Ch. 1: A Work, Interrupted

Notes: Inspired by the Hannibal auction and all the curious little details literally in the seams of the show’s production. My first foray into this glorious, awesome fandom. Why wasn’t I here earlier!? I hope you enjoy this short story. It’s rather intimidating to add an entry among such an incredible crew of accomplished writers!


 

They hit the punishing wall of water together, breaking the waves and slipping down into the inky abyss. The cold hits moments later and slices them into gory ribbons. Hannibal’s hand goes slack in his and Will frantically clutches it. He cannot let go. It is his only thought. His arm reaches for the rest of the man, but there is nothing but a void and noise. Bubbles everywhere and none to breathe. A rush of seawater scalds his lungs; Hannibal’s name is a drowned scream in his throat. The Atlantic pulls them in every direction, pulls them apart, rushes them together. Will’s legs flail pointlessly against the tumult.

Somewhere beyond the flesh of Hannibal’s hand is an anchor of uncooperative weight, threatening to break loose with every swell and plummet. Will cannot let go. He struggles with violence and clarity. Surely the ocean is no match for them – not as they are now, unified in purpose, whole at last. Nature ought to yield in their embrace. Swallow them whole or spit them out. She does not. She cannot see. From deep within, Will summons a matchless, bottomless outrage. He survives. This is his design.

The first burst of oxygen into his lungs burns worse than the water. The sounds his body makes are alien. He breathes and breathes and breathes. There still isn’t enough air. Gouts of his own hot blood are pouring down his face and chest and only when he realizes that he’s warming himself from the outside in does he crack his salted eyes. His hands are buried in the sand. He is holding on to nothing.

<> 

Will wakes in a pool of sweat, his t-shirt soaking. The sheets are hot ligatures around him and he tears them off in a single motion. It is always the same part of the dream that wrenches him to consciousness – the part of the memory he is not sure is real or imagined.

His mouth is on Hannibal’s, then his overlapped palms pound rhythmically against his chest. He listens again to the cold silence of the drowned man’s heart and begins pumping again, pushing his very life into him. Survive, he screams, filling Hannibal’s lungs with his own breath. The first sluggish heartbeat still echoes in his mind. The only sound he hears after it is the choking gag Hannibal makes when he vomits a flood of blood and ocean into the sand. Then there is nothing. The dream ends and he is always awake.

Will pours a shaky splash of scotch in a tumbler and downs it. He doesn’t try to sleep. There is no sleeping when he wakes, again, still alone and hands empty. 

<> 

The first time he woke in this new life beyond death was to the sight of faces suspended over the bleary cap of an oxygen mask. “Mr. Graham,” the medic shouts too loud. “Do you remember what happened?”

“Hannibal,” he manages, trying to pull off the mask that obscures his thin voice. He meant it as a question. The medic took it for an answer. Maybe it is both. Hannibal would like that, narcissist that he is. Will laughs weakly at his own joke and the medic tightens the elastic around the padding on his ruined cheek. He tells Will it’s going to be okay. Will Graham has never been okay. Now would be a terrible time to start. 

<> 

The following days and months blur into an unfocused medical phantasm. The ambulance became the ER, then the ICU, and later, the psychiatric ward.

Molly visits and leaves almost as quickly. Telling her outright that he is never coming home seems only fair. Jack arrives and so does Alana. Beverly and Abigail come too, although they are dead and their ghosts are silent. But then so are the living, mostly. They each want answers where Will has none. Jack, true to form, loses his patience first.

“Did. He. Die. Will,” Jack bellows in punctuated bursts. “I need to know. I’ve got the entire eastern branch of the U.S. Coast Guard out there looking and they’re pulling up nothing but kelp. We’ve got nothing. You have to remember something – ”

Will turns his head to look out the modest window of his hospital room. The flat gray sky yields no response. “What hospital am I in?” he asks instead.

 Outside blackbirds twist in the cold and dart and dive in pairs. He wishes he could fly away with them, but his wings are far blacker and cast too many shadows. He should have fled much, much sooner. Jack is steadfastly suspicious of him, a bloodhound on the trail of Will’s equivocations and half-truths. He leaves and returns, day after day. Without fail Will looks up from where he is buried in his hospital bed with a hope that falls flat. It is always the wrong silhouette shading his doorway. Alana eventually intervenes with Jack, always content to play the protector, still willing herself to be blind to the profound darkness in others. The shadows of visitors lessen, though what lingers is far worse. There is nothing in this world left untouched by Hannibal’s influence. Will cannot go back to a time or place before him. 

<> 

He is still convalescing, bedridden but now upright, when the lawyers come with papers. Something to do with Dr. Lecter’s death and would he sign and sure, sure – anything to send them away and stop saying that name. The nurses hover and fuss with his cables and wires and give him endless miniature paper cups of pills and water. He takes all of their manhandling without complaint.

Only when the fame-thirsty psychiatrists arrive does he resist. They present themselves in full deprecation, laying out their qualifications like offerings, desperate to take a tumble in his mind. There would be no consent to ‘examine’ him. He has a psychiatrist.

“Who tried to kill you, Agent Graham. Who is now dead,” replies one overconfident doctor to his rejection. He speaks of Hannibal dying with far too much glee. An impulse wells up within Will, unflinching and pure in its hate. Hannibal would breathe steadily over that ember until it burst into flames. Will meets the man’s gaze with steely eyes.

“Perhaps you ought to visit with Dr. Chilton instead? It might be enlightening to see the result of that ‘collaboration,’” he says mockingly, clicking his teeth.

The prospective doctor pales first, then begins to sweat. He scrambles to gather his papers and clamors backwards out the door with excuses and apologies. The truth, however, is plain in his terror. He is not prepared to understand whatever Will Graham is.

Appallingly rude of you, Will, he imagines Hannibal might say.

Will smiles. Not nearly rude enough, he counters and he knows Hannibal’s eyes would dance in delight.

Conjuring Hannibal is a step too far. His presence reactivates, grows bold, and crackles over Will’s skin like charged air in a storm. Will allows the specter to settle around his shoulders. He isn’t sure how long it rests there before he pulls it closer. He wraps himself in memory, channeling the person Hannibal wore over the monster. Its twin lives beneath his skin – the very same shadow he’d hidden in himself for so long.

No one bothers Will again following his threat to the psychiatrist. He asks only to have the respite of his room. The staff seem relieved that he refuses to participate in the glue-stick and papier mâché classes they call therapy. Left to his own devices, his physical wounds begin to heal. The stiches and casts and bandages peel off in turns, revealing the shell of a man who bears many scars.

Scars to remind you that the past was real, chimes the warm, accented voice in his head.

“We gave each other so many scars, Hannibal.” Will absentmindedly strokes the marred flesh that sits low on his belly. The touch makes him shiver. “We were more real than anything I’ve ever known. I just…I wasn’t ready to see.”

And when you saw?

“I gave us what we love.”

The poetry of life at the edge of death.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

It was beautiful, Will.

Even as his body regains its strength, his mind remains the same. He doesn’t want it to heal from all that transpired. He needs to feel the tender chords that sear him straight through, that open him up to himself. He dines on this buffet of self-discovery. Every mysterious cut was placed with such exacting care. Every incision was he and Hannibal’s doing, the result of their pas de deux. For every step of Hannibal’s guidance, there was Will’s resistance. With each act of Hannibal’s outrageous meddling, Will matched it with cruel manipulation.

In the solace of his room and in the darkness of the night, Will plucks at these strings to discover what songs they might yield. He does not yet understand their composition without Hannibal. He cannot imagine what choreography they require. It was all a work in progress. A work, interrupted. 

<> 

It is spring when he signs himself out. On the steps of the hospital, Will expects the first lungful of air without the acrid sting of disinfectants will invigorate him. Instead, the freedom cloys at him. He doesn’t hesitate. Like a guileless leaf twisting on the back of a breeze, instinct carries him to Bedelia du Maurier’s front stoop. He rings the bell once, then twice.

Bedelia answers the door and, as if expecting him all along, lets him in without comment. Her red dress is slit thigh-high and draws attention away from the prosthetic leg she now wears on the other, unexposed limb. In her innocuous sitting room, they settle into overstuffed armchairs and Will sips at the sweet amber liquid she has poured him. Neither exert themselves with pointless small talk.

“You believe he is still alive.”

Will gives a shattered smile and stares into his glass. He nods.

“And you are afraid it is just a fantasy.”

“I saw myself giving him CPR. I resuscitated him.” The admission feels foreign on his lips. He’s told no one until now.

“It could be a fervent wish,” she says, knowing his perfect empathy often left him unable to discern between reality and unreality.

“It could be the truth,” he counters.

Jack and company had scoured the Atlantic for weeks. They wanted the proof – the tattered, bloated remains of a monster. They found none. The fact lay raw and open before Bedelia and Will. It is deafening and it haunts every corner of the universe with its unconsummated possibility.

“He is either dead or he is alive,” Bedelia says.

“Either way, we are going to live in the ellipsis of those prospects.”

“Waiting indefinitely for the incontrovertible.”

“Suspended living.”

“Like vegetables,” she says with a little quirk in her mouth.

Will laughs and rubs his beard. He’s pretty sure he can hear Hannibal humming his enjoyment too. “We’ll wait, Bedelia, until the waiting itself destroys us.”

“Or he returns to do the job himself.”

“You play, you pay, doctor.”

To that, she raises her glass.

They talk until the sun grows low. Bedelia invites him to stay for supper. They eat at her kitchen island in simple elegance, serving themselves from a common dish, a fluttering taper candle between them.

“This is…intimate,” he observes.

“You are horrifyingly familiar,” she says.

“Do you still have it?” he asks of the leg she’d severed herself. He doesn’t need to ask whether she had set a table set for three. He already knows it was.

“I do.” He glances at her freezer. Such a foolish error to think she could bargain with the devil. “No reprimands for me?”

He gives her a sympathetic smile. “Is it important to you that I say you made a mistake? No one can plan for Hannibal when he happens to you.”

Bedelia arches her eyebrows in amusement and bites slice of roasted new potato with precision.

Near midnight, Bedelia directs him to the guest room Hannibal had preferred. Will follows her wordlessly. There is no awkward discussion of desires and motivations. Will needs some kind of proxy to digest what he has done. Bedelia is not unsympathetic, exactly, though the sound of the deadbolt locking on her boudoir door speaks volumes. Out of the scrutiny of her chilly, calculating stare, Will unravels his carefully coiled empathy. He lets it run riot over surfaces, everywhere finding hints of Hannibal hanging on the dust and shadows and scents long gone cold.

The same night terror wakes Will like clockwork in the small hour before dawn. The same drowning, the same resurrection. He finds a stack of Hannibal’s crisply pressed dress shirts and slacks in the top drawer of an otherwise empty dresser. The shirt is too broad in the shoulders and the cuffs hang over his wrists. Watching his reflection in the frame over the armoire, he sees himself take on a decided shape. He grows more distinct and unwavering with each button he fastens.

He had tried, not very subtly or successfully, to up his sartorial game in order to better play the lure for Hannibal. His father taught him that using the right bait is important. It shows a certain respect and understanding of a predator. His feeble attempt culminated in Chiyoh shooting a hole in the beautiful blazer he’d had made to wear in Europe. How Hannibal’s eyes had blazed with fury when he recognized his own tailor’s signature stitching in the shredded lining. His Patroclus cut down in borrowed armor.

Will tries a pair of pants. They are loose as well. The clothes Alana brought him at the hospital lay rumpled pathetically on the floor. Poorly made and utilitarian, just like the mask he’d tried to wear for so long. He tosses them into the waste bin with distain. He would borrow Hannibal’s armor a little longer until he could find his own.

Before Will leaves, he sets out a plate with a toasted bagel and slices of smoked salmon, garnished with capers and sprigs of dill. He covers it carefully in plastic wrap and leaves a note thanking Bedelia for her hospitality. It is a pathetic attempt, he knows, but an attempt nevertheless. He has nothing but time now to learn. 

<> 

In Wolf Trap, Will passes his former home. The new owners had repainted it and landscaped the surrounding grounds into a proper yard. It sparks nothing but indifference. If he were to dwell on it further, it might even inspire contempt. For all his finicky and refined tastes, Hannibal never once begrudged him for his ramshackle lifestyle. He only ever wanted to be a better refuge than Will’s collection of broken motors and abandoned dogs.

They were not worthy reflections of you, Hannibal whispers.

Will keeps driving. “No, they were the reflections of a man who had convinced himself he should be discarded too.”

Your mother abandoned you.

“Really? You’re going with Mommy issues? Such blunt psychoanalysis is beneath you, Dr. Lecter.”

Will continues up the winding road to an old neighbor who had agreed to look after his boat. It was the only thing of his life here that he had left behind. He had not planned to retrieve it and yet he knew he would retrieve it if he needed a different plan. When had he started living this way, chasing two opposing streams at once? Was it the day he met Hannibal or sometime after? No single moment stands out. It was every moment he had ever spent with the man. 

<> 

After locating the boat trailer in a weed-strewn patch, it took several days to repair damages the craft had suffered after years of neglect.  Once completed, Will stocks the craft fully and heads straight to sea. For weeks he sails aimlessly up and down the eastern seaboard, always circling back to find himself exactly where he figures he’ll always be – the rocky cliffs where he and Hannibal fell. He finds spits of sand and stone that might have been the shoreline where they landed, but none correspond exactly to the image in his head. It is too full of Hannibal’s ashen face, his sodden hair, and slack, watery mouth. The undefined edges of the dreamy memory upset him and taunt him with doubt.

“It is 4:43am. I am sailing due west at three knots. I am looking for you,” he says out loud. He takes a reading off his GPS and jots it in his notebook. For good measure, he draws a small clock face beside the coordinates. This marker will take its designated place in the string of sites that compose his pilgrimage. On these beaches, he sits for hours as the tide draws out and the sun drops down. Sometimes he reads from a water-damaged copy of Walt Whitman and hears Hannibal’s little huff of a laugh at certain passages which Will then dog-ears to revisit. Other times they talk – about everything and nothing. More often than not, he imagines the shock of Hannibal’s fingers suddenly settling on his shoulder and how he would say “Hello, Will,” and the rumble of his liquid voice would warm his belly. Will waits for the shock and the shock does not come, so he travels in circles and continues to wait. 

<> 

When he can no longer bear waiting alone, he visits Bedelia again. In his absence, various lawyers had come calling. Bedelia took the liberty of intervening on his behalf, much to Jack’s suspicion and chagrin. Molly had served him with divorce papers as he had gently suggested. These were straightforward. Less so were the files from Hannibal’s lawyers. Bedelia lays out the paperwork in orderly stacks for him to inspect. Will’s confusion is smattered plainly on his face.

“Hannibal had a living will,” she calmly explains. “It seems, Will, that you are now an extraordinarily wealthy man.”

Hannibal had left everything to him.

“His living Will,” he says joylessly. “His grave and his heir. A modern tragedy all put together at wrong angles. I wasn’t supposed to survive. Or he wasn’t supposed to die. Not one without the other.”

“You are indulging in the macabre.”

“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think, Bedelia?” He touches her plastic limb with a meaningful look and signs on the dotted line.

Days pass before Bedelia prods him over the logistics of the estate. Will immediately resolves that Hannibal’s Baltimore property should remain untouched. He cannot bear to see its lavish furnishings covered in plastic sheeting like more of Hannibal’s victims in the morgue. When Bedelia suggests he might like to have his grey leather chairs, the thought of them empty, still opposing each other and collecting dust, renders him inconsolable. She is forced to sedate him for nearly a day lest he destroy his liver hunting for absolution at the bottom of a bottle. In the end, a housekeeper is sent to retrieve a single item – the cire perdue elk sculpture from the office suite. Beyond these first simple decisions, he does not know how to be someone with this much money, let alone be someone who knows what to do with it.

I gave you a great gift, Will. Hannibal is looming over his shoulder, simmering underneath his calm.

“To reject it would be unspeakably rude,” he reasons. “You’ve given me everything you had.”

Just so, dear boy. Just so.

“I accept it. I accept you, Hannibal. I always have. I just didn’t accept how much of you I recognized in myself.”

For reasons Will isn’t sure he wants to know, Bedelia decides to play the ally, passing along recommendations and making introductions. She helps Will book appointments in dramatically lit studios that stock too little and are stuffed with too many wait staff.  Bedelia invariably accompanies him, a beautiful prop in another beautiful store. She is ever at his elbow with helpful suggestions to speed along his transformation. It feels right. Overdue, perhaps. Will Graham no longer hides behind shuffling, baggy clothes and slipping glasses.

Will sells his ramshackle boat and replaces it with something far sleeker. He anchors it below Hannibal’s oceanside home. It is now his home. Staggering amounts of money allow for staggering architectural feats, he learns. Within months, the rock face supporting the house is reinforced. Their bluff will hold, for now.

Hannibal’s suits are gently pushed aside to make room for the bespoke clothing Will commissions. He uses different tailors and different fabrics, half-Windsor knots for his ties and absolutely no bold windowpane patterns under any circumstances. He prefers waistcoats without jackets and Chelsea boots over Oxfords. His grooming regimen is still simple, but with far finer products for his skin and hair. It is not straightforward sentimentalism, nor is it tawdry mimicry. His new armor is his own – unique and seductive. He is Will with a broadened palate, so to speak. Will – hidden in plain sight.

He now has more than enough time to indulge the past times he neglected or was too poor to attempt. The harpsichord in the living room is put in climate controlled storage and replaced with a suitable baby grand. He attends tastings of rare whisky breeds and builds a respectable collection. He even takes private cooking lessons with a Catalan chef and discovers his appreciation of all things porcine. Bedelia comes for dinner sometimes. Their ritual is always the same. They cook together in the generous kitchen, constructing sumptuous tableaux and passing their evenings in pleasant charade. There is only one rule and it is easy, because it is the one thing neither of them can forget: they never, ever speak of Hannibal.

When she leaves, he is alone. Will invites no other company and hosts no other guests. When loneliness begins to nag at him and it does, he must admit, visit often, he pulls up anchor and takes to the sea. He circles the sound and he watches and he waits.

He always comes back emptyhanded. 

<> 

 Alana brazenly shows up on in his portico one afternoon with demands and accusations.

“Will,” she says and her eyes go a little wide when she sees him. “I’ve been worried about you.”

He drops the long arm that bars the doorway and ushers her in. Her gaze lingers on his clean-shaven face and the long, foppish curls he’s grown out and styled. He looks a decade younger. He’s dressed as someone unattainable, someone too pretty to be entirely real. When he offers her a seat, Alana refuses and paces the living room. She’s spent half the drive out working herself into a state only to be thrown off course completely by what she finds. Will watches her wind herself up from the settee, arms spread wide and bare feet strong and suggestive in the thick carpeting. The open buttons trailing the collar of his throat are obscene. He is leonine and virile in a way she had refused to see and now that he is wielding his beauty so expertly it cannot be ignored. He smiles just enough to appear pleasant and waits, curious to see the lengths she will go to tell him her version of what is best for him. In no time at all, she does. He weathers it impassively, her tangle of emotions surgically locked out of his head.

“You’ve got to stop whatever this is. Cutting ties to everyone you know, shutting yourself away…being here is toxic for you, Will. You can’t move past your trauma if you cling to it.”

“Who says I am trying to move past it?”

“Who are you? I feel like I don’t even know you anymore! The Will Graham I know would never -”

Her audacity rouses the beast in him and he rises to his full height.

A scandalous lack of decorumDr. Bloom, Hannibal supplies.

“I outgrew the Will Graham you knew a long time ago. Now if you don’t mind, I must ask you to go.”

She protests, rather indignantly. “I think you’re having some kind of a psychotic break. Please, let me help you.”

“I don’t recall seeking out your advice, Alana. I owe you no explanations and I am absolutely done being every else’s broken plaything. Now please, let me see you out.” He has corralled her back into the entryway and nearly has her out the door.

“Hannibal is dead, Will,” she hisses at him and the words curdle his blood. The flame of anger spreads through his limbs and he curls his fist in his pants pocket. He knows if she doesn’t leave immediately, this will get very ugly, very fast.

“For your sake, I hope you’re right. After all, Hannibal always keeps his promises.” He slams the door in her slack-jawed face.

By the week’s end, he has a construction team install a formidable gate around the property. The only way to enter the grounds now is to be buzzed in like a proper guest or to summit the treacherous stairwell carved into the wet stone of the cliff. The stairwell is not visible from the water down below. It’s concealed among the twisted, unforgiving edges of granite. Only someone who had explored these beaches well would know.

Someone like me? Hannibal teases.

“Please let it be you,” Will says. “Please, Hannibal. Come back to me.”

 



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