“This thing is so slow, Christ.”
Hannibal pauses, staring down at where Will is slumped on the couch with the laptop balancing on his knees. “It’s not slow,” he says, as if offended on the computer’s behalf. “It is making its way through thousands of overlay network relays to connect to every webpage you access. Allowing the FBI to track us down through sloppy information technology security would be a senseless way for us to both end up back under Frederick Chilton’s tender care.”
“I know,” mutters Will sullenly. His fingers tap on the metal casing of the laptop, then twitch to the trackpad to scroll down as soon as the page loads. “I hate this needle thing,” he adds, and Hannibal spends another moment appraising him before disappearing into the kitchen.
By the time he returns, Will has refreshed the website twelve more times. Hannibal is holding a bowl, some kind of meat on a bed of asparagus. He sits on the couch and carefully places the warm bowl in Will’s lap.
Will glances down in surprise– they don’t eat anywhere but the table in this household, a concession to Hannibal’s sensibilities that usually doesn’t bother Will. He hasn’t left the couch for hours, though, and hadn’t even noticed that he was starving until the food appeared in front of him.
Hannibal hands him a fork, and Will manages to get a bite of meat into his mouth without taking his eyes off the screen. “What is this?” he asks absently.
Hannibal’s hand snakes into Will’s hair, gently cupping his jaw for a moment on the other side of his head so that he can feel the action of Will swallowing. “I would not feed you long pig at such a moment, unless it were the flesh of the offender you truly hunger for.”
It takes Will a moment to sort through that sentence, and when he does, he actually laughs a little and manages to briefly break eye contact with the New York Times website. “I’m not as particular about personal nutrition as you, Hannibal, but you couldn’t pay me enough to eat the cheeto.”
“Quite right. May I bring you some wine?”
“Yeah. Okay, why not.”
Hannibal takes longer in the kitchen than should be strictly necessary to pour a glass of wine, which Will only notices because he has refreshed the needle several more times by the time Hannibal settles in behind him, resting the stem of the glass on Will’s thigh.
“Thanks,” Will sighs. “Sorry I’m such a basket case. You probably think this is stupid.” But he knows what Hannibal looks like when he’s being derisive, and this isn’t it. Will takes a long sip of wine, and tries to allow his mind to peer into light of a cracked door in the memory palace that is rarely opened.
“To merely observe an event that bids participation is its own sort of anguish,” says Hannibal, and when the page refreshes again there is nothing new to read or look at, so Will sets a finger in the crack in the door and pushes. “Where were you,” he asks, “As you read about the dissolution of the Soviet Union?”
“At Johns Hopkins, and it was all my fellow students would talk about. But I was also at Hopkins the previous year, when Lithuania claimed independence. The USSR responded by trying to mount a coup d’état, and the citizens successfully defended their newly elected council against the Soviet army without the benefit of a single firearm.”
Will chews on the inside of his cheek, scrolling over a photo of a camo-clad National Guardsman leaning on a riot shield. “How about then? Did you wish you were participating?”
Hannibal hesitates. “No. I have never regretted any of the choices that led me to the present, and I didn’t then. It was, perhaps, dissonant. I never advertised my country of origin, so I never found out if my classmates had even heard of it; but in any case, they were much more concerned with the Gulf War to take note of the first crack in the Soviet behemoth. I had never wished to return home, but I began to wonder what it would look like if I did.”
Will notes with vague surprise that he has made his way through nearly half of the generous pour of wine. He takes another sip, then shakes his head. “It’s not that I want to return home, either. There isn’t one for me to return to. The fact that I’m legally dead probably makes it really silly to feel guilty about not sending in an absentee ballot, doesn’t it?”
He can feel Hannibal’s small smile against the side of his cheek. “The exposure risks of setting up an identity airtight enough to allow you to vote would not, I think, have been prudent. As for whether the failure will be accounted among your greatest sins at the banks of the Acheron, I’m sure I couldn’t say.”
Will pops the last of the asparagus and duck in his mouth, and sets the bowl on the side table as he refreshes the page again. “There’s an anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment on the ballot in Virginia,” he mumbles, feeling suddenly very tired. “And an important Senate race.” He takes another swig of the wine.
Will presses the refresh button on the browser again, and this time, his eyes slide shut in between the movement and the reappearance of the needle. He forces them open, then instinctively tries to sit up and flail away from Hannibal as he realizes what’s happened. Hannibal catches him and pulls him back tightly into his arms, and Will’s voice emerges slurred as he says, “d’you fucking drug me–“
But the enclave of Hannibal’s arms is safe and warm, and it’s easy to allow him to take the stem of the glass from Will’s weak fingers. It’s easy to let his eyes close and his mind slip away from him.
Hannibal places the glass carefully on the table, and watches Will’s face go slack in unconsciousness. He smooths the curls out of his eyes, his palm growing slightly tacky with the sheen of Will’s anxiety. “There,” he murmurs.
He reaches over to close the laptop, then hesitates. Hannibal’s finger hovers over the refresh button. Surely, he thinks, just one more update couldn’t hurt. Just in case.