Will wasn’t smiling.
His lips curved upwards, his eyes crinkled at the corners, his cheeks rose. Everything about his face was shaped into a smile. To a passerby, it would appear to be two men sitting on a bench, battered a bruised, speaking in hushed tones and looking fondly at each other.
But Will wasn’t smiling. The edges were there but within them, only emptiness.
It’s not surprising when he draws the knife; Hannibal has a matching one tucked just beneath the edge of his sleeve. Chiyoh shoots him in the shoulder and Hannibal catches him before he hits the ground.
When he digs the bullet out of Will’s shoulder, he doesn’t react. When Hannibal strips and bathes him, dresses him in tailored clothes, he doesn’t react. The needle slips into his arm, fills his veins with light and color, and even then, he does not react. It's as if Hannibal is handling a doll.
Only when Hannibal straps him to a dining chair does he finally move. He tilts his head up towards Hannibal, eyes wide unfocused. “Are you going to kill me?”
Hannibal hesitates. He is planning on it, yes, but he is unsure if he should be so honest with the man. Before he can decide, Will tips his head back further, closes his eyes, and with a weary smile he whispers “Finally.”
Again, Hannibal hesitates, stops entirely. Steps back, rewinds mentally, takes in Will’s demeanour since he arrived in Italy, his voice, his expressions-
Jack will not find them for some time, but he must still move quickly. He undoes the bindings holding the man in place, hauls him up and ignores his frustrated cry, the way he beats his hands along Hannibal’s back like a child, sobs no, no-
He leaves a note for Jack. I will keep him safe, it says. When the first drug wears off Hannibal injects him with another, holds him as his body relaxes into forced sleep. Traveling will be easier, this way.
They fly east, to the edges of Europe before it bleeds into Russia. Hannibal combs the bedroom, removes all sharp objects, things small enough to swallow, lengths of cord long enough to strangle. There is a camera, always on, and a motion sensor that will alert him to the man within waking.
When Will does finally wake, he simply sits up, turns to face the wall, and does not move. Hannibal watches for twenty minutes before entering the room himself.
“Will-” he says, voice low and even, only to be immediately cut off.
“Leave me alone.”
“I really do think we should-”
“I said, leave me the fuck alone!”
The words are loud and sharp, nearly enough to make Hannibal flinch. He relents. “I will bring dinner in an hour.”
As he cooks, he thinks. Will is recovering from a traumatic injury. Despite the orders he must have gotten from doctors to take it easy after discharge he found a boat and sailed across the sea by himself, toured Europe, got thrown off a train in the most literal sense. The man must be exhausted. The drugs Hannibal had given him- clearly Will had a bad reaction. His unique empathy combined with severe fatigue had led to a bad trip. With enough rest and recovery, the man will heal and be back to himself soon enough, and they can truly talk.
Will eats without comment, not even the murmur of ‘it’s good, thank you’ that he usually offers. Not entirely unexpected seeing as how Hannibal technically kidnapped the man. If he needs to sulk to move past this, Hannibal is more than willing to allow it.
But Will does not change. A week passes and every day he sits up, stares at the wall and says nothing. Hannibal fills the room with bookcases, lines them with books from his own collection and adds mystery novels and books about fishing. Will only rises, infrequently, to use the attached bathroom.
The man isn’t bathing. Hannibal has to slip in and quickly change the sheets while Will is in the bathroom. Either he is quick enough that he finishes before Will emerges or the man purposely waits until Hannibal is done to return to the bed, knowing there will be nowhere to sit otherwise. Eventually, Hannibal brings it up.
“You really should bathe, Will,” he says gently.
Will does not respond for a long moment. “If it’s what you want,” he finally says, voice hollow and quiet.
“It is not about what I want, Will. It’s a matter of your health.”
To that, Will says nothing, though he stands and makes his way to the bathroom. Hannibal does not move until he hears the shower running.
He changes the sheets and plans on leaving after, before Will has finished. The bathroom is stocked with towels and everything the other man could need. It’s when he drapes the quilt back over the bed, rights the pillows, that the bathroom door swings open.
The shower has not stopped, and Hannibal turns towards the door, eyes widening in genuine surprise as he sees Will standing there, naked and soaking wet, a square of plastic in his hand- somehow he had broken open the beard trimmer and pried out the blade. There is not much damage he could do with it, a fact Hannibal repeats to himself like a mantra as the man lunges at him, brandishing the crude weapon. Will swings it like a knife, aiming straight for Hannibal’s neck. It is not much work to step back and catch the man’s wrist as he sails forward clumsily, twist it backwards and force him to drop the blade, but then Will thrusts his free hand forward, revealing another piece of the trimmer he had concealed in his palm. This one has been broken into a jagged shard, sharp enough to kill if used correctly. Will intends to.
Hannibal snarls, half in rage and half in admiration. He doesn’t quite duck the strike in time, ends up with a rough cut across his forehead, but recovers quickly and moves forwards, knocking Will over and climbing on top of his body to pin him before the other man can move. Another swipe before Hannibal can get to his arm, this one missing entirely, and then Hannibal places one hand over Will’s pressing it harshly into the ground, and the other around his throat. With both hands, Hannibal squeezes. Squeezes until he feels the plastic fall from Will’s hand, moves both hands to his throat and squeezes until the man below him ceases thrashing and starts to go limp.
Unbidden, a vision flashes across his eyes, of Will sitting next to him on a bench and pretending to smile. Hannibal relaxes his hands all at once, feels the great gulping breaths of air Will takes reflexively, feels the way his pulse is even, not fluttering like the heartbeat of a man fighting for his life. It’s steady, calm, like a man who is allowing himself to die.
Abruptly, Hannibal stands and leaves the room, slamming the door behind him.
That night, he thinks. He’s always thinking, truthfully, about many things at once, many possibilities and opportunities. Tonight, he only thinks of one thing.
Will wants Hannibal to kill him.
It’s something he has thought of many times, and he is sure the reverse is true for Will. When they had first met, when Hannibal’s sense of self-preservation still outweighed his interest in Will, he thought of it often, though even then it was tinged with a bitter feeling of distaste. That feeling ultimately drove him to the plan of framing Will. It was a solution that tied everything up quite nicely; the copycat killings would no longer be a looming danger over his head, Will would see the truth of him, and then he would be kept in a nice little box for Hannibal to view whenever he pleased. It was only after everything had happened, far too late for correction, that Hannibal realized he had misunderstood the nature of his feelings towards Will.
When Will came back to him, the fantasies of killing him returned in turn. But that’s all they were- fantasies. Even when faced with a situation where Will entirely deserved to die for what he had done, Hannibal found the thought of living without him intolerable. Even if Will hated him for it, he would still be alive .
Italy had been… impulsive. The second betrayal had ripped open the scar of the first, left him raw and bleeding. It was intended to be as much a punishment for himself, for being foolish enough to trust again, than it was for Will. Now, he knows the truth of it- it was not a betrayal, but a manipulation. Will had perfected the art of prodding Hannibal in exactly the direction he desired, like he was a bull on the cusp of rampaging. The thought sends a spike of anger through him, at being used so blatantly. He pushes the emotion from his mind and forces himself to sleep.
The next day, when Hannibal brings Will breakfast, he speaks. “I am afraid I will need to… accompany you, next time you take a shower. I cannot trust that you will not attempt the same again.”
Will is looking at his food. “Whatever you want,” he murmurs, picking up the spoon and examining it.
Hannibal frowns. “This is not because I wish to do it, Will. You have left me no choice.” No response. Hannibal bites back a sigh. “I will bring you a new beard trimmer, if you would like.”
“What I want doesn’t matter.” He spoons some of the scrambled eggs into his mouth, chews and swallows. “Never has.”
“Jack has used you quite mercilessly.” Will shovels the rest of the eggs in his mouth, draining the glass of juice that had come with them in one long pull. “The places he drove you to must be dark indeed.”
Hannibal takes the tray back as Will pushes it into his hands. When Will speaks, it’s so quiet that Hannibal has to strain to hear it. “The only thing Jack drove me to was you.”
The words burrow deep, barbed and piercing. He leaves without another word.
As the days go by, Hannibal tries to coax something out of Will. The other man barely speaks to him, ignores the books Hannibal leaves on the nightstand for him to read, ignores the invitations to take walks or even just come out by the fire. He has to monitor the man’s diet closely, for even though he eats, it is not much. Will does not go outside and closes the curtains when Hannibal tries to leave them open, so vitamin D supplements are added to his breakfast meals. Since he does not exercise, while Will does not lose very much weight, his muscle definition slowly fades away, what little he had recovered after being in a coma for eight months. It makes him look softer, more fragile, like something that needs to be protected. It’s a feeling Hannibal never thought he’d find again.
It’s enough, until it isn’t.
One day, Hannibal simply wakes up tired of it all. This petulant, childish behavior from Will, the way he has been enabling it, everything. Above all else, one emotion has always been the strongest force for driving the other man into action; rage.
“I don’t want you here,” Hannibal tells him, in the afternoon. “Not like this.”
Will tuns to him slowly. “Alright,” he says, emotionless. “I’ll leave.” He starts to get out of the bed. A hand on his shoulder stops him.
“No, that is not what I meant.” There is a flutter of panic deep within Hannibal’s chest at the thought of Will leaving. He does not know what the man will do to himself if left entirely alone.
Will seems to pick up on the worry, as always. “I’m not going to kill myself, Hannibal.”
“You certainly seem intent on goading me into killing you.” There had been more attacks, each one less dramatic than the one before. Recently, they had trickled off entirely. “Forgive me if I do not trust your reassurance.”
The man cocks his head, looks past Hannibal. “I don’t want to die; I want you to kill me.”
Identically different rings through Hannibal’s head, sharp and mocking. It’s the first outright admission of Will’s intentions, but the victory tastes sour. “All things considered, I expected your desires to be the mirror of that. I have killed many people important to you.”
Will looks back at the wall. “I’ve found that I no longer have the energy left in me to hold you accountable for anything.”
Hannibal ignores the comment and begins listing them. “Georgia Madchen. You worked so hard to save her, and when you finally did I ripped it away from you. Beverly Katz. It seemed like you two were becoming something close to friends, when I killed her. She was the only one who believed you, then.” He pauses. “Jack and Alana. I intended for them both to die. Only luck changed their fates.” Will is still, not moving, nor acknowledging the words coming out of Hannibal’s mouth. “Abigail,” Hannibal says, voice lowering. “Our daughter. I took her from you, twice.”
“Once,” Will corrects, the word so sudden and unexpected that Hannibal stops speaking entirely. He remains silent, waits for Will to clarify, a growing sense of dread in his chest. “You only took Abigail from me once, because the second time, I died with her.”
Hannibal’s brow furrows, the dread within him growing. “Will-”
“We died on the floor of your kitchen, both of us. I watched the life slip from us and stain the tile red." He tips his head, turns so Hannibal can see his blank expression, the way his eyes focus on nothing. "I’ve been dead ever since, you know. My body just... hasn’t caught up to the rest of me, yet.”
The pain in Hannibal’s chest is so vast, so consuming, that he thinks that maybe he died that day alongside them.
In the morning, Hannibal makes some calls, gets appointments with different psychiatrists under different names. Tells them how he feels so apathetic, so drained and hollow, that he can’t bring himself to live like this anymore. Wonders if- wonders if it would be easier, just to end it all, Will’s empty face staring back at him like a mirage. He gets fluoxetine from one and escitalopram from the other. One of them is added to the tray alongside the vitamins, all of which Will takes without complaint. When it doesn’t work, he tries the other. Tells the first psychiatrist there is no improvement, gets duloxetine. Starts that when the previous one does nothing. Tells the second psychiatrist, and earns a frown.
“I know you have already refused this, and that medications can be difficult to work through. If there is really no improvement I will of course prescribe you something else, but therapy is just as important to the healing process as the medication, if not more so.”
I am well aware, Hannibal wants to snap. Therapy is not an option for Will, not anymore. The only psychiatrist he was ever willing to see had been Hannibal. Now, he almost entirely refuses to speak to him, much less receive therapy from him. He needs the medication to start the process.
He receives a new prescription, trashes it, and makes travel plans instead.
They move somewhere warmer, on the ocean, a small house atop a cliff overlooking the sea. After some consideration he puts Will in a room with a window overlooking the beautiful garden and not the water, hoping that the promise of the sea will draw him out. There is even a dock with a small boat tied to it. The view is beautiful. Will should have loved it. Instead, he draws the curtains when Hannibal leaves them open, turns and stares at the wall that sits between him and the water.
Here, it is easier, if less legal, to get the drugs Hannibal needs. He buys bupropion, desipramine, phenelzine. Tries adding ariprazole, tries changing Will’s diet, tries everything. None of it works.
Hannibal spends a lot of his time in the garden, growing both vegetables and flowers, colorful and bright. The vegetables, he cooks, and sells the excess at the market. The flowers he puts in vases, leaves them in Will’s room. It feels like leaving flowers at a grave.
No matter what happens, he will not allow himself to give up. Will is with him, alive despite his words, despite how he feels. Every day, he asks Will to walk with him.
“Come outside,” Hannibal begs, coaxing and desperate. “The ocean is beautiful.”
Will looks tired. “Stop trying.”
“I refuse,” comes the immediate reply. “All illnesses can be treated, or at the very least managed.”
“Hannibal,” Will sighs. His eyes are ringed with darkness, skin pale and ghostly. “I’m not sick. I’m broken.”
“You know that it is not fair to refer to mental illness in this manner. To you, and the countless other people suffering.”
“I’m not depressed,” Will insists. “You- you broke your favorite toy. My wood is… splinters, irreparable.” He turns, faces forwards, but not Hannibal. “You’ve always been so neat it borders on pathological. So dispose of your trash.”
“Will,” and it comes out in a strangled wheeze, like he’s just been punched in the gut. “You are not trash. Far from it.” The silence rings throughout the room. Hannibal breaks it with a soft confession. “You were never a toy, to me.”
He knows it, now, realized far too late. The teacup has already been ground into powder beneath his heel.
Will turns, faces Hannibal, looks at him without really seeing him. “Then why did you treat me like one?”
Hannibal can say nothing. Knows he doesn’t have the right. He had always thought of Will like a willow branch, bending and never breaking. What he had forgotten was that, with enough force, even willow will snap. He had gotten too close to the chrysalis, and the creature within had perished. He leaves the room and closes the door, presses his back against it and slumps to the ground. Because I was a fool, he wishes he had said. A fool who did not realize what he was risking until it had been lost. But with those wide, empty eyes staring through him into nothing, all of the words had stuck in his throat, bitter and bleeding.
For the first time in four decades, Hannibal does not eat for an entire day. He cooks for Will but when he tries to eat himself, the food tastes like ashes on his tongue.
Never in his life has Hannibal felt anything close to remorse. He’s not entirely sure that’s what he feels now. What he feels is a hole, like a piece of him has been ripped out and destroyed. A part that can never be replaced. When he looks, tries to see the one who took it from him, all he sees is his own hand buried into his chest.
He draws Will, smiling and happy. Pages and pages of it. None of them look correct, like he’s forgotten exactly what it looks like. Maybe he never really knew. Now, the expression is lost to him forever.
A week passes like this, muted and faded. Hannibal has never been one to fall prey to his emotions- he’s not about to start. Running away was never quite his style. If he’s truly dug Will a grave, then he’ll build a coffin for the both of them.
Will loves water, always has. The ocean is within his grasp, but Hannibal has shattered his legs and locked him away from it. Every act of creation begins with an act of destruction. He drives into town and returns with a sledgehammer.
The look of faint hope on Will’s face when he enters the room with it nearly makes Hannibal laugh. He walks to the wall Will had always stared at, the one between him and the sea, and swings.
When he is finished he is sweating and breathing hard. There is a large hole in the wall, no curtains to draw and block the light. Instead of plaster, Will sees sunlight, and the ocean.
“I will not kill you,” Hannibal pants, wiping the sweat off his brow. “Never.”
“This… won’t pass,” Will says slowly, eyes locked on the waves. “I don’t think it’s something that can heal.”
“My desire to be with you is not dependant on your mental state. While I would prefer you to improve, I will not abandon you if you do not.”
“Then I guess neither of us is going to get what we want.”
“I suppose not.” Hannibal smiles, small and cautious.
The corners of Will’s mouth tick up, his cheeks rise, and his eyes crinkle. “Fitting.”
But it’s not a smile.