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The New Normal

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Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide
-- Oscar Wilde, De Profundis


The key is warm from his pocket, the doorknob a chill contrast in his hand.

It doesn’t get cold here, even with the elevation – ‘cold’ has an entirely different meaning in Baltimore, in Lithuania – but the winter nights often approach freezing. Hannibal is dressed for it, and the exercise has kept him warm.

The dogs rise to greet him, near-silent, only the click of claws on tile and a soft snuffling as they check his scent and that of the bag he carries. He scratches fingers through soft fur by the ears of the tallest one – Hannibal doesn’t bend to pet dogs – and they return to their beds when he stops at the door to the wine cellar. Will’s animals are well trained.

The air grows cooler again as he descends the stairs into the basement. The arrangement is nothing like as elaborate here as it was in his Baltimore house, and he doesn’t take the same level of precautions. If someone gets close enough now to be interested in analysing the contents of his kitchen, they will have recognised his face long before.

It is a small but serviceable wine cellar, and it holds a basic secondary freezer, into which he places the zip-locked packages from the bag. He selects one, taking it back upstairs with him, and shelving it in the main refrigerator instead.

He sheds his coat as he walks, hanging it carefully in place in the cupboard beneath the stairs, before he makes his way up to the next floor.

He takes his shower in the guest bathroom along the hallway. He doesn’t want to disturb Will by using the en suite. He tips his head back into the spray, letting the water sluice warm over his face, before he shampoos his hair vigorously, twice. He scrubs his skin deliberately, taking particular care with his hands, and scraping delicately behind his fingernails. He wasn’t aware of any tears in his gloves, but research papers in the medical journals make it clear just how frequently pinpoint penetration can occur without the surgeon’s knowledge.

He dries himself rapidly, towels the loose water from his hair, and pads naked along the hallway to the master bedroom.

Will is awake, lying in their bed, watching him with eyes adjusted to the dark.

Will is both fiercely intelligent and the most skilled intuiter of minds Hannibal can imagine existing. He is extraordinary, or Hannibal would not love him. He understood Hannibal’s plans for tonight before he left the house. It’s very likely he even knows who. It is simple courtesy that neither has chosen to raise the specifics in conversation.

Hannibal lifts the covers, slides beneath the sheets, and Will squirms up against him, his nose pressed into Hannibal’s still-damp hair. Hannibal breathes in his scent, his sweat, and sighs heavy against his skin.

Will settles, and softens, and sinks back down into sleep.

-------------------

Hannibal rises early despite his prolonged nocturnal outing, opens the door to release the dogs, and begins his breakfast routine in the kitchen feeling particularly content. He never experiences tiredness after a murder. The pleasure of improving one of humanity’s lesser specimens counters any physical drain his body might suffer.

Hannibal doesn’t need to kill; he has nothing so disagreeable as a compulsion. He finds it intensely satisfying, and it adds interest to a life that can otherwise too easily become dull.

There have been pauses before, periods of caution and changing circumstance, and his time in Córdoba has not been the longest of those, but added to the hiatus enforced on him by incarceration, it’s been a very long time since he adequately stocked his freezer. Francis was a curious diversion, though messy, unprofessional, and unnecessarily painful; an experience elevated to the exceptional only through the spice of watching Will transform into his full beauty. Francis was overall more of an obligation than an art form, and he doesn’t truly count.

Will descends the stairs as Hannibal is cracking eggs into a bowl, and he whistles the dogs back to the door and places their food out on the patio. Will isn’t inclined towards conversation first thing, before coffee. In anyone else, Hannibal might find the absence of a simple morning greeting rude, but Will’s asocial tendencies are the product of decades spent among fools who recognise nothing of true worth, and Hannibal allows him a latitude that he extends to very few.

The odour of coffee adds itself to those of eggs and chopped herbs as Will fills the French press. He opens his laptop while it steeps, and Hannibal doesn’t need to look to know that he will be checking the website of the local newspaper. Will’s Spanish isn’t fluent, but it is more than adequate to scan the headlines of La Voz and determine if there is anything of particular interest.

There will be nothing in the news for Will to read about, for him to look at, and see. There will be nothing for quite some time. It should be months, or quite possibly years, before anything is discovered, and when it is, her bones will have been picked clean, just as she herself ate into the buried lives of so many others. It is critical commentary of a different kind, and nothing about her remains will suggest the Chesapeake Ripper, or attract more than the usual level of curiosity and investigation.

Hannibal fries a breakfast of lightly scrambled eggs with green onions and mushrooms and tarragon, but no sausage or ham. He stirs the food continuously as Will closes his laptop and squeezes the oranges at the countertop behind him, and he says, “I thought you might like to go fishing today; perhaps you can catch something I could prepare for your dinner.”

The noise of the juicer ceases, and Will’s hand is on Hannibal’s jaw, turning him gently around to face him. “I know who you are,” he says simply, and he’s staring all the way down into Hannibal, because Hannibal lets him do it. It remains entirely as intoxicating as when he first fell in love, having Will Graham see everything and choose to stay, not despite what he finds inside Hannibal, but because of it. Hannibal is forced to wind his arms around him and kiss him, and love him all the more fiercely as Will presses against him and smiles into his lips.

Perhaps his earlier assessment was only partially correct. Hannibal will admit to one compulsion, but he is certainly not a disagreeable one.

Hannibal dips his head to the skin of Will’s neck, and breathes him beneath the eggs and the coffee. It is impossible not to love Will, and it is a measure of the dysfunction of humanity that Hannibal is the only one who does. That woman Will had briefly amused himself with while Hannibal was detained was never worthy of him, although Hannibal acknowledges a certain respect for her ability to survive the Great Red Dragon. Will would not have married a helpless simpleton, of course, but she did not love Will Graham, because she didn’t know Will Graham. She cared only for the pretty reflections of his still, calm surface; she saw nothing of the wild beauty that stirred in his darker depths, and if she’d seen them, she wouldn’t have loved them.

He releases Will and returns to stirring the eggs before they ruin, serving them out onto two plates at the kitchen island, and he sets a Mozart concerto playing low. Will scrutinises his vegetarian breakfast with obvious amusement, but he only flicks a smile at Hannibal and refrains from comment. Hannibal pours orange juice, and Will pours coffee; Hannibal closes his eyes and lets the music wash through his mind as he eats, the combination of aural stimulation alongside food saturating his senses in a way that is immensely pleasing. And when he wishes to add sight to complete his indulgence of sensations, he has simply to open his eyes and let them settle upon Will.

After three years of living with only his memories, the thrill of having Will here to delight in whenever he wishes has not entirely faded.

Will is watching him over the rim of his coffee mug, eyes thoughtful as he studies his face. His gaze stays with him while he finishes his eggs, dropping down to the plate only briefly with each forkful.

He sets his utensils neatly on his plate when he is done. “Thank you for breakfast,” Will says, and it’s not a platitude, it isn’t mockery; it is absolute sincerity.

Hannibal smiles, warm and equally honest. “It is a chef’s greatest pleasure to cook even a simple meal for someone who is genuinely appreciative. Preparing an entire feast solely for oneself lacks sufficient reward.”

Hannibal has discovered that Will responds exquisitely to a choice, offered with only the gentlest of nudges; it is far more favourable than how he reacts to some of the less subtle pressures Hannibal has employed in the past. Not that Will in his righteous fury isn’t delightful, because he is truly stunning, but Hannibal can admire that glittering facet of Will while it is directed elsewhere, and then enjoy having him desiring and energetic within his bed. Hannibal savours sharing that newer, physical aspect of his relationship with Will, perhaps almost as much as he thrills in the lightning twists of his mind.

Hannibal has always regarded sex as a practical, if pleasant, activity – a useful outlet for his body, and occasionally a helpful means of manipulation. He had considered the latter with Will, briefly, before deciding it was unnecessary, and likely to attract unwanted attention from Will’s observant and curious colleagues. He is very glad of that decision, with hindsight, because sex with Will is more deeply enticing and involving than he had initially anticipated.

It is almost embarrassing, given his profession, just how long it had taken him to recognise that the depth of his interest in Will went so far beyond the intellectual that it could only be categorised as love.

Hannibal clears the plates, and Will adds cups and glasses to the collection of pans and mixing bowls already waiting in the dishwasher. An unfamiliar sound rises beneath the chinks of cutlery and china, and Hannibal stops and lifts his head – there is the deep, discordant rumble of a larger vehicle approaching the house, and Hannibal reaches for the knife block as a precautionary measure.

Will remains entirely calm, and offers him an amused smile. “This one’s for me,” he says, and he goes to the door to summon the dogs before they start to bark.

Hannibal watches from a window as three men remove a very large and well-padded object from their van and carry it into the house. He takes a seat in the armchair while they manoeuvre it through the doorway, his face tilted down into a book; he is neither hiding nor making himself prominent. The boning knife lies flat along his thigh, its handle light against the back of his hand beneath the book’s cover.

The delivery men unwrap their bundle to reveal its contents – it is a longcase clock taller than any of them, and Will directs them to place it against the wall at the far side of the living area. Will’s Spanish is progressing well. He speaks confidently, though somewhat formal and stilted as he talks around the vocabulary he doesn’t yet know, and his accent is already more authentic than Hannibal’s.

Once the clock is upright and carefully levelled, the men gather their packaging and depart. Will sees them to the door; Hannibal rises to examine the piece, and Will rejoins him a minute later, standing at his shoulder.

It is quite magnificent, of French craftsmanship, likely early nineteenth century, in a deeply grained walnut that complements the colour palette of the house. The carving isn’t excessively ornate like some of the period, but it is masterful, and the wood has been well maintained, with only the expected shrinkage of two hundred years. It does, however, have one major flaw, which becomes obvious after Will replaces the pendulum and weights. “It appears to be non-functional, Will.”

“I found it in an antiques store in Córdoba,” Will says. “I thought I’d fix it.”

Hannibal’s eyes move from the undeniable beauty of the clock over to Will. “Are you experienced in the repair of horological devices?”

Will throws him a quirked smile. “Not yet,” he admits. “I decided it would be best to start with one where the components are bigger than pinheads.”

Hannibal’s gaze shifts in contemplation between Will and the clock. Will has always enjoyed renovating mechanical things, and while there are a multitude of yachts around the lake, it would likely be unwise for him to return to working with engines. Hannibal would not have anticipated this choice of direction for his talents, however.

Will is still facing the clock, though his eyes have drifted sideways onto Hannibal. “If you like it, we can keep it. If not, I can sell it on, once it’s working.”

Hannibal considers the striking timepiece again, with this added insight. It is not purely an occupation for Will’s time and skills; it is a gift, one selected more for Hannibal’s tastes than his own.

Hannibal turns back to Will, settling his hand on his lover’s hip. “It is beautiful, Will. I would be delighted to have it stay.”

Will gives him a broad smile, all white teeth, and entwines their fingers together. “I wasn’t completely sure. Your tastes can be very specific.”

Will didn’t ever smile much in Baltimore, nor even at his home full of dogs in Virginia. Now he smiles many times each day, for Hannibal.

Will sets the dishwasher running and then heads out with the dogs, while Hannibal dons thick, round-framed glasses and drives into town to use the pool. It amuses him to adopt Will’s old ploy for limiting his interaction with strangers now that Will himself has finally abandoned it. Later in the year, he will swim in the lake – water, like most things, is preferable in its wilder, more natural state – but in July, the pool provides a practical, if unpleasantly chlorine-filled space in which to exercise. It’s quiet there during weekday mornings, with few other people to disturb his routine, and he swims laps for an hour before showering the chemicals from his skin.

When he returns home, the dogs are sleeping heavily in their beds, there is a gaping hole in the face of the clock, its dial and mechanism removed, and Will has his laptop open to display pages of diagrams and photographs.

Hannibal stands behind his chair, resting a hand on Will’s shoulder, and Will tilts his head and looks up at him with a smile. “Welcome back.” His attention dips down to the screen again, and Hannibal leans in to examine the clock’s workings, sitting on layers of newspaper beside the computer.

The internals have not been lavished with the same ongoing care as the woodwork; the metal is pitted and discoloured, the teeth of the cogs are worn and uneven. Hannibal considers himself distinctly unqualified on the subject of clock repair, but even he can see that the coiled wire of the spring is loose.

“Have you reached a diagnosis?”

Will continues to stare at the screen, frowning slightly. “I’ll need to buy some tools, and machine some replacement cogs, but most of it just needs cleaning and oiling, I think.” He pauses. “There might be more when I take the rest of it apart, but nothing I’ve seen so far has been critical.”

Hannibal smiles softly. “Good,” he says. This is his gift from Will, and he wants it to be perfect. He steps back, letting his fingers trail over Will’s neck as he moves away, leaving him to his work. He has own preparations to make in the kitchen, and he rolls up his sleeves and begins crushing cumin seeds and grating ginger.

He takes the zip-locked bag with no labels from the refrigerator, and trims the meat, slicing it into short, finger-thin strips. The dogs stir and scent the air, watching with pricked ears from their beds in the living area, but they won’t trespass in his kitchen, no matter the temptation.

Hannibal combines white wine vinegar with a small amount of a traditionally prepared mushroom dark soy sauce in a deep dish. The soy isn’t perfect, but it is acceptable. His own fermented sauce won’t be ready for another seven or eight months, one of the inevitable small inconveniences of relocating.

He adds the meat and spices to the sauce bowl along with pressed garlic, and sets it in the refrigerator to marinate while he considers the options for lunch. Something simple, he decides, a spinach and broccoli quiche with a herb salad, and he starts the broccoli steaming and gathers his ingredients for the pastry.

Will remains absorbed in his mechanical project as Hannibal bakes and then clears the kitchen. He delves deeper into the inner workings of the clock, taking photographs and removing pieces, carefully labelling each with small pieces of paper, making notes on his laptop as he goes along.

Hannibal has to call Will twice when he serves lunch. The second time, Will rises and tosses him a slightly sheepish “Sorry”, stretching out his spine and his arms before he goes to wash his hands.

Hannibal truly doesn’t mind his preoccupation. He never saw Will this way before – Will’s work with engines wasn’t one of the times they had interacted. He has seen Will disappear into crime scenes, both real and photographic copies, but this is a different pattern of behaviour. There’s no empathy lurking to engulf him in this purely mechanical task, and Will is totally focussed while also being relaxed, without pressure from his mental conflicts.

Any new aspect of Will Graham is something to be studied and savoured, and Hannibal doesn’t tire of watching.

Over lunch, they talk more about the clock. Hannibal tells Will something of the history of the French longcase style, the probable regional origins of this particular example. “The workings were commonly manufactured by groups of farmers during the winter months, with members of many different families each specialising in one individual part.”

Will looks over to where it stands against the wall. “A real community effort.”

“The winters in the Jura mountains are severe,” Hannibal says. “Iron was mined locally, and the income often kept them from starvation.”

Will’s eyes return to Hannibal with a wry smile. “Suddenly you’re making it sound less like a communist utopia.”

“There were similarities with that system of government. The workers were not well compensated for their labour when compared with those in charge of their efforts.” His own family had experienced both sides of that equation; first favoured, and then distinctly not. “I’m curious to know what gave you such an idea in the first place.”

Will shrugs. “I didn’t set out to buy a clock. The store was right there where I parked, and when I saw it, something about it made me think of you.” He tilts his head and considers. “It’s the wood and the style of the carving – it reminds me of the bookcases on the balcony in your office.”

“Both were crafted from the stump of the walnut, where the grain curves,” Hannibal agrees.

“I went in for a closer look, and ten minutes later I was buying it.” Will is smiling now as he speaks. “I could see it, in the house, and with you.”

Will doesn’t go into the city often. The first time Will had left this house and its land, had taken the car and driven away, Hannibal sat in his armchair the entire time he was gone, fingers tapping lightly on the leather, staring at the flames and listening into the silence until he heard the engine note of the Mercedes returning.

This last occasion, a few days ago, was… almost unremarkable. The arrival of the first dog had gone some way to mitigating the tension that perpetually fluctuates through Hannibal. Will has left his dogs before, because of Hannibal, and he is under no illusions that the dogs might keep Will here, if he decides he doesn’t wish to stay, but the appearance of each new creature is an indicator that he doesn’t yet harbour any plans to go.

The dogs are Will’s first focus after lunch. Taking them out for another exercise session is his usual schedule, and he keeps to it, but once he returns with his panting pack, he immediately loses himself inside the clock problem again.

Hannibal spends much of the afternoon at his piano, working on a composition that has been stalled for some weeks. It is a benefit of the open plan design of this house that he has only to turn his head to observe Will; the upturned sweep of his nose, the fine, fading line of the surgical scar along his cheek, the hunched curve of his spine as he peers between the screen and the mechanism, twisting to remove each piece. It really is an appalling posture he has adopted – Will needs a taller surface on which to carry out such work, and Hannibal sets a mental flag to investigate alternative desks.

The sharp, glassy notes stick in his head when Hannibal stops playing to write, and he misses the mellower sound of his harpsichord, the silken tones that linger in the air to flow and merge into the next. He will procure one eventually, but it will need to be a private sale, no records on file with a dealer, and a suitable instrument may take years to find. For the moment, the piano must suffice.

Will does not go fishing.

As the shadows stretch longer across the floor, Hannibal closes the piano and returns to his kitchen, slicing the potatoes first, and then onions and tomatoes. While the potatoes fry, he opens one of the local Malbecs that the Argentinians are so fond of with steak dishes. Hannibal had limited knowledge of South American wines before he came here, but he has discovered several that are distinctly pleasing. He remains sharply aware of the ease with which Doctor Bloom had tracked him in Florence, and he would prefer to avoid a similar outcome. He has no doubt that Alana is working enthusiastically with Jack in the effort to relocate him, and her resources considerably exceed even his own.

Will looks up and straightens when the meat and onions begin to fry; dinner preparation is more of an auditory stimulant than the oven bake and salad of lunch. Two of the dogs are already waiting at the door as Will goes to open it, and he feeds them and then sets the dining table before calling them all inside.

Hannibal hands him a glass of the Catena Zapata Adrianna, watches him sip and consider and appreciate it. “Dinner is almost ready,” he tells him. “You should take a seat at the table.”

Will raises his eyebrows at the suggestion that is more of an instruction, but he dampens his curiosity and cooperates. Hannibal plates the meal and places his own in front of his empty chair before serving Will’s. Will’s eyes stay with him as he returns to his seat.

Will examines his food, and looks back up at Hannibal with a small smile. “You made lomo saltado.”

Hannibal’s smile in return is wider. “I thought it appropriate.”

Will takes a sip of his wine, holds the glass close by his face and swirls it, matching his humour. “It probably is.” They’re both remembering another meal, one they prepared together. It wasn’t Freddie Lounds, but it wasn’t pork.

Hannibal watches Will pick up his fork and spear the meat and chew and swallow, and Will holds his eyes, and watches him watch. There’s the scar on his cheek now, still stark in the orange light of fire and candles, and it’s the only thing to tell that this isn’t four years ago at another table, in another house.

Hannibal loves Will; he won’t ever stop, but back then he didn’t only love him, he believed in him, and the memory is suddenly painfully sharp.

He takes up his own utensils and echoes Will’s movements, food to mouth, eyes always on each other, red wine on lips and throats working to devour. The dish is everything Hannibal had anticipated, the longer marinade time allowing the meat to fully absorb the mushroom tang of the soy, and it can’t hold his attention against the man across the table, against Will Graham offering a flagrant display of consumption.

Hannibal drains his wine glass. He doesn’t pour another.

This evening will end differently from that parallel one, so many years before.

They eat in silence; Hannibal didn’t set any background music, unable to determine a piece that quite matched his mood, and the scratch of metal on china is loud as the plates grow bare.

When Will lays his cutlery to his empty plate with clinking finality, Hannibal still has food remaining, but he does the same. He walks around the table, as he usually does to clear it, and instead he takes Will’s hand and licks at his fingers, tasting the salt of his skin and the metallic undertones that linger from the workings of the clock. He sucks the fingers in, circling his tongue between them, Will’s eyes a thin ring of blue around dark, dilated pupils as his gaze fixes on Hannibal’s mouth.

Hannibal ignores the plates, and the pans soaking in the kitchen, and he kisses Will. He kisses him in the dining room, and he kisses him upstairs and into their bed, and he makes love with him until they are both thoroughly debauched, laughing in the tangled mess of sheets.