hail him who comes our chains to sunder

Will walks out of the opera ten minutes before the end.

Hannibal feels the underside of his knees flex, instinctively pulled to follow him. He controls the rest of his body before it follows. He has learned, as their physical wounds healed and their psychological ones grew scabs all too easy to pick off, to ignore that instinct in almost all of the situations where it feels most urgent. At night, when he wants to wake Will from a nightmare by wrapping him in his arms and burying his face in his hair, he leaves the room instead, and waits in the kitchen while Will shakes himself awake alone. If Hannibal busies himself in the kitchen for long enough to bake something, sometimes Will will reward him by coming down and eating one.

The brief sliver of light of the balcony door disappears, and Hannibal refocuses his gaze on the stage. Bathed in triumphant light, the brave and loyal Leonore cuts the chains that bound her husband. The freed prisoner raises his hands to the sun in bliss. You don’t forget the feeling of sunlight on the face, no matter how long it has been.

Hannibal applauds at the end until the curtain has closed. He files out with the rest of his row. He would have preferred a box, but after the first few shows in one, Will had asked for a ticket in the balcony next time. Hannibal had assumed he would feel more comfortable in relative privacy, but perhaps Will feels more at ease as a member of hoi polloi. He hadn’t asked for an explanation, just changed the ticket. Will had asked. That’s all he needs to do these days, it seems.

Well, if Will has taken off with the car, Hannibal will take the metro. Once his current mood has burned out, Will will regret missing that spectacle.

He hasn’t. He’s waiting in the lobby, sitting on the floor with his back against the wall when there is a perfectly good bench a few feet away. Will has a tendency to use the word theatrics with Hannibal when he’s angry, which Hannibal can hardly object to on factual grounds– and yet, he would point out at a more opportune time that Will has always had theatrics of his own.

People mill around them. A few familiar faces throw them sympathetic looks. Once Will had realized that it is perfectly acceptable to wear jeans to the opera, that the drink selection is good and the music a much more tolerable volume than a rock concert, he had agreed readily to Hannibal’s suggestion of a season subscription. They do not exactly have friends here, but they have acquaintances who know the men they present themselves in public as.

“You did not enjoy the show?” Hannibal says in English, which they rarely speak outside the house.

“Stupidity doesn’t suit you,” Will snaps.

Hannibal really does not want to have this conversation in English in the middle of the lobby of the opera hall, but that seems to be what they’re doing. He glances over at the bar. They’re in the process of shutting down for the night, but the bartender still grudgingly opens up the cash box to sell him a glass of scotch.

Will accepts the drink, which is a good sign. It’s a concession. He will talk. But Hannibal will have to say it first.

“The truth-teller, unjustly imprisoned,” he forces out, “freed by the justice of a higher authority than his jailer. You had no such angel to validate your righteousness.” As much as Hannibal can see himself in Florestan’s reaction to his freedom, he cannot flip their roles accurately. When he freed Will it was because he wanted him free. He is not ashamed of having followed his own instincts. But it cannot be said he was motivated by justice.

“You’re wrong, actually,” says Will, and now the glass is empty, and he abruptly looks tired instead of angry. “I did– have one. As much of one as I deserved.”

Of course Will would force him to say her name for the first time in public. “Miss Katz hardly–”

“No,” Will interrupts. “Not her. She didn’t believe me until– but your therapist came to see me. Did you know that?”

“Bedelia?” says Hannibal stupidly.

“How many have you had?”

Will had never said. It hardly matters now, with all that passed between them later, but– he’d never said.

“Did you ever wonder why I wanted to eat her leg?”

“She took the place that should have been yours,” tries Hannibal stiffly.

Will shakes his head impatiently. “Why only the leg–?” Hannibal can hear his name, unpronounced in the quickly emptying room, but hanging at the end of the sentence. It reminds him, oddly or perhaps unsurprisingly, of Jack Crawford. In the way that children grow up to say certain phrases exactly like their parents, Will adopted this tone of voice from Jack– useless answer, give me a better one. Only now, Hannibal is in Will’s place.

Wahrheit wagt ich kühn zu sagen, und die ketten sind mein lohn,” Hannibal pronounces; I dared utter truth, and chains are my reward. It had been, he remembers, during Will’s incarceration that she had attempted to cut off her association with Hannibal for the first time. But she had hardly been in a position to denounce him. “What did she say to you?”

“I believe you,” says Will.

He looks so small, curled up against the wall, and so– powerful. He looks the way he had looked in prison, a coiled spring winding ever tighter. And yet, the part of Hannibal that is trying to be Will, trying to give Jack a more complete answer, answers that he hadn’t been completely self-sufficient. He had believed in himself when nobody else did, but nobody can do that forever. And so, three little words, useless to him legally, had been important enough to him to merit Bedelia her life. As important a liberation as Leonore’s freeing of Florestan had been, even if only from the chains of self-doubt.

“Will you come home with me?” Hannibal asks. “Or shall I take the metro?”

Will’s face softens. When Hannibal halfway extends his hand, Will takes it to pull himself up with. “Take the metro,” he says, but he is smiling, enjoying imagining it just as much as he would enjoy actually witnessing it. So that was a miscalculation.

Hannibal rides the metro, leaning into a corner seat to try to distance himself from the noise of a childrens’ football team travelling home from a game. It doesn’t work. Will is driving home in their car, silently, alone. Or perhaps not silently; perhaps he is singing along to classic rock, or whatever he does when he’s alone. Hannibal hadn’t brought a book, since he hadn’t expected to need one. He reads the program notes instead, even though he already knows very well what happens in Fidelio, having just seen it.

It is, he thinks as a small child’s bony elbow jabs into his side, a sort of loyalty. That Will can leave, or ask Hannibal to leave, and it need not be spoken that the separation is temporary. Perhaps it had always been so; a loyalty ordained by something more than mere duty.

Whatever it is leads him home, and into the kitchen, where Will has already started dinner.