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A Discreet Madness

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Will had dragged Hannibal's unconscious body from the ocean like a birth. His last clear memories were the feel of the sharp rocks under his knees and the wad of Hannibal's soaked sweater clutched in his hand.

Now, he lay in a small bed in a room with blue walls and water-stained blinds that let in a blast of sunlight around their edges. Scrabbling through his mind, he caught a few flashes between then and now: standing wet and bloody in an all night drugstore and demanding antibiotics at gunpoint. Endless night driving with the yellow line wavering in front of his eyes. A hot and spreading pain in his shoulder and cheek. Hannibal bent over him, face pale, fingers searching for Will’s pulse.

He blinked at the ceiling a few times and started to reach up to rub his eyes. He bared his teeth against the pain in his shoulder. He tried the other arm and felt a much smaller pain and an odd tug at his skin. A glance showed him an IV in the back of his hand. When he sat up, the room wobbled and lights wheeled behind his closed eyes. Once they settled, he gripped the IV stand, got himself off the bed, and shuffled over to the door.

On the other side of it, a dead man lay on a plastic sheet. Hannibal knelt beside him with a kitchen knife in one hand. He looked up from his work and froze in place, still as stone. After a few seconds, Will saw the hitch of his chest as he started breathing again.

"What did he do?" Will asked.

"He recognized me."

Will watched Hannibal's jaw clamp shut after the last word and the roll of his throat muscles as he swallowed down justifications. "Do we need to leave?" Will asked.

"Not for a few hours. I'd prefer to travel at night."

"Can I take this out?" Will gestured with the hand hooked up to the IV. "I want a shower."

Hannibal dropped the knife. He crossed the distance between them with quick steps and took Will's hand in both of his.

"I was out for a while, huh?" Will said.

"Yes. You treated my wounds and ignored your own. I wish I could say I was surprised.”

Will watched him peel the tape back and slip the needle from his skin. Hannibal smoothed his thumb over the entry point. He didn't look up as he continued. “I regained consciousness in a motel room in Tennessee. You had passed out on the floor."

"I sort of remember that," Will said. "Were there flowers on the carpet? Big blue ones?"

"I have no idea what was on the carpet," Hannibal said shortly. He pressed harder against the puncture mark and then let go. "Take your shower. I'll make you something to eat."

Will braced a hand on the wall as he walked to the bathroom. He couldn't stay on his feet and ended up sitting in the bottom of the tub with the water falling over him as he scrubbed at his hair. Afterward, he looked at his wounds.

The shoulder, though it hurt worse, seemed to be healing better. The skin around it was a little pink, but it looked clean enough, and the stitches held it neatly shut. His face startled him. The gash in his cheek seemed impossibly larger than he remembered, larger than it felt. He could taste the inside of it with his tongue, and he remembered being able to push his tongue all the way through it. Not anymore, so it was healing, but that was all that could be said for it.

Half his face was red and hot with infection. The wound itself was an ugly, jagged thing that cut down under his eye almost to his lip. He leaned forward and rubbed steam away from the mirror to get a closer look.

"It's better than it was," Hannibal said. "I was afraid you might lose the eye." He stood in the bathroom doorway, holding out a plastic shopping bag. "Clothes for you."

"It'll be a hell of a scar," Will said. He took the bag and then found himself drawn back to his own reflection. He touched the puffy skin around the stitches.

"Very likely," Hannibal said. "Come out when you're ready. I'll dress those for you."

Alone again, Will looked through the bag. Hannibal had been wearing dirty jeans, boots, and a long-sleeved T-shirt with a faded soccer ball on it. Will's clothes were much the same: jeans and a lightweight plaid shirt, worn at the cuffs and collar. He left the shirt unbuttoned and rolled up the sleeves to his elbows.

Hannibal was waiting for him. Will sat next to him on the edge of the bed while he taped dressings into place over his shoulder and cheek. Will laid a hand over the gauze and tried to imagine what he would look like when it healed. Would it be white or red? Raised and twisted or a faint line? He could feel the wound pulling at the rest of his skin, and he imagined it would tighten as it healed. Would it stretch his mouth to a permanent sneer? Pull down the corner of his eye?

Hannibal touched the back of his hand. "You don't need to worry."

Will let his gaze move up from Hannibal's mouth to his eyes, steady and intent. "I'm not worried," he said.

Hannibal watched him for a second or two and then he leaned in and pressed his cheek to Will's undamaged one, just a warm scrape of skin and stubble, over in a moment. He lowered his eyes as he stood and left the room.

Will touched that side as well and gradually bent until he sat with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. Hannibal's scent lingered, not the familiar aftershave but skin and salt and someone else's blood.

*

Will stayed in the bedroom all that long afternoon. He wanted no part of the corpse in the living room. He stretched out on top of the covers and drifted, half or more than half asleep. By the time the white light coming in around the blinds mellowed to gold, he could smell something cooking.

Toward evening, Hannibal came in with a tray of tea, toast, and what Will strongly suspected was human noodle soup. The scent made his stomach growl and his mouth water. The idea had stopped bothering him before Randall Tier, and now some remnant of Garret Jacob Hobbs sat happily in the back of his mind, pleased with the knowledge that this man's death wouldn't be entirely wasted.

He took a bite and looked at Hannibal, who was watching him with carefully suppressed intensity. "It's good," he said. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"Are you going to sit there and watch me eat?"

Hannibal flicked his gaze briefly to the floor and then back to Will's hand on the spoon. "Would you rather I left?"

"It's okay. You can stay."

Hannibal did. He watched Will dip toast in the soup and gracelessly slurp noodles and tip the bowl to get the last of it. It didn't taste like chicken. The flavor was strong and rich, but more subtle than beef or pork.

Will looked down at the empty bowl. "I missed it," he said.

"As did I." Hannibal's voice was calm, but his hand had a white-knuckled grip on the bedspread. "Three years is a long time."

"Longer than that for me."

"I think you're forgetting your taste of Cordell."

Will made a face. "Don't compare that to your cooking. That was disgusting."

"Raw meat often is. We must thank Prometheus for his gift of fire."

"He's still paying that one off." Will had a brief vision of Hannibal as the eagle pecking out his liver. You play, you pay. He shook his head. "Are we leaving soon?"

"Yes. Can you ride a motorcycle?"

"Yeah, but I don't know how long I'll be good for. I slept most of the day and I'm still tired."

"You only need to hold onto me."

Will thought of their fall and of clutching Hannibal to his chest while the waves broke over his head. "I can do that," he said.

Hannibal took the tray away. Will followed him into the kitchen and watched him wash the dishes. The body was gone. There wasn't a speck of blood anywhere. Will didn't ask. They would need to have a conversation about this sooner or later. He knew that. But not now. Not yet.

Hannibal dried his hands and reached into his pocket. He held out Will's wedding band on his open palm. "Your arm and hand were beginning to swell from the infection. I was concerned. I assumed you would want it back."

That was a lie, and Will gave him a lie back. "I thought I'd lost it in the ocean." He took it. Hannibal let his hand drop. Will held it up between his thumb and forefinger so that it caught the light through the kitchen window. He put it in his pocket.

*

The backpack Hannibal gave Will to wear was mainly medical supplies with a few documents and some cash wrapped in plastic at the bottom. Hannibal wore a knife in a sheath strapped to his forearm, under his sleeve. He offered one to Will. Will shook his head.

"That man had a gun if you want it," Hannibal said.

"No, thanks." If he'd come after them with a gun, Hannibal hadn't had much choice about killing him. The knowledge made Will feel neither better nor worse. If he were going to worry about the people Hannibal had killed, he wouldn't start by mourning a stranger.

The motorcycle was matte black with balding tires and no apparent sign of make or model. Will slid on behind Hannibal and reached back to hold on. It went fine for five minutes before they turned off the rough paved road and onto a rutted dirt track. Will nearly came off at the first jolt.

He put his hands on Hannibal's shoulders and felt the slow roll of muscles there and the way Hannibal adjusted his head and neck to the grip. The road in the headlamp was a rust red slash of mud. Trees grew high on either side, and insects whirred in the clinging heat. They could be anywhere south of the border. Come to that, he hadn't seen a road sign or anything else to indicate language. They could be on the far side of the world for all he knew.

The constant jarring of the bike made his shoulder ache more sharply, and the side of his face was starting to burn. Exhaustion crept up on him, as silent as the Great Red Dragon. He looked up through the gap in the trees cut by the road. The moon was a little less than half full. Maybe a week since their fall.

It had taken so long to get to the bottom. Will barely remembered the impact, only that it had hurt and that he had somehow lost Hannibal almost at once. The idea of dying without him had been unbearable.

Will leaned forward to rest the uninjured side of his face on Hannibal's back. He dropped his hands from Hannibal's shoulders to his waist and let himself slide closer, feeling the solid warmth of muscle between his thighs. Hannibal shifted and rolled his neck again. He ghosted a hand over Will's knee.

Will must have slept because he woke a handful of times either to the beginning of a disastrous slide off the bike or to Hannibal reaching back to grip his arm hard and save him. The monotonous, staccato bounce of the road, the complete dark, and Hannibal's warmth sent him off again. He wrapped his arms around Hannibal's waist and felt the quickening heartbeat that thrummed through both of them.

Just before dawn, they left the dirt track, turned onto a paved road, and saw the ocean. Hannibal pulled over at a rocky point. A small tree stood on the edge of the cliff, twisted by the wind. Just beyond it, the earth was crumbling into the sea. Hannibal helped Will off. They stood shoulder to shoulder and looked out over the waves.

"Are we in trouble?" Will asked.

"How would you define trouble in these circumstances?"

"Last time you went on the run, I found you living in a palazzo in Florence and going to parties and art museums. You just killed a guy and left town in the middle of the night. Kind of a big difference."

Hannibal lowered himself down to sit on a rock, one hand over the wound in his side. "I felt no great desire in Florence to either keep what I had or avoid any potential consequences."

"But you do now?"

Hannibal looked up at him. "Don't you? Or would you prefer to take us over the cliff again? I think this one would be our last."

Will looked down. Waves shattered against jagged rocks at the bottom. Bone breakers and skull crushers. Their bodies would be ground up for fish food. "Once was enough," he said.

He took the ring out of his pocket and looked through it. Behind them, sky and trees began to separate as the horizon faded from inky black to pre-dawn gray. He couldn't imagine she'd want the ring back. Recovered from his dead body, maybe, but not like this. Now, it could only be a sign that he'd survived, that his desertion was by choice and not by fate.

"I didn't notice it was gone," he said to Hannibal. "Not until you gave it back to me."

"I could have thrown it away. I wanted to see what you would choose to do with it."

He weighed it in his palm for a second, even drew his arm back, but Molly had never loved the sea like he did. He walked over to the little tree, wiped the ring clean of prints with his shirt cuff, and threaded it onto a thin branch. It moved with the wind and glinted in the growing light. Maybe someone else would find it and put it to a happier use than he'd managed.

*

After their night of slogging through the mud, Will had expected some kind of cash-only motel at the end, or maybe a day spent lying low in an abandoned barn. Even so, he wasn't really surprised by the modern cube of a house, all glass and concrete, perched on the edge of the unknown ocean.

"Is it yours?" he asked as they wheeled the mud-spattered bike into the garage, where it sat next to a powder blue Jag convertible.

"The car or the house?"

"Either. Both."

"The house is rented. The car is mine. I had it delivered two days ago. The house is stocked with food and clothes for both of us."

"Are we staying here?"

Hannibal looked at him for a few seconds in silence and then touched his shoulder lightly to guide him inside. "We'll move on in a few days when I'm more certain of your recovery. You need to rest. Last night's journey was not ideal."

"I slept some."

"I know. You came close to falling more than once."

Will shrugged. "I don't feel that bad actually. I could eat."

"I will look at your wounds first."

The master bedroom at the top of the stairs took up the whole second floor, and the back wall was made entirely of glass. It continued into the bathroom so that when Will showered, he looked out through steam and drops of water onto the heaving ocean.

Hannibal left him clothes on the bathroom counter. Dark, crisp denim and a pink button down. Hannibal, clean now also and standing with a hand pressed to the glass wall, wore khakis and a white polo shirt unbuttoned at the neck. Tourist wear. It went with the house and the car as last night’s clothes had matched the bike.

Hannibal taped a new dressing in place on Will's shoulder. He paused before he covered the jagged slice on his cheek, tipping his face toward the light.

"It'll heal ugly, won't it?" Will asked.

"It may." A faint crease showed between Hannibal's eyes. His lips parted, but he didn't speak.

"It's okay," Will said. "I don't mind." He liked the idea of it, both as a reminder of the past and a warning of what lay under his skin. He reached up to touch it, but Hannibal caught his wrist.

"I've just cleaned it," Hannibal said mildly. He stuck the dressing in place. Afterward, his hand returned to Will's wrist, just two fingers on the outside knob of bone. "It may be ugly."

But you won't be. Will looked down at the long fingers tapping at his wrist as he waited for Hannibal to find some elegant way to phrase that. Either he couldn't or he chose not to, but it didn't matter. They both heard it.

"What's for lunch?" Will asked.

"What would you like?"

"That's the first time you've ever asked me that."

"It's the first time I've asked anyone that in many years."

That pulled a smile from Will. "They'll eat what they get and like it?"

"They usually do," Hannibal said.

"I usually do."

"Nevertheless, I am asking."

His forefinger rubbed slowly over Will's wrist bone. Will felt heat prickle at the back of his neck, and he looked down, away from the sparking intensity of Hannibal's gaze. "I don't know what you have," he said.

"Nor do I. Shall we find out together?"

When Will nodded, he felt like he was agreeing to much more than lunch.

*

The kitchen had been stocked with the basics, a few fresh vegetables, red grapes, and a ham in the fridge. Will ate grapes from a bowl on the counter and watched Hannibal cook. He'd asked for grilled cheese, partly because he wanted it and partly to see what Hannibal would do with it. He'd placed mental bets about the inclusion of caviar or foie gras, but Hannibal had kept it simple. The sandwiches were toasting in a pan on the stove, cheddar cheese just starting to ooze out the edges. The bread was sourdough and the butter was from Iceland, but the only additions Hannibal made were thin sliced tomatoes and ham.

They ate outside on a long wooden deck like a pier. Waves crashed into the rocks beneath them. Will closed his eyes afterward as the sun crept across his face. A cool wind blew and tossed specks of sea spray against his skin. He might've slept.

He woke, or returned from wandering in his head, with Hannibal crouched at his side, hypodermic syringe in one hand and the other on Will's wrist. Will jerked his arm away and nearly jerked himself out of the chair in the process. His shoulder throbbed with pain.

"What the fuck is that?"

"Antibiotics. I've been administering them intravenously. I can get pills in town this afternoon, but I'd prefer that you not miss another dose."

He hadn't moved. Will passed a hand over his eyes and let his body untwist slightly, though he still kept his arm out of reach. "You gave me something before. With the light therapy. I remember the needle. You looking up at me. Not much else."

"Yes," Hannibal said. He paused. "It was a mistake. I thought that you needed an opening. A release. Freedom to see what you might become."

"I always knew what I might become."

“Yes. I misjudged you. Not only then but on many occasions. I will not misjudge you again."

Will looked at the needle glinting silver in the sun. "Antibiotics."

"Yes."

He held out his arm. There were only two choices: trust Hannibal or don't. Trust had gotten him this far. It had been a painful path, but he couldn't say he regretted it. Hannibal cleaned the crook of his arm with an alcohol swab, gave him the injection, and capped the needle. He bent down until Will could see only the top of his head. His lips pressed softly against the injection site.

Will took a slow, controlled breath.

"Is there anything you would like from town?” Hannibal said. "Besides the antibiotics?"

Will thought of saying he wanted to go along, and then he thought about what Hannibal might have to do to get the antibiotics. It wasn't like he could just write a prescription anymore. "I can't think of anything," he said.

Hannibal lingered. His breath fell warm and damp across Will's skin. "Very well. I'll see you in an hour or two. Please try to rest."

He stood and walked away. A few minutes later, Will heard the coughing growl of the motorcycle.

*

An hour passed and then two. It was late afternoon and Hannibal still hadn’t returned. With no energy or appetite for dinner, Will dragged himself up the stairs, stripped down to his boxers, and got into bed. He watched the sun sink. They were on the west coast of whatever country this was. The gold and crimson trail across the water remained as an impossibly bright afterimage when he closed his eyes.

He woke in the dark and knew he wasn't alone. He tried to be still and keep his breathing even, but something must've given him away.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Hannibal said.

"It's okay." It came out as a croak. Will coughed and sat up to switch on the light. Hannibal was sitting at the foot of the bed. He wore the jeans and T-shirt from last night's journey. Mud and blood streaked his face. His left eye was bruised and swollen shut. Will reached for him and stopped with his hand in the air. "Are you okay?"

"I had a few minor difficulties."

Will hauled himself out of bed and tugged Hannibal into the bathroom to get a better look at his eye. "I'll get some ice," he said.

Hannibal nodded and bent over the sink. When Will got back, he wore clean sweatpants and nothing else. He was watching his reflection with an expression Will recognized: the same look Hannibal had given him through the clear plastic wall of his cell, a combination of hostility, despair, and yearning.

"I'm right here," Will said.

"I know you are."

"Do you? You look like I'm a thousand miles away."

Hannibal dropped his gaze to his own hands. He was holding the towel he'd used to dry them. He folded it neatly and set it down. Will took in his slumped posture and the hard press of his palms against the counter. He pushed the bag of ice against the back of Hannibal's neck.

Hannibal flinched from it and turned to face Will with a resentful look. Will tried not to laugh. He held out the ice. Hannibal took it and raised it slowly to his eye.

"Come on," Will said. He headed back toward the bed and heard Hannibal following behind.

"There are other bedrooms downstairs," Hannibal said.

"That's nice." Will got into bed and pulled the sheets back in invitation.

"I meant that I could sleep in one of them."

"Do you really think I didn't know what you meant?"

"No."

Hannibal sat beside him, stiff both from caution and probably from pain, given his wound and the new bruises along his spine. Will laid a hand over the worst of them. Hannibal leaned into the touch with a nearly inaudible sigh.

"Lie down," Will told him.

He did, and Will switched off the light. They lay face to face. Moonlight came through the glass wall and caught on the edges of Hannibal's bones. He had looked too thin in his cell and he looked thinner now. He set his ice pack aside and stretched out a hand across the bed. He stopped just short of touching Will's cheek.

"It's okay," Will said.

Hannibal closed his good eye. "You say that with unwarranted assurance." His forefinger skimmed the bridge of Will's nose and moved down to rest across his lips.

"You want to tell me what's wrong?" Will said.

"You haven't asked me about the circumstances of that man's death. You haven't asked me where we're going or even what country we’re in. You will forgive me if I have assumed that you don't want the responsibility of that knowledge."

"And so you're trying to protect me? It's a few years too late for that." Hannibal's finger moved against his lips as he spoke. He caught it lightly between his teeth and held it, barely denting the skin. It tasted faintly of soap. He looked down until all he could see was the dim outline of Hannibal’s hand and wrist and the sheets beneath.

Hannibal pulled free and touched the soft hollow under Will’s eye. “Is there something you want?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Yes. More than this.”

Hannibal shifted closer until they lay on the same pillow, inches apart. "How much more?"

Will could feel Hannibal’s breath on his lips. "Chiyoh said that I don’t understand means of influence other than violence."

Hannibal’s breath of laughter was barely audible. He curved a hand over the back of Will’s head and pressed a lingering closed-mouth kiss to his lips. "She doesn’t know you as well as I do."

Will leaned up and kissed Hannibal’s bruised and swollen eye. He tasted it with the tip of his tongue. Hannibal’s moan didn’t make it out of his mouth, but Will felt it vibrate through his body. The skin tasted of metal and salt and heat. He licked across it, and Hannibal clutched at him with both hands.

"Where are we going?" Will asked.

"Argentina," Hannibal said, faintly breathless. "I have a house in the hills above Mendoza."

"Are you going to kill there?"

"Do you want me to?"

"I don’t know what I want," Will said.

"Do you want me?"

"Yes. Yes, I want you." Will moved awkwardly closer until their bodies were pressed together from chest to thigh. Hannibal released a soft breath against his neck and put both arms around him. Will closed a hand on the hair at the back of Hannibal’s neck. The fine, soft ends slipped through his fingers.

"Then the rest doesn’t matter," Hannibal said. "I have waited a long time for you, Will. I can wait a little longer."

"What if the answer’s no?"

"You have a taste for it."

"A lot of people like bacon. Most of them wouldn’t slaughter a pig."

Hannibal kissed him again, a soft, warm press of lips at the edge of his bandage. "They might if they couldn’t buy it at the supermarket. I can wait."

"You might wait a long time."

"If I wait forever, I will consider it time well spent."