They’re at a night market in Da Nang, bright yellow street lights and the glare of multi-colored lanterns hanging in a display at the edge of the marketplace. Too many sights and sounds and smells for Will to process amid the hum of foreign chatter, and each image that Will catches is gone before he can register. There is much to see; Hannibal’s hand gently pressed to the small of his back is his only guide through the cacophony.
Hannibal steers him through the people in a winding path that leads them to a street vendor in the corner. They crouch down, supported by tiny plastic stools that look like they were only made to accommodate children. The small aluminum table they are seated at shudders ominously when the bowls are set in front of them. A violently orange-red concoction releases steam and a pleasant briny aroma into Will’s face. He sees bits of floating ground meat, spring onions, rice noodles, crab meat.
“Bun Rieu,” Hannibal offers, already holding a loaded spoon aloft and wielding his chopsticks with graceful efficiency to carry noodles to his lips. “A Vietnamese crab noodle dish.” He manages to slurp the noodles into his mouth, the slide of the wet tendrils over his lips appearing more sensuous than it should. He takes a sip of the liquid and leans his head back, eyes closed in profound appreciation.
They eat, the din of the surrounding crowd filling in the silence between them. Even with the vibrant color of the soup stock, Will doesn’t expect the heat level, and he almost coughs as the spiciness of the chili peppers hits the back of his throat. But it’s good, the flavor of the broth deep and complex, and by the time Will’s done with his bowl—Vietnamese portions are smaller than American ones—there is a pleasant warmth coiled in his belly.
“Big crowd,” Will comments, when he’s set his utensils down.
Hannibal has finished all the noodles, but he’s still taking his time with the broth, sipping a slow spoonful at a time. He nods at Will, now, his eyes flitting off into the distance, catching the light of the lanterns overhead and reflecting them back in shifting colors. “In five days’ time it will be the Lunar New Year and these streets will be empty in observance of the holiday.”
“I thought it was in late January.”
“It varies from year to year. Last year it was January 31st. This year the holiday falls on February 19th. The Vietnamese were colonized by the Chinese for so many generations that they came to accept many Chinese customs as their own. Holidays, religion, music.”
It’s only when they’ve paid for their dinner and are halfway back to their hotel, two figures walking side by side on uneven concrete, conspicuous only in their foreignness and nothing else, that the thought occurs to Will. He misses a step. Frowns, eyes watching Hannibal’s back silhouetted against the dim street lamps as he takes a few more steps before stopping. He turns, and Will thinks he can make out Hannibal’s eyelashes in profile, his lips parted slightly in silent inquiry.
Five days, Will thinks, and counts backwards. Today’s date printed in his mind’s eye. “Sorry,” he mumbles, quickens his pace to catch up.
They step into the old elevator, careful not to linger between the doors—Will has seen these very doors, lacking any kind of sensor technology, snap savagely at the trailing handle of a woman’s purse. A rumbling climb up to the fifth floor, where Hannibal has booked the two adjoining rooms. Will retreats into his own room to shower and change out of his street clothes. When he emerges, the door leading to Hannibal’s room is already open, just an inch of space left between the door and the frame so that the cold air doesn’t leak into Will’s room. Not that it would do any good. They’ve tried leaving the door wide open; the old split AC unit, spitting its discontent every other hour, isn’t strong enough to cool the two rooms together.
“Have you talked to the manager about the AC in my room?” Will asks, seating himself on the edge of Hannibal’s bed. At least it’s big enough to hold the both of them. They don’t even have to touch if they don’t want to. Most nights, they don’t.
Sometimes, Will wakes up in the middle of the night and finds himself pressed against Hannibal’s side. In the morning, the space between them always rematerializes, like magic.
“I’ve spoken to him three times,” Hannibal answers blandly. He’s already in his pajamas, legs under the covers and his tablet cradled in his hands. His eyes are on the screen, but he isn’t actually reading anything.
“You’re fantasizing about eating him, aren’t you?” And then, because he’s feeling charitable, because Hannibal took him out for delicious soup and a stroll through a night market strewn with color, he adds, “I wouldn’t blame you.”
Something like a smile quirks Hannibal’s lips at Will’s attempt at a joke. “It’s unfortunate that we are to keep a low profile for a while yet.” His eyes flick up from the tablet, seeking out Will’s face, the faint impression of a caress in the look. “The neglect is abhorrent, but I find I cannot regret the company.”
Will makes a sound, a low hum in the back of his throat, and doesn’t say anything to elaborate on it. He moves to slide under the thin covers. He has to put his back to Hannibal in order to turn out the bedside lamp. When he turns back, Hannibal is still watching him, the light too dim now to make out what’s lurking behind his eyes, if there’d ever been a chance in the first place. In another instant Hannibal’s tablet is set aside and the other lamp clicks off as well.
“I could’ve just opened up the windows.” A small concession, murmured in the dark.
“And risk the mosquitoes? I am told they are vicious.”
He draws in a long breath, slow, through teeth that chatter despite the only moderately cool temperature the crappy air con allows. “Hannibal.”
He lets his hand creep across the small distance between them, blindly groping, until it meets Hannibal’s arm. Hannibal’s pulse beats more rapidly than he imagined through the thin layer of his pajamas.
“It’s the 14th, isn’t it?”
His fingers curl around Hannibal’s arm, and he hangs on, squeezes. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
He feels foolish as soon as the words are out of his mouth. Why say them now, when he’s never acknowledged this sorry excuse of a holiday in all the years—
“Our first one together,” Hannibal says, so low and whisper-quiet that Will almost misses it. Then he lets out a soft sigh. The arm under Will’s hand twitches involuntarily, Hannibal’s emotions seeping through the cracks between them and making Will’s breath catch in his throat.
“Yeah,” Will says. Warmth that has nothing to do with the soup they ate for dinner spreads everywhere through him. “Our first one.”