‘I’m Not A Morning Person,’ despite the name, opened at 4:30 AM every morning. Or thereabouts. Will Graham was, predictably, Not A Morning Person, and occasionally found himself opening at more unusual times such as 4:47, or 4:33, or, on one memorable occasion, 7:12, with several irritated messages on his machine. He’d given out free coffee to anyone who could prove they’d been by while he was closed; an unexpected amount of people had taken pictures of his hours sign and taken to his Facebook page to vent.
Will had opened the cafe entirely on a whim. He’d needed something more relaxing after FBI field work threatened to shred him to pieces, and what was more relaxing than coffee and scones?
Apparently, the answer to that was ‘fucking anything.’ Running a cafe was a lot more work than Will had expected it to be, and he did it largely on his own. Oh sure, he had a few people around to make sure he didn’t work 430AM-4PM every day, but Will didn’t have the funds to justify more than a small handful of employees, and he liked the control too much to give it up.
And so Will stayed late to finish setting his recipes, and showed up early to put the finishing touches on them and set the breads baking. He brewed the coffee and hand-wrote the menu on the chalkboard signs, and despite the fact that he was clearly not a people person, he handled most of the customers.
He still saw too much and he still didn’t sleep well, but now his nightmares involved a lot more ‘meal worms in all the flour bags’ and a lot less (Well, a little bit less) ‘murdering a woman with nothing but a shoelace and his own teeth.’ It was… Functional. A word that had never before been applied to Will, and he intended to keep it as long as he could.
Hannibal’s favorite coffee shop closed down for good in the same week in which he had three (three!) emergency phone calls with one of his most trying patients, he dropped and shattered a piece of his favorite china set, and his stand mixer decided to give up on life entirely. It was, overall, not a very good week.
Hannibal owned his own coffee apparatuses, of course, including a french press he was very fond of, but sometimes one was in a hurry and didn’t want to go through all the complicated motions. Cafes were a blessing in those times, and ‘Dulce’ had made the most tolerable coffee he’d managed to find outside of his own home.
It had taken four different attempts before settling on ‘Dulce’, and Hannibal was not looking forward to repeating the experiment. He only ended up at ‘I’m Not A Morning Person’ at all because he had overslept (such a very unfortunate week), and needed to stop at the first coffee shop he found. And he absolutely drew the line at Dunkin’ Donuts.
It was not the sort of place Hannibal would have chosen, given more time. The name had a certain casual humor to it that never bode well for Hannibal’s more particular taste in food and drink, and he was overly-cautious when he finally walked through the door.
It at least smelled like a coffee shop should, which, to someone with a nose as keen as Hannibal’s, was something of a blessing. There was no plastic, artificial smell like there was in some of the less savory shops. The man behind the counter looked tired, dark bags under his eyes as he fussed with the display of baked goods.
He was also beautiful. Beautiful in a delicate, classic way, with eyes that shifted from blue to green as he turned his head from fluorescent light to the light of the window, and slightly-overgrown dark curls.
And then he opened his mouth.
“Gimme a second, would you?”
Hannibal tensed up, frozen before the counter as the man completely ignored him, completely ignored the only customer in the store, in favor of fussing with a display of scones that had started to list ever so slightly to the left.
“Jesus effing Christ,” The beautifully rude man muttered under his breath, still loud enough for Hannibal to hear him, “Matthew’s not allowed to set up displays anymore. Fucking seriously?” The man sighed and turned back to Hannibal. “Alright, what did you want?”
Hannibal eyed the man distastefully. “Is there a manager around, perhaps?”
The man grinned, feral and toothy, “Nope, what you see is what you get.” To prove his point, he jabbed a thumb at his own chest, where a name tag rested that did indeed read ‘Owner,’ as well as ‘Will.’
Hannibal sighed. He didn’t have time to stop at another coffee shop, not today. “I’d just like a plain, black coffee. To go, please.”
Will grinned again and shoved a laminated piece of paper across the counter. “Nope. Order properly. It’s part of the charm.”
Hannibal studied the menu and finally looked up with a raised eyebrow.
“I’d hardly call this ‘charm.’”
“Sure it is. It’s why anyone comes here, after all.”
“I came here for coffee.”
Will leaned across the counter, looking up at Hannibal through dark eyelashes and a crown of curls. Hannibal resisted the urge to take a step back. “Come on, humor me. You wouldn’t order a Whopper at McDonald’s, or a Big Mac at Burger King.”
“I wouldn’t order either.”
“No, of course not,” Will said dismissively. “A man like you, you’ve never set foot in either before, have you?”
This conversation was clearly going to go on forever. Possibly until Hannibal died of starvation, or exposure. Hannibal sighed, looked down at the menu once more, and then looked back at Will. “Fuck you,” he said, with no small amount of malice.
Will beamed at him. “Coming right up!” He went right for a series of familiar machines, which, to Hannibal’s surprise and pleasure, included the exact same french press Hannibal had at home. After a few moments, Will called over his shoulder, “Alcoholic or Virgin?”
Hannibal stared at Will’s back, at the (admittedly distracting) way the strings of his apron framed his body. “It’s 6:30 in the morning!”
“It is,” Will said, shooting Hannibal a smirk over his shoulder, “Do you want tequila in your coffee or not?”
“Of course not!”
“Alright, then.” Will fussed around a little more, longer than was strictly necessary for plain black coffee, and then returned with a steaming disposable cup. Hannibal handed over his card and took a sip. To his dismay, it was wonderful coffee, better than Starbucks by far, possibly on the same level as Dulce’s coffee had been. Little wonder Will was able to keep a store running despite his abysmal attitude. It would be a shame to go hunting for a new shop once more, but sometimes, sacrifices had to be made. “Do you have a business card by any chance?”
Will pulled one from a tiny little display by the register and handed it over with a knowing, though weary, smile. “Why, gonna write a review?”
Will sighed. “Right. Of course. Here.”
He fussed around behind the counter for a moment before coming up with a pastry, delicately topped with sugar and smelling faintly of strawberries, tucking it into a paper bag and handing it over. “Here. Free treat for any newcomer I give a hard time too.”
Hannibal took the pastry, hesitant and wary. “This was an… abrasive… experience,” He found himself admitting, “You might reconsider your greeting.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not a morning person.”
Hannibal was already in his office, mentally filing Will’s business card with a recipe for seared liver, when he took the first bite of his pastry. It was, to his continued devastation, absolutely delicious. Will would have to be allowed to live.
Will didn’t know why he’d given the man such a hard time. He knew what black coffee, was, after all. He could have just made the damn thing.
But there was something about the man, so pleasantly filling out his three piece suit, and so clearly disdainful from the moment he’d walked in the door, that made Will want to rile him up.
Okay, so maybe he did know. Will was protective of his things, after all, and the shop had quickly become a point of pride for him. He couldn’t handle the way the man seemed ready to judge before he even got to the counter, and it would have been worth the bad review just to knock him down a peg or two.
The bad review never came. Will didn’t read them of course, he did this for his continued mental health and didn’t need the stress, but Abigail, who had come to help him with the register as soon as school let out for the summer, also managed their social media pages for him, and she always told him when there was something he needed to know. His people skills had come up more than once.
The bad review never came, but the man did. The next time he showed up was around noon, and he looked frazzled. Abigail looked up from her phone as he approached the door, and immediately nudged Will in the side. “Don’t you dare,” She hissed. Will shot her an irritated look.
“You know what. Don’t do that thing you do.”
“You know I’m your boss, right?”
Abigail snorted. “Oh please, you’d be completely lost without me. Too many social interactions.”
Will hated that she was right, hated more the little smirk that said she knew it. “Go clean something,” He commanded as the man approached the register, “I’ve got this one.” To the man, he gave what he hoped was a bright, cheerful smile. “Thanks for coming in today, how can I help you?”
The man stopped in his tracks and stared at Will. He turned, slowly and pointedly, to look on the clock on the wall. “Well,” He said, “I suppose it is no longer morning.”
Will deflated a little. “Very funny.”
The man looked from Will to the menu, seemed to steel himself for the experience, and straightened to his full height. “Fuck you.”
The man looked haggard, despite his perfectly put-together hair and outfit, and it had clearly taken a herculean effort to order without all the fuss of the other morning. Will took pity on him and went right for the coffee, fussing over it as he always did. When he handed over the cup, trading it for the man’s credit card, the man immediately took a huge gulp. Beside Will, Abigail let out a low whistle.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” She asked curiously.
“There are certain things in life that make the need for caffeine greater than the need for functional taste buds,” the man replied, somehow managing to make it sound like grand wisdom rather than utter ridiculousness.
“Bad day, huh?” Will asked, sympathetic. He’d felt it radiating from the man’s body since he’d walked in. The man gave him an uncertain, hesitant look, before deciding it couldn’t hurt to speak.
“Tell me, have you ever had a customer who appreciated your company more than you appreciated theirs?”
Will tapped the counter with two fingers. “I see your customer and raise you an employee. Don’t tell Matthew I said that,” He added to Abigail, when she began to giggle.
“My lips are sealed, boss.”
“No they aren’t, you’re seventeen. Go tweet something.” Will made a shooing gesture, and Abigail blew him a kiss as she wandered to the back for her break. Once she was gone, Will sighed and went digging around in the pastry case. He came back with a chocolate filled croissant, handing it to the man wrapped in a napkin. “Here, you need this more than I do.”
“If you keep giving away sweets, you’ll be out of business.”
“That’s what they said about my attitude,” Will said, waving his hand dismissively, “And yet, here you are.”
The man looked down at his coffee, as if surprised to find himself holding it. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
Will was not a people person. He was not known for his conversations, or for his tact. And yet, he surprised himself by offering the man a small smile. “Do you wanna talk about it?”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” The man said, taking a hesitant bite of his pastry, and then a larger one when it proved to be to his tastes, “Doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“Those pesky HIPPA laws,” Will teased, looking the man over carefully. He had calloused fingertips, strong hands, and every piece of his public persona had been carefully, painstakingly stitched together. But surgeons didn’t typically have regular interactions with their clients. “Let me take a guess. Shrink?”
The man looked impressed. “Dr. Hannibal Lecter,” He said, “I run a private practice a few blocks away. I used to be a surgeon, but I found psychiatry more rewarding, or I do normally. On days like this...”
Will did not wince at either the profession or the name. He was very proud of himself. “Days like this, you’re not so sure. I get it. Will Graham,” He added, holding out his hand. Hannibal shook it presumably because it would have been rude not to, and not out of any real desire for physical contact with Will, who was an expert at stepping on toes. He had a firm grip, and his hands, despite the calluses, were gentler than Will had expected.
“I suppose I’ll see you again, Will Graham.”
Will smiled. “I’m always here.”
That the coffee was good, that the desserts were better, that Hannibal had been rewarded with a pastry for having to deal with Franklyn, all of these things conspired to keep Will Graham alive, though Will, of course, did not know it. None of them could completely erase Hannibal’s desire for violence, however. He had been provoked by his terrible week, and he would not be able to settle until his thirst had been slaked.
On Wednesday night, Hannibal killed a chef who too frequently tried to pass of cheap cuts of meat as their more expensive counterparts. On Thursday morning, he made breakfast.
“You know that’s not how this works, right?” Will asked when Hannibal slid the container of leftovers across the counter, “I sell you food.”
“You don’t, actually,” Hannibal reminded him, “Or at least you haven’t yet. I’d like to change that.”
“The barter system won’t pay my electric bill.” Will was off before Hannibal could order anything, eventually handing over a black coffee and a small peach tart.
“Thankfully, I’ve brought cash,” Hannibal assured, sliding a ten across the counter. Will took an absentminded bite of the protein scramble, still warm, as he began to ring up the order, then froze. He chewed slowly for a moment, then swallowed and slid the bill right back.
“I’ve changed my mind,” Will said, nabbing another bite “You can have anything in the case if you bring me this.”
“You aren’t too full from your own breakfast?”
“What breakfast?” Will gave him a wry smile and jabbed viciously at a piece of sausage. “I have coffee. And more coffee. I could never make anything like this.”
“You have a variety of sweets at your disposal,” Hannibal pointed out, “You don’t bake them yourself?”
Will shook his head. “I never have much of a sweet tooth in the early mornings,” he explained, “and baking is different. Baking is easy. I… I can’t really explain it. I guess it’s just that it’s the same thing, every time. I know if I measure out a recipe, it will come out the way I planned. There’s too much improvising in cooking. It’s never been my personal skill.”
“I find baking and cooking to be very similar, actually.” Hannibal took a bite of his tart and held back a smile when Will groaned.
“Oh no. Don’t tell me you bake, too?” Will stared suspiciously at his breakfast and then stabbed the fork in Hannibal’s direction. “Don’t you dare bring any desserts in here, I’ll have to close down out of shame.”
“Well, I’d hate to have to find a new coffee shop.”
“Coffee shops are a dime a dozen,” Will said dismissively, “This food, on the other hand...” He trailed off, taking another bite of the scramble.
“It’s just eggs and sausage, a few spices here and there.” Hannibal did his best to sound humble, and his best was frequently enough to fool most people. Will was not most people; he gave Hannibal a wry little smirk that seemed to imply he knew exactly what Hannibal was thinking. Hannibal was talented, and they both knew it.
“I don’t know how to respond to this,” Will finally said, when most of the scramble was gone and the silence had stretched just a bit too long. He frowned thoughtfully, tapping his fingers against the counter top in a manner that seemed to have no rhyme or reason. “You’re not allergic to nuts, are you?”
“My only allergies are medical,” Hannibal reassured him, “So unless you’ve begun to bake with penicillin, it shouldn’t be an issue.”
“I’ll try to resist the urge,” Will promised, still frowning. His fingers stilled in their tapping, and then he slammed his palm against the counter. “I’ve got it!” He said, ignoring the affronted look Hannibal gave him at the noise. “I’m gonna knock your socks off.”
“I look forward to it,” Hannibal told him, with more honesty than he’d expected.
The next time Hannibal came in, Will was ready. It helped that Hannibal came in the very next day, when the treat was still fresh and Will hadn’t had to remake it. The fact that he would have remade it, that he would have gone through the long process every night until Hannibal returned, determined to have it fresh and perfect, sat unpleasantly in the back of Will’s mind.
“We’re not selling this,” Will confessed, setting the tray on the counter next to Hannibal’s coffee, already prepared and waiting, “I don’t have the patience.”
“My own private treat, then?” Hannibal looked as though he’d been aiming for levity. Had been, in the past tense, because when he saw the cake, he stilled. “You made dacquoise,” He said, smiling softly, “It’s not a simple bake, is it?”
“It could have been,” Will admitted, “There were shortcuts I could have taken, things I could have bought, ready-made.”
“But you didn’t?”
“I didn’t.” Will looked at Hannibal, who was looking back at him with something unreadable in his eyes. It twisted Will’s stomach into knots, and Will dropped eye contact, stabbing a knife into the cake with a bit more violence than dessert typically called for. “Here, try it!” And then, because Will was nervous and not yet done exposing and embarrassing himself for the day, he did not hand the slice to Hannibal. Oh no. Instead, without stopping to think about it, he jabbed a fork into the cake and held the bite up to Hannibal’s lips.
Hannibal looked from the fork to Will’s steadily reddening cheeks, and then carefully took the offered bite. Will wanted to die.
“Right, then,” He stammered, shoving the rest of the plate into Hannibal’s waiting hands, “You can just… eat that… then.”Will was filled with a sudden longing for Abigail. She would never have let him do something so stupid. She would have been charming and pleasant from day one, and then Will would never have gotten himself into this mess, this weird not-flirting with a customer who’s total interactions with Will numbered about twenty minutes, ten of those vitriolic.
Hannibal, meanwhile, was calm and collected, as usual. Even when he’d been downing coffee after dealing with his mysteriously attached client, he had seemed more put together than Will had ever been in his entire life. Flustered Hannibal was more composed than Composed Will (who did not actually exist), and at that moment, it was frustrating. Will hid his flushed face behind pastries, rearranging the display cabinet just to keep his hands busy as Hannibal silently took another bite.
And then another.
And then, when that was over with, helped himself to another slice. Will peeked around the corner of the cabinet hesitantly. “Good?” He asked, staring down at Hannibal’s hands, rather than his face.
“Will,” Hannibal said gently, as if he could see Will’s worries written across his skin (and he probably could, Will was awkward-not-flirting with a psychiatrist, what was his life?), “It’s delicious.”
“Good,” Will said, because everything else failed him, and he shoved the rest of the cake towards Hannibal when another customer walked in. “Take it home with you before people try to buy it and I have to start making it daily.”
And Hannibal did.
It had become something of a theme. One day, Hannibal would show up with breakfast, or an early lunch, always enough for Abigail as well, should she choose to partake. The next, Will would offer dessert, always downplaying just how much time he’d spent on it, as if Hannibal didn’t know what sort of effort complicated dishes required. It went like this, and no further. Some days, Hannibal could not even be sure there was a ‘further’ to go to. Perhaps this was just their new routine, sharing food together to start off their day.
A month after they’d started their tit-for-tat, Hannibal came in on a Saturday for the first time. He had paperwork to work through in his office, but if he was honest with himself, he really just wanted to see Will.
This was an unusual desire, for Hannibal. He had friends, or rather, he had people who’s company was not entirely unpleasant for a night at the opera, or a dinner party. But he had no one who spurned a desire for one-on-one interaction, beyond Dr. Bloom, who inspired feelings of a largely intellectual (and platonic) sort.
So, when he found himself standing smack in the middle of the ‘I’m Not A Morning Person’ Saturday morning rush, he was not entirely sure how he’d ended up there.
Abigail was there at the counter, smiling and waving to him over the heads of several customers, but so was a man with short, dark hair that Hannibal had never seen before. The man gave Abigail a suspicious look which he then turned on Hannibal, and murmured something to Abigail that Hannibal was too far back to hear. Abigail chirped something else inaudible in response, and then called for Will in a much louder voice, loud enough that the dead-on-his-feet college student at the front of the line jolted awake and nearly spilled his coffee.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Will emerged from the back, covered in flour from the tips of his fingers all the way up to his elbows. There was a splotch of strawberry jam high up on his cheekbone, and Hannibal was suddenly flooded with a desire so inappropriate that he immediately distracted himself with the menu, as if he ever ordered anything different. Unfortunately, with the disappearance of sleepy-college-student and the strange man assisting the soccer mom ahead of Hannibal, Hannibal was finally able to get close enough for Abigail to draw him into the conversation, whether he was ready for it or not.
“Hannibal’s here for you,” Abigail said, making herself scarce to help the man pour coffee.
“Hannibal’s here for coffee, Abigail, not the pleasure of my company,” Will corrected, and though Abigail’s back was turned to him, Hannibal was pretty sure she was laughing.
“The pleasure of your company would be a welcome addition to the menu,” Hannibal said before he could stop himself. Will had a way of stripping every bit of well-practiced control from Hannibal with merely a single blink of his expressive eyes, and there went another thought Hannibal was not going to dwell on.
Will, thankfully, looked more pleased than embarrassed, although there was still an attractive pink flush spreading across his cheeks. “You’d be the only one who’d ever order it.”
Hannibal’s eyes flicked over to the gentleman manning the register, who’s face had grown more and more irritated as they spoke. “I’m not entirely certain that’s true.”
Will followed the line of Hannibal’s gaze and winced. “That’s just Matthew,” he said, dismissive, “That’s just his face. He’s moody before coffee, and he was late this morning, so he didn’t get to have any yet.” The last words were said loudly and pointedly in Matthew’s direction. Matthew broke the staring contest he’d been having with the side of Will’s head to properly manage the register instead. Hannibal didn’t laugh, he was much too polite to publicly laugh at another’s misfortune, but he did offer Will a small, private smile.
Will’s answering smile was broad, blindingly bright for only a second before it crashed back down again. “I don’t have anything ready for you!” He said, wringing his hands, “And I need to get the next batch of scones in the oven, I don’t have time-”
“Will,” Hannibal reached out and placed a hand over Will’s. Flour-covered fingers twisted up to twine with Hannibal’s own, and they both froze, staring at the place where they connected. Hannibal broke the silence first. “Will, anything you’ve made for your customers will be fine with me. You’ll still get your breakfast.”
Will flushed and pulled away from Hannibal’s grip, but Hannibal could see the way he rubbed his thumb over places Hannibal’s fingers had touched. “You don’t have to keep feeding us.”
“Nonsense. Abigail would quit in protest.” Hannibal slid the Tupperware across the counter, nudging it towards Will. “There’s even enough for Matthew, should he like some. I’m afraid portions might be smaller than usual, I wasn’t expecting him.”
“Afternoons and weekends,” Will explained, “He’s nearly impossible to pry out of bed, from what I’m told, but he’s a lot of help with baking prep in the evenings.”
“Well, I’m glad you’ve got an extra pair of hands in the kitchen.”
Will glanced over his shoulder, alarmed. “I’ve got no hands in the kitchen right now,” He explained, snatching the Tupperware up. “I have to… Abigail will take care of you, she knows what you like, but I have to get back.” He hesitated, glancing back towards Hannibal. “If you’re still around in an hour,” Will said hesitantly, “The rush will die down a bit and I’ll have time to take a break.”
“I’ll be here,” Hannibal promised. Paperwork could wait.
It was closer to an hour and a half when someone finally joined Hannibal at the little table he’d taken up by the window, but that someone was not Will, or Abigail, or even Matthew, who’s suspicious glances had only grown when Hannibal refused to leave. Instead, a heavy-set man with an aggressively cheerful demeanor plopped down into the chair across from Hannibal, and Hannibal’s entire day began to turn sour.
“Dr. Lecter!” Franklyn Froideveaux, Hannibal’s most needy (and inappropriate) patient beamed at him from across the table, nursing a cup of coffee and some sort of chocolate coated confection. “I didn’t expect to see you here!”
“Nor I, you.” Hannibal said, for lack of anything else resembling a reasonable response.
“It just seems so crass for you,” Franklyn continued, heedless of Hannibal’s growing dread, “It’s a little crass for me, honestly, but I can hardly resist the pastries.”
It was almost reasonable for Franklyn to want to discuss treats they were both partaking in, but Hannibal was not feeling particularly charitable at the moment, and Franklyn kept going long after he’d exhausted the thrilling subject of pastries, moving on to such gems as ‘cheese’ and ‘the cheese shops he had followed Hannibal to.’
Franklyn, of course, did not use the word ‘followed,’ preferring ‘coincidence.’ Hannibal was not fooled.
Just when Hannibal had resigned himself to leaving and missing Will’s company, the man himself arrived at the table, looking vaguely overwhelmed and carrying a tray full of pastries he’d clearly forgotten to set down in his haste.
“Hannibal,” Will said, with a cheerful smile that was unfamiliar and somehow artificial, “Who’s your friend?”
“I’m his patient,” Franklyn corrected, before Hannibal could get a word in edgewise, not that he’d allowed Hannibal much time to speak so far, “Who are you?”
Hannibal couldn’t miss the hint of amusement that flickered across Will’s face before settling into the false smile once more.
“A friend,” Will said, turning his body a bit more towards Hannibal, as if he thought he could carefully block Franklyn out of the conversation.
Franklyn’s eyes darted between Hannibal and Will, lingering disbelievingly over Will’s flour-spotted attire and the name tag on his chest. “Well, Dr. Lecter and I were kind of in the middle of-”
Facing Hannibal, Will’s left hand was invisible to Franklyn, but Hannibal saw him suddenly tap two fingers against the bottom of the tray. So did Abigail, already passing by and carrying the large glass she typically used to water the plants on the window sill. She tripped, suddenly, although Hannibal had never seen her be anything close to clumsy before, and practically threw herself into the table. The water saturated Franklyn’s shirt, soaking him from collar to belt.
“Ohmygosh!” Abigail said, all one word in convincingly-faked horror, “I’m so, so sorry! Here, let me clean that up for you, come back to the restroom with me, we have real towels there.
“No, it’s fine-” Franklyn attempted to say, but Abigail would not be dissuaded, tugging him by the wrist towards the restroom.
“Hurry,” Will hissed once the door had shut behind them, grabbing Hannibal’s bag for him. Hannibal followed him into the back room, letting Will seal him in.
The kitchen was warm, flooded with the pleasant, doughy scent that typical clung to Will. Hannibal was not one for leaning, but he visibly relaxed once the door was shut, and may even have deigned to brace himself against one of the counters.
Will was silent for a long moment, peering through the window in the door. Once he was satisfied by whatever it was he saw, he began to laugh.
“Oh my god, I can’t believe he told me he was your patient.”
Hannibal grimaced. “Franklyn is… open.” It was not exactly true. Possessive might have been a better word, and Franklyn clearly viewed the phrase ‘my doctor’ as possessive, but Hannibal was attempting not to linger on such thoughts.
“He’s that guy, right?” Will asked, “That patient who, what was it you said? Who ‘appreciates your company more than you appreciate his?’”
“For ethical reasons, I can neither confirm nor deny that.”
Will rolled his eyes and grinned at him, “That’s Hannibal-speak for ‘yes,’ isn’t it?”
“Hannibal-speak?” Hannibal asked, rather than confirming Will’s theory.
“Like you don’t know. You’ve got your own way of phrasing things, and it’s not just the accent. It’s very precise, very… firm.”
“And yet you’ve achieved fluency.”
“Despite the fact that I’m not very precise,” Will agreed. For a moment, they just smiled at each other, until Will finally cleared his throat, peeking through the window once more. “Abigail’s flagging me down, you should be safe to leave now.” One of the ovens began to beep, loud and shrill.
“I’ve ruined your lunch break,” Hannibal said regretfully. Will shrugged, shifting around him to rescue his scones.
“I only would’ve taken ten minutes anyway. I’ll nibble some of what you’ve brought me, sneak a bite of scone, and that will tide me through until we can close up.”
“I’ll bring you some proper dinner,” Hannibal offered. Will smiled, but shook his head.
“Nah, then I’ll owe you two treats. Just make me something really good on Monday.”
Hannibal reached out to tuck a lock of hair behind Will’s ear. “Of course.”
Hannibal avoided the cafe on weekends after that. The risk of running into Franklyn again was not a risk he wanted to take, and the busy crowds did not afford him much time to talk to Will. He saw Matthew twice more on his trips. Both times, the man watched him from a distance and declined Hannibal’s offered meals. Hannibal disliked being stared at like some sort of zoo animal, but Matthew never did anything harmful, nor did he disrupt Hannibal’s time with Will. It was a small price to pay for their continued picnics.
Will, for his part, did not seem to notice Matthew’s staring, although Abigail frequently flitted around Matthew like a hummingbird, distracting him with various tasks and questions. Eventually, Hannibal realized that it wasn’t that Will didn’t notice, it was that Will was used to Matthew’s inappropriate attention, and had long since learned to ignore and avoid whenever necessary.
“Will can’t find anyone else to take the job,” Abigail confided in Hannibal once, while Will was in the back checking on his breads, “Afternoons and every single weekend, without fail? I mean, he’s late sometimes, but he always shows up, and he volunteered for that shift, and never ever asks for off. Probably because Will would live here if it weren’t for his dogs, and he’d miss out on creepy stare time.” Abigail had sighed morosely then. “Plus, I can’t bake nearly as well as Matt can. He’s irreplaceable and he knows it.” Privately, Hannibal disagreed with that. He’d had the opportunity to try some of Matthew’s work. It was passable, but noticeably not as skilled as Will’s.
They hadn’t had any time to debate the issue. Will had returned to the counter and Hannibal had been lost once more.
Hannibal’s interest in Will was becoming inconvenient. He wanted Will, to put it simply. Will was sloppy, always covered in sugars or jams. He was rude, and crass, and no doubt shared absolutely none of Hannibal’s interests. And yet Hannibal was covetous.
Hannibal came every day now, except for weekends. Sometimes in the morning, to grab some coffee to start his day, but sometimes after his last client, in order to reward himself with a treat. Today was a treat sort of day. Will was prepared. He was always prepared now, he spent half his life waiting for Hannibal, it seemed. Abigail had taken to teasing him about it mercilessly, but she also kept Matthew busy so Will could have time with Hannibal, like now.
“This one’s going on the menu,” Will told him, passing Hannibal a slice of rich cheesecake swirled through with raspberry, “Limited time only, of course, I don’t have enough free time to make cheesecake every single day of my life. But I think I can handle a few weeks.”
“What shall you call this one?” Hannibal took a bite and closed his eyes, shutting out everything but the cake. He always honored Will’s desserts like that. It made Will want to kiss him.
“’Cheat Day is Every Day,’” Will told him, swiping a bite for himself, “We’re retiring the brownie that used to have that name. Abigail’s been dreaming up some replacements.”
“I thought Abigail didn’t bake?”
A few feet away, cleaning the french press, Matthew snickered. In passing, Abigail punched him.
“Oh god no,” Will said, absolutely horrified, “She would burn my kitchen to the ground and I’d have to take it out of her tip jar. But she’s very good at Pinterest.” Abigail punched Will, too, as soon as she was close enough to reach. He laughed, rubbing at the spot on his shoulder despite the lack of any real pain.
“So she’s the brains, so to speak?”
Will grinned at him and stuck his tongue out, a habit that never failed to make Hannibal wince, and yet never seemed to push him away, either. On her next pass, Abigail dropped an extra cup of coffee in front of Hannibal.
“Oh, I see how it is!” Will called after her, but both of them were grinning. Sometimes, Abigail felt more like family, the daughter or kid sister he’d never had, than an employee.
“You’d be lost without me!” She called back, and Will knew she was right.
Turning back to Hannibal, who’d developed a small smile during the exchange, Will stiffened. “Hannibal, isn’t that your patient? Franklyn, wasn’t it?”
“He works on Tuesdays,” Hannibal insisted, even as he turned around to check the parking lot. His face didn’t display any outward horror, but Will had learned to read the micro expressions that twitched across Hannibal’s skin. That was definitely his patient then, regardless of his alleged schedule.
Hannibal’s patient hadn’t seen them yet, too wrapped up in something on his cell phone. Hannibal was separated from Will by a portion of counter that normally flipped up to allow easy passage, but which was now covered in desserts and coffee. Will dragged him under it instead, ducking down beneath the counter top to tug at Hannibal’s sleeve until he folded, dropping down to allow Will to pull him forward. There was no time to escape to the kitchen, so instead, Will pressed back into a corner of the counter, dragging Hannibal forward until they were safely ensconced in the place he normally kept extra boxes of napkins. Boxes which Will had kicked frantically to the side.
Matthew gave them an odd, irritated look, but before he could say anything, Abigail glided by to greet Franklyn at the counter, as if her boss crawling into tiny alcoves was an everyday occurrence for her. Will was going to give her a raise.
The space was tight, cramped. Hannibal was a line of heat alongside Will’s body. Will could see places where he’d rubbed flour into the fabric of Hannibal’s three-piece suit, and was overcome with a sudden wave of embarrassment. This was foolishness, dragging him down here, hiding like children under a dusty counter while Abigail chirped and chattered her way through an order with Hannibal’s overly-talkative patient. Will felt like an idiot, like some sort of panicked child, right up until two things happened at once.
Hannibal’s hand moved, freeing Will’s grip from his sleeve, to wrap a gentle touch around Will’s wrist, and Franklyn asked Abigail how often Hannibal came to the shop. The latter went a long way towards soothing Will’s fear that hiding had been a stupid decision. The former ratcheted Will’s anxiety right back up again.
He felt like he was fifteen again, and just figuring out that boys could have soft hands and softer mouths, not that he’d managed to get much practice with either. Hannibal’s hands were big, and his fingertips drew patterns against the flutter of Will’s pulse. Attempting to walk Will back from whatever ledge he’d thrust himself onto. Will let his body relax, let himself sink into Hannibal’s side. Hannibal rewarded him by sliding his hand down until their fingers interlocked, and they waited, hiding like children but hiding together.
“I don’t know who that is,” Abigail told Franklyn. From his hiding spot, Will could just barely make out the false confusion on her face, and the way her fingers always tapped when she lied. “And I’d remember a name like that. Dr. Hannibal Lecter, are you serious?”
“It’s not nice to make fun of people’s names,” Franklyn replied stiffly.
“Well, if he comes here, I promise not to say anything to his face,” Abigail said, fingers tap-tap-tapping.
“I just thought… He was in on Saturday, and he knew that guy, the man with the curls? I thought maybe he came in more often?”
Abigail shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. We see so many people on Saturdays, and our owner doesn’t come in very often, so he’s not around to ask. Hey, Matt, do you know a Dr. Hannibal Lecter?”
For a second, Will thought she had gone too far. Matthew had always been… weird about Will, always staring, always just a touch away. Will was self-conscious, but not foolish; he knew his own appeal, on a physical level, at least. People were drawn to him, it was only his personality that kept pushing them away.
Matthew was not deterred by the personality, and in fact, seemed to find it fascinating, the way a snake was fascinated by a rodent. Matthew may have thought Will oblivious, but Will was fully aware of what lurked in the looks Matthew gave him, he merely chose to side-step them. Matthew had no affection for Hannibal that Will could see, and no reason to indulge them in their game of hide and seek.
But Matthew’s eyes never once glanced over the two of them. Instead, he focused on rearranging the pastry case with a shrug. “Never heard of him,” He said, all he was willing to contribute on the matter.
“See?” Abigail said, “We see hundreds of people every week. I’ll keep an eye out for you, but I doubt I’d be able to pick the guy out of a crowd.”
Franklyn murmured a disappointed ‘thank you’ and took his coffee. When he left, the bell over the door tinkling behind him, Abigail sank against the counter with a groan.
“Man, I thought he’d never leave,” She said, grinning at Will and Hannibal as they worked their way out from under the counter.
“Franklyn is tenacious,” Hannibal agreed.
“The word you’re looking for? It’s ‘obsessive.’” Will told him, stretching one arm over his head to work out the kinks from crouching so tightly into the corner. His other arm was still captive, still held fast, his fingers in Hannibal’s. Abigail’s eyes flicked down to take in the sight, a small smirk creeping over her face, and Will jerked his hand back. He felt chilled without Hannibal against him, but that might have been the way every drop of blood in his body had decided to set up shop in his cheeks and trailing down his throat.
Hannibal, for his part, showed no sign of embarrassment or any kind of shame, although he spared the spot of dust on his knees a look of disdain.
“I’m sorry about… All of that,” Will told him, tugging anxiously at the creases of his apron.
Hannibal shook his head. “That encounter was one I fervently wished to avoid. You did me a favor, Will. Although,” He added, giving the counter a rueful look, “Perhaps we could clear things up a little? I would prefer to walk out rather than crawl again.”
There were reasons Hannibal should keep his secrets, reasons to guard his privacy with sharpened claws and fangs. There were things he could not share, hobbies he did not intend to stop. And yet.
“Fuck you?” Abigail offered Hannibal, voice low with a sympathetic lilt. Hannibal could only guess what the expression on his face must look like, if even an exhausted teenager could pick up on his own emotional haggardness.
“I may need something stronger,” Hannibal admitted, “By which I mean espresso, not tequila.”
“She’s only allowed to serve virgin anyway,” Will said, swooping in from the back room, “Her entire employment walks a legal tightrope I try not to think too hard about. No black coffee?”
“I have to fire a client today,” Hannibal told him, and though he legally could say nothing more specific, he knew both Abigail and Will had their (correct) guesses, “I don’t suppose you could teach me how to order an espresso beverage in this establishment?”
Will looked him up and down with a critical eye, before turning to Abigail. “Get him a ‘Midnight Deadline,’” He instructed, and Abigail immediately set to work, while Will perused the desserts.
“It’s basically an Americano,” Abigail explained when she handed over Hannibal’s drink, “Although Will likes to add seasonings when he gets bored. I put cinnamon in yours, you seem like a cinnamon type of guy.”
Hannibal had to concede, when he took a grateful sip, that he was, in fact, a ‘cinnamon type of guy.’ He suspected he would have accepted anything the drink had been laced with, just to bolster his own mental fortitude. Informing Franklyn of his referral promised to be an endeavor. There would likely be tears.
“Shark Week,” Will finally declared, dropping a decadent iced brownie in front of Hannibal. “Don’t look at me like that,” he added, “Abigail’s the one who named it.”
Abigail, far from being chastised, looked immensely pleased with herself. Chocolate upon more chocolate, it was rich and sweet, and just on the right side of too much. Hannibal forced himself to stop after a single bite and store the rest away for later, to savor at home with some fresh berries to temper the taste.
“Do you think it’ll be awful?” Abigail asked. Will took another flitting glance at Hannibal’s eyes, a place he never lingered for long. Hannibal had long since adjusted to Will’s avoidance of eye contact, and every subsequent glance had a tendency to buzz pleasantly up Hannibal’s spine.
“Get him another,” Will said decisively, “It’s gonna be the worst.”
“Don’t get me another,” Hannibal protested, “I want to make it through the rest of my day, not stay up for the sunrise.”
“Fine, then get him a ‘Head Cold.’”
“You know, there’s no actual customers around,” Abigail complained, already heading across the room to search the cabinets, “You could just ask me for tea.”
“Hannibal’s a customer.”
“Hannibal’s family,” Abigail corrected, dismissive, “Or at least he will be when he marries you.”
Hannibal was treated to the very pleasant sight of Will’s blush, and the way it crept all the way down into the collar of his shirt.
“You’re fired,” Will told her, glaring.
“No I’m not,” She replied with a gleeful smile, “You won’t let him fire me, will you, Hannibal?”
“Of course not,” Hannibal assured her, with a smile of his own.
Will looked between them and then dropped his head into his hands with a sigh. “Sure, fine, gang up on me.”
“What else is family for?” Hannibal asked, and when Will offered him a smile, hesitant and pleased, he reached out to gently brush their fingers together.
“Don’t indulge her, she’s spoiled enough,” Will told him.
“You enjoy spoiling her.”
“Yeah, of course, but don’t tell her that!”
“Never,” Hannibal promised. He twisted his hand, palm up, so he could properly capture Will’s hand in his. “Will, I was wondering if I could return this evening, around closing time? I’d like to make you dinner.”
“You know I’d never say no to that,” Will said, fingers trembling against Hannibal’s. Emboldened, Hannibal leaned forward, despite the counter top between them, to press his lips against the reddened heat of Will’s cheek.
“I look forward to it.”
There were things Hannibal should not do, and most of them included intimacy. But if he was going to damn himself, he was going to make sure he did so thoroughly, without the threat of misunderstanding. Will, flushed with his own shyness, at the very least clearly knew Hannibal’s intentions, and the pleased grin that threatened to overtake him bode well for Hannibal’s evening.
As did the way Abigail began to giggle as he excused himself.
“Oh my god,” Will murmured to himself as he and Abigail began to clean up the shop, “Oh my god, what am I doing?”
“You’re going on a date with a hot guy,” Abigail replied in a teasing, sing-song lilt.
“Oh my god,” Will repeated, wide eyed.
“Will. Bakery prep now, worry later,” Abigail said, swatting at his legs with a broom. Will jerked back.
“Don’t, you’ll get dirt on my pants.” He paused, looking down at his clothes, and then groaned. “Not that it would matter, because I’m covered in flour. This is a man who wears three piece suits for leisure, Abigail, what the hell am I doing?”
Abigail shoved a cup of tea into his hands. Will frowned down at it.
“Were you keeping this on standby just in case I panicked?”
“Yup,” She replied, shooing him towards the kitchen with her hands this time. “Now, go. Bakery prep. Quickly.”
Food, at least, was distracting. It was easy, practiced. Will could have baked in his sleep (and, on at least one memorable occasion, he had), and as he prepped his ingredients to bake in the morning, all thoughts of Hannibal fled.
Then he left the back room, covered in more flour, to find Hannibal seated by the door, chatting with Abigail.
Will did not say ‘oh my god’ again, but he thought it very loudly, along with several thoughts about fleeing out the bathroom window before Hannibal saw him. And then, of course, Hannibal looked up and right at Will, still covered in flour and sugar.
But Hannibal smiled, and when he stood, it was to take Will’s hand in his, despite the traces of dessert that lingered no matter how frequently Will washed his hands. “Abigail has graciously agreed to finish closing up for you.”
She was going to be insufferable now, Will knew. She would want details, PG-rated, of course, but Will still did not intend to share them. His private life was private, especially from sweet-but-nosy teenage girls. She was going to mock him mercilessly.
“You’ve created a monster,” Will warned, but Hannibal and Abigail both merely smiled indulgently as they ushered Will out the door.
“I’m not really dressed for dinner,” Will continued, as Hannibal opened the passenger door of his (Expensive! Nice! Clean!) car and helped Will into the seat. “And I’m not very good company.”
“I find you to be wonderful company,” Hannibal assured him, “And my home has no dress code. You would be welcome in finery or in rags.”
Hannibal’s home. A home which was likely as polished and prim as the man in the drivers seat. Will wanted to die. He was going to have a heart attack right here, in the passenger seat of a Bentley.
Will did not die. He survived the drive, survived being led into Hannibal’s excessively decorated house and seated at a long table, survived being introduced to a meal with a complex and very French description, and survived right up until he made an embarrassingly sexual noise at the very first bite. Then he wanted to die all over again.
Will was bright, brilliant. Hannibal had done his research. He knew exactly what sort of name Will had made for himself with the FBI. Bringing Will into his home, feeding him the flesh of Hannibal’s victims, was quite possibly the riskiest thing Hannibal had ever done. And yet, when Will took a bite of liver, eyes fluttering closed as a thick, pleased sound worked it’s way from his throat, Hannibal had no regrets. Anything to see the embarrassed flush that filled Will, the way his fingers trembled around his wine glass. Hannibal was not prone to outward displays of nervousness, but he was gratified to see them in Will. They pleased a primal part of Hannibal, a part that desired and wished to be desired in return.
“It’s really good,” Will offered through his shyness, “But you already knew it would be.”
“You think so much of my ego,” Hannibal teased in return, “I’ll have to work on my modesty.”
“Acknowledgment of a skill is not the same thing as egotism. You know you’re a good cook, you don’t need me to tell you. It would be ridiculous to pretend at this point.”
Hannibal smiled at Will, letting a rare, honest emotion shine through, rather than his politely faked grins he reserved for dinner parties. “You flatter me, Will.”
Will rolled his eyes. “There’s never been a single person who’s had anything negative to say about your food. You’re in the society pages, you know. Abigail’s started a scrap book.”
“Abigail is a rare gem.”
“Do us all a favor, don’t let her hear you say that.” But Will was smiling, pleased, the way he did whenever anyone complimented Abigail, as if Abigail was his to claim. There was a story there, but Hannibal wouldn’t press. It would all come out, in time.
Instead, he filled the silence with chatter, with what little he could ethically tell Will of his day, encouraging Will to return the favor, tales of difficult customers and coffee stains that would never come clean. Will always smelled of fresh grounds, of pastry dough, of fruits and chocolates. And so, when the main course had been cleared away, Hannibal skipped dessert entirely, instead pressing in close where Will sat. Will looked up at him with wide eyes, nervous, but not fearful. He believed he knew Hannibal, how Hannibal moved and responded. He didn’t, no one truly did, but he knew enough, and Hannibal could not help but indulge.
Earlier, he’d pressed his lips to Will’s cheek, felt the cool, smooth skin heat up beneath his kiss. Will’s mouth was even softer, welcoming and hot. Hannibal deepened the kiss with a soft bite, a light trace of his tongue over Will’s lower lip, and Will opened to him in steady measures, until Hannibal could taste the damp heat of him, wine-stained and sweet. Crowded back into the chair, Will whimpered, and the sound was more intoxicating than any Hannibal had yet heard.
But Hannibal was tall, and the seat was low, cricking his neck painfully. Not a single person had ever dared to sit on Hannibal’s dining room table, but now, Hannibal hoisted Will up with a firm grip around his waist, and set Will there himself. It was only the latest in a long line of habits he’d broken with Will, starting with swearing at a teenage girl to order coffee and ending right here, with Will leaving traces of flour on every bit of furniture he touched. Hannibal wanted Will to mark him as well, to leave his presence everywhere, so Hannibal could linger over it long after Will was gone.
“Hannibal-” Will protested as he was moved, going silent and awestruck at how little effort it took. “You’re… stronger than expected,” He finally said, swallowing heavily. Hannibal, well aware of his own strength, ignored the comment in favor of trailing kisses down Will’s jaw, finally within reach of his throat.
“I don’t do scarves,” Will warned him as Hannibal bit down, gentle, just enough of a scrape to draw a shudder from Will’s body. Will’s pulse was between Hannibal’s teeth, under his tongue, a hummingbird flutter that Hannibal wanted to follow along every inch of Will’s skin. “Hannibal, don’t-” Whatever Will had planned to demand was lost to a moan. The hand that had been braced against Hannibal’s shoulder, ready to push him back, instead slid up to grip his hair and hold Hannibal’s face to Will’s throat. Hannibal indulged him with a series of little nips, spreading his attention out to keep bruises away. There were other places he could mark, more secluded places Hannibal would be thrilled to have his mouth on.
“You’re going to devour me,” Will whispered, and it was clearly not a complaint, not with how he shuddered and arched beneath Hannibal’s kisses. Hannibal made an affirmative sound against Will’s collarbone, shifting the cloth of his shirt aside until he’d finally found a place to leave his mark. “B-but not today,” Will added, hands clenching and unclenching where they gripped.
Hannibal was struck with an unfamiliar urge, the urge to push and plead and take. He wanted to lay Will back and convince him, show him everything that bubbled up inside of Hannibal.
But Hannibal, despite unconventional urges and tastes, was a well-mannered man. He pulled back with only a single, lingering kiss to the curve of Will’s throat, letting Will’s hands drop back down to the table. “Not tonight?” He asked, pressing the question into Will’s halo of curls.
“Not tonight,” Will confirmed, sounding regretful, “I have dogs at home. I’m not prepped for a sleepover. And it’s a first date,” He added with a laugh, “Isn’t there a three-date rule?”
“You don’t strike me as one for conformity, Will.”
“No,” Will whispered, looking up at him. Hannibal was gratified to see a hint of longing in Will’s eyes. “But I am one for feeding the dogs. Not tonight. But maybe soon? I feel… I feel like I already know you so well. I don’t know what I’d be waiting for.”
‘Soon’, Hannibal could work with. ‘Soon’ made his pulse beat hard in his chest, made him want to pull Will into another kiss. Instead, he let his fingertips trace the line of Will’s collarbone, the edges of where a reddening bruise disappeared under his shirt. “I would wait,” He promised, sincere and eager all in one. Will ducked his head, his smile one of pleased shyness.
“I don’t want you to. Not long, anyway. I’m not a teenager, Hannibal, I’m not saving my virginity for prom night. Once was enough.”
“Then soon,” Hannibal said, hushing Will’s nervous babble with a soft press of his lips, a taste he knew would linger on his own tongue for days.
“Soon,” Will agreed, and let Hannibal kiss him again.
‘Soon’ did not come immediately. They were busy men, with busy lives. But they made time for each other in the mornings, pressing coffee and treats into waiting hands. Will found himself struggling in the evenings, pushing the boundaries of his skills. His presents for Hannibal grew ever more intricate, delicate trimmings of caramel and spun-sugar, decorative treats that Hannibal seemed reluctant to destroy by eating. For his own part, Hannibal began bringing actual meals, rather than just breakfast entrees. There were side dishes now, multiple containers of leftovers spanning the counter top.
Matthew never participated, though Hannibal always had something for him. Something was going to have to give there, and soon. Will was not looking forward to that particular conversation.
Along with the side dishes and the spun-sugar snowflakes, now there was kissing. Not much kissing, since Abigail had picked up more shifts over her school’s winter break and seemed to always be there, but a chaste peck here and there, occasionally something more intimate if Hannibal slipped into the shop close to closing time.
Once, Will kissed Hannibal in front of Matthew. Only once. He could easily have said he didn’t see the man there, coming back from the restroom, but that was a lie. Will had timed the kiss, feeling demonstrative, hoping to urge Matthew on to more rewarding pastimes than staring at Will.
The first time Matthew asked Will out, he’d been on the other side of the counter. It was not the first time Will had been hit on by a customer, nor would it be the last. They usually stopped when they realized just how abrasive Will could be. But the first time Matthew asked Will out, he had already seen ‘abrasive.’ Will had gotten mouthy with the customer in front of him, and Abigail had swooped in to save the day, shooing Will off to make coffee. Matthew had purchased his drink and then come around to stare at Will over the top of the dessert cabinet.
Will had noticed Matthew before. He came in at least twice a week for hot chocolate and fresh-baked bread. At the time, Will had thought nothing of it. When Matthew asked him out, he said no. Not even ‘No, thank you,’ just ‘no.’ Matthew hadn’t seemed to take offense. He’d still been smiling when he left.
The second time Matthew asked Will out was during his job interview, which should have been a major red flag, but Will had been desperate for another set of hands. Matthew had brought cookies to demonstrate his baking skills, and they’d been good, much better than Abigail’s pitiful attempts. Will also couldn’t argue with a man who openly stated he wanted to work every single weekend. That was a hard bargain to resist; Abigail had threatened mutiny during the last post-church rush.
And then, as they were wrapping things up, Will had held out his hand to shake, and Matthew hadn’t let it go.
“You know,” He’d said, running his fingertips over Will’s knuckles, “I cook almost as well as I bake. I could make you dinner sometime.”
It was funny how well that particular line of thinking had worked for Hannibal, because when Matthew had tried it, Will had mostly just felt uncomfortable.
“If you’re going to work here,” Will had told him, snatching his hand back, “You’re going to have to never do that again.”
There had not been a third attempt, but there may as well have been with how Matthew seemed to be everywhere Will turned. It was not a large shop, and the kitchen was even smaller. They brushed up against each other more times than Will’s shattered social skills could properly handle. It was one of those situations where the other person was not doing anything wrong, per say, nothing that Will could have concretely pointed out, but it was driving him slowly mad anyway.
And so, kissing. Will heard Matthew stop, just out of his line of sight, and he let himself flush with a humiliation that was not entirely faked; neither he nor Hannibal were fans of PDA, regardless of the necessity.
“Sorry,” Will murmured to Hannibal, straightening up to put a more polite distance between them.
Later, when Hannibal left and it was just the two of them, cleaning up shop and prepping for the morning, Matthew relaxed. He seemed so stoic with Hannibal around, quiet and severe, but he eased up when they were alone, chatting and happy and reminding Will why Will hadn’t fired him yet.
“So,” Matthew finally said as they locked up for the night, “You and the doc. That’s a thing, then?”
“Yup,” Will answered with forced civility. He’d thought he had made his point, and they wouldn’t need to go through this entire conversation. He’d been hoping Matthew would drop it and keep far away from his love life once he realized there was no room for him in it. No such luck.
“Seems kinda stuffy for you.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “He orders the menu items by name, and the other day he and Abigail spent an hour coming up with new ones. He seems flexible on the stuffiness, to me.”
Matthew held up both hands, stepping back to give Will space. “Okay, okay. Just checking on you, no need to bite.”
Will scoffed at him. “Trust me, Matthew, when I decide to bite, you’ll know.” He realized, too late, that it had been the wrong thing to say. A smirk spread slowly across Matthew’s face.
“I look forward to it.”
There was very little time to get to know Will the way Hannibal would have preferred. As the weather grew colder and the mornings grew darker, customers began to flood ‘I’m Not A Morning Person,’ cursing and pleading for drinks to get them through their day. Will extended the hours all the way to 7PM, and by the time he closed up every night, he was much too tired to join Hannibal for anything. They’d managed two more evenings, and Hannibal had managed to work a hand down Will’s pants during one of them, but beyond that, their touches were limited to the brush of a hand over the cafe counter top.
Will willingly pushed himself to the breaking point, but he would not do the same for either of his employees, keeping Matthew and Abigail on more reasonable schedules. Hannibal watched him slowly lose his mind to the holiday season, stress bubbling up beneath his skin in rough waves. Hannibal wanted to take him home. He wanted to secure Will safely in his bedroom, ply him with rich foods and sweetened wines until he succumbed to indulgence, to sleep. Hannibal wanted to protect Will from himself, pull him away from the steep edge he’d walked himself up to with the shop.
Things changed on a Tuesday. Hannibal was an early riser, but he was still asleep when his phone rang at 4 in the morning.
“I… I don’t know why I’m calling. I should have called the police.”
“There’s a body, Hannibal. There’s a body in my shop.”
Will must have called the police immediately after hanging up with Hannibal. There were police cars and flashing lights everywhere by the time Hannibal got to him.
Will was leaning against the side of an ambulance, wrapped in a brightly colored shock blanket and arguing with a man who’s expression had gone decidedly sour. No doubt, Will was being his usual charming self, mood worsened by the stress.
“What do you want from me, Jack?” Will was saying when Hannibal approached, careful not to stray too close to the yellow strips of police tape that sealed off the shop. “I’m retired. Retired. Would you like me to define it for you?”
“Don’t get smart with me, Will,” The man, Jack, growled, “Not with me. I know you too damn well. You just gonna walk away from this one? When it was in your space, your personal bubble? Not like you have anything to do the next few days anyway, until we let you reopen.”
“Exactly,” Will told him, “It was in my personal space. It was a gift to me. Don’t you think that’s a conflict of interest?”
Jack latched onto the wording just as Hannibal did, interest peaked. “What do you mean, a gift to you?”
Will sighed, eyes flickering over Jack’s shoulder to land on Hannibal, pleading wordlessly for help. Hannibal slowly advanced as Will spoke. “I already told you how I recognized the guy. He was an asshole, always trying to short-change us, hitting on Abigail- She’s seventeen, Jack, she doesn’t need that kind of attention – always angry and shouting. Last week he flipped out on me, threw a coffee at my face-” Hannibal had been there that day, had nearly killed the man then and there, “-I told him not to come back. Until today, he didn’t.”
“So you think someone did this, what, as revenge? A knight riding in on a white horse to your rescue?”
“You make me sound cheap, Jack,” Will said bitterly, “I said it was a gift. I didn’t say I appreciated it.” He relaxed as Hannibal came around Jack, reaching out to grip Hannibal’s sleeve. Jack straightened up, glaring.
“This is official FBI-”
“I called him,” Will interrupted, leaning heavily into Hannibal’s side. “Call him my emergency contact.”
“Are you alright?” Hannibal murmured into Will’s curls, ignoring the dirty look Jack was leveling with them both.
“I will be as soon as we can get out of here,” Will whispered back, “The body was already here when I opened, he’s been dead since yesterday evening, at the very latest. There wasn’t anyone else here. Nobody hurt me.” Not physically, at least, but Hannibal could see the lines of exhaustion stretching across Will’s face.
“I’m going to need a list of everyone who was in the shop that morning,” Jack said, turning his ire back towards Will.
“It was a Saturday, Jack, do you know how many people get coffee and muffins on a Saturday morning?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of people who have reason to resent a customer. I want names of everyone who works here.”
“None of my employees are capable of this kind of violence,” Will told Jack. Beneath the shock blanket, his arm shifted slightly in a muted but distinct motion, rubbing fingernails over his arm like he did when he was anxious. Interesting.
“Let me be the judge of that,” Jack said. If anything, it only infuriated Will further.
“Abigail Hobbs is seventeen years old, Jack.”
Jack raised an eyebrow, staring Will down. It had not been a particularly compelling argument, although Hannibal personally couldn’t picture tiny Abigail committing premeditated murder.
Will sighed. “Just… Don’t send McCarty to interview her. He’s an ass and she’s too good for that.”
“I’ll send Katz.”
“It’s not Katz’s job,” Will said, although a small smile had started to tug at the corner of his mouth.
“But you like her,” Jack told him, and for a moment, Hannibal could understand how these two men had managed to work together. The vitriol that had bubbled under Will’s skin was fading now that he’d done something to shelter Abigail, and Jack was staring at Will with something like approval.
“And you’re sure I can’t convince you to take a look?” Jack asked, breaking the silence and the last of Will’s good spirits.
“I looked plenty before you got here,” Will growled, and Jack backed off.
“Alright. Alright. But don’t blame me if Katz comes knocking.”
“I will if you send her,” Will replied, but it was muttered, soft, and Jack was content to ignore it.
When Jack finally left them, after a few more questions that left Will sharp-edged, Will sank more thoroughly against Hannibal, with an exhausted sigh. Hannibal drew him in, rubbing soothing circles against Will’s back. The sun was still down, would not rise for several more hours, kept at bay by winter’s shortened days. Will’s face was pale, even under the artificial yellow light of the street lamps, and the shadows under his eyes were dark as bruises. Hannibal cupped Will’s cheek with one hand, gratified when Will let him. They were not normally so close, typically keeping a polite space between them, but in the dark and alone, Will would let Hannibal hold him.
“I shouldn’t have called you,” Will breathed against Hannibal’s shoulder. Hannibal’s grip tightened.
“It would have upset me to know you’d gone through this alone.”
“I could have handled it.”
“But you shouldn’t have to. Come home with me?”
Will paused, leaning back to look him in the eye, for a moment, before his gaze dropped to the curve of Hannibal’s jaw. “I have to...”
“You won’t be able to set foot in the shop for a long while, and your dogs are already prepared for you to be gone for the day. You’ve nowhere to be and nothing to do for the first time since you’ve opened the shop. You shouldn’t have to be alone with your thoughts.”
Whatever protest Will had intended to make, whatever attempt to hold his life together on his own, it died on his tongue. He let Hannibal guide him to the Bentley, curling up in the warmth of the passenger seat.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Hannibal asked as they pulled away.
“He was sprawled out across my counter with his heart in his hands. I’m going to have to rent a new space once people find out. I’d really rather not.”
“Then we won’t.” They would have to later, of course. Will was right, the murder did not bode well for his shop’s reputation. He would need an entirely new location to properly shed the stigma, and it was possible the clientele they did keep would not provide enough income for the move. But for now, Hannibal would rather see Will well-fed and well-rested, distracted from the thoughts that would overwhelm him.
And Will let him. Will came home with him, ate the breakfast Hannibal sat in front of him, talked long and light about things that didn’t ache the way his shop did, and went willingly when Hannibal suggested they’d both been up too early and could use a rest.
It was, all in all, a successful morning. Will was safe in Hannibal’s bed, where he belonged, tucked up under Hannibal’s arm and fast asleep. The line of worry that stretched perpetually across Will’s face had been eased by rest, and he was beautiful. It would have been an ideal result of a plan well-made.
If Hannibal had been the one to leave the body.
Will’s easy peace could not last, of course. He woke with a cry, sweat-damp and freezing. His body trembled against his will, and for a moment, he could not remember where he was. There were no dogs, eager and curious, and the soft, silken sheets were not the rough towels he often slept on. Hannibal’s room came to him in bits and pieces, the noon sun kept at bay by thick curtains, leaving darkness that Will struggled to adjust to. Things seemed to move just beyond his line of sight, as they always did after a night terror. There was a reason he’d made excuses up until now, avoiding any opportunity to share Hannibal’s bed.
Beside him, Hannibal moved to take Will into his arms. Will flinched violently, shoving away at something he couldn’t properly see, still too far gone to fear and confusion.
“Will. Will, it’s alright. You’re here with me, in Baltimore.”
Sanity returned in stages, in breaths. It was the grounding touch of Hannibal’s hand up his spine, the fingers that twisted in his curls but never tugged, just a firm, steady pet. It was Hannibal’s shampoo, still prevalent through the haze of sweat that Will had brought with him from sleep. It was the voice, drifting over him, settling onto his skin.
“I shouldn’t have-”
“There seem to be a great many things you think you shouldn’t do.”
Will shot Hannibal a glare that faltered slightly in the darkness, when all he could see were vague outlines. “I don’t make the world’s greatest roommate.”
“I slept better than I have in months.”
“Has anyone ever told you that the flowery sweet talk gets a little excessive?”
“No one else has ever had the opportunity.”
Will barked out a laugh, burying his face in his hands. “You’re bad for my ego, you know.”
“Good, it could use some bolstering.”
When Will peeked out from between his fingers, he could see Hannibal staring at him, close and intent. It didn’t make him wary, as partners had so many times before. In the shadows, Will felt like Hannibal could see right into the very heart of him. He’d never wanted it before.
“I think I could fall in love with you,” Will whispered, still raw and open from the night terror. The hand in his hair stilled, and then tightened as Hannibal drew him in.
Hannibal kissed like a man starved. There had always been something of a hunger to him, something longing and needy just beneath the surface of all those suits, but now he bent Will back as if to devour him, pressing over him until Will collapsed back into the pillows.
They’d gone to bed in their underwear, more for efficiency than sensuality, and Will’s skin was damp and slick with sweat. Hannibal didn’t seem to notice, running a possessive hand over every inch of bared flesh.
“I could fall in love with you,” Will repeated, a whisper against Hannibal’s mouth, just to hear the growl he got in response.
Hannibal loved like he did everything else: Intently, carefully, and well. He opened Will with soft touches, with long fingers and searching eyes. Every expression, every pleading sound from Will’s throat, Hannibal drank in.
When Will was ready, Hannibal froze over top of him, braced on hands and knees, pressing against Will, but not yet into him. He looked like a man who had just gotten everything he’d ever wanted, and was waiting for the catch.
Will yanked him down into a kiss, biting at his lips until Hannibal sank down against him. “I waited for you,” Will told him, arching up his hips until Hannibal had no choice but to press forward, “Before I even knew you, I was waiting for you.”
Hannibal choked on a noise, lost to the first thrust, sinking into Will. Will drowned him out with a sob of his own, clutching to Hannibal’s shoulders as he pushed back.
It was completion. It was perfection. Will felt filled by this man, not only in physical intimacy, but in the sharp holes that a life of death had left him. Hannibal slipped into the cracks of Will’s very being, sealing them together. They couldn’t seem to be close enough. Every time Hannibal pulled back, Will felt like he was dying. Finally, when Hannibal started to lose his rhythm, Will pushed back, flipping them over to chase his own pleasure. Hannibal looked up at him, worshipful and awestruck, and Will rocked his hips until they were both crying with it, until pleasure overtook him and he could no longer tell where he ended and Hannibal began.
“You should make some changes to your menu,” Hannibal said later, when they both could breathe again and Will no longer felt like his body was cracking apart at the seams.
“I’d hate there to be any confusion when I try to order my morning coffee.”
And Will couldn’t help but laugh.
Abigail had offered to help clean up the shop, but Will had denied her. The blood was never going to properly come out of the wooden flooring, and she didn’t need to be exposed to that. He’d bring her back in when he opened up the new shop.
If he opened up the new shop.
Hannibal had offered his hands as well, but he had been even easier to turn away. The man didn’t own anything less than semi-formal, and Will had the sneaking suspicion he would try to throw money at the problem until it went away. Hannibal did not need any encouragement that might lead him to rent Will a new building, at least not until Will could be there to temper him somewhat. Convincing Hannibal to leave it entirely to Will and his meager finances was not likely to be a possibility, so Will could at the very least try to keep things reasonable.
But Will had liked the old shop. He liked the wooden floors, the glass display, the double ovens he’d spent every spare penny he had on. He liked the flowers Abigail tended for him, the sign he’d commissioned from a local artist. He liked his building. All that was gone now. He could reopen, if he could ever get the bloodstain out, but the building itself was tainted. People would know why they’d been closed, even if they hadn’t left a reason on the website. The news would get around. It was unsanitary, and morbid, to try and serve food at the place where a corpse had waited, offering it’s heart to Will in the doorway.
Will was not here to clean, though, or to wander through memories. He stood in the kitchen, running his fingers over his tools, and listened for the footsteps.
“I thought you’d be here sooner,” Will said.
The footsteps stopped in the doorway, caught off guard.
“I have trouble with alarms,” Matthew told him, the same thing he’d said the first time he was late, and the second, “I always have.”
Matthew stood between Will and the entrance. The emergency exit was also across the room. Matthew could reach it before Will did.
Will had no intention of running for it.
“Abigail told you I’d be here.”
“She thought you could use the help.”
“I think you’ve helped enough, don’t you?”
Matthew looked distressed, face scrunching up. “You didn’t like my gift.”
“Your gift came with a price, Matthew.”
“I just wanted to impress you. You used to read all those case files. They said you could understand anybody. Freddie Lounds said-”
“I know what Freddie Lounds said about me,” Will interrupted sharply, “The same garbage she says about everyone else.”
“But she was right,” Matthew insisted, and took a step forward. Will stepped back, keeping the same distance between them, and luring Matthew further from the door. “She said you could think like us, like me, and you can, can’t you?”
“I can think like anybody.”
Matthew laughed and shook his head. “Not that, not the parlor tricks, anyone can do that. But you’re a hawk, Mr. Graham, just like me. You look inside people’s heads and you see the way things should be.”
“Hawk’s are solitary creatures.” Will’s hand slid along the counter, searching for the knife he’d left out.
“Only because they don’t know any better.” Matthew shifted, drawing the gun from his pocket, the same weapon that had left a body just a few days before, and several practice bodies before that. “Please don’t make me hurt you, Mr. Graham.”
Will pulled his hands away from the counter, holding them up where Matthew could see. “Alright. Okay, we don’t need to do this. You don’t need to point a gun at me to talk to me.”
“Apparently I do. You avoid me, Mr. Graham. You don’t let yourself be alone with me, you cut off my conversations. But you follow him around.”
“This isn’t about Hannibal.”
Matthew laughed again, harsher this time. His hands shook on the gun. “Like hell it isn’t. You don’t know, do you? All your wide-eyed brilliance and you never saw him. But I did. I followed him, you know. Out of town. Down a lonely road. He inspired me, Mr. Graham. You’ve never seen beauty like what he does. If I didn’t already want you, he might even have tempted me. You didn’t see him, Mr. Graham, but I did, and that’s why you can’t sneak up on me, Dr. Lecter!” Matthew was shouting by the end, swinging around to aim the gun where Hannibal stood in the doorway, creeping towards him on silent, sock feet.
Hannibal froze and raised his hands, just as Will had. Over Matthew’s shoulder, Will had gone wide-eyed. Fear of him or fear of Matthew, or perhaps a terror at being trapped in the room with two killers, Hannibal wasn’t certain.
He had known it was inevitable. One day, Will was going to figure things out. He was too brilliant not to, and Hannibal had let him in too far.
But he’d hoped there would be time. Time to convince Will, perhaps even time to tell Will himself. Hannibal had not counted on… competition.
“Matthew,” Will said, “Matthew, put the gun down.”
“He never knew,” Matthew told Hannibal. He seemed crazed with his own revelations, grinning despite the obvious tension flooding his body. “He saw everyone, he even knew about me. But he never saw you. You blinded him.”
Hannibal remained silent, watchful. He was certain he was faster than Matthew, but not so certain he was faster than Matthew’s trigger finger. Whatever happened next, he would have to be careful.
“Matthew, put the gun down!” Will’s voice had gone higher, shrill with desperation. Hannibal wanted to soothe him, but didn’t dare spare him a glance.
“You said you liked my work,” Hannibal said slowly, “There are things I could teach you.
“It’s not me you want to teach,” Matthew said, shaking his head. He spoke to Will next, without ever taking his eyes off Hannibal. “You know, I understand, Will. I tried not to be jealous, once I saw what he was. I can see how he’d draw in someone like you. He appeals to your darkness. He’s talented.” Matthew shook his head, and his grin grew teeth, sharp and unpleasant, “But you’re new, Mr. Graham. Untried. I know what he sees in you, because it’s the same thing I saw. You have potential, and he wants to bring it out of you.” Matthew cocked the gun, finger tensing on the trigger, “But I was here first, and I don’t share.”
If Hannibal was quick, if he ducked to the side fast enough, he might avoid the worst of it. The bullet would likely still hit him, but he might get lucky. He could take a shot to the arm instead of the heart, or even let it graze his side, if it meant he could survive this encounter.
And in the mere seconds it took Hannibal to formulate that plan, Will launched himself at Matthew’s back, yanking his arm up, and slit his throat.
The gun went flying, skidding across the floor to slide under a counter. Matthew stared at Hannibal, unseeing, uncomprehending. When he tried to speak, a bubble of blood burst over his bottom lip instead. He went down, toppling under Will’s weight, crumbling to the side and choking.
It took him a long moment to die. Will knelt over him, the knife still clutched in his hand, blood dripping down his arm to his elbow. He watched until Matthew’s choking stopped, until his eyes glazed over and the twitching stilled, and then looked up at Hannibal.
Like this, kneeling at Hannibal’s feet, covered in blood and wielding a knife, Will was intoxicating. Hannibal wanted to paint him. He wanted to push him down into the puddle of blood and have him, just like this.
But Will looked up at him, with those brilliant blue eyes, and Hannibal remembered that Will knew, now.
Hannibal would kill Will if he had to, but it would devastate him. He didn’t want to. A better option would be to subdue him. He had the resources to keep Will locked away, until he could calm him, get him to understand that Hannibal was not a threat to him. He could make Will promises, he could change if he had to. He could not give up killing entirely, but Matthew had been right about the potential in Will. Perhaps, with a change of target, something to appeal to Will’s sense of justice, they could reach an agreement.
He would have to hurt Will to subdue him. Regretful, but necessary. The knife was a problem, but Hannibal had fought unarmed before.
And yet, as Hannibal stepped forward, Will didn’t move. He didn’t flinch or try to scramble away. At first, Hannibal suspected shock, but then Will dropped the knife and yanked Hannibal down by the tie.
Will’s hands were sticky with blood on Hannibal’s face, but his mouth bore only the taste of Will, as intoxicating and pure as it ever was. Hannibal lost himself for a long moment, until Will started to murmur into the kiss.
“I thought you’d never tell me. I thought I was going to have to stage a discovery.”
Hannibal pulled back to stare at him. “What?”
“That you’re the Chesapeake Ripper,” Will said, slowly, as if Hannibal was a very young child.
Hannibal… Hannibal didn’t have a response for that, or a back up plan, or anything beyond “What?”
Will sighed, pressing kisses to Hannibal’s cheek. “Hannibal. Not all baking is sweet. Sometimes it’s savory. I’ve practiced every recipe a thousand times, I know what pork tastes like.”
“You’ve… You’ve known-”
“Since the protein scramble, yeah.”
“You ate that entire dish!”
“You barely knew me, Hannibal. If I’d said, ‘No thanks, I don’t eat long pig,’ do you really think you would have let me live?”
No, he would not have. Hannibal frowned down at Will, frustrated by the grin Will wore. “You didn’t call the cops.”
Will shrugged, and his smile turned sheepish. “I thought you’d come for me. Once I knew. I’d been so rude.”
“I was tempted. But it seems I’ve never been able to rid myself of you.”
Will shrugged. “I thought you’d come for me,” He said again, “And I was curious. I wanted to see what you would do.”
“Would you have killed me? Like you’ve killed Matthew?”
Will frowned thoughtfully. “I don’t know,” He finally said, “I would have fought you, I know that. But it didn’t matter. I waited up at night, but you never came. You came to the shop instead, and by the time I thought about it again, it was too late. I was too wrapped up in you. I don’t think either of us could survive the separation, at this point.”
Hannibal stared at him, until his eyes were watery and it hurt to keep them open. “You are a wonder, Will Graham,” He breathed, and yanked Will into his lap.
“I don’t know if I can do it again,” Will warned him between kisses, “I can eat what you bring me, and look the other way, but I don’t know if I can help. I don’t know what Matthew saw in me, what you see in me-”
“You,” Hannibal told him, yanking him back into the kiss with a firm grip on his hair, “I only see you, Will.”
‘I Am Not A Morning Person’ reopened on a Saturday, four blocks down from it’s former location. It had a friendly teenage barista, a slightly grumpy baker, and three part time employees to fill in the rest of the gaps. They served coffee with names like ‘The In-Laws Are Staying’ and ‘Appendectomy’, although they no longer served tequila. The dessert case rotated treats on a weekly basis, displaying new delicacies and old classics. The chocolate chip cookies could only be sold to someone who announced ‘I am boring and predictable.’ They were still a customer favorite.
A year after re-opening, the teenage Barista ran the shop herself for a week. For the entire month after that, the shop served slices of wedding cake.
Everyone was very happy.