Will doesn’t know what to feel when he climbs into the backseat of the SUV Chiyoh brought to spirit them away. He’s grateful to be leaving for someplace less damp and confined. But a part of him feels like he’s leaving some part of himself behind as he watches the cabin shrink in the distance through the rear-view mirror.
It doesn’t help that he’s feeling mixed emotions from Chiyoh that he has to separate from his own. He can tell she’s happy to see Hannibal again. But there’s something else churning beneath the surface. An unease that he suspects has to do with old worries he might ask her to go back to a life of solitude somewhere for his own amusement. Given the life Hannibal has had for the past three years, he doesn’t see the man being so cruel as to ask her to seclude herself again.
And then there’s Hannibal, who masks so much of what he’s feeling. What he does give off is usually faint and easy to navigate. It’s nice, not having to sort out if he’s feeling his own emotions or someone else’s when it comes to being with Hannibal. Yes, Hannibal has a presence that draws out Will’s darker nature. Which he initially mistook as belonging to Hannibal and Hannibal alone. He knows better now. It’s not that Will was mirroring Hannibal when he wanted to kill or hurt him or others, it was Hannibal drawing his own suppressed feelings to the surface.
“Are there going to be any stops along the way?” Chiyoh asks once they’re on the highway. She’s behind the wheel, Hannibal riding in the front passenger seat beside her and Will in the seat behind him. It’s the first time she’s spoken in the ten minutes she’s been with them, aside from greeting them both upon her arrival. She believes Hannibal would have informed her in advance if they were picking up any… guests… But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
“Not today, no,” Hannibal says simply as he watches the trees pass by. “I believe Will and I both would benefit from a few more days to recover before we should attempt anything strenuous. And I would like to take some time to get the house ready for guests first.”
“Will you be needing my assistance then? Or am I free to go once you and Will are settled?” she asks carefully. She’ll help if asked, but she doesn’t want to kill anyone if she doesn’t have to. And she doesn’t want to bear witness to the things he intends to do to his enemies. She accepts Hannibal, loves him in her own way, but she won’t be a part of the things he does to those he deems to be less.
“Depending on how things go after we’ve dealt with Bedelia, having back up when we go after Jack might be a good idea,” Will suggests, earning a questioning glance back from the woman. “Hannibal filled me in on your aptitude with a sniper rifle. Thank you, by the way, for not aiming anywhere vital when you shot me back in Palermo.”
“Thank you for not giving me a reason to,” she counters with the faintest hint of a smile. Will can see it when he looks in the rear-view mirror. “I promised Hannibal once before that I would watch over him. If he needs me to, I will be there to keep watch while the two of you do what needs to be done to Agent Crawford.”
“Thank you, Chiyoh.” The warmth in Hannibal’s voice is as evident and clear as the smile on his face.
Will catches sight of it when he looks to the mirror on their side of the vehicle. It’s nice seeing Hannibal so open with his feelings towards others. It’s a stark contrast to how he acts when those he doesn’t consider to be family are present.
“I was able to locate and purchase a ship similar to the one you described,” Chiyoh notes with another glance in the rear-view mirror to Will. “It has sails, as well as a diesel engine. It was well cared for by the previous owner and should meet your needs. I was told it would be ready to sail by next week. I paid an additional sum to have them upgrade the navigational equipment and install a new engine.”
“That’s great.” Will can’t help being a little surprised that she found a boat like the one he wanted so quickly, given how specific he was about what it needed to have. Hannibal insisted on Will giving her exact details for what he would feel most comfortable sailing since he would be the one captaining and maintaining the vessel. He really needs to stop underestimating her. “Did you ask them to order spare engine parts?”
“I did. They said you would be more than prepared should anything happen while at sea,” Chiyoh assures. She sat with the people at the marina for several hours working out every aspect of the transaction and the services they would provide to get the ship seaworthy in a timely manner.
“That’s wonderful news. I look forward to seeing the ship when the time comes. What is the name of the vessel?” Hannibal asks, tone of voice never wavering from the openly pleased tone it caries. He never doubts in Chiyoh and her abilities to carry out a task with exceptional results.
“The Black Stag.” She’s about to explain that she already placed an order for most of the other supplies they would need now that the ship is taken care of, but she’s cut off abruptly by the sound of sudden, near-hysterical sounding laughing from the back seat.
Hannibal actually turns in his seat and peers over the back to get a look at Will. He’s doubled over, arms wrapped around himself as if his sides hurt from the action, laughing so hard it sounds like he’s on the verge of hyperventilating. “I take it there is something you find amusing about that name?”
“It’s…” Will manages to say in a wheeze before another loud laugh escapes him beyond his control. “It’s just that… When I… When I had encephalitis… That was what I saw… that made me realize something was wrong with me… A massive black stag.” His laughter starts to calm down as he explains, and he gasps in great lungfuls of air as he tries to calm himself from the manic reaction to hearing the name of the ship Chiyoh found them. It’s impossible. He doesn’t believe in God in any form of the traditional sense, but that name has him wondering if this is some kind of a sign from above.
Hannibal thinks back, remembering Will talking about antlers after killing Garret Jacob Hobbs, and then later mumbling about a stag when he would use the phototherapy lights to help him get inside Will’s mind and nurture the seeds of change sprouting inside of him. “God has quite a sense of humor. Tell me, Will, when you saw this stag, what was it the creature would do?”
“Usually? It would follow me. Or just stand off to the side watching. I saw it at the hospital, work, home,” Will explains as his breathing starts to go back to normal at last. “The real irony is that it still appears in my daydreams and nightmares sometimes. But its shape changes depending on where I am and who I’m with. It becomes humanoid. Takes your face but remains a monstrous black being with antlers and the twisted body of a man.” Will scrubs his face with both hands, trying to calm himself down just a bit more. He still feels the urge to laugh despite himself. It’s just too crazy.
“Like a wendigo?” Chiyoh asks out of the blue, surprising both Will and Hannibal.
“Yes, exactly like a wendigo!” Will exclaims as he finally sits up straight in his seat once again and runs a hand through his hair, brushing his bangs back from his forehead in the process. He blinks in confusion a moment later when he notices Hannibal still staring at him from over the edge of his seat with a look that Will can’t read. It takes a second for him to realize what Hannibal is looking at. He now has a clear view of the scar on Will’s forehead. He’s been letting his hair fall over his forehead for the past two weeks, unintentionally keeping the mark covered.
Will runs his hand over his forehead, fingertips skimming over the raised line of tissues as he averts his eyes from the other man’s. He can still remember the feeling of the saw despite the haze of the drugs Hannibal had given him. The way it sent vibrations throughout his skull and down into the rest of his body as it ripped its way into him. The horrible sound of it beginning to cut bone that still echos through his skull in his nightmares. “That actually makes a lot of sense now that I think about it…”
Hannibal hums at that, understanding what Will means. It started appearing to him when he had to hunt down a cannibal. The fact that it stuck around after clearly shows how that case affected Will. And then for it to take on the appearance of Hannibal? He’s not sure how he feels about that exactly, knowing the legends of the wendigo and their association with madness as well as cannibalism. Hannibal is far from mad. And he imagines if one were ever to become such a creature, he surely would have long ago.
The conversation is dropped there. None of them feels the desire to continue on or change the subject.
Will is grateful for the quiet after everything he just shared. He never even told Molly about the stag. She knew about his nightmares. How they would creep into his mind even when daydreaming or spacing out and leave him shaken at times. But he could never bring himself to try and explain it to her and she didn’t push.
He feels oddly hollow now. Not in a bad way. It’s more like the feeling of relief one gets from finally being able to tell the whole truth about something. He always felt he couldn’t talk about the stag. Like it was a sign of how deeply messed up he really is. And he was certain that he would be sent back to the mental hospital if he told anyone about it. Put on medications and told he’s crazy.
But Chiyoh and Hannibal aren’t like the other people he’s known in his life. They don’t seem to think he’s crazy. And they don’t look at him like he’s lost his mind for admitting to seeing this imaginary creature. Hannibal knows and understands how Will’s mind works. Almost better than Will does at times. He gets that he has the imagination of an overactive child but the dark impulses of a man.
It shouldn’t surprise Will that the other man would be accepting of this quirk as well as all of his others.
But it does surprise him. Leaves him feeling strange. In the end, he decides not to think too hard on it or the feeling, and ends up turning his head to watch the scenery go by through the dark tinted windows of the SUV. He falls asleep less than an hour later.
The house is about what Will had expected for one owned by Hannibal. It had the exterior aesthetic of a log cabin, with the modern interior of a luxurious modern house. All dark woods and sleek designs opposed to the softer outside. There are two floors and a basement, obviously. As well as a garage and a fenced area out behind that looks like it might be for a garden of sorts.
Hannibal walks into the house ahead of Will. He immediately hung his coat in the small closet next to the entrance before taking a few steps to enter the living room. It’s a bit dark. Some light filtering in around the curtains that weren’t closed properly the last time someone had been there. He doesn’t seem to notice though, as he immediately goes to the closest armchair and pulls a dusty sheet off of it, which he begins to fold meticulously.
“What can I do to help?” Will asks, standing in the doorway still. He’s looking around slowly. Taking in the few pieces of art he sees on the walls and the comfortable-looking furniture that Hannibal is beginning to uncover in the living room area.
Hannibal pauses in his folding to look across the room at Will. He seems to consider the question a moment before glancing towards the windows behind him. “Opening the windows would be a great help. It’s been quite some time since this place got a bit of fresh air.”
“Sure, I can do that,” Will agrees as he shrugs off his coat and hangs it in the closet beside Hannibal’s. The air does smell fairly stale. Musty almost. Full of dust. It makes his nose itch with the urge to sneeze that isn’t quite strong enough to actually come forth on it’s own.
Pulling the curtains open floods the room with light, making the dust motes floating in the air strikingly obvious. The fresh gust of cool air that comes in when Will opens the window only adds to the effect, making them swirl and dance in the open space.
Once all the windows in the living room are open, Will looks around and notices the doorway that leads to what he assumes is the dining area or kitchen. With a glance to Hannibal, who is still uncovering furniture, he heads that way to open more windows.
The kitchen is so strikingly similar to the one in Hannibal’s old house that Will actually freezes in the doorway upon seeing it. The only real differences that Will can see are that the fridge is on the opposite wall, and the counters are a different color of marble. It’s like stepping into an alternate reality for a moment. And he has flashes of himself and Hannibal there. Chatting over coffee. Watching him cook the two of them dinner… And then it shifts and twists back to the kitchen in Baltimore, to blood and Abigail and ungodly pain. And then finally to a bloody Hannibal walking away from the two of them...
Hannibal sees the way Will’s body locks up momentarily upon seeing the kitchen before he clearly forces himself to walk into the room in an unusually stiff manner. It makes a pang of something that feels dangerously like guilt hit him. He can imagine the things that have to be going through Will’s mind in that moment, and they’re far from pleasant he’s sure. He can only imagine what kinds of things might trigger Will to relive the more horrible moments of his past. Moments that Hannibal caused...
It takes about an hour to get things in order. They get all of the furniture uncovered, windows open, electricity and water turned back on. Chiyoh shows up with groceries just after they finish getting things in working order, and she helps them clean things up a bit before bidding them goodbye for now and heading off to wherever it is that she intends to stay, since she declined to stay with the two of them. She lets Hannibal know there is an SUV in the garage now that they should be travel in without issues. He thanks her, and with that, she’s gone.
They don’t talk much that evening, Will and Hannibal. It’s been a long day and they’re both tired. It isn’t until late that evening when Hannibal comments on going to sleep that it strikes them both that the house has multiple bedrooms. They don’t -have- to sleep together. But one look shared between them makes it clear that isn’t what either man wants.
So, Will sets aside the now empty glass of whiskey he had been sipping as they sat by the fire, and walks over to where Hannibal stands beside the stairs that lead up to the second floor. He reaches out slowly, as if afraid of being rebuked for the action, and gently takes Hannibal’s hand in his own, lacing their fingers together.
His eyes are downcast, looking at their hands and pointedly not at Hannibal’s face. A mix of anxiety, embarrassment, and whiskey coloring and warming his cheeks. He feels ridiculous. Like a schoolboy with a crush. But he just doesn’t know how the hell to feel about the other man in that moment or what to make of Hannibal’s feelings towards him. He just knows he doesn’t want to be away from him if he doesn’t have to be...
Hannibal turns towards Will, making the other man’s breath hitch audibly as he draws closer. He raises the hand not currently being held, and uses a finger under Will’s chin to make him look up, worried blue meeting warm brown. “Stay with me, Will?”
Will seems to relax at the question, shoulders sagging just a little as he looks Hannibal in the eye and nods. Hannibal’s finger stays under his chin. Keeping his head tilted and eyes locked with the older man’s. He can see the longing in them. Feel it. It mixes with his own... And before he can overthink it, he leans in, tilts his head ever so slightly, and brings their lips together.
It’s soft. Brief. And Hannibal returns it readily. His every nerve singing with the pleasant shock of it. When they part Will has a questioning look in his eyes. Wanting to know if he read the moment wrong. If he’s just made a huge mistake. All Hannibal can bring himself to do in answer is gently slip his hand around to the back of Will’s neck and pull him into another soft kiss.
They stand there a long moment, Will hedging closer into Hannibal’s space as they give in to the desire that’s been building between them for some time. They finally part when Hannibal needs a breath, and he opens his eyes to find a small smile on Will’s lips. “Let’s go to bed?”
The question is innocent. No implication of wanting any more than what Will just shared with him. It’s late, and they’re both still healing. In more ways than one. He has no intention of rushing this. And Will seems to feel the same.
“Lead the way,” Will utters before stealing one last, quick kiss. Because he can. Because it feels like he is allowed to do that. And because it lets him know that what just happened was real and not some imagined moment in his overactive mind.
Hannibal does lead the way. And they take their time changing into nightclothes before slipping under the covers of the king-sized bed of the master bedroom. Even with the much larger sleeping space, the moment they are in it together Will gravitates towards him. Seeks him out and moves in close enough to feel Hannibal’s warmth and solid presence.
They fall asleep curled together much like they would back in the cabin. Only now, Will leans in and gives Hannibal one last kiss goodnight before they both drift off.