They lost more in the fall than Hannibal had expected them to, but Will figures Hannibal’s calculations had to fail eventually. Will’s right shoulder? Mangled beyond repair. The arm? Broken in too many places from the solidity of the water. His face? Well, that had been a long time coming even before the Dragon. The only difference was the Joker-esque smile it gave him to match the longer one on his stomach, a visible counterpart to Hannibal’s invisible treasure.
Hannibal had nothing invisible, however. His treasure from their flight was present for all the world to see.
Sometimes, back at the beginning, Will felt insulted, that Hannibal had taken the loss of his legs so easily. The emotion was always fleeting, if only because Hannibal always noticed—“I can smell it on you,” Hannibal would say, and hold out a hand.
His right one. Because he’s an asshole.
Then again, Chiyoh was more of an asshole, considering how much she seemed to enjoy the three amputations Hannibal talked her through. Will really couldn’t blame her; he would have done the same, were the tables turned.
Hannibal found the glass shards that were once his tibias, “A perfect physical rendering of our battle with the Dragon; an indelible symbol of their immortal partnership for the rest of time.”
“If my phantom forearm didn’t itch so much,” Will told him, “I might be able to make peace with the neverending irony of my life.”
“Our life.” Hannibal beamed, like he was perfectly content to let Will push him around. Bastard probably found that symbolic, too.
And yes, Will realizes that his internalized ableism is what’s actually ruining him; Hannibal reminds him each morning over breakfast. Self-acceptance, the hallmark of psychotherapy, which means that Will eats Hannibal’s black pudding more grumpily than usual.
It makes Hannibal grin. Will loves their new methods of killing each other.
Their new semi-homicidal affection is as lovely as the domestic kick they’ve trapped themselves in. Will’s fitted the chair he built for Hannibal with a single push handle in the back for when the arthritis in Hannibal’s elbows acts up, seeing that he’s an old man now. A happy one, but still old. Will might be down an arm, but he still feels like he’s forty—mostly looks like it, too, which is a small part of what keeps Hannibal so happy, the flamboyant bastard.
They have a good life here, outside of Cadenet. Will’s learned to live without the arm, and Hannibal’s learned to live with him.
The only time the loss of his legs below the knees ever seemed to truly bother Hannibal was also back at the beginning, when they visited Bedelia after the healing and the rehab and the making up for lost time. “Look how far you’ve fallen,” she’d said, and Hannibal’s shoulder had tensed beneath Will’s good hand.
Will opined, “You really have no idea,” and Hannibal had reached across and put his right hand over Will’s. “Then again, perhaps you do,” he continued. “You’ve reached, what, the eighth circle now? Yes, tell us, Bedelia: is your home in Borgia Seven, Eight, or Nine?”
“What is it like, to ride the Geryon through Hell?” she asked, sneering. “Or am I the only one to have that distinct pleasure?”
Hannibal chuckled darkly, thumb finding its way under Will’s palm, fingers squeezing like a vise. “There was very little pleasure to be had in you, Bedelia. We shared a bed; high society; companionship. But Will and I…” Will kissed the crown of his head, keeping his eyes on Bedelia’s own. “We share a mind; a soul; and, now, a body.”
“And as for your bed?” Her words were a bitter barb in Will’s own mouth. How long had the two of them spoken to each other so lewdly?
“Such a rude question,” said Hannibal. “Beneath you to ask, and beneath us to answer. Nevertheless, I shall.” He leaned his head back to rest on Will’s stomach. “He shares your journey, but his travel lasts far longer.”
Will snorted; it stretched his face, pulled on the wound that never seemed to fully heal. “That isn’t entirely true, Hannibal.” He moved his death grip to Will’s wrist, instead, and Will hummed. “All I mean is that I have had the ‘distinct pleasure’ of watching the Geryon do the riding.”
Bedelia blinked her scandalization, and Hannibal turned his head to look up at Will. “Dirty boy,” he’d said, never releasing Will’s wrist, and then winked.
“Likewise, you lecher.”
Her leg was delicious, but the real delicacy, Will thought, had been her right hand. He ate it with the oyster fork, much to Hannibal’s chagrin, and that made it even better.
Hannibal hates the dog, but Will hated his mechanical equivalent of a sous chef, so Hannibal relented. It only took three years of bitching and badgering; Will counted himself lucky that it hadn’t taken thirty.
They named him Rick, because Hannibal insisted that naming him Fred would’ve left room for misinterpretation. “He has red hair,” he’d said. “Might as well have curls.”
“He’s also missing lips and eyelids from a house fire. I don’t think either of us are going to forget who he’s named after.”
But Rick answered to Rick more often than he answered to Fred, no matter which of his humans loved him more, and so Rick it was. “Keep Rick out of the kitchen, please,” Hannibal often said.
“I built this goddamn kitchen, Hannibal,” Will scoffed. “If he wants to do a three paw clog on the counters, I’m going to let him.”
Hannibal glared at him. “These counters are crafted for my height. He would be clogging very close to my face.”
“Did you miss the part where I built the goddamn kitchen?”
Will smelled the arsenic in the cassoulet at the last moment. The make-up sex was phenomenal.
Still, Hannibal barely tolerates Rick, which means Rick is barred from not only the kitchen, but also the bedroom and the garden. Will and Rick spend most of their time in the shed; he’s proven to be a much better assistant than Hannibal. It’s definitely been easier to train Rick which tool to hand him.
He remains unsure as to what started the steady stream of small mechanical dilemmas from the village to his miniature workshop, though Will suspects it somehow to be Hannibal’s doing. It had taken Will the better part of a year to pick up French and then, much to his dismay, another to navigate the dialect. Meanwhile, Hannibal chatted up legitimately every person they came across at the Saturday market. Will was annoyed until he realized that they got the best produce from Hannibal’s charm.
And if a tourist goes missing now and then? Either no one’s noticed, or they simply don’t mind, and Will doesn’t care which.
Regardless, Rick is glad they’re there. That’s what truly matters to Will—a dog who is always happy to see him come home. He typically never learned the backstory of his strays beyond, “Found by me,” but Rick’s owner had been killed and his home torched by Other People, and Will had almost stolen him from the country vet.
Rick likes bones. He gets the best bones. And when Rick accidentally buries his bones under Hannibal’s cistus bushes, Will digs them back up, and undisturbs the dirt, and makes sure Hannibal’s garden tools and rocker seat are absurdly clean.
“Eighteen years,” Hannibal said over breakfast one morning, which consisted of various hot liquids, like they were back on the diet of post-Fall broth. There was caffè latte from Hannibal’s strange little hourglass teapot that Will could never remember the name of; cappuccino from the machine he’d cobbled together to meet Hannibal’s absurd specifications; cioccolata calda from God only knew where, assuming the ineffable even bothered to pay attention to them anymore. The one solid food was what looked like burnt toast with butter and honey, but Will had never known Hannibal to serve burnt food, so Will assumed that it was supposed to look inedible.
“What?” asked Will, pretending to be so very extremely interested in the dark brown bread that he hadn’t heard.
“Eighteen years,” he repeated. “Since we sat together in Florence.”
The motor in Will’s brain cranked and clicked to a halt. “This is an Italian breakfast.”
“Hot chocolate for breakfast?”
Hannibal sighed. “Only for insufferable boys.”
“Oh.” Smirking, Will said, “So have I been a bad boy?” He rubs his toe along the wheel of Hannibal’s chair, because it irritates Hannibal to no end.
“There was a gala,” he continued, taking Will’s cup of hourglassed coffee straight from his hand, ignoring his best lascivious eyebrows. “I attended with Bedelia, unfortunately, though she danced extremely well.” Hannibal smiled a little. “We were an excellent match—she turned heads with her beauty, her dress, her skill.”
“As did you, I suppose.” Will was tempted to snatch his coffee back.
“Jealousy becomes you.” He smacked Will’s hand away from the cup before setting it down on the saucer. “And I imagine I was quite fetching, myself.”
Will watched Hannibal wipe away the ring left on the table beside Will’s saucer. “You looked worse for wear when I saw you.”
“Being bested and beaten will do that.”
He pulled Hannibal’s hand away from its fussing over the table top. “I wish I’d been there.”
“The matter of it is that the two of us—you and I—we never danced. I wanted to show you Florence, Will. All of the culture, the society and life. I yearned to show you more than the Primavera. Bedelia and I rounded the floor that night, but I only thought of you.”
Will swallowed. Breakfast was broken. They rarely spoke of the past, and even then it was in jibe and jest. Nothing serious; levity was still a novelty between them.
“I don’t know,” Will said after a thoughtful silence, collecting his verbs. “We had that bit in your kitchen where you let me fall on the floor.” Will's tone was light and teasing, regardless of his words. “You’re terrible at dipping your partner, darling. Were you aware?”
“I’ve practiced since then,” and Will couldn’t tell if Hannibal was more choked or amused. Typically both, when it came to Will and his obvious deflections.
Hannibal turned Will’s hand over, dragging the tips of his fingers back and forth over Will’s palm. “Do you?”
“Francis was a decent instructor,” said Will, shrugging. “I think our moonlight tango went fairly well.”
“Although…” Hannibal trailed off, and removed his hand, and sat back in his chair.
Fifteen years together, and Will was still annoyed by Hannibal’s dramatic turns and emphatic pauses. Ever the author of his own life, Will supposed. He picked up the cappuccino, took a sip; it was luke-warm. “Yes?” Will prompted. “Care to share with your class of one?”
“Would that make you my intern?” Hannibal asked, eyes gleaming, mischievous.
He waved his hand, and Will was struck with sudden marvel, that Hannibal could end up with creaking joints everywhere but his wrists and fingers. “Professor and pupil?”
Will took a much larger drink of his cappuccino, held Hannibal’s gaze, and purposefully set the cup down beside the saucer. “Hannibal,” he said more softly. “You were getting at something.”
“Only that you can’t dip, either.”
Will huffed a laugh, “We did get wet and, seeing as that was the intent, I would argue that I’m not too bad at dipping.” He licked his lips before adding, “But I don’t think I would’ve looked so nice in Bedelia’s dress.”
“Then perhaps all was for the best.” Hannibal gave Will a stupidly besotted grin, the one from Mason’s table, from his straightjacket, from the police van. “It brought us here, together.”
Will wished he wasn’t still so stubbornly opposed to painful feelings, that he hadn’t sassed when the conversation became uncomfortable. It was ridiculous. Cowardly, even. But Will supposed Hannibal was quietly afraid of it, too, of ripping off the bandage and taking the peace and partial ceasefire along with it.
He eyed Hannibal across the table. The cottage dissipated, and it was the cliff all over again, the moment they Became.
Words remained unsaid, but they both understood.
“You know I'm not drinking the hot chocolate, right?” Will gestured between the three cups, the palace fading. “Obvious little shell game you have going on here, Dr. Lecter.”
“Your trick with my tie wasn't exactly inspired, either.”
Will sprawled back in his chair with an exaggerated sigh, pleased to see the wrinkles of a frown crease Hannibal’s mouth. His microexpressions were much harder to hide these days.
“Same time next week?” proposed Will.
Hannibal spread honey on his off-putting toast. “I’ll have to check my datebook, but that should be fine.”
Chiyoh never announces her visits, preferring to show up like a bad cold. She never stays longer than a day or two, during which she and Will stare each other down. Will doesn’t say it out loud, because that would be admitting his small, secret fear of her, but he always wonders if she’s planning to push him off the porch, or out the window, or into the Baccara roses.
It’s a dark night, but not stormy, so Will assumes she neglected to check the forecast. Chiyoh’s talent for arriving just before dinner holds true, though, and Hannibal has gained an appreciation for leftovers in the last few years, which means there will be plenty of trout beurre blanc for all of them.
Sometimes, she greets them with a few rabbits or a duck or two slung over her shoulder. Chiyoh, breaking tradition, presents Hannibal with a live cat.
Will does not like cats.
It’s a bedraggled mess of patchy, matted fur and off-key growling. Chiyoh holds the cat at arm’s length by the scruff, her face as inscrutable as always. All three of its legs are swinging in various directions like a broken helicopter; Will wonders if the cat is attempting takeoff, if it wants to fly away from Chiyoh as much as he does.
She hands Will her rifle case as she glides in, goes straight to the kitchen, and—if the sound of breaking china is any indication—drops the cat on Hannibal’s lap.
A long, long pause before Hannibal quietly says, “What.”
“I found it eating your lavender,” Chiyoh tells him. “You’ve been chosen.”
Will can’t hear the cat anymore, so he tosses her case onto the sofa as loudly as possible. He could join them, he supposes, but that would require fraternizing with the enemy. Instead, Will takes up post in his favorite armchair, pretending to read—he checks the cover—“ De la folie, considérée sous le point de vue pathologique, philosophique, historique et judiciaire, goddammit, Hannibal.”
“Your lavender is fine,” says Chiyoh. Of course that would be the first thing Hannibal asked about. “I think the cat may require an exorcist, however.”
“This was my best apron.”
“Do you have a tailor?”
“He has a me,” says Will, sighing wearily as he chucks the book over onto the rifle case. The title was more than enough. “And that isn’t our cat.”
“It seems to like Hannibal.”
“Everyone likes Hannibal.” After a moment’s consideration, he adds, “Excepting us, anyway.”
“Is it moulting?” Hannibal asks. Will hears one of the chair’s wheels creak; he and Rick will have to oil it after dinner. “Do cats moult?”
The cat yowls.
“Yes, I believe it might require exorcism. I’ll have to inquire at the church.”
“It looks like a werecreature, or at least demonic,” notes Chiyoh.
Will, forehead in his hand, calls out, “It sounds demonic. There’s only room for one devil in this house.”
“And Rick’s allergic to the damn thing, too.”
“I’ve never had a pet,” Hannibal muses. “Do you enjoy trout, mangy beast?”
The cat purrs almost as loudly as it complains.
They’ve lived in what they’ve affectionately dubbed the “dead zone” of the Luberon so long that Hannibal occasionally had to remind Will how they got there to begin with. Will blamed it on Hannibal letting his brain smoulder, and then jarring it around in his skull with a bone saw.
“I might have a better memory if you hadn’t declared war on my head,” said Will, and Hannibal would cock his head and give Will the oddest look. It was as close to regret as Hannibal ever came, more of an I can’t believe you’re still upset about that stare than anything else.
It came on Will at the strangest times, the feeling of irreality, the dissociation between one life and the next. Maybe they’d sleepwalked across the sea, Will thought, chasing a dream they’d never had, because this couldn’t be the life Hannibal had wanted for them. Hannibal couldn’t have planned to spend his golden years taking weaving classes at the basketwork museum down in the village. The country cottage, their hideaway, a complete lack of Hannibal’s traditional social life—how could that be Hannibal’s heart’s desire?
Hannibal always knew when Will felt lost. He’d reach up from his rocker seat beside the soft pink of the oleander and take his wrist. “Do you remember how we reached our happiness?” he’d say, and Will would automatically shake his head.
So Hannibal would pull him down to sit beside him in the dirt, and then he’d tell Will how it happened.
“Chiyoh saved us in your abandoned boat,” Hannibal told him—at least, that came after he made Will close his eyes, urged him to watch the rusty pendulum and travel back through the old design. “She saved us, and you complained the entire time, that she should have let us die. Most of the time, Chiyoh agreed with you; occasionally, so did I, and we sailed as a trio of ghosts.
“She delivered us to the coast of the Mediterranean, abandoned in the dead of night, and it gave you purpose again. On land, there was nothing to do but live, you said to me, and so we must.”
Will would begin to remember then, as if the second stage of their Becoming was the key to their shared palace. “We killed a man for his chair, because you were too cumbersome to carry.”
“You called me Yoda.”
“He was innocent, I think.”
Hannibal rubbed his thumb along Will’s pulse. “No one is ever truly innocent, sweet boy.”
“‘Guilty of having a shitty wheelchair,’” said Will, “which of us said that?”
“You did,” and Will hummed like that made sense. “We traipsed around the Luberon until we found the abandoned cottage—”
“‘We’re the goddamn von Trapps.’”
Hannibal laughed. “You were an excellent provider.”
“The wild berries gave you diarrhea.”
“You would remember that part.”
“‘A place as unpredictable as you.’ That was what you said.” Will would smile as all the walls crumbled and rebuilt themselves into cobbled roads. “You loved the house because it was mine.”
“It took weeks to fix—”
“—but we did—”
“—and I have never been happier anywhere else.” Hannibal grinned devilishly. “Though our dinner with Bedelia was—
“—extremely satisfying, yes.” Will always pulled Hannibal off of his garden stool and into his lap; Hannibal always came willingly. “I believe you,” said Will. “Isolation doesn’t let you lie.”
Hannibal kissed his cheek. “You made an honest man of me.”
Turning his face, Will would whisper, “You were always honest. It just took me a while to understand.”
They’d kiss there, make love there, Hannibal on his knees, covering Will inside and out. It was slow and easy, like their bodies knew the way to keep their uncertain souls sweet, all their secrets kept and lost in the dirt and the cool air.
The cat remains nameless, so Will still doesn’t know whether they’re keeping it or if Hannibal simply is that bad at loving living creatures that aren’t called Will. They talk about it over breakfast off and on—
“What do you think of Aristotle?” asked Hannibal as he cut a delicate bite from his piece of almond brioche bostock.
“I think I’m going to need at least one more cup of your pretentious coffee in order to attempt this conversation.”
Hannibal ate his bite slowly, swallowed it, sipped at his own coffee before engaging. “It’s café calvados. It has been and shall continue to be café calvados for as long as it appears at our table.”
“And you,” Will began, taking up his own fork, “shall continue to be an easy mark every morning that you appear at our table.”
“Respite in death, I suppose.” Hannibal paused. “Speaking of, how on earth did you manage to poison the frangipane?”
Will smiled as he speared a piece of his bostock. “I took advantage of your old man bladder.”
“That’s a dreadful turn of phrase.”
“Have you guessed what it is?”
“Of course,” he said. “I smelled it before it even hit the table. Essence of oleander, though not nearly enough to kill someone.”
“It wasn’t meant to kill you,” explained Will. “I dosed mine, too. Building up a tolerance before you get the idea to use it yourself.”
Hannibal looked impressed. “Very clever. You never fail to amaze me, Mr. Graham.”
“Not the philosopher,” said Hannibal. “I am hardly prepared for our armchair discourse. I meant as a name for the cat.”
Will tutted. “Why not Socrates? Maybe then he’ll eat the oleander.”
“That was hemlock.”
“Which we don’t have.”
“Which you do not have,” Hannibal told him.
—and honestly, Will thinks they might as well name the damn cat Hemlock, because it’s what’s going to end up killing him. He trips over the cat constantly, typically in the shed. It attacks him every time Will so much as glances at it. His favorite work boots had to be thrown out because they’d been exposed to too much cat piss to be saved.
Will would’ve driven the cat away if Hannibal hadn’t taken to it so quickly. He keeps Hannibal company in the garden, sitting and listening intently as Hannibal explains what he’s pruning or planting or otherwise tending to. Rick has warmed up to it, too; Will’s found the traitor snuggling up with the cat more than once now.
Finally, Will manages to cage the cat, because Hannibal insists they take it to the veterinarian. He makes Hannibal hold it as they trudge down the hill toward their truck and the dirt road—the cat screeches the entire way, of course, continues yelling the entire drive to the country vet.
“What is his name?” she asks them.
Hannibal blinks, then says, “Francis.”
“You do know I’m going to call him Frannie, right?” Will smirks at Hannibal, silently fuming in the passenger seat as they drive back home. “Still, the name’s appropriate. Fucking Feral Frannie has it out for me, too.”
And Will laughs, and he laughs, and he laughs.
Will had woken up first that morning, a rare occurrence. He took the opportunity to make a normal breakfast; as much as he loved Hannibal’s cooking, it was nice to have boring food for a change. If anything, Will appreciated Hannibal’s food even more afterward.
Straight black coffee; plain buttered toast; Denver omelets made with the last of the insulting fisherman. Will was pleased.
When Hannibal still hadn’t come out of the bedroom, Will managed a few bites of his food, put everything in the oven in hopes of keeping it sort-of warm, and went to check on him, more nervous than he cared to admit. But nothing terrible had happened, and there sat Hannibal, glasses on, book in hand, looking like he’d never gone to bed the night before.
He raised his eyes, peering at Will over the frames. “Care to join me?”
Will frowned. “I made breakfast, if you’d like to join me, instead.”
Hannibal lowered his book, opening his mouth like he wanted to speak, but closing it again soon after. “That—” He put the book down on Will’s side of the bed, eyes darting back and forth. “Yes, that sounds preferable.”
“I’ll put everything out again,” said Will, practically over his shoulder as he sped from the room, because Hannibal’s age wasn’t a joke any longer.
Every time they kill, Will is certain it will be the last time, whether they wish for it to be or not. The two of them are still strong for their ages; in spite of their disabilities, they’ve found ways to compensate. Hannibal is as lethal as ever, perhaps even moreso, because he has someone to not only fight for, but with. Still, the fact remains that they are growing older, and Will has no intention of dying while incarcerated.
“We need to retire,” Will mutters when they make it home that night. “I feel like I’ve fallen from a very high height.”
Hannibal dabs at a cut on Will’s face. “Not every hunt can go perfectly.”
“I got pummeled, Hannibal.”
“Then we should choose better targets.”
Will grabs Hannibal’s hand, pulls it away from his face. “Any elderly women in the village you especially dislike?” he asks. “Someone in your basket club that needs offing? Because I’m starting to think that’s the biggest challenge we can handle.”
“We are alive,” says Hannibal, wrenching his hand free. Will didn’t expect any ire, but Hannibal has an edge to his voice that belies his insult. “We are alive, and he is not.”
“I suppose,” Will carefully agrees. “Still feel like it’s getting too risky. What would you do if I threw my back out, or—or fuck, I don’t know, broke my arm or something. A hip. They don’t make Life Alert for cannibals, dear,” and he hisses the last word. The more often they have this conversation, the grumpier Will becomes with the whole mess.
“You needn’t take out your fear of aging on me, darling.” Hannibal breaks out the suturing kit; Will knows full well the cut doesn’t need stitches, but allows Hannibal his small revenge, anyway.
“I’m not afraid of getting older,” says Will. “I’m afraid of getting caught.”
Will shifts his eyes to take in Hannibal’s face. “Aren't you?”
Hannibal slides the needle in harder than necessary. “Aren't I what?”
“Don't be cute with me.”
“I wouldn't dream of it.”
He catches his eye roll in time to keep his eyebrow still while Hannibal works. “Aren't you afraid of getting caught?”
Hannibal's mouth hangs open while he works—a matter of millimeters, but it might as well be a mile in Will's eyes. There's nothing new about it; Hannibal always looks ridiculously composed when he's concentrating. This face feels different, though, somehow, like Hannibal's composed a composure, like he’s a photograph brightened too much, overexposed into tinted green.
“It doesn’t bother you, does it?” The question alone is painful, because Will already knows the answer. “As happy as we are here, in this life, you'd risk our ruin.”
Hannibal exhales; he sounds bored, and it's infuriating. “You seem to be under the impression that this will last forever,” he says, and that’s one of the most chilling collection of words he’s ever heard from Hannibal’s mouth.
“Yes,” says Will. “I was.”
“A quite foolish belief.”
Will refuses to cry. “I assumed that—”
“That we would never die?”
The blood in Will’s veins thaws to boiling. “I thought you meant…” He can’t even bring himself to finish.
Hannibal’s fingers still on Will’s face; the metal side of the needle pricks cold against Will’s cheek as Hannibal releases it, letting it swing from the thread. He coaxes Will’s eyes open with his thumbs, pulling softly against the corners of his eyelids. “When I tell you that I have no fear of our capture,” Hannibal begins, “it’s because I fully intend to die at your side. There’s no need to be afraid of being caught if we don’t let ourselves be taken alive.”
Will clutches Hannibal’s face between his hands, kisses him hard enough to shake his own teeth. He laughs against Hannibal’s mouth—“Christ, imagine if we had dentures and I had just done that.”
“If only I had known your reckoning would include orthodonture.” Hannibal brings their lips together again; again; again. His lips are thinner now than they once were, and Will lets himself feel the wrinkles in Hannibal’s skin, accepts the leanness to his face and the sharpening of his bone structure beneath fading muscle.
“We’re dying,” says Will, breathless.
“As we have always been.”
“Get this needle out of my face so I can take you to bed.”
It wasn’t easy, watching Hannibal age, but it was, nevertheless, a beautiful process. His smiles were wider, and his eyes brighter. He laughed more, as apt to mirthful fits after dinner as he was at a crime scene. The two of them had come to a cease-fire, feeding each other bits of fruit as they curled together on the sofa instead of poison or finely ground glass.
Will stopped asking whether they were truly here or not, if this was a fanciful hallucination; it no longer mattered.
Some weeks, he would make the trip to the market alone, usually after a good hunt when Hannibal needed to rest. The vendors would send Will back with extra goods: fresh peaches; crusted bread; handmade soap. He’d come home to Hannibal in the garden, or in the kitchen, or simply sitting on the porch, Francis in his lap and Rick at his feet. That was his favorite way to find him, to find them, his family, altogether.
But Will was aging, too—not as quickly or as harshly, but still growing older. Hannibal had a decade on him, though; Will held no illusion that every day was more of a gift than the one before.
“What will you do with me?” Hannibal asked as they settled in for the night.
“I’ve looked into rest homes for former serial killers,” said Will, smirking down at his book, “but to no avail.”
“My seventy-fifth approaches. I suggest you look harder.” Hannibal laid his hand face up in the scant space between them in the bed, even though the reminder of his missing hand no longer irritated Will. “Whatever would Jack say, knowing his best man had given up so quickly?”
Will put his book on the bedside table, then took off his glasses and set them down, too. “I don’t think he’d say much of anything,” Will said, “considering we’ve outlived him.” He slid his hand into Hannibal’s as he turned to look at him. “You forgot your glasses, old man.”
“Where did I leave them?”
“On your face.” Will pulled them off for him, though Hannibal was plenty capable. It was the little ways they took care of each other, like how Hannibal still made breakfast most mornings, or how Will followed him around the cottage keeping track of his things. “But to answer your question?”
“By all means.”
“I’ll honor every part of you,” Will began, “even the ones I don’t like.”
Hannibal wrinkled his nose. “And which parts would those be?”
“I’ve never particularly liked feet. Can’t say I’d go out on a limb for them.”
“So you’ve given this some thought.”
Will grinned and told him, “I have two legs up on the situation.”
“Terrible boy.” He cupped Will’s cheek, and Will still leaned into the touch, never having lost its novelty. “Whatever am I do with you?”
“What would you do with me, actually? If I should go first.”
Hannibal turned his head slightly, thoughtful. “Tell me what you will do after I’ve been honored.”
Will hated to look away, but he closed his eyes, released the pendulum with cracks and groans, wanting to cough from the dust. “I’ll load the kids into the truck, if they’re still with us.” His voice trembled slightly as he amended, “With me. And then I’ll drive down to the coast—”
“To where we began?”
“We did, didn’t we? Anyway, I’ll steal a boat, or buy one, if I’m in the mood.”
“Out to sea?” Hannibal asked, or maybe suggested, though Will didn’t think there was much of a difference between the two any longer.
“Seems right. I sailed off to find you once already; might as well make it twice.”
“There is a certain poetry to it, yes.”
Will opened his eyes again, hoping it was the last time he’d need to watch the gold swing in the dark, that he could consign it to the afterlife, itself. “Your turn.”
Hannibal sighed fondly. “I’ll take your brain,” he said, tracing along the ancient scar, “and your heart, because I cannot bear to be parted with either.”
“And the rest of me?”
“Sat at the breakfast table with every kind of coffee I can remember how to make.” His eyelids were growing heavy; they never made it far into their books at night anymore. “I’ll lock up the cottage,” Hannibal continued as they eased down into bed, “and I’ll wait in your shed until Chiyoh arrives.”
“It’s been awhile since she showed her face,” said Will.
“She will come. I’m sure of it.”
“Probably.” Will pushed Hannibal’s silver-white hair out of his face. “What then?”
“I suppose I’ll honor your unspoken final wish and go annoy Bedelia to a death of her own.”
“You know me too well.”
Long after Will thought he had fallen asleep, Hannibal started, “If I were to forget you, Will, should I die before dying, what—”
“You know I won’t let that happen,” said Will. “I promised, remember? That I’d ease you along?”
“I do. But tell me again: how would you do it?”
Will rested his forehead against Hannibal’s, pulled him close to his chest. “Just as I’ve always wanted to. With my hand.”