There was a reason why Will Graham preferred the company of his dogs to... well... humans.
He loved Alana - she was like the older sister he never had - but this... this was just too much.
"Alana, please..." Will begged.
"I've already invited some people and made reservations, Will. You haven't stepped outside your room for a week! A change of scenery might do you some good. You know, to get those creative juices running. You've been way too stressed over your studies recently. You need to de-stress!"
"Finishing my essay assignment will put my mind at ease, that's for sure-" he muttered with a pout and got elbowed in the side for it.
"I'm not asking you to socialise. I'm just asking you step outside, to go out and clear your head for a few hours. Whether you want to throw alcohol into the whole thing is up to you."
Alana was right - as always.
He had been staring - glaring, if we were talking about the past three hours - at the bright screen of his computer for at least six hours of the day for the past week now. His wrists ached slightly from typing - and retyping - his essay without rest. His head hurt from reading all the research documents he had pulled up from the university database.
This research assignment was the singular, most important assignment for this semester, and he had to get a good grade for it, no matter the consequences. Progress on his work had been painfully slow. He... He just couldn't put his thoughts into words.
Perhaps he really needed a break.
"Fine. Gimme a few minutes to change..."
Alana smiled victoriously.
Will wrapped his fingers around his drink, half-listening to the drone of chatter that was going on around him.
He fidgeted, feeling their curious gazes on him. He was being awfully quiet, he knew. Honestly, what was he even supposed to talk about...?
"Hello. How has your night been going?"
Matthew Brown - second-year Psychiatry student - settled down beside him, casually slinging an arm across the back of the lounge seats, barely touching Will's shoulders. Will's fidgeting tripled.
"...It- It's fine."
"You haven't said anything other than your name the entire night," Matthew pointed out, words slightly slurred. Will slumped his shoulders.
"I don't talk a lot. I prefer to listen. Besides," Will chuckled self-deprecatingly, rubbing a hand over his forearm, "most wouldn't find me interesting to listen to, anyway."
"You won't know that until you start talking. C'mon..." Matthew's breath smelled of too much alcohol. "...A penny for your thoughts?"
Why. Why why why.
"I'm just thinking about my assignment, that's all." Which was partially true.
"You shouldn't have to think about work when you're taking a break," he said.
"I can't help it. It's been weighing heavily on my mind for a while now..."
"Perhaps I can offer you some form of distraction...?" Matthew's other hand rested on Will's thigh, inching closer to his inner thigh. Will flinched harshly, almost spilling all the liquor from his glass.
An expression full of righteous anger snapped onto his face so quickly that it surprised even himself. "Not even if Hell froze over," Will said, albeit a bit too loudly. The chatter around him quieted. They were looking at the both of them, now.
"Shit. Look, Graham, I didn't mean to-"
"Your advances are not welcome. Go find someone else if you're so desperate to get laid tonight." Will's words were dripping with acid. There were low 'oohs' and 'aahs' coming from Alana's friends. "I'm just here to drink my troubles away. Take your libido elsewhere and shove it, you prick."
The look of surprise on Alana's face dissolved into concern. She quickly intervened. "Matthew. You're drunk. I think you should call it a night and go home."
Her words were met with mutters and nods of approval. Everyone here just wanted to get a round of drinks, and talk their worries away - except for Will. None of them wanted any drunken trouble.
Matthew scowled, rolling his eyes in annoyance before finishing his drink and then getting up to leave. "You guys are no fun. What's life without a bit of fun, huh?" He threw a handful of notes on the table. Then he stumbled his way to the door and left, without another word.
The chatter picked up. Will maintained his bubble of space and silence. He was content with just sipping his drink and feeling the burn slip down his throat. He kept to himself, half listening to the conversation that was going around - but not contributing anything - and half listening to the music that was coming from the speakers.
Half an hour or so later, Alana pulled herself out of the ongoing conversation to sit down beside him.
She sighed. "Sorry. Matthew's a rude drunk, surprisingly lucid, but rude. He's usually very nice. Please don't take it to heart, Will." Her eyes were large and apologetic.
Will shook his head. "I'm sorry too. I've been really stressed lately. I shouldn't have raised my voice like that."
"Thanks for coming out. Matthew aside, do you feel better now?"
Will did, in fact. It was a nice change of scenery. Alana and her friends hadn't forced him into a conversation either. He just listened, smiling quietly to himself at their stupid stories. It was nice.
"Yeah, I am. Thanks for the invite - and for the stupid stories. I'm going to head home and crash on my bed now, sleep it all away..."
Alana grinned. "Of course. Good night, Will. I'll see ya when I get back."
After muttering his farewells to the rest of the group - and, surprisingly, receiving several genuine, well-meaning farewells in return - Will paid his portion of the tab and left.
The roar of thunder and the splash of water against his shoes fixed a dark scowl on his face. He glared at the dark skies rumbling overhead. Rain pelted the small roof that hung over the entrance to the bar.
"Screw you weather. I hate you." And that was that. He was not going to call a cab and pay a hefty amount just to get home relatively dry when his apartment was only fifteen minutes away on foot.
Pulling the hood of his coat over his head, he held the edges up with his fingers in an attempt to keep water from running into his eyes, and headed in the direction of his apartment. Rainwater began soaking into his clothes, chilling him.
He had drunk a fair number of shots earlier, so he probably wasn't in the right state of mind for more work tonight. He should take a shower - a hot shower sounded lovely right now - and then collapse on his bed for tonight. He could start on his work the next morning. Yeah... that sounded like a plan.
A car or two drove by, sending water splashing onto the side-walk. Will trudged on.
There was nothing of interest in the blurry, grey world around him so he ignored the visuals and focused on the repetitive sound of rain peppering the ground all around. It was soothing, in an odd way.
All was well until he realised that the splashes of his footsteps sounded... off.
He stopped and turned around.
A dark figure was stalking towards him. Will's skin prickled at the sight, his heart skipping a beat. He spun back around and quickened his pace.
'Stupid, stupid, stupid. This is a public street. Anyone can walk on it. It doesn't mean anything. It's just a harmless pedestrian, who didn't have an umbrella with them, that's all!'
Without giving it a second thought, he deliberately took a wrong turn and headed down a street that led away from home. He barely felt the rain hammering down on his shivering body - he was already drenched from head to toe, at this point. What's ten minutes more in the rain? If the person behind him was really a stalker - or a rapist or a serial murderer - there was no way in hell he was going to lead them back home.
Twenty minutes later, Will was contemplating where it all went wrong.
It turned out that his lack of awareness of his location had led him walking into a quieter part of the neighbourhood. The windows of the buildings around him were all dark - oh so dark - and there was no one else in sight.
Oh, except for the person who was still following him.
Even the street lamps were not all functioning as per normal. A few of them were flickering, for crying out loud. This was so eerily similar to the horror movies he had seen where the victims were snatched away only to be gutted and murdered that Will almost wanted to laugh - and then cry - at the absurdity of it all.
He should call for help. The thought had crossed his mind about five minutes ago, but there was this one problem:
His phone was dead - out of juice.
Gripping his phone, he tried switching it on again. The lack of power symbol showed up and flickered - then the screen died for good, taking with it Will's hopes of surviving this night.
Picking up the pace, he broke into a jog, uncaring about how his limbs were trembling from the cold and unadulterated fear. His eyes flitted around in desperation, looking for anything - another human being, a twenty-four hour convenience store, anything at all - that could save his arse from this stupid situation he had gotten himself in.
Darting around a corner, his heart soared at the sight that met him.
A phone booth.
Will could call for help! Breaking into a full sprint, he practically threw himself inside the small, cramped booth and locked the door.
He rummaged through his pockets, and willed some coins to make an appearance. Please, please, please---
With slippery fingers, he fed each coin into the machine until it hummed alive. He thought about calling Alana, but threw the idea out of the window immediately - he couldn't afford to put her in danger. Instead, he tried calling Jack from his Psychology course. Jack owned a car - plus, his dad was in law enforcement.
The seconds that it took for the line to connect felt like a small eternity.
"Jack- Please, oh my god- Please help me. There's this person stalking me- I'm stuck in a phone booth and my phone's dead and I think he's going to kill me..."
Will's plea for help was met with silence. His heart pounded in his ears.
'I'm sorry, but I'm not this Jack you speak of.'
All of the air rushed out from his lungs. He slid his back down one wall of the booth and curled into himself.
"...Please- I don't know who you are, but... Don't- Don't hang up on me, please. I can give you Jack's number and you c-can call him and tell him where I am and- I-I don't have any more spare change, so please, could you just-"
'Where are you?'
Will read out the name of the street from the label in the phone booth.
The man on the phone began asking other questions like: where Jack lived, where he lived, what he had been doing at this time of the night...
"Please hurry, I don't know if the person is still-"
The door to the booth shook as someone tried to open it. Will let out a shriek and dropped the receiver. He didn't trust the lock to not break, so he jumped back onto his feet and held onto the door to keep it from opening as if his life depended on it.
"Fuck you! Go away- Why are you stalking me? I don't even know you!" he screamed.
The figure outside slammed a fist on the wall of the booth. They pressed their face to the glass. To Will's horror, he recognised it.
"Matthew?" Will said, disbelief colouring his voice. "What the fuck? I told you to leave. Me. Alone!"
"I just wanted to talk to you-" came Matthew's muffled voice through the not-thick-enough walls of the phone booth. The walls felt paper-thin, in that moment.
"I don't want to! Go away and leave me alone!"
"I-I just wanted make amends, I-"
The lie came to him suddenly, born of fear and desperation. "I have a boyfriend already, so leave me alone!"
Matthew's face contorted into one of confusion and anger. He gritted his teeth and growled. "I just. Want. To talk."
"You look like you want to fucking kill me or rape me or both for rejecting you. Leave me alone!"
They kept at it for who knew how long until the screech of tires on the road cut through the night and the pouring rain. They both turned to look.
A Bentley had rolled up to curb beside them. What in the actual fuck is going on here?
A man stepped out from the car, umbrella held aloft, shielding him from the pellets of rain that had seemed to only increase in intensity since the night began.
Will watched as the mysterious stranger said something to Matthew who then proceeded to stagger away from the booth. The mysterious stranger then approached the door. Will let his fingers slip away from the handle. Instead, he went to unlock it. The door opened.
The stranger slid his eyes across his form silently. Will stared back. He offered a gloved hand. Will took it.
The mysterious stranger in the coat held Will close to him, as if concerned he would collapse at any moment.
"Are you alright?" The man's voice - deep and incredibly attractive - whispered into his ear. He couldn't place the man's strange accent. Will was confused, that is, until he looked up into the man's maroon eyes.
Will licked his lips.
"I-I'm fine. Just... very cold."
"We'll get you warmed up soon enough, no need to fret." His words sent a pleasant shiver down his spine - Will tried to not let it show, but that knowing gaze told him that his efforts were in vain. The stranger smiled, as if amused.
"I cannot, in my good conscience, allow you to walk back home in the rain as well, despite what had just transpired. Please, allow me to drive you back home. We can put this all behind us," the stranger offered to Matthew.
Matthew was in an equal state of bewilderment as Will, but he nodded and accepted it anyway. The stranger ushered Will to the front passenger seat, making a show of running his hands along his arms as if to warm him up. Will went along with it, even pressing himself into the man's touch. Matthew slid into the back seat, eyes wide as he looked between Will and the tall, dark stranger.
The car ride was quiet, interrupted only by Matthew giving directions to his home. The stranger rested a hand on Will's thigh - a blatant show of intimacy - and Will allowed it, not minding it. It only served to solidify the act that they were putting on, anyway. After the stranger had dropped Matthew off, he drove off.
"I haven't just traded a rapist for a serial killer, have I?" Will's mouth blurted before the filter in his brain could kick in. Will groaned, a curse leaving his lips. "I'm sorry. That was rude. I... I don't even know where that came from. I'm no good with social cues, I usually don't-"
"Most people in your situation would say, 'thank you'."
Will stared at him. The man did not seem offended.
"Thank you. I-I'm sorry for dragging you out at this time of the night." Will turned away. He couldn't bring himself to meet the man's eyes.
"You are most welcome. It was no problem. I am glad that you are uninjured."
"If there's anything I can do to make it up to you..." Will began, tearing his gaze away from the road and to the man in the driver's seat.
He flinched at the intensity of the gaze the man was giving him.
"You can repay me by giving me the pleasure of your company while we enjoy coffee in the comfort of my home."
Hot coffee sounded heavenly right now. It sounded like a horrible idea, following the tall, dark stranger home like this - but he was too tempted by the promise of coffee made for him by this gorgeous-looking specimen of a human being. Will relaxed by a fraction in his seat. He nodded.
The drive took only about ten minutes.
The tall, dark stranger cut the engine and pulled the keys out of ignition as the garage door closed behind them. Will realised then that they didn't even know each other's names.
"My name's Will. Will Graham," he blurted out, cheeks flushed.
The stranger smiled kindly. "My name is Hannibal Lecter. You may call me Hannibal."
"Call me Will, then."
Will was still shivering when he stepped into Hannibal's kitchen.
"The bathroom is just down that hallway," Hannibal began, motioning to a hallway that disappeared further into Hannibal's home, "Go and take a hot shower. Leave your wet clothes on the sink. I will put them into the dryer for you."
Will stared at him, unsure of what to say.
"I have a set of dry clothes you can wear in the meantime. Please, Will. You are still trembling from the cold."
Will didn't give a verbal response. His obeying Hannibal's instructions was enough of an answer.
He did as he was told and wrung his wet clothes the best he could before leaving them on the sink. Entering the shower cubicle, he turned on the heater to maximum. While he relished in the heat from the spray of the hot water, he heard the door to the bathroom open and close.
He finished his shower a few minutes later. Opening the door, he found a set of clean, dry clothes on the counter by the sink. There was a red sweater folded neatly atop a pair of trousers. Hannibal had even included a new set of undergarments, still in their plastic wrapping. Will wondered then if Hannibal had guests over often.
He dressed himself. The sweater was a bit broader at the shoulders, so they hung off of him slightly. The trousers were a tad bit loose, too, but that was easily rectified by tightening the lace around his waist. Padding back to the kitchen, Will lingered at the threshold, peeking inside.
He watched as Hannibal stirred some milk into his cup of coffee. The house was entirely quiet, except for the occasional clink of spoon against glass as he stirred. Did Hannibal live alone?
Feeling stupid for hiding in the shadows like this, Will stepped into the kitchen. Hannibal looked up.
"You look far better now. Would you like some sugar? Milk, perhaps?" he said, gesturing to both items as he mentioned them.
Will joined Hannibal by the island.
Hannibal wordlessly pressed the warm mug into his hands.
Will lifted the mug to his lips, feeling a strange sense of satisfaction course through him when he felt Hannibal's gaze hungrily roaming across his skin. He swallowed.
"The coffee's delicious."
Will let the silence sit for a few more minutes before breaking it.
"Why did you pretend to be my boyfriend?"
Hannibal shrugged, but his expression betrayed nothing. "It seemed an effective method of convincing Matthew at the time."
"You got a point there. Although... the entire campus is going to know by tomorrow," Will said, dejection creeping into his words.
"The entire campus?"
"Yeah. I'm a freshman, majoring in Psychology. I... have a reputation. Not the good kind, the... uh... bad kind. Sort of."
"How do you think they will react?"
"People will be pretty surprised to learn I have a boyfriend, that's for sure," Will paused to sip his coffee. He let the bitterness sit on his tongue for a while, savouring the taste of the roast. "They're going to want to find out who you are and how you're able to put up with socially awkward and slightly-to-moderately insane Will Graham."
That came out more harsh than he'd intended, but the words were out now, and there was nothing he could do to take them back. Hannibal hummed thoughtfully.
"You've been pleasant company thus far. I do not see why they label you with such derogatory terms."
Will looked at him. He grinned. "Thanks. You can be really nice when you want to."
Hannibal angled his body towards him, eyes glittering. "When I want to? I'm curious what led you to that conclusion."
"Your behaviour with Matthew earlier. You looked like you wanted to punch him... Possibly more."
"The sentiment remains, still."
Will laughed, bubbly and free. "No one has ever offered to do that for me... I'm flattered." Will seemed to realise what he was saying. "Not that I want you to do that, of course. Matthew... was drunk - really drunk. It's not his fault."
"You said that you had rejected him."
Will looked up at that. He vaguely recalled shouting a lot things when he was in that phone booth. "Y-Yeah. I was out having drinks with some... friends. He... uh... tried to come on to me."
"Why did you reject him?"
"I didn't like how he saw me, at the time." Will looked down into his mug - he had finished his coffee. He unapologetically asked for more, and Hannibal gladly indulged him. "It's... a sort of thing I can do. Which also makes being in large crowds rather unpleasant. I'm just odd that way."
"I don't think you are odd, not at all. Would you explain this ability of yours? It sounds fascinating."
Will looked at Hannibal in a new light. He'd never met someone who had been so fascinated by his empathy before. He took his time sipping his coffee. He needed a moment to gather his thoughts.
"Empathy. That's what I think it's called. I empathise with people. If I focus enough, I can pick up clues. Enough of them such that I can assume their state of mind, understand their train of thought... I use it to sort of tell what people are thinking about at the time, to gauge their reaction to things... Yeah..." Will finished lamely, fingers scratching the back of his neck.
He dared a glance in Hannibal's direction. Hannibal was giving him an indecipherable look. The heat in Hannibal's unmoving gaze made something deep inside Will purr with satisfaction.
"Will you stay the night? It is getting late and outside, the storm is still raging."
Will found himself nodding with little hesitation. Neither of them mentioned the fact that Hannibal owned a car.
Hannibal beamed, pleased. "We can talk more tomorrow. You must be tired, especially after tonight's events. Please, follow me. I'll show you the guest room."
Will put the dirty mug in the sink. A pointed look from Hannibal told him to ignore the washing for now. Will followed him upstairs.
"My room is just across from yours. Feel free to call for me should you need anything. Anything at all. There are extra pillows, sheets and blankets in the wardrobe, if you need them."
"Thank you. I..." Will began, but stopped himself.
"What is it?"
Will shook his head. "It's nothing. Good night, Hannibal."
"Good night, Will."
Shutting the door, Will locked it and then turned around to press his back to the door as he studied Hannibal's guest room.
The decor was lavish, the furniture opulent with all their polished, hardwood surfaces. There was a single queen-sized bed in the centre of the room. A mountain of pillows was piled neatly against the headboard. Pulling back the blankets, Will crawled under them, marvelling at how soft the sheets were.
The patter of rain on the roof and windows eventually lulled him into a deep slumber.
Breakfast was an awkward affair. Will was to blame, of course.
Hannibal had made them a simple protein scramble to start off the day. There was more of that delicious coffee. The sausages were to die for. The fact that Hannibal made them himself was downright impressive.
"What do you do?" Will said, voice soft.
"I am a psychiatrist. I have my own practice, here, in Baltimore."
Will's eyes widened. "That explains how your home looks like a castle."
Hannibal chuckled, shaking his head. "I was born into old money, Will. My practice doesn't pay that well."
They talked about all sorts of trivial matters after that. Will let Hannibal tell him stories from his own university days. It was nice.
"So... what now?" Will asked.
"What do you want to happen? Is there anything urgent you need to see to?"
"Well... I probably need to get home and calm Alana down, first... She's probably worried sick. I should have given her a call last night," Will muttered the last part under his breath. "I need to work on my assignment, too."
"I can give you a lift home. I'd rather not have you walk home on your own again."
"Hannibal..." Will frowned. "While I appreciate you doing this for me, I can't have you babysit me forever, Hannibal. You were just my pretend boyfriend yesterday because of Matthew. No need to follow through all the way."
Hannibal reached out and placed a hand over Will's.
"It doesn't have to be pretend."
Will startled, almost pulling away his hand but Hannibal held on to it firmly.
"Allow me to be honest and straightforward with you, Will," Hannibal began, eyes fixed on Will's. "I would like to get to know you better. That is, if you would allow me to."
Will opened his mouth and closed it. Open, then closed again.
"W-Why?" he said, his voice suddenly an octave higher in pitch.
"I think you're fascinating. Your personality is endearing. You are clearly intelligent and-"
"Oh god, please stop," Will said, swatting Hannibal's hand away and pressing himself further into his chair, leaning away from Hannibal.
"These are truths, Will. Will you permit me to court you?"
"Are you hearing yourself? You sound like you're reciting words from a romance novel or s-something- Who even uses the word 'courting' these days?!"
"What can I say? I find that I adore making you blush."
Will buried his burning face behind his hands. Hannibal laughed. Will decided then that he liked the man's laugh. Oh god, someone kill him now and spare him the embarrassment---
"F-Fine! Just... Don't say I didn't warn you... A-About me being all socially i-inept and all of that," Will said with a huff as he dropped his hands to cross his arms instead. His blush crept all the way to the tips of his ears.
Hannibal moved closer to brush the back of his knuckles along the side of his face.
"You will not regret this, I promise you that. May I be so forward as to ask if you are free for lunch today?"
A few months later, the local police found the dismembered body of Matthew Brown hanging between the trees in the courtyard in the campus of Baltimore University. His heart had been cleanly removed from his flayed chest. In the gaping void left behind, a single, blood-red rose was in full bloom.
A few sharp knocks sounded from his front door. Ah, that must be Will. He stopped what he was doing and went to open the door.
"Good evening, Will," he said. Will smiled warmly at him. "Please, do come in. Dinner will be ready in just a moment."
Instead of his usual shy greeting, Will reached forward and wrapped his arms around Hannibal in a tight embrace.
"C-Can I stay over again tonight?" he whispered into Hannibal's chest.
He must have seen Matthew then.
"You are always welcome to treat my home, as your home, Will. Something is bothering you. Do you want to talk about it?"
Will shook his head. Hannibal couldn't resist lifting a hand to run his fingers through Will's soft curls. Will immediately leaned into his touch. Hannibal gently guided him indoors and then closed the front door shut.
"What are you cooking tonight? It smells really good," Will said, stepping away, but remaining close enough for Hannibal to still smell the aftershave Will had used. He was very pleased to note that Will had used the one he had bought for him.
"Pig's heart. Have you ever tried it?"
"I can't say I have."
"You are in for a treat, then," Hannibal smiled, eyes twinkling with mirth. "The butcher I employ told me that it was an especially supercilious pig."