Will sat hunched over on the side of the bed. The motel room had cinderblock walls painted prison-gray, a balding carpet, and a thriving mold colony on the bathroom ceiling. It stank of fish. He would’ve paid a thousand bucks to stay there one more night.
Hannibal crossed the room and offered him a bottle of pills and a bottle of water.
The impact with the Atlantic had broken Will’s arm. It hung in a sling across his chest, and he had to hold the pill bottle between his knees to get it open. He shook out two and looked at them sitting in his sweaty palm. They’d stick to his skin in a minute if he didn’t swallow them. “I can’t remember how long it’s been.”
“It’s time. Take them.”
Will took them and drained the bottle. He started to get to his feet.
Hannibal put a hand on his good shoulder and pushed him back down. “Rest.”
“We have to go. I know we have to go.”
“We can leave in the morning.”
Will gritted his teeth. The truck they’d stolen and the pitted roads rattled every injured part of him, and he wanted nothing in the world more than to lie down on the shitty mattress and go back to sleep. “If you can do it, I can. You’re hurt worse than me.”
“But the pain is worse for you,” Hannibal said.
“Yeah, I got that when I was puking by the side of the road yesterday while you just sat there like — do you even feel it? Do you feel anything?”
“Rest,” Hannibal said again, maddeningly calm. “I’m going to get us a few things. We can leave before dawn.”
Will wanted to hit him. Instead, he lay down and closed his eyes. Despite the pain, he was asleep before Hannibal left the room.
A hand pressed over Will’s mouth and another shoved against his bad shoulder. He screamed, muffled by a hard palm. The man smelled of stale beer and smoke. Will bit him.
The man swore and backhanded him across the face. It left Will dizzy, wounded cheek and broken arm throbbing as he was dragged to his feet.
“You stay quiet,” the man hissed in his ear. “Quiet or I’ll cut your fucking tongue out, got it? All I want is Lecter. I just want the money. I don’t give two shits about you.”
Will head-butted him in the face, but the impact made his head spin even more and he couldn’t follow it up fast enough to do any good. The man pulled him off the bed and slammed him face-first into the wall. Will went for the knife Hannibal had given him, but the man got there first.
“Fast little fucker. More trouble than you’re worth.”
The knife blade touched his throat — and then it was gone. The man was gone. There was an empty space behind Will where he had been. A wet cry filled the room and was immediately silenced.
Will turned slowly. Hannibal was crouched over the man’s body. Dead? No, Will saw the man’s chest rise and fall, saw the panicked roll of his eyes. Blood covered his face and neck. Hannibal had cut out his tongue and now held it up to show it to him.
The man was clearly still trying to scream, but not much was coming out. There was a puncture wound in his neck. He was wheezing, trying to form words and mostly failing. He struck out at Hannibal’s face.
Hannibal took his wrist, pressed it flat to the ground, and pinned him there with a knife through his forearm. He did the same on the other side. His movements were methodical, almost leisurely, but his face was set like white ice and his eyes burned with something bright and raw.
He cut away the man’s shirt, left another knife stuck casually in his stomach, and wrenched his jeans open. The man started making desperate sounds again when Hannibal held a knife next to his dick. Hannibal telegraphed his movements so that the man would know exactly what was coming when he sawed it off.
Blood bubbled out and stained the crotch of the man’s jeans, his thighs, the floor around him.
Will finally managed to step away from the wall and get his voice working again. “Hannibal.”
“I’m almost done. We can leave in a moment. You may wait outside if you prefer.” Hannibal paused. He didn’t look up. “Do you want the keys?”
“No. No, I’m staying.” He thought of Bedelia’s comment about seeing Hannibal behind the veil, but he was certain she’d never seen him like this.
Hannibal looked up at him then, a long searing stare that Will could not read at all. “If that’s what you prefer.”
There wasn’t much more. He twisted the knife in the man’s stomach a few times until that stopped getting a reaction beyond soft whimpers. He leaned in close and whispered into the man’s ear. Will couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it made the man try to scream again, try to escape when he could barely move. Hannibal watched his efforts for a few seconds and then he pulled the knife from the man’s stomach and jammed it into his temple.
He rose and walked to the bathroom without looking at Will.
The man on the floor twitched. He wasn’t making any noise at all now. Will thought about pulling the knife out. It would be over faster, but part of him found a certain fascination in observing what Hannibal had done to a human body in under five minutes. Will had known, but he hadn’t seen, not really. Their fight against the Dragon had been a struggle to survive. This was the deliberate infliction of pain as a honed craft, done casually, like Mozart might pause to play a tune as he passed by a piano.
Hannibal left the bathroom, stepped over the man on the floor, and knelt to wipe blood from Will’s bare foot with a damp cloth. Will hadn’t even noticed it was there.
“Are you ready?” Hannibal’s voice was steady and without inflection.
“Aren’t you going to take anything from him?”
Hannibal looked up at him. “We don’t have a cooler. And Jack would certainly hear about it.”
“You think that guy went out to bag Hannibal the Cannibal without bragging to all his friends about it first? Jack’s going to hear about it either way.” Will looked at the man on the floor. He wasn’t moving anymore. “I could get some ice.”
Hannibal kept staring at him. His calm expression faltered and cracked, and that raw look crept back into his eyes. “Why?”
“I want to see the whole thing.”
Hannibal was silent for a long time and then he nodded. “All right. Get the ice.”
Hannibal only took his heart.
“Symbolic?” Will said.
“Practical. I wouldn’t touch his liver or kidneys. His lungs may be even worse.”
They walked out to the truck with the heart in a plastic bag of ice. Hannibal put it in the glove compartment. They rattled out onto the road.
Will clenched his teeth against the pain in his arm and shoulder, worse now from the rough treatment. He could smell blood. Fresh, it was like chewing aluminum foil. Now, as it dried, it was almost sweet, but sweet in the way that rot could be sweet. Hannibal had thin lines of it under his nails.
“We’re nearly to the border,” Hannibal said.
“Where do we go after that?”
“Do you still plan to come with me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
The road hissed along under their balding tires. Texas wind whistled through windows that wouldn’t quite shut.
“I thought you might not,” Hannibal said at last.
“How are you going to cook it?”
Hannibal turned to look at him. The glow of the clock on the dashboard lit his eyes red-orange. “Do you have a preference? A desired end to this performance?”
“Is this a performance?”
“A command performance. You said you wanted to see everything. Before you make a decision, I presume.” His hands, ghostly in the half-light, choked the steering wheel.
“There’s no decision,” Will said. “Decision’s made. I followed you over the goddamn cliff. That’s not clear enough for you?”
“Choices made in desperation may be unmade later.”
“Not this one. Wither thou goest.” He shrugged his good shoulder. “I guess I’m going too.”
“And if you end up as Ruth did, in tears amid the alien corn?”
“I haven’t got any cornfields to be homesick for, Hannibal. You burned them all down.”
“You could have gone back. You could have killed me and gone back to your wife and son.”
“They’re not mine. Not really. They never were. But you are. Aren’t you?”
Will had known since he’d seen Hannibal on his knees in the snow. Had known, at least, that he could have him if he wanted him. It had taken a few more years and a lot more blood to admit that he did.
They crossed the border just before dawn without incident. Mexico looked a lot like south Texas had, and the road wasn’t any better. They drove on with a hint of light in the sky on their left. Eventually, despite the pain and the tense silence, Will slept.
He woke in a panic, sure something was wrong. It took him a few seconds to realize that it was only the stillness of the truck and the lack of another warm body in the cab with him.
They were parked behind a low hill. Will could still hear traffic, so presumably the road was close by, but all he could see was dry grass and low scrub and Hannibal feeding twigs into a campfire. Will got out and wandered over to him. The air smelled like smoke and cooking meat. Hannibal had the bounty hunter’s heart roasting on a stick.
“Campfire cooking. I wasn’t expecting that from you," Will said.
“I didn’t want to let it go too long. We need to eat in any case.”
“You want me to get the rest of the stuff from the car?”
“I suppose so,” Hannibal said without enthusiasm.
Will wasn’t enthusiastic about it either: they had crackers, nuts, and raisins, none of which seemed like the ideal thing to serve with human heart. Will wasn’t sure how much heart he could stomach anyway.
He brought it all back to the fire. Hannibal was sitting cross-legged on the ground. He wore the remains of a suit, pants wrinkled and now spotted lightly with blood, and he had rolled up his shirtsleeves to his elbows. He offered Will a strip cut off the roasted heart.
Will ate it. “It was better last time,” he said.
“I had more resources last time.” Hannibal finished slicing the meat. “Perhaps I can serve it to you again under better circumstances.”
Will ate another strip of heart with a saltine. He rearranged the strap of his sling so it dug into a different part of his shoulder. “You want to have this conversation right now?”
“What conversation is that?”
“The one where you make me decide if I can live with you killing and eating people. I was sort of hoping to put that one off.”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know. Until we’re off the painkillers? Until we’re somewhere safe? Until I can sleep for twenty-four hours and eat something that’s not human meat or road food?”
“A reasonable set of criteria.”
They finished their meal in silence. Hannibal made no move to get back in the truck. He sat and looked into the dying fire. His skin sagged under his eyes and the corners of his mouth, but otherwise he looked the same as ever. Calm. Certain. Except when he glanced at Will.
“We can postpone that conversation,” Hannibal said to the fire. “As long as you like. I hadn’t planned to take anything from that man. That was your idea.”
“I know it was my idea. You don’t need to make excuses.”
“I am not making excuses. I’m simply saying…it was not my plan.”
“Did you plan to kill him at all?”
Hannibal threw a clump of dried grass onto the fire. “I saw him with his hands on you. There was no decision. Not until I already had him on the floor, and by then I saw no point in stopping.” He looked at Will. “You didn’t ask me to stop.”
“Is there any point asking you to do anything?”
“You asked me to leave.”
“Yeah, look how far that got me.”
“I followed the spirit of your request.”
“Bullshit, Hannibal. I said I didn’t want to think about you anymore, and you made sure you were in the news for fucking months. I had to testify at your trial. I couldn’t avoid thinking about you.”
“I put myself in prison for you.”
“You put yourself in prison so I couldn’t—“ Will stopped himself. Hannibal had put himself in prison so Will couldn’t forget about him, but he had put himself in prison. He hadn’t done any of the other, much worse things he could have done, which wasn’t cause for celebration exactly, but it was something.
“Partially, yes,” Hannibal said. “So you couldn’t forget me. But also because I could not have forgotten you. I could have left then, but I would not have stayed away. Would you have preferred me in prison or on your doorstep some moonless night?”
Will sighed. “Well, when you put it that way.”
“The coast, I think,” Hannibal said. “We can find a house there. Would you like to live by the sea?”
Will glanced at him and found Hannibal watching him sideways as if he didn’t dare look directly at him. “Yeah. I’d like to live by the sea.”
The motel was better than the one in Texas. The fan rattled all night long, but it was clean and it didn’t smell like fish. And no one attacked them in the middle of the night.
Even so, Will didn’t get a lot of sleep. His arm throbbed with a hot ache. He couldn’t stop poking his tongue into the hole in his mouth. Likewise, he couldn’t stop probing his older wounds. His fingers ran over the scar on his stomach and his mind ran over the various emotional blows that Hannibal had dealt him. Doing it while he watched Hannibal sleep left him completely unable to be angry about it.
It was close to dawn when Hannibal rolled over to face him, eyes open.
“Were you asleep at all?” Will said.
“Yes. You could have woken me.”
“So as not to be alone. Why else are we here together?”
Will just stared at him, unable to think of a response. “Is that why we’re here?” he said finally.
“If not that, then why? Why have you come with me?”
Will knew the answer to that one, but he couldn’t manage to say it out loud. "What did you say to that guy in the motel?"
"I asked him if he had children and where I might find them. I presume from his reaction that he did."
"But you're not going to..."
"No," Hannibal said.
"You said it to be cruel."
"Yes. Are you still certain of your decision?"
Will looked at Hannibal's mouth and tensed cords of his neck. He reached out and set his hand at the base of Hannibal’s throat. "Yeah. I am."
Hannibal laid a hand over his. "Close your eyes."
“Because there is still enough time for you to sleep.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Hannibal pressed Will's fingers over the artery in his neck. "Breathe. Feel. Try not to think."
Will felt the steady beat of Hannibal's heart under his fingertips. He tried to let his thoughts subside and his body sink deeper into the mattress, like sinking into water.
Hannibal stroked his thumb over the back of Will's wrist. “Sleep."
Will closed his eyes.
Their house by the sea was an old, sprawling farmhouse of pale stucco. Inside, wooden beams stretched across the high ceilings. The plaster was peeling. They’d gotten the key from a man in the nearest town, which was half an hour’s drive away from this stretch of rocky soil and pebbled beach. Hannibal gave the kitchen a single disdainful look and stalked off to lie down in his room.
Will stood alone in the empty kitchen for only a second or two before he followed. Hannibal’s room was across the hall from Will’s. He was on his back on the bed, all his clothes still on, looking up at the ceiling. One hand lay over his wound.
“Move over,” Will said.
Hannibal shifted to the far side of the bed without comment. Will lay down beside him. A breeze from the sea blew in through the open window, carrying damp and the scent of salt and some unknown flower. He could smell Hannibal as well, and himself. Neither of them had showered since the cliff house.
“We stink,” he said.
“I am aware.”
“I might shower. See if I can find some sheets.”
Will paused. Even the sea fell quiet to let the second of his hesitation roar in his ears. “Come with me,” he said.
Hannibal turned his head slowly on the pillow until he was looking at him. “To the shower?”
“Think it’s working?”
Hannibal sat up, still looking at him like he couldn’t look anywhere else. “We shall see.”
Will walked out of the room and he could feel Hannibal just behind him. The bathroom had tile on all the walls and stone on the floor. The shower head hung from the ceiling and fell like rain. With no shower enclosure, they had to dump their clothes outside the room in the hallway to keep them dry. Will wrapped a plastic bag over his broken arm and kept it close to his chest.
All they had was a bar of soap scrounged from the laundry room. Hannibal lathered his hands and ran them through Will’s hair to save him reaching up. Will bowed his head. Hannibal’s fingertips rubbed against his scalp and then directed him under the spray, diverting the water away from Will’s eyes.
Will leaned into his touch, trying to convey trust he wasn’t entirely sure he felt. Trying to convey, at least, sincere want. Sincere need. Hannibal took Will’s face between both hands. He slid his thumbs over Will’s cheeks.
Will closed his eyes and waited. Hannibal’s touch left him. He felt Hannibal step away and heard the door to the hall open. Will stood alone under the water. He felt its warmth only in the places where Hannibal had touched him.
He stood frozen for a second and then went after him, fast, skidding on the wet floor. “Hannibal!”
Hannibal stood naked in the middle of the hall, lit by the afternoon sun shining through a dusty window. “What do you want of me?”
“What do you want of me?”
“You know,” Hannibal said. “It has become clear to me that you know everything that is in my mind. I might wonder who told you if that were not clear as well. I suppose you did need her to make it plain for you in the end?”
Will wiped water out of his eyes and pushed his dripping hair back from his face. “Can we dry off?”
“You can do anything you like.”
They looked at each other.
Will took a step closer. He put one palm on Hannibal’s cheek as Hannibal had done to him. They were both still wet all over, and goosebumps marched up Will’s back. “You could’ve told me yourself,” he said.
“How could you not know? You spent so much time and effort bringing me to this state.”
“I didn’t really think you…could.” Will made himself breathe. He felt lightheaded, as if looking into Hannibal’s eyes for this long had induced vertigo. “I didn’t think I could either.”
Hannibal went very still. Will wasn’t even sure he was still breathing, but he did swallow once. Will curled his fingers under Hannibal’s jaw and felt the rapid flutter of his pulse. He leaned in, broken arm held awkwardly between their bodies. Both of them took a quick breath before their lips met and barely touched. Hannibal's were chilled, but his face was heating under Will’s hand.
He took hold of Will’s wrist and squeezed hard. Will didn’t let go. Their noses bumped together. It wasn’t quite a kiss, more a press of lips and cheeks and foreheads, a poorly choreographed effort to be closer.
“You thought you could love your wife,” Hannibal said into his mouth. “It wasn’t your ability you doubted. It was mine.”
“I didn’t know,” Will said. “How could I?”
“Should I have fallen to my knees and confessed all? Laid my soul at your feet? I would only have ended up in prison sooner than I did.”
“Maybe. It wouldn’t have changed anything I felt for you.”
Hannibal gripped his wrist tighter, bruising. He ground his forehead against Will’s, bone to bone, eyes on the floor. Will tugged gently but insistently until he got his hand free and then he pulled Hannibal down the hall.
Hannibal’s bedroom had a closet that contained some musty towels and blankets. They dried off. Will covered the mattress with blankets, and they lay down together. Hannibal moved in close until their bodies were touching, until they could turn their heads and find each other in reach.
The kiss was more of a kiss this time, more than a hopeless attempt to be one person. Hannibal followed Will’s lead, and it stayed soft and easy, no more than shallow brushes of tongues into each other’s mouths.
“We should sleep,” Will said. “And eat. And…I don’t know.”
“This. We should do this.”
They kept kissing, or at least they stayed pressed close, touching along their sides, bringing their mouths together now and then. Will slipped from waking into sleep and Hannibal still lay beside him in his dreams.