While to the outside eye it may appear to be the end, falling from the cliff in the wake of slaying the Great Red Dragon was the beginning. Will had been unsure whether he wanted them to survive until they were in freefall, plummeting toward the dark ocean, the wind biting his skin, dragging at his wounds like a blunt scalpel. It was at this point, still wrapped in Hannibal’s arms as they were faced with the possibility of a final end, that Will felt free.
As with most things, the slow build led to a shattering and sudden climax. Years of Hannibal and Will twisting around each other, forming, breaking, strengthening whatever that thing between them was, had led to this. Part of Will felt guilty, but it was mostly a product of his lack of real, substantial guilt. He felt alive, he felt complete. He saw a new beauty in the world, one that perhaps he had always seen, but had never allowed himself to appreciate.
Their intimacy was inexplicable. It could not be expressed with anything as meagre as words, or touch, or action, or even with the raw bite of emotion that permeated all of these. It was the intimacy between the sea and the sand, the fog and the earth, between one inch of void and the next. To attempt to quantify or explain their intimacy was like searching for the cracks in the teacup before it had shattered. It was staring at a shelf of fine china and trying to visualise exactly where each item would break.
They were joined in a way that transcended words, touch, emotion. There was no word in any language that Will, or even Hannibal with his substantially more extensive linguistic knowledge, was aware of. Beyond friendship, beyond romance, beyond sexual desire. They were a single stretch of void. Will’s darkness, having been repressed for so long, burst forth in a tidal wave the colour of blood in the moonlight. Hannibal appeared gaunt, opaque, with the antlers of a stag, and the tines of his antlers bled into the air around him, until it was unclear whether his void was engulfing Will’s or vice versa.
They hit the surf, were dragged under and, by some mutual, unspoken agreement, fought together to reach the surface. Their heads rose above the black of the ocean to collide with the black of the night. Their eyes met, and thus they finally, truly begun.
Will lived the next few months in striking technicolour. The world was vivid, every sensation lighting up his skin. He was unsurprised that they managed to reach Europe unseen, because he was not unfamiliar with the concept of wilful blindness. People didn’t see Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham when they looked at them boarding the plane, or sitting in heated silence at a train station. They didn’t see, because they weren’t looking. No one expected to see an FBI’s-most-wanted serial killer and his friend, accomplice, partner – whatever label people wanted to apply – and so the simple truth was that they didn’t. It wasn’t much different from the way Hannibal had remained unseen for all those years. Hiding in plain sight, thousands of eyes looking, but failing to recognise what was right in front of them.
A clock ticked slow and heavy behind Will’s eyes. The numbers bled from its face as the ticking sped up, but it didn’t panic him the way it would have, once. They both knew that Europe was where the FBI and Jack Crawford would infer they’d go, which was why they planned to move on as soon as they’d done what they went there to do. They had enough time, they both knew that. The authorities wouldn’t expect them to make a move as reckless as this, and it was the overtly predictable nature of their actions that would allow the actions to come to fruition.
“It’s asking to get caught, returning here,” Will said. They were in a hotel near the centre of Palermo, with elegant architecture and a sweeping view of the bay. He and Hannibal sat beside each other on the balcony, the wooden bench only allowing a few centimetres of space between them.
“We can leave now, if you wish,” Hannibal replied, his tone even.
Will’s lips twitched and he turned his head to the side. It was late afternoon, the sun casting long and gentle shadows. It filtered through the leaves of the trees in the courtyard below, made the greens and blues more vibrant and the muted, earthy colours of the city glow. Bathed in the orange light, Hannibal looked simultaneously otherworldly and more human than Will had ever seen him. “You know we won’t do that,” he said, his voice a slow drag. “Not before we…” he paused, searching for the right word. His tongue darted out to wet his lips and Hannibal caught his gaze, searching. “Begin,” he finished.
There was a spark in Hannibal’s eyes in response to his choice of words. “Do you consider this your beginning, Will,” he asked, controlled and clinical.
“The Red Dragon was a prelude.”
“An introduction,” Hannibal added. “And now we enter something greater.”
“Something more intimate.” He paused for a long moment, appreciating the warmth of the sun on his exposed forearms where he’d rolled up the sleeves of his black button-up, and the glint in Hannibal’s eyes that was half a reflection of the light, and half his darkness responding to Will’s words. “Something unambiguous.”
“Do you crave intimacy, Will?” Hannibal asked, his tone still clinical, but his eyes betraying the true depth of the question.
Will took his time in answering. He could elaborate on the extent of his cravings, his feelings, his thoughts, but there weren’t words that could ever do them justice. Instead, he responded with another twitch of his lips. “Is the real question whether I crave you, Hannibal?”
Neither of them answered, the question being appreciated as inherently rhetorical, but they let it serve as a bridge between that moment, and the next stretch of moments, each one centrifugal to the consummation of this thing between them. Their beginning stretched from the moment they fell from the cliff, to the moment their tableau was complete.
Later, the details of how they managed it would baffle the authorities. They would describe it as the Chesapeake Ripper’s apotheosis, but what many would fail to realise was that it was as much Will’s design as Hannibal’s. This was their design, the last piece in their puzzle, and the first glimpse of them as a whole. Will felt no remorse, killing in cold blood. He felt guilt, but it was ethereal and inconsequential, a memory of the emotions this situation might have elicited had it unfolded years ago. They killed twelve people in one night, and yet by the end of it they were both still pristine, in appearance and spirit, save for a few loose hairs and streaks of blood on their hands.
A circle of severed arms hung between the floor and the ceiling of the Palermo Chapel, the centre directly above the skeleton etched into the tiles. Beneath this were the only two bodies left mostly in-tact. Ten people had been reduced to nothing more than arms and hands, and Will knew that Hannibal was regretful that they would not be able to put the rest of the meat to use because of the pressing time constraints, but they both knew that it was more than worth it.
Suspended just out of reach of the hands, whose fingers clawed toward the centrepiece of their display, were two bodies drenched in black tar, with stag’s antlers protruding from their heads. They were suspended in an approximation of an embrace, an approximation of Hannibal and Will’s pose as they tumbled off the cliff. Each body held in its hand the heart of the other. Their eyeless sockets met in a sightless, obsidian gaze. It was the purest physical representation of intimacy. The bodies were naked, save for a smattering of raven’s feathers along the shoulders and tops of arms, almost like the beginning of wings, and along the groin to preserve modesty. The nudity wasn’t meant to be demeaning. It was a symbol of freedom, to represent the extent to which they finally, fully saw each other. They were together, intimate, as they continually and eternally evaded the grasp of the FBI.
The tableau communicated a message that Jack Crawford, Freddie Lounds, Alana Bloom, everyone from their old life, would understand. Perhaps they wouldn’t appreciate the sheer beauty of it, but the metaphors would likely be read for what they were, even without Will’s empathy to see what others could not. Their art was simultaneously a mockery toward the authorities, and a public display of Hannibal and Will’s affection. Their relationship would not be misconstrued or reduced to labels. People would not presume to understand the nature of their bond, not after their beginning was complete.
Will knew that Jack Crawford would still be trying to justify Will’s behaviour. He’d deny that Will had chosen Hannibal until the moment it was proved otherwise. He’d theorise that Will had been kidnapped, drugged, hypnotised. He’d refuse to believe that Will’s darkness was as vast and prominent as Hannibal’s. There was no ambiguity about this crime scene, and about the fact that it had been a pair effort, with Will not only consenting to the violence but giving it beauty. It would destroy Jack Crawford’s lingering perception of Will as fragile and corruptible, and he would finally see him as Hannibal had always seen him.
More importantly, however, it was a love song between Will and Hannibal. It was their first dance, after years of macabre courtship.
Their eyes met in the dim light of the chapel, their beginning hanging above them, complete and beautiful. Hannibal’s eyes were full of emotion, sheer reverence, and Will expected he looked much the same. “How do you feel, Will?” Hannibal asked, his hand darting out, the motion much more violent than the ensuing brush of fingers across Will’s cheek.
He held Hannibal’s heart in his hand, just as Hannibal held his. “Free,” was his response.
They were on a plane out of Italy before the bodies were discovered, soaring toward a new life that Will was still having trouble grasping the reality of. Neither of them ever raised the topic of what, exactly, the nature of their relationship was, because they understood that there were no names for it. They let it progress from one moment to the next, fluid, black and glistening, the tendrils of their darkness mingling every time their eyes, hands, skin met. Had someone asked Will to describe his relationship with Hannibal, he would have considered for a moment, before settling on the same words that had let them begin. “It’s beautiful,” he’d whisper, and each time those words would send them tumbling into a freefall.