This new life of theirs--his and Hannibal’s, together, at sea--is hardest for Will when the wind is still and the Atlantic as smooth as a mirror. Will gazes into it, translucent and green and glass, and he looks back. The Will in the water is bloated and foreign, purple-eyed and rotten-fingered, hair combed through with seaweed and skin peeling off like a boiled potato.
He forgets what color his eyes actually are, blue or moss or gray. The ocean is the only mirror Will gives heed to these days.
Hannibal touches the scar often, the one on Will’s face that isn’t his, but Will can’t feel it. When he speaks, Will sounds wrong to his own ears, like his tongue is too thick for his mouth. Even so, Hannibal asks him to sing often, songs from Will’s childhood, words from the water. Will does, of course; he has yet to decide if he minds or not.
Sometimes, when they are becalmed as they are now, it seems like their relationship floats in suspension, too. Hannibal waits for Will to finish communing with the dead, with himself, for hours at a time. After, they sit on the deck, facing each other, drinking burnt coffee instead of wine. Nothing differs from life on land in these moments. Each conversation is one that could have easily been had before the cliff and the kitchen. Will thinks that’s why it’s so taxing and exhilarating, comfortably infuriating.
“I told you once,” Will begins this night, ignoring the reflection in his mug, “that, should I kill you, I would do so with my hands.”
“Yes,” says Hannibal. “I recall. A static moment full of promise--I would be hard-pressed to forget.”
“How would you kill me?”
Hannibal levels his gaze, but it soon drifts away and out to sea. Will often wonders who Hannibal sees out there, waiting in the deep. “I have tried twice already. Is that not enough?”
“Those weren’t your designs,” explains Will. “The gutting was spontaneous, an animal reaction to perceived rejection.”
Will licks his lips, dry and cracked from salty air. “Manufactured, then.” That answer seems more acceptable to Hannibal, so Will presses on. “I’m sure beyond a doubt that Bedelia planted the idea of eating me into your head. Florence was a fluke,” Will says, chuckling.
Hannibal smiles in return. “It would seem that I am most susceptible to manipulation in times of grief.”
“So how would you do it now?” asks Will. “How would you choose to kill me?”
There’s silence between them, one long enough for the sun to tire of waiting for an answer. This is hardly atypical, though, these cooperative moments of contemplation. They simply drink their coffee and wait on each other, like old men play at chess on long afternoons.
At last, Hannibal asks, “Are you familiar with the martyrdom of St. Blandina?” Will isn’t, of course. “Eusebius wrote of her in his epistles. Blandina was a slave in Lyon; she and her master were imprisoned for the crime of Christian faith. All she need do to be released was denounce her beliefs, to falsely testify that the Christians practiced cannibalism and incest.”
“Was she thrown to the mythological lions?” Will happens to look up and right into Hannibal’s eyes. He’s instantly reminded of the Lecter family crest on those old dreadful gates; there is Hannibal’s face at the top, and a lion to either side--were they really lions? Will can’t remember.
“There are some who would not call the ecstatic suffering of the saints fiction.”
“I didn’t say they were untrue. There is often truth in legend.”
Hannibal tips his head, accepting Will’s answer. “She was given to the mercy of the beasts later, yes. Eusebius claimed that she was first tortured so terribly as to cause the executioners to run out of methods to torment her with.”
“And she never broke?”
His eyes are so fond; Will knows he could drown there, should he ever choose to let himself. “Not once,” says Hannibal, and he sounds like he’s drowning, as well.
Will swallows the rest of his coffee, glad it’s gone cold. “What happened to her?”
“She was bound at the stake,” Hannibal tells him, “but they did not strike. Blandina watched her friends fall one by one, but remained steadfast. They scourged her, burnt her on an iron grate; still, she did not die, nor did she deny her nature. Blandina accepted her fate with grace.”
“And her death?”
“After exhausting all other avenues, she was felled by a single, simple blade.”
Will watches the moon paint silver on the water, a long line from the horizon to sea. It floats as they do, waiting for a future both uncertain and inevitable. “You haven’t answered my question,” murmurs Will.
“Haven’t I?” Hannibal takes another sip of his coffee, unperturbed by the temperature.
When it becomes apparent that Hannibal has no intention of answering as a human instead of a sphinx, Will says, “Let’s retire,” and they follow each other below deck.
It was never agreed between them, that they should share a shower and a sink and a bunk. Given the severity of their injuries, such cooperation and codependency became vital, but it’s been several months since they’d healed, more or less. Every night, Will thinks it will be the last time they bathe together like blood brothers after battle, more than platonic but less than romantic. Not once have there been sexual overtones of any kind, for which Will is grateful. He’s had sex, but never really had a taste for it.
Will can’t deny his longing to be held and kissed again, though. His lips have burned since his lungs cried for air on the beach and Hannibal breathed life back into them.
They prepare for bed, more ritual than routine. Will lies down first, on the inside of the small bed--Hannibal can’t stand being hemmed in, though he would never say so to Will. Typically, he falls asleep before Hannibal joins him, but not tonight. Will is still rolling Blandina around on the red-hot grill of his mind, looking for answers.
“What troubles you?” Hannibal sits down on the edge of the bunk. He reaches out and traces Dolarhyde’s scourge, and Will can so easily imagine Hannibal doing this as Will sleeps, committing their battle scars to memory. Venerating them--no, him. It’s all too clear now, Hannibal’s design.
“I’m already dead,” Will replies. “You don’t need to kill me, because you already have.”
Hannibal’s thumb runs along the edge of Will’s bottom lip. “You have suffered beautifully, and been reborn sanctified.”
“I was doomed from the moment we met.”
Will lets the working corner of his lips join the other, permanently-numbed, and he smiles fully. “My martyrdom was your death throes, then?”
Hannibal whispers, “Yes.”
It’s easy as the sea to let Hannibal pull them together, all tide and foam and dying waves. They kiss, and Will feels alive again. His own face may be lost to him, but Will can feel Hannibal’s, and that’s close enough.
“I want this,” he says against Will’s mouth. “I want this, only this, and nothing more.”
“That’s good,” says Will, “because that’s all I have to give.”
Hannibal quietly laughs. “You never could hold any secrets of your own.”
“You never could stop digging them up.” Will kisses him then of his own volition, and Hannibal sighs when they part. “Maybe you could hand me the shovel for a change.”
“A shovel is unnecessary,” Hannibal assures him. “I’m sure you’ll fish them out of my blood all on your own, given enough time.”
The ocean shifts beneath them, but Will doesn’t hear himself scratch at the hull tonight. They sleep entwined like eels, and Will’s phantom corpse wades out into the sea.