A Bitter Taste (21)

A Bitter Taste

Ugh! I hate odd numbers! Oh well. Finished at long last.


They did not speak of it, not that day or the next. In fact, Hannibal was most insistent that Will not mention what he’d seen for fear of his automatically rejecting details they would require to fully understand what the Ravenstag had done to him.

But Will was certain now that he knew, or knew well enough.

It was a process, a ceaseless test of assent—the question must always be answered with honest assurance, the answer must always be sealed with a kiss and the sharing of blood. Life before death and the death that followed must be consumed, death to make life. An ouroboros of deliberate choice knitted together to create life eternal. At some point, the blood in his veins had become the Ravenstag’s. At some point, the final step he had taken to complete the transformation had been enough to render the Ravenstag unresponsive and vulnerable in their bed.

Should he work the same alchemy on Hannibal as the Ravenstag had done in him, that would be when Hannibal would turn on him, preying on his vulnerability in that silent space between deaths.

And Will couldn’t tell anymore if he was still willing to let Hannibal eat him, not now that things had gotten so interesting. It came down to a matter of intentions—did he intend to change Hannibal and somehow survive it or did he intend to spend eternity regretting the fact that he hadn’t?

So he said nothing, revealed nothing. Instead, they focused on preparing to leave Baltimore and the details of their final feast with Jack.

Hannibal, it seemed, had already laid the foundations for a quick escape. The most precious of his possessions were packaged up and carted away to places Will dared not guess. The rest, he was assured, would be tended to by trusted staff and carefully packed and sent to storage over time until Hannibal settled or had need of them. There was no rush. The house, apparently, had been purchased under another identity and would remain in Hannibal’s hands.

“Have you always been ready to move on a dime?” Will asked him, watching him prepare his little bag for the killing spree to come. Jack had agreed to dinner, to Hannibal’s hushed and reluctant confidence that he did not feel safe with Will, that he would like to have Jack come and test the waters once more in a way that Will would not suspect. Hannibal wanted the meal to be something memorable for Jack before he was made into a part of it. And memorable meant procuring the proper cuts.

“Yes, of course,” Hannibal said, intent on his work. “It would be foolhardy to continue as I do otherwise.”

He checked his list, one that Will had helped to prepare, evading the people he was certain Jack had set to follow him in order to create timelines for Hannibal’s intended victims. Most people had routines. It was a bit trickier to get them all to be vulnerable on the same night, however, but they’d managed somehow in the days slowly counting down to their departure.

One last show from the Chesapeake Ripper, an understated finale to cast doubts on Abel Gideon’s claims.

“Are you ready, Will?” he asked, for once not dressed in a three-piece suit but in something very much like Will—dark jeans, dark long-sleeved shirt, understated and normal.

Will thought of how he’d hunted with the Ravenstag, relentlessly determined to feed the one he loved. He thought of Hannibal’s reputation as the Chesapeake Ripper besmirched by the claims of Abel Gideon and suddenly wanted nothing more than to help him take it back.

“Yes,” he said, his mouth curving in a smile to bare his sharp, wicked teeth.


Their efforts made the news, specifically on Tattle Crime—The Chesapeake Ripper Strikes Again! Exclusive Photos!

“What do you know, she actually did it justice,” Will observed, looking at the magazine on Hannibal’s tablet, lounging in the armchair in his kitchen with his bare feet crossed at the ankles and a slight smile on his face.

The gory tableau was a riot of color, the deep red hues of body cavities, the darker splashes of dried blood, the tones of skin stripped bare of concealing clothing to highlight how vulnerable they had been in the last frightened moments of their lives.

Three of them arranged at their own last supper, plates filled with their own tongues, those rude and offensive organs that had somehow caught Hannibal’s ire. It wasn’t the only indignity he’d subjected them to, but it was the most telling. The rest was butchery to reach the choice pieces he required which even now were being cleaned and prepared for the meal to come.

“You’ve got them all wound up,” Will told him, amused. There had been no call to Hannibal for his opinion. Even a layman would know whose handiwork this was, though none of them would guess what help he’d had. Still, he imagined Jack would arrive this evening ready to discuss it in private with Hannibal, perhaps in his study after eating his share of a meal he would never survive.

“That was my intent,” Hannibal told him, not putting him to any work today. He wanted everything exactly as he imagined and would leave nothing to chance. “My methods are rather well known to law enforcement in the area. It is for the best that we are leaving once Jack is discovered. I am very fortunate to have you as an alibi, Will.”

He said it with a wolfish grin and Will laughed, nodding.

They’d spent the day before their hunt packing up or destroying Hannibal’s patient notes depending on what they contained. Will hadn’t asked, but he got the distinct impression that not all of the broken minds who came to Doctor Lecter went away again in mint condition. Will wanted to ask about it. He had all sorts of things he wanted to ask about now that they were on the cusp of fleeing and Hannibal would soon be an immortal like himself. So many questions now that there was a limit on his lifespan, and Will found himself touching his chest to feel the pounding of his heart, envisioning Hannibal eating it right from his gaping body, his last vision of life that of unbridled power and deadly intent.

He realized Hannibal was watching him, a strange expression on his face. Perhaps he, too, was thinking of the time to come, already composing a symphony of exquisite dishes to transform Will’s banal flesh.

“What is it?” Will asked, his voice barely above a husky purr.

“I wonder how you can still not remember,” Hannibal said, shaking his head just slightly as if baffled. “So many times, Will. So many things and still you push it away.”

“I’m not pushing anymore,” Will said, sighing softly as he put the tablet down, their scene forgotten. “I’ll remember, Hannibal. It won’t be long now.”

“No,” Hannibal said, sounding strangely taut and cryptic when he purred, “It will not.”

Will smiled a little, hoping to assure him that he wasn’t abandoning this life for nothing, that there would be a change to come, that he would get the chance to indulge in Will’s body in ways he hadn’t fully as yet.

“Go to the cellar and fetch me a bottle of wine,” Hannibal ordered him, those brown eyes piercing in their intensity, almost as if daring Will to refuse. “All the way to the back, third tier up, fourth bottle in.”

Will retreated to the pantry and popped the hatch to the basement, climbing down in the darkness. He’d never been in Hannibal’s basement before, lacking the need or desire, but was surprised to find it so vast. He thread his way to the wine of Hannibal’s choice and plucked it free, cocking his head slightly at what he saw.

Something gleamed in the darkness just enough to catch Will’s eye. Curious, he crossed the length of the cellar, seeking out the switch to illuminate the back room.

The overheads flicked on, bright and blinding. Will flinched from it, wincing, blinking hard as his sensitive eyes adjusted. When they did, the bottle of wine slid out of his nerveless fingers and smashed to the hard floor.

Skulls filled the room. Shelf after shelf filled with them displayed in glass bell jars, empty eye sockets and bare, sharp teeth grinning back at Will.

“Oh my God,” he breathed, eyes widening on the details. There were probably a hundred skulls here, and each one bore the same thick, sharp teeth that Will thought unique to himself.

Do you know what I am?’

You are an exquisite dish yet uneaten, plated and parted and ready to be served…

“No, this…” Trembling, Will moved from jar to jar, glass from the shattered bottle piercing his bare feet, his eyes wide and wild as each one revealed itself to be alike in only one alarming way—those rending fangs just like his. Some were bleached white and chalky, other yellowed with age, some stained with the remnants of the flesh that clung to them, but they were undoubtedly exactly like himself.

He knows what I am…he kills what I am…’ Will saw his own pale, shocked face reflected in the glass, superimposed over the empty-eyed skull within and he backed away, almost choking on his shock because at the end of the closest shelf, benign and tenderly patient, was an empty bell jar awaiting a skull of its own.

Will heard a strangled, keening noise of pain and realised it had come from him, a cry trapped deep in his chest trying to escape past the strictures of self-preservation and secrecy. There was an envelope next to the empty jar. The envelope was next to the empty jar. Trembling, Will picked it up and tore it open with shaking fingers.

The glossy photo was aged, clearly dated by the look of the people within. He recognized Mathilda, an achingly thin young blonde with too-bright lipstick and wavy-curled hair. Will scanned the photo, a candid shot taken at a wedding reception, looking for himself in the background.

He found Hannibal Lecter instead.

Are you like me?’

No.’

No, not like Will, but something that hunted things like him. Something that had, perhaps, also killed the Ravenstag. He had been hurt that night of separation, Will knew that much. He had been terribly wounded and it made all too much sense why he had never sought him out again. No newly-minted boy had killed him, no, but a predator feeding on predators.  For all Will knew, the Ravenstag’s skull was right here in this room. Hannibal would have seen Will that night, would have gravitated to places that Will would have haunted, searching and searching for the one that escaped. The hunter of hunters, feeding on those things that fed on humanity. What amusing and dangerous prey they would make him, after all…

Will slapped the lights off and strode swiftly back the way he’d come, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind him.  He was speechless with horror and shock, reeling from deep, ugly betrayal. Everything he thought he knew about Hannibal was wrong, backwards, dangerously uninformed and he’d deliberately blinded himself to it the whole time.

“Will?”

He stopped in the kitchen, the pantry door closing behind him. He stared at Hannibal there behind his stove, working with relaxed grace at his next glorious creation, his ashy brown hair falling over his brow and his stern face holding the ghost of a smile.

“You look a bit pale, Will,” he observed. His eyes flicked to Will’s bare feet and narrowed. His voice was calm and clinical when he asked, “Is something wrong?”

“No,” Will said, an automatic answer, his mind scattering a thousand different directions, surfacing again and again to one thought—why hadn’t Hannibal killed him yet? Why this game of waiting for Will to remember and change him when he was already something…else?

“You’ve forgotten the wine,” Hannibal said, gentle chastisement. “Are you sure you’re well? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Will laughed, a ragged, hysterical sound that brought a spasm to Hannibal’s brow and a frown to his face.

“Will?”

“Do you know what I am?” Will asked him, hitching with laughter that was a bare breath away from a sob, the illusion he’d been living so many pieces of shattered porcelain on the floor around him.

Hannibal turned off the burner, wiped his hands carefully on a dishtowel, and shifted the whole of his attention to Will.

“Why did you lie to me?” Will asked, trembling with tension, ready to flee if needs be but he wanted answers at long last.

“I don’t recall ever lying to you, Will,” Hannibal calmly said, hooding his brown eyes. “Why would you think I had?”

“Did you kill all of them yourself?” Will asked, his thoughts leaping backwards, adding up the ages of those skulls which far outripped the supposed age of the man before him. “Maybe the better question would be, what are you?”

“It disturbs you to see them, Will?” Hannibal asked, a shadow falling over him, or maybe it was a shadow falling away at last. “Those trophies of times past?”

“Times past?” Will scoffed, laughing. “Some of those skulls are fresh, Hannibal!”

“Yes,” he said, his head tipping up a little, looking down at Will with calculating intent. “They are.”

“And the empty one?” Will asked, his voice rising in volume with the force of his anger. “Who are you saving that one for?”

Hannibal’s soft, delighted smile curved the corners of his lips. Very softly, he inquired, “Who do you think?”

Will slammed his hand into the pantry door frame hard enough to crack the wood.

“I’m not as easy to break as I look,” he bit out, but the true and deep fear that welled up inside of him broke through the words and rendered them meaningless.

“I don’t want to break you, Will,” Hannibal said, amused. “I only want to help you.”

“Like you helped the other ones whose heads ended up in jars?” Will asked, taking a step towards the hall when Hannibal took a sudden step towards him. “Did they offend you? Or did they just offer you the same distraction I did?”

“Don’t put yourself in such ordinary company, Will,” Hannibal advised him, taking another step that Will countered, his back to the hallway now. “They were mundane, mere shadows of their potential. You are a beacon, Will, glowing brightly. You always have been.”

Will snatched at a breath that suddenly eluded him, the world swaying around him.

“I tire of our game at last,” Hannibal said, gazing at him with fondness mingled into his own cruel brand of attachment. “You’ve taken everything I’ve offered, made your own connections, you’ve simply refused to look at the result.”

“No…that’s…” Will shook his head, alarmed.

“I gave you every chance, Will,” Hannibal said, moving towards him with easy grace. “Prodding and urging your memories to return so that you would recall it at long last.”

Stop it!” Will hissed, ravens’ wings fluttering up before his eyes, almost blinding him.

“Where are you right now, Will?” Hannibal asked, stalking after him as he backed down the hallway.

The hallway. This hallway.

William, what are you doing?’

“Where are you?” Hannibal pressed, each step clicking like hooves on the parquet floor. Feathers swirled at the edges of his threatening form, indistinct and frightening. “Answer me.”

“I’m…home.”

This hallway, darkened and silent. He’d come home when he’d fled, home to his family because he had nowhere else to go. Home to see them, home to say goodbye, home to seek solace, home to beg forgiveness and return to the bosom of his family.

He could smell the scent of his father’s cigars in his study and thread his way through the house to find him, his belly roiling, unfed and demanding. He flung open the door and his father turned to see him, the welcome dying on his face when his eyes beheld his bloody, feral son, all joy replaced with rage and terror.

“Father,” Will sobbed, reaching for an image that had died two hundred years before. “Father, please…”

Don’t you dare call me father!’ The words cut like a whip, lashing his heart with criss-cross wounds, drawing blood to the surface. His face was contorted with fury, livid with it, so grossly offended by what he saw before him that he could barely stand to look at the son he’d created. ‘I’ll not be father to a devil! Look at yourself! Look at what you’ve become!’

“No, father, please! Please!”

Curled lips and outrage, bone-deep disgust and a gun raised to the level of his heart. ‘Get out! Get out of my house before your mother sees what’s become of you!’

He took a step forward. The shot hit him and he staggered, lost in the memory.

“What do you see, Will?” the Ravenstag asked with Hannibal’s voice, echoing from someplace far, far from his now.

“I don’t want this!” Will moaned, clutching at his temples, sobbing.

“You want what I want, Will, when I tell you to want it,” the Ravenstag said, looming all around him with the omniscience of a god. “We are no longer playing cat and mouse, you and I.”

The gun didn’t fire again. Bleeding from the wound on his chest, he lunged and pounced on him, this bag of flesh and innards that had once been his father. He tore him open like a ripened fruit, gnawing at his liver while he screamed.

He wasn’t the only one screaming. He heard his mother’s voice raised in a high, keening wail, the thud of footsteps as she ran from him. Why was she running from him? Why was she afraid? Her terror tasted sharp, cutting. He swung around after her and gave chase, trailing his father’s blood and flesh like a mantle behind him. Up the stairs to his sister’s bedroom where she cowered, clutching her daughter to her, stricken with grief.

William,’ she sobbed, heartbroken and defeated. ‘William, don’t…’

“Mother? Why are  you crying?”

Her tears scared him, her awful and bone-deep terror inspiring an equal terror in Will’s own heart.

A shadow rose behind him, the Ravenstag at last come to find him, unsteady and weakened but determined nonetheless. He turned to face his punishment for what he’d done, for running when he’d promised to stay, for forsaking his word that he would forsake all others for him alone. The branching antlers and rippling feathers wisped away like fog on a soft wind, and Will stared in stark surprise at the man before him.

Hannibal stood in the doorway, noble and reserved, a ghostly image over the man staring down at him with calm, deliberate concentration.

Use your gift on me…’

You could change me…’

Over and over he’d given Will a chance to discover him, to realize, hint after unheeded hint, like feathers brushing over his skin.

The Ravenstag of his memories was Hannibal Lecter in the flesh.

“What have you done, Will?” he asked, sliding in and out of the shape of a massive black stag, dark eyes full of recrimination, three faces of one man who was no more human than Will was.

“Save them,” he begged, falling to his knees. “Take me instead…”

Take me away, keep them safe, save them from the monster I’ve become. Help me help them, help me save them. He’d thought it was stupid bravery all this time but in reality it had been fear.

“I cannot,” he said, his hand on Will’s bloody curls in benediction. “I will not.”

“Please…”

“Do you remember, Will?” Hannibal asked, stroking him like a cat. “Do you remember now, what happened? To yourself? To your family? To me?”

Hannibal moved past him, shaking off his clutching fingers, his desperation, his pleas. He plucked Will’s little sister from the floor.

“Do you see, Will? Do you remember?”

Please, save them! Save them!’

‘I cannot raise the dead, Will,’ he said, Mary’s bloody body dangling limply in his arms, her body torn apart from throat to stomach. ‘Do you see? Do you understand what has happened here? I cannot save them because they are already dead.’

Will screamed in denial, yanking at his hair.

He looked at the man before him, holding the remains of his sister’s corpse, laying her so carefully in the bed as if he had no hand in what had happened. If he’d never touched Will, never enticed him, changed him, then none of this would have come to pass…

Will sobbed, covering his face, shuddering with the force of his horror. “You took them from me! You took them from me!”

“What future did you envision for them, Will, had you not killed them?” Hannibal asked. “Terrified of their own shadows? Left with the eviscerated, ruined corpse of your father and a society full of ready, deadly judgment? Waiting and waiting for you to come home again and finish what you’d started…”

“No!” he moaned, tearing at his hair. “No! You were supposed to save them!”

“I did save them, Will,” Hannibal purred. “The only way I could, considering what you’d done. I gave them the dignity in death that you denied them.”

His mother and sister laid out on the bed, covered to their chins with a blanket, but even that couldn’t give the impression of sleep, not with the terror and horror of their last moments fixed on their faces, Will’s savage, snarling face imprinted on their wide, staring eyes.

“I tended to them for you, Will,” Hannibal said. “And how did you repay me?”

If only, if only, if only—regrets that could only be felt and not fixed. And here he was, a newly born monster shaped by the hands of the man pretending tenderness as he tucked Will’s dead family into their beds.

He came up off of the floor with a scream, slamming into the larger man with a fury he didn’t quite expect. Rage and grief and that deadly hunger rose up inside of him and he plunged his hand through cloth and skin, sliding beneath bone until his fingers touched the pounding flesh of Hannibal’s heart…

“Only we can wound one another,” Hannibal said. “Leave marks that scar deeper than skin.”

Blood poured from his chest. What Will had thought was anger in his dark eyes became betrayal and recrimination with Will’s hand buried in his flesh to the wrist.

“You wounded me that night, Will. You wounded me terribly, so much so that I thought for a moment you might have managed to kill me.”

Will shuddered and trembled, folded in on himself, rejecting everything but forced now to accept it.

“I was proud of you then as I am now,” Hannibal said. “Unpredictable and dangerous Ganymede, filled with wrath and teeth. How beautiful you’ve always been, Will.”

“No, please stop!”

He’d fled from the force of those dark, dark eyes, ripped his hand from the pounding of Hannibal’s beating heart and fled. He’d run and run and run, until decades became centuries

But he couldn’t run anymore.

He opened his eyes to find himself in the basement, kneeling on the floor with those skulls staring down at him, laughing at the futility of his actions.

“It took a very long time for me to heal,” Hannibal murmured, a warm, dangerous heat behind him. Fingers coiled into his curls, stroking and threatening. “Long enough that I could no longer find you when I was finally able to return to your country. My masterpiece was lost to me, broken in spirit but never in mind.”

Will shuddered, staring at that empty bell jar. The memory of how his father tasted was sharp and sour in his throat. What other choice did he have in the end? How else could it have possibly gone? He’d made his decisions and his father had made his own—the carnage that had followed was only natural in the same awful, inevitable way of a hurricane or earthquake.

“You made it difficult for me, as I knew you would,” Hannibal said to him, sighing softly. “No pattern, no trace, erratic in your movements but for one irresistible urge to come home.”

Will took a dragging breath, the wet warmth of his tears spilling down his face.

“Knowing that, I only needed to bide my time,” Hannibal said.

“You bought the house, my house,” Will whispered. He could barely hear himself over the sound of his mother’s screaming, echoing over and over in his head.

“I did. It was your first instinct when I changed you. I knew you would come back eventually,” Hannibal’s fingers moved from his hair to his nape, knuckles lightly grazing the tender skin there. “I kept it as well as I could, updating it over time, hoping that it would be enough to remind you. It was a dangerous game we played, as Mathilda can attest. I returned as was safe and hoped circumstance would allow us to meet. When I first saw you again, Will, so lost in thought at that opening, I realized that you’d forgotten everything. You sacrificed your memories on the altar of your peace and then spent all of your time trying to get them back again. You set yourself running in circles, remaking yourself into an angel of mercy trying to give others the peace that you were unable to grant to your family.”

“All this time,” Will breathed, a slight, wry smile curving his lips. “It was you.”

The silence behind him stretched taut. He started slightly when Hannibal said, “Yes, Will. Your mind refused to see me as I am. It made me something entirely…other.”

“You took me,” Will said, the words bitter, his lids sweeping closed on more tears. He wept for the boy he’d been, seduced by someone who knew all too well what he was doing. He wept for the man he might have become one day, for the ending he might have met, for the family he could have had and all the tiny details he would never get to know. He wept for the family he’d destroyed in one fell swoop, an eternity paid for in his very own blood. “You created me in your image.”

“As God created man,” Hannibal said, both hands on Will’s shoulders, now, squeezing tight. “You are the pinnacle of my art, Will, my masterpiece. No other creation has ever connected with me as you have.”

“Is that what these are?” Will asked, wondering how they’d failed him, these empty, bleached pieces of bone. “Your…children?”

“Does that bother you?”

“No,” Will answered, looking at each one in turn as Hannibal did, each one somehow defective in his eyes, lacking some substance he’d been seeking. “They’re just…pathetic reproductions of your defining work.”

“You always did understand me, Will. Absolutely and completely and in ways I’d never dared hope,” Hannibal whispered, tugging Will to lean back against his parted legs. He tipped Will’s head up, fingers stroking the long column of his throat. “What do you see here, Will? What do you see before you, tucked away in the darkest corner of this house?”

“Affection,” Will said, seeing them for what they were, each carefully preserved, gently held within their own glass house, eternal reminders of their short, furious burst of immortality and what Hannibal had found in them. “But not love.”

“No,” Hannibal sighed, thumbs pressing the corners of Will’s mouth, his downturned face full of wistful longing, as if he wished he could feel such a thing for them. “No matter how I tried, I could never replace you, Will. It was folly to even try.”

Will breathed softly, staring up into Hannibal’s glimmering amber eyes. He saw his own reflection there at long last, his languid eyes and sharp intelligence wrapped in a deceptively innocent face, his age only showing in his jaded, weary gaze.

“I gave you a choice once, long ago,” Hannibal said, solemn and cautious. “Now I offer you another. Would you have me unmake the decision you made then, Will? Lay your soul to rest with those of your lost family and place your skull inside a jar of its very own? Or would you rather finally dare to live as a lion in this world instead of a silent shadow?”

Will blinked slowly, all artifice lost to him. The heavy weight of his past jostled around his neck like a yoke, pulling him towards a decision not his own. How much guilt was he willing to bear? How much longer would he punish himself for what he’d done?

“Would you do that for me, Hannibal, if I asked?” he whispered, his lips brushing Hannibal’s thumbs as they traced the fullness of his mouth.

“Is there anything in this world I wouldn’t do for you, Will?” Hannibal murmured. “Should you dare to ask, I would dare to give it, even my beating heart.”

He hadn’t fought back. Will remembered that now. He’d stood there with Will’s fingers reaching for his heart and he’d just…allowed it.

“Do you still love me, Hannibal?” he whispered, his hazy eyes fixed on the man’s downturned face.

“From the moment you looked at me and saw beauty where others saw only horror and fear,” Hannibal murmured to him, his fingers reverently brushing over Will’s solemn face once more. “It has never once wavered nor changed, Will. It is constant as darkness is constant, always there and always waiting.”

Will sighed, eyes sweeping closed again, the tension running out of him in a wash of relief.

“What will we do?” he asked, his voice a lilting whisper in the widening silence.

“Should our plans now change?” Hannibal asked. His hands were warm and covetous. “I have had many lives over time, lived in many different places as many different people. It will be no different for you.”

“Many different lives,” Will whispered. “But only one name.”

It made him smile, his Ravenstag, his creature of myth and darkness. Made him smile and say with those sharp teeth flashing, “Oh, yes. Only that name. I’m afraid it’s the only one to suit me.”

Will gazed at him, fascinated by the reflection he saw now, awed that he hadn’t seen it before. His voice wavered when he asked, “Will you tell me what we are?”

Hannibal’s smile widened, his dark eyes crinkling with delight. “I will tell you everything, Will. From the very beginning. We have forever for discussions such as these, after all. Eternity is a very long time.”

Will laughed again, thinking of how long two hundred years had felt and how quickly his time in Hannibal’s keeping had gone.

“How will you answer me?” Hannibal gently asked, tracing the column of his throat. “Shall I unmake you with the same ferocity that I made you, Will?”

Will shook his head, the movement almost imperceptible but not lost on the man watching him so keenly.

“I want what you want when you tell me to want it, Hannibal,” he said, his voice silky with anticipation, with pure potential. “Bring me out into your world with you and destroy the old one behind us.”

Hannibal smiled, his own sharp, heavy teeth revealed in full, pleased with him.

“For you,” he purred, drawing Will to his feet. “I would set fire to the world itself.”

Will smiled, the weight of the yoke falling from his shoulders, all sins forgiven and all else before him.

“Not yet,” he said. Home settled around him as powerful arms and a broad chest. The solace he’d spent two hundred years searching for smelled of cardamom and heat, coiling around him with every intention to devour, secure in his intention to not be devoured. Boredom would no longer be an issue, not when he was mingling with Hannibal, a single soul in two bodies, a never ending flow of reciprocity. With a content, delighted smile, he added, “Someday, perhaps. We’ll do it together, burn the world down around us while we laugh.”

“For now, let us settle for dealing with Jack Crawford and leaving the country,” Hannibal said, nuzzling his ear so that Will shivered, delighted.

“I’ve always wanted to see Europe,” Will admitted, his fingers dancing over Hannibal’s skin because they could, because it was allowed, because there were no more secrets between them. “And to see where you come from.”

“Then we will go there,” the Ravenstag said. “I promised you everything, Will. And I always keep my promises.”

Hannibal kissed him, then, ravenous and heady with desire.  Will tasted the distinct flavor of his own unique brand of love, suitable for something as complex as Hannibal Lecter. It was a fine wine, this love, tasting of death and cruelty and exhilarating possession.

And Will knew with utter certainty that he would never need anything more to sustain him over the long forever of his brand new life than this thrilling, bitter taste.


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