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The Fisherman and the Beast from the Sea

Chapter Text

Will finds the creature washed up among the rocks, just as the tide is coming in.

It is still as he approaches, and at first Will suspects that it might already be dead, but he is still careful as he draws closer; he has no idea what the thing is, but danger is inscribed in every curve of the the creature’s long, lithe body.

The creature is big - Will thinks that it would be at least six and a half feet tall, if it stood up on its feet like a man. Its skin is gray, pale on the chest and belly, darker along its back and down its limbs, and the gangly, webbed hands and feet are the color of the ocean before a storm. There’s a delicacy to the transparent frilly membrane that lines its long tail.

A mess of netting is tangled around its body, trapping its limbs at odd, painful-looking angles, and Will feels a familiar stab of outrage. The stuff is ghost net - a long length of fishing net that has been discarded in the water by careless fishermen, but that continues to trap living things - and Will has often found dead or dying animals tangled up in it along his beach.

It’s an ugly waste of life even when the ghost net’s victims are only fish, but Will is by no means sure that the unmoving thing he looking down at now is an animal.

The net is wrapped strangling-tight around the creature’s neck. The fingers of one hand - and it is a hand, not anything so animalistic as a paw - are wedged between the rope and the skin of its throat, as though it had been trying to pry the net away to clear its airway.   

Drawing closer, Will’s boot knocks a small stone loose, and it clatters down the incline and lands in the sand beside the creature. Its head moves at the sound, ever so slightly, and its eyes fix on Will. They are jet black and full of an uncanny intelligence.

Those eyes scare Will more than anything else about the creature; they are so nearly human and yet utterly something Other, but they draw him in, too.

It doesn’t thrash against its binds or bite at the air as Will slowly inches closer, nor does it cower or try to shy away as he might expect a frightened animal to do.

But when he stops in front of it and takes out his knife the creature skins its lips back and snarls, just for an instant, and in that moment Will sees the rows of white triangular teeth. Shaken, he takes a step back, and believes that he sees a glimmer of satisfaction in those black eyes.

The look provokes the stubbornness in Will, and he returns to the creature and kneels next to it, leaning a hand on its shoulder as he begins carefully to saw at the rope that has nearly strangled it. Its skin is cool to the touch, and not quite as rough as he expected it to be.

He speaks to it in a soft, soothing voice, though more for the sake of calming himself than the beast - it seems calm enough already, all things considered.

Helpless though it is, strangling in the netting, it is not pathetic. There is a dignity to it - almost a sense of arrogance. It lays entirely still as Will works.  

Will frees it from the netting that was around its neck, and watches it draw in deep gulps of air, its chest rising and falling dramatically and its frilly gills rustling, and he senses that though it is breathing easier now it still is not getting enough of what it needs - that it must make it back in the water and quickly, or else it might yet die.

Working as fast as he can, Will cuts one of its arms free of the netting. It extends the limb, shaking it sharply as though to restore circulation, and then it holds its hand out to Will, palm up.  

The sense of unreality, which Will did not think could become more acute, grows again, but he places the knife in the creature’s hand.

“How did a big smart thing like you get into so much trouble with a dumb piece of net?” Will asks rhetorically, watching as it cuts itself free; that he has found such an alien creature on his beach is an astonishing shock, but he is not especially surprised that it might have run into trouble with ghost nets. They are nearly invisible in the gloom of the water, and once something is caught in them trying to get free is apt to only make the problem worse; in his tenure at the lighthouse, Will has found dead dolphins tangled in old nets twice, and before today he might have said that they were the smartest creatures in the ocean.  

It glances up at his voice, but only briefly, before going back to work.

When it has freed itself, the creature rises in a single powerful motion. The knife falls to the sand as it steps towards Will, looming over him.

Will squares up and holds his ground, the voice of instinct commanding him to under no circumstances turn his back on it - that if he flees now, or even lowers his gaze, the thing will perceive him as prey.

And, too, he has his own sense of pride.

There’s something about the way the creature holds himself that makes Will think that it desperately needs to return to the water - that it is verging on becoming a question of life or death - but it too refuses to break eye contact. Will cannot tell if it is violence or curiousity that he sees in the creature’s eyes now; he wonders if for it there is any distinction between the two.

When it still does not go, Will lifts his hand in the beginning of a shooing gesture.

The creature moves, fast as a blink, and its jaws close around Will’s forearm.

The pain is stunning, and Will grinds his teeth together to keep from crying out as his blood begins to drip down into the sand. The creature tilts its eyes up at him and Will thinks, It is going to wrench my arm right off, and I’ll bleed to death here on the beach, if it doesn’t decide to eat me alive first.

The thought should probably trouble him more than it does. But Will has, for some time now, felt that he has already lived longer than he ought to have.

So he waits. He does not look away from the creature.

There is almost a kind of uncertainty to it when it releases him. It tilts its head, watching him speculatively.

With grace that seems uncanny in such a large being, it kneels and picks up the knife from where it fell in the sand. It straightens and holds the knife out to Will, and heart hammering in his chest, Will steps forward and takes it.

The creature turns, and carrying itself on legs shaky with exhaustion, wades out into the water. It sinks below the waves, and an instant later in is gone from view.

Will stands on the beach, clutching his bleeding arm, and looks out across the water.

Chapter Text

The gifts begin three days after Will helped the creature to free itself, earning a nasty bite for his trouble, and his sense of resentment at having been repaid for compassion with violence has not left him.

The bitter indignation has dogged him ever since he stared into the creature’s eyes and watched the wheels turning in its mind as it decided not to kill him after all, and as Will tends the lighthouse through the dark watches of the night he worries at the problem like a rotten tooth, but has not been able to decide if he is so angry at the creature because it betrayed his help by hurting him, or because it did not follow through on the impulse to make a meal of him.

He is tending the bite wound carefully, regardless, and he hopes against infection; Will has watched men die of sepsis, and no matter how much time he spends contemplating the possibility of ending his own life, he has no desire to suffer such a miserable, stinking death. The wound seems to be healing well enough, at least, though he wonders how he will ever explain the ring of even, rectangular scars to other people; if he tries to tell anyone the truth, he supposes he'd find himself back in the asylum within a matter of hours. 

In the days since he encountered the creature, Will has further curtailed his already small life.

Ever since he took the job of tending the lighthouse four years ago, it has been Will’s habit to walk the mile-long circumference of his island twice daily - once when he goes off duty at dawn and again just before dusk - to see what he can find along the beach, and most afternoons he spends fishing from the end of the pier.

Now, the idea of sitting with his toes dangling in the water while he waits for the fish to bite provokes more anxiety than he is prepared to deal with. Will no longer trusts his ability to gage what threats might lurk under the dark water, and as a consequence has stopped fishing and is drawing on his stores of canned meat instead.

Though he is staying as far away from the ocean as he can as often as he can, Will spends a great deal of time looking out over the water and wondering if something down there is watching him, too.

Will still checks his boat every morning before he lays down to try to sleep, walking down the pier to confirm that the moorings are tight and the boat itself is in good order - failing to do so would be to invite disaster - and he supposes that the creature must be aware of his habits, because three days after that first encounter he finds the fish waiting for him in the bottom of the boat.

It’s a big one, far more than Will could hope to eat before it goes bad. Wondering if this is some kind of trap - if the creature might lunge up from the water to grab him and pull him under the waves - he studies the water around the dock carefully before leaning over the gunwale to lift the fish out of the boat.

Its tail flops weakly as Will holds it up by the gills and studies it in the light of the rising sun. There are tooth marks near the spine that match the ones on Will’s own arm, but they don’t go deep. Will can easily picture the creature darting forward through the water to snatch the fish up in its jaws, and then transferring it to a hand to bear it here and drop it over the side of the boat, where it knew Will would see it.

The resentful anger that he's been nursing fades away in the face of this gift, and in its place a sudden inexplicable desire to cry blindsides Will instead. Eyes burning, he looks around again - toward the rocks at the other end of the island and then out across the grey waves, wondering if he is being watched even now. If the creature is nearby, it blends in so well with its surroundings that Will can’t see it.

With one final glance down into the water surrounding the pier, Will carries the fish back home with him.

 

After that first day there is always some offering waiting for Will at the bottom of the boat each morning. It’s usually fish, though occasionally the creature brings him eels or mussels, and sometimes gigantic lobsters. Once, the creature leaves behind a dead gull, and because Will feels guilty that the thing was killed for his sake he makes a half-hearted effort to cook it up, though the results are decidedly unpalatable.

But one morning, perhaps two weeks into this strange courtship, Will finds something else waiting for him in the bottom of the boat, and when he first sees the gory thing it takes him half a second to comprehend what it is, but then things click into place and he understands that he is looking at the better part of a human thigh, the pale white ball of the hip sticking out above the meat.  

There is a roaring in Will’s ears as he boards his boat and motors out far from the island, were he drops the thing into the water and watches it sink into the darkness, and then he comes back and scrubs the bottom of his boat for the better part of an hour, before going down to the water’s edge to wash his hands again and again in the surf.

The salt scent of the water is too much like blood, and it is a long time before he can believe that he is clean - physically, at least.  

He supposes that the creature must have seen him toss the gift away, because for several days it brings Will nothing more. Eventually, though, the offerings begin again, and the relief Will feels when he sees a new fish waiting for him in the boat is shocking.

It’s strange - wrong, certainly, and a sign of his own deviancy - but as disturbing as the monster’s monstrous gift was, the idea that it might have abandoned him was far more upsetting; he had not intended to offend or hurt it, and as absurdly backwards as he knows the impulse to be, Will wishes he could explain that to the creature.

Will still has not seen the creature again since that first day, and if not for the enduring reality of the offerings and the scar on his forearm, he might believe that he hallucinated the entire thing; he is, after all, prone to such maladies.

The idea of breaking with the routine that the two of them has made worries Will, but his last cask of fresh water is running low; already, his small garden is suffering from a lack of watering, and rain does not appear to be forthcoming any time soon. Even more importantly, he is running low on kerosene for the lighthouse lamp, and if he allows the fire to sputter and die out in the night not only is he apt to lose his position - people could die.

He thinks about the prospect of a shipwreck off the edge of his island, about what might happen to survivors with the creature lurking somewhere nearby; Will did not need to find the gnawed limb in his boat to understand, in some fundamental way that he could not even begin to articulate, that he is to the creature a kind of exception, though why he was spared - and why the creature has taken such an interest in keeping him well fed - remains to him a mystery, but he does not believe that it is simply because he did the creature a kindness by saving its life.  

But he worries, even as he makes his preparations for the supply run to the mainland, that if he leaves the creature might feel itself to have been abandoned, and disappear into the ocean forever.

On the morning that he is to leave, Will goes down to the boat to retrieve his morning fish, which he fries up quickly to make a hearty dinner - or breakfast, depending if one goes by the time or day or his own personal schedule. He’s exhausted already from the night’s work, but there will be no sleep for him until tomorrow morning, and he drinks a great deal of black coffee before filling his thermos with more of the same. Then he walks back down to the ocean.

Before casting off, Will stands on the end of the pier and looks out over the water. As usual, the creature is nowhere to be seen, though he has a strong sense that he is being watched.

“I have to go to the mainland,” he explains, speaking loudly over the wind, though he knows perfectly well that even if the creature is listening it won’t understand him. “There’s things I need to get. But you shouldn’t worry about me - I’ll be home again before sundown, and I’ll light the lamp just like always.” He pauses, waiting for he doesn’t really know what - acknowledgment, he supposes - but when the creature does not emerge from hiding, Will says, “That’s all I had to say,” and turns to board the boat.

 

The creature does not, as it turns out, decide to leave the island behind when it sees that Will has gone away.

Instead, it lets itself into his house.

Chapter Text

Before there was anything else - before the feel of cool water flowing over the creature’s skin or the scent of the salt sea or the taste of live meat struggling between his jaws - there was his sibling, who was no more female than he is male. Even before he was aware of himself as a living being, in possession of his own discrete consciousness, the two of them had slept with limbs entangled inside the womb they shared.  

The only social bonds members of his species form are those between mates and siblings. Infants are born fully independent, and it is not their way to stay with their parents. Therefore, when the two of them entered the world - his sibling, always pushier and more ferocious, and even then bigger than he was, arriving first - they’d gone off together, and were not parted for any considerable length of time until the day of her death.

Many years have passed since he lost her, and ever seen he has known himself to be fundamentally alone in the world. He has not, in all of that time, encountered another intelligence that felt akin to his own.

It’s true that he has seen the fear of death in the eyes of his prey, when that prey possessed brains enough to fear death, and he has seen the idiot terror in the eyes of men like the one on the beach, right before he dragged them under the waves, but no one has looked back at him and really seen .

The man on the beach changed that.

It was a strange feeling when the man drew his knife; it threatened the creature, but it did not threaten him, too. In the normal course of things, he might have expected to die there, helpless on the rocky beach, but the man did not inspire in him the anticipation of death - he understood himself to be safe, even before the man handed over the blade.

For the hundredth time, the creature turns over in his mind the look of defiance that the man gave him when he sank his teeth into his flesh; those strange ocean-colored eyes were not without fear, but the man had remained fierce despite that fear.

He is not meat, the creature thought, not in words but as a strong mental image, and this realization stunned him into letting the man go.

Fascination filled the space that had been occupied by spite and hunger, as quickly as that, and the feeling has only grown overtime as the creature has mulled over the complex emotional sensibility that underpinned not only the man’s disregard for the danger he placed himself in by helping the creature, but the compassion that drove him to do so, too.

Guilt is not in his nature, but he can on occasion manage regret, and the longer he spends watching the man roaming his empty little island, the more the creature regrets having used his teeth on him the way that he did.

Lonesomeness, too, is a thing that he understands, and the man seems terribly alone.



There is no lock on the door to the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, and after only a few seconds of consideration, the creature reaches out and takes the doorknob in its hand, and turns it. The door swings open, and he steps through the threshold and inside.

The creature has no words for the cottage or any of the things inside of it - no words for anything, save the small number of signs that he and his sibling devised together - but they are not entirely unprecedented, the walls and doors, cabinets and chests and furniture, and many of the smaller objects as well, as he has often seen similar things as he explored sunken ships. Even the concept of a fixed home to which one returns to rest and hide is not entirely alien to him; it is not his way, but he knows that many animals favor such dwellings.

He explores the house slowly, touching everything that comes into reach, his nostrils flaring to take in the scent of the man, which inundates the closed space. The cabin is all one large room, with none of the divisions that he has seen in the ships he’s explored.

Metal cans are stacked in two boxes near the door, and he crouches to pick one up. A picture of a tuna fish is marked on the label, and the creature turns it over in his hands curiously, and then brings it to his nose to sniff.

His sibling, he knows, would have bitten into the can - or at least, would have tried - but he considers it thoughtfully for a few more seconds, then pulls back on the tab at the top of the can and watches with delight as the top comes away.

As soon as he catches the scent of what’s inside, though, he wishes that he hadn’t. It is tuna, just as he had imagined, but there is something rank about it. Repulsed, the creature sets it on the table and moves away from it, but then he changes his mind - if he leaves the can sitting there, its contents will go rancid quickly, and the entire space might stink of it by the time the man returns. Instead, he picks the can up again and flings it and its contents out the door for the gulls to squabble over.

Turning, he looks around again and follows his sense of smell to the part of the room that smells most like the man. He runs his palms over the coarse wool blankets that cover the bed, before leaning in to feel the spring in the mattress, which creaks under his weight. The fun of that pleases him again, and he pushes down several more times to feel the bounce, before turning to the steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.

When he lifts the lid he sees the orderly rows of socks and boxers and undershirts, folded with military precision, next to the sweaters and flannel shirts that he has seen the man in before. He is not sure what purpose these things serve, but because he has never seen a human without them he imagines that they must be of great importance in some way that he does not understand.

He lifts a rust red sweater from the trunk. It is so evident that it will not fit him that he does not bother to try, but he unbuttons the front with dextrous fingers that adapt themselves well to the task, despite having never done such a thing before, and drapes it over his shoulder like a shawl.

There’s a small shaving mirror sitting on a stand on the table, and though the creature can only see fractions of himself in it at a time, he turns and twists to make it reflect various angles. He has seen himself in mirrors before, but those had always been dirty and cracked, marred by their time spent underwater.

This is the clearest he has ever seen his own reflection, and he likes what he sees, even without the embellishment of the sweater. The scars that mark his skin in a dozen different places are fond reminders of times spent playing rough with his sibling, and his body is graceful and handsome in his own eyes.

When he moves to put the sweater back the way he found it, the creature sees a piece of thick paper wedged against the edge of the chest, and he picks it up.

He’s seen photographs before, though the creature, who has occasionally dabbled in making pictures in the sand with thin sticks, cannot begin to imagine how they are produced, but those that he has seen were waterlogged and badly damaged. The crispness of the paper, and of the imagine that looks back at him, therefore surprise him.  

It’s the man from the beach, and he looks back at the creature in shades of grey from beneath an infantryman's helmet, which looks to the creature somewhat similar to the shell of a turtle. There’s another man with him, and this stranger has his arm around his shoulder. He is a little shorter than the man from the beach, and has a sharply-angled, narrow face, below dark hair. The man from the beach looks strained and tired, but the face of the stranger is blatant with the pride and pleasure of possession.

For an instant, the creature debates taking the picture back to the mirror and comparing his own face to the likeness of the stranger, but the idea makes him feel uneasy and inexplicably angry, and he feels his lip curl to display his teeth as though the stranger in the picture might see them.

He is seized by the desire to shred the picture to bits and swallow the pieces so that the man from the beach will never find them again, but instead he lets the photo fall to the floor and turns to continue his exploration.  

When he saw the man drifting away in the boat, the creature worried that he might be leaving for good, but now that he has seen the inside of his lair he is no longer concerned by this possibility; the man has far more treasures that the creature himself has ever accumulated, and though many of them strike him as being of dubious value, he doubts that the man will abandon them.

The stove is still warm, and he rests one palm against the black iron, wondering at it and the scent of meat that hangs around it. The man has done something to transform the most recent fish he gifted him with, perhaps burned it inside the hot darkness behind the heavy metal door, and though the creature cannot begin to comprehend why he might have done such a thing, the smell makes his stomach grumble.

There are knobs on the front of the thing, and he turns one as he turned the doorknob, wondering what it might open, but instead it begins to make a threatening hissing sound, and a foreign smell begins to fill the air. The smell makes him nauseous and lightheaded, as though he’s been out of the water for too long, and he moves to turn the knob back to the way that it was before in hopes of reversing whatever he’s done.

Perhaps he is too rough with it, because instead the knob breaks off in his hand, and the hissing continues.

The smell is growing worse now, and he turns from it in disgust and goes back outside, the knob still clutched in his hand. The creature takes a few seconds to consider the situation, then he heads down to the water to wait for the man’s return.   

Chapter Text

Will is tying the boat up when the creature rises, without warning, from the dark shadows under the dock.

Its claws sink into the wooden plank next to Will’s leg, and Will shies backwards a few steps as it pulls itself out of the water to roll onto the dock. The creature climbs gracefully to its feet, and Will again finds himself staring up at the shark-like, alien being. Beads of water shine brightly against its ombré skin, which is marred only by a number of pinkish scars.

Seeing it again now, the creature strikes Will as male, though he can point to nothing that leads him to this conclusion, except its size and the powerfulness of its build, and perhaps something in the haunty lines of his face.

He steps towards Will, and Will plants his feet and stands his ground.

When the creature extends his hand to Will, something dark held in his palm, Will lifts his own hand to take it. The creature’s claws brush against his skin when he drops the object into Will’s hand, and he feels himself shudder but is in no way certain that it is entirely due to fear.  

The object is metal, and as cool as the ocean despite having been held in the creature’s hand, and when Will looks down at it he recognizes it as the knob from his gas stove.

The creature raises and arm to point over Will’s shoulder at the cottage at the top of the rise, and parts his lips to let out a low, dangerous-sounding hiss.

Will makes the association almost instantly, what the creature is trying to communicate to him coming clear with intuitive ease, and he curses lowly and says, “You’re kidding me.”

He doesn’t run up the hill - instinct tells him that it might be a bad idea to give the creature the impression that he is fleeing from him - but he walks quickly, his spine stiff with the awareness that the creature is right behind him.

A few yards from the house Will comes to a stop and turns to face the creature. He raises his hand, palm up, hoping the creature won’t bite him out of spite, and says, “Stay here.”

The creature cocks its head at him, annoyed at the idea of being left back and apparently concerned by the situation, but in no way shamefaced.

Will goes forward alone, scenting the air for the rotten-egg scent of leaking gas. The creature has left the door hanging open, and Will doesn’t smell anything until he crosses the threshold, and even then it is faint.

“Dissipated,” he mutters to himself, and the memory of the trenches is not far away, the cries of “Gas! Gas!” coming down the line, the scramble for his gasmask, shaking hands fumbling with its straps, nostrils flaring in horrified curiosity, wondering if would already be too late should he scent it, and then Matthew’s hands on the back of his neck, checking the to make sure the seal was tight before he turned around to allow Will to do the same for him.

The gas settled over them like a neon fog. Will did not like to look at Matthew when he was wearing the mask - there was almost nothing human about a person wearing such a thing for Will to latch onto - and instead he looked out over no man's land, and saw an unmasked man wander past their position blindly, his hands tangled around his throat as he drown in the green ocean haze of chlorine.

Will screws up his face and squeezes his eyes tightly closed, forcing the memory back lest worse ones come flooding after it. After a few seconds he moves forward again, going to gas tank, which he bends to lift. It’s light - empty.

He hears the click of claws on the floorboards and turns to see the creature watching him. “I told you to stay outside,” he says, but if the creature is able to interpret the annoyance in his voice he ignores it.

“You’re lucky you didn’t blow yourself and everything else in here up,” Will grumbles morosely. He has been awake for nearly thirty hours now, and the nap he had been hoping take before he went on duty at sundown is seeming increasingly unlikely, and he is thinking about how he will have to turn around and go back to the mainland again for more gas before he will be able to use the stove again.

He looks around the cottage; aside from the broken knob on the stove, nothing appears to have been damaged, but everything about the room seems just a little off-kilter, like the creature has been picking things up and putting them back down again, but never in exactly the right place.

“That, or I’m going crazy again,” Will mutters to himself. The creature turns to look at him, cocking his head, but Will has seen something else; the picture of himself and Matthew is lying face-up on the floor near the end of the bed.

He hurries over the scoops it up, feeling exposed and embarrassed and far more angry than is safe, given the presence of this creature who might easily be set off by anything.

It is, he considers, opening the trunk to secret the photo away again without pausing to look at it, very similar to the way he felt when the picture was taken. Matthew was not subtle; he was bold, and confident, and ten times more certain of his own cleverness in relationship to others than he’d any right to be, and Will lived in fear that his cockiness would draw disaster down on them both. It seemed a sure thing to him that anyone who saw the picture would know that they were lovers, but in the end he'd worried over nothing - no trouble came from the photo, and Matthew's general lack of discretion only ever earned them a few puzzled or hostile looks, and perhaps some scandalized whispering when they were both out of earshot.  

Unconsciously, Will reaches up to touch the notch in his ear, where the German sniper’s bullet sliced along the very edge of his face.  

When he straightens again and turns to look around, he sees that the creature has taken a book down from his shelf. He opens it, deft fingers paging through it, and Will remembers suddenly the dirty pictures that he has secreted inside a few of the books.

He can’t, at the moment, remember exactly which volumes, and red-faced with preemitive embarrassment, Will says, “Hey you! Hey, stop that.”

The creature looks up at him, but with an of air of indulgence - as though he would rather have not been interrupted but is humoring Will, and now the flush in Will’s cheeks has more to do with anger than shame. He stalks over and takes the book away from the creature, and it is only when the flash of anger passes over his face that Will considers that doing so might have been a bad idea.

But he doesn’t back down. “This isn’t yours,” he says gruffly. “Listen -” he starts, but does not know how to continue, because it occurs to him that he doesn’t know what he ought to call the creature. ‘Hey you’ feels less than ideal, and the vulgar names that are sitting on the type of his tongue probably aren't a good idea, either.   

“What’s your name?” Will says.

The creature watches him intently, but with no understanding. He doesn’t answer.

Will taps his own chest. “Will,” he says, feeling deeply silly. “I’m Will.” He motions towards the creature. “And you?”

The creature thumps a fist against his own chest, aping Will, but remains silent. Will wonders if he is mute.

“Haven’t you got a name?” he asks, but the creature only watches him. An idea is coming to Will, and he says, “Let’s get you one, then.”

Will goes to the bookcase. He can remember where he hid the pictures now - he’d been in a foul, sardonic mood last time he looked at them, and he’d put them in the encyclopedia volume that included the S ’s, on the same page as the article titled Sodomite - but it’s the H selection that he wants now, anyway. The only noise that he has heard the creature make up to this point is the hiss that signaled the gas leak, and Will thinks that if he is able to learn to say anything it will be a word that begins with a similar sound.

“You can name yourself,” Will explains, carrying the book to the table. The creature follows after him like a loyal dog, and by now the hairs on the back of Will’s neck have almost stopped standing on end at the thought of having him standing there beside him.

Will sits the book on the table and opens it to a random point, then brings his finger down on the page. He closes the book and pushes it towards the creature. “Now you,” Will says, and the creature does just as Will showed him.

He brushes the creature’s hand away to read the title of the article his claw landed on. “Head louse,” he reads, and lets the air out of his lungs in a long sigh. “Better try again.”

“Harmonica,” Will says, when the creature stabs another point on a different page. “I don’t think so.”

They repeat the process again and again, and Will considers and then promptly rejects, “heat prostration,” “hagfish,” “hemorrhage,” and “hiccup.” Will’s own patience is wearing thin, though the creature seems to be wholly pleased with everything about this game. The creature likes, Will thinks, hearing his voice and being close to him, and this realization only provokes a vague sense of unease, but when he points to the article on “human sacrifice” Will decides that enough is enough.

“I’m doing the next one,” he says, “and first name I see is what we’re going with.”

He flips to a random page, and there it is, right near the top; “Hannibal,” Will says, and goes on, “Born 247 BC, died 183 BC. Carthaginian general, one of the great military leaders of antiquity…” There’s more - several paragraphs more - but Will doesn’t bother to read on.

“Hannibal,” he says again, and points at the creature. He cocks his head at Will, listening more intently than ever. There is more intelligence in those black eyes that Will feels entirely prepared to deal with.

“Will,” Will says, taping his own chest, and then he reaches out touches the creature’s chest with the tips of his fingers. “Hannibal. Hannibal. Hannibal,” he repeats slowly. “You’re Hannibal, do you see?”

There is a sudden flash of teeth, and Will feels his heart begin to race before he realizes; the creature is smiling at him.

Chapter Text

Spring leads into summer, and Will takes the hammock from the storage shed, and hangs it up between the twin pair of hackberry trees that shade the side east-side of his cottage. He sleeps better there, out in the open air, and when the nightmares do take him there’s no need to worry about laundering sheets soaked in rank fear sweat.

But the first morning he crawls into the hammock to sleep, Will wakes a few hours later to the creature shaking his arm.

Jet black eyes blink down at Will, and is he only imagining the fear that he sees there? Will can’t be sure. So much of what Hannibal does is open to interpretation, and he wonders just how much of his reading of the creature and his motives is influenced by his own desperation to have someone really care about him.  

It’s possible, after all, that the creature has not been feeding him so attentively out of concern for his well-being or affection. Maybe Hannibal is only trying to fatten him up.

But Hannibal’s fear now seems genuine, and that is as reassuring as it baffling.

Will feels the hammock netting under his fingers, and shaking the sleep fog from his head, begins to think that he understands.

“I’m not stuck,” he tells Hannibal, sitting up and swinging his legs out of the hammock.

Hannibal crouches over him and places the flat of his palm on Will’s chest, feeling the beat of his heart, which kicks up at his touch.

“Were you worried I was dead?” Will asks him, and that particular desire to cry blindsides him again. “I was only sleeping - I’m fine, don’t worry.”

He looks up at the creature curiously. “Do you sleep? I’ve heard that sharks don’t...”

The creature straightens and strides back to the edge of the trail that leads up from the beach, and bends to pick something up from the ground, then he comes back to Will and holds it out to him.

“Did you drop my present?” Will says, taking it. “I must have really scared you, huh?” It is a gratifying thought. 

It’s a large piece of beach glass, teal in color and teardrop shaped, worn smooth by the motion of the ocean. “It’s beautiful, Hannibal. Thank you.”

The gifts began about a week ago, the day after Will returned from his trip to the mainland. Hannibal is still bringing him food every day, delivering it directly to the cottage now instead of leaving it in the boat, but he’s also started bringing Will small trinkets and oddities, objects that Will assumes he found along the ocean floor during his wanderings. They are always man-made things, and Will believes that a couple of them might be extremely valuable - the brooch Hannibal brought him the day before seems to be composed of real gemstones.

Will checks his pocket watch, and sees that it isn’t even noon yet. “I need to get some more sleep,” he explains to Hannibal, and swings his legs back into the hammock.

But rather than going away, Hannibal climbs in with him.

He rolls half-way on top of Will, and Will swats at Hannibal’s scarred back, trying to reclaim enough personal space to be able to breath. Hannibal shifts a little to the side, so they are lying shoulder to shoulder, pressed against one another.

They stay like that for a few minutes, and it’s nice - if somewhat overwhelming - to have the creature so close to him, but then Hannibal shifts onto this side to look down at Will. His skin is rough when it slides against the grain along Will’s own, and his claws scratch a little as he begins to run his fingers through Will’s hair.

Will turns his head to study Hannibal’s pale torso as the creature pets him, and he lifts a hand to trace one of the scars that run across his chest, wondering at what might have marked such a large and frightful creature.   

Hannibal’s fingers brush against the notch in Will’s ear, and his hand pauses briefly and then brushes the hair back to look at it more closely.

“Sniper’s bullet,” Will explains, and it is easy to speak about it, knowing that he won’t be understood. “Another half inch to the right and it would have blown out the side of my skull, and I’d have died ugly. A few more inches over, and I’d’ve just died, probably before I even knew that I’d been hit. Just imagine that.”

Hannibal shapes his hand like a pair of jaws, and pantomimes a predator snapping at the edge of Will’s ear, and then looks at him closely, the question clear on his face. “Something like that,” Will agrees. “Right. Yeah.”

They lay there for a while, then Will stretches and yawns and says, “Hannibal, why don’t you go get us a fish?”

Hannibal understands those words - every day, he seems to grasp more of what Will says to him, but this was the first phrase that he picked up - and he climbs to his feet and lopes off to do so.

Will gets out of the hammock, too, and putting the idea of sleep behind him goes to rekindle his cook fire. He really does need to go back to the mainland soon, the kerosene for the lighthouse is running low again, and he supposes that he’ll get more gas for the stove when he’s there. But it has been fun, cooking out of doors with the creature - with Hannibal.

Will has spent a lot of time over this last week thinking about his shopping list, and he has a few ideas about things he could use to be able to better communicate with Hannibal, who truly seems incapable of producing any kind of vocalization, never mind replicating human speech, no matter how much he comprehends. Though they have had little difficulty communicating about their day to day needs and desires, he is excited at the prospects of really speaking with Hannibal.

 

Hannibal, the creature thinks, as he strides back into the water. He ducks under the waves, breathing easily again, and the word plays inside his mind like an echo.

He wonders, sometimes, why he finds himself spending so much time with this man - this Will - who ought to be no more than so much meat to him, when he should be seeking out a mate, one of his own kind, if there are any others out there to find.

He and his sibling had never had any luck in that regard, though they’d crossed from one hemisphere to the other and back again, looking.

But when he thinks of himself now it is the sound of Will’s voice that he hears inside his head, saying Hannibal Hannibal Hannibal, in all the different ways that he has of saying it.

The name sets him apart, marks him as unique from everything that is not Hannibal. It strokes his pride and quenches his lonesomeness, and above all it makes him feel as though he has been seen and recognized.

Hannibal is who he is now, and turning his back on Will to seek out some stranger who will never be able to understand as much is an untenable idea.

 

The first time Will cleaned a fish in front of the creature, Hannibal watched on with fascination as Will gutted it and filled the empty cavity with lemon slices and dried parsley. Hannibal picked through the entrails, popping the heart and liver into his mouth like candies, while Will wrapped the fish in tin foil, but when Will carried the bundle out to the cook fire and nestled it in among the coils Hannibal was deeply offended.

He’d sulked, setting down on one of the logs that surrounded the fire pit - the one furthest from Will - and refusing to meet Will’s eyes. But after the fish had a few minutes to cook, Will saw his nose begin to twitch, taking in the smell, and by the time Will moved to fish the fish out of the fire with a stick, Hannibal was crowding in on him curiously, eager for a taste.

Hannibal is used to the cooking now, but is no less excited by the results, and when Will takes today’s lunch from the fire Hannibal follows him into the house and sits down at the table to wait to be served as though it is the most natural thing in the world.

There are potatoes, too, charred in their own skins, but Hannibal is interested only in meat. Will’s plates for him the end of the fish attached to the head, knowing that he will want to crack the skull between his teeth to get at the brains.

Will puts one plate in front of Hannibal, then sits his own at his place and sits down. Hannibal has not adopted silverware, but he is surprisingly neat with his fingers. “For a feral sea monster, you have impeccable table manners,” Will tells him, and lifts his own fork to bring a mouthful of fish to his lips. He chews.

“This is good, isn’t it?” Will says, and he means more than just the meal.

Hannibal nods.     

Chapter Text

Will wades into the water after the creature.

That it’s a dangerous kind of frolicing he knows perfectly well, and as soon as they begin he feels as much that he is being hunted as that he and the strange creature he has befriended are playing. Nonetheless, Will splashes around, clumsy, while Hannibal darts around him like an oversized otter. And for a while it’s fun.

It becomes something else very suddenly, and Will is not entirely sure how or why.

Hannibal’s tail snakes around Will’s ankle, pulling him off his feet and down under the water, where he lands on his back against the sandy bottom, and when he comes up spluttering it is only to be yanked under again before he can fill his lungs.

The creature circles around Will, catching him by the ankle or the wrist with his hands or tail every time Will tries to come up, and his lungs are aching now - his entire body screaming for air - and this time when Hannibal’s tail curls around his wrist Will grabs it with his other hand and bites down as hard as he can, tearing through the fragile frilly membrane that lines it.

Hannibal’s hold loosens as blood blooms in the water, and Will climbs to his feet.

The creature surfaces with him, holding his wounded tail in his hands. Hannibal looks at him, hurt and offended, and Will shows his own bloody blunt teeth and growls, “You understand that much at least, huh?”

Hannibal follows Will out of the water and stands impassively above him as he falls to his hands and knees in the sand and vomits up a bellyful of sea water.

When he feels well enough to do so, Will rolls over onto his butt and glares up at Hannibal.

The pantomime that Hannibal makes is complicated, and it takes Will’s still woozy and panic-fogged brain time to make sense of it.

He touches the gills on the sides of his neck with both hands and grimances, then runs his fingers disgustedly through the empty air before pointing at Will with one finger. He raises his hand to his own chest, extending the other fingers one after another until they are all straight, and then he brings the back of his hand down on the open palm of his other hand hard, again and again and again in quick succession.

Even though it is hard on me, Hannibal is saying, even though it hurts, I come out of the water for you all the time.

Later, when Will has a clearer understanding of the Hannibal’s mind and intentions towards him, he will recognize these complaints as the dissimulations of a creature feeling the sting of unexpected rejection, but now Will is shaken - though not entirely surprised - by how quickly Hannibal seems to have turned ugly on him.

“Yeah, you’re uncomfortable on land,” Will grumbles. “I’ll die . It’s not the same thing.”

He knows that the creature was having his fun with him, that Hannibal enjoyed his floundering struggles, but Will does not think - or at least, he does not want to believe - that Hannibal understood just how dangerous what he was doing was.   

Will does not know how to explain to Hannibal how easy it would be for him to drown. He does not know what Hannibal would have done if he’d managed to inadvertently kill him.

“You’d eat me, I guess,” Will says morosely. “Christ, what have I gotten myself into?”

There’s something in his tone that makes Hannibal pay renewed attention to him. He kneels in the sand beside him, inhaling deeply. Hannibal’s sense of smell, Will understands, is better than his vision, and Hannibal likes the way he smells.

Hannibal drapes himself over his lap, belly up. He likes to be petted, too, and Will does that now, with only a little bitterness, stroking from the pale skin of his chest and down his belly.

The first time Will got a good look at the creature’s physique, he had thought, It has a vent, like a reptile or a bird, and since then nothing has happened to alter this impression, but now… something has begun to peak its head out, and it is a pale pink color and pointed, and tentatively Will runs his fingers lower.

Hannibal squirms in his lap, then he puts a hand over himself, almost primly. He rolls away and climbs to his feet, as though embarrassed, and then he turns and disappears into the waves without looking back.

Chapter Text

Even at the time, Will didn’t think that he was really in love, but he had liked for Matthew to tell him that he loved Will, for all the layers of guilt it provoked. He liked being told that he was beautiful, and special, and something worth having, and he liked that Matthew cared enough about him to do things for him, whether or not Will asked - or even wanted - him to. For all his swaggering, Matthew could be sneaky when he made the effort, and he had a way of getting even with people who he felt had slighted himself or Will.

The thing about it was that Will needed badly to be needed. He didn’t know if that was the same thing as love, though he supposed that the nice thing about Matthew’s narcissistic streak was that he never really stopped to consider the idea that Will might not be as taken with him as he was with Will.  

He didn’t know either, really, if he liked being fucked by Matthew, though he almost always came hard when Matthew fucked him.

These were furtive, hurried couplings that took place in the rare minutes that they could steal alone together, and Matthew usually needed to clasp a hand over Will’s mouth to keep anyone else from hearing him cry out, or else Will would bite the edge of his palm to keep the sound in, and damned if wringing those aboritive cries from Will hadn’t made Matthew preen more than anything else, and he was not a man who had difficulty find things to be pleased with himself about…

They’d used cooking oil in the field, Crisco when they could get it, since of the available options that worked best. The both of them came up short on lube once, and Matthew used his own spit, and Christ that hurt, and Will thought maybe it was his own fault because he hadn’t said anything - just gritted his teeth and bore it until it was over with, quiet for a change - but the idea that Matthew didn’t realize that he was hurting him, or else knew and just went on anyway, ached in a way that was worse than any physical pain.

There’d been tears on Will’s face when he fell asleep that night, and it was days until he wanted to look Matthew in the face again for the shame of it, and much longer before his touch no longer evoked a queasy fearful feeling in Will’s guts. Truth be told, that feeling never entirely went away.

Now, Will doesn’t let himself think about why he is buying the container of Vaseline, but he cannot make eye contact with the clerk as he enters the price into the register. The container goes into the boxes that will be delivered down to the docks, and Will goes back outside and heads down the street, his hands shoved deep into his pockets.

A few days ago, when Hannibal disappeared into the water, Will was left feeling mortified with himself over what he’d tried to do, panicked that Hannibal would not return and sick in his guts with embarrassment at the idea of having to face him again.

But Hannibal was back in time for dinner, just like always, two big fish in tow, and if he’d seemed uneasy for a time, it wasn't long before very long he started being just as handsy and affectionate as ever.

Will is not really sure where they are with each other now, and he supposes that he would give up just about everything he has to simply be able to ask Hannibal about it, though he isn’t sure that the answer - whatever it might be - would be to his liking.

He is not sure, really, what answer he wants - or rather, he is not prepared to face up the reality or the implications of what it is for which he hopes. Will knows that he has always been a coward, in that regard, but he is doing the best that he can.

This visit to the mainland is, in part, about finding better ways for himself and Hannibal to understand one another.

Will pushes upon the door to the bookshop and goes inside.

He gets two writing slates and a supply of white chalk, as well as some lined paper and pencils, and then he picks out a few reading and writing primers for small children. These he leaves at the counter, with the the smiling young woman who is working the register, and then goes back to browse the shelves.

There is a new H.G.Wells novel, and Will tucks it under his arm, along with a couple of collections of short stories by Jack London that he hasn’t read since back when he was still in school, and when he feels that these have provided him with adequate camouflage (though from what, he can’t say) he moves to the nonfiction section. What he was hoping for is not on the shelves, though he finds a couple of books on ocean life that offer long sections on sharks, and Will takes these as well and returns nervously to the shop girl.  

“I have a friend, you know, who was wounded in the war,” he starts, lying without really understanding why he is lying - wishing, too, that it wasn’t a lie.

“He can’t talk very good anymore, you know?” Will goes on, and touches his own jaw without knowing that he is doing so. “I want to be able to have conversations with him more easily, is the thing, you know?” And he adds, dully, “He’s a real good friend of mine.”

The clerk has been listening to him gently. Now she prompts, “What is it that you wanted to order?”

“Oh,” Will says, and feels his face tic anxiously. “A book on sign language?” He looks down at his other purchases, wondering if he has made some mistake in this story, and adds quickly, “He doesn’t know how to read or write so well, either, so we are working on that.”

That was true about Matthew, though if he were here now he'd have been outraged to hear Will disclosing this shortcoming to a stranger.  

She nods and smiles again, and now Will has the impression that she isn’t just being friendly - that his nervousness has her on edge, too, or else that she has sensed something unnatural and maybe dangerous about him, and is trying to keep him pacified.

The clerk tells him that he can pick up the book in about two weeks, and Will hurries out onto the street with his purchases, but doesn’t feel as though he can properly breathe again until he is back on his boat and heading away from the mainland and all of the people that it holds.   


Will doesn’t have a lot of luck getting Hannibal to pay attention to the letters in the reading primer, at least not in those first few weeks. He is too taken in by the pictures, and by the idea of using the slate and the paper to reproduce them.

Hannibal draws food, mostly. He copies the tuna from the F is for Fish page dozens of times before he is satisfied with the results, and then in the months that follow he turns to drawing from life, making quick, lively sketches of fish darting through the water and loving still-lives of gutted ocean bass and picked fish skeletons.

Eventually, he moves to other subjects - birds and trees and seashells, the cottage with the lighthouse behind it, Will’s boat. He draws Will, and he draws himself, and when on his next visit to the mainland Will returns with a full-length mirror and a wide array of art supplies to facilitate these endeavors, he fairly vibrates with pleasure at the gifts. Hannibal improves quickly.   

Many months from now, when much has changed between the two of them, Hannibal will turn his hand towards drawing a creature very much like himself, apparently from memory. The being in the drawings is big, and brutal looking, and strikes Will as being far less human-like than Hannibal himself, and in every line of the sketches there is marked deep affection for the subject of these efforts.

Will spends a lot of time looking into the eyes of the creature on the paper and wondering at what she might have meant to Hannibal and where she is now, but though by then Hannibal’s capacity for language has greatly improved, many more months will pass before Will works up the courage to ask directly.  

Chapter Text

“Don’t you laugh,” Will grumbles morosely, a few days after he returned from the mainland from his visit to the bookstore. “What are you laughing about? I’d like to see what you have, if you’re laughing at mine.”

Will touches himself, feeling his naked cock give a twitch at the brush of fingers, and then points at Hannibal’s lap. For good measure he steps forward to touch, but the creature dances back into the deeper water, dodging his hand.

The embarrassment feels like Will’s heart is trying to crowd in behind his liver.

Hannibal is back again in an instant, though, crouching in front of Will, bending to crane his neck, investigating from every angle.

Will chokes back a gasp as he feels a clawed finger reach out and lift his cock, as though to weigh it. He watches as the creature peers at its underside, before prodding at his balls with a knuckle.

Then Hannibal looks up at Will and makes the laughing face again, bearing all those sharp teeth in silent delight, and Will wonders why he consented to allow Hannibal to draw off his boxers and expose him this way, and is considering kicking sand in his face, when he leans in and licks Will.

His tongue is rough as a cat’s, and Will stumbles back and lands on his ass in the shallow water, awareness dawning that he is suddenly painfully hard. Hannibal is leaning over him, webbed hands drawing his knees apart, and Will realizes that he means to use his mouth on him.

The thought of all those teeth terrify him suddenly, and Will covers himself with his hand and skitters backwards in the sand.

Hannibal looks up at him with those impassive jet stone eyes and sighs as though he is human.

He settles down across from Will, the waves playing around them softly, and lifts Will’s hand from his lap. Hannibal places it where Will tried to touch before, just at the base of his pelvis, and moves Will’s hand up and down in a stroking motion.

When Hannibal releases his hand Will keeps rubbing, and after a few seconds he finds the slit. He glances up at Hannibal quickly to see if it is alright, but Hannibal’s head is tilted back, his eyes closed in bliss, and that gives Will courage.

Nonetheless, he is terrified of hurting the creature in some way that he doesn’t understand, and he moves slowly as he spreads the lips of the opening and reaches his fingers inside.

When the first penis, large and sharply angled, comes free, Will is not especially shocked - he’d already been given a hint of what to expect, after all - but the second one comes as a surprise.

“Two cocks,” Will says, and now he can feel his own laughter wanting to bubble up inside himself at the bizarre absurdity of it. “Sure. Why not.”

They are so large, and so oddly shaped, and Will mutters to himself, “Not even with all the Crisco in the world,” but he is thinking about how it would feel to have Hannibal’s heavy weight settle over him, the anticipation of knowing what would follow after that.  

Which of those twin cocks would he use? Will imagines holding the lower one between his thighs, working the sharply angled head with his hand while Hannibal fucked up into him. Would he come with both at the same time, or would Hannibal come inside of him once, then pull out to do it again with the second one?

Surely, Will thinks with a certain degree of unease, Hannibal wouldn’t expect to be able to fit both of them inside him at that same time...

Will is trembling, he wants all of it so badly and is so badly scared by that wanting, and he pushes those feelings away as best he can and continues his investigation.

There are no balls that Will can see, and he thinks that they must be internal. He runs his fingers along the ridged shape of the lower cock, and the creature shudders with pleasure and then takes Will’s hand again and guides his fingers just below the underside of the lower cock, which is slick with something, and Will feels the hole there, a tight circle of muscle that yields for his finger and then tightens around it.  

The creature’s eyes are sultry when Will looks up to meet them.

“Can you catch pregnant that way?” he wonders out loud, a little horrified at the thought but mostly curious.

Hannibal reaches out an arm and hooks Will around the thigh, drawing him even closer, and his claws dig into the soft meat there, mixing the scent of his blood with the salt smell of the ocean.

He is turning Will around, parting his ass, exploring from behind this time, and Will supposes that he knows what Hannibal is looking for now. He balls his fists out of a frustrated sense of inadequacy and pulls away from Hannibal’s hold.

“I don’t have that,” Will tells him, roughly. “I don’t - I’m not like you, alright? This is all that I’ve got, do you understand that?”

The disappointment on Hannibal’s face is unmistakable, and Will is suddenly terrified that Hannibal will turn his back on him and disappear into the ocean forever, and he wants to fall on his knees in front of the creature and use his mouth and his hands on him instead, to prove that he can still be good, despite whatever he might be lacking, but he has offered sex too often to try to prove his value to a lover, and he does not wish to crawl now.

There are wheels turning in Hannibal’s head, and Will can see them going - he is make a decision, is weighing the sacrifices that he will have to make for the sake of having Will - and when Hannibal reaches for his hands and leads him down into the water until they are thigh-deep in it, Will feel the bite of tears in his eyes.

The sense of gratitude is enough that he could drown in it.  

Will understands in some intuitive way that Hannibal is proceeding more on instinct than experience. He lays on his back in the shallow water, looking up at Will from below the soft waves, and leads Will down to kneel over him, straddling Hannibal’s hips. With one hand Hannibal pushes his cocks back against his own belly so they are out of the way, and with the other he guides Will’s own cock into that strange extra hole, and it is as cool as the ocean water inside, but tight and slick, and Will curls his arms around Hannibal’s own and hooks his ankles around Hannibal’s to keep the waves from pulling them apart.

When Will starts to thrust he can tell Hannibal is taken aback, but then he releases one of his cocks so it springs back against Will’s stomach, and Will can see the added layer of pleasure that Hannibal finds in the friction of Will’s belly rubbing against it while he fucks him.

Hannibal leans his head back against the sand, closing his eyes in quiet bliss, absolutely relaxed, and what remaining doubts Will had about this endeavor fade as he watches Hannibal’s face. He doesn’t last very long, and he comes it is with a series of low, huffing gasps.

Even after that Hannibal seems still too lost in pleasure to move, and so Will stays where he is, limbs intertwined, soft inside of him, until some minutes later, when Hannibal shakes off the indolence enough to untangle an arm and tap at Will in indication he is ready to get up.

Will walks back up onto the beach, Hannibal floating through the shallow water beside him, and when they step up onto the beach and turn to face one another Will sees that he is still hard.

When Will goes down on his knees in the sand in front of him to see if Hannibal will let him do something about that, the creature doesn’t shy away, but now that he is not being led Will is more anxious than ever about doing something wrong, and he tilts his eyes up at Hannibal to look for approval before he leans in to close his mouth around the head of his uppermost cock.

Will watches Hannibal’s face carefully as he works, tracking the joyous sparkle in his black eyes, the flutter of his gills and the bobbing of his throat. He is good at this and knows it, but seeing that reflected so clearly on Hannibal’s face, which before not so long ago had seemed so inscrutably alien, is immensely reassuring.

It’s a relief to find that the skin on Hannibal’s cocks is much softer than that on the rest of his body. It slides silkily over Will’s lips while he sucks, his tongue exploring the topography of all those ridges and rises, and Will is struck by the vulnerability of it in way that he has never been before when he blew other men, the idea of having between his teeth something that Hannibal usually keeps hidden inside of himself.

It’s no surprise, really, that when Hannibal comes it tastes like the ocean.  

Chapter Text

Leaving Will behind on the shore, Hannibal circles languorously down into deeper waters, lost in a mellow sense of his own wondrousness.

The sense of serenity is coupled with bright anticipation for the future, and he spins his body through the water for the pure pleasure of it, then kicks out harder with his legs, becoming more intent in his purpose as he draws nearer to his most important treasure trove.

The hull of the wrecked ship is more or less still in one piece, and Hannibal squeezes between a gap in the boards and into the shadowy hold. Narrow sunbeams penetrate through the cracks and gaps in the upper deck, providing all the light he needs.

A jumble of rotting steerage trunks are stacked haphazardly one on top of another against the wall at the tilted bow of the ship, but these Hannibal ignores. Instead, he goes to the handsome and unbroken chest that, years ago, he salvaged from among the pile and moved into a place of honor, just below where the brightest beams of the noonday sun penetrate through the openings in the boards overhead.

He lowers himself to his feet in front of this chest now, and crouches to open it.

Inside there rests an eclectic collection of objects which Hannibal has found to be beautiful or unique, the store of treasures only slightly reduced by the subtraction of those things which he has given as gifts to Will.

In one corner of the trunk, a large chunk of gleaming volcanic glass, carried to these colder waters by the persistent tides, is ringed by carefully stacked shells, each one utterly flawless. Three fossilized megalodon teeth, black as the obsidian and longer than his hand, lean at an angle against the back of the trunk, positioned points up and so the serrated edges can be clearly seen, and Hannibal considers one of these for his purpose, but dismisses the megalodon teeth as unwieldy and lacking in significance, as well as too dulled from age to serve for the task he has in mind.

There are other natural oddities in the trunk, as well, but the majority of the space inside is taken up by man-made wonders; keys and coins and jewelry of all kinds lay in neat rows along side eyeglass frames, silent pocket watches and bullet casings. There’s folding knives and jeweled daggers, silverware and short swords, and for an aesthetic touch Hannibal has placed small bits of colored sea glass among these other objects, when the composition of the collection seemed to be improved by a little added color.

Now, Hannibal reaches past all these lesser treasures for his most valued possession, and with both hands lifts the heavy skull from inside the chest.  

The skull is perhaps half again the size of Hannibal’s, and the teeth set in the jaws are considerably larger still than his own. A silver necklaces set with purple gemstones has been woven around the jaw and through the nasal cavity, so that the ends of the chain pool in the eye sockets. When Hannibal shifts the skull, the light that reflects from the stones which rest where her eyes had once been gives the faint impression of a spark of life.

His sibling was a far more practical creature than Hannibal, and did not share his fascination for the strange and unusual - even with a sample size of two, Hannibal knew himself to be, in this regard, the outlier for his species - but she had been taken with that chain of purple stones unlike anything before.

When she first picked it up from among the ruins of a sunken passenger liner that they were exploring, Hannibal waited for her to lose interest in it, as she usually did when the rare human artifact caught her interest. He expected her to drop it at the first sight of one of the many fish and other edible creatures that made their homes in the shelter offered by the sunken ship - her reason for following him on this expedition in the first place - and was poised to snatch it up when she did, so he might have it for his own.

Instead, she looped it around her wrist, tucking the ends under when the clasp defeated her, and never took it off again, except to play with it or to hold it up so she could contemplate happily way the gems glimmered in different types of lighting.   

Hannibal wanted that chain, and the fact that she showed no sign of being willing to ever turn it over only made him covet it that much more fiercely.

They clashed, again and again, in the following mouths, as he hatched a dozen different schemes to try to get it from her - trying to grab it when she wasn’t looking, or to distract her while he slipped it off her wrist, or to con her into putting it down - and he still has the scars to show for these failed efforts.

It was all in good fun, but it was an obsession, too. He could not let go of the idea of adding the chain to his collection.

But when he finally did manage to sneak up on her and snatch the jeweled chain away, the victory brought little by way of the joy he’d expected. He’d been certain that she would give chase, and watched her over his shoulder as he darted away through the water, not entirely confident that he would be able to out distance her.

She only watched him listlessly, not even rallying the effort to look outraged or offended, and then she turned away from him, disinterested in Hannibal and in the bracelet.

He didn’t like being ignored, and though half-certain that she was laying a trap for him, he’d swum closer and closer to her, trying to get her attention, until he was dangling his prize just above her eyes, daring her to try to grab it, muscles poised to flee should she try. His sibling did not so much as reach for the chain, and Hannibal was left feeling frustrated and bewildered, as though he’d been cheated in some way that he didn’t quite understand.

He circled in front of her, the chain that was still clutched in his fist nearly forgotten, and when she looked up at him there was a terrible pain in her eyes, but such a weight of trust, too. She’d looked at him the same way when she’d gotten a fishing hook stuck in her palm, back when they were both still small; hurting and depending on him to reason a way out of the trouble she was in.

Hannibal wondered if whatever was wrong had been wrong for a while, and he had simply been too hyper focused on getting the chain from her to notice. But he was stubborn about the thing, now that he had it, and he did not give the chain back, though there was none of the joy in possessing it that he’d expected.   

The pain, whatever its cause, did not leave her, nor did the pleading look in her eyes, and he’d been desperate to find some way to change the situation.

It was not their way to share food - they each got their own meat, and sometimes fought viciously over prey - but when she stopped hunting Hannibal brought her food, though it did little good. Sometimes she would try to eat, if he was insistent, but never very much, and the few bites that she could be compelled to take seemed to only make things worse.

Perhaps ten days after he’d taken the chain from her, his sibling sunk down to the ocean floor and laid there, curled in on herself miserably.

There was terrible danger in that; there were things in the water that would eat even a creature as large as she, if it looked like she couldn’t fight back. Hannibal tugged at her limbs and snapped at her and cajoled her by touch and expression, until she at last allowed him to bully her into moving somewhere safer.

He’d secreted her inside the hull of the sunken ship and waited for her to get better, and in the meantime he brought her every good thing that he could think of to eat, but it all made no difference. When Hannibal looped the purple-gemmed chain around her alarmingly thin wrist, she’d rallied for a few minutes to appreciate it, and he was gratified by small sparkle of pleasure in her eyes as she did so, but the enjoyment hadn’t lasted long.           

She was very dear to him, but there was nothing, ultimately, that he could do to save her.

Will now is the beneficiary of a number of the counter-instinctual behaviors that Hannibal developed while trying to care for her, particularly the desire to provide him with food. He thinks about Will now, all those little flat teeth and the ineffectual fangs, only occasionally glimpsed in the man’s rare smiles.

Now, Hannibal turns the skull over in his hands thoughtfully, tracing the familiar contours of the white bone. Carefully, he worries one of the largest teeth free from the upper jaw, and then shuts the skull away again in the trunk, where it will be safe.

Clutching the tooth in his fist, Hannibal sets out again for the surface.

 

Hannibal rises from the water and walks towards Will with a quiet, calm dignity. There is something in his hand, and Will expects another gift, but when he stops in front of Will he does not simply hold the object out to him, as is his usual way.

Instead, he presses it into Will’s hand, and then enfolds Will’s fist in both of his own. Then he leans in, and shifting one hand to grip Will’s wrist instead, closes his teeth over Will’s knuckles and places a careful, loving bite there.

It hurts, but pain has never much troubled Will; it’s disregard that he fears and resents, and no such thing is present in Hannibal now. He tilts his eyes up at Will as he laps at the blood with his rough tongue, and Will understands that there is great significance to this ritual.

The thing that Hannibal placed in his hand is cold and hard and sharply angled, and when Hannibal releases Will so he can open his fist he sees that it’s a shark’s tooth.

“It’s beautiful, Hannibal, thank you,” he says, as he always does, but the pressure of the formality of whatever this is makes him embarrassed. He adds with uneasy humor, “Did you make it yourself?”

Will knows that Hannibal did not. It is shaped very much like Hannibal’s teeth, which are subtly different from those of a natural shark, but is much bigger than the biggest of Hannibal’s own.

Something else seems called for, but Will isn’t sure what is expected of him. Seeing his uncertainty, Hannibal takes the tooth from Will’s palm and turns it sideways, then shapes Will hand around it as though he were holding a short blade, and positions the sharp tip against the knuckles of his own right hand.

Multiple things click into place for Will, and he understands not only what Hannibal wants him to do but why - what it all means to Hannibal. He worries his lower lip between his teeth, anxious at the weight of what he is undertaking and the implications for his future, but then he finds his nerve again. Despite the sharpness of the tooth it takes a lot of muscle to cut through Hannibal’s skin.

“I do,” Will says, but under his breath, so softly that he does not believe Hannibal has even heard him speak. The tangle of emotions that his own words provoke is so heady that it leaves Will nearly dizzy, and he tries to shove it all away to work out later.  

Watching Hannibal carefully and hoping that he is doing this right, Will bows his head and lays a kiss on top of the cut he has made, tasting on his lips and his tongue Hannibal’s blood.

Chapter Text

“How’s your friend doing?” the clerk at the bookstore asks Will, when he returns to collect the books he’d ordered, and in the few seconds that it takes Will to recall the lie that he told her last time he was here, Will lives out a long nightmare in which he and Hannibal are found out, separated, locked up.

She means Matthew, he reminds himself, trying to bring his heartbeat back under control, and she doesn’t know anything that matters about that, either.

The clerk doesn’t know how often he’d been ugly to Matthew, how mean and rude and naked in his disdain he’d been - how he’d treated Matthew like he was stupid when maybe he’d only been young and over enthusiastic, naive in his pleasure at having Will and in the belief that Will loved him as much he thought he loved Will.

Will’s temper got worse after the time when Matthew hurt him, and there were moments when it seemed like he was on the verge of really understanding that there was something more to the way Will snapped and groused and picked at him than just general misanthropy and a grumpy personality.  

But the clerk doesn’t know any of that, either, any more than she knows that Matthew is dead because of him, and he swallows back against the bile of his own self-loathing and smiles at her and says, “He’s great. Just great - he’s seeing somebody, you know?” and is not consciously aware, as he speaks, of the way that his hand goes to his ear to worry at the spot where the sniper’s bullet tagged him.  

He goes to the jeweler's next, and tells the man at the counter that his sweetheart gave him the big shark tooth as a gift and that he would like to have it made into a necklace - a sturdy one, because she was really proud of finding that tooth and he wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings by losing it.

The lies are coming easier, now. He’d been out of practice last time he came to the mainland, but all the old dodges are coming back; the reduction of his lover to a friend, the careful switching up of pronouns.

The jeweler wants Will to wait and come back for the necklace in a few days, but Will is worried about how Hannibal will take it if he returns without the tooth, and he insists on waiting. It’s been awhile since he's exercised the social skills necessary to get his way in such a situation, and those talents had never been especially well developed, but he digs his feet in now.

It’s only a few hours before dark when he returns home, and Hannibal is waiting for him under the dock.

He climbs out of the water and curls his arms around Will, drawing him close against himself, and as Hannibal’s tail twines itself around his ankle Will’s fingers make a tentative exploration down the terrain of Hannibal’s belly. Hannibal grips him hard by the wrist of his free hand and tries to pull him toward the beach.

“Nah,” Will says. “Listen; I want to try something different this time, okay? Let’s go up to the house...”

If Hannibal understands, he still doesn’t stop tugging at him, and Will digs his feet in and says more sharply, “No, Hannibal. I don’t want to.”

Now Hannibal looks back at him, and for a moment Will is frightened that he won’t take no for an answer - that he will force Will to down to the beach and into God only knows what else - but he only gives one last tug on Will’s arm, tentative and uncertain, before dropping Will’s hand.

Hannibal looks wounded, and a little puzzled, and Will wonders in retrospect why he’d been so harsh about the matter in the first place, but now that he has staked his ground he has no intention of giving it up, and he says, “I’m going up to the house now. You should come, too, if you want.”

Hannibal follows him up to the cottage and inside. When Will sits on the edge of the bed Hannibal drops down beside him, and his tail snakes around Will’s waist as he leans in to worry at Will’s clothing.

“Incorrigible,” Will says, but it’s a relief to know he isn't really angry with him.

Will’s still worried, though - that what he wants to ask for will strike Hannibal as deviant or too unnatural, or that Hannibal will not know how to turn him down, if he wants to say no, and will just go along with Will regardless of his own feelings.

Look at him, Will thinks, trying to quell his self-doubt. He could ripped your throat out with the slightest jerk of his head - he won’t let you talk him into anything that he doesn’t want to do. But he knows that isn’t necessarily true - that there might be any number of reasons why someone would stay quiet and go along with something they don’t like, and Will doesn’t want that. There is nothing that he wants less.

He is terrified of being predatory. Of taking advantage.

And he is frightened of rejection, of provoking disgust, and of being thoughtlessly hurt again.

He wants Hannibal, though.

Will takes the tooth out from under his collar and shows it to Hannibal, the gold wiring and chain. “It’s good, isn’t it?” he asks.

Hannibal takes it from him and studies it, and he seems pleased enough, but then he puts it to the side on the night table, and starts to work at the buttons of Will’s shirt again.

 

Will catches Hannibal’s hands in his own, and lowers them to the point where their thighs meet. “Wait a minute,” he says, and even if Hannibal hadn't already learned those words he would know from the way Will is holding his hands captive that he wants him to stop.  

Despite his eagerness, when Will speaks Hannibal listens carefully, piecing it all together as well as he can. Will has a great deal to say, and though Hannibal understands only a little of it, his expression and scent and the tone of his voice, which Hannibal is learning to parse more quickly than the words themselves, denote a complex turmoil of emotion - desire, yes, but frustration and fear too, mingling with not a small amount of shame and guilt. These latter two feelings are not absent from Hannibal’s own emotional repertoire, but they have been exercised so rarely in his life that he is still teasing out their nuances when present in Will.   

When they had first met, he’d thought that Will’s speech to be like bird song; a great deal of noise, pleasant to listen to but signifying only a limited range of meaning. He is only slowly beginning to comprehend just how much information all those sounds convey, and Hannibal feels that he is waking to a new world of possibilities, bittersweet because he himself cannot replicate the speech to express his own thoughts and feelings.

Will is troubled now, by that jumble of emotions, and he is trying to explain something to Hannibal. He is almost certain that it has to do with sex, and he wonders why Will doesn’t simply show him what it is that's on his mind.

Will takes a deep breath and reaches into the drawer of the night table beside the bed, taking out a pair of nail clippers and a nail file. These Hannibal recognizes from having seen Will use them on himself, and now he picks up Hannibal’s hand and poses the blades of the clippers over one the tip of one of his claws.

“Alright?” Will asks, and Hannibal raises his chin in consent, wondering what Will’s purpose is in this. He’s scratched Will a few times, and though Will made no complaints when it happened, Hannibal wonders if he is trying to prevent that happening again, but he only dulls the claws on Hannibal’s dominant hand, filing the edges smooth.

Then he puts the file and nail clippers away, and takes out the container of Vaseline.

When Hannibal finally understands what Will is driving at, the idea is so strange and fascinating that he is delighted, and he would like to laugh the same way he did the first time that he saw Will unclothed, but he is careful about what shows on his face. This is no time to tease Will; he is sweating, and his hands are unsteady - Hannibal can smell the fear on him, far more distinct than it was before, and he puzzles over its cause.

Will is looking down at his own hands, which are tangled in his lap, and Hannibal cups the side of his face and lifts Will’s head up, so he can look him in the eyes.

“It’s okay?” Will says. “It’s not… it’s not a bad thing to ask for?”

Hannibal remembers the way that Will used his lips over the cut that he gave him. He doesn’t have a word for the gesture - he has not yet been taught that it is called a kiss - but tries to replicate it now, pressing his lips against each of Will’s knuckles in turn, careful not to graze the skin with his teeth, and looking up as he goes to keep track of Will’s expression.  

It seems to reassure him, and when Hannibal stops Will takes his hand in his own again and dips his fingers in the Vaseline, then guides his hand, showing Hannibal what to do.

Will is quiet at first, leaning forward with his hands braced against the mattress as Hannibal bends over him, but when Hannibal draws his finger out Will whimpers. That’s a new and astonishing thing - a sound that Will has never made before - and with his other hand Hannibal lifts Will’s chin and studies his face avidly.  

“You’re doing good,” Will reassures him. He lets himself down onto his belly, and Hannibal goes back to work.

At first his hole seems far too small and narrow for what Will has suggested, but as Hannibal works at it in the way Will showed him that changes, and Hannibal is so pleased to find Will’s body opening to him after all, if only for the sake of pleasure.

Will is relaxing beneath him, happy and pliant, and Hannibal runs the claws of his free hand down his spine lightly and feels him shudder with delight. Hannibal’s own urgency is growing, but he feels nonetheless that he would be happy to keep doing this almost indefinitely.

But Will puts a hand on his thigh, indicating that he should pause, and Hannibal draws his fingers out careful, relishing the way Will’s hand tightens on his leg when he does. Will turns onto his side, and now his fingers are touching Hannibal’s belly, inching lower slowly before drawing him out, and Will’s hands are so soft and warm, but they are strong, too, and the memories of what Will knows how to do with them makes Hannibal’s hips buck, quite involuntarily.  

One of Will’s hands move to Hannibal’s chest, fingers spread like a starfish. “Shhhh,” he hisses, a soft soothing sound, and Hannibal closes his eyes and basks in the touch.

The only time Hannibal becomes uneasy is when Will rolls back onto his stomach. It seems incorrect to him that they should not be doing this belly to belly, but when Hannibal takes him by the shoulder and tries to turn him over Will grips his wrist and says, “No,” before diving into a longer explanation that Hannibal can’t follow.



Hannibal is heavier than Will expects.

Will works to keep his breathing steady as Hannibal settles over him, his legs straddling Will’s thighs, and when he feels one of Hannibal’s erections bob against his ass Will reaches back to guide him.

He has thought about the mechanics of this a great deal, how best to accommodate Hannibal, big as he is and doubly endowed, and he guides the lower cock between his thighs, and then he takes more lube from the container, easing the way for the other cock, and helps Hannibal enter him.

There’s a pause, in which there is no sound in the room except that of their breathing, as they both consider this new thing, and then as some of the fear starts to creep back in, Will tells him, “Be gentle with me now. I’m fragile, do you understand? I’m softer than you are. You have to be careful or you could hurt me really badly.”

Truth be told, Will expects to be hurt anyway, intentionally or not.

It doesn’t scare him as much as he thinks it probably should.

The first thrusts are tentative and slow, and - Will realizes later - almost entirely for his own benefit. Later, when he remembers how surprised Hannibal seemed the first time Will thrust into him, he will realize that in the normal course of affairs friction does not play the same roll for Hannibal’s species as it does for his own, but now Will is focused entirely in the moment. It’s a lot to take in, even as careful as Hannibal is being, and there is some pain, but that is secondary to everything else, and Will pushes back against him, encouraging Hannibal to go harder.

Hannibal is silent, as he always is, though his breathing is harsh beside Will’s ear, but Will does not fight against his own desire to cry out; though he cannot see Hannibal’s face now, he knows from past experience the wonderment and thrill his sounds inspire in the creature.

The second cock is still between Will’s legs, as cool and hard as wet marble, and Will clenches his thighs around it and hears Hannibal draw in a sharp breath, and then his mouth is on the back of Will’s shoulder, the flats of his teeth pressed against the skin, and Will does not mistake that for another kiss.

He wants to use his teeth on me, Will realizes, and wonders what he wants for himself.   

It is not, Will finds, the prospect of pain that really frightens him, but rather the idea of his own desires being disregarded - of things happening to him, whether he wants them to or not.  

“Don’t you bite me,” Will tells him, putting as much warning into his voice as he can manage, given his current position, and feels his heart go rabbity as he waits to see if Hannibal will do it anyway.

After a short pause Hannibal draws his mouth away from Will’s skin. His teeth click together, just above Will’s tattered ear, but he doesn’t close them around any part of Will, and as has happened so often since he met Hannibal, Will finds himself blindsided by an almost absurd amount of gratitude.

There’s an anger that comes with that, too, a bitterness, though none of it for Hannibal, a new awareness on Will’s part of just how badly he has been treated in the past, that the creature’s consideration for him now should feel so shockingly alien.

He could tear me to pieces, if he wanted to, but I don't think he will. Will wonders if that’s love.

Hannibal comes shortly after that, the claws on his left hand clenching the blankets while his right hand, with its bunted nails, grips Will’s forearm. It’s sooner than Will might have hoped, when he set out to make all of this happen, but it doesn’t upset him, even if he is himself still hard.

He feels good, relieved that it all went so smoothly, but emotionally drained - ready to have some time to himself to think about what all of this means - but when Hannibal’s hand snakes underneath him and closes around his cock, Will smiles and decides that he could do with a little more intimacy. He mutters under his breath, “Such a gentleman - always so considerate.”

Will recognizes his own technique in the motions of Hannibal’s hand around his cock, and that pleases him, too. He comes peacefully, with a hum in the back of his throat and a smile on his lips, and when Hannibal rolls off of him Will turns on his side to look him in the face.

The black eyes seem soft now, looking back at Will. Will feels coy, and somehow more innocent than he believes himself to have any right to feel, when he says, “Next time, I’ll let you bite me.”

He knows, as soon as he says this, that he will enjoy it.     

Chapter Text

Reba is walking down the beach, her cane making an exploratory arc in front of her, searching the sand for anything interesting, when she becomes aware that she is being followed.

He’s quiet but he’s also big, and she can hear the drag of the water against his ankles, the way it interrupts the rhythm of the waves as he draws closer.

She’s better at this hobby than many of the other vacationing beachcombers; she gets started earlier than the others, long before the sun comes up, and because she does not rely on her eyes she is more thorough, poking down into the sand with her cane to uncover things other people would have overlooked.

This section of the beach is usually devoid of other human life, especially so early in the morning, and Reba is exceedingly aware of all the ways in which she might be read as both an easy target and an acceptable one. While she cannot be certain, Reba is fairly sure that if she were to yell for help no one would hear her out here.

She does not reach into her pocket to touch the folding knife that is there - she doesn’t wish to give her watcher any cues from which he might determine that she's armed - but she shifts her cane to her left hand to leave the right free.

The man is only a few yards away now. He’s at the edge of the water, walking behind her and a little to the left, and Reba comes to a stop and turns to face him, knowing that if he has somehow failed to realize that she is blind he will see it now, and wondering if he intends to try to take advantage of that.

“Good morning,” she says.

There’s no answer.

“I said, ‘Good morning,’” Reba repeats, a chill note in her voice now.

Another long pause, but then she is answered by a hoarse, hissing croak, the sibilant S-sound repeated in a sing-song pattern that almost matches the flow of her own greeting.

He’s mute but not deaf, she thinks, and the small pang of guilt for having been short with him mingles with a certain degree of ironic humor at the situation.

It doesn’t mean that he is safe, of course, and she sits carefully on her impulse towards sympathy. Reba wonders about his race.

She waits for him to make the next move, and after a long moment she hears something heavy land in the sand just to the left of her ankle. Reba makes a quick exploration of it with her cane, assuring herself that the object is not dirty or dangerous, and stoops to pick it up. It’s a conch shell, small but judging by touch quite flawless. 

“That’s good,” Reba says, and puts it into her pocket rather than the collecting bag; she has already decided to keep it for herself. “Thank you.”   

When the man does nothing else, she takes a few steps towards the point where she last heard him move, and hears the splash of the water as he backs away from her quickly, as skittish as a racehorse. There’s a louder splash when he dives under the water.

Reba listens closely to know where he comes up again, but hears nothing.

Chapter Text

The nightmare grabs Will by the throat and refuses to let go.

He wakes, drenched in sweat and disorientated, the sights and sounds and smells of Matthew’s death still playing inside his skull, and at first he does not know where he is. He lurches from the bed to stumble down to the beach, fleeing as though pursued.

Outside it is as dark as dusk. Heat lightning lances across the sky, and the strangeness of the lighting distorts Will’s sense of the world around him. In a distant corner of his mind, he wonders if he should light the lighthouse, but the buzzing panic is too loud for him to focus on anything so practical.

Will comes to a stop at the edge of the water, Hannibal’s name choking in his throat, but Will can’t find his voice.

Hannibal surfaces from the grey waters anyway. He comes forward, and for reasons that Will doesn’t understand he shies away from Hannibal’s touch.

When Hannibal comes to a stop, head cocked to the side and a narrow frown on his face, and Will blinks and sees Hannibal, hanging like a trophy from the hook down by the docks where they display the big sharks whenever one of them is killed, his head bashed out of shape by a fish club, bloody and cut open and dead.

“Get away from me,” Will says, and though he’d meant it to sound threatening it comes out more like a plea. “Are you stupid? You shouldn’t be here.”

Hannibal ignores all of this. Instead of leaving, he coaxes Will down into the sand and sprawls himself across Will’s lap, and his solid weight is a comfort, as is the touch of Hannibal’s hands as they stroke him, the gentle drag of his claws against bare skin.

But now that the idea really has its teeth in Will he can’t shake it. “I’m going to get you killed,” Will says miserably, and wonders why he ever encouraged Hannibal to stay here with him, when he must have known from the beginning that it was dangerous.

It’s been three months since the two of them made their vows, and Will is certain that Hannibal has understood nearly everything that he’s said since coming down here, but Hannibal only sighs at him.

He reaches up and brushes the side of a finger against the skin just below Will’s eye. It comes away wet, and Will realizes that he’s been crying but isn’t sure when it started.

Hannibal sits up and leans in close to his face to breath him in, and then Will squeezes his eye shut as Hannibal’s rough tongue makes a pass from his cheek bone to the edge of his eyebrow.

Then he reclines back into Will’s lap, curiosity apparently assuage, he raises his hands to sign. “Like sea water,” he observes, before going back to stroking the underside of Will’s forearm.

After a while, Will begins to speak.

 

Will doesn’t try to contextualize any of it for Hannibal. He doesn’t stop to explain to Hannibal what guns are or the nature of trench warfare.

He just talks, and words come more easily with the knowledge that much of what he says will likely be incomprehensible to Hannibal.

“We weren’t where we were supposed to be, strictly speaking,” Will says, beginning slowly. “There wasn’t really any reason for it - we weren’t fucking or doing anything else that we weren’t supposed to be doing - but when the rest of the unit moved further down the trenches we just kinda hung back so we’d be alone.

“Matthew talked a lot, and I know he was talking then but I can’t remember what about, because I was doing the best I could to tune him out so I could focus on…

“I don’t remember what I was trying to focus on, or why I thought it was so much more important than whatever he had to say to me. I don’t know why it got under my skin the way it did, when he talked that much, why I let it get to me.”

Then, helplessly at the residual frustration rising in him, and ashamed of it, Will says, “You couldn’t shut him up, was the thing. You’d say, ‘Matthew, can you please be quiet for a while, I’m trying to read this book, I’m trying to write a letter or focus on cleaning my gun or am doing this other important thing,’ and that would last maybe two minutes if you were lucky, and then he’d start up again like you’d never said anything.”

Will pauses, worrying at his lower lip. “I wasn’t usually that polite when I asked him, is the thing.

“But he was talking at me, and then he stopped.

“Just trailed off in the middle of a word, which was strange, and then he said, ‘Huh,’ and kinda paused for a moment. So I looked towards Matthew, and saw that he was looking out across no man’s land like he’d seen something that confused and worried him, then I turned to look for whatever it was he was looking at, but I couldn’t see over the lip of the trench so I went to its edge and stood up straight to look over it.

“I don’t know why I did that - I knew better than to do that,” Will says, and his chest is tight with the weight of guilt. “I just - I was annoyed with him, I was mad and I didn’t want to take him seriously right then, is the thing.

“I dunno,” he says, and bites his own lip again - too hard. He tastes blood.

Hannibal’s nostrils flare at the scent, and it reminds Will of the afternoon tryst that they’d enjoyed two afternoons before; there’s an ache in his shoulder, where Hannibal’s teeth broke the skin, but it’s a good kind of hurt - comfortable and comforting.

“But I was looking over the edge to try to figure out what had caught Matthew’s attention, and then he said my name. ‘Will,’ he said, and he was getting ready to say something else - ‘get down,’ maybe, or ‘Will, duck’ - but then I felt this sharp pain in my ear, right here.” He touches his notched ear. “It was like I’d been stung by the world’s meanest wasp, and I turned back to Matthew, trying to figure out what had happened and… already kind of figuring that it was his fault somehow and getting ready to get mad… and he was still reaching out for me so I know he was on his way towards me to pull me down, but -

“A lot of his face was gone.”

Tasting bile, Will swallows hard, fighting against the roiling in his belly.

The bullet, which had only nicked Will’s ear, blew off the better part of Matthew’s jaw, and Will pulled him down to the ground, as though getting out of the line of fire now would make any kind of difference, and made him lay on his black. Will’s brain was a red haze of panic and there was a sense of unreality as he looked down at Matthew, because yes, Will had seen things like it before - the splintered bone and broken teeth and pulped meat - but never on anyone he cared about, never on someone who was still alive, and the breath caught in his throat when he tried to scream for the medics so the word came only as a hiss, and he had to try again and again, and when it came free at last it felt as though something in Will’s throat had ruptured, but no one came and Will remembered that he was supposed to put pressure on the wound to keep the blood in but it wasn’t clear where the blood was coming from because it seemed to be coming from everywhere.

What was left of Matthew’s tongue and jaw worked, like he was trying to say something, and a sound came out of his throat, but before it could build to anything he began to choke on the blood, and Will leaned over him, dithering, his hands jittering, terrified to do anything lest he make it all somehow worse, and somewhere in a dark corner of his skull a voice that sounded little different from his own internal voice said, Finally something managed to shut him up, and the sense of self-loathing that rose up in Will was massive but not big enough to drown out the rest of the emotional tumult inside his head.  

“He was in shock - still more confused about what had happened than scared or hurting,” Will tells Hannibal now. “He looked up at me and his eyes were huge and glassy but they were lucid enough that I could tell that he was trying to put the pieces of what had happened together, then he moved his hands and started to take stock of himself, starting at his belly and working their way up.” He’d watched, frozen by his own sense of horror, as Matthew’s hands made a creeping exploration of his torso and then began to creep up toward his neck.

“He was reaching towards his face, and all I could think about was the… incomprehensible horror of reaching up there and finding part of yourself just gone, of maybe putting your fingers into that ruined mess. I need to protect him for that knowledge - and it was selfish, too, because I didn’t think I could stand watching as the reality sunk in for him, seeing the realization and the panic and the horror as he started to understand, and not being able to do anything about it, so I caught his hands in my own and held onto them.”

Will clutches Hannibal’s wrist now, in unconscious demonstration. He has been listening, as he laid in Will’s lap and his fingers traced paths along Will’s skin, but now Hannibal focuses his attention, watching Will’s face intently.

“I lied for him - to him. I said, “Hey, don’t touch it! Your hands are filthy - do you you’re want to give yourself an infection, make the medical staff’s jobs that much harder?’ like I thought that would make any kind of difference.”

Will thought, If I am too nice to him he will realize that it’s really bad, so he said, “You’re going to have such an ugly fucking scar, no one is going to want to kiss you but me,” and as though to prove his point he’d brought Matthew’s hand to his lips and laid kisses along the backs of his knuckles, though they really were filthy with trench mud and God only knew what else.

He held Matthew’s hands tight and waited for the medics, and tried to keep talking do Matthew would focus on his voice instead of on figuring out what had happened to him, and the blood kept coming and Will kept thinking that he should do something - anything - about that, but touching it would surely cause Matthew more pain, and he was afraid of doing more damage, and he still couldn’t really make sense of what he was looking at. There was a profound sense of unreality to all of this - that someone who he’d kissed and fucked and shouted at just hours before could in the blink of an eye be so fundamentally ruined.

When the medic came he let Will go on holding Matthew’s hands, and cursing himself for a coward Will watched the deft and unfrightened way in which the man’s own hands tended to the confusion of torn flesh, slowing the flow of blood.

For perhaps five minutes Will lived out a long fantasy in which Matthew did not die; there were, after all, other men who had survived similarly grotesque injuries, though the world made pariahs of them, and Will looked down at what the medic was doing and thought about how he could make up for what had happen - how the two of them could go someplace private and live together after all of this was over, and how it wouldn’t even matter very much if he didn’t know how to love Matthew, because he could learn how to take care of him and that would be so much more important, and he was so lost in the idea that he didn’t at first hear the medic when he told him that Matthew was dead.  

“I’m not stupid,” Will says now. “I know that the chances of him living through that were one in ten - maybe one in a hundred. But - but I could have tried harder to help, I could have done more but I didn’t because I was so goddamned afraid when I wasn’t even the one who got hurt, so instead I just sat there and killed him with kindness, and -”

And Will stops, afraid to go on. He is not sure, really, how much of this Hannibal has been able to follow, and feels strangely unconcerned about the question. But he does not want Hannibal to misunderstand the next part.

“There’s this voice, you know, inside of my head, and it says to me, ‘You did that on purpose. You hated him and you resented him and you wanted him dead. You wanted to get even for the way that he hurt you, but you were too goddamned chickenshit to do anything about it yourself, so instead of helping you caught hold of his hands so he couldn’t do anything to stop the bleeding either, and then you just sat there and watched him bleed out into the mud.’

“That voice is a liar,” Will says, and though he has faith in this assertion his voice shakes from fear of being disbelieved. “And most of the time now I’m able to remember that it’s lying… but it was so loud, and for a long time it wouldn’t stop saying things like that to me, over and over and over again, every goddamn waking minute until I couldn’t help but give up and believe it.”

Will is quiet for a while, watching the tip of Hannibal’s tail flick in the sand. He can’t bring himself to look down to check Hannibal’s expression, afraid of what he might find there. He hasn’t tried to get up and leave, at least, as his hand is still stroking Will’s arm.

“I got really bad for a long time, after they made me let go of Matthew, and took him away. Couldn’t sleep or focus on anything, that voice was so loud and it never shut up. I started getting into trouble because I wasn’t doing any of the things I was expected to do, you know? I stopped eating, and -”

But Hannibal’s fingers have come to a sudden halt. There’s worry in his face, when Will looks down at him, as transparent and human as any expression that Hannibal’s face has worn before. Will stumble over his words, trying to figure out its exact cause, and it’s more instinct than reason that leads him to say, “This was all a long time ago - you don’t have to worry about me now. I’m better now,” though the last bit is at best a half-truth and at worst a bald faced lie.

One morning he hadn’t left his bedroll when expected, and no amount of shouting or threats or kicks could induce him to get on feet. The people in charge hadn’t been able to decide if he was physically ill or insubordinate, though he supposes that in another country’s army he might have been shot for a coward, and eventually he’d been shipped home to a V.A. hospital, and from there it had been a short if winding path to the asylum.

The voice was huge in his head by then, telling him that he was a coward and a killer and a waste, telling him that he ought to be dead too, and for a long time Will did not have the resources to fight back against the accusations of the enemy inside himself.

He’d lost track of who he was for a long time, and when he’d finally woken from that dazed misery and clawed his way back to some sense of himself no one had believed that he was better now.

“They locked me up because I was sick,” Will says, trying to put the last of it in terms that Hannibal can follow, trying not to give too much heed to the voice in his head that pipes up to remind him how much of the world will condemn what he has right here with Hannibal as being sick, too, if they are ever discovered. “And after that they didn’t want to let me go, so I picked the locks one night and climbed over the fence. No one really bothered to come looking for me, so far as I can tell.

“So now I’m here.” He tries a smile. It feels alright on his face, especially when Hannibal sees it and smiles back. “I’m scared a lot - worried about the future - but I’m happy that I’m here.”

 

Hannibal has no context for the majority of the places and things and social interactions that Will described, and his vocabulary is still limited almost solely to those things that have bearing on their day to day lives together - food and feelings and things that they can do with one another.

He understands though, that it loss that Will is speaking of, and Hannibal knows of loss. He knows isolation, too, and despair for the future; the emotional nuance of these things are not lost to him, even when words fall short.

But - because of Will - he knows too what it is to be reprieved from that lonesomeness, what it means to find hope and home and a sense of belonging where one least expected it, and now Hannibal lifts Will’s hand and places it on his belly, and watches Will’s eyes grow wide with astonishment when he feels the movement of the two small lives that are growing inside him.

Chapter Text

Will feels the kicking against the skin of his palm, and something inside his own chest lights up with delighted wonder. “How about that,” he says, and feels the foolish grin on his lips. “Wow.”

The nightmare is forgotten - at least for now.

He looks at Hannibal. “How in the hell did this happen?”

Hannibal blinks at him, slowly. Then he taps Will’s chest with the back of his hand and makes a series of demonstrative gestures that Will is certain he didn’t learn from any of the sign language books.  

Will runs a hand down his face, blushing absurdly. “I know how people get pregnant,” he says, a bit more sharply than he meant to.

“I mean,” Will says, “biologically speak… how is that possible?”

A silly question, maybe - the fact that such an implausible creature as Hannibal even exists is grounds enough to suspend disbelief. If Hannibal understands the question he does not dignify it with an answer.

Will starts, “I’m not accusing you of anything, but at you sure… Sure that it’s mine?”

Hannibal is frowning, and Will hurries on. “Maybe you kinda… did it to yourself, somehow, you know? Snails can do that, I read one time.”

Hannibal leans over Will and thumps him in the chest with the back of his hand, harder this time, then taps his own chest firmly.

Yours, he means, and mine. Ours.  

“Wow,” Will says again. “Wow. How about that.”

He takes a deep breath, and the enormity of it begins to dawn on him.

“Do you know how long it’s going to be until he’s born?” Will asks, and then adds to make sure he’s understood, “How many days until the baby comes out?”

He sees Hannibal thinking, consulting the deep thread of instinct that seems to direct so many of his actions, but it appears that he can find no certain answer, because he signs, “When it’s done,” and Will can’t help but smile, because that’s the exact phrase he says to Hannibal, whenever he hassles Will about when dinner will be ready.

And then, as though to clarify a simple point that Will has overlooked, Hannibal cups one hand over his stomach and adds, “There’s two.”

“Two babies?” Will says, amazed all over again. “Twins?”

There’s a covetous sparkle that comes into Hannibal’s eyes whenever he hears a new word that clarifies some thought that he has wanted to express or that makes it easier for him to articulate himself. “Give me the word, please,” Hannibal signs, hands flying in his eagerness.

Will has done little to impress upon Hannibal the idea that he should say ‘please’ when requesting something - barely remembers the context in which he taught the creature that word - but Hannibal has nonetheless taken to using it far more consistently than Will ever does.

“I don’t know it yet myself,” Will says. He finger spells the word fort Hannibal as a stop gap.

“How do you know it’s twins, though?” Will asks, but Hannibal only smiles up at him.

Will runs his fingers over the slight mound of Hannibal’s belly, thinking. His stomach isn’t quite as flat and tight as it had been before, and Will mutters, “Guess if I thought about it at all I just figured you were putting on a little weight thanks to my cooking.”

Will wonders how Hannibal’s people raise their children, and now much experience - if any - Hannibal has with that business; has Hannibal ever taken care of a baby before, or seen it done?

“Where’s your family, Hannibal?” Will asks. He hadn’t known the question was on the edge of his lips until it escaped. “Your friends, your people? Why are you alone?”

Hannibal parses at least part of the question, because he signs, “I’m not alone.” Then he taps Will on the chest again, just over his heart. He folds his hand over Will’s, trapping it between his palm and his belly.

Will’s chest burns where Hannibal touched him, but he pushes on. “But before me?”

“My twin,” Hannibal tells him, obviously pleased to employ the term despite the solemnity of his words, “is dead and eaten.”

“The one in your drawings?” Will asks.

Hannibal nods, but offers nothing further.

Will wonders if the other creature was taken by a killer whale, or maybe a normal shark, but there has been enough unboxing of past grief this afternoon, and he doesn’t press for more information.

“What about your parents?” Will asks. “The people who made you?”
Hannibal shrugs with one shoulder, disinterested.

Will changes the subject.

“I don’t know how this works for… for people like you,” Will says, thinking not for the first time how odd it is to have no word for what Hannibal is. “Can you tell me what I should expect? What do I need to do, to get ready for the babies?”

Hannibal is watching him oddly, and something about the perplexity in his face makes Will’s heart stutter anxiously.

“I want to plan ahead,” he adds, and hears the quaver in his own voice.

“Plan?” Hannibal repeats, and there’s a kind of caution to the way he moves his hands and holds his face that suggests he too feels that there has been some crossing of wires here.

“To take care of them,” Will says. “The babies.”

“They take care of themselves,” Hannibal says, slowly. “They leave.”

“No.”

Hannibal blinks at him. Beneath his hand, he feels Hannibal’s body tense.

“Tell me why you think they’re going to leave. How do you think this is going to go?”

It stresses Hannibal’s current grasp of language, but he does his best to explain. “When the first twin… comes out… he’ll hide somewhere close. He’ll be frightened of us.”

“Frightened?” Will cuts in, frowning. “Why?”

“Afraid of being eaten,” Hannibal says, wondering at Will’s confusion. “He’ll be the stronger, and he will wait for his twin. When they are together again they will leave.”

“But -” Will begins, and he is so baffled that it is hard for him to find what to say next. “I don’t understand. Why can’t they stay with us? We could show them that we won’t hurt them, and they could stay with us.”

“Why would they stay?”

“So we can take care of them. Protect them. The ocean is a dangerous place - anything could happen to them…” Remembering what Hannibal said a few moment earlier, Will says, “Something really could eat them!”

It is not only that this idea does not seem to concern Hannibal… he does not seem to have the slightest idea to why it might upset Will.

“Big things eat little things,” he says. “Little things learn to hide or are eaten.”

There are moments in which Hannibal is profoundly alien to Will - moments when he is reminded that for all their surprising commonalities Hannibal is still something fundamentally Other, and that he will never truly understand some aspects of how his creature’s mind works.

This is one of those moments. “That is…” Will begins, trying to keep himself calm, “… monstrous to me. I don’t accept it. I can’t.”

Hannibal’s hands are still. His gaze is impenetrable.

Will wonders if he has hurt him.

He goes on, regardless. “And, Hannibal, you can’t predict what they’re going to be like. If they’re ours, then part of them comes from me, and human babies aren’t at all like what you are describing.

“They’re more like baby birds.” He knows Hannibal sometimes raids the gull nests, and will understand from his own predations how vulnerable the chicks are. “They’re helpless - you have to take care of them for years. Feed them, clean them, keep them safe, teach them how to do a million different things. Otherwise they’re die.”  

Hannibal blinks, stunned by the enormity of such a task.

After a minute, he raises his hands. “Teach them language?” he asks.

“Yeah, of course. That too.”

Hannibal’s expression is thoughtful.

Will reaches down and spreads his hand across Hannibal’s belly again.

“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” he says, and the voiceless sigh that Hannibal makes in response is contented enough.

 

Neither of them are aware that they are being watched.

Chapter Text

From among the jagged rocks that surround the island, the monster watches.

Almost entirely submerged, everything below the bridge of his nose hidden beneath the water, he knows himself to be nearly invisible among the waves - seeing but not seen.

He does not dare to be seen.

In the red light of the rising sun, he watches as the man makes his way down to the beach. The other creature rises from the water to go to meet him, and when he draws the man into his arms the monster gnashes his teeth together.

After a few moments the man pulls away, carefully and with a little reluctance, and says something to the creature. It’s pleasant humany chatter, and the monster can tell from his tone that the man is pleased about something.

That chatter might have been soothing, even from the distance, had the monster not been so acutely aware that it was not for him.

The sounds for who the other creature is are “Ha Na Bal,” each piece always said in quick succession. He has been watching the pair for a long time now, and has heard the man call the creature this many times.

He does not know the sounds for the human, but aspires to learn.

The monster remembers the name that was given to him, when he was only a few months old, but even if there was anyone to listen he could not speak it.

Usually, when the man and Hannibal meet one another on the beach, they turn and go up the house together, where they disappear inside until Hannibal needs to come back to the water to soak his gills and catch his breath. The monster has not been inside that specific house, but he has a general idea of what it holds and what they might be doing together in there.

Today, though, the man boards his boat and casts off, leaving Hannibal behind on the dock. When the monster moves to follow after the man, he makes a wide arc to avoid being spotted by the other creature.

The monster draws close to the boat as the island begins to fade into the early morning fog behind them.

 

The young couple who hooked him never intended to make a monster of him.

When they found the bizarre little creature thrashing at the end of their fishing line, they froze, trying to parse what the thing fighting against the hook down in the waves below them could possibly be. The water was frothy from his struggles, and hinted red with blood, but they could make out the distinct shapes of arms and legs, the nearly-human proportions of his head, which was no larger than a balled fist.

It was the wife who moved first, passing the fishing pole to her husband and taking up the landing net to haul him up out of the water and onto the deck of the boat, where he hissed and thrashed within the confines of the net.

The lure he’d tried to swallow had six different hook barbs, and when they sunk into the meat of his cheek and the roof of his mouth and into his lip, and the previously invisible line begun to haul him towards some unknown fate, the pain and terror were maddening, and he hurt himself worse trying to get free. One of the hooks had gone through his mouth, just below the base of his left nostril, and when it tore free it parted his upper lip.

He was bleeding badly when they leaned over him and pinned him against the deck with their hands so they could take the other hooks out.

The monster was no longer than the man’s forearm at the time, his slight build in no way foreshadowing the full eight feet of length he would later obtain. The couple did not read him as a juvenile, at least not at first, but rather as something fae and perhaps magical - a small creature that they had hurt terribly when they had never meant to do any such thing, which needed their help now.  

The pair took him home with them. They stitched up his face as well as they could, filled a washtub with sea water, and did their best to take care of him while he healed.

At first, he snapped at their hands when they came within reach, but before very long he came to accept having his hair petted and the underside of his jaw stroked. He was amazed to simply be given food, and it did not take long from him to become particularly invested in the offerings of cooked meat. He began to trust that they wouldn’t hurt him more than they already had, and even to understand in a vague way that the pain they’d caused him before had been either unintentional or born of an effort to help him.

One night he startled them badly by climbing out of his tub and crawling, dripping wet, into bed between them, but they had not turned him out or punished him.

The wife tried to teach him how to speak, breaking words down into tiny component sounds, but even if his mouth had not hurt so badly speech still would have defeated him.

Nonetheless, he learned that the sounds for her were  Anne, and those for her partner were  Ben, and that the sounds they’d made for him were  Francis.

He’d also learned the sounds for many kinds of food and objects, as well as certain actions and behaviors, though most of the discussions between the two humans went entirely over his head.

The monster knew, for example, that they spoke often about him, but did not realize the extent to which these discussions concerned his fate - that the couple were, unwittingly, setting the trajectory that would guide his life for decades to come. These long talks were only pleasant noise to him, nice sounds that soothed him, even when their voices were marred by anxiety or uncertainty.

There had been no twin for the monster, and this brief interval was the only time in his life, before or since, when he knew companionship or affection.

His face healed, eventually, though not well. Anne had done the best she could to stitch him up, but she’d little experience with the task and he’s struggled and squirmed and snapped when Ben tried to hold him still for it, and the result were poor; his upper lip, in particular, was left pulled up into a perpetual one-sided snarl that showed several of his teeth.

He held still when they took the stitches out, letting the sounds of their voices and the closeness of warm, trusted bodies carry him away from the sting of it.

Afterwards, Anne let him curl up in her lap while she and Ben talked in low voices with one another, long into the night; they were discussing, as they often had before, about what to do with him, but Francis had not known that.

The couple were conscious that a great deal of money might be made by selling him. The mechanics of such an exchange were vague to them, but they were certain that there were many potential buyers out there - scientists, circuses, maybe even the government.

However, they were just as certain that doing so would be wrong - a terrible sin and a betrayal of something that trusted them. Ben, in particular, was unable to stomach the idea of the strange and stoic little wonder being kept in a cage or otherwise mistreated.

At the same time, they were aware that they couldn’t keep him hidden forever.

Palm cupped around the back of the small, rounded skull, index finger stroking the soft skin just at the edge of his gills, Anne said firmly, “We’ll set him free again tomorrow morning,” and Ben nodded and agreed that was the only right thing to do.

So they’d taken him out to sea again in their boat, to around the same place when they had found him.

At first, it had all seemed like an adventure for the monster, who was then Francis, having previously been nothing at all to anyone. He’d enjoyed being out in the sunlight again, smelling the sharp scent of the salt water that surrounded him, a far cry from the little tub he had back home.

But then Ben put Francis down into that water and said, “Go on and go.” It was a phrase that held at least one word that Francis understood, because he’d sometimes been told to go away when he pestered Anne in the kitchen or tried to distract Ben’s attention from reading the newspaper.

Francis did not understand what was meant by those sounds in this context, and he only blinked up at Ben, and then Anne said something else that he couldn’t understand, and he craned his head to look up at her over the edge of the boat and saw that there was something wrong with her eyes - that they were red and dripping water - and he hadn’t understood that, either, but it scared him and it made him want to go to her, but when he tried to claw his way up the hull and back into the boat Ben pushed him back down into the water again, without violence but firmly.

Understanding came to him like a streak of heat lightning fracturing the stillness of a calm night, and Francis knew that they meant to leave him behind, and that knowledge made him absolutely frantic, and when Ben tried to push back into the water he’d latched onto the man’s hand with his teeth and refused to let go.  

Anne and Ben sincerely believed that they were acting in Francis’ best interests - that they were doing the right and selfless thing by giving him his freedom again - but Francis just wanted to go back home to his little washtub, so he could be cuddled and spoken at kindly and given nice things to eat. He hadn’t wanted to be frightened and alone again.

When he bit Ben everything became chaos. His teeth cut deep, and the man bellowed and balled his fist and struck Francis across the head, but he squeezed his eyes shut against the pain and ground his teeth in deeper and held on against the blows.

Anne was the only one who managed to retain some degree of calm. She caught her husband’s flailing fist before he could hit Francis again, and then she pried Francis’ jaws open and pulled him away from Ben and carried him at arm’s length to the side of the boat. Over her shoulder, Francis could see Ben clutching his wrist with his good hand, and he saw the damage that he’d done, the way the first joints of Ben’s middle and index fingers were gone and how his thumb dangled by a thin strip of skin, and he was sorry for it but he was also more terrified and desperate then ever, and he tried to cling to Anne but she flung him back into the water before he could.

He sunk down into the water, dazed, and watched as above him the boat and the people on it left him behind. He never knew where they went.

It would have been difficult for him to say, in retrospect, if he stopped being Francis that day or if the change was more gradual. Absent anyone else it was impossible for him to define himself, and the lonesomeness ate at him until it felt as though he was little more than a gaping hollow; he leaned into that feeling, took what refuge he could in it.

He’d taken himself far from the shorelines and all human habitation, and hunted in the blackwaters by himself for years after that, though instinct told him he would be unlikely to find any of his own kind there, and when the shadow of the lifeboat fell upon him one day he looked up at the dark spot marring the water and hoped against all rational hope that his exile had come to an end.

By then he’d been bigger, nearly the size of an adult human, and when he’d hauled himself up over the edge of the lifeboat and stood to step towards the filthy and emaciated man that he found there, the man skittered away from him on hands and knees, and then in panicked clumsiness toppled over the edge of the boat and into the water.

The monster’s sense of rejection mingled with his prey drive, and he dove into the water after the fleeing man and made meat of him.

Every interaction the monster has had with humans since then has ended in much the same way, save for the blind woman he saw on the beach, more than a season ago. He watched and waited for her to return for months, longing to see her smile at him again and to hear her speak to him with that calm self-assurance, but she never came back, and he has by now given up on the idea that she ever will.  

Now, he follows after the man from the island as he sails past the small town where he normally gets his supplies, and on down the coast to a larger city. As they come nearer to other humans, the monster swims underneath the boat, keeping pace with and taking refuge in its shadow. He waits there, while the man goes ashore, and hours later the man returns and loads his acquisitions onto the boat.

The monster moves into the shadows of the dock to watch the man as he carries the crates and boxes and paper-wrapped bundles onboard. Wire cages hold half a dozen chickens, and the monster finds himself drooling at the memory of having been given chicken to eat.

The man also has a goat with a rope around its neck, and when he tries to guide it onto the boat it bleats in displeasure and pulls backwards against its lead. He carries her on board instead, setting the animal down carefully near the end of the boat and attaching the other end of the rope to something.

When the man sets out again the monster once again follows him. Cutting through the water silently and without provoking so much as a ripple, he waits until they have left the other humans behind and then comes up along the side of the boat, where he will not be seen.

The monster wonders if there is something about himself that sets him apart from Hannibal - if there is something wrong with him, that Hannibal has been accepted by this man when he only ever provokes fear - or if the man himself is special.

If it’s the latter, the cure for his lonesomeness might be as easy as rising up from under the waves and allowing himself to be seen, but the monster cannot find the daring to try this. He peeks up over the edge of the boat instead, just a quick glance, but long enough to see the pensive and pleased expression that the man’s face makes as he looks out over the water and back towards his home.

The man is, the creature is certain, thinking about his partner. About Hannibal.

Hannibal scares the monster. He is considerably smaller than the monster, but there is a lean, lightning strike sharpness to Hannibal that makes the monster doubt his own ability to best him in a fight.

When the monster lifts his head for another quick glance at the man, the goat either sees or smells him, because she bleats loudly and bucks against the rope.

Startled from his thoughts, the man moves to the animal and soothes her with soft words and a hand on the crown of her hand. “You’re alright,” he says, a note of rueful humor in his voice. “You’ll be alright. We'll be home soon, and I’m pretty sure I can probably convince Hannibal not to eat you.”

Though he understood almost nothing of what the man said, aside from Hannibal’s name, the jealous rises in the monster again.

He sinks soundlessly back under the water.

Chapter Text

It’s full dark when Hannibal comes to Will to tell him that it’s time.

Hannibal doesn’t usually come into the lighthouse. The spiral staircase disturbs him in some way that Will doesn’t really understand, and the smell of the giant kerosene lamp offends him.

Will doesn’t hear him coming. He’s gotten very little sleep lately, and truth be told he’d been dozing on while on duty. But when the clawed hand closes over his shoulder, Will comes awake with the strangled cry.

He cusses when he sees Hannibal standing over him, but then he gets a good look at Hannibal’s face, and any annoyance Will felt at being startled from his nap is crowded out by fear, because unease and pain are resting heavily across Hannibal’s features, drawing his lips thin and sketching strained lines around his eyes.  

It’s not really a shock, seeing Hannibal so obviously distressed; it is more like a confirmation of a sense of dread that has been weighing on Will for days now.

Months ago, Will brought home a full-length mirror. He’d groused a little as he made a gift of it to Hannibal, complaining that he was fed up with Hannibal monopolizing access to his shaving mirror, but the truth is that Hannibal’s pleasure at being able to look at himself, all in one piece at the same time, pleases Will too.

Ever since the pregnancy started to show, Hannibal has spent more time than usual standing in front of that mirror, contemplating himself and the changes that were taking place on his body.

Last week, Will came up behind him while Hannibal was admiring his own belly, which protrudes slightly to make a gently sloping mound. Will stretched up on his toes to prop his chin on Hannibal’s shoulder, and curled his arms around Hannibal’s middle, spreading his fingers across his belly.

He read Hannibal’s signs in the reflection of the mirror.

“I’m so big,” Hannibal said, and there was an element of boasting to the way he held himself as he said this.

Will laughed, leaning the side of his head into Hannibal’s jaw. He stretched his hands out from Hannibal’s belly in an arc, pantomiming a hugely swollen belly. “You’ve got a ways to go, I guess. A woman carrying twins would get this big before she was ready to deliver.”

The Adam’s apple in Hannibal’s throat bobbed anxiously, the tiniest flicker of movement, easily missed, and all of a sudden it stopped being funny.

In the days that followed, Hannibal has become increasingly short-tempered and demanding. He insists that Will stay close to him, and wants to be touched almost constantly, and when Will has failed to meet these demands to his standards Hannibal has become visibly angry in a way that Will has rarely seen him get before. Yesterday, Hannibal actually snapped his teeth at Will when he accidentally bumped into him.

It’s an aggression that is born of fear, Will knows perfectly well, and he does his best to accommodate Hannibal and to ignore the terror growing in his own belly.

Will does not know what is wrong, exactly, though he has his suspicions, but he understands implicitly that the fault is his own, and he does his best to make up for whatever it is that he’s done to Hannibal.

They’ve spent a lot of time in the water together lately, Will sitting in water that comes up to his waist, naked save for his boxers and braced against the waves with his back against some big rocks, while Hannibal lays sprawled out on the ocean floor next to him, his head resting in Will’s lap.    

Now, Will says, “It’s happening?” and Hannibal gives a sharp jerk of his head. Only seven months have passed since the first time he and Hannibal had sex, and he is not sure when Hannibal actually caught pregnant. “But it’s too soon,” he says, hearing the uncertainty in his own quavering voice.

There’s a bright flash of anger in Hannibal’s black eyes. Will watches him trying to bring it into check, forcing his face into a sour expression that is meant to convey a certain degree of ironic humor.

“I think it’s the opposite problem,” he tells Will, and though there’s no accusation in his face, Will knows whose fault this. “I’m not sure what to do.”

He expected the twins to grow more quickly than they have, Will thinks, and to be much smaller than human babies. It is a suspicion that has haunted him for days now, but having it confirmed makes his heart want to drop down from his chest and hide behind his liver.

“I’ll help you,” Will says, trying to mask his own helpless dread.



There’s blood in the water - far more than there should be, Hannibal is sure - and that is not only alarming in its own right; he fears what that blood might attract, if he is drawing in large predators - things that might attack himself or Will, or snatch the twins up no sooner than they had left the safety of his body.

The pain is bad, and the voice of his instincts rail against that fact resentfully, insisting that this business ought to have added up to no more than an hour or two of mild discomfort. The cramps come in waves, and when they take him he sinks down to the ocean and lies still, curled in on himself.

When he is able to, Hannibal swims - wide loops around Will, who stands vigil over him in the chest-deep water.

Hannibal is glad to have Will nearby, but he cannot now abide being touched. He can’t hold still.

Instinct tells him to keep moving, and so he swims.



Will has been industrious in his preparations for the twins’ arrival, covering as many bases as he can because he doesn’t know what to expect.

The bottom drawer of his dresser has been emptied out and filled again with neatly stacked diapers, baby blankets, and onesies. The crib he built himself, his secret hopes going into the work; that the children would be human enough to need him, and that they would stay. That crib stands by the foot of his bed now, but there’s also a wash tub full of seawater standing along the wall, next to the stove, where it will stay warm.

Hannibal has rarely shown interest in eating anything other than meat, though occasionally he will taste the other components of Will’s meals, but Will has no way of knowing if the children will share that carnivorous nature. He has expanded his garden and bought half a dozen hens for the sake of fresh eggs.

Unsurprising, given the precocious nature of children of his species, Hannibal has demonstrated no inclination toward lactation, but in Will reasons that there is no way of knowing what their babies might or might not need. A dairy goat was the best solution to this particular concern that Will could work out; he doesn’t know if they will need milk, but he also has baby bottles waiting in case they should.

Now, as the dawn light creeps into the sky, all hopes and expectations for the twins have disappeared from Will’s mind; all he wants now is for Hannibal to make it through this.

Hannibal has paused to rest on the ocean floor more times than Will can count tonight - bearing out the contractions as well as he can, Will thinks - but this time when he sinks down he doesn’t rise again.

Will goes to him, splashing through the waves, and crouches down under the water to put a hand on Hannibal’s shoulder. When Hannibal looks up at him, Will sees through the blue haze of the water the mute misery in his eyes, an awful confusion about what is happening to him and why.

Now, at the end of his endurance, Hannibal seems more animal-like than Will might ever have imagined him being.

Will’s chest is tight. He straightens again so he can breathe, and Hannibal follows him to his own feet unsteadily.

“It’s alright,” Will says, wondering if he is lying to Hannibal now, as he lied to Matthew just before the end; if he will lose Hannibal, too, as a consequence of his own lack of caution. “It just takes a while,” he goes on. “You’ve gotta work at it, you know? That’s why it’s called labor.”

Hannibal blinks, listlessly, but doesn’t look up at Will. His face is a much paler shade of gray than it ought to be. “Let’s just take a break, alright? You’re wearing yourself out...”

Among the huge stones that dot the shallows surrounding the beach’s edge, there’s a smooth nook that is just the right size for Hannibal’s body. He’s reclined there a few times before, during sex, and sometimes simply because it’s a comfortable place to lay back and lounge.

Hannibal leans against him as Will leads him towards the rocks.

Chapter Text

When the first baby finally crowns, hours later, Will sees the shuck of dark hair, the same shade as his own.

Standing in the chest-high water while Hannibal reclined on the rocks below him, Will had nearly despaired when he saw what Hannibal has to work with. That odd extra hole is dilated, yes, wider than usual, but there was no way on Earth that a human newborn could pass through that.

They aren’t human-sized, Will reminded himself. They’re a lot bigger than Hannibal expected, maybe, but they aren’t human-sized - Hannibal’s belly wasn’t nearly big enough for that.

That helped him stay calm enough to manage the situation as well as he could manage it. There wasn’t much he could do, really, other than hold Hannibal’s hand and talk to him, so Will did that. It did seem to help, Will thought, though maybe by then Hannibal was too exhausted and bloodless for the aggressive restlessness that marked the first stage of his labor.

When the newborn’s head comes into view, siding out like a turtle peeking from its shell, Will can’t help but laugh from relief.

Hannibal’s hand finds his wrist and clutches it, and Will tells him, “It’s okay. It’s gonna to be okay!”

He shakes his hand free from Hannibal, saying, “Just let me…” Grasping the infant at the base of his skull, he pulls, as gently as he can, terrified of hurting it or Hannibal, until one shoulder emerges. With his other hand, Will hooks his fingers under the baby’s armpit and pulls again.

The body slides free, the gentle motion of the water already washing the blood and other fluids from it, and for perhaps fifteen seconds he is able to cradle the little creature in his hands.

It blinks up at him from beneath the blue filter of the water, dazed and exhausted, narrow chest rising and falling rapidly. He’s more like Hannibal than himself, but the hair is all Will’s. There’s an astonishing softness to the skin, which is closer to tan-colored than grey, and marked by thousands of darker, pin-prick sized spots. Oddly, it seems to Will, the tail is more shark-like than Hannibal’s own, a stout appendage that is tipped by two triangular fins.

Every little detail, from the slits of his gills to the webbing between his clawed fingers and toes is rendered exquisitely delicate by merit of its tininess. “How did you manage to cause so much trouble?” Will wonders, because he is so small that Will could cup him in a single hand. It’s hard to gauge his weight without lifting him from the water, but Will can’t imagine that he weighs more than four pounds.

Will shifts the little creature in his hands, wanting to show him to Hannibal, and agile as an eel he slips from between Will’s fingers and darts away. He disappears in among the water weeds, and Will stares down at his hands, where the child had been only a split second before, dumbfounded.

This is exactly what Hannibal warned him would happen, but there is a stubbornness in Will, and he goes after it.

It’s a lost cause, and Will knows as much already, but it consumes him nonetheless, and he wades through the kelp looking for the little creature for almost ten minutes before his fear of what might be happening with Hannibal in the interim drives him back to the rocks.


Will is gone when the second twin comes.

There is something wrong with it; instead of swimming as it should, it sinks the ocean floor and lies there, hardly moving at all.

It is not in Hannibal’s nature to care for the little thing in the way that Will seems to have cared for the pair, even before they were born, but it worries him, seeing that. It reminds him too much of his sibling, just before she died; it troubles the rock-hard ball of pain at her loss that rests somewhere in the back of his gut.

He has no idea what to do with it - is instinctively inclined to do nothing at all - but he lets himself sink down onto the ocean floor and curls onto his side beside the hopeless little thing. There is, in him, an… aversion to getting too close, but Hannibal reaches out and prods it with the back of a finger. Hannibal watches closely to see what it will do, but it only moves its limbs feebly. It wants to swim, Hannibal thinks, but it cannot.

It’s rounder and softer-looking than Hannibal might have expected, pudgy and short-limbed and much larger than it has any right to be, but Hannibal cannot detect anything that is actually wrong with it.

It looks more or less normal, though the frills along the sides of its throat are very short. Hannibal reaches out to touch it again, brushing the frills back, and makes an alarming discovery.

No gills, he thinks, and turns his head to look upwards, towards the open air above the waves. A curious idea strikes him, and he is reaching for the infant when Will comes splashing back and snatches it up.

 

Born dead, Will thinks, with numb certainty, before has even lifted the tiny figure from beneath the water, but Hannibal is rising even as Will straightens, pushing his own hands against the back of Will’s to encourage him to lift the infant up from under the waves.

“He’s dead,” Will says, looking down at the thing in his hands, as limp and still as a porcelain doll.

Hannibal shakes his head sharply - a forceful denial.

Will shifts the body, cradling it in the crook of one arm, and reaches for Hannibal with his other hand, but Hannibal backs away from him. He shakes his head again, and then with dramatic exaggeration he opens his mouth to draw in air, then expels it forcefully in the loudest sigh he is capable of producing.

“Breathe,” he signs, as he does this, and then makes the sign a second and third time, for emphasis, and the understanding comes to Will with the force of a thunderbolt.

CPR will not be popularized for another fifty years, but Will remembers reading about how doctors were sometimes able to start a newborn breathing by holding it up by the ankles and slapping its bottom, and Will does this now - three times in quick succession.

The little creature doesn’t cry, but it jerks to life and begins to move, drawing in air with hungry desperation.

Will lays him flat across his palm and pounds on his back with two fingers, as hard as he dares, while the child coughs and sputters and vomits up sea water.


There’s a disturbance in the water, out by the barrier rocks - something or somethings big thrashing around. Will is too taken in by the infant to notice anything else, but Hannibal sees it, and though his vision isn’t quite good enough to tell exactly what is happening, he thinks he spots a flash of something massive and grey surfacing briefly.

Hannibal is still bleeding, and he is acutely aware of how easy it might be for other creatures to scent that vulnerability.

He ducks his head back under the water, looking in the direction that the thing's trajectory will take if it's headed towards them, and before very long he catches sight of what's coming their way.

He straightens and shoves Will towards the shoreline.

“Jesus, Hannibal, what the hell,” Will snaps, clutching infant to his chest as though worried he might drop it.

“Get out of the water,” Hannibal signs quickly. “Shark.”

Will's eyes widen, both confused and frightened, and he glances back in the direction Hannibal had been looking.

Hannibal knows he sees it, the long cylindrical form with its sharp fins, the flow of red blood trailing out behind it from its wounds.

Will hurries with the child towards land, and Hannibal winces at all the splashing he makes. Hannibal backs his way up onto the beach more slowly, keeping an eye on the great white shark as it cruises past them, poised to attack if shows any sign of going for Will.  

It circles through the shallows twice, curious about the source of the blood in the water, but when it finds nothing of itself to it the shark turns and disappears back into the depths.

“Christ,” Will breathes, as Hannibal turns from the water and steps towards him. “Twelve feet long at least. I've never seen one that big.” He pauses, worrying his lower lip between his teeth, then adds, “I hope to hell the other kid is good at staying hidden.”

Hannibal, who has seen great whites large enough to swallow him whole, shrugs. “They don't usually eat creatures like us. Seals are their meat, and sea lions.”

“Something sure attacked it,” Will says. “Did you see the way it was bleeding?”

Hannibal nods, and looks again towards the distant rocks.

 

Art by ByJove, who's tumblr can be found here

As always, I can be found at pragnificent.tumblr.com

 

Chapter Text

Will stumbles up past the waterline and, leaning against a large rock, sits down in the sand with the infant.

Hannibal comes after him, aching and exhausted, and when he approaches the two of them Will clutches the infant to his chest, protective and possessive. For just an instant, Hannibal sees the white flash of Will’s straight little teeth.

Hannibal wrinkles his nose.

In the normal course of things, the normal response of a normal member of Hannibal’s species to such an abnormal infant might well have been to follow the instinctual directive to recoup his losses the best he could by eating the doomed thing. But Hannibal has never been normal, and is as much a creature of intellect as instinct; he understood, at least to a certain extent, Will’s cautions that their child might behave differently than expected, though in retrospect he thinks that perhaps he should have taken the possibility more seriously.

As things stand, he more or less accepts Will’s judgement as to what they ought to do next. But Hannibal thinks that perhaps Will does not understand that he understands all of this, and so to reassure him, Hannibal says, “I know he’s not food.”  

Will gives him a strange look. “... Good,” he says, finally. “Did you see where the other one went?”

Hannibal shakes his head and lowers himself stiffly down to the sand beside Will. He watches the infant from the corner of his eye, while Will’s own eyes scan the water, anxiously searching.  

“We need to find the other one,” Will says, insistent.

Hannibal’s arms feel strangely heavy, but he lifts them to make a sweeping gesture that takes in the enormity of the entire ocean, then he shrugs; nothing he can do about it, especially right now.

Instead, he closes his eyes and presses the side of his head against Will’s shoulder, leaning his entire weight against him, trying to soothe the woozy feeling in his head. Will shifts the infant to the crook of his other arm, and puts his free arm around Hannibal, pulling closer.

“I’m sorry that was so hard on you,” Will tells him. “I didn’t mean to put you through all of that.”

Over the last couple of weeks, Hannibal has often been frustrated, alarmed by his own swelling belly and often resentful to be doing all it alone, rather than the two of them being pregnant together.

Now, though, the relief of it being over drowns all of that, and even goes a certain distance towards soothing his weariness and pain and his unease at the strangeness of the infant in Will’s arms.

“Are you alright?” Will asks him. “Are you going to be alright?”

Mellow enough for comedic exasperation now, Hannibal says, “You’re so small, Will. How did you put such big things in to me?”

Will laughs, despite his own exhaustion. An anxious laugh, but still good in Hannibal’s ears.  

Will returns his attention to the baby, and Hannibal watches the anxious amusement on his face transform into a wide, foolish grin. “Would you just look at him,” he breathes, and the awe in his voice invites an odd mixture of pride and jealousy in Hannibal. Beholden to Will’s voice, he looks down at the child.

“Those big eyes,” Will says. “Just like yours.”

Hannibal watches as Will unballs one of the infant’s fists and presses the pad of his thumb against its palm. “Little black claws on tiny little hands,” he goes on, and there’s a silliness in his voice that Will has never directed at Hannibal, but that he uses sometimes with the special animals he’s brought to the island, the ones that Hannibal is not supposed to eat. “All those little teeth.”

The infant tightens its grip around Will’s thumb, and the needle-sharp tips of its claws draw minuscule beads of blood. Will makes a small sound, but it’s more pride than pain.

He looks up at Hannibal. “Strong little thing,” he says, beaming. “A human baby wouldn’t have this much pep, especially after having such a rough time.”

Hannibal can’t help but question that. “He’s sick?” he asks, watching Will face carefully.

“No, he’s not,” Will says forcefully. “This is normal, I’ve told you that. You don’t need to worry.”

Will’s eyes are on him, and the softness in them almost matches that with which he regarded the infant, but Hannibal knows that he’s being evaluated in some way, too. At last, Will says, “Do you want to hold him?”

The prospect stuns Hannibal so profoundly that he does not know how to refuse, and so when Will holds the infant out to him Hannibal takes it, cradling the head in one hand and the body in the other, as Will does.

He shifts it to the crook of his arm, as he saw Will do, and looks down at it, trying to understand what Will sees in the over-sized little thing, when it can’t even take care of itself like it’s supposed to. The alienness of it astonishes him, and its chubby helplessness and all the implications that has for their lives together is nearly frightening, the idea that it will be in their lives, needing them, for Hannibal does not know how long… The shore birds only remain in their nests for a few months, but Hannibal has on occasion observed the same young dolphin staying with its mother for as long as three years, and he is worried that this little thing might come closer to the latter than the first.  

It is a staggering weight of responsibility, and overwhelmed by the idea, Hannibal twists around and sits the infant down in the sand on the other side of the rock he and Will are leaning against, where it can no longer be seen.

“Christ’s sake, Hannibal, come on,” Will says, an astonishing flare of anger that makes Hannibal’s eyes widen and his upper lip twitch towards the baring of teeth.

Will doesn’t pay him any mind - he is too busy lifting the infant back into his arms and brushing the sand off of its skin.

Hannibal sighs and rolls over onto his back, dropping his head into Will’s lap a bit harder than he needs to.

“Whoa,” Will grunts, and shifts the infant to his shoulder. Hannibal sees the reprimand in Will’s expression, even if he doesn’t voice it.

Hannibal taps his own chest impatiently. “Hurt,” he says, repeating the sign several times for emphasis. Then he adds, “Tired, too.”

“I know it, hun. I know,” Will tells him soothingly, but he is still focused almost exclusively on the infant.

“I’m going to call him Cyrus,” Will says. “When we find the other one, he can be Alexander.” He looks down at Hannibal, that smile still tugging on his lips. “Does that sound alright to you?”

Hannibal turns his head away from Will. “What’s the matter?” Will says, and Hannibal is gratified by the frown he can hear in Will’s voice, but he still won’t look at him.

Instead, Hannibal watches his own hands as he signs, “I made that stupid baby, but you won’t pay any attention to me.”

“Hannibal, I’m paying attention to you right now,” Will says, but Hannibal huffs at him and refuses to turn his head.

“Listen,” Will goes on. “Let me up - I’m going to go up to the house and get some stuff,” but before he has even finished speaking, Hannibal is signing.

“No,” he says. “No. Stay with me.”

“I’m going to be right back,” Will tells him. “And I’ll bring some food. You’re hungry after all of that, aren’t you?”

Hannibal doesn’t answer, but when Will tries to roll him off his legs so he can stand up, Hannibal lets himself be moved.  

Chapter Text

Will puts the baby in the crib beside his bed while he gets things together.

There is nothing that he would like more than to bring Hannibal up here and tuck him into bed for a few days - maybe even a week - to spoil him and feed him soup and look after him until he was all healed and had his strength back, but of course that is impossible.

Instead, Will thinks about how to give Hannibal what it is he actually needs. He packs his bag with the intent of camping out on the beach with Hannibal, so he can watch for danger and the other twin while Hannibal rests as well as he can.

Will has, at this point, himself been awake for about twenty hours, and cannot foresee the next time he will be able to catch a decent rest; at sundown, he must man the lighthouse, regardless of what else happens. More than ever, he cannot afford to lose his position here, not when this land-bond infant has nowhere else to go.

It all comes rushing up on him suddenly, the weight of the responsibility he has incurred, how far in over his head he is and how little help he will have with any of it, even if Hannibal gets with the program once he’s had a chance to recover. He sinks down to the edge of the bed, hands clutching his knees, and tries to bring his breathing back under control while a dozen different scenarios of discovery and separation - captivity and exposure and vivisection - play out behind his eyes.

I can barely take care of myself, he thinks. How am I going to keep them all safe?

When Will lifts his head again he sees that the baby is looking up at him - really looking and seeing, in a way that no newborn ought to be able to do - and Will is not sure how he knows that the black pools that are the child’s eyes are focused on him, but he knows this as surely as he knows that there is worry in them. Will cannot get over how big those eyes are, set as they are in the rounded little skull, above the tiny jaw that is already full of tiny sharp teeth.

“Your dad is nuts,” he tells the child. “And he’s scared all the time - he’s a coward. But he’s going to do the best he can by you.”

The baby blinks its wide eyes at him.

Food, Will thinks. That’s the thing to think about now - one thing at a time.

There’s leftover fish from the evening before, but it doesn’t smell especially good, and Will suspects that it’s gone over. He turns to his stock of canned goods instead. Hannibal doesn’t like the canned meat, but it’s all Will has to hand, so he takes out a can of corned beef hash and some fresh eggs from the recently acquired chickens, and puts a skillet over the burner.

The baby perks up when he opens the can, and Will watches him while he cooks, the way he tries to lift his head towards the scent, nostrils flaring. The poor thing seems so frustrated, and Will wonders if his instincts tell him he ought to have command over his own body - the he ought to be zipping through the water rather than lying helpless in such an alien place, utterly at Will’s mercy.

When the food is done, Will turns the burner off and goes back to the crib. Cyrus hasn’t covered much ground since Will put him down, but he’s managed to shift and wiggle himself several inches away from where Will sat him, a feat that he thinks a human infant would be incapable of until it was at least several weeks old.

He will have to rebuild the crib, Will realizes, as he bends to pick the baby up; the bars are much too far apart, as small as Cyrus is, and if he remains so committed to being mobile he is apt to get his head stuck between them.

The thought invokes another stab of anxiety, visions of a dozen various ways in which he might by accident kill the tiny thing tumbling down on Will, but he pushes those thoughts away as well as he can as he lifts the baby up into his arms.

Cyrus pushes his face against Will’s shoulder, rooting, and for a few seconds Will wonders if he does need milk - if instinct is guiding him to search warm flesh for a nipple, but then teeth close around Will’s skin, sinking deep into the meat of his shoulder.

He’s trying to eat me, Will thinks, cold shock washing over him.

It’s not simply a bite - the infant is doing its best to tear and chew - and Will does not know how to make it let go.

Still supporting it with one arm, his free hand flutters over the baby’s shoulders and the sides of its head, trying to understand what to do, unwilling to strike it or tear it away, more afraid of hurting it than of being hurt, and voice frantic but soft he says, “No no no no.”

When the teeth disengage - so it can get its breath or to swallow the fragment of skin its torn away or some other reason, Will doesn’t know - Will puts the baby back into the crib.

Will turns around in a tight, frantic circle.

He’s bleeding badly, and he knows that he needs to go get the first aid kit and take care of himself, but instead Will sits back down on the edge of the bed and starts to cry.

The baby is watching him again, and now it screws its face up and cries too, silently, nose and eyes dripping, hectic spots of color forming on its grey skin, below the red that smears its mouth.

Will has witnessed grief and frustration and sympathy welling up and overflowing in Hannibal, but he has never before seen him weep tears.

He’s mine, Will reminds himself, fierce in his own stubbornness. He’s mine, too, dammit.  

“It’s alright, baby,” Will says, trying to swallow the lump in his own throat to force a smile. “I’m alright. You’re just hungry, huh? You smelled the food and you’re hungry, is all.”  

Will bandages the bite wound, then he cleans his hands again and scoops some of the beef hash and eggs onto a small plate.

When he scoops a little bite of the stuff with the baby spoon and, after having checked to make sure it is cool enough, holds it under Cyrus’ nose, his head darts forward to close his mouth around the spoon, teeth clicking on the metal handle.

“There we go,” Will says, relieved. “That’s a lot better than chewing on your dad, huh?”


Will was wearing a simple undershirt when he went up the hill with the baby, but now he returns with the thick red sweater on, the collar turned up around his neck. There’s a pack on his back, and the baby is balanced gingerly in one arm, a big serving dish of warm meat and eggs in the other.

It’s the food that he scents first, but closely behind that Hannibal discerns the smell of Will’s blood.

“What happened?” Hannibal signs.

“I made a mistake,” Will says back, dodging Hannibal’s eyes. “It’s fine, don’t worry.”

“Did he bite you?”

“It’s not his fault,” Will says, but Hannibal can see how hurt he feels. “He was just hungry.”

Hannibal reflects that there is, at least, something normal about the baby.

“Take him for a minute,” Will says, no nonsense this time as he holds the infant out to Hannibal. “Just watch his mouth.”

Hannibal holds the infant, dubious, while Will takes the blanket out of his pack and spreads in on the sand beside him. He takes a baby back and lays him blanket.

“The sand won’t hurt him,” Hannibal says.

“I suppose that’s true,” Will answers, “but I don’t want the little fella laying in the dirt.”

Next, Will takes the tin plates from his bag and dishes out some of the beef hash and eggs for Hannibal.

Hannibal wrinkles his nose at the stuff but takes it anyway. The smell is not good, but Hannibal finds himself to be too hungry to really care. That is, he supposes, a sign of just how close to his limits he has been taken.

Will sits on the blanket between Hannibal and the infant while he eats. He has a tiny spoon, and from time to time he uses it to give the infant tidbits from his own plate.


Hannibal touches Will’s leg. When Will looks up at him, Hannibal moves his arm slowly to point out at a cluster of rocks near the shore.

“There he is,” Will breathes, when he sees the crown of the small head bobbing in the water among the stones, watching them. Cyrus is in Will’s lap, and he watches as intently as Will as the swimmer draws closer.

He’s in the shallows when he lifts his head above the waves and screeches at them.

Hannibal’s eyes widen. Will cusses in astonishment, but then he laughs.

“What do you make of that?” Will says, full of wonder.

Hannibal takes it as a question. “He wants his twin back,” he tells Will. “He thinks you’re hurting him.

“How can he…” Will starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish the thought.

“They know each other. They grew together.”

Will shakes his head, amazed, then struck by sudden inspiration he rolls some of the beef hash into a small ball and tosses it underhanded towards Alexander.

It lands just at the water’s edge, and the little creature’s eyes dart from Will to Cyrus to the food and then back again.

He swims a little closer, and is reaching out for the offering when the shorebird descends on him, snapping up the meat and then wheeling to jab at the little creature with its beak, and Will sees in an instant how easy it would be for the bird to batter something that small to death and gulp it down.

The infant screams again, and Will is on his feet with no awareness of how he’s gotten there. He rushes forward, Cyrus pressed against his wounded shoulder, and drives the bird away, but by then Alexander has disappeared beneath the waves again.

Will roars, whirling away from the water to kick at the sand. He feels Cyrus balling his fists in the sweater that he’s put on in defense against another bite, clinging tight as he trembles.

For Cyrus’ sake Will tries to calm himself, though he can’t help the anger in his voice as he says to Hannibal, “Those fucking birds. Why don’t you do me a favor and eat more of them?”

Unflappable, Hannibal raises his hands and signs, “He’ll be back.”

Chapter Text

Will ties off his boat and hurries into town, intent on finishing this desperately needed supply run as quickly as he can; in the weeks leading up to the twin’s birth, Will tried to stockpile as many extra supplies as he could, but the babies came sooner than he expected, and while he has been able to put off this trip for nearly three weeks, he is now critically low on a number of vital necessities, including kerosene for the the lighthouse lamp.

It couldn’t wait any longer, so he’d left the baby behind with Hannibal to come into town.

He is twitchy with the desire to get back home, a dozen different scenarios of things that might have already gone wrong in his absence or that might be happening right now playing through his mind at any given minute, but they are short on help at the feed store, and Will is told by the clerk there that it will be at least two more hours until they are able to deliver the kerosene and animal feed to his boat.  

The man doesn’t budge when Will tries to wheedle him into making things happen more quickly, and Will catches himself as the anxious frustration starts to slide into anger. He forces himself to back down, realizing that if he keeps at it this will end with the clerk refusing to serve him at all, or else the two of them coming to blows, or maybe both. He shoves his balled fists into his pockets and goes back out onto the street to do the rest of his shopping.

Will places his order at the grocery store, to be delivered to the docks directly, and then on his way out he stops in front of a shelf full of children’s toys, studying them dubiously. Before the twins were born, Will bought a couple of baby rattles, among a number of other baby things, and recently he offered the toy to Cyrus.

That went well enough at first. The boy gave it a tentative shake, then went wide-eyed and motionless out of astonished shock at the sound it make. A few seconds later he’d been rattling it enthusiastically, pulling faces and giggling at it like any other baby, though Cyrus’ laughter was a breathy huffing, almost entirely inaudible.   

It was inevitable, in retrospect, that Cyrus would try to crack the celluloid rattle open with his teeth - Will has to admit that he was curious himself about exactly what was inside it - and when he did two dozen tiny lead ball bearings came streaming out.

Will is almost positive that Cyrus didn’t swallow any of the BBs, but just thinking about the idea that he could have gives Will the horrors, and on top of that it amplifies his chronic fretting about what Alexander might be eating - if he could by accident swallow a fish hook or god only knows what else.

There are ragdolls on the shelf, and Will’s hand hovers over one, debating. He doesn’t think that Cyrus would be especially likely to try to eat it, or that he would be much harmed by it if he did, but… dolls are for little girls.

That idea was beaten into Will when he was still too young to know exactly how old he was, and it is so deeply ingrained in him that it feels like an incontrovertible fact, and his hand begins to drop away from the doll.

Then he laughs at himself, only a little bitterly, as he realizes the absurdity at bulking at the idea of giving his boys - who are not, strictly speaking, exactly boys anyway - a girl’s toy, when his family life is already so wildly outside of anything that might be considered normal.   

He leaves the store with a box of wooden alphabet blocks, a stuffed bear and two of the ragdolls. Alexander has yet to so much as allow Will to touch him, never mind showing any interest in toys, but Will resolves to keep the doll in reserve for when that changes.

Will turns for the bookstore next, hoping to slip in quietly and kill some time browsing the shelves, but the over-friendly clerk is there again, and when Will passes through the doors she calls out to him by name, so he has no choice but to join her at the counter.

There’s a Black woman with her, standing by the counter with her back to Will. She’s slow to turn towards him as Will draws closer, though her head twitches towards the sound of his muttered greeting. When she does face him, Will notices two key facts in quick session; the woman is extremely well-dressed, and she’s blind.

She has a heavy book in an odd binding tucked in the crook of her arm. Will says to her, “That’s the biggest book I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a Bible.”

The woman holds the book out to him. Too shy to demur, Will takes it.

The cover, which is plain white with large unadorned black text. reads Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville .

Will was thinking, She must be able to see at least a little - the book is so huge because the print is oversized, but there are a series of raised dots on the cover, and when Will opens it he sees that the pages are entirely blank, except for more of those dots.

He runs the edge of his thumb over a row of the dots, thinking, and then looks up at the woman’s face for some clue, but she gives him nothing. “You, um… read it by touch, yeah?”

He is favored by a warm smile. “That’s right,” she tells him, and though she looks younger than his own twenty-eight years, Will feels the same conflicted pride that he felt as a boy, when he surprised a teacher who hadn’t expected much of him with his brightness.

When gives the book back to her, Will says, “Here you go,” so she knows that he is waiting for him to take it.

“Mr. Graham,” the clerk interrupts. “This is Reba. She has a question.”

The blind woman opens her mouth to ask her question, but the clerk goes on without pause, and Reba closes her mouth again, pressing her lips into a thin frown. “She’s been asking around about this for the longest time - since she and her family were here last summer, actually - but no one has been able to tell her what she’s looking for.”

The clerk is rambling, and Reba’s frustration at not being able to get a word in edgewise is obvious, though the other doesn’t seem to pay it any mind. Will wonders if Reba is aware of how visible her emotions are, and if it ever gets her into trouble.  

“She’s been looking for a mute man,” the clerk goes on, and there’s an ironic little edge to her smile now, but Will’s heartbeat has just kicked up so hard that he hardly registers that. “She ran into him on the beach last summer. She thinks he might be disfigured.”

There’s a note to the clerk’s voice on last bit, a condescending bit of disbelief of the ‘But how would she really know?’ variety. Reba hears it as plainly as Will does, and he can feel her anger like it is coursing under his own skin, but his own panic is huge and almost overwhelming.

“And I said to her,” the clerk goes on, oblivious to it all, “I bet that was the lighthouse keeper’s friend…”

“It’s not,” Will says quickly. “I don’t know anything about that.”

He turns his eyes to Reba, knowing that it sounds like a lie, and sees that she has read it as a lie. “Whoever you met, it wasn’t my friend,” Will tells her.

Then he turns and rushes from the store.  

 

Will has had enough of people, and he hurries back toward his boat, but as he draws nearer he sees that is some kind of commotion at the docks.

There’s a crowd milling about one of the bigger fishing boats, and Will stops at the rear of the group, trying to see what’s happening.

The fishermen lift the body down from their boat and lay it on the dock. It’s bloated, like it’s been in the water for a long time, and even from the distance Will can smell how badly it sinks.

Unable to help himself, Will presses his way through the crowd, and as he draws closer he sees the bite wounds - the big, angry chunks of meat that have been torn from the body.

For a moment Will is terrified that the body is Hannibal’s work. But no, he realizes; Hannibal doesn’t waste food like that.

This was something else - something bigger and desperate and full of an aching fury, and looking at the body Will can see how the man was attacked from behind as he attempted to flee, can feel his terror and his pain as the teeth tore at him even as he was being pulled further down into the dark water, and -

And - just what is it in the water, and is it a threat to Alexander and Hannibal?

Who, Will thinks. Not what. Who did this?

There’s something else, too; Will eyes the people around him like he has found himself in the midst of a pack of unfriendly hunting dogs, and wonders how they will respond to this. Will they mistake it for a normal shark? More importantly, what will they do about it?

From somewhere inside the crowd, a woman begins to wail.

Will turns from the crowd and hurries on to his boat before he can see or hear more, but the sound of the woman’s grief follows with him, reverberating inside his skull. It makes the pity that has inexplicably risen in him for the killer feel that much more shameful. 

 

Will is not aware, as he heads back home at last, that the monster is following him again. 

 

Chapter Text

Hannibal isn’t waiting for him in his usual place under the dock when Will gets home, and he ties off the boat and hurries up the hill towards the cabin.

He finds Hannibal luxuriating on the bed with his sketchbook. The baby is where Will left him, but there’s most of a fish spine and tail fin in the crib with him, so he knows that Hannibal at least fed Cyrus.

Lately, Cyrus has been making tentative moves towards sitting up on his own, though so far the task has defeated him.

It’s not exactly, Will has observed, that Cyrus is growing more quickly than might have been expected - according to the figures provided by the books on baby care that Will has, at three weeks old Cyrus still weighs less than half as much as some newborns, but he seems to be developing skills much more quickly than might have been expected of a human baby.

He seems to Will to often be frustrated by his own body and its refusal to do what he wants, though he doesn’t know if this is reflective of Cyrus’ own personality or an instinctual awareness, handed down from Hannibal, that this is not the natural way of things. Maybe, Will wonders, it’s just normal for babies to have helpless crying jags when left behind in the crib or when they can’t reach an object that has caught their attention.

Hannibal pushes the sketchbook to the side and sits up so he can sign more effectively. “I gave him food,” he says, pointedly.

“Thank you for watching your own kid,” Will says, but he is not really annoyed - he is too busy being relieved that nothing horrible happened in his absence to focus on anything else.

Hannibal takes the words at face value, accepting them as his due praise.

“What did you draw?” Will asks him. He is hoping, despite himself, that there will be pictures of the baby - anything to indicate that Cyrus has caught more than the bare minimum of Hannibal’s attention, but when Hannibal holds the sketch book out to him Will sees that he himself is once again the subject of Hannibal’s efforts.

It makes Will feel particular, seeing the way he looks through Hannibal’s strange eyes.

In some of the sketches, there are slight alterations to Will’s anatomy; the ears are larger, and blur into something hinting at frills near the ends, the hands are longer and the nails at their ends just a little sharp. Will is not sure if this is reflective of Hannibal using himself as a reference model, or if they are somehow aspirational. He might have worried more than he does about Hannibal wishing that Will was more like himself, if not for the other drawings, the ones that Hannibal makes when Will is there with him, the ones that idealize every part of Will, but especially those aspects of his body that are alien to Hannibal.

It’s hard for Will to look at any of drawings of himself for very long - hard for him to credit or understand the idea that he could be, to Hannibal, something of such astonishing beauty.

Now, he gives the sketchbook back to Hannibal.

The baby has fish scales in his hair, and Will lifts him from the crib, face pointing away from Will’s body in case he is hungrier than he looks.

Hannibal follows Will down to the beach, where Will hands him the baby for long enough for him to strip down to his boxers.

When Will takes Cyrus into the water to wash him off, Alexander surfaces almost at once. All thoughts of how to breach the topic of the body and its implications fall away as Will watches Alexander circling them as Will wades into the hip-deep water and dips Cyrus in among the gentle waves.

Now, when Will lowers the baby into the water, supporting him with hands around his middle, Cyrus makes a determined if clumsy effort at dog paddling. Will himself stays still as a stone, simply supporting Cyrus, as Alexander moves in closer.

Cyrus reaches for the other child, pudgey fingers grasping at the empty water. He turns his head, looking from Will to Alexander and then back again as his twin approaches, shy as a feral cat.

He’s growing a bit faster than Cyrus, it seems. Will thinks Alexander might weigh as much as ten pounds now, though he has never gotten a chance to heft him up so that is entirely a guess. Still, the boy seems too thin for Will’s comfort; he wonders if it’s normal for Hannibal’s people to have such long and lean babies, or if Alexander isn’t getting enough to eat.

Alexander draws closer, wide, suspicious eyes watching Will’s face for any hint of malice. His fingers brush Cyrus’, then his hand closes around Cyrus’ wrist and he tries to yank the baby away from Will.

Will steps towards Alexander, moving with him instead of resisting, in case the pulling do harm to the baby, and Alexander lets go of Cyrus and darts away again.  

Watching his twin swim out of his line of sight, Cyrus starts to cry, infuriated and voiceless sobs that leave him gasping for air, and Will turns and heads out of the water.

From behind him, Alexander screeches. There is, Will thinks, a note of pleading in the sound.

Will tries to seem unperturbed. “You can come up here with us, if you want,” he says. “You’ve got legs. Nobody is stopping you.”

He keeps walking towards the shore, but suddenly small clawed hands wrap around the crook of his arm, clutching Will. For a few seconds the boy’s body streams out beside Will as he moves through the water, then Alexander pulls himself up by his arms and climbs Will like a tree, clawing his way up Will’s side until he reaches Will’s shoulder. He perches there, fingers curled in Will’s hair and clawed feet digging at Will’s upper arm for balance, and screams into Will’s ear.  

The sound is high pitched and surprisingly loud, but even as he winces at it Will is grinning.

He climbs out of the water, Alexander still clinging to his shoulder, and sits down on the blanket. He lays Cyrus down, thinking that Alexander will let go to go to his twin, but he’s as good as glued on.

It hurts, of course, and Will sighs and says to Hannibal, “Hun, can you help me, please?”

Will is half convinced that Alexander will bolt for the water when Hannibal approaches them, but he freezes instead when Hannibal draws near, going absolutely still as Hannibal pries him off of Will carefully, one claw at a time.

When Hannibal sits the boy down on the blanket, Will thinks Alexander will take that opportunity to flee for the water, but the little creature is full of surprises, because instead he jumps back onto Will and tries to climb his back again.

Will doesn’t like the idea of trying to restrain the child against his will, and not only because he is afraid that if Alexander feels trapped he may become a flailing ball of teeth and claws, but to keep him from scaling his back again Will wraps his hands around the tiny body, and pulls him back down into his lap.

Alexander does not fight him. He turns his head upwards - not to look at Will but to scan the sky above them. His entire body trembles.

“I’m not going to let the damned birds get you,” Will tells him gently. “Don’t worry.”

He doesn’t understand, of course, but clinging to Will seems to make him feel more secure, so Will lets the boy sit in his lap and clutch the side of his hand.

Eventually, Alexander feels bold enough to creep to the edge of Will’s lap, and, balancing himself on Will’s knee, stretches his arm out to try to grab Cyrus’ wrist to pull him closer.

“I got him,” Will says, and picks the baby up and puts him in his lap beside Alexander.

Alexander makes a high trilling cry and hugs Cyrus against himself fiercely.

“Be gentle!” Will says, but Alexander, at least, seems to be more careful with his claws when it comes to his twin.

Will shifts the twins slightly so he can look down at Cyrus’ face, and sees the wide and uncomplicated grin that he is making, and apes it back at the baby, though Will’s version includes a bit less drool.

“I got you both,” Will says, full of wonder.

He looks up to Hannibal, still grinning that bright, babyish, open grin, and tells him, “I got them both together now. How about that?”

Hannibal is still, watching them. He seems… not angry, Will thinks, but outside of what is happening now, as though a wall of glass has sprung up between himself and Will and the children. Lost.

“You’re bleeding.”

“Just in about twenty different places,” Will agrees, with rueful good humor.

Come here to us, he is thinking. Come be a part of this.

Instead, Hannibal stands. “I’ll get the first aid kit,” he tells Will, and turns to go up the hill to the cottage.

“It’s alright,” Will says to the twins, when Hannibal is out of earshot. “You’ll win him over yet. It just takes time.”

Alexander yawns, hugely, every tooth in his tiny jaw visible, and then lays the side of his head against Will’s belly.

Cyrus, Will has found, sleeps only rarely, and never very deeply, but by the time Hannibal returns both twins are asleep in his lap.

“Thank you,” Will says, when Hannibal sits down beside him and opens the first aid kit.

The babies noses twitch at the smell of the iodine disinfectant, but they don’t wake.

Will lets himself relax into Hannibal’s care, relieved and gladdened to have him close, even if he still does not know what to make of the babies.

He has no memory of falling asleep, but wakes near sunset to Hannibal’s touch on his bandaged shoulder, gently shaking him awake to remind him that it is time to light the lighthouse lamp.

Chapter Text

Hannibal’s rough tongue presses against the flesh of Will’s shoulder at the place where his teeth punctured Will’s skin, lapping at the welling blood.

There are, Will knows, rows of bite marks along his shoulders and the back of his neck, graduating from pale white to new pink scar tissue to this fresh wound.

He supposes that those scars might cause trouble for him in the future, should humans see them, and that deep-rooted sense of shame seeks to get the better of him now, to ruin this moment for him and drag him down the rabbit hole of questioning himself and everything that he has done with Hannibal and allowed to be done to him, but Will refuses to give it free rein.

Instead, he leans back against Hannibal, melting further into the sensations of Hannibal tending to him, Hannibal’s mouth nursing the shallow bite while with his hands are busy with the careful work of prepping Will, opening him up for what comes next.

There is such a sense of safety in it all, knowing that Hannibal will go this far and no further.

Things have been so hectic, Will so chronically exhausted , on top of Hannibal needing time to heal,

It is the first time they’ve done this since the twins were born.

Will is more than ready, after three months without, and he rolls over from his side and onto belly and waits, heart hammering in anticipation, as Hannibal straddles his hips and settles over him.

When Hannibal enters him, Will bites down on the side of his own hand against the desire to grasp and cry out. Hannibal thrusts into him once, and then again, and Will chomps down harder, hard enough that later he will find a bruise there, but still a small sound nearly akin to a squeak slips out through his lips.

Hannibal stops moving.

Will feels the drumming of Hannibal’s fingers on his hips, contemplative. Even when he is not actively signing, Hannibal has taken to moving his hands when he is thinking.

A few seconds later he pulls out, and Will is so surprised - not to mention disappointed - by that turn of events that he can’t keep the whimper from escaping his lips.

Hannibal takes him by the shoulder to prompt him to turn over, and when Will is looking up at him Hannibal signs, “Why are you being so quiet?”

Will touches his arm. “It’s alright; you’re doing real good, but I don’t want to wake the baby up, is the thing.”

Before they got started, Will moved Cyrus’ crib to the other side of the room and covered it with a blanket, to block his line of sight should he wake up. Will grew up poor, and he knows that plenty of married couples share a single bedroom with their children, but to him the current situation feels like a barely adequate solution, and certainly not something that will work when the baby is older. He has been thinking lately of adding a second room to the cottage - maybe even a swimming pool that could be filled with sea water for Hannibal and Alexander’s benefit.

He has, in his more ambitious imaginings, considered even the possibility of a gas generator, of electric lights and maybe a refrigerator.

But Hannibal is frowning down at him. He says to Will, “I enjoy hearing you.”

Flushing, Will presses his forehead against Hannibal’s shoulder to avoid meeting his eyes. “Quiet, for right now,” he says softly. “Then we’ll go outside for a little bit and I’ll do whatever makes you happy.”

An ambitious, speculative sparkle comes into Hannibal’s dark eyes, and he nods and lets Will turn over again.

They both breathless by the time Hannibal comes, in his case it is due to more than exertion. Despite the urgency of his own erection, which he has been careful to maintain, Will might have likes to stay in bed like that for a least a little while - Hannibal’s reassuring weight over him, one of his cocks soft inside Will and the other between his thighs. But he can’t relax, not while he knows how tight Hannibal’s chest must feel, so he says, “Let me up. We need get you back into the water.”

It’s Hannibal though, who leads Will by the hand down to the waves.

He expects Hannibal to slip under the water, to make lazy figure eights that always bring him back to Will until he feels himself to be sated, as he usually does at times like this, and then to return to Will for his promised reward. Hannibal will want to give him a handjob, Will thinks, and he is more than willing to put on the kind of show that will please Hannibal, to be loud and a little wild under his touch, since it requires no acting whatsoever on Will’s part.

However, it seems possible to him that Hannibal might instead be feeling more ambitious than that, that he might want to blow Will, and Will is giving serious consideration to allowing that, though those teeth still worry him - not that Hannibal will bite him without his leave, but that he won’t be able to hold still enough once things get rolling, and will cut himself.

But instead of doing any of those things, Hannibal leads Will out into the water with him.



“You see Alexander anywhere?” Will asks, turning to face Hannibal when he draws to a halt in the hip-deep water.

Hannibal shakes his head no, and before Will can start to fret about it, Hannibal lowers himself down onto the sandy ocean floor and draws Will into his lap.

He leans his chin on Will’s shoulder and curls his arms around his belly, and through the shimmer of the water Hannibal looks down and watches his own hands as he pulls Will’s legs further apart. Hannibal’s own head is a bright dizzy riot of oxygen deprivation, and Will’s breathing is ragged and rough, but Hannibal stalls nonetheless, flirting with the possibility of moving his hands to Will’s cock again and again, but then drawing away to run the tips of his claws lightly along the insides of his thighs instead.

When he finally takes Will in hand, he bucks eagerly at the touch of Hannibal’s fingers. Playfully, Hannibal lifts his chin from Will’s shoulder and blows air out onto the back of Will’s tattered ear, and Will laughs and swats at the empty air above his own shoulder, and when Will’s hand falls again Hannibal settles his teeth around the meat of Will’s shoulder and waits.

“Go on,” Will says, grinding the word out between clenched teeth, but his eagerness is unmistakable, and Hannibal stinks his teeth into Will’s flesh.

He bites deeper than he usually would, and when Will realizes that he stiffens and makes a sharp and pained hissing sound as he sucks in air through his teeth, but Hannibal shifts his hand away from Will’s cock to rub his lower back solicitously, and he nuzzles forehead against the side of Will’s skull, and it takes only a few moments for the sharp scent of sudden fear to fade as Will begins to relax again.

Will is so small, and so full of anxious terrors, and it would be the work of a few moments to tear him to shreds, but yet he trusts Hannibal as well as he is able trust anything, and that fact is a source of great wonderment and pride to Hannibal.

His hand migrates back to Will’s cock. It is small enough that Hannibal can engulf the entirety of it inside his palm, and he moves his hand in the exact way that he knows Will likes while he worries at the bite wound with his mouth to keep the blood flowing, and Will claws at the ocean floor, tightening his fists around handfuls of sand, and bucks against Hannibal, and comes hard.  

“God,” he breathes, gasping. “Hannibal. My god.”

Hannibal takes Will by both upper arms and guides him until he has turned around, so he is facing Hannibal now, straddling him, and still panting Will lean in closer to Hannibal, resting his forehead against Hannibal’s chest and locking his arms around Hannibal.

He lets Will cling to him for a time, basking in it blissfully, but then he taps at Will’s shoulder to get him to let go and lean back far enough for Hannibal to be able to sign.

It scares Will a little, what Hannibal tells him he wants to do, but he nods and says, “Alright. Good. Just be careful - just for a little bit, twenty seconds and no longer, you hear me?”

Hannibal closes his eyes as he nods in consent, then he opens them again and locks gazes with Will as, slowly, he tilts them both back until they sink under the waves.  

He holds Will in his arms beneath the water - not for very long, not for so long that Will becomes anxious - and Will’s bleeding shoulder trickles out into the water, giving it a reddish tint, and Hannibal opens his mouth and breathes deep, filtering the water through his gills.

In his own environment at last, Hannibal breathes in all of Will - his blood and his sweat and the lingering trace scent of his semen - and Will fills up his senses, becomes the only thing in Hannibal’s world except for himself, until it is impossible for Hannibal to distinguish between where he ends and Will begins.  

Chapter Text

Will climbs out of the water slowly and lowers himself down into the sand.

Something astonishing has just happened, he is sure, something he can hardly himself understand, and it feels so strange to have been a party in it and yet to be apart from it. His fingers come up to brush at the new bite Hannibal has given him, the stinging salt ache of it.

Hannibal joins him, sprawling out in the sand beside him to lower his head into Will’s lap, and Will moves his hand to find the sharp peak of Hannibal’s cheekbone and strokes it, fingers coming just shy of his lips in every pass.

He knows that he needs to go up to the house soon, that he must wake Cyrus and feed him, so the two of them can go up the lighthouse for the night. It is, perhaps, selfish for him to be enjoying this as much as he is, the feeling that he and Hannibal are all alone again. But the sun is going down, golden hues melting into red like fire and blood, and Will needs these few minutes to be quietly mystified by the turns that his life has taken.

To feel like something wondrous.

And there are things that he needs to say to Hannibal.

“When I was in town yesterday,” he begins, “I saw something.”

He hesitates. “Hannibal, have you killed anyone?” he asks, but then amends the question. “Have you killed anyone lately, is what I mean.”

Hannibal blinks at him. Confusion plain in every movement, he says, “I brought us fish this morning -”

Will breaks in, and Hannibal hands come to a slow stop, his sentence unfinished. “No. No - I don’t mean fish, or animals or anything like that.

“I mean human beings. People like me.”

Hannibal blinks again. “Not lately, no.”

Will doesn’t mean to ask the question - doesn’t know what he’s going to say until he’s already said it. “Why not?”

Hannibal’s eyes on him are speculative. Will can try to come across as conchalant, but Hannibal knows that he’s agitated; the thing about that is that Will is certain that Hannibal genuinely does not understand why this conversation makes him so uneasy.

“There’s better meat that’s easier to get,” Hannibal says, a little cagily.

“Yeah?” Will hears himself say.

“If I was going to kill something of that size, a seal would taste better, or a dolphin - fatter, less bony.

“And, humans tend to stay in places where the water is…” He pauses, reaching for a word that articulates exactly what he means to say, but his vocabulary falls short and he settles for “dirty.”

“Dirty?”

“Where they swim and fish, the water surrounding their towns. It tastes like shit and piss, Will, and I don’t know how many other filthy things.”

Will winces. I’m responsible for his vocabulary, he reminds himself.

“Sewage pipes,” Will says. “But those don’t - they don’t dump wastewater near public beaches.” He pauses, suddenly horrified by the idea that he might have spent his childhood playing in contaminated water and never known enough to notice. “I don’t think so, anyway. Do they?”

“I won’t go near there,” Hannibal tells him, curling his upper lip.

“Where did you find the person you tried to feed me, back after we’d just met?”

“He was floating near a boat, out in the open water. I think he fell into the water, and then he couldn’t climb back up to the boat, so he drown.”

“Scavenged,” Will says. That much, at least, comes as a relief.

“The meat wasn’t spoiled,” Hannibal grouses. “There was no reason for you to waste it.”

Will shocks himself by laughing.

That loosens Hannibal up a bit; whatever uncertain waters he’d felt himself to be swimming in seem clearer now, and there’s a curiosity in his face when he continues, “When my twin and I were traveling far from here, sometimes we’d hear… incredible sounds, something like thunder but larger, like it was right inside our bones, and then if we followed the sound we would see smoke and fire on the water. When we came closer, we found pieces of their ship, like something bigger than our entire island rose out of the water and tore it apart.

“There would be dead humans in the water, torn apart or burned like firewood, and that wasn’t like your cooking, Will, understand; they tasted like… like if you ate them, you would die, too. The smell burned the back of your throat.”

“They were caught in the explosion when the fuel oil caught fire,” Will says. He remembers far too well what the troop transports were like, the cramped below-deck quarters and the constant fear that they would be blown out of the water, that the walls surrounding him would explode in flame or else give way and let the black water flood in. “That’s what tainted… tainted the meat. That’s what you smelled.”

“There would be live ones, sometimes,” Hannibal goes on. “Hanging onto bits of the ship, or in little boats. It could be risky trying to get into the boats - some of them had knives or clubs - but the boats were easy to flipped over from beneath, when I had my twin to help me, and once they were in the water...” He smiles, pleased by the memory of free feasts.

Will thinks about what it must have been like to be one of the unlucky ones that weren’t killed right away - to survive the flames and get free of the ship before it could drag you under with it, only to be cast into the cold water. To make it through all of that and perhaps long days and nights of exposure and terror and torturous thirst, and then to feel a clawed hand grasp your ankle from the dark water below, to find teeth at your throat, tearing at you as you are pulled under, seeing through water red with your own blood the black eyes of a creature your brain can hardly comprehend, watching you watching it as you die.

He did that, Will thinks. And he would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. He did it, and if some of them were doomed anyway that doesn’t erase any of it, or account for the ones who might have lived.

It should frighten him, Will knows, and it should disturb him far more than it does. Instead, he feels flattered, somehow, and reassured, knowing that he holds a place in such a predator’s heart.

Hannibal continues on. “This went on for years, but it stopped happening about six years ago.” He cocks his head in Will’s lap, looking up at him from a curious angle. “What was that all about, Will, do you know? What killed those ships?”

He’s killed maybe ten people, give or take, Will thinks. How can I begin to make him understand a war that killed seventeen million, or my role in all of that?

“Other people,” Will says, at last. He can think of no clearer way to put it.

“Why?”

Will’s laughter is bitter this time. “Hannibal, I don’t have the first fucking idea how to explain that to you.” He sighs. “I’m sorry, okay? I’ll try to figure it out, but the thing about it is that I was there, and I don’t even know why.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Hannibal says, so frustrated that he is verging into anger. “Wasting so much -”

“I know it,” Will tells him, though he knows perfectly well that Hannibal is outraged at wasted food rather than lost lives. “God, I know. I know it, Hannibal.”

Will is quiet for a while, thinking. His fingers card through Hannibal’s hair without any conscious direction from his mind. “There was a body, down at the docks yesterday, a man. That’s what I wanted to talk with you about. He was wasted - whoever killed him pulled him into the water and mauled the body, but he didn’t eat it.

“It wasn’t… it wasn’t about food, is the thing. Something else was driving his violence - there was so much anger in what he did to that man, so much need and desperation.” Will swallows. “I don’t know how to explain it any better - maybe I’m not making a lot of sense - but I understand it as well as if I’d been the one who did it. It’s not anything that I want to understand, but I do.

“I think there’s another one out there - another person like you.”

“I thought that might be the case,” Hannibal agrees. “I’ve thought that I caught sight of someone watching us several times now, but I could never be entirely sure. He’s very shy, Will.”

“Christ,” Will says, and suddenly acutely aware of his nudity and the vulnerability of it, he draws in closer to Hannibal. He remember Alexander, whom he hasn’t seen all day - it isn’t unusual, the length of that absence, but now a hundred new nightmare scenarios are playing through his head.

It’s as though Hannibal can read his mind. “He won’t kill children of his own kind,” he tells Will.  

“You don’t know what he’ll do,” Will tells him, conscious of the panic in his voice. I sound like I’m on the verge of hysterics, he thinks, but can do nothing to rein it in. “Listen to me. There’s something - something is wrong with him, there’s something in him that got twisted up the wrong way -”

“You’re the one I’m worried about, Will, if he’s been hunting humans specifically.” Hannibal’s hand locks around Will’s wrist, and the grip is powerful and possessive; it goes some way, at least, towards calming Will down, though the panic is still huge in him. “Keep close to me, from now on, whenever you can. If I can’t be there, then stay away from the water.”

“You have to watch Alexander for me, Hannibal, please. You have to know where he is and you have to make sure nothing bad happens to him. You need to try harder. I can’t -”

Hannibal presses a finger against Will’s lips. “Alright,” he signs. “I’ll do that. You don’t have to be afraid.”

For a long time that is what they do - they organize their lives around keeping both Will and the children within Hannibal’s line of sight whatever possible.

But six months go by without any sign of the stranger’s presence near their home, nor are any new bodies discovered, so by then Will and Hannibal have both become lax in their security measures.  

And so, when the monster comes for Will, he and Cyrus are alone.

Chapter Text

A tiny hand pats at Will’s face.

Will does not wake, but he squirms comfortably beneath the blankets. The warm weight on his chest, which he senses though the fog of sleep, is a comfort, as is the feel of the small hand against his cheek. As he begins to sink more deeply into sleep, Will leans into the touch and smiles.

The hand pulls away, and there is a thoughtful pause, and when Will’s eyes still don’t open needle-sharp claws sink into the meat of Will’s cheek.

He does wake then, with a startled jerk, his heart thudding in his chest, but then he sees Cyrus sprawled out on his chest. Will mutters, “You cut that out now,” and scoops the baby into his arms.

Rolling onto his side, Will cuddles the boy against himself like a teddy bear and breathes in the clean salt scent of Cyrus’ hair, ignoring the tangy smell of his own blood.  

“You’d better watch it or I’ll clip your nails again,” he tells Cyrus. Will doesn’t like to do so; Alexander is already so much stronger and coordinated than the smaller boy, and he doesn’t want to put Cyrus at further disadvantage, especially given that they play rough.

But Will doesn’t especially like being clawed up in his sleep, either, especially if this kind of wake up call is going to be a regular thing now.

“Figured out how to climb out of your crib, huh?” Will asks him. “Well, it was only a matter of time.”

Cyrus wriggles in his arms, and Will lets him free so he can roll over onto his back.

Still laying on his side, Will looks down at him adoringly, and Cyrus lifts a hand to his mouth and makes the sign for “Eat.”

“What do you say?” Will asks him.

“Please,” he signs. “Eat please.” And then, more demandingly he says, in quick succession, “Eat fish hungry eat eat now.”

“I know it,” Will says. “Hannibal will be here pretty soon,” but he gets up and finds Cyrus a piece of beef jerky to chew on in the meantime.  

When Hannibal does arrive home, it is with Will’s creel slung over one shoulder and Alexander perched on the other.

As soon as they pass through the door, Alexander reaches for Will, leaning forward as much as he can without tumbling off Hannibal’s shoulder, and stretching his arms out as far as they will go.

“Come here, you little seamonkey,” Will says, and leans up to peck Hannibal on the cheek as Alexander climbs from Hannibal’s shoulder and into Will’s arms. A spindly bundle of long limbs, Alexander hugs his arms around Will’s neck, briefly, before squirming his way down to the floor, where Cyrus is waiting for him.

Alexander is an anxious thing, a lot of the time, and Will worries about that - if it might be owing to his own bad blood, or else a failure on his part to protect the boy from experiences that have scarred him. That early gull attack continues to haunt him, Will knows, and Alexander does not like to be out of the water unless one of the adults - ideally Will - is within hand's reach.

The boy has decided, somehow, that Will and Hannibal are safe ground - that like a child playing tag, he cannot be touched as long as he is touching home-base. It means a lot to Will, to be regarded not only as safe but as a source of safety by the little creature, but it hurts him to see how often Alexander is so deeply frightened.

But at least now Hannibal is almost always with Alexander when they are in the water, and Will has become far less likely to wake up bathed in a cold sweat, certain that in his absence Alexander has disappeared into the beaked gullet of some octopus or been swallowed whole by a natural shark.

And at least beneath the shelter of the roof, Alexander seems to feel more secure than he does under the open sky, and it doesn’t take him too long to work up the nerve to move away from Will in favor of rough housing with Cyrus instead. Will watches the two of them chasing each other around the crowded space of the small one-room cottage.

Cyrus started walking a couple of weeks ago, well ahead of schedule for a human baby, and he’s still a little unsteady on his feet, and he wobbles like a drunkard as he pursues Alexander as quickly as his stubby, chubby legs will allow.

Alexander, on the other hand, is all grace and speed, and he darts around the room so quickly that Will doubts that he could catch the boy himself, unless he wanted to be caught.

When Cyrus falls unceremoniously on his butt, Alexander peers down at him from atop the bookshelf he had been busy scaling, and circles back around towards his twin, though not to help. He crouches low, in the attitude of stalk, and itches towards Cyrus, as though they do not both know that Cyrus knows he is being snuck up on.

Pursued instead of the pursuer now, Cyrus gets to his hands and knees and crawls beneath the bed. There isn’t a ton of space down there - Will tends to use it for storage - but he maneuvers in between the boxes, and Will watches his clawed toes disappear after the rest of him.

Alexander doesn’t follow. Instead, he scales the side of the bed and walks across the lumpy mattress to the head of the bed, where he crouches down behind the pillows, waiting, his narrowed eyes fixed on the space where he expects Cyrus to emerge.

“Cunning little thing, aren’t you?” Will mutters, but Alexander’s focus does not break, nor does he look at Will.

When Cyrus’ head and shoulders appear from under the bed, Alexander pounces on him from above, and the two of them roll across the floor, a tangle of limbs and tails and snapping jaws.

The ferocity of their play worried Will for a long time - still does, truth be told; there are too many scratches, too many bites that draw blood, but Hannibal insists that it is completely normal, and has the scars his twin gave him to prove it.

Hannibal says that it is a way for the two of them to help one another get stronger, as well as to learn how to be better hunters, and Will supposes that is true, but it’s hard for him to avoid being anxious - especially for Cyrus, who is so far behind Alexander in so many respects. But he has watched them carefully, and Alexander never bullies his smaller twin; he lets Cyrus win as many mock fights as he loses, and he never gives harder than Cyrus gives him.

Nonetheless, Will doesn’t want them running around while the stove is hot, so when Hannibal turns the burner on to begin to heat some lard in the skillet, he breaks up their little scuffle by picking Cyrus up.

Will sits on the bed with Cyrus balanced on his knee and watches as Hannibal takes the fish from the creel and begins to clean them. Cyrus has not made a sincere effort to take a bite out of Will since that first day, but occasionally he nips if he feels that his meal isn’t coming quickly enough, and Will is careful of his fingers.

Alexander climbs up onto the bed and settles down beside Will, folding his legs under himself and leaning his head against Will’s side. Will cups the side of the small skull in his hand, feeling beneath his palm the tangle of dark curls, so like his own hair. The boy grips Will’s thumb in one hand and nuzzles in closer to Will, and Will smiles. Despite how much time Alexander spends with Hannibal, Will suspects that he is the boy’s favorite - or anyway, his favorite after Cyrus - and he nurses the pride and happiness that knowledge provokes, quietly and with only a little guilt.

It was hard going for a while, getting Hannibal to take a real interest in the well-being of the twins, and his attitude towards the two of them remains that of an older dog putting up with the antics of a pair of annoying puppies for the sake of his master, but here’s something good Hannibal’s done; without ever having to be asked to do so, he has taken to bringing enough food for all four of them, every time, even adjusting for the boys’ growing appetites. A small thing, maybe, but thinking on it can bring Will nearly to tears.

Now, the three of them watch as Hannibal makes breakfast. That’s another thing; while most paternal duties strike Hannibal as an inexplicable nuance, he enjoys both the process of cooking and the praise, verbal and implicit, that he receives for having done so. It’s all for fun to Hannibal, but having him take over in the kitchen has lifted a lot of pressure from Will.  

Will follows Hannibal’s hands with his eyes as he works the knife like they were made for the task, and as he listens to the fat sizzling in the pan and feels the bodies of their children curled against him, Will is struck by the overwhelming sense that he has found something magical here, something better and more special than anything he deserves.

 

By the time that they have all finished eating, Hannibal and Alexander both need to go back to the water to wet their gills and catch their breath, and they say their short goodbyes.

Will moves Cyrus’ playpen outside, around to the side of the cottage, where he has begun work on a new room. He puts Cyrus in the playpen, and sets about to get a couple of hours worth of work done before he needs to man the lighthouse for the night, but now that the boy has discovered how to climb out of his crib, all walls are a challenge to be conquered, and he escapes and wanders over to Will three times in the first hour.

Will can hardly use a handsaw while the boy is - literally - underfoot, clawing at his jeans leg for attention and signing, with an increasingly demanding air, “Go swimming,” and “Alexander,” and “Now,” and the fourth time he has to put the Cyrus back in the playpen Will is grumpier about it than he means to be.

“We’ll go see them when I’m done here,” he says. “Stay where I put you or the next thing I build is going to be a lid for your playpen.”

Cyrus flashes his teeth at Will and turns his back on him, going to the corner to pout alone, and Will is torn between shame and the guilty desire to laugh, because in all his wounded dignity the boy looks just like Hannibal when he’s in a snit.

It’s because he’s angry with Will that the next time he climbs out of the playpen Cyrus  decides to take matters into his own hands and heads down the path towards the water by himself, and he’s been loose for about two minutes before Will looks up from a delicate bit of work and sees the boy disappear behind a bend in the trail.

Will curses under his breath and hurries down the trail to retrieve him, and his hand is just closing around Cyrus’ forearm when the shadow falls over them both.

Hannibal’s come back, Will thinks, but he already knows that it isn’t Hannibal.

Will draws Cyrus to himself even as he is lifting his eyes, and when he sees the monster - suddenly and inexplicable there in the trail, only a few feet away from himself and his son, though Will never heard him coming, his heart becomes so frantic that Will can feel it pounding against the inside of his ribs.

He’d believed Hannibal to be almost gigantic, taller than any human man Will ever met and preternaturally powerful, despite his slim build, but this monster makes Hannibal look like a skinny teenager. It is eight feet tall, at least, and must have more than a hundred pounds on Hannibal, and Will has to crane his head back on his neck just to look it in the face.

Will sees the scarred face, the upper lip pulled back to reveal at least three rows of crooked white teeth, and Will meets its black eyes and thinks about the body at the docks, the chucks bitten out of it from behind, and thinks, If we run he’ll catch us.

He is conscious of being scared nearly out of his mind, but somehow that fear seems somehow distant, immaterial to what he needs to do next.

Shoving Cyrus behind him to shield the boy with his body as well as he can, Will raises his fists and lifts his chin and tries to square up, and then takes a step towards the monster and roars at it as loudly as he can.

The monster’s eyes widen, and Will thinks he sees something like uncertainty cross its face, but it is still snarling at him, and Will takes another step towards it and yells again, curses and threats and Will does not know what else this time, and it retreats a few steps backwards, and something that it was holding in its fist thuds to the ground, but Will does not dare breaking eye contact long enough to see what it is.

And then Hannibal is there.

Chapter Text

Hannibal clears the hill and sees his ferocious, high-strung little partner standing in the center of the trail, facing down a gigantic stranger.

Will shouts again, the same viciously outraged roaring that brought Hannibal here at a run, pausing only long enough to sign “Hide,” at Alexander, who melted under the waves without having to be told twice. Astonished, Hannibal watches as the stranger backs away from Will, clearly taken aback.

Hannibal isn’t sure what he expected find when he heard Will shouting, but it certainly wasn’t such a delightful scene, and he clears the rest of the distance between himself and the other two at a walk rather than a run, taking in every detail he can of the stranger before he even realizes Hannibal is watching. Aside from his twin, and a fleeting glance at his parents at the time of his birth, Hannibal has never before seen another creature like himself, but he has a good idea of what to do - of what is expected of him, and what the other creature will expect in return.

When Hannibal is only a few yards away, he sees Will’s eyes flick towards him in acknowledgment of his presence, but only for an instant. Then Will fixes his gaze on the stranger again, those startlingly direct eyes burning with enough malicious heat to set Hannibal’s heart alight, and skins back his lower lip to show his teeth to the stranger.

Pride and pleasure bloom in Hannibal’s chest, but he keeps his face impassive as he circles around the stranger to go to Will. The stranger turns his head to watch Hannibal as he passes by, but there is enough bristling aggression in the manner in which Hannibal calculates his own movements that the stranger makes no move towards Hannibal.

Now that Will is close, Hannibal can smell the fear on him. He is, in fact, rank with terror, though that does not keep him from holding his body as though curled for an aggressive lunge, nor does it prevent him from keeping the stranger at bay with that steady, threatening stare.

It is, Hannibal feels, an overreaction to the situation, but he ascribes it to Will’s general strangeness; he has such a great capacity for fear and anger, and those are easy things to accept alongside the fierce love he has gifted Hannibal - and, inexplicably, their children - with.

He doesn’t, at the time, consider the possibility that all that terror and love might mix in such a way as to make Will actively dangerous.

Hannibal does not want to sign now; the stranger is a tangle of confused tension already, and Hannibal does not wish to be the cause of any miscommunications by doing something too unusual, not when the new creature is probably already contending with the oddity of Hannibal’s partner and the presence of their child.

Instead, Hannibal puts his hand on Will’s shoulder, in one gesture establishing his claim over Will to the stranger, and - he hopes, at least - going some small distance towards calming Will’s heart. Will is not wearing a shirt - Hannibal supposes that he removed it against the afternoon heat as he labored at his current project behind the cottage - and under Hannibal’s palm Will’s skin is slick with anxious sweat, his muscles rigid.

Will tips his eyes up at Hannibal. He says Hannibal’s name uncertainly, a little quaver in his voice, and Hannibal smiles down to reassure him.

Cyrus is clinging to the back of Will’s leg, and Hannibal kneels to disentangle the boy. He lifts Cyrus up and hands him to Will, thinking that perhaps holding the little one will sooth him, as it often does, then Hannibal nods up towards the house.

He is thinking, Will can take the baby up to the house, where he feels more secure within the enclosed space, and stay there until I and this stranger have reached an understanding, and then I will explain things to Will once he has gotten over his shock.

It occurs to Hannibal then, but only in a distance way, that it is odd that Will should be so much more frightened by the stranger than he was by Hannibal himself, when they first met. But it is not fear that Hannibal is feeling now, but rather anticipation and curiosity, and that keeps him from focusing on Will’s reaction as attentively as he might have otherwise.

Will hesitates for another instant, and then he clutches Cyrus more tightly against himself and turns and runs.  

Hannibal turns back to the stranger and strides towards him, feeling limber and strong and entirely ready for whatever the other creature might throw at him, and when they clash together it is something beautiful, Hannibal believes, and there is such a joy in it for him, such pleasure in feeling the strain of muscles taxed to their limits, the rake of claws over tough skin, the lightning fast snap of powerful jaws.

He feels himself challenged in a way that he has not been since his twin died, free in his body in a way that he could never be with Will, alive to his own power rather than constantly conscious to the potential for harm that power entails, as he must be with Will and the children, and if Hannibal were inclined towards that feeling he might have found guilt in how much he he enjoys this, how natural and easy it is to spar in this manner, largely unconcerned for what harm he might do to the stranger, even if they are not fighting in deadly earnest.

It is a heady feeling, to revert entirely to instinct and the simple, animalistic delight of brutal struggle, his own intellect and all the words that have allowed him to solidify his thoughts shunted to the side as he fights to overpower the far larger creature.

Experience is on Hannibal’s side.

He understood, long before he actually laid eyes on the stranger, that he had no twin; he is the product of a single birth, or else his twin was taken from him at a very young age, and his size and strength are no counter for a lack of skill.

It does not take Hannibal long to get the better of the stranger, to knock him off his feet and from there down onto his back, and when he is sprawled out in the dirt Hannibal crouches over him and closes his jaws around the stranger’s throat, just hard enough to taste more blood.

He waits. The giant beneath him is still and compliant, nearly relaxed, and the thrill of conquest is for Hannibal lessened only a little by the awareness that his opponent probably did not fight as hard as he might have done.

Appeased, Hannibal rolls off of the stranger and climb to his feet. Hannibal offers a hand to help him up, and realizes only when the stranger blinks at him that it is a gesture that he has learned from Will, a small kindness that means nothing coherent to the other creature.

By way of explanation, Hannibal takes the stranger by the wrist with one hand, and with the other weaves his fingers between those of the stranger, and pulls. He doesn’t really have the strength to draw the larger creature up off the ground, but understanding dawns on the stranger after a few seconds, and he gets to his feet at Hannibal’s behest.

Hannibal begins to circle the stranger again, making clear his intention to go another round, but the other creature is looking up the trail in the direction that Will has gone, distracted, and Hannibal realizes suddenly that he is more interested in Will than in continuing to play with Hannibal.

The feeling of being snubbed is one that Hannibal has learned to tolerate in relationship to Will’s affection for the children, but this rankles in a new way, and while the stranger is distracted Hannibal darts forward and lays a slicing cut across his chest with one claw.

It’s bad conduct, Hannibal knows perfectly well, counter to his own instincts and what instinct tells the other creature to expect of their interactions, but he is not a prisoner to those instincts; he does it anyway, simply because he is angry, and because he can.

The stranger’s temper flares at that, outrage and shock mingling into something more vicious than Hannibal expected, and when he charges Hannibal is just a fraction of a second too late for him to dodge away.

The two of them go tumbling down to the dirt again, and this time it is Hannibal who finds himself pinned, the stranger’s jaws poised around his throat. His breath is hot against Hannibal’s skin.

Annoyed with everything, Hannibal allows himself to go limp and turns his head to the side, conceding the match.

The teeth draw away from his skin, and the stranger is just beginning to climb off Hannibal when something happens, and he is driven back down on top of Hannibal.

The sudden weight dives the air from Hannibal’s lungs, and he slaps at the stranger’s back the same way Will slaps at him when he needs more space, but the stranger pays no attention to him.

He shakes his burly head like there’s a fly buzzing in his ear, and Hannibal sees the slack bafflement on the stranger’s face fade into pained confusion in the two seconds that it takes for Will to strike him again with the stout fish club that he is holding.

The first blow took the stranger across the crown of the head hard enough to cause a hairline skull fracture, though none of them know that yet, but the stranger is lifting his head up to see what struck him when Will swings again, and the club glances off of his shoulder instead of cracking against his temple as Will intended.

The fact that second blow goes wild is part of the reason Hannibal does not immediately realize how much damage Will can do with the club.

He has seen Will use the fishing club before, of course, but only to apply a sharp blow with the light precision needed to kill a fish quickly by crushing its fragile skull. Hannibal has never seen Will put any real muscle behind the use of the club, which is a heavy piece of hardwood made from a baseball bat that has had about three fifths of its length cut off, and he has never seen another person beaten with a weapon.

It is at first so astonishing to see Will’s latent ferocity out in full force as he routs the stranger, who must outweigh Will at least three times over, that Hannibal only climbs to his feet and follows curiously as Will pursues the other creature. Will rains blows down over his back and shoulders and head, and the stranger gives up trying to stand and instead tries to crawl away on hands and knees, but Will hits him again and again, driving him down into the dirt.

The stranger gives up trying to rise and curls in around himself on his side instead, arms up around his head to try to shield it, and Hannibal frowns as he waits for the stranger to roll onto his back in submission.

But when he does, lowering his hands from his face and bearing his throat in a vulnerable arc, Will raises the club and hits him again, and this time Will catches him across the cheek, and Hannibal sees the spray of blood and broken teeth, and sucks air in between his own teeth in a hiss as he steps forward and catches Will by the arm holding the club and pulls him back from the stranger.

Yanking him around by the arm, Hannibal turns Will to face him, and grasps him by the jaw to make him look up at Hannibal when he tries to break free to go after the stranger again. Hannibal sees that Will’s lower lip is bleeding where he caught it between his teeth. The trail of red drips down his chin and onto Hannibal’s hand as Will’s wet eyes jerk from side to side frantically, trying to understand.

The purposeful rage that had driven him only moments before is flowing out of Will like blood from a severed jugular vein, and in its place Will’s face is a rictus of helpless dread, but there is a terrible blank reasonableness to his voice when he says, “If we let him go he’ll just come back again.”

Then Will begins to fall apart.

Hannibal takes the club away from him and throws it into the brush. He pins Will against himself until his body stops heaving and shaking, until the sobbing has quieted. On the ground by Hannibal’s feet, the stranger is still.  

When Hannibal lets Will go, he is pale and unsteady. He looks down at the bloody mess that he has made of the stranger, and then turns and walks to the brush, where he vomits violently but with very little noise.

By the time he comes back, Hannibal is crouched over the other creature. When he rests his fingertips on the stranger’s chest he can feel it rise and fall.

“He was going to kill you,” Will says. Hannibal gives a minuscule shake of his head.

Perhaps Will does not see the motion. “He was going to kill us all,” he says, insistent.

There is a pause, and then Will asks, “Did I kill it?”

Hannibal doesn’t respond, and Will says, “Hannibal, please,” barking the words in his desperation, and he asks again, “Did I kill it?"

Hannibal isn't sure what kind of answer Will is hoping to get. 

He sighs, shakes his head again.

“Help me get him down to the water,” he tells Will.

Chapter Text

Later, when most of Will’s fear has faded and the self-loathing has begun creeping in to the fill the void, along with a qualitatively different type of anger than that which drove him to pick up the club, he will spend an endlessly amount of time second-guessing his reaction to that first encounter with the creature that he will eventually dub “D,” but at the time there is no ambiguity to the situation for Will, and no other possible course of action but for that which he takes.

When Hannibal turns his back on the monster long enough to pick Cyrus up and hand him to Will, the boy becomes the locus of everything that matters. His fear for the child in his arms, the overriding need to protect him, becomes the central focus of Will’s entire universe; it makes him vicious and calculating and willing to do absolutely anything.

The voice of that primal drive to protect his young is like a weasel inside of Will’s skull.

The weasel watches the way Hannibal and the monster circle each other, Hannibal as stiff-limbed as a tomcat seeking to drive off a rival male. There is an intensely ritualistic feel to it, and the weasel sees the size of the monster, relative to Hannibal, the heavy muscles and the wide jaws and the absolute hugeness of it, and the weasel does the math and tells Will this -

Hannibal is as good as dead, whether or not he knows it, and all you can do is use the time he’s buying you to save your children - to get Cyrus someplace safe, and Alexander, if he is still alive.

So Will runs.

He runs for the house, simply because that is where Hannibal instructed him to go, and because he must run somewhere, but no soon has Will slammed the door shut than he realizes that he has carried the boy into a death trap; there is no lock on the door, and even if he were to barricade it with every scrap of furniture in the place, it would take the monster a matter of minutes to tear it from its hinges.

The weasel is scratching at the insides of Will’s skull, hunting for some way - any way - to safety. For a moment he thinks about circling around the battle on the trail to make it down to the dock - find Alexander, put both twins on the boat and get as far away from here as quickly as he can - but he doesn’t need the frantic rationality of the weasel’s voice to tell him that’s another dead end; he’s seen Hannibal haul himself out of the water and into the boat plenty of times, and if he can do it so can the monster.

The water isn’t safe, and there’s nowhere else to go.

Cyrus is starting to struggle in his arms, pressing his palms against Will’s chest to try and push him away, and Will realizes that he is holding on too tight - that he is probably hurting the boy, and that he will resort to biting if he’s ignored for too long, but he can not bring himself to loosen his grip.

Will can feel, already, the monster’s claws in his flesh, how easily it will tear the boy from his arms, and he is distantly aware of making shushing noises at Cyrus as he turns in a tight frantic circle, looking for something - anything - that might make a difference.

There used to be a handgun here, when he first came to island, an ancient Remington Model 1858 that he suspected was left over from the Civil War. He’d fixated on that gun, and on the idea of the bullet that bypassed him and found Matthew instead, lost sleep wondering how many men had died by it and if one more would really make a difference, and in the end Will pawned it for fear that he would end up using it on himself.

He curses himself as a coward for that decision now, for leaving himself empty handed when he needs so badly to be able to protect his family, but as he berates himself for lacking the foresight to replace the gun when he has known for months that the monster was likely lurking nearby he is looking around the room, still looking, and -

And he sees the billy club that he uses to kill fish leaning against the wall, near the rest of his gear.

When he sits Cyrus on the floor and turns away from him to pick up the club, hefting the short solid piece of wood in his hand, the boy changes his mind about wanting to be let go. Instead, he tries to cling to Will’s leg. The boy is frightened because Will is frightened, and that knowledge makes Will’s own fury at the monster spike again.

He pushes Cyrus away and closes the door behind him, latching it so the boy won’t be able to get out, and then he is running again.

Will finds Hannibal prone on the ground, limp and unmoving, the monster crouched on top of him with its jaws around his throat. With Cyrus out of sight Will is permitted by the weasel in his head to spend the few seconds it takes him to clear the distance between himself and the monster contemplating not the survival of their children but rather what it will mean for Will, personally, to lose Hannibal.

When he brings the club down Will is quite certain that this is the case and Hannibal is already dead - he is so still and there is so much blood everywhere - and it is rage entirely that drives that first blow, and even when Hannibal begins to move beneath the giant beast Will keeps hitting it, though it is the bright light of hope and something like pride that drives Will to keep on hitting it now, and Will keeps hitting it as Hannibal crawls to his feet behind him and he keeps hitting it when Hannibal draws up close behind him, though he can see that it’s beaten, and when Hannibal jerks him away from the monster, holding Will’s arm immobile, Will becomes terrified that if he stops now it will come for them all again later, and Will tries to break free so he can keep on hitting it, and -

And there is a blank place here, bright white with the shock of everything catching up to him, sharp with the taste of bile, and when Will comes back to himself he sees the monster laying still and bloody in the trail, and he thinks that he has killed it but he is afraid to touch it, and Hannibal will not answer him when he asks if it is still alive.

Will feels the weasel inside of his head slink back into its burrow, leaving him defenseless in the wake of what he has done, and when Hannibal says, “Help me get him into the water,” again, a wounded sense of spite rises up inside of Will and he says, “To hell with that.”

The look Hannibal gives him is long and measured, and Will is not certain if Hannibal’s lip really twitches up towards a snarl or if he only imagines it.

“Help me,” Hannibal tells him again, and it is not a request, nor a plea. “He’ll suffocate here.”

Will wants to show his own teeth. He wants to snap, “Good then,” and turn and leave the two of them where they are. He wants to go crawl under his bed and cry like a child. He wants Hannibal to ask after Will’s own well-being, instead of this baffling concern for a malicious stranger that’s left Hannibal bleeding in a dozen different places.

More than anything, Will doesn’t want to be responsible for any of this.

What he says instead is, “Alexander?” The word chokes him, pulls the air from his chest.

“Fine,” Hannibal tells him. “I left him in the water when I heard you.”

The relief makes Will sway on his feet. “Thank Christ,” he breathes. “God.”

“Help me,” Hannibal says a third time, and bends to hook his hands under the monster’s arms and lift his torso a few inches up from the sand. Its head lulls backwards bonelessly, but now Will can hear its harsh breathing.

Will is grateful that Hannibal has that end of it. He doesn’t want to be that close to its face - doesn’t want to be within reach of its jaws if it wakes up angry, and he doesn’t want to have to look at what he’s done to its face.

Instead, Will lifts it by the ankles. The monster is too heavy for them to carry, even working together, but Will follows Hannibal’s lead and shares as much of the burden as he can manage as Hannibal drags him backwards down the trail and into the shallows.

When they are in foot and a half-deep water, Hannibal nods at Will, and Will lets go of the monster’s legs.

Hannibal’s eyes stay on Will for a few seconds longer, searching. He is worried about Will, but Will expects condemnation so that is what he sees. It confirms the things that Will is already thinking about himself.

As the panicked desperation to protect his loved ones from immediate danger begins to fade away in the face of the way in which he has rendered the new creature helpless, self-loathing is beginning to creep into Will. He pushes back against it bitterly, but it comes nonetheless.

Watching as Hannibal settles down in the water with the monster’s head in his lap, the fear that he has done a murder rushes over Will. The memory of Matthew’s shattered face is alive and moving behind Will’s eyes, and when when Hannibal pushes the creature’s head under the waves there is a moment of panic in which Will is certain that Hannibal is trying to drown him.

The water washes a lot of the blood away.

“God,” Will says, a new sense of horror crowding in with the rest as the monster’s mouth falls open under the waves. “I broke his teeth.”

“He’ll grow new ones,” Hannibal lifts his hands to say, apparently untroubled.

Looking at the battered face of the monster, Will understands now that he hadn’t been showing his teeth at Will deliberately. There’s something wrong with his upper lip, quite apart from the beating Will just laid on him, a scar or disfigurement of some kind, and it pulls his lip into a permanent toothy leer.

The monster is lighter in color than Hannibal. Most of his body is a pale slate gray with a faint blue tint, but from his belly to the skin around his mouth he is a white so bright that the sunlight reflects off of it dazzlingly. While Hannibal’s cream colored underside blends smoothly into the dark grey, the monster’s markings are splotchy and uneven. It is almost like, Will thinks, someone started peeling the paint off his front half but never got any further.

Great white, Will thinks, remembering the shark that circled by slow the day the twins were born, and the way it was bleeding.

Hannibal is bleeding now. He’s going to have a dozen new scars, and all that blood in the water worries Will all over again, but Hannibal doesn’t seem concerned. He seems disinclined to move, an assumption that Hannibal confirms when he tells Will that he intends to sit in the shallows with the monster until he wakes up, so he doesn’t drift away somewhere dangerous.

Because he doesn’t know what to say to that, Will changes the subject. “The fucking size of him,” he says.

Hannibal smiles and tells him, “My twin was bigger.”

Will curses in astonishment at that.

The word “twin” reminds Will of the boys, and he looks out over the water.

“You’re sure Alexander is okay?”

Hannibal nods.

“I need to go get Cyrus from the house. He must be scared.”

Despite his anxiety to get back to the boy, Will finds himself stopping on the trail when he comes to the place where Hannibal and the monster clashed together, looking down at the bloodied sand.

It takes a few minutes for him to find the exact place where the monster stood, when Will first saw him, but eventually he finds it. He bends, carding his fingers through the disturbed sand, and finds the object the monster dropped.

It’s a shell, flawless and unchipped, banded with lines of cream and golden brown. It’s a beautiful thing, and Will thinks of all the little offerings that Hannibal has brought him, the food and the odd little relics of human culture. The shell is simpler, and somehow more earnest than Hannibal’s gifts.

The discovery unleashes such a flood of self-loathing and regret that Will thinks he might drown in it, but there’s an uneasiness to it too, a fear that the new creature might want something from him that Will has no desire to give.

Chapter Text

Cyrus is standing in the threshold when Will opens the cottage door, but when he sees Will he glares up at him with wet, narrowed eyes and backs away suspiciously. His chubby fists are balled at his sides, and Will can see blood on them.

Will blinks against the bite of tears, and drops his eyes away from the boy’s furious glare, and sees the splinters on the floor. When he turns to shut the door, Will sees where they came from - there are scratches on the door and its frame, deep gouges in the wood.

God, Will thinks. He can see it behind his eyes, how it must been for Cyrus to be trapped in here alone, scratching plaintively at the wood with every expectation that his request would be met, then trying to pry the door open with his claws when no one came. Will was gone for less than half an hour, but the boy has never been stuck by himself behind a closed door before, and Will was in such a state when he left.

It was more than enough time for the frustration at having the door slammed in his face to turn into confusion when no one responded to his scratching and banging, and from there for the certainty that he’d been forgotten and abandoned to hit. The knob is well above his reach, and when no one came for him he got mad, and that became an angry panic as the minutes ticked by, so he started to claw harder at it, trying to dig his way to freedom.

Now, when Will takes a step toward him Cyrus backs away, though none of his defiant outrage fades. He swipes at his face with the side of his forearm, trying to dry his dripping nose and wet eyes, and then he shows Will his teeth.

There is so much anger in Will - at himself and at the monster, who has shown up uninvited at their home to cause all of this, to create a situation where his boy - who hardly seems to know what fears is - has come to be frightened of him.

Event with the gifted shell in his pocket, Will has not let go of the belief that the monster’s intentions were malicious - or else, might have turned that way, if he didn’t wasn’t given what he wanted, and Will has his suspicions about that - and thinking about the scratches on the door Will is struck by a new horror; what if things had gone differently, and the monster killed Will and Hannibal on the trail, and then simply ate his fill and went back into the water, to leave Cyrus trapped in the cottage to starve?

The picture of that, inside his head, is clear as life, and it makes Will dizzy with claustrophobic horror, but he tries to get himself under control - tries to give off a calm air as he crouches down to the boy’s level.

Adults apologizing to children is not something that was done - Will, at least, has never seen it done, and when he was a boy not adult ever told him that they were sorry, even after they hurt him bad - but Will apologizes now, though he knows the boy is too small to follow even a fraction of what he is saying.

Pitching his voice soothing, Will tells the boy that he understands why he was angry, but that he didn’t mean to make him feel that way, nor to frighten him - that he locked him in the cottage because it was dangerous outside, but that he is sorry and will not do anything like that again without explaining things to him first, not if he can at all help it.

He tries to keep from his voice his own sense of grief at having the boy look at him like he is not to be trusted, and to hide away all that anger, too, the feeling that he is being punished now for protecting his family.  

“I’m sorry,” Will says again, trying to sound - to be - calm and reasonable and safe. “Will you come here?”

When Will opens his arms, the boy’s anger breaks, beaten down by his need for comfort, and running as fast as his wobbly legs will allow he throws himself into Will’s arms, crying again, and lets Will pick him up.   

He wraps his arms as far around Will’s neck as they will go and sobs, silently, against his collarbone, right above the place where he bit Will, back when he wasn’t even an hour old.

Will fights the desire to cry, too, to apologize not just for scaring the boy but for a thousand other mistakes and shortcomings - for laying such a ugly beating on the stranger and for failing to kill him, for not knowing how to keep Cyrus and his twin safe from this new threat and a hundred others that he is certain are lurking in the wings - but Will bites it back, knowing that wallowing in self-loathing now will do the child no good. Instead, he tries to stay as calm as he can, knowing that doing so is the best help he can give Cyrus towards calming down, too.

When the boy is done crying and Will himself feels a little more steady, he finds his tweezers and sits Cyrus on the bookcase, near the window, so he can see to draw the splinters out of his fingers.

Will might have expected a child Cyrus’ age to wail and struggle, but the pain does not seem to bother him. He is quiet and intensely thoughtful, watching Will’s face as he works.

He takes half a dozen splinters from Cyrus’ left hand, his eyes darting up from the work to meet the boy’s and then shying away again. It is disquieting, the way he stares, how much he seems to absorb.

Will wonders if all babies are like this. Maybe it is Hannibal’s blood that makes him so strange, or Will’s own. Was I the same way? he thinks.

“Done with that one,” Will tells him, and when he meets Cyrus’ eyes long enough to give him a reassuring smile Cyrus pats his cheek with the hand Will has just finished tending to and grins at him. Will feels his own smile grow, despite everything.



Will is just finishing up with Cyrus’ hands when there is a soft knock on the door.

He hasn’t tried to bandage Cyrus’ hands - the scratches aren’t really bad enough to justify that, and he knows the boy would just worry at the cloth strips with his hands and his teeth until he pulled them off anyway - but he has dabbed them with iodine and screwed the lid back on the bottle when the sound comes.

Will’s eyes dart towards the knife block, wondering if he ought to arm himself, but then he shakes his head. He lifts Cyrus’ onto his hip and goes to the door, unsure of what to expect.

It’s Alexander, fidgeting anxiously and watching the sky. He slips into the cottage as soon the door opens.

“Did you come up here all alone just to find us?” Will asks, flabbergasted.  

He’s never done anything like this before - has never left the water without Will or Hannibal to act as a guard.

“Is Hannibal alright?” Will asks him, anxious suddenly that the boy is only here alone because something has become of Hannibal.

Alexander doesn’t answer him, but now that he is inside he doesn’t seem agitated. He tugs at Will’s pant leg with one hand, and with the other he catches Cyrus’ ankle possessively. Cyrus, for his part, is wiggling to get down, but before he lets the boy go Will sits on the floor, down at their level.

They scuffle together, briefly, rolling across the floor, and then Alexander lifts Cyrus up under the arms, and drags-carries him back to Will. They both flop down across Will’s lap, a tangle of arms and legs and tails, drawing comfort from closeness to one another - and to Will, too.

The twins are precocious, yes - far more sharp of wit and tooth then children so far from their first birthday have any right to be, but they are, Will thinks, still babies regardless. He wants to protect them from the knowledge that there is evil in the world, as well as he can - his own wickedness and other people’s.

If he could, he would keep the twins in the cottage, far from the monster and whatever Hannibal is doing with him. He wonders if Alexander has seen already - what, if anything, Hannibal told him about what happened - and he wonders how Cyrus will react to the sight.

But he knows that they can’t stay here for much longer. Alexander will need to go down to the water within the next hour to wet his gills and get his breath, and there is no safe access to the water but for that narrow strip of beach - the rest of the island is ringed by jagged rock and sharp drop offs.

“Hey,” Will says. “Listen to me for a minute.”

When the twins turn toward him at the sound of his voice, Will signs as well as speaks, hoping that they will understand him. “Listen,” he repeats. “There’s a… scary person on the beach. He’ll try to eat you if you aren’t careful.” Will is not sure if that is a lie or not, but he’s taking no chances, and he pulls a face, showing his own teeth and snapping at the air in demonstration to drive the point home.

“He won’t there much longer, but you just keep away from him. You understand?”

Wide-eyed, they nod in unison.

Chapter Text

They can’t hide in the cottage forever, much as Will might want to.

When Alexander begins to get fidgety, the way that he does when he’s starting to feel an uncomfortable tightness in his chest, Will scoops him up into the crook of his arm and takes Cyrus by the hand, and they go outside.

Will doesn’t know where the fish club has gotten to, but he remembers the tools behind the cottage now, and he stops there long enough to take a hammer from his took chest and fasten it to his belt.

Maybe he’s already left, Will thinks, but without any hope.

Will supposed that Alexander already had a chance to investigate the kicked up and bloody sand on the trail leading down to the beach, but it’s news to Cyrus, and he wants to stop to look at it. The boy’s nostrils flare at the scent, and disquieted, Will tugs him along.

The monster is sitting up in the water when Will clears the final bend in the trail, his fingers tangled around his head. Hannibal is watching the other creature, and there is no animosity in the way he holds himself. He is close to the creature, and as he draws closer Will sees Hannibal put a hand on the monster’s shoulder, as though to comfort or reassure him.

The sight provokes in Will feelings that he is not prepared even to parse, let alone deal with.

Cyrus and Alexander are getting apprehensive as they come closer, but that’s just fine; he has no intention of discouraging that wariness, but rather tries to use it to cement the idea that they need to be careful and listen to him about this. When Cyrus tightens his grip on Will’s hand and Alexander curls his arms around Will’s neck, Will says quietly, “I know it, but stay close to me and I’ll keep you safe.”

The monster hears Will’s voice.

Cringing, he turns his head toward Will, meeting his eyes for just an instant.

Then he bolts, disappearing under the waves with shocking speed, despite his injuries.

The monster makes it perhaps fifty yards when something else happens - Will doesn’t know what - and he bobs to the surface again, limp and unmoving.

Now he is dead, Will thinks numbly, and inside Will’s own skull there is a distinct picture of the inside of the monster’s head, of a blood vessel Will had only damaged hemorrhaging explosively.   

But when Hannibal swims out and pulls the creature back into the shallows, Will sees that though he seems barely conscious he is nonetheless still alive.

Hannibal lays him back under the shallow water in the same position they’d been in when Will left to get Cyrus - the stranger on his back with his head in Hannibal’s lap, Hannibal holding him steady there so the tide won’t wash him away.

The monster comes to again slowly, and when he does he tangles his arms around his head and clutches it as though it is in danger of breaking into pieces. He rolls off Hannibal’s lap and twitches miserably on his belly, elbows and clawed toes digging at the sand, muscles taunt, thick tail lashing, fingers buried in the matted black hair.

It is terrible, seeing how badly the monster is hurting - how badly Will has hurt him. He’d only meant to kill it, not to cause all of this, and his hand might now have crept for the hammer at his belt were Cyrus not still gripping it so hard.

Hannibal looks to Will, clearly at a loss, hoping for some explanation.

Will is afraid that he has one.

“When I was a kid,” Will says, “my daddy farmed me out to some cousins for a year while he took work as a carny.

“There was a freak show with the show he was working for, and their star act was called ‘Arturo the Aqua Boy.’ The kid - Arturo - he had flippers instead of arms and legs, and they used and they used to show him in this giant tank. He’d dart around like a seal, like something unreal and magical and too astonishing for this world, but then he’d prop his chin up on the edge of the tank and talk with the ticket holders like he knew them.  

“He wasn’t like any of you, understand, he was just a human, a disfigured human - ‘Born of natural parents,’ was how they billed him. He made his family a lot of money with that act, but one day when he was about ten he had an accident and cracked his head. He ended up with a hairline fracture.

“After that, he wasn’t able to do his act for a long time. My daddy said that when he tried to dive to the bottom of his tank, which was only ten or twelve feet deep, Arturo almost blacked out from the pain, and when they got him out of the water he was roaring about how bad it hurt, like someone put his head in a vise and was squeezing it.

“He got better,” Will hurries on, dogged by his own guilt over the monster. “But it took a lot of months and a lot of practice to be able to dive like he used to.”

Will swallows. He knows that there’s a lot of pieces to that story that Hannibal doesn’t have the reference pool to understand, but he is too strung out to try to go back and explain every moving part to the story.

“He’s got a fractured skull, is what I mean,” Will finishes. “There’s a crack in the bone. He won’t be able to leave the shallows until it gets better, I guess. Can you - can you tell him that, Hannibal?”

It’s a foolish question, Will know, but Hannibal treats it seriously enough. “No one has taught him speak, Will.”

Will bites his lower lip, trying to crush down another unwelcomed wave of pity. “I guess he’ll figure it out himself quickly enough anyway.”

He is thinking that maybe he should try to examine the creature’s skull - to find out, if he can just how much damage he did, but he is afraid of what might happen is he tries to touch it. But even if the monster didn’t try to maul him for his trouble, he’d probably only make things worse if he tried to mess with it, maybe push broken bone down into the skull.

Will doesn’t have any desire to hurt the monster, now that he can hardly fight back, but he is still a threat in more ways than one; it would be better if he just died.

Maybe more humane to put him out of his misery, too. Will isn’t sure where the fracture is, or even if there is more than one, and he can’t see under the tangled mat of hair to tell if the club tore skin on his scalp. If the skin is broken over the area of the fracture, he is as good as dead anyway; sea water and god only knows what filth will have already invaded the inside of his skull.

Will sighs and looks out across the water, thinking about the hammer on his belt and the knife in his pocket, the fish club wherever he dropped it. The skyline is the color of blood, the sun sinking away for the night.

They make Will sick, those thoughts. He’d rather be thinking about almost anything else.

He cusses, runs his fingers through his hair. “It’s going to be dark soon, I have to light the lamp.

“Don’t leave Alexander alone near him,” he tells Hannibal, passing the boy off to him for the night. “I’ll figure out how to get rid of him tomorrow, if he’s still here.”

Hannibal does not respond to that, but there is a stubbornness in the set of his mouth that worries Will.

Chapter Text

When Hannibal’s shadow falls over him Will gives a startled cry and whirls around to face him.

Will’s teeth are bared, but when he sees Hannibal, with Alexander behind him and peering around the side of his leg, he mutters “Christ,” and runs a hand down his face, wiping the ferocious expression away and replacing it with strained exhaustion. “Thought you were the other guy, I guess.”

Hannibal ducks through the narrow doorway to step into the lamp room. Alexander follows him, but hesitantly, watching Will carefully to see if the snarl met anything dangerous, and Hannibal sees Will fighting to master his own expression in response to that.

Still, the child lets Will pick him up and carry him to the playpen on the far side of the room, where Cyrus is blinking warily, still dazed from sleep, which Hannibal never does and barely understands. Cyrus watches Will, trying to divine why he cried out, and Will forces a small laugh and says, “It’s alright, baby. I’ve got your brother for you, see?”

The twins drape themselves across each other, as cozy as seal pups on a beach. Hannibal can see that they are already falling into that perplexing state of extended unconsciousness that Will also requires. Now that the twins are safely caged and out of the way, Will covers the pen with a quilt to give the pair the benefit of quiet darkness, which for reasons Hannibal cannot fathom seems to aide in the process of sleeping.

Will returns to the lamp. “What are you doing up here anyway?” he asks Hannibal. He tries to say it casually, but there is an anxious note in his voice that does not stem entirely from the lingering sting of the way Alexander shied away from him.

Hannibal doesn’t answer. He studies Will, laboring to turn the mechanism that moves the light, just like he does all night, every night.

Hannibal resents the lamp, the smell it makes and the way it monopolizes so much of Will’s time and energy, and most of all the constant source of stress it is for him. He does not like to be anywhere near it.

Now, though, he approaches Will from behind, looking over his shoulder to watch the work of his hands as he tends to the lamp. Some of the stranger’s blood has dried, unnoticed, in his dark hair, and Hannibal leans in and breaths the scent in, the bite of iron and the sharp comfort of salt and beneath it Will in all of his dazzlingly complexity - wet flannel and tooth powder and the alcohol burn of his aftershave, clean white soap and sweat, that last carrying with it such detailed reports on Will’s forever complicated emotional state.

Hannibal moves in closer, cupping his hands around Will’s hips and leaning over him to mouth his tattered ear, holding the cartilage between his teeth lightly.

The rotation of the lamp stutters to a halt. Will shivers and presses back against Hannibal, lifting himself up to the toes of his boots to bring his ass against the junction between Hannibal’s hips, where inside of himself Hannibal’s cocks have begun to stir, but at the same time that Will is doing all of this he is saying, “Don’t get me going right now. I’m working.”

A puzzle, knowing when to listen to what Will says with his body versus with his mouth, when before Will taught him how to use language there had been no other way for him to communicate his desires and dislikes but through body language, and for years no one to communicate with in any case.

The words are the greatest gift that Will has granted him, and they hold the highest place of worship in the vicious pantheon that resides inside of Hannibal, and he defers to them.

He slides away from Will. Circling around him, Hannibal sits down against the wall, out of the way but still in Will’s line of sight.

Will ignores him for a few minutes, fiddling with the lamp as a pretext while he tries to calm himself down. It doesn’t fool Hannibal -  Will’s breathing is racy and Hannibal can see the shape of his single cock, which is always so eager that it cannot even retract itself into Will’s body when it isn’t needed, tenting the front of his jeans.

When Will looks up at him again, flushed and oddly embarrassed but not quite as aroused as he had been, Hannibal asks, “What is the lamp for?”

Will blinks as though Hannibal has said something incomprehensible. “You don’t know?”

Hannibal shrugs with his left shoulder.

“Guess I never explained it to you, or if I did it was before you knew enough to understand what I was saying,” Will says.

Privately, Hannibal knows that he has deliberately avoided conversations about the stinking, demanding thing, but he knows something of tact, and he does not say this to Will.

“In the dark of night,” Will says, “it is impossible for all those ships that go back and forth from the mainland to see if their path is clear - for the sailors to see if the going is safe. They trust the lighthouse to guide them away from hazardous waters, from rocks that might puncture a ship’s hull or cause it to run aground, or even to sink beneath the waves. My work is to tell them where the danger is so they can steer well clear of it.”

“And that matters to you?”

Will’s laugh is slightly bitter, and more than a little shy. “For a long time there, it was the only thing that kept me from killing myself, knowing that I was helping people. You know what I mean by that? Suicide?”

Hannibal nods, but slowly. He is not entirely certain that he does understand, or that he wants to. The idea of Will dying under any circumstance sets his heart racing with mute and inarticulate fear.

“And it was the only thing that made me feel safe, too. Being up here in my bright tower, looking out over the water, so far away from everyone else yet keeping them all safe.”

Hannibal says, “All that kindness for strangers who you will never meet.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Will snaps, suddenly livid and wounded.

Hannibal sees that he has miscalculated in his approach. Too much pursuit drives away the game, and he backs off from the topic of the stranger on the beach before it has really even been breached, raising his hands to Will in a pacifying gesture.

“What I am thinking,” Will says, after a long and uncomfortable silence, “is that I could put the other guy in the boat and take him out somewhere, far away from here - find a little island where there aren’t any people and leave him there to heal in his own time. Maybe if we went far enough away he wouldn’t be able to find his way back, even if he wanted to. If you watched the lighthouse while I was gone I could do all of that. It isn’t hard, I can show you how.”

Will had been looking at a spot on the wall just above Hannibal’s shoulders. Now, though, his eyes dart towards Hannibal’s face, just for a second, checking his expression before dropping them to the floor. If Hannibal didn’t know better, he might have taken that for a gesture of submission.

The word “lie” has yet to enter Hannibal’s lexicon, but he understands what deceit is, and he knows that he’s being lied to. It angers him.

Hannibal doesn’t respond. He stares at Will, steadily and with great focus, and under his gaze Will begins to fidget and sweat.

He turns away from Hannibal, throwing himself into his work, harder than he needs to. The scent of his sweat carries the bite of fear.

Hannibal waits him out, watching silently as dawn creeps closer, but Will says nothing else about the stranger that night.

Chapter Text

There is a routine to their lives together, for Hannibal and his unexpected family, and because Hannibal has grown fond of that routine he follows it now as well as he can, given the circumstances.

Therefore, when Will leaves the lighthouse to trek wearily back down to the cottage, Hannibal lifts Alexander onto his shoulder and they head for the water to get their breath and catch enough fresh food for the day.

The child is usually given to wandering off on his own once they are in the water, more confident in his own element than on land, but today he spends a lot of time sticking as close to Hannibal as his own shadow.

Frightened, Hannibal thinks, of the stranger or of Will’s strange behavior, or simply of the strangeness of the preceding day and the uncertainty that has followed in its wake. In any case, eventually hunger overcomes the child’s uneasiness and he moves away from Hannibal to look for food.

They are not social hunters, neither Hannibal or the child, and they do not work together in the pursuit of prey, but Hannibal has left the large wicker fish creel at the end of the dock, and Alexander adds his own contributions to the morning collection.

Hannibal keeps half on eye on Alexander as the child hunts the shallows, snatching up in his hands small creatures that swim in the water or scuttle along the rocky ocean floor. When he makes a catch, Alexander shifts whatever squirming thing he’s gotten to one hand, and with his clawed toes and free hand he hauls himself up the side of the dock and onto the salt-stained boards. Then he cracks the creel’s top open, drops what his catch inside, and slams the lid shut before anything can crawl out.

He catches small things, of course, fingerling minnows and small oysters and crabs, as well as other creatures that Will does not consider to be proper food but which Hannibal himself often ate when he was Alexander’s size. Despite this fact, Will is still apt to get badly upset by the idea of Alexander putting certain animals and insects into his mouth, and given Will’s current state of agitation, it seems wiser to avoid provoking him any further.

Therefore, Hannibal pulls himself up onto the dock and opens the creel to sort through Alexander’s catch carefully, so he can be certain there is nothing inside that might offend Will’s sensibilities. He tosses a handful of sand fleas back into the water, and a pair of hermit crabs go in after them.

Beneath some of the big fish that he added to the creel, Hannibal finds a reddish octopus hiding. It is no larger than Alexander’s hand, and Hannibal watches it a brief time before he frees it, admiring the way it crawls across his own hand and between his fingers.

It has always seemed to him that they are intelligent things too, the octopuses, though that intelligence is of a quality that is fundamentally alien to Hannibal, and like Hannibal’s own species they are not made to care for their children. Hannibal wonders, idly, if the small octopus might be tamed and educated in the same way that Will has tamed the twins. To what extent to could it be encouraged to follow some path other than that insisted upon by its instincts?

Alexander tugs at Hannibal’s tail to get his attention, and he shakes the octopus from his hand and watches it drop down into the water and jet away before turning to acknowledge the child.

“Eat?” Alexander signs, and then points at the stones that line the far side of the beach. From the vantage of the dock, they can both see the stranger, who has wedged himself in among the rocks and lying with unnatural stillness in the shallow, clear water.   

There are at least three ways to interpret that question, and Hannibal takes his pick. “Only if he dies,” he tells Alexander.

The answer does not satisfy the child. “Eat me?” he demands, and points to the stranger again. Then with considerably more trepidation but also an amiable measure of ferocity he asks, “Eat Cyrus?”

Hannibal remembers well enough such fears, being small enough to look like food to almost everyone else, but now that he is big enough to have rare cause to fear such things the child’s concerns strike him as tedious, especially when he and his sibling are so well-protected.

It would be easy, really, to be jealous of what Will - of what the both of them - have given the twins.

“Your Dad will look out for you,” he tells Alexander, using the same sign that Will often uses to refer to himself when he is speaking to the twins. “Listen to what he tells you about it.”

Chapter Text

Will isn’t in any of the places that Hannibal would usually expect to find him, when he and Alexander return to the cottage.

Instead, he’s curled in on himself under the quilt, taking up the smallest possible space on the far side of the mattress, his face turned to the wall.

Hannibal does not think he realizes, consciously, how he is mirroring the way the stranger looked when Will was beating him.

Cyrus has climbed up onto the lid of the trunk that rests at the foot of the bed, and is watching Will, only his eyes and nose peeking over the edge of the mattress. When Hannibal comes inside, the child looks up at him, troubled, and then turns back to Will.

He puts Alexander down inside of the crib, which stands next to the bed, then moves to the foot of the bed. When Hannibal bends to pick him up, Cyrus tightens his grip on the edge of the mattress, driving his claws into it, and clings, forcing Hannibal to take the time to work his hands free of the mattress, one clawed finger at a time.

The child squirms in his grip, but Hannibal puts him in with his twin and pushes the crib to the far side of the room. Even Cyrus, so much less able than Alexander, has by now learned how to climb out of the cage for babies that Will built, but Hannibal looks down on them with a stern face and signs, “Be good. Stay.”

It’s less fear of Hannibal than their unease at how Will is behaving that keeps them where he put them, but they do stay, though Hannibal can feel their eyes watching him as he climbs into bed behind Will.

Will jerks his shoulder away when Hannibal’s touches him, and Hannibal draws his hand back for a few seconds before trying again. This time, Will holds still for him, though there is a rigidity to that stillness that communicates - whether Will intends to or not - a great deal.

If things were normal, before getting into bed Will would have taken off his undershirt and washed with a basin of saltless water drawn from one of the rain barrels in front of the cottage, and changed into his nightclothes, but he hasn’t done any of that this morning. Now, Hannibal peels the quilt away and worries the back of his undershirt up so he can stroke Will’s back along the course of his spine. Will’s skin is clammy, and the muscles beneath are rock hard with tension. Beneath the smell of fear sweat Hannibal can scent the salt tears, though Will keeps his face hidden.

Hannibal has a hunter’s skill for quiet persistence, but it takes a long time for Will to begin to lose that rigidity, and even then he does not relax. He comes to pieces instead, shuddering and shaking, and the crying is overt now - vocalized.

Glancing back at the twins, Hannibal sees them sitting side-by-side, pressed against each other, their arms entwined in a mutual clinging hug as they watch the scene with wide eyes. Their distress will only increase Will’s own, and Hannibal offers a reassuring smile and, without taking his other hand from Will’s shoulder, signs one-handed, “It will be alright.”

Then he returns his attention to Will, petting his back, his shoulders, his hair, plying him patiently with gentle touches, until the tears stop, and exhausted from his own emotions, Will begins, little by little, to bring himself back under control.

Eventually, Will says, “Guess you aren’t as mad at me as I thought,” and though he tries to make it a joke there is a questioning note to his voice, a kind of pleading.

Hannibal reaches over Will’s shoulder and takes him by the jaw gently, turning his head until he is looking up at Hannibal. When Hannibal releases him, Will does not turn away, though his reddened eyes flicker anxiously.
Sometimes, Hannibal is bothered by the fact that he can’t get rough with Will, except in the very controlled ways which Will allows in relationship to sex. There is an instinctual desire to pick at Will a little, to encourage him to test his limits, to play hard.

By necessity, Hannibal defies those instincts. Will is so fragile, would be so easily broken if in a moment of recklessness Hannibal lost control of his body or his temper.

And Hannibal knows that he is not the only potential threat to Will’s well-being; the world itself is hostile to him - Will can’t stay underwater for more than a minute at a time, and can hardly swim at all, and swallowing sea water sickens him. His teeth are small, his claws utterly ineffectual - he couldn’t scratch Hannibal’s skin if he wanted to, and has no inclination to try. Just touching Will hurts him, sometimes, and one of their own children - that Will wanted to keep so badly - tried to eat him.

He is soft meat in a fragile wrapping, his skin easy torn and bruised or even burned by the sun, and so can it be any surprise that he is as nervous as a minnow, so often, when he even runs slow on land?

Yet despite all of that, there is an inner strength to Will that more than makes up the weakness of his body, and a brilliant cunning as well.

Hannibal smiles down on him. “You’re so vicious, Will.”

 

He means it as a compliment, Will knows. Hannibal is smiling with his teeth when he signs it, like the idea pleases him, but it cuts at Will nonetheless.

Is that what I am? Will wonders.

It’s hard to deny, given what happened yesterday, but as of late he’d almost forgotten his own latent viciousness. There has been so little cause to draw upon it, in his life here with Hannibal, and even less so since he began caring for the twins.

It felt as though there was different standard of measurement here than might be found among humans. Up until now, being around his family made it easy for Will to pretend that he is the least vicious creature in the world.

Despite what he knows of Hannibal’s intent, Will feels the need to defend himself. He turns his face back to the wall and says, “He’s bigger than you. I thought he was going to kill you.”

Hannibal taps him on the shoulder, wanting Will to look at him so he can respond. Instead, Will rolls over and tangles his arms around Hannibal’s middle, pushing his face against Hannibal’s chest and squeezing his eyes shut, terrified of facing up to what he might have to say.

“I thought he was going to kill us all,” he says, not for the first or the last time. “I didn’t think there was any way out."

Hannibal lets him hold on for a little while longer, but then he pushes Will away gently. He is being so careful - more careful than usual, even - and Will wonders if that means he’s afraid of him now, too.

“I’m not -” Will says. “I didn’t -

“There’s something wrong with me.”

“No,” Hannibal tells him, the gesture lightning fast, like the snapping of a set of jaws. “Our instincts are different at times, but we are both predators. We are dangerous things, and we protect each other from danger. That’s natural, Will, you don’t have to be ashamed of loving me.”

Will squeezes his eyes closed again, trying to bring his emotions under control. It is too much - too many lows and highs too closely spaced together - and the tears are threatening again. “I don’t mean to be vicious,” he says. “I don’t want to be. But I can’t lose you, Hannibal - not you or the twins. It would kill me.”

Hannibal leans away from him, his expression turning curious. “Is that why you responded to him the way you did?”

Will feels his mouth go dry, his tongue stiff in his mouth.

The part of Will that does not think much of himself, but that occasionally takes pity when he is down, seeks to find an answer for what happened in the distinctions between Hannibal and monster, or else in the context of their meeting. Trying to rationalize it, that voice points out how much bigger the monster is than Hannibal, and the way that he took Will by surprise, the long months of tension provoked by the suspicion that a stranger was lurking around the island coming with the shock of his sudden appearance, how he seemed to snarl at Will and his boy.

None of it holds enough water to allow Will to absolve himself of what he’s done. The monster might be massive in comparison to Hannibal, but it is not as though the latter is in any way small; the distinction is effectively that of a tiger versus a grizzly bear - either one of them are powerful enough to pull Will down and eat him alive, should the impulse strike them.

And while Hannibal was helpless when Will first found him, he didn’t stay that way, yet even when Hannibal closed his teeth around Will’s arm as though he meant to tear it off, Will was not frightened to the extent that he is, even now, frightened of the stranger.

Will knows the reason, but he isn’t sure that he can make Hannibal understand it; Hannibal humors him in regard to the twins, Will believes, though he has begun to hope that he is growing attached to them, and he knows that Hannibal does not hear the same ruthless, calculating weasel’s voice that drove Will to attack without mercy or hesitation for the sake of his children.  

Different set of instincts, Will thinks.

Hannibal presses, “You didn’t act that way when you first saw me. I didn’t scare you.”

“No,” Will agrees. “Not the way he scares me.”

“Why?”

“Because of the kids,” Will says, searching Hannibal’s face for understanding. “And because of you. Because I have something to lose now - something worth wanting to stay alive for - and I’m terrified, Hannibal, all of the time, that it’s going to be taken away from me.”

He watches Hannibal mull that over. “It’s that simple?” he asks, a little doubtfully.

To Will, it feels anything but simple, but he nods. “Yeah, I think that’s the heart of it.”

Hannibal thinks it over for a few more moments, and then the edges of his lips pull up into an easy, mellow smile.

He says, as though recalling a fond memory, “Do you know that when you found me on the beach I thought that you were going to kill me? You took out your knife, and I thought, ‘That’s what they use in place of decent teeth, and he is going to cut me open and eat me.”

Will tries to interrupt, to reassure him all this time later that he hadn’t even considered that idea, that he’d only thought to free Hannibal - that when he’d seen something vulnerable and in need his instinct was to help it -  

He trips over his words, trying to say this, but Hannibal seems to understand. He puts one of his fingers against Will’s lip, the blunt end of the carefully trimmed claw resting against his skin.

When Will falls silent, Hannibal draws his finger away and tells him he knows that now, but he’d hardly understood it at the time. “It captivated me,” he says, “That you could be so good while also having such ferocity inside of you.”

Will feels calmer now, mostly, but there is something else, too, something that is more difficult for him to own up to than all of the rest.

He brushes his fingers along some of the cuts and bites that the big guy gave Hannibal. They aren’t very deep, any of them, but he’s going to have a dozen new scars, but Hannibal doesn’t seem to mind at all. Now, with a little distance on it, Will thinks maybe Hannibal enjoyed wrestling with the monster, and it invites new feelings of inadequacy and envy, that he can’t do something like that with Hannibal, too.

Its voice is soft right now, but the enemy inside of Will is whispering in his ear, seizing on those feelings to suggest that maybe it was jealousy that drove all of this, start from finish, that it was his fear that the new creature might replace him that lead Will to try to kill him.

It’s lying, Will knows, the same way that it lied when it insisted to him that Matthew's death was a murder rather than an ugly accident, but Will can’t help but respond to it.

He says to Hannibal, “When you first came up the trail and saw him standing there… you gave him this careful, measuring look. You looked at me that way, too, when we first met - right before and while you were biting me.”

Hannibal hesitates, trying to put the thing to words, and then he says, “I was trying see…”

“See?”

“Where you were weak and where you were strong.”

Will makes a small, ruefully laugh. “I’m weak all over.”

“No,” Hannibal says. “That’s not what I saw.

“I saw that I could tear you to shreds in the blink of an eye, but that there was nothing that I could do to make you submit to me.”

Will doesn’t know how to answer that, so he snuggles in closer to Hannibal, seeking reassurance, and for a few minutes Hannibal strokes his hair, and it’s good.

The twins have, by then, overcome their nervous and climbed out of the crib and into bed with them, and that’s good, too.

He feels safe, in every sense of the word, so when Hannibal lifts his hands a little while later and says, “Don’t kill him, Will, please. There aren’t many of us left, and you don’t need to kill him,” it feels easy to accept that, if only in that moment.

Chapter Text

“It’s not a ‘baby cage,’” Will is saying, as he and his family make their way up the trail between the dock and the cottage.

Alexander is perched on Hannibal’s shoulder, one arm hooked around his parent’s neck for balance, but Cyrus prefers wobbling along on his own two feet to being carried. They move at his pace, and Will keeps the boy’s hand held in his own - he has no intention of giving Cyrus another chance to get out ahead of him, not when the monster is still lurking around the beach.

“Quit calling it that, alright? It’s a crib.”

Hannibal can talk and sign at the same time, but Will is not that well-coordinated. He comes to a stop, and with his free right hand he finger-spells the word. “C-R-I-B.”

None of the books Will’s brought home have a sign for ‘crib,’ and usually Will would not be bothered by Hannibal’s tendency to invent his own terminology in the face of absence of a ready-made word, but this one grates on his nerves.

Hannibal is using the same sign that Will used to describe the crates that he transported their flock of chickens to the island in, cage, but the image Hannibal’s turn of phrase provokes for Will is not of birds in flimsy wooden boxes, but rather of his boys behind iron bars, trapped in a zoological exhibit or a private menagerie, circus cages built on rail cars and tiny glass-walled laboratory cells.

Hannibal gives no answer. They begin to move forward again.

“It’s just so they aren’t underfoot all the time, and so they don’t run off or get hurt. I wouldn’t have to worry about it so much it weren’t for...”

Will trails off, because as they turn a bend in the trail he can see the source of his complaint clearly, for the first time in almost two weeks.

During the first week after Will laid the beating on him, the big guy spent most of his time laying in the shallow water with his arms curled around his aching head, and Will had the sense that a lot of the time he was barely conscious, though he didn’t go close enough to check.

Hannibal spent time watching over him, but Will stayed away, though sometimes anxious guilt lead him to ask after the big guy's well-being.

When the big guy began to recover, he was the one to avoid Will. In the past, whenever he sees Will coming he has waded further into the water, careful to keep his head no more than a few inches below the surface, and melted in among the rocks, hiding as well as he can in the shallows, something that he has a disquieting skill for; Will is pretty sure he’d never have know that the monster was there, if he was not already aware of his presence.

Now, though, the big guy stands upright at the water’s edge, fully visible, and lifts his chin, scenting the air.

He’s thin - much thinner than he was when Will first spotted him on the trail - and even from the distance Will can see the hunger in the lines of his lean, wolfish face.

It terrifies Will, but even more than that it enrages him, and he curses and turns toward Hannibal to demand, “Haven’t you been feeding him?”

From his expression, Will might as well have accused him of infidelity.

“No.”

Hannibal sits the heavy creel down in the sand and signs this word, rather than shaking his head. Hannibal rarely does the latter, and he almost never nods - not exactly. When he concedes a point, Hannibal typically lifts his chin to bare his throat.

“Why the hell not?”

Hannibal shifts his weight for one foot to the other, uneasy. “We get our own food,” he signs, and there’s something there - some hesitation, a piece that Will is missing - and in the normal course of things he would have backed the conversation up and talked through it until he understood, but the anger is huge in him, the flabbergasted infuriated frustration that Hannibal hasn’t made sure this was taken care of when he was the one to advocate on the big guy’s behalf in the first place. It does not seem possible to Will that Hannibal could have failed to recognize the potential for disaster this situation invites, leaving the wounded monster to go hungry on the edge of the same beach where their children swim.

“You worried about being rude, offering him a handout? Christ, next thing we know he’ll be desperate enough to start poaching the chickens, if he doesn’t go after me or the boys instead. You want to deal with that?”

Hannibal doesn’t answer him. His expression is stony - impenetrable - but the twins have begun to look frightened, though if they are scared of Will himself or of the idea of the monster coming after them Will is not sure.

Alexander slides quietly down Hannibal’s side and to the sand, clinging now to Hannibal’s calf instead and reaching out with his free hand for Cyrus, who goes to him.

Will scoffs at Hannibal’s stillness and crouches down in front of the creel to flip the lid open. There’s a lot of fish in there - Hannibal alone can put away ten pounds a day, and for their small size the boys have stunning appetites.

They’re dead, those fish - Will knocked them each in the head with the hammer that he has fastened to his belt, so they wouldn’t suffer. He used the hammer because his fish club has gone missing, and yes, he has strong suspicions about just who took it and why.

Now, he lifts one of the bigger fish by the gills and turns back toward the monster.

Hannibal’s hand falls on Will’s shoulder, closing too tightly around the still-healing teeth marks beneath his clothing, and Will winces and jerks away, and when he spins back to face him Will’s own teeth are bared.  

Hannibal’s own expression is confusing. There’s a wounded petulance there, which only riles Will up more, but under that there is something else.

“No,” he signs. And then, “Mine,” and it will only be sometime later that Will begins to wonder if Hannibal meant something other than the fish.

Will turns his back on Hannibal before he can say anything else, and walks towards the monster.

It is, he knows in a distant kind of way, the same stupid, infuriated, exhausted daring that lead him to stick his head out of the trench the day Matthew was killed that is driving him forward now, but Will keeps going anyway.

Chapter Text

The voices are loud in Will’s head as he walks toward the monster, an overlapping din of whispered accusations.

Behind his eyes, he can still see the way the twins clung to each other in response to the flair of his temper, the wariness in their upturned gazes, validating the internal accusations that have dogged him since he look after the monster with the club, the nagging voices that have insisted over and over and over again that his family is frighten of him now, that they are all three of them wondering when he will attack again, and who he’ll hurt next time.

It’s not true, any of that, though he knows that they are worried for him - that Hannibal, especially, is concerned about his well-being - but the monster really is looking at him with dread now, as Will comes closer, as though Will is a snake that might bite him, and it is not hard for Will to see his lover and children in his face.

The knowledge that the monster looks more like Will’s family than Will himself ever could sets off another of the voices. What if, that voice wonders as it needles at the inside of his skull, you’re the one who doesn’t belong here? What if you are the interloper?

If Hannibal found him before you - if he hadn’t settled for you for lack of any better options - they would be far out at sea now, happy together with at least four sets of normal, self-sufficient twins between them. He’d be a better partner for Hannibal than you are - he wouldn’t hold Hannibal back the way that you do. They wouldn’t misunderstand each other.

A third voice is on another track, berating Will for failing to have killed the monster yet, wondering at the stupidity of what he is doing now, offering himself up to the monster with an extra snack in hand, and that voice is intent on detailing all of the ways that this might go wrong, the potential for it to end not just with his own death if the monster decides to attack, but with Hannibal slain in the process of coming to his defense as well, and the twins left helpless and alone in the face of the monster’s appetites.

The last voice - or at least, the last one that is legible through the cacophony - is less demanding. It does not accuse - instead, it is quietly troubled, fretting over Hannibal’s reaction to the idea of Will feeding the monster, wondering at what Will might have missed.

They claw at Will, the voices, and there will be times in the coming weeks when they will will wear him ragged with doubts and self-loathing, when they will provoke him into saying and doing things that he will, after the fact, wish he’d been a good enough person to avoid saying and doing. They will leave him desperate for reassurance and almost entirely convinced that he does not deserve it - that he is undeserving of love or acceptance or any measure of affection.

But as much as those voices will wear at him, he will never entirely believe them, not in his heart of hearts; he knows what he has with Hannibal, even if he doesn’t always understand it.

The voices quiet, at least, as he draws closer to the monster. His mind goes still, everything narrowing in to focus on the monster, on watching the way that he holds his body and the lines of his face and the faint motions of his dark eyes, reading in these things the monster’s intentions.  

He is poised on the edge of flight now, even if they both know that he won’t be able to get far, and Will comes to a halt, giving him more time to get used to his approach - more time to consider the fish that Will has in his hand. His eyes flick back and forth from Will’s face to the food, his nostrils flaring, and Will knows that the big guy is seeking to assess the potential that Will might again become violent.

When Will starts forward again, he moves very slowly and carefully. He keeps his face turned slightly to the side to avoid the implicit threat of direct eye contact, but watches the monster closely out of the corner of his eyes.

Just a big dog, Will tells himself. He used to be good with dogs.

Will stops a few feet from the water’s edge, having no desire to meet the monster in his own element. “Come here,” he says, as gently coaxing as he can manage. “Come on now, big guy, come here.”

The monster hesitates, swaying uneasily. He looks past Will, at Hannibal or maybe the kids, but Will doesn’t dare to take his eyes from the monster long enough to see what he’s seeing.

Just throw him the fish, a reasonably frightened voice says from inside Will’s skull, but Will shakes his head at it as though it were a fly buzzing in his ear; if the monster is going to be here, Will wants it tamed.

He holds the fish out at arm’s length, waiting to see if the monster will dare to take it from him.

The monster’s tongue emerges from between parted lips, making a faint smacking sound as he wets his bottom lip and then runs his tongue along the row of teeth exposed by his curled upper lip, and Will can see the gaps where the club knocked some of the teeth free. His hands twitch restlessly at his sides, but he doesn’t raise them.

Instead, the monster drops his eyes and inches a little closer to Will.

“That’s it,” Will says, in a voice not entirely unlike the one he uses to encourage the twins. "That’s good." He’s close enough now that Will can smell him, and it isn’t a good scent; his hair is an overgrown, matted mess, slimy with some kind of sea algae, and it stinks.

The monster does not look good to Will, not in the way that Hannibal looked good to him almost at once. He seems more like an animal than a person, cringing away like a kicked dog when Will draws a little closer, and a guilty voice pipes up in response to that observation, inquiring as to whose fault it is that the big guy should regard Will with such barely contained terror now.

He’s so damned tall that even though the monster is standing on lower ground Will still has to crane his head back to look him in the eyes. Will feels like a child, standing under his shadow - acutely vulnerable to violence.

The hammer is still secured on the side of his belt, but he knows that he won’t be able to reach it in time if the monster decides to take his hand instead of just the fish, anymore than Hannibal would be able to get here in time to stop him.

Will mutters softly, “You aren't going to bite me now, you big sonofabitch, are you?"

Something bright flashes in the monster’s eyes at the sound of Will’s voice, and he shakes his head, so eager to reassure Will that he forgets the pain in his head. The side-to-side motion jars whatever is already injured, and he winces, baring his teeth at the pain, and sways unsteadily. His hands come up to the sides of his head, tangling in the filthy matted hair, and he squeezes his eyes shut as though against vertigo.   

Will, for his part, just about falls on his ass in the sand from shock.

He makes himself wait until the monster can open his eyes again, then he asks, “You understand English?”

The monster hesitates. The smile he makes is hopeful but not comprehending.

But he’d understood at least some part of what Will said about not biting, he is certain - he’d understood, and he’d responded how a human would, shaking his head in a way that Hannibal himself rarely does, and why? To roll over and show Will his metaphorical belly.

Will takes a few steps closer, confident now that he has the upper-hand, and as though embarrassed by his own hugeness the big guy crouches down to Will’s eye-level, drawing his knees up to his chest and curling one arm around his ankles, stretching his other arm out toward the fish that Will holds in his outstretched hand.

It’s not quite enough to bridge the gap, and Will moves a little closer, and the long-clawed hand closes around the fish’s scaly tail. Will expected him to jerk the fish away quickly, like a frightened animal snapping up food, but he takes it gently.

He’d expected, too, that the big guy would lay into the fish at once, so obvious is his hunger. The sand on the edge of the beach is scattered with broken shells from small crabs and oysters, the only things aside from tiny fish that the monster has been able to capture since Will hurt him.

Instead, he holds the limp fish in his hand, watching Will with his head cocked slightly to the side, and Will is profoundly discomforted by everything that he can see in those eyes - the gratitude at having been bestowed with this kindness, and the desire for more, despite the way that Will’s presence terrifies him.  

Will motions at the fish with his chin. “Go on,” he says. “Eat,” and he doesn’t mean, consciously, to sign that last word, but doing so is almost second nature to him by now, and he does it without thinking.

The big guy shifts the fish from his right hand to his left, and mirroring Will awkwardly signs, “Eat.”

Then he waits, watching Will intently. Is it approval he wants, some softening on Will’s part?

The guilt is bad, as bad as it’s been since he found the shell the big guy dropped along the trail, and it eats at Will now, makes him feel like a bully and a coward and an absolute monster.

There’s a part of him that insists that is unfair, that the creature is a killer and dangerous as sin for a host of reasons, and as though in self-defense Will’s memory returns to the dead fisherman he saw at the docks - attacked from behind, as though he was trying to flee, mauled but not eaten.

It is not an abstract question, the ramifications of the monster’s actions; as rarely as he goes to town and as intently as he seeks to avoid conversing with others, Will is nonetheless aware of the stories about how badly the widow is struggling in the wake of the loss of her man.

“There’s kids growing up without a father because of you,” Will says, and hears the growl in his own voice, anger rising again despite every effort to control it, “and you weren’t even hungry.

“I want you gone from here.”

The monster winces at the barely suppressed rage in his voice, and when Will moves he staggers backwards and drops the fish in the sand, curling his arms around his head defensively.

Will’s fists tighten at his sides, nails biting into his skin; he wants to do something with his hands, but he cannot say what. It is as easy, in his mind’s eye, to see himself reaching for the hammer on his belt as it is to imagine reaching out to comfort and reassure the creature.

Harder, to know what it is he wants to do, and impossible to judge what should be done.

So instead he turns away and heads back for the trail, where his family is still waiting for him, and for the entire walk up the beach Will waits for long webbed fingers to seize him from behind, as they had the fisherman, for those great jaws to close over the back of his neck and jerk the life out of him like a terrier shaking a rat.

But he makes himself smile, as he draws close enough for his family to see his face. “That went alright, see?” he calls out.

Hannibal doesn’t respond. He turns his head away from Will, raising his own hand to study it, then focusing on a leaf in the path, before turning his head up to take in the ghost of the fading moon that hangs in the dawn sky, looking anywhere except at Will, but when Will scopes up Alexander and starts up the trial again towards the cottage with Cyrus’ hand curled around his thumb, Hannibal lags after as though it was his own idea to go in that direction.   

Chapter Text

Will continues to bring the big guy food, walking down to the far edge of the beach alone, twice a day.

Without being asked, Hannibal has stepped up his hunting, returning to the cottage with enough extra meat to ensure that the big guy’s belly stays full of enough, but he’s taken no part in the feeding sessions.

Hannibal will not gift food to the big guy, nor share it with him, despite how often Hannibal comes down to that section of the beach to visit with him.

It is not that Hannibal is spending less time with Will, because that is not at all the case, but Hannibal is spending almost all of the time that Will can’t spend with him with the big guy instead, and between the needs of the lighthouse and his body’s own demand for sleep, that is the majority of the time.

Sometimes, Will watches them from the jealous distance of the the lighthouse windows; the two creatures sitting together at the water’s edge, Hannibal signing expansively and at great length while the big guy mimics him as best he can, sometimes interjecting a half-formed, halting question.  

Will tries not to let his insecurities get the better of him. He tries to be happy for Hannibal, that he is getting this chance to spend some time with one of his own people.

And he tries to cling to the idea that the big guy will leave soon, just as soon as he has recovered, though a sinking dread that it will not be as simple as that has begun to edge up on Will.

He tries, sometimes, to think of some way to articulate to Hannibal just how dangerous the monster is, even if it can be believed that he has no hostile intentions towards their family.

If the big guy dies, or something kills him, and his body floats to shore or is picked up by a boater, that will be it for all of them. Scientists, curiosity seekers, monster hunters, and weirdos trying to strike it rich or become famous will descend all around them, looking for more of the same. It wouldn’t even have to be the entire body - his jaw or one almost-human-shaped over-sized clawed hand would be enough to bring down that same hell. When Will was still thinking, in a panicked desperation, of getting rid of the monster, that was what he worried about, aside from how to keep Hannibal from knowing what he’d done - where and how to hide a body that large, so no one would ever find any part of it.

The problem will be that much worse if he is taken alive by someone - found caught in an errant length of ghost netting, the way Will found Hannibal, or scooped up with some trawlers’ catch - and not much improved if he was only spotted by witnesses.

That the big guy is good at hiding, when he wants to be, is clear, but that he also has a pattern of showing himself is evidenced not only by the way he approached Will, but by the fisherman he killed, and even more alarmingly by the pointed questions the blind woman asked him about his “friend,” months ago; the monster hasn’t killed everyone who he allowed to see him, at least for a certain value of “seeing,” which means that there might be others aware of the strange creatures haunting their shores, and those people might have big mouths.

Will does not know how to even begin to describe the mob that might fall on them if people are inspired to come monster hunting, much less how to make Hannibal understand the danger they could all be in. And he’s frightened, too, that Hannibal will insist that they all quit the island, should he really come to grasp what is hanging over their heads.

Where can we go, if this place stops being safe?  Will keeps himself awake for hours on end, wondering.

The question nags at him now, as he opens the door to the cottage and slips inside, the flat black stone that monster insisted he take clutched hard in his fist.

Hannibal is inside, as Will expected, sticking close to the twins even if he does not pay them much mind. The boys nap, tangled together in a heap among the blankets.

He stands in front of the mirror, carefully trimming his own hair with Will’s scissors, and when Will enters the cottage Hannibal does not turn towards him. Instead, Hannibal watches Will watching his reflection in the mirror, and inclines his head slightly in greeting, a pleased smile tugging at the edge of his lips.

“Everything alright here?” Will says, a little fretfully.

He pauses long enough to watch Hannibal’s reflection sign a backwards “Good,” and then, the stone still hidden in his fist, Will goes to his trunk at the end of the bed and kneels to open it.

The big guy has been trying to get Will to take the little trinkets in exchange for the fish for days now. They are always small objects, things cast up on the shore along his narrow strip of beach, shells and polished stones mostly, though once or twice he offered small fossilized shark teeth or a short length of ivory-white bone.

He is still, unsurprisingly, badly frightened of Will, and that fear still couples with desperation to draw lines of strain around his eyes when Will comes close with food, though there's more flesh on the big guy’s bones now than there was a week ago. Will thinks that maybe he was not quite as hungry as Will’s panic led him to believe - that the fear of what the monster might do in response to starvation led his mind to exaggerate the gauntness of a face and figure that is naturally prone toward sharp angles, though it is nonetheless evident that he wasn’t getting enough to eat before Will made it his business.

The thing is that there’s something else, among the fear and the physical hunger and the pain in his head, all of these which Will believes have begun to lessen, and that other thing is a growing and disconcerting… eagerness for Will’s attention, to whatever degree he can obtain it.

Will doesn’t like that, no more than he likes the monster’s continuing presence on the island or his offerings, which he has up until today rebuffed, the first few times harshly.

He is not sure, really, why he took the smooth black stone today, except that refusing has increasingly come to feel like kicking a well-intentioned dog, and he is wore out from the battle between trying to justify himself to himself and the suspicion that he has become the villain in this entire ugly mess.

Now, while Hannibal fiddles with his hair in front of the mirror, Will reaches into the trunk to shift his socks and undergarments to the side, unburying the small cache of mementos that he retains from his time with Matthew. He places the stone the big guy gave him among them, and covers it all up again, out of sight if not out of mind.

Hannibal is watching him curiously in the reflection of the mirror when Will stands. Will knows that it is likely that he will go snooping in the trunk later, and that’s just fine with Will. If Hannibal is the one to broach the topic, Will believes that he will be able to say, “I think that he’s flirting with me, and I don’t like it,” without feeling like a crazy person.

But Hannibal says nothing now, so Will sits on the edge of the bed and watches unobtrusively as Hannibal gives himself a haircut, wondering at how he manages to get it so even when Will himself inevitable does a hatchet job on himself whenever he tries to cut his own hair.

Before the big guy showed up, Will hadn’t really thought much about Hannibal’s hair, beyond to admire it for its silvery sheen and neatness. On one occasion, when he’d been under the strain of some of his own bad memories of times when he had failed to live up to others’ standards of manliness and bled for it, Will was struck by the realization that, if he was a human, the length at which Hannibal wears his hair would probably be enough to get him beaten up.

An absurd thing to worry about, given all the excuses plenty of people might find to kill Hannibal for what he actually is, but the thought stuck with Will for some time, drew his fingers again and again to Hannibal’s hair, carding through the shoulder-length stands and then to his shoulders themselves and down the muscled divots of his back, the bluish-gray skin so rough when stroked against the grain, but smooth as silk when he moved his hands down the path of Hannibal's spine. These thoughts brought with them an appreciation for all of the ways in which Hannibal is different from what Will had been told that he should want - from what he expected to get, so much less than what he has now.

Now, though, he is thinking about Hannibal in relationship to the big guy, all of the ways in which he seems different from Hannibal, where those differences come from and what they mean.

As though following Will’s own train of thought, Hannibal sits the comb and scissors down on the shelf and turns to face Will. He says, “I’m nicer looking than he is.”

It’s so far out of left field that Will is startled into laughter. He thinks of the big guy’s matted hair, the bulky, awkward shyness of him, compared to Hannibal’s smooth and confident grace. It seemed natural to feel attracted to Hannibal, and he had not second-guessed it, beyond fretting that Hannibal might be repulsed by that attraction.

“You sure are,” Will agrees.

“My hair is nicer, and I am cuter.”

Cute, up to this point, has only ever been a word that Will applied to the twins. He hadn’t expected Hannibal to draw on it in reference to himself, and he puts a hand over his mouth, afraid that if he gets to laughing again he will wake the twins.

“I can use language properly,” Hannibal continues. “I can write, and I make art. I have better manners.”

“You’re a real educated gentleman,” Will agrees, with the straightest face he can manage.

Hannibal lifts his hands again, apparently intending to continue on listing his superior traits in regard to the big guy.

Will cuts him off, troubled now. “You worried that I’m going to cheat on you or something?”

Hannibal blinks at him. The word means nothing, and he begins to finger spell “cheat,” seeking its meaning, but Will clarifies before he makes it to the third letter.

“Worried that I’m gonna try and fuck him?”

More bafflement. Hannibal says, “Why would I worry about that?”

Will huffs. “Well okay then.”

“But I don’t want you to love him more than you love me.”

It is Will’s turn to feel mystified. “I don’t see that happening, Hannibal. That is not anything you need to worry about.”

Hannibal doesn’t answer, and Will stands and moves closer to him, studying his face closely for clues. He’s come to one of those gaps between the two of them, a place where their fundamental assumptions about how things work differ, and Will looks for a way to bridge it. “Why -” he begins to ask, but Hannibal lifts his hands again.

He says, “You already love the twins more than you love me.”

Will wets his lips. He looks inside himself to see whether or not that is true, but finds no clear answer. “No,” he says. “I love you a little different than I love them, is all, but I love you all the same amount.”

“You love them more because they need you,” Hannibal goes on, as though Will has not spoken. “When things need you, you decide to love them. And now you have decided that he needs you, too.”

“I resent the fact that he needs my help so much that I could spit. Hannibal, I just want him gone.”

I need you,” he says, pounding his chest for emphasis on the first sign.   

“I know it. Me too - I need you, too.”

Hannibal doesn’t answer.

Fishing for whatever else he is still missing, Will says, “You could feed him, you know, if you’re unhappy about me doing it. You’re down there often enough, and I don’t actually like to do it.”

“We don’t do that.”

We, Will thinks, and wets his lips again anxiously. But what he says is, “Don’t do what? Give each other food?”

Hannibal lifts his chin.

“You do that all the time, though. Hannibal, you did that half an hour ago, brought food for me and the twins both.”

Hannibal lifts his chin in assent again, but more slowly this time. “I did,” he agrees. “But I’m not… I’m not normal.”

Will, who is well acquainted with his own abnormality, takes a moment to mull that over.

Will has, among his host of other worries, wondered if he or the twins might be a source of embarrassment for Hannibal, that he might feel as though the big guy has caught him in some kind of indiscretion, but this is an angle that he has not considered.

He worries his lower lip between his teeth. “How do you know that, though? If - if you’ve only met the big guy and your twin, how do you have any kind of standard of measurement?”

“I know. Giving food is something I… imagined on my own, to solve a problem. We don’t do it.”

“Alright,” Will allows. “I’m not well acquainted with normal myself, but I don’t think he’s very close to it, either, whatever normal is supposed to be, you know? He didn’t seem to think it was odd for me to offer him food, anyway.”

In fact, in retrospect, Will thinks that the big guy showed less hesitation in taking food from Will than Alexander did, the first few times Will offered it to him.

“There’s something about the -” Will starts to say, but cuts himself off before the word monster escapes him. He does not want for Hannibal to hear him use that word. He’ll want a definition, and if Will declines to give him one, Hannibal’s reading skills have developed to the point that he is more than capable of turning to the dictionary for an answer, and then he will want an explanation from Will.

That word, monster, has asserted itself in Will’s brain again and again, both when the creature frightens him and when Will becomes frightened at the prospect of him inching too close to his sympathies. It is a way of pushing him away, of distancing him not only from Will but from Will’s family.

It does not, Will knows, reflect well upon himself.

“There’s something about the big guy,” Will starts again, “that we’re missing, and it worries me.”

He thinks, for the thousandth time, of the body they brought in at the docks, the fisherman who had been mauled and drown but barely eaten.

That, Will can say without hesitation, was not normal.

Chapter Text

Will is awake enough to be aware of Hannibal’s heavy weight settling down on the bed beside him, but too tired to respond at first.

He relaxes further down into the drowse liminal space between sleep and wakefulness while Hannibal slowly tugs the quilt down, inch by painstaking inch, to expose Will’s bare back. Hannibal’s fingers glide along the furrow of Will’s spine, and Will shivers even as he melts into the touch.

When Hannibal’s hand draws away, Will whimpers and rises most of the way back to wakefulness.

The mattress shifts again as Hannibal props himself up on one elbow to lean over him. His free hand traces the crescent shaped scars that decorate the arc of Will’s shoulders. Claws brush the edge of his throat, tracing the shape of his adam’s apple, and then he reaches over Will and positions his palm a few inches from Will’s mouth, feeling the heat of his breath. Will can smell the ocean on his skin, just under his nose.

In his state of semi-sleep, Will imagines drawing the hand closer to his mouth, of taking one of the fingers with the closely filed claws, which Hannibal keeps short for Will’s pleasure and care, and of sucking at it until he feels Hannibal grow hard and emerge against him at the junction of his hips where he is currently pressed against Will’s thigh, but that much is only a hazy dream, and in actuality Will does no more than take Hannibal by the wrist and pull his hand closer, nuzzling his cheek against it.

Hannibal leans in closer, and even half-asleep Will can sense the way Hannibal breathes him in, the relish that there is in it for him, and Will thinks,   I’m wanted here - I am loved , as with infinite caution Hannibal brushes back the hair from the nape of his neck and lays a gentle kiss at the base of Will’s skull.   

Hannibal lifts his head and takes Will by the shoulder and shakes it, just a little, trying to nudge him into wakefulness.

There have been times when Will was frustrated to the verge of exhausted tears by Hannibal waking him up for attention, especially back before he fully understood how badly Will needed sleep.

Will is as tired as he’s ever been now, but he’s happy, nonetheless, to roll over and see Hannibal looking down at him with such adoration.

“Alright?” Will mutters, sleepily. His fingers wander down the plane of Hannibal’s belly, find the slit at the junction of his hips, tease at its slick edges. “What are you after?”

Hannibal doesn’t answer at first. He is still, his face lax with soft pleasure, his eyes closed. Without opening them he signs, “I miss having you inside of me.”

Will’s hand shies away. Hannibal plays his own lower lip between his teeth, disappointed, and opens his eyes to watch Will speculatively.

“I know it,” Will says, feeling sorry for him - just feeling sorry, in general. “And I want to - but, Hannibal, we can’t have anymore kids right now. I love the boys to death, I’d do anything in the world for them, but I will literally lose my mind if I have to try to manage a second set on top of everything else.”

The boys, currently, are in bed in the new room, which is not yet entirely finished - it has, at least, a roof and four walls and a large tub of sea water to keep Cyrus constantly needing to go down to the beach at night, and a door for some degree of privacy.

Will wets his lips. “I’m afraid for you, too. The last time was dangerous.”

Hannibal lifts his chin in agreement. “I’m not ready to do that again,” he signs. He hesitates, and Will thinks he sees something in his eyes - not bitterness, exactly, but a quiet sadness, a dying light among all of the brilliant sparks that burn in the blackness of his gaze.

What Hannibal might say next frightens Will, and before he can go on Will rushes to say, “And anyway, two are enough. Aren’t two enough, for right now at least?”

Hannibal hears voices inside his head, too, Will knows - or rather, a single voice, though unlike with Will that voice is Hannibal’s friend. It is the voice of instinct, and it speaks for Hannibal now when he signs, “I should be making more. A pair a year, each year, is what I ought to be doing.”

Instinct speaks to Hannibal, but Hannibal speaks back to it with his own sense of authority over his life, and he continues, “But what we are doing - what you decided we should do, Will - is in many ways better.”

Will had been thinking about the big guy, down on the beach doing whatever it was that he did when he was alone, thinking despite himself of all the things that he might give Hannibal that Will never will be able to. Hannibal’s words surprise him.

“What do you mean?” he asks, almost suspiciously.

“Having only the two, rather than many, but keeping them safe until they are big enough that most things won’t eat them, and strong and knowledgeable enough to avoid other dangers.”

Will’s heart is thudding so hard in his chest that it’s a wonder that Hannibal can’t hear it. “You’ve really warmed up to that idea, huh?” he asks.

“It’s good to know that they are still alive. If they’d only gone away the way that they were supposed to, I don’t think that I would think about them very much, and I’d have wondered about it. This way I know that they are alive and growing, and will have a better chance of living to have their own babies, someday.”

Hannibal pauses again, staring thoughtfully up at the ceiling. “And I like them, most of the time, when they aren’t being too much trouble.

“They’re such odd little things.” He turns his head to look at Will. “I was scared, almost all of the time, when I was their size.”

Will wets his lips. “Me too.”

“They know what fear is, but they’re happy. I’d never have imagined something like that, Will, but you knew how to do it and you made it real.”

Will’s heart is in his throat, and it feel so big that he might choke on it. “You really mean that?”

“Two are enough,” Hannibal agrees, either misunderstanding the intent of Will’s question or dodging it.

He moves closer to Will, and there’s something plaintive, almost fragile, in his face when he says again, “But I miss the way it feels, when you’re in me.”

Will makes a small, chuffing laugh and says, “You’re a shark man on a mission, huh?” but he feels a little worried. And a lot guilty.

“You can fuck me instead,” he says. “Do you want to, right now?” He makes the offer, though really he is too tired for it, because he feels responsible for the situation, like he ought to offer some type of consolation prize.

“I like to do that,” Hannibal says. “But I miss the other thing. I want to be taken care of in that way by you, too.”

“I could get some condoms, next time I’m in town, if I can find any place that sells them,” Will says, already feeling dubious about the likely success of that project.

That necessitates explaining the concept and usage of the things to Hannibal, a topic on which Will himself is somewhat fuzzy. The dissemination of information on contraceptives is, in many states, still tightly controlled or almost entirely barred by law, and Will has never before had cause to seek out or use condoms.

When Will finishes explaining what he knows, Hannibal shakes his head - not in disagreement but wonderment. “There’s no problem that you can’t think up an answer to, Will.”

“It’s not like I invented the things,” Will says, embarrassed. “And I might not be able to find them,” he cautions. “They might not want to give them to me, since I'm not..." He trails off, because what he was about to say was not married. "It’s going to be tricky, is what I mean.”

“But tonight…” Hannibal starts.

“But tonight you’ve got an itch that needs scratched,” Will answers. “I get it,” he says, though he isn’t completely sure that he does.

Hannibal has never been hesitant to express his sexual desires, but something about the intensity of the repeated, wistful wish feels different. It was something like this just before Hannibal caught pregnant with the twins, Will remembers, but he’d attributed Hannibal’s eagerness - as well as much of his own - the the newness of the experiences that they were sharing.

Will wonders if he’s ovulating, if this even might be something akin to going into season - if, regardless of Hannibal’s opinions on the matter of more children, his body is trying to prod him in the other direction.

Or maybe I’ve just been neglecting him, Will thinks, and I’m reading too much into this. He worries - more now than he used to, since the big guy showed up - that Hannibal doesn’t get enough of what he wants out of fucking him, that it's not good for Hannibal, that he is too lacking in the component parts Hannibal might have expected and that the bits he does have are too small or otherwise inadequate.

There is no logical basis for this worries, Will knows, and Hannibal has never complained, but he worries nonetheless.
Will thinks for a minute, then he says, “Hand me the nail clippers and I’ll see if I can’t do something nice for you.”

 

It feels good to make Hannibal feel good, though he doesn’t respond to pleasure in the same way that Will does. Hannibal doesn’t buck his hips or tangle his fists in the blankets, and of course he does not cry out.

He lays quietly, serenely blissful with his hands folded across his belly as Will draws Hannibal out, one and then the other. Will pays little attention to the dicks themselves. That’s not what Hannibal is after, and he squirms uncomfortably when Will’s hand rests on the shaft of one of them for too long.

“Sorry,” Will says softly, and moves to the base of the second cock, to the slick extra hole that no longer feels like something unexpected. It yields to Will’s finger easily and then tightens around it, as though Hannibal is trying to draw him in further - as though he is hungry for Will, and Will works a second finger in easily, and then a third.

He pushes in further, to the base of his fingers, as though he were fucking up in Hannibal, but the second thrust Hannibal catches him by the wrist.

Will stills, and Hannibal lets go of him long enough to sign, “Move your fingers, not your arm.”

“Alright,” Will says. He doesn’t want thrusting, Will understands, not tonight, he just wants to feel that Will is there, so he does what Hannibal says, and watches Hannibal melt further and further into peaceful quiet.

When he raises his hands to sign, the gestures are slow and lazy, a little disjointed. “Will, can you… more.” He pauses, eyes drifting shut, and lets out a peaceful sigh. “I want to feel more,” he says, and then repeats again, “Will.”

Will spreads his fingers, trying to seem bigger, to fill up more of Hannibal, and Hannibal sighs again happily and reaches for Will’s face, wanting to stroke it.

Will catches his hand and this time he does not only dream of sucking on Hannibal’s fingers. He draws Hannibal’s ring and index finger into his mouth and sucks at them like he would have sucked on Hannibal’s cocks, if that was something Hannibal wanted right now, and that at least draws an astonished gasp from Hannibal.

Despite that, he doesn’t come for a while. When he does it happens calmly, peacefully, and even afterwards he does not want Will to stop what he has been doing.

By the time Hannibal is sated, telling Will that it is alright for him to pull out now, Will’s own cock is aching inside his boxers. When he slides up the bed to be closer to Hannibal, Hannibal reaches down and draws it out for Will, sight unseen, his long fingers still wet from the inside of Will’s mouth. Will presses his forehead against Hannibal’s shoulder and clutches his arm and shudders uncontrollably as Hannibal runs the pad of his thumb over the slit.

He whispers things against Hannibal’s skin, nonsense phrases and words of devotion, trying to let enough of what is riding him out to avoid crying out, worried about waking the kids in the next room, but it is no use, and he clasps his hand over his own mouth to trap the noise.

When his breathing is normal again, Will gets up and finds a towel to clean them both up with, he settles back down into the bed against Hannibal, resting his body in the crook of Hannibal’s arm.

“Did that do it for you?” Will asks, and Hannibal smiles and leans over to kiss him.  

Chapter Text

On the day on which D receives his name, Will has just finished delivering the evening offering of fish, and has turned to leave again when he hears behind him the sound of heavy footfalls in the sand.

It has been hard, in the face of the big guy’s consistent efforts to pacify him, for Will to sustain the fear that he may be attacked, and it has been days since he came down here with the hammer fastened to his belt, a dubious means of protection in the first place. He is unarmed, save for a short jackknife in his back pocket.

He crouches quickly, closing his fist around the first thing that his hand touches on, and then he straightens and whirls to face the monster down, brandishing the rotten stick like a club.

The big guy halts in his progress towards Will. He crouches low, big-knuckled hands pooled between his knees, eye-level to Will. He eyes the stick, which is little more than a long waterlogged twig, speculatively, unconvinced of its efficiency, and when Will raises it higher and takes a step forward, the big guy winces but refuses to fall back.

It’s stupid, all of it - it’s so fucking dumb that Will would laugh at the entire thing, and at himself most of all, if he wasn’t so afraid of what the big guy might do if he decides not to be afraid of Will anymore. It really would be funny, the idea of welding a rotten stick that might snap in two under its own weight against a creature that could tear his head halfway off his shoulders with one backhanded blow, if not for Will’s terror of what might be unleashed inside of himself, should fear for his own life or the lives of his family seize him again.

Disgustedly, Will tosses the useless stick to the side.

The big guy takes that differently than Will intended.

He brightens, then lifts a hand to his own chest before extending it outwards to point up the slope at the cottage. He cocks his head at Will, watching him with eager intensity.

“I there?” would be pretty close to a direct translation of what he’s trying to sign, but what he means is “Can I go to the cottage?” or, Will thinks, more likely, “Will you let me go to the cottage with you?”

“No,” Will says, flatly. “No goddamn way.”

The big guy seems conscious that he has pushed too far. He touches his own chest again, and then points downward at the patch of beach he’s crouched on. “I here,” he says, and pats the sand with the palm of one hand for emphasis.

The bark of laughter it draws from Will startles them both.

“Yeah,” Will agrees glumly, “Or go even further away, why don’t you?”

He does not expect to be understood, but the big guy straightens suddenly, becoming huge again - menacing in his size and in the  potentialities embodied in that size, if not in his intent, and for a moment Will fears that he has angered him.

But the big guy is looking over Will’s shoulder.  

“Hannibal,” he signs.

Vaguely suspicious of some kind of trick, Will does not turn to follow the big guy’s gaze, but before very long he hears Hannibal footsteps in the sand as he draws closer.

Hannibal’s hand falls on his shoulder as his tail twines around Will’s ankle, and it is only then that Will turns to look up at him.

 

When Hannibal hears Will’s laughter - sharp, short, and not especially kind, but still laughter - coming from the direction of the stranger’s patch of beach, he pauses in what he is doing to consider the auspiciousness of the moment. Then he goes to the cottage, the twins trailing him like cleaner fish.

Inside, he studies the books on their shelf carefully, running fingertips over the encyclopedia spines. Hannibal regards the E - H volume as his personal own, and has no intention of sharing any of the names found upon its pages. Similarly, he understands W - Z to belong exclusively to Will.

The A - D volume is a better prospect. He believes, not incorrectly, that Will found the twins names within that tome, and this suggests to Hannibal that Will favors it in relationship to things which he likes, and because he would like for Will to like the stranger, he takes it down from the shelf.

He holds the book in his hands reverently, wondering at its potentialities.

Names are, for Hannibal, the closest thing he knows to something holy, and the power to bestow a name is, to him, intrinsically bound to Will.

He strides down the path at a leisurely pace, the book tucked carefully in the crook of his arm, lost in pleasant speculation as to what name might be given the the stranger.

But when Will turns and sees the dictionary in his hand, he winces like someone absorbing a blow. Hannibal practically has to shove it into his hands to get Will to take it from him.

“I don’t want to do this,” Will tells him, but his voice is more worn out than angry. The anger is trapped in his throat, and Hannibal watches him swallow against it, painfully. “You name a stray that means you own it. I don’t want -

“He’s supposed to leave. You told me that he would.”

Hannibal, who has no expectation but that the unpartnered stranger will move on in his own time, sees no connection between that reality and the idea of providing him with a name.

He cocks his head to the side, trying understand what Will means, and files the word stray away to look up in the dictionary later.

“I don’t want to do this,” Will says again, more heatedly. In the corner of his eye Hannibal sees the twins, who have hung back from approaching the stranger, shift uneasily on their feet in response to Will’s tone.

Hannibal watches him impassively, waiting him out. Will pleads with his eyes, and Hannibal can smell the desperation on him, but he doesn’t relent.

Eventually, Will curses and turns on the stranger.

“Come on then,” he says, imperiously, and it pleases Hannibal, how unbowed Will is by his own fear.

The stranger glances to Hannibal, looking to see if it's alright, and Hannibal smiles reassuringly but does not cede control of the situation by baring his own throat.

When the stranger moves closer to Will and crouches down at his eye-level in front of him, Will does not offer him the book as he had Hannibal.

“Do you understand what is happening here?” Will asks.

The stranger hesitates for a moment, then shakes his head in the same manner that Will would to indicate no. Hannibal wonders if it is the situation that he doesn’t understand, or the question itself.  

Hannibal taps the stranger on the shoulder for his attention, and when he turns to look at Hannibal he sees the annoyance in the stranger - frustration verging on anger at being interrupted when Will was speaking to him. It rankles, and Hannibal would pounce on him in retaliation, if he was not so sure that Will would blow it all out of proportion.

Will caught the stranger’s irritation, too, and takes it more seriously than Hannibal does. Learning how to read Will’s eyes themselves took much longer than getting a sense of his expressions, they are so different from Hannibal’s own. Now, though, Will’s entire face is saying, You’re the one who asked for this.

Ignoring Will, Hannibal puts the stranger’s slight to the side for now, and signs, “You’re getting a name. You are being given a word for who you are. Do you see?"

He blinks, and Hannibal wonders if he has been understood, but then things slot into place for the stranger, and he gasps softly and turns back to Will, watching him with an intense focus.

“You know he’s Hannibal,” Will says, and the stranger nods yes this time, quickly. He doesn’t dare to try to touch Will, but he gestures at him, eagerly, wanting him to go on.

Instead, Will looks to Hannibal. “You didn’t tell him my name?” he asks, in a tone that Hannibal can not, for all of his experience, interpret.

“He knows it,” Hannibal tells him. “But he wants to hear how it sounds.”

Will’s lips are draw in a thin line. For a moment Hannibal thinks that he will refuse, but then he says, begrudgingly, “Will.”

The stranger’s lips move, shaping themselves to mimic the movements of Will’s own, rolling the shape of the word around in his mouth as though to taste it. The sudden inundation of jealousy crashes over Hannibal like a tidal wave, fueled by disappointment that he did not think to do such a thing himself first.

The stranger looks to the twins, who are still watching all of this from a short distance away, and signs a question mark in the air. He is, Hannibal thinks, only asking to be polite.

Agreeably, Cyrus begins to sign his own name, but Alexander catches his twin’s hands in his own and pushes them down, pinning them at Cyrus’ sides. He turns his head towards the stranger and bears his teeth.

“Look at me,” Will says sharply, and the stranger’s head pivots to face him again, though if he is responding to Will’s tone or the words themselves Hannibal does not know. “You stay away from them, you hear me? You don’t go anywhere near them.”

He raises his hands, palms outwards in a pacifying gesture, and then for good measure he nods, and so Hannibal knows that the stranger understood in the very least the intent of Will’s words.

“Let’s get this over and done with,” Will says, and steps toward the stranger.

Hannibal can tell that Will doesn’t want to be physically close to the other creature. The stranger clearly senses that as well, and doesn’t wish to crowd in where he isn’t welcome, but is trying to follow what Will is doing with the book. He crouches in an awkward posture, trying to lean away from Will with his body even as he cranes his neck to look down on the pages.

“Do this,” Will says, and cradles the book in his forearm as he opens it to a random page and points to a random section of it. “See?”

The stranger nods, but when Will closes the book he hesitates to reach over and open it again. Will grumbles and does it for him.

“Go on,” Will says, but then he winces at the sound of his own voice, and tries to correct his tone. “It’s alright. Just pick anywhere.”

Still leaning his body away from Will, the stranger stretches his arm out and with a claw tip taps lightly at the page, pointing not to one of the articles but to the chapter header instead. He draws his hand away quickly, like he believes that the paper - or maybe Will - might sting him.

“D,” Will says. “That isn’t the way that you were supposed to do it, but I guess D works just fine.”

A disappointed frown tugs at the edges of Hannibal’s mouth - so many of the elements of his own naming have been missing from this production, and he feels therefore that things have been done incorrectly - but the stranger’s face has blossomed with an odd, bright vulnerability, the delighted smile showing the sharp tips of his longer teeth.

He likes it, so D it is.

Chapter Text

The name changes things.

Within minutes of walking away from the beach, it is already fixed in Will’s mind, crowding out the moniker of the monster, which had at least allowed Will some shred of emotional distance from the person he hurt - some protection from the reality that is was a person who he tried his very best to kill.

Additionally, the fact of the name makes the idea that the big guy - that D - will be leaving soon feel all that more dubious. One of the few things that have been helping Will deal with the situation, insofar as Will has been managing to deal with it, was that idea that he would leave soon, and that after that things would go back to normal again.

How is anything ever going to be normal again? he wonders, looking at himself in Hannibal’s mirror. You almost killed somebody, and you did it on purpose.

Will has been scared for a long time - ever since he was old enough to start to develop a sense of who he might really be - that he is bad on the inside, that he is fundamental vicious and violent and ugly, that in his heart there is more murder than mercy.

It is not, he knows, only the voices picking at him. The potentiality is there, the temper, the spitefulness, the ugly self-righteous outrage that can so easily get twisted around his sense of self-loathing to drive him to seek to destroy anything that reminds him too much of the things he hates about himself.

Hannibal changed so much of that. With Hannibal, he could feel safe in the knowledge that he was not the most dangerous person in the room. He never felt that Hannibal accepted him because he tricked him into thinking that he was harmless, but rather that Hannibal loved him in spite of his relative harmlessness. And things kept getting better when the twins were born, as he became confident in his ability to care for and love them.

He’d begun to feel so normal, not like a degenerate or a coward or an insane person. Not like a killer. Nothing at all like the monster that the voices for such a long time convinced him he was, someone who got his own lover shot for the sake of spite, and then let him bleed out into the mud.

All of the terrible identities that he’d assigned himself or that were assigned to him in his life so far were beginning to fade away, to be replaced by husband, caretaker, father. He’d started, for the first time ever, to feel really happy about his queerness, too - glad to be a man in love with someone who is not exactly, on multiple levels, another man.

Will is at a loss now as to how to get any of that back - how to regain that sense of peace that allows him to act better than he knows he really is. Despite all reassurance, he feels that he has revealed himself to be terrible in a way that not even Hannibal - carnivore, predator, man-eater, along with so much else - can understand or accept.

He watches himself in the mirror, his own weary eyes roving over his body ruthlessly, and to himself he looks ugly, twitchy and small.

The texture of his skin is wrong. He’s hairy in places where there shouldn’t be hair, and he’s a bad color - pallid, sickly looking, despite all the time he spends in the sun, though the rings around his eyes are as dark as bruises. Alexander is golden with hundreds of handsome dark spots, and Cyrus and Hannibal are shades of grey and muted blue that invoke the feeling of quiet waters. D is paler than Will in places, but his skin is the brilliant white of polished ivory.

And that’s not the whole of it, because looking at himself now his proportions seem all wrong, too. He is far too small, for a start, and his arms are too short, his hands and feet are too small for his body, stubby and naked of webbing or claws, useless and ineffectual. His jaw is weak, the teeth laughable and pointless, in every sense of the word. The absence of any tail is shocking.

It would be worse, he knows, without his clothing - odd patches of coarse hair, lewd, constantly exposed, lacking in essential component parts - deformed, even.

Then there are the scars.

Christ, he thinks, what’s going to happen if I get sick, if I need to have a physical - if someone sees? He’s let his own body be made into a threat, something that will inform upon his family if given the chance. Hannibal didn’t know any better, but Will let him bite him, mark him up, leave the scars.  

Where was my common fucking sense?   he wonders.

Will does not hear Hannibal come in. He is not aware of being watched until he sees Hannibal’s reflection, behind him, in the mirror.

He wonders what his face has been doing, how much of it Hannibal saw. “Sometimes I almost forget that I’m not one of you.”

Hannibal draws closer. He presses his body against Will’s back lightly, and twines his arms over Will’s shoulders. When he signs, his hands hover in front of Will’s chest, just below his heart. “Is that why he makes you so angry?”

That jerks the breath out of Will. It takes time for Will to know how to answer, but Hannibal sees to be in no hurry. His claws card through Will’s hair, and he leans back into the sensation and closes his eyes. “That’s a part of it, I guess. I feel so ugly, inside and out. I’m so fucking scared.”

It was easier, in some ways, back when Hannibal didn’t understand much of what Will said to him - or at least, when he didn’t answer back. “What are you frightened of?”

That he’s going to hurt us, Will might have answered, but that would be a lie. There is a potential for harm in the big guy, certainly, but Will stopped seriously believing that he might turn violent suddenly and without warning weeks ago.

“That he’ll take you away from me,” Will says, instead, though that isn’t really the truth, either, only as close as he knows how to come to it.

“Hannibal… Don’t you want to be with your own people?”

He leans into Will, curling his arms around his torso in a fearsome hug before lifting his hands to sign. “You’re my person,” he says to Will. “You.”   

Will doesn’t believe that he understood the question. “I’m not enough,” he argues. “I’m too -”

But he doesn’t know how to finish the thought. Where to even begin.

“You’re who I want,” Hannibal tells him.

 

Will tries to be kinder.

He tries to prove to himself that he is capable of being kinder, and to make up for the fact that he has not been to everyone else at the same time.

In the eyes of the creatures, Will is starting to understand, the problem is not what he did to D, though he took that way too far. All of the others, even D, understand what it is to flare suddenly to anger. Even the twins have drawn each others’ blood more times than Will cares to count, but they don’t hold onto these feelings in a way that allows bad blood to fester between them. Two minutes later and they will be commiserating over their owies, or playing peaceable, or dozing together in a puppy pile.

What has troubled his family, and Hannibal in particular, is the fact that Will has refused to let it go. That he has stayed so angry, for so long, despite all of D’s efforts to pacify him and all that Hannibal has done to try to help him calm down.

Knowing how to pass through the tangled bramble of his own fears feels nearly impossible to Will, but he does try to be be kinder.  

He talks more to D, when he brings the fish, and he tries to keep his talking from turning mean. D tracks tone and body language so intently that it gives the impression that he understands more than Will thinks he really does, but there’s no reason to take chances.

The gentle coaxing that he used with Alexander, when he was still wild, is not effectively with D - not once he gets over his initial terror of Will, anyway, and his personality starts to assert itself. He is not a child, and despite having been brought low by Will’s violence for a time, he is nearly as proud a creature as Hannibal.

D knows when he is being condescended to, and the anger it provokes in him is not a sudden flare of rage but rather a cold and wounded sense of offended disdain that reminds Will to be afraid of him all over again.

Will knows that fear makes him uncivil - that it makes him dangerous, even - and he takes himself away from D when he’s feeling that way.

But D is afraid more often than he is frightening.

Will can tell that D is  trying to believe that Will can be trusted, that what kindness Will is showing him is not some trick that will come back to bite him later. Sometimes Will catches him looking at him, when D doesn’t think he is watching, and in his face there is a pained, frightened longing.

He wants Will to like him, is the bottom line, but he is afraid of Will.

Knowing that D is still frightened of him is for Will, a bigger problem than just D’s fear. It’s not just about D - it’s a shark creature feeling scared of him; it is potentially Hannibal, looking at him that way, or maybe Cyrus someday. It was, for a time, Alexander.

There is a voice in his head, and it has a new angle. It wonders, whenever D shies away or bears his teeth in defensive panic, What would I do, if Hannibal or the boys looked at me like that? What if I gave them some reason to be afraid of me, too? If I did something bad, and they never forgave me?

D is the biggest and most frightening thing Will has ever been face to face with in his life, and Will hurt him so badly - almost killed him - though D intended no harm toward Will or Will’s own. He wonders what that says about himself.

The voices of the enemies inside of him are always eager to follow a line of logic to its ugliest extreme. If you could hurt something that big and tough, what might you do to the little ones? they wonder curiously. You’re crazy. You might do anything.

Will is not sure if it was a crazy thing he did, attacking D on the trail. The voices have their opinions on the matter, but they are usually liars.

There might be fear in D’s black eyes every time he looks at Will, but he hasn’t left, even though Will is certain that by now he could if he wanted to.

Over the last few days, when Will comes down with the fish he has seen the bones and shells of animals that Will knows D didn’t catch in the shallows scattered about on the beach near him. The gifts he offers Will during each visit have improved in quality, too, so it's obvious that his selection is no longer limited to what happens to wash up around him.

“You’re malingering,” Will tells him now, but not harshly. He hands over a sea bass in exchange for a length of powder pink coral, and adds, “and I think you know that I know that.”

He searches D’s eyes, trying still to understand what it is he wants and why he is still here. The big guy doesn’t like being stared at, but Will is the first one who has to drop his gaze.

“It’s alright, though,” Will continues, watching the ebb and flow of the waves as he speaks. “You can stay, for a while longer, if that’s what you want.”

Chapter Text

Will wakes to the feel of Cyrus patting at his cheek.

He yawns, hugely, then pretends to snap at the boy’s hand with his teeth.

Cyrus, who has seated himself on Will’s chest, pulls his hand away and leans back, tottering, on the verge of tumbling over onto Will’s blanketed legs. Will raises his knees, propping Cyrus up from behind, and the boy leans forward again grins down at Will while he pats his face again.

Will catches the tiny hand and says, with no sternness whatsoever, fully aware that the boy’s infectious smile is plastered across his own face, “You know you aren’t supposed to wake me up early. We talked about this.”

Cyrus’ expression turns offend. He shakes his head, long hair bouncing with the conviction of his denial, and Will reaches to take his pocket watch off the bedside table and sees that the boy is right - it’s late, not early, and Will has overslept.

Cyrus lifts his hands and signs, flawlessly, “When is Hannibal coming home with dinner?”

The boy is a couple months shy of his first birthday, smaller at a chubby sixteen pounds than most fully human babies half his age, and this is the first time he has constructed a complete sentence with so many different moving parts.

He’s so damn sharp, Will thinks, looks up at him with a sense of wonder that almost blocks out the anxiety that Hannibal’s lateness provokes.

“Guess you’re hungry, huh?” Will asks.

Cyrus nods vigorously.

“Let's get you something, then, and figure out where Hannibal got off to.”

Will gets out of bed and finds something for Cyrus to chew on, then he lifts the boy against his shoulder and heads down to the beach to find Hannibal.

At the bend in the trail he sees Hannibal and D sitting among the rocks on the water’s edge, and at first glace Will thinks it is just Hannibal giving the the other creature his lessons, a project that the two of them have been involved in for months now, and he feels a stab of hurt annoyance at the idea that this has cut into time that is meant for the family. A closer look, though, and Will sees a strange sort of intensity to the movements of Hannibal’s hands, and the way leans forward, waiting for D’s answer.

Will shifts Cyrus on his hip uneasily, and then looks further out toward the water, where he sees Alexander playing in the waves. He notices Will in almost exactly the same moment that Will turns toward him, and calls out in greeting.

So far, Alexander has not demonstrated any ability towards spoken English, nor really any interest, but he has polished a small range of vocalizations that have come to hold meaning between himself and the rest of his family.

D’s head jerks towards Alexander at the sound, and Will catches a glimpse of the ugly thing in his face, a kind of jealousy that, now that Will is seeing him more clearly, persists in making him nervous about the creature’s lingering presence in their lives.

Alexander makes a wide circle around D and Hannibal, meeting Will at the edge of the beach and taking his hand. He doesn’t like going near D, and Will supposes that’s his own fault, but he isn’t ready to encourage the boy to relinquish that caution.

When Will has his hand, though, Alexander isn’t too anxious about approaching D, and that trust does Will proud, even as part of him frets that he did a wrong thing by encouraging the boy to fear the stranger in the first place.

Hannibal looks up at the three of them as they come up beside him, but only long enough to flash a toothy smile. Then he looks back to D, tapping him on the chest to get him to turn his attention from Will and back to him.

The wounded frustration would make Will ball his fists, if he wasn’t supporting Cyrus against his chest with one hand and holding Alexander’s hand with the other. He had been so excited to stand Cyrus in the sand beside him to tell Hannibal, He’s making real sentences now. He just asked me when you were going to come back to the house to have dinner.

But after a few seconds the helpless hurt sense of having been ignored is not enough to keep Will from noticing the content of the conversation Hannibal is so intent on.   

D learns the same way that Alexander does, a messy trial and error process that is profoundly different from how Cyrus and Hannibal do it. Those two simply observe how a sign is made quietly, and only later, when the reason arises or the mode strikes them, to the make the sign themselves; in Hannibal’s case it is always perfect the first time he does it, and Cyrus is almost as good at it. Alexander often babbles to himself with his hands, practicing, but Cyrus never does.

Like Alexander, without a lot of practice D’s signs are often imperfect, and sometimes he gets hung up on his own bad nerves, too, a problem that Will is sure is worse when he is in the vicinity. But it’s not just that he is still learning; D’s thoughts seem to be ordered oddly, in a manner that often seems very different from Will’s family or Will himself, and he can be hard to follow.

“You were saying,” Hannibal says to D now, “that you haven’t seen anyone? No one at all?”

“No one like you,” D confirms.

Hannibal pauses, catching on the oddness of that qualifier, shifting his eyes toward Will to see if he noticed too. Then Hannibal treats it like a grammar mistake. “No one like us,” he corrects.

D doesn’t answer, but Will thinks he sees quiet resistance move across his face.

“Is your twin dead or partnered?” Hannibal, and it is so direct a question on so delicate a matter that Will blinks, surprised at him.

“No twin,” D says. “I never had any twin. Just me.” And, a little annoyed, he adds, “I told you. No one at all.”

“I’m sorry that you were alone,” Hannibal says. “That’s hard.” The sympathy seems, to Will, entirely sincere, but he doesn’t allow it to turn him from his line of questioning. “Where were you looking for others?”

“I was in the black waters.”

“The black waters? You mean far out from land, in the deeps?”

D nods.  

“But that’s a bad place to be. You wouldn’t find anyone else there.”

“I didn’t want anyone to find me.”

“Why?”

D’s eyes shift toward Will anxiously. He doesn’t want to answer, at least not while Will is there to listen, but Hannibal is intent, a hungry hunter in pursuit of game.

He taps D’s shoulder again, insistent.

D says, “It hurts.”

Hannibal frowns. “What hurts?”

“Being seen hurts. It’s easier alone.”

“No,” Will says, and startles them all, himself included.

When they turn to look at him, Will is embarrassed. He has no way to follow up on that single word denial, is no more prepared to articulate the dull ache of the years spent alone than D is, but he knows that the creature is wrong. He knows, as well, that he has played a key role in convincing D of the rightness of his conclusions.

D studies Will’s face, but only for a few seconds. Then his eyes drop to Cyrus.

It’s an odd look that he is giving the baby, his expression at once calculating and… pitying, and Will doesn’t like it. D has consistently avoided the twins - they make him uneasy, and Will has warned them repeatedly against going near him without the protection of himself or Hannibal.

“You’ll make him leave,” D says, struggling more than ever to say what he means. Whatever words he is after escape him, and instead he makes a violent throwing motion, followed by the sign invented by Hannibal and informed by his offended sensibilities, for the garbage pit behind the cottage. “When?” he demands.

It would be easy to snap at D - to get angry and take it as an insult, or even a threat directed at the children. Instead, Will tries to understand. He works to think it through.

“I’m not going to throw Cyrus away,” he says. “Or Alexander, either. They live here. This is where they belong, here with me.”

D’s expression is disbelieving - suspicious.

Hannibal understands the real intent of D’s question even less than Will, but when the stillness drags on he attempts to fill it.

“Will makes unique babies,” Hannibal tells D. “They like him very much.”

Will feels his heart swell from the praise, grinning despite himself, and he is trying to think of something suitable to in response when D lifts his hands.

“I like Will, too,” he signs, in a rush.

It is so earnest and raw, and Will tries to school his face in stillness, but has no idea what type of expression he might be making. He doesn’t know how he feels about the idea of D liking him, either. Will is suspicious of it, still, and beyond that he feels that he in no way deserves it, given what he did.

He doesn’t mean to make the awkwardness of the conversation worse, but whatever D is seeing on his face makes the creature flinch. Will is sorry for that, but doesn’t know how to fix it; he if says, ‘I like you, too,’ he knows that the simple fact that he wants it to be sincere will make it sound phony as hell.

Hannibal steps in again. “It’s past time we get something to eat,” he says, changing subject. “We’ll go hunting, Alexander and I.”

D knows that he went wrong somehow, but not how or why, and Will can see the embarrassment on his face, and the disappointment, and he feels pity. He wants to be kind - he feels that he can, at this point, afford kindness.

“Why don’t I take the boat out and get us dinner?” Will says. “I can take the boys with me, and you two can keep on with the lessons.”

“Alright,” Hannibal says, with a slight incline of his head. “Thank you.”

 

But D is distracted, once the others have gone, and after a few minutes Hannibal asks, “Is that enough for today? Are you tired?” They have already worked on his lessons longer than they usually do on most days, and Hannibal knows that the conversation was draining for him.

D nods, in that oddly Will-like way he has, up and down, and when he turns away from Hannibal and slides into the water, Hannibal thinks very little of it.

Chapter Text

The deck rolls gently beneath Alexander’s feet, solid ground moving with the rhythmic, soothing motion of calm waters.

He likes it. He lets his body sway with the movement, shifting his weight from his heels to his toes as the boat moves, peaceful now that Will has quieted the engine and brought it to a halt on the open waters.

They are not, really, so far from home - Alexander could swim the distance between the boat and the island in less than ten minutes - but he has never been out on the boat before, and to him it feels like the boldest of adventures.

“Come here, I want to show you something,” Will says, and Alexander turns and goes to him, curious for the next surprise.

Cyrus is already at Will’s side, peering into the metal box that Will is bent over. Will takes something out of the box and closes the lid, and then he turns and holds it out for them to see.

“See?” Will says. “It’s a lure. I made it myself, back before I met Hannibal.”

Alexander does not know the purpose of a lure. He looks up at the object, which is made from a piece of wood carved with exquisite detail in the shape of a small fish, painted in an array of bright colors and then lacquered to make the scales gleam brightly.

To Alexander it looks like the most enticing, wonderful toy that he has ever seen. It captivates him, and he reaches for it, ignorant of danger of the hook, hidden beneath a tuft of bird feathers.

Will lifts it out of reach. “No, no,” he tells Alexander. “This isn’t for you.”

Alexander frowns, frustrated and hurt. He has only rarely, in the course of his ten months, been told no , and almost never by Will. On occasion, things that he wanted to eat - whether or not they could be properly considered food - have been taken away from him by one parent or the other, but he has never been denied something that he wants as badly as he wants the lure.

He has, in fact, never wanted a material object more than he wants the lure now.

Alexander understands that it is not a real fish - it looks, to him, better than a real fish. It is like the ideal of a fish - brighter and more lifelike, somehow, due to its very unrealness.

He wants it.

It is such a pretty thing, and he tugs at Will’s pant leg, desperate for acknowledgement, tracking the lure with his eyes as Will ties it to a length of string that is attached to a thin wooden pole.

“Give me,” Alexander signs, when Will looks down at him.

Will shakes his head at him, and tousles Alexander’s hair as he steps away, towards the railing. “Just watch. I’m gonna show you that your Dad knows how to get fish too.”

Alexander follows after, the frustration tight in his throat. He would scream, just out of pure outrage at being denied, if that denial did not sting so badly; Will is being mean to him, he is certain, and he does not understand why.

Alexander shifts his gaze to Cyrus, wondering if he too covets the toy, but his twin hardly seems interested in the lure or in Will’s lesson on hunting techniques. His hands are on the railing of the boat’s side, holding on for balance as he peers curiously down into the dark waters.

“Watch this,” Will says again, and flicks the pole in his hands. The toy flies through the air, then sinks down into the dark water.

Alexander goes in after it.

 

“Hey!” Will shouts, when Alexander vaults over the side of the boat and drops, with hardly a splash, into the water. “Get back in here right now,” Will demands, alarmed but not yet frightened, and Alexander lifts his head above the water and turns back to look at Will just long enough to give him the stink eye, before shooting off in the direction in which Will cast the lure.

He melts under the waves, and Will realizes suddenly that he is going after the lure.

Panicking, Will starts to reel the lure back in as quickly as he can, trying to outpace the boy. Nightmare scenarios of Alexander snatching the lure up between his teeth play on the inside of Will’s head, and already he is trying to fathom what he can possibly do if the hooks get lodged in the roof of Alexander’s mouth - or worse, in his throat - and -

And Will sees a large shape, slightly lighter in color than the water around it and dappled by the rays of the sun, dart out from beneath the boat, moving in the same direction Alexander went.

When D surfaces, not far from the boat, he has Alexander caught in the grasp of his two massive fists, and Alexander is struggling so violently in his hands that for perhaps five seconds Will is certain that D is hurting him - is absolutely sure that the boy is being killed, right now in front of his eyes.

In a frenzy of terror, Alexander jackknifes his body, trying to break free. His head jerks from side to side, seeking something to sink his teeth into, and his feet kick at the empty air, and Will cannot tell if he is shouting - screaming - something at D or if the noise is only the roaring inside of his own skull.

D moves closer, the struggling child held out at arm’s length in front of him, and carefully he sits Alexander down on the deck.

Alexander is very still for a moment, mystified at finding himself whole and largely unharmed. He remembers that he has a voice, and bleating like a frightened lamb he bolts for Will.

Will snatches Alexander up and pulls him against his chest. The boy is trembling so violently that Will feels afraid that he might shake apart, and Will clutches him close, rocking him in his arms and says, “It’s okay, baby. He didn’t hurt you. You’re okay, you’re okay.” And he repeats, for his own comfort as well as Alexander’s, “He didn’t hurt you.”

Through the panic that is still blazing inside his skull, an odd thought comes to Will; D was once even smaller than Alexander is now. It is not a profound or unique thought - everything used to be a baby at one time, and that is just how life works - but the idea confronts Will with surprising force.  

The boat lurches violently as D climbs over the railing and on to the deck.

Will looks up at D, meaning to thank him - meaning to tell him just how deeply fucking grateful he is that D managed to avert disaster - and he sees that the creature is absolutely livid.

D is enraged in a way that Will has always believed him capable of being, from the first time saw the murdered fisherman, but that he is only now seeing with his own eyes, and Will wonders how he ever interpreted that little curl to D’s upper lip as threatening, because this is the real thing and it is so much more terrifying than he could have imagined, and Will tries to back away but he gets his feet tangled in the fishing pole he dropped earlier, and he falls hard on his ass, Alexander still clutched in his arms. Cyrus, who up until now Will had lost track of, yanks at the back of his shirt, trying to get Will to get up - to flee - but Will knows that there is nothing more dangerous that he could do than trying now to run.

D is leaning over him, all outrage and barely controlled violence, and his face is closer to Will’s own than it has ever been before, so close that Will can see the faded stitch scars, and he remembers Alexander chasing the lure and sees in his mind’s eye a tiny version of D doing the same thing, and a lot stuff clicks into place, too late, for Will.

He’ll either die now for the mistake or he won’t, but it is easier than it might have been to stay relatively calm, because he knows without a doubt that D does not intend to harm the twins.

Will closes his eyes, and lifts his chin to bare his throat, and he waits.

 


Will turns his eyes away from D, raising his chin to show the arc of vulnerable meat that is his throat, and instinct tells D to relent, to back down, to let it go, but he is in his rage unmoored from instinct, and there’s a great resentment in him that reminds him insistently that Will did not stop hurting him when he submitted - Will went on and on hurting him, so why should he be any better?

D leans in closer, and later he will think with shame that he did not not intend to simply nip at Will’s skin lightly in acknowledgement, but rather that he meant to bite deep and to tear and to swallow, and it would be so easy to do so because without the club Will has not the slightest defense -

There is a scream, but it doesn’t come from Will, and a sharp pain slices across the side of D’s cheek.

It shocks him awake.

He blinks, confused, and his fingers go to his stinging cheek and he feels the blood welling from his skin, and the scream comes again and D looks down and sees the child in Will’s arms, blood on his claws and his teeth bared.

It was an accident, D thinks. This was an accident just now, and it was an accident then, when it happened to me. Will won’t hurt the child on purpose -

But D has been hurt, by Will and by others, intentionally and by mistake, and the rage is still there, and D reaches again for Will. Then he jerks himself to the side and grabs up the fishing pool from where Will dropped it instead. D breaks it apart and hurls the pieces down onto the deck beside Will.

Will flinches at the noise and opens his eyes to look up at him.

“D,” Will says, his voice only a little shaky. “Listen, D, thank you -”

D crouches over Will and covers his mouth with the edge of his palm. If he curled his fingers around Will’s neck they would hook all the way around to the back of his skull, and though he knows that he does not really want to hurt Will it is so difficult, with the thing that is riding him now, to keep from digging his claws in and squeezing.

“No,” he signs with his free hand. “No.”

D stands. He turns his back on Will, and slides back into the water.  

 

Will lurches to his feet, Alexander still clutched against his chest. Behind him, Cyrus curls his arms around Will’s leg and holds on tight.

“D?” Will asks tentatively, scanning the empty horizon for the creature.

There's nothing there, Will knows, but he can't keep himself from saying, "Come back. Please”

The only movement is the steady rise and fall of the waves. D is gone.

Chapter Text

Will returns, absent any fish, and Hannibal listens calmly as he relates the events of the fishing trip.

Alexander is still shaken up, and he moves restlessly from his place with Cyrus on Will’s lap to Hannibal’s arms and back again, from time to time letting out a small anxious bleat, but Will’s own anxiety is fairly well in hand. He is focused, intent on communicating what happened and his sense of why.

The part about Alexander going after the fishhook alarms Hannibal; he has long believed that his twin’s tendency to swallow fish whole without checking their mouths for old fishing hooks contributed to her death, but catching a naked hook in the hand or mouth would be an immediate emergency, especially for these children, who are more fragile than Hannibal might have expected.

“He’s never not listened to me before,” Will says, providing a justification that Hannibal doesn’t need. “Cyrus, you know, is stubborn as hell, but Alexander has always been good about listening when I said not to do something. I don’t know what got into him.”

Shaken but unbowed, Alexander signs, “Pretty fish. Mine. Give me now.” He pauses, craning his neck to look back towards the boat. “Please,” comes as an afterthought.

“You’re in trouble,” Will tells him, tiredly. “And you’re lucky. If I was my old man, you’d get your hide tanned.”

A second later he tells Hannibal, “I don’t really mean that,” fully aware of course that both twins are listening. There are, on Will’s bottom and the backs of his thighs, thin white scars from where his father’s belt buckle tore the skin, but though Hannibal often touches them curiously, Will has not explained their origins to him. “If I raised a hand to either of them I think I’d lose a couple of fingers, and I’d deserve it. He scared the hell out of me, though.”

Will downplays the way that D threatened him, and because Hannibal expects by now that Will is likely to overreact to the other creature rather than under-react, it doesn’t alarm him overly much.

There is a degree of shame in Will, when he tells of D leaving, but he doesn’t let it overshadow the task at hand. “Can you go look for him, Hannibal, please?”

Hannibal, who at this point does not believe that D intends to stay away for longer than it takes for his heart to become peaceful again, asks, “Why?”

“I think he thinks I’m angry at him,” Will says, frowning with the effort of articulating what he wants to say. It’s funny how speech, which Hannibal considers to be Will’s special gift, so often deserts Will when he most needs it, but Hannibal is patient. He gives Will time. “I need for him to know how grateful I am, and that I -

“He’s upset, is the thing, and I don’t want that. He doesn’t deserve to feel that way.”

Hannibal lifts his chin in agreement, and then he gets up and hands Alexander off to Will, then he goes looking for D.  

Hannibal isn’t too terribly worried about it when he doesn’t find D - the other creature has a talent for hiding - but he doesn’t come back on his own, not that day or the day after.

 

Days go by, and a week and then another, without any sight of D, and something is happening to Hannibal.

The absence weighs him down in a way he never would have expected.

It’s not the sharp, torturous void that followed his twin’s death, nor is it the jittery panic that seizes him when he considers the possibility of losing Will.

It’s a dull ache, enough to make him feel listless and wistful - not bad enough to put him off his food, but enough to take the relish out of hunting and eating, and much else besides.

He tries to articulate it all to Will, who looks at him with pity that is intensified by a guilty sense of his own role in D’s departure and tells him, “You miss your friend.”

Hannibal wonders if that’s true. He had no concept of friendship until recently, and what he knows of it has primarily been gleaned through reading, because though it is a constant theme in the books, Will seems as divorced from concept as Hannibal is. Will has never mentioned any friends of his own, or suggested that he suffers from their absence, nor did he express any desire to be friendly with D until after he had already gone.

Trying to be practical about the situation, Hannibal says, “He was always going to leave eventually. There’s no one here to love him.”

 

That odd and unexpected sadness is still in him as Hannibal nears the period of the month when he needs to have Will near him, the series of three days when he is constantly hungry for Will, in his heart and his body.

Hannibal knows that the need is as great as it is because his body is frustrated with him, that it thinks he ought to be pregnant again by now, but he has made his decision to focus on raising the set of twins they already have for the time being, and he doesn’t intend to allow himself to be manipulated by himself into going against that decision.

In the past, Hannibal has leaned into it, looking forward to those days as an opportunity to bask in Will’s attentions as he indulges Hannibal, but now he cannot seem to rouse the energy needed to get excited for it. It feels like another strain, closing in over him.  

Will is still at work, and Hannibal would like to go and find him, but he resents the kerosene-reeking heights of the lighthouse and how it monopolizes so much of his partner’s time, and he hates being so high in the air, far above the comfort of the water.

Instead, Hannibal goes into the cottage. The twins are with Will, and there is no one to interrupt him as he burrows into the softness of the blankets, pulling the quilt over his head to surround himself in Will’s scent.

He wishes that Will was here with him, in the dim darkness beneath the sheets, but because he is not Hannibal takes the opportunity to explore himself. On his side, spine curled forward like a shrimp, Hannibal draws himself out and with one of the fingers on which he keeps his claws short, he finds his entrance.  

It does not feel as good as it feels when Will uses his fingers on him in the same way, nor does it come with the same sense of loving reassurance, but it is enough to make Hannibal feel soothed and mellow. To make that calm feeling better, Hannibal rolls onto his back and promptly falls into a light trance, melting contentedly into the feeling.  

This is, Hannibal has thought sometimes, slightly akin to what sleep must be like - at least when it is undisturbed by nightmares. He has seen the same soft hazy peace in Will’s face when he drifts off to sleep, the gentle leaning into Hannibal’s touch as Will’s worries fade away.

He basks in the feeling for a little while, but instead of sating him it serves only to whet his appetite, and when Hannibal withdraws his fingers and rolls back over onto his side he finds himself only wanting Will more than ever.

That wanting reminds Hannibal of something else, and he reaches out from under the blanket and opens the drawer to Will’s bedside table, where he keeps the things that embarrass him but which he has fairly frequent need.

The nail clippers are in there, and the Vaseline, and the condoms in their unmarked brown paper packaging, though they have yet to use the latter - Will is not confident that he understands exactly how to use them properly, and neither of them want to risk an accident.

Hannibal reaches past of all of these, and finds the length of dense hardwood that Will has been working on lately. He’s been spending a lot of time whittling on it, but has been shy about explaining what the project is - even secretive. Will has been extremely careful to keep the twins from seeing the project, and Hannibal has been allowed to glimpse only a little.  

Now, Hannibal takes it out of the draw and sees that it is, as he suspected, a wooden cock, very similar to his own, though slightly larger and only half finished. Despite its unfinished status, it seems to be shaping out to be a nearly perfect recreation, and Hannibal is pleased to know that he has left an impression in Will’s mind.

He debates the potential of using it now, for its obvious intended purpose, but there are still rough spots and sharp angles to the wood, and he is sure that Will’s intention is to give it to him as a gift and then use it on Hannibal himself.

Hannibal looks forward to that.

He puts it away for now, and gets out of bed to go down to the water to wet his gills and catch the morning’s fish.

Dawn has come by now, and Will meets him on the trail as he is headed back up toward the house. He’s in a hurry, carrying both twins in his arms for the sake of covering ground more quickly, but when he sees Hannibal he stops to put Cyrus down.

Will reaches into his pocket and takes something out of it. He holds whatever it is up and waves his arm excitedly.

Hannibal hurries to him.

“Look what I found,” Will says. “It was sitting on the steps up to the lighthouse when we came outside.”

The smile spreads across Will’s face, broad and relieved, as he holds the lovely little shell out for Hannibal to see.  

Chapter Text

Will is in the shallows, keeping close to Cyrus as he splashes around in the water with his twin, when D comes back.

He does not quite trust Alexander not to drown Cyrus by accident, nor for that matter for Cyrus to keep himself out of trouble, but he wades next to the boy as he works on working out the business of swimming. Alexander darts around them, sleek and fast as an otter, while Cyrus dog paddles like a dog with bad instincts, but he has been learning fast.

When Will sees the sharp dorsal fin breach the water, he is fairly confident that he knows who it is, but just in case it belongs to the regular type of shark Will scopes Cyrus up and calls Alexander to him.

Alexander doesn’t hesitate to listen. It probably has more to do with the scare D gave him, more than a month back, but Will would like to attribute it to the way he sat down with the boy, a few days after the incident on the boat, and explained to him the functions and dangers of fishing lures. That had been tricky, because Alexander still had grabby hands when it came to the lure, but when Will brushed back the feathers that concealed the hook and pricked his own finger with it the boy’s focused shifted sharply from that single-purposed desire to possess the lure to wariness.

Will went through the entirety of his collection of lures, only some of which had concealed hooks, showing Alexander the different points on a lure the hook or hooks might be fixed. When they were done he took the original lure, a piece of work that he’d clearly done too well, and with a set of pliers removed the hook and gave Alexander the wooden fish.

The boy has barely set it down since, though the paint has begun to fade from so much handling and the finely carved wood has picked up scratches from his claws. Will is grateful that Alexander left it home today, at least.

Now, Alexander tugs on his arm, wanting to be picked up. Will obliges.

He stands on the water’s edge, both twins in his arms as they watch the shape draw closer, and before very long all doubts that it is in fact D disappear.

D’s careful, though.

Shy.

Anxious about being hurt.

When D walks out of the water, it’s at a point nearly twenty feet down the beach from Will, and he stays only long enough to heave his gift up onto the sand.

It’s an elk, at least as big as Will himself, and the shaggy dark fur almost conceals the ragged red tear where its throat has been out.    

“Stay here,” Will says softly, as he sits the boys down on the ground.

He steps towards D, smiling, his hands held out in a pacifying gesture, but D shies away. He fades back into the water and starts to swim anxious loops that bring him closer to Will and then further away.

Eyeing the twins to make sure they stay put, Will sits down in the shallows with the dead elk a few feet behind him, giving D time.

D is headed back toward Will when Hannibal takes him from below. Thrashing tails and snapping jaws make the water roil with red foam, and when Will sees that the two of them are moving towards the beach he scopes the kids up and retreats backwards for fear that they might be crushed.

They roll onto the sand, clawing and tearing at each other in what Will still has trouble believing is not deadly earnest, but when they come to a stop Hannibal is on top. He bows his head to close his teeth around D’s throat, but gently now.

When Hannibal lifts his head and turns his gaze on Will, he sees that Hannibal is bleeding in a dozen places at least, and that he couldn’t be more pleased about all of this. There’s a self-satisfied smile on his lips and relief in the crinkly lines around his eyes, and when he beckons for Will to come to them the gesture is warm and welcoming.

Will hesitates for only a moment before he puts the twins down and does as Hannibal asks.

Hannibal has roughed D up at least as badly as D got him, maybe even worse, but he looks as relaxed as Will has ever seen him, sprawled out in the sand with Hannibal on top of him.

Will has seen the twins go through this often enough by now to understand it. Ritualized submission to bury the hatchet after a conflict. He’s seen dogs do something similar.

That Hannibal has never tried this with him is not counter-intuitive to Will; he has understood from almost the start that Hannibal does not desire from him submission.

“A soft bite,” Hannibal instructs him. “It’s not meant to hurt him.”

Will gives a rueful shake of his head in acknowledgment. The idea that his little teeth could do any real harm to D’s thick hide would be almost laughable, if Will hadn’t already hurt him so badly by other means.

When he leans over D, Will doesn’t put his jaws around the creature’s throat; it was not his teeth that he used to hurt D, before. Instead, Will closes a hand over the arch of D’s neck, not squeezing, and then Will lowers himself backward in the sand, lying prone just as D is.  

Hannibal lets D up from under him, and Will clutches Hannibal’s wrist as the other creature gets up on his knees to lean over him, though he does not really believe that he is going to be hurt. D is the one who is shivering.

Will feels him shaking when he rests his hand against Will’s chest, and though D is being careful the weight of him is almost enough to take Will’s breath away.

Both of Will’s hands wouldn’t have gone halfway around D’s neck, but D’s jaws are wide enough that he could crunch through the vertebrae in Will’s neck in a single bite, if he wanted to. Instead, the tips of his teeth nip at Will’s adam's apple, so softly that they leave not so much as a scratch.

D pulls away quickly, and then it is Hannibal hovering over him instead, smiling down at Will with pride and pleasure.  

Chapter Text

 The three adults are invested in their own games, and Alexander is busy keeping an anxious watch on them, and no one is paying any attention to Cyrus at all.

That’s unacceptable, but it comes with some benefits - there’s no one to tell him “no” when he wanders over to the stag to inspect it.  

Cyrus has never so much as cleaned his own fish, but he is hungry and his claws are sharp, and he has a pretty good idea about what to do.

He is bloody-handed and bloody-mouthed when Will’s shadow falls over him. Cyrus is, by then, not far off from finding the liver, though he could not have articulated that that was what he was looking for, and when Will picks him up from behind, lifting him up under the arms and holding him out at arms’ length, Cyrus crosses his own arms and pouts.

“For God’s sake,” Will mutters, and there is just the slightest edge of suppressed laughter to his voice that tells Cyrus that Will is mostly being harsh because he thinks he ought to be. Cyrus thinks that’s a dumb reason to ruin his fun, so when Will says, “You couldn’t have waited an hour?” Cyrus kicks at the open air in front of him with one foot, a raking blow that might have done real damage, were it directed at anyone.  

Still, when Will carries him down to the water to get washed up, Cyrus lets him do it without much fuss, even though Will is still being annoyed at him. “If you don’t behave I’m going to cut your nails again,” Will tells him, but it is an empty threat and they both know it, so Cyrus treats it as a joke and raises his arms up and brings them down hard in the water, making the biggest splash he can.

Will squawks when the water hits him in the face, but by the time he’s brushed the wet hair out of his eyes he is smiling, and Cyrus grins up at him in return. All forgiven.

The idea that Will could hold an extended grudge against him is inconceivable to Cyrus.

 

When Will turns away from the water, he sees Hannibal and D disappearing up the trail toward the cottage.

Alexander is waiting just on the edge of the water for them when Will carries Cyrus back up onto the beach. D is a few steps behind Hannibal, and Alexander is watching them closely, tense and narrow eyed, as though he expects him to pounce on Hannibal from behind.

Will trades Cyrus for Alexander, positioning the larger boy in his arms so they are eye to eye. “You alright?” he asks.

Instead of answering in words, Alexander taps his chest rapidly and flutters his fingers, miming the pounding of his heart.

“Yeah, me too,” Will says. But to remind himself, as well as Alexander, of the facts of the matter, Will adds, “He didn’t hurt you, though. He kept you from getting hurt.

“So I think it’ll probably be alright. Just don’t bother him, yeah?”

Will looks down at the stag. Its dark fur is soaked by sea water, of course, but its belly isn’t bloated the way it would be if it was drowned, which means D didn’t catch it swimming between the mainland and one of the coastal islands, the way Will has sometimes seen large mammals do around here.

It means D left the water to hunt it. That he killed it on land with his teeth and claws alone, and dragged it back into the water with him only after it was already dead.

Will is not sure that he wants to imagine the implications of that, but his imagination has never stopped to ask for his consent.

He sees it from the perspective of the stag with the same clarity of inward vision that might have made him a great hunter, if his finger hadn’t frozen on the trigger as often as it did - if he hadn’t, as his father always put it, been too soft to put meat on the table.   

D seems awkward and clumsy on land sometimes only because, Will is sure, he is so hyper aware of his own hugeness when in Will’s company. When he isn’t anxious about the amount of space he is taking up, Will doesn't doibt that he is as fast as he is powerful, but thick brush would still slow him down in a foot chase.

He waited in ambush in the pines, Will thinks, and sees it as clearly as if he were there, looking at once through the elk’s eyes and D’s own, where there wasn’t a lot ground cover, or maybe at the edge of a meadow.

It probably wouldn’t have even mattered if it caught his scent - D wouldn’t be anything that a elk would know to fear, at least not at first. It would have run when D lunged at it though - D might have been some inexplicable, utterly unexpected thing to it, but it would know predatory intent when it was coming right for it. Will can feel the raw terror swelling his own heart until it is as  though he cannot breathe, can imagine the weight of a predator that is more than twice over his own size slamming into him, driving him down to the ground with his legs all akimbo, claws tearing at his pelt, straining muscles trying to buck the heavy thing off as it seizes him by his antlers to wrench his head back and then bows its head to sink its teeth into his flesh and tear out his throat.

Will has downplayed the incident on the boat to Hannibal, and has tried to discourage the twins - Alexander especially - from worrying about it too much, but he knows in his heart of hearts that he came very close to dying that day, and Will knows as well that he does not know enough about what caused D to become so viciously angry to be certain that he can prevent it happening again.

Nonetheless, Will can just as easily see the hunt from D’s perspective, the thrill of the chase augmented by the instinctual drive to move in pursuit against anything that flees before him, the confidence in the strength and agility of his own body, pride in the power imbued in his muscles and his claws and his teeth, pleasure in the taste of hot blood, and all of that tempered by the fragile hope that this unique and hardwon gift might be enough make up for whatever inexplicable thing he’d done to make Will hate him so much.  

And there’s a third perspective, perhaps entirely imaginary, that Will can see and that scares him more than any other aspect of all of this; the forest ranger, the poacher, the birdwatcher, the boy scout out on a walk in the woods, suddenly transfixed by the impossible vision of an eight-foot-tall shark man dragging its prey through the woods and back down into the water, like some carnivorous, semi-aquatic sasquatch.

If Will saw something like that he would chalk it up to his own craziness, the same way he didn’t at first fully believe that Hannibal was real. He probably wouldn’t have told anyone, but he knows most people don’t have cause to believe that their own brains are working against them.

Normal people would probably talk about it, if they did see him, and Will wonders if they would be believed.   

“This can’t happen again,” he says, to no one in particular. “It’s too dangerous.”

But it has been a couple of weeks since he’s had fresh red meat, and a good seven years since he’s tasted venison, and he is hungry now just thinking about it.

There’s something else, too.

The elk it odd in its coloration. It is nearly black, and when the breeze ruffles the drying, glossy fur it looks like raven’s feathers to him.

On impulse Will decides that he wants it - the elk’s skin - and he heads up the trail to the house, walking to either side of him, Cyrus’ hand held firmly in his own to make sure he won’t go wandering off to find more trouble.

They meet Hannibal and D on the path on their way back down. Hannibal is feeling ambitious, it seems he has the Ford charcoal grill tucked under one arm and a sack of charcoal briquettes over his shoulder, and has in attention apparently tasked D with carrying a truly tremendous load of firewood.

“Don’t mess with the elk until I get back, alright?” Will tells Hannibal. “I want to do something.”

Hannibal lifts his chin in assent and continues down the path, D trailing after him.

Will goes into the cottage and finds a big tarp and a selection of knives that were not really made for the task at hand, but which he thinks will do well enough in a pinch. He wraps the latter up inside the first, and heads back down to the beach, where he spreads the tarp out in the sand and has Hannibal help him lift the elk onto it. He brushes away as much of the sand from the pelt and the tarp that he can, and then Will gets down to the work of skinning and butchering the stag.

For a while Will is aware of Hannibal moving around, filling the grill with charcoal and arranging the firewood the same way Will did the first time they cooked outside together. He leaves for a few minutes to go back up to the cottage, and Will is conscious of being left alone on the beach with D, just himself and the children, but D is staying out of everyone else’s way. Nothing happens, and before very long Hannibal is back with a box loaded with tin foil and spices, plates and cutlery and (for Will’s benefit) potatoes and onions. He has also brought their picnic blanket, and he spreads that out in the sand and busies himself unloading the box, but a few moments later Hannibal stills, studying Will intently.

Will doesn’t notice for the longest time. It’s a hard piece of work he is doing, of the sort that Will hasn’t done since he was a teenager, but the muscle memory is still there and he manages well enough. He puts the skin aside to salt and then tan later, and continues on with the butchering. By the time he is done, Will and his clothing are streaked with blood, and he is red from the elbows down.

He glances up and sees Hannibal watching him, and there is an avidity in Hannibal’s eyes that nests somewhere behind Will’s breast bone.

Embarrassed into bashfulness, Will drops his eyes. He climbs to his feet and heads down to the water to wash off as well as he can.

Hannibal is right behind him, and at the water’s edge he catches Will by the wrist and tries to pull him back behind the rocks.

They are being watched. The twins are staring from the place in the sand where they watched Will working, and when Will turns toward them Cyrus’ hands freezes, a steak half as long as his entire body held in his fists. Alexander slaps the back of his hand to make him drop it, and Cyrus does so and then retreats a few steps, not so much repentant as unwilling to be scolded again.

D is there too, far back from Will’s worksite and the twins, watching. It makes Will uneasy.

“Not right now,” he tells Hannibal, but leans in close, his free hand on Hannibal’s chest, marking him with blood, too. “Later.”

Will is not sure if it is a promise he will be able to keep - it’s a given by now that he won’t get any sleep before work tonight - but he intends to do his best.

 

It was not, at the end of the day, all that big of an elk, but it still dresses out to what Will guesses to be around eighty pounds of meat. They take an industrial approach to the cooking, processing as much as they can as quickly as possible. Slabs of meat go on the charcoal grill, and Will balances the oven grate on top of the fire pit and grills more of the venison there.

“This is how hobos cook, when they’re traveling on the rails,” Will explains to the boys, as though they know anything of hobos or trains, as he cuts up cubes of venison and lays them out on pieces of tinfoil, adding hunks of potato and onions to mix and then folding the tinfoil into packets, which he rests among the coals.

Will remembers how outraged Hannibal had been the first time Will exposed the fish he had brought them to the flames, and he expected D to react more strongly to the cooking of the meat than he does - to be confused or surprised, if not angry.

But he seems to perceive none of these proceedings as odd. He’s quiet, sitting on the rock that he found for himself, out away from the warmth of the fires and the family. It’s hard to read his face at the distance.

When Will approaches him, though, he sees the anticipation and doubt warring inside of him. Will has a serving tray in his hands, as that seems more suitable than a regular plate for the type of portions that D is inclined towards, and resting on it is one of the best cuts.

D is fairly thrumming with desire to have it - Will hasn’t seen him so eager for food since that first fish he delivered, back when D was halfway to starving. D’s eyes want to go to the meat, but he forces them to stay on Will instead.

Not quite daring to hope, D signs, “Is it for me?”

“Of course it is,” Will says, bruised by the almost defensive uncertainty. “You’re the one who got it for us.”

D takes the tray from him with a hesitancy that Will won’t fully understand until month down the line, when D is better able to articulate his understanding of why Will offered him food, both now and when he was still badly hurt.

Trying to understand, Will says, “We’ve got a lot still that hasn’t been cooked. Would you rather have it raw instead?”

D grasps the tray in both hands and leans over it defensively, unwilling to give it back now that he has it.

“I guess that’s a ‘no,’ huh?” Will asks. He’s wondering now if he did something wrong, only bringing D raw, uncleaned fish when he was dependent on Will for food. He knows that they don’t cook their food, not usually, and it made sense at the time to give D what he was accustomed to, but now he wonders if it the fact it never occurred to him that he might enjoy cooked food as much as Hannibal does had something to do with his own unwillingness to think about D as a person.  

“It’s still hot,” Will says, slipping without meaning to into the same tone he uses to caution the twins. “Be careful not to burn yourself.”

D sits the tray down on the sand beside him so he can sign, “I know.”

Just how he knows is a question that needs answering, and Will also needs to lay down ground rules to keep D from being spotted by humans, the foremost of which being that he can’t go deer hunting on dry land again, but none of that has to happen now.

“You can have more when you’ve finished that,” Will assures D. “You get as much as you want, you know?”

Will is thinking that it’s going to be shame, how much of the meat is bound to go to waste, but he has never really seen how much Hannibal or his people can eat when a feast presents itself, so he is wrong about that. When Will comes down from the lighthouse in the morning, the only leftovers to speak of will be the five pounds or so that Hannibal put aside for Will specifically.

The sun has just started to set when D comes for seconds, and when his plate is full he sits himself in the sand within the reach of the flickering of the flames - still at a distance from everyone one else, but closer than he was before.

Chapter Text

Will wakes to the scent of frying eggs and meat.

Cyrus is still asleep, curled up on Will’s chest like a contented cat. His thick tail is pulled up against his chest, his arms curled around it like it’s a stuffed toy, the tip of one of the pointed fins at its end held lightly between his teeth in the same manner that a regular child might suck its thumb.

Will is considering taking his arm out from under the quilt to nudge the boy awake when there is a knock on the door.

His heart goes dead still for an instant, then it kicks back to life and begins to pound wildly. Is it humans? the voice of Will’s fear demands. His boss, come to check up on him and the lighthouse? He’s been here for three years now and that hasn’t happened before, but it might, at any time it might happen -

It might be anyone, it might be the beginning of the end of everything, and Will watches Hannibal turn from the stove and walk to the door to open it as though it is happening in slow motion, and he wants to tell Hannibal to stop, not to answer, but his heart is in his throat and the door swings open and -

And it is only D.

D is a few feet back from the doorway, as though he had second thoughts as soon as he’d knocked, and he freezes when the door opens.

Will holds Cyrus against his chest and he rolls onto his side and into a sitting position, then he lays the boy down on the bed. Cyrus stretches and yawns hugely, each of his many teeth visible, then opens his eyes to watch Will as he stands up and starts to get dressed.

He’d been in his night clothes, boxers and a worn out undershirt, and D has seen him in less before but having the creature appear at his door makes Will feel exposed, so he tugs on a pair of jeans and puts a flannel shirt before going to the door to greet D.

D has, in the interim, inched a little closer, and now he cocks his head forward to peer inside.

All the proper conventions of southern hospitality kick into gear for Will, and he says, “You want to come in? You hungry?”

There is some question in Will’s mind as to whether or not D will even fit through the door, but after a moment’s hesitation he crouches down and kind of wiggles in through the narrow door frame, being careful with his tail.

There isn’t a lot of space left over in the front room, between the stove and the kitchen table and the bed and the bookcases and cupboards and Hannibal’s mirror, not to mention the family itself. D waits quietly, just inside the the doorway, making himself as small as he can be inside a space that isn’t really big enough for him. Only his head turns, taking in his surroundings.

There’s a smell to him, that comes primarily from his matted hair and that it much stronger in the closed space, and Will sees distaste flicker briefly across Hannibal’s face and knows that he likes it no better than Will does.

Hannibal returns to the stove, turning his back on them. Cyrus is fully awake now, and has been joined by his brother, who had been playing with his toys under the table but who has retreated to keep guard over his twin. They are perched on the edge of the bed besides one other now, Alexander’s arm around Cyrus protectively. The two of them usually eat there, on the bed, since they are too small to reach the table from the chairs.  

D is too big for the kitchen chairs, and improvising Will moves one out of the way.

He taps the vacant spot at the table. “This can be your place,” he says. “I’ll get you something to eat.”

Will glances at the twins and sees them signing to one another.

“Big stink shark,” Cyrus observes to Alexander. It’s not meant to be cruel, Will thinks, but the words make Alexander anxious and a little angry, and he shoves Cyrus then raises a finger to his lips in a shushing gesture.

Surprise runs across Cyrus’ face, but is quickly replaced by outrage. He shoves Alexander in return, and before he can pull back Alexander catches him by the wrist and yanks him close enough to nip at his upper arm, though not hard enough to leave a mark.

Will crouches in front of them and pulls them apart. He is at least as nervous as Alexander that D will understand what is being said, though he is more concerned that D will be hurt than provoked to anger. He keeps his hands in front of his chest as he signs, hidden from D. “Stop it,” Will signs silently. “Be nice.”

“Alexander bit me!” Cyrus says, indigent, and pulls a pained expression that is considerably more dramatic than his actual reaction at the time of the bite.

Will might have been moved, had Cyrus not bitten Alexander at least three times the day before, and that only the ones that Will saw to count. He signs, “Behave, both of you,” firmly, and then adds out loud, “You be polite when company is visiting.”

Hannibal has already fixed a plate for D, and when Will takes it from him and turns back to the table he sees that D hasn’t moved from his spot near the door.

Will sits the plate at the place he’s made for D at the table, and says, “Come on now. Come and eat.”

There is, from D, a faint shy smile, partially hidden by the bow of his head. Still moving slowly and with great caution, D joins him at the table. The food absorbs most of D’s attention, and for perhaps three minutes things seem to be going just fine.

Then D glances up and sees himself in the mirror.



D has never before seen a mirror, and he does not, at first, understand that he is seeing himself.

Will shifts around in his chair to look back at the twins, sitting on the bed with their food, and when he moves D catches the edge of his own reflection in the mirror tucked away in the corner by the foot of the bed.

Startled, he moves to the side, and now his face and much of his body is reflected back at him, but that is not what D thinks he is seeing.

He thinks that he is looking through a doorway into another room. He believes that the monster he sees there is some stranger, creeping up on Will and the twins from being with its teeth bared in a snarl.

That stranger is ugly. It looks nothing like Will - nothing like what comes immediately to mind for D, when he thinks about what a person looks like.

D’s muscles tense, and when he sees the stranger do the same, reading himself to spring, D vaults onto the table and launches himself at Will’s would-be attacker, and in the brief moment before he crashes into the mirror D lives a bright fantasy in which he wrestles the interloper into submission and goes on to bask in Will’s grateful approval.

He hits the glass hard, all that forward momentum shattering the glass and carrying him on to slam into the wall. D lands among the shards, and smells his own blood before the pain catches up to him.

There is chaos all around him, but D is busy staring at his hands. He has figured it out now, because he can see his hand in the shards of the mirror, and the reflection moves the same way that his hand does and is bleeding in the same places.

He reaches out for one of the larger shards and the edge cuts his fingers. D draws his hand back with a hiss and leans over the mirror piece instead.

When D sees himself again, reflected in the broken glass, he understands better what he is looking at, and he thinks, Oh. That’s why.

Rationally, he has understood for some time that he is different from humans, but with the recent exceptions of Hannibal and the twins, D’s entire concept of what people are supposed to look like has been shaped, from his earliest social interactions, by human faces and human bodies.

He had not fully realized how inhuman he looks - how different from Will or the blind woman on the beach or any of the people he has watched from afar or pulled under the waves. From the people who, for a time, cared for him when he was small.

And he’d no idea whatsoever of how bad the scar is, the way it pulls half his face up into a crooked forever snarl.

The black of his eyes, the huge vicious sharpness of the two jagged rows of teeth that fill his mouth, the sucking motion of the gills on the sides of his neck… they are not exactly revelations to him, but seeing it all at once and so clearly is a blow more shocking than the shattering of the mirror.  

D looks around him, sees the panic and the fear and the anger that he has inspired, all around him, and that only seems right and natural. What he has seen explains why he was thrown away, all those years ago, why every human who has seen him since has fled in terror, why Will’s first reaction was to pick up a club and beat him without mercy.



When D lunges for the mirror, there is a moment in which Will is sure the creature means to attack him.

D seemed so docile, so eager to please, right up until he wasn’t. There was a sudden flash of teeth, aimed not at Will but at something over Will’s shoulder to the right, and then D jumped onto the table and was sailing past him before Will even had time to duck.

There is a terrific shattering sound as the mirror breaks, followed an instant later by a thump that seems to shake the cottage as D crashed into the wall.

The twins scatter, Cyrus dropping off the edge of the mattress and rolling under the bed while Alexander bolts for the bookcase and scales it. The boy slides on his belly back into the shadows were the bookcase meets the corner of the wall, wedging himself into a tight space that is only perhaps a foot high, but Will can see the white of his teeth.

Will stumbles up from his chair, knocking it over, and looks down at D, sitting bloody and dazed among the shards of the broken mirror.

Will’s own understanding of what happened and why comes to him a second after D puts it all together for himself.

It all clicks into place for Will, and he understands as well as if he were inside the creature’s skin; D doesn’t really know who or what he is, but he hates himself as much as Will hates Will.

And Will’s instinct is towards helping.

It’s to be kind.

“D,” Will says, but the creature does not lift his eyes to look at Will. He doesn’t respond at all. He’s lost in himself, watching the blood drip from his cut up hands and onto the broken glass, obscuring his reflection.  

Motion in the corner of his eye catches Will’s attention, and he looks towards it and sees Hannibal starting forward towards D. His face is expressionless. There is no flash of teeth, no warning or warding off or attempt at immidation. Just a steady walking, neither slow nor hurrying, with a dangerous bounce in the roll of his hips.

There is a tightly curled viciousness to the way that Hannibal is moving that has nothing to do with the occasional flashes of aggression that Will has seen before, nor the ritualized play fights he and D sometimes have. He’s going to kill D, Will realizes with sudden certainty. He thinks D tried to hurt me and he’s going to kill him for it.  

There might have been a time when it would have reassured Will, knowing that if it came down to himself or the other creature that Hannibal would act in Will’s defense.

Now, it terrifies him.

Moving fast, Will puts himself between D and Hannibal.

“Hannibal - don’t,” he says, and hears the desperation in his own voice. Will knows how Hannibal must of perceived what just happened - that it looked to him like D threw himself at Will without provocation, and that the only reason Will is unharmed now is because D overshot and hit the mirror instead. Will’s heart is in his throat, and it is so hard to articulate where Hannibal has gone wrong and why, and all he can force out is, “He didn’t mean it.”

Hannibal gives no indication that he has even heard Will. He paused, for a few moments, when Will put himself in his way, but now Hannibal sidesteps him and continues on towards D.

He is only a few strides away from D, and Will wheels toward Hannibal and snaps, “I’ll buy you another fucking mirror. Leave him be.”

Will had not planned these words - did not know that was what he was going to say before he said it - but they bring Hannibal to a halt. He turns back to Will, and in his eyes Will sees the hurt that he has caused Hannibal, gleaming on top of the protective, stone cold rage that D has unintentionally provoked.

“I don’t care about the mirror.”

“Leave him alone, Hannibal. He wasn’t trying to hurt me.”



D watches as Will steps gingerly around the pieces of broken glass that litter the floor, to pick up his boots and slide them on his feet. He takes the first aid kit down from a shelf and turns back to D.

“I’m going to help you,” Will tells him. “But let’s go outside to do this. The light is better.”

Thought is catching up to the numb shock that followed in the wake of the shattering of the mirror and D’s illusions. He feels stupid, embarrassed, ashamed of himself and the mess he has made. He is certain that everyone is angry with him - even Will, despite how gentle he is trying to be.

He is bleeding in at least a dozen places, and in many cases it isn’t like the shallow bites and scratches he and Hannibal give each other when they play (he wonders, distantly, if Hannibal will ever want to play with him again). Some of the cuts are deep, and they hurt, and the smell of his own blood is overwhelming.

When he feels the bare earth under his feet, D is seized by a desire to run. To escape this place and the people in it and everything that has hurt him - to go back to the black waters and stay there, in the silent depths, for the rest of his days. The lonesomeness there was a constant dull ache, but it never left him bloody or broken.

As though he knows D’s intent, Will catches him by the wrist.

It would be easy, the rational part of D’s mind understands, to shake the little human off and break free. Even wounded, D knows that he could easily outpace Will, on land or sea.  

He freezes instead, transfixed between dread and - despite everything that has happened - hope.

“Don’t go,” Will says. “Please. Let me help you.”

Will’s emotions are naked on his face. There is none of the angry fear there, nor the begrudging pity, the latter of which D hated even more than the other. The sympathy Will is offering is real, but it comes at the time when D is as poorly equipped to receive it as he has ever been.

But he lets Will sit him down on the edge of the hammock that hangs between two stout trees. And he waits there as Will slips back into the house to carry the twins outside and sits them down on the grass. “Stay outside until the glass is all cleaned up,” Will tells them, then he ducks back into the cottage to say something, briefly, to Hannibal.

The twins turn to look at D. Alexander is scared of him, D knows, but he doesn’t see the same fear in the little round one. Cyrus wobbles toward D with purpose, despite not being entirely stable on his short legs.

He stops just outside of arm’s reach, and cranes his head to look D up and down. The same sympathy that D saw in Will is plain on the child’s face, though in Cyrus it is less complicated.

“Hurt,” Cyrus observes.

D nods, slowly, in agreement.

The child makes a sign that he doesn’t recognize, crossing his arms one over the other across his chest, and sways from side to side, then he unwraps his arms from around himself and signs a question mark.

Were he familiar with hugging, D might have been able to infer the sign’s meaning. Instead, he blinks slowly, unsure of how to answer.

Cyrus steps closer to D and tries a different approach. “You pick me up,” he signs, and curls his arms around his chest again.

D looks up towards the cottage. The idea of Will finding him this close to one of the children, let alone holding one, makes D anxious. He thinks that it might frighten Will very badly, and he’s already seen enough of how dangerous Will can be when he’s scared.

“Can’t,” D signs, though the motion hurts his hands. One of the big shards got him badly in the back of his left hand, and on the right he cut his fingers trying to pick up a piece of the mirror.

As an excuse, he holds his hands up for Cyrus to see, and the child winces and signs again, “Hurts. Bad mirror bit you.”

D does not follow all of that, but he signs, “Yes, hurts,” in agreement.

He has seen humans cry before, but Cyrus’ tears astonish him.

At a loss, D looks back towards the cottage again, at once hopeful that Will will come quickly to manage this, as he has absolutely no idea where the child’s tears have come from or what to do about them, and worried that he will be blamed for making Cyrus cry.

Cyrus’ eyes are still dripping when Will joins them shortly thereafter, and immediately the child begins to make that mystery sign again, curling his arms around himself like he is cold and pointing to D.

“You’re a sweet baby,” Will says, and he pauses for a moment to kneel and put his arms around Cyrus, drawing the tiny thing close to him. “He doesn’t need a hug right now though,” Will goes on. “He needs patched up.”

Will crouches in front of D. It is hard for D to meet his eyes, but he tries. “You alright?” Will asks him.

It does not occur to D to use what words he has to lie. Even Hannibal, better acquainted with language and more cunning than D by far, has yet to fully grasp that concept.

“No,” he says. “I’m bad.”

He would say more if his hands didn’t hurt so much, and if he knew how. He would say, I did something bad, because I’m stupid and ugly, and I’m hurting now because of it, which I deserve, because I’m bad and ugly, and I’m afraid that you are going to hurt me again, because you know that I am bad and ugly.

But maybe he hasn’t even communicated what little he did say correctly, because instead of agreeing with D the way that he ought to, Will says, “I’m sorry that happened to you. I know that you were trying to protect me, that it was an accident.”

D blinks, unsure what to do with kindness that he is sure he doesn’t deserve, but greedy nonetheless for more.

It’s sharp, that kindness. It’s Will talking softly to him while he picks glass out of his cuts and puts stinging iodine on them and stitches up the worst ones.

“You’ve had stitches before, haven’t you?” Will asks him.

D nods. He’d been thinking about that, the way this is almost exactly how things started with the couple who took care of him when he was young. They’d care for him when he was hurt too, but once he was healed they didn’t want him anymore, and they threw him away.

He wonders if it will be the same way with Will.

Chapter Text

Will flips the page of the calendar forward one month and pins it back to the wall.

“The twins are going to be a year old next week,” he says. Will’s own twenty-sixth birthday passed, unmentioned, nearly two months ago; it hadn’t been his father’s way to make any sort of production over Will’s birthday when he was little, even when he remembered it, and Will hadn’t thought to mention it to anyone.

But now, Will turns around, and talking mostly to himself but in Hannibal’s direction, he says, “We could have a birthday party for them.”

“For them?” Hannibal repeats. “Why do they get a party? I did all the hard work! I want a party for me.”

Will ducks his head to try to hide his smile. “I don’t think you even know what a party is, really. You just want attention.”

It would never occur to Hannibal to deny that he thrives on Will’s attention, nor to bypass an opportunity to show off his newly acquired book learning. “We had a party on the beach last month, when we ate the elk.”

“Huh,” Will says. “Yeah, I guess we did.” He doubts that any of the parties pictured or described in the books that Hannibal studies so closely looked all that much like the feast they’d had when D came home, but that makes the fact that Hannibal made the connection that much more astonishing.  

“Well, it’s called a birthday party because -”

“I’m the one who gave birth.”

The knock on the door is, by now, a predictable part of their lives. Will’s heart beat kicks up a little at the sound, ever vigilant, but it doesn’t go rocketing up into his throat.

He glances back at the new mirror, making sure that the reflexive surface is turned against the wall, then he answers the door.

It’s D, of course, with the reading and writing primer he borrowed a couple of hours before.

For weeks now he has been taking the book down to the beach with him to write words in the wet sand, rendering the letters a foot tall and then tracing them with his fingers. What that’s about Will isn’t really sure; D has turned down both a slate and paper when Will offered them to him, and has been vague about the purpose of his project.

Hannibal has never, to Will’s knowledge, used words directly to tell a lie, though sometimes he omits information. When he doesn’t wish to answer a question, he either redirects the conversation with his own question or simply refuses to answer.

D’s evasiveness seems more a matter of bashfulness than anything else, and pressing him about it seems invasive and cruel. It worries Will a little, though not for the reasons it would if he had all the information.

Will takes the book from D. It’s as clean as it was when Will gave it to him, and perfectly dry. The big guy ruined the first copy will gave him, unaware of the damage water would do to it, and was distraught by the error even after Will told him time and again that it wasn’t a big deal. Since then he has been careful to only sit the books on top of dry stones, and to be certain that his hands are dry before he touches them.

Will doesn’t try to invite him inside. There is something Will has planned that will be easier done outside, and anyway the poor guy clearly prefers to stay outside. D is just too big to navigate inside comfortably. Since the incident with the mirror, he has let him be talked into coming inside a few times, but these visits have been plagued by accidents; no matter how careful he tries to be, he always seems to knock something over or break it.

Will leans against the door frame and looks up at D’s serious, untidy face; the speckled white and grey markings and the lopsided snarl, all crowned by that tangle of matted hair. The guilt that looking at him provokes is entirely too familiar, but the fondness that warms the inside of Will’s chest like a mellow yellow light is more recent.

Why did I used to think he was ugly? Will wonders.

“I got some clippers when I was in town the other day,” Wills says, “and I was thinking - what if I gave you a haircut?”

 

 

The word “haircut” means nothing to D, of course, but he follows Will down to the beach, at once curious and apprehensive to find out what kind of gift Will intends to give him.

When Will stops next to a large flat rock and tells D to sit down in the sand next it, D does as instructed. He watches as Will unpacks the bag he brought along, laying out the implements one by one.  

“That’s a shampoo bar,” Will says, laying on the stone a square chunk of something that smells at once chemical and floral. “We’ll get to that later.”

Will turns to D and holds up the next item. “This is a comb,” he says. “It looks like it’s tortoise shell, but actually it’s made of celluloid… You use it to work the knots out of your hair, kind of straighten it out, you know?”

He nods, but unhappily. D has seen Will and Hannibal both utilize combs for their own hair, and he’s seen Will use them on the twins, too; Cyrus seems to enjoy having his hair combed, but Alexander’s hair is even thicker than Will’s and just as curly, and it’s an ordeal to get him to sit still for the process.

 D is conscious that there is something wrong about his hair, in comparison to the others. He’s tried to fix it since becoming aware of the problem, has attempted to break the mats by working his claws through them, but it is impossible.

“It’ll be short, your hair, by the time I’m done,” Will goes on. “There’s just no other way, but that’ll give you a chance to get used to the comb before it gets long again…”

“These are the hand clippers,” Will says, pulling out a bright metal contraption and then sitting it down on the rock, “and these are scissors.”

He turns back to D. “Do you understand what it is I want to do?”

The scissor blades gleam dangerously. “You want to fix my hair.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“I’m not -” D starts, but then his hands stall. It is hard, what he wants to stay, and his command of language is still awkward.

Chagrin floods Will’s face. “If you don’t want to that is okay. I didn’t mean -”

D shakes his head, and Will goes silent.

“You hurt me,” D says. It is not an accusation, so much as an effort at establishing the facts of the matter.

The guilt is hard on Will. D can tell he wants to drop his eyes, but he won’t let himself. He swallows hard, then he nods. “Yeah,” Will says. “I did.”

“I’m not hurt now,” D goes on, and gestures at the sides of his head with both hands.

“Your head is better?”Will asks. “I’m glad to hear that -” he starts, but D isn’t finished, and he flashes his teeth in response to the interruption.

“I’m not hurt from you now,” he concludes, stringing the words together carefully, “so you don’t have to take care of me anymore.” I’m not your responsibility any longer, is what D wants to say, but he doesn’t have the words for it, so instead he says, “You don’t have to be good to me.”

Will straightens his spine. He looks bigger when he is trying to be brave - D remembers that from when Will came at him with the club. Seated in the sand and looking up at Will, D feels almost as though he is the small one instead, and with that feeling comes a sense of relief that he does not believe he will ever be able to articulate.  

“Maybe not,” Will says. “But I -

“I'd like to be good to you - to be better than I have been. I know I can’t ever make up for what I did, but I want to try.”

There’s a tightness in D’s chest. It’s something other than fear, but D can’t put a name to it. “Does it hurt?” he asks.

“Does it…” Will repeats, confusion clouding his face. “I don’t know what you mean. I’m sorry.”

D reaches up and lifts the scissors from the stone where Will left them. “Will this hurt me?”

He is willing to be hurt, if it means Will being good to him, but he wants to know what to expect.

“Only a little. Not anymore than I can help - not on purpose. I might pull your hair by mistake, and if I do I’m sorry, but as soon as it’s done it is done, and you don’t have to go through it again.”

Will takes the scissors from him. “I’ll show you,” he says, and in his free hand takes a lock of his own curly hair and stretches it out away from his scalp. The blades of the scissors nip through it neatly and by all appearances painlessly.

He offers the lock of hair out to D. “See?”

D holds his hand out, palm up, and Will puts the lock of hair in it. For a second he peers down at it, a little baffled by the intimacy of the gift but touched, then he closes his fist around it and draws his hand back to his lap, hiding it.

“Um,” Will says, and D looks up quickly, anxious that he’s done a wrong thing, but Will just says, “Alright, I guess.

“Can I start now?”

D nods.

“Alright, just hold still for me,” Will tells him, so D freezes, waiting unmoving as Will circles around to his back.

It scares D, feeling the cold metal of the scissors brush his skin as Will begins to slice at the matted hair. He doesn’t want to be scared, but he cannot help but think of how easy it would be for Will to hurt him very badly right now, the damage those blades could do. The insides of his belly squirming nauseously, D closes his eyes and tries to keep his breathing steady, but there is nothing he can do about the trembling.

The scissors withdraw, and D feels Will’s hand close over his shoulder, warm and reassuring. “You’re alright - I’m not going to hurt you,” he says, gently this time, the earlier seriousness replaced with a degree of softness that he has only before seen Will exercise with the twins, or with Hannibal.  

It reassures him, more than he could have imagined it would, but it doesn’t take all of the fear away. Nonetheless, D reaches backwards and places his hand over Will’s, patting it to signal his consent.  

Will goes back to his task, working carefully but quickly so they can be done with it with as little stress possible, and the matted hair falls away from D’s head in heavy clumps. It looks to D like furry animals that died a long time ago, utterly unappealing, and he turns his gaze away from it and watches, out of the corner of his eyes, Will as he works.

“That’s a start,” Will says, stepping back and putting the scissors to the side.

D reaches up to touch. The hair that’s left is in fact short, and still marred by small matts, and the is a slimmy, tacky feeling to it that finds he hates.

He moves his hands to sign, and catches the scent of it. It’s something he’s lived with for so long that he’d stopped noticing it, but the smell is stronger now that Will has cut the mess open, and D fights the need to gag.

“I don’t know how it got that bad,” D says, as much to himself as Will. That’s not entirely true, but the truth is harder to put to words; he’d been so lost in the misery of his own solitude that it hadn’t occurred to him to do anything more for his body than feed it.

“Hey,” Will says, “I get it. I stop taking care of myself when I’m feeling low sometimes, too, you know?”

Looking over Will’s shoulder rather than at him, D worries his lower lip between his teeth and nods.

“Let’s get washed up, then we can do the next part,” Will says. He stripes off his undershirt and his jeans and drapes them over the rock next to his tools, and then he picks the shampoo bar up and heads for the water.

D watches him. Will is small and wiry, and he crashes into the waves with a clumsiness so profound that it almost becomes its own kind of grace. He’s moving with the same easy silliness that he uses when he is trying to jolly the twins into trying something they are not convinced about, and when D tries to reconcile the creature splashing in the waves and beconning to him with the vicious terror that beat him within an inch of his life, he finds himself mystified by difference - by just how much Will encompasses and how changeable he is.

“Come on,” Will calls out again, and D follows.

“Don’t try to breathe in the soapy water,” Will cautions him. “I think it might burn - don’t get any of the soap in your eyes, either.”

He watches intently as Will demonstrates the use of the shampoo bar, working the bar between his hands until he has a good lather, then plunging his fingers into his wet hair and scrubbing at his scalp.

When Will hands him the bar, D copies him. The stuff burns against his skin, but in a good way. He likes it, would probably go on lathering up his hands and rubbing the results into his scalp indefinitely if Will didn’t say, “Okay - rinse now. Remember to keep your eyes closed.”

Will plunges his head under water and goes on scrubbing, washing the soap away, and D watches him for a few moments to make sure he understands how it's done. Then he closes his eyes and clamps his gills shut, and goes under too.

D’s head feels astonishing light, and he shoots up from the water, ecstatic and thrumming with energy. He sees Will pick up on all of that and reflect it back at him, and as the waves wash the last of the suds away D dives under again and swims fast circles around Will, only his dorsal fin cutting through the water’s surface.

He comes up nearly on top of Will, with hardly the hint of a splash, and it startles a laugh out of Will, but he looks a little anxious, too. D moves back, giving him more space.

“It’s alright,” Will says. “Just don’t try and play rough with me. I’m not made for it.”

Will starts back towards land, but then he stops and looks back at D. “First time I got into the water with Hannibal, he tried to pull me under and pin me to the ocean floor.”

Something seems expected of D - some sort of clarification - so he thinks for a minute and says, “Flirting.”

Will barks a short laugh. “That’s about what I figured, a while after the fact,” he says, climbing out of the water. He drops down to the sand, his legs sticking out straight in front of him, and props himself up with his arms as he leans back to stare up at the sky. “At the time I halfway thought he was just fucking with me for the fun of it.”

D has stopped a bit off from Will. Now he shrugs, noncommittal; even from the perspective of his own scrambled instincts, D recognizes that there’s something a bit unnatural about Hannibal.

“Don’t stand on ceremony,” Will says. When D blinks in confusion Will adds, “You can sit down over here with me, if you want to. It’s alright.”

D lowers himself to the sand, pulling his legs up to his chest and folding his arms over his knees, a backwards image of the way Will has stretched out.

“Where’d you pick up that word, anyway?” Will asks. “‘Flirting.’”

D can’t remember, but he suspects that it was during a conversation between Will and Hannibal that he wasn’t strictly supposed to be witnessing. Evasive, D says, “I won’t try to do anything like that. I know you’re Hannibal’s.”

He has no intention of attempting to come between the two of them; instinct and observation tell him that such an effort would be entirely futile. Even if D hadn’t spent as much time watching the two of them before he tried to approach, he could almost smell that Hannibal was already taken the first time they stood face to face. Will doesn’t give off the same undeniable yet inarticulable cues that he is bonded to his partner, but that is probably because he is human; instinct tells him that Hannibal might well die if separated from Will, and D has no reason to believe that Will is any less invested in Hannibal.

However, the same genetic insight tells D that it would not be outside of the realm of possibility for a bonded couple to favor an unpaired loner with children, but everything about his interactions with Will and Hannibal and their odd set of twins has been so far outside of the norm that D long ago gave up navigating by instinct. He has been here so much longer than he would have been, in that natural course of things, had Will not beaten him, and can see no way to broach the question at this late date - is not even sure that he wants to.

Will's eyes are still on the sky. He didn't see D's answer.

“You look better now,” Will says, a while later, turning his head to look at D. “You’re going to look real good when I’m done - you’ll see.” He pauses, weighing the wisdom of going on. “I’ve got a shaving mirror - just a small one, no bigger than the palm of your hand. I could show you, when we’re done fixing up your hair with the clippers, if you want?”

The thought doesn’t terrify D as much as he might have expected, but he still hates it. “No,” he signs.

“Alright,” Will says, conceding the point easily. “Just let me know if you change your mind, yeah?”

 


 

Illustration by ByJoveWhatASpend. 

They didn't get quite this far in this chapter, but these two have gone far enough down the path of understanding each other for me to be able to share this without it being spoilery. 

 


Chapter Text

The morning before the birthday party Will sets out in his boat, bound not for the small village where he usually gets supplies but on to the city, where he can shop for almost whatever he likes without inviting gossip.

He is aware, as he pulls away from the dock, that D is following him, but only because he’s had a chance to learn what to look for. Cutting the engine off, Will leans over the stern and waits for D to surface.

When D does, he rises only far enough above the waves for Will to be able to see his eyes, but in those eyes and the wrinkles around them Will believes he can read chagrin at having been found out.

“You want a ride?” Will calls down.

D’s eyes narrow and he sinks back under the waves, disappearing completely, but a few seconds later he surges to the surface again, breaching the water to rocket up into the open air to catch the boat’s railing with both hands. The boat rocks as he pulls himself over the railing and rolls onto the deck.

Looking down at him, Will shakes his head in bemused amazement. He is thinking about how easy it would be to let himself be terrified of how casually powerful D is, but Will’s voice is steady when he tells him, “The first time Hannibal climbed on board from the water he had to claw his way up the stern, which was not good for the paint job. After that, he figured out how to use the ladder.”

Will expected D to be pleased by the invitation, but instead the big guy watches him with a suspicious expression as Will walks back to the tiller, and it isn’t just the mistrust; there is something in the creature’s eyes that is ready to be hurt, or maybe angry.

“What’s the matter?”

D’s answer is indirect. “Where are we going?”

I’m going to the city to get stuff for the party tomorrow,” Will says. “I was trying to ask you if you want to keep me company most of the way there, since you seemed to be headed that way anyhow.”

He doesn’t reply, and Will says, “Listen. Why are you upset with me?”

“I’m not,” D signs hurriedly. “Not you. I -”

His hands falter, twisting up into a ball in his lap. D grimaces, snarling at himself in frustration, and Will prompts gently, “Has it got to do with the other humans you knew?”

D worries his lower lip between his teeth. He nods.

“Will you tell me? It’s okay. You can tell me, if you want to.”

Watching the way D is watching him, Will thinks that he’s asked for too much - that the articulating the answer is beyond D’s skills, or that the request is too intrusive. Then D untangles his fingers and begins to sign.

For all of its significance, the story doesn’t add up to many words - at least not the way that D tells it. He offers Will the bare bones of it, a series of events stripped of their emotional content and context, but it’s easy for Will’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

D speaks of the hook, and of being pulled from the water by gigantic creatures that he fully expected would eat him, and though there is no direct comparable event without the scope of Will’s own personal experiences, he knows what it is to be small and helpless and to be at the mercy of someone who hurt you, and from there his mind supplies the rest - the terror of being gripped in the hands of alien beings who could crush you in an instant, of being held immobile by those hands while the hook was taken out and the stitches put in, of having no frame of reference for any of the things that you were seeing or that were being done to you.

He’d been taken away from the ocean, D tells him, and in exchange was given food and a tub of water to live in. He’d been given companionship, smiles, gentle touches, things that he had never previously experienced in his short and frightened life. He’d been given a sense of safety.

It’s only when D speaks of the day when all of that came to an end without warning that he begins to lose control of his emotions. Agitation turns his movements jerky as he talks about the boat ride, the sense of adventure turned to baffled wounded horror when the people who had up until that moment seemed to care for him attempted to cast him back into the dark water.

He’d bitten, maiming the hand that fed him out of frantic desperation to stay in the arms of his caretakers, and he wonders now if he’d misunderstood it - if they’d only wanted to show him the water, or had perhaps meant to have only a short swim, but that he proven that he was bad when he bit the man and that was why they hadn’t wanted him anymore, and that was why they’d thrown him away…

“I didn’t mean to be bad -” D continues, but Will cuts in.

Angrier than he means to be, Will says, “You weren’t bad. You were just scared.”

“I am bad.”

“No,” Will says.

“You know that I’m bad,” D says, and there is a bitter anger in that insistence that Will senses could very easily turn dangerous. “That’s why you hurt me. Because you saw me and knew that I was bad.”

“No,” Will says again. He feels sick in his heart - so disgusted with himself that he can barely stomach it. “That happened because I’m bad, and because I was scared. It doesn’t have anything to do with you.

“You aren’t bad.”

D turns his head away from Will, refusing - or else unable - to answer.

“The party tomorrow is to celebrate the twins’ turning one year old,” Will says. “But I guess you must know that their birthday was rolling around soon, huh, since you were there when they were born.”

It’s not really a question, but D raises his chin in assent.  

In his mind’s eye, Will sees the wounded shark cruising past them in the shallows again. It’s easy to imagine that going a different way; if Hannibal hadn’t spotted the tumult out by the rocks he wouldn’t have noticed the animal until it was upon them.

It might have snatched Will up, might have torn him apart while Cyrus drifted away to drown. It might have dragged Hannibal from him.  

“I owe you a lot,” Will says. “Wish I knew how to repay you.”

D’s hands fall to his own belly, folding over it like he has a stomachache. He shudders.

“You alright?” Will asks, alarmed.

“Why did you keep the twins?” D demands.

Will blinks, reaching fruitlessly for an explanation that won’t make D’s own sense of rejection at having been cast out by his adoptive parents sting worse. He is wondering about that - if D has misinterpreted that couple’s intentions in returning him to the ocean - but he needs more time to think about it.  

In the end, there’s no possible answer other than the truth. “Because I love them,” he says. “Because I need them and they need me, and because I need to keep them safe.”

“I could -” D starts, but then he falters. Will gives him time. “If I had someone to give me babies, I could take care of them, too, couldn’t I?”

“Maybe,” Will allows. “Maybe they would let you.”

It still scares Will to think about it, but he knows that his own boys would have left as soon as they’d been born, if Cyrus’ human blood hadn’t impaired him. They stay now because they’ve come to trust and need and love him, and Hannibal too, but at first Cyrus only stayed because he had no say in it, and Alexander stayed because he was unwilling to leave his twin behind.

Will has spent some time wondering what might happen, should they have another set, and both of them turn out to be strong swimmers with functioning gills.

D’s story is a comfort in one way; it tells Will that even full-blooded creatures could come to depend upon and crave parental care.

D’s hands are over his belly again, cradling it, but he lifts them long enough to say, “Being around you and Hannibal makes me feel strange.”

Will wets his lips. “Lonely?” he suggests.

D shakes his head. “The loneliness is old, and you all make that better. This is something new.”

He looks away from Will, off over the horizon. Will follows D’s line of sight, and sees the city docks coming into view.

“I should go,” D says, and climbs to his feet.

“I’ll see you back at home, right?” Will asks. “You have to come to the party tomorrow.”

D nods. Then he goes over the boat rail and drops down into the water, disappearing under the waves with barely a splash.

 


New art from ByJove!

Chapter Text

It’s a whim, more or less, that makes D detour on the way home to check the strip of beach where a year ago he met the blind woman.

In the months following that single encounter he made dozens of visits to the same spot, but never saw her there a second time.

It was an ongoing source of bitter disappointment, his inability to find again the only person who hadn’t reacted badly to his appearance since his caretakers threw him away, but for lack of any remedy he’d shifted his focus to the couple on the island.

D spent a lot of time trying to think through the best way to approach the lighthouse keeper - Will - who already seemed perfectly at ease with creatures similar to himself, for all the good that did him. In the end, he’d done it more or less the same way he approached the blind woman; on solid land, in case the problem in the past had been the humans feeling cornered on their little boats, and with a pretty shell in hand for a gift.

Despite his preparations, that first meeting with Will hadn’t gone nearly as well as the sole encounter with the blind woman, which was only further evidence that people who could see saw something hateful and ugly when they looked at him.

The beating Will laid on him left D unable to travel to the mainland for months. By then he had not exactly forgotten about the blind woman, but he’d become invested in the strange family he’d found, and the possibility that he might be permitted to dwell at its edges.

That he has consistently been offered more than the mere toleration of his presence near Will and his family is not the same as having found a partner, but it is the best thing he’s had in his life since infancy - far better, really, than the short time he spent in with that first family, after he bit the hook.

That good things seem always to be preceded by fear and pain is a lesson that vexes him, but the lingering suspicion that the good life that he has now is as temporary as the one before makes it difficult for him to be at ease with the surprising kindness that Will and Hannibal and even their odd children have offered him.

D is not thinking of the blind woman as a fallback for when he is inevitably turned out by the others, nor has he quite dared to envision her as a potential partner. There had simply been such a relief in not being seen, in invoking not terror or disgust or anger at first glance but simply a keen curiosity, in having been treated well by someone else from the very beginning.  

He believes wholeheartedly that she believes him to be human.

A certain amount of the shock the mirror inflicted upon him, that day inside Will’s home, came from the stark reminder that he is not human - that he is stranger even than Hannibal or the twins, oversized and monstrous and wrong.  

Hannibal is not ugly to him, not in the same way that D is ugly to himself, but if he was given the choice between a human partner or one of his own kind there is no question as to which he would prefer.

He understands, better than Hannibal even, that in regards to sex their people are fundamentally different from almost every other type of creature. From watching animals interact D has developed a fairly good grasp of how most animal species are composed of two different sexes, and from observing beachgoers and boaters he believes that he has become fairly proficient in telling women apart from men, though he only recently learned those labels.    

He found some pictures, too, in one of Will’s encyclopedias, under the word “sex,” and though the diagrams are vague and most of the text above his reading level, it helped to confirm his theories.

D is quite certain, therefore, that the blind woman is in fact a woman, and as such he is almost positive that she is not capable of making him or anyone else pregnant.

Beyond that, he has no idea if she already has a partner. If Will is any indicator, among humans such things cannot be discerned by scent, even when the couple is as close as Will and Hannibal are.

Despite all of this, D would like to see her again.  

He has been working hard to think of a way in which they might converse more effectively, on the off-chance that they do find each other again.

When he stops to check the same spot where they meant last time, he does so with little hope that he is doing anything other than wasting his time.

But this time around he gets lucky.

 

Sitting on the water’s edge, feeling the waves lapping at her toes and the warm sun against her skin, Reba is not so lost in her daydreams as to be unaware of the world around her. She knows perfectly well that there are too many people who would like to take advantage of her perceived vulnerability for her to let her guard down.

When the person approaches her, Reba thinks that she knows who it is, but she hasn’t got much to go on, and it’s been such a long time.

He doesn’t splash around, but his body changes the rhythm of the waves as he cuts through them. Odd, that he comes toward her from the water, rather than along the shore to her left or her right, but then if he is who she thinks he is he did that the last time, too.

It’s possible, of course, that he spotted her while out on a swim, but Reba doesn’t think that theory holds much water.

“Hi again, stranger,” she says, testing her theory

There’s a moment of silence, and then she is awarded with a breathy hiss that is more like the loud exhalation of air than a vocalization.

Reba smiles. “I’ve been wondering if you were going to come back around.”

He gets out of the water on her left.

Like most blind people, Reba is not entirely without sight. She can make out, in vague detail, a grey blur standing over her. She can not distinguish any features, not the color of his skin or anything about his mode of dress, nor his gender, though she is quite certain that he is male.

He is like a shadow to her, or a figure moving beneath a dingy grey sheet.

He’s big - perhaps the biggest man that Reba has ever encountered - but he becomes smaller as he crouches down beside her, just outside of arm’s reach. From this distance he has no scent that she can discern over the smell of the ocean, unless his scent and that of the water are one in the same. She can hear his breathing.

There is a minute sound, almost undetectable, of shifting sand, so she knows that he is doing something. Still crouching, he backs away a few steps, causing the sand to crunch in a louder and distinctly different way from the earlier sound.

Reba waits, wondering if something is expected of her.

The man must have leaned in toward her, because when he snaps his fingers the sound is only about half a foot away from Reba’s left ear. She could reach out out and grab his hand, if she wanted to, but instinct and good manners both advise against it.

He snaps his fingers again, a little further away this time, then twice again in quick succession, and Reba feels anger rise in herself. Don’t try to call me like I’m a dog, she thinks but doesn’t say. She knows that the thought isn’t fair.

She pushes it away as well as she can, and thinks instead about what it is he is trying to communicate to her. Moving very slowly, she reaches her fingers out towards the sound’s origins, and when he snaps his fingers again the sound is a little further away and closer to the ground.

Reba follows the chain of finger snapping with her hand, making no effort to touch the man, and the sounds guide her to go lower as she stretches her arm out, nearly brushing the ground. He flicks grains of sand up against the pads of her fingers, and she brings her palm down on the beach, just at the edge of the deep divot he’s dug in the wet sand. It’s wide enough that she could trace it with two fingers without touching the sides, and she does so now, following the flow of the trench.

She learned Braille when she was still quite young, but Reba has also read books that utilize regular English letters, the letters rising from the paper in much the same way as Braille dots, and printed many times the size they would be in a standard book. She knows that the shape in the sand is an upper-case H.

Her fingers venture over the edge of the first trench and find another right beside it - H followed by I.   

“Hi,” she says, out loud.

Then she repeats, “‘Hi’ again to you, too.”

He claps his hands together, rapid little sounds that convey a childlike glee at having been understood, and Reba smiles.

She draws her hand away so he can write again, and she listens to the small sounds of him raking the first word away to dig another into the sand, then reaches out to trace it again.

“Your name,” it says, with a question mark at the end.

Reba is embarrassed. “I ought to have told you before,” she says. “I’m Reba. What’s your name?”

It takes him longer to answer this time. After an extended pause he writes a word in the sand, but then he scratches it away again to write something different.

All it says is “D.”

“D?” she says, fingertips brushing over the sand around the single letter to see if she missed something. “Just D?

“You don’t have to write that - clap once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no,’ would you?”

He claps once, and she takes that both as an acceptance of the clapping method and confirmation as to his name.

“D,” she says again. “I do like that.”

Reba pauses, wondering if her next question will be taken poorly. D hasn’t been anything except friendly, but he is very big and they are very alone here. “You’re the veteran that lives on the island with Will Graham, the lighthouse keeper, aren’t you?”

Peggy, who works as a clerk at the bookstore, told Reba that the lighthouse keeper told her that he had a war buddy living with him, and that the man was so badly disfigured that he was no longer capable of speech. According to the clerk, who seemed to have come to the conclusion (not entirely incorrectly) that Reba was interested in all news related to other cripples, the lighthouse keeper had gotten books on sign language so he could communicate with his friend more easily.

She does not ask D if he is disfigured, of course. Reba has assumed, correctly but for the wrong reasons, that part of her appeal to D is that she cannot see what he looks like. She does not especially care for that, but she supposes that she understands it well enough, and she can tolerate it.

D is still for a long time before he writes a reply. “Will is my friend,” is all it says.

“That’s good,” Reba says, not sure if she means it. She only met Will Graham the one time, and at first he had seemed polite enough, but he’d become aggressively evasive when she asked after his friend. Maybe he is only protective of him, but it makes Reba suspicious; they are all alone out on that island, and a man with a ruined face is vulnerable to all kinds of things.  

“I looked for you,” D writes next, “but you didn’t come back.”

Reba thinks back to the previous summer. Herself and her family were in town for a couple of weeks after she met D, long enough for her to ask around after him, but she’d only had one other chance that summer to go to the beach alone.

“We must have missed each other,” she tells him. “I don’t live here most of the year, you know. My father is a professor at Fisk University.” She waits a moment, listening for any clues as to what kind of impression, if any, that makes on him, but D is politely still. “We just vacation here with family during the summer break, and sometimes for the holidays.”

Reba adds, “I wish you’d come to visit sooner.”

D starts on a new message. The idea of writing in the wet was certainly clever of him, but already Reba can tell how quickly this means of communication is going to become tedious. She’ll show him how to write braille with a slate and stylus, Reba decides, if they meet again.

“I would have come,” D’s message reads, “but I got too beat up to swim right.”

It sets off multiple alarm bells, that sentence. The bit about swimming makes no sense - no one could swim the distance between the lighthouse island and the mainland - but Reba catches on a more serious concern.

“Who beat you up?” she asks, her voice carefully even. She has a good idea, of course, and D’s evasiveness only stokes her suspicions.

“I’m better now,” he answers. “It is OK.”

Reba, who has never been struck in anger by a friend or a family member, wants to pry the truth from him. She wants to go to Will Graham and throw that truth in his face, and she wants to castigate him for his cruelty - to shame him publicly.

But she knows that none of that will do any good. If it was Will Graham that hurt D, and she doesn’t doubt that this is the truth, D would have already left if he believed doing so was an option.   

Instead of forcing the issue now, she resolves simply to be on D’s side. To be D’s side, if he’ll let her, and to wait and see what help she might be able to offer down the road.

They talk for a while longer. It’s comfortable, talking to D, if reading the letters in the sand is a slow process. She feels like she’s known him longer than she actually has, and that’s a good feeling.

Eventually, though, Reba has to say her goodbyes.

“I really do wish you’d come to visit sooner,” she says again. “We’re headed back home again in a few days. I’m afraid that it will be a while before we’re able to talk again.”

D claps his hands twice in evident unhappiness at this information.

“I’ll be back again for a few days around Thanksgiving,” she tells him levelly, “and an entire week for Christmas.”

“When is that?” D writes.

It’s such a strange question that it startles Reba. “Thanksgiving is on November the 28th,” she says slowly. “But we’ll probably arrive at my aunt’s home a few days before that.” Reba does the math in her head. “One hundred and seven days from now,” she supplies.  

D’s sigh is audible, as is the frustration and disappointment in it, but he accepts the answer.

D walks back into the waves again, when he leaves.

Reba listens for a long time, wondering if he has a boat anchored out there, trying to hear the splash or oars or the revving of an outboard engine coming to life, but there is nothing.

“That idea didn’t make any sense anyway,” she says to herself. If D had come in a boat, surely he would have tied it up near the shore.

On impulse, she moves to her knees, stretching past D’s last message as her hands brush along the surface of the sand.

The size of the footprint, when she finds it, is astonishing. It is more than twice the length of her hands, and she has to move a little closer to trace the entirety of its shape. The toes are nearly as long as her fingers, and are oddly splayed, fanning out in a manner that reminds her strikingly of a frog’s rear foot.

There are divots in the sand, an inch or so past the tips of the toe-prints, and the tunnel in front of the big toe is long and wide enough that Reba can fit the entirety of her pinky finger inside it.  

“Claws,” she says, understanding only as she says it. 

Reba lifts her head, turning slowly to hear better, suddenly uncertain that she is really alone. 

"D?" she asks, but silence is the only answer. 

Chapter Text

By now, Will has a good grasp of what constitutes special treats for the rest of his family, and he returns from the mainland with the makings of a feast comprised primarily of red meat and offal.

The fresh meat is packed into two crates filled with chipped ice, and they are heavy enough that it takes Hannibal a couple of trips to carry them up to the house. The gifts are in a smaller box, along with the wrapping paper and ribbons, and these Will takes into the lighthouse while Hannibal is occupied, so he can wrap them in secret.   

It’s a blessing that the days are as long as they are this time of year, and Will is able to lay down for a few hours of sleep before he has to get up to tend the lighthouse.

When he returns to the house, Hannibal is already hard at work getting things ready for lunch. Cooking such a large meal when they have limited space is a complicated assembly line process, and it takes a certain degree of creativity to keep everything moving.

Hannibal goes outside to set up the charcoal grill, where they will cook the fifteen pounds of rib-eye steaks Will brought home right before mealtime, and when he comes back inside Will is busy stuffing pig hearts with mushrooms and spinach and wrapping them in bacon.

Will tilts the bowl of seasoned greens and mushrooms up for Hannibal to see. “Will you eat this?” he asks.

Hannibal picks one of the uncooked mushrooms up from the table and holds it between the tips of two claws to study it, but puts it back down again quickly. “You are sure it isn’t dangerous?”

“‘Poisonous’ is the word you want,” Will tells him, making a mental note to look up the sign later. “And no, they’re safe.”

Hannibal doesn’t look convinced, and Will asks, “Where’d you learn that some mushrooms are dangerous to eat?”

“No one told me,” Hannibal says. “They just make me uneasy.”

Will shrugs; none of the dogs he had growing up would eat mushrooms, either. Just an instinctive aversion, he supposes.

“I can leave the mushroom out of the rest,” he tells Hannibal.

“If you say that it’s good then I’m happy to try a bite,” Hannibal answers. “I like the greens.”

Will puts the mushrooms to the side anyway; if instinct tells Hannibal that they aren’t safe then it’s likely to be a battle to the boys to accept them, and Will doesn’t want to turn them off growing foods like greens in the process.

He’d expected, earlier on, that Hannibal’s palate would be limited exclusively to meat, but he is a curious eater, and he wants to enjoy the things that Will enjoys. Grains and starchy foods like potatoes don’t appeal to him at all, though he will usually have a small bite of everything that Will is having for the sake of sharing the experience with him. On the other hand, nutritionally dense, easily digested foods like cooked greens appeal to him, though only in small servings.     

Will has no cause to worry about Hannibal’s nutrition, but where he grew up malnutrition was far from uncommon in children, and he is troubled sometimes by the idea that the twins may not be getting enough of whatever it is their bodies need to grow and be healthy. Mostly, he tries to trust that their instincts will tell them what they need, and just makes sure that they have veggies and fruit available as often as he can, but sometime he looks for ways to smuggle plant food into their meat - hence the stuffed hearts.   

Fretfully, he says, “Do you think Alexander’s too skinny?” and before Hannibal can answer, he continues, “Cyrus is okay - he’s nice and roly poly - but Alexander is weedy, is the thing, and it makes me nervous.”    
“They both get plenty to eat,” Hannibal says.

“Yeah,” Will agrees, but it doesn’t do much to soothe him - if anything, it troubles him more. On good days, he is able to remind himself that active growing boys are often stick-thin, no matter how well-fed. On bad days, he worries that Alexander might have a worm, and frets over whether or not a mail order cure would be safe for a child who is not entirely human. On very bad days, he convinces himself that Alexander’s mixed parentage has lead to some sort of disorganization in his digestive system, that there is some serious and eventually deadly flaw in play.

“This is going to be a good day,” he says out loud.

He was speaking only to himself, really, but Hannibal tips his eyes towards him and smiles his agreement, and that is reassuring.

“D came home last night, right?” Will asks.

“This morning. He’s out by his rocks, but he didn’t want to talk with me.”

“Angry?”

“No,” Hannibal says. “Just alone with himself inside of his own head.”

“I guess I know what’s weighing on him,” Will says.

He tells Hannibal what D told him the day before.

By the time the story is told he’s finished with the hearts, and he opens the oven and bends to squeeze them in between the three chickens that are already roasting there.

“The thing about it,” Will says slowly, wiping his hands on a dishrag as he works to put his feelings into words, “is that I’m not sure that they got bored with him or decided that he wasn’t worth the trouble or anything like that… I think maybe they realized that they weren’t equipped to take care of him - that they couldn’t keep him safe from other people in the long term - so they thought he’d be better off back in the wild. I keep turning it over, and the only thing that makes sense to me is that they thought they were doing the right thing, setting him free.”

He sighs and tosses the towel in with the dirty laundry. “I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to broach that idea with him though.” Will remembers the sound of the mirror shattering, D bleeding on the floor, sitting in stunned horror among the broken shards.

“I like him a lot,” Will says. “I care about him, and I hope he sticks around. I want to do anything I can to help him. But he’s full of broken glass, Hannibal, and if he isn’t handled right he’ll cut himself and us too.”

“Today is going to be a good day,” Hannibal reminds him.

“Yeah,” Will says, and to convince himself he repeats, “Yeah, it is.”

Will pushes his worries away forcefully - hard enough that when he gives Hannibal a smile his delight in his own cunning shows through with complete and unburdened sincerity.

“I got you all presents,” he says.   

Chapter Text

They all have a fine time at the birthday party.

Though the new mirror has been carefully turned against the wall, the idea of having the party inside felt to Will to be too fraught with negative associations for D, as well as unfeasible in terms of space. The scope of the feast that Will has arranged is such that every inch of the kitchen table, which has been brought outside for the occasion, is covered in serving dishes. The stuffed hearts are surrounded in their dish by pieces of roast chicken, while on their own platter the steaks still steam. There’s a smoked salmon too, that Will picked up in town, longer from front to rear fin than Alexander is tall, and an arrangement of summer sausage and liverwurst with deviled duck eggs.

The five of them sit in the grass or on logs in the dooryard, plates heaped with food clutched in one hand or balanced on knees. Will doesn’t have the same appetite as the others, but he clears his plate twice and picks at a third helping, pleased as anything to watch the rest of them enjoying the meal. The twins rotate in and out of his lap, drowsy and happy and full, and he lets them nibble at tidbits from his plate.

D is more standoffish than Will might have expected, but he thinks Hannibal had the right of it - D isn’t angry about anything, just lost in his own thoughts. It hasn’t seemed to hurt his appetite, at least.

hen Will gets up to retrieve the cake from inside the house and lights two candles - one for each boy - D moves in curiously to watch, too, though he hangs back from the family.

The twins are delighted by the colors of the icing and its potential smearability, but that interest is purely artistic. They are more focused on painting themselves and each other and the hammock tree with it, and by the time Will takes the plates away from them and carries the pair down to the water to get washed up, any cake that they have actually ingested is incidental.
Will knew when he bought the cake that it was a conceit - for his own benefit, more a reflection of the birthdays that he used to wish for when he was a child than anything that the boys would know to expect, but he’s happy that he got it. It is a straightforward indicator, when he is anxious about his own abilities as a parent and about so much else in regards to the twins, that he is doing better by them than his own father did for him.

He drops the newly-cleaned and considerably less sticky set of twins in Hannibal’s lap and goes to cut himself a piece of cake, and is surprised when D comes up beside him, hovering nearby with hopeful expectancy.

“You want some of this?” Will asks him, and turns his gaze away from the task of cutting the cake to catch D’s answer.

D nods.

“Have you had cake before?”

D hesitates, then he says, “No. But I think I had something that smelled like it once.”

The memory that D is drawing on is one of having been given a cookie, but he does not know that word and cannot, therefore, communicate it to Will.

“You can have some, sure,” Will says, turning back to the cake to cut a second piece, “but I don’t know if you’ll like it.”

Will hands D the piece of cake on a small plate, and then picks up his own plate and carries it back to sit down again beside Hannibal. The twins are busy using him like a jungle gym, a fate that Hannibal bears stoically, but when Will sits down they climb onto him instead, trying to scale his shoulders.

“Cut it out,” Will says, juggling the plate to keep it from being knocked out of his hands. One of them - Will doesn't see who - grabs a handful of his hair to aid him in the task of climbing, and Will sucks air in between his teeth in response to the pain, then he gets a little angry.

“Get off of me,” he says, pitching his voice low, and they do bolt away, though not really from any sense of menace or fear of punishment - all Will has really done is convince Alexander that it’s time to play chase instead of climb, and when he springs down from Will’s shoulders and bolts away Cyrus tries to follow him. He’s not as well coordinated as his twin, though, and he scratches the side of Will’s neck as he’s jumping down.

Will winces again and raises a hand to the scratch as he watches the twins run loops around D, who pulls his limbs in tight and huddles over his piece of cake as though to shelter it from destruction.

Alexander changes direction suddenly, chasing instead of being chased now, and Cyrus bolts under the table and on toddling legs runs pell-mell through the dooryard until he comes to the hammock. He throws himself up at it, trying to climb up into it, but is only able to snag onto the woven ropes with his claws.

He’s dangling, webbed-toes kicking at the empty air, when Alexander overtakes him a few seconds later, and he catches Cyrus around the waist and heaves him up so he can roll into the hammock, then Alexander climbs in after Cyrus. They jostle in the hammock, making it sway wildly.

“You’d think they ate a whole pound of sugar instead of half a bite of cake,” Will grumbles, knowing that it isn’t the sweets that made them hyper. They are just like this - wild. Sometimes it seems like they are getting wilder by the day, and Will wonders if that’s okay or not - if that means they are just getting more confident, or if he is failing them in some way.

Maybe it’s just their nature, he thinks, bringing his hand away from his neck. There’s a smear of blood on his hand, but just a few drops. Nothing serious - he has dozens of small scars from similar scratches by now, and anyway the boys are already winding down again, snuggling together in the swaying hammock.

He wipes his hand against the side of his jeans, and tries to turn his attention back to the cake, but now Hannibal is leaning in close to him, sniffing at the new cut and waiting for his taste of cake.

Hannibal takes the small bite from the end of Will’s fork almost daintily. Will watches him roll the cake over his tongue, considering it almost analytically.

“Not to your taste?” Will asks.

Hannibal looks back at him without answering, his expression carefully neutral, and maybe it is just pure exhaustion but maybe it is the overwhelming sense of wonderment at what his life has become, but whatever the cause Will feels the laughter welling up in himself but can do nothing to stop it.

He laughs and he laughs, helplessly, so hard that he has to put the dessert down to keep it from jiggling out of his hand, so hard that Cyrus rolls over in the hammock and opens his eyes to watch Will with indulgent and uncomplicated affection, and that makes Will laugh all the more, though there’s a lump in his throat, too, threatening to roll over into overwhelmed tears.

“I love you guys,” Will says, nearly choking on the enormity of emotion behind the words, and now his eyes are dripping, though the laughter still keeps bubbling back up. “I’m so damned grateful to have you all - to be a part of this - I can’t start to even know how to say how much -”

He doesn’t know how to finish, and couldn’t even if he had the words. He’s crying in earnest now, and they are happy tears, yes, but they overwhelm him, jostling him almost as hard as the laughter did.

Alarmed, D thrusts his own piece of cake out to Will as though it is an offering to appease whatever spirit has seized Will, and that sets the laughter going again.

It takes Will a few minutes to get himself under control. He waves off the cake that D is still holding out to him, and takes a deep breath. Hannibal’s hand settles on the small of Will’s back, steadying him.

“I don’t know what that was about,” Will says, already feeling sheepish. "Tired, I guess.

"And I guess I just love you all a lot.” He stresses the you all part, wanting D to know that he is included in the statement, but can’t bring himself to look him in the eyes as he says it. He cannot begin to imagine what D’s face is doing, and is afraid to look for fear that the guilt will catch him by the throat and leaving him crying ugly instead of for joy.

Will slips out from under Hannibal’s touch.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” he says, taking the first few steps down the trail backwards as he explains. “Wait here - I’ve got to go get something.”

Will turns around and starts up the trail toward the lighthouse.

Chapter Text

When Will comes out of the lighthouse he sees D waiting for him at the bottom of the steps.

It doesn’t give Will the scare that it would have, even a month ago, but it’s still a surprise to see him there.

“Was the cake alright?” Will asks.

He got to worrying, as he was walking out here to retrieve the gifts, if it had been a mistake to give D the cake. It seemed like he really wanted it, but Will isn’t sure where the line between what D actually wants for himself and what he wants to do because he thinks it will make Will happy is drawn. Will hopes the big guy hasn’t given himself a bellyache for the sake of pleasing him.

But D has something other than desserts on his mind. Apropos of nothing, he lifts his hands and informs Will, “Hannibal’s belly wants for you to put babies into it.”

Will feels his cheeks redden. The embarrassment is easier to handle through the filter of his teacher role, so he sits the box down on the steps to free his hands, and speaking out loud and signing at the same time, he says, “You mean ‘to be made pregnant.”

“I wasn’t sure if you could tell.”

“I’m very aware,” Will says, rather stiffly. D’s intentions, Will can tell, are obviously good - he thinks that he’s being helpful - but it’s hard for Will to shake the layers of shame that the topic provokes. “How do you know that, though?”

D touches the side of his nose with the tip of the claw on his index finger.

“You can smell it?” Will asks, and D nods.

“Yeah, well,” Will goes on, “Hannibal’s body might want one thing, but his head has decided that we aren’t going to have anymore kids right now.”

“Why?”

“It isn’t safe, for about four different reasons,” Will tells him, and when D lifts his hands to press further Will shakes his head. “I’ll tell you some other time - it’s something that’ll take a lot of explaining.”

Will picks the crate up again, but D taps him on the forearm for attention before Will has even straightened, and says, “I’ll carry it.”

The crate isn’t heavy, but the big guy likes to feel useful, so Will lets him have it.

 

D sits the crate down where Will instructs, and when the twins wander over to see what they have, Will crouches down to their eye-level.

It occurs to Will that D hunkers down in exactly the same way when he wants to talk eye to eye with Will, and there’s an odd humor in that for him, nearly enough to get him laughing again.

The twins know what presents are - they get them often enough that they ought to - but they haven’t seen wrapped gifts before, and he tears back a corner on one of the packages and tells them, “See? There’s something nice in there for you, but you have to take the paper off to find out what.”

When Will puts the gifts into the twins hands, the carnage is immediate; shredding the wrapping paper is fun in of itself, and they are both so caught up in the frenzy of tearing it to pieces that at first they hardly seem to notice the teddy bears.

Then Alexander crows and snatches his bear up to show Cyrus, and, his own toy clutched in one fist, Cyrus makes a grab for his brother’s toy. He catches it by the leg and there is a brief tug of war, then Alexander yanks it from his grasp and the two of them are up and running again.

The teddy bears will be drowned and shredded within a week, Will knows from past experience with the ragdolls, but they’ll get a lot of love and attention between now and then.

They love rough, all of them. Hannibal can check his violent impulses out of consideration for Will’s relative fragility, and D can cage himself in with a nearly paranoid caution against accidentally harming the others with his size, but at their core they all love with the same fearsome intent.  

Picking out D’s present had been nearly impossible; Will wandered from shop to shop for nearly an hour, trying to find something suitable, but it is so hard to say what D actually likes, other than - bafflingly - Will himself. Eventually, he ended up back at the bookstore, and now he is anxious about the present under the wrapping paper, worried that D won’t like it, or that he might take offense - or worse, feel hurt - and Will uses the pretext of handing Hannibal his own package to turn away from D as soon as the gift leaves his hands.    

Shopping for Hannibal, on the other hand, is the easiest thing in the world.

He likes beautiful things. Rings and necklaces and bracelets and especially ornaments that he can wear in his hair, and he makes no distinction between cut-glass costume jewelry and real gemstones as long as they shine . He likes picture books, too, magazines and postcards, and he likes being given the tools to make his own art. Will has gambled on something a bit different this time, though, and he’s a little worried about it.

Hannibal keeps him anxious, lingering over the geometric patterns on the wrapping paper, tracing the golden lines with the pad of his finger. He worries the gift wrap free carefully, unwrapping it without tearing, intent on keeping the beautiful paper nice, but when Hannibal sees the cream-colored silk scarf Will knows that he made the right choice when he picked it out.

Eyes widening as he unfurls it, Hannibal loops it around his arm, delighting in the way it looks against the backdrop of his own skin. He’s careful to keep the ends from trailing in the sand.  

“Can I?” Will asks, and Hannibal unwraps the scarf and hands it back to Will almost reverently.

Will tugs at his wrist to get him to bend down, and then he wraps the scarf around Hannibal’s neck, letting the ends dang down his chest jauntily.

“There,” Will says, and backs up a step to drink it in. The scarf looks good on Hannibal. It gives him a debonair kind of air, and when he smiles down at Will, his eyes scrunching shut with pleasure, the scarf somehow seems to soften the lines of his face. “You’re so handsome.”

“I want to see in the mirror. Come inside with me,” Hannibal says, and reaches out to tug at Will’s arm.

“Alright,” Will agrees. “Let me get the boys.”

“They can stay outside,” Hannibal tells him. “D’s here to watch them.”

Will has never left the twins alone with the big guy before. He knows that D isn’t a threat to them, but ceeding the responsibility for their safety to someone other than himself or Hannibal, even if it’s only for a few minutes, worries him.

“You’ll watch them?” Will asks. “Just for a little while?”

If D feels imposed upon by the request, he doesn’t show it. He nods.

“Don’t let Cyrus go down by the shore. He can’t breath under water,” Will says, fully aware that he is telling D things that he has already been told at least half a dozen times.

“I know,” D says. “I won’t.”

Hannibal tugs at Will again, not forcefully but insistent, and this time Will lets himself be lead.

He goes into the house with Hannibal so he can look at Hannibal looking at himself in the mirror, admiring the scarf and how he looks in it. When he’s had his full, at least for the time being, he turns away from the mirror and pulls Will close.

I’ve got another present for you for later,” Will says, thinking about the wooden cock he finished sanding and oiling just a few nights ago. “I’d say it’s a surprise, but I bet you’ve been snooping in my dresser drawer again, huh?”

Hannibal turns Will so he is facing the mirror, then he leans in against Will’s back, curling his long arms around him and resting his head on Will’s shoulder. He sways from side to side slightly, and safe in his embrace Will feels as though they are at sea together, the gentle motion of the ocean rocking them.

He reads Hannibal’s signs in the mirror.

“Tomorrow I am going to want your attention all day,” Hannibal tells him. “And the day after that. And the day after that.”

“Gonna ride me until I die in the saddle,” Will says, but not unhappily. Hannibal has gotten better, at least, about letting Will sleep; Will doesn’t think he fully understands what sleep is or why Will has such a need for it, but he understands it at least as something Will requires for his happiness.

“All mine.”

Will turns his nose up towards Hannibal and sniffs, but whatever change to Hannibal’s scent D detected is imperceivable to him.

 

Chapter Text

The conversation, when Will and Hannibal at last have it, is not a difficult one.

The two of them sit together in the hammock, side by side, Hannibal’s toes buried in the sand while Will’s feet dangle in the open air. The sun is warm on their backs.

Things have been building towards this for a long time - ever since, Will supposes, D approached him that first time, the shell hidden shyly in his fist.

Will knew what it meant, when he brushed the blood-stained sand away to find the shell where D dropped it, and it scared him. It doesn’t scare him now - not much, anyway.

“How would this have played out, in the normal course of things?”

Hannibal pauses, contemplative in the way that he usually is when he stops to draw upon his well of instinctual knowledge and drives. “I think that in the normal course of things, if an unpartnered individual found us, it would have been natural for us to give him children. He would have stayed near us until he was ready to be made pregnant, and one of us would have seen to it, and he would have gone on his way.”

“I knocked things out of whack when I beat him up, I guess.”

“Maybe,” Hannibal allows. “But D isn’t exactly normal himself. He’s so shy. It’s hard to know what he expects.”

D doesn’t impose, doesn’t demand or assume - hasn’t even asked, outright - but twice over the last two months he’s experienced the same three-day period of neediness that Will has by now grown familiar with in Hannibal. He does not seek to be touched during those days, or even to be acknowledged - does not seem to dare to want that much - but he stays nearby.
He lingers around Will more often than he does Hannibal.

His presence is not threatening. Mostly, Will feels bad for him.

It’s awful being the odd man out, and Will cannot, despite his trust in Hannibal’s commitment to him, quite convince himself that there hasn’t been some mix up - that it isn’t him, rather than the big guy, who ought to be on the outside looking in.

Will say, “Humans don’t do things that way - or anyway, they aren’t supposed to.” The word sinful is on the tip of his tongue, burned into him despite how far he’s strayed from the path that was expected of him, but he has no intention of introducing any of the others to concepts like sin or damnation or divine retribution. It’s bad enough, the way that D has seemed to latch onto the dichotomy of good versus bad , though Will never introduced him to the concepts - not deliberately, at least - and how often D lumps himself into the latter category.

Trying to keep things simple, Will says, “Having sex with someone other than the one person you are with is not considered normal.”

And neither is having sex with other men, Will thinks, never mind shark creatures, but he doesn’t get into any of that. Now is not the time, and somethings are too difficult and painful to try to explain.

Not normal is, at least for Hannibal, a neutral concept. He understands that neither himself nor Will are normal for their respective species, and if anything takes pride in the fact.

“Of course they wouldn’t need to,” Hannibal says. “There’s so many humans. Finding one’s own person is easy.”

“You’d be surprised how hard it can be to find the right one,” Will says. He is thinking about how difficult and dangerous it was to find other men who shared his proclivities; how, even as fucked up as things could get with Matthew, just having someone felt like a miracle.   

Hannibal leans his head back and watches the clouds as he signs. “It used to be that every time you left the island, I worried that you wouldn’t come back to me again.”

Will turns his head, smiles at him sadly. “How’d you get a fool idea like that?”

“There’s so many humans,” Hannibal repeats. “I used to think that you’d be sure to meet one that suited you better than I could. You had your choice of all of them, but you were the only one made for me.”

It seems wrongheaded to attempt to dissuade Hannibal from his perception of Will as a desirable bachelor. “I’m not going anywhere,” Will assures him instead. “You’re stuck with me.”

Hannibal leans in against Will contentedly, and the hinge of those powerful jaws resting on his shoulder is all the reassurance that Will needs to go on.

“If we offered, and he took us up on it,” he tells Hannibal, “it would have to be you.”

“I think he’d rather you do it.”

“I guess so,” says Will, who is acutely aware of this fact. “But I can’t. It’s too big a risk.”

He hasn’t shaken the memory of watching Hannibal labor in baffled, exhausted desperation to birth a set of twins that were nearly too big for his body. There’s nothing he wants less than to inflict the same struggle on D, when he’s already caused the big guy so much pain.

“I know,” Hannibal says in agreement. Then he goes on, “I like D very much. I’d be happy to allow him to carry my babies.”

He pauses, consulting instinct again and parsing it into words for Will’s benefit. “It feels like the correct thing to do, in this situation.”

“But you won’t let him make you pregnant,” Will says, and he is not entirely sure himself if it is a question or a condition.

“No,” Hannibal says, and now Will thinks that it is Hannibal speaking as Hannibal, rather than simply voicing the instructions his instincts give him. “I’ll only ever have your children, Will.”

Will wonders if he ought to argue, if in accepting Hannibal’s words he is being hideously selfish; if the creatures are as rare as everything seems to indicate, what might it mean for Hannibal to refuse the chance to have more children - normal children, children that won’t endanger his health? But it is not in him to object.  

Instead, Will says, “I know all of this has been on his mind, he just doesn’t know how to bring it up.”

“Worried about making you angry,” Hannibal agrees. “Still afraid he’ll be sent away if he missteps.”

Will worries his lower lip between his teeth. “I’ll find a way to start the conversation without upsetting him,” he says.

Chapter Text

Will brings the Tiger with him when he comes down to the beach to see D.

D himself has just been thinking about going to look for Will, or failing that Hannibal.

It’s happening again, that acute lonesomeness closing in on him with the same suffocating feeling that comes with trying to breathe in silt choked water, a desperate need for closeness. There’s a component of sex to it - of wanting sex, something he understands fairly clearly through the instructions provided by instinct - but that is only part of it. It is a need to be touched and comforted and loved, to not be alone.

It is worse, now that he has spent so much time around Will and Hannibal, than it has ever been in the past. He thinks maybe the presence of other fertile adults has in some way triggered it.  

Having company helps, a little. Just being around Will and Hannibal makes it a little better, but he’s careful not to ask for anything more than is given to him. Scavenger fish can travel with the big hunters, snapping up the scraps that they drop, but if you try to steal the prey from between their teeth you’re breakfast.

In the days building up to this cycle, Reba has been on his mind a great deal, but even if he did not know that she won’t be waiting for him back on their strip of beach, he doesn't think that he would dare to go near her when he is like this.

D is afraid that she might try to touch him, and that he will want too badly to be touched to be able to force himself to shy away in time to avoid it, and if she she touches him she will understand that he is not human. He is sure that Reba will be frightened and disgusted by this knowledge, just like all the people he allowed to see him were, and she’ll run.

He wants to believe that he wouldn’t give chase - wants nothing less than to do her harm - but he never planned on killing the others, either. He can't trust himself.

Will is safer to be around, especially now, because Will is dangerous.  

D doesn't have to worry about hurting Will, because he is sure that Will could kill him, if he wanted to.

Instead, Will has decided to like him. That had been hard to believe, after the beating Will gave him, and harder to trust, but D knows now that it’s the truth. The Tiger cleared away the last of those doubts.

When Will started handing out gifts at the twins’ birthday party, D understood perfectly well that it didn’t mean the same thing that it would have meant, had one of his own kind offered some pretty thing to another. Will gave presents to the boys as well, after all, and if that wasn’t demonstration enough he’d also given Hannibal something, though the two of them are a well established pair.

It meant a great deal to D anyway. So much so that he’d been too anxious and shy to take the paper off his gift when Will gave it to him. He carried the wrapped present, which was about the size of his palm, around with him for hours, holding it very tightly but carefully, and only put it down on a clean rock when he had to go back into the water to wet his gills.

D was fairly confident that it was a book underneath the paper, and was waiting by the rock for his hands to finish drying off, so he wouldn’t damage it or the paper that covered it, when Will found him. He froze when Will picked the gift, and watched uneasily as he turned it over in his hands, worried that Will might take it back.

Will was nervous, too. He asked, “Did I do something wrong, giving you this?”

“No,” D said quickly, then repeated the sign three more times for emphasis.

Will held the gift back out to D, and D flicked the last droplets of water from his fingertips and took it from him, and then he did open it, his eyes darting up to check Will’s expression to make sure he was doing it right.

He’d been correcting in guessing that it was a book, but it’s of a different kind than any he’d seen before. There was an animal on the soft cover that looked something like the cats he’s sometimes seen down by the docks, but somehow D had the sense that this creature was much larger. It was striped in black and brilliant orange, crouched low on a forested trail, bright eyes staring unflinchingly back at D.

The cover picture made him think at first that it was a new reading and writing primer, though it was thicker and the pages were smaller than any he’d seen before, but when he opened the book there was no text on the pages, just more pictures of the cat creature, each one slightly different from the last.

“It’s a flip book,” Will explained. “You flip through the pages and the tiger moves. Let me show you, alright?”

D handed the book over, and Will moved closer to D, turning his own body so that his back was to him, and D crouched down to look over Will’s shoulder, watching intently as Will held the book’s spine in one hand and with the thumb of his other hand flipped quickly through the pages.

Before D’s eyes, the tiger came to life. The creature, all raw power and grace, strode down a forest path, coming to a stream where it bowed its head to drink. It seemed to hear something - to hear, D thought, his own gasp - and it lifted its head and stared right at him. It crouched, its muscles coiling to pounce, the tip of its tail twitching, and then sprung forward, leaping from the page.

Involuntarily, D took a step backwards.

Will turned to face him, worried.  

“You got that for me?” D asked, looking not at Will but the flip book, hanging limp in his hand.  

“Yeah,” Will said. “Guess it kinda reminded me of you.” D lifted his head sharply to look at Will, disbelieving, and wounded by his own disbelief.

Will searched D’s face. He asked, “Is it okay?”

“Can you make it move again?” he asked Will, wondering if the Tiger was still there on the pages or if it had leapt free of the book.

“Sure,” Will said, with more confidence than before.

When he opened the book again the Tiger had returned to where it was at the start, and it moved toward him again boldly, the carriage of its heavy head haunty, thick muscles flexing beneath its pelt.

It was a beautiful and proud creature, at home in its own body, confident in its strength and ability.

  Do I really look like that to him? D wondered. The idea was astonishing.

More than he could really wrap his head around - even now, he can barely believe it.

D’s own hands were too big to work the flip book correctly, and his claws got in the way. He handed the book back to Will, somewhat relieved not to have to be responsible for such a wonderful and fragile thing.

Will took it, but he looked ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry,” he said, wincing. “I didn’t think of that…”

D hunted for the right thing to say to make Will feel better, and settled on an answer that pleased himself, too. “It can live in the house with the other books, and you can take it out and show it to me sometimes.”

 

That’s what they do now.

Will drops down into the sand, flip book in hand, and motions for D to sit down beside him.

The big guy does so, but even with the lure of the flip book he is anxious about moving in closer than is welcomed, so Will scooches closer. When he leans to the side so D can see the flip book better as Will leafs through the pages, the side of his thigh presses against D’s, and there is a sharp intake of breath that makes Will’s finger stutter as he flips through the pages, distorting the tiger’s progress.

When he looks up at D, though, his face is relaxed to such a degree that his sharp features seem somehow softened. Even the angles of his teeth appear dulled.

Safe.

The only thing that worries Will about this conversation is the potential that he might make some misstep and end up hurting D.

“Again?” he asks, and D nods.

D watches, as transfixed as the first time he ever saw it, as Will flips through the book three more times. When he is satisfied, Will puts the book aside.  

There’s really no elegant way to jump into it.

“Hannibal told me,” Will begins, “that if a couple meets someone new who isn’t married to anyone else, it’s normal for that couple to help that person to have children.”

He pauses, waiting to see if D will say anything, but D is as still as a deer caught in the headlights.

Will says, “Is that something you’ve been hoping for?”

D’s nod is almost imperceivable. His eyes dart to Will’s face, checking quickly for danger, but then they fall at the same time that he lifts his hands.

“But I’ll have to go away once I’m pregnant.”

Will thinks that it's a question, but D did not tag a question mark on the end of the series of signs.

“No,” he says. “No, you won’t. You won’t have to leave.”

“That’s the normal way.”

“Fuck normal then,” Will says, more vehemently than he means to. D flinches like he thinks the anger is directed at him.

“There’s not a damn thing about this entire set up that’s normal,” Will says, trying to force some humor into his voice so that D will be able to relax. “So what? As long as things are working alright for all of us, who cares about normal?”

D is not convinced. He’s like a kicked dog, not daring to make eye contact in case it provokes more of the same.

When Will touches his forearm at least he doesn’t shy away. Will waits, patiently, ignoring the butterflies in his own stomach, until D lifts his eyes. “You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to,” Will tells him.

D’s spine straightens a little, as fifty pound weights seem to roll off his shoulders. “I don’t want to leave,” he tells Will, with something like daring.

“Good,” Will says. “I don’t want that either.”

For a long time, D is still. Then he asks, “Can I see the tiger again, please?”

“Alright,” Will says, and takes up the flip book again.

Will doesn’t really understand it, but somehow the flip book bolsters D’s confidence. He lifts his hands and begins, “You could -”

Will has been expecting this, and he cuts D off with a sad shake of his head. “No,” he says. “That’s not safe, for a lot of different reasons.

“You were there when he had the twins. Even from a distance, you must have seen how bad it was… How much blood there was.” He brushes the hair out of his eyes and looks up at D. “I thought I’d killed him. I thought all three of them were going to die because of me.”

Will checks himself before the tightness in his chest takes him off course. “Hannibal’s willing,” he tells D. “That’s what’s on the table. He’ll help you with it, if you want him to.”

Will watches D, worried by the undercurrent of fear that is coming off of him. He does not want the big guy to feel in any way pressured.

“I want to,” D says.

“But?” Will prompts.

D’s eyes shift to Will’s shoulder, where underneath his shirt there is a network of scars and healing teeth marks. “He bites.”

Will frowns, trying to follow that. “The two of you bite each other all the time.” From where he sits, Will could count a dozen different scars that Hannibal gave D, and D has added nearly as many to Hannibal’s already considerable collection.

Biting, Will has up to this point been sure, is just something that the creatures do.

“Biting that's not meant for killing is for play fights,” D begins. “And for flirting, before sex. It’s not normal to bite during, when the other person can’t fight back. If he bit me while I was on my back, I think I would be afraid of dying.”

There is a part of Will that responds to this new information with rueful, slightly annoyed delight. Learning that the biting is not part of their species natural sexual repertoire, but rather reflective of Hannibal’s own unique expressions of desire is hilarious to him, and somehow touching. Will feels an odd flavor of pride, too, knowing that he can handle - even enjoy - aspects of Hannibal’s personality that frighten even as ostensibly dangerous a creature as D.

But all of that is overshadowed by the knowledge that he is guilty of hurting D when he wasn’t able to defend himself. Will remembers, in fractured pieces, the way that D rolled over and exposed his throat when Will was trying to kill him, how long it had taken him to understand that wouldn’t stop what was happening to him, the number of blows that had fallen in the meantime.

It blends with the memory of Matthew dry fucking him, not seeing to notice or care how badly it hurt Will and how much Will did not want to be hurt in that way, and that makes his stomach turn over.

It makes him more intent than ever to make certain that all of this goes well for D.

He says, “You don’t need to worry about that. Hannibal won’t bite you unless you tell him that he’s allowed to.”

This promise brings a new, surprising feeling; a sense of possessive jealousy in regards to the biting, an unwillingness that Hannibal should, under any circumstances, mark anyone else the way that he has marked Will.

“I’ll tell him that no biting is allowed,” Will says, to reassure them both. “I’ll make sure he understands that before things even get started.

“And,” Will goes on, thinking of ways to compensate for the fact that he can’t do this for D himself. “I can stay close the entire time, too, if that’s something you want.”

He curls his hand around the edge of D’s palm. It’s as huge as the rest of him, that hand, heavy when Will lifts it. The claws alone are each as long as Will’s ring finger. “Like this, see?”

D doesn’t answer right away - he doesn’t want Will to have to let go of his hand. Finally, he asks, “And after - can you stay with me for a while after?”

“Of course,” Will promises.

“I think,” D says, consulting some internal gage, “by tomorrow morning it will be the right time for it.”

Chapter Text

Will puts the twins down for their nap, and when he is sure that they’re sound asleep he slips away from the cottage.

Hannibal and D are waiting for him on the beach. Coming down the trail, Will can see that something is happening between the pair.

Hannibal circles D, a slow stalk that is more speculative than predatory, though as in everything Hannibal does it is impossible to forget, now or ever, that he is fundamentally a hunter.

He pauses behind D, catching his forearm from behind and leaning up to breathe him in at the nape of his neck, and even from the distance Will can see the unfiltered physicality of it as D leans back into him.

There are, Will knows, things that D and Hannibal understand about each other that Will cannot even perceive, let alone comprehend.

Some other scent catches Hannibal’s attention, and his eyes turn to meet Will’s. D notices his presence a heartbeat later.

D takes a step toward Will but then he hesitates, drawing to a halt, but Hannibal goes further, circling past D, and Will can see the warmth in Hannibal’s welcoming smile as he strides forward to meet him on the trail.

Will motions Hannibal close and then takes him by the hand, maneuvering them into a position to block D’s line of sight with his own back, so he won’t be able to see Hannibal’s signs.   

“You’ll be gentle with him, yeah? Like we talked about?”

“I know how to do it,” Hannibal tells him. “Don’t worry.”

When they return to D, standing by the edge of the water, Will sidles up to him. “Alright?” he asks.

D offers him a shy smile, then he ducks his head. The pale portions of his splotchy grey and white face are flushed a deep pink.

“D,” Will says, feeling his own face growing warm in sympathy, “you’re blushing !”

The color darkens as D huffs with silent laughter. No louder than D, Will breathes a sigh of relief.

“Now?” D signs to Hannibal, and Hannibal lifts his chin in agreement and points toward the water.

The two of them have already worked out exactly how this is going to go. Will wonders if they even needed to discuss anything, beyond Will’s own role in it. To what extent is instinct running the show?

When Hannibal and D wade out into the water, Will strips down to his boxers quickly and splashes in after them. They come to a halt in water that is about two feet deep. Later, Will learns that in the normal course of things they might have done this in deeper waters, but for the sake of Will’s participation the proceedings they have remained in the shallows.  

He watches as D reclines anxiously onto his back and Hannibal lowers himself over him. It stirs up the sand on the ocean floor, clouding the water with silt, and through the cloudy water D’s fingers surface, reaching away from Hannibal and out toward Will. Beads of water gleam on his dark, hooked claws.

Will takes D’s hand, as he promised, and holding onto it he settles himself down cross-legged in the shallow water. If he reached out with his free hand, Will could touch either of their bodies, and he thinks briefly of the ways in which he could interject himself further into this exchange; if he tried to kiss D, if he reached to draw out Hannibal’s cocks and helped him to get hard, Will does not think that he would necessarily be unwelcomed.

Instead, as the waves nip against his chest, he folds his free hand around D’s palm as well, sandwiching his hand between both of Will’s own. He squeezes.

It is so peaceful, while it’s happening, and over with so quickly.

There’s a bit of maneuvering, as Hannibal sits back on his knees and feels his way down D’s belly, careful with his claws, to find the slit and guide the twin cocks free. They aren’t as big as Will might have expected, given the overall size of him - just a little bigger than Hannibal’s own - and they’re soft, bobbing gently in the water. That’s normal, Will knows by now; they don’t get hard while they are ovulating, and Will’s one short effort to jerk Hannibal off while he was in that state demonstrated that he found the attempt entirely unpleasant.

Hannibal draws himself out next, working himself over with his own hand, and it doesn’t take him long to get himself where he needs to be. Will can see D’s free hand lying laxed in the sand, fingers spread open like a starfish.    

Hannibal is almost completely still after he enters D, braced with his hands over D’s shoulders. D himself seems nearly in a trace, as Hannibal often does when Will has him on his back. When D turns his head to look at Will, his smile is relaxed and boozy, like a young man out drinking for the first time, three shots in and sliding into the untroubled merriment of slight drunkness.

There’s a warm feeling in Will’s belly when he smiles back, a certainty that he has been generous and kind in this, that for a change his efforts to do good are going off without a hitch.

Will’s eyes dart to Hannibal, checking to make sure that he is okay, too. He doesn’t have the same blissed out look as D, nor does Will see the same fierce pleasure that is there when Hannibal is fucking him. He looks focused, like a man doing a serious piece of work, quietly pleased by his own ability to do it well.

Were Will not so intimately acquainted with Hannibal, he might not have even been aware of when Hannibal comes, it happens with so little fanfare. D’s eyes close, but the contented expression on his face doesn’t change.

All of it seems so natural and simple, and Will is embarrassed to think of what he must look like in comparison when he fucks Hannibal, a strange little creature rutting into something so beautiful.

When Hannibal stands, D doesn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry to move. His hooded eyes slide from Hannibal to Will. Will would call the expression drowsy, except that the creatures don’t sleep.

Will squeezes his hand reassuringly, then looks up at Hannibal. “He asked me to stay with him for a while afterwards. That alright with you?”

“Just fine,” Hannibal agrees. “But I want you when he’s done with you.”

“You’ll get me,” he promises.

Will would like to go to Hannibal now - he has a itch that needs scratching of his own - but a promise is a promise, and he doesn’t really resent sitting with D as Hannibal makes his way back up to the cottage to check on their boys.  

“Come here,” Will says, tugging on D’s arm. When D turns his head to look at Will, Will pats his own leg with a hand. Hannibal, Will knows from long experience, loves sprawling across his lap, and D has seen him do so enough times to understand what Will is getting at.

Surprise spreads across his features, nonetheless. He slips his hand free from Will’s and, his movements slowed by the resistance of the water, signs, “I’m too heavy, I’ll hurt you.”

“Nah,” Will says, “it’s alright.”

Despite this reassurance, D moves with utmost caution. He doesn’t really dare to lay his head in Will’s lap. Instead, he sort of holds it, the back of his head half an inch above Will’s folded legs, not really putting any weight on Will.

It doesn’t strike Will as a comfortable position, even with the water to support him, but he doesn’t press further. He runs his fingers through D’s short hair, and watches the soft, calm way that D looks up at him from under the water.

The best thing he’s done in his life, Will knows, is to be worthy of the love of shark people, and he sees love in D’s big dark eyes now, as unambiguous as the love he finds in Hannibal’s eyes, in the eyes of their children, unpolluted by fear or pain. The only goal Will has in his life, right then, is to find a way to truly deserve the love they all have for him.

“Alright?” he asks.

D lifts his chin up, baring his neck in a vulnerable arc, and there is no reason in the world that Will can think of to refrain from leaning forward into the water to bring his mouth against D’s throat - not to bite, but to place a chaste kiss there.

Lifting his hands again, D signs, “All of this was an even better gift than the Tiger.”

 

_________

I've posted this art by Jove before, but let's have it again - 

Chapter Text

Much sooner than Will might have expected, D becomes restless.

He’s apologetic for that restlessness, as though he feels like he has shorted Will on their side of the deal - and maybe he has, because something turns over unhappily in Will’s chest when D pulls away and stands. Following his lead, Will gets up from the water, too.

“I need to go,” D says.

“Go?” Will repeats, alarmed by the possibility that D might have decided to leave after all, and so soon.

D puts his hands up in a gesture that Will is embarrassed to recognize as his own, trying to reassure him. “Just for a little while,” he signs quickly. Then he pauses, stymied by the lack of the right words to express exactly what it is he’s feel. “I need to be alone inside my own head for right now.”

Will guesses that he understands that well enough, on a personal level. And Hannibal had needed some time alone after their first time, too. “Alright,” he says. “I’ll be seeing you then.”

D nods. He turns, wading into deeper water, and then he leans forward and disappears into the waves, only his dorsal fin cutting a line through the foam.

When Will turns back to the island, he sees Hannibal waiting for him on the shore.

He’s sitting at the edge of the water, long legs crossed in front of him, just watching. The tip of his tail twitches slowly, like that of a curious cat.

Will goes to him. He crawls into Hannibal’s lap, allowing himself to be enfolded in Hannibal’s arms, and presses his tattered ear against Hannibal’s chest to listen to the steady beat of his heart.

“You feeling good about all of this still?”

Will turns his body so his back is against Hannibal’s chest. In this position, safely enclosed in Hannibal’s arms, he can read Hannibal’s signs in front of him as though he were watching his own hands move.

The waves lap at their legs. When Will stretches his legs out, the tips of his toes barely come to Hannibal’s ankles.

“It’s like art,” Hannibal says. “Or like making words into sentences. There’s joy in creation.”

The sense of inadequacy that descended on Will right before their first time, when Hannibal was weighing the knowledge that Will didn’t have the right equipment to bear children, is back again, if muted; there will be no more creation in their own love making for a long time still, maybe never again.

As though he can read Will’s mind, Hannibal signs, “There’s joy in pleasure for pleasure’s sake, too, Will,” and his piece said Hannibal’s hands move down to reach inside Will’s boxers, freeing him. He’s already three quarters of the way hard; has been for some time now.

When Hannibal hands goes to work on him, Will tries to mimic the same peaceful demeanor that Hannibal and D shared, to come quietly, but Hannibal has had plenty of experience with this by now, and knows perfectly well how to get Will going. He teases Will with soft strokes and the gentle brush of his claws, and his teeth graze the skin over Will’s shoulders as he lays down a row of kissing, and in an embarrassingly short amount of time Hannibal has Will crying out and fucking hard up into his hand.

Hannibal brings his hand to his mouth, and with a thoughtful expression laps at his fingers until they are clean. He smiles with his teeth, and signs, “I love what your body does for me, Will. You are so much fun.”

Will wets his lips. “That was so simple and peaceful. Is that the way it’s supposed to be?”

“That’s the normal way, yes,” Hannibal signs, and he means to say something else but Will cuts him off.

“I haven’t been… hurting you, somehow, when I fuck you?”

He knows that he hasn’t - Hannibal is shameless when it comes to sex, and has never failed to express his opinion about what he likes and doesn’t. He even expressed annoyance about the rubbers, when Will finally worked up the guts to try them a few weeks back, though he conceded that using them was the best option available to them. Hannibal would have told him a long time ago if he was doing something wrong, but Will needs the reassurance.

“Not at all,” Hannibal tells him. “Your penis is small,” he continues, and Will snorts derisively, but Hannibal goes on without pause, “and that makes the movement feel so comfortable and so nice, and it makes the fun last longer.” He frowns at Will, seriously, and says, “I’d be unhappy if you stopped doing it that way.”

It’s a comfort, hearing that. Will goes on, not insecure but rather curious. “But you were different with D than you were with me, even that first time.”

“In the beginning,” Hannibal says, “I guessed at what you might like by mimicking the way you were with me. More moment, trying to last longer. It took effort, but it’s a pleasure to learn new ways to make you feel happy.”

Will feels the smile grow on his lips - big and bright and silly - and he ducks his head to hide it, not so much embarrassed as bashful. Hannibal’s claws begin to card through his hair, ever so carefully, and a pleasant shudder runs through him.

“I think that it would hurt me,” Hannibal goes on, after a while, “if D tried to fuck me your way, and I know that he wouldn’t have liked it if I’d done things that way tonight. That would be too much for us.

“But you love it, even though I’m so much bigger than you. You’re such a tough little creature.”

It startles Will, the use of the word creature . Will has only ever used it in regards to the others, for lack of a better word for their species, and Hannibal has never before applied it to Will. It makes something warm bloom in Will’s chest, being counted among them despite all of his differences.

Hannibal doesn’t use words lightly or by mistake, Will knows perfectly well, but he goes on now as though he is aware of having said nothing of great significance. “That’s why I was so careful, especially the first time I topped you. You seemed to want the thrusting - to expect it - but you’re so small and you seemed so afraid, no matter how determined you were.”

Will remembers the fear. He’d been so afraid that Hannibal would be careless, or that he would lose track of what he was doing to Will as he sought his own pleasure, that through indifference or malice he would tear Will badly, or else maul him with teeth - that maybe Hannibal would hurt him so badly that he would die of it.

“Why were you so afraid?” Hannibal asks now.

“I was afraid you’d use me badly,” Will says, as honestly as he can. “There was no real reason to be afraid you would do that, except that other people have used me bad before.”  

Leaning back against Hannibal the way that he is, Will feels the wind go out of him. Hannibal’s hands come together to say something, but then they fall apart, dropping to the sand like birds wounded on the wing.

Will is suddenly acutely aware that he’s said more than he meant to, and he gets up in a hurry, afraid that Hannibal will ask for an explanation.

“Gotta go check on the twins,” Will says, and heads for the trail.

He hears Hannibal following him, but he doesn’t look back.

Chapter Text

The twins are awake and out of bed when Will and Hannibal return to the cottage.

They aren’t upset at having woken up in an empty house - for a while now, Will has been working on getting both them and himself used to their being alone for short blocks of time - but they’ve had enough time to get bored, and that means they’ve made a mess.

Somehow they managed to open Will’s trunk, and have taken out his winter clothing and the little treasures he’d hidden beneath the folded sweaters. The gifts, D’s stones and shells and Hannibal’s brighter trinkets have been organized in neat lines across the floor, the patterns interspersed by the small die-cast cars Will brought home during his last trip into town.

A lot of quick and clever work went into the project, and Will is more impressed than annoyed. However, it seems to have been abandoned before he and Hannibal arrived, in favor of a game of dress up.

The most of the winter clothing is crumpled in piles around the end of Will’s bed. The twins are wearing the rest of it - as best they can, anyway.

Cyrus has draped himself in a tattered red and black flannel that is twice as long as his entire body. It looks like a long, flowing robe on him, his tail making the train stick out as though he were wearing a bustle. Alexander has looped a heavy wool scarf around his neck, but the boy has added his own original flair to his ensemble as well, and has worked a thick sock all the way up his forearm and, having punched holes in the toe with his claws, is now wearing it like a baggy fingerless glove.

They look up at Will, unabashedly pleased with themselves, and Will can’t help but laugh.

He looks to Hannibal, sees the amusement dancing like sparks of light in his dark eyes, and Will says, “Alexander has your fashion sense. We’ll have to get some scarfs that are his size.”

Hannibal huffs silently in what passes for him as laughter, and runs the pad of his finger along Will’s wrist as he turns toward the corner of the cottage that serves as a kitchen, leaving Will to handle the twins as he gets lunch going.

Will worries, sometimes, that he is letting the boys run wild, that in his reluctance to discipline them - to hurt them, to do anything that might turn them against him - he is failing in some fundamental way as a father, but if he is bound to make mistakes he would rather over-correct from his own father’s brutality rather than repeat it.

They’d have no use for the kind of daddy I had anyways, he thinks now. They’d run off, and a lot sooner than Will himself did.

And anyway, he knows that they don’t really view him as a father - not very often anyway, not in the way that fully human children would. He’s more like an honorary third twin, one which just happens to be bigger and stronger and more experienced in the world, and who therefore can be looked to for protection and good ideas and - when they feel like it, anyway - guidance.

Will crouches down to their level and straightens the absurdly oversized flannel across Cyrus’ shoulders. “You ready to give clothes another try?” he asks.

Before the twins were born, Will bought or made everything that he could think to get for a pair of babies, and not just the things they might need starting out - anything he could imagine them needing in their first year of life, Will purchased or built in pairs, a kind of insurance that the children would be okay. That everything would go just fine, and they would stay.

Now, he goes out to the storage shed that stands behind the little cottage, and comes back with a child’s trunk balanced against his hip. Will sits down on the bed, the small trunk in his lap, and the boys climb up and stand on the mattress beside him. Cyrus leans against Will’s arm and watches curiously as Will flips the lid open.

He hadn’t, Will supposes, been entirely sure that the twins would be boys - or rather, that he would think about them as boys - before they were born, and some of the stuff in the trunk is more suited for little girls, at least by the standards of the day as Will understands them. The division between baby clothing for little boys and little girls has become wider than was the case when Will himself was little.

“Remember this?” Will says, only a little reproachfully, holding up a simple white cotton baby dress for Cyrus to see. The slim length of lace that line the collar has been torn nearly off, and there are rips and snags down the front of it and at the end of the sleeves.

“Bad,” Cyrus agrees, and Will knows perfectly well that he is referring to the dress itself and not the damage he’d done to it, back in the early days of his life.

Cyrus hadn’t been very mobile back then, though he was considerably more capable than a human newborn would have been, and he’d fought the cotton gown with every bit of strength he had in his tiny body.

It wasn’t just a matter of childish defiance. He’d fought clothing like he was fighting for his own life, biting and clawing at it as best as he could - and scratching at Will, too, even when he tried to acclimate Cyrus to it slowly, as he might have a horse to a harness.

Will still doesn’t understand fully what the problem was, but he thinks that perhaps the baby felt constricted within the gown, trapped and therefore vulnerable. The poor kid was already trying to cope with a body that, unlike his twin’s, refused to do what he wanted it to do, on top of everything else odd about the life he’d been born into, and the baby dress had been one bother too many.

Will gave up on it quickly, and when Alexander started coming around to him Will never tried to talk him into wearing clothing. He was too worried that it would upset him in the same way that it upset Cyrus, and that would scare Alexander off.

Also, Alexander was in and out of the water so often that it seemed a waste of energy, especially when he started sleeping in the house with Cyrus. Back then, Hannibal was far more lackadaisical about his own responsibilities toward their family than he has since become, and it was often left to Will to take Alexander down to the water to wet his gills every couple of hours, a production that cut into what little sleep Will was able to catch.  

But more fundamentally; as in Hannibal’s case, there is nothing about their bodies that invites shame. Will is the only one here on the island who has cause to cover himself for decency’s sake.

Now, though, the three of them have a good time rooting around in the trunk.

The twins could never have worn the baby shoes - their feet are too long and too wide at the splayed toes for them to fit - and Will is thinking that he ought to take them back to the city during his next trip and sell them, but Cyrus hits on the idea of wearing them over their hands instead.

The two of them both work their hands inside a set of shoes, and then they clash them together, and the leather knocking against leather makes a sound that delights them both, but when Cyrus tries to gnaw at one of the shoes Will takes them away, and to distract the boys from pouting about it Will digs into the trunk and takes out the baby bonnets.

The one he ties under Alexander’s chin is white, and Cyrus’ is a pale powdery pink. Cyrus blinks at Will as he adjusts the bonnet, mystified by whatever Will is doing, and Will bites back his own sense of hilarity as with an air of great seriousness he turns the mirror around to face them.  

Alexander yells, he’s so pleased by his reflection, and Cyrus yanks on his own bonnet, pulling it down over his eyes and then up again quickly. From there it is only a matter of seconds until they are both using the bonnets to play peek-a-boo with the mirror.

The hours just melt away, playing with the boys. Will makes mental notes about which types of clothing they are willing to wear, if only for the sake of playing dress-up, and plans on getting similar things in bigger sizes and in colors that compliment their complexions.

By the time “lunch” has been eaten and the twins are winding down to sleep again, the sun has started to get low in the sky. Will looks at his alarm clock and a desperately weary sense of frustration descends on him. It has been such a wonderful, eventual day, and now in exchange for the pleasure of spending time with his family he is going to have to pay out the nose.

“If I fall asleep in the next seven minutes,” he says, more speaking out loud to himself than to Hannibal, who has his back to him as he straightens up around the stove, “I’ll get two and a half hours sleep. That damned lighthouse is going to kill me.”

Will is already beyond the outer limits of exhaustion, and his head has no more hit the pillow then he is asleep.  

 

Leaning over Will to tuck the quilt in around him, Hannibal lets the palm of his hand rest on Will’s chest, feeling the rise and fall of his rib cage to reassure himself that his partner is still breathing. The sleeping will always be strange to Hannibal, but it evokes an extra layer of unease when Will is as worn down as he is now.

He circles around to the end of the bed, tidying up the mess that the twins made. Hannibal picks up the line of shells and stones, the carved bits of ivory and the the jewels and the other little treasures, separating D’s small and rather common contributions from his own much larger selection of offerings.

When he bends to return these to the trunk at the foot of the bed, Hannibal sees the photo again, dislodged from where Will secreted it away. He picks it up, studying the face of the stranger beside Will. He knows now that the stranger was named Matthew, and that he was with Will before Will was Hannibal’s own, but he no more knows how he ought to feel about the stranger than he did the first time he saw the photo.  

Often, he has found that Will’s feelings of guilt and grief are like a riptide, shocking in their power and unpredictability. Hannibal’s own sorrows are quieter. He looks out at the lighthouse, standing cold and still on the rise at the edge of the island, then he looks back at Will, paler than he ought to be, except for the black bags under his eyes, lying still like some half-dead thing.

Hannibal picks up the alarm clock from the bedside table, and does what he thinks now he ought to have done a long time ago.

He turns it off.

Chapter Text

It’s full dark when Will wakes up.

He’d been having a nightmare, and when he opens his eyes and sees nothing but thick shadows the terror that had already been blooming in his guts ignites, like someone has cut him open and jammed a hot coal the size of a cantaloupe inside there.

Will has never, in all his years on the island, woke to darkness. For perhaps five seconds that feel far longer than only five seconds Will has no earthly idea where he is, thinks maybe he is back in the asylum or even someplace worse, and the terror in his belly crawls up his throat and wrestles its way free, and the sound that comes out of his mouth bares only a passing resemblance to Hannibal’s name as utterly disorientated he swings his legs over the side of the bed and staggers to his feet.  

Standing, he knows where he is, despite the darkness. The curtains are drawn. It’s too dark to see the face of his alarm clock, and Will doesn’t waste time trying to make it out.

The walk to the door feels very long. He feels like a man walking to his own execution, but it isn’t his death that’s on his mind. He has time, during that short walk, to rehash in bright detail every aspect of the nightmare.

Time enough, too, for him to convince himself that the dream was prophetic; a ship has floundered on the rocks, and people are dead because of Will, and it will be his family who suffers for it when the authorities come looking for him.

In his mind’s eye, Will sees D, dead and stuffed like a trophy bear. His mounted jaws are open wide, as though to let out an impossible roar. He stands at his full height, no apologetic slope of the shoulders, and his clawed hands are raised to do violence, reduced to nothing more than a dangerous beast for all of perpetuity.

He sees Hannibal caged, poked and prodded by men in white jackets and jeering crowds, people who would refuse to acknowledge the degree of Hannibal’s intellect or his capacity for emotional nuance or his grasp of beauty, even if they could comprehend it. He sees his lover driven mad by boredom and abuse and the cold disregard of men whose eyes look just like Will’s own.  

And he sees the twins, laid open on vivisection tables.

I’ll kill myself, he thinks fiercely. I’ll kill anyone who had a hand in hurting them and then I’ll kill myself.

“Oh,” Will say, when he pushes the door open and turns his eyes towards the cliff to see the lighthouse lamp burning brightly, just as it should be. The sound is very small, and filled to the brim with awe. “Oh.”  

The panic flows out of him like air from a ruptured balloon, and in its wake Will finds it only slightly easier to breathe. There is a lump caught in the base of his throat. His eyes burn, threatening tears, as he heads up the trail towards the lighthouse.


Hannibal hears Will’s footsteps on the stairs, but he does not rise from where he is crouched down, examining the lamp flame. He’s put a lot of effort into tonight’s project, with uncertain rewards, and he wants Will to see how busy he has been.

He hears Will’s footsteps stop in the doorway, then the clatter of Alexander’s claws on the floor as he runs to Will, eager to tell tales. Slyly, Hannibal watches Alexander signing out of the corner of his eye.

“Hannibal needs to go to the water,” he informs Will.

“I can tell,” Will says. “He’s wheezing. You don’t look like you’ve gone too long without it, though. Did you go by yourself?”

“D came and took me.”

Will moves closer to Hannibal, but the other twin blocks his way, eager for his share of attention. Cyrus, who at his full growth will dwarf D by nearly a foot, adds with delighted good humor, “D’s too big to fit up the stairs.”

“Flip that around and look at it the other way,” Will tells him. “Maybe it’s the stairwell that was built too narrow for him.”

Will hunkers down beside Hannibal, puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Guess you’d better go on down and get your breath, yeah?”

Hannibal feels profoundly lightheaded, and the dry rustle of his gills has gone from uncomfortable to acutely painful, but he doesn’t close the small door behind which the flame lives. He is not sure if it is healthy enough, and with his free hand he makes a question mark in the air, then points at it.

“It’s just fine,” Will reassure him. “You’ve done your bit, and you did it well, and I’m grateful for it, but go and take care of yourself now, alright?”

Hannibal lifts his chin, assenting, and heads down stairs to the beach below.  

Chapter Text

The chill water is an exquisite relief. Hannibal swims in lazy circles, letting it filter through his gills, and thinks.

He thinks about the man in the picture, and he thinks about Will - the things that he knows about Will, what he understands, and everything that remains a mystery.

Will tiptoes around the topic of suicide like the mere mention of it is a taint that would poison water, but Hannibal is not unfamiliar with the concept, even if he has not been given the word for that impulse.

He hadn’t understood a tenth of what Will told him, that stormy evening when Will told him of Matthew’s death. There were so many words that Hannibal didn’t understand, events and objects and places and concept and rules that he had no point of reference for, and it did not seem right to ask Will to stop and explain, when it was so evident that through telling the tale he was expelling the venom of whatever poisonous thing had stung him while he was lost behind his own closed eyes.

What is a sniper, Will? What is a gun - and what is a bullet, and how can it tear a person to apart? What is a medic, and why did you scream for one after the bullet bit Matthew? What is a trench, Will, and why were you in such a miserable filthy dangerous place to begin with? Why didn’t the two of you simple leave all of that behind you, seek out some place where you weren’t so hunted? What is a war? Why is a war? Why what how explain to me

It would not have done Will any good to overwhelm him with so many questions, so he’d simply listened without interrupting, and followed along as well as he could.

Hannibal understood enough, though, when Will spoke of falling into such a black depression after his former partner was killed.

That isn’t a foreign idea to Hannibal at all; he can imagine vividly how entirely ruined he would be if Will were to die in such a way, how the despair and loss would gut him, how badly he would want to sink down to the ocean floor and never rise again.  

Hannibal is infinitely grateful that Will is still alive, that he was able to keep himself from dying too after Matthew was taken away from him. But for a long time there was a part of Hannibal that wondered and worried if maybe Will is a little… cold, in that regard.

That if he could strive the death of his first partner then he could outlive Hannibal, too, and that Hannibal was therefore somehow at a disadvantage - that he loves Will more than Will loves him, that he needs more than he is needed.

Nonetheless, he would want Will to go on living if he died, even though Hannibal does not believe that he could do the same.

Turning slow circles in the water, Hannibal thinks about the notch in Will’s ear, about how Will could have died in Matthew’s place, years ago, before he ever met Hannibal.

If Will had died then, he thinks, I would have spent the rest of my life alone, because Will was always going to be mine.

He signs to himself as he floats through the water, making the thought real by bringing it out of his head and into the world. “Will was always meant for me, so Will and the other weren’t really partners,” he says.

The sign he uses for partners is actually married, but he has little to no grasp of the gender, cultural or religious baggage that term carries, so he uses it as a stand-in for his own concept of what it means to be together, that feeling of having someone else’s teeth buried so deeply in your own heart that you would die if they ever let you go. It is the finest feeling Hannibal has ever known.

“They were friends, like D is my friend, and Will’s. They fucked for pleasure, and looked after each other, and that helped to keep the lonesomeness at bay.”

Were Hannibal to inform Will of this assessment of his time with Matthew, Will would consider it essentially accurate.

Friend is not a concept that Hannibal thinks he would understand, no more than he would understand what was meant by parent , if not for Will. There’s anger in Will’s heart, but so much more love, and a fearsome protectiveness that seems endless. Will has a way of spreading his heart around without ever seeming to deplete those emotional resources, no more than one might drain the ocean, and he has a talent for encouraging Hannibal towards doing the same.

It is an endless source of astonishment, the way Will is constantly making his world bigger.



From the railed walkway that circles the lighthouse, Will watches Hannibal rise from the water and hurry back toward him.

He wonders if he should feel angry at Hannibal for doing what he did without asking, and he wonders if he should feel guilty for not waking up sooner. They all spend so much time out of the water for Will’s sake, Hannibal, D and Alexander, and Will wonders sometimes it’s bad for them - if they are risking illness, or damaging themselves in some way that will eventually catch up to them.

But right now he feels too good to get angry, even at himself.

Hannibal usually waits to drip dry before coming back inside, brushing his feet clean of sand fastidiously first, but he’s dripping wet and tracking in sand when he comes back, and Will isn’t angry about any of that either, even when Hannibal curls Will up in his long arms and pulls him close, as clingy as if Will has been away all day on a trip to the city, rather than having only slept in an extra five hours or so.

When he finally lets Will go, it is to step back to give himself the space to sign, “Do you feel better now?”

“Worlds better,” Will says, and though the night’s rest only ate away at the smallest corner of the sleep debt that he has been accruing for years now, even before he ever met Hannibal, it is nonetheless the truth, and it’s the truth too when he says, “Thank you, Hannibal. I’m grateful.”

The words earn from Hannibal a pleased and rather self-satisfied smile, and that makes Will feel confident enough to ask for more.  

“I won’t ask you to stay up here for half the night again,” Will says, “not without anyone to spell you. But maybe I could bring a cot up here, and on days when I didn’t have a chance to get much rest you could watch things for an hour or two while I took a nap.”

He hesitates, because there is something dissatisfied and a little hard in Hannibal’s eyes. “Is that alright?” he adds, uncertainly.  

“How many hours are you supposed to sleep?”

Will wets his lips, debates lying. Six is enough for me. I can get by alright on five. As long as I get four and a half I’ll be able to…

“Eight,” he says. “Eight hours out of every twenty-hours.”

“Then each night I’ll care of things for long enough for you to get eight.”

“Hannibal, no,” Will says. “You can’t -”

“Hannibal, yes ,” he insists, making the signs with dramatic intensity for emphasis.

There’s no humor in Hannibal’s face, nor any sign of a willingness to compromise, but there is something wounded about him when he continues, “Why don’t you want my help? I know how to do it.”

“I know it,” Will says; Hannibal’s days of twisting gas knobs off of stoves are long past. “But I don’t want to drag you into this, not any more than I can help. You’re a free creature - you don’t need to be tied down doing my job for me.”

“You haven’t dragged me anywhere,” Hannibal says. “I came up here on my own.”

There’s something in Will that wants to argue, but another part of him is stunned at it having been this easy, that wonders if he might have gotten this kind of help a year ago or sooner, if he’d only asked.  

“I agree that you should get another bed and sleep up here when I’m keeping watch,” Hannibal goes on, as though it’s all been decided and they are just hammering out the details now. Will supposes that’s the case. “That way you’ll be closer, and can watch when I need to go down to the water.”

“Alright,” Will says. “Okay. Thank you.”

It marks a era in their relationship, Hannibal taking over part of the lighthouse duties.

It’s true that Hannibal acquiesced to keeping watch over Alexander, when Will explained the terror he felt for the boy’s safety, and that he has taken over most of the cooking without having ever been asked, a development that has more to do with Hannibal’s general enjoyment of food and the discovery of all of the different things he can do with it when given the benefit of even a poorly appointed kitchen.

Will has not been able to shake the sense, even after all this time, that Hannibal is too magical - too unique, too wild - to be burdened with mundane tasks, that asking such of him is the equivalent of yoking a dragon to a plow.

Thinking about him in that way - as something magical, stunningly brilliant but separate from mankind, and in many ways naive to the human world - has put into place certain barriers in Will’s own mind, foremost among them the foreclosure of Will’s ability to communicate much of his own past and many of his aspirations for and fears of the future to Hannibal in an effective way.

Going forward now, becoming something more like equal partners in the task of running the lighthouse, that begins to change.

Chapter Text

D’s fingers manipulate the Braille writing slate with careful, experienced ease, despite its tininess in his hands, punching in patterns of dots with the short, awl-like stylus.  

He has debated, as he grew accustomed to using the metal slate with its orderly rows of tiny boxes, if it might be possible to file down the tip of one of his claws until it is narrow enough fit into those punch boxes, and then blunt the point so he could use his own finger in the place of the stylus, which he believes might be faster.

Hannibal, D knows because he is not shy about explaining such things, also alters his claws from the sake of his human partner, always keeping two of them short and blunt.

They have an oddly active sex life, those two. D’s interests in such proceedings flagged after the first two or three times he and Hannibal had sex, and disappeared entirely once his body informed him that he was pregnant, but Hannibal is happy to have Will fuck him despite the fact that they are trying very hard to avoid getting pregnant again, and though it is apparently impossible for Will to carry children at all he is nearly as eager to have Hannibal fuck him, though he’s more shy about the matter; the first time he asked D to keep an eye on the twins for an hour or so Will did so with gruff embarrassment and blushing cheeks.

D would like to try changing one of his claws to serve as an awl, but that might lead to his family asking questions - and Will, specifically, might be frightened or angry to learn about his time spent with Reba.

Will has been so insistent on driving home the dangers of approaching other humans, and to pacify him and some of his fears D has tumbled upon using words to tell a lie, something that Hannibal has not yet learned how to do.

“I know how to stay out of sight,” he has assured Will, more than once, when asked about where he goes when he is not at the island. “I don’t let anyone see me.”

Despite all the time they have spent together, and the effort Reba has put into teaching him how to read and write in Braille, and the way in which his presence seems to invoke in her genuine enjoyment, he is in no way certain if Reba has any intention of becoming his partner, or even if such a thing might be possible.   

Originally, she had only planned on being in town for a week to celebrate what she and Will both referred to as “Thanksgiving” (an occasion which Will used to justify another feast party, this time featuring three gigantic roast turkeys, the meat of which made D feel weary but relaxed, a sensation he imagines to be akin to sleepiness). Instead, Reba has stayed behind to continue visiting with him, a development that D is certainly thankful for, though it worries him in some ways.  

The idea of Reba being away from her family on his account troubles D, in a vague and guilty kind of way. Humans, he has determined, are the same way about their families as Hannibal’s people are about mates; if they are separated for too long they become distressed, and sometimes they even sicken. This is event in the way that Will panicked, a few weeks back, when he lost track of Cyrus. It took the four of them less than a hour to find the child, who had crawled back behind some of the empty oil cans on the ground floor of the lighthouse and fallen asleep there, but even after they’d been reunited Will was shaky for the rest of the day, like he had a fever.  

Having found a family that seems sincerely willing to keep him, after having been alone for so long, makes D especially anxious about doing anything that might cause Reba’s own family to cast her out. He understands, in some implicit way that they have not discussed, that they are both taking risks to be here together.

He watches her now, kneeling in the sand, an arm’s length away, her skirt tucked primly under her knees. D doesn’t know that the stress is rather worn, something old enough that it has been put aside for adventures wherein it doesn’t matter much if it gets dirty. All he knows is that the fabric has a soft, almost gentle look to it, but that Reba herself looks so much softer, and he thinks that if he were to reach out and touch her now her skin under the pads of his fingers would feel as nice as one of Hannibal’s silk scarves.

Reba is small without seeming scared, kind without being weak, and her skin is vibrant with life. When she smiles it seems to light up her entire face. She smells of food and people and warmth, and her hands are quick and cunning and wise.

Without any forethought or planning, he abandons the reply that he had intended to write. Instead, he uses the stylist to write three words, then frees the paper from the writing slate. He clicks his tongue to let her know that he has finished writing, and when Reba holds her hand out for the paper he gives it to her, careful to make certain his claws do not brush her skin.

Her small, skillful hands trace the message, and then she speaks it out loud. “‘You are lovely.’”

The smile that comes to her face is more open than she may realize, but it lasts only a few seconds. “I’m glad to hear that you think so,” she tells him warmly.

That warmth does not go away, but it is overlaid by the seriousness of someone who is intent upon her goal. “I would like to touch you, D, if you’ll let me.”

D sits motionless, full of dread.

“D?” she says, as the stillness drags on. “Is that alright?”

He clicks his tongue once, an affirmative, not knowing that he means to do so until he himself hears the sound, and then fights the desire to click again and turn it into a refusal.

She does not give him much time to change his mind.

Her hand moves toward his face, and D is suddenly terrified of himself - of the potential that he might snap at her if she draws away in fear or disgust. He sees in his mind’s eye two severed fingers laying pale and bloodless on the deck of a boat, hears the man who had cared for D right up until he didn’t wailing in shocked agony, feels all over again his own desperate, panicked confusion.

He is so much bigger now than he was when he was thrown away. If he bites Reba it won’t just be a pair of fingers. He’ll take her hand off at the wrist. She’ll -

As though she can sense his fear, Reba has stopped, her arm stretched far enough to bridge half the distance between them. “I know that there’s something unusual about you,” she tells him, voice firm but calm. “I’m not scared of it. I wouldn’t have kept coming out here by myself to visit with you if you frightened me.”

D swallows hard. He clicks his tongue again, giving her leave to continue on, but when her fingertips are perhaps two inches from his face he loses his nerve.

He wants to be touched - wants to believe that she won’t be horrified by him - but he is thinking about himself and the mirror, and Will with the club, about the scar that ruins a face that was already monstrous, and at the last moment he lowers his head, so instead of finding his face Reba’s questing fingers bury themselves in his hair.

That’s okay. He knows that she will be able tell, even by touching the crown of his head, how over-sized he is, but thanks to Will his hair is nice now. It’s had some time to grow out now, and is long enough that D is able to wear a few shiny trinkets in it, the way that Hannibal does.

He feels her touching the ring that Hannibal brought him from his treasure stores. It’s much too small to fit even on D’s tiniest finger, but Will tied it in just above D’s ear for him. She lifts the ring, considering its slight weight, and then her hands go lower, tracing the curl of his ear.

He breathes in her scent. She is cleaner than Will, he notes, not a judgment directed at the latter but a simple observation. Will smells like lamp oil and the sea, and he smells much like the rest of his family, his life is so intertwined with theirs, and under that he smells like his own sweat and the complex emotional notes that are constantly bleeding from his pores.

D can smell no fear on Reba.  

She smells like flowers and cut grass and fresh bread and other people. She smells like life - like human life, like the life that he had when he was small. And she smells like adventure - like a person who goes from place to place and meets friends and tries new things, something who is always moving and learning and going forward.

He leans into her touch, trying to believe that nothing bad will come of this.

D reminds himself of how often Will and even Hannibal have told him that he is handsome and good, tries now to believe that they are right and Reba will think that, too, but he isn't sure if she will.

Hannibal is Hannibal, and a mystery even to D most of the time. And Will is barely human. Reba might feel an entirely different way about him.

Despite all efforts, he gets scared again when her fingers start to move along the edges of his cheekbones and toward his lips.   

He catches Reba’s hand in his own, drawing it away from his face.

The denial does not upset her. Her hand turns inside his own like a small bird, and her fingers find his claws. There’s raw wonder on her face as she measures out the length of one of those claws, and when she comes to the sharp tip a shudder runs through her, but not one of revulsion.



Reba runs the edge of her thumb against the back of his palm, wondering what she was expecting - fur, maybe, or fish scales? The skin is hairless, smooth when she runs her finger one way, but rough against the grain.

She would like to learn more about him, feel the lines of his face and curl her hands around the shape of his bicep, but the muscles in his forearm are rigid with tension, and Reba decides that she has pushed far enough for today.

“I’m going to be about half an hour late tomorrow morning,” she says, a warning that is at the same time a reassurance that she hasn’t been scared off. “You’ll be here, won’t you?”

There is a hesitation, uncertainty or suspicion on D’s end, she believes. Then he clicks his tongue once in agreement.

Chapter Text

Will wakes up a couple of hours after dark.

He blinks lazily up at the lighthouse ceiling, but makes no move to get out of bed. Stretching from his fingertips to his toes, Will yawns hugely before closing his eyes again to snooze for a few more minutes, luxuriating between the warmth of the quilts and the softness of the big new feather mattress. Behind his closed eyelids, the lamp burns golden.

The twins are still asleep beside him, and eventually Will turns over onto his side to watch them. They sleep tangled together, the same as always, Alexander’s arms curled around Cyrus like the smaller boy is a stuffed bear.  

This new, more regular schedule has been better for the twins as well. They need at least twelve hours of rest out of everyone twenty-four or tiredness makes them into cranky little terrors, and it is much easier to get them back into bed once they all come up to the lighthouse for the night if Will lays down with them too.

Will slides out of bed without disturbing them and goes to Hannibal.  

He is sitting on the walkway that circles the lighthouse tower, his back to the lamp. The mechanism that makes the lens move has been recently wound, and the beam of light turns at an even pace, bathing Hannibal in light for a few seconds before moving on, signaling the danger represented by the island and its clusters of surrounding stone.

There is not sneaking up on Hannibal, and Will knows that he has heard him padding in his direction, but Hannibal doesn’t look up from the stiff piece of paper that he’s holding. When Will gets closer, he sees in the retreating glow of beam of brilliant light that it is the picture of himself and Matthew.  

“Where did you get that?”

Hannibal looks up at him. He holds the photo out to Will, not the slightest bit ashamed at having been caught with it, and when Will takes it from from him Hannibal signs, “I found it under the bed when I was putting away the things the twins took out of your chest.”

Will frowns. That had been nearly two weeks ago. “Having you been brooding over it all this time?”

Hannibal doesn’t answer. Instead, he says, “Will you tell me more about him?”

“Why?”

“I would like to know more about the person you were with before you loved me.”

That’s a careful sentence, Will thinks. But what he says is, “What do you want to know?”

“Whatever you want to tell me,” Hannibal says. It’s not a lie, not exactly, but there is a word hanging between the two of them, like it has been since it slipped unbidden from Will’s lips the first night Hannibal took over a share of the lighthouse duties: Used.  

Will pokes at the old wounds and finds them safely scabbed over, if not entirely healed.

He knows that he has been used badly in the past, and not only in ways that have to do with sex, and that maybe he’s used others, too; he worries, even now that he is using Hannibal and by extension the rest of their family for his own sake - to make himself feel wanted and worthy and privy to something special.

Will likes himself better when he is with the creatures than he ever has before, but he is badly afraid that they will be the ones to pay the highest cost should all of this tumble apart like a card castle.

He finds that he doesn’t want to think about any of that now, though, and he doesn’t want to dwell on the bad old times either - doesn’t want to talk about the anger and frustration that Matthew was so good at inspiring in him, or about the ways that  Matthew hurt him, and most of all Will doesn’t want to rehash losing him.

“I want to tell you about the good things about being with Matthew,” Will says, “but there’s no getting to the good without first going through the bad.

“You’ve got to understand about the kind of life I’d had, before I met him.”

“I want to understand that.”

“There was a time when I didn’t think that you’d ever be able to,” Will says, knowing that had been part of Hannibal’s early appeal. “I didn’t know how to talk to you about… banal things about my life and where I’ve been, never mind the big stuff. You didn’t have any frame of reference - in a lot of ways you still don’t, and maybe you’re better off that way.”

“I’ve watched humans, in the past. I had D tell me everything he learned about them when he was small, and I talk with you,” Hannibal says, offended and a little wounded. “I read.”

“I know it,” Will says. Hannibal has worked hard to meet Will where he’s at, at least as hard as Will works to sand down the contours and the rough patches where they are fundamentally different from each other.

I’m not living in some fairy tale story, Will reminds himself. It’s true that Hannibal does come from a different world, but Will has resolved to stop putting him on a pedestal, as though Hannibal were too transcendental to comprehend certain things about Will, and instead to work harder to communicate to Hannibal any context which he might be missing. We are both real people that can talk about our problems and our pasts.

“You understand me,” he tells Hannibal. “And you are able to understand the things that I tell you - at least the parts that matter.”

This satisfies Hannibal. He pats the boards beside him, motioning for Will to sit down on the walkway beside him. Will does, his legs stretched out straight in front of him, toes dangling out in the open air.

“The way it is with humans,” Will tells him, “you can be surrounded by a thousand faces and still be all alone. You can go crazy with lonesomeness, the same way that D went crazy for a while, right in the center of a crowd.

“And if you are that lonely you’ll put up with a lot if someone makes you feel wanted, or even just useful. Or at least I know I did.

“When I was growing up,” Will goes on, “it was mostly just my Dad and me, and it was bad. I guess my mom must have been doing well enough by me, but after a while she was gone, and then it was just me and him, and it was bad.”

“You needed taken care of,” Hannibal observes. On the surface it is an obvious statement, but Will knows how far outside of the lines of his own nature Hannibal had to go to get there. “Like the twins.”

“Yeah,” Will says, and tries without much luck to push back against a cruel voice, one that has dogged him since he was small, that tells him he ought to be embarrassed for even entertaining the idea that his parents could be expected to love such a little monster. That voice puts words in his mouth that he doesn’t want to speak, but he says them anyway. “I was hard to take care of, I guess. Shy. I was scared a lot, and I cried too much. And I’d get angry. My feelings were too big for my body, and I’d get so frightened or upset that I’d throw up. Sometimes I got lost in my own head.”

“You threw up after you beat D,” Hannibal remarks, placidly.

Will swallows hard. “Did I? I don’t remember that.” His inability to recall in a clear and organized way what happened - exactly what he’d done - on that day troubles him badly.

“I was worried that you might be getting ill, but you were only sick in your heart, the way you get when you’re frightened that you’ve done a wrong thing.” Before Will can think of anything to say to that, Hannibal adds, “I don’t have any difficulties in loving you, so there must have been something wrong with your parents.”

Will surprises himself laughing. He ducks his head, at once ashamed and deeply touched, and when Hannibal reaches for him Will shies away, using the need to wind the lamp’s mechanism up again to put some space between himself and Hannibal.

By the time he sits down next to Hannibal again, Will feels less raw.

“My Mama left,” Will continues, “When I was about six or seven. Said she was going to go find work and then she’d come back and get me, but she never did.”

Will looks out over the dark water. “And the old man didn’t really want to have to put up with me, and he liked to use his fists. His belt, too. He’d say, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child,’ and he’d send me down to cut a length of green cane to use on me, and if it wasn’t big enough to suit him he had an old riding crop. Beat the tar out of me…”

He feels Hannibal’s hand at the tail of his shirt, pulling it up carefully to study anew the long faded scars that mark his back. Hannibal presses the pad of his finger against one of them, and the tip of one claw brushes his skin, the touch as light and painless as the flutter of moth wings.  

“It’s not like you using your teeth on me, when I let you, or the way you and D wrestle, or even the way the twins roughhouse. You understand that, right?” Will says, suddenly frantic at the idea of being misunderstood. “I didn’t want it, and there wasn’t anything I could do to make him stop, it didn’t matter if I begged or screamed or bit my lip and tried to take the beatings like a man, he just went on and on…”

Hannibal tugs the back of Will’s shirt neatly back into place. His hand settles onto Will’s shoulder, and Will turns back toward him to see what he means to say.

“I’ll kill him for you, if I ever get the chance,” Hannibal signs calmly. “I’ll eat him alive.”

The smile that blooms in response is rueful and full of gratitude. “He might be dead already, for all I know. Say, there’s a pretty thought.”

Will shrugs, tries to find a way to move on with the story. He doesn’t want to talk about the next bit though - doesn’t want to speak about the wolfdog pups and what happened to them.

Instead, Will tells Hannibal, “Eventually I just said to hell with it - I’m going to get out of here. And the fastest way to do that was to jump a train. I was about fourteen.”

He had almost two full dollars in his pocket when he decided to get gone. Will had watched the hobos and the other runaways catch box cars before, and he thought he had a pretty good idea of how to do it, and in theory he could have. But once he’d jumped up and caught hold of one of the box cars Will realized he wasn’t tall enough to pull himself up inside.

“I might have fallen under the wheels if a couple of the people who were already inside hadn’t hauled me up.”

Will finds that it’s not nearly as hard as he might have thought to paint a picture of what it was like inside the rattling belly of the train, feeling the eyes of nearly a dozen men and boys on him as the train carried him with blessed speed away from everything he’d ever known.

“There was a lot I didn’t know,” Will tells him, “Miseries I hadn’t foreseen, things that I’d never thought might be dangerous that could kill me dead.”

Feeling inspired by his own daring in setting out on this journey, that first night Will slide on his butt up to the edge of the open boxcar door and sat there with his legs dangling over the edge, watching the countryside fly on by.

“One of the strangers came over and hit me on the shoulder to get my attention, and then he said if I kept that up I was going to get my leg caught on a railroad switch and that it would pull me right out into eternity.”

When he’d left home, he’d thought he could ride the rails up to Georgia and pick cotton and peaches for a wage, then follow the harvest on up north until he’d made it to Michigan for apple season, by which time he figured he’d have enough money saved up to winter in Florida. But finding work wasn’t nearly as simple as he’d thought it would be, and the two dollars didn’t last nearly as long as he’d expected.

Will knew what hunger was long before he left home, but once he was on the road he learned what it could be like to go two or three days in a row without eating. He was bad at begging at back doors - the hunger made him bitter and hostile, and he resented the necessity of having to beg, and he thought that the housewives saw that anger boiling barely below the surface, and that it made them nervous - and stealing brought with it with it its own measure of shame, along with the fear of getting caught.  

“Some of the older hobos would take youngsters under their wing and teach them the ropes. They’d let you sit by their fire and even share their dinner with you. They’d tell stories, too, and teach you things - tips on how to avoid the railroad bulls, how to read hobo signs, all kinds of things. Some of them did it out of a sense of comradery, or for the sake of charity, or because they were lonely and wanted the company, but sometimes they wanted an extra favors…”

“Favors?” Hannibal repeats. His signed question mark seems to hang in the air between them.  

“You know,” Will says, though Hannibal’s uncertainty is clearly unfeigned. “Sex things.”

“You were fourteen then?”

“Yeah, like I said,” Will tells him. It’s only a little lie, and the only one he tells during the course of the story. He’d been closer to twelve at the time, but admitting that much would make him feel like even more of a victim than he already does.

Hannibal shifts, uneasy. “Fourteen is too young for that.”

“I know it,” Will says. “I knew it at the time, too, I guess, that I was being taken advantage of. But sucking cock now and then seemed a lot better than letting my daddy go on beating the hell out of me.” He swallows, anxious, frighten of being judged and found to be at fault, though he knows he does not really need to worry about that. “It’s not poison. You don’t die of it.”

“They shouldn’t have -”

“I know it,” Will says again.

Will pauses, thinking. He wants to deflect the conversation away from himself, at least for a little while, but he’s also curious. “When the right age to start, do you think?”

Hannibal mulls that over. “Thirty-three,” he says, after a short pause. “Maybe it would be alright to start babies for someone else a few years before that, but even if you are able to get pregnant that young, carrying babies before you are at least thirty-three would be bad for your body.”  

Thirty-three years old, Will thinks. He’s already gather from how the twins seem to be developing in some ways more quickly and in other ways more slowly than a normal human baby might that Hannibal’s species matures at a different pace than humans, but this confirms for Will that they probably live a lot longer than humans as well.

He debates telling Hannibal that he’s really robbed the cradle, if thirty is the absolute bottom limit of acceptability for someone to father children, but Will doesn’t want to make him feel bad.

“Do you know how old you are?” Will asks instead, and Hannibal pauses again, doing some mental math. Will supposes he’s never tallied it up.

“I think fifty-one,” he says finally.

“Fifty-one! Is that old for your species?”

Hannibal’s gills ruffle as he snorts. “Do I seem old to you?”

“You seem ageless,” Will says, honestly. He is thinking about gators, the way people say that they don’t ever die of old age, but only if something or someone kills them.

Hannibal returns, inexorably, to the previous topic. “That’s what you meant by used? Taken advantage of, when you were still very young?”

“That’s part of it.”

Will makes the next story as short as he can.

Right after he was drafted and shipped out to Europe, he tells Hannibal, he met a rough trade kind of guy while he was out drinking on day-leave. The guy was a dock worker, big and strong and gruff, but he spoke English pretty well, though he had more trouble cutting through Will’s Louisiana draw then Will had understanding the other man’s accent.

Will was eighteen by then, and eager to please - desperate to be wanted, no matter in what way - and when he and the stranger slipped away it felt like an adventure, like he was doing something daring, something that was a little scary, but in a good way.

The man took Will down a winding set of alleyways, back away from the noise of the rest of the city, where they wouldn’t be disturbed. He was insistent, as he lead Will along, that he was not queer, and that he was only looking to fuck, and that he would tolerant no queer shit from Will. Queer shit, Will was made to understand, meant anything romantic; it meant not just romantic feelings, but also affectionate words or gestures like kissing.

“And we got going,” Will says now, “and we were doing stuff, and either I got so caught up in my own feelings that I forgot what he’d told me, or I decided that he had decided after all that he liked me, that I had gotten in past his walls and it would be welcomed, and I tried to kiss him.”

The man hit Will, hard, across the face, and when Will staggered backward he followed and punched him again and again. He grabbed Will by the collar of his jacket and shoved him down onto the alleyway floor, pounding his head against the cobblestones, and through the daze of pain Will’s thought had been a strangely detached observation about his own state of mind: I don’t think I want to anymore , but then the man was on top of him, yanking his pants the rest of the way down past his hips, and when Will tried to buck him off he slammed his head against the street again, and the fear of being hurt worse than he already had been mixed with the certainty that more violence was coming and froze him solid.

It froze him, all of that fear, and he’d only been able to claw at cobblestone and say no no no no no, a quiet hissing litany that wanted to become a scream but never did, and none of it made any difference anyway.  

“There’s a word for what happened to me,” Will says. “‘Used’ isn’t the right word, but it’s easier for me to say that then to use the correct word. The idea of saying that word in relation to what happened makes me feel sick inside.”

Hannibal, who has read Will’s dictionary and encyclopedia collection from one end to the other, and who is not as ignorant on the matter as Will might have liked to think, nods grimly. He finger spells a word - four letters.

“Yeah,” Will says, and to his surprise finds the courage to repeat the world, now that Hannibal has cleared the way. “Rape.”

Will turns his gaze back to the water.

Once it was over with and he was alone again, Will crawled back to his feet. He limped back into base camp after curfew, beaten and bloody, and told the officer that caught him at the gates that he’d been mugged. There was a kind of knowing in the officer’s eyes, though, and no sympathy whatsoever, and Will ended up on mess duty as punishment for being out after hours.

And that was how he met Matthew, who was always getting himself into trouble. It seemed like Matthew already knew him, from the very first moment they met - that he already liked Will, and was already ready and willing to take his side in everything.

The two of them were tasked with cutting a seemingly endless supply of potatoes, and there was plenty of opportunity to talk over the job, which was convenient for Matthew because he loved to talk. Back then, early into things, before it started to turn sour, Will found himself astonished by his own willingness to talk right back at him.

Matthew seemed to have clocked Will the moment he stepped into the tent, and he announced his own queerness, casually and with good humor hardly five minutes later. That openness worried Will - later, it was a source of conflict between them - but it was stunning as well, the way the sunlight dazzles when you emerge into the open air after days inside a dark bunker.

Will told him nearly everything - things that he’d never told anyone else before and that he hasn’t told anyone since, except now for Hannibal. He told him about what happened in the alley with the dockworker, and how the officer had dressed him down for breaking curfew, and before the story was over Matthew had begun to collect the discarded green potatoes into their own pile, away from the rotten scraps that would be tossed away.

“You can’t eat those,” Will warned him, when Matthew began to skin and chop up the green potatoes. “You can’t even give them to hogs. It’ll make them sick.”

“I know it,” Matthew said, still intent on his project. “Don’t you worry your pretty head about it.”

Will laughed at that - he couldn’t help it. His left eye was nearly swollen shut and there was a gash in his cheek and right then he hadn’t ever in his life felt uglier, but the way Matthew said it made him feel good, too.

Later that night, there had been a commotion at the latrines. Everyone who ate dinner in the officers’ mess earlier that day was up half the night, sick on both ends and running back and forth from their bunks to the latrines. Will stood at the mouth of the privates quarters with the rest of his unit, thinking about the green potatoes as he listened to the other men crack jokes at the expense of the officers - most of them had their own grievances, after all - and saw the one who’d given him so much shit after the rape stop to lean shakily against a tree, then puke his guts out onto the tips of his shiny boots.

Will smiled, and refused to feel guilty for it.

For days after that, Will had been paranoid that someone would work out what Matthew had done, but he was never caught.

“Matthew was always doing things like that for me, even when I didn’t ask. Sometimes even when I would have rather that he didn’t. If someone was nasty to me, Matthew always found a way to make them pay, sooner or later. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do, if he thought by doing it he’d be helping me.

“Maybe it’s ugly of me, but I loved him for that. No one else had ever cared enough about what happened to me to want to get even with somebody else on my account, and it was… I don’t think I was able to love him the way that he wanted - the way that he thought I loved him - but it meant more to me than I was able to say.”

Maybe he wouldn’t have hurt me if I’d told him to stop , Will thinks, not for the first time, but he had been so terrified that things would go the same way that they had with the dock worker - that Will’s no would mean nothing, and that Matthew would keep on doing what he’d already decided to do.

There is so much blame to go around, and at this late date Will can’t say with any clarity whose feet it ought to be laid at, but he feels better somehow now, talking about this with Hannibal, so he goes on talking.

Not about the bad things - not about the ways that Matthew hurt Will or made him angry, not about the ways he somehow felt more like a prized possession than a real person in Matthew’s eyes. Will talks about how funny Matthew could be, the charming way he had, how he could turn an entire room full of strangers into new friends in the course of an evening’s drinking, the way that he would sneak little treats from the mess tent for Will, and how sometimes he would burn through an entire week’s pay just to show Will to a night out on the town. He talks about the way that there wasn’t any shame in Matthew, and barely any fear either, and how he wasn’t afraid to touch Will when other people were watching, and how that had terrified Will sometimes but how at other times it made him feel like maybe he could be just as fearless… the foolhardy joy that Matthew took out of life, his pleasure at causing large-scale mayhem or revelry, how much he loved being at the center of attention, and lengths that he would go to just to win a begrudging smile from Will.

Eventually, Hannibal starts to cry. He doesn’t shed tears, or make any noise, aside from the hitch in his breathing, but Will recognizes the crying for what it is regardless, and that gets Will crying a little as well, but that’s alright.

It’s not a bad kind of crying, all and all. It feels to Will like he is morning properly for the first time, now that he has someone who is willing to listen to what he has to say without judging him.

“He died for me,” Will says, understanding that properly for the first time, now that he can see past some of his own guilt. He goes over the thing again in his head - the way that Matthew stood to reach for him, Will’s name on his lips, how Will turned his head at the sound, and how the bullet went past him, clipping his ear along the way, and smashed into Matthew instead. “He died trying to keep me safe.”

The two of them chew on that, quietly, for a little while, and then Hannibal gets up to wind the lamp mechanism again. When he comes back, he lays down across the walkway with his head in Will’s lap.

Hannibal reaches up and touches the shark tooth that dangles from its chain around Will’s neck, the one that he’s told Will he took gently from the skull of his twin on the day that the two of them decided to become one together.

When his hand falls away, Will touches the tooth himself, running the ball of his thumb along the serrated edge.

The tooth is considerably larger than even the biggest teeth that line D’s jaw, but somehow it is never a massive and powerful shark creature that Will pictures when he thinks about the sibling that Hannibal lost. Instead, in his mind’s eye he sees a small girl child, caught in some dark and hungry place by the biting winter winds, her blood staining a tattered purple dress.

“You ate your twin, when she died,” Will says.

It’s not a question. Will is not sure exactly when he came to understand this, but it is something that he has known for a long time now.

“Of course.”

“That’s awful to me, Hannibal,” he says. “I can’t help it, and I’m sorry for that, but it makes me feel sick.”

“I was hungry,” Hannibal says, untroubled by guilt or shame, “and she wouldn’t have wanted me to be hungry. She loved me very much.”

Will doesn’t answer at once, and as though to reassure him Hannibal continues. “She was worth too much to be left behind for the bottom-feeders. Now she’s a part of me, as she always was.”

He doesn’t have human morals, Will reminds himself. Often, that has been a comfort for Will. He isn’t sure what it is now, but Will hears no quaver of fear or note of disgust in his own voice when he asks, “Are you going to eat me, too, when I die?”

 Hannibal is still for a long beat. Then he rises up to curl his arms around Will’s shoulders, clinging so hard that it hurts, and presses his forehead into the nape of Will’s neck.

Will can feel him shaking.

Will understands it, perfectly well, the terror of lonesomeness -  of aloneness - that Hannibal lives with, recognizes it as easily as if it were his own heartache.

“I’m not planning on dying anytime soon,” Will says, and is startled to find that’s the truth. He can hardly remember the last time he gave serious consideration to the idea of killing himself.  

Chapter Text

PART II 

Sweat-soaked, every muscle aching in sympathetic strain inspired by the prolonged agony that burns where his left eye used to be, Will turns over in the bed, struggling hopelessly to find some position that will somehow alleviate the pain enough to allow him to slip back into the dubious relief offered by the fever dreams.

Eyelids closed tightly, he buries the unwounded side of his face in the pillow. His fist clutches the edge of the mattress, digging with a white-knuckled grasp that the fabric as the tangle of guilt and grief conspire with the fever to make the bed move beneath him, as though the entire world is spiraling outside of his control.  

When he opens his eyes again, an indeterminable time later, the boys are standing by the edge of the bed, their own eyes huge and frightened as they stare up at him. Will wonders how long they have been here, and if he said anything while he was drifting in the stinging waters between sleep and consciousness that might have caused them harm.

The fever, fed by infection, has been getting worse. Several times now Will has caught himself speaking out loud to himself, or to the ghosts that shimmer just outside of his line of sight.  

It’s easy for Alexander to look over the side of the bed, but Cyrus is shorter, and has to stretch up and hold onto the edge of the mattress to see. They watch him, looking from Will to each other and then back again, and Will can read the sorrow and regret in the dark depths of their eyes.

Will shifts his head to see Cyrus better. The boy starts to cry when Will looks at him. “Hurt eye,” he says, his hands moving clumsily as he makes the signs.

“Yeah,” Will agrees. His voice is rough. He could use some water.

“Getting better?” he asks, and there is such a desperation for reassurance in his face. Will sees a naive child’s certainty in his parent’s ability to fix what it is broken warring with a predator’s instinct for identifying weakness.

Nothing good will come from lying now, and Will says, “No, baby, I’m sorry. I thought it might get better, but I don’t think that it is.”

Will knew almost as soon as what happened had happened that the eye itself was a lost cause, but he’d hoped that if he kept it clean and bandaged that the situation might at least not become any worse. But things didn’t go that way, and the evening after it happened Will woke for his shift in the lighthouse to a fever. The skin around the scratches was inflamed, too.

That was three days ago.

“Kiss and make it better,” Cyrus insists, with wretched stubbornness.

He leans forward, standing on the tips of his toes, and stretches his neck to kiss Will, very gently, atop of the bandage that covers his wounded eye.

It was an accident, what happened. Will knows that perfectly well.

The boys were rough housing in the dooryard, and they’d gotten too worked up as they were chasing each other around, and without any premeditation one of them climbed up onto his shoulders and the other followed after, and when the first jumped down again the second was in pursuit, and in the midst all of that scuffling one of them clawed or kicked Will in the face without meaning to.

Will was prepared, in the seconds leading up to what happened, to be scratched up a little - he was used to that much by now, and it didn’t much trouble him. The pair have, in the months following their birthday party, actually begun to grow more conscientious about avoiding scratching and biting Will’s relatively fragile skin, and Will was just a moment away from demanding that they halt the game of chase so he could scold them for backsliding, but the words died in his throat when instead of the predictable sting of a scratch or two he was overcome by pain as sharp and sudden as a crack of lightning.    

It knocked him off his feet, that pain, and he dropped to his knees even as he lifted his arm and cupped his hand over his left eye. Will felt a wetness dripping against his palm, and a voice in the back of his head began to pray that it was only blood, though Will knew, even then, that it wasn’t.

He hadn’t wanted to scream.

He told himself that there was no cause to scream, that if he’d learned anything from his early training then he ought to at least be able to bear the pain like a man, and he choked back the scream that was perched in the back of his throat like he was swallowing poison, and the only thing that escaped from his lips was a muffled sob and a lot of ragged, panicky breathing.   

Hannibal hadn’t been nearby when it happened, but suddenly he was crouched beside Will, shaking his shoulder. Will looked up, left hand still covering his eye like a secret that he didn’t want to own up to, and saw that the boys were gone, as was D. Will turned his head, looking for the three of them with his tear-blurred right eye, terrified at what might else might have happened.

Later, Will learned that D snatched the twins up a matter of seconds after it happened and hurried them down to the water, though he isn’t yet entirely sure why.

Will doesn’t know which of the twins caught him in the eye with a claw, and doesn’t think they know either, though clearly they understand that something terrible has happened and feel it to be their fault. He suspects that D saw what happened, but so far he isn’t telling, and Will hopes that it stays that way.

Will doesn’t want to know.

Now, Will wants to comfort them - wants to do something, specifically, to stop Cyrus’ crying - but the words are not coming. Will is very afraid that he will die of this. 

Alexander, who has been standing a bit further back from Cyrus, moves forward now, but not to approach Will. Instead, he goes to Will’s bedside table and opens the drawer.

The boy begins to rifle through the drawer, looking for something, and Will is present enough in the moment to worry that he will find the condoms, but too wrung out to try to make Alexander stop.

Alexander takes something out of the drawer, palming it in his hand before pushing the drawer shut, and then catches Cyrus by the arm and leads him outside.  

They are gone long enough for Will to begin to drift off again, wandering inside his head among the shadows that dwell there, and when he feels Cyrus’ hand pat his cheek he jerks away from the touch, the wind coming from his lungs in a frightened puff of breath, certain that the prick of claws will follow.

Will does not mean to do this, but he is at the end of his rope.

He doesn’t want anymore scratches or bites. Will is, down in the depths of his bones, worn out with being hurt by the things that he loves.

Cyrus falls back, putting space between himself and Will uncertainly, and when he raises his hands to say something Will sees that his claws are short and blunted. He turns his head toward Alexander, watching as the boy returns the nail cutters and file to the drawer, and sees that Alexander’s claws have been clipped too.

It is not something that Will wanted; he has, a few times in the past, clipped Cyrus’ claws, but he hadn’t want to leave him at a disadvantage against his brother, and he hadn’t dare to try to cut Alexander’s claw when he might need them to defend himself against the threats that lurk in the water.

It touches Will, profoundly, seeing how they have taken it upon themselves to make themselves less dangerous to him, even as it makes him frightened for them, and he says, “Come here, both of you,” and helps Cyrus up into the bed while Alexander pulls himself up and over the edge. He puts an arm over them and pulls them close, doing what he can to comfort them and drawing comfort from them.

It’s good, but none of it keeps Will’s eye from getting worse.

Chapter Text

Three Days Earlier

D lays on the beach, his head cradled in Reba’s lap, relaxing into her touch as the two of them write words on each other’s skin.

They have been working, on and off, on a system in which D signs into Reba’s hands. It was her idea, drawn from the method employed by a blind and deaf person called Helen Keller, and Reba is learning to recognize signs by touch quickly even as they collaborate together to modify the signs to work better for this method. In the long-run, he is sure that Reba learning to read signs will make communication between the two of them much easier, but for right now he enjoys the intimacy of shaping the letters against the open palm of her hand and of feeling her doing the same against the back of his wrist.

Reba could speak, of course, but it is fun for the two of them to communicate in the same exact way for a change. And she likes the excuse to touch him.

She has, over the course of the last few months, made an investigation of many parts of him. Reba has not been shy about how impressive she considers his size and obvious strength to be, nor has she hesitated to express how delighted she is by the novelty of his tail or hidden her admiration for his claws.  

It’s hard for him to handle, sometimes, hearing so many good things about himself from her, when she is so beautiful, but D cannot help coming back for more.  

For a long time, D was resistant to allowing her to touch his face. He was afraid, despite everything, that she would feel the twist in his upper lip and believe, as Will did, that he was snarling because he meant to do her harm. But he explained to her the way that he is and what happened to cause the disfigurement, and though the story (which took several days worth of meetings to convey in its entirety, such is the slow pace of their communication) saddened Reba, she was not frightened when he finally allowed her to touch his face.

She has avoided touching him anywhere below where his navel would be, if he had one, and D thinks perhaps she believes that he is built the same way as a human between the legs, and does not wish to encourage him toward the idea of sex.

D’s hands have not wandered over her in the same way. He is shy about that, even still, and not sure about what she would be willing to tolerate.

Now, as Reba’s clever fingers stroke the line of his ribs, D closes own fingers around her wrist and lifts her hand, gently, to bring it to rest over the slight swell of his belly. He’s three months along now, more than halfway there, and fairly confident that things are as they should be and he is carrying twins rather than a lonesome single like he himself had been. He spreads his much larger hand over top her own, enjoying weight of her hand there, and indulges in a brief, wistful fantasy that Reba was the one responsible for giving the babies to him rather than Hannibal, though D knows that this would be impossible. He is almost positive that Reba is no more capable of starting babies than Will is of carrying them.  

“I’m going to have babies,” he tells her, writing the words one letter at a time on the back of her forearm, and he believes that they must be very good babies already, because one of them obliges him just then by kicking by against their hands.  

Reba startles and tries to pull her hand away. D lifts his own quickly, as though her touch scalded him, and raises his head from her lap to sit up.

The shock that shows on her face is trailed closely by disappointment, then a brief struggle to blank her expression. There is an angry blandness to her tone when Reba says, “I think I’ve misunderstood a couple of things here.”

D is motionless, frozen in his confusion, and Reba’s own sense of woundedness is icy cold when she adds, “I suppose I was under the impression that you were single.”

He stretches his arm out, tentative, and writes lightly with the tip of his claw against the back of her hand, “I am. These babies were a gift, from a friend, but I am having them on my own.”

This is not entirely true. While Hannibal has expressed little interest in D’s developing pregnancy, he and Will have conferred at length about how the new babies might be tamed, but attempting to explain that much would take a long time, and would only serve to muddy the water.  

“I thought you were a man.”

“I am,” D says, though without complete certainty.

Reba shakes her head in rueful denial.

“I THINK I am,” he writes, capitalizing the letters for emphasis.

Will has used the term “shark man” to refer to D a handful of times, and since he has stopped being angry with him Will has always used the set of pronouns that are used for men to refer to D, though D has a bitter memory of sometimes being referred to as an it in the days following the beating, as though he were an object or some low animal, like a snail or sea slug.  

“If you want me to be a man then that’s what I can be,” he continues, trying to smooth over some issue he barely understands. Reba does not look disgusted or frightened, at least, and she does not seem as angry about this issue - whatever it is - as she was about the question of whether D already had a partner, but she still seems terribly disappointed in him. “I don’t care. Whatever you think is best is fine.”

“You are pregnant,” Reba says.

“I have a penis,” he offers. He has more than one, of course, but now does not seem the time to tell her this. “Is that relevant to the conversation?”

Reba seems almost to startle herself laughing. The tension goes out of D in a big way.

“If you’d asked me a minute ago I would have said yes,” she tells him. “Now I’m not so sure.”

Tentatively, D slides a little closer. “Did I make you unhappy to spend time with me?” he writes against the back of her hand.

“No,” she says, “No - I’m sorry.

“I’m being rude, and I don’t mean to be. I knew that you’re special, D, and I love that about you. This just isn’t something I expected, and it caught me off guard.

“I thought,” she goes on, “that I understood what you wanted out of this, but now I’m as sure as I was.”

“What do you want?” he asks.

Probably, he asks the question to stall - to avoid having to express his own hopes, which comes with the risks of learning that he has misunderstood everything.

But Reba doesn’t let him get away with that.

She considers the question for a moment, and then she tells him, “I want a kiss.”

A kiss! D thinks, astonished. Did she really say that she wants to kiss with me?

Tentative, he asks, “You only want a kiss?”

“We’ll see what else I want, down the line,” she says, “but for right now I would like a kiss.”

“You can take one,” D tells her, equal measures elated and terrified. Never in his entire life has anyone kissed him, and the idea of being kissed by Reba now feels more momentous than even the sex he shared with Hannibal, maybe even more meaningful than the way Will held his hand during that and stayed with him after. “But be careful. My teeth are sharp.”

She moves closer to him then, her fingers questing ahead to find his thigh. She straddles it, and bracing herself against his chest with one hand, Reba reaches up and finds the line of his jaw. Her hand is too small to cup the side of his face, but she spreads her hand open like a starfish across his cheek, and guides his head toward to meet his lips with her own.

D keeps his own mouth shut, letting it happen but terribly worried that she might cut herself, and as she kisses him she pushes her body closer to his own, and she is so soft and so fiercely intent on seeking out what it is that she wants, and she curls her arm around the back of his neck to pull him closer to her, and as she kisses him her own blunt teeth toy with the edge of his scarred lip, sucking at it and holding it between her teeth while she moves her body against his leg, and tentatively one of D’s hands make their way under her dress to caress the outside edge of her thigh, and the skin there is even softer than that of her hands and arms and face, it really is as soft as silk, just like he’d imagined, and when Reba says his name against his lips it is nearly a moan in her throat.

She pulls back, only a little, to get her breath, and when she says, “Keep going, D, keep touching me,” he can still feel the brush of her lips against his own, and D himself feels as though he can barely breathe himself, his head is swimming with the scent of her, and his hand moves on, along the contour of her thigh and up the soft slope of her belly, and then down again to what is hidden under her cotton panties.

He tears the panties, getting them off her, without meaning to. He pushes the torn fabric aside, and beneath where the panties had been there is an unexpected cleft, but there is warmth and a slickness that he would recognize as a sign of desire even if she was not panting encouragements against his lips, and he feels his cocks twitch eagerly inside of his slit in response to her, but it seems terribly vulnerable, that split beneath the small mound of curly hair, and D does not know how to go further without the risk of cutting her with his claws.

As though she can sense the cause of his hesitation, Reba reaches down and takes hold of his hand, shaping it. She folds his fingers down, making a loose fist that points his claws harmlessly away from her, and then guides his hand downward to position his knuckle against the edge of the cleft. She rocks against him, more intently than before, and astounded D watches her face as she does this, and when she begins to make high, musical cries he is nearly overwhelmed by the magicalness of it all, and his own sense of power.

It ends rather suddenly. Reba’s body shudders, and then she falls against him, her forehead pressed against his chest and she breathes heavily. After a while she says, “That was a bit more than a kiss, wasn’t it?”

With the pad of his finger, D writes along her thigh, “It was good,” and watches her smile.

“Was it, though, for you?” she asks him.

D isn’t sure what that means, so he doesn’t answer. Inside him, his cocks are hard, aching to come out.

“I mean,” she says, fingers dancing along the inner edge of his thigh, moving upward, “do you want me to…”

Before she can even finish the question, D clicks his tongue loudly - an enthusiastic yes .

Before very long, Reba makes a discovery.

She parts the edges of his slit carefully, and needing no more encouragement his cocks slip free. “ Good lord ,” she says softly, more to herself than anything else, D thinks, as her fingers move along the length of his shaft, tracing the contours and measuring its length. She cups it in her hand, hefting it to gauge its weight, and under her breath she says, “You’re so big, D!”  

When she finds the second one, Reba makes a small sound of astonishment, followed by a short and amazed laugh. “You have ‘a penis,’ is what you told me,” she quotes, and D feels himself flush.

“Is it okay?” he writes against her skin.

“I’ll need to reconsider my technique,” she tells him, “but I think I can manage.”

And when she takes him in her hands again, D learns that the day’s surprises are far from over.

Chapter Text

“Well,” Reba says, when D comes back from the water, which he has just visited in order to do what he refers to as ‘wetting his gills,’ “what happens next?” She asks this not because she necessarily intends to go along with whatever plans D might have, but because she wants to understand his hopes and expectations.

D settles down in the sand beside her. When he curls his fingers around her wrist to lift her hand up and rest it on the mid-point of his thigh, Reba feels the beads of water that still cover his skin against her own. His claw traces a crescent shape along the side of her hand, the arc beginning at the base of her little finger and then swinging outward before curving back to find its terminus at the edge of her palm.

Drawing upon a character that he has encountered in one of the picture books that Will often brings home to give a face to the amorphous guidance provided by instinct, D writes on the back of Reba’s hand, “Nature tells me that I should bite you here.” He traces the course of the half circle again, and continues, “And that you would bite me in the same place, and that would be a type of promise, a way to always be a part of one another, forever.”

That word, “forever,” makes Reba uneasy - talk of marriage always has - and without really planning on doing so she begins to draw her hand away.

D takes that badly.

He catches her by the wrist with one hand, an iron grip that is more than hard enough to cause pain, and with his other hand he writes with frantic intensity, the letters sharp-edged and erratic, “I’m not going to bite you. I don’t EVER want to bite you. I NEVER will.”

He’s frightened, not angry, but that doesn’t make the hold he has on her arm any more gentle. Reba’s own fear has her heart kicking around inside of her chest, but she keeps that fear out of her voice when she says, “You’re hurting me. Stop it.”

His hand jerks away, gone in an instant, long before she even finished speaking. Reba hears his get to his feet and back away. When Reba turns her head in just the right way she can see the shape of him, a vague grey shape, crouched low but still looming over her.

Reba plays it off as though none of this has fazed her; that has always been the best approach to helping D calm himself down in the past. She says, “Good, because I don’t want you to bite me. People would talk.” Doubling down at the effort to turn whatever this in a more carefree direction, she adds with calculated humor, “And I don’t think my own teeth are up to the job of biting you.”

D remains entirely still, isolated from her in his own bubble of silence.

She holds her hand out, inviting him to say something, and finally he leans down to write, “I won’t bite you, no matter what.”

He tries to withdraw again, and this time Reba is the one to take hold of him, catching his index finger in a lucky grab and then holding on. He could shake her off, she knows, like a dog shakes water from its fur, but he doesn’t. He holds still and lets Reba shift her own hand so she is holding his properly, her fingers folded over the same place D told her she would bite him, were she the same sort of being he is, and intent on sticking with him for life. When D folds his hand around hers, everything but those fingers folded over the side of his palm is engulfed.

“I didn’t expect that you would,” she tells him, knowing that there are layers of things going on here that she does not properly understand. “I’m not scared of you, D.”

These are words Reba says often, as they never fail to reassure D. It is, essentially, the truth; she knows that he is fully capable of hurting her, and suspects that he may have killed other people in the past, but believes that he has no intention of causing her harm.

She hears D settle himself back down into the sand. She reaches out, fingers questing through the open air until she finds his thigh, then she hooks her hand around it and pulls herself closer.

Reba leans her head against D’s side and listens to the beat of his great heart - rapid at first, as it always is when he is touched, but before very long it becomes calm. His resting heart beat is much slower than her own, and the sound is uniquely soothing.

She is thinking about the guy that she has been going more or less steady with for the last few months. It’s time to cut him loose, she supposes, maybe even past time.

While Reba is thinking about the best way to let Bryan down, D’s hand begins to roam, getting a little bolder with the growing certainty that Reba is neither frightened nor angry with him, and the pace of his heart kicks up only a little when he pushes her skirt up high enough to expose the bottom portion of her thigh to the sun’s warmth, and writes, “You could come home with me?” Then, writing so quickly that she can barely catch the letters, “Just for a little while. We could have a party.”

“Where is home?” Reba asks, though she is nearly positive that she already knows.

“The lighthouse island,” D tells her. “Will could come and get you in the boat…” he begins, but then he draws his hand away without finishing the sentence, the tip of one claw trailing its way down her knee.”

“You’re thinking that he might be angry, if he found out about you and me?”

It is an observation rather than a guess, really. D has been cagey about talking about Will, ever since the first time he mentioned, as explanation for his prolonged absence, the beating that the man gave him.

Reba thinks that silence has a lot to do with his discomfort at the anger that story, vague on details though it had been, provoked in her on his behalf.

“Scared.”

“Will hurt you before.”

“He was scared then, too. He thought that I was going to eat his children.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“It’s a big story.”

“I’ve got some time still, today.”

Later, D will wish that he’d left for home sooner, or else spent more time telling the story than he does - if he hadn’t come home when he did, the bad things that follow his return to the island might not have happened at all - but neither of them know that now.

Now, the day is still young, and the sun is warm, and Reba is enjoying the privilege of sitting side-by-side with such an uncanny being.

“This was back around the first time you spoke to me,” D starts, the letters coming slowly as he organizes the thing in his mind. “That was the first time since I was a small baby that someone spoke to me kindly.”

Reba frowns, nettled by a small measure of guilt that she has been carrying since that first meeting. “I snapped at you, D, and I shouldn’t have. I assumed that you didn’t answer me when I said ‘hello’ it meant that you had some kind of ill intent.”

She can feel the shifting of his muscles as he shrugs off the apology. It wasn’t something he was looking for, that apology, but she hopes he takes it to heart anyway.

“Everyone else I approached, just seeing me choked the voice from their throats, or made them scream and scream and scream, and they always ran. For a long time I was sure that the same thing would happen, just as soon as you realized that I was a monster, and that -”

He pauses, a long beat in which Reba resist the desire to argue against that word - monster - which he has never before used in relationship to himself or anyone else, not wanting to derail him.

When D begins to write again, he says, “That something terrible would happen.

“The loneliness never stopped eating at me, back then. Sometimes it was like I wasn’t real - like I was an open wound, or some stupid thing that was nothing but instinct - stalk and chase and kill.”

Reba tries to wet her lips, but finds that her mouth has gone bone dry. She is thinking about the fisherman that was found drown almost two years before, the one that everyone agreed had been mauled by a shark.

It is not the first time that she has considered the possibility that D had something to do with it, but this is the first time the possibility seemed really real. She could ask questions, but she needs more time to think about how to respond to what she might find out, so she lets him go on.

“Around that same time I scented something in the water, something that smelled a little like me, and Nature said I should go and see, and when I did I found Hannibal, and then Will.

“I watched them for a long time. Hannibal knew I was close, I think, but they never saw me.

“I didn’t have the same angry ugly thoughts about Hannibal that I felt about myself. It felt like Hannibal was what Hannibal was supposed to be, but that I was a bad wrong thing. But I saw the way Will would play with him in the water, and how they would cuddle on the end of the dock, and how Will went to Hannibal for comfort. And then they made the twins together, and Will wasn’t afraid of them either, though sometimes they made him bleed, and I thought that if I was careful about it, if I didn’t sneak up on him and if I approached him on dry land, where he might feel more secure, that I wouldn’t scare him.”

Reba hears him run his fingers through his hair. “I was wrong about that.”

The low, almost sub-vocal chuffing that makes his chest rise and fall now, is, Reba knows, his way of laughing, though she believes that there is something rueful about it.

“What happened?”

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” D writes, with what she believes to be feigned disregard. “You’re mad at him. You’ve got no cause to be angry at him, Reba, things are alright now.”

Reba holds her breath for five seconds before she speaks again, trying to keep her temper in check. “I want to know what he did to you, D. I want you to tell me.”

There is a long pause, in which D hardly moves at all. She wonders if she has hurt him, or maybe made him angry.

“Will clubbed me,” D says, at last. “Will hit me with a heavy piece of wood, hard enough to crack my skull, and then he kept hitting me. He meant to kill me, but Hannibal made him stop.”

“D -” Reba starts, but she can’t decide what to say next. You should stay away from the bastard, i s the most appealing reply at the moment, but she doesn’t think that will be well received, no more than he would accept, Don’t go back to that island again.

Instead she says, “How can you defend him after he did that to you?” which in rhetrospect probably isn’t much better than the other options.   

“He was scared,” D repeats. “Sometimes people do bad things because they are frightened or alone or hurting, but that doesn’t mean that they are only bad.”

It is a simple statement, on the surface, at least the way D puts it now. Later, Reba will come to appreciate how fragile a doctrine it is, and how much thought has gone into it, and how desperately D needs to be able to believe it, not just for Will’s sake but his own as well.

“I told him that I was all better,” D goes on, writing more slowly now. “That I don’t hurt anymore from what he did,  but that isn’t true. I still get a pain in my head, sometimes, that last half a day or longer.”

“Headaches,” Reba supplies. “That’s the word for that.”

“I can’t dive the way I used to. I can go, twenty, maybe thirty feet down, but then the headache comes. I used to be able to go so far down that the sunlight disappeared. It wasn’t nice down there, it was a bad place to go, but I could do it when I wanted to.

“Hannibal wanted to show me something the other day, down on the ocean floor, inside an old broken ship. His treasure collection, I think. Hannibal has so many things, he has so many, he’s always bringing them up to land to show off. But I couldn’t follow him down deep enough to see the rest. He was disappointed at me, but it felt like my head was going to cave in if I went down any further.

“Hiding all of that from Will is to lie, isn’t it?”

“Not necessarily. At the most, it’s lying by omission. But you don’t have to tell him anything that you don’t want to. It’s your own business.”

“I don’t want to make him feel bad. Will has been good to me for a long time now.”

Reba has trouble believing that, but she pays close attention to what he has to say as he recounts the broken mirror, and how Will took care of him afterwards. He tells her about the mirror and the hair cut, and Will shepherding D through his first time with Hannibal, and how he agreed to stay with him afterward, and how much work Will has put into helping him to figure out how to tame the coming babies.

Reba is not a woman prone towards jealousy, nor does she appreciate it in others, but she finds herself feeling jealous of Will Graham nonetheless.

She doesn’t ask him many questions. Reba has found that she can gain insight into what D is thinking - into how he thinks - if she lets him go on without interruption, so she waits until he’s come to the end to go back and fill in the gaps.

In the past, D has been taciturn about the island and the other people on it, and she has not try to force the discussion, suspecting - not incorrectly - that he did not want to jeopardize their safety by risking exposure. Now, it seems that he has decided to to trust her, and Reba follows along intently, mapping out the landscape of the odd social world that seems to have strung up on the island.

She knew that Will Graham lived there, of course, but Hannibal has only been mentioned in passing in the past, and the twins are entirely new news to her.

But there’s a piece still missing from the puzzle, and so she asks, “What about Matthew?”

“What’s a matthew?”

“Matthew’s a person. It’s a name. Will Graham told me - told my friend, mostly, but she gossips - that he was had an old army buddy living on the island with him, and that his name was Matthew, and that he was disfigured and couldn’t speak anymore, and that was he needed the books on sign language and the writing primers.”

D’s hand draws away from Reba’s skin. She doesn’t need eyesight to know that he’s touching his own face.

After a time, D’s finger returns to write, “Maybe Will meant me.”

“It couldn’t have been. This was a long time before the two of you met.”

“It can’t have been Hannibal. There’s nothing wrong with Hannibal’s face. He’s handsome.”

Usually, Reba would take issue with the implications of that statement, but she is focused on the question at hand now, intent on answering a mystery that she’s been wondering about for the longest time.

“I don’t think it was him, either. I asked around, and found out that when Will was hired to tend the lighthouse, years ago, that they didn’t need to find a second man for the post. He said that his army buddy was going to be out of the hospital soon, and even though he’d taken a grievous wound to the face he was still fit to do his share of the working tending the lighthouse, and that in the meantime Will could hold things down by himself. That friend’s name is supposed to be Matthew.”

“I don’t know anything about it,” D says. “When I got there and it was just Will and Hannibal.”

Reba opens her mouth to say something, but then D begins to write again.

“Will is frightened of other humans. He thinks that if they found out about the twins - or about me or Hannibal, any of us - that something terrible would happen. I think he thinks that they would kill us all, or maybe something worse.”

D is cross-checking that idea with her, Reba can tell. He is hoping to be reassured that Will Graham’s fears are unground, but she can’t do that.

“He’s probably right about that,” Reba tells him instead. “You have to be careful, D.”

 

Later, when Will says that at least he didn’t scream when it happened, D and Hannibal will share a troubled look between one another, but they won’t correct him. The belief that he didn’t scream - that he was strong enough not to scream, that he was able to keep himself from upsetting the twins by screaming, that at least that initial pain did not rule him, no matter how badly the ensuing fever tore at his sense of reality and of himself - will be the one ragged scrap of pride that Will holds on to.

Will clings to that idea the way a man lost at sea might clutch the miserable piece of wood that is keeping him afloat, and neither D nor Hannibal are so cruel as to take it from him.

He's not lying, D is sure. Will is sincerely convinced that was the way it happened.

But it isn’t what happened.

When D came back home after his visit with Reba, bouncing on the balls of his feet with every step as he made his way up the trail, feeling absolutely buoyant even on dry land, he saw Will and the twins playing in the dooryard before they saw him.

They were wrestling in the patchy grass, all three of them, Will down on his hands and knees, growling in pretend threat as he reared up and caught Cyrus in his arms when the child tried to rush him.

Pinning Cyrus to his chest, Will flopped over onto his back and commenced to tickling the captured boy, and D could see the way the child flailed his arms and legs in an attempt to break free even as his entire body shook with noiseless laughter, his eyes squinted shut and his mouth opened wide as he laughed.

Alexander threw himself on Will’s belly hard enough to audibly knock the air from him, and then Will was laughing too as the bigger twin crawled up his chest and started to tickle the sides of Will’s neck and under his throat.

Will turned his head, still laughing, and his eyes met D’s as he stood at the edge of the door yard, and when Will said D’s name his face was still open and laughing and carefree, and the twins followed Will’s gaze to find D too, and even as Will was sitting up they scrambled up his chest and over his head, in a hurry to greet D, and when what happened happened D saw exactly how it happened, though no one else did.

He saw the child begin to slip and then panic as he scuttled over Will’s head, saw him dig his toes in to keep from falling, an action which in the normal course of things would have left Will with a nasty scratch but only a scratch, but instead one of the claws slid down over Will’s eyelid and then sunk in, and then the twins were scrambling around D’s ankles before either realized something terrible had happened.

For a few seconds, the pain did tear the air from Will’s lungs.

D watched him kneel over, almost entirely silent, and despite everything he knew D’s mind insisted wildly that Will had stepped on a poisonous jellyfish and been stung, though there are few dangerous jellies in these waters, and certainly none to be found this far onto dry land.

Then Will did start to scream, hunched over on his knees and elbows, fingers clutching at the packed dirt, and the screaming froze D and the twins where they stood.

D broke first, taking three steps towards Will, who was staring down at the stretch of dirt between his splayed hands.  

Blood dripped down his face as Will brought a hand up to cover the ruined eye with his palm, and Will screamed again, and in the screaming D heard the same terrified disbelief that he’d heard in the screams of the people he has killed, just before he pulled them under the waves, and D stepped back, ready to bolt.

He forced himself to stop.

The twins were still frozen, their eyes as big as clam shells as Will screamed, and D could see the blood on one of their toes, though he didn’t think either twin had noticed yet, and he stepped forward to snatch both children up in his arms, and then whirled and ran with them toward the water.

Chapter Text

When he hears Will scream Hannibal comes running, and he doesn’t bother with the trail.

He drops the creel with the evenings catch in it by the water’s edge and sprints in the direction of the sound, crashing through the scrubby brush and the raspberry canes and the high grass.  

Hannibal breaks through onto the path that leads up to the cottage and sees D hurrying in the other direction with the twins pinned awkwardly between his chest and crossed arms. D looks over his shoulder at him, his expression furtive, but Hannibal does not so much as pause.

The howling has by then stopped.

The pounding in Hannibal’s chest when he crests the hill, bringing the cottage into view, has little to do with exertion. Hannibal sees that the yard is empty, but the cottage door is hanging open.

Inside, Hannibal hears something fall over. Will curses loudly, a ragged sound that terminates in sobbing.

Hannibal ducks under the door frame and goes inside.



D kneels to sit the twins down in water that is, for them, chest deep.

“Wash your hands,” he signs at them, but they only stare up at him, wide-eyed and trembling. They are terrified, both of them, and though D knows that it has more to do with the shock invoked by Will’s screaming and the disorientation of being snatched up and carried away from the noise, it is hard for him to avoid feeling that they are frightened of him rather than the situation, especially when his own fear is so huge.

“Wash them,” he repeats, and wonders if he will get away with this, and what might happen if he doesn’t.

Alexander is cowed enough to turn his eyes downwards to look at his hands, which are of course entirely innocent of blood, and to go through the motions of rinsing them under the water, turning them over as he scrubs one hand against the other.

Cyrus, though, tries to wade around D’s legs to return to land. D catches him by the forearms carefully - so carefully, when those tiny bones might be snapped as easily as a waterlogged twig - and pushes his hands under the water, scrubbing them back and front with his own thumbs, carefully to keep from blocking the child’s ability to see that no blood washes away into the water.  

Through all of this the twins’ feet are buried in the wet sand, which has already rubbed away what little blood was clinging to the claws of one of their feet.

The evidence of what happened is thus hidden, and neither child sees blood on their own hands, since there was never any there to begin with.   

 

Will stands in the center of the cottage, his back to Hannibal, and his breathing comes in a hyperventilating weeze. If another shark creature was breathing like that, Hannibal would know to rush him down to the water to wet his gills, but he knows of no way to help with this.

He turns and the sound of Hannibal’s claws on the floorboards, and Hannibal sees that he has one hand over his right eye. Blood wells between his fingers. Will’s face is a rictus of misery.

Hannibal moves closer, signing as he comes, “What happened?”

Guilt comes into Will’s face, and a different flavor of fear than had previously been there, and Will turns his back without answering. He turns in a disorientated half-circle, moving around the cottage like a fish with a damaged swim bladder.

“I need the first aid kit,” Will says. “Help me find it.”

It’s where it always is - Will needs it often enough that he ought to know that - and Hannibal isn’t sure if he is dissembling or if the pain has him that badly confused, but he takes the kit from its home on the bookcase and carries it back to Will, then Hannibal takes Will by the shoulder and forces him down onto a kitchen chair, near the open door where the sunlight is good.

Hannibal gets down on his knees in front of Will.

Will forces a nauseous smile. With what he appears to intend to be self-deprecation, he says, “It’s my fault it’s as bad as it is. I think I got sand in it.”

“Let me see.”

Will doesn’t move his hand. “Don’t get angry, Hannibal, please,” he says. “You aren’t allowed to be mad at them.”

“Let me see,” he says again, but now Will is distracted, hooked by some new set of fears.

“Where are the twins?”

“D took them away.”

“They’re safe? He isn’t going to hurt them?”

Hannibal catches Will by the wrist and pulls his hand down, as careful as D was with the baby, and unblinking studies what has been done. It’s bad enough that it takes him a few moments to understand exactly what he’s looking at.

He thinks of a bird’s egg, laying broken open in the dirt when the chick inside had only begun to develop; the swirl of spilled albumen and ruptured yoke shot through with blood vessels and fragile ruined flesh.

Hannibal knows that Will is attentive of his moods, and often takes on Hannibal’s emotions as though they were his own. He tries to keep his face neutral, to guard the contents of his pounding heart from Will’s sight, to keep him from knowing how bad it is.

It’s no good; even with one eye ruined, Will still reads him like an open book.

“Get me the shaving mirror.”

Hannibal does as he’s asked.

Will looks into the mirror for perhaps three seconds. “Okay,” he says tonelessly, and puts the mirror face-down on the table. He lifts his hand to cover the wounded eye again, and Hannibal sees the way his hand shakes.

“I don’t know what to do about this,” Will says.

Hannibal stands, turns back to the table to peer inside the first aid kit. He is familiar with everything inside of it by now, from the cotton bandages to the stitching kit, but there are no answers to a punctured eye inside of it - not, at any rate, that Hannibal can see.

The tips of his claws brush the iodine disinfectant bottle tentatively. Will has, in the past, been nearly obsessive about applying it to every scrap, cut, scratch or bite that he acquires, no matter how big or small. He uses the stuff on the twins, too, and D and Hannibal when he can get them to hold still for it. Hannibal knows from experience how it stings.

He worries his lower lip between his teeth, then he picks the bottle up and holds it up inquiringly for Will to see.

“No - no, I can’t,” Will says, and suddenly he is begging like he expects Hannibal to force him to use it, tripping over his own words as they blur together in a terrified plea not to make him, that it is more than he can stand, that it will hurt too much for him to take it.

Hannibal wonders now if he ought to use the iodine anyway, regardless of Will’s objections; later, when the infection sets in, the question of what he might have done differently will plague Hannibal.

But he puts the iodine away, out of sight, and then he kneels down beside Will and curls his arms around his shuddering form, holding him tight until he is able to bring himself back under something approaching control.

Hannibal doesn’t rush him.

Eventually, Will says, “Boil some water. We’ll - we’ll wash it out. It’ll be okay after that.”

It’s evident that the eye will never be okay again, but Hannibal understand that saving it isn’t the measurement that Will is using now. All he is hoping for is to keep things from getting worse.  

Hannibal does not really understand the purpose behind boiling the water, but Will says that it necessary to make it “clean,” so he fills the tea kettle and waits for it to boil and then for it to cool enough that it won’t scald Will’s skin.

“You’ll have to hold me down, I guess,” Will says, and his voice is strangely emotionless. “I’m sorry for that.

“I wish to Christ I had something to drink.”

Hannibal gets up and takes one of the cups from the cupboard, and hurries outside to fill it from the water barrel.

Will is, against all credibility, chuckling when Hannibal sits the water in front of him.

Hannibal cocks his head at him, troubled by this strangeness.

“You’re so goddamn unbelievably smart,” Will says, his hand still covering the wounded eye, “sometimes I forget there are things you don’t know.”

Hannibal frowns.

“I didn’t mean water,” Will says, but he raises the glass and drains it with obvious gratitude. “Let’s get this done if we’re going to do it.”

 

Most of the fish in the creel are dead by the time D finds it, but when he lifts the basket one of them flops its tail with enough force to make the basket sway. He pulls the gasping thing from among its still fellows, and lifts it to study the glassy emotionless eyes.

At the edge of the water, the twins raise mounds of wet sand in a desultory way and then kick them over. They’ve given up on asking questions that he has no answers to; what happened to Will and is he all right and will he be angry with them.

A peculiar thought strikes D, a quasi-religious bit of imagining, and he carries the fish down to the water. He holds it under the waves, grasping it around the middle, and allows the water to flow through its gills.

Watching it from above, he thinks, If I throw you back, they won’t throw the twins away. If I let you live, things will go well for all of us, too.

The fish lashes its tail against D’s wrist, and he takes that as assent. He releases the fish, and watches it swim away until the dark water swallows it from view.

Then he turns, and in the fading twilight sun, D leads the boys back up to the cottage.  

Chapter Text

From his perch on D’s bent forearm, Alexander can smell Will’s blood. He can smell the anger on Hannibal too, as he steps out of the cottage to greet them, even over the scent of D’s fear, and his own. He tightens his arms around D’s neck, and looks down over D’s shoulder at Cyrus.

His twin’s scent is harder to parse, and not simply because Cyrus is downwind and lagging behind. It is a miserable, stomach-achy smell, one that makes Alexander want hide in the frigid shadows of some isolated underwater cave where no one in the world will be able to look at him.

They are too young, the both of them, to really understand what shame is, even when feeling it themselves.

Alexander clings to D when he moves to put him down, stretching his arms to their limit to extend around D’s neck and clasping his hands together to hold on, but D pries him off nonetheless, gently but with inexorable power.

D sits him on the ground and steps around him, putting his body between Hannibal and Alexander.

Peering around the side of D’s leg, Alexander lifts his head to look up at Hannibal, so much bigger than him, high above on the crest of the hill. He tries to read Hannibal’s intent. His muscles are tense, full of tightly coiled aggression, yet where or toward whom the anger might be directed Alexander cannot say, because even as Hannibal looks down on the three of them the child has a disquieting sense that he is not really being seen.

That sense of invisibility, of having drifted down into the deep dark stillness below the warmer waters of Hannibal’s regard, will, in the coming weeks, become nearly constant.

Now, unable to understand or predict Hannibal’s intentions, Alexander is fully conscious, in a way that he has not been since the first early weeks of his life, of his profound vulnerability in relation to the adults. If he wanted to, Hannibal could rip him apart with a casual swipe of his claws, could tear his throat out with the snap of his jaws quicker than Alexander could blink.

D could do the same, just as easily. Even Will - so gentle and giving and so easily wounded himself - could break Alexander or his twin to pieces in his hands if he wanted to.

There’s a terror to that idea, profound and instinctual, but even as that bone deep awareness of himself as potential prey grips him the other half of Alexander’s nature posits a different and more frightening idea: What if they don’t want us anymore?

Come here,” Hannibal signs. More frightened of being abandoned than of being hurt, Alexander steps toward Hannibal, but D moves to block his path even as Cyrus grabs him by the tail and yanks him backwards.

“I did it,” D is telling Hannibal. “I hurt Will.”

It’s such an odd thing to say - a lie that anyone can tell is a lie - and Alexander watches Hannibal’s eyes narrow in response. He sees that way that Hannibal’s upper lip skins back to show his teeth, and Alexander thinks that perhaps the two of them will clash now - that Hannibal will give D no option but to fight him, and that it will not be the good natured wrestling matches that they sometimes share but something far more serious.

“Get out of the way,” Hannibal tells D. “Will is worried about his children. He wants to see that they’re alright.”

 

If Will were another shark creature, laid low by some other predator or by bad luck, and if Hannibal himself was wired in a more typical way, things would be considerably less complicated than they are now.

Will would, if his injuries permitted, go into hiding - he would find some old shipwreck or a cave or simply an open space under an overhanging rock, out of the sight of hunters that might be inspired to attack him in his weakness, and Hannibal would stand guard.

He would look over Will, allowing no living creature larger than a hermit crab or minnow near his partner, and he would wait to see if Will got better. If his partner recovered, then they would swim together again. If he died, Hannibal believes that he himself would die as well.

It is difficult now for him to tolerate having the others near Will, but he tries to give Will what he has asked for. Following Will’s lead in this, when his own instincts are insufficient and ill suited to the situation, seems to Hannibal to be the best thing he can do.

He has, therefore, brought the twins back to Will as requested, and has even allowed D to tag along after, though he hangs back, peering in through the open doorway, rather than coming inside.

Hannibal is aware that they all think that he is angry at the twins, and that his anger will make him dangerous to them. Even Will thinks this, Hannibal knows. In other circumstances those fears might have felt like an aspersion on his character, and he might have felt offended or hurt by their suspicious. Instead, the twins’ anxiety and D’s insistence on speaking nonsense in an effort to defend them rankled only because it distracted him from Will - time that might have been spent watching over Will, being by Will’s side, protecting Will was wasted instead coaxing the twins into returning to the house with him.

He ignores the voice of instinct that clamors at him to drive the others away, and instead sits down on the bed beside Will, the twins still in his arms.

Will turns his attention to Cyrus immediately. That one is, Hannibal assumes, the one who caused this, and he thinks that Will must have reached the same conclusion, because he focuses on comforting the child.

“Hey baby,” Will says, and lifts his arms for Cyrus to come to him. But now that Cyrus is in Hannibal’s arms he is as reluctant to let go as he was to be picked up in the first place. Hannibal pries him off and deposits him in Will’s lamp, where he sits shivering, still as any small creature would be in the face of the possibility that a hunter has spotted it. His face is wet.  

Will’s own hands are hardly steady, but he raises them to touch the child, running his fingers through Cyrus’ hair and rubbing circles on his upper back. “Don’t cry, baby, it’s okay. Nobody is in trouble, no one is mad at you, it’s okay.”

He looks up, over Hannibal’s shoulder, with his own teary eye, at D. They have covered the other, ruined one, with gauze and wound bandages around his head to keep it in place. Raising his voice loud enough for D to hear clearly, Will adds, “Nobody is getting thrown away.”

The alarm clock on the bedside table begins to ring, jarringly, and Hannibal reaches out and turns it off.

When he looks at Will again, his face has gone stubborn. “Have to go light the lamp,” he says, and before the words are out of his lips Hannibal is signing, “To hell with the lamp. Never mind the lamp.”

“No,” Will says, with stubborn resolution.

Not half an hour ago, Will had been thrashing beneath Hannibal like a dying fish while Hannibal, following directions, held him down and flushed the ruined eye with hot water. There’s fear in Will now, and none of the pain has gone, and his usually tan skin is the same dingy greyish-white as the bed sheets, but there is no moving him.    

“You can’t think like that. The lamp has to burn every night, no matter what. That’s the most important thing in the damn world.

“You understand me?” Will grips Hannibal’s wrist, hard enough that it hurts, and Hannibal watches the way the pain draws the lines of his face sharp. He looks like wet stone, Hannibal thinks. “If the lamp doesn’t burn, the humans will come and take me away. If it doesn’t burn, every night, we’ll all die.”

Will has never put the risks in such stark terms. Hannibal wonders if they are nonsense words, meant to sway him the same way that D tried by claiming that he was the one who put out Will’s eye.

Will is, in any case, more convincing, and Hannibal does not dare risk ignoring him.

So they go up to the lighthouse together, and by dawn Will’s scent has developed a sickly sweet component and the fever has begun to burn inside of him.

Chapter Text

Have a new illustration by Jove -

 


 

Hannibal has, in his time, faced the potentiality of his own end more times then he cares to count. In his youth he stared down the maws of animals ten or fifty or a thousand times bigger than himself, and escaped only by chance or cunning. There have been lean seasons when the potentiality of his own starvation was one failed hunt away.

The possibility of dying in bloodless, exhausted misery with the twins still trapped inside him had seemed entirely too real. Before that, Hannibal fully expected to die tangled in that cursed web of fishing net, an ignominious death by strangulation, beached under the merciless heat of the sun, and when Will - a stranger to him then - approached him with his knife in hand, it had not even occurred to him to doubt that the man meant to make meat of him, in the same way that Hannibal took his fill from half a dozen dead or half-drown humans he’d happened upon in the past.

All of it pales in comparison to the growing certainty that Will will be dead soon.

The second night after it happened, when the two of them were more or less alone in the lighthouse, the twins sleeping uneasily in their crib and D down below somewhere, doing the things that D does when he is by himself, Hannibal broached the idea of a doctor.

He has encountered the idea of doctors in some of the books, and he understands them to be humans who have dedicated themselves to the study of healing bodies, in the same way Hannibal has dedicated himself to the study of taking prey, and the study of language and of art, and above all the study of Will and all things related to Will.

He understood also that doctors have in their possession a set of specialized tools that aid them in their tasks, but despite the vastness of his treasure collection, aside from what can be found in the first aid kit, Hannibal has only one object similar to the pictures in the books; the scalpel is quite sharp, and only a little corroded by the salt water, but he can’t see any way that the thing might do any good for Will now.

Sharp things are what got them into this situation.

Will reacted to the idea of a doctor with explosive anger and a type of cruelty that Hannibal had never before encountered in him.

“You don’t have any fucking idea what you’re talking about,” he said, pulling away from Hannibal to turn over on his side, his curled spine facing Hannibal, so he would not see any reply Hannibal might make. “You don’t even know what a doctor is. It isn’t like in the books, Hannibal. You don’t know, alright? You haven’t got a clue.”

It was Hannibal’s first real taste of ridicule, and it stung, though he could tell perfectly well that it was raw terror that drove Will to attempt to berate him into silence.

He might have turned Will over, made him follow Hannibal’s signs as he demanded more inform, and alternative plan, any kind of assurance that this all wasn’t going as badly as Hannibal thought.

Instead, he got up and busied his hands with the lamp, though it needed no extra tending right that minute. Hannibal thought about how he was, when the twins were still inside of him and causing him such alarm and discomfort - and later, when he’d come to fear for his own life on their account. He’d been demanding and snappish then, but Will never lost patience with him.

Eventually Will started to talk, as Hannibal supposed he would, trying to explain why he reacted the way that he did, but his words were scattered. He was lost in his own head, and badly frightened, and forgot to explain the things that Hannibal could not know about.

He was, Hannibal understood, talking about things that happened to him or that he saw happen to others while under the control of doctors, but so little of it meant anything to him. Will spoke of straightjackets , of being bound so tightly that he couldn’t move his arms or straighten his spine, and Hannibal remembered again the choking misery of being caught in the fishnet, and he spoke of insulin comas , how the doctors would use a tool called a syringe to sting him with some poison that made him so senseless to the world that he might as well have been dead, how that death-like state might last for days, and how that had been done to him dozens of times - so many times that he lost.

“The water cure,” Will said, and when he paused to try to reign in the shudder in his voice Hannibal had time to imagine what that might be. If malicious humans wanted to harm another human without killing him they would hold him under the water until he nearly drown, Hannibal imagined, but Will described instead being wrapped in layers of freezing cold wet blankets until he couldn’t so much as wiggle, and of being strapped up naked in a shower stall and sprayed with scalding hot water.

He spoke of rancid food and of filth and a massive labyrinth of a building larger than the entirety of their island and packed with so many other wounded people that it was impossible to have even a moment’s peace, of other captives who demanded from him sex and who would not take no for an answer, and of being punished when he fought back - blamed by the doctors and the orderlies for the harm he did.

“I hurt a couple of them bad,” Will said, and even in his misery there was not a hint of apology to the words. “The doctor said that I was violently unstable, after that, and I knew that they were never going to let me go with that kind of crazy marked down in my file, but the other patients didn’t try to bother me anymore.”

By then, Will had turned over to face Hannibal again, and was sitting up in the bed. He squinted his good eye to follow Hannibal’s signs when he said, “But you got away.”

“I ran.”

“But the doctors in the village won’t know that you ran away from the asylum,” Hannibal said, not entirely sure as he said it if that was correct. “You’re just going to have the eye fixed. They won’t know that you are unique if you don’t tell them.”

“‘Unique,’” Will repeated, with a rueful little laugh. It touched him, for some reason, Hannibal’s choice of words, and he didn’t try to hide it. “Don’t get me crying now. It goddamn hurts to cry.”

Maybe it was the sting of tears in his hurt eye that distracted Will enough to say what he said next, because as soon as the words were out of his lips Hannibal could tell he regretted them. “There’s no sane explanation for scars I’ve got.”

It was more than he meant to say, and Hannibal watched the way Will’s eye darted up to meet his own, checking his response, and the truth came to Hannibal, as blinding as the noonday sun atop still water: I’m to blame.

Will shook his head, and spoke as though Hannibal told him just what was making his chest ache. “You never did anything to me that I didn’t let you do - that I didn’t want you to, Hannibal. I’m grateful for that. I love you for that.”

Then, perhaps seeing the stubbornness come into Hannibal’s face, Will said, “Don’t go changing that now.”

There was a threat in those last words, and Hannibal heard it loud and clear, but he said, “You need help. You need someone who can help you.”

“I’m getting better,” Will said, and Hannibal couldn’t tell if he was lying to himself or to Hannibal or to them both. “Sure I am. I can’t count the number of one-eyed dogs and cats I’ve seen in my life, and no one ever dreamed of taking those animals to a doctor. Wild things, too.”

Hannibal lifted his chin at that; he’d come across a number of one-eyed birds and animals over the course of his hunts, too. Sometimes that made them easier prey, but he’d found that more often they learned to be warier than their fully sighted kin, and were much harder to sneak up on.  

“And people, too - lots of one-eyed people out there,” Will went on. “And plenty of them never saw a doctor in their lives, either.

“I’m just going to wait for this to heal up, and then I’m going to leave you to watch the lighthouse while I take a trip up the coast to a bigger city to get myself a glass eye, and no one in the village is going to find out a thing about any of this mess.

“Give it a little time and it’s going to be like none of this ever happened.”

 

But Will hasn’t been getting better.

Now, three days after it happened, Hannibal comes into the cottage with lunch for Will to find the twins cuddled up in bed with him.

The nail cutters are on the floor by the head of the bed, and Hannibal sits the plate on the bedside table and bends down to pick them up and put them back where they belong.

“Look what they did for me,” Will says, and Hannibal sees that he has been weeping, despite the way tears burn. “They trimmed their claws.”

“I see that,” Hannibal says to Will. To the twins he says, “D has your dinner. Go eat.”

They are shame-faced as they climb down from the bed, and their eyes watch him closely as they slip past.

“Don’t blame them,” Will says, fretfully, once the twins are gone.

“I don’t,” Hannibal says, and that’s the truth. It’s simply hard for him to tolerate anyone else being near Will when he is so vulnerable. He tells Will as much.  

“They don’t understand that,” he says, sitting up in bed. “They think that you hate them now.”

Hannibal is aware, in an intellectual way, of the surprising degree to which that might have troubled him just a handful of days ago. Now, though, instinct demands that every fiber of his focus be directed on his wounded partner. He has tried, but it is so hard to think about anything other than the overpowering need to protect Will, and the growing dread that he will not be able to do so.  

Hannibal sits down on the bed beside Will. His little partner has always burned hot, compared to Hannibal, but the heat coming off him now is shocking. It makes Hannibal of holding his palm above a banked fire, yet though Will is soaked in sweat his entire body is shaking so hard Hannibal can hear his flat teeth clicking together.

He picks the plate up from the bedside table and offers it to Will.

Will hesitates before he takes the plate, and once he has it he only holds it between his hands. He does not even look at the food.

Hannibal taps on his shoulder. When Will looks at him, he signs, “Eat.” Then, for emphasis, Hannibal signs it again two more times.

It draws a weary, wistful smile from Will. “You look like Cyrus.”

The smile fades into a troubled expression, “You’re sure the boys are getting enough to eat?”

“There’s enough fish. Don’t worry - I won’t let them go hungry.”

Hannibal says again, “Eat, Will.”

Will turns his face away. “I’m sorry. I’m just not hungry,” he tells Hannibal. “Give it to the dogs, alright?”

Hannibal frowns. “‘The dogs’?” he repeats. He knows from the books what a dog is, and has in his time eaten a few of them, but there are no dogs here.

Will blinks, lost in his feverish head, then he says, “The boys . Sorry. Or you eat it, Hannibal. Have you been eating?”

“I’ll eat if you eat,” Hannibal says, and Will tries - Hannibal can tell that he is trying as hard as he can, but he can’t stomach it.

“I’m sorry,” Will says, for perhaps the tenth time that day, letting the fork that had been hovering below his lips drop back to the plate. “I can’t right now. I’ll eat dinner, okay?”

He sees Hannibal’s face cloud, and says again, “I’m sorry - I don’t want to upset you.” Will says this in a way that is at once defensive and pitiful, as though he expects punishment, and Hannibal takes the plate away and sits it on the bedside table again.

Hannibal sits beside Will, his hands lying still in his lap. He is thinking about his sibling - about watching her waste away, when whatever was wrong inside of her kept her from taking food. He has told Will about how it happened, and he wonders if Will is thinking about the same thing now, too.

After a while, Will says, “Will you go get the boys again, please? I want to know that they are okay.”

No one is okay, Hannibal thinks. Nothing is going to be okay again if you don’t get well.

But there is no point in wasting words on things that Will already knows, and Hannibal rests his hand on Will’s knee for a few seconds before rising to do as he asked.

Chapter Text

D intercepts Hannibal on the way down the hill, drawing him away from the twins.

From the hard lines of Hannibal’s face and the stiff way he hold his body D guesses that Hannibal already knows what D is planning on saying.

D persists nonetheless.

“We have to give Will back to the humans.”

“No.”

“They won’t keep him,” D tries to soothe. “They’ll fix him, and then they’ll throw him back to us. That’s what humans do with wounded things.”

Hannibal’s upper lip curls derisively. “They catch more living things with a single net in the course of an afternoon than we could eat in an entire year. Sharks and fish and dolphins and turtles and crabs and every other type of living thing, and throw a quarter of them back already dead.

“They’re hunters, just like we are, just on a larger scale. The only other difference is that they don’t always eat what they kill.” D knows that Hannibal is deliberately reminding him of the humans he killed but did not eat, but he refuses to rise to the bait.

“Will freeing me?” Hannibal goes on. “That couple that stitched you up? They’re exceptions to the rule. Humans are not, by and large, in the habit of saving anything. They’re hunter.”

“They don’t eat other humans,” D says, repeating information that Hannibal himself gave him. This difference between the two species, a fact that somehow did not seem all that surprising to D, is something that Hannibal has expressed puzzlement about more than once.

“No, they’ll do something worse. The doctors will only hurt him more than he’s already hurting, and if he doesn’t die they’ll keep him so they can go on hurting him.”

The word “doctor” means nothing to him. He raises his hands to sign something else, but Hannibal shows his teeth and says, “This is Will’s choice, and he doesn’t want to go back to the humans. He knows better than you.”  

“I know someone who will help him,” D insists, hoping that it’s true.

“Who do you know?”

“Somebody,” D says, evasive.

“You don’t know anybody. Other than Will, you’ve killed every human you met since you were little.”

“I know someone,” D says, and stands a little straighter. “We’re courting.”

Hannibal turns his face away and moves to go past him, and D catches him by the upper arm and jerks him back around. He thinks for a moment that Hannibal will make him bleed for that, but he just stares up at D, seething.

“They’re warm when they kiss you,” D tells him. “They’re hot - much hotter than we are. Between their legs, too. Being close to them is like laying on a warm stone beneath the midday sun.”

Hannibal is watching him with narrowed eyes. “Is he a doctor?”

The question confuses D. “She’s a woman?” he offers.

“‘A woman,’” Hannibal repeats, annoyed. But then something seems to dawn on him, and he signs more quickly, “Was the human that stitched your face a man or a woman?” he demands.

“The woman,” D says, with a fair amount of certainty. He could spell out her name now, but he does not wish to give her that power that comes from bringing a name into the world.

“But she wasn’t a doctor?”

“I don’t know what a doctor is,” D says. “What are you thinking?”

Hannibal shakes his head as though a bee is buzzing too close to his ear. Some idea has hooked his brain, clearly, but he doesn’t answer the question.

“It’s fine for you,” Hannibal says instead, “that you are seeing someone. But it doesn’t change anything for Will and I.”

“She’ll help,” D says again, but Hannibal is already walking away, and this time D doesn’t try to force him to stay.



Hannibal’s concept of gender and its boundaries is fuzzy at best, and his understanding of the topic is further confounded by the fact that Will seems to hardly fit better within that binary than Hannibal does himself. Will cooks - or at least, he did before Hannibal largely took over that job - and he cares for the children. He cleans and mends clothing and performs a dozen other tasks that, if the books are to be believed - and Will has introduced a great deal of doubt into Hannibal’s mind in this regard - are behaviors common to women, but he also does a host of things that in the books men do exclusively, and he clearly considers himself to be a man.

However, it has not escaped Hannibal that, with very few exceptions, humans who have specific job titles are almost exclusively men.

He hauls Will’s small library up to the lighthouse before dusk, and spends the night oscillating between tending the lamp, and trying to find some way to alleviate Will’s suffering, and combing through the books, both fiction and nonfiction, for any reference to doctors.

If Will is aware of what Hannibal is doing with the books, he doesn’t ask questions - at least none that Hannibal can make sense of. He talks sometimes, but what he says is often hard to follow, and, Hannibal suspects, rarely addressed to him.

By dawn, Hannibal is certain that - at least so far as Will’s library is concerned - there are no woman doctors.

He thinks, for a short time, that he has hit on something brilliant - that if doctors are always men then perhaps it would be safe to turn Will over to the care of a woman, but then he rejects this idea; women and men live side by side, after all, and if the doctors are as powerful as Will says there is nothing to keep them from taking Will from D’s woman, whoever she is.

And Will said that the books can’t be believed, at least as regards doctors. He can’t say for sure that his deduction is correct.

He might have asked Will, but by morning Will is barely lucid.

Will is, in fact, burning up, the fever hotter than ever, and he’s weak.

Hannibal has to help him down the stairs. It’s a treacherous descent, given that the steps are too narrow for Hannibal to easily balance on them with his long feet, and by the time they reach the bottom, Will is spent.

 

D waits at the landing, looking up a stairwell that is too narrow for him to climb, and he smells the fever on Will before he and Hannibal even come around the curving staircase and into view. As they reach the bottom, D backs up towards the entrance to give Will and Hannibal room.

The twins creep down behind them, taking the steps carefully, one at a time.

Will sinks down onto the bottom step, breathing hard. Shivering. He is pale as the belly of a dead fish, and his head sags. He doesn’t look at D - doesn’t give him the smile that D has come to depend on receiving, even at the worst of times.

He’s dying, D thinks, and catches Hannibal’s eye for just an instant - but long enough to know that he knows that, too.

When Will tries to get back on his feet his legs don’t want to cooperate, and he falls back onto the step again. Hannibal pats his shoulder reassuringly and then bends to pick Will up, lifting him up against his chest like he was one of the twins.

He points toward the door with his chin, and D moves to open it and then backs out of the lighthouse to hold it open while Hannibal carries Will outside. He lifts his chin, briefly, in thanks to D, and then starts up the hill toward the cottage, Will still in his arms. Cyrus tags after them, but Alexander hangs back with D, expecting that he will take the child down to the water.

Watching Hannibal’s careful progress up the hill, D begins to plan for a way to get Will away from him.

Chapter Text

D moves through the water, the net bag that serves as a fishing creel when the family hunts in deeper waters slung over his shoulder. Tailing after D like a cleaner fish, Alexander swims just below him, availing himself of the protective patch of shadow offered by D’s body.

The child is uneasy, as he follows D out past any of the usual hunting spots, but that doesn’t mean much. Both twins have been miserable little balls of anxiety since Will was wounded.

D does not believe that the child suspects anything.

Letting the cool water flow through his gills as he takes a deep breath, D checks himself internally to see if he is frightened, and finds nothing. He keeps waiting for fear to arrive, but if there is any within him now he is numb to it.

D fears neither rejection nor punishment, though he knows that if he continues to pursue his current course of action he may be expelled from the family, if not worse. Nonetheless, he feels only the intent of his purpose, a sharp focus on achieving the goal he has set for himself.

Fantasy comes easy to him, and when D comes to a sudden stop and flips his body so he floats upright in the water, directly in front of Alexander, it is simple for him to imagine that the threat he is only pretending to be lurking over the child’s shoulder is real.

When he grips Alexander by upper arm and looks past him with wide eyes, D almost sees the pod of dolphins coming towards them, clever pack hunters that might kill him as surely as they could kill the little one, and with his free hand he makes the quick, one-handed gesture that means “Dolphins - hide!” and then with the one still holding Alexander’s arm he gives the child a shove to get him moving, pushing him down towards the high kelp grass and jumble of rocks with their many crevices and hiding places.

When Alexander has disappeared from view, D turns back for the island, powerful legs kicking out to propel him forward.  

He is not sure how long Alexander’s fear of predators and his faith in D’s directions will keep the child in hiding, but he knows that he doesn’t have much time.

 

Since all of this began Hannibal has barely left Will’s side.

He has given up entirely on both hunting and cooking, nor does he eat unless food is brought to him, and then very little, though he has gone to great - and largely unsuccessful - lengths to convince Will to take food. And he’s paid little attention the the twins, except to send them outside when he feels that they are disturbing Will’s rest.

Everything except the lighthouse and Will have fallen to the wayside, for D to pick up as well as he can.

Now, D hurries, sprinting up the path to the cottage. He lets himself inside.

Hannibal, who had been bent over Will, urging him to drink some fresh water, turns his head to look at D, and D hears the dry rustling of his gills as he does so. Hannibal has been visiting the water much less often than he ought to be, and then only briefly.

D has been worried that Hannibal may be courting his own health crisis, but now he thinks of Hannibal’s unwillingness to leave Will’s side simply as an obstacle to be overcome.

The natural light has come inside with D, and in response to the bright sunbeam Will groans closes his good eye, then he turns his head toward the wall.

Hannibal’s eyes leave D to follow the course of Will’s movement, and D has to step forward and tap him on the shoulder to get his attention again. He watches D with dull eyes, weary and disinterested.

“I can’t find Alexander,” D tells him, and watches Hannibal’s eyes widen, the way annoyance and alarm kindle a spark there. “There’ve been dolphins around.”

Hannibal straightens and steps forward, and D sees the way that fear for a child he has come to love tugs at the instinctual tether that binds Hannibal to his wounded partner.

At the same time, Cyrus crawls out from under the bed, where he had been hiding, and apparently, following along with what D had signed.

He reaches up to tug at Hannibal’s fingers, which he is just tall enough to reach, and when Hannibal looks down he begins to sign his twin’s name over and over in quick succession.

Hannibal does not respond. He looks back to D. “Where did you see him last?”

The location D gives him is nearly a quarter mile away from where he left Alexander.

Now comes the tricky part. If Hannibal demands that D come down to the water to help him search for the child or to watch his back against potential attacks by the dolphins that D has invented, the entire plan will crumble, just as it will if Hannibal realizes that he is lying.

If that happens, D knows that he will have to fight Hannibal, and that Hannibal will by no means give up easily.  

Hannibal gives Will a last longing look that is enough to wake the spirit of guilt inside of D, regardless of his resolve, and then Hannibal signs quickly, “Watch them until I get back,” and steps toward the door.

Cyrus tries to follow him outside, but Hannibal shuts the door before the child can slip out.

He turns back to D, his face screwed up in misery, still signing his twin’s name rapidly in between saying, “Out, outside please,” and “open door,” but when D shakes his head at this Cyrus gives an infuriated huff and flashes his teeth. Cyrus turns his back on D before he can say anything else, looking for a way out.

Latched doors aren’t the same mystery to Cyrus that they were on the day that D first arrived on the island, when Will locked the child in the cottage for fear that he might be killed, but he is still too short to reach the doorknob. He scrambles over to the kitchen table and, grasping it by the leg with both hands, begins to pull a chair backwards back toward door.

D watches this for a few seconds, but when Cyrus climbs up onto the chair and reaches for the doorknob D takes him by the shoulder and turns the child to face him.

“Alexander is safe, don’t worry,” D tells him. “I’m taking Will away to get some help, because he is so sick, but you have to stay here.”

Cyrus shakes his head vehemently at that.

He turns back to the door and with both hands twists the doorknob. Driven by the force of the child pushing against it, the door swings up with Cyrus still clinging to the knob, and Cyrus goes with it, dangling from the knob and then dropping down onto the ground outside, before bolting towards the trail down to the beach as quickly as his legs will carry him.

D shoves the chair aside and goes after him.

There’s no challenge whatsoever in running down the child. Cyrus has made it no further than five yards from the door when D scopes him up, and though he squirms in D’s grasp there is no chance whatsoever of him breaking free.

In some ways all of this has so far been too easy. D thinks that he understands now, better than ever, why Will was driven to terrified and terrifying violence when he first saw D.

If D’s own madness had progressed further, if he’d come to the island all those months ago intent on destroying something that he believed he could never have rather than looking for some place to belong he might easily have killed them all in twenty minutes of annihilating violence; snatch up the first child in the water, when it wandered off from its parent, then ambush the adult creature when it came looking for its young, before setting upon the human on the trail, dragging him down before he had a chance to arm himself, and then chase down the last little one at his leisure. It all would have been simple. 

Will was right to fear him, D believes, to try to drive him away or kill him in order to protect the family. He is trying now to do the same - not only to save Will, but also the good life that they all have here, together.

D does not know if he will be welcomed back into the family when all of this is over, but he knows that if Will is allowed to die it will all fall apart regardless.

Will blinks at them with his unbandaged eye when D walks past him with Cyrus, and D hears him mutter something fuzzy about being good and playing nice.

D puts Cyrus down inside the twins’ bedroom and closes the door before he can bolt past, then he moves two heavy crates in front of the door so it can’t be pushed open from the inside.

There is no resistance from Will when D scopes him up. It’s a shock, how little he seems to weigh, and the limp way he hangs in D’s arm. Will is shivering and sweating all that once, and his good eye is closed, though D does not believe he is asleep. He doesn’t know what the bad eye is doing, beneath the bandages, but the smell coming from it is absolutely dreadful.

He carries Will down to the boat and lays him down, carefully, on the deck. Then he attaches a strong length of rope to the ship’s bow and, clutching it between his teeth, jumps overboard, slipping down into the water with hardly a splash.

Swimming, D tugs the boat far enough away from the island that he does not believe Hannibal will hear the motor running, and then he climbs back into the boat and yanks the engine to life.

They have gone roughly a third of the way to D’s usual meeting place with Reba when Hannibal breaches from beneath the waves to claw his way up the side of the boat on onto the deck. He straightens, the furious deadly intent radiating from every inch of him, and advances on D.

Chapter Text

When he is lifted from the bed and carried down to the dock, Will doesn’t rouse entirely, but instinctively he leans in towards the stability offered by the strong arms.

He feels very small yet well-protected there. A picture plays out in Will’s feverish brain, a half-dream built from a borrowed memory taken from someone else’s childhood; the sense of being small and scared and in need, and having someone big enough to break you draw you into his arms to comfort your hurts and show you love instead.

That he is simply mirroring his own children’s feelings about Will himself is not something of which he is conscious.

There is a blank, fuzzy spot here the runs for perhaps twenty minutes, in which Will slides further into unconsciousness. He’s cold, when he wakes up, damp with salt spray and laying somewhere hard - the wooden deck of his boat, Will realizes after some hard thought.

The boat sways beneath him nauseatingly, and his head is packed with roaring hornets, and his vision is unclear. Propping himself up on his arms, Will pulls himself into a sitting position, leaning against the hull of the boat, his legs sticking out in front of him in a tangle.

He looks around, the pupil of his left eye darting rapidly in its orbit. There’s something wrong with his right eye, or maybe that entire side of his face, but Will can’t remember what.

He can make out D on the far end of the boat, bent over the engine. Will’s vision is muddled, shapes blurring together when he moves his head, and he blinks again and again to try to clear it as he looks around, trying to find…

What am I trying to find?

The others, one of the voices in his head offers, and Will latches onto that, trying to focus in on it, and he is still struggling to pin the thought down when D yanks the engine to life.

When Will turns his head towards the sound, D is not only gone - Will has forgotten that he’d been there at all.

Matthew is standing there instead, crouched down next to the rudder to work it, eyes looking out over the water. It’s Matthew, but as Will has never seen him before - grim, lips drawn in a determined line, his steely eyes focused on the horizon as he points the boat toward Will knows not where.

Understanding dawns on Will suddenly; he’s been wounded - he has taken a bullet to the head, but Matthew is trying to save him. Matthew is taking him to get help.

Will’s hand comes up, reaching for his face, but then he thinks better of it and lets it fall to his lap again. He doesn’t want to know how bad it is.

Despite the pain and the certainty that he is in awful shape, the sense that everything will be alright is keen. Will sees a life for the two of them, even if his face is ruined; useful work in some isolated place, like a lighthouse or weather observation station. Someplace where there will be no strangers to stare, no matter how bad his scars might be, and no one to call their love sin.

But I don’t love him, Will thinks. Not Matthew.

He blinks again, and when he looks back toward the stern Matthew isn’t there anymore. Matthew, he remembers, is years dead, and nothing Will did or didn’t do - nothing he did or didn’t feel or want or intend - will ever change that.

That’s D, he realizes, his vision and mind coming a little clearer. I love D.

I love the boys , he thinks.  

And looking around now, trying to understand why he is alone here with D, Will thinks, I love Hannibal.

When he finds his voice, Will says, “Where are we going?”

D sets the rudder and moves to Will’s side, the boat swaying under his weight. He crouches in front of Will.

It’s hard to focus on reading his signs, but Will does his best. “Back to the humans. You need help.”

Will’s stomach sinks. “No one there is going to help me,” he says, desolate. “You all - you’re the only ones who ever really helped me.”

“Reba will help you,” D says. “She’s good. It’s alright.”

Who the hell is Reba? he wants to ask. The name tugs at some distant thread of memory in the back of his mind, but a more pressing question demands to come first.

“Where’s Hannibal?”

D doesn’t answer, and hating the pleading note in his own croaky voice, Will says, “I want to go home, D. Please - let’s just go back home.”

“You’ll die if we do that. And Hannibal will die, too, if you die,” D says. “Do you understand?”

Hannibal has said almost the same thing to Will before, both before and after Will lost the eye - that losing Will would kill him - but he hadn’t been willing or able to take that literally. Will doesn’t want to credit it now, either.  

He wants to shake his head in denial, but to do so would hurt too much. “No,” Will says instead. “No. No.”

“He will,” D tells him. Will has never before seen him so rigidly insistent - so merciless. “Hannibal will die. It’s already happening.”

Will hasn’t wanted to see that - still doesn’t want to look at the thing - but D forces him to see. He talks about the way Hannibal has been dropping weight, the damage that he is doing to himself by refusing to return to the water as often as he ought to, the growing dullness in his eyes as Will himself fades, and when Will tries to turn his head to the side so he doesn’t have to follow D’s signs any longer, D takes him by the shoulder and shakes him hard enough to draw a strangled, pained cry.

Will doesn’t try to look away after that, but he still doesn’t want to really see . The idea of really being that important to someone else is as terrifying as it is unbelievable.

“It’ll be hard on him for a long time,” Will says. “I know that and I can’t help it. But once he’s had some time he’ll move past it. You all will -”

“You’re wrong.”

He tries to use anger to push that reality away - to make D go away and leave him alone. It’s his last line of defense.

“If I go into the city like this people are going to ask questions. They’re going to come to the island, and they’re going to hurt you - all of you. It’ll be lucky if all they do is kill everyone, do you understand that? I’d rather die in my own bed than bring that down on the kids, or you, or Hannibal.”

D is unmoved by the argument. “If anyone comes to hurt us, we’ll sneak away if we can, and if not we’ll kill them. Then we’ll find some new safe place, and wait until you are well enough to be with us again.  

“I know how to kill humans,” he says, calmly. “Hannibal does, too.

“We don’t need you to protect us, Will, we only need for you to stay alive. Everything is lost without you.”

Will wants to argue with that - wants to tell D that every human he and Hannibal have killed in the past was alone or frightened or already half dead, wants to tell him that he knows nothing of guns or traps or poisoned baits or any number of other human contrivances that might be brought to bear to slay the monsters, wants to remind D how close Will alone came to killing him, with nothing more than a heavy stick and the element of surprise.

Instead, he finds himself weeping again, and the pain that provokes in his wounded eye is unreal; the hornets that have nested in his head are awake and stinging mad, and he claws at his own knees with his fingers and grinds his teeth together and tries to bite back the scream that is perched under his chin.

D’s hand is on his back, rubbing circles, a conscious imitation of what Will sometimes does to help the twins calm down when they are upset or hurting. Will works on getting his breathing back under control.

“I don’t want to hurt Hannibal,” he says, when he can talk again. “I don’t want to get any of you hurt.”

D doesn’t answer, and it is so hard to know the right thing to do. So hard to focus. It feels like he is losing himself again already, sinking into the delirium and exhaustion of the fever pulling him back under.

“Where’s Hannibal?”

D looks away, evasive, then he meets Will’s eyes and signs, “I tricked him. He wouldn’t let me take you to get help otherwise.”

“Because I told him that I didn’t want to go,” Will says, as a new fear settles into his belly.

It is so good, almost all of the time, to be the focal point of the unflinching, ferocious love that Hannibal brings to the table, but Will is frightened now, not only for Hannibal and what Will’s own death might do to him, but of what Hannibal might do when he finds out that Will has been snatched up and taken from him.

“He’s going to be so angry,” Will says, and isn’t sure if it is only the fever that makes him shudder.

“He can’t help it,” D agrees. “There’s a hook in his brain right now - or in his heart - and he doesn’t have much say in where it drags him. He has to do what he’s supposed to do, and that’s protect you.”

“He’ll try to hurt you.”

D shrugs. “I’m bigger than him, and I’ve learned all his tricks. Yours too. And Hannibal is weak now.”

The inside of Will’s mouth is bone dry. He can’t tell if D’s words are hubris, if he should be more afraid for him or Hannibal, but he’s remembered a vital extra part to this equation.

“But you’re pregnant,” Will says. D is, by his own calculations and Hannibal’s, more than halfway to term, though the soft slope of his belly is barely noticeable. “You can’t fight him, D. You can’t.”

D shrugs this off. “He won’t hurt the babies,” he says, and Will isn’t sure if he means that Hannibal won’t try or that D won’t allow it, but in either case, he doesn’t want to learn that D is wrong.

It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“I’ll tell him,” Will says, “that I told you that it was okay, that I wanted to go get help - that I decided that. Then he won’t need to be angry with you…”

Will can see now, anyways, that there’s no going back.

He has to stay alive, if he can, and he has to convince Hannibal that D’s plan - which he hardly understands himself - is the only way now.

But when Hannibal shows up, he’s in no mood for talking.

 

Dolphins, D told Hannibal.

Dolphins are an old fear, less complicated than the fears that have racked Hannibal lately, but dangerous nonetheless.

He has seen the way that they can gang up on a common shark, even one many times their individual size, to flip it over and pin it against the ocean floor until it falls into a helpless daze, then tear it open to get at the liver.

They’ll do the same thing to him, if they get the chance, and they’ll tear Alexander to pieces. The longer he searches, the more certain Hannibal is that the latter has already come to pass.

It’s Alexander who finds him, rather than the other way around, darting out from among the thick kelp in a frenzy of bubbles. Hannibal catches him around the middle and pins him against his chest, safe and out of sight, and kicking out with his legs to cut through the water with barely a ripple he heads back towards shore. He keeps to the shadows and he doesn’t slow down until they are safely on dry land.

Only then does he lower Alexander to the ground. The relief of having found him alive and having gotten them both to safety is enough to chase away the awareness of Will’s miserable situation for almost half a minute.

Hannibal has not yet realized that the dolphins were a fiction.

Alexander has chattery hands, and is trying to get Hannibal to pay attention to him, but the dread that something has happened to Will in his absence is already closing over Hannibal, as tight as the fish net around his neck had been, and he rustles the Alexander’s hair absently with one hand as he goes past him, hurrying up the hill without stopping to see if the child follows.

By then, Cyrus has figured out that if he stands up on the bed in his and Alexander’s room he can open the window, and has let himself over the edge to plop down into the soft earth of the garden, and when he meets Hannibal on the path what he has to say does catch Hannibal’s interest.

He bolts up the hill and into the cottage, and finds that Cyrus was right - Will is gone, and D is nowhere to be found.

Hannibal does not panic. There is a red haze of rage at the edges of his vision as he proceeds, but he does things step by step, in the manner that he believes Will would like things to be done.

He brings the twins back inside, and calmly he tells them that he is leaving to bring Will home, and that they are to stay inside until he and Will return, and that if Alexander must go down to the water to wet his gills then he should go by himself, and that under no circumstances is Cyrus to go near the water without an adult.

Alexander raises his hands and signs, with evident confusion, “The dolphins, though…”

“There are no dolphins,” Hannibal tells him, having realized this himself only ten minutes ago.

“D only told you that because…” he continues, but can think of no straightforward way to explain why D told such a lie. He gives his head a small shake, clearing it. “But don’t stay outside any longer than you need to. There may be other dangerous things out.”

Hannibal takes down the stash of beef jerky that Will keeps out of the twin’s reach on a high shelf, and hands them each a generous serving in case they should become hungry while he is gone, and gives them some blank newsprint paper and some crayons to keep busy. He even spares a few minutes to comfort and reassure them, before going down to the dock.

The boat is gone, as he thought it would be, but he has a pretty good idea of which way D was headed, and it doesn’t take long for him to catch up.

Chapter Text

It’s not some berserk monster, rabid with rage and pain, that climbs up the side of the boat to step onto the deck.

Hannibal is calm, at least on the surface.

There is an iciness to that calm that might have been terrifying, were D not so confident that Hannibal will not be able to get the best of him.

Hannibal stops beside Will, who is propped up against the side of the cabin. He would be better off inside, laying down out of the elements, but D understood that if Hannibal arrived to find Will nowhere to be seen, or else perceived D to be blocking his access to Will by standing near the doorway between Hannibal and his partner, things would get even uglier than he already suspects they are going to be.

Instead, D has bundled Will up in blankets to keep the chill off. Now, Hannibal crouches over Will and places his hand under the blankets to rest it against Will’s chest, feeling the dull beat of his heart. By now Will is lost, once again, in delirium, but when Hannibal cups the side of his face in his palm Will lifts his eye to look at him.

Will is scared, D sees - terrified of Hannibal, and terrified for Hannibal, and just terrified in general - but he is well past the end of all his resources, and all Will can say is, “no.”

Will says it again when Hannibal straightens and turns away, and then three more times in quick succession, but Hannibal doesn’t turn back.

Hannibal looks at D with the terrible focus of a predatory animal. When he starts towards D, Will reaches up and catches the end of Hannibal’s slim tail, but it slips through his fingers.

Will’s hand drops.

“Go away,” Hannibal tells D. “Now.”

He raises his arm to point out at the open water, but D doesn’t turn his head to look.

He does not break eye contact with Hannibal, and hips rolling with the rise and fall of the boat, he moves closer to D. “If you don’t leave us I will kill you,” Hannibal says.

D knows that Hannibal probably means it, but that doesn’t trouble him overly much.

He knows what it is like to be so fundamentally lost beneath your own sense of loss and regret and outraged helplessness that the heart freezes inside of you. It has teeth, that pain, and when it bites you lash out at anything that is within reach to try to make it stop.

Calm as Hannibal may appear, D knows that he is a captive to his own pain now - that Hannibal is crazy with it, though in a way that is specific to Hannibal and his own personal quirks.

And also, no matter how sincere the threat might be, D knows that Hannibal’s goal isn’t actually to kill him, but rather to drive him off; were D to flee into the water now, Hannibal wouldn’t pursue him. Later, Hannibal’s unique talent for spite might inspire him to come looking for revenge, but now he is simply doing what any creature might have done in his place - he is attempting, by whatever means necessary, to drive off what he perceives as a threat to his vulnerable partner, and that is all.  

For these reasons, the threat is not something D is inclined to take personally.

Nonetheless, Hannibal is wrong, and D has no intention of allowing himself to be punished for someone else’s mistakes again.

He intends to defend himself, and even more than that he means to make Hannibal listen, no matter what it takes.

Keeping his eyes on Hannibal, who is advancing on him with an air menace, D reaches under the bench and picks up the thing he’s hidden there, hefting it in his hand.

Hannibal is close enough the D could reach out and touch him now. He pauses, just long enough to say, “Go now,” again, and when D only gives a quick jerk of his head in refusal, Hannibal switches to raw aggression, leaping forward to swipe at D with his claws.

Quickly D steps back, moving out of the way so that the claws barely graze his skin, and then D raises the length of firewood that he brought down to the boat before he stole Will away, and strikes Hannibal with it.

The angle of the blow is awkward, and D was too cautious of doing more damage that he intends to put real muscle behind it. It’s a glancing blow, bouncing with no serious harm off Hannibal’s shoulder, though the rough surface of the wood scratches his skin deeply enough to draw a few beads of blood.

But Hannibal has seen the kind of harm a wooden club can do to a person and he is - for a time - cautious about being hit again. He circles D, as a common shark might circle prospective prey, and D turns with him, the stout tree branch raised.

Hannibal tries for him again, rushing towards D suddenly, and D brings the club down and hits him across the jaw - not as hard as he might have if he wanted to really hurt Hannibal, but hard enough to mash his cheek against his teeth and send him reeling off balance.

Giving his head a violent shake to clear it, Hannibal spits blood on to the deck and, undeterred, begins circling D again.

Next time Hannibal charges it is with bloody teeth bared, and D hits him again and then follows behind when the blow sends Hannibal reeling and strikes him across the shoulders, driving him down to his knees.

D pauses then, naive to this way of fighting when he is the one who is holding the club, listening to Hannibal’s harsh breathing and hoping that he has had enough now, and he does not see it coming when Hannibal whirls suddenly and grabs him by the ankle, jerking his leg out from under him. D goes sprawling on his back, hitting his head hard on the deck, and the club rolls away.

Dazed, D rolls over, making his way into his hands and knees, and then Hannibal is on top of him, and that could be a bad thing because if he really does mean to kill D it would be an easy thing for Hannibal to yank his head back by the hair to get at his throat with his claws, so D doesn’t wait around to see if he intends something like that. Rolling to the side, he slams Hannibal back-first against the boat’s railing, and scrambles away when Hannibal loses his grip.

D grabs the club as he climbs to his feet, and catches Hannibal in the gut when he comes at him again. Hannibal goes down but gets up again almost at once, one arm folded over his belly and the other raised to lash out, and D hits him across the jaw a second time - harder this time, hard enough to break teeth - and now he is beginning to worry, but not for his own sake or for the sake of the twins that are busy growing in his belly or even for Will’s sake, but rather for Hannibal, who is falling into a frenzy of furious stymied rage.

It is frightening because D is beginning to think that there will be no beating Hannibal into submission, that it will not be possible to knock enough sense into him to make him pause to take stock of the situation they are in. Hannibal has no intention of giving up, and the only way to stop Hannibal will be to hurt him so badly that it kills him.

D makes as though to retreat, circling around to bring Hannibal closer to Will, who throughout all of this has been watching in helpless misery. He has cried out in sympathetic pain when some of the worse blows fell on Hannibal, but otherwise has done nothing to attempt to intervene. D suspects that has more to do with the fever than tacit approval of the course of action D has taken; whatever Will is seeing now, D thinks, doesn’t have much to do with what’s actually happening.   

Hannibal is conscious, as D edges around him, that something new is afoot, but refusing to move with him would mean allowing D to put himself between Will and Hannibal, so he moves in the direction that D wants him to go.

D feints with the club, lifting his arm high as though to bring the weapon down hard on Hannibal’s head, and when Hannibal shies backwards to dodge the blow D drops the club and, empty-handed, charges at Hannibal.  

He knocks Hannibal flat on his back then falls on top of him, catching Hannibal by the forearms and pinning his wrists under his knees before he can slash at D. He waits for Hannibal to grow still, but Hannibal doesn’t bear his throat like he ought to. There’s no surrender in Hannibal’s snarling face, and beneath him Hannibal’s hands twist, trying to find an angel that will allow them to tear at D’s legs. His face is bloody and battered, and when he bears his teeth D can see the blood welling between them.

D hunts for the magic words that might end this, anything that will soothe Hannibal’s wounded heart long enough for it to be possible to convince him that this is the only way, that the only chance they have of saying Will lies in giving him away, but the words won’t come to him, and even if they did D’s hands are busy keeping Hannibal still beneath him, and…

 

… And time and place are blurring for Will again, and when he sees Hannibal lying on his back in front of him, his jaw soaked with dark blood, the image overlaps with that of Matthew’s ruined face, and Will reaches out for him and bellows with shocking volume, “ Medic! ” and…


… And the word means nothing to D, but Hannibal’s face is stricken, the rage flowing out of it like blood from a severed artery, leaving wounded shock in his wake.

It seems safe, in light of that, to at least free Hannibal’s hands.

“He wants a human to come and help him,” Hannibal says, reaching the right conclusion, more or less, for the wrong reason.

Conceding, to at least some degree, Hannibal tips his head back to bear his throat, and instead of ducking his own head down to nip at the exposed skin, D does as Will does and curls his hand lightly around Hannibal’s throat.

D climbs off of Hannibal, and there is perhaps a bit more resentment in himself about this entire situation than D realized, because he says, “I could have told you that if you’d listened. What’s the point in even teaching me words, if you won’t listen?”

“I listened to Will about what he wanted, and Will said ‘no doctors.”

They both look down at Will, wanting to know where he stands on the issue, but he is not following along with their argument. His eyes are closed, as though fighting vertigo. Will’s jaw is clenched tight, and his hands are fisted around the blankets D wrapped him in, holding on so tight that the knuckles are white.

D sees the way Will’s pain crawls inside Hannibal and stings him, too.

“You stole him,” Hannibal says, getting angry all over again. “You lied and said Alexander was in danger to trick me.”

He shoves D.

D shoves him back harder and bears his teeth.

“Because he’s dying and you’re too lost in your own misery to find a way to do anything about it,” D says, carving the signs on the air with sharp strokes.

“You don’t know half of what you think you know. I asked him about going to a doctor, and he said that they would only make it worse. They’ll hurt him worse than he’s already hurt.”

“I’m not taking him to a doctor,” D says, wrong but not yet knowing that. “Reba is going to help him.”

D can see that, though Hannibal can barely believe that, he does want to believe. He’s still for a long beat, looking out over the water in the direction of the mainland.

“It feels wrong,” Hannibal says. “Still.”

Hannibal touches his own jaw, prodding it in one direction and then the other. The movement makes him wince, but it seems to be working the way it’s meant to. D is glad to see that; the potentiality that he might have broken Hannibal’s jaw worried him.

He is scraped and bloody and minus a few teeth, but D doesn’t think he did Hannibal any lasting harm. Hannibal’s skin is darker than D’s own, and he wonders what the bruises will look like against the dark rosette spots that pattern Hannibal’s grey skin.

Hannibal bends painfully to pick the piece of firewood up from where D dropped it on the deck. He carries it to the rail, then drops the club over the side and watches it sink.

Hannibal turns back to D. “No more of this club nonsense, neither of you,” he signs ruefully.

“Sorry,” D says, though he isn’t. He’s quite sure that did the best thing that he could have done, given the situation, and it is obvious now that he will get his way. Even better, the fact that Hannibal is setting terms for D’s conduct going forward means that he’s not being thrown out of the family. “I won’t do that again. Are you alright?”

Hannibal dismisses the question with a wave of his hand, and goes back to Will.

 

For half an hour, Hannibal cradles Will against his own body, indifferent to his own aches. Hannibal holds him tight, knowing that eventually he is going to have to let go, one way or another.

Will pulls himself up from the dark waters of his fever to talk to Hannibal, and Hannibal thinks that he is almost entirely lucid for almost the entire time.

When the sun starts to sink towards the horizon, Hannibal does what he knows Will wants - needs - him to do before Will can start to fret about it, and tells Will that he needs to go home to light the lamp.

“Take care of yourself, Hannibal, please,” Will says. “And the lamp. The kids. I’ll be back as soon as I can be, all you have to do is keep things together until I do.”

Hannibal nods, and squeezes Will’s hand reassuringly. At that particular moment, he believes himself capable of doing everything that Will asks.  

He stands and goes to D, who is managing the rudder, directing the boat towards a world that Hannibal can only know by second-hand.

“I have to leave now,” Hannibal says. “I have to light the lamp before dark, and I have to keep it burning.”

D nods approvingly. “He’ll have no home to come back to if you don’t, and no family. We’ll die if the lamp isn’t lit every night.”

He is repeating something that Will himself has said many times, in his efforts to impart what will happen if he fails to do his job and through that failure draws humans to the island to investigate, but there is something in D’s face that makes Hannibal think he believes that a failure to tend the lamp will cause their deaths in a completely literal sense.

“Take care of him,” Hannibal says, and waits only long enough for D to nod in somber agreement.

Hannibal plunges back into the water and, alone, sets out for the island.  

Chapter Text

When D failed to appear for their next date, it occurred to Reba to wonder if he felt her to have been too forward the last time they were together, and that this had driven him off. It wouldn’t be the first time she came on too strong for the sensitives of some man. 

But D isn’t exactly a man, and as she approaches their isolated patch of beach Reba reminds herself sensibly that he’d without a doubt enjoyed it when she let him help give her a thrill, and had been absolutely over the moon when she got him off in turn. 

He is, Reba is certain, at least as taken with her as she is with him - maybe even more so. He won’t have simply broken things off without so much as a goodbye. 

But that leaves Reba wondering - worrying - that something else might have happened. She has warned D that she cannot be certain that she is not being followed when she leaves the village, as she has no way of knowing for sure that no one else is tailing her quietly at a distance, and that he must be vigilant and stay out of sight should he see anyone else watching them; the world is full of sneaky people who want to stick their noses in the business of people who are just trying to enjoy their lives. 

Is someone watching, unknown to Reba, and that’s why he hasn’t come up onto the beach, or has something worse happened? She wonders if there’s been a problem with the pregnancy, or maybe some other disaster. 

It is difficult for Reba to imagine how the thing that has been building between herself and D could possibly be permanent, but Reba doesn’t want to lose him. D does not pity her, and that’s a fine thing, but even more importantly he doesn’t doubt her. With D, there has been no questioning of her intelligence or abilities, and no insistence that she keeps to her place. 

Now, as she approaches their usual spot, Reba notes that there is a boat tied off near the shore. She approaches slowly, wondering who has invaded their private place, sure that D will stayed away in light of this development, but she hears D give his customary clapping of hands. 

Usual, it sounds like applause, like she’s just stepped onto the stage to greet an excited audience, but there is something different today. 

She waits quietly for D to come to her. Reba is not certain, but she thinks that she can hear the raspy breathing of a second person, or perhaps a sick animal. 

“Where’ve you been, D?” she asks, when he moves close enough to touch her.

He doesn’t answer directly. “Will’s here. He needs some help.” 

“Mr. Graham?” she says, formally. No one answers.

“It’s just Will and us here,” D tells her, as though she is confused. “Nobody else.” 

Now is not the time to explain surnames and prefixes, much less the social rules that govern their use. Instead, she asks, “What’s the matter with him?”

“He’s sick. He got hurt, his eye got hurt and now there is something bad inside of it that is making him sick.”

“It sounds like he needs to go to a doctor.” She is not following what it is that D wants from her. She wonders briefly if, because she is blind, D believes she has some insight into problems related to eyes, but dismisses that idea. 

“Do you need me to help him get to a doctor?”

Reba is thinking that perhaps Will Graham is too badly off to pilot his own boat down to the docks, and since D could not safely be seen by the people there he brought the man here to disembark, in the hope that Reba would help him make the walk to the village.  

“He can’t go to a doctor,” D says. 

“Why not?”

“If he goes to a doctor they won’t let him go again because he is crazy. That’s what Will says.” D pauses, his finger tapping against Reba’s skin as he thinks. “Hannibal said that is because Will is marked like one of us, so they will know that he is not normal and will kill him for that reason.”  

“How do you mean? Marked?”

“There are bite marks. Scars on his skin.”

 “Who’s been biting him?” Reba says, alarmed on his behalf despite herself. Between their awkward meeting at the book shop and D’s story about how he almost beat him to death, Reba has no intention of warming up to Will Graham. “I know it wasn’t you.”

“The biting isn’t what’s wrong with him,” D says, and Reba isn’t sure if he is being deliberately evasive about the matter. He explains to her what happened, and Will condition as he understands it. 

“Will you fix him?” D asks. “Just fix, not keep. We all want him back once he’s better again.” 

Reba says, “I wouldn’t have the first idea how to do that.”

D pulls away without responding, but she can hear a change in his breathing - he is panicking or fighting back anger or both. 

It is a risk, maybe, reaching out for him now, but Reba takes the chance, and her hand finds his shoulder. She squeezes. 

“He needs a doctor,” she says again. 

“But I promised Hannibal no doctors. They’ll keep him, and they’ll hurt him.”

Reba isn’t inclined to assume that D is wrong; there is clearly a lot that she is missing here, and Will Graham wouldn’t have said such things without some reason. 

The man’s silence through all of this is troubling; he might not be able to read the signs that D is making into her hands, but certainly ought to be able to hear her side of the conversation. 

D is signing again. “I don’t know what else to do,” he says. “I think that he’s dying.”

Reba wets her lips, mulling the thing over. Then she sighs. “I guess I know someone who might take care of him, if I ask,” she says. 

 

D gets Will on his feet, and then transfers him to Reba’s hold, draping the man’s arm over her shoulder so she can support him as he sags against her. The man is bigger than she’d expected, from her memory of his voice, but he’s also skin and bones. 

“You with us?” she says, and Will Graham makes a sound that may or may not have been intended to be language. 

He smells like sweat and fever and rotten fruit, among other things, and Reba asks, “Is he bleeding somewhere?”

“No,” D tells her. “That’s Hannibal’s blood. Not Will’s.”

“Why was Hannibal bleeding on him?”

Will Graham’s clothing is tacky to the touch with blood, and Reba suspects that her clothing is already irreparably stained. She is fully aware that the anger she is feeling now has little to do with the ruining of her beach clothes, aren’t especially nice anyway, but stems rather from frustration and some degree of fear about the situation that she’s been put in and the potential for it all to go badly.  

D is vague. “Hannibal didn’t want Will to leave. Had to knock some sense into him before he’d agree to it.”

“Oh D,” she says, and sighs again. “Is the blood visible? Could someone see it, if we walked past them?”

He hesitates, then clicks his tongue in affirmation. 

“Haven’t you got a change of clothing for him? Or a jacket or anything?”

He’s gone for a few minutes, and Reba helps Will sit back down in the sand while they wait. It’s a long walk back to the village, and he hardly has any energy to waste.  

When D comes back they get Will back on his feet and D drapes a small cotton blanket over his shoulders. 

“That’s mostly clean,” D tells her, and adds as though he thinks it may be important information, “it’s blue.”

“It’s dark out now, isn’t it?” Reba says. She’s second-guessing the viability of Will Graham walking the entire way there, as well as her own ability to stay on route while supporting him. 

D clicks his tongue again. 

“Come with us for a while, then,” she says, so D does. 

He carries Will Graham, holding him against his chest with one arm, and Reba hook her arm around the elbow of his other arm. She knows the way, and so she is the one that leads them, her cane scouting out obstacles under the dark sky. 

A thought strikes her, when they are perhaps a mile from the edge of the village, and she pauses to ask D, “Is the lighthouse being looked after?”

With his free hand he writes against her palm, “Yes. It’s burning now.”

“Hannibal?” she guesses, and D clicks his tongue in agreement. 

“This is about as far as you should go,” Reba tells him, and D puts Will on his feet next to her. His left arm over her shoulders and her right arm hooked around the small of his back, she gets ready to move forward again, cane at the ready to scout out the path ahead. 

But D circles around her, the backs of his fingers brushing over her shoulders and the edge of her arm so she knows where he is. He crouches in front of her, and then she feels his great hands curl around the sides of her head, cupping her jaw carefully, as though she were the finest china. He leans in close to her, his forehead resting against her clavicle, and she feels the way his body is shaking.

It’s crying, what he’s doing now, Reba is quite certain, though when she tucks the cane under her elbow and cups his cheek in her own hand his face is dry. 

“I’ll make this come out right, if I can,” Reba tells him, but she doesn’t promise that everything will work out in the end. She isn’t sure that it will; as bad off as Will Graham seems to be, she can’t help but wonder if he’s past saving.

She pats D’s forearm, then pushes against it a little to let him know it’s time to move. He stands and backs out of his way. “Come visit in a couple of days, all right, D? The normal time. I’ll let you know what’s happening then.”

Reba hear him click his tongue, and then she and Will Graham start forwards, leaving D behind. The man walks when she puts pressure on his back to get him moving, but he’s unsteady and apt to stumble, and it is difficult for Reba to keep them both on course. 

She encourages him softly, with as much gentle patience as she can gather, and when they leave the beach trail and step onto the gravel road she steers Will to the right, towards the village. 

“Halfway there already,” she says, though they’ve been stumbling around for more than an hour now. “And easier going now.”

“It’s dark,” Will Graham mutters. “I can’t see anything.”

“That’s rough,” Reba tells him. 

He probably doesn’t realize who she is, Reba reasons; he wouldn’t have said something that awkward if he did. “Try to go forward in a straight line, if you please. You are going to knock me over into the ditch.”       

No one greets them as they make their way through the village, but Reba knows that doesn’t mean no one has seen them. 

They stop in front of a small building, on the edge of the village’s main street. Reba can’t see the doctor’s shingle that hangs above the door, but she knows where she is and she knows what it says: Brian Zeller, M.D. 

“There’s two steps here, up the door,” she warns Will. 

Reba knocks on the door, and when she hears someone moving around on the other side, she opens the door and leads Will Graham inside.

Chapter Text

Brian takes it about as well as Reba expected. 

She hears his feet on the steps as she is guiding Will in past the waiting room, and knows that he has seen them when Brian makes a shocked - nearly offended - sound in the back of his throat.

“Good evening, Brian. I’ve brought you a patient.”

He doesn’t respond to that, so Reba prompts, “Could you help me with him, please? He’s heavy.”

He isn’t, really - Will Graham is, in fact, troublingly insubstantial - but it gets Brian moving. 

“This is the lighthouse keeper,” he says, and moderating the inflection of her voice carefully Reba answers, “Is that so?” 

For the next few minutes Brian is busy guiding Will Graham to the sheet-lined table in the back room, plying him with questions as they go, but the other man isn’t talking. Reba isn’t sure if he is too badly off to hold up his end of a conversation or if he’s just being sullen, but if she was betting money she’d guess that Will is staying quiet because he doesn’t trust his own feverish mind not to spit out something he doesn’t want strangers to know. 

For her own part, Reba doesn’t volunteer information - she doesn't especially enjoy lying, but she knows enough to know that offering up an entire complicated story when you haven’t been asked to do so is the easiest way in the world to get caught in one - but when Will’s side of the conversation remains limited to vague grunts and hisses of pain Brian is quick enough to direct the questions at her instead. 

“Where’d you find him?”

“A few miles up the coast,” Reba tells him. 

“What were you doing out there?” Brian asks Will, and when he doesn’t answer, Brian says, “What was he doing out there?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Reba says. 

“He didn’t say anything to you?”

It’s an opportunity that Reba has been waiting for. “He said plenty, but a lot of it was confusing and strange. Sounded like fever ravings,” Reba tells him, reinforcing the incredulity that Brian is likely to greet anything that Will might accidentally let slip while not in his right mind.  

Reba stays out of the way, listening impassively as Brian grumbles his outrage over the shape that Will Graham is in, but he stops grousing when he sees what’s under the bandage, and that’s how Reba knows that it’s just as bad as she feared, if not worse. 

To fill the anxious silence, Reba says, “Anything you want me to do?”

“Boil some water,” Brian says, and as Reba turns and heads for the kitchen to do as he asks she hears him asking the other man why he waited so long to come looking for help. 

Will Graham mutters, “Leave me alone,” and if he says anything else Reba doesn’t hear him over the sound of the sink.  

When the pot is full she turns the water off and puts it on the stove, and now she can hear Brian, trying hard - without a lot of success - to keep from allowing Will Graham’s recalcitrance to provoke him.

 “I can’t take care of this while you’re conscious,” Brian is saying, and she supposes Will is connected enough to the world at this particular moment to understand the implications of that, because he raises a scattered and desperate objection to the idea. 

There are the sounds of a short one-sided scuffle as Will Graham tries to break away from Brian, and Reba steps towards them quickly and reaches out toward the sound of Will’s panicky breathing. Her hand finds the midpoint of his back, and she moves up and grips his shoulder, then finds his other shoulder with her other hand.

It’s pitiably easy to keep him from getting up after Brian moves away, but then again she doesn’t think he is really committed to bolting; he’s just frightened of being made more helpless than he already is. 

“The sooner this is taken care of, the sooner you can go home,” she says, and though Reba doesn’t believe that he’ll be going anywhere any time soon, if at all. But it seems to help him to calm down, at least. 

She listens as Brian moves around the room, taking things out of the cupboard, and when he has what he needs he comes back to the table, and he and Reba press Will back gently until he is laying on his back, and then Brian presses a wire-frame mask with seven or eight layers of gauze clamped inside it over Will’s mouth and nose.  

He takes one of Reba’s hands and positions it over the mask, instructing her how to hold it in place. The faint scent of chloroform, sweet yet as astringent as alcohol comes to Reba, and Brian presses the tiny bottle into her other hand. 

“Start out in the first minute with one minim on the gauze every twenty seconds, then raise it to two every twenty seconds,” Brian tells her, and she tips the little bottle to let a drop fall on the mask, and then turns it upright and covers the tip with her thumb to keep the fumes inside. Brian brushes against Reba when he leans over Will to position his hands on his forearms, ready to hold Will down if he starts to struggle. 

Never before has Reba been a part of this process, but she’s heard stories of people panicking as they begin to go order, fighting violently to knock the mask away. Will Graham goes down fairly easily, though, all things considered, and only a few minutes have passed before Brian feels confident enough that chloroform is doing the trick that he lets go of Will. 

“I’m going to check his pupils to see that he’s under,” he tells Reba, as he steps towards the head of the table. Then Brian corrects himself and says, “His pupil.”  

“Does it look the way it’s meant to look?” Reba says. 

“Just fine,” he confirms. And then, frustration with the situation getting a grip on him again, he says, “I still don’t understand any of this. Never mind why he waited so long to come in - that kind of foolishness is hardly new - but why didn’t he dock his boat closer to town?”

Reba hasn’t made up a story for that bit yet, and in any case doesn’t want to say anything that might contradict whatever tale Will might spin. “Your guess is as good as mine. Get him well again and maybe he’ll tell you.”

“You don’t ask for much.”

“Is it that bad?”

“It’s festering. How did this happen?”

“I’ve no idea,” Reba says, and that at least much is nearly the truth. 

“You know, I was going to ask if you’ve been sleeping with him, but I feel like you’d be more invested in this business if you were.”

“Give me credit for a bit more class than that, why don’t you?”

“Point taken,” he says.  

“I think he might be hurt somewhere else, too,” Brian continues. “There’s blood on his clothing.”

Reba doesn’t say anything. 

“I’m going to get this shirt off him, at least, first things first.” 

“Maybe you should wait and let him do that himself,” Reba says. “Or at least do it when I’m not in the room.”

“Why?”

“It’s not as though I’m planning on peeking,” Reba tells Brian. “But he might feel peculiar about it later, regardless,” she insists. In reality, Reba cares not a whit for Will Graham’s theoretical modesty, but D said something about Will having been marked in a way that humans would find profoundly objectionable. She would have liked to avoid letting Brian see those marks, but can tell already that is a lost cause. 

“I need to examine him,” Brian insists in turn. “And it’s just the shirt. You can wait in the other room if you like.”

“Oh, never mind anyway.” 

She’s thinking hard, as Brian unbuttons the front of Will’s flannel shirt, about what she might say in response to Will’s scars, whatever they are. 

“Odd necklace,” he says. Brian taps the side of Reba’s hand and she turns her palm upwards so he can drop the thing he’s offering into it. “What do you make of it? I’ve never seen a shark’s tooth shaped quite like that.”

“That’s fantastic,” Reba says sincerely, hefting the huge tooth and feeling along its serrated edge. “I’ve never found anything interesting while beach combing.” 

“You like it?” Brian asks. “I think it’s kinda creepy. 

“Put it down and help me lift,” he goes on, and Reba tucks the necklace into her own pocket and props Will’s shoulders up off the table while Brian tugs off Will’s flannel and then his undershirt. 

“Wait a second,” he says, and leans in close over Will’s shoulder. His fingers touch Reba’s as he tilts Will up a little more to look at something.  

“Hmm,” Brian says. Then he says, “Oh boy. What in the name of… Huh.”

“What’s the problem?” Reba demands. 

“I… um. I don’t want to be vulgar.”    

Reba scoffs. “Just tell me, won’t you?”

“There’s… it looks like bite marks, on the back of his neck and his shoulders.”

“Okay,” Reba says, feigning confusion, though she is starting to have a pretty good idea of the cause of Brian’s embarrassment. “And?”

“It looks kind of like… he let some kind of big animal... lean in on top of him and bite him.”

She gets what he’s hinting at even if he won’t say it outright to her.  

“Well, he isn’t out there on the island making whoopee with bears, so there has to be another explanation.”

“I’d love to hear one. Touch them, you can feel the scar tissue.”  

Reba doesn’t want to; maybe, as it turns out, she cares more about maintaining Will Graham’s privacy and dignity than she thought, because this feels like a violation. But she doesn’t want to give Brian a reason to attempt to puzzle out her hesitancy, so she does it anyway. 

The skin is freckled with dozens of tooth marks, and inside her head she hears D say, with the voice that he has when she thinks back on what he has said to her, “I will never bite you.”

Reba draws her hand away. Flippantly, she says, “Maybe it is a sex thing.”

He’s not typically easy to shock, but she’s done it this time. 

“What the hell do you mean by that?” he sputters. 

“The tooth necklace,” she says. “Maybe he has a lover that he allows to cut him with the tooth, in the shape of bite marks. Maybe he likes the pain.”

She shrugs carelessly. “Everyone has their own peculiar proclivities,” she says, and that perhaps reminds him that she is familiar enough with his own proclivities, because he drops it, quite literally. He lowers Will’s head back down onto the table, and goes to wash up. 

When Brian comes back, he has the water Reba put on the stove earlier. “Hot water is on the instrument table to my left,” he warns. “This is a mess.”   

“Tell me what you’re looking at,” Reba says. 

“It’s not nice to see.” 

“I want to know.”

“Something punctured the eye. It’s dead. I’ll excise it in a minute here, but that’s not the only thing. There’s a scratch here too, and it’s badly infected.” He pauses. “I don’t know if it was a cat or… No, it couldn’t have been a cat. I don’t know what did this.

“None of this makes a bit of sense,” he says again, but when Reba doesn’t respond he sighs and says, “I’m going to get to work now. Don’t talk to me until I say it’s fine, this is going to be tricky.”

He’s silent for several minutes, and there are only the sounds of breathing and of Brian putting down and picking up instruments. 

“Alright,” he says eventually. “I’ve got the socket cleaned out, and I’ve tied off the optic nerve, so infection can’t spread from that avenue, assuming it hasn’t already.”

“What will happen if that’s the case?”

“He’ll get viral encephalitis and it will kill him,” Brian says plainly. “The infection doesn’t seem to have spread to the bone, at least. 

“I’m almost more worried about the scratch below the eye socket,” he goes on. “There’s necrotic tissue here. I’m resecting all the devitalized tissue, and that’s going to leave a scar, by the way - well, if he’s lucky he’ll have a scar.” 

Reba listens to him drumming his fingers on the end of the instrument table.  

“Do I have any bromine?” he wonders out loud suddenly. “I think that I do.”

Then, with more conviction, he says, “I’m going to treat it with bromine. It’ll burn like hell when he wakes up, and the scar will be that much worse, but it might give him a better chance.”

Reba waits while Brian hunts through the cupboards. When he uncaps the bottle of bromine, the harsh chemical smell burns her throat, and she wrinkles her nose involuntarily and takes a step back. She doesn’t want to think too hard about what the stink stuff might feel like against an open wound. 

“He probably has blood poisoning,” Brian says, and though Reba can’t see him shaking his head she imagines it quite clearly. “If he does, there’s probably a better than one quarter chance that will be what kills him. I wish he’d come in sooner.”

Reba resists the urge to tell Brian that Will Graham had his reasons; she doesn’t necessarily feel a need to defend the man, but the amount of lying she has done tonight does not sit easily with her. 

Instead, she asks, “If we took him to the hospital, would that improve his odds?”

“Nothing they could do there that I can’t here,” Brian says. 


When Brian has done all that can be done for the time being, and the wound has been flushed and bandaged, Reba pulls a chair closer to Will Graham, and waits for him to wake up. 

Chapter Text

There doesn’t seem to be much hope in Reba, the first time they meet after D turned Will over to her care. 

They’ve cleaned the wound, she explains wearily, but the thing was septic.

“Blood poisoning,” Reba says, and that ominous word baffles D even as it invokes pictures of venomous sea snakes and poisonous jellyfish. 

“Something stung him?” he asks, with a species of horrified wonder that things could get worse in a brand new way, on top of everything else. 

“No, nothing like that,” Reba says, and explains to him, as best as she understands it, that it meant that the infection had spread inside him, and that now Will is fighting an infection that is attacking his body at multiple points. 

“He was having a lot of trouble breathing,” she says, and D thinks about Hannibal, cloistered in the lighthouse day and not now, refusing to leave the high perch from which he watches for Will’s return only when he is lightheaded and gasping for air. 

He wonders if there is some connection between Will struggling to breathing and the damage Hannibal is doing to his own respiration system. Did the first cause the second, somehow, via the connection the two of them share, or maybe the other way around?

Reba continues. “But Brian brought in this new contraption. There’s a tube and mask that feeds him extra oxygen, and that’s helped a lot.”

“That’s good,” D says, but with unease.

“He’s not out of the woods yet,” Reba cautions, confirming his anxiety. “And he’s worried about Hannibal. He hasn’t asked about him, mind - even when he’s lucid he’s refusing to say much beyond the bare minimum - but sometimes Will says his name in his sleep. How’s he getting along?”

“Badly,” D says. “Hannibal is trying to be different from how he was made, but…”

He pauses, trying to find a way to explain what is happening to Hannibal, in Will’s absence. Seeking a common starting place, D says, “Do you ever hear voices? A voice that tell you what you should do, except that it doesn’t say so in words?”

“I don’t follow you.”

“The word for it is instinct,” D tells her. “Or nature. Nature tells you; this is what you do to get food when you are little, and when you are bigger it helps you learn to get food that is right for your size. It tells you what things are poisonous, and the basics of keeping yourself from becoming food for some other hunter, and it tells you when to look for a lover and how to start babies and what to do if that lover is sick or injured. 

“Every living thing follows its own nature, unless it chooses to do something else. Do you understand?”

“I think I do,” Reba says, “though I’m not sure to what degree I or any other human experiences instinct as a guiding force. It’s hard to draw a line between what you are born knowing and what you learn at an early age, and nearly impossible to stand far enough outside of yourself and your society to draw conclusions on the matter.”

“That’s what I’m getting at; Hannibal stands outside of his own instincts. 

“Instinct still speaks to him, but he picks and chooses, almost always, if he cares to listen. It makes him a strange shark person, and if he was a human person I think that he would be strange in human ways, too. I think he likes being strange - it gives him a kind of power.”

He pauses, studying Reba’s face. The idea of being perceived as speaking against Will, when D already knows that she is not inclined toward liking Will, make him uneasy, but he wants badly to be understood. 

“Will is strange, too, but he doesn’t like that about himself. It’s harder to say exactly what is different about him, and I don’t think most humans can see just way Will doesn’t fit just by looking at him, but maybe they smell it on him.”

Reba does not deny this. “He has a way about him. A guilty conscious, and I think that must run a lot deeper than simply keeping you all hidden.”

“He’s scared of other people.”

“I’ve noticed. Fear makes him rude. He can barely walk, but yesterday he managed to get out of bed specifically so he could shut the door in Brian’s face.”  

“More than rude, sometimes,” D says, with rueful humor, and catching one of Reba’s hands he presses it gently against the spot where his head still sometimes hurts from the beating Will laid on him. 

He lets go of Reba’s hand and begins again to sign into her cupped palms. “What I’m trying to say is that Hannibal isn’t used to be run by his instincts, but since Will got hurt that’s changed. He’s lost in it. Everything inside him says to protect his lover, but he can’t, so he just watches and waits for Will to come back. 

“The helplessness is dragging him down. Half the time he doesn’t believe that Will is even still alive.”

“Does he think you’re lying?”

“Not exactly, but he’s caught me in lies twice now, and he’s wary. I think that he is afraid to hope but also afraid to give up hope.”

Reba says, “You could bring him with you next time we visit, and I’ll vouch for Will’s condition.”

D shifts uneasily. “That’s not a good idea. What if Will is worse by then?”

“You worried he’ll shoot the messenger?” 

“Nothing like that,” D says, and is unsure if he is lying again now. “I just don’t need things to be more complicated than they already are.”

“That’s fair,” Reba agrees. 

“I need to get back home,” D says. 

“All right,” Reba says. “So - same time and place, two days from now?”

D clicks his tongue in agreement. 

Reba climbs halfway to her feet so she can put her arms around him, drawing D against her in a fierce hug, and when he closes his eyes and leans into Reba’s touch he sees the vivid orange and black stripes of the flip-book tiger dancing on the insides of his eyelids. 

The vision is gone an instant later, but the way that it made him feel burns itself into his memory.

Chapter Text

Will drags himself up from a long dream of drowning. 

In the nightmare he was sinking deeper and deeper into the dark water, slipping so far under that his family could not follow after him, though for a long time Hannibal struggled to stay by his side. 

The water pressure at that depth hurt his head as though it was verge of caving in, a feeling that brought with it a sickening association with the fishclub he used against D, its business end stained by clotted blood, and there was a breathless constricted tightness in his chest that kept the scream building in his chest locked there, and yet the worst of it was the knowledge of being lost, of being helpless and all alone in the dark again, like he was in the asylum, and - 

And he wakes to find himself in a neat, brightly lit room. 

He turns his head to look around, and feels how the movement pulls at the strange bit of tubing that is stuck inside his nostrils. The forked-ended tube is held in place across the bridge of his nose by a bit of tape, and when he pulls tube away from his face it hisses at him. 

His chest begins to feel tight and his head dizzy almost as soon as he takes the tube away, and for a few seconds he is back in the war, looking at the oxygen tube and wondering if he is being treated for phosgene gas exposure, but that thought doesn’t stay with him long. 

The room is clean and quiet and peaceful, as different as night and day from the stench and noise and chaos of a field hospital. 

It’s a nice enough place, he thinks as he puts the pronged  tubing back into place, but it isn’t home, and Will fixes his eyes on the closed door, wondering if it’s locked from the outside. He tries to think through every step he would need to take in between getting up and lying down again in his own bed on the island, but it is all too daunting, and he slides back down into restless sleep. 

When he wakes again, Will tries to focus on taking stock of where he is, exactly, and understanding what has happened since he came here. 

There is a vague and panicky memory of being held down and chloroformed, the touch of human skin against human skin alien and alarming to him now, no matter how careful the hands on him were, then blank blackness followed by the feeling of his head being lifted off the table and held in place while the bandages were wrapped around it.    

He remembers being given medicine, which killed the pain but also left him dead to the world for long lengths of time, the sky outside his window shifting from dawn to dark to noonday brightness in a pattern that he couldn’t seem to make sense of. He remembers the blind woman sitting vigil in the chair beside his bed, reading the dots printed across the pages of her heavy books with her fingertips, and he remembers listening to the conversations she and the doctor had together, as the man looked after him, though the content of their words escapes him now. 

Working himself into a sitting position, Will notices the texture of the nightshirt against his skin, and another memory comes to him; sitting up in bed and looking with numb mortified terror at the fresh nightshirt that the doctor laid on the bed beside him, a clean white twin to the fever sweat-stained one he was wearing at the time. 

The sudden realization, through the haze of fever, that his clothing had been changed while he was unconscious froze him solid even as the scars on his shoulders and the back of his neck burned like a fresh brand. 

The doctor had been on the way out of the room, but he stopped in the doorway and turned back to look at Will. “Do you need help changing?”

Will didn’t say anything. He was completely still, his eyes turned down to look at the patterns on the hardwood floor. 

“I’ve already seen your scars,” the man said, as though under the impression that articulating the fact would somehow make it easier for Will. “Whatever they are about, it’s none of my business.”

Carefully, Will got up from the bed. He walked towards the doctor, and though by the time he made it across the room he was feeling shaky and winded, the doctor backed away from him. 

Will closed the door. He went back to the bed and changed into the clean nightshirt. Then he slept for a long time. 

When the doctor woke him up later to change his bandages, Reba was with him. Since then, Will has rarely seen the doctor without Reba there to work as a buffer between the two of them.

Now, Will watches as the door swings open and Reba enters the room. She moves around the room with a kind of easy grace that makes Will think that she is familiar with the space. 

As much as he can, Will has been working on getting his story straight - on building a narrative that will sound convincing to his boss and the doctor and whoever else might come to pry at him with difficult questions, but Reba is an unknown quantity. 

She’s on friendly terms with D, in the very least, but what else does she know? What has D told her and what has she figured out for herself, and most importantly what does she mean to do with that information?

“Are you awake?” she asks, drawing closer to the bed, and Will debates pretending to be asleep, if only to find out if he can get away with it. He has never before really spent any considerably amount of time around a blind person, and the terrain of her limitations and talents is foreign ground to him. 

Instead Will says, “I think that I am.”

“Good.” She sits down in the chair beside the bed. Will recalls his fuzzy memories of coming up from the fever to see her sitting there time and again, keeping watch over him while she read, and he is worried suddenly that he has incurred with her a kind of debt that goes well beyond whatever his medical bills add up to. 

“You should do something about your hair,” she tells him. 

“What do you mean?”

“It’s too long, and that makes you look disreputable. People are apt to talk.”

“What’s any of that matter to you?”

Reba uncrosses her legs and recrosses them in the other direction, left leg on the top now instead of the right. 

“People saw me bringing you here. That means we’re associated with each other now, like it or not.”

Will doesn’t know what to say about that. His brain feels sluggish and dull, no match for Reba’s quick and polished intellect. 

He watches her hands, which rest quietly in her lap. It still feels odd, talking with someone who can’t see him, but it feels far more strange to hold a conversation with someone who speaks with a voice rather than her hands. 

Without preamble or warning, Reba says, “Who is Matthew?”

Will blinks his good eye and says hesitantly, “Matthew was someone I knew in the war. 

“Go on.” 

“He died, badly, in a way that felt like my fault. I had a… fantasy of him surviving his injuries, and of the two of us finding somewhere isolated, where people wouldn’t bother him because of his face. I guess I decided to live it out, when I got this job. It’s work for two men, usually, a lighthouse, and more often than not one of them also brings along a spinster sister or a wife to look after the cooking and cleaning.” 

Will doesn’t tell her about his suspicions about the last lighthouse keepers and why they left so suddenly. “When I was hired, I told them that I had another man lined up who would help me, that he’d be along in a week or two but that I could hold things down myself until then. I said that he was a recluse because his face was disfigured, but that it didn’t keep him from being a hard worker.”

He falls silent, feeling winded and worn out, but surprised by how easily the story boiled down to a short tale.     

“When you said you knew Matthew, you mean that in the biblical sense, don't you?” Reba asks mildly.  

Will’s heart kicks up in the same instant that his stomach turns over with nauseous dread. He is not aware that he has skinned his lips back to bear his teeth are her. “Are you accusing me of something?” 

“The hostility isn't necessary,” she says, smoothing down a nonexistent crease in her dress. “I don't think either of us need cast aspersions on the other over our choices in romantic partners.”

Things that he hadn’t before realized click into place for Will. He is speechless.  

Reba goes on. “We need to get our stories straight. This is what I’ve come up with so far. Tell me if there are any mistakes, won’t you?”

Will nods. Then, remembering, he says, “Alright.”

“You’ve got a pet something or another out on the island - some wild creature that ought not to be a pet. A young bobcat, let’s say?”

“Alright,” Will says again. The boys are each about the size of a half-grown bobcat. 

 “It scratched your face while you were roughhousing with it, and the eye became infected. 

“You tried to avoid the doctor’s - you’ve had bad experiences in the past - but it got so bad that your recluse friend Matthew brought you into town, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of being seen by the crowd at the docks so he coasted along the coast looking for someone who might take you into town. I was an ideal outcome, from his position, since he believed that his face would not frighten or offend me, given that I couldn’t see it. 

“Do I have the story right?”

“That’s not a story,” Will says slowly. He feels himself smiling, despite everything, a silly relieved grin at the neatness of it. “That’s the truth. That is exactly how it happened.” 

“Good,” Reba says again. “I’m glad we got that cleared up.”

Chapter Text

The twins sit near the water’s edge, Alexander dragging a stick through the wet sand while Cyrus leans back on his palms to crane his head up to look at the lighthouse. 

They are closer to the water than Cyrus is allowed to be without Hannibal or D or Will watching him, but no one has come down here to scold him about it. 

They do not, either of them, really understand where Will has gone - where D took him, or why Hannibal allowed it when he’d promised to bring their dad home again. 

Between the pair of them, they asked after Will at least fifteen time the first day he went away, but Hannibal had no answer, and the explanations provided by D were impossible to follow. The twins had no frame of reference for his talk of other places and other humans, things that have existed for them only in stories and picture books. 

His dad is gone, and D keeps disappearing for hours on end, and Hannibal has barely left the lighthouse since Will was taken from them, and Cyrus has no intention of actually going into the water, but he would like very much for someone to come down here now and scope him up into his arms to reproach him for being so close to the waves without supervision. 

I’m being bad, he thinks. Come get me. 

But no one does, and turning his head to look at his twin, Cyrus sees that Alexander is making a drawing in the sand. To an outsider it might have looked like nothing more than a jumble of scribbles, but to Cyrus’ eyes it is fine work, seconded only by Hannibal’s art, and far better than anything Cyrus could produce himself. 

It’s a family portrait, the drawing, with their dad at its center. Alexander is perched on Will’s shoulder, and Cyrus stands beside Will, his arm raised to hold Will’s hand. Behind them and further off to either side are Hannibal and D. 

A lot more work has gone into getting Will right than any of the others, but Alexander is not happy with it - he is not happy as he struggles to reproduce the picture inside his own skull - and Cyrus hears the breath catch in Alexander’s throat just before he flings the stick away and leans forward to wipe the portrait away, smearing it with vicious strokes of his blunted claws. 

When he starts to cry, Cyrus pulls him close, the same as Alexander would do for him, but for a change he does not himself cry in response to his twin’s tears. 

Cyrus feels all cried out. He is hurting no less than he has been, all of the time, since Will got hurt, but he is trying hard to think through that hurt.  

He stares up at the lighthouse while Alexander wrings himself out against his shoulder. 

Once Alexander’s tears have slowed down, and after a great deal of thought on the matter, Cyrus says, “Hannibal’s the baby now.”

Alexander stops knuckling at his eyes long enough to shake his head. “Hannibal’s big,” he argues. 

“D’s big, too. Dad still took care of him when he was hurt. Hannibal took care of Dad, before he went away.

“He’s the baby now,” Cyrus repeats. Desperation informs this conclusion, a hope that he can do something to help fix a problem that he is certain he caused in the first place. “Hannibal can’t take care of himself, and Dad isn’t here. We have to be Hannibal’s dads until Dad comes home.” 

Alexander looks up at the lighthouse, thoughtful. “What do we do?”

 

The fish Alexander caught under the dock and dragged up onto the beach is a third his size, and maneuvering the heavy slippery thing up the lighthouse steps while it slaps at his legs with its tail is a struggle, but he isn’t having as rough a time with the stairs as Cyrus. 

Every time his twin has been up here, Will or Hannibal have carried him, and he is unsteady on the steep steps. Alexander goes more slowly than he might have otherwise, hoping that way Cyrus will not feel compelled to rush to keep up, and eventually they make it to the top safely. 

They decided together that Cyrus would do the talking; it is his idea, this plan to get Hannibal’s attention back by taking care of him, and he has a stronger talent for getting what he wants from adults, but when they enter the lens room things don’t go the way they’d hoped. 

Hannibal turns to look at them dully for a moment, long enough for Alexander to see the gauntness of his cheeks and strained lines around his eyes, and then he turns his head away to look out the window again, eyes searching for Will. 

He does this before Cyrus has even had the chance to raise his hands to sign anything. Wet-eyed, fragile confidence broken, his twin backs away, and Alexander gets angry. 

 

When Hannibal thinks about what Will must be going through now, caught so far away from home in the claws of the same kind of people who hurt him before, he thinks of his own time caught in the fishing net, strangling and immobilized and helpless against anything that might wish to do him harm.  

He fears that even if Will survives his injury, there will be no one to help cut him free, that he will be caught forever outside of Hannibal’s each, far from the people who love him.  

That fear, born of everything Will has told Hannibal of his life among humans and all of the things that he has seen done and that have been done to him, and informed by the memory of the rope around his own throat, crowds in with the grief until there is room inside him for nothing else. 

He turns away from the twins, and in furious outage Alexander screams at him. 

Startled, Hannibal turns to look at the twins again, just in time to see the child fling the sizeable fish he was holding to the floor at Hannibal’s feet. 

“Eat your dinner like a good baby, ” Alexander demands, every gestured marked by wounded fury.  

Hannibal sees Will in that anger; now that he is looking more closely, sees Will the pair of them as he never has before, and he sees as well that he has hurt them - that they are as lost in the wake of what has happened as he is. 

In the days since Will has been gone, Hannibal has felt as though he were lost in the pitch blackness of an oceanic trench, cold and alone and so completely disoriented that he no longer even knows the difference between up and down. 

He tries now to latch onto the idea of what the twins need from him - what Will would want for him to do for the twins - as a means of hauling himself out of the dark abyss inside his own head. 

To a limited degree, it works. 

“Let’s go have dinner,” he tells the pair of them, and when he bends to pick up the fish by its tail, he hears the dry, lifeless rustle of his gills and feels the floor beneath him begin to shift as the room spins. 

He closes his eyes until the vertigo passes, telling himself that he cannot keep this up, that he must return to water more often, and knowing even as he scolds himself that he will not act on that admonition. 

Any will to tend to himself has disappeared with his partner. 

And the lighthouse smells of Will. And day or night, it is the best vantage point to watch for Will's return. Hannibal is loathe to allow any distraction from his vigil.  

But for now, he comes down from the lighthouse to soak his gills, and when ache in them has been soothed Hannibal makes them all a proper dinner, grilling the fish down on the beach, where he can still keep an eye out for Will's return. 

It almost makes him feel better, making food for the twins. It’s a task that has fallen largely to D since Will was injured, while Hannibal himself has mostly felt no desire to fill his own belly. But the twins are such small things, and they need him so badly still, and there is some measure of comfort in taking care of them when he cannot do the same for Will. 

When the twins have been given their share, Hannibal sits down to pick at his own food while looking out across the water for Will’s boat.  

When it doesn’t come - when instead D surfaces from the water alone, Hannibal is painfully disappointed but curious enough of what news he might bring to leave his half-eaten dinner behind to hurry down to the beach to meet him. 

The news from this visit is brighter than that which D brought two days before; Will is very weak, and the state of his health remains perilous, but he’s breathing easier than he had been. The fever has fallen considerably as well, and he is mostly lucid most of the time now.

He’s taking soup with meat in it now, rather than just some vegetable thing called toast, and D seems to consider the best news of all.    

Hannibal cannot trust any of it, and he retreats again to the lighthouse, but not before returning to the cottage to stripe the blankets from Will’s bed, and carrying them up into the tower with him. 

Making a nest of the blankets, wrapping himself up in them to cocoon himself in Will’s scent, he takes up the watch again.

In the days that follow, the twins are there with him often, and Hannibal does not try to stop them when they lean in close to him to nap or burrow into the blankets. When they work to get Hannibal to leave the lighthouse to soak his or eat something he usually concedes to Cyrus' professions of his own hunger or Alexander’s demanding screams.  

His heart is still causing his body and his mind to fail him, but by ten days into Will’s absence Hannibal is at least losing ground at a much slower pace than he was in the first few days.      

When the sun beings to set on the end of the second week without Will, Hannibal prepares to light the lamp as always.

He does not believe, as D does, that allowing the lighthouse flame to go out in the night will bring death down upon them all in a literal sense, but he is sure that Will would not have stressed the importance of keeping it lit so often without reason. 

Hannibal has the match in hand to light the pilot when he spots Will’s small boat making its way back toward the island.

 

Chapter Text

“I’m going home,” Will says to Reba and the doctor, on the morning of his fourteenth day away from his family. “It’s been too long already.”

By then, Dr. Zeller is entirely fed up with him. “You shouldn’t,” he says. 

Bacterial pneumonia is what the doctor called the sickness that almost killed him anyway, after the infected scratch was on its way toward healing; the infection from that wound got into his blood and decided to go wandering to see what other kinds of trouble it could make for him.  

When Will doesn’t reply, and Zeller tells him, “You ought to be on bedrest for at least another week - maybe two.”

Will is busy buttoning up his flannel jacket, which feels alarmingly over-sized on him this morning, and his back is to the doctor. Trying not to let himself get distracted by how spindly and forign his own hands look to him, Will gives an apologetic shrug of his shoulders, but doesn’t answer. 

“But you aren’t going to listen anyway,” the doctor goes on, “so what’s the point in wasting my breath?”

Will’s own breath feels thin, his chest tight and prone towards a crackling feeling when he goes too long without coughing up some of the gunk that’s still in his pipes, but he is getting along well enough without the oxygen treatment now, and he thinks he’ll be alright as long as he doesn’t push himself too hard. 

Will turns to face him. The doctor clearly doesn’t like him, but Will has little expectation of being liked, and anyway he supposes that it’s hard to blame Zeller, given that he hasn’t exactly made the man’s job an easy one.

“I ought to thank you,” he says. It is hard for Will to maintain eye contact as he says this, but he does the best he can. 

“Is that right?” Zeller asks, not without suspicion. 

“Yeah, it is. I didn’t even want to talk to a doctor, I was so sure that I’d fall into the hands of the kind of professional who uses a condescending clinical detachment to mask their cruelty. Finding frank animosity instead has been one hell of a relief.” 

Zeller snorts, but the way he rubs at the bridge of his nose makes Will think the joke didn’t land as well as he would have liked.  

“I mean it,” Will says. “You saved my life.”

“Yeah, I did do that,” Zeller says. “Listen - take care of yourself, alright? Don’t wait until you’re three quarters dead before you come looking for help next time. It might not work out so well next time.”

He runs his fingers through his hair, clearly feeling at least as awkward as Will is, but he soldiers on and says, “That goes for - whatshisname… Matthew, right? - too. He doesn’t have to come into town if he needs to see me. I’ll make a housecall, go out to the island to examine him.”

Reba’s expression is placidly polite. Will has no earthly idea what his own face is doing, but whatever it is Zeller doesn’t seem to take it too badly. “I’ve seen plenty of war injuries. I’m not going to turn green or forget my manners.”

The doctor is, Will knows, a veteran, too. The two of them haven’t discussed this - Will has absolutely no desire to bond over all war stories, and doesn’t doubt that Zeller feels the same way - but he’s seen the man’s combat medic badge in the cabinet in the front office. 

Will is sure he’d have known even if he hadn’t seen Zeller’s medal. There’s a way to him, a familiar kind of tension. His apartment is directly above the clinic, and when Will wasn’t lost in his own haze of pain and fever he sometimes heard Zeller moving around in the night.  

 Rather late, Will says, “I’ll let Matthew know.”

More eager than ever to get going, Will turns to Reba. “You’ll walk down to the boat with me?” he asks, shier than he expected to feel. 

“Did you listen to me when I said you ought to do something about your hair?” she asks. 

Will runs his hand through the knotted jungle that is his hair. The bandages that cover the space where his left eye used to be and the wound below the eye socket are held in place by a lot of gauze wrapped around Will’s head, pinning a lot of his hair beneath. 

“Not yet,” he says. 

 Zeller sighs, possibly at them both. “I’ll go find a hat you can borrow.”

He leaves the room, and Will hears his footsteps on the stairs. “Do you think he meant that, or is he prying?”

“He meant it,” Reba says. “And he’s prying.”

“For a while,” Will says, “part of me was wondering about letting him in on things.”

It would be good to know that there is a doctor they might turn to, if one of the boys - or even D and Hannibal - took sick or got hurt. And Will could ask him if the boys were alright - if they were healthy and getting enough growing foods, if there’s any dangers that might harm them that Will doesn’t know he doesn’t know. He and Hannibal might even be able to think about more kids, somewhere down the line, if Will knew someone with training would be on hand to help in the labor. 

“I don’t think he’d cope well with that,” Reba says. 

“That’s what I figured,” Will says, keeping his own voice low to match hers. “Hannibal and D don’t match up to rational ideas about the natural order of things, and I don’t think he would like that.” 

“You’re probably right. I don’t think he’d set out to do anything malicious, if he knew, 

but it would be nearly impossible for him to accept the idea of them. They’re magic, in a way, aren’t they?”

“They’re real, mortal people,” Will says, thinking about the twins and the seeming impossibility of their existence, “but there’s a kind of magic to them, yes.”

 “Brian doesn’t like it when things aren’t the way that he feels they are meant to be. You saw that just now, when you told him that you were worried about being mistreated. He knows perfectly well that there are a lot of doctors out there who would make better butchers so he doesn’t try to deny it, but the fact of someone saying that makes him angry because that isn’t the way things ought to be.”

Reba pauses, listening, and an instant later Will hears Zeller coming down the stairs again. 

When Zeller’s gives him the hat Will tucks his hair up under its rim as best he can.  



“Do you want my arm?” Will asks Reba, uncertainly, once they are outside. 

“I have a better idea of where we are going than you do,” she says, and steps past him. Will follows a few steps behind. 

“People are looking at us,” he tells her uneasily. 

“Smile back at them and they won’t worry about it as much,” she says. “Don’t give anyone the idea that you’re trying to get away with something.” 

Will tries, but it is hard to keep from letting those eyes make him feel angry. The paranoia is heightened by the fact that his field of vision has been narrowed. He keeps turning his head, trying to catch what his missing left eye is missing. 

It’s a relief to make it out of the village. 

“I want to ask you a question,” Will says, when they’ve gone on a ways along the edge of the beach. 

“So ask me,” she says affably enough.  

“What are your… intentions towards D?”

Watching her face change makes Will feel like he is standing outside of a house  as the doors and shutters are slammed shut, closing off from him everything inside. 

“I’m not sure how that’s any of your business.”

“I don’t want him to get hurt.”

“I’m fairly certain that you are being sincere, but if you really do believe that then you’ll understand why that sentiment coming from you invokes a lot of negative feelings.”

A cold chill goes through Will. “He told you about what happened.”

“He did. D defended you in the process of telling me, but yes. He insists you were just doing the sensible thing to protect your family.” 

“He’s wrong about that.”

“I’m glad that we agree on that point,” Reba says. “To answer your question - D and I enjoy each others’ company.”

“I need to stop and catch my breath.”

There’s a big stone a few yards ahead, and breathing heavily Will makes his way to it and sits down. “Chest hurts,” he says. 

“Do you want to go back to the clinic for a few more nights?”

What Will wants to do is cough up some of the junk that’s inside his lungs, but he’s too embarrassed to do that when she’s listening.  

He settles for clearing his throat, wincing at the pain when he does so. 

“No, I need to get back, just as soon as I can. Hannibal was doing badly enough when I left. I’m worried about how he’s holding up.”

Reba’s silence is thoughtful. When she speaks it is to ask, “Under better circumstances, does Hannibal get upset when you travel away from the island?”

“Some,” Will tells her. “Not angry upset, mind - just lonesome and melancholy. 

“But I’m never been gone more than half a day before, either.”

“I wonder about that. Whenever I’ve needed to leave, even for months on end, D’s taken the news well enough. He seems to understand that I have other obligations. Why do they each take it a different way?”

“D was alone for most of his life,” Will says. “Maybe he’s used to it enough that he just takes what he can get these days.”

Will’s looks down at his hands, and is somehow surprised all over again about how thin they’ve become. His fingers are long and spindly, witch hands, skin drawn taut over bone. “I don’t know how to ask this other than just coming out and saying it,” Will says. “But I got to ask you. Have you two been having sex?”

The annoyance that passes over Reba’s face isn’t as bad as her earlier reaction, but she sure isn’t happy with the question either. 

“It’s just fine if you are,” he goes on quickly. “But you should know that there’s a chance you could catch pregnant, maybe. 

“I don’t know for sure, but it worked the other way around anyhow.” He grins to himself, thinking about how he’ll be seeing his boys again soon. “That was one hell of a surprise, let me tell you.”

“We haven’t been doing the kind of things that could result in pregnancy,” she says, with serene tactfulness. “Can I be frank with you?”

“Sure.” 

“He’s too damn big,” she says, and when Will surprises himself with a sudden burst of laughter that gets a smile from her, too.

But Reba goes on, more seriously. “It would hurt me, and that’s not something that I care for, now or in the future.” 

Will is quiet. He has remembered, suddenly, that Zeller more likely than not told her about his scars.

“Did I offend you?” Reba asks, when the silence drags on.

“No, not at all.” He is feeling more ashamed than offended. “I just don’t want to say anything that is… too improper… around you.”   

“You can’t say something like that and then leave me in the dark,” she says. 

Will shakes his head ruefully. “Is that a blind joke?”

“Might be, if you see it that way.” 

Will runs a hand down the uninjured side of his face. There’s a big old belly laugh standing at the ready inside him, but laughing hurts, so he bites it back and shakes his head. 

There’s something about all of this that makes Will feel bolder than he ever would have dreamed of being, because he says, “What I was going to say is, it doesn’t have to hurt if the other person goes slow and is careful.”

That surprises Reba, but at least as far as Will can tell does not disgust her. “You’re speaking from personal experience,” she says levelly. 

“Well,” he says. “There’s a way, you know, for men to… you know?”

“Calm down. I’ve heard a thing or two.”  

“But Hannibal is smaller than D,” Will says quickly.

Then, compelled by a sense of boastfulness that he didn’t know was in him, he adds, “Not by all that much though.”

He winces at himself, as soon as the words are out of his mouth, but Reba’s laughter makes Will feel less afraid. 

 

The boat is where D left it. 

“We going to see you again?” he asks. 

“I can’t be around all the time,” Reba tells him. “I told D that. The new semester is starting up soon. I need to go back home. 

“But yeah, you’re going to see me. When I get back into town you’re going to come see me, because you’ll be having a problem with seeing.”

“Will I?”

“Yes, it’s a shame you lost the left eye instead of the right. You’re farsighted in that eye.”

Will grins. “That’s news to me.” The one small silver lining in all of this is that his right eye was always the stronger of the two.   

“It isn't interfering with your ability to do your job, but you can’t read the text in newspapers or books anymore, and even worse you can’t read outloud for Matthew. You’ll be wanting lessons in Braille, for you and your friend both.”

“Hm,” Will says, working at the knot that D used to tie off the boat. “Might be easier for you to come out to the island and teach us both at the same time.”

“I think you may be right.”

Ten minutes later the boat is in open water and on course for the sland, and Will is on his way home.

Chapter Text

Hannibal’s skin is dry and cracked, and his head is a constant throbbing ache, and there is an arid pain in his stiffening gills. His lungs, overtaxed from being on land for too long, cause a burning in his chest and a lightness in his aching head, and none of this matters in the slightest because Will is back, and Hannibal rushes down the stairs and sprints down the path for the dock. 

He is completely winded by the first bend in the trail, and though he does not allow this to stop him he is forced to slow down. The pain in his chest is worse now, a tightness that feels like the burning of hot coals, but he goes on, staggering and stumbling along the trail, and Hannibal’s head is full of fog but the idea of Will cuts through it like the beam of the lighthouse, and Hannibal heads toward that light though his entire body aches with exhaustion. 

Hannibal sees Will, weary and thin, looking not in Hannibal’s direction but up toward the cottage, and Hannibal goes on toward him, though the sand seems to have been replaced by thick mud - holding him back, nearly impossible to move through - and then Will turns and sees him. 

In a hoarse and frightened voice Will calls out his name, and Hannibal keeps going, and he falls to his knees at Will’s feet and reaches out to curl his arms around Will’s ankles.

Hannibal looks up and sees Will looking down at him, and it is not joy but a terrified sense of alarm that he sees in his partner’s face. Will steps free of his grasp and begins to tug at Hannibal’s arm instead, and beneath whatever Will is shouting Hannibal hears the ocean and understands the source of Will’s fear - understands all at once that he has come to the absolute end of his resources, and that he needs to return to the water now, that he will die if he does not, and it is so close, but he cannot seem to find the energy to lift any of his limbs, let alone carry himself there, and -  

And he does not know what happens next. 

Everything is darkness and silence. 

 

Will tugs at Hannibal’s arm, struggling to pull him down into the surf. Hannibal is not as heavy as he once was - is in fact, frighteningly bony - but Will himself feels as frail as a newborn kitten, and he cannot for the life of him budge Hannibal’s heavy frame. 

Hannibal is doing nothing to help him - Hannibal, for all Will can tell, might already be dead - and Will thinks wildly, Not this again , and the word medic! sits perched under his chin, ready to fly off into the open air on the updraft of Will’s scream, but when he opens his mouth he’s found the word that he needs, and it is D’s name that he shouts out, as loud as he can manage, and he yells it again and again, and when he sees D coming toward them, down from the trail that leads to the cottage, the relief is enough that Will is able to think a bit more clearly,  and he bends down and slaps Hannibal across the face, hard - as hard as he can - and Hannibal floats back up to a hazy consciousness, shaking his head ruefully before looking up at Will with a wounded expression, and by then D is there and the three of them working together quickly get Hannibal into the water. 

Will settles down in the shallow water and puts Hannibal’s head in his lap. 

It is, Will remembers suddenly, the same way Hannibal sat with D after Will almost killed him, and he looks up to see D crouched in front of them, his body breaking the waves - shielding the two of them from their full force. Will looks into D’s face and tries to find some way to voice the depth of his gratitude, but the words won’t come together, and maybe that is okay - at least for now - because the smile D gives him seems to understand regardless. 

Hannibal is quiet in Will’s lap, at peace, though his hand grips Will’s wrist with a fierceness. The water is cold, and Will has dropped so much weight that he hardly has any padding left to protect him from the chill, but he stays there anyway, letting his heart open to the adoration that he sees in Hannibal’s lean, wolfish face as he looks up at Will. 

Eventually, Hannibal raises his hands to sign, “Is that what sleep is like?”

“I dunno,” Will says. “Kinda, I guess.”

When Will looks up he sees the boys standing on the beach, watching them uncertainly. 

“Babies,” he says, and the salt sting in his remaining eye doesn’t come from the surf, “come here. It’s alright, come here.”

They do, wading out into water that is for them chest-deep, crowding in to touch him, as though they don’t quite believe he’s real, climbing all over Will and Hannibal both. Blunt-clawed little fingers pat at the unwounded side of his face as Will tries to see if the twins are alright.

The two of them don’t look sick or hurt or hungry, but Will knows that not all wounds can be seen just by looking. 

Hannibal tugs at Will’s wrist for attention. 

“I was worried you were dead,” he says. “I thought that you had died - that you died and they threw you in some cold lonesome hole to rot in the darkness, wasted and far away from everyone who loved you.”

“Don’t talk like that in front of the kids,” Will says, uneasy. “I’m back, and I’m getting well, and you’ll get better, too. We are all going to be okay now.” 

Chapter Text

Hannibal feels his little mate begin to shiver. 

Will is not made to handle the cold in the same way that Hannibal, or even their children, can. His tolerance for it must be so much less, as thin as he is now. 

Will is furious and fragile, vulnerable to so much and acutely aware of that vulnerability, yet never willing to surrender to it. 

Looking up at him now, bandages wrapped around his head to shield his wound, face thin and pallid, yet looking down at Hannibal with such warmth even as his entire body shudders from the chill water, Hannibal finds that it is better than he could have imagined, through all of his long watch, to have Will here once again.   

But. 

“Go back up to the cottage,” Hannibal signs up at him. “Get warm. Rest. I’ll be okay here, now that I know you are alright.”

He sees the stubbornness come into Will, that stiff-necked unwillingness to acknowledge his own needs, let alone surrender to them, but then it fades.

“Yeah, I guess I gotta, huh?” Will says, turning his head to the side with a bashful smile. 

Then more firmly, Will says, “Don’t go following me. You need to get yourself better now, too.”

It’s difficult to let him go, but Hannibal manages it. It’s easier, knowing that there are other people here who will help Will if he needs it; D is at hand, and there are things the twins can do, too. 

The notion of family, originally as foreign to Hannibal as cooked food or art, has grown far more precious to him than any of the wonders that Will has introduced into his life, save except perhaps for language.

He knows himself well enough to understand that he would not have survived Will’s absence without the others to goad him into maintaining some shred of hope that Will might still be alive to return to him.  

Keeping his gills submerged, Hannibal peers above the water to watch as Will wades out of the water, flanked by the twins, D trailing a few steps behind them. 

“Let's go up to the cottage,” Will tells the others, as he stoops to pick up Cyrus, but Alexander shakes his head at that. 

“I’m keeping watch,” he tells Will.  

“Keeping watch?” Will repeats.  

“For dolphins and things,” Alexander explains, and then shoots D an ugly look. 

Will hesitates for a moment, weighing his own response to this new development. Then, raising his voice to make sure Hannibal here him, Will says, “Alright, but make sure you both stay in each other’s sight.”

Alexander nods in agreement, and then goes to stand at the water’s edge, his eyes scanning the waves intently.  

The others turn and walk up towards the cottage, and once they have disappeared around the bend in the trail Hannibal sinks back under the water to swim in long, slow loops. Before very long, he feels some of his old strength beginning to come back to him, and with that spark of energy Hannibal begins for the first time in weeks to consider with excitement the idea of food. 

His own hunger turns Hannibal’s thoughts to Will - to how thin Will has become. 

Hannibal intends to correct that just as soon as possible. 

Turning over slowly in the water, surfacing briefly to eyeball Alexander, Hannibal thinks, A party would be good. 

A party that requires Will to do nothing more than enjoy himself and eat would be just the thing, he thinks. A celebration of Will’s return from death - a different sort of birthday. 

He wonders if D could find another elk for them, and the thought reminds him of how much he owes to the other creature already. I must find a way, he thinks, to do something good for him in turn. 



Will stops to check on the livestock before he goes inside. 

The goat has gone dry, but that doesn’t matter much - Will is the only one whose stomach will handle milk. She seems in good condition otherwise, and is happy to see him; when Will reaches into the pen she bumps her forehead against his palm playfully in greeting. 

The chickens look fine, too. 

“You did a real good job taking care of things are here,” Will tells D. 

“I couldn’t get the eggs,” D says, as though to correct Will. “I tried to go into the coop to gather them, the way that you do, and the rooster screamed at me and flew at my face.

“I scared him, so he wanted to hurt me.”

Will shifts Cyrus on his hip uneasily. “He’d have done the same thing to Hannibal or the boys if they’d done the same thing - anyone trying to get into the coop that he wasn’t used to. Hell, he’s gone after me a few times, too. Roosters can just be disagreeable animals.”

“I wanted to rip him apart for that.”

“But you didn’t,” Will says, trying to soothe him. “And it’s just a chicken, either way. They’re here to be eaten, eventually.” 

Will does not add that he has yet to work up to being able to slaughter one of the birds for the table, and is beginning to doubt that he ever will have the heart for it.   

“I almost lost my temper with it,” D insists. “I could have lost myself.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Will says. And then, insistent that D accept the praise that he is due, Will says again, “You did such a good job of taking care of things when Hannibal and I couldn’t. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”

Will does know, of course, and knows that D knows, too - Will would be dead, and quite likely Hannibal as well, and what might have happened to the twins after that doesn’t bear thinking about. But this is not something that he wants to say when Cyrus is listening. 

When he opens the cottage door, Will is relieved to see that the mirror is already turned to the wall. He’d known that it would be - Hannibal is careful to avoid upsetting D in that way - but nonetheless Will had been badly afraid of seeing himself, even with the bandages on.   

He steps inside and lets Cyrus down onto the floor, while behind him D stoops to pass through the doorway. 

Will looks around the shadowy little cottage - the shelves overcrowded with books, the kitchen table with the extra-sturdy chair that Will built to hold Hannibal’s weight, the boxes of canned food stacked against one wall, and his familiar bed, the mattress sagging in the spot where Hannibal so often lays beside him, not for the sake of sleeping but simply to be near Will. 

Hannibal’s drawings have been pinned up to fill the empty places on the walls, still lifes of food and objects that interest Hannibal, family portraits, a stunning landscape of the lighthouse at sunset. The twin’s toys liter the floor; well-loved, eviscerated stuffed bears, alphabet blocks scarred by teeth marks, sheets of newsprint covered in scribbled drawings. 

Will settles down onto the edge of his bed and takes a deep breath, smelling the scents of lamp oil and chalk, salt and cooking grease and fish, all of it layered with Will’s own sweat and the otherworldly scents of his family, a smell that he could not for the life of him describe but which is infinitely dear to him. He sighs contentedly.  

“Home sweet home,” Will says, and when looks towards D again he noticed for the first time the gentle rise of his belly. 

“When are you due?” he asks. 

D has a better idea of the answer to that question than Hannibal did, with the odd overbaked babies Will gave him. He goes to the calendar on the wall and takes it down, carrying it to Will. 

“I sat down and thought about it while you were gone,” he explains, flipping the pages back two months, “and I marked it here.”

Will looks and sees that D has blocked off a week in mid-October. The neat script that runs across the row of dates reads simply Birthday?  

“Two and a half more months,” Will says, and D nods. Then, more shyly, Will asks, “Can I touch your belly?”

D nods again, and Will reaches out and, fingers splayed like a starfish, presses his hand gently over D’s stomach. 

The growing babies are lively under Will’s palm. The morose feeling that struck him so often when Hannibal was pregnant, the sense of being deficient in comparison to the creatures, attempts to surface again, but Will pushes back against it. 

He looks up at D, searching his face. “And you want to keep them? You want them to stay, the way that Alexander and Cyrus have?”

“I do. I want to help them get started, so they have a better chance.”

Will nods. “Then I'm going to think on a way to make that happen for you.”

Then he yawns, so hugely that it sends tendrils of pain crawling through his face. 

Will looks around for Cyrus, and finds him in the shadows under the kitchen table. “Come here, baby,” he says. “You want to take a nap with your dad, before I go and take care of the lighthouse?”

The boy crawls up onto the bed, but hesitantly, and stands up on the mattress to look into Will’s face, at the bandages that are still wrapped around his head to cover the empty socket were his left eye used to be, and the long scar that runs below it. 

“Hurt?” he signs. 

It’s the first thing he’s said since Will came back, and though Cyrus has always tended towards thoughtful silence, it worries Will. This quiet feels like something new. 

“No, baby,” Will says, and if that’s a lie it’s a small one; it still hurts like hell, but that pain is a ghost of what it was. “It’s healing good, you don’t need to worry about that. I feel just fine.”  

 

A day later, and Hannibal crouches in front of the kitchen chair in which Will is seated, carefully unrolling the bandage tape that covers Will’s injury. 

The pads of gauze covering the socket and scratch come away, and Will sees Hannibal’s face go grim at the sight.  

Will turns his gaze away from Hannibal, at once hurt and ashamed. 

“The doctor hurt you,” Hannibal says, and in the movements of his hands Will can read the barely controlled fury. 

“No,” Will says. “He helped me get better.”

“It wasn’t this bad before. The scratch under your eye was small.”

Will sighs under the weight of exhaustion and his own fear of what he might look like. When he was at Zeller’s clinic he refused to look in any mirror, and he has no desire to do so now. 

“They had to cut away the dead flesh, Will says, almost boredly. “And the chemical they used to kill the infection was apt to burn living flesh too.”

Hannibal doesn’t answer.  

“I hope I’m not too ugly for you now,” Will says, trying to make a joke of it.

Hannibal sniffs derisively at that. 

“D is the only one here who worries about scars, and even then he’s only troubled by his own.”

“Humans care,” Will says, because he can’t help it.  

“They can go rot, then, and not even bottomfeeders will clean their bones for them. You aren’t among humans.”

He leans down, hand curled around the back of Will’s neck, and places a kiss on his forehead, and then he reaches for the clean bandages. 

Chapter Text

It’s not entirely smooth sailing. 

Three days after he returns to the island, the ache in Will’s chest sharpens and the fever begins to reassert itself, as Zeller warned him it might if he pushed himself too hard too fast, but after a few days rest Will is well enough again to make it up the lighthouse steps to spell Hannibal, allowing him to take plenty of breaks to return to the water. 

Hannibal’s recovery, after having been stalled by the resurfacing of the pneumonia and therefore his need to once again take the entirety of the nightly lighthouse duties upon himself, is proceeding quickly, and it does Will well to see the strength coming back to him, even as Will himself is slower to get better. 

The others still worry about him, Will knows. The boys, while almost always close at hand, are so careful with him that sometimes it makes Will’s heart want to break. Cyrus cottoned almost at once to the fact that curling up on Will’s chest was making it more difficult for him to breathe, and though by now the tight ache in his chest is almost entirely gone almost all the time, Cyrus still won’t sleep there the way he used to. 

Hannibal is at least as careful with him as the boys are, more than he has ever been in the past. It’s for love, Will knows - it comes from their fear of losing someone that they love through their own lack of caution - but there’s an isolating kind of feel to it. Will feels like a china doll, too valuable and too fragile to be played with, locked away behind glass in a curio cabinet. 

He is acutely aware, now more than ever, of his differences from the rest of his family, and of all the ways that these differences translate out to frailty. 

It is hard, for this reason, for Will to grant the request that D makes of him, but he does the best he can nonetheless. 

 

Soothed by the gentle swaying of the hammock, Will naps through the long afternoon. 

When he wakes, lazy under the soft warmth of the autumn sun, he isn’t sure how long D has been seated at the base of the tree that supports one end of the hammock. The big guy is close enough to touch, back lined up against the trunk of the tree, thick tail resting along side the curve of his own hip. D is the only one on the island now who doesn’t clip at least some of his claws, and they gleam like black onyx stone as D waits, his big knuckled hands sitting idly in his lap. 

He isn’t looking at Will. D’s eyes are facing the short trees and brush that grow in the poorer soil of the liminal space between the beach and the cottage dooryard, but Will doesn’t think he’s seeing any of that, either. 

D’s lost in his own thoughts, the expression on his face troubled, but when Will turns in the hammock and reaches out to touch his shoulder, D turns to look at him, and the anxiety that drew D’s mouth into a thin line recedes enough to allow him to give Will a shy smile.  

His hand moves, fist opening as he extends it, palm-up, toward Will, and Will sees the offering there; a piece of the venison jerky that Will showed Hannibal how to make from the deer that D brought home about a week earlier. 

Will sits up and takes it, though he is not especially hungry. Hannibal has been plying him with food nearly every hour that Will isn’t sleeping, unswaying in his intent to see Will returned to his previous weight, and Will hopes that D hasn’t decided to join the cause, but he takes the gift nonetheless.  

“Thank you, D,” he says, and gnaws at the corner of the jerky before putting the rest of it in his breast pocket for later. 

It’s hard for D to ask for help, Will knows, harder maybe than it has ever been for Will himself to ask for anything, and he doesn’t make D broach the question. “What do you need, big guy?”

“Will you help me look at the mirror?”

He swallows hard. “I can do that,” Will says, trying to keep his voice from letting on how anxious the idea makes him. 

He doesn’t have much luck at that. 

“Are you scared?” D asks. 

“Not of you,” Will reassures him. 

“But I haven’t seen myself since all of this happened,” he continues, gesturing vaguely at the bandages that still conceal the left side of his face. 

D climbs to his feet, and Will sees him rallying his own pride. “We can face it together,” he says. 

Will smiles as bravely as he can. “I’d like that.”


D lingers in the doorway while Will wheels the mirror out from its spot against the wall and turns it so the reflective surface faces outward, though not at such an angle that D can see himself from where he is standing. 

As he creeps further into the cottage, Will circles around the mirror and stands in front of it, blocking much of D’s view just as he steps into its range. It is, D is sure, a deliberate action on Will’s part; he’s giving D a little bit more time to brace himself to see his own reflection. 

The mirror is wider than Will, and as Will looks at himself D is able to see disembodied bits of himself in the parts of the mirror that Will does not block - the edges of his torso and hips, and most of his arms, as they hang limply to either side of him. D can see most of his upper chest around the back of Will’s head, and all of his neck, but Will’s angled the mirror in such a way that it chops D’s head off just below his chin. 

“I’m still so damn thin,” Will grouses, and turns to face D so quickly that D hardly has time to see more of himself than he already had when Will was looking into the mirror. 

Will’s gaze moves up and down D’s body, and D sees warm appreciation in Will’s face, but can hardly credit it - he wonders for an instant if Will is looking past him, if perhaps Hannibal has managed to come up behind him without his noticing. 

“You’re so handsome, D,” Will tells him, and as D turns his head away he feels his cheeks begin to burn. 

When he hazards to look up again, Will has stepped to the side. The mirror reflects back at D his own body, from the ankles up to the base of his chin, and D moves forward slowly, studying his reflection. 

Not being able to see his own face makes it so much easier for D to think objectively about what he is seeing. Disembodied from himself, D can allow that the body he’s looking at is attractive by the standards of his own species, and apparently to at least two humans as well. 

He lacks Hannibal’s lithe grace, but his shoulders are broad and straight, his chest well-muscled and his hands clearly powerful. He’s built strong, but there’s a generosity to his hips, a softness above the muscle that makes D think it would be a good place to rest one’s head. 

There are scars on him, many of which came from Hannibal, but the scratch marks and teeth prints that litter his chest and upper arms are not the ones that concern him; those scars, in fact, strike him as attractive embellishments against the dappled pattern of his skin. 

“Do you see what I mean?” Will asks. 

D hesitates, then he signs, “If I was looking to partner with another shark person, I could do worse than someone who looked like this.”  

He steps closer to the mirror, and after a moment’s hesitation D reaches out and prods it, angling it upwards so it reflects his face back at him from the vantage point of someone closer to Will’s size looking up at him. 

It is not possible for D to evaluate what he is looking at now with the same detachment with which he studied the rest of his body. He can hazard no opinion on the shape of his eyes or nose or gills, the pattern of his facial markings or the color of his hair, because all he sees is the snarl - the way the scar there has misshapen his mouth, pulling his upper lip back to bear teeth in a promise of violence. 

Heart pounding against the walls of his chest like a trapped bird, D backs away from the mirror, moving out of its line of sight. 

“D?” Will says, troubled, and D shakes his head. 

He deflects - reaches for a way to turn the attention away from himself. 

“It’s your turn,” he signs. “Are you going to look at yourself?”

Will bites his lower lip. “I guess I have to do it sometime, huh?” Will says. He is trying to be pragmatic, and he is seeking to do what he can to make all of this easier for D, but D hears the trepidation in Will’s voice. 

D is struck by the sudden fear that he has done something bad - something predatory - to his friend, in insisting that Will participate in challenging the mirror rather than simply observe D’s own efforts, but Will has stepped back into the mirror path and is, with hands that are not entirely steady, undoing the bandages around his head. 

The scars are striking, but they do not strike D as ugly. He might have been more alarmed by the loss of one of Will’s eyes if he were not so well accustomed to the competency that Reba demonstrates while being blind. And there are, so far as D understands it, few predators on land that might attempt to attack an adult human, so he therefore does not worry that Will’s reduced range of vision will make him an easier target for something that wants to eat him. 

But Will sees it differently. 

“That’s bad,” Will says, and there’s broken glass in his voice. “That’s really bad.”

D touches his shoulder, tentatively. He is still learning how to use his body in relation to others, and Will is especially tricky. Hannibal and Reba both give far more obvious signals in regards to if they want to be touched and in what ways. 

Will looks up at D, and there is a woundedness in his face that goes far deeper than the nearly healed injury. “No,” D says, “It’s not bad. It doesn’t make you look like you’re bad - like you want to hurt someone. It’s just scars.”

“Just scars,” Will repeats, watching himself in the mirror as he feels gingerly along the edges of the scar. “Hannibal said about the same thing.”

The empty socket is a healthy pink, naked of its upper-eyelid, though the scarring that surrounds the socket itself is an angry red that he will learn later is the result of chemical burns from the substance used to kill the infection. A deep scar runs perhaps two inches from the base of Will’s eye sock and down his cheek, and the skin along its edges is blister-red as well. 

Will lets his hands drop to his sides, and stepping away from the mirror he drops down onto the bed. D is grateful for the excuse to turn his back on the mirror. 

“That’s why you got so upset the first time you saw yourself in the mirror,” Will says. “Even after you realized that you were looking at you. 

“Because the scar makes you look like you’re angry.”

D nods. He says, “Most of us communicate mostly with our faces and bodies.”

“It’s the miscommunication that bothers you. The idea that it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to say, because all people are going to see is ‘I’m fixing to bite your ass.’”

D nods again. 

Will drops his gaze, looking down at his own feet. “Christ, I’m so sorry I beat on you,” he says, running his fingers through his hair. “I can’t…”

Reaching out, D touches Will’s shoulder again, though this time he only taps it to get Will to look up at him. 

“That wasn’t all of it,” he tells Will. 

“Yeah?”

“I’m outside of my own head a lot,” D says. “My instincts don’t feel like me. I don’t…”

He hesitates, shy. If D had a concept of insanity, he might have worried that what he wants to say might sound crazy, but as he does not he only worries about sounding foolish, and of being misunderstood. 

“You don’t?” Will repeats. 

“I don’t feel like I’m supposed to look like this.” He jerks his chin at the mirror. “This doesn’t feel like it should me.”

“What do you think you should look like?”

“More like a human,” he tells Will. 

“You imprinted on humans when you were tiny,” Will says. “That’s what shaped your idea of what people ought to look like.”

Once again D nods, but thoughtfully this time, mulling Will’s words over. 

Will’s voice is quiet when he admits, “That’s something we have in common, I guess, because I wish that I looked more like a shark.”

The idea startles D. “Why?” he says. 

Will lifts his hands to gesture vaguely at himself, before letting them drop back into his lap. “I’m the only one who looks like this,” he says. “It makes me feel like I don’t fit in with the rest of my family. 

“And I worry -” Will goes on, but then he stops, looking out past D. 

D scents Hannibal an instant before he steps into the cottage. 

“Hey, hun,” Will says, and D watches him trying to put on a brave face. 

Will doesn’t have that much luck with it, so far as D can tell, and his command of his own face is far less effective than Will’s. 

He watches the way Hannibal studies the two of them, Will first and then D, and sees how Hannibal is troubled by the fact that they are both so clearly troubled. 

Hannibal puts the full fish creel down on the counter. He goes to the mirror and pulls it back to its customary place, the reflective surface facing the wall again. 

“Are you two alright?” Hannibal asks. He is looking at Will as he signs this, but D feels at once embarrassed and touched to be included in the inquiry. 

“More or less,” Will answers. “We were working on getting to like what we see in the mirror.”

“You should be pleased by how you look, Will,” Hannibal says. “I always am.”

Hannibal pauses briefly, and then he adds, not as an afterthought but rather a carefully considered statement, “And you’re handsome enough, D, you shouldn’t worry so much about yourself.”

“I told him that,” Will says. “I told him that he’s real handsome. But it’s rough, in a lot of ways, for me and him.”

Hannibal pauses to consider that. “I might be able to think of a way to help you with that,” he says, and then turns back to the counter to begin to clean the fish for dinner.

Chapter Text

Will hunkers down in the sand next to the boys, who look up from the hole they are digging long enough to give him a pair of toothy smiles. 

The two of them are on their knees, scooping sand out of the hole they’ve made. For this task, Cyrus is using the garden trowel, which in his hands is not significantly smaller than a trench shovel would be to Will. Alexander, on the other hand, has found the charred scapula from one of the couple of deer D has brought back to the island in recent weeks, and is using the spade-shaped bone to expand the pit. 

“What you guys doing?” Will asks. 

Alexander looks up long enough to say, “Digging,” tucking the scapula under his elbow to free his hands up to sign, but Cyrus remains intent on his task. There is something about the way he does this, the seriousness with which he has thrown himself into the work, that makes Will’s chest ache. He looks like an unloved child, shoveling coal to earn a wage that may or may not be enough to keep himself alive. 

Looking down the beach, Will sees that this isn’t the first pit they’ve dug; half a dozen similar holes dot the shore. The milk bucket sits beside them, and when Will peers into it he sees a lot of clams and three or four crabs with alarmingly large claws. 

“Helping to get dinner, huh?” Will prompts, but this time neither boy acknowledges him. They are intent on what they are doing with the same sharp focus of a pair of cats who have the mouse cornered and know it, and as Will watches them he can’t help but be troubled. 

Since coming home Will hasn’t been able to help but think that things are different now, in some key way, and he does not believe that they will ever go back to the way they were before. Cyrus is quieter than he was before, withdrawn into his own inscrutable bubble, and Alexander is tense and watchful, hellbent on making sure everyone else is safe from danger.

They’ve begun in earnest to become who they are going to be, and they did it when I wasn’t looking.

Maybe that’s just fine. Maybe it’s natural, even good. Will doesn’t know. 

There is no guidebook for what the twins are or where they ought to be developmentally. The idea that they might be growing up too fast is, Will knows, incomprehensible to Hannibal - maybe to the twins, too, for all Will can guess. 

He understands from talking with Hannibal and D that in the natural order of things for members of their species that the distinction between childhood and adulthood is informed primarily by the hazardous process of shifting from being potential prey to a thousand types of larger creatures to eventually reaching a place near the top of the food chain, should you live that long. 

A safe and idyllic childhood might be a foreign country for Will himself, but it’s another planet to Hannibal. D visited that land briefly, and even now has yet to fully recover from the loss of having been cast out. It would be hard enough for Will to know if he was doing right by the twins if they were fully human, having had no good models in his own life to draw from, but the fact that they are not throws so much more uncertainty into the equation. 

Will worries about them. 

“You two don’t have to do that,” Will says, and he can’t quite pin down the cause of the guilt nested in the back of his belly because it’s coming from so many directions. “D and Hannibal and I will get dinner. You two should be playing instead of working like this.”

I take care of you, is what he means. You don’t have to worry about being taken care of. 

Cyrus looks up at him, wounded and hurt, and goes back to shoveling at the sand with a new fury. 

“Baby,” Will says, “what -”

He stops when Alexander shakes his head. 

“Let him help,” he says. “He wants to help.” 

Will falls silent, watching, and after a few moments Cyrus pulls a clam from the hole. 

“See?” he says, vindicated, after dropping it into the bucket. “I can do it.” 

“I see that,” Will agrees, starting to feel like he has a grasp on what this is all about. “You’re a good little hunter.”

The boys go back to digging. 

Alexander turns up a crab next, and when he does he knocks a big clump of sand over its eyes, stunning it, and while it is still trying to decide if it should flee or stay hidden under the sand, Alexander scoops it up deftly from behind, hand clasped around its body so it can’t turn and catch him with its claw. 

A crab like that could really hurt one of the boys, and Will’s heart is in his throat, watching Alexander carrying it to the bucket, and he only start breathing again when it drops harmlessly into the bucket with the others. 

“Did Hannibal show you how to do that?” Will asks, knowing it’s a foolish question; they simply know how its done, in the same way that Hannibal and D know so many things. 

When the next crab is uncovered, it’s Cyrus who reaches for it. 

Will is still for just a second, caught between impulses. 

In his mind’s eye Will sees the boy, pudgy hands so much less deft than his brother, moving too slowly, giving the crab time to turn and catch his finger in its claws, maybe breaking the bone. He sees himself catching Cyrus by the wrist and forcing the crab to let go, and he sees the child burying his face against Will’s chest and crying, clinging to him for comfort. Will feels his own hot rage directed at that crab, his desire to chase after it, to kick and crush it, to destroy something that gave his child a small hurt so he can feel more in control of all the ways that the larger world - that Will himself - might hurt the twins far worse. 

Will scoops Cyrus up. 

“That’s enough for today,” Will says, watching the crab scuttle up the side of the pit and race down to the water’s edge, disappearing into the surf. You get off easy this time, Will thinks. 

“Come up to the house with me, okay?” he tells them. “I want to talk with you about something.”

 

Will sits Cyrus on the edge of the table, and while he is doing that Alexander scales one of the chairs and climbs up to sit on the table beside him, leaning his shoulder against Cyrus’ own, and he is grateful for the comfort that touch brings. 

Will pulls out a kitchen chair and sits down, eye to eye with them, and looks Cyrus in the face. 

No one else in Cyrus’ world has eyes like the eyes Will had, before he got hurt, brightly colored and startlingly direct. 

In the past, when Will turned his gaze on Cyrus it felt as though he could see inside his skull, could look in at all the thoughts and ideas and feelings that lived inside it. That had seemed like a good thing - it meant that his Dad understood him, and knew what he felt and what he needed, which was good because often his own feelings were too complicated for him to manage entirely on his own. 

Now though, when Will looks at him with that one weary eye, the other one hidden behind bandages and either ruined or gone, guilt flops around in Cyrus’ belly like a dying fish. 

That’s happening now, as Will studies him, a troubled frown tugging on the edges of his mouth. 

Will sighs and leans back in his chair. “I want to talk to you two about what happened,” he says, “and I want to answer whatever questions you have.”

Cyrus turns to look at his twin in the same moment that Alexander looks to him. There are angry bees buzzing inside his head, and through the panicky din he cannot begin to articulate what he wants - needs - to say. He gives a small shake of his head, trying fruitlessly to quiet them down, and so Alexander speaks instead. 

“Where did you go?” he asks. 

“I didn’t know what to do to fix my cut,” Will says, “so I went to see D’s friend Reba so she could get me some help. She’s nice - maybe you’ll meet her sometime.”

“D lied.”

“I know he did. But he was doing the best he could in a bad situation,” Will says, and Cyrus balls his fists tighter in his lap. 

“Hannibal was mad.”

“He was doing the best he could, too. They aren’t fighting anymore. Everything is okay now.”

When Cyrus bangs his fist against the surface of the table it makes Alexander flinch away in sudden fright, and that makes the bees in Cyrus’ head angrier and sickness in his belly sicker. 

You’re lying,” he signs at Will. 

“Why do you think that?” Will asks him. 

“You’re not okay!” he says, and waves his hands at Will, trying to take in not only the things that are physically wrong with him - the bandages hiding whatever lies beneath them, Will’s gauntness and lingering paleness, the way his chest still pains him and the difficulty he has in catching his breath - but the rest of it, too, the things that are even more difficult to put to words. 

Will understands him, but he goes on pretending that none of it matters. “I’ll be finished getting well again soon,” he says, “and in the meantime I’m happy because I’m back home with all of you.”

Cyrus shakes his head vehemently. “Not okay,” he says again. “You’re not okay and that’s my fault. I did it.” 

“Is that something that you know or are you just guessing?” Will asks, and he is so kind about how he says it, but that only makes Cyrus’ gut twist up more with sick guilt. 

That guilt is painful, and Cyrus wants to throw himself into Will’s arms like he would have before all of this happened, but he is so scared of hurting Will, even with his claws trimmed short, of doing something stupid by mistake that might take Will away from them all again, maybe even kill him this time. 

“I'm the slow one,” he signs. “I'm clumsy. You know. Everyone knows it.”
But Alexander is shaking his head insistently. “Me,” he signs, over and again, huge for emphasis. “I did it.”

“You don't know that either,” Will tells him gently. “None of us knows, except maybe D, and none of us need to know, because it's nobody's fault.”

“My fault,” Cyrus signs quickly, and when he sees Alexander trying to say the exact same thing he yanks on his arm to make him stop. 

“An accident ,” Will insists. “It was just an accident, and if it’s anyone’s fault then it’s everyone’s fault.

“Listen to me, both of you - it’s my fault for not keeping your claws trimmed when I knew how thin-skinned I am, or for not punishing you when you scratched me in the past so you’d learn not to do that. It’s D’s fault for coming home when he did and getting you two worked up, or Hannibal’s fault for not being there for you to roughhouse with instead of with me.”

Will pauses, watching their faces. “Do you think D should be blamed?”

The idea is another guilty twist of the knife. “He'll cry if you say that,” Cyrus says, and can feel unshed tears burning his eyes as he watches his twin shake his head in animate denial. 

“You’re right, he shouldn’t because it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t have any more control over it than I did, or Hannibal, or either of you. 

“No one did anything on purpose. It might have happened a thousand different ways or not at all. It was just an accident.” 

Cyrus says, “If it wasn’t my fault then why do I make you sad now?”

The words stun Will. He stammers. “Baby, no - you don’t make me sad.”

The tears are falling now, and they don’t embarrass Cyrus but he knuckles at his eyes anyway, frustrated with the way they blur his vision, making his own thoughts foggy as he struggles to put them into words. “I’m not good at anything,” he says. “I was good at making you happy, but now I only make you sad.”

“If I’m sad,” Will says, “it’s because I’m worried that you’re sad.” 

He swipes at his good eye and laughs shakily. “Isn’t that a little funny?” 

Cyrus turns to look at Alexander, who shrugs with one shoulder, mystified, and then joins Will in laughing, sharp huffy sounds coming out of his throat, so Cyrus laughs a little too, silently, though he doesn’t understand the joke. 

“We’re all so worried about making each other upset that we ended up making just that happen,” Will says, wiping the tears from his cheek. “It’s alright for us all to be careful with one another,” Will goes on, “but there’s a difference between being careful and being afraid, do you see?”  

Tentatively Cyrus reaches out and pats his face, very gently. 

A smile splits Will’s face. “There’s my sweet good boy,” he says. “See? It’s okay,” and this time that isn’t quite so hard to believe.

Chapter Text

Will phases out the bandages slowly, leaving a little more of the now healed scar visible each time he rewraps the gauze. Will decided to do things this way because he thought it might be easier on the twins to get used to the change slowly, but in the end he’s the only one who really benefits from the gradual approach. 

None of the others really seem bothered by looking at him now, but it took Will some time to get used to being seen. 

“You were right,” he told Hannibal, at the end of the first day he had the courage to go completely without the bandages. “The scars barely trouble them. 

“It was the fact that they couldn’t see what was under the gauze that worried them, especially after I was all healed up, and that I was acting strangely about it - hiding it.”

“Of course,” Hannibal said. “Hidden things are almost always more dangerous than something that’s out in plain sight.” 

A week prior to getting rid of the bandages completely, when he was still trying to inch the twins into it, Will explained to them that he’d lost the eye. He thinks that they already more or less knew that, but being given confirmation hit Cyrus especially hard. 

The boy had a few rough days after that, and Will knows that guilt and a sense of loss is still dogging him, but though Will’s own heart aches to see the boy grieving over the outcome of an accident that Cyrus still hasn’t been able to fully accept wasn’t his fault, that grief doesn’t demean Will. 

It doesn’t make him feel ugly or ruined or subhuman.  

Going to the village is a different matter.

Will puts the bandages back on before he docks the boat, covering his scars entirely, but when he enters the village he still feels exposed. The eyes of strangers follow him, prying at him.

He’s never been fond of eye contact, but he’s grown accustomed to smooth dark pools of his family’s eyes, which are read more by the lines and crinkles around the eyes than anything else. In comparison, looking into human eyes feel like an assault - disturbing and unwelcome and hostile. 

It feels like they can see through the bandages and even past the scars, down into the parts of him that are rotten all the way to the center. 

Will knew before he left that Reba wouldn’t be in the village, as D told him that she’ll be away until the winter, but he stops by Zeller’s office to get checked out, and is given the address to a glass blower in the city with experience in fitting people for glass eyes, and Will stuffs the paper in his jacket pocket and tries to forget about it. 

 He comes back home angry and hurt and difficult to be around, and is relieved when Hannibal takes it upon himself to distract the kids so Will can have some space to shake off the bad feelings that followed him home. After some brief greetings, Will spends the night in the lighthouse alone, and then he goes down to the house and sleeps until the afternoon. 

There have been nightmares, sometimes, of waking to find the twins gone, and not knowing if they have been taken by humans or killed by predators or if they have simply found that they no longer need him and so have gone out into the world on their own, just as Hannibal said they would from the beginning. 

Sometimes, the dreams take a different track, and Will finds himself buried alive in some asylum cell. In those nightmares, he has never left the hospital, and his family constitutes nothing more than the vivid hallucinations of a sick brain.   

But there are no dreams this time, or at least none that Will can remember, and he wakes feeling good. 

Cyrus’ fingers curled in his hair, holding on like he fears that Will might slip away while he sleeps, and when he reaches for the back of his head to work the little hand free, the boy wakes up. 

Will turns over to look at him, and his own smile earns him a drowsy grin. 

“Ready to get up?” Will asks. “There’s presents down in the boat.”

That gets Cyrus moving, and he hurries Will out the door. 

Alexander is outside, sitting cross-legged in the dooryard, scratching idly at the dirt with a short stick. 

“What you doing?” Will asks, though he already knows. 

Alexander drops the stick and stands up. 

Unlike Will, he can sign and walk at the same time, and he says, “Watching,” as he steps closer to Will. 

Will nods at that, accepting as best as he can the boy’s need to keep watch over himself and Cyrus while they are asleep.  

He takes them both by the hand, and they head down the path to the beach to find Hannibal and D. 



D lifts the dead deer onto the oilskin tarp that Hannibal has spread out on the beach, then bends to brush sand from the brown pelt, sweeping it off the cloth so it won’t stick to the meat later. 

He looks up at Hannibal, checking for his approval, and Hannibal nods in satisfaction but stoops to brush a few stray grains of sand from between the deer’s antlers. 

“We’ve gotten picky,” D says. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought to be bothered by grit on my food.” 

“Speak for yourself,” Hannibal tells him. “I never liked the feel of sand against my gums or between my teeth.”

D hunkers down in the sand and watches as Hannibal begins to butcher the deer. He’s better at this kind of work than D is; Hannibal’s hands are closer to the size that the knife is made for, and he has a knack for thinking through what he wants to do before he even uses the blade, easily breaking a carcass down to a neat pile of cuts of meat. 

Now though, Hannibal sits the knife down on the oilcloth so he can sign. “Where do you find the deer?” he asks. 

“One of the other little islands,” D says, and points out towards the horizon. “I had to go further for the elk, but the islands are full of deer. Humans almost never go there, and nothing else hunts them.”

Hannibal cocks his head, studying D curiously. “You really did - what? Went up on land and ran it down?”

“You’ve never hunted that way before?” D asks. 

“You come up with the most peculiar ideas,” Hannibal tells him. “Sometimes I think that you’re wired like a human, maybe even to a greater degree than Will is, but other times you seem to understand what it means to be what we are better than I do.”

“Well, but why else are we made the way that we are, if not to go on land and hunt?” D says, and it is true that he understands this as an old knowledge, something buried in his bones. 

“I was made the way I am so I would suit Will,” Hannibal says, with no hesitation or uncertainty. 

D considers that seriously. It strikes him as having the potential to be true. 

“And me for Reba,” he says, though less confidently. 

“What’s going on with you two?” Hannibal asks. “Is she going to come here and stay?”

“I’m not sure,” D says. “She has her work, like Will has the lighthouse, but it takes her far away from here. 

“And she’s not alone like Will was, before the rest of us. She’s got a family already.”  

“What sort of work?” 

“Teaching children,” D says. 

“There’s children here,” Hannibal reasons. “And more soon.”

D touches his belly, his anxiety at whether or not the new set of twins might be compelled to stay distant, at least for the time being, but when Hannibal goes on, “Even more if she -” D shakes his head, embarrassed. 

Hannibal knows how to take a hint, when he feels like doing so. 

“Well,” he says, “who knows what the future might hold?” 

Then he drops the subject, and D is thankful for that. 

D watches him butcher the deer, and when a significant pile of cuts of meat have built up, D begins the work of wrapping them in brown butcher’s paper to go in the new ice chest.

When the work is done, D asks, “Are we making the surprise for Will today?”

“The first part of it, yes. The rest is tomorrow. You’ll do what I asked?”

“Sure,” D says. "I can manage things here for the day."

“You did a good job, watching the twins while Will and I were sick,” Hannibal says, and unsure in the face of praise D turns his head away, and so is the first to spot Will and the twins coming down the trail. 

“Come down to the boat with me,” Will tells them both, when he’s moved within earshot. “I brought back presents.”

Chapter Text

Will steps onto the boat and then turns and lifts Cyrus from the dock and onto the deck. Hannibal passes him Alexander next, and then he and D climb on board as well. 

The boat lists to the side under their combined weight until D backs up toward the stern. 

Stepping briefly into the ship’ cabin, Will returns with the wooden crate full of presents. 

There are teddy bears that won’t last, one for each twin, and a pair of small sweaters. Cyrus sighs when Will pulls the sweater over his head, and Alexander squirms when it’s his turn. Not two minutes have passed before they’ve pulled the sweaters off and discarded them indifferently on the deck, but Will hopes that they will be more accepting of the garments as the weather turns colder. 

It’s a heavy thing, what he has for Hannibal, and isn’t really a surprise, given that Hannibal picked it out of the Sears-Roebuck catalog himself. Lifting it out of the crate by the handle with both hands, Will offers the giant cast iron skillet to Hannibal. 

“Truth in advertising,” Will says. “You really could fry a dozen eggs in that thing at once, and enough bacon to go with them, just like the catalog said.”

The quiet pleasure that comes into Hannibal’s face as he turns the skillet over in his hands is like a beam of sunlight on a miserable day. 

Will thinks, not for the first time, of the potential for modernizing their living situation. The generators that Will has seen with his own eyes were noisy, stinking things, and undependable to boot, but every year the models seem to get better… With electricity, Hannibal wouldn’t strain his eyes trying to read through the night by the light of an oil lamp. They could get a refrigerator to replace the icebox, which is only cold when Will hauls back a forty-pound block of ice from the mainland and even then only holds its chill for a few days before the ice melts away… A refrigerator would delight Hannibal, and might improve all their diets… 

He could afford a generator and the fancy new appliances to go with it, but moving forward on the idea would be even more work, and Will is not sure how well he himself would deal with the smell and noise of a gasoline generator, let alone the rest of the family. 

But D is waiting for his own gift, his body tense with the tentative trust - so hard earned - that he will not be forgotten or excluded, and hoping that he’s picked the right thing Will turns the crate around so D can see the label. 

The text on the label reads TIGER HEAD NAVEL ORANGES. Above the text, inked in brilliant colors, is a snarling orange and black tiger. D reaches out to touch the drawing, his fingers brushing against the tiger’s ivory fangs, and then he looks to Will, questioning. 

“You can put your things in this,” Will explains. “It can be your place to put anything you want to keep safe inside the cottage, see?”

With great care, D bends to take the crate from Will, lifting it until he is eye to eye with the likeness of the tiger, and Will watches his lips twitch in response to the tiger’s snarl. 

Will worried about that - that the tiger’s expression might have negative associations for D - but he only closes his eyes and breathes in deeply, and then he hands the crate back to Will so he can sign. 

“Smells like a warmer place,” he says, and Will feels the anxiety come flowing out of him with his next breath. In its place comes the confidence that he has - in his at least - done well by them all. 

“It’s an orange crate,” Will says, giving it back to him, and now Hannibal is paying attention, too, leaning in to breathe in the citrus scent embedded in the wood slats of the box. D grips the crate hard and shuffles to the side like he thinks Hannibal is going to take it from him. “That’s why it smells that way.”

Will goes on, “I can get some oranges, next time I’m in town?” He’d thought about some, when he was dickering for the empty crate, but they come so much more dear up here than they did where he grew up, and he has always had trouble justifying spending money on himself. 

“Do,” Hannibal says. He pats D on the bicep, as though to reassure him, and moves out of D’s space and to the line tethering the boat to the dock. Hannibal unties it.     

“What are you doing?” Will says.  

“We’re going out,” he turns to tell Will, once he’s cast off. 

“Why?” Will says, and then, “Where?”

“You’ll see.”

D is moving to start the motor, so he is clearly in on whatever’s happening, but it’s as much of a surprise to the boys as it is to Will. They are excited and a little anxious at the prospect of adventure, sticking close to Will but look out over the bow expectantly. 

Hannibal approaches D, and there is a brief interaction between them that is as much made up of their innate body language as signs, in which D demonstrates how to guide the boat, and then Hannibal takes over. 

He guides the boat out into open water, a few miles away from home, and then he kills the engine. 

Hannibal goes over the railing and slides the water with barely a ripple. He disappears into the dark water, and the twins peer over the railing to watch him go. Alexander looks from Will to the placid surface of the water like he is trying to figure out if he should go too, and Will puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Stay here with me, alright?” and he does, though after a few minutes Cyrus remembers about the new toys, and Alexander goes off to chase him. 

“What’s he up to?” Will asks D. 

“Getting something,” D says vaguely. 

Will could make D tell, he thinks, with just a little pressure, but that would clearly be ruining the surprise. Instead, he peers down into the water, wondering how Hannibal has any idea about where they are or what lies beneath. 

 He looks up, turning his head a little to check the twins, who have unintentionally wrestled their way into his blind-spot. 

Pitching his voice low, Will asks D, “Are they alright, do you think?”

It’s a question that he’s asked Hannibal too many times since he came back from his stay on the mainland, and each time Will’s received praise and reassurance that he’s doing great, but D is in many ways something more human than Hannibal, and has his own ideas about children - ideas that align more closely to Will’s own instincts.

“What do you mean by alright?” D says, surprising him with the question.  

The idea of childhood as a carefree time of happiness and play is not contemporary to Will’s era or congruent with his own childhood. Will can remember, vaguely, lugging a seed bag after the plow almost as soon as he could reliably walk. He remembers blisters on his hands from the hoe when he was surely no older than six, and Jesus help him if his father caught him making the mistake of chopping the corn or sweet potato sprouts rather than the weeds. The memory of those beatings are quite clear - the clearest recollection of those days that he has. 

It is difficult, therefore, for him to understand exactly what he wants for his strange children, let alone articulate it. Will spreads his hands, at a loss. 

“Look at them,” D says, and Will does. They’ve settled down on the deck, Cyrus cross-legged and Alexander leaning forward on his knees, and are making the teddy bears wrestle each other. A shadow passes over them, and Alexander glances up briefly to mark the passage of the gull before returning to the game; the shore birds don’t hold the same terror for him that they once did, now that he is considerably larger than a gull. 

He turns back to D. “They’re silly,” he tells Will, utilizing a word Will has often applied to them. “They play like they’re adults - like they barely remember how easily something could snatch them up and kill them, since they know that they’re being watched over by big people.

“It’s good that they’re allowed to be silly.”

“You think yours will be the same way, if we make sure they’re safe and well-fed from the start?”

“I don’t know,” D says. I hope.”

“I’ve been thinking about how to make that work,” Will says. “I think I’ve just about got it.”

“Good. It won’t be that long now,” he says, and then his hands drift down to his own stomach.  

“Can I touch?” Will asks. 

D nods, lifting his own hands, but when Will spreads his hand across his belly D turns his head to the side, blushing, the white splotches on his face going a brilliant pink. 

“You’re silly,” Will says with a laugh, knowing what the creature is capable of - how different he has been from the person that he is now. 

“I can afford it,” D answers. “There aren’t many things that can hurt me.”

Will sobers at that, thinking not only of how he hurt D, but of all the things that neither D nor the others understand of humans - guns and traps and poison baits. 

An articulate wolf might have thought the same thing, before the white man, but they’d been wiped out in Louisiana - along with the rest of the country - within a few generations, and Will had his hand in that, and he could say now that he was too young at the time to resist it, and that would be the truth, but the feeling that he might one day pay for the wicked things that were done has never left him. 

More seriously, as though responding to the change in Will’s mood, D says, “It’s easy to be happy about it now, while they are still swimming safely within me, but after they’re born I’m going to have to be worried about them all the time, won’t I?”

Will sighs. “I’d say that there’s no rule that says you’ve gotta be as neurotic about it as I am, but I think that the worrying comes standard.

“But remember - you’ve got help. I’ll help you, best that I can.”

“I’ve got help,” D repeats. And then, looking down into the water, “Here’s Hannibal, back again.”

Will peers over the side of the boat, staring until he sees the darker shadow that is Hannibal moving up toward the surface of the water. He’s struggling to pull something heavy up with him and before Will can ask him to go help D has climbed over the railing and dropped into the water. 

It’s a small trunk, Will sees when the pair of them haul it on board, made perhaps to pack a young child’s things for a short voyage, and Will can’t help but wonder if its owner was lost at sea with his baggage, but he forces the morbid thought to the back of his mind the best that he is able. 

He’s curious of what’s inside, but Hannibal is clearly enjoying the mystery. He deflects questions, and Will only pries enough to encourage Hannibal’s pleasure in the game. 

 They head back toward home, and when the twins take an interest in the trunk, Will distracts them.

Chapter Text

Nudging a few stray alphabet blocks out of the way with the side of his foot, Hannibal sits the heavy trunk on the floor at the foot of the bed. 

There’s a pageantry to what Hannibal is doing now, a ringmaster’s focus on guiding his audience through the show, and when Hannibal gestures for Will to sit down in front of the waterlogged trunk, Will grins at the fun of it and does what’s asked of him. 

The twins pile into Will’s lap, Alexander clutching Will’s fingers and Cyrus’ palms drumming against Will’s knee as their eyes dart from Hannibal to the trunk and back again, watching avidly. 

D settles down on Will’s good side, where he can see him from the side of his eye, and Will would bet money that D did so on purpose; they are all learning how to accommodate Will’s injury.   

Hannibal crouches behind the trunk, and his eyes fixed on Will to track his expressions, he unlatches the lid and flips it open. 

Whatever is inside the trunk reflects sharply off the light from the oil lamp, and Will blinks, blinded for an instant by the brightness. When he is able to see again, he is not at first able to understand what he’s looking at. 

In the past, he has often seen Hannibal wearing a pretty bauble or three; a broken pocket watch clasped around his wrist, the clock face under the crystal fogged and green with algae; necklaces strung around his bicep or ankle; jeweled rings woven into his hair amid shells and bits of bone and other oddities. 

Sometimes, those rotating sets of rings and tarnished broaches and drowned watches struck Will as potentially being quite valuable, but it never occurred to him to really consider just how much Hannibal might have squirreled away. 

But the chest is filled nearly to its brim with shiny things. Dozens of dead pocket watches, their chains twisted around each other like braided rope, lay among fistfuls of gold wedding bands and jewel-encrusted broaches. Gold chains mounted with diamonds and emeralds shimmer when the light hits them as Hannibal leans into the chest to lift out a seemingly endless strand of gleaming black pearls. 

Moving in a crouch, Hannibal sidles over to Will, and leaning over him he dangles the string of pearls alongside the unscarred side of Will’s face, and looking past Hannibal Will can see himself in the mirror, the wet nervousness in his lonesome eye and the fine way that the dark pearls compliment its color. 

Greedy fingered, the twins reach for the pearls, and Hannibal lifts the strand out of their reach and shoos them away, then leans in closer to Will. He sits frozen as Hannibal lifts his too-long hair away from the back of his neck and loops the string of pearls around his throat. 

Gripping Will lightly by the jaw, Hannibal lifts his chin and turns his head to the side, and Will sees himself from a new angle before his eye darts back to Hannibal, who is smiling in appreciation. 

Hannibal tugs at his wrist, and Will allows himself to be drawn closer to the trunk. The twins stand on either side of it, their hands clutching the wooden sides as they peer down at the treasure, and Will looks down into it too and thinks, He’s wealthy and he doesn’t even know it. 

Tentatively, Will reaches down and shifts his fingers through the baubles and jewelry, careful to avoid pricking himself on the many bejeweled pins, and his sense of unreality grows that much sharper when he uncovers an honest-to-god golden crown, inlaid with rubies and diamonds. Loose, irregularly shaped pearls fill the nooks and crannies between the pieces crafted by human hands, and glow warmly in the lamplight.   

“What is all this?”

“Beautiful things,” Hannibal tells him. “Things that suit you, Will. You are beautiful, too.”

It’s in Will to scoff at that - to laugh derisively, or perhaps to weep. 

Instead, he sits quietly and allows Hannibal to adorn him with jewels. 

He watches himself in the mirror, and he tries to believe. 

Will’s doubts in regards to his own worthiness go much deeper than the fresh scar on his face, but it is easy, in light of Hannibal’s confidence, to entertain - if not entirely accept - the idea that he might be beautiful.  

If I am beautiful, it’s your love that makes me that way, Will would like to say to Hannibal - to all of them. 

The words stick in his throat, and instead Will sits quietly, his hands spread open like starfish on top of his thighs, admiring the array of rings that Hannibal has slipped over his fingers, now and again looking up to meet himself in the mirror shyly, and before very long he is absolutely dripping with jewelry. 

It isn’t all valuable - Hannibal’s sense of aesthetics doesn’t seem to distinguish any meaningful difference between cut glass costume jewelry and real gemstones - but Will has a suspicion that what he is wearing now is worth more than he could earn in a decade tending the lighthouse, and these ornaments constitute only a fraction of what the trunk holds. 

Will thinks perhaps that it should shame him - that it ought to all constitute an affront to his masculinity, or that given the poverty he was raised under he should be embarrassed or outraged by such an ostentatious display. 

Instead, he finds himself relaxing into it. He understands what Hannibal means by this gift, and that those intentions exists apart from any human expectations. Will leans back against Hannibal as he works the knots out of Will’s hair, weaving tiny silver and gold bands into his hair. 

“You aren’t too bad to look at yourself,” Will murmurs, and before very long he is dozing off, at peace under Hannibal’s touch. 

He wakes, shortly thereafter, to a faint tinkling sound, and when Will looks to the trunk again he sees that D and the twins are all leaned over it, their hands shifting through the contents of the treasure chest. 

The boys seem to be most interested in the pure sensation of running their fingers through the collection of jewelry and loose pearls, the sound it makes and the way that the light reflects off the trunk’s contents, though Cyrus has taken the crown from the chest and placed it on his own head, where it sits lopsided, far too large for him. 

D though, is hunting through the contents of the chest with focused intent, and after watching for a few moments Will realizes that he is collecting a handful of wedding rings. He keeps casting furtive glances up at Hannibal, checking to make sure that he is allowed to do what he’s doing. 

Hannibal signs something at D that Will cannot see. Cradling the collection of gold rings against his chest with one hand, D finger spells with the other. 

“What I look like doesn’t matter,” he tells Hannibal, before going back to his task. Will can sense Hannibal’s disappointment with that answer, but he also recognizes that distracted indifference to his own looks as representative of how far D has come. 

When he is satisfied with the number of gold bands he has found, D slides out of the mirror’s range and sits down with his back to the rest of them, but there is no real urgency to his avoiding his own reflection. Will thinks he’s only shying away from the group because he’s trying to find a ring that fits and is embarrassed by his own relatively outsized fingers.  

Eventually, D stands. He returns most of the rings to the trunk, and then approaches Hannibal and Will. 

He crouches and holds his hand out, showing Hannibal two bright wedding rings, one of which is considerably bigger than the other. It might be the biggest wedding ring Will has ever seen, but he doesn’t think it could possibly fit on D’s ring finger, and he wonders if the big guy settled for slipping it over the first joint of his pinkie. 

Will twists around to see Hannibal sign, “That’s fine. You can take anything that pleases you.”

The rings disappear inside D’s closed fist. With one hand, he signs, “Just these two.”

“If you don’t want anything bigger for yourself, why don’t you take something else nice for Reba?” Will suggests. He is wondering, uneasily, how the idea of wedding rings might go over with her. 

The idea excites D, and he signs a quick question mark into the air. 

“Pearls, maybe,” Will hazards. “They’re nice to touch - feels good to run your fingers over a string of pearls, you know?” he says, and reaches up to touch the pears around his own neck as he says it. 

D nods, clearly pleased by the idea, and returns to the trunk to look for something that compliments the rings. 

Will yawns, hugely, and leans back against Hannibal again, and he must be more worn out than he realized, because when Hannibal gently shakes him awake again it is almost dark. 

Blinking back his own sleepiness, Will herds the twins up into the lighthouse and gets them into bed, and then he returns his attention to Hannibal. 

“We’ve got a little bit of time left,” Will says, “if you want to go down to the storage room and mess around a little?”

Hannibal smiles at him fondly but demurs. “What I want,” he tells Will, “is for you to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a big day.”

“What happens tomorrow?” Will asks. 

“You’ll see,” Hannibal tells him.