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the light bends at the cracks

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The first thing Hannibal does on returning to London is visit his tailor. It's damp evening dripping into cloudy night, with lamps reflected in the wetly shining stones of the street. Most shops are closing, people hunching their shoulders and hurrying home, but Antonio's is a warm beacon of light, drawing the eye.

"Dr Lecter." Antonio greets him with an expert glance up and down Hannibal's uniform. "A pleasure to see you back planetside, sir."

"Antonio. I appreciate your accommodating me at this unusual hour."

"And risk you ordering your season's wardrobe from a competitor?"

Hannibal bows, slightly. "Nobody could compare."

"The usual?"

"A little more colour than last time, I think. One's eye starts to long for it, after too long aboard a military ship. And I shall require something suitable for the opera, tomorrow night."

"Tomorrow." Antonio's eyebrows fly up.

"You can do it?"

"Of course. We can begin tonight. I think there is something in the back, half-started, to your measurements. You were called away suddenly, as I recall."

Hannibal fingers the gold frogging as he begins to undo his jacket and smiles, faintly. "At Her Majesty's pleasure."

By the time he leaves the shop, evening has given way to true night. Outside on the street the shadows deepen further as an airship passes by overhead. Higher above again are the stars, in pockets of clarity between the clouds, and the thin golden streams of aether which trail behind the alchemical engines of starships.

Hannibal Lecter inhales. The wind is cold and coming from the east. Beneath the remnants of rain and the hints of horses, oil, roasting pork, sulphur and violets and beer and dung, comes the scent of a blood that no centuries will ever wash out of stone. The air whistled through Smithfield before it came here. It smells, reassuringly, of death.

***

Covent Garden is a crime scene. Policeman swarm over the steps and block the foyer entrances. Through a crowd of opera-goers with their heavy capes and wide skirts, their tall hats and canes, run words like murder. Hannibal strolls closer, wrapped in the warm embrace of his new clothes, feeling a quiet but profound irritation.

"Hannibal!"

Alana Bloom is standing in the thick of things, well within the police barrier. She speaks briefly to someone and then waves him over. Hannibal has to push his way past a woman with a green corset and white feathers frothing over tight red ringlets. The bulky weight of a camera fills her white-gloved hands.

"This promises to be entertaining," she's saying to her companion, as Hannibal passes them. "They've brought the glitch."

Alana takes Hannibal's hand when he reaches her, and smiles as he drops a kiss on her knuckles. Her gown is purple and sweeps richly to the ground, and her breath mists the air the same silvery colour as her shawl.

"Welcome back. I'm afraid I've been terribly remiss in providing you with an enjoyable evening in celebration."

"Not at all," Hannibal says. "This looks to be a fascinating experience in its own way."

"Jack saw me in the crowd," she says. "I do some consulting work for Scotland Yard, from time to time. He asked me to step in."

She's standing with two men: one of them is slight with a vulnerable mouth and hair that curls across his forehead, almost obscuring his eyes. He's angled away, not showing much interest in the conversation. Alana introduces Hannibal to the other, a powerfully built man with sharp eyes in a weary face.

"DCI Jack Crawford, Captain Hannibal Lecter," she says. "An old friend of mine from medical school, and my escort for the evening. He's been acting as a field surgeon for the Royal Navy. I thought he could shed some light, anatomically speaking."

"Just Doctor, when I'm planetside," Hannibal says with a smile. "I've finished my tour of duty for now."

"Where were you deployed, Doctor?" Jack asks.

"Jack," the other man says suddenly.

"Of course." Jack raises his voice. "Clear the scene as much as possible, please."

Clearing the scene means that Hannibal finally has a clear view into the foyer of the opera house. The body is in the centre of the opulent space, draped over a music stand. There is a large amount of blood. Much more than that, he cannot make out without staring so long as to be thought rude.

"Edward Messel," Hannibal says. "The concertmaster."

"Yes," says Jack.

"Who is that young man, if I may ask?"

"That's Will Graham," Jack says. "Our forensic android."

Will Graham is standing with his back to them. His hands are by his sides, bare. From time to time a finger flickers or his shoulders rise, as though he is breathing hard, but otherwise he does not move.

Hannibal raises his eyebrows. "I haven't come across one of those before."

"He's designed to collate and interpret all the physical evidence at a scene, faster and more thoroughly than a human can. Blood spatter, alchemical analysis. Obscure references to art and mythology and religion. It's all in here." Jack taps his forehead.

Hannibal looks over his shoulder. "That woman called him the glitch."

Jack's face darkens. "Constable Miller," he calls. "Escort Miss Lounds from the scene, if you please. Journalist," he adds to Hannibal. "Works for some sensationalist rag."

"Why a glitch?"

"Apparently Will's model was designed to collate data and provide pure facts. Angles of fire, sources of quotations, that kind of thing. Instead...he creates a description of the killer, their mind, how they work. From the inside out. That's how I ended up with him." Jack looks almost fond, mostly proprietary. "He was passed around police units in the north. Rattled everyone so much they hated him. Here, you'll see. Watch."

When Will returns to them his eyes are fevered. Something hovers around his mouth like the aftermath of disgust. One hand is now beating time against his leg--three-four time, a waltz--though after a moment he collects himself and this percussion stops.

"There's intimacy here," he says. "Love, or at least the memory of it. I was so angry. But I knew how much the performance meant to him. I wanted him recognised."

His eyes glide over Jack, over Alana. When they land on Hannibal, the fever dims. It its wake trail irony and shyness and a vast, resigned intelligence.

"Abracadabra," Will mumbles.

***

Will Graham, the glitch, is sitting alone in a room in Scotland Yard. Hannibal leaves Alana and Jack Crawford with their heads bent over a table of papers and lets himself into this room. He walks closely behind Will and takes a seat opposite him.

Will does not appear surprised.

"Dr Lecter," he says. "Have you come to gawk, like a child at the zoo?"

Hannibal says nothing. After a little while Will sighs.

"I'm sorry, that was rude of me," he says.

"It seems you are accustomed to rudeness from others, Mr Graham."

"Call me Will. Everyone else does."

"Will."

"Did you enjoy my display of illusioneering?"

"I was curious. I've never seen anything like it."

"Smoke and mirrors, I'm afraid. Easy to explain when you know the mechanics of it. It's all about sensors, you see."

"I wonder you can sense anything over that aftershave."

Will's lips move. "It sets people at ease. A small, human habit. I've been told my interfacing with humans leaves something to be desired."

His gaze has dropped down to the table between them.

Hannibal says, "You know, I have heard of androids who abandoned their service and lived as humans. Pretending. Very successfully, in some cases."

Will raises his eyes. Hannibal thinks of a fox trapped up against a hedge. Small sharp teeth, readying.

Hannibal says, "I have never come across a human being passing himself off as an artificial intelligence before. It is remarkable."

"What gave me away?"

"The smell," Hannibal says. "Even through that ghastly scent you wear. Androids and humans are different on a cellular level. You smell alive."

"What does life smell like?"

"Like salt and lemons. Like caramel browning over a flame."

"I'm not sure if I believe you," Will says. "About that being how you knew."

"I have hyperosmia. My sense of smell is unusually acute."

"Perhaps we can pass you off as an android too," Will says. "Jack could always use another bloodhound."

"My point is, others would be able to tell, if they were close enough. A lover would be able to tell."

Will gives a kind of smile. "Then aren't I fortunate that androids are not expected to show interest in physically intimate relationships."

"Would you be interested in any case? By natural inclination?"

"I think we can agree that my inclinations are not natural."

"That wasn't an answer, Will."

"Perhaps," Will says. "Probably. I haven't thought about it for a long time."

"If I may ask, why the pretense in the first place?"

"It makes everything easier," Will says. "What I can do is considered reasonable, or at least within the bounds of science, instead of appalling. My interfacing, or lack of it, is forgiven. Nobody asks questions. They accept that my primary directive is to save human lives, and they accept that I am a useful tool for that purpose."

"Better a glitch than a monster," Hannibal says, assessing.

"I deal in monsters," Will says. "The boundaries are thin enough as it is."

"I have no intention of telling anyone the truth about you. If that is your fear."

"Oh, I have fears enough," Will says. "But thank you. For not adding to them."

***

Hannibal opens his front door to the sound of the bell and sees Will Graham holding a dark, folded scarf pressed against his own forearm. It is a bright and cold winter's day. Will's cheeks are pink, his stance wary.

"Alana Bloom gave me your address," Will says. "I think she finds the prospect of a friendship between us...intriguing."

"As do I," says Hannibal. "If I am being perfectly honest."

Will lifts the scarf. Beneath it is a jagged cut that stretches half the extensor surface of his forearm, through wool and shirt and flesh.

"It's stopped bleeding," he says. "But it's going to scar badly, if I leave it like this. That could be hard to explain."

"Let alone the fact that it shouldn't have bled at all."

"I've been doing this a long time," Will says, unflinching. "I know how to survive, Dr Lecter."

"But?"

The flick of Will's intelligence through his lashes is a subtle and lovely manipulation. Hannibal is charmed by it. "But I have never known the right kind of doctor before now."

Hannibal smiles and steps back, inviting. "I am happy to be of assistance. But first, I was about to have some afternoon tea. Would you care to join me?"

"No," Will says.

Hannibal waits.

The blankness falls away from Will's face. "Yes," he says slowly. "I'm starving."

Hannibal leads him inside the house and seats him in the parlour. Will moves carefully. He sits on the very edge of the chair, coiled in on himself and his pain.

"You don't eat in front of other people," Hannibal says.

Will shrugs. "Even before, I forgot to eat half the time. And before that I was used to going without. It's easy."

Hannibal can hear Will moving around the parlour, as he works in the kitchen. He makes a fresh pot of tea and arranges things on a trolley: two cups and saucers from his best set of china, sugar lumps, milk, and lemon cakes on a plate. Will is inspecting the paintings on the wall, when Hannibal enters the room again. He walks past a reading desk and trails his good hand curiously over the open pages of Hannibal's books.

Will takes his tea black with one sugar. He holds the cup awkwardly and his shoulders hunch as he sips, furtive. He eats his first cake with the speed of street urchins cramming down mouldy bread while waiting to be chased away from the scrapheap, but his eyes fall closed as he bites into the second, and his tongue chases every crumb across his lips.

Watching Will eat and drink is a shocking pleasure, all the more so for its exclusivity. It sits dark and thrumming in Hannibal's gut.

Afterwards, Hannibal fetches his medical bag and stitches up Will's arm.

The needle is in Will's flesh when Will says, "How many people have you killed, Dr Lecter?"

Hannibal pauses, then continues his work. "Even serving as a medical officer, I was in an active warzone, and I was given arms training. There was an incident--"

"That's not what I meant, and you know it."

His voice is mild. His blood is all over Hannibal's gloved fingers.

"What gave me away?"

"Everything," Will says. "Nothing. I collate. I don't know how I do it. There are no lines of code to be read over afterwards."

Hannibal finishes the sutures. When he's done he pulls off his gloves and strokes his bare thumb up and down the clean line of the wound, once.

"Now we both know one another's secrets," he says. "What does that mean? Do we part ways and agree never to meet again, for fear of mutual destruction?"

"That sounds rhetorical, Dr Lecter."

"I am asking your opinion."

Will is silent. He stretches out the fingers of his hand, then makes a fist. Tendons shift under the closed breach of his skin.

"That would be a pity," he says finally.

"I agree."

"Can I--" Will's head falls. "I would like to see you again," he says.

"In that case," Hannibal says, "I would love to have you for dinner."

***

"What are we eating?" Will asks.

"An android would be able to tell what meat it is by simple analysis."

"But not appreciate the flavour," Will says. "This is amazing."

"It is," Hannibal says. They are eating flank steak and liver with a sauce of redcurrants over roasted carrot and tiny, soft dumplings. Will's lips are slick with oil and the rough bow in the centre of them has darkened with red wine.

Will chews his meat and flushes, slowly, under Hannibal's gaze. He glances at his plate and then at Hannibal. He swirls his wine. He looks hesitant and uncomfortable.

Hannibal feels his own fingers whiten with longing around the handle of his knife.

"This is strange," Will says. "It feels--I feel exposed. Almost pornographic."

"Consumption has always been thought of as erotic," Hannibal says. "Think of how many ingredients from the furthest reaches of the Empire have been brought back to us with claims of their aphrodisiac properties."

"Ingestion is devotion," Will murmurs.

"Good food eaten in good company is one of the true civilised pleasures," Hannibal counters. "One which you have denied yourself for too long."

Will eats like a deaf man given a clockwork ear and placed in front of a symphony; like every morsel is the first thing he has ever put in his mouth. It is a perfect piece of theatre. Hannibal lets his own meal go cold, watching him, entranced.

Dessert is an orange and rosewater junket, with soft cream, served in small glass bowls. Will turns the long-handled spoon, Hannibal's best silver, between his fingers as he eats.

"Would it be horribly rude of me," he asks, "to use my fingers to clean the bowl?"

"Not now that you have asked," Hannibal says. He can feel a warmth and a hunger in himself like an alchemical fire: strange colours, endless power. "I shall consider it a compliment. Though next time, perhaps, I will serve this with biscotti."

Will scoops up streaks of cream and silky junket with his fingers. Hannibal is moving his chair before he can second-guess the action, shifting to sit closer. Close enough that he can reach out and take hold of Will's hand and suck his fingers clean, one by one, until he can taste flesh and life beneath. The myriad tiny heartbeats, racing. Will sits very still.

Hannibal sucks and licks and bites every finger in turn, never hard enough to break skin. He imagines his sensitive tongue could read the whorls of Will Graham's fingerprints and know him as intimately as Will already knows him. He would map every inch of this body, if he could.

When Hannibal pulls his mouth away, Will is looking steadily up at him. He is breathing fast and Hannibal can smell both his fear and his arousal. Hannibal doesn't know what is on his own face, but he can see realisation on Will's.

"An android would be the safest friend you could have," Will says.

"Safe for whom?"

"For them." Will looks at Hannibal's grasp on his hand and Hannibal looks too. There are faint pink scrapes up and down his fingers left by Hannibal's teeth. They will fade soon.

"Ah, but an android would not have appreciated the meal with the intensity that you did. It was intoxicating to watch. Thank you."

Will's fingers jerk at that, a half-hearted attempt to escape from gratitude. When Hannibal holds him fast, the jerking becomes a flutter, then a shy curl of Will's wet fingers over his own.

"Are you safe for me, Will?"

"I am perfect for you, Dr Lecter," says Will. "I am the only alibi you will ever need. Androids can't lie. And I cannot withhold information to protect a murderer if my primary directive is the preservation of human life."

"Is it?" Hannibal asks.

Will's mouth quirks. "By natural inclination, you mean?"

"I am having trouble parsing your motives," Hannibal says carefully. "You can't tell me that surprises you."

His steak knife is sharp and there are sharper knives in the kitchen. He is strong and long-limbed and Will is, after all, only human. He could cut Will's throat, or press him down amongst the shrapnel of their meal and strangle him. He could snap his graceful neck.

Will stands and moves to sit in Hannibal's lap, straddling him in the chair. The colour is still high in his cheeks and his heart flutters like a bird when Hannibal places his palm over it. Will moves a hand of his own to keep Hannibal's in place, then leans down and kisses him. As with the food, he tastes Hannibal with urgency and reverence, as though everything is new to him. Perhaps it is. Hannibal winds a hand in Will's hair and lets himself be taken. The kiss is open and luscious, tasting of roses and wine.

"You might be perfect for me," Will says, unsteady.

Hannibal is inhaling the scent of Will's skin, nose pressed at the hollow of his throat, heady with the knowledge that this, too, is something Will has denied to anyone else. Denied to himself.

"Are you certain?" Hannibal asks. He takes that skin between his teeth and nips, soothes the place with his tongue, then does it again. The rivers of Will's carotid and jugular are within easy reach.

Will shudders and grinds down into him.

"I'm betting my life on it," he says.