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One Foot in the Door

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Graham woke to the sound of Hannibal making breakfast. Graham’s stomach churned at the sounds of pots clinking together and pans scraping along the grates of the stove, though less so than it had when he’d first arrived. The smell of bread baking in the oven wafted into his room.

Rising from his bed, Graham crept down the hall and peeked into Will and Hannibal’s room. Will was still curled up, facing away from the door. Despite wanting to shake him awake, he wouldn’t.

At least one of us should be able to sleep , he thought, with some guilt. Feeling silly and a bit like a child, he slunk off, shutting the door silently.

Graham went about his morning ablutions while steadfastly evading Hannibal. The house’s walls were thin enough that when Hannibal moved, Graham was given ample warning to go elsewhere. He settled for the screened-in sunroom along the back. It had the best view of the ocean. The wind was cold and blew continually to the south.

Clad in two thick sweatshirts and his running sneakers, Graham stuck his hands between his thighs to warm them. The ocean was grey and had the appearance of slick, slushy ice. The tide would come and go later when the sun was up. For now, it was flat and still and caused a pulsing calm to work its way through Graham, pushing the stiffness out of his shoulders.

He puffed his breath out and watched the cloud created blow away. Graham inhaled slow and deeply through his nose, holding the cold air inside his lungs before once again puffing it out. This cloud hung suspended like white shadow for a beat longer than the first, and within that moment Graham knew the air was different here.

The screen door opened with a creak of rusted metal hinges. Hannibal appeared, looking bare with mussed up hair leftover from sleep, dressed in only a t-shirt and sweatpants. His feet were bare. Graham stared at them, looking at their veins and tendons, the cold pink of his toes, wondering how any of this was real.

“It’s a combination of bay and feverfew leaves, and a bit of honey to soften the flavors.” Hannibal said. “For your head. I noticed you rubbing your temples yesterday and the day before.” And the day before , he said with a smile.

Hannibal’s voice held that polite, tender tone Graham used for beckoning scared dogs before rummaging around in his car or his pockets for treats. Graham feared he was and always would be like this. The spooked mutt, kicked one too many times by far too many people.

Graham’s shoulders hit his ears. He held his breath, not wanting Hannibal to see him breathing quicker.

Hannibal set the mug down on the table in front of Graham, turning it around so the handle would be within Graham’s reach. Not coming too close, still seemingly as wary as Graham, but with the same curiosity so entirely reminiscent of his Dr. Lecter. Graham was too exhausted to scrounge up any curiosity of his own.

Hannibal waited a moment. Graham could feel Hannibal prying him open, dissecting him with only a look. Vivisection between eyes and mind. Graham didn’t want to know what he would find.

Hannibal went back inside without a word, leaving Graham with his tea that billowed steam futilely in the strong winds. The abrupt urge to say, “Thank you,” overcame Graham, then. To do what Hannibal would not expect. To throw him off just a little. It would be satisfying, he thought.

But Graham didn’t offer words of thanks, didn’t offer any words at all. He left through the sunroom door and let it fall shut behind. The sound of it thudding uselessly against the frame, refusing its latch, followed him out into the morning.

He would start on his run without Will.

It was difficult to run in the sand. There was no grip. Nothing to bounce off of. Graham’s muscles burned and began to ache after a scant few minutes. Sweat dripped from his brow and down onto his nose. He wiped at his forehead with his shirt sleeve. He headed away from the shore, toward the woods lining the coast.

As far as he could tell, they didn’t have any neighbors. Maybe this was land Hannibal owned too, along with the house. He kept running until he came to a small clearing, his legs wobbly and his knees a few steps from giving out. He sat against the trunk of a large redwood, digging his heels into the dirt.

By the time Will caught up to him, Graham was beginning to breathe normally again, his lungs no longer heaving for more air. Even after being stabbed and shot and having fallen off of a cliff, the difference in their endurance and stamina and bodies had never been more apparent.

Will hadn’t drank himself stupid like a certain someone , Graham reminded himself. Sobriety was still new and his body was just beginning to make up for all those years spent under a mountain of whiskey bottles and canned beer.

Will sat beside him under the tree, slumping back against the trunk. He wore shorts and a long sleeve shirt.  “You didn’t eat breakfast,” he said, disapproving.

Graham resisted the urge to laugh. “Sorry.”

“You know, he won’t bite.”

“Not how I remember him. I’m pretty sure biting was his big thing.”

Will snorted. “Technically, I think his big thing was using too much cardamom.”

“Yeah, I see your point. That’s definitely worse than being a serial killer and a cannibal.”

Their words gave over to quiet. Graham pulled at a few sparse blades of grass, tugging at them until it felt like they would be uprooted before letting go, waiting for whatever it was Will wanted to bring out into the open. It set Graham on edge.

“Did you have an Aunt Sylvie?” Will asked.

Graham looked at him. Will was staring up at the branches, through to the bit of gloomy sky between, looking thoughtful.

After a moment of mental digging, Graham said, “Back in Houma?”

“She used to live next door, we shared a wall along the one bedroom.”

Graham smiled. It was an odd sensation. He felt his scars being pulled at along his cheek. “Auntie Sylvie,” he said, warming a bit at the memories. They were hazy old things, but he could still picture her plump and rosy face.

“She’d complain daddy snored too loud every morning. Even when he hadn’t slept there that night.” Will laughed. It was a sound that rang a bit sad and happy.

Graham was there with him then, in the hot sticky summer. Twelve years old, dad off up to his elbows in some boat’s engine. Aunt Sylvie would always give him a grape popsicle every morning, staining his lips purple for the rest of the day. He never thought to tell her that grape was his least favorite flavor, too grateful for all the attention.

“Remember her son, Simon?” Graham asked, piecing that summer in Houma together bit by bit. Simon had been twenty and walked around shirtless and always had such a bright smile for Graham.

Will looked at him and he could see that Will was remembering Simon just as fondly as Graham. “That had been a very confusing few months.”

“Good ones, though.”

Will nodded. “I haven’t thought of Simon in years. Or Aunt Sylvie,” he said. The silence that followed wasn’t focused on waiting. It lulled and went along.

Graham’s legs twitched. He would have to run back to the house on sluggish muscles. Hannibal would be there, waiting. He’d kiss Will, like he always did, and Graham would be struck, not for the first time, wondering what that must be like.

“You married Molly, right?” Graham asked, staring straight ahead at the beach obscured by forest.

Will was watching him. Graham didn’t have to look back to know Will nodded. That he got it. An upside to being—roughly—the same person.

“She sent me divorce papers in between surgeries,” Graham admitted, wishing he felt that grounding sadness he’d had at the time. It had stuck to his feet like dried cement and a chain around his ankle. Now all he had was a fading tan line on his ring finger.

“You loved her?” Will asked.

“Didn’t you?”

Will got up, patted his backside, and held out his hand. Graham took it and allowed Will to tug him up, his calves throwing a fit the whole way. Will didn’t let go of his hand, lingering to stare at his sun worn knuckles. Another, younger Graham would have felt some self conscious need to yank his hand away. He didn’t. He let Will look, and he looked right back.

“Hannibal is it for me. Though I didn’t always think that,” Will said. He stopped, let Graham go with a quick squeeze of his hand. “But, yeah, I did. As much as I could.”

“No divorce papers?”

“I’ve been declared dead. No one for her to divorce.”

“Lucky.”

“You too.” Will bumped their shoulders together. Their walk turned into a jog. “Try to keep up. And eat something when we get back. You’ll like his cooking.”

Will was faster, but he kept his pace slow enough for Graham to keep up. Graham tugged off his outer sweatshirt, nearly tripping on a root in the process. Will fell back, patient. Graham tied the sweatshirt around his waist, and they ran and ran.

Hannibal was there on the front porch when they returned. He had a smile for Graham and a kiss for Will. One that lingered from their lips to their hands.

Will leaned in, throwing Graham a quick look over his shoulder, Hannibal’s arms coiled around him. He said, with good humor that still managed to make Graham flush with embarrassment, “I told him you don’t bite. So no biting.”

Hannibal lit up and smiled at Graham deviously. It was annoyingly handsome on him. “Did you now?”

It was that small gleam of good humor and understanding between them that flared up in Graham. Pushed and tugged. Heart pummeling his insides, Graham stalked toward the two of them. Reading people, knowing their feelings and their thoughts. Knowing who they were so intimately was something Graham couldn’t escape. It was the sense that led him to killers and to his Doctor Lecter. To Dolarhyde. The hospital. Here.

Graham pecked Will on the cheek, his lips pressing against the coarse fluff of Will’s beard. He turned to Hannibal, conviction in his eyes, and said, “Thank you for the tea.”

He went inside. Hannibal and Will’s laughter followed Graham all the way to the bathroom, fading as he turned on the shower.

Graham emerged from the shower feeling new. For the time, a little more human. He dressed in soft flannel and jeans and followed noises through the house until he found Will and Hannibal in the kitchen. They were at the stove, hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder, cooking and smiling.

“A bit soon for lunch, isn’t it?”

Hannibal smirked. “You weren’t here for breakfast. It’s important that you eat.”

“I can just have cereal or something.”

Will shot Graham a look that said clearly: Let it go. Eat the eggs . And so, Graham did, though not without some discomfort, sitting at the table with Will and Hannibal across from him. Their eyes cut through him as he chewed and they sipped their coffee. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“So, what do you two have planned for the day?” Graham was desperate for a shift in their attention, wanting it aimed anywhere other than at him.

“Perhaps the three of us can do something together,” Hannibal said.

“I think that run was enough for me.”

“Then we can stay in,” Will said.

Graham quietly agreed and finished his breakfast. He carried his plate to the sink, heart quickening when Hannibal appeared beside him.

“Is there anything I can do to put your mind at ease?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’d like for you to be as comfortable with me as you are with Will.”

Graham laughed. “I wouldn’t count on that.”

“You and I...” Hannibal curled his fingers around Graham’s elbow. Graham quickly pulled away.

“Where I come from…” Graham turned his back, gripping the edge of the sink. “Dr. Lecter and I hardly knew one another before he… It wasn’t like you and Will.”

“It could have been. It was. In some other world. In this world.”

“I’m not from this world.”

Will came to Graham’s side, cautiously laying his hand on Graham’s shoulder, drawing his attention up from the floor. “If we’re the same, and I trust him…”

“You can honestly say you trust him? After everything he’s done?” Graham said. He shrugged Will’s hand off and immediately regretted it.

“I can. I do.”

“Well, it’s not so easy for me.” Graham said, the words snapping out of him. He rubbed at his eyes. Felt Will’s concern prodding him with hope and good intentions. He anticipated pity but found that Will had none to give.

Hannibal stood to the side and made no move to come closer. Graham didn’t try to look him in the eye, didn’t need to. Hannibal was a coiled spring, content in his waiting.

Will nodded and again his hand was on Graham’s arm, calloused and as familiar as his own. “I know it’s not. We both do. Neither of us are expecting you to flip a switch.”

“There’s no rush.” Hannibal was quick to add. “The only schedule to adhere to is when we eat. And even that is quite flexible.”

“You can eat as much cereal as you want.” Will said, grinning. Graham snorted, it was as much of a laugh as he was willing to make.

“Look. I know you’re trying. I’m trying too,” Graham said, looking between the two of them, Hannibal and Will. “And I’ll keep trying. But I can’t make any promises.”

Hannibal gave Graham a half-smile. “That’s certainly more than enough.”

By noon, the sky outside the windows had grown dark. Graham wondered if it would snow or rain. When the sky finally burst if it would be something in between. Will and Hannibal were curled up on one end of the sofa, comfortable together in a way that tugged at Graham’s chest, blooming in a dull ache.

Will clicked on the television and called Graham over. “Want to watch a movie?”

“Sure,” Graham said. “What’s your favorite?”

“Same as yours.”

Graham smiled, tucking himself into his little corner of the sofa. “Humor me.”

“Back to the Future.”

Graham nodded and smiled. “I drove dad crazy with it. Wore straight through at least three copies on VHS. He always said he wasn’t buying me another.”

“But he always did,” Will said, gaze trapped deep in memory.

“He always did.”

Will rented the movie with a few clicks of the remote and settled against Hannibal’s chest. On the screen, Marty raced off to school with some assistance from a pick-up and a jeep. Graham watched, enthralled, he hadn’t seen it in years, but soon Will drew his attention away.

With his foot, Will nudged Graham’s thigh. “You know, you don’t have to sit so far away.”

Graham’s ears began to burn. He muttered back a quick, “I know.”

Will watched Graham more than he watched the screen until Graham could no longer concentrate on the movie, his face growing hotter in a steady drive toward an embarrassing blush.

For his part, Hannibal seemed content to hold Will close and watch the film. Now and then, he would lift Will’s chin and to steal a kiss, fingers tangling in curls and down the slope of his neck bared by his sweater. The inches of space between them on the sofa began to feel more like miles. Graham watched Will watching him, his heavy lidded gaze unmoving. Uncertain what he wanted. Uncertain how to ask.

As the credits rolled, Graham looked to the bay windows facing south. The sky was passed ripeness and would soon be ripping at her seams.

“Come here,” Will said, pulling Graham’s attention.

“Why?”

“Because I want you close to me.”

“As do I,” said Hannibal.

Graham didn’t move. He thought instead of the scars marring his face. Of dad’s belly his sweatshirts only hid just a little of. The miles turned back into inches and Will was right there and Hannibal was right behind him. There was only the sound of the storm approaching, the winds hurtling themselves against the side of the house.

Graham inched closer, pushing away from his safe corner toward the middle of the sofa, breaching the line he’d made for himself. They were much closer now, though still not close enough to touch. A terrifying shiver ran down Graham’s spine and he was almost certain Will and Hannibal could hear his heart racing.

Will gripped Graham’s shirt sleeve and pulled him closer, until Graham found himself awkwardly pressed against Hannibal’s side. Will, without a foot to the floor, maneuvered himself from Hannibal’s lap, across Graham, until he was pressed up against his other side.

“Is this okay?” Will’s words tickled Graham’s ear.

Graham’s laugh was abrupt and shuddered in his chest. “Is it okay if I’m not sure right now?”

Hannibal turned to him, breath warm against Graham’s neck. “Of course.”

Will slung an arm around Graham’s shoulder while Hannibal kept his hands politely folded in his lap. Graham tensed, but as the moments dragged on, and the first drops of rain hit and slid down the roof, he allowed himself to relax, one muscle at a time.

“Do you want to watch another one?” Will asked, resting his head on Graham’s shoulder. This close, Graham realized Will smelled like Hannibal. That he’d come to know Hannibal’s scent. Wondered if his Dr. Lecter smelled the same. Or was it that Hannibal smelled like Will? Maybe this was what happened when two people became inseparable.

“Maybe in a little bit.”

“Silence can be a comfort,” Hannibal said. “Particularly when you share it with others.”

“How about lunch? Want something special?” Will held Graham closer. “Hannibal can make pretty much anything.”

“No. I’m sure whatever he makes will be fine.” Graham sighed, turning his attention to Hannibal. His eyes skated over Hannibal’s features, not quite up to meeting his eyes. Graham settled for the small scar on his cheek. “I’m sure whatever you make will be fine.”

Hannibal’s expression was soft, inviting. Graham could understand why Will had fallen so hard for this man. “Perhaps you can help me in the kitchen.”

“Maybe,” Graham said, swallowing thickly around the word. He inched his way up Hannibal’s dark eyes and saw specks of red glowing in the dim light. “I’d like that.”

Outside, the world endured the deluge. Icy droplets crackled against the windows like oil sizzling in a pan. The sound was an easy comfort, as was Will’s presence at his side. And if Graham were being honest, Hannibal was beginning to be one too.

Graham sighed and settled, looking over at Hannibal’s hands, mapping out the veins. He watched as they moved and shifted, blood pumping. Graham imagined he could hear that silent rush. At his side, Will settled more against him, content. Graham closed his eyes.