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At First Meeting

Chapter Text

First Will is falling and then he’s not.

The deafening roar of air and sea is replaced by the sound of his alarm clock. He’s no longer sticky with blood. His face is no longer torn open. Hannibal is gone from his arms.

He flails like a drowning man at the absence and knocks his clock off the bedside table. It clunks to the floor, still beeping its familiar alarm.

Familiar. It is familiar. Because it really is his alarm clock, the old one from Wolf Trap. These are his sheets, his bed, his — oh god, his dogs standing hopefully at the door waiting to be let out. Buster whines and wags his stubby tail.

Only six. No Winston.

Will closes his eyes and counts to twenty before he can even make himself breathe because he knows what this means.

Before you and after you.

This is before.

Even in a hallucination, he is unwilling to clean up dog pee if he doesn’t have to, so he drags himself out of bed and lets them into the yard. After that, he checks the date.

In a few hours, Jack will come into his classroom and introduce him to Garret Jacob Hobbs and, shortly after that, to Hannibal Lecter.

Will makes coffee. It tastes harsh and bitter to him. He started grinding his own after he tasted Hannibal’s. There’s no scar on his forehead or across his stomach. His old body should think his old coffee is just fine, but apparently it’s possible to develop a taste for something without taking a single sip.

After he’s fed the dogs and himself, he calls in sick to work. For a long time after that, he sits out on the porch in the autumn sunshine. When the coffee is gone, he calls Hannibal’s office to make an appointment.

\*

“Mr. Graham? Please, come in.”

Will steps through the door to Hannibal’s office. He has steeled himself, but this room is alive inside him. For a year after Muskrat Farm, he dreamed of it almost every night. He knows the spines of the books by heart. He knows texture of the drapes. He has walked barefoot on the warm wood floor.

“Dr. Lecter,” he says, and then glances up at his face, braced for impact. The impact doesn’t come. Hannibal has always looked at him a certain way, always, from their first meeting. This Hannibal thinks he’s just a new patient, and that is enraging. “Hannibal,” Will says. It’s too familiar, verging on rude, and he sees Hannibal’s jaw twitch.

“Won’t you sit down? And we can discuss your reasons for coming to see me this evening.”

Will ignores him. He goes first to the desk and picks up Hannibal’s scalpel. Hannibal might kill him anyway, but he doesn’t want to make it easy. After that, he leans against the desk and meets Hannibal’s eyes.

On the way here, he thought about what to say. He’d thought he’d ask about Miriam Lass, or ask if Hannibal could smell his encephalitis already, or ask — but it doesn’t matter. Now that he’s here, he finds there is nothing to say. Except the truth.

“You’re the Chesapeake Ripper,” he says quietly. “You’re Il Mostro. I’ve seen your cochlear garden. I’ve seen the prisoner Chiyoh keeps in your cellars and I know what he did to you. And to Mischa.”

And then Will sets the scalpel down where Hannibal can get to it easily. He’s changed his mind. If the truth is going to kill him, he’d rather get it over with.

Hannibal has gone perfectly still. His eyes do flick to the scalpel and to Will’s neck, but he doesn’t move.

“I didn’t tell anyone I was coming,” Will says. “Called in sick to work. Nobody’ll miss me for a while.” He frowns. Fuck. He didn’t come here expecting to die. “Except you have to feed my dogs, okay? Key’s in my pocket. I’ll give you the address.”

Hannibal takes a stiff step forward and then eases himself into one of the chairs. He gestures Will to the other.

Will sits and waits.

“You have been thorough, Mr. Graham.”

“Will. Call me Will.”

“You seem to have come here expecting to die, Will.”

“I didn’t. I thought I’d — I don’t know what I thought. I guess I’d thought I’d decide when I saw you again.”

“I am certain this is our first meeting.” Hannibal is leaning forward in his chair, studying Will’s face. His brows shift together in a fractional frown. “Yes, I would remember you.”

“That’s flattering, I guess. I always thought you only wanted me for my brain. Literally.” Will rubs at the spot on his forehead that is no longer a scar. “After your prisoner died, I made wings for him. Glass wings. I never told you. I never told you what he looked like, but — but I lit all the candles and—“ Will’s voice deserts him abruptly. He bends over his knees, face in his hands, and doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“You knew me in another world. Or another time,” Hannibal says slowly.

“You showed me this notebook once. Equations on how to fix the past. I told you the teacup can’t come back together. Looks like I was wrong.” Will does laugh then, though it comes out like a sob because this is so stupid. He shouldn’t have come. He can’t get what he wants here. This Hannibal isn’t his, not yet.

Will can feel him rise and cross the space between them. Hannibal puts his hands on either side of Will’s face and Will waits for the quick snap of his neck. It doesn’t come. Finally he looks up.

Hannibal is watching him with an expression of puzzlement that Will has never seen on his face before. Will can’t stand it.

“I tried to kill us,” he says. “Jumped off a cliff with you. I just wanted it to be over and here I am back at the beginning. That’s irony on a level with your fucking church collapses.”

“You know me very well,” Hannibal says softly.

“And you don’t know me at all.” Will stands and pushes past him, headed for the door. He knows Hannibal can’t let him go. Never could. This time Hannibal’s hands close around his neck.

\*

Will wakes to the familiar sound of his old alarm clock. He has no memory of Hannibal strangling him or snapping his neck. Only the warmth of Hannibal’s touch on his throat.

He lets the dogs out. He checks the date. It’s yesterday again.

It’s the first day of the rest of his life, whether he wants it or not. He takes his coffee out onto the porch and tries to figure out what the hell he’s supposed to do with it.

Chapter Text

The second day, which is the same as the first day, Will punches Jack in the face. It’s not particularly satisfying, and he thinks he might’ve broken some part of his hand. It doesn’t put Jack off trying to recruit him. Will doesn’t know why he thought it would.

The third, fourth, and fifth days, Will stays home with his dogs. Those are good days, but — but.

The sixth, inevitably, he goes back to Hannibal.

\*

“I’m going to kill someone,” Will says.

“As a former police officer, you must be aware that doctor-patient confidentiality doesn’t extend to—“

“It won’t be murder. It’ll be self defense. His name is Garret Jacob Hobbs, and he’s killed eight girls. He’ll cut his daughter’s throat, and I’ll shoot him ten times in the chest.”

That gets Hannibal’s attention. “You seem certain of these details, Will. Do you believe in fate?”

Will smiles without humor. “You know, I never used to.”

“Will she die? This man’s daughter?”

“No. She lives. You save her life.”

They look at each other then, and it’s almost like it used to be. There is so much understanding in Hannibal’s eyes. He may not believe any of this, but he knows the bond it would create between them. He can feel it already.

“You kill her father and I preserve her. She becomes our daughter,” Hannibal says. “Conceived in blood.”

“Yes.” Will leans forward, hands balled into fists on his thighs.

“What becomes of the three of us? In this posited future?”

Will looks down. He starts to answer and then shakes his head. “In the best of all possible worlds, we go to Florence and live happily ever after.”

If the mention of Florence throws him, Hannibal doesn’t show it. “Is this the best of all possible worlds, Will?”

“Sometimes I think so. Sometimes I think it might be Hell.”

Hannibal tilts his head a little to one side. He is intent on Will’s face. “Tell me, what do Hell and Heaven have in common?”

You.

Will doesn’t say it, and he can’t say anything else for the rest of the hour.

Chapter Text

It’s the tenth day before Will tries again. He thinks it’s the tenth. He can’t keep a record, not even on his own skin. Everything resets.

He waits till evening and drives to Hannibal’s house with a bottle of wine.

Hannibal answers the door in his apron with his sleeves rolled up. His expression is polite surprise. “May I help you?”

Will smiles at him and holds out the wine. “Alana said you like this one. I’m Will.”

Hannibal takes the wine with a slow blink. “You know Alana?”

“Yeah?” Will contrives to look puzzled. “Is this not… You are Hannibal, right?”

“I am. Perhaps you should come in.”

Will spins a story about a blind date, which of course Alana didn’t set up and has no knowledge of, but she’s unreachable tonight, speaking at a conference with her phone on silent. And tomorrow won’t come, so he’s safe.

Hannibal is, understandably, suspicious, but Will is convincing. And charming. He can be, if he tries. The last time he tried was for Hannibal too.

It’s working, to an extent. Hannibal looks at him and sees someone like Alana, someone he can respect and like and maybe even have a relationship with. But it’s still not what Will wants. He didn’t throw his life away for fond, amused tolerance. That’s not how Hannibal is supposed to look at him.

But tonight, it is. Tonight he’s trying something different, because he can. Because he might as well make use of whatever’s happened to him. So he looks back at Hannibal and mirrors his expression and doesn’t have to fake any of it, even the fondness.

Except maybe there’s more in his face than he meant to put there. Hannibal looks away to give him a moment to collect himself, and Will doesn’t know what to expect, how much he has betrayed himself, what Hannibal’s reaction might be.

But Hannibal only dips a spoon in the sauce he’s making and holds it up for him.

“Saffron and garlic,” Will says. “And cinnamon?”

“Very good.” Hannibal sounds both pleased and surprised. “It’s for the chicken livers. I hope you’re not vegetarian?”

“I’ve thought about it once or twice, but no.”

“I would have asked if I had known you were coming.” Hannibal sounds bemused, and Will can imagine him trying to piece the truth together.

Will’s story is ludicrous to anyone who knows Alana, but Will has given enough detail to prove he does know her, and it’s likely Hannibal has heard his name from her, so — so what? At a guess, Hannibal thinks that Will engineered this himself to satisfy a crush or a professional fascination.

“You work for the FBI,” Hannibal says.

“So you have heard of me.”

Hannibal inclines his head. “Your name comes up in certain circles.”

“Psychiatric circles,” Will says, but it doesn’t sound as bitter as it would have. At least he’s moved past something.

“Should I be concerned that the FBI’s best forensic psychologist has come to dine with me?”

“Probably. But not because of my job.”

“Why then?” Hannibal asks.

I’m going to be the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. No. A normal evening, a normal conversation. At least one not stained by the past. Or the future.

Will smiles at him. “Most people find me hard to take.”

Hannibal gazes at him over the rim of his wineglass, and there is a familiar look in his eyes. “I can’t imagine why,” he says.

Over dinner, which is liver of some sort but probably not chicken, Will avoids their past and speaks of his own. Just puts it on the table between them to see what Hannibal will do with it.

“I wish he’d lived,” Will says, finally, speaking of his father. It’s something he’s never told his Hannibal or anyone else. “He died a couple months after I graduated the police academy. Never even saw me make detective.” He lets his pain show.

It’s a trap set for a sadist, but Hannibal only sips his wine and holds it up to the candle flame. “Death steals not only love but the mirrors we use to see ourselves. The wrong sort of mirror is worse than a lifetime of solitude.”

“Whose eyes did you see yourself through?”

Hannibal silent for a few seconds and Will thinks he’ll change the subject, but— “My sister’s. She died when we were both children.”

“I’m sorry,” Will says. And he is. He is, despite everything.

After dinner, they sit in front of the fireplace with cognac. Everything in the room looks red from the wash of firelight, including Hannibal’s face and hands. Dripping with it.

“It’s been some time since I pursued any romantic relationship,” Hannibal says.

“Does that mean you’re pursuing one now?”

Hannibal gives him a slow blink. “I find myself pursued.”

“I can leave any time you want.”

“I haven’t asked you to leave.”

He hasn’t, and he doesn’t. They sit in silence in the heat of the fire. Will had forgotten how good it could feel just to be with him. He wonders what his Hannibal is doing. Are they still falling? Is Will unconscious, comatose, dead already?

Is Hannibal doing the same thing with another, more innocent version of him? Would Hannibal, his Hannibal, do anything different? Does he have regrets or unanswered questions?

Would either of them, in the end, really want to change anything? Will rubs at his forehead where he no longer has a scar. It’s a habit he can’t drop.

“Do you have a headache?” Hannibal asks. “I wouldn’t want to keep you if you don’t feel well.”

He does actually have a headache, a low nag of pain. It takes him a few seconds to remember why. “I’ve got encephalitis,” he says. “Can you smell it? Alana said you could smell diseases. Cancer. Stuff like that.”

Hannibal leans closer. He closes his eyes and breathes in through his nose. Will watches his nostrils flare and the slight lift of his chin, the parting of his lips.

“Does it smell good?” Will asks.

Hannibal’s eyes flutter open. He is very close now. “It smells sweet,” he murmurs.

Will…wants. He wants in an undefined way that has something to do with touch but just as much to do with voice and breath and firelight and the shadows in Hannibal’s eyes. He can’t remember ever wanting Hannibal in this particular mundane way. He never had the time.

Will tips his head toward Hannibal, not quite asking. It feels a little like betrayal, doing it this way, with this Hannibal, but what’s one more? He needs a dry run.

Hannibal lays a hand along his jaw and strokes the underside of Will’s chin with his thumb. Their lips are nearly touching. “Why did you come here tonight, Will?”

Will closes his eyes, caught, almost trembling under his touch. “I had to see you.”

“Why did you have to see me?”

Despite his best intentions, Will can only tell the truth. “I missed you,” he whispers.

Hannibal kisses him anyway. It’s a soft, gentle sinking into his mouth. Hannibal’s thumb strokes his throat like he’s coaxing him to swallow. Will inches closer. After seconds of hesitation, he lays a hand on Hannibal’s arm. His skin is so warm, even through the close-woven cotton of his shirtsleeve.

Hannibal urges him closer, and Will lets himself be reeled in. Their thighs touch. Hannibal slips an arm around his waist and sets a light hand at his lower back like they’re dancing. His mouth tastes like cognac.

Will grips his arm too hard, seized by the need to know if this would’ve changed anything, but he already knows the answer. It wouldn’t have, couldn’t have. From that first meeting in Jack’s office, Hannibal had plans for him, and they never included anything as simple as this.

He remembers Hannibal covered in the dragon’s blood, telling him that this was all he ever wanted for him, for both of them. Blood and teeth, not this.

They can try blood and teeth too if Hannibal wants it so badly. Tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Will runs Mason Verger’s limo off the road, knocks out his driver, and strangles Mason with his bare hands. It’s not as hard as he thought it would be. Mason seems too shocked to fight much. He stares up at Will with goggling eyes as his face goes red. He tries to talk, because Mason always does, but he can’t get anything out but a wheeze.

When he’s dead, Will puts the body in the trunk of his car and drives to Hannibal’s house. The spare key is where he remembers it. He lets himself in and drapes Mason on the dining room table to await Hannibal’s return from work.

Hannibal comes through his dining room doors and stops. Looks at the body. Looks at Will. It’s not the same as when Will killed Randall. It can’t be. But there is a definite spark of interest.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Hannibal says.

“Will Graham.”

“And your companion?”

“He’s a pig who deserves to be someone’s bacon. I hear you’re the man to make it happen.”

Hannibal moves smoothly forward to take Mason’s pulse. His gaze rests briefly on the discolored flesh of Mason’s neck. He looks back to Will. One hand is in his pocket. Scalpel maybe, or knife. “Any butcher could make bacon from this man. If sufficiently motivated. Why have you brought him here?”

“You tell me, Doctor.”

Hannibal circles around the table. His hand moves in his pocket. Can he possibly be calling the cops? Wouldn’t that be something. Finally, he seems to reach some decision, takes off his coat, and hangs it over the back of a chair.

“You know me,” he says.

Will feels his lips pull back in a hard grin. “I sure do.”

“You’ve been watching me for some time.”

“Years.”

He can see a flicker of unease in Hannibal’s eyes.

“And this is your declaration. Of what? War?”

“Not war. I don’t want to pick a fight with you.”

“What do you want?”

“I was thinking maybe lomo saltado. I brought wine.” He holds up the bottle.

Hannibal’s carefully blank surprise lasts less than a second. “I see.” He pauses and looks Mason over once more. “Shall we take him downstairs? It would make a mess to do it here.”

They hang Mason up to drain on the same hook where they hung Randall, and his blood runs across the cement floor. Hannibal cuts him up with a bandsaw. He watches Will the whole time, even when his fingers are two inches from the blade.

Either he’s decided Will’s interesting enough to keep around for a while or Will’s not getting out of this basement alive. It doesn’t really matter which, except Will is hungry, and the lomo saltado was good.

But it’s not the same. They cook together after Hannibal’s done with the body, but Hannibal isn’t flushed with pleasure. He doesn’t hand Will the knife with sly light of worship in his eyes. He keeps a distance between them, and it’s only in hindsight that Will sees how close they stood that night, side by side at the counter, Hannibal moving around him to the stove, so close that Will could feel the human warmth of his body, though they never touched.

Will looks at Hannibal, straight and wary in his immaculate apron, and wonders why they didn’t. Wonders if a shared hunt and a shared meal were all Hannibal wanted from him. Might ever want from him.

“Have you decided whether to kill me?” he asks.

Hannibal pauses, knife suspended. “I’m certain I should. You don’t appear to be concerned by the prospect.”

“Death doesn’t seem that bad to me right now.”

“Should I ask what does?” Hannibal watches him, knife flashing up and down, herbs disintegrating under the blade. “What frightens you, Will? More than the prospect of being killed and consumed?”

Seeing Hannibal again.

Never seeing Hannibal again.

Will’s chest hurts. He puts a hand over his heart. For a second, he tastes salt so strongly that he thinks his mouth is bleeding. Or is it seawater? He swallows hard, and it fades.

“Losing what I have left,” he says finally.

“Death wouldn’t take that from you?”

Will shakes his head. He looks down at the pile of sliced Mason in front of him and tries to imagine intimacy without blood and pain and violence. He can’t do it.

Chapter Text

Will waits outside Hannibal’s office. He imagines a chance meeting in the street. No FBI, no personal connection, no corpse. Just two people, no context, no expectations.

When Hannibal emerges, Will doesn’t move. Hannibal walks to his Bentley and gets in. Will watches him drive away. Without context and expectations, what’s left?

He projects, briefly, a future in which Hannibal doesn’t kill, in which Will doesn’t shoot Hobbs, in which they drift together and know only each other’s healed wounds. In which no blood is spilled between them, no scabs torn off, no raw flesh licked clean.

He goes home.

\*

Will fishes in the stream at the back of his property. It’s a perfect golden autumn day forever. Sun sparks off the water. His cast is good. The current pulls at him, cold and strong around his waders.

His fly flicks across the water. Ripples grow in concentric rings where it touches down. No fish bite. He tied the fly this morning using his own hair and his own blood. He named it. He’s waiting for a bite but not expecting one. Not really.

When it comes, it nearly yanks the rod out of his hands. He grips hard and lets the line play out, but it’s going, going, gone. There’s just the bare reel left and somehow his hands are tangled in the monofilament and he’s going down. His waders flood. He gets one last breath and then he’s into the gloom and the slick rocks and the soft brown water weed.

He’s the catch being reeled in, faster and faster. His lungs burn. He can’t get a breath, though he can see the bottoms of gold maple leaves floating just inches above him, veins like delicate green bones. He reaches up and just manages to catch one by the stem. It glows as he is dragged into the dark.

The sunlight dims and fades away. His world is black. His mouth tastes of salt. The water stings his nose and eyes. Pressure builds in his head until he thinks his skull will crack open, until all he can hear is the roaring pound of his blood — or thunder — or is it—

Waves crashing against rocks. The smell of salt on the air. He opens his eyes.

Hannibal is kneeling beside him on a narrow ledge of rock on the edge of a violent sea. His hands are on Will’s chest, and it feels like he’s trying to crush Will’s ribs, but then his grip shifts and he’s helping Will turn to the side, cough and choke and vomit seawater. Chest compressions. CPR. Will puts a hand over his own heart. It’s beating now. He wonders how long it stopped for, and if that means the past ten, twenty, thirty repeated days really were Hell.

Hannibal helps him sit up and says something, but Will can’t hear it. There’s nothing but the ocean, no room for any other sound in the world except the looping question in his own head which sounds like falling and blood in the moonlight and the Dragon’s body hitting the ground. Now what?

Now, Hannibal slips an arm around his back to support him. Now, Will leans into the touch and feels Hannibal first freeze and then pull him closer. Now, Will thinks, they’re doing well. The ocean is saving them. If never say another word to each other they’ll be just fine. They can live on this ledge of rock in this moment, forever.

Hannibal puts his lips to Will’s ear and shouts. “The tide is coming in.”

He’s right. Will can feel the ocean reaching for them, and he reaches for Hannibal, resigned all over again to the fall, the sinking, together.

But then he remembers the taste of Hannibal’s mouth and how he’d looked by firelight. He won’t get what he wants by dragging Hannibal to the bottom of the sea with him. That’s just more blood.

So he lets Hannibal help him to his feet. He takes Hannibal’s tentatively offered hand, and he follows, step after slick and treacherous step, through the dark, between the edge of a pitch black sea and his own precipitous fears.

Hannibal’s hand is tight on his, and Will wonders if he has his own mountain range of fears to traverse. He’ll ask if they find a way out of this.

One foot in front of the other. Seaweed that pops underfoot. Pain creeping in under the cold but still not as bad as the numb ache that is his entire body. Rubbery legs. Raw lungs.

He squeezes Hannibal’s hand. Hannibal squeezes back. It’s something. It’s enough to live for.

Chapter Text

Between the dark and the wind and Will’s staggering exhaustion, they’re on the boat for nearly an hour before it starts to look familiar. There’s the way the cabin slopes down at the stern, the particular scent of it, the precise color of varnish and the wood of the mast. It’s a rain of tiny things and finally he hangs his head over the side to see confirmation written in his own hand: Nola.

“You bought my boat,” he says to Hannibal.

Hannibal pauses in making his unsteady way toward the cabin, hand pressed to his side. “Of course.”

Of course.

After Muskrat Farm, after a few weeks of putting his life back together, Will had called the boatyard where he’d docked in Spain and had been unsurprised to find they’d sold his Nola off to cover the unpaid docking fees. He should have known who’d bought it.

He sails them through the night, putting distance between them and the house. Jack will find it. He and Hannibal were careful, but he doubts the Dragon was. Dolarhyde would have wanted everyone to see his crime scene.

By dawn, he has to stop. The charts put them, as far as his fogged brain can make out, just short of a small coastal town where they can get supplies if they need to. Will suspects the boat is fully stocked, but he hasn’t been below for longer than it took to pull on dry clothes. Now he anchors them in a sheltered cove and goes to see what there is to see.

First, he sees Hannibal: stretched out on the single bunk, asleep or unconscious, naked, bandage over his wound. Around him lies the bloody detritus of surgery. Will stares until he is absolutely sure that Hannibal’s chest is rising and falling with his breath. He gets a blanket from the foot of the bunk and lays it over Hannibal.

And then—

And then he was going to make coffee, but.

But instead he slides down to sit on the floor and lean against the bunk. His eyes stay open a few minutes longer watching the dawn light waver into the cabin, but he’s watching it through a layer of dreams.

\*

“Will.”

The croak of Hannibal’s voice summons Will back to the world. He squints up, eyes gritty, cold even in the warm cabin. “What?”

Hannibal touches the crusted blood on Will’s cheek. “This—“ His voice gives out on him, and he coughs and tries again. “This needs attention.”

Will flicks his gaze around at the bloodied scalpel and wads of cotton. “You going to live?”

“I believe so.”

Hannibal looks down at him with the terrifying, consuming expression that Will has missed so much, and Will can’t scramble away from the bed fast enough. Fortunately, he has excuses: water, food, more blankets. And he should at least wash the blood off his face.

He starts with water for both of them and then he puts on coffee. He also puts on two sweaters and wraps a blanket around his shoulders. They sip water side by side on the bunk. Will finds crackers. They both chew slowly. It hurts even on the undamaged side of Will’s mouth. If he’s not careful, he leaks water out the hole in his face. He’s not sure how to manage the coffee.

“It will need stitches,” Hannibal says gently.

“I know. I know.”

He gets stitches before he gets coffee, which isn’t so bad because there’s a topical anesthetic. Hannibal stuffs some cotton wadding in there too, and Will ends up sipping his coffee through a straw, but it’s still warm, still rich, and it makes him believe this might be real.

“Where are we?” Hannibal asks.

“A few miles up the coast from Whalen. You know it?”

“Yes. It would be better if we were not seen from the town.”

“We can head out to sea.”

Hannibal nods, and that’s settled, but it’s a little while before they make any progress. Will showers and drinks more coffee and puts on yet another layer and finally starts to feel warm. Hannibal hangs last night’s sodden clothes up to dry and looks through each cupboard. By the time Will is on his third coffee, Hannibal has produced an improbable meal of udon noodles with canned vegetables and peanut sauce.

Will sits down to eat. In the center of the table lies one gold maple leaf.

“I found it in your pocket,” Hannibal says. “It’s out of season.”

It’s still wet from the stream. No. Wet because his clothes were wet. But that’s not any better. Either way, it’s impossible. He picks it up. Hannibal is watching him.

“I found it the day I met you,” Will says.

“It is fresh. Hours from the tree.”

“Just yesterday,” Will says. His smile is lopsided and his words muffled by cotton.

“Have we known each other so briefly?”

“Seems like it sometimes. Doesn’t it?”

The leaf glows on the table between them. “Perhaps we don’t know each other as well as we might,” Hannibal says finally. “In some ways.”

Will looks down at his hands and the familiar wood grain of the table. “We could fix that.”

“Where would we begin?”

Will looks up and meets Hannibal’s eyes and sees the same hesitation that he feels himself. They are picking their way along the ledge again, with the sea waiting for them if they misjudge their path. He reaches out to take Hannibal’s hand, heart pounding like waves against his ribs.

Hannibal wraps Will’s hand in both of his. After a long, fearful moment, he raises it to his lips.

Will swallows hard. “That’s good,” he says, unsteady. “Good place to start.”