I owe so many thanks to lovetincture for so many things, but today it’s for prompting this fic in the first place, and then doula-ing it over the next couple days through a lot of talk of death, writing, and God. You are magnificent.
Title from God is Alive, Magic is Afoot by Buffy Sainte-Marie, words by Leonard Cohen, which I felt compelled to listen to nonstop as I wrote this.
“You haven’t counted the stairs today,” Hannibal observes.
It’s true. Will hasn’t counted the stairs today, which is unusual. He seems to be at least considering it, though; standing at the bottom of the flight from the front hallway of the house to the second floor, looking slightly lost. When Hannibal speaks, looking up from his book in the sitting room adjacent to the hall, Will’s eyebrows snap together.
“What do you mean?” he snarls. “I— Christ, aren’t I allowed to— I wasn’t doing anything!”
“Indeed you weren’t,” says Hannibal. “But how will you know how many steps there are if you don’t count them?”
Will stares. He’s angry, that much is plain to see, but underneath the anger there’s an undercurrent of confusion. Hannibal closes the book to observe it closer. After nearly twenty years of fighting and fucking and killing and travelling and loving each other so fiercely it sometimes feels impossible to continue existing in two separate bodies, Will is very rarely ever confused any more. Hannibal would like to think that he still has the ability to confuse Will, and perhaps he does, but at the very least it should require effort.
The silence stretches out, and finally Hannibal picks his book back up, deliberately breaking their eye contact. “My apologies,” he says. “I didn’t mean to keep you from the pastime by calling attention to it. By all means, continue.”
Will bites his lip. Then, with an expression somewhat like relief, he starts trudging up the stairs, muttering “one… two… three…” quietly under his breath.
He gets to thirteen, which is the landing of the second floor. Then he descends, and does it again. And again.
There are thirteen steps. There were thirteen steps yesterday, and there were also thirteen steps the day before. There were thirteen steps last week, when one tally of the steps stopped being enough for Will. There were also thirteen a month and a half ago, when Hannibal had first noticed the counting.
This morning, Hannibal had descended to the downstairs workshop to discover Will’s fishing lures spread all over the floor. Decades of lures carpeted the hardwood. It took him a moment to notice that they were sorted. Hannibal and Will don’t have “sides” of the workshop, exactly, because they both use and take pleasure in both. But it can be said that Will reigns over the side of the workshop where things are created and repaired, and Hannibal reigns over the side of the workshop where things die.
On Will’s side, every lure was smashed. The pair of steel-toed boots he’d used to do it were discarded off to the side. On Hannibal’s side, they were unharmed.
Now, staring at his book unseeingly as Will counts the steps, Hannibal thinks about the fishing lures. They’re an interesting gift, if indeed they were intended to be a gift. They’re an interesting gift even if they weren’t intended that way, because this is something about Will that he’s never seen before, and every new thing about Will is a gift for Hannibal.
Still, something nags him about it. Not all gifts can or should be accepted unconditionally. Hannibal resolves to determine the nature of this particular gift.
That decision made, he relaxes, and he puts it out of his mind for the time being. Will finishes counting the steps and then stands there aimlessly until Hannibal beckons for him, pulling Will down into his lap and rubbing over his ass just so until Will bites at Hannibal’s neck and starts shoving his hands down the waistband of his pants and then everything is perfect, just as it always has been and always will be.
There are doctors who don’t know who Will and Hannibal are, and there are doctors who simply don’t care. The neuropsychologist who spearheads the tests is the second kind— the perfect combination of professionally curious and rightfully terrified to be safe to consult. She takes a comprehensive psychological history— Will refuses to be in the room for that one, which Hannibal assures the doctor will have no effect on the accuracy of the history. Then physical tests: a metabolic panel, thyroid study, MRI. “This is a diagnosis of exclusion,” the doctor mutters as she scribbles down more tests: polysomnography, electromyography, a lumbar puncture. Will hadn’t been able to stay still in the MRI long enough for a clear image, so they do a CT scan.
Hannibal pays the doctor a princely sum, and gets a handshake and a flimsy pamphlet in return.
“Huh,” says Will, leafing through it on their way home from what had been determined would be the last test for the time being. Will used to drive more often than Hannibal, but after road rage had gotten the best of him for the third time in a week, he had been banished to the passenger seat. “Definitive diagnosis can only be made post-mortem via autopsy. That’ll be interesting, wish I could be there.”
“You will be,” says Hannibal reasonably. Still, he can see Will’s point. The first and only person that he’ll want to share his results with, revel in the overwhelming beauty of putting his hands into Will Graham’s brain, finally, is… Will himself.
When they get home, Will throws himself down on the side of the couch, consciously making space and holding the pamphlet out slightly to the side to silently ask for Hannibal to settle beside him. Will leans his head on Hannibal’s shoulder and smiles.
“This’ll be good,” he says quietly, and then starts reading from the pamphlet. “‘The progression of frontotemporal dementia can be swift, but the localization of the degeneration means that patients are generally unaware of, and thus undisturbed by, the progression of their symptoms.’ I’ll probably forget this soon,” he observes, “or just stop caring.” He flips the page. “Early symptoms that may be disturbing to loved ones include lack of inhibition, loss of empathy, poor judgement, and inappropriate sexual behaviour.” Will grins. “It will be like old times.”
“Hmm.” Hannibal’s eyes scan down the text. “I’ll be watching your mind eat itself.”
“And when you don’t enjoy it any more, when I can’t speak or read or fuck you into the wall the way you like, you’ll finally kill me.” Will shivers with dark delight, and Hannibal snakes an arm around his shoulders to pull him in tight against his side. “You’ll be a terror,” Hannibal observes.
Will throws the pamphlet onto the coffee table, the words “EARLY-ONSET FTD: WHAT FAMILIES NEED TO KNOW” now blaring at the ceiling. He snuggles into Hannibal’s chest. “Disturbing for loved ones,” he says. “Are you disturbed?”
Hannibal considers the question, Will’s warm weight grounding and still somehow thrilling, after all this time.
“I would have preferred another twenty years,” he admits. “But I’ve been holding out on God, and I can accept defeat when I see it. I want your mind for myself, so of course he must take it back. How can I complain? And after all— another twenty years, the body you leave behind for me will be tough and gristly.” He strokes a hand through Will’s hair, then down his neck, over his shoulder and across his chest and abdomen. “Still delicious, I’m certain. But you would need to be cooked long and slow, and seasoned liberally. This way, you will be as pure as possible. Most cuts will do well just with a bit of oil.”
“Mmm,” hums Will. “Use the stuff from that market in Florence.”
Hannibal smiles, remembering the market, and the oil. It had been early in their life together, tentative and exuberant and still nearly certain that they would be captured. Will had made fun of him for insisting that the differences between varieties of olive oil were worthy of a tasting, same as wine or spirits— until he’d acquiesced to the tasting, that is. Hannibal remembers Will’s wide eyes, his mouth stuffed with oily bread, and then the taste of the oil itself as Will had muttered “oh, alright then, you arrogant prick,” and crushed their slick mouths together.
“I will,” Hannibal promises. “And when God reclaims my body, you will be the last taste on my lips.”
Will cocks his head, and Hannibal can practically see the scene playing out behind Will’s eyes, watching the part that will come after he’s gone like a film. He doesn’t seem surprised by Hannibal’s choice. Once Will is gone, Hannibal, lit from within by the flame of thousands of other human lives, who led Will to transformation and becoming, will undergo his final transformation. He will deny himself the thing he had always taken so unselfconsciously and delightedly. He will subsist off of Will and Will alone, until he can subsist no more.
Finally Will turns his head, letting Hannibal see his face, meeting his eyes, and there’s both madness and clarity there, as there always has been. Hannibal thinks sometimes that if he had more time— more than twenty years, perhaps fifty, or a hundred, or an eternity— he might be able to learn the trick of empathy. As it is, he cannot mirror Will as Will mirrors him. But if that’s the case, then he doesn’t know where it comes from, how it is at this moment that he can look into Will’s face and understand the feeling he sees there: yes; yes, it’s as beautiful as you think.
Will catches fish with his bare hands, now. Hannibal sits on a rock at the side of the river and watches how his lover more resembles a bear than anything else, splashing around in alternating frustration and elation. Hannibal hadn’t expected him to catch a single one; not only does he eschew a fishing rod, his motor skills are declining. He can walk and run adequately; and he can still gut both a fish and a man with grace and accuracy. Those skills are buried deep enough that the disease can’t touch them. But new movements, situations with no set pattern, bring Will up short. He fails to dodge a Vespa taking a corner too fast, and only Hannibal throwing him to the ground prevents his spirit’s premature departure. He tries to pet a stray cat, and the sinewy movement of the animal winding its way around his legs leaves him hopelessly confused.
Will interrupts Hannibal’s musings by placing a fish on the rock beside him. He no longer resembles a bear. Now he’s halfway in between a dog bringing a catch to his master, and a mother bird bringing food for her chicks.
“I’m impressed, Will,” Hannibal admits. “But then, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. You’ve done this before. You caught me with your bare hands, after all.”
“You’re sad,” says Will abruptly.
Hannibal stills and looks inward, trying to find the sadness. He hadn’t been aware of it, but if Will says it, it must be true. Whatever else Will is losing, his gift is still as strong as ever. The lack of inhibition, poor judgment and inappropriate— or rather, since they’re all directed at Hannibal, entirely appropriate, but unusually aggressive— sexual behaviour promised by the pamphlet are all in evidence. But the promised lack of empathy has not materialized, and Hannibal suspects it isn’t going to. Will can still look into Hannibal’s soul with a glance, and Hannibal is glad of it.
“The teacup shatters for the final time,” he finally settles on, finding the sadness and drawing it out into the light. “I have witnessed and carried out many such destructions in my life. Each time, I believe I grow closer to God, become more able to carry out destruction in His image. But we are mortal, and so must remain imperfect. In this, our final destruction, we can only reach towards Him, but never touch.”
Will watches the fish, which is still twitching spastically on the rock. “Let’s have a day to be sad,” he says. “Not today. Tomorrow.”
Hannibal allows a smile to tug at his face. “But who’s to say that I will be sad tomorrow?”
“I’ll help you,” Will decides, climbing out of the water. He falls and nearly rolls back in, and Hannibal leaps up to grab his hand and help him clamber to his feet. “I’m very good at emotions,” Will continues. “A worldwide expert, actually. They used to pay me to steal emotions. That was before I became a murderer.”
Hannibal throws back his head and laughs. When he glances over at Will from between his lashes, Hannibal realizes his own vision is swimming with tears that he can’t identify the meaning of, and Will’s face is so open and sweet and honest that he can’t resist leaning in and kissing him.
Will kisses back, another movement buried deep enough that he seemingly can’t forget how to do it. “You used to kiss me so hard my lips would bleed,” he whispers into Hannibal’s mouth. “Will you do it again?”
“Of course,” Hannibal murmurs. “Let’s go back to the house, and I’ll make you bleed all you like.”
“Don’t forget the fish,” Will calls, setting off towards the house and stumbling slightly over the uneven terrain. Hannibal grabs the thing by the tail and hurries to catch up, offering Will his arm. “And you’re only allowed to make my lips bleed, today,” Will specifies. “After that, I’m going to bugger you.”
Hannibal grins. They have decided to be sad tomorrow, he recalls. But for today, he has a fish in one hand, and Will Graham’s mind is shutting down in a brilliant display of pyrotechnics on his other side, and he is going to be buggered.
When Hannibal wakes up on the morning of the Sad Day, he finds that Will has spread an impressive array of knives across the comforter.
“A very good way to be sad,” says Will, businesslike,“is to do something that you love one last time, and then swear it off forever. It still counts if forever isn’t a very long time.” The knives are about half from the kitchen and half from the workshop. Hannibal shifts his ankle slightly to get the heavy weight of a cleaver off of it.
“I saw it all the time,” Will continues. “Most crime scenes, someone was trying to stop doing something. The cheater was going to stop seeing their lover, just one more tryst, but their spouse got there first. The rapist was trying to stop raping. The thief was determined to quit while he was ahead, not push his luck, and use his earnings to get set up in legitimate business. Someone always tries to stop something, and they always fail. But you never had any such aspirations, did you?”
Hannibal sits up, trying not to disturb the placement of the knives. He chooses his words carefully; Will is often lucid, but it’s rare nowadays for him to be this articulate. And what he’s suggesting sends a hopeful, fragile thrill to the core of Hannibal’s being. In truth, he had resigned himself to the idea that they would never hunt again; that perhaps all thoughts of it had disappeared from Will’s mind along with his ability to make more prosaic decisions. But apparently not.
“In my younger days, I thought perhaps I could,” he answers. “I believed myself to be in control of my own choices and actions. Then I realized that I was deluding myself. You, Will, have always carried that burden. If I kill, you are responsible. If I do not, you are responsible for that also.“ Hannibal gestures to his powerful, beautiful, broken lover, surrounded by the instruments of their savagery and refinement. “Thine be the kingdom, the power and the glory. And vice versa, of course.”
Will is still for a moment, something deep and complicated happening in his eyes. Then he gathers the knives, sweeping them up in his arms like they’re blocks of lego and not deadly tools. Hannibal winces as knives topple to the floor and several scratches and shallow punctures paint Will’s upper body. Then Will says, “You always tell the truth, don’t you, Hannibal? Even when you’re lying, you’re telling the truth. I love that about you.”
Hannibal nods cautiously.
“I would not make a liar of you,” Will says, and strides out of the room.
Hannibal keeps tabs on her, of course. It would take more than money for Alana Bloom to be truly safe from him. It would, in fact, take Will. And for the past twenty years, Will Graham has been the string that tethers Alana to the mortal coil, whether she knew it or not. Will never outright forbade the promised revenge; he just distracted from it, gently leading the topic of conversation away from the Vergers when they came up. Hannibal allowed it to happen for reasons that, he now realizes, were entirely unlike him, or at least entirely unlike the version of him that Alana knew. He was simply happy, and wished to wallow in his happiness without disturbing it with thoughts of anything outside of his and Will’s private world.
Today, on the Sad Day, they no longer need to protect their fragile happiness. And Will is right: Hannibal always tells the truth.
If Will had mentioned this in advance, Hannibal might have been able to make more expedient arrangements to snatch Alana and transport her securely back to their house. As it is, they make do by car, giving thanks for high speed limits and painless European border-crossing. Alana has never quite forgotten the threat on her life, but her bodyguards have, and she’s easy enough to grab in a careless moment. She stops struggling quickly once she’s helpless, bound and gagged in the car. They stop in a secluded area and Hannibal dresses her in a straitjacket in the middle of the woods, explaining that it will be more comfortable than duct tape for a long car ride, and allows her to stretch out in the back seat. Will, who is these days confused enough about the process of putting clothes on himself, let alone complicated restraints on another person, merely watches. Hannibal wonders if he wants to take the gag out of her mouth now, and resolves not to let him if he tries. The roads are not busy, but she could still scream loudly enough to attract notice.
They have a dolly in the workshop for this exact purpose. Hannibal brings it up the stairs, but he asks Will to roll it the rest of the way to the car. He sits and watches Alana’s face as she registers Will’s struggle, how his steps are uncertain even when he leans on the dolly for support. She looks from Hannibal to Will and back to Hannibal again, her eyes wide and accusing. You were supposed to be good to him, her gaze shrieks. What have you done to him? and This is my fault. I couldn’t protect him from you, whatever he was. I deserve this.
Being misunderstood so deeply grates on Hannibal with a deep sense of wrongness, and when he thinks about extinguishing the source of the wrongness, he feels transcendent.
Will is trying to manhandle Alana onto the dolly, which is a project doomed to failure. Instead of pushing Will away, though, Hannibal comes around his back, lending his strength to Will’s feeble attempts, and Will smiles as they manage it— more or less— together. For a brief, absurd moment, Hannibal thinks perhaps they should get a tandem bike, and ride around the countryside under their shared power, each giving exactly what he can muster and no more.
Will is exuberant, giving Alana a tour of the house. They start upstairs, Hannibal dragging the dolly up the stairs backwards and Alana’s head bouncing with each step. “There are only thirteen, Alana,” Will says encouragingly. “You can do it. Hannibal, can we take her gag out now? Dr. Bloom won’t psychoanalyse me. She wants to be my friend.”
“Very well.” Hannibal stops the dolly at the top of the stairs, and Will steps forward to remove the duct tape holding a wad of cloth in her mouth. He does it gently, lovingly, and when it’s off, he reaches out a hand to stroke her cheek.
Inappropriate sexual impulses,, Hannibal recalls, with a white-hot flare of jealousy. Thus far, Will hasn’t been around anyone else to have inappropriate sexual impulses about.
“Will,” he says sharply, and he drops his hand, Alana now ungagged but apparently speechless with shock and fear. Will turns to him, giving him the coy smile that says now you’re going to have to spank me silly and nail me into the floor to teach me a lesson, and Hannibal is entirely unsure of whether that little performance was a symptom of disease or a (successful) attempt at provocation. Probably both. Will always used to say that Hannibal’s mind runs on multiple tracks at once. Possibly the same is true of Will, and only one of those tracks is diseased and will kill him. The others are immortal.
Will leads with an excited, lunging step into the bedroom, and Hannibal follows with the Alana-dolly. “This is where we have sex,” Will says artlessly, and starts stalking towards her. “You’re probably wondering who fucks whom. Did I run away with a monster to be his catamite? Or to try to tame him?” He tilts his head, standing close to Alana now— too close for Hannibal’s comfort, though he holds back to see what will happen next.
Her eyes are darting around the room, taking in the bed, dressers, small tables with piles of books and sketches and newspaper article clippings. Evidence of a well-established life of loving partnership. Hannibal finds himself softening. He wants to kill her very much, but he also rather likes Alana, and wants her to understand how very much he loves Will before she dies.
“No,” she says finally, her voice scratchy from disuse and fear. “I wasn’t wondering that. Neither of you are tame.”
Will sticks his hands in his pockets, and for a moment he is framed by the afternoon light streaming in through the window and reminds Hannibal uncannily of the young man who first came into his office in Baltimore, odd and skittish and explosive. Back then, that Will would have resisted the idea of both loving someone and killing them, though Hannibal always knew there need be no contradiction. This Will understands that, finally. Hannibal can plainly see that he does love Alana, in a way, and he can’t find jealousy within himself for it.
Hannibal is more gentle with her on the way back down the stairs to the main floor. They go through the sitting room and kitchen on their way towards the flight to the basement workshop. Will flits around the kitchen like a ghost, holding things out in front of Alana as if she were meant to take them, though her arms are immobilized in the straitjacket: a mug, a fistful of silverware, an ice cube. He pinches the blade of a small knife between his thumb and forefinger and muses, “Hannibal cut me with this one for hours, once. It felt wonderful,” then places it on the counter. He holds up a sieve flush with his forehead, peering up at it, and says “This is what my brain looks like, now. Hannibal loves it. He’s going to eat me.”
Finally he opens the refrigerator, sifting through the contents to find a glass container with the leftover portions of last night’s meal— mostly Will’s portion. Will has been eating less, lately. It takes him a long time to chew each mouthful, and he swallows carefully. Hannibal is more and more aware of the risk inherent in each bite: patients with frontotemporal dementia frequently die of either choking or starvation, when their motor control and muscle tone degrades to the point that they can no longer chew and swallow. It would not do for that to happen to Will. Hannibal will not be deprived of Will’s death by something so prosaic as a stray morsel of food.
He’s showing it to Alana, and the revulsion on her face is clear: this time tomorrow, I’ll be leftovers. But then Will catches Hannibal’s eyes, and simply says “It’s not right,” and Hannibal nods, because Will is correct. Hannibal would have eaten her, and happily, if it were what Will wanted; but the asymmetry of it grates on him. Hannibal needs to kill Alana Bloom, but he has no need to consume her. There’s someone else who does, though; who should carry Alana around with her always, just as Hannibal will do with Will. The idea feels like the ringing of a gong, pure and clear and beautiful. Will sees it, and understands, and smiles.
With that decided, they bring her down to the workshop. Alana’s breathing is quick and panicky as they descend the stairs, and Hannibal hates the way her panic bleeds into Will, how he’s helpless not to feel her emotion, his pulse visibly quickening in his neck. Hannibal goes to the medical cabinet as soon as they reach the landing and prepares a sedative for her, just enough diazepam to keep her both calm and conscious. She stares into his eyes as he administers it, furious and proud, though the steely expression slips as the drug takes effect. Hannibal watches Will, instead, and is satisfied when his fists unclench and his breathing returns to normal.
They settle her on the operating table. Her eyes are unfocused, and she looks between the two of them with a newly unguarded expression that reminds Hannibal of Will, the way he is now. “Are you going to display me?” she asks.
Hannibal glances across at Will, who is perusing the selection of knives. The ones he brought down from the bedroom are superfluous; they need only a scalpel and a bone saw, both of which are already set out. Will pushes away from them, looming over Alana. “What would you like to wear?” he asks.
Alana closes her eyes, and Hannibal can see tears gathering in the lashes— she’s sedated, not senseless. She’s also intelligent enough to understand what Will is implying. To repay her debt, Alana must be dead; beyond that she owes them nothing. If she’s in a position to choose her outfit, it means that her body will be more or less whole— and the bone saw implies the “less” option. It also means that she will be returned to her house to be dressed in whatever choice she makes.
“Don’t do that to Margot,” she chokes out finally. “I’d like to wear— a body bag and concrete, if that’s the choice.”
Will swallows. “It’s not,” he says. “You’re giving Margot a beautiful gift, Alana. She should be grateful.” He glances up at Hannibal, a furious intensity in his eyes. “You’ll be with her forever. When she dies, the worms will feed on her cells that were built using energy from your body.”
Alana glances at the table next to Hannibal again, the one with the scalpel and bone saw ready to cut open her chest and pry her ribs apart, fresh understanding dawning. “She’s not you, Hannibal,” she says. “She won’t eat it.” But she sounds uncertain now, and Hannibal feels pride wash over him. In a way, Margot was his most successful patient— only on a technicality, since Will was not officially his patient, but still. He treasures her glorious becoming in the garden in the courtyard of his memory palace, where all of his patients live. And Alana was part of it, the delicious rightness of Margot’s revenge against her brother. Of course Alana knows that Margot can speak the same language as Hannibal and Will, and will understand the aesthetics of Alana’s death.
Margot will understand with absolute clarity how Hannibal and Will love each other, when she finds Alana’s body laid out on the bed. They don’t need Alana to tell them what she wants to be dressed in: Will can open the closet and find it on his own, tasting the echoes of meaning left over in the folds of fabric until he finds the right outfit for her final rest. And Margot will also understand, when she runs her fingers over the stitches in Alana’s chest, what else she must do: open the refrigerator, find the lovingly wrapped package containing Alana’s heart. Perhaps he should include a recipe, Hannibal thinks; it’s unlikely that Margot Verger has ever done her own cooking.
Margot will stay in the house where she finds Alana, Hannibal knows. She won’t be able to bear to leave. And she will understand that, their debt repaid, they are finally safe.
Will steps forward to place a hand on Alana’s forehead, stroking down her hair. “It’s okay,” he says, almost contemplatively. “It’s okay. She will.” He stands there, one hand soft on her hair and face, and then holds out his other hand towards Hannibal.
Hannibal can barely stand to take his eyes off of it long enough to pick up the scalpel: Will’s last kill, tender and gentle and for Hannibal, to claim the debt that won him Will in the first place. He places the blade in Will’s outstretched hand. Will leans close.
“Alana,” he says, intent, loving, completely and utterly mad. “We can take the trophy after. We usually take it before, but it’s me, it’s Will Graham; I can re-write our profile whenever I want. I’m going to kill you now.” Will practically glows, as he says it. “It feels good, Alana. Dying feels beautiful, I promise.” Her eyes slide up to meet his, and he places the tip of the scalpel over her carotid artery.
“See?” he whispers, and slices deep.
“Do you remember when you sent Matthew Brown to kill me?” Hannibal whispers into Will’s ear. He’s behind him, chest to his back, arms tucked underneath Will’s to support his unsteady balance. Water laps around their bare feet; Hannibal’s toes feel frozen.
Will doesn’t speak much anymore, and hasn’t for weeks. But as his words desert him, his gift only grows. It seems to bleed out of him and seep into Hannibal, the final crashing down of boundaries between them. He doesn’t need Will to say of course, or even nod. He feels a glow of pride and love and a certain cheeky regret from him, and guesses that Will only truly regrets that he hadn’t gotten to see any pictures.
Brown had been beautiful in his own way, but young; so very young and bewildered. How many times have you watched someone cling on to a life that’s not really worth living? Eking out a few extra seconds, wondering why they bother, he had asked, and Hannibal remembers feeling almost surprised as he answered. It hadn’t occurred to him that a killer could desire to take human lives for himself without understanding intimately the value of what he was taking. I know why. Life is precious.
Hannibal feels the preciousness of each one of Will’s moments pressing against his chest. He has always felt Will’s value intimately, but in the time since his diagnosis it has become more of a constant accounting department, calculating and re-calculating the value of each moment of Will’s life. Hannibal can tell how close he is to Will’s final Becoming by the worth of each infinitesimal unit of time, ticking ever higher, as if it were someone other than Hannibal controlling the clock. Perhaps it is God. Perhaps it is Will.
Each moment slips by like a tiny diamond now, exquisite and far too small to hold securely in his hands. The handful of diamonds is slipping through his fingers. They burst on the floor of his memory palace, resolving themselves into shards of bone china.
He can feel Will in his thoughts, walking through the halls of the palace. Understanding him. “I’d like to make love to you now, Will,” he says.
Will’s head sways, something like a nod, and he rests his entire weight back against Hannibal’s body for a moment, trusting. Gathering his strength. Then he leans down, letting Hannibal hold him at the waist so he doesn’t tip forward into the rushing water. He extends two thin, uncoordinated hands into the water of the river that has kept them in fresh fish ever since they settled here, and brings his palms to his face, both drinking it in and splashing it over his skin and hair. Hannibal will taste the slight tang of river water on his lips when he kisses him.
He carries Will back to the house. He loves the feeling of carrying Will today just as much as he loved it the first time, leaving Muskrat Farm, but now it is easier: Hannibal is stronger than he was on that night, and Will is thinner. He doesn’t eat much, although every bite he does take he locks eyes with Hannibal, letting him watch every moment of it. It occurred to Hannibal a few weeks ago that Will hasn’t eaten anything besides what Hannibal has cooked for him for several decades.
It’s a myth, Hannibal knows, that every cell in the body is replaced during a cycle of seven years: some types of brain cells are irreplaceable, and thus built to last a lifetime. But even those cells, the ones in the cerebral cortex that were formed before Will ever tasted Hannibal’s food, bear his imprint now. Every part of Will’s body belongs to him utterly.
He sits Will down on a chair against the wall in the bedroom. Both of them are chilled from the autumn cold of the river, the cuffs of their pants rolled up around their calves to go wading. Will is shivering, and Hannibal wraps a blanket around his upper body before filling a basin with warm water and soap and setting it down by his feet. He kneels, then glances up for a moment. Will has a soft smile on his face, his head leaning back against the wall. Hannibal can feel his contentment as he lifts Will’s feet and places them in the warm water.
He holds one foot in each hand, feeling the weight of them. The heels are calloused from years of boots and from going barefoot, his toes long and slanted slightly inwards. Hannibal sloshes the water up to his ankles and then massages downward one foot at a time, keeping his thumb on the bridge and running his fingers firmly along the muscle of the arch. He takes hold of Will’s ankle with one hand and gently rotates his foot around in a circle, hearing small cracks and pops of tension releasing, then repeats the process on the other side. When Hannibal finally reaches his toes, threading his fingers in between them to work loose the sand of the river, Will sighs, then moans.
Hannibal feels like he no longer owns his own body, like Will’s sounds of pleasure are coming from his own chest instead of Will’s, and wonders if perhaps he should have been washing Will Graham’s feet every day of his life. But then, he would not have been able to do it for the first time on this day.
He fetches another cup of water to rinse the soap off, then a towel. When Will’s feet are dry he stops shivering, and he’s staring at Hannibal like he’s just performed a miracle.
Instead of rolling the cuffs of Will’s pants back down, Hannibal opts to simply remove the pants altogether, and he wraps Will in the blanket more fully as he picks him up again and deposits him on the bed. There’s a vial of massage oil in the drawer, and Hannibal drizzles it onto his hands before returning his attention to Will’s feet and legs. He starts at his toes, working it in between each digit and then ever higher, massaging each joint to suppleness, smoothing out each muscle.
Will spreads his legs slightly when Hannibal gets to his calves, and Hannibal settles in between them. He’s pleased to see that Will is getting an erection; he’s still physically capable of sexual pleasure, although the voracious appetite that characterized the middle period of the disease is waning.
It wouldn’t matter to Hannibal, anyway, if Will were beyond sexual desire: he would think of another way to do this. He is nothing if not imaginative, and if he had the opportunity to come back to this moment a hundred different times, Hannibal thinks that he would never choose to do it the same way twice.
He only has the one, though, and Will’s cock is straining at his briefs as Hannibal massages up his thighs. “R’lasskin,” Will slurs, shaping the syllables carefully and still coming up a tiny bit short of the word he wants. He doesn’t mind— the blessing of the disease in action— and Hannibal doesn’t mind, either, because everything Will does and says is perfect, even now. Especially now. The Will on the bed gives him his best attempt at a coquettish smile, and the Will in Hannibal’s memory palace echoes, in his best imitation of Hannibal’s voice, Apart from humane considerations, it’s more flavourful for animals to be stress-free prior to slaughter. Hannibal chuckles. “You know that’s not quite the right word for this,” he admonishes, and Will grins.
Will bounces his hips off the bed, and Hannibal takes pity and pulls Will’s briefs and his t-shirt off, as well as all of his own clothing. Will’s upper body is pillowed on the now-unnecessary blanket that Hannibal had wrapped around him, and he spreads out his arms to the sides, grasping fistfuls of it, spreading his legs wider and lifting his hips in an obvious plea.
“So eager,” Hannibal comments, but instead of bringing his attention to where Will obviously wants it, he moves to the side to reach up to his shoulders and arms. He marvels at it, as he pushes his fingers firmly along the line of Will’s trapezius, down his deltoid and bicep and smoothing gently down his forearm to his wrist. He has imagined this moment so many times, and in each iteration, Will is always eager, always desperate and nearly begging for it, always infinitely loving and sensitive and empathetic. But the reality of having him here, after all of the times that took place in Hannibal’s imagination and before all of the times that will take place in his memory palace, here in the one time that’s real— it makes Hannibal’s breath come quick and his heart pound faster.
He deliberately slows down, hoarding the diamonds of each moment just a little longer, and moves his hands to stroke down Will’s sides and up over his abdomen and chest. Heart, lungs, kidney, liver, spleen, pancreas. Will’s eyes follow his hands, his cock only getting stiffer as he sees how Hannibal is taking stock of him. Hannibal’s hands stray lower: stomach, intestines. The muscles of Will’s abdomen jump as he tries to stay still under the light touch. You may actually have to consult a recipe you didn’t write yourself, he remarks from inside the memory palace. Not exactly your usual repertoire.
“There are plenty of options,” murmurs Hannibal, and finally allows himself to swap out the massage oil in favour of a more viscous lubricant. Will groans in anticipation, letting Hannibal push a pillow underneath his hips. His legs and arms are splayed carelessly to his sides, but when Hannibal climbs back in between Will’s legs, he hooks his ankles together loosely on the other side of where he kneels, as if to fence Hannibal in.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Hannibal assures him, taking both of his slick hands and wrapping them around Will’s cock. Will’s eyes fall closed and a low ahhhhh escapes him, and it’s all Hannibal can do to drink in every expression on his so-familiar face, completely open and vulnerable. “I’ll be right here, Will. Always.”
Hannibal is now himself so aroused it’s almost painful, but the pleasure of watching Will for just a little bit longer outweighs his desire to do anything about it immediately. He settles into a quiet rhythm, stroking up and down Will’s cock too slowly to bring him very far towards orgasm but enough to have him first twitching and then thrashing on the bed.
Will loves to be hurt at this stage of things, and usually Hannibal would be obliging him with smacks to his thighs or pinches to his nipples or a shallow knife over his back, but there is something peaceful and right about this, so he holds off. Will doesn’t ask for the pain, and Hannibal doesn’t offer. He slows down his hands further, closing his eyes to concentrate on the slow drag of skin on warm skin. Blood thrumming away under the surface of Will’s cock, hot and vital and moving. Alive. Hannibal thinks that he has never felt so alive as in this moment, and has no idea if the thought came from his mind or Will’s.
He slips one hand lower, torturously slowly, cupping Will’s balls and then continuing down to rub one slick finger over his perineum. Will stills, and they both open their eyes, suddenly gazing at each other with something like shock. Hannibal stands in the kitchen of the memory palace, holding the final teacup in front of him above the hardwood floor.
Will nods, and his mouth shapes the word “please” in complete silence. Hannibal slides a finger inside his body, and Will’s hiss could be the word yesssss.
Hannibal works him open, slowly but no longer excessively so. Will is panting, rolling his hips in a way that is more coordinated than any movements he can make outside of a bed, impaling himself on Hannibal’s fingers as deeply as he can. Hannibal registers that someone else— Matthew Brown, perhaps— might regard it as odd that Will is speeding towards his completion, as if orgasm were the only completion conceivable. Hannibal does not find it odd, but it makes him ache with a sensation that is partly arousal, and partly bloodlust, and partly something else entirely.
Will will pull ahead, and Hannibal will pull back, and together they will end up exactly where they need to be. They’ve always existed in opposition to each other, to some degree, and this is no different. Hannibal takes a deep breath, not allowing himself to reflect too much on the actions as he lines his throbbing cock up with Will’s entrance, and Will arches up to pull him in.
It’s slow, and gentle, and loving, because Hannibal wasn’t lying when he said to Will at the river that the wanted to make love. He wonders, as the precious minutes slip by and Will’s sweat slicks over his skin and Will’s teeth take up residence in his shoulder and bite down when the pleasure and the want is so intense that Will is no longer sure that he can stand it, how he will know which moment is the Becoming. Whether it will be God or Will who sends him a sign.
In the end, it’s neither; it’s simply Hannibal. The moment arrives, and he knows. He doesn’t need to consciously send his hands to Will’s neck: they are already there, squeezing very gently to begin with, cutting off the blood flow to Will’s brain.
Will’s eyes are wide, aroused, amazed. Hannibal stares down into them, and Will doesn’t look away. Eyes are distracting. You see too much, you don’t see enough… Hannibal hears the echo of another time, and tightens his grip. Will doesn’t look away. He sees exactly what he needs to see, now. Hannibal is still pressing only on the arteries, leaving the airway unobstructed, and Will’s breath is hot on his neck.
It’s awkward to lean his head down with his hands on Will’s neck, but he shifts his grip to squeeze tighter and manages it, sealing his mouth against Will’s and giving him one last breath of air from his own lungs. He snaps his hips hard, feels the warm burst of Will’s orgasm against his belly, and now when he looks down, Will’s eyes no longer see anything at all.
Hannibal comes, driving himself into Will for the last time, and then collapses, letting the full weight of his body finally cut off both air and oxygen to Will’s brain.
He’s merely unconscious for a time, Hannibal recognizes distantly. He could remove his hands and resuscitate him, and Will Graham would be alive.
Instead he holds Will’s throat tighter, a final, vital embrace.
“Anything to eat, sir? Our entire menu is complimentary in first class.”
Hannibal smiles up at the flight attendant, sharp-toothed and gaunt and glorious. “Just water,” he says.
There was a period during which he would have found it practically impossible to resist an offer of food, even airplane food so revolting its very existence could have spurred him to murderous action.
He’d built his Baltimore office and the dining room of their house in his memory palace, in the hazy hours between Will’s glorious Becoming and the ecstasy of the autopsy that confirmed his diagnosis. When he ate, he did so from inside the palace, with Will beaming at him from across the table. When he offered Will a taste, he just shook his head. I’ve already eaten, he said. It’s for you.
The ravenous period started about three days after, in the physical world, he finally gathered the very last remnants of Will Graham, the bits even Garett Jacob Hobbs would have admitted were only good for non-edible purposes. He fashioned a bag out of skin he’d set aside for the purpose, burned the rest, and placed the ashes in the bag. For a while, he subsisted off of Will’s essence in his cells, and the pure joy thumping through him at each pang of hunger.
Days three, four and five were unbearable, and he avoided breaking his promise that Will would be the last taste on his lips only by virtue of having no other food in the house, and being too weak to convince himself to leave the house even to pull up a fistful of grass. His body seemed convinced that he was ready to die. It was wrong. On the sixth day, his rational mind, and thus the palace, reasserted itself. He had weeks yet, if he simply waited, but only a few more days of rational action.
On the seventh day, he booked the plane ticket sitting at the desk in the Baltimore office, raising his eyebrows at Will, who was perched on the middle rung of ladder across the room. “You’re not disappointed?”
Will rolled his eyes affectionately. You promised I would be the last taste on your lips. I did assume that to mean taste that you ate. Seawater doesn’t count.
Hannibal tapped in his credit card number, the last purchase this particular identity would need to make. In the memory palace, he had installed a computer on his desk, which Will seemed to find endlessly amusing. In the physical world, he was curled up around his laptop on Will’s side of the bed, the musk of Will’s sweat still heavy in the sheets.
On the eighth day, he packed a bag containing a change of clothes, a few toiletries, and the Will-bag. The house was old, and even in their secluded spot, the flames fanned high enough to be noticed and called in. Hannibal passed by the fire brigade on his way to the airport. They would be too late to save anything but the trees.
Now, he easily ignores the smell of processed chicken wafting across the aisle of the plane. He leans his seat back, and curls up on the long couch in the office.
Did anyone ever actually use this thing? Will’s head is tucked beneath Hannibal’s chin, and Hannibal can feel the expansion and contraction of his abdomen against Hannibal’s own as they breathe. Neither are emaciated, here, and they only barely fit on the couch.
“Mason Verger did, once,” says Hannibal.
Will snorts. And look at what happened to him.
Hannibal smooths a hand down Will’s hair. “A sample size of one is hardly conclusive. You’re here now, and look what happened to you.”
Mmm. We all transform into what we’re meant to be, I suppose.
Hannibal does not count his own minutes like diamonds, as he had done with Will. He thinks perhaps Will is keeping track of that for him, setting the value of his life, calculating the moment of his Becoming. Hannibal can sleep, here, so he does.
After Hannibal and Will disappeared from the US, the cliff house was repossessed, then sold, then demolished. A new building was erected, and is now on its third owner, who uses it as a summer home.
Autumn is ticking over into winter, on the coast. The air is frigid, and Hannibal is alone.
He walks around the house, triangulating in his mind where the old structure was in comparison with the new. Will had watched him lie bleeding somewhere in the vicinity of the new house’s front closet.
The spot where they fell is untouched. Hannibal brushes his fingertips to the remains of Will in his pocket, then presses his hand to the ground. A pendulum swings in his mind. Time reverses, and he smells blood and wine and sweat and love.
He feels the whoosh of air, the warm beloved body in his arms, and when he hits the water, he does not resurface.
It’s beautiful, comes Will’s voice, from the depths of the ocean. Dying feels beautiful.
Hannibal orients his freezing, starving limbs to point towards Will’s voice. He opens his mouth to the rushing water, and swims towards God.