But I don’t know
How I would live with myself,
What I’d forgive of myself,
If you don’t go.
Caramel, Suzanne Vega
His breath caught at Hannibal‘s touch, icy against his jaw even as his hands were warm. Will could not recall a time when Hannibal’s touch had been cold towards him. Not when he had cared for Will’s raw knuckles or when he had held his face, held him as his blade kissed into his core and left it smiling. His touch had never been cold. Not even when Will had pulled out a blade of his own in Florence to carve a smile into some secret, painful place on Hannibal and had gotten Chiyoh’s bullet in his arm instead. No, not even then. Hannibal had held him, carried him home. Undressed and dressed him, taken care of him, prepped him to assist—and be—dinner.
His hands were always comforting, gentle, kind. The kind of touch you’d expect of someone good, someone who cared. Someone soft, pliant and needful.
“It would be beneficial to us both if you kept your face tilted, just like this.” Hannibal took his jaw between his fingers, again, and forced his head to the left, exposing the stitches the way it suited him best. His tone was never cold, either. Not for Will. Not even when Will had broken whatever had bloomed between them.
I let you know me. See me.
You dropped your forgiveness, Will. You forgive how god forgives.
Will. Was it good to see me?
“Hurts my shoulder.” Was Will’s form of excuse. It was definitely not that he was itching to look at Hannibal, to gouge out any indication of how he was feeling, of why he’d woken up so different.
Will closed his eyes against the sharp sensation of his torn muscles in his shoulder being made to grind against one another. Will could barely move it and Hannibal knew, hell, he probably understood the particulars better than the owner of the arm himself. He seemed not to care, now. Hannibal had already gotten the stitches out from the inside of Will’s mouth, an even more awkward and uncomfortable position for him to be in. Will was exhausted, even more so at Hannibal’s doctor/patient-like attentions. But he wouldn’t complain.
“It will just be a moment.” Hannibal quieted him and Will felt the familiar pull of forceps on the suture that had made itself a home in his skin, the uncomfortable intrusion of small, sharp scissors, heard more than felt the snap of the material giving away to their violence. His breath stuttered again when Hannibal softly pulled the stitch all the way out. There was a sudden feeling of emptiness and Will almost wished he could ask Hannibal to leave the rest of them. It felt as though they were the only thing keeping him together. He needed them, but he wouldn’t say so. “Any pain?”
Will sighed, realizing he’d have to talk with Hannibal’s hands still on his face and whispered, “Discomfort.”
The only response was another stitch getting cut out. And another. And another until there weren’t any more and Will felt as different as he’d felt in years. He wondered if his cheek would tear open the next time he spoke; he could see it clearly. An ugly, deep, bloody gash and streams of blood pouring out of his mouth as his words reached for Hannibal.
Not that Hannibal was talking to him much at all. That was something else Hannibal had never been with Will.
He was a killer, yes. A cannibal, most definitely. A monster to Will’s standardized sense of morality, to be sure.
It was this still, quiet version of him that had survived against the attack of an unforgiving ocean that terrified Will. He had always been calm, had always known when to be silent, but Hannibal was a loud creature, even when he didn’t make a sound.
The key was learning to listen.
It was his poise, his sense of self, the way he embraced darkness and sought it out in others that was loud when he wasn’t.
But this silence…
It had started with Hannibal sleeping. He slept for days. Seven, to be exact. Slept so soundly Will would have believed him dead, but there was a persistent, slight rising and falling of his chest. It was seven days of Hannibal struggling to stay alive and seven days of Will struggling to stay sane.
I’ve killed him. I’ve killed him bathed in water and salt and blood. I will never forgive him for dying.
He can’t die. He will take me with him, or he won’t go at all. I’ll make him promise.
On the last hour of the seventh day, as a storm threatened to tear apart Will’s resolve to not lose his mind, Hannibal’s eyes gave up their resolve to remain closed. That was days ago, and he’d woken up as himself and as foreign as Will had ever known him.
“It looks like it’s healing beautifully. The scarring will be minimal.” Hannibal murmured almost to himself as he placed the instruments on a tray, surely to be cleaned later, and discarded his gloves. “Chiyoh outdid herself.”
“She did.” Will said, looking at the mirror to his left and he had to agree. There was an ugly pink, angry line that split his cheek in two and it really was not as bad as it could have been. He had shaved at Chiyoh’s suggestion that it would make it easier to watch out for signs of infection. He wondered how the scar would stand out against his beard. Would he hate it less or more? “And she did it in cold blood.”
“The kindest things are.” Hannibal’s tone was so matter-of-fact, it made Will want to ask what he referred to. And maybe it’s just to hear him speak.
“I have a feeling she was not meaning to be kind.” It was meant to be humorous, to make Hannibal smile without smiling as he always did, but there is nothing there as Hannibal picks up the tray and makes his way to the door.
It was so strange to see him in sweatpants and a t-shirt. Not because Will had never seen him like this, but because it felt like it was a sight he’d been deprived of, time and time again.
I gave you a rare gift, but you didn’t want it.
I would have liked to show you Florence, Will.
Will wanted to laugh.
“We are responsible for our actions, not for how people perceive them.” Were the psychiatrist’s parting words. He was in Will’s room and suddenly, he was not. He was Hannibal at the cliff and now he was Hannibal…this new him that had awakened to calm a stormy night.
“I am responsible for pulling us off that cliff,” Will said to himself, turning to look back at the mirror, though not necessarily at himself. “I’m not responsible for how he perceives it.”
It felt miles away from reality. It left the familiar, sickly bitterness of lies in his mouth.
Will was patient, to a degree. Hannibal barely looked at him for the rest of the day and then turned in for the night at six. His lungs were in bad shape, one of them having collapsed at impact and he still looked bruised and battered, his ribs struggling to reconcile. He was just on this side of not completely broken, but Will knew better. Hannibal had never slept much. Not unless he was pulled off a cliff and had nearly died. Then, he could sleep for seven days.
Chiyoh found Will on the porch, nursing a bottle of whiskey, when she came with what appeared to be groceries. She was in all dark clothing, as usual, a long ebony braid swinging behind her. Chiyoh always came like this: with a frown, supplies and asking silently how Hannibal was doing. She didn’t stay with them, but she came over enough that it wouldn’t make much of a difference if she did. Will wanted to ask why she didn’t sleep there, but even as they weren’t currently on a moving train, it seemed unwise to approach her unless strictly necessary.
“He’s doing alright, I think. He insisted on taking out my stitches—said you outdid yourself.” Will drawled, throwing back the bottle and swallowing. It burned his throat differently than the water from the ocean had, but it did the trick. Chiyoh made a disgusted noise Will simply had to agree with.
“That is no compliment.” Chiyoh propped a knee on a step, placing the brown paper bags on her thigh, like she expected the conversation to take a while. “You say it like it is.”
“It’s a compliment if you take it as one.” Will retaliated, thinking of the many ways in which Chiyoh understood Hannibal that he would never. He felt an unreasonable, undeniable stab of something that could only be jealousy in the pit of his stomach.
“It is a compliment if it is meant as a compliment. He wishes he could have done it himself. I know it bothers him that he did not—could not.” It was said almost conspiratorially, as if they shared secrets between them.
How is Chiyoh?
She pushed me off a train.
Maybe there lied a secret, somewhere. Unintentional as it was.
“Do you know what else bothers him?” The faux nonchalance felt as ridiculous as it sounded.
There was a hint of a smile on Chiyoh’s face when she looked at the door, then back at him with a stern,
“You should not be drinking. You should still be taking antibiotics.” Will frowned before he took another drink.
“We shouldn’t do a lot of things. And you brought this, didn’t you?” Chiyoh scoffed and left him at that, as tired of him as he was of himself. It was a long time before he picked up the empty bottle and stumbled inside, his shoulder bumping against the doorframe. He groaned at the pain and ceased his movements, holding it in place in an attempt to make it stop hurting. It continued to ache all night.
The following day, he stayed in his room as much as he could. He missed his dogs. He missed simply having conversations. He missed the glass wall between him and Hannibal. It seemed they were closer, then. He even missed the nightmares. Their dive into the ocean had failed to drown them, far too occupied drowning everything else.
Chiyoh was there briefly; asked Will about his shoulder, asked if he wanted an aspirin, took a look at the stitches and decided they were ready to come off, too.
Will Graham most definitely did not make note of Hannibal’s absence. Will Graham did not think, why isn’t he here? Coward. Come see to me yourself.
When it was near eight, Will came down for supper. Hannibal knocked on his door and said nothing else, a silent invite Will wanted to refuse out of spite and gave into out of desperation.
They ate across each other, on a much shorter table than they used to. Will struggled to stop looking at him. Hannibal gave him absolutely nothing but a plate of delicious food and a single look when Will almost spilled his glass of water. He had a bruised cheekbone and a healing split lip. His eyes seemed deeper and darker. His hair was still too short, messy and gray. He was beautiful.
“Hannibal?” He received a hum in return, an unspoken I know you’re itching to, so just say what you need to say. Will realized he was balanced on the very edge of anger and, because he was too good pulling himself off those, he breathed in an attempt to reel it in. “I waited seven days to speak to you. It would appear that I am still waiting.”
“What would you like me to talk about?” Will expected his name at the end of that question, but it never comes. It stung, like antiseptic on a raw wound. It made Will tremble on the edge of that warm, comforting rage in his chest.
“Teacups.” Will spit before bringing a forkful of the salad Hannibal prepared. It tasted like resentment. “Time. The rules of disorder.”
“Is that it?” Hannibal sniffed, dropping his cutlery with the sort of grace only Hannibal Lecter possessed. Will took him in, focused on his hands and he couldn’t be sure, but they seemed to be shaking. So, Will could only look at him, take in the beard that was threatening to grow on his face, the disdain on those downturned lips and those devastating eyes looking right through him. Will can only look, look, look.
I envy you your hate. It makes it easier when you know how to feel.
“Seven days, I waited. I’m tired of waiting.” Will dropped his own cutlery, realizing what he’d said and the many ways in which it was a mistake only when Hannibal’s nose gave a twitch. The so very subtle way in which he expressed strong emotion. A scrunch of his nose.
“Waiting?” He sounded deadly.
“For you to wake up. And then, for you to talk to me. For you to even take a single look at me.” Will sighed and rolled his eyes. “For you to coax explanations about that night from me. For you to hate me. Something.”
“I understand. If three years lying in wait are difficult to bear, I cannot begin to imagine how trying a week must have been for you.” It was a low blow. It was maddening and impolite. Unlike him. It was the Hannibal that storm had brought back.
“It’s not the same.” Will growled, a fist slamming against the table, making the contents atop rattle like they feared him. “I thought you were dying. I thought you were—you deserved those three years locked up. You were there because—and you knew I was still alive!” And I would remain that way because only you can kill me. Only we can kill each other, but if I kill you and you die, I will never forgive you.
Hannibal was quiet, again. Will was shaking—nothing but white noise in his head as he watched Hannibal drink from his glass of water, dab at his mouth with his napkin. Calm and severe with it. Will wanted to kill him.
Hannibal did no more than raise an eyebrow and stand, casually dusting nothing off his sweatpants with the finesse of a man in a three-piece suit.
“I asked Chiyoh to procure a car for you. You may leave whenever you feel up to the task. It has been far too long.” His voice was low and soft, like he knew the blow he was delivering was enough to make Will’s knees bend. He’d done it before.
“Uncle Jack thinks you dead. The wife, too.” Hannibal pushed the words out like they were a cough. He hated them as much as Will hated them.
“Do you miss them? Will you go find them?” Will felt sick. He was going to kill him.
“You don’t get to do this. You can’t just—god, you’re a coward, Hannibal.” Hannibal paused at that, stopped breathing. Will wished he could breathe for him, force life into him. Whether he wanted it or not was inconsequential.
“What exactly do you think I fear, Will?” The sound of his name startled him, like he’d been asleep until this very moment. Until Hannibal decided to give him a fraction of what he wanted.
Will wanted. At last, he had everything he had denied himself over and over again and that all-consuming everything had turned to nothing. Hannibal wasn’t giving an inch. Will was blindsided.
“I—” Me. You’re afraid of me and of us and that I’ve finally given into you. Will Graham was the same kind of coward because he couldn’t bring himself to say it.
“Chiyoh and I will soon be leaving. Three days. You are welcome to stay until then.” There was a microscopic bit of emotion in his voice impossible to define. Just like him.
“No.” Will felt like a child who knew their tantrum hadn’t worked. In fact, it had gotten him exactly the opposite of what he wanted. “You can’t travel like this. Your lungs—what if you—”
“It’s not a matter of discussion, I’m afraid.” It was final. It was devastating. Will breathed and looked. Hannibal was no more than eight feet away, bent over slightly, hand on his ribs. “I apologize, but I am quite tired. Would you mind cleaning up?”
Will did not, but he also didn’t get to say so before Hannibal walked away, leaning more towards one foot than the other. His limp from the night Jack had gotten to him in Florence had never gone away. It had been aggravated by Mason’s men, neglected by three years at BSHCI and rekindled by the fall.
It excites him to know that you are marked in this particular way.
Chiyoh found him sat at the table, exactly the way Hannibal had left him.
“He told you.” The sympathy in her statement must have been implied. A key suddenly appeared in front of his half-eaten food.
“Why are you doing this?” Will asked, fixated on the key. He hated it so much, he needed it out of his sight.
“I wanted to cage him like he did me.” There was something so familiar about the way Chiyoh spoke of Hannibal. “I wanted him to feel as isolated as I did. As helpless as I did. But that’s changed, now.”
Dr. Du Maurier. Chiyoh’s apprehensive affection towards Hannibal reminded him of Bedelia. The perfectly deadly combination of love and resentment. Hate and appreciation.
“Changed how? If you go with him, if you help him, he won’t walk into your cage.”
“The cage is you.” His head snapped up, finding her watching him, an almost peaceful look on her face. “Without you, he is free.”
Will wanted to burst into Hannibal’s room and demand to hear it from his own mouth.
Hannibal’s judge, jury and executioner.
“And you mean to free him,” Will whispered shakily, feeling not unlike the way he felt when he woke up from a nightmare.
“No.” She whispered back, the same conspiratorial tone from the night before. “He means to free himself. I just get to watch.”
Will thought about that. Even hours after she’d left.
It was near four in the morning when he couldn’t take it anymore. He had cleaned up as Hannibal had asked. Had searched high and low for another bottle of whiskey (because there had to be more, somewhere.) and had forced down three fingers of it, hoping it would bring sleep.
The cage is you.
Hannibal’s door was dark and identical to his, but much more daunting. He considered knocking, but it was a distant thought in his mind as he opened the door.
It was an old, worn house and the door failed to be quiet. Hannibal stirred immediately with a hoarse, “Chiyoh?”
He had not been asleep, not that it really mattered.
“It’s me.” Will declared like he was not afraid of being sent on his way.
“Is something wrong?” Hannibal answered, sitting up with great difficulty and Will had restrain himself as to not go to him and help him. Hannibal had been dying, but now he was up. Self-sufficient and as invincible as ever. He did not need Will’s help.
“I couldn’t—I can’t sleep.” He received only Hannibal’s silence, again. “Clearly you couldn’t either.”
“I have been adjusting…” Hannibal said with a groan as he finally brought himself to rest against the headboard. “Having nightmares is new to me.”
“Not having nightmares is new to me.” Will confessed in kind, letting himself further into the room as it seemed Hannibal was not kicking him out just yet.
“And this drove you here.” Hannibal murmured tiredly. “Why are you here?”
“Here with you or here in your room?” Will prompted, as he blindly closed the door and leaned back against it. Hannibal almost smiled, it was small, but there. A small lift, in the corner of his mouth.
“You are still waiting for something, Will, that I can’t give.” Hannibal replied, leaning his head back, as if mirroring Will. He closed his eyes. “I am waiting, too.”
“What for?” Will regretted asking, but he did not regret that it finally made Hannibal smile. It was an ugly, sad smile. Will loved it.
Is Hannibal in love with me?
“Someone has to leave first.” Hannibal explained, eyes still closed, terrible smile still on his face. “I didn’t die. I didn’t go. I never do, but you…”
Will didn’t register his legs moving or his hand reaching for Hannibal’s exposed throat. He was barely conscious of the way he bent and brought Hannibal’s face forcefully towards his, locking their eyes in a way only their eyes could.
Hannibal gasped for breath, not because of Will’s grip, but because the angle was painful. Will was about to take off his stitches.
He held him with the hand that belonged to the problematic shoulder. He held them and it hurt them both.
Good. We are supposed to hurt.
“You want me to go. You want me to have thrown us off that cliff out of regret, you want me to tell you I don’t want this, and you want me to leave you for my wife.” Will whispered, his mouth moving against Hannibal’s like he was teasing him for a kiss. “And it is driving you insane that you know I won’t do any of that. It drives you up the fucking wall, doesn’t it? Having everything you want is a terrible thing.”
“Having everything I want is a terrible thing when it is inevitable that it will end.” Hannibal’s voice was so hoarse, accent so incredibly thick and delectable that Will had to close his eyes just to think. “And it ended before it even started. When you went over that cliff and I followed.”
Will opened his eyes, really opened them. This is it. I’ve killed him. I killed him and I will never forgive him.
His grip began to loosen, but Hannibal covered Will’s hand with his own, pulling Will’s face down with the other and their faces collided.
It was a kiss. The one Will denied them at the cliff, and the one Hannibal denied him the night he gutted him and the one they denied each other in Florence.
Hannibal gasped again, in pain as Will climbed on the bed, climbed atop him messily. He gladly swallowed Hannibal’s discomfort and his moans and his tongue.
“I will never forgive you.” Will panted, still pretending to choke the life out of Hannibal, still being held tightly in return. Hannibal’s hand against the wound on his cheek hurt, but the one travelling down to pull him closer by the waist made up for everything. Everything he’d ever done to him. “I can’t leave now.”
Hannibal only kissed him, hungrily like he did everything else. Will had a hand deep in his hair and he pulled just to hear him again. Hannibal groaned for him, opened his mouth for him, whispered Will so wantonly, it could only have been for him.
“Tell me again,” Will begged, still kissing him. He couldn’t stop kissing him. “Tell me we could disappear. Tell me to stay with you.”
That broke the kiss. That left them panting into each other’s mouths, their foreheads pressed together tight, like they could no longer exists without the closeness.
“Hyacinthus could not ask Apollo to stay no more than I can ask that of you.” Hannibal breathed against Will, into him. Will felt the sting of tears far too late to stop one. “You have to leave now. I will not allow you to go later.”
“You will kill me? You already have.” Will sounded eager. Hannibal took the tear burning the wound on his cheek with his mouth, dried it with a kiss. “I will kill you too. I already have, I will do it again.”
“I don’t think I have ever told you that I have missed you.” Hannibal whispered, yes half-lidded and drunk. “And I have. Greatly. Devastatingly so. Every second that I am not in your presence, I feel its absence.” Will let go of his neck, only to find his face with both hands.
“I will not go.” Will vowed to no one because Hannibal was not to be convinced.
“Not now.” Hannibal agreed and disagreed, groaning faintly as he accommodated them on their sides, made them lie in their kiss and their goodbye. Will felt like he could cry again, felt like he hated Hannibal. Wanted to kill him now. Wanted to kiss him. “Sleep, Will.”
Will reached for Hannibal’s face, but caught his hand instead, understood that Hannibal had taken all that he could for tonight. He pulled it towards him and closed his eyes.
“You can’t force me to go. You can’t.” Hannibal wasn’t looking at him, and there was a storm in his eyes. “Please.”
“Hyacinthus and Apollo. Achilles and Patroclus. Do you know what they have in common, Will?”
He would not say.
Instead, he slept and slept. There were still no dreams to speak of. And when he woke up, he was alone.