hand in response. She loves those hands, loves the music Leticia’s fingers make with every keystroke on a laptop and the misleading softness of her palms.

“Leticia, I’m sorry.”

“For?”

She meets Chiyoh’s gaze, lips pressing into a hard line for a moment. She starts to look away, but Chiyoh turns and curls her hand around Leticia’s waist, stopping her.

“I hurt you.”

Leticia blinks a few times and lays her head back to stare at the stars overhead. She thumbs the gentle hand Chiyoh dared to position beneath her ribs. Her touch remains light so as not to apply too much pressure on her bruises and softens that much more when Leticia also shifts onto her side. Chiyoh’s hand travels to the small of Leticia’s back. Their joined hands, arms bent at the elbows, occupy the space between their hearts.

“You’re forgiven,” she whispers, leaning in close with eyelashes fanned low. “I’m healed.”

Her lips are cold but soft at first. They give way to warmth and urgency that spark as brightly as any lick of flame or flash of stardust. Chiyoh parts her lips first, seeking and tasting and finding. Leticia opens her mouth without any hesitation and slides her tongue over Chiyoh’s. Traces of sweetness and oaky cacao add onto the almost maple taste of her lips. Her fingers close into a slow fist and ruck up the hem of Chiyoh’s shirt, exposing a sliver of her back.

Chiyoh raises her hand from Leticia’s ribs to the back of her neck, fingers sinking into her hair and grazing her scalp. A noise startles against her lips and she pulls back. Again, the sound warns of pain rather than pleasure.

“Surely there must be someone left for me to mortally injure.”

Leticia laughs, unabashedly delighted at the notion. She nips at Chiyoh’s chin and pushes up onto her elbows. A wide smile shows her teeth, poised as she is with her hands on either side of Chiyoh’s head.

“No, but I’ll hear that story if you’ve thought of a good one to tell.”

“Inside,” Chiyoh says, negotiating on behalf of the rock digging into her hip.

“All right, yes, fine.”

Chiyoh shakes out the red blanket and rolls it up while Leticia folds the other two. She carries them under one arm, unfazed by the cold air. They climb down the stairs and navigate the unlit corridor to her apartment in easy silence. Leticia lights a few candles on the kitchen counter, forgoing the idea of sleep so near to dawn.

She sprawls out on the couch with her shoes kicked off. The couch back faces the sparse light sources, casting their side of the room in withering shadows. There’s no wall to divide it from the kitchen, minimalistic as the space is. Instead of lifting her feet for Chiyoh to sit beneath her legs, she sits up to make space between her back and the arm of the couch. Chiyoh goes and settles in behind her, securing her arms in a delicate circle around Leticia’s middle.

She tells her about Italy. Leticia’s been to the Continental U.S. twice, both times before she met Chiyoh, but she’s never seen Europe.

Her shoulders shift hearing tell of Florentine architecture, head listing back to rest on Chiyoh’s shoulder. Curly hair tickles at the edge of her mouth. Chiyoh lifts her chin and Leticia slumps a bit further, turning gingerly onto her better side and sighing.

They’ve spoken of these things before, but the details are what Leticia enjoys the most. For all that her eyes would light up at every mention of Chiyoh’s mastery over the rifle, talk of how the air had felt and how the bakeries smelled and how the people talked as they strode through the streets always brought her peace. It brings her peace now, despite there being no end in sight—much less one that she could predict.

Insomnia and frequent bad dreams aside, Leticia falls asleep. Chiyoh doesn’t, but she stays right where she is well after the candles burn out.

--

Will goes with Hannibal to take Maboroshi out on the water. He drives at the start, but he lets Hannibal sit behind the wheel once they’re clear of other boats. Wind ravages his hair where it dances over his forehead. The dark lenses shielding Hannibal’s eyes from the sun don’t stop the faint wrinkles from forming between his eyebrows.

Hannibal’s wearing a pressed shirt with the sleeves rolled up, cuffs visible just beneath his elbows, and a casual pair of shorts. His hands are strong where they grip the wheel and notably slender at the wrists. The widest part of his forearms dance with movement, muscles and tendons shivering beneath skin.

Will looks at the sharp lines of Hannibal’s cheeks, nose, and lips. The severe features of his face appear softer from the side than they do head-on. His skin is impervious to freckles, but he does tan. The apples of his cheeks darken more than the rest of his face, which is distracting.

He isn’t the most handsome man Will’s ever met, though it’s not as if he’s kept a list. Before Hannibal, and even now after Hannibal, Will doesn’t look at men and want or wonder.

It’s a curious thing with Hannibal—has always been from the moment they met. This new added layer to their relationship fuses the boundaries of mind and body into one cohesive monolith, but those lines have been blurring for years. Granted, they haven’t been in each other’s pants for years, so there’s still a learning curve to shoulder through.

Will doesn’t hate it. He actively likes it, in fact.

But he does look at Hannibal and think, Maybe not the most handsome. Wouldn’t matter if he was.

Except that it would matter, just a tiny bit, because Hannibal might not be the most handsome, but he will always be more attractive to Will than even the loveliest man could ever be. He’s interesting to look at. His expressions and his mannerisms are extensions of his character. No one else can ever have the exact combination of his mind, voice, face, and body.

From the time he learned to speak, Will could see everything about himself and about other people. That’s how he knows he’s kidding himself every time his perception of fair eyebrows, darkly pleased eyes, and enigmatic mouth shifts just a bit more in Hannibal’s favor. That he’s warming over to their arrangement isn’t the lie. The lie is that it happens in small, comfortable increments.

Will’s been holding back. He’s been censoring Hannibal’s distinct, if at-times-surprising beauty as if processing it slowly will keep it from consuming him.

He sees how it’s been for Hannibal, how deeply and thoroughly his affection for Will burns him, burns in and through him. Their roles have switched and Hannibal’s little boat is the one lost at sea while Will acts as his port in the storm. Will is Hannibal’s paddle and Hannibal loves that he is. He loves to dash himself against the rocks at Will’s mercy because he trusts that he’ll be put back together by the mere fact that they love.

They love. Will loves, and it doesn’t matter for a second that Hannibal is as beautiful as Will claims he isn’t.

Hannibal’s cheekbones are so much softer than they look, plump from smiling and showing his teeth. The slight suggestion of a belly through his shirt warms Will just to look at it. He loves to cover it with the full span of his palm while Hannibal’s stomach reverberates with his low, rumbling voice. His wide neck trembles with broken moans, always amazed at Will’s hand tightening around him.

The only thing that’s true for Will is that a deeper, irresistible magnetism compels them toward one another. Hannibal is flesh and Will has gotten to the point where he can’t separate the man from the body. It was his goal, but it’s become tangible for him much faster than he expected.

He blinks and Hannibal plucks the sunglasses off his nose to drape them over the dip of his shirt collar. The engine switches off and Hannibal sticks the orange flag upright over the steering wheel. Belize is a visible but distant shape south of their current location. Will’s been dreaming for a good twenty minutes or so. The whirring of the engine suffused with the wind whipping around them isn’t usually conducive to conversation while the boat’s moving, but the following silence rings loudly in Will’s ears.

“Did I rush into this, with you?”

Hannibal stops where he’s advanced toward the cabin, probably to retrieve some bottled waters from the cooler they brought along for the ride. He turns around fully with an open kind of vulnerability widening his eyes.

“Has something made you uncomfortable?”

“No. Or well, yeah.”

“Tell me.”

Will looks down, embarrassed and trying not to be. Hannibal walks back over, purposeful but measured and careful. He takes the seat Chiyoh usually occupies when they all sit on deck together, farthest from Will when he drives and with Hannibal in between them. It puts them at the same level without implying that either one of them has more control than the other.

It’s an intentional ploy to put Will at ease. Since he trusts Hannibal to prefer that Will be the one to call the shots here and now, it works.

“I haven’t been honest with you.”

In your heart? Chiyoh had asked him when he confessed to attempted treachery.

I tried to be.

“I’m still making the same mistake that I did before.”

“Hiding yourself from me?”

“Hiding you from myself.”

He watches Hannibal interpret his words and come to the correct conclusion. It’s written plainly on his face, confusion and then hurt apprehension. Will feels them more than he sees them, lightning fast as those flickers of emotion are.

It’s like a shock to his system. Since Dolarhyde, he’s gotten better at fortifying his defenses. That’s the explanation that he likes better anyway. The other explanation, and the far more likely one, is that Chiyoh and Hannibal simply don’t overwhelm him. Chiyoh is all crisp turns and gentler rejections.

Hannibal is himself, bold and dramatic and sensual. Sensitive.

Hannibal clears his throat. The wounded shine in his eyes glints—transforms into hopeful curiosity. Of course he understands immediately. Will tries not to let his gaze skitter away from Hannibal’s, but there it goes. His jaw tightens, teeth clicking in his mouth where they almost catch his cheek. Hannibal sucks in a tiny gasp.

“Will?”

“Yeah, what?”

Hannibal has that rare, jubilant smile on his face that he only gets sometimes. It stays a few seconds more and Will drinks in his fill of it.

“Will,” he murmurs again, reverent.

He hasn’t stopped smiling, but the curve to Hannibal’s lips becomes fond and teasing at the admission. Will heaves a sigh, pushes off his seat, and perches on the edge of his lap. Hannibal’s expression smooths into a more serious one, but the line of his mouth remains soft, pliable. Will searches his eyes, warring with himself over what he feels and what he should do about it.

Hannibal’s everything is in his eyes—his sentiment, his trust, his awe, his rapturous love. All of it’s for Will. His hand steadying Will’s knee doesn’t ask for anything he can’t conceive of giving: Will’s sentiment, his trust, his awe, and his love.

Focusing on what Hannibal needs from him and what makes him feel good can’t just be a study in carnal expression. Hannibal needs this from Will, too. Will needs it.

“I wasn’t lying before. I do love you.”

Hannibal’s voice softens. “I know.”

Will sets his hands on Hannibal’s shoulders and kneads with questing fingers. The hands settled a few inches above his hips don’t wander or squeeze. They stay light, poised to react.

“I’m not lying now either.”

“I know,” Hannibal says again, accepting it.

“Grow in it, right?”

The rare smile reappears. Will wonders idly if he could coax it into becoming a more frequent expression in Hannibal’s arsenal, but he likes that it’s always genuine and never fabricated. If Hannibal slips into using it around Will purely because that’s how he feels, well.

He supposes it’s not a coincidence that the lesson translates onto him so neatly.

--

They have wine after dinner and Hannibal plays an original piece he wrote for the harpsichord back in Baltimore. Will sits on the couch with his limbs lazily splayed and a second glass of Bordeaux. It’s a very good bottle. Chiyoh helped Hannibal pick it out based on customer reviews online, much as she had frowned over the price.

Will enjoys the wine more than Hannibal does. The corners of his lips turn up each time he inhales the rim of his glass. He doesn’t mean to make a spectacle out of himself, surely, but Hannibal loves to look at him and so it is all a kind of spectacle from his point of view.

He isn’t subtle about watching Will, doesn’t mask the gleam in his eyes that can only be hunger. Will did not ask him for space. He only confessed that Hannibal affects him and Hannibal has known for a long time, to varying degrees, that he affects Will. Before they came to this life in Belize, he had never dreamed that they could have that unity among their bodies.

Actually Hannibal had dreamed; dreamed and wished and fantasized and hoped. He held it in his heart like a precious gem that could only survive inside of him, never seeing the light of day.

Now he stares at Will and Will flicks his gaze up from the deep red of his wine, a smattering of freckles and flushed intoxication coloring the bridge of his nose and the corners of his eyes. Will is staggeringly beautiful to him. He beckons the impervious, glittering stone of Hannibal’s heart to transform into a seedling that grows and grows. Like a reverse alchemist, Will makes it his mission to bring Hannibal down from the clouds and into the mud.

“Something on your mind, Will?”

“Am I handsome?”

Hannibal smiles and minds his tone. “You are.”

“Is that what you liked in the beginning?”

An answer is easy to come by. Hannibal has had many years to ask himself the same question, after all. No shortage of inquiries came during his imprisonment: from Frederick, Alana, Jack, and Freddie Lounds. He had never told them why he chose Will, only that he had.

“I liked your temperament.”

Will snorts. “I was rude and openly hostile. Normally that would have been enough for you to kill me.”

“Had I made a habit of killing my patients, I suspect I would have been found out much sooner and with far less sleuthing about on your part.”

“A lot of your patients did end up dead one way or another.”

“You have always been the exception to every rule. It can hardly surprise you to have it confirmed in as many words.”

Will goes back to scenting the last of his wine and Hannibal stands from the bench at the harpsichord. He retrieves his own drained glass from its point of relative safety on the floor and takes it to the kitchen to wash it. Will follows him, swallows down the last of the Chateau Pontet-Canet, and sets the glass on the counter at Hannibal’s elbow.

“I’m still handsome?”

Hannibal turns off the faucet and looks at Will, turned away to miss his eyes and with the unscarred cheek clearly in Hannibal’s line of vision. He stands the soapy wine glass up in the sink, dries his hands, and turns Will’s jaw toward him with gentle fingers. Will doesn’t try to avoid meeting his gaze, but Hannibal doesn’t seek it out. He studies the scars he’s left on Will’s skin, either for foolishness or by proxy.

The sheer line across his forehead is easier to see for the bit of rouge left in his skin by the sun. His cheek, by comparison, is less elegant. The pinprick scars from his stitches don’t show through his beard, but the skin surrounding the scar itself has puckered slightly. It tugs on that corner of Will’s mouth just so. It isn’t distracting; only gives him the appearance, sometimes, of smirking or sneering while lost in thought. Hannibal releases his jaw and Will pins him with his gaze.

“You’re exquisite, Will.”

His hand hovers by Will’s neck and fits tentatively over his cheek. Will leans his face into Hannibal’s palm without breaking eye contact.

“Never worry that your scars detract from your beauty. Nothing could.”

Will swallows once and lowers his eyes. Hannibal’s fingers twitch against Will’s ear, following the slopes of cartilage and twining in dark hair. He steps closer to Will and noses at the bristled jaw and cheekbone. His mouth opens against that tiny patch of delicate scar tissue, tongue tapping against it while he remembers the night it happened.

A harsh little breath crashes over his jaw and then Will turns his chin to cover his lips with his own. Will’s hands tremble and his breath hitches. Hannibal hangs on, unable to do anything else.

“If it is too much for you…”

“It’s not.”

“Will.”

“Come upstairs.” Will leans back to look Hannibal in the eye. “I want to try something.”

“Said Faust to Mephistopheles,” Hannibal muses.

Will raises his eyebrows once in a clear challenge. “So make like the devil and follow me.”

“The dishes, Will.”

He raises no dispute but rolls his eyes as he steps back. Hannibal catches his breath and makes quick work of washing the glasses in the sink, grateful that they’ve put away what they used for dinner. Will’s gone when he turns from the sink. He climbs the stairs and makes a beeline for their room. Anything could happen. Curbing his expectations somewhat, Hannibal opens the door and closes it behind him. Will stands from where he’d been sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Come over here.”

Hannibal lets Will push him by his shoulders so that he sits where Will was moments ago. Their lips brush and Hannibal’s legs fall open under the guidance of Will’s hands on his knees. He gasps against the mouth covering his own and braces his hands on the bed. The sight of Will kneeling before him kindles a fire in his belly. Hands skim up his legs and venture to the button over his fly.

“What was it you thought to try, exactly?” he asks, floored already.

Licking his lips, Will says, “Guess.”

There’s no time for Hannibal to guess or prepare himself. Will takes him out and drags a testing stroke of his tongue over the head of his cock. Will laughs, sounding breathless in his own right.

“Coulda had you easy with a honey trap.”

Will licks again, lower, and seals his lips around a visible vein. Whatever it makes him feel, he hums against it. Hannibal squeezes the blanket with firm fingers and whitening knuckles. He tries twice before he can force words from his throat.

“You were a honey trap, Will.”

A scant few centimeters from taking him in his mouth again, Will sighs. “You know what I mean.”

“Yes, and—” Hannibal closes his eyes, his flimsy desire to argue quickly unraveling. A hiss sparks through his teeth. “Yes.”

“Yeah?”

“Will, are you…?”

He bobs his head in an unpracticed, clumsy motion that Hannibal loves immensely. The hand not currently squeezing and sliding down Hannibal’s cock disappears into Will’s undone jeans, and Hannibal’s control nearly shatters at the thought. Will isn’t shy about getting his hands on Hannibal anymore, but he hasn’t allowed Hannibal the same privilege lately. It’s enough to drive him wild, seeing Will touch himself now.

Will.”

Will lifts his head, guided in part by his need to breathe but also by the hand tangled in his hair. He sucks in a lungful of air and breathes frantically through his nose when Hannibal blocks his mouth with eager lips. Hannibal tastes himself, God in heaven.

Words aren’t enough, or maybe they are too much. Pulling on Will’s arms so he’ll climb onto the bed with him serves him just as well. And Will does speak, low and rushed and impatient.

“Turn like—yeah, just—and take this off, damn it.”

Hannibal strips his shirt off his head, mourning the button that files off but letting it slip to the floor in a crumpled heap. He could be waylaid for dirty dishes left in the sink, but Will’s hand is on him again and wrinkles in his shirt are the least of Hannibal’s concerns. All he can think to do is follow the shaky commands issued to him.

“Me, too, come on. Like that.”

In the startled moments before obliteration, Hannibal sees Will’s hips roll into his, sees their cocks brush and grind deliciously together. The friction and the textures and the pressure melt down and boil together, and Hannibal comes, twisting his fist around Will and painting their stomachs in pearlescent seed. He keeps moving his hand, listening with eyes barely opened to the high, lush groan escaping from Will’s lips.

A twitch pulsates in his hand and he looks at Will’s face, tightening his grip and chasing him through the wave. Will is singular—wrecked and winded and misty with exertion. The deep pink in his face and blotted down his neck and chest captivate, utterly.

Beneath his skin and bones and beneath Hannibal’s slick, hot hand, Will’s racing heart slows. He opens his eyes and Hannibal sees clarity in them, sees Will watching and allowing himself to be watched. For a suspended moment, his expression is serious and dumbfounded. A disbelieving smile replaces the shock and he laughs, eyes listing closed.

Hannibal doesn’t laugh, but his smile is shameless and wide. The song of Will’s heart thuds evenly in the palm of his hand. It’s all he wants, forever.

Chapter Text

Somehow it is always new with Will. Whether their hands brush by accident in the kitchen or whether Hannibal runs his fingers through Will’s hair for the hundredth time that day alone, nothing is ever happenstance. Even the familiar, comfortable exchanges between them glow with importance and intimate warmth.

Lying with Will, no matter how quickly they spend, provides him with endless delight that he can scarcely verbalize. Will asks him anyway.

He is full of questions, once the boundaries of their skin have ceased to be surprising to him. An eager and attentive lover waited beneath the apprehension all along. Hannibal might have known. He thinks he did know, well below the threshold for which any known fact can be consciously conceived. Hannibal could sense their potential for compatibility through the briar of Will’s demeanor. It is no hardship to believe he could predict Will’s passion here.

And he is passionate, after he’s digested the basic form of a thing. He molds himself to and around it like a snake devouring the day’s meal. Or perhaps, like a mongoose devouring a snake. Hannibal would not argue either way. It is a fine treat to be the one consumed.

“Why do you like it like that so much?”

“Do you find you are not so partial to it?”

Sweat runs in a lazy droplet around his eyebrow. It tickles over his cheekbone, narrowly missing his eye but skimming his lashes on its descent.

Will, half collapsed on Hannibal’s chest with one sticky arm flung across his stomach, cracks an eye open. He licks his lips and drops his forehead heavily against Hannibal’s throat, stifling his airway in a most pleasing, delicate manner. Hannibal can still breathe, of course, but slowly.

“I like it just fine.”

“Are there other arrangements you thought to try?”

Too relaxed to tense up at the question, Will shrugs. He shuffles to the side so that his face can press to Hannibal’s throat instead. Hannibal takes a deep breath that smells and tastes of Will.

“Was starting to wonder when we’d do the next thing.”

“I can guess at your meaning, but surely you are aware of the great many activities left to us before that.”

“Sure,” Will sighs, still loose-limbed and beautifully heavy with exhaustion. “But that doesn’t mean we have to get through them all before I let you fuck me.”

Hannibal turns his head. Will lifts his chin to meet his gaze.

“Or you know,” Will mumbles, not looking away, “if you want it the other way. I get the feeling you do, but we haven’t exactly discussed it.”

Will doesn’t sit up or relieve Hannibal of his weight, so Hannibal, likewise, remains where he is. To be so completely at Will’s mercy, lying supine with his throat and belly bared, makes his blood sing in veneration. Taking his silence for the alert participation that it is, Will proceeds.

“Have you thought about it?”

“I have.”

“Both ways?”

“I would be taken first,” Hannibal whispers, stomach flipping at the rash of red that his confession paints across Will’s cheeks. “If you find that you enjoy it, perhaps we would switch.”

“I’m far beyond the point of denying my curiosity about this.” Will glances pointedly at the cooling mess adorning their bodies. After a moment’s hesitation he bends down to seal their lips together. “And we’re past dismissing it as curiosity.”

Hannibal beams up at him and winds his hand around the back of Will’s neck. His nape and scalp are warm, slick hair poking up at odd places in sweaty tufts. All he can do to fuel the hunger inside him is keep looking, keep touching, keep breathing in the scent of the man he loves. A shade falls over Will’s eyes for just a moment. They brighten once more with a decision brought about by understanding.

“Come on, I want pancakes.”

Will leads the way to the bathroom and they file in one after the other. Hannibal is dazed still from their conversation and from their morning exertion. He considers going downstairs naked as the day he was born, but it isn’t his kitchen and he has some inkling that Chiyoh would not like for him to be in it without his modesty.

He starts the coffee, fully clothed, and takes down two mugs. Will hops up onto the counter after them and aimlessly swings his feet.

It plagues Hannibal some, but he works around the intoxicating view of Will perched above him in a rumpled bathrobe with wet hair sticking to his forehead. Observant as ever, Will notices that he’s having a rough time of it and smirks, quietly satisfied. Hannibal gathers all the bowls and pans that he needs and looks up to see that Will has pulled down one side so that the collar gapes open around his throat. A sheen of moisture clings to his skin from the shower. Hannibal is on him before he can help himself.

Will’s knees open for him immediately and his head tips back. Hannibal mouths at his Adam’s apple and ducks his head to lick at the pulse in his neck. Will jerks his hand backward for leverage and flings a mug clean off the counter. It shatters on the floor and Hannibal waits, breathless and rigid and inexplicably terrified.

Oblivious to the awful slowing of time or the dread it sows in Hannibal’s stomach, Will’s hands come up to hold the sides of his face. He says something and says it again.

“…10:27 AM. We’re in Belize City. Your name is Hannibal Lecter.”

The incongruity of it startles him into blinking and keeping his eyes closed. Will combs his fingers through the fringe of hair over Hannibal’s temple and down the back of his head. Hannibal breathes, realizing as his lungs pinch greedily around oxygen that he had stopped breathing. Will smooths his fingers over the backs of Hannibal’s knuckles and guides his hands away from his face.

“I’m here with you. We’re here.”

“We are.”

“Yeah.” Will squeezes Hannibal’s arms and pulls until he leans fully against him. “Yeah, it’s all right.”

Hannibal holds onto him, burying his nose in his hair and digging his fingers into the soft fabric of the robe. They rock together, clinging and quietly breathing each other in. The slow and dizzying motion puts Hannibal at ease, but he can’t relax. Around them, the smell of coffee permeates the air. Tinnitus replaces the tremulous rush of blood in his ears.

“I love you,” he gasps against Will’s neck, wishing for it to sink in permanently.

“I know.” Will wraps more firmly around him, knees and arms and chin and torso contracting to keep Hannibal ensconced in his body. “I know, and I love you.”

Over Will’s shoulder, Hannibal can see the offending mug, taken down to three dismantled chunks of porcelain and many smaller, uncountable fragments. He watches the pieces and waits, dread petering out in its own time.

--

Chiyoh wakes to Leticia clambering off of her sometime around noon. As lithe and sinuous as Leticia can play at being for a mark, her casual clumsiness shines through the minute her guard drops. The elbow in Chiyoh’s stomach is as much a compliment as it is something to gripe about. She isn’t the only one. Leticia stretches her arms up gingerly over her head with a quiet groan.

“You’d think we’d have learned not to try that by now.”

“We have learned. It’s only that we do not abide by the lesson.”

She covers her mouth with both hands and scrunches her eyes closed around a massive yawn. The set of her hair is comically skewed to the left side, an impression left over from Chiyoh’s shoulder.

“Breakfast?”

“Lunch,” Chiyoh murmurs, swinging her legs over the side of the couch and rolling her shoulders. “We’ve lost the morning.”

“Well, we took the night at least.” Leticia drops her hand to reveal a smile. The other hand she works over the back of her neck to soothe knots of tension. “And I do remember a small piece of the dawn.”

“It’s the only piece of it you ever see,” Chiyoh teases, standing up.

“That’s not true. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all.”

Leticia strides around the couch and into the kitchen. She roots around in the fridge for a carton of eggs and corn tortillas and makes enough chilaquiles for two. Well, two and a half, probably, but Chiyoh has quite the appetite and a love of Leticia’s cooking. Chiyoh likes her plate a touch spicier than Leticia does, but they compromise easily.

Left alone with the dishes, as she volunteered, Chiyoh cleans to make up for Leticia’s part in providing them with good food. Leticia, in turn, disappears into the bathroom to shower and comes out with her hair loose and a sheer robe tied at the waist.

She comes and stands with her hip leaned up against the counter while Chiyoh dries the last of the dishes. Some sunlight filters into the apartment from behind the slatted blinds, but mostly their lighting is muted. The sepia tones of the wood floors and gold-tinted walls augment the typical beauty that attaches itself daily to Leticia. Her pale rose-colored robe makes the dark tan of her skin appear richer as if she’s just stepped out of the sun.

Chiyoh dries the pan and tucks it away into a lower cupboard. Leticia slinks closer, pressing her back to the counter’s edge instead of her hip.

“Will you ever come back?”

“To the work?” Chiyoh asks lightly, grasping at the facile version of events that permits levity in this moment.

Leticia looks away, up and down and everywhere but at Chiyoh. “To me. For more than this.”

There are a dozen things Chiyoh thinks to say: Go with me to Europe and I can show you the Cappella Brancacci. Smell the bread and the wine for yourself. Taste their waters. See the world as you’ve always dreamed. Be safe with me.

But there are memories that interfere with every wish burning on her tongue: Leticia’s assignment for her in Chichen Itza, Francisco’s blood on her dress, the house she shares now with Will and her brother. She thinks of how they met, driven together by money and bloodsport. So many motives on all sides, almost too many to keep track of. The deep brown bruise falling down Leticia’s neck screams of duplicity—of scheming and manipulation and consequence.

“For whom do you ask, Leticia?”

She looks up at that, like a whip with fire in her eyes. “What does that mean?”

Now Chiyoh looks down, ashamed at her inquiry and for the circumstances that warrant her doubt. Leticia pushes off the counter, the heel of one hand planted there for support.

“Your gambit with Francisco had the desired effect,” she says, voice soft but strong.

Leticia’s face goes ashen briefly and she crosses her arms over her chest. Normally it would make her look dangerous, but she almost looks smaller for it, hunched into herself for protection. Her voice comes out soft, too, and quivers at the end.

“And you, Chiyoh? Have need of anything else from me?” She counts off on her fingers. “Passports and documentation for three, a home for you and your family of fugitives, safe passage for John Brigham. Not to mention that you come back into my life after a year looking to do business as usual—and through a politician no less. As if you hadn’t just left me for a man.”

They stare at each other, Chiyoh wide-eyed and rigid, Leticia breathing hard and shaking. She sucks in a quick breath and blinks, fiddling nervously with the end of a sleeve.

“All right, so I’m angry with you.”

“I want to take you to Europe,” Chiyoh breathes, gasping almost to inch the word past her throat.

Leticia laughs, a sad little curve to her mouth. “What?”

“I…”

Chiyoh clasps her hands together and watches her knuckles instead of Leticia’s face. She would go back to Italy with Leticia if she allowed it. They could experience it together, really experience it. Leticia wouldn’t let a second of it pass Chiyoh by without seizing it and turning it into a golden memory.

It wouldn’t be the farce that it was the first time she had been to Italy. It would be beautiful.

“I want us to have something for ourselves, not because one is a resource to the other.”

She sees Leticia lick her lips, holding onto one arm at the elbow instead of barring them around herself to keep Chiyoh out. Chiyoh dares to step forward and Leticia matches her, opening her arms and letting her close.

“Then it shouldn’t be Italy, not to start.”

“Anywhere.”

Leticia says it before Chiyoh can: “Maybe not Lithuania.”

Perhaps it is better that they find somewhere fresh. A place they can claim for their own rather than a country plunged deep with ragged scars might do them some good.

--

Will steals Hannibal’s tablet after dinner and does some research on his back on the couch. At first he looks into all the fine print details that go with engaging in anal sex, which is interesting enough, but his mind wanders a bit after the fourth website gets into talk of enemas. It’s not that it’s off-putting or that he wouldn’t do it—because he would if Hannibal asked him—but he can only read through the same clinical description of sex so many times.

By the second website he’d been imagining himself with Hannibal, in both roles like Hannibal said. Once he’d gotten to the fourth, well, he needed a change of pace.

So he’s taken to studying up on kintsugi, glossing over pictures on the internet of broken pottery sealed together by gold and silver. It’s not too late to dig the mug out of the trash. Hannibal’s eyes had followed his movements when he swept up and tossed the mess, but his gaze had fallen somewhere in the middle distance.

Golden joinery is a Japanese tradition. He wonders if Chiyoh would know how to go about mending a broken mug. It wouldn’t be the same as reversing time. He’d be showing that time doesn’t go back on itself, that trauma can be transformed into art. If he has to, he’ll involve a professional, but damn if he won’t piece it back together for Hannibal. Not after the distance in his eyes when it hit the floor and shattered apart.

Will does dig the broken pieces out of the trash. He wraps them up in a dish towel and stows the wadded up bundle in the pantry behind a bag of lentils. Hannibal comes in from the ground floor bathroom bathed and clean-shaven about twenty minutes later, well after Will’s washed his hands and hidden what he’s done.

“Have you been shopping for another apron?” Hannibal asks, quite recovered from earlier and finely polished. They’d been out in the water for most of the day, so a second wash had been required. “Or perhaps a dress this time.”

“See for yourself.” Will holds out the tablet, all guileless innocence, and watches with veiled pride how Hannibal’s expression twitches. “I guess if you want a dress, I could be persuaded to look for one.”

Hannibal muses, “Is that right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. But we should talk first.” He gestures at the tablet in Hannibal’s hand with three open tabs all about anal sex. “About that.”

“All right.”

Hannibal sits across from Will with the tablet between them. Will takes it up and sets it behind him somewhere, out of the way. He inches closer but doesn’t touch. They should both be present and undistracted for this conversation. Even if he does want to trace the smooth skin of Hannibal’s cheek with his fingers, his palm, and his tongue in that order.

“I know that we have lube. Do we have enough?”

“We could do with more.”

“I’ve read that more’s better.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Condoms? And if you say what I think you’re going to say…”

“That I would prefer you as you are?”

“…How did I know. All right, then I want to wait for that.”

“Then we will wait.”

Hannibal watches him with an open, naked expression on his face. He’s so agreeable, Will actively tries to think of something that he’d be likely to challenge.

“You’re sure you want me on top? I don’t know the first thing about it. I could hurt you.”

He waits to be refuted, though not exactly wanting to be proven wrong since what he’s saying is the truth. Hannibal doesn’t reply straight away, so Will lets him think it over. He arrives at a response some time later without interruption.

“If you aren’t averse to the receptive role, it would be my pleasure to lead by example.”

“What do you mean, averse? Did you think I’d be upset if you asked to fuck me first? I offered.”

“You did. Even when you assumed correctly that I would like for you to fuck me.”

Will hopes he never gets used to these unpredictable bursts of profanity. It’s like discovering a smudge or scrape on a diamond and somehow finding the jewel more precious for its flaw, for the fact that it can be grazed by human life.

But still, he gets where Hannibal’s coming from. Will offered first of himself because it sounded less transgressive than the alternative. Hannibal definitely does want what he offered, but Will can tell there’s something more. There has to be for him to have used a word like averse in regards to the receptive role. Cold, filmy understanding settles over him like cobwebs.

“I’m not going to run screaming if you touch my ass, Hannibal.”

He has a look on his face like he takes Will at his word.

“If I have a problem with anything, I can tell you.”

And that does convince Hannibal. He relaxes visibly and gives a little sigh. Will takes his hand, scooting forward so that their knees brush.

“Just because I haven’t done it before, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it now with you. Not now,” he adds at the sly look Hannibal aims at him. “But whenever it happens, whenever we’re ready for it, I can handle it.”

It’s almost cleansing to have it out there, for Hannibal’s hand to be in his while they agree to try something that they haven’t jointly explored yet. He prefers it to his old, flighty way of approaching sex with Hannibal. They’re on the same page here, misunderstandings aired out and exchanged for truths.

Will tries to imagine what their experience will be like. He can already guess that Hannibal will be gentle, careful. It also probably isn’t a stretch to say that Hannibal won’t last very long, bless him. He’s bound to be thorough and to worship Will’s body if he’s allowed. Will thinks he’ll let him. Usually he shies away from it, but if he’s meant to learn, then he ought to let Hannibal tend to him accordingly.

It’ll be more fun that way, probably. He’ll be more relaxed and less overwhelmed; Hannibal, too.

Chapter Text

They catch a boat to Isla Mujeres from Puerto Juárez and swim amid sculptures overtaken by aquatic life. Statues all but disfigured for the growths adhering to their former faces, their former semblances of humanity. Chiyoh stays a while by the man with his head tipped back as if to watch the sun break through the shimmering surface of the sea that holds him.

Leticia circles the mass of them, holding out her hand a few times like she means to touch without ever making contact. Some of the faces are covered entirely in ruddy coral and seaweed. For a long moment, it is the most comfortable thing in the world to hold still just opposite this figure reclaimed by the sea and to imagine being claimed by it in turn.

After, with their hair dripping wet down their backs, they walk along the beaches. Leticia wears tight white jeans and a loose beige cardigan over a gray shirt. A loosely fitted white blouse and slacks suit Chiyoh, obscuring more of her body than Leticia’s outfit does—not that she’s complaining, exactly. It doesn’t stir up the fire in her blood that men turn their heads to look at Leti as they walk, but she notices.

Isla Mujeres is one of Mexico’s less noisy tourist traps, and those who do come to visit respect the land’s softer nature. Since it is mainly tourists, no one recognizes them here.

Leticia acts disappointed at their anonymity, but it has never served her interests to intimidate passersby unless pragmatism demands it. She does like to tease Chiyoh, though, even if people don’t openly cower away from her in public.

“Do you know what they took to calling you after you left?” Leticia asks her over a plate of chiles rellenos.

Innocently enough, Chiyoh says, “They?”

She glances around the small, bustling restaurant. It’s crowded at lunchtime, but it’s inconspicuous enough. The noisy chatter of the other patrons makes for enough distraction to keep their side conversation fairly private. None of them appear to be local either, so the probability of any of them knowing what Leticia is talking about is quite low.

Leticia’s smile is impish when Chiyoh looks at her again. She reminds her very much of Will when he thinks of something devious.

“Martín pescador.”

Kingfisher.

“Why on earth would they call me that?”

“Apparently someone saw you at work.” Leticia continues on in spite of Chiyoh’s muted eye roll. “Or they said they did. Better?”

“Saw what, Leticia?”

“Oh, an incident in Morelos some years ago. You can guess which one. Hardly matters, does it? Your look of utter boredom suggests that they’re wrong regardless.”

“Of course they are.” Chiyoh risks another quick glance at the door and then their most immediate neighbors. “Kingfisher?”

“Something about swooping down from the sky or who knows what. Couldn’t have been that you were wearing lots of blue on that particular night. Let’s face it.”

She drops look down at Chiyoh’s outfit, modest and practical. Monochrome.

“I have it on good authority that you like how I look in these clothes.”

Leticia laughs and tosses her napkin on her plate. Chiyoh, fork and knife already laid down on the edge of her plate, pushes back her chair to stand.

They go next to the tortugranja near sunset and view its plethora of wading, squinting turtles. Chiyoh doesn’t much grasp the allure, but she supposes the younger ones have their charms. Even the big ones scuttle about with a patient, determined grace that’s impossible to overlook.

“You remind me of these turtles,” Chiyoh tells her, pointing to one farther off.

The old shelled beast is sunning itself on a rock near the edge of the enclosure. Leticia turns away from a congregation of hatchlings and frowns at the huge wizened turtle. Most of them on average, barring the very young, look at least a little wrinkled.

“You had better be making a metaphor about my having a hard shell, Itō.”

Chiyoh doesn’t bristle at the casual use of her family name. It isn’t the first time it’s been in Leticia’s mouth, and she hopes to never hear the final time.

“You don’t have a hard shell or a soft underbelly. Observe how they move in the water.”

Leticia leans a bit to examine the swirling impressions they make beneath the clear blue waves. Her attentive gazing shifts at to fond staring in hardly no time at all.

“They are different on land,” Chiyoh says, pointing with her chin at their sluggish, awkward paddling. “Different in that they do not change even as their environment does.”

“I’m mule-headed then.”

Chiyoh sighs. “No, Leti. Constant.”

Her face softens and she looks away as if to hide it. “Fast in one medium and slow in another. I wonder what you mean by that.”

“Nothing that I wouldn’t say about myself.”

“You aren’t always kind to yourself,” Leticia murmurs, raising her gaze again to Chiyoh’s. “Hell, you never are. Honest to a fault, but kind? Maybe you’re a bit like that dusty turtle, too.”

“Because I am muleheaded?”

“Because you do have a hard shell and a soft underbelly. I know you don’t hear that as a compliment, but I love both those things a great deal.”

Chiyoh scuffs her foot on the sturdy planks of the deck upon which they stand.

“I love that you are mule-headed.”

Leticia swats her playfully on the arm. “Constant, you said!”

The day passes in that fashion. They hit all the spots that they can on Isla Mujeres before heading back to the hotel Leticia insisted that they book for themselves. She’d all but made up her mind that they ought to go to France for their expedition to Europe, but for the time being, they could content themselves with an adventure closer to home.

It is a monstrosity of a palace, the hotel. It offers up so much excess and splendor that Chiyoh looks past it all to ground herself in Leticia’s presence. Her flair for surrounding herself with beautiful things while keeping little for herself reminds her of Lady Murasaki. Chiyoh had seen only glimpses of the home Lady Murasaki kept with her mother and father before Lecter came for her hand. She was too young to remember much of the house in Japan that she had seen twice as a girl.

She remembers a simple design at the archway and high ceilings, pristine windows once the shutters had been pulled away to let in the light, and beautiful rugs hung on the walls near the entrance. The lady of the house always stood tall. Her husband, slightly stooped with age, maintained grace and clout, quick though he was to smile.

With memories of their sitting room and the one morning Chiyoh and her father had tea with them there, she looks now at the gargantuan pillars flanking the entrance of the hotel. Her feet stall on the pavement, her hand chasing after Leticia’s for a moment until she, too, stops.

“Chiyoh?”

“Odd places remind me of home. Never in the same way.”

Leticia steps closer and gathers both of Chiyoh’s hands. “We can go elsewhere.”

“It will still remind me. And then it will be because I drove us away from here.”

“Chiyoh, nothing will drive us away from here. This hotel and Isla Mujeres, maybe. But I hardly care about all that. I’ve had it since you left and I could easily do without it if…just as long as you don’t leave again.”

No hard shell tempers her words; no soft underbelly reveals itself with such a vulnerable request. Another memory, unbidden but not entirely unwelcome, surfaces from the well of her mind: the cover of nightfall, frail trees dying in bleak American winter, the distant sound of dogs barking, and the crunch of snow beneath her boots. Hannibal going to his knees, to a cage of his own making and of Will’s.

Not in a cage, she had pleaded with him.

Leticia’s expression is open and expectant and wildly afraid, and Chiyoh recognizes it. She sees all of those things, knows Leticia’s face because she would know it in the dark and in the light.

It is not a cage.

Chiyoh breathes in and out. She says, “We will stay here.”

“I really don’t mind, Chiyoh. I know what I said just then was dramatic, but you don’t have to…”

She remains relaxed while Chiyoh leans in close to stop her lips with her own. Leticia runs her hand up the curve of Chiyoh’s spine, ignoring the section tucked into her trousers. Her hair smells of the beach still, like grit and salt and wind. The taste of watermelon clings to her tongue where it sneaks into Chiyoh’s mouth.

“We will stay here,” Chiyoh repeats, murmuring the words against Leticia’s cheek. “And I will listen to you name every beautiful thing about the accommodations at our disposal.”

Leticia grins, arms winding around Chiyoh’s waist so that their bodies press flush together.

“And how could I notice a thing about the room when you’re standing in it with me?”

Chiyoh had been thinking the very same thing earlier, so she has nothing contrary to say. She supposes, maybe, that that’s exactly the point.

--

Will has not made any progress on the kinstugi front where fixing the mug is concerned. He’s found kits online that look legitimate enough—even authentic Japanese sellers that ship to Central America. The only drawback to the whole DIY bit is that he would have to, in fact, do it himself. It’s not as if he’s inherently terrible at precision crafts, but fixing the mug perfectly on the first try just doesn’t seem like a thing that’s going to happen.

He really wants to enlist Chiyoh’s help, but he can’t say with any certainty if they’re at that point yet. Sure, they switch back and forth teaching and learning from each other and she did borrow The Little Prince for her trip to Cancún, but to ask a favor from her is a step farther than he believes she’d accept from him.

If he dressed it up right, she might not hesitate to acquiesce. He could be forthcoming and say it’s for Hannibal and explain the whole rigamarole behind their deal with teacups. She might even understand. Or she might make her famous ‘you’re full of shit, Will Graham’ face and do it anyway just because she believes him when he says it’ll please Hannibal. He’s not entirely sure it’ll please Hannibal, but he has his suspicions. His instincts are usually pretty decent at these things. Sometimes. Mostly.

They’ve been spectacularly reliable when they weren’t getting him shot, incarcerated, gutted, or lobbed willingly over the edge of a cliff. Figures these are the kinds of thoughts he has while entertaining the idea of getting a present for Hannibal.

He should really get Chiyoh something since she’s done so much for them—which isn’t something he ever thought he would say in his lifetime. They live in her house and joyride on her boat, for Christ’s sake. A thoughtful gift is the least he could do. She doesn’t loathe him anymore. A nice gesture from him might actually be interpreted as nice to her when she gets back from Cancún.

Will has no idea. He barely cottoned onto the idea of surprising Hannibal with the mug because the sight of it breaking had given him the closest thing to a panic attack he thinks he’ll ever see of Hannibal. The rest of the time, Hannibal’s easy. He’s so easy; he’s quite literally the easiest person Will has ever gone out of his way to satisfy.

That’s sort of why he’s hoping that sex with Hannibal—sex meaning penetrative sex—won’t be completely, off-the-rails nerve-wracking. Of course, he’s expecting some discomfort and bewilderment at first purely because he doesn’t have the faintest idea of how he’ll adjust to it, but he’s not counting on Hannibal expecting a great display of him. Hannibal will be elated and intoxicated just at Will’s instigation of the act.

He won’t have some unrealistic standard for Will to meet and then outperform. Will is the standard and he blows Hannibal’s mind by simply existing, so he doesn’t care if he goes into the whole thing jumpy and uncoordinated and making unsexy faces when it doesn’t feel amazing. But that also means that he trusts Hannibal completely, and that. That.

Will knows Hannibal won’t hurt him. He’s read enough online that it shouldn’t hurt if it’s done properly, so he’s not worried anyway, but Hannibal simply will not hurt him in that way.

He’s said it often enough that they’ll only do what Will wants and that any pace Will establishes is the right pace for them, but there’s something else there. There has to be. Hannibal is always worlds more complicated and psychological than a first, second, or hundredth glance could ever reveal.

Hannibal, not jumpy, perfectly coordinated, and arguably, irritatingly sexy, doesn’t fuss when Will leaves mid-harpsichord duet to jog inexplicably up the stairs. The music continues to play all throughout Will’s climb and doesn’t pause when he slips into the bathroom without stopping in the bedroom for a change of clothes. Will listens for the peaceful, lilting melody over the the steady downpour from the shower head. He unbuttons his shirt and fumbles his fingers on the clasp to his belt when the music stops.

For about a minute, he strains his ears to hear and continues to silently undress, shucking off his trousers, toeing off his socks, and pushing his underwear down his legs. If Hannibal’s downstairs pouring himself a glass of wine or if he’s stealthily climbing the stairs, Will can’t hear him. He pulls back the door to the shower and steps in, choosing to believe that Hannibal’s selective propriety won’t allow him the audacity of barging in on him here.

Will washes his hair and scrubs distractedly at various parts of his body with soap. He rubs his hands together so that the lather runs over his wrists and drops off his arms onto the shower tile.

He looks at his hand and turns it one way and then the other. The soapy foam slips and slides down his fingers, and his heart races at the direction his thoughts take. His dick catches on before he really understands it himself. By the time it’s started to fatten up just a tiny bit, it’s too late to pretend that he doesn’t want to do exactly what he came up here to do. Really, he just thought he’d wait a while and then Hannibal would come join him, but if it’s just to be Will, he can make that work, too.

It’s graceless how he does it. The lack of form doesn’t do anything to settle the quaking behind his sternum, and actually, the frantic, half-blind approach makes his heart hammer even harder. He gets one whole finger in his ass and thinks it’s a mighty fine accomplishment until he tries to work his way up to two.

The first one went in so easily, it doesn’t make sense that he can’t stretch enough for the second. His body can make the stretch. It just doesn’t seem to want to open up for him now. Maybe standing makes it more difficult.

He bends his knees to test out different angles and presses his cheek to the tile for balance. The ridiculous angle his back arches into must look cartoonish, but the tentative hand he places on his dick jolts that position into something more natural, less contrived. He closes his eyes, moves his hand a few times, and twists his other hand to sink two fingers in right up to the first knuckles.

It’s strange. Not unpleasant, but different. Some of the things he’d read online are starting to click for him, but certain other things aren’t. He can see how doing this with someone would feel good, especially since his arm wouldn’t have to be contorted behind himself to accomplish the same sensation. He can even see how enough preparation would let something as impossible as another penis fit easily inside of him.

What isn’t clicking for him is that having sex like this would be preferable for the person in this position. Hannibal had all but said that he’d love for Will to take him. Nerve endings and hypersensitivity aside, he’s not feeling a whole lot at the moment. His dick’s hard, but that’s the main thing he’s focusing on.

A knock at the door jars him out of his thoughts and he freezes. Hannibal speaks from the other side of it without trying the handle.

“I’ve brought you clothes. I noticed you took none with you.”

Will considers easing his fingers out but doesn’t. Instead he just says, “Come in.”

In spite of his dominant hand moving away from his dick, his heartbeat picks up again. He swallows and listens for the telltale click of the door opening.

--

Hannibal notes the steam fogging up the mirror and primly sets the folded clothes atop the edge of the sink. He can see an outline of Will’s torso through the frosted glass of the shower door, though he doesn’t look at his silhouette directly.

“You were in quite a hurry to come up here.”

“I thought I’d try something,” Will answers, a bit airily.

The hair on Hannibal’s neck prickles up. It’s impossible to misunderstand the faint chord of need in Will’s voice. He contemplates the pile of clothes on the sink and considers the door as one does an enemy. The reason for his coming in here has been met.

He should go. He will go, if asked. Hannibal waits to be asked.

“I could use your assistance in here, if you don’t mind.”

Hannibal’s hand flies to the buttons on his shirt. Halfway disrobed, Hannibal collects some semblance of self-control.

“What kind of assistance, if I may ask?”

A response comes abruptly, breathlessly. “I’m having trouble getting my fingers in.”

Hannibal’s mind whites out briefly. He flings his abandoned clothes into a pile separate from Will’s and opens the shower door. Will’s back is to him, an arm flung up over his head for support. The other curves behind and below, hand disappearing between his legs. From the waist up, Hannibal has drawn Will this way once before. He had not been prurient enough in his desire for Will to venture lower with his artist’s eye, but he does now, with Will’s consent, with Will’s express wish for him to be here with him.

Will moves his chin and glances at Hannibal without turning around. “Well, come in.”

He steps inside and pulls the door closed behind him. Will’s hand doesn’t move, only stays close to his body to allow—Hannibal looks—two fingers to stay buried as deep as they will go. Hannibal turns the faucet so the water won’t be wasted and brushes his fingers over Will’s wrist. By slow degrees, he draws his fingers out of himself.

“There is an art to this as well,” he whispers, unable to do more than that as he coaxes Will away from the wall.

“I probably read about it,” Will mumbles, starting to turn, but stopping when Hannibal’s hand finds his hip and skims down. “Doing’s different than reading.”

Hannibal hums and turns his hand inward to trace the swelling curves in Will’s flesh. He brushes his fingertips over Will’s testicles, the back of his splendid cock. Over Will’s shoulder, he can see it, a lovely pink and turning red, full and wanting, aimed upward for attention. Hannibal kneads with his fingers and grazes the fluttering, expectant hole Will stretched somewhat with his fingers. He sucks a kiss into Will’s shoulder and the side of his neck, rubs circles against his hole that have Will swaying on his feet and gasping.

He would continue with his fingers when Will is laid flat and on display for him, but for now, there is one thing he has wanted to do for ages. Hannibal sinks easily to his knees and peppers Will’s buttocks with gentle bites, suckling and licking the closer he gets to his goal. He presses and pushes so that the glorious halves of his ass part to reveal to him his prize.

Will shudders hard beneath the first tap of his tongue and flails to get his hands in front of him on the wall. His moan is thin and astonished and dizzy, and Hannibal holds him hard with both hands lest they both tumble and fall.

It has been some time for Hannibal since he did this last, but he still remembers every combination of lashes that could make his partners scream and swear the loudest. Will himself is usually noisy in general, but he’s perfectly demanding about Hannibal’s tongue inside him. He takes to it like a bird does to the open skies.

He rocks his hips mindlessly but beautifully and spreads his feet out a touch wider to accept more where he wants more. Hannibal’s name rains down from his lips in a litany of enthralled vowels and desperate aspirations.

Hannibal loves the way Will says his name. He loves it. Draws out the h for as long as possible, whines slightly on the a, moans unapologetically through the double n, drags along the i, and gasps through the final cluster of letters. Chants it again and again so that each time a different part of his name takes the weight of emphasis. Sometimes stops at the first syllable like his body short-circuited the pathway from his brain to his mouth.

There is, all told, a lack of artistry to it and Will has no patience for the slow torture Hannibal would make of the act for them, but it is still wonderful. Will’s hand shooting down to pull at his cock and the exulted sound he makes when Hannibal’s hand joins his provides all the compensation he could ask for.

His tongue is plunged in deep when Will comes, groaning and grunting gorgeously, hips spasming and belly thrumming where Hannibal’s hand has come to rest. He takes a languid breath in and out, jaw aching, as he inches his tongue back into his mouth. Knees aching from his long time crouched, Hannibal collapses into a sitting position and catches his breath.

Will waits a moment longer, wilted against the wall, and slinks down to sit, back to Hannibal all the while. He inches back and back, hands guiding his tired approach, until he can seat himself on Hannibal’s lap. His cock nestles up against the crevice between Will’s legs and Hannibal buries his face in his neck, hands clutching at hips while his own roll upward seeking friction. Will’s head drops back onto his shoulder and he, too, rolls his hips, thighs pressing together as he does. Hannibal doesn’t stand a chance.

He gropes at Will’s midsection and gasps, coming and shivering and bruising him with his trembling hands. Will’s lazy smile is wicked and sated. Hannibal sighs.

“You certainly have done your homework.”

“Didn’t I say,” Will teases, eyes slipping shut.

The steam left over from Will’s shower lingers a bit, but they will be cold if they don’t move soon. Hannibal stays where he is a while longer and holds Will close to him, listening with his ears and with his hands for the slowing of Will’s heartbeat. When it becomes uncomfortable to stay as they are, Will struggles to his feet and pulls Hannibal up with him.

They wash under the still-hot spray of the shower and dry off together. Hannibal shrugs on a robe for his lack of clean clothes and Will smirks at him in the midst of doing up the buttons on the shirt Hannibal brought for him.

“If that was a preview, consider me impressed,” he croons, stepping in to press their lips together.

“I love to hear my name on your lips,” Hannibal also confesses because it feels right to do so. “I love to hear how you say it when we are together.”

“Hannibal,” Will whispers, soothing Hannibal’s lips again with his own. “We’re always together. Conjoined, remember?”

Hannibal follows Will into their room and gets dressed for bed. They lie down beside one another and Will says his name over and over again, whispering it into his skin like a million promises.

Chapter Text

One of the many wonders of Chiyoh’s house is the view from the windows in the second floor hallway. The waves at dawn are as beautiful in the cold morning as they are cast in shadow at night. He remembers watching them crash over a moonlit shore when they first came here, and now at dusk, he’s every bit as entranced as he was the first time by breaking swells of dark water over sand. The sea is nature’s very own pendulum.

It calls to the metamorphic force within him like the pole of the world luring a compass north. That sleeping creature long put out of use and dormant within him stirs. There is no one left to imagine, so he pushes inward and pulls of himself. He times the swinging stroke of silver to the pulse of the sea.

Hannibal is with him in the other place, in the close, rollicking darkness. He could never be apart from it or from Will. There was a time for separation once, and they have crossed into irreversibility. No longer can they be redeemed to their former lives. They stepped through fire with the Dragon and washed in the ocean. Theirs is a path that stretches infinitely ahead of them just like the endless sea through the hallway window on the second floor by their bedroom.

The confluence of their two existences crafts a mysterious and indefinable world. Their culpability as instruments of fate and disaster destined to love one another can only spell chaos.

For once in his life, Will is left standing on the right side of it. He has nothing to fear. He is to be feared.

“Will, is everything all right?”

He blinks awake, hand hovering over the glass but not touching. Hannibal pulls the bathroom door shut behind him and approaches, footsteps soft and unhurried, decisive. Will nods belatedly and searches his mind for a response.

“I was thinking about what we’re going to do.”

Hannibal draws nearer and winds his arms around Will’s waist. Will drops his head to one side so that Hannibal can rest his chin on his shoulder. He smells clean like soap and steam, and the sturdy weight of him at Will’s back is not unlike a brick wall. If he were small and seeking shelter from harsh winds, he would hide here in Hannibal’s arms, but he is not small and Hannibal is neither the wind nor the wall.

He is humanity wrapping itself around a violent surge of wind shot out of the heavens. Will leans back into his chest and holds Hannibal’s wrists in place. There was a time when he thought himself less the monster between them, but after all that they’ve weathered together, he’s not sure what the sentiment would mean, if anything. Hannibal’s soft spot has always been that he isn’t perfectly unfeeling. His greatest imperfection has always been his passion—that even the moniker Il Mostro could not contain him.

“What are we going to do?” Hannibal hums in his ear.

“Rip apart the niceties of the old world so that we can live in the new one.”

“You focus for both of us on the big picture.”

Will cracks a smile and turns his head, saying, “I’m good with the quiet for as long as we can have it. I don’t imagine we’ll live peacefully after this.”

“You and I are not above breathing life into impossibility.” Hannibal’s lips graze the side of his neck, mouth moving slowly against with simmering heat. His breath is warm on Will’s skin and fans down his throat around his collar. “By your own account, it is in you to imagine anything and to feel it as deeply as you would the most integral truth to your very being.”

“And what is that truth?” Will murmurs, tipping his head back on Hannibal’s shoulder and relaxing, sinking fully into him. He turns toward the lips in his hair, causing them to skate across his temple. “What’s my cornerstone?”

“That you were never meant to be driven by fear.”

Will laughs. He can’t help it, not even with the heady flip of his stomach when he realizes that Hannibal’s dick is getting hard and pressing into the small of his back.

“Sometimes I think you’re in my head.”

“Perhaps I am aware of you at a level indescribable to my senses,” Hannibal purrs, digging his chin into Will’s shoulder when he shoves his hips back in a dirty figure-eight. “As viscerally as I have come to know your body, our hearts were joined first.”

It’s statements like that, uttered so confidently, that stop Will in his tracks every time. The joining of their hearts predates this crackling realm of skin and physicality. It goes back so far for Hannibal.

“When did it really start for you?” Will asks, unwinding himself from Hannibal’s grasp and turning to walk backwards toward their room a mere few steps away. He starts unbuttoning his shirt, noting how Hannibal’s gaze flicks down to watch and lingers there. “When did you know?”

“When you commanded me with a coy smile in Wolf Trap, Virginia, moments before I broke Mason Verger’s neck.”

Hannibal smiles almost fondly at the memory. His expression softens as he treads further into the well of memory and ever more distant from the present moment. Will fumbles with the doorknob at his back and leaves his shirt hanging open. By the slightest degree, a shadow falls over Hannibal’s eyes as he pursues.

“When I smelled her on you.”

The old betrayal is a foreign concept when couched in that language, but Hannibal means it and he’s right to mean it. Will stands by the foot of the bed and waits for the rest. Hannibal’s hand at his cheek, curving around his ear and down the back of his head stands in for the moment that neither of them can name here. His hand follows the lines in Will’s skin down his neck, chest, and stomach. He idles on the scar as he is wont to do.

“When I thought of you every moment in Italy, and when you were there before me in the gallery, battered and bloody but beautiful as the day I first saw you.”

“Jesus,” Will whispers. “How many times did you fall in love with me?”

“Do you think a day has past since the first time that I have not fallen further in love with you?”

Will shakes his head and holds Hannibal’s face in his hands, leaning in close to say, “You goddamn romantic son of a bitch.”

He slots their lips together and gives it everything he has, tilting his head for a better angle and opening his mouth so that it’s wetter and smoother when their tongues meet briefly in the middle. Hannibal’s arms slink around his back and tug him closer, and even in spite of the sounds of breathing and kissing and fabric shuffling in their warm bedroom, all Will can think is, Do you think a day has past since the first time that I have not fallen further in love with you?

Hannibal climbs onto the bed after him and Will’s mind is racing, sorting through the passing glimpses of euphoria they’ve had together. He thinks of when Chiyoh shot him and he buried his forehead in Hannibal’s shoulder, safe in his pain to make a claim for the intimacy that all along belonged to him.

“I wanted you,” he gasps into Hannibal’s throat once his shirt has finally come off. Their hands fumble between their bodies to free him from his shorts. “God, I wanted you and I could never have you.”

The admission must sound ridiculous to Hannibal, though he doesn’t say so. He doesn’t say what they both accept as the truth: that all Will ever had to do was let himself take. These are things he hasn’t spoken. These are the thoughts he believed were cast out to sea when he tipped them over the bluffs. He’s never had any need of speaking them aloud. Ever since Hannibal left for Italy, everyone knew—everyone. It was in print, after all.

But he never meant this kind of love. He never meant love so intense that he worries some nights his ribs’ll fly apart beneath the force of it.

Never had he factored in that he might end up writhing on his back in a bed he shares with Hannibal, in a house they live in together. Years ago when they met in Quantico, when Will said he didn’t find Lecter very interesting and the bastard had smiled, Will couldn’t have guessed that one day he’d have his fingers teased right over that fantastic hot spot in Will’s ass.

Even now he’s having a tough time reconciling the noises coming out of his mouth, but there they go, spilling out of him, greedy and ecstatic. His back arches hard enough to hurt and he only barely makes out his groans of, Please keep fucking going.”

Hannibal shifts the direction of his hand and shuffles closer on the bed. Will looks blearily up at him, knees splayed apart.

“Now three. Ready?”

Baffled for no reason and for a hundred reasons, Will laughs, dropping his head back into the pillow and covering his face. Although he can barely breathe, hearing the Doctor Voice now of all times is simply too hilarious. Besides, laughter is a different sound from broken moaning and the variety helps him to clear his head.

“Do we need to stop?”

“No, no.”

He wipes at his face, raking one hand through his hair. His skin is hot all over. The blood rushing through him is fast, vital. He snakes his other hand down to palm himself just to feel and squeezes his eyes closed around a tight hiss. Hannibal delicately pries his hand away and pins it gently to the bed near Will’s hip.

“You react this way when overwhelmed. Are you uncomfortable?”

“I…” Will catches his breath and peers down at Hannibal, propped up between Will’s legs with his hair disheveled and a purple mark on his neck that’s only about twenty minutes old. “I guess I didn’t expect it to feel that good right away.”

Hannibal holds his gaze a few seconds more and ducks his head apologetically. His forehead glistens with sweat and his eyes look dazed and glossy.

“I apologize. That was selfish of me.”

Selfish? Of you?

“Difficult to explain. I could listen to you as you were for hours. You beg so beautifully.”

Weakly, voice strained still from all the noise he made, he asks, “Is that something you like?”

“Not especially. It is a pleasure to do something well and be rewarded for it, but this was something else.”

At the confession, Hannibal looks out of sorts. He rubs his hand into Will’s thigh, searching with his eyes for something that isn’t there. Will reaches for his jaw with the hand not pressed into the mattress and waits for their gazes to lock together.

“Maybe you’ll beg for me when it’s your turn.”

A glimmer that is equal parts mischief and eager anticipation shines in Hannibal’s eyes. He smiles.

“Is there truly a doubt in your mind about whether I will or not?”

Will smirks and drops his head back again. “Yeah, okay, you’re gonna beg for me when we switch, you little deviant. That better?”

“More in line with my expectations, yes.”

“Three’s the last one, right?” Will asks, sufficiently calmed down and smiling instead of laughing.

“I might suggest four.”

Will sighs, “All right. Just…just go easy on me, for Christ’s sake.”

--

Hannibal works his fingers back inside and reins in his appetite for the sounds Will made before, edging near the bundle of nerves with which he’s already grown deeply familiar. The hot clench of Will’s hole around his fingers, three and eventually four once Will is pliant and loose, completely obliterates Hannibal’s composure. Will looks sinful and mussed and resplendent, laid out with dark hair sticking to his forehead and fingers clutching a corner of the pillow.

Staying here in this stage forever would bring Hannibal immense joy. To look at Will as he is now would be enough to provide Hannibal’s soul with nourishment for years to come. His skin glows with excitement and urgency, and his eyes are bright and attentive, wary of slipping into feverish distraction.

“That has to be it,” Will breathes, struggling to catch his breath. “That’s four, come on. You said it. It’s enough.”

Hannibal takes his fingers away and his hands tremble around the foil packet that Will insists on. He pushes fully onto his knees and is still pulling the condom down the full length of his cock when Will sits up and crawls toward him.

By now, he expects Will to be bold and brazen when they have sex. Even in these new experiences, he pushes his way to the front and asserts himself; such is his present demeanor. He waits for Hannibal to move his hands and climbs into his lap, their faces close and their hearts aligned. They hadn’t discussed this position, so it must be one of those several that Will had read about. Hannibal has no complaints about it. He can look into Will’s eyes like this.

Will’s belly expands against Hannibal’s where he’s breathing deeply in and out. Hannibal follows his right hand to guide their bodies together. It takes a few flustered moments of fumbling, both of their hands shaking and slick fingers losing purchase. A wrinkle knits itself between Will’s eyebrows, but he doesn’t complain otherwise. He sinks down in one easy glide.

Hannibal groans, clamping down hard on Will’s hips. Will hums appreciatively, either at Hannibal’s face buried in his throat or at something else, Hannibal genuinely isn’t sure. He circles his hips and rocks back and forth, testing out the thrill of every new sensation while Hannibal clings to him. They shift and sigh around each other for long uncounted minutes before Hannibal forces himself to relax.

Will, by comparison, is as fluid as Hannibal is tense. Tiny beads of sweat trickle down his face and neck. A rash of gooseflesh breaks out down his arms and a faint, high-pitched noise like a mewl tumbles forth from his lips. His jaw clenches tight and he squeezes Hannibal’s shoulders, frantic and quick and raw.

The sight he makes.

“Okay,” he admits breathlessly, his face a lovely shade of red. “Okay, I…yeah, this is…good. I get it now. Yeah. Yes, do something—or, do I…?”

He repositions his hands and swivels his hips, still testing his range of motion. Hannibal’s hips piston beneath him and elicit a gleeful shout. Hannibal loops an arm around Will’s lower back to hold and direct him in his onslaught. Will claws Hannibal’s scalp and raises himself up, growing vicious in his hunger.

His breath is Hannibal’s breath. The searing glint in his eyes burns hotter than any brand. Shapeless kisses and needy hands skid along slippery skin. Nails and teeth draw thin lines of blood where exuberance wins out over caution.

Their eyes meet when their lips part, and Will gasps, clutching at the back of Hannibal’s neck and going rigid all over. His forehead knocks into Hannibal’s, lids drawn low over his eyes and lips swollen from kissing.

“Oh,” he says. “Hannibal, oh.”

Hannibal closes his eyes and grits his teeth, knowing that he was close already and that he doesn’t have much longer. Will’s fingers gentle in his hair, lips softer at the apple of his cheek and at the corner of his mouth.

“Do you know when I knew?” Will whispers, shifting minutely in Hannibal’s lap. “When I loved you?”

“I don’t,” Hannibal sighs, eyes drifting open. “When?”

Will smiles, the features of his face gone soft and peaceful. He breathes in sharply through his nose and grounds down. Hannibal moans, low and long and grasps after Will’s back. A strained tendon in Will’s neck is the only evidence to suggest that he is not indifferent. The playful glimmer in his eyes betrays him more than his expression does. He’s enjoying himself.

“When I told Dolarhyde I was your favorite,” he murmurs, rolling his hips and smoothing his hand from Hannibal’s temple to his neck. His eyes slip shut and his voice, already low, rasps. His sentences lose a fraction of coherency. “When he knew. Finally, the truth. Finally, I’d said it.”

Slow waves of heady arousal build up in Hannibal’s pelvis and burn in his stomach. He squeezes Will’s shoulder blades in his hands, breathing erratically and quickly spiraling out of control.

“Was his jealousy…satisfying?”

He feels more than he sees Will’s hand moving between their bodies to fist his cock. Another jolt of pleasure shocks down his spine and he watches, entranced, while Will touches himself. He opens his mouth against the pulse in Will’s neck, tasting sweat and excitement on his tongue.

“To have power over him, and you. It was. I liked it.”

It’s the final straw. Hannibal comes apart with Will’s hand in his hair, fingers curved around the back of his skull and holding fast. Will’s hand speeds up, brushing Hannibal’s stomach with their proximity.

For a few seconds, all he is aware of in all the universe is that their bodies are mingled. His being is entwined with that of the single most important man to ever come into his life. They are bonded and inseparable, and Hannibal understands why Zeus destroyed Semele when he revealed himself to her. If he always burned as brightly as he must now, he believes he, too, would smite the whole of the mankind with the splendor and terror of this gnawing, infinite sun Will has made of him.

Hannibal disentangles himself and goes down to his back, encouraging Will to ride him while he’s still useful. The angle affords him convenience in reaching Will’s prostate, which Will discovers once he begins to move. His hands flail out for support, head first dropping forward and then straining back to expose the gorgeous column of his throat.

He pushes back on Hannibal’s cock for about a minute before he begins touching himself again. It only takes a few quick strokes. He paints as far as Hannibal’s chin. If those few drops had fallen an inch higher, Hannibal would lick them gladly from his lips.

“Shit,” Will croaks, letting his head hang low once more. “Fuck.”

“Yes.”

Will continues to rock gently in place, pushing himself into overstimulation with a thready moan. Hannibal watches him and holds him and waits, silently willing his erection not to flag until Will is finished with him. It is a rare and treasured thing to gaze on Will as he is, free in his desire and free in his exploration of it. Tenderness swells in Hannibal’s heart and in his throat. Will presides over him. He is precious and flawed and transcendent.

“Is it stuck? It feels like it’s stuck to me.”

“Hold still. Now move.”

He holds the condom in place with one hand and supports Will’s shoulder with the other. He waits for Will to collapse next to him on the bed before getting up. Will waits without calling after him and moves his legs apart when Hannibal returns to partially clean him up. He remains lying on his stomach with his bent arms for a pillow even after Hannibal’s climbed back into bed with him.

Hannibal runs a hand down Will’s back. They are each in the process of cooling down but still run quite warm.

“I almost forgot everything else existed for a while there.”

“As did I.”

“For a moment, I…” Will looks up at him, almost appearing bashful. “A single instant of clarity found me.”

“I felt it, too.”

“Yeah, I could feel that you did.”

Will repositions his arms and twists onto his side. His face comes to rest close to Hannibal’s, one arm winding around the small of Hannibal’s back.

“If I could climb inside you,” he murmurs, searching Hannibal’s eyes. “It still wouldn’t be enough.”

Hannibal finds the thought amusing and flattering at once. “How could you know when you have yet to try?”

“Mmm.” Will buries his nose in Hannibal’s hair, leaving his jaw open for worship by Hannibal’s mouth. “In that case, I’ll know in the morning.”

“Really?” Hannibal asks, laughing around the eager flip in his stomach.

“If I get my way. Not much of a stretch to say that I will. You’re easy.”

“I am a fortress. You happen to be a skeleton key.”

Will laughs and inches onto his back, pulling Hannibal with him. His green and blue eyes look grayish with the dim light casting his forehead in shadow. Hannibal rests his cheek on Will’s chest, pleased that he is as robust to the touch as he has always appeared to the eye. He is, in fact, fuller through the chest than Hannibal is.

“I didn’t need to be a skeleton key.”

“No, after a point, none of the doors were locked.”

“Some of them never were to begin with.”

“This one was.” Hannibal studies Will’s face and covers the drum of his heart with his hand. “The final veil between form and truth.”

“I’m still here. You didn’t burn me up.”

“Nor did you incinerate me, though I admit it was a close thing.”

“Saw it in your face,” Will muses, gorgeous and smirking. “Looked like you saw God.”

“An apt description, one that should not scandalize you.”

“It doesn’t.” Will takes Hannibal’s cheek in hand and guides their mouths together. “It was the same for me.”

Hannibal covers the hand on his cheek with his own and turns to kiss Will’s palm. His thoughts take a turn toward poetry, not an uncommon occurrence around Will.

“Do you think it was like this for Patroclus and Achilles?”

“Do I think they saw the cosmos stretching forward and back when they looked into each other’s eyes?”

Will snorts and covers his face with his hand. Too giddy and content with his lot to regret his honesty, Hannibal merely smiles and nuzzles Will’s wrist. The pulse beneath his lips beats lightly and patiently, warm and strong. Everything about Will is resilient and powerful, has always been. That pulse is a source of intoxication. Hannibal mouths lazily along the tendons in Will’s wrists for the simple pleasure of being near to it.

They lie in comfortable, unchecked silence for a good little while when Hannibal finally relents. He lets himself wonder what could be in store for him in the morning, if they will at least have breakfast before diving back into bed for further sexual exploration.

“It wasn’t like I thought it’d be,” Will tells him, sounding half-asleep.

“How did you think it would feel?”

“Like every other time I’ve had sex with someone I loved.”

Hannibal’s heart swells in his chest.

“Wasn’t.” Will yawns. “Knocks every other time out of the water.”

“Oh.”

Will shifts slightly. “What, is that just me?”

“No.”

“Good then.”

Too relaxed to pursue a conversation, Will sighs and quietly chases after sleep. An agreeable hum stirs on Hannibal’s lips and he follows Will’s lead, turning his face into Will’s chest and closing his eyes.

--

Leticia is on her laptop when Chiyoh emerges from the shower. She has an earbud in one ear and the other laid out on one pronounced collar bone. Her attention doesn’t once flit away from her screen, so she doesn’t notice that she’s being stared at from the steamy bathroom door for a solid minute. The damp net of her hair flares out over her head on the couch arm.

The swift, uninterrupted clacking litany is some indication to what Leticia might be up to. She had not said anything to suggest that there was work here, so Chiyoh can’t imagine what unfortunate target has wound up in her crosshairs. Those ambiguous, determined keystrokes could spell trouble.

“What are you doing?”

An innocuous hum answers her question. Leticia plucks the one earbud free and looks up at Chiyoh, pulling the screen down without closing it.

“You’re typing.”

“Yes,” Leticia says slowly, smiling innocently like she’s of a mind to humor Chiyoh’s inquiries. “I code.”

“Show me?”

That smile widens and Leticia struggles against the plush cushions to sit up. Chiyoh approaches, trying to be less cautious but doing nothing to mask the trepidation on her face.

“What do you think I do when you aren’t looking, Chiyoh, hack the pentagon?”

She makes room for Chiyoh to sit beside her and leans back into her shoulder, brandishing the laptop so that they can both see. A multi-colored polygon sits in the middle of a white box. The white box to the left of the hexagon is filled with phrases and numbers. Chiyoh puzzles over it, recognizing the few commands Leticia taught her in days long past.

“Clear the sequence,” Leticia murmurs, moving the cursor and typing a few changes to the string of code. “And modify the function so the angles are different.”

Before her eyes, the boxy prism clear from the screen. Instead of recreating the same image, the lines on the screen fluctuate into a twelve-pronged flower, a nearly perfect inversion of the former assemblage. Every line is a shade darker, and at the darkest gradient, the color shifts lower down the spectrum. Leticia fiddles with the repetition command, the speed setting, and the angles.

“If you give me a minute, I can spell your name.”

Chiyoh waits, winding an arm around Leticia’s middle and tugging until she’s in her lap. Leticia types on, unbothered to be handled. She enjoys tiny displays of Chiyoh’s physical strength since her own has never been the most lethal weapon in her arsenal. Either Chiyoh is stronger than the last time they met or Leticia has lost weight. Neither option is exactly favorable over the other and she’s prepared not to speak of it, but Leticia hears her concern anyway.

“I was already very thin when we met.”

“You’ve gotten thinner.”

“You’ve put on some muscle. Don’t think I didn’t feel it just then. You lifted me. Not very subtle.”

“I had to be strong when they broke away.”

“They?” Leticia asks, pausing in between semi-colons and pixelated ratios. She looks at Chiyoh over her shoulder, brown eyes curious. “And here I thought you hated Will Graham.”

“I…have learned to tolerate him.”

Leticia shakes her head, smiling at Chiyoh like she finds her adorable. “You say you tolerate him, but your eyes suggest a softer word.”

She turns back to her project and types a few more phrases that Chiyoh can vaguely identify from glimpsing them over. Her back presses a warm line of gentle weight against Chiyoh’s front. As always, her posture is perfect, petite shoulders pushed back and spine held straight. Chiyoh runs her knuckles along Leticia’s ribs over her shirt.

Some mumbling and about a hundred keystrokes later, Leticia runs the sequence again. Kanji letters fill the space. These are the same letters Leticia wrote on the sign when she picked Chiyoh up from the bus station, devoid of her handwriting and rendered in the precise language of computers.

In a small but even voice, she asks, “Are we safe, Chiyoh?”

“From whom?”

“Your boys,” Leticia says, in spite of the fact that both Will and Hannibal are older than them. “Are we safe from them?”

“You saw Will in Cancún. He thought from the first that you would expose them and that it was in your power to do so. Now he entertains the idea that you are an ally.”

“What of your brother? Was he so convinced?”

Chiyoh starts to speak but stops and closes her mouth. Leticia nods and highlights the code she’s just written. It deletes in one fell swoop, taking away the impression of Chiyoh’s name from the white box. Leticia drops her head back on Chiyoh’s shoulder and closes the laptop.

“Without becoming upset,” Leticia begins, speaking carefully and slowly. “What was your game with John Brigham?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re lying.” She laughs, almost sad but genuinely amused, well beyond the point of taking this matter as a personal attack on her character. “You’re lying and that only proves to me that you have a plan. Nothing you do is thoughtless. If you can’t tell me, then say that you can’t. But don’t lie.”

Chiyoh stills her hand at Leticia’s side and tips her head against Leticia’s, the two of them fitting together as neatly as two bodies can. Leticia slips the laptop off her legs and onto the couch a ways left of them. She covers Chiyoh’s hands with her own, fingers fidgeting restlessly, perhaps tapping out algorithms against her knuckles.

“It’s all right if you loved him.”

Pulse quickening, Chiyoh says, “I didn’t.”

“Then why?” Leticia sounds perfectly bewildered but not hurt, finally not wounded by this horrible blow Chiyoh had dealt to their relationship. “You had resources, you had a reputation. Manuel would have sent people with you if you needed them. If you wanted to be off the radar for extraction, I could have covered your tracks, I could have…”

“It was because of you.”

Leticia’s back goes rigid and Chiyoh soothes her with both hands, coaxing her to relax and to hear her out. Chiyoh can’t keep it from her if this wall is the cost of her secrecy.

“Remember what you asked me.”

“Your endgame?”

“Your safety, Leti. You asked me if we were safe from Hannibal.”

“I did.” Leticia looks up at her again, a wrinkle between her eyebrows and a frown marring her beautiful mouth. “I don’t follow.”

Chiyoh licks her lips. “You read about Will Graham. You read about Francis Dolarhyde as well.”

“Naturally. When Lecter escaped, it was practically a national crisis. I knew that had to be the event that you were waiting on.”

“Think back on what Dolarhyde did before Hannibal’s escape.”

Leticia goes over the murders, the attempts on Molly Graham and her son. She doesn’t understand immediately, but Chiyoh redirects her focus back to Will’s family twice and realization dawns quickly on Leticia’s face. It isn’t a positive sort of enlightenment. She almost looks sick, shaking her head a few times as if to clear a thought from her mind and then continuing to shake it just for good measure.

“You were so standoffish when I met you,” she whispers, pausing to swallow. “You…tried so many times to shake me and I wouldn’t leave well enough alone. Chiyoh, did…was Brigham your alibi, from me?

“I needed a truth outside of what we built together.”

“You’re going to sacrifice him.”

Thinking of marriage vows tossed into the sea—a scene she was never meant to see—Chiyoh can only laud Leticia’s word choice. It is the truth, after all, laid bare and unapologetic at her feet. Leticia’s lips flicker into a brief, fragile smile.

“I guess it’s lucky I didn’t arrange to have him killed out of spite then.”

“Unlucky for him,” Chiyoh counters. “If fate decides to be cruel to him.”

“If Hannibal Lecter decides to be cruel to him.” Leticia shifts on Chiyoh’s lap, turning so that her legs drape over the cushion to Chiyoh’s right instead of hanging off the front of the couch. “But now he knows that you’re here with me and not with Brigham.”

Chiyoh touches Leticia’s face and cups her cheek in her palm. Her mind fills with images of Bedelia Du Maurier with a needle in her arm, intent on escaping the man with whom she had fled to Italy. She reminisces next on Will, leaning in close at dawn to press a kiss to her brother’s cheek. Hannibal may still rip her world apart for the joy of doing it, but he can’t unlearn the firsthand knowledge of what he would be taking from her. He has already demonstrated that he is receptive to negotiation in a way that she already anticipated after watching him go willingly to imprisonment.

‘My wife and child, for Margot’s,’ Will had said upon casting out his wedding ring. She can imagine herself telling Hannibal in terms as plain as those: John for Leticia.

Someone already lost to me for someone I cannot let you have.

“Hannibal has made concessions for Will and for himself. The prospect of bargaining delights him.”

“Really is the devil, isn’t he?” Leticia clicks her tongue, lighter of mood already. “It’s almost a shame the lot of us can’t be dysfunctional together. I hate to let you barter for my life all alone.”

“You don’t find it…deplorable?”

“Chiyoh, honestly.” Leticia waves her hand, eyes sincere and burning. “We kill people for money. Granted, your approach has always been far more hands-on than mine. Am I amazed that you went through so much trouble to procure a body not my own to offer up to your bloodthirsty brothers? Yes, thoroughly. I can’t imagine how else to feel. But deplorable? Look at who you’re talking to, please. I’m the last person with any right to judge.”

“In this, only your opinion matters.”

“Well, lucky for you, mi vida, I’ve got more blood on my hands than I have scruples in my heart. I already know that you would kill for me—you’ve done it before. Why not just tell me that that’s what you were up to?”

“Your anger at me for leaving was justified. I didn’t want to take it away from you.”

“Always the martyr,” Leticia mutters, tutting at her. “Does anyone else know what you’ve done, Chiyoh?”

“Will suspects, but he may not know yet that he does. I don’t doubt he will speak on our behalf if Hannibal chooses to be obstinate.”

“Small wonder that you share no blood with that man.”

Beneath the teasing tone lies a serious observation that Leticia and Will each have drawn at different times. As long as their lives have overlapped, Chiyoh and Hannibal have shared a great many qualities not often paralleled in others. Leticia could see it after a handful of intimate conversations, but she couldn’t comprehend what that bond meant before now, not really.

“If he weren’t Satan on a man’s leash, I would almost like to meet him. You’ve met my family.”

“Not as who I am.” Chiyoh gives a rueful smile. “Not as one who loves you.”

“Well, what’s the difference? I’ve met Will under those terms. Why shouldn’t we protect ourselves from men who would kill us if they knew?”

“Will wouldn’t.”

Chiyoh can’t track down the progression of that thought as a belief that builds to an impulse in her mouth. She has some measure of faith in it—in the names of Cassie Boyle, Georgia Madchen, Beverly Katz, Abigail Hobbs, Freddie Lounds, and Molly Graham—because while Hannibal does not discriminate, Will has only ever killed men. Hannibal might seek to disabuse Will of this pattern one day, but for the time being, Chiyoh knows he values their relationship. She knows Will must wonder if she plans to surrender a faceless man to their curiosity.

“I wish I could at least see how they react to your offer.”

“You can guess how it will go,” Chiyoh murmurs, squeezing Leticia’s thigh and tipping her head back to gaze up at her. “Why would you want to endanger yourself?”

Leticia smiles, slow and sweet. “Probably for the same reason you wanted to kill everyone who laid hands on me after Francisco. I don’t like you to do these things alone, even when experience dictates that you work best unassisted.”

The claim is true and also false. Chiyoh can get a job done quickly and efficiently on her own, as can Leticia. On the three tasks they’ve undertaken together in the past, they insinuated into each other’s open spaces and were the eyes and ears the other didn’t realize she needed. Leticia would notice an angle that Chiyoh hadn’t thought to try or Chiyoh would conceive of creative uses for conflicting intel as soon as Leticia got it.

They can and do function independently of one another. That doesn’t mean they’re better off that way. That doesn’t mean Chiyoh won’t exhaust her resources keeping Leticia safe from the murderers chained to her heart.

Perhaps she will have no cause to implement her failsafe. Perhaps Will has brought Hannibal far enough from his fixed mindset of unyielding violence for a sacrifice to be utterly unnecessary. Contrary to popular belief, Hannibal is not without empathy. He is not senseless in his destruction; he is meticulous and wrathful in the likeness of a young warrior descended from gods.

Heracles, maybe.

Chiyoh looks at Leticia’s face, soft and open and trusting in the early afternoon sunlight. She slides her hand around the back of her neck and pulls her closer for a kiss.

“We will be safe, no matter what they choose.”

“Seems appropriate for us to promise the same thing then, don’t you think?” It is spoken devoid of humor. Leticia means it. “If we are untouchable to them, then they will be untouchable to us. You have my word.”

“Do I?”

“Yes, well. So I don’t actually hack the pentagon when you aren’t looking, obviously, but I might have, well, looked into a few ways to have them neatly apprehended—”

“Leti.”

“—if it should come to that! I didn’t do anything. I was only looking. Can you blame me?”

“Yes,” Chiyoh insists, though Leticia laughs. “Leti, please.”

“I’ve given my word, haven’t I? No harm’s been done. I was good, I promise.”

Chiyoh sighs and rubs her temples with both hands. Leticia peels her hands away by the wrists and kisses the offending aches burning up beneath her skin. Her lips skim down to Chiyoh’s cheeks and eventually land flush on her bottom lip.

“It’s going to be all right, Chiyoh.”

She believes it will be. All the same, Chiyoh can’t help but worry, in a minuscule, automatic sort of way, deep in her hindbrain, that things won’t be quite so simple as she hopes.

Chapter Text

It rains while they’re having breakfast—a mango, avocado, and crab salad that Will had been intent on disliking but actually rather enjoyed. Hannibal loses Will’s assistance with the dishes to the spilt storm clouds and finishes in time to join Will for the last five minutes of the deluge. This bit of sky over Belize has a glorious look about it with the rain falling as it is, lit a powerful and tempestuous gray over a tossing cobalt sea.

Their proximity to the shore reminds Hannibal of the house on the bluffs. A great deal has changed for them since they weathered that fall together. Where they were once separated from the thrashing ocean by a great height, here they stand at eye level with the rhythmic crash of the tide. Time has eroded all obstacles before them.

Of course, concentrating on the sea or even the storm is no small task. Will stands with his palms out and his head tipped back. Serenely occupying the space between sea and sky, he looks almost like Prospero's Ariel: supreme, elemental, and bound by form to this plane of existence. No longer sworn to Hannibal out of a manmade duty to capture or kill him; absconded with Hannibal because they are twin forces of nature chained to so much skin and need.

Because each is chained to the other’s skin and to the other’s need.

Hannibal could watch Will sway in this old brand of magic for as long as it kept him enthralled. Whatever altars still stand to the gods of old, Hannibal surely owes them smoke and blood for this gift they have given him. He thinks of Perkūnas, Lietuva’s bringer of rains and thunder, keeper of mountains and sky. Tlaloc might even accept Hannibal’s gratitude.

Glutted and laughing with the energy crackling in the air, Will comes in from the rain absolutely drenched. Hannibal’s feet are wet and the wind has ruffled his hair, but he closes the door behind Will mostly composed.

Until Will flings his arms around Hannibal’s neck and plasters his wet body to Hannibal’s front.

Then, they are both dripping and cold. Will’s teeth don’t quite chatter, but there is a tension to his jaw when he smears his mouth against Hannibal’s lips in a parody of a kiss. Helpless when it comes to Will, as ever, Hannibal gentles his hand in Will’s hair and pulls him closer. His clothes are unsalvageable in terms of dampness, and there is no use in getting cross about it.

He forgets why he would be cross at all once Will begins peeling him out of his shirt and trousers right there. The limp mass of fabric gathers in a sopping pile on the floor. Will leaves them in their underclothes, gathers up the wet discarded things, and happily carries them off to the washing machine.

Hannibal would think him innocent if not for the smirk on his beautiful mouth. As he trots out of sight, he whistles a wistful, slow tune that begs to be heard. In the laundry room, those unidentifiable notes bleed into words.

Low and sweet and a touch mournful, Will croons, “Maybe you were reckless yesterday, but together we can find a brighter way.” Looking at Hannibal, he continues: “In my heart, I know that you’ll come true. Darling, I could never be ashamed of you.”

It seems it is his turn to be entranced, so Hannibal does the only thing he can and listens. The oft-understated southern twang in Will’s voice, so often buried beneath a more standard, unremarkable accent, becomes pronounced with song as with drink. To torture himself, he imagines how thick and syrupy Will’s drawl might get once beleaguered with the combined influences of music and alcohol.

Will raises his voice to be heard over the rush of water from the washing machine and Hannibal leans one shoulder against the doorframe, disarmed. If he couldn’t sing, Hannibal would love to listen to him and to look on this treasure he is being afforded the privilege of seeing. But Will’s voice is honey in his ears and if Hannibal heard him at sea, he wouldn’t know whether to block it out or to follow the sound to his death.

Hannibal may be biased, of course. He imagines that if Chiyoh were here, she would calmly refrain from rolling her eyes and leave them to their gazing.

“You don’t know that song, do you?”

“No.”

“I could sing another.”

Holding out his hand for Will to take, Hannibal murmurs, “Please.”

He means for them to make it up to their room, but Will starts in on the second song and Hannibal’s feet refuse to uproot from the floor in the direction that he intends. They relent to move forward and he steps brazenly into Will’s space, no clear intention outlined in his mind apart from his desire to have that music in his mouth, under his hands, beneath his skin. He mouths at Will’s neck and sucks at the bend in his jaw, dizzy and enamored.

Will sings gently in soft huffs of breath, lips grazing the shell of Hannibal’s ear. Buzzing through skin and bone, Will’s dulcet voice pierces and flays him.

“You knew that one,” Will sighs, rocking up into the press of Hannibal’s thigh between the wide V of his legs.

“Dean Martin.”

He chuckles, scratching blunt nails up Hannibal’s exposed back and catching on the circular scar beneath his shoulder blades. More purposely, he presses down around the curved edge with his fingertips and Hannibal bites back a groan.

“Let’s go upstairs.”

“Lead the way,” Hannibal whispers, wondering at how, once upon a time, he was the one who led their every move.

It is a luxury and a half to clasp his fingers with Will’s and walk with him to their room. Will hums under his breath, knowing now how Hannibal delights in it.

--

Will had been surprised but not that Hannibal didn’t struggle against his embrace downstairs. Even dripping wet and cold from the wind, their bodies were warm when pressed flush without the barrier of clothes dividing them. Hannibal takes the time to rub gently at Will’s hair with a towel once they’re sitting on the edge of the bed across from each other.

He continues one-handed with the towel and skirts his other hand down the nape of Will’s neck. Fingertips brush across his shoulders, almost ticklish for how lightly they graze. These casually worshipful touches might be enough for Hannibal, and for Will, if he weren’t remembering last night.

There’s a bright little ache in the base of his spine that sparks just so if he bends forward too far. His body’s not accustomed to making room the way it had for Hannibal, but they’d handled it well, he thought. The pleasure had been too much for there to be any pain during, but the soreness hadn’t taken long to set in once they’d stopped. He wonders if Hannibal’s body will sting him after Will’s done with him, if Hannibal will melt open for him as fluidly as Will had, and if it will feel like fire inside of him like it did for Will.

Will slides his hand over the towel and captures Hannibal’s wrist, guiding it away from his hair. The towel flops down on the floor and Hannibal spares it a mild, chastised glance. He points that affronted look next at Will, but he just climbs further onto the bed and pushes at Hannibal’s shoulders until he follows.

Getting Hannibal to wind down and crumble is probably Will’s favorite part of doing this with him. It’s still such an amazing thing to shape his lips around Hannibal’s throat and hear the click of his swallow just as surely as he feels it heavy on his tongue. It’s too easy to follow the heady rush of Hannibal’s quickening breaths, to shift and press where their bodies burn the harshest for contact, to inch them out of their underwear, and grip hard where Hannibal likes most to be held.

“Let me do that.”

Hannibal doesn’t hesitate so much as he appears to forget how to move. Will helps him and plucks the lube from his hand. It takes the sound of the cap popping open for Hannibal to blink and recall language.

“Be generous with it.”

“I remember.”

“Three will suffice.”

Smirking and rubbing his hands together, Will says, “Like a bit of a stretch, do you?”

“It would likely be a tight fit regardless,” Hannibal whispers back with a pointed glance at Will’s dick.

“C’mon, I’m big, but that doesn’t mean I’ll hurt you.”

“Not even if—” Hannibal gasps, wriggling his shoulders into the bed and angling his hips for Will to push in deeper with his fingers. He forgets the thought Will interrupted. “An ambitious start.”

“I’ve gotten two in like this.” Will swivels his wrist once he’s buried in up to his knuckles. “Want less?”

Hannibal makes a sound, tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He shakes his head, gasps again, and says, “No. You only surprised me.”

“Yeah, I’m good at that.”

Will pumps his fingers for a while, watching Hannibal’s chest to gauge his breathing. He lays his free hand low over Hannibal’s stomach, pressing down with his palm while seeking with his other fingers. Hannibal knows immediately what he’s up to and holds his hand over Will’s, deepening the pressure. While he doesn’t know exactly where that spot is, he has a general idea.

The noise that spills out of Hannibal when he finds it makes his dick twitch. He’s tripped up by it, but he doesn’t let that stop him in his onslaught. Hannibal was merciless their first time exploring Will’s prostate, so Will is equally relentless.

He teases around it, memorizing its exact location and the precise angle of his hand that summons groans out of Hannibal’s throat. And fuck, but Will loves those sounds; loves how they taper off at the end in a wordless request for more and how high and reedy he can get them if he amps up the pressure accordingly. He starts rutting against the bed, hardly a scandal when Hannibal’s grinding his ass down on Will’s fingers, not even bothered at the third one that slips in alongside the other two.

“How will you have me?” Hannibal somehow finds the coherency to ask. His hips strain and lift off the bed, chasing the tempo of Will’s hand.

Will sits up and wrests back his control, fingers stilling where they disappear into Hannibal’s body. He gazes down at Hannibal, thinking and imagining. Sweating, flushed, and dazed about the eyes, Hannibal runs the very tips of his fingers over Will’s stomach, tracing the gnashed scar.

“How ‘bout on your stomach?”

He expects some protest about not being able to look into each other’s eyes, but Hannibal merely nods, having used up all his words on the initial question. Will eases his fingers out and his stomach flips at the eager fluttering of that hole, stretched out for him and slippery with lube. His hands are sticky and he struggles with the condom, but the worst of it is trying not to get lube everywhere while slicking himself up. Hannibal studies him with one hand on his stomach and the other thrown up by his head on the pillow, offering nothing in the way of help.

The only reaction he finally gets out of him is once he’s finally good to go. Hannibal leans up swift and easy, mouth already open and tongue sliding past Will’s lips to taste him.

“You’re sure you don’t mind being on your stomach?”

Shaking his head, Hannibal tells him, “I want it, in fact.”

Will is not prepared for Hannibal to roll over onto his elbows and knees so gracefully. He’s seen proof of Hannibal’s robust athleticism, has seen how he moves like a dancer when they train together. All of his polished, showy elegance whittle down to just this display of vulnerability and Will is breathless with it. His heart’s hammering in his chest and he’s not going to last long at all, goddamn it, but he’s going to make this so good for both of them.

He shuffles forward on his knees between Hannibal’s legs and touches first with his hands. The brand higher up on Hannibal’s back stands out stark on the soft tan of his skin. Will leans over his back and slides his hand over it, covering the dark pink mark with his palm. Hannibal sucks in a quick breath, lungs expanding beneath Will’s palm.

“Will,” he sighs.

It is a tight fit, Hannibal was right about that. He doesn’t look or sound hurt, though the line between pain and pleasure can be blurry, Will knows. The air punches out of his lungs once Will bottoms out, and he makes such an astonished, wanton noise after that Will can’t help but roll his hips.

That same wordless utterance falls from Hannibal’s lips again and he sinks into the bed, held up by Will’s hands at his hips. Will slips one hand around Hannibal’s waist and circles loose fingers around his dick, testing. Hannibal moans, the liquid set to his spine going taut. His hand shoots down to capture Will’s wrist.

Voice grating out in a tight pinch, he breathes, “I won’t last.”

“Neither will I,” Will grits out, persistent and losing himself to the building pace of his hips slamming into Hannibal’s ass. “Fuck, I’m close already.”

Hannibal’s other hand flies out to grasp the headboard, still maintaining the grip he has on Will’s wrist. They’re making so much noise between the rattling bed frame and their gusty panting. A string of non-English sibilants tumbles out of Hannibal’s mouth and Will swears he recognizes one of the words from Indrė Valantinaitė’s poetry.

Will clutches at Hannibal’s hip and palms the perfect circle on his back, gritting his teeth around orgasm when it pulses through him. He’s still shivering out the last of it when Hannibal jerks hard and comes all over the sheets.

“Jesus hell,” he croaks, slumping over onto Hannibal’s back and mouthing at his shoulder. “Did I hear you say something about eternity?”

Hannibal looks to be too bowled over to properly reply, but he does laugh, just a tired chortle at first and then a louder laugh that comes from his belly. Will thinks that laughter means that he’s right—that, or it answers what would have been his next question: whether it was as good for Hannibal as it was for him. He’s never actually heard Hannibal laugh so freely and deeply before. Turns out, it’s contagious.

--

Chiyoh keeps track of news from the American east coast. The general fuss concerning Hannibal’s escape has died down, leaving only the rare few to discuss the possibilities. A certain Freddie Lounds, for one, is especially persistent in her belief that Will helped Hannibal fake their deaths so that they could escape together. She’s not far off the mark, this Freddie Lounds. Leticia offers to hack her to see what else she might know or suspect, but Chiyoh waves her off.

“It’s no fun if you don’t let me stretch my wings, Chiyoh.”

“I let you stretch your legs. Is that not enough?”

Leticia makes a show of extending her bare leg in front of Chiyoh’s face. She wears a cheeky grin on her suntanned face.

“We were made to fly, I think.”

Chiyoh catches her by the ankle and wraps that leg around her waist, standing closer to the counter so that Leti won’t fall by hanging onto her. They’ve been out all day on the beach, walking late on the shore until the bruised sunset gave way to moonlight. It had a familiarity to it, the sand and the sea at dusk. If she gave herself over to being less observant, it would have looked like Belize. She might have thought they were home.

“Do you know no one’s ever given me a nickname? You’re the Kingfisher. I need an impressive sobriquet.”

Smiling indulgently and running her hands down Leticia’s thighs, she asks, “What would you like to be called?”

Chiyoh, that’s not how nicknames work.”

“Then take Kingfisher. You said yourself, it hardly suits me.”

Leticia gives a dramatic sigh, clearly deeming Chiyoh a lost cause. “Still not how nicknames work.”

“Leti is a nickname.”

“Leti is already my name. It’s boring.”

“You’re insatiable.” Chiyoh leans in close to stop Leticia’s retort with a soft brush of lips to the corner of her mouth. The taste there is of cucumber, lemon, and chile pepper. “Why do you worry over such things?”

Eyebrows raised in neat, perfect arches, Leticia muses, “I don’t worry.”

She places her hands on Chiyoh’s shoulders and lifts the thin cardigan off. The brilliant blue fabric appears almost neon in the dim lighting of their extravagant hotel suite. Leticia had picked out this outfit for her to wear today and Chiyoh hadn’t spared it a moment’s thought outside of noting how bright the colors were. At the time, the selection hadn’t seemed to indicate anything apart from Leticia’s constant desire to accentuate and show off Chiyoh’s beauty just as she does her own.

It still looks like it may have been an accident—the blue of the cardigan calling to mind the blue of a kingfisher’s plumes. Leticia pushes it off Chiyoh’s shoulders and tugs it further down her arms until it puddles around her feet like discarded wings.

Leti smiles sweetly and whispers, “I love to see you in colors.”

“You have that in common with my brother,” Chiyoh struggles to say, stumbling over the appellation.

Blessedly, Leticia doesn’t remark on it. She only tilts her head back and contemplates Chiyoh’s face, searching her eyes briefly before making an untraceable decision. She sits up and braces her hands on the edge of the counter for leverage. Chiyoh takes her weight easily, unthinkingly. Leticia has always been light and small, strong in ways that have nothing to do with physical strength.

But Chiyoh is strong in the physical sense and Leti likes that she is, so she secures Leti’s knees higher around her waist. The heat of her drags along Chiyoh’s stomach as she’s lifted, warm where their bellies brush and warm between her legs where her skirt has ridden up. She stares with wide eyes and lips loosely parted around slow, patient breaths.

It feels only natural to claim the first solid surface. Chiyoh very nearly decides on the table but passes it up for the couch, thinking it should be the more comfortable choice.

Leti tugs hard at Chiyoh’s arms and rolls them over so she can be on top. Her long skirt is still rucked up above her knees, letting her straddle Chiyoh’s waist without a hitch. Surging up to take her lips in a hard kiss, Chiyoh works her hand under that frilly skirt and presses her palm over the mons pubis. Leticia gasps encouragement into her mouth and rocks down on her hand, seeking blindly for the right kind of pressure where she wants it.

Chiyoh weaves her fingers through her Leticia’s hair to hold her steady and rubs circles into her clit with two fingers. Her hips twitch up to chase that friction, mouth falling open around deeper, ragged breaths. She clenches rhythmically through her pelvis and stomach, working herself faster toward orgasm even as the fingers touching her slow down.

Past a point, the pressure and the speed don’t matter anymore, and the gentlest tap sets her to shivering. Slack and noisy with pleasure, Leticia forgets to be crass and coy and demanding. She takes what is presented to her and reacts with the full force of her body. Chiyoh slips her hand beneath the waistband of Leticia’s panties and flattens her fingers between her slick lips until Leticia’s frantic and breathless.

She comes pressing open-mouthed kisses to Chiyoh’s neck. While she catches her breath, Chiyoh eases her hand free and sucks a shiny finger into her mouth, doing little to be subtle because she knows what seeing that display will do to Leticia.

Her throat bobs with a hard swallow and she moves down the couch immediately to nestle between Chiyoh’s legs. She strips her bare from the waist down and savagely starts in on her clit. She swipes it with her tongue in broad, heavy strokes and groans against her like she’s never tasted anything quite like it. Her cheeks hollow from sucking up the mons and then further down at the labia. Chiyoh begins to lose track of her exact progression beyond that point, but it’s unyielding and vicious and rough.

The hands holding her in place keep her rooted in the moment. Leticia keeps one flat and sure over Chiyoh’s stomach. The other supports her back when she can no longer keep her hips pointed at an angle that Leticia can reach easily with her mouth.

Chiyoh writhes and digs her shoulders restlessly into the couch cushions, letting out a yelp when Leticia grabs her leg and hoists it over her shoulder. Her tongue presses relentlessly at Chiyoh’s clit and her hips surge up in time with the convulsion that ripples down the length of her body. Leticia holds her through it, tongue pressing down hard but not moving otherwise. One of her hands stains Chiyoh’s thigh with the pink impression of a handprint.

When the rushing in her ears has quieted and the insensate shivers have waned, Chiyoh blinks her eyes open and runs her fingers through Leticia’s hair. She’s resting her cheek on Chiyoh’s stomach, scratching her nails lightly down one exposed hip.

“I will think of a nickname for you,” she mumbles.

Leticia turns to nose her belly. The slow stretch of her smile tickles at Chiyoh’s skin.

Chapter Text

Leticia smells faintly like coconut milk. Her dark hair spills over the pillow and tickles Chiyoh’s nose. She sleeps soundly, which is a nice change of pace from her usually restless nights. Daylight’s approach begins to color the horizon a washed blue when she starts to get out of bed. The various mixed blues remind her of the gradience of anemone petals. A small part of her wonders if it is impractical to have wished for this respite to replace the life she shares with Hannibal and Will.

Surely, they must want a life apart from her for the two of them alone. It is the nature of family to branch apart for the sake of independence while maintaining roots that bind and return at the source. It wouldn’t be so terrible to grow apart and to choose. All the stronger would their bonds be when they returned to one another, and they would return, of course.

They have had every chance to walk away and leave each other behind, but here they are. Every one of them has made a choice. Even Leti, for all that she sees herself as separate from the whole, chose them.

She stirs under Chiyoh’s heavy gaze from the edge of the bed. A single wrinkle mars the spot between her eyebrows and Chiyoh’s heart squeezes at the sight. She smooths her palm over Leti’s arm and up the sensuous mound of her shoulder.

“What time is it?” Leti sighs, eyes still closed and voice gritty at the edges with sleep.

Chiyoh bends down to brush her lips over Leticia’s temple. “Almost dawn.”

Making a gruff sound of disagreement, Leticia twists over onto her back. Her hands grasp clumsily for purchase on Chiyoh’s wrist that she might pull her back down to bed. Leticia doesn’t quite succeed in taking hold of her, but Chiyoh lets herself be moved anyway. They fit together easily, cocooned in the smell of warm, exposed skin. Leti shifts until the pulse in her neck lines up perfectly with the slack pressure of Chiyoh’s lips where they hover along the vein. Their essences, blood and breath, mingle as naturally as the sea and the wind.

She doesn’t let herself think about storms or the thrashing tide. It is enough to be symbolic without edging into darker analogies. They have had a hard separation already, Chiyoh and Leticia. Nothing further must be drawn out of them for either to believe in their chance at happiness together.

They both know this morning is set for Chiyoh’s departure back to Belize and are both resigned to it, but the unwelcome reality of it is still difficult to bear. Leticia drifts back into a doze, her fingers slipping from the spaces between Chiyoh’s knuckles. She mumbles an unhappy word halfway between languages and falls asleep. Chiyoh waits awhile, but it’s been decided already and pushing back the date will only delay the inevitable.

She grudgingly untangles herself from Leti’s arms, from the slow, patient lull of dreams and trapped-in body heat, and wavers only at the soft, incredibly unlikely sound coming from Leti’s mouth. Her demeanor in sleep isn’t restless or harassed, so Chiyoh doesn’t move to wake her, but she can’t help lingering. Leticia’s gentle, high-pitched snore persists while Chiyoh watches, entranced. Awake, Leticia almost never makes a sound like that.

Almost never, Chiyoh thinks with a smile, thinking on how Leticia shrieks when the ticklish soles of her feet are touched. Except this isn’t shrill laughter but odd, wonderful snoring, and Chiyoh is never going to stop giving Leticia grief for it.

It’s actually as she’s grabbing the doorknob to leave for the bus station that she remembers where she’s heard a similar sound in nature before. In Peru where she lived with John, a hummingbird had fallen asleep on the leaves of an alstroemeria plant on his back porch. He’d brought her to see the tiny slumbering bird, teetering on a leafy green shoot like a lumpy wad of gray cotton. Its tiny chest heaved a little with its throat in time with chirped snores. She’d thought that tiny bird was so endearing.

Chiyoh walks back into Leti’s room, crouches by her side, and kisses her hair. She whispers, “I will see you again, Colibrí.”


Fitting that they would both be birds. Chiyoh wouldn’t want to fly if Leticia couldn’t, after all.

Outside, the breeze is cold and the air unforgiving. Dew speckles the grass and makes the chill on Chiyoh’s arms fiercer but almost more refreshing for it. She doesn’t want to be comfortable knowing the joy she’s walking away from. However temporary, it’s still a departure.

Chiyoh hates to be the one walking away again. All she could give were promises to come back, promises for them to leave together next time. She means to keep those promises.

On the bus home, she flips again through Will’s little book. She has done her best not to leave any trace of her influence on the pages, but there is a bit of give to the spine in one well-worn place. Having only discovered it now, she can’t say if she caused it to flip open at one section or if Will did, but when she sees which page it opens at, she thinks it was Will after all since it expounds upon the concept of taming.

“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…” 

She stares at the words and reads them over a few more times. The thought of taming anyone had been abhorrent and confining for Chiyoh, but for Will, if Will had been the one to crease the spine here, it had been intriguing, perhaps even sentimental: a thing to be desired. For his wildly macabre ability to imagine anything, maybe he had sacrificed—or perceived that he sacrificed—his capacity to be tamed; to want to tame another human being. In reading that passage again and again, she can see that it isn’t just Will but Hannibal as well.

The two of them, spoiled for choice their whole lives, coveted by any- and everyone for a thousand different ignoble reasons, finding no one they could think of keeping…they really do deserve each other.

Chiyoh closes the book and puts those lofty deductions out of her mind. It is good that her thoughts would lean in this direction on her way back to them. Their precise volley of words and deceptions might shock her system after the palate cleanser that her time with Leticia served to be. She means to be honest with them about her intentions once she returns, but she’ll have to do it on their terms, in the risky, duplicitous language of the monstrous masquerading as human.

They are tamed, though, and she can only hope that this claim lessens the danger they pose to one another. It intensifies their threat to outsiders, definitely, but they’ve felt the consequences of making the wrong choice before. If aspirations of love are not enough to protect them from themselves, then she can only conclude that love is not for them.

But love is the almost nameless thing she feels consuming every molecule of her being—a frantic, surging flood of emotion that overtakes everything else—so she knows, deep in her heart, that it can be. That love can be their truth if they let it be.

--

Will learns Hannibal’s body in the manner of an astronomer who stays up through the night scouring the stars to uncover their mysteries. He finds constellations in the rough stubble at Hannibal’s throat, comet flashes in the glint of his teeth, and glowing, spinning planets at every plane of skin that beats insistently with his pulse. Hannibal wears his elation dizzily and recklessly in the splay of his limbs and the slow twitch of his smile.

The indulgent happiness that fills up the entirety of his existence at the slightest of touches from Will would be seen and understood regardless of whether he hid it or not, so he does not hide. Hannibal hides nothing from him. If he has his way, that stifled, hideously false taint of indifference will never steal this honesty from them again.

Besides, it is too gratifying to bare all in the buzzing minutes following a round or two of (unsurprisingly) athletic sex. He had thought to be amazed at Will’s total lack of reservations about fashioning the most adventurous and iconic scenes from what could be a very simple, even mundane act of carnal pleasure. It excites Hannibal more to view these encounters as a preview to other such activities that they will engage in together, and soon.

Needless to say, the Great Red Dragon does not stray far from Hannibal’s mind afterwards. During, the farthest he can think is the red starbursts his fingers have painted on Will’s back, his arms, his stomach, and elsewhere. But after, oh, after, he imagines those flaming blotches of flushed skin as someone else’s blood splashed hot and glistening on Will’s throat, his face, his hands.

Any renaissance painter would have sold their soul to paint Will this way, as an angel of death and deliverance, eyes bright but impossible, and cold in the most devastating, alluring sense of the word. Any spectator to the masterpiece that he is would give him the world just for a glimpse of warmth in that piercing stare.

Hannibal would refuse every one of those offerings to keep Will for himself. Hannibal has given up the world to keep what they have for himself, for them.

He opens his eyes to look at Will, at the splendorous, burning skin that he is permitted to worship with his hands and his eyes and his mouth. Will cracks an eye open without lifting his face from the pillow. He has found through trial-and-error that he prefers to be on his stomach or on top if Hannibal is to be inside him; by the same process, he has discovered that if their roles are in the reverse of what they were tonight, he likes for Hannibal to be on his back or on his side.

Hannibal cannot make up his mind as to which assemblage of limbs and mouths he likes best, but there is no need of designating a favorite. They are new to this art form, and like any budding practitioners come to a new and unseen medium, it will take time to become acclimated to this auxiliary realm of sensation and expression, of call and response.

They spend their mornings and their nights in bed. In the afternoons, they go out to the beach or sail on the water. Hannibal practices his footwork in the sunroom, unarmored and unarmed, while Will plays arias on the harpsichord. He is playing Bach’s BWV 988 when Chiyoh comes home.

She looks much herself but incrementally changed, too. A glossier tan darkens her skin and makes her appear warmer, more inviting. There’s a lightness to her usual severity that Hannibal notices immediately, and rather than be alarmed by this difference, he finds it soothing. Chiyoh is not given over to smiling frequently or easily, but even without smiling outright, she radiates calm happiness that lends a rare softness to her beauty.

Hannibal embraces her and does not conceal his tender smile at how she approaches Will with the unthinking swiftness of one rehearsed in affection before faltering and stepping away. Will, adorably baffled, blinks and stumbles where he stands. Ignoring the faux pas completely, Chiyoh offers him a book from her bag and breezes upstairs, offering no excuse or explanation whatsoever. In fact, she had come and gone without a word to either of them.

Glancing from the book to Hannibal, Will says, “You saw that, right?”

“I did, yes.” Hannibal laughs softly, unable to stop himself. “It would seem our time apart has done her some good.”

“I thought she’d be glad to get away from us, but I didn’t expect her to be happy about coming back.”

“Perhaps she feared we would be gone, or her home destroyed.”

Will looks up at the ceiling and shakes his head. Sounding disappointed, he concedes, “Yeah, actually, I can see that.”

Chiyoh rests in her room for an hour before Hannibal’s curiosity gets the better of him and he goes to check on her. Will stays downstairs at the harpsichord, the first notes ringing out loud and clear even from the top landing of the stairs. The melodious music can leave no doubt as to where exactly in the house Will is. It is undeniable and unfortunate that some tension still exists between Chiyoh and Will, no matter how they endeavor to blunt it, but Hannibal appreciates Will’s deliberate, albeit manifest, declaration of space.

He knocks at Chiyoh’s door and lets himself in when she calls for him to enter. She’s sitting upright at the head of her bed with her legs folded up beneath her and a pillow held in her lap.

Hannibal comes as far as the foot of the bed. “May I sit?”

“Yes.”

The dying sunlight streams in through the window, illuminating her face and casting him in half-darkness. She watches him and he mirrors her, wondering at her hesitancy.

“Has something happened?”

She avoids his eyes and turns to show him the exquisite lines of her strong jaw. Her high, regal cheekbones catch the light, bronzed and rouged from sunlight, from emotion. Hannibal glances briefly through the opened window at the tossing sea and the burgeoning tide breaking over the shore below. Chiyoh’s hair shivers at her shoulders with the draft, but she holds herself still as a statue. The smell of salt pervades the room, carrying with it the essence of a cleansing.

Hannibal doesn’t repeat his question. He merely waits out her silence, well aware that one cannot rush the thunder from lightning. His reward, when she speaks, is as satisfying as he anticipates. She looks at him, as beautiful and terrible as the most sublime cliffs or the most explosive supernovas, and gives him a name.

“John Brigham,” she says, eyes sparking like another flash of lightning. “His name is John Brigham.”

--

Will is astonished at Chiyoh’s offer more than anything else. He knows she’s a killer and that she’s taken life for protection and for money alike, but he hadn’t thought she would facilitate sanctioned violence at this level—much less, that she would orchestrate the event so neatly. She’s explained it all to Hannibal and they’ve brought the details back to him for his input.

He doesn’t hate the plan. Actually, he finds that he’s pretty excited at the prospect of getting his hands nice and bloody again. The thing that’s bothering him is that something anxious and messy catches on the edges of his thoughts when he lets himself ponder it in closer detail. It’s indefinable at this stage. The nagging feeling at the back of his thoughts eludes him, so he pushes it away for later.

Once or twice, a traitorous voice in his head tells him it’s a trap and that that’s what his uncertainty stems from. But it’s too soon to make that assumption, and if there’s anything at all that Will learned in his work with Jack Crawford, it’s that making assumptions makes an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.

So he shelfs his doubts and lets himself imagine what it’ll be like to kill again, to kill again with Hannibal at his side, both of them on the same page, wanting the same thing. The possibilities are endless, and now Chiyoh is with them—both of them, and not just Hannibal.

And Will picks up on that, too. There’s a renewed sense of solidarity with Chiyoh that they didn’t have before. He’s not sure how or why it happened, but it’s palpable. She stands closer to him when they’re in the kitchen together, she doesn’t inch away when he sits next to her at the harpsichord, and she actually touches him when they suit up for kendo.

They aren’t big, obvious touches, but Will can’t not notice them. If he slouches or plods with his feet in a practice match, she nudges him with a hand or foot on the offending body part. If he is standing in front of a drawer she needs access to, she taps once at his ribs with impersonal fingertips to get him to move. If he goes to join her at the window of the kendo room for a cup of tea while the sun rises, she raises no objections when he sits close enough to almost rub shoulders with her.

It’s strange and nice and Hannibal approves wholeheartedly, though he understands it about as well as Will does. His best guess, though he keeps it to himself, is that it has something to do with Leticia. Chiyoh hasn’t told him and Will doesn’t want to pressure her by asking.

Instead, he shares something of himself with her. Touch fosters familiarity; familiarity ushers in affection and intimacy. Talking can do those things, too, when it’s the right kind. Chiyoh’s got the touching part down, so Will figures that talking makes the most sense for his own approach.

“Kintsukuroi?” she repeats, with better pronunciation and only a touch of incredulity. “For what purpose?”

Will shrugs, not wanting to get into Hannibal’s love of Stephen Hawking and metaphysics. He searches in his mind for a potent memory to offer her that will convince her of his strategy. The one he finds fights against being spoken, but he has come to be stronger than his pain, so he tells her—really tells her—about the night Abigail died.

They’re sitting side by side on the beach behind the house, water lapping up to their ankles but no further. Hannibal is inside creating tiramisu that would make gourmet chefs weep, so it’s just the two of them, alone. He chooses now because it’s the first time he’s felt like Hannibal wouldn’t overhear them discussing teacups. It’s windy out tonight but not so much that it interferes with the tranquility inherent to being so near the push and pull of the sea.

“It was after he cut me open,” he says, voice even, devoid of the many emotions this memory has fueled him with over the years. “But also before. Told me about time and how it can’t go backwards. You smash a teacup, it stays broken.”

He looks at Chiyoh. She nods once.

“The point being, that we can’t reverse time—that our actions are permanent. But what he did…he thought he could take it back,” Will murmurs, barely audible over the elements conversing around them. “And he almost did. That one thing that I thought I couldn’t compromise on, that I swore I couldn’t forgive.”

He scoffs and lets his breath wither with the breeze. Chiyoh stares intently at him, waiting to hear the rest. They’ve spoken about who Abigail was and who she had the potential to be, the two of them, but they’ve never talked like this, not about anything.

“I changed my mind. All it took was her standing there, looking at me. He brought her back to life. Right before my eyes.”

Chiyoh’s expression is pensive when he tears his gaze away from the waves to look at her. Also in a faint voice, she says, “You want to reverse time.”

“Yes.”

“It won’t be whole,” Chiyoh shouts over the wind as it picks up. A little pinch knits between her eyebrows. “It will never be what it was.”

“Erasing what came before was never an option.” He stands and holds out his hand to help her to her feet. “All I want is a second chance.”

She stares at his hand for a moment before taking it. They start to walk back toward the house.

“I understand,” she tells him a good long way before they get to the patio.

“Will you help me?”

Chiyoh stops walking and touches his arm to make him stop, too. Her black hair whips around her face in the wind, but her expression doesn’t shift from its serious set.

“If you will help me, then yes.”

He frowns, perplexed. “With what?”

She presses her lips together and takes her hand away from his arm. It looks as though it pains her to confess it aloud, but she tells him: “Keeping someone safe.”

And then Will comprehends, in a rush, what that sour dread was that had filled his heart and made his hands sweat. He can’t remember the last time, if ever, that he got this strong of a revelation from Chiyoh. Through the glass door, he can peer into the kitchen where Hannibal is. Thankfully, he’s not staring at them but bustling about in his rose-printed apron, cleaning up after himself.

Will looks back to Chiyoh and sees her fear, well-hidden though it is. He sees it.

In the deepest part of him where instincts flower like drops of dye staining clear water, his visceral, immovable response to that fear is to reach for her hand. His very next impulse—once he’s already caught that hand in his, naturally—is to let go. But Chiyoh has him and she keeps him, and she knows that he has gathered what her motivations are. How much they mean to her.

There’s no way Will couldn’t know how much Leticia means to her. He glances back into the house, back at Hannibal who is watching them now. His eyes, Will can tell even from this distance, hone in on the place where their hands meet. Of course Will knows what Chiyoh has with Leticia.

Chiyoh is looking in Hannibal’s direction when Will turns his head back to her. She doesn’t look afraid—and she’s not, not for herself. Will understands that, too.

“I think we can help each other,” he says, and he makes it sound like an oath.

And Chiyoh—

Smiles.

She turns and goes into the house, leaving Will to wonder and question in the cloying sea breeze. He thinks of her smile and of Abigail’s many scarves and of a fountain with a handprint, and he thinks to himself, We’ve lost enough. We’ve bled and we’ve lost enough.

He walks inside and closes the door behind him.

Chapter Text

For the past week and a half, Will and Chiyoh have made a hobby of disappearing for hours at a time on the Maboroshi without any explanation whatsoever. Hannibal doesn’t trouble himself with where they go or what they do. It is understood that they will return together, unharmed, and that Hannibal will be waiting for them at home, equally unharmed, until they do. After every outing, Will brings back fish for dinner, sometimes pointing out the few that Chiyoh caught. If he doesn’t indicate one on a given day, he refrains from mentioning whether she had tried or not.

It is a kind of bonding exercise, he supposes. Although there are more complex layers to it that unfold almost without his consideration, Hannibal spends many hours not dissecting their newfound affinity. Whatever bond it is that they cultivate out on the water, far away from Hannibal’s prying eyes, his first instinct is to admire the pair they make.

Chiyoh was still a girl when Hannibal made her acquaintance. In spite of their age difference, his aunt insisted that they be close, so close they aspired to be. Her father had been forced to give her up for reasons that Hannibal never deciphered, but as far as Hannibal could tell, Chiyoh loved the man fiercely. Perhaps she does even now. Loyalty is not a trait Chiyoh learned but a characteristic she was born harboring just as Will inherited his imagination.

A lingering, if misguided, affection for her father is not the sole link that Chiyoh has in common with Will. Chiyoh, too, was raised with an absent mother. Before Hannibal came to her as an adopted brother, she knew the solitude of being an only child. Twin wisps of intangible, infinite fire dance in their eyes. Not a madness shared by two, not at all, but brilliance, an understated spark of genius alive inside them.

Hannibal loves to watch Chiyoh with Will because they are beautifully different but more enchantingly alike than either of them would deign to believe. He thinks, actually, if he said as much over dinner one night, they would hear him. Chiyoh would take in his words rather than reject them on principle. Will would turn them over in his mind, funneling them through the filters of memory and creativity, until he could reshape Hannibal’s bias into his own unique interpretation.

For a week and a half while Will takes Chiyoh out on the water to fish, Hannibal surrenders himself to whimsy. He chooses not to think beyond the mundane simplicity of two people delighting in one another’s company out of convenience and necessity. When the second week comes, Hannibal’s mind goes to work pulling apart the details, beginning with those to be parsed from scent. He compiles smells out of habit, after all. Ever since boyhood, his nose has sought out the essences that cling to the world.

How some people will look longer on people and objects they are fond of, Hannibal seeks out the aromas clinging to Chiyoh and Will. Without particularly wanting to pry into what they have been up to, he can unravel the notes that make up their perfume. He can envision the things they touched, how far out on the water they traveled, and how mercilessly the sun came down over their heads. Especially when they spar late into the evenings in the sun room, sweat wafting off them with every step and strike, he smells the sea salt spritzed into their hair, the glow of the sun’s warmth absorbed into their skin, and the grit-and-resin odor of lacquer under their fingernails.

He doesn’t know what it means at first. He rebels against knowing what it means. Peering too deeply where he’s yet to be invited is not a gambit that has worked favorably for him where Will is concerned. Hannibal makes concentrated efforts to concern himself instead with dinner preparations and the dossier Chiyoh’s provided on John Brigham.

But even then, the gears in his analytical mind turn and turn and turn, though not in regard to John Brigham. The man’s character is basic enough to grasp in one cursory glance: a retired police chief from Boston, competent in his field and well-liked by his peers, despite a tailspin that hit right at the end of his career. Encrypted files from the Boston P.D. archives cannot be easy to come by to the layperson, and Hannibal isn’t naive. Chiyoh was an assassin, not a hacker.

Not a forger either, Hannibal muses, thumbing thoughtfully over his passport with one hand and scrolling through the dossier with the other.

Someone else arranged for them to have access to the files, meaning that someone else knows of their plan to pursue John Brigham. Hannibal flips through Chiyoh’s passport next, idly scanning the falsified document before lifting it delicately to his nose and breathing in.

Hannibal doesn’t mean to draw connections. He doesn’t, truly.

He had hoped, and it had been Will’s hope as well, that they could relax here. That they could be free and contained within one another for a while longer until the chaos of their destined life ensues once more. Hannibal hasn’t lost his hope for that peace, nor has he relinquished his faith in their capacity to have it after they have killed John Brigham. Hannibal is endlessly optimistic about the life they can have together, the life they have together now.

So really, it’s with the most profound sense of love and empathy that he sets the table that night for dinner, calls Chiyoh and Will in from the shore where they’ve been walking along the water for the past hour or so, and decides that he will not intervene.

Of course, there are many ways to do nothing.

“I was thinking,” he says, pouring from a freshly opened bottle of Madonna del Piano.

Will swirls his glass near his mouth to breathe in the wine, muttering, “That’s never a good thing.”

Hannibal points a pert glance at him. Will raises his eyebrows and takes a leisurely sip of his wine. When he sees that Hannibal won’t back down from their bout of staring, his eyes sparkle in humorous defiance just as he deliberately flicks his tongue out over his bottom lip. Chiyoh covers her wine glass with her hand and looks up at Hannibal expectantly, distracting him from the sensation that is Will’s mouth.

“What were you thinking, Hannibal?”

Her voice is to his ears what looking into a diamond is for his eyes: transformative and mystifying like a gateway into a place where time doesn’t exist. Perhaps she has this effect on him because they came to this point from an old world and from old wounds, rejuvenated. Chiyoh is living proof that consequences can be better than complete reversals. She has this in common with Will, too. She is exceptional just like him in that Hannibal does not want to condense her into one or two memories.

He does not want her to be a bird in a cage either. At one time, he thought he did, but at one time, he also thought he wanted that for Will. None of them were ever meant to be kept in chains, and certainly not by him. Not when they would stand by his side of their own volition, of their own choice to remain a part of this family they have created.

With love in his heart and a startling whirl of empathy that he wonders if Will can sense, Hannibal smiles and tells her, tell them both, “I would like for your friend to come with us when we kill him. Remind me of her name, Chiyoh? I think it was Leticia.”

A long awful moment keeps her suspended in breathlessness. Chiyoh feels her face fall, her heartbeat flounder in her chest, and though she hears Will speaking calmly over the rushing in her ears, she can’t make out his words. Hannibal is looking at her, perceptive eyes seeing all, seeing through, and she should have known. He raises his glass to his nose, swirls, and takes a long, deep inhale, still staring straight into her soul. Right then, she sees her mistake.

After they acquired the passports and spent the night in Leti’s safe house, had Hannibal smelled her on them? On the forgeries? After Chiyoh killed Francisco on Leti’s orders, had Hannibal smelled her on Chiyoh then? Just after she returned from Cancún, where it was no secret that she was going to meet with her ‘girlfriend’, had he recognized that recurring scent and placed a name to it? Did the house smell like Leti? Was there any way that it could?

“I have no wish to be blackmailed,” Hannibal is saying to Will when he’s finally decided that Chiyoh won’t be roused to speak to him. “She knows everything there is to know about us and we know nothing of her. Are you so gullible to think that she will protect our secrets, Will? Even for love?”

“Abigail kept yours,” Will snaps, voice scraping out hoarsely for just a moment over the vowels in Abigail’s name. “You can’t kill everyone who stands even the smallest chance of being more powerful than us.”

“I have no interest in killing her. I could think of nothing more discourteous to one who has been so generous in supporting our family. That is what Leticia is, after all. What she can be.”

“Family?” Chiyoh asks, numb but steadily regaining sensation in small increments.

It is difficult to hear Leti’s name in Hannibal’s mouth—difficult and terrifying. She blinks herself out of her trance and seizes Will’s wine glass from across the table. Anticipating that she will have something to say once she’s downed his drink, Will remains silent and busies himself with filling her glass since Hannibal never got around to doing it. Chiyoh has lost her appetite, but she finishes Will’s drink and then the one he poured for her. She shakes her head and can’t look at Hannibal when the words come tumbling out of her.

“How much of your family has survived you, Hannibal? Who have you left alive that is not sitting here at this table?”

“Jack Crawford is alive, and Bedelia Du Maurier,” Hannibal murmurs, easy as anything, believing himself even as Will and Chiyoh exchange baffled glances. “Alana Bloom and Margot Verger, Frederick Chilton, though that is more for his own stubbornness than for anything I could have contributed.”

“Hannibal,” Will sighs, tilting his head to look up at the ceiling.

Shaking slightly with quiet rage and the too-fast consumption of alcohol, she says, “I suppose you loved all of them.”

“I did,” he answers. “I do. Those who are dead, I love equally. It strikes me that had they lived, they could have been remarkable in their own right. Randall and Abigail and even the Great Red Dragon were singularly magnificent outside of whatever beauty was realized in their deaths.”

Chiyoh grits her teeth, refusing to think of Leti in the context of people Hannibal—and Will—have killed. She says, “And Mischa?”

Hannibal smiles small, eyes shining. He says, “And Mischa.”

Will watches the two of them, stricken but hiding it better than Chiyoh by far. She can only tell that he’s worried by the pale set to his face, the faint quiver in his voice.

He murmurs, “I won’t support this, Hannibal.”

“I would hardly expect you to, Will, if I meant her harm,” Hannibal replies, looking between the two of them. “Mr. John Brigham will do beautifully when we are ready, Chiyoh. He makes a handsome enough gift. I only wish to give you this in return. It was your intention, was it not? One life paid for with another? Allow me to complete the bargain.”

“Why, Hannibal? Why would you trouble yourself to do this for me?”

“It is hardly any inconvenience to me if it could ease your mind. I am not immune to the joys of loving a mind so near in essence to your own. Neither am I blind, much as I endeavored to be. I would merely like for us to believe in the best of each other as we once did, and I would like to extend that trust to Leticia.”

Chiyoh doesn’t sleep that night.

She leaves her bed in the early hours before dawn and sits at the opened window in the training room, unsurprised to find Will already there. It has become common for them to escape in each other’s company, as intense as Hannibal’s focus can be. They have hardly spoken of Leticia in the dire terms of one whose life must be protected. More than anything else, Will has taken to asking after the ordinary oddities that make up her personality. Talking with him on the water has never felt oppressive or nerve-wracking. Imagining what will happen when Hannibal inevitably gets his way and Leti comes here to meet him, though, is both those things.

“Chiyoh,” Will begins, taking a slow, uneven breath. “I know how he seems right now. You can’t let him rattle you.”

“Do not presume to tell me what I cannot do after it has been done.”

He pushes his fingers gently against his eyes. Dark rings have formed just above his cheeks, giving his eye sockets an abused look. Sleep eluded him, too, then. Chiyoh has no opinion about that if it’s true.

“No, I’m…I’m telling you this. You’ve never been afraid of him. If you start now, you’ll never stop.”

“Do you speak from personal experience?”

Will’s expression clears and then hardens. “I’ll let you know.”

“You have never been afraid of him,” Chiyoh observes, for all that is tastes sour like a lie on her tongue.

He leans back on his hands and tips his head back, rolling his neck. A long, quiet sigh eases out of him.

“I have been…betrayed and furious, jealous, hungry, overwhelmed, and disgusted by him, with him, for, about, all of it. I’ve only ever been afraid of myself.”

Chiyoh’s lips pull into a wry, tiny smirk, flying in the face of every other emotion that rages inside of her. She mutters, “From the very beginning, you could command him. Your weakness was that you did not know it, and when you did, you could not bear the repercussions of that power.”

Will cracks a smile, looking exhausted and rebellious, especially so in his eyes. “Don’t psychoanalyze me.”

“For all the world, I could not.”

“For far less than that,” Will says, “you have.”

That they have not mentioned Leti by name calms her some. Will is visibly stressed, but his mind is working to find a solution. He may have hit upon something even now, even this soon. She looks at him, imploring him to tell her the truth.

“Do you believe what he said?”

Will studies her face, moonbeams filtering down to cast light on his scarred cheek. Much of the healed wound has been obfuscated with the thick beard he’s been growing, but she can see the raised, jagged scar tissue beneath his dark facial hair if she only searches for it. He is more handsome for how the beard and the scars shadow him appropriately with age. When she first saw Will, Chiyoh thought he was beautiful, but he is not beautiful now. Now he is dear. Now he is more than beautiful. Now he is something like a brother and nothing like a stranger. He is someone.

“I believe, Hannibal believes what he said.”

“Hannibal always believes in himself,” she sighs, turning to stare at the waxing moon.

“I believe in my promise to you,” Will amends, albeit weakly.

It is, all told, more than Chiyoh should realistically be able to hope for. But she does, and she believes in that promise, too. She has to believe in it—not for Leti alone but for herself as well. It matters to her where it hasn’t before that someone should be here for her when Hannibal isn’t and when Leti can’t be. It matters to her that Will’s lack of use for her parallels the absence of utility she sees in him.

He is a friend if he can’t be called a brother. He is a rose, a fox, a little prince; the direct analogy hardly concerns her.

Chiyoh can’t say that. She can’t say anything, so she places her hand between them on the floor, hardly flinching at all when Will covers it with his own. Gritty sand sticks to her sweaty palm. Will’s, by comparison, is warm and dry against the back of her hand.

It isn’t the same after, with Chiyoh or with Hannibal. In the boat on the water, she frets and stares out at the horizon like the thing she wants most in life will always be out of reach. At home, anywhere, Hannibal is himself, unperturbed, untouched by the casual calamity of his decisions. It’s worse being around Hannibal for that reason. It tugs and snaps at Will’s brain for that reason.

He can make mathematical sense of Chiyoh’s behavior, of the worried tension in her brow and around her mouth. She doesn’t voice her concerns unless Will brings up the topic first, but he can see her, always. Thinking, worrying.

With Hannibal, he only gathers amused quietude. He is quiet regardless of where he is or what he’s doing; at dinner, in the mornings before Will rolls out of bed, at night when they don’t have sex—at night when they don’t have sex and Will unrolls idle fantasies in his mind for a good few minutes before he catches himself. There are many ways to use sex as a bargaining chip, but they wouldn’t work on Hannibal, and frankly, Will wouldn’t want them to. Insofar as they’ve explored each other’s bodies in any thousand ways, that act has only ever been for them. Will doesn’t want to change the purity of it, the utter selfishness of what Hannibal’s body does to him and vice versa.

So yes, even if Will is irritated with Hannibal and doesn’t quite know how to balance being on his side with being on Chiyoh’s side, his feelings haven’t changed. His heart hasn’t changed. He always knew Hannibal was this person. A part of Will has always craved this person in Hannibal and has always wanted to match it. On the other hand, there is a bigger part of him, the part of him that actually listens to his conscience more often than not, that knows a promise is a promise. He can’t let Chiyoh down, not when he sees what Hannibal’s dinner announcement is doing to her.

They aren’t working especially hard to keep the golden joinery a secret anymore, but now that Chiyoh brings plates and bowls on the boat with her to smash and subsequently repair, Will has an easy cover should Hannibal ever think to ask what they do out there besides fish. For his own part, Will has already sealed together the parts of the mug Hannibal broke. Before he can sand down the seals and dust over them with the silver powder, the mug needs to dry in a Muro for a week. It’s a special box that Chiyoh made for him, like a kiln but without fire. The chopsticks at the bottom of the box serve as a grille for his mug and Chiyoh’s broken dishes.

She takes the boat out alone one morning and tells them not to wait up for her. Will doesn’t even worry anymore that she’ll abandon them, though he realizes as he’s watching her sail away that she has more of a reason to leave them now than she ever has. He leaves Hannibal on the shore and climbs the stairs to go their room, only to linger at the second floor landing. Hannibal stops just before the first step, hands hanging at his sides.

“Are we going to have an argument on the stairwell, Will?”

“We’re not having an argument.” Will rubs at his temples and sits on the topmost step. “I don’t know what to say to you.”

“Then say nothing,” Hannibal muses, beginning a slow and patient ascent up the stairs. He doesn’t stop until he is at eye level with Will. “Look at me. Hold nothing back and simply look at me.”

Will gives a helpless little chortle. “Is that the only way you know how to be honest with me?”

“It may be the only way for anyone to be honest with you.”

“Or you could talk to me, like a real person. I am a real person, Hannibal. You know that, right? Not some reincarnation of…I don’t know who you like for me, Apollo?”

“It was Apollo who struck Achilles down,” Hannibal counters, words laced thinly with disapproval.

Sighing, Will says, “Charon then because—okay, no, we’ve had this conversation before. I don’t want to hear it again.”

“Then what would you hear?”

Looking at him from between his fingers, Will pauses and listens to the empty house settling around them, the breeze coming in soft and slow through the downstairs windows. Hannibal watches him, expectant, unguarded. A shameless opportunist if ever there was one, Will parts his lips, licks them. He waits for Hannibal to notice.

Nearly an hour later, with one arm thrown over his eyes and the other haphazardly spilled over the edge of their bed, Will tells him, “You can’t be at odds with her. It makes things confusing for me.”

He’s out of breath, groaning every other word for the wrung out state his body’s in. Hannibal’s still on top of him, hasn’t moved up far enough to let Will slip free. His skin is shiny and flushed when Will peeks up at him, but he holds his own. He speaks eloquently and not like he just fucked himself on Will’s dick until they were both shouting in languages not entirely English, not entirely anything else either.

“I don’t want you confused, Will.”

There is still that delectable treat, though. When they have sex, whether orgasm is imminent or if it happened twenty minutes ago, Hannibal is incapable of making Will’s name sound like anything but a breathy, raspy moan. He can recite ten-page poems in English, French, and Italian, but he can’t call out for Will and sound halfway respectable while doing it. Will considers that a pretty damn wonderful accomplishment on his end.

“Then don’t do this to her. If you take this relationship away from her, you’re taking away her chance to have a life outside of us.”

“Will,” Hannibal hums, unaware of how he sounds or fully aware and doing it on purpose. “Will, my love.”

He presses his lips to Will’s pulse, his clavicles, the braids of muscle woven beneath his skin. Will closes his eyes and gasps around a grunt as he finally slides out of Hannibal’s hole with a wet schlip. He shivers and takes his arm away from his eyes.

“Deviant.”

“Yes, naturally.”

“What were you going to say?”

“Hmm?” Hannibal laves Will’s nipple with his tongue, moving expertly in time with Will’s squirming so that he never lets up no matter how much Will wriggles beneath him.

“Hannibal, come on.”

“I could make you come again.”

“I know you can. Just pump the brakes a minute.”

“Will.” Hannibal pushes himself up and plants his hands on either side of Will’s head for support. “I want to meet Chiyoh’s lover because I find that the concept of there being such a person in this world gives me peace. I want them to kill John Brigham because it would be interesting to see how they kill together, whether they can. I want them both to be a part of our family because Chiyoh learned to love you for me. It is only right that we might learn to love Leticia for her, if she will have us.”

Will blinks up at him, opening and closing his mouth.

“Why didn’t you just tell her that?”

“Because I killed Abigail, and just as you will never forgive me, neither will Chiyoh. And because the bond between two may grow strongest when faced with a common opponent.”

“You’re terrorizing Chiyoh so that she’ll like me more.”

“Selective hearing is a sign of arrogance.”

“What was that? Did you say you’re an arrogant ass?”

Hannibal ducks his head so that his hair tickles at Will’s navel. There’s a tiny smile flickering at his lips.

“You are an ass,” Will intones, though he’s rolling his eyes rather than rolling out of bed. “Chiyoh’s going to kill you. I think I’ll let her.”

“I thought you would be happy that I told the truth.”

Will narrows his eyes at the ceiling, thinking even as Hannibal’s easing his legs apart. “I can’t believe—oh…goddamn you.”

Chiyoh’s probably going to kill them both. But at least Leticia will be safe.

Chapter Text

The wind over the water today bites at her cheeks even when the boat is at a standstill. She smells wet salt and frigid atmosphere strongly in her nose, so when she closes her eyes, she loses all trace of the man sitting beside her. Hannibal hardly speaks or moves, making him all the more elusive to her senses. It is only when she has her sights set clearly on him that she can reassure herself that he’s here at all.

It has been that way for much of their lives. She can’t say she’s forgotten how to acclimate herself to it.

But this shift, this chasm, between them is not like any other test they have weathered together. They have disagreed in times past, but not about matters that would polarize them such as this matter now. Hannibal says nothing to convince her of his sincerity, of his pledge to do no harm; he leaves that task with Will.

Chiyoh didn’t come out with Hannibal on the water to change his mind—she’s known from a young age that there is little on this earth capable of achieving that end. All she wanted was to have a moment apart with him, outside of Will and Leticia and their shared, interrupted past. Nothing with Hannibal is ever as it was when she was a child. He is the same and she is the same and their relationship is the same, yet the threads binding them like rope have somehow wholly transformed.

I wasn’t becoming anything, she had told Will on the train to Florence. I was standing still.

It’s still the truth. Chiyoh has only ever held her ground. Waited when asked to wait, fled when asked to flee. Remained steadfast in times of hardship, in times of tumult and treachery. She has been oak to Hannibal’s marble and bamboo to Will’s steel. Their searchlight and their rescue.

Having been a savior and an antagonist alike, Chiyoh has never seen herself as entitled to receiving anything from them in return. It’s not in her to think in terms of what one is due.

But she thinks in those terms now. She thinks of her childhood spent at Lecter Dvaras. She thinks of seeing Hannibal with that man, the murderer, who would become her prisoner, and being so young but fearing for the first time in her life that Hannibal might become unreachable. That he might go to a place where she could not ask for him to be still and see him subsequently go still. That his respect and admiration for her all along had been a ruse, easily cast aside at the first moment’s convenience.

But it wasn’t. It hadn’t been.

She asked for him to stop, and he listened. He stopped.

Perhaps, all along, this is what Hannibal has owed her. It feels all the more cruel, then, that he would deny her now when it means the world to her.

“Do you remember,” she says, apropos of nothing that Hannibal could be expected to understand after so long a silence. “How I came to stand beside you when you pulled the knife from his side? I reached for you and my hands turned red. Do you remember?”

“I do.” Hannibal tilts his head when she opens her eyes to look at him. “I remember you were wearing white silks with a gold sash. Between the furisode, the spruce trees, and the blood, I thought you looked like Christmas.”

“The look on your face,” Chiyoh murmurs, remembering with the added weight of context. “You didn’t think I would tell Obasan.”

“Did you tell her of Uncle’s telescope, the one I broke?”

Chiyoh doesn’t respond. They both know the answer is no.

“I knew, perhaps from the moment I met you, Chiyoh, that human life meant little to you from an objective standpoint.”

“Why should the concept of a life mean anything to a child?” Chiyoh snaps, defensive for the unusual little girl she had been and still is, on many levels. “What should I have understood about it anyway?”

“You understood plenty.”

She looks up at the sky, a stalled attempt at tamping down the urge to roll her eyes. The sarcastic edge doesn’t quite clear itself from her words, sounding more like Will than she can actually believe at first: “Because you bled on the olive branch and I didn’t cry or scream or ask if you were all right?”

Hannibal looks at her, eyebrows raised just a fraction. The sound of Will in her voice has startled him, but even if Chiyoh can’t fully accept it, the proof of his influence on her isn’t a surprise. It is embarrassing, though. Her face flushes under Hannibal’s curious, increasingly fond gaze. As if he’s incapable of processing or reacting to rudeness that can claim Will as its provenance, Hannibal merely smiles, pleased.

He muses, “Not the olive branch, Chiyoh.”

Chiyoh turns to watch him, brow furrowing. The scenes replay in her mind.

“The butcher,” she mutters, disdain lining her tone even now, even after all this time. “Momund.”

“When I attacked him, you didn’t scream. You didn’t cry. You didn’t ask Obasan if she was all right. No, Chiyoh, you took up a paring knife from a nearby stand and waited to take a turn with him. I believe you would have, had I not been dragged away.”

She sets her teeth in her mouth. Recalls Hannibal younger, slighter, visibly angry, with blood staining his teeth, restrained by multiple sets of hands. He was looking at her, at the knife in her hand, at the small blade’s tinny clattering once she dropped it. Larger than life, he seemed in that moment. Even held back and with his arms pinned behind his back, he looked the part of a giant towering over the pitiful, spitting beast of a man at his feet.

“In all of my pivotal memories of you, you’re bleeding,” she remarks quietly.

“I have led a bloody life. We all have.”

Chiyoh presses her lips together, considering. “Why did you stop? In the woods with Grutas when I asked you to stop, why did you listen? Not to spare his life, certainly.”

“Certainly not,” Hannibal agrees, amused at the idea. Sobering a little, he stares at her intently. “I stopped because you asked me to stop, because to obey you took greater strength than refusing you would have, and because your voice had already caused me to hesitate. Do you know that Will told me what you said to him?”

“I have said much to Will.”

“That he could command me, though this power terrified him once he saw that he possessed it.”

“He could. It did. I suppose it might to this day.”

Hannibal’s eyes glisten, twinkling joyously and lit up in the sunset’s golden light. “You are so like him, Chiyoh, that I sometimes find it overwhelming.”

She blinks at him, ears ringing with the abrupt absence of high winds.

“But you were never afraid,” he continues, sounding too loud but also too gentle in the silence. “I regret to have tarnished your faith in our bond. My actions have given you cause to doubt me. For that, I apologize.”

He extends his hand to her, palm upturned to accentuate the old deep scar in his wrist. Sunshine shivers over the uneven, healed skin, casting flimsy shadows among the beams of light. Chiyoh tentatively reaches for him, understanding slotting into place just as their fingers do. Calm friction warms her, starting in her fingertips and moving to her palm, her heart, her throat.

“Trust me, Chiyoh, please.”

She squeezes his hand, imagining silver-dusted fracture lines in the etch marks of his knuckles. Chiyoh takes her hand away, turns to face the final scarlet dredges of the sunset, and tells him, “Earn it.”

In place of the wind, she can hear his soft, long suffering sigh.

Will inspects the finished mug while Chiyoh and Hannibal are out on the boat that day. It’s simple, rougher than he’d hoped it would be, and perfect for both of those reasons. Hannibal would give Will an elegantly crafted masterpiece. Would demonstrate a familiarity with gold joinery purely for the practice itself being an art form and smile easily for any praise—or dismissal—his efforts earned him.

But Will’s not Hannibal. It wouldn’t mean anything if he did it the way Hannibal would do it.

So it’s a bit uneven where he polished down the tracks of urushi paste before dusting the mended fracture lines with silver. And maybe the two biggest pieces aren’t aligned just right where gravity ruptured the mug most ruthlessly. Hannibal won’t care.

Will didn’t leave it ugly because he knew Hannibal would adore it either way. He left it ugly because it’s the best he could do and Hannibal won’t overlook it.

By the time Hannibal gets back with Chiyoh, Will’s safely wrapped and hidden the mug from view. He wants to have it close by for the big reveal, and judging from Chiyoh’s speedy escape to her room, there’s no time like the present. She given Will enough indication in their recent conversations that she has no desire to be around when Hannibal sees the completed mug. He doesn’t blame her for being so upset at her current situation or for taking the space that she needs.

Hannibal left Will in charge of dinner preparations after he took off with Chiyoh to the sea, so the coq au vin in the oven is nearly ready to come out. Will sends Hannibal into the kitchen to check on it and recovers the mug from its hiding spot within the harpsichord bench. He’s stuck it in a plain white box with a garish little red bow taped to the top.

Before he can strongly reconsider the shiny, cheerful bow, he marches into the kitchen and places his gift carefully on the counter at Hannibal’s elbow. Hannibal daintily plucks an oven mitt off one hand to brush his fingertips over the curved planes of the shimmering synthetic ribbon. A hum tickles in his throat, sounding accidental and confused. Will shivers, starts to shut it out, and then stops. Shakily, like a colt on new legs, he relaxes into it instead.

“What is it?”

“Open and see.”

Hannibal smiles, perusing the wealth of meaning a single common word can be imbued with. He removes his other oven mitt and lays it down neatly over the other discarded one. Lifting the box to examine it first, he peers over the glittery red bow and says, “I like this color against your skin tone, Will.”

It’s only a matter of tipping the lid up and off. Trust Hannibal to make an event out of it.

“Flattering, considering I’m one of the few people in the world who can hear that as something other than a death threat.”

“It was a compliment,” Hannibal murmurs, tipping the lid back with his gaze firmly fixed on Will’s. His eyes darken, twisting up knots in Will’s stomach that can’t confuse him anymore. Practically purring, he adds, “And an advance.”

“Look at your goddamn present already,” Will tells him, his voice coming out too rough and eliciting a tiny hitch in Hannibal’s breathing.

He looks down as commanded. Will watches.

Hannibal’s expression clears, caught in a wordless moment of confusion. He removes the mug from the box, careful not to dislodge the recently repaired areas. Deeply emotional but selectively emotive people used to overwhelm Will’s sensitivities when he was younger. The false positives and the double bluffed negatives would make his head spin until everything felt gnarled with the briars of untruth. Will got older and the honesty became a lot easier to siphon out from the bullshit.

It’s not like that with Hannibal. Hannibal doesn’t pretend anymore.

Precision is a part of his pathology. It’s a part of the schema Will’s built up in his mind like a temple where Hannibal is deity and supplicant and sacrifice all in one. The look on his face, once he’s consciously decided to reveal it to Will, conveys awe.

“Will,” he says, overfull, trembling almost. “Will?”

“Yes, Hannibal.”

He assesses the glittering silver seals landlocked on all sides by spotless porcelain. Will can see him warring with himself over whether to touch the scars. Hannibal settles for grazing his fingers over the whole sections right on the cusp of the break lines. Will winces around a borrowed feeling of inadequacy, a yearning to sink his fingers into the urushi mixture that made his repairs possible.

Hannibal raises the mug to his nose and bends his neck some of the way to inhale its olfactory footprint. And Will is blind there for just a moment—can’t imagine the world through his nose and nothing else how Hannibal is doing now. It makes him restless for that moment, wild with the want for movement, for tangibility, for something he can wrap his remaining senses around. But then that moment passes and he remembers that he can imagine it even if he can’t feel it.

Will can recreate the bursts of cold and hot air on the boat with Chiyoh, the smell of waves and burbling sea foam and the sodden, vibrant aroma clinging to fish scales. He can remember how the urushi clung to his fingers when he squeezed too much of it onto the bowl and got it on his hand—it smelled like molten sugar; like he had charred caramel speckling his skin and not pungent lacquer.

“You must have known,” he says, opening his eyes to see Hannibal’s still closed. For the first time, novel self-consciousness creeps in at the edges of his perception. “That urushi smell alone never washes out of anything.”

“I had an image in my mind of what you could be devising.” Hannibal opens his eyes, bright with unsurprising tears. “But as ever, Will, you have surpassed my expectations of you.”

“Better quit it then,” Will muses, stepping in closer. “Don’t want you putting me up on that pedestal again.”

Hannibal chuckles, also stepping in closer. He holds the mug close to his chest in both hands.

“Thank you, Will.” He searches Will’s face, searches for more words. “It’s beautiful.”

Actually snorting, Will says, “It’s not. It’s hideous.”

But the weightless sensation in his stomach doesn’t adhere to logic or rationality, and Hannibal doesn’t overlook that either. He lowers the mug to the table with such reverence that one might think a greater artist than Will had given it to him. Hannibal takes Will’s face in his hands, still with the quietly powerful patience of a lifelong acolyte, and leans in close.

Drawing out the pauses in between the words, Hannibal says again, “It’s beautiful.”

Will smiles, understanding. He understood the first time Hannibal said it. He’ll always understand anytime Hannibal says those words to him or vice versa.

“Would you mind terribly if I asked you to wear it?”

“Wear what?” Will leans back so his hairline veers out of range of Hannibal’s lips.

Hannibal reaches for the red shiny bow without even looking and produces it in his palm like a complicated manmade rose. Will blinks at it and at Hannibal, a heady flush overtaking his face, his neck, lower.

“Really?” he breathes, way, way too excited about following through on something so laughably ridiculous.

“I wasn’t lying when I said it paired beautifully with your skin tone.”

“You…” Will scrubs a hand over his face and snatches the bow out of Hannibal’s hand. “Chiyoh’s room is right next to ours, you realize.”

The sound of someone clearing their throat makes Will’s stomach flip with embarrassment. Then he looks up and his heart just about falls through the floor.

“Mr. Graham,” Leticia greets him, milder than he remembers her being. She flits her gaze to Hannibal and good lord above, doesn’t bristle up one bit. “Dr. Lecter.”

“Leticia, I presume.” Hannibal takes a moment to study her. His voice rings out so agreeably that it could nearly pass for harmless. “Please, call me Hannibal. It’s good to finally meet you. Chiyoh’s told me almost nothing about you.”

Looking desperately at Chiyoh who’s standing at Leticia’s shoulder, Will musters up the politesse to say, “Hi, Leticia.”

Chiyoh steps forward, casually menacing Will and Hannibal both with her stance, perhaps without meaning to. Will doesn’t take offense. He gets exactly where she’s coming from. Hannibal doesn’t have the best track record with confronting life-altering news in kitchens or dining rooms.

“What’s for dinner?” Leticia asks, a little unforced bravado, a little genuine curiosity. “It smells delicious.”

“Coq au vin,” Will tells her. “I’m the chef tonight.”

Leticia hums, coming in further to the kitchen with Chiyoh flanking her like a graceful, slightly taller shadow. Will takes in her relaxed demeanor, takes in the warm tan dress that billows down to her ankles, takes in the style of her dark hair that frames her face like a halo, takes in the mysterious twinkling of her eyes fixed on his hand.

On the shiny incriminating red bow that they no doubt heard Hannibal asking him to wear like lingerie.

His fingers tentatively close around it, gently so that it doesn’t crumple in his palm. He clears his throat and sets it in the box the mug was stored away in. Hannibal makes a curt sound in the back of his throat that sounds vaguely like a laugh.

“Later,” he murmurs, obnoxiously owning the moment. “In the meantime, Leticia, would you like something to drink?”

Will glances at Chiyoh and sighs at the resigned look on her face even as Leticia cracks a tiny smirk and asks for whatever they’re having. He realizes in a single discomfiting rush that Hannibal and Leticia are going to hit it off. Whatever reservations Chiyoh had about Hannibal initially, Leticia would not have come here in the flesh if either of them believed she could be in imminent danger.

Which means—or it might mean, Will isn’t sure yet—that Leticia will not hold back from either of them. Hannibal will enjoy that, probably. He’ll like the experimental theater of it; will probably find it cathartic or some other such nonsense and play the humble host.

Suddenly Will’s less worried about Hannibal hurting her. He’ll dive in front of her like a human shield if Hannibal makes any sudden movements, but he trusts Hannibal in this overture. And actually, seeing Leticia banter right back with Hannibal, Will’s more worried about Chiyoh and himself. He just knows they’re going to be on high alert all night, monitoring their respective charges in case of violence or otherwise.

At least that’s a better scenario than what Will imagined when he envisioned this moment playing out. It looks to be better than what Chiyoh imagined, too, and he’s glad Hannibal gave her that much.

Leticia is breathtaking.

Of course she is. Chiyoh is stunning in her own right and of a temperament that she could ensnare anyone if she only put her mind to it. If she were any less discerning, she might have wound up with someone far more ordinary than the enigmatic and intriguing Leticia Villalobos Mendoza.

“He’s right about that color, you know,” he hears her telling Will in a hushed voice. “It suits you.”

Will gives her a flat look like he can’t decide if he should protest or laugh in her face. Leticia sets her fork down and points that look right back at him.

“You and Chiyoh, honestly. Do you have any idea what I would do to your wardrobe?”

“I do,” Hannibal offers into the lip of his glass.

Will scoffs. Chiyoh shakes her head at her plate.

It goes that way with Leticia. She engages them, and though he catches her flinching from his hand once, she gives no telltale indications of thinking very much of him or Will at all. Unflappable, this woman. A rebellious, insatiably curious part of his mind wants to find the means of startling her, but he’s sworn against it. Chiyoh will have his head if he acts out in any overt way, so he intends to make an effort to behave himself.

But by the end of their meal, it simply becomes too much for him to continue the charade any longer. He serves small bowls of pineapple sorbet Will helped him to make two days ago and drops the name of John Brigham. It’s purposeful. Just as Chiyoh was when she first told him.

“Have you met the man?” he asks her, sitting down at the head of the table. It puts him directly across from Leticia where before he had been across from Will. “John Brigham?”

Leticia hesitates. She looks from him to Chiyoh, gauging an unspoken response from Chiyoh’s expression.

“No, I haven’t.”

“Given the contents of the dossier you compiled for us, I can’t imagine that was for a lack of resources or ability.”

Her eyes harden, a quaint, lovely little shift in appearance from enticingly open to flintily hostile. Hannibal hardly meant to access this kind of receptivity so soon, but he won’t allow it to fade now that he has it. Will, sitting across a corner from him, covers Hannibal’s knee with his hand. He squeezes and maintains his hold, conveying to Hannibal with his grip that he should stop while he’s ahead.

Hannibal takes that suggestion and runs in the other direction with it.

“I myself was never afforded the opportunity to meet Will’s wife.”

“You met Molly by proxy when Dolarhyde shot her,” Will growls, taking his hand back from Will’s knee.

“It would have been therapeutic to meet her,” Hannibal carries on, pretending not to be fazed at all by Will’s stormy glare. “It was difficult for me to be separated from you, Will.”

“That’s disgustingly romantic.”

Hannibal looks from Will to Leticia. Her arms are crossed over her chest in a show of defensiveness, but the expression on her face has softened minutely. She glances pointedly at Chiyoh, a little wrinkle inching up between her wonderfully thick eyebrows.

“Is that what I sound like to you?”

Chiyoh closes her eyes, an unwilling, irrepressible smile flickering in the tense line of her mouth. She doesn’t answer, but Hannibal has the sincerest feeling that she wants to say yes. It makes sense to Hannibal if that’s the case. Chiyoh has found her companion in someone frightfully similar to Hannibal just as Hannibal has found his match in someone very much like her. He likes the symmetry of it. They can fit together seamlessly if they are two halves of one whole.

Hannibal sees Will draw that connection, too, in that moment. He sees Will catalogue her boldness in the face of fear, her glib honesty, her reckless, fabricated camaraderie with them that comes from nowhere but still somehow feels as genuine as the real thing.

She is like them. Leticia is charming and caustically cruel and selectively sentimental, and she has chosen them.

There is only one thing Hannibal finds he must know before they retire to bed for the night. With Will and Chiyoh both far more comfortable at this turn of events, it is easier than usual to press onward, to press harder until the blood froths forth from beneath the tourniquet.

“Have you killed before, Leticia?”

She doesn’t blink. She smiles. Hannibal was obligated to find her suitable enough, but now he knows he singularly approves of her. The information makes his heart soar in a great, unabashed burst of love, of tenderness. He’ll claim her if he’s allowed. He’ll accept her into this precious union of theirs if she lets him. And he feels like she will, if only so that Chiyoh will not have to choose between them.

Leticia takes a lingering bite of the sorbet. She says, “You want us to kill Brigham, don’t you? Are those your terms?”

“They are,” he replies, easy as anything.

“I kept him for you,” Chiyoh interrupts, sounding close to outraged at what feels, for Hannibal, like a natural development in the conversation. “Leti is not a part of this.”

“She is, Chiyoh.” Will inclines his head when she jerks to look at him. He shakes his head, at a loss. “Can’t you feel it starting?”

Hannibal can, when he tunes his body into that delectable hypersensitivity Will exists within all the time. He can feel that something is brewing here, that they are becoming a more powerful entity together than they would have ever been apart. Leticia looks down at her emptied bowl, dimly panicked for the first time since Hannibal has seen her.

She stores it away before he can say a word of it. Tamps it down and turns to Chiyoh, reaches to take her hand on the table.

“It’ll be all right, Chiyoh. We talked about this.”

Chiyoh, remarkably blurry at the edges, quietly says, “We will talk about it again.” She turns to Hannibal then, and to Will. Gruffer, she adds, “If you are planning a trick, either of you, I swear you will regret it.”

Will sighs. Hannibal flashes an agreeable smile.

“There’s enough I regret without adding that to the list,” Will tells her, promises her.

Hannibal watches her study him. He sees, for half an instant, how Chiyoh looks almost embarrassed at Will’s response. Hannibal would protect them if it meant sacrificing his dignity, his freedom, his last breath. He would protect them if it meant stifling the flame of his curiosity.

He will protect them. Leticia is a part of them, now. He will protect her, too. He must.

None of that bears saying aloud. Chiyoh doesn’t ask him for oaths. She takes one look at him and deflates, a bleary look of shock evident in the darkness of her eyes. He nods once, meaning to reassure her, and she breathes in, out, and in before standing from the table. Her seat had been across a corner from him, putting her to Leticia’s left and across from Will, so it is no trouble for her at all to throw her arms about his neck and hold fast to him. It is no trouble for him to hold her back, to support her.

After she has retreated upstairs with Leticia and after Will has finished helping Hannibal with the dishes, they sit together on the long couch downstairs. The breeze comes in from the opened doors in the kendo room and bites at Will’s bare feet. He remedies his discomfort by dropping them into Hannibal’s lap, making sure that his chilled toes catch on Hannibal’s thigh just above the knee where his shorts cut off. Hannibal doesn’t mind; merely catches Will’s ankle with one hand to steady him and warms him slowly with the heat from his palm.

“That didn’t go how I was expecting it to go.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I don’t think Leticia really trusted you until right at the end.”

“None of you did,” Hannibal tuts, peppering Will’s cheek and jaw with soft kisses. The gorgeously dark beard Will has grown scratches at Hannibal’s lips, at his cheeks. He’s mad for more of that delicious burn, so he burrows into it with his mouth, his tongue. “It pleases me to surprise you.”

“Well, you did do that,” Will cedes, breathing heavier for Hannibal’s attentions and pulling back to look him in the face. “They’ll do it, you know. They’ll kill Brigham if you say it’s what you want.”

“Blind obedience does not amount to trust, Will.”

“Neither does manipulation.”

Will tips his head back and Hannibal starts in on his throat this time, thinking of the Dragon and of blood in the moonlight. He softens his lips and laps at Will’s throat gently with his tongue, loving the headiness of the contrasts, of the parallels. Will’s skin tastes smooth and touched with the tang of salt-sweat that makes Hannibal’s blood sing in his veins. He plunges his hand down and palms Will’s cock over his clothes, rejoicing to find him half-hard already.

“We aren’t like other families,” Hannibal allows, opening Will’s flies.

“Guess that’s true.” He grunts, lifts his hips, and settles with a deep sigh while Hannibal touches him. “You know what I was thinking?”

“What were you thinking?” Hannibal murmurs, sinking lower, pressing his mouth to Will’s stomach through his shirt. He twists his hand on Will’s cock, saliva filling his mouth at the curt little expletive that earns him. “Tell me.”

“That damn bow—”

Hannibal hums, taking Will in deeper, breathing in the coarse hairs at the root of him. The weight Will poses inside his mouth never fails to intoxicate and override the majority of his other faculties. Will, probably for the combined stress attached to tonight’s dinner and his gift for Hannibal, uncoils all at once like a marionette cut from its strings.

“I…God, you…” Will fists Hannibal’s hair and holds him there, throat straining and mouth stretching, all of it deliriously blissful. “Gonna truss you up. Not like the farm. Better. Fuck, Hannibal, I…”

Will floods his mouth, back arching up off the couch. Hannibal sucks in two full breaths before trying to speak. His voice is broken from Will’s rough use with him, and Hannibal beams, he glows with it. He wants to always and forever be fractured in a real physical way for the visceral effect Will has had on his life.

I like my body when it is with your body,” Hannibal teases, leaning up with his hands on Will’s knees to flavor Will’s mouth with the taste of his own pleasure.

Will hums, sated, buzzing almost at a level that Hannibal can tactically feel. His hand wanders lower and lower down Hannibal’s front while he sits up straighter, wilted about the shoulders as if he wants for sleep. Into Hannibal’s chin, he says, “It is so quite new a thing.

Hannibal gasps into Will’s neck and grins. Quite a new thing, indeed.

Chapter Text

By their first morning together, having Leticia in the house already feels like a natural progression in their time shared together. Will couldn’t have predicted it the first time they met in Cancún, but Leticia was a closed book bound in iron chains and guarded by fire when they met there in her safe house. He could have guessed at something integral and shifting to her if he had thought longer on the final words she spoke to him. If he had not been so caught up in his worry that she would expose them, he would have. Leticia saw as much when she looked at him, and the realization gives him a secondhand swell of pride.

Revelations about Leticia strike him hard that first day. Where she was closed before, now the spine on the almanac has cracked open to let the secrets come tumbling out. It’s not her fault. There’s nothing in her clever but dishonest portrayal of herself that should be tossing out so many clues to Will. It’s in everything she did before ever coming to this house; it’s the fact that she’s in this house now—this house that she procured for Chiyoh and her found family. It’s the culmination of past choices that he can trace up to the present, pulsing moment that give her away.

Will wonders if Hannibal can see her as fully. He wonders if the sparkling, coy woman sat at their table distracts him at all from the quietly afraid mercenary clutching after the power Chiyoh’s protection warrants her.

He wonders if Leticia can see past her magnificently hidden fear to the absence of deception in Hannibal’s face, in his words. Will can see it and he knows for sure that Chiyoh can see it, but Leticia may lack perspective. No one could fault her for it. Will had to die and lose everyone he ever loved before he learned how to read this evasive brand of stillness in Hannibal. For all that he could never extricate himself from Hannibal, he hadn’t believed him at first when he promised peace. He can’t expect Leticia to believe him, or Chiyoh, when they promise the same on Hannibal’s behalf.

So Will watches, attentive and fascinated in the charade that Leticia presents. He stays behind with her at the house when Chiyoh and Hannibal run off to the market for groceries. The front door closes behind them and she turns to look at him, unsubtle, the smoke and mirrors dropping away almost instantly. Will forces the smile away from his face.

He says, “Hello, Leticia.”

She frowns, not seeing him for the first time but rather, realizing that he’s not seeing her for the first time either. Her frown deepens and she replies, “Will.”

He turns and walks out onto the porch without another word for her. This house, he imagines, will someday be her home. He doesn’t want to spoil its hearth with the kind of talk he’s been dying to have with her since they first encountered one another. She follows him outside, maintaining a safe distance and holding herself rigidly, defensively. The defiance on her face warms him, and for a little while, he can’t put his finger on why he enjoys her dislike of him so much.

“When I met you, I couldn’t see you at all,” he tells her, not meaning for it to sound like a compliment and wincing when it does anyway. He plows on ahead at her frosty silence. “Usually when that happens, it’s because I’ve already made up my mind who the person is, because I need them to be who I imagine them to be.”

“You’re an idealist,” she observes, bored. “Anyone who’s seen your sealed records could infer as much.”

“My sealed records,” he repeats, a surprised smile twitching at his lips, startling a laugh out of him. “Of course, I should have known you’d do your research before coming here.”

“Try, before you thought to come to me.” She raises one eyebrow at him, affronted at his shortsightedness. “I knew exactly who Chiyoh was and where she came from within forty-eight hours of meeting her. I knew exactly the same about you and Hannibal Lecter. You couldn’t see me at all when we met? I could have ripped apart that carefully constructed life you made for yourself before you ever knew my name. No one ever would have known that I did it.”

She takes one step toward him, freer with the release of these words that she’s kept bundled up inside of herself for so long. Will stands firm and lets her advance upon him, understanding that even if she is powerful and afraid in equal measures, her strength isn’t physical or torrential in the way that his can be. Her power and her fear don’t exist on the same wavelengths that his power and his fear do, but he can feel them up in the ether all the same, twisting together, existing together.

“So why didn’t you?”

Calmly enunciating, she says, “Because Chiyoh asked me to spare you.”

“For Hannibal.”

“For her brother,” she corrects, exasperated. “For this life that she could somehow see ahead to.”

And in hearing that declaration—how her words are woven through with fondness and pain and adoration above all else—he knows why he likes her fire so much. He knows why he finds it oddly pacifying to see how much she distrusts him and everything he stands for.

It’s because she reminds him of Chiyoh. Even with the endless points of recognition that she shares with Hannibal, there’s a quality to her that reminds him of the relationship he and Chiyoh have built.

Will has always been alone. He has always struggled to find connections where he shouldn’t because they were the only foundations that he could truly claim for himself. Because of the path his life began on, he can’t know what it is to have a little sister in the way that Hannibal knows. He can’t know what it is to have a big brother in the way that Chiyoh felt such a bond with Hannibal growing up.

All that’s left for him is to feel, to imagine, and to live what he feels and imagines as the truth. He can be a brother to Chiyoh and love her as a sister. He can be those things to Leticia, in time, if she allows.

That’s what family is, after all. And they’re going to have it this time. They are. All of them.

“I hope you can trust someday that I won’t hurt you.”

“You’ve already hurt me.” She looks away, jaw working as she considers what to say next. “But without the suffering that came before, we wouldn’t have this truce now.”

“Do we?” he asks. “Have a truce?”

Leticia turns to him. In the golden light of the afternoon, she’s viciously beautiful like a mermaid come to shore for the first time. Will knows the feeling of being pulled from the serenely quiet void into a burning, brilliant world of breath and grit and screaming; of yearning and loss. He’s felt the moment when unpleasantness gives over to willful immersion and bliss. They have this trait in common.

He and Leticia learned to love the land after years of finding solace in the silent darkness of the sea. They learned to inhabit both worlds for people born half in the clouds and half rooted to the earth. Sirens and sequoias, Will thinks, amused at the sound of it.

She tells him, “We do.”

Will trusts her when she says she could have destroyed his life before he came here. He believes that she had it in her to ruin them and rain police down on their heads at any moment. While Chiyoh is her protection from them, she is also their protection from Leticia.

It’s only fair. He’d expect nothing less than an apex predator for his little sister.

Hannibal removes the pork roast from the refrigerator and goes to retrieve his apron from a hook by the spice rack. Will comes in and hops up onto the counter at a spot that isn’t already occupied by ingredients or cookware. He scoops up a handful of blackberries from the small dish at Hannibal’s elbow, tossing them back into his mouth without preamble. Chewing away happily at the berries, he beckons for Hannibal to let him tie the apron at his back.

He flushes warm up to his ears at the tenderness of Will’s fingers at the small of his back, so near but fairly innocent in his intentions. Hannibal probably should wear the plain white apron when he’s in the process of making dinner just so distractions like this don’t interrupt his preparations.

But if he refrained from wearing it, distractions like this wouldn’t interrupt his preparations.

Will smooths his hands along Hannibal’s sides once he’s done, swallowing audibly at Hannibal’s back. He leans in close and scents Hannibal, quite obviously, lips brushing his ear.

“Have you heard it said,” Hannibal murmurs, shaky for Will’s proximity, “that Lucifer fell into a blackberry bush when he was cast out of heaven? For this reason, the fruit is said by some to have been cursed by the fallen one himself.”

Humming, Will leans away and pushes gently at Hannibal’s hip for him to turn and face him. He plucks a single blackberry from the dish, brings it to his lips as Hannibal watches, and sucks it into his mouth. His jaw shifts twice, grinding the berry in his teeth, and then Will ensnares Hannibal with his fingers tangled in his hair to reel him in. They don’t kiss so much as Will’s mouth descends upon his in one quick blow. Their lips part together, Will’s tongue eases in, and moments before the pieces touch his own tongue, Hannibal tastes the sweetness of macerated berries.

Will pulls off and Hannibal swallows what he’s been given, breathless at the manner that it’s been given to him. Smirking slow and warm like a man filled with Dionysus, Will smudges his thumb over the corner of Hannibal’s mouth.

“Doesn’t seem to have bothered the blackberry all that much,” he muses.

Hannibal grins around the laugh that escapes him. He says, “No, I suppose not.”

“And here I was thinking I’d be safe as long as you couldn’t feed me pomegranate seeds.”

They stare at each other for a moment, not saying anything, and the smile on Hannibal’s lips gradually fades in time with the wrinkle overtaking Will’s brow. He flits his gaze between Hannibal’s eyes and his mouth, leaning down to kiss him once, properly this time.

A dull heat constantly warms Hannibal’s belly when Will is around him; it’s there when he merely thinks of Will, even if Will is off on the boat or asleep upstairs or in town with Chiyoh. In this unhurried, purposeful moment of intimacy, that heat flutters and licks up his spine, in his face, rushes in his ears, and flashes hot and unsympathetic in his fingertips. He sighs into Will’s mouth, licking at his lips and cradling Will’s cheek in his hand.

They remain there, swaddled up in one another, breathing each other’s breath, existing in the same space and in the same emotion, undeniably. Will makes a low sound in the back of his throat and turns to separate their mouths, though Hannibal’s skin is alive everywhere else that their bodies touch—his hands framing Will’s face, his waist where Will’s knees brush against his ribs, his forehead at Will’s temple, and his fingers twining in Will’s hair. Helpless after a few seconds pass like this, Hannibal leans up and catches the corner of Will’s mouth with his lips, his cheek, the curve of his jaw, his neck. Will makes an agreeable noise that surges in Hannibal’s gut but still, pulls away.

He’s biting down on his own lip when Hannibal blinks his eyes open to behold the full splendor of him. His eyes are dark and his neck and face are flushed. Some of his hair has fallen over his forehead.

His lip springs free from between the white teeth that held it, but the words Will wants to say don’t come. Hannibal gentles him and brushes Will’s hair out of his eyes, for once finding himself above the need to demand a prize that isn’t ready for him yet.

“Would you like me to cut your hair, Will?”

Will blinks, languid, muddled. He blinks again, straightening out and grasping after lucidity like a man waking from slumber or from a spell.

“Yeah,” he rasps. “Okay.”

Hannibal smiles, lifts a blackberry from the dish without breaking their eye contact, and neatly takes it into his mouth, savoring the rapt attention his display attracts from Will. As if that overtly flirtatious move finally rouses him, Will rolls his eyes and looks away.

“I know why Lucifer cursed them,” he says, gaze trained on the dish first and on Hannibal’s mouth second. “Bleeding and alone, how else can you feel but intensely human?”

Hannibal runs his hands along Will’s ribs and around to his back, trying to soothe the ache of old wounds without speaking over them as is his habit. Will catches him by his shoulders and pulls him in again, gratifying the part of Hannibal that thought he would be pushed away. Sighing into his neck, Will clutches briefly at Hannibal’s back, bunching up his shirt in his fingers.

He doesn’t know what Will is thinking about, but he can guess. He doesn’t think his guesses are wrong. When Hannibal wraps his arms around Will a little tighter, Will mimics him and squeezes back, straining almost for how tightly he wants to hold and be held in return.

“Do you ever think about what we left behind?” Will asks, voice coming out uneven for the pressure bearing down on his lungs.

At least, Hannibal can fool himself into believing that’s the only reason Will’s voice hitches. Hannibal’s, by comparison, comes out much steadier, though his air supply also suffers for the vigorous hold they have on each other. He draws formless, delicately traced shapes in Will’s back with his fingers.

“I didn’t leave anything behind.”

Will sighs, clearly disappointed even though Hannibal can’t see his face.

“Do you miss your dogs?” Hannibal asks, awkward but sincere, recalling that Will had said as much the last time he was forced to part with them.

Sagging slightly, loosening the ring of his arms enough that Hannibal can take his next breath easily, Will doesn’t answer. He slouches and rests his head on Hannibal’s shoulder. Hannibal wonders after a full minute like this if Will might have fallen asleep and spares a thought to the pork roast, mostly forgotten on the counter. He turns to look at it over his shoulder and pauses, noticing Leticia perched at the edge of the kitchen, watching them. She startles slightly when she notices him looking at her, but she doesn’t move. Hannibal thinks he sees her throat bob with a nervous swallow.

He turns to face forward, dropping his hands down to Will’s knees. Will grumbles.

“You might as well come in,” he says, projecting his voice for Leticia’s benefit and surprising Hannibal. “Can you cook?”

Beginning to object, Hannibal says, “Will, I am—”

“No,” he interrupts, low and fast and cooly assertive. “You’re coming upstairs with me.”

Hannibal opens his mouth but falls victim to the same speechlessness that afflicted Will earlier. Shuffling behind him, Leticia enters the kitchen, careful now to make plenty of noise.

“Cochinita pibil?” she ventures, examining the items scattered about in the kitchen. Her accent sparks through, natural and crisp and wonderful. “I would hope so, at least, or why else would you have orange juice on the counter next to recado rojo?”

Whatever flare of ill-temperedness he felt a moment ago for discovering her unannounced, possibly eavesdropping, it dissipates. He smiles and steps away from the counter for Will to jump down. Will grabs his wrist and walks off with him before Hannibal can begin to make a polite excuse for them to leave. Chiyoh catches them on the stairs as she’s coming down, looking as put together as ever and fresh from the shower besides. She stops at the bottom step and scrutinizes them both.

Glancing pointedly at Will but without saying anything, she tilts her chin.

Will nods airily and jerks his head in the direction of the kitchen before tugging once more on Hannibal’s hand. They dance around her and climb the stairs. Hannibal watches Chiyoh cross the hallway into the kitchen, just as Will directed her.

They slip quietly into their room, but Will makes no move to undress him or boss him into bed as he sometimes likes to do. Hannibal watches him throw himself across the bed, fully clothed, and lie there on his back with his arm pillowed beneath his head. Will looks at him, lifting his head as he does and making a face like Hannibal is acting oddly.

“Well? Get over here.”

Hannibal follows him onto the bed and lies on his side to look at Will, satisfied with draping his arm over Will’s stomach and pressing his chin gently to Will’s shoulder.

“I find you enthralling, Will,” he whispers.

“You always have,” Will mutters, grazing the backs of Hannibal’s knuckles with his fingertips. “Tell me something new. Tell me something I’ve never heard before.”

Pausing to consider his options, Hannibal hesitates and says, “I have noticed many stray dogs lurking along the beach.”

Will looks at him, expression blank.

“Chiyoh has informed me that there are many homeless dogs in the animal shelters here.”

“Hannibal.”

He looks over at Will, the picture of innocence. “You know I would give you anything, Will.”

“Okay, I sincerely like where this conversation is going, but we’re in the middle of negotiating a second sister and a murder somewhere in Peru, so just keep it to yourself for now, all right?”

Smiling, Hannibal lies back down, mind wandering idly at what kind of dog Will would choose—whether it would swim or bark incessantly (definitely not, with Will for a master) or if Chiyoh would even want to have an animal in her home. But Hannibal has seen her looking after the strays with forlorn helplessness and quiet indignation. As a child, she loved animals. He can’t imagine much has changed for her on that front.

He pauses in his silent merriment. “You said second.”

“What?”

Second sister.”

“Don’t act like that’s not what you wanted.”

Hannibal rolls over on top of Will and kisses him fiercely like he’s desperate for it, like they didn’t do this last night or this morning or ten minutes ago in the kitchen, like he can’t always have Will’s lips on his whenever he wants them.

“It’s precisely what I wanted,” he sighs, gasps, laughs.

Will sighs and gasps and laughs, too. He shakes his head, smiling in spite of himself as he pulls Hannibal down to kiss him again. Hannibal goes, happy and delirious and aglow all over.

Chiyoh watches Leti deftly slice red onions while the red wine vinegar comes to a boil on the stove. The pork is already in the process of baking in the oven, so once the sauce is prepared, they will only have to wait on the meat. Leti makes quick work of the rice, and the corn tortillas Chiyoh bought this morning are sitting on the table, ready to be warmed and eaten. It smells good, tantalizing and savory how dinner should smell.

Leti grabs a water bottle from the fridge and traipses into the adjacent room to sit on the couch. Chiyoh follows her and sits close, enjoying the way the heat clings to Leti’s skin regardless of the open window letting in cold air from outside.

“Do they always do that?” she asks, capping the bottle and setting it on the floor. “Sneak off in the middle of simple tasks to fool around like teenagers?”

“Yes,” Chiyoh replies, easily as anything. “Ever since they began, most days are like today.”

“Well, I suppose it takes some of the pressure off of you,” Leti says, almost not joking at all. “Not that I don’t understand. That’s how we were.” She winks and adds, teasingly, “When we began.”

Chiyoh smiles down at her lap. “Ours were stolen moments. We had to be discreet.”

“As long as the mark died and our work could be deemed successful, no one was any the wiser what we got up to.” Leti shakes her head. “We worked well enough separately and together that they never would have figured it out.”

“You’re speaking in past tense,” Chiyoh observes, sitting up to glance at Leti and the worried pinch to her mouth.

Leti notices Chiyoh staring and visibly brightens. “We don’t work together anymore.” She deflates slightly. “And after the coup with Francisco, Manuel’s been…less willing to put me in the thick of things. We’ve made a return to how things were before you came to us.”

“I thought you got what you wanted once Francisco was taken out of the picture.”

“So did I.” She sighs, “For a while, it seemed that things would be better. But as it turns out, you scare a man more when you kill in self-defense than when you kill for money.”

Chiyoh frowns, piecing the fragments of the picture together. She’d been so casually dismissive and vague about the details surrounding her assault. Her blood goes cold remembering the aftermath, the bruises, the broken ribs.

“You never told me.”

“It would only have worried you. It worried Manuel. I’ve been in this game since I was fifteen, and he thinks he knows what’s best for me. The nerve of men, Chiyoh, I swear.”

It hasn’t escaped Chiyoh that Leti distrusts and dislikes men as a general rule. Even in her predominantly male-driven line of work, she only associated with a select few who she could rely on for protection. Chiyoh wonders if it will be the same with Will and Hannibal.

“I may have overplayed my hand,” Leti mumbles, pressing her fingers to her temple as if to stave off a migraine. She closes her eyes and smiles ruefully, though it more closely resembles a grimace. “Again, I should say. I overplayed my hand again.”

“How do you mean?”

“Yesterday with Will, I…and then today with Hannibal. Ay, Santa Maria.” She laughs, curt, too loud, eyes still firmly closed. Both hands reach up to cover her eyes now, and her voice quivers faintly. “Chiyoh, what if this was a bad idea?”

Chiyoh turns to sit on her knees facing Leti and patiently works her hands away from her face. There are no tears, but her eyes are red and her lip trembles finely, indicating that they may be imminent. She holds Leti’s hands in her own and perches on her lap, waiting for her to compose herself and allow eye contact once more.

“This wasn’t a bad idea, Leti. We’re going to be fine. I signaled that we would be, didn’t I?”

“The signal we agreed on was that you would touch his hand at the end of the meal if you thought we could be safe here,” she murmurs desultorily, glancing down at their hands piled on Chiyoh’s leg. “You hugged him. I know well enough what I should take that to mean, but it’s different living in a house with him and looking him in the face, Chiyoh.”

“You’re afraid.” Chiyoh releases the hands in her grasp and trades them for Leti’s burning cheeks. “We are all afraid.”

“Not of him,” Leti counters, looking upset with herself at the admission.

“We fear loss, like anyone. I fear the loss of you, of them. They fear the loss of each other, of me. You are a part of me now. I knew when I left Cancún. I knew when I left for Peru. It’s the reason I left at all. You know that, Leticia.”

Leti sniffles and dabs at the moisture beading beneath her eyes, catching the worst of it before they spill over in truth. Chiyoh bends down to kiss her, holding fast when a tiny drop splashes her cheek.

“The job in Mérida,” Leti redirects, a tried-and-true coping mechanism of hers that Chiyoh is not unfamiliar with. “Our second time working together, do you remember? I needed more time in Perón’s office at that absurd gala he threw and you just happened to be there in the hallway, in that sparkling dress with all that kohl on your eyes. And when I saw you, I thought, oh, good, I’m going to have to listen to this gorgeous woman I’m halfway in love with swoon all over this sweating disgusting pig-man.”

“That was the first time I surprised you,” Chiyoh teases, happy for this change of topic because it’s a good memory, a funny one, a happy one. “When I nearly broke down the door and kissed you instead.”

“No, the first time you surprised me was when Manuel brought you in and you turned out to be a woman. And then you surprised me by being actually fantastic with a rifle. The fact that you spoke four languages was also quite impressive, though your Spanish was awful at first.”

“I had only been speaking it for a few months by that time.”

Leti smiles, a wide, calm smile that flickers out after a few moments. Their detour into past memories has calmed her significantly, so she looks far less nervous now than she did initially.

“I forget that your response when I’m in danger is to physically throw yourself on top of me.”

Chiyoh smiles and brushes her fingers over the wrinkles in Leti’s forehead until they soften and ultimately fade away. She smooths her lips along her brow, the slick edge of one eye, and the ridge of her cheekbone. After a few minutes of this aimless, relentless worship, Leti relaxes. She winds her arms around Chiyoh’s back and holds onto her, loosened up from the tension of her worry but needing comfort still.

Needing comfort herself, Chiyoh provides, crafting a shelter out of her arms for Leti to burrow into. They are safe here. If she must find that feeling first in Chiyoh’s embrace, then that is where they will start.

Chapter Text

Music is not Leticia’s strong suit. An uncle told her once that she had a pianist’s hands, but with neither the resources nor the interest to learn an instrument in her youth, she never acquired the skill for it. In adulthood, armed with both resources and interest, that particular art form continued to evade her. Mostly because her adult life started at the age of fifteen and the only symphonies anyone cared about where she was concerned came in the form of flawless strings of code on a computer screen.

It wasn’t a hard life, exactly. It isn’t a hard life now. Oh, being exiled from her work with the cartel wasn’t the most graceful end to a nineteen-year-long career in organized crime, but it worked toward her advantage in the end. That life put the most interesting scars that she has, on her body. It put her in Chiyoh’s path. For better and for worse, every job she ever did for or against Manuel carved out this destination for her. She made those choices, and she would make them again to return to this same outcome.

Granted, this outcome isn’t her favorite: music lessons with Hannibal Lecter himself towering over her shoulder but trying, with little success, to seem harmless. Will and Leticia are in the adjacent room where they spar every day, and Leticia is sat at the harpsichord with Hannibal standing to her left. His body would obstruct her escape from the bench, but he stands a few steps back to provide a sizable gap. It allows the illusion of a clear path should she need it, which isn’t much comfort. She doesn’t trust the calculatedness of the gesture; he doesn’t seem to need her to trust it.

The horrid, awful, somewhat exhilarating lessons are Chiyoh’s idea. Leticia doesn’t struggle to come to an explanation as to why. Her lessons with Will every afternoon are impossible to ignore. As quaint as Leticia’s sessions with Hannibal decidedly aren’t, Chiyoh’s interactions with Will are utterly disarming to watch.

Leticia really, truly had resolved to be perpetually, smugly disappointed in Will, but Chiyoh’s influence simply doesn’t allow for it. When they sit to play at the terse, rigid keys, they bicker like children forced to share a seat on the bus to school. In the room where they duel like samurais, they chuckle and push each other without any real malice to their shoves. Will swears colorfully when Chiyoh swats him with her sword, and one lucky morning, Leticia bears witness to Will tripping over his feet during an elaborate evasive maneuver and falling on his face about as spectacularly as an old house collapsing on itself. It’s lucky in that Leticia manages to hold her own reaction long enough to see Chiyoh pull off her protective helm and gasp around impossible, breathless squeaks of laughter.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to her that any two people brought together by fate and choice alike might bridge such distance naturally enough. The fluctuation of space between Will and Chiyoh shifts as gradually and as easily as the ebb and flow of the tides. Leticia would admit to a certain juvenile jealousy over their casual intimacy.

She witnesses it, too, in their interactions with Hannibal. They are not merely three people waiting out the worst of a bad situation until they can safely scatter like leaves in the wind. Leticia used to imagine that Hannibal and Will would, at the first opportunity, abscond to a safe, distant paradise meant for them and them alone. It had been her understanding that Chiyoh was simply an anchor holding down their little boat until they could weather the storm on their own.

Leticia had allowed herself to grow bitter for that fantasy. She had let herself believe in it because the events of the past had not given her hope to believe that either man could bring anything to Chiyoh’s life but abandonment, manipulation, and betrayal.

But they are different men than she thought.

They are men, of course, and not monsters—a distinction that feels most important when taking into consideration the look on Hannibal’s face when Will speaks sweetly to him, or the sound of Will’s laughter when Chiyoh delivers an unexpected punchline to a joke he didn’t realize he was telling. It is some consolation that they do appear to like each other and that they get along. She isn’t too proud to concede that point.

To be given assurance that they won’t use and discard Chiyoh like they have in times past is a welcome, unexpected relief. No matter how wary she is of their intentions toward herself, she’s glad of what they have amongst themselves. Although domesticity cannot distract Leticia from the truth, this life they’ve carved out together is sacred, marked with something strangely akin to innocence.

It isn’t a difficult thing to comprehend, when she puts her mind to it.

This is still all to say that Leticia’s current tutelage under Hannibal the Cannibal is entirely Chiyoh’s fault, and by extension, Will’s fault as well. She doesn’t even blame Hannibal for their circumstances, such that the two of them are mainly trying to be civil so as not to upset the peace.

It’s a shame they aren’t regular people. If she didn’t know the things she knows about him, their temperaments would align so neatly. They could banter all the time like they had during their first shared dinner in this house. It wouldn’t be real, but it would be easy. It would be clean. They could be fast friends and lovingly torment their respective partners-in-all-things, share lewd jokes and teasing glances, and even have these same music lessons. It would be lighthearted; nice, even.

She supposes they haven’t latched onto this life and these lovers because they enjoy nice or light or easy. For someone accustomed to fashioning a blanket out of darkness, the sparkle of superficial interaction could surely only hold one’s interest for so long. Leticia doesn’t blame Hannibal for that forfeited illusion either.

Still, the music lessons are abysmal.

She’s bad at them. She can’t play even to mimic what he does, and rather than find it frustrating or amusing, his primary emotional response seems to be mechanical curiosity, which is infinitely more embarrassing. Chiyoh, at least, can somewhat hold a tune after uncounted lessons with Will, but neither of them are suited to bend music to their whims. This is not the case with Will or Hannibal.

They take turns playing one long continuous song or they use one hand each to play the same song at the same time, and they never deliver anything less than a riveting performance. The two of them are matched perfectly, synchronized at a level that should be unsettling—to have that kind of unfettered access into the other person’s mind, into the rhythm of their body, into the shared mathematical ether of music. It’s uncanny. Chiyoh’s told her that they know it is; that that’s how they like it.

It’s fucking bizarre is what it is.

As such, Leticia must have told herself a thousand times that she wouldn’t endear herself to either of the brutes in question, but maintaining her resolve is a tricky thing when one plays witness to so many blasé acts of tenderness. Most of them, shockingly, are Will and Chiyoh being insufferably, mundanely precious. So when her first genuine, unguarded exchange with Chiyoh’s brothers-by-choice happens with Hannibal, Leticia can’t exactly claim to be taken aback by it, much as she might like to.

She loathes him, make no mistake, but it doesn’t surprise her to capture a moment like that with him. Certainly not when Leticia’s only honest interaction with Will to date was to threaten him with exposure.

If one could call acknowledgement of a past threat, a threat.

No, Will keeps his distance from Leticia. He lets her test out the waters with Hannibal, and so does Chiyoh. They’re on the same page about Hannibal’s intentions toward her, mainly that they appear to be trustworthy enough that their lessons or what-have-you don’t need to be chaperoned.

And speaking of lessons.

They’re nearing the end of whatever piece he has been teaching her when the unmistakable clattering of a sword from the next room catches their undivided attention. Chiyoh’s voice calling out to Will summons urgency to Hannibal’s expression and he runs to investigate the problem, forgetting decorum in favor of seeing to Will. Leticia stays seated. She listens.

“Your shoulder,” Chiyoh says, not phrasing it as a question.

Will grunts something in response and fusses with something part fabric, part sturdier material. Chiyoh and Hannibal shuffle around him, abstract movements accompanied by the sounds of protective gear being rapidly stripped away. Someone hisses through their teeth.

“Ow, ow, ow, Hannibal. Stop.”

“Forgive me. That was overzealous.”

Leticia rises to her feet and steps into the doorway, curiously taking stock of the situation at hand. Will stands stiffly with one hand tentatively kneading near his shoulder, Hannibal hovering close by like he does in an attempt to inspect the damage. Chiyoh spots Leticia gawking and starts in her direction, mumbling something about getting ice for Will. Leticia holds her ground even as Chiyoh comes to a halt directly in front of her, both of them staring for a moment in confusion.

“Excuse me,” Chiyoh whispers, bashful for the way one half of her heart seems to be clashing with the other. “I need ice for Will.”

And the phrasing of it trips Leticia up for a solid handful of seconds. Not Will needs ice, but I need ice. It shouldn’t surprise her. It shouldn’t, but it does. I need ice for Will.

One can’t help needing what they need.

“I’ll bring some.”

“Leti,” Chiyoh starts to protest in a hushed tone. “You don’t have to.”

“You’re right, I don’t.” She raises her chin. “So just try and stop me.”

Chiyoh doesn’t, but that’s primarily because Leticia flees into the kitchen rather than giving her a chance to react. She prepares an ice pack quickly and takes it back into the room where Chiyoh and Will and Hannibal whack at each other with bamboo swords. Will’s sitting on the floor in front of the opened window with his shirt off, Chiyoh and Hannibal flanking him on either side. Leticia clears her throat and holds out the ice pack, blushing slightly when Hannibal accepts it with a soft, slow smile.

In those few seconds that it takes for his smile to fade from fond joy to warm contentment, it doesn’t matter to her what he’s done or what he’s going to do. Here in this room, he is one of the very select few people in this whole wide world that Chiyoh loves. He is her family.

Before Leticia has managed to recover her sanity, Will twists cautiously through the waist to look at her and thanks her for the ice, also smiling. Flustered, caught out by an unsolicited act of kindness, Leticia freezes, unsure. The impulse to run quivers in her muscles, and she’s on the verge of sprinting thoughtlessly for the sea when Chiyoh reaches for her hand. Where the ice pack had left a cold imprint on Leticia’s palm, Chiyoh’s warm hand restores the lost heat and gently tugs her down.

She sits without hesitation, only noticing after she’s drawn her knees in that she’s in between Chiyoh and Will. She doesn’t panic, not outright, but the low ache of dread in her belly takes a moment to disperse fully. Will focuses on Hannibal’s devout attention to the pain in his shoulder, and Hannibal, by proxy, pours every ounce of his concentration back into Will. They lock themselves into such a tight loop of paired introspection that Leticia, for the first and not the last time, doesn’t fear or despise them at all. Chiyoh senses it, either by watching her or by feeling the tension drain from her body.

She half-smiles at Leticia like she’s trying not to laugh and says, “You’ve known that they get like this.”

It takes Leticia a second to follow Chiyoh’s train of thought, but she smirks when she recalls what she’d said about each man’s inability to be anything but transfixed on the other when in his company. For one slow, blissful instant, Leticia remembers how it felt when she had that with Chiyoh. She remembers it because she lives it, staring soft and warm into Chiyoh’s deep brown eyes, holding her hand in the drowsy sunshine.

And when Hannibal’s voice chimes a decibel above the dreamlike threshold to her comfortable private memory that is also their comfortable shared present, Leticia only startles a little—just a little.

Will senses the shift in Leti’s attitude toward him and Hannibal when it happens and naturally, pounces on it like an ordinary house cat would a mouse. He doesn’t start right away, but for Chiyoh, it’s dreadfully obvious that he can’t wait to go out of his way to build some type of rapport with Leti. She watches from a distance one morning as he saunters over to Leti’s perch on the kitchen counter where she’s unobtrusively enjoying her first coffee of the day. He plasters a slapdash mask of solemnity on his face when Leti flicks her gaze up at him, clearly distrustful before he’s even opened his mouth.

“A crack shot assassin, a serial killer with a taste for human flesh, and a rogue special agent walk into a bar where they meet a tiny hacker courtesy of the Gulf Cartel. What, you’ve heard this one before?”

Leti narrows her eyes at him, warring with herself over whether she should be irritated or entertained. She glances briefly at Chiyoh and shakes her head, irritation winning over. Will sighs, put out, and pours himself a cup of coffee. He works around Leticia without asking her to move, and by nothing shy of a miracle, Leticia doesn’t shy away from his proximity.

Chiyoh watches intently until long after Will has wandered off to bother Hannibal where he’s drawing in his sketchbook on the back porch. She hears Will pestering him about going out on the water later, Hannibal’s distracted, murmured responses lost to the breeze.

Leti remains at the counter drinking from her mug. Chiyoh waits a while longer at the bench of the harpsichord where she’s been tracing arpeggios with her fingers. Ever since the incident with the ice pack, the only music lessons that take place are her own. Usually Will teaches her, as has become their routine, but occasionally Hannibal will sit with her. She likes to learn tokens of theory from him as he often slips into a lecturer’s tone of voice that she finds fascinating to listen to. It took him all of three complicated sentences to notice her attention drifting, but that lapse in her focus hasn’t stopped him from sharing those gems of knowledge with her.

It is so like the days of his handmade Theremin. Chiyoh loves to be near Hannibal when they can make or enjoy music together. She hasn’t quite discerned a successful means of integrating Leti into that aspect of their life, but with the heavy failure of Hannibal’s lessons with her, Chiyoh wonders if they would be better off leaving that gap empty.

She pads into the kitchen and claims the spot on the counter next to Leti, their legs squeezing together on the small surface. They share a silent glance. Leti sips once from her mug before setting it down.

Considering it with a pensive sort of expression, she says, “Weren’t you teaching Will to mend broken pottery before?”

Chiyoh nods, answering vocally with a hum when Leti doesn’t look up from the mug.

“Why? You told me about the project, but you never explained the reason behind it.”

“They have a complicated relationship with time,” Chiyoh hedges, not liking the idea of trying to describe the many thorns in that rose. She sees, with more than a little reluctance, that she must expand beyond that ambiguous statement for Leti to understand. “A smashed teacup cannot un-smash itself. Time is a thread. Our actions create knots in that thread that can never be untangled.”

A twitch flickers over Leti’s mouth, the spark of a smile smothered at the impulse.

“So your boys made like Alexander and decided to cut the knot in two.”

“Will decided.”

“Will decides everything,” Leti sighs in that casually dismissive tone she gets in her voice when talking about Will.

“He didn’t decide on this house,” Chiyoh reminds her, hushed so as not to fan the fire. “He didn’t decide on you or the Maboroshi. He didn’t even choose the name on his passport. You give him too much credit, Leti.”

She takes her hand off the curved handle of her mug at long last and shakes her head. They’re sat so close, that her soft curls brush against Chiyoh’s shoulder when she leans into her. Her eyes are downcast, but the delicate bruises that had been darkening into half-circles beneath her eyes since she arrived in Belize are almost gone. Their long days in the sun have heartily agreed with her, warming up the natural deep brown of her skin.

“I have the advantage—or perhaps the poor luck—of knowing Will after too many underestimated him.”

Chiyoh does smile small at that. Will would be amused to hear Leti say something that hinted at him having a greater potential than advertised.

“I spent a long time learning about this family of yours, Chiyoh. Not because I thought there would ever be a place for me beside you, but because I couldn’t make sense of why you would want to stay with them when you could have gone anywhere, when you could have been free.”

“Can you make sense of it now?”

Leti bites her lip for a long moment and nods, brown eyes going into the middle distance before focusing again. She seizes the handle of her mug, moving too fast for Chiyoh to react, and throws it onto the tiled floor with all her might. A gusty breath makes its way out of her from the exertion. She straightens the proud column of her spine, pushes her shoulders back, and daintily moves one loose hair out of her face.

Finally, she looks at Chiyoh just as a shadow fills the open doorway between the kitchen and the living room.

“And I mean to stay.”

Chiyoh blinks, glancing up belatedly at Hannibal’s bewildered greeting. She sees Will’s hand coming around to rest at his side, a steady, unassuming show of support.

“Chiyoh,” he says, maybe for the second or third time. “Leticia, is everything all right?”

“Yes, we’re fine.” She smiles, flashing her teeth in such a genuinely charming manner that Chiyoh’s breath catches. “The four of us mean to be breaking a whole lot more of these together. I wanted this one to be mine. I wanted you to know that I’m here.”

“As you have been,” Hannibal acquiesces easily enough, agreeable and kind and polite as he is wont to be when entering into a conversational minefield. “We have enjoyed your company, haven’t we, Will?”

Will tears his gaze away from the remains of the mug on the floor. He says, distracted, “Sure have.”

“You were honest with me before, that night at dinner. Be honest with me now.”

Leti pushes herself off the counter, landing in her bare feet on the floor dusted over with broken porcelain. Chiyoh hisses her name and jumps down as well, though she’s no better protected.

“Well, now it’s a party,” Will mutters sarcastically under his breath as he turns to Hannibal. “Seriously, why do these things always happen to you in kitchens?”

“Can I help it if the room most suited to my tastes inspires a certain degree of sincerity?” Hannibal murmurs back before turning his head to look at Leti straight on. “Please excuse him. You were saying, Leticia?”

“This business with Brigham, your terms. Are you hoping he kills me in the fray?”

“Leticia—”

“He would plan for that outcome simply to feed his curiosity,” she volleys back without looking away from Hannibal. “So are you?”

“No,” he replies easily with a calm smile. “If only you were capable of believing that answer.”

Leticia tilts her head and hums. Chiyoh follows her sightline to Will, to the relaxed hold he’s maintaining on Hannibal’s waist. She relaxes, shifting her weight a little and grimacing when a sharp pain blazes to life in her foot.

“Didn’t I tell you?” Leti asks, her expression smoothing over to match her gentled tone. “I’m here now.”

Hannibal tips his head back in understanding. His placid smile flares radiant with delight.

“Hello, Leticia.”

“Hannibal,” she replies with a nod for him. She looks over his shoulder. “Will.”

He shakes his head, but he’s smiling as he says, “Drama queens, I swear.”

A tossing, delirious happiness erupts in Chiyoh’s belly. To hide it, she turns her attention to the swiped dashes of red her foot is leaving on the kitchen tile.

“Leti, please get back up on the counter.”

“Chiyoh, you worrywart,” she starts, only to cut herself off. “You’re bleeding!”

In the confusion—Chiyoh is confused, at least—Will and Leti share custody of cleaning up the mess of blood and bone white shards of porcelain. Hannibal sets Chiyoh up on an armchair in the sun room and washes her feet, the old scars on his wrists catch in the sunlight streaming in through the open window. He is halfway finished winding a clean white bandage around her foot when she hears Will laughing, unseen, at something in the kitchen. Chiyoh listens, but she can’t hear what they’re saying or see what they’re doing. She stops Hannibal’s hands, which is no difficult task as he has already gone still to listen just as she has.

Chiyoh studies his hands in hers, counts the scars that remain and those that have faded. She circles the meat of his thumb with both of hers. The scar from Murasaki’s knife, from his first ikebana lesson, is little more than a glossy dimple in his skin.

“We’ve come back to the beginning,” she whispers.

Hannibal sits back on his heels to gaze up at her, eyes loving and fond. He says, “All that I showed to you will be reflected back to me—beauty and terror alike. And at the end of our journey, you will leave me as I left you.”

“But I will return as you did, and you will protect me as I protected you.”

He laughs, a quiet, endearing chuckle that chases the first of his words: “You don’t need anyone to protect you.”

Chiyoh insists: “You will protect me as I protected you.”

Hannibal catches her hands in his and squeezes.

“Yes, Chiyoh.”

From the kitchen, Will laughs again. This time, they can both hear Leti’s enunciated response.

“I refuse to let you name a dog Encephalitis.”

A harassed little knit stitches its way between Hannibal’s eyebrows. He turns his head to face the kitchen and calls out, “It would suit a smaller dog.”

Chiyoh closes her eyes and presses her hands over them as if to block out the argument. It continues on even as Hannibal returns to the task of wrapping her foot, both Will’s and Leti’s voices coming nearer to the room until Leti comes to sit on the arm of Chiyoh’s chair and Will seats himself behind Hannibal. Will leans bodily against his back, moving carefully so he doesn’t jostle Hannibal’s handling of Chiyoh’s injured foot. He earns an unsubtly pleased huff from Hannibal for his impetuousness—and an even more unsubtle eye roll from Leti.

She reaches down to take Chiyoh’s hand in hers. The sun streams in from the opened window.

Chapter Text

John Brigham wakes on the last day of his life looking out at the sun rising over Surco. His kingdom is a small one—an estate sequestered away amid lush trees and high concrete walls penning him inside. The nearest neighbors are down the hill, and only a rare few have ever dared to venture up the winding road to his property. It’s an extravagant life, but a quiet one. Lonely.

He and Linda lived in the house together before her passing. It was their getaway from the crushing force of life, their career. He hadn’t been able to go back after he lost her. Their continued success was a sure thing when they were together, but without her to back him or his lies the way he backed her and hers, he wouldn’t have gotten much farther than a jail cell surrounded by all the bad men he’d helped her put there. So John left the Force, and he resigned himself to silence from the world and from his family after the investigation into Linda’s death put him in something of a terrible bind. Their children wouldn’t speak to him, and neither would his old friends have anything to do with him once the allegations started coming out.

It’s not much of a hardship to be without the friends, though he wishes the kids would take his calls.

With the last dredges of dawn fading from orange to green to blue, John slips out to the backyard. He paces the lavish yard in bare feet and an untied bathrobe, skimming his fingers along the plants as he passes. There’s nothing laid out for him as morning eases itself across the sky and the wind whispers amid the trees.

He goes into town around noon for provisions, dressed in the casual attire of an American on holiday. While Surco has, in recent years, begun to feel more like a self-imposed exile than a vacation, he can still appreciate the small pleasures of being in this place. The long strolls in the hot sun, the dry air that causes sweat to bead on the back of his neck, the bright fruit in the market stalls. Locals give him a wide berth when he comes down from his sprawling estate on the hilltop. It’s been their method of handling him since the very first time he came back without Linda there beside him to smile and shimmer in the sun.

John doesn’t need much in the way of food on this trip. He makes this same trek every other day in order to have something to do, some objective to occupy his mind and his hands. The mundanity of the task keeps him from noticing for several beats too long that someone has been watching him.

The familiar pinprick sensation at the base of his skull sets the rest of his senses on fire. No one looks at him in Surco, not anymore. He’d made sure of that after the last time and had thought that would be the end of it. American police knew not to chase him here so long as they carried on having nothing to pin him with. Of the many blurred faces he expects to see when he turns, hers is a vision and a revelation and a welcome reprieve from the greyscale of his everyday life.

“Chiyoh,” he whispers.

She is too far away to hear him, though she must see his lips move. From across the square and braced in clean, solid lanes against the wall of a florist’s shop, she looks timeless and statuesque. Even draped in flowing white and bright flourishes of color, there is a darkness to her that compels the surrounding light to bend.

He watches her a moment longer and then goes to her, at a loss for what else he might do instead. The last time he caught sight of her, they were in Bermuda collecting seashells at dusk. John remembers when she left; how her face had gone to stone at the mention of Hannibal Lecter’s escape from police custody on the evening news that night. Chiyoh hadn’t run then, but he knew somehow that she would. Knew that if he ever saw her again, it wouldn’t be until after her business concerning a serial killing cannibal had been put to bed. What that business might have been, he’s sure he doesn’t want to know.

His joy at seeing her surpasses the mystery that has always cloaked her presence. He wonders where she’s been all this time and wonders why she has returned now or how she knew to find him here, but the answers can wait. For now he’s content to cross the square and reach for her, and his heart still soars as high as it ever did when she lets him, when she turns her head to kiss his cheek.

“My God,” he says, astonished, forgetting the bag of groceries drooping off his shoulder. “You’re alive.”

She smiles, small as is her nature. Muses, “And so are you.”

I missed you.

He smothers that impulse to say too much too soon. There is so much more that he feels and so many more questions that he must find a way to ask. He doesn’t even know if she means to stay, though his first instinct had been to believe she had come back for him. Countless other things would make more sense than thinking she had returned to him out of sentiment alone. Their time together had left him hopeful for more like it, which was a mistake on his part, surely, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret his foolishness. She was and is all the warmth left for him in his garden of green and marble.

“How long will you be in town?” he asks, not seeing the flicker in her expression for the tradeoff of looking into her warm, dark eyes.

“Only for tonight. I hoped to spend that time with you.”

John revisits a few vendors for more supplies and begins the long walk back to the house with Chiyoh beside him. She’s a vision, both a ghost of the past and a wish for the future. He should know better than to hope for any tomorrows with her when she’s already made it clear that she won’t be around beyond tonight. It must mean she has business in Peru—perhaps related to the cartel. Their involvement in the blood and drugs that moved the money along is what brought them together in the first place, so of course the cartel is a likely explanation if nothing else, even if he can’t fully make himself believe it.

He doesn’t know who Chiyoh was before men whispered of the things she could do with a rifle. All he knows is that she was alone in the world, just like he was. It’s pointless to ask why left him, so he tries another approach. “Is it done? Whatever it was you set out to do?”

She turns her head to look at him but doesn’t answer, sunshine glancing off the golden outline of her features.

“In Bermuda,” he adds, mistaking her silence for confusion. “When you left. Something happened.”

“I had unfinished business.”

He doesn’t press her for more. When she’s ready she’ll tell him, and they have all day to reach that point. It doesn’t occur to him that this is the last time he’ll walk back to the house he shared with Linda, and then with Chiyoh. It doesn’t occur to him that he is a lamb being led to the slaughter.

Will takes a bite of the apple Leti bought for him and watches Chiyoh steadily dissolve into the distance with John Brigham at her side. After Brigham’s shameless display of infatuation, it takes him a few protracted moments to shake off the cloying feeling of being too warm and too full of light. Hannibal, throughout, has only had eyes for Will, and so he knows exactly why Will’s neck and cheeks are splotchy with color.

“I’m embarrassed at how easy that was for her,” Leti murmurs spitefully into a ripe pear.

“As I understand it,” Hannibal croons, returning to the world that isn’t just him and Will, “Chiyoh can be very convincing when she puts her mind to it.”

“That statement means a little less coming from you, I think,” Will says, rolling his eyes. He doesn’t want to go into a conversation about how Hannibal is the only one among them, Brigham included, who can brag of an immunity to Chiyoh’s particular set of wiles, so he shifts the subject. “How long do we give her before we move in?”

“You mean before I move in,” Leti corrects him. The whimsical touch to her voice doesn’t transfer to the severity in her eyes. “I’ll make my way up at sundown. He’ll have started on dinner by then.”

Hannibal’s eyes glitter, and Will doesn’t need clarification on why. He knows Leti doesn’t either. The reputation that comes with the moniker Hannibal the Cannibal doesn’t allow her the convenience of ignorance. Nor does it allow Will the illusion that once she’s killed Brigham, that will be the end of the night’s festivities. Hannibal has been without ample room to flaunt the full extent of his culinary inventiveness for many years now. He’ll want to show them what he can do with exotic meat.

“What’s the plan after tonight?” Will asks, rather than open up that can of worms for direct discussion.

“We’ll go wherever you want.” Hannibal flicks a glance over to Leti. “You are welcome to come with us, of course.”

Leti’s expression carefully doesn’t change. She says, “Not just yet, I think. But if it’s any consolation, she means to leave you the boat.”

“Could sail all around the globe if we wanted to,” Will offers so that Hannibal will point his enigmatic smile at him instead of at Leti. “Go to France or Spain. Hell, we could take a bus down to Argentina. The Maboroshi isn’t going anywhere.”

Case in point, they’d left it in Belize and flown down to Peru for the occasion. Even if Chiyoh changes her mind and wants to keep the boat, they could fly anywhere from here with Leti’s forgeries padding their pockets. Will’s not worried about where they’ll go next so much as he is curious to see what will happen once they get there. He knows now that Hannibal lived it up in Florence. He’s fairly certain their downtime spent in Belize has been peaceful at all because of Chiyoh’s influence. If she stays behind with Leti, there’s no telling what Will and Hannibal will get up to while unsupervised. It’s been a long time coming, that’s for damn sure.

The scar in Will’s cheek aches as he bites back a smile, adding, “I wouldn’t be averse to seeing Lecter Dvaras one more time.”

It’s worth it for the spread of warmth that rushes through Hannibal in the next moment. Will savors it—the brazen fearlessness of it, the fact that they have an audience and Hannibal doesn’t give a shit about playing it cool or coy. He’s too pleased with himself and with Will’s encouragement to pretend to be otherwise. Will’s struck with an intense desire to kiss the fondness right off his mouth.

“I could marry you, you know,” Leti drawls, blandly unaffected by the show she’s getting. “I’m ordained.”

“Are you?” Hannibal perks up, eyes still glistening like he’s so happy he might burst into tears at any moment. “Will—”

“We don’t have rings,” he parries.

“We have all day.” Her eyes when Will looks at her go round and innocent. “We are in the middle of a bustling marketplace.”

Hannibal’s already getting to his feet, and there goes Leti with him. Maybe she thinks she has to compete with Chiyoh’s gift of the Maboroshi and send them off with something equally splendorous in order for them to go quietly. As likely as that option is, he wouldn’t be surprised if she was doing it just to fuck with him. She doesn’t love either of them, but she’s always tended to side with Hannibal just a little bit more than with Will.

All’s fair, I guess, Will thinks, eating the rest of his apple while Hannibal walks off with Leti to peruse the nearby shops. He casts his gaze toward the long sloping hill they’d watched Chiyoh ascend earlier.

Loving war, and warring in love. Was there ever really a difference?

Chiyoh had forgotten the green of John’s eyes, so near to hazel but not deep enough in that shade to appear brown. Neither are they the type to appear blue in the right light.

It would be unfair to him to say she hadn’t missed him. In that time of her life when they met, when everything was hollow and uncertain following Hannibal’s surrender, she’d needed a reason. Europe had been out of the question; too much of it reminded her achingly of time wasted at the estate, guarding bones and ashes. Led her mind too readily to dwelling on all that Hannibal had seen and done without her, all the life he had lived without sparing a thought for her. It hardly matters any longer, but to lose him a second time left her seeking a change of scenery.

She went South and put her skills to good use. She met Leticia and a short while later, she met John. He was—is kind, despite being every bit the criminal that the rest of them are.

With Hannibal wasting away in a cell and Will marrying into a gilded cage of his own by the time John came into her life, she only wanted an escape. Wanted to experience time the way they were experiencing it and the way she’d grown so accustomed to experiencing it in Lithuania. It was an easy life. She didn’t have to be ruthless or calculating or in a hundred places at once. She could listen to the ocean and watch the clouds roll in over the waves, and all John wanted in return was to do those things with her, and not be alone in waiting for the days to end.

The days would end tonight.

Chiyoh stays within his orbit while he sets about putting the groceries away. The house is as she remembers it, empty with inactivity and spotless for his restless hands. The yard appears even more well cared for than the last time she saw it before they absconded to Bermuda. She wonders if he’s been especially particular about tending to the plants in her absence. He wouldn’t have had much else to do.

“You’re really not gonna tell me where you went, huh?” he asks again, gently teasing but obviously interested in the answer.

“You know where I went,” Chiyoh deflects. They had seen the news coverage together, and she hadn’t been subtle in her reaction. Sloppy, perhaps, but in her defense, to wake so suddenly after such a peaceful sleep would startle anyone.

He ducks his head. “Yeah, but why?”

“I can’t say.”

“Can it really be that much worse than what I already know?”

It will be, she doesn’t say.

He pours two glasses of wine, offering her one of them. She drinks, not wanting to give him any reason to suspect her. Her unannounced arrival in Surco is damning enough on its own, but she knows him. She sees the way he looks at her. Even if he doesn’t trust her intentions, it will be an uphill battle of wills for his mind to conquer his heart. If watching the courtship between Hannibal and Will has taught her anything it’s that she’ll be safe as long as she doesn’t overplay her hand.

John’s attentive little smile waits on the other side of her contemplative silence. He’s in no rush, even with their time constraints. Even when he doesn’t understand what’s at the end of that deadline.

“What do you already know?”

“Hannibal Lecter broke free, and you went running.”

“Yes.”

“Is that why you have to leave tomorrow?”

“No,” she tells him, and it’s the truth.

“Then why go to him at all? Did you kill him?”

She should tell him yes. He would believe it.

“I needed to see him again.”

“Guess that explains where you came from.” John nods and drinks the rest of what’s in his glass. He pours himself another. “But not why you gotta go.”

“Will you try to convince me to stay?” Chiyoh asks, smiling and making her eyes softer.

Before John and before Will, too, she had known how to be soft. She couldn’t have had a better teacher than Obasan who was so spellbinding in her own right that she could make any man fall in love with her. Chiyoh only had to remember how it was with Robertus, how it later became with Hannibal, though she suspects even to this day that she wasn’t meant to know of the latter.

“‘Course I will.”

John and his broken heart. His big house filled with memories of happiness that hasn’t been his in years. The earnest smile on his face, weathered just slightly with age and from a life spent frowning and laughing in equal turns. She almost regrets to lure him like this. Almost.

But they’ve waited long enough for the time to move.

Chiyoh pushes off the counter and walks out to the huge windows, looking out at the position of the sun in the sky while John watches her. She looks over her shoulder at where he stands, transfixed.

“Very well,” she says, and smiles.