Even though the air conditioning was in working order, the train felt stifling.
Will supposed the air quality might have been better in the pricier portion of the train, but he was still unaccustomed to traveling in style. He’d purchased the standard fare ticket automatically, even though he knew the bank card he carried would have surely covered the cost of the executive car, had he chosen to indulge. He hadn’t, and thus found himself in coach, duffle bag at his feet, and a collection of rowdy young tourists at his back creating a protective current of chaos around him.
There was safety in allowing their combined din to mask him. The insistent pump of his heart was an audible pressure in his ears, but he found that if he closed his eyes amidst the clamor and let his head rest against the seat's burnt orange Trenitalia mat, he could almost convince his treacherous pulse to stop racing. The time was 13:50, and he was traveling from Udine to Florence by way of Venice. Venezia, Hannibal insisted on calling it. Venezia. Will was digging carelessly through his bag for the bottled water he’d picked up in Udine when he found the book: a clothbound copy of Death in Venice tucked beneath his sweaters. As he looked down at its somber cover he was overtaken by a vision of Hannibal smirking at him.
Dear Will, read the inscription, some light reading. Yours, H. Lecter
Hannibal had signed the textured title page with a flourish, and the ink from his fountain pen had bled just slightly into the thick paper, forming delicate, inky capillaries. Will stroked the script with his forefinger, hoping beyond reason that his skin might come away stained. Who could tell when Hannibal had written these words or hidden this book away for him; it could have been a relic from their aborted departure with Abigail, or a wholly recent acquisition. It hardly mattered and Will found himself smiling; largely at Hannibal's brazen audacity to use their real names with such carelessness. How cautious they were at turns and how indiscreet they were at others, but Hannibal had always hidden in plain sight, his camouflage largely composed of joie de vivre so extreme it was showmanship if you knew how to look. He still wore that mask most days, and Will felt it suited him. Enhanced him, even. Like makeup on an already beautiful woman.
Will was surprised at how badly he longed to see Hannibal after these scant months apart, especially since they had gone years before. He was surprised by the ache that longing had cultivated in him. And he was surprised to find Bedelia’s assessment of him, her assessment of his dormant volcanic feelings for Hannibal, had been so apt. He wondered how smug she would be if she knew.
The train cut a swath through the Italian countryside, its laborious rumble sending up clouds of darkly colored birds as the cars passed beneath power lines and trees pregnant with summer’s fruit. Hannibal would be waiting for him in Venezia. They would make the rest of this journey together.
Will opened his gifted book, and relaxed.
The Venezia Santa Lucia station was a study in contrasts. Its low, flatly modern facade stood out like a Futurist sore thumb amidst the elaborate, decades old cathedrals and colorful waterfront residences; all reminiscent of a masquerade fantasy.
Will stood on the concrete steps and pushed his hair back from his face. Instead of meeting Hannibal on the dry outskirts of the city and heading direct to Florence from there, Will had taken the train all the way to the collection of islands that made up the Commune proper. The waterfront before him was bustling: tourists hurrying this way and that, water taxis coming and going, and the ubiquitous gondolas waiting to ferry travelers on their way. The Grand Canal was a flat murky green, and Will remembered the Black Death’s predilection for this small city, for its festive population. His own illusions of Venice were mottled like a jester’s costume, influenced by half-remembered history lessons about the Crusades, Casanova and Carnevale. Death, wealth, and delight in equal measure.
Now he could see why Hannibal would want him in Venice. There was splendour here, in the Rococo facades and the Spanish tiled rooftops. He didn't know how long Hannibal intended them to stay, but thinking about where they might stay, and how they might stay, made his just-quelled heartbeat pick back up again. He expected a performance of some kind; something to welcome him back into Hannibal’s sphere of influence with the appropriate sense of occasion. Afterall, they were alive and they were together. Will closed his eyes against the glittering water and the tireless sun. He didn't have a lick of Italian, and his ignorance let him tune out those around him with surprising ease. It was a welcome relief. He wanted to be ready. They had parted with so many promises. Will wasn’t sure how many would be kept.
Girls in loose summer dresses passed him and smiled. He couldn’t imagine what they saw in him. Certainly not what Hannibal saw. The air was languid with humidity, and even with his shirtsleeves rolled up, and his collar open with perhaps one more button then usual undone, Will was sweltering in the light chambray fabric. He felt sweat slide down his back to the waistband of his chinos. He swiped his forearm across his forehead and steeled himself before scanning the crowd along the waterfront again. His gaze stuck on a man leaning casually against a patinaed lightpost, and he did a double take.
Will’s stomach dropped, and adrenaline flooded his system. Hannibal.
A kit of pigeons took off en masse, rising together from the ground between him and the water. Will picked up his duffle and took the steps down to the platform with purpose. He regulated his stride. Oxygen seemed to leave the air around him; he felt like he was on the verge of suffocating, matched feelings of terror and yearning tangled up in him. This was no fevered illusion. Hannibal was looking out at the water when Will approached, but when he turned, Will felt a profound disconnect between the Hannibal that stood before him and the Doctor Lecter who had promised him years ago that someday Will would find him very interesting.
Present Hannibal was dressed far more casually than Will ever imagined him to be: a black Porsche ball cap pulled low over his eyes, slightly longer hair, and a slim fit Rag & Bone suit jacket over a cashmere sweater that looked impossibly soft and too warm for the thick air. The sweater was the most familiar thing about him. In his slacks and sensible Prada loafers, he looked like any other wealthy business man dressed for travel, unassuming and understated with an air of unmistakable wealth and authority. He could have been anyone, a tech mogul, some big deal Hollywood type, anyone but the man Will was expecting.
Oxygen came rushing back into Will’s lungs. Hannibal’s eyes were dark and fond and Will thought he could drown in them. He dropped his duffle and thrust out his hand.
“Lawrence,” he said, using the assumed name Hannibal had chosen. It felt false in his mouth.
Hannibal took his proffered hand and held it between his two. His hands were cool and lightly textured. One traveled firmly up his arm to clasp his elbow.
“James,” said Hannibal.
They stared at each for a long moment, caught together in broad daylight. Will felt an incredible reluctance to draw his hand away. In the end, Hannibal made that choice for him, letting go to reach out and touch Will’s hair where it had grown long over his forehead. Will fought the urge to push his face into Hannibal’s shoulder and commit the scent of his skin to memory.
“Brussels has been good to you,” Hannibal said. “It would seem that being on the run agrees with your constitution.”
“It’s nice to be paranoid for a good reason. You look well.”
“Thank you, James. I am.” Hannibal made his assumed name sound just as intimate as his real one, but Will longed to hear his given name from that mouth.
Hannibal touched his face, drew his pointer finger along the line of Will’s scar. Will let his eyes fall shut. He was sensitive about the scar. He felt that it marked him as a monster, but no one had touched him with anything other than clinical necessity since the evening on the cliff. Will felt Hannibal’s touch with an acute sense of longing, for more, for forever. He sighed.
“The only way it could make you more beautiful,” Hannibal said, as though reading his mind, “would be if I had given it to you myself.”
“Oh god,” Will said, feeling his skin flush. “It’s been less than ten minutes. Are we taking a water taxi?”
“Actually no, I had something else in mind.” Hannibal withdrew his hand with a barely perceptible flicker of disappointment, but Will sensed such intense want below Hannibal’s placid surface that he almost swayed into him.
“A gondola then?”
Hannibal picked up his duffle. “You are right that we are traveling by water. Follow me.”
“It’s your show, Doctor,” Will said, and smiled when Hannibal looked at him over his shoulder, eyebrows raised in surprise.
They were taking a boat, and Hannibal revealed it to Will with a magician’s flourish and an indulgent look. The boat was pristine. Its chestnut colored bow was glossy and tipped in shiny chrome. Lighter wood panels offset its curves, and the interior was a creamy white piped in beige. Will stared.
Hannibal climbed aboard and offered his hand.
“I thought you might like to stretch your sea legs,” he said, stowing Will’s duffle beneath the sunbathing platform behind a single passenger compartment. “She’s yours to helm.”
“This is a Riva Ariston,” Will said, awestruck.
“With the original Cadillac engine fully restored. 1958, I think, although I commissioned some minor cosmetic upgrades.”
Will took another look at the sunbathing platform and could picture them laid out across it, a picnic between them. His brain stumbled over the sexual desire he felt when he looked back at Hannibal, at his oddly hopeful smile. Such a strange, exasperating man.
“This is insane,” Will said. “You’re insane.”
Hannibal nodded, amused. “Do you feel like a proper man of mystery yet, James Hale?”
“Getting there.” He took Hannibal’s hand in his and climbed aboard. “You know this is an hundred-thousand dollar boat.”
“I know.” Hannibal watched as Will took the seat behind the helm and fitted his hands to the wheel.
The wood felt good against his palms. This was a sturdy boat, a boat to covet. The gauges on the dashboard were immaculate, clear glass and chrome with dark faces, set into even lighter wood. Will ran his fingers over them.
“She's yours, James. Should you want her.”
“Are you kidding?” Will shifted to look at Hannibal, whose face betrayed nothing.
“Not at all.”
Will’s hands flexed on the steering wheel. He felt appropriately adrift. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Why don’t you cast off and think about it as we go,” Hannibal offered in his blandly persuasive tone.
Will could find no fault with that. He slipped the two knots holding the little boat in place from their moorings, and tugged the ropes into the boat. They matched the upholstery perfectly. Of course they did. He turned the key, and the engine purred to life immediately before settling into a familiar burble, low and soothing.
“You’ll have to tell me where I’m going,” he said, guiding them into the flow of the Grand Canal with trepidation.
“Of course,” Hannibal said, and he reached across the bench to rest his arm along the back of the upholstery. “Continue straight for now and I will tell you when to turn.”
They rode in silence. Will was transfixed by the city and the water traffic around them. He was cautious of their safety, but it occurred to him with a fluttering sensation in his stomach that a matter of some importance had yet to be addressed.
“What’s her name?” he asked, eyes on the water ahead.
“Fortuna,” Hannibal answered. “Roman goddess of luck and fate, and a daughter of Jupiter. Both capricious and lovely. Like you.”
“She’s perfect,” Will said softly, and knew he would succumb.
Evening found them in a penthouse apartment overlooking the Grand Canal. The Fortuna was tied to a small, private dock just outside the entrance to the converted palazzo, and Will’s duffle had been transferred from her small hold to a plushly appointed bedroom by an unseen valet. One of two bedrooms, Will noted immediately, which meant that perhaps Hannibal’s presumptions about their situation only went so far. He chose to indulge the pang of disappointment he felt at that thought, wading carefully into the tide of his emotions. Hannibal’s intentions toward him had seemed abundantly clear when Will tipped them into the roiling Atlantic, and even clearer when they lay clutching at one another on the rocky shore, both of them winded, bleeding, and impossible.
Hannibal had summoned help from a mysterious ally whose face Will never saw, and when he awoke the next morning, his wounds tended to, Hannibal was already gone. He had fled the safe house they’d been ferried to, leaving behind only a key and an address. Will was angry, and heartbroken, until he opened the lock box and found the passport with his new name, the ticket to Belgium, and the address of a residence in Brussels.
The instruction to wait for Hannibal's word was implicit. And when Will arrived in Brussels unmolested, an apartment waited for him there, along with a duffle of his own things, and a strict admonition not to go through it until he was traveling. A bank card for one James Hale had been furnished for him as well. And so in Brussels, Will Graham died a small death, and slipped on someone else’s face for the foreseeable future. He thought of Hannibal daily. He waited. Days passed and his existence grew even more isolated than it had been in Wolf Trap. He missed his dogs. When he remembered to, he missed Molly.
Then the postcard came. This city, and a travel date. The most consistent part of Will’s life was the irreality of it.
He was looking out the window at Venetian rooftops when Hannibal knocked politely on his doorframe. Will turned to find him hovering awkwardly at the threshold, hilariously unsure. The knot around Will’s heart eased.
“Are you tired?” Hannibal asked.
“Wide awake. You’ve got something planned?” Will shook his head. “Of course you do.”
“Dinner at a waterfront cafe, then Mozart at the Teatro La Fenice.”
“I’ll shower,” Will said. He must have smelled assaulting to Hannibal after his long day of travel.
“A wise choice.”
Will pulled a face, complete with a dramatic eye roll, but Hannibal had gone.
After the dinner and the opera and a bottle of absurdly expensive Barolo, Hannibal bid Will a cordial good night and saw himself to bed. Will lay awake for a long time, frustrated and unsure, but when he finally slept, it was deep and restful.
“Shelley loved Venice. He wrote about the whole city disappearing into the sea with some remorse.”
They were walking the city with Hannibal as Will’s enthusiastic guide, his pedantry on full display. He'd expounded on the spice trade, a topic of special interest to him, for at least half an hour.
“I can see why you like it here,” Will said. He trailed a hand along a crumbling stone parapet. They stopped on a small bridge, and took in the dark canal beneath them like tourists. They were tourists, Will reminded himself.
Hannibal hummed, and his own hand found a place against the hot, damp fabric at the small of Will’s back.
“Since you’re so fond of decay,” Will added, far more arch than he’d intended.
“Venice has a morbid past. I won't deny there's some appeal. But as a doctor, of course I find both Black Death and cholera repulsive.”
“As a doctor,” Will repeated.
“As something else entirely I find them fascinating,” Hannibal allowed.
“There you are,” Will said.
“Would you be a amenable to an evening on the water in place of dining out?” Hannibal asked.
Will cut the engine at the entrance to the Grand Canal and dropped anchor in St. Mark’s Basin. The port and starboard lights cast green and red light over the still water around them, and the stern light lit up the cushion that covered the boat’s aft platform. Hannibal pulled a picnic basket from the hold and Will’s initial fantasy of being spread out and taken on the back of a goddamn boat seemed suddenly far more inevitable. He plucked a grape from the bowl Hannibal had set forth and eyed a plate of decoratively arranged oysters warily. Hannibal poured them each a glass of champagne in wide-mouthed flutes and held forth his glass for a toast.
“A metaphorical christening,” he said. “Both the Fortuna’s and ours.”
Will clinked their glasses together with a lopsided smile. “I don't see any holy water.”
“Lucky for us.”
Will looked back at the city, bathed in glowing light. The Basilica Santa Maria was a proud beacon on the shoreline, its golden dome lit up splendidly against the night sky. Soft Venetian light caught in the rippling water, and Will did feel baptized, clean of sin. He would remember this moment. It would linger in the corners of his mind no matter the outcome of this wild choice he'd made. Will realized with gutting clarity that if Hannibal were to kill him now, tenderly in the moonlight, he would be satisfied. Despite his scarred face and his complicated psyche, Will could feel perfect.
“You could kill me now and capture us forever in this moment,” he said casually, his back to Hannibal. He heard Hannibal shift closer, reeled in by the lure Will had cast.
Hannibal’s big, fine fingered hand cupped his cheek and this time Will didn't stop himself from leaning into the touch. He turned and let Hannibal pull him closer. He touched their foreheads together.
“Will,” he said. “Dear Will.”
It was the first time Hannibal had said his name since their reunion. Will closed his eyes and let himself savor it. There was no one in the world who said his name as Hannibal did, as though it were a promise. Their noses brushed together, his stubble rubbed along Hannibal’s ever smooth cheek.
“You tempt me so,” he whispered into Will’s ear. “But now that I have you, I couldn't bear to part with you again.”
“You could though, I'd let you.” Will clasped his hand around Hannibal’s nape. “I'd let you, Hannibal.”
"No matter how varied my desire for you may be, there are other carnalities to partake in. Ones that won't always involve bloodshed.”
An ember of arousal rekindled in Will’s stomach, he could have sworn that Hannibal was leering, provocative and unlike him. But then they were kissing, their mouths drawn together by the ineluctable force that existed in constant circuit between them. Will felt wholly enveloped by Hannibal as he was pressed back against the cushion beneath them. The picnic lay forgotten, and they consumed one another instead, lips parting for eager tongues to meet. Hannibal felt bigger than Will despite their meager height difference, his shoulders were broad and his back toned. Will cataloged the differences between this and his experiences with women and did not find it wanting. Not when it made him feel incapable of thought at all. Instead he gave himself completely to the kiss, parted his legs and let Hannibal find a place between them. Their bodies aligned and Will gasped when Hannibal broke the kiss to set teeth along his neck and at the sensitive spot below his ear. Will clung to him, his legs involuntarily wrapping around Hannibal’s waist, his hips lifting of their own accord in search of friction.
Hannibal pulled away and stayed Will’s hips with two hands at his waist. He looked unkempt, his hair askew. Will found he loved it.
“I would have you,” Hannibal said, one hand toying with the belt threaded through Will’s slacks. He pressed his palm against Will’s erection with a considering look.
“Yes.” Will tilted back his head to bare his throat. An offering.
“But not like this,” Hannibal amended.
“Why not?” Will couldn't help his petulant tone.
“You deserve…a proper seduction.”
Will glanced meaningfully at the picnic basket and champagne.
“On a real bed.”
“A real bed?" Will scoffed. "I don't care about a real bed. I've fucked in cars, a closet once.” He fell back onto the cushion with a frustrated groan.
Hannibal looked at him askance, like perhaps his swearing, or the very idea of him engaging in sexual relations with anyone else, had offended him. Crawling guilt tempered how eager Will had been. He adjusted his shirt, and looked down at his hands, toyed restlessly with his wedding band. Perhaps it was time to discard it.
“I fear tonight has run its course,” Hannibal said. “Could you take us back?”
Will silently complied.
“We leave tomorrow,” Hannibal said, as he disembarked.
Will tied the Fortuna in place.
“You could have told me.”
“I'll ship the boat to follow,” Hannibal added, before going inside and leaving Will alone.
Will stroked the Fortuna’s smooth bow, it was cool to the touch and comforting. The boat was a grand gesture, impossible to ignore. It felt like a vow. She had only been his for a few days, but he already loved her. How like him to mess up so monumentally, to take something Hannibal had gifted him and make it filthy somehow. They were weapons even without implements. He could see that now. He should have known.
With a last look at their boat, Will tugged his wedding band off and dropped it into the canal.
The train was full of loud American tourists jostling one another as they found seats in the much nicer executive car, and rustling food wrappers once they were situated. Will felt collectively responsible for them. Hannibal’s spirits had lifted considerably, but Will remained cranky. He wanted his headphones but it didn’t seem polite. If Hannibal noticed his newly ringless hand, he didn't so say, and Will decided not to mention the change.
“We don't exactly live up to the catalog image, if you know what I mean,” he said instead. Behind them a family spoke loudly and without consideration for the other riders.
“I have a sense.”
“Americans.” Will gestured, flipping his hand back and forth. “For every tall, strong, übermensch there are thirty people who look like laundry that's been washed wrong. Wrinkled. Still slightly soiled. It's distasteful.”
Hannibal’s lips curled up just so at the sides. A careful kind of smile. “Tsk, tsk, Will. Classism is rampant.”
“A rural childhood affords me a little more insight, Doctor Lecter. If you don't mind.”
“I look forward to learning more about your past. Since you traipsed so indelicately through mine.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Will grumbled.
Hannibal turned and kissed his brow like he couldn’t possibly be more charmed by Will’s surly demeanor.
“Listen to your music,” Hannibal said. “I’ve brought along a book.”
Tuscany was fields upon fields of sunflowers. Hannibal had a Aston Martin waiting for them at the train station in Florence, and the drive into the country wasn’t long, but Will fell asleep shortly, lulled by movement and the implacable sense of safety he always felt with Hannibal. He awoke to Hannibal’s hand on his shoulder, and a stone villa with robin’s egg blue shutters. Vibrant grass surrounded it and trees shaded the rotunda at its front, covering the gravel driveway in dappled sunlight.
“You’re so ostentatious,” Will said sleepily. He could see an arbor peeking out from behind the house.
“I know.” Hannibal’s eyes crinkled. “Live a little.”
Will knew the real reason Hannibal had chosen this place for them as soon as they were inside. The beam and stucco ceiling was traditional for this style of home, and the decor was luxurious but tasteful. The kitchen, however, was incredible enough that even Will could appreciate how special it was. A granite-topped farmhouse table dominated the center of the room, but just behind it was a Viking stove, and a wood burning oven made of ruddy brick to accompany it. The ceiling was tiled in red clay, and the counters were thick marble over rustic wood cabinets. Natural light flooded the room, and lit up an impressive row of copper cookware lining the far wall, just above a splendid oak sideboard. At the center of the table, in a Deruta vase, was a massive bouquet of sunflowers.
“Did you dream this up for us? Another wing in your memory palace?” Will asked.
“I picked it long ago with you in mind.”
There were multiple bedrooms, but Will followed Hannibal into the master suite, and left his duffle at the foot of the bed.
“I took the liberty of having some clothing purchased for you,” Hannibal said. He pulled open a closet door, in the same room, Will noted with complicated pleasure. “I hope they’re to your liking.”
“I’m sure it’s all much too nice for me.”
“Have you ever considered that you deserve nice things?”
“No,” Will said. His mouth turned into a frown. “Not really.”
“Try,” Hannibal said, and left him to bathe and change out of his traveling clothes.
Hannibal gestured at the expanse of fields before them, the rolling hills and granges visible from their new veranda.
“It’s true we missed the poppies, but having sunflowers greet you upon arrival is a fine consolation.”
“I hadn’t expected such vast—” Will paused. “Seas of them.”
“The Tuscan countryside changes color with the seasons. Red in springtime, when the poppies bloom. Then riotous yellow in the summer months when the sunflowers replace them. The flowers can linger into fall; this year they may.” Hannibal took a sip of his wine. “I hope they do, I’d love to walk the fields with you.”
“You want to see me among the flowers?”
“And if you’ll permit me, I’d like to draw you.”
Will touched the scar along his cheek absently. He could see them there, amidst all those floral, upturned faces, with such ease. He could feel the breeze on their veranda, but in his mind it was accompanied by the phantom stirring of sunflower stalks, their flat green leaves stroking his bare arms as he passed. In the imagined fields his face was far less marred and a pair of dogs trotted beside them, lively but docile. Will scratched one behind its floppy ear and looked up to find Hannibal still before him and staring, no attempt to conceal the abundant fondness in his eyes.
“I could be amenable to that,” Will said at last.
Hannibal, who had waited ever patient through his reverie, raised one eyebrow. “Good,” he said. “Soon, then.”
Will decided he'd have to acquire a few dogs beforehand.
They stayed on the veranda through the ombré sunset, until the cicadas began singing.
Hannibal cocked his head to the side, listening, before he spoke. “In Japan, the cicada is a symbol of reincarnation, living only for the period of time necessary to attract a mate and complete the fertilization process. Its cycle of song and silence make it a potent symbol of transience.”
“Can you relate?”
“I should think we both can. A human life is no less fleeting than that of a cicada, and being granted a second life is a precious gift. You must only ask yourself which song you wish to sing this time.”
The sky grew dark and only the flickering candles Hannibal had lit at dusk illuminated their faces. The wine had made Will brave.
“I would like it,” he said slowly, without preamble, “if you took me to bed.”
Hannibal turned to stare at him. His eyes were amber-red, the flames reflected in them. He looked arrested by Will’s admission. Will swallowed and forced himself to maintain eye contact, to show unwavering resolve.
“You aren't obligated to indulge me, Will.”
“You kissed me in Venice. Practically begging you to fuck me on the back of a boat was of my own volition. Not indulgence, Doctor.”
“Perhaps you are experiencing an unconscious sense of compulsion then, another symptom of our growing sameness. How can you know if I’ve coerced you?”
“No,” Will insisted. “I know myself in this.”
“There will be no going back.”
“Very well then,” Hannibal said, and when he stood, and briefly loomed before him, Will felt as though he'd signed his own death sentence. And he was glad.
As soon as they were inside, it began to rain, a deluge of fat summer droplets.
Will half expected Hannibal to carry him, but he followed at Will’s heels, shepherding him along. His reserve was short lived though. He crowded Will up against the doorway to their bedroom, and caught his wrists above his head before kissing him with more teeth than tongue. Will’s back arched, and Hannibal made a feral sound, releasing his wrists just long enough to tug his shirt up over his head. He pressed his face into Will’s neck, into an armpit, licked a hot stripe from one nipple back up to Will’s pulse, and bit down.
Will’s mouth fell open and his eyelids fluttered. Hannibal dropped his arms and got down on his knees, leaving Will breathless and accosted. His hands found Hannibal’s shoulders and he gripped hard enough that Hannibal looked up.
“What was all that about bed?” he rasped.
“Cheeky,” Hannibal said, and undid his belt. He pulled down Will’s briefs and trousers with one vicious tug, and nipped the soft interior of Will’s left thigh. Hannibal traced the scar on his abdomen with his tongue, then he stood and smoothly scooped Will into his arms.
“I had plans for you, but you’ve ruined them,” he murmured, voice very low.
Will hid his face in Hannibal’s neck.
“One day that mouth of yours will get you into trouble.”
“I think it already has.”
“Quite right,” Hannibal agreed, and dropped Will down onto the comforter with little care. Will scrambled back against the mountainous pillows and watched Hannibal undress. Hannibal unbuttoned his dress shirt and left it neatly across the armchair by the window. His chest was broad, and covered in curly greying hair. He had a slightly pronounced belly. Will wished to touch it. He looked down at his own body, hairless, wiry and trim, and when he looked back up, Hannibal was prowling towards him, tension in his shoulders, like he was preparing to pounce.
Will sat up and met him, tilted his head up to be kissed and Hannibal obliged him, his hands in Will’s hair, his knees on the bed. Their bodies moved together, until Hannibal covered him, kissing him and kissing him, devouring Will like he had starved for him. He must have. Will felt it marrow deep, something wild and insatiable inside himself that had only grown tame now in Hannibal’s arms, in their marriage bed. The part of him that Hannibal had cultivated for himself come home at long last.
As though he could feel Will thinking, Hannibal pulled away and looked at him.
“Turn over,” he said, his voice gentle.
Will could sense his cautiousness, feel it in his touch, soft and constant. Even when he pulled away, he kept one hand on Will, wherever he could reach. He was acclimating Will to his touch, as though feared Will would rear up and run like a spooked horse at the slightest misstep.
Will had no intention of running.
He did as he was told, and Hannibal’s hand stayed on his hip when he reached for something in the nightstand. Will shivered. The bedroom they had taken for themselves was warm and smelled of grass after rain, of the cooling fields beyond their thrown open windows. Will lay with his scarred cheek to the pillow, cool fabric a comfort to his flushed skin. His hands rested beneath his shoulders, ready to push himself up onto his hands and knees, anticipating the request in Hannibal’s touch and the dull sound of a glass jar being retrieved from a drawer. Hannibal knelt on either side of his prone legs and Will shifted, restless, between them.
“You'll be my first, this way,” he reminded Hannibal, voice muffled but calculatingly slurred.
“I know.” Hannibal moved his hand to the small of Will’s back and rubbed the skin there in reassuring circles. A calming touch. “But you won't disappoint, if that's your fear. And I won’t hurt you.”
“I'm not worried about you hurting me.”
“No, I didn't think so.”
Will could sense his pleased smile.
“Lift up your hips,” Hannibal said. “You may keep your head on the pillow if you wish.”
Will obliged, pushing himself up, exposing himself. He was suddenly overly conscious of his nudity. He felt displayed, and when Hannibal made an appreciative sound and his hand slipped lower to curve over Will’s backside, he knew that he was, and that Hannibal wanted it so. Wanted him laid out and available, all of his delicate parts revealed. Hannibal drew the tips of his fingers up the seam between Will’s asscheeks, and Will felt his nails dragging over sensitive, hot skin. Each touch overwhelmed him; he felt newly sentient.
“Hold yourself open for me,” Hannibal said.
Another shiver went through Will and he looked over his shoulder. Hannibal inclined his head when they made eye contact, a silent command. Will’s face became impossibly hotter, but he reached back and pulled apart his cheeks, hands grasping at what meat he had there. Hannibal hummed approval and it went straight to Will’s gut, fanning a fire that had dimmed some in their transition from frantic kissing to this arrangement.
“Like this?” Will asked, moving his knees further apart as well.
“Just like that.”
Hannibal came to kneel between his legs. Will felt his erection against the back of his thigh, it was a purposeful thing, it had intent. A finger slick with lubricant pressed at his hole and he gasped at the chill.
“It will warm,” Hannibal assured him, pressing inside with a slightly gritty drag. “Try to relax.”
Will tried; he breathed out in one long exhale. He could see the concentration on Hannibal’s face without turning. The finger inside him shifted gently from side to side, stroking him, teaching him to want more. Hannibal’s breath was rougher too. Will felt his hips circle behind him, Hannibal’s arousal more than evident. It made Will feel desired. The physical evidence of Hannibal's hunger for him was a balm more effective than the lubricant, and when Hannibal touched on the rough spot inside him, the bundle of nerve endings Will knew he'd aim for, Will moaned and pressed back.
A second, equally slick finger joined the first and Will realized that this wasn't just happening to him, but rather that he needed it. His fingers dug into his skin, trying to pull himself wider apart, to let Hannibal see the source of his need, what he felt must have looked greedy. He could feel himself clinging to Hannibal’s fingers.
“I'm—I think I'm—,” Will tried to speak.
“Grant me this pleasure a little longer,” Hannibal said, and bent to press a kiss to his back.
Will thought of touching a woman, of the way her folds would part for his fingers, and draw them inside. Of the warm, wet skin he would find there. He had relished the times he'd set himself to that particular part of foreplay. He could focus entirely on postponing the inevitable act of penetration, on circling the pad of his thumb over a revealed clit, on something other than his lover’s face. Will wondered if he looked as desperate as his former lovers had, and felt himself opening around a third finger and welcoming it with a sigh.
“May I kiss you?”
“God, yes,” Will whispered. “You can fuck me.”
He craned his head back for his kiss, but Hannibal shuffled downward and bent his head low. Will could see his hair, silvery in the moonlight, and felt Hannibal’s breath ghost over his skin. Goosebumps rose on his arms, and Hannibal kissed Will just above his still working fingers, trailed his mouth downward, and licked along Will’s hole. He heard Hannibal inhale noisily, scenting him from up close like he was smelling wine for its bouquet.
“Your...aroma is divine,” he said, and then his tongue replaced his fingers.
Will keened, inhuman and pulled apart. He dropped his hands and clutched at the sheets. He had known it would be a night of firsts, that they had been steadily moving toward this point for years, consciously and unconsciously. But he was not prepared; he could not have been prepared for the feeling of Hannibal’s mouth on him, for the feeling of being so thoroughly and profoundly speared open. His mind spiralled through a thousand different interactions between them, and he wondered helplessly how often Hannibal had thought about him like this before. If, as Will testified against him, Hannibal had pictured him spread out and begging to be fucked.
Hannibal used a finger to ease the way for his tongue, and Will stopped thinking at all.
“Oh fuck, fucking Christ,” he said. His voice was a broken thing, shocked out of him and raw. He rocked back against Hannibal’s face and felt no remorse. He was incredibly hard. Will thought he could surrender completely, and finish like this. The sound of Hannibal’s mouth on him only made him harder. And he could hear Hannibal touching himself as well, feel the movement of his wrist.
“Please, please fuck me,” Will tried again. “I need you. I need you, Hannibal.”
Hannibal pulled away and Will felt cold air on his skin, he felt bereft, anchored only by the hand keeping his hips steady.
“Say it again, Will,” Hannibal said. The heat returned and his cock nudged up against Will. Will strained for it.
“I need you.”
“Wonderful boy.” Hannibal sounded reverent. He tugged at Will with his thumb and drove forward.
A sob was wrenched out of him, and tears prickled behind Will’s eyes. He squeezed them shut. The stretch hurt; he was wet and licked open, and the breach still felt like too much. The pained sound made Hannibal’s hips still, and then he pulled back only to press forward with a wickedness Will hadn't felt from him in a long time. His thrusts were punishing, reckless, and Will had made him that way, Will’s body had drawn out some of his beast. Something inside Will came apart and then he was rearing up, resituating himself on his palms and meeting Hannibal halfway, an equal partner in the dance. He threw his head back, and his throat worked out strangled moans, sounds he'd never heard from himself, audible over the slap of flesh on flesh. Hannibal gripped his shoulder, thumb pressing below his adam’s apple.
“Bring yourself off for me,” Hannibal said. “Let me see you.”
Will’s cock felt momentarily foreign in his hand, like he'd forgotten its purpose, but the head was wet with precome and when he stoked himself once, twice, he contracted around Hannibal. It made for more delicious friction and Hannibal fell on him with a guttural noise, his chest sliding over Will’s back as he rutted into him erratically. Hannibal bit down hard at the juncture of Will’s neck and shoulder and Will could feel the pulse of his release, like a momentary second heartbeat, as Hannibal came inside him.
Will pulled at the head of his cock and followed him, squeezing down on Hannibal, and panting hard. Messy and utterly spent, he dropped forward onto the pillow, suddenly exhausted.
Hannibal slipped free and Will made a pitiful little noise at the loss. Hannibal left the bed and when he came back he had a damp, soft cloth and his mouth smelled of mint. He cleaned between Will’s thighs with breathtaking tenderness. Will rolled over and looked up at him, he crooked his arm over his head and dragged his other hand over his clavicles, his chest. He felt remade. Hannibal watched him with undisguised lust, apparent despite his flaccid state. It didn't matter that orgasm had just overtaken them both. Hannibal would have him again and again if he could. Will felt luxuriously bared now, and looking at Hannibal’s unabashed nakedness filled him with a curious pride at having made this choice, at having snared the Chesapeake Ripper in his own way.
“You'll be sore tomorrow,” Hannibal said with some measure of contrition. He lay down beside Will and touched his face.
“I want to be.”
“You were exquisite,” Hannibal sighed. He kissed Will's brow.
“I came so hard I thought I was gonna black out.”
Hannibal’s lips tilted into the most minute smirk. “World enough and time.”
“His Coy Mistress? Really?” Will raised an eyebrow.
“Sleep now,” Hannibal said, pulling him close. “You can lament my poor taste in the morning."
Will smiled. He ached with satisfaction.
“I intend to,” he said.
The days passed in a halcyon haze, and nearly a month had gone by before it occurred to Will to wonder where they were exactly. And ask. He wasn't sure what he'd expected when they arrived. A countryside villa, yes, but not as someone’s guests.
“This beautiful home belongs to Katarina and Leandro Leoni,” Hannibal replied, rolling the r’s with a proper amount of flair.
“And where are they now?”
Hannibal gave the platter between them a rather pointed look. And shrugged. Will scowled, the frown pulling at his scar. He wasn't repulsed, it just felt like a breach of etiquette to eat your hosts and then have the gall to sleep in their beds. He said as much.
“He, a thief and a scoundrel. And she, his willing accomplice,” Hannibal dismissed his concerns good humoredly. “They won't be missed. I knew them both for many years and this is a far better use for them.”
Will took a rather delicate bite of the artful liver pate before him. He wasn't naive, he knew meat was decidedly on the menu. But he could see the places these people had touched. He could see where hands had worn down the banister, which armchair was most favored, he could smell their bath products. He felt his heart constrict uneasily and Hannibal must have seen the shadow of doubt cross his face because he reached across the wooden table and covered Will’s hand, unconsciously curled into a tight fist, with his own.
“You're displeased,” he said.
“No,” Will corrected, thinking of the massive four poster bed they were sharing, and the wooden beamed ceiling above it; of how he'd almost forgotten what it meant to breathe until Hannibal spread him out across those stolen crisp white sheets and the ceiling blurred from the onslaught of pleasure on his senses. He turned his palm up and brought their hands together in a loose embrace. “I'm not displeased. I'm just...surprised.”
“Eat up,” Hannibal said, but he didn't let go.
It wasn’t long before boredom took him, and no amount of swimming, or cooking, or fucking could stave it off. He would never tire of Hannibal, Will knew that with conviction, but he needed a change of scenery. He felt the same urge from Hannibal, obfuscated by careful layers of personality, but there all the same. Will knew what he itched for.
He asked if they could leave.
“What is it you want, Will? Some secluded English manor? Firelit rooms festooned with animal haunches?”
“Very funny,” Will said sourly, even as a smile tugged at his lips. “But it would be nice to live somewhere I spoke the language.”
“We could go to France,” Hannibal offered.
“But my French is terrible.”
“Au contraire, mon amour. Your French is delightful.”
“It's creole,” Hannibal said, like he relished the taste of the words. Like he could taste Will in them. It made Will feel faintly blushy, all of that undisguised ardor for exactly who he was.
“How about Monte Carlo?” he suggested. “I think I’d make a terrific gambler.”
Hannibal’s mouth quirked up just so, the barest hint of mirth. “The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin thought he could bring about armageddon with his compositions.”
Will couldn’t help the eye roll. “Sounds like your kind of guy.”
“Perhaps,” Hannibal allowed. “An admirable form for madness to take.”
“Your delusions of grandeur aren’t nearly so grand.”
“That would be because they’re not delusions.”
“So you really are the devil?” Will knew he sounded exceedingly fond, and he knew the words would sting just a little.
Hannibal looked at him, tilting his head like a big cat regarding its prey impassively. “Perhaps,” he said again, and Will could have sworn he was hiding a smirk when he lifted his wine glass, its great globe obscuring Hannibal’s mouth.
“Do you miss teaching, Will?” He asked after a time.
“Do you miss the violence of your old life?”
Will caught his gaze and held it. “I think you know the answer to that.”
Their villa in Monaco had panoramic views of the Mediterranean. It was far too large for them, and only a single person had been murdered in Monte Carlo in the past decade. It would never last. But Hannibal’s affection for him seemed to grow daily, and that was consolation enough for how transitory their lives had become.
“The cliff was our shibboleth,” Hannibal told him. “No one can truly know or understand what we shared that night. How grateful I am, to have witnessed your rebirth. Your becoming.”
“I keep wanting to compare this to a fairytale. The fall. Our life here.”
“Does it feel like a fairytale to you, Will?”
“Maybe something out of Brothers Grimm. It’s been bloody enough.”
Hannibal made a chiding sound, but the hand in Will’s hair stroked lovingly through his curls regardless. Will pressed his cheek more firmly against Hannibal’s chest, and tightened his arms where they were looped around Hannibal’s waist. They were lying practically atop one another on the broad, plush chaise that took up most of the sitting room off the master bedroom. Hannibal had been reading before Will climbed into his arms and wrapped them up together, leaving Hannibal’s book by the wayside.
“How many times have I almost died in your arms?”
“Many,” Hannibal said in amused agreement.
“I know Francis was the dragon,” Will said, face turned into the fine fabric of Hannibal’s dress shirt. “But sometimes, here with you, living this life, I feel like I’ve accidentally run away with one.”
“Left the maiden in distress behind and took the dragon for yourself, then?”
Will nodded thinking of Abigail and Alana, of Molly and Margot even. Hannibal tilted his head up with one finger beneath Will’s chin. “You make a lovely wayward prince,” he murmured, before touching his lips to Will’s.
Will sighed into the kiss, his lips parting around Hannibal’s bottom lip. He sucked gently at it, the barest of pressure, and the hand in his hair tightened. A warning and encouragement. He was perhaps more like the frog to Hannibal’s scorpion, but he'd already been stung so many times he was immune to it. Hannibal had tortured him, walked him arm in arm to the brink of complete mental oblivion and yet Will obligingly let Hannibal guide him now, up and around, until he was astride Hannibal’s lap, his thighs straining against his thin wool slacks on either side of Hannibal’s hips.
Hannibal withdrew his hands from Will’s hair and clasped them behind his neck to pull him down once more into a kiss. If this was his happily ever after, Will could live with it.
Wayward prince indeed.
Hannibal Lecter was a brilliant, carefree epicure and sensualist. A collector of exquisite things. Will felt a pang of self-doubt wondering if he, too, had been collected, and knew immediately that he had been. Not Hannibal’s greatest mistake as Bedelia had suggested, but rather his most prized creation. Hannibal had never said as much. But Will knew—as sure as he knew he could peel back the mask and see the monster he loved beneath—that somehow Hannibal prized him above all.
In the dark, Will reached for him. Hannibal took his hand and held it, and together they fell back asleep.