Light swings in cut slabs over the painted faces of angels, visited by shadow as if from the wing of some passing bird. Will stares at the ceiling fan spinning above his bed and takes in the depictions; the way they shift from day to night. When the dark hits them, the angels are thrown into sorrow.
The windows are open to whatever breeze might penetrate, gauze curtains fluttering weakly. Will’s bed is an ocean of dark cotton and he shifts and settles as if moved by a current, stripped down to his shorts and kissed with perspiration.
Since their arrival in Hannibal’s summer home, they've both adapted to the local siesta out of necessity. Will is usually glad of the time alone, but today- most days now- his solitude feels invaded. The gentle undercurrent of Hannibal's voice sounds like the trickle of a river running nearby; a low susurrus that ebbs and flows with Will's concentration. Lying on his cool sheets in the semi-dark, he closes his eyes and listens intently.
The voice in his head has sounded like Hannibal for a long, long time now. When was the first time he noticed it?
He thinks of walking barefoot in the woods with the deep blue night reaching for him, the mist twining around his ankles in the same way that low melody seemed to. He thinks of half-remembered fever dreams and hands passing gently through his hair, damp and bright hot. His mindscape has always been a dark place full of flashing lights and rushing waters; creamy bones peeking from dark earth. Faceless ghosts that speak to him in the dark.
He sets a foot into the water now and wades.
I still need you, he thinks tiredly. He sees Hannibal's answering smile in his mind, full of fond knowing, and shakes his head. It wasn't always you. What came before?
Is this a question of chicken versus egg, Will?
Egg versus womb, Will answers the Hannibal inside himself, and he catches a whiff of the memory comes with the too-sweet scent of his own brain smoldering with infection: the first time the voiceless rumble inside of him had words.
He's in Hannibal's jewel red accented office, the room gloomy with evening light. Beneath him, his leather chair feels like a great gloved hand, hot and keeping him hostage. The stag snorts from somewhere in his peripheral vision, the steam of its breath heating his nape, beading on his skin as sweat. Feathers like an oil slick sweep his cheek and temple.
"You're in a safe place," Hannibal murmurs, beyond the whooshing strobe of light.
"I want to be.”
"You are, Will. In this room, you'll always be safe." Hannibal leans forward in his chair slowly, just barely concealing his eagerness. "What do you see?"
"A great black stag, blood dripping from its antlers," he sighs, eyes tracking it as it paces, every hoofbeat the sound broken glass. "It's beautiful, but it's wrong."
Hannibal tilts his head, then closes his eyes, imagining. "Perhaps it's only wrong because you believe it is. What if you believed it was right?"
"It's not real," Will says, sluggishly. He’s suddenly aware that he feels drowsy. "That's why it's wrong."
"Am I real?" Hannibal asks.
Will pauses, then looks slowly at the stag. He can feel sweat sticking his hair to his forehead.
"I don't think so," he murmurs.
"Am I wrong?" He's keen to know, Will can see it, beyond his statuesque serenity.
"I don't know, Doctor. Are you wrong?"
"From childhood, all we know about wrong and right is firmly rooted in how we define ourselves. Monsters can believe their actions are born of justice- radicals perform so-called ‘acts of God’ every day because they believe they can bring about change. Wrong and right are subjective, susceptible to manipulation. Can someone truly answer that question about themselves? "
"If anyone can, you can." Will smiles thinly. “Morals aren’t the only things around here that are susceptible to manipulation.”
"Such faith you have in me."
"Can't have faith in myself," Will breathes. He thinks he's burning up. "I don't feel so good."
"I know you don't," Hannibal murmurs. "Perhaps you ought to rest."
Will closes his eyes. By his shoulder again, the stag snorts vapor, defensive.
"It’s alright. I'm as real as you are," Hannibal's voice murmurs from his other side. He's suddenly very close. His hand covers Will's shoulder. Will has the absurd notion he’s talking to the stag.
Am I real? Will thinks. He feels breathless. Am I wrong?
"Will," Hannibal says firmly, and suddenly his voice has changed. "You've had another episode."
Confused, Will focuses on him, eyes blurring. The light is different too, sun bleached pebble white out the window rather than the deep red of night. No longer a womb or an egg.
"Do you lose time often?" Hannibal lays a hand to Will's forehead, movements clinical and practiced.
"I haven't lost time," Will says, confused, "I've been here the whole session."
Hannibal just hums, brow creasing faintly with concern. "Jack called and said he couldn't reach you; you weren't home. When I got here this morning your car was in the drive. It's eight thirty in the morning, Will, have you been here all night?"
No, Will pleads with the voice inside his head, but it remains stubbornly silent. "I... I came for my session..."
"Last night, yes. You left when I did." Hannibal watches him closely. His fingers comb sweaty, hooked curls back from Will's forehead again. Will can’t speak. "I'll drive you home," Hannibal says finally, tone not inviting argument.
Will sags into him when he helps him up and puts a graceful hand against the back of his neck. He’s shivering all over, clothing blotted with damp. It isn't until he's tucked into the passenger seat, head nodding against the glass of the Bentley's window, before he hears an answering murmur to his mental pleas.
Perhaps we’re real and wrong. Whatever we are, we are the same.
"God help us," he breathes.
Shaking off his lethargy, Will pushes himself out of bed with a heavy sigh and goes to the bathroom for a cold cloth. Hannibal isn't sleeping either: Will can feel his wakefulness like a haunting; it pervades every corner of the house. He's not sure where he'll find him, or if he necessarily should, but he leaves his room anyway.
The scent of dinner cooking curls up the stairs, and Will snorts to himself: should have guessed.
Hannibal is in a pair of crisp linen pants and white shirt, tanned and glowing in the warm light. He looks unwrinkled, untouched by the heat, by the tomatoes he's chopping, by anything. It makes Will briefly, blisteringly furious to see him thriving no matter the adversity he’s faced, white-hot envy at how easily he found himself amidst the ruins of his boyhood.
"It's too hot to sleep," he says to redirect it, even though he grew up watching the dirt shimmer like uneasy water in the South.
"Perhaps," Hannibal replies. "This is gazpacho, if that helps."
Will isn't sure if it does help.
"I'm sure it will taste good," he replies, wavering between sitting at the counter and using the opportunity to escape to a different room.
Hannibal’s attention shifts to him, a current turning silt at the bottom of a riverbed. "Bad dreams?"
"No dreams if you don't sleep," Will says shortly. He doesn't miss the way Hannibal tilts his head, as if listening to a distant radio.
"Maybe," Will allows.
Hannibal's silence is satisfied. That's exactly what Will didn't want.
"You're restless," Hannibal observes, "perhaps some fresh air would do you good."
Will laughs. "Have you found any?" But he takes the suggestion and heads for the back door, lifting his hat from the stand: a baseball cap, ever to Hannibal’s chagrin.
"Would you like me to accompany you?"
Yes, but I don't think you should, Will thinks.
At his hesitance, Hannibal smiles again. "Worried we'll be recognized, or just need to be alone?"
"I'd hate to distract you from your food."
"There is no one I'd rather be distracted by; let me get my hat, I left it by the front door."
Watching him disappear down the tiled hall, Will sighs. He thinks he can hear Hannibal murmuring to himself as he searches, though it’s not a habit Will has ever noticed before. When he reappears, he tucks his hat over his swept back hair. He looks just as dapper and vogueish as ever, the long line of his throat accentuated by his unbuttoned shirt neck.
This wouldn't be so hard if you weren't so charming, Will thinks desperately, as Hannibal opens the door and gestures him politely outside.
They walk, sky singing with heat overhead, bouncing off the white washed buildings and terracotta streets. It’s quiet at this time of day, everyone closed for the siesta, and so Will doesn’t feel too self-conscious when he has to strip down to his t-shirt immediately. Hannibal's face is in shadow beneath his hat, but his forearms gleam with silver and gold strands in the sun.
"You seem preoccupied lately, Will," he says when they’ve walked for some time, "are you well?"
Will has to think about his answer carefully. "There's nothing wrong that isn't usually."
"Chafing at your place in this world, still?"
"It’s chafing at me."
"Can I help?"
Will thinks about it, then sighs. "You've been in my head so long, I guess I've been thinking about when I first noticed that you were there. The Leviathan to my subconscious."
Hannibal is quiet for a moment, and Will glances over at his face. "You situated yourself in mine almost lightning fast," he admits eventually. “Though I considered your presence somewhat more of a comfort than a concern.”
It's not the same thing, but it still makes his stomach flip. "Do you wish I hadn't?"
They're both silent then under the weight of it. They pause in the street, wordless synchronicity, in the shade of a fruit tree. Will gazes up into the branches, watches the sun refract through the gently swaying leaves, startlingly green.
"Do you wish I hadn't, Will?" Hannibal echoes. He reaches and pulls down an orange from the tree, the color searing bright against the endless blue and white and green. Will watches him take the knife from his pocket; flick it open and make a shallow incision so he can peel the skin away from the flesh. Just that mundane act puts Will in mind of a heart balanced on swords; a skinned man made meaningful.
Will breathes out. "I did."
He stretches on his back on his prison mattress, tracing the cracks on the ceiling like branching veins, listening to the sound of hooves from the corridor. Hannibal's footsteps, he knows. When he opens his eyes, he's waiting for him, hands neatly clasped over his deep claret suit. He leans one hip against the sink in Will's cell and favors him with a muted smile.
"Hello again, Will."
"Hello, Dr. Lecter."
"I always thought blue suited you, but I must admit this wasn't quite what I had in mind."
Will has to fight to keep his voice slow, toneless.
"No." Hannibal sighs. "Whatever your reservations about me, Will, you must believe that I only want what's best for you."
"Must I?" He can't help echoing Hannibal's words. They surround him with every breath, beating softly like they have a pulse of their own.
Hannibal steps away from the sink, footsteps flat claps of noise again, just out of time with his image. He comes to sit on the edge of Will's bed like he's visiting a sickly child in hospital. His hand cups Will's face again, not his forehead this time but his cheek, a brief touch like a curl of breeze. In Will’s mind, he’s always gentle, even though Will himself is not.
"Like a songbird in a cage," he says, voice low and even, "will you dash yourself against the bars, or sing?"
"Whose song would it be?" Will growls.
"The Ripper's serenade, perhaps?"
Will feels where their knees press together and wants to curl into him. "No, Hannibal."
"Mine," he blurts, and feels the phantom brush of Hannibal's fingers through the curls by his ear. Even with all the fierce, seething anger in him at being here at Hannibal’s hand, Will can’t flinch away from his touch.
"I would dearly love to hear it."
"Even if I sing loud enough that everyone knows what you are?"
"You'll tell them what you are, too."
"What am I, Hannibal?" Will breathes. The light is suddenly different; Hannibal's face cast in shadow, his eyes lit crimson from within. Will sees the shadow of antlers fall on the wall beyond.
"I'm only waiting for you to find out."
"And when I do?"
"Then you will be free."
Will laughs bitterly. "There's only one place I'm ever free."
"Then go there, Will."
"I already have. And all that's left there is you."
"Waiting for you," Hannibal assures gently.
Will does curl up then, pulling his knees to his chest, and of course there's no one there. He stares into the dark and wishes fiercely that it were real. How long will he last down here, arguing with himself?
He'll survive it. He must.
He had. But he hadn't survived it unchanged.
The new day has brought a mellow, clear brightness to the sky, endless, hazy blue, barely interrupted by gossamer strands of lingering flight trails. They'd finished yesterday's walk in silence, had eaten their dinner with few words exchanged. Sometimes the quiet between them feels like a living thing, prowling from one to the other, making calls in the hot orange night.
Now, Will looks down at the damp sand under his feet and wiggles his toes. He still wonders sometimes if he survived everything. It seems wrong that they should be here, where the ocean touches the sky uninterrupted. It could only be a failed Purgatory, as he's arrived here with the one person he could never give up.
Hannibal isn't far- he's never far. He'd been fussing in the kitchen garden when Will had walked down to the beach, his hair tousled gently by the wind, longer than Will is used to.
He's still trying to decide if he wants to fish. He walks to where the waves relentlessly try to claw their way up the shore, letting them foam up around his ankles. He turns back toward the house up on the hill, though, looking for the silver-ash flag of Hannibal's hair.
We haven't gone swimming in a while, he thinks.
He spots him then, looking down at him from the garden. He reminds Will fiercely of a cat, turning his ears to distant sounds. He wishes it didn't make him want so very much to stroke him. He's not a cat person, after all.
Hannibal, he notices, is making his way down the hill path toward Will. He's smiling, Will can see when he gets closer; that small kind that's barely noticeable at all.
"You haven't had enough of the ocean for one lifetime?" he says, when he's within earshot.
"I don't think I ever will," Will replies, shrugging. It gets him one of those pleased, warm smiles again. "I'm done being afraid," Will adds in a murmur. "Don't act so surprised."
"I'm not surprised. You've never shown anything but tenacity."
It's not true, Will thinks, but he can see himself like Hannibal sees him if he tries.
Beloved, the word floats in from nowhere. Will glances at Hannibal but he's staring out over the water. Maybe horrified at himself, Will feels his face heat. At least it's safely in his own head. It still brings unwelcome memories of Bedelia.
To distract himself, he strips his shirt off and treads further into the water in his board shorts. He can't help a glance back. Hannibal is unbuttoning his shirt.
"You haven't had enough of the ocean?" he teases.
Hannibal meets his gaze evenly. "I'm not afraid of anything."
"Nothing?" Will challenges.
"Why not?" Will keeps his eyes steady on Hannibal's as Hannibal's fingers go to his waistband. "You could still lose everything."
"And yet, I'm confident I won't." His trousers and belt hit the sand with a soft thud.
Will feels a spark of pleasure and amusement. Hannibal, it seems, is confident about everything. "Think you can catch me?" Will asks.
"Let's find out."
Hannibal strides into the water in his boxers with an intent set to his shoulders, bronze chest densely muscled, dusted with hair like swipes from one of his careful graphite drawings. When he draws even with Will he arcs immediately into a graceful dive. Will follows suit, and they disappear into the waves once again.
The water feels like silk wrapping around his body. He can feel Hannibal close behind, just a mental awareness of his proximity. He's always felt it, but lately it's like a sixth sense. Without it, he thinks, the Dragon might have defeated him, and so he cannot hate it. They'd moved together like limbs of the same great beast, locking jaws with Dolarhyde, two twisting serpents.
He imagines them moving together now, here in the water, and it's a different thing. He feels his skin heat within his cocoon of surf. He expels effort to get a distance away just to feel the thread get stretched between them. The water is endless and clear and blue and the salt stings but not enough for him to resurface. He knows Hannibal is a strong swimmer; he doesn't know what will happen if he wins.
Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Maybe it depends on him.
He propels himself further through the water, toward a buoy in the distance. He can feel Hannibal behind, as sure as he knows there are sharks in the deeper water. At least the sharks aren't man-eaters, he thinks with a black rush of humor. Then he feels a hand close around his ankle.
I want you to know exactly where I am, and where you can always find me. Will can't get the sound of it out of his head. It feels scratched in, like the grooves of a record.
Molly is sleeping beside him. They'd been up late with Walter, making s'mores and laughing. It had felt strange to laugh. It feels strange every time, like he's reciting lines in a play. He closes his eyes and tries to convince himself to sleep; to keep his mind from wandering. Unfortunately, his dreams have other ideas. They always do. And his mind always retreats to the same place.
"How's the food?" he asks Hannibal, watching his hands moving as he draws at his desk.
"Will you leave if I lament not being able to source my own ingredients?" Hannibal replies.
"I figured it was a given. I missed your cooking even while I was in prison."
He'd never admit it to the real Hannibal. Here, in the safety of his dreams, he can be honest. Honesty exchanged with the real Hannibal is like dealing in blades. It gets him the first flash of Hannibal's eyes, red-gold and cuttingly intense as always.
"One day, I will cook for you again."
"I'd like to think so," Will murmurs, feeling a pang in his chest like the one he usually smothers with whiskey and walks through the Maine woods.
He paces, from the metal cot to the table where Hannibal works and back again. Eyes drifting over their surroundings, he wonders why even in his head he can’t imagine Hannibal in that black pit where he spent his time in the BSHCI. This room is light and bright, with a great domed ceiling and moldings around the lights. Instead of basic grey stone, Hannibal receives a palatial room even in the mental prison Will has built him, with books, and great memorized studies of Italy in pencil on the walls. He always struggled to deprive him of his comforts.
Hannibal tilts his head, regarding him like a hawk searching for tells. "Would you? Do you think of me coming for you, Will? In your fantasies, do I escape, or do you free me?"
Will studies a precise copy of Botticelli’s Saint Sebastian now as he gathers his thoughts. When he gets to the face, it’s like looking in a mirror. "Who says it has to be one or the other?"
Even in his own mind, it might not be safe to be that honest.
"You like to influence my movements as much as I do yours. You wanted me in here. Now you've got what you want, you want something else. Isn't that always how it goes with you, Will?"
"Is that how you see me, Hannibal? Inconstant? Changeable?"
"I think you don't know yourself."
"Why do you think I always come here?"
"Because I know you."
The truth of it hangs between them. Will sighs. "Then you know why I wanted you here."
Hannibal closes his eyes and sighs softly. "And now, you have finally seen fit to truly forgive me."
"I'm sure if I ever see you again, you'll find new ways to wound me," Will says dryly.
He shouldn't find it so comforting.
"You're married now," Hannibal says then, "how is that life suiting you?"
"I don't want to talk about my marriage with you," Will says stubbornly, though he realizes he's only talking to himself. It had been bad enough when he and Molly had first married. He'd dreamed about Hannibal that very night.
"You don't?" Hannibal dips his chin.
"Is that so surprising?"
"You used to tell me about everything. The first time you kissed our Patron Saint of Damned Souls, Alana Bloom, you came to me."
"And see how well that worked out."
"I killed him for you. Did you know that, Will? Tobias Budge."
Will sighs. "Explain."
"I thought he had killed you."
"You sent me to him so he could kill me."
"I sent you to him to see what would happen," Hannibal corrects primly. "And when I thought he had killed you - Will, no one on earth deserves that privilege."
"No one but you.” Voice curt, he touches his forehead automatically.
Hannibal gives him a soft smile. Even in the plush blue of midnight, his eyes are rich and red, expression indulgent. "Must I tell you how I regret that?"
"Do you? You'd have gone through with it."
"Mason Verger intervened." Will paces away again, footsteps muffled on the hard floor.
"Fate comes in strange shapes."
Will feels a presence at his back, not touching, merely close. "Fate brought us together. Was Garrett Jacob Hobbs an angel in disguise?"
"Will," Hannibal says softly. Will turns to him. He can see the new crows' feet around his eyes; the tiredness in them. "Fate brought us together. You're the one keeping us apart.” It sets something fierce and hurt alight in Will’s core. He knows it. Hannibal's expression is the only thing he can see. "You can be yourself around me, Will. You always could."
"I know," Will drops his gaze, "and so could you."
"And I cannot tell you how much it means to me," Hannibal whispers, but when Will looks up, he's gone. For a second, Will hears distant voices, and then a door slams shut somewhere in his mind.
As he stirs, Molly rolls into his side, the smooth warm slope of her wedding band against Will's skin. He stares up at the ceiling and wonders why he feels guilty.
When Jack finally shows up in Maine with tired eyes and photos of dead families, Will knows what he needs to do. He's a natural procrastinator, and he puts it off for as long as he can, through two gruesome crime scenes and his fair share of nightmares. Walking through the doors of the BSHCI feels inevitable.
The sound of his footsteps changes as he walks, from dull prison cement to echoing tile. Will pushes into the Norman Chapel with shaky hands. He stills them by putting them in his pockets and forces himself to focus; stands behind Hannibal at the altar and takes in his slim back and well-cut suit, the candlelight around them making it serene and mellow. Slowly, Hannibal turns. Not the chapel, now - a cell. But that's not much better. Will’s eyes take it in and he finds that he knows every inch.
A strange wash of nausea comes over him. Maybe he's seen it in the papers. Has he? He can't remember. He tried not to look, but for a while it was unavoidable.
His eyes move over the books on the shelves, the desk- things he knows in intimate detail from his dreams. Maybe he's been paying more attention than he realises. Anything to avoid the gravitational pull of the main occupant of the room for a moment longer. Finally, Will finds the study of Botticelli’s Saint Sebastian. It looks back at him from the wall with his own eyes.
As ever, the ticking lull of Hannibal’s voice is hypnotic and familiar. Will came into this room with every muscle in his body locked tight. Now, they start to unwind. He knows, without a doubt, that Hannibal knows this, and he wouldn't bother to hide it except for the knowledge that he's being watched. He realises suddenly that he can hear music; a choir. He tilts his head to listen, momentarily distracted. Pale sunlight spills through stained glass.
Hannibal falls silent before him. For a moment all either of them do is stare. The soprano’s voice arcs into a quivering high.
I've never heard this song before, Will thinks.
They say new experiences broaden the mind.
"Family values may have declined over the centuries, but we still help our families when we can." Hannibal says softly through the glass. "You're family, Will." The words echo like the shadows through the windows that aren't there.
Will absorbs lingering incense; the scent of aged, varnished wood. He looks away from Hannibal, and leaves him alone with the crime scene file. We should have stayed here, he thinks, sinking into a wooden chair.
We'll return, one day, Hannibal answers. At that moment, Alana sits beside him, and the chapel evaporates like smoke.
The iron grip on his ankle hauls him backwards, and he flounders helplessly for a moment in the water until an arm closes around his waist. Hannibal kicks them to the surface and they both take great gasps, treading for a moment until the current drifts them within arms' reach of the buoy.
Will reaches out and touches it. "Technically, I think I just won."
Hannibal still has an arm looped around his waist. He scoops wet hair out of his face with his free hand, then does the same to Will. The contact makes Will's breath stutter. It's the same way Hannibal swept his hair back when they first crawled out of the ocean, back when everything changed.
He can feel everywhere else they're touching, too. Every place where wounds have healed.
"What now?" Will asks.
"Now, I suppose, we swim back to shore, or else wait for the sharks."
"Not really afraid of anything so earthly as sharks anymore." Will sets a hand on Hannibal's shoulder to help steady himself. Maybe to push himself away. He's not sure.
"So earthly as sharks." Hannibal hums. "Heavenly as dragons and gods."
"What's left to be afraid of, Hannibal?"
"Only you, beloved."
"Before, you said you weren't afraid of anything anymore."
"I'm not. I'm humbled to witness you."
"I haven't done anything... since. Nothing at all."
"Acts of cruelty aren't the only things that compel me toward you, Will. You must know that."
Will knows. It lives between them. He hooks his arm carefully into the edge of the buoy and secures the other more firmly around Hannibal's neck, still catching his breath. Hannibal's expression is as patient as the sea is wide.
"What else compels you?" Will has to ask.
Hannibal gives him a soft smile. "You really want to know, Will? Right now?"
"I don't ask questions I don't want the answers to any more, Hannibal."
Hannibal touches his forehead gently, just along the faint white scar. "Always your mind."
"Not my dashing good looks?" Will jokes. "My penchant for grey sweaters?"
"The scars on your knuckles," Hannibal replies, taking Will’s hand from his shoulder and raising it to his mouth.
Will watches with wide eyes, heart leaping into his throat. Hannibal nips lightly at the jut of bone. The jagged prickle of his teeth is something Will wasn't quite expecting. He laughs, surprised. Water laps at their skin, and overhead, the sky has begun to take on hues of lilac, a few mauve clouds hovering. Evening falling.
Hannibal smiles at him, then nudges him gently. "Let's head back?"
"Dinner?" Will replies.
"Almost. Time for some cleanup."
Will doesn't ask of what, or who.
"I'm just about worn out with you crazy sons of bitches."
It's been sitting in Will's throat for days. He spits it with no regard for what position it puts him in - Hannibal can't split hairs over rudeness right now. Will's vision is filled with blood, its sound in his ears. He barely hears what Hannibal says to him. It's hard to pull himself back down; to tamp down the roiling fury. Still, he has to listen. He needs him to give him a goddamn clue.
You owe me, you bastard.
Through the glass, Hannibal meets his gaze. His hand twitches by his side, like he’s curbing the impulse to reach out and put his palm against it. Will's jaw tightens.
"Don't you crave change, Will?" Hannibal whispers.
This isn't about me, he thinks, but he knows differently. It's Hannibal's game, after all.
It's always been about you.
You knew what this would do to me. He's having conversations with himself, when the worst part of him is standing before him. He's still shaking mad, but Hannibal's innocuous demeanor always did disarm him.
I only know what I hoped for, Hannibal replies, the trill of a choirboy sounding faintly behind his words.
Will sets his jaw and turns away. He intends this time, like he intends every time, for it to be the last time.
So of course it isn't.
The van drive is silent and tense, Hannibal dead still but for the occasional bump in the road, the atmosphere oppressive. Will had seen the guard beside him flicking out trembles before he got in the shark tank with them. Now, he grips his shotgun uncomfortably tight.
Will would feel bad for him if he thought he was capable of containing one more emotion at the present time. He stares at his feet, mostly, but every now and again his eyes drift. Hannibal looks like a muzzled lion, shoulders locked and eyes flashing gold in the late afternoon sun. Will watches them drift to the shotgun, then back up.
Shoot him, free me, he thinks, in Hannibal's voice. He snaps his eyes away, closing them like he could shut him out.
No! That's not the plan.
He can't let himself get carried away with fantasy when everything hangs in the balance - literally. This is his design. He won't let the ‘What Would Hannibal Do’ devil on his shoulder call the shots. If only because it's too tempting to let it.
He hears the roar of an engine outside the van, and their eyes meet again before the collision. Will knows Hannibal sees his utter lack of surprise.
It's chaos for a minute, a blur of screeching brakes and gunfire, and then Hannibal climbs from his cage like some sleek, delicate predator. Will just watches. This is a moment where his plan could fail. Hannibal could kill him where he lies, could simply leave him here to continue the chase.
Instead, he takes a great lungful of air, and starts to shuck off his restraints. When he's free, he stretches, graceful like a dancer, and picks his way across the scene with dainty steps. Will watches a body fall at his feet like so much refuse, and knows it won't be the last, but he gets in the police cruiser anyway.
Hannibal doesn't talk at first, concentrating on driving; getting the feel for it back. Will feels no need to comment. Silence between them is sometimes fraught, but not this time. It's later, when it becomes evident they're not being followed, that Hannibal speaks.
"Did all go according to plan, Will?"
Will gives him a long look out of the corner of his eye. "Not quite."
Hannibal makes a soft noise. He looks thoroughly amused with himself, and Will, for that matter.
It's harder than he'd anticipated, having Hannibal on this side of the glass barrier. On this side of his skull.
"Where are we going?" he asks.
"To one of my properties," Hannibal answers casually.
"One of," Will repeats, "the Feds don't know about it?"
"I don't know," Hannibal hums. "Do they, Will?"
They don't. Hannibal smiles again.
They'll be alone, then. Except for the Dragon. Will tries to remember the last time they were truly alone. In Italy, he thinks, when Hannibal's gentle fingers rinsed the blood from his hair.
I got married, he thinks miserably, I should not miss your touch as much as this.
I was in prison, he hears in reply, and I had not a day free from the same.
He glances over, and Hannibal is still staring intently at the road. "Should I bother asking about - after?" Will murmurs.
"Perhaps it should be me asking that question."
Will doesn't have an answer. All he can think about is Becoming.
"Don't worry about it," Hannibal echoes his words from before, "come what may."
Typical Hannibal. His plans have plans, but he never worries about a thing. They glance at one another and smile. His conscience is surprisingly unburdened; the rest of the drive feels easier.
Standing in an opulent room accepting a glass from Hannibal feels more than easy, it feels familiar. Will doesn't want to forget a single moment.
"He's watching," Will says idly.
When Hannibal collapses to the floor, pierced by the Dragon's bullet, Will feels the pain spread in his own gut. It's like his vision goes double, his awareness spreading to encompass them both. He's locked in place, held by cruel fascination. And then the blade finds his face. Will loses himself in blood and shattered glass, watches himself through Hannibal's red-tinted gaze. He knows Hannibal so well he hears his voice directing him through every step.
The two of them together win back the ground they'd lost in those first moments, and Will bares bloody teeth and rushes in to meet him - two coups de grace. He's wracked with agony, but more than that, the need to live. The knife feels like an extension of his own body - bloody in tooth and claw, Will and Hannibal, a single merciless beast. Hannibal bites into Dolarhyde's throat and Will feels the hot rush down his chin.
He's finished - they're finished - it's finished.
They're standing at the edge of the bluff, bodies and minds deafened by pain and the roar of the ocean below. Will lets Hannibal take his weight, lets go.
And then he pushes them off the edge.
Ever since their baptism in the Atlantic, Will sees the chapel whenever he closes his eyes. He'd lived there while his wounds had healed, stretched out on the tile listening to a children's choir. Sometimes the door opens and he hears a stream bubbling outside. Sometimes waves break outside the windows. The world outside the chapel is ever changing, but Hannibal's presence is constant, be it the gentle thrum of his voice from beyond the doors, or his pert, elegant repose at Will's side.
Sometimes they talk. Sometimes they just sit quietly. It's not that different from what they do in their little whitewashed house by the ocean, but here Will doesn't have to hide himself away. It hurts less here. He feels guilty for coming here when Hannibal sits plainly beside him in life. But Hannibal never seems to begrudge him his retreat.
Today, in the chapel, he reaches out and touches Will. As ever, it feels solid and real. "Come down for dinner, Will," he prompts.
Will sits up in bed, shaking his head gently. He looks around, expecting to find Hannibal in his room, but he's alone. Strange; he hadn't thought he was actually sleeping, but he can smell dinner from down the hall. He must have dreamed it.
"I feel like an old man having naps before dinner," he grumbles as he enters the kitchen, "I sit down for ten seconds and next thing I know, two hours have passed."
"I do hope you're enjoying passing the time, at least," Hannibal murmurs. "You were prompt coming down."
Will glances at him. "I dreamt you told me to."
Will opens the fridge to get a glass of water. "Yes?"
Hannibal hums. "Interesting."
"Is it? I’ve had more fantastical ones, I’m sure." Will watches Hannibal fill a serving dish with pasta.
"Are you sure it was a dream?"
"I dunno, maybe I could just smell it." He takes the dish and carries it to their table. "You're not the one I would expect to question that."
He frowns at Hannibal, waiting for a response. Will's been on edge since their swim, a nebulous uncertainty that's rooted deep.
"Why do you say that, Will?"
Dreams aren't teacups, Will thinks.
"Sometimes… dreams come together," Hannibal says, aloud.
Will's gaze snaps up. For a moment, he's only confused. Hannibal appears not to be. Confusion shifts quickly into bewilderment. "Don't fuck with me, Hannibal."
His face doesn't move an inch. "In what way could I possibly have engineered this?"
Will shakes his head automatically, turning his back on Hannibal. No, no no no no. He stares out the kitchen window into their garden, heart thumping painfully.
"I must admit, even I struggled to accept it," Hannibal continues, voice soft. "It manifested more easily as dreams to me, too." Will can feel him stepping close, the heat of him radiating against his back. "Do you remember coming to me on your wedding night? I do. You were more inebriated than I had seen you for quite some time, so it wouldn't surprise me if you didn't. For a while, I wasn't in my cell. I was on the bank of a river, the water deep and fast and clear. Late autumn, I think, by the colour of the leaves. Is it always that season?"
"Almost," Will replies, the syllables coming out ragged. He remembers too. He'd stood in the water to his thighs and they’d talked of putting nightmares to rest; of taking up mantles. He’d desperately needed to know if Hannibal approved, and of course he didn’t. He'd been sick to his stomach hung over the next day.
He's shaking, he realises. All those times he told him the truth.
"How long did you know?"
"Since you were in prison, I suppose."
So long ago. Years ago. Years of shameful loneliness between moments of contact. Will hears his own voice turn icy with shame. "And how did you first realize?"
"It was disarmingly simple, really; we had a conversation once, and the next day Alana brought me the same information."
"You didn't think it was a coincidence? What was the information?"
"No, I didn't." Hannibal tilts his head. "I had imagined, in what I considered the safety of my mind, how our conversations would play out if you were unobserved in prison. You were on your cot, talking quietly. You said you would sing loud enough everyone would know what I was. Then Alana said you told her: ‘If I’m to be a songbird in a cage, you can be damn sure I’m going to sing until I’m heard’."
"I remember that conversation," Will says, shaken.
"Yes." Hannibal draws a breath, and Will hears the unsteadiness of it. He reaches out to cup Will's cheek. “I saw your gift to me, too, back in Lithuania. The chrysalis for your becoming.”
“Chiyoh could have told you that,” Will points out. There’s a fierce, terrified hope rising in him.
“I don’t believe she knew, or else she would have.”
"Tell me something else," Will says weakly, "something - indisputable."
"Just yesterday, you called me charming. You sounded quite put out about it."
Will's face heats. "You're a psychopath, of course you're charming."
Now Hannibal looks vaguely hurt. "You feel your privacy has been invaded."
"Yours has too, I suppose. At first."
"It seems our minds are no more capable of maintaining boundaries than we are."
He's still touching Will, in fact.
"Apparently not," Will grouses.
"Is it so awful as that? I believe you capable of keeping your thoughts to yourself if you wish. You certainly kept things from me effectively." Like the fact you allowed Freddie Lounds to live after she disrespected us.
"I do. There are only certain times where we meet in that world where our collective consciousness touches."
Will shakes his head, disbelief making him dizzy. "I... can't talk about this right now, Hannibal."
He gives Will more hurt silence, and then bows his chin. "Very well."
"Let's eat, then."
They finish setting the table, stubbornly quiet now. Will is getting a creeping, guilty sickness. He's reacted to Hannibal how he always used to out of sheer incredulity - a scowling mistrust and denial. He's more now. They are more now- and Will can’t disbelieve something he knows to be true.
"Hannibal," he sighs slowly, apologetic, "explain to me what's going on."
"We are conjoined," Hannibal says softly. It sounds so simple, so pure. Will turns the words over in his head, so familiar they ache. He feels gored by the intimacy they’ve shared all this time without his knowledge, like Hannibal has been peeping on his dreams.
"How can I trust you? How do I know you haven't been doing something to me?" Like last time.
All I've done, Hannibal answers in kind, is reach out to my other half. I found a hand waiting. Will you take it away?
It chokes Will, the truth of it. He's been reaching out too, all this time. And peeping, he supposes.
You are all I need, Hannibal tells him, and it pains Will to realize - they can both be honest this way, in these shared quiet spaces.
And what if I stop being what you need? The fear is still in him. It always was.
That will never happen. Those eyes bore into him, a choir calling faintly in Will's mind. He reaches out literally now. Will slowly takes his hand, and just like that, Hannibal draws him into his arms.
"Will," he utters it softly, like he still can't believe he's here.
"I’m here." In his mind's eye, like layered veils, Will can see all the times he's been in Hannibal’s arms. He radiates content, and it leaches into Will like water. He turns his face into Hannibal's shoulder like he had on the cliff that night. It eases a long felt, marrow deep ache. Hannibal's hand against his nape is warm as the sun. This time, he lifts his head up.
"I can't forget what you are," he whispers, almost a warning, "what we are. This can't ever be normal."
"I don't care about normal, I can’t think of anything more tedious.”
Will bites his lip. "You care about me."
"With everything I have, Will."
Will can't help but summon the echo of his words to Bedelia; their shared revelation of Hannibal's feelings. You're in love with me. Hannibal's expression shifts minutely and he strokes Will's hair back, thumb skimming the raw scar on his cheek. He looks somewhere between caught and defiantly unashamed.
From the moment I saw you.
How implicitly he'd trusted Hannibal, those first few months. It’d taken time, but Hannibal had coaxed friendship out of him. Could they go back? Hannibal's love, he knows from experience, can be every bit as lethal as his menace. But what if it was returned?
Do you ache for him? And the answer is the same as it was then. Every hour of every day.
"This is a bad idea," Will says dumbly, because it is.
"I may be forced to disagree."
"It's a brilliant idea," Hannibal breathes, and suddenly he's so close, his breath hot.
"We'll kill each other."
"I think we've moved beyond that, my love."
And there it is in all its simple, complex truth. Will tips his face up, and Hannibal’s thumb slips to his chin.
“May I kiss you, Will?”
“Oh, god. I- yes.”
Hannibal does. It's gentle, with the promise of something else underneath. It feels like everything he's ever been missing. When they pull apart, Will is breathless. He realizes that it never occurred to him that Hannibal might use his teeth. Even that fine sliver of trust thrills him enough to make him grin.
"What is it?"
"Do that again."
Lips twitching with a smile, Hannibal presses them back to Will's. It's all-encompassing. Will smells candle smoke; hears the hushed tones of church choirs. Their tongues slide together and a door blows open, a gurgling stream beyond. It feels better than he knew it could.
He threads his fingers through Hannibal's hair, suddenly dizzy until his hands steady him in turn, gripping his side and elbow gently. It feels so right, he can hardly stand it.
All this time, he thinks, a little hazy at the idea.
Will feels the scud of Hannibal's teeth against his soft lower lip and opens his mouth to the sweep of his tongue again, hot and perfect. It's been a long time since Will did this, but it still seems familiar. He's never let himself imagine it; it always seemed like something too normal for them - outside of their mutual capabilities. Now, he stands here kissing Hannibal in the kitchen while their food goes cold and knows he was wrong.
Hannibal's hands tuck against the small of his back, keeping him close. Will turns their cheeks together with a sigh. "The chapel..."
"Has long been my place of refuge and comfort. I cannot help but wonder where its doors will lead now that we both know the truth?"
"I never knew you were really there by the river," Will says.
"It stands to reason. I had understood our connection rather more quickly, and so perhaps was readier to receive you."
"To follow me into the forest," Will murmurs.
"You didn't want me there. You were always more comfortable stepping into my private mental territories."
"You came when I needed you."
He can feel Hannibal's indrawn breath. "Did you need me?"
"Do you think I'd have kept looking for you if I didn't?"
"The night you let me in... your wedding night...."
Will feels the edge of a cliff beneath their feet again. "I was drunk."
"Would that make you more or less truthful, Will?"
"I'm seldom dishonest even sober. You know that."
Hannibal smiles and Will can feel the phantom cliff shaking. "Do you remember what you told me that night?"
Emotion threatens Will, at the back of his throat. Eyes wide, he shakes his head.
Hannibal strokes his cheek with one thumb. "You asked me to come to you. You even said please. You always knew how to hurt me the most, beloved."
"I didn't mean to," Will says automatically, "I didn't know you would hear me-" He's falling again, he thinks. Forever falling. Hannibal looks at him like he had in prison, with forgiveness in his eyes.
"There's still one thing," he murmurs, "that you've never said."
"Neither have you," Will shoots back. Not that he'd have trusted the inside of his brain if Hannibal had.
Hannibal tilts his head to one side, not quite the cool, indifferent study he'd have Will believe he's making.
"Would you like me to tell you?"
"I think it would help, don't you?" Will says, keeping his frustration barely concealed.
Amusement touching the corners of his eyes, Hannibal cups Will's jaw in his hands and goes serious.
"I believe our souls are fragments made of the same matter, stardust stained by blood. 'Love' doesn't cover all the ways you soothe and fulfill me daily, but if that is the way that you will understand it, then yes, Will, I love you."
Will isn't sure why Hannibal's love always has to hurt, but he feels it like a soul-deep blade. It's a heavy gift to bear. Will curls his hands around it even so.
"Hannibal," he whispers, eyes searching. He sees it all, blood and stardust and glinting steel. Hannibal waits for him to find the words. He takes a deep breath. "I love you beyond all reason.”
He actually feels Hannibal's breath. Everything else has fallen away. Only the river remains. And this time, the water flows around them both.
Hannibal looks around slowly, like he's reluctant to tear his gaze away from Will.
"Summer," he murmurs, voice full of reverent wonder. Will nods mutely, watching the leaf shadows dance across his features. Hannibal looks back to him quickly. Will wants to laugh that he considers the fact that they can share one another's minds less interesting than Will.
"It's beautiful," he tells Will softly.
The stinging, twisting nerves in Will die down a little. "You were supposed to be my paddle," he reminds Hannibal.
"I still am," Hannibal replies. "But I might prefer you to be mine."
He touches Will's jaw; leans in to kiss him again lingeringly. This time, Will simply sees stars. He grips at his back gently. Hannibal feels strong and solid, even in this liminal space where they straddle each other's boundaries.
He's never been closer to anyone. He's not convinced anyone in history has had this. Not even Hannibal's beloved Achilles. Hannibal has invaded him more thoroughly than he'd ever thought possible, but finally, against all odds, Will feels complete.