There is no remedy for love but to love more.
Will stepped into the echoing men’s room of the Lyric Opera House. Hannibal waited for him next to the sinks, hands clasped behind his back. Apart from him, the room was empty. The music followed them in, muffled but rising.
"I didn't think you were serious," Will said.
"La Bohème is not my favorite opera. And I believe the experiment is worth undertaking."
"I'm not sure—" Will stopped and swallowed. One touch was all it took to convince him, just Hannibal’s hand in the center of his chest. "I got my test results back."
"Did you," Hannibal murmured. "And you are aware of mine. Is that a request, then?"
"That I would be able to smell it on you."
Will nodded quickly. He let Hannibal take his hips, maneuver him back into the largest stall, and shut the door behind them.
"Are you sure?" Hannibal asked softly. "A condom might be wise under the circumstances. You'll be such a mess without it."
"I want … I'm sure."
"Do you want them to know?" Hannibal pressed him up against the wall and held him there, hands on his shoulders, cheek against his, hot breath on the side of his neck. "How deep does this vein of exhibitionism run?"
"It's not – I'm not. God." Will ducked his head and ground his forehead into Hannibal's shoulder. "I don't really want them to know, but …"
"But you like the idea of it." Hannibal turned him, and Will braced his hands against the wall while Hannibal unfastened his pants. "The more thoroughly they see you as my possession, the better you like it."
Will didn’t deny it.
Hannibal slid two fingers over his hole. His breath faltered at the first slick touch. "Will—"
Will pushed back and took his fingers in, body already stretched and aching for it. He'd done it after his shower, before the tuxedo, one foot up on the edge of the bathtub.
Hannibal’s free hand tightened on his hip. "You said you didn’t think I was serious."
Will looked back at him. "I never know with you. I wanted to be ready. Just in case."
Hannibal’s touch left him, and he heard the sound of a zipper. Seconds later, Hannibal laid a hand against his back to steady him as he pressed his cock into Will's body. Will groaned, accustomed to Hannibal’s bedroom or his own house in the middle of nowhere. It echoed off the tiles, and he shut his mouth with a snap.
"I'd rather hear you," Hannibal said.
"Would you rather have everyone else hear me too?"
Hannibal bent over him and nuzzled along his neck. "I can think of worse things."
"I thought you'd be—" He stopped with a gasp as Hannibal drew back and then slammed into him. "Fuck. More possessive. Or at least more worried about getting thrown out."
"What fun is there in having something if you can't show it off?" Hannibal murmured in his ear. He straightened and held Will’s hips tightly. "Brace yourself against the wall."
He barely gave Will enough time to obey before he was thrusting in with enough force to make Will’s feet slide on the floor and his hands skid on the cool tile. One thrust after another, jarring, deep, pulling noises from Will that half shamed and half excited him.
He bit his knuckles and closed his eyes, forearm and temple pushed against the wall. "Am I really something for you to show off?"
"You are the loveliest thing I own."
"Oh, God. Hannibal—"
Outside, a clear soprano voice soared above the swelling music. Hannibal pulled him upright against his chest and spoke into his ear, just above a whisper, words wound through the notes. "Dressed just as I please, letting me do as I like with your body. In a few minutes, we’ll join the throng for intermission and you will smell of sex and my semen on your skin."
Will moaned and wrapped a hand around his cock as his pants slid further down his thighs. "You have to fuck me again when we get home. You have to."
Hannibal worked his hips in short thrusts, grinding into Will’s body. "Will you need it? Even after this?"
"Yes, fuck, need it. I need you, please, Hannibal—"
"If I stopped right now, you’d still feel it at work tomorrow."
"You’d better not."
"You want more?"
"I always want more of you." That was the truth, even when they spent the afternoon together in bed, drowning in each other’s touch. Even when he felt saturated by Hannibal’s presence and attention to the point of intoxication. He was used to craving solitude. This was new. He thought it must be new for Hannibal too.
"Then you shall have it. Anything you want, Will. Anything it's in my power to give you."
It made Will grope for his hand and moan through his teeth at the same time. A perilous combination of tenderness and arousal filled his chest. He knew Hannibal meant it. Anything. "Just you," he said.
Hannibal wrapped his arms around his chest and stomach and fucked him as slowly as if they were alone in bed with the whole night ahead of them. Murmured words in his ear, soft touches, gentle kisses pressed along the line of his throat.
When Will came, it was the inevitable spilling over of a dam rather than burst concrete and destruction. Hannibal held him on the edge for so long that he was useless afterward, nearly shaking as Hannibal finished inside him.
They swayed together. Will left it entirely up to Hannibal to get them reasonably clean and presentable. When they were zipped up and tucked in and Hannibal had made an attempt to tame Will’s hair, they still lingered. Hannibal stroked over his cheek, clean-shaven again tonight, and kissed him. Will pressed close. He spread out his hands at Hannibal's waist and felt the rise and fall of his breath, expansion and contraction, still a little fast.
"May I ask a favor?" Hannibal said.
"You picked a good time for it."
"It's a big favor." He bent his head to Will’s neck. His teeth scraped across Will's skin.
Will shivered. "Your odds are pretty good. What is it?"
"Let me pack for you when we go to Venice."
Hannibal kept up his attentions to Will’s neck, soft kisses and little nips. "Not your personal items, of course, but the clothes. Let me choose. Or buy what you need while we’re there."
Will stared at the wall opposite. A dozen replies crowded into his head at once.
Hannibal pulled back to look at him. "If you're hesitating because it would make you uncomfortable, then of course you must say no. But if it's because you think you shouldn’t—"
"Yes," Will said. "Yes, okay. Do it."
Hannibal pressed a hard, swift kiss to his mouth. "Thank you, Will."
"You’re not supposed to thank me for letting you buy me stuff."
"But I am grateful." Hannibal lifted his head to listen to the music. "Intermission will be soon."
"Do you regret missing it?"
"I find it difficult to regret anything that I do with you."
"That's a yes. How much on a scale of one to ten?"
"Five. Perhaps six. I think you would've liked this one."
"I’ve seen Rent."
Hannibal blinked slowly at him, eyes an indefinable fraction wider than they had been a second ago. "I hardly know what part of that statement to address first. Did you enjoy it?"
"Not really. I don't like musicals."
They stepped out of the men's room just as a wash of applause signaled the end of the first half.
"Under what circumstances did you see it?"
"I had a date, believe it or not. She wanted to go. I got tickets."
"I trust the association didn't last long."
Will bit his lip against a grin. "You are such a snob."
"You admitted you didn’t like it."
"I’m not sold on opera either. Not that much difference really. They’ve both got people standing around on stage in fancy costumes singing for no reason."
"You’re only saying that to irritate me."
“I’m saying it because it’s true. Irritating you is just a bonus.”
They made their way to the lounge, Hannibal’s hand a light and constant presence on Will’s back. He’d gotten used to it, as he’d gotten used to Hannibal, to the point where the absence of either sometimes struck him at odd times. Alone in the shower in the morning. In class. Walking the dogs in boot-sucking mud that Hannibal would not appreciate, no matter what he said about his willingness to try.
The bartender in the lounge had their drinks ready. Scotch for Will, champagne for Hannibal. It gave Will a lurking feeling of unease, as did most of the luxuries Hannibal took for granted.
Hannibal raised his glass casually for a toast and then raised his eyebrows as Will looked away without responding. "Is there a problem?"
"Just more used to being at the other end of the social ladder.”
“Even now? You’re not a child living on the edges of poverty anymore. You’re a professional at the top of your field.”
"As far as anyone here knows, I’m just the guy you’re fucking."
"Will." Hannibal drew his name into a sigh.
Will glanced at him, not quite smiling. "That was the face I was going for when I called your operas musicals."
"Appalling," Hannibal murmured.
"Your eyebrow twitches. Just a little. The left one."
"That’s what you get for—" He stopped short.
"For spoiling you so dreadfully?" Hannibal said. He pulled Will in closer, hand at his waist. "I can’t bring myself to regret it."
Will looked down at his drink and leaned into Hannibal’s body. "Hasn’t been very long yet."
"No, it hasn’t. I have a great deal of work still to do."
Will couldn’t answer that. He was saved from having to try by the vibration of his phone in his pocket. He took it out and straightened, pulling away from Hannibal. "I’ll be back in a second."
"It’s Jack." Will took the call as he made his way out of the lounge and into the hall outside, where it was marginally quieter.
"Where are you?" Jack said.
"Out. What’s going on?"
Jack paused, maybe adjusting to the idea of Will having a life. It’d been an adjustment for Will too. "We have a body. Organs missing. Zeller thinks it’s the Ripper."
"You don’t sound sure."
"We usually find his fresh. This isn’t fresh. How soon can you get here?"
Will entertained a brief fantasy of telling Jack he couldn’t, that he had plans for the evening that didn’t include mutilation and missing organs. And then he got the address and hung up.
In the lounge, he found Hannibal chatting to an older woman and a man with a red walrus mustache. He put a hand on Hannibal’s shoulder to get his attention.
Hannibal slid an arm around his waist to catch him close while he finished his sentence and then turned toward him. "You’re going to tell me you must leave."
"Yeah. I’m sorry."
"If you must, you must." Hannibal pulled the valet ticket from his pocket and handed it to him. "Take the car. I can get a taxi home."
"I can get a cab."
"And leave yourself stranded at whatever ungodly site Jack’s called you out to? No, you must take the car."
"Are you sure?"
"Just be sure you bring it back afterward," Hannibal said, and his tone left no doubt that it wasn’t the car that Hannibal wanted to see at his house before the night was over.
Will swallowed. "I don’t know how late I’ll be."
"Never mind. You have a key. Wake me when you get in."
It felt incredibly strange, even daring, to be doing this little relationship dance in front of other people. Their audience seemed to be both entertained and faintly scandalized.
"Okay," Will said. "Thanks. It’ll be a lot easier this way."
"It’s only sensible." Hannibal leaned in for a kiss.
Will expected something brief and perfunctory. Instead, Hannibal reeled him in still closer and teased Will’s mouth open with his tongue, hand at the center of his back to keep their bodies pressed together. Will clutched at him for balance. His flare of irritation was immediately overwhelmed by heat, and he let Hannibal kiss him until he had nearly forgotten their audience, the opera, and even the body waiting for him.
Hannibal stroked his knuckles across Will’s cheek as they parted. Will knew he was blushing and tried to summon up at least enough irritation to call Hannibal on his behavior, but – but he was leaning in for another kiss instead, dizzy and happy and all too aware that he’d have to snap himself out of it much too soon.
Hannibal did it for him. "Go on," he said, with one more kiss to the corner of Will’s mouth. "I’ll see you at home."
Will went, the back of his neck burning and half the people in the room staring and his heart so light he felt it might float up out of his chest.
The body had been left in a small house in a Hagerstown suburb, brick with white trim, surrounded by scraggly evergreen bushes. Beverly met him at the tape and stared.
"Will Middle Name Graham, did you seriously just rock up to a crime scene in a Bentley and a tux?"
"I was at the opera," Will said.
Her mouth was actually hanging open. She closed it and then opened it again immediately. "Are you fucking with me? If this is a prank, A-plus, good job."
"Oh, Hannibal," she said, as if that explained everything. "But still. Wow. Look at you."
"Rather not." He was pretty sure he could feel dried semen on the inside of one thigh. With Hannibal, in his glittering world, that might’ve been exciting. Okay, definitely would’ve been. Standing next to Hannibal and feeling it, knowing Hannibal could smell it, knowing they’d do it all over again when they got back to his place.
At a crime scene, it was just itchy.
"Well, come look at the body then."
"Is there a third option?"
She gave him a wincing sort of smile but led him inside anyway, where the reason for the wince became immediately apparent. The smell was worse than usual.
The living room furniture had been shoved against the walls, a rug bunched up on top of the leather sofa. The wooden floorboards had been pried up.
The body lay between the joists, dismembered and arranged more or less in order. The abdominal cavity was an empty hole. Everything else had been covered in flowers. Dead, shriveled roses and daisies and peonies filled every inch of space between the joists from wall to wall.
"Where’s the head?" Will asked.
Beverly pointed. "The wife said it was under her favorite chair."
The head stared straight up, resting on a bed of rose petals. Maggots crawled in the eye sockets and around the lips.
"Is she a suspect?" Will asked.
Jack came to stand beside him. "She’s in the clear. She’s been in China for a month on business. Says she came back to an unholy stench and bulging floorboards."
Zeller popped up from behind the sofa. "And when she got someone to pull them up, there was hubby. He’s been down there about a week. He was supposed to be on a hunting trip."
Will looked over the scene. He walked from one side of the room to the other to check all the angles, but he kept coming back to the head.
In the background, he was aware of Jack clearing people away, of Price’s voice talking about mold growing where the blood had soaked into the wood, and then he was alone.
He watched the killer dismember the body on a plastic sheet and tuck him into the floorboards. Sleeping underneath the family home. The head placed just so, smiling up at the memory of love. When he returned to the present, he felt Jack standing just behind him, drawing breath to speak.
"Okay, who brought the Bentley?" Zeller said.
Jack let out his breath in a sigh. Beverly pointed at Will.
"It’s not mine," Will said.
"It’s amazing," Zeller said, which was the most enthusiastic Will had ever heard him be about anything that didn’t involve human remains. "Is that the Arnage?"
"I … have no idea."
"The case," Jack said. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Will?"
"If it’s the Ripper, it’s atypical."
"What are you talking about?" Zeller started ticking points off on his fingers. "The mutilation, presentation—"
"How were the organs removed?" Will said.
Zeller’s mouth twisted. "Forcefully."
"And the Ripper is usually all about care and precision."
"The cuts are precise. He might’ve ripped the organs out, but he jointed that guy like a pro."
Will squatted down next to the head. It was the head that bothered him, more than the flowers. It had the Ripper’s touch of whimsy.
Jack looked around at them. "Consensus?"
Will shrugged. "If it happens again, just like this, it’s not the Ripper. Otherwise maybe."
"Totally the Ripper," Zeller said. "We’re due. It’s been two years."
"So we’ve got a yes and a maybe," Jack sighed. "Anyone else want to weigh in?"
"I don’t think it is," Beverly said. Everyone turned to look at her. She held up one of the hands. "There’s blood under the thumbnail. It could be his own blood, but it looks like he left defensive wounds on the killer."
"So it can’t be the Ripper’s blood?" Zeller said. "He’s human. He’ll make a mistake sooner or later."
"He hasn’t so far. They never get a chance to fight back. Anyway, we won’t know until we get all this to the lab. And Will probably wants to get back to his date."
Will’s first impulse was to deny it, but there wasn’t anything else to call it. And he did want to get back. "I should return the car at least," he said.
Jack’s sigh came from the bottom of his soul. "Right. Let’s get packed up and move out."
Will reached Hannibal’s house shortly after one in the morning. He’d meant to leave the keys on the hall table and take his own car home but, when he let himself in, he saw Hannibal leaning in the foyer doorway.
"How was it?" Hannibal asked.
"Pretty bad. I’m gonna head home. Take a shower."
Hannibal moved forward and slid his arms around Will’s waist. "Shower here," he said.
Will pressed a kiss to his temple, and Hannibal leaned into him, warm and relaxed. The thought of the drive home was suddenly less appealing. "Were you asleep?"
"I heard the car."
"If it ever gets stolen, I have a suspect for you."
Will told him about Zeller. Hannibal smiled into his neck and rested his chin on Will’s shoulder. "I’ll keep it in mind," he said. "Meanwhile, come to bed."
"I have to be at work early tomorrow."
"You have clothes here."
Will touched Hannibal’s hair and let the fine strands of it run through his fingers. He’d meant to spend the night anyway. The dogs were taken care of. He wanted to stay. He wanted to wake up with Hannibal. He didn’t want to be alone with the persistent memories of the crime scene. "Not sure I’m up to anything but sleep."
"I hadn’t thought of anything but sleep," Hannibal said.
"I won’t be a lot of fun."
"Fun isn’t a word I typically associate with you."
Will shook his head, too tired to laugh. "Okay. As long as you’re prepared."
He locked the door, and they walked up the stairs together. Hannibal held onto his hand all the way. Will nudged him over to the bed and waited until he was under the covers before heading for the bathroom.
He showered off the smell of death as quickly as he could manage, brushed his teeth, and watched himself in the mirror as the tension and adrenaline of the crime scene receded. At home, he would have ridden it all night long.
He found clean boxers in the drawer Hannibal had insisted on giving over to him, pulled them on, and got in bed.
Hannibal slid over to lie along his side, warm and heavy and solid. "What was it like?" he said.
"You sure you want to hear this?"
"You’ve never hesitated to tell me before."
Will turned to look at him. "You didn’t ask when we were in bed before. I don’t want to give you nightmares."
"You don’t need to worry about me. Haven’t I told you that before?"
"I do anyway." Will kissed him and then gave him a brief summary.
"Death just under her feet. We walk on the roof of Hell, gazing at flowers," Hannibal said.
"It’s a haiku by Kobayashi Issa. He lost three children to illness, quite young. A man who knew suffering."
Will nodded. That seemed about right. A sense of melancholy had hung in the air along with the smell. "Jack wants to know if it’s the Ripper."
"Do you believe it is?"
"No. Not really."
"It’s the flower choices. Roses and daisies. Too common for him. And he doesn’t usually take all the organs. And it just … feels wrong. But none of that’s going to be good enough for Jack." Hannibal made an irritated noise in the back of his throat, and Will smiled. "What?"
"He will want you to stay."
"If it’s the Ripper, definitely." Jack would want him to stay either way, but he also understood the concept of non-refundable plane tickets. The trip to Venice was coming up more quickly than seemed possible.
"I’m aware it’s selfish of me, but I don’t wish to postpone our trip," Hannibal said.
"I’d like to say we don’t have to, but if it is him …"
Hannibal kissed his shoulder. "Yes. Of course."
They fell into silence. Will watched the shadowed ceiling and listened to Hannibal breathe until his eyes closed on their own.
Hannibal lay awake in the dark, fuming, though with perfectly regulated breath and heartbeat. He had deliberately passed up victims, and now some upstart flamboyant fool with no sense of measure or dignity had jeopardized their trip.
Of course Will would stay if he thought it was the Ripper. Jack would hardly have to ask. It was not to be borne.
If they wanted another body to prove it wasn’t him, then they would have one.