Will shakes his head. “Not here.”

Hannibal blinks slowly, an expression of surprise only barely visible in the faint shadow of moonlight struggling in through the stained glass. He is willing to be surprised, to a point, but on this particular point Will doesn’t want to risk being misunderstood. He’s not sure what Hannibal’s reaction would be to thinking that Will was trying to leave him at the literal altar.

Instead, Will grabs his hand and pulls him away from the front of the church. Hannibal’s reluctance gives way to curiosity as Will leads him up the stairs to the balcony, and then carefully picks the lock on a small door. Will hadn’t had the chance to case this part of the building, not the way they’d attended services here for a few weeks to figure out how best to enter at night to make use of the sanctuary. But his hunch proves correct; on the other side of the door is a narrow staircase, visibly old in a way that the rest of the renovated church is not. It leads up a flight, then turns into a corridor so narrow that they have to walk sideways in order to fit through it. Finally, it opens out into the room Will had known must be here.

Hannibal walks slowly into the ringing chamber, and because he’s only human, his gaze is drawn upwards, along the lines of the ropes hanging at regular intervals around the room. It’s a false instinct; the ceiling isn’t much to look at, except that there are holes in the slats to allow the ropes to pass through. If one of the bells above were to break from its headstock and fall, it would be through the ceiling of the ringing chamber before it was even clear that anything was amiss.

There are ten ropes hanging in a circle, which Will had guessed from the changes that he and Hannibal hear drifting over from the church, every Sunday, in their tiny cottage in the foothills of the Canigou mountain. With the ends tied up in loose knots, it looks more like the setting for a mass hanging than a place to make music.

“Here,” says Will, and shoves his hand into his pocket to nervously finger the ring inside of it. His pants are formal and slightly scratchy, but at least he isn’t wearing a tuxedo, which is apparently what Hannibal finds it appropriate to wear when breaking into a church in the middle of the night. Still, it’s hard to blame him, at least this once.

“I have never been in a belfry before,” says Hannibal, and he sounds surprised, as if it had only just occurred to him that there was some human experience that he had failed to adequately research.

Will walks around the room, looking at the plaques mounted on the wall. They’re all relatively recent; the tower is old, but the entire set of English change-ringing bells is new, and not exactly common in French churches. Will still isn’t entirely certain that this wasn’t the reason he agreed to this whole midnight wedding scheme in the first place.

“I have, he says, and as he turns towards Hannibal, he finds him already close. It’s a fitting wedding present, Will thinks, exactly what Hannibal would ask for: a piece of completely new information about Will. “When I was a kid, my dad decided we should start going to church. It only lasted a couple towns, but one of the churches we went to had bells. I didn’t know any better, so I went up to the minister after the service and asked him if I could try ringing the bells. Turned out it wasn’t as simple as I thought–” Will gestures to the array of ropes distributed around the room– “but they had a peal of four bells and the tower captain hadn’t had interest in a team to ring them in years, so he taught me a little.”

Hannibal runs a hand up one of the ropes, his fingers skating over the sally, where the ringer’s hands rest.

“Careful,” says Will instinctively. Hannibal’s eyebrows raise.

“Are they so sensitive?”

“Not to make a sound, but– they’re mounted on wheels with three hundred sixty degree mobility, and the bell can rest in either the down or up position. Accidentally dislodge a bell in the up position when you’re not expecting it…” Will’s eyes raise to the ceiling. “Best case, you might get whipped with a wildly swinging rope. Worst case, the bearings break, you don’t let go of the rope in time, and you get thrown like a doll.”

“I see my previous conception of what a church collapse could entail was somewhat myopic.”

“The smallest of these weighs at least twice you; the largest maybe around twenty times,” says Will, indulgent despite Hannibal having absolutely no need for more fodder for chuch-based nightmare scenarios. “Between you and the bell, the bell will win every time.”

Hannibal’s hand leaves the rope, and Will relaxes. He follows Will’s gaze back to the plaques on the wall. “What are they for?”

“Peals,” says Will. “I’ve never participated in one– we moved before I really got good enough, anyway.” He tries to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but the truth of it leaks through anyway: they’d always moved just at the moment when Will was settling in enough to maybe, this time, become something other than a new kid. Perhaps, if they’d stuck around in one town for long enough, he could have found an aptitude or interest besides reconstructing gruesome murders.

But then, if he had, he wouldn’t be here, with Hannibal. That shouldn’t feel like it would be a loss, but it does.

“The core idea of a full peal,” Will continues, “Is that you ring the bells in every possible permutation of order. They’re numbered–” he points to the spots underneath the bells, which are labelled– “with the highest bell being 1, and the numbers ascending as the pitches get lower. A team rings them in cycles, and a conductor calls out changes to swap the position of two bells in the sequence. To ring every possible sequence is possible with smaller numbers of bells, but. Well.”

“The number of possible sequences is the factorial of the number of bells,” says Hannibal. “For this set–” he stops and frowns, and Will leaves him to it in silence for the rare pleasure of watching Hannibal Lecter screw up his face in unselfconscious thought. “That would be three million, six hundred twenty-eight thousand and eight hundred unique sequences,” he says finally.

“Right,” says Will, not that he really has any idea whether that’s right or not. “Not really practical. So, often a full peal refers to a performance with any number of bells, of the permutations possible with an array of seven. Five thousand and forty sequences. Probably about three hours, with a set like this.”

Hannibal has the look in his eyes which means he’s thinking about something romantic but highly impractical. “Has it been done for more than seven factorial?”

“I think eight. About seventeen hours.”

“There was a bell mounted on a pedestal in one of the hallways of my boarding school in Paris,” says Hannibal, and Will stays very still, because he realizes that if a new piece of information about himself was his wedding gift to Hannibal, then this is Hannibal’s nearly compulsive quid pro quo. Something from his past.

“There was a plaque on it, which I read every day as I waited for my history lesson to start,” he continues softly. “It said that it had used to be operational in the school’s belltower, and then it cracked. When they replaced it, they took the cracked one and mounted it in the hallway.”

“They took something that had no use, and turned it into art,” says Will.

Hannibal nods. “I had difficulty understanding the bell. Understanding why it was there. I was coming from the orphanage in Soviet Lithuania, an environment where such a transformation would have never been conceived of, let alone carried out at great difficulty and expense. I dreamed about it often. Hundreds of broken bells, mounted on pedestals in the pure white light of a gallery.” He hesitates. “Sometimes I still dream of them.”

It would be so easy, Will thinks, to break Hannibal in this moment. It would be so easy to say you see, things did happen to you, same as all the rest of us. To take the fragile admission that Hannibal is handing him, here in the dark with the weight of enough cast bronze hanging above them that God could choose to kill them instantly, and pull on it, like he used to do with crime scenes. To yank Hannibal’s admission that he is, at least partly, created out of experiences not of his own making, out into the open.

But this is their wedding night.

“Good dreams, or nightmares?” he asks instead.

“Is there a difference?” asks Hannibal, and he pulls his hand out of his pocket, the ring gleaming in the moonlight, cradled in his palm.

If there is, Will wouldn’t be able to say which one this is. “Maybe not,” he says, and holds out his hand.