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the glow of the white before him

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It’s just a street, but the first time Will sees it, he laughs to himself.

 

It’s not anything particularly interesting by the usual metrics. There are no tableaus of murder victims arranged like paper dolls that someone forgot to put away. There is nothing profound to be read into the evidence of the room, save for the profundity of how inconsequential it is. In that respect, it’s kind of amazing that it comes to Will’s attention at all. 

 

No, it’s more of a little irony that one stumbles upon while between thoughts, and vaguely wondering what you’re even doing here. 

 

He looks up today as he did the first time. 

 

The Middle Path Street – a simple green sign with white letters, made almost invisible by the advertisements surrounding it as the east-west route through the touristy part of town. Down its paved road, nothing but rows and rows of hotels and lodges call it home, ambling between its beginning at the actual center of the city of Pokhara, and the vast expanse of Phewa Lake. It is literal in its latitudes, built into the hillside about halfway up the rise to the temples and wild growth of trees. Perhaps literal in its morals as well, Will smiles to himself, and trods down the brick cobbled paths, listening to the bells in the temples and the commotion in the street itself. 

 

He remembers reading about it once – the figurative one that it’s named for, not the humble kind weaving its way through concrete and little bodegas. Soon after, he is told about it as well, because Hannibal has never seen a trivia question he didn’t want to throw unnecessary subtext into.  

 

“It is the first of Buddha’s teaching in the eightfold path,” Hannibal whispers to him in the dark of the night when they both stare into the plaster of the ceiling, and ask after each other’s day instead of acknowledge the board-flat way they lay next to each other, close enough to press together but the way two planks of wood would be laid out on the floor. 

 

(Structural to each other, essential to make a whole, but separate anyway.)

 

“The path walked between divinity and destruction as a method of living,” he explains in his rumbling low candor, and dares touch the back of Will’s hand with the extension of the little finger over Will’s knuckles. He travels the rise and fall of the skin there lightly.  

 

“The key is to ignore both,” Hannibal adds, and doesn’t stop his careful exploration until sometime after Will falls asleep. 

 

In this, Will is a great scholar.  He doesn’t pretend to be a convert of Buddhism, or a student of spiritualism, but the space between divinity and destruction suits Will fine. 

 

He chooses it as his place to walk on the days that the stickiness of a July in Nepal creeps under his skin, and he craves the high hill of Methlang, where the breeze cuts across the gum and rosewood trees. The cheery marigolds in storefronts nod him along in spicy-sour blooms. The laundry drying on the balconies of apartments and bungalows are banners, waving for the small lives lived on the other sides of them. It’s the kind of participation in life he can tolerate these days, too shy of being recognized as a murderer, or worse still, someone who enjoys it.

 

“A walk by myself,” Will insists. “Consider it an exercise in mindfulness,” he says with a press of tongue to the healing seam of his cheek, and delights at Hannibal’s huffing acceptance of this. He cannot be with Hannibal all the time. Hannibal disagrees, but Hannibal is practical, and gives up these afternoons to keep the others peaceful.

(If either of you is capable of peace rather than the stillness of an animal saving its strength. You’re not sure. You don’t think he’s sure either.)

   

It’s not a direct route by any means, but Will can weave his way to the lake this way and back up the green hills by another street when he is done with that. He can have an hour or two alone in that peculiar way it’s possible to be alone in a crowd, sometimes longer. Not a jot of spoken Gurkha or English necessary. Not a familiar face save the one at their bungalow home. 

 

Today is alien and itchy under his skin, made worse by the hum of cicadas and engines on the roads, with small motorcycles weaving between the people and the stands to either side. Little spice colored birds move between walls, happy in their unmarked overhead paths. It smells of deep woods and petrol. It tastes of cumin, and coriander, and fried sweet rice. And while Will has learned to enjoy this new home in the low temperate land of the Seti Gandaki valley, he misses the South, or maybe some amalgamation of places he remembers that also make the collar of his shirt stick to his skin.  

 

He doesn’t usually stop in the little grocery shops – he doesn’t have much need to, with Hannibal taking the lion’s share of the shopping by preference. But Will is thirsty today, and where summer doesn’t taste of familiar sea air or the peculiar stench of marine carpet in a boat cabin, it can still taste of a cold Coke.

 

The first shop he sees is no more than eight feet wide, but snakes into the back, full of squared shelves that promise everything from potato chips to car oil, with no real rhyme or reason between them other than that they are all available. A woman stands at the cash register with thoughtful eyes and perfect oval nails clacking away at the wood of the counter, and watches him go about his business.  

 

“You have a serious look,” says the shopkeeper, counting her till but watching Will’s hands. Will assumes she is wary of thieves, but maybe she is just wary of him.  It’s not really necessary, but Will doesn’t make a habit of explaining the curious pink and red of his scar, hairless and cut across his beard as surely as the sheer cut of a fissure in sea ice.

 

“Finding a craving is serious business,” he says, and counts out his rupees.

 

“A hot day,” she concedes with a nod, and smiles politely. “Not so hard to find Coca Cola as all  that. Pokhara is hardly Everest.” 

 

Her English has the flourish of the British kind, diction pointed and pretty. He’s always humbled how quickly it spills out here, but maybe that’s why Will actually climbs the hill to Methlang here, because he’s not above the ignorance of all the other tourists with their dumb mouths trying to speak Nepali and always sounding amateur instead. 

 

American excellence, he thinks. Excellent for insisting on bringing America with them. 

 

Will scratches his chin, a little embarrassed. “No, I guess it isn’t,” he says with a wry twist of his mouth. He knows already, of course, but there’s not much use in correcting her for what amounts to only wanting to be right. “Not that I would know much about Everest,” he adds with a shrug. “Maybe there’s a crate of Coca-Cola there as well.”

 

The shopkeeper smiles, with a good naturedness Will doesn’t think he’s really earned. “Not here for the mountains?” she asks, and types in the price.

 

“Nothing more than to look at them, and think.”

 

“Better that way,” she says, nodding. “Safer. Smart men love them from the foothills as easily as the top.”

 

He doesn’t know anything of smart men or foolish ones, other than he is a little of both, and trying to dodge his fellow foreigners that might be here for the peaks. He doesn’t think his memorability really extends far enough into a newscast months after his and Hannibal’s fall from the cliff, not the way Hannibal’s does, but he doesn’t trust that alone. What’s an executive preparing for weeks in the mountains have to do other than read when the touring companies and sherpas will see to all the particulars? When do the athletes and the starry eyed peak climbers lift or lower their heads from their routes and see the people around them?

 

(You’re the man that didn’t kill all those people, but all that really sticks is your face in a mugshot, and everyone draws their own conclusions and the certainty that you must have done something . “Look at him,” they say. “What a sad person.")

 

“Just trying my best to live long enough to enjoy them,” Will shrugs, and does his best to adopt her simple acceptance. He has a road to continue up, and a hill to climb.     

 

“Here,” she says, and beckons him, fingers down and curled towards herself. She doesn’t say what she wants.

 

Will thinks. It’s embarrassing to need to. He’s the empath, and he relies on that more than anything to make himself comfortable here, and still he must think instead of intuitively know, because so much of interaction is cultural, and this one is different.

 

He nods, understanding a second too late for his taste. “My hand,” he says, and offers one - the right, still warm from the pocket of his pants and creased with seams. 

 

The clerk doesn’t seem to mind. “You have a long life line,” she tells him with soft white hands that hold his palm upwards. Her fingers are spindly and full of rings, and one follows the meat of his thumb to the wrist, playing at the dip where a raised line of white stands out. “You see this one here? That’s the one.”

 

Will smiles.

 

“That’s a scar,” he replies, familiar with those like he is Coca Cola and balmy summers.

 

(That’s kind of like a life line, you suppose. That’s your body knitting itself back together so that it can live.)

 

The woman puzzles a little bit, turning his palm this way and that before returning it to him with ginger touches. She averts her eyes, smiles with closed lips, as people with charming secrets do - something globally understandable, where her hand gestures aren’t. 

 

“Ah, she says, “but the right hand is for the future, and the left for the past. Perhaps something is written into the rest of yours.” 

 

Will ignores this to the best of his ability, biting his tongue against a response. He eyes bottles of motor oil. He thinks of the crunch of salty snacks. These are all better than the sour thing sitting in the back of his throat. “I know what it is,” he wants to say. “It’s the only thing that hasn’t changed since it appeared. ” 

 

“Thanks for the drink,” he says instead, and pays for his Coca Cola without taking the change, and lets it sweat in his hand. 

 

It sweats alongside him all the way back up the Middle Path street to the hill, and foams all the more for the swinging motion of his arms as he ascends. He stays longer than is his usual habit, listening to the trees and the play of wind from the north because he cannot be with Hannibal all the time, and Hannibal disagrees, but has sense enough to let the afternoon pass.

 

---

 

The early days of their escape from the cliff house are marked with strange haunts. Rural cabins, abandoned second homes of the middle-class, port towns and sea-faring cargo boats that are eaten up with rust; things that Will knows from his life before Hannibal, and don’t feel too strange, but are made alien by Hannibal’s inescapable presence in all of them. 

 

After listening to Alana Bloom gloat for three years about the obviousness of Hannibal’s tastes, Hannibal clearly took the criticism to heart. Let her try and find them then, in places that don’t think much about the problems of other countries and their mad men. Let her try and understand Hannibal’s new palate for living, changed by Will’s. 

 

(Batard-Montrachet tastes bland against the mouthfuls of blood you have swallowed, and he has watched you swallow them like he wishes you had shared them with him.)

 

Even though it fits the new pattern of unglamorous liminal space, Will thinks their move to Nepal starts as a joke. Hannibal’s sense of humor is terrible most of the time, but Will really didn’t expect it of him in the pain-reddened days on the run, and this is the only reason it skips along as far as it does before Will realizes that it probably wasn’t a serious consideration until the moment he took it seriously, not Hannibal. 

 

But Hannibal will likely never admit to it, because it satisfies him to know Will isn’t sure, and that he is capable of surprising people no matter his desire to be known. He is delighted by his fleeting opportunities to remain opaque to Will, like he must occasionally crave the privacy of life before cogent thought with him, the way Will occasionally climbs a hill to be alone because he can. 

 

“Look, it has a fishtail on the skyline and everything,” Hannibal cheerily says between adjusting the bandages on his waist with a prim pull, the glow of a petite laptop promising travel, accommodations, and while nothing like permanence, it also offers stability. “Friendly to street dogs. Large lake. Just like home for a man of your discerning tastes.”

 

“Well since we’re suddenly polling me for my preferences,” Will snipes, and drinks hot water between hissing teeth that still ache from gums to throat if the temperature is too warm or cold. 

 

Today they are in the quiet of a tiny apartment along the shores of Luzanivka Beach just north of Odessa. Tomorrow, to a boat and to Sevastopol. Beyond that, Will hasn’t asked – any further into the week, and Hannibal is just as likely to change it. Will would say he is adaptable, but ultimately unhappy about it, and wastes no opportunities to let Hannibal know he doesn’t appreciate the secrecy.

 

(“The lam, as I’ve come to understand over the years, is less of a frantic chase and more of a vacation of intuitive chaos,” Hannibal explains to you when you frustrate at not knowing where you are going after two weeks of dragging your tattered body from cargo port to airplane one too many times. “Plans must be fluid, or else they are predictable. Crossing borders is the only commonality between the two.” )

 

(You lie and tell him he’s predictable regardless, and he consoles himself and punishes you with a decidedly erratic stay in Chelyabinsk in the days after, where every breath hurts your mouth.)

 

But neither does Will pass up an opportunity to criticize when he does get a say.

 

“Asia seems like a terrible place to go and blend in,” Will huffs around a sore cheek. He still can’t open his mouth very far without popping a stitch, which bothers him more than Hannibal who is responsible for piecing him together each time he does. “Maybe you’ll do fine,” he concedes with a roll of his fingers on the tabletop. “I look like a slasher film extra.”

 

“Nepal is no stranger to visitors, and you are hardly the worst of them,” Hannibal says, not to be distracted from his reading. “I think that honor is saved for me, though perhaps the average mountaineer of means will bother them more.”

 

“No, you’re just a serial killer with means instead.”

 

Hannibal smiles at that too. He’s always happy since his pain has receded into the ache of healing, if cautiously so where anything concerning Will should be, and the distance from the shores of America increases. He grabs softly now at the hand drumming at the top of the table, and raises it to his mouth, where the scabs on Will’s knuckles catch on his lips.  

 

“I tip better,” Hannibal says, and Will curls his fingers away, suddenly shy at the heat of Hannibal’s breath. “Dreadful business, summiting mountains on the backs of other men and saying you alone have done it. I prefer those who do for themselves by honest means,” he adds, and very nearly licks a cut before Will flinches and pulls away.

 

Hannibal watches him after that, unblinking and searching for something, and performative with his laptop and extravagant plans. 

 

He doesn’t try to take Will’s hand so close again - not initially anyway. Small touches sneak their way back into their new life. Tentative reaches in crowds, where holding Will’s hand isn’t worth remark. Pointing things out, guiding Will through recipes. A careful squeeze, here and there to remind Will he’s there- he’s there.

 

(You don’t remember when it starts at night, only that it must have, and like a cautious horse you have just become accustomed to it because Hannibal is careful to never startle you, and Hannibal is too satisfied to have you accept it to ever try to put mouth to your fingertips ever again.

 

But Pokhara is not a bad option, even if probably a joke that was taken too seriously somewhere along the way. 

 

It’s…unfamiliar, in the way that all the new unglamorous places have been, Cyrillic on all the signs before, now with Devanagari here in the foothills of Nepal. It’s humid in the summer with a broad blue lake at its western edge, and he is told it will be moderately cold in the winter, and all the horizons are mountains with Annapurna, Himal Mardi, and Machapuchare stabbing upwards from them, double peaked and white like the caudal fin of a trout flashing in the sun after a jump.

 

Will warms up to the idea when reasonably assured his English will be sufficient, given the many, many travellers at the gateway of the Himalayas. He doesn’t need clever references to his gentler hobbies, even as he enjoys the climb to see the mountains. He doesn’t need street animals of his own either, though he enjoys the casual co-ownership of them between the people that feed them. 

 

“It does look like a fish at the right angle,” Will concedes later from across the apartment, rubbing at the scabs and pulling at their edges with fingernails that could be teeth if he closes his eyes. He doesn’t apologize for flinching, but Hannibal doesn’t apologize for giving him reason to, and insofar as that, everything is equal.

 

Perhaps Hannibal’s intuitive chaos is to find the other side of the Earth, and let the iron and magnetism of its core destroy whatever it was that drew them there to begin with, unknown to everyone including themselves, and they will be safe for a time. 

 

Will supposes it doesn’t really matter where it is. As long as Hannibal takes Will with him, Will thinks he will allow it.

 

---

 

“Apparently I’m going to live a long time,” Will announces over shapely diamonds of sweet halva semolina. “A shopkeeper said so.” The crumbs fall between his chair and the table, and for not the first time since leaving Vermont, he misses the presence of his dogs to chase them down. He’ll clean them of course - the cool tile of the bungalow has a shiny gleam that is safe to eat off of, and while there’s not the kind of mundane conversations between him and Hannibal that befit chore schedules, there is a mutual agreement to not impugn on each other. 

 

(Permission is a strange subject between you. Talking about Molly would be impugning. Or Mischa. Or all the things you did to each other that served no purpose other than to harm the other. But it’s not impugning for Hannibal to stick two fingers clinically into your mouth to check the scar tissue of your cheek and tongue. It would be impugning for you to taste them without permission, but much like the cleaning is implied, so is your permission to do so.)

 

Hannibal smiles, watching the crumbs fall with amusement rather than annoyance. 

 

“What a wise person they are to suggest it,” he says. “I certainly hope so. I’ve made a lot of plans predicated on that.” 

 

“And shared none of them,” Will grumbles, and takes another mouthful. 

 

Pistachios. Honey. Ghee. These are all things he has learned to like, despite the assumption that he wouldn’t. They are not Cokes on a hot day. There is no context to even consider them beyond the academic acknowledgment that it is the cuisine of their new home. He would have never tried them without staying here, or if Hannibal hadn’t put them on a plate in front of him, never so obvious as to want him to eat them, but never so reserved that he doesn’t watch Will break them apart with a white grin like it’s all that he wanted for himself that day.

 

“But maybe that’s where the long lifeline comes from,” Will snorts. “God knows I’d find a way to shorten it if I knew anything about it.”

 

“Your happiness does seem the self-depreciating kind,” Hannibal replies quietly. “I have done my best to undermine that, but you are a force to be reckoned with.”   

 

“It’s a talent of mine,” Will says, and licks the crumbs that remain away, and the raised skin in the valley of his hand. 

 

Hannibal reaches across the darkness of the bed to trace the path of it and Will’s tongue with his thumb, unseen and unremarked on in the night. Will remains still and allows it, and does nothing that would startle him away, but nothing to encourage it either.

 

---

 

(If you’re even capable of scaring him. You walk a handful of kilometers a day to get away from him, and he asks you if it was good to do so, and if it’s good to see him, and you smile without comment and help make dinner. It repeats week after week, waiting for the wounds to heal to the color of skin instead of blood, and he asks for so little, only that you stay. 

He’s your constancy. You almost said so yourself to a woman you have never met, you were so sure of it. You wonder if she reads hands with that same kind of insistence and certainty, and that you should have listened to her, from one clear-eyed person to another.)

   

---

 

Will doesn’t actually know where the scar comes from. Maybe pulling the knife from his mouth. Maybe pulling it from his leg. Maybe it’s a remnant of the days when he thought he killed Abigail when she was really just going through Hannibal’s idea of family bonding and he’s not totally aware of his body, or maybe it’s from none of that and he simply accidentally cut his hand while cleaning a fish, or filing off the metal burrs from fitting new parts to a boat motor. Will is so casual in his injuries to himself that even something as a cut down the middle of his palm is irreconcilable - a bank charge you can’t recall making, or a bruise that’s dark and lurid and completely unplaceable beyond that you clearly did it recently. He can’t remember a time that he tended it, photographic memory and all, and this more than the shopkeeper’s observance of it annoys him. 

 

“Do you remember where I got this?” he asks Hannibal between peeling mangoes, and the curiously sweet fragrance of coconut milk simmering into rice. The scar rises in a white line to match it, but skin-salt flavored instead and sticky with fruit juice. “My long lifeline?” Will adds with a laugh.  

 

“Have you considered you’ve had it before you met me?” Hannibal asks, cutting the fruit in paper-thin slices. “You were a man well into your thirties when we were introduced, and one with a proclivity to hard lives. It wouldn’t take the Chesapeake Ripper for you to cut your hand to the point of scarring.”  

 

“You would have made a note of that,” Will says, and minds the paring knife brushing against his thumb. 

 

“I would have,” Hannibal nods, and takes a slice between sharp and crooked teeth.   

 

“So was it scarred already? Before everything?”

 

Hannibal hums, mouth quirked at the corners in his usual fashion. “Perhaps you won’t live a long life if I say,” he says, and pushes stray strands from his forehead with the press of his clothed arm. His hair is damp behind the ears from sweating in the summer evening, and the warm breeze that has risen from the south to push at the white cotton curtains of the kitchen window does nothing to help it. 

 

Will resists the impulse to curl the grey-brown-blonde of it around a finger to see if it’s real - that Hannibal Lecter is capable of something as pedestrian as sweating. He doesn’t know if he would just hold it, or if the temptation to pull it would be stronger, just to see what Hannibal would do. 

 

“You don’t believe in palmistry,” Will snorts, and shakes the thought away, rinsing his hands of green and yellow peels that make his fingers cling to each other. “You believe in church collapses and the rules of disorder.”  

 

“I believe in cosmic fatalism,” Hannibal replies, and takes Will’s right hand with a sticky fingered grip of his own. The glow of the white before him, running from the web of skin between thumb and forefinger to the wrist, stands alone in an unfeeling line of healed flesh. “That outcomes are predetermined by the physics of what you surround yourself with. Faith is nothing next to the power of a crumbling building.”

 

“What does that have to do with scars?” 

 

“That you want to know what it was that hurt you, to catalog it as significant, and lay some sort of blame at its feet for things that happen in the future, even when you had already forgotten about it,” Hannibal shrugs in his elegant way - a raise of the chin, the roll of a shoulder to soak up more sweat with the linen of a collared shirt. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation at all if someone else hadn’t reminded you it was there.”

 

Will lets the water run longer than is necessary to fill the space with sound. It streams over his hands, scar glaring up neon bright from underneath it. He begins to suspect this is a more fraught subject for Hannibal than it is for him.

 

(The fear of abandonment doesn’t ever quite go away, does it? You’d know. He taught you that. It still doesn’t make you feel good to teach him the same lesson - you’ve gotten too tired to enjoy it.)  

 

“I am over the details of our history,” Will says delicately, turning the sink off. “But I am not afraid of looking at the ruins of it on occasion. I know that you aren’t either.”  

 

Hannibal’s life lines are not so opportune as to sit on his palms - they run in parallel with the tendons of his wrists, criss-crossed with stitch marks, and there rarely comes a time that Will isn’t bothered by them. They are obvious over the counter tonight with Hannibal’s sleeves rolled up as they are, and while Hannibal wears them like gold bangles at the cuffs of all shirts, all Will thinks when he sees them as that he didn’t do them himself, and they are imperfect for it.  

 

(“The final intentionality is sufficient for me,” he says to you over bottles of iodine and rolls of gauze, pulling at the skin of your shoulder in the lights of a motel along the northeast border of Maine. “Violence marks the epochs of the Earth, and everything falls into the order that is needed after. Ends justify the means, and so on. But you knew that, didn’t you Will? Or else we would have never made it as far as we have.”)  

 

Hannibal feathers strips of bright orange and yellow fruit on the plate. The knife clicks against the porcelain, before he settles it on the bright weave of a hand towel, where it is free to shine steel cold even in the humid damp of summer. He washes his hands next to Will, close enough to slot against each other and intrude, but consistently just on the edge of it being worth doing anything about.   

 

He turns to look at Will, and Will looks at the bead of sweat set against the line of his neck instead. 

 

“I will give you most things,” Hannibal says. “The finances, food, and the medical care are obvious - I am the best equipped for that. I can give you the names of places we can go. Permission, for whatever it is you want to do. Forgiveness, though we are beyond needing it. Space, if you require more,” he adds with a half-smile and leans closer to punctuate his own jokes. 

 

“But do not ask me to name things that no longer matter,” he adds quietly. “You are a stronger man without them, and the importance of them has long since disappeared.”  

 

“I just wanted to know if you knew where I got the scar,” Will replies, a little breathless. Direct honesty has a habit of shaking the air out of him - other people’s, not his own, and Hannibal’s rare like a bright songbird on a branch.  

 

“And all the knowledge that comes with that,” Hannibal says in return, wipes his hands next to the knife, and serves sticky rice in steaming spoonfuls that are delicious, simple, and given to him without expectation of thanks. His fingertips catch Will’s hand beneath the plate, and do not linger, save for the ghost of water they leave behind. 

 

---

 

The walk up the hill of the Middle Path feels heavy today. 

 

It is exceptionally dry this week, with air coming from the southwest to push the moisture out of the valley and into the mountains, so it’s not the weight of his sweat-dampened clothes that does it. He watches the thunderstorms build over the peaks and hide them, and while he misses the view, it excites him to think of their snow refreshed, and the paths made impassable and wild for a short time. He relishes the chafe of cracked lips from chewing their corners. He goes a full day without washing the dust from his feet, content to ripen without rain or showers. 

 

It is not the stiff gait of healing - Will wakes up uncommonly comfortable in the morning today, resting on his side and staring into the silhouette of Hannibal’s face which is soft in sleep the way it isn’t in alertness. Their hands are caught between the sheets, index fingers hooked loosely over each other. He is rarely the first one awake at all, arthritic and sore in ways that his companion has long since left behind with a gut-wound and all, and gives their entangled fingers a soft squeeze to feel awareness jump back into Hannibal.

 

(There’s a stretch of a week that you don’t know if Hannibal will make it in Greenland, where there is obvious pain that is greater than yours. You do nothing, but only because you do not speak enough Kalaallisut or Danish to explain why he’s injured, or who he is, or tell them you’ll kill every person in the clinic if they call the authorities. You think Hannibal counts on that, that your anxious heart would otherwise overtake the wisdom of your suspicious mind and do something stupid like seek help when it was always antibiotics that were going to dictate in that first month if you both lived as free men or died as imprisoned ones.)    

 

(You watch his eyes now go from closed to hawk-sharp and open, and the spell of his vulnerability is broken once more.

 

Morning stretches are done without assistance, though Hannibal frowns when he declines. The muscle relaxers are left on the counter, which Hannibal’s frown grows more powerful at as Will waves them off and asks to try a day without. So it is not that. 

 

He looks at the signs of the shops and inns, and swallows around his tongue and the pull of the still rough tissue of his healing cheek. Perhaps he is thirsty. 

 

“No mountains to look at from the city today,” says the woman with a bright smile when Will steps into the snake’s mouth of a shop and walks the long line of shelves to her counter. “You will have to enjoy the lake instead.” 

 

Will smiles with a mouth that doesn’t hurt today, and places a Coke on the counter, and a few ruby-red plums from a basket that sat between air filters and glass cleaner, shining like jewels. “I think the intention was always for me to enjoy the lake, and I’ve taken to looking at the peaks instead by accident.” 

 

“You’ll have to thank your wife for the consideration,” she says, and punches the numbers into her till. “Phewa is a beauty.” 

 

“Not my wife,” Will automatically replies, because he’s nearly forgotten he had one, and instinct demands he place credit where credit is due. “I have a complicated relationship with romance,” he explains. “It likes to take me on vacation overseas and leave a few marks before it goes.” 

 

The woman purses her lips, but soon after curls her fingers towards herself, beckoning him. This time, Will recognizes it. He recognizes the creasing of the scar in his fisted hand too, and wonders if there’s something else she can pull out of it for him to accidentally argue about, and puts his hand up on the counter anyway because he is some sort of glutton for punishment, and curious besides. 

 

She’s looking for something specific this time. She’s seen the geography of his mystical life twice. It’s possible that no one knows it better than her because they haven’t bothered to look. 

 

“But you are in love,” she says, and walks her fingernails over the pale stretch of skin and wrinkles, Will reminding himself to leave his hand relaxed and prone when all he wants to do is hide it. She favors the crease closest to his fingers. “Look how thick it is, from side to side.” 

 

“I think that’s from clenching my fists all the time,” he says. 

 

“So you think about them often,” she says like that clarifies everything, and Will guesses that technically it does.

 

He carries plums in his pocket, and an extra bottle of soda up the hill, which he grabs before the total is rung up because he might need it for the walk back. Now he is properly heavy, he thinks, watching his shoes kick up little bits of dirt. The threads of the cap leave a grid in his hands from holding it from shop front to hilltop, and back down to the bungalow once more. He doesn’t stay very long, with all the grey clouds covering the mountains, and there’s nothing for the breeze to dry, save for his eyes that hurt where his body didn’t today.  

 

The threads from the cap stay long after he gives the fruit to Hannibal, who is confused by the gift even as he begins to talk about the litany of things he might do with them. 

 

Will wonders if he wouldn’t have rathered the hands that gave them over, but life demands erraticism these days, and Hannibal is determined to never allow someone to accurately guess what he wants, even as a person who keeps guessing at what Will wants without a trace of irony. 

 

---

 

Will begins to suspect Hannibal put the scar there. 

 

Maybe Hannibal handed him back his forgiveness on the cobblestone streets of Florence. Maybe he considered taking a taste of Will from the apartment overlooking the duomo, an appetizer to sweetbreads that even foul-tasting parsley soups can’t rinse the dark thoughts from. He can imagine so many probable ways for Hannibal to be responsible, any one of them could be real. It doesn’t really matter what it was when there’s such an impressive laundry list of things to choose from, and so many other scars to account for that are deeper and more storied, but this one is made important anyway. 

 

He mostly suspects when Hannibal starts to pay it special attention when he thinks that Will is already asleep.

 

Will has become quite good at regulating his breathing into something slow and long moments apart - the kind that makes you listen just to make sure there’s still breathing at all, and he hasn’t simply expired in the late summer heat. He’s not so unlike a plant that way, shocked easily by change even as he continues to live through it. The days pass into months, and he continues and continues, and they’ll wake up one day and know that he has made it after all when he doesn’t wilt anymore. They will lie next to each other, made powerful and beautiful and more permanent by time sharpening them into something like the glaciers and ice sheets that sleeps thousands of feet above them, or two vines entwined to make a rope. 

 

So tonight he breathes slow, and slower, until Hannibal moves almost as slow as him and what started as one finger touching the rise of Will’s knuckles becomes the full warmth of Hannibal’s hand running from fingertip to elbow. The hold is more confident the longer Will stays in his pattern. It favors the small bones of his wrist, running circles around them, and then turns it to consider the veins there instead.

 

Soon after, the scar. 

 

The scar doesn’t really have feeling. It is a void dwelling between sensitive places, raised and thoughtless to the press of Hannibal’s thumb that is considering but careful to touch little else around it. If Will never feels that it has been touched at all, Hannibal will have no need for a reason to excuse it. 

 

Hannibal is silent through this, repetitive in his attention, and sleeps little, or so it seems to Will who experiences this through hours of closed eyes, and the meditation of holding air in his lungs until it burns. Maybe it’s only a few minutes though, and Will can’t say because then he would need a reason to excuse that

 

Real sleep comes eventually. He can only fake it for so long. He wonders if his breathing slows even more, that he self-mortificates himself, and Hannibal sees that for the deceit it was, and holds his hand like he needs it anyway.

 

(You think he would.

 

---

 

“Apparently I have a deep love line from being frustrated all the time,” he says in the morning, head in hand from the ache of not enough sleep, leaning against the tabletop and smelling the damp rise from the ground below the window.

 

“Maybe I should have her read my palm to compare,” Hannibal replies, and smiles privately to himself, like this is another great joke that Will won’t be able to tell is serious or not. 

 

No, I didn’t spend the night wishing more than this was allowed, it says with an airy laugh, because Hannibal never shows when he is upset or malcontent. No, I didn’t wonder if this was what my own lifeline looks like now, stealing touches in the dark, a prim, sexless courtship because the one I want is too obvious and I cannot risk being that when all that I do that is obvious makes him contrary and restless.

 

Will lets him have the joke - it’s unkind to rob Hannibal of his own right to a private thought when Will demands his own, and when they have been made less bloody, and always in consideration of Will to the detriment of Hannibal’s once unapproachable self. 

 

(But you know the punchline anyway, because while he considers your hands, you consider his as well. You think his lines might even be deeper than yours, with someone like you to dig it into canyons like the ones that run from the north to the lowlands. Years and years of fists eroding his grip to its current shape, with strength and traction enough to hold on to someone slippery like you, but afraid to hold too hard and startle you into running away.)

 

(It’s slow work, training a shy horse. It’s slow work, loving a cautious man.

 

---

 

“Do you have any superstitions?” Will asks, fingers wet and pressing at the seams of dough. “Throw much salt over your shoulder? Have your own bodega psychic to tell you what days are inauspicious for committing acts of desecration?” 

 

They are making dumplings to the tune of thunder rolling through the valley, gum tree leaves swishing against each other in a dance. With autumn comes more storms, and more days that the walk to the high high of Methlang doesn’t make much sense in the absence of a view, but Will persists in the spirit of needing a routine and to stretch his legs, and Hannibal pretending that he needs the same. 

 

Being together is a routine too. Will tries to spend less time at the hilltop, and more time bringing things back for Hannibal to puzzle over and for him to help solve the puzzle. Will doesn’t pretend to be the local expert in Nepali cuisine, but he does spot the occasional milk crate full of produce between trading fates and money for plastic bottles of soda. It’s not so hard to bring a few oddities back - a shopping trip of intuitive chaos, he tells Hannibal when Hannibal finally asks what he’s trying to achieve and earns a laugh for his efforts. 

 

Yesterday it is persimmons - too early to eat them, but sitting on the counter in preparation of being sweet in a few weeks time. Today it is ishkus fruits, green and starchy and perfect accompaniment to hearty goat meat and cheese. 

 

(“Storm days don’t need Coca Cola,” says the shopkeeper. “They need these and momo with tea. Something to keep your cold fists busy with, so you don’t hold them so tight,” and you put down your coins and carry them as surely as you had been sent to get them, up the hill to the hidden line of the mountains amidst the storm, and back down once more.)

 

Hannibal portions small spoonfuls of filling into rounds of still flat dough, watching Will’s technique with bouts of gentle technique suggestions and approval depending on how tight Will presses the dumplings closed. 

 

“I haven’t made a study of any outside the academic sort,” Hannibal says, eying his own work. “Hard to replace a good cultural reference in visual media, if you still consider my work to be art. I suppose the teacups would be one, though throwing teacups to see them break is less of a superstition and more of an occasional reminder that the laws that govern physical matter are still in effect.” 

 

“Do you ever listen to yourself talk?” Will says offhandedly, and smiles widely despite himself until his mouth aches. “Just wondering.” 

 

“About as often as you listen to yourself, I’m sure,” Hannibal replies fondly, and pushes a dumpling over to Will to be assembled. “But I suspect you mean the more general kind of superstitions. Opening umbrellas inside, or some such rot. I suppose next you’ll tell me that you’ve brought me a bag of fortune cookies from your shop of oddments, or that your palm reader suggested that you need to evaluate your rashi or zodiac just to see me squirm.” 

 

Will shrugs in turn. “Maybe I should. Maybe being a water sign is the only reason I can deal with your Leo-born self-confidence bullshit.”

 

Hannibal smiles at that, unexpectedly and wickedly amused. “Sagittarius and Aquarius cusp, if you insist. Children born at home in the countryside of Soviet nations are born on the day of their official first recording, not the day of their arrival. My parents weren’t in a particular hurry to let the government know otherwise.” 

 

This surprises Will - that he doesn’t know Hannibal’s actual birthday, or that this is as secretive as most of his life before the one he makes as the Chesapeake Ripper. It’s humbling to be reminded that Will really doesn’t know everything about Hannibal, and that he can be surprised without a laugh to hide the truth under.

 

(You don’t really ever ask him to tell you secrets. You always try to rip them out from under him - “aha!” you say, and Hannibal puts on a gracious face and tells you you’ve done a good job.

 

“Any insights to be gleaned from that?” Will snorts. 

 

“I’ve read a little about it, and while I am no believer, I found the description to be quite insightful. Great conversationalists, me and my celestial kin. Full of spontaneous ideas and acts of inspiration,” he says around a wicked smile.

 

 “And you never bothered to have the date corrected?” Will asks, pinching the edges of dough with wet fingers again. “Seems unlike you to not want everything in order.”

 

“No sense in doing so,” Hannibal says easily. “The difference in six months is hardly a silver bullet for most things. I won’t develop cancer just because I turned sixty in January instead of August, and the vital records of the now-defunct Lithuanian soviet government is hardly going to go out of their way to say I lied, presuming my parents never made any attempt to change it either. A little secret, just for me and my relatives, and now for you.” 

 

Hannibal hums after that, still thinking. “I suppose Jack might take it as a personal affront…an insult atop injury that I couldn’t even manage to do that for the benefit of order and bureaucracy. Alana certainly would after all the opportunities to take shots at my aging under the ignobility of the prison system.” 

 

He takes a bite of the raw filling, considering the taste. “It would at the very least annoy her to know I could correct her again, and let her know my teeth are still quite sharp for my years,” he says with a grin. 

 

“Neither one of us is getting any younger,” Will says with a nod, twisting the top of the dumpling. “I guess it’s a relatively small concern next to the Interpol and FBI arrest rewards.” 

 

“One hates to be treated in a way beneath the prestige of my age and my star sign, headshot next to drug kingpins or otherwise.” 

 

Will laughs - it always has seemed absurd that he might end up on a list with his bewildered mugshot juxtaposed against Hannibal’s stately one. It’s almost a relief that it’s done now. “I’m not going to pretend to understand what kind of treatment that merits, but I’ll be sure to ask the next time I stop to drink a Coke and get a free fortune telling.”   

 

“Tell her I’m looking for advice when you see her,” Hannibal drawls into a glass of sweet plum wine, served in a small cylindrical glass with a sardonic smile. “And perhaps a few mandarins worth their cost in rupees.”  

 

“Need to know if you’re going to die soon?” Will asks and twists more dough. 

 

“Need to know if my luck is exclusive to matters of the law,” Hannibal replies, and retwists one of Will’s dumplings absent-mindedly. “I am beginning to have concerns about my heart in my old age and she seems to know as much as I do about such things, doctorates aside.” 

 

Will watches him cook them in broth and chili sauce, and wants to assure him he’ll live forever. If Will couldn’t kill him by intentionality or earnest personal violence, and being ripped from the middle for Will didn’t do it either, Hannibal cannot be unmade by six months of missing time, or any hand of man. 

 

(But you know that’s not what he meant.)

 

They eat well, simmered spicy rounds of meat and squash bobbing happily in tamarind and cilantro. They curl two fingers together in the bedroom, still straight as boards, and listen to the thunder clash in the seconds following the flashes of lightning. Will does not pretend to be asleep, and Hannibal does not pretend that when midnight comes with rain that his loose grip on the width of Will’s wrist is accidental, as snug and happy as a brand new watch. 

 

---

 

It takes some weeks before the hills peek out from the clouds again. Will knows, because Will looks every other day when he is not otherwise called to assist with the laborious process of things like making cheese or silver-leafed barfi sweets, which his company is asked for more than his actual help, or evading the autumn festivals that draw the people of Pokhara and the foreign photographers and tourists from their lofty haunts above in the mountains or below in Kathmandu. 

 

“Tell me the truth,” Will says without context during the five days of Tihar, when the local children knock and sing for candy and treats, and families wreathe the street dogs in marigolds and wash their feet. They lay in the upstairs bedroom, and the strange cool damp of the city when the rain has gone, and the crickets sing to the lighting of the street lamps. “You moved me here for the dog party, without thinking that we can’t attend the dog party.”

 

“I thought you might have another seven of your own by now to participate with, considering how many there are,” Hannibal smirks down into a book from his side of the bed, lights cast low despite the sounds of people still in the streets.  He holds it with one hand, the other settled brave and hot against Will’s own in the glow of the bedside lamp. Will is aware of it to a feverish extent, but doesn’t pull away, and Hannibal is content with that as his progress for the night without having turned more than a few pages through his text. 

 

“I hadn’t counted on the Nepali people to have a relationship with them the same way the Turkish do with cats,” he continues, and Will tries not to roll his eyes. 

 

But he shouldn’t, politeness aside. Hannibal likes to share, and this is his way - a progression of sometimes useless, sometimes not facts that are interesting and catch his attention enough to want to tell someone else. Of course they’re capable of comfortable silence after months running from country to country, but prison is three years of it, and Will often gets the sense that Hannibal is hungry for noise for the sake of it. 

 

“Everybody owns them,” Will nods. “Everybody who loves them will make sure that they are fed. It’s…practical for me. Us. Whatever you call people who don’t have enough consistency to keep animals because they can’t risk getting caught in a traffic stop.” 

 

(In love, you think is what they’re called, if Bedelia is to be believed and Hannibal’s manacle of  a hand is given a purpose, but in some other past and future, you could have had that as well as the dogs, and there’s no use muddling love with the specifics of that.)

 

Hannibal slides the tip of his pointer finger from Will’s to the crescent curve of the thumb, where beneath the life and love lines meet in skin, muscle, and bone. It feels like an apology, and a kiss. 

 

(In love, you think Hannibal would say the two of you are called as well, and that the only thing keeping you from a dog is yourself.

 

---

 

Will dreams that night, when the rain comes back in to rattle down the metal of the roof and the gutters to the driveway and street below, dredging their small plot of grass and garden in frothy water. Will doesn’t know that’s what it looks like, but it’s how he imagines it should look, a churning ocean beneath the cliff house in miniature, where it is safe to wade with bare feet. 

 

He doesn’t dream of the cliff house though. He dreams he is still laying in bed with the bedside lamps turned out, and Hannibal propped up on the headboard with the book in one hand and Will’s wrist in the other, staring into the low glow of the window across from it all. 

 

In daylight, the window looks at nothing in particular - the backside of more houses, maybe a twist of vines ascending a powerline and water pipe. The bungalow isn’t sold to them as a great beauty of the city of Pokhara as much as it is an easy lease with few questions asked so long as the checks continue to arrive in a timely fashion and the elderly neighbors across the street send in no complaints about the strange white couple that’s moved in. 

 

(“Men don’t have to follow the rules the way women do,” the wife says with a nod when Hannibal explains you live together. Whether that means she thinks you’re gay, or that she thinks your fates are strange is unclear, but it never matters - either is true. Molly stays in Vermont to become the de facto parent of your pack. Bedelia returns to Baltimore to nervously watch the door. Alana and Margot do the same from some distant place that they think they can’t be seen from, and you very nearly ring them to say “I’m still working on basic intimacy issues - no worries about the imminent double homicide, Hannibal’s got other things on his plate.”

 

In this dreaming space, the window is the hill up the Middle Path, banners of businesses waving, and the bright flashes of prayer flags strung between them. Methlang stands green even in the gloom of a blue night, and the mountains beyond that a flash of moonlight stabbing, leaping into the sky. 

 

Perhaps Hannibal has watched for him from this view into the city, as he would be accustomed to watching the doors to his cell in Baltimore. It has grown into his consciousness as surely as the Lecter house, and the Capella Palatina, with different sounds and smells and things he must learn to find beautiful because this started as a joke that he had to take seriously at the last minute. He can leave, but he can’t.

 

Dream Hannibal is much like the real one - preternaturally still, angularly handsome, and as disquieting as a gun left alone on a counter where it’s unexpected. Anticipatory, Will thinks as the red-brown of Hannibal’s eyes glistens in the lights of the street outside.  

 

“I would undo every mark on you if I thought it would be better than this,” Hannibal says, and doesn’t look down. “But I think it wouldn’t be, and so they must stay, and this must be our best.” 

 

“It bothers you,” Will replies, and doesn’t look up. “The scar on my hand. Because I don’t remember getting it, and you don’t remember if you gave it to me.”

 

Hannibal, as is often the case no matter Will’s insistence otherwise, doesn’t have a clear answer and frowns into the dark. This failing tonight is Will’s, who doesn’t either and Hannibal can only be the sum of his thoughts. He pulls both of Will’s hands to his face the way Will imagines he would like to, and swallows them whole.

 

---

 

(You wake to your hand firmly grasped in the grey glow of early morning. Hannibal is sleeping, but only just, his teeth gritted to the point that they squeak against each other. It sounds like grinding, and eating, and you think of your hands between molars until they are unrecognizable as anything other than something inside Hannibal.

 

You watch until he awakes, and apologetically smoothes the skin of your hand when he realizes how hard he’s clenched it. You breathe slow with your eyes closed so that he thinks he can without fear of rejection.)

 

---

 

A day in mid November dawns clear later that week, with the early pink of the east glowing on the horizon and the bite of a cold front. It is never truly cold in Pokhara, and certainly isn’t today either, but something of frost clings to the air, and Will knows with a gut-borne certainty that he can see the mountains today if he’d like to. 

 

He starts as he often does - he rises carefully, and showers in the wet room, staring into the red ceramic tile as the water sluices over his head and neck, feeling very strange and out of place standing center to the space instead of in a stall or a bathtub. He cracks the window to let the steam rise and curl away from the house, and washes his face. He dresses for a temperate day. He eats nothing, and instead takes a cup of tea with some milk, because three squares is for western nations, and a large lunch is better suited to their city and to Hannibal’s own tendency towards extravagance in meals. He does all this without seeing Hannibal for even a minute of it save the first where the rosy dawn peeks through the cotton curtains to blow the morning air in, and stir Hannibal’s breath where he sleeps. 

 

Will nearly leaves out of habit - mornings are for newspapers down the block, not up the hill. They are tendered in phone cards that are used for internet access that he brings back to the house with the occasional carton of eggs from the shop that Hannibal likes if Hannibal has used near to all of them, in the rare event that he hasn’t tediously planned the use of each down to the day they disappear. 

 

Will doesn’t.

 

He lays back down, clothed as he would for the first tasks of the day, and sleeps the color of the morning away with Hannibal’s hand in his. 

 

When he wakes the second time, it is mid-morning, and they are laid board flat once more, Hannibal staring at the ceiling, and Will with him because that is what they’ve trained themselves to do. Even so, Hannibal’s hand remains clasped in Will’s own, and Hannibal barely breathes, like he thinks it will fall away with the force of his chest bringing late autumn air into itself, or Will suddenly will realize his mistake. 

 

“We might be out of eggs,” Will tells the ceiling instead of Hannibal, which is easier. “I didn’t go.” 

 

“I thought you might not have,” Hannibal says, amused and just as fixated on the stucco of the ceiling as Will. “It would be remiss of me to say anything though, seeing as I haven’t made much of an effort yet either.”   

 

They lay for a moment in the stillness of the bedroom, chilly from the open window, and the gathering of blankets and sheets kicked to the bottom. Will feels silly in his clothes for the day, face rumpled with wrinkles from the sheet, his free hand numb from its home behind his neck and the weight of his head. There’s still room for the comfort of routine to correct their strangeness. He can still be good company over patisserie, or preparing pickled goods, or spectating articles from over a shoulder until mid afternoon, and recalcitrantly disappear until the sun sails west over the blue of the lake. 

 

Will blinks, and stretches his fingers until he cups them under the edge of Hannibal’s hand, pinky finger gone stock still to the warmth of his grip. 

 

“Would you like to have your fortune told?” Will asks, and turns to lay on his side, hard mattress pressing against the grind of his shoulders. He feels too big, lain tall and dressed like this after so long keeping himself flat and careful. It feels like pieces of him should break off and fall downwards. 

 

“No,” Hannibal says quietly, but rolls to do the same as Will. 

 

(And where is the cacophony of grinding ice? Where is the collision of bodies set in their ways and their elements, moving against their own natural inertia? What were you afraid would happen, other than you would be close?

 

“But…” Hannibal adds, turning his hand to clasp Will’s with a strength that kills men, but craves to be needed. “I would like to see where you walk, if that is where you mean to go.”

 

---

 

The walk is long and unremarkable, later in the day because Will has missed the morning’s glow, and he would like to see the sunset instead. He tries to explain the park isn’t very interesting, and maybe Hannibal would enjoy the temples at the foot of the hill better, but Hannibal waves him off and busies himself with readying himself for the day, and lunch, and the sweet smell of selroti bread fried and sweet and that even Will knows is not normal for a weekday after noon. 

 

The first time they round the corner to the Middle Path, Hannibal looks like the sign personally complimented him, and Will with it. Every inn entrance is a palace, and every restaurant the comfort of salt, fat, and home. It seems a shame that Will has never taken him with him, even if he hadn’t been ready to yet.

 

They don’t get eggs at the shopkeeper’s narrow and cavernous shop - she doesn’t have any today, but maybe some tomorrow from a cousin. She does have chestnuts though, and a handful of late apples from her own house if those are of interest. She looks at Hannibal standing next to Will with a sort of wicked amusement that Will thinks is both very cruel and very kind of her, and that perhaps he has always been so obvious to her that even meeting someone as superficially friendly and secretive as Hannibal is no more challenging than a thin piece of paper to her insight. 

 

“He lives in your bones,” she could say to Will, and Will would believe it more readily than his own long life line. “He lives in the way your skin must fold and close around any tool or precious thing you take in hand,” and Will would believe that too the way he has believed Hannibal has become the small voice in his head, or the itch he can’t scratch when he is gone. This is the man that dispenses pills out of necessity, and lakeside cities with fish for mountains as expressions of humor and love, and Will is not certain he knows how to accept affection from him without the instinctive desire to retreat, but he thinks about it all the time.       

 

“How do you choose what to sell?” Hannibal asks her, content to make small talk. His eyes travel the walls of the shop with the delight of a child puzzling out the mystery of a once closed door. 

 

“Whatever I think is necessary, and then after that, whatever it is that I like,” she says, and rings up two Coca Cola bottles with no prompting. “Sometimes what is cheap, because it’s a business and the tourists are here for only one season,” she concedes like a secret.  

 

“How do you know how to read hands?” he asks right after, like that isn’t a strange thing. 

 

“That is necessary too, and because I like it,” she says with a giggle, a girl in her red and pink tunic as much as a grown woman.

 

“And the tourists?” Hannibal prompts, grabbing limes from a small box.

 

“Everyone needs to hear something good, even if they’re not here for Annapurna, or the fishtail, or any of the other white ones,” she says, and punches the numbers into her till. “I just look. What they do with it after is their business.” 

 

Will flexes his hands and takes a bag of chestnuts in thin plastic without complaint. He reads the evidence. He can’t really complain when someone else does, and leaves him to do what he wants with it. 

 

---

 

The high hill of Methlang is gently cold in November, with a blue lake below it to the west, and the white of the Himalayas to the north, and all the green of the city of Pokhara in between. The gum and rosewood trees are evergreen here, and the blush of autumn means no more to them than the humidity of summer, or the thunderstorms of weeks past. The little spice colored birds are quieter, and less of the flowers blooms, but it is profound in its seat atop the city, and its view of the seats atop the world beyond it, lighting themselves in alpenglow. 

 

It’s clearer today without the smog of a hot city to cloud the view, and Machapuchare dives into the line of icy mountains that it leaps from, and the taller still peaks behind it that sing in the late sunlight of the afternoon in red and gold. Will has taken them in over the bubbling of a Coke many times. Hannibal does now with the interest of a scientist at last seeing the thing he has studied for a decade, not quite smiling, but shiny eyed and surefooted from the bottom of the hill to the top. 

 

There’s an urge to explain something , like Will should feel guilty for the months of staring alone into the distant pass of the north that he doesn’t have the drive to climb just yet, and doesn’t think the challenge of that is the cause of his walking meditation. 

 

I just needed to be by myself, feels insufficient, like he’s deprived Hannibal of the same view, and Will supposes that maybe he has. Maybe it should have always been something they did together, laughing at the irony of the street names, and talking seriously of what it means to be between extremes. I only wanted to see something unreachable, is just as silly - Will has his mountains, and Hannibal has Will, and as far as that goes, they both had something they are afraid to touch.

 

“Well this is it,” Will says, uncapping a Coke for himself with a self-consciousness he doesn’t want to explain. “As you can see, you’ve missed out on a very promising view of the radio towers near to the hospital, and a bunch of people taking boats out on the lake from a huge distance away. The soda is as expected, and the walk itself is a meandering tourist trap. I don’t know how I could look at it close to every day for half a year.”

 

Hannibal is less critical, opening his own bottle as though a rite of passage - a rare moment to be Will, where he has drawn in on himself in hopes of seeing places that were just him and not the two of them together, while desperately wanting otherwise.

 

“It is indescribable,” he says, and looks at the bottle like it is novel instead of the most known brand on earth. “The tallest range on the planet, and you can look at it from less than a couple kilometers from a grocery store.” 

 

“Not what you’re used to?” asks Will, taking a sip and holding the bubbles in his cheek where it burns. 

 

“Better,” Hannibal says, and almost shyly takes Will’s free hand in the emptiness of the park. Will does nothing to stop him, and the heat of his hand next to the chill of the breeze blowing in from the line of white they are turned to. “Beyond what I could have imagined from the plastic chair of a rental in Odessa.” 

 

Will looks to their hands - the unfeeling pale stripe of the scar that feels nothing, and the skin of the palm to either side of it, warm and sweating and comfortable with Hannibal’s so firmly in it. He doesn’t know how he could have been so careful of it, the same hand that gripped his hip over the edge of a cliff that Will sends them over, or cleaning wounds over stoneware like Christ himself did bleed over the cuts in Will’s hand. 

 

Will brings Hannibal’s hand to his mouth, and gently brings it to his mouth, and the stubble that scratches at them both. 

 

“Thank you,” Will says. “For your patience. For telling me where we would go, when you never meant to come here other than to show me on a computer screen, because I wanted to know what you were thinking while you were thinking it for once.” 

 

Hannibal says nothing, watching for a long moment, eyes caught between the peaks and Will’s white mouth at the back of his hand and every vein pulsing anxiously there.    

 

“Never thank me for doing what I only wanted and thought of,” he says, as gravelly as the rock of the mountains himself, and pulls Will’s face to his own to kiss him properly, not his hands, or to bite at the healing skin there, lips trembling and hot in a way that his hands could never be. 

 

Will doesn’t pull away, and instead leans in. It’s humid, being in another person’s face. A thought that never goes away from the first time he has it, but Will has grown used to that feeling, and catalogues new things. 

 

Hannibal’s lips are chapped. Hannibal’s nose bumps against Will’s, and the angles of their faces are different from the kisses he has shared before, but of course, that makes sense. It is Hannibal’s, and it should feel different because it matters in a much more profound way than the others that came before it. Hannibal’s jaw is scratchy with stubble, and it trembles with the fierce but restrained hope that lives in every one of his teeth. 

 

Will shuts his eyes to the north, and breathes the hot air of Hannibal’s mouth as comfortably as humid summer air. It is new, and not something he would have thought to have, but this he will learn like all the other things and it will become normal.

 

They clasp their hands together against the evening’s chill. They walk home the way they came - halfway between, but together.