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It’s a maxim of the FBI, of law enforcement agencies everywhere: Do Not Try To Negotiate With Someone On Angel Dust. Do not pick fights with angels, they’re too far above to care about calm-minded mortals. Either Will forgot or he couldn’t tell that Weston Blake, known to the world as the K-Street Mutilator, had taken flight. The bullet must have hurt when it glanced off his ribs and buried itself in his lung but he couldn’t feel it, could only feel the cold hard concrete under his knees as his universe suddenly listed to port. BANG of Jack Crawford’s gun over his head and a calloused hand on his shoulder, a voice telling him to hold on. Will sat back on his haunches, one hand clasped around the leaking wound, and looked at Weston Blake. Weston Blake had a hole in his leg and was writhing like a caught snake. Which, Will supposed, he was.

The pain didn’t hit til the ambulance and it didn’t get bad til the potholes on the way to the hospital. Will let himself scream – he knew from experience that if you scream they’ll do what they can to shut you up. He woke up for a moment during surgery, heavy lids parting and the dark yellow light of the overheads giving him a fuzzy picture of the woman spelunking in the cavern of his chest. “Ah ah ah,” she said when she saw his eyes open, and then something to the anesthesiologist that he could not hear, and he fell into a heavy blackness.

When he woke he was thirsty. Hannibal sat by the bed, shirtsleeves pushed up. He without asking pulled up the oxygen mask and slipped an ice chip into Will’s mouth. Will sucked at it and wanted to roll over. Jack Crawford had injured a man tonight – last night? – perhaps mortally, perhaps not. Hannibal had – killed a man, helped kill a man, helped hide it at the very least, Will wasn’t sure, and he’d killed another man, though that one was in self-defense. Will sucked at his ice chip and tried not to look at Hannibal. He couldn’t breathe properly and it was making him anxious.

Hannibal took Will’s hand, turned it over. He pushed two fingers against the pulse point in Will’s wrist. “Strong,” he said, and gently tapped his fingers in time. “You’ll be quite all right, good Will.”

Will didn’t want that to make him feel better but it did. He pulled up the thin hospital blanket but couldn’t arrange it how he liked. Hannibal took it from him, watched his eyes, tucked it in properly.

“Sleep, Will,” he said. His fingers back on Will’s pulse point, gently massaging the skin. “You deserve it. Sleep.”

Will slept. Will dreamed. Will didn’t die.

 

*

 

A week later, seven increasingly irritating days where Will scowled at his hospital food and ate Advil instead of Percocet – Jack Crawford wheeled him out of the seventh-floor Intensive Care Unit. Jack laid the same heavy calloused hand on his shoulder and smiled a booming smile. “You did good, Graham.”

“How long am I gone?”

“Long time, Will. Long time.” The doctors had explained that Will had not actually been shot in the lung, but the wound was close enough for the shockwave to injure. It would feel like he had trouble breathing, but this was an artifact borne more of anxiety than physical damage. His broken ribs would probably cause him more trouble than anything else. He should change his dressings once a day – he had a plastic bag full of alcohol wipes and gauze sticky-patches on his lap. “You earned a break.”

Will hunched back in the wheelchair. He should be glad to get out of the field, but seven days immobile had filled him with nervous energy. He wanted to get out of the chair and sprint like a fox through the dark jungles of major cities, a gun warm in his hand, a killer running in front. That reminded him. “How’s Weston Blake?”

“In custody with some soft tissue damage.”

“What’s his final body count?”

“Will,” Jack said, “turn it off, please.”

“That seems contrary to your usual wishes.”

Jack gave him another friendly pat on the shoulder. “I want you rested, Will. I don’t want to find you in six weeks – ”

“Six weeks!”

“ - spitting up blood and freaking out over clippings. You do that for me, Will? Can you do that?”

Will kicked his heel against the wheel like a child and nodded. His chest hurt.

“Good,” Jack said, and, “Hannibal’s been taking care of your mutts.”

Will didn’t have a gun, but he had a murderer. That made him feel almost better. He should tell Jack. Jack helped load him into the car and stood with his arms folded watching Will maneuver clumsily out of the parking lot. Will turned on the radio and Tom Ashbrook was on, talking about serial killers. Weston Blake had killed five people. Puts him in league with the Brooklyn Strangler and Andrew Cunanan. Now, the FBI team responsible for his arrest –

Will hit the button for the top-forty station.

 

*

 

Home. He spent a painful two hours lugging all the rotting food from his refrigerator. Hannibal had left a bottle of champagne on the counter. He had to take the dogs out one at a time and when it came time for Milly the Overexcited Bernese Mountain Dog he had to give up and let her go romp through the fields off her leash. He sat on the snow-crisped ground and counted his stitches through the gauze. Fifteen and two broken ribs, taped into position. He thought, oddly, of that passage in The Shining, the one where Wendy fears her broken ribs are pressing into her lung.

He had a Jack and that Jack was not following him with a roque mallet.

He had Hannibal. Hannibal who sat by his bedside and fed him ice chips. Hannibal who left a bottle of very expensive champagne on the counter to celebrate his coming home. Hannibal was not crude enough for roque mallets matted with blood and hair. Hannibal loved Abigail enough to help her hide a body.

Hannibal probably had a knife somewhere.

Milly came back with a dead duck in her jaws and Will had to rub her belly before she let go of it. When he came back inside he cracked open the champagne and poured it down the sink. Just in case.

The days galled him; they were long and yellowed at the edge with boredom. He started watching soap operas for a thing to do. The dogs put their heads on his lap and he soon grew tired of changing the gauze. He wanted Percocets but had to settle for Advil and Aleve. He could breathe fine, but sometimes when he lay on the couch and looked at General Hospital he could feel his breath catching at the bottom-right-hand-corner of his chest.

Nights were bad.

Nights had him imagining an unscarred chest, a gun warm in his hand, the warm embrace of angel dust lifting his tired limbs. Weston Blake hadn’t killed five people, he knew, he had probably killed at least eight, and he could see them all, dying beneath his hand. He woke up shaking and wet. He had scratched a stitch open in the night – it oozed blood through the scab and he repaired it in the living room with fishing line. He made a mental note to call a doctor, and didn’t. Instead he found the cheap whiskey and drank it from the bottle, three fingers’ worth; he put the sweat-towel down on the bed and pulled Kennedy the Jack Russell into his arms. Kennedy licked at his shirt where the blood came through and Will slept and dreamed of ice chips at his lips.

 

*

 

Will stumbled through the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly, collecting dog food and TV dinners. His chest hurt. His head hurt. He burned. He put his fingers to the pulse point at his wrist and his heart sobbed and trembled under the touch. Drove home with Terry Gross talking to Trent Reznor, a rerun from a few years back. The road blurred in front of him and he expected a darkfeathered stag to stumble its way out of the roadside woods but he got home before he felt its antlers pushing at his back. He felt like he was running from a monster. His legs shook from exhaustion and he had to lie down on the floor the second he came into the house. He couldn’t breathe, his chest hurt, his head hurt, everything hurt, everything burned. He was too hot; he lay the dog food where the beasties would get it and filled up the tub with ice-cold water, waiting for it to slop over the sides with his head between his knees. He sobbed when he got in, clothes still on, because it was still too hot. The stag nudged at his arm, gnawed on his elbow; he got caught in Weston Blake’s head and his hands were ruby. He screamed in the confines of his mind and then the sun set without him noticing it. Time flowed past in little runnels and he could but put his hands in the stream.

“Will?”

Must have been hours later, or days. The water was light brown from the washed-off caked blood. The water was lukewarm from his body. Hannibal had toed his shoes off at the door. He took his jacket off and made Will sit up in the water. It slopped over the sides.

“You didn’t lock your door,” he said.

He peeled off Will’s shirt, peeled off the gauze. The stickiness of it had long since faded and it was grey at the edges. It had only been stuck to him through virtue of yellow-green pus. The fixed stitch had escaped the fester but the other fourteen stitches were ugly and raw around the edges, swollen, running green. The scabs, such as they were, had gone soft and floppy in the water. Hannibal tsked. “Have you been taking your antibiotics, Will?”

Antibiotics. They had sent home a bottle of antibiotics. Will had parked it on top of the microwave and forgotten about it.

“Oh, Will,” Hannibal said, “oh, Will.”

He put his lips against Will’s chest and even in his fever Will could tell that this was beyond, this was BAD, but he closed his eyes anyway and let Hannibal tear a strip of scab from under the most pus-filled stitch. He could feel Hannibal’s tongue gently rocking against him, he could feel Hannibal sucking the filth and disease from the bullet wound. Hannibal palpated his ribs and frowned; Will had taken the tape off too soon, they were healing crooked. Will put his wet hands on Hannibal’s shoulder, to force him back or pull him closer, he did not know. Hannibal’s tongue stung against him and the water was bright red now, red with his fresh blood. He thought of Hannibal as a coiled snake, or a gigantic maggot, eating away his deadness.

Eventually Hannibal sat back; he had a smear of red on his bottom lip and Will wanted to wipe it off with a thumbnail. He stood to take a towel from the rack. “Can you walk, Will?”

Will tried to stand up but the air was too hot and his legs folded back down. He felt like he had when Weston Blake had first shot him. “Probably not far.”

“Get up,” Hannibal said, and when Will didn’t he took him by the hand and pulled him to standing, let Will lean his wet self against the million-dollar suit. Led him to the bedroom, let Will sit on the sweat towel, wrapped the other towel around his shoulders and found a new T-shirt for him in the overstuffed drawer.

“Do you have a thermometer, Will?”

“Medicine cabinet,” Will managed, and Hannibal came and made him hold it under his tongue. He did not see the number but it must have been high for Hannibal quietly called an ambulance. The dogs barked at the paramedics and the potholes burst the fly-tie stitch. Hannibal followed in his Bentley.

At the hospital a jolly nurse swabbed at the leaking pus around his stitches. Hannibal watched her and Will knew he was imagining his mouth on Will’s chest. The thought should have disgusted him. Should have. They tucked him into the ICU with a drain in his chest and an antibiotic IV jammed into his left arm. Hannibal peeled up the oxygen mask to feed him ice chips.

“You might have died.”

Will sucked at the chip.

“Are you listening to me, Will?” Hannibal spoke softly. He was angry, not furious. Will thought of him hiding Nicholas Boyle’s body and wanted to fear him, but his chest itched with the imprint of Hannibal’s lips and he knew he could not. “You must take better care of yourself.”

“I’ll try.”

“Don’t try,” and Hannibal looked for a moment like a wolf. Will waited for him to finish quoting Yoda. “The world is a better place with you in it.”

Will sometimes doubted that. He readjusted the oxygen mask on his face. His temperature had gone down two degrees in the last hour.

Hannibal lifted up his hospital gown and ran a fingernail around the drain – he ate what came back, dead skin and dried blood. He put the back of his hand against Will’s forehead, just for a moment, and then he stood. “I suppose I should go walk your dogs.”

“They’ll be fine for a while.”

“As would you?” and Hannibal did not stalk out, per se, but his leaving suggested vampire bats, drained aristocrats.

Will didn’t sleep so much as slip into unconsciousness. He did not dream, and when he woke there was bad hospital food for his pleasure. He picked at the collapsed eggs and was about to push the whole thing away when Hannibal came in with his little plastic containers and a real steel fork. He watched Will eat and looked at him until Will rolled his eyes and finished even the smallest bits of sausage clinging to the side.

“You’re responding to treatment better than expected.”

“Am I?”

“They should be able to let you out late tonight,” Hannibal said. “I’ve gotten a neighbor to look after your dogs.”

“I can do that.”

“Your release is conditional on having another person take charge. I thought you wouldn’t want a home health aide.”

Will pushed his head back into the pillow. “Hannibal – ”

“Will,” Hannibal said, “seven days left alone and you developed an infection that might have ended your life. I don’t want to gamble on the rest of your recovery.” He softened. “A week, Will. All I shall ask of you. They’ll be taking most of your stitches out today, you’ll be nearly healed by the time I’m done with you.”

By the time I’m done with you. That was almost as threatening as Hannibal’s stalking-out. Will tried to put a disbelieving hand over his lips but was blocked by the oxygen mask.

Hannibal left him before he said yes and a nurse took him to an exam room where they pulled out the threads of his stitches and dabbed at the leaking flesh with new gauze. He bit his lip through the pain-tickling feel of the thread pulling out of his skin. The nurse put Band-Aids on him and he wanted Hannibal to come by and lick up the blood. He wanted Hannibal to sink him down in an ice-cold bathtub and graze his teeth along water-puckered skin, wanted to see his nails turn colors in the pink water. It was disgusting to want these things. He was disgusting.

Hannibal brought him lunch, garlic mayonnaise layered with spinach and tomatoes on top of still-warm bread, and he sat up without using the bed’s adjuster. “Okay.”

“Good.” Hannibal showed teeth when he smiled. “I’ve already set up the guest bedroom.”

Will ate his lunch and thought of blood.

 

*

 

They did not let him out that evening; it was midway through the next morning before Hannibal helped fold him into the Bentley and drove him up to Baltimore. Hannibal did not have a TV. Hannibal had a library, vast and meticulously organized. Will read Marcus Aurelius on the couch with his besocked feet carefully set on the floor. When he was hungry he cut himself slices of baker’s bread and ate them smeared with pâté. He swallowed carefully, so as not to irritate his still-healing ribs, but the twinge came anyway and he lay on the couch with his hands cupped around the wound. Hannibal had patients to see til seven-thirty; he read more Marcus Aurelius until his eyes fuzzed and he fell asleep. Hannibal woke him up with a glass of lemon water and a palmful of antibiotics. Will ate them disdainfully, shuddering at the taste. Hannibal sat on the couch next to him and fed him minute pieces of steak. The wine he served was too good for Will’s whiskey-burned palate; he drank three glasses of it, and then he went into Hannibal’s wood-paneled bathroom.

He let Hannibal take off his shirt, let him unstick the gauze pads and Band-Aids from the wound. He forced himself to look at himself in the mirror as Hannibal knelt in front of him and licked at the leaking scabs. The hole from the drain had not closed up entirely and Hannibal gently bit around it as he made the journey up and down Will’s chest. He was gentle, gentle around Will’s sore ribs, leaving a trail of teethmarks, careful not to smear anything. He lay his fingers over the vein crossing Will’s hip and felt the blood pounding, and then he found the alcohol wipes and pushed them down Will’s skin. Will winced, tried to back away from the sting, but Hannibal grasped him by the wrist and he had to stay. The antibiotic cream stung worse, got him more wobbly-kneed than the three glasses of wine, and Hannibal arranged a new mess of Band-Aids over the white-edged cuts and Will wanted to put his shirt back on and go sit in the bathtub. Instead he leaned forward a little too far and kissed Hannibal on the lips. Might as well, bastard’s already eaten pieces of me. He kissed Hannibal and Hannibal held him at finger’s length by pushing the tip of his index against Will’s sternum. Hannibal kissed him, Hannibal held him back again, and in his eyes Will could see Nicholas Boyle’s rotting corpse. Hannibal looked faintly amused. He tasted of blood and the quirk of his lips showed a streak of it on a tooth.

“Well, Will?”

“Did you do – that – ” Will gestured at Hannibal’s mouth. “Did you do that to me when I had a fever because you thought I wouldn’t remember it?”

“Of course not,” Hannibal said. “Would you like me to fuck you, Will?”

He did.

“Then let’s not waste any more time, shall we?”

Will wanted to be careful of his ribs but Hannibal undressed him and bared his teeth when he did and suddenly the crunching breathless pain in his side didn’t matter so much. Hannibal raked immaculately trimmed fingernails down his side and ripped open the scabs so the bed with its white sheets was stained. He left a red handprint on Will’s neck, another one across Will’s mouth, and Will arched back into him and took in short painful breaths to make up for his cracking ribs. Hannibal fucked Will with his mouth and then turned him over and Will pushed a hand against his mouth to stop himself screaming. Hannibal bit him like a fox would, sharp short snaps that left him – he could feel it – bloody. Hannibal reached a hand around to further scrape open the wound and Will felt himself draining away. He tasted copper on Hannibal’s fingertips and Hannibal kissed the back of his neck, gentle as could be. “Are you all right, Will?”

Will breathed harsh against the pillow and rolled back against Hannibal’s hips – he could feel his breath catching like gossamer against the jagged edges of his ribs. He forced himself to stay still as Hannibal fingered him open, and then gave up as Hannibal kept his fingers inside him and alternatively peppered kisses and bites up the bumps of his spine. The mattress under his elbow squelched with blood. He came into Hannibal’s hand and then cried out, desperate and in near pain, as Hannibal kept touching him, kept licking him and kissing him. Eventually Hannibal forced a second delicious and awful orgasm from him. He collapsed with his face in his pillow and blood smeared up and down his side and Hannibal got out of bed to fetch Band-Aids, arranged a thick neat layer of them over his gaping wounds. Rolled Will on his back so he wouldn’t sleep on his broken ribs. Did not throw an arm around him but pushed the hair out of Will’s sweaty, tearstained-despite-himself face and kissed him very gently on the lips.

“Oh dear,” he said, almost into Will’s mouth, “oh dear, I’m afraid I’ve lengthened your recovery.”

“You did that on purpose,” Will said, not really caring. He ran the inside of his wrist under Hannibal’s jawline. “You killed Nicholas Boyle, didn’t you?”

“I did not,” and he sounded honest.

“But you’ve killed someone.”

“Tobias Budge – ”

“Tobias Budge doesn’t count. I don’t mean Tobias Budge.”

“Will,” Hannibal said, “please, don’t ruin the mood.”

He clutched his hand around Will’s throat and Will understood that he had done this before, not this exactly maybe but this, what he would do if Will didn’t shut up. He shouldn’t be hesitating to kill Will but he was, and that meant he would not strangle him.

Will lifted Hannibal’s hand from his throat, kissed him hard. He was in bed with a murderer and he felt stupidly safe, a lamb resting among watchful lions. He pushed Hannibal’s head down against his chest and fell asleep.

 

*

 

The next night Hannibal had him sitting next to his chair in the dining room, cross-legged, eyes down. He licked Hannibal’s fingers and drank from the proffered wine glass with his hands behind his back. Hannibal carded his fingers through his hair and then led him to the bathroom. Lips against skin, the sting of blood and opened scabs, the swipe of the alcohol pad – all of it was almost mechanical. Hannibal sat him in the bathtub and the water pooled dark red around his ankles. Hannibal told him to masturbate and he did, stopping when he was painfully on edge and Hannibal put his hand on his wrist. Again, again, Hannibal made him touch himself, made him dance on the edge, until he was wrecked and straining against the sides of the tub, head pushed against the ceramic, lips bitten, and then Hannibal told him to come and he did with a cry that struggled out of his lungs in a whisper.

“Good,” Hannibal said, and Hannibal reached under his glasses to wipe an unfelt tear from his eye. He kissed Will and that was good too, it was almost sweet. Hannibal wouldn’t let him climb back into his clothes but rubbed him down with a big towel and led him by the hand to the big four-poster bed. He put his hand back on Will’s throat and squeezed until Will had to claw at him for air. Hannibal didn’t laugh or smirk; Hannibal pushed his knuckles into the hollow of Will’s neck and Will fought not to swallow. He barely noticed Hannibal’s hand creeping down to his dick until a jolt of uneven pleasure made him arch into the chokehold. Hannibal let go, just for a moment, enough time for Will to take in a too-large ribcracking breath, and then the hand was back on his throat, his hardhot dick rocking against Hannibal’s thigh. He came when there were black spots in his eyes and Hannibal let him choke for a moment more before letting go. Will ate his come from Hannibal’s hand, fell asleep in his arms. Next day he took his Marcus Aurelius to the hallway leading up to Hannibal’s office and sat with his knees up to his chest. He waited for Hannibal to come in for lunch.

This was unhealthy, he knew, incredibly unhealthy, stupid. He should call Jack now – but to say what? To betray him for Nicholas Boyle meant putting Abigail away as well, and to say I know he’s strangled someone would be useless without evidence. Besides, calling Jack would deprive Will of the feeling of Hannibal’s lips.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He finished Marcus Aurelius and moved back into the library to poke at the shelves. He could read the Gallic Wars, or Tacitus, or – Jesus, was there anything else in English? He found a shelf-full of books in a language he couldn’t guess at, rifled through the French cooking guides. One of them slid out of the shelf and landed open at his feet. There was a knife in it, a small knife, like for filleting fish but with the hilt snapped off – Will picked it up and sniffed the blade and saw on the edge a very tiny amount of dried blood.

“Find something interesting?” Hannibal’s voice echoed in the semi-darkness of the library.

“Yes.” Will palmed the knife, tossed it hand to hand. “Yes, I have.”

“You should be resting.”

“I am resting. I was finding something to read.”

Hannibal came up behind him, put a hand on his shoulder. He took the knife from Will’s unresisting hand and pressed it against his Adam’s apple, not hard enough to break the skin. “I wonder what you suspect of me.”

“I know you killed someone.”

“I was a surgeon. I told you, it happened.”

“No. God, that doesn’t count either. Stop being obtuse.”

“I tilt towards the sadistic when it comes to sex,” Hannibal said. “That doesn’t make me a murderer. It’s slightly ridiculous of you to suggest it.”

Will tapped the knife. “So what’s this?”

“It could be foreplay.”

“Could be.”

“Or you could be right. Which is more interesting?”

“Interesting.” Will would have laughed. “That’s a nice word.”

“You haven’t called Jack Crawford about your suspicions.”

“I have suspicions, no facts.”

“Oh, Will. You reconstruct crime scenes on your suspicions. The FBI devours criminals on the basis of suspicions. He’d believe you.”

Will swallowed, feeling his Adam’s Apple bump against the blade.

“The man who shot you,” Hannibal said, “is he still alive?”

“He’s in custody, no bail posted. He’ll probably plead insanity.”

“And the man who caused you to rot from lack of care is here in my arms.” He pushed the blade up, just a little, and Will bit his lip as the skin broke. The warm trickle of blood down his neck stained his collar. “Foreplay or you’re right?”

“Don’t you only have an hour for lunch?”

Hannibal looked at his watch. “I have, as of right now, forty-seven minutes.”  He stuck the blade up and more blood pooled at the dip of Will’s collarbone. “Tell me your decision.”

“Is there a third option?”

“Are you looking for neither or both?”

Will hummed, thinking aloud. “Surgeons tend to be psychopaths.”

“I’m not a surgeon anymore. Will? Would you like to accuse me of something concrete, or can we spend the next forty-seven – forty-six minutes, excuse me – doing…” The blade moved again.

Will swiped at his neck. “Doctor’s going to wonder where those came from."

“You cut yourself shaving," Hannibal said.

"Was I shaving with a straight razor?" Will let himself slump into Hannibal. The blade hit the ground and Hannibal rolled up his sleeves. He put his hand on Will’s stinging throat and kissed his cheek.

It was easier this way. Easier, to be slammed against the shelves so the books rattled and fell, easier for Hannibal to drop to one knee and pick up the little knife and slit the stitching on Will’s old soft jeans so they fell around his ankles. Easier to let his body override what his mind knew.

Hannibal swallowed when he was done, and disappeared into the kitchen, presumably to make himself lunch. Will sat on the floor in front of the bookshelf with his slit jeans pulled up around his waist and Caesar’s De Bello Gallico in his lap.

Hannibal had, by cutting him, washed away all the other trace blood on the knife.

Probably.

He pocketed it anyway, and, when he was sure Hannibal had gone back to the office, went into the bathroom to find a piece of plastic wrap from the gauze packets. He carefully folded the little knife into the wrap and hid it in his suitcase, in the sleeve of a dirty shirt.

He bandaged his neck in front of the mirror and went back to the hallway to read.

 

*

 

The days went by, calm and almost sweet. On Wednesday night Hannibal lent him a suit (it was a little short around the cuffs) and they went to the opera. Don Giovanni. Will couldn’t follow the plot at all and instead watched Hannibal, the work of his jaw, how he sighed at the soprano’s high notes. The basses sent rumbles across his chest. Hannibal kissed him in the car and they had wine and chocolate cake at the dining room table. Hannibal made him put on the antibiotic cream himself, felt the rend in his skin where the stitches had been and judged it to be healing satisfactorily. Thursday Will finished all eight books of De Bello and Hannibal picked out a book for him – surely you have at least some Cajun French, Will? He did, more fluently than he thought; Verlaine tested it but he came out smiling. He had put a butter knife in Dumas’ Dictionary of Cuisine to mimic the fold of the little knife wrapped in the shirtsleeve.

Friday he finished the book of Verlaine’s poetry and Hannibal finished his day at two-thirty. He examined Will, palpated his ribs, hummed at their crookedness, pulled at the scab at the bottom-right-hand-corner of his chest, wormed the last bit of antibiotic ointment out of its tube and stood in front of Will, considering.

“The skin is in no danger of breaking.”

“Okay.”

“I think you’re all right to go home,” Hannibal said.

“I should. The dogs are only good for me. They’re probably running poor Mrs. Ashby ragged.”

“One more night with me, if you please.”

“I’ve taken advantage of your hospitality enough.”

“Then show me how grateful you are.”

That might have sounded threatening – probably was intentional, if he wanted to think about it. Will put his arms around Hannibal and breathed him in, breathed in his expensive cologne, the very slight sting of end-of-the-day sweat. He guided Hannibal’s hand up to his throat and Hannibal smiled with the grace and softness of an angel.

When Hannibal dropped him off at home the next day he had his collar popped to cover the bruises.

 

*

 

The doctor at the hospital raised his eyebrows at the cuts on his neck but did not mention them. Bev Katz raised her eyebrows at the proffered knife and held it at arm’s length, like it was a dead mouse. “And what do you want me to do with this?”

“There’s two – maybe more – two blood splashes on that. One of them is recent. I need you to find the second.”

“Oookay,” she said, “that could be really easy or really hard, depending. What else do you want me to do? Type both of them? Because that’s hard.”

“If you find the older blood then you type it and then you open this.” He slid the letter over to her and she blinked at him. “And then, um, do what it tells you.”

“What does it tell me to do?”

“At the end of it?” He shrugged. “Call the cops.”

“Will,” she said, putting the knife down on the table. “What the hell is going on?”

“Nothing,” he lied.

“WILL.”

“I don’t know,” he lied again.

“Aren’t you supposed to be off work?”

“I am off work.”

She stared at him and then exhaled, biting her bottom lip. “Okay. Drawer case. I can do favors for drawer cases. You owe me a favor, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Or not, if this is truly hilarious.” She spun in her chair. “Two blood types?”

“Not sure if they’re two different blood types.”

“Thanks a bunch. Thanks a bunch,” but she was smiling. Bev Katz liked a challenge. Will drove home and fed the dogs.

 

*

 

He passed a few boring hours in front of the TV looking at One Life to Live until the monotony of it got too much; he drove to the library and found himself a copy of Verlaine’s collected poetry. In translation, which took out some of the impact, but that was okay. He sat on the bed with his arm curled to cope with his slow-healing ribs and read, read until he ached to go back to Hannibal’s bathroom and slammed against the wall like a sack of potatoes, or maybe a whore. He missed Hannibal’s good red wine and the feel of the mattress scraping under his elbows. He missed ice chips melting in his mouth. He had a message on his answering machine from Jack; it probably was set to tell him about Weston Blake, about how he’d attacked another inmate in the showers and been killed for his trouble. He didn’t mind that. In an odd way he was grateful. He fingered the puckered skin on his side. Hannibal had chased the nightmares away.

He fell asleep and had one almost instantly. Weston Blake’s dead body stuttering toward him, its teeth clacking.

Shit, he thought upon awakening (he lay in a pool of sweat and there were antler-scented feathers lain across his chest.)He wanted to call Beverly and tell her to throw out the knife but if he did that she’d be hell-bent on decoding it. Shit, shit, shit.

The phone rang in his pocket and he extracted it, hoping against hope it was Jack Crawford telling him that it had been a mistake and Weston Blake was still alive. It was Hannibal instead and he let out an exhale. “Hi.”

“Hello, Will.” Not shyness in Hannibal’s voice, not exactly, but the slightest hint of the shock of the new. “How are you feeling?”

“Halfway between fine and hideous.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like to come over tomorrow night? I have a few recipes need trying out.”

“Of course.”

“And afterwards I’d like to fuck you over the dining room table,” Hannibal said, “if that’s quite all right.”

“Always all right.”

“It’s settled, then. I’ll see you tomorrow,” and he hung up.

Will had another nightmare, but that was all right. He wouldn’t have any tomorrow.

 

*

 

Will in his best suit, a scraggy affair without a tie, but he knew Hannibal would see the effort and appreciate it. Same with the wine, not cheap and probably not tasty either – he’d just picked the closest thing his budget could handle and put it in the fridge for a few hours, letting it settle. Hannibal took his hand at the front door, clasped his fingers between his own, and then he leaned forward and pulled off a slice of scab from the cuts on his Will’s neck. It bled and Hannibal smiled. “May I take your coat?”

They had martinis in the living room and then moved into the kitchen, where Will sat on a chair and watched Hannibal flip through the Dictionary of Cuisine. It was probably an affectation – he had to have memorized all those recipes, or at least he knew how to cook without looking at a book. Hannibal probably didn’t experiment much in the kitchen, didn’t have to – he knew, from his exquisite nose, his exquisite tongue, how to create beauty without making mistakes. He’d stripped Will down so easily, after all.

Will sat perched on his chair and the phone rang. He ignored it.

“So,” Hannibal said, turning on the range, “I noticed that you took my knife.”

Will shrugged. Hannibal held up the butter knife he had hid in the Dictionary - it had been washed. He used it to cut a few great chunks of butter and toss them in a saucepan. Will watched the butter brown and his stomach rumbled. He hadn’t eaten much today.

Onions next, a little garlic, browning with the butter in the pan. “I’d like to have it back. I’d like to see what we could do with it.”

“Foreplay or I’m right,” Will said.

“Exactly.”

“I’m right.”

Hannibal sighed; Will sensed he was disappointed. Squirt of lemon on top of the hopping onions. “You could have at least taken a third option.

“Neither?”

“Both,” Hannibal said. “Where’s the knife, Will?”

His phone rang again. Hannibal twisted his lips in annoyance. “You should probably get that.”

“Will,” Bev Katz said, “I called the cops. They’ll be there in five.” Pause. “Where are you? Are you safe?”

“I’m having dinner with Hannibal.”

“You Jesus fucking Christ WHAT you just told me to call the cops on him THE SECOND SAMPLE WAS A CHESAPEAKE RIPPER VICTIM, WILL, DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT M – ”

Will hung up and looked up at Hannibal. Hannibal wasn’t looking at him; he was fiddling with the knobs on the stove. “Who was it?”

“Beverly Katz.”

“Beverly Katz. Hum.”

“You’re right. I should have picked the both option. I had nightmares without you.” Will rubbed his lips with the back of his hand. “Probably too early to say I love you.”

“Probably,” Hannibal agreed.

“What were we having for dinner, again?”

“If you had picked the both option – Will, I must say, I immensely enjoyed taking care of you. I might have gotten used to it. If you had picked the both option we would be having pâté en croute, garnished with lightly sautéed bell peppers and escargots en beurre. An eclectic mix, but I thought the textures might have interested you. Unfortunately, to my everlasting chagrin, you have hitched your horse firmly to an either rather than a both. I will be dining alone, on my usual fare.”

Will hadn’t seen the butcher’s knife; Hannibal had been flashing the pan so ostentatiously that it was hidden. He barely felt it as it went from the place where he had been shot in a loop up to his ribs. The SWAT team burst in through the door as he watched his guts fall out. He picked them up and put them back in and then he fainted.

He woke up in a white-walled room, white sheets, oxygen mask on his face. His lips were dry. Hannibal, he tried to say, could you give me some ice chips.

But there was no Hannibal.

He didn’t cry; he did not have enough energy. He did look at the ceiling, and he did think of Hannibal’s lips running along the edge of his rent belly. Thought of him picking out the scabs with his teeth, pulling out the stitches, eating the pus and the dead flesh, eating the rot in his brain, cleansing him.

No Hannibal.

Not ever again.

Don’t try to pick fights with angels, they’re too far above to care about mere mortals. He kept forgetting that.

He had a nightmare when he fell asleep.