"Dessert?" asked Hannibal.
Will set down his fork and withheld a groan. He wasn't being fattened for slaughter, he was pretty sure--for other purposes, but not for that. He folded the cloth napkin across his lap.
"I don't know if I could right now," he said. "Will it keep?"
He had no illusions about what Hannibal was up to lately, with his navarin d'agneau, his mussels mariniere and foie de veau with wilted chard. Dinner at chez Lecter had turned into an exercise in iron overdose. Will only hoped he was a few milligrams shy of the edge.
At least he'd gotten used to the weirdness of dining with someone who didn't eat. It helped that Hannibal seemed pleased enough to present and narrate the courses, and that he'd nurse a glass of whatever wine he served to Will. Most of his kind couldn't stomach it, but that was Hannibal. Exception to many rules. Will had asked once, early on, if being unable to consume solids wasn't an obstacle in the kitchen. Hannibal had said he worked from memory, and relied on his nose for the rest.
No one could complain about the results, anyway. With effort Will pushed back his chair, gesturing at his empty plate. His dishes were the only ones to clear. "Can I--"
Hannibal forestalled him. "If you would indulge me, perhaps a fire in the study? Take the wine with you if you like. I won't be a moment."
It was unclear to Will whether the task was meant to flatter his masculinity, or just to give him a few minutes alone. An intermission of sorts. Neither was necessary, but he couldn't see his way to making a fuss. He left Hannibal with an awkward smile and went to build the fire.
The study was a cozier version of Hannibal's office: no mezzanine, but laden bookshelves extending the length of two walls. The windows were uncovered at this hour, safely after dark; in daylight the blinds and curtains could be drawn to block the least intrusion of sun. A sleek desk stood angled in one corner. Arranged around the fireplace were two low armchairs and a backless sofa--more of a fainting couch--covered in grey-blue suede.
A repurposed wine rack of stylized antlers held firewood, neatly stacked. Will found matches and kindling in a lacquered box on the mantle that looked as if it came from some other continent and century. He set to work, grateful for the physical occupation, to have a task for his hands to do other than twitch.
The fireplace was in perfect order, of course. The wood burned cleanly and smelled sweet. It wasn't until Hannibal appeared and paused to sniff the room with an air of self-satisfaction that Will understood: even the wood had been specially curated, and here he was, basking in the means of his own toasting. Applewood smoked Graham.
It was ridiculous. He ought to give Hannibal shit for it. Instead he crouched by the fire a minute longer, waiting for his flush to subside, then rose to his feet. He glanced at the armchairs, so like the matched set in Hannibal's office, only to bypass them and flop down on one end of the couch.
There, he thought.
The hairs on his nape prickled as Hannibal padded closer, almost without sound.
A glass of water presented itself in front of Will's nose. He reached for it without thinking and glanced up.
"Hydration is important," said Hannibal, serene.
Will made a face, but downed the water in a couple of gulps. As Hannibal sat down beside him, close but not touching, Will turned the glass in his hands and tried not to stare too furtively sideways. In the course of clean-up Hannibal had shed his jacket and rolled his merlot-colored sleeves. His waistcoat and tie remained. When he began to loosen the latter, Will drew a breath. Maybe the smoothness of the motions needled him, or the assurance that underlaid it. Maybe he felt the need to needle back.
"Undressing for dinner?" he asked.
Hannibal's fingers stilled. "Do you object?"
"No, no, go ahead. Get--comfy." It came out even less sweetly than he'd intended. He set down his empty glass with a too-loud clink on the floor.
"You're welcome to do likewise," offered Hannibal, after a pause.
The pause that followed was longer. Hannibal laid his folded waistcoat and tie over the arm of the couch and turned to peer at Will in earnest. He had the nerve to look uncertain now, concerned.
"I had hopes of a more enthusiastic consent," he said.
Enthusiastic. As if Hannibal were the latest poster vamp for assault awareness week on campus. Will could picture the captions: My Strength Is Not For Hurting and Glamour is Unglamorous and Yes Means Yes. He made a noise that verged on a snort.
"You want me to say 'please'?"
"You did, last time."
Which was true, and it knocked the wind out of Will for a minute. His brain skirted memories of last time rendered suddenly vivid, along with plausible excuses for what he might or might not have said. Hannibal went on watching him, looking increasingly regretful--no, doleful--and trying to hide it with only middling success. Poor dejected vampire, so sad when his prey of choice didn't crawl into his lap and beg to get sucked.
When Will continued to say nothing, Hannibal drew himself up and faced the fire, hands folded in contrition over his knees.
"I apologize for my presumption. If you'd prefer that I not keep you this evening--"
"No, I don't prefer, Jesus, just--don't."
Feeling as if he'd mauled the mood beyond recognition, and therefore couldn't do much worse, Will reached for Hannibal, grabbing blindly for his arm. Hannibal shifted at once toward him, all solicitous care, and drew Will's hand into his own.
Gently he turned it over, sliding the cuff of Will's shirt up to expose his wrist. The twin marks were fading, but still legible. Hannibal stroked them with his thumb once, lightly, and gooseflesh prickled on Will's skin.
"Has there been some unwanted exposure?"
"No, I've kept my sleeves down. Why?"
"I thought perhaps there had been, that you were cross with me because of it."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to--" Will broke off. He wasn't sure what he'd meant to do, or what he hadn't.
Hannibal smiled at him, the little smile that made his eyes crinkle at the corners. "No need to apologize." His gaze on Will felt warm and alive.
At least one of those was an illusion, and in that moment Will didn't care. He leaned into Hannibal's side. He could feel Hannibal's immediate stillness, the way he suddenly forgot to pretend to breathe.
It took him a minute to manage the words. "If I didn't want to, I wouldn't be here. Sitting on your couch, stewing in excess hemoglobin."
At that Hannibal began to relax against him fully. "You've been taking the supplements I suggested?"
"Yes, Doctor. And I ate that pâté you sent home with me. All of it. Lunch every day."
"And you've been eating breakfast?"
"...If coffee counts."
"Look, I'm working on it." Will shifted, settling back into the arm of the couch. Hannibal took the opportunity to lift Will's feet into his lap and remove his shoes. It might have been a courtesy, or maybe he just didn't want Will's grubby Rockports on his suede. Either way, Will let him do it. "When's the last time you ate?" he asked.
"Some days ago." Hannibal set the shoes at the foot of the couch, the left in precise alignment with the right. His own shoes followed. "Sunday, I think."
Will let his legs stretch out behind Hannibal. Part of him was still afraid to press, despite what Hannibal had promised. "What was it?"
"Lamb. A Katahdin I purchased from a farm in Virginia. Pasture raised. At this time of year the lambs are in their winter coats. Dark curls on his little head."
The smile in Hannibal's voice should've tipped Will off, even before Hannibal leaned toward him, laying one hand on Will's hair. After a few heartbeats he began to stroke, just on the surface at first, then carding deeper. His fingers spread to dishevel and knead. They were cool--Hannibal's hands were always cool--but between the fire in the hearth and the heat rising in Will's face and throat and all the rest of him, the coolness might have been soothing. Might have been, if the push and slide of those fingers through his hair didn't have the opposite effect.
"I would like to have fasted altogether," Hannibal was saying, "until tonight."
Will met his eyes. He could see what roiled in them, dark and unabated. Hannibal was letting him see.
"But you were hungry," he said.
"You're still hungry."
This was how they got you, thought Will. No glamour required. If it wasn't the dripping charisma or the preternatural powers, the lure of the forbidden and the dark, it was the vulnerability in them, the need. The way they looked at you like an underfed puppy, like they might waste away and die if you didn't let them drink. And the stakes were real for them, not like for randy humans with their false emergencies of lust. Whatever poets might say, no one had ever died of not getting to stick his dick somewhere, but every creature had to eat to live. Or at least to keep being undead.
There was nothing in his mind approaching certitude, or firmness of purpose, but Will's hand moved to the top button of his shirt and undid it. Moved to the next button and undid that, too. He shifted his shoulders against the arm of the couch. The shirt parted open as far as it could without undoing more.
Hannibal's gaze latched onto the movement, the bared skin. He was holding himself supremely still.
Will didn't toss his head back, didn't close his eyes or arch his neck. He kept looking at Hannibal. He lifted his chin. Not a lot, but enough.
Hannibal kept staring. "Will?"
They hadn't done it this way. The other times, Will had given Hannibal his wrist. It had felt safer--had been safer, probably, in some respects. By way of answer Will reached for Hannibal again, pulling him close until Hannibal's face lay tucked against his throat.
"No classes till winter session starts," he said. It sounded like an excuse.
"What if Uncle Jack should call you in?"
"I'll wear a turtleneck." He hated turtlenecks. In the past week he'd bought two. It was bad enough trying to explain what he was doing with Hannibal to himself, let alone to other people, let alone go strolling into Quantico to teach a class on catching predators with fang marks all over his neck. Hannibal seemed to respect the need for discretion, though Will had an unformed sense that he would've preferred to display his claim in front of the BAU, God, and everybody. Dramatically and anatomically.
There was no hiding it from other vampires; they could smell Hannibal on him, no matter how many turtlenecks Will wore, or how offensive an aftershave. For the moment maybe Hannibal was content with that. Or with Will's choice to forgo the aftershave completely, since Hannibal was now nosing at his collarbone with single-minded zeal, taking deep drags of his scent.
It was flattering and--the thought formed before Will could build any forts against it--kind of cute.
After a moment Hannibal raised his head. His fringe fell in disarray across his brow. His eyes were darkened, pupils blown, but when they met Will's some presence of mind seemed to return to him.
"Will. Should you experience an involuntary physical response--"
"A 'bite boner,' Doctor Lecter?"
Even in his distraction, Hannibal managed a look of faint reproof. "The likelihood increases with a neck bite. I only wish to know your preference in the event."
"You offering to give me a hand with that?"
"If you like, yes."
Too much earnestness for pure courtesy, there. Will averted his eyes. But if he'd wanted to avoid escalating intimacy, he was going about it all wrong. He knew that.
"Let's just see how things go," he said, temporizing. He petted Hannibal's head. "Tell me about your last supper. The lucky lamb."
Hannibal blinked, then produced a fatuous smile. "He was standoffish at first. Perhaps simply because I was a stranger, or perhaps he recognized a predator by scent. I used a small glamour on him to ease his mind. After that he was a very good boy for me."
"You mind-whammied a sheep."
An animal raised to be eaten couldn't hope for a better fate. An end without fear. "That's kinda sweet."
Hannibal seemed to accept this judgment as his due. "I've been a good boy for you, Will," he agreed. "Will you be a good boy now for me?"
Suddenly all the breath left Will's body. Saying yes or shit or do you need it written out on letterhead or anything else aloud was impossible, but he could nod, so he did that, tightly, repeatedly. Hannibal lowered his head. His lips touched the pulse point at Will's neck.
Will tensed, but Hannibal only began to teethe at him, scraping softly with his incisors, gentle nips like those the tamest of human lovers might give. No fangs yet.
Slowly the tension in Will's neck and shoulders ebbed.
In that lull, Hannibal bit him.
The pain pierced. Will jerked, gripping hard at Hannibal's arms. A hurt noise escaped him. He might have tried to twist away, in spite of himself, but then Hannibal withdrew his fangs to lick the wound, slathering it. Under his tongue the pain bloomed into a hot, persistent throb that scarcely registered as pain at all. Will made another sound, this time in relief. One of his hands fumbled its way back to Hannibal's head.
"There now," murmured Hannibal. He lapped again at the wound he'd made, nuzzled, then sealed his mouth over it to suck.
Science had yet to catalog the full cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones that flooded the brain of a bite recipient, but dopamine was among them. Oxytocin another. Awareness of the operative chemicals meant little to Will when they were operating on him. The rush hit him fast this time, a surge compared to the ripples he'd felt when Hannibal had nursed at his wrist. His pulse pounded as if amplified through all the hollows of his body. To Hannibal the noise must be deafening. Will exhaled slowly, letting his head loll. At his throat Hannibal gave a low approving murmur and hunkered in.
For a time Will lay as if stupefied by his own heartbeat, listening to wet sounds of suction that should've been obscene. The fire snapped and hissed. Its glow suffused everything, softening edges, while formless darkness crept in the periphery of his sight.
The room began to sweat. All the heat in Will's body began to pool in one of two places, his neck and his cock. His veins drew a line of red between them, one that pulled tighter and tighter until it dragged a groan from his pit of his throat.
One of Hannibal's hands lay by his cheek, lightly cradling. The other hovered at his waist, touching without pressure, as if they were at high school prom and this was Will's first slow dance. Careful, fussy, trying not to presume. Trying to make him feel safe. He did feel safe, or near enough to it, enough to grasp Hannibal's wrist and put his hand where it could do some real good.
Hannibal broke off with a muffled noise, lifting his mouth to look up. His face was as flushed as Will had ever seen it. He licked smears of Will's blood from his lips.
As far gone as he was, Will understood he was being asked for permission--again--as if Will's smooth move of hand, meet crotch were insufficiently explicit. It was worse than trying to get a vampire across a threshold; at least for that you only had to invite them once.
He was damned if he'd say please. At least not in the next thirty seconds. He shifted his hips instead, pushing into Hannibal's palm.
"Having some trouble here, Doctor," He didn't have to try to make himself sound breathless. "Can you help me out?"
At that Hannibal seemed to forget his entire vocabulary other than Will and yes. He reared back to open Will's fly with both hands, not quite fumbling but too hasty for suavity. Will wheezed a breath through his nose when cool fingers freed him. Hannibal let go only to raise his hand to his mouth and swipe his tongue over his palm, wetting it until it was soppy with mingled blood and spit. His eyes flickered, but if the absence of proper lubricant aggrieved him, he gave no other sign before wrapping the head of Will's cock in his grip.
Will groaned. Hannibal crawled back up to settle alongside him, stretching his legs next to Will's on the couch. He nuzzled Will's stubble, nudged his jaw and chin before returning to Will's throat.
The wound had begun to close; Hannibal had to suck hard at first to reopen it, sending a fresh burst of pain into Will before Hannibal soothed it with sloppy licks. As he licked he explored Will's cock with his hand, learning by feel the shape and length of it. His grip felt expert, like the surest thing Will had felt in a long time. In fact ice ages had passed since anyone had touched him like this, and maybe later he'd find time to despair that it took a vampire to break the spell. Right now he was too busy leaking all over Hannibal's hand, the hand of a surgeon, one that could take people apart and put them back together better. He wanted Hannibal to do that to him.
When Hannibal's thumb smeared over the slit, spreading slick all over the head, Will hissed like the fire in the grate. He stopped trying to think, to do anything except jerk his hips and clutch Hannibal's shoulders. He wasn't going to last. Hannibal shuddered as if he were the one about to lose it, and broke off from sucking at Will's neck.
"You don't know, Will." His voice guttered like a candle. His accent sounded thick in his mouth. "You don't know how you taste." His hand moved on Will's cock, pulling in time with the beat of Will's pulse. "Are you close? Tell me you are. I want to taste you when you come. May I do that?"
"Fuck--yeah, yeah I'm--" Will bit down a noise. It might have been a whimper. Hannibal twisted his grip.
The line went taut. Will arched on the end of it until it snapped. A bright hot sweetness lanced through him, and his vision went dim as he spilled in Hannibal's hand.
Hannibal caught as much as he could. A haze descended over Will, and with it a wave of dizziness. He watched Hannibal bring his palm to his bloody mouth, cupped as if it held water in the desert. Saw his expression grow dreamy and rapt. Hannibal was still licking his fingers clean as he looked to Will, eyes half-lidded and brimming, devoid of both lewdness and consciousness of shame.
"Dreadful to waste it," he murmured. "Now. I'm afraid we've ruined your shirt."
It was the least sincere expression of regret Will had ever heard. If he tucked his chin to his chest he could see the stains on his plaid collar. "'S okay. I can get those out."
"Allow me to replace it, please. I insist."
Will sighed and let his eyes fall shut. He felt as if he were floating. In most cases he managed not to black out directly after orgasm, but sleep gaped around him like a maw, inescapable. Probably the blood loss. He shifted, nudging his forehead into Hannibal's shoulder. "'M gonna pass out for a minute, if that's okay."
"By all means."
The last thing he felt was a press of lips to his neck, almost chaste, as if to seal the wound shut.
Awareness returned to him slowly. He was too warm, sticky in the armpits, and his neck was sore. When he raised his fingers to the wound they met a neat square of gauze held by surgical tape.
The rest of him swam in lassitude. Taking stock of his person, he found his clothes had been decorously re-buttoned, bottom and top. He turned his head, and there was Hannibal--sitting on the floor, of all places, his back to the sofa, facing the fire. He'd made efforts to put himself in order--no trace of blood on his lips--but some of Will's handiwork remained in the skewed hanks of hair on the back of his head.
They made Will feel foolishly accomplished. He had to fend off a grin until it was overtaken by a mighty yawn.
Hearing him stir, Hannibal turned. The softness of his smile made it waver like firelight, and then he said something completely unintelligible.
Will mustered the strength to quirk an eyebrow. "Didn't catch that."
Hannibal pronounced the gobbledygook again. "A ritual phrase in Japanese, spoken after a meal to show appreciation for the feast. My aunt is a great proponent of its use, particularly when the feast was also the guest."
It was a little too soon after bloodletting for language lessons, or for stories about Hannibal's vampire aunts. Will raised both hands to rub his face. "How long was I out?"
"Not half an hour. If you feel any light-headedness when you sit up, please continue to rest until it passes."
That seemed like good advice. Will shifted his head to rest more comfortably, in no hurry otherwise to move. "Don't I get cookies and juice?"
He'd meant it to be teasing, but Hannibal perked up like a spaniel at the word walk. "There is still your dessert, in fact." Slight emphasis on the your. His eyes glinted. "You should replenish yourself."
With a huffed laugh Will waved his hand. "Okay, sure. I could eat again."
Hannibal launched to his feet and made for the kitchen. The obvious spring in his step made Will feel doubly drained. Privately he thought Hannibal's energy levels unfair even on a maintenance diet of sheep's blood and Primitivo; a proper feed turned him into the Energizer bunny. Bunnicula.
Always obliging, Will's brain supplied the image of a fanged rabbit pelting a harpsichord instead of a drum. Recollection of the childhood stories followed, if dimly, exhumed from the memory of dog-eared books: a canine narrator too dumb or loyal to suspect his friend, even in the face of clear evidence. A cautionary tale. Maybe he should add it to his class syllabus. But he knew what Hannibal was. Hannibal had never tried to hide it.
When Hannibal returned, tray in hand, Will sat up cautiously to no ill effects. He resettled himself against the arm of the couch in a less debauched sprawl.
"Raisin tartlets," declared Hannibal, "served with a barrel-aged strong ale." He seated himself on the couch without disturbing Will's position and settled the tray on his lap.
Cookies and juice, thought Will again, but he didn't say it. He accepted the snifter glass, took a whiff, and blinked at the odor of ethanol.
"Smells like bourbon."
"Aged in bourbon barrels. I expect it will taste of it as well."
Left to his own devices, Will would've opted for the bourbon itself instead of beer in bourbon's clothing, but the ale tasted good: malty and sweet, as if there were raisins in it, too. He demolished two of the tartlets almost without knowing he'd reached for one.
The question was on his lips before he could censor it. "So what do I taste like?"
It sounded more prurient than he'd intended, blurted like that, but Hannibal seemed unfazed.
"Yourself, of course. And a great many things." He pursed his lips, eyes narrowing as if in thought. "Today, a wood in late autumn. The fallen leaves of poplar and oak. Beech nuts. Leaf mould and sedges on the banks of a stream. The stream itself, a relentless agent of erosion. The rivers and fountains of waters upon which the angel pours his vial. Waning sunlight. The distant tread of deer."
Whatever Will had been expecting--tangy, with notes of sweat and dog hair on the finish--it wasn't that. He took refuge in the glass of ale, remembering his walk with the dogs in the woods at sunset, before he'd driven in to Baltimore.
"Other elements are more difficult to describe," added Hannibal. His mouth softened. "The last time you invited me, you tasted of the sea. I wouldn't put it down entirely to the shellfish, but perhaps next time we'll experiment with oysters at dinner. I'd be curious to see."
The assumption of a next time seemed both surreal and easy, so much so as to pass without remark. "It's different every time?" Will asked.
"The same terroir. A different vintage."
"Can't step in the same river twice."
"Just so. One cannot." Hannibal looked at him with warmth so undisguised that Will had to examine the ale again. On second thought he reached for another tart; it wasn't as if Hannibal could eat them. Hannibal watched with pleasure unabated. "You must allow me to offer you my guest room. Or to call a taxi, if you insist on returning home tonight."
"A cab to Wolf Trap, are you kidding?" But he could tell Hannibal wasn't. He might be okay to drive in an hour or so, with coffee to help, but his limbs felt as if they were weighted. If he rolled on his side and shut his eyes again he'd be dead to the world. "I'll stay. If it's not too much trouble. I'll have to call Alana about the dogs."
"Nothing would please me more. And I'd be happy to see to the dogs myself, after you retire."
"What, drive out there just for that?"
"The night is young for me. I have no appointments. It's no difficulty. In the morning I may need to retire before you're awake, but breakfast will be waiting in the kitchen."
"They'll be weirded out if you show up in the middle of the night," said Will. "The dogs." But it was less a protest than an observation.
"I'll do what I can to reassure them," Hannibal said.
Will wondered if glamour worked on dogs as well as lambs, then discarded the thought as unworthy. He wondered where Hannibal slept during the day. Rooms in the basement, most likely; no matter the lengths to which some vampires went to civilize themselves, certain instincts were difficult to shake. He had a feeling Hannibal would show him where he slept, if Will asked him to. Maybe next time he would ask to see. When the tray and the glass of ale were empty, he swung his feet to the floor and let Hannibal shepherd him upstairs to bed.
The house in Wolf Trap was entirely dark. The copse of nearby trees obscured the setting moon. After pulling into the drive, Hannibal shut off the Bentley's engine and sat in stillness for a moment, observing the house and its surrounding fields.
From inside the house came a faint yip, plaintive, followed by the clicking of claws, audible to Hannibal at this distance. He exited the car.
The cold outside would have clouded the breath of a human marauder. Hannibal moved without erring through the dark. He paused again on the porch to inspect the ward marked over the door, a sign of protection and defense. There were identical marks on each side of the house, in each of the cardinal directions; he had noted them on his previous visit, but left them undisturbed. On himself they had no effect--his invitation to enter annulled them--but to others they would be an irritant at least, a deterrent at best.
The key Will had given him opened the door. The dogs skittered in the parlor, looking up at Hannibal with expectation. He met each of their gazes in turn, holding them briefly immobile. Then he stood aside, propping open the door.
The dogs poured out to the porch and into the yard to mill and sniff and urinate. None of them strayed beyond the nearest tree.
Hannibal returned his attention to the ward on the lintel. He drew up one of the wooden porch chairs and stepped onto it. Removing his gloves, he raised his hand to his mouth, and with one fang pierced the pad of his thumb.
The bead of blood that welled was his own, but its source was in Will, in the blood drawn into Hannibal's belly and changed within him until it became himself. One day he would rewrite this and all signs and bindings with their blood entirely mingled; the thought of it eased a portion of his unrest. He dabbed his thumb with his fingertip and laid his finger over the existing ward.
In blood he drew the sign of a winding serpent with a single coil.
Satisfied, he licked his thumb to stanch the bleeding, then stepped down from the chair and returned it to its place. The dogs came at his command. When they had filed into the house he locked the door behind them and strode to the car.
On the interstate he drove without regard for posted limits, or for any officer of the law so pigheaded as to pull him over. He wanted to be home, back in his house where Will was sleeping, in case Will should wake between now and dawn, gasping from unspeakable dreams.