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If we only ever have one day to live, it would be enough

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Today begins with the familiar sensation of Will’s wiry hands gripping Hannibal’s sides. There was a time when Hannibal would wake early in the morning, waiting for their routine so that he could prevent Will from hurling them over the bed. It only saddened Hannibal whenever he would see the look of defeat on Will’s face like a bullet shatters glass. So, he lets Will attempt to kill him every morning, knowing he would fail and sometimes hoping he wouldn’t.

Hannibal’s back hits the parquet floor of their small bedroom, Will’s legs straddling him as he groans in confusion. This isn’t a familiar surrounding for him. Will’s mind is still at the edge of the cliffside, coated in glistening black blood, with a single decision: It must be the end for both of them. Instead, it had been the beginning of Will’s anterograde amnesia.

Then it comes, the confused whine that erupts from deep within Will, a dark mass so curdled from years of self-denial that it’s feral and injured. It’s a primordial call out to Hannibal, saying: Save me, destroy me. Will’s fingers wrap around Hannibal's neck simply because he doesn’t know what else to do, continuing a thought that seems out of place. He looks in every corner of the room but finds nothing familiar. This isn’t right. They should be at the cliff. His hands should be covered in blood. Hannibal should be disheveled, gazing upon him with pride from their triumph over the Great Red Dragon. There are many shoulds, but not among them is that Will should kill Hannibal at this moment.

It dawns on Will that this isn’t the right time nor the right place. He looks at Hannibal’s face, now older than before with more lines on his forehead and more grays peppering his sandy hair. This isn’t the Hannibal of the cliffside, but a Hannibal of a future alternate reality.

Will falls backward onto the palms of his hands, unable to make a sound as dread consumes him. Hannibal stands from the floor with ease, takes a folded blanket off of the nightstand, and wraps it around Will’s shoulders. The trembling begins then, Will’s body in a tortuous state of hyper-anxiety. The surrealness of the present wraps its clawed fingers around his mind tightly, forcing him to accept the reality he’s plummeted into.

“Where am I?” he manages to breathe, looking up at the mirror on the floor to see a version of himself that he doesn’t recognize.

A thick scar, red and mangled, creeps up along his jawline and up onto his cheek. He can’t resist the urge to touch his face, his index finger running along the scar with morbid curiosity. He remembers how he’d gotten it. There is no recollection of it being sewn up and healed. He doesn’t remember when he’d gained ten pounds, or when his curls had grown wilder than ever before, though his stubborn hairline had insisted on receding ever so slightly. He doesn’t remember when Hannibal had grown so tired and fragile that tears now threaten to spill over the rims of his eyes but never fall.

“You’re home,” Hannibal tells him simply, sitting on the floor next to Will and placing a hand on his shoulder.

This is one of the good mornings, where Will doesn’t have to be coerced into not killing Hannibal. There had been more of those lately and less so in the beginning when Hannibal had dragged Will’s unconscious body onto a boat. Hannibal still recalls the first time Will woke, charging at Hannibal. He had succeeded in throwing them both off the boat, but Hannibal dragged them back up onto the deck. And so it happened ten more times until Hannibal tied Will down with rope onto his bed at night, understanding that Will would never remember the previous day.

Yesterday lay five years in the past, five years exactly circled in red on the calendar stuck to the fridge in the kitchen. The in-between is a needle getting stuck on the record of time, skipping over the same spot repeatedly. No two sounds are quite the same, just as no two days are the same for Hannibal and Will, but they never progress forward.

Miraculously, today Will doesn’t require explanation. He understands almost immediately that an amount of time had passed that he isn’t aware of. This isn’t a dream he can wake up from, though he has a vague sense that Hannibal might have preferred that to not be the case. So Will sighs in a language that Hannibal understands, telling of heartbreak and loss.

“How long has it been?” Will asks.

“Five years to the day,” Hannibal admits.

Each day begins differently, though the outcome is the same. Hannibal learns of infinite possibilities, like how infinite sequences could start at infinite different numbers but always converge to the same value. He’d stopped fighting it after the first year.

If this is the only day he would ever have to live with Will Graham, he decided it would be enough. He pulls them up and off the floor, taking Will to the kitchen where they would eat the same breakfast Hannibal had planned to be their first meal together.

A protein scramble—Hannibal is very careful about what they put into their bodies. Will shovels the food into his mouth, eying Hannibal with curiosity. He knows what each bite contains, savoring the herby flavor of flesh on his tongue.

Will assumes, that in a way, they are dead. Thinking about it, Hannibal is resigned to a fate where he can’t have all of Will as he’d truly wanted. Will can never live a life where he must face the fact of who he is because he has no future. They’re in limbo waiting to cross over to the other side, and limbo occurs only after death. It’s a comforting insight, at first.

Comfort fades quickly upon the realization that Hannibal is not happy. There’s a desperation that leeches onto the surface of Hannibal’s skin—a man who found a kindred spirit left alone again. Will understands that feeling. He’d been in those shoes with Molly for three years as Hannibal remained locked in prison. Reach out to me. Hannibal’s soul speaks to Will, the pendulum swinging behind his eyes. He knows of the design in Hannibal’s head, of tomorrow that doesn’t exist if all factors are to stay the same. Hannibal needn’t explain.

“What have you tried?” Will asks. Questions burn onto his skin now. They form faster than he can ask them, so he chooses each one wisely.

“All experimental medicine that I could attempt given our life on the run. Anterograde amnesia is not treatable. There are three possible categories to fall into: worsening, stagnating, and improving. Your mind has stabilized at a certain point in time. You might find that you now know to play to piano or the theremin, but you will have no recollection of me ever teaching you these things. Your last memory, as you’re aware, is the moments after we killed Francis Dolarhyde. You may never improve.” The words come from Hannibal’s lips coldly, a rehearsed speech he dreads to speak every time though he must speak them.

“But I may improve,” Will counters.

“Five years is a long time. I’ve come to terms with the outcome.”

“You haven’t shown me our memories from the past five years,” Will notes, waiting for some grand book that Hannibal’s compiled over the years.

“My mind palace has grown vast in that time, and it would be a waste of our days trying to recollect my yesterday.”

“Your yesterday?” Will asks, gripping the fork in his hands until blood runs from the palm of his hand. It seems wrong that yesterday should only be Hannibal’s, but he realizes their yesterdays remain in different times.

“It only exists in my mind. If we’re to share a single day in our memories, it would be our yesterday. And while we live today, it will be our today. But tomorrow—”

“You don’t know,” Will chokes out. “You don’t.” He doesn’t expect himself to cry, but the pain Hannibal feels now is too overwhelming, too raw, too—too.

Today’s protein scramble is served wet, seasoned by Will and Hannibal’s tears, half of each portion left to be thrown in the trash. Before, Hannibal would have found wastefulness distasteful, but he makes sacrifices now so that he may enjoy the present.

“But I know today can be good, if you want it to be,” Hannibal finishes, a small smile etched on his face.

“Today can be good,” Will repeats.

****

They begin simply, Hannibal taking Will for a walk along the beach. The sand is hot against their bare feet, but they trudge along until they reach the shore where cool water splashes against their legs. Will wears shorts, and Hannibal wears trousers whose legs get soaked in saltwater. He doesn’t mind, walking along, waiting for words to come to him.

He’d gained so many hours today, with the easy morning they’ve had so far. Now with more hours than he’s used to, Hannibal isn’t sure what to do with them. It seems easier to allow Will to have the lead since Hannibal had already had so many conversations with Will before, many of them the same but different.

“Why is it that I wake up every morning wanting to kill you?” Will finally asks, turning to Hannibal.

“Your last memory is throwing us off the cliff. I suppose every morning is a continuation of that moment in time. You don’t remember success in killing us, so you continue the act until you achieve success.”

“I’ve never succeeded,” Will says. It’s painfully obvious, but so ironic to Will that it makes him laugh without care of who’s nearby that could hear.

“Do you wish you had?” Hannibal asks.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Will says and he’s honest. He hadn’t given the subject much thought since Hannibal had pulled them into the kitchen, introducing him to a life he doesn’t know he had.

Hannibal smirks to himself quietly, walking in front of Will now.

“This morning I had a clear intent which lasted only seconds before intent dissolved into disarray. There’s a temptation, knowing that today is the same as yesterday and tomorrow would be the same as today. We’ve had this conversation before. You know the question I want to ask.” Will quickens his pace, meeting Hannibal at his side.

“You wonder why you hadn’t killed us before, knowing this will always be the outcome. It would be easier to put me out of my misery, and you along with me.”

“I don’t have much of a life,” Will argues.

“The issue centers around me. You’ve thought about killing me many times before. And here we are, over eight years since the first time you’ve wanted to kill me. Do you still want to?”

In a way, Will wanted to kill Hannibal in the yesterday that he remembers. Why should it be so different today?

“It’s not so simple.” Will pauses. “You don’t allow me to kill you in the morning.”

“Many mornings you decide not to kill me. Other mornings your decision is made with some persuasion. But I’ve never stopped you. I wouldn’t stop you now.”

Will isn’t sure if it’s a plea. The thought of killing Hannibal becomes less appealing to him the more he thinks about it. “We’re already dead,” Will says.

“Limbo, you like to call it,” Hannibal laughs.

Will stops, but Hannibal keeps walking along the beach. He’s aware that Hannibal isn’t reading his mind, but know his thoughts based on the conclusions they’ve reached together before. It bothers him that Hannibal should know with some certainty what Will would do today. They could return home now, and for some reason, he knows the steps back, but his feet remain planted in the same spot. Eventually, he begins to run after Hannibal, his breath heavier the longer he runs. His knees ache from the arthritis that’s begun to develop in them, but he pushes on regardless. Five years is a long time, he decides. His body is no longer Will Graham, but Will Graham is trapped in it all the same.

“Why?” Will demands. It’s childish and stupid, but he asks the question anyway.

Hannibal continues walking, pursing his lips. He prefers it when Will asks this particular question later in the day, perhaps right before Will is about to doze off thus ending their day together.

“Why?” Will asks again, grabbing Hannibal’s hand with his own. He rubs circles into the back of Hannibal’s hand with his thumb, already knowing the answer but needing to hear it because it’s the only thing that would stop him from ending everything. And he’s decided already that he doesn’t want today to end, but goddamnit it would be easier if Hannibal answered the question.

“Why do all relationships continue?” Hannibal asks, unable to face Will. Their game of questions is easy now, a harkening to the past and a transition into today.

The beach is empty now and the tide comes in with a fury, bubbling up around their ankles. Will could drag both of them into the Atlantic, as he should have five years ago. There’s an opportunity there, and Will does not doubt that Hannibal had chosen this place purposefully. The water would never let them forget.

“I am not who you wanted,” Will says.

“You are who I want to keep,” Hannibal replies.

“This isn’t the future you had imagined.” His throat is raw from the shouting and talking, and the words come out cracked and raw. Will knows he’s said these words before to Hannibal, but they hadn’t stuck. Today could have been good. But tomorrow could be better if only Hannibal would let go. Will could force his hand.

“I’m not always right,” Hannibal replies.

“You could live your life unencumbered by yesterday if only you let me go. Why?” Will asks, pushing Hannibal backward into the ocean.

“This is the Atlantic, I know it is,” Will continues. “And I don’t know where we are but you would choose the same ocean to live next to so that I would always have this choice. You won’t stop me. But you’ve always wanted to live with me, even if it’s this. Why?”

Hannibal falls into the water, salt stinging his eyes. Above him stands Will Graham, scarred face, and sorrow in his eyes. God must look just as terrifying when he chooses to kill humans on Earth. All Will would have to do is step down on Hannibal’s chest, anchoring him in the water. He doesn’t. He walks away, leaving Hannibal to follow behind him, wet clothes clinging to his skin.

“I love you, Will,” Hannibal finally admits.

He’d only ever said the words to him while he was sleeping. He’d been reserving them for the day when Will would wake up and remember. Watching Will walk away now, he feels he has no choice. And so, Hannibal’s confession would only be remembered by Hannibal. He can only hope that tomorrow’s Will wouldn’t ask him the same.

“Let’s go home,” Will says.

****

“We’re in Cuba,” Hannibal breathes, hovering near Will as they prepare lunch in the kitchen.

Will nods, looking around their home. It’s small but elegantly decorated. As opposed to Hannibal’s previous home, it’s less intimidating. There’s a picture of them on the small bookshelf next to the dining table, perhaps one of the few memories of the past left for Will to see. Hannibal and Will sit next to each other on the beach, Hannibal’s hand over Will’s knee.

“You insisted on the photo,” Hannibal says, taking the cutting board and sliding the chopped onion into the pot.

“You left it up,” Will notes.

“I promised that I would. I honor that promise.”

There’s a kindness within Hannibal that had grown during the years they’d spent in Cuba. Will likes the change, but he grieves the process of change he can’t remember. Nausea wells up inside of him as he watches Hannibal cook, knowing that one day he would wake up and that the Hannibal then would be different from the Hannibal now. He wouldn’t know of the Hannibal today, who he’s grown attached to in so few hours.

“If I don’t remember tomorrow you have to kill us,” Will demands.

“You understand that I keep my promises. Are you sure?” Hannibal asks, taking a wooden spoon out of the drawer.

“Yes,” Will says.

“You have my word.”

****

The evening washes over them with gravity, an empty bottle of wine between them as they sit on the floor, backs leaning against the sofa. Another bottle is next to the empty one, half full and demanding to be emptied as well. Hannibal laughs as Will talks about his life with Molly while Hannibal had spent years in jail.

“You made me fat,” Will accuses, stumbling over his words. “You sat in jail for three years and I’d never been in better shape. Five years and look. All your fucking cooking. And I don’t remember it happening! Is that a good excuse?”

“You told me before you never liked Molly’s cooking,” Hannibal whispers, leaning in until their noses touch. “It’s been noted that happy couples tend to eat more. I’d like to think that despite our circumstances, you are happy in some part of your mind.”

“Are we a couple?” Will asks, hiccupping.

Hannibal hands him the glass of wine, watching as Will downs it quickly.

“I suppose we aren’t. Not in any way you would remember.”

“It’s what you wanted,” Will muses, leaning his nose against the glass. With a drop of wine left on the bottom, the glass smells sweet and fruity.

“Even-Steven,” Will says as he fills Hannibal’s glass.

“I only ever wanted you by my side,” Hannibal says, taking the glass into his hand. “In a way, I already have that.”

“I’m going to remember this tomorrow,” Will promises, lying down and placing his head on Hannibal’s lap. His eyes flutter closed, painfully heavy from the day full of newness.

“Don’t sleep,” Hannibal pleads, setting his glass down.

“Have we ever kissed?” Will asks, genuinely curious.

Hannibal smiles, cupping Will’s cheek with his hands. “Only if you initiated, and that happened once.”

“I knew you loved me before I pushed us off the cliff,” Will confesses. “I wanted to run away with you before you went to Florence—before you cut me open and left me your heart. I loved you then, too.”

“I know,” Hannibal sighs. “But if I kiss you today, tomorrow—”

“If I don’t remember tomorrow, then this will be the last day we have. That was your promise. And if I do remember, then I will also remember this. So, let me have this.”

Will pulls himself up, placing his lips over Hannibal’s. The kiss is slow and tender, at first gentle tugs of each other’s lips before blossoming into hunger and need. Hannibal pulls Will into his arms, holding him tightly and smashing his lips into Will’s. Will parts his mouth, allowing himself to taste the wine on Hannibal’s tongue. Will parts from the kiss in need of air, inhaling deeply and closing his eyes. Hannibal refuses to let Will go, pressing kisses into the side of his neck. He loses himself to the moment, hands wandering and arms trembling.

Yet he stops, unable to go any farther once he realizes that tomorrow he wouldn’t be able to kill Will even if tomorrow would be like today. And he wouldn’t be able to go any farther if Will wouldn’t be able to remember it. He clutches onto Will and brings him into his chest. Will closes his eyes, the pendulum swinging until it slows to a stop, dividing two designs. Will is alive in both. Hannibal can only promise so much.

“It’s okay,” Will breathes, wrapping his arms around Hannibal’s neck. “If you can’t, it’s okay. We’ll have some days like today.”

“It isn’t okay,” Hannibal finally admits, sobbing into the crook of Will’s neck. “I can’t hold you in the morning like I hold you now. It isn’t okay.”

“I know,” Will sighs, a weak smile spreading across his face.

****

They go to bed. Even without sleep, Will would eventually reset after some number of hours—Hannibal had tried it before. Twenty-seven hours seemed to be the maximum time limit Will could go before his mind would reset, erasing the memories of the past twenty-seven hours and starting with a blank slate. No matter how long they would stay up, it would be the same.

Their nights are usually longer, and Hannibal feels the weight of lost time sitting on his chest as they lay next to each other in bed, Will quietly snoring. Some days they get sixteen hours together. Most days the get twelve. Today they had ten beautiful hours together that Hannibal would forever cherish. He drags Will up into his arms and places Will’s head on his chest, stroking Will’s curls until his fingers grow tired and his eyes finally close.

****

Today begins with the familiar sensation of Will’s wiry hands gripping Hannibal’s sides. Hannibal’s eyes open, finding Will on top of him, eyes wide like a doe. And so it is. Hannibal closes his eyes, waiting for his back to hit the parquet. Moments pass like eons, Hannibal’s back remaining against the bed.

Will’s lips brush over Hannibal’s tentatively. Hannibal sinks into the kiss, wondering if Will had succeeded in killing him before he had a chance to wake. If there were an afterlife, this would be Hannibal’s ideal outcome.

Hannibal growls, flipping Will over and burying his hands in Will’s hair. It’s a fight of another kind, of flesh against flesh, both men battling for a sense of closeness that never feels close enough. Will eventually stops Hannibal, tracing the outline of Hannibal’s lips with his finger and smiling. Hannibal attempts to steal another kiss, but Will doesn’t allow him.

So death it is then, Hannibal decides—surely an afterlife wouldn’t reward him.

“Yesterday we kissed,” Will tells him.

“We’re dead,” Hannibal insists.

Will shakes his head, cheeks straining from the smile spread on his face. “It’s bits and pieces but you promised to kill me if I didn’t remember.”

“It’s impossible,” Hannibal protests.

“And so are we, but here we are.” It seems so stunningly simple to Will that this is the case.

Will pulls Hannibal out of bed. He stumbles as he walks, rushing to show Hannibal the things he remembers. It’s not complete, and Hannibal doesn’t expect it to be, but he listens to each word and doesn’t fill in the blanks as Will talks because Will’s memory is perfect in its imperfection.

Yesterday’s breakfast is skipped altogether, but Will doesn’t fish for the memory though he knows it should be there. Will opens the door and inhales the warm air, holding Hannibal’s hand as he recalls. “We’re in Cuba and outside our door is the Atlantic. We walked along the beach and I pushed you in.”

Will rushes Hannibal into the kitchen, pulling out the pot of leftover Osso Bucco from the fridge. “We cooked and you promised you would kill me today if today would be like yesterday. Because you honor your promises. And there’s wine in the trash bin because last night—”

Hannibal stops him there, pressing a kiss into Will’s lips because the other kisses don’t seem enough anymore now that he knows Will would remember. It would take time and practice, but one day Will would have more years of memories with Hannibal than without.

“I believe you,” Hannibal murmurs into Will’s lips.

****

At first, Will took notes of his days, terrified that he would forget a detail or that some memory of a day would disappear from his mind completely. Months went by, and journals stacked up on the nightstand next to the bed. Hannibal would sit awake, late into the night, watching as Will scribbled furiously over pages in an effort to recount every moment they had spent together.

Eventually, Will began to journal only his favorite memories, even those which were unpleasant, but Will knew they would laugh about in the future. Slowly, the journals went from daily to weekly and then to monthly, until the stack of journals had reached its limit and Will no longer felt the need to write in them.

They sit on the bookshelf now next to the dining table, the promised picture sitting on the shelf above them as a reminder of a time when Hannibal had chosen Will over all of his other wants. Will finds himself not needing this reminder anymore, but he loves to have it anyway.