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The Lingering Past

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To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.
-- Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Will leans back against the countertop, his palms flat against its surface, fingers wrapping around its corners. His thumb nails are beginning to blanch with the pressure of his grip. His T-shirt pulls tight across his chest and over his biceps with the arch in his spine. There are areas of wear thinning to holes around the neck of his garment, edges of splaying threads along the cheap cotton. Hannibal would usually disapprove of such sartorial poverty, but for the purposes of this moment, it is a practical choice of garment.

“You’ve shut the dogs in?” Will asks.

“They are in the run, they are secure.” Hannibal would prefer them to spend more time outside instead of lying around the house, but that is the arrangement they have reached, and an inevitable consequence of choosing a life with Will Graham. Though Hannibal remains unsure that he ever chose it, precisely – it was more of a spreading awareness that any other version of his life would not be tolerated.

Will tilts his head an inch to the side. “How do you want me?” There’s a hint of dry humour in the words, but not nearly enough to hide what lies beneath.

“Simply lying on your back would be the best.” Hannibal keeps his tone neutral, calming, the voice of the psychiatric professional. “It’s important for you to be comfortable.”

Will’s smile twists at one corner. “I’m not promising I can manage that,” he says, and Hannibal finds the simple honesty quietly pleasing. Will isn’t fond of admitting weakness, but he has always told Hannibal many things he would reveal to no-one else.

Will straightens his arms and pushes with his toes, lifting himself onto the island countertop and settling back into the layers of padding and towels arranged there. Hannibal won’t perform surgery in an environment contaminated by dog hair. The kitchen and the bedrooms are the two places from which they are permanently excluded, and a bed is too low to function as a convenient operating table. The lighting in his kitchen is also far superior to anything on the upper floors.

Will’s eyes stare upwards, fixed on the red-brown wood of the Quebracho beams that run across the ceiling, deliberately avoiding Hannibal as he draws local anaesthetic into the syringe. “You’re sure the dogs are safe?”

“I am sure, but perhaps you should look for yourself.”

“No, it’s okay, I trust you.” Will’s smile is less than convincing.

It doesn’t require psychiatric training to know that the repetition is an indicator of nerves. The last occasion when Hannibal scented such a high level of acid tension from Will’s body was the first day Will came to speak with him in the isolated depths of the BSHCI, the first time they looked on one another in three years. Hannibal is unlikely to forget even one detail of that moment, the minutiae of Will’s life inhaled with a single breath.

Hannibal places a hand along Will’s jaw, gently tilting his head to the left until his flawed cheek is angled higher into the light. “You must be still now. The anaesthetic is mildly acidic, it will sting at first.” The muscle tenses beneath his fingers, and Will’s eyes flick briefly to Hannibal, before skittering back over the ceiling into the corner.

The bevel of the needle slides easily into Will’s skin near the tip of the scar, and Hannibal injects the local in a line alongside it, angling shallowly through the subcutaneous tissues. He withdraws the needle almost fully, then redirects it to repeat the process on the other side. “I will need to inject from several more sites to complete the field block.” He receives that fleeting contact of Will’s eyes again in acknowledgement, but Will correctly doesn’t attempt to speak. Hannibal keeps his soft hold on Will with his other hand as he numbs the entire area.

He sets the needle aside and reaches for the bowl of chlorhexidine scrub, taking one of the surgical sponges immersed within it.

Will had accepted the need to shave properly for once, prior to surgery, and Hannibal indulges in the slide of his fingers over the smooth perfection of Will’s jawline. Will doesn’t react, no smile or speech, and Hannibal begins the scrub, circling the gauze outwards from the scar’s centre.

“It’s cold.” Will’s cheek twitches beneath the gauze as he speaks. “I can still feel it.”

“It will be another few minutes before the anaesthetic takes full effect.” Hannibal takes a second soaked gauze and completes the soapy spiral again. “The technique is different from when the nerves are numbed directly.”

Will says nothing further while Hannibal completes the scrub, and removes the excess with alcohol. He has never been inclined towards incessant chatter – it is one of society’s more irritating habits – but this current silence is not his usual contemplative quiet. It is accompanied by the frequent eye movements and bodily tension that once typified his interactions with strangers, a fiercely broadcast signal of discomfort.

“I will test the area for sensation before I begin,” Hannibal says. “You won’t feel pain, as such, but you will feel the pressure on the muscle below.”

“I’ve been to the dentist, Hannibal, I know how it works.”

That is undoubtedly true, but it is doing little to ease Will’s apprehension, and Hannibal had hoped that talking him through the procedure might be of benefit. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like something to aid your relaxation?” he offers quietly. “A mild sedative would – “

“You are not drugging me,” Will interrupts, no reduction in his earlier vehemence on the subject, and Hannibal will admit his past actions may have left Will with some memories he would prefer not to re-enact.

Hannibal doesn’t feel guilt, as others understand it – it’s not part of his emotional repertoire – but he can regret that his decisions then are causing Will unnecessary discomfort now, when it is unintended. “We could attempt some guided meditation, perhaps with binaural beats to induce a frequency following response,” he says, though he isn’t hopeful of a positive reaction.

“Therapy doesn’t work on me, remember?” Will says dryly. “I tried just about everything anyone was offering when I was a kid, desperate to keep other people out of my head. I realised the only way to keep people out of my head was to avoid the people.”

Hannibal isn’t convinced that therapy is entirely ineffective with Will – his own efforts to separate the truth of Will Graham from beneath the many layers of strangling social construct were not without result – but it is true that any such techniques would likely require a good deal longer than twenty minutes. An imagination as brilliantly sharp and velocious as Will’s isn’t easily constrained. “We don’t have to do this today, Will,” he tells him.

“I’m not going to like the idea any more tomorrow.” Will’s tone is acerbic, and resolute, and Hannibal concedes the point.

“I will prepare my equipment while the anaesthetic infiltrates the nerves.”

Hannibal has no assistant for this procedure, and he must lay out everything he requires prior to beginning. He opens the outer of the sterile layers wrapped around his gloves and gown, the tray of surgical instruments, his blade (Will’s eyes follow those last two with particular dedication) and sets them where he will need them.

He ties on his mask and surgical cap, then washes with soap to his elbows, and cleans thoroughly behind his fingernails. He rinses and dries before applying the alcohol cleanser to his skin. Protocols have changed since Hannibal practiced surgery, when he would be required to spend five minutes scrubbing at a sink, but he likes to maintain his skillsets, and he continues to read the journals. While he inhabited a private room at the BSHCI, he had very little else to fill his time.

He dons the gown and his gloves efficiently, and turns back to his patient.

There should be a sterile drape surrounding the surgical field, and Hannibal has a number of the single use disposable type available. That had been another of Will’s stipulations, however, alongside his intolerance for any chemical alterations to his mental state. He needs to be able to see.

Hannibal had briefly considered circumventing Will’s issues – it would have been entirely practical to place a sedative in Will’s drink one afternoon, to deepen it once he was relaxed, and Will would have awoken only when the surgery was complete. It would have been purely for Will’s own good, and Will is intelligent enough to accept that truth after the fact. The violation of trust involved, however, might have created more lingering difficulties.

Hannibal remembers entirely too well how it feels, to have Will shatter everything he was so certain of between them; to learn that Will lies. He had concluded that Will would likely prefer to experience his current level of apprehension, rather than a disturbance to their gently constructed stability.

Hannibal takes a needle, preparing to test Will’s skin for sensation. “Tell me if you feel anything,” he says, and pricks lightly around the area of the scar.

“It’s numb,” Will says after a few moments. “Go ahead.”

“The bupivacaine should be more than adequate for the length of the procedure, but if that isn’t the case, you should not attempt to speak. Tap me if you wish me to stop.”

Hannibal extracts his surgical blade from its inner covering of cardboard, allowing it to drop onto the instrument tray, and attaching it to the waiting handle. He has selected a 15 blade for this procedure, its short, flowing curve less starkly dramatic than the trapezoidal points and edges of his preferred 25, but Will’s eyes remain locked to every movement of Hannibal’s hand while he holds it, and the scent of fear rises sharply.

Will has forgiven Hannibal many things, but there is no controlling the parts of the brain that will not forget.

Hannibal stills, with the blade resting on the edge of the tray, and looks to Will.

Will gives the smallest of nods, and his hand moves to touch Hannibal, fingers curling at his hip. He is contaminating the sterility of the gown, but it is below the waist and this is a minor procedure, and the contact is likely favourable for Will.

Hannibal enjoys it too, still singular even after the past two months. For the longest time, it was always Hannibal who reached out to Will.

He places the scalpel blade to Will’s skin, a bowled depression at the point of contact, and he makes a single, smooth, quick stroke that runs alongside the entire length of the scar.

Blood wells to the surface immediately, a thin line of scarlet that billows and changes, forming two distinct rivulets to trickle over Will’s cheek towards the angle of his jaw. Hannibal watches the flow, allowing the urge to swell and settle within him, the desire to lean in and sweep his tongue through it, to taste the fuel of his extraordinary lover’s life.

He wouldn’t dream of contaminating a surgical site that way, and the reality would be tainted by the appalling bitterness of chlorhexidine scrub, but he leans nearer, closes his eyes and inhales, drawing in Will and the blood, and that sharp, acrid tang of Will’s apprehension.

Will’s blood smells metallic, as all blood does, with a low note of salt that sings of distant ocean waves, a layer of fennel and garlic lingering from last night’s bouillabaisse, and a faint hint of grape-like sweetness that will grow and spread the longer it is exposed to the air. Hannibal has breathed Will’s blood before, but never pure like this, exclusively Will, uncontaminated by the blood of others; the scent accentuates with every expansion of his lungs, extrapolates into a whisper of taste on his tongue, and it is entirely delicious. Hannibal’s desire transforms with it, and he wants his mouth licking not only the blood, but everywhere on Will’s body, the entire surface of his skin exposed and shared with Hannibal, and he opens his eyes to look upon the clothed reality of his lover.

Will’s eyes are still on Hannibal, but fixed and distant now in an expression with which he is wholly familiar, and Hannibal knows Will isn’t seeing him anymore, not by any conventional understanding of what that can possibly mean. Will is entirely internalised, but not within himself; he is within Hannibal, looking down at himself lying stretched and bleeding, exactly as Hannibal is seeing him, and wanting him. Hannibal’s fingers curl against Will’s skin, his glove sliding and smearing through the thin trickle of blood, and he is struck again by the surging depths of his possessiveness for this astonishing man – this man who not only understands Hannibal, who knows why he is who he is, but can feel everything alongside him, the thrill and the power and the love of what he does.

Will’s eyes snap back to close focus on Hannibal’s face, his pupils dilating and his breathing a little slower and deeper, and yes, Will felt that too, felt it and shares it and returns it. Will has his own method of dealing with his fear and discomfort, borrowing Hannibal’s confidence and rapt appreciation as he needs it.

Hannibal smiles at him, a slight curve of his lips beneath the mask that Will will find in his eyes, and he returns his attention to his task. He had anticipated that the level of his involvement with his patient would make this an atypical surgery, but he is capable of a high enough degree of disassociation to ensure it will not affect the quality of his work.

Will’s body softens into the padding of the makeshift table, Will’s fingers stroke lightly at Hannibal’s hip, and he takes the scalpel and makes a second incision elliptical with the first, separating the long line of the scar from Will’s unmarked skin. There is more blood, another spring of scarlet emerging to snake its way along Will’s face, and Hannibal watches its flow for only a moment before he takes a sterile gauze and wipes it away.

He swaps his scalpel for Metzenbaum scissors, sliding them beneath the damaged skin, dissecting it away from the underlying tissues. There are adhesions, of course; the layers of flesh violated by the knife healed simultaneously and they healed together, and Hannibal lifts away a knot of subcutaneous tissue along with the skin. He deposits the shrunken, wrinkled slice of flesh into the waiting surgical bowl, and returns the Metzenbaums to the surgical tray, opening the first pack of suture.

With a fissure gaping across his cheek and muscle exposed, Will relaxes further into the table, more of the tension seeping away beneath Hannibal’s hand, and Will offers him a skewed smile. Some of the local anaesthetic has leeched into the deeper tissues, and Will’s lip on the right doesn’t curve as he intends. The effect should perhaps be displeasing, but Hannibal is immune to any concept of gore, and delighted by almost every aspect of Will Graham.

There is blood pooling in the bottom of the wound, oozing slowly from the vessels around the edges, and Hannibal cleans it away and ties them off. He begins to stitch the subcutaneous layer, his mind wandering back through surgical theatres of over a decade ago, the muted bleeps of the monitors, the pizzicato cellos and soaring soprano of the cantilena from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. The music escalates in his head, demanding its freedom in reality, and Hannibal finds he is literally humming with contentment as he removes Dolarhyde’s mark from Will’s skin and replaces it with his own.

As he told Will during his initial assessment, there will still be a scar. It will be distinctly finer, with all the precision and care he can bring to bear on Will’s body, but it will be visible, and it will be Hannibal’s.

He completes the repair with a layer of 6-0 nylon sutures, in a simple interrupted pattern. He is displeased with the placement of one suture, the apposition imprecise, and he removes it and begins again.

Will Graham will always be as entirely perfect as Hannibal can make him.

He takes a dampened square of gauze and begins to clean the surgical site, gently wiping away the blood that has dried around it, and in trails across Will’s face. “You should keep to mild activities for the first two days,” he tells him. “You do not want any tension on the wound, and you should stay out of the sun. The sutures can be removed after four or five days, but you will need to use a strong sunblock for at least a year, or the scar will grow more obvious.”

Will raises eyebrows at him. “No smiling?” His voice is a little slurred, distorted by the reduced muscular control on one side of his face.

“Maintaining a neutral expression would be best for the first two days.” Hannibal leans closer to speak softly into Will’s ear. “I will endeavour not to amuse you with too many jokes.”

“And I suppose I won’t be amusing you with the joys of fellatio?”

Hannibal maintains his deadpan, professional expression. “Not until after the stitches are removed. It would be remiss of me to allow you to undo my good work.” The rapid return of Will’s humour now that Hannibal is no longer approaching his skin with sharp objects is pleasing – Will’s trust was not in doubt, or he would not have volunteered for the procedure, but Hannibal dislikes this proof that limbic memory can still raise barriers between them.

Hannibal takes the thin slice of scarred flesh from the surgical bowl delicately, with bloodied gloves, and Will’s eyes narrow at him. “You’re not going to eat that.” Will may be lacking precise enunciation at this moment, but there is no doubting the ferocity of his mind.

Hannibal widens his eyes in innocence. “Certainly not. The texture would be most distasteful. I’m afraid no amount of careful preparation would be able to render such a fibrous ingredient into something genuinely appetising.” It is unfortunately true, but he had considered it anyway. Most people are simply food, and Hannibal thinks no more of eating them than he does a slice of focaccia, but the appeal of absorbing a piece of Will into his own body, to keep forever with his beloved Mischa, is potent.

“Good, because that was our agreement. You’re not eating any part of me while I’m still alive. Not even parts I don’t want any more.”

And that is why Hannibal had reluctantly abandoned his considerations. He will break no deals with Will, and risk losing his unique prize that took him so many years to win.

Technically, their agreement is violated each time Hannibal gratifies Will with oral sex, but now is not one of the times Will would find his pedantry amusing.

Hannibal takes the sliver of bloody flesh to the waste receptacle, peeling off his latex gloves and dropping them together into the depths. Losing this opportunity to seal Will’s body inside his own is all the more unfortunate, as he won’t be taking advantage of Will’s generous offer to indulge after his passing. Will Graham will not be dying while Hannibal is alive to prevent it.

One day soon, Will will cut a finger, or the skin of his throat or jaw when he shaves, and Hannibal will suck the blood from his skin and taste it on his tongue as he could not do today, and that will be delightful.

And on a different day, Hannibal predicts within a year, Will will succumb to his primal fury and cut something very different indeed, though the timing of that will depend somewhat on the activities of local murderers and rapists; perhaps someone like Mason Verger, whose preferences extend to children. Will would very much enjoy that, and Hannibal will relish watching him unleash his full, feral venom once again.

It’s unfortunate, in some ways, that Jack Crawford is no longer available to act as Hannibal’s co-conspirator in this, but Hannibal knows how to find such people, how to connect with them. One of them will be his gift to Will.

Hannibal offers Will a freshly washed hand, inviting him to sit upright on the edge of the counter top, while Hannibal smears a thin layer of antibiotic ointment over the wound. He smiles at him, and leans in to lightly brush his lips over Will’s unmarked cheek, where he will feel it. And Will smiles gently back, and reflects his love with it.

Hannibal is a patient man, and he will wait.