Hannibal heard the bells on the trolling rig from fore. He finished adjusting the boom and went to find the reinforced gloves and knife they used for fish. Will was already reeling in.
"It's big," he said, then nothing else for some time. Hannibal watched him: the sure movement of his hands and the focus on his face, which only faltered when a particularly hard tug caused a wince – likely a twinge to his bad shoulder.
It made Hannibal want to go to him, but that was not his place. Not yet. For the moment they existed in a singular reality, the fish and Will.
The rod bowed and relaxed, jerked and bowed again.
At length Will bent over the side and drew up a dappled tuna, nearly as long as his arm. It shuddered and danced, twisting wildly in the air, and hit the deck with a thump. Will knelt and tried to hold it still – he wanted the act quickly done, always – but it escaped his grip.
Hannibal was there, then, inside the moment. He put his gloved hand on the moving gills and looked into the gleaming eye, the twist of light around the black pupil. Then he stabbed the knife tip in at the base of the skull – between the brain and backbone.
One sharp motion was all it took.
Hannibal watched the light dim, until it was gone. A transitory instant existed, after which the living thing was no longer, and what remained was flesh – was food. He marked it, as was his habit.
Will's hands were very close to his. When he looked up he saw that Will was watching his face.
Tuna was an unusual catch, albeit always the goal. Hannibal had not been able to source true wasabi before sailing, but he had stocked tamari, and bottled yuzu juice – marugoto shibori – of the first pressing, which was in any case less perishable than fresh fruit.
Confidence in Will's ability, he had thought, was warranted.
Sushi-grade tuna was hung and bled, to cleanse the flesh of accumulated fear. Hannibal took care of that as well: incisions behind each gill, and to the blood vessels running the length of the animal, just before they fanned out into the tail. Then a hose, brought by Will, to pump seawater through its mouth and induce circulation. It was a lot of blood, and when sluiced off their deck piqued the interest of sharks and created a commotion in the water.
All this was done without question. They fished regularly and by now no discussion was needed. It momentarily sated Hannibal's greed to think that Will, too, had acted in accordance with the complicity between them: that he had not resisted in the space between thought and deed.
It was a faint echo of how they'd brought down the Dragon. But in that echo the beginning of a practiced ease.
The pack was not the individual beast.
Hannibal cut even rectangles of sashimi, from the flank and the fatty belly. He arranged the seasonings and did what he could with shredded carrots and canned water chestnut. Then he went to find Will.
For the past day or two they had had warmth. Will spent much of his free time at the bow, scanning the horizon. He did not seem to mind the wind.
Hannibal had thought, at first, that he was hoping for a sign of approaching land: a bird, perhaps, or another sail in the distance. It then occurred to him that perhaps Will dreaded this inevitability, and chose confrontation rather than avoidance.
For his part, Hannibal had his surfeit of sun and salt spray. He missed civilization. He wanted architecture, shops, music, the pleasing anonymity of flânerie. And greenery: not wilderness, but tended parks and trellised vines. He wanted to have Will amidst these things.
He wanted, above all, a long soak in scented water – very hot – in an old-fashioned, claw-footed bathtub. The Azores would provide that. Perhaps Will might be persuaded to join him.
The thought left him breathless, shocked anew. Then unease followed on the heels of happiness. It was too easy to imagine his future with Will: over the years it had become a habit of mind he could not disengage, no matter how often his expectations were dashed.
Will did not turn when he approached. Hannibal had to touch his arm, to get him to take his bowl and eat.
"This is good," he said, but his eyes had caught the horizon's colour: to Hannibal they seemed full of distance. "You didn't do this with the mackerel."
"One might," Hannibal said. "The freshness would be irreproachable. But I confess I prefer aji marinated and grilled."
"I was joking," Will said, straight-faced but for his mobile eyebrows. "Raw mackerel? Really?"
"If you like. It's common in Japan."
There was no time like the present, Hannibal didn't say. It was another week, or ten days' run to the mainland, after they took on supplies in the islands, and mackerel was their commonest catch. But the spell that enclosed them would break as soon as they found port, and all that humanity made necessary in common deceit.
If I bring you back to the flock, will you remember what we are to each other? Will you turn away from me again?
Are you afraid of that too?
They had made love again, afterward. Perhaps they made love every day.
Hannibal's memory did not constitute their coming together as discrete occurrences, but a single, bright, shimmering structure: continuously elaborated and expanded. There was so much yet to discover about Will, his abandon and reticences and curious lacunae of experience, territories unknown – Hannibal was realizing – even to Will himself. All of it endlessly delightful.
Time had never seemed more senseless.
Sometimes he thought of making love to Will on the cliff – stripping them bare as they had stood there, but for smears of hot black blood. Or earlier, as they had waited together in the house.
Then it seemed to him that they had. That, giddy with freedom and the hurt of knowing, he had pressed Will to one of the pristine, dust cover-protected beds; that Will had allowed him. That they had lost themselves in each other, with kisses and greedy insatiable touches, even though Will had planned for him to die.
Or earlier. In the Wolf Trap farmhouse, that last chilly sunrise, watching over Will and trying to find the equation that would bring the teacup together. Climbing under the blankets with Will, finally, as part of him had wanted then, to tuck himself against Will's side and close his eyes and breathe Will in... In Florence, as Will had bled and trembled and come compliant into Hannibal's arms. In Palermo, in the dark of the catacombs, where Will had called his name, and Hannibal had felt his hook move in the gory gash it had made of Hannibal's heart.
Earlier still, in his own house in Baltimore. Firelight dancing off the walls of his study and pooling in Will's eyes. The intoxicating sense of having Will, in the guest bedroom – in his own room – on the couch of his office. It didn't matter where, only that Will didn't leave. That he was not where Hannibal couldn't reach him. That he consented to stay. That he would sit across from Hannibal and drink his whiskey, or press the muzzle of a gun to Hannibal's temple and make Hannibal kneel for him like prey.
Perhaps he had made love to Will from the very beginning. Perhaps he had given himself to Will in that first motel room, with its broken screen door and flimsy curtains drawn against the sun, Will rumpled and disgruntled and a lovely stranger still – I don't find you that interesting.
But he had eaten Hannibal's food, and he had laughed, and Hannibal had been certain of him, then. Certain in his bones.
Surely they must have already made love, later, when Will had said: when I look back from a distance the house is like a boat on the sea. Hannibal had thought, not of Wolf Trap, but of the secret cliffside house where he had sometimes brought Miriam Lass. How, returning to the lit house at night by the long, winding drive, it looked like a hurricane lamp: a safe beacon in the wilderness of sky and ocean and night.
He had thought, hardly considering what it implied: someday, I must take Will there.
They sighted dolphins, early the next morning.
Hannibal got out their documents, and they went over the details together.
"Different last names," Will said. "Same address." His eyebrows moved.
"One background is easier to construct than two, if they are to withstand the same degree of scrutiny," said Hannibal.
"It's a real house."
"A flat, yes." It was two flats – the piano nobile had its own number – but that seemed immaterial.
Will leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out under the table. It was a habitual action Hannibal remembered, from the first time they had eaten breakfast together. The thought made him want to kiss Will again.
Intimacy was a heady drug. Hannibal had never understood addiction, before Will.
"Tell me about the flat," Will said.
"It's off Rue du Temple, in the Marais. A limestone building of early twentieth century construction, facing a park. We have the top three stories out of five, including the mansard level. I had it renovated a few years ago to add modern amenities."
"No basement? No..." Will took a breath and let it out. "...Direct access to the tunnels? I hear they go on for miles."
Of course those tidbits had been in the papers; to say nothing of Tattle-Crime.
"The flat's been in the family for decades," Hannibal said, carefully. "But never under my name."
Will nodded, passed a hand over his face, and stood. Went to pour himself another cup of coffee.
"There have been other apartments in Paris," he said, "other houses, with amenities. But not this one – not this background. What happens if you're impulsive?"
"I'm rarely impulsive."
Will gave him a look.
"Boredom is a cousin to sleep and death," Hannibal said. "I don't think I will be easily bored, with you."
"That's the line you're going with?"
"We don't have to live there." He had thought Paris might be too crowded for Will's comfort, in any case.
Will took a sip of coffee. "Someone with no business card," he said, gazing down into his mug. "A... petty thief, let's say. A traveller who tries to pick your pocket. Or a mishap, like being recognized by an old acquaintance. Daily vicissitudes. Nothing you'd want to make a display over."
All that humanity made necessary...
Hannibal set down his fork. "Are we discussing precedent," he asked, "or principle?"
"My principles are inconsistent," Will said, "as are yours. Or so I'm told."
"God does not trespass against Himself. He draws no lines, and yours are drawn on sand."
It came out sharper than he would have liked. Will only lifted his eyes to Hannibal's, for a long moment, the expression in them inscrutable.
"That's true enough," he said. "The sea washes them away. But high water or low water, the tide only rises so far."
"I need air," Will said, and made for the stairs to the deck. He took his coffee with him.
Hannibal followed. It might have been better to let Will go – to let him have his space – but there was no logic to the moment. An image had seized him with clarity: Will letting himself slip overboard, into the glassy swell and dip, as effortlessly as a selkie that had found his skin.
Hannibal would not witness or predict it. He would simply find himself alone.
Will had gone back to his habitual place at the bow. He sat with arms folded over his bent knees, like a child in the corner of a lively room.
Hannibal had been the child, once. Perhaps he and Will had always been the same in substance, despite the absurd accidents of time and space. He knelt on the deck behind Will and reached for him.
For an uncertain second he thought Will might shrug off the contact, and braced himself for it. But Will relaxed, with a slow exhale, and let Hannibal pull him close, his back against Hannibal's chest. He reached up and touched Hannibal's hand, running warm fingers over Hannibal's wind-roughened knuckles.
"If I start a conversation I should at least finish it," he said. "I'm sorry."
Hannibal nuzzled into Will's hair and closed his eyes.
"You told me once that you lacked appetite," he said. "That you tolerate rather than delight."
Will hummed, low, in his throat. "I'm not walking that back," he said. "You've had enough time to think about it."
"I have," Hannibal said. "You chose your words carefully for effect."
"You can't tolerate being tolerated," Will said, dry, "because you can't tolerate anything or anyone. The idea upsets you. You find your delight, no matter how rarefied the circumstance, or you excise the problem." He paused. "Though, I suppose you've given that the old college try."
"You delight me, always," Hannibal said. "Do you find that hard to believe?"
"I don't find anything hard to believe." Will's hand stilled on his, then moved again, deliberately. "But I know myself very well when I'm with you. What I want. What I don't want. You bring that out in me."
I lose myself when I'm with you, Hannibal didn't say. It seemed to him that these were the same meaning cast in different words, and he didn't want to be misinterpreted.
"High water or low water," he murmured, instead. "The leading edge of the wave and the crumbling edge of the cliff."
"The sea erodes the land," Will said. "The land grows by accretion to fill the sea. Boundaries shift, but forces of nature don't falter." Hannibal felt the breath move in him, and out. "You said the next hunt will choose me. That you only have to wait."
"Yes," Hannibal said.
"I'll leave it to God's will."
"That's a perverse faith, Dr. Lecter." He felt Will turn, and when he opened his eyes Will's face was very close to his. It was like looking into the sky. "Does your God help those who help themselves?"
"I hope he does," said Hannibal.
Dinner that evening was tuna steak – rubbed with dry spices, seared, and arranged on a bed of julienned apple, with Russian winter salad as accompaniment. Hannibal had potted the usable rest of the fish, packing it in the refrigerator with olive oil, bay leaf, and pepper: Will had asked for a tuna melt sandwich. The Appenzeller was still usable, and he would make fresh bread in the morning.
"I was joking about the tuna melt," Will said. Startled, with an incipient pleased confusion: as if, for all their shared history, it had never crossed his mind that Hannibal would make him a sandwich simply because he had asked for it.
Perhaps his wife had been no good in the kitchen. It would be like Will, to punish himself inordinately that way.
"I know," Hannibal said. "But were you, really?"
Will's mouth twitched. "I wasn't," he agreed. "I just imagined it coming out of a can. Didn't think of getting it from point A to point B."
Perhaps his wife had made tuna melts the same way Will did, with watery flaked tuna and processed Swiss cheese. Will had discernment – much more than Jack, if not Alana, whose palate was exceptionally fine – but it didn't matter to him whether food was good or bad. The surprise was at the care, and so was the pleasure.
The faceless woman had been – was – a lover of dogs and children. She, too, had only wanted to take care of Will, for the little time she had been allowed by circumstance. In retrospect, it was petty to begrudge her the effort.
Hannibal could be very petty.
Will speared another mouthful of their prey. "It's delicious," he said.
Hannibal was not safe. Neither was Will, no matter how much he might wish it. They had teeth designed to rend.
He missed the hunt, though the memories of his solitary excursions no longer held much appeal. Even the finished works themselves – of which he had once been exceedingly proud – struck him with a retrospective sense of dissatisfaction, just as in latter years he had remembered Il Mostro and found him jejune.
He saw his mistakes, now: how sterile and fussy he'd unknowingly become. A middle-aged hobbyist procuring organic meat at the Sunday market. One pig was so much like another that by the time he'd found Jack Crawford in his waiting room, he'd gone years without encountering a death worthy of public display. He had come to believe that the most delicate compositions were to be layered, not in bone and muscle but in voice and colour, breeding suggestion in likely minds.
Perhaps he had not been wrong. There had been great successes, with Randall and Miriam – with Abigail too – and others they had never spoken of. But Will had destroyed everything.
Hannibal had never needed to create more than he did in Florence. He had disdained Dimmond's facile readiness, though it once would have amused; and Bedelia's dispassionate clarity could not sustain him. He had wanted to transmit a message to Will, to say...
...He had hardly known what. That a change had operated. That everything he owned had slipped between his fingers like a mirage. To be seen again, to be reflected in Will's eyes and mind, was the only value that remained to him.
Words would not have done. Only steel, and heart's blood.
Much later he had realized, with astonishment, that he had cried out for Will to save him. And in doing so, he had made something beautiful.
Hannibal had first watch, which generally meant that he let Will sleep as much as he could. Will showered and changed without a word, but stopped him before he went above deck – a brief brush of fingers against the back of Hannibal's hand.
"Come here," he said.
Hannibal went. Here, cast away together, he had no resistance to what Will wanted. He had first felt something like it, in the heat of the moment, when they had confronted Mason Verger, and again with Dolarhyde. But it had always been natural, to kill for Will or die for him, as if Will's desires were his own.
He let Will pull him down, into their bed. Close, closer, until his full weight was on Will, pressing him into the mattress, trapping him with nowhere to go. Will did not seem to mind. He kept his gaze locked to Hannibal's, and his eyes were infinitely clear.
"It hurts you," he said, softly, "that I might be unhappy. When you can't make me happy. Doesn't it?"
The words lanced through Hannibal, cold-burning, like a scalpel. A unexpected blade in a tender place.
A feeling long borne, never named or acknowledged even when acted on.
He couldn't answer; didn't know what showed in his expression and his eyes. He didn't pull away, because Will had wanted him close. Will reached up and took his face between his hands, gently.
"You want to delight me," he said, "but you don't think you do. Not the rest of it – the games, the meat on the menu. Just you."
"You care for me," Hannibal said. His throat hurt.
"Or you'd be dead by now." Will's thumb brushed against Hannibal's bottom lip. "That's not what I mean."
"In bed, then," Hannibal said. Will's touch lingered, and despite everything he had to fight the urge to close his eyes in surrender. "Like this."
"More generally speaking," said Will. His mouth crooked. "But you make me feel good. You know that, at least."
He did. He could feel Will – Will's body responding to their simple proximity – mostly hard already, pressing against his thigh. The heat and rising scent of him even through two layers of fabric. He reached down, suddenly light-headed with lust, and cupped his hand around Will, stroking him roughly through his boxers. Bent his head to Will's throat to bite and suck a mark there.
Will moaned, unrestrained. He arched his hips up to meet Hannibal's continuing ministrations, then went entirely boneless. But he was solid, compact, here for Hannibal to do with as he liked. Hannibal could not carve away his unhappiness but he could fill him up: until there was no room left in Will for anything but pleasure and forgetting.
They kept lubricant in the bedside cabinet, now, migrated from Hannibal's medical kit.
Will watched him undress, his gaze hooded with desire, one arm flung out languidly across the rumpled sheets.
"Are you going to fuck me?" he asked. Not for the first time.
"Not yet," Hannibal said.
Will made a low sound in his throat, that was neither protest nor disappointment. He never insisted. Hannibal didn't know what the idea meant to him – if the question arose from some tattered remnant of normativity, or if they had embarked on yet another game, with rules of their mutual and wordless devising.
Will allowed himself to be stripped bare, entirely, and positioned on his stomach, thighs parted for access. He sighed when Hannibal touched him, slick fingers tracing over the sensitive skin behind his balls and around his hole. The tail end of the sound hitching in something like laughter.
"You want to ease me into it," he said.
"There's no hierarchy," Hannibal said. "No set plan." Only the intricate fractal expansion of their knowledge of each other. He slipped a finger into Will, carefully, up to the second joint, and watched Will's face change.
The technique was only superficially medical. Men reacted as differently from each other as women. He found the place inside Will easily, and when he circled his fingertip around it Will's breath left him in a stutter.
"Oh," he said, "that's..." The sentence didn't finish.
Hannibal continued the caress, with the gentlest of pressures. Will tensed slightly, as if about to close his legs – or part them further – but didn't. He balled his fists around handfuls of sheets and released them, then again. His lips parted.
He was hot and velvet-soft inside, almost feverish. Hannibal remembered the way blood had gushed out of him, over Hannibal's hand that held the knife.
"You're doing well," he said. Will's hips jerked at that, involuntarily, and a flush came into his cheeks. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned his face into the pillow. "Shall we try a little more?"
"Yeah," Will said, muffled. He smelled, now, very strongly of arousal.
Hannibal added another finger alongside, and a great deal of lubricant. Will made a sound, then again, louder, when Hannibal returned to playing with his prostate.
He was always vocal, during sex; every fibre of him was sensitized and responsive. In their early acquaintance Hannibal had been fascinated by how pain and fear seemed to reverberate physically through Will, feeding back viciously on their own resonances, as if he had been made of neural endings in his entirety. The mind's distress inextricable from that of the body.
A finely wrought instrument was capable of many modes of music, even disused ones.
It took time, but the stretch became easy. Hannibal watched, avid, as his fingers disappeared into Will, down to their base, in regular inward-outward motion. It was as beautiful a part of Will as any other, and as accepting of Hannibal, given patience and persuasion.
Will was steadily making noise, now, pushing back against the deeper penetration, the lovely curve of his ass hitching up in fits and starts. Hannibal palmed it, greedily.
"Turn over," he said, and was gratified when Will complied without a word, gazing down his own body at Hannibal with lust-hazed blue eyes. The sex-flush had risen all over his chest and face, and his cock lay against his belly, erect and gorgeously wet. Hannibal took it in hand and stroked it quickly, with intent. It almost jumped in his grip, and leaked freely, as it must have done for a while.
Will cried out, twisting, as if not sure whether to push Hannibal away or draw him closer.
"God," he said, "do it. Come on, fuck me, please—"
Hannibal caught him by one leg and pushed that knee up to his chest, exposing him. He pressed three fingers against Will's loosened, pink hole and leant forward, using his weight to push inexorably in. Breaching him.
Will made a choked sound, as if his throat had closed on a wail, and started to come.
His cock pulsed, with such force that the first long pearly rope of ejaculate landed over his own throat and face. The following ones striped his chest and stomach.
It seemed to last for a long time. Hannibal let him have the sensation of being filled – the steady pressure bearing against his prostate – until he was satisfied that Will was done, then pulled away to admire his oeuvre.
His own cock ached, engorged to the point of discomfort. He had disregarded it, but now he took himself in hand. He looked at Will – how well-used he looked: the obscene art of his blown pupils and flushed face and semen-streaked skin. Hannibal had done that to him.
Will panted, and met his eyes. Then his gaze dropped lower. He drew a hand across his cheek and licked absently at the smear.
"Put it in me," he said. "Fuck me."
It was not a request, but a command.
Hannibal moved on instinct. There was no awareness of decision: Will's desire was his. He covered Will with his body, pressing a kiss to his mouth. Will kissed him back greedily and bit at Hannibal's lower lip, that he had touched so tenderly earlier – hard enough to sting. He wound his arms around Hannibal's shoulders and hooked his ankles around Hannibal's back, urging him on.
There was no resistance. He pushed forward, lining up blindly by touch, and was engulfed immediately in slick wet heat: in Will. But he was hardly part of the way in before Will jerked and hissed, over-sensitized after his own orgasm. His nails raked down Hannibal's shoulder blades.
"Keep going," Will said, through gritted teeth. Then: "Don't make me beg, you bastard."
A voiceless snarl rose in Hannibal's throat. He took Will by the wrists and pinned them over his head, so he had all the leverage and Will none. Then he started to fuck.
It didn't take long. He couldn't have lasted if he'd tried, and he didn't try. He gave Will what he wanted, as Will writhed and sobbed under him: his pleasure at taking Will, at claiming Will for his own. Possessing him. Then the physical brand of his release, coiling white-hot in his loins before he spent it, hard and deep, inside Will where no one else had been.
There was a little bit of blood, afterward.
"Hypocrite," Will said, sweetly. "Stop fussing."
He sounded utterly satisfied. Hannibal shifted up the bed and took him in his arms. It seemed to him that Will particularly liked to be held, after lovemaking. He fell asleep easily with Hannibal spooned around him, shielding him from the air, and did not appear to dream much afterward.
Will turned his head into the crook of Hannibal's arm, and sighed. He ran his fingers up and down Hannibal's forearm, smoothing over the length of the scar there.
"I don't want Paris," he said. "Not yet, at least."
"We can go anywhere you want."
"Can we?" Will didn't meet his eyes. "What if we kept sailing? If we – if you stayed onboard with me?"
"We could live off tuna, I suppose." He observed Will – there was much to see, this close: the dark swallow-wing curve of his lowered lashes, the stray damp hairs curling at his nape. The marks, not at all deleterious to the overall effect, left by bone saw and knife. "When God visits his chosen ones, He shows them a sign. Then He demands of them worship and obedience in all things."
"Is that what's on offer?" Will said, low. "Worship and obedience?"
"If it is God's will to exercise his power, then no contrary desire may exist."
"Sounds like God's a selfish prick." Will turned toward him, snuggling artlessly closer. His breath puffed, warm, against Hannibal's collarbone.
"I'm not afraid," he said. "Not of me, or you. Or God. I just don't want to look anymore. I don't want to see anyone else."
Anyone but you.
Hannibal closed his eyes. "Somewhere with space, then," he said. "A horizon... a house with a yard and a view."
"Somewhere I can get a real bath," Will said, and Hannibal felt him smile.