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The Ghost of Christmas Elsewhere

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I would like to meet you all in Heaven.  But there’s a litany of dreams that happens somewhere in the middle.

-Richard Siken

 

close your eyes

The pendulum swings, and the street falls silent.  Once, twice, five times until the scene is reset. 

This time, Will isn’t in the middle but off center, staring across a distance of too many feet at himself, bloodied and wild, head tilted up by the defiance that burns in his eyes.  The hand on the gun is steady, certain but full of distaste.  Had he the option he wanted, he wouldn’t have pulled the trigger.  He’d have far preferred to rip out the throats of every uniform they faced with his teeth, a learned skill.  Those that held Hannibal would have lost their hands, first, but this is not a reconstruction of his own desires, and Will lets the thought pass.  In, and out, like breath, like smoke. 

He closes his eyes, falls deeper, feels the pull and weight of restraint. 

“I am proud, and terrified.”  Here, in this space he hasn’t used alone in a goddamn age, his voice seems to echo horribly in ways it shouldn’t, over such open ground.  Will shudders, and refocuses.  “Fear is not an emotion I carry often, but I know its taste.  It coats the back of my throat, and I want to call to him, but I will not give them the satisfaction.  Later, I will wonder if I should have.  If it would have mattered.  Regret is another unwanted delicacy.”

Will’s shoulders drop, reflex response to realization.  “I know too late that he will not let them take him.  We never planned for this, and in that split second I know my failure is twofold.  We never should have come back here, but I should have spoken to him more about this, convinced him capture should it happen didn’t have to be the end.  We could have gone in and come out together, if we played it right, but that’s not a future he sees.  He sees concrete and tests, confinement and separation.  Now that I’ve set him free, his river isn’t enough.  I see it now, for all the good it does me.  I have half a second to grasp the hell I face before he fires.”

Will’s stillness breaks, a dizzying blur of motion as he jerks with a painfully sharp twist to the left.  “They haven’t cuffed me yet; it all happened too fast.  I dislocate the shoulder clipped in the ambush and sweep one guard off his feet, momentarily blind the other with a solid bite to his face.”  Will can taste the blood, the strange spongy quality of the nose he spits out.  Swallowing would be more psychologically effective, but he has neither the breath nor the time. 

Behind him now, the gun fires once.

The heartbeat of hesitation that brings is only enough for him to wheel around, and though his hand clenches hard enough to crush around the throat of the cop at his back, the blow to his neck brings him to his knees.  He’s panting, blood from the man he bit mingling with his own, dripping from his chin.  He is transfixed, dizzied and staring at the rising smoke as the man he loves loses balance with so much force it looks deliberate.  As if he chooses to go down, rather than let them make him.  In a way, it’s true. 

“They fire four times.”  Even in this clinical construction, his voice is hoarse, weighted and raw.  “Someone in the background tries to call them down but there is too much rage here.  I am almost certain the one screaming is Jack.  It does not absolve him.  For his role in this, I tell myself he is already dead.  The truth of that promise is more ambiguous.  One of us is dead; it may well be Jack, could just as easily be me.  I cannot see this new future I am in.  I can’t see anything at all but him.”

Will’s forward motion toward his own body is pitifully short, clipped by the slam of a nightstick at the base of his skull, a knee against his spine as he goes down.  The ache in his head is powerful, consuming, but the violent evisceration he can feel still going on in his chest is stronger still.  He refuses to close his eyes. 

“Someone is screaming, still.  I realize it’s probably me.  I realize…I don’t care.  There are dark spots; my head is swimming.  I know I have a serious concussion.  I remain coherent long enough to hope I won’t wake up.”  Will swallows, lays his bloody cheek to the pavement.  It’s dry and chilled but his eyes are wet, burning, blurring.  He blinks furiously, though the eyes on the fallen body have likely already gone out, unable to look back, unable to feel him looking.  “I’m cold; I taste snow and blood.  I am 11, and 54, and my sister and the man I tried to die for three years ago are bleeding out before my eyes simultaneously.  I can’t remember the last words I said to him.  I do remember that I didn’t kiss him when we got out of the car.  I meant to, but I was distracted.”  He can feel the sudden pain of that memory, overbalanced and made wicked sharp by grief.  He gasps, takes it like a knife between his ribs.  “Everything goes dark.” 

For Will, the darkness lifts, sight and sound returning as the quiet brought by the pendulum lifts.  At least half a dozen cop cars and two fire engines block the road, their swirling red and blue merging eerily with the glow of Christmas lights on either side of the street.  White reindeer, rainbow bulbs on bushes.  A polar bear in a blue sweater, sitting in front of a fake flickering fire. 

To his left, Hannibal’s unconscious form has been lifted from the street, cuffed to a gurney.  They’re still in the process of strapping him down.  His mouth is covered in blood that mostly isn’t his, the hollows beneath his eyes wet with tears that are.  It fills Will with righteous fury to see it, to be forced to watch as no one has the decency to take so much as the corner of a blanket and wipe his face clean.  They shouldn’t see him like this; not these people.  His grief should not be made an indignity, but it will be, and there isn’t a damn thing Will can do about it.

When he played his hand, he didn’t imagine having to stay around and watch Hannibal fold.  He thought…

Well, to be honest, he thought he’d be nothing by now.  They overlap, but he isn’t Hannibal.  He doesn’t believe in God.  He is, however, unmistakably still something, standing invisible in the middle of a crowded street, his body on the pavement a good six feet away.  Jack is crying, too.  His tears slide right off Will like rain, leaving him unmarred.  Let Jack mourn him; he had a chance not to.  All he’d have to have done is not press the issue.  He could have let them go.  He won’t carry the shroud of Jack’s grief, just Hannibal’s.  It’s more than heavy enough.   

*****

In the hospital, Hannibal flickers like a television picture shot through with static.  He is above and beside and beneath his body as often as he’s in it, never far enough in any direction for Will to grasp him…or, perhaps, he simply doesn’t know how.  There is a strange sort of power to being whatever he is now, a low thrum of it that he doesn’t understand though he spends a solid day of frustration trying.  In those hours, he discovers more of what he can’t do than what he can—he can’t touch Hannibal, not here, not like this, and he can’t seem to wake him up.  He can’t touch anything else with any real impact either, though he can sit on a chair and he isn’t falling through the floor.  The lack of conventional logic to his circumstances would fascinate Hannibal, but Will feels trapped and frustrated, begins to wonder with honest dread if he has in fact ended up in hell. 

He slips into his first alteration entirely by accident, like being tilted out of a picture frame for leaning too hard against the edges.  All he knows in the first moment is that he was in the hospital room imagining what might have happened if they’d stayed in Toledo until everything shifts with a strange twist and he’s there, across the room from himself and Hannibal in a villa he knows far better than the back of his hand.  Hannibal is reading a medical journal in bed, and there’s a glass of orange juice on his night stand.  Will is curled beside him, chin propped against Hannibal’s hip, his palm teasing at the slight strip of skin between the waistband of his pajama pants and his shirt.  Will knows this moment, too; he lived it.  He nuzzled that shirt up, kissed over Hannibal’s ribs and asked him if he ever thought about calling in Alana’s debt. 

He tenses in anticipation, but the Will across the room stares at Hannibal longer than he should, opens his mouth, and shuts it.  Sighs, and turns his head until he’s breathing in the direction of Hannibal’s cock, clearly soft still though with the heat of a willing mouth so close the fabric starts to betray a shift. 

“If you were bored, you could’ve said.”  Hannibal’s voice is warm with amusement, though his eyes never leave his pages. 

Will huffs, arches his neck to mouth at the shape just rising into definition, murmurs between open kisses,  “Are you going to keep reading that, or can I blow you now?”

Hannibal drops a hand to the nape of his neck, drags it forward through his curls, back to slip just under the neck of his shirt and play against his spine.  Casual, like petting a dog.  “Yes.”  How he manages to put so much wry entertainment and affection into such a short word Will really isn’t sure, but his counterpart on the bed is laughing, calling him a bastard and pulling Hannibal’s pants down to take him into his mouth anyway.  It’s awhile before he concedes and puts the journal down, but from across the room Will can see the moment he stops reading, his eyes hot and half open, his breath still even but shallow. 

Will keeps watching, the hitch in his chest a strange mixture of lust and jealousy and pain and something heavier that wavers between hope and horrified regret.  He watches as they make love, lazy at first until Hannibal feels the full measure of Will’s restlessness and responds, pushes him hard enough that when it’s over he’s limp and panting.  They’ve hardly spoken a word, but Hannibal’s concern is in the hand he presses to Will’s stomach to feel its rise and fall, Will’s reassurance in the close of his eyes, the tilt of his head to bare his throat.  He is content, in that moment. 

The question Will was still half expecting doesn’t come, not then and not even after time has passed, the day stretching forward.  Later, the tension settles into his alter ego’s shoulders again as he chops jalapenos in the kitchen.  Hannibal seeks it out with his hands, kneads at knotted muscle until Will begins to unravel beneath his touch.  From his vantage point as an outsider, Will can see the flash of worry in Hannibal’s eyes, how quick he hides it when the man in his arms glances back at him. 

“You know, I can only help you so much if you won’t tell me what’s troubling you.” 

Will’s laughter is soft, willingly conceding.  “That obvious, huh?” 

“More or less.”  Hannibal’s hands flex, his eyes closing as he nuzzles into Will’s curls.  “If there’s something—“

“You haven’t done anything; it’s…”  Knowing himself as he does, Will can hear his own frustration.  He doesn’t know exactly when this place started to hem him in, and he hates it, feels ridiculous for it when he has nothing to complain about, when nothing’s gone wrong and he can’t even properly name what it is he feels.  “I don’t know.  I feel like I’m going stir crazy; it’ll pass.”

Hannibal calculates; Will can almost see the plans shifting and shuffling in his head, discarding ones that don’t quite appeal to him until he lands on one that does.  He shifts his arms to Will’s waist, wrapping them warm but loose around him as he murmurs against the shell of his ear.  “Prague is lovely in the winter.  There is much I would love to show you; the premiere of Don Giovanni was held there in a theater still open today.” 

Will knows this is an offer he’ll agree to, that he is likely already trying to convince himself a change of scenery will be enough, but he knows, too, that Hannibal isn’t done.  He can feel his hesitation from across the room. 

“We could stay long enough to enjoy the Christmas markets.  Perhaps even send our dear Uncle Jack a card.”  There it is, the more that he wants, that Hannibal even now isn’t certain he should offer.  “It’s prudent to remain conservative close to home, but vacations are meant for indulgence.  Or, if you’d rather not return to Toledo we could—“

The knife falls to the cutting board, but Will doesn’t even bother to turn to kiss him properly, just reaches back to grip tight at his hair and cranes his neck back, meeting in the middle.  He’s eager, relief he didn’t entirely anticipate bleeding out thick from every suddenly eased inch of muscle and bone.  It’s in his voice when he speaks, breathless, his lips still brushing Hannibal’s. 

“Prague does sound lovely.”

In the corner, Will wonders if either of them would hear him if he screamed. 

*****

Any action once taken is easier repeated, and Will is a quick learner.  Now that he knows he isn’t constrained by material matters like dimension and time, he can go anywhere he likes, see anything he chooses.  If every choice made creates a world of his own, he could spend a million years searching out worlds where they reach the end of this year alive and together, where they found each other sooner, hurt each other less.  He could watch them fall in love a thousand times and never be finished, never grow tired of it, and never feel entirely sated either.  Wherever he goes, his Hannibal is always the shadow behind him, calling Will back so he can watch him hover in-between.  Never close enough to this limbo he’s in to touch, never far enough away to see him wake. 

When he can bear the distance, he spends his time meandering, browsing through possibilities like he would through a book, lives falling like thumbed pages through his fingers until he makes the choice to stop and look, to fully take a certain moment in, to sometimes chase back further to see how they reached it. 

Flip

Florence, a narrow old house with a courtyard that fills with sunlight. 

Abigail started a garden there, but she’s discovered she’s not really so good with plants.  Hannibal’s herbs are slowly gaining ground on her flowers, a quiet battle Will watches with good natured amusement, non-partisan.  Hannibal is teaching them both Italian, but though Will is the better student Abigail puts it to more use.  She’s taking classes, exploring possibilities.  Fishing, in every way she can.  In the old cellar Hannibal guides her hand as she slits a throat, removes a heart. 

When she is present Will never partakes, no matter how much disdain he carries for the prey in their clutches, no matter how stunning Hannibal looks with blood speckling his forearms where he’s rolled up his shirt.  Will’s kills are wild, always with an edge of danger, always the crackle of blood lust.  He has never hidden what he and Hannibal are now from her and never would, and he knows she’s more than clever enough to know that when he and Hannibal hunt together the experience leaves him battered and bruised but comfortable in his skin in a way that lasts for days.  He has no doubts that she knows much, but there’s a difference in her knowing their kills are foreplay and seeing that wildness in him unleashed.  The animal glint in his eyes as he bore his victim to the ground would terrify her—or it wouldn’t, and he’s not sure which for him would be worse. 

It’s better all-around to stand aside, to watch her learn. 

When she removes her first lungs she soaks in Hannibal’s praise like water on parched ground, but it’s Will she goes to when she’s finished, Will’s hands she rests her bloody ones in to show him they’re not shaking.  He can feel her pride.  She feels brave, capable, treasured. 

“Did you see, dad?  No hesitation marks.  Hannibal said I’m almost as good as he was with a scalpel at my age.” 

He twitches because he still isn’t used to it, because hearing that word from her lips is something he both craves and dreads, but she has put Hobbs behind her by her assertion, and it’s them she wants, it’s Will she’s chosen to bear that title.  If he’s to teach her her choices matter, he can hardly fail to let her use it. 

Will wraps her up in his arms, pulls her in close and lets her grip bloody his shirt, kisses her forehead.  “I saw.  It was beautiful.” 

Over Abigail’s shoulder he meets Hannibal’s eyes across the room, glimmering in the low light, devouring Will whole. 

Flip

Outside of Zurich, a house so stunning it rivals Baltimore. 

They have separate rooms, separate beds, but those are the final lines between them.  They kill together, cook together.  They have three dogs together, all rescues, though only two found by Will.  The third was a gift from Hannibal, a purebred German Shepherd.  He’d driven hours to get her from her foster home, all for the sake of seeing Will’s eyes light up.  He hadn’t had a shepherd since his earliest days on the force down in New Orleans. 

There is no lack of love in this house, and it could easily be enough—elsewhere it is, and Will has seen one of those iterations of this home too, seen himself curl into Hannibal’s side by the fire, clothed and chaste and utterly in love.  Eventually, those two go on to share a bed, to kiss in the aftermath of hunts and warm with wine and sometimes, rarely, while Hannibal takes himself in hand, but try as he might Will never feels the physical draw to him he sometimes wishes he did.  Hannibal never minds.  Will never touches a woman again, but Hannibal pays extravagant amounts of money here and there for strippers who put on an excellent show without ever laying a hand on what’s his.  Never the same woman twice, but every one of them to Will’s tastes.  Will never minds the naked hunger in Hannibal’s eyes as he watches.

In this world, though, Will’s desires are more malleable than he initially knows, and Hannibal less willing to surrender this final piece without a solid fight.  The man he brings home is the product of careful selection, a closer mirror of his desires than even Dimmond ever was.  Younger than Will, soft brown curls, bright blue eyes.  Hannibal picks him up at the orchestra, and Will can bear the two of them drinking good bourbon and discussing Swiss art in Hannibal’s study.  He can even bear Hannibal taking him upstairs, though his nerves start to fray the longer they stay.  Cries that he knows are Hannibal’s reach him all the way down the hall, and it feels like having his skin flayed to think he’s in there letting a stranger fuck him, that he’s moaning like a goddamn cat in heat for some bastard who’d probably run screaming if he knew the truth.

It’s a strange sensation, to have to question his sexuality due directly to the sudden welling urge to get up, march down the hall, shove open the door and snap the man’s neck.  He could do it without a word, turn around and walk out and lock himself in his room for the rest of the night.  It’d serve Hannibal right to have to deal with the body himself without having even gotten off first. 

He’s honestly not sure what stops him—the vaguely rational train of thought that tells him not to rise to the bait, to wait and consider the questions this has uncovered when he’s more clearheaded, or the wry voice that points out there’s probably no better way to ensure Hannibal gets off than to snap a man’s neck in the middle of sex out of jealousy.  He’s too good of a dog trainer not to know this isn’t the type of behavior he wants to reward. 

He almost makes it, too.  He holds out even after they fall quiet, even after realizing that Hannibal’s going to let him spend the night.  That fresh outrage drives him up for the Tennessee whiskey he keeps stashed in the desk where he ties his flies, but he swallows it down with the drink and waits.  He doesn’t sleep, but he manages, has even calmed down enough to begin to picture sitting Hannibal down and talking about this rationally. 

Breakfast does him in.  It’d be hilariously nonsensical to anyone who didn’t know Hannibal that this is his breaking point, but it’s absolutely an insult he won’t bear.  He could handle Hannibal fucking the son of a bitch as a way to make his point, but he draws the line at cooking for him in their kitchen. 

The guy’s leaning against the fridge watching Hannibal cook bacon when Will comes downstairs, and he puts an end to it without preamble.  He pads in barefoot to minimize his approach, cuts his throat a single deep slice and shoves him forward with a little more violence than needed, breath heavy with rage rather than exertion as he watches blood spread across the tile.  If Will was able, he’d be purring. 

“That’s going to be impossible to get out of the grout.”  Hannibal’s voice is deliberately mild, but Will can feel  his faintly smug ecstasy, lapping like waves at his ankles.  He hates it, loves it, is fucking infuriated by it and so damn aroused he can hardly breathe.

He exhales sharply, drags his eyes up to take Hannibal in.  He looks soft and warm, his v-neck sweater a pale lavender, a strip of skin bared between it and his pajama pants.  Will is going to wreck him.    

Flip

The outskirts of Hermosillo, an old ranch house with sun baked land.

Will has more dogs here than any other life of theirs he’s seen.  Fourteen at highest count, all former street dogs, all thriving on a diet Hannibal helps him construct.  It’s surprising, really, how often they don’t eat people.  They can’t hunt all the time and the choicest cuts go to their own table; the dogs mostly end up with beef and turkey, cuts of fresh fish sometimes when Will has it. 

In a future Will can’t bring himself to look closely at, this place goes up in a blaze of fire when the bureau finds it.  In this one, the outsider it takes in doesn’t bring the lick of flame but the incomparable echo of a child’s laughter.  Worlds apart, those two forces, but both have transformative power.  It’s unlikely the two of them survive the first, but the second…

They find him after a kill, a bundle sold to pay a debt.  He is very small, sick and thin, weak when he pushes against Hannibal’s chest.   There are a hundred ways his story could go from here, but this Hannibal looks down at him and remembers the orphanage and teacups he can’t repair, and he takes him home. 

Will doesn’t balk for long.

Sebastian’s potential spills out into dozens of worlds like the sprawl of ivy and Will has seen a few and not enough—the way Hannibal’s hand fits against the back of his neck in comfort and pride when he kills a man for a disparaging comment about his fathers, in perfect harmony on the back of a horse winning gold for Mexico, cuffed to table in Dallas with Will’s defiance in his eyes and a tilt to his head that’s all Hannibal as an older Jack Crawford circles him.

Those later years very widely, but the first blur together, and it’s there Will lingers.  Hannibal has a patience for the boy that makes him ache, brings incongruous dizziness to a form that no longer needs to breathe.  He brings him into the kitchen, teaches him to make and wrap fresh tamales, to bake cakes for Will’s birthday.  He has a talent for nurturing his inherent thirst for knowledge without overloading it, and for the first time Will properly sees the Hannibal that didn’t come into full focus for him in Lithuania—Mischa’s brother with his son on his lap, reading him Grimm’s original bloody Cinderella in German. 

Both Wills watch from the doorway, and his stomach clenches hard when Hannibal looks up and smiles and he knows it isn’t for him, not really. 

“Would you like to join us?  I could start over.”  The humor in Hannibal’s voice betrays how well he knows the answer on the way, but he asks all the same.

“No need to start over on my account; I do better if I don’t try to pick out the five words I know.”  It’s an obvious exaggeration, one he’s made before, but Sebastian still giggles, and Hannibal still shakes his head with him, like sharing a secret. 

“What will we do with him, Seb?  We can’t take him to Munich with us at this rate.”

Sebastian imparts the sage wisdom that he’ll never get better if he doesn’t listen, so they both do, the Will who belongs settling on top of the covers with his arm around his boy and his head on Hannibal’s shoulder and the one who doesn’t still at the door, listening and staring and wondering what on earth he could have done different to deserve a moment like this.