The day that Will woke up to Hannibal softly basting his leg and arm casts with water, Hannibal explained the series of events that led to his waking in some kindly donated belts. How one of Tom’s sons was an over eager veterinary student who suggested cauterizing Hannibal’s colon. He instead opted to allow the risks of leaving sterile thread in the body. He explained how Will seemed to be awake but fell in and out during the lengthy process of resetting his tibia, radius, and shoulder. A small mercy gifted by his endorphins. Hannibal admitted to waning out of consciousness during his internal stitching, but became lucid enough to direct Tom through his external stitching. Tom was a rather thoughtful but intense retired naval officer, widower, and empty-nester, so he had a nurturing side if hidden by gripping and calloused hands.
“You fainted?” // “Not sure the mind wants us to see inside ourselves in that particular way. And, well, I bled a lot.” They shared a smile.
Hannibal also took the time to lean up and run a thumb over the scar in Will’s face. “I of course tended to this myself.” The scar would take another few months to turn completely white, but it lost its raw anger after the first week on the boat. He kept his thumb on Will’s cheek when he spoke again, “are you familiar with Rembrandt’s studies of head?”
“The series of his portraits imagining Jesus?”
“Yes. I think you’d look quite like that man as you age. The man who posed for him.”
Will laughed, trying to quiet several trains of thought.
The other man continued. “I look forward to it. Watching you age.” After admitting that, they met eyes.
Hannibal looked affectionate and… the mixture of certainty and vulnerability that comes with planning a future with someone.
Will looked up at the ceiling while he thought, wondering also if there was a better way to soften his plaster casts of gauze and newspaper than this. Though, Hannibal was thoughtful enough to lay towels down. And not make any references to preparing food. “I never – aging is not something I’ve thought much about. Being old I mean.”
“A characteristic of depression.” Hannibal caught eyes with an impatient Will. “Sorry, continue.”
“True, but it felt like something that would happen to everyone else but me. That I’d just stop before then.”
“There is a hauntingly high probability that you will die of heart disease or cancer.”
“Seems unfitting for you , though. To see you die of something so mundane.” Will looked down at Hannibal, who was now able to pretty successfully unravel the gauze from his weaker leg. He felt nearly overwhelmed in love, wrecked by the idea that he will, with cosmic certainty, be apart from this force sooner or later.
Hannibal sensed the nervous shift and chose to lighten the conversation. In his way. “Or I could simply be hit by a bus tomorrow.” He rotated Will’s ankle with doctor’s hands, searching for tenderness, and then ran two fingers along his bone, checking that it fused properly.
He scooted up Will’s body and, in a much less doctorly fashion, bracketed his hips to get a closer look at Will’s arm.
Will knew that he and Hannibal were woven together by history and blood and hunger and some otherworldly mental connection – so strong it made him wonder if they could stroll through each other’s dreams if they tried. But there was a part of Will that made homemade dog food, the part of him that liked the sun choppily glistening on water, that liked science and the smell of pine trees. At some point that part started to love Hannibal, too. Loved waking up next to him and laughing together. It was starting to become difficult to avoid or deny the inherent romance in domesticity and the warm love that is born among their spiritual vibrant lust.
Since the night he truly became known, when all three of them were in some way buried in his kitchen, Hannibal grew less ashamed, less stifled by false charm, intellectualism, or his desperation to remain uncaged. Masking one’s identity is a sad and self-betraying place. He made the mistake of waiting for Will there.
But now, as they gave themselves to the humble purity of nature’s temporary calm, they wanted each other in the way people want people. No ceremony of blood and deception. Just interpreting needs, refilling wine glasses, and memorizing the way the other likes to be touched.
All of that led to this moment, while Will watched Hannibal attentively and carefully – and with a furrowed brow – strip the softened gauze from his arm, he felt himself humming out, “I love you.” It was obvious and small but he thought if he didn’t let the comforting warmth of conventional romance slip into their relationship, he might lose those other bits of his authentic self.
The thought of liking to hear that confession, to probably make a habit of it, was a little alien to Hannibal but he brightly and viscerally felt the same. He paused briefly and said the same words, adding a kiss to the knuckles he was holding steady. If only for Will, Hannibal felt tied to the distinct earthy flavor of humanity that was in emotion and exchange.
And, within minutes, Will was scrubbing off his paler limbs in the shower, retraining his hips that had learned to compensate for his cast, and reveling in the quiet glory of his newly easy life, warm weather, and reciprocated love.
That night, they laid in bed, toying with each other’s fingers on their held out hands.
“Where would you like to go next?”
Will jolted at the thought. “Do you think we’re in danger here?”
“No, no. We can wait. I just like to think ahead.”
“You surprise me with your interest in knowing everything several steps ahead of everyone else, but delighting in chaos as well.”
“I like the challenges posed by chaos. Just as you like the challenges posed by self sabotage. Your life of habit, routine, safety, provider role to loyal companions is also not congruent with your disorganized mind.”
“In the same way, your fixation on history and antiquated ideas of high culture aren’t congruent with your desire for impulse.”
Hannibal sucked his teeth disapprovingly. “I take my changed self to familiar texts just as I would familiar places.”
“Is that what you want? To go to a familiar place?”
“I’d love to take you to my old haunts, my old chapels, but I’d live in the dunes of the Sahara if that’s where you wanted to go.”
“Hmm, maybe not the Sahara.”
“You’d miss all the people.” Unspoken: the hunting.
“I would.” Hannibal gave a small, deviant smile.
They laid in the silence and warm light from the bedside lamp.
“Do you know what makes me crazy to the outsider, Will?” He looked over at the tired man. “My ability to hide what disturbs their peace.”
“It helps them sleep at night. Thinking you're governed by - motivated by - simple delusion rather than things as universal and sane as annoyance and self preservation.”
“Oh, are those what make me tick?” Hannibal slid his arm under Will’s head, pulling him a little closer.
“I don't pretend to fully understand you.”
“Why don't you ask yourself, Will?”
Will rolled his eyes. “Are you familiar with the strangler fig?”
“Hm. No. And I’m not sure I like the direction of this line of questioning.” He closed his eyes to continue listening.
“It’s a parasitic sort of adaptation of certain classifications of ficus. They web themselves around a tall tree, obscuring them, so that they can compete for the light.”
“You’re saying I am the strangler fig to you? Or is that my new Caribbean mystery killer headline?”
“I’m saying… at one point you were that to me. Or I thought you were. Then maybe we both were victims to our own strangler figs. Or maybe it’s not analogous at all.”
“We consume ourselves.”
“We diagnose ourselves with this concept of a ‘soul’ as an excuse to have a hidden self.”
“A name for what we all choose to obscure.”
“Don’t bring up your book, Hannibal.”
He grinned, still with his eyes closed. “I said nothing.”
They will grow together there. Even if at first it is by accident. Even if at first it is in the roots.