Hannibal is drenched in blood up to the elbow.

He has his sleeves rolled up– white, a clean tight-fitting shirt that will never be unblemished again– and there are splashes of red on his shoulders, his chest, flecks up his neck and at the corners of his mouth. No clear plastic murder suit for this victim. Hannibal is covered in him. Completely involved in the event. Undeniable. Inextricable.

Will closes the front door, turns the lock behind him, and looks.

His first mistake. That was the point, of course, his looking. Will doesn’t understand quantum mechanics and he doesn’t care, but Hannibal does. Maybe Jack did, too. Maybe that’s why they all needed him to do so much damn looking. Will Graham is the wave function collapse of all possible observations of pain and death.

He’d really rather that this particular scene be assigned to some other quantum god to observe into reality.

Will wishes that it were possible for him to not react, even if he has to look, but of course even a lack of reaction is a reaction. Hannibal had stepped up to him holding a knife in his kitchen all those years ago, and Will hadn’t reacted; he had kept the gun in his hand hanging by his side, and that reaction is still written on the skin of his abdomen.

He reacts just by being there, by slowly placing his keys in the small tray beside the door and removing his shoes. He reacts when he finally tears his eyes away and ascends the stairs to the bedroom– their bedroom, where Hannibal can easily follow.

Perhaps he could read what Hannibal sees in Will’s reaction, if he tried. He doesn’t. He doesn’t care. Doesn’t want to care, anyway.

He examines the caring situation for a moment, and decides he really, truly doesn’t. When he tries to think through whatever psychological calculus went into this particular decision of Hannibal’s, he merely feels tired. Will has no answering calculation, no returning salvo, and he doesn’t want one.

When Hannibal calls him down to dinner, hours later, the messy carcass of the dog in the front hallway is nowhere to be seen. Or at least, it is nowhere to be seen in the hallway. Hannibal is as good as a crime scene cleaner, when he wants to be.

It would be ludicrous to refuse to eat canine meat and insist upon the leftovers of human remains, so he doesn’t.

***

Hannibal waits, and it feels like the endless moment before the smashing of priceless china.

Then it goes on too long to feel like that, so it just feels like normal life, as far as what they have can be considered normal life. He wakes up every morning curled around Will protectively, his arm holding tight to Will’s abdomen and their legs tangled together. They spend their days hunting and fishing and cooking and gardening and working on the house (and perhaps, once in a while, checking in on the status of the manhunt on Tattlecrime.) Will is quieter, and sometimes he glances wistfully at the spot in front of the fire where the dog, whose name Hannibal had purposefully never learned, had used to lie. He’s listless, but not in a way that’s directed at Hannibal. If anything, he seems to be making an effort specifically for him. Will leans into him in quiet moments, presses kisses into his neck, invites him to make love tenderly under the sheets.

Hannibal has never before felt this close to losing his mind entirely. Not as an orphan, not in medical school, not on the run in Italy, not in prison.

If Will is trying to break him in some hitherto unforeseen way, Hannibal will submit to it gladly. That was what he wanted, after all: he’d imagined perhaps Will would try to kill him. He’d imagined– shivering, terrified yet compelled by the possibility– that Will might leave. He had to know, of course, which one it would be.

He had to know in a way that was an uncomfortable mirror of the way he’d used to have patients who simply had to wash their hands six times before leaving the house, or walk three full circles of his office clockwise and couterclockwise before they could sit down, or who talked about being vividly compelled to jump in front of oncoming trains despite the genuine desire to continue living.

So even though he’s not at all sure that he’s correctly interpreted what’s happening, Hannibal places a soothing, questioning hand on Will’s arm one night, as he climbs into bed. He waits until Will rolls over, and his eyes are calm and loving and… sad.

Hannibal’s jaw clenches. He’s certain he hasn’t got it right, but there’s nothing for it now but to plow ahead.

“Have you punished me enough, Will?” he forces out, and immediately has to tamp down his flinch as the untruth of the question fills the air and grates on both of their senses.

Will frowns. He’s genuinely confused, and it’s awful. “I’m not punishing you, Hannibal,” he says. He sighs, shifts the covers over a bit, opens his arms. “Come here.”

Will thinks that Hannibal wants to be reassured. Or he doesn’t really think that, and this is still part of some elaborate punishment. Hannibal wants to press his chest against Will’s, twine their bodies together and hold and be held, but he doesn’t. Not yet.

He can’t actually think of anything to say, though. I wanted to see what happened if I hurt you again, but I can’t interpret the results of the experiment. So I would like to repeat the experiment, for accuracy, but the results of the second experiment would be impacted by the effects of the first, wouldn’t they. Because it’s not actually the first experiment, it’s really quite a high number indeed, and you’re the only test subject that matters. Inconvenient.

That would, perhaps, come close. Hannibal thinks his entire memory palace might crumble to dust with the effort it would take to utter that out loud.

But then, he’s never had to say anything out loud to Will. He sinks down, slowly, letting Will pull him into an embrace. It’s not forgiveness, because there was no anger to begin with.

Will was never angry with him. Hannibal’s stomach turns.

“This isn’t delicate,” says Will finally. His chin is resting on Hannibal’s shoulder, and Hannibal is unsure of whether he is avoiding eye contact for his own sake or Hannibal’s. “Hannibal, did you think I thought you would never be cruel to me again purely for your own amusement? Did you think that’s why I came with you? Brought you with me? Because I expected kindness?”

This is worse than a punishment.

A punishment would at least be about Hannibal. Directed at him. This–

–this has nothing to do with him at all.

“I’m just… a bit sad,” says Will, and that’s it, isn’t it. He is nothing more or less than that. Sad, in a completely mundane, unromantic way. Hannibal blinks and feels Will’s fingers stroking down his back. “I’ll be okay. I just need some time,” Will says, and Hannibal is undone.

He would say I’m sorry, he could very likely put together that combination of syllables and have his lips shape them, and even mean them. Regret is an ugly word to apply to one’s self, but he has to admit that desiring to put a teacup back together once broken, spending evenings scribbling equations that never quite go far enough to reverse the linear progress of time– well. That is, probably, the very definition of regret. In which case, Hannibal has it in spades.

And I’m sorry might make Will smile, or chuckle in a way that Hannibal would be able to feel through his ribcage. It would, in all likelihood, make Will roll over and roar with laughter, gasp for air with tears in his eyes. Which Hannibal would enjoy, and Will would finally catch his breath and pull him in and kiss him, and then–

–Will would still be sad, when they were sated sticky and curled together peacefully. Sad in the patient, accepting, interior way that belongs only to Will; infuriating in its inaccessibility.

He doesn’t say it.

***

Will brings home another dog.

“It seems unfair to the animal,” says Hannibal, chopping vegetables and pointedly not looking at the creature snuffling around on his kitchen floor, “Bringing it here, considering the fate that befell its predecessor.”

The corner of Will’s mouth twitches. “Does, doesn’t it,” he says.

Hannibal glances down again, and deliberately drops a piece of carrot on the floor.

Will’s sadness isn’t gone, not entirely. Hannibal still wants to tear him open just to see if this time, this time he can finally understand him once and for all.

But then, he’s tried that before, hasn’t he. Perhaps a different kind of test is in order.

“May I name him?” Hannibal asks, and Will nods, his head tilted curiously and an odd light in his eyes.

Hannibal holds up another piece of carrot, and the dog comes to attention. “Sit,” Hannibal intones. “Experiment, sit.

Experiment sits.

Hannibal holds out his hand, and feeds his new dog.