Hannibal was just settling in at his desk, after showing his third-last client of the day out, when his mobile phone began a quiet rendition of Lascia Ch’io Pianga. Will.
Only his mental fortitude and ingrained habit of respect for his writing implements kept him from flinging down his pen to reach for the phone faster. Regardless, he had accepted the call and brought the phone to his ear before the soprano reached her first soaring note.
There was a good deal of staticky background noise. “Ha- Hannibal.” Will’s voice was shaky, perhaps just a touch of pleasing hoarseness. That shouldn’t be owed entirely to the encephalitis just yet. Something else must have upset him.
“Will? Is something the matter?”
“It’s-- Yeah. I’m going to have to cancel our appointment today.”
Hannibal paused in picking the pen back up with his other hand. “Are you all right, Will?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m-- Bev was driving me back from a crime scene and we got T-boned by an SUV. I’m all right, just a few bruises, and Bev seemed okay too, until she started projectile-vomiting. I called an ambulance, and we’re going to the hospital now. There wasn’t any paperwork to-- asshole in the sedan just sped off. Bev’s probably going to be fine, just a concussion, they say-- but I don’t want to leave her in the meantime.”
“You sound distressed, Will. Do you need me to come? Have you lost any time today?”
“No! No, you don’t need to trouble yourself. I’m okay. I might have-- I can’t remember, exactly, until the moment before the crash. That’s why Bev was driving. I’m really fine. I just--” a sigh here, sounding as though it came from the bottom of Will’s lungs and rattled on its way out-- “don’t like hospitals, they’re not good for my mental state. But I want to stay with her. I can’t leave her alone. I’m sorry for bailing on you.”
Hannibal frowned, displeased. This turn of events was as inconvenient as it was unanticipated. Hannibal had allowed for all kinds of inescapable contingencies, but this was unprecedented in its ill timing. Hannibal found himself looking forward to his Thursday sessions with Will; he had had something special planned for this one. He had not had the opportunity to observe Ms. Katz’s driving, but if Will was in the habit of pooling with her, she must be reasonably reliable. Perhaps he should track down the importunate driver who caused the incident and exact compensation. Depending on where the accident took place and what Will was able to tell him in their next session, there shouldn’t be too much difficulty.
“I’m here,” Hannibal said quickly. He thought of the tickets in the top right-hand drawer of his desk; perhaps there was opportunity to be had here, after all. “I suppose I can forgive the violation of my cancellation policy, if you agree to making up the time with me this weekend.”
“Yeah,” said Will, sounding relieved. “Yeah, I’d be happy to. Whatever’s best for you.”
“Excellent,” Hannibal replied, a secret smile tugging at his upper lip.
In the morning Hannibal called Jack Crawford, and received a rather harried rendering of events: Beverly Katz was stable and conscious, but had been hospitalized overnight; Will Graham had stayed through the evening and then gone home, and if he was still at home in an hour’s time Jack was going to rain hell upon him, because the evidence wasn’t getting any fresher and Alana Bloom had postulated that the killer was likely to strike again soon. Hannibal politely offered his professional assistance; Jack eagerly accepted, saying that the physical evidence was still undergoing analysis but that he was more than welcome to come examine the pictures.
Hannibal arrived at the BAU barely a half-hour later, balancing a tray of steaming coffees and looking around keenly as he entered the glass-swathed heart of the FBI’s psychopath investigation facility. He had caught only a glimpse of an especially-rumpled Will leaning haggardly against an examination table, while Brian Zeller and Jimmy Price argued aggravatedly over a blood-stained suit jacket, before Jack Crawford intercepted him with a greeting and urged him to hand the coffee to a PA before ushering him into his office.
The killer was hardly interesting, and the pictures afforded little insight Hannibal could use to his advantage. Jack quickly grew frustrated, and accepted Hannibal’s announcement of his need to depart with a warm but brisk thanks for his help.
Hannibal looked around for Will on his way out, but Will was nowhere to be seen. Price and Zeller were bent over a body again, murmuring contentedly back and forth like doves over a piece of bread.
Will’s battered old station wagon was not in the parking lot.
At 3:45 in the afternoon he called Will, trying to extrapolate in his mind’s eye what Will would be doing then.
Will picked up on the second ring.
“Hello, Will. Have you made any plans for tomorrow evening? Our rescheduling of Thursday’s time still remains to be made good upon.”
“Oh! No, I--” a clattering scuffle and a bark in the background. “Shit! Sorry-- I don’t have any plans. Are you thinking your place tomorrow?”
A smile came to Hannibal then. “I had something else in mind, though we may certainly rendezvous at my house if you like. Do you have a dinner jacket?”
A pregnant pause. “Yes,” Will answered warily. “What are you-- Hannibal-- I mean--”
“It will be a very private occasion. Plenty of room for conversation,” Hannibal answered, voice warm in the face of Will’s apprehension.
It had the desired effect; Will relaxed into the sound with a soft breath, and when he spoke his voice had lost its anxious edge. “Okay. Should I bring anything?”
“Only yourself,” Hannibal assured in a low, intimate tone, pleased by Will’s responsivity.
“That I can do. Where and when?”
“If you would be at my house by 7 o’clock, I would be greatly pleased,” Hannibal replied, mapping out the evening in his mind.
“Okay. Wait-- silly question. Do I need to wear a bow tie or something?”
“Only if you wish to. You may wear no tie at all, should it please you.”
Will made a conflicted noise. “All right.” A pause. “So, barring a grisly murder or some unforeseen catastrophe, I’ll see you then?”
“I hope so. Goodbye, Will.”
Hannibal spent his Saturday in a pleasant anticipatory daze. He kept busy-- preparing meat for future meals, going over notes, organizing his kitchen-- but tinting it all was an underlying spark of energy, the patient eagerness of being prepared to get exactly what one wanted. At 6:15 Hannibal washed, dressed, and settled in the living room with a leather-bound anthology of Keats.
Not two minutes past the hour, he opened his door to find Will, slightly flushed and backlit beautifully with the fading evening light, on his doorstep.
Hannibal took a moment just to drink Will in, abetted by the fact that an early spring meant Will had his coat draped over his arm. He was a vision in a wine-colored velvet dinner jacket with lavender shirt and wide mulberry necktie, with his hair combed into a semblance of order and his face wonderfully free of the glasses that had taken up more and more unceasing residence there. The jacket was well-fitted to his shoulders, but hung off his frame in a few minor areas; he had lost muscle mass since it was issued, likely fallen victim to a settled, hermit-like lifestyle and poor eating habits. The most satisfying detail, however, was that despite the light clouded scent of fever and the nervous flutter of unoccupied fingers at his side, Will’s expression as he looked at Hannibal was open and placid.
“Good evening, Will. I’m glad to see you came.”
Will shifted his weight minutely, giving Hannibal a quirk of a smile. “Where else would I be?”
Hannibal smiled back at Will for a moment, in lieu of a reply, before turning to pluck his keys off the side table and stepping across the threshold. “Shall we be off?”
Will backed away to the side, gesturing with his unencumbered arm. “Please.”
The drive was quiet; Will studied the city as it passed by, casting occasional questioning glances at Hannibal but refraining from asking. Hannibal parked behind the Langsdale Library; Will looked at him oddly but readily followed him out into the cooling evening air.
“How is Ms. Katz?” Hannibal asked, setting a leisurely pace along the back of the building toward Gordon Plaza. Will settled easily into step beside him, seeming glad to have a question to answer, however middling.
“She’s good. It was only a concussion; the doctors kept her for a night, and told her no physical work for a week, though Jack will probably have her back on by Tuesday. She seemed more pissed about her car than anything else, though I imagine a few days off guaranteed is a nice idea.”
“I’m sure your remaining by her side was very helpful to her.” With a light nudge to Will’s shoulder, Hannibal directed him to turn inward to cut across the plaza.
“I don’t know about that. She was half-conscious for most of the ambulance ride, being prodded by EMTs, and Price and Zeller came pretty quick after we got to the hospital. They can get somewhat… overbearing.”
“Yet you stayed all evening in a place which makes you uncomfortable, to make sure that she was all right. Ms. Katz is an intelligent young woman; it must not have escaped her notice.”
Will had opened his mouth to reply when the last of the trees fell away and he saw where Hannibal was leading him. His pace faltered and Hannibal turned and slowed to a stop as well, allowing him a moment to process his surprise.
“Will,” said Hannibal, suppressing a smile at Will’s helpless expression, “I would like you to attend Tosca with me.”
Will continued to gape at the opera-house, but though his eyes skipped reluctantly over its banners and brightly-lit facade, and the few people milling about in front of it, they were only earnest when they turned to Hannibal.
“We will have privacy, I assure you. I’ve reserved a box for our use.”
Will dragged in a deep breath when he looked back at the opera-house, but there was a slight nodding motion Hannibal was certain he wasn’t aware of. He watched in fascination as Will’s tongue flicked out nervously to wet his upper lip while he took a steadying breath.
“I’m not sure I can appreciate it as much as I should.” The statement was offered apologetically.
“The extent to which it ought to be appreciated is the extent to which it brings you pleasure. I have faith that you will enjoy it thoroughly.” Hannibal’s firm tone seemed to reconcile Will to the idea; when Hannibal wrapped a hand lightly around his elbow, Will let himself be guided forward with no further coaxing.
When they crossed the lightly-trafficked street Will looked around, apparently surprised at the disparity between the strains of music emanating from the reception inside and the level of activity visible without. Hannibal decided it was permissible to let on this time, under the guise of being an attentive companion.
“I thought you might appreciate arriving after most of the other operagoers had already settled in, and being able to slip off into the night afterward.” He had missed a chance to show Will off before the elite of Baltimore society; no matter. He would be sure to take advantage of that opportunity next time, and regardless, Hannibal would make certain everyone noticed Will tonight.
“Thanks,” said Will, quiet and sincere though clearly still unsettled. Hannibal inclined his head in response and held the door open.
Will seemed to withdraw into himself while they were admitted and their coats were taken, looking around with a mix of trepidation and curiosity as they were escorted to an opera box tolerably close to the stage but set far enough back that Will would be able to feel he had some distance. It was also in a prime position for anyone looking for Hannibal to see them, but Will wouldn't know that.
He relaxed once the usher had left and they were alone in the box. Hannibal watched as Will’s posture loosened and he took in the surroundings, wandering about and trailing fingertips over the back of a velvet seat. “Don't these usually have six people to a box?”
“Usually they do,” Hannibal replied, taking a much more direct path to a seat which would encourage Will to choose the one affording the best view of the stage and promising the best view to Hannibal’s intended audience. “But, as I am a regular patron and a habitual donor, the staff were happy to accommodate my request.”
Under Hannibal’s patient gaze, Will finished his scrutiny of the crimson hangings and made his way to the front of the box, only now looking out to the curtained stage and the audience below, whose happy chatter welled into an anticipatory babble not unlike the drone of bees.
“Tosca,” Hannibal began, when Will’s gaze began to linger too long around the center stage orchestra seats, “is a work of rare magnificence, even within the body of great opera.” Will’s attention turned to him as soon as he began to speak, and when Will’s elbows left the copper railing to turn toward him, Hannibal stretched his legs out and continued. “It is a through-composed work combining the best of Wagnerian compositional techniques with a raw power that is rarely paralleled. Its subject matter depicts one of the most chaotic moments in Italian history, and presents to the viewer a portrayal of anger, betrayal, passion, envy, ambition, and self-sacrifice in their purest forms.”
Will backed away from the edge entirely and settled into the seat Hannibal had chosen for him. “The very best and worst in human nature.”
Hannibal suppressed his smile. “And in the human capacity for love.”
Will nodded, falling into thought, and reached for his playbill. Hannibal watched as he flicked through it, savoring the opportunity to observe Will without the shroud of excessive self-awareness he kept himself wrapped in like armor. A few seconds passed in this manner, before a change crossed Will’s face, and he looked up, initiating a rare moment of eye contact.
“This sounds intriguing, but-- aren’t I supposed to be concentrating on our conversation?”
This time Hannibal allowed some of the smile to manifest. “Our conversations are for your benefit, Will. We may proceed however you like, though I would encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Will was looking at him again with that heady mixture of passive surprise and scrutinizing curiosity, but then a swell of applause rose up from the assembled crowd; the conductor was taking the stand. Will’s attention snapped away, and he dutifully joined Hannibal in politely applauding, but he shrank back just a bit into his seat, the set of his shoulders regaining some of its guarded tension.
Will’s gaze flicked between the thick of the audience and the activity in the orchestra pit, but Hannibal’s roving eye soon caught Mrs. Komeda’s smugly penetrating gaze directed at him from the center-stage seating. She tipped up her chin in a self-satisfied gesture and cast a knowing look between him and Will. Hannibal smiled at her-- just on the polite side of a smirk-- and leaned toward Will to issue a brief history of the repertory company, pitching his voice low enough that Will had to lean in as well. When he looked back, Mrs. Komeda had turned to the side and was muttering into Dr. Richards’ ear, while Andrew Janssen looked avidly on. Excellent.
Momentarily the applause died and the conductor began; rich, lively music sprang into being under the steady beat of a baton. As the first act progressed, Hannibal occasionally glanced over to Will, checking for signs of restlessness, but Will seemed entranced. His eyes never left the stage, but by ‘Qual'occhio al mondo’ they had gained a hazy quality that only deepened as the act went on. When the first intermission was reached, Hannibal had to put a hand on Will’s shoulder to rouse him from his reverie, reluctant though he was to do so. He let the touch last as long as he could, using the opportunity to linger while he asked Will if he wanted anything to drink. Will’s pupils had been dilated and his eyes slow to move; Hannibal wondered, as he fetched the drinks, whether that was due entirely to the encephalitis or if he could produce such a response from Will with the aid of judiciously applied music on its own.
Out of the corner of his eye Mrs. Komeda was visible, prowling through the crowd with all the blunt determination of an overly skinny rhinoceros; Hannibal tarried to let her catch him, and used the vast store of his considerable charm to keep her in conversation long enough that she would have to spend the second intermission making up the social obligations she’d missed, instead of storming their box to get at Will.
When he returned, Will had recovered himself; there was an element of chagrin to the plastered-on smile he levied at Hannibal in thanks for the drink. The curtain quickly rose again, and Hannibal turned his attention to the stage, the richness of its settings and the beauty of the music seemingly at odds with the cruelty and covetousness depicted. He could feel Will’s eyes casting occasional lingering glances at him, so he accentuated the keen pleasure evident on his face until Will’s mirroring impulse drove him to a matching point. Halfway through the act, Hannibal dared a glimpse at Will, finding him just as immersed in the experience as before, though his gaze was a little sharper. Hannibal spent the rest of the act glancing at Will as often as he could, attempting to give the world-class production the appreciation it deserved while he admired the lassitude of Will’s unguarded figure.
The end of the act came too quickly, though Hannibal had the gratification of watching Will softly exhale with every hushed swell of quiet, reverent music as it ended. Will excused himself to use the restroom, leaving Hannibal to fold his hands on his stomach and mull over the unanticipated but inestimably precious results the night had yielded.
Will returned seeming shaken by his contact with the bustle of society outside and anxious to ensconce himself again in the atmosphere of privacy that had seeped into the walls of the box. There were still ten minutes of intermission left, but instead of sitting silently or turning conversation to their usual points of discussion, Will prompted a delighted Hannibal into lecturing on the history of the opera and the finer points of its composition, leaning into the explanation with elbows propped on knees, and asking quiet questions when he didn’t understand something. Hannibal could not have been more pleased by the time the conductor made his final appearance and the curtain rose for the third act.
This time, when the pervasive sway of the score had captured Will’s attention, Hannibal angled his body toward Will and lost himself to the music, opening his eyes eventually just as much as was necessary to take in the rapturous expression on Will’s face. The euphoria there grew incrementally through the short but potent scene, until by the climax Will was nearly trembling, eyes falling shut only to jump open again at the final surge of sound.
Hannibal was in little better condition, but he collected himself quickly, gathering the scattered pieces of his mind from under the blanket of deep pleasure that had settled over his senses. He coaxed a stupefied Will back to earth with soft words and gentle touches, and led him out of the box before the cast had finished their bows. It would have been unforgivably rude, but Hannibal had given his applause to the conductor and principal actors, and he had time-sensitive matters of great importance to attend to. In the morning he would write a letter of appreciation and an exceedingly sizeable check. As an extra measure of precaution, after they collected their coats, Hannibal took a side exit, which would have been unthinkable to anyone who had encountered Hannibal at the opera before.
The brisk night air seemed to return words to Will; they were only approaching the street when Will cleared his throat softly and broke into the deep well of silence between them. “That was incredible. Thank you for taking me.”
Hannibal spent a moment taking in the expression Will wore: earnest, but unharried; serene, but deeply moved. “It was my privilege,” Hannibal said, and meant it.
They fell back into silence then, as they tracked back their route to the car, but the atmosphere between them had shifted; the glances and brushes they shared gained an element of companionability.
When they turned the final corner and the Bentley came into view, Will let out a soft huff of laughter. Hannibal turned toward him inquisitively, and Will met him with the most casual grin Hannibal had ever seen on his face.
“Sorry, it’s just-- It’s odd, coming back. Everything feels different now, like it’s all shifted two degrees. The whole universe has taken heed. And coming back, to find that steadfastly where we left it, not three hours ago-- just as it was. Unaffected.”
Will’s warm humor suffused Hannibal’s chest; he gave Will a wry smile that softened the edges of his eyes and turned to make his way to the driver’s side of the car.
Will’s hand shot out and grasped his elbow before he could step off the sidewalk; he turned back, surprised, to find Will’s brows furrowed as if in self-conflict but his mouth set confidently. He still wasn’t making eye contact, but his gaze had settled closer than usual, dusting Hannibal’s lower set of eyelashes as though it were a physical touch.
“Look, I-- I may be mistaken, but-- tell me if I’m reading this wrong, okay?”
He paused for half a beat, as though giving Hannibal a chance to answer, and leaned in to press an experimental kiss to Hannibal’s slightly-chilled lips.
Hannibal let the kiss play out on Will’s terms. When Will moved back and lifted his eyes, assessing, Hannibal raised the arm not loosely circled by Will’s fingers to run a hand through the soft curls on the back of Will’s head and reel him in again, tilting his head so Hannibal could kiss him more firmly.
The moment lasted longer than Hannibal had intended, as he was unable to keep from savoring the gentle, knowing pressure of Will’s lips against his own, nor the way Will’s lips parted slightly to mouth at his when his head tipped further to the side.
When he did pull back, Will’s eyes were brightened with a dark manic heat that sent frissons of blue flame down Hannibal’s fingers. “Your reading was excellent,” he said quietly, and his own voice surprised him with its sudden drop in pitch.
A strange smile, one that was unaccustomed to existing, played on Will’s lips. “Let’s get in the car,” he said, in a bright, confident tone. “I could use a nightcap. And sex. Unless that’s too modern for you, Doctor.”
Hannibal’s eyes narrowed almost without his permission. His response was to place his hands on Will’s hips and give him a firm push in the direction of the passenger’s door.
Will donned a wolfish grin and headed for the door himself.
The drive back to Hannibal’s house was both like and unlike its antecedent. It was spent in silence, with Will looking mostly out the window and Hannibal aware of an intent gaze occasionally resting on him. Will’s posture was looser, relaxed and assertive in a space that was undoubtedly Hannibal’s. And Hannibal was satisfiedly appraising the idea of having Will in his bed and in his kitchen, waking up every morning warmer than the night before, under Hannibal’s watchful care.
The stars looked on, untouched by the change the evening had wrought and unquestionably the more pitiable for it.