Will whistles, the note sharp against the night air. A second whistle and the dogs wait on the porch. Their tails wag as Will pats each down with a towel. New to the drying routine, Winston stands with his ears perked. Everyone else sits patiently for their turn before padding to the door.
Four new paws take more time than expected. Winston loves snow and dislikes towels, which is more than fair. Towels are rough and trap the damp against a shivering body. Snow is cold and real, and Will doesn’t want to go to sleep.
He lets his dogs inside and hangs up the dog towel. He focuses on the sound of clicking paws against the floor. He shivers and remembers to close the door behind him. The bolt slides smoothly into place.
There. Dogs in. House locked. Time for bed. Class to teach tomorrow. Horrors to see, murderers to climb inside. Busy day ahead.
Will doesn’t move.
Will doesn’t blink and yet he opens his eyes.
The neat cut of a hairline intersects the curve of a pillow. Tangential to the pillow, a pajama collar rests in front of Will’s nose. Now, Will blinks. Several times. His arm stiffens. His arm is around a firm body covered by fine cloth. The body is warm, an improvement over most of Will’s dreams. The body is also Hannibal Lecter’s, which is on par with most dreams in terms of confusing content.
Will listens to Hannibal’s even breaths. His own breathing syncs. The sheets are soft and dry. The room is dark and warm. One of Hannibal’s feet is hooked around the back of Will’s leg. Will consciously releases the pajama sleeve he grips. His hand aches with the release.
He pulls back slowly. He eases his leg free. Extremely aware of his boxer briefs, he sits up and touches his undershirt. Folded up into a pocket of nighttime, the dark room reveals no secrets. Slowly, Will makes out the outline of a clock. Analog. He can’t read it. He leans forward, squinting, but the clock is on Hannibal’s side of the bed, and that is not a sentence Will needs in his head right now.
“Will…?” Hannibal doesn’t roll onto his back. Instead, he rotates. The result is the same, the process entirely different. Hannibal might open his eyes. Will isn’t sure.
Will stops leaning over him. His legs fold between their bodies, a low, defensive wall of flesh and bone.
“Dreams?” Hannibal asks. Beneath the sheets, his hand finds Will’s knee.
“Am I dreaming?”
Hannibal raises his eyebrows in a facial shrug. Will knows the expression from Hannibal’s tone of voice: “You were twitching somewhat.”
“Am,” Will repeats. “Am I dreaming?”
A slight pause. “Right now?”
The hand on Will’s knee tightens. “You’re awake. Am I to take the question as a compliment or a point of concern?”
Will makes a noise that he hopes sounds sufficiently like a laugh. “Surreal moment,” Will says, one of the truest truths of his life. “Where’s your bathroom?”
“It hasn’t moved.”
“It’s dark and I’m tired.”
Hannibal starts to sit up. Will climbs out of bed, scurries to the first door he sees, and nearly walks into a closet. He stops before hitting a suit, but only because it’s a walk-in closet. Maybe if he jumps the rest of the way in, he’ll pop out in Narnia and things will actually start making sense.
“What are you doing?” Hannibal asks in his professional voice. No judgment, no pressure; only waiting for an answer. Under the current circumstances, the sound practically gives Will hives.
Will closes the closet door, then his eyes. He listens to shifting sheets and the utter silence of Hannibal’s footfalls on the carpet.
He turns around. Hannibal presses his hand to Will’s forehead, his cheek. Again, entirely professional. Will shivers at the warmth of his hand. “Slight elevation in temperature,” Hannibal announces. “Are you cold?”
He nods, accidentally scraping his stubble against Hannibal’s fingers. “Where are my clothes?”
“Still on the chair, I think.” Hannibal nods toward the specified piece of furniture. His hand leaves Will’s cheek to settle on his shoulder. “Would you prefer the guest bed?”
“I’d prefer the bathroom.” Bathrooms have locks and lights and mirrors. Guestrooms vary.
“A curious choice. You’d certainly be the first to sleep in the tub.”
“What?” A joke. “Oh. No. I just need the toilet. And no, I’m definitely not sleeping in that.”
Hannibal’s hand skims over Will’s shoulder blade to nestle at the small of his back. Guided this way, Will makes it to the correct door. He reaches through the doorway, fumbles for the lights, and blinds himself.
Will rubs his eyes and squints into the blue glare of his digital alarm clock. The world tips. Will sits up, the world tips even more, and Will lies down.
He stares at the clock. He forces himself to breathe and lets out a whistle. At least two of the dogs lift their heads. One whines.
Shaking, Will climbs to his feet and crosses the room in darkness. He covers his eyes with one hand while he turns on the bathroom lights. His eyes adjust. He pulls off his undershirt and turns this way and that in front of the mirror. No marks, except the bruise on his forearm. No telling where that came from, but it’s green and faded. Nothing recent.
He pulls his undershirt back on and returns to bed. His alarm goes off before he can reach a REM cycle, and that’s the way Will likes it.
He starts his lecture and his students shift, unusually restless. He continues until the discomfort, even silent, threatens to overwhelm him.
“Is there a problem?” he asks the class at large.
Several hands rise, more tentative than otherwise.
“Yes?” Will points to one.
“Is this review, sir?” she asks. He can’t remember her last name. She’s the one he wants to say is Smithson, but isn’t Smithson. Her name is something entirely different.
“Review?” Will repeats after too long a moment of wondering.
His students exchange glances.
“You started yesterday’s class exactly the same,” not-Smithson says. “Verbatim.” When Will simply stares at her, she adds, pointing to her laptop, “I took notes.”
“Good,” Will says, which is not at all what he thinks. He makes time by walking back to his desk. He turns around. He leans against it. “Recognizing patterns can be disturbing.” He checks his watch. “Nine minutes of repetition and no one was going to say anything?”
The tension in the lecture hall eases into embarrassment. Will looks down at the floor until the wave passes. He begins to speak. He talks about the line between recognition and realization. His impromptu lesson plan weaves this way and that with no clear conclusion in sight. Ultimately, as his class time ends, he says, “I thought I would have at least five more minutes, but apparently everyone liked yesterday’s lecture too much to interrupt.” He flinches a grin in the general direction of the seats and the people sitting in them. The people respond with a few chuckles, some awkward. The seats don’t respond, which is actually more reassuring.
He waits for everyone to file out. He waits a minute longer. He rifles through his desk. All signs point to one conclusion: today is tomorrow.
Will sits down. Will breathes. He musters up some saliva and takes a couple pills against his growing headache. He checks his phone. No calls from Jack this week. Will hasn’t missed anything important. Finally, some good news.
His headache builds. He tries to think his way through the past two days, but he stops after he mentally retraces his own steps.
He should call Hannibal. Say he’s having an episode, losing time, and ask for the last time Hannibal saw him. Except that isn’t exactly a landmine Will’s ready to walk over just yet. He could call Alana, but nothing says I want to be your stable boyfriend like I’m either hallucinating or sleeping with someone else. No, not Alana. Normally, he’d talk to Hannibal, but that puts him back at square one.
A single option remains. He’ll cope. Be vigilant. Pay attention. His next appointment with Hannibal is in three—no, two—days. Will can find out where they stand then. In the meantime, he has lesson planning. Lots of it. And he’ll wear a watch with the date on it. This doesn’t have to impact him professionally. He won’t let it.
Being in someone else’s head is a nice change, even when it’s a murderer’s head. This killer is precise, methodical, and calm. The violence has a sense of serenity to it, and Jack listens attentively as Will explains his design. This was a soothing act, murder as a detached distraction. It strikes Will as absurdly simple. No one else seems to see it until Will points directly at it. All in all, a normal day leading up to his psych appointment.
“You know, just once, I’d like to have dinner at a regular time,” Beverly tells him.
Will blinks at her, looks around, and says, “Crime scenes put me off my appetite.” He doesn’t ask where Jack went.
“Lucky you,” Beverly says. “My stomach’s gnawing on itself. I had an early lunch: no food in nine hours.”
“Nine…” Will checks his watch. Eight o’clock, nearly. “Shit. Sorry, I need to make a call.”
“Yeah, sure.” A pause and Beverly calls after him, “Thanks for the company! I like having someone to talk at while I work.”
Will nods and his hand does something that might be a wave. Then he exits the house, climbs into his car, and dials. The phone rings only once.
“Hello,” Hannibal answers.
“Hi,” Will says. “Sorry I’m late, I’m leaving a crime scene. It took longer than expected.” He snaps his mouth shut before he can explain himself into a hole.
“I have a twenty-four-hour cancelation policy.”
“Do you have a half-an-hour-late policy?”
“Are you about to teleport here?”
Will buckles himself in. “Do you have an hour late policy?”
“I do not,” Hannibal replies. “I am, however, about to cook dinner. Shall I set a second plate?”
“Please.” He doesn’t mean to say it quite so desperately. “If you don’t mind.”
“I wouldn’t offer if I did.”
“I’ll see you soon,” Will promises. “Or if I don’t, assume I fell asleep at the wheel and call an ambulance.”
“If you aren’t safe to drive, I can call a taxi instead.”
“I was joking. I’m fine. Just tired.” This is where Will ought to make a joke about sleeping in the bathtub. See if Hannibal understands the reference. Will thinks to say it, but the clunky words refuse to assemble themselves in time. “Bye.”
Will drives. He turns the radio on, finds a talk show, and focuses on the continuity of speech. There are no jumps in the show or in the road. He has a bad moment over an abrupt commercial break, but not that bad.
He parks with a sigh of relief. Emergency brake on, doors locked, as secure as his car ever is. Will puts his keys in the wrong pocket. Maybe his blacked out self won’t find them.
Getting to Hannibal’s door is a bit of a blur, but he’s preoccupied over his keys. That’s all right. Will counts while he waits for Hannibal to open the door. He reaches eighteen and stops, the hair on the back of his neck rising.
He turns around.
The stag watches him. White clouds issue from its nostrils.
“Will? What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” Will says, turning back. “Can I come in?”
Hannibal steps back, Will steps in, and Hannibal closes the door against everything outside. Will’s mind skitters, scrambling up that line of safety. He can see Hannibal closing his bedroom door just like this, Will can see it, or does he remember or is he extrapolating?
“Your coat,” Hannibal prompts.
Will unzips automatically. Hannibal guides it off his shoulders as if peeling away a blanket. Will shivers.
“It’s warmer in the kitchen,” Hannibal says, and Will follows.
Will sits. He eats. The food, as always, has a delicate edge from its deliberate handling. Hannibal doesn’t pry any conversation out of him. He doesn’t even exude the pressure to speak. He’s an untouchable wall, growing higher to block out unwanted stimulus. Will could build a lean-to against him and huddle there until the storm passes.
Dessert follows dinner. Will nearly laughs. “You’re a very quick cook.”
“Practice.” Hannibal pauses. “But I did have it ready in advance.”
“I don’t take much convincing to stay for dinner,” Will admits.
Hannibal smiles. Agreement and pleasure. There is no verbal response.
Will fiddles with his fork as he baits his lure. “I like this.”
Hannibal begins listing ingredients and preparation techniques. Will laughs. It feels good, like stretching after hours sitting. Hannibal’s eyebrow raises with offense.
“I mean,” Will says, “I like…this.” His hand makes a fumbling motion regarding the space between them.
The smile returns. Will risks eye contact before dropping his gaze to the table. Their moment of significance stretches on regardless. It stretches without breaking, not a rubber band but a drawn wire. It cools and becomes comfortable, strong. This can’t be the first one. He wants to ask, but the perfect calm will pass soon enough as it is.
Will’s hands are wet. Will stares down at them. His hands are in the sink. He is holding a sponge. Beside him, Hannibal dries their glasses. After a pause, Will resumes scrubbing.
“Can I stay the night?” Will asks.
Hannibal looks at him with surprise. Is it the question or Will’s need to ask it? “Of course.”
“I don’t feel safe to drive,” Will adds. He swallows. “I’m losing time.”
“When was the last instance?”
“Halfway through dessert until ten seconds ago.”
Hannibal puts down the glass. He puts the towel over his shoulder. “When we began discussing your work?”
“Before that. I don’t remember any shop talk.”
“Will, you need time off,” Hannibal says.
“I don’t think I can work like this,” Will agrees.
Hannibal hands him a fresh dish towel. Will dries his hands even though he’s not done with the washing yet. Soon after, Will is sitting down again, but at least there’s a vague sort of transition this time. Hannibal has taken control of the situation. That’s what’s important.
“I’m not sure how well our conversations will be able to serve you if you don’t remember them,” Hannibal says.
“I’m not sure what else I don’t remember.” When he looks at Hannibal, tension sits in Will’s chest and hammers at his arms. It takes him a moment to see the sensation as emotion. Another moment passes while he inspects the emotion from the outside. It looks familiar. His dogs have it, some more than others, and often in thunderstorms.
Will understands—in a theoretical, detached way—that his body wants physical contact. It feels strange. His dogs pile on each other when they’re like this. Physically, Will is only himself.
Hannibal lays his hand on Will’s shoulder.
Will breaks. His head pounds and his eyes leak. His bones vibrate. His skin strains over twitching muscle. His back aches and his hands squeeze each other too hard. His cheek is on a dishcloth.
“Breathe with me, Will.”
Will breathes. Will holds on. Will is sitting down. He registers the pain in his back the same moment he realizes Hannibal is kneeling in front of him. The loop of Will’s arms has fused shut and will not release him. Will buries his face against the dish towel over Hannibal’s shoulder. A warm hand cradles the back of his head. Will wants to crawl into a hole and die, but he wants to kiss Hannibal first. He does neither.
Instead, he says, “That was unexpected.”
Will closes his eyes. He tries to straighten up, but Hannibal’s hand shifts from his head to his nape. The hand on his neck holds in Will’s sanity much the way it once held in Abigail Hobbs’ lifeblood. The moments blur: Will shakes in both.
“You will be well,” Hannibal promises. “We will walk that path together.”
“Thank you.” He manages not to cry.
“Even if I have to drag you down it.”
Impossibly, Will laughs. “Thank you.”
They separate. It feels wrong. Hannibal stands and returns to the dishes as if Will hadn’t just broken on him. That feels better. Hannibal’s motions are precise, contained, and yet partially automatic. Will follows his intent. He recognizes the act of organization as a calming gesture. It calms Hannibal, and thus it calms Will by extension.
Will watches until the stag walks into the kitchen. “I need to use your bathroom,” Will lies, and he follows the stag out.
They walk. Will walks too slowly. He loses the stag between two houses. Did it jump the fence? He peers for tracks in the dark and finds none.
“Will,” Hannibal says sharply.
Neck aching, Will lifts his head from his arms. Something digs into his forearm. Will lifts his arms and a fork clatters against the table. Blinking against the crisp sunlight, Will shakes his head to clear it. If anything, his head becomes even more opaque. The inside of his mouth doesn’t taste stale: he hasn’t been sleeping for long.
He looks at Hannibal, because Hannibal makes sense. Hannibal is holding two plates. Omelets. Breakfast. He wears a grey sweater over a button-down, a significant change from his vest and tie.
Today is tomorrow again.
“Sorry,” Will says and sits up straight. His back cracks.
Hannibal sets down the plates, one between the clear lines of a place setting, one amid Will’s askew silverware. “I’ll make more coffee.”
“I didn’t sleep well.” He has few facts he can depend on, but he can depend on that one.
“I noticed,” Hannibal replies in a voice dry enough to lower sea level. “Will I have to wake you a third time today?”
“That depends on the coffee.”
“I’ll make it strong.”
Will picks through his omelet. His stomach is empty. He’d just had dinner. The sun is shining through the window.
Hannibal returns. There is coffee. Or, rather, there is more coffee, as Will’s cup already had traces of coffee in it.
“How did you sleep?” Will asks.
“Soundly,” Hannibal replies.
“I feel like I twitched the entire night.” More bait on the lure.
Hannibal looks pointedly at Will’s hand. Will puts down his fork as smoothly as he can.
“Will, I need to tell Jack how you’re doing.”
“No.” Will shakes his head. “No, I can—I can—”
“You can take something for sleeping, but if you’re having memory lapses, we can’t risk you overdosing. As for the rest of it, it’s mental abuse, plain and simple.”
“I’m not abused, stop telling me I’m abused.”
“You’re caught in a traumatic cycle,” Hannibal says in a lowered tone. “The simplest way of breaking the cycle is stopping the input until you can process what you already have in your head.”
“I can process faster,” Will says. “I can learn how to. We can work on that. I’ll—I’ll wrap up the current case, I can’t stop in the middle, I need it resolved.”
“Does catching the killer ‘resolve’ the crime?”
“No,” Will admits after a pause. “But it’s a start.”
Hannibal nods slowly. “We’ll focus on that.” He pushes his chair back. “One moment, I’ll bring my appointment book.”
Will holds onto reality. The coffee helps. The omelet doesn’t, but Will doesn’t like bell peppers. He considers a quick run upstairs to see if the guest bed has been slept in. Reality might slip if he moves. Will doesn’t move.
Hannibal returns and they slot their schedules together. Hannibal remembers Will’s class times faster than Will does, which isn’t particularly surprising.
“I need you to check in periodically,” Hannibal tells him. “The reminder will ground you. Failing that, it’s a way to track your movements.”
“Or I could be responsible and inform Jack.”
“I can handle it,” Will swears.
Hannibal studies him carefully before nodding. “I’m trusting you to know your limits.”
“I do.” Will clearly doesn’t lie well enough to convince him, but Hannibal seems to forgive the attempt. Hannibal pours him more coffee, which certainly feels like forgiveness. His only display of ire is a lifted eyebrow when Will’s phone rings beneath the table.
“Sorry,” Will says, but he picks up. “Jack.”
The conversation with Jack is business as usual. Jack has a lead. Will needs to look at a room. Simple enough. This one doesn’t even have blood in it. At least, they haven’t found any yet. Will nods along until Jack hangs up. Hannibal returns from the sink, drying his hands.
“Sorry,” Will repeats, but then Hannibal’s landline rings. “Hello, Jack,” Will says to the phone. Hannibal answers the call with annoyance clear in his body but absent in his voice. The emotion is a single drop of ink, but it shows up plainly in Hannibal’s typically clear glass.
Jack is interrupting. There is something to interrupt. Will slept with Hannibal last night, in the literal sense of sleeping. He’s almost certain.
Will exits—he doesn’t think for an instant he’s slipped away unnoticed—and retrieves his coat from the hall closet. Again, he considers a quick run upstairs for a bed check, but he hears the conversation reach its quick end.
Hannibal joins him in the hall. Will pats his pocket and says, “I think I left my keys upstairs.”
“They’re in your other pocket,” Hannibal says. “As this was meant to prevent you from driving while dissociating, perhaps we should share my car.”
“I remember now,” Will says. “Force of habit. I can drive.” Will pulls his jacket on. “…You’re going to drive behind me, aren’t you.”
“It would take a great deal of maneuvering to drive in front of you.”
Reality is a convenient excuse. It’s also reassuring. Will sighs. “Right. I’ll meet you there.”
Hannibal approaches the closet and withdraws his own coat. Will’s legs forget that movement exists as a possibility. He hovers. Hannibal lingers over the coat fastenings. Will wouldn’t have to extend his arm to help, simply lift his hand from his side. He doesn’t move. Hannibal wants something else.
Not a kiss, which is Will’s first thought. But that’s his own thought, not Hannibal’s. Reassurance, but not reassurance through physical contact: that’s what Will wants. Will ignores his own wants, simple through practice, and then it becomes clear.
Will meets Hannibal’s gaze. He holds it. He makes himself present.
Hannibal sees him. Hannibal nods.
They exit the house and climb into their own cars without another word, without needing any, and by the time Will regrets the missing kiss, Jack’s in the room and they have to be professional.
The check-ins work, mostly. Will still looks into a timed feeder for his dogs. They’re more expensive than he’d like, but the distress of his pets outweighs that concern in an instant. When he comes home, he feeds them. He gives them individual attention before sitting on the floor with a book. They curl up against him, warm and content, and Will soaks it up like water into roots.
Hannibal calls shortly after the dogs settle in. Will doesn’t get up when he answers. They talk. It’s more companionable than it is intimate, except when they fall into calm silence. Will closes his eyes. They breathe.
A murmur: “You should sleep, Will.”
“I know.” Will musters his nerves and frames his question. His dogs are fed and Will doesn’t mind driving an hour. An hour isn’t so long. “I—”
The front door opens. Hobbs drifts inside. His toes drag on the floor, body somehow supported from the shoulders. He looks at Will. “See?” he asks, except it comes out in a bubble. They’re underwater. Hobbs is floating. Will holds his breath, but the water’s already in his mouth. He struggles to stand, to get out, and Hobbs takes hold of the doorframe to make a barrier with his corpse.
“See?” Hobbs repeats. Will shoves at Hobbs’ chest and only succeeds in pushing himself backward. His lungs burn. All else freezes. A cloud of blood distorts the water between them. His feet find the floor and he pushes anew. His fingers sink into Hobbs’ wounds. His hands push through flesh as if it were a rotting board. The corpse swallows his wrists, his forearms. Sensation from his fingers dies. Hobbs grins and grins. Will’s feet can’t find the floor. He can’t feel them. Tethered but without traction, he kicks the water, desperate and sluggish.
Hobbs relinquishes the doorway and falls backward, tugging Will down into the depths of the porch. Air escapes from his mouth, a burst of obfuscating bubbles. Water rushes in. He coughs only to swallow.
Hands seize Will by the shoulders and rip him free of Hobbs. Will flops onto his back, his body entangled by seaweed.
There’s no air.
“Will, I need you to breathe.”
Will breathes. He gasps, chest heaving.
The seaweed unwinds. Will lies on sodden cloth. He coughs and his body fights to curl up. His legs are still trapped. A gentle pressure on his shoulder secures him.
“Open your eyes,” Hannibal prompts, and Will does so. Will blinks up at the shadow of a familiar face and a glimpse of an unfamiliar ceiling. “Hold still.”
Without moving, Will collapses. Tension shakes out of his body, wave after twitching wave.
Hannibal shifts away, clicks on a lamp, and begins to strip the bed. The comforter comes away with ease, but the blanket grips Will nearly as tightly as the sheet binds him. As reality dawns, Will begins to cooperate with his rescue. Hannibal gets up and moves to stand at Will’s side of the bed.
“I can’t feel my hands,” Will says. “Or my feet.”
“I have those, I don’t have this. I mean, I don’t lose sensation, that’s the opposite of what I get.” Will nearly hyperventilates, but Hannibal takes his hands. The pressure registers. As does a certain slipperiness. “The sweat’s normal.”
“Freedom first, water second,” Hannibal promises.
Hannibal looks at him with a question.
“I was, uh. Drowning.” He clears his throat and looks at Hannibal’s pajamas instead. No, sleepwear. The kind of glossy fabric found in the kind of glossy catalogs no one would ever think of mailing to Will. He focuses on that until he can feel his hands, which means he can feel Hannibal holding his hands.
“You were having a nightmare about drowning,” Hannibal corrects. “You were not drowning.”
Reclaiming his hands for the purpose, Will works himself free of the sheet. His undershirt and boxer briefs cling to him. He sits up and clears his throat. Hannibal perches beside him, hip against the side of Will’s knee. Will budges to the side and Hannibal accepts the space gracefully.
“What do you need, Will?”
He fights down his first response, the nothing of his mind’s desperate insistence. Instead, he says, “A towel. Two towels.” There is an apology in his voice and he manages to aim it at Hannibal’s elbow. “To not be fucking crazy.”
“You aren’t fucking crazy,” Hannibal replies, the profanity all the more shocking for his reasonable tone. His fingertips touch Will’s shin. “Not currently.”
Will snickers, then hiccups his way into a giggle. Hannibal’s hand settles on his leg and remains there until Will’s shaking eases. Though the tremors slow, they do not stop. “Great. So I fuck crazy.” He must. He’d remember it, otherwise.
Hannibal smiles faintly. “Not particularly. I simply wished to break the mood.”
Nodding, fighting down shame which is purely his own, Will says, “You know, someday, you won’t have to look after me so much.”
“And what noble pursuit would I turn to?”
Hannibal squeezes Will’s leg. “I gave that up in medical school.”
A smile cracks Will’s lips.
“Two towels,” Hannibal says. He pats Will’s knee and stands. Just barely, Will doesn’t follow. He shivers instead.
Hannibal goes to the walk-in closet, except when he opens the door and flicks on the light, it’s a bathroom. Will shakes and stares. Then he strips off his shirt and Hannibal bundles him up. Like the sheets, the towels are almost excessively soft.
“Perhaps I could teach you to cook,” Hannibal says.
Will blinks rapidly, head tilting. “What?”
“The next noble pursuit.”
“Well. Go easy on me.”
“Of course. Knives and hand tremors are an unfortunate combination.” His own hand perfectly steady, Hannibal reaches out and brushes Will’s sweat-soaked hair off his forehead. Will leans into the touch. He drifts into Hannibal’s arms. He closes his eyes, not to block out sensation, but to bask in it. Hannibal is a monolith carved from bedrock. However Will leans, falls, crashes, it will make no difference.
The towel around him slips. Will sweats directly on Hannibal’s sleepwear. “Sorry,” Will mumbles. “Sweaty.”
Hannibal eases his fingers through the damp mat of Will’s hair. “I was going to change the sheets anyway.”
“In a minute,” Will begs. His trembling worsens at the thought of letting go.
“Several minutes. Lie down, Will.” Hannibal lies down with him. Will shifts on one towel and pulls the other over him. His body curls up and presses forward.
Hannibal doesn’t quite mirror him. Will’s skin prickles at the first touch against his chest. Hannibal’s fingertips rest against Will’s sternum. To touch, that is the foundation of the design. The next layer is focus. Focus upon focus. As fingertips move, their minds breathe into each other, expand into the same space.
In the face of Hannibal’s tranquility, Will’s concentration quietly dims. His body thrums on without him. He feels Hannibal monitoring his heart rate.
After the slightest moment of rest, Will’s mind demands further exercise. Less calm, more stimulus. Too much adrenaline to be still. Will edges forward and bumps their noses together. They adjust. They kiss. Light. Dry. Physically insignificant and mentally monumental. Will vibrates under his skin.
Forever deliberate, Hannibal strokes Will’s limbs into a more comfortable position. Here a caress, here a lingering touch. Will moves and relief blossoms. He breathes fresh air, although the air is still too thin. Will kisses him again. He can. It’s allowed. The sensation of lips pressed against teeth, the crick in his neck at the angle, the fingertips hovering over his navel; this is not the first time.
Will kisses him harder, deeper. Hannibal’s mouth opens to him, the unthinking comfort of hunger made habit. God, what else has Will missed? How much has he lost? Is he never going to remember any of this? How long until he dissociates?
Hannibal bites his lip hard enough to sting. Will’s focus snaps back to him. Hannibal knows when Will’s mind strays. Hannibal knows how to pull Will back in a way that makes his cock ache. Once Will’s hips start rocking, they don’t stop. It’s only a matter of turning, of pressing, of slipping free of the blanketing towel.
Will tries to climb on top, but Hannibal pushes him back. “Just you,” Hannibal murmurs. Lying on his side, one of his arms settles over Will’s head. The other reaches southward. Will nods his way back into a kiss.
Hannibal’s grip begins loose, nearly a tease, but Hannibal doesn’t so much stroke as he tightens. He takes Will’s tongue into his mouth before securing him with teeth.
Grounded between sucking mouth and squeezing hand, secured at two points, Will sags. He relinquishes his grip on time. There is only sharp heat, only that, and it pins him to the present much as it pins him to the bed.
He has hands when he remembers to use them. He holds on, only that. Hannibal begins to work him. The rough treatment of his foreskin sets Will’s heels into the mattress, legs straining as his hips drive up for more.
Time passes and Will is aware of every second. Each heartbeat. Their shared breaths. He is here and he is now, and he is more Will Graham than he has ever been.
“Will,” Hannibal agrees, voice deep.
Orgasm hits Will like a car strikes light-blinded deer. It leaves him wide-eyed, broken and gasping on his back. Involuntary spasms continue after impact. Will lies limp as Hannibal mops up bodily fluids with the loose towel. He feels his skin cool. His pulse slows. As does his breathing.
Hannibal presses his lips to Will’s temple. “That’s much better, Will.”
Will groans out a giggle. He flops his hand in the right direction and paws at Hannibal’s hip. “Now you.”
A pleased hum answers him. “I wasn’t quite so revived by adrenaline as you were.”
“I can help.” A sleepy mumble as he finds his target. He cups Hannibal through too many layers of cloth. Hannibal doesn’t stir at Will’s hand, but he doesn’t shift away either. “Let me...”
“In the morning,” Hannibal says.
Will shakes his head. “Not enough time.” Not if Hannibal isn’t tethering him. If the rope escapes, so does the balloon, and the terror of falling has long overpowered the thrill of riding wind. He needs land.
“I will make time. Sleep.” He takes Will’s hand, not to draw it away from his crotch, but to draw Will’s arm around his body. In the same motion, Hannibal rolls onto his other side, and Will lets himself be drawn up to lie wrapped around Hannibal’s back. Will’s a good blanket, even if he is damp.
He holds on as long as he can, and then he sleeps.
He wakes to the sound of a flushing toilet. His arms tighten, but either Hannibal has lost structural integrity or this is a pillow. Will blearily opens one eye. Pillow. Pillow and comforter, lumped into a long pile with Will’s leg thrown over it.
No longer on the towel, Will sits up. He glances to his right to check: white towel still against the blue sheets. His sweat-soaked shirt lies on the carpet. Same night. Morning. Morning following last night.
Will bundles up the towel and takes in the bedroom. Lines of light sneak in through the windows framing the bed. The sunlight turns the blue-tinged carpet grey. Symmetry is the order of the day, the door to the bathroom on Will’s right, the closet on his left. The door in front of the bed is clearly a hallway door. A desk balances a dresser. The bedside tables both bear lamps, but only Hannibal’s has anything else on it: two hardcover books and a telephone. In the closed drawer, there is a notebook, pencils, and a scalpel to sharpen them. Will knows this without looking.
Experimentally, Will shifts back to his side of the bed. Air prickles against his bare skin. He swings his legs onto the floor. He takes the cool metal of the handle between his fingers and pulls open the drawer. Light, it slides open with quiet ease. Empty, save for a phone charger. Folded up rather than tangled, the charger is newer than the one Will has at home.
Will shuts his drawer quietly. He stands and spots his overnight bag at the foot of the bed, along with his shoes. Set against the carpet, it looks old and worn, but in Will’s house, it always looks simply well-used.
The bathroom door opens. Will looks up.
“Shower?” Hannibal asks. His shirt is absent.
Will unsticks his tongue from the roof of his mouth. “I don’t mind going second.”
Hannibal’s expression turns chiding.
The penny drops. “Or not,” Will amends. “Not is also… good.” He rubs at his eyes. “God, I need caffeine.”
“Soon. Now, however...” His quiet murmur is more explicit than the actual words could ever be.
Will doesn’t need to be told a third time. Fourth time. With a decided spring in his step, he enters the bathroom and walks into a Starbucks. Will freezes. He closes his eyes. He opens them. The Starbucks remains.
“Excuse me, you’re blocking the door,” a woman says behind him. Impatient, nerves frayed: Will twitches at her voice.
“Sorry.” He steps to the side. He looks through the set of glass doors at the parking lot. He checks his watch. It’s nearly four in the afternoon.
Will sits in the nearest empty chair. He bites his lip until it stops trembling. He should call Hannibal. Or Alana. Or Jack. If his car isn’t in the parking lot, he’s definitely calling Beverly. That’s a good plan. Contact someone, anyone, and stay grounded. He should call someone.
He has coffee instead.
“Are you sure you should be here?” Alana asks. Alone in the room with him yet again, which is odd as Jack should be behind the desk. There’s another empty chair next to Will as well. Hannibal must be keeping Jack, or the other way around.
Will dry swallows his pills. “I’m fine.” He’s well on his way toward an ulcer, but he hasn’t lost any time since Starbucks yesterday. The automated dog feeder isn’t a permanent solution, but it did work yesterday morning.
“Sorry,” she says. “You just look exhausted.”
“Yeah, well.” He feels exhausted. And jittery. He looks at Jack’s desk, but her anxiety and affection trickle through at the edges of his eyes. Like a cat trying to sit down, her emotions turn and turn inside him, unable to settle, and if he were to try to intervene, they would bound off somewhere else. Belatedly, he forces himself back to the topic. “Sleep is difficult.”
She wants to put her hand on his arm. Small contact, a gentle squeeze. She knows what it would do to him. She knows what it would do to them. She estimates the help of applying the band-aid and the inevitable harm of ripping it off.
Will looks at Hannibal’s empty chair. “I wonder what’s keeping them.”
Alana makes a companionable sound. They stop speaking. When the yawns begin, Will has nothing to hide behind but his own hand.
“Will,” Alana begins, but the door opens, and the flood of concern remains unarticulated. In walks an anchor. Or one of those old stone towers standing in a flooded valley, immoveable and seemingly unaffected by the water. Inaccessible for it, yes, but standing regardless.
“Afternoon,” Will greets.
“Hello, Will. Alana.” Hannibal nods to both of them before taking his seat. “Jack’s wife is visiting. He should only be a moment more.”
Will’s shoulders hurt less. He unclenches his hands.
Alana says to Hannibal, as if Will is a child, “Hannibal, I’m not sure Will’s up for this today.”
Hannibal replies, “I trust Will to know his limits.”
“I’m fine,” Will says. He doesn’t snap. He just says it. He turns his head and asks Hannibal, “How’s your back?”
“Much better, thank you,” Hannibal answers smoothly, as if Will hasn’t just changed the topic to sex injuries.
“Is everyone falling apart this week?” Alana asks.
“Evidently,” Hannibal says. He engages Alana in easy small talk. Will sits between them, feeling the gentle ebb and flow. Their familiarity is such a comfort, long acquaintance cushioning edges and easing friction. Will could fall asleep to it. He takes care to remain awake.
Jack enters and that is no longer a concern. His agitation rattles into Will’s skull. Will closes his eyes. Behind his eyes is the early morning calm of a symmetrical bedroom. Will opens his eyes.
Time to discuss murder.
Checking his watch compulsively, he clings to reality through the investigation.
“Somewhere you need to be?” Beverly asks.
He shakes his pill bottle at her. “Trying not to exceed dosage.”
“Drink some water.”
“You’ve been swallowing those dry all day,” Beverly says. “It could be a dehydration headache by this point.”
Will nods delicately and pockets the pill bottle. “Right. Thanks.”
“Just to warn you?” she adds. “Someday, I’m probably going to hug you. The kicked puppy thing you’ve got going on is kind of hard to ignore.”
“I haven’t been kicked,” Will says. He pauses. “Do I get to opt out of the hug?”
“It’s on reserve for when you actually want human contact,” Beverly explains.
Will looks at her, into her, through her, and out of her. The sincerity takes him by surprise. The simplicity of unthinking compassion. When was the last time he saw that? “Thank you,” he says, his mouth feeling odd around the words.
She smiles back. “Just tell me when you’re not okay, all right?”
Beverly rolls her eyes. “Liar,” she says, but she says it like they’re friends.
Seated at his desk, he finds himself staring at strange notes in his own handwriting. They’re all good and they lead his mind through a familiar-feeling pattern. He calls Jack.
“Will, hello.” Jack says. “Anything new to add in the last five minutes?”
Apparently not. “Am I coming with you for the arrest?” Will asks.
Jack sighs at him. Jack has answered this before. “Just go home and get some sleep.”
“Right. Sorry.” He hangs up without so much as a goodbye or good luck. His hands shake. That is, he notices them shaking. He’s becoming useless. He can work because he’s crazy, it’s his strength as well as his weakness. It has to stay that way. He’s crazy, not broken. The puppy may be sniffing through scraps, but it hasn’t been kicked.
This time, he checks his phone’s call record before he dials. It goes immediately to voicemail. He listens to a prerecorded message he’s heard thousands of times in one variation or another, and though it is an emergency, he does not hang up and call 911. He simply hangs up and calls Hannibal’s personal line instead of his office phone. It rings and still goes to voicemail.
At the beep, Will attempts to speak. His open mouth locks into position. His silence races the answering machine, and the answering machine wins. A second beep cuts off his chance and hesitation in the same instant.
He nearly dials a third time. He sits there, nearly dialing.
An intolerable, lost time later, his phone rings in his hand. Will doesn’t check his watch. He answers his phone.
“Will, are you all right?” Hannibal asks.
“I’m fine. I’m just, I’m fine, I don’t know.”
“Focus on my voice,” Hannibal instructs, and Will could cry with how simple it is. He can’t focus on anything else, not even breathing. “Are you in any physical danger?”
“Where are you?”
“Do you need me to come get you?”
“No. I can—no.”
“Breathe with me, Will.”
Will obeys. He twitches, and then he fidgets, and then he is very nearly still. He closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to see the classroom. He doesn’t want to be at work. He doesn’t want to be on the road, or at home, or even outside with his dogs. There is only once place Will wants to be.
“Can I come over?” he chokes out.
Will breathes with him on the phone a while longer. He wants things he doesn’t know how to say on the phone. He wants things he doesn’t know how to say, period.
“Whenever you’re ready, Will,” Hannibal tells him, but his voice doesn’t reach Will through the phone. Will isn’t holding the phone. Will’s closed eyelids twitch.
“Will?” Hannibal repeats. A breathless quality softens his voice. It sets Will’s skin afire and grips Will by the cock. Will’s hard. Aching and somehow fulfilled. His balance shifts, his body sways, and he catches himself against hot skin.
He opens his eyes. “Oh, God.” Though already completely buried, he pushes forward with an involuntary jerk. His hands grip Hannibal at the hips. One hand slips. His fingers are covered with lube. Will’s knees dig into a wide towel over the bed. His thighs press against thighs. His balls tap against Hannibal’s with his motion. The sweaty line of Hannibal’s back leads to his lowered head.
“You can move,” Hannibal says.
Will has no air in his lungs. “Gonna come.” His tiny voice cracks. He struggles to hold himself together. Can’t let it end so soon. He stares at Hannibal’s back, the shape of his shoulder blades under smooth skin. He barely even has back hair. Think of that, not the heat around his cock, not the fact that Hannibal is on his hands and knees for Will.
Before Will can claim control, Hannibal shifts. Will bites his lip.
“Different position,” Will begs. “I can’t, I, God.”
Hannibal nods. His arms must be tiring. Will holds onto the condom as he pulls out. The lube squishes. “On your back, Will.”
They rotate, bodies orbiting. Hannibal towers over him. Will pulls the pillows closer and sets them behind his upper back. “Okay.”
Straddling Will, Hannibal reaches down to take Will in hand, and then simply to take him. “Eyes open,” Hannibal instructs.
Will meets his gaze, and the flood barriers erect themselves along the shore. The wave rises and crashes and it cannot carry him away. The discomfort of eye contact becomes a much-needed restraint.
Expression calm, almost serene, Hannibal rides him, walk to canter with nothing in between. His hair falls over his forehead. One warm hand presses against Will’s shoulder. Hannibal touches himself with the other, slow deliberate pulls, the kind that speak of stamina. Hannibal will hold him in place, hold him inside, and Will can stay here, right here.
“God, I needed this,” Will mumbles. His head lolls. “Did you need this?”
“Yes. Eyes open, Will.”
Will opens his eyes. He looks. He sees. The exposed skin of his own stomach. The steady movement of Hannibal’s strong thighs. The distance between their mouths. The sweet curve of satisfaction Will needs to taste.
He remembers he has hands. He touches, haphazard caresses and fumbled gropes. He rocks up and Hannibal presses him down. There is motion, and behind motion, there is intent, and behind intent is everything. Will whimpers, knocked against the flood barriers, so close to the wave.
“You love this,” Will gasps. “Taking me inside you. Me wanting to be inside you. Watching me want it. Want to go deeper. Want to—oh God.”
“Tell me more, Will.” Hannibal’s fingers stroke the side of Will’s throat. “Don’t close your eyes, tell me.”
“Fill you up.” He can barely say it. Hannibal’s relentless pace takes and takes, consuming everything Will can give. “You want me to... ah... Want me so deep in you. So deep I can’t, can’t drift away.” His heart pounds and shake. His thighs spasm under the strain.
Hannibal leans down, a change of angle that lets trickles of the flood through. “Let me anchor you,” Hannibal murmurs. His thumb rubs circles over Will’s trachea.
His pace slowing, Hannibal’s eyes fall shut. Fresh dampness strikes Will’s stomach. Will watches, sees into and through and out of. It should pull him through, seeing this, knowing this, but it doesn’t and Will keeps twitching up into the aftershocks.
Eyes once again on Will, Hannibal shifts his hand over Will’s throat. He presses gently, so naturally Will doesn’t think to be afraid. The pressure comforts. They’ve done this before.
The flood doesn’t break the barriers. The barriers willingly fall. They topple, a line of shields playing at dominos. The water rushes over him, surrounds him, drowns him. He can’t breathe. He can’t see. He doesn’t care.
Hannibal lifts his hand. Will mumbles confused protest. Hannibal grips Will’s hair instead. Neck bared, chest on display, scalp burning just enough to feel above the pleasure. Will tumbles blindly into a new and evidently well-explored kink.
More motion follows, hazy adjustments followed by quiet panting. Hannibal eases the condom off him. They lie side by side on the towel. Satisfaction stretches through Will. It reaches into his toes.
“I take it you’ve changed your position on psychoanalyzing in bed,” Hannibal murmurs.
An unexpected laugh puffs out of Will’s chest. He shifts onto his side. “I was babbling.”
“By all means.”
Will smiles, but his eyes insist on falling shut.
Hannibal kisses his forehead of all places. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a mess to take care of.”
“Sorry,” Will mumbles, not at all sorry.
“Forgiven and encouraged.” A warm hand squeezes Will’s shoulder. “Sleep, Will.” The mattress shifts. A door opens and closes.
Ensconced in quiet darkness, Will basks in the sensations of his own body. He touches his throat and shivers pleasantly. He increases pressure slightly and, yes. Thank God he finally trusted someone enough to let them touch his neck.
He manages to get the towel out from under himself. He folds it up, dirty side kept on the interior of the bundle. Holding it, he doesn’t know where to put it. He closes his eyes and drifts instead of worrying. Warm stillness cradles him, envelops him.
The silence stretches. It does not break.
Rubbing blearily at his eyes, Will sits up. He looks to his right and the crack beneath the bathroom door is dark. “...Hannibal?” Will calls. “Are you okay?”
Skin prickling, Will climbs out of bed on his side. He steps toward the bathroom door before remembering that Hannibal had gone through the one opposite. Will turns around. There’s no light around the second door either.
He finds his boxers on the floor. He finds his undershirt beneath and his shirt and jeans beneath that. He puts on the boxers and undershirt. He turns back to the bathroom door, the door on Will’s side, because he can distinctly recall being invited in there for a shower behind a clear glass door.
Will opens the door. A row of neatly hung suits sways. Will closes the door.
Without breaking his stride, he pulls on his jeans while crossing the room. He knocks on the door. He opens it. He fumbles at the inner wall for a light switch before covering his eyes at the glare.
It’s a bathroom. A different bathroom. The counter is different, the lights are different, the tub is freestanding with clawed feet.
Will enters. Will turns around slowly. He finds two toothbrushes and recognizes one as his own.
He exits the bathroom and closes the door. Then he opens the door. He turns on the bedroom lights and opens the far door. Again, a row of suits. Again, no bathroom with shower stall. And still no Hannibal.
“Hello?” Will calls. He waits. He calls again. He waits. He tugs on his shirt and opens the hallway door. “Hannibal?”
For the first time in conscious memory, Will walks down the upstairs hall. The light from the bedroom spills ahead of him and he walks in the path of his own shadow. He finds a room with a drawing desk and easel. He finds the guest bedroom and adjoining bathroom. He finds the linen closet. He opens every door.
He walks through the entire house. He walks outside, circles around in the dark, and discovers the door locked behind him. Checking his pocket, he finds an unfamiliar key on his ring. He unlocks the door and slips inside, shivering.
Now seeking heat more than company, he climbs the stairs. The doors along the hall are closed. He sighs with relief and opens the bedroom door.
Inside, the bed is still empty. The closet door and the bathroom door are still open. The closet and the bathroom have nevertheless swapped places.
Will exits into the hall, thunders down the stairs, and does not stop until he reaches the kitchen. He sits. He huddles. He misses his dogs.
Eventually, the sun rises. Will doesn’t move from his chair. Beyond the occasional nodding of his head, he doesn’t move at all. If he breaks the still surface, the ripples could send him anywhere. A splash is as good as a tsunami for an ant.
He nearly jumps out of his skin.
“More sleepwalking?” Hannibal asks from the doorway.
Will doesn’t dare rub his eyes. “Apparently.” Very carefully, he phrases his question. “Did, uh, did you hear me get up?”
“No,” Hannibal says, “but you left a trail of open doors behind you. I assumed something had happened.”
“Ah.” Will’s jaw cracks with a hastily covered yawn. “I think I dreamed the bathroom kept moving.”
Hannibal points out the closest door.
Will’s throat tries to chuckle. He chokes on it a little. “No, that one’s stationary, that one is fine.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Hannibal approaches, his steps calm and smooth. “How are you feeling?”
“Cold,” Will says.
Hannibal nods. “Tea or coffee?”
“Coffee.” His head keeps drooping. “Please.”
“Not on an empty stomach,” Hannibal tells him, a clear signal to sit still and let him cook unimpeded.
“Right,” Will mumbles. He dozes off and wakes long enough to accept a plate and fork. He feels Hannibal watching him throughout. The urge to apologize wells up inside Will, an emotion all the more uncomfortable for being purely his own.
“I’m glad you reached out to me, Will.”
Will looks at him, in him, and out him. “Even if this becomes a habit?”
“Even then,” Hannibal confirms.
“I lean on you too much.”
“I enjoy helping you stand, and a walk is more pleasant with company. Now eat your breakfast.”
Will eats his breakfast. Time blurs and the world closes down to his hands wrapped around a thermos of coffee. The taxi stops, Will climbs blinking into the sunlight, and the driver tells him Dr Lecter paid the fare in advance. Will staggers away without another word. He has a vague sense of feeding his dogs, and then his body hits his mattress and his mind turns off.
He wakes in a panic, first at his dreams, second at the time. With a thundering pulse, he realizes it’s Saturday.
His dogs watch him with raised heads and pricked ears, their tails uniformly still and low.
“I’m fine,” he says. No one whines, thankfully. He gets up, pulls off his coat and kicks off his shoes. He wobbles slightly. He sits at his desk until his hands are steady. The rest of the afternoon is lost in his lures.
His phone rings. He nearly doesn’t answer. If it’s Jack, he won’t answer. He checks caller ID. He picks up. “Hello?”
“Good evening, Will. I thought I’d check in.”
Will realizes he’s hungry. Either it’s Pavlovian or Will hasn’t touched food since breakfast. Or both. “Thanks,” he says. “I’m okay.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Out of curiosity. Is there a cutoff point to you rubberstamping me?”
“Do you intend to harm yourself or others?”
“Do you feel that you will be functional on Monday?”
“Then the rubberstamp stays until at least Tuesday.”
Will laughs and it hurts his throat. “One day at a time, huh?”
“Several days, technically.”
He chokes down another laugh.
“Fortunately, your next appointment is also Tuesday,” Hannibal continues.
“And that clears me until when, Thursday?” It sounded like a joke in his head. Aloud, it sounds nothing like one.
“Are you feeling unstable?”
“Just tired,” Will promises. The truth of it surprises him.
“Then I’ll leave you to your rest. Good night, Will.”
“Good night,” Will echoes, automatic, and Hannibal hangs up. The stability drops away, a rope bridge cut. His dogs whine. Will lets out a low whistle. He pockets his phone with shaking hands. The lure sits before him, unfinished. Will stares at it, forcing himself to see his own design.
Other patterns trickle in. Professional, clinical patterns. Courtesy calls. The picture is incomplete. Pictures over the phone often are. He tells himself this and it feels like denial.
Are they just fucking? More accurately, is Hannibal just fucking? Will can’t climb into bed without crawling into his partner’s skull. His intimacy is very intimate. And Will had seen it, had felt the intent, the execution. Hannibal had wanted to ground him, to anchor him, to be Will’s ballast...
…and suddenly, that looks a lot like therapy.
He would have sworn otherwise last night. Today, he doesn’t know anything.
No. He has to stop this. Today is he is tired and hungry and insecure, and he is not going to keep thinking about this until those factors change. Except he does, he keeps thinking about it. He thinks into tight little circles and it hurts, it’s an actual physical pain.
The dogs whine. Will stands, retreats to the kitchen, and downs a glass of water. He sits on the floor, whistles, and the dogs come to sit near him.
Something’s off. No, of course something is off, his entire mind is off. That isn’t a crisis, that’s a personality trait, and he needs to calm down. Just because Hannibal would sleep with him to keep him sane, it doesn’t mean that’s actually the case.
Though it might be. It could have started that way. Will’s been so careful watching his own footsteps on the climb that he never thought to turn around and see how high up the mountain he’s come. He hadn’t even known he was on a mountain, but here he is, struggling to breathe where the wind bites and the air grows thin.
He’s frightened of the height, that’s all. That’s what this is. He knows how his mind works. When expectations beget abandonment, they also beget fear.
Will pets furry heads and scratches ears. Tails thump against the floor. Will’s pulse and breathing slow. His hands shake. He places his palms on fur and the shaking doesn’t matter. “Good, dogs,” he whispers. More tail thumping.
He needs a way of asking without revealing how far gone he is, mentally as well as emotionally. He needs a way of asking, period, and a semblance of social skills would be nice. He has until Tuesday. Unless Hannibal calls before then and they have a non-abrupt, non-professional conversation. Which could still happen.
Either it’s the relationship Will thought it was or it’s an emotional mismatch. If the first, they continue. If the second, Will leaves before Hannibal calmly rips his heart out. It’s actually very simple.
Will pushes himself to his feet. “Dinner,” he announces to a fresh wave of tail thumping and pricked ears. At least he’ll always have his dogs.
He worries the weekend away and twitches through Monday. He can’t be sure if he’s blacking out or simply running on automatic. He realizes his lecture is running long before any of his students attempt to alert him, and he dismisses the class with a quick apology and a promise for continuation.
There are papers to go over. They blur together, but they always do that. He rubs at his eyes and adjusts his glasses back into place. A warm hand settles on his shoulder. It stabilizes rather than startles.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” Will says.
Hannibal says nothing.
Will looks up.
The room is empty.
Will checks. The room is very empty.
He sits back down at his desk. At least it wasn’t Hobbs.
Tuesday night, he arrives a full half hour early for his appointment. Impatience, speeding, nerves. It’s a simple question to ask: where do we stand? Hannibal will inevitably counter with where do you think we stand? Will might have to preface the question.
He sits in the waiting room for all of a minute before he has to move. The muted murmur of voices beyond the door pricks at him. Hannibal’s impassive tone terrifies him beyond explanation.
Will exits the waiting room. He mills about in the hall before making his way to the bathroom near the kitchen. He washes his face. When he opens the door, he’s almost surprised to see the hall hasn’t changed.
He tries to shake it off. He checks his watch. Twenty minutes. Time enough to check the bedroom and see the shape of the design.
As quietly as he can, he climbs the stairs. He turns left and looks only straight ahead. He walks to the farthest door and opens it to a symmetrical bedroom. The curtains are drawn. Will turns on the light. He looks. Into, through, out of. He does not see.
Hannibal’s bedside table is devoid of books. Will opens the drawer and, light, it slides easily. Empty. Will shuts the drawer.
He turns to the closer door, the bathroom with the claw foot tub. He opens the door. He looks at a storage closet. Will shuts the door.
He crosses the bedroom and stands before the door to the bathroom with the shower stall. He opens the door. He looks at the shower-bath combination. He opens cabinets. The bare essentials, a guest bathroom. Skin writhing, he backs out. Will shuts the door.
Will looks at the guest bedroom. And it is a guest bedroom.
He exits before the floor can collapse beneath him. A hurried search follows, marked by adrenaline and hyperventilation. Nothing is familiar. The shapes of rooms have changed, not simply their contents. In the hall past the stairs, the doors have moved.
Shaking, Will finds Hannibal’s bedroom, his real bedroom. He opens the door only a crack before the sense of an inner sanctum overwhelms him. He isn’t welcome here. No one is welcome in here. This is private, this is a retreat, this is untouchable from the sheer desire not to be touched. Will closes the door.
His stomach churns and his cheeks grow cold, as if his scruff has vanished. The acidic taste in the back of his mouth explains it: he may vomit.
He hurries back into the guest bedroom, nearly walks into the storage closet, and finally comes to a stop in front of an unfamiliar toilet, insofar any toilet can be unfamiliar. He fights down the contents of his stomach. He spits a few times but nothing solid comes up.
Trembling and exhausted, Will leans against the wall. Everything slips away. This is a cliff, not a mountain, and there’s no telling how Will climbed it. If he moves, he’ll fall. If he moves, reality will change.
He doesn’t move. He holds still. He holds onto his own legs as the bathroom sways and the air grows thin. Sensation slowly drains from his hands and feet. Colors bloom across his vision before turning black. The panic attack passes and Will’s face is wet.
An eternity later, he hears footsteps. Will hugs his legs and hides his face against his knees.
“Yeah?” His voice breaks. He angles his head just enough to see Hannibal’s shoes.
“Would you rather have your appointment in here today?”
Will doesn’t laugh.
“How long have you been up here?” Hannibal asks. “You’re fifteen minutes late for your appointment.”
“About half an hour, then.”
“Come downstairs, Will.”
Will wipes his face on his jeans. It’s not a subtle motion.
“Where do we stand?” Will asks.
“On reporting to Jack?”
“I consider us friends,” Hannibal answers without pause. “It blurs the professional line somewhat, but I do consider us friends.”
The act of breathing provokes tremors throughout Will’s body. That makes it real. He can only feel safe in his dreams. “Okay,” Will whispers. He doesn’t break or die or shatter. He doesn’t have a reason to lie down and never stand up.
“Come downstairs,” Hannibal repeats. He offers Will his hand.
Will lifts his face, wipes his cheeks with his sleeve, and accepts the aid. Hannibal’s hand feels different. Cooler. Stronger than Will remembers. Stronger than Will would have imagined. Will stands and Hannibal drops his hand. Will washes his face in the sink. His eyes could be red from lack of sleep.
Hannibal leads the way out, leads the way down. Will looks anywhere but at his back.
“You can’t rubberstamp me today, can you?”
Hannibal stops. He looks at Will and shakes his head. “I’m afraid not, Will.”
“What does that mean for me?” Will asks.
“Jack Crawford will no longer send you into dark places. You return to solely teaching, should you feel comfortable in that role. You should focus on something which relaxes you and gives you purpose.”
It doesn’t sound as bleak as it feels. Will nods. “Have, um.” He steadies himself, legs working against the waves. “Have we ever discussed you teaching me how to cook?”
“No,” Hannibal says, surprise clear in his voice. “Would you like to learn?”
“I keep meaning to ask,” Will says. “I mean, if it’s not any trouble.”
“You don’t trouble me, Will,” Hannibal says, and Will wishes he could say the same. “I admit, I would enjoy the opportunity. We can arrange a time after your appointment.”
Will nods and they continue toward Hannibal’s office. Hannibal opens the waiting room door for him. Will passes him while trying not to look at him. He can cope with this. He can get over this. Will opens the office door.
“Will, there you are.”
The world tilts. Will holds onto the door.
Hannibal sits at his desk.
Will looks over his shoulder at the empty waiting room behind him. He looks back into the office.
“Did something keep you?” Hannibal asks.
“Traffic,” Will says. He steps inside the office. “Sorry.”
Hannibal nods and rises from his desk. “We’ve half an hour left.” He gestures to the chairs in the center of the office. “Please, sit. How’re you feeling?”
“Fine,” Will says, and he closes the door behind him.