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The Cardiopathy of Caring

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It starts with the jam.

 

Will is sitting at Hannibal’s kitchen table, wood as polished and solid as the man himself, when he realizes that he has been sitting at this same kitchen table every morning at 8:00 for the past week instead of his own. He’s been drawn here, by the food and the soft, lazy morning sunshine streaming through the window to warm his back and most of all the quiet that this place brings. It is the only place that is quiet anymore, where he is not lost in the maelstrom that is his tattered psyche, voices that aren’t his own and are his own but not him, really, other hims, refracted and fractured like funhouse mirror shards all bleeding into his brain—

 

“Will, are you alright? Is it another episode?”

 

Quiet. Will shakes his head, because it isn’t. Just the memory of one, enough to bring the tang of bloodsweattears to the surface but not quite out into the open. His forts are stronger here.

 

“Sorry.” He mutters, because who knows how long he has been spacing out while his friend speaks, but Hannibal just smiles—thin, just a little annoyed at the rudeness and not quite genuine, but close enough to it that Will relaxes anyway. He wonders if Hannibal knows that Will was memorized and categorized his smiles, even the false ones. His frowns too, every minute shift of movement and expression that he can, running over them like touch-polished stones in his mind when he is frightened to sleep but tired enough to try.

 

He doesn’t count sheep; he counts smiles. Just another twist in his already mangled mind.

 

“You were saying, about the jam?” He asks, a peace offering. He cuts a piece of the perfect crepe that Hannibal has prepared and meekly bites it as he waits for an answer, smiling in compliment to the cook at the savory taste of the béchamel—catering to Hannibal’s ego transparently, but the ice melts slightly off the edges of the psychiatrist’s smile, regardless. Will counts it as a win.

 

“I was saying, Will, that you simply must tell me where you purchased it from. It is divine, and I do not dole out culinary compliments lightly.” This is true. Will has seen him make chefs cry when their fare does not meet with his insanely high standards.

 

Hearing the praise makes a hot flush creep up his sun-warmed neck, curling over his ears like a caress.

 

“A-Ah. Well, uh, that is…” He trails off, biting his lip for a moment. He misses the almost laser-like intensity with which Hannibal watches the motion. “I made it, actually.”

 

Hannibal’s brows rise delicately, whether in interest or disbelief Will is unsure. Both make him uncomfortable. He stares at the solid wood of the table and stumbles on as best he can.

 

“There are some berry bushes in the woods near my house, and sometimes I like to, well…” He flaps his hand at the unlabeled Mason jar. “It makes the Wonder Bread taste better.” He explains, the brand name drawing an almost pained noise from the sybarite Hannibal.

 

“And do you make anything else, to ease the onus of that abomination known as Wonder Bread?” Hannibal asks, disgust and interest balanced perfectly in his tone without mingling. Will shrugs.

 

“N-Not really. Not recently. I can make, ah, non-Wonder bread, if I have the time, but I… don’t. And pie, cake I suppose, cookies…” Seeing Hannibal’s increasingly amused expression, Will snaps defensively, “I have a sweet tooth, okay?”

 

“Thirty-two of them, apparently.” Hannibal rejoins dryly, causing the flush to spread to Will’s cheeks like sunburn. “My dear Will, what a secret you’ve been hiding from me. You can cook!” He says it with a sort of patronizing surprise that rankles.

 

“N-No! Not really. Not like you.” He says, almost wincing at the innocent awe that colors his response. Damned crepes have softened his defenses. “I can bake, but nothing like what you do.” He misses the slow, predatory smile that oozes onto the psychiatrist’s face, but not the delicate clink of silverware settling against china, nor the large, warm hands that take his own across the table.

 

He stares at Hannibal, heart and breath like a cornered rabbit before the wolf. He feels hot and cold and electrified all at once, and he can’t seem to remember how to blink. Every neuron in his brain is focused on the hands covering his own and those iced coffee eyes that are just a bit warmer than he is used to.

 

Pulling away doesn’t even occur to him.

 

“Dear, dear, Will. There is so much more to you than what Jack Crawford sees. You have a gift.” A muted sound escapes Will’s throat, low and trembling, as the hands leave his own, suddenly too cold despite the bright autumn sun.

 

“I think, Will, that the next meal we share you shall help to prepare. I simply can’t let you go now that I know your secret.” Will stutters and deflects and the world keeps on turning. He does not connect the shiver that runs along his spine as he washes his plate to the doctor’s smile as he dries next to him.

 


 

After the jam there is a pie—two of them, actually. Hannibal and Will’s first tandem meal is a pairing of the good doctor’s unearthly shepherd’s pie and the special agent’s light, ethereal lemon meringue.

 

Will bites back a moan as he swallows his first bite of the pie, and Hannibal’s pleased smile answer his unspoken praise.

 

“I don’t know where you get the cuts for this. I thought lamb was out of season?” Hannibal waves him off, and Will sighs exasperatedly. “I’ve recently deduced that you have some sort of shady connection in the butchery world that you don’t want an upstanding special agent to know about. You’re not doing much to disprove that theory. Should I be suspicious?” Hannibal’s smile widens enigmatically, as though Will’s pathetic attempt at humor is much funnier than it really is.

 

“More Chianti?”

 

Will’s pie cannot hope to follow such an act, but Hannibal seems pleasantly surprised by the results. Will is a little insulted, but he supposes he doesn’t look the part of the stereotypical domestic goddess—domestic god, god, damn it. He thinks he should have added more zest, but then Hannibal takes a second delicate sliver without a word and he decides that the recipe will stay exactly as it is.

 

He hides his smile behind the rim of his glass, but Hannibal sees it anyway.

 

He sees everything, it seems, but Will is starting not to mind.

 


 

They never mention the meals to anyone at work. They don’t speak of the way that Will drives most mornings to Hannibal’s, and they sit and eat their breakfast in a comfortable silence that Will doesn’t feel the desperate urge to fill. He calls now when he can’t come—there is an expectation, a standing invitation, something to make it worth getting through the night. Once Hannibal can’t come, some sort of emergency with a patient, and Will lets himself in and makes a simple, admittedly starch-heavy meal with what he knows. He realizes it falls short of Hannibal’s usual caliber, but the way that the doctor looks at him when he comes through the door, immaculate suit just the slightest bit wrinkled, makes him feel as though he is a five-star chef.

 

Neither mentions when Hannibal slips a spare key onto Will’s key ring, or a copy of Will’s ends up in the ornate lacquered bowl in the front hallway.

 

Lunch has never been a part of Will’s life before, or his vocabulary, but now there is always a cup of mulligatawny or beef stew at his elbow between ten and two o'clock, and a silent doctor with it, tea or coffee in hand. His stomach starts to growl if he misses the meal, a novel sensation that a candy bar or tasteless deli sandwich cannot sate. He’s not sure it’s just the meal he’s missing, these times.

 

Will is steadier, now; he feels as though his mind is healing as his body does. Alana tells him with her comfortable, worn-jeans smile that she is happy to see him looking well-fed and well-rested; Katz mentions jokingly that he looks good enough to eat. Hannibal chuckles at Will’s embarrassed cough and stubborn blush after this remark, dark eyes twinkling. Jack says nothing at all, but Hannibal starts getting clearance for all the cases that Will is on, a steady presence at his back in case things get bad again.

 

Will has stopped seeing Hannibal as a therapist, but his 7:00 appointment still stands, written in neat black ink every week on Mondays and Fridays. They have a glass of wine, talk of cases, a warm and hazy atmosphere of peace and safety from the roaring of the outside world. Sometimes they go to Hannibal’s home after, rarely Will’s; they cook a meal and talk of whatever comes to mind until it is late and the alcohol has lulled Will to a state of dozy compliance and sleep seems attainable. Then they say goodnight, a promise of companionship and breakfast in the morning.

 

Sometimes Will doesn’t make it home at all, settling in the guest room with muttered resistance that an indulgent Hannibal waves aside with casual grace. Hannibal does not sleep at Will’s, where the arrangements are limited to the dog-hair-covered pullout or Will’s own bed. Will is unsure which one would offend Hannibal’s cultured sensibilities more; he is too afraid to ask.

 

Will’s fridge is better stocked than it has ever been. Hannibal has migrated some of his older cookware, still far out of Will’s price range, to the small cramped kitchen. Will has a spare change of clothes and a toothbrush at Hannibal’s; he used to have some of his cologne, but it had mysteriously vanished soon after and been replaced by something that smelled subtle and woodsy. Will looks up the brand once, fond enough of the scent to consider stocking it at home; he decides he likes central heating more than he likes smelling good and just uses it in the morning when he has breakfast. Every morning, as it turns out, with his jam on the table like it belongs there.

 

Jack corners him one day after Will has done his ‘magic’. He is pale and shaken and Hannibal has gone to get him some coffee.

 

“I noticed that you’ve been arriving with Dr. Lecter quite often recently. Is transportation an issue?” He says, cool and polite. Will looks at him. On edge, doesn't want to ask this, but he doesn't trust Will around Hannibal and doesn't trust Hannibal at all and the two of them together must be killing him. Ever the conspiracy theorist, Jack, Will thinks, and it's almost fond.

“No.” He says slowly, because this is an odd topic for a crime scene, even if the crime is already as good as solved, and one that he'd really avoid even outside of one. “Just in the same neighborhood.” Jack hesitates, regroups.

 

“So you and Dr. Lecter just happen to be in the same neighborhood as each other… every morning this month. That’s quite a coincidence.” Insinuations like snakes in his ear. Jack claims to be open-minded about people of all backgrounds and sexualities, and maybe he is (Will doubts it), but there's something about Will and Hannibal as an item that obviously rubs him the wrong way. Probably because he must realize, at least subconsciously, that Hannibal would be tickled pink if Will told Jack to fuck off and quit work today.

 

“Not really. We’re usually coming from breakfast.” Will tells him honestly. Better to play innocent; in reality, he's not playing, isn't he? He and Hannibal aren't a couple, they just eat breakfast (and lunch and dinner and dessert and sometimes afternoon tea) together most (every) morning and sometimes spend the night in the same house. Not the same bed, so what does it matter, except that for some reason the thought makes Will even more agitated than he usually is after a crime scene?

 

“Breakfast. At a diner?” Jack says slowly.

 

“No, at home.” Will is growing steadily more uncomfortable with this line of questioning. What is he supposed to say if pushed? No, Jack, I'm not sleeping with Hannibal, I just sleep near him sometimes. Yes, Jack, I'll still come when you call like a good bloodhound, I just may not come running because Hannibal's house is far enough away that we'll probably have to drive here. Oh, and that paranoia you have about him turning me against you? Technically true, but he won't need that much help on that score if you keep talking. “Jack, is there a reason you’re inquiring as to my transportation and dining choices? I thought you were happy as long as I was doing my job.” It had been a point of some bitterness, before. By now he has come to accept it and use it to his advantage when necessary.

 

Jack’s jaw clenches at the harsh truth of that statement. There is no time to rally.

 

“And I will be happy once you stop shaking like a leaf. Drink.” Hannibal’s warm, accented tones cut in, and Will accepts the steaming thermos with a grateful smile. Hannibal refuses to touch the sludge that Quantico churns out, and so he carries a supply of his own superior brew everywhere he goes. He has recently designated a Will Thermos as well, though he makes a point to sneer at the amount of sugar and milk that goes in. “If there is nothing else, Jack, William and I still have the shopping to do. Unless there is a problem?”

 

There is something in the way he says it, too-sharp corners for a professional inquiry. Jack looks at the man for a moment, and Will can tell that he wants to say something, but eventually he shakes his head and grimaces just a little. Why can't Will have that effect on people?

 

“Of course not, Doctor. Take care, Will. Enjoy your… shopping.”

 

Will seethes over the heavy intonation Jack applies to the word ‘shopping’ until they are in Hannibal’s car and the doctor turns to him with a small smirk.

 

“Wine or produce first?” Will groans.

 

“Why don’t you ever show me where you get the meat?”

 

Hannibal laughs and taps his lips with a long finger.

 

“Ah, I would tell you, dear Will, but you see, then I would have to—“

 

“—Kill me. Yes, I know.” He rolls his eyes, missing the way that Hannibal’s smile thins just a little, studying Will’s profile with a somber light in his dark eyes.

 

“Yes. Yes, I suppose I would.”

 


 

Will doesn’t like Hannibal’s dinner parties. Everyone there is so loud and so sure of everything, and he is neither. They are also richer than sin, and he once considered Wonder Bread and homemade jam a luxury before he met Hannibal Lecter. He still prefers it, sometimes.

 

“Are you sure you won’t stay?” Hannibal asks him again, as he always does. Will shakes his head, as he always does. Hannibal’s hired hands ignore the two men’s conversation, as used to it as the men themselves are, a dance where they know all the steps.

 

“It’ll be good for you to socialize with people who don’t spend all their time knee-deep in blood and guts.” Hannibal’s lips quirk.

 

“I was an ER doctor, Will. I do not mind, as you so quaintly put it, the blood and the guts.” Will laughs a little bitterly.

 

“You’re used to it; that doesn’t mean you like it. You deserve a break from the carnage and the craziness.” Hannibal looks like he is about to argue, but Will cuts him off. “I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow. The craziness will be back before you know it.”

 

“I look forward to it.” Hannibal tells him. Will can almost believe he actually does, and he’s smiling at he steps out into the cool night air.

 


 

Halfway through the dinner party, a demure sous chef slips into the dining room and whispers something in a politely (falsely) smiling Hannibal’s ear.

 

His silverware hitting the floor sounds like a gunshot.

 


 

Will wakes to a hand around his own, two fingers resting delicately above his pulse point, tapping out an accompanying rhythm.

 

“William.” There is something jagged in the way that Hannibal says his name, something raw. He licks his dry lips and turns blurry eyes to the man beside his bed.

 

“Hannibal.” He knows he is in the hospital, sees the eye-searing white and smells that sharp antiseptic. He knows why. “How was the party?”

 

The weak joke falls flat. Hannibal’s hand tightens on his own almost painfully.

 

“Who did this?” Is all he says, little question and much demand. Will hums thoughtfully, stretching his aching body and wincing at the twinge in his chest.

 

“Garden variety mugger. Can you believe it? I thought for sure that when I finally got shot, it would be someone aiming for me rather than my wallet.” He smiles self-deprecatingly. “I got a few good hits in though—I think I broke his nose.” He tells Hannibal proudly. “Considering I only had old coupons, a tissue and a few quarters on me, I think I got the better end of the deal.”

 

“You were shot.” Hannibal says, more coldly than Will has ever heard him. “They lost you on the operating table, they told me. Twice.”

 

“I also think I broke his pinky?” Will offers meekly, duly chastised. Hannibal’s glare cows him even more. “Sorry.”

 

“For getting shot or for breaking only the shooter’s nose and pinky finger?” Hannibal says, voice not thawing even slightly. Will flushes.

 

“I think when I retell the story, it’s going to be fracturing his jaw and dislocating his shoulder.” Hannibal ignores this attempt at humor as well. In fact, he seems more distant than Will has ever seen him, almost vacant. “Hannibal, what on earth is the matter? I’m the one who got shot.” A muscle in the doctor’s jaw jumps.

 

“Tell me, Will, you are familiar with the concept of the epiphany?” Will blinks, but nods. “I find that I am a bit shaken by my own recent experience in the area.”

 

“Oh? Would you… would you like to talk about it?” Will asks, rather pathetically. Hannibal smiles mirthlessly.

 

“You know, I say that every day to my patients, and only now do I comprehend how utterly maddening it is to hear it. No, William, I don’t think that ‘talking about it’ would aid my cause. I’m afraid that this is one of those epiphanies that is better followed by action—or rather inaction, as the case may be.”

 

“Sounds like avoidance to me. Don’t you guys usually say that’s a bad thing?” A weak smile accompanies the words; anything that has Hannibal this rattled is bound to send Will reeling, and he’s already not in the best of health. Still, he’ll do his best; the doctor deserves no less.

 

“Not always the worst thing, however.” Hannibal shoots back calmly.

 

“Try me.” When the man says nothing, Will adds, “I’m sore and I’m bored and I’m hooked up to enough tubes that I’m a captive audience. No time like the present.”

 

“No time indeed…” Hannibal regards him thoughtfully, again with that strange, almost sad look that he gets sometimes when he thinks Will can’t see. Just when Will is about to push again, there is a glide of movement and a gentle pressure against his chapped lips.

 

Afterwards, Hannibal leans back, watching him expectantly.

 

“Oh.” Will breathes, staring straight ahead as he tries to process this latest development.

 

“Yes. Oh.” Hannibal tells him wryly. “You can understand now why inaction would have been the more prudent course, I suppose?”

 

Will thinks of jam and tooth brushes and coffee thermoses, of someone to drink wine with in the evenings, eat breakfast with in the mornings; someone who makes him sleep better just by being in the same house.

 

Someone who thinks he has a gift, not a curse, and almost makes Will believe it too.

 

“Actually, in this specific case, I am an ardent proponent of action. Repeatedly, if at all possible.”

 

Silence greets this announcement for a long, still minute. Then there is a shallow, sharp breath and another brush against his mouth. This time he returns the pressure, feels those warm lips twitch into a smile against his own. A hand moves to his tangled curls, running through them as gently as possible given the rat’s nest that his hair is at the moment. He wants to return the gesture, but his arms are lead weights at his sides, weighed down under too many IVs. He tilts his head instead and pushes up into the kiss, sighing when Hannibal pulls away again.

 

“Any other epiphanies regarding me you’d like to share?” He asks teasingly, almost flirtatiously but he’s too clumsy with his words for that (as usual), and Hannibal looks at him, just a little out of breath in a way that makes Will’s chest tight.

 

“I think I’d rather like to keep you.” He tells Will gravely, as though it is a terrible secret he is afraid someone will overhear.

 

Will would rather like that too, but he doesn’t say so. Yet.


 

When Will is released from the hospital, he is released into the capable hands of Dr. Lecter. A neighbor is asked to feed and water (and cuddle) his dogs while he is resting and recuperating (and cuddling) at Hannibal’s.

 

It’s strange—he’d never thought that he would be the cuddling type. He’d never let himself wonder if Hannibal was, but the doctor answers the unasked question decisively when he settles Will into his own king-sized bed rather than the guest one, and promptly follows after him.

 

They do not do much beyond kissing; Will’s wound still restricts any… extracurricular activities they might otherwise indulge in. Truth be told, Will is unsure that he wants to. He’s never let anyone get close enough to really touch him before in his life, let alone anything more. Not until Hannibal.

“It would be prudent to mention at this juncture, I think, that for all intents and purposes I am asexual.” Hannibal tells him nonchalantly, one morning when they are lying tangled in bed. Will blinks at him owlishly and raises their entwined arms in sleepy question. Hannibal inclines his head with regality that should not be possible this early in the morning. “I admit to finding pleasure and comfort in the warmth of your body beside my own, and I will also concede that our activities until this point have been more than satisfactory—“ Here he pecks Will on the lips as though to prove his point. “—But in most matters, I must admit that I am more cerebrally oriented than physically. If you find yourself otherwise, I am amenable to experimentation, but on the whole I’d really rather not. Although your body is, of course, lovely, despite your abysmally low self-esteem on that point.” He finishes with the matter-of-factness that only Hannibal can muster when uttering such bombshells.

 

Well, at least he thinks I’m lovely. Will thinks a little dazedly. When he regains his senses a little more, he considers how this coincides with his own feelings on the matter.

 

“So… Basically, you have a crush on my brain, and the rest of me, while ‘lovely’, is just along for the ride.” Hannibal snorts.

 

“A simplistic view, but I suppose that is one way to put it. Will that be a problem?” As though he’s asking if he can use Visa instead of MasterCard.

 

“Uh, no. No, I don’t think so.” Will has never really considered his sexuality in any great detail—there’d been far more emotionally turbulent matters on his mind, even as a hormonal teen. His low-level crush on Alana had been based on her warm personality and sharp mind, not on her admittedly beautiful form. And while kissing her had been nice, he hadn’t felt the need to push for anything more, in the moment or after.

 

Hannibal is… Hannibal is something else. His mind is possibly the brightest and most honed Will has ever encountered, and he has never met someone who understands and accepts him quite as much as Hannibal does. Being with him, just like this, makes Will happier than he can ever remember being, and he doesn’t feel some phantom urge to push for something more superficially intimate. After hearing Hannibal’s preferences, he cannot imagine pressuring the man to ‘experiment’, especially since he himself has no desire to.

 

It's astonishing how well they fit together, even in matters such as this.

 

“Actually, it’s kind of flattering. I don’t think I’ve ever been pursued based on the sexiness of my brain.” He says, smiling hesitantly, relaxing himself as he sees the tension in Hannibal’s shoulders fade.

 

“Not just your brain, dear Will, although it is a particularly fine specimen. It is also your heart. It is very precious to me, so please try to keep it safe. No more bullets, Will; next time they might not miss. I would not like to consider the ramifications of that possibility in any great detail, for myself or for others.” Hannibal presses his large, gentle hand against the steady thrum of Will’s heartbeat. If this were anyone else, his heart would be beating out of his chest in nerves and fear, but with Hannibal…

 

He breathes out and covers the hand with his own.

 

“Uh-huh.” He says, rather lamely, because he’s never been one for heartfelt confessions anyway and the eloquent Hannibal is a hard act to follow. “I mean, I’ll try, and you should too. Not that I think anyone’s going to try to shoot you. That is, uh—“ He cuts off, frustrated at his stopped tongue, but Hannibal shushes him gently and pulls him closer until all Will can feel is warm.

 

“I understand.” Hannibal says, bone-white teeth flashing down at him in the darkness when he smiles. “Dear Will."

 


 

Will does manage to keep his heart safe from future bullet wounds. In fact, it is his abdomen that takes the next serious blow, from a linoleum knife.

 

Will’s attacker gets the worse end of the encounter, this time. He lies sprawled on Hannibal’s office floor with a snapped neck.

 

Hannibal had done it as quickly and efficiently as Will knows he twists open a bottle of wine.

 

Snap, like a mousetrap, a life gone in an instant. Will can’t get Hannibal’s face out of his head when he’d done it: a cold sort of anger, yes, but no fear. Just a cool, iron purpose. He hadn’t even been looking at the attacker, a former patient lying in wait who had mistaken Will for the good doctor. He’d been looking at the blood trickling from Will’s stomach.

 

No fear. Just righteous, freezing anger, and a snap like a bear trap.

 

“Keep pressure on the wound, William, and do not remove the knife. Remain still and don’t let your heart rate get too elevated; we don’t need you losing any more blood than you already have. It's not deep, but you'll certainly need stitches.” And now he is hovering at Will’s side like a mother hen, completely ignoring the body of the man he has just killed as though it is nothing more than a questionable new piece of décor. He is Hannibal once more, the kind doctor, the friend, and the lover.

 

Will laughs, uneasily, even though it stings, and tries to shake the sound the man’s neck made when it snapped from his mind.

 

“Why do you even have a linoleum knife in your desk drawer? You have wooden floors.” He asks in an effort to distract himself and keep grounded. Hannibal pats his hand absently as the ambulance sirens wail ever nearer. The blue and red lights paint his face a rather ghastly shade, and Will shies away before he can help himself, feeling guilty a moment later at the strange reaction and settling.

 

“Oh, they can be good for all kinds of snags.” Hannibal says, turning his cool, kind smile onto Will. Will’s blood is on his face when he licks his dry lips, transferred from his hands where he’d pressed them over Will’s injury (over the knife, keeping it steady in the wound, unseen fingerprints all along the handle like a secret) to help stop the bleeding. Will’s blood is on Hannibal’s lips, on Hannibal’s tongue. Will’s blood is…

 

Snap, like a broken heartstring.

 


 

“Will, we need to know what happened here.” Jack’s voice cuts in again. Will screws his eyes shut tighter like a child would, because he can’t look, can’t face what he knows to be true. Not yet.

 

The white glare of the fluorescent hospital light beat down on him like spotlights. He's center-stage in the labyrinth of his mind, performing his act for an audience of one. This is my design, he imagines himself saying, bowing to himself in the audience before a scalpel slits his throat. It's a hell of a finale, isn't it?

 

“Agent Crawford, even you can see that William is in no state to give a statement right now.” Will flinches as the smooth tones of Hannibal enter the scene, his blasé voice hiding just a thread of frustration, annoyance. Towards Will or towards Jack? Still no fear, no guilt. Well, he wouldn't feel guilty, would he? Murder is probably more familiar to him than his own name. “He’s tired. He’s tired and shaken and he has just had thirteen stitches put in and a knife removed from his abdomen—“

 

“Yes, Doctor, I know. Your knife, isn’t it? And since our only other witness is dead from an expertly broken neck, Will’s testimony suddenly carries a lot more weight than it might have done. I want to make sure that your home is safe before I send him there.”

 

The temperature seems to drop ten degrees.

 

“Are you implying that I would ever intend any harm to William, physical or otherwise?” Hannibal’s voice could cut diamonds, but Jack chooses now of all times not to back down.

 

“I don’t know, Doctor Lecter, and that’s sort of the problem here. I’ve worked with you for close to a year, and I don’t know a damn thing about you other than that you have a keen taste for fine cuisine. And Will.”

 

Will wants to be sick at where that thought leads, so he is. A nurse who does not understand his need for personal space or the force of his recent epiphany shushes him and rubs his back until he’s past the dry heaving, then wipes his face with a damp rag and gives him an ice chip to suck. He’s too drained to thank her, shuddering into his garishly orange shock blanket as the two men continue to circle each other mentally like sharks.

 

“And yet I know more than enough about you, Agent. For example, I know that you push Will beyond his limits simply to cut down on paperwork.”

 

“He is saving lives!” Jack snaps, his go-to response.

 

“You’re not even letting him live his.” Hannibal says coldly. “I know more about what is best for William Graham than you ever have and ever will, and I am taking him home now.

 

“Mr. Graham? Mr. Graham, are you alright?” The nurse sounds sounds concerned. Will thinks he might be hyperventilating, but he can’t be sure; he can’t be sure of anything anymore. There is a scuffle of movement and then there are hands cupping Will’s face, warm hands, near hands, blood-soaked and dear hands. The mind of a monster in the flesh of a man.

 

 “Will? Breathe, mylimasis. I'm here. I'm right here. Don't cry." A muffled sob escapes even before Will realizes that he is, in fact, crying. In fact, he can't seem to stop. "Will, look at me. My dear little mongoose, all the snakes are gone."

 

Not all of them. Will looks up.
 

He sees the exact moment that Hannibal realizes that he knows, feels it in the tightening of his fingers against Will’s cheekbones before they fall away, in the soft breath that gusts across Will’s face like a dying breeze. In the widening of his earth-dark eyes as they hold Will’s—not ashamed, not exactly, but a little wistful.

 

He hadn’t wanted Will to know, it is clear. Will hadn’t wanted Will to know, which is probably why this had taken so long coming. It had taken the man literally licking up Will’s blood after cheerfully snapping a man’s neck to finally force him to admit… to admit.

 

And from there it's so easy, to see the what and the how and the where did all the organs go (not trophies, not prizes, meat. "When will you show me where you get the meat?"). It's like tipping over the first domino in a long, serpentine pattern--no, like a house of cards, all caving in at once in a shower of spades and hearts. Spades to bury, hearts to break.

 

Hannibal the Cannibal. And how do you miss that, unless you’re really trying?

 

Will wonders what would have happened, if they had been alone when he made the discovery. Would he have lain on the cold wooden floor of Hannibal’s office, linoleum knife still embedded deep in his stomach as Hannibal watched him writhe? No, Hannibal would have it quick for him, that much Will is sure of. A sharp tug upwards maybe, to finish the job, or perhaps a slit throat. Merciful, if it could be called that.

 

Would he have eaten Will too? His brain, the very thing he had told Will once he had found so attractive about him? Is that what he’d meant at the time? Or his heart? His heart, so ‘precious’ to Hannibal--was it precious because Will was precious, or just because Hannibal thought it would go nicely with fava beans and a nice Chianti?

 

“I think I’d rather like to keep you.” Soft like a secret he was scared to say out loud.

 

He hadn’t wanted Will to know, but now he does and they’re not alone and Jack is standing maybe three feet away and just looking for a reason. Security guards and trained professionals standing by, and a better opportunity for Will could not be engineered by God himself. Hannibal knows this, must know that it’s endgame, and yet he’s not panicking, just looking at Will with his stupid, serene dark eyes.

 

Hannibal could have (would have, the deep, desolate part of him knows) gutted him with that fucking linoleum knife if they’d been alone, and it would have hurt less than this; his chest feels hollowed, like all the important bits of him have been cut away.

 

Will closes his eyes and takes a shuddering breath. He hears Hannibal take one too.

 

“Hannibal snapped the assailant’s neck after he stabbed me, and he stayed by my side until you came and kept me from bleeding out. I don’t know who the man was, but as he had intimate knowledge of the doctor’s office, he was probably a former patient, or at least well-acquainted with one.  He didn’t mean to stab me, he meant to stab Hannibal. Why? Hannibal was his psychiatrist—it’s a common motive. I’ll let you decide what that shows about the state of our healthcare system.” Will pauses for breath, ignoring the surprised look that Jack is giving him for his flippant answer. Hannibal’s eyes are shuttered now, battening down the hatches for—

 

“And you’re sure that there’s nothing else regarding Dr. Lecter’s involvement that you need to share with me?” Jack is fishing, leading the witness, both very bad things to do and that he always does anyway. Leading Will to what he’s going to say next, what he has to say next.

 

“We’re in a serious, committed relationship.”  Jack’s gobsmacked expression is worth the inevitable humiliation when this gets through the grapevine. “Is that the sort of ‘involvement’ you’re looking for?” When Jack doesn’t answer, Will makes direct eye contact for as long as he can and says, clearly, ”I trust Hannibal Lecter with my life. He saved it, Jack, tonight and every day for the past three months. I think I can trust him to keep it safe tonight as well. I’ll give you a fuller statement in the morning, but please, for now, let me go home.”

 

Jack hesitates, but in the face of so much out-of-character honesty, he is cornered.

 

“Of course. We’ll be needing one from Dr. Lecter too, of course.”

 

Hannibal hums in a vaguely affirmative manner, looking at Will as though he is shooting star—blink and it’ll be gone. Will returns what the man’s subtly stunned countenance with a shaky smile of his own.

 

“Home? Hannibal?” He is proud that his voice does not break on the name.

 

And Will sees the moment too, that Hannibal realizes that he is going to walk out of here. He is going to walk out of here, undiscovered by Jack Crawford, and he is going to go home, unsupervised, with the one person that knows his secret. All of the power is back in his hands, and it’s all thanks to one skinny, spastic little profiler who is too dumb to know better.

 

“Of course, dearheart.” His smile is sweet like sin.

 

If Will is going to die, he can ask for no more than to go peacefully and with the comfort of home surrounding him. And Hannibal is home.

 


 

They lie in bed with only shadows between them, but it feels like an abyss. There was no talking on the way home, no words yet formed that could encompass the contorted, corrupt nature of their relationship. Will avoided the kitchen (knives) and went straight to bed, and Hannibal followed soon after. Now here they lie, not quite touching but close enough to taste.

 

“How often have you been feeding me the bodies of your victims?” Will says finally. Might as well start with a bang. Hannibal turns his head in a rustle of pillow casing to look at Will more fully.

 

“The morning after I met you, that was the first time. Afterwards… often. More often than not, when meat is the main course.”

 

“Meat.” Will repeats, sick. Hannibal’s eyes narrow coolly.

 

“And you were so fond of my shepherd’s pie, too. It just doesn’t taste the same without the shepherd, don’t you agree?” Will swallows hard against the bile.

 

“Stop. Stop the petty baiting; you don’t need to rile me up any more, believe me. How many people have you killed?” The man considers him for a long moment and sighs.

 

“Killed? Approximately a hundred. Eaten? Fewer. Not all of them make the cut, so to speak.” A thought strikes Will at the blatantly continued petty baiting, and he blurts before he can think,

 

“Oh my God, you’ve been doing it the whole time!” Hannibal raises a sardonic brow.  “Those punny cannibal jokes! Why the hell hasn’t anyone else caught you yet?” The man’s face darkens and without warning he rolls so that he is on top of Will, body carefully caging Will and pinning his arms above his head without pressing into his wound. Hannibal’s stony face towers above Will’s, and he realizes for the millionth time how vulnerable he is here. Is strangulation less painful than a linoleum knife to the gut?

 

They have not caught me because I am extraordinary at what I do, and you have caught me because you are extraordinary at what you do. And not a one of them understands either of us.”

 

This is leading a little into a Vader/Luke “Join the Dark Side” sales pitch, so Will cuts in.

 

“I don’t want to kill people like you do. I don’t want to eat them either, no matter how you serve them up. I won’t do it, Hannibal, not now that I know.”

 

“And I won’t stop. So we seem to be at an impasse. You could have had the upper hand, back at the hospital. Jack would have listened, you would have won.” There is something watchful in his eyes as he says it, almost perplexed.

 

“No.” Will shakes his head sharply, wanting to grab Hannibal’s hand but unable to free it and too embarrassed to ask. He leans up as much as he dares, to that Hannibal can read the sincerity in his eyes. “I would have caught you. I wouldn’t have won.”

 

Hannibal’s mouth softens into that shape it makes when Will has said something more important than he realizes. He makes that shape a lot.

 

“And I would not have won had I killed you when your knowledge became too great, an outcome I know neither of us were too idealistic to dismiss out of hand.” He leans down so that their foreheads rest against one another and all Will can see is the mind-addling darkness of Hannibal’s open-grave eyes. “Whether or not you tell Jack, Will, you have caught me, and so you have won. I find cannot harm you, not as I thought I could, and so the final move in our chess match must be up to you.”

 

Will hates chess. Always has, apparently always will. He considers his options carefully. Hannibal says that he can’t hurt him (unlikely, probably meant to soothe and lower Will’s guard, but technically undeniable at this point without proof), meaning that he can still take back this fresh craziness and turn in the serial killing cannibal of the century. Or…

 

“You won’t stop. Can’t?”

 

“Does it matter? The ‘won’t’ is quite intransigent.” Hannibal shoots back languidly. What a dick. He is certainly testing Will’s resolve to make this work. He takes a deep breath and dives in.

 

“Right. So, first things first: No more feeding me… feeding me people. If there is meat anywhere on the menu, I want to know where it came from and I do not want it to have a Social Security Number. As to your own diet, or your meals with others… I’ll leave that to your discretion, but please. Be careful. And make sure that they deserve it. No killing Girl Scouts because you think they look sweet. Just buy the damn cookies and keep walking.” Hannibal’s lips are twitching. “I’m serious. I’m not a good enough alibi for this; you know I can’t lie. If you’re not careful, Jack will find out, or at least Alana. And she’ll tell him, Hannibal, you know she will, because she’s not completely insane and in love with a serial killer like I am.”

 

“You’re in love with me?” Will growls ineffectually at him, considering he is still pinned. Hannibal doesn’t even look bowled over with shock, or overcome with reciprocal romantic feelings. In fact, he looks rather skeptical, if the pitying smirk on his face is anything to go by.

 

“That’s what you took away from that whole speech?” When Hannibal merely blinks and nonchalantly shifts, making Will’s helplessness all the more evident, Will sighs. “Yes, well, unfortunately I do. Love you. So.”

 

This night is just full of fun surprises, apparently, as he hadn’t even known this was true until he blurted it out. Unfortunately, the more he says it, the more true he knows it is. Fuck.

 

“William, darling, you don’t love me. You are projecting an idealized front of what you need in a partner--a front that I have purposefully cultivated in order to earn your trust, might I add--and the recent shock of my… hobbies has not yet sunk in fully. You are rationalizing that you cannot turn me in because you love me, but in truth it is because you are afraid that turning me in will mean that everything we had together was false, and that you are still as broken as you thought you were.” Hannibal says this all in a gratingly soothing tone, as though explaining to a child why Whiskers hasn’t come back from the vet.

 

For a moment Will is stunned into silence at the sheer gall of this speech. His Hannibal, there in a nutshell: a pretentious, erudite asshole.

 

“Idealized? You think there is anyway to idealize what you just said to me, let alone what you get up to in the kitchen? Not my brand of crazy, Hannibal, sorry. You are a stone-cold bastard, and I knew that even before I knew about all of the other fun things you like to do in your spare time.” Seeing Hannibal’s bemused expression, he adds, “You are also brilliant at anything you put your mind to--including murder, apparently, acerbically clever in a way that makes everyone around want to dive and take cover, and you make me smile even when I know that no one is watching to make sure I am. You make me better, Hannibal, and I do love you, cruelty and all, no matter how much psychobabble you throw at me.” He considers for a moment. “Although I might leave the ham out of my omelets for a while. No offense.” Hannibal’s jaw sets in that way it does when he’s dealing with a difficult patient.

 

“There’s no way this can work. One of us will end up killing the other before the week is out. Will, I will kill you before the week is out, if I have the slightest misgivings as to your loyalties. You're not like me; you understand, you see the beauty, but it is not in you to create it. This will break you, Will. This will break you, and a part of me wants to see that more than anything.” Hannibal is telling him, but his offensive position has thawed and dipped so that they are forehead to forehead and he is whispering his fears into Will’s mouth between fevered kisses.

 

“And the other part?” Will asks him seriously, breathlessly, arching into the assault as much as he can with pinned arms and an injured torso. Hannibal does not answer, nipping at his lips punishingly instead. A moment later he is back to his teasing, taunting mouth’s work. He’s leaning over Will so that Will’s wound is safe, but he doubts that rest of him is ever going to be safe again.

 

“Don't love me, Will. Please don't love me.” Hannibal says, and he still hasn't answered Will's question but Will thinks that might be an answer in and of itself. Part of Hannibal wants Will to shatter, and the other part of him is curled over Will's wound so that he doesn't hurt him by mistake.

 

And that's the crux of the matter, isn't it? Hannibal doesn't want to hurt him unless he's trying to.

 

“A little late, I’m afraid.” Will tells him, smiling up ruefully. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

 

“And if I never say it back?” Harsh, cruel, meant to bite. Will gets the blow glance off him and keeps the smile on. He’s getting better at this. “Will you still love me then? Because I won’t, Will. I am not the tender lover you seem to think I am.”

 

“I know what to expect, Hannibal. I have no illusions on that front or any other." A yawn chooses now to break through his serious statement, and another one soon follows before he can rally. "Now would you please stop looming and go to bed? I’m on pain meds and I really don’t think I can go another round through the emotional wringer tonight without fainting. First thing tomorrow, I promise, over no-meat omelets.” He knows, somehow, that he will not die this night, no matter the state of their relationship, and the thought cuts into the adrenaline that has thus far kept him awake.

 

Tomorrow is another day, and he may be willing to do what is needed to save his life, but he thinks instead he will probably stand still over the breakfast table and allow Hannibal to cut his throat with a butter knife, if that is what makes the man happy.

 

He can’t make Hannibal love him, but he can try to make him happy.

 

Whether or not Hannibal is okay with this ceasefire becomes rather immaterial as Will drifts off regardless, groggy from the medicine and the blood loss and realizing that he is in love with a raging sociopath.

 

He feels Hannibal move back to his side of the bed, and then a hand stroking through his sweaty hair, and then over the back of his neck, thumb winding round to press against the pulse of his throat. He feels the fingers squeeze, lightly, testing, but before Will has time to worry the grip relaxes again and the fingers drift to stroke his cheek with not a hint of their earlier threat.

 

“Oh, my Will. I will destroy you, you must know, and yet you won’t lift a finger to stop me. This is what love does. It is a weakness, Will, and it will cost you everything.”

 

“S’Okay.” Will mumbles into his pillow. “You’re worth it.” Hannibal sucks in a sharp breath, lets it go shakily. Will wants to open his eyes, see the effect his words have had, but his body won’t obey him. He’s so tired…

 

“I can’t love you back, William. I can’t love anything, you foolish boy.” Will hums and leans into his hand as it strokes. Hannibal sounds a dizzying combination of pitying and pitiable, a pairing that is too much for Will’s drug-addled mind. The cover of sleep is already too fast upon him, but he feels a hand in his hair until the moment he is gone, and a voice whispering again and again.

 

“I can’t love you, Will, but if I could…” There is never anything after the ‘could’ but another ‘can’t’.

 

He doesn’t know how the sentence ends. He’s not sure Hannibal knows yet either.


 

It turns out Hannibal’s method of dealing with problems is to flee the country and get off the grid so completely that not even Jack Crawford’s crew can find him. He’s gone when Will wakes to the empty bed and the empty house, and sees a thorny red rose and a note on the pillow next to him. He thinks it’s a surprisingly sweet (and characteristically dramatic) gesture until he pricks himself on one of thorns and drips blood on the creamy cardstock.

 

If I could, I would.

 

The bastard is gone, to Borneo or Argentina or any of the other hot and tropical places that it’s impossible to get an extradition treaty out of, even if you could find the criminal in question. Like finding a needle in a rather sweaty haystack, Hannibal once said condescendingly, and now he’ll know the feeling. Jack asks Will if he has any idea why one of their best doctors has suddenly disappeared into the night without a word to anyone about where or why he’s going.

 

Will shakes his head and doesn’t say a word, even as the note burns a hole through the pocket as his fingers clench around it. What is there to say?

 

The rose wilts and withers to something dark and brittle and twisted, as untended flowers do. He can never quite bring himself to throw it away, even though he knows that the poor rose is quite beyond help. He puts it in an empty mason jar that once held jam, cracked from where he'd thrown it against the wall, and puts them both on his bedside table instead. 

 

He’s rather fond of things as damaged as he is, after all.