« Le plaisir de vous rencontrer était à nous, Madame. Oui, nous reviendrons sûrement. Mon mari est un grand amateur de musique. »

Mme. Halanzier turns back to her companion. « Un médecin retraité, » she exclaims with delight, « avec son mari Americain. Ils ont un charmant aspect exotique, n’est-ce pas? »

Will’s grip on Hannibal’s arm is tight until they exit into the cool night of Parc de la Villette, leaning on him slightly to feel the strain on Hannibal’s perpetually slightly unsteady gait. He covers it well, but the Dragon’s bullet had nicked his psoas, and the resulting scarring of the muscle has made him slightly lopsided. The light of the moon glints off of the curving metallic shapes of the Philharmonie de Paris behind them, walking slowly both for Hannibal’s sake and because there is nowhere in particular they have to be.

“What were you telling those people about me?” Will asks finally, grasping Hannibal’s hand more lightly. His French is sufficient to buy groceries or hail a cab, but he had found himself lost in the back-and-forth of the rapid and delighted conversation between Hannibal and the well-dressed ladies in the lobby of L’Orchestre de Paris.

“Only the most uncontroversial truths,” says Hannibal easily. “That you’re my husband, that you injured your face in the course of a heroic battle with a wild animal in America, and of course that you play the oboe much better than anyone on stage tonight.”

Will snorts. “Hardly uncontroversial, especially when I haven’t touched one in nearly a decade.”

“Do you miss it, then?”

“Do you?”

Hannibal’s hand tightens slightly; he’s aware, then, of what Will is really asking. “I have made no promises to give up any of my hobbies.”

“And I’ve made no promises to pick up any new ones.”

Hannibal just smiles minutely. “The performance, then. Did you enjoy it?”

Will takes in a deep breath and lets it out, staring up at the moonlight to gather his thoughts. “More and more,” he says, “I try to understand things as a whole, but I still take in music in bits and pieces. I remembered halways through that that same alto sang that part when we did Mahler 2, a couple years after I got the job in Baltimore. I felt envious of the principal oboist’s whisper-soft note endings. I thought the Eb clarinet player deserved a medal for making such an unpleasant instrument sound easy and fun. I sometimes hear the third movement of the Berio Sinfonia overlaid over the third movement of Mahler 2, too, though that’s probably your fault; it’s the most accurate sonic representation of madness I’ve ever heard.”

“Berio added a neurotic text overtop of the cantus firmus of Mahler’s music. Was that what your madness felt like, Will? Something being added in, instead of taken away?”

(And when they ask, why all this, it is not easy to find an answer; for when we find ourselves, face to face, now, here, and they remind us that all this can’t stop the wars, can’t make the old younger or lower the price of bread, can’t erase solitude or dull the tread outside the door, we can only nod, yes, it’s true, but no need to remind, to point, for all is with us, always, except, perhaps at certain moments, here among these rows of balconies, in a crowd or out of it, perhaps waiting to enter, watching… There must be something else. Otherwise it would be quite hopeless.)

“You took the one thing I owned away from me,” says Will.

“Your job– your profession. And yet you must know you’ve always owned more than that.”

Hannibal raises a hand to hail down a taxi; they’re plentiful around the concert hall, the drivers all knowing what time the shows get out. Will shakes his head as they climb into it. “Stop pushing. I told you I forgave you, in Italy. Did you think the forgiveness was yours, to be accepted or rejected at will? It wasn’t. It’s of you, but it’s mine.”

“Very well.” Hannibal is quiet for nearly the entire ride to their small, transitional apartment; a nice-enough place in an anonymous building where nobody notices the comings and goings of their neighbours. Finally, as they pay the driver and climb out in front of the building, he says, “I believe some of our stars will always be the same. You entered the foyer of my mind and stumbled down the hall of my beginnings. Would our ending have always been the same, regardless of our beginnings? Is this point, what we are to each other, fixed in time and unbreakable?”

Will shakes his head as he picks out the key to the apartment door from his keychain. “You shouldn’t have had that third glass of wine at the lobby bar.”

It’s only later, when Hannibal is passed out soundly beside him in the dark bedroom, that Will admits into the inky black of the night, “Probably.”