The smack of Will’s palm landing against Hannibal’s cheek was lost in the mumbling roar of the incoming tide. The wind threw spray into his eyes, where it stung. A glance at the sky told him that daybreak must still be hours away. Further along the narrow strip of battered rocks and seaweed that passed for a beach, he could see a yellow light wavering as if rocked by the sea. It could be a boat. He gripped Hannibal’s shoulders and shook him.
“Can you hear me? Hannibal? Hannibal?”
Hannibal didn’t respond. He was breathing, but that was all. Will knelt over him, panting. He smoothed his palm over the place he’d slapped. Hannibal’s skin was as cold as the water. “I could just leave you here,” he said.
The sound of his voice fell flat into the wet air. He could walk away. In an hour, Hannibal would be swallowed up by the tide. If he left now, if Will didn’t see it happen, he could tell himself that Hannibal had survived, could be free to imagine him running around on another continent causing havoc. Will stared down at him, at his slack gray face and the blood pooling under him, blacker than shadows. Will shuddered as the cold bit into his bones. He hadn’t been able to let Dolarhyde kill him, and he knew he wasn’t able to leave him now.
A few hours ago he had been expecting to die. He could still make it so. He lay down next to Hannibal and, after a moment, took his hand and held it tightly in his own. This was it, this was right. It had been inevitable since Florence, since the knife and the bone saw. Behind his lids, Hannibal waited on the graven skull.
Will drifted, picking through his slowing thoughts. But then something disturbed them. A crunching sound came closer, and he frowned. They were footsteps, and then they stopped. He tightened his grip around Hannibal’s hand, rubbing his thumb over Hannibal’s knuckles.
Something hard and cold pushed against his cheek, and a very real voice spoke. “Get up.”
Not dead yet, then. He opened his eyes to see Chiyoh looming above him, dressed in a heavy waterproof and rubber boots. Somehow this wasn’t surprising. Life was full of ghosts, and here was another. A storm lantern swung from her wrist, sending a circle of light swaying crazily over the rocks. The barrel end of her hunting rifle butted hard against his cheekbone. Her eyes were black holes in her skull.
“You’re interrupting the inevitable,” Will said. “Leave us alone. Unless you’re here to finish the job?”
“Shut up.” Chiyoh squatted down next to him. She felt for Hannibal’s pulse. “He’s still alive.” She dug in her pocket, pulled out a hip flask, and held it to Will’s mouth. “Drink.”
It was sweet and alcoholic, and it burned in his mouth like fire. The heat of it traced a path down into his gut. He groaned. “What do you want?”
“He doesn’t want to die.” She jabbed the barrel at Hannibal. “He doesn’t want you to die.”
He eyed her and her gun. “We’re dead already. I’m not moving.”
“I won’t kill either of you. But I’ll maim him.”
“What does it matter to you?” Will said. He was so tired. If only she’d just leave.
“He gave me power of attorney.” She pinned him with a flat glare. “Over his whole estate. As far as I’m concerned, that includes you. And I don’t want the responsibility.”
“He doesn’t own me.”
Her smile was very slight. “Then maybe it’s the other way around. Stand up. We need to carry him to the boat.” She took the flask from him. “I can’t do it alone. Are you strong enough?”
“Hannibal has a boat?”
“He asked me a long time ago to keep one ready for him. For you, too. He always wanted to leave with you.” She waved the gun at Hannibal’s kneecap. “Decide. We need to move.”
Will stared up at her. Would it be so bad, running away with him now? He struggled to his feet. Hannibal was a dead weight, but together they got him upright and balanced between them. His head lolled down, making him look like a puppet with cut strings.
They staggered along the beach to the boat. From what he could see of its lines in the dark, it was a long and elegant yacht, sea-going and sleek. Chiyoh rowed them out, and together they hauled Hannibal up and over the side, landing him with a thud on the deck. That elicited a faint groan. They looked at one another and hurried to get him inside.
Will groaned at the warmth. A compact woodburner roared at one end of the small cabin. It was well equipped and cleverly laid out, with two bunks, a decent galley, even a narrow sofa. Chiyoh ditched her wet weather gear and pulled down the first aid kit. “Get his clothes off,” she said.
Will complied, tugging off sodden wool and cotton. The wound in Hannibal’s stomach was a ghastly storm-cloud purple. “It’s stopped bleeding. That’s a good sign. The bullet missed major organs.”
Chiyoh nodded. “Dolarhyde just wanted to slow him down, not hurt him. He was saving the privilege of real destruction for the Dragon.”
“You call it a privilege?”
“It was for Dolarhyde. Will it feel the same for you when you finally destroy him?”
Will shook his head, unable to answer. Hannibal was gray and seemed to be barely breathing now. Chiyoh bent over him and began to work. She was quick and neat, issuing clipped instructions for more wadding, disinfectant, forceps.
“Where did you learn to do this?” Will asked, watching her work. Hannibal barely twitched under her hands.
“Hannibal taught me a little before… Before he left. The rest I taught myself. There would be hunting accidents every winter. Poachers mainly. I helped them.”
“A jailer and a healer.”
She turned her head and gave him a stone-hard look. “A killer, now. Thanks to you.”
Will turned away. To distract himself, he made them coffee and then took a brief inventory while Chiyoh worked. He’d need to check their supplies more fully in the days ahead, but for now they had enough water, food, and fuel to last for a week or more, depending how much headway they made. He closed his eyes. He was already planning; it hadn’t exactly taken him long to come to terms with not being dead.
“You should stay away from the coast,” Chiyoh said, as they drank coffee together at the small table in the galley. “But you already know that, don’t you?”
“Survival is the nature of the beast.”
Chiyoh dipped her head to her cup. “Do you intend to kill him, even now?”
“I thought I had, but it hasn’t worked.” He closed both hands around his mug, warming them. Chiyoh was silent. “You mentioned other means of influence, once.”
She looked down into the dark liquid in her cup. “He’s in love with you, or something beyond love. I don’t think he can live without you now. It will make him easier to tame.”
“Why do I feel like you’re handing over the jailer’s keys to me?”
“Because I am.” She finished her coffee. “I don’t want to hold them anymore, Mr. Graham, and you can do something for him that I cannot.”
She gave him a level stare. “Love him in return.”
She rose from her seat, put on her coat, and left, closing the galley door. Will closed his eyes and sighed, and all he could think was that Hannibal would have enjoyed that mic drop. But Hannibal lay motionless in the bunk where they’d put him, dressed in clean clothes and covered in two blankets. He walked over to where he lay. Hannibal was still pale, but less gray. His lips were dry and bloodless, and Will saw the network of lines etched into his skin. Hannibal was strong, but he was aging, and he was a risk taker. How many years did he have left?
Chiyoh had laid out antibiotics and pain medication on the counter in the galley, a set for both of them. She’d stitched his cheek with tiny expert stitches and his shoulder with larger ones. They were beginning to throb now that the local anesthetic was wearing off.
Dawn was still hours away. There was nothing to do till then but wait. Will lay down in the spare bunk and fell immediately into a deep sleep.
Three hours later, fueled on more coffee, he sailed them out as the sky turned from dark blue to steely gray. The water looked like ink washing up against the stern, and gulls shrieked their desperate siren calls above them. To his right, the cliffs towered, black and angry, and just a glance to their tops made the fall swoop again in his stomach. He steered out and away, leaving the inshore waters behind, and felt free for the first time in years.
He was fixing yet more coffee, alongside oatmeal, when Hannibal finally woke sometime around midday. Will heard the creak of the bunk behind him, the rustle of fabric, and a low groan. He smiled, almost giddy. He bit down on it.
“How are you feeling?” he said.
Hannibal sat up and looked around. His hair was flattened to one side of his head. He studied Will for several seconds, his eyes widening. For a moment he seemed utterly lost, then it vanished, buttoned away behind his facade.
“Your Chiyoh-shaped insurance policy worked, if you were wondering. She found us.” And stopped me killing us both. Again.
“Who is Chiyoh?”
Will froze, bowl in hand. “Don’t you know?”
Hannibal looked around, gaze tracking over the boat and back to Will. “Where am I?” he said.
“Somewhere in the north Atlantic. Do you remember falling? The house? Dolarhyde?”
Hannibal’s expression didn’t change. “It appears not,” he said.
“Do you know who I am?”
Dread settled in Will’s stomach. He came closer. He realized he was moving slowly, as if approaching a wild animal. He raised his hand. “May I check your skull?”
“I think you had better.”
He found a hot swollen lump at the back. There was no blood, but there might have been internal bleeding. It was impossible to say. He could hear Hannibal’s slow steady breaths.
“Can you remember your name?” Will said.
The look Hannibal fixed on him then made his guts clench: it was the assessing gaze of a predator. “I cannot. Tell me, please.”
“Hannibal Lecter. Sound familiar?”
“Not at all.”
“You— We— had an accident. At a guess, you’re suffering from post-traumatic amnesia.”
“What happened to us?” Hannibal said. He drew back from Will and put his hand on his stomach, over his wound. He pulled up his shirt to look at the bandages.
“It was— It’s complicated.” With any luck, this would be extremely short term. Hours or days at most. “Look, you should rest. You can’t deal with an info dump right now.”
Hannibal looked up at him. “I disagree. That’s exactly what I need.”
Of course, because this was Hannibal, and he didn’t function well without at least the illusion of omnipotence. He could lie, but it felt wrong. “Short version: you were shot, and then we fell off a cliff.” He left out the parts about dragging him over it and escaping from prison.
Hannibal blinked, but he didn’t look exactly shocked. “You were hurt too,” Hannibal said, glancing at the stitches on Will’s face. “Were we attacked together?”
“Yes,” Will said, and thought of how to describe Dolarhyde. “The man who did it… he had a form of schizophrenia.”
“Who killed him, you or I?” Hannibal said softly, after a moment.
Will’s stomach swooped in terror, just like it had when he’d looked up at the cliffs. Hannibal was Hannibal, memory intact or not, it seemed. “Why do you assume we killed him?”
“Our wounds. They’re plentiful and severe but we’re alive. I assume we gave worse than we got?”
He might as well tell the truth. “We killed him together.”
“I see,” Hannibal said and let out a low breath.
“How does that make you feel?” Will said.
Hannibal frowned. “Curious,” he said. “Will you tell me more?”
Will laid a hand on his arm. “Later,” he said. “I promise.”
“You haven’t told me your name,” Hannibal said.
He hadn’t even thought to, as if it were hard to believe that Hannibal truly didn’t know him. Right now, Hannibal didn’t know him. He could tell Hannibal anything, any name. A false name. Sail to shore and abandon him. Hannibal wouldn’t be able to track him. The cruelty of the idea turned his stomach. He couldn’t do it.
It would have been so much simpler to die. Hannibal had wrapped his arms around him as they fell, tightening like iron bands. It had been all Will wanted, in that moment.
“My name’s Will Graham.”
“Thank you,” Hannibal said, as if to a stranger.
Hannibal took his advice and slept for several more hours, but when he woke, mid-evening, he still remembered nothing. He walked stiffly around the cabin, then inched up the steps to look outside. Will trailed up behind him, worried that he might fall. The sea was a pale wash of gray and the sky was indigo.
On the horizon, thunderheads caught the last of the setting sun.
“Is the storm coming towards us?” Hannibal said.
“No, it’s going north.” Will had been checking the radar pretty much constantly. They were in poor shape to deal with any kind of bad weather.
“You sound relieved.”
“I don’t want to lay over anywhere,” Will said. “I’m hoping we can catch the wind and make good time along the coast.”
Hannibal looked up as a gull wailed overhead. “So, we’re going south. Are we on the run from justice?” he said.
Will had to hide a smile. “You don’t sound remotely surprised.”
Hannibal gave him a level look. “No, I’m not. That’s rather curious, isn’t it?”
“You’ve always been difficult to shock.” The boat rocked as a wave hit, and Will put his hand out to steady Hannibal as he swayed. “Come back inside. Are you hungry?”
Hannibal considered this for a moment, and frowned. “Very.”
The last meal Hannibal had eaten must have been whatever slop they’d given him at the prison. The cupboards were filled with an array of good quality but prosaic food: jars of pasta sauce, dried pasta, rice, canned soup, canned fish, canned fruit, canned beans. The makings for bread. There were cheddar and brie in the small fridge, with butter, bacon, and milk. Good whiskey, mediocre brandy. He pictured Chiyoh in the nearest Krogers, dumping it all into a cart. They had enough for two weeks, maybe more.
Pasta, Will decided. He wouldn’t have to use his shoulder too much.
Hannibal took a seat at the table and folded his hands in front of him. “Where are you taking me?”
“Someplace on the Florida coast, briefly. I haven’t decided yet. We’ll need to stock up on food and service the engine.”
Will dropped pasta into a pan of boiling water. Outside, the wind was picking up. It was a dull roar under the hiss of the gas stove and the rumble of the generator. “We need to talk about that. You’d have a lot of opinions, if you could remember them.”
“Are you hoping I’ll have recovered my memory by the time we reach Florida?”
“And if I don’t?”
“The likelihood is that you will. If not, we’ll deal with it when we have to.”
Hannibal seemed to accept that. They ate at the table: pasta, butter, black pepper, a rather sad can of tuna mixed in, sitting opposite each other as the boat rocked under them. He winced as he ate. It hurt to chew. He felt Hannibal’s attention settle on him like a cloak.
“Will you answer all of my questions?” Hannibal said.
“What happens if I don’t?”
“I’ll have to assume there’s a reason. I’ll become even more curious.” He smiled, faint and cool, threat lingering in the air like a cloud. “So, where did I live?”
A blunt rendition of his crimes could be risky. Whatever else he was, Hannibal wasn’t stable. He was unpredictable, driven by his whims, easily bored and liable to make his own entertainment if none were provided. Those elements of his character would be unchanged.
“Baltimore,” Will said.
“I assume I had a job of some kind?”
“You were a psychiatrist. Before that you were a surgeon. You enjoyed cooking. Ring any bells?”
Hannibal ate his pasta with polite efficiency and little sign of enjoyment. Perhaps his palate had a better memory than he did at the moment and it had told him that he’d enjoyed finer food than this. Rarer food. For a second, a sense memory of human flesh flooded Will’s tongue. A subtle flavor, almost cloying.
He would never be able to forget it.
“Were we friends?” Hannibal said.
‘Friend’ didn’t come anywhere near summing up what they were, and Will had no intention of trying. “You once told me that you’d always be my friend.”
Hannibal stared at him, then looked down at his plate. “And have I honored that?”
Will was surprised to find the answer didn’t hurt. “You’ve always done what you considered best for me.”
“Did you agree with my judgment?”
“Not always. But I’ve forgiven you.”
Hannibal studied him, his eyes almost golden in the soft light. “Thank you,” he said. “I hope you’ll tell me my sins at some point.”
Will checked the weather before turning in. There were no storms forecast. When he came back down, Hannibal was asleep, rolled into his blankets on one of the bunks. Will undressed and lay down. Hannibal’s breathing was slow and rather loud, almost raw sounding. Will listened to it until he too fell asleep.
The sky was a crisp blue the next morning, and the sunlight was butter yellow. The wind was behind them, so Will set the sails and then spent some time poking around in the engine room, mostly admiring it. It was all new. Chiyoh had laid in a row of five-gallon fuel jugs, which would save them time. They’d need to make around fifty miles a day to reach Florida in the next couple of weeks. Wake at dawn, sail all day. Wash, rinse, repeat. It was how he’d crossed the Atlantic. He frowned. Neither of them were fit enough for this.
He went down to the galley and made coffee, quietly, aware of Hannibal still sleeping, and then climbed back up to the tiny wheelhouse. There was an onboard computer that he’d already programmed with theirvroute. He switched off the ship to shore radio. It was tempting to pull out its guts and throw it overboard.
He considered it for a moment, then yanked it out. He went outside and dropped it into the water. It floated there for a second before sinking.
They’d have to rescue themselves, if it came to it.
No one would be looking for this boat. He was fairly certain that only Chiyoh knew it existed. The cliff-top evidence would point to them being both being dead. Their blood would be on the grass at the top of the bluff, blackened now. But Jack wasn’t a fool. He’d suspect.
The boat scooted along as if the wind were on their side. It hurried them down the coast, skating them along the Outer Banks. Inshore there were lobster boats and a few pleasure craft, but further out they were alone save a few fishing vessels and distant tankers churning down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Hannibal appeared around midday, when the sun was at its highest. He wore a pale gray sweater and black jeans. Chiyoh had left several changes of clothes for each of them. The things Will found fit him perfectly, and he guessed Hannibal must have given her his size. How long had this boat been waiting for them? Chiyoh had implied it might be years. Will shook the idea away. He couldn’t let himself think too hard about Hannibal waiting for him for so long.
“How do you feel?” Will said.
Hannibal stood on the top step and tilted his face to the sun. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “Empty,” he said.
A cormorant skimmed past them, a black smudge against dark blue water.
“No one knows where we are,” said Will. “There’s time for you to remember.”
“It seems I’ve forgotten so much,” Hannibal said, and smiled, then it faded. “In quella parte del libro della mia memoria…” He stopped and swallowed tightly. “I find I cannot recall the rest.”
“It’s something. The rest will come with time.”
“I remember how to remove a kidney and how to insert synthetic valves into a heart, but I have no recollection of learning how. I hear snatches of music, my own hands on a keyboard, but notes and names elude me. I see the pages of Escoffier flipping before me, but the pages are blank.” He walked to the rail. Above him the sail soared like a white blade. “Will you tell me who I am?”
“Words aren’t memories. Anything I or anyone else can tell you will be meaningless,” Will said.
“What would it matter? Am I not already lost at sea?”
“You’re not lost. Not if you’re with me. I’m a good sailor.”
Hannibal sighed and put a hand over his stomach. “I know this is healing well. I’ve been lucky, it seems. Your face will scar. It will mark you out unless you opt for plastic surgery.”
“Another scar to add to the collection.”
“Do you have many?”
“I have enough.”
Hannibal’s fingers slid around the rail, tightening. “What were we?” he said.
He sounded so raw that Will couldn’t hold back the truth. “We were dangerous,” he said.
Two days passed. The wind changed, turning to batter against their prow. Will took down the sails and steered with the engine. Hannibal stayed below deck, sipping coffee and eating whatever simple food Will put before him. He showed little enjoyment in it. He slept often and deeply, and nothing of his memory came back. There was a row of books tucked behind a band of elastic on a small shelf in the living area.
Will took down The Heart of the Matter one evening and tried to read. Whenever he looked up, he’d find Hannibal watching him.
On their fifth day out, Will woke to find Hannibal up before him. It was barely dawn but he was already working at the tiny stove. He had tied an apron around his stomach. There was a neat bow at the back. Will stared, and felt such a longing for the Hannibal he had known that it left him breathless.
“You’re cooking,” he said finally. He pressed his fingers to the stitches on his cheek. They were sore, but far less so. “Smells good.”
“We’re having latkes. Canned potatoes are a crime against food, but it’s all we have. Not much seasoning, I’m afraid. We’ll eat them with bacon.” He poured coffee for Will and handed it to him. It was perfect, just how he took it.
“You remembered,” Will said.
“As I poured it for you, I knew. Memories can return in the doing of the act, it seems.”
“Do you remember cooking other meals?”
“I have vague recollections of a large and well-stocked pantry. Was that mine?”
They ate at the table. Outside, the wind had picked up overnight and the sea was lively. Rain dashed against the windows. Hannibal watched him steadily over his coffee cup.
“Southwesterlies this time of year,” Will said, as he ate. “They’ll slow us down. We’ve been motoring rather than sailing, so we’ll need a layover sooner than I wanted to refuel.”
Hannibal nodded. “Did I buy this boat?”
“And everything in it.”
Hannibal laid an envelope on the table. It contained a thick wad of cash, bank cards, two passports, both in false names, and ownership deeds to the boat. “I’m not Viktor Herst and you are not Thomas Paley.”
“No, we’re not.” Will touched the passports. The work was perfect. “How does that make you feel?”
“Curious,” Hannibal said. “I’d like to know who I am. But more than that, I’d like to know who you are.” Hannibal’s long fingers slid around his coffee cup, seeking warmth. “You destroyed the radio.”
“We didn’t need it,” Will said.
“And I have no opportunity of contacting anyone, or of finding out anything about myself. What is it you want to hide from me, Will?”
Will shook his head. Hannibal’s mouth had been red with Dolarhyde’s blood, and in that moment Will had lusted for him so intensely that it had blotted out everything else. He’d gotten hard with the taste of blood in his mouth. The white heat of that killing still shivered along his veins. He couldn’t say any of that to this version of Hannibal, and that hurt more than he had thought possible.
“I spent so long going without friendship,” he said. “When I met you, everything changed. You—” The words stuck in his throat. “You changed me. I changed you.” He slid his hand across the table and laid it over Hannibal’s. “Right now, I’m trying to protect you.”
Hannibal stared down at Will’s hand. The boat shook under a blast of wind and they both looked up as wood creaked all round them. Will let go and stood. “We need to get moving. You okay to help out?”
“I’ll do what I can.”
Will showed Hannibal how to start the engine and get them underway, while Will lashed down the sails more tightly and went to check the fuel gauge. He topped up the tank with a five gallon jug. They had four more, and it’d see them past Hatteras and into one of the small towns that dotted the coast. Hannibal was in the wheelhouse, wrapped in a dark blue waterproof. The windows were misted with fine spray and the air inside tasted of salt and oil. Hannibal let him take the wheel.
“You’ve clearly done this before,” Hannibal said.
“I’ve always sailed. I’ve even used it as a form of therapy.”
Hannibal gave him a curious glance. “Were you my patient?” he said. “Is that how we met?”
“Yes and yes. In broad terms.”
Hannibal looked out at the sea. This morning it was the color of charcoal, with stark white frills gracing the tops of the swells. “I find it interesting that whatever therapy I supplied to you ended with us killing a man.”
“The link was indirect. Murderously circuitous.”
“You don’t seem very much bothered by it,” Hannibal said.
“Oh, I was plenty bothered at the time. But we survived. What I want now is to escape.”
“And you’re taking me with you,” Hannibal said.
“You have nowhere else to go.”
Hannibal leaned against the window. The blunt morning light showed how tired he was. “I visualize my memory as an empty house. The rooms are bare, the boards are dusty. But as I walk through it, I am aware of cellars beneath my feet. Every fiber of my being tells me not to venture there, yet I know I must. You say you’re trying to protect me. You can’t protect me from that.”
“I know I can’t. Do you remember anything else?”
“Snatches of my past.” He closed his eyes. “A dome painted with a glorious image of Christ Pantocrator, all of humanity within his view. A butcher’s shop in… Paris, perhaps. Several dogs. Were they mine?” He cast a doubtful glance at Will.
“No, they were mine. You remember them because you came to my house. You fed them.” Fed them a human nose, amongst other things. He tried to imagine how Hannibal would react to being told that.
“I don’t remember any of it,” Hannibal said, dully, and turned away.
They made slow progress that day. Will guided them closer to land to avoid the worst of it, and they nosed through the turbulent waters. Hannibal disappeared below deck and didn’t reappear again. Will went down to fix more coffee and a sandwich, and found him asleep in his bunk, rolled onto his side and curled in on himself. Will tugged the blanket up over him and let him sleep.
He sailed until dusk and then dropped anchor. In the galley, he found Hannibal at the stove again, absorbed in stirring something that simmered in a copper pan. Will stopped at the sight, struck by the warm domesticity of the scene.
“You haven’t forgotten how to cook,” Will said. He tugged off his waterproof and hung it up, then took off his boots. His shoulder ached from a thousand small pulls on the ship’s wheel.
“I recall having better ingredients,” Hannibal said, looking up with a smile. “But we make do with what we can.” He placed a lid on the saucepan and turned to open a bottle of wine. He pulled the cork out and sniffed it.
Will’s heart stopped in his chest, almost overwhelmed. It was so familiar.
Hannibal noticed him staring. “Is there a problem?”
“No, I— We were drinking wine when we were attacked. It brings back memories.”
Hannibal put the cork down and poured two glasses. He had changed his shirt since this morning. The one he wore now was pale gray, with crisply rolled up sleeves. “Then I feel sure we didn’t drink our fill. Perhaps it will bring back memories for me too.”
Will came over and took a glass from him. It was good wine, and he silently thanked Chiyoh. “What have you made for us?”
“One should never ask what’s for dinner. It spoils the surprise.”
It was as if a ghost stood there. Will took another mouthful of wine and tried to tell himself that what he was feeling wasn’t aching loss. The alcohol stung as it washed over his inner cheek.
“Did we eat together often?” Hannibal asked.
“Often enough. You liked to throw dinner parties. You took pride in your table.”
“You don’t seem the dinner-party type, if I may say.”
“Well spotted. I prefer the company of dogs. Better small talk.”
“You are accustomed to solitude,” Hannibal said. “Yet you aren’t disturbed to share this small space with me. To share this blank space with me, to be with the unwritten slate I am now. Most people would find it difficult. I’m not the man you knew.”
“Even blank, you’re more written than most people.” He swallowed more wine. “I’m glad you’re alive.”
Hannibal watched him a moment, eyes glittering in the soft light, then he touched the rim of their glasses together. A soft pure ringing sound floated up between them and lingered.
Hannibal had laid the table. Precise neatness made up for the lack of decoration. Two place settings, two glasses, polished silverware lined up just so. Dinner, it turned out, was a cassoulet, heavy with cubes of bacon and served with sliced waxy potatoes. Even with everything from a can, it tasted better than anything Will had eaten for months. He said so.
They talked about the sea. Hannibal asked about the boat, about how to sail, about falling overboard and survival rates, about drowning and decomposition rates in the water. It was almost like old times. Hannibal held his gaze often, with a warmth and interest that made Will flush.
Towards the bottom of the bottle of wine, Hannibal put down his knife and fork. “Were we lovers, Will?” he said.
Will looked down at his empty plate. A tremor came into his hands, and he was falling, locked tight against Hannibal’s chest. He’d protected Will from the worst of the impact. “No,” he said. “Not in the physical sense.”
Hannibal paused before he spoke. His gaze tracked to the scar on Will’s forehead. “Did we want it to be physical?”
He thought of Hannibal’s hands on him, of the scars he’d left, the marks of his need. His stumbling pathway to love. “I’m in love with you,” Will said. “I’m something beyond being in love with you.”
“Those words are a talisman for you,” Hannibal said, after several long moments had slid past. His voice had roughened. “Did you hope they would return my soul?”
Will nodded. He blinked fiercely at the tears that were forming. “I want you back.”
“What part of me is it that you want? Physically, I’m the same man. My personality has been formed by past events. Those are unchanged.”
“I want the part of you that knows me,” Will said. He didn’t want to have to lie to him, even if they were only lies of omission. “Do you remember what you felt for me?”
“I find it easy to imagine what it might have been,” Hannibal said. “I find you very interesting.”
Will swallowed, his throat tightening. “Why is that?”
“You’ve shown no remorse for what we did to the man who attacked us.”
“His name was Francis Dolarhyde. He was going to kill you. Me too, but more as an afterthought.”
“Was he the first person you’ve killed?”
“No.” His physical awareness of Hannibal became almost painful.
“Was he the first I’ve killed?”
It was about as much as Will could take. He shook his head, more to shake off the question than to answer it. “We’d better get some sleep,” he said, pushing away from the table.
He rolled himself into his bunk. After a long while he heard Hannibal stand up too. There came the faint rattle of plates being rinsed, the chink of glass. Then the rustle of cloth as he undressed and got into his own bunk.
“Are you awake, Will?” Hannibal asked, softly. His voice was as low as the sea.
Will didn’t reply, only closed his eyes, and eventually pitched into blackness.
“We’re a few hours out from Eagle Neck,” Will said, the next day. Hannibal stood next to him in the wheelhouse. His color was much better, and he was moving more easily. He’d spent an hour cooking breakfast for Will, and the sight had made Will’s heart bleed. “We’ll refuel there.”
“It’s very small,” Hannibal said, as they peered at the map. “Will it have what we need?”
“Every hamlet along this coast has gotten itself a boatyard. They all want the holiday trade. The smaller it is the less chance there is of someone recognizing us.”
“Are our faces so recognizable?”
“There may have been one or two articles in the press,” Will said.
Hannibal turned away and trained his gaze on the sea. “The water is a different color each time I look,” he said. “'My course is set for an uncharted sea.'” Hannibal stopped, frustration etching his face.
“It’s Dante.” Will had read his way through The Inferno while he sailed the Atlantic. He’d managed a few pages a night, the words wrapping themselves around him in Hannibal’s voice. He’d wondered if a fictional hell could be any worse than his life.
The wind had dropped overnight, and the water was smooth. The sun came out as Will turned them towards land, and it sparkled in the drops that sheared from the bow. Hannibal bought him coffee, and they drank it together.
“Is that a boat?” Hannibal said, peering. “It appears to be stationary.”
It could be a sea fishing trip, maybe. It was late in the season, though. Will took up his binoculars. As they got closer, he saw someone come on deck and wave at them. “He’s hailing us,” Will said.
“Should we stop?” said Hannibal. “Can you allow yourself to ignore a sailor in distress?”
Will considered it. It could be something simple. It was pretty unlikely this person would recognize Will. He didn’t have even a tenth of Hannibal’s notoriety.
“Stay below deck,” he said. “I’ll see what he wants.”
The man called to them as Will steered closer. “My oil’s run dry. Gotta spare can?”
“Sure.” He wouldn’t need to even board; he could toss it over. He nosed closer and threw a line across to steady the boats, tugging them closer until there was less than a yard between them. He went down to the store cupboard by the engine room and took a can. Hannibal was sitting patiently at the table, a book open in front of him. He wasn’t reading it. He was watching Will.
Will went back on deck to find the guy waiting for him at the rail. He was younger than Will first thought, and he had a gutting knife tucked into one pocket. The raw stench of fish floated like a cloud over the boat.
“Thanks, man. You saved me calling the coastguard out. Half of them are my buddies so it’d be kinda embarrassing.” He took the can as Will leaned over, then frowned, gaze sticking on Will’s face. “I’ve seen your face somewhere.” He grinned. “Are you off the TV?” Then his grin faded. “You’re… Shit.”
Will watched realization hit him, and all the implications. The man’s hand went to his pocket. For the knife or for his phone, Will didn’t care. He couldn’t be allowed to reach it. “Whatever you think you’re going to do, don’t,” he said.
“Shit. Oh shit,” the man said. “Get back.” His voice was faint from fear.
Will didn’t stop to think or doubt. “Shut up,” he said. He yanked on the rope, pulling the boat close enough to vault the rails. He forgot the pain in his shoulder.
“N-No. God. Please.” The man lofted the oil can above his head, aiming it at him just as Will tackled him to the deck.
He fumbled for the knife. Will found it just as the man kicked him in the stomach and heaved him off, then rolled on top of him. He caught the oil can and bought it down on Will’s head, hard. The knife went skidding, and then Will heard him gasp.
There was light thump behind him, and Will twisted to see Hannibal landing on the deck, as light as a cat.
“You’re… God, no. You’re Lecter.” The man began flapping his hands about in a way that was almost comical, scrabbling back and away. He groped for the knife and held it up in one hand as if he thought just waving it would ward Hannibal off. “Please. Please. I won’t say. I won’t tell. Please.”
Hannibal stepped past Will, fast, and caught the hand that held the knife, bending it back until the man screamed and dropped it. Bone cracked.
“Jesus Christ, no,” the man cried.
Hannibal kneed the man in the temple and he fell silently to the deck. Hannibal picked up the knife. He was scarcely even out of breath. The whole thing had taken barely thirty seconds. Will lay back on the deck with a thud and stared up at the sky.
“Are you hurt?” Hannibal said. “Can you stand?”
“I’m fine. It’s just— I didn’t expect this to happen quite so soon.”
“It’s better not to have too many expectations. Live in the moment, with me.” He heaved the man to the railings, draped him over it and sliced his jugular in one quick merciless stroke. “Better that he bleed out into the water. They’ll find a clean boat.” Hannibal wiped his hands, looking pleased. “They’ll write him off as lost at sea.”
Will stared up at him. “I’m going with nature over nurture. That’s the Hannibal I know.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it.” He searched the man’s body and took out his wallet. He flipped the wallet open, studied it, closed it and replaced it. “This young man was a resident of Eagle Neck.”
He held out his hand and helped Will to his feet. “You’re bleeding.”
Blood trickled down over Will’s temple. “It’s nothing. Let’s just get this over with.”
“I’ll look at the cut afterwards. It may need stitches.”
“You don’t have to.”
Hannibal’s hand tightened on him. “I don’t want you to be hurt.”
Together, they weighted the body and then pushed it over into the water. It landed with a heavy splash, then sunk. Hannibal picked up the fuel can as they left and helped Will over the railings. In the cabin, Will perched on a chair while Hannibal stood at his side and blotted the crusting blood from his scalp.
“Do you know why you killed him?” Will said.
“He was a threat,” said Hannibal. “You intended to kill him yourself. Was it to protect me?”
“No, to protect us.”
“Isn’t that the same thing?” Hannibal dabbed antiseptic onto the cut. “It seems to me that we’re bound together by our shared history.”
“Your history with me started a week ago, as far as you know.”
Hannibal put his hands on Will’s shoulders. Will shivered at the contact, and Hannibal’s fingers tightened on him briefly. “I feel the pull of that lost past in the same way a blind man might feel the pull of a current.”
Will bowed his head. “I’ve always been drawn to you,” he said quietly. “Always. For most of the time we knew each other, I couldn’t admit that.”
Hannibal’s hands were warm, even through Will’s sweater. “Was I that terrible a man?”
Hannibal touched his cheek, warm fingertips tracing down over it. Will leaned in to it, unable to help himself. He raised his hand and covered Hannibal’s, holding it there.
“Yeah, in some ways,” Will said. “You were. But it didn’t matter. You were my friend. I can’t change how I feel about you any more than I can change the tide.”
He squeezed Hannibal’s fingers and then let go. Hannibal began to put in stitches. It took little more than a minute; he clearly hadn’t forgotten his surgical skills.
“All done,” Hannibal said, quietly.
“We need to get out of here,” Will said. “Find a new place to refuel. Eagle Neck’s too much of a risk now.”
“Whatever you think is best,” Hannibal said.
Will got them away as fast as he dared go. As the engine throbbed and groaned under his feet, he pored over the map. They could risk another two days at sea, but by then they’d have no fuel reserves. But the weather forecast for this quadrant wasn’t great. If there was a storm and they got pinned down, they’d be screwed. It happened to boats all the time out here.
He thought of Hannibal, living from moment to moment, detached from everything he’d known. Fuck it. There was a little place called Bay Harbor two days down route. That was where they’d head for. They’d need to be careful though. News of the missing man would have spread by then.
By dusk, the skies were still clear and Will dropped anchor. In the cabin, Hannibal was cooking, and he was humming snatches of music.
“You look pleased with yourself,” Will said, as he shucked out of his boots and coat.
Hannibal smiled at him. “Were you in law enforcement, Will?”
Will padded over to the table. “Did you remember something?”
“No. Merely a deduction. Your familiarity with decomposition rates is one clue. You can handle yourself in a fight.”
“I’m— I was— a teacher at Quantico. Before that I was a homicide detective.”
“So, I was right. Did you consult for the FBI?”
“Sometimes. On special cases.”
“The most difficult ones, I imagine.” Hannibal added a pinch of salt to whatever he was cooking. It smelled good. “Did you work on my case?”
Will took a breath and watched him work. “Let’s eat first,” he said.
They had wine with the meal. “How do you make food out of cans taste like this?” Will said.
“With great determination,” Hannibal said. “Beyond that, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me? You know more about me than I do. It would only be fair.”
Hannibal was right. Hannibal knew enough about himself to guess what he was, especially after today. After dinner, Will poured them whiskey and stoked up the small wood burner. They retired to the narrow sofa. He was overwhelmingly aware of Hannibal beside him, of the powerful turn of his shoulders and the soft curve of his cheek.
“What was his name?” Will said. “The man we killed today?”
“Nicholas Van Buren,” Hannibal said.
“He didn’t deserve to die,” Will said. He looked down into his glass. “But I’ve found out just recently that I’ll kill to protect you. I’d prefer him dead to losing you.”
“Have you lost me before?”
“I worked on your case. I have an empathy disorder. Most people think of me as a freak. But it helps me catch people like you.” He swallowed whiskey. “We think alike.”
“Would most people consider me a freak, too?”
“Are you sure you want to hear this? It’s not pretty. We’re not pretty.”
Hannibal’s smile was as faint as the Mona Lisa’s. His gaze caught Will’s, and there was heat in it. “Don’t make me wait any longer, Will.”
Will let out a breath. “I know everything about you, Hannibal. I understand you intimately. You’re a killer. You’re also a cannibal.”
“That is not pretty, you’re right.”
“You fed me a string of half-truths. You fed me your victims. You food was exquisite, by the way. Your dinner parties were the talk of the town, which didn’t help.” Now that he’d started, he couldn’t stop. “You drugged me, gaslighted me, tried to kill me. You killed people I loved. You were in prison for three years, and I helped you escape. I was going to kill you. But here I am. I couldn’t go through with it. Do you know why not?”
“Why?” Hannibal said, finally.
“Because you’ve never judged me and found me wanting, or a curiosity to be peered at. You find value and beauty in everything you do. You led me to something beautiful. You think I’m beautiful.”
“Yet I can’t remember any of it.” Hannibal took his hand. It was warm, almost hot. Will clasped it hard, threading their fingers together. “Purgatory is a dull and deadly place, Will. I would like to find my way out. Will you help me?”
He would do anything, he realized. But their options were limited. “You should really get checked out by a doctor.”
“But that’s not possible,” said Hannibal.
Will shook his head. “My plan was to get us to Europe. We’ve got the IDs, you’ve got money.”
“What would we do there?”
“You’re Lithuanian,” Will said. “You had a sister. Her name was Mischa, and you loved her.”
“Is she still alive?”
Will squeezed his hand. “No. I’m sorry. You didn’t kill her.”
Will got up to feed the fire. Hannibal watched him, his expression grave. He topped up Hannibal’s glass. “You didn’t want to go home. It was dangerous for you. Those memories will hurt you the most.”
“The trapdoors,” Hannibal said. He looked up at Will. “You can’t protect me from what’s lurking in that particular basement, however much you might like to.”
“Being in a familiar place might spark your recovery. It’s been known to work. Memories beget memories.”
“Our memories are tied together like threads. Once they unravel, what is the process to knit them back together? Visiting the places we’ve been, as if we can pick up traces of ourselves?”
“It’s a place to start.” He rubbed at his aching eyes. “We should get some sleep. We’ve got a long day’s sailing tomorrow.”
They undressed in silence. Will washed his face in the tiny bathroom. The cut on his head throbbed, and when he closed his eyes he saw Nicholas Van Buren’s look of comical horror, white on red behind his eyelids.
When he came out, Hannibal was sitting on the edge of his bunk. He tilted his face to Will. “Would you like to share my bed tonight?”
Will stopped. “Do you feel that sorry for me?”
Hannibal shook his head. “For comfort against the dark. For both of us. I fear I won’t sleep very much tonight.” He looked drawn and tired as he slid under the covers.
Will stared at him, then switched off the light and got in beside him. The sheets were cold and he shivered. Hannibal inched closer. After a moment he put his hand on Will’s chest. “Is this acceptable?”
“It’s much more than that,” Will said, and covered it with his own. Inches away, black cold water held them in its embrace, but the illusion of safety and warmth was powerful. Maybe it wasn’t even an illusion.
“Do you want the man I was back so very much?” Hannibal said, after a little while. His voice was slower and sleepier, and Will was glad of it. Whatever he’d said, he must still be exhausted.
“You once asked me if either of us could survive a separation,” Will said. “We tried. I tried. But I can’t let you go.”