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Dread and Hunger

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Chapter 18:

            Hannibal tenderly stroked the top of his head, and if he minded the fact that it hadn’t been washed in some time, he didn’t show it. Will swallowed the flower petal and held still, his breath coming short –with fear or excitement, he couldn’t say.

            “Just down the hall from you, there are two FBI agents, one guarding an intersecting corridor and one near the elevators,” Hannibal murmured. “Are you going to shout out to them? I think that even in your state, they’d certainly hear you and come running.”

            Will thought about it, discarded it.

            “You lied to me,” he said instead. The words burned and blistered on his lips.

            “An unfortunate by-product of the duality of my life in a public space. You’ll be happy to know I’m not lying anymore.”

            He wasn’t sure if it was the medicine, or if he was really that messed up in the head, but Will grabbed Hannibal’s hand tightly, shaking.

            “You had sex with me when I was drunk,” he growled. “You knew I didn’t…I didn’t know.

            “You lied when you told me that you couldn’t recall that night,” Hannibal said gravely. “We are both liars, in our own way.”

            “Are you fucking serious?” Will hissed, and he struggled to sit up. Hannibal’s hand pressed to his chest, easing him back down. “Are you seriously going to say-”

            “Will,” Hannibal said gently, and maybe it was the way his name curled over his lips as he leaned in. Will stilled, staring up at the dark shapes of his face, and his breath caught. “My darling Will; I’m sorry.”

            He wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that apology, whether he meant it for lying or he meant it for all of the death, but when the cold, seeping sensation of medicine slid into his veins from the IV, he knew. He stared at Hannibal with accusing eyes that drooped lower, lower.

            “Bastard,” he managed, although he couldn’t say if Hannibal understood, what with the way his lips fumbled.

            The last thing he remembered was the warm press of Hannibal’s lips to his.

-

            He was laying on a gurney, distinctly aware of the sheet over his head. The floor thudded along underneath the wheels, and he managed a low groan when a particular turn bumped his head. Underneath the sheet, he felt the solid grip of a hand holding his. Steady. Warm.

            Next, a van with a large back area, and he dazedly stared up at the ceiling, trying to get his bearings. Waves rose up on either side, crashing into him. He was left gasping, eyes closed once more as he drowned.

            There was the sensation of flying, of a takeoff that made him feel like he was going to rip in two. A voice asked if he had flown before, and someone else replied. Will held onto the hand beside him, and his head fell onto the waiting shoulder, too dazed to speak, to even think. It was nothing more than action and reaction, and someone pressed a kiss to the top of his head as he dozed.

            When they reached their destination, he was carried in bridal-style to a house whose walls did not stick to Will’s eyes. He was laid onto a bed with feather down blankets, and a gentle touch smoothed hair from his forehead.

            “Welcome home.”

-

            True consciousness came with a lurching sensation and a husky shout. Will jerked awake, tried to sit up and ultimately fell back onto the bed, panting at the pain that ripped along his stomach. He didn’t have to wait long for help; within moments, the sound of footsteps carried down the hall, and the door opened to reveal Hannibal, armed with a tray containing a bowl of soup and a small dish.

            “Will,” he said warmly, walking in. Will’s hands fluttered towards his stomach but were ultimately battered away.

            “Wh-where…where am I?” he rasped. Whatever drugs he’d been given clouded his mind, made thoughts bounce but not stick. He tried to recall the last thing he remembered, but the sensation was dizzying, and he covered his face to dispel the nausea.

            “I found the care at the hospital sub-par at best, so I brought you to my safe house,” Hannibal explained gently.

            “You drugged me,” Will managed when he didn’t feel like he was going to vomit.

            “I suspected you’d resist me kidnapping you, so I had to take preventative measures.”

            Will said nothing because ultimately, Hannibal wasn’t wrong. He watched Hannibal lay the tray across his lap, lifting the cover off of the bowl, releasing steam. It was soup, a broth with tofu in it. Will inhaled the crisp, warm scent, unmoving.

            “Am I to be your prisoner, then?” he asked, glancing to Hannibal’s face before looking over his shoulder. The room was white, nary another color save a large vase in the corner with bleak sticks of jet sticking out of it artfully.

            “No labels, Will,” Hannibal admonished, spooning up some of the tofu. He held his free hand cupped under the spoon to prevent spilling, and he carried it to Will’s mouth. Will had the sudden urge to send it spilling across the bright white duvet, but after careful consideration, he took the mouthful, fingers drumming along the blanket.

            “I'd said I wanted labels,” he said after he swallowed the soup. Hannibal smiled and scooped up another spoonful for him.

            “If you’re going to label this, I would call it a romantic getaway.”

            “Are you fucking kidding me?” If his abdomen hadn’t hurt so bad, he’d have leapt up. As it was, his voice trembled with his anger. “You were going to let me die, you fucking-”

            “You were going to let Tobias kill you,” Hannibal corrected. “Because you were angry with me.”

            “You-” His voice cracked, and he stared at the ceiling. He took a short, uneasy breath and tried again. “You wanted to be able to say that I had a hand in his death. You took away all of my stability until I had nothing left.”

            “Am I nothing, Will?” Hannibal asked quietly. At Will’s silence, he moved the spoon to his mouth, nodding encouragingly as Will allowed it. “I who saw you in various stages of your own becoming, you would say I’m nothing?”

            “My becoming?”

            “You stared into the eyes of a killer and took his flesh from him. You touched your hands to the skin of someone you knew you should fear, but instead you hungered. Is that not a becoming from the person you once were, where you’d have instead cowered and waited for death, hands pressed to your ears as you tried to keep the demons in?”

            “It makes me a survivor,” he managed. His eyes fell to Hannibal’s hands, capable and helpful as they got another spoonful. “I had to survive you.”

            Hannibal said nothing to that. He merely continued spooning the broth into his mouth, slow, mechanical movements. Will thought to be upset about it, but in reality there was something familiar about Hannibal making food for him, pleased to share some aspect of himself that he’d taken the care to create.

            Will begrudgingly admitted that he’d never lied about that. Just the killing. Just the stalking.

            “You pulled a few of your stitches, but I fixed them as needed,” Hannibal informed him after a taut silence strung up like fine wire.

            “I pulled a few stitches,” Will muttered, disbelieving. “I don’t see how they were sub-par enough at the hospital for you to rip some of my stitches.”

            “Their security was appalling,” Hannibal informed him.

            Will opened his mouth to object, then stopped. “…You did manage to send flowers and a letter,” he agreed painfully. “Freddie Lounds managed a few photos of me, too.”

            There was no reply to that, and Will looked away from the small window he’d been admiring the scenery out of to look back at him. Although his expression was still serene, amiable, there was a tenseness in the way he set the spoon down with too much force, the tightness around his eyes.

            “…You found out about that, I guess.”

            “I believe you’d call it ‘tasteless’,” he said. His lips pressed together so tightly that color fled from them. “A violation.”

            “Not the worst she’s done to me. I guess this means she’s moving onto bigger waters since she got it online as well as the papers.” He’d have laughed if it wasn’t so downright miserable to think of. At least she’d blacked out his junk.

            “She’s not moving anywhere,” Hannibal said. His hands fussed with the comforter, smoothed the rumpled fabric.

            “What?”

            “I killed her.” He chanced a glance to Will’s stunned expression, and his lip quirked into a small, barely there smile. Pleased.

            “You killed Freddie Lounds,” Will murmured, and he shook his head. “You didn’t.”

            “I did. A final parting gift for Jack Crawford and homage to those that constantly infringed on your right to privacy.”

            Will thought to be surprised, but why would he be? Why should he be? The only person really allowed to make him suffer was sitting on the edge of the bed beside him, trying to spoon feed him enough soup to make him pop like a tick. When Hannibal reached for the spoon again, Will brushed it away.

            “This isn’t happening to me,” he muttered, reaching up to rub his face.

            “I should think you’d be appalled, but I know enough about you now to know that deep down, you find this immensely satisfying in an archaic, adrenaline-inducing way.”

            “What?” Will squawked.

            Hannibal’s smile grew somewhat. “You lied for me, you hid letters of affection from Jack to keep for yourself, and in your darkest moments, you ripped flesh from the one that would harm you and bid me to kill him. You don’t mourn Freddie Lounds. There is some part of you that wished you could have done it yourself.”

            They were back in one of the bars, Hannibal stripping every aspect of Will down until he was laid bare on the solid wood tabletop. He couldn’t verbally affirm that; it was too much. Will swallowed heavily, avoided Hannibal’s gaze, and nodded.

            Hannibal lifted the small bowl of brightly colored pills and offered them to Will, gaze intent and probing.

            “Are those poisoned?” Will wondered.

            “If I wanted to kill you, Will, you’d already be dead,” Hannibal said quietly. It wasn’t so much of a threat as it was an observation, pleasantly quiet.

            “Fair enough.”

            He took the pills and dry swallowed them, leaning back into the pillows of the bed as he blinked slowly, lazily. Hannibal removed the tray and set it on the night stand, meticulously cleaning up what little mess had been made before returning to the edge of the bed, reaching over to feel Will’s forehead.

            “You’re warm,” he noted. “One of the pills is a fever reducer.”

            “It’s almost like being dragged across international waters takes a lot out of a guy.”

            “How did you know?” Hannibal asked, pleased.

            “I was awake for a little bit…the second plane ride was longer. I heard…” He couldn’t remember what he heard, although it stuck out to him for some reason. He frowned, trying to recall the way the blurred faces and spaces around him had swayed in and out like a bad LSD trip. “Accents. Languages.”

            “We’re in Florence.”

            “Florence,” Will repeated. He turned his head, looking about the room, then back to Hannibal. Fingers drummed on top of the covers, and he swallowed heavily. “You took me to Florence.”

            “You’d once mentioned never having had the pleasure of leaving the country,” said Hannibal with his small, damned smile. “I thought to remedy that.”

            “You thought to continue fucking with my head,” Will corrected. “Wasn’t good enough to have me running around trying to piece all parts of you together; you had to see just how far you could push before the toy broke. Before the tea cup broke.”

            “Dear Will,” Hannibal murmured, and the bastard sounded affectionate. He placed his hand over Will’s, stalled tapping fingers kindly. “You’re not broken by any means, and you’re certainly not a toy.”

            Will wanted to argue that, to shout until his throat was hoarse with it, ragged with it, but the medicine was starting to kick in. It was slower than the hospital since it was oral rather than administered through an IV, but he felt it all the same, the lulling push and pull of waves that made eyelids heavy and breath deep.

            “You lied,” he managed before he fell asleep.

-

            His nightmares always woke him when he started screaming. With his stomach ripped in two, he couldn’t thrash about much, but he did startle awake when his own panic reached his ears, blankets kicked down to the bottom of the bed where they lay in a rumpled, sweaty mess. He stuffed his fist into his mouth to stifle the noise, and he gasped against his knuckles, trembling with the feeling of Tobias’ knife parting his skin with smooth, swift precision from practice. In his most vulnerable moments, he revisited that scene, eyes fixated on Hannibal standing before him with such a clinically detached expression that he wondered if he’d even care if Will had allowed himself to die rather than ask for help.

            He gave a jerky start at the feeling of warm hands on his back, easing him up from his awkwardly curled position on the bed. The shirt he wore was damp, and Hannibal removed it carefully, setting it off to the side before he climbed into the bed, shifting behind Will’s hunched frame. Be it his fatigue or the general shock of this even being a real thing, Will allowed him to maneuver around him, legs on either side of him, Hannibal’s hand on his chest easing him back until he was laying against him. His heartbeat was steady against Will’s spine. His chest was bare, skin warm.

            There was a distant thought to maybe protest, push away from him since he was, for all intents and purposes his captor, but Will didn’t feel much like a prisoner. He was wounded, strung out, terrified from a memory that revisited as a horrifying dream, but he didn’t feel imprisoned. He wondered if he tried to leave, if Hannibal would let him. He wondered why he didn’t feel like trying.

            His breathing slowed to match the man behind him, and with each steady second that passed, the sensation of drowning abated until he was limp against him, head easing back to lay on his shoulder. Hannibal intertwined their fingers, caged around him like he could protect him from most of the carnage of his own mind and an entirely too vivid imagination.

            “How does your stomach feel?” Hannibal murmured against his ear.

            “The pain medicine is still working,” Will replied, just as quiet.

            Hannibal hummed, low in his throat. The headboard creaked as he settled against it, pulling Will along with him. Coupled with the tang of his sweat, Hannibal’s cologne was heady, calming.

            “…How did you kill Freddie Lounds?” Will wondered.

            “She behaved as a pig, therefore she died as a pig,” Hannibal replied with ease. He could have been discussing the latest score for the Baltimore Ravens game, for all his tone implied his care.

            “How did you display her?”

            “Do you truly wish to know?” Hannibal asked gently.

            Will lifted his head, stared at the shadowed gloom of the unfamiliar room. He swallowed with difficulty, cleared his throat, and nodded.

            “She hung from an apple tree, having slipped from a branch trying to reach the ripest fruit at the tallest part of the tree,” he said. Hannibal couldn’t hide the distinct tone of pride in his voice, describing it. “A branch gave way because she did not look where she placed herself in her desperation to attain her desires. Her foot was caught, wedged, and she hung upside down. I placed her camera on the ground, just out of reach of grasping fingers.”

            An apt sting, all things considered. Will wondered what he’d have thought, staring at an image like that. He wondered what he’d have seen, if he’d have gotten close enough to feel the defensive actions in each loving twist of her wrist and her bones, manipulated by a man whose protective nature verged on the unsavory side.

            “What poem would you have left at my door in the aftermath?”

I was angry with my friend: 
I told my wrath, my wrath did end. 
I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears, 
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

And it grew both day and night, 
Till it bore an apple bright, 
And my foe beheld it shine, 
And he knew that it was mine,-- 

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole; 
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.”

            Will nodded to the words –aptly fitting, indeed.

            “Who wrote that one?”

            “William Blake,” Hannibal replied. His mouth brushed against the shell of Will’s ear as he spoke, sending small tendrils of warmth along his skin. “I was content to leave her as she was with her struggles until she infringed upon your right to privacy.”

            Will wanted to say that he found it a fitting way for her to die. He also wanted to say just how wrong it was to think things like that. Instead of doing either, he turned Hannibal’s palm and dragged his fingertips along the lines of it, tracing out the heart and the head line, swallowing so hard his throat clicked.

            “In the words of Archilochus: ‘My one great talent lies in making those who wrong me suffer horribly.’” Hannibal allowed him to twist his hand about, fingers spread and laid flat.

            “You mean those who wrong me,” corrected Will with a repressed snort of derision.

            “At times, I see us as one in the same. The way we view the world is so utterly different, dear Will, but there is a kinship in our thoughts, in the turn of our minds. You are the first to see me as I am and understand, whether you condone it or not. Two sides to the same coin that can be turned either way.”

            Will wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to agree to that. He thought of notes slid back and forth beneath a door, thoughts shared like a twisted form of confessional. Hannibal didn’t seek his approval, merely his understanding. He didn’t want to agree, but he found himself agreeing all the same.

            “Have your nightmares abated?” Hannibal asked.

            “Some would argue I’m still in one now,” Will retorted curtly.

            Hannibal laughed, like it was the most delightful thing he’d heard. “I have missed your quips, separate from me as you were in that hospital room.”

            Will thought to argue that although he’d been mostly unaware of Hannibal lurking about the hospital, Hannibal had certainly been there, but he was tired and the feeling of Hannibal’s arms around him was entirely too comforting. He stretched just enough to ease a small twinge of pain from his abdomen, and he let out a quiet, pointed yawn.

            They lay like that as Hannibal eased tremors from his muscles, Will pressed snug against him as he held him close. He thought that at some point Hannibal would slip out from around him and go back to his own bed, wherever that was, but he didn’t. They remained like that until Will fell asleep against him, breathing slow and even, skin sensitive to the gentle brush of hands that made touch a form of worship.