Catching signals that sound in the dark, we will take off our clothes, and they'll be placing fingers through the notches in your spine.
Hannibal, as if he had some internal clock ticking and whirring inside him, calmly closed the leather case of his tablet and placed it on the side-table between them. He stood and walked across the room towards the kitchen.
Will’s eyes followed him. His steps, though still genteel and postured, had become more relaxed since they’d moved in together. He now frequently walked with a slow casualness, often even shuffling his socked feet in the mornings as he made coffee.
“Can you bring me a glass of water while you’re up?”
Hannibal stopped for a moment, poised like a dog who has heard some far off noise, before he continued on, making no other sign he’d heard the request.
Will’s question was more an experiment than anything. They’d hardly spoken at all since the fall, through patching each other’s wounds, tying off stitches, changing bandages, helping bathe and wash hair and put on socks and any number of other things that suddenly become difficult after traumatic injury. What had there been to say? After years and years of eating at the core of each other, what do you do when you suddenly survive all that?
Apparently, you sit silently across from each other at the breakfast table, mussed hair at all angles, dipping toast into your runny eggs, making no effort to pretend the world is the same. You go on walks around your property, together and alone, out of breath from the rolling hill on the east side, pinesap-sticky from the trees on the west. You live on top of each other, sharing beds, chairs, plates, forks, soap, undershirts, newspapers, towels, trading them back and forth with an unrehearsed ease that doesn’t feel like sharing at all.
You never talk about it.
And so it becomes the rug under your feet, and you walk on it all day long, and it just stays there, warm.
Hannibal came back in the room, sweater smelling faintly of the leeks he’d been sauteeing for potato soup. He moved a cork coaster to the side of the table nearest Will, then placed the glass of water on the coaster. A bead of condensation rolled down and into the cork, and Hannibal sat again, opening his tablet to start reading where he’d left off.
WIll didn’t touch the water. Neither of them acknowledged it at all.
A few days later, Will woke to find Hannibal still in bed, sleeping soundly to his left. Will had discovered that Hannibal was not at all averse to sleeping in; most days, however, he chose to wake before Will, doing his washing up, starting breakfast, and generally puttering around in the bronze light before dawn.
Will hadn’t known what to expect from this kind of domesticity, had certainly never intended it or planned for it in his mind. After Hannibal had dragged them both onto shore, and they lay coughing up water, they’d looked at each other, just for a moment, both sucking in air in great heaving bouts. In that second of eye contact, it was obvious that there was no alternative but this, to go on in each other’s company. They were back at zero, both knowing that the other’s death would just as surely mean their own. Companionship was a necessity, to be present in the same house, room, bed. Almost never out of sight.
Companionship with Hannibal Lecter had never been a serious practical goal for Will - even when he’d considered running away with him the first time, he’d never thought out what their days would be like, how they’d exist together. Now that it was real, and that Will had the added knowledge of Hannibal’s love, he felt like they were pussyfooting around exactly what they were doing.
His thoughts about Hannibal had never before been sexual in nature, though now when he saw Hannibal looking at him across the dinner table after hours and days of silence, he noticed how his eyes traced the curve of his lip; when they crossed paths in the bathroom in the evening, he heard how Hannibal’s breath caught, just minutely, at Will’s scent; in bed at night, where they never touched, but soaked in warmth as though the other was a fire in winter, Will felt Hannibal’s minute shifts, hands squeezing into fists with the need to hold close.
Will turned to his side, head propped up on his hand, and studied the other man. His face, so often haunted and gaunt during the day, was soft and untroubled. There was an innocence to him like this, and Will could see another life, without the murder and horror and betrayal, where Hannibal could have been different: kinder, gentler. The smile lines by his eyes were smoothed in sleep, but Will could imagine them deep and bent in laughter, his whole face lit up in joy. He’d never seen that on Hannibal before, never seen any genuine release of emotion that didn’t end with blood, and he suddenly wanted it. He wanted so badly for that person to be real, to bring back those parts of Hannibal that must exist somewhere inside.
He reached out through the invisible barrier between their sides of the bed to brush a lock of silver hair off of Hannibal’s forehead, and felt the other man shift a little before breathing deeply again, still asleep.
Will took his hand back, rolling over gently so as not to wake Hannibal as he got out of bed. He went into the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth, smelling Hannibal on the towel as he wiped his face dry, just as he smelled Hannibal everywhere in this house, in every room and surface and pore.
Clean and dry, he put a robe on over his pajama pants and padded downstairs to the kitchen.
Breakfast, like most meals, was usually Hannibal’s domain, but Will liked to do his share on occasion as well. Hannibal sleeping in gave him the chance to have the quiet kitchen to himself and to think. He understood why Hannibal enjoyed working in here so much - there was a meditation to cracking eggs, whisking them, sauteeing butter. It was rote, an activity that occupied the body and allowed the mind to wander.
As he boiled water for coffee, put bacon in a pan to fry, and gathered the ingredients for pancakes, he thought on this, on how often Hannibal spent time in here, alone, focused on some task or another. It was certainly not necessary for Hannibal to cure their own ham, or dry their own herbs, or spend hours kneading yeast dough and allowing it to rise. All these things could be easily acquired at the local grocery – perhaps not to Hannibal’s standards, but with much less effort on a man who was currently recovering from a major abdominal wound.
It seemed to Will that Hannibal was making blind stabs at purpose in this new life, one that up until now had been occupied only by healing and breathing. Now that their skin was once again whole, red scars fading to pink, their days were beginning to bleed into each other; short winter evenings stretching out into longer and longer sunsets as spring came, and still no answers for what they were doing here.
Will measured flour into his mix of buttermilk and eggs, then whisked the bowl, adding a few handfuls of blueberries and chopped pecans as the lumps settled. The bacon was sizzling by now, and Will set out another pan next to it, dropping in a pat of butter to melt. He poured the first pancake and watched for the bubbles to rise around the edge, then flipped it to brown on the other side.
He thought again about the water glass from earlier in the week. He didn’t really know why he’d pushed Hannibal in that moment. Part of it was just a need to break the haze of silence, but there was a little more there too. A bigger part just wanted to see what Hannibal would do. They freely offered themselves to each other, mutually helping out around the house as partners do, but they never explicitly asked each other for things. Will saw a small glint of something in Hannibal’s silent obedience, and it made him curious for more.
He kept on pouring, waiting, watching, again and again until he had a small stack of pancakes. He wondered about what would happen today when Hannibal came downstairs. Normally, when Hannibal rose early and did the cooking, Will would come down and find a cup of black coffee waiting for him at his spot on the table, and he would drink it while he pretended to read the paper and watched Hannibal work. If Hannibal noticed his gaze, he never showed it. It was as though they were separated by glass, each aware of the other, but unable to break through.
WIll never asked for these small favors, but he also never turned them down when they appeared in Hannibal’s hand. Will thought about Hannibal, about how much he wanted to share and how much he held back for Will’s sake. The intimacies he denied himself, cracking through in moments like that, in warm black coffee and sleep-mussed hair.
He was just getting to the last of the batter when he heard the sound of bare feet coming down the steps. Hannibal walked in, wearing only his blue striped pajama bottoms, hair loose over his forehead and eyes still dense with sleep.
Clothing was no longer much of a barrier for them; in all the ways they’d seen and known each other, and in all the physical healing they’d done over the last weeks, it seemed like such a small thing, to know the other’s body by sight, their maps of scars and freckles and dips. While Hannibal was no stranger to Will’s body, having dressed and stitched and bathed him numerous times before, Will found himself getting to know Hannibal’s - the birthmark on the left side of his ribcage, the soft part of his belly under the navel, the odd way his pinky toe curled; the kinds of very human things one could never imagine or invent about another person unless they knew them in this way. He saw now, out of the corner of his eye, the grey in Hannibal’s chest hair, the slight slouch in his morning steps.
“Would you pour us coffee?” Will gave Hannibal a small glance.
Hannibal looked back at him, making curious eye contact for just a moment, before going over to the cabinet and pulling down two white mugs. Out of the corner of his eye, Will watched him depress the French press, fill each mug, and add a sugar cube to his own, leaving Will’s black, the way he liked it.
“I’d like cream in mine.”
Another short look between them, inscrutable, but Hannibal moved over to the refrigerator, bare feet making soft padding sounds on the tile floor, and came back to the counter with the cream, pouring until the surface of the coffee was tan and clouded.
“That’s enough. Thank you.”
Hannibal nodded and returned the cream to its spot in the refrigerator door. He then walked over to the mugs and brought them to the kitchen table, placing them in their usual spots and sitting to watch Will finish cooking.
“The bacon needs plating.”
No eye contact, but he was up again in a second, coming over to the counter next to Will to pull the bacon out of the pan with tongs and put it on the plate Will had left out. Will felt the warmth from his unclothed skin. He thought about how he might pass his hand around to rest it on the small of Hannibal’s back. He thought about how Hannibal might react. He kept his hands to himself and focused on the pancakes.
Hannibal poured the rendered fat into the mason jar under the sink to be used later, and then gathered two more plates from the cabinet.
“I didn’t ask you to set the table yet.”
As close as they were, Will felt rather than saw Hannibal’s small flinch, rippling just through his flank. Hannibal stopped, head tilted, a furrow just forming between his eyes. “Shall I put them back?”
“No, leave them where they are. Go drink your coffee.”
Hannibal did, sitting at the table and watching Will intently now, the warm mug pressed just under his nose.
Will finished flipping the last pancake and walked over to the table with the pancakes and bacon in hand. He returned to the counter to retrieve the plates Hannibal had left there on his request, and also gathered forks.
Will sat down and plated the food, an equal amount for each of them, then stopped short.
“I forgot the butter and syrup.”
Hannibal gave him a look that seemed to ask what, exactly, he planned on doing about that. It was the same look Hannibal had given him over and over again during the years they’d been close. The same look Hannibal had given him over Randall Tier’s body on his dining table in Baltimore. Will had the brief thought that maybe he’d tested this new, taut string between them a little too much already for one day, and then brushed it aside.
“They’re in the fridge, would you get them?”
“I know where they are,” Hannibal said as he stood, his tone flat, though not aggressive. Just, blank.
Hannibal brought the butter dish and syrup bottle over, placing them on the table between himself and Will. He drummed his fingers against the tabletop, just once. He looked down, avoiding Will’s eyes.
“Thank you. Eat your breakfast.”
“Am I to ask whether I may use the butter that you’ve had me retrieve?”
“What do you think?” Will asked, and he really did want to know. Where did Hannibal imagine this going? Where did Hannibal want for this to go? Did Hannibal really even care where this went, as long as Will was in charge?
“I think I’d like to know how you intend for me to proceed.” Hannibal was looking at him again with that expression, calculating, but not defiant. Brain ticking away without any definite direction. Just curious. “I think you’d like that too.”
“Hmm. Butter your pancakes, Hannibal. They’re going cold.”
“Very well.” He did, and then he ate through them hungrily and methodically. Hannibal sustained an obvious delight in Will making an effort for him, cooking for him, though Will knew he would never admit this out loud. The pink flush to his cheeks said enough.
They finished their breakfast in silence, and when their plates were empty, Hannibal looked at him, drumming his fingers on the table once more, silently wondering how Will would have him continue.
“You go on, I’ll clean up.”
Hannibal nodded once at that, acknowledging the end of their small game, and left to shower and get dressed for the day. Will gathered the dishes into the sink and began to scrub them. He had a lot to think about.