Chapter 1: Alesund, Norway
1. Alesund, Norway
On his worst nights, when the world feels desolate and all of his existence pointless, Will seeks solace in the stars. Here, the air is cold at night, biting at his cheeks and nose when he makes the hike up the hill. Four hundred and eighteen steps; every hundred or so, there are numbers on the concrete keeping count. Will barely pays attention. This early in the summer, the nights are still quite dark, but slowly easing into light each day as the midnight sun approaches.
Almost midnight now, and about fifty more steps. It's worth the climb. At the top, he tips his head backwards and looks up above him, where the sky is beautiful and poignant, stretching long and languorous, gravid with the promise of countless bright and nameless stars.
Here, he feels small, looking out at the water and the sky melding into each other on the far horizon. Somewhere below, in this picturesque and sleepy town, Hannibal is waiting for him, perhaps with a midnight meal and a finger of bourbon, a warm but yet distant companion.
What to do about Hannibal? Will doesn't know. Will never knows anymore; too much history obscures their path forward.
Two months since the fall; nothing but the tense silence of cautious accord between them.
Exhaustion consumes them upon arrival. They check into a hotel at the pier and fall into bed, both indulging in a long, deep sleep after nearly three days of continuous travel. From South America to South Africa to Europe they have successfully evaded capture, despite Will's frank reservations.
"I suppose you know what you're doing," Will had murmured to his companion, waiting in line behind a group of German tourists debarking at Bergen's diminutive airport.
"Quite," Hannibal had smiled at him. "Scandinavia is an ideal place to start."
"You fit in," Will notes.
"So do you," Hannibal points out.
Will had expected the strictest level of security but is surprised at the lax measures they encounter, airport officials waving them easily past with polite smiles and a cursory glance at their counterfeit passports. From Bergen they travel by sea, heading for a small seaside town called Alesund. Will had asked Hannibal why.
"I thought you'd like to take a boat out on the fjords," Hannibal had told him. "Geiranger is nearby. It is one of Norway's most dramatic."
Will was under the impression that their primary objective in this new life is to evade captivity. However, it seems Hannibal operates under a different philosophy. But he's tired, so he doesn't object.
Hannibal wakes first. When Will comes to, he can hear the water running. The other side of the bed is empty. He grunts and turns his face into the pillow, closing his eyes and stealing a few more minutes of slumber. He wakes again when Hannibal opens the door.
"Perhaps a shower and then dinner, Will," he says, steam billowing from behind him. Will sits up, rubs at his face.
"What time is it?"
"Half past seven."
Will trudges into the bathroom and takes stock of what he can use among the toiletries and sundry provided by the hotel. He trims his beard and makes everything neat again, his hair having grown wild over the past two weeks of bare amenities. As he towels dry, he runs careful fingers over the scars, the marks that are left on his body. Under Hannibal's hands, they have healed well, so well he almost forgets it's Hannibal who put them there in the first place.
He dresses while Hannibal fixes their bedding. Once finished, they shrug into their jackets and leave their room behind, shocked awake as the cold air hits them when they step outside.
"Isn't it summer?" Will asks.
Hannibal nods. "This is summer to them."
Will doesn't want to imagine the cold of their winters so he follows after Hannibal's lead. They walk past stylish houses and quiet streets, farther away from the pier and deeper into the heart of the town, a set of streets marginally more awake than the rest of its companions. Oh, there are people to be sure, but few of them outdoors, the only hints of their existence secreted away behind lit windows and still-warm cars.
They find a pub and take a seat, Will wondering at the unlikelihood of Hannibal ever choosing to eat at a place like this. And yet here they are, just another scene in a series of highly unlikely scenes. Even Will's imagination could not have conjured this up a bare year ago.
The menu, when handed to them, is foreign to Will. "Plukkfisk," he mouths. "What's that?"
"A dish of shredded fish, potatoes, and onions cooked in a bechamel sauce," Hannibal dutifully recites. "You'd like it."
Hannibal says so with such certainty it tugs at something deep within Will's chest. Hannibal has made it his business to know everything regarding Will; what does Will know of him in return? Only what Hannibal has allowed him to see.
No, that's not right.
Only what he has allowed himself to see.
Will orders the plukkfisk as a side to his batter-fried fish, something the barman assures him is a Norwegian classic. He does like it.
"We are here for three days and four nights," Hannibal tells him while they meander slowly back towards the pier. "I have chartered a yacht for us to take on the fjord."
"Are we licensed to do that here?" Will asks.
"You are," Hannibal assures him. "Part of your papers."
Those papers were purchased with a hefty sum and a fair amount of bloodshed while they were convalescing in Colombia. Will remembers little of the ordeal, in truth; at the time, he was febrile and delirious, spending much of his time in bed. What he does remember is the cloying heat of a tropical country and the weight of Hannibal's hand on his forehead. The low susurrus of Hannibal's voice, negotiating on the phone.
Will tries again. "Why are we taking a yacht to the fjord?" It's a clumsy and uncertain attempt, but an honest one nonetheless.
Hannibal sidesteps it with grace born of a dancer. "Do you not want to?"
"I don't know," Will tells him. "I don't know what I want."
Hannibal looks at him, eyes dauntless in the falling dark. "That is why I want to show you."
"Show me what?"
Around them, the yellow glow of the street lamps grow more pronounced. The sun dips ever lower still.
"The world, Will."
Hannibal keeps walking beside and ahead of him. Will has no choice but to follow.
It is bitterly cold the next morning. Will wakes first, Hannibal still deep in slumber beside him, face lax in sleep. That he can be so unguarded around Will speaks of how far they have gotten. That they have not said a word about everything that has transpired speaks of how far they have yet to go.
Will dresses himself in silence, takes his phone, and leaves a note. He knows better than to leave without one. He borrows one of Hannibal's sweaters and layers it over his own, an added bulwark of warmth much needed against the sharp gusts of arctic wind blowing outside. Still, he steps out, needing the air, needing the space. Somehow, he is glad of the cold.
He walks around and learns about the town, about the fire that razed it to the ground a hundred years ago. The museum tells him about the art and the food, the harbor, the cold winters, the fish. A simple life here. A quiet life.
But above all, he learns most from the people he passes by, those who walk along the streets with their eyes trained forward and their shoulders hunched, just another day, just another paycheck. The clerk at the store who screws on a smile and wonders which city this tourist is from, wonders if she'll ever make it to where they came from. The teenagers at the inner harbor, skateboarding, smoking, waiting for something to happen in this town where nothing ever happens.
Will understands then that they cannot stay here for long. As alluring as this quiet life is, they would attract attention here. They are too singular for this place.
He finds the hilltop viewpoint that day. His first climb is bitterly cold, the wind buffeting him as he makes the steps. Up top, he overlooks the town as it bathes in the setting sun. He can see the hotel from here. He spies their bedroom window; Hannibal must be cooking. If he squints, he can almost see that the curtains are drawn.
Twenty minutes later, he goes home.
"You should take the camera next time," Hannibal tells him, preparing something too fancy for the tiny kitchenette. "People will peg you as a tourist."
"Nevertheless," Will insists, "we can't stay here for long. We're too unique."
With a sigh, Will sinks into the one armchair situated beside the window. The view overlooks the rough sea and a cloud-shrouded island in the distance. He tugs at the scarf to loosen it. He doesn't even think to remove Hannibal's sweater.
"You should come with me, see the town from the hilltop. It's a nice hike."
Hannibal hands him a piping cup of tea. "Would you not mind the company?" he asks.
Will takes the tea, fingers brushing Hannibal's hand, eyes fixed on Hannibal's face. "I think we're well past minding each other's company by now, don't you?"
Something moves within the depths of Hannibal's sanguine eyes, something that has been hidden from Will since they fell into the sea. Perhaps he's simply been too tired, too ill; perhaps they both have. But now they are recovered. Now they are building foundations.
Hannibal moves back to the kitchenette, tending to his creation. "Tomorrow," he says, back to Will, hands moving unseen. "At sunset, perhaps."
"Tomorrow," Will agrees.
They spend the next day indoors, Will a beached starfish across the bed while Hannibal sits in the armchair and reads on his tablet. The TV is turned to a music channel, filling the room with Bach and Brahms. Will takes luxurious naps and watches Hannibal in between, through slitted eyes with his cheek mashed against the mattress. At one point, he holds a pillow over his head and peeks through a slit of light to trace Hannibal's silhouette.
"Seems a shame to spend the day inside," Will slurs, blinking blearily against the sunlight. "Such a beautiful day."
"You are free to go outside, Will."
Will turns over and stubbornly pulls the comforters over his head. "No reason to."
Hannibal has no response to that. Truthfully, there is no reason to do anything anymore. Will feels divorced from the reality of the world, devoid of any motivation, deprived of a purpose.
Except that's not entirely true. He does have purpose, doesn't he? It's sitting in this room with him, on the armchair with a tablet, reading by the morning light.
Before long, Will turns over again, face turned towards Hannibal, seeking the light. Or is the other way around?
He falls asleep again, between one thought and another. When he wakes, it's to the touch of Hannibal's hand, warm on his shoulder, coaxing him out from the mist of dreams. "Lunchtime. You mustn't skip meals. It won't help the jetlag."
They eat braised tuna in white wine, with slices of onion and plenty of garlic, julienned red peppers, vegetables. Hannibal is entirely responsible for keeping them healthy and in shape. Will has not done much exercise beyond stretches, and perhaps he should, but somehow through Hannibal's proscribed diet, he has maintained a better muscle tone than he has in years. An aided metabolism, perhaps, or the lesser amount of alcohol he ingests.
After their meal, he helps put away the hotel dishes, walking around the hotel room half-naked because he figures he can. Hannibal's eyes are on him; perhaps he enjoys it.
"Did you know that they rebuilt the whole town in this style after everything burned to ashes about a hundred years ago?" Will says, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Goosebumps crawl across his skin; he can feel the colder air outside through the glass doors leading to their patio. The sea is still rough, its surface chopped up by the harsh wind. "It's supposed to be a tourist town. I've never seen one so sleepy."
"We are off-season," Hannibal says, eyes still trained on him. Even without looking, Will can tell. "They host the Norwegian food festival here every year. Perhaps one day we can visit again, at the right time."
"Of course you want to visit the food festival," Will snorts, pitching his arms above his head and bending backwards in a bone-cracking stretch.
"How does your shoulder?" Hannibal asks, tone clinical, of course.
"Fine. It hates the cold, but fine." Will pitches back forward and rolls his neck. "Will we be here long enough to see a warmer summer?"
"Perhaps we may have a warm Norwegian night further south of the country," Hannibal hums, "but no, we will be in the continent by then."
"Not Italy, surely."
Hannibal smiles. "I think you'd very much like Switzerland."
"Okay," Will says, turning back to look out at the sea. "Wherever's fine with me."
Will didn't realize how long of a wait it is until the sunset. They get to the hilltop far too early, with the sun still high over the sea. Wind whips Hannibal's hair away from his forehead, baring sharp cheekbones and bright eyes. Will looks up at him in wonder.
"Quite a view," Hannibal agrees. "I believe I can see our hotel."
"Over there," Will points. The motion leans him closer against Hannibal's side. He fights the reflex urge to move away. This is how it will be now. This is how it can be, if he lets it.
A faint hum is all Hannibal gives in response. Several paces away, a couple is taking pictures with the view in the background. Will can already tell their photograph won't be of good quality. The sun is too bright, and at the wrong angle.
Will leans his forearms against the railing and looks over the edge. The steps they climbed spiral below. "I guess we'll have to wait."
"Patience is a vital part of life."
"And death," Will adds.
It takes a while. They stand side by side, sharing each other's warmth, a fixture on the hilltop as a smattering of tourists come and go. The occasional jogger summits the steps, takes a breather, and then jogs back down. Sometimes people come from the opposite side, where a road accessible by car makes a hairpin turn with the viewpoint at its tip. Still they remain, waiting together, until finally the sun brushes the edge of the horizon. It burns golden and plays hide-and-seek with the clouds, hurting Will's eyes the longer he stares towards it. Everything else begins to fall into darkness. The brief night grows around them.
"One amongst many, perhaps the first," Hannibal murmurs.
"The first of the many things I wanted to show you, Will. It's a midnight sun."
Will checks his watch: two past midnight. He looks back up at Hannibal, who is looking still towards the sun.
After a while, Will settles again, face turned towards the light. "It's beautiful," he says.
They stay there for a while.
Chapter 2: Naeroyfjord, Norway
2. Naeroyfjord, Norway
Will is given two weeks on the water. Hannibal knows it is here that he feels most at peace. They stock the yacht with supplies and stay afloat, Hannibal surrendering himself to Will's direction at the helm. There are maps and a GPS system, but Will is content to follow the water where it flows. Now and then they pass towns by; sometimes they dock but more often than not they don't. They have enough to sustain themselves and are content for now with each other's singular company.
When there is warm sunlight, Hannibal sits outside and suns himself. Will watches him when he does so. It's not so different from watching a cat, except this cat is a large one, an apex predator with all the teeth and the deadly grace. But for now, Hannibal is rendered docile, seeming largely content with what he has in the world.
This is all he's ever wanted for us, Will allows himself to think. An audacious thing, allowing himself to think. Dangerous thoughts tend to surface, thoughts like these. He gently steers the yacht away from the path of an oncoming cruise liner. The water ripples peaceably between them.
Shortly, Hannibal rises from his outdoor repose and comes in to perch beside Will. "What would you like for lunch?"
Willl turns to him with the mildest of smiles, something he is comfortable enough to give freely here. "More of that stew you made the other day?"
"Lapskaus," Hannibal names it.
"Lapskaus," Will mouths in echo.
"Very well; I believe I have enough mincemeat left for one more rendition. Do you wager you can find a safe enough spot for us to anchor in about an hour?"
Hannibal disappears with a passing touch to his shoulder. Will savours the warmth as he continues to steer them along the wall-cliffs on one side of the narrow fjord. It's yet another beautiful day.
They make a point to always enjoy their food outside when they can. Some days it is too cold, but not today. Hannibal sets up a small table on the deck where they sit side by side, at night intimately so, and on some occasions with candlelight.
"A bit of a fire hazard, don't you think?" Will snorts, sitting at the table nonetheless, where several candles flicker. He didn't even notice that Hannibal ever bought candles.
"I have confidence that we can both be responsible adults for long enough to sustain a candlelit dinner without setting anything else on fire."
"A vote of confidence we haven't done anything to deserve."
Hannibal turns vivid eyes towards him. "Have we not? We are here, mutually unharmed, coexisting with each other as best as we can for more than two months now. I should think that is quite an achievement."
Will cannot refute that. Here they are, sitting together, having a candlelit dinner. While he is reasonably sure that there is no way the meat consists of people, he should have more reservations eating anything this man prepares for him. He should have reservations about sitting at Hannibal's table ever again.
"A good thing that your hobby isn't a compulsion, then." Will picks up his utensils and begins to eat, following Hannibal's suit.
"Most certainly. I need not indulge on a regular basis."
Will looks up at him in the candlelit darkness, their little boat the only floating light above the water for miles around. "What if I asked that you never indulge again?"
Hannibal pauses then, looking into Will's face, searching for something, before he smiles. "As you wish."
"Just like that?"
"As you said, it is not a compulsion," Hannibal reminds him, turning back to the food. "I will simply have to find another... hobby."
Will contemplates in an ocean of silence. It feels... wrong to ask such a thing of Hannibal. It feels as if he's taking a vital part of his whole away. It's not right.
"I'm not serious," he whispers, voice hoarse. "I'm not asking you to do that. Not really. I just wanted to hear you say it."
Hannibal relinquishes his knife and reaches out to trail fingers across Will's stubbled jaw. "Do you not yet understand, Will, that I would give anything to keep you?"
Too much. It's too much. Will is stunned into silence, eyes shuttering as he sits still against the onslaught of too much emotion. Hannibal's hand drops away, perhaps reading rejection in his face, except Will catches that hand and holds it, fingers gripping tight. Too tight.
No more words are said that night. Already too much has been said. They finish their dinner in mutual silence and help each other put the dishes away, retiring to the cabin to rest.
Inside, it is a warm, cramped cocoon holding the two of them together. Eventually they fall asleep side by side, their breaths evening out to the same tempo, their hearts marching to the same beat. Will dreams.
In his dreams, the clouds take silken animal forms, slithering over the water, appearing from behind one cliff-wall and disappearing behind the next. The blue sky is a jagged narrow strip above him, devoid of light. When he looks toward the distance, he can see the stag standing upon the still water, regal in wait, waiting for him.
It's waiting for him.
Will approaches, cautious. It stands attentive. When he gets close enough, it lowers its crown of antlers, the very tips of it brushing the water and sending ripples across the fjord. Will runs his fingers across its crown, and when he wakes, the velvet sensation tingles at his fingertips. Somehow, during the night, he has curled up and nestled against Hannibal's warm bulk, his face tucked into Hannibal's shoulder, hands splayed over a broad chest.
They dock to resupply in a small town called Undredal, nothing more than a handful of houses and a wooden pier that must get submerged in snow during wintertime. Hannibal goes into town to purchase what they need, leaving Will to guard the yacht. Between the two of them, Hannibal is better and more suited to blending in here, with his tall bearing and fine features. Will is easily memorable with his scars and mannerisms.
The yacht Hannibal chartered is too large and luxurious to be able to safely dock at the small pier, so Will has to anchor off at a safe distance and see Hannibal off in a smaller speedboat. He sits outside and waits for his companion's return, observing the tiny town nestled in a cozy valley among the fjords. There are farmsteads up on a hilltop, where perhaps certain crops can get more sunlight and a colder air. Life here must get so quiet during the winter.
When Hannibal returns, they raise anchor and leave once more, sailing further into the fjord in search of a nice spot to anchor for lunch. They are small enough that the cruise-liners and tourist boats are never bothered, but Will still appreciates the illusion of privacy, the silence. As if they are the only two people left in the world.
After a while, he spots a waterfall, flanked on either side by verdant firs and evergreens. He comes as close as he dares and anchors there.
"A fine choice," Hannibal says once he steps out to the deck. The table is already set and waiting. "Please, sit."
Will pours wine for both of them, just a glass, fitted for the meal. "What are we having?"
"I came across this dish in Undredal; they were selling it for quite cheap, as well. Sursild, they call it. Herring pickled in a sherry-based sauce. We are having it served on rye bread as a light lunch, with sour cream, chives, and devilled eggs. This dish is usually more popular during Christmastime, perhaps the reason behind their fairly low prices today. It is also a traditional Christmastime dish in my motherland."
Will takes a mouthful and savours the intermix of flavours. For a while there is nothing but the sound of the water lapping against their yacht and the waterfall cascading along in the short distance.
"Is this country any similar to Lithuania?" Will finally asks, after spending minutes mustering his courage.
Hannibal takes time to answer. "In some respects, but not all. For one, the scenery here is much more breathtaking."
"I'm sure the winters are just as cold."
"Perhaps colder here. We are much farther north."
"Do you have the midnight sun in Lithuania?"
Hannibal looks up at the sky, ever blue with thick white clouds today. "I never saw it as a child. Too far south, I think. Our midnights were dark."
Will looks at him for a while and then returns to his food. He asks no more about Lithuania for the day. After the meal, he helps put the dishes away, and once he's done, he stands at the edge of the deck watching the waterfall. Below him, the water sparkles under the white sun.
He makes his way to the back of the yacht, where there is a small deck that leads off into the water. He sits at the edge and dips his legs in, grinning as the waves lap against his skin. Perhaps Hannibal is watching him from the deck above. Unthinking, he peels off his shirt, shimmies off his shorts, and lets himself off at the edge.
The water is so clear. Underneath the waves, the world is cast in shades of green and white, darker as he looks down, lighter up towards the surface. Sunlight spears through the water, dancing in ethereal rays before his eyes. After a minute or so he breaks up for air and finds Hannibal at the edge of the lower deck, watching him.
Will grins up at him, unbidden. "Come swim with me."
Hannibal stands there and watches him for a while, as he splashes and swims around with abandon. An inscrutable look is cast on Hannibal's face and it takes a few minutes for it to disappear. When it does, Hannibal gives a little sigh and turns to remove his clothes, shortly thereafter diving into the water with perfect form. Will laughs.
"What are we doing?" Hannibal asks when they catch up with each other.
Will shrugs with a carefree smile, pushing closer and away, closer and away. "Swimming. It's a good workout."
Turning, he heads for the waterfall, first with uneven strokes grown awkward from years without swimming, and then gradually smoother until he cuts through the water with practised ease. He knows Hannibal is right behind him. The water tells.
Under the waterfall, they let themselves get pummelled, Will's laughter echoing across the fjord as he shakes his hair like a joyful dog shaking off the rain. Hannibal watches him the entire time, something terrible and great like love shining from behind his eyes.
That night, Will willingly curls up against Hannibal in bed, face tucked into a shoulder, arm draped over a chest. Hannibal doesn't say a single word, simply takes him and holds him and never lets go.
Two weeks end too soon. Will steers them closer to Bergen and laments the passing of this temporary paradise they have found, a haven upon the water, a sanctuary out at sea. On the last night, when Will confesses his unwillingness to move on, Hannibal likens their yacht to Will's old house in Wolf Trap, a single glowing beacon in the darkness.
"There will be more opportunities such as this," Hannibal reassures him gently. Will understands that they cannot stay here forever, but still wants to all the same.
"I should be glad I've started wanting things again," he mutters, swinging the last of his wine back with what should be an alarming level of petulance.
Hannibal only smiles, fond. "This is why I am showing you the world."
"Yes," Will says, "you told me as much."
The next morning is their last. As they sail farther out to sea, the gap between the cliff-walls and mountains get wider and wider still. Will watches Naeroyfjord recede under bright sunlight and thanks it for the peace it let him borrow.
Chapter 3: Bergen, Norway
3. Bergen, Norway
They return to Bergen to stay for only one night, tiding time over until their flight in the late morning. The evening is spent walking the city side by side, this time with less fear of being singled out. The crowds here are thicker, the tourists more plentiful. More souls to hide amongst in the encroaching dark.
Sunset is a long and drawn out affair, Will finds, up here where the summer is fleeting and brief. It's as if the sun is being merciful to the Norwegians, giving as much of itself each day as it can before the dark winter comes along. Will is growing to love it; sunsets have always been more amiable to him than the sunrise.
"Penny for your thoughts," Hannibal murmurs, hand resting a mere inch away from Will's fingers on the table. They are sat in a porch of a restaurant by the harbour, observing people, observing the sea, observing as the sun sets the water on fire. Someone's bike is parked against the rail, making circular shadows on the concrete beneath their feet.
"Just admiring the view. The sunsets are so long here."
"A paltry consolation."
Will squints at the ships and yachts docked in the distance, the silhouette of their hulls and masts visible against the sun. "More people here. A major tradeport?"
"Bergen is one of their largest cities," Hannibal tells him. "The suburbs stretch deep into the surrounding mountains."
"I did wonder where they all were," Will huffs. "It seems like we've been by ourselves since we came to this country."
Hannibal takes a short swig of his ale and confesses, "I planned for as much. I didn't want you overwhelmed."
Will turns to give him a small smile. "You think of everything, don't you."
"Not everything, not always," Hannibal says. "Only when it involves you."
They finish their drinks and pay their bill, leaving the restaurant to walk the harbour some more. Seagulls wheel overhead, squawking at each other and sometimes diving for food. From a nearby pub erupts a roar of applause; Will spies a flickering projector displaying a game of professional soccer.
They make it all the way to the other side of the inlet, overlooking the side of town from whence they came.
"See those matching houses in a row? They call it Bryggen," Hannibal tells him. "Hanseatic trade commenced here hundreds of years ago from houses built on that exact same spot. Many fires have destroyed the buildings over time, but they rebuild for the same purpose."
From where they are standing, the houses look like they might be on fire. The sunset gleams over their facades.
"I feel like we should derive a lesson from that," Will huffs, loosening his jacket against the warmer air. They are further south now, and the summer is quickening.
"Resilience born of trial is a worthy thing to aspire towards."
Will looks up at Hannibal. "Is that what we're building? Resilience?"
"That and something more, I hope."
Will nods, setting off once more, back towards where they came from. Their pace is slower this time, more thoughtful. Life should be like so.
Another midnight they spend under the sun. Will has to stop at the edge of the harbour to watch the last rays of the dying sun set fire to the sky, rendering the city in smudges of red and orange and purple and black, evocative, fluid, almost like an oil painting come to life.
"How many sunsets does that make?" he asks Hannibal.
Hannibal takes his hand and leads him back towards their hotel. "Only one amongst hundreds of thousands, that is my hope."
Chapter 4: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
4. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It has just finished raining when they arrive in Amsterdam. The canals pulse fat and rapid like livid veins, water rushing against flagstones that have endured millions of shod feet over its surface. Hannibal keeps a hand at his elbow, ushering him along, past the bicycles and bobbing boats, around the puddles, away from dripping gutters. A good thing their suitcases are waterproof.
Their rented space consists of a large sitting room with a fireplace on the first storey, a small but serviceable kitchen, large windows overlooking one of the city's major canals.
Hannibal stands beside him and parts a wider gap in the curtain, looking out. "The Prinsengracht, so named after the Prince of Orange, William the Silent. He is considered the ancestor of the current monarchy of this country."
"Was he truly so silent?" Will asks, curious.
"Certainly he must have been no more silent than you or me," Hannibal remarks, "for he was also the leader of the revolution that led to the formal independence of the United Provinces from the Spanish Habsburgs."
Will unlatches the window and lifts up the pane of glass. There is barely a breeze; the rain now resumes falling in a calm earthward direction. Only a few droplets land on the sill. "Can a revolution not take place in silence?"
Hannibal hums. "Who was it who said revolutions are always verbose?"
Will has to smile. "Trotsky. But I don't really think we're that silent, do you?"
Hannibal looks at him then, eyes sliding over his face. Will follows the cupid's bow of his lips as he speaks. "Sometimes, the intensity of what is between us drives us both to a silence neither of us can comprehend."
After another breath, a pause, Hannibal brushes fingers against his cheek and presses a soft kiss upon the crown of his head. "A hot bath will make you feel better. I will make arrangements for lunch and follow after you when you are done. The bedroom is upstairs."
Will unpacks his suitcase, and after a thought, unpacks Hannibal's too. Their clothes are few and fit easily into the small closet, which has wooden doors as old as the rest of the house. The bedroom is at the very top of the building, towering above the canals below, which are visible through the large curtained windows crowding out a whole wall. Up here, the noise of the city is dulled, as if heard from a distance and through thick wool. It's like a cocoon, he thinks, sitting at the end of the bed to toe his socks off.
He showers first, scrubbing the travel from his skin. He thinks about the clothes Hannibal will want to buy, for both of them to be sure, because their old ones are now well-worn and fit for a now far-removed environment. The cosmopolitan cities of continental Europe are a far cry from the breathtaking wilderness they enjoyed in Norway.
Will sinks into the hot bath and closes his eyes, imagining for a moment that they were back on their yacht. That's what he wants. One of the things he wants. He tries not to think too hard on the others.
When he emerges from the bath, Hannibal is in the bedroom, standing by the window and looking out as he removes his wrist watch.
"All yours," he says, rubbing his hair dry with a towel.
Hannibal murmurs polite gratitude and tells him that they have lunch reservations at a nearby establishment. "I must apologise for not being able to prepare a meal for us. We will need to shop for necessities."
"We just got here, Hannibal, it's alright. I don't expect culinary miracles from you just this moment."
Hannibal only nods and closes the bathroom door behind him. Shortly thereafter, Will hears the water run. He removes the towel from his waist and gets dressed, wondering about all the things between them left unsaid, the silences like this one, pauses pregnant with the weight of past and potential.
As always, Hannibal strives to provide everything for him. It's a true sign of devotion as any. What's left is for him to decide what he wants to do about it.
The stairs let out through the back, where the door opens into a small alley enclosed at the end by an iron gate. The rain has stopped for the moment, brief bursts of sunlight shining through the gaps in the clouds. Will can smell the baking bread from here. A bike leans against the wall nearby.
"There seem to be more bicycles than people," Will notes, earning an amused smile from his companion.
"A worthier form of transportation here instead of cars. The congestion would be unimaginable otherwise."
"Do you think we could ride on a boat on the canals? A different way to see the city," Will suggests, eager to be on the water once again.
"Better yet, we can get you a boat and you can take us around the canals. I shall procure wine and food. I believe that is how it is done here."
Will snorts. "I'm sure they have laws against drinking and boating."
They arrive at the restaurant, something fancier than where they ate last in Bergen, something more to Hannibal's taste. Will allows himself to be ushered into a seat, observing silence as Hannibal converses with the server in Dutch. When Hannibal confesses to having ordered a dish for Will already, Will only smiles.
"I know," he says. "You don't need to tell me that."
Hannibal holds his hands and his gaze for a moment, perhaps hearing the things Will left unsaid. But the server returns with a question and more suggestions, so the moment is lost.
They wake slow and languid the following day, rain pitter-pattering outside on their windowsill, a hushed noise, the only noise in the half-darkness. Will finds himself halfway sprawled on top of Hannibal, skin to skin, his eyelashes brushing against the vulnerable underside of Hannibal's jaw. If he focuses, he can see the undulation of each pulse under the skin, a faint tremor, the slightest hint of life.
Will moves and Hannibal hums, limbs following him as they rearrange themselves. It's tempting to doze again as he is held secure in an embrace almost a little too warm. This time, Hannibal's nose tucks into the back of his neck, breath puffing against his skin, inhale, exhale, a large, slumbering predator.
Hannibal is the one time Will's instincts have time and again failed him; here is yet another example. He should flee, he should run, he should separate himself from this because he knows it will destroy him.
He closes his eyes and sinks into the warmth. This is where he feels most comfortable. There's no more denying it. He should quit keeping silent.
Hannibal wakes in an hour and leaves him with soft murmurs pressed against his skin. Will stirs but turns over back into a light slumber. When he wakes, the flat is empty.
There is an English-language bookstore and several clothing shops nearby. Will leaves the dry comfort of their temporary abode and wanders the neighbourhood to find something to do. Hannibal must have gone to shop for food and necessities, no doubt itching to cook for them once more. Such are his simple pleasures in life, unchanged through the years, even when they were still in Baltimore.
A sharp ache spears through his chest when he thinks of Baltimore. Once upon a time, they had a singular friendship. Will can no longer call it that now, as nuanced and weighted and bloody as it has become between them. They are no longer friends. They aren't lovers either. They are something in between, something simultaneously less and more, mirror images of the other, seen perhaps through broken and tilted lenses.
Maybe that's what he needs to do. Maybe he needs to resume the simple pleasures he had in life. Hannibal gave that to him in Norway, for as long as they could stay, giving him a boat on the water, a sanctuary from the world. That was one. Now he needs to find another, something simple he can take with him as they travel.
What did he use to take pleasure in? Fly-tying. Fishing. Walking in the woods. Reading by the sunlight. Fixing boat motors. Sailing. His dogs.
He looks to the canals and observes the boats bobbing in the water, tied off to single-step platforms. Maybe they could take a boat out one afternoon.
Idly, as he buys a few clothes and browses for some books, he wonders if they would have travelled together like this, before everything that has happened between them.
He returns with several books, some clothes, a waterproof coat, and an expensive bottle of whiskey. Hannibal doesn't ask when he sets his purchases on the table, simply smiles and welcomes him home.
"I trust your walk went well?" Hannibal asks.
"Does it always rain here so much?" Will asks in turn.
Hannibal chuckles. "Think of it as a cultured, more sophisticated Seattle."
"Three hundred days of rain a year?"
"Not so. An average of about a hundred and thirty, more or less."
Will finishes removing his outer wet layers and pads to Hannibal on socked feet. He leans over Hannibal's shoulder and observes the food. "What for dinner?"
"Algerian couscous with lamb in a stew of vegetables and spices. I thought you'd perhaps appreciate the warmth after the rain outside."
"Lamb," Will echoes, chin almost resting on Hannibal's shoulder, certainly close enough that their bodies are long stripes of heat against one another. "Is there a special occasion for which the lamb is a symbol? Or did you just come across a good cut of meat at the market?"
Hannibal turns to smile at him, a faint crinkling of his eyes telling Will that it is genuine and not patronizing. "You know me too well," he says, neither an answer nor a concession.
Will makes a soft noise and draws away. He puts his books on the table in the living room, stories to while time away with. Briefly, he disappears into the bedroom to put away the new clothes. When he opens the closet, he finds that Hannibal purchased some for the both of them as well. Wool, cashmere, brushed cotton, Egyptian linen. Material thinner and thinner in preparation for warmer weather. Soon they'll be heading south. He knows Hannibal wants to settle in Italy, but Will isn't yet convinced that it's wise.
He returns downstairs to find Hannibal perusing the bottle of whiskey he bought.
"For when we take the boat out," Will says, "like you promised we would."
He feels as if he's asking too much, presuming upon Hannibal's intentions, twisting his words into promises. But Hannibal's countenance relaxes into a content smile. "Of course. A fine choice."
"I was thinking of wine too but I figured you knew more about that than I do." Will perches against the counter and watches Hannibal move around the kitchen, savours the rich aroma of the stew bubbling in the pot. A memory surfaces in his mind. "I've only brought wine for you once."
Hannibal pauses, then resumes his task. "The dinner party I hosted at Baltimore."
"Was it any good?" Will asks. "The wine, I mean, not your party."
"Quite," Hannibal says with a half-smile. He washes his hands and turns to face Will, also resting a hip against the counter. This way, they are face to face, shoulders square with one another. "Are you comfortable enough to talk about Baltimore now?"
"I figured we should break the silence," Will says, somehow managing his words despite his uncertainty. If this doesn't work with Hannibal, there is nothing left for him in the world. "Revolutions are always verbose, Trotsky said."
"We have destroyed each other with our words before," Hannibal warns, still with a half-smile.
"So we should be careful," Will responds in kind.
"Are we attempting to mend the teacup?"
Will blinks, remembering Abigail, remembering Molly, remembering himself and Hannibal once upon a time. "I'm sure you know of a method how."
Silence descends between them once again, interspersed with the bubbling of the pot and the hissing of the rain. Hannibal blinks. His hair has grown, more grey interspersed within the brown. Unthinking, Will raises a hand to brush the strands aside.
"The Japanese have a method of repairing broken pottery," Hannibal tells him, "by mixing lacquer with powdered gold or silver and using it to put the pieces back together." Hannibal catches his wrist and puts a cheekbone to his palm, eyes falling halfway shut. "The seams of gold would solidify over some time and make the china stronger than it was before it shattered. The craft treats the flaws and imperfections as part of its aesthetic, a mark of the object's value, a rendering of its history."
"Is that what you were attempting to do?" Will asks, unbidden and unable to stop himself. "When you shattered us, was it with the intention of making us stronger? Because you could have had me, all of me, long ago."
"I have you now," Hannibal courageously declares, eyes shining, "and how you are, with me, in this moment, is all I have ever wanted."
Those words were last spoken on that cliff before they fell. Will inhales, exhales, attempts to find the deep well of anger and resentment that used to be there but finds instead that it has run dry. All that surges from within him is a deep sense of relief. He should be angry; he's just relieved.
He pushes into Hannibal's arms, tucks his face into Hannibal's neck. Murmurs something unintelligible when Hannibal cradles him so. His eyes flutter when fingers dig into his hair, a calloused thumb caressing the shell of his ear.
There is more they need to discuss, but the silence is lighter. At least, he has laid to rest his anger.
The following day they take a longer walk around the city. Will wonders if they should rent bicycles; it would certainly be more economic for time. He accompanies Hannibal to a boat-rental, where he feels an absurd level of pleasure watching his companion make arrangements for his little whims. They set the date for two days hence, enough time for Hannibal to prepare a miniature feast. Will can let him have that much; reciprocity is the key to keeping peace.
Hannibal takes him to a section of Centrum called the Nine Streets, where there are shops and cafes, souvenir stores, locals and tourists mingling alike. They are unable to pass by a cheese shop without Hannibal procuring some to take home. Will buys for himself a wrist watch to replace the one he broke in Norway.
"You must wash your hands after you finish eating that," Hannibal tells him.
Will has to laugh. "Yes, dear." He pretends not to catch how Hannibal softens at the endearment.
"I will make you traditional stroopwafels at home tonight. It will do for dessert, I think."
"Do you walk around while meal-planning in your head all the time?"
"Of course," Hannibal promptly answers, bravely daring one of the warlike potatoes submerged in mayonnaise in front of Will. "Too much salt, not enough herbs. I will make a better one for you at home."
Perhaps they are riding the high tide of their successful reconciliation from the night before, but Will is glad for the peace, for the easy companionship and the lack of heavy silences. This, he thinks, is something worth working towards. He could live with this. He could grow to love this.
(He already is.)
On one of their final days in Amsterdam, they are walking once more along the canals, discussing their next destination. The sun is shining brightly today, rendering the water a murky brown but nevertheless bringing out the bright colours of the painted houses around them.
"You've been taking me to places you know I'd like, don't think I haven't noticed." Will nudges his shoulder against Hannibal and tucks his hands into his pockets. "Let's go some place you want to see. Some place you haven't been before."
He knows that Hannibal has plans already laid out, but all the more he does this because he revels at how readily Hannibal is willing to abandon drafted plans with one word from Will, with one tiny request.
Hannibal looks sideways at him, and then past him, and then stops, the two of them standing there, looking across the canal. "The dancing houses. Foundations built on marshland. The soil beneath them collapses and expands, tilting the houses left and right like so. A splendid optical illusion."
"An illusion of stability," Will agrees, wanting that illusion for the both of them. Even if that's all they can have for now, it'll be enough until they get to higher, better ground.
They resume walking. Hannibal finally speaks. "I have never been to Barcelona. I have always wanted to visit."
Will smiles, placing a hand on Hannibal's elbow and matching their pace. "Then let's go."
Chapter 5: Barcelona, Spain
I suppose this now qualifies for Hannibal Cre-Ate-Ive's #NovemberAmnesty. Awesome.
There are apples, mangoes, grapes and peaches; tuna, salmon, herring and shark fin, crabs and crawfish, fugu and trout, all fresh from the water; spices in jars and bottles and bags, basil, oregano, sesame and oleander; sauces, seasonings, flavorings; chocolates more varied in shape and permutation than any single store Will has ever seen, every shade from the milkiest white to the most bitter blacks; grains of rice and rolls of bread, pasta in every shape and substance and form, quinoa too and oat, wheat, rye, corn. The sheer variety astounds him enough that when Hannibal asks what he would like for dinner, he is momentarily speechless.
"How about you decide," he blinks, rendered blind by a brief shaft of sunlight slanting down from a hole in the roof.
"I simply want to ensure that there isn't a particular dish you have a taste for."
"Fish, then," Will randomly decides, because he can smell the saltwater from a nearby seafood stall. There are clams and large oysters sitting on a bucket of ice.
Hannibal, of course, has procured lodging near the market in the Gothic Quarter. They have a flat, like the one in Amsterdam, implying a longer stay. That, or Hannibal merely wants the nostalgic luxury of a fully functional kitchen and to give him the illusion of a home.
They purchase enough ingredients to feed a small army. Hannibal had the foresight to bring large empty backpacks to fill with the heaviest and bulkiest of their haul. It's a long trek back to their flat, but Will can't find it in himself to complain when he sees the ill-concealed excitement lurking in Hannibal's eyes.
Hannibal makes for the kitchen at once when they get home. Will helps with putting things away and then retreats to the bedroom to take a shower. Sweat has gathered on the back of his neck and his sides and his armpits too. The heat outside heralds summer. When he finishes, the whole flat smells good enough to eat.
"Whatever you're making there is making my stomach growl," Will says, making his way across the living area to stand behind his companion. He peeks over a broad shoulder: tomatoes, onions, and green onions are sauteing on a pan. Hannibal casually tosses some sort of brown seasoning over it.
"Bananas, sweet and ripe, fried until browned, then sliced down the middle, like a canoe. It will cradle the ground beef and onions. Queso fresco on top, fifteen minutes in the oven. It'll be our sweet and savory siesta. We will need it to tide us until our late dinner."
"Our dinner will be late, will it?" Will chuckles.
"It will require time."
Shortly, the banana canoes are ready for consumption. Will devotes to them his full attention. They eat together at the small dining table set underneath a large window overlooking La Rambla. Sunlight washes over their heads, a circle of light isolating them together in this moment of silence. Will allows Hannibal to pour him wine while he wonders what the both of them would look like with a Spanish tan. The bananas are beyond delicious, of course.
After their meal, Will takes a book to the couch. In the background, Hannibal putters around the kitchen, creating something special and new. Will waits for it.
Placa de Catalunya is a yawning open space after the Gothic Quarter's close-leaning old buildings. They appropriate a bench and observe people, partaking of Hannibal's carefully selected tapas (still from La Boqueria, naturally). Will reminds himself to exercise everyday, if he wants to avoid gaining an unhealthy amount of weight from all that they eat.
"There is a beach in this city," Hannibal tells him, "if you feel so inclined. There will, however, be plenty of people."
"Nah," Will shakes his head, curls bouncing in sunlight. "The scars will attract too much attention."
Hannibal turns to consider him but doesn't say a thing.
Will manages two more tapas — he's negating all the walking he's done today, that's all — and then rubs at the side of his neck. The stubble gets bristly in this humid seaside heat. He considers for only a moment more.
"I want to shave all of this off. It's getting bothersome. But I'll probably hurt myself if I use a plain razor over the scars. You own a straight razor..."
"You are welcome to it," Hannibal says, still considering him quietly.
"My hands aren't as steady as yours."
"No," Hannibal agrees, tone gone even quieter, "they are not." There is something darker peering out from his eyes now, something hungry. Will understands. Only someone as far gone as he is would consent to Hannibal taking a blade to their throat.
"Tonight?" Will asks, unperturbed.
"Tonight," Hannibal agrees again.
Will rises to dispose of their trash. A flock of pigeons startle before him and take flight in a sunlit rustle of grey and white wings.
Before heading home, Hannibal insists that they visit La Sagrada Familia. From Catalunya, they take the Metro, squeezing in between warm bodies speaking foreign languages. Tourists, Will realizes with a start. That's what we are. Will takes Hannibal's hand as people press close, suddenly feeling uncertain.
How far they have gotten, how much they have lost. How many lives they have sacrificed along the way. They walk hand-in-hand up the steps as Will wonders, remembers, and weighs.
Above ground, the sun will soon set. There are still plenty of tourists around, but not as crowded as midday. They skip the line with tickets Hannibal has purchased ahead of time. The basilica looms above them in strange twisted spires more befitting a fairy castle than a holy place of worship. They step through the heavy front doors and Will is at once in a white forest, stone canopy soaring high above his head.
"The world," Will murmurs back, "is a vast forest, and we are walking amongst the trees." He doesn't see it but he feels Hannibal look at him. The heat of that gaze is something Will can recognize any day.
"The forest is quite dark, if so," Hannibal responds. "Does Gaudi expect us to find our way through and to the light?"
"Gaudi doesn't expect anything from us; God does. But some of us will never find our way to the light," Will says. "Some of us were meant for the shadows under the tallest trees."
When Will tears his eyes away from the dizzying ceiling, Hannibal is looking upon him with amusement and great fondness. "At least we will be warm together. If we choose wisely, it can be a tree with large arching branches, perfect for nesting underneath, protecting us from the rain."
Will's eyes reach up to the ceiling again, so unlike most Gothic cathedrals they have visited. "How do we know that it's the right tree? There are so many."
"I suppose we won't know until we get there," Hannibal responds. "But I do know that it'll be the one under which you are most comfortable."
"What about you?"
"My dear Will," Hannibal sighs, finally ushering him further down along the nave. "You should know by now that your happiness is mine."
Outside, the sun burns bright across the city as it sets. The basilica's stained glass windows catch fire, exploding in beautiful prisms of light and color, slanting and splashing across the grey and white interior. Looking closer now and under a new light, Will realizes that no two trees are the same, their ever-changing surfaces born from the intersection of many geometric forms wedded to each other. A square base rises to become an octagon, and then eventually grows into its sixteen-sided form, and then at last a circle that will break and branch to support its load. Each tree, Will realizes, is different from the other, in a vast forest stretching for miles out until the sea.
Hannibal sits at a pew and Will follows, the two of them resting side by side in silence. Neither of them truly know how to pray, but if Will knew how, he would pray for a tree overlooking the water, standing there at the edge where the earth and all its worries fall away. A secret sanctuary, just for the two of them.
Eventually, Will rises, looking to Hannibal, who gazes up at him with adoration that would not be alien to the devout who sit among them. Will smiles. "Let's go home? I'm starving."
Hannibal rises at once.
At home, Hannibal retreats to the kitchen while Will showers. Will takes his time about it and washes thoroughly, afterwards running a thumb across his beard. Before he leaves the small steam-filled bathroom, he lays the soap and the towels and the straight razor out on the counter. He catches himself running a finger down the side of the blade, nearly hard enough to slice, and has to wrench himself away.
The dishes are laid out on the dinner table. Will pours for both of them a glass of wine from the bottle Hannibal has been decanting while Hannibal sets out their plates. The candles are a reminder of those starlit dinners on the fjord; they make Will smile.
"Fricando," Hannibal tells him, "cuts of veal cooked with seasonal mushrooms. Fresh bread with garlic and olive oil and tomatoes. Grilled vegetables. A traditional Catalan meal."
Will keeps smiling. "You made us a Sunday roast."
"Much more improved than that, certainly."
"Of course," Will agrees as he digs in. "You made it, after all."
They eat in mutual silence and the satisfaction borne from a good day. Will is almost finished with his plate when Hannibal speaks again, this time tone cautious and measured. "We have only two days left in Barcelona," he tells Will, "and I wish to inquire if there is any particular place you would like to go."
Surprised, Will looks at him. "Only two more days? Are you ready to part with the market?"
Hannibal, hearing his cheek, gives him a quelling look that still has far too much unguarded affection to truly cow him. Will responds with a little grin.
"Well, I don't really know where we can go and be safe."
"Anywhere you want, Will," and Hannibal says as much with the conviction that if Will so wanted, Hannibal can and will make anything happen.
"We really shouldn't push our luck."
"Lady Fortune is not so feeble that our paltry efforts will topple her one way or another."
"Lady Fortune also isn't so forgiving that she will continue to favor us while we continue to try her shrinking patience with our haphazard plans."
"Perhaps Rome," Hannibal muses in between bites of cantaloupe. "I have always wanted to revisit. Perhaps I can show you La Capella Sistina."
"You didn't hear me at all," Will sighs. "I just said low risk."
"Our risk has been mitigated, worry not." When Will's brow furrows in concern, Hannibal's face smoothes out in a calm smile. "A decoy for Jack in Argentina. They will be looking for us in another continent."
Will puts down his fork and swallows. "They've already figured out we're alive."
"Jack was never going to believe our mutual demise," Hannibal shrugs, "but yesterday they did find the cabin we called home during our convalescence."
Clues to their whereabouts, of course, would have been found no more than two days later after the FBI dedicated its considerable resources towards finding them. And yet Will feels no more threatened by this knowledge than he did this morning, walking by himself around Barcelona amongst a hundred thousand strangers. He contemplates this peculiar calm, this sudden sense of liberating detachment, throughout the rest of dinner and after, remaining silent enough that by the time they have put away the dishes, Hannibal is watching him with a wary sort of sadness -- as if he were expecting Will to leave.
Will smiles. It comes unbidden, almost alien in the way it tugs at the scar on his cheek. "Come on," he beckons, holding out a hand Hannibal readily takes. "I set the razor out. You promised."
"I did," Hannibal answers, a flash of equally wary relief dancing across his eyes.
How uncanny, Will thinks, that he now holds the making and breaking of Hannibal's happiness in his hands. And all the same, perhaps it was always been that way; he just never stopped to notice.
The bathroom is small and cramped, even more so between the two of them, him and Hannibal's considerable bulk. Will rests a hip against the edge of the counter to turn his face toward the light, hands hanging useless at his sides. He watches Hannibal prepare before him, the water running until it hisses with heat and steam.
"Hold this against your face, please."
He is handed a wet, hot towel and does as he's told, keeping it against his cheeks and jaw, eyes peeking over the top to watch Hannibal lather the soap as he breathes humid steam. Special soap, of course, infused with aloe vera and coconut oil and shea butter. He will smell like Hannibal but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Hannibal takes the towel away from him and applies the lather with gentle hands.
"A clean shave?"
"The scar will show."
"Do you care?"
Hannibal pauses to look upon him with glittering, dangerous eyes. "Only for your comfort, Will."
"Okay. Well, it's uncomfortable now. So shave it off."
"As you wish," Hannibal murmurs.
The hand that grips Will's jaws move with certainty, fingers turning his face to one side and tilting his head up. The finely kept blade glistens under light, sinister and intimate all at once. Hannibal brings it up to the edge of Will's jaw and that is when Will surrenders, eyes falling shut.
He barely feels the first pass. It's a cold, quick whisper against heated skin. He concentrates on staying still and breathing steady as Hannibal works with grace born from practice. One section after another, turning Will's head in small increments using the lightest gradients of pressure, until his face is under the bright light once more. Hannibal's fingers are like brands against his skin now, a declaration of ownership in the firm way his face is handled. Eyes still closed, Will feels the scrape of the blade against his upper lip as an afterthought to he way Hannibal's calloused thumb rests on his pulse.
It's much harder to breathe now, and it can't be the steam. Hannibal rinses off the blade one last time and returns the hot towel to Will's face, removing the last of the soap. Will opens his eyes then, face flushed and heart pounding from the intoxicating sensation of absolute trust. It feels like falling. He's done this before. They both have, and they both know it.
"Beautiful," Hannibal murmurs, thumb moving from his pulse to rest on his lower lip, just there, a warm weight.
An exhale escapes from Will. It should have always been this way.
He moves closer and leans in at the same moment Hannibal bends down, their lips pressing together with only a little urgency but far too much heat. Will's eyes fall shut as he tries to comprehend the way they feel together. Hannibal's large hand moves to cradle his jaw, his whole face, turning him just so they can slot together with more ease. Will pulls them closer with hands he forgot he had and gasps when their hips meet, mutual intent plain and obvious for each other. Hannibal licks into his mouth, exploratory and savoring. Will groans, exultant.
When they part, it is too soon. Will pants against Hannibal's mouth and blindly seeks more, leaning up and turning his head in chase of that radiant heat. Hannibal indulges him, both hands winding into his hair and tugging at his curls, never one to deny any request if made convincingly enough. Will knows how to be convincing enough.
Hannibal tastes of wine and rich mushrooms and the sweet chocolates they had after dinner, but more than anything Will seeks this expanding feeling in his chest, this imperturbable calm, this warm (so warm) conviction that things are as they are meant to be, that all is right with the world, because they are together. They are together and it may be selfish but Will wants this to himself and is no longer stubborn enough to deny it, blind enough to push it away. Will has never wanted so strongly in his life: he wants Hannibal's lips against his, Hannibal's hands on his skin, Hannibal's teeth on his flesh and always, always Hannibal's eyes on his face. He says as much, in quiet whispers as they part and meet again, bare breaths in between.
Will holds Hannibal's face in two hands and murmurs the retribution that would fall upon him should he do anything to betray Will's hard-won trust and devotion, murmurs that hang between them and harden into vows and bring glistening tears to Hannibal's adoring eyes.
Chapter 6: Avignon & South of France
They buy a used car with some cash and drive up the coastline past the Pyrenees into France. Hannibal drives with sunshades on as Will rolls down the windows, letting the wind run through his hair. It's much the same way Winston used to stick his head out of the car, which brings a smile to Will's face. If they can find a place to settle, Will could have dogs soon.
Between their seats, their hands are entwined. Hannibal's thumb rubs slow, thoughtful circles into the back of Will's hand, reminiscent of the deep, slow kisses Will is growing to crave. It's a few hours of comfortable silence until their destination; Will dozes on and off several times, waking only when the car slows down at tolls or slow passes. To their right, the bright and shimmering sea is a constant, peeking in and out from behind and between hills and houses and trees, a whispering siren call.
"How long do we have in France?" Will asks around a yawn.
"We are only driving past it."
Will's lips quirk. "I thought we were testing Lady Fortune's patience."
"We will be. I still want to take you to Venice."
"Italy's not safe for us, Hannibal, and I don't want to lose this. Us." Not now, he wants to add, but shifts to face his companion instead, fingers tightening around Hannibal's loose hold. "Why must we go there? What's the point? We're risking enough already, being in France. I just want to go home."
"And where is home, Will?" Hannibal asks, tone unchanged. "Where would you like home to be?"
"Does it matter as much as the fact that we're together?" Will only realizes how genuine a question it is to him once the words have already left him.
"No," Hannibal says, bringing their joined hands up to his lips, "but I do want you to be happy."
"I am happy. I'm here with you."
They stop in Avignon, another place Hannibal has never been but has always wanted to visit. Will walks with him around the Papal Palace, contemplating history and marveling at the age of the stones around them. There is a secluded walkway around the back of the palace that Hannibal finds by following the faint strains of music, an accordion, playing some old French folk tune that sounds vaguely familiar even to Will's uncultured ears. An arch of the old medieval Gothic fortress curves above their heads, casting a long shadow on the narrow cobblestone path.
"Three popes," Will snorts, "two too many."
"It was the cause of quite a lot of grief, as you might imagine."
"When has religion ever not?"
Hannibal turns to him with an amused smile but says nothing. They walk along, back around the palace and towards the large square dotted with curious tourists. They have only stopped for air and food, but it doesn't preclude Hannibal from acquiring several bottles of wine. Syrah, Granache, and very fine Cabernets, to be consumed at leisure as they continue on their little road trip. Will carries some of them plus a bag of chocolates as they make their way back to the car, sunlight on his shoulders as warm as Hannibal's hand in his.
"Why do you really want us to go to all these places?" Will asks quietly. "If Jack is chasing after us in another continent, why must we keep moving?"
"Do you tire of it?" Hannibal asks him in turn. "Do you wish for us to settle down?"
Will allows himself to be selfish. "I would like a house of our own, yes. And several dogs, to be honest with you." Hannibal huffs beside him. "The dogs are non-negotiable. Now answer my question or I will be very cross with you all night."
It takes a while but Hannibal finally responds. "I want you and I both to be comfortable in our home, but am having trouble envisioning where that home might be."
Will makes a soft sound in the back of his throat. "You've been taking me from country to country to see where it is I like."
"I liked it where the water was," Will tells him, "when we were on that little boat in Norway. But we couldn't stay there for long; they'd find us. We stand out too much. We're too unique. And they're a certain kind of people we could never hope to be."
Hannibal remains quiet and thoughtful, putting away their purchases in the car as Will straps himself in. Once they are back on the road heading east towards Italy, Hannibal voices his thoughts.
"This is why I would like to take you to Venice, passing Verona on the way. In a short few weeks, it will be the season for acqua alta, and the city will sink. Before that happens, I would like to show its beauty to you. And then we will go perhaps to Vienna, for it may be another city you could grow to love. But after that, we will go to Switzerland. Lucerne. There is one property I would like to show you. It's on the lake; we could have a small yacht there for you to take to the water. Plenty of space for many dogs. We could live in relative peace and seclusion. The tourism isn't as pervasive as other places but enough that the traffic would mask our presence. Does this sound agreeable to you?"
"Yes," Will sighs, hand seeking Hannibal's again as they speed past Aix-en-Provence. He is happy because Hannibal is talking to him, allowing him input. "The water here is beautiful but it's too crowded and warm. Take me somewhere we can be alone together. That's what I want."
"As you wish," Hannibal says, and he means it.
Chapter 7: Verona, Italy
They drive through the night and only stop after passing the border, once for gas at a town called Savona and then finally to rent a room in Genoa. Hannibal pays for a single-bed hotel room. They get pointed looks for it, which Will studiously ignores. Once inside the room, Hannibal reminds him, "You are in Italy once again, where everyone is Catholic, by necessity if nothing else."
"Right," Will snorts, "sodomy and the fires of hell, all that."
"All that," Hannibal echoes, putting down their bags. "Shower and sleep, Will. We have more land to cover tomorrow."
Will's body agrees with yet another yawn, this one jaw-cracking as it pushes tears to the corners of his eyes. After his shower, he slips gratefully into the bed, falling a doze soon thereafter and only dimly aware that Hannibal slides in behind him after some time, a warm and welcome presence he pulls close with seeking arms.
"Hush," Hannibal whispers into his ear, "I'm here."
Only after they have wound around each other like vines does Will settle into a deep, undisturbed slumber.
It takes the better part of the morning to drive across northern Italy to Verona, where Hannibal has secured a room for them in advance. "It is a beautiful city," Hannibal tells him, "one I think you will enjoy wandering a little. We can take our time. There is no rush."
Will knows they are nearly there when traffic slows and the roads grow even narrower. Hannibal weaves into the old part of town, where only certain streets are permitted to have cars. Their small hotel is old and storied, perched on the edge of the river with expansive views of the water and the sound of its rushing audible even over the roar of life in the city.
"Isn't this Juliet's city?" he muses while Hannibal steers the tiny car around to park. "Shakespeare's Juliet."
"Indeed. We can visit her balcony, if you'd like."
"Not a fan of the work?" Hannibal chuckles.
"Don't enjoy a pair of thirteen-year-olds making terrible life decisions, no. It's bad enough when adults do it."
As such, Hannibal is laughing when they exit the car. They take their luggage inside and check in, a quick and easy process with Hannibal's flawless Italian. Will absorbs the confidence pouring from him, admittedly still wary that they are in Italy but knowing that he must play his part in order for this to be successful. It isn't too difficult, straightening his spine and exuding an air of privilege, limbs moving to highlight the quality make of his shoes, the expensive watch on his wrist, the designer shades, the clothes. To fellow tourists, he and Hannibal appear only as a pair of wealthy middle-age European men on a vacation together, perhaps 'together' or perhaps not. Just as well; people can pay attention to that, instead of noticing other things.
Upstairs, the room they have is small and quiet, overlooking the river as Hannibal had requested. Will pushes the windows open to let the air in. Verona is under thrall of summer, the sun beating down on terra cotta rooftops.
"Shall I fake a British accent?" Will asks. "Or is that a bit much?"
"If you can copy mine," Hannibal tells him, "we may say we are from Denmark or Sweden instead."
"Do we have papers to back that up, just in case?"
Hannibal says nothing, instead fishing out a slim plastic folder, airtight and sealed, to give to Will. Will opens it and finds several different passports inside, papers, credentials, licenses, and one notable piece of paper that declares their current aliases are married. Eyebrows up to his hairline, Will smirks. "Am I your husband, then?"
"If you consent to be mine," Hannibal smiles, sitting on the edge of the bed closest to him and taking his hand to kiss. "I would love to be yours."
Will puts the folder down and to the side, leaning down to kiss Hannibal. And then, after a moment of consideration, he goes to his own bag, crouching down to dig until he finds what he is looking for.
Outside, the river is wide and coursing quite fast, waters lime-green and only somewhat murky due to the mud. Will throws their balcony door open and steps outside, Hannibal curiously following after him. There isn't much space left between the two of them, and perhaps the balcony is made so small for that very reason, but Will manages to rear his arm back anyhow, and with one pitching motion he throws the gold ring away.
It sails through the air, blinking briefly under the sunlight, before sinking under the water. Hannibal looks to it, then back to Will, the question plainly written on his face.
Will pulls him back inside for another kiss. "I have a wife to divorce before I can marry you. Since she thinks I'm dead and the U.S. considers me a fugitive, the best I can do is throw the ring away, right?"
Hannibal doesn't answer him in words, only takes him and folds him into a large embrace and keeps him there. They sway together for a while, suspended in a moment of clarity.
The city is quite charming, pleasing Will as they wander around the old town hand in hand. Around them, the bustle of people makes for great cover; above them, the summer sun, joyous and bright. Will observes the brightly-painted buildings, three or four or five stories high but no more than that; windows ajar and balconies thrown open, heedless of the noise, intolerant of the heat; cobbled stone paths winding and bending in senseless convoluted directions much the same as Barcelona's Gothic Quarter. All the balconies here are verdant and teeming with greenery, flowers of all different kinds and colors, red and yellow and purple and white.
They take a long walk, skirting on the edge of the large dry goods market set out today on Piazza dei Signori. Hannibal points out the ancient Roman walls when they pass it, the Porta Borsari, the original entrance to the city two thousand years ago.
Hannibal, perhaps sensing how affected he is, pauses underneath an arch and holds them both there. "What are you thinking?" he asks, and Will finds it easier than ever to give him an answer.
"Just how many moons have risen and fallen long before we came," Will touches the stones, fingers holding the edges of a pillar. "How many more will rise and fall after we go."
"We won't go for a while," Hannibal tells him, almost chidingly. "I plan to enjoy you with as much time as we can cheat out of life."
It succeeds and makes Will laugh, sharp and short but laughter nonetheless. The lightness lingers around him. They wander away once more, this time hand in hand, Will twining his fingers tight around Hannibal's, because they are married after all.
They pass by stalls selling bites of food and Will tears away from Hannibal to buy some, temporarily sating a superficial hunger.
"If you are hungry, please say so," Hannibal sighs, picking out an osteria where they can enjoy a very late lunch. The establishment is in an old house tucked into a small alley, the kind that would be hard to find if one had no help.
Will enjoys arancini con burro, which are stuffed rice balls made with rice and creamy bechamel sauce, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. The dish appeals to his Southern sensibilities, as Hannibal predicts. They are not in Milan, but Will picks out osso bucco alla Milanese, another veal dish braised slowly in white wine and served with vegetables. The food is good enough that even Hannibal can find only a few words of criticism to level against it. (Will suspects, quite rightly, that Hannibal only does so as a matter of course.)
"You knew of this place even before we came here," Will accuses, to which Hannibal merely smiles.
"Eat your vegetables, Will."
He only barely resists the urge to stick out a tongue.
After their heavy meal, Hannibal takes him to the top of a hill, a place called Castel San Pietro, across the river and overlooking the old town. The steps uphill are wide but long, the climb made more arduous with the weight of the meal they just ate. Hannibal wants them to burn it all before they go home to bed, of course, ever conscientious of their health as his sole responsibility. Just as well, because if it were up to Will, they would be subsisting on take-out and other similarly detestable forms of food.
At the top awaits a view with a refreshing breeze. They sit on the edge of tall stone walls and gaze upon Verona for a while, allowing the sun to sink and the air to grow a little cooler. Will's eyes follow the arc of the river Adige, wide and gentle as it cuts a line across the ancient city. An age-old sight, he is sure, with many stories to tell.
"So much of the ancient city remains here, despite the wars that have ravaged this region over time," Hannibal murmurs behind his shoulder. "The Germans destroyed all the bridges here when they fled."
Will turns around in surprise. "All of them? But some look so old."
"They restored using the original stones. They did the best they could." Taking his hand, Hannibal settles beside him on the stone, looking out over a sea of red rooftops. "Sometimes, even the most thoroughly broken things can be repaired so well it is almost new."
It is very late when they return to the hotel. The streets are still teeming with people, establishments lit and restaurants in full swing with the smells of roasting garlic and baking bread and tomatoes beckoning hungry wanderers in. Hannibal has a small amount of groceries they can make light dinner with at the hotel room with its little kitchenette; Will drags them both home, tired of people and walking, just a little bit overstimulated, and more than a little impatient.
Hannibal has been looking at him all evening. Looking at him that one particular way that makes Will's toes curl. Once inside, Will kicks his shoes off and tugs Hannibal close.
With one stride, Hannibal crowds Will against the wall, leaning in for a warm kiss. "I have wanted this all day."
Will opens his mouth, teeth catching at Hannibal's lower lip. "You could have taken it."
For the next while there is no more talking, only shared warmth and breath as Hannibal leans his full weight on Will. Their fingers tangle together once more, lips sliding warm and wet and urgently intimate in an attempt to impart some precious secret. Will reaches up to work a hand into Hannibal's hair, tousling it into disarray. If he digs his fingers just so, run them across Hannibal's scalp a certain way, Hannibal always breaks into a full-body shiver, goosebumps rising on his arms and the back of his neck. Will bites down on Hannibal's lip again, harder this time, and is rewarded with a broken groan from a broken man.
"You lay waste to me," Hannibal mouths into his jaw, his neck, his ear. Their hips grind together in a slow, torturous dance. "Mylimasis. Mio caro. Anata."
Will doesn't know the meaning behind the words but he can guess.
He shoves hard enough, dislodging Hannibal from his person and walking them over to the bed. As he crawls up to straddle Hannibal's thighs, Will removes his shirt and tugs off Hannibal's as well, luxuriating in the hair on Hannibal's chest, the moist warmth of Hannibal's mouth against his. They fall upon each other in desperate hunger, hands roving over shifting planes of flesh and bone. Will sucks on Hannibal's neck; Hannibal palms both cheeks of his ass; Will shifts a knee in between them; Hannibal pulls down and grinds their slotted hips together. It doesn't take long to find a rhythm, Will rocking against Hannibal's thigh, body undulating against greedy hands and hot kisses, their twined forms barely visible in the pale half-light. This is an age-old dance, as old as the ancient stones around them, and it has always been theirs.
Will latches on to Hannibal's lips and devours in a manner he has for so long denied himself. The breadth of his hunger yawns within him, a deep ache in his chest that longs for Hannibal, only Hannibal, always Hannibal, because it was he who woke this beast years ago. Hannibal sets teeth to his shoulder and when those incisors close, Will comes with a strangled shout, eyes screwed shut in disbelieving ecstasy, body rigid with release. Beneath him, Hannibal remains wordless, eyes trained upon him in complete adoration. His release is enough to trigger Hannibal's, but Hannibal himself barely seems to notice, transfixed as he is by the transcendence on Will's face.
Afterwards, Hannibal cradles him, worshipful words pressed into his skin with soft kisses in languages too remote for Will to know. It matters little. Will understands.
When they do rise, they rise together stumbling to the bathroom like a pair of delinquent teenagers, unable to remove themselves from each other for more than a few seconds at a time. In the shower, Will dozes, content to give Hannibal the thorough satisfaction of handling him, washing him, coddling him. Hannibal likes him like this, soft and pliant, biddable where he usually isn't. Hannibal likes it when Will voluntarily cedes control.
Will sleeps better than he has in his entire life that night, wrapped up in Hannibal's arms, skin to skin, heartbeat to heartbeat. When he wakes up in the morning, he doesn't even remember that he dreamed.
They wake slowly and spend time shifting around in bed, learning the new joy of each other's bare skin free to their touch. Hannibal's hands are what wake him, soft palms and long fingertips mapping the contours of his body with great care. He hums as Hannibal's fingers count the ridges of his spine, one and one and one, precious bones keeping the frame of his body upright and together. "Morning," Will yawns, all the same rebelliously mashing his face back against Hannibal's chest.
"Good morning, dearest." A soft kiss to the crown of his head.
Will keeps his eyes closed and savors the warmth for a little while more, a simple happiness pervading each molecule of his existence. He doesn't let himself wonder if they could have had this years ago. He reminds himself to be content that they can even have this now, after everything.
Eventually, they must rise; Will pushes that away as well. He wants to stay here, in Hannibal's arms. This is where his home is.