Will woke up drowning.
He must have blacked out when they hit the water-- it only could have been a few seconds of unconsciousness. The fall knocked the wind out of him, and only now did his body fight to inhale, salt water burning its way down his nose and throat.
Will thrashed and struggled toward the surface, instinctive and mindless, pain clawing at him inside and out. His head broke into shocking cold air and he gagged and hacked up ocean water; wiped at his face and found fresh black blood on his hand. The warm trickle from his nose to his lip tasted almost pleasant after the choking salt of the sea.
His face felt washed in acid. The pain in his cheek was unreal. The stab wound in his shoulder ached as if the entire arm was ripped off.
The cliff face looked different from down here. From the top, Will thought it was a straight drop down to the rocks, but treading water now, he could see how erosion had eaten away at the base, the edge of the cliff protruding over open water. The shape of the coast here swept the tides in a gentle curve, calming the waves.
He thought the tide might beach him, but the eddies pulled him along toward a shape that gradually resolved into a short weathered pier, just a few boards appended to a surfaced rock. A small sailboat bobbed alongside it, all of it concealed from the top by the overhanging jut of the cliff.
Will kicked toward it weakly, blinking salt from his eyes, and found Hannibal already clinging to a support pile. He was milk-white in the angled moonlight.
Spitting out the ocean, Will said, "I guess when you planned this, you didn't expect to be gutshot."
"I thought he'd aim for a kneecap." Hannibal's voice sounded labored. Considering the kind of damage Will had seen him take without flinching, audible strain meant he must be in bad shape. "A shoulder. Something to handicap, and prolong."
"No, it had to be the gut." Will forced his right arm up, as ballast if nothing else, and prayed for just a little more adrenaline. His left hand found the join of boards and pillar, some leverage, and he kicked hard as he pulled up, dragging himself out of the water.
After too much grunting and splashing, he finally flopped across the boards. Panted, "Same reason you knifed me there. Betrayal."
"At least I had the courtesy to face you when I did it."
Will spluttered with laughter he couldn't keep in, sounding shrill and crazy even to his own ears. The stretch of his cheek opened the wound further, and he coughed and spit more blood. Even with the pain, he had to say, "That's what I was thinking all those weeks in the hospital. How courteous it was."
"If you intend for me to die here," Hannibal said, "the courteous thing would be to kill me outright. Rather than merely letting me bleed out under your benign neglect." Will could hear him pacing the phrases out slowly to conceal the wheeze of his breath.
"I'm too tired to kill you with anything else." Will glanced around the pier. Minimal and bare, but the sailboat had a lifesaver and an emergency float. He lurched up, grabbed them, tossed both to Hannibal. "If you get the ring around you and the float under you, I can hang the rope around the pole for leverage and pull you and the ring up..."
"If you're too tired to kill me, you're too tired for that. Reach down to me, I'll climb up. Tie yourself to something so I don't pull you down with me."
"Little late for that." Will wrapped the rope around the pole, his ankle and his waist, and pushed to reach down off the edge of the pier.
"You pulled me down, this time." Grabbing fistfuls of Will's shirt, Hannibal hauled himself partway up. Will grabbed him around the waist and held tight as Hannibal gathered his strength to lunge up again, catching hold of Will's belt and pulling hard enough to pop stitches.
Will cinched his arms around Hannibal's knees during his next pause, and when Hannibal started to move again, Will made a basket of his linked fingers and tapped Hannibal's shin, calling, "Step into my hands." Once Hannibal made use of that foothold, he climbed solidly onto the pier, and tugged Will back up after him.
He wanted to rest, but Will freed himself from the rope, gathered up the float and the lifesaver again and stowed them back on the sailboat. He shouldered Hannibal's arm and staggered with him onto the boat and into the tiny cabin.
"Light?" he said, and slapped at the lamp when Hannibal pointed until it flickered on. Will eased Hannibal down onto the bunk, curled on his left side.
"First aid is," Hannibal gestured toward the kit, too winded for more. Will tore the box open, scattering Band-Aids and aspirin in his rush to dig out heavy duty supplies, soon finding an applicator full of Celox-A and foil pouches of QuikClot gauze.
Will yanked up Hannibal's sweater. The exit wound was a pulpy mess, too much blood seeping out to assess the damage. "This is going to hurt," he warned, and pushed the Celox applicator into the wound, pushing the plunger down slowly as he drew it back out.
Hannibal's breath caught when it went in, and he was gasping as it came out, but he didn't protest, even as Will made him lean forward to do the same again to the smaller entry wound, and slather both with antibiotic gel. Will packed the QuikClot gauze against the bullet holes and rummaged in the first aid kit for a compression bandage.
He hated making Hannibal lift up so they could pass the bandage completely around Hannibal's midsection. It seemed wrong to hear him grunt and hiss and suffer. He was supposed to be the Devil. Smoke. Not flesh and blood. Will cut the drenched sweater off him to spare him any more contortions, since it was already a lost cause.
Once the wounds were dressed and Will was certain nothing more was gushing out, he propped Hannibal's feet up and delved back into the first aid kit for butterfly bandages, lining up more supplies to work on himself.
Will dabbed some Celox onto the knife wound on his face; only a little. His cheek was completely perforated, and swallowing an artificial clotting agent sounded like bad news. He peeled off his shirt and used the applicator to push the powder into the deep stab wound on his chest, and couldn't keep in an agonized groan. He had no idea how Hannibal took that treatment to the bullet hole without screaming.
Fortunately the antibiotic gel was a topical painkiller too. It didn't help the deep frantic ache of the chest wound, but the surface sting eased, and it mostly numbed his cheek.
He was applying butterfly bandages to his face when Hannibal spoke again, sapped and flat. "Why did you pull us down."
"You mean, besides the fact that you wanted me to? Steered me into it?" Will shook his head. "I can't believe I thought for even one second that I got ahead of you."
When he glanced over, Hannibal was wearing the oddest little smile.
"In fact, I had intended to get down to the boat by more conventional means."
Will stared. "Suspended above the roiling Atlantic, you said. Lost to the sea."
"Not sure what about 'roiling' made you think I wanted you to hurl us directly into it." Hannibal's eyelids drooped, but he was still faintly smiling. "You always surprise me."
Will bound up the gash in his chest. Finally he said, "I didn't think. I just moved. But if I'd thought about it, I would have thought... after what we did, what we want to do... I would have thought, it's only fair to give God a chance to smite us down."
"And here we are."
"Guess there is no God."
"Oh? Some would say our survival took an act of God."
"A just God, a God worth the name, would have drowned us both, given a big fat chance like that. So. No God."
"No God you'd worship." Hannibal's voice was going hoarse and thin, his eyes glazed, lashes wavering. It wasn't just the moonlight, he was deathly pale, and his cheeks and eye wells were beginning to look sunken.
"Then again," Will said more slowly, "you don't look so good. You could die yet. Maybe there is a God after all."
Hannibal huffed out the barest sketch of a laugh, and flicked his fingers toward the cupboard where the first aid kit had been stashed. Will opened it further and discovered IV supplies, bags of saline, other bags labeled Oxyglobin.
It took him a moment to place the name, and then he frowned. "This stuff is for dogs."
His lips parted as if to speak, but Hannibal only shook his head slightly.
Even with the blood loss, Will managed to get the IV port into Hannibal's vein without much trouble. He found a hook above the bunk and hung the IV bag from it, but he hesitated.
The violent frenzy from the battle against the Dragon had faded entirely by now, and Will felt hollowed out, his vision harsh and clear. "I wonder how many lives I'd save if I ended this now. --Don't worry, I won't resort to benign neglect." He looked around the cabin. "It's a nice boat. But small. I could sink it. We'd drown together. That'd be better, wouldn't it? Than drifting alone in the ocean, feeding the fish. I didn't like how the impact made us let each other go. I wanted to hold onto you through it. I still can."
The more he said, the more he convinced himself. He couldn't imagine anything Hannibal could possibly say to change his mind.
Hannibal blinked til the haze cleared, and he met Will's eyes. "Please."
Will connected the IV.
"Seriously though," Will said, squishing a plastic bag of Oxyglobin in his hand like a stress ball. They were both loaded up with painkillers now, and the shiny swish of the liquid was riveting. "One of our strays had anemia and they gave her this, and I looked it up. It's only for dogs."
"It's a shelf-stable human blood substitute that isn't yet FDA approved. Falsely labeled for easier shipment." Hannibal went right back to sipping slowly but constantly from a bottle of Fiji water. It was bizarre to see him drinking from plastic. Or really, anything other than wine.
"So who arranged for the boat? Chiyoh? Or do you have other little helper elves I don't know about?"
Will looked around the cabin, peered into the cupboards. The supplies were brand-name, nice, but not the kind of top-shelf stuff he'd expect from Hannibal. Going by the expiration dates on some of the items, the boat had been stocked up within the last year, but not much more recently than that.
When Will looked back to him, Hannibal's brows were arched in anticipation.
"Miriam," Will said. "You brainwashed her into prepping your escape pod? How many tunnels did you have her digging?"
"Just this one," said Hannibal. "She sued for damages, and won handily, of course." The slightest turn of his lip showed the pun was intentional. "The boat was part of her settlement. I'd prepared her in advance to fantasize about leaving by sea, and to maintain and stock the boat to further enrich and enable the fantasy."
"So Miriam thought she was keeping this bucket ready as a way of dealing with her trauma. Giving herself an out. And instead you're going to take it."
"We're going to take it," Hannibal corrected. He laid his hand over the bullet wound and palpated gently around it, wincing. "You're going to take it. I have no particular talent for sailing, so it falls to you."
"Also: gut shot."
Hannibal looked mildly affronted that Will would be so gauche as to mention it. "Yes."
Will contemplated going out into the open air again and shivered. "Did the spell you put on Miriam also compel her to buy men's clothes for no obvious reason?"
"No. But pull up the bottom panel of that cupboard."
That meant emptying a whole damn cabinet of freeze-dried and canned supplies in order to uncover the panel. One-handed. What looked like a chip from a knot in the wood gave him purchase to pry it up and uncover a vacuum-sealed bag of clothes.
"Are you even capable of wearing wrinkled clothes?" Will asked, unzipping the bag to let the fabric expand to normal size. He shrugged into a rumpled grey buttoned shirt; Hannibal's size, a bit loose on Will, but good enough. "I picture you putting this on and bursting directly into flame."
"The blanket will do for me. And I know too well that you don't mind wearing anything intact enough to stay on your body."
Will took the hint and tugged up the blanket folded at the foot of the bunk, spreading it over Hannibal's chest. "You're going to need surgery."
Hannibal nodded. His color was better, but he still looked pinched and faded. "I have everything I need. Local anesthetics, stimulants, antibiotics. Tools."
"You forgot to have Miriam stash a doctor in here."
"I'm quite capable--"
"No, you are not operating on your own through-and-through gut wound," Will declared. "You might be able to close up your own abdomen, but you can't reach the entry wound and there's no way that shot didn't clip an organ or two. Either I courteously kill you outright, or we give you the best shot at surviving this. Letting you operate on yourself sounds like benign neglect to me."
"You have another plan, then."
"Remember Devon Silvestri?"
"The butcher whose patient I had to save? You are out to kill me after all. I thought you were going to do it with your hands, Will."
"His lawyer argued that Silvestri was an innocent victim of the Chesapeake Ripper. Said you orchestrated the whole thing to throw the FBI off your trail. Got him off with time served."
"Seems strange you weren't called to testify for the prosecution."
"I was," Will said. "Told them my memory during that stretch isn't reliable, thanks to the encephalitis and your 'therapy.' They got Jack to admit that you'd hypnotized people before and could've done it to Silvestri. Reasonable doubt. Doubt drips off everything you ever touched, now." Will shrugged. "I let him know I could testify and put him away, but I didn't, as down payment on a favor. Called him last night from a pay phone and told him to get ready, because today I'd probably collect."
"What a cunning boy you are," Hannibal said, voice low and rusty. "I'm reluctant to mention it, but as a doctor, I feel obliged to say that speaking is only going to aggravate the wound in your cheek, which will make it more likely to scar noticeably."
"Why are you reluctant to mention that? You put enough scars on me already, what's one more."
"Reluctant because I don't really want you to stop talking. It's a welcome distraction."
Part of Will wanted to pick up that ball and run with it, snark at Hannibal about what a 'welcome distraction' Will had always been for him. But he couldn't do it. Hannibal didn't spend three years under lock and key for a distraction.
Will ducked into the head, dried off more fully and changed into creased and crumpled pants from the vacuum bag, and brought back a fresh towel. He sat gingerly on the edge of the bunk and dried Hannibal's hair with slow, careful circular strokes.
"Need anything else? More painkillers? Antibiotics?" he murmured.
"I'll take a local," Hannibal said. "I insist on supervising Mr. Silvestri. I presume it is still mister?"
"Starts his residency next year." Off Hannibal's offended look, Will said, "Look, if you have someone better on speed dial, fine, but otherwise..."
Finally Hannibal dipped his head in a nod. Will supported his neck and lifted his head to dry his hair in the back; eventually he eased him back down onto the pillow, laid the towel aside and petted the strands back into place til Hannibal seemed lulled to rest, if not to sleep.
The surgery was honestly kind of hilarious. Hannibal ignored Will's protests and shot himself up with some of his stimulants, as well as local anesthetic, and he directed Silvestri with a mirror and brusque, pitiless instructions, even while Silvestri repaired his perforated liver.
"The liver regenerates, right?" Will said. "You want a little slice to taste, while he's in there?"
"It is a unique opportunity," Hannibal considered. "--If you cannot still your hands, Mr. Silvestri, please remove them until they're steady again."
"I'm not going to let him kill you, Devon," Will promised, not for the first or last time. It would be smarter, but Silvestri was much too scared of Hannibal to tell anyone about this, and no matter what he was becoming, Will wasn't going to murder someone just for a little extra peace of mind.
Silvestri got ahold of himself and went back in. Will watched almost as closely as Hannibal did, careful not to block the light. Dolarhyde's bullet hadn't opened up the large intestine or the stomach, so peritonitis wasn't an immediate threat, but both were traumatized by the concussion, which meant a liquid diet for a while. No point carving out a morsel of Hannibal's liver when it would spoil before he was back on solid food.
"Unless you want it," Hannibal said to Will, with every appearance of sincerity.
Will said, "Thanks, I'll pass," but when Silvestri needed another hand to hold a retractor, Will stepped in, even though Hannibal was obviously chafing to do the work himself. He looked much more patient once he saw Will peering closely into the wound, touching the pad of his finger to the ragged edge of skin and the bloody, pulsing mass inside.
When he finished with Hannibal, Silvestri sewed up Will's chest and moved to work on his face, but Hannibal said, "Absolutely not," and steered him through applying skin glue instead. "I'll handle the sutures myself tomorrow," he said, relenting only enough to let Silvestri stitch the inside of Will's cheek, where it wouldn't show.
Getting to the meet and back was more of an ordeal, hugely complicated and so nerve-wracking Will thought his teeth might shatter. He had to pilot the boat in the dim predawn along the coast and tie up as near the shitty no-tell motel as possible, steal a car, swap the plates, and cart Hannibal there and back while every channel they could tune in on the radio was shrieking about his escape.
When they made it back to the sailboat, Will bundled up and stayed on the wheel until they reached the ICW. The further south he got them, the safer he'd feel.
He took short breaks to peer into the cabin, relieved every time to see Hannibal asleep. He'd finally let Will give him a mild sedative along with the post-surgery course of antibiotics.
By nightfall, Will was nodding off every few minutes, but he felt safe out on the water. The anxiety was sure to come crashing back as soon as they stopped moving. Jack knew him. When the FBI found the scene and the Dragon's body, they'd find the pier below the cliff soon after, and Jack was perfectly aware that Will knew boats.
The blood trail would tell the story of their fall from the cliff, and there would be powerful motivation within the FBI to declare that the plan to kill the Dragon had worked as planned, and had taken out Hannibal as well. The police officers escorting the prisoner transfer, and Will himself, would be counted as heroic casualties caught in the crossfire, lives sacrificed to stop two remorseless killers.
Jack wouldn't underestimate Hannibal. He knew Hannibal could survive a lot, and he knew Will was capable of sailing them away. But the FBI would be reluctant to pay for a manhunt when it benefited them so much more to behave as if Hannibal were already dead.
Maybe. Or maybe someone powerful at the FBI would benefit even more from a massive hunt for Hannibal. Maybe agents were already speeding down the coast to stake out slips and marinas for Miriam's boat; maybe at the labs they were poring over satellite images of the ICW even now. Will suppressed the punch-drunk urge to wave to the hypothetical cameras.
"Will. It's late."
"What the hell are you doing up?" Will snapped, craning around til a breath abruptly rasped out of him as the movement strained the damaged muscles of his chest.
"I could ask you the same question. It's cold out here, and it must be well over 36 hours since you last slept."
"We need to keep moving. And you need to get back in the bunk."
"Not without you. The sails are already down; let us drift. We can get back on course tomorrow."
"Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? This is a major waterway, there's all kinds of commercial traffic..."
"It won't be the most dangerous thing we've done today. Come in." When Will still didn't budge, Hannibal added, "I have no intention of going in til you do."
Will surrendered with ill grace, clambering into the cabin. "I should've made Silvestri give me some of that scopolamine cocktail you like so much, so I could keep you under til you heal up."
"What happened to letting God smite us down?"
"He had his chance. Get your ass back in bed."
Will was a little surprised at how well that worked.
"Okay, your murder game's still strong, but I don't think you've quite got your suave back yet."
"I don't think suave is what you want, Will."
Cameo appearance by The Greek Tycoon's Blackmailed Mistress courtesy of The Worst Bestsellers podcast.
The next day, Hannibal sewed up Will's cheek with such technique and care that the thread was nearly invisible, and instructed him in administering lidocaine so that Will's expressions wouldn't pull the sutures.
"It's good you patched it up quickly. And that we waited til I could stitch it rather than permitting Mr. Silvestri to try his hand," Hannibal commented, using a tiny flashlight to examine the internal repairs to Will's cheek. As clinical as the attention was, Will couldn't help a shivery frisson at the feel of Hannibal's thumb crooked at the corner of his open mouth.
Hannibal withdrew, clicking the little flashlight off. "His needlework is adequate, but the more intensive work needed a delicate touch. The risorius and zygomaticus muscles could easily knit improperly, and the formation of excess scar tissue could severely inhibit your facial expressions and give the skin a buckled appearance. Cosmetically the effect would be very noticeable. Fortunately, even though plastic surgery was never my speciality, I've given it considerable study, both professionally and... privately."
"You have got to stop taking those stimulants," Will attempted through stiff lips.
"When the time comes, I'll show you massage techniques that can help minimize the scarring. Your scars are a beautiful map of your experiences, but we wouldn't want this one to ruin your smile." Hannibal all but beamed at Will (meaning his brows relaxed and his lips bent almost imperceptibly upwards), and even gave his intact cheek a light pat.
"Seriously, I'm confiscating your uppers," Will mumbled numbly, pocketing the vials.
It turned out to be unnecessary. After that, Hannibal let Will sedate him with a heavier hand. Why not? There wasn't much to do but sail and heal, watch and worry.
They didn't make very good time, with Will running the boat literally single-handedly. As he weaned himself off the painkillers, he could barely stand to move his bad shoulder. Miriam had made adaptations to work around the limits of her prosthetic arm, enough to make sailing possible under the conditions, but everything seemed to take three times as long.
Add to that, Will regularly checked the cabin to make sure Hannibal wasn't seizing up or springing a leak. Not that there was much he could do about it if something did go wrong, so much of the damage was internal. But if something happened, he wanted to be there.
(The first night he dreamed that he entered the cabin to find Hannibal dead, the stag tearing open the bullet wound and lapping at the blood. It looked at him, dark face running red, and stove in the side of the boat with its antlers, icy water gushing in, dragging them down and down. When Will tried to get to Hannibal, he felt cuffs on his wrists, hands clamping on his shoulders, shoving him into one of the visiting cages from the BSHCI and casting it into the ocean, leaving Will to sink into the cold alone.
(Will's subconscious was often baroque, but it had never been subtle.)
As tough as it was, as jumpy as he felt about Hannibal's condition and the possibility of capture... when Will took inventory of himself, he wasn't unhappy. It had always been one of the hardest things to reconcile about Hannibal. On the most basic, animal level, Will found him easy to be with, comfortable, comforting, and all the awful things they'd done to and with each other hadn't changed that.
Sharing the tiny space of the cabin day after day under that kind of stress should have been unbearable, but it was fine. It was pleasant, even, after hours wrangling sails and rigging on the deck, to come in from the cold and dwell in another person's warmth and scent.
He could crank himself up stressing over potential capture while he was out in the wind, but when he joined Hannibal inside, Will relaxed into his presence, feeling the way he'd always felt in quiet moments with Hannibal: at once soothed and alert, calm and wide awake and so alive.
Too alive, those first nights, when Hannibal was still doped up on the IV. Will stretched out on a pallet on the floor, swaddled in a sleeping bag. That wasn't the problem. He'd suffered through countless nights on worse motel beds. At least here he didn't have neighbors' blaring TVs bleeding through the walls.
But he could only sleep in snatches of an hour or two, trying to lose himself in the white noise of the lapping waves and failing and failing. He was used to functioning on a minimum of rest, but it took its toll. By the fourth day he felt poisoned, every scrape and scar on his body throbbing as if he were coming apart at the seams.
"You're listening for your dogs," Hannibal said that night. He was tapering off the meds, his speech only slowed a little now, the rounded lilt of his accent more pronounced.
"...Yeah. I don't want to run down the radio batteries."
As ever, Hannibal followed his train of thought, despite the gap in the rails. "I could provide a soundtrack of sorts, if you like. I don't believe you speak Italian?"
"Nothing much but what I've read on a menu."
"Then the words themselves should not distract you," said Hannibal. His voice dropped low, pitched to lull. "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita."
Okay, Will knew menu Italian, and that sentence. Bedelia's talk, at least the version she gave for TEDx that racked up a million-odd hits on YouTube, began with it, in Italian and then in English, before she did her bit about the gates of hell versus the mouth of hell, and then launched into the hardcore lying.
Will wetted his lips. "Halfway through the journey of life, I found myself in darkness, for I had lost my way."
"Yes. A very bare translation, though. I believe my favorite English version is Zappulla's. Halfway along the journey of our life, I woke in wonder in a sunless wood, for I had wandered from the narrow way."
"Our life? Is it 'our' in the original? I thought he was alone at the start."
"Di nostra vita. It is 'our,' but most take it as a universal statement. 'The path of life that men pursue;' 'this way of life we're bound upon;' 'this our mortal life.'"
Something about Hannibal's voice shaping those phrases sank down into him, like coins slipping into water. "This our mortal life," Will repeated in the same cadence, taking the words for himself. "That's good. Keep going."
Hannibal resettled the blankets around himself and the IV line, and resumed. "Ahi quanto a dir, qual era è cosa dura esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte che nel pensier rinova la paura..."
Will woke up after just a few hours that night, too, and he'd dreamed about Dolarhyde shattering his spine. Even so, it was the best sleep he'd had in years.
Eventually Hannibal managed to tune in an NPR channel on the radio, and after listening to hours of staticky jazz and self-consciously clever game shows, they heard the news about themselves: missing, presumed dead.
According to FBI sources, they had both lost too much blood at the scene to recover without immediate medical attention, and there was evidence to indicate that after Hannibal Lecter killed Francis Dolarhyde, former FBI special agent Will Graham struggled to recapture Lecter, and both went over the edge of the cliff.
Will had to smile with the half of his face that still moved that way when the announcer solemnly intoned that their bodies had been "lost to the sea."
"Jack won't give up so readily, of course," Hannibal said. "And he parlayed my capture into a stronger position at the FBI. They will let him continue to hunt, as long as the public story of our deaths is preserved."
"Then we should change our looks," Will spoke carefully around the inevitable slurring. "To something Jack wouldn't expect. He knows you're vain. Let a beard grow out, dye your hair gray. Wear it in dreads. Dress in tie-dye. No one'd ever spot you. Or believe it, if they did."
Hannibal cast a weather eye his way, but he didn't take the bait. "And you?"
"I should probably go the other direction with it. Shave my head."
"'S just hair. It'll grow back."
"Wear a hat," Hannibal said with finality.
"Huh. Getting shot makes you peevish."
More likely it was cabin fever. Hannibal never complained about his injuries, except to occasionally protest Will's insistence that he lay the hell down and rest. The boat's stock mostly consisted of packaged foods, with only a few basic ingredients like flour and sugar, so there wasn't much of anything for Hannibal to do in the tiny kitchenette. With nothing to cook and no one to murder, Hannibal couldn't exert himself too much.
It was strange to see him idle; Will didn't think he ever had before. In Will's experience, Hannibal had always been purposeful, every gear engaged and ceaselessly turning.
These past three years, in weaker moments, Will had wondered how someone so dynamic could stand being confined in an institution. A mind palace was all well and good, but it had been hard to imagine a Hannibal who wasn't carving meat into artful shapes with one hand, drawing intricate charcoals with the other, and composing harpsichord music with his feet while simultaneously mindfucking a dozen patients in ten different languages.
Hannibal must have adapted somehow, because he didn't seem to be suffering for the lack of activity now. As he recovered, he merely collected the few books on the boat into a stack and began plowing through them. Miriam apparently enjoyed microhistories and category romance novels as leisure reading.
It was too bad they were presumed dead and on the run from the law and everyone they'd ever known. Otherwise Will would have started an Instagram account for the sole purpose of posting a photo of Hannibal Lecter lolling in bed with five days of beard growth, absorbed in The Greek Tycoon's Blackmailed Mistress.
Will came into the cabin at dusk to find Hannibal had removed his IV. Suddenly there was no need to maneuver around the bag and tube, and no assurance that Hannibal was leashed to it.
"Doing better, I guess," Will said.
Hannibal beckoned him closer, unbuttoned Will's shirt and moved the bandages aside to check his chest. "So are you. You may try using this arm again, though if you feel any particular discomfort, you should stop at once. Don't risk straining it."
Nodding, Will kept his face still as Hannibal bandaged him up again, and assumed a look of placid concentration when he started changing Hannibal's dressings in turn.
When Will first visited Hannibal at the BSHCI... God, just a few weeks ago, it seemed impossible... when he first saw Hannibal again, he thought Hannibal might have gained a little weight in confinement, a slight paunch. He was rolling into his fifties now, after all.
But resting his hand there as he examined the nicely healing bullet wound, Will felt the solid pack of muscle. "Are you more built now? Did Alana get you a personal trainer while you were in there?"
"I simply kept to a regular exercise regime. There was little else I could do to maintain my health under the circumstances."
"When I was at good ol' BSHCI, if they saw me doing situps, they'd send someone down to rattle the bars and threaten me with the showers. Then again, I didn't help the director cover up a murder or inherit a fortune." Will finished rewrapping Hannibal's torso and busied himself packing the supplies back into the first aid kit. "Guess that got you some leeway."
"It did indeed." Hannibal watched him thoughtfully. Will hadn't dodged worth a damn. "I had hoped," Hannibal said, "that you had made your decision."
"Deferred it," Will confessed reluctantly, pushing the kit away. He was perched on the bunk, still, his hip parked against Hannibal's waist. Here, at least, Hannibal's body had a little give, flanks softly curved. Will couldn't remember if they'd been like that before, if he'd ever noticed in the first place or even had the opportunity to notice. Now he saw it every time he changed the bandages. All those expensive tailored clothes Hannibal used to wear, and it turned out, shirtless was his best look.
Hannibal studied him with an abstract frown. "You've been so insistent that we treat our injuries properly."
"That's the only way to postpone a decision like this, isn't it? We have to plan as though we're going to live, right up until something changes that. I tried once and failed, I lost my momentum. Now I can't just snap to judgement and reach for the bone saw. This is permanent. I don't care how many equations you write about teacups, you can't unkill someone once they're dead."
"So far, no," said Hannibal. He tilted his head minutely in a movement that made him somehow look inhuman, a gesture Will had failed to ever forget, even after all this time. "I've given you three years, Will. Do you need more?"
Will had been strenuously avoiding that question since he woke in the water, focusing on solutions for their immediate problems, or indulging in sarcasm, or obsessing about capture, or listening to Hannibal recite Dante in the night. Now Hannibal was off the IV, healing, and the chance to make a different choice was escaping Will moment by moment, like sand pouring through his fingers, insidious and slow.
He turned to face Hannibal fully. "I don't want you dead."
"Anymore," Hannibal said, with the faintest tint of humor.
"I never really did. I only ever wanted you to stop." Will swallowed. "And now I'm not even sure I want that."
He expected a smirk in answer to that, but Hannibal only nodded, his expression gravely pleased.
Haltingly, Will said, "I don't want to kill you. I don't want to die. But I don't know how to live with what we are."
"Your sensibilities are too finely tuned to be soothed by any of the usual justifications," Hannibal replied.
Will held his steady gaze. "With the Dragon... an unrepentant serial murderer was attacking us. It was self-defense. But that's not why I did it. I killed him with you because I wanted to."
"Yes," Hannibal said warmly.
"I didn't think, on the cliff. But now, I've thought about it... and I was right. I can't go back to my life. I can't shuffle you back off to prison again. But we're a danger if we're out in the world. Ending this is the right thing to do. It's the only right thing to do."
Hannibal smiled. It was disarmingly friendly, considering that Will was threatening his life yet again. "Clearly you want to be persuaded otherwise, or you wouldn't tell me."
"I'd tell you. I promised-- courteously, to your face."
"Very fair-minded of you." Hannibal rolled up onto his elbow and reached to cup Will's lacerated cheek, his thumb gliding over the seam of stitches. "We're no danger to the world at present. And I want to see this heal. I think it will mend quite nicely."
"We can't float out here forever."
"No. But it hurts to talk for long, doesn't it? And even with the lidocaine, talking disturbs the sutures. Give it a little more time, Will. When you can speak freely, we'll discuss it."
"Which also gives you a chance to recover, so if it comes down to a deathmatch, you win and I'm dinner. That's not courtesy, that's stupidity."
"I didn't resist when you took us over the cliff, did I?"
"Was there time for that?" Will asked, skeptical.
Hannibal gazed at him implacably. "There was time."
Arrested, Will considered him in return. "All right," he said, finally.
"Thank you." Hannibal let his hand fall from Will's face to his forearm. "Meanwhile. If there's only one right thing to do, everything else you choose to do is wrong. And in that case, you may as well do the wrong thing you want to do. Seems a waste to do wrong and not even enjoy it."
That surprised a laugh out of Will. "Okay, your murder game's still strong, but I don't think you've quite got your suave back yet."
"I don't think suave is what you want, Will."
Will couldn't argue with that, or maybe he just didn't want to. He dragged the covers back as slowly as if they were made of lead, but he slid readily into the bunk next to Hannibal. Settling against him was easy, comfortable, comforting. Will drew the blankets back up over them both and relaxed into Hannibal's presence, the animal rightness of being near him... the warmth of his skin bare against Will's, the strength of his shoulder as Will tucked his face against it.
He felt the rumble of Hannibal's voice as much as heard it, and he was asleep almost before Hannibal wandered into the sunless wood, halfway through the journey of this, their mortal life.