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A Hollow Ache

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Hannibal draws for a long time before he becomes aware of a pair of eyes upon him.  The gallery is generally quiet at this time of night, and the direction of the attention is easy to deduce. Hannibal smells coffee and whiskey. Looking up, he catches the eye of a young man, bookishly and scruffily handsome in spectacles, curls, and a shirt collar peeking from the lapels of his jacket. At Hannibal’s confrontation, he ducks his head and blushes, looking wholeheartedly embarrassed.

“I’m uh- I’m so sorry, I was- your drawing. It’s beautiful.” His throat bobs nervously. “I got a bit caught up watching you, I didn’t mean to be uh- intense.”

Hannibal considers him for a moment, eyes travelling from his face, down to his leather shoes. He has a black eye, and a few cuts and scrapes to go with it.

“Intensity is good,” Hannibal says finally, “a passionate fixation on the things which bring us enjoyment. To earn such attention must be the highest compliment for an artist.”

“Well yeah,” the young man nods, curls bobbing, “I was very fixated. I’m not sure yours isn’t better than the original.”

Looking up at the Primavera, and then down at his work dubiously, Hannibal allows a smile.

“That’s very kind.”

“It’s true. Is that what you do, you’re an artist?”

Hannibal pauses again. He thinks of corpses left behind; of Jack Crawford analysing his work.

“Yes,” he decides, “though a lot of my work is conceptual rather than physical.”

“Do you ever show paintings?” The stranger looks so keenly innocent that Hannibal can’t even be irritated with his continued questioning, in this sacred place. He’s still looking at the floor instead of Hannibal, like perhaps eye contact is unpleasant for him. Hannibal wonders if he’s on the spectrum. There’s an air of hesitance about him, like he’s pushing himself to be brave.

“I do not,” Hannibal indulges him, “but I occasionally sell pieces. In fact, some of these sketches are to be taken down to the market in a few days.”

That makes the stranger’s eyes go bright.

“Perhaps I should come and buy one, to commemorate my trip.”

“That would be lovely,” Hannibal says, and finds it’s not entirely a lie. He proffers a hand. “My name is Roman Fell, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Oh- thank you. Will Graham.” He shakes it, still looking at Hannibal’s shoes; his hands.

“You’re from the States.”

“Yeah, I’m on vacation.”

“From what?”

“Oh, uh, life in general, really.” Will gives a smile that is too much teeth, not enough lift.

“That bad?” Hannibal jokes.

“Just about. I uh, I just separated from my wife, so. It seemed a good time to get away from it all.”

“Travel can put personal troubles in perspective,” Hannibal agrees, politely, “and Florence is the perfect place to remind you it’s not all doom and gloom.”

Certainly not gloom, anyway.

“Honestly, it’s a little overwhelming,” Will admits, looking embarrassed again, “I’m lost all the time, I have so many things on my agenda but- finding everything has been a little tricky. I’m a teacher, you see, and some of this stuff-” he gestures at the paintings, “I’ve wanted to see for years, but now that I’m here, it just feels like too much.”

Sighing, he drops his head. “God, I’m sorry, I’m not usually like this- I think I’m just… too full of the last few months. Likely to spill over if I stumble, y’know?”

Despite his words, he doesn’t seem to be reaching. Even so, Hannibal feels compelled to close the gap. Will Graham seems very lost.

“That’s understandable. I know a little about how you feel. Please,” he starts to write down an address, “meet me tomorrow, let me show you around.”

Visibly surprised, Will holds a hand up when Hannibal offers the paper, but then seems to stop himself.

“I’m- that’s very kind, but I couldn’t, I don’t want to intrude on your vacation.”

“It’s no intrusion, I have been in Florence for many weeks now, I know it well. It would be a pleasure to show you some of the sights.”

Eyes still hesitant, Will accepts the paper.

“You’re sure?”

“Of course. Get a taxi to the Bargello tomorrow, let’s say noon, we could get lunch.”

Will still looks like he’s struggling to accept. Hannibal finds his constant state of fluster surprisingly endearing.

“All right,” he agrees finally, “that sounds- nice.”

Hannibal closes up his sketchbook and stands.

“I look forward to it. It was a pleasure to meet you, Will Graham.”

And then he leaves him.


The next day, Hannibal waits at a streetside café with a newspaper, sipping espresso and wondering if Will Graham will materialise today. He spent a long time last night pondering his decision to offer to play tour guide, and he’s still pondering it today. On the one hand: being out and about in Florence raises the probability of someone recognising him, but on the other: a few more alibis here and there couldn’t hurt.

On the third- and most prominent- hand: Hannibal is bored. Florence has endless rare delights to offer, but he had forgotten how debilitating it could feel to be alone, surrounded by them.

Knowing himself as he does, Hannibal senses that if he doesn’t allow himself to be reckless in small, controlled doses, he will become reckless in a much greater sense. If the tourist becomes a problem, Hannibal knows exactly how to remedy it. Still, he doesn’t know what to make of the fact that Will didn’t immediately- or visibly- recognise him.  His escape from Baltimore must have been kept quiet to avoid panic.

Musing, he raises his cup again, creasing the paper in his hand with his thumb to keep it rigid, and then pauses when he sees a small taxi skid to a halt by the curb, across the market square. A familiar head of curled hair rises from the passenger side door, and Hannibal can’t contain his small, surprised smile.

Seeing him from across the street, Will raises a hand in a little, self-conscious wave, and Hannibal nods his recognition, watching him pick his way through the crowd and stalls from beneath the brim of his hat. Will looks neater than he had yesterday, a starched shirt and blazer covering broad shoulders. He dips his head, shy as ever, and Hannibal feels a little flare of heat ignite in the pit of his stomach.

“Would you care for a coffee?” Hannibal asks, gesturing to a nearby waiter. “I’m not quite finished.”

“That’s fine, coffee sounds great.” Sitting himself down carefully at the little patio table, Will picks up a menu.

“Please, let me.” Hannibal asks the waiter for two more espresso and a plate of bread and oil, and some olives.

“Are you fluent in Italian?”

“I speak several languages, my education was very thorough.”

Will looks a bit embarrassed again, like he’s not enjoying the feeling.

“You had notes on your drawing yesterday in English, I hadn’t really thought much beyond that.”

“That’s very observant of you, Will.”

“Like I said, I’m intense.”

Smiling, Hannibal drains the last of his espresso, folding down his newspaper and setting it on the empty seat beside him.

“You’re not alone in that. Can I ask what kind of teacher you are, Will?”

“Psychology,” Will smiles. Hannibal’s curiosity swells.

“Ah, so you like to know how the mind works.”

“I like to know what stops it working.”

“Something you have experience with?”

“That obvious?”

“You flinch from noise, like you’re constantly overstimulated.”

“That’s accurate. I find life in general to be overstimulating.”

“That’s very interesting.” Hannibal studies him, openly, and Will keeps staring at the table top.

“Do you just paint?” He asks, when the silence has lingered a moment too long.

“I actually teach a little myself. I specialise in Renaissance and Pre-renaissance scholars.”

“Like Dante?”

“And then some.” Hannibal smiles.

“Makes sense I suppose, you seem like you’re very at home here.”

“Florence is very special to me; I came here when I was a young man and, in addition to historical revelations, I learnt a great deal about myself.”

“I hope I find it as rewarding. I’d like to learn something new about myself.”

Hannibal smiles wider at that, watching the sunlight glint of Will’s glasses. “I will make it my mission to assist you.”


Sunshine keeps Will in a narrow prism, and Hannibal takes a long moment to watch him, unobserved, as Will examines a brightly glazed cameo. They’re lingering in the yawning rooms of the Bargello, sparsely accompanied by a few milling tourists. Hannibal keeps finding himself in this position, watching Will from a safe distance, studying him like he’s part of the exhibition they’re here for.

Like he can feel his gaze, Will turns to glance at Hannibal over his shoulder, and his smile is something like coy as he catches him looking.

“Hard to believe they could turn somewhere like this into a prison,” he murmurs, as Hannibal moves to stand close behind his shoulder.

“Anywhere can become a prison, if you spend enough time there.”

“Do you feel imprisoned, Roman?” Will asks, innocently. Hannibal fails to keep from stalling a bit at the name.


“Not today?”

Even though he’s looking at the sculptures again, Hannibal can tell he’s smiling that small smile again.

“No, not today,” he promises, and then he asks, “would you like to join me for dinner?”


“How many times have you seen this?” Will asks, peering up at David, his eyes soft with awe.

“At least a dozen,” Hannibal admits, “but he never loses his charm.”

“He always looks sullen, doesn’t he? Petulant.”

“He looks so many things, from so many different angles. I always think he looks afraid.”

“Do you think he begged to be released from the stone?” Will asks, voice taking on a faraway tone. “Do artists heed the calls of their work, or does the work serve the purpose of the artist?”

“I think it depends on the artist,” Hannibal murmurs. He sees Will then, crystal clear and beautiful. He thinks of him balanced on a marble block, draped in blood stained cloth and laurels, balanced in the arms of the Madonna, a halo of curls around a marblesque face.

“What about you then?” Will glances at him. “Do you free your art, or does it free you?”


They spend time together whenever possible for the next couple of weeks, and as Hannibal tells him more and more about himself, only some of it fictitious, he sees a different side to Will starting to emerge. He has a dry, sharp sense of humour, and a low-key penchant for melodrama that amuses Hannibal no end. He finds Will’s company to be very pleasing, a welcome distraction to the monotony that had started to overcome him. Their hours are filled with conversational duelling, and Hannibal is fascinated by the way Will manages to be both earnest and open one moment, scathing and withdrawn the next.

It occurs to Hannibal with some horror that, at some point, he has become obsessed with him.

They’re walking along the Ponte Santa Trinita when Will pauses, looking out over the emerald water of the Arno with a longing in his eyes that Hannibal recognises with aching familiarity.

“I have to go home soon,” Will starts, in a small voice, “I don’t know what I’ll do when I get back. Everything seems so dull in comparison to this.”

A flash of regret spears Hannibal’s gut. He lets his teeth catch on his lower lip and tug, then steps up so that their shoulders nudge.

“What will happen when you return?”

Will shrugs.

“Back to work. Back to finalising the separation of our assets. I just need to sign the paperwork when it’s ready.”

Will hasn’t spoken about his wife much- or his ex-wife, as she has recently become. Hannibal gets a feeling it’s mostly an unwillingness to break the fantasy. Following his gaze across the water, Hannibal lets out a slight sigh.

“And then what?”

“Good question,” Will murmurs.

They’re silent again, two more marble statues in Florence. The evening air is balmy, and the low hung sun has kissed every window along the river bank, turning them to diamonds on the horizon. In the glow, Will looks forlorn, and serious, and beautiful. Hannibal had not mentally allowed for this scenario, but now it’s here, he can’t let it go. Where their hands hang by their sides, their knuckles brush.

“Come,” he says, taking hold of his wrist, “let me make you some supper.”


In the quiet of Hannibal’s rooms, Will looks jarringly out of place. He’s in crisp, pale blue and grey, a cold blot in a room of rich gold accents and fiery frescos. He sits gingerly on a quilted silk sofa, like he’s worried he’ll leave a stain, and Hannibal wants to reassure him he belongs there. He’s opened the balcony doors to let out the heat of the day, and the first stars are just starting to wink to life in the dulling yellow sky.

“Can I do anything to help with dinner?” Will asks.

“Certainly not, what kind of a host would I be, if I had my guests working for my hospitality?” He lifts a bottle of white wine from the chiller on the table and decants, passing a glass to Will. “You never told me what happened to your face.”

“You never told me what happened to yours,” Will counters. That makes Hannibal thoughtful for a moment, considering.

“I was in a physical altercation with someone I once considered a friend,” he says eventually.

“Me too,” Will supplies, “I wouldn’t have thought you were a physical altercation kind of guy, Roman.”

“I can get my hands dirty with the best of them. Let me show you.”

Moving through to the kitchen, Hannibal gestures for Will follow him, starting the prep for dinner.

“Shall I put a record on?”  Will asks, “I saw a vinyl player in the parlour.”

“Go ahead.”

Will disappears, and soon, the music starts. When he reappears, he’s smiling.

“Your apartment is incredible, even the furniture, everything is so beautiful.”

Hannibal looks at him. “I like to be surrounded by beautiful things at all times.”

He’s not certain, but he thinks Will’s ears are turning pink. Smiling, he starts to dice meat, and the kitchen is soon filled with the scent of cooking.

After dinner, Hannibal supplies Will with a glass of whiskey, and they stand on the balcony to look over the river, Will’s hair tousling in the wind.

“I have something for you,” Hannibal says, suddenly, “wait there.”

He heads to the desk on the far wall to retrieve two pieces of thick drawing paper. On one is the sketch Will had first seen him drawing in the Uffizi, the figures of the Primavera picked out in intricate pencil. When he hands over the second, Will’s eyes go wide. He doesn’t speak for what feels like a lifetime, and when he does make a sound, it’s a breath like he’s been punched.

“It’s so beautiful,” he utters, looking at Hannibal disbelievingly. “I have to pay you for this-”

“You’ll do no such thing. It’s a gift.”

It had felt like a gift for Hannibal too, seeing Will in that prism of light, like he was flanked by heavenly bodies in the centre of a triptych. The image is branded in Hannibal’s mind, and it had run out onto the paper in smooth charcoal, somehow taking on an edge of melancholia that seems fitting, now.

Will can’t stop looking from one drawing to the other. He swallows several times, like there’s a lump he can’t get rid of, and eventually he takes a long drink of his whiskey and shudders as it goes down.

“Let me go and put them in a tube for you,” Hannibal offers. Will seems reluctant to release them, but he nods, and when Hannibal returns, he sees Will wipe his face hastily on his sleeve.

“Thank you,” he tells him seriously. Hannibal just smiles and squeezes his shoulder. Predictably, Will goes a little quiet again then, looking over the edge of the balcony again. Hannibal waits patiently for him to recover, feeling thoroughly touched by his reaction.

“It’s not even Summer and it feels warm,” Will says eventually, “I live in Virginia, and the Winters there are Hell compared to this. Not compared to some places, but definitely compared to this.” He pauses, and corrects himself. “Well, I guess I don’t live there now. I don’t really know where I live.”

“You haven’t found anywhere?”

“I can’t afford anywhere just yet.”

“What will you do until you can?”

“I have a friend who says I can sleep on her couch.

The thought makes Hannibal sigh. Will looks into his wine glass.

“Being here with you has been- it’s really helped me,” he confesses, when the silence gets too weighty, “I hope this doesn’t sound too alarming but- when I got here, I wasn’t really sure if I’d tough it out. I don’t know how to explain how I feel.”

“Try,” Hannibal suggests.

“It feels so hard sometimes- people struggle to understand me, but you don’t seem to struggle. You’re so calm all the time, like you know you can survive anything.”

“I’ve survived a great many things so far,” Hannibal breathes, “that’s how I know.”

“I thought that might be the case,” Will murmurs. He takes a sip of his whiskey, then sighs and leans into Hannibal’s side. “Whatever it was, you didn’t deserve it.”

Breath catching in his throat, Hannibal stares out at the sky until he remembers how to speak again.

“Words usually don’t fail me,” he tells him, softly, “you’ve done quite the number on me.”

“Likewise,” Will laughs, sounding nervous. Hannibal swallows heavily.



“Don’t go back.”

It’s barely above a breath, his voice snatched away on the wind. Will stays silent, and Hannibal thinks perhaps he didn’t hear him, until he feels Will’s fingers lace with his own, his hand cool and a bit damp from the condensation on his glass.

“I’d be breaking the law. I don’t think I can just disappear.”

“It’s easier than you think. All you need is a new name, a new passport, and a new home.”

He sees Will look at him from his periphery. He blinks, twice, then swallows. Hannibal turns to him, and for the second time, he meets Will’s eyes, blue and clear and bottomless. The last of the sun is disappearing behind him, leaving a livid red cut in the dusky sky.

“Stay with me,” he says. Will wets his lips, eyelids flickering briefly.

“This is crazy,” he says, which isn’t a no.

“Is it? It doesn’t feel crazy.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Will agrees. He leans to press their foreheads together, slowly like he’s not sure he’s allowed to, and Hannibal’s senses are filled with the scent of his warm skin. He slides a hand to Will’s waist, touch deer-slow, and tries to remember if he’s ever blindly wanted like this before. This is exactly the kind of reckless he’d been hoping to avoid, but now it’s here, he’s ready to step off the edge of it. He thinks Will is too.

“I’ve never done this before,” Will murmurs, glancing down at the balcony floor between them.

“Nor have I,” Hannibal confesses, “but I intend to.” He raises his free hand, and Will’s cheek falls against it, his own skating up to touch Hannibal’s wrists. Their lips brush, fleetingly at first, and then with more intent. Hannibal is bewitched by the taste of Will’s lips; the way he’s captured his attention so completely. They become entangled, every kiss a plea for more, and when they finally ease back, they’re both tense with need.

“Your name isn’t Roman, is it?” Will breathes. They press in closer once more, and Hannibal shakes his head. “You’re not a teacher, or an artist.”

“Not originally.”

“Are you- actually, no, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t?”

“It does, but not like that.”

Hannibal looks at him, really looks at him, and sees that Will’s expression is as honest as it ever is, his lashes catching the light.

“I’ll tell you, when you’re ready.”

“I’m ready whenever you want to tell me,” Will promises. Hannibal has to kiss him again then.

“Stay with me,” he repeats.

Will nods hastily, and their lips touch once again. “I’m staying.”