Will hadn’t expected the tailor’s shop to look quite so much like a small art gallery. Dark wood floors glowed with a patina of age and care. Drawings covered the neutral walls, each one lit just so. He saw no mirrors, no racks of clothes, not even a bolt of cloth. For a second, he thought he’d walked into the wrong store, but then he saw the tailor and he knew he hadn’t.
The cloth measuring tape draped around his neck would’ve been a clue if Will had needed one. He didn’t. The man wore a suit jacket pieced and pinned together, and the way he was examining his own outstretched arm, or rather the sleeve around it, told Will everything he needed to know.
“You make your own suits too?” Will asked.
Hannibal Lecter turned toward him and bowed slightly from the waist. “Of course. Who else could I trust? Will Graham, I presume?”
“Alana told you I was coming.”
“She did. She knows I don’t take clients without referrals.”
Will paced along the row of drawings. The floor creaked genteelly under his feet. “I don’t know if I’m a client.”
“You are here. Have you come only to admire my art?”
“Yours, as in you own it, or—?”
“Like my suits, it is my own work.”
Will nodded. He hadn’t guessed, but he wasn’t surprised. The order in the drawings, the fine detail, the repetition of pattern and shade and light all fit with the man in front of him. “Alana says having one decent suit won’t kill me.”
“My experience suggests she is correct. After thirty years in business, not all of my clients are alive and well, but I have yet to send any of them to their reward with a sharply cut waistcoat.”
Will’s mouth twitched and he turned away to hide it. He didn’t want to like this guy. He wanted an excuse to leave.
“Is there a specific event that prompted her remark?”
“She’s getting an award. Wants me to be her plus-one for the dinner.” Will recognized that most of his own suits looked like he’d bought them at a Salvation Army store. In some cases he had. For the awards he’d received and the events he’d been forced to attend, they were fine. The thought of wearing them for Alana’s big night left him with a nagging sense of guilt.
“I think we can find something suitable without too much trauma on your part,” Hannibal said.
Will turned back toward him, searching for mockery, and found only gentle amusement.
“Nothing fancy,” Will said, not even sure what he meant by it, except that his concept of how fancy a suit could be had expanded exponentially the second he’d seen Hannibal’s. “Just a suit.”
“Just a suit,” Hannibal said solemnly. “Come. This way, please.”
Will followed him through a door and down a short hallway. The first room must have been a reception area or waiting room. The room they entered now looked a lot more functional. It had a raised platform and three full length mirrors hung from chains in an arc around it. Each had a different frame and age spotting around the edges. Hannibal gestured for him to mount the platform.
Will stepped up and watched as Hannibal set his own half-finished suit jacket aside and rolled up his sleeves.
“If you would remove your sweater?”
Will pulled it off and dropped it beside him. Hannibal picked it up, folded it, and hung it over the back of a chair. The gesture made Will clench his jaw. The sweater was fine on the floor. At worst it would’ve gotten dusty.
Hannibal must have caught the direction of his thoughts. “Presumptuous, perhaps, but I prefer to treat all clothes with respect.”
“Even if they don’t deserve it?”
“Do they clothe our nakedness and preserve our warmth? Do they allow us to present ourselves as we desire to the world?”
“Seems like a lot to ask from a sweater,” Will said.
Hannibal gave him a gracious nod and sank down to one knee in front of him, measuring tape stretched between his hands. “It is. But does the sweater not do all that you ask of it?”
“I guess so.”
Hannibal went straight for the inseam with a delicate touch that Will barely felt and then rose to pass the tape around Will’s waist. “Then it deserves what any faithful retainer deserves. Respect and proper treatment. Not abuse.”
Will was torn between annoyance at the reprimand, no matter how mild, and a reluctant curiosity. “Clothes aren’t people.”
“No. They are far more reliable, loyal, and in many cases far more lovely as well.”
Hannibal spent the remainder of the measuring process telling Will about the first suit he’d fallen in love with. He didn’t phrase it that way, but he might as well have. He talked about the lines of it, the cut, the smoothness of the wool, the deep blue of the dye in the same language that Will had heard used to describe lovers. Or the object of a stalker’s obsession.
“Of course I had to own it,” Hannibal said. “Dante said that beauty awakens the soul to act, and I have found that to be true, more perhaps for myself than for most people.”
“You asked the guy about his tailor?” Will somehow knew that wasn’t going to be the right answer.
“I offered him ten thousand dollars for it.”
“Did he go for it?”
Hannibal looked up from measuring Will’s wrist with a slight smile. “Eventually. He took offense at first. But I can be persuasive. And it is important not to give up on the things one truly desires, don’t you agree? No matter how difficult achieving them may prove to be.”
Standing there with the tape looped around his wrist like a noose, Will felt himself nod, but the back of his mind churned with unease. “How did you get him to agree?”
Hannibal gave him that gently amused look again. “What do you imagine I did? I’m sure it wasn’t nearly so terrible.”
Will shifted and all of his reflections shifted with him, all equally uncomfortable and wordless. Because what the hell did he think Hannibal had done? Killed the guy for a suit?
“I wrote him a letter,” Hannibal said, tape looped now around Will’s neck, voice soft, standing close. “Detailing my passion. I believe he questioned my sanity, but he did let me take the suit and refused any payment. Which was just as well, considering.”
“In the end, he invited me to his hotel room, and I acquired the suit by taking it off him a piece at a time.” Hannibal draped the measuring tape back around his own neck. “There. Now, what are your thoughts on fabric?”
“I don’t have any,” Will said. That would’ve been true in any case but it was especially true after that last revelation.
“Ah, yes. Just a suit.”
Will jerked his head down in a nod and tried not to let his mind stray anywhere it shouldn’t.
“Is it to be my choice exclusively?”
“As long as—“
“Nothing too fancy.”
“Right,” Will said.
“Then I will let you go. Provided you trust my taste.”
Despite himself, Will did. He didn’t say so, but he didn’t object either, and he let Hannibal usher him out onto the sidewalk and shut the door behind him before it occurred to him that they’d never talked about a price.
He drove home slowly, thinking about how Hannibal had paid for the suit he’d fallen in love with so many years ago and taken a piece at a time.
Will didn’t remember giving Hannibal his number, but he got a call the next day, just after class. No caller ID and no introduction or greeting when he answered, but Hannibal’s voice was unmistakable.
“What color shirt will you wear it with? White I presume?”
“Probably,” Will said.
“That won’t do. Pale blue, I think. Or at least cream. I’ll see to it. And the tie?”
Will stared out across his empty classroom and bit the inside of his cheek for half a second before the words escaped him. “Maybe you should see to that too.”
Hannibal made a pleased noise that lodged in the pit of Will’s stomach. “I shall. I appreciate your faith in me, Mr. Graham. I’ll see you for a fitting Thursday at six.”
Hannibal hung up without waiting for agreement. Will sat down heavily and leaned back in his chair. He almost wanted to call Alana and ask her if getting a suit made was this intense an experience for her too, but he already knew the answer. If Hannibal behaved like this with Alana, Alana would’ve found another tailor.
Will…didn’t want to find another tailor.
Thursday at six, Hannibal opened the door to the waiting room for Will and held it for him so that Will brushed against him in the doorway as he passed. Hannibal was in shirtsleeves again and without a tie, measuring tape in place around his neck, one red-headed pin stuck through the collar of his shirt.
“I was about to pour myself a glass of wine,” he said. “Would you like some?”
“Do you always drink with your clients?”
“Not all of them. Some would not appreciate the familiarity.” Hannibal led him back to the room with three mirrors and opened a cabinet against the wall. “And some would not appreciate the wine.”
He poured, a red, into wide glasses with attenuated stems.
Will held his carefully in both hands. “And you think I will?”
“It may not be to your taste, but I think you will at least taste it. I suspect you taste everything offered you, whether you want to or not.”
Will sipped the wine, which was fine, not to his taste, no, but his taste was for whisky. He licked his lips afterward, and it tasted sweeter the second time. “Sure you’re a tailor and not a psychologist?”
“I observe. As you do. Here.” He unfolded a pieced together skeleton of a suit jacket and held it for Will.
Will set his wine down and allowed himself to be helped into it.
“You are very willing to accede to my tastes,” Hannibal said, voice a little lower than normal. He ran his hands lightly over Will’s shoulders, smoothing the line of the jacket. “Are your own unimportant? Or merely undefined?”
Will’s eyes had closed. He forced them open now as Hannibal walked around him with a rolling, almost predatory pace, taking in the jacket from all angles.
“My own tastes are jeans and sweaters,” Will said.
“Comfort is a default, not a thought out position. We are willing to sacrifice for the things we love.”
“Like you sacrificed for your first suit?” Will looked away at the far wall. He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to bring that up again. He knew exactly what he betrayed by mentioning it, and he could see Hannibal’s faint smile out of the corner of his eye.
“Hardly a sacrifice. Go and put the trousers on if you please.” He nodded toward a screen in the corner with a pair of pants draped over it.
Will got out of his shoes and khakis and pulled on the suit pants. When he emerged, Hannibal directed him to walk up and down, to move his arms, to speak up if anything felt tight.
“I’m not supposed to sacrifice my comfort for this particular suit?” Will said.
“Not more than necessary. Never more than necessary.”
Will told him where it was too tight and told him where it was too loose, where it pulled strangely, where it didn’t lie flat. Hannibal corrected each flaw with notes, measuring tape, pins — and hands. He tugged Will’s suit into place and shaped it around him, and each touch made Will want one more. Toward the end, as they approached the event horizon of perfect tailoring, Will was tempted to make up flaws, but he was certain Hannibal would know.
“It will be done next Thursday. The same time. I will have your shirt and tie as well. Have you considered shoes?”
Will had black ones that would work perfectly well. He shook his head.
“Those as well then. Good night, Mr. Graham.”
Alana stopped by after Will’s class to lean against his desk. “So you did go to see Hannibal.”
Will glanced at her and kept on gathering up his papers. He nodded.
“Will it be ready in time?”
“He said Thursday.”
Alana raised her eyebrows. “I only phoned him about you two weeks ago.”
“So? How long can it take to make a suit?”
“About a month usually. And he has a waiting list. He must’ve jumped you.”
Not yet, Will’s brain supplied unhelpfully. “I told him it was for your thing.”
She looked amused. “My dress won’t be ready until the day before my thing. And it’s just tailored, not custom made.”
“Maybe he likes my suit better.”
The following silence echoed with the words Alana didn’t say and didn’t have to say about what Hannibal might like.
She cleared her throat. “If he’s said or done anything to make you uncomfortable—“
“No,” Will said quickly. “He hasn’t.” He slung his bag over his shoulder. “Did he ever tell you about the first suit he—“ Will couldn’t say ‘fell in love with’ and couldnt’ figure out how else to phrase it.
Alana laughed. “The one at the antique store in Florence that he found in some old trunk that magically fit him just right? I think he tells everyone.”
“Yeah. Quite a story.” He didn’t mention this was the first he’d heard of it.
Thursday evening, Hannibal led Will into the room with three mirrors and directed him behind the screen. Will found the suit there, finished. It was a deep blue, but not navy, both brighter and darker. The shirt Hannibal had picked was cream with pale blue buttons, the tie blue and teal and silver tangled together in a complex geometric pattern. The shoes were dark blue leather. A pair of cuff links sat in an open velvet box: two sets of gold spheres connected by short gold chains. There was a tin pin to match. All simple, understated, and, Will suspected, painfully expensive.
He looked it over and then he started putting it on. He’d already resigned himself, some time between the conversation with Alana and tonight, to paying dearly for his crush. He did have the money. It wasn’t like he was spending it on anything else except dog food and car repairs. If the grand total didn’t make him want to bury himself in an unmarked grave at midnight as a warning to other fools, maybe he’d even get a second suit.
The leather of the shoes was so soft, the silk of the tie so smooth. The suit jacket cut in at his waist so closely. All of it felt like a premonition of Hannibal’s touch. He ran his hands through his hair and wished for a mirror so he could see this without Hannibal seeing him. And then he stepped out.
He actually saw Hannibal stop breathing. His chest paused in its slow rise and resumed two seconds later as he stepped forward to smooth the jacket over Will’s shoulders.
“It fits,” Will said.
“You have no complaints? No lingering discomforts to resolve?”
“It’s comfortable,” Will admitted. “Not like a sweater, but not bad.”
Hannibal looked up and down his body. “No, not like a sweater.”
Will wet his lips. “I mentioned that story you told me to Alana. About the suit.”
“And she told you about a trunk in an antique shop.” Hannibal walked around him and tugged the hem of his jacket down a millimeter in the back. He stayed there, standing so close Will could feel his warmth. “Both are true. I seldom tell people the one I told you.”
“They can’t both be your first.”
“One was the first I owned. The other was the first I loved.” He put a hand on Will’s waist, barely touching. “I wonder what you will tell people about this one.”
“I don’t often tell stories about my suits.”
“Perhaps that’s for the best in this case. Your listeners might find parts of the story uncomfortable to hear.”
“Which parts would those be?”
Hannibal leaned down and spoke into the curve of Will’s neck. “Leave the suit here. Come back to dress for your evening with Alana. Perhaps you’ll find out.”
Will let his eyes slide shut. “Okay.”
“Dispose of that cologne. I’ll provide something more suitable.”
Will let out an amused breath. “You don’t find that insulting a guy’s taste kind of ruins the moment?”
“Shall I make up for it by providing undergarments as well? Dressing you from the skin out?”
Will was getting hard before he’d fully understood the words, like they’d skipped his brain entirely and gone straight to his dick. “You’re going to an awful lot of trouble for this.”
“I think it will be worth the effort. Don’t you?”
Will did. He agreed that he would be back the night of the event. He spent the drive home wondering how mad Alana would be if her plus-one showed up freshly fucked by her tailor.
A ghost moon in a still-blue sky hung over Hannibal’s shop when Will arrived. He’d showered and tried to fix his hair but left off the aftershave as instructed. Hannibal invited him in with a gesture. Will felt himself growing warm as they walked down the hall to the room with three mirrors.
“If you would remove your clothes,” Hannibal said, with a nod to the raised platform this time, rather than the screen in the corner. The platform held his suit as well, hung over the back of an antique chair. A small table stood next to it and held a small glass bottle and a pair of folded underwear.
Will’s stomach tightened. He’d known it would be something like this. He’d even imagined it, undressing, the mirrors, Hannibal watching, the cool air prickling his skin. Imagining and doing blurred together uncomfortably in his work, but here the divide seemed very clear indeed. He could feel a flush creeping up his neck as soon as he started to unbutton his shirt.
When he let it drop to the floor, Hannibal picked it up and folded it over his arm. Will took off his shoes and socks. He unbuttoned his jeans and glanced in the mirror. Hannibal was watching him, eyes moving over his body.
“Am I the only one stripping?” Will asked.
“For the moment.”
Will took a breath. He pushed his jeans and boxers down together, stepped out of them, and kicked them away. Hannibal gathered them up, smoothed them, and set them with the shirt. He paced around Will. Looking. Examining. Will’s pulse and breath picked up and his cock thickened.
Hannibal glanced down and then up to meet Will’s eyes. “That will ruin the line of your suit, Mr. Graham.”
Will almost laughed. “Yeah. What are you going to do about it?”
“Perhaps the situation will resolve itself,” Hannibal murmured, heat in his eyes before he turned away and took up the bottle. He uncapped it and held it out for Will to smell.
Will did and closed his eyes, briefly lost in it.
“Pink pepper, papyrus, and sandalwood, but the base note is an oil extracted from the resinous heartwood of the Aquilaria tree in Southeast Asia. Oud. A dark scent, but warm. Inviting and wild.”
Hannibal got some on his finger and pressed it to the base of Will’s throat. Will swallowed reflexively and held his breath as Hannibal touched his finger to the inside of Will’s elbows, the center of his chest, and then he knelt, and Will’s held breath left him in a rush.
Hannibal looked up at him with the bare, sly impression of a smile. He pressed that dark scent behind Will’s knees and trailed the last of it down the inside of one thigh. Will’s cock gave a little jerk.
“It doesn’t take much, you see,” Hannibal said. “Especially with a scent as rich as this.” He closed his eyes and breathed in, nose inches from Will’s cock, eyes half closed in pleasure.
Will dug his nails into his palms, tried to breathe, tried not to swear. Or fall over. Or beg.
Hannibal rose easily and turned to pick up a pair of white boxer-briefs. He knelt again and held them for Will to step into.
Will didn’t like the direction this was taking — fewer clothes should be involved, not more — but he did it. Hannibal pulled them up and stood as he did, smoothing them over Will’s thighs and ass. The bulge of Will’s erection stood out clearly, more obscene than when he’d been naked. Which was, Will understood at once, the point.
The shirt was next, a different one this time, pale blue as Hannibal had originally suggested, with buttons made from a pale, warm wood. Hannibal slid it over his shoulders from behind and then stood close to button it up. So close that their thighs touched when Hannibal flipped up his collar to take the tie. So close that Will’s aching erection brushed Hannibal’s hip.
“The trousers now, I believe. Unless you will find it too uncomfortable? I see a certain issue persists.”
Will shook his head. Dizzy, maybe. Hot. More aroused than he could remember being in years. Possibly ever. But not uncomfortable.
He stepped into the pants. Hannibal smoothed them up his legs and slid a hand inside them to adjust Will’s cock to the right before he fastened them.
Will sucked in a breath and let it out slowly. He looked in the mirror. To say his dick was ruining the line of his suit would be putting it mildly. Hannibal was looking as well. He met Will’s eyes in the mirror, eyes half closed, mouth soft and pleased.
Will wanted to fuck it. To kiss it. To ruin and be ruined. He stood still and let Hannibal tie his tie, fasten his cuff links, and ease the suit jacket over his shoulders. He stood behind Will, hands at his waist. And slid one down to cover his cock. “This won’t do,” he said.
The touch dropped Will’s jaw open and shuttered his eyes. He pressed helplessly into it and reached back to clutch at Hannibal’s forearm.
“You can’t go out like this,” Hannibal said in his ear. “With this once inconvenience marring my work. May I take care of it for you, Mr. Graham?”
“Please,” Will gasped. “Yes.”
Hannibal pressed close against his back. Will could feel his cock and his heartbeat as he unzipped Will’s pants and spread them open as carefully as he’d closed them. He folded the fly neatly back and then eased the boxer-briefs down, under Will’s cock and balls.
Hannibal wrapped one arm around Will’s waist to hold him still and started to stroke. No lube, though Will was slick with his own fluids. The drag of Hannibal’s palm was friction-hot, grip tight, and Will had been on edge for so long that he was panting in seconds.
“Look at yourself,” Hannibal said in his ear. “Look.”
He nudged Will’s foot forward with his own, and then the other, one step closer to the mirrors. Will opened his eyes and saw himself. Saw both of them. Hannibal’s face behind his shoulder, Hannibal’s arm across his waist, hand moving on his cock, eyes bright and fixed on Will’s. And Will, every visible inch of skin flushed, cock hard, the wet head disappearing into Hannibal’s tight fist and sliding free again.
Will couldn’t look away. The sight and the sensation built on each other until he could barely tell one from the other, until the sight of Hannibal’s hands on him was as vital as his touch. Hannibal caught his gaze in the mirror and held it. Will stiffened and started to come.
His cock jerked. Streams of white fell across the mirror. Hannibal kept working him mercilessly until Will dug his fingers into Hannibal’s forearm and made a noise of protest. Hannibal stopped and held him, and Will fell back limp against his body.
While Will was trying to remember how to stand without help, Hannibal took his own pocket square out and wiped fluid and semen away from Will’s cock. Will made a noise in the back of his throat at the contact. The silk was cool and smooth, but he was too sensitive still to want any touch at all.
Hannibal made a soothing noise and zipped him up. “Much better.”
Will tried and failed to catch his breath. “What about you?”
“Come back here when your evening is over. I will wait for you. And help you undress.”
Will took a slow breath and nodded. “I don’t want to go,” he admitted.
“Nor do I want you to. But it would be a shame to keep yourself hidden after so much effort.”
Hannibal stepped away from him. Will swayed and caught himself. Hannibal was walking around him again, twitching his suit into place, straightening his tie.
He curled his hands over Will’s shoulders and turned him to face the mirror. “There. You are perfect.”
Will shook his head a little. “Your suit is perfect, you mean.”
“And you wear it perfectly.” The words were softly fervent and sincere as were Hannibal’s eyes and hands and even the touch of his breath on Will’s neck. “I would very much enjoy creating another for you.”
And Will wanted him to. Wanted to say yes without thought. But the gold glint of the cuff links brought him back to Earth. It felt tacky to bring it up now, but he’d already put it off too long. “I think I’ll have a hard enough time affording this one.”
“Trivialities. Don’t concern yourself.”
“From what Alana says, your bills aren’t trivial.”
Hannibal kissed his neck, his jaw, stroked his palm down Will’s tie. “For other people. We can make different arrangements.”
“Like you did with that guy?”
Hannibal pressed his cheek to Will’s and met his eyes in the mirror. “My thought was closer, perhaps, to an artist and his muse. Do you find that pretentious for a tailor?”
Will couldn’t help smiling at him. “Would you care if I did?”
“Not at all. I would find another way to convince you.”
“Because it’s important not to give up on—“ Will faltered.
“On the things one truly desires,” Hannibal said softly. “Yes. Do you object to being one of them?”
“No. But the suits.”
“You would object to taking them without compensating me. I would argue that seeing you in them is compensation enough. Does that sway you?”
Hannibal’s expression settled into comfortably pleased lines. “But it does. Because you desire what I desire. Our tastes in this are the same.”
Will jerked his chin down in guilty admission. “It’s not right though.”
“I don’t believe it’s a case of right and wrong. Perhaps you will give me a chance to convince you. Later tonight.”
Will turned and looked into his eyes without the buffer of the mirror. He touched their lips together and felt the way Hannibal leaned toward him. “Yeah. I’ll give you that.”