There’s a little girl who plays by the fountain in the square. Her name is Elise. Most days she wears a sunflower yellow dress, not because she doesn’t have other clothes, but because it’s her favorite and her parents are indulgent. She’s the only child they’ll ever have, you see. She’s beloved by the villagers for her sunny temperament and for her blue eyes and sweet smile. She’ll be a heartbreaker when she grows up.
He watches her as she passes by on an errand for Pastor Jean, or when she’s at play, giving her plastic doll a bath in the fountain, dangling her bare feet in the water, her white socks tucked neatly into shoes adorned with bows.
He never questions his desires. They just are. On the internet he finds like-minded men who encourage him, validate him, give him excellent ideas and point him to places he can order what he needs, what he wants, no questions asked.
He plans. He anticipates. He savors. He watches.
He thinks no one notices.
After school the new school teacher usually sits in the café in the square with a coffee. Often he is joined by his musician friend, and then he puts away his laptop and they eat the delicious pastries the chef makes fresh daily. Occasionally they linger long into the afternoon and take their evening meal there. They don’t talk much; they seem content in each other’s company, idly observing the goings-on in the square or doing Sudoku puzzles.
Strangers aren’t that unusual in this town, but they don’t normally stay for long. Not much to do. There’s speculation, of course, about what brings them to this tiny corner of the world, about their relationship, but they are both mild-mannered, pleasant, even charming, and the teacher is very good with the children. He really seems to get inside their heads.
“You know what he’s planning.”
“As do you, Will.”
Will shreds the flaky pastry in front of him with his fingers. “You think we should mind our own business,” he mutters.
“On the contrary, the murder, or even just the disappearance of such a photogenic child would bring undesirable attention to this village.”
“We’d have to leave.”
“I like it here.”
“As do I.”
Their eyes meet.
Will nods, slowly. “He’s a threat, then.”
Hannibal’s eyes dwell on the singularly unprepossessing youth slouching against the wall of the church opposite, smoking a cigarette. “Merely an inconvenience,” he promises.
The old music teacher is 90 if he’s a day; he’s riddled with arthritis now, and his memory is starting to fail. Generations of village children have been taught by him, he’s beloved by them all, but he’s not sorry when the musician announces that he will take on some of the more talented students. He teaches the mayor’s son too, which the music teacher thinks is odd—Eric never showed any aptitude or interest in his schooldays. Perhaps the mayor is hoping the musician’s manners and obvious breeding will rub off on her surly son.
“What are you playing at?”
“Hmm?” Hannibal drifts over to Will’s side at the window and they both watch as the mayor’s son makes his way back down the hill to the village.
“Why haven’t you killed him?”
Hannibal blinks, slowly. “Why haven’t you?” He sounds genuinely curious.
“You’re not teaching him music, are you?”
“It depends what you mean by music.”
Will raises his eyebrows at the equivocation. “He hero worships you.”
“Indeed, I have invested a significant amount of time to cultivate that feeling in him.”
“To what end?”
Hannibal looks at him blandly. “You know I like to nurture talent where I find it, Will.”
Will finds himself clenching his fingers and forces them to relax. He takes a deep breath.
“This is our home.”
“Ephemeral, as all things are now. It will not do to get too attached to this place.”
“We’ve been here more than six months. No one suspects a thing.”
“Despite your appallingly accented French. Or perhaps because of it.”
“You said it was good,” Will says, frowning.
“I said it was passable,” Hannibal corrected. “It has improved under my tutelage.”
Will wants no part in whatever Hannibal is doing with the mayor’s son. He goes running, or works out with weights in their gym room. He’s building up his strength, his endurance. Their peaceful life exists in a bubble, one that could be popped any day by a passer-by recognizing one of their faces… or by a disturbed youth’s impulses bringing the police to their doorstep.
This last year has brought clarity to Will’s thoughts, his desires. He’s well aware that while Hannibal serenely cooks and composes, he is yet in a state of suspension. He’s waiting for Will to complete his becoming—to slash and tear and burn the world down. They both know it’s only a matter of time. He wonders if Hannibal’s embrace of an acolyte is meant as a catalyst, if Hannibal anticipated the twist of rage in Will’s gut, the murderous intent with which he watches Eric come and go.
A carload of tourists finds its way to the village, lost. Five college boys, Italian, loud and familiar. They order takeaway coffee and sandwiches and eat ice-creams while they wait and are crude and over-familiar with the waitress, barely 17 years old, blushing and uncomfortable. When one of them puts his hands out and fondles her bottom and she flinches, the teacher stands. The boy blusters, his fair complexion reddened and blotchy, but the teacher’s face is serene.
The musician seems not to notice the confrontation. He cuts another slice of his omelette and lifts it to his mouth, chewing with great deliberation, his gaze across the square distant.
There’s the crunch of bone breaking and the youth screams.
“You won’t let him take a little girl.” Of this Will is (almost) certain. Hannibal has shown him the parts of himself that he wants Will to see, parts of himself that he has never shown anyone else, and Will has clawed and pried and prodded to discover parts of Hannibal that he himself seems unaware of. Important to keep in mind, the capricious nature of the man, both repellent and curiously compelling. A whim could find them in Nice in a day or two, or Jakarta, or Biloxi.
“Of course not,” Hannibal murmurs, chopping cilantro and sprinkling it into the gently bubbling pot on the stove, leaning over to inhale the spicy scent of whatever he’s cooking. He looks thoughtful, an almost unnoticeable crease between his eyes signalling his dissatisfaction, but Will can’t tell if he’s considering his recipe or Will’s questioning of him.
The café's owner won’t accept payment for their meals after the incident with the Italians. Will had wondered if his casual violence, satisfying as it was, would be the thing that brought suspicion upon them, but if anything, it seems to have had the opposite effect. People they’ve never so much as spoken to now give them a friendly nod in passing. The café owner’s brother, Michel, is the local grocer. He places special orders to get the more exotic ingredients Hannibal expresses an interest in. He tells Hannibal, resting a confiding hand on Hannibal’s shoulder, that he once dreamed of leaving the village, becoming a chef at a famous restaurant in the city. Hannibal smiles through his teeth and volunteers to show him his kitchen.
The mayor’s son is beautiful. Hannibal finds him waiting for him in his bed, naked, gleaming with oil, ready for him.
Eric smiles widely, red. His heart is revealed, his genitals on display, garlanded by sunflowers.
He is exquisite.
Will lounges on the divan by the bay window, cradling a glass of 1996 Chateau Margaux. The bottle is open on the small table, a second glass poured. Hannibal picks it up and inhales appreciatively. It’s one of his favorites. He is nearly certain he has never told Will this (the days of delirium after his bullet wound became infected are somewhat of a blur). Nor is this particular vintage stocked in their cellar.
Will’s expression is impassive as it usually is of late. He’s learned a lot from Hannibal, more than Hannibal had intended him to learn.
Hannibal smiles. ”What a thoughtful gift, Will,” he says blandly. “Is it all for me?”
Will’s eyes flash, but that is the only sign he gives of the emotion Hannibal knows seethes under the surface. “I thought you’d be pleased,” he says.
“You thought to please me?”
Will bares his teeth in a smile. “Since you seem determined to throw our life here away on a piece of ass, I figured we might as well go out with a bang.”
The sense of anticipation he’s feeling now is equal to that he experiences in that moment before he brings down his prey. “Have you been jealous, Will?”
Will’s scar pulls as his face twists in a sneer. Hannibal’s fingers actually twitch with the desire to run the tips of them along the ridges, to caress the symbol of Will’s commitment. “As you intended,” he says coolly.
“I confess I grew impatient of waiting for you to either embrace this potential aspect to our relationship, or to close that door entirely.”
“I wasn’t aware a door was open.”
“Will,” Hannibal says chidingly.
Will’s pouting at him now, looking at him under his eyelashes as he takes a sip of his wine.
“Why else would you infer a sexual relationship between myself and the boy, when it is clear that you feel that he has replaced you in some way, or that he compensated for something missing in our relationship?”
Will doesn’t answer.
“I assume your preparation of his body for ease of intercourse was meant to make a point only, as you are well aware that necrophilia is not something that is of interest to me. Unless…”
Will’s eyes fly to his, obviously despite himself.
Hannibal takes a sip of his wine. It really is an exquisite blend. “Unless it is part of your becoming. Such a paraphilia is nothing to be—”
“No,” says Will, firmly. His eyes rest on his creation with pride, not lust, not shame.
“I confess I am relieved,” Hannibal admitted. “Not because any part of your becoming could be in any way distasteful to me, but because I am eager to begin this new phase of our life together.”
“How do you even know that you… that we… we’ve never…”
For all that he still appears to waver, when Hannibal holds out his hand, Will takes it without hesitation. This trust, this belief in them is what soothes Hannibal. It’s what he lives for now, confined as he is right now to a version of his human suit in order to blend in, to not bring the fury of an FBI scorned down on their heads.
Will kisses him determinedly at first, as if he has something to prove. Hannibal lets himself be pushed down on end of the bed, where the sheets are still white and pure and not stained gloriously red, glistening and wet and… alive? Will’s kisses are distracting, as are his hands, already roaming under Hannibal’s shirt, but he turns his head towards the faint sound to see the boy’s eyes flutter as he gasps his last breaths.
Hannibal’s heart swells as he understands the full implication of Will’s gift, of the magnificent creature he has become. Truly, the soulmate Hannibal had never really believed existed. Will is biting kisses along his jaw, his neck, his chest, leaving scrapes, drawing blood, marking him even as his hand slides down to Hannibal's waistband. He fumbles his trousers open, groping for Hannibal’s swelling cock. Hannibal arches into it. He does not begrudge Will his possession.
Hannibal understands because it is one more way they are meant to be together. He wants to be part of everything Will is and was and will be. He gropes for the bottle of lubricant Will has left clutched in the boy’s hand. His hand, his whole arm, slides through blood. He’s careful to grip the slippery bottle tightly as he retrieves it.
The movement jolts the mattress and Hannibal’s aware that the installation beside them has shifted, toppled to the side. He feels a moment’s regret, but Will’s gift is safely stored in its own room in his memory palace and slippery fingers are probing between his legs, pushing in. Will’s not gentle with him. Hannibal wouldn’t want him to be.
He turns his attention from the ruined artwork, still beautiful though it’s now flawed, because he needs to see this. He needs to see the way Will’s eyes, wide and awestruck, dart between his busy fingers and watching Hannibal’s face, where Hannibal knows all his feelings are writ. He’s overwhelmed by Will’s passion.
Will’s bending his legs back to his chest now, exposing him fully and anointing his skin all over with messy red hand-prints. Their lovemaking has taken them to the edge of the pool of blood. Hannibal’s side is wet, his hair; the liquid upon his head is akin to a baptism. Wonderingly, he scoops some up and reaches up as Will is positioning himself, and Will stops. Will bends his head.
Hannibal paints Will’s forehead, his chin, his cheeks, his fingers lingering on his scar. Will leans in further, his eyes glowing, his face transformed. Their mouths meet and cleave and taste of blood, and they are cleansed of their human skins, transfigured, as Will sinks into him and they are joined into one glorious whole.
No one in the village is surprised that the mayor’s son up and left without a word to anybody. He was always an odd boy, a loner, rude to his mother. His mother weeps for a week, then dries her tears and gets on with her job. Being the mayor is hard work, even of such a small district.
Michel’s wolfhound bitch has a litter and the teacher and the musician adopt one of the pups. The villagers grow used to seeing the two of them walking the dog along the seaweed strewn beach and along the hills surrounding their home. The teacher throws sticks for the pup and laughs at its clumsy antics; the musician watches indulgently.
A few months later Pierre, the boy who delivers groceries, finds a starved, flea-ridden mutt scavenging in the bins behind the store. He begs his parents to be allowed to keep it, but it has abscesses and mange and is an altogether hopeless cause. The kindest thing to do would be to put it out of its misery. Not long after that there’s a second dog following along at the steadily growing wolfhound pup’s heels. It’s still ugly and skinny and carries a limp but it’s clean and brushed and enjoying a new lease on life.
The town a few miles up the coast hosts cruise ships. Most of the tourists that come ashore don’t venture further than the local markets and cafés, the medieval cathedral with the towering spires and the weeping Jesus.
They do get a few of the more adventurous souls make their way into the village to admire the thirteenth century church’s stained glass windows depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments and the picturesque old town hall.
They don’t stay long and aren’t memorable, unless they make a nuisance of themselves, like that loud American child that broke the church railing by swinging on it. The father refused to pay for it, accusing the pastor of lying and threatening loudly to sue. It had been the musician who had defused the situation, speaking soothingly in the man’s own language, personally escorting the family back to the tour bus and shaking the bemused man’s hand as he accepted the offered business card.
(A week or so later, they heard on the news, that same American disappeared during a layover in a Spanish city. Pastor Jean shook his head regretfully. Perhaps the man had offended the wrong person.)
It’s a beautiful evening, warm with a refreshing light breeze, so Will sets the table on the balcony and pours two glasses of the Margaux. He’s developed a fondness for it, both for the taste and for the association it carries for them both.
Hannibal steps out on to the balcony, expertly carrying two plates on one arm, a bowl of mixed green salad from their garden in the other hand. “Steak au poivre et frites,” he announces. Will doesn’t need his gift to see that Hannibal is pleased; the man fairly radiates contentment. He places Will’s plate in front of him with a flourish.
“Steak and fries?”
“Simple, yet delicious when well executed.”
Will rolls his eyes. Hannibal smiles, delighted with his little joke.
“I do miss American food occasionally,” Will admits.
Hannibal expression is fond, indulgent. “I’m aware.”
The meat looks delicious, perfectly bloody. Will leans forward and inhales, closing his eyes at the mouth-watering aroma. “You’ve outdone yourself,” he says, opening his eyes to see Hannibal’s pleasure at the compliment.
“I hope you find the dish to your taste.”
Will helps himself to a generous serving of the salad, and then, smiling to himself at Hannibal’s ill-concealed eagerness, takes a bite of the meat.
It really does taste amazing. Rich and delicately flavored, and so tender. “My compliments to the chef,” he says.
They watch the seabirds wheel and dive over the bay as they dine. Below them, children are kicking a ball around in the square. They’re too far away to make out faces, but Will recognizes little Henri by his limp. He twisted his ankle playing football last week, but he’s not letting his injury slow him down. And there, a flash of sunflower yellow darting amongst the group, stealing the ball, giving the boys a run for their money.
“I was thinking of preparing cœur de notre amour tomorrow,” Hannibal says, “with Jerusalem artichokes and trompette de la mort. ”
Will smiles. “I had thought you might serve the heart tonight—it being our one year anniversary and all.” He places his hand on the table, palm open.
Hannibal puts down his fork and reaches out to clasp Will’s hand in his own. “That was my initial thought, I admit. However, this recipe requires slow cooking, and our hunting trip took longer than I’d anticipated.”
Hannibal’s face is peaceful. Hunting relaxes him, settles something under his skin. It has the opposite effect on Will; he’s left edgy, revved up. He fucks Hannibal in the shower, the hot water beating down on them both, washing away the blood and other residue of the day until there’s nothing in his head except the scent of Hannibal, the taste of Hannibal’s skin under his lips, the feel of Hannibal surrounding him.
Below them, the church bells chime the hour. Will pours them both more wine and Hannibal brings out dessert. He’s let the dogs in and they flop down at Will’s feet, panting happily.
Will doesn’t delude himself that this will last forever. For all that they’ve disappeared from public consciousness, one slip, one too observant stranger, and their life here will be over. He’s not too concerned. Hannibal has contingency plans in place. Until then, it really is a lovely place to settle down.