The gentle tapping of Minnie's paws on the bedroom door rouses Will an hour before dawn. It's still early—he could sleep another half hour without disrupting their plans for the day—but he gets out of bed and goes downstairs to let the dogs out. Minnie and Cornichon race past him into the yard, Vincent trailing more sedately behind them. Argos, asleep on the hand-knotted rug in front of the kitchen hearth, twitches in a dream, but doesn't seem inclined to wake.
Will tugs his boots and a sweater on over his pajamas and follows the dogs out into the yard. The chickens are tutting sleepily in the coop, and he feeds them and collects the morning's new eggs; the sheep ignore him, the way they always do first thing in the morning, but Lavender, their dairy goat, butts her nose against Will's hand until he scratches her between the ears. He might linger a little too long, because Minnie, always anxious to do as a sheepdog should, trots over and nudges his hip until he turns to go back to the house.
"You know you're supposed to herd sheep, not people," he tells her, laughing a little; it's not the first time he's said it, or even the hundredth.
Hannibal is in the kitchen when Will goes back inside, sleepy-eyed and tousled and making coffee with their ridiculously fancy espresso machine. Argos is sitting patiently at his feet, alert now that his master is awake.
"Fresh eggs," Will says, setting the basket down on the counter. "Meredith and Pauline are laying."
"Good morning, Will," Hannibal says, with the barest hint of reproach.
Will grins and goes over to kiss him. "Good morning."
Hannibal turns away from the espresso machine to put his arms around Will's waist, and his kiss warms Will from his mouth to his toes. It's late August, but the mornings are cool, and the ancient stone of the fourteenth-century farmhouse—however refurbished—keeps the kitchen cold. Hannibal is still warm from their bed, and his fingers sliding under the hem of Will's sweater feel like flames against his skin.
"Better," Hannibal says dryly, against his mouth. "I regret that we cannot simply go back to bed."
Will huffs out a breathless laugh and rests his forehead against Hannibal's shoulder. "We have to leave in less than an hour."
"I'm aware," Hannibal murmurs. "If you scramble the eggs with some of last night's sausage, I will finish the coffee."
"And feed the dogs?"
Hannibal's resigned sigh gusts across the top of Will's head, stirring his hair. "And feed the dogs, yes." He steps back. "Is everything ready for the market?"
Will nods and moves past Hannibal to open the refrigerator, getting out the sausage and cream. "I packed the coolers last night. We just have to load up the truck."
"We should bring the last of the herbal soaps, as well," Hannibal says. "And perhaps that newest batch of tallow candles?"
Will thinks about it while he swirls butter in the pan. "That's a good idea—only the locals really buy meat, and the tourists always want candles and soap for keepsakes."
Hannibal smiles at him, pleased and proud. "Precisely my thought."
Will flushes; he never gets tired of that smile. Hannibal like this, warm and rumpled in their kitchen, making them coffee and feeding their dogs, giving value to the work of their hands—it's more than Will knew how to want, more than he knew how to imagine. He's very lucky, he thinks, that Hannibal's imagination is even more unprecedented than his own.
"Guillaume!" Madame Corneille exclaims in delight. Will smiles and goes around the side of the booth to let her kiss him on both cheeks; unlike Will Graham, Guillaume Cooper has no trouble meeting anyone's eyes. He takes in the new information he receives—her eldest daughter has gone back to Paris; she's invited an important client to dinner; she's changed laundry soaps—and neatly files it away in the back of his mind. "Where were you last week?" she continues, comfortably oblivious. "We missed you!" Her English is heavily accented, but she likes to practice on dear Guillaume, the sweet expatriate farmer who followed the love of his life to the South of France.
"Henri wasn't feeling well," Will says, tucking his hands into the pockets of his striped apron. "We gave our table to someone on the waiting list. Honestly, I was just grateful I could get him to take a break when he works so hard."
Madame Corneille gives him a fond look. "He's very lucky to have you, my dear. I hope he's feeling better—is he here today?"
"Yes, he's here." Will keeps one eye on the crowd while they talk, but despite the busy market, no one else is vying for his immediate attention. It's one of the reasons he prefers Lourmarin to the bigger markets in Arles and Aix-en-Provence—it's harder to disappear into the crowd, here, but they have a more dedicated and patient clientele. He was worried, at first, about creating too predictable a pattern with market days, about becoming too recognizable to the locals; he still worries, and they still take precautions, but the truth is that no one is looking for them. To everyone but each other, Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter are dead, hopelessly lost to the boundless sea.
He gives Madame Corneille another warm smile, and goes back around the table. "He went shopping, but he should be back soon. Now, what can I get for you? More of the tongue?"
Madame Corneille does buy more tongue, along with a leg of lamb, four pounds of Hannibal's homemade breakfast sausage, and two of the new tallow candles. Will is wrapping everything up for her, half-listening to her complaints about her middle daughter's no-good boyfriend, when Hannibal's voice cuts in.
"Jacqueline," Hannibal says, in the flawless Parisian French he speaks with everyone in Provence, "are you trying to seduce my husband again?"
Madame Corneille turns, laughing, and holds out a hand to him. "Oh, as if I could! You know your Guillaume has eyes for no one but you, Monsieur Durand."
"A fact for which I am eternally grateful, and count myself the luckiest man on earth," Hannibal agrees, shaking her hand.
"Henri," Will protests, on cue, and buries his embarrassed face in his hands when Hannibal and Madame Corneille both turn to look at him. Madame Corneille laughs again, and Hannibal reaches across the table to draw Will's hands away from his face, pressing a kiss to the knuckles of his left hand, where his ring glints in the bright sunlight of the market square. Hannibal's eyes glint, too, with amusement and a hint of malice. Will takes his hands back with dignity, and folds Madame Corneille's purchases into a paper sack.
"By the way, Henri," Madame Corneille adds, tucking the package away in her canvas shopping bag, "I wanted to thank you for that marvelous recipe. My husband is still raving about your duxelle sauce—those mushrooms!"
"For the tongue, yes?" Hannibal asks, and looks pleased when Madame Corneille nods. "My pleasure, madame; there's nothing like sharing one's passions with friends. Now, one of these days, Guillaume and I must have you and your husband for dinner."
"Were you serious about that?" Will asks, later. Hannibal is driving the truck down the winding back roads of the Luberon, Chopin on the radio, and Will is half-asleep in the passenger seat. He falls into Guillaume easily, making small talk and chatting with customers, plying their wares to strangers and familiar faces alike, but it's still a relief to be alone with Hannibal afterwards, to relax back into his own sharper edges and more dangerous scars.
"Hmm?" Hannibal asks, absently, and then, "Oh, about having Jacqueline Corneille for dinner?"
Hannibal clicks his tongue. "I shouldn't think so, Will. She's perfectly lovely, and a very loyal customer. I believe she's also quite a good cook. It would be a waste, don't you think?"
"Well, I thought so," Will says dryly. "But I hate to assume."
Hannibal gives him a sharp look before turning his attention back to the road. He's silent for long enough that Will thinks that might be the end of it, at least until Hannibal says blandly, "Never say never, I suppose. But on the whole, I think not anytime soon."
It's dark by the time they get home, and all four dogs come racing out to meet the truck, barking until Hannibal silences them with a firm command. Cornichon and Vincent follow Will out to the barn, where he leaves the empty coolers to be rinsed out in the morning. He puts the ice packs away in the walk-in freezer and digs out a few bones to bring inside for the dogs. Walking back across the field with the dogs at his heels, Will looks up at the house: with the bright lights shining in the kitchen windows, it feels—as it always does—like a lighthouse bringing him safely to shore.
The kitchen is as warm and welcoming as the lights in the windows promised, redolent with the rich smells of meat and wine and roasted onions. Hannibal is reheating bourguignon in a pot on the range. At Will's insistence, they eat leftovers on market days—he loves Hannibal's cooking just as much on the second or third day, and he, at least, is too tired after a market day to do justice to the elaborate presentations Hannibal prefers. They eat the bourguignon over fresh noodles, in earthenware bowls at the kitchen table, and share half a bottle of wine, talking idly about their regular customers, Hannibal's latest recipe, their plans for the next week's markets. Will does the dishes, and then settles the dogs while Hannibal goes out to check on the animals.
He's given the dogs their bones and is on the floor with them, rubbing Argos's belly and playing tug-of-war with Cornichon, when Hannibal comes back inside. Will hears him come in and then stop suddenly in the doorway, and the hairs on his arms stand up; his entire body recognizes Hannibal's animal stillness, the static before the storm. He looks up and deliberately meets Hannibal's eyes, sees the way he's looking at Will on the floor with the dogs, every one of his veils pulled back.
"Come to bed," Hannibal says, his voice low and promising, and Will is on his feet before he even thinks about moving, following him up the stairs.
In the bedroom, Hannibal undresses with ruthless economy. There's no place for three-piece suits on the farm, and Hannibal wears jeans and sweaters, cotton henleys and work boots, as naturally as Will ever has. The new clothes mostly succeed in masking his predatory grace, but there's no hiding it when he's naked—and in their bedroom, he never bothers to try. Will gets caught staring at the lean lines of his chest, the strength of his broad shoulders and the sinews in his arms.
"Will." He sounds amused and a little impatient. "Shut the door and take off your clothes."
"Right," Will says huskily, and does as he's told. While he strips, Hannibal draws the quilt back on the bed, only coming closer once Will has dropped his clothes in the hamper and is standing naked on the rug, waiting for him. Even then, Hannibal keeps some distance between them, pacing a slow stalking circle around Will. Under the force of Hannibal's unblinking gaze, Will feels himself go molten from the inside out, his dick hardening rapidly against his thigh. When he's most of the way hard and can't bear it anymore, he opens his mouth. "How do you want me?"
Hannibal smiles. "It's been a long day. Let me take care of you."
"Yes," Will breathes, and Hannibal finally steps close enough to touch. He pushes Will down on the bed and goes to his knees, spreading Will's legs with his deadly, competent hands. Hannibal on his knees is nothing short of breathtaking—even now, when Will has become accustomed to him, there's never any doubt that it's only ever a conditional surrender. Will loves him like this, but he doesn't have any illusions about exactly who it is that's touching him.
Hannibal kisses Will's knee, teasing, and then runs his palms up the insides of Will's thighs until he can dig his fingertips unerringly into the soft skin above his femoral artery. Will gasps, suddenly desperate; he can hear his own pulse racing in his ears, and surely Hannibal can feel it, his blood boiling in his veins—
"Perfect," Hannibal murmurs, and bends to take Will's cock in his mouth.
Hannibal's mouth is hot and familiar, and he swallows Will down with very little ceremony. He's very good at this, and he knows how to get what he wants. When Will reaches out blindly to fist his hands in his hair, Hannibal hums, satisfied, and presses his fingers harder into Will's skin, rough and bruising. In a minute, Will knows, he's going to use his teeth.
Even though he's expecting it, Will moans when Hannibal pulls back far enough to taste him—he's leaking pre-come onto Hannibal's tongue—and then closes his sharp teeth around the head of his dick. "Fuck," Will groans, "Fuck, Hannibal, I—God."
"Will," Hannibal says, with his mouth full, and that's it—Will clenches his hands in Hannibal's hair and shoves up, fucking his mouth.
It's not as quick as it could be, after that. Will doesn't rush; he gets a rough rhythm going that's deep and slow and relentless, fucking Hannibal's throat until his breathing is ragged and uneven and all either of them can do is take. Hannibal likes it when it lasts, and so does Will: the slow winding clime of pleasure that's nearly indistinguishable from pain. He's shaking when he finally comes, and his hands have moved from Hannibal's hair to his throat, petting and choking at the same time.
Hannibal only releases him when Will moves his hands from his throat to his shoulders, slowly coming down. "Marvelous," Hannibal rasps, coughing. His mouth is very red, and Will's whole body gives a shocky twitch; he's spent, but he's not immune.
"Come up here," he says.
Hannibal obliges him by shoving Will back on the bed, crawling on top of him, and kissing him. He tastes like sex, like Will and like himself, and Will kisses him back until he can't breathe, until he has to tip his head back against the pillows and gasp while Hannibal bites a string of toothy kisses along his clavicle and up the line of his throat.
"Turn over for me, my dear," Hannibal says in his ear, and gets up on his knees to help Will do so, utterly solicitous. His hands are much less gentle than his tone, implacable as they guide Will into place: on his knees with his head down on his folded arms.
Will hears Hannibal fetch the lube from the bedside table, and then the unmistakable sound of him slicking his cock. He doesn't bother with anything else—impatient, Will knows, and more desperate than he likes to admit—before he's sliding his cock between Will's thighs. It's ludicrously hot; even without enough lube Will can't get enough of the way it feels, the drag of Hannibal's dick against his skin as he thrusts, the shivery, too-sensitive pressure on his balls and his spent cock. He tightens his thighs, and Hannibal growls and fucks him harder. Will hangs on, letting Hannibal use his body and loving it, until Hannibal bites down on his shoulder and comes in a quick, hot rush, all over his thighs and cock and stomach.
Hannibal is a heavy, drowsy weight on Will's back after he comes, but Will manages to roll them onto their sides, still entangled. Hannibal presses a kiss to the back of his neck, to the bite on his shoulder. He has one hand high on Will's thigh, where he rubs the sticky traces of his come into Will's skin. He trails his other hand idly down Will's chest and then over his stomach, tracing his fingertips possessively over the scar he left there. Will thinks there might not be any place left on his body—much less in his mind—where Hannibal hasn't put his mark.
Eventually, his wandering hand reaches Will's cock, still slick and sticky with come, and squeezes. Will snorts. "Maybe if I was twenty years younger, sure." But he presses into Hannibal's hand anyway; it feels nice, even if there's no way in hell he's getting hard again.
"Hmm," Hannibal hums, sounding far too thoughtful for Will's peace of mind.
"Oh, no." He rolls over so they're facing each other. "I know what you're thinking, and I refuse to be a—a guinea pig for your experimental drug compounds."
Hannibal makes a face that isn't quite a pout, but isn't quite anything else, either. "Really, Will. A guinea pig?"
"You know what I mean," Will says doggedly.
"I do not," Hannibal says, with a completely straight face. "Moreover, I'm heartbroken that you would reject my poor attempt to add a little spice to our married life."
Will is still laughing when Hannibal tackles him back into the pillows.
"I was thinking," Will says over breakfast the next morning. Breakfast is eggs poached in white wine and rosemary, fresh bread grilled on the range and slathered with butter, and paper-thin slices of the prosciutto Hannibal has been curing since their trip to Tuscany eighteen months ago. Their plates are garnished with a virtual rainbow of late summer fruit.
"Oh?" Hannibal takes a bite of the prosciutto and closes his eyes in pleasure as he chews.
Will follows suit. It's exceptional: salty and rich and smooth on his tongue, with a slight undercurrent of something peppery and herbal. "Juniper?" he asks, diverted.
Hannibal smiles, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "And black pepper, yes. It's a very traditional preparation for Prosciutto Toscano, although I did make a few adjustments."
Will spears a slice of melon and wraps it in the prosciutto. "Fitting, for a Tuscan pig."
"Indeed." The single word is layered with meaning. Will returns Hannibal's smile and continues to enjoy his breakfast.
"What were you thinking of?" Hannibal asks, after he's finished his eggs. His eyes are still smiling.
"Right." Will takes a sip of his coffee. "I know we decided against Madame Corneille, but I remembered something she said about Veronique's boyfriend. It wasn't very complimentary."
Hannibal's eyes narrow thoughtfully. "That unpleasant young man who works on the Gonçalves farm? I heard it from Inès at the boulangerie—she said he came in with Veronique and there was a rather distressing scene."
"Gossiping with the neighbors, Doctor Lecter?"
"Monsieur Durand, surely," Hannibal says primly. "How else do you expect me to keep abreast of the news in our small corner of the world, Will? Besides, I'm told I have one of those faces—people always are confiding in me. A remnant of the psychiatrist, perhaps."
"If only they knew," Will says, very dry. Hannibal bares his teeth, feral and dangerous, and Will's heart clenches in anticipation.
"I admit I'm a bit surprised," Hannibal continues, after a moment. He studies Will over the rim of his coffee cup. "We were just in Marseille last week, after all, and you rarely want to hunt with such frequency."
"Maybe I want to have a dinner party."
Hannibal's expression doesn't change. "Do you?"
Will does not want to have a dinner party. It's not what they do now, halfway around the world and a lifetime away from Baltimore, from Virginia, from the uncertain waters of the Chesapeake. The days of the Chesapeake Ripper's baroque artistry are behind them, and Hannibal no longer takes singular trophies with dishes in mind; now, in Abigail's legacy—and in the spirit of Garrett Jacob Hobbs, who has long since stopped haunting Will—they use every part of their kills. It's not an act of honoring, when the men and women they hunt are murderers and rapists and thieves, drug dealers and people who are cruel to animals. Somewhere along the way, Will stopped needing to justify it to himself, but the truth is that killing bad people brings him the most pleasure. Their design, now, is to transform bad people entirely into beautiful things: meat and soap and candles, sausage and stock; the work of their hands.
"I don't like men who hit their girlfriends," Will says. "And you were right—I like Madame Corneille. I like her family."
Hannibal taps a finger against his lips. When he speaks, Will recognizes the whimsical, diagnostic tone from his office in Baltimore, and from years of peeling Will back to his bones until he knows every part of him as thoroughly as he knows himself. "You want to give them a gift."
Will nods slowly. There was a time when he hated the way Hannibal understood him. It made him want to gouge out Hannibal's eyes, cut out his tongue, destroy him as violently and irrevocably as his worst nightmares ever could. Now, it fills him with an undeniable warmth. "I do."
"In that case," Hannibal says, leaning forward in his chair, his eyes bright, "I may have just the thing."
It's a risk to hunt so close to home, among the farmers and tradespeople of Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône—their customers and acquaintances, if not precisely their friends. Perversely, the additional risk appeals to Will, and makes the dark creature in his soul raise its antlered head, hungry.
The advantage is that no one seems to particularly care for Martin Leblanc, not even his employer. Will runs Pierre Gonçalves to ground at the Tuesday market in Aix, a bottle of Hannibal's home-brewed beer tucked under one arm.
"My compliments to Henri," Pierre says, after an appreciate swallow of the beer. He's a round, affable man with a deep and enduring fondness for his prize truffle pig, Marie-Jeannette. Will is treated to the annals of Marie-Jeannette while they drink the beer, until—eventually—they get around to the purpose of his visit. Business moves slowly in Provence, which Will rather likes; it reminds him more of Louisiana than anywhere else he's lived.
"Now, tell me," Pierre says at last, folding his hands over his ample stomach, "Henri said on the phone that you're interested in buying a few of our feeder pigs?"
"We are." Will treats him to Guillaume's guileless smile. "We've been buying our pigs from a breeder we know near Lyon, but Henri and I wanted to stay closer to home, this year. And of course you're the best in the region."
Pierre huffs, but he's clearly pleased by the compliment. "You should have come to me before," he chides. "But even if you're late, I'm always happy to help my neighbors."
From there it's easy. Will is good at bargaining, and only partly because people tend to underestimate him. He strings the deal out for just long enough that Pierre feels like he's won, and then lays down the rest of the play. "Do you think you could have someone bring them over tomorrow night? We'd pick them up ourselves, but Lavender—she's our dairy goat—she chewed through the hitch of our trailer, and I haven't had a chance to repair it; you know how it gets, and with just the two of us…" Will shakes his head, sheepish, and Pierre laughs.
"To be honest, Guillaume, how the two of you manage alone is beyond me! I have my son and daughter, and still we hire help. But it's no trouble. I'll be in Velleron overnight, but I'll have Martin deliver the pigs." Pierre makes a face. "He's not good for much, that boy, but at least he's good with the pigs."
"That would be wonderful," Will says.
It goes off—more or less—without a hitch. Martin Leblanc delivers the pigs the next night, right on schedule. He's tall, dark-haired, and handsome enough that Will can at least see what Veronique Corneille must have seen in him; he's also visibly unimpressed by Will and Hannibal, bordering on rude. Will can't quite tell if he's actively homophobic, or if he's just a particularly discourteous twenty-four, but either way he's tactlessly eager to leave. On the other hand, he brightens noticeably when Hannibal pays for the pigs in cash, so Will has a feeling they were right, and Leblanc is skimming from Gonçalves. It's convenient, if not precisely a relief; it's always easier to spin a story when some of it is true.
They follow Leblanc home, anonymous in their black car on the dark roads, and slip silently into his house through the unlocked back door. Provence is not known for its criminals. Hannibal drugs him—easy, quick, bloodless—and bundles him into the trunk of the car while Will packs him a suitcase. For Will, it's the work of five minutes to make it look like Leblanc—already stealing from his employer, and recently handed a stack of clean, crisp Euros by Henri Durand—seized an opportunity, packed up his life, and ran. Will drives Leblanc's battered car to the train station in Aix-en-Provence, deposits his keys and suitcase in one of the lockers, in a dusty corner where no one is ever likely to look, and slides back into the passenger seat of their own car, where Hannibal is waiting for him. Leblanc's wallet and identifying papers are in his pocket, ready to be destroyed.
Hannibal drives them home in silence; they don't often speak during this part, and the tension is as thick as smoke, sweet and hot in the back of Will's throat.
Once they're home, they haul Martin Leblanc's unconscious body out to the barn and string him up by his feet, head down and hands tied. Will checks the knots while Hannibal goes into the house to see to the dogs and—Will suspects—fetch his favorite boning knife from the kitchen. Most of what they need is already in the barn; Will washes his hands and rolls up his sleeves, considers putting on one of their heavy sailcloth aprons and decides not to bother, and lays out the knives on the table. They gleam up at him, cared for by use. Will picks up the sharpening steel and begins honing the edge of each blade, one by one down the row. The sound of metal on metal is deafening in the quiet stillness of the barn, and Will doesn't hear Hannibal until he's right behind him with the boning knife pressed against his throat.
"I didn't think I was going to be dinner today," Will says sharply. The tip of the boning knife nicks his jaw, drawing a thin trickle of blood. He can feel Hannibal all along his back; Will leans into him and tilts his head back against his shoulder, into the pressure of the knife. He's still holding the cleaver and the steel.
"You would taste extraordinary," Hannibal says in his ear, his accent thick with desire. "It would be difficult to decide where to begin."
Will raises the cleaver. Hannibal's arm comes around him, seizing his wrist and arresting the motion, and Will stabs him in the meat of the shoulder with the dull end of the steel. Hannibal jerks, surprised enough to loosen his hold for a split second, and Will turns in his arms and drags him in for a frantic kiss, the flat of the cleaver pressed against the nape of his neck. He drops the steel when Hannibal bites his tongue, kissing him fierce and savage and hungry.
Hannibal lets the boning knife rest loosely against the side of Will's throat, and bends from Will's mouth to lick the blood from his collarbone.
"I know where you'd begin." Will slides the cleaver down Hannibal's spine, part tease and part threat. "You'd eat my heart out of my chest, still beating if you could manage it. The bloodier the better. Heart tartare."
Hannibal lifts his head, and when he kisses Will again he tastes like blood. "I believe I already did." His voice is all edges, like shattered glass. Will's heart—still beating—clenches in his chest; how can Hannibal expect him to survive romance like this?
He wraps his free hand in the fine strands of Hannibal's hair and leans in close. "Your heart is the best thing I've ever tasted," he whispers, and watches Hannibal's eyes dilate, the hot flush of his tanned cheeks. Hannibal reaches up to take his hand and their wedding rings scrape together, a faint echo of the sound of a knife against a steel. Will kisses Hannibal with everything he has, drowning in it, his knife at Hannibal's back and Hannibal's knife at his throat, and their hands clasped between them.
So it's not a surprise, exactly, that neither of them notices that Leblanc has woken up and wriggled free of his ropes until he crashes to the ground behind them.
They break apart quickly, but Leblanc is faster than either of them and barrels into Hannibal head-first, ramming an elbow into his solar plexus. Hannibal gets in a cut to his upper arm before the boning knife goes flying and Leblanc takes him down. They grapple together on the floor of the barn; Hannibal is trained and skilled, a predator honed to deadly sharpness by years of practice, but Leblanc is thirty years younger, strong and fit from farm work, and desperate to live. The rage in him makes Will's blood sing.
Will hurls the cleaver just as Hannibal rolls Leblanc on top of him. It hits its target, embedding itself in the straining muscle of Leblanc's shoulder, and he shouts in pain and rears back, giving Hannibal just enough of an advantage to drive his knee into Leblanc's groin and his thumbs into his eyes. Leblanc screams again, a wail of terror and fury as he falls backward, scrabbling at Hannibal's hands.
Hannibal, on his knees above Leblanc, is breathing hard and bleeding from the fingernail scratches on his cheek. Will watches him for a moment, as the blood rises around his thumbs in Leblanc's eyes, and then grabs the sticking knife from the table.
Even blinded, though, Leblanc is fast—he pulls the cleaver out of his shoulder and swings it at Hannibal, cutting wildly at his wrists and arms. Only some of his blows land, but it's enough for Hannibal to let go of him, for Leblanc to scramble away and lurch wildly to his feet.
Will steps up behind him, knife at the ready, but he's not accounting for the violence of Leblanc's movements, or for the way he leads with his fists. He lands a punch on Will's cheek, right at the most sensitive point of his scar, and Will sees stars as he goes down; but he still manages to catch Leblanc's ankles with his own, tripping him, and keeps hold of the sticking knife. He can't seem to get purchase on Leblanc, though; he moves like he's possessed, pinning Will's wrists to the ground and tossing his knife across the floor. Will fights him, using his teeth and his knees against the hard arm Leblanc gets against his throat, but his world is starting to go dark at the edges when Hannibal finally looms through the shadows and clocks Leblanc in the head with a shovel.
Will sucks in air, gasping and dizzy from the sudden increase in oxygen. Leblanc is still moving sluggishly—Hannibal didn't hit him hard enough to finish him. Will rolls Leblanc off him, onto his back on the barn floor, and lets Hannibal pull him to his feet.
Standing over their wounded prey, Will meets Hannibal's eyes. For a moment, he can't look away. Hannibal is bleeding from his cheek and arms, dirt and dust and blood streaking his hair and shirt; yet even in the barn's artificial light, he seems to glow from the inside out, the most righteous and glorious creature Will has ever seen. Hannibal holds his gaze, solemn and serious, and then offers the lost sticking knife to Will, hilt first.
Will takes the knife, and they move as one: Hannibal straddles Leblanc and holds him down, and Will steps up behind his head and sticks him in one swift motion through the throat. Leblanc gives a last desperate gurgle as Will neatly severs the vein and artery, and then he's still, bleeding out over Will's hands.
"We should hang him back up," Hannibal rasps, his voice as rough as sandpaper. "To get a better bleed."
Will pulls the sticking knife free and wipes it clean on his pants. "Later," he says, and hauls Hannibal in by the front of his shirt. He leaves bloody prints on Hannibal's neck and chest as he pulls the shirt apart, not bothering with the buttons.
"Will," Hannibal groans into his mouth. They both taste like blood, now. Hannibal catches Will's face in one big hand, fingers pressing against the scar on his cheek as they kiss.
"Hannibal," Will says, and shoves him bodily against the edge of the table. He can feel Hannibal's cock hard against his own, straining against the fabric of his trousers. They're both breathing hard, and Will feels wild and impossible, incandescent.
Hannibal makes a protesting noise when Will rocks back on his heels, but he shuts up when Will goes to his knees, and gives a low, animal growl deep in his throat when Will slices through the waistband of his trousers with the point of the sticking knife. The trousers come off easily, and then Will goes to work on his silk underwear. He almost expects Hannibal to protest—they're expensive, and these are not the first pair Will has ruined—but Hannibal tilts his hips up instead, hands clenched around the edge of the table. When Will glances up at him, his eyes are closed and his lips slightly parted, pleasure in every familiar line of his face.
Will is not careful with the knife, and he nicks Hannibal's skin more than once as he finishes with the underwear, drawing drops of dark blood along the tops of his thighs, the arcs of his hipbones. Blood beads in the curls of his pubic hair, and Will leans in to lick it up. Above him, Hannibal lets out a shuddering breath and his cock jerks against Will's chin, leaving a slick wet stripe of pre-come on his jaw.
"I want to eat you alive," Will says, conversationally. He traces the tip of the knife up the underside of Hannibal's dick.
Hannibal swallows audibly. "Please do." His eyes are open again, and he's looking down at Will with undisguised affection. The desire in his eyes is hot enough to burn, and Will is on fire.
He slides the knife back down, presses it flat against Hannibal's balls, and sucks him down. He tastes like sweat and salt, the adrenaline of the fight and the heat of the kill, and he's a heavy weight on Will's tongue, filling his mouth and throat. Will closes his eyes and basks in the rush of power that comes with holding Hannibal in his mouth like this, half a breath away from death. Hannibal strokes his fingers into Will's hair, gentle at first, and then he pulls hard, dragging Will off his dick.
Will turns the knife, a warning, but Hannibal shakes his head. "You are too beautiful like this, Will. I want you inside me."
"Do you?" Will bares his teeth, but he gets to his feet. He's been hard since Hannibal held a knife to his throat, but he hasn't paid it much attention; now he takes the time to unbutton his blood-spattered jeans and strip off his shirt. It occurs to him, in the part of his mind that almost never stops spinning, that they would save a lot on laundry detergent if they got naked before they killed people.
He watches Hannibal while he gets undressed. Hannibal is naked except for his shirt, open over his chest and hanging down off his arms; the blood on his cheek has dried in brown streaks, but the blood on his chest and thighs still shines, even without any moonlight. He's more dangerous than any of the knives on the table beside him, and he wants Will to fuck him.
"There is nothing that would please me more," Hannibal says.
"Not even eating me?" Will taunts, clinging desperately to the last edge of control.
"Not today," Hannibal says honestly, and Will is on him in a heartbeat. They're kissing again, as necessary as breathing when drowning, as deep and rough and untamed as the Atlantic. Will drops the knife on the table with the others and reaches for the bottle of oil from the knife kit, yanking out the stopper one-handed and pouring it over his hand.
Beneath him, Hannibal eels free of his grip and turns over, spreading himself out over the table. "Fuck," Will groans, arousal surging through his veins like the tide. He fingers Hannibal open faster than he usually does, responding helplessly to Hannibal's urgency, the way he shoves back into Will's hands and curses at him in low, harsh French. Will understands about three-quarters of what he's saying, and the violence is perfectly calculated to spur him on until Hannibal rasps, "Enough."
It's not enough, but Will can't bring himself to care. He slicks his cock and braces one hand on Hannibal's back, high up between the wings of his shoulder blades; he keeps his other hand around his dick as he presses in, slow and relentless against the initial resistance. Hannibal is made of coiled tension under him. Will runs his hand up and down Hannibal's back as he pushes into him, not gentling so much as provoking; as he bottoms out at last, Hannibal arches up and turns his head, snapping at Will's fingers. "There you are," Will grits out, and starts fucking him in earnest.
Hannibal's laugh is a wild thing as he shoves back into Will's thrusts. "I am always with you," he gasps between thrusts. "Never doubt that."
Will drags his head back by the hair, and pulls out long enough to flip him over. With Hannibal on his back on the table—and thank God the table was built to withstand this—Will lifts one of his long legs over his shoulder; Hannibal wraps the other leg around his waist. "Never again," Will says, his voice ground down to gravel. "Fuck, Hannibal—"
The noise Hannibal makes is nearly inhuman, his eyes closing as his head falls back, and Will fucks him mercilessly through his orgasm. His body is a live wire as Hannibal comes around him. Will gets his hand on Hannibal's cock for the last of it, stroking him through the aftershocks, past the point of pleasure, until Hannibal opens his eyes.
"Will," Hannibal says, harsh and dangerous, and then he does something with his knees and Will is suddenly on his back on the floor, the breath knocked out of him. Hannibal follows him down, straddling him and sliding back down onto his dick.
"Fuck—" Will gasps again, as Hannibal pins his hands and starts riding him, wringing Will's orgasm out of him by force. Will tries to hold on, but he's helpless in the face of Hannibal's onslaught, and comes so hard the whole world goes dark.
When he comes back to himself, he's sprawled on the barn floor with Hannibal breathing heavily beside him. He rolls onto his side, gingerly—coming down from the adrenaline rush, he's starting to feel the bruises—and shoves his face into Hannibal's neck. Hannibal smells fairly terrible, but Will is no better; they're both covered in blood and sweat and come and dirt, and Hannibal, incongruously, is still wearing most of his shirt.
"What did you give Leblanc?" Will asks, a little dreamily. He feels fantastic.
Hannibal hums, sounded amused. "Mostly just adrenaline, but with some modifications of my own design."
"You injected him when you came back into the barn, while I was sharpening the knives." It's not a question.
"Yes." Will can hear Hannibal's pleased smile. "And you loosened the knots when you retied him, after I went into the house."
"He was a farm laborer, but he also clearly worked out," Will says. "Based on his musculature, lots of crunches and pull-ups. I thought he'd be able to get himself free, even hanging upside down." He stretches a little, feeling the burn of his abused muscles; he's not as young as he used to be, even if he's probably in the best shape of his life. They have a lot of athletic sex.
"I adore you," Hannibal says huskily, turning over to kiss him. Will kisses him back and tangles their legs together, flushing a little. He can't quite stop himself from sliding his hand down Hannibal's side to his ass and tucking his fingers back inside him, where he's slick and wet with Will's come. Maybe he could go again.
He frowns against Hannibal's lips. "Did you give me something?"
Hannibal makes an affronted noise. "I did not." He presses back into Will's hand on his ass. "I believe you are simply reacting to the heightened situation."
"Sure," Will says dryly, twisting his fingers until Hannibal's breath comes a little shorter.
"In any case," Hannibal adds, "we really do have to get up in a moment, if you don't want the meat to spoil. This would hardly be the time for such an experiment."
Will sighs and withdraws his fingers. Hannibal is right: they have a lot left to do tonight. He's also fairly certain he would be able to tell if Hannibal had drugged him; the low burn of banked arousal in his belly is entirely his own. "I suppose," he says, and reluctantly sits up. "I'll get the first aid kit—let's clean up, and then we can take care of the meat."
The horizon is faintly pink with the first hint of sunrise by the time they're finished. Will stands in the open barn door and stretches out the kinks in his back, looking out over the fields. There's a chorus of birds singing, somewhere up in the trees; behind him, the barn is scrubbed clean, the meat and fat and bones cut up and put away.
Hannibal comes up behind him and rests a hand on Will's shoulder.
"I need a bath and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep," Will grumbles, but he keeps his voice quiet; he doesn't want to disturb the peace of the morning.
Hannibal chuckles. "Breakfast first."
"Of course." Will reaches up and squeezes the hand on his shoulder, and then lets go. They walk back to the house together, Will with his hands in his pockets and Hannibal carrying a stack of neatly-wrapped packages, a mason jar tucked under one arm.
The dogs greet them excitedly when they come into the house, dancing around their feet as Hannibal throws them the scraps he brought in for them. Minnie rubs her nose affectionately against his hand, and one corner of Hannibal's mouth quirks as he leans down to scratch her between the ears.
"What's for breakfast?" Will asks, following Hannibal into the kitchen. Vincent is trailing after him, whining for more treats. Will lets him lick his hand for a minute, until he gets bored and goes trotting off after the others.
Hannibal has put the packages away in the fridge, but the mason jar is on the counter. "Blodplättar," he says, getting out the milk. "Swedish blood pancakes—although they're said to have originated in Finland, where they're called veriohukainen."
"Thank you, Wikipedia," Will says sardonically, leaning against the counter. "You've made them before."
Hannibal raises his eyebrows. "If you're so determined to be helpful, Will, you could bring me the flour and the molasses."
Will gives him a look, but goes into the pantry. When he comes back, Hannibal is fitting the wire whisk into the sleek chrome stand mixer Will got him for Christmas their first year in Provence. "You made them the winter we were in Buenos Aires," Will says. "In that terrible orange house on the beach, with the electric stove."
"I remember." Hannibal grimaces. "That stove was an abomination. The pancakes burned, didn't they?" He measures out blood and milk into the bowl of the mixer and sets it to whisk.
"It was the first time I saw cooking get the better of you." Will smirks a little, thinking about it: Hannibal flushed and furious, dyed hair in his eyes and smudges of carbon on his fingers, shockingly human. "I think if you could have found a way to murder the stove for its rudeness you would have, but we settled for killing the landlord."
"More satisfying all around, I think," Hannibal muses, adding the molasses to the bowl. "As I recall, he had a lucrative side business in human trafficking." He starts whisking in the flour, and Will watches the steady motion of his hands, the quiet competence he radiates without even trying. Will knows how to make pancakes—possibly discounting ones with blood in them—but even with something as simple as this, he could watch Hannibal cook for days on end and never tire of the show.
When the batter is smooth, Hannibal turns off the mixer and removes the bowl, covering it with a towel. "The batter needs to rest," he says to Will. "If you wanted to go draw your bath."
Will comes around the counter until he's in Hannibal's space; Hannibal leans into him, almost without seeming to notice. "You won't join me?"
"Not now." Hannibal kisses him, soft and fleeting. "I'll feed the animals, and then bring breakfast up to you when it's ready."
"Pancakes in bed," Will murmurs, amused. He chases Hannibal's mouth for another kiss. "You'll spoil me."
The pancakes are a deep chocolate brown, spread liberally with Hannibal's homemade lingonberry jam and dusted with powdered sugar. They taste incredible, a perfect blend of sweet and savory, with a dark tangy aftertaste that could be a distant cousin of the coppery bite of raw blood. Will eats them sitting cross-legged on their bed, fresh from the bath and wrapped in the silk dressing gown Hannibal bought him in Paris, and feels deliciously decadent. Hannibal eats with him—though Will catches him watching Will eat more than he eats himself, and teases him for it—and then takes their plates back downstairs and goes to take his own shower. Will wakes up, once, when Hannibal crawls into bed beside him, slightly damp and smelling of his chamomile soap; he tugs Hannibal in, wraps his arms around him, and falls back to sleep.
When he wakes up again, it's to warm hands kneading the muscles in his back. The bedroom curtains are open, and Will can feel sunshine on his face—it's sometime in the late afternoon, he thinks drowsily. Hannibal's thumbs press into a knot at the base of his spine and Will groans, sinking more deeply into the mattress.
"You're awake," Hannibal says.
"Mmm." He's not entirely sure he is awake. He has dreams like this sometimes: golden afternoons with soft-focus edges, Hannibal's arms around him and a dozen dogs asleep at their feet. But he's always had trouble separating his dreams from his realities.
Hannibal laughs softly, his fingers working up Will's spine to his shoulders. "Or maybe not."
"That feels amazing," Will mumbles, half into the pillow.
"You looked like your back was bothering you, this morning." Hannibal massages Will's shoulder until he exhales shakily, feeling the tight muscle unwind. "Leblanc was solid, and you landed hard when you went down."
"I've had worse," Will says, but he's too relaxed, and Hannibal's hands feel too good, for it to come out quite as sharply as he intended.
"What about you?" Will turns his head from side to side on the pillow, rolling out his neck as Hannibal works out the tension in his other shoulder. "He got in some good blows on you, too."
"You may see to me after," Hannibal concedes. He strokes his hands up and down Will's back, startling another moan out of him when he digs his thumbs into Will's glutes.
"Fuck," Will groans, more sound than word. He feels like he's turning to liquid under Hannibal's hands, his body becoming a clear river, running over rocks.
Hannibal bends his head to kiss the cleft of Will's ass. "Indeed," he murmurs, and then he's biting tenderly across Will's cheeks, chasing the bites with his tongue. The arousal that's been simmering since Will woke up—dreamy pleasure building slowly as Hannibal worked him over—abruptly bubbles over and Will gasps, pressing his ass back into Hannibal's hands.
Hannibal holds Will's cheeks apart, gripping his ass tightly as he licks over his hole. His tongue is as wicked and clever as the rest of him, tracing around the rim and then working slowly inside. He takes his time—savoring the taste, Will knows—and kisses and licks and nibbles until Will is melted into the sheets, wordless with desire. The sun is too hot on his flushed skin, now, and he sobs wetly into the pillow when Hannibal finally starts fucking him with his tongue.
Will loves everything they do together, but the first time Hannibal rimmed him—the second time they'd touched, still careful with their injuries and shaken by survival—was almost as much of a revelation as killing Dolarhyde. Hannibal is gloriously uninhibited and unabashedly hedonistic in everything he does, but in this Will can feel his fervor turned into worship, zealotry made flesh.
"The tongue is the most powerful organ in the human body, Will," Hannibal had said smugly, as Will stared up at the ceiling and tried to remember how to breathe, a vessel shattered and put back together again.
Hannibal bites his rim, gently, and twists his tongue up and in; Will reaches up and grabs hold of the headboard, fingers clenching and releasing on the wrought iron bars. "Please," he whispers. He's leaking all over the sheets, and he knows he can come from this, if Hannibal will let him.
"Please what?" Hannibal licks over his hole again, and then moves down to suck his balls and press an open-mouthed kiss to his perineum.
"Hannibal," Will breathes. He can feel Hannibal smile against the heated skin of his ass. When Hannibal eats him out, he's carving I love you on Will's body with every stroke of his tongue; it's a little blatant, maybe—it's not called eating out for nothing—but Will welcomes it, burns for it, lets Hannibal flay him open with worship and desire and pours it all back to him in every way he can.
Hannibal's thumb catches roughly on Will's rim, holding him open for his tongue, and when he licks into him again, hungry and fierce, Will cries out and comes.
He's still shaking when Hannibal rolls him onto his back and leans down to lick him clean.
"Is that an approved therapy for muscle aches, Doctor Lecter?" Will asks huskily, when he can remember how words work.
Hannibal licks his lips and sits back on his heels. "You're more relaxed now, aren't you, Will?" He runs his hands up Will's sides, fingertips pressing lightly against old scars and new bruises. "I don't believe any of your injuries are particularly damaging." He lingers for a moment over a purpling mark on Will's abdomen, and then flattens one hand on his neck, stroking lightly over his Adam's apple and the hollow of his throat. It's a little sore, and when Will looks down he can see the string of mottled bruises from Leblanc's chokehold, darker now than they were that morning. "You may want to wear a shirt with a high collar, tomorrow, however," Hannibal concludes, looking faintly disapproving. "And possibly a scarf."
"What would the neighbors think?" Will raises his eyebrows.
Hannibal's mouth quirks. "I cannot begin to imagine."
"Can't you," Will purrs, and reaches up to cup Hannibal's cheek. His fingers rest against the scratches on his face, but he's more interested in watching the way Hannibal swallows and shifts, his hard cock coming into fleeting contact with Will's stomach.
"I wouldn't want anyone to think," he says roughly, tightening his hold on Will's throat, "that I let anyone else put their hands on you."
Will reaches down between them and wraps his hand around Hannibal's cock. He's already slick, and Will twists his foreskin between his fingers, sliding it up and down. Hannibal shudders, pressing down on the bruises at Will's throat until Will hisses and lets go of Hannibal's face to cover Hannibal's hand with his own, lacing their fingers together. "All my bruises are from you, one way or another," Will says, stroking Hannibal's cock. "All my scars—like anyone else could put a mark on me that would matter."
Hannibal makes a breathless noise and kisses him, hot and desperate; it's more a clash of mouths than a kiss, faintly awkward with their hands clasped on Will's throat and Will jerking Hannibal off between them, Hannibal's other hand gripping the headboard behind Will's head. But it doesn't matter: Hannibal is already shaking apart above him, coming in hot streaks on Will's stomach and chest.
"I'm not sure that really qualifies as seeing to you," Will says, after a while. Hannibal has his head pillowed on Will's chest and is running his fingers through the come on his stomach. Will can feel his laugh more than he can hear it, a faint rumble like a distant earthquake.
"I feel very well seen to, in fact." He lifts his hand to Will's mouth, and Will sucks the come off his fingers, lingering.
"How are the cuts on your arms?" he asks. Hannibal's forearms are freshly bandaged—he must have checked them again while Will was asleep.
"As you say, I've had much worse." When Will shifts, a little annoyed, Hannibal adds, "They're fine, Will. Nothing needs stitches, and the cuts may not even scar. As you can see, some of the bruising is severe, but there are no internal injuries and no cracked ribs. I will heal quickly."
Will relaxes again, mollified. "I could rub some lemon juice into those cuts, if you really wanted."
Hannibal snorts. "I appreciate the offer, my love, but I think not." He presses a kiss to the underside of Will's jaw. "Maybe next time."
"We'll see," Will says archly, and curls his arms around Hannibal's back. They should get up soon, feed the animals, check on the dogs, feed themselves; but the setting sun is shining through the window, casting the room and the bed and their cooling skin in a warm red glow, and they can stay here a little while longer.
Madame Corneille is early to the market on Friday. Will and Hannibal are both at their booth—Hannibal sweet-talking a pair of young Australian tourists into buying candles, and Will looking over their list of prices—when she comes up to them, wreathed in smiles.
"It's always so nice to see you," she says, when Will leans down to kiss her cheek. "Now, tell me—what do you recommend today? Veronique's awful young man seems to have skipped town, have you heard?" Will nods and opens his mouth to speak, but Madame Corneille waves a hand. "Oh, never mind that. Truly, I thought she'd be more upset, but I think she's mostly relieved. She's staying with us for the weekend, and Aimée is back from her summer in Madrid—Philippe and I are so delighted to have two of our three girls at home. It will be a regular family party!"
Will smiles at her, warm and real. "The tenderloin is particularly fresh, today. Henri made it for me last night with this beautiful cherry-apple glaze and roasted carrots, and it was so good I honestly could have died."
Madame Corneille laughs. "Aren't you used to living with such a wonderful chef, by now?"
"There's no getting used to it," Will says, mock-mournfully. "He's always finding new ways to surprise me."
Hannibal has finished with the Australians, and turns to them with raised eyebrows. "You always surprise me, too, Guillaume," he says, and pulls Will in by the trailing ends of his scarf to press a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth.
Madame Corneille is practically cooing, but all she says is, "That tenderloin sounds sublime. I have a few recipes of my own, of course, family favorites, but—"
Hannibal releases his hold on Will's scarf and goes to get his box of blank recipe cards. "Let me write down the recipe for you, Jacqueline. No, I insist." He holds up a hand to forestall her polite objection, since it's clearly insincere. "It's no trouble at all."
Will wraps up the loin while Hannibal writes out the recipe in his neat script, and Madame Corneille takes the package and card with obvious pleasure. "Won't you join us on Sunday?" she asks. "I'm sure it won't be up to Henri's standards, but Philippe and the girls and I would love to have you over for dinner."
"We wouldn't want to intrude on a family party." Hannibal declines the invitation graciously, just like they always do, but there's something in his voice that makes Will glance over at him and wonder. It's one thing to know that the Corneille family will eat Martin Leblanc, but it's another thing entirely to watch them do it, to see them savor every bite.
"Nonsense," Madame Corneille says briskly. "You've been turning down my invitations for over a year, Henri. You'll need a better excuse than that."
Will puts a hand on Hannibal's bicep, turning him towards him and meeting his inquisitive look. "I think we're free on Sunday," he says, not looking away. Why not? he says to Hannibal with his eyes. Let's see what happens.
Hannibal nods his acquiescence, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth. "Of course, my dear," he says, so indulgently that Will has to bite back a wild laugh. Hannibal's eyes are on fire, and the Lourmarin Market is no place at all for the violent delight in Will's heart.
"Wonderful!" Madame Corneille claps her hands, and writes down the time and place for them before she leaves, radiating satisfaction.
They only have a moment before the next customer diverts their attention and they have to go back to work, but in a lull later that morning, Hannibal comes up behind him and rests his hands on Will's hips, leaning in to whisper in his ear. "Thank you."
"It's for me, too," Will says sharply, turning in his arms.
Hannibal gives him an affectionate look. "I know," he says. "That's why I'm thankful."
"Oh." Will flushes, and then takes a deep breath and recovers his composure. "But will you be so thankful when I cook dinner tonight?"
Hannibal's hands flex on his hips. "You're a perfectly good cook, Will, and not just because of things I've taught you, whatever you may claim to the contrary. Simple preparations do not negate the value of good ingredients and flavors—" He stops in the middle of his usual rant and frowns. "I hesitate to mention this, but it's also a market day, and we have leftovers at home."
"Yeah," Will says, and leans in to kiss him. "But I really want a good steak."