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Yourself and People Like You

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"So, I guess I finally met someone. Well. Okay, let me start over, because– because it's not really that, or, how it sounds, even. I met someone, I literally met him, from, you know, the site. I mean, it was stupid, really. How it happened. I did the dumbest thing I could have, but. I guess in the end, I just got tired of looking at all their faces. It was so goddamn depressing. You don't know, you never actually went there, right? Right, so. But trust me, it was a travesty in code. Every time I logged in, I felt my entire day just get worse immediately. Remember what I told you a long time ago, about the numbers? How I– right, that. Well, picture this: everyone on that site was below a five. There were ones and twos, and I started thinking it was a prank, like you setting me up or something. It was just... too much sometimes.

            "Anyway, I was actually planning on leaving the site. I mean, I didn't want to, because that would mean going another year without sex at my rate, but at the same time this almost made me feel worse. Just thinking that, you know, these were my choices. But I, uh, I logged in one more time, because, well, curiosity. And hope, I guess. Then, well, while I was browsing around, I got a message.

            "Now, here's the thing, and I know what you're going to say so just shut up a second and let me talk. Okay. I never posted a picture, you know, on my profile. Well, why the fuck would I? First of all, my job; just imagine someone from the university seeing me there. I don't know what my students have or where they go online. Maybe they're in the same boat– not that I noticed any of them on there or anything. Still, I never saw the point. If I'd seen someone on there, I don't know, worthwhile, or who actually had some kind of attractiveness– even, even someone who was just better than average, I would have put a picture up. For a bit. But I never did. I just browsed idly, and because I didn't have a picture, no one ever pinged me before. This was completely new.

            "So, of course, I look. And it's just this tiny message from this guy named HL43. And it says, it just says: How are you this evening? So easy, like that. And I'm thinking, Wow, well, this guy's got to be really ugly if he doesn't have a picture, that's my first thought. And I kinda go to exit out of the window. But I think about it, and I look at his profile. Vague, I can say that much. But then, so is mine. And then it dawns on me– Will, you idiot, he's probably a professional like you. He's got to be embarrassed as all hell, and doesn't want to put himself out there, and I'm doing the same thing. So that's going through my head too. And these two ways of thinking are having it out inside me, and all the while my hands are over the keyboard, and I can see he's still online. He's waiting for me to respond.

            "I do, then. And we go back and forth for a bit, and I can tell he's smart, or he thinks he is, which is basically the same thing these days. We talk about, oh, I can't remember now– food, and politics and I try to get his name out of him but he isn't having it right then. He's kind of coy with me, but in this sort of straightforward way. I don't know how else to describe it. Before I know it, it's midnight and we've been chatting for a little over an hour. And we never talk about it, you know. The site, and how we feel about it, this, what we are, and the cocktails or anything. We don't really avoid it either though. So of course, I start thinking, I want to meet this guy. Right away, I mean, I want to fuck him. And then, I also don’t, because I haven't seen his face.

            "Problem solving: I ask him for it, and he says no. Then I'm really about to log out. He's definitely hiding something; I'm probably talking to a one. A zero. The worst things go through my mind– fucking Joseph Merrick. Hey, I don't know. So, but– but before I log off, he asks me out. Well, not out, he asks me to his place for dinner. And it sounds like, you know, he wants what I want, just to fuck with no problems or awkward conversation about the whole thing. I mean, that's the point of the site, I guess. But I say, I type, I don't even know your name. And he gives it to me, like magic, and its Hannibal. Doesn't give me a last name, but that's name enough, I guess. I tell him I'm Will.

            "And I don't– I don't say that I'm willing to go, just because he told me his name. But he gives me his house address. And it's supposed to be the next night, and I never respond. I just go to bed." Will pauses, swallowing from the glass of wine. Around him, the soft candlelight burns from other tables. Conversations buzz lowly just under the warm jazz playing throughout the restaurant. Sitting in the corner nearest the wall of windows peering onto the dark street, no one seems to pay them mind. Perhaps that is why Will chose this table. He sets the glass back down and the remaining liquid sloshes in a deep maroon hue. Will looks up again through smudged glasses. "Anyway, so of course I go the next night. Well, I know, it's– it was dangerous," he says, lowering his gaze to the flatware between them. "I think there's something wrong with me lately. I think it's gotten to be too much, you know, in some weird way. Like maybe it all got to me, the past year; trying to find someone to sleep with who wouldn't try their damnedest not to pull a disgusted face when I had to tell them. Then them politely excusing themselves, and I sit there feeling like a fucking leper.

            "I show up, and his house is really nice. I mean really nice. There's a fucking Bentley in the driveway. And I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know. I've never felt so tense in my life. When he opens the door, Frederick..." Will shakes his head, and laughs, and it's a laugh devoid of any mirth. "I was thinking, What kind of joke is this? What kind of fucked up, cruel joke? Because what are the odds, what are the odds that he'd be a ten? Really, he's just, he just is standing there in the threshold looking at me with these fucking eyes. And he's tall, and I could just look at him and see how sturdy he was, like a hurricane couldn't knock him down. And I'd guessed from the name that he wasn't American, but his accent, and he says my name this weird way, like he's touching the letters with his tongue: ‘Will.’

            "Already, I'm– I'm good to go. I don't know, I guess I must think the universe dicked me over so fucking hard that now it must be trying to make up for it. And I'm standing there, in his huge foyer now, trying not to just rip my clothes off and beg him to touch me. I mean I can feel it, this sort of– electricity happening and we're looking at each other. He's looking at me like I'm a sirloin or something, but he doesn't even acknowledge it. He takes my coat and the house smells great. I see all the pots and pans he's got going and then it dawns on me, this guy really meant it when he said he'd cook dinner.

            "Don't even ask me what we had; I mean, it was only last Sunday but I don't remember. Stuff with really long names, and French names, and I'm eating, and I'm looking at him and all this time I can't help but wonder, how'd it happen to him? You know? You can't help but wonder that kind of thing, because if you saw him you'd wonder too. That's the thing," Will says and he shakes his head. He leans back from the table a bit as the waiter approaches with their entrees. He is dressed in black with a sleek red bowtie and he sets down Will's roasted monkfish loin and Frederick's pan-seared halibut; Will continues to speak, the candlelight at their table flickering in his eyes: "You can't help but wonder when you see someone good-looking afflicted like that. I mean, we've talked about this, but whenever I see twos and threes with it, I'm never surprised."

            "We did say, though, that it makes no sense to make that distinction, Will," Frederick says, interrupting Will for the first time since they sat down. He doesn't like to, though Will is no longer a patient of Frederick's practice. They are on equal footing at these dinners, and yet Frederick cannot fully relinquish who he has been to Will. When Frederick looks at him, sitting sullen and wild-haired across the table, he sees Will in the Back Bay office, as he was when he first needed therapy.

            Will looks away, and picks at a loose thread of his grey sweater. "Yeah, I know. It's not my fault– that damn website only enforces it. Everyone on there is a genetic mess. Everyone except this guy, Hannibal. So, I'm chomping at the bit, you know? And he's got me drinking this fancy wine, and we're sitting in his lounge room off the side of the dining room, after dinner. He's got the fireplace going, and he's telling me about himself, his job – a fucking therapist, small world, right? – but I'm only kind of listening. I mean I'm almost not. The wine's good, anyway, and I'm looking at him, hoping he catches my drift. He's a doctor, he can't be that dense.

            "Then, he does this thing. He says, 'What did you hope to find on Positive Love?'

            "And I kind of stare at him. I'm drunk at this point, and I'm like, fuck it, so I tell him, I say something like, 'Someone to cut through the bullshit. Someone to fuck so I don't have to try and find someone and tell them three seconds before we've got our pants off, Oh by the way, I'm HIV positive, hope that’s not a bummer or anything, and then get cut off by the sound of them running for the door.' So he kind of asks me if that's all I want and, ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘that's all I want.’

            "'What about companionship?' he asks. And, honestly, I'm this close to saying what about companionship because I was so wound up and I felt really... really drunk, even though I'd had only two glasses of wine." Will looks at his own on the table, and he delicately uses his knife and fork to continue cutting into his fish. Somewhere across the restaurant, someone laughs in a particular high note that rings over the music. "I don't think I really even responded. He started talking at me, saying things about fate, I think, and timelines matching up and I don't know what else. My head was fuzzy. All I remember is looking at him, him looking at me, and his lips moving so smoothly as he spoke. There were little edges of pink all around my field of vision, and I couldn't really– I couldn't really talk."

            Will stops, because Frederick has stopped. Frederick feels the silverware against the pads of his fingers, and he feels the cloth napkin spread over his slacks. He tastes green onion in the back of his mouth, but this fades into the background. He watches Will's eyes: cagey behind his lenses.

            "So," Will resumes, still looking at his plate, "I wake up the next morning. In his bed, naked. This grand bedroom of his. I don't remember anything from the night before after that last bit, I don’t remember ever seeing this room before, and I'm lying there trying to remember and I can't. Only, I feel, you know, like I had sex and–" He shrugs suddenly, and rubs at his left shoulder with his right hand. "God, this is stupid."

            "Jesus... Jesus Christ, Will," Frederick hears himself saying. He lowers his voice though the nearest table is feet away and they are five businessmen wrapped up in each other's hardy voices. Frederick attempts to make eye-contact with Will, but Will does not allow it. "Did you– I mean, did you call the police? Where was he? In bed with you?"

            "No," Will says. "He was up already and downstairs. The house smelled good again, like some kind of pastry and coffee. I found my clothes on the floor, I went to the bathroom. I used my fingers and I could feel, I could feel myself, really open. So, I knew. Then I went downstairs, because what the fuck else was I going to do? He's there, like I thought, making breakfast. He greets me like we had a fucking sleepover, like nothing was wrong. He says, 'How did you sleep?' and there I am feeling like my brain's been replaced by an avalanche and my ass hurts. I don't even answer him, I just leave. Back in my car, and back home." He exhales a long sigh, that seems to come from the very depths of him. He shrugs.

            "I... what? Will, did you call the police?"

            "Of course not. Don't be stupid."

            "How– how is that stupid? Will, you were–"

            "You don't have to tell me, Frederick. I know. I was there." He returns to cutting the fish, this time with anger in his shoulders. "But I didn't really have any proof. I think he used a condom, first of all–"

            "The drug–"

            "–second of all, you know how this whole thing goes. Report filing, court time, accusations, refusals, slap on the wrist if that, and then exactly what I was trying to prevent by not having my picture up on PL would happen. They'd ask, how'd you meet him? Oh, officer, we met on a dating site for disease-ridden wraiths. Yeah. I wasn't going to do that. Not in a million years."

            Frederick's food is getting cold, but as he looks at it, he doesn't think he wants it anymore. Will is eating, and nearly after every chew, he pauses and looks at the fish as if it is still wriggling. Frederick follows those movements with his eyes. "Is that it?"

            Will makes a hum of refusal. "I mean, that weekend, yeah. I thought about it all day through my classes on Monday, you know. Just what I could remember him saying before I conked out. Timelines matching up. When it happened to me a year ago, when I found out I had it, you could say that event set me up for this event. I mean, I never would have ended up in that position if it weren't for me sleeping with that girl. And then, going a year without like this, it was– I mean, for me," he says, and presses the fingertips of one hand to his breastbone through the sweater, "it was unlike anything else. I'd never had to do that before. Ever since I was a teenager, it was simple for me to have sex. Uncomplicated. Have you ever gone that long without, Frederick?"

            Will is looking at him and Frederick feels his face grow hot. He isn't precisely sure how to answer. In these times that they have met for dinner since ending Will's therapy, they have taken small steps towards a normal friendship where once there was no option for it. Will asks him things about himself, with a slight edge to his voice as if it is a challenge, or test. Frederick supposes it is. Will taking stock, wondering if Frederick was sincere in offering his hand. Will is strangely delicate in this; he thinks negative people don't want to be around him. Frederick makes an effort.

            "I don't think so," he says, rubbing his thumb against the base of his butter knife. "But Will, honestly. You ought to have called the police. It is not yet too late."

            Will snorts small laughter. "I don't want to call police now, and I didn't want to call them then. This was between me and him."

            "You and him? What does that mean?"

            "He texted me the next day. Didn't know how he got my number until I realized I was knocked out all night, and he just probably took it from my phone. The text just told me to call him."

            "You didn't–"

            "Oh, but I did," Will says, lips pulled into a humorless smile. He looks to his left, out onto the florescent lit street. "I called him. And he asked me how I was feeling, how I felt about the other night, all this cordial bullshit. And I guess someone might think he was trying to play it off, like he had no idea I'd been drugged or anything, or maybe trying to get me to think I wasn't drugged and just fell asleep. But I don't think that's what was going on. I decided to ask him– because it didn't make sense. He's a smart guy, he should have been able to tell I wanted to. I even told him that, sitting in his house, that I was looking just for someone to fuck. He didn't need to do that, so on the phone, I asked him why. Why he did it."

            "You just asked him."

            "I just asked him."

            "And he said?"

            Will raises a hand flippantly, towards the window which is slightly chilled from the outside air. Will looks at his reflection as if it is actually this man, this Hannibal. "'I don't want merely a one-night stand,' he said, in this matter of fact way. 'If I had allowed it to happen as you wanted it, perhaps I would have never crossed your mind again. Yet, we still had sex. This way, we both got what we wanted. And now you will return.'"

            Frederick can feel his face pull in disgust. "Will return?"

            "That's what I thought," Will says, looking back at Frederick. "Who the fuck does this guy think he is? Will return. What kind of fucked up logic. Rape someone so you can haunt their thoughts and bring them back to you. I ask him what makes him so sure. And he tells me, like he's been in my head, everything I'd been thinking up until I saw his face. That we're in this small section of society with limited options and that I'm gorgeous and he's gorgeous, and if I want the cream of the crop–"

            "Will, stop. That's not true. None of that is true, you don't have to limit yourself to dating in that pool."

            "Oh, that's rich. That's rich coming from you."

            "Why?" Frederick asks, a tinge of desperation coloring his voice.

            "You're the one who sent me to PL in the first place, remember?" Will gives him a look that verges on shrewd. He says, in slight mimicry of Frederick, "'This should help you not to feel so alone.'"

            "Of course, but that's because you told me you were tired of being alone."

            "I didn't say I’m tired of being alone. I said I'm tired of being a freak who shouldn't have sex without a warning label stamped on my fucking head."

            Frederick sets his mouth. He looks at their plates: the way Will's is empty, and Frederick's is nearly full. At this moment, their waiter appears tableside like a sleek apparition, and he looks at Will's empty plate with favor. Frederick's full plate seems to cause some concern – sir, was there anything wrong? – and Frederick warmly abates his fears. Not as hungry as I thought I would be. The halibut was delicious. Please tell the chef I meant no offense.

            Will does order dessert, and when the waiter looks at Frederick, he feels pressured into doing the same. Frederick cannot rightly recall, but he thinks it is his turn to pay. He chose the restaurant this time. The last time they met, at a restaurant equally starred as Ostra, was two weeks ago, and Will hadn't been nearly so chatty. He looked off through the windows then, and he made polite conversation. His professorship at the university, how his car is running. They barely touched on the subject of Positive Love though by then Frederick had already sent him the link in an email.

            The waiter is gone again and Will is shifting in his seat. Over his shoulder, Frederick sees a table of twenty-something girls, all dressed in gold and plunging necklines. If Will were to look at them, would he see them as through a glossy veil? One which he could never traverse now? Is that how Will sees?

            "So, I–" Will starts, then looks muddled. "I forgot–"

            "He spoke to you on the phone," Frederick prompts. "That, um. That you're gorgeous, and–"

            "Right, right. So he says that, he says something like, 'Whether you've accepted this or not, there's no way to go back. You can only move forward, in this world.' Something to that effect. And I," he shakes his head, laughs, "I just hang up the phone. And I'm hanging around at home, pissed off and alone– and I'm not lonely, Frederick, I'm alone, and I'm okay with that, it's just–"

            He holds off while the waiter approaches them with sorbet. Passionfruit for Frederick, honeydew for Will. Each of them with a leaf of mint poking out from the summit, flaglike, a mountain conquered in the name of a homeland. The waiter departs and Will sucks the tip of his spoon.

            "So," he continues, "I'm just there, by myself, being angry. And, Christ, of all things, I start trying to masturbate. You know. I mean it's been like, I don't even know how long. I maybe told you once in a session, just kind of hinted at it, but I still haven't done it since then, so that makes it more than half a year. For the longest time, I was just eaten up with disgust for myself. Every time I used to try, it was because I wanted some kind of gratification, but then I just thought about it, me, and I felt too gross to go through with it."

            Frederick is eating his sorbet calmly. Between bites, he says, "And did it work this time?"

            "Pft. No."

            "Not at all?"

            "I mean, I tried. It was weird, it was like," he makes a flippant hand gesture, "masturbating out of anger. You know how there's hate sex? Well, it was like that, but by myself and trust me, I didn't get far."

            "And you were angry at Hannibal."

            "Well, yeah, I. Yeah. Because–"

            "Because he took something from you that you wanted to give. And you weren't even conscious for it."

            "Okay, okay. Cool it with the analysis, Frederick. We're not that anymore."

            "I'm sorry," Frederick says, and he opens his mouth to say more but thinks better of it.

            Will is watching him. His gaze softens. "I think there's something to be said about the whole thing. The whole 'we have to love our people' mentality that I think Hannibal was talking about. It’s the same thing that the site preaches, right? They have that damn tagline the second the page loads, it’s like, Meet someone like you. And then there's the second tier stipulation here: the cream of the crop. Because that's what I wanted anyway, right? Someone good-looking to have uncomplicated sex with. Still, it was bothering me, what he was saying just before I passed out. I couldn't remember it all. Long term companionship, something something. There's the fault in drugging someone you're trying to rationalize with – they forget half your fucking argument. So, I called him back, and we set up a time to meet. This time, out in public."

            "You met him again?"

            "In public."

            "Will–"

            "Hey, I don't need a lecture." He pauses as Frederick sighs. "Listen, if you think about it, my life's pretty much over anyway. There isn't anything to really save or protect."

            "That isn't true."

            Will shrugs, a little. He scratches at the side of his head a bit and continues: "There was this restaurant he suggested in the North End. I met him there and I thought I'd feel weird seeing him again, but it was just kind of normal. He was dressed with a vest and tie and the whole bit, and I was in some ratty shirt I picked up off the floor at home. Well, I wasn't going to make the extra effort for my rapist, you know. I thought maybe he'd be gross to me after that, but he looked even better, if you can believe it. Wish I had a picture to show you of this guy, he's unreal. I mean, he's got the most beautiful lips you've ever seen and – I'm guessing here – at some point they were on me and I don't even remember it." He laughs, suddenly, one sullen bark of it, and a whole table nearby eyes him cautiously before returning to themselves and people like them. Will does not seem to notice. "And this guy, Hannibal, he jumps right in. I mean our wine has barely showed up and he's off like a shot about how his methods might have been unorthodox – he said that, he actually said that – but it had the intended effect because I was sitting there with him again.

            "I reminded him that I was sitting with him with like fifty other people in close proximity for my own protection.

            "He said, 'It's almost like a normal relationship, then.' Not sure what that even meant. There's nothing normal about it, and I told him so, but he was so adamant about normalizing it. He said there is comfort in those cut from the same cloth. But it's not really apt, is it? That metaphor. Less like we're the same cloth, and more like some terrible, similar dye bled into us and now we're mismatch pieces of scrap.

            "Then after we've ordered, he talks about the site. How there's only threes and fours basically, and he doesn't use those terms but that's what he means. And he said that's why we gravitated to each other. That we could sense likeness in our lack of pictures, in the way our profile answers were set up."

            "This... Hannibal," Frederick says, tasting the name for the first time. "He seems very stuck on the concept of destiny."

            "He's crazy. He's legitimately psychotic. That's not even the worst of it. Right when the waiter comes to give us our entrees, he picks that exact moment to crescendo his speech by saying, 'The arrangement I'm proposing yields both comfort and stability.' He says, when the waiter is right there, 'We can fuck and re-infect each other every night.' And the waiter leaves, I mean, if he could have run away he probably would have."

            "Jesus."

            "Yeah. So. I never really give him a straight answer, I'm just kind of nodding the whole time. He's talking about this like it's so basic. Most of the stuff he says doesn't make any sense to me, or it makes me angry, but I can understand what he says about our attractiveness levels. They're the same, and they're rare, especially on that site."

            "That site isn't the entirety of people with the disease. Will, you must know that."

            "Sure I know it. And sure, maybe it's fucked up that I'm saying this stuff about other people who drew a bad straw but it's true, at least in my experience. I mean, Frederick, everything is divided in pools, even for negative people. What you do for a living, how you look, your height, your weight, it’s all limiting who you can end up with, or who you even get to have sex with. The microcosm is the macrocosm. People are the same everywhere, but they're not. Segregation is in full-swing. We never got rid of anything. Maybe there aren't ropes separating whites and blacks in concert halls anymore but there are invisible walls around us all, herding us to be with who we're meant to be with.

            "And then there's Hannibal, who wants to herd further. I mean, that's what it is, right? He was herding me, because something in his fucked up brain told him we should be together. Yet, he was operating on pre-set conventions and applying them to a world that consisted of me and him, alone. And I just–" He shrugs largely now, exhaling at once, and looks at Frederick with something like resignation. Frederick can imagine him looking at Hannibal in a similar way. "I'm tired, Frederick. I'm so tired. I'm tired every day."

            "Will."

            The check arrives. Frederick feels it would be inappropriate to occupy the table any longer and he leaves a generous tip. He ushers Will out into the night, chilly with early autumn. The street is bright and streaked with florescent lighting from storefronts and streetlights, the red and yellow of car taillights. Will stuffs his hands in his light jacket and Frederick turns up the collar of his overcoat. They wander, wordlessly, over the crosswalk at the corner. Frederick feels less as if they are walking together and more like he is tailgating Will with unspoken permission. Their dinners end usually with an amicable parting at their cars, but Frederick cannot leave Will on his own on such a note.

            Across Copley Square, people walk in small groups of twos and threes. Some hold hands. There are a line of stone benches hemming one side of the square and Will deposits himself to the leftmost side of one. Frederick sits near him, silently. Together they look out into the roving crowds, and Frederick glances at Will.

            "You went to see him again. After the restaurant."

            "Yeah. I did."

            "Will, why?"

            "Why do you think?" he asks, and the following words sound scraped out of him: "Because he's the best that I can do."

            Frederick thinks this was a long time coming. He remembers: months and months ago, nearing the beginning of his sessions with Will. When he was new to the disease, freshly diagnosed, and the lotion-infused tissues on Frederick's office table were frequently used to the bottom of the box. The office was warm, lush with toffee colored furniture, and Will sat small amidst it; a thirty-something man newly afraid of his own body. He spoke to Frederick in hushed tones with jittery words unsure of themselves.

            He spoke of his doctor, a Dr. Katz, who was kind to him. She had given him the news and hugged him when he shook his head, laughing at her, saying that there must be some mistake. Will returned to her for regular check-ups, for the instating of the cocktail of pills in his routine, and he told Frederick how he had come to, so quickly, rely on her. How strange, he'd said, because he was not one to put faith in people so soon. But she was kind and operated on levity. She had given him permission to call her Beverly and she was a nine, he thought. In Frederick's vast recollections of their sessions together, that was the first time he believes Will ever referred to his oft-used system of ranking people. A nine. And he daydreamed sometimes, he said, about asking her out, about having sex with her.

            But if anyone would reject him, he said, it would have been her. For no other reason than that she was there at his rebirth. When he came out of the canal no longer a boy, and not a girl either, but positive, a sex all its own.

            Will looks at the pavement beneath their feet. He says, "Sex was good."

            Frederick looks up. "Pardon?"

            "Sex. Sex with Hannibal, it was–" He searches again for a different word, seems unable to find it. "Because, because I didn't really plan on having sex with him again, even though the next time I saw him, it was at his house. He'd invited me over again, and I came because, like I said, at this point in time, in my life, I don't think I can do better than him. And I'd been feeling bad since the restaurant, you know, throwing up and I was running a fever. And every time I get those bouts, I think, What if this is it? Counseling with you, it– it helped me come to terms with it being inside me. But I still get scared. Maybe that's why when I showed up on his doorstep, when he opened the door and I saw him standing there, I threw up immediately. All over my fucking shoes.

            "It was thin because I hadn't eaten much. Tasted like battery acid. He pulled me inside and when the door was shut, he pushed me up against it. He kissed me like that, stuck his tongue down my throat and I tasted my own vomit and him, and he tasted like– like blackberries, and mint." Will winces. "It was the most revolting, most erotic thing I've ever had done to me. He put his hands up under my shirt and I was burning with fever, so he felt cold. And I was just standing there, half propped up against the door with my mouth open and my hands by my side. I didn't know what to do.

            "And you know what else? I don't think I wanted to know what to do. I was tired of thinking, and being alive, all it is is thinking. Wondering and planning. How to survive. It felt like death, a little. Letting him manhandle me, feeling him pressed up against me. He was hard, and I was– I guess I was. My body felt like–" He makes a diffident motion with his hand. People continue to pass them on the bench. "Like something else," he mutters.

            "Was it consensual? This time?"

            "Whatever that means. I think after someone rapes you and you give up all hope of ever finding happiness, when you go back to them, consensual is kind of a non-sequitur."

            "Yes," Frederick says. A blinking light nearby causes him to squint. "I suppose so."

            Will leans to the side against the metal armrest. He jolts lightly and then looks over at Frederick, as if he'd forgotten something. "Is it– is it all right, me telling you this? You don't think it's..."

            It isn't about what I think, Frederick wants to say. Instead, he shakes his head. "Anything you want to tell me is fine, Will."

            "You know, I– for a second, for one lucid second, when he laid me down on his bed, I thought I could remember. It was like déjà vu, almost. I thought I could remember laying down in his bed before and him stripping me down. Things, other things came about shortly after. When he took his shirt off, and I looked at him. When I ran my fingers through his chest hair, I thought I'd done it before. His naked body. Me feeling feverish, and his cold hands on me. His fingers inside me and, quicker than I'd've liked, him inside me. I thought maybe I was conscious throughout it, or I just wanted to be so badly in that moment–" Will's eyes dim, and his eyebrows tent. He looks pained for a long moment and presses a hand to his forehead, tilting his head back. He looks up at the loam black sky. "But I've forgotten. I–" He claws his fingers, lightly, letting the nails form crescent moons in his skin.

            Frederick grabs his forearm, tight. "Don't. Don't do that."

            Slowly, Will lowers his hand, and slowly Frederick relinquishes him. Will shifts on the bench, and for the first time Frederick notices Will's knees are together and pointing towards Frederick. He looks through those marsh eyes and the streetlights reflect in his glasses. His lips are wet. Glancing down at his watch, he cracks his neck. "It's so late," he says. "I shouldn't have kept you."

            "It's only ten, Will, I don't–"

            "It's late," he murmurs. "It's too late. Hey, you know."

            "Yes?"

            "That restaurant. Did you like it?"

            Frederick turns to see Ostra across the street. Their table by the window is now occupied by others and their silhouettes burn dark in the candlelight. "Yes, I did."

            "Me too." Will presses his lips together. "I liked it a lot. You did good, picking that one. Want to go again? Next time?"

            "I–" Frederick feels his own brows furrow. He looks again at the restaurant and then back at Will. "Sure, Will."

            "Okay." He heaves himself off of the bench. Standing before it, with lights surrounding him, he looks back down to Frederick and knocks the back of one knuckle against Frederick's shoulder. "You don't have to worry about me, you know. Making the best of a bad situation is the basis of tenacity, isn't it?"

            Frederick does not want to answer that. He stands with Will and they nod to each other and part ways. Frederick has parked off the square, and as he makes his way for the crosswalk, he turns and sees Will's form slowly diminishing into the quickly thinning night crowds. His dark curls toss in the light wind, and his jacket clings to his form. The thin hips he harbors beneath the bulky fabric of his slacks. Frederick cannot help himself: he imagines this man, this Hannibal, gripping Will there. The two of them in the dark of Hannibal's grand bedroom. He is sure it happened in the dark: deeper dark than the lights off. Deeper dark than the nighttime sky beyond the window. Way down inside Will, in a minute place where blood and fluids moved against each other and smaller, even, than that, where cells touched. Smaller, even, than that. In a place where disaster and catastrophe met and one said to the other: Look. Look what we’ve become.