After sunset, when night drops over the fields outside Will’s farmhouse, there’s no sound for hours. No one else lives on this road, as far as he can tell; it dead-ends with a bolted gate about two miles down inside the woods. Out here the silence has a different quality than silence coming from anywhere else, like tap water, some weird shift in the air that Will noticed the first time he saw this place.
He bought the house in a property auction two years ago at a price below even his pathetic budget. The previous owners are a mystery to him beyond the fact that they left hurriedly enough to abandon most of their furniture, including a baby grand and the solid oak bookshelves in the living room – no one from the county wanted the hassle of loading them up. An undercurrent of abandonment runs through the walls, left behind with someone else’s stories, their stains in the carpet and a child’s penciled-in growth marks on the plaster. The last thing Will needed was a blank slate to fill up with his own memories. He walks through strangers’ minds for a living; sharing a home with a long-gone stranger seemed almost comfortable.
On nights like this, when there are no papers to grade or lectures to haphazardly throw together or murderers to inhabit, Will spends most of his time on the porch, thinking about nothing for as long as he can manage it.
A wet nose bumps into his knee, followed by a whine. Will reaches down absentmindedly.
“C’mere, you,” he drawls. The Mississippi comes out sometimes when he’s tired.
It’s hard to tell which dog this is without looking, but he’s guessing Cheyenne, the border collie, from the feel of her head and the fact that she’s pestering him for attention. She gets restless when Will doesn’t move for a while, has to check and make sure he hasn’t died of a stroke like her last owner, a trauma he can understand.
Somewhere out in the yard a tree branch snaps. Underneath his hand, Cheyenne’s ears stiffen and draw back.
“It’s okay, girl.”
He turns to look over the porch, and Kerouac and Winston are still dozing, oblivious to whatever it was. Two against one, Will thinks. By the time he settles back into his chair, Cheyenne has already gone.
From the backyard, more branches snapping.
“Cheyenne,” he calls. No response.
Will stands up with his pulse heavy beneath his sternum. “You stay,” he instructs the sedate porch dogs.
The ceiling lamp in the kitchen is the only light on indoors. Will shuts the screen door gently behind him. None of the dogs spread out in front of the fireplace rouse as he walks between them to the mantel, ignoring the drafty, gaping hole in the chimney that he tries to pretend isn’t there. He lifts the .38 from next to a loose pile of bricks. Outside, faintly, Cheyenne is growling.
The slide lock on the back door is open, but the screen is shut. Through the window, Will can see out for about three feet before the darkness swallows the last of the illumination from the kitchen. Bracing himself with his back against the wall, Will nudges the light switch on, then kicks the door open, arms out in the Weaver stance. He presses himself against the porch wall and scans the yard – nothing. No predators. Not even Cheyenne. An intrusive, sudden memory of Alana’s face when she saw the chimney, her pitying frown. Will lowers the .38. A moth flutters in front of him.
In the periphery, Will sees Cheyenne crouching behind one of the azalea bushes, licking herself. He whistles for her and she comes running. Will secures the gun in his back pocket, drops to his knees and checks her all over for wounds, lifting each paw and feeling the pads – “good girl, that’s a good girl, yes you are” - embarrassed by the amount of relief he feels. A quarter-sized chunk of fur is missing from just above the base of her tail, smooth white skin left in its place. Will touches it gently to examine for blood, and Cheyenne wriggles away from his grip, still excited. His finger comes back dry.
Behind him, Winston pushes the screen door open and it slams shut with an echoing bang. The silence that settles back into the yard is not the same as the silence before. When the adrenaline fades, it leaves his body feeling wrung out, sucked dry. Will’s head is ringing. His mouth tastes like brass.
Will ushers the dogs inside, locking both doors and leaving the porch light on. He replaces the .38 on the mantel after checking the safety. He pours some Purina One into the bowl in the kitchen. He wanders through each room of the house and counts the dogs – six, seven. Lucy curled up on the dirty towel at the foot of his bed – eight. He stands in the hallway and listens to his own breathing. His fingers curl up restlessly against his palm.
Six or seven more hours, maybe, before he’ll be able to sleep. Every little sound is amplified by his own nervousness; every click of paws on the hardwood, every creak in the hallway a potential threat.
Maybe Jack will call. A body somewhere. Another person to crawl into, another life to walk around in instead of this one. Will realizes with disgust that he’s actually hoping for someone to die. The thought curls up like a worm in his stomach, and he has to sit down.
Before he can give himself a reason not to, Will’s phone is out and he’s dialing.
ring. ring. ring. ring.
Hannibal sounds slightly out of breath, or maybe Will is projecting.
He presses the phone into his ear until it hurts.
* * *
“There was something outside in the yard. This time I know it wasn't in my head. Cheyenne heard it too.”
“Is Cheyenne one of your dogs?”
“Yes, Cheyenne is a dog.” A note of frustration in Will’s voice.
“I see. And what did Cheyenne do?”
“She followed … it, whatever it was, into the backyard.”
“Did you see it yourself?”
A short pause. “It ran when I turned on the light. Cheyenne must have given it a hard time. I found her in the bushes, and there’s – there’s fur torn out from her back.”
“She was injured, then?”
Slowly, so as to be inaudible, Hannibal withdraws the No. 10 scalpel from inside the retroperitoneal space of Mrs. Barbara Cavanaugh. The phone is tilted between his left shoulder and cheek. With care, he unclamps the two 8” DeBakey forceps, allowing the blood to drain into what would have been the empty bed of the left kidney had he not been interrupted. The instruments are placed on a small tray, lined with cornflower-blue absorbent gauze, headed for the autoclave.
“No, I, I, I don’t see any sort of wound, just a, a patch missing above her tail.”
Hannibal imagines the expression that must be on Will’s face – wincing, lowering his glasses, eyebrows furrowed, mouth twisting up in distress. He smiles.
“You sound rather in need of company, Will.”
“Yes. Company would – yes.”
“As fortune would have it, I happen to be ending a house call for a patient not 20 minutes from you. I’d recommend keeping your dogs inside in the meantime.”
There is nothing for his friends in Behavioral Science to learn from this body, no rhyme or reason beyond his own pleasure on a cool and quiet November night. No greater meaning for Will to discover, not now.
Hannibal’s methods of disposal range from elegant to elegant only in their brutal effectiveness. Tonight will be the latter.
* * *
The quiet thrum of Hannibal’s BMW telegraphs his arrival long before the headlights appear.
Will is sitting on the bottom step with a glass of whiskey and ice in one hand, the other buried in Cheyenne’s neck fur, stroking her in a nondistinct rhythm. He looks up when the car door shuts. His eyes are limned with red.
Hannibal, approaching, is a long black silhouette before the light reaches him. He carries a gleaming calfskin briefcase in one hand.
“Thanks for coming,” Will mumbles, somewhat ashamed of himself.
“It’s my pleasure.” Hannibal pauses at the foot of the steps, and Will lets his eyes drift up from the buttons of his navy blue wool overcoat, following the path of his burgundy tie until reaching Hannibal’s face. Two seconds of eye contact in an effort to be polite, and then back to the porch. Hannibal is immaculate, like a detail from some baroque painting. It stings to look at him sometimes. Will wasn't raised to be ashamed of where he came from – the Biloxi bled out of his voice in college almost accidentally, not through any real effort – but there are times when he can still feel the holes in his shoes, the saggy hand-me-downs and rudder grease on his elbows, and though Hannibal’s never given any indication, Will gets the sense that he can see them, too.
Cheyenne’s ears perk at the sound of Hannibal’s voice, and she lifts her head from Will’s lap.
“Hello,” Hannibal says to the dog. “No treats tonight, I’m afraid.”
He extends his hand. Cheyenne sniffs his fingers with an unusual curiosity, then gets up and circles around him, sniffing intently at his leather wingtip shoes like there’s something on them.
“Hey,” Will chastises, snapping his fingers at her. Vaguely embarrassed, he watches as Hannibal kneels down and places a hand firmly on the collie’s head, meeting her eyes.
“If you’re patient, Cheyenne, next time I promise you’ll have something special.”
The tone of his voice has a mollifying effect on Cheyenne; her tail sinks almost immediately, and she sits down at Hannibal’s feet. Will’s never seen her do that for anyone. The words “next time” rattle around in his brain for a reason he can’t figure out.
Hannibal straightens up, brushing the dirt from his knees with three dignified swipes of a hand.
“A very perceptive girl,” he says.
"Well, Cheyenne is the only one who stays on patrol.” Will takes a sip of his drink, already beginning to relax. “Everybody else is … content to sleep all day, mostly.”
“Most dogs develop an intuition about how best to protect their masters. Perhaps, for your sake, they keep themselves calm instead of adding to the turmoil you already experience.”
Will thinks about this for a minute.
“Did you just … psychoanalyze my dogs?”
“Dogs are not so unlike people,” Hannibal says, but he’s smiling. A quick glance at his watch. “If you’ll humor me, Will, when was the last time you had a meal?”
“I, uh. Jeez.” It’s getting progressively harder for Will to remember to feed himself. Sleeping and eating, the basic structure of life – he’s failing on both counts most days. Will rubs the back of his neck, grimacing in thought. “I had a TV dinner around 5:30, I think.”
“That hardly constitutes a meal.”
“Trust me, I’m aware.”
The doctor seems genuinely pained by this. Small creases tighten at the corner of his eyes.
“Will, under most circumstances I’d blanch at inviting myself into your kitchen, but I’m truly concerned for your wellbeing.”
“I guess that was inevitable,” Will responds, looking down. He hopes it doesn't come off as rude, hopes even more that the stupid gratitude in his voice isn't too obvious. His fridge is a study in neglect. Alana, the last person to see it, had gone looking for a beer and, instead of taking one, just let the door drift shut and said, “Oh, Will,” in a way that had filled him with self-disgust. Hannibal’s been here once or twice to feed the dogs while Will was on a case, but there’d be no reason for him to snoop. “You aren’t going to find much of anything.”
“The simplest cuisine is often the best,” Hannibal tells him without missing a beat.
Cheyenne follows the two of them inside, sniffing Hannibal’s briefcase and his coat after he hangs it on the rack. There’s a draft in the kitchen tonight, probably coming from the chimney. Goosebumps prickle over Will’s arms. If Hannibal notices, it doesn't show; he takes his time perusing each cabinet, investigating the elements on the stove and the oven racks, then opens the refrigerator and leaves the door open for a much longer time than Will would have expected, given its contents.
Apparently deep in thought, Hannibal turns around, spreads his hands over the chipped laminate countertop of the kitchen island and doesn't move for a minute. Will finishes the last of his whiskey and sits down at the table, a mahogany beast sorely in need of polishing, yet another relic from the original owners. Underneath the table is a sleeping dog that he almost kicks in the face. Will is about to make a joke at his own expense when, as quickly as he had stopped, Hannibal enters into a flurry of motion: turning the oven dial to 425, setting two saucepans on the burners and procuring in rapid succession three eggs, flour, a stick of butter, olive oil, some garlic cloves Will had forgotten were still on the spice rack, and most of a brick of cheddar inside a Ziploc bag.
“Is that cheese still good?” Will feels the need to ask.
“We will have to make do,” is Hannibal’s response.
He watches in mild fascination as Hannibal cubes the butter and adds it to one saucepan with a little water, then a shake of salt and pepper.
“Have you and Jack made any revelations about our Ripper?” he asks cordially, pouring out some flour into a cup measure.
“That’s your attempt at small talk?”
“I figured I’d spare you my observations of the weather.”
Will leans forward onto his elbows, massages his forehead. Having company over was going to be his excuse to not have to think about this tonight, but if it’s a choice between talking about murderers or discussing his mental health or whatever kinds of things you talk to your psychiatrist about when he comes over to cook you dinner at 10:30 on a Saturday, Will is gladly going to choose the latter.
“Jack is still expecting me to have some epiphany about the Ripper. Some … magic mirror I’ll glance into and see his face, like a fairytale.” Will wonders if the Ripper has any idea that there are people getting paid to think about him, study him ad nauseum. He’d probably like that, Will snorts. “If this were a fairytale, I’d be coming home to a castle, not … here.”
“And in this fairytale,” Hannibal continues for him, folding the flour into the saucepan mixture, “are you the solitary wizard doling out his premonitions to the king, or are you the knight who comes forth to do battle with the monsters?”
“I don’t have ‘premonitions’. I make an analysis.” The effort of Hannibal’s stirring makes the solid musculature of his shoulders suddenly, uncomfortably visible. Will had been finding it easier to watch him from behind – less eye contact – but now he forces himself to look away, face burning with embarrassment at how much he wants to keep staring. Distant, childish thoughts of what it would feel like to be held by Hannibal flutter just outside his consciousness and go unacknowledged.
“Yet Jack expects you to perform magic.”
“Well, Jack expects a lot of things.”
The dough has shaped itself into a smooth ball, pulling away from the edges of the saucepan. Hannibal transfers it into a mixing bowl, cracks an egg neatly down the middle with an almost casual rap of his wrist and introduces the yolk to the dough.
“Does that make you the gallant knight, then?”
Will laughs under his breath. “Maybe I’m the dragon.”
The slightest hint of a pause in Hannibal’s stirring.
“You rescued a maiden from the dragon’s clutches.”
Will is getting tired of this metaphor. “I feel like I spend more time with the dragons than … anywhere else. What – what are you making, by the way?”
“Pâte à choux,” Hannibal answers readily with an almost familial tenderness, “soon to become gougères, and I’ll be serving them with a simple tourin à l'ail.”
Nodding as if he has any idea what those words mean, Will lets his eyes wander around the kitchen, the little framed painting of a cormorant he hung on the wall last year, another larger painting of geese flying over a beach that he saw at a flea market and decided he liked, and Hannibal continues to cook in friendly, familiar silence, having apparently detected Will’s reluctance to keep talking. Will leans back in his chair until it touches the wall. Out of nowhere, a memory of his father in front of their old gas stove in Greenville, dredging steak back and forth in a plate of flour, the smell of rice and cream of mushroom soup bubbling in the slow cooker with the blue flowers painted on it, Dad humming Merle Haggard’s ‘Carolyn’ to himself and Will sitting patiently at the table with freshly scrubbed hands. He shuts his eyes so he can stay inside the memory a little longer, as vivid and surround-sound as any crime scene he’s ever thrown himself into. Sometimes he forgets that his mind still has nice things inside it, images that don’t leave him shaken or blood-covered.
The oven buzzer blares. Will steps back into the present and the suddenly overpowering smell of garlic, warm and earthy, so strong he can practically see it hovering in the air. A twinge of unexpected hunger from under his ribs, and his mouth is pooling.
“Would you mind fetching us a pair of bowls?” Hannibal asks him, opening the stove with a red terry-lined oven mitt in brash contrast to his French cuffs. Will finds the two least ugly bowls he can think of and, feeling like he should at least try to help, some silverware to go with them, and then Hannibal is politely gesturing for him to sit back down.
In a few minutes, there are five beautifully browned gougères (apparently just puff pastry with cheese) in front of him, draped in a thick golden broth, fat discs of oil floating on the surface and a sprig of what looks like dried thyme against the side. Will isn’t sure if that came from his spice rack or not.
Hannibal waits for him to take the first bite. His eyes are gleaming as he follows the path from Will’s spoon to his mouth, hovering there for a greedy moment as Will’s lips tighten and his throat contracts.
“What’s in this?” Will asks, surprised.
“You don’t recognize your own ingredients?” Hannibal is smiling.
“I taste garlic.”
“I should certainly hope so.” The smile is widening. It gives Will the compulsion to smile back, and when he does, the small, shared gesture seems surprisingly intimate, startles him with a frisson of something sharp and unrecognizable high up in his chest. Uncomfortable, he goes for another bite without looking up, this time breaking off a piece of dough. The sticky heat of garlic and oil tastes amazing, and he breathes out through his nose, pressing the impossibly rich dough against the roof of his mouth with his tongue and sucking the liquid out.
“You have a fine kitchen, Will,” Hannibal says after a moment, “yet it’s filled with more implements than food. Have you recently fallen out of the habit of cooking for yourself?”
It seems bizarre to talk about his fading appetite in the middle of a meal like this, but Will has to admit to himself that if Hannibal hadn’t pushed, it wouldn’t have occurred to him that he might be hungry.
“Eating,” he says slowly to his soup bowl, waiting for the rest of the thought to develop, “seems … disrespectful.”
This must be the price of the meal, Will thinks – having to field more goddamn questions about myself. The thought is immediately followed with a sting of guilt: he took the time to drive over here and cook you dinner out of kindness because you were too pathetic to handle being alone. At least be grateful for that.
“It’s getting harder to separate … being in my kitchen from when I’m standing in the morgue, watching a murdered man’s stomach contents being catalogued.” Will trails off, having a difficult time putting this into words. “I just don't like thinking of what I eat as ... stomach contents.”
“Confusing yourself with the cadavers?” Hannibal’s hands are steepled on the table. He hasn’t touched his soup.
“No, it … it's more … abstract than that. Maybe I’m dragging the death home with me.”
Hannibal seems satisfied with that answer, pursing his lips slightly in thought. Will waits to see if he’s going to ask any more followup questions and, when he doesn’t, uses the opportunity to quickly wolf down the rest of his soup while it’s still hot, scraping the bottom of the bowl for the last few swollen chunks of pastry. He takes a deep breath, tracing his tongue over his upper lip in case there’s anything there. He can feel the warmth of it crawling down from behind his sternum to the bottom of his spine.
“That was really delicious,” he says.
“Thank you, Will.”
There’s a strange quality to Hannibal’s voice that Will doesn’t recognize. He looks up, noticing Hannibal’s undisturbed bowl, the thick soup beginning to form a skin over the top.
“Aren’t you going to have some?”
“Forgive my rudeness,” Hannibal murmurs. “I don’t suppose I could ever tire of watching you take pleasure in your food.”
Will blinks several times. He can’t tell what that is in Hannibal’s expression – he looks almost longing, but that can’t be right. Will realizes after a moment that they’ve been making sustained eye contact and he hasn’t felt uncomfortable or distracted at all. There are shades of red in his irises that Will can’t believe he’s never noticed before. Hannibal holds his gaze until whatever dog is hiding underneath the table stretches in its sleep and bumps against Will’s ankle and he looks down at it, breaking the spell.
“Hey you,” Will says to the dog. His tongue feels numb. He sort of wants to keep talking. “C’mere, buddy. What are you doing under there?”
Thoughts are floating through his mind with no particular force behind any of them. The world around him is starting to slow down, blur together a little. Will has already forgotten about the soup when Hannibal takes his untouched bowl over to the counter and says, “This should reheat well for breakfast tomorrow.”
“Are you staying?” Will asks without a hint of self-consciousness, stroking Winston’s long ears with his hand under the table.
A short pause, the corner of Hannibal’s mouth turning up ever so slightly as he checks his watch, a gesture to which Will is completely oblivious.
“I had considered it,” he says mildly. “I rather think you’ll be asleep soon regardless.”
Will suddenly feels very heavy, like his body is being laden with ballast and he’s sinking into the chair. He turns to look at Hannibal over in the corner of the kitchen and it takes a second for his vision to catch up with the movement of his head. A sensation of vertigo, like spinning in circles, and then Will’s stomach does a funny thing.
“I think I – “
Will stands up abruptly, pushing the chair back, and within seconds realizes that he has no center of balance. Frantically, he reaches behind him for the table but his legs are already crumpling underneath him like wet paper and the floor is swaying, and he lands face-down on the tile with a terrible, hard sound.
“Will,” Hannibal shouts.
“I’m okay,” he says, cheek pressed into the floor. What comes out is more like a moan. He tries to prop himself up onto his elbows, but before he can get any further, Hannibal’s strong arms wrap around him from behind and lift him up halfway. Will’s head is pulsing with pain, a black knot of tension as his blood adjusts to being upright again.
“Be still,” comes Hannibal’s voice very close to his ear.
Will reaches up to touch his mouth. His fingers come back slick. The realization that he’s bleeding doesn’t bring with it any real worry or emotion, just a dull awareness of pain and some salty drainage from the back of his sinuses.
Delicately, as though handling a fragile doll, Hannibal positions Will with his back against the kitchen wall and his legs spread out loosely in front of him. Blood crawls down Will’s chin and into the pit of his neck; he still can’t figure out where it’s coming from. Everything in his head hurts about the same.
“Look at me. Keep your eyes open, please.”
For the second time today, Will looks straight at Hannibal for a surprising amount of time without feeling the need to blink or divert his gaze somewhere else. He feels naked, but not in a bad way. Hannibal holds up a finger and, without being asked, Will tracks it obediently with his eyes, even when it rises to the level of the ceiling light and he has to squint.
“You’re fine, Will.” Hannibal’s voice is steady and even. He pulls out his dark red pocket square and folds it into Will’s hand. “Hold this just under the bridge of your nose and pinch.”
The silk feels like water against his fingers. Will covers his nose with it and is enveloped in a soothing cloud of Hannibal’s cologne. He breathes in deep through his mouth.
“I imagine you’ve had a nosebleed before. There’s a small laceration where your teeth pierced your lip. How much have you had to drink tonight?”
Will’s voice is muffled by the handkerchief and his plugged nose. “Just the one, waiting for you.”
“On an empty stomach. You’re courting trouble, Will.”
The thought floats into his mind that he has had far more than one drink and on less food and has never felt at all like this, but then it occurs to him that he’s never hallucinated or heard things or sleepwalked before a few days ago either. He wonders why Hannibal is smiling. Winston trots over to sniff his knee, concerned, and Will reaches out to pat his head, and this is the last thing he remembers.
* * *
“Do I need to ask if you know where you are?”
“Wolf Trap,” Will says. Then: “I’m still bleeding.”
Hannibal is perched on his knees, mentally cataloguing the effect of the midazolam on Will Graham. A busy little sedative – he’s found that it peaks too rapidly for his tastes when given intravenously, prefers its application by oral route, though this situation is somewhat unique being that in every other case his ‘patients’ were in the process of being killed. After his misstep, Will’s pupils are equal, round and reactive to light and accommodation, and he exhibits no significant impairments in motion or speech beyond what could be accounted for by the drug. This is fortunate, as concussion aftercare would have been a waste of Hannibal’s carefully allocated time.
“Let’s take care of those wounds,” he says reassuringly to Will.
Brave Will makes an effort to stand, drawing his knees up, and Hannibal helps him to his feet with a firm grip beneath his shoulders. He tucks a steadying arm around his waist, an almost paternal gesture. Will smells of blood and garlic and sweat.
“Are you nauseous at all?” Hannibal asks.
Will’s body slumps awkwardly into Hannibal’s side as he leads him down the hallway, mindful of the three or four concerned dogs milling around. The carpeted floor creaks with every other step. Outside, an owl is talking to itself.
“Yes,” Will says just outside of the bathroom.
“Bear with me, Will. Deep breaths from the bottom of your belly.”
Three yellow light bulbs on top of a wide, mirrored medicine cabinet cast a sour glare over the bathroom. A lonely Norelco electric razor and plastic comb are the only personal items on the sink counter. The tub is a clawfoot relic, drab, showing signs of age. Functional and nothing more, Hannibal reflects, like so much of Will’s living space.
Hannibal ushers Will to the closed toilet, where he sits heavily with his elbows on his knees. By now the blood has mostly clotted, beginning to dry around his nose and chin. He notes with some interest that Will’s usual facial mannerisms, his little tics and grimaces, have died down substantially; his expression is somber and flat.
“Continue your breathing, Will – up from the diaphragm,” Hannibal instructs, warming up the faucet.
One of the hall cabinets reveals a stack of clean hand towels, reeking of cheap detergent. In the kitchen, Hannibal fills a glass with tap water, attracting the continued attention of the dogs.
“No need to worry,” he tells the crowd. “I’ve no intention of hurting him.”
When Hannibal returns to the bathroom, Will is continuing to deep-breathe, his shoulders rising and falling in a steady, observable pattern.
“Still with us, Will?”
Hannibal sets the glass down and tests the temperature of the water, then runs a towel under the faucet. He lifts Will’s chin up like a reluctant child’s. His nose and mouth are stained brown-red, the hue darkest around his nares and lower lip, where a small crust is forming. The muzzle of dried blood has a beautiful chiaroscuro effect against Will’s natural pallor and the sweat-damp curls of his hair. Hannibal’s breath catches in his throat; this is an image he would like to keep with him. He studies the soft angles of Will Graham’s wounded face until confident that it lies secure in his memory palace, then touches the wet towel first to his forehead, cleaning in small circles as if polishing an artifact. Will makes a small sound of pain.
“Forgive me,” Hannibal murmurs.
Will’s eyes close as the cloth passes over them, then across his cheeks, leaving a bright wet sheen behind. Hannibal devotes more time to his mouth, where the gash on his lower lip, barely a centimeter, reveals the soft pink granular tissue beneath the surface. Blood trails over the rough stubble of his chin and down his neck, and he cups Will’s cheek with his left hand to hold him steady while scrubbing the rest of it.
“I feel dizzy,” Will whispers, his eyes still closed.
“That’s to be expected,” Hannibal says, not ungently.
“Should I go tuhhospital?”
“There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Hannibal wrings the bloodstained towel out over the sink, then folds it neatly on the counter.
“I feel dizzy,” Will repeats, quieter this time.
“Will, look at me.”
He opens his eyes with some effort, obviously disoriented and confused. Hannibal speaks very slowly and in a gentle tone.
“I’m a physician, and I’m your friend. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. Do you believe that?”
Looking almost ashamed, Will mouths the word “yes”. Hannibal finds his continued trust to be surprisingly moving. He brushes Will’s cheek with his thumb affectionately.
“Has your nausea passed?”
“Good. I’d like you to rinse your mouth out now. Too much blood can be sour on the stomach.”
Will, in spite of the midazolam, is still capable of standing in front of the sink without assistance, though he needs help in rising from the sitting position. He sways in front of the mirror, eyes downcast. Hannibal directs Will’s hand to the glass of water, curls his fingers around it and helps him raise it to his lips, and after a few repetitions Will is able to rinse until the water he spits out is clear.
It occurs to Hannibal then, on watching Will’s listless face in the mirror, that something is lacking from this moment. With the usual gravity that he reserves for learning a new truth about himself (there are precious few left to discover), Hannibal realizes that the drug has robbed Will of what he enjoys most about him. He had wanted him sedated enough to be docile – wanted an unfettered window of time alone with his friend and free from his powerful inhibitions – but in doing so, he has taken away Will’s perception, that rare and beautiful instrument just outside of his control, in which he can see himself reflected so clearly. This Will is nothing but a tongue-tied mockery. Disappointment wells up inside Hannibal with an unseemly taste.
“Come,” he says, tight-voiced, taking Will by the arm. “I’ll help you to bed.”
* * *
At 12:17 a.m., Hannibal is seated in front of the piano, performing the 10th of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for an audience of sleeping dogs, when Will Graham stumbles into the living room, knuckling the sleep out of his right eye, and stops in place.
“You’re awake,” Hannibal says noncommittally, continuing to play.
Will stands there in his undershirt and boxers for a long moment, arms wrapped loosely around himself. Two dogs emerge from their beds and wander over, excited to see him, and he scratches them both behind the ears absentmindedly, focused on the music. Hannibal finishes the last few notes in the fughetta with relish. The sound of it lingers in the air.
“How long have you been here?” Will asks.
Hannibal tugs his sleeves down, flexes his fingers. “It seems you’ve experienced some impairment in memory. A blackout, to be colloquial.”
“A blackout – was I drinking?”
Will has walked straight into Hannibal’s cover story with remarkably little effort on his part. It’s all he can do not to smile.
“I fear I’m partly to blame for not stopping you sooner,” Hannibal sighs, “but given the state you were in when you called, I was reluctant to cut you off.”
A ripple of embarrassment in Will’s face, and he looks down at his bare feet on the carpet, shifting uncomfortably.
“Well, you didn’t have to …. stay,” he mutters.
“Nonsense.” Hannibal rises from the piano, putting on his best concerned air. “You’re most likely still dehydrated. Would you like some water?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“Will, I’m afraid I must insist.”
Wincing, he nods a few times, makes a vague gesture with his hand as if to say “go ahead”, and Hannibal heads back into the kitchen with the small white dog at his heels. Under average conditions, a man of Will’s build given such a dose of midazolam would have been out at least until morning; then again, little about Will Graham is average, he supposes. His insomnia must be truly profound. Stirring the rest of the benzodiazepine into a fresh glass of water, Hannibal could almost justify this as doing Will a favor, if he had a conscience to speak of.
Will takes the glass and downs it in one shot without coming up for air. He dries his mouth with the back of his hand, and his arm hovers in midair as though he’s not sure what to do with it anymore. His forehead wrinkles in thought.
“How are you feeling, Will?” Hannibal is standing within an arm’s length of him, wanting to remain in close proximity in case of another fall.
“I feel like I should be terrified,” he says, picking at his thumbnail, “but … there’s nothing inside my head. And it feels so good.”
“It’s valuable for us to have an escape from our thoughts from time to time.”
Will thinks that over for a moment.
“Did you do something to me?” His tone is more curious than accusatory. Hannibal is careful not to let any sort of reaction slip into his response.
“Why do you ask?”
Will raises his eyebrows and draws a long breath, his words flowing out with the exhale. “Because I haven’t had a moment of peace since I shot Garrett Jacob Hobbs. And right now … I feel like I’m … a ship in harbor.”
There is electricity in Hannibal’s gaze, a focus hot enough to sear. This, here, is his moment at last – Will is tranquil, yet still in possession of himself; he is self-conscious, his gestures remain, yet this pocket of time will vanish from his memory as quietly as a dream. If he were any other man, Hannibal’s pulse would be soaring.
Stepping closer, the devil inside his heart beginning to bare its fangs, Hannibal reaches out to frame Will’s face with a broad hand across his cheek. His reaction is slow; he seems to have frozen in place.
“Dr. Lecter,” Will says very quietly, the hint of a question at the end.
Hannibal’s fingers travel over his scalp and weave delicately into his dark hair, and Will’s eyes close almost involuntarily with a shudder. Fear and restraint, the twin angels of Will Graham’s better nature, are clearly struggling against a darker, louder urge. Slowly, so as not to provoke resistance, Hannibal presses his lips against Will’s, suborning him into a kiss that lingers briefly until Will breaks away, looks down with his mouth hanging open somewhat and says, of all things, “Don’t tell Jack.”
A pulse of anger mars Hannibal’s composure.
“Jack has nothing to—“
“Please don’t tell Jack that I,” and then Will is kissing him, tentatively at first with the muscles in his neck and shoulders bunched up as though expecting rebuke. The contact is exquisite. Hannibal savors his taste, the inexperience of Will’s tongue as it brushes against his own. The dogs seem to have granted them space, retreating to their beds and observing half-lidded the sight of their master being held gently by the arms and the strange man whispering something into his ear, the small, strained noise their master makes in response.
“I think, I don’t know if I can stand,” Will manages to say in between rapid breaths. Sweat blossoms on his forehead and upper lip.
“Then fall,” Hannibal says simply. He lets go of Will’s arms, and Will takes a step backwards to compensate, quickly discovers that his weight is unevenly divided, reaches instinctively for Hannibal to catch himself but ends up landing hard on his knees with his fingers caught in Hannibal’s undershirt.
A memory of another man, lipless and spraying blood from the fresh holes in his face, clutching him in a similar way. Hannibal puts this unnecessary thought aside and kneels to join Will.
“Sorry,” Will pants. “I got dizzy, and I - “ He swallows, cutting himself off, and his eyes travel a circuitous route around the living room before furtively daring to meet Hannibal’s again.
“Am I frightening you, Will?” Hannibal’s voice at a low register.
A long pause, small tremors of effort going through Will’s face as he desperately grabs for words that make sense.
“I didn’t want you,” deep breath, “to know this. About me. I was afraid,” Hannibal’s narrow thumb tracing his chin, “of how you would react.”
Both of them half-seated on the carpet now, Will’s bare legs ghostly underneath dark grey boxer-briefs that grant little dignity to the evidence of his arousal.
“And are you still afraid?”
Hannibal doesn’t allow Will to look away until he’s answered; in sort of a gasp, he breathes, “Terrified.”
This time Hannibal’s kiss is greedy, prying, stirring remnants of blood from the corners of Will’s mouth, and Will holds him hesitantly behind the shoulders as if still afraid to offend. In the palace of his mind, Hannibal can hear the thin strings of Chopin’s Nocturne #1 in C Sharp Minor intercut with the intoxicating sound of Will beginning to hyperventilate, the sharp discordant smell of his lust, and Hannibal has an urgent need to taste him as well. He tilts Will’s head gently up and to the side, runs his tongue over the path of his carotid artery, ending at the delicate space just behind his ear. The volume of Will’s reaction is surprising; one of the dogs begins to bark. Unable to resist, Hannibal lets his teeth graze against the rough skin of Will’s neck, tempting himself more than anything, and when Will does not protest he allows himself to bite, exerting just enough force to keep the capillaries from rupturing and leaving a telltale mark. Skirting the edge of his own passion, Hannibal has to withdraw or else betray himself too early.
Will is having a difficult time staying upright even on his knees, and with some regard to his comfort Hannibal lays him supine with his back on the carpet, admiring the view from above. His skin is iridescent with sweat; it brings to mind Baglione’s frightened cupid in ‘Sacred Love and Profane Love’, the rosy mouth and angelic curls. If only you could see yourself, Hannibal thinks.
With as much grace as it allows, Hannibal lifts Will’s damp T-shirt up to his shoulders, noting the way his hips shift to the right to accommodate his full erection. The awkwardness of the gesture would seem to suggest that this is an uncommon state for Will’s body to find itself in.
“I’ve never,” Will slurs, “done this with,” deep breath, “another,” and then Will is rendered speechless by the heat of Hannibal’s mouth over his nipple.
In this light, Will’s stomach is pale, vulnerable. It’s been some time since Hannibal enjoyed the simple pastime of fellatio on its own merits; he considers himself somewhat of an artist here. In jumbled anticipation, Will hooks his thumbs under his boxers and tries weakly to pull them down, assisted by Hannibal until the fabric lies bunched beneath his knees, and then nothing is hidden, all is revealed.
Hannibal, remaining sartorial in suit and tie, sinks to all fours over Will Graham’s vestal body in the corner of his cluttered living room and takes Will’s cock in his mouth, slick and sweetened with pre-ejaculate, and Will cries out like he’s been struck. The dogs are awake now, pacing around. Hannibal’s tongue darts and strokes, the master at work, both of his hands locked onto Will’s hips to keep his canvas steady. He had not imagined that Will would make sounds like this, whimpers and ragged animal moans from the back of his throat; he had not expected such a response from his own body, either, strict comportment giving way to bare hunger.
Will’s fingernails digging into the carpet. Then –
“Ohgodstop,” all one word, and with precise timing Hannibal draws back to observe Will Graham achieve orgasm, the long line of his body curling into an arch, come opaque and pearlescent against his shuddering chest. The gash on his lip has reopened – he must have torn it – and a bead of dark red blood wells up, crawls between his teeth. The sight of the small wound juxtaposed onto damp, flushed face, still in postcoital shock, causes something to rupture inside Hannibal akin to the transition of a bull upon seeing the muleta, and he crushes his mouth onto Will’s and sucks at his lip until the blood is gone, come smearing over his tailored shirt. Hannibal would prefer not to sully himself with crude manipulation – the experience of orgasm is secured firmly under his locus of control, needing only a divine spark of inspiration to unlock – and with infinite care, so as not to ruin fine fabric, Hannibal loosens his belt and buttons and, onto the fine canvas of Will’s skin, permits himself release. He makes no sound, but the expression on his face is a rictus befitting the monster below the surface, the teeth and blood and bones of the devil made flesh.
The music in his mind dissipates; his pulse calms. Beneath him, Will has fallen asleep, his mouth slackened and breath coming slow.
Twenty minutes later, Will is in bed with the sheets drawn up to his neck and two dogs at his feet.
He sleeps until 1:33 P.M., uninterrupted and free of dreams.
* * *
A note left on top of a neatly folded stack of laundry:
If you have any memory at all of the evening of November 12 – which I rather suspect you do not – I hope it includes our meal together. As intoxicated as you were, you nevertheless made for excellent, though somewhat uncouth, dinner company. My only regret is that our time was cut short by your eventual unconsciousness.
Don’t bother retracing your steps; I assure you they were minimal.
In the future, please lend some thought to alternative coping mechanisms besides your father’s whiskey. I’m sure he would want better than that for you.
P.S. Tell Cheyenne that I remember our promise; she’ll know what I mean.