“What did you think about, all those years you were in prison?”
Will and Hannibal stood side by side at the sink, Hannibal with his sleeves rolled up as he washed the dishes, Will standing with a towel in hand, waiting for the next plate to make its way from the foam and the water. There was silence for a moment, Hannibal's hands stilling beneath bubbles. When finally he moved once more, it was with a sigh, almost imperceptible.
“I thought about many things.”
There was a note of evasiveness in his tone, though it gave no hint of wishing to obfuscate. Rather, the evasiveness seemed born of an inability to articulate exactly what he wished to say, a decidedly unusual state of affairs for Hannibal. And indeed, he wasn't sure, exactly, what to tell Will.
“Many of the things I thought of were not concrete. I lived in an abstract world, when the dull monotony of prison life grew too tedious.”
“And the concrete things?”
“Memories. Imagination. Memories I would have liked to have created.”
“How did you keep going, through it all? I barely coped with my time in there. If I wasn't so focused on you, I don't know that I would have made it.”
“Feathers,” Hannibal all but whispered, his voice only just audible to Will.
“Feathers?” repeated Will, obviously confused. Hannibal smiled.
“Feathers,” he said once more, his eyes roaming over Will's face, drinking in the way his eyes sparkled even in the low light of the evening sun. “Feathers provided me with all I needed. I remained in my memory palace and drew my sustenance from them.”
He turned his attention back to the water and the dishes submerged beneath it. The noise of frustration from Will, as muted and quiet as it was, brought a smile to his face. The rest of their task was spent in silence, though that didn't mean that Hannibal wasn't aware of Will trying to work out what he meant.
“What else did you do in your memory palace?”
Hannibal raised an eyebrow. They were sitting together on the couch – or rather, Hannibal was sitting at one end of the couch, while Will lay with his head at the other end and his sock-clad feet on Hannibal's knees. It had surprised him, the first time Will had done that. Now it was comfortable, and he felt himself relax every time Will did so. Every so often he indulged himself, and rubbed Will's feet. It was far more intimate, physical contact than he had expected to ever be allowed, and so he rationed it out carefully.
“When?” he replied, knowing full well what Will was referring to.
“In prison. When you were locked up behind that glass wall. You thought about feathers, and abstract things. Memories that never existed. What else did you do?”
It was so like Will to continue needling until he found whatever it was he was after. Hannibal decided to play along.
“I sang. A tune without words, an endless tune that helped to remind me.”
“Remind you of what?”
Will's eyes were boring into the side of Hannibal's skull. It required considerable effort to continue reading his book, to keep his eyes on the page before him rather than turning to meet the eyes that called out to him.
“Of what I needed to hold important.”
“And what did you need to hold important?”
“The same things I always have.”
A simple answer, disconcerting in its truthfulness. Always may, perhaps, have been an inaccurate word, but when it came to Will...
...well, it may as well have been true.
“You're not going to tell me, are you?”
Will didn't sound disappointed, nor did he sound angry. He sounded as he ever did; calm, perhaps a little resigned.
“I have been telling you, dear Will,” Hannibal said with a squeeze of Will's foot. “Whether you choose to listen or not is entirely up to you.”
“Oh, I see. We're doing riddles now.”
Will sounded more amused than vexed, which pleased Hannibal.
“Not a riddle. Just my way of explaining, while expecting you to see and hear and think as you always have.”
He did turn to look at Will then. Sleepy eyes peered back at him, though still sharp in their attention. Dark curls spilled over his forehead, the scar in his cheek offset beautifully by the patchy beard growing in. His shirt was crumpled, the top two buttons undone, smooth skin showing through the gap. Will Graham was a singularly beautiful creature, it occurred to Hannibal for the tenth, for the hundredth time. Sleepy eyes narrowed, so that Hannibal could almost see the wheels ticking over behind them.
“Feathers. And a song. A nightingale?”
Hannibal suppressed a bitter laugh.
“A nightingale? Perhaps with a rose it has had some small amount of pertinence, but no. Not a nightingale.”
He watched as a faint red flush spread over Will's cheeks as the meaning of his words sunk in. For all that they were both aware of Will's knowledge of Hannibal's feelings, that was the closest either of them had ever come to verbalising it. It felt good, to skirt so close to the danger of true romantic intimacy. He gave Will's feet one more squeeze before gently moving them from his thighs.
“I will give you the night to think upon it,” he said as he stood. “Goodnight, Will.”
“Goodnight, Hannibal,” came the reply, but it was clear that Will was already deep in thought.
Hannibal awoke to the sounds and smells of Will cooking breakfast. It wasn't unusual for Will to be the first to rise. Three years in captivity had changed Hannibal's routines, and that had been further exacerbated by the enforced convalescence their plunge from the cliff had necessitated. Will had risen early every morning then, too, to make sure Hannibal had made it through the night, to make sure he was fed, and washed, and watered. Since then they had reached an unspoken agreement. Will made breakfast, they both made lunch, and Hannibal was responsible for dinner. It was an arrangement that had served them well.
Hannibal washed and dressed and descended the stairs.
“Good morning, Will,” he said cheerfully as Will plated their food.
“Yes, it is,” came the inordinately pleased reply. Hannibal raised an eyebrow but said nothing, merely accepting the offered plate of omelet and bacon with a smile. They settled in at the table to eat. The breakfast was, as ever, delicious. Hannibal had always assumed – with good reason, he felt – that Will hadn't had a lot of experience in cooking. As it turned out Will was proficient enough in the kitchen for Hannibal to have little trouble when it came to teaching him further skills. He might not be at Hannibal's own level yet, but there was little standing in his way from getting there other than experience – and they had plenty of time to work on that.
Breakfast finished quickly and quietly. Hannibal cleared the dishes while Will went to his own bedroom to change. He returned quickly to lean against the bench, his arms crossed as he watched Hannibal with a smile.
“Am I to believe you've found an answer?” Hannibal asked.
“And what, may I ask, is the answer you have found?”
“First, let me ask you a question.”
Hannibal washed the last fork and turned to face Will, drying his hands on a dish towel as he did so.
“Has your bird, your thing with feathers that sings, ever asked, even in extremity, anything of you?”
Hannibal smiled, then smiled wider still at the open easiness Will displayed.
“Not a crumb,” he answered.
“I think,” Will said carefully, his amusement fading away to something else altogether, “that it's time that bird was offered a crumb, don't you think?”