He woke much later and managed to get himself out of bed without trouble or shouting. Hannibal was nowhere to be found, although with the light streaming in from the window it made sense. Hannibal wasn’t one to sleep in.
Five minute walks three times a day, his doctor said, and he shuffled about the room, taking stock. At the end of the bed lay a small trunk whose top held his hospital gown and compression socks, those of which he was glad to be rid of. He did reach into the pocket at the chest of the gown though, fingers grasping, and after mild fumbling he managed to pull out what he thought had probably been lost by the wayside of transit across the Atlantic.
He rolled them around in his palm, considered them with an odd panging in his chest. He thought of square pegs, round holes, hands that stilled tapping fingers, a voice that made his muscles ease. Long talks over Old Fashioned’s and various types of wine, the way he seemed to see him the way that no one else ever did, the way he challenged and inspired in his own way. How he kept pace with Will, never drawing ahead or falling behind. A liar. A liar, and a good one at that, but one that lied for rather obvious reasons.
He found a new shirt folded beside the hospital gown, as well as a basic cotton zip-up. With his wounds, it seemed Hannibal wasn’t going to try to drape him in anything fancy, and for that he was grateful. He left the room and walked down a narrow, dim hallway with small, beautiful pieces of art periodically set along the walls. A door on the left held a linen closet, and a door on the right held a half bathroom that smelled of lavender. He walked until he found himself at a fork with the left side facing what looked to be the entrance of the house and the right leading towards the rest of the house. He hesitated there, both from the fatigue of walking, abdominal walls not quite what they used to be, and from an honest sense of unease, like he could walk out the door right at that moment and not be stopped.
He glanced from left to right, pocketed the seeds, and headed to the right, his curiosity and an odd panging in his chest keeping him from trying to run just yet.
There was a study to one side with beautiful ash décor and a parlor on the other side with a harpsicord and a contraption he recognized as a theremin. Hannibal had once played for him, and he’d sat slumped in the chair nearby with that same longing in his chest that he felt now. He continued on, past a formal living room, what looked to be a sun room that opened to a balcony, and a much smaller room that revealed a washer and dyer inside, as well as a water heater.
He found Hannibal in the kitchen, which is much where he’d expected to find him. He stood with his back to the entry, chopping something with short, quick jerks of his arm, the ties of an apron visible against a stark white dress shirt. Will studied his broad shoulders, the clean cut of his hair combed back, trousers set just-so because no one else in the world would care so much if the inseam of their pants wasn’t perfect the way that Hannibal did.
When Hannibal turned, there was only a flicker of surprise on his face at seeing Will. By then, Will had taken to leaning against the doorframe because he was tired and he’d walked a lot, and they stared at one another, not speaking. Will swallowed heavily, fingers tapping along the side of his leg.
“You’re awake an hour earlier than expected,” Hannibal said. He walked to the small island in the center of the kitchen and set a tray of chopped vegetables down.
“I live dangerously,” Will replied. He allowed Hannibal to lead him to one of the stools whose back curved out, allowing him to lean back and take all of the pressure off of his core. He stared at capable hands that fretted over the zip-up jacket on his person before he returned to cooking, a slight hitch in his step that told Will he was not as confidant and nonchalant as he seemed.
“I have questions,” Will said to his back as he fussed over the stove.
“I’d imagine so.”
“Your frankness in answering them will tell me a lot of about what I do next.” A beat as he scowled. “After I can take more than five hundred steps without losing my breath.”
“That sounds adequate,” Hannibal replied. He turned from the stove and walked over to a small bowl of seasonings, scooping it up and returning to his post.
“…You killed all of those people.”
“You ate those people.”
“You broke into my apartment and wrote notes to me under the bedroom door; you broke into my apartment and held a knife to my throat.”
“You know the answers to these, Will,” he chided. “Ask me the questions you don’t know the answers to.”
“…What the hell happened with Tobias Budge?” Will rasped. He hated how needy he sounded.
That gave Hannibal pause. He didn’t answer right away, fussing over the pan on the stove before he lowered the heat, covered it with a lid and turned to survey Will, stripping away his skin with eyes alone. He’d always been able to see him, Will thought dazedly, even when he’d been nothing more than a patron at a nice bar. He’d always stripped him down to bare bones, known without knowing.
“You met him the same night that I met him,” Hannibal finally said. He glanced to the pan, then walked over to idle near the small island where Will sat. “He followed you, and in following you decided to follow me. He witnessed my killing of the student Nicholas Urvin, the ‘wound man’ as they called him.”
“He wanted to find the Chesapeake Ripper,” Will murmured.
“He found him.”
“Tell me,” Will prompted. Hannibal didn’t have to ask what he wanted to know.
“He continued to visit you after coming to my office and informing me of what he’d witnessed,” Hannibal continued. His eyes traced along Will’s outline, expression placid. He could have been discussing a boring math subject. “He wanted to be my partner, aid me in your downfall.”
“You don’t share,” Will murmured.
“I do not,” Hannibal agreed. “When I said as much, he said he would demonstrate the lack of genuine care you placed in your suitor. He thought to show me just how swayed you could be at the attentions of any such person.”
“He was serenading you, though,” Will protested.
“Yes, which is why you were able to pick up on his cues so quickly.” It sounded like he was praising Will, which was absurd. “I invited him to dinner with every intention of killing him. He’d gotten too close to you.”
“Too close,” Will agreed.
“It became a game; he had his friend, Franklyn, and I had you. He would send a glass from Nectar to show he’d seen you once more, I would give him one of Franklyn’s ties to show I’d been to his home.”
“You were playing a fucking game with me?” Will hissed.
“With Tobias,” Hannibal corrected. His palm pressed down to Will’s fingers drumming furiously on the tabletop. “During dinner, he informed me that he would kill you for me. Before I could kill him and save you the trouble of his existence, a colleague of mine knocked on the door, and by the time I managed to see her out, he’d disappeared. I began my hunt for him then, but it is troublesome when the prey knows you’re looking.”
“When you ignored me,” Will recalled faintly. His chest felt numb.
“He sent me one of your pillowcases, though, with the petals of a rose inside of it. I knew he’d been inside of your home, and I thought to ensure you were quite alive.”
“The night we…” He couldn’t say the words, couldn’t push them from his mouth.
“You were not home at a time you usually were,” Hannibal said lightly. He didn’t make Will say it. “I was concerned, but as I searched for clues to your whereabouts, you came home and stumbled into me, inebriated. It was not fear you exuded as you clung to me, but relief. Longing. You knew Tobias for what he was. You feared for me.”
“…Yes,” Will admitted.
“You hungered for me,” Hannibal pressed, eyes glittering. Will avoided his stare, focused instead on the corner of his dress shirt that cut against taut, capably muscled arms.
“You were going to kill me in the hospital,” Will redirected. “You said something about Jack?”
“You did not ask the Chesapeake Ripper to kill Tobias, but you did call Jack Crawford and tell him to look closer at him. I saw policemen arriving to my home as I was in the neighborhood, and I turned the car around and went to find Tobias.”
“You thought I asked them to investigate you?”
“If you had pieced together the obvious sooner, would you have gone to Jack Crawford first?” Hannibal asked.
“…I’d probably do what I was doing now,” said Will. Shame made his ears pink. “I’d…I want to understand first.”
Hannibal studied him, and Will was naked, exposed under his scrutiny. “When I arrived, Jack Crawford was in a closet. Blood seeped under the door, and Franklyn was grabbing the phone to call the police. He’d arrived just before me to see his friend and found a disaster instead.”
“You killed him.”
“He was a loose end,” Hannibal replied amiably. He glanced to the clock, walked over to the pan and lifted the lid, stirring in precise clockwise turns. “And Tobias needed to learn that the only person in this world that could ever sway you was me.”
Will opened his mouth to object, to vehemently oppose that bull shit line of thinking, but he stopped himself. He thought of his aftershave, the foods he’d consumed, the way Hannibal interacted with him, how he’d managed to make Will ask him to kill Tobias, and how he wasn’t wrong in the least.
“…You fed me your victims,” Will managed to say instead.
“We consumed the best parts of ourselves reflected in someone else,” Hannibal corrected.
Will laid his head down on the countertop and let out a ragged, horrified laugh.
“You elevated them,” he managed once his breath caught and his abs twinged in pain. “You made them art and they were aspects of me. You consumed me.”
He was startled at Hannibal’s touch that eased his head off of the table, hands that cradled his face, much the way they had when the Chesapeake Ripper helped him drunkenly to bed. He stared up to burgundy eyes, dark in the gentle lights of the kitchen, and he swallowed heavily.
“Have I consumed every aspect of you yet, Will?” he asked quietly. “You sound so utterly devastated in the face of the truth you demanded of me, yet when you had the chance to leave through the front door and find help, you looked instead for me.”
Will held still, heart fluttering in his throat. He studied the planes of his face, the cut of his jaw, the place on his neck that Will always found a way to kiss.
“You lied to me,” he whispered plaintively.
“Only because you were not ready to hear the truth. Did I not move at your pace, pause at your pauses, dear Will?”
He had. Will nodded slowly, reluctantly. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“I was going to, but events with Tobias Budge escalated the situation to where it was out of both of our hands.”
“I have a hard time thinking you let many things out of your hands,” Will retorted.
“I would let you,” Hannibal replied easily. “If you walk out of that door, Will Graham, I will not follow you, not because I do not wish to but because you ask it of me.”
It didn’t sound like a lifeline, those words. It somehow sounded bleak, ugly. He recalled the way the Ripper had assured him that there was no place Will could go that he couldn’t follow, but it had never occurred to him that the Ripper would choose not to follow if he asked nicely enough. Was it a trap? A gimmick?
No, he realized dazedly, in the end Persephone chose to remain. Hades didn’t force her.
“…I think I want to lay down,” he said at last. He wasn’t sure what to do about the lump building in his throat, stifling his breath.
“You’re understandably tired,” Hannibal replied. When Will stood up, he helped him back to the bedroom, fussing about his blankets like a mother hen, checking his bandage and redressing the wound. Will allowed Hannibal to dose him after drinking down a small bowl of miso soup, and he was left to the solitude of a sleep that wasn’t quite restful, confusion his bedmate and a strange sense that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
He was found by the entrance to the house in the middle of the night. It wasn’t quite an escape, and Hannibal’s expression when he stared down at him was equal parts confused and amused. Sitting propped up against the door that would lead to some semblance of freedom, Will figured that it was more of an accounting for just where he was and just what his options were more than anything else. He wasn’t trying to leave; he merely wanted to test out the door that would let him.
“I can assure you that your bed is far more comfortable than that floor,” Hannibal said. His voice was low, sandpaper from sleep. Dressed in a matching set of satin pajamas, sleeping robe hanging open, he had every appearance of a rich aristocrat, rumpled from being woken in the middle of the night by a shitty college kid with a gut wound and a sore temper.
Will drummed fingers on the marble floor beneath him. It was cold, unforgiving in the way it dug into his tailbone, but it seemed like the best place at the moment. He stared up at Hannibal, the antique hallway lamp he’d turned on casting shadows every which way behind him. It gave him every appearance of the devil, of something not-quite human. After finally seeing the man behind the letters, the bodies, the terror, the description was fitting for him.
“It’s a good place to think,” he said, as conversational as he could be. He refused to acknowledge that Hannibal had only found him there because he’d slumped down in exhaustion, accidentally knocking a small end table over and sending the vase on top of it crashing to the floor where it lay shattered nearby. He avoided looking at the shards of something that looked far more expensive than his tuition.
“Are you having trouble thinking?”
“Having trouble sleeping.”
Hannibal nodded, and with careful deliberation he sat down on the floor as well, crossing his legs like this was an everyday occurrence in a house like this. He also ignored the broken vase.
“If you’re having nightmares-”
“You’ve been in my bed when I’ve had nightmares,” Will interrupted him. “The first time, I tried to be embarrassed about it the next day, but you convinced me to skip class and stay in your bed all day with you. You made breakfast in bed, you played your theremin for me, and you even streamed Netflix on your tablet to try and keep me occupied until we finally got up, showered, and went to a drive-in movie that night. I didn’t even know they still did drive-in movies.”
“There is nothing embarrassing about nightmares,” Hannibal replied. “They are completely natural, a conduit from our sub-conscious to play out our fears or fantasies in a space where they can be the most vivid and uninhibited.”
Will licked his dry lips, staring at him. “Four days later, I woke up with you holding a knife to my throat.”
“There was an uncertainty that without it, you’d attempt to fight against me.” If he was embarrassed, it didn’t show in his face or tell in his tone. His words were factual, almost pleasant.
“You liked my resistance to you, though.”
“I didn’t wish to fight with you, that night. I simply desired to be close.”
“I was fucking close with you, Hannibal.” Will tried to make the words bite, snap, but they honestly sounded more along the lines of coaxing, a gentle persuasion. “I was close enough that we were dating. I wasn’t seeing anyone but you, and you knew that!”
“I wanted you to be close to the aspects of myself that society has deemed untoward or unsavory. We could hardly do that at a drive-in movie.”
“You were testing me, trying to see just how much bull-shit I’d put up with before it was too much,” Will challenged. He pressed his head back against the door, ornate and detailed in its carving and stained glass.
“If you have a line, Will Graham, I haven’t crossed it,” said Hannibal evenly.
“Do you really think that?”
“I know enough about you to know that your understanding of violence is such that after a time, you were not afraid of me, but of yourself. The Chesapeake Ripper sits not just two feet away from you right now, Will Graham, but are you afraid?”
It was a challenging question, and Will couldn’t keep eye contact with him. He thought of Freddie Lounds, apparently dead at Hannibal’s hand because she’d crossed a line. Did Will have lines? He supposed he had at least a line in regards to a genuine desire for privacy. He had a line drawn for innocents, one drawn for friends. He had a line drawn for Hannibal, but it was terrifying to realize he was not standing on the other side of it.
“How did you even first notice me?” he rasped, “sitting at Belle Bleu as a patron?”
“You broke a glass once, dear Will, and cut yourself on it. While others would curse, fumble, clean up the mess, you stared at the blood that dripped into the now ruined water, and there was the most intriguing of expressions that crossed your face as you looked at your torn skin. You appeared befuddled, but most of all intrigued. It took far longer than normal to clean your wound, and you found your way back to me with pupils dilated, like it excited you.
“As someone that has worked within my field for a few years now, I have grown familiar with recognizing certain disorders over a time. Your work at Belle Bleu began as a young freshman, but even then you avoided eyes and struggled with patrons whose emotions ran too high. You seemed most at ease around me because I did not impress my emotions upon you, overwhelming in my thoughts or behavior.”
It didn’t sound as arrogant as Will expected. Hannibal’s emotions, even so many years before, had been muted, his voice polite and his words unobtrusive. Against the wake of the regulars arguing over politics, bar flies drunk and burning away 401 K’s, Hannibal’s small corner where he sipped wine, read the newspaper, and wondered at Will’s latest homework assignment had been a highlight, in truth.
“You didn’t share much in the way of yourself,” Hannibal murmured. “And yet your silence said more than any words ever could. I’ve always seen you, Will Graham. When you tapped fingers to expel your emotions, when you misread your excitement as fear, when you watched a fight break out in the parking lot and looked a breath away from wishing to join it; I saw you.”
“Were you following me before I was fired?” he asked. He wasn’t sure quite what to describe his tone as –curious? Needful?
“That really was the catalyst, then,” he murmured, more to himself. He pressed his back to the door, thought of the time that Hannibal had once pressed back on the other side. Just when had he opened it so that they could stand on the same side?
“So to speak, yes.” Hannibal’s expression was grave; he was taking this as seriously as Will needed him to. “I had been content to see you as you were, as you tried to present yourself. Quite difficult to continue the pattern when you were no longer of the employ of their establishment.”
“You were killing before me.”
“You’ll continue killing after?”
“Is there an after for you, dear Will?” Hannibal asked. “Do you see this as a part of your life, much like a book where the first part is ‘Before the Chesapeake Ripper’, the second ‘During the Chesapeake Ripper’, and the final labeled ‘After the Chesapeake Ripper’? Or would you see your life as a continuous piece where there is no after because the Chesapeake Ripper remains?”
Did Will want him to remain? He looked down at his clothes, hands crammed into pockets as fingers fumbled over six seeds. He wet his lips, exhaled slowly. In every fiber of his being he knew what the right answer was, what any other person in the world would say when in a position like this.
He wasn’t just any other person, though. That’s how Hannibal first noticed him.
“Are you going to keep killing?” he pressed.
“Is your decision based entirely on how I answer that question?”
He sighed, smiled a little. “…No. It should be, but no.”
Hannibal considered him, in their small space near the door Will was invited to walk through at any time. Will was sure all he’d need to do was find a policeman or a kind citizen to call, and he’d be whisked to a hospital where he’d call Jack Crawford and be returned to the states in a matter of days. The moment they knew who he was, he’d have every comfort accessible to him, and he’d find his way home to his friends and his school where he’d graduate and do something with his degree in criminology helping people catch men much like Hannibal in every way.
No, not in every way, though; Hannibal, much like Will, was completely unique.
“Help me up?” he asked, looking back at Hannibal. Hannibal rose easily from his position and helped Will up, smoothing his hair back and leaning in to press a kiss to his forehead. Will allowed it, although he didn’t return the favor.
He was tucked into bed once more, dosed with a hearty blend of painkillers for his stomach, and Will stared up at the ceiling above him, wondering at six seeds and hands that reached willingly.
He was staring at that damn door again.
Hannibal had cleaned up the shattered vase, still made no comment on it. He was elsewhere in the house that Will could estimate at a solid $500,000 sort of home rich cats fought and died over, and it left him to his mild obsession with the delicate curves of wood around windowpanes of stained glass in peace.
He should walk through the door.
He still hadn’t. Not even after five days.
At one point he’d placed his hand on the knob, then lightly punched the spot beside it when he couldn’t turn it. He paced near it; he sat on the chair that stood beside the end table that no longer housed an expensive vase. He weighed options, but in the end he found himself standing just before the door, staring at it.
“Although there is no doctor here, I was once in the medical field. I can’t let you move about for so long this early in your healing. Five minute increments at most.”
Will wasn’t sure how long Hannibal had stood behind him, but Will turned to look at him, aggrieved. Something in his expression gave Hannibal pause, and his head tilted, ever-so-slightly.
“Will?” he ventured.
“Do you love me?” Will asked bluntly.
Whatever Hannibal was expecting, that wasn’t it. His brows lifted, and he tilted his head to study Will, gaze inscrutable.
“I do,” he said evenly, after a moment of thought. Whatever he was looking for on Will’s face, he’d found it. “Everything that I have done is because I love you.”
Will believed him. Staring at him, the small distance between them charged with something smacking of change, he believed him. His stomach ached, his guts panged, but he managed to withdraw the seeds from his pocket, gripping them tightly. With slow, careful deliberation he opened his palm and showed them to Hannibal, letting him see just what he’d taken with him across the world.
Without hesitation, he popped them into his mouth and swallowed them.