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Sweeter Bitter

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Hannibal only slept a few hours that night. When he couldn’t fall back asleep in the early morning, he busied himself with cleaning up after the party, replaying his phone conversation with Will from the previous night.

There seemed to be a heat in his chest that wouldn’t go away. Normally cold-blooded, this new sensation was uncomfortable. And addicting.

Once it was approaching a reasonable hour, Hannibal drove to his favorite bakery, and then to the upscale coffee shop where he sourced his beans. Around 9:30AM he was parked outside of Will’s dorm with two hot coffees and a bag of pastries.

He called Will. It nearly rang out before Will answered with a bleary and beleaguered, “What?”

“Good morning, Will.”

“Hannibal?”

“Yes. Are you awake?”

Will groaned. “No. Yes. I don’t want to be.”

“I’m parked outside.”

“Huh?”

“Would you come out?”

“What? Uh, fine. Just give me a minute.”

It was no longer snowing, but cold enough still to keep yesterday’s fall. The campus was empty at this hour, everything blanketed in still white. The heat from inside the car quickly fogged the frozen windows. After a few minutes, Hannibal saw a shape approach the car through the frost.

Will opened the car door, bringing in some of the cold, and quickly hopped in. His hair was a mess and his eyes were crusted with sleep, and he wore sweats and a plain t-shirt under the coat. Hannibal smiled at him. “I thought you might need to fortify yourself this morning,” Hannibal explained, handing Will his cup of coffee. “So I brought coffee and pastries.”

Will looked at him wide-eyed as he took the coffee, their fingers brushing. His face was pink from the cold, but it didn’t seem to be fading in the warmth of the car. Will blinked slowly, and then seemed to realize he was holding caffeine, and whined in relief. He took a careful sip, then a longer one. “God bless you,” Will said, slumping back in his seat.

“God has nothing to do with it,” Hannibal said with a chuckle. “How are you feeling?”

“Really hungover.”

“I imagine.”

“Slightly better, now.” Will tried to suppress a smile. “You brought me coffee.”

Hannibal held up the paper bag from the bakery. “Not just coffee.”

Will blinked at him from several moments, obviously not at full operating capacity. He took the bag and peered inside. “Um. Thank you.” He closed the bag and looked back at Hannibal. He had forgotten to put on his glasses, and Hannibal had an unobstructed view of his blue eyes before they ducked away behind dark lashes.

“Please, eat if you’re hungry,” Hannibal said, and sipped his own coffee.

Will’s brows pulled together. “In your fancy car?”

“Yes.”

The windows were completely fogged by now, making the Bentley feel like a cozy oasis from the cold outside. Hannibal watched from his periphery as Will picked a donut from the contents of the bag, biting into the sweetness with a soft moan of delight. Will passed the paper bag back, and Hannibal selected a danish, getting a few flakes on his slacks as he ate. He put a napkin in the cup holder and picked up the flakes one by one as they fell, placing them in the makeshift receptacle.

“You’re ridiculous,” Will said, wiping berry frosting from his lips with the back of his hand.

Hannibal hummed, neither in agreement or disagreement.

“What are you doing here anyway?” Will asked. “Not that I don’t appreciate this. But it’s really out of your way.”

Hannibal looked at him directly. “Do you remember our phone call from last night?”

Will’s cheeks darkened, and he hid behind his coffee. “Yeah. Mostly. I didn’t black out or anything. I remember asking you not to come,” he said pointedly.

“Yes. I think it would have been a poor idea to come over when we were both inebriated. So here I am, at the very least to delivery coffee and food and hopefully aid in your recovery.”

Will was staring at his chin, eyes flicking up and down as if he were trying to make eye contact—or trying not to. “At the very least. And—" His voice caught. “At the most?”

Hannibal reminded himself to say something reasonable. At least, he tried. “If I could I would take you away from all your troubles. At the moment, all I have to offer is my company, and my care, if you wish it.”

“Your company?” Will looked away.

“I’m not speaking euphemistically,” Hannibal said. “Whatever you want, Will, and nothing more.”

Will bit his lip, and just as quickly released it. “This is all fairly euphemistic.”

Hannibal had to pause and gather his thoughts. He tried to speak carefully. “I fear I’ve already imposed on you with my familiarity. I would apologize, but I’m fairly sure I will do it again, so I’ll have to be sparing with my apologies.”

“I’ll tell you if you make me uncomfortable. I have.”

“Yes, and I appreciate that. But you are not solely responsible for preventing me from overstepping.”

“You’re tiptoeing, Doctor. I’m not a piece of china.”

“Should I be more blunt, then?”

Will looked down at the pastry in his lap. “Please.”

Hannibal took a breath, and set his coffee down. He folded his hands in his lap, and stared at the fogged window. “My feelings for you are neither platonic nor sexual. I desire your company in any extent you wish to share it, and abhor the idea of imposing on you or causing you any strife. I find rudeness unspeakably ugly, but had you called me earlier last night, I would have left my guests in a heartbeat to come to you. That should frighten me, but instead I find it thrilling. I doubt there is anything you could ask of me that I could refuse you.”

The warmth in Hannibal’s chest was building and building. He thought it must burst or dissipate, but it stayed, pressing against his ribs. His words hung heavy in the air, but he was also relieved to have said them. It was foolish to keep the fervor of his feelings from Will. Dangerous even.

He turned slowly to Will, gauging his reaction. He was looking back at Hannibal, for once fully making eye contact, stormy blue eyes weary beneath the tense line of his brow. His gaze focused, and Hannibal felt layers peel back from his mind, bearing him completely. Hannibal didn’t speak. If he opened his mouth, the words would pour out unbidden.

With a twitch of his nose and self-conscious smirk, Will glanced away. “Well,” he said, and cleared his throat. “Take me away, then.”

“Where would you like to go?” Hannibal asked breathlessly.

“Your place?” The blush was back in full force. “Um. I’m flying out to Louisiana tomorrow, for Christmas.”

Hannibal turned the ignition, and started the defroster. “How long will you be visiting your father?” he asked lightly.

“Just a little over a week,” Will answered, pulling pieces off the donut and plopping them into his mouth as Hannibal started to drive.

“What airport do you fly out of?”

“You…” Will stopped himself. Took a breath. “Do you want to give me a ride?”

“I do.”

“Alright.” Will burrowed into his coat. “That’s fine with me.”

 


 

 

Will nearly nodded off by the time Hannibal reached his house, the collar of his coat upturned and hiding half of his face. Hannibal parked, and squeezed Will’s arm gently. “We’re here.”

“Mm.” Will grumbled sleepily, and blinked over at Hannibal. He nodded, and Hannibal reluctantly let go of his arm. He couldn’t resist a light touch to Will’s elbow as he guided the hungover boy up the steps to his front door.

“Definitely, terribly hungover,” Will complained, leaning slightly into Hannibal as he unlocked the door.

“Well, let's get some water in you and then you can rest,” Hannibal said.

He lead Will into the house and pulled lightly at the collar of his coat. Will let him slip it off his shoulders after untangling his lanky arms from where they were wrapped protectively around his chest. Sliding his arms out, Hannibal caught a whiff of Will’s scent from the nape of his neck—florid sweat and sticky alcohol. There were small spots of sweat on his grey t-shirt, under his arms and at the center of his back. Hannibal enjoyed seeing him disheveled like this, grumpy from his headache and sleepy.

“A tour, or is it straight to bed with you?” Hannibal asked as he finished hanging Will’s coat and his own. He had dressed down himself in slacks and a red sweater over his button up, no tie.

Will looked at him, eyes warm and slightly dazed. “I don’t feel great. I’d like to lie down.”

“Very well. I’ll show you to the guest room.” Hannibal guided him up the stairs with a hand high on his back. Will had his arms crossed again and was a bit hunched, glancing at his surroundings.

“Is that a suit of samurai armor?” Will sounded incredulous.

“It is.”

Will just shook his head. Hannibal had no doubt that he would voice his opinions on the decorations when he was feeling better.

The guest room was not as ostentatiously decorated as the rest of the house, with only one set of animal horns and tame landscape paintings. The colors were all dark, though, reds and warm browns. “Please make yourself comfortable,” Hannibal said, turning on the lights dimly. “I’ll get you some water, and something for the headache.”

Will nodded, and sat on the edge of the bed to untie his shoes.

Hannibal came back with much more than water and aspirin—he had a fresh towel for Will, a new toothbrush, and a set of extremely soft sleeping clothes. They were his own, and as such wouldn’t fit properly, but it would have to do. Will was already splayed out on the bed on his stomach, shirt discarded, and hugging a pillow to his chest. His back was pale and smooth.

“Thanks,” Will mumbled, not moving.

“Here, drink this,” Hannibal insisted.

Grumbling, Will turned on his side and propped himself up on his elbow to grab the glass of water and the bottle of aspirin. He took two and sipped at the glass of water.

“The bathroom is just down the hall,” Hannibal said. “Feel free to make use of anything you find there, and feel better.”

“Thanks.” Will lay on his back and stared back at Hannibal.

“Is there anything else you need?” Hannibal asked. He was suddenly aware of the distance between them, proper and stagnant. How he wished to look upon Will freely, but for the moment he kept his eyes resolutely on Will’s face.

Will glanced down with a blush, and shook his head. “No, um.” He rubbed his face. “No. Just going to rest.”

Hannibal turned off the lights and closed the door behind him as he left.

 


 

 Some hours later there were soft footsteps upstairs, and then the running of the shower. Hannibal seldom had guests on the second floor, and it was peculiar to sense movement above him, almost as if Will was striding through the halls of his mind. Hannibal focused on the material realm, preparing a lunch for them both—juicing oranges and stuffing sausages. Chopin played lightly over the speakers, though he was distracted by the melody from last night, not as of yet composed.

It was better to translate his mental state into music and food. The abstract nature of those translation pleased him—the swell of cadence and decadence; the slice that bared the red, pulpy flesh of a blood orange, so thin as to be transparent; the aromas of spice and fruit and oil. At the moment he couldn’t address the sensations directly, should not think of pale skin and shifting expressions and the color of the ocean. Should not think how his internal rhythm shifted from Suite no.3 to Will’s footsteps down the stairs.

Hannibal did not turn from his work when Will came into the doorway of the kitchen, watching him for a few silent moments as Hannibal dropped the sausages into the sizzling pan. “How are you feeling?” Hannibal asked after a moment.

“Mm. Better.”

“There’s coffee in the french press” Hannibal offered, glancing over his shoulder. Will was leaning against the doorframe, and the sight of him nearly made the words die in his mouth. Will was freshly showered, hair still damp and flat against his head. He was wearing the loaned sleepwear, which was swallowing him whole—sleeves pushed up but still at his knuckles, the delicate line of his collarbone exposed, soft grey fabric falling against and hiding the lithe lines of his body in the most endearing and tantalizing way. His skin was slightly pink from the heat of the shower.

“Sounds good,” Will said with a shrug, walking over to the island to see what Hannibal was up to. The cloth of the pajamas moved around his legs as he walked, nearly smooth as silk. Hannibal blinked and the image remained imprinted on the inside of his eyelids.

He had possibly made a miscalculation.

Will bypassed him to the other side of the island and poured himself a cup of coffee. “I’m still not 100% but I think I’m functional,” he said. He took a sip of coffee and closed his eyes in pleasure.

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“That smells good.”

“I hope you have an appetite,” Hannibal commented. “I also have leftovers from last night I need your assistance with.”

Will grinned, a brief flash of teeth. “I could eat.”

Hannibal sent him out to the dining room so he could plate their lunch, always one for the dramatic reveal. It was a more simple meal of slow-cooked grits, sausage, and seared greens, but the platter of hors-devours left from last night more than made up for it in extravagance. “You have a garden in here,” Will called from the other room, incredulous.

Hannibal smiled to himself. “A well-maintained garden is a key component to any kitchen.”

Hannibal brought out the plates. Will was standing by the fireplace, looking at the painting. “Doctor Lecter,” Will said in a mock-scandalized voice, looking over his shoulder.

“Leda and the Swan, by Francois Boucher,” Hannibal said without missing a beat, laying the table with their feast.

Will snorted, and turned to the table to take his seat. “Yeah, I gathered. You have an understated yet wicked sense of humor.”

Hannibal took his own seat. “Oh?”

Will flashed him a toothy grin, head cocked to one side. “I bet no one ever comments on it, do they? All your prestigious dinner guests. Tripping over their tongues when they realize what they’re looking at.”

“I consider myself a patron of the arts,” Hannibal said, poker face on.

Will laughed, and picked up his fork. “You love pushing people as far as they’ll go. Seeing what you can get away with.” He dug into the meal, cutting through a sausage with the side of his fork. Hannibal did not stare as he wrapped his lips around the utensil, savoring the first bite. “Wow. This is amazing.”

Hannibal smiled politely, and began to eat as well. “I know fully well what I can get away with.”

“Oh?” Will repeated his own tone back at him, faux innocence.

“Beauty makes the terrible palatable, and weaves meaning in the world," Hannibal said.

Will snorted softly. “Zeus didn’t need to be a pretty bird to get away with that. He had power.”

“Power comes in many forms.”

“What do you get away with?” Will asked, probing.

Hannibal considered. There were all manners of acts he could get away with, that he deliberately did not. The breadth of his alibi was at times all too tempting. “Chiefly, my privacy,” Hannibal answered at last. “Indulgence in my peculiarities.”

"Hmm." Will didn't seem fully pleased with his answer, but let it lie. 

Finished with the main course of their lunch, Hannibal introduced Will to the artful hor-devours from last night, pawning off as many as he could onto the boy’s plate. He explained the ingredients and Will indulged him in trying each, considering the juxtaposed flavors. Will was a delight to watch eat, his expressions all on the surface, rosy lips smiling under the attention.

Will waved Hannibal off when he was stuffed, leaning back in his chair with a hand on the little rise of his belly. Full and warmed by the fire and relaxed. Hannibal placed the last prosciutto wrapped fig in his mouth, sucking the lingering sweetness from his thumb.

Hannibal gave Will a tour of the house and was subjected to open teasing of his decoration. Hannibal couldn’t help but preen. He had received his usual compliments on his tastes the night before, but those compliments never hit home. Hearing Will pick his eccentricities apart with such insight was superior to any praise.

Will guessed at the added decorations for the party, and Hannibal admitted that besides the tree and golden orbs in pine nestled throughout the first floor, his home was, yes, usually this ostentatious.

“You’re morbid,” Will accused.

“I find comfort in reminders of my own mortality,” Hannibal replied.

Will’s ears wiggled with his grin. “Like I said: morbid.” He wandered over to the harpsichord and drew his hand along its flank before sitting down at the bench. “I don’t mind morbid,” Will added, touching the keys but not playing. He liked to fiddle with his surroundings in Hannibal’s office, and his home was no different.

“The darker aspects of human nature are compelling.” Hannibal approached him, and when Will sidled over, he joined him on the bench. The length of their thighs touched, warm even in the heated room. Hannibal began to play, a classic Bach aria. “In the extremes of life and death, joy and suffering, our true potentials are revealed.”

Will watched his fingers. “You can play and hold conversation. Impressive.”

“My mind is always occupied in several places at once,” Hannibal said smoothly, hands dancing up and down the keys as he plucked the sharp tune from the instrument.

“Philosophy and sonatas?”

“Leda and recipes,” Hannibal agreed.

Will scoffed lightly. The negative space between them felt as magnetic as where their hips touched. Hannibal was acutely aware of the shape of air between his moving arms and Will beside him, the gentle lift and fall of breath and beat. Hannibal leaned towards Will to reach the lower notes. He smelled divine—clean, and like home with Hannibal’s own products over his natural scent, the tang of copper, firewood and salt. In the corner of his eye he saw Will lean his head on his shoulder, away, exposing the long line of his neck.

“I’m not sure if the darker extremes are compelling,” Will muttered. “They might just be awful and ugly.”

“Tell me—is it easier for you to distinguish between good and bad, or beauty and ugliness?”

“I don’t spend as much time as you considering beauty.”

“More contemplating morality.” Hannibal closed out the aria, fingers hovering over the keys once the last note had been plucked. Unlike the piano, there was no reverberation except what remained in memory, a silence touched by the last chord in the air. He folded his hands on his lap. He wouldn’t turn to look at Will directly—that would bring them too close together.

“Both are instinctual,” Will said, as if considering the idea. “You know it when you see it.”

“Both can be learned,” Hannibal countered.

Will straightened his head on his shoulders and looked at Hannibal, who glanced at him. “Do you know right and wrong?” Will asked, holding Hannibal with the direct line of his stare.

It seemed that they were speaking euphemistically again. Will had that challenging look in his eyes, like he was pushing Hannibal towards some edge and daring him not to jump. “I have learned,” Hannibal answered. “At least, what is expected of me, which natures are permitted and which condemned.”

“You don’t seem like the kind of man to let social moors rein in your nature,” Will said, shifting his feet wider and putting more pressure where their thighs met. Hannibal imagined he could feel more than warmth through the thin fabric.

Challenge set. Hannibal turned his head to regard the boy fully, and allowed himself to really look—his angelic features, soft and sinfully beautiful; the low dip of the ill-fitted neckline, showing collar and down his pale sternum; the elegant legs spread and revealed in the soft fabric. Hannibal was not a moral man, but he did his best to not directly harm others, as if one slip would have him plummeting. And it was not guilt that kept Hannibal aloft, for there would be no remorse in the wake of his fall from grace, but a promise whispered long ago.

Even now, he could not deny that keeping Will in arms reach but no further was a manipulative ploy. Hannibal would not make a forward move nor engineer Will’s desire for him. If what they danced around was to occur, it would be under Will’s direction. Hannibal could seduce him now and well, and maybe Will would stay for a time until resentment grew heavy in his chest. But if it wasn’t really what Will wanted, or needed, Hannibal would lose him. And he wanted him for more than a tryst to warm his sheets.

So seeing the temptation for what it was, Hannibal placed a hand on Will’s shoulder and pushed him slightly away so they could see each other clearly. Not running like he was caught out in his desire—which he certainly was, Hannibal was no fool. Hannibal spoke softly. “Many times I think to myself, how can something that brings us pleasure be wrong? That which enlivens the senses and brings beauty and meaning to a world so often ugly and senseless.” He smiled soft, and drew his hand down Will’s arm until it fell from his elbow. “But I am not beholden to my desires.”

Will’s eyes were dilated, sucking all the light from the room to burn in the safire rim. To drink in every inch Hannibal showed him. Wanting was there, in his pink cheeks and parted lips, just a reflection perhaps, quickly sobered as Will narrowed his eyes. A grin cracked across the young man’s face and he looked away, shaking his head. “Jesus,” he muttered, striking a low E on the harpsichord. “You hear yourself sometimes?”

Hannibal patted Will on the shoulder, fond and no more, and stood from the bench. “You are temptation incarnate,” Hannibal said, so plainly that Will gave a startled laugh, wrinkling up his nose in the way that Hannibal had come to adore. “But I am a man of my word.”