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"Rognons blancs persillés à la sauce Xerès," Hannibal said, "accompanied by glazed fingerling potatoes and a salade de fantasie of baby turnips." He set the two plates down with his usual economical flourish.

"It looks lovely," Will said, flatly. He drank some wine.

Hannibal had stopped aiming at lovely weeks ago. The fantasie looked to be a pile of damp soil, like a very small fresh grave, from which the turnips poked (green tops and all) as if from a seedling carton. Hannibal had selected them whimsically for a mandrake-like growth pattern: Will suspected that, were he to cut into one, it would begin to scream thinly. He dismissed the thought, speared the largest of the lot, and popped it into his mouth whole. Roasted sweetness and the rich, autumnal flavours of sherry vinegar and olive oil exploded in his mouth. After some thought, he identified the "soil" as toasted pumpernickel crumbs.

The rognons – simply presented in comparison to the vegetables – were round beige slices of something or other in a swirl of green sauce, creamy and tangy and entirely mysterious. Hannibal, unusually, didn't volunteer information, and Will didn't ask. Delicious and unidentifiable were the best scenario he could hope for, under the circumstances.

He had downed two glasses of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and nearly finished his plate before he realized he'd stopped paying attention to the conversation. Hannibal was saying something about the cyclical nature of time, occasionally gesturing with his fork for emphasis. Will let the words wash over him and watched his lips move instead. Hannibal had a fine, mobile mouth, that sometimes betrayed irritation or intrigue before his eyes were allowed to; it seemed to Will that it would respond readily if kissed. Alana would know, of course – could even compare – but Will was in no position to ask for details.

Hannibal never smiled with his teeth. But they were sharp, in Will's dreams, around a mouthful of blood; and his dreams of Hannibal were always true.

No one can be fully aware of another human being unless we love them...

Will swallowed. He felt suddenly warm, overly aware of the position of his body, the friction of cloth enveloping skin as he fidgeted. Energy seemed to coil at the base of his spine, making it difficult to sit still. At the same time he had the abrupt sensation of standing beside himself, observing the two of them dine. Hannibal, all the while speaking, was watching Will's mouth as he ate. Then Will looked up, and he dropped his gaze. The mahogany table felt like a hopeless barrier.

He wants to be kissed, Will thought. It was a line of reasoning he'd assiduously avoided, though he could no longer remember why. It's unfair, isn't it, that he can't be touched? He touches me whenever he thinks he can get away with it. He always has. I can do anything I like to him and it wouldn't make up for all the—the—

What?

Will blinked down at the knife and fork in his hands. After a moment he set them down in the finished position and leant back in his chair. Hannibal noticed and frowned, slightly, abandoning his sentence midway.

"What is it, Will?"

Will said, "Did you drug my food?"

Hannibal stared at him, unblinking. It was the blankness he reverted to when he had no human emotion at the ready and had to muster a response from scratch, which told Will he was genuinely taken aback. But the pause dragged on: two seconds – three seconds longer than it should have, and Hannibal's gaze turned inward. Will noticed that his eyes were slightly unfocussed.

"No," he said, "however," then in a firmer tone of voice, "you must excuse me for a moment, Will."

Then he stood up, dropped his napkin by his plate, and walked off in the direction of the kitchen.

Will gazed forlornly at his retreating back. He cast a glance around the dining room, as if the candlesticks and lugubrious flower centrepiece and Leda frolicking with her swan were able to provide some degree of insight. None was to be found. Nevertheless, despite the imminent derailing of the evening's festivities, Will found his mood rapidly improving. Nothing was as complex as it appeared to be. In fact Will's life was for the moment blissfully simple. Hannibal hadn't actually run away; he was only in the kitchen. He was waiting, there, for Will.

Will sighed and stood, brushing a few stray pumpernickel crumbs from his lap. He was aware, on a pleasantly abstract intellectual level that by this point had no relevance to his actions, that something had gone terribly wrong.

 

* * *

 

Jack had asked about it, once. The conversation had been awkward, a fact Will laid – one among many in a bouquet of discomforts – at the feet of Freddie Lounds, who hadn't bothered to moderate her language.

Once she'd understood what was going on, anyway.

"You know," she'd said, "I was sure Alana Bloom had to be sleeping with one or even both of you. But it hadn't occurred to me that the two of you could be sleeping together. How very heterocentrist of me; I do apologize."

Will had glared and said nothing. Freddie became quietly, viciously practical when in fear for her life; no doubt she had still been afraid, and thus had remained merely vicious. Will had tied her to a chair in his barn and kept her there until Jack arrived, because he hadn't trusted her to trust him enough not to attempt some flashy gambit if he set her free, despite her assurances (and insults) to the contrary. It had been their entire relationship in miniature.

"I admire your dedication to the cause," she'd said. "This little honeypot operation – it's not just sex, is it? It's the 24-hour, full-serve boyfriend experience. What's that like? Does he make you romantic dinners for two? Is it convincing? Are you convincing? You should talk to me, Will. I drove all the way out here for our interview. The readers have a right to know if the cannibalistic serial killer is as orally fixated as you'd – what are you doing?"

Will had loomed over her, calibrating his glare for maximum creep. "I need some DNA from you," he'd said. "Preferably blood."

"No, you don't," Freddie'd said, but it had shut her up.

She'd talked to Jack on the way to protective custody, though. Jack had played it close to the vest, as was his wont where Hannibal was concerned, but he had stewed. After the desecration of Freddie's fake grave and Alana's comment about courtship, Jack had taken Will aside and demanded with no preamble, "Is she right?"

"Is who right about what, exactly?" Will had said, though he'd known very well.

"You know very well," Jack had said, in a muffled register. In a closed office he would have boomed. He'd pointed a finger at Will. "You and Hannibal. Is it a sex thing?"

Jack had a way of asking questions that let one know, in no uncertain terms, that there was a correct answer that would salvage the conversation, and incorrect ones that would fail to do so. "What?" Will had said. "No. No, of course not."

"Are you sure it's not a sex thing?"

"He wants to be my friend," Will had said, "and he's much more interested in murder than in sex."

Neither part was a lie. He'd barely left Jack with a misconception; which was to say, the plan didn't need to be a sex thing to work, and Will had no intention of making it one.

 

* * *

 

Hannibal was in the kitchen. He leant against the station where he normally prepared his mise en place, both hands resting on the countertop, staring at a spot of nothing in particular. He'd taken off his suit jacket; it was hanging neatly off the back of a chair.

The jacket was beautiful, in its intrinsic, ineffably physical jacket-ness. The chair was beautiful too. The stainless steel table was beautiful. Everything in the kitchen was miraculously extant in the world. Hannibal, standing there motionless at the centre, was infuriatingly lovely, and loved. Emotion bubbled up inside Will, light and warm.

"I'm not sure how much I want to know about what we just ate," he said, "but, ah, they must have been quite the character."

"Mm," Hannibal said. He seemed distracted by Will's eyes. "He... was a Yogi, I'm told."

"A Yogi," Will said. "A Yogi."

"One of those urban ascetics who subsist on fruit and kombucha and blended greens. Still very much a young man." Hannibal gestured vaguely in the general direction of the freezer. "The amourettes can be choice, in a young grass-fed animal. I admit it was an experiment."

"I don't understand," Will said, "how a Yogi ended up in this way. You'd think the enlightened wouldn't be rude. No, stay, stay right there"

Hannibal stayed. Will put a hand on either side of his deceptively slim waist to keep him in place, and leaned in, nosing at the gap between throat and shirt collar. This, too, was merely turning the tables, though Will's senses were less finely tuned, and he had to press correspondingly closer. Hannibal smelled of warm, clean skin, and faintly of basil and rosemary: traces of cologne water or cookery. Will half-expected the wendigo to manifest, in its effluvia of leaf-rot and old blood, but Hannibal remained stubbornly human-shaped in his arms.

"Will," he said, sounding strained. He touched Will's hands, running his fingers up Will's biceps, uncertain.

"I get it," Will murmured. "Psychopathy isn't inflammatory – it doesn't have a scent." The thought made him smile, lips curving against Hannibal's pulse point.

Hannibal said nothing. He gripped Will by the elbows, then went for broke and grabbed Will's ass with both hands, dragging him close and nearly up on his toes. Will laughed and tilted his head to be kissed. Desire rose in him, golden and irresistible, like water through the cut stem of a flower.

Hannibal did have sharp teeth. But he did not employ them indiscriminately.

"Take this off," Will said against his lips, once they'd broken apart for air. He pulled Hannibal's shirt tails out of his trousers, rucking them up in a search for skin. "Come on, please."

Hannibal swallowed. His eyes were closed, but he hadn't loosened his grip on Will at all. Will could feel his erection through the intervening layers of fine wool and cotton blend, a sizeably hard line against his thigh. It made him want all that fabric out of the way.

"If you," Hannibal said, "if you – come upstairs, I will."

 

* * *

 

Will had never seen Hannibal's bedroom, though he had imagined it, in the periphery of his obsessive conviction that Hannibal was sleeping, rising, dressing, undressing, at the same time as Will himself did: a vague sense of fine dark woods and cool brocade. He wasn't far off.

He didn't expect the samurai armour glaring through the doorway like a bad-tempered chaperone, though. Nor the long mirror above the fireplace, angled such that the occupants of the bed could watch themselves disport, without committing the error of taste of a ceiling view. To be fair, it was the bedroom of a man who expected to have sex on occasion, even if it were weirdly aestheticized and performative sex. Will knew that was more than could be said of his own truckle-bed-in-the-parlour setup.

Hannibal did not seem interested in aesthetic performance. He had gone unnervingly quiet. Will pulled his own shirt over his head and focussed on undoing Hannibal's fiddly buttons, allowing himself to be walked backward until his knees hit the edge of the bed. There was a momentary loss of balance, and then Hannibal shoved him. Will fell supine onto silk sheets; Hannibal took hold of his ankles in the same motion and shunted him forward; the sheets proved frictionless. Will flailed for a second, and then his wrists were pinned and the rest of Hannibal's weight came down on his lower body, effectively immobilizing him.

He blinked up at Hannibal, who watched him with dark, lost eyes. The world narrowed to the feedback loop of their gazes and bodies. Will felt it like a completed circuit; like the triggering of a trap. He had the vague image of something caught and struggling, afraid without knowing what fear was, and if he weren't sunk in profound and measureless delight he might have felt sorry for it.

"It's all right," he said, "I'm here. I love you. You know I love you, don't you?"

He couldn't tell if it registered. To be honest he didn't think he knew what that would look like. Hannibal stared back at him a moment longer, then sat back on his knees, and very efficiently stripped Will of his trousers and boxer shorts. Will propped himself up on an elbow, reached out, and touched his face. Brushed his hair back from where it had fallen over his eyes.

"Hannibal," he said, "talk to me."

"You never say my name," Hannibal said, voice roughened to the point that he was hard to understand. "To others, perhaps, but not in our conversations."

Will was unsure what to do with that, the more so because he knew it to be true. "Come here," he said instead, curving his fingers around the nape of Hannibal's neck. Hannibal turned his head and kissed Will's wrist. Will sat up all the way and pulled him close, pushing the now-undone shirt off his shoulders.

It felt good to have Hannibal against him, like this: skin against skin, warm and no distance at all. There always had to be distance, in mind or in body, or he would be lost, and the entire exhausting, lonely struggle would have been for nothing. But for the moment Will was whole and at ease – all his wants and needs aligned – and Hannibal was his. His to do with as he liked. Will could see it clearly: a touch here, a slight pressure there, and Hannibal would come apart in Will's hands; he would never be right again afterward, never the same.

And then what would happen?

That's how he thinks of me, Will thought, suddenly. He wants to watch me fall to pieces, because he's never learnt how it's done. He kissed Hannibal again, and was bitten this time for his trouble. Sharp pang and the taste of blood, and that was good too.

"You should kill me," Hannibal murmured, hardly more than a sub-vocalization against the corner of Will's mouth. He licked blood from Will's lower lip and ran his hands down Will's back, nails digging into the swell of his ass. "With your hands, the way you imagined." Will shoved Hannibal's trousers out of the way and took his cock in hand, jerking it slowly. It seemed to harden even further in his grip, which pleased him.

"If that's what you want," he said. "Shall I cut you open, afterward? Get all the way inside you. Make you bleed. Leave evidence—"

Hannibal made an involuntary breathy sound at that, and he got wet  the sudden slick of pre-come in Will's palm. "Oh, God," Will said, in bliss. "Tell me you have lube, something, I don't care."

"Second drawer," Hannibal said, then made another, unhappier noise as Will let go of him in order to investigate. Of course there was nothing so gauche as a plastic squeeze tube, or a pump-top bottle. Will's questing fingers met a glass jar with a metal lid, which he retrieved just as Hannibal took hold of him by the hips and pulled him forcibly back down onto the bed.

"I hope you don't—" manhandle Alana like this, Will intended to say. Then Hannibal bent over him and licked a sloppy wet stripe over his balls and up the length of his cock, and Will forgot his words entirely. He dug his fingers into Hannibal's hair and moaned like he was the one being cut open.

It had none of a blowjob's usual technique or pacing. Will had the distinct impression Hannibal wasn't trying to get him off so much as he just wanted Will in his mouth; like he was playing with his food. I taste good to him, Will thought absently, he'll lick and suck and then something will snap... The thought only encouraged his erection. He was so stiff he was getting sore, hot and slick with the repeated passage of Hannibal's tongue, and it wasn't quite enough. He tugged at Hannibal's hair until he had his focus.

"Let me – I really do want to be inside you," he said. "I want to see you like that."

Hannibal watched him with heavy-lidded eyes. His lips looked bruised and wet. Will felt stir in him, even now, the echo of a memory of envy: that Hannibal always seemed to know what he wanted from Will, and never hesitated to take it.

"You always see me," Hannibal said. "You're the only one who does."

"I know," said Will. Hannibal moved to kneel over him; Will bit his lip at the brief, teasing way their bodies slid together and apart. He fumbled with the jar until Hannibal took it from him, helped coat his fingers with the contents – something smooth and cooling that smelled faintly of perfumer's amber – and pulled Will's hand between his thighs.

"Tell me if I hurt you," Will murmured. Hannibal only shook his head, as if dismissing a matter of irrelevance.

It was new, and newly intoxicating, to be able to open Hannibal up like this – better than the fantasies of cutting into him and making him bleed. Hannibal yielded to it easily enough, with only a modicum of pain, legible to Will as it sparked and faded and sparked again. The pain thrilled him, and his own excitement did not give him pause. But he wanted, suddenly and fiercely, to make it pleasurable: to tame the caught thing and make it forget. He added a finger, then another, curving them to caress Hannibal from the inside.

"Like this?" he said.

Hannibal let out an unsteady breath. Will held onto him and guided him down.

Hannibal did most of the work after that, rocking back against Will's thrusts, one hand pressed against Will's sternum for leverage; a little flushed now, with effort and sensation. Will touched him, everywhere he could reach. Moments stretched into minutes into seeming hours, endless time that took no time at all. Sweat had started on Hannibal's skin, and his own – lust and pleasure were immesurate, stellar energies Will could no longer contain, that moved freely between their bodies and were easily fed. He held Hannibal open and ran his thumb along the slick, stretched rim of muscle where they were joined together; pressed down, teasing, and then more firmly. Hannibal made a choked-off noise and pushed back against it, trying to take Will deeper. Will felt the tension in him, like a steel string tightened to breaking point.

"Will," Hannibal breathed, then a few liquid, dulcet syllables that weren't English. Will would have understood them in any language.

"Let go," he said, "I have you, let me see you," and watched avidly as Hannibal came apart, trembling. His climax splattered, hot and obscene, against Will's stomach. Hannibal gasped for air, the rhythm of his motion stuttering to a halt, and Will rolled him over so he could be on top and use his weight to thrust deeper – selfish now, chasing his own pleasure inside the tight, complaisant heat of Hannibal's body. He buried his face in the dip and curve of Hannibal's throat and spent into him, letting it rush through him and away and gone: all the physical evidence of his love.

 

* * *

 

It left a sadness in him, afterward; but the horror was still held at bay, and his head was clear – enough to see humour in the situation, of a sort.

"Tell me you didn't plan this," he murmured. They lay close together, not really touching – Will still felt aglow with energy, despite his nakedness – but Hannibal's hand clasped his, loosely, on the rumpled sheets between them.

Hannibal shook his head. His dark eyes scanned Will's face with something like puzzlement. "I didn't think you'd..." he said, and the sentence trailed off on a sigh. "You always surprise me, Will." His fingers tightened around Will's, a little, and his eyes slid shut. It made him look undone, somehow young. Will reached out with his other hand and brushed a damp strand of hair from his temple.

They'd made a complete mess; there was no sleeping comfortably like this. Will would have to get up and wash Hannibal off his skin, and Hannibal would do the same. He would change the sheets, perhaps rescue a cold glass of wine from the congealing remnants of their dinner downstairs. And afterward – would they come back to bed? Would Will want to hold him again, spend the night cradled by the sound of Hannibal's breathing? Or would the consequences have sunk in by that time?

Tomorrow Will would be back with hook and line at their patient game – nothing had changed, or would change, except themselves. Except that Will now understood, truly believed for the first time, that the advantage was his.

And then what would happen?