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my underworld is your liberty

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Naturally Hannibal is familiar with the tale of Hades and Persephone; of Pluto and Proserpina; of death and the daughter of life. It might not be a mythology native to his own land, but that hardly matters these days. Hannibal is not native to these shores either; takes a certain amount of amused aloof pride in bearing the very name of an invader – if only because he knows that he will dominate history, wipe that predecessor away, until it is his name and his alone.

Hannibal knows the tale, enjoys it, but he does not see so much of it in his life.

That is, not as much as some might. He settles into the role of a ruler of the dead quite happily in his mind, diagnosing the delusions of grandeur and permitting them as a recognition of his own reality. Sympathy for the Devil is the trite phrase he hears parroted by those who do not understand of what they speak. He flatters himself that he does: to sympathise with the Devil, you must have some idea of what being Him means. You must acknowledge society’s morals even as you see them for what they are. So few people are capable of such a knowledge.

Will Graham, Hannibal is certain, has that knowledge. If ever the Devil needed one to know his own mind, then God has already granted a human partner.

Empathy is an idea greatly paraded within society nowadays, but as with their Devil, society does not realise what they mean by the word. That good Will is a pariah even within his own mind reveals that much.

Should he so wish, Will could also assume the point of view of a sobbing abandoned prom queen – young, melodramatic, the American ideal with her painted face hiding too much of the flesh beneath – or any one of the lawyers and stockbrokers who fancy themselves soulless. It is still early days for them, so Hannibal does not yet know whether this is harder for Will – to immerse himself in the everyday banality of a chattering world of prescriptions and restrictions – or whether he simply does not want to.

(I liked killing him, Will admits aloud: not a confession, for all it might appear so; more a confidence and Will does not know yet why their two minds align so naturally, but he will.)

For this reason, with so many others (except that it is only one reason, and that reason is simply Will Graham, and the truth is that no other reason shall ever be necessary); because of this, Hannibal might appreciate the parallels with the tale of Persephone’s descent into darkness, but he hardly thinks that they are all there is to it.

Death’s figurehead feeds a relative innocent flesh that binds them closer and closer with the shadows cast by the world’s reality: this much is true.

Traditionally, however, Persephone succumbed to weakness. She could not wait; her hunger was too great; she convinced herself that a little did not matter, that absolutes were rather relative when she needed them to be. Such a typical young girl.

(Hannibal is aware of the reinterpretations, and he approves.)

Dear, good William is not weak; far from it. Every day he wrestles with images every man is taught to fear – more, by which to be repulsed. It is more than hatred: it is disgust. Self-loathing rests easily on Will’s shoulders because anything becomes easy with practice.

(Thank God Will has never tried to delude himself into vegetarianism.)

Will has strength, and in the same way that his empathy is a sword turned inwards rather than society’s glorified halo, his strength makes him weak. His strength means that he expends so much effort, so much thought and strain, so many nightmares and inner monologues, on a concept of normality he should transcend.

Transcend. Religious language again. Only appropriate, given their conversation about His image.

(Hannibal is not especially religious – he believes in deities, he does not believe in worshipping them in the manner prescribed, and hence clients and coworkers see an oxymoron of an atheist who loves few things more than the fact of a divine presence.)

(He’s told that his cooking is divine, and he accepts the compliment with a smile, for the language seems only appropriate when consuming a life transformed.)

Hannibal will not trap Will in the depths of the underworld; nothing so crude. He is not here to perform some exaggerated rape metaphor. Persephone becomes the Queen of everything beneath the surface, but only after a deal is made, her husband chosen, her hunger sated and piqued, her mother’s permission secured and every choice taken away from her.

Few people might appreciate the true depths of the gesture of sharing his Shrike’s kill. Unlike the rest, Will’s first taste of true flesh is carefully chosen and offered with more than Hannibal’s smile of amusement. This is not a smile behind the backs of those who think themselves so clever: Hannibal is sharing his victim with Will, sharing his kill, sharing the kill he made to help his dear analyst, and for that it is packaged so poorly, it is one of the most intimate acts of Hannibal’s life.

(He pictures a kill in partnership; pictures Will’s smile as he bites down, kisses exchanged drenched in blood; pictures perfection.)

A trail of breadcrumbs, should you wish to stir your stories together. Will’s potential bubbles, boils beneath his skin (if Hannibal allowed it he would be able to taste it, bite through the skin and all their masks). When he accepts the Tupperware boxes – horrendous necessities, time later to introduce Will to other finer things, for now accustom him to eating at all – when he eats what is offered and smiles at the prospect and develops, yes, a taste for them, it is not corruption so much as confirmation.

(Perhaps it is rather Dionysus for the both of them – god of anything worth honouring, of Will’s madness and Hannibal’s hunger, of anything primal and human and forbidden and all the better for it.)

Hannibal does not think Will his pet (for all that he wants so to own every last bit of him); nor does he think he will become the same as him, for all his remarkable powers of empathy. As much as the idea of a partner carries allure (allure Hannibal had never anticipated until he read the lines of Will’s cage in his body, until he made Will laugh again and again through simple honest conversation, until he saw a Will bloodstained and captured the image for perusal and elaboration whenever his patients grow simply too banal), he finds that he wants to help Will find his own design; have the eternal puppet create his own strings. Perhaps he will not have one method of murder, but all those shadows he carries within him: an endless stream of copycats, until that becomes its own pattern.

But the two of them will still share dinner afterwards. Hannibal is quite certain of that.

They are a modern Hades and Persephone in their spiral of meat and murder and all the finer things in life, where the light is an amusing distraction but the innocent is descending every moment they find someone new with whom to laugh and to talk about all the forbidden fruits; but Will is not innocent and Hannibal would not insult him with the word, and Hannibal might covet the throne of the dead and consider sharing it to gain something beautiful, and within them both there is potential to be the most terrible beings in all of creation.

Theirs might be a terrible beauty, a true beauty, and even if only this were true, together they could be gods.