Dark Wood

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura–

--“would you get your fucking Italian bullshit out of my head?” Will gasps, spluttering. “You’re not dying–” he breaks off in a cough. What feels like an entire lungful of seawater pours out of his mouth, some combination of words and salt and blood and vomit. He holds onto a jagged rock and tries to resist being swept out to sea.

The sea crashes down on them. It feels like rain, if rain could kill you. Will’s ankles are very, very cold, colder than the rest of him, and he recognizes that if they live past the next few minutes and by some miracle the rest of his body ever feels warm again, his legs– the part of their conjoined bodies that had broken the surface tension of the water first– are probably going to be in rather a lot of pain.

Hannibal isn’t breathing.

He’s surprisingly light; his clothes dragging in the water a bit, but his head lolling back and his body floating like, well, a dead body. Will is very familiar with the behaviours of different types of human bodies in large bodies of water. A live human floats, when he floats, because his lungs are filled with air. A corpse sinks because there is no longer anyone home to keep the air in and the water out. An old corpse floats because it is not dead but alive again; its bacteria taking over and producing gases that make t blow up like a balloon.

Hannibal is still the first kind. For now. Which is why Will is not– absolutely not– accepting the delirious press of Hannibal’s mind in on him, the way that he can see a small boy in the snow covered in blood, and a teenager learning the piano in his uncle’s majestic home, and the man Will knows with his arms up to the elbow in human bodies, hundreds of them, thousands, more than Will has any interest in counting.

Of course, when Hannibal is dying, Will would be the unwilling recipient of the proverbial flash. Of course.

“Fuck that,” Will mutters, though into the wind it comes out of his throat more as a shout. He begins trying to haul himself up onto the rock without letting go of Hannibal. “You’d better be having my life flash before your eyes, too.”

First Circle

Hannibal opens his eyes to the entrance.

Abandon hope, all who enter here. But he can’t.

“If I had written the poem myself, Will,” he says, “If I had poured myself my own words like a glass of fine wine– I still would have thought it too presuming to write you as my shepherd through the Underworld.”

Will turns around, and his expression is an exact replica of that moment, during the period Hannibal must now start thinking of as his mortal life, that Will had looked up at him bound and tied and said please. It’s acerbic and delightful and makes Hannibal want to fall to his knees.

“Too presuming?” says Will. “Nothing is to presuming for you, Hannibal.”

He’s wrong, though. Hannibal would have made of Will a Patroclus in his art, but he never would have thought to dream him a Virgil.

Will puts his hands in his pockets. They are on the stoop of a small house, now, and Hannibal could not have said at what point they had passed from the gates of Hell to this place. The house is made of the kind of white siding that turns grey and then brown if not washed, and the door is somewhat crooked in the doorway, as if one side of the house were slipping into the mud faster than the other.

Will places his hand on the handle. “I remember this place,” he said. “It was nice. A guy my dad worked for rented to to us for cheap. I was happy here.”

Hannibal doesn’t say anything. The door squeaks on its hinges, and inside there is a small boy sitting at the kitchen table, and a man who looks disturbingly like Will lying on the floor, fiddling with a boat motor.

Hannibal looks between them. he has tried to imagine Will’s father, before. He tries to reconstruct the parents of many of the people he meets; sometimes he even puts his impressions to paper, though he has never showed any of the resulting portraits to the ones who could confirm their likeness. He had imagined Will’s faher as something completely alien to Will– or rather, who had produced a son who was completely alien to him. He had imagined him gruff and portly and faded by alcohol.

The man on the floor is handsome– there’s no other word for it. He has Will’s same sharp jaw and piercing eyes, and more than Will’s quietly brawny musculature. He hums to himself as he works, wiping off his fingers every so often on a dirty rag by his ankle.

“Dad,” says the boy at the table– Will. “Do you know how to complete a square?”

Will’s dad frowns. “What kind of square are we talking?”

Will digs his fingers into his hair, pulling slightly in frustration, and Hannibal wants to run his fingers through it, just to see if it feels the same as it does when he does it to the adult version. “I don’t know. It’s a math thing. I think we started learning it a few months ago in Biloxi, but then I missed the rest.”

“No idea, Willy, sorry,” says his father. “Can’t you find a buddy to copy from? You don’t need that stuff anyway, right?” His voice is light and humourous, but there is strain in it. “You’re plenty smart, kid, don’t worry about it.”

The Will at the table chews on the inside of his cheek. “I guess,” he mutters eventually, and when his dad glances over at him with an expression that Hannibal reads all too well as pain, Will forces a smile and shuts his notebook. “It’s okay,” he says. “Hey, didn’t you keep that trout in the freezer? Want me to make it?”

“Well that’d be just great, Willy.”

Hannibal looks back at Will, his Will (all versions of Will ought to be his), standing beside him. It’s hard to look at him, now, and not see the handsome sad-eyed man on the floor, who had looked for a moment like he’d give up anything in the world to be able to help his son with his math homework.

“Limbo,” says Hannibal. “The circle of Hell reserved for the virtuous pagans; those who never had the opportunities that others did to choose freedom and salvation.

Will stares at his dad for a moment longer. “I learned it eventually,” he says. “One of the math teachers took me aside and taught me.” The elder Graham does not appear to hear him.

“We have to keep moving,” Will says to Hannibal.

Second Circle

Will finds the boat.

He’d known it would be there. They hadn’t discussed it, not exactly; not any more than they had ever been able to discuss things in plain language. But Hannibal had showed him the maps of the areas surrounding the cliff house in the soft liminal moments in between their arrival and the Dragon’s attack, and he had included the boat, tethered to a small covered dock about a kilometre from the house. As if it was of no importance.

There is no question of doing anything, once he has mostly-carried Hannibal into the cabin of it, but sleeping. If they were prioritizing escape, they would set off immediately; but the weather is too foul to sail. If they were prioritizing survival, they would find a doctor– a surgeon, preferably, given the state of Hannibal’s abdomen. But they aren’t doing that, either.

Which leaves prioritizing exactly what their bodies do, simply collapse onto the bunkers, full of seawater and pain. Will’s ankles protrude at odd angles. Hannibal is breathing– Hannibal is breathing-- but he is doing nothing else. There is nothing else to be done.

Will wakes, hours or days later. It must be hours, because the sky is the exact same as when he’d last left it. There is nothing to do but wait to either die or live, so he sits up enough to pull an extra blanket from the pile on the floor– had someone been here before, stocking the boat, leaving things they might need?– and sits up to wrap it around himself, and watch the twin vistas of the sky through the porthole, and Hannibal’s face on the bunk beside him.

He tries to probe himself for guilt, and finds none. That isn’t surprising, and Will is glad of it. If there were still any guilt left within him, it had been washed away by the waves and salt.

He tries to find motivation, and that is a thornier issue. he had pulled himself and Hannibal to their deaths– hadn’t he? Why, then, is he so strangely, nearly ecstatically grateful to be alive? Why does every one of Hannibal’s laboured breaths feel like a gift to him, personally?

He knows what Bedelia thinks. She is the first therapist that Will has gone to willingly, and he had– for the most part– gotten his money’s worth. He had gotten the absolute worst version of himself through her eyes– the reckless, violent, conniving man that she saw him as. None of it was untrue. She would say that he had been carried away by self-indulgent passion, allowed himself to be carried off by a storm of his own making.

Will doesn’t care what Bedelia thinks any more. Hannibal makes a small hurt noise, not sleeping but not capable of waking, and Will realizes that he hasn’t washed the bullet hole that goes through Hannibal’s side. He will wash it in a moment. He will wash it in a moment. He will find a way to get to the head o his ruined legs, or the galley kitchen, and find some water. Maybe even some soap.

In a moment. For now, Will just looks down a traces a figertip down Hannibal’s cheek, feeling his skin and his warmth.

Third Circle

The next door, Hannibal recognizes.

He watches himself approach the door of Will’s motel room, and realizes that it makes him feel slightly nauseous, for Will to be standing here with him, watching him. Watching him smooth down his sleeves, heft the bag containing their breakfast from hand to hand. Watching him knock on the door and then wait.

The scene is ever so slightly different from how Hannibal remembers it– not in specifics but in generalities, the outside of the building with not quite the right trim, the back of Hannibal’s haircut not looking quite like he knows it had. That only makes sense, of course; this is Will’s tour. He is borrowing Will’s memory, Will’s perceptions, as he makes his way through Will’s underworld.

The scene only clicks into the place when Will– the younger, more innocent yet infinitely full of possibilities Will– opens the door. Then they are all inside, watching the two younger men sit down to breakfast like actors in a play.

This time, Hannibal fixates on himself. He looks younger, much more than Will does. Which makes sense, of course, on a practical level; he has just spent three years in prison, which is not reputed to be advantageous for the complexion. More to the point, he is now dead– or at least, Hannibal cannot come with any satisfactory explanation for his current situation other than being dead. He has never been afraid of death, particularly, but he wonders if Will is dead with him. If the man standing beside him knows his own fate.

“Gluttony,” he says. “Both in the traditional sense and the metaphorical. The very beginnings of surrender to sin; mutual, at first, and then eventually a degradation into solitary self-indulgence.”

Will tilts his head at Hannibal as he watches himself eat. “Did you degrade me, Hannibal?” he asks. And Hannibal does not have an answer for that.

But then, he has never been convinced that this was a sin in the first place.

Fourth Circle

Someone has definitely been on the boat.

Will wonders if it was Chiyoh. He wonders if it was Hannibal, years ago– and then he wonders if it was Abigail, if this was supposed to have been a getaway vessel of a very different sort. In any case, there is a small laptop, and miraculously, it plugs into an ethernet port for a working internet connection.

He is too tired to wonder whether the FBI is going to track them down through whatever account is paying the bill on this connection. Besides, without the connection, he can’t know anything about what the FBI is doing.

And oh, the FBI is doing.

Jack had found the house. There are pictures of him, standing on the sheer edge of the cliff; windswept, wearing that stupid fucking hat he’d always had a fondness for.

(Will fully admits that it is unfair for him to make fun of Jack’s fashion choices, even internally, with Hannibal Lecter passed out fitfully on the bunk a few feet away. He does it anyway.)

And then there’s Freddie. Her website has absolutely exploded with speculation, and when Will cross-references, he realizes that a good number of the photos the FBI has provided to the legitimate media are artfully cropped to remove the intrusion of the absolute hordes of amateur forensics experts. They’re mostly congregated on the stretch of highway where the Dragon had killed the drivers and left Will and Hannibal to escape; there is plenty of blood there, and dead bodies, all the sorts of things that Freddie’s audience loves. But there are some at the cliff house too, peering over the ledge curiously as some poor sods drag the Atlantic for bodies.

Will closes his eyes, and lets himself feel it: not just the information his has but the conglomerate of it, all of the impressions he’s taken in about their situation as a whole. He had always felt like he was stuck in the middle of a game of tug-o-war; the only changes had been the parties pulling him asunder.

Now, he still feels the fierce battle going on above; only he is no longer a part of it. He watches as the combatants push their enormous weights against each other– why do you hoard? why do you waste? and feels nothing.

It feels good, not existing. He wants to let the FBI and the true-crimers fight it out. It feels right.

His legs scream with a pain so intense it seems a miracle every moment he brushes it aside to concentrate on something else; but concentrate he does, as he climbs back into the bunk with Hannibal, and allows himself to curl around Hannibal’s dead-alive-soft-cold body and fall asleep.

Fifth Circle

Hannibal’s ears ring: first with the bang, and then with the high tinny squeal that follows it.

He brings his hands up to the side of his head, but too late. It is somewhat surprising that this body– or perhaps not a body at all, whatever it is, the corporeal form you imagine yourself with after your mortal form passes on– can still feel pain. But he absolutely can, and he flinches as the version of Will Graham in front of him (wearing ear protection, as is Beverly Katz as she makes her way towards him) lifts his pistol again.

He fires, and fires, and fires. Katz corrects his posture, and he fires some more. Hannibal just watches, fascinated. It is beautiful, to get to see this part of Will as if on a replay. He recalls Will in his kitchen, pointing his gun at Hannibal’s head, and it warms him from within.

“Why did you leave the police force, Will?” Hannibal asks.

It’s a question he’s asked before, many times and in many ways. Each time, he is as much wondering about Will’s perception of himself as he is asking for his own knowledge. The first time he had asked, during the days when Will was still in thrall to Jack and his crime scenes, he had answered,

Now, Will says, “I knew that once I pulled the trigger, I wouldn’t be able to stop.”

“It would have been your job,” Hannibal says reasonably. “Many shots leave a man just as dead as one well-aimed one. Surely you would not have been excluded from the career on the basis of that.”

Will turns to him. “No. Not excluded.” He gestures to the scene in front of him, hazy with memory and sharp with fear. “Included. That was the problem. You kill someone, and everyone congratulates you on it. Maybe there are some people who can go through that, the reward of it, and be the same person they were before. But not me.”

“No indeed,” murmurs Hannbal. “You were always destined to adapt.”

“And I did,” says Will, and he doesn’t sound bitter.

“The wrathful fight each other for eternity on the surface of the river Styx,” says Hannibal. “Did you think to escape that fate?”

“I did,” says Will, and when he looks at Hannibal his face seems to be coming from very far away. Hannibal thinks for a moment that he might follow him, back to wherever he is, if only he reached out. Then the opportunity passes, and Will says, “It isn’t wrath, Hannibal. If it– when I kill with you, it is only ever for love.”

Sixth Circle

There is water and food on the boat; there are medications enough for a few days. But the FBI’s search is expanding, and the weather is subsiding, and Will knows they need to set out soon.

Hannibal sleeps. “Sleep” may not be technically the right word for it, Will admits. He rustles a little when Will says his name; sometimes he seems to be trying very hard to wake up, like he is cocooned in nightmare fighting his way out, but he never makes it.

Will doesn’t think about Hannibal dying. He doesn’t.

Instead, he thinks about transformation. What would it matter, after all, if the copy of Hannibal Lecter found in the stinking shivering sack of meat on the bunk were to dissipate? If the man could live in his memory palace while he was in jail, who’s to say he could not live there after he was dead? And if Will is there– if Will can share the space, if he owns the cellar and the corridors of the palace just as surely as Hannibal does, what does it matter if Will never sets out from this docking, if his own matter lies down next to Hannibal and stays there forever? it doesn’t matter at all. It’s all the same thing. Surely, surely that must be true.

That’s what he tries to think.

But more and more, Will cannot keep himself from thinking about– bodies.

About the way Hannibal had always inhabited his body, every movement his own and made with purpose, even when he was inside of his own mind.

About how the mind is the body– Will knows that. Hannibal had tried to eat his.

About whether he would ever be able to talk to Hannibal– real speaking, voices creating vibrations in the air, real tangible things– about this again, if he would be able to ask him do you bevel in the soul?

The Epicurians went to Hell for their belief that the soul dies with the body, Will recalls. A cruel irony– eternal torment of the soul, the very thing one is being punished for not believing in.

Hannibal, he thinks in the darkest moments, is nothing if not Epicurian.

He cannot convince himself that Hannibal’s soul is located anywhere but here, inside of his body, inside of the sweat rolling off of him, inside of the sickly-sweet fever smell of him, in side of his eyes that open but see nothing.

Seventh Circle

“Violence,” says Hannibal.

“That is the next circle, yes.” Will is leaning against the desk– no, not leaning, that kinf of jaunty half-sit that used to make Hannibal contemplate the fact that if anyone else tried it, it would be grounds for execution.

It feels good to see Will there again. Hannibal approaches, leans a little with his left hip on the wood. Mirroring Will’s posture. “Well?” he says. “Surely you can choose a memory, for this. You have had no shortage of violence, in your life.”

“From you, you mean.”

“From me. With me.”

Hannibal looks around the room. He knows that it is no more real than the version in his own memory palace is– but this version is Will’s, and though it is nearly the same in every particular, it feels like looking through a kaleidoscope all the same. There are so many things in this room that he had not had the time to reveal to Will, secrets that the two of them had burned to ash together without ever exploring.

“Every time I think of your violence,” says Will, “I can only think of this.” And then he is standing in front of Hannibal, in between Hannibal’s legs, pushing him back towards the desk, and holding Hannibal’s hand to his own belly.

Hannibal wets his own lips with his tongue. They taste like salt and seaweed. He presses one hand in to where he knows the scar is, a smile beneath Will’s navel, and reaches his other up to run a fingertip over his forehead.

Will leans in close. He smells of seawater, too.

“Will,” Hannibal whispers. “There are other sins, in the seventh circle.”

“Mmm.” Will’s voice rumbles through Hannibal’s body. They are so close, and Hannibal is so cold. “Sodomy. The thing is, Hannibal, I don’t think you’re up to it, right now.”

Eighth Circle

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” Will mutters to Hannibal, who is not here.

Hannibal isn’t making him do this. Hannibal isn’t making him do anything, any more; after three days at sea, during which Hannibal has alternated between unconscious and delirious, they are running out of medication.

Will thinks back to the photos that Jack used to bring him, of the Chesapeake Ripper crimes. How he used to take them home and look at them– for work, yes, but also because they sometimes seemed the most beautiful thing that Will Graham would ever be allowed to get near.

Hannibal’s crimes had always been elegant. Beautiful. It had been so easy, for a while, to imagine that if Will went with him, that’s how his own damnation would feel, too. Gauzy and fairytale-like.

But now it is three in the morning and Will is about to break into a pharmacy, and there’s no two ways about it. This is not an elegant crime.

It doesn’t look elegant. Will is wearing a balaclava to cover his face; the boat is well-stocked with warm clothes, at least. He has fashioned lockpicks from the toolbox; very possibly there is already a set of lockpicks somewhere on the boat, but Hannibal isn’t in a state to answer such questions. And now he is rattling around inside the doorknob to the small, family-owned pharmacy, who would surely sorely miss all of the inventory he’s about to steal.

Theft. It’s an odd crime to think about committing for Hannibal. Hannibal had never wanted this for him, specifically; but Hannibal is far, far too used to getting what he wants.

Will is used to compromise. He is used to his own monstrosity being the wet, animal kind. He is not proud of himself– but he is also not proud, period.

The door clicks open, and Will steals.

Ninth Circle

The cellar stinks of death.

Hannibal chokes on it, stumbles and nearly falls. It is overwhelming in a way that death never is to him; organic decay can smell strong, of course, but it is a part of him. He can categorize and ignore it, even enjoy it.

He cannot ignore this. It seeps into his pores, into his nose like a liquid. It clouds his eyes, so that he cannot see until Will’s voice calls him back to himself.


He blinks.

“Hannibal.” Will sounds sad and tired. Hannibal can’t figure out where his voice is. Somewhere in this pit, Lucifer is frozen in place.

No. Someone else in chained here, though. Something.

“Hannibal, I can’t keep doing this. I need you to come back.”

Hannibal opens his eyes, and sees him: the firefly, hanging in the air like Christ, chained like Satan.

He opens his eyes again, and he is in agony, and he can smell the brine of the waves lapping against the boat. Will breathes a sigh of relief and turns Hannibal’s head towards the porthole, where he can once more see the stars.