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His Pale Steed

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“I’m going to cut off your face without anesthesia.”  

In the past week, Will Graham has been pushed off a moving train, reconnected with and then debated stabbing the man he both cares (cared?  It really seems like that should be past-tense, at this point. Especially since they’re both about to be ex-people.) for most and hates the most in all the world, almost had his head sawed open by that same man, been kidnapped alongside that man by a sadist with a vengeance boner and way too much money, and bitten off part of said sadist’s henchman’s cheek at dinner.  

And now he is about to have his face removed, before he is fed to Mason Verger’s prize pigs.  

Will Graham is pretty much done with the whole world and everything in it, which is perhaps the healthiest frame of mind he could possibly be in in his current predicament.  

The scalpel’s first dip into his skin, he barely feels, and he would laugh, if he could.  By the time Mason’s personal chef and surgeon gets to the truly painful part of this procedure, Will has realized he will likely already be dead, unless the man plans to pause mid-surgery to hook him up to a ventilator.  It is already getting difficult to breathe as whatever just went into his IV paralyzes his muscles, and not just the ones that might allow him to fight what is being done to him, were he not strapped to the operating chair.  Did this man miss that part of whatever surgical training he’s had, or does he assume he can work quickly enough that it won’t matter?

Breathing at all is a great effort, now, and Will stops fighting for it.  The sooner the blackness comes, the better.

But it hasn’t quite come yet, when he hears it.  

His ears must be sharper than the surgeon’s, because the surgeon doesn’t seem to react.  Will is just barely able to force his eyes to open to slits, and he can’t see much outside the cone of bright light that illuminates his face for removal, but there is a flicker of movement.  

He can’t make anything out, not really, and yet he suddenly knows, as deeply as he knows his own name (that knowledge is more hard-won for Will than most), what is happening: Hannibal is here to rescue him, like Will’s very own gallant knight on a snow-white charger.  Or perhaps Death on his pale steed.

A flash of anger, of all things, comes with the insight.  Their mutual kidnapping literally interrupted Hannibal from sawing open Will’s skull and eating his brain while he was still using it.  But now that it’s someone else who has Will helpless and plans to do grotesque and deadly things to him, Hannibal has a problem with it.  Will had just decided that he didn’t have to care anymore, and now here Hannibal is at the eleventh fucking hour to save the day and probably start their destructive spiral all over again.  

The anger doesn’t prevent it from being satisfying to witness, even through barely-cracked eyelids, Hannibal’s murderous grace as he yanks the surgeon’s scalpel-hand away from Will’s face and cracks the back of his skull with a hammer in one fluid motion.  Against Will’s wiser nature, there is even a thrill to it, as galling as it is to know the full basis of Hannibal’s evident rage against the surgeon, against Mason Verger - the rage because Will is Hannibal’s to torment or to soothe, to care for or to destroy.  No one else’s.

The surgeon’s body falls to the floor with a heavy thud , and Hannibal’s voice is low and controlled - just a hair too tightly-controlled - when he speaks.  “Will. Can you hear me?”

Yes, Will can hear him, but answering does not appear to be possible.  He can barely get enough air in his lungs to let out a tiny “Nnhh” through his nose.  Hannibal hisses something in a language Will doesn’t know that has the ring of a curse, and for the second time in the last five minutes, he wants to laugh, because he has never heard Hannibal swear before now.  

Warm, bloody fingertips check the pulse at his throat, and the blackness is trying to come, now, contracting what little field of vision Will has into an unnatural void, the void he was actively seeking only moments before.  He tries to pull in another breath, and just can’t. If he dies like this, right under Hannibal’s nose yet not by Hannibal’s hand, he hazily decides that would be funny, too.

But Hannibal is nothing if not an eminently competent medical professional and chooser of the slain.  Will is not going to die today, and he knows it when he feels, as if from a distance, chapped lips closing over his own and forcing breath and life back into him, making the blackness recede.  

“Stay with me,” Hannibal orders after several such breaths, and Will can hear a faintly ragged edge to those words, and he almost chases his curiosity over that before he remembers that he had decided not to care anymore.  The IV line in his arm is abruptly, almost roughly removed, and he still can’t breathe, but the oxygen from the rescue breathing sustains him while Hannibal locates a bag valve mask and gets it on him. “With the infusion stopped, you should be able to breathe on your own, soon.”

Will supposes that is why Hannibal isn’t bothering to intubate him.  He should probably be grateful for that (he knows from experience that breathing tubes are hell on one’s throat), but again, that would require caring, and he is concentrating very hard on how very much he doesn’t.  

The ironies keep stacking up: Hannibal locates, between regular presses on the ventilator bag, a tube of what is probably lidocaine, which he applies (again, between ‘breaths’ for Will) before suturing the single slice Mason’s lackey had had time to make.  

Really? Will wants to ask, but can’t.   You put a saw to my head two days ago and now you care whether or not you hurt me with a needle?  

“There will be some slight scarring, but it will fade,” Hannibal notes as he works, and some of Will’s incredulity must have made its way into his now fully-open eyes, because a faint smirk tilts those smug lips when his eyes catch briefly on Will’s.

I hate you, Will thinks.

You’re ridiculous, Will thinks.

You’re exhausting , Will thinks emphatically.

You’re magnificent , Will definitely manages to avoid thinking.

The sutures are slow-going thanks to the need to keep him breathing, but eventually they are finished, and what is probably a fairly short time after that, Hannibal determines that Will’s lungs are working on their own again.  His limbs are still so weak they’re practically boneless, but it is something of a relief to have the mask off and to feel at least some of his muscles behaving as they should.

It is a vicious pleasure, despite every attempt Will makes not to feel it, to watch as Hannibal methodically strips off the dead surgeon’s face, instead - “A shame not to quite be able to do to him what he planned to do to you,” Hannibal comments as he works, “but we will make do” - and simply plasters it like a mask over the still-anesthetized Mason Verger.  

“I’ll return to you soon,” he says, catching Will’s eyes again when he has finished the grisly task, and is apparently preparing to wheel Mason out of the operating room.  “I have a gift to leave for dear Alana and Margot.” Will would assume he means Mason Verger, himself, but Mason was already physically near-helpless before this, and there is a glint in Hannibal’s eye that promises more.  Will has, however, with his adrenaline levels crashing, fallen far enough back into his earlier apathy that he does not especially care to wonder.

He is so tired.  

When, a short time later, Hannibal lifts him bodily in his arms and carries him out into the snow, he clings to that physical and emotional exhaustion as a shield against the perilous, traitorous comfort a part of him wants to feel at the sensation of being tucked close to Hannibal’s body, as if Will Graham is something worth not only rescuing, but treasuring.  

“I don’t want to think about you anymore,” he says even later, when he can sit up on his own again, and while it is not precisely a lie, Will knows that the sentiment is futile.