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The Cage You Love

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Dead leaves, falling with the rain.

The weather was awful these days, for sure. Ever damp, murky, and chilling to the bone—and winter had yet to come.

The very thought was cold, like the wind that blew sharp raindrops in Will’s face. Will shivered, teeth already chattering, and pulled his hood tighter. He tried to walk faster, but grey water from the puddles got into his sneakers when he wasn’t careful. His shoes already squelched, and he couldn’t feel his frozen feet. The autumn was cold this year—cold and unwelcoming. There had been no sun for a week, and there wouldn’t be for at least another one, if the forecasts were to be believed.

Will was nearly home, though. Another five minutes, and he would stand on the doorstep of his house. He would untie the laces of his sneakers and leave them by the door, stepping onto the warm wooden floor with his bare feet, and pad into the kitchen where a delicious smell of hot chicken soup would fill the air, and Hannibal would turn to him and smile, both with his mouth (reserved, close-lipped but still very much sincere; Will could tell, he could always tell) and his eyes (a kind brown hue, a warm familiar expression, always there to welcome Will home. Eyes full of love, always so much love. Always for Will.)

God, Will hoped his brother was back already. The sole thought of him made the bleak day seem so much colder without him.

The wind threw a jet of gelid water into his eyes.

 

Hannibal was home, of course. His brother was always there for Will.

He greeted Will with open arms, gently kissing him on the forehead with soft cool lips. There was something hot and tantalizingly-smelling on the stove.

“The soup is not quite ready yet, I’m afraid,” Hannibal sounded almost apologetic. “Why don’t you go and take a shower, Will? You are soaking wet; you must be freezing.”

“May I try? Just one spoon, please?” Wheedling rarely worked on Hannibal, but Will was ready to push his luck. The rich aroma filling the kitchen seemed totally worth it; Will’s stomach loudly voiced its agreement.

“You know that it will only make you hungrier,” Hannibal smiled. Will felt warmer already, under that smile. “Go wash yourself.”

When he came back down the soup was ready, the white steam wafting in the bright light of the chandelier. The meal was exquisite, of course, the broth rich and the meat tender.

“You have to teach me how to cook,” Will said when his plate was empty. “I may not have your talent, but I’ll be a model student, I promise.”

“I’m sure you will,” Hannibal agreed, folding his napkin. “But aren’t you happy with me cooking?”

“It’s not that, it’s like... Everything you make tastes like magic. I want to know how you do that. Please?”

“I’ll make sure to show you some day, my Will,” Hannibal inclined his head and bid him goodbye. He had to go to the city library, he said; of course he had to go, even if Will quietly wished him to stay and just talk for a while. They used to have so much to talk about, and now Hannibal was barely around.

Will missed his brother. It was a dull ache, like a day-old bruise, and it was with him nearly all the time these days. Of course, he wasn’t going to tell Hannibal—he could take care of himself and not be a wimp about it. And if Will felt colder than usual—well, then he’d just turn up the heating some more.

Hannibal said he would be gone for the afternoon and maybe the whole evening, and with a cool kiss on the forehead, he was gone. Will didn’t wait for his black car to disappear from sight. He climbed up the stairs and fished out the textbooks from his damp bag. When he looked up from his notes an hour something later, the sky was rapidly growing dim, and it was raining.

 

The sky was dark and clear, like black water. The clouds were almost gone now, and the first sharp star stung Will’s eyes with a chilly ray.

Will used to love the sight of the starry sky, until one day he looked up and his head suddenly swam from the cold, impossible vastness of it.

The sky, Will thought, was a bit like an upturned sea—but a thousand times scarier, because the sea at least had a bottom, but if you fell into the sky, you’d fall forever.

Now and then Will felt like he had taken a wrong step, and now he was falling, falling, with no end in sight.

(Sometimes it could feel like flying—if Hannibal was there to fall with him, together. But he was there less and less now, all busy, all grown up, and Will was drowning, choking in the black upturned sea.)

How long had he waited, shivering at the porch? Will didn’t know. The stars glowed above, impossibly, unimaginably, chillingly distant.

Will stared at them, head thrown back, until his vision swam and his legs wouldn’t hold him anymore.

A gust of wind smacked a wet leaf to Will’s cheek. It smelt of dampness and decay, and felt unpleasantly slimy. Will irritably tore it off and, with a final glance on the gate, stomped inside to clean his face.

The wind howled, hurling itself at the windows, but expensive modern plastic barely rattled. The lights in the whole house flickered. It was going to be a stormy night.

 

Will woke up at the table. For a moment he couldn’t decide what hurt more, his head or his butt. His temples throbbed, and his behind was squashed flat from sitting up all night.

Hannibal appeared at the door just as Will was scrubbing the sleep crust out of his eyes. He must have thought Will was disgusting—Hannibal was fastidious like that—but even if he did, his face showed nothing. He carefully smiled at Will:

“I don’t think I have to tell you sleeping like that won’t do you any good. What would you like for breakfast, Will?”

“Eh, whatever you feel like making; we both know it will be amazing anyway. Say, when did you come back yesterday? I think I stayed up pretty late.”

“I’m afraid it wasn’t exactly yesterday,” Hannibal admitted conversationally.

He had that face on—Will privately dubbed it his ‘Discussion Over’ face. This was how it was these days: he wouldn’t let Will into all of his life, not anymore. Will knew it was bound to happen—Hannibal was nearly a grown man now, and Will was but a shell of the person Hannibal used to love and trust—but he found he was still surprised. A sudden punch to the gut would probably feel surprising this way.

“Go wash your face, Will,” Hannibal admonished. And then, with a softer voice:

“I will make you something to help ease your migraine. Please do take care of your health, Will. You know how I worry.”

Do you, Will wanted to ask. But that would be stupid. Of course Hannibal worried. They were brothers; that was what brothers did.

 

(“That’s—not something brothers do.”

“Is that what you think, my Will?”

“Yes. At least, that’s not normal, right? Besides, I’m pretty sure that’s against the law.”

“Indeed, you are quite right. Society would frown upon this and condemn us, for being brothers as well as something—else. The question is, do you value society and its rules above me?”

“W—why are you doing this to me?..”

“Tell me. Do you, Will?”)

 

“I’m going out, Will,” Hannibal called. He had a tie on, with a pin—silver, vaguely shaped like horns; their family coat of arms. It glistened in the lamplight. Will stared at it and tried not to think of anything else. The pin blinked when Hannibal turned to say his goodbyes to Will; that looked like an inappropriately merry wink, he thought morosely.

“Where are you going?” Will half-expected to get a vague answer that wasn’t an answer at all, but Hannibal replied:

“Jack is hosting a party. Alana will be there, as well as Bedelia. I haven’t seen them for quite some time now, it would be good to catch up.”

Alana was Hannibal’s nice, if fierce, friend who was also friends with Will. Bedelia was Hannibal’s scary close acquaintance who was apparently too frosty to have anything resembling an actual buddy relationship, but she was smart (and maybe a little bit gorgeous), and Will cautiously liked her.

“May I come, too?” he asked. It’d be great to see Alana (if a little pathetic, to feel like he was desperately clinging on to his last remaining friend.)

“I do not think so, Will,” Hannibal’s voice wasn’t condescending, of course it wasn’t. Will was just angry and projecting. “Don’t you still have biology homework to do?”

The pin winked again, but fuzzily. Will kept his eyes wide open and unblinking, so that no unwanted tears would escape. Damn, he was pathetic.

“Do not wait up,” Hannibal instructed, and with that, he was gone.

Will went to his room and kicked the wall, and hurt his toe. Just how pathetic could he get?

Still, the homework wasn’t going to do itself; Hannibal was right, as always.

Hannibal had never had a girlfriend—somehow Will didn’t think he just couldn’t remember it. He pondered if this time Hannibal would be back with a new status already. Then he wondered why he was unhappy about it. But then again, one more thing (person) to steal Hannibal’s attention from him, and it wasn’t like Will had it in abundance in the first place.

At moments like this he missed his parents most—despite the fact he couldn’t even remember their faces.

Alone in the vast mansion, Will got to his homework. Outside, the wind sighed in the skeletal canopies of the naked trees and ruffled the leaden water in the puddles.

 

It was dark when Will got up from the table, stretching gingerly, and wandered to the kitchen for a snack. The fridge, of course, was full of fresh produce, greens and vegetables and fine cuts of meat; but it barely contained any leftovers. Hannibal strongly preferred freshly cooked food and wouldn’t let Will order any takeout. Usually that meant delicious (and, of course, healthy) meals, but now Will was standing in front of a fridge overflowing with food, and could find nothing to satisfy his immediate hunger.

He could cook, or he could wait for Hannibal. Without a doubt, his brother would make him something the instant he was home, no matter how late it would be. The problem was, there was no telling when Hannibal would be back. The alternative seemed easy enough—unless you counted the fact that Will had never, ever cooked in his life (at least in that year of it he remembered.) Hannibal had always insisted on taking care of him, never letting Will so much as make himself scrambled eggs. And he was always there, so it wasn’t like Will had any reason to try.

But now Will was alone.

He decided on having a go at a simple sandwich. He even googled half a dozen recipes to make sure he knew what he was doing. Several admittedly unsuccessful attempts later, Will tried something that finally looked like a proper sandwich, and wondered why he was even surprised that it was a far cry from Hannibal’s masterpieces. Still, it was edible, and Will was hungry.

He thoroughly checked the counter and the silverware for traces of blood. Who knew kitchen knives were so sharp? He would have to do something about his finger; it was still bleeding, albeit sluggishly. With newfound respect, Will recalled the graceful, confident way Hannibal moved around the kitchen, the ease with which he cooked and served all those wonderful dishes. He made it seem so simple, when it was one of the harder jobs Will had ever tried—and it had been just a regular sandwich.

Hunger mostly sated, Will looked out of the window and found out in surprise it had already grown dark. He didn’t feel like watching TV or sleeping, though, so he set out on a walk around the house, hoping to catch a stray memory.

Hannibal had raised his brow when Will told him, and generally didn’t look very encouraging. But still, Will stubbornly believed that wandering around the mansion, stroking the old polished wood and yellowing wallpaper, breathing in the air his mother had breathed out, might help him remember. Something; anything. This was the house Will spent all his life in; surely he would remember something, one day or another, if he just listened close enough.

A house full of ghosts of memories. Will could feel them with his skin, under his fingers, but they always dissipated in the cool air before he saw. Gone, gone like dead leaves in the wind, the tree of his mind left bare and barren.

Half-remembered dreams (nightmares), slipping (mercifully) through his fingers every bleary morning. Whiffs of visions, strings of sounds, momentary feelings of strange fondness and unexplainable loathing. The meager remnants of everything that used to make up William Graham Lecter—now gone with nary a trace. Who was the strange person that occupied Will’s body now?

A newborn in a fourteen-year-old body. A palimpsest, used and wiped out. Why did Hannibal even put up with him? Everybody told Will he was now nothing like his earlier self, the bright, cheerful boy Hannibal probably used to love.

Was Hannibal merely waiting for that boy to come back? Was Will just an unwelcome occupant in a familiar body?

Did he smile for that stranger and not for Will, waiting for him to come out of the recesses of Will’s mind and smile back? Did he kiss that stranger goodnight, waiting for him to throw his arms around Hannibal any moment, with that open abandon Will had seen in the photos of him before? Was Will just a shell Hannibal habitually took care of, waiting for his true brother to come back?

Will didn’t care for all the others; he didn’t mind that the boys from his phonebook wouldn’t look his way now, like he didn’t even exist. They didn’t matter; Hannibal did.

If he was just enduring Will—

But he always hugged Will like his heart was in it. Like there was no other place he would rather be, no other person he would rather see by his side. And he was far too intelligent to forget that his brother—wasn’t himself.

And Will hoped: a small, timid feeling, gently curled up under his ribs. But then Hannibal would leave for a full day, never calling—not even once, to tell Will when he would be back—and that small warmth would be replaced by a dull, persistent pain that wouldn’t fade even after Hannibal amiably greeted him good morning next day.

What good was Will to his brother now? And would Hannibal eventually tire of his moroseness, like everybody else—when he realized old Will wasn’t ever coming back?

(That Will, Will-Before, he used to love the smell of lilies.)

 

He used to be a happy child, barely caring about the grades, spending most of his time with friends. He had plenty, back then. Most of them wouldn’t even acknowledge him now, but Will didn’t mind. It wasn’t like he cared about them anymore.

Sometimes he opened the folder labelled “12th Birthday” (somehow the only photos of himself and his friends and family he had on his computer), and looked. Such joyful faces—many of them he didn’t even recognize now. He didn’t recognize himself in the photos, because this cheerful boy was not him. Eyes too happy; face too open; smile too wide.

Hannibal was in the photos, too, but only in a few of them. It was like Will-Before didn’t care about Hannibal being away from him. Granted, he had a lot of friends, but still, that was strange. Will-Now couldn’t imagine himself so distant from his older brother he would prefer other people’s company to his.

There was Alana, fourteen back then, her smile shining as she hugged Will. He looked flustered but gamely hugged her back, looking at her with adoring eyes. Hannibal was nowhere in sight.

What happened? Will thought. How did it all change?

Maybe—maybe his ‘friends’ just didn’t care enough to stay by his side when his strange illness surfaced.

Hannibal called it empathy; he said it was a gift, rare and precious and alluring. And maybe it was—to him. But Will felt his empathy like a leper, clinging to him, making him feel diseased. An outcast; a freak.

He rarely looked into people’s eyes anymore. Only in Hannibal’s, because he knew, with absolute certainty, that Hannibal wouldn’t let him drown.

Will scrolled to the next picture; it was Alana, a smudge of dirt on her cheek and flowers in her hair. She looked so peaceful and intimate Will suddenly knew it was him she was posing for, and felt a sharp pang of longing.

He knew—he thought they used to have something between them, something more than simple friendship. How did it all fizzle out?

He looked for a phone to call her—a sudden impulse, just to ask how she was doing, and maybe suggest going out one of these days—but he couldn’t find her number. He scrolled through the call history; there was only one number there. Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal. Will wondered how it happened.

He was still looking at the photo when the doors squeaked.

“I see you are not yet asleep, Will,” Hannibal’s voice sounded—reproaching? But (Will stole a glance at the time on the computer) it wasn’t even that late yet, and wasn’t Will already grown up enough so that his older brother didn’t need to tuck him into bed, anyway?

“Not sleepy,” Alana smiled at him from the photo (a smile meant just for him), and something sharp and wistful in his belly raised its head and made its way into Will’s heart, settling there like a worrisome animal.”Hey, Hannibal... Could you give me Alana’s number? I can’t find it in my phone. Maybe I accidentally deleted it?”

“But of course,” the voice sounded directly above him, calm and reassuring. “Not right now, though; I bet you are starving. Let me make something for you, and then you’ll have to remind me about the number.”

“I kinda, uh, made something already. It wasn’t all that good, but still, I’m not hungry anymore,” He felt Hannibal stiffen for a moment where he had leaned down and pressed his nose into Will’s unruly locks (Will leaned into the caress, unconsciously closing his eyes). But then Hannibal smiled into his hair:

“Then I’ll make you something light. Food is a form of art, Will; you should never waste your time and palate on plain, or worse, poorly-made dishes. I believe I told you that more than once.”

“You did.” Will remembered. He didn’t remember all that much anymore, but he had every second of every hour of every day with Hannibal memorized to their tiniest details, holding on to those memories with both hands, stupidly scared to let go.

His memories with Hannibal were all he had. And it wasn’t like he had plenty of other memories, anyway.

Hannibal kissed his temple and tenderly brushed Will’s cheek with his thumb before going to the kitchen. Will looked his way, forgetting all about Alana for a moment.

 

The light supper was delicious; Will hadn’t expected anything less. He chewed with relish, feeling hungry once again, until he raised his eyes and found Hannibal watching him.

“What?” he mumbled with his mouth full, and Hannibal frowned—barely noticeably, but still Will flushed with shame and stared at his plate, avoiding Hannibal’s disapproving gaze.

“You are growing up wonderfully, my dear Will,” Hannibal finally mused. “To think that I used to carry you in my arms about the house when you cried. Ah, it seems so long ago...”

“And now I could carry you,” Will boasted. It was true; he didn’t have his brother’s impressive build, being slight and reedy instead, but he did have some muscles on him, and was perfectly able to put them to good use.

“Indeed, you can,” Hannibal smiled. “Do you remember what you told me once? Way before The Day.”

“What are you talking about? Of course I don’t,” Will put down his fork, his appetite gone sour. Hannibal knew full well that Will didn’t like to bring up The Day that marked the start of his memories and the death of Will-Before, yet here they were.

“I’m sure you do,” Hannibal watched him closely. “Remember our promise, the one we made the evening of your tenth birthday?”

“Please, Hannibal. You know I don’t. I wan’t to, but I can’t; they’re gone, all gone, don’t you remember that?” Will was slightly hysterical. He knew that; he also didn’t care. Why wouldn’t stupid Hannibal just shut up for a moment?

“I’m sorry, Will, I didn’t mean to upset you,” now Hannibal looked repentant, and Will felt ashamed for a moment before he told himself it was all Hannibal’s fault anyway. “That memory, you see, is very dear to me. I wish I could give it to you, my little lamb,” and he got up to tightly hug Will against his chest. Will didn’t hug back, but he did relax in his brother’s arms, gradually. “I shall try to tell you, and then maybe you’ll remember.”

“We were in the attic—you used to complain it was old, stuffy and always chilly, but nonetheless, it pulled you like a magnet. Hardly anybody heated it even back then, you see, when we used to frequent it daily. There was a candle, it flickered in the draught, and your feet got cold. I—“

“—you warmed them up in your palms, didn’t you?” Hannibal’s relieved smile was answer enough. Will felt ecstatic; he remembered. Another recaptured memory, and this one came up so easily. “I think I remember, the feel—the feel of your hands. They were smoldering hot.”

“I brought a blanket for us—”

“—we cuddled under it, didn’t we? Ha, I bet your friends think you never ever cuddle because you’re too serious and stuffy for that! But you do.”

“I do, yes; with you. You wanted me to make a wish.”

“Yes, what was it? You never told me, right?”

“You are not supposed to tell your wishes to anyone, Will. I thought you knew that.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s me! Surely it doesn’t count if you tell me. I told you about my wish, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.” Hannibal leaned in, temple to temple, soft hair tickling Will’s cheek.

“What—what was it? I can’t remember.”

“You said it was your most precious, most dear wish. I promised I would make it come true,” Hannibal’s lips brushed against Will’s cheek, feather-light.

“It was—it was—oh.” Will stared down, ashamed to look into Hannibal’s eyes. God, he had been such a child. “I’m sorry, Hannibal, I had no idea—I don’t know what I was thinking—“

“Shhh, Will,” Hannibal soothed gently. “It’s okay; you spoke your heart.”

“But—this is stupid. I was stupid.”

“Don’t you dare say that, my Will. You are the smartest person I know. I wouldn’t be able to endure all the others if it weren’t for you; if I didn’t know you would be waiting for me at home when I was back.”

“Well, maybe that wasn’t that stupid—if you say so—but it was childish. I’m not a child anymore, Hannibal.”

“I never thought you would give up on your word, Will,” Hannibal straightened up. He looked—disappointed? “I genuinely thought you better than that.”

“I was ten year old! I didn’t know anything about—the birds and the bees, for fuck’s sake! Sorry,” Will added under Hannibal’s condemning stare. “It’s not like we could even follow through with that promise!”

“You did mean it,” Hannibal stated. His stare was piercing; Will desperately wanted to hide somewhere.

“Yes, yes, I did! But—”

“You told me you wanted to stay by my side, forever.”

“Yes, but—“

“You told me you wanted that nothing would ever separate us.”

“Yes—“

“What else did you ask me for, Will? What else did you want me to promise?”

Will met his narrow gaze with a stare of his own and clenched his fists.

“I asked you to kiss me, okay! Because some idiot at school blabbered about how your fist kiss was supposed to be with someone you love most in the world, and for me, that someone had always been you! I was just a child, Hannibal, I hadn’t even understood what that kid was talking about.”

“That is what you asked of me. But you requested something more.”

“Don’t—Hannibal, just don’t. I won’t repeat it. It’s stupid.”

“It is not. It was something you wanted.”

“I didn’t really want you to have sex with me, you know? I just—they were all talking, first time this, true love that, and how you were supposed to live the rest of your life together. And I—I really wanted to have you for the rest of my life.” Will couldn’t look into Hannibal’s eyes. Something cold and heavy pressed onto his chest.

“Did you think you would lose me eventually, then?” Hannibal asked steadily, as his soothing fingers carefully tucked a stray curl behind Will’s ear.

Will shook his head, distraught:

“Maybe. Probably. I must have. Anyway, it’s true, isn’t it? You’re not—with me, not anymore. You have your own life; soon you’ll probably go to college, and I’ll get to see you only several times a year, tops. Shit, this growing-up thing really sucks.”

Hannibal looked stricken.

“Do you feel I do not pay enough attention to you, Will?” he asked. Will snorted bitterly.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t notice that we barely talk anymore. It’s okay, it’s natural, I understand. I just—sometimes I miss you so bad.” He let Hannibal embrace him and slowly card his fingers through Will’s unruly hair.

“Will. You remember what you asked me to do; did I do that, for you?”

“... Yes. Yes, you did,” Will shivered.

“Will, you remember what you wanted me to promise; did I swear that, for you?”

“Yes, goddamnit, Hannibal, I was a child—“

“I did all that for you. I will do everything you ask of me, my Will. Do you want me to stay?”

“Yes,” Will immediately replied. “You know I do. But—“

Hannibal cut him off him with a kiss. It was nothing like the kisses they used to share, on the cheek or forehead; nowhere near innocent. It was long and hot and dirty, and there was passion in it—something brothers definitely were not supposed to feel for each other.

“I want to stay with you forever as much as you want me to. Do you believe me, my Will?”

“Y—yeah, but I—“

“Then let me prove it to you,” another kiss burnt his neck, so hot it seemed to leave a mark.

 

(This is wrong, Will thinks.

It’s all right, his brother says. He looks at Will, and his eyes are kind.

Do you trust me, Will? He doesn’t ask. There’s no need to; they both know the answer.

And because Will trusts his brother more than himself, he does what he’s told.

It hurts.)

 

Hannibal’s hands framed his face, steady and comforting. They felt as safe as ever.

Will desperately clung to the feel of Hannibal’s roughened skin on his cheekbones, because he was terrified.

“Does it hurt?” Hannibal asked. Caring. Concerned.

“No. Just feels—weird.”

“It’s nothing,” Hannibal smiled. “You’ll get used to it in no time.”

Will’s opening around his fingers burned, clenching tightly. He had to force himself open; his flesh wouldn’t give easily. Hannibal’s soothing murmuring helped, but only barely.

‘I do not want to hurt you, or do something wrong,’ Hannibal said. ‘Do it yourself, I shall be right here with you.’ And so Will did; and so Hannibal gently, tenderly caressed Will while Will was hurting himself.

Embarrassment stained his face red and burned his cheeks, and the shame made him look away from Hannibal’s inquisitive stare and his own indecency. He kept going, though; Will was nothing if not doggedly persistent. It already felt much easier, if not at all pleasant.

“I think I’m ready,” he gasped. Hannibal’s hands shook, he felt it with his skin.

“Come here,” his brother whispered. “Lie down. Look at me, my Will.”

Dear Will, sweet Will, my lovely, my beautiful, he kept chanting as he entered Will.

It hurt.

It was an eternity of shameful feverish expectation, of gut-wrenching fear and paralyzing pain. Will clenched his teeth; he didn’t scream or even moan, and he felt distantly proud about that. Hannibal licked away the tears on his eyelashes and kissed his temple, and then, his mouth. Will’s lips trembled and opened, mindlessly. He stared at the ceiling with unseeing eyes.

“Look at me, Will,” his brother urged, and Will looked. He only ever had eyes for Hannibal; why was it so hard now, then?

Hannibal’s arms went around Will, warm and familiar. They said, clearer than Hannibal’s mouth did next to his ear: “It will be alright.”

Hannibal stayed immobile until the pulsing pain subsided, and then moved. Gently, ever-so-slowly, careful to not hurt Will any more. Will held tightly onto his shoulders, lost and afraid.

The strange pleasure came like a tide, slow and imminent, flooding every cell of his body. Hannibal’s face was deliberate and controlled as he moved above Will, inside Will, but his eyes—Will had never seen them so... The only word that came to his mind was wild. Will was scared to see the beast of passion let loose from his brother’s refined shell, but also strangely proud to see his brother’s soul uncovered like that. For him. Only ever for him.

Hannibal’s hands roamed his body, hungry and seeking, leaving an electric trail on his skin. Will did scream now—scream and moan and plead and beg, voice hoarse and broken, body arched tightly to the point of snapping, torn with pleasure lost in pain.

Hannibal diligently waited until Will came (it wasn’t particularly enjoyable—a contortion of a torn body, a painful shudder and a quick rush.) Only then did he let himself go. When Will came to, numb with the aftershock, Hannibal was draped all over him, heavy and boneless. His weight felt suffocating, but also strangely comforting; grounding.

Will blinked, too wrung out to move, and then he was being showered in kisses. They felt desperate, obsessive—more brands then caresses, but Will didn’t care. Hannibal was close, as close as he could possibly get, and he felt more real than in the past couple of month. Despite the strangeness of what happened between them, Will found he was happy. Lost, and confused, and ashamed—but also stupidly, hopelessly happy.

(“You understand you cannot speak of this with others,” Hannibal whispered into his ear later, his breath a cool blow on Will’s sweaty cheek. “They will think ill of you, because it is not accepted as normal in the society; they will blame you and make you an outcast, and I do not want you to hurt.”

Will nodded, drowsy. Of course he wouldn’t tell anyone. After all, he didn’t have anyone to tell.)

 

The days that followed were the happiest in Will’s life (what little Will remembered of it, anyway.)

The vicious rains kept tearing the leaves off the gloomy trees—it looked almost like decay was eating through the golden crowns. The grey sky was mourning so desperately, and the sun didn’t dare to show its face through the heavy clouds. But Hannibal wasn’t distant anymore, he was there all the time, and Will couldn’t care less about the weather (or anything else, really.)

No more Alana or Bedelia, no friendly discussions with older peers in clubs and libraries. Now Hannibal’s evenings were for Will only. They talked—about everything and anything, just like they used to: Hannibal’s classes, Will’s empathy Will was finally learning to tame, politics, philosophy, gourmet meals Hannibal was considering cooking for the two of them, their shared interest in psychology and criminalistics, Will’s vague plans to get a dog. Hannibal taught him to draw and smiled good-naturedly at his pathetic attempts at art. Hannibal drew him: lost deep in thought; bored and chewing on his pen at his school books; flushed, naked and drowsy in bed.

(Will was always out like a light after their—activities; but Hannibal, it seemed, had a boundless supply of energy.)

They cuddled; Will always chuckled when he thought of his big brother, cuddling. Hannibal used to be a golden monument on a pedestal; a benevolent deity that might, from time to time, deign to show grace to lesser people (Will first and foremost) but was far above all the usual human flaws and weaknesses. But now, Hannibal was suddenly, overwhelmingly human.

He laughed like a common man, hugged like a man, kissed like a man. He could be fierce and ravenous like a very starving man indeed. Sometimes, he was the epitome of finesse; other times, he could be crushingly animalistic.

All of this, for Will. Sometimes he felt like a hungry man who had been presented with a feast of rare delicacies, and he couldn’t get enough. And if what Hannibal did to him made him hurt sometimes—well, at least Hannibal saw him now. And Will was growing to find pleasure in their closeness, now eager to get naked together and feel Hannibal with his whole body, around him, inside him, unquestionably there.

But the shame was still there; the shame, and the doubt, and the insistent feeling of wrongness. In the night, the darkness a stifling cloak around them and Hannibal’s arms vice-tight around Will, it seemed so right to be this close, so close it was impossible to recognize where Will ended and Hannibal began; and yet it seemed so wrong, as if Will didn’t have the right to this, as if their intimacy was something stolen and vile.

Will’s sleep got uneasy (uneasier than before). Often he woke up suffocating, drenched in sweat and boiling up in Hannibal’s body heat. And then there were the nightmares.

 

(His mother had white, fragile hands—like lily stems. This is all Will remembers.

The lily abyss of his oblivion smells intoxicatingly white.

His mother had thin, fragrant hands, like lily stems. What did she look like? Hannibal won’t show him photos, worry evident in his otherwise calm gaze, and Will does not remember.

He faintly recalls (like a nightmare half-dissipated); he can feel in his shoulders (those phantom bruises will never quite fade), the grip of mother’s lily hands, surprisingly strong.

“Monster!” somebody cries, shrill like an injured bird, and Will won’t remember anything else.

He isn’t sure he wants to. The scream bleeds his eyes dry every time.)

 

He wandered the dim, dusty chambers of their house while Hannibal was away, and came down sneezing, covered in dust and the cobwebs of old, stuffy memories. A phrase here, a scene there, it all slowly came together, now faster than ever.

Will meticulously cleaned up before Hannibal came home, and told him about school when his brother asked about his day. Will zealously guarded the records of his mind, taking care to go over every newfound memory again and again until it felt as familiar as the back of Will’s hand. The dark circles under his eyes grew more prominent by the day.

Hannibal suspected something, of course. Will’s brother was more keen and observant than anyone else Will knew. But Hannibal didn’t say anything—for now, and Will’s awkward kisses seemed to distract him, at least.

Will’s anxiousness grew darker, resting on his chest like a stone, but Hannibal’s arms were still as safe a harbor as ever. When Will was with Hannibal, he forgot about everyone and everything else, and for that, at least, Will was grateful.

He slept restlessly in the night and woke up feeling like a shadow of himself, like he wouldn’t even be able to get up if Hannibal wasn’t by his side.

(Hannibal was.)

Then finally came the day when the sun came out and shone, pale and haggard, in the bitter wind chill.

 

(The lilies in the vase had smelt intoxicatingly even after it crashed, shards flying everywhere.

Rivulets of clear water sparkling under the sharp electric light, slowly blending with the dark red. Lilies, bruised and dying under Will’s feet, a pure white stained pink.

Will screamed, and cried, and screamed, but his voice wasn’t enough to drown out the other noises. He clutched his head with shaking, bleeding fingers and wished to stop seeing, to stop hearing, to stop remembering.

Then there were strong hands and a quiet, soothing voice. Will thought he felt wetness on those hands, hot and sticky, but their warmth was suddenly around him, blocking out everything else, turning the world comfortably dark and small, and Will shuddered—shook with his whole body—and finally let himself drift.

When he woke up he didn’t remember his name.)

 

There was a girl, Molly something. That much Will remembered.

She was sweet, he supposed, in a bland sort of way. But he was fond of her. They were friends. Or used to be.

She died. The local news claimed it was an accident. Will had been confident it was a murder.

He knew her fairly well. She wasn’t the type to go wandering in the woods, or to fall into an old trapping pit. The way her body rested on the stakes when it was found was almost... artistic.

Will told his mother so. She had always coddled him, her youngest; people used to say Will took after her in everything but his artistic talents. She had always believed him (when he said he could see with the eyes of other people. When he told what strange, unsettling things he saw). She believed him this time, too.

Hannibal smiled and agreed Will’s arguments were sound. He looked proud.

“He was angry—no, jealous,” Will went on, enthused. “She stole something from him, or maybe someone. He took great care to humiliate her for that. She was... indecent, when they found her.”

Will had been still feeling sick over the sight. He hadn’t been sorry he looked at the photos, though, because he saw what the others couldn’t. It was his duty to Molly, to see and reveal who did this to her.

(Exposed in the basest sense, her insides hanging out like long billowing ribbons. Breast torn open, a rotten dwelling for worms and maggots. A spike through her neck, just under her chin.)

“But he loved the beauty of her death more than he hated the crime of her life. He’s an artist—maybe almost as talented as you, Hannibal.”

(Modelled. Decorated. Every detail posed precisely, in cold blood. To strike; to impress.)

(Terrible.)

(Beautiful.)

(Measured composition for calculated effect. Proportionate and harmonious. Almost classical in a way.)

(Hannibal’s latest drawing: a boy picking a thorn from his heel. The model was Will; his heel still hurt. He had no idea Hannibal was watching.)

And mother, because Will took after her, had realized first.

“Monster!”

 

Monsters hunted him in his sleep; black and cold, horned and feathered, they chased after him. They walked while he ran, but he knew they would always wait for him in the end.

He woke up with a gasp, his sheets drenched with sweat, his pillow stained with tears. He thought Hannibal probably felt him thrashing about and would wake up and ask if he was okay, and the thought instilled such terror in Will that he froze, afraid to move or even to breathe.

He still didn’t remember everything about that day. There were scattered pieces he missed, small things he couldn’t recall. (Maybe he didn’t want to.)

His parents died in a car crash. So tragically banal.

(They didn’t.)

(There was blood on the floor. There was blood on his mother’s favourite flowers. There was blood on skin—Will couldn’t remember whose skin it was.)

(It might have been his.)

(It might have been Hannibal’s.)

Hannibal looked more concerned by the day. He asked, and pretended he didn’t notice Will deflect uneasily; his worried silence after it became clear Will wouldn’t tell him anything of importance was even more eloquent than his subtle questions.

(Soft and gentle, so easy to get caught in. Cobwebs. Will felt suspended in the air, held only by the gossamer ties of Hannibal’s promises.)

(He loved his brother so much—more than anything in the world. More than father, maybe even more than mother. Because Hannibal was the best brother in the world, the smartest, the sharpest, always so calm and confident, so dependable; and because he always took care of Will. He would never let anyone or anything hurt Will, not if he could help it.)

Will went to the hall where the blood had spilled, and found it was locked.

 

The sun rose today, a dim circle barely visible through the sea of grayish clouds. The trees stood naked, like black charred skeletons robbed of a grave, and the yard keeper had already swiped away the decaying leaves. There hadn’t been any gold and red on the ground for a long time, and now there wasn’t even any muddy brown. Black, all black, and blacker under that anemic sun.

(“Where are our parents? Tell me!” Will is screaming. How did it happen? He never noticed. He’s hyperventilating now; his head swims, and he cannot see clearly. What’s going on?

He cannot see Hannibal.

Then there are strong arms, warm and steady. They lay on his shoulders, grounding him. Will is lost at the squally sea, but these arms are his anchor. He gradually calms down, and his breathing evens. In, out. In, out. Matching the steady heartbeat Will feels resonating through his own chest, right down to his heart.

That embrace had always been a safe harbor for him.

Where are their parents?

Hannibal had never lied to him. Will would have noticed; he sees into the deep, uninvited, unwanted, a freak. Sometimes he wants to shut his eyes and stay like this, so that all he sees is the back of his eyelids.

But Hannibal holds him so close that all Will sees is the glossy fabric of his tie, and whispers:

“You know where they are.”)

 

Now Will remembered.

 

(Will is drowning, torn apart by sharks, pieces of his flesh scattered in the tempest. The waves beat into his chest until it gives, bursting like a rotten tomato. The blackness oozes into the water from the gory wound. His harbor is safe and solid, it won’t allow harm come from the outside... but Will brings his own storm with him.)

 

It was sunny when Will came back home from school, a frosty Friday afternoon. The clouds were gathering in the sky, casting cold shadows on the ground, and the coal-black boughs shuddered in the chilly breeze.

Hannibal went out on the porch to welcome him home, and pressed a kiss to his forehead with a smiling mouth. The pallid sunlight washed out his face and stole the warmth from his eyes. Will remembered. He remembered everything all the way home, and he remembered everything even now. His head surely must have burst by the time Hannibal opened the door. The memories were clawing at his neurons, tearing his brain apart.

He gasped and quivered like a fish pulled out of water. He got the front of Hannibal’s neatly ironed shirt soaking wet with snot and tears. His brother didn’t ask any questions, just held him as if Will was fragile, about to break at any moment.

A broad palm petted his hair, steady and soothing. There and back, there and back. There wasn’t any true comfort in it, but the beasts inside Will’s head nonetheless grudgingly calmed, lying down for now.

Will rested his forehead on his brother’s chest, and closed his eyes, feeling Hannibal’s heart beat. Strong and steady; so very human. Will’s fingers slowly clenched.

The autumn smelled so sharply of lilies.