Will tells himself that it doesn’t actually make less sense than anything else in his life.
Which is mostly a lie, if only because Hannibal has always been the only thing in Will’s life that does makes sense, even when Will wishes he didn’t. Like they were cut from original cloth to fit into each other. Everything about Hannibal fits, and now that Will sees this, he hates that it fits too. No matter how ridiculous it might seem.
It makes sense, though, as an explanation for why Hannibal had always been so deeply impervious to the idea of confinement; the deep sense that he would not allow himself to be trapped in any way he didn’t want to be, and therefore that every situation that appears to decrease his freedom is merely a minor irritant that he could cast off at any moment. The fact that Will had never seen him use this particular last-ditch method of escape only makes the impression all the more clear. He’d never needed it. He’d never even come close.
Will wonders if Hannibal used it to his advantage when he wasn’t being watched; casing properties that he would later revisit in a form that nobody would notice, snuffling at windows under the cover of darkness. Or perhaps not; he would have relished the challenge of carrying out in a human body something that would be easier in a different form. Hardship made pleasurable by the knowledge of its being essentially unnecessary.
No, Will thinks, it’s more likely that Hannibal has only ever used this form for pleasure. That would be more like him; reserving this piece of himself only for himself. And now, apparently, for Will.
It’s quite a gift. Will doesn’t want to burst out hysterically laughing at it, but he does anyway. The small brownish-grey rabbit sitting on the bunk of their small sailboat twitches its nose in distinct irritation.
“Hannibal?” says Will, because he’s pretty damn sure that it’s not a coincidence that Hannibal Lecter has disappeared and this rabbit has appeared, on a boat that Will is intimately acquainted with every square inch of and which certainly did not contain a rabbit when they had set out, but maybe there’s some minuscule logical part of him that is still insisting people don’t just turn into rabbits.
But then, people don’t just kill other people and eat them for dinner, either. So when Will sits down on the bunk and reaches out a hand towards the rabbit, and the rabbit rolls over and bares its belly to him, Will trails his fingers gently over a bald patch of fur with a puckered, tender wound at the centre of it. The gauze that had been taped around Hannibal’s stomach is discarded at the top edge of the bed, along with the rumpled sweatpants and t-shirt that were the only clothes that were reasonably comfortable to wear over a healing bullet wound. Will doesn’t even have to consciously call up the part of himself that actually has a forensics degree to note that the pattern of the cloth on the bed does indeed seem to be consistent with the occupant of said clothes suddenly disappearing. Or becoming several times smaller, then crawling out the leg of a pair of pants.
“You can come back from this, right?” says Will, lying back on the bed carefully. “You’re not… stuck, or anything?” Hannibal hops up the length of his torso and buries his pointed, furry head in Will’s neck and he even smells like Hannibal, despite the overtones of fur. Will can feel the slight wetness of his nose moving against his neck, and it feels like a nod. “Good,” he breathes. He’s come too far with Hannibal, the human man, to lose him now.
He takes a gentle hand and lifts Hannibal up until he’s lying on Will’s chest, his legs and feet surprisingly long once they’re stretched out behind him. He’s warm and soft and his ears are a bit longer than entirely suits his body, like he has just the tiniest bit of wild jackrabbit in him alongside the domesticated genes. In other words, he looks pretty much exactly like Hannibal.
Hannibal fits his nose back into Will’s neck, and if he angles his eyes downward enough that his vision starts to fuzz, Will can see his nose twitching. He smiles. “Is your sense of smell better like this?” he wonders. “Or is it the same, and you’ve been smelling me with your rabbit senses the whole time?”
Hannibal, of course, doesn’t answer, and Will brings a hand up to gently stroke down the curve of his back. He can hear Hannibal’s heart beating against his own; racing, like he’s panicked, but Will knows that just how rabbit hearts are. He remembers reading in a book that generally speaking, an animal’s heartbeat predicts its longevity in an inverse direction, as if each being has an allotted number of heartbeats that can be used up faster or slower. Prey animals use up their precious allotment quickly, and Will finds his own heart speeding up as he feels Hannibal’s fluttering pulse. Stay with me, he wants to say. Promise you won’t leave without me.
He remembers when he’d found an injured cottontail in the woods once, as a kid. They’d been living somewhere northerly, Will no longer remembers exactly where, and he’d brought it to his dad trying not to show how much the animal’s pain hurt him. Will Graham Sr. had taken a broomstick and laid it across the back of the tiny thing’s neck, stepped on it gently, then grabbed the back legs and yanked. He’d handed its lifeless form back to Will, and let his son take it away without saying anything about how stupid it was to bury an animal that really only exists for other animals to eat.
Hannibal’s ribcage expands and contracts under his hands, quick breaths and the shape of delicate bones pressing into Will’s fingers. He still fantasizes about killing Hannibal with his hands, sometimes. It would be so easy, like this. The thought of it hurts more than any of the pains in Will’s body.
He drifts after a while, lulled by the gentle rocking of the boat and the familiar feel of fur against his palms. Will has gotten used to relaxing in Hannibal’s presence, during the last few weeks, but it’s a conscious sort of relaxation; making the decision to turn one’s back on an enemy and trust that he’ll stay where you put him. Hannibal does, for the most part. He holds Will gently as they sleep and keeps his hands chastely on Will’s shoulders and stroking through his hair, even when Will wishes he wouldn’t. But Hannibal is waiting for an invitation, and that is both novel and somehow fitting, that the final dividing line between them Will must step over under his own power.
He wonders when Hannibal was going to show him this. If it was always just one on a long list of things Will didn’t know about them, and now they’re knocking down the unknowns one by one. If he wanted to give Will time to come up with an interpretation on the subject, some sort of psychoanalysis of the fact that the most obvious predator he’s ever met is also prey. That Hannibal can be delicate and vulnerable and shivering in Will’s hands.
After a while he picks Hannibal up gently and puts him back down on the bunk beside him. “Stay,” he says, as if Hannibal is a dog, and Hannibal glares– which only makes him look cuter– but stays. Will slips into the tiny galley, casting a critical eye on their rations. “We don’t have any rabbit meat,” he says, “Sorry. You’re going to have to do with more traditional fare.” They do have some lettuce, nearing the end of its useful lifespan, and a large supply of apples, which Will cuts into slices. He carries an apple slice and a large leaf of lettuce back to the bunk, and sits down. “Here,” he says, patting his lap.
Hannibal’s eyes follow the food, and Will giggles at the feeling of the tiny paws pressing into his thighs. A tiny pink tongue flicks out and over the corner of Will’s thumb before Hannibal catches the edge of the lettuce in his teeth and starts to munch on it, his mouth motoring away like his only purpose in life is to masticate fibrous vegetables. The leaf disappears into his mouth slowly, as if its being fed into a machine. Will can’t keep the smile off his face. Hannibal has always put on a show while eating, but he doesn’t usually look like this.
It’s the same sense of unashamed, unrestrained pleasure and desire, though, when he finishes the lettuce and sniffs around for the apple. Will has an infinitesimal moment of wanting to play with him, wondering if he could hold the treat just out of reach and see Hannibal stand up on his hind legs for it, but he capitulates too quickly, and Hannibal sinks his teeth into the flesh of the apple as well. His tongue darts out when he’s done with it, licking juice off of the fur around his mouth, and Will suddenly wishes that they had raspberries that he could feed to Hannibal, watching his mouth grow red as if with blood.
“Am I allowed to watch you turn back?” Will asks. “Or do you plan on spending the entire evening being petted and coddled?”
Hannibal goes still for a moment, and although Will had been nearly alarmed at the rate of his heart before, there is something truly prey-like about his posture now. Uncertain.
Will runs a thumb down Hannibal’s head, from between his ears to his nose. A line remains in the fur after he pulls his hand away. “I’m going to do abovedeck for a bit,” he says. “Come up when you’re ready.”
Will sits on the edge of the deck, bare feet getting lightly splashed by the calm sea. He stares into the blue horizon, and when Hannibal climbs up from the cabin dressed once again in the sweatpants and shirt, Will grabs his hand and pulls him to sit down too.
Will turns to look at him, and Hannibal’s face has the blank, unprepared expression that means he has absolutely no idea what Will is about to do.
Will runs a finger down his forehead, an echo of the gesture he’d made through his fur, and leans in for a kiss.