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After the Fall

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The Shore and the Sea, 2015

“Come on you big lug,” Will says.

Hannibal is clay-cold and pale as Will drags him up the shore, to his feet. Will would never call Hannibal a big lug under any other circumstance, but it does make Hannibal smile -- a mere twitch -- as Will drapes Hannibal’s arm over his shoulders.

Half-drag, half-walk. Hannibal’s wine red blood splatters on the stones and dead sea sedge. Will thinks: he’s going to die like this.

But Chiyoh is here, bearing a lantern and her rifle. Of course she is here. Still protective as ever. Will knows he should want her to help, to take Hannibal from the other side -- the bloody side -- but he just wishes she’d get her hands off him.

So he bares his teeth at her just a little. She might have thrown him off that train, but he is still a wolf.

Hannibal moans. It’s not that he moans. It’s the way he moans: low and helpless.

Despite their animosity, Will and Chiyoh share a worried look, and hasten along.

The boat Chiyoh leads them to reeks of antiseptic and iron. In the hot white light of the kerosene lantern, Hannibal is the same color as bone. His blood is black as Chiyoh works on his wounds.

Will holds his hand because there is nothing else he can do, aside from feel lost and helpless, like he’s still tumbling off that cliff. Both their hands are still blood-slick, fingers twined.

“Will?” Hannibal murmurs.

“Yes?”

“You’re . . . hurting my hand.”

“Sorry.”

Will loosens his grip.

Hannibal makes a noise.

“Don’t be. Sorry, that is. And. Don’t let go.”

“I won’t.”

But Hannibal’s hand is so slack and so cold, his breathing thin and low, his eyes shut.

“Hey,” Will says. “Wake up. Stay with me, Hannibal.”

“I may need to rest,” he says slowly.

Like hell if Will was going to let him fall asleep.

But instead Will says exactly what he doesn’t want to say, because it sounds childish:

“What if you don’t wake up?”

“Then I don’t wake up,” Hannibal says, sardonic even as death circles him.

Asshole.

A fire is in Will’s chest as he leans in and kisses him.

“You had better wake up.”

All he tastes is blood, most of it his own.

He holds on to Hannibal’s hand. Even as he feels his own warmth and energy draining, his wounds still oozing. He holds on even after Chiyoh sees to his own wounds. He holds on through the night, aching and keeping vigil.

 

Outside Bahía Blanca, Argentina, 2016

Footsteps, familiar. A glint of silver-brown hair in the dark. The sound of breathing.

Was he -- hesitating?

Will turns on the lamp on his nightstand and glowers at the shadow in his doorway.

“Hannibal.”

“Yes, Will?”

Hannibal peers into Will’s bedroom.

“What are you doing?”

Hannibal pauses and looks like a little boy who’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Will sighs. Hannibal can be such a child sometimes. Especially when it came to love, and loving. He breaks things when he has a tantrum, for starters. Things like other human beings. Nonetheless, Will’s irritation softens into tenderness towards the awkwardly looming man in his doorway.  

“I’m going to bed,” Hannibal says.

Will snorts.

“Come here, you big lug.”

Will pulls back his covers and bedsheets.

Hannibal takes his time crawling into bed with Will, as if he’s afraid Will might change his mind. Will waits and scratches the scar on his cheek. Through an open window he listens to the wind move through the forest, and smells the ceibo in bloom.

Hannibal settles with a small sigh.

Will falls asleep listening to Hannibal’s breathing in the dark.

It becomes habit: Hannibal, showing up at Will’s door; Will, inviting Hannibal in. The warmth of another body in bed, the sound of Hannibal’s breathing.

Sometimes there’s a feathery touch here or there. Mostly they sleep.

One night, Will doesn’t even bother inviting, and keeps reading his book. Then two warm hands cupping his face, turning him gently, and hot lips.

For a minute he thinks he can stay like this.

He wriggles out of Hannibal’s grasp, out of the kiss.  

“No,” he says.

Hannibal takes his hands away and visibly deflates.

“You did kiss me after we fell,” he says, being a child again.

“I did. But a kiss is a kiss. Nothing more.”

“Was this kiss nothing more, then?”

“Hannibal. I can’t make you promises right now. Not about . . . that. I’m not trying to confuse you or string you along. I don’t want any more kisses just yet.”

“Yet.”

Hannibal perks.

Hannibal goes to his side of the bed, but Will tugs the hem of his pajama top.

“Come here, you,” he says, encouraging Hannibal to lay down against him.

Will cradles Hannibal’s head with his shoulder, and loves the easy, firm heat of Hannibal’s hand and arm across his belly. Right over his scar.

Hannibal is still and quiet for a long time. After it’s clear Will isn’t going to shove him out of bed, Hannibal tentatively presses his fingertips against Will’s stomach -- the very edge of his scar. Through his t-shirt, Will feels Hannibal’s fingers tracing the scar. Soft cotton rasps against soft flesh. Shudders. Hannibal’s hand slipping under the hem of Will’s t-shirt. Will gasps when he feels Hannibal’s bare fingers on his skin.

“All right?” Hannibal asks.

“Yes,” Will whispers.

Terribly, horribly, awfully so. Hannibal’s never touched that scar, the very first scar. That snag of flesh, which looks so like the pieces of a broken toy, glued back together. And maybe I am, Will thinks as Hannibal rubs his scar and he shivers.

“Good?” Hannibal asks.

“Yes.”

It’s like another piece, which Will didn’t know was missing, has returned.

 

Paris, France, 2017

Blue lights oscillate through the dark and the rain, and glint off the wet cobblestones. Sirens reverberate through the air, splitting Will’s ears, as he and Hannibal slip through grainy back streets and alleys. They don’t need to speak. They move with grace borne of practice and planning: leaving their apartment and their home of the past six months, joining the crowds in the greasy subway, then taking a train out to the edges of the city, where their second apartment, dubbed the safehouse , lies. They’ll have time to change their clothes and comb the rain from their hair, to sort out their new passports, new identities -- ever shifting, ever changing -- and then drive out of town before the authorities can pick up their trail -- if they can.

It’s only when they’re nearly to Switzerland, that Will speaks.

“We should’ve killed her,” he says.

Hannibal, driving, says: “Oh?”

“It would have spared us the trouble. We would have gotten well away before the authorities even noticed she was gone. We might not have had to leave at all. But no, you had to la de da, hold her captive and feed her her leg on a silver fucking platter.”

“Are you quite finished?”

“Bedelia,” Will spits, “deserved to die.”

“She deserved to be savored. Honored. Every part of her.”

“Bullshit, Hannibal. That is bullshit.

Will bristles, aware that he’s probably red with anger. But to hell with it. To hell with Hannibal. To hell with Bedelia especially, who nearly took his goddamn eye out with a seafood fork, who managed somehow to alert the authorities to her whereabouts after being abducted. That wasn’t clever, just fucking irritating.

A burning silence.

“Will, are you jealous of Bedelia for some reason?”

It’s too much, to have Hannibal asking that.

“Fuck you, Hannibal,” Will says.

He ignores Hannibal for the rest of the trip.

In Austria, Will picks a fight over everything from the color of their new duvet cover to what market they should go to for food. One day, Will intercepts Hannibal on the way to the bathroom, to argue about the laundry. Finally, Hannibal sighs and simply says:

“Will, I’m going to take a shower.”

He walks away slowly, as though he is an old man, and the silence left behind him is not even resentful, just resigned.

Will takes a deep breath. Two breaths. Three.  

When he follows Hannibal to the bathroom, he’s just tired and wrung out. The slightly humid air makes him feel sluggish as he sheds his clothes.

“Hey, let me in,” he says to the shower curtain.

Hannibal snaps it open but says nothing.

Will steps in.

Will is aware of their nudity -- they’ve been naked together, now, though nothing more has happened -- but there’s less vulnerability here then he might have assumed. After being gutted and held by Hannibal, there are few things more vulnerable.

They shower for a few minutes in silence, before Will puts his hand, very carefully, very slowly, on the back of Hannibal’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“For what?”

“What I said to you in the car. And for being such a pain in the ass.”

Will traces a line between two freckles on Hannibal’s shoulder, back and forth, back and forth.

“I am, you know, jealous.”

He wraps his arms around Hannibal, pressing his face to Hannibal’s spine. Hannibal goes very still.

“You know you’re mine,” Will says.

It’s not a question. It’s a statement of fact, a declaration of inevitability.

“I do,” Hannibal says.

 

Warsaw, Poland, 2018

Will stands on the balcony of their apartment, looking down Aleje Jerozolimskie as the sun rises. He looks but doesn’t see. He pulls the blanket around him tighter.

Hannibal joins Will on the balcony, bearing a mug of coffee.

“Thanks,” Will says, taking the mug, then drinking deep, vaguely aware of Hannibal, standing out in the cold with only a red sweater and his pajama bottoms.

“Sorry,” Will says once he’s halfway through his coffee. He offers half of the blanket. Hannibal accepts, wrapping them together shoulder to shoulder.

Will finishes his coffee, pressed against Hannibal.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Hannibal asks.

Silence.

“I’m trying to decide if it will excite you or piss you off,” Will says.

“Why not find out? I promise I won’t try to kill you again.”

“Ha ha ha, you’re a funny guy,” Will says, leaving the warm cocoon of the blanket and Hannibal to go inside and put his mug in the sink. He’s shaking when he stands in the patio doorway and says:

“I want my pound of flesh.”

“What?”

“I want a piece of you,” Will steps out onto the patio, a part of him thinking this is it, this is the day he finally does kill me . But it’s too late to stop.

“You’ve cut into me, twice. I want you to have a scar from me now.” He pauses. “I want to cut a piece out of you and devour it.”

Hannibal doesn’t say anything. He crowds Will until he has him pressed against the railing, a fall three stories down. Will shudders, but he’s alive, by God he’s fucking alive, and that’s one reason why he’s still with Hannibal.

“I wish you’d said something earlier,” Hannibal says drolly.

A few nights later, Hannibal lies belly down and naked on the kitchen table. They’ve laid plastic over the table, and there are a few towels near Will, who’s cleaning his folding knife. Hannibal had insisted on the knife.

“You should use what is most comfortable to you, Will.”

The same kind of knife he wanted to use in Florence, whole lifetimes ago now.

Will’s shaking again, and he needs it to stop so he doesn’t hurt Hannibal when he’s cutting.

“Will, you don’t need to clean it a third time,” Hannibal says, voice muffled as his cheek presses to the table. “I’m sure it’s clean.”

“Don’t want an infection,” Will mutters.

He sounds absolutely insane. He’s going to cut a chunk of the person he loves most in the world, the person he is closest to, who knows him, who sees him -- he’s going to cut a chunk out of this man and eat it. And he’s pretending to worry about an infection when he can’t decide if he’s more afraid or excited.

Will clears his mind, forcing the shaking to stop, and stands over Hannibal. It’s his very own feast laid out. They make eye contact briefly, and Will feels a comforting warmth bloom in him.

He’s dizzy as he makes the first cut, skin parting and blood welling. He can’t stop himself from breathing heavily as he makes another cut, a red line which he connects to the first. Then two more lines, connected to each other and the previous lines. A tidy little square of flesh, far less than a pound. Hannibal had wanted more, but Will had refused.

He cuts the square loose, quick and neat, and holds Hannibal, burning and bloody, in his hand.

After tending and bandaging the wound, they clear and clean the kitchen table. Will decides his recipe will be simple: salt, pepper, olive oil, and diced shallots, everything sautéd. Hannibal says nothing about the preparation, only puts his chin on Will’s shoulder, and his hands on his hips as he cooks. Will doesn’t mind, and leans back into Hannibal. A perfect domestic scene , Will thinks, and nearly laughs.

When it’s ready, Will doesn’t bother plating his square of flesh. Will burns his fingers as he takes Hannibal right from the pan and to his mouth. First, lapping lightly, then sucking, and finally taking it all, and swallowing.

“How was I?” Hannibal asks, still behind Will, and having witnessed the whole thing.

Will grins and he can only imagine it’s grisly. Or maybe -- loving.

“Delicious,” he says.

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2019

The wind whispers past Will’s ears and buries cool fingers in his hair. Intimate as Hannibal’s fingers in his hair. Will had woken last night, in the heat and the dark of their bed, Hannibal cradling him protectively as they slept, and Will had felt cherished beyond words.

On his bike, lantern lights blur past him, leaving yellow-white streaks against a sapphire sky, like a Van Gogh painting. Ahead, Hannibal looks over his shoulder as he pedals, and speeds up because Will is closing on him again. Will laughs.

“You goose,” Will says, cheeks burning from the wind.

“Were you racing me?” Will asks, as they park their bikes at one of the bridges, near the quay.

“No. I merely didn’t want you to come in first.”

“Ah.”

He takes Hannibal’s elbow -- the most natural thing in the world anymore. They’ve spent most of the day looking at eternally broody Rembrandt paintings, and it feels good to be out in the open air, in a place with brighter lighting and colors. The moon shines palely in a darkening sky, and the stars shiver as Will and Hannibal descend the stairs to the quay. They hand over their tickets and then climb into the little boat, taking the seats furthest back, on the stern, right above the propellers.

The boat doesn’t fill up so the captain sets sail and it glides out into the canal. Will ignores the man on the intercom, who explains things about the buildings, which pass as shadows. They’ve taken the night tour enough that Will’s sure he has all the announcements memorized, both in English and Dutch. Having lived just outside Amsterdam for six months now, the night tours are unnecessary. Except Will enjoys them. He won’t let Hannibal buy them a boat, not yet, because taking the night tour is utterly normal, and beautiful.

Will huddles next to Hannibal because the thick night cold has started to descend, and, without any conscious thought that Will can tell, Hannibal puts his arm around him.

Sometime during the boarding, an older couple joined Will and Hannibal in the back. They are both short and brown-skinned, the man with silver glasses and silver hair, the spindly woman with an inky black spill of hair. Now, the man turns and smiles at them both.

“How long have you two been together?” the man asks in English. He has an American accent.

They must have heard us speaking in English, Will thinks.  

Then he says: “What?”

“We can tell you’re a couple,” the man says.

“It’s obvious,” the woman adds.

“Oh. I guess we are.”

He looks at Hannibal. Hannibal lapses into being inscrutable, which he still does when other people are around.

“How long?” the woman prompts.

“Four years,” Will says, mentally cursing Hannibal for leaving him like this.

“Eight,” Hannibal says. “Since the day we met.”

“No,” Will laughs, half from relief and half from Hannibal being, well, Hannibal. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am.”

“I was married to someone else for three of those first four years.”

The woman whistles, pretending to be scandalized.

“But we were still together, weren’t we?” Hannibal persists.

And he isn’t wrong. Not entirely.

“Four years,” Will says, firmly. “For years since I fell in love with him.”

Hannibal smiles at the pun. But Will keeps thinking about it -- about when they began. He thinks about it as they bike home, as they have some evening coffee. As he stares absently at one of those postcards Chiyoh sent, stuck to the refrigerator.

He can’t tell when they began, not anymore.

It doesn't matter, though.

The stairs up to their bedroom are steep and narrow, so when Will stops and shuffles around in the dark, he is careful.

“Will?” Hannibal asks.

Will can’t see Hannibal particularly well, since the stairwell light is dim and sputtering.

Will leans down, down; he could fall again like this, except Hannibal is down and his lips are soft and warm. Hannibal startles, then presses up into the kiss. Awkward, and wet, but it’s a kiss. Will holds Hannibal’s face in his hands, and sighs.

In bed, they kiss some more before turning off the bedside lamp. In the dark, Hannibal asks:

“Will we have sex too?”

Will laughs.

“Not tonight.”

“But not four years later.”

“I don’t know. I feel excessively chaste.”

Hannibal sighs.

“Go to sleep, you big lug,” Will says.