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Chili Cheese Fries

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“You’ve really never had chili cheese fries?” The question is intoned incredulously, though Hannibal can’t imagine why. Especially when the dish itself arrives—if a paper bowl overflowing with greasy, mass-produced fries that were likely frozen not ten minutes ago, covered in meat, quality lowest of the low, and cheese of the plastic variety can be considered a dish. The doctor is careful not to turn his nose up at it; Will is watching.

The case Will was called to Philadelphia on finished earlier that afternoon with a more than extraordinary climax. He had prodded the dozing dragon in Will’s subconscious on the ride over, provided soothing, realistic advice when he seemed on the verge of panic. It involved a loner UPenn student with a less-than-healthy interest in water demons. He kidnapped three of his fellow students and drowned them in a bathtub before leaving them naked on the waterfront.

“Never, no.” He took another sip from his plastic cup of wine. As it happened, Will was too tired to walk very far, to a decent establishment, so they walked into the bar nearest their hotel. They sit at a high table booth in the back of the bar.

“Try some,” Will says. Just as he had feared. The man pushes the food towards him. Hannibal notes the trail of wet grease it leaves on the table in its wake with nearly irrepressible aversion.

“Thank you Will, but I must refuse.” He speaks frankly, though remaining polite, despite the fact that he would like to toss the fries to mingle with the rest of the grime on the floor.

But Will doesn’t let up, “Come on, Hannibal, one fry won’t kill you.”

No, but the copious amount of sewage passing as meat may. He glances down at the bowl then back up at Will; he’s grinning, obviously pleased with himself for putting always-so-put-together Hannibal in this position.

Hannibal concedes, dips his hand into the bowl and takes up a single fry with minimal cheese and chili. He eats it quickly, wiping his fingers on a nearby napkin.

“You hate it.” Will’s smile is gone, as if he’s suddenly remembered boundaries and social cues.

Yes. “I would prefer to not have another.” Hannibal smiles slightly to let Will intercept an easy-going air. But Will isn’t looking at him, is staring at his beer. They sit in silence for a long moment. Hannibal considers how easily his friend and patient wavers socially when he believes he has faulted. Will’s self-deprecating mind has likely drifted back to the crime scene.

Will finishes his beer and Hannibal forces himself to swallow the sickly sweet wine.

“Shall I fetch us another round?” He asks.

“No—No, it’s ok, we can go.” Will is already standing, rubbing his hand over his face in a way that is partly due to exhaustion and partly to convince Hannibal that he doesn’t want to be here.

“Nonsense,” Hannibal says. He stands swiftly and gives the fries a sharp look. “You have yet to finish eating.”

He strides towards the bar without another word. He orders the drinks from a female bartender that looks just as annoyed by Hannibal’s presence as he is by hers. Though, unlike her, he does not let it show. While he waits an appalling amount of time for the drinks, he surveys the ‘art’ on the walls, mostly sports related and/or gaudy pictures of half-naked women.

“Well, if it isn’t Will Graham,” a booming voice says from behind. While the words are vaguely civil, enough to imply interest, the manner of speech is patronizing, abusive.

Hannibal turns slightly, eyes sliding across the room to see that Will has been obscured by two men. Hannibal did not see them before now, they must have just entered and caught sight of William. Both wear red and white t-shirts, the colors of whatever team they support in the game playing on the television above the bar. Hannibal does not bother to check. The one speaking has blond hair and his friend sports a buzz cut. “Haven’t seen you since graduation… Never imagined meeting you in a place like this. There aren’t exactly any empty corners for you to hide in.”

“He could always hide under the table…You still spend a lot of time on floors, Graham?”

The first man laughs, the sound echoes throughout the bar. He shifts to the right and Hannibal can see Will—bent over the table with his eyes on his food. Every once in a while he forces himself to glance up at one of the two men, as if afraid they’ll think he isn’t paying attention and become angry, or violent. In his hands, he holds his empty cup. He crushes it nervously between his twitching fingers, over and over again. “Like that time in the library? I barely touched him…”

“What have you been doing since school?” The blond asks. Beside Hannibal, the bartender places the two cups beside him, but he hangs back for a moment. Watches the situation unfold. “You got a job?”

“Yeah, right. Why would anyone need to hire him? Well, Will? Did someone need a spare nut-job?”

It does not take a large amount of effort to connect the dots. The two men attended high school with Will, and, as is apparent from the over-compensating masculinity blatant in their tones, paired with Will’s slouched posture, bullied him mercilessly. Hannibal imagines a pimply teenaged Will, even less comfortable in his own body than he is now, pushed up against a locker, glasses askew, while his pockets are emptied, his notes and schoolwork appropriated. The flame of protectiveness towards Will Graham that has been slowly growing inside him over the past weeks flares up at the idea, engulfing his emotions and almost all of his common sense. It takes an abnormally large amount of time for him to pull himself together, to stop himself from driving the switchblade in his pocket through one of their backs. Such an action would be terribly incongruous in so public a location.

“You still single, Graham?” The blond one questions. Hannibal picks up the cups and begins to stride over—he has heard enough.

The other one laughs and leans in closer to Will. Says, “Like anyone would date this freak.”

Actually,” Hannibal says as he gracefully maneuvers between the two men. He slides into the same seat as Will; the booth is only barely not too small to seat both of them. As he goes he places his arm around Will’s quivering shoulders. They freeze under his touch, tense.

“We are celebrating our four year anniversary tonight. Will…” Hannibal deftly removes the pulverized plastic cup from Will’s hands and replaces it with the new one. “Do you know these men?”

Hannibal sees the men looking between them, disbelief written clearly on their faces. They look from Will’s nervous posture, his secondhand, rugged wardrobe choice, to Hannibal’s confident exterior, donned entirely in clothing that is likely worth more than everything they own combined. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t match up.

He turns back to Will, letting his body angle in such a way that he closes in on him, face straying close enough to be intimate. “Friends of yours?”

Will turns his head microscopically to right in rebuttal. To the men it appears that Will is making eye contact with Hannibal, when in reality his glasses rest low enough on his nose that their upper rim falls precisely in Will’s eye line. Hannibal raises his palm and remedies this, ignoring Will’s discomfort.

“Not friends, then.” Hannibal removes his arm from Will’s shoulders and regards the delinquents coolly. Raises his eyebrows slightly, on the far-side of condescension. “Are you harassing my boyfriend?”

The bald man puffs his chest up and out, but the blond one splutters. He had obviously not expected conflict; none would have come from Will. Hannibal stands, serving as a shield between the men and William.

“To answer your question, Will is a professor at the FBI Academy in Virginia. He is also an incredibly talented profiler and he has solved three high-profile cases in the last month alone.”

He pauses. The bald man would make a good braised shank, served with truffles and baked squash. For the blond, perhaps something Lebanese, raw with fresh herbs and lemon juice. It would not be difficult, Will would easily offer up their names; they would not be missed. Though, their disappearance would be a bit too close to Will. Perhaps not.

“I would appreciate it if you would leave. Your ignorant drivel is spoiling a perfectly good evening.” The bald one steps forward threateningly. Hannibal feels Will shift behind him but remains calm. “And I recommend doing so soon, because Will also happens to be an ex-cop. As in, licensed to carry a gun.”

The word ‘cop’ seems to carry more weight than the idea of an FBI agent (or the equivalent of one), as ridiculous as that is, and both men back off, retreating to the bar without another word. Hannibal sits back down beside Will.

Will turns towards him. “You… You really didn’t have to—”

Before Will can give a more blubbering, uncomfortable reaction to Hannibal’s words, he moves forward. Will only has a chance for his eyes to widen before Hannibal seizes the edge of his jaw and presses his lips to Will’s. The kiss is mostly chaste, with only the slightest hint of tongue that comes, surprisingly, from Will.

When Hannibal pulls back after a long moment, hand skimming across rough stubble as he slowly releases Will’s face, the man carries a look of confusion, mixed with the slightest trace of wanting. A blush has crept over his face, his mouth remains open. Eyes narrow. The emotion is weak, obviously newly conceived, but it is clearly there. Hannibal finds that he likes this look on Will’s face.

“They were still watching,” Hannibal says, head giving a slight inclination to the bar where, indeed, both men stand, eyes fixed on the two of them. The look falls away almost instantly. Will’s head turns away sharply, glasses sliding back down his nose. The flush resilient on his neck and cheeks. He takes up a fry, allowing it to become doused with meat and cheese before consuming it.

Hannibal smiles inconspicuously, when he sees the two men exit the bar out of the corner of his eye. Before taking a sip of wine, he runs his tongue over his bottom lip thoughtfully, where he tastes remnant of fries. Hannibal thinks that the grease, the tang of low quality salt, isn’t so bad when paired with William Graham’s lips.