Will lifts his arms above his head and strikes. The axe sinks into the pliant wood; is stuck. Another heave and the block breaks into two with a satisfying crack. Rinse and repeat until one pile grows smaller as the other gains in size.
His smile, he knows, looks more like a pained grimace than anything else. It’s a habit he's never been able to shake off. But he enjoys every moment of this, even if his flannel clings to back, soaked in sweat. When the time for warm weather comes back around to pay them a visit, he will switch to shirts. Maybe even tank tops, if he feels up for it.
Today, however, the sky is gray with clouds, and wet leaves stick to the sides of his boots. He will have to peel them off before stepping back into the cabin.
He doesn’t have to look up to know Hannibal is watching him from the kitchen window. He can feel his eyes on him, warming his skin despite the early morning chill. He resists the urge to show off, even a little. Hannibal would recognize the lack of authenticity, and that, in turn, would make it less fun for both of them.
He lifts his head. The kitchen window is half-opened, the glass fogged up from Hannibal’s tea and warm breath. There’s a clear line there, however, that Hannibal must have drawn himself so he could see better.
Will's smile widens. “Good?”
It has become a kind of game for them. Will pretends Hannibal is watching him to check his technique and offer feedback, if he needs it. Hannibal pretends Will believes that is true. In reality, it has been a long, long time since Hannibal last had to chop wood. There’s no advice he could give him that Will would accept.
“It seems to me the long sleeves are impairing your movement.”
“And you’d recommend I wear something that shows more skin?” Will attempts not to grin. It isn’t easy. “A bit too cold for that, don't you think?”
“I would argue that showing more skin isn't a relevant criterion. At least not in this discipline.”
Will crosses his arms, the axe dangling from his right hand. If someone told him he's flexing the muscles in his arms and shoulders, he wouldn’t be able to deny it. It’s worth it, though, to see Hannibal’s reaction.
“So that’s not what you meant?”
Hannibal doesn’t reply, not with words at least. His eyes narrow. Will can’t see his mouth through the fog of the glass, but he imagines it curled into a small smile.
Will clicks his tongue. “You’ll have to wait for spring.”
He wonders, as he picks up another block of wood, if they will still be here by then.
* * *
Will spends his days not feeling much at all and thinks, for months, it must be boredom. It didn’t even cross his mind that it might be contentment, not until he was caught whistling a made-up tune as he scrubbed the dishes clean. If Hannibal hadn’t pointed it out to him then, saying he hadn’t thought Will to be the kind to whistle, he might not even have noticed.
Happiness has sneaked up on Will, slowly and quietly, but now, now that it has startled and tackled him to the ground, he sees it everywhere. Not just his own happiness, but Hannibal’s as well.
He sees it in the early mornings, when Hannibal smiles at him and he wants nothing more than to kiss his face all over: his temples and brows and cheeks and, finally, his mouth. He sees it during the day in how he carries himself, no excess weight on his shoulders that forces him to hunch over, even with Hannibal’s eyes on him, ever-present and lingering, so that Will may never forget he is being thought of. He sees it at night when Hannibal buries his face in the crook of Will’s neck, to kiss him there or simply nuzzle his nose against the sensitive skin, and his heart responds by reaching out to him.
It’s strange to associate Hannibal with something other than violence and painful longing. Violence will always be a part of him, of both of them, but the realization that he has Hannibal now, that he doesn’t need to look for him anymore, just turn around and see, is so powerful that it makes his chest ache.
They both feel this way, he’s seen it.
Sometimes, even months after existing with each other like this, their eyes will meet across the room and they will fall into deafening silence, losing track of their words mid-sentence, at the mere sight of the other. How unfathomable to think that if you reach out into the darkness, there will be another hand.
Still, that doesn’t mean Will’s sleep is free of nightmares. They look different now, though, brighter with a lot of tears, and no longer haunt him throughout the day. He doesn’t wake up drenched in sweat, but with a heaviness on his chest that can’t always be attributed to the weight of Hannibal’s head.
It’s easiest to forgive each other in the evening, and so they talk about those dreams and other difficult topics during dinner. They try to be honest with each other, always, but it isn’t easy.
Oftentimes, when their tongues have been loosened by wine, Hannibal wants to talk about Molly. Will does his best to answer his questions, knowing Hannibal would do the same for him, but sometimes it isn't possible – or at least unreasonable. Like the time they were particularly drunk, and Hannibal wanted to know about all the things Will and Molly have done in bed.
Will had frowned at him, then laughed in disbelief at the nonchalance with which Hannibal had voiced the question. Hannibal’s curiosity and eagerness came from a place of deep jealousy and possessiveness. Maybe he wanted to know what Molly had done so he could do the same for him. So that he could replace every memory Will has of her with his own.
Of course, Will didn’t tell him a thing. He’s already ruined Molly’s life – he can at least respect her privacy now.
Besides, he has never thought of her when he was with Hannibal. The two of them are too different. If anything, the softness of his belly reminds him of her, but he will never say that out loud. Hannibal would take it as an initiative to change that part of him, and that is the last thing Will wants.
Tonight, the bottle between them is still half-full. If Hannibal’s smile and the way his gaze flickers between Will’s eyes and mouth and fingers is anything to go by, they might not get any farther than that.
Will touches the rim of his glass to his lips. “Is there something on your mind?” He takes a sip of the red wine and lets it linger on his tongue, bitter with a faint aftertaste of sweetness.
“There’s a lot on my mind, frankly,” Hannibal says, “but I believe some of it can wait.”
Will furrows his brows, amusement now mingling with curiosity. It isn’t the response he expected, but, then again, it should have been. After all, they haven’t finished their wine yet.
Hannibal takes a moment to drink from his own glass, then balances it in his hand.
“I’ve been thinking about time and space, and how we fit into it.”
Hannibal’s smile is sweet. It’s always strange to see his face soften, regardless of how pleasant the sight is.
“No, my approach is much less scientific, though I have spent some time studying his works in the past. He's a fascinating man with an even more fascinating mind.”
Will offers an agreeing smile, although his grasp of Stephen Hawking’s theory is limited at best.
“The teacup then.”
“There is no teacup, Will. Not anymore,” Hannibal says. “In the same way that some things disappear once we cease to think of them.” He swirls his glass, watches the wine as it moves. “I’m no longer waiting for it to come back together nor to shatter on the floor. Perhaps that makes me an optimist.”
“Funny. I’ve always thought of you as one.” He takes another gulp of wine and ignores the pounding of his heart. His glass is nearly empty. “Time, space and us. Are you thinking about moving?”
Hannibal’s eyes light up. Whether it’s the flicker of the candlelight or something else, Will isn’t sure.
“As much as I appreciate going back to the roots of mankind, it doesn’t exactly line up with how I prefer to lead my life.”
“I’ve been wondering how long you could take it. You lasted longer than I gave you credit for.” Will chuckles, leaning back against his chair. “Where do you want to go?”
Hannibal smiles as he sips from his glass before setting it down on the table. He folds his hands in his lap.
“I haven’t given it much thought. I felt it was something we should both get to decide on.”
“And you aren’t sure if I’ll come with you.”
Hannibal’s silence is in itself an answer.
“I thought I made myself clear, Hannibal. But who knows,” Will smirks, “maybe you just want to hear me say it.”
“Feelings can change overtime. If anything, I want to see if we’re still on the same page.”
Hannibal has always known what Will wants, sometimes more so than Will himself. This situation is no different, although it isn’t clear whether he wants to hear it for his own sake or Will’s. It’s fun to play along either way.
Will leans forward and rests both of his elbows on the dinner table.
“I want to know where you are and who you’re with. I want to be there when you kill, and when you wake up the morning after.”
“You don’t want me to have anything in my life that isn’t you,” Hannibal suggests. Will recognizes his own voice in the words.
“Hannibal.” He scoffs and licks his teeth, one corner of his mouth pulled upwards. “You don’t want to have anything in your life that isn’t me.”
Hannibal’s smile doesn’t change, but his eyes do. They darken, somehow. He doesn’t deny the accusation.
“And what do you want, Will?”
“I want to be where you are, to make sure that no one puts their hands on you and survives it. I don’t care if it’s to harm you or not.” Will looks away from Hannibal’s eyes and instead at the spot between them. It makes it easier to continue. “I want to be the only one who gets to touch you.”
Hannibal swallows, eyes widened. His smile drops for a moment before it reappears, smaller and challenging.
“Will you return the favor?”
There is more he wants to say, but the words die on his tongue. Maybe, someday, he will find the courage to say them.
Tonight, Hannibal finishes his glass in one go and pushes back his chair, swift but still quiet. Tonight, he walks around the table and doesn’t hesitate to climb into Will’s lap, although there really isn’t enough space for both of them, now trapped between the edge of the bed and the table.
He catches Will’s hand in the air before it can come to rest at the back of Hannibal’s neck and pull him in.
“Finish your wine first.”
Although he rolls his eyes, Will does as he’s told, and Hannibal takes the glass from him to place it back on the table before he can put it down himself.
“We wouldn’t want it to oxidize.”
Will takes Hannibal’s face in both of his hands, smiling. “Sure, whatever,” he says, and kisses him.