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All kinds of impossible things have become real, but Will is pretty sure that this can’t be; Hannibal Lecter in blue silk pajamas, on a bed made up of sheets covered in a jaunty penguin design, on his back and spreading his legs, raising a questioning eyebrow in Will’s direction.

 

Swallowing, Will feels sick panic start to wash over him, buffeting the numb edges of where his body apparently exists.

 

Does the urge to laugh make this more or less unlikely to be happening?

 

He has no idea what to do.

 

It’s the first night in England, in this new house, their new house - a quaint chocolate-box, pastel-colored thing down by the quay in the old part of Whitby, Yorkshire, where the streets are still cobbled and only just wide enough for cars. It’s the kind of place that could easily be dreamt, something stitched together from adverts and imagination and the clichés of the English seaside.

 

So Will - caught in surprise, across the small room from where Hannibal’s challenge is being issued - is undressing, uncertain, and doesn’t know if this sudden turn of events is a joke or some sort of ironic commentary, or even if it’s real at all.

 

The sweating, the chill of his skin as the embarrassment and confusion prickles – these seem convincing. But how many things, over time, has he been convinced of, only to watch them dissolve?

 

At dinner, earlier that night, he and Hannibal had sat together at a circular oak table with a few decades of wax polish worked into the dark, silky grain, and Hannibal had offered a toast in supermarket wine, which they were drinking from an elegant but chipped tea service. Hannibal bought this house sight unseen, when they were still on the other side of the Atlantic, and it came partially furnished - penguin bed-sheets, mint green hand towels, yellow plastic spatulas – but only barely sufficient for Hannibal’s tastes. Numerous online purchases, scheduled to coincide with their arrival, have only partially made up the difference.

 

Will hadn’t known what to do about that meal either, or which plane of reality it was occurring on. Hard to eat when you could barely taste, no matter how much effort the chef may have gone to.

 

He hadn’t answered Hannibal’s toast, but then Will hasn’t spoken one word, not even once, since he woke into this world, and Hannibal is apparently growing more used to it, and has stopped trying so hard to fill the silences.

 

All the same, they have been touching each a lot since that wakening - since the Red Dragon - and that has felt real just like the pain did, in those early days. Back then, in the echoing first minutes, hours, days since the fall, they had had to touch just to survive, neither of them able to exist independently with the injuries they’d suffered. So there had been all that long, slow healing whilst they waited in yet another of what may be several secret houses Hannibal owns dotted around the U.S. Eastern seaboard. Will hadn’t known times or dates, only the intermittent staggering from bed to bath to fridge and back again. The morphine blurred all his edges anyway – at the time he’d just blamed it all on that. He’d been somewhat surprised to realize he didn’t want to overdose, that it held no glint or temptation.

 

The days had kept on unspooling, and he hadn’t lifted a hand to stop them.

 

Touching, near-constantly, but not feeling it, not the way he would have expected to. That sensation was also blurred, from the medication, probably, and from disbelief. You don’t feel in dreams.

 

The memories are blotchy, half-blank.

 

They’d eaten tinned soup, packet macaroni. That, most of all, had made Will question whether maybe he was already in a coma, in a hospital bed somewhere, quietly dying.

 

Hunger had surfaced first. Deep, bone-deep hunger that hurt, and which when satiated still couldn’t allow him to feel satisfied. But with that, and with rising, banal irritations, like that of Hannibal’s method of flossing his teeth, the actuality of Will’s life had insisted on being probable.

 

And the nightmares came back only as they should, which was to say at night, or whenever he had lain down and accidentally dozed off, and not sprawling out of the sky in the daytime.

 

Though those things he had experienced before, and the world had been real all the same.

 

And the fact of all of that – of what had been done to him – made no sense with the way that he had found he felt safest when Hannibal held him- the tighter the better, ideally almost crushingly strong, to the point where almost – almost – it felt like something true.

 

Not that Hannibal could manage that at first, with his abdomen healing, and then after he’d been bizarrely hesitant about it, but Will had kept crawling into his embrace – what did it matter, none of it was real - had kept pulling Hannibal on top of him, until it eased into habit. It was wrong, probably, somehow, some critical error in the wiring of his brain, but either he chose relief or he chose anxiety and his heart thudding in his ears, and he was so done feeling like shit, even if that was the only emotion he could access.

 

Hannibal owed him that much, he’d figured as the time passed, Hannibal owed him any comfort Will cared to take from him.

 

But Will hadn’t spoken, not in what must be two months now. The words that had gone between them on the cliff top are still resonating, echoing to the exclusion of anything else.

 

There, on the edge of everything, Hannibal had reached for him, asking.

 

Asking. That was never part of any reality Hannibal had understood or operated in, never before.

 

Will’s nightmares nowadays aren’t actually about such great horrors, not objectively, not that a normal person would be able to see. Because all any of them do is take him back into the past, into routines of calm, dull days before he’d even ever met Jack Crawford - a life engraved into his brain with sheer repetitiveness. And the anxiety he seeks to escape from in the place between Hannibal’s enclosing arms originates in the entirely banal; unpaid bills, overdue college papers, forgotten loaves of bread. That struggling tedium can leave him breathless with despair, and panting into the bend of Hannibal’s elbow, the safe dark pocket of his armpit, which smells of musk and lanolin soap, and the promise that nothing is fine.

 

That - the regression, the baby field mouse impression - could never have lasted, but Will mourns it a little like a childhood passed, a loss of lack of questions.

 

It had happened before they left that East Coast house, before the bonfire of used surgical dressings and the extensive chemical wipe-down of the surfaces, and the intricate dance of hired cars and fake papers that got them to the airport and out, and into a plane over the ocean that hadn’t defeated them.

 

It had happened, and really Will had been expecting it – after all, the slamming, sudden return of libido which comes after healing from a major injury is a process he is, by now, sadly familiar with.

 

It had been secretive and sick-feeling, lying in bed with Hannibal mostly on top of him, soothing and heavy and suffocating and terrifying in his not-terrifying-ness, and feeling the slow gathering, for the first time, of arousal between his own legs in response. Feeling the one point where his erection had swelled to nudge at Hannibal’s firm thigh, and not daring to move.

 

That too, felt and unfelt, present and not. Like with the hunger for food, meeting it might only have stabilized him back to the place of numbness, without meaning. The wanting, at least, cast a shadow.

 

With anyone else he would have felt guilty, but it wasn’t like Hannibal couldn’t draw away.

 

Wasn’t like Hannibal didn’t owe him.

 

It wasn’t like Hannibal didn’t get them into position together, night after night, waiting for Will to climb into the bed first and then crawling in and settling down on top of him, carefully pressing his leg just so between Will’s own, sending them off to sleep with a few gentle strokes of his hand to the back of Will’s neck.

 

When Will had dared to look up, he’d been met with a gaze unblinking as a shark’s, Hannibal staring and staring, eyes alight and widening spasmodically like gaping mouths, consuming the sight of him.

 

Once when he’d been a kid, Will had had blood taken, the hunt for the clue for why he was the way he was, and the nurse had put cream on his skin first, so that he could feel the press of the needle but not the cut of it, not the piercing, nothing of what was really happening.

 

Hannibal’s touch, now, is like that. Defanged.

 

So Hannibal, tonight, first into bed and on his back, offering himself like some kind of Victorian bride, is a leap somewhere that Will can’t see a way to follow. 

 

And all a little too much like a dream.

 

Will sits down slowly on his side of the bed, and puts on his own new and unfamiliar pajamas - striped things in an old-fashioned style, all part and parcel of several online shopping deliveries that have arrived at the house since they themselves got here from the nearest airport, back in the small hours of this morning, with the sky red to the east and the ocean the color of blood.

 

Then with careful, well-telegraphed movements, Will lies down, sliding his feet under the duvet, and sinks into the mattress, which isn’t actually new at all, and has springs that groan and collapse under his impact. It’s cold in this house, which went a while unoccupied before they bought it, and there’s a scent of old, damp paper and mothballs. There’s a little window high in the wall opposite the bed – never any talk, from either of them, of two bedrooms, he’s never even thought of it till this moment – and outside it is dark now but during the day you can see to the sea, to green waves breaking. 

 

It’s always been in the back of Will’s mind that Hannibal - full on, full time Hannibal, no glass or veil between them - might eat him up until there was nothing left, one way or another. 

 

And consuming begins, always, with opening.

 

He wants to know how to answer whatever question Hannibal’s posing, doesn’t want to fail this test, but all he seems able to do is lie there and let his pulse beat rabbit-fast in his neck and feel his toes freezing with cold. 

 

You can be frozen in a dream. Find the store you wanted, the thing you’ve been searching for right there on the shelf, and you can’t pick it up, not ever, not to touch or hold.

 

After too long, Hannibal rolls again, over, and down onto him, across him like a blanket, precisely inert, and Will clutches on tight and squeezes his eyes shut in relief, and sighs out hot air that declares he’s probably alive. 

 

It’s the most sound he’s made in days; Hannibal’s hands clutch his shoulders a little more tightly, and the comforting hand goes to his neck.

 

-

 

To move from one appointed task to the next like a pinball with a dream-languid ricochet is all Will can manage of determination or design, and today Hannibal has announced that they will be painting the spare bedroom – why, Will can’t imagine.

 

But he doesn’t ask that question, just as he hasn’t asked any of the others before it, and so the stagnant surface of the unsaid things still hasn’t been broken.

 

There’s no bed in this room, no furniture at all besides an old, ugly chest of drawers which contained a mildewed pair of curtains and a brochure for holidays in Thailand.

 

They might be doing it up so there can be two bedrooms, here, and they can be separate. Will wonders if this is so, and whether it is supposed to trigger him into a protest.

 

The paint they’re using for the room is mint green as the inherited bathroom towels, and not a shade Will would have picked. Another online order, it came in a van just after breakfast. The courier labels had misspelled Hannibal’s fake name, and whenever Will bends to reload his brush he sees ‘Geroge Hnederson’ stuck to the side of the pot, and wants to giggle.

 

They might just be painting to give them something to do, other than wait and fear each other.

 

At the same time, Will’s not unaware that they might be painting purely so that Hannibal can watch him in the work - Will is wearing dungarees over a t-shirt that’s too short and rides up, baring his midriff, and Hannibal does seem to be looking over at him more often than would make sense for just checking his decorating skills. There was an old knitted sweater in the box in the attic where they found these clothes, which might seem to be a detail too convenient for comfort in terms of crediting this experience as real, but which Will is not going to worry about just now. He will only consider the question of whether or not to wear it – not least in regard to how cold the house still is, despite the storage heaters having been on a few days now – but he hasn’t put it on yet, and knows he won’t.

 

He doesn’t want Hannibal to stop wanting to watch him, even if he doesn’t know what to do about it, or whether he should even let himself believe it’s happening.

 

The spare bedroom, like all the rooms in this funny old house, is small and a little crooked, no straight lines in walls or ceiling or floor, and the floorboards creak under the protective dust-sheets as the two of them move around. Hannibal is wearing an old shirt with a blue stain on it, and inexplicable track pants, and is barefoot – there are veins just under the skin of his feet, running over the thin and perfect ligaments of his toes - and Will is aroused and immobilized with every glimpse.

 

In two more nights in their still-shared bed, there have been no further advances or retreats. Hannibal lies over him like a tiger-skin rug with the snarl gone, and Will sleeps and is conscious of snoring a little when he’s drowsy, hard and lost and suffocated, struggling sometimes to stay awake because in the dreams it comes back again; late for the lecture, where are the slides, my slides, my slides, my flash-drive…

 

Coming out of sleep is like swimming up through treacle, and often he does dream that he’s woken, only to have to wake again, for real – for what he believes is real - into the right time and place and body. So far, he’s always found it in the end.

 

Will dips his brush in the pot of paint once more and attends to a new part of the off-white wall, adding another layer on what must be hundreds that have coated it over the years, the choices of the inhabitants of the house forming into the fabric.

 

It wouldn’t seem real to them, to anyone who’d ever breathed in this room before, what he and Hannibal are, and that they’re here.

 

He doesn’t know how this existence, this being here happens; he’s poised at another edge, he knows that, and it feels as though the longer he doesn’t really do anything, the longer that wins him in which to figure out a strategy.

 

How do we re-become ourselves when our lives reform? It is one of the strengths of the average human that they can, and do, with surprising speed.

 

No one ever accused Will of being normal.

 

Hannibal doesn’t deserve to have the advantage of him in this, Hannibal shouldn’t be allowed to get away with having an agenda Will can’t fathom, not any more.

 

And they have been on Hannibal’s agenda this whole time, even if he offered Will a choice now and then and Will couldn’t do much more than stare at him, even if Will picked this house – this town, this country – by default with a stab at Google Maps and an estate agent’s website.

 

A companion who has all the money and time and contacts in the world to solve every current problem – that is part of Will’s situation that scarcely seems credible. But Hannibal Lecter as a phenomenon has never obeyed any sort of laws, has always been is more powerful than time or space, and of course Hannibal’s system would be good enough to furnish all they’ve wanted.

 

Hannibal’s system will have detailed flow diagrams and timelines and redundancies.

 

Hannibal’s system will have end points, and use-by dates.

 

The wall smeared inelegantly with more streaks of green, Will goes over to the window to get some fresh air amidst the paint smells, and looks at the curving harbor walls, and then down towards where the carefully-preserved bit of town melds with the amusement centers, gaudily-lit. The seagulls gather in that area to swoop and dive and shit on everything, because no one throws their chips away into the actual bins, and you can see a few tourists smoking and dropping cigarette butts down into the water. 

 

Today, Will thinks, Hannibal renovates the spare bedroom.

 

Later, will it be the turn of the cellar?

 

It’s a deep cellar, theirs, built to hide smuggled things and crimes, and down in the concrete and the damp dark, nothing creaks; Will looked round when they first moved in - not since. It’s Schrödinger’s cellar, in a sense, or could be – Will could just operate on the assumption that long as he never opens the door, he doesn’t have to know. Maybe that was the plan, as Hannibal plotted it all out.

 

Will hears Hannibal come up behind him, the floor creaking with each of his steps, and is acutely aware of his proximity in the spot between his shoulder-blades, wants to curl in or turn around, or speak, and doesn’t. Can’t.

 

“Not yet,” Hannibal says, voice perfectly level.

 

He could mean anything. It could be a guess as to what Will was thinking. Or all this could be a dream.

 

Will might really be back in Wolf Trap, sleeping, and almost entirely alone, an uninteresting failed life and mundane as anyone.

 

Will moves backwards, one and a half slow steps, and gets his back pressed against Hannibal’s chest. Hannibal’s body is warm in the chilly room, and as they touch the aching, anxious parts of Will quieten.

 

But he keeps his gaze fixed and looking out of the window, like, no, he really just wants to stare at that specific seagull in the grey sky a little longer, he’s not breathless at all.

 

“You may choose the paint color, next time. You may choose anything you wish,” Hannibal tells him, voice low. He noses at the nape of Will’s neck, unselfconsciously smelling him, lips just about brushing skin, and Will has to close his eyes, rises up a little on his toes.

 

Then the warmth is gone, and when Will does make the turn to look, Hannibal’s opening another tin of paint, and crouched so that Will can see the perfect hard roundness of his ass.

 

The wanting is so full, huge, a thickness in Will’s throat like that suffocation at the start of weeping that threatens to crack your chest open.

 

Will goes across, creaking, and bends too, sticks his head up close to the paint can to get the smell, acrid and awful and sharp and convincing. It makes him dizzy for a moment as the chemicals hit his sinuses, and he sees the room blur for a sliding, apocalyptic moment that resolves abruptly, all still there, all persisting, Hannibal solid and his gaze questioning as he looks back up at Will.

 

Will feels like he can see himself, like he’s watching from another corner of the room as he carefully leans down, dips his thumb in the paint and smears a mark over Hannibal’s cheekbone. It stays, cream-thick, green, hideous green.

 

Hannibal’s gaping again, rapt. It occurs to Will that he might not be the only one who can’t figure everything out, too deep into the picture to gain perspective.

 

Even though they’re touching, Will feels separate, still, as if there’s a barrier between them, a flexible one for sure, like a contamination suit, one that lets you reach out, but which also totally prohibits contact. They’re in the movements of something, but it isn’t real yet, the lights aren’t switched on, the music isn’t playing.

 

After a moment, Will marks his own face in the same way, but on his right hand side so they’ll mirror each other. Then he picks up his brush and gets back to the walls.

 

Idly, he paints a crude outline of a dog onto the blank space, before covering it over with broad strokes, frustrated. Then he tries the Ravenstag, but when he closes his eyes, it isn’t there, not any more, not even in the corners of his mind he used to fear.

 

He shoots a glance at Hannibal, wondering if he’s being observed.

 

Hannibal has antlers.

 

Not the horned monster, not the stag. Nothing else in the room is wrong. Hannibal has his back to him and is painting, calmly, and he has a branching pair of beautiful antlers, velvety and alive.

 

Will lifts a hand to his own head. There’s nothing to feel, but he can see the shadow of his own horns on the wall in front of him, and with a sigh he paints carefully round their outline, before moving to obliterate the whole.

 

-

 

I want to go out and feel the grass under my feet.

 

Will had actually said that, spoken it aloud, an opinion forming and coming forth as though it was easy to do so, words breaking free and scattering round the strange silence of the kitchen.

 

Such a small kitchen, so they trip over each other making breakfast – Will with his cereal, Hannibal for the last two days buying fish from a smokehouse down the lane and stinking the place out. Will’s house in Wolf Trap was small, but this is a different scale for a different world, and he’s surprised how little he feels trapped, how much he relishes being able to reach out from the table and pick things off the counter surfaces.

 

Hannibal had stared at him over that little breakfast table today, not apparently quite able to believe what he’d heard at long last.

 

Will hadn’t known whether, if Hannibal had answered him, he could have talked again just then.

 

But Hannibal hadn’t said a word. Hannibal had got up, put his plate in the sink, and come – edging around the table, because there really isn’t that much space – and knelt by Will’s chair, and rested his head in Will’s lap.

 

No more antlers, since the day before, back during the painting, which they did finish and have closed the door on – no mention of another bed as yet. So Will had stroked Hannibal’s scalp in an ordinary way, and run his fingers through the hair around the place where the horns had been, and petted the part of Hannibal’s cheek that matched where the scar was on his own face. Then he’d touched where the paint he’d smeared still was, a few flakes left – more came off on his fingertips, tangible.

 

It had been one of those periods when Will had stopped caring whether anything was real, as long as he could keep experiencing it.

 

He’d threaded his fingers through the hair at Hannibal’s nape, and lost the rest of the world.

 

Now they’re both outside, in the fresh wind and the daylight, climbing the one hundred ninety-nine stone steps that lead up the side of the cliff from the old town of Whitby to the high-perched Abbey that sits on guard above it. All of that seems unlikely, but just about plausible enough for Will to keep putting one foot in front of the other and believe that this will take him somewhere.

 

Will can remember going from their house to the steps, each and every moment, and he turns them over like slips of paper he’s hoping to cut himself on the edges of.

 

This is probably happening.

 

Even though Hannibal is making him want to laugh again, dressed as he is in Ralph Lauren from head to foot – casual clothing obviously is a relative term for him - with leather loafers and no socks. He could be any well-off day-tripper, could be about to get out a phone and yell something about market shares and school fees.

 

Will for a moment can’t recall color of the t-shirt he himself is wearing.

 

But looking down, it’s rusty orange, and he can remember Hannibal saying it went with his eyes when the package arrived in the post from the online seller.

 

The sun comes out from a behind a cloud, a small dawn, and everything is subtly altered.

 

The Whitby steps were built enough centuries ago to have been catering to a different kind of human being, and the treads are shallow and too deep, and hard to find a rhythm on. Will is aware of the ever-increasing distance of the drop from the meager metal handrail down to the cobbles beneath, but also of the grass to the other side, and the small daisies and the candy wrappers blowing about.

 

This really is a beautiful place, but some of the people here could be improved.

 

The gulls scream and dive, pigeons try and copulate.

 

“You’re climbing well for a man with a gut wound,” Will hears himself saying. And he should know, after all.

 

Speaking, simple words, a thought put out into the rest of the world so that anyone can hear it.

 

Hannibal turns toward him, smiling with evident delight. The sun picks out highlights in his blond-gray hair, straw and ash.

 

“And you are talking well, I think, for man with a cheek wound,” is all he says, but it’s not sharp.

 

Will touches his face, afraid. But the scar is there as it should be, solid and ropey, the sensation in the skin around it mostly dulled but a little sore in the corners, still.

 

He hasn’t been silent because of that, but maybe that is what Hannibal has been telling himself.

 

The clouds roll over again – what is the point of trying to say anything, when nothing of what he feels about Hannibal could ever be put into words?

 

Hannibal keeps shooting sideways glances at him, little sips of his presence. And smiling.

 

It was recently that they were injured, though, and they do take a pause at a bench on a ‘landing’ halfway up the steps, both pretending to take in the view that doesn’t quite exist here, in the lee of the cliff bulge.

 

“These gaps in the incline are to help coffin-bearers,” Hannibal informs him casually, gesturing. “Every person who died in this town had to ascend to the graveyard, which perhaps they felt was only right in what they hoped would continue as an upward journey.” One of his eyebrows arches, teasing, inviting him into the joke: See how the humans are.

 

Will feels far too far away from him, but maybe they’re standing too close to each other – by someone’s measure, for some purpose – a boy and a man pass going down the other way and the man mutters “Flaming poofs” at not a very low volume.

 

Hannibal turns like a python, unblinking, and stares – Will can see the photograph he’s taking with his mind, etching in the face, the voice, the scent. That man doesn’t know that he’s started a countdown timer, is just walking away and shouting something at his child who skulks after him.

 

How does Will feel about that? Could he dream it?

 

If this were a dream, would he want to act at once? Feel the alleviation of everything that comes with ending, with plunging in a knife? Stopping a heart beating can be like stopping a phone’s insistent ring.

 

Hannibal’s gaze comes back to Will, and Will studies his face as if it’s for the first time. Eyes, nose, lips, hair, ears… Hannibal, extraordinary Hannibal, and Will had known what he was thinking. Will is dragging him through a crowd of pigs, and Hannibal is letting himself be driven.

 

Taking a step closer, Will intertwines their hands. Hannibal’s skin is surprisingly cool in the heat, though that might be Will’s senses misfiring again. Hannibal’s smile cracks wide for a moment, then softens.

 

He sucks in a breath.

 

Will has a vision of a new death, in this town, one which will also ascend to the graveyard, there to be fashioned into something transcendent, but the picture isn’t clear, not yet, no matter how he peers.

 

That image isn’t a dream, but neither is it real. And yet he feels a secure hold on it, on where it sits between threat and possibility.

 

From another world, a picture, a snapshot; a graveyard in the snow, a dead, burnt body – bodies – posed as Shiva. A courtship. A loosening of what was, and what was not, and what it was that was wanted.

 

Only God forgives. Hannibal has always fancied himself as a deity.

 

Hannibal does not let his hand go, and onwards and upwards they climb.

 

There’s a cross near the top of the steps, Celtic in design. A nineteenth century installation, but to commemorate ancient deaths – after all, everyone who has ever lived has died.

 

They come, after another few minutes of walking, side by side, step in step, to the Abbey itself. A ticket hall, the chance to buy bottled mead and foam-rubber swords, souvenir pencils and tapestry kits – things Will cannot imagine imagining - and finally through the gate and out again.

 

It could be the scenery of a play more easily than it convinces as a building, only a few walls standing, though one at least remains tall and proud and latticed with gothic arches. Around all of it is the grass, carpeting outside and former inside together, continuous. Abandoned in the 1500s during the Reformation, the information boards dotted about the field say.

 

“I didn’t know part of Dracula happened here,” Will observes aloud as he reads – he’s still aware of each and every word he chooses to speak, dropping them carefully, but in the minutes of exploration around this site he’d forgotten to be lost. The wind blows so hard up here on the cliff top, and the persistent sensation of it as it penetrates clothing and chills and abrades his skin makes reality feel easy, tangible.

 

And Hannibal next to him, close, attentive, still there.

 

In the ebbs when the wind does drop, the air here smells of the blades of grass crushed underfoot, green and lush.

 

“Yes,” Hannibal is smiling again, his voice taking on his lecturing tone, a happy return of something Will hadn’t realized he missed. “Stoker was staying in Whitby when he began work on his novel. In the passage in which it is recounted how Count Dracula came from Transylvania to England, his ship – in which all the sailors are discovered to have died during the voyage - founders on the coast here and he comes ashore in the form of a gigantic black hound. The folk of the town can only watch, afraid and uncertain, as the beast comes in over the beach and climbs the steps – those very steps - up to this Abbey.”

 

“So like us, then?” Will points out, and laughs when he catches the look on Hannibal’s face. He had used to tease Hannibal more, and it had been… it had been… he does remember that, and it had been good, had been…

 

What a funny small reality that had been, when they first met - a larval shell, soft and breakable and not quite entirely right; two ordinary men making ordinary overtures.

 

How long could they have sustained that, if Hannibal hadn’t tried to break him apart?

 

But could Hannibal have been Hannibal, and not tried?

 

His old realities Will wouldn’t want returned to him - not any of them. Flicking back through those days is a little painful and a little relieving. Will has never wanted to reverse time, and he doesn’t now.

 

“Oh, Dr. Lecter,” he whispers now, delighted, “you have pretensions of being Count Dracula.”

 

He pictures a small boy in a cape – can see it all, quite easily, the cape and the small dinner-jacket and the putty on the teeth to lengthen the canines, and the ‘bat’ that was a toy mouse with wings pinned on, and blood. Only, then, it wasn’t blood. It wasn’t, then, supposed to be.

 

Should he be able to see that? He can. It’s incredibly clear, an 8mm reel behind his eyes.

 

Will’s chest tightens. He watches Hannibal watching him, the images passing between them. He reaches up his hand, touches Hannibal’s face, where rough stubble is coming in as the day passes, and Will knows the rate at which that happens to this man, a discovery of prolonged intimacy. The small stiff hairs have a quiet conviction of life, unstoppable, which he finds he likes. A beard on Hannibal, even, would be quite fine, he thinks – might not look unappealing at all.

 

Pushing his thumb between Hannibal’s lips, he presses the pad at the pointed edge of one of Hannibal’s front teeth, just for a moment. He can feel that, he can, he does, sharp and present. This gesture, he knows, is something no one does, that it is not right to do, certainly not in public, but he wants to, and now has, and Hannibal just stares, gapes, sucks him in.

 

Feasting.

 

With his other hand, Will is still touching Hannibal’s cheek, stroking. He shifts it to the back of Hannibal’s neck, cradling him there, at the base of his brainstem, the seat of existence. Neither of them moves otherwise.

 

There is a distant noise of an airplane overhead, and somewhere a child is squealing, and the wind whips into a new direction, colder.

 

Will pushes forward a little, and Hannibal gives, at once, and Will is backing him against a low wall nearby, which once might have enclosed a cowshed or a chantry – he wasn’t paying enough attention to the floor-plan on the notice-board to be sure.

 

Sacred or profane before, they sanctify this earth now by standing on it – them, they two, the only ones who have ever fucking mattered on the whole barren planet.

 

It feels like reality - acutely so - to move into Hannibal’s space and warmth, and to press up close and kiss him. They are chest to chest, mouth to mouth, lips dry, chafing. It hurts a little and delights a lot, and that is them indeed, and Will can feel this, he can, can feel the barrier shredding.

 

Hannibal is opening to him, but slowly, cautious, perhaps disbelieving. Although he doesn’t block Will’s way, he isn’t holding him in return, scarcely touching except from the inevitable meeting places where Will’s own touches fall.

 

Which is good – this isn’t sexual, is barely romantic, is more like sticking his fingers into a power socket to find out what an invisible force could really do if you let it, waiting to be convinced of it’s genuine manifestation.

 

Will is shaking, is certainly shocked by what he encounters, and when Hannibal moves at last it is only to gently push him away, face all concerned enquiry.

 

“You want that?” Hannibal asks him. His cheeks have two high spots of pink and his eyes are dark as sin.

 

Asking, though, all the same.

 

But Will’s done with words for today. And there’s nothing he could try to communicate by nodding or shaking his head that wouldn’t be ambiguous.

 

He presses back in instead, tucking his head into the curve of Hannibal’s neck, nestling close, and it may look passive but it has frozen Hannibal under him, just as it does in their bed, and this is good, he needs the pause, needs to opt-out of living this for a few minutes.

 

There’s a little girl in pink trousers turning cartwheels by the largest wall now. Will can see her as he lets his gaze drift. She keeps spinning, upending, inverting with grace and delight, and at this moment she doesn’t care about anything in the world but her own motion through it.

 

Walking back out through the visitor center, there’s an ice cream truck. Will tugs on Hannibal’s arm and points, demanding – he needs the sugar, his skin feels fizzing under the surface, his head light.

 

“With blood or without?” asks the vendor once the cone is ready, and Will blinks and clenches his fist, driving his nails into his palm, waiting for the world to tip over.

 

Then he sees the vendor is holding up a bottle of strawberry sauce.

 

Of course. Dracula.

 

Hannibal is watching him. Will huffs and takes the ice cream as it is. Heavy symbolism is one thing, fake strawberry flavor is quite another.

 

Having eaten some of the cone though, he offers it to Hannibal as they descend the steps once more. He doubts Hannibal has any very flattering opinions about ‘Mr Whippy’ brand vanilla soft-serve ice-cream, but he wants to watch Hannibal licking something.

 

Hannibal does, all red wet tongue, watching him watching.

 

Back in the house they kiss some more, long, deep, sugary, until Will is making a noise if not a coherently verbal one, and Hannibal looks quietly pleased, leaving him in the living room under a blanket and with a glass of water to hand whilst he himself goes out shopping.

 

Being a little looked after, Will does not resent as he used to. He had to help Hannibal just to get to the bathroom, and with the business of the bathroom, even, not so very long ago.

 

Lying on the sofa, he finds those memories flooding in, things that happened and that he wasn’t sure of, till now. Nasty, painful, undignified things, forcibly shared, and so somehow transmuted. Acts without dignity – what else are acts of love?

 

There had been the several days, in the safe house, in which Hannibal’s wound had become infected, and Will had thought that he would die. That memory is one that threatens to make him vomit, crawling up and out of him with fingers dragging fast in his craw. He leaves it alone, pushes it away again, hides it deep – the thing most terrifying, in a mind wallpapered in horrors.

 

The fear that he lived with then was like being caught at the point of being crushed by a wave. It has perhaps taken his mind a while to scrabble out from under.

 

His own body, now, is still singing Hannibal’s praises. Once he used to lie in bed and pretend he never thought of Hannibal when he made love to his wife, that he never looked over her shoulder and saw a horned god watching back.

 

When he’s in a room with Hannibal, there’s never space for anyone else.

 

The mere thought that the reverse might ever not be true is enough to make him want to break things. That jealousy is strangely simple to recognize, and to accept.

 

Dessert that evening is homemade kumquat and limoncello ice cream with amaretti biscuits from scratch - Hannibal may be making a point, and it’s petulantly charming. Will sits back after, sighs contentedly, and beckons Hannibal over to see what will happen.

 

To his surprise, Hannibal – with mighty, constrained grace – does move to him, coming to sit astride Will’s lap. They kiss and kiss, Hannibal’s hands both cradling his skull, so gentle, and intermittently Will is aware of feeling it, of nerves alight and burning out, and intermittently he forgets to.

 

After a while, Hannibal pulls back abruptly, disentangles himself and walks away. His gait is strange – his trousers too tight now in the crotch, Will sees, and thrills to see – and his hands are shaking.

 

The anxiety about how much happiness he is feeling keeps Will, overall, on an even keel.

 

Either emotion could account for how he feels like he’s untethered, loose, floating.

 

-

 

The next morning Will gets up early, pulling away from Hannibal’s possibly-sleeping body and going to shower. They didn’t kiss after they’d left the living room, nor do anything else in their bed other than the close press that has become their usual, but he sweated enough to need the wash with how much he was letting himself want.

 

He’s down in the kitchen and already on his second cup of coffee, cereal bowl washed and dried, when Hannibal comes in to join him and goes to the fridge for his awful fish.

 

Will is aware of how people in adverts stand in kitchens holding cups of warm things, one arm wrapped around themselves, and look at their partners and smile fondly.

 

He does all these things now, self-consciously, inhabiting the role as assiduously as if he were about to be graded, and it doesn’t feel unnatural at all.

 

Last night’s dreams weren’t about the Before Everything, but the Immediately After. Hannibal feverish, and Will trying to get him to drink. He had thought that he had spent a million years sitting on the edge of that other, that first shared bed, desperate to see Hannibal keep something down. At that time he’d been trying to forget each moment as fast as he experienced it, conveyer belt from his eyes to the mental incinerator.

 

He hadn’t wanted to believe what was happening, then, because he’d thought what was happening was his own Armageddon, and he had tried so very hard to feel nothing at all.


Waking this morning, from that, with Hannibal there, he’d felt the urge to change their positions, be the one to crawl over and hold Hannibal down for once. Trap him. Keep him.

 

Perhaps Hannibal had been waiting for him to attempt it. Perhaps he’d been awake and waiting for him. Perhaps he’d been aware of the moment Will’s courage failed him and he padded away to hide in the bathroom.

 

Perhaps Hannibal is waiting now to see if the blessing of a new day will enable Will to speak again.

 

Will sips the last of his coffee, and turns away.

 

Their house has a tiny square of yard behind it, with two beds of earth and some large terracotta pots, a paved area just big enough for a table and two wooden chairs. The stone walls surrounding the area – pebbles from the beach cemented into a lumpy surface to create a surface that it’s pleasing to run his hands over – separate their space from the patchwork of other ‘gardens’ connecting to the houses nearby. There’s an old bird feeder that’s rotted and fallen over and lies sadly in one corner, and as Will is raking off last year’s dead leaves from the flowerbeds, a tiny ball of feathers hops nearby and stares at him for a while before nipping between his hands in for worms and beetles.

 

The leaves are wet, though it hasn’t rained since they’ve been here, and Will sticks his fingers down into the cold of the earth under them, enjoying the smell, the stickiness and grittiness on his skin.

 

When he comes inside, he holds his hands out for Hannibal to inspect, black nails and all; he still doesn’t feel able to talk, but Hannibal seems to understand quite quickly, and goes to run the taps in the kitchen, filling a pyrex bowl – Le Creuset cookware still on the ‘to be bought’ list - with warm water. Then, slowly, gently, as Will tries to justify to himself having started this, Hannibal washes Will’s hands for him.

 

Will lets his wrists go limp, allows Hannibal to move him as he likes, and watches and lives partially in a Baltimore entombed in snow, in a house with a dead body in the dining room, and too much warmth threatening to thaw out a sterile, cold, well-ordered kitchen.

 

Hannibal’s touch is just as certain, as clinically confident, as it was then, and just as reverent too. And are his doubts also the same?

 

Will’s are nothing like. He’s inverted, remade, the opposite of what he was and yet somehow almost convinced that he is nonetheless still himself, that there can have been such change and yet a continuity.

 

The earth under his nails could be blood, and he might be quite as satisfied.

 

When Hannibal finally takes the cooling, muddy water away, he announces that it is lunchtime, and to Will’s surprise almost an hour has passed. Hannibal has made an oyster soup and tiny crackers, and there is a salad with leaves Will can’t identify, curling and peppery.

 

What are they going to do all day, each day, now? Neither of them is used to leisure, and to divert all Hannibal’s energies to slaughter would be to blaze a path no one could miss. There will be reading, walking, painting or sketching perhaps, Will could buy a car or better a boat to fix up, but all of that, even taken together, is still too small.

 

Hannibal will want to entertain others to dinner, even in the most usual sense, will gather a circle, Will can see that. He doesn’t entirely dread it, not here on the inside of the veil where he too can laugh and despise.

 

He reaches for his water, sips, and realizes that for nearly another hour he’s forgotten to be afraid.

 

“This is delicious,” Will says, carefully, and Hannibal manages to look up at once without giving any impression of shock that Will has spoken again.

 

“This evening, though,” Will continues, prodding. “I want to try something. I want to go eat fish and chips.”

 

He doubts Hannibal is going to deny him anything, at this moment, if he’ll vocalize asking for it, and so it proves. Through the afternoon they both read in the living room, next to each other on the elegant but very comfortable sofa. Will pictures in his head curling up, drawing his legs under him, or leaning over and resting his head in Hannibal’s lap, on the smooth corduroy of Hannibal’s slacks.

 

He could do that, and he can feel it pressing, the choice to do, or not, and the way that wants to paralyze him.

 

But he’s made his choice now, hasn’t he? The only one that really matters?

 

With a grunt like he’s a dog looking for a better position in a nest of blankets, oblivious to meaning, Will shifts and lies down again, nonchalantly as he can.

 

Hannibal takes a slow, long breath in and holds it. Then comes a slow, long breath out.

 

Between Hannibal’s legs, there is a shift and swell and heat; Will can feel it happening, and has to press his own thighs together, and bite his lip.

 

Hannibal’s hand comes down to rest on his back, and as Will makes no objection, Hannibal starts to pet him with careful, firm strokes.

 

The floor is the sea, now, dark and rippling, endless, deadly.

 

But they’re together, on their raft, in their bubble.

 

Hannibal probably isn’t exuding light, probably neither of them is; Will is just perceiving it that way.

 

It dazzles him, and soothes.

 

They’re not going anywhere, except with each other.

 

He falls asleep for a while, and then it’s time to go out to the restaurant.

 

The fish and chip establishment that they pick – there are several in the town, even the small area of it they’ve so far explored – is bizarrely similar in appearance to Hannibal’s old kitchen, with steel and chrome surfaces and cooks in immaculate white linen.

 

The bubbling brown fat in the fryers, the sachets of sauces, the paper napkins and the polystyrene takeaway boxes are perhaps less congruent to Hannibal’s ideas of food preparation, and when Will looks over at him, half nervous, half ready to laugh, he does grin as he sees the expression on Hannibal’s face and the way his nostrils are twitching.

 

Softening the blow, appeasing, Will reaches out as they stand waiting to order at the counter and takes Hannibal’s hand into his own. It’s yet more amusing to watch Hannibal’s face change as he does so.

 

They eat in the restaurant, at a table for two near the window.

 

“What’s that?” Will asks, looking at Hannibal’s plate. He’d been busy choosing his own type of fish as they ordered, although as it turns out that under the batter and the vinegar he wouldn’t be able to place one species from another anyway. The chips are glowing with heat and grease and salt, though, and when sprinkled with harsh, brown vinegar they are sharp and delicious, working into the back of his throat and making him sneeze.

 

“It is listed by the title of ‘saveloy’,” Hannibal says, spearing the tube of batter on his plate with his fork and cutting it in half with all the elegance he might employ on the operating table. Inside the cocoon of golden crust is a sausage, of an unlikely intensity of redness. “The name a corruption from a traditional Swiss dish, I believe, once made with pork brains.”

 

Will stares at him, raising his eyebrow.

 

“I must ask the chef here about how they are manufactured,” Hannibal continues innocently. “I would love to explore such an interesting foodstuff in my own cooking.”

 

“Your cooking is very important to you,” Will finds himself saying, slowly, giving the words careful weight. This isn’t the time or the place to have this conversation, and yet why not? They’re talking about food, in a restaurant.

 

The sensation of dreaminess, of unlikelihood, is coming back too fast and Will takes a forkful from his pot of mushy peas, which have a texture he is unlikely to have imagined.

 

Hannibal is staring at him, head tilted on one side. “The cooking?” His eyes are dark, deep wells. “The cooking, and the eating, are of supreme importance. They are the point of the exercise.” He blinks like someone who has remembered that humans often blink. “But you knew that.”

 

“I do know that,” Will reassures him. “I don’t think…” he sighs, starts again, twirling his stainless steel fork in his hand, noticing how one of the tines is slightly bent. “The cooking, for me, would not be the point. The point would be that it was what you wanted.”

 

Hannibal’s gaze drills, examines; his eyes are wide as a tiger’s.

 

“Providing the ingredients, however…” Will says, and crosses his legs, shrugging and smiling. It is utterly unthinkable to say this, confess this, in this way, and yet here he is, here they are. He clears his throat, leans in. “Do you remember teaching me how to prepare lomo saltado?”

 

Across the table, Hannibal stiffens. “That was not… under ideal circumstances.”

 

“I thought that I wanted you to teach me more things, then. I mean, that night. I mean…” Will sighs, runs a hand over his face.

 

Hannibal’s stare is so fixed, so unblinking, that it almost has physical weight.

 

Will meets it. “I’m not going to apologize – neither of us is, or we’d never do anything else – but I… I have regrets.”

 

Hannibal sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, bites it – there’s a pulse in Will’s crotch at that, a sudden sharp ache. Then Hannibal reaches out and clasps Will’s hand, not all that gently, digging his nails into the backs of Will’s knuckles for a mind-bendingly painful second, before abruptly standing up and breaking away from him. As if nothing untoward has happened, Hannibal then goes over to the service counter, and looks to be ordering another drink.

 

Will wonders if Hannibal is hard again. Not quite possible, from this angle, to tell.

 

“A bit of a diva is he?” says a voice from behind Will’s head.

 

He twists in his chair, and finds a man of about his own age addressing him. This man is sitting at the next table, opposite a male companion. They are wearing matching puffa jackets. The companion is turned away from their table, twisted about in his chair to have a conversation on his cell.

 

“I said no office work when we’re on holiday, but obviously there had to be a crisis exactly now,” the man who spoke adds, and sighs ruefully, but with a smile. “Yours work, does he?”

 

“Semi-retired,” Will says. He’s aware that he’s smiling too much not to be alarming, but can’t quite stop it.

 

“Oh that sounds more like it.” The man gives another sigh; he’s paying more attention to his partner, still, than really anything about Will “Mine’s such a pain, but then he’s a real heart-stealer, so what’re you going to do?”

 

“Mine too,” Will tells him, beaming, just about keeping a lid on the laughter that suddenly wants to come through, fully meant and rejoicing.

 

He and Hannibal are together. Someone else sees it, knows it, recognizes it.

 

Someone who does not see disaster, not the union of many-headed monsters.

 

Someone who sees them and sees foolishly, innocently, and thus sees simply connection.

 

Two people coupled.

 

He and Hannibal are that.

 

And so perhaps everything is possible.

 

From the corner of his field of vision, Will is aware that Hannibal is coming back over to their table, suspicion in his eyes.

 

Will stands to greet him, blocking the other table from view. “Darling,” he says, teasing, laughing, enacting the role, exuberant to the point of foolishness himself.

 

“Yes, Darling?” Hannibal answers, precisely. His voice is low and full of purpose, and he deploys the word with slick calm.

 

Like it’s been waiting in his mouth, ready to fall.

 

Will blink, gulps. He wasn’t ready.

 

He reels.

 

If a gut-punch could be good, it might feel like this.

 

“If you’ve quite finished now,” Hannibal says serenely, and takes Will’s hand again to lead him out, away from the half-empty plate and the table and the chatty man who frowns after them, and then shrugs – Will notices, looking back - because clearly they don’t interest him all that much, all told.

 

Will kisses Hannibal when they’re not quite half the way home, unable to wait, drawing him in, swallowing his pleased hums of response and agreement. Kissing is more sensual and less testing, now. It’s like being a teenager again.

 

He never could have dreamed of Hannibal, never have guessed how all his longings would finally take form and coalesce, perfect, awful, the punishment and reward for all he’d ever secretly touched himself over.

 

A group of people walking down the winding street the other way, presumably from the beach, wobble tipsily past, and emit a few whoops and cheers in their general direction. Hannibal tries to turn and look and Will grasps hold more tightly to him, kisses him again.

 

And then laughing, breathing, pressing their foreheads together, smacking his own lips unhappily. “I have to say, that saveloy tasted bad.”

 

“I would make the dish far more palatable,” Hannibal asserts, with casual arrogance, and Will mouths at the curve of his neck and feels the way that where their hips meet and press they’re both hard, and how Hannibal isn’t making him do anything about that. Will wants to laugh again or maybe cry.

 

Things that come out of their vacuum-sealed plastic are free to rot, but they are free, and all his constraints are in tatters.

 

-

 

Once through the front door, Hannibal locks up behind them and then he reaches for Will, and Will goes to him easily, like there’s nothing he wants to question.

 

There should be – he still thinks that, at least – but there isn’t.

 

How, how could this be the best of all possible realities? How could this be the one he wants to be true?

 

Hannibal is dressed in a woolen sweater over his corduroys, and Will sticks a hand under it to map Hannibal’s chest, hot and a little sweaty, rough with hair, firm with muscle. There’s the lump of the scar where Dolarhyde’s bullet went in, lower down, and Will pushes at it too hard, glorying in it being safe to do so, now that the skin will not split or unknit or fail.

 

So long he’d thought, had fantasized, of Hannibal injured and breaking under him, being crushed.

 

Then it had happened. And he’d realized that if Hannibal bled out it would drown him.

 

Hannibal’s body is a new entity now if it is one he can touch in this manner. Not the nuzzling need of helplessness, but something powerful and rapacious, his own endless hunger awakened and answered, and in more ways than he’d ever meant to happen.

 

“What are we going to do?” Will asks. “I mean, here, living here, being here?”

 

They’ve separated for a moment, breathing heavily. Hannibal shoots a glance at him and then goes across from the tiny hall to the living room with heavy steps, sinking down on the sofa in the grip of what seems to be genuine weariness. The less suave he is, the more satisfied Will feels – now isn’t that something to explore?

 

“I had many ideas,” Hannibal says. He looks away, to the empty fireplace, and then back. “I had many ideas of what you and I might do together, and I find now that I never really believed in them.”

 

“You never thought you’d have me?”

 

Will walks swiftly to the sofa, anxiously waiting.

 

Hannibal looks up, meets his eyes. “Not and survive.”

 

The words crack, quick as lightning, between them.

 

Hannibal now looks almost shocked, perhaps by his own honesty.

 

“Hate is not the opposite of love.” Will takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I am… entirely concerned with you.”

 

He sits down next to Hannibal. Hannibal’s hair is rather mussed, and by him, and Will wants to kiss his temple, the corner of his eye, his throat.

 

Hannibal licks his lips before he speaks. “Each man kills the thing he loves.”

 

“Is that poetry? It sounds like poetry. OK, that’s going to be a rule from here on in – poetry does not count as a rational argument.” And Will tries to laugh.

 

Hannibal looks so tired, still. “Oscar Wilde wrote those words, when he was in Reading Gaol, incarcerated at the hand of the beautiful young man he was in love with.”

 

Will shakes his head, sighs, nudges his forehead against Hannibal’s shoulder.

 

No apologies, only regrets.

 

“Why wouldn’t you speak to me, before?” Hannibal’s voice is plaintive, almost a cry. Perhaps he can sense that Will is running low on words again, the window for answers closing.

 

They’re wearing thin at the edges, both of them. Barriers are hard to maintain with the constant friction of contact.

 

Will reaches out his hand and fingers the edge of Hannibal’s jersey. He breathes heavily again. “I wanted to be sure you were really here. That it was really you. That I…”

 

“And do you now believe?” Hannibal takes his chin – gently – and forces his gaze up.

 

“I want to. But I always did want to.”

 

They’re staring at each other, and then at some point they’re kissing like they can’t breathe otherwise, and Will couldn’t have pin-pointed when the one slid into the other.

 

“How different that is,” Hannibal observes, breathing labored, as they break, “when there is an emotion involved.”

 

“Oh, I’ve done it with emotion before.” Will says, huffing out a real laugh this time, unthinking. And then, holding up his hand, placatory: “But with you though… This is… something on another scale entirely.”

 

Hannibal actually ducks his head, preens a little.

 

“We do not need to work, in answer to your question,” Hannibal says now, not without pride. “There is enough money for that not to be necessary.”

 

“I think I’d like to grow vegetables, in our garden. We could eat them. As well. “ Will leans into him. “Have something on our table that we nurtured.”

 

Hannibal does not initially respond. Will twists back and studies him. Hannibal is sucking in his own bottom lip again, and Will is nearly distracted.

 

“I had not necessarily thought we would be here in this place so long as to make the cultivation of vegetables a feasible project.”

 

“No? You want to move on?” Will frowns. “Where to? When? Why?”

 

“You want to stay here?”

 

Why are words so incredibly inadequate? They command and shape and frame existence, they have the power to change, and right now he can’t wield them without dropping everything.

 

“I thought you did.”

 

Hannibal’s nostrils flare again. “I didn’t know.” His voice drops, he lifts a hand to cup Will’s cheek and stares at him, that gulping, drinking, dreadful stare. “I didn’t know how long I would have you.”

 

“Have me,” Will tells him. It’s not what Hannibal meant, but it might do. If he wants this enough it might come right. “Have me, I’m here, have me.”

 

He takes Hannibal’s hand into his own, draws it up to rest at his waist, just as he did on that cliff edge, at the end of the world. He feels Hannibal’s fingers splay, warm, and his own muscles jump and quiver under the touch.

 

“You want that?” Hannibal’s voice is hushed, he could be whispering in church.

 

“I want to feel that you’re with me.” Will tells him, and realizes he’s clutching Hannibal’s arm, fingers gripping too hard, likely to bruise.

 

“Take me to bed,” Will clarifies, with an effort, with every word planned and designed for that look, that one answering look on Hannibal’s face in the seconds before Will finds himself swept off the couch and lifted, carried away and up the stairs with strength he’s delighted and scared and mostly just stupidly aroused to feel again.

 

Half of him wants to fight, to push back, because he can, because he could.

 

There can be more than one version of himself, within himself. There can be branching realities and paths less travelled, and that is just how it is, to be alive.

 

It’s dark in their bedroom, the pale light from the still un-curtained window the only illumination. The bed is cold, and when Will is dropped down onto the mattress the smell of them both rises around him from the garish bed-sheets.

 

His pulse is throbbing through him, through each and every sinew. The racing, rushing heat floods his veins, cracking ice, thrumming.

 

Hannibal is standing over him, solid, unmoving, and when Will looks up he is amazed to see hesitation in his face.

 

“Yes!” Will urges. Words cram in his mouth and stick and jostle. “More, yes,” he demands, nodding frantically – Hannibal can’t stop now, can’t retreat and deny him this just when he needs it, just when it might work, when he might flicker into being, fully.

 

And in response to his demand, fuck knows Hannibal tries.

 

Hannibal climbs up onto the bed, still over him, knees to either side of his hips. Hannibal’s body curls in, and Hannibal reaches out with fingers and mouth and traces where Will’s edges blur, paints him with touch, defining every millimeter of skin.

 

Will’s head tips back, his spine arches. Hannibal’s tongue traces his earlobe, pushes into the suddenly aching spaces between one piece of cartilage and another. Hannibal’s fingers work at Will’s clothes, tearing off his t-shirt, literally seizing it and ripping it apart down the middle – there’s a harsh rending noise and Will moans and bucks his hips, pushing his chest out. It’s all heat above him, heat and Hannibal, and his skin is burning.

 

“Meldžiamasis,” Hannibal whispers to him. “My dear, my dearest one, Will…” Like his name might as well be a synonym for all the rest.

 

Is Hannibal Lecter in love with me?

 

Will moves, puts his arms round Hannibal’s back, pulls him closer to lie heavy over him as they’ve done so many nights. He wants to erase the past and the mistakes he’s made, and forget the future and the ones that will come. But every moment he experiences joins that same conveyer because nothing lasts, nothing can. He isn’t allowed to stop making choices.

 

Who can ever know, really, what it is that is happening to them?

 

He gets Hannibal’s jersey off, and the t-shirt underneath, and then they are skin-to-skin and lithe, rubbing close and rather too hard, ungentle. Will can feel the brand on the center of Hannibal’s back under his hand, the lumps of burned, scarred flesh written on his body.

 

He’s struck again by a sensation of seeing Hannibal for the first time. Of seeing, really seeing, what he is and does and has done, and what has been done to him.

 

Hannibal has one hand anchored at the nape of Will’s neck, soothing, but that is undone by the way he is pressing a kiss to Will’s cheek, then moving down to his neck, licking at the soft skin under his Adam’s apple, tonguing the tender vee of his breastbone and then the small cleft between his pectoral muscles. Lips and tongue, licking and touching and tasting, and Will’s eyes keep closing.

 

The sensation of Hannibal’s warm, wet, mouth descending to enclose his left nipple jerks them open again, electrifies Will’s whole body. He’d never thought he was that sensitive there, but Hannibal has him kicking his heels and shifting on the bed, his cock twitching and pulsing with Hannibal’s rhythmic sucking at his chest. He puts his hands in Hannibal’s hair just to have something to hold onto, and Hannibal makes an approving noise.

 

Hannibal is eating him alive, and the pressure builds and builds and builds. Hannibal keeps at where he has latched on until it’s aching and likely to bruise, and Will is harder than he can ever remember being, and it’s all of him - his whole body is tense now, searching, reaching, and when Hannibal – with a glance upwards and a strangely nervous look – moves further down still and pulls at the waistband of Will’s trousers, the roar in his ears becomes deafening and he is a liquid thing of eager blood.

 

Hannibal’s mouth is giving, skilled, and he takes all of Will’s cock easily, a sensation that is swiftly too much to process. Vaguely, Will is aware of Hannibal fondling his balls, pressing up at the skin behind them and ratcheting the pleasure higher yet, and Will is peaking, compacting, breaking, and yet…

 

He comes, and it’s lush, thick pleasure, erotic in a way that re-defines everything he’s previously meant by the word, but nothing opened.

 

Nothing burst or broke or let him through.

 

He’s not free yet, and he’s pretty sure Hannibal can tell that, falling with a sigh beside him, panting, face still striped with Will’s come. After a moment, Hannibal turns away, frowning, and tries to get up off the bed.

 

Will grabs him, brings him back. There are tears in Hannibal’s eyes.

 

“No,” Will manages to murmur, and he pulls Hannibal in close to him again, rocks him in his arms.

 

Half of what is making Hannibal shake will be fury. He won’t want to be seen like this.

 

That’s what they are, though, that’s what this is. Hannibal owes him this much too.

 

And he owes Hannibal.

 

“I’m still here,” Will tells him with a throat that’s sore as if he had been screaming for mercy, and they shake, trembling, together.

 

-

 

The beach at Whitby is formed on the dry bones of dead monsters.

 

Will had picked up a book about it that morning, from a cardboard box full of paperbacks that had been on sale for charity outside a house on their street. For once he’d been present on the trip to the smokehouse for Hannibal’s horrendous fish, and had loitered, leafing through them, aware of Hannibal’s eyes on him.

 

They’d not slept well, either of them, after everything. Hannibal had been too still, probably hadn’t even gone to sleep, refusing after a while to let Will hold him, and Will had woken intermittently to the memory of what was wrong.

 

When finally, at around four in the morning, Hannibal had left the bed, Will had prepared himself for the possibility of a day alone. If Hannibal needed space, Will wasn’t going to deny him.

 

Hannibal’s fears, though, seemed to have left him more clinging than anything. He’d crawled back into their bed again before the next hour had chimed, and lain there once more in a ramrod straight posture that might as well have been for a coffin, not touching and probably staring, cat eyes in the ebbing darkness. When Will had given up pretending to doze soon after six, and had turned over to look, Hannibal was watching him openly,

 

“Let me go with you,” Will had said, when there had been no indication Hannibal was about to make his usual trip for his breakfast. “It’s a beautiful day.”

 

Hannibal did smile, slightly, hearing him speak. The tension in his shoulders seemed to release a notch.

 

So Will had kept speaking, saying the first thing that came to mind: “Such a beautiful day, we ought to be out in it, let’s go out properly, after we’ve eaten.”

 

So the lunch picnic was also Will’s idea, and though Hannibal must have known he was being pandered to a little, he set about the food preparation with some gusto and the gradual appearance of genuine pleasure – they have now the fanciest assemblage on the beach, without a doubt, and Will knows it calmed him, making it, and letting Will help under close instruction.

 

They didn’t get everything right, yet, but neither is everything wrong. Over the course of the morning, that seems to have been communicated between them, not in words but in the guiding of a hand on a knife, the slightest casual touches in the choreography required to move around their little kitchen, a dance at which somehow they’ve become experts already.

 

Who knows what else they might do together, learn from each other, in time. Perhaps that doesn’t have to be known, even by them, until it happens.

 

Will never would have predicted this, would have called it an impossible thing, but here they both are, having come to the beach and for the first time, down along the harbor pier wall and then out and along the sand, picnic carried in two cardboard packing boxes because they don’t own any baskets yet, but with two old rugs ready, and now they’re sprawled on them, and Will is reading aloud from his book the history of fossil-hunting in the town and what it meant, a Victorian existential crisis in the face of new mythologies.

 

Nearby, Hannibal lies on his back in the sun, hands resting on his stomach, and looks almost happy. Before they ate he spent a while compiling a list of things to buy for the house, looking to Will now and again for suggestions. He found a fossil himself, of course, mere minutes after arrival, his eyes missing nothing. It rests on a paper napkin – cloth napkins are on the list – between them now, a belemnite, which is an extinct squid or a lightning bolt from Jupiter or a trick from God, depending on how you define impossibility.

 

Hannibal’s feet are bare, toes wriggling in the sand with a boyishness Will hadn’t counted on, and how unexpectedly Will enjoys the sight of the strong muscle framing his ankles, the pale skin there one of Hannibal’s smaller secrets.

 

At moments like this, Will can feel there will be enough for them to discover in each other, with or without the world.

 

They’ve eaten half the salmon and pesto quiche with its balsamic dressing, and most of the goose-fat potted shrimp and the tomato salad. A minute ago Will thought he was full, but as he turns the page of the book he finds himself reaching out for another strip of flatbread and the roasted red pepper hummus. He takes some and chews for a moment, sucking on oily fingers when he’s done.

 

Looking up, he sees Hannibal still lying there, eyes tracking his movements. He’s put one hand at his groin to conceal himself, not quite casually enough.

 

Will grins and reaches over, getting another piece of the bread for himself, scooping up some more of the dip.

 

Hannibal doesn’t move, just keeps watching him, and the slight opening of his mouth doesn’t appear to be conscious at all.

 

He can’t ever quite believe it except when it’s plain like this; Hannibal’s hunger for him. For him, and for all the things Hannibal isn’t going to take any more because he’s discovered they can only be given.

 

The world fizzes and shakes, but only because he is alight, and Will shifts a little and then leans over, feeds Hannibal the bite with his fingers, reaches for another.

 

They’re still not properly touching, not except where the tips of Will’s fingers brush Hannibal’s lips, but Will feels that, feels that slick and sure and soaring.

 

It goes on a while – there’s plenty of food, and Will thinks he loves the cherry tomatoes most, the way he can see Hannibal bursting them on his tongue. He isn’t thinking much, or not clearly; the sun is hot and he’s half-drunk with it, or with something.

 

In the Before, they put a mask over Hannibal’s mouth, a small prison just for his teeth. Hannibal let them, asked them, permitted them that, all in the hope of this.

 

Will leans in between bites and kisses him on the lips, just quickly, enjoying the tang of tomato and vinegar.

 

Will can taste, now, all of it.

 

There’s a knife they packed in with the food, to slice the four kinds of cheese with, and it glints in Will’s line of vision. It’s only when he gives in to impulse and reaches for it, and notices Hannibal tensing against him – Hannibal’s head is half in Will’s lap now - that he thinks of what the action might be taken to mean.

 

“I do want to carve into you, break you open and push myself inside,” Will tells him, leaning in and whispering in his ear, over the crashing of the waves. “But not that way.” Then he pulls back and smiles, and lets the whole of himself show in it, lets the antlers branch and bloom and watches the way Hannibal watches him.

 

And then Will sighs. “Well,” he clarifies, “in that way too. But I couldn’t do that, and keep you. And I want to keep you. I have to keep you.”

 

That’s what it is, what it means, all of it. That is what he crawled out of the sea for. That’s what made him the latest monster to come and rest his weary body on this beach, new and glorious in his wrongness.

 

“You’re mine, Hannibal Lecter.”

 

And Will makes a shallow cut in the pad of his finger and pushes it into Hannibal’s mouth, feeds him that. Hannibal forgets to shield himself and his arousal or even his expression any more, too intent on grabbing Will’s forearm and holding him in place, desperate as a baby animal.

 

“Home, we need to go home,” Will tells him, urgent, and Hannibal rises, still gripping him tight.

 

They’re almost running down the road on the way back, and Hannibal half trips and laughs, gets upright and laughs as he stumbles forward again, catching Will’s arm for balance. Then at the door Will fumbles for the key, and Hannibal looks half ready to kick it down.

 

They get in, though, and dump everything and go up.

 

Will takes Hannibal on their bed, on their penguin-covered precious bed, sliding into him without much preparation on either side – he manages to remember to suggest it but Hannibal won’t tolerate the delay, grasping him close instead, tearing another set of clothes in his haste to get them together.

 

“I will hold you down and sit on you,” Hannibal threatens. “I will sit on your cock for you unless you give it to me.”

 

Will wrestles him down and forces his legs open, making him take his fingers first, kissing him through it to soften the delay until Hannibal bites with impatience.

 

“You’re mine,” Will tells him again, once Hannibal is finally penetrated, once he’s breached and stuck and skewered and moaning with it. Will repeats the words, more than once, and doesn’t care, and Hannibal clenches down against him every time he says them. “You’re mine, Hannibal,” – it means everything, it asserts all the truths that matter, all the boundaries of reality that ever needed defining.

 

The nightmare is real, because they are the nightmare, and here on the inside it’s too beautiful to be afraid of.

 

This is impossible, and theirs. Nothing of theirs would ever be anything else.

 

Will is over Hannibal now, is standing on the floor by the bed, Hannibal’s legs splayed either side of his hips, thrusting into him and it feels, oh it feels… Hannibal is on his back, taking it and taking it, immovable, receiving each stroke like his due and almost silently, staring and staring and drinking in, even as his cock strains upwards and drips against his stomach, neglected.

 

Will thrusts, pushes, claws. There’s nothing between them, he can feel this in his toes.

 

“I’m back. I’m back, I promise you. I’m not going away again.”

 

Finally Hannibal growls a little again and moves, coming up to bite at Will’s neck, to fondle him, to scrape nails down his back. He’s the one not speaking now, but when he falls back again his eyes are endless, promising forever.

 

Hannibal takes Will’s hand into his own, kisses his knuckles, bites them, sucks at the still-sore wound on his finger and spreads his legs wider still.

 

Will makes him come. He makes Hannibal come and come until he can’t stay quiet any more, until he can’t bear it, and finally Will lets himself loose too and falls down all the way to where Hannibal catches him in his arms and they rest together.

 

This is how this happens.