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What Each We Lost to Another, Well and Terrible Met

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She says her name is Molly. 

They’ve met, and though he doesn’t notice at first, they keep meeting at the dog park off the main drag of town.

It can be considered spring, even as the rotting corpse of winter hovers over all. The last hulks of gray-brown snowslush mound on curbs, dry white salt streaks on everything from his boots to his coat to the sides of his car, all aching for water and still cold, cold, cold. It’s overshadowed, even so, by naked tree limbs pebbled with buds, wide empty swaths of dull brown grass where snow has worn away, and acid green new shoots pushing their way through the mud all around.

 

Molly has blonde hair that wisps around her mouth with each gust of breeze like something out of a movie. Will wants to touch it. To tuck the errant strands behind her ear, cradle her face, lean in close. Molly tucks the strands away herself, instead. 

Will tries not to be disappointed. Molly stands apart from him, facing him indirectly, awaiting his invitation. This is the third time, since he’s noticed, that they’ve stood four feet apart to watch their dogs run together. It feels significant in a way he can’t manage. He should learn to manage it, if he wants this. He shouldn’t want it, but there’s just emptiness if he doesn’t.
 So, he smiles at her. 
“I’m Will.”


Will’s pack is a merry, restless band of fur and fine good humor despite the general dampness, roaming to and from withered brown grass islands, uncaring of the mud sea between them. His dogs move as one-in-many, and strange dogs fold themselves into their tumble around the park.  Those dogs run with his for a while, breaking off in turn or when they’re called. 

 

Molly’s American Pit Bull Terrier and her Malinois never quite get to the breaking-off part, and ignore her calls.
Will summons his group so she can separate them. They all come in as a wave, bounding towards them and swirling around their calves like low tide. They’re both laughing and it feels like a proper deep breath in to fill their lungs. She calls them again, Missy the Malinois and Mac (n Cheese); the Pit Bull with a wide, sweet face. The two dogs sit in front of her obediently enough, wanting to show off for their friends. Will introduces his own to Molly, listing off his little company. When they meet again, she greets them all by name.

 


Molly is always standing near him these days, and it’s habit. She always watches him from the corner of her eye before she speaks, gauging his mood. She always offers a little platitude about the weather and then their dogs. Something easy. She never asks for more than surface, and he likes that. He wonders what tips the balance of her talking or leaving him with silence. He finds he wants to hear her talk. 
Will turns his head and regards her with a smile. 
“Hey,” she says, granted permission, “Warmer today than last week, even if it’s spitting rain. Harley’s looking in good spirits, aren’t you, lovely? Yes, hello!” 
And Harley bounds over to her, twining through her legs and slapping them hard with his tail. Molly’s all laughing smiles, looking up from her lashes at him to see the humor he should feel at the sight.
He smiles and steps closer, leans down to pet Harley himself.

 

 

Molly is like Bev, but softer. She’s got Bev’s glib fire, her joie de vivre. She doesn’t have Bev’s desert, where Will earned his friendship with his thirst; by enduring the heat of an unerring gaze that could see him if it looked. That particular and dearly-missed gaze is dissected, now. Is blank partial whites and a bit of the iris, forever wide with fear as she died, buried beneath six feet of soil in a coffin. Will blinks. Shuts that train of thought away quickly. Old dead life and old dead friends he can’t fix.

He asks Molly to dinner, since the afternoon is getting on, at a dog-friendly cafe down the street. They walk there together, adrift in nine dogs, and the waiter doesn’t blink. Rather, she mentions her own three waiting at home with a fond smile. As he pays the bill, he asks Molly to drinks tomorrow, since it’s Friday. Without the dogs.

He holds her in the lamplight after, both warmed and loose from their drinks, unwilling to go their separate ways just yet. She lifts onto her tiptoes to kiss him, and he’s too surprised to move at first, before instinct takes over and they’re pressed up against a wall. He walks her to her car after and asks her to text when she’s home safe, still smiling to himself.

 

 

That same kinship with Bev is there, obstinately present, and he can’t get away from it. It rings softly in his mind, even with its difference, even ten dates in. Where Bev’s friendship was won by endurance, by his own survival despite its punishing light; Molly is closer to a hidden lake he’s pushed and pushed through a tangled forest for, and trespassed into, ignoring her walls and warning signs until she lies clear and open for him, undeserving. There are no foxes here with Molly. Will contents himself with that.

 

 


But if he extends himself— and he tries not to, because it feels like an unfair advantage and he’s already taking advantage— Molly is just... heartbroken. Heartbroken, drowning in a loss like his. And she’s lonely. He knows this is what binds them. Like calls to like and makes them keep meeting later and later on in the evenings. At restaurants, and then his rented house. Hers with the mortgage. Makes them stay over until they’re drinking coffee together in the morning, making plans for the next time they meet.

 Molly is the sun-dappled grass banks of a river running slow and cool and summer-green, choked with salmon floating belly-up. 
She’s a full-bloom field of dead wheat, golden and dancing, molding over in a mild wind. 
She’s overripe cherries with too-soft flesh that he eats with whipped cream and his fingers on a slow afternoon, and she could be home. 

So Will pursues her. He shouldn’t. He knows full well he has no business asking her to date after date and then into his bed. He’s just trespassing, leaving dirty footprints and a stain when he’s making breakfast for her in the mornings.
 He has no right, because she is good above all, and she’s warm when he puts his arms around her. Because Molly is already shattered, and still draws him in close enough to hurt her. She tangles her fingers into his hair with a sweet ease that makes him sigh. He leans into her hand to better feel it against his scalp. She presses the naked curves of her body against his with daring and unbridled fire, because she doesn’t want to see him. And Will makes sure she can’t see him, anyway, when her insights hit too close to the mark. 

 

 

 

“You’re running away,” she’s saying. Molly’s leaning over her fourth whisky like it’s tarot cards, and then leaning into him with a freedom he envies. Her blue, blue eyes are alight with an electric gaze he once met in a chair sat just across from his, so he can’t meet it now, hands curling against the familiar prickling impulse to pull him —her— in against himself. 
“You’re running so hard it’s all you can think about.”
It’s too close to an unwanted truth for Will to answer her, so he turns his face down and presses kisses to her throat until she relents, backs off, gives up and laughs warm and gentle and nothing like the other.
“I’d rather think about you, instead.”

The unconquerable distance separating them is the fact that Molly’s rivers will run full of life again, given time. She’s grieving now, but soon enough she’ll heal. 

That’s not his fate. Can’t be, not with the man pacing the space allotted to him in a prison cell, wearing a footpath into the grooves of Will’s mind with every step. And so they’ll part, probably before five years pass between them. But Will’s spent so, so much time alone. Now that he’s had tastes of it: tastes of companionship, a warm body curled up with his against the dark;  he’s too weak to walk back into that wilderness on his own.

 For her to see him would be Molly leaving him, and he can’t bear that just yet. So he agrees to meet her son and imagine himself a father. And the fact that this will end because she will outgrow him, outlive him: it could feel like a footnote, if he lets it. Just an afterthought, if he really forces himself. So he does.

 

Alana has (had. They won’t see each other ever again if Will can help it.) come the closest to seeing him, aside from one other. From their first meeting, Alana had put distance and stranger’s bodies between them. She never was alone with him, despite her fondness, until his weakness and illness became apparent; until Alana’s desire to be the one helping overrode her need to be distant from him. Will had kissed her, then. He had twined his arms round Alana’s waist, rested a palm to her cheek, and pressed his lips to her willing mouth.  And even with the siren call to fix him, fix your friend ringing steady in her ears, Alana had had enough instinct to withdraw from him.

 

Molly has that instinct, too. Will can see it in the glances she gives him sometimes, the hesitation as she reaches for him, but she ignores that instinct for her own ends. Molly pulls him in close to her, all the same. 

 

 

Molly is just open arms and genuine smiles and soft praise of how good he is with Wally. 
Molly is her arched back in the shifting merciful dark of their bed; is her vulnerable breasts with peaked nipples like copper coins curving up to meet him. Molly is clasping wet silk begging him in and in and in. Molly has her arms round his shoulders.

But her face turns away into the pillow with something like regret or shame because Will isn’t him, isn’t the one she lost, and this is just a betrayal. Will tries to come close, tries to make himself more like him, so it’s less a betrayal and more like a prayer.

 

 


Molly needs someone like Will, but not Will; she deserves someone feeling and fighting for her and good. Will is two of those, but not good.

 

 

 

Will doesn’t want to hurt her, never wants to cause her more pain. But he already has, and is adding more with each day he spends by her side. He knows he shouldn’t. She never asked for it, never particularly wanted it. She sees dimly through the dark glass between them to their expiration date that they’re both ignoring.

 

But Will hurts her anyway, wanting to be good for just once. He does it with a ring that drains a lesser savings account and then some as penance. He does it on trembling bended knee in a restaurant the other would have chosen.  And Will just hates himself for her genuine tears, not entirely happy. The way her voice cracks when she says yes. She’s pushing away the expiry date, kicking it somewhere down the road, because Will is doing the same. An unspoken mutual agreement to blind themselves and pretend what they have together is what they truly want.

 

 

 

Will hurts her when he vows himself to Molly in her lovely white satin dress, in front of all her family and friends, in sickness and in health, but not despite Hannibal

 

 

 

She gives him everything and Will gives her what little he can for as long as he can, holding his breath.

With the wind coming in off the beach through the windows on their honeymoon, Will is still thinking of the other. Even with Molly right there beside Will, and the curve of soft skin over her ribs slanting into her waist holding his gaze.

 

He’s imagining the cant of his head when he’s properly interested. His wrists, peeking out of cufflinked shirtsleeves. His palm, soft and wide against Will’s cheek, purring about chrysalises and a minor devil’s own limitations. His lips that pull into a familiar hinted smile, or bare sharp teeth, depending. Will wonders how his lips might feel pressed against his own. Feels the flash of a blade, the fullest embrace they have yet shared (no, the only one they will. He’s not going back, and that life is dead. That life died in Hannibal’s kitchen with Abigail), Will’s blood flooding irrevocably between them.


 And Will just… hates himself. Will turns to bury himself in Molly’s open arms and extends his feeling and drifts in her need. Drifts in that absence still burning in her. He tries to make himself enough to fit the seams, soothe her still-aching wound.

 

 

With the dogs tumbling around the sparsely wooded acres that can be called Molly’s yard, he can be enough. He makes himself enough.


He chops wood for the fireplace, and wipes the dogs’ feet when they’ve been running. He keeps the place clean despite twelve dogs and a preteen. 

He loves her, yes. He loves her. But he lets the dogs take up his time, trying not to bind her too tightly.


He loves Molly, but it’s the second anniversary, and that’s all he can think about. The wind is blowing fierce outside, so he says it’s too cold to bring Wally along.

 

He sets a fire going before he leaves. Whatever small measures he can take to make up for his lack.


He sits on the ice, lets himself dream of his other, the life they could have made together. A swing bench in the Pacific Northwest, rocking slowly in the wind off the ocean. Farmer’s markets and a long tale about cabbage and its variants. He dreams of dark straight hair and blue eyes like his, older than Wally. The sharp set to the way she holds herself, gauging if he’s prey or predator or both. Abigail pins him to his seat on the ice with her cool, reprimanding gaze, tucks her head up under his other’s chin and nestles back into him like they belong together. Because they all belong together. They were waiting for him. She’s smiling, and then there’s so much blood. 

 

 

He takes back fish to make up for it. He’s always making up for it.

Will feeds his family, the one in front of him and alive. He brings fish on stringers from the lake and groceries in plastic bags from town and never cooks. Relies on her memorized recipes and takeaway.

Will is fed. With pot roasts and pasta bakes and chicken salad sandwiches on white bread and casseroles and good, nutritionally-balanced things. 

He wants meat.

Will can’t stand himself for the want, the phantom lovely taste on the back of his tongue that comes sometimes, in the evenings. He shouldn’t exist.


Will has someone as richly beautiful as Molly reaching out for him (not him, but that’s okay), their happy life stretching out before them in a wide easy path, covered in cherry blossoms. And instead he’s dreaming of someone with blood cupped in his palms.  Beverly’s blood, Abigail’s blood, mixed together. Welling up over the rim of his hands and splashing down onto the floor in hot, stinging tears.  

Will can’t admit he wants to drink it, because it was spilled for him. He would fall to his knees before him and drink it all down, if it’s from Hannibal's hand.

 

He tends to their dogs and lets the days go by, trying not to feel anything too deeply.

 


Will finds himself waiting; doesn’t want to be waiting. Wants anything else in the world but to be waiting. Waiting means there’s something after what he has with Molly, and he’s not ready for that.

 

He knows there is a place set out and made for him alone. He tells himself it’s somewhere like a haunted cave in the far mountains, with old fires casting long and looming shadows on the walls, remote. A place full of ghosts who damn anyone foolish enough to seek it out. He knows that it is a deep and quiet forest, bristling with teeth and claws and life itself. He knows that its true name tastes like home and calls to him in mirrors. 

But Molly comes to him when he’s dreaming of caves because she knows. She sees that much, and fights because she’s not done with him yet. Can’t let him go, too, just yet. 


She comes to him on the sofa when Wally’s tucked in bed and Will is consorting with a glass of whiskey. She straddles Will with her bare cream thighs underneath her robe gripping his, and lets the heat between them leak against him, encourage him. She unzips his fly with deft fingers and dives in, wraps his cock in her warm hand and her free arm around his neck. 
It could be him she’s looking for, the way she strokes him, the way she murmurs low into his ear and runs her thumb across his lip. The way she puts his hand on her breast and begs him to squeeze.

 


Will clings to her, then, pulls them upright and shepherds her to the bedroom. Their bedroom. The bed he’s made for himself. He presses his mouth to her throat and feels their way laughing with his hand braced against the wall for balance. 

The door shuts and Molly falls against the bed, lets her robe drift open with the motion. She reveals only softness and the neatly trimmed hair at the join of her hips, inviting him. Needing him. The approximation of her other.

Will drinks her in, wanting to be stable enough to deserve her. Good enough to deserve her fully. He undresses, stripping away trousers and his shirt and his shame and goes to her where she’s waiting. He covers her with his body, lavishes her with stroking touches down the heaving length of her sides, presses her thighs further apart, tests for the moment in which she contracts against him, resists him, pushes him away. It doesn’t come.

Not yet. Molly is good and salt of the earth, and even now she clings to him. He can feel it’s not quite him she’s clinging to. Her eyes are shut, and there’s a memory playing itself out behind her lids, even as his head presses against her folds. A man, strong, taller than Will and good like her. And Will can’t be hurt. Can’t even be jealous, as he pushes in, because he doesn’t deserve her. He’s the stand-in, a facsimile. A smudged copy, but he can be clearer if she tries harder, twists just so— 

And Will becomes the warm breathing touch giving the imago held in her mind a physical weight and presence, someone she can grind her hips against, welcome in.

He shifts his weight above her and sinks into her with a broken, needful sigh, just as like what she’s wanting. She waits with him, feeling them, not them, together. She curls her hips further around him in the empty wet dark of their bed, knees bent gripping his waist and keeping him just there inside her, and Will could love her dearly. Wants to love her dearly. Suddenly wants wildly for all her passionate desire to be just for him, just this once. Instead, he pushes further into her warmth and succumbs, thinking of her. Allows himself to think of Hannibal. A knife.

They glide together, against and with each other. Each grasping for another, quite alone in the wet heaving dark press of skin and fingers and limbs until she wraps her trembling arms around his sides, crushing him down into her. He falls, twitching, bracing his weight on the bed above her, and she gasps the name into his shoulder. Not his. Not “Will”. It shouldn’t hurt, but it does, so he lets his sense of self go for a moment, breathes in to be the man she loves. For a brilliant, stinging moment, he’s not Will. He’s Molly’s other, back from the dead and loving her again. Feeling all the love she’s pouring out for him, the way her forehead presses his neck, the shape of her mouth on his chest, just for him.


They don’t talk about it, once it’s finished and they lie panting and empty and unfulfilled beside each other.

 

There’s nothing to say. They hold each other anyway, in the dark.

 

 

 

Will goes to fish and tends to their dogs, and he gives her what he can, tends the earth so that Molly’s rivers can be full of life when he’s gone. When he’s gone, she will grow sweet fresh new things he won’t deserve to, couldn’t hope to touch.
And they survive like this. They have something cradled tenderly between them that looks for all the world like happiness and contentment.  

Will provides, and is present as much as he can be. Molly provides, becomes his light and is warm in his arms. Will will be what Molly needs, and Molly won’t make Will think of the man pacing the measure of his cage where Will put him. It could be enough.

 

 


Neither of them have had enough when their agreement comes tearing down around their ears. 


Jack Crawford arrives like a nightmare pulling up their drive, and the first thing Will thinks of is Beverly entombed between glass. A sea of Abigail’s blood, bubbling froth up past his lips by now. Then Molly, warm and heartbroken, reaching for him (not him, but that’s okay). He would deny Jack, turn him away for another night, another year, but Molly sets Jack a place at the table for dinner.

She knows.

She feels Will’s other calling to him, her own lost to her, and pushes him in that direction for them both. So it isn’t his fault. Can’t be his fault, not really.


He goes, and Molly doesn’t stop him. Maybe to make up for the way she needs him. Because Molly knows that this is their separation, the footnote approaching, her becoming and his... his acceptance, and she lets him go anyway.

He goes to see his other, not meeting Molly’s gaze as he leaves. It’s another wound she doesn’t deserve to bear, and they don’t talk about it. There’s nothing to say.

What is there to say at the end of the world?

 

 

 


Will’s heart sinks when he sees Hannibal again, because it’s all still right there, burning and raw, even after three whole years and change, as if he never left. They both stand before the other, prim and feigning sure in the face of each other after all this time. Hannibal reaches out for Will; nakedly clutches for him with any avenue Hannibal has.

 

Their eyes meet and Will is suddenly alight and simmering with potential, with promise, and he can’t do anything to stop it. He might as well resign himself to the inevitability. But Will calls up Molly to his mind; her need of him and what he can give her, and so, with this, he can leave. Will abandons the cave calling to him. Leaves home. 

Will finds with Hannibal the option to let Molly go; release her to go be free and living again. Will knows instead, he will stay with her until she’s ready, until she takes her leave of him. He can do that, at least, and be good.

 

 

 

 


He doesn’t expect a Dragon to reave its way through his home and through his Molly, toss her bleeding into a hospital bed and Wally going to pieces in the waiting room. He doesn’t expect Wally to ask him to kill. 

 

Will tries. He does. He smiles, and says the words they say to each other in times like these, when the balance is taut and it’s all too close to the surface. Like they can keep on with their arrangement, with Hannibal pulling him away and Will with no choice but to go to his other. Molly chooses to see him, instead. Molly sees him, and releases him, even as she says she wants to try, asks him to stay.

Will has hurt her one last time. 

So he kisses her hand for the time they’ve shared. 
Kisses her hand for her boundless mercy. 
He wishes her to find true happiness and joy as he leaves her hospital room, the last time he’ll see her for both their sakes. It’s as good a wake as any.

He hopes he sees one little fish, tail working in her stream, since it’s always been impossible that he might see her whole. He takes his leave, and it feels like slow-dripping blood between pressed glass. Too soon.

He goes to see Hannibal again, opens his arms and tilts his head, “Please, I need you.” He feels the truth of it hot up under his skin, and doesn’t feel anything at all.

 

 

 


Hannibal is there, opening a car door for him and then opening a wine bottle.

“My compassion for you is inconvenient.”

“Yeah, me too,” Will says. He wants to hold it against Hannibal, this fresh loss, but without Molly, he’s just empty and there’s nothing to hold.


It should feel like coming home, he thinks. 
But for all the blood between them, and the fine threads of need and the planetary pull of gravity drawing them together, the low gut thrill of each other, it’s nothing easy. 

They’re an unknown quantity like this: liberated and alone together, potential shimmering along the edges of his vision.

It’s coming home, but not to a warm meal and a fire. There are sheets over the furniture and neither of them have the courage to pull them off and live.

The Dragon decides for them. 


Hannibal is falling in an explosion of blood and wine, and Will watches it happen. For Molly, maybe.

It’s too far when the Dragon presumes to change him, and Will reaches for his gun. Something strikes his face and there’s just pain, pain, pain, shattering glass like starlight and the hard ground beneath his hands.


Will breathes in. He’s awake. He’s never been more viciously alive than this moment.

He wants meat, and Hannibal is a shadow in the broken window, launching himself.

It’s a perfect, beautiful blur, and anything that’s come before is inconsequential color and air.

It’s pain, and teeth, and so much blood. It’s all he’s ever wanted.

It’s black in the moonlight. 

 

Will crosses the lintel of his home. He reaches out for Hannibal and rests against him, dizzy with the righteous harmony of their hearts pounding into his ears and the rumble of Hannibal’s voice in his chest. 

 

 

There was never anything but this. He has never been anything but this. It was always impossible for Molly to see him whole, no matter how much she tried and how much he let her see.

 

He feels the heat of old fires cast their strange shadows on the walls.

 

 

He has no guilt and no shame when he pulls them over the edge to their next life.